Wednesday, March 25, 2015

And The Hits Just Keep On Comin'

         I wasn't planning on blogging this week, running around trying to get ready for my first trip back to New York since my aliyah, but I have so many thoughts and emotions bubbling up inside me, trying desperately to get out and be written down. It boils down to this: American Jews think they know what is best for Israel better than Israeli Jews. I know you have seen so many articles with exactly this premise, but as a former American Jew and current Israeli- American Jew, I feel my voice is somewhat unique. I have lived on both sides of this debate, and here's my personal take.
          I remember living in New York and being an ardent Zionist. I followed Israeli news as avidly as I did American news. I followed the political shenanigans and the wars. I followed the peace process and the Intifada. I followed the US-Israeli relationship from Clinton through Obama, all from the perspective of an American Jew who loved Israel and wanted what was best for it. And there were times when I agreed with what they did over there, and times that I vehemently disagreed. There were prime ministers I liked, and those I loathed (Olmert, Barak, Sharon after "the Disengagement.") There were times  worried for the country, and voiced that concern to friends and other Jews. There were times that I voiced concerns loudly and publicly. But during those times, there was always a stronger inner voice, one I remember vividly, that would say to me, "Oh, you're so passionate, Brown? You know best? So go over there and live there. Then you can scream and protest. Until then, who are you to say how Israelis should vote/decide/live?" I always listened to that voice, because ultimately, I was living in my American bubble, safe from those decisions I made for the people of Israel, even though I always wanted what was best for them.
         Unfortunately, over the past days since our election, the same cannot be said for my American brothers and sisters who choose to talk down to the Israeli public as if we are fools who can not be trusted to make decisions for our own country. Be it on social media, the mainstream media or the State Department itself, there is a gang of (I'm, assuming) well- meaning American Jews who, as if in a chorus of patronization, are demonizing both our democratically elected leadership and us morons who democratically elected them. They have been minimizing our vote, and they have been leaving us feeling abandoned at the UN. They have been railing against us at their "Pro-Israel, Pro-Peace" conferences and they have leaking threatening governmental action. And I know that were I still living in the US and the election had gone the other way, I mght be angry and I might be worried, but I would not be spending all my waking hours posting, blogging, opining and basically berating my Jewish brothers and sisters in Israel for their stupidity. Which is what so many members of the liberal Jewish-American brain trust have been doing since the election.
          It is difficult for me to take this verbal punishment lying down for several reasons. One is because American Jews don't actually live here. They did not run with me to the bomb shelters last summer. They did not fear standing at the light-rail station or a bus stop while Jerusalem was gripped by fear during a spate of terrorist attacks this past fall. They didn't hear the constant sirens in Ashkelon and Sderot and fear for their safety as weeks became months. They weren't ripped from their homes and greenhouses in Gush Katif, only to see them demolished and replaced by terrorist bases. They don't live, work, raise children and enjoy life in Gush Etzion- which for anyone who has been there is not a vile mass of sinister settlements, but vibrant and beautiful group of Jewish cities. These well- meaning American Jews are not Europeans, worried about their own personal safety as Jews, and the possibility that mass Jewish emigration is imminent. They are ensconced in liberal and heavily Jewish bubbles in New York, Los Angeles and DC, and that is their reality.
         It is easier to demonize Benjamin Netanyahu, a man who has figuratively and literally offered his life to the Jewish state, rather than shine a light on the extremely worrying fact that their own president has taken actions that can only be described as "against Israeli interests" consistently for the past seven years. Are liberal American Jews more beholden to the feelings of their president than they are to the leader of the Israeli people on matters pertaining to Israeli safety and well-being? Do they actually believe that a man who refuses to condemn terrorists in Iran, Syria and Europe cares more about the people of Israel than it's own freely elected leader? Do they not see the possibility that Obama maybe doesn't love Israel? That his well-documented position of supports a result of overwhelming American support for the Jewish state? Is none of what I'm saying even remotely possible? Or is it possible that American Jews are significantly more American than Jewish? Maybe they truly feel the safety and security of we Israeli Jews is worth sacrificing on the minuscule chance that peace can be achieved with our neighbors soon and in our time?
          A lot has been said about Bibi's comment that a two- state solution isn't really possible right now. Many who hate him used this opportunity to point out what a racist, bigoted war-monger he is. Sure, ok, why not? But to the heart of what he said, please answer me this- who is our peace partner right now, clamoring for this peace process to continue? Is it Fatah- who refuses to recognize our existence and has a president on his 11th year of a four- year term? Or is it Hamas in Gaza- whose very charter calls for each and every Jew to take a one-way trip "into the sea"? And are these the same peace partners who have rejected every Israeli offer since 1994, including the release of thousands of known terrorists and a fully Judenrein Gaza strip? Why is the next offer the one they will finally accept? Why is creating a new Gaza in the West Bank the answer to the mystifying problem of the conflict? And why, most of all, do American Jews believe that they know better? That they have the answers, the key to our peaceful future? And before you wonder, I would feel exactly the same if I was one of those American Jews, living comfortably and safely in Queens, New York.
          Maybe I have been rambling. Maybe I have been focusing on a small subsection of ire in a sea of Israeli support. Maybe when I get back to the States, I will be welcomed with love and well-wishes for my new home, and I will realize I have been worried over nothing. But I do know that whether I am here or there, I will continue support my fellow Israelis and the country where  I have chosen to live- and that regardless of those who seek to patronize us or make us feel small, we are strong and we are proud and as always "Am Yisrael Chai- The Nation of Israel Lives."

Thursday, March 19, 2015

It's Party Time!

        It was hard to find the words to write this post for a few reasons. First is the job I recently started, which, weirdly enough, has been gobbling up a lot of my blogging time! But more than that, it's because I have so many emotions, thoughts and feelings that keep sending me off onto different (equally fascinating) tangents, I just don't know where to start. Of course, I am referring to the recently finished election season here in Israel, which I have already written a bit about. 
      For those of you residing under a rock, Israel recently held elections, which essentially (although much more complicatedly) pitted the left-wing Isaac (Buji) Herzog against the right-wing current prime minister, Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu. Yes, Buji vs. Bibi. It would be adorable if it wasn't such a proverbial bloodbath. Without getting too deep into it, it looks like Bibi will retain his position, by putting together the larger coalition of seats in the Knesset (Parliament). Side note: maybe I should be teaching civics and government to English-speaking olim? Have I missed my calling? But, I digress. 
       Now, unless you have never read my blog or met me, you would know that I am decidedly right-wing. Unapologetic, strongly, proudly and unwaveringly. Does that mean that I hate everyone with a different viewpoint? Not at all. I try to hear everyone's opinion, and see where they're coming from- sometimes I don't do that great but I do try. That said, the days leading up to the election and the two days since have left me in a state of perpetual social anxiety. Elections in the States are tense, for sure. I can remember waking up that first Wednesday in November in 2008 and 2012, hearing who won the presidency, having a few moments of intense sadness, and moving on. And yes, it was hard to hear the gloating, triumphant drumbeat of my extremely wonderful and passionate Democrat friends, but life goes on. In Israel, it is a whole different story. I never felt an election resonate so much within. I never felt true existential fear that my candidate might not win. I never worried that my vote might actually make a difference, because, honestly, in New York it really doesn't. 
        Leading up to the race I truly didn't know for whom I should vote. Should I vote with my brain, and go with Likud to avoid the doomsday scenario my fellow right-wingers feared? Or with my heart, for the candidate who stood for every I did. Honestly, until probably the day before, I was unsure and confused. But to lighten the mood, let me tell you about Election Day! First, Election Day is a national holiday in Israel. No one is allowed to make their employees work, and if they do, it's at twice their normal salary! This means that the whole country is off! Now, for a country where there is no Sunday (I mean, it exists, but it's a workday) and the only official days off are Jewish/nationalist holidays-this is huge! The cafes were packed, everyone was out and about, and the weather was magnificent! It was really fabulous. The electoral process, however, is a little funnier. First, you can only vote in the one polling location where you are registered. This means, if you lived in the Golan and moved to Jerusalem without changing  your address legally- you have to head back up north to vote! Luckily, my polling place was a 3- minute walk. So I got all dressed up in blue and white (nails included) and I have to tell you, people appreciated that I went that extra mile. When you get to the polling place and sign in, you head to honestly the most low-tech voting booth outside of Botswana. It is basically an oak tag with a bunch of slips of paper, each with the symbol of the different parties. You select your chosen party's slip and put into an envelope, seal and drop into a cardboard box. I kid you not, it is like taking the Pepsi challenge or voting for Prom Queen. Anyway, I took the requisite "first time voting!" photo, and went on my way.

Always color coordinate with your polling place
       The rest of my day was great and relaxed, but at the back of my mind, I had the niggling stress that comes with hoping your candidate wins and everything works out okay. Suffice it to say, it went really well for my candidate. I was happy Bibi won, happy the right- wing seemed strong, a bit disappointed my party didn't do better (okay, okay- I voted Bayit Yehudi), but altogether happy and moving on with my life. Right? Wrong.
       If I was stressed out by the invective coming out of both sides before the election, I was honestly baffled by the sheer hatred coming from the left-wing after the polls closed and the votes were counted. The way people were referring to Bibi, it was as if Ahmadinejad had just been re-elected and the country was on a speeding train towards destruction. Essentially, very little had changed since the day before- same prime minister, a few shifts in seats (notably more Arabs in the Knesset, but somehow that hasn't made it to the papers) but essentially the same as Monday afternoon. But you wouldn't know it from my Facebook feed! In one short day, the peace process (which was apparently just on the brink of happening) was now dead forever, America was cutting all ties, the Arabs were going to riot in the streets, and Bibi was going to turn Israel into an extremist theocracy. I'm being tongue in cheek, but I have read some variation of each of these themes over the past two days. It was as if the left wing had never lost an election before! And they couldn't blame voter turnout (one of the highest ever), so they had to blame every other conceivable factor- fear, Iran, America, the media, the polls, the Orthodox- whatever worked, just as long as it wasn't the fact that, I dunno, maybe more people in this country wanted Bibi than Buji? 
        I kept getting a lot of people asking me (usually my liberal friends), "Are you so happy?" And my response is always the same. I am relieved. Is Bibi my ideological twin? No. Do I think he's the better option for a strong Israel? Definitely. Do I think Israel will be safer with him in charge? Yup. Do I think this will ruin our relationship with America? I certainly hope not! Would I rather an Obama that hates Israel under Bibi because he won't capitulate, rather than an Obama that loves Israel under Buji because he throws Jews out of Judea and Samaria? You bet! Do I think Bibi is better equipped to handle the Iranian threat? Of course! Does Bibi ever make a mistake in my eyes? One hundred percent! But all that said, I am relieved.
         I am relieved that Israel is the Jewish state, and that I get to live here. I am relieved that all our views get representation in our government, views from all ends of the spectrum. I am relieved that we have a true and thriving democracy, where we can be free to aggressively insult our leaders with no fear of repression. I am relieved that I got through this crazy election season alive and intact. And mostly, I am relieved that this is all over, that we can go back to our regular lives where no one disagrees, and everyone just gets along all the time. Just kidding! We'll go back to arguing over everything here, just like we always do. And I love it all.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Work It, Girl

      I just ended the longest period of not working in my adult life. Sure, I was in ulpan, and then I had a part-time gig event planning, and my blog is always a legitimate time-consumer. But since my high school days, I've always had some sort of consistent employment. I started as my one of my neighborhood's most in-demand babysitters, then I was a youth leader, a counselor every summer, I tutored, I balanced books at my dad's warehouse, worked at my synagogue, and taught Hebrew school- all before I ever started working "for real." Then I had a bunch of years as a speech therapist, all while spending all my breaks leading Aish or Birthright trips. And I LOVED it!
      I'm not someone who sits and chills. On vacation, I'm doing things! I'm riding the Segway to the museum right before the night's music festival. I'm rarely the one up at 1 PM to just sit on the beach for hours. So you can imagine my distress at an untold number of days, weeks, months (years?!) where I wasn't sure what I'd do for employment!
       One of the first things I did (once my Aliyah benefits ended) was file for unemployment. Lest you think this is a viable alternative to working, I will have you know, I jumped through many, many hoops to collect what I can only describe as "not enough to live on." But hey, any little bit helps and I am glad the government was there to help a sista out!
       And wouldn't ya know it, that was to be my one and only unemployment check! Whilst interviewing for a number of great jobs (in my general field of interest and skill), I had a chance meeting with someone who worked in the EXACT field where I feel most passionate- Israeli advocacy. If you couldn't tell thus far, I'm truly in love with Israel and I just want others to see the beautiful country I do. So here is this opportunity to teach young North American Jews how to advocate for Israel, on their campuses and online. The tide of anti-Israel propaganda right now is a full-on tsunami. Most supporters of Israel just don't have the tools or the fortitude, or even the network to speak up on Israel's behalf. There is a wealth of information to utilize, but they need a direction with which to channel it all.
        That's where we come in. We put together a six-week internship where participants learn the tools they need to advocate, learn video technique, travel around this amazing country and delve into their Jewish culture- it hits all the spots I love! (SHAMELESS PLUG- check out to see what I'm talking about!)
          So that's where I am right now. I'd like to thank everyone who helped me and worried about me. Everyone who forwarded my resumé and gave me recommendations. Everyone who listened to me kvetch and prayed for me to FINALLY find something to do. Everything helped, and people are really good. And if you need me, I'm currently located in the heart of the Old City, overlooking the hills of Jerusalem, feeling lucky to be here every day!