Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Confessions of a Retired Birthright Counselor.

          Facebook has this fun new shtick where you can see what your Facebook activity consisted of on that day of each year since you joined the network. It's a kind of "This is your life," for the new millennium- a scarily accurate analogy for people who "live" on Facebook. Anyway, this week I noticed that one year ago that day I left for my final Birthright trip. For those of you who don't know (which is basically only people who've never met me, so- welcome!) I have staffed A LOT of Taglit-Birthright trips. Twelve, to be exact. So many that the powers that be honored that milestone with a little certificate and it was SO cute and I loved every trip. 
Heading into my final Birthright trip

         Why am I bringing this up now in this blog post? The reasons are twofold- first, I am currently working in the Old City and making many trips down to the Western Wall. When I make these pilgrimages on a Friday evening (or any day, really) I am inundated with hundreds of young, excited Americans who are here for (usually) the first time on Birthright. It warms my heart to see them writing their notes, singing whatever Jewish songs they know and taking "Kotel Selfies" with their friends as they experience the moving power of the Wall. I stand there and watch the boys putting on tefillin, often for the first time ever, and the girls draped in their shawls and maxi dresses, touching their fingers to the stones. I hear the conversations between them (I'm not eavesdropping, they're loud!) where they wonder who felt what, who cried, and how it all was. Every time I see a group I am transported to the many times I took my own groups to see the Wall for the first time, and the questions they would ask me. I mean, sure, them being there makes it take an extra 13 minutes to get into the Kotel Plaza and I have to dodge a million group photos, but seeing a fellow Jew make a lifelong Jewish memory is totally worth it.
       The second reason I bring Birthright up is because it reminds me about both how time goes so fast and so slowly simultaneously. Was it only twelve months ago that I still lived in NYC, was still a speech therapist at a public school in Queens, still celebrated shabbat and holidays with my immediate family and close friends? And here it is, just a year later, and basically nothing is the same. Not only do I not live in NYC, not only do I no longer practice speech therapy, but I have lived livessince then! I have made aliyah, done a full ulpan, found an apartment, found a job, made new friends, been back to visit NYC -all before even a full year has passed. It's incredible to think how many things can happen in just one year. 
        Now when I see Birthrights, it's with the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia. It's realizing that I went from being one of them, an American Jew, to this whole other person- an Israeli. We no longer share the same backstory, the same hometown and the same daily experience. And while I may understand where they're coming from, and speak their language, and be able to relate to this trip they're on- something has indelibly shifted. When I see them, I think about how in ten days, their time here will be over. They may extend a while, they may come back to visit, but by and large, they will go back to America, just like I did twelve times. But now I am retired from the Birthright game. And now I don't have to get on the plane to go back home- because I already am home.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The Misinformation of Lauryn Hill

         “Did you hear?” the texts blared as I opened my eyes this morning. “Lauryn Hill canceled her Israel concert!” I got three variations of this text, for a few reasons. One is because I have been a huge Lauryn Hill fan since the 90’s. Her album was one of the first I ever bought for my own little collection. Another was because I had bought tickets to that show, and was looking forward to seeing her live for the first time ever- and in Israel, no less! It worked out perfectly- an outdoor show on a Thursday night, conveniently right after Lag B’Omer! I even had the blanket I planned to sit on ready to go. Then, all in one text, the minor cloud that ominously hung over this concert broke into a storm. There had been rumblings that Hill might cancel for several reasons. One is that she’s notoriously flaky- her erratic behaviour at and before her shows is legendary. But also because she has been ceaselessly pressured by the loud and aggressive BDS movement to cancel, basically since the moment she announced her show.
       There have always been rumors of Hill’s real feelings toward Jews. I personally heard she wasn’t a fan. Then I heard it was hearsay, and upon further research, couldn’t find a credible source proving she ever said anything anti-Semitic. So to hear that now she is cancelling this concert is even more upsetting.
      The reason (cough, excuse) from the singer herself is that since she couldn’t play a show in Ramallah for her Palestinian fans, she didn’t feel right playing one for her Israeli fans. Um, wait a sec. Did she even plan a concert in Ramallah? When was it scheduled? Where were they selling tickets? And if the Israel concert had been set for months, why was this Ramallah oversight mentioned 3 days before the show?! Another explanation could be poor ticket sales. This is highly likely, as her show was still being promoted heavily here in Israel while the upcoming Backstreet Boys shows are basically all sold out. If that’s the case, we have the right to know. Don’t hide behind some equivocation nonsense.
       But the real worrying possibility, is that she, like several others before her, bowed to the pressure of the 24/7 hate machine known as BDS. Ever since the concert was scheduled, there has been a steady barrage of Facebook campaigns, petitions, articles and veiled threats, all with the sole purpose of scaring Lauryn Hill into canceling. They tried and failed with Alicia Keys, Justin Timberlake, Lady Gaga and Robbie Williams. Each of them withstood the pressure, came and performed, and enjoyed every minute. Each concert was a triumph for music and freedom at the same time. But it seems they succeeded with Lauryn Hill. It appears that their unending stream of threats, lies and vitriol worked, and it leaves Israel looking bad. Just look at the Facebook page dedicated to her concert here. It is now bursting with anti- Israel and anti- Semitic comments ranging from the offensive to the terrifying. It took a situation which never needed to happen, and turned it into a public relations headache, the likes of which Israel just does not need.
        So sure, I’m annoyed that my Thursday night is ruined. Yeah, it’s frustrating to have to speculate as to just why the concert was really canceled. But my biggest gripe with this whole issue is how it affects Israel. It gives ammunition to those who hate us, and shines a spotlight on us for all the wrong reasons. I hate to think that the to biggest headlines out of Israel this week are “Israel in Nepal” and “Lauryn Hill boycotts Israel.” It’s not okay. In the words of my once- favorite singer, Lauryn Hill, “it could all be so simple, but you’d rather make it hard…”