27 June 2008

Good bye, St. Louis!

As I type up this post, I am sitting on a stool in the kitchen, in house my family's lived in for 15 years, which we sold today. This stool is the only chair left in the house, and it's a little too short for the kitchen counter — the only tabletop left in the house. Beside my laptop sits a carton of warm orange juice. We no longer have a fridge. It's so empty in here that my typing reverberates.

But... I'm not typing right now. I typed it yesterday. (Blogger lets you post to the future.) When this post appears, I am doing this:
Ridin' in the backseat with my dog, singin' along with mix CDs that I made for the road.

(ETA: Arrived safe in Pittsburgh!)

26 June 2008

Zionism: third installment

(This post is the third in a series that starts here.)

There are lots of Zionisms out there. (Wikipedia lists Labor Zionism, General Zionism, Revisionist Zionism and Religious Zionism; I can think of a few more flavors besides.) I think all Zionists consider themselves ideological supporters of Israel in a respect that they identify as important; besides that, they have surprisingly little in common.

For example, some Zionists believe that diaspora Jews should immigrate to Israel; others believe that Zionism has nothing to do with non-Israelis. Some Zionists focus on agriculture; some connect Zionism to big industry and investment; some understand it as confined to the political realm. Some Zionist ideologies (like mine) demand withdrawal from the territories and dismantlement of the settlements... but those settlers live according to a Zionism that says different.

Why do I consider myself a Zionist? Two reasons:
  1. Ethnic Jews are still not safe in much of the world. I think it is important that the global community protect freedom of movement for people born within oppressive regimes. One solution is a state which offers special rights to persecuted people (particularly, rights to quick citizenship and benefits for new immigrants). A state which offers these sorts of rights to ethnic Jews is a Jewish state.

    Israeli law facilitates freedom of movement for diaspora Jews by offering all Jews a unique cluster of rights, largely designed to ease their absorption into Israel's national community. Because I think this is a good (though of course a non-optimal) solution to the problem of global antisemitism, I support the existence of a Jewish state. This is a Zionist claim.

  2. Alongside my abstractly pro-Jewish-state committments, I also have a more concretely pro-Israel committments. I identify with Israel in a way that engages me personally in the shared project of improving Israel. Let me explain what I mean by that.

    I have a non-optional commitment to improving the United States, by virtue of my being a member of this national community — particularly, one with lots of undeserved political & social power. Although I am a citizen of Israel, I think that my personal involvement in the improvement of Israel is (more) optional, because I am not quite a member of the Israeli national community. The fact that my identification with Israel overextends my membership in the Israeli national community makes me a Zionist. (It also fuels my commitment to justice in Israel, and thereby, to a political stance that many people would label anti-Zionist.)
Both of these thoughts are in need of reconsideration and refinement. I'm really hoping that the coming year will offer me lots of chances to discuss & clarify my thinking. The blog can also be an avenue for that sort of discussion — so, please comment!

25 June 2008

Zionism: second installment

(This post is a continuation of yesterday's.)

I'd like to be able to give you my sophisticated analysis of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. The truth is, I'm vastly underinformed about the historical, political, economic and sociological details — not for lack of information, but because I don't trust my ability to evaluate a lot of the information I have.

What I do know is that when it comes to the P/I conflict, my political priorities are in roughly the same place that they always are. I tend to be moved by arguments that appeal to individual rights, especially when they focus on the rights of the least-advantaged members of society, and especially especially when they focus on making sure that the least-advantaged possess the preconditions for secure cultural identity and political participation.

What I am not moved by are arguments that appeal to religious prerogative, ancient-historical entitlement, military security, economic efficiency, and personal safety for social elites. (At least, not when individual rights are at stake.) I won't deny that these blinders of mine are problematic. It's easy for me to blow off economic arguments; my income won't dry up if the market takes a hit. To blow off military security, given that I will never be called to serve in the armed forces [more on this another time]. To blow off terrorist attacks when I spent the spring of 2002 safe in St. Louis. Still....

My senior year in high school, I read A People's History of the United States in a US history class. The chapter on the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s ("Or Does It Explode?") changed the way I thought about politics. No more a glassy-eyed adherent to an ideology of nonviolence and conciliation, I found myself much more sympathetic to social movements that employed violence.

I had wanted a civil rights narrative centered on a figure with whom I identified: the Caring White Person. I wanted to believe that the movement succeeded when the tender hearts of White People Like Me were roused by photographs of nonthreatening protesters — Black students who reached across the racial divide and got on the wrong side of the fire hose to testify their faith in our mutual humanity. I did not want rights to have been won by angry rhetoricians (mean!) or urban rioters (scary!). Frankly, I didn't want rights to have been won by Black activists at all. I wanted those rights to have been conferred by Benevolent Whites.

Zinn's book knocked a little bit of sense into my narcissistic head. It got me thinking that maybe it was sometimes important for people to take power, rather than just ask politely and wait to receive it. With all due respect to the nonviolent component of the movement, Zinn directed my eyes beyond MLK and Rosa Parks, to Malcolm X and Huey Newton.

The analogy between the American Civil Rights Movement and the P/I conflict is easy to overstate. The histories are different, the cultures are different, and the demands are different; the violence of Palestinian militants needs to be understood on its own terms, and not merely as a Middle Eastern analogue to Black Power. But what I'm trying to say is this: I used to think that non-state-sanctioned violence was so unambiguously immoral that it settled the case. I thought that the government should ensure, at any cost, that buses never explode.

I don't think like that anymore. I'm realizing more and more that feelings of entitlement to security and my confidence that the-authorities-are-our-friends come easy for me because US racism works in my favor. That's why security-based political arguments generally leave me cold, and probably should leave me still colder.

My understanding of the P/I conflict guides my concern to the Palestinian side. I do not know enough to make any strong claims about how, when, or precisely where the Palestinian state should be established, but I believe that the answers to those questions depend on the what and why. I am convinced that the fundamental issue here is the Palestinians' need to be free from oppression. In this context, the Israelis' need to be safe from violence takes on only a reflected, pragmatic importance.

And yet, despite all of that, I consider myself a Zionist? More tomorrow!

24 June 2008

Zionism: first installment

"Baya wants to sign you up for courses on Zionism," my dad told me this morning at breakfast. (Baya is not my grandmother's real name; it's the family nickname that my brother gave her when he was a baby.) "I think she's taking this opportunity to reeducate you. I didn't think we'd done so badly, eh, Mom?"

"Well, I don't know about נטע (my sister)... but אדם (my brother) and רוני (y.t.) are probably more Zionist than we are."

I'd say that I got Zionism in my mother's milk, except that it came more insistently and explicitly from my grandmother. When I was very young, we spent more time with her than we would later, and she always took care to give us a heavy dose of Israeli civics. When she wasn't around, dinner-table conversations kept me fairly well-informed of the range of Jewish-Israeli perspectives on Israeli political controversies. But until I got to high school, I didn't realize that some thoughtful people didn't endorse Israel's existence at all. I thought that the need for a Jewish state was transparently and uncontroversially the moral of the Holocaust.

In high school, I became friends with a couple of Jews who were (it turned out) anti-Zionists, and learned to my surprise that Zionism is generally considered a conservative political position. And in college I figured out why I'd been so confused. In the European and liberal-American narrative of Israeli history, Israel went from underdog to occupier in 1967, when it acquired/seized/occupied Sinai, Gaza, the Golan Heights and the West Bank. According to the narrative I had learned — a mainstream Israeli perspective — Israel is now and always has been the underdog. As soon as this was pointed out to me, I realized that this segment of my historical narrative was reeling with spin.
They wanted to take the land and throw us into the Mediterranean. They were stronger than we were: more numerous and better armed. But we were clever. While they were getting ready to attack, we surprised them and we outsmarted them. We beat them back and wound up with even more land than we started with.
I had a variety of explanations for why we kept the territory. The main ones were:
  1. We needed it for safety (followed by a description of Golan Heights geography and the strategic importance of keeping our enemies off of the hills)
  2. We needed it as a bargaining token (followed by the story of how we gave the Sinai peninsula back to the Egyptians in exchange for peace.)
  3. But my favorite explanation was — Because we won it, fair and square. (Often followed by "they started it!" and other such inanities. This reason made perfect sense to us, as little kids who argued with each other and didn't know about the Geneva Conventions. It seemed, in fact, to invalidate reason #2. We should get peace without having to give away anything!)
When I was seven, I gave a class presentation on Israel. My mom printed out different maps of the Israeli borders over the years, for me to glue onto a poster. Seeing my familiar little arrowhead-shaped country with big Jordan-colored bites in its side made me feel uneasy. I didn't like thinking that political boundaries could change. I worried about losing the land again — about having to throw away our old globe, and not being able to visit the Dead Sea or the Western Wall.

When I was a kid, I thought all reasonable people supported the existence of a Jewish state (in one form or another). Today, I think all reasonable people support the existence of a Palestinean state (in some form or another). More on that tomorrow.

(25 days left)

19 June 2008

#s @ $s & ₪s (!)

That's how many shkalim I can buy for a dollar. Almost four last winter; less than three and a half today!

So the question is: Would it be wiser to keep my money in dollars and change it as-needed, in hope that my shekel-buying-power will improve? Or is it wiser to change more money, on the assumption that the dollar will get weaker before it gets stronger?

Sure, I could do my own research, but I'd rather solicit advice! I think some of you have off-the-top-of-your-head answers that are better than I'd be able to come up with, even after googling around.

As a token of my appreciation:

(From isRealli. Please click "play" only after giving advice thank you!)

(30 days left.)

18 June 2008

הערות שוליים

In just over a month, I'll arrive in Israel. I'll spend two weeks with my family at Kinneret1, and then I'll move in with my grandmother and enroll in Ulpan2 from August 6th to September 25th. The semester starts on November 2nd.3 [ETA: I had my itinerary all wrong. I'll post an update soon.]

Right now it is 9:05 p.m. in Jerusalem. At HUJI's4 Institute for Advanced Studies, two floors below the Center for the Study of Rationality5, Joseph Raz6 is approaching the podium to give a talk on "The Guise of the Good," kicking off an international conference on metaethics.

But I'm in the US for 31 more days. Eizo fashla! 7

1 Kinneret is the Hebrew name for the Sea of Galilee. Kinor means violin; the lake is called Kinneret because it's shaped kind of like a violin. See? →
The words "Kinneret" and "Kinor" have the same shoresh (three-letter root): KNR. More on this soon; Hebrew morphology gets a post of its own.

An ulpan is an intensive, immersive Hebrew school. Ulpanim are one of Israel's main ways of absorbing and assimilating of its new immigrants. The one I'll be attending is run by the Rothberg International School (RIS) at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem (HUJI), so I expect there to be some study-abroad American undergrads there. But I'm hoping to meet students and immigrants from elsewhere, too.

The school year always starts much later in Israel than it does here, but this year it's pushed back a little extra because of a 90-day higher-ed strike last fall, which delayed the beginning of their fall semester until January 20th. Their spring semester began during our final exam week, and won't end until August 4th.)

4 HUJI is short for the Hebrew University in Jerusalem Israel: my host institution! They pronounce it ['hu.dʒi], except that
[dʒ] is not a permissible onset in Hebrew, so sometimes it's pronounced ['hu.ʒi]/['hud.ʒi]. (Adorable!)

5 The Center for the Study of Rationality is my academic home next year. It's a multidisciplinary association of scholars (economists, psychologists, biologists, mathematicians, statisticians, computer scientists, academic lawyers, ed. theorists, academic lawyers, and philosophers) working on problems associated with the method and application of game theory. It's housed on HUJI's Givat Ram campus, in the third floor of the very-pretty Feldman building. The first two floors belong to the Institute for Advanced Studies.

6 Raz an Israeli expat and one of the most important philosophers — if not the most important — in the field of practical reason. He's also one of the philosophers I got the most exposure to as an undergrad, because my thesis adviser is a good friend of his and a loyal adherent. Getting to hear him give this lecture would have been such a תענוג
for me.

7 My Hebrew-English dictionary translates fashla (פשלה) as "mistake" or "fuck-up." But that's not exactly right. In this case, no one made a mistake; things just hammered out in a disappointing way. It's still a fashla because I narrowly missed out on something awesome.
Incidentally, Esperanto has a stem with a similar meaning: fushi means bungle or fuck up, which is only the at-fault meaning, but fushita means "spoiled" (which may be no one's fault) and fushkontakto means short circuit. Which goes to show, maybe Zamenhof
didn't completely forget about the Semitic languages?

16 June 2008

Seeing-as: a conversion chart

From a guidebook for Americans studying in Israel, produced by the U.S.-Israel Educational Foundation and sent to me by the Institute of International Education:
Same Behavior / Different Labels
Americans tend to see themselves as: Israelis often see Americans as:
friendlynaive, superficial, sexually provocative, artificial
respectful of privacy distant, unfriendly, lacking spontaneity, shy, excessively formal
sharing personal concernstastelessly exposing private matters, intrusive, unnecessarily revealing
organized rigid, “square”, inflexible, efficient at the expense of personal relationships, going by the book instead of improvising, focused on procedures instead of task at hand
respectful of authority passive, conforming, excessively formal, excessively mindful of hierarchy, focused on roles rather than goals, freier (Hebrew slang for “sucker” or “pushover”)
professional arbitrarily differentiating between work and social spheres, excessively formal
efficient arbitrarily differentiating between work and social spheres, unfriendly, overly programmed, lacking spontaneity
trusting and trustworthynaive

Israelis tend to see themselves as: Americans often see Israelis as:
Informal rude, familiar, inconsiderate, disrespectful, insubordinate, unprofessional
outspoken, direct, honest tactless, rude, blunt, disrespectful, aggressive, stubborn, insubordinate
spontaneous, open, natural out of control, intrusive, ill-mannered, unprofessional
hospitable, warmsmothering, intrusive, dominating
assertive aggressive, arrogant, ruthless, stubborn
flexible about plans and schedules; casual about rules and regulationsinefficient, sloppy, unprofessional, undisciplined, arrogant, irresponsible, inconsiderate
creative, able to improvise superficial, chaotic, undisciplined, unsystematic
active, taking initiativeinsubordinate, pushy, undisciplined, intrusive, dominating, aggressive
self-confident arrogant
willing to take risks irresponsible, overconfident
wary, alert, realisticcynical, distrustful
I think I'll be fine as long as I print out this table and make all the Israelis read it.

(33 days left.)

E.T.A. Some of these adjectives seem to have been copied-and-pasted right out of this article.
"Some years ago an Israeli journalist wrote about U.S. supermarkets. What struck him was the impersonal way in which store clerks told him to have a nice day. Later, a book by a pair of cross-cultural consultants found that Israelis often see Americans as insincere, naive, superficial, too formal, lacking spontaneity, insistent on going by the book rather than improvising, and easily taken advantage of."
There's also a short discussion of "freierhood" in there. I wonder what book he's referring to....

15 June 2008

ברוכים הבאים לבלוג החדש שלי

People have described the experience of second-generation Americans as a bridging of two cultures. I’m not much of a bridge. I feel more like a fish. I grew up in a tiny Israeli pond, inhabited by my mom and dad, my big brother, and my little sister. Hebrew was the Official Pond Language. We listened to tapes of Israeli music and watched recorded Israeli TV shows. Our bedtime stories read from right to left.

Going to school was like swimming across a channel and into a shockingly cold sea. The language was easy to learn, but the culture was baffling. I couldn't seem to figure out how to come off as polite, friendly, impatient or whatever. I found that being Jewish meant something very different to my friends than it did to me. And while my classmates chattered about TV shows I’d never watched, I found that I couldn't share my favorite songs, jokes and movies with them. As I grew older, I learned to be myself in the ocean, fluently and expressively navigating those cultural currents. When I swam back home to my pond every afternoon, words like “corny,” “tomboy” and “problematic” trailed behind me like seaweed.

Because I was raised on recordings, my contact with Israel has often felt stagnant. I have never gossiped with girlfriends in Hebrew or seen Israeli musicians perform in concert. My family’s brief visits to Israel have left me yearning to cultivate my own identity there, not just as a cousin, a niece and a granddaughter, but as an adult with a fluent voice of her own.

And so? Having completed my BA, I'll be spending next year in Israel, working on a research project and figuring out my cosmopolitan identity. And you all get to read all about it!

(35 days left.)