Columnists who operate under a regular deadline all have one chilling, primal fear: What if I have nothing to write about this week? Fortunately, we who live in Israel almost never have that problem; there is always something of earth-shaking importance going on in this little/large country of ours. In fact, there usually are so many different subjects crying out for elucidation that it is often hard to choose just one. That is why, from time to time, I feel compelled to comment briefly on several items, rather than wax poetic about just one.
Be careful what you pray for
On trips to Far Eastern countries like China and Vietnam over the past decades, I marveled at their population’s wide use of electric bikes. And I thought, wouldn’t this be great for Israel? Reduce our dependence on gas, generate less noise, less pollution, less traffic congestion, and give us more chance to enjoy the fresh air and beautiful warm weather that we experience most of the year here. What could go wrong? But for years, for whatever reason, Israel banned electric bikes. And then, suddenly, the ban was lifted, and these bikes bolted out of the starting gates like thoroughbreds at the Kentucky Derby. The result? As we say in Yiddish, the “Kalla is tzu shain,” the bride is too pretty! The bikes, alas, are proving to be a major headache. They go too slow and are too vulnerable to travel on the street alongside speeding cars, but at the same time, they are too fast to travel on our sidewalks.
More than once, I have seen bikes collide with pedestrians, resulting in painful injuries to both rider and walker. Few if any of the riders wear protective helmets, and there is almost no time to get out of the way of a bike that is bearing down on you.
I also grit my teeth when I see eight-, 10- and 12-year-old kids letting the electric motor do all the work. Why the heck is a kid – whose young legs should be pedaling for exercise and fun – riding an electric bike? There is already too little healthy calisthenics in Western society – what with sitting at computers or in front of TVs and iPads all day – to take away a perfect opportunity to stretch the legs and build strong muscles. Parents, please: Pull the plug on the youngsters’ bike batteries and let them recharge their natural batteries. And city officials: Get these kids into helmets and do something to make our streets safer. The old joke “If you don’t like the way I drive, stay off the sidewalk” is getting less funny and more real all the time.
Not just another pretty face
Speaking of the Kentucky Derby, the jockeying continues in the “race” for president of Israel, as current prez Shimon Peres prepares to step down before the summer. Tourism Minister Uzi Landau is one of the latest to consider entering the fray, and he is, indeed, a distinguished and erudite gentleman with a stellar history of representing Israel’s case before the nations. He certainly is a far better choice than someone like Binyamin Ben- Eliezer, who insanely goes around trying to drum up support to free mass-murderer Marwan Barghouti, even as Barghouti calls for more innocent Israelis to be killed in terror attacks.
But as the president is – or should be – just a figurehead, why do we need to elect another recycled, end-of-career politician to the job? Why not a fresh, new face, someone who epitomizes the youth, vibrancy, vitality and beauty that is modern Israel? And so, I hereby nominate Jewish-American Scarlett Johansson for the post! Recently named by Esquire magazine – for the second time – the “sexiest woman alive,” Johansson not only has the charisma, but also the courage to speak up for Israel when we are being maligned. She would project a whole new image for our country in the world at large. I mean, what world leader in his right mind would turn down a photo-op with Scarlett? And who would refuse to have diplomatic relations with her and her nation, other than the very people we actually want nothing to do with? Frankly, my dear Scarlett, it’s precisely because you do give a damn that you should consider representing us. I look forward to raising my SodaStream and wishing you, “L’haim!”
Israel has had its share of bad slogans in the past – “Israel: Just a Stone’s Throw Away!” comes to mind – but another poor choice of terminology is the expression “Sharing the Burden.” This is the catchphrase describing the responsibility of every citizen to share in national service, including serving in the IDF. But the connotation here is disturbing.
Why should serving one’s country be considered a “burden”? Why is it not rather a privilege, an honor? Did we not pray, dream and plan for 2,000 years to return to our own country where we could create an army in which to serve? Is voting and volunteering such drudgery that it “burdens” and weighs us down? Words have power, and it is important that we convey to ourselves and to others that when we serve the nation, we are really serving our own best interests, and that when we build up our national institutions, we are really building up ourselves. To this end, I have always felt not anger, but sadness – indeed, almost pity – for those who miss out on the army experience. They lose the opportunity to do something of real significance that would enhance their lives and make them a more complete Jew and human being. And I say this despite the fact that our eldest son fell in battle.
That is why I think it is infinitely preferable to reward the soldier rather than punish the evader, for the person who dodges the draft has already lost a great deal, and the person who completes his military service deserves whatever benefits society can heap upon him or her.
Perhaps, if we change the rhetoric, we will change the reality.
The Jewish world is going to lose a truly great leader next year, when Anti-Defamation League director Abe Foxman retires after 27 years at the helm. Foxman has defended the interests of Israel and world Jewry with skill and savvy throughout his career, boldly challenging anyone who exhibited anti-Semitism, from prince to poet, actor to athlete.
Foxman’s own personal story is compelling.
As a young boy, he was given by his parents to a non-Jewish woman during the Holocaust, allowing both child and parents to survive. But after the war, the gentile woman refused to give Abe back to his parents, resulting in a subsequent court case and even a later kidnapping charge against the woman.
When Abe grew older, he quietly supported this woman financially. He forgave her for her attempts to keep him from his real family.
“Her only problem,” he told me, “was that she loved me too much.”
Loving one’s fellow human being is generally admirable, but Foxman taught us that it is no mitzva to love those who espouse anti- Semitism or anti-Zionism, which he steadfastly maintained were one and the same thing. Abe, we will miss you.
Bring back the Beatles
Certain seminal events are branded in our memory for all time. Generally, these are tragic, shocking events, like the JFK assassination or the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
But thankfully, there are happy occurrences, too. This past week saw a flurry of events commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964. More than half the households in America were tuned in as the Fab Four officially launched what became known as “the British invasion.” As the curtains were about to open and McCartney was about to perform, the show’s producer told Sir Paul, “Don’t be nervous, only 73 million people are watching!” The Beatles led a music revolution that brought rock ’n’ roll into the hearts of the entire world. Though they broke up as a band just six years later, they created songs that have never been duplicated, and their tunes still reverberate in our collective memory.
Paul’s career has lasted the longest, and he enthusiastically graced our shores not long ago, reminding reporters that “two of my three wives – and all of my grandchildren – are Jewish!” Here’s to the mop-haired lads from Liverpool; I’ll be singing your tunes eight days a week, when I’m 64 and beyond.
The writer is director of the Jewish Outreach Center of Ra’anana; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.rabbistewartweiss.com
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