Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Please Read this Remarkable Article from The New York Times

Could any of us be this open-minded and open-hearted?

Believing in Peace, Even After the Unthinkable

Working as the lone Palestinian gynecologist at an Israeli hospital had its fraught moments for Izzeldin Abuelaish.

The husband of a Jewish patient angrily accused him of jeopardizing his wife’s pregnancy because he was an Arab. Palestinian neighbors scorned him for delivering babies who would grow into the “soldiers who bomb us and shoot us.”

Each time Dr. Abuelaish comforted himself with the conviction that he could overcome fear by building personal bridges between two distrustful cultures. But that belief was sorely tested two years ago during the three-week Gaza war, when Israeli tank shells slammed into his apartment, killing three of his daughters and costing another her sight in one eye.

Now Dr. Abuelaish has written a memoir that reaffirms his belief that the decades-long conflict will only be transformed when individual Palestinians and Israelis recognize their shared, precarious humanity. As he often does, he turns to medical metaphors.

“We are like conjoined twins with one heart and one brain,” Dr. Abuelaish said in a telephone interview from Canada, where he is now an associate professor in women’s health at the University of Toronto. “Any harm to one will affect the other.”

The memoir, published by Walker & Company and with a blurb by Elie Wiesel, is called “I Shall Not Hate: A Gaza Doctor’s Journey on the Road to Peace and Human Dignity.” A reviewer for The Globe & Mail in Toronto said the book was “one of the most affecting I have read on the subject of Israel and Palestine.”
The anguishing deaths of his daughters — Bessan, 20; Mayar, 15; and Aya, 14 — “immunized me against any more suffering,” said Dr. Abuelaish, an earnest man of 55. He came to recognize that suffering is caused not by God but by individuals, and “you as a human being with your potential and your ability can challenge the human beings who are making the suffering.”

Rather than questioning the legitimacy of a Palestinian nation, Dr. Abuelaish argues, Jews — “because they were burned by the fires of suffering” in the Holocaust — must focus on improving the wretched living conditions of many Palestinians.

And Palestinians must realize that firing rockets into Israel incites retribution. “The antidote for revenge is not revenge,” he said. “If I want to get revenge, it will not return my daughters. The innocence of those girls must not be spoiled by revenge. I can keep their memory living with good deeds.” He has set up a foundation called Daughters for Life to memorialize his children and to provide scholarships for young women in the Middle East.

In an interview Mr. Wiesel, the Nobel Peace Prize winner, said that he could not explain why people like Dr. Abuelaish can overcome their impulse for vengeance and others cannot, but he imagines that Dr. Abuelaish has recognized that “hate hates both the victim and the hater.”

“One must not forget, but not use memory against other innocent people,” Mr. Wiesel said.

Dr. Abuelaish rejects those who dwell in the morass of historical arguments, who accuse Palestinians of inciting the conflict by rejecting the 1947 United Nations plan to partition British Palestine, or who blame Israelis for injustices as occupiers. You cannot correct history, he maintains.

“Being a medical doctor helped me a lot because you are focused on living people,” he said. “When patients are dead, it’s a waste of time.”

Still, the book bristles with that tormented history. Dr. Abuelaish grew up the son of refugees in the Gazan city of Jabalia, but his family originated in the Negev region. He possesses that property deed, though the land is now owned by Ariel Sharon, the former prime minister of Israel.

“To be pushed out,” Dr. Abuelaish writes, “is to be marked with the scar of expulsion for the rest of your life.”

He describes the squalor of the Gaza camps — fetid latrines, no running water or electricity — both under Egyptian and Israeli control. After the two intifadas, Israeli soldiers made crossing the border especially difficult, even for an infertility specialist at an Israeli hospital. Yet Israeli doctors saved the legs of his nephew Mohammed, who had been shot in the knee and ankle by Hamas gunmen in 2007.

The most excruciating crossing occurred in 2008 when his wife, Nadia, was lying in an Israeli hospital with leukemia, and he was in Europe. He had to fly to Amman rather than to Israel’s main airport; take a taxi to the Allenby Bridge, which connects Jordan to the West Bank; then endure hours of waiting at checkpoints. By the time he arrived, his wife was unconscious. She died a few days later.

Still, Dr. Abuelaish said he had worked hard not to equate a rude guard with all Israelis, just as he would not want Israelis to equate all Palestinians with suicide bombers. What helped was his friendships with Israelis: as a teenager working with a farming family and then with doctors, one of whom, Dr. Marek Glezerman, wrote the book’s introduction.

True, Dr. Abuelaish moved to Toronto in 2009. But that is because he no longer wanted the problems of crossing checkpoints to separate him from his five remaining children.

He has formed a relationship with the Israeli novelist David Grossman, who lost a son in the closing hours of the 2006 Lebanon War. When they meet, Dr. Abuelaish said, they discuss their children. And it is the future of children, he said, that should spur both sides toward peace. As he writes: “If I could know that my daughters were the last sacrifice on the road to peace between Palestinians and Israelis, then I would accept their loss.”

Friday, January 21, 2011

I Don't Know What You'd Call This Kind of Coincidence

I've written about my rock star son who was on a 3 week-long European tour. All went smoothly -- they're practically national heroes in Germany, in particular -- until the last day. They had a free day in Prague, having canceled their Vienna show because their flight back was due to leave 11 hours after their show and it was a 9 hour drive to Berlin (good call).

But when they got up Tuesday morning, they discovered that their van had been broken into, and that one of the amps had been stolen. OK; bad enough to have to drive back to Berlin without a back window and have to deal with the rental car agency, but about 12 hours later, Tuesday in San Diego, I got home from my morning workout to discover that the back window of our van, which my son uses for touring, had been broken into, and the only thing stolen was his amp. How weird is that?

Above is a poster that was plastered all around Erfurt or Dresen when they arrived. (For some reason, their genre, which here is called "math rock," is called "fricklepop" in Germany. If anyone knows what that means, please post a message; I'd love to know).

Alas, my son's band, Witt, is giving its final performance this Saturday night* at their former high school, where the boys met. It's not for love of the music or lack of love for each other, but simply that two of them are in college in CA and my son's in college in NY, and they can't compose together over that distance.

But at least my son has 10 other bands (all different genres) and an upcoming off-off-Broadway musical to keep him busy. This kid amazes me.

*If you're interested in attending the final performance, contact me and I'll let you know where it will be

Monday, January 17, 2011

Are we Approaching a 'Tipping Point'?

I'm not known as the World's Greatest optimist (but at least I'm not the WG pessimist, either), though I have recently had reason to be hopeful. And Martin Luther King Day seems the appropriate time to share these thoughts.

You're all familiar with the term, "The Tipping Point" from Malcolm Gladwell's book of the same name. In it, he explains why change happens slowly, then all at once, kind of equivalent to YouTube videos "going viral." I suppose it's the same reason why there are no earthquake movies for years, then all of a sudden there are two opening the same weekend. I hope that the few small things I've seen are, similarly, indications that we're heading toward a period of increased tolerance.

A few months ago, I attended a staged reading of a play, "Imagining Heschel" by Colin Greer, which deals with issues of faith and forgiveness. The "Heschel" of the title was a real person; Rabbi Abraham Heschel was a prominent theologian in the 1950s and 60s. He escaped from Europe at the beginning of the Holocaust but lost members of his family. His grief for them, and other victims of Nazism, anti-Semitism and hatred of all kinds, led him into social action. Not only did he 'talk the talk' but 'walked the walk' of his beliefs by marching with the Reverend Martin Luther King in Selma.

But the play focused on a different aspect of Heschel's life: His invitation to meet with the Vatican to help them repair the relationship between the church and the Jews. This was during the time of Vatican II, one of the results of which was the declaration that the Jews were not to blame for the death of Jesus Christ (the basis for anti-Semitism).

For some reason, though, this message never 'took.' Although it is the official policy of the Church, many people still blame the Jews for killing Christ. Change comes slowly. Similarly, it took till about 1960 before the Jim Crow laws emphasizing racial segregation and anti-miscegenation (jut like the Nazis, BTW) were finally off the books. Unfortunately, that attitude has not gone away either; it's almost as if it's gotten into our collective DNA.

There have been other recent example of (usually) artists trying to convey messages of peace and tolerance by painting murals, such as one that was done in the occupied territories disputed by Israel and the Palestinians. This mural showed a Priest, an Imam, a Rabbi, and a Swami. My first thought was, "How quickly will this be defaced?" But surprisingly, it was not vandalized, and I believe it remained untouched until the artist painted over it (as he had planned; each artwork is temporary). (I wish I could remember the name of the artist; if anyone knows, would you please post it?)

My final example is Mosab Hassad Yousef, the eldest son and heir apparent to Hamas leader, Sheikh Hassan Yousef. He had been raised to hate Israelis and to become a terrorist. But during his time in an Israeli prison, he saw how the Muslims treated each other, and began to wonder why it was necessary to hate. This author of the book, "Son of Hamas," later converted to Christianity, and speaks about tolerance to audiences everywhere. The sad truth, which Yousef echoed, was that changing hearts and minds only happens one person at a time.

All of these experiences took place between September or October, and November of last year, creating, in my mind, a pattern, a suggestion that the world might be ready for a change. But after yet another shooting (Tucson) last week, which might have been due to ideological differences (but most likely mental illness), I have a hard time believing even my own rhetoric; it's such an uphill battle to change deeply ingrained thoughts and 'principles.'

What keeps coming back to me is the immortal words of Rodney king: "Can't we all just get along?" A thought for Martin Luther King Day.

If you agree with this message, please spread the word. That will be doing your part in trying to reach everyone, one person at a time.

See also today's list on The Daily Beast of the 20 most tolerant states: See  http://tinyurl.com/4l8j96t. Is your state on it?

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Another Reason to Crow

My younger son, Jesse, is currently on a 3-week European tour with one of his bands. They're being treated like rock stars, put up in hotels that belong to the venues or in apartments with 4 BR and bath (more than any of them have in their dorms or apartments) and a fully stocked fridge, AND an unlimited tab at a nearby restaurant. (I would say, 'Though they're not old enough to drink," but then I remembered that in parts of Europe, the drinking age is 11.) I had urged Jesse to take a sleeping bag because I had pictured them being put up in youth hostels, or the like, and even advised him to eat a lot at the free breakfast so they wouldn't have to buy lunch. Instead, in about 2 weeks, he's spent only 70 euros.

Meanwhile, when Witt plays in the U.S. at 21-and-up clubs, the boys, who are all below that age, have to stand in the parking lot waiting until their set, and then are ushered out immediately afterwards. And when they tour in the U.S., they don't make sleeping arrangements -- they call whomever they know in a particular city (and Jesse seems to know someone everywhere he goes apparently, surprisingly, even in Poland) and ask if they can crash on the floor. Otherwise they planned to sleep in the car/van but we suggested that Motel 6 for $69 was a worthwhile investment for the night. Conveniently, though, our goddaughter lives in Switzerland, and they've spent 2 nights there -- on the way from Germany to Italy, and back from Italy to France. She made them an 'authentic' Swiss fondue. (I need to ask Jesse about something he said when he was much younger. We were in Switzerland, and though we hadn't ordered the cheese fondue, other people had. He wrinkled his nose and said, "Smells like old people." I've never quite made the connection).

And since I've already embarrassed Mike with the picture of him in the last blog entry (how bad could it be if I got away with using that picture as part of a yearbook ad when he graduated?), it's Jesse's turn, though his photo, which he knows quite well, is edited for the purpose of using it here. He knows what's missing.

Monday, January 10, 2011

A Reason to Crow

When something good happens for my children, I want to share it with the world, so occasionally I use this blog as my platform.

My son, Mike, who has been helping me with the development of marketing materials and my social media outreach (since I can't get my head around Twitter) has just been named Director of the Social Media Division of OMG National, a South Florida company that assists companies establish an online presence and develop branding messages. I consider this a huge deal for someone only 1-1/2 years out of college (during which time he interned for multiple organizations, including the Miami Super Bowl Host Committee). Nothing makes me happier than seeing him succeed at something he has worked hard to achieve.

I'll share my pride in my other son in a separate blog entry on another day, but since I've heaped such praise on Mike, it's appropriate that I do the other things that mothers are prone to do -- namely, embarrass their children. Having given myself permission to do so, I'd like to share with you one of my favorite pictures of my son as a baby.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

For Descendents of Jewish Soldiers Who Fought in the Russo-Japanese War

Several times, over the past year and a half, I've read on other websites of people who wanted information about an ancestor who fought in the Russo-Japanese War. Of course, now that I have some useful information, I can't remember where I read it, so I thought it would be a good idea to post the information here.

On a section of a website, bfcollection.net/fast/rjmain.html, there is a discussion of a Database of Russian Army Jewish soldiers injured, killed, or missing in action in the Russian-Japanese War of 1904-1905. As Boris Feldblyum (the "bf" on the web address above) wrote (in 1998, so I don't know why it took me until now to find it): "Many thousands of Jews, less known or totally unknown in the big world, fought, were injured, killed, or missing in the Russo-Japanese war. In the tradition of the times, many Russian papers printed the names of the soldiers killed or missing in action. The compilation of nearly three thousand Jewish names was prepared and translated into English from notices that first appeared in the Russkij Invalid newspaper in 1904-1905. The records provide information of considerable genealogical value to those with roots in the Russian Empire, as the examples show." Josh Feldblyum (relationship to Boris not specified) compiled a computerized database of these records, for which we are grateful.

Records, for which there is a fee of $18 per record, can be ordered from FAST Genealogy Service, using an order form that can be found on Boris' page, where there is also information on how to search the site. (I looked for my grandfather, but since he was not injured, killed, or missing in action during the war, he isn't on the list, however I plan to look for several people whom Jacob Marateck identified in his diaries).

This is a new way to solve the problem of the "aguna," the "tied woman," whose dilemma is discussed in Chapter 15.

More information can be found at: http://www.bfcollection.net/fast/fast.html.

Maybe, one day, we'll turn up information on Jewish soldiers who fought in this war, or Jews sent to Siberian forced labor camps. There's still so much that is not known, and it's wonderful that someone/some people are still looking for it. Thank you, Boris & Josh Feldblyum.

Monday, January 3, 2011

An Interview with Me is Posted on the Jewish Literary Review Website

I'm pleased to share this review, which was just posted today: http://www.jewishliteraryreview.com/