Thursday, June 17, 2010

Only Good News!

One of the reasons it’s so incredibly depressing to read the daily newspapers is because bad news is generally considered so much more interesting than good news. Who, for example, would buy a newspaper that featuring happy, well-balanced people watching over their families and honestly earning their livings on the front page? I felt my eyes closing just typing that last sentence! And yet, for all the world is filled with horrifically bad people behaving awfully, there are also positive things to report…and these are generally precisely the kind of things no one ever hears about. Therefore, in the service of positivistic journalism—I just made that expression up, but it sounds like what I mean—I would like to attempt to write a full e-letter this week to you all that contains only good news. If you prefer being depressed, just type “Helen Thomas” into the Google search engine and I promise you’ll have enough vituperative rhetoric, most of it truly appalling, to last you until I return to bad news mode!

Since I’ve just mentioned Google, let’s start by giving equal time to Yahoo. Some of you who have iPhones may have noted that the pre-installed Yahoo weather app, declining to recognize Jerusalem as the united capital city of Israel, offered users a choice between finding out what the weather is like in West Jerusalem, Israel, or in East Jerusalem, which was located in the non-country called “West Bank.” I don’t have an iPhone, but I understand that many users were displeased and expressed their displeasure to Yahoo itself, as a result of which Jerusalem has been reunited and users can only get the weather for the one city that actual exists: Jerusalem, Israel. Well done, Yahoo! (I’m still not getting an iPhone, however.)

Moving along with more good news, the French broadcast authority called the CSA this week banned satellite companies that serve France from carrying Hamas’ Al-Aksa television station, declaring that it is a purveyor of hateful views that incite viewers to violence “on the grounds of race, religion, or nationality.” Since Israel has a hard enough time putting its message across without violent anti-Israel rhetoric, most of it pure propaganda, being broadcast directly into the homes of people who might otherwise be inclined not to be knee-jerk opponents of everything Israel does or tries to do, we should celebrate this decision as decent and just. It’s a small victory, admittedly, yet still something to feel positive about.

Next comes some interesting news from southern California. Many of you know that Joan and I both used to teach at the Tarbut VeTorah School in Irvine, California, just down Bonita Canyon Drive from the campus of the University of California at Irvine, one of the hotbeds of anti-Israel activism in southern California. In the non-positivistic press you may well have read about the appalling and insulting reception to which Israel ambassador Michael Oren was subjected to when he attempted to speak there last February as a guest of the university. But now, just a few months later, a university-sponsored disciplinary committee has ruled that the Muslim Students Union, which group orchestrated the vile reception accorded the ambassador, should be forbidden to operate on campus for at least a year. Also, even more to the point, a huge pro-Israel street fair called iFest drew upwards of 600 students for its opening event on the main thoroughfare of the UC Irvine campus just a week or so ago. (If I was going to balance positivist journalism with negativist, I would mention that iFest follows on the heels of Israeli Apartheid Week, an annual Israel-bashing event sponsored by the now-banned Muslim Students Organization. But I promised only good news this week!)

From north of the border, there is also some positive news to report from my other country. Most readers will not know the name of Libby Davis, the senior Canadian parliamentarian and the leader of the far-left leaning New Democratic Party who earlier this month referred to the entire existence of the state of Israel as one sixty-odd year occupation of other people’s land by Jewish settlers whose right to live in the land of Israel, she implied, has no legal basis at all. That was not good news, but far more encouraging was the unequivocal call just this week for her ouster from Parliament by Stephen Harper, the Canadian prime minister. Speaking in the House of Commons in Ottawa, Harper referred to Davis’ remarks as constituting “a fundamental denial of Israel’s right to exist.” Also impressive was the comment by Bob Rae, the foreign policy critic of the Liberal Party, who characterized Davis’ remarks as appalling and also called upon her to resign. Possibly shocked by the response to her comments, Davis apologized for her remark referring to it as a “serious and completely inadvertent” error of judgment. Whether she really thinks that or not, who knows? But the good news I promised lies in the across-the-board condemnation of her statement, one paralleled by the reception Helen Thomas’s similar comments occasioned just a few weeks earlier in Washington. So that’s also encouraging—there will always be hostile people out there unwilling to imagine that the right of Jewish people to live in a Jewish state in the Jewish homeland should be considered as inalienable and natural as the right of any people to live in its own place on its own terms, but at least there are also those to whom Israel’s right to exist is just as unquestionable and that latter group clearly includes some of the most influential people in Canadian politics. So that too ended up on an encouraging note.

From Israel too came some encouraging news as well this week. Some of you may have been following the disgraceful effort by some groups of Slonimer Hasidim in the West Bank settlement of Emanuel to prevent their daughters from attending schools in which they would be obliged to mingle with girls of Sephardic origin. But now Israel’s Supreme Court has formally ordered these parents to be jailed if they persist in that kind of overtly racist behavior. The parents involved have vowed to resist. And there was a truly disgraceful demonstration in Jerusalem yesterday that brought together something like 100,000 Haredim unwilling to serve in their country’s army but apparently more than willing to go to the barricades in defense of segregation and prejudice. The court was right to intercede, I believe, and I hope that good sense will prevail quickly now that the matter has finally be adjudicated in court and a decision rendered. And then, when everybody finally calms down, perhaps we can go back to imagining that the kind of overt prejudice that prompted the parents involved to go so far as to build a dividing wall within the school to segregate children of Ashkenazic and Sephardic origin will quickly become a footnote to Israeli social history rather than a principle anyone would consider worth going to jail to defend. So the Supreme Court decision itself counts, I think, as good news for reasonableness and decency! (I told you I could fill up an entire letter with only good news!)

And finally I would like to report to you about a true treasure that I have just recently acquired, a book that seems so precious to me that I can hardly keep from carrying it around with me just to enjoy the way it feels in my hand. I am talking about Siddur Va’ani Tefilati: Siddur Yisra’eili, the new prayer book published by the Masorti/Conservative movement in Israel. Or rather not published by them at all but published for them (and also, I suspect, for many, many other readers) by Yediot Acharonot Press, one of Israel’s largest publishing houses. It is expected to sell very well. In fact, it is already selling excellently, a feat no doubt helped along by a full one thousand radio spots purchased and paid for by the movement to bring its book to the attention of the Israeli public. The book is, of course, entirely in Hebrew. But this is not just an Israeli prayer book because of its language. There are alternate versions of many prayers that reflect the texts in use in Ashkenazic, Sephardic and Oriental Jewish communities, thus making the book mirror the population of Israel itself. Israel Independence Day and Yom Hashoah are treated as “normal” holidays, not add-ons to the traditional festivals of the Jewish year. There are special prayers for people called to the Torah that mirror Israeli society to a T: prayers for new immigrants to Israel, for new converts to Judaism, for couples who have adopted children but also for single adoptive parents, for agunot who after being held back by recalcitrant ex-husbands have finally received their gittin and are thus free to remarry, for new grandparents, for young men and women about to be inducted into the IDF, as well as all the more traditional formulations for births, bar- and bat-mitzvahs, and marriages. Alongside the traditional liturgy for a Brit Milah is a parallel service called Zeved Habat welcoming a girl into the covenant. Also worth noting is the true beauty of the volume. Designed by Devora Lifshitz, a well-known Israeli graphic artist, the book is gorgeous, the type clear and bold, each page laid out perfectly. The publication of Siddur Va’ani Tefilati marks the true coming of age of the Masorti movement and should be widely noted by Conservative Jews everywhere. It’s publication—and by a large, professional publishing house at that—is truly good news, the kind that deserves to be not merely noted but truly celebrated. Of all the good news I’ve brought together this week, Siddur Va’ani Tefilati is by far the best news of all. Can you read Hebrew? If you can, buy this book. You can order it at a 30% discount from Steimatzky’s at or you can buy it directly from the Yediot Acharonot Press at Even if your Hebrew skills are rudimentary you will love owning this book! Honestly, I can’t put it down!

And that concludes my good news survey for the week. Don’t worry, though. I’m done. Starting next week, we’ll be back to our usual litany of misery. But just this once…is anyone still awake?

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