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3 Feb

Dear friends and followers,

Check out my recent posts on the Times of Israel:

Is “Working Mother” A Paradox?

Better than the Snow Itself, A Happy Reprieve

In Israel, I Can Celebrate Christmas 

 

 

A Dangerous Routine

21 Nov

My latest post on Tuesday’s synagogue attack in Jerusalem: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/a-dangerous-routine/

More about Dahlia – and Lubna

14 Nov

Please check out my latest post on The Times of Israel entitled More About Dahlia – and Lubna. It was featured as a “top op” and is currently among the site’s top 5 most read articles!

A Song for Rabin

5 Nov

Check out my latest post at The Times of Israel: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/a-song-for-rabin/

I’m Now Blogging on The Times of Israel

2 Oct

Melanie-Takefman-mediumDear friends and followers,

I’m now concurrently blogging at The Times of Israel. Check out my latest post at: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/rubi-where-have-you-been-all-our-lives/.

Keep checking this page and the Times of Israel for new posts.

Thank you for your ongoing reading and feedback,

Melanie

 

 

 

Party Like It’s 1995?

17 Sep

The extensive news coverage of tomorrow’s Scottish referendum brings back vivid memories of Quebec’s 1995 referendum. What’s so compelling about this one – like ours – is that the results are too close to predict. It’s a true cliffhanger in today’s world of instant polls, social media, and too many commentators pushing themselves on to too many platforms.

Also then, 19 years ago, the polls were not decisive, though on the “No” side we were preparing for defeat. I was 16 and not eligible to vote. During the turbulent weeks leading up to the referendum though, I felt I was living history, that my world and the world would change dramatically, whatever the results of that fateful vote.

referendum

A campaign poster for the “No” side, 1995.

My community, the Anglophone Jewish community of Montreal, had slowly waned for two decades, since the nationalist movement in Quebec strengthened and the provincial government instituted language laws aimed at making French the dominant language and relegating English to the sidelines. Without a doubt, virtually all Montreal Jews voted no.

Many of my friends’ families planned to leave should the “Oui” campaign win. I kept a count of who would be left in Montreal the day after. I was one of the few who would. At the time, Anglophones feared English would vanish and that we would lose whatever cultural rights we had fought to retain. Opportunities for the children would vanish as French would become the principal language. A new, independent economy would falter at best and plummet at worst, resulting in fewer jobs. Already then, the head offices of large international and national companies had abandoned Montreal for Toronto or elsewhere.

Both my parents worked in family businesses, and my father’s was dependent on Montreal’s port for success. He would not lose customers if Quebec would separate, he told us.

On the eve of that October election, I was scared. I was also exhilarated at witnessing a political awakening in my midst for the first time. Normally, Canada is uneventful politically; you can ignore politics for most of your life with little consequence. But in the fall of 1995, no one was indifferent. People hung signs and stickers. Almost everyone I knew went to the enormous demonstration against separation, along with 100,000 others. a day that will be remembered in Canada’s – and Quebec’s – history as an apex of political engagement and national sentiment.

Despite the efforts and passion both sides put in, no one knew a few thousand votes would determine our fate.

If the “Yes” side had won, perhaps I would have enrolled to a university out-of-province instead of to McGill. I would have met different people. Perhaps my parents would have emigrated eventually. There would be fewer Jews and Anglophones in Quebec for sure. That’s not to mention the potential pitfalls and successes that may have come with secession, but that’s all theoretical. Personally, things may have changed in the short-term but in the long-term, I’m quite sure I wouldn’t live there anymore, regardless of the referendum’s outcome.

At the same time even without separation, I see that much has changed in Quebec in 19 years. Montreal is more French than bilingual, and many of my former classmates, friends and peers have emigrated to Anglophone cities.  A Quebecois friend, who 15 years ago was a staunch separatist, told me recently that there’s no need for independence anymore; Quebec has achieved what it had wanted all along: to be a distinct society.

As we await the results of Scotland’s historic vote tomorrow, I wonder what an independent Quebec would have looked like in 2014.

 

 

 

Three Points for Optimism

4 Sep

The war is over. I don’t have high expectations for a permanent end to the conflict, but a few recent developments have sparked glimmers of hope in me. Here is my optimistic indulgence:

1) Our new president, Reuven “Rubi” Rivlin, has come out as a powerful voice against the unprecedented  racism and incitement unleashed this summer.

Since Rubi entered the ceremonial position over a month ago, he has announced a multidisciplinary program to combat racism.

Israel's President Reuven "Rubi" Rivlin

Israel’s President Reuven “Rubi” Rivlin

On the 51st anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s infamous “I have a dream” speech, he wrote a powerful Facebook post about his vision for soccer without racism, including: “I dream and believe that if we are committed, our [soccer] fields will be the source of inspiration for change, where people will come to learn how to live together respectfully…”

Earlier this week, he vociferously condemned an initiative to cancel Arabic as one of Israel’s official languages. Even though Arabic is not as visible or official as it should be, the fact that it is official is an important vestige of pluralism and tolerance here.

Rubi said, “We have yet to understand that the struggle for our home takes place not only on the security front, but on the civilian front as well.”

When he served as Knesset Speaker, he was one of several Likudniks to counter anti-democratic legislation. Rubi’s inclination for democracy and freedom of speech is apparently one of the reasons some top politicians attempted to block him from the presidency.

We have to wait and see whether Rubi implements his plans.  In the meantime, his Facebook account has become a social phenomenon here, a beacon of reason amidst animosity and prejudice. Despite or perhaps because of his right-wing credentials, his words resonate strongly.

2) The new school year. As a mother, I am enjoying ‘back to school” as much as I did when I was a child. My oldest son and I went shopping this week for new folders, pens, markers, and crayons. Together, we peeled off the crisp plastic wrapping and stuck decorated name labels on his supplies. I love watching him boast his school uniform, ecstatic because he has moved up in life.

My youngest, too, has had a smooth transition so far to his new nursery. Every day, he giddily practices his Hebrew vocabulary and the names of his new friends.

After the miserable summer, I am clinging to these fresh starts, however temporary they may be.

3) Teapacks. Last weekend, Aharon and I attended an outdoor show by the band Teapacks in Jerusalem.  Musicians from the hardscrabble town of Sderot and the surrounding kibbutzes (Gaza border area) joined up 25 years ago “to blur the boundaries between different groups in Israel so that they can enjoy music together”. Teapacks (tipex) is the Hebrew term for white-out.

tipexTeapacks stands out as another voice for humanity in Israel; their humorous songs speak of the successes and struggles of regular people. Musically they pioneered a fusion of Western pop and Middle Eastern-style melodies. As a result, many Israelis from different backgrounds relate to Teapacks.

During the war, many Jewish Israelis spoke of how wonderful it was that we were “all” united in the war effort. For me, it was the most divisive period I have ever experienced. Our lives and the media overflowed with showdowns between right and left, Arabs and Jews, Ashkenazis and Mizrahim, Arsim and intellectuals (not to mention the war itself).

For the first time in a long time on Friday, I felt “unity”.  I enjoyed the lyrics and danced and sang to the band’s hits in unison with people of all sorts .

Click here for a video of the show.

We were happy. When a siren sounded as part of the song “Sami and Somo”, no one flinched (at least not outwardly) . One concertgoer waved an Israeli flag. I felt comfortable with it, that the flag represented me fully, not in a defensive, confrontational way.

May we only know good things.

 

 

Is Liberal Zionism Dead? My response.

26 Aug

For “liberal” Zionists living here, the struggle for a more egalitarian and just Israel is not something we can afford to abandon. If I’m here, then my only choice is to try to change things if I want a better future for myself and my family. 

[I was asked for my response to “The End of Liberal Zionism” by Antony Lerman, from the New York Times Sunday Review. Here it is.]

I deeply relate to Lerman’s frustrations with the rise of the Israeli right, and I agree with much of what he wrote. Yet, as an Israeli, I cannot give up completely. Our differing conclusions stem from the fact that I live in Israel, and he does not; as such, his argument is most relevant for “liberal Zionists” in the Diaspora.

We in Israel are living in very dark times. In addition to the current war and the 47-year-old occupation which continues to drain our resources and plague our morality, we are experiencing real threats to freedom of expression and Arab-Jewish relations in Israel. Even with tonight’s cease-fire, the immediate future of this country looks grim.

Yet there is hope for a Zionist Left. We are small and mostly dormant, but we’re here.

Protesters wave an Israeli flag during an anti-war demonstration in Tel Aviv, July 2014. The Left has started to reclaim the flag.

Protesters wave an Israeli flag during an anti-war demonstration in Tel Aviv, July 2014. The Left has started to reclaim the flag.

It’s easy for Diaspora Jews to abandon hope because in a way they have nothing tangible to lose (not to undermine their commitment to Israel), but they are not raising kids in Israel, for example. If I’m here, I can either give in to the negative currents or try to change things. As I see it, I only have one choice  if I want a better future for myself and my family.

The Middle East is a volatile region, and things change very quickly. As such, I believe that an egalitarian, just Jewish state can exist. We need the right leadership, one that has a vision for the long-term future of this country and the values that will sustain it as a democracy. We need to end the Occupation. We need budget for affordable housing and education. When we get it, public education must focus on human rights and coexistence. Our leaders need to denounce racism and take real steps to empower the embattled Arab population. The government needs to ensure that Israel’s increasing wealth is spread among its increasingly destitute poor and middle classes.  Those are just a few things. It’s easier said than done, I know, but these actions are the only way to ensure Israel’s survival.

I sincerely believe that beneath our war-battered pessimism, beneath the racism and fear and belligerence, the majority of Israelis understand that two peoples will continue to live on this tiny piece of land. They understand that for our people to survive we need a fair solution for everyone.

The second aspect of the conundrum of “liberal” Zionism is the double standard Israel faces in global public opinion.  As a Canadian Jew who immigrated to Israel, I remain strongly affiliated with my home country as well as other countries where I have lived, their media, and family and friends there. Thus, for me this conflict – and Israel – exist in two realms:  within Israeli society and in the world.

Within Israel, I am a proactive, tax-paying member of society. This is where I work, vote, and live. Like any citizen of a democratic country, I hold my leaders fully accountable for their actions. The government’s decisions and values directly affect me, and I don’t want my kids to grow up to be occupiers, in a society seeped in fear and hatred.

Then there’s the world, which obsesses over my adopted country more than any other, scrutinizing it with a magnifying glass.

Lerman writes, “But the critics go only so far — not least to avoid giving succor to anti-Semites, who use the crisis as cover for openly expressing hatred of Jews.” I don’t take this statement lightly. As critical as I am of Israel’s actions in this war and in many other spheres, I am preoccupied by the constant double standard Israel faces, and the rise in genuine anti-Semitism cloaked as anti-Zionism.

In my previous job as the international spokesperson for Israel’s largest human rights organization, I dealt with this dilemma daily: explaining Israel’s many breaches of human rights in a truthful and accurate manner, without doling out erroneous, headline-enhancing catchphrases. It wasn’t easy. Then, the arguments were about “apartheid”. This time, it’s about “genocide”. Neither term accurately describes Israel’s actions, as illegal, discriminatory, and reprehensible as they may be.

To our critics abroad I say: it’s OK to denounce but learn the nuances and facts before make sweeping accusations. Even if we are more powerful, Israelis experience real threats, fears, and weaknesses which must be acknowledged.

As a Diaspora-Jew-turned-Israeli-Jew, I can understand Lerman’s decision to relinquish Zionism: the discourse on Israel is so polarized that it often feels as if you have to adopt one extreme viewpoint or the other.  However, because I live the nuances and shades of grey, I can still support this country and consider myself more Zionist than ever.

I’ll end with the most pressing challenge to liberal Zionists in Israel and abroad. We have to stop being afraid to talk about Israel’s ills to the world. It goes without saying that we have to be balanced, honest, and thorough and to distinguish our friends from our foes. For Israel to change, something dramatic has to happen, and it will only happen with pressure from the outside, as was the case with South Africa.

Unlike Lerman, however, I see this as a very Zionist act. Whether they call themselves Zionist or not, we will need people from abroad like Lerman to help make this change.

 

 

A Day at the Beach

1 Aug

I started my day optimistic. When Aharon and I woke up to the news of a 72-hour ceasefire, we were elated. It was as if the war were over.

As we planned the day ahead, it took us a few minutes to realize that we can actually go to the beach. We haven’t since this war started because our preferred seaside is in Rishon Lezion, a city south of Tel Aviv and the target of many rockets. I thought of how excited my kids would be to play in the sand and wade in the shallow water as the cool waves crashed.

beachsept2013

A day at the beach in happier times

I was even happier to see a photo on Facebook of children and fishermen in Gaza enjoying the beach there this morning.

Yes, I thought, the beach will end this war. All anyone wants in this shared, unbearable heat is to sit in the cool Mediterranean waters and eat a good watermelon. We want it. They want it. I thought of all the Gazan children who must be ecstatic to run around freely and of the parents who can exhale without having to think of finding shelter – and the Israeli ones too.

Throughout the morning, I was giddy thinking of our beach plans. Then, I came home to the most horrible news: not only had the ceasefire been broken but Hamas captured a soldier.  Israel considers abduction a fate worse than death. Kidnapping forces us to pay a very high price – many more Palestinian prisoners who sometimes return to terrorism –  for that soldier’s release in addition to the potential for torture as well as leaked intelligence. In most cases the soldiers are already dead, unbeknownst to Israel. (Read my post on Gilad Schalit’s release for more on this ultra-sensitive topic.)

According to the Israeli media, Hamas started. Good job, Hamas. We know all the horrors you inflict on your people, but here you had a chance to end this cursed war.

I am losing patience. Who isn’t?  That’s an understatement, I know; I just don’t know how to write it in stronger terms. The more the world condemns Israel, the more Israel perseveres and thinks it’s right to use excessive force on mixed civilian and terrorist areas. And you’d think the other side would want the cease-fire more, to save some of its people, but they blew it again.

I’m also losing patience because I feel powerless to do anything about this endless bloodshed and tragedy. Read my last post about an anti-war demonstration I attended for more on that.

I’m sad for all of us, who are being held prisoner by our violent leaders, bent on the path of destruction.

All we want is a day at the beach.

The Bad, the Ugly and the Good

29 Jul

Sometimes reality is like a bad dream come true.

I’ll leave the actual war aside for the moment. Today, I’m writing about our internal war, a war between worldviews and social groups that has become anti-democratic and violent. Once the real war is over, I’m afraid the secondary war will have a greater impact on our daily lives than the other one.

The chain of events that started with the kidnapping of the three teens shredded whatever remained of Israel’s fragile coexistence. Hate and incitement burst through the growing cracks in our society, and it’s out of control. Tolerance is a long-forgotten afterthought.

On Saturday night, I went to an anti-war demonstration in Tel Aviv. Thousands called for a long-term diplomatic solution so that people on both sides can live peacefully.

The protest in Tel Aviv, July 26, 2014.

The protest in Tel Aviv, July 26, 2014.

At previous anti-war protests, there have been verbal and physical clashes between anti-war protesters and counter-protesters (“ultra-rightists” or “nationalists”). As such, the police presence at Saturday’s demonstration was heavy. The media reported a “sterile” area of 200 metres separating the “left-wing”(anti-war) and counter-protesters (“extreme right”).  Read more here about violence at previous protests.

Because I knew the chances of violence were high, I considered precautions. First, I deliberated whether to bring my expensive camera. I read that some counter-protesters try to break cameras because photos don’t lie and gain wide and instant exposure on Facebook. Aharon advised that I should, but to stay in the middle of the main protest area. away from the violent types. I also considered bringing pepper spray. I don’t even know where to buy such a thing, and in the end I didn’t.

I never imagined I would have such thoughts about attending a demonstration, a basic right which I have exercised many times. Yet, so many things that have happened in the past few weeks have surpassed my fears and expectations, and have made me question the basic values of my society and the decency of people in my midst.

Both Arabs and Jews unabashedly rejoice in the deaths of Israeli soldiers and children in Gaza. Similarly, several Palestinian citizens of Israel have been fired or expelled for writing despicable statements on Facebook, including a psychologist in the Lod Municipality, who posted on Facebook that she hoped more Israeli soldiers would be killed. Such a statement is inexcusable, but the mayor of this mixed city of Arabs and Jews handled it in an exceptionally distasteful and populist (and illegal) manner. In a widely publicized statement he mentioned her name and claimed that “the era of one hand taking [suckling] and receiving a nice paycheck from the State…and the other hand betraying and wishing for the downfall of the State which owns those same public funds, is over.” However offensive and distasteful the psychologist may have been, the Municipality presumably hired her because she had the right qualifications. In other words, no one did her a favour. The Mayor clearly abused his power, and sent a terrifying message to all citizens of Israel: you can be punished for your beliefs.

Because Arab citizens, who make up 20% of our population, are victims of systematic discrimination in times of peace as well, it’s not surprising that only extremist Arabs are being witch-hunted for such behaviour. Extreme Jews make parallel statements, but they are not fired or expelled to the same extent.

One of my online parenting  forums has become a fertile ground for this witch-hunt, with many calls to boycott companies who employ Arabs who write offensive things. When I challenged the worth of such an initiative, I was accused of defaming our fallen soldiers and having a moral double standard (it was a relatively civil debate).

Today, the Knesset Ethics Committee suspended Arab MK Hanin Zuabi from participating in the plenary and committees for offensive comments, including that the teens’ kidnappers are not terrorists. Notwithstanding that her comment is incorrect, I’ve heard much worse.

On the other side, the slogan “death to Arabs” is no longer shocking. According to Haaretz, counter-protesters at Saturday’s demonstration chanted, “”Why is there no school in Gaza? Because no more kids are left.”

Even empathy for the other side has become taboo. The Israel Broadcasting Authority banned a radio advert by the human rights organization B’Tselem in which names of children killed in Gaza were read out.  Read this blog post by journalist Ilene Prusher for more on the reaction to virtual empathy in Israel.

What depresses me most is that friends and relatives whom I consider sensitive, rational people, accept the status quo.  They chide me for going to such a protest, and many Israelis question whether there should be protests at all during a war. What about the Hamas? They use children as human shields. You think we can trust them? What about the tunnels?

I tell them it’s not contradictory to condemn Hamas and care about the security of Israel’s South, while also calling for an end to the killing.

The protest itself was uneventful for me, but the media reported that counter-protesters attacked a few “leftists”. As I walked back to my car alone, I placed the protest’s official sticker “Jews and Arabs Refuse to be Enemies” on my chest, bit my lip, and hoped for the best. I got away with “your mother is the daughter of a whore” and some guy yelling something about the “Right” in my face.

Amidst this all, a silver lining: Israelis know how to  help others in times of need, and this war is no exception. The same parenting forum overflows with initiatives to send care packages to soldiers, buy from merchants in the South, and organize activities for children and families from bombarded areas.

It’s this same society that within a few hours mobilized 20,000-30,000 people to attend the funerals of two lone soldiers, Sean Carmeli and Max Steinberg. A week later, I still cry every time I see images of the funerals and think of how tens of thousands of people traveled far to ensure the newly bereaved families were not alone, to show they appreciated their sacrifices.  I think often about these soldiers’ decisions to come to Israel alone, as I did 11 years ago, and how that decision sealed their fate.

"Strong Together, We love Israel and trust the IDF."A sign outside Max Steinberg's shiva in Jerusalem, with building cranes in the background.

“Strong at home, We love Israel and trust the IDF.”A sign outside Max Steinberg’s shiva in Jerusalem.

I went to the shiva for Max Steinberg. Twelve hours after people posted on Facebook that his family was alone, strangers flooded the room.  It’s heartbreaking when a life is cut short, and as I stood before his grieving family I couldn’t stop sobbing.

On better days, I relish this paradox that is life in Israel. Yet, today and for the past six weeks, the bad has strongly outweighed the good. Even worse, I feel we are heading to a point of no return. I am scared for the moment this is all over, when we inevitably realize we have to live together again, without any excuses.