Friday, April 28, 2006

This is a test to see if I can upload a photo. What nice new technology: the last time I was in Israel I didn't have a digital camera (I'm not sure they even existed yet).

Obviously I don't have any photos of the trip. This is our house -- the garden that we put in last year seems to have survived the winter well. You can see the red of the little Japanese maple and the pink of the saucer magnolia.


I don't fully agree with every one of the following quotes, but they are thought-provoking:

From the Forward, April 28, 2006:
"Judaism has come to mean very different things in the two places [here in the USA and Israel]. Here it is a voluntary network of associations, beliefs, practices and loyalties. There it is, above all, an existential condition, a fact of everyday life and a challenge to survive." -- from "Deeper than we Know," Editorial (

"A coalition of American Jewish organizations launched a groundbreaking initiative this week to improve the socio-economic standing of Israeli Arabs, but participating groups were split on whether to speak out against the inclusion of an ultra-nationalist, reputedly anti-Arab party [Yisrael Beiteinu] in Israel's new government." -- from "Jewish Groups Join in Bid to Aid Arabs..." by Marc Pereleman (

From the book Jerusalem City of Mirrors by Amos Elon (1989):
"In our own time, men have stepped on the moon seeking new Jerusalems in foreign galaxies, but so far the old Jerusalem has not been replaced. She retains an extraordinary hold over the imagination...." (p. 5)

"Before 1967, Israelis had been a people with too much history and too little geography. After 1967, the opposite became true." (p. 89)

From the book To Jerusalem and Back by Saul Bellow (1976):
"There are many Israelis who do not believe, but there are few who have no religious life. Life for the irreligious in Israel is quasi-religious. ... Such injustices as have been committed against the Arabs can be more readily justified by Judaism, by the whole of Jewish history, than by Zionism alone." (p. 54)

From the book From Beirut to Jerusalem by Thomas Friedman (1989):
"Wherever you go in Israel today you can feel the past lapping up against society, whispering like a late-afternoon tide that the destiny of Israelis, like all Jews, is to be the victim." (p. 274)

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Biblical Archaeology from a Tourist Perspective

In the current Smithsonian (May 2006) is an article titled "Shifting Ground in the Holy Land." The author, Jennifer Wallace, extracts the essence of a question that one faces while doing standard tourism in Israel.

At the one extreme in the question of biblical archaelogy, are those who believe that the Bible is history or a very close representation of it. (Those who believe that the Bible is literally true are not worried about archaeology or any other evidence, so they don't really figure in this dichotomy.) Archaeologists in the early days of Zionism were delighted to find evidence of biblical sites such as Hatzor. They also enjoyed excavating Roman/Byzantine synagogues like Bet Alpha as they tried to form connections for the dispossessed immigrants to the new land of Israel. The article describes some of the proponents of this view and their enthusiasm for their discoveries.

At the other extreme among Jews, as summarized in the article, are the extreme skeptics, who dispute virtually every claim about the correspondence between the Bible and the stones. A book I have read called The Bible Unearthed by Neil Asher Silverman is the epitome of this view. To use the summary in the article: "The book argues that the biblical accounts of early Israelite history reveal more about the time they were written -- the seventh century B.C. -- than the events they describe, which would have taken place centuries earlier." (p. 62)

Also at the extreme of disbelief, as the article and many others discuss, are Palestinians who for political reasons refuse to acknowledge any Jewish presence in Israel before some arbitrary date like the 19th century of our era. Frankly, I don't think they are any different from the people who believe the Bible is the word of God: evidence doesn't matter to them. The Smithsonian article depicts Hamdan Taha of the Palestinian Authority, who rejects Jewish history.

Even for someone like myself, a nonbeliever in the religion of the Bible, the historic connections are inspiring. Seeing the gates and water systems of Meggido and Hatzor or the altars of earlier sites, presented side by side with biblical quotes in Israeli national parks, is exciting. And quite a few accounts of the correspondence between the stones and the ancient words do seek a middle ground.

Silberman's book was published subsequent to my last trip. However, the connection to the Bible writers who used the landmarks of their era -- the seventh century BCE -- in formulating their own history is just as exciting as the idea that the history is totally accurate. I will try to keep so much of this in mind as I revisit the truly ancient sites. I'm not sure that the connection is diminished by the details of 50 years here or there, or of just exactly what the truth about David's kingdom was. It's still Jewish history, and exciting.

Ethiopians In Israel

One of my interests in Israel will be learning what I can about the Israeli-Ethiopian community -- a challenge, since I have no common language. Assimilating Ethiopian immigrants has been and will continue to be a major challenge for Israelis. Meanwhile, many Ethiopians maintain their culture and food habits.

Yesterday in Ha'aretz ( I read two articles of interest.

The first Ha'aretz article described a shortage in Israel of the Ethiopian grain teff. Teff is an ancient grain -- quite nutritious, but with very small kernels. Ethiopians domesticated teff a few thousand years ago. It is cultivated only there, and used for the characteristic spongy Ethiopian flat bread called injera.

The Ethiopian government is motivated to cut off Israeli supplies, some Israeli sources say, because they suspect the Israelis of reselling the teff to Eritrea. Officials at the Ethiopian Embassy in Israel deny intentional manipulation. They blame the situation on limited supply and rising prices for teff within Ethiopia.

"Teff is currently the most expensive grain to purchase in Ethiopia as it requires labor-intensive harvesting and processing techniques, and produces especially low yields," according to "MORE ABOUT ETHIOPIAN FOOD: TEFF " (

Our local Ethiopian restaurant, The Blue Nile in Ann Arbor, says that they are aware of the shortage. However, they use white flour to make their ingera, and therefore they do not purchase any teff.

The second Ha'aretz article was about the usual control-freak behavior of the ultra-orthodox Jews in Israel. Ethiopian immigrants can obtain Israeli citizenship only if they receive a conversion certificate -- even though they are considered Jewish before they come to Israel. Conversion officials, who are all ultra-orthodox, are taking advantage of their semi official status. Currently they are withholding certificates for a number of Ethiopians who participate in non-orthodox institutions or attend non-orthodox schools. No surprises, just the usual unfortunate conflict between secularist Israeli society at large and the fanatics' demands on them, with collateral damage to helpless victims.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

The Hand-In-Hand School

Last night, with around 100 other people, I attended a presentation about the Hand-In-Hand schools in three locations in Israel. The schools each have co-principals: one Israeli Arab, one Israeli Jew. Each classroom has 2 teachers, who each teach in their own language, and the pupils (age 3 to about 12) also equally represent the two groups, as well as being equally divided between boys and girls. Parents who send the children to these schools are idealists: most of Israeli society, including the educational system, is separate. One goal for my trip to Israel, for which I leave Sunday, is to vist and learn more about Israelis' attempts to make their society more open and idealistic. The timing of this event was thus very lucky for me.

Three individuals spoke briefly, showed a 10 minute video presentation about the school, and answered questions. During filming of the video, in the Jerusalem school, a suicide bomber blew up a bus so close by that teachers and children could hear the explosion and see the smoke. Children's and teachers' reactions therefore became part of the video. They seemed frightened, sad, resigned. Like their parents, the children seemed aware that their school was special -- and hopeful.

An interesting glimpse of the classroom life in the video was a scene where one could see a Christmas tree as well as obvious celebration of Chanukah. The Jewish parent who spoke also mentioned how his son had spent two nights at an Arab home during the Ramadan celebration. All agreed that the religious holidays were easier to handle than the Israeli national Independence Day, which Arabs call "the catastrophe." The school attempts to handle this virtually unreconcilable split with tact and good will. I hope I will learn more and understand more.

Although officially all Jewish Israelis eventually study Arabic as a classroom language, many in fact do not. One of the differences in this school is that the two-teacher classrooms provide immersion learning of both languages for all the children. According to the presenters, most Israeli Arabs under age 50 are relatively fluent in Hebrew, the dominant language of the country, while most Jews know little or no spoken Arabic (many can read it, because of the school classes). In the Hand-In-Hand schools, we learned, the Arab children become fluent in Hebrew, and most Jewish children become conversant, if not fluent, in Arabic. This seems to reflect the cultural learning that takes place as well.

Our local Jewish Federation contributes to the school as a part of our overseas funding initiative. Through funding this and other idealistic endeavors, we Jews here express our hope that a better society can grow and flourish in Israel. Our contribution another initiative, educational opportunities for Druze women (sponsored by the Joint Distribution Committee), and the exceptional interest in the Hand-In-Hand school differentiate us from many other Jewish communities.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Next week, I will be in Israel with plans to stay for one month. I will record some of my impressions here.