Wednesday, September 28, 2016

I thought he'd live forever

"The Jews' greatest contribution to history is dissatisfaction! We're a nation born to be discontented. Whatever exists we believe can be changed for the better."
Shimon Peres

I'm not going to lie and say I agreed with everything Shimon Peres said or did. In fact, I would more often than not shake my head, roll my eyes, let out a sigh, and say:  WHAT is he thinking??

And despite decisions that I think have hurt Israel, I also know that there are few people who have contributed so much to the security of the State of Israel than he.

But there's something about the man himself that always resonated with me, because he was truly a giant of Israel, a giant of the Jewish history, and really... a giant of the world. For Americans, I'd imagine it would be as if one of the founding fathers was walking among us today.

There are few people in this world who have had so much impact over so much time on so many people. Shimon Peres was one of those rare breeds who not only walked with history, but plunged his hands into it and molded it. And he never stopped molding it and changing it and crafting it to always always shape it - and try to make it better. He believed in making a better world, and never stopped believing. He was powered by dreams - dreams that never died.

Many friends came and many friends went. Many enemies rose and many enemies fell, but Shimon Peres - he was always there.

I thought he'd live forever.

The world is more empty today without him. He was a true shepherd of the Jewish people, someone who guided our young state into the world of modernity and into the world of nations.

So rest easy Shimon, your work on our little, flawed, troublesome earth is done. Lie back and take your place among the giants of Jewish history.

You deserve it.

Monday, June 20, 2016

John Williams – the soundtrack of our lives

John Williams, the music composer, received the American Film Institute lifetime award the other day, but it was an award that did not meet the criteria required.  For the criteria states that "the recipient should be one whose talent has in a fundamental way advanced the film art.”  

But John Williams simply didn’t do that.  He didn’t change the movie world – he changed the entire world.

Like many people, I grew up enthralled by the movies of my youth.  I watched aliens visit our planet.  I watched impossible space battles that took place in galaxies far far away.  I watched a man in a fedora and a bullwhip unearth the greatest treasures in history.  I watched a boy wizard find his true calling.  I watched as a man, once selfish end up giving everything he owned to bestow the greatest gift of life to 1200 desperate souls.

And at each one of those experiences, John Williams was there breathing life into my turbulent feelings.  He gave sound to my silent tears, a heart-stopping beat to my nerves, a tender harmony to my quiet moments of reflection, a rousing crescendo to my triumphs, and a quiet sensitivity to my sadness.  He gave voice to my emotions.

I don’t know much about music, but whether I listen to Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Harry Potter or Schindler’s List, I’m not listening to the music – I’m feeling it in the deepness in my soul.   The ability of John Williams is that he doesn’t provide sound to pictures – he provides sound to feelings.  You don’t actually listen to a John Williams soundtrack – you experience it.  And you feel it on levels that you didn’t know existed.  He touches you emotionally.

From every interview I’ve ever seen with John Williams he comes across as a humble person whose joy of making music carries through to his compositions.  He’s not a superman, and yet he makes everyone feel like they can be.

Movies can truly be a phenomenal delight as they take you on impossible journeys to places far from where you are, across time and across space and across dimensions.  They thrill the mind and tease the senses of your eyes and ears, and with music they also take you on that emotional journey too.
John Williams has provided the soundtrack to our lives, because in his music the little boy you once were who sought adventure lives on. The old man reflecting on his life will continue to stare out into the distance.

But more important than anything else, he does something that society will tell you can’t be done.  He makes the impossible possible. He makes the dreams of youth live on. He makes the hope that is all too easily extinguished burn forever.

Buildings may rise stretching into the heavens before falling down to earth in piles of dust and decay. Countries may grow powerful and strong…then slowly fall away to become small and weak.  Wealth may come in waves of abundance and just as easily disappear in trickles of sparseness. But music… music lives on, because as long as people have the ability to feel with their hearts and with the souls, it will remain immortal.

John Williams, the man, may pass on one day, but his gift will live on forever inside us.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Jerusalem – where the stones talk to you

The first time I entered the Old City of Jerusalem, I truly felt like I was taking a step back in time.  It is an awe inspiring feeling knowing that each step you take connects you with your ancestors from thousands of years ago.  It’s as if the walls are whispering to you in hushed and hallowed tones.  You are somewhere special now.  

The smooth cobbled stones beneath your feet seem to carry you automatically, almost as if you are merely a passenger, being guided by forces far more powerful than yourself, drawing you further and further inside a world so different to your own.    The intoxicating smells of the Armenian restaurants danced and tickled my nostrils as I passed them, weaving my way down small, narrow roads, where you have to push yourself tightly against walls whenever a car passes.

The Tower of David stands proudly on your right, as if it’s guarding and watching over those who pass it.  As I made my way along the roads that twisted and turned, it felt as if I was in a maze, not quite knowing where I was going, yet never feeling lost.  I passed ancient Christian churches.   I passed markets where the Romans once ruled.  I passed yeshivas where Jewish students learnt.  I passed small shops selling their wares.  I passed eateries.  I passed peoples’ homes, hidden within the beautiful stones.  It felt as if I was drifting between the present and the past – yet being in both places at once. 

But among all the charms that were appearing around me, there was one that was pulling me ever closer, one that was drawing me in, one that was beckoning to me.  As I rounded one last corner, I saw it appear before me – one of the holiest place of the Jewish people – the Western Wall.  It is a special moment in one’s life when you look deep into the heart and soul of your nation, yet that’s how it felt to me.  Staring at that wall that glistened so beautifully in the sunlight, the same way it had for thousands of years, reminded me of how special that place was.  And I did feel special.  And lucky.  And honoured.  Because it was as if I was honouring the millions of Jews who had passed before me, throughout the ages and throughout the lands, who always faced Jerusalem in their prayers.  Who beat their chests, eyes closed with angst, praying for the peace of Jerusalem.  Who, in their darkest days on earth, dreamt of walking among these ancient and holy stones.  Who always concluded each seder with the eternal words “Next year in Jerusalem”. 

And yet here I was, standing there, representing all those who dreamt before but were unable to make it come true.

Jerusalem is truly the heart that beats for the Jewish people.  Its roads and paths and laneways are the vessels that pump the blood that makes it beat.  It has always been this way, from the moment King David first made Jerusalem the capital of the Jewish people 3000 years ago until now.  Since then, it has never been the capital of any other people.

And yet there are those who believe that tearing this city in half will lead to peace.  I don’t see it like that.  I don’t see how taking a dagger and driving it deep in the heart of the Jewish people can ever bring peace.  History has already proven that.

Between 1948 and 1967, Jordan controlled all of this area I walked through.  And in Article VIII of the Israel Jordan Armistice agreement, it called for “free access to the Holy Places and cultural institutions and use of the cemetery on the Mount of Olives.”  But that didn’t happen.  Despite requests and pleas from Israeli officials and Jewish groups to the UN, the US and others to try to get them to enforce the agreement Jordan signed, Jews were denied access to the Western Wall, the Jewish cemetery and all religious sites in Jerusalem.  But that was only part of it.  Because when the Jordanians captured the Old City, they destroyed the Jewish Quarter and expelled its residents.  They destroyed fifty eight synagogues, looted their contents and desecrated them.  They turned Jewish religious sites into chicken coops and animal stalls.  They ransacked the Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives, where Jews had been buried for thousands of years.  They desecrated the graves and smashed the tombstones, using them as building material.  They turned this holy Jewish site into a slum.

The Temple Mount, on which the Dome of the Rock now stands is a site holy to both Jews and Muslims.  It has always been Judaism's holliest site, while for Muslims it only become holy in far more recent history.  But it is also the focal point of violence which the world is currently watching.  But in 1967, when Israel succeeded in capturing the Old City, I believe they made one fatal judgement.  Instead of asserting their full sovereignty, or at the very least allowing some kind of joint control of the area by Jews and Muslims, they decided to give control of access to the Islamic Waqf.  And ever since then, Jews are not allowed to pray on the Temple Mount.  That intolerance by the Muslim and Arab authorities, who continue to fan the flames of hatred, is what fuels the violence that we are witnessing. 

When I look at this beautiful city – this city full of memories, of history, of pain, of triumph and of tragedy, I see more than just the pale limestones lingering in the last fading rays of sunset.  I see a city of life, where people breathe and laugh and love together respectful of each other and their ways of life. 

Perhaps it is a pipe dream, but as Theodor Herzl once said, “If you will it, it is no dream.”

See original article here

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Why I can wholeheartedly celebrate Israel’s Independence Day

NOTE:  This post was written in response to a facebook post located here.  The style was mimicked on purpose in order to make a point by giving an alternative view of what was presented by using a similar structure. It is not meant to copy the author's words - it's simply using a time honoured tradition of parody - but more for alternative effect than comic. 

It doesn’t matter where I am.  At my children’s Hebrew classes, in the middle of Ahuza street in Ra’anana, or sitting in a hall in faraway Australia.

It doesn’t matter if Israel is at war or not.  It doesn’t matter if the Israeli government has done something that has caused me to shout in exasperation, or if they’ve done something that makes my eyes well up with tears.

It doesn’t matter if I’m feeling patriotic towards my people, wanting to embrace them all, or running away from them, wanting to hide.  But every time I hear the haunting tones of Hatikva, the passion in me stirs.

I get a chill down my spine.

And I feel it – a tingling sensation that pulls at my heart strings, causes my soul to rise up, and makes my spirit fly.

And a gratitude… a true gratitude knowing how lucky both I and my people are to be alive at this moment in time along history’s continuous journey.

And yet, there are Israeli Arabs who do not share my joy.  And I get that – I do.  But I also know there are plenty who do.  Plenty who celebrate the uniqueness of Israel and serve in its Army and its police force fighting to protect this special place on earth.

I’m not immune to those who hate the country.  I hear the shouts.  I hear the chants.  But I also know that unlike the Jewish citizens of Israel, the Arab citizens are hardly alone in this world.  22 Arab countries surround Israel with similar cultures.  Over 50 countries with a majority population of Muslims. 22% of the world’s population is Muslim and just 0.2% is Jewish. 1.5 billion Muslims and just 14 million Jews.  That’s not what’s called being alone in this world.

And in the many countries Jews are dispersed across the globe, they are not demanding their own separate country.  Many are singing the anthems of their countries with pride. And they are singing the anthem of their Jewish homeland with pride too. And many are singing anthems under flags that might not represent them, but they’re singing it anyway.  They are good citizens who do not want to destroy the countries they are in – they just want to live their lives according to the customs.

But history is a cruel teacher and despite the comfort and the warmth of their hosts, the chasm between acceptance and rejection is never far.  Loving the Jews and hating them is just one small step.  Jews were reasonably comfortable in Europe too once upon a time with thriving cultures and strong traditions.  But powerless.  And in a few short years, all of that was decimated, ripped out of this world along with 6 million Jewish souls.

And where was their narrative?  Where was the world rushing to help?  Where were the international committees driven by a sense of justice, trying to save this people of so few? They were quiet, not prepared to get involved in something that did not rate highly on their radar of morality.  And so my people were ignored, left to a cruel fate.

So now today Israel has the strongest military in the Middle East – an army that does not simply exist to hold parades for soldiers who died in conflicts that many people in the world today haven’t even heard of.  They exist, because if they didn’t then Israel wouldn’t exist.
But what of this flag – this flag with the Jewish Star of David smack dab in the centre.  It is a symbol of Jewish sovereignty – that never again will we be at the mercy of a world that does not care. Never again will we depend on empty promises and rhetoric by a world that ignores us in our hour of need.  Never again will our shouts of anguish be met with a wall of silence.

God, I love this country.  This country that gives me hope and pride and honour and… life!  Because I know that should the winds of change turn, and the darkness that is trickling through the world now becomes an avalanche, my cries of desperation will not go unanswered.

Unlike my neighbours who wanted and many still do to destroy this country and snuff out the Jewish presence in the Middle East, Israel didn’t.  It just wanted to live and allows its citizens to live too, to raise children who can live and play, breathing fresh air as free people in a free land – their land.

And for the Arab citizens who mourn the existence of a Jewish country, I do not mourn with you.  I do not celebrate your history and I do not lament your lack of Arab glory in pushing the Jews into the sea in a holy war for Arab honour.

And for the Arab citizens who do celebrate the existence of this Jewish country, then I celebrate with you.  Yes, you’re a minority, but a minority with the same rights to breathe the same fresh air in the same free land.  And if being a minority is not acceptable, then you have the choice to join many countries in which you can become a part of the majority – just as Jews around the world have done when they’ve made Aliyah to Israel – the only country in which they are a majority.

It is wonderful to be a Jew today – a Jew who after 2000 years has a country of their own.  It is wonderful to know that our long history that contains much sadness will be the opposite of our future that contains much hope. And from generation to generation our history will not be ignored, but celebrated.  From Abraham to Joseph to Moses to Samuel to David all the way through to David Ben Gurion to Golda Meir to Binyamin Netanyahu to whoever comes next.

And that’s not wrong.  It is the complete opposite of wrong.  It is just so incredibly right.

We have a homeland – and we are lucky to have that homeland.  That’s something to celebrate, just as the hundreds of millions of Arabs around the Middle East should celebrate their homelands too, rather than be obsessed with destroying mine.

Israel is a Jewish country that should have its Jewish history celebrated too.  And its non Jewish citizens should always be made to feel welcome, because they are part of this country too.  How different that is to the Arab world who rather than allow their minorities to live in peace, decided to expel its Jewish citizens – and wipe out over 2500 years of Jewish presence in their midst.

Arab countries can mourn not being able to destroy Israel.  And Arab citizens can choose to mourn that too.

But we don’t need to mourn our survival.  We don’t need to mourn our stubbornness.  We don’t need to mourn our strength. We don’t need to mourn the return of the indigenous Jewish people to their homeland.  We don’t need to mourn that we have a turned a 2000 year ancient dream into a modern day reality.

Instead we only need to celebrate.

For we are free – a free people living in our free land – the Jewish State of Israel.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

A long time ago...

As we get older in life, it sometimes feels like parts of our youth seem to fade into dreams or myths or events that somehow we remember, but it is a memory clouded by the mists of time.

I can’t tell you the exact time or the exact date, but I can tell you that one of the earliest memory I’ve ever had is of going to a movie called The Empire Strikes Back way back in 1980.  In the small town of Somerset West where I lived, we had a single cinema called Mini Cine 1.  This was before the days of multiplexes and massive shopping malls and an endless supply of movie choices.

But I remember entering the dimmed theatre surrounded by my two brothers and my sister and my mom and my dad – who was the exact same age then as I am now.
It was the first movie I ever remember seeing in a cinema.  And still now, 35 years later, I can recall the thrill that filled me, and the anticipation that surrounded me, and the exhilaration that I felt at the adventure on which I was about to embark.  For this was something new, something fresh, something I hadn’t done before.

And after seeing a bunch of ads for cigarettes – yes they existed then, the biggest screen I had ever seen in my life leapt from its canvas with an explosion of sound that only John Williams could produce – a sound accompanied by images I had never seen.  And, as if I was being hit by a massive lightning bolt, I was thrown from this world and hurled across space to a galaxy far far away.   My sensors went into overload – tapping all the parts of the brain that my young and new body had never seen or felt.

Because as I watched this outer world adventure of swashbuckling heroes and ominous villains, it wasn’t just the movie I appreciated.  It was being in a moment of time that when I look back now is etched into my soul – like an immovable object that stays firm while the world around it changes. 

And when I think back to that night, there are some details that are as vivid as if I was back there this very second. I enter the doors and walk on the carpeted floor that slopes downwards.  I sat in those brown seats that were so big, it felt like I had my own sofa.  The music that would fill my ears with delight, as I watched the opening scrolling words rise up before me.  And I remember how the cinema was empty – so my brothers and I were running up and down the aisles, sitting in every seat we could to try to get the best possible view.
And then there are others details that go beyond the description of mere words.  Because they are feelings.  The feeling of excitement that filled me.  Being out during the evening on a cool winter’s night.  The excitement of receiving free lollies as we’d enter the cinema.  The smells of popcorn.  The hum of the projector starting up and the bridge of light transmitting above our heads. The ticket stubs that unlike the ones of today were like flyers decorated in colours and images.

Life changes for all of us, but there are moments that seem to transcend the normal passage of time.  Moments which cannot be simply defined.  Moments that are precious and unique and special and moments that no other person on earth can ever feel the same about – because they are yours alone.

And when you’re a kid of 6 years old, the whole world is a mystery.  Every moment of every day is an adventure to itself.  The smallest things we take for granted in our daily lives are colossal events that define you and make you dream in a world where dreams often fade away like morning mist.

That night, in a small town in South Africa, in a place farthest from the brightest centre of the universe, Star Wars took me on a journey that sometimes I still feel I’m on.  Oh – I’m aware of the real world.  And I’m aware of its pitfalls and tragedies.  And I’m aware of the despair that sometimes accompanies life.  But I’m also aware of the wonder and mysticism and the adventure and the excitement of dreaming about worlds so different to our own.

And now many years later, as I’ve reached the same age as my dad was when he took us to see Star Wars, I too will take my kids to a new Star Wars movie and share with them a moment in time and an adventure – one that will hopefully one day in the future, many years from now, cause them to remember a moment in their childhood with fondness and with mystery and with excitement the way I still do.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Robin Williams - he lived before he died

When I heard that Robin Williams had died, I was instantly shocked.  How could someone we have known, and watched, and enjoyed for so long – simply be gone.  That shock eventually dissipated and was replaced with an overwhelming sense of loss and emptiness.  It is a loss that is hard to quantify, when so much of what he’s done seems intertwined with our lives.  Who can forget his portrayal of Genie in Aladdin, or his words of inspiration and truth in Good Will Hunting?
Despite the sadness of knowing that there will no more Robin Williams movies, we are also lucky that so much of his work remains for us to watch and enjoy.
Although Robin William’s death is a tragedy, there are of course, far more real tragedies in the world that occur every day, such as death and famine and war where thousands of people die, but nevertheless his death is one that the world seems to have taken personally.
The reason why people around the world are so effected by his death is that in him lies a reflection of all of us.  We had a person who achieved amazing things, who caused us to laugh and cry, who fought with demons and seemed to conquer them for a time, only to ultimately fall by them.  He probably reflects both the best of what we can be as well as the fear of what we can become.
The tragedy of Robin Williams is that he had so much more to give the world.  In there lies a microcosm of all of us.  We all have potential – some realised and some not.  Robin Williams was a life cut short, but at least he lived before he died.
In this world, the ultimate tragedy of life is not simply dying, but not having lived in the first place.

Monday, June 15, 2015

The night time shopping adventure

It’s winter here in Australia.  Which means it’s cold.  Well… I mean, not snow covered streets cold.  Or ice rinks in the middle of the city cold.  Or thirteen layers of clothing cold.  But cold.  Unless you’re in Darwin where it’s 32 degrees today (or 90 Fahrenheit).  But… it’s also 32 degrees there in the middle of summer, winter, spring and autumn.  So that doesn’t count.

But here in Melbourne, it’s 10 degrees at the moment or 50 Fahrenheit.  So that’s cold.  But as cold as that is, I’m kind of excited because… I have a mission.  Now, it’s not a regular mission and I probably won’t get an award.  In fact, I will get chastised, but nevertheless I’m looking forward to it.  Because as cold as the night is, and as dark as the streets are, and as chilly as that winter wind blowing through the trees feels – I have to go out.  To do some shopping.

That’s right – I have been told by my wife that we need cheese, biscuits, milk, cupcakes, some apples and bananas and a big bag of crisps.   Well, actually that bag of crisps wasn’t on the list, but I’m improvising.  It should take 15 minutes I’ve been told.

And let me tell you, I love going shopping at night.  Because, you see, being married with kids, means it’s like for the first time in the day, I get some ME time.  And not to mention how extremely cool it is to find a parking instantly!  Yup, back to my bachelor days.  The days where I’d cruise the aisles of the local supermarket, looking for the ready to cook meals where all you do is peel the plastic back and stick it in the microwave for 7 minutes.  I was pretty good at those.  So here I am again, strutting my stuff through the multi-coloured aisles, feeling like a reeeeeeeeeal man – oooooooo look!  A special on dish-washing liquid!

But you see, as I scan the list of things that I need to buy, I soon realise that it isn’t quite as easy as I thought it would be.  A few things for my wife equates to about a trolley load for me.  And what is up with the different kinds of soy milk?  I thought soy or not, but it turns out there’s soy lite and soy heavy.  Milky soy and creamy soy.  Soy which tastes like milk and soy that tastes like almonds… or is that almond milk?  Soy for weekends and soy for weekdays.  And as I stand in the aisle staring at the multitude choices, I remark smugly to the person next to me that technically it shouldn’t be called soy milk at all, since it’s not even milk.  Unfortunately, people who go late night shopping don’t seem to appreciate the intricacies of conversations of the types of milk – or any conversations at all really.

And after phone call thirteen to my wife, I finally establish the one I’m supposed to get.  But then it comes to biscuits – and this is where it gets tricky, because I have to ask myself the question the men who do late night shopping ask every time.  Are the chocolate biscuits in the chocolate aisle or in the biscuit aisle?  Luckily with technology, we have now have smartphone apps for supermarkets.  So most of the time when you see people walking around staring at the phones, it’s not because they’re on Facebook, it’s because they’re looking for the right aisle to find what they’re looking for.

Then there’s the fruit section which we can clearly see has been designed with a target female audience in mind.  Because every time I take one of those silly packets, I spend the next ten minutes trying to open the bloody thing!  I’m rubbing my two fingers, trying to pry it open with my car keys, not even knowing if I’m attempting to do it on the proper side.  I even try stabbing a hole in it then pulling it apart that way. Finally when I do manage to get it open, I see some lady walk by, grab a bag and open it effortlessly!  What is their secret?? 

Then there’s the specials I see lined across the aisles, like that packet of cherry flavoured coffee.  It’s true we don’t need it or like it, but if I just buy 18 packets, I get the 19th free!  What a deal!  Men are far more logical than women.  And another thing I take personal pride in is that I always look at the price per 100g price.  I will be making sure that I get the most bang for my buck!

Then there’s those wonderful self-serving checkout, which I personally like, because any situation where you don’t have to talk to people is a win.  However, since all the regular checkouts are closed, it becomes a logistical nightmare when you have more than three items!  Because there’s no space!  And every time I move a bag to make more space, an alarm starts blaring.

But you see we men can be quite skilful at shopping, and not many people are able to turn a 15 minute shopping session into an hour and a half.  Of course, when I do make it home, I get told that’s not the brand the kids like, or what was I thinking getting this one?  And why did I get 19 packets of cherry flavoured coffee.   My persuasive argument on specials was clearly not hitting the mark.

But despite the trauma, I’m able to sit back and enjoy those few fleeting moments where I was once again a man’s man.   Where I was in charge.  When I made the decisions.  Where I decided - what’s that??  Oh no!  We’re out of sugar!