When the pen is mightier than the sword

How does one put into words the outrage and hurt we feel at the slaughter of innocents in Paris this past week that included journalists, police and members of the French Jewish community? Anger, pain and a deep and profound sorrow. The journalists at satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo  were slaughtered because they represented our right to free speech and expression, a tenet valued as a fundamental value of a democratic society. Police were murdered because they uphold the law that is based on Western values.

raw

Cartoon courtesy of  RAFO

And four were murdered simply because they were Jewish. Their lives ended while shopping for last minute Shabbat provisions by a terrorist who gleefully admitted that he targeted them because they were Jewish.

58081660990100640360no

 

The Victims of the terror attack on Hyper Cacher, a kosher Supermarket in Paris.

Israel and France share the same democratic, Western values.

As Israelis we understand the veracity and trauma of terror that can hit anytime. As Jews we understand persecution and how it feels to be victims of hatred. The rising tide of anti-Semitism around the world makes this threat all the more real.

As someone  who makes a living sharing my opinion, which is sometimes less than well received, news that colleagues in my profession paid the ultimate price for what we value highly (and sometimes take for granted) which is our freedom of speech and expression was at once,  sobering and frightening.

Those of us who work in the field of Israel advocacy are no strangers to views that contravene ours. Sometimes these opinions even border on hate speech. We are used to cartoons that depict us in the most vile, anti-Semitic and stereotypical fashion. Social media has added a different dimension and Facebook trolls and Twitter twits have discovered an effective way of ensuring that their hate invective has a rapid and viral soapbox. We have dealt with all of the above by using the legal options available to us or by strongly worded letters and op-eds and the occasional meme but never a hail of bullets and carnage.

During Operation Protective Edge in 2014, elements of South African society appealed to the leadership to silence me ahead of my impending visit. They were told in no uncertain terms that restricting my freedom of expression was against their constitution. While I respect their right to vehemently disagree with me, my answer is to take to the airwaves and the internet and keep on writing. That is my constitutional and inalienable right.

10422571_10153012085464804_8933069754857395639_n

 

The South African Cape Times newspaper features the response to calls for me to be silenced during Operation Protective Edge – and gets the next post wrong!

To allow ourselves to be intimidated by those who scorn our Western value system is to bow to terrorism. Artists draw your truth, writers share your views! We owe it to those who were murdered in France and to everyone who has been killed by virtue of their opinion or religious affiliation to speak on their behalf.

For us as Jews, these terror attacks are deeply personal. We are a nation that feels the pain of every person slaughtered by terrorists deeply. We are all responsible for each other and at this time we mourn and embrace the families of the victims in our hearts.

Today we laid Yohan Cohen z”l, Yoav Hattab z”l, Phillipe Braham z”l and Francois-Michel Saaba z”l,  to eternal rest in the peaceful hills of Jerusalem. We have buried too many, far too many victims of terror. This is not the way we want to bring Jews home to Israel. Making Aliyah, coming home to our ancestral home should be a joyous occasion. For many, this is not the case. A global tsunami of hatred is forcing them to leave the countries that they feel deeply rooted in, despite a strong love and connection to Israel. Whatever reasons anyone decides to call Israel home, we welcome you with open arms.

10891751_10153008106274804_7190728563234553931_n

Solidarity – “I am a Jew”. Proudly!

To the victims of these appalling attacks, you are always in our hearts and we will do our best to honour your memories by expressing ourselves or celebrating our Jewish and Zionist identities.

To the mourners, may you be comforted and find healing and strength.

May the pen forever be mightier than the sword. Je Suis Charlie. Je Suis Juif. Am Yisrael Chai.

charlie13n-1-web

This week’s commemorative cover of Charlie Hebdo.

We are taking our power back!

This blog post currently appears in The Times of Israel:

http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/we-are-taking-our-power-back/

I don’t know about you but I am angry. Anti-Semitism has reached alarming levels on a global scale that we have not seen since pre-World War 2 and some of the invective is worthy of Der Sturmer circa 1938. From the United States to South Africa, France to Australia, Jews are being singled out for persecution.  Facebook has become a battlefield where the lines have become clearly demarcated and many can claim losing life-long “friends” due to differing opinions. Twitter has brought the worst out in twits who tweet nasty. Some twit called me “a bimbo who should change my handle to occupier Barbie”. Hey, I have been called worse! It is merely symptomatic of something far more nefarious.

I have a message for all the haters and intolerators (dig my rhyming skills? Yes, I know it is not an actual word but hey, creative licence!) and it goes something like this:

To those who say we as Jews have no right to a country of our own I say, we are taking our power back

To those who say that we have no right to organize ourselves politically and call it Zionism, I say we are taking our power back.

_76889172_76888994

To those who call for our destruction, we take our power back.

To those who are outraged at our audacity to defend ourselves, we take our power back.

To those who call our army and security forces “war criminal” and “baby killer”, we take our power back.

To those who intimidate and threaten our Muslim, Druze, Christian and other non-Jewish citizens of Israel, we take our power back.

To those who intimidate and threaten our many non-Jewish supporters around the world, we take our power back.

78850856

To those who get hysterical because we don’t rack up those high casualty numbers in a time of war, we take our power back.

To those world bodies and organisations who focus their attention on the State of Israel and pass a disproportionate (yup, I used THAT word) amount of resolutions against us, we take our power back.

To those who call Israel an Apartheid state, negating the suffering of the millions of South Africans who lived under this heinous regime, we take our power back.

images

To those who think that chanting hate speech at protest rallies intimidates and shames us, we are taking our power back.

To those who draw a moral equivalence between Israel and terror organisations, we are taking our power back.

To those who call for Boycotts, Sanctions and Divestment, causing more harm than good to the Palestinian people, who you purport to help, we are taking our power back.

To those who try to camouflage their ill-disguised hatred behind the concept of human rights, you are transparent and we take our power back.

To those who take their anger and hatred out on Jewish community members across the world in museums, synagogues and schools, we are taking our power back.

And finally, to the world media who can’t be bothered to fact check, provide balanced coverage or would rather turn a complicated situation into sensationalistic tabloid style journalism in order to get those ratings, I hold you responsible for a lot of the insanity we are experiencing right now. We take our power back!

kids

We will stand up against you at protests and rallies. We will wear our religious insignia proudly. We will call our name Zionist. We will proudly purchase and support Israeli industry. We will use every platform at our disposal to fight your invective. We have learnt from our historical experience and the hideous double standard that is applied to us at the expense of those who deserve the attention we receive.

A large part of taking your power back is just showing up. This is why it is important to be armed with facts and disseminate and speak them as far and as often as possible.  We cannot abdicate responsibility anymore by saying it is the work of the government or politicians. We are all responsible for each other.

You detractors, you haters, you intolerators, you genteel anti-Semites, you out and loud hatemongers – you do not have the power you think you have to intimidate and hurt us.

We have taken our power back.

Days of Remembrance. Days of Celebration. Days of Awe.

 

When we think of the term “Days of Awe” we usually associate it with the High Holy Days,

Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The week between Yom Hashoa and Yom Kippur are days ofreflection, remembrance and renewal. This got me thinking that in Israel, the days betweenYom Hashoa, when Israel stops to remember the 6 million heroes and martyrs slaughtered during the Holocaust and including Yom Hazikaron when we remember our fallen soldiers and victims of terror, culminating in Yom Ha’atzmaut, Independence Day are also days of awe.

 

The passing of time reminds us that we have precious little left to hear and gather the stories of Holocaust survivors. Every Yom Hashoa I am not only heartbroken by the magnitude of what we lost but also what could have been. The numbers are too much to bear. It is very hard to comprehend 6 million, including 1 500 000 children. Our families, our future. The pain is still insurmountable so many years later. And as time continues to march on it has become more important than ever to remember and to share their stories with the generations to come. Stories about heroism, individual and organised, personal stories, stories of the great houses of Torah learning, stories of our children whose lives were snuffed out. Stories of bravery and righteous gentiles, stories of those whose lives were saved. Stories of those who made their mark on history and stories of the potential of what could have been. Stories of our families, stories of our history. Stories of the once vibrant

 communities who contributed to their host countries. And the stories of how they ceased to 

exist. May their memories forever be blessed.

Image

 And the story of the creation of the modern state of Israel. Even though Jews have had a 

continuous presence in our holy land for thousands of years, we only became a modern state in 1948. On the backs of the brave pioneers, Holocaust survivors who in their frail state became warriors, our fledgling state rose out of the ashes of war to become the miracle it is today.

 Image

There have been far too many wars. A week after Yom Hashoa we commemorate Yom Hazikaron, a day of remembrance for our fallen warriors and victims of terror who have paid the ultimate price for our freedom in our beloved land.

 

These days of awe create an incredible sense of solidarity amongst Jews around the world but it is here in Israel where the emotions are seriously heightened. Soldiers are no longer

 uniformed strangers who serve but the children or spouses or lovers of people we know. And they are people we love. Yom Hazikaron is not only a day of remembrance for me but one of gratitude. Few words can express how grateful I am for those who protect us on land, sea and air. Those we see in uniform and those whose identities are secret. These warriors, these lions of Zion who are attacked and denigrated all over the world and threatened with war crimes trials are our guardians and protectors, following an honour code that is their backbone. We are proud of them, we embrace them and we love them. Israelis respect life. We revere life and we revel in it. And it is on this solemn and heartbreaking day that we are reminded of its fragility. We hold the victims of terror attacks and their families in our collective hearts. Their suffering is our suffering and we remember that their lives were cut short because they represented what our enemies tolerate – life.

 Image

And as the sun sets on a day of mourning, the mood of the country changes to one of celebration. This year we celebrate Israel’s 65th year of independence. And she has never looked better! Relatively young in the international family of nations, this petite but plucky lady has survived insurmountable hatred aimed at her, UN resolutions detracting her character and her fair share of war not to mention two Intifadas. Yet, she continues to blossom with barely a wrinkle. She has extended her arms to gather in millions of exiled Jews, sent her greatest humanitarian help to the four corners of the earth to help those in need, including countries that plot her demise. She has bloomed the desert, changed the way we practice medicine, received a disproportionate amount of Nobel prizes to her size for science, medicine, literature and peace. She is a hi-tech wonder and is leading the family of nations in contributing to the world. She has and continues to punch above her weight and  never takes her eyes of the prize – a lasting peace.

 

Happy Birthday Israel – long may you grow, achieve and welcome all who seek refuge in your arms.

 These are the days of miracles and wonders. These are the days of awe.

אם ישראל חיי

Surviving Aliyah – A-musings from an Olah-not-so-Chadesha

They say that time flies when you are having fun. This is so evident when one makes Aliyah and seeing that today is my second “Aliyahversary” I thought it right to mark the occasion by sharing some of my observations or a-musings….with a little advice sprinkled on top!

When one decides to make Aliyah, apart from the reams of research you should do and questions you should ask, you need to bring along your most important asset – a sense of humour. This will serve you well when navigating the challenges and sometimes riotously funny scenarios that Israel presents. Israel is highly entertaining and as a new immigrant you can make one of two choices – complain a lot about the cultural differences or jump in with both feet and enjoy the ride! So without any ado…and in no particular order, here are some of Roro’s a-musings and advice:

1) There are no subtitles – even though people say that you can get around with English, it is really advisable to learn Hebrew. Apart from being the lingua franca of the country, it is a necessary survival skill in order to integrate properly, find those really good jobs and understand what people are saying about you. Do an ulpan! Hebrew is a language that is constantly evolving and living in Israel is an introduction to some wonderful hybrid languages – Hebrish, Hebrench, Hebranish, Hebrussioan to name but a few. Okay, so nobody understands Hebrussian. And when in doubt, no curse word is as effective as a passionate invective…in Arabic!

2) And on the subject of cursing, those of us from slightly more conservative countries are a bit taken by surprise that there seems to be no censorship on radio or TV. The F bomb is not really considered a curse word in hebrew and one can tune in for their morning news and traffic report and musical choice, complete with a liberal dose of f-bombs. Kanye West, 50 Cent – rest assured your music is safe and uncensored here. Only on The Voice Israel can a judge voice (pardon the pun) his admiration by saying “Go mother$%&#*@^! S’True!

3) Jewish geography – how many times have you been at a party/shouk/work/pretending to mind your own business when someone hears a) your accent b) your surname c) something you shouldn’t have been saying but dafka the person who heard it is related to the person you are gossiping about? Yup, happens often in Israel. And then you connect the dots and realise you are a) related b) know the person they are talking about. This makes gossiping about people quite difficult. Somewhere along the line, we are all connected. Oy vey!

4) Toss away your dignity – when you are new to a country and don’t know the systems or the language, sometimes you have to forego your dignity in order to make your point. This is a phenomenon I have tried and tested! And the Oscar for Best Performance of a demented-chicken-desperately-flapping-its-wings goes to….Rolene Marks for her award winning role of customer-who-wants-chicken-breasts-but-has-no-idea-how-to-order-them-at-supermarket-counter. Insert curtsy here.

5) Talking about food, you can tell what season it is by the food on sale at the time. If it is spring, then Oznei Haman (Haman’s Ears) just in time for Purim. As we approach summer, it is Matzah and then a little later, cheesecake as we mark Pesach and Shavuout. Oh who am I kidding, it is always time for cheesecake! If it is Fall/Autumn, then it is Crembo, delicious chocolate covered squish and if it is winter, sufganiyot (donuts) for Chanukah. Yes, our seasons revolve around our history living up to the tenet they tried to kill us, we survived, lets eat!

6) A land of many contradictions – Israel is a country that has absorbed immigrants from over 80 countries. On any given day, you may engage with several different cultures, each as bewildering as the next. Now where else in the world can you walk in a shouk (market) and have the guy who is reading Al Quds newspaper and the latest Hamas drivel sell you a t-shirt that says “Don’t worry America, Israel is behind you!”. You gotta love the irony!
7) Driving me crazy – the most trying experience any new immigrant will have is driving in Israel. This is guaranteed to turn any seemingly rational person into a raging lunatic. Myself included. Just know that driving here is like fight club – and we don’t talk about fight club! Just do what the rest of us do – simply fling yourself and your vehicle into the craziness and hope for the best. Good luck!
8) Every Israeli a Prime Minister – ever heard the joke about Israeli Prime Ministers? No? Okay so here goes, the President of the US and the Israeli PM are chatting. Israeli PM says,”you are the President of 300 million Americans, I am the Prime Minister of 7 million Prime Ministers!” Never a more true word said in jest. Debating, arguing and sorting out the issues of the country is our national sport and with an election next month with more party swapping than a game of musical chairs, it is bound to be a blast. Arm yourself with your ID and a healthy dose of idealism and make your mark on your new society.

9) We truly are a special people – all jokes aside, nothing demonstrates how special this country is than in a time of crisis. Last month, Israel embarked on Operation Pillar of Defense to stop Hamas’incessant rocket attacks on Israeli civilians. Strangers opened hearts and homes to fellow countrymen. In a time of crisis, Israelis really do stand together, strong and united. Afterwards, we resume the bickering that is a sign that we really do regards each other as family.

10) Just do something – as Olim we often wonder what we can do to give back to our new country. If you are not at an age where you can serve in the IDF then I highly recommend joining a volunteer orgamisation. Not only will this help you integrate and make friends but you will be doing something positive for a country that gives its immigrants so much. My organisation of choice is WIZO – what is yours?
Everyone has a different story to tell about their Aliyah experience. Remember, there is no right or wrong way to feel. Jump in with open (but informed!) mind and make the most of this wonderful, sometimes hard, always fulfilling experience.

To sum up my Aliyah…Israel tries to challenge me, I survive…..gonna eat!

Shaken, Stirred but NOT Deterred!

By the time you have finished reading this sentence, 15 seconds would have passed. In these fifteen seconds millions of Israeli citizens may have had to run for cover in their bomb shelters as they are pounded by rockets fired tirelessly at them from Gaza-based terrorists. This has been the story of their lives for the several years now.

It may have taken you a minute to read the above paragraph. This is how long I have to get to my shelter should a rocket fired from Gaza reaches my home in Modiin, in the centre of the country. We thought it could never happen here. Our hearts have broken a thousand times as rockets pound our fellow citizens. We have stood in solidarity. And we have heaved secret sighs of relief – thank goodness we are safe.

Until now.

Last week, Israel embarked on Operation Pillar of Defence in response to the incessant barrage of rockets. From the air and from the sea, our airforce and navy have taken out tunnels, terrorist rocket launchers, Hamas leadership and their allotted targets with pinpoint accuracy. If there have been mistakes, rest assured, inquiries are immediate. Unlike our adversary Hamas who commit a double war crime by firing at our civilian population from within the confines of their own. But don’t take my word for it – you can hear them boast about on numerous YouTube clips appearing on a social media platform near you!

Hamas have fired rockets that can strike deep into the heart of the country putting 45% of us under threat. Rockets have been fired at Tel Aviv for the first time since the Gulf War and at our nations capital, Jerusalem. Not only our eternal capital, Jerusalem is home to many Arab citizens and Christianity, Islam and Judaism’s holiest sites.

Nearly all of us are on alert at all times should we hear the alarm that signals an incoming rockets and tells us to scramble for safety. I have heard and felt the booms as they reach their targets. I can only imagine what those under constant attack must feel.

As I write this post, footage from a terror attack on a bus in Tel Aviv is streaming in on my computer and television. It has been years since we saw a terror attack of this nature strike at the heart of Israel’s commercial capital. Once again our telephones beep with messages from concerned family and friends and social media platforms are a-buzz with our posts to worried loved ones that we are okay.
Next month I will celebrate the second anniversary of my aliyah. Many have asked me if I regret my decision to make Aliyah. Hell no! This is my home and there is nowhere else I would rather be than right here in her time of need. Am I scared? A little. Am I angry? You betcha! I am fuming that Hamas use our citizens for target practice. I am fuming that the world sees our right to defend ourselves as “disproportionate” or worth less than a 5 second sound bite. Would they prefer we remove our shelters, Army and Iron Dome so we can rack up numbers of dead Israelis? This is not a zero sum game. I am angry at the cowards who stalk our citizens with terror by planting explosive devices on our buses. I am angry at Hamas who instead of using the exorbitant funding they receive to build a nation, prefer to advocate genocide on their neighbour. Educating your children to become martyrs and not ballerinas, doctors, teachers, nation builders is not resistance – it is child abuse!

I am angry that our children sing songs about what to do when they hear the siren. I am angry that they play games of “siren and rocket” and not plain hide and seek.

And while the rockets rain down and the sirens wail, I look at my fellow citizens and take pride in our resolve and resilience, our strength and our unity.

I may be shaken, stirred but I will not be deterred! Am Yisrael Chai!

Gideon Levy and the dangers of the Apartheid Canard

As a young child growing up in Apartheid South Africa I witnessed the daily humiliation and persecution of my fellow citizens who were denied their basic human rights. I cannot forget the ominous visuals of armoured vehicles or “Caspirs” as they patrolled through the city streets enforcing “law and order” during the state of emergency years. Neither can I forget asking my mother why “nannies” (as we called our domestic workers) liked to sit on the grass, never park benches. I often wondered if they just didn’t like benches. My mother’s uncomfortable response was that they were not allowed by law to sit on park benches. My child-like brain just couldn’t comprehend this.

I grew up in blissful ignorance of the reality that surrounded me. Black children were a fascination as they never attended my school or ballet classes or played in the park with me. Yes, childhood in South Africa was seemingly idyllic until I grew into a curious teenager and my Zionist youth movement, along with many other organisations both Jewish and non-Jewish started to question and rebel against the system of law in our country. Many of South Africa’s Jews left the country in protest.

Read the complete article as it appears in The Times of Israel:

http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/gideon-levy-and-the-dangers-of-the-apartheid-canard/

Guiding the Perplexed…

Israel is a wonderful hodge-podge or mosaic of different cultures and a hotbed of innovative ideas. Hey, we have become the people of the book. Not just the Facebook (thanks Mr. President for that comment) or the bible (we have some of its prime real estate over here) but that fantastic best-seller, The Start Up Nation. We innovate! We Create! We Debate! We Ate?

When you make Aliyah (immigrate to Israel) you hear all sorts of anecdotes about Israeli culture. You are told again and again that you will be moving to a country with a completely different culture but nobody prepares you for just how downright entertaining living in Israel can be. Yes, there are days that are frustrating and perplexing and there are days when you question your decision to come but there are also days when living here is just so funny, some TV network should option a sitcom. So here are some observations made by this Olah Chadesha (new immigrant) that you just have to take with a pinch of salt. Or a large cocktail.

Read the complete article as it appears in The Times of Israel

http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/guiding-the-perplexed/