Monday, December 20, 2010

Chanuka Enlightenment

One of the big differences of living in chul as opposed to Israel this time of year is of course which holiday is being emphasized. In Israel, one can't get around it being chanuka. Everywhere there are chanuka decorations, sufganiyot, chocolate money, chanuka music and of course the beautiful sight of chanuka candles in everyone's window sill.
Now, anyone who has been to chul this time of year knows that the streets are filled with tiny glittering, golden lights (one of the things I always missed in Israel, I have to admit), giant green trees decorated in perfectly aligned color schemes and a red and white bearded fellow carrying lots of presents.
Growing up in chul I have learned to put up with the big fuss that is made out of the birth of Jesus (let's not even get into how Santa Claus and his reindeer are even remotely related to this). I have also learned that my holiday is completely obliterated. I can except that my holiday isn't on full display and it is quite understandable given that we Jews really are a tiny minority where I live (unlike in NY, where you can buy anything chanuka related in almost any store).
However, the fact is that in most European countries things like Chanuka arent simply hidden because it isn't relevant to the majority of people. Rather, it is hidden because we Jews still feel the need to hide our identity. A few weeks ago a prominant Dutch politician Frits Bolkestein remarked that all Jews that are outwardly identifiable as such should move to Israel or America, since he sees no future for them in Holland. This statement caused a huge outrage amongst other Dutch public figures. Some question his sanity (he is getting old), while others like Geert Wilders simply replied that the anti-semitic Muslims should leave, not the Jews. I, and many with me, do not believe Bolkestein is trying to take the easy way out. He is simply identifying a major problem in a country that prides itself on being so progressive, open and tolerant of everyone (think gay rights). I am glad that Bolkestein has started this debate and that even the Jews there are starting to realize that the way they are forced to live their lives is not as it should be in a first world country.
The only thing I don't understand is why it has taken everyone, especially the Jewish community, so long to realize this. One of the reasons I left my European country was because I knew I was not safe there as a Jew, Granted, in Israel one isn't either, but there one is in the majority. There one can stand up and fight for oneself. There one knows the enemy. Whereas where I grew up, we lived a contradictory life. On the one hand we were told things were different now. People had learned from the Holocaust and this would never happen again. They are set on making it up to us. This country is tolerant. People here are open-minded and well educated. Jews no longer have to live in fear. There is a flourishing Jewish community, with synagogues and Jewish schools. Yes, this was all true, to an extent. My mother taught me never to tell strangers I was Jewish, for one can never know how they might react. I grew up in a neighborhood that called the cops, the Jews. Even in the capital, whith the biggest Jewish community of about 20000 people, men cant walk with kipot outside of the small suburban area where they mostly live (and this has been like this at least all my life). The schools, synagogues, youth movements and any other organized Jewish event was always guarded by several shomrim. The schools are fenced in, with cameras everywhere. We learn to live with them, but what is most problematic, we learn to accept them. We trick ourselves into thinking that we are the same as everyone else. Really, is there any other minority group that has to hide who they are in public? That has to cage themselves in? That has to surround themselves with armed men?
I saw this country for what it was and left.
However, it is only recently that I saw how different things can be. Chanuka has just passed us by, yet it wasn't ignored at my work. Though here also, only a small minority is Jewish, the children learned about Chanuka, the menora and the dreidel. I can be a Jew, without having to hide anything and without having to explain much. My daughter goes to daycare there and the staff has looked into kashrut (of their own accord). I get to leave work early on Fridays without any fuss. Same goes for any of the holidays.
Actually, what shocked me most was my own attitude. I started there presuming I would have to somewhat hide my identity. I bought a sheitel, so as not to stand out. I tried to hide the fact that I was doing netilat yadayim and bentching. I still do somewhat. I've had to learn to let go, to be open and to not be afraid of letting people know who I am and what I stand for. And all I can conclude is how ironic it is that this is the mentality I was taught by my progressive, modern and enlightened Western country.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Offensive Yodeling

An Austrian man was fined 800 Euros when a judge ruled that his yodeling was offensive to Muslims. The man was yodeling whilst mowing his lawn. Unfortunately for him, his yodel session took place at the exact same time his Muslim neighbor was praying. The Muslim man felt his neighbor was making fun of the call of the Muezzin and hence sued him.

We all know by now that caricatures are a no no, but yodeling?
I thought Europe is trying hard to integrate their immigrants. I guess in Austria it is now the other way around. The Austrian  people now have to give up their own longstanding culture and traditions in order to make the new comers happy.
I'm surprised about the chutzpa of the Muslim man, but what's even more shocking is the judge's ruling. Does he really feel there is no room left for his own culture?
I wonder if this judge has ever been to an anti-Israel demonstration in Europe. Maybe next time I should invite him to one and I'll be rich after suing all the people there for their offensive remarks.
It's a sad day when people can't sing a simple tune in their own garden.
I guess Dutch politician Geert Wilders is right:
As a side, Switzerland shouldn't be read, since they really took their stand by banning the building of new minarets. I guess their next political campaign will involve some serious yodeling.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Comfortable Conversation

I recently returned from a trip to my parents, who live abroad.
I hadn't been back home in a while. To be honest, I don't really miss much from there, beside my parents. Most of my close friends don't live there anymore and I've learned to live without my favorite products. Usually the trip isn't anything special and a little complicated, since my parents don't keep kosher and there isn't a lot of space for all of us, so I try not to go often.
This time, however, I had a very different experience. I actually found myself wishing I could live there again. Not because I like the country so much, or the people. It's cause I like the language. Well, actually, it's an ugly language, but what I actually love about it is that I speak it fluently. It's so nice going shopping, asking questions and getting answers when you understand everything perfectly. I haven't lived in a country where I speak the language fluently for over 7 years. I've gotten by, and where I live now it's really fine. I understand almost everything and speak it somewhat, at least for the basics. But being back home I noticed how comforting it is to be surrounded by your native tongue. I even had a very interesting literary conversation with the saleswoman in the bookstore. I would have never been able to do that where I live now, or in Israel.
The sad thing is, I probably wont ever live in a country of my mother tongue again, since the only place we plan on moving to in the next few years is Israel. I guess all I can do is strengthen my comprehension of these foreign languages and hope that some day I will be completely fluent in them.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Har Habayit Beyadenu?

Rav Berel Wein wrote a nice article on Jerusalem, it's importance and why we cannot even contemplate breaking it up. (it was published in the Jerusalem Post and by Aish, one can read it here).

Rav Berel Wein has got me reminiscing. And yet, however much I do agree with what Rabbi Wein is saying, I feel there is something missing. For some reason, in the religious community, people seem to ignore the fact that we actually aren't in control of all of Jerusalem. In fact, we aren't in control of the most important, treasured and Holy site in our entire religion. We tend to forget that when it comes to Har Habayit we almost have no say at all. 

On the day of my wedding, in stead of going to the kotel, I went with one of my rabbis up to Har Habayit. It was inspirational. Here I was, on the verge of getting married, standing on the most Holy spot we have. My rav was saying the very Tehilim that would be sung later that day when I would walk to the chupa. I don't know if I would advise just everyone to go visit Har Habayit whenever they have a chance, but visiting the home of our religion on the same day that I was starting my own, was the best thing for me. It made me see the importance of my union, not only for me, but for my nation. By getting married, i wasn't just building up my own family, but I was contributing to all of Am Yisrael. And hopefully, some day, that contribution will help make Har Habayit look like what it is ment to look like.

And not what it looks like now. When I was there 5 years ago, it made me want to cry. Even though my visit was one of the highlights of my life, there was a low. The arabs had treated our most holy place as a garbage dump, literally. There was a gigantic pile of waste right when you walk onto the site. But maybe even more painful was the police patrolling the area, making sure we Jews stick to the rules. And that's not only the Wahkf, but also our own. They're not standing there to make sure we don't provoke a coup (though maybe they are doing that as well), but they are checking whether or not we have the audacity to say anything religious on our own land. And I mean ANYTHING religious. My rav told me to make a bracha on my water bottle before going up, since even that isn't allowed! Yes, this seems contradictory to what I told you before about the beautiful Tehilim that were said during my visit. These Tehilim were said while my rav was waving his hands, pointing out certain landmarks. One has to pretend  to be giving a tour in order to do this (and be carefully aware that the police are always out of earshot).
Let's face it Har habayit lo beyadenu and it's time we do something about it.