Celebrating An Open Jerusalem

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By Gil Troy, Open Zion – The Daily Beast, 9-25-12

Warning: this posting contains good news and positive thoughts about Israel, Jerusalem and the Middle East.

So many of the narratives about Israel are so negative, especially in the media, that we often fail to note the poetry of the everyday that comes from living in the Jewish state, or even the most mundane prose of life that shows that things are functioning. What I think of as the Great Israel Disconnect distorts: the gap between the hysterical, judgmental, apocalyptic headlines, and the calmer, happier, more meaningful experiences of most Israelis, most of the time (be they Jewish, Christian or Muslim) is confusing. As a result, some dismiss all the media jeremiads as propagandistic and jaundiced, while others dismiss any positive reports as propagandistic and deceitful.

 

Israeli children ride their bicycles at a car-free street in Jerusalem, during Yom Kippur, Judaism's most solemn day. (Gali Tibbon / AFP / Getty Images)
Israeli children ride their bicycles at a car-free street in Jerusalem, during Yom Kippur, Judaism’s most solemn day. (Gali Tibbon / AFP / Getty Images)

 

In the few hours before Yom Kippur begins in Jerusalem, it is worth contemplating the magic of that day in the Jewish State, as an indicator of many of Israel’s greatest successes. For starters, Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, is not really just one “yom” day—despite its name. It is the culmination of a 40-day process that begins as the last month of the year, Elul, begins. Especially in Jerusalem, there is a flowering of Jewish learning as people study texts about forgiveness, piety, the power of prayer, the meaning of life. In the Sephardic (Spanish/Middle Eastern) tradition, there are additional “Slichot” forgiveness prayers for an entire month—with some waking up at midnight or at 4 am to recite them; in the Ashkenazic (Eastern European) tradition those prayers only begin a week before the Jewish New Year. This week, I had the privilege of participating in Slichot prayers at midnight at the Shalom Hartman Institute’s Charles E. Smith High School for Boys, which my two sons attend. Experiencing the mix of Ashkenazic and Sephardic prayers and rituals was incredibly moving, offering a counternarrative of communal respect and interweaving contradicting the usual focus on ethnic gaps and communal tensions.

Similarly, during a pre-Yom Kippur jog through the Old City, I witnessed a very different Jerusalem than the one I usually read about. I always tell visitors to the city never to walk alone in the Old City. That is a historical spur, not a safety warning. “Walk with someone on your shoulder,” I like to say. “It can be David or Solomon, the kings who built the city, Jesus or Mary for our Christian friends, or an ancestor or relative who never made it here—and whom you are now representing.” In fact, the real hazards I faced—as usual in my jogs—were slippery steps, rocky roads and the occasional bicyclist. In hundreds of jogs through the Old City over more than five years, I have never witnessed an argument, never tasted fear (despite being a hyper-aware and cautious native New Yorker). The only clash I have ever experienced occurred when a young Arab cyclist and I each turned a blind corner and nearly collided. Instead, we ended up in an awkward (but manly!) hug. I like to think of that as a metaphor for what we could achieve, rather than the collisions that we more frequently read about.

As I jog through the Old City, I always imagine myself a human thread, weaving together the past and the present, uniting the different communities, as I traverse a borderless entity. I am neither deaf to Palestinian cries for national fulfillment nor numb to the occasional tensions and pressing issues. But I also see a calm, a functionality, a vitality that is equally palpable, and in fact defines the experiences of most Jerusalemites, which is why the population keeps growing and demands for Israeli citizenship papers from the Eastern (Palestinian) Jerusalem side grow too.

Finally, as Yom Kippur itself begins, I will see—as I have seen repeatedly before—a tremendous display of Jewish unity. Israel turns into one vast spiritual retreat center, as by custom not law cars disappear from the streets, and a deep, elevating spiritual quiet envelops the country. As the Jerusalem Post reports, “approximately two-thirds of Jewish Israelis will fast this Yom Kippur and over 80 percent will use the day either to pray or for general introspection,” blurring the usual distinctions between religious and non-religious. The highlight for many of us in Southern Jerusalem will be the post-Kol Nidre Emek Refaim promenade. After the evening prayers, hundreds of Jerusalemites descend on Emek Refaim, the increasingly fashionable shopping and restaurant boulevard. In a modern equivalent of the Easter Parade, they simply walk—or bicycle—up and down, greeting neighbors and friends, enjoying the liberation from the noise of cars, the burdens of work, and the compulsions of the clock. And—judging by the array of clothing (mostly but not exclusively white) and the happy cyclists pedaling up and down—this is a mix of Israelis, of observant and non-observant, just enjoying the magic.

The Yom Kippur repentance ritual demands that we reconcile with our fellow human beings before we reconcile with God. Note that we are supposed to make our peace with all humans, not just Jews. In toasting the Jerusalem I see—which so frequently unites  Ashkenazic and Separdic, Muslim and Jew, religious and secular, simply in the act of being safe, happy and productive in Israel 2012—I pray that the normalcy I experience will become epidemic and standard, that the reconciliation required will be among peoples not just individuals, and that the only clashes we have next year will end, as mine did, in an awkward (but manly!) embrace.

Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University and a Shalom Hartman Intstitute Engaging Israel Research Fellow in Jerusalem. His next book, “Moynihan’s Moment: America’s Fight against Zionism as Racism,” will be published by Oxford University Press this fall.

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How Many Democrats Booed Jerusalem at the DNC?

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By Gil Troy, Open Zion – The Daily Beast, 9-6-12

When the Democrats restored the Party’s now traditional affirmation of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, there were so many noes that the move required three attempts to be accepted. Eventually, the plank was pushed through, albeit ham-handedly, to boos from a loud minority. That display of hostility in the Democratic lovefest, as well as the initial desire to drop the Jerusalem plank from the Party platform, tells a tale about an internal Democratic debate—and possible shift—that pro-Israel Democrats are desperately trying to cover up.

No matter how many glowing New York Times op-eds Haim Saban writes, no matter how many pro-Israel speeches Robert Wexler gives, no matter how many times they channel Pravda by hitting the same talking points about Barack Obama’s love for Israel, Democrats cannot ignore the elephant—er, over-sized donkey in the convention hall. Like it or not, the Democratic Party is becoming the home address of anti-Israel forces as well as Israel skeptics. And Democratic support is flagging, with a 15-point gap between Republican support for Israel and Democratic support. I believe strongly that support for Israel should be a bipartisan bedrock—and with more than 70 percent of Americans supporting Israel that foundation remains strong. The new partisan disparity is between an overwhelming 80 percent of Republicans and a still solid 65 percent of Democrats.

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J. Scott Applewhite / AP Photo

 

I have criticized the Republicans for trying to make supporting Israel a wedge issue through demagoguery. But Democrats should not deny that they are also helping to make Israel a wedge issue by hosting those who are hostile to Israel and then covering it up dishonestly.

As an observer, not a pollster, I perceive four different factions within the Democratic coalition regarding Israel. The largest probably remains the I-love-Israel and I-love-America AIPAC Democrats. These are pro-Israel, pro-Israeli-government liberals, who have no problem being progressive domestically and supporting Israel enthusiastically, especially since 9/11 and the Palestinian wave of terror reinforced their understandings of the shared values, interests, and needs of the United States and Israel.

A growing faction, which is probably louder and sounds more influential than it actually is statistically, is the “Tough Love,” anti-settlement, J-Street Democrats. These people are deeply pro-Israel, but also deeply hostile to the Netanyahu government, deeply sympathetic to the Palestinians, outraged by the settlements, and convinced that Israel needs to be pressured—not coddled—for there to be peace. Barack Obama has fluctuated between those two positions as president—and there is a disparity of 50 percent to 25 percent in Bibi Netanyahu’s favorability ratings among Republicans versus Democrats.

Before his presidency, Obama also flirted with a third faction, which was probably the main source of the booers—enhanced, I would guess, by some J-Streeters who are incredibly sensitive to the Muslim-Arab “optics” (meaning how American actions look to the Muslim and Arab world), yet incredibly insensitive to the Jewish-Zionist “optics” (meaning how American actions look to Israel and Israel’s supporters). Members of this third Jimmy Carter-Jesse Jackson, Israel-Apartheid, Zionism-racism faction are ardently pro-Palestinian, hostile to Israel—not just its government—and disappointed with Democratic support for Israel. Nevertheless, they are far more disgusted with Republican positions on just about anything, which is what keeps them Democrats.

Finally, and we Israel junkies tend to ignore them, are the “whatever”-John Edwards Democrats. Never forget that many Americans are like John Edwards, they just do not care that much about this issue. I am sure that Edwards said the “right” things about Israel so he would get the votes he sought, but he never took leadership, never embraced the Jewish State, and was probably just phoning it in, as my students say.

I will admit, the Jerusalem issue is somewhat of a red herring. It is, like the abortion issue domestically, more symbolic than real—the chances of an American embassy in Jerusalem during the next four years, whoever wins, are about as unlikely as the chances of a reversal of Roe v. Wade that would ban abortions. But these symbolic issues count in politics, showing core values, broadcasting an identity, and often indicating where a party is heading.

Under Obama, there has been a drip-drip-drip, a steady draining of general Democratic support for the pro-Israel community. Moreover, Obama’s failure to visit Israel after his Cairo speech, his testy relationship with Netanyahu (for which both are responsible), his fumbling on the settlement issue (which gave the Palestinians a new excuse to avoid negotiations), the post-Biden trip blow-up which could have been more astutely handled, his failure just recently to distance himself from General Dempsey’s insulting remarks about a possible Israeli airstrike, as well as this unnecessary Jerusalem platform plank brouhaha, suggest a certain tone-deafness on the Israel file, at best, and a hidden animus, at worst. At a time when those of us who wish to avoid an Iran-Israel war understand that the Israeli government needs reassurance that the United States is completely behind Israel, these kinds of misfires are dangerous.

In the Party, J-Street Democrats have too often been either a stepping stone for Democrats seeking to distance themselves from their AIPAC comrades or, frankly, a cover for a deeper anti-Israel hostility. Just as in 1991, William F. Buckley confronted Pat Buchanan’s anti-Israel and anti-Semitic prejudice on the right, pro-Israel Democrats need to confront the Jimmy Carter-Jesse Jackson faction’s anti-Israel and occasionally anti-Semitic animus from the Left. If they continue simply uttering denials, offering the same laundry list of Obama’s pro-Israel moves, claiming Obama is the most pro-Israel president ever, they risk losing both their credibility—and their dominance in a party that was the party of such champions of Israel as Harry Truman and John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson and Hubert Humphrey, Bill Clinton and Ted Kennedy, Henry Jackson and Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

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Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University and a Shalom Hartman Intstitute Engaging Israel Research Fellow in Jerusalem. His next book, “Moynihan’s Moment: America’s Fight against Zionism as Racism,” will be published by Oxford University Press this fall.

Israeli Democracy Rises to the Occasion

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By Gil Troy, Open Zion – The Daily Beast, 8-28-12

Despite war drums beating and appalling anti-Arab beatings, the Israeli school year started quite normally yesterday, August 27.  Pushy parents and cranky kids swarmed clothing stores and stationery stores on Sunday. They were then followed by legions of fresh-faced students dreading the return to school on Monday. But you’d never know it, given the headlines, which advanced a political agenda by always caricaturing Israel—and Jerusalem—as dysfunctional.

Life in Jerusalem today is quite pleasant and peaceful—far more similar to clean, safe Montreal in the 1990s than the racially-charged Boston I first encountered in the early 1980s or the crime-scarred New York I grew up in during the 1970s.  That does not mean that Jerusalem is problem free—no city is. And the problem that erupted in Zion Square last week was particularly heartbreaking. An Arab teenager, Jamal Julani, 17 was beaten unconscious by a mob of Jewish teenagers, shouting “Death to Arabs.” One of the eight who was subsequently apprehended uttered more bigoted statements when remanded.

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Ultra-orthodox Jewish girl plays in a fountain during summer vacation on August 8, 2012 in Jerusalem, Israel. (Uriel Sinai / Getty Images)
 

By contrast, the entire Israeli political establishment led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu united in what President Shimon Peres called “shame and outrage.” Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin visited Julani and his family in Hadassah Hospital, which itself happens to be a lush garden of Arab-Jewish cooperation, where individuals work naturally with each other and serve human beings with tremendous dignity, no matter what their ethnicity, citizenship, or religion.

“It is hard to see you lying in the hospital because of an unimaginable, outrageous act,” Rivlin told Julani, who is now at home. “I came here in the name of the State of Israel, in order to apologize and express anger over what happened.” Rivlin, a proud right-wing Likudnik, was particularly appalled that some of the hooligans wore Betar soccer shirts. He noted how disgusted the founder of Betar and revisionist Zionism, Ze’ev Jabotinsky would have been by the crime. And then, showing he was not mentioning the historic disjunction to dodge responsibility but to take it, he said: “We, the government, the Knesset, schools and everyone who sees himself as a leader, are responsible for this.”

In turn, showing the seeds educators can sow, we had at least two conversations about the incident around our table, and another one with family friends within six hours of the kids returning home that day.

Young teenagers calling out “Death to the Arabs” while beating a fellow human being is a despicable byproduct of an inflamed atmosphere, and reflects the worst of Israeli society. Predictably, Israel’s critics have jumped on the incident, using these crimes to indict Israel’s society, culture, and politics more broadly. But that simplistic demonizing narrative overlooks the fact that Israel’s “right wing” leaders are taking responsibility for such violence and trying to educate youth away from such horrors. While Israel’s defenders will only focus on the leaders’ anguished but constructive response—and contrast it with Palestinian celebrations of terror—a true, nuanced conversation about Israel—like all democratic societies—must acknowledge the good and the bad.

The truth in the Middle East is murky. Simplistic condemnations or celebrations should invite suspicion. In complexity, we may not find salvation, but we will at least be closer to the truth and, possibly, better mutual understanding.

Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University and a Shalom Hartman Intstitute Engaging Israel Research Fellow in Jerusalem. His next book, “Moynihan’s Moment: America’s Fight against Zionism as Racism,” will be published by Oxford University Press this fall.

Jerusalem Day Belong to All Israelis, not just “Settlers”

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By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 5-22-12

The lecturer at the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities in Jerusalem this Sunday looked like your typical, distinguished, Tel Avivi secular scientist, with an impressive position and a delicious enthusiasm for his “lovely” chemical results.  Further perpetuating the stick-figure impression of him as another far-left, Israel-bashing, Europe-worshipping, Ha’aretz-reading, Chardonnay-sipping post-Zionist, post-patriot, was his personal trajectory, from a secular kibbutz in the Galilee to three years as a post-doc in Geneva to a named chair at the Weizmann Institute. Meanwhile, across town, thousands of white-shirted, tzizit-wearing, big-kippa-clad “settler types” were assembling for their mass march to the Old City. Clearly, in the stereotypes that drive so much public conversation about Israel – inside and outside the country – the National Religious crowd would celebrate Jerusalem Day zealously, and the secular scientist would ignore it or wince if it were mentioned.

Yet Professor Reshef Tenne, the Drake Family Professor of Nanotechnology, began his lecture on “Inorganic Nanotubes and Fullerene-like Nanoparticles” by saluting “Yom Yerushalayim,” Jerusalem Day. He spoke movingly about having been a young soldier who fought in the Old City, helping to liberate the Kotel, the Western Wall. He remembered his many friends who died during the battle. It was “holy work,” he proclaimed, emphasizing the importance of a united Jerusalem being accessible to all Jews, given its centrality to the Jewish soul as the Jewish people’s capital.

Meanwhile, news coverage suggested that the way to celebrate the reunification of Jerusalem 45-years-ago is to shout anti-Arab slogans and sing songs ending in “ay-yi-yi-yi” incessantly. Photos in Ha’aretzYediot Achranot, and this newspaper all left the impression that Jerusalem Day was only for fanatics, and only for men.  But you don’t have to be rightwing or religious to love Jerusalem or rejoice in Israel’s 1967 victory – and religious rightwingers are not necessarily fanatic fundamentalists.  The secular left should not sacrifice joint custody of this important moment, and let the religious right monopolize the celebrations.

That was the power of Naomi Shemer’s Yerushalayim Shel Zahav, Jerusalem of Gold. She debuted that song during the tense days of May, 1967, when Gamel Abdul Nasser had united Egypt, Jordan and Syria under his military command, and was threatening to destroy the Jewish State. The PLO’s founder Ahmad al-Shuqayri anticipated Israel’s “complete destruction” predicting “practically no Jewish survivors.”

With reserve soldiers digging out graves in public parks, anticipating up to 10,000 deaths, Israelis felt embattled and alone. Impatience with the plodding civilian leadership had Israelis speculating that when a waiter asked Prime Minister Levi Eshkol whether he wanted tea or coffee, Eshkol answered, tentatively, “half of both.”

Shemer’s Jerusalem anthem captured the longing for a united city, the bitterness in the ongoing division, and the romantic Zionist hopes the old-new city stirred. After the lightning quick, sweeping victory, the song captured the war’s miraculous, redemptive nature. As secular Israelis sang it, they heard the historic, nationalist affirmation in her lyrics; as religious Israelis sang it, they heard the religious resonances — but all were singing the same song with the same melody, united in patriotic love for Jerusalem.

Jerusalem Day has become Six Day War Awareness Day – and therein lies the tension. Increasingly, the Left considers the 1967 War as the War Israel Won in Six Days but Lost Since. This narrative, which blames Israeli settlements for perpetuating Middle East tensions, misses the many ways the Six Day War gains still protect Israel’s existence.

The territories remain an important bargaining chip, an essential safety zone, and an historic part of Eretz Yisrael, the land of Israel, that could, in peace, be shared by all those who love this land. Takeoffs and landings are safe at Ben Gurion airport because terrorists cannot fire rockets from the West Bank at commercial jets. Moreover, fighting about settlements and the territories shifts much of the debate from Israel’s existence to Israel’s boundaries. I support territorial compromise – but only with those who accept Israel’s right to live.

The 1967 victory also started weaning Egypt from its destructive desire to destroy the Jewish State, ended Syria’s bombardment up north, and liberated Jerusalem – whose Jewish holy sites the Jordanians systematically desecrated.

“Israel made a big mistake in succeeding in 1967,” George Will quips. “This was when the Left decided it liked victims; it still does.”

Even in today’s Israel of harsh headlines, petty politicians, and polarized positions, we should remember the power of the Zionist center, and the widespread idealism that still characterizes Israel, making the Start-up Nation what we at the Engaging Israel Project at the Shalom Hartman Institute call a Values Nation too. The Zionist center is broad and deep; narrowing it out or thinning it out distorts reality.

Jerusalem Day, like Jerusalem, Israel’s history, the blue-and-white flag, Hatikvah, the Zionist idea, should never be the private property of one political or religious faction. These are treasured national assets, held in trust from one generation to the next, part of our common heritage. Americans learned this lesson when both Bill Clinton in 1992 and Barack Obama in 2008 ran upbeat patriotic campaigns as liberals who respected faith, flag, and family. That is what constructive, romantic, liberal nationalism is all about – using the sense of community, safety and idealism that comes from a functioning, idealistic, democratic nation state to stretch the individual and fulfill communal ideals. That is part of the Zionist message. That is part of Israel’s mission. And that is part of the reason why, I and so many others from across the religious and political spectrum, joined Professor Tenne, his heroic now-graying comrades, and their families, in celebrating Jerusalem Day, for Jerusalemites, for Israelis, for Jews, for genuine peace lovers, as a grand moment not an Israeli miscalculation.

Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University and a Shalom Hartman Engaging Israel Research Fellow in Jerusalem. The author of “Why I Am a Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today,” his next book, “Moynihan’s Moment: The Fight against Zionism as Racism” will be published by Oxford University Press this fall.

A Purim “Nahafochu” Reversal: Let’s Reach Out to Christians

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By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 3-6-12

Our first year in Jerusalem, I heard that neighborhood kids were ringing the doorbell of the local church, then cursing into the intercom. I was appalled. We did not establish a Jewish state to do to “them” what “they” did to us – but to model different behavior. That Purim, my family and I delivered Mishloach Manot – Purim treats – in costume — to our neighborhood nuns. We were, I admit, a tad uncomfortable when we rang the bell outside their imposing door.  We were stretching, unsure what the reaction would be.
Greeting us in German-accented Hebrew, the nuns welcomed us warmly.  It seemed as if they never interacted with their neighbors.  They knew the Purim ritual but never had received Hamantaschen. That Easter, we received painted eggs and chocolate. That Rosh Hashanah, we delivered apples and honey. That Christmas, we received little Santas and more chocolate.  We now have a ritualized gift exchange four times a year.
I think of our little family “tikun,” our minor attempt to repair a breach, whenever I hear stories about this disgusting phenomenon of some – note the word some – ultra-Orthodox Jews spitting at priests and Seminary students in the Old City. While it is hard to know how widespread a phenomenon it is, we must have zero-tolerance for such appalling behavior. It violates a central commandment from the Torah, Vayikra Leviticus 19, to “treat the stranger who sojourns among you as the native.”
But objecting is not enough. Israelis must demand that the perpetrators be caught, prosecuted aggressively, and jailed for assault. We must determine which communities are teaching such anti-humanistic, anti-Jewish and anti-Christian ideas and pressure their leadership to follow the true Torah teaching. Moreover, each of us should make our own “tikun,” reaching out to Christians in Jerusalem and elsewhere, welcoming them somehow, reassuring them that this pathological minority of hooligans does not represent Israelis or Jews.  Here, our guiding principles should be, how do we want to be treated outside Israel? What do we expect from Christians when a synagogue is defaced, a kippah is knocked off a head, an anti-Semite barks out a hurtful curse like “Dirty Jew”?
Purim has emerged as one of the great Israeli holidays (he writes after fighting off the crowds at the local toy store cum costume shop).  It highlights the culturally invigorating opportunities that arise from establishing a majority Jewish culture in our homeland. With school cancelled, the weather improving, and masquerades charming young and old alike, it is a rare Scrooge who does not participate in Purim. The streets fill with happy kids wearing costumes – and delivering treats, not demanding them to avoid some “trick.” The range of hamantaschen fillings is dazzling, from the Troy family favorite – chocolate – to halva.  And the spectrum of venues for megillah readings is impressive, from private homes to grand synagogues.
While all societies need the occasional Mardi-Gras style release, and the value of a good shtick should never be underestimated, these rituals transmit important values and narratives.  There is, for example, a jump in serious charitable giving as modern Israelis fulfill the ancient tradition of “matanot le’evyonim,” gifts to the poor.  While formal philanthropic opportunities for giving in Israel abound, Israel also has a broad network for personal giving to the poor, which helps thousands without generating tax receipts or donor recognition plaques. It is also worth thinking about the deeper question too, after a summer of social protest, namely, how to develop a capitalist society that maximizes freedom and opportunity for all, while minimizing the suffering for some that inevitably results.
This Purim, with the Iranian nuclear threat climbing higher on the geopolitical agenda, with Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives, Obama administration officials and critics, all meeting at the massive AIPAC policy conference in Washington, DC, and with President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meeting again for one of their periodic, awkward encounters, the Purim lessons are resonating, left and right. In fact, Netanyahu handed Obama a megillah – a Purim scroll.
Given Esther’s role in subverting Haman’s plans, the modern Zionist message of Jewish self-reliance, emphasizing the need for Jews to identify the enemy, highlighting the greater risks we as a minority face in the world, warning of the risks of complacency amid existential threats, all ring true. But, ultimately, Esther and Moredechai had to convince Ahasuerus that Hamanidejad, er, Haman, posed a threat to the kind of king he wanted to be, and the kind of kingdom he wanted to lead. If we only learn from the Purim story that “goyim” are bad like Haman and Amalek, we miss learning how to befriend non-Jews, whom we still need, even with a sovereign Jewish state.
While in the Diaspora, knowledgeable Jews talk about “adloyada,” celebrating until we cannot distinguish between Mordechai the good and Haman the bad, savvy Israelis talk about “nahafochu,” let’s reverse things. With the Iranian threat looming, with an American President who lacks a clear, constructive foreign policy vision, we cannot afford to indulge in “adloyada” confusion or relativism when assessing world threats, especially from Iran. But we need more “nahafochu.” The Zionist revolution achieved two clear “nahafochus,” from powerlessness to power and from minority to majority status. Israelis need a “nahafochu” with our Christian neighbors, actively protecting and reassuring them. Jews needs a “nahafochu” with our Christian friends, emphasizing our common values and interdependence, especially with American Christians. And Israel needs a “nahafochu” with its enemies –seeking to turn the tables on them – hopefully by fomenting internal tension that helps the regime implode but being prepared, if all alternatives fail, to defend Israel – and democracies throughout the world, including the “Big Satan,” the United States, which Iranian radicals constantly threaten too.

The writer is professor of history at McGill University and a Shalom Hartman Research Fellow in Jerusalem. He is the author of Why I Am A Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today and The History of American Presidential Elections.

Abbas the Masquerading Moderate Caricatures a Hellish Jerusalem

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By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 2-28-12

Reading the news, you would think that Mahmoud Abbas’s real first name is “The Moderate” and Benjamin Netanyahu’s real last name is “the Extremist.”  Googling the words “Abbas” and “Moderate” yields 4.47 million hits, while “Netanyahu” and “Moderate” get 2.53 million hits. “Abbas” and “Extremism” yield 2.45 million hits while “Netanyahu” and “Extremism” produce 12.8 million. Although Googling is a gross indicator, it seems that the media is at least twice as likely to dub Abbas a “moderate” rather than Netanyahu, while Netanyahu is accused of “extremism” five to six times more frequently than Abbas is.
Yet sheer repetition of an assertion is not enough to make it true. Mahmoud Abbas is to moderation what moldy oranges are to penicillin. If purified properly, the product could be healing; but as it now stands, it is putrid and possibly toxic.
Rather than responding positively to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Bar Ilan speech and President Barack Obama’s multiple attempts to restart the peace process, Abbas the Masquerading Moderate has been the Great Obstructionist, far more accommodating of his Hamas rivals than his American bankrollers. Admittedly, his touch is lighter and less lethal than his predecessor Yassir Arafat. And thanks to Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, many Palestinians have been doing what they most need to do, which is building an independent, stable Palestine rather than trying to destroy neighboring Israel.
But again and again Abbas has been Dr. No – blocking progress when Netanyahu implemented a settlement freeze, and now demanding a settlement freeze as one of his many preconditions for negotiation. So far, the settlement freeze demand is President Barack Obama’s most memorable contribution to the Middle East, an amateurish gift to Palestinian obstructionists, made-in-America. Every time Abbas demands a settlement freeze, he further undermines the most pro-Palestinian president since Jimmy Carter.
This week, Abbas traveled to Doha to participate in an “International Conference on Jerusalem,” with representatives from 70 countries.  Anti-Zionist discourse in that part of the Middle East was as ubiquitous as Muzak is in elevators in the Midwest, intensified by the added volatility of the Jerusalem issue, with a dash of anti-Americanism thrown in. Among the many presentations caricaturing Zionism as racism and Israel as an apartheid state, one activist, Ken Isley, introduced himself as “an American” then added:  “no one is perfect.”
When Abbas spoke, rather than injecting a note of responsibility into the proceedings, providing a reality check, he joined the anti-Israel pile on.  He claimed Israel wants to “carry out continued excavations that threaten to undermine the Al-Aqsa Mosque, in order to extract evidence that supports the Israeli version of Judaism.” He said Israelis wanted to “Judaize” the city and “were preparing models of what they call the Temple in order to build on the ruins of Al Aqsa.”
Any one of these three incendiary ideas would earn an extremist street “cred” as a flamethrower. Few Israelis are proposing a Third Temple. Claiming “the Jews” wish to replace the Al-Aqsa Mosque with their own structure is a demagogic call for Arab rioting in Jerusalem and elsewhere.  Second, mischievous phrases like “the Israeli version of Judaism” and “what they call the Temple,” try to rob Jews of our history, our legitimacy, our nationality. Abbas’s words echo longstanding Palestinian claims that Judaism is a religion with no peoplehood component, that the Temple never existed, and that the whole Zionist, meaning Jewish nationalist, project is a fraud.
Finally, Abbas’s allegations about “Judaizing” Jerusalem ignore the fact that Jerusalem is already Jewish and Muslim and Christian. Abbas’s implication, that Jews are engaged in ethnic cleansing, would require us to characterize modern Israelis as incompetent not just evil. Today’s Jerusalem has 800,000 residents, including 268,000 Arabs. In the nearly 45 years since the 1967 Six Day War, the Arab population has grown by 200,000, and many Arabs today appreciate their Israeli rights and services. The number of Arab Jerusalemites granted Israeli citizenship quadrupled from 2006 to 2010. If Israel is engaged in ethnic cleansing, Israelis would have to admit to being the worst – meaning the most ineffectual — “ethnic cleansers” in history, having triggered a population increase due to higher quality of life including more freedom.
Once again, Abbas missed an opportunity to play the statesman. He overlooked Jerusalem’s potential as a platform of unity welcoming the religiously minded, the spiritually seeking, the historically attuned, the peace loving. He played the Jerusalem card, riling his audience, and alienating Israelis. That he nevertheless passes for a moderate, demonstrates just how extreme other Palestinian voices are, such as Hamas, and just how indulgent world opinion is when it comes to coddling the Palestinians.
In the last few weeks I have greeted four groups of non-Jews visiting Jerusalem. All of them were struck by how peaceful, how functional, the real Jerusalem is, rather than the terrifying Jerusalem of the headlines they expected. Jewish lore teaches about the heavenly Jerusalem – Yerushalayim Shel Ma’alah – and the earthly Jerusalem – Yerushalayim Shel Matah. There is a third Jerusalem in play too – Yerushalyim Shel Gehennom – the Hellish Jerusalem. This is the construct of reporters and political activists who only see the violence, the hatred, the ugliness without acknowledging the loveliness or the sheer normalcy for the overwhelming majority of the city’s residents, the overwhelming majority of the time.
Propagandists use the deep emotions the Heavenly Jerusalem stirs to further anger people while painting their distorted portrait of the Hellish Jerusalem. True moderates acknowledge complexity, see multiple dimensions, using the messiness of life to humanize and compromise rather than polarize. By ignoring the earthly Jerusalem, the mundane Jerusalem, day-to-day Jerusalem, Mahmoud Abbas once again failed to live up to his press clippings – disproving so many policy makers’ false perceptions of him as a peacemaker.

The writer is professor of history at McGill University and a Shalom Hartman Research Fellow in Jerusalem. He is the author of Why I Am A Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today and The History of American Presidential Elections.

If Mayor Barkat Fires Rachel Azaria He will Betray Zionist Jerusalem

OP-EDS & REVIEWS

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 10-25-11

Related: J’lem mayor fires coalition member over court petition, JPost, 10-21-11

If Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat follows through on his threat to fire City Councillor Rachel Azaria from the coalition and take away her important portfolios of early childhood education and community councils, he will be declaring war on Zionist Jerusalem – the core constituents who elected him. Fortunately, the news reports treating the firing as a done deal were premature. This Thursday’s City Council meeting must ratify the decision. Everyone who cares about quality of life in a free, pluralistic, prospering Jerusalem should sign the petition demanding Rachel Azaria’s full reinstatement. If this grassroots initiative succeeds, not only will we be saving Jerusalem, we will be rescuing Nir Barkat from his self-imposed imprisonment to anti-Zionist, ultra-orthodox political bullies.

Rachel Azaria

The same redemptive spirit that elected Barkat in November 2008 propelled Rachel Azaria, a grassroots activist, to the City Council from the Yerushalmim Lo Mevtarim, “Jerusalemites Don’t Give Up” movement. Azaria, 33, now the mother of three young daughters, has dedicated herself to improving Jerusalem’s quality of life, focusing particularly on young Jerusalemites. She is a religious Zionist whose movement unites religious and secular, old and young, Sabras and immigrants, committed to reviving Jerusalem. She has performed her City Council duties magnificently, boosting the budgets for community councils, helping to open dozens of kindergartens, revitalizing neighborhood schools, and putting the issue of young families on the city’s agenda. “Before,” she explains, “everyone talked about keeping students. Now people in the municipality understand that young families are the key to our future too.” Full disclosure – I met Azaria during her campaign in 2007 and have supported her enthusiastically since.

Connected to her quality of life push, this religious woman has also navigated the complicated dynamics between ultra-orthodox haredim and their fellow Jerusalemites. She has fought to ensure that the Western Wall does not become a haredi synagogue but remains a unifying Jewish and Zionist space. She has combated haredi attempts to inflict gender segregation in public spaces, including her latest fight against gender segregation on Meah Shearim’s streets during Sukkot, a shocking imposition of fanatic, idiosyncratic, undemocratic, restrictions on public thoroughfares.

“I am not anti-haredi,” Azaria insists, visibly uncomfortable with the characterization itself. “I yearn for the way Israel was in the 1950s, when religious and non-religious Jews lived together in the same apartment building. We were all returning together, in the spirit of the prayer ‘Vahavieynu Leshalom Mearbah Kanfot Haaretz,’ G-d will bring us in peace from the four corners of the earth. But I object to all kinds of segregation – residential and gender. I want to affirm to the haredim that they are a part of us. They are 20 percent of Jerusalem and are here to stay. We have to change the discourse that this is ‘our’ neighborhood or ‘theirs.’ Meah Shearim can’t be beyond the law.” This segregation, she notes, harms haredim too. She has fought equally hard to ensure that buses serve all of haredi Jerusalem, on this principle of equality.

Mainstream, “hegemonic,” Ashkenazi rabbinic and political authorities find this religious woman fighting from within tradition even more threatening than secular Meretz types. But, she notes, “I am the address for many disenfranchised haredim. They come to me begging for help, because I am willing to get my hands dirty.”

Rachel Azaria embodies the open, constructive, pro-Jewish, pro-Zionist, pro-Israel, pro-Jerusalem spirit Nir Barkat himself embodies. She and her party represent the majority Jerusalem sensibility needed to make the city thrive. She is a poster child for all the aspirations of Zionist Jerusalem that Barkat stirred and promised to serve. He was absolutely right when he tried promoting her to deputy mayor last spring. And he was absolutely wrong when he succumbed to haredi pressure then. Even worse, he is now threatening to fire her on a technicality, based on the city’s marginal role in the lawsuit Azaria and others initiated opposing the gender segregation in Meah Shearim’s streets – which, she notes, many haredi women encouraged.

As a student of executive power, frustrated that Israel’s current Prime Minister lacks the spine to fire coalition members, no matter how incompetent or defiant, I understand Mayor Barkat’s discomfort with Azaria, his coalition partner, launching a lawsuit implicating the city, although Barkat also opposes the gender segregation. But, in a democracy, activists need to use a range of tactics. This move against Azaria seems too technical, too political, too opportunistic. The haredi press’s delight indicates that this palace coup has been long in the making.

The haredim are well-organized, appear unified, and control between 8 and 11 votes at different times in the 31-person City Council. Azaria’s –and Barkat’s – core constituents are more diffuse and more distracted, living their lives and making the city work rather than playing politics. If Barkat, however, figures he can continue disappointing Zionist Jerusalem, because no one else from that camp will run against him, he risks alienating so many we will simply stay home on Election Day. A surge of voters elected Barkat last time; elections can be lost by abstentions too. Barkat needs Zionist Jerusalem to rise up and free him, demanding Azaria’s reinstatement and promotion to deputy mayor. He should remember not just the 17,000 who elected Azaria but the tens of thousands who placed such hopes in him when he promised to bring this ancient city into the twenty-first century.

Rachel Azaria is Nir Barkat’s natural ally in this all-important mission. We, citizens of Jerusalem, and lovers of Jerusalem, must reunite them, not just by signing the petition, but by demonstrating that while we may not be well-organized or very loud, we care deeply about this special city, which remains the Jewish people’s capital, precious to many of us, religious and secular alike.

Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University and a Shalom Hartman Research Fellow in Jerusalem. The author of “Why I Am A Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today,” his latest book is “The Reagan Revolution: A Very Short Introduction.”giltroy@gmail.com

The tragedy of it all — The tragic story of Lee Gabriella Vatkin

OP-EDS & REVIEWS

This is the story of a beautiful, brilliant girl who fell through the cracks and slipped into the dark abyss that is the drug scene in Jerusalem

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post Magazine, 8-18-11

The death last year of Lee Gabriella Vatkin, the 16- year-old daughter of Fiona Kanter and Yehuda Vatkin, traumatized Jerusalem parents and teens. Lee Vatkin was an eighth-generation Jerusalemite on her father’s side, the daughter of the idealistic aliya from London on her mother’s side. She grew up enjoying the best modern Jerusalem had to offer in its tolerant, sophisticated, altruistic, traditional-yet-not-too-dogmatic, South-Central bubble – living in Katamon, attending elementary school in Baka. Yet by the time she reached junior high, the city’s ugly underside, the harsh, drug-perverted, aimless street culture that festers downtown nightly, after the tourists turn in, seduced and killed her.

Vatkin’s tale is a story of Jerusalem’s “magic” bypassing one of its children and turning tragic, creating a perfect storm of institutional breakdown and individual dysfunction, with a dash of evil added.

It is a story of an over-extended, underfunded school system that let a brilliant, creative child fall through the cracks.

It is a story of a hypersensitive girl lured into the dark abyss of central Jerusalem at night, manipulated by her immigrant boyfriend, a petty criminal and drug addict, himself abused by his drunken father.

It is a story of an overextended, undertrained, frequently insensitive and occasionally brutal police force that has lost control of the youth prowling around the city’s downtown core.

It is a story of a desperate mother who warned, “This man is going to kill my daughter” – and no authorities would, or perhaps even could, help her.

And it is a story of that heartbroken mother now crusading to reach other at-risk youth so her daughter’s death at least becomes a constructive warning that saves others’ lives.

Kanter is a civic and cultural consultant, an event organizer and community activist, well-known in Anglo Jerusalem as a social spark plug. She organized Anglo support for Nir Barkat’s mayoral election, and now she is concentrating on Im Ein Ani Li, Mi Li – her initiative, following her daughter’s death, to raise money for and awareness about at-risk youth.

Lee Gabriella Vatkin was born on February 5, 1994, eight years after her mother immigrated from London. Vatkin has a brother, Matan, now 14, and a sister, Maia, 12, as well as three older siblings from her father’s former marriage.

“Almost from the day she was born, Lee was clearly advanced developmentally,” Kanter recalls. “She started speaking at seven months – and never closed her mouth from then on!” She was also “fiercely independent, always challenging, giving the impression she was the one in charge.”

Extremely bright, creative and artistic, she was an accomplished pianist, drummer and equestrian. She participated in the Ofek supplementary program for gifted children, but was unchallenged the rest of the time, a source of great frustration. After graduating from the Efrata School in sixth grade, she had trouble finding a suitable successor school. The 2007 teachers’ strike hurt her. “From June that year through Hanukka, she barely had a framework; the strike just derailed her,” her mother reports sadly.

She ended up at Leyada, the prestigious school close to The Hebrew University. There, the administrators initiated a pointless power struggle with her over her continued participation in Ofek, which anchored her. “The whole struggle was very damaging to her,” Kanter recalls. “I couldn’t persuade them at Leyada to leave her alone.” In November 2008, administrators told Kanter their school was “not the right framework for Lee,” even though Kanter insists it “is unlawful to send such a message mid-year that they simply don’t want to deal anymore with a student.”

She then chose to attend Ankori, an alternative school on the Ben-Yehuda pedestrian mall. That school has “wonderful,” empathetic principals and teachers, Kanter says. But Vatkin exploited the school’s loose framework; her “downward spiral” had begun.

BORED IN school, rebelling at home, she started hanging out downtown. There, her mother insists, she was not part of the heavy drug scene, but she found a community of kids who had fallen through the cracks. “All the experts talk about the various groups – the haredim, the Russians, the Ethiopians,” Kanter explains. “I personally have a different take. Many of the children who are being drawn to the street are super-sensitive, super-intelligent, super-creative and are fearless, feeling they have absolutely nothing to lose jeopardizing their lives by substance abuse and destructive behavior patterns.” Like her daughter, she says, they circumvent the overloaded educational system as the street’s edginess sucks them in, feeling invincible.

Kanter, who supports Sayeret Horim, the Parents Patrol of volunteers who try bringing a friendly adult presence to teenage haunts, loves these street kids – but is disgusted by their behavior. She describes, in both Independence Park and the city center, activities “not suitable to be mentioned in a family newspaper,” that occur as voyeurs encircle young couples, egging them on while obscuring the authorities’ view. And she describes a culture of risk, shamelessness and aimlessness, along with elements of violence, cruelty and selfishness.

In March 2010, Vatkin met a young, charismatic tough who was originally from Azerbaijan, Rauf Zagloff. Zagloff, nearly 21, was well-known to the authorities. “Suffering from his influence, his Anglo ex-girlfriend was eventually whisked out of the country to Montana,” Kanter explains, “to dry out from drugs and other destructive behaviors.”

She and her parents, of course, are the lucky ones in this story On Independence Day that year, Zagloff, “drunk and drugged up to his eyeballs,” threatened Kanter and her young daughter in their own home.

“You are always welcome, but that boy is not crossing my threshold any more,” Kanter told her 16-year-old daughter. But Vatkin was under his sway.

Desperate, Kanter went to the police that same day, begging for help, saying, “This man is going to kill my daughter! What are you going to do?” The police, she charges, are useless.

When they do respond, “they are generally so violent in their dealings with the youth that an insurmountably bad rapport with our youngsters seems to have been created. For a while this year, all police personnel were required to do a night in town, but this seems to have slacked off, probably due to lack of resources and training.”

The police acknowledged Kanter’s desperation, but felt handcuffed by the law, their limited resources and the ambiguity of the threat. Kanter was led to believe she should find ruffians to administer vigilante street justice, but that is not the kind of person she is – although she thought about it seriously enough to realize such actions would make her vulnerable to blackmail from whatever vigilantes she found.

Under Zagloff’s influence, Vatkin’s behavior deteriorated. She was playing her parents, who divorced in 2007, off against each other. “She did not want to be helped. She thought she had all the answers. She thought she was invincible,” her mother says, reciting a heartbreaking haiku of parental powerlessness. “She did not want anybody to guide her or teach her.”

By May, Kanter was “petrified. I was afraid for her life. I was very verbal about it, writing and saying, ‘He is going to kill my daughter.’ And nobody would listen to me. Nobody would help me.

You know that African proverb, ‘It takes a village to raise a child’? Well, the opposite is true, too – it takes a village to lose a child.”

She pauses. “I don’t walk around with resentment,” she says. “But I feel the system let me down. I approached the courts – they wouldn’t give me any grounds [for a case].”

THAT SPRING, Vatkin and her boyfriend moved into an apartment in the capital’s Nahlaot neighborhood that her father had secured for them, despite Kanter’s objections. Kanter felt her daughter was “losing the ability to judge right from wrong,” but she no longer had control. On June 5, she spoke to her daughter, saying “I won’t judge you, I love you.

Whatever is going on, we can solve, but we need to deal with this.” Vatkin replied, “Ima, I am fine…” Kanter’s voice trails off. “And within three days she was gone.”

On the night of June 7, a known drug dealer and addict found a bag that had been discarded in the compound of the Italian Synagogue. In it were eight vials of methadone, the heroin replacement the government-authorized clinic dispenses to addicts under treatment. “Can you imagine, they give these drug addicts a few bottles at a time, and its street value trades at NIS 100 a bottle,” Kanter complains. The dealer poured the eight vials into a water bottle, then “disguised it” with raspberry syrup.

Shortly thereafter, Lee joined her friends in town, who were sipping the concoction carefully, one bottle cap’s worth at a time. The “friends” later admitted to Kanter that no one had told Vatkin what was in the bottle. Eventually Zagloff “swiped the bottle,” and he, Vatkin and another friend, Menny, walked to their apartment.

At the apartment, Menny reacted badly. At 6:30 the next morning he called his girlfriend – “herself a 17-year-old single mother, from a different fellow,” Kanter says. Rushed to the emergency room, he had his stomach pumped. At 8:30 a.m., Menny called Zagloff, who said everything was fine.

Neither Menny nor his girlfriend thought to alert the authorities, or warn their friends. Vatkin and Zagloff went to sleep – “and never woke up. Methadone acts like heroin, it depresses your system,” Kanter explains. “Lee’s heart stopped.

She was 16 years and four months old.”

By 3:30 p.m., Yehuda Vatkin started looking for his daughter, calling her cellphone repeatedly. He only thought to go to Nahlaot at 11 p.m., where he found her, dead in bed with Zagloff.

A doctor interviewed for the Uvda program, which aired on national television in January, stated that had they been found early enough, they could have been saved. That fact is one of many particular plot twists haunting the grieving mother – along with other outrages, such as the state’s continuing failure to prosecute the drug dealer.

“ONE YEAR ago, my heart stopped when Abba told me he had found you cold and unconscious,” Kanter wrote in an open letter to her daughter, a year after she died. “My soul is crying that I will never hear the sound of your voice again, never see your face, never touch your hair or tickle your back, never again see your smile or hear your laugh.” She admits she spent months looking for her dead daughter: “I was looking for you everywhere, knowing I would never find you. I see a little girl with blond tresses and blue eyes and pray I could turn the clock back. Never in my worst imaginings did I truly think there would be no tomorrow for you.”

While grieving, she did what she does best: mobilize and organize. She has established Im Ein Ani Li, Mi Li – a play on Lee’s name and Hillel’s teaching in Hebrew, “If I am not for myself, who is for me” – as an umbrella group dedicated to saving youth at risk. Currently she is fund-raising for three projects. The first is Sayeret Horim, which she wants expanded to cover all the wellknown youth hangouts several nights a week. The second is a Facebook initiative created by Shaby Amedi, the wellregarded head of Kidum No’ar, to reach out to youth at risk and their families, providing information, advice, contact numbers and wisdom, 24/7.

“Facebook is their social tool,” Kanter explains. “So let’s try to reach out – and create a dialogue – in a non-judgmental, loving way.” Finally there is the Ma’aleh School of Television, Film and the Arts’ pathbreaking videotherapy program, which uses filmmaking as form of expression and a constructive outlet. She also wants to create a central resource for referral and raising awareness, so no parent ever flounders as she did.

More broadly, she is pushing for some visionary leadership. “We need to generate more opportunities for our kids to express themselves creatively and productively, to create more regular outlets of challenging sports activities, music and the arts right in the center of town,” she explains.

“The kids are bored and don’t have the funds to sponsor expensive pastimes.

The festivals which abound in Jerusalem today provided by the municipality are nice, but don’t provide a consistent response to the needs of this particular sector of the population. Why are we not finding temporary solutions right now, such as lighting up Independence Park and providing a platform to encourage our youth to channel and focus their energy and natural impulses on more creative solutions, turning it from a literal den of iniquity to a place of positive personal expression?” She asserts that “we don’t need an extra organization, we just need to support projects that work but are underfunded. We are talking over 10,000 kids at risk here. And those are the ones who we know have fallen from the system.

What about the others?” Her daughter, she says, “had a larger-than-life personality. Incredibly funny and marvelously astute. In her circles she was a celeb. The fact that it happened to her, given her powerful personality, shook the kids to their core.” Many of them, during this black year of mourning, have turned to Kanter, supporting her and getting support in turn. “These are not bad kids,” she concludes. “They are just lost. I believe that all these projects can and will effectively reach out to our youth in Jerusalem who are going through such troubled and anguished times.” She offers her e-mail – fionarachelkanter@gmail.com – and an invitation to join her. “Working together will give us the strength to prevent this from ever happening again,” she says.

Jerusalem’s magical mix of old and new, East and West

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 7-12-11

I am tired of Israelis complaining that Jerusalem turned “black” – the dismissive shorthand for ultra-Orthodox. And I am tired of visitors on missions visiting Jerusalem on the “seam” – only viewing the real city through the prism of conflicts – between Jews and Arabs, religious and secular, Ashkenazi and Sephardi – then waxing poetic about its spirituality, reducing it to a Jewish theme park. The real Jerusalem magically mixes old and new, East and West. This modern metropolis is also a living repository of history and holiness. It struggles with challenges but is also uniquely positioned as the Jewish people’s capital, and a world class city where modern, entrepreneurial, democratic values meet traditional, communitarian sensibilities.

Jerusalem does what cities should do, centralize and synthesize as well as symbolize. The sociologist Richard Sennett in The Fall of Public Man says a city is “a human settlement in which strangers are likely to meet.” The words “city” and “citizen” share common roots. Linking these two ideas, cities work when they unite different people through a shared sense of responsibility. Cities become great when a critical mass of creativity and community feeling develops, so these newly-bonded citizens can express their accomplishments individually, institutionally, monumentally.

In this reading, Jerusalem’s diversity enhances the city. Visitors should watch Jerusalemites cooperate, rather than assuming differences always cause conflict. We could define Jerusalem by the few ultra-Orthodox fanatics who desecrated the Sabbath last week by stoning drivers just outside their neighborhoods. Or, we could define Jerusalem by the vast majority who prayed peacefully in one of the most exciting living laboratories in Jewish history, South-Central Jerusalem. There, every Shabbat, thousands of learned, pious Jews live tradition amid modernity, balancing continuity and change. This quest is best exemplified by the many creative experiments involving women in prayer, but goes much further. And it flourishes in a spirit of acceptance, with open dialogues and even, believe it or not, socializing between women who cover their hair and those who bare their shoulders, between men who always wear kippot and those who keep a kippah conveniently rolled in their pockets – folding leaves creases.

This Sunday, my wife and I again experienced Jerusalem’s breathtaking range. Our evening began on the Israel Museum’s magnificent terrace, viewing vistas of modern monumental Jerusalem, especially the Knesset, symbolizing Israeli democracy. We attended the Canadian Council for Israel and Jewish Advocacy’s (CIJA) reception celebrating Canada Day and Canada-Israel relations. In true Jerusalem style, the Director of CIJA’s Israel office, David Weinberg, toasted Canada’s Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, with the perfect Biblical allusion, comparing Harper’s warmth toward Israel with “the magnificent, unique friendship” King David and King Solomon both enjoyed with Chiram, the Phoenician king of Tyre in Lebanon – who helped build the Temple.

The Canadian Ambassador Paul Hunt, the Minister for Public Diplomacy Yuli Edelstein and MK Yochanan Plesner celebrated the common values of innovation and democracy, freedom and multicultural tolerance, uniting the two nations. Illustrating Jerusalem’s role as Israel’s capital, Ambassador Hunt and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman then signed the latest bilateral agreement encouraging Canadian-Israeli research and development.

We then dashed across town to the Talpiot industrial zone, a gritty corner of the real-life city, to a fabulous Henna ceremony celebrating the marriage of my friend Moshe’s daughter, Shelly. Moshe is one of those storied cab driver-philosophers brought to life – memorialized in the line from Tel Aviv Taxi, the 1956 Israeli film classic by Larry Frisch featured this week at Jerusalem’s Film Festival that Israeli cabbies are like all cabbies, except they are better story tellers.

Moshe immigrated to Israel from Algeria in 1948 when he was a toddler and has grown up with the state. His delightfully peppery mother Miriam told us that when he served in a legendary Golani combat unit during the 1967 Six Day War – which was B.C., before cell phones — she wandered the Golan Heights looking for him, shouting his name, until she found him.

Henna is a gloopy, chocolatey plant extract pressed into guests’ palms, dying the skin orange temporarily – for lasting good luck. This ancient Middle Eastern custom provides a great excuse for a pre-wedding party. Minutes after leaving our subdued, sophisticated Canadian-Israeli cocktail, we were bobbing on the Club Kazablanka’s dance floor, rhythmically pumping beautifully wrapped and beribboned trays over our heads filled with Sephardic delicacies. I had doffed my sports jacket and, at Moshe’s insistence, donned a fez and a djellaba, the flowing, Arabic robe – mine, poetically, was blue and white.

While dancing with the joyous Mediterranean abandon for which Israelis are so famous, we were moved by the reverence for their elders and their heritage the young revelers displayed. The throbbing crowd parted to let the parents and grandparents advance to the front and bestow gifts on the couple. The parents and children all wore Moroccan dress and headdresses. Unlike me, they pulled off the feat without looking ridiculous, feeling thoroughly at home – even as their traditional costumes covered cell phones and our usual digital gadgetry.

The two contrasting parties were actually in concert with each other. City Councilor Rachel Azaria insists that Jerusalem must feature affordable housing, flowing traffic, and great schools, as well as accessible monuments, a splendid story and an alluring aura. Jerusalem’s salvation will come from what has emerged as this characteristic Zionist mix.

Great accomplishments will result from the kind of tomorrow-oriented innovative spirit and democratic values the Canada-Israel evening celebrated. But deep meaning still derives from the poetry of everyday life, preserving traditions and imbuing them with the youthful passion we experienced at the Henna. Jerusalem itself should become the ultimate model of urban renewal, demonstrating the old and new magic stored in any great city but particularly defining this ancient yet still evolving metropolis.

Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University and a Shalom Hartman Research Fellow in Jerusalem. The author of “Why I Am A Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today,” his latest book is “The Reagan Revolution: A Very Short Introduction.” giltroy@gmail.com

Wiesel’s Jerusalem: celestial and earthly – but not stereotypical

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 5-10-10

Some leading Israeli leftists criticized the Nobel Peace Prize winning-writer Elie Wiesel for being too lyrical in defending Jerusalem. His recent ad, “For Jerusalem” declared: “For me, the Jew that I am, Jerusalem is above politics.” His critics scoffed: “You speak of the celestial Jerusalem; we live in the earthly one… We prefer the hardship of realizing citizenship in this city to the convenience of merely yearning for it.” As my family and I celebrate our third Yom Yerushalayim – Jerusalem Day – as residents of this extraordinary city, I want to thank Professor Wiesel for using poetry to teach President Barack Obama that Jerusalem is not just another bargaining chip but the eternal window into the Jewish soul.

Accusing Elie Wiesel of being too lyrical is like accusing Isaac Stern of being too musical or LeBron James of being too athletic; that’s what they do. Even those of us who lack Professor Wiesel’s eloquence frequently wax poetic about the Jewish people’s capital for the last 3,000 years. That, our radical friends should remember, is what nationalists do when talking about their capitals – and homelands. Americans celebrate Washington’s monuments; Brits hail London’s towers; Jews rhapsodize about Jerusalem’s walls.

Unfortunately, if Jews celebrate their eternal ties to Jerusalem – or dare question Palestinian ties – they are deemed racist. Yet those who question Jewish ties to Jerusalem get human rights awards and EU grants, especially if they are Jewish. This narrative imbalance is another form of asymmetrical warfare.

Jerusalem’s walls evoke for Jews a profound mix of nationalism and religion, glory and tragedy, spiritual fulfillment and political redemption, longevity and longing. The Phoenicians, Babylonians, Assyrians and the Romans disappeared, but the Jews remain connected to the same land, speaking the same language, following the same basic laws, and romanticizing the same capital city three thousand years later. Jerusalem has been consistently Jewish since King David, but it has not been consistently free. Just 43 years ago, until early June, 1967, Jews could glance towards our holiest sites but could not touch our holiest stones.

That history mocks the occupation preoccupation. Occupation implies an historical clarity that does not exist – especially around Jerusalem. Even in the 20th century, borders have been fluid, populations have shifted. One cannot freeze time as of 1949 or 1967 or 70. An equitable solution must consider history, demography, security and border contiguity. I personally have no ties to Shuafat or Abu Dis. My only concerns with those parts of modern Jerusalem relate to security.

So yes, Jerusalem shel malah is a celestial city that makes my soul sing. Every morning, I jog through the Old City, passing seamlessly from one Quarter to another. I need no iPod stuck into my ears to delight in a symphony of sounds: birds chirping as I scramble up Mount Zion, schoolchildren laughing in the Jewish Quarter, Arab shopkeepers in the Muslim souk kibitzing “one-two,” “one-two” as I trudge by, church bells tolling in the Christian Quarter. I see wondrous sights, passing monks and nuns, garbagemen and high school students, each in their respective uniforms, all proceeding peacefully. Some sights defy the stereotypes. Just this morning, while jogging up the steps of David Street, I passed a haredi soldier, in uniform, with forelocks flying, bicycling down the steps.

And yes, Jerusalem shel matah is an earthly, modern municipality which must be judged practically. Is the trash collected? Is the building permit process honest? Are resources distributed fairly among its various sectors? Does the municipality preserve the city’s old-new charm? Does traffic flow? Can young people get jobs, buy homes, raise families? Amid the Holyland scandal and the Sheikh Jarrah power struggle, only fools claim all is hunky-dory. But only fanatics – or headline-hungry reporters – could caricature Jerusalem as exploding.

Stereotypes fall regarding alleged Israeli oppression when we consider that thousands of Palestinians are seeking Israeli citizenship to enjoy Israel’s bounty if the city is divided. Stereotypes fall regarding Jerusalem the pressure-cooker when you see Arabs and Jews playing side-by-side in Liberty Bell Park, or see secular Jews, modern religious Jews, haredi Jews, Palestinian Christians, Palestinian Muslims, working, suffering, healing together at Hadassah Hospital. Stereotypes fall regarding Jerusalem as a city inhospitable to secular Israelis when you visit the Jerusalem Theatre or see the diverse but heavily secular crowds at the annual festivals enlivening the calendar. Stereotypes fall regarding Jerusalem the dangerous when you see how freely, comfortably, safely my kids and their friends wander around our neighborhood – and others.

And yes, Jerusalem is a political hot potato. Elie Wiesel’s ad was not from someone in denial about that. Instead, he was correcting some of the oversimplifications that could have devastating political consequences. Wiesel’s plea was rooted in the historical fact that, beyond Jews’ millennial ties, Jews have been the largest demographic group in Jerusalem at least since 1845. His plea was rooted in the fact that Israel has protected Muslims’ and Christians’ freedom to administer their holy sites, even though the Jordanians trashed the Jewish Quarter and Palestinians more recently desecrated Jewish holy sites such as Joseph’s tomb. His plea was rooted in the fact that the Palestinians in 2000 turned away from negotiations and toward violence, spilling blood in Jerusalem specifically, so confidence-building measures must come from them too. And ultimately, his plea was rooted in the fact that one-side stereotyping, pressure and narratives will only delay the dream so many of us share of Jerusalem as the city of peace, bewitching us all with its spirituality, its harmony, offering a model of amity among Jews, Christians and Muslims.

In honor of Professor Wiesel – and in honor of this magical city – my kids and I will celebrate this Jerusalem Day. We will not march with those who seek to expand Israeli control into Palestinians areas, nor with those who diminish Jews’ historic ties to the city. Instead, we will participate in a sing-along of Jerusalem songs at 4 p.m. that day in front of the newly-rebuilt Hurva Synagogue for a “tolerant Jerusalem” sponsored by the “Yerushalmim” Quality of Life movement, among those who seek the balance between Jerusalem, the Jewish people’s eternal capital, and Jerusalem, an international treasure beloved by billions more.

Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University and a Research Fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. The author of Why I Am a Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today, his latest book is The Reagan Revolution: A Very Short Introduction.

Center Field: And the prize goes to…

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 3-14-10

Eli Yishai seized the ‘Amir Peretz’ prize for his blunder during the Biden visit, for which he should be fired.

Who will pay for the Biden blunder? So far, it seems that only Israel and the Jewish people will. This was a classic lose-lose from left to right. Those who desire territorial compromise lamented the derailing of Vice President Joe Biden’s goodwill tour, thanks to the announcement of 1,600 new housing units being built in east Jerusalem. Those who hope to continue building settlements under the radar screen, as well as those who distinguish east Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank, are now going to see more American scrutiny and more diplomatic clumping of Jerusalem with the other territories which Israel won in 1967. This rank incompetence put the issue of a united Jerusalem in the American government’s crosshairs, not just in the occasional media spotlight.

In a sane political system, heads would roll. If he had any class, Interior Minister Eli Yishai would resign even before the prime minister fired him. Last week, Yishai seized the “Amir Peretz” prize from Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman for the cabinet member least qualified for his essential post but only there because of the country’s dysfunctional political system.

Alas, instead of paying for his mistake, Yishai is keeping his job while his Shas allies remain as unrepentant as ever. “The prime minister remembers who gave [Binyamin] Netanyahu his job,” one source “close to Yishai” told The Jerusalem Post, still demanding payback for Shas’s refusal to join Tzipi Livni’s proposed Kadima government in October 2008. Such arrogance reducesthe prime minister to a head waiter, simply serving his political allies the goodies they demand at the snap of their fingers.

An executive unable to fire is neutered, like a conductor barred from waving a baton, or a rabbi banned from teaching. Some South American countries under US sway were once banana republics; Netanyahu’s government – like too many Israeli governments – risks becoming a doughnut democracy with no power in the center and too many greasy pols circling around. Netanyahu should fire Yishai – even if it means having his government fall.

WHILE IT is always hard to predict the future, let alone the Israeli political scene, if Netanyahu faced down Yishai on this issue, he and the Likud probably would emerge stronger, even if new elections resulted. The public would applaud Netanyahu for showing some spine, especially if he framed the issue as an attempt to end government by blackmail.

And if, while leading boldly, Netanyahu proclaimed that his government would not fracture the Jewish people by stirring up the who-is-a-Jew hornet’s nest, he would improve his standing in the Jewish world and Jewish history too. The fact that some politicians and the Chief Rabbinate have even suggested blocking those converted abroad from being recognized under the Law of Return is outrageous. They forget Naomi’s welcome of Ruth in the Bible. More practically, politicians cannot complain about lacking allies in the world and then target or embarrass Israel’s most loyal friends, meaning the American government and Diaspora Jewry.

Unfortunately, the Obama administration’s continuing overreaction to the Biden blow-up will box Netanyahu into a corner and prevent him from doing what he needs to do. Apparently Biden’s delaying of a private dinner with Netanyahu, lecturing him about the slight, getting repeated apologies for the unintended offense fromthe prime minister and reprimanding Israel again during his Tel Aviv University speech did not satisfy President Barack Obama. The president also had to have Secretary of State Hillary Clinton denounce Israel’s misstep as “insulting” and have his government “condemn” its actions.

As Elliott Abrams, a former George W. Bush administration official and senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, noted in The Washington Post, “The verb ‘condemn’ is customarily reserved by US officials for acts of murder and terrorism – not acts of housing.” One wonders whether certain Obama administration officials are enjoying Israel’s stumble just a little too much – and using this to put the screws on the Jewish state.

Even so, there is no excuse for giving Obama this opportunity. The stakes are too high for such low-level sloppiness. Can anyone, anywhere in Israel’s vast, overstaffed, overpaid, underperforming bureaucracy claim ignorance either as to the timing or the sensitivity of Biden’s trip? My children knew about the trip. Anyone who gets a salary from the people and was in the dark about the trip or the impact such an announcement would have made should be fired too – and without the typical cushy government severance package.

LAST WEEK in Jerusalem, my friend and colleague Saul Singer officially launched Start-Up Nation, the book he coauthored with Dan Senor about Israel’s economic miracle. Taking advantage of the excitement the book has generated, Singer generously turned his hometown launch into a fund-raiser for the Jerusalem Circus, which builds trust between young Arabs and Jews who must support one another while standing on each other’s shoulders or catching one another as they jump.

Singer linked the creative, impressive, world class hi-tech entrepreneurship his book describes with the equally path-breaking social entrepreneurship the Jerusalem Circus and many other worthy initiatives represent. I left thinking: How tragic that a country which produces such brilliant computer wizards, such visionary social activists, is stuck with so many political clowns who turn the government into a circus.

Eli Yishai’s Biden-based boobery has presented Netanyahu’s doughnut democracy with its ultimate test. Here is an opportunity for Netanyahu to lead – and emerge more popular, more powerful, and more able to deliver the quality governance the people of Israel need and deserve.

The writer is professor of history at McGill University and a Shalom Hartman Research Fellow in Jerusalem. He is the author of Why I Am a Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today and The Reagan Revolution: A Very Short Introduction.

Center Field: Taliban Judaism does not work in modern world

Originally published in the Jerusalem Post as:

Radicals Aren’t Necessarily More Authentic

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 6-28-09

Once again haredim held massive, violent demonstrations over the opening of a parking lot on Shabbat near the Old City. Somehow, some bizarre rabbinic dispensation allows haredi radicals to launch their own unholy war on Shabbat, desecrating it by rioting. Other controversies regarding conversion and appointing Zionist chief rabbis for Jerusalem feed perceptions of a “religious-secular” divide.

Parking lot riots. Taliban Judaism does not work in the

modern world. PHOTO: Ariel Jerozolimski

Actually, the push for a Zionist chief rabbi proves this is not a religious-secular issue but a clash pitting violent haredi radicals against patriotic Zionists. In this struggle, Orthodox Jews from around the world and Religious Zionists in Israel must stand strong. Those two (overlapping) communities must send a clear message to the haredi radicals, saying “back off.” The message must be reinforced by religious Zionists fighting for quality of life in the State of Israel as ardently as many fight for every inch of the Land of Israel and by Orthodox Jews threatening to cut off donations to all haredi institutions if haredi violence persists.

It is difficult to quantify how much money flows from Orthodox Jews abroad to haredi institutions here, but anecdotal evidence suggests it is considerable. Imagine if those legendary Orthodox Jewish visitors who love to visit yeshivot in Mea She’arim and ask how much it costs to feed the kids lunch, then donate a week of lunches, changed their tunes. What if they said, “We would love to donate, but first reassure us that your community had nothing to do with the recent violence.”

What if others specifically targeted those rabbis and yeshivot who have been acting like hooligans and cut off the money spigot from Brooklyn and the Five Towns, from Paris and London, from Melbourne and Cape Town? This money message should accompany a moral message from rabbis and leading authorities throughout the Diaspora and Israel. Rabbinic authorities with impeccable religious pedigrees must denounce haredi extremists.

LEAVING THE FIGHT to so-called “secular” Israelis exacerbates tensions. Alternatively, if religious and non-religious Jews stood together in this struggle, even while agreeing to disagree on other issues, it would reduce Israel’s growing polarization, wherein a Right-Left divide on security increasingly parallels a religious-secular divide regarding lifestyle, philosophy, pluralism and tolerance.

Orthodox and religious Zionist rabbis who are so pure of heart they dismiss all this as “politics” and beneath them ignore the conflict’s religious dimensions. Anyone who prays for the State of Israel, says Hallel, the prayer of thanksgiving, on its birthday, or speaks about it as a “redemption” or “salvation” cannot stand idly by while hooligans threaten “to set the whole country… on fire.”

Moreover, for decades now religious Zionists and Orthodox Jews have been in denial about how much harm religious extremists do to those of us laboring to bring the masses of alienated Jews back to Judaism.

Taliban Judaism does not work in the modern world. The all-or-nothing, command-and-control approach of the haredim and (I am sorry to say) of much of the Israeli rabbinate alienates millions. Awash in freedom, most Jews today have to embrace Judaism voluntarily. This is not an argument for watering down Judaism. Rather, it is an argument for focusing on its essential positive messages, as the Lubavitcher Rebbe taught, and avoiding desecrations through violence or political coercion.

UNFORTUNATELY, TOO many Orthodox Jews and religious Zionists are not just bystanders to haredi and rabbinic extremism but enablers. Too many fear the extremists. This cowardice comes from a brand of religious one-upsmanship extremists the world over have mastered. People from the center, no matter how passionate or pure, end up having their credentials questioned by the ayatollahs in religion and the commissars in politics. Too many modern Orthodox Jews and religious Zionists act insecure when amid their more radical brethren.

Radicals are more radical, not necessarily more authentic. Nevertheless, modern Orthodox families in North America send their kids (as well as their cash) to “learn” in yeshivot that are far to their Right. We also see Diaspora communities held hostage on matters of kashrut certification by the most extreme forces. In Israel, the mainstream religious voices refuse to take on the violent haredim.

Fortunately, some heroes have emerged. In Jerusalem, Rachel Azaria of Hitorerut-Yerushalmim (the Wake-up Jerusalemites party) has been an important force for change. A religious Zionist activist, Azaria led an insurgent grassroots campaign and ended up on the city council. She and her party have organized demonstrations demanding a Zionist chief rabbi for Jerusalem. They support Mayor Nir Barkat’s attempts to find a compromise on the Shabbat parking lot issue that will serve non-religious Jews seeking to visit the capital on Israel’s one full weekly day off.

Others, like the Tzohar rabbis, have sought to be, as their slogan celebrates, a bridge between the two worlds, giving non-religious Israelis more user-friendly rabbis when marrying, divorcing and celebrating a circumcision or bar mitzva. In North America, Yeshiva University’s Center for the Jewish Future has run programs training Israeli rabbis in the kind of pastoral duties too many neglect because they are deployed by the Chief Rabbinate and not beholden to congregants.

Still, in the face of haredi violence, the religious story has been much more one of the “silence of the (kosher) lambs.” Orthodox and religious Zionist cowardice does tremendous harm. We need mainstream religious rabbinic authorities in Israel and the Diaspora to confront the haredi bullies and repudiate violence, especially on Shabbat, with words and deeds.

The writer is professor of history at McGill University. He is the author of Why I Am a Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today and Leading from the Center: Why Moderates Make the Best Presidents. He splits his time between Jerusalem and Montreal.

Center Field: Jerusalemites shouldn’t be afraid of ghosts

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 6-21-09

As summer begins, many of Jerusalem’s temporary residents are returning to their apartments. On King David Street, progress continues on three huge luxury developments, as if billions of dollars in wealth had not recently vanished.

If the past is a reliable guide, throughout the summer, various Israeli papers will publish stories about the missing residents in Jerusalem’s various “ghost towns.” Inevitably, the editors will run a picture of an empty street in the swanky David’s Village project. And all will tut-tut about the damage these absentee homeowners cause, with their empty apartments, abandoned neighborhoods and inflated property prices. Perhaps some politician will float another harebrained scheme to penalize these owners with burdensome nonresidents’ taxes.

This whole approach is wrong. Jerusalemites shouldn’t be afraid of ghosts. Instead, these owners should be welcomed, celebrated – and challenged to improve the city.

Let’s be honest, most people buying property in Jerusalem do not get much bang for their (very big) bucks. In the city’s real estate market, you spend a lot more than in most places, and get a lot less. People looking for nice vacation homes are better off buying in Florida or Provence. Most of the much-demonized ghosts of Jerusalem are crazy about the city. They buy in Jerusalem because they love it and want to participate in this old-new adventure regularly.

RATHER THAN picking on them or ignoring them, Jerusalemites – and the city’s leadership – should embrace them. Rather than imposing a nonresidents’ tax, foreign homeowners should be encouraged to pay a voluntary additional arnona (municipal tax). Whereas in the US and Canada, property taxes are assessed based on a home’s estimated value, here they are assessed per square meter.

Here is the one bargain in the Jerusalem real estate game. For example, a $1 million apartment in Manhattan would be assessed more than $12,000 in taxes. A $1 million home in Miami could owe more than $20,000 in property taxes. But a 200-square-meter, $1 million-plus apartment in Jerusalem could cost less than $4,000.

The Jerusalem Foundation or some other reputable charity – able to issue tax deductible receipts in most of centers of Diaspora life – should establish a Voluntary Tax Jerusalem Quality of Life Fund. Nonresidents should be invited to make an additional annual contribution, beyond the arnona, based on their home’s value. This fund should subsidize young married couples from Jerusalem purchasing new apartments in the city. The money should also pay to pick up litter and improve schools in the particular areas the nonresidents live. The mayor and a team of trustworthy residents and nonresidents should administer the fund, ensuring transparency, accountability and much publicity.

To make this work, participating nonresidents should get something in return. Most people who buy in Jerusalem seek a deeper tie to the place and its residents – why not provide that? Currently, you need an Israeli ID card to get a municipality discount card. Why not make these patriotic nonresidents, honorary citizens, with their own special discount card? And why not, once or twice a year, host an evening in the Old City welcoming these honorary Jerusalemites?

IF JERUSALEM’S residents knew their nonresident neighbors were making extra contributions to clean their streets, improve their schools and subsidize their children’s first homes, they might stop fearing ghosts. If Jerusalem’s nonresidents felt more welcome, the chances of contributing to the city, or making a more permanent move, would also increase. If nonresidents felt more a part of the city, other ideas, such as encouraging them to use responsible students as house-sitters for a minimal rent when they are gone, would gain traction too.

More is more. More exposure and goodwill lead to more engagement. Buying a home, even a second home, is a profound sentimental decision. I know of young people currently serving in the army, using their parents’ apartments as temporary bases when they have leaves. I know of families that made aliya after they bought their homes, as the decision to purchase a “second home” in Jerusalem catapulted them toward making it their primary residence.

And the contributions that some generous and visionary temporary residents, notably Charles Bronfman and his late wife Andrea Bronfman, have made to the city are incalculable, both by funding projects and by generating a sense of fun in the city. Welcoming these lovers of Zion, is the right way to go. Encouraging more people to become intoxicated by the spirit of Jerusalem – and engaged with the many necessary efforts to make it thrive – is the best strategy.

Whenever I pass Trump Tower on New York’s Fifth Avenue, I wonder which Saudi princes, British aristocrats, Italian playboys, Russian oligarchs or Hong Kong billionaires can afford to live there. I assume most of the owners are absentee. No one in New York seems to care. True, Jerusalem is smaller and more vulnerable to the estimated 20 percent nonresident owners in its center. But a confident city, like a confident person, embraces rather than chases, encourages rather than compels. Instead of grumbling about greedy, ghostly outsiders, better to brainstorm about how much the estimated 9,200 foreign apartment owners in the city center can give to the city – and get from it.

In Florida, year-round residents call the outsiders who flock south during the winter “snowbirds.” Jerusalemites should start appreciating their non-full-time neighbors as homing pigeons, who, we learn from Wikipedia, “find [their] way home over extremely long distances.” Homing pigeons are also carrier pigeons. In these difficult times, we can use more homing pigeons, drawn to the Jewish people’s eternal capital, to serve as carrier pigeons, spreading the message of Jerusalem’s joys for tourists, regular visitors, nonresident owners and full-time residents alike.

The writer is professor of history at McGill University. He is the author of Why I Am a Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today and Leading from the Center: Why Moderates Make the Best Presidents. His splits his time between Montreal and Jerusalem.

Gil Troy: My Jerusalem jogging track

Center Field: My Jerusalem jogging track

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 5-26-09

Almost every morning, I walk my children to school in Baka, in south-central Jerusalem, then jog toward the Old City. I jog 35 to 45 minutes. But I journey through thousands of years, celebrating Jerusalem, the Jewish people’s eternal capital and the spiritual focal point for billions. Doctors debate if jogging is good for your body; my Jerusalem jogging track uplifts my soul.

In Baka, I enjoy the jumble of houses and the mix of people. The Anglo and French immigrants-by-choice often live in the renovated houses. Many older neighbors arrived after Arab countries expelled them in the 1950s. Today, they are citizens, not perpetual refugees. I appreciate the flat, lush terrain amid the hills of the Judean Desert, especially in the stately German Colony.

Already, five minutes into my jog, I have traversed Jewish history. Many Baka street names are biblical. I jog along Jacob’s sons: Judah, Zebulun, Levi. My German Colony route honors non-Jews who helped Jews: Emile Zola, the French novelist whose “J’Accuse” defended Alfred Dreyfus against anti-Semitism; Lloyd George, Britain’s prime minister when Lord Balfour recognized Jews’ right to a homeland. Setting out along Derech Beit Lehem, the road to Bethlehem, I pass three institutions symbolizing modern Jerusalem’s cultural vitality. The Khan Theater, built where a Crusader inn once stood, is one of two excellent theaters in walking distance from our house.

The Menachem Begin Heritage Center’s fabulous interactive museum commemorates one of Israel’s founders, while hosting weekly Torah portion discussions, historical conferences, a mock Knesset for students. Behind Begin, archeologists found a First-Temple-era priestly burial site, discovering an engraving of the Torah’s Priestly Blessing, with which we bless our children every Friday night. Further down, the cutting-edge Cinematheque hovers over the Hinnom Valley, known in the Hebrew Bible as Gei (the valley of) Ben Hinnom. Because ancient pagans sacrificed children to Moloch there, “Gehenna” now means hell. This is sobering stuff for a morning jog – but one of many reminders how Judaism civilized the region.

CROSSING HELL, I ascend to the Old City. Mount Zion’s green, sculpted slope reflects the remarkable efforts of so many worldwide to beautify Jerusalem, especially through the Jerusalem Foundation, in this case working with JNF Canada. One friend calls Jerusalem every Jew’s synagogue; all want to make their lasting contribution. To my left into the valley is the no-man’s-land that divided the city for 19 years when the Jordanians occupied east Jerusalem. I often enter the Old City imagining some historical figure resting on my shoulder.

One day King David or King Solomon might be admiring what of his handiwork survived. Another day it might be a medieval rabbi, a Holocaust victim or my own paternal grandfather, who all longed to visit the magical city I enter easily. Coming through Zion Gate, the Jewish Quarter’s lifeline blocked in 1948 which IDF soldiers freed in 1967, I enter the Armenian Quarter. Occasionally, I notice a “map of the Armenian genocide.” Turkey’s refusal to acknowledge its crimes against the Armenians depresses me, as does the world’s indifference to Rwanda’s Tutsis in the 1990s and Sudan’s Darfuris today.

IN THE JEWISH Quarter, I vary my route. Sometimes, I pass the Broad Wall, a 23-foot-wide outer wall from the First Temple period, probably destroyed in 586 BCE. Sometimes, I glimpse the Western Wall, which survived the Second Temple’s destruction in 70 CE. Sometimes, I climb the stairs at the end of Rehov Chabad to appreciate the Old City’s skyline with curved rooftops, modern satellite dishes, hanging laundry and sacred Christian, Muslim, Jewish sites jutting into the air. Sometimes, I pass the majestic Hurva Synagogue, its new dome now dominating the Jewish Quarter skyline. Arab rioters destroyed the Hurva, meaning ruin, in 1720, long before Zionism began. Rebuilt in 1864, Jordanian troops ruined it again in 1948. After 1967, Jews rebuilt only one large arch suggesting the dome’s grand height. Recently, this homage to McDonald’s became one of four arches supporting the new dome. The rebuilt synagogue opens soon. The Jewish Quarter tends the past while growing in the present, preserving history without being mummified. Children rush to school above Roman streets. Men wrapped in tallit and tefillin roam. Women scurry in the direction of the Temple Mount or the new city. All reflect the 42-year renaissance since Jews returned to the quarter the Jordanians desecrated.

Leaving the Jewish Quarter, I wander the Arab market, the shouk. Sometimes I jog through the Muslim shouk, smelling the spices, hearing the birds chirp, staring at the butchers’ carcasses hanging for all to see (and breathe on). Sometimes I jog through the Christian Quarter, with its wide streets. Usually I jog up David Street watching merchants arrange their touristy trinkets, exit Jaffa Gate back toward the new city, cross Yemin Moshe, the first Jewish neighborhood built outside the Old City, pass its famous windmill from 1857, then return home. I move seamlessly between the quarters. In years of jogging through Jerusalem, during calm times and after terror attacks, I have never felt fearful. I have never witnessed Arabs and Jews quarreling – or any arguments in the Old City (except when people bargain). I am not naïve. I know the tensions, frustrations, angers. I pass markers commemorating terrorist stabbings and the 14A bus bombing. But I experience the Jerusalem most Jerusalemites experience daily, a city of normal hustle and bustle amid powerful historical and spiritual currents, a city once violently divided now blessedly united. A city that works and prays, learns and plays.

A city that for the overwhelming majority of its residents, an overwhelming majority of the time, lives up to its name, Jerusalem, the city of peace. A city heroes liberated in 1967, 42 years ago yesterday, tended for decades by visionaries like mayor Teddy Kollek, which deserves to be celebrated today and everyday. Happy Yom Yerushalayim.

The writer is professor of history at McGill University. He is the author of Why I Am a Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today. His latest book, Leading from the Center: Why Moderates Make the Best Presidents, was recently published by Basic Books. He divides his time between Montreal and Jerusalem.

Gil Troy: Center Field: Obama should resist Jerusalem Syndrome

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 3-26-09

US President Barack Obama should resist succumbing to the presidential version of Jerusalem Syndrome. For commoners, the malady describes the messianic delusions some experience visiting the Holy City. For presidents, the malady reflects the messianic peacemaking delusions that some, especially Democrats, experience when simply thinking about the Holy City.

In fairness, president Jimmy Carter was struck by Jerusalem Syndrome and it worked (at first). In a classic display of presidential willpower – backed by American might – Carter forced Egyptian president Anwar Sadat and Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin into the Camp David peace treaty. The accords – signed 30 years ago today on March 26, 1979 – played to the presidential conceit that statesmanlike elbow grease could solve intractable problems, especially in the Middle East.

Although it was not clear then, the Egypt-Israel problem was relatively easy. While Egypt’s hatred toward Israel had been lethal, its objective interest in attacking Israel was minimal and territorial losses to Israel had diminished Egypt’s appetite for fighting. Trading Israel’s control over the under-populated Sinai desert for Egypt’s promise of peace did not involve masses on either side. Few Israelis considered the Sinai historically theirs. American payoffs created a competing national interest for Egypt not to attack, while compensating for the resources Israel enjoyed after capturing the Sinai to stop Egyptian aggression in 1967.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is much thornier. Competing land claims, shifting borders, mutually exclusive ideologies and overlapping boundaries with some areas characterized by Israelis surrounded by Palestinians, and others with Palestinians living cheek by jowl with Israelis, make Carter’s impressive work look like child’s play. Nevertheless, the first Democratic president after Carter, Bill Clinton, wanted to outdo him. Solving the Palestinian problem became Clinton’s Holy Grail.

It is easy to forget that Clinton nearly succeeded. Thanks to an unexpected Norwegian back channel, he hosted his own White House peace ceremony on September 13, 1993 as prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat approved the Oslo Accords (their respective foreign ministers actually signed). The famous moment wherein Clinton stretched out his arms and seemingly squeezed the two rivals into shaking hands symbolized his twist to the Carteresque aspirations of president as super-duper peacemaker.

Alas, by 2000 the Middle East became one of Clinton’s greatest failures. Despite hosting Arafat more times than any other foreign leader, he failed to transform this arch-terrorist into the Palestinian Nelson Mandela. Clinton’s search for a Middle East peace became an extended exercise in futility. Rabin was dead, murdered by a fellow Jew enraged by Israel’s concessions. The Palestinians, stoked by Arafat, had turned from negotiations back to terrorism, using weapons Israel and America supplied to slaughter hundreds of Israelis.

In his memoirs, Clinton would recall how Arafat – who was so dangerous because he was such a good liar – “thanked me for all my efforts and told me what a great man I was.” “Mr. Chairman,” Clinton replied, finally seeing through Arafat after years of being charmed, “I am not a great man. I am a failure, and you have made me one.”

It is hard for presidents to realize the limits of their power. Everyone they meet bows and scrapes – at his first presidential press briefing, Obama was taken aback when all the reporters stood as he entered. In that kinglike bubble, it is easy to forget your constraints. And when a president faces overwhelming problems like the current economic crisis, the search for a quick win, an easy fix, becomes irresistible.

Clinton’s sad experience should remind Obama – and Clinton’s wife, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton – that the Middle East is not easily fixed. Alas, it seems that Obama may have to learn this lesson on his own. The quick handoff of the Middle East file to former senator George Mitchell suggests an impatience and a grandiosity – two deadly traits in Mideast peacemaking. The delusional but growing Brent Scrowcroft-Zbigniew Brzezinski consensus that the Israeli-Palestinian problem is the key to solving America’s problems with the Muslim world blinds policymakers to radical Islamists’ animus toward the West.

Osama Bin Laden began his jihad against the West in the 1990s, during Oslo’s heyday. He only began mentioning Palestinians with any consistency after September 11, to make his mass murder play to Western fantasies about “why they hate us.” Now, apparently top officials are urging Obama to deal with Hamas, overlooking that group’s genocidal, anti-Semitic charter. Perhaps most destructive of all is the growing assumption – popular among many leftist Israelis and American Jews – that Israel must be bullied to the peace table. This condescending presumption suggests that Israel is too immature to chart its own destiny and Papa America must take charge.

Oslo’s collapse taught that Israeli-Palestinian peace should be nurtured from the bottom up, not imposed from the top down. All the negotiators’ bonding mattered little with Palestinian schoolchildren digesting a steady diet of anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist hatred. The suicide bombers and falling Kassams prove that ceding territory and declaring conflicts solved is not enough. Even President Shimon Peres, who has never acknowledged his Oslo failures, admitted that the unilateral retreat from Gaza was a mistake.

This is not an argument for presidential passivity but a call for presidential caution. Swooping down with a peace plan will not work. Seeking a Middle East grand slam to compensate for economic strikeouts is foolhardy and not even politically wise. Carter could not parlay his Camp David success into a reelection triumph – and he left office mocked for ineptitude. Obama should approach the Middle East as he approached his election campaign – with bucketfuls of hope floating on a careful, disciplined strategy rooted in reality, cognizant of complexity and measured for success.

Center Field: The GA should not be remembered as another bad date between American Jews and Israelis

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 11-29-08

The General Assembly of the United Jewish Communities brought over 2500 of America’s most generous Jews to Israel for a conference in mid-November. Unfortunately, the warm feelings many participants experienced have been upstaged by a controversy that continues nearly two weeks later. “GA largely ignored by Hebrew press,” a Jerusalem Post headline proclaimed on November 21. The article quoted Yediot Aharonot’s Diaspora reporter characterizing the GA as “one big kiss-up to rich people. American Jews are not authentic; they’re obsessed with money; there’s something annoying about them.” Echoing the nastiness, one of America’s top Conservative Jewish leaders sneered: “Israelis speak Hebrew, but many live lives devoid of Judaism. Just closing your schools on Shavuot is not the totality of Judaism.” What should have been a great bonding moment risked becoming another bad date between American Jews and Israeli Jews.

The Diaspora Affairs reporter’s caricature of American Jewry was particularly unfortunate considering who comes to the GA. In an era when most wealthy American Jews are ungenerous or support non-Jewish causes, the GA represents the altruistic remnant still donating much time and money to help the Jewish people in North America, Israel, and throughout the world. Walking the GA’s exhibition hall is simultaneously inspiring and stressful. It is moving to see how many different wonderful Jewish charities there are – and overwhelming to imagine how difficult it must be to decide which to fund.

The leading Conservative Jew’s contempt for Israeli Judaism was equally outrageous. Just as he would bristle at the many who define his movement by the most superficial Conservative Jews, who show up three-times-a-year and for the occasional Bar Mitzvah, flummoxed by the Hebrew and ignorant of Judaism, he should know better than to perpetuate the stereotype of the ignorant Israeli Jew. Non-religious Israeli Judaism is different than non-religious American Judaism – but in so many ways more substantive, rooted, integrated, learned. Moreover, while too many secular Israeli Jews are too distant from traditional Judaism, these contemptuous remarks ignore the Jewish renaissance taking place among non-religious Israeli Jews. When he next visits Israel on his movement’s tab, this leader should visit the Shalom Hartman Institute, and see the halls filled with supposedly secular Israeli teachers and army officers, attending advanced seminars brimming with Jewish content, which the participants then share with hundreds of others. He can visit the Hebrew Union College library, where an informal Bet Midrash involving dozens of supposedly secular but extremely erudite Jews meets regularly, discussing Tanach and Talmud in a sophisticated Hebrew most American Rabbis would have trouble understanding.

He can visit – and perhaps have his movement fund more generously – the Schechter Institute in Jerusalem, the educational center of Israel’s Masorati – Traditional – movement or various Masorati congregations. In addition to granting 750 advanced degrees in Jewish studies during the last two decades, Schechter houses the TALI Education Fund, which teaches dynamic, pluralistic Judaism to 30,000 students in nearly 200 supposedly secular public schools and pre-schools throughout Israel. Closer to home, this leader should heed the expansive words of the Jewish Theological Seminary’s Chancellor, Arnold Eisen, who marked Israel’s sixtieth anniversary by vowing “we will do all we can to make sure that by the seventieth, Israelis and American Jews will be more closely related to one another and appreciative of the parallel paths on which they are seeking to build Jewish communities and revitalize Jewish tradition.”

It is time to move beyond these tiresome clichés of the boorish rich American Jew and the boorish “goyish” Israeli. We should sentence all the arrogant Israeli reporters who mocked American Jews and the thin-skinned American Jewish leaders who took the bait to a ten-day birthright Israel mifgash[ encounter]. One unexpected birthright bounce from the free ten day trip to Israel for Diaspora Jews between the ages of 18 and 26 has been the mifgashim, encounters, with Israeli peers. The Israelis learn that not all Jews from abroad are rich; the Jews from abroad appreciate their new Israeli friends’ experiences, especially since most of the mifgashim are with Israeli soldiers. The IDF’s Education Unit loves this program. Most soldiers return with a greater appreciation for Jewish peoplehood, more proud of their own country, more focused on their mission. I once heard soldiers speaking after their encounter with a Montreal birthright group. The soldiers’ unit had been hit hard in Gaza – after a powerful bomb killed some of their buddies, the survivors had crawled in the sand, retrieving scattered body parts. One soldier said, “I always thought I was just defending my home. Now, I realize I am defending my people.”

These are the sentiments we need to foster, avoiding games of ideological and sociological one-upsmanship that mostly reveal the respective combatants’ insecurities. Five years ago, the last time the GA met in Jerusalem, thousands of supposedly spoiled North American Jews arrived, despite the wave of terror Israel was enduring. The climax of that GA was a march from the Binyanei Ha’uma Convention Center down Jaffa Road, ending in the midrecheov, the center of town, so everyone could patronize the all but abandoned restaurants and stores there. As the GA participants marched down the streets, hundreds of Jerusalemites cheered, waved, and cried. The merchants and restaurant owners downtown were downright giddy.

We know Jews unite during times of crisis – and love to bicker when calm returns. GA participants and organizers should know better than to consider Israel’s media a reflection of Israeli sentiment. And any Israelis who followed this controversy should also be wise enough to dismiss the foolish, thin-skinned responses of defensive Americans. The world’s challenges today are too great – and the bedrock of unity we share is too solid – to allow the narrow, provincial voices on either side of the Mediterranean to prevail.

Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University and the author of Why I Am A Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity, and the Challenges of Today. His latest book is Leading from the Center: Why Moderates Make the Best Presidents.

Charity dollars are holy dollars

By GIL TROY, Jerusalem Post, 11-15-08

The General Assembly of the United Jewish Communities is meeting in Jerusalem with the world reeling from the economic meltdown. More than 2,500 powerhouse leaders gathered, planning to celebrate Israel’s 60th anniversary. Instead, the participants are sobered, dreading the cutbacks they will have to impose on so many worthy recipients in Israel and abroad. Hopefully, before these generous trendsetters of the Jewish world limit gifts to the needy, they will discuss how they can make their organizations – and their own lifestyles – leaner.

A villa with a pool. An ethos...

A villa with a pool. An ethos of good work must replace the culture of perks.

As we emerge from this age of excess so many of us have enjoyed, we should acknowledge how we started treating luxuries as necessities. In the ever-escalating spending spiral that typified this era, the art of austerity succumbed to the lure of luxury.

Consider one minor but representative example: Many foundation executives, federation officials and university administrators regularly travel business class and stay at first-class hotels on their organization’s tab. Leaders of non-profits once traveled modestly and even lived relatively humbly to demonstrate their virtue and their fiscal prudence. Today, professionals join laypeople in consuming conspicuously, somehow trying to show the charitable leader’s ability to play in the big leagues. As a donor who flies economy class between Israel and North America, both when I pay my way and when a non-profit invites me to speak, I am appalled that charitable institutions pay the airlines’ absurd business-class markups.

An ethos of good works must replace this culture of perks. Charity dollars are holy dollars. Just as US government officials fly economy to demonstrate respect for the taxpayers’ dollars, charitable leaders in the Jewish and non-Jewish worlds should show their reverence for donors’ dollars at home and abroad. And if laypeople traveling on the Jewish people’s business followed suit – maybe directing the money they otherwise would have frittered away back toward their favorite charities – they would generate the moral momentum we need.

Belt-tightening is never fun and is rarely sought. But if it is happening anyway, better to ride the wave than be walloped by it. In the 1970s, president Jimmy Carter preached a sourpuss, gloom-and-doom message, essentially saying, “Get used to it, the good times are over.” If he is wise, President-elect Barack Obama will preach an uplifting, redemptive message, essentially saying, “Let’s cut back until the good times return, but discover the good once we have to give up some goodies.”

THE JEWISH world is long overdue for a broader conversation about our spending priorities and what values they reflect. Most of us realize we have lost our moorings, although, typically, we see it more clearly in others or in our children, than in ourselves. Whenever I speak to North American audiences, criticizing our distorted me-me-me, my-my-my, more-more-more, buy-buy-buy, now-now-now world, people nod their heads in agreement.

Most of us know that there has to be more to life than catching the latest sale in the mall, aping the latest popular culture trend, worshiping the latest hot celeb. Yet, somehow, we appear powerless against the mighty materialism of the modern mass media, as we succumb to its siren call. The humility even wealthy Jews were once famous – and a little distrusted – for has been replaced by the garishness enlivening so many modern caricatures of American Jews.

Many of our young people reflect both extremes. They luxuriate more intensely in modern excesses while denouncing the hypocrisy of organized Jewry more angrily. Many condemn the disconnect between the modesty of our tradition and the vulgarity of our lives – and our institutions. It is particularly painful to see so many Jewish high schools fall prey to this. Over the years I have had dozens of heartbreaking conversations with disillusioned graduates – or angry dropouts – from the Jewish day school system. Most reported how the cancer of careerism, the pathologies of peer pressure and the fascism of modern fashion mocked the Jewish values their teachers taught. In universities and birthright groups I repeatedly encounter the walking wounded, young idealists who were badly bruised by the snide, snippy judgments they endured in a Jewish school, camp or synagogue.

Of course, these afflictions are epidemic in modern capitalist consumer culture and reflect our people’s remarkable collective success. But in mastering modern society too many of us became seduced by it. And as Israel develops, the epidemic of excess afflicts Israelis too. The stoicism of the halutzic pioneering generation that built Israel and the immigrant generation that made it in America is equally passé – and sorely missed on both sides of the Atlantic.

OUR ZIONIST and Jewish traditions both offer out of our morass of materialism. The Zionist emphasis on collective responsibility balances the extravagances of the “I” with contributions to the “us.” Similarly, Jewish teachings about God and the people redirect human energies from getting to giving, from what is fleeting and superficial to what is eternal.

These messages are particularly welcome now, when many people are struggling with a diminished self-worth because of a shrunken net-worth. The markets delivered the devastating shock. Our mutually reinforcing Zionist and Jewish traditions can provide the therapy.

This summer, I spoke to UJC’s young leadership cabinet. It met, I admit, in a luxurious resort. But to save money – and to welcome future leaders from a wider ranger of income groups – it convened in Scottsdale, Arizona in July – the sweltering off-season. The deeply discounted hotel rates did not diminish the participants’ fun, and may have further fueled the impressive idealism and generosity they displayed. These are the kind of models we should follow in our communal lives and our personal lives – not only because we need to, but because we want to.

The writer is professor of history at McGill University. His latest book is Leading from the Center: Why Moderates Make the Best Presidents.

Why isn’t Jerusalem our jewel in the crown?

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 11-5-08

If there was one thing that the many different constantly quarreling Zionists of yesteryear agreed about, it was that Zionism had to end the era of Jewish passivity. Zionism repudiated the religious addiction to waiting for the messiah. Zionism also rebelled against the ghetto tendency to do the oy vay dance whenever faced with a problem: Shrug to the left, sigh to the right, call out gevalt and end with a world weary witticism about how hard life can be.

Imagine how appalled our Zionist forbears would be by the sense of resignation paralyzing the Israeli body politic these days. Kacha zeh, “that’s how it is,” is as debilitating and defeatist as our grandparents’ many disquisitions on how hard it is to be a Jew.

Imagine how shocked our Zionist founders, who willed a state into being, would be by the fact that the future of Jerusalem is at risk because not enough citizens can be bothered to vote.

On November 11, Jerusalemites will have a chance to shape their city’s future. Last time municipal elections were held, only one-third of the city’s Jewish but non-haredi citizens bothered to vote. Nir Barkat, an attractive, creative, energetic candidate who had potential to revive the city, lost by less than 20,000 votes.

They say there are no second acts in show business, but politics is filled with great comeback stories. Five years later, having served in the city council honorably, Barkat is running again, more experienced ­and determined to get out the vote.

JERUSALEM IS the capital of Israel and of the Jewish people, a magical city that romantically meshes the old and the new. It should be the jewel in the crown of the Jewish people, a model city that delights its inhabitants as well as its visitors. Instead, it is a city of great contrasts, of absurdly high real estate prices and devastating poverty, of transcendent spirituality and vulgar corruption, of splendid sites that gleam at night and of litter strewn willy-nilly that stinks during the day. Jerusalem should be compared to Athens, Rome, Washington.

Instead, it often seems like Chelm, that mythical city filled with people who looked wise but acted foolish.

As the real Jerusalem has become infamous for its dysfunction, many residents have adopted this demoralized, depressing, ghetto-like weariness. Facing underfunded schools and overcrowded classrooms, too many change the subject by saying that the home is the most important influence on children anyway. Watching an overpriced, ill-conceived light rail project soar over budget, and clog traffic by ripping up large stretches of crucial roads for months on end, too many Jerusalemites knowingly explain that the fix is in, the contractors are earning too much for anything to be done. Hearing about houses burglarized, cars broken into, precious items people spend their lifetime collecting stolen by brazen robbers, too many citizens wearily ask “what can you do?”

Citizens in others cities have learned that you can fight corruption, revitalize schools, clean up streets, improve public transportation and crack down on crime. A great mayor can help save a city. New York has been blessed by larger than life mayors who revived that great metropolis. Mayor Ed Koch lured major corporations back to Manhattan, stopping the decline it suffered in the 1960s and 1970s. Mayor Rudy Giuliani fought crime by deploying the police strategically and refusing to tolerate the turnstile-jumping and aggressive panhandling that undermined civic values.

The current mayor, Michael Bloomberg, has reformed the schools, fought corruption, and balanced the budget. Beyond New York, Chicago’s Mayor Richard Daley has pioneered private-public partnerships and made America’s second city work. Less well-known is Mayor Randy Kelly who reduced the crime rate in St. Paul, Minnesota by 30 percent in four years. Within Israel, Mayor Moti Sasson has turned Holon, of all places, into a cultural center. And one of the most legendary of mayors remains Jerusalem’s Teddy Kollek, who showed how to parlay the worldwide love affair with Jerusalem into major cultural, architectural and landscaping projects that made the city sparkle.

DESPITE THEIR accomplishments, all these mayors had flaws, of course. And Barkat himself comes with no surefire guarantees. As a hi-tech entrepreneur, he may lack the politician’s light touch essential in such a volatile city. Recently, he made the absurd proposal that foreigners who own mostly unoccupied apartments should be fined ­ even though no one has ever tried inviting these absentee owners to contribute to the city with a voluntary extra-municipal tax fund through the Jerusalem Foundation or a similar charity.

Still, Barkat has been impressive during the campaign, uniting modern Orthodox and secular Jews, denouncing the light rail boondoggle, highlighting the funding disparities in education, culture, infrastructure investment between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

All the hoopla about the mayoral contest overlooks the fact that residents will cast two ballots. The second, equally important, ballot is for the city council. Jerusalemites should not vote for party hacks more concerned with national party politics. The Hitorerut Yerushalmim list offers young idealists, both secular and religious, who want to do what their name promises, revive Jerusalem¹s splendor. The right to vote is a privilege too many of us take for granted. Those of us lucky enough to live in a democracy should not be so blasé. Those of us lucky enough to live in Jerusalem dare not be so lazy.

Jerusalem has experienced periods of grandeur and periods of desolation during its long history. Jerusalem should be thriving in this the 21st century. Everyone who lives in the city should do everything possible to ensure that Jerusalem has the right leadership to make the city the pride of Israel, the Jewish people and the activist, constructive Zionist cause.

The writer, who lives in Jerusalem, is an American historian and the author of Leading from the Center: Why Moderates Make the Best Presidents and Why I Am A Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today.

Defending a Jerusalem oasis

Jerusalem Post, Gil Troy’s Center Field, August 10, 2008

The battle to save Baka and the German Colony is a skirmish in a long -overdue struggle. Center Field

Jerusalem’s German Colony is an architectural jewel a magnificent urban oasis offering historic houses soothing visual harmony intimate settings and even the sound of birds chirping amid the hurly burly of Israel’s capital. Neighboring Baka while less sculpted is also delightful offering an equally alluring sense of community. While the Emek Refaim cafes serving both neighborhoods attract crowds Baka and German Colony residents are also blessed by a friendly not-yet-overdone shopping strip along Derech Beit Lehem

Alas – surprisingly tragically foolishly – the delicate urban ecology of the German Colony Baka and Beit Lehem shops is now endangered. And the threat comes from civil servants who should be committed to preserving such urban gems.

In launching the light rail system Jerusalem’s bureaucrats plan to divert as many as 1 0 cars an hour from Derech Hebron to Derech Beit Lehem. Private cars will be banned from Remez Street near the old train station so huge buses can whisk commuters downtown from the outlying neighborhoods. But independent traffic engineers have confirmed what any intelligent person can see – this well- intentioned but poorly thought out automotive invasion will turn Beit Lehem into what one resident calls “the autostrada and bring urban blight to these lovely neighborhoods. The result will be traffic snarls, constant noise, polluted air, impossible parking, ruined shops, plummeting property values and, most disturbing, hundreds of pupils walking to the areas’ schools every weekday morning and afternoon

HAVING HAD the privilege of living in the German Colony since last July, and having regularly escorted my children back and forth to their schools, I have watched in horror as this fiasco develops. I have seen the work crews install the infrastructure for traffic lights and turning lanes, despite the municipality’s promise last year to freeze the plan. I have seen a small, noble group of concerned citizens try to alert their neighbors, while others flail about trying to get heard by someone in the vast urban bureaucracy. Last March, launching my own test of Jerusalem’s supposedly responsive bureaucracy, I contacted the authorities regarding this dumb plan. Identifying myself as an occasional columnist, I sought an official comment. I’m still waiting.

Fortunately, there are enough engaged residents to launch a grassroots campaign. Recently, some locals led by Itay Fishendler and Jonathan Kalman started raising money and awareness to save their community. They understand that to fight an indifferent city hall they will need a comprehensive campaign of public protest, attracting supportive media coverage. This is especially necessary because the bureaucrats are surprisingly gung-ho about this project despite the feared fallout. This campaign has been fully co-ordinated with the local community center and the head of the community council. These urban heroes can be contacted at bakaa.s.o.s@gmail.com

IF MORE neighbors weighed the pending threat to their quality of life and property values against what many of them spend on renovations, they would flood the activists with cash.

Frankly, residents have yet to respond as generously as they should with their time, passion, and money. Still, in other neighborhoods threatened by equally ridiculous plans the locals do not even have the resources to fight.

This debacle-in-the-making reveals a deeper problem. The legendary American politician Tip” O’Neill famously said “all politics is local.” O’Neill understood that although citizens in a democracy judge their government on the big things such as defending the country and managing the economy the little things also loom large. Unfortunately in Israel the national issues are overwhelming the entire political system is too centralized. The residents of the German Colony and Baka – along with Israelis from Metulla to the Negev – miss the local representation that makes so many other democracies function. If city councils and the Knesset had some locally selected district-based representatives at least one national politician and one local politician could represent grievances effectively passionately independently. In this case two leaders – each beholden to the people – would wake up every day wondering how to preserve protect and defend Baka and the German Colony.

TRUE A locally based system risks people shouting Not In My Back Yard and ignoring broader community concerns. But in a functional democracy the local and the national balance each other in an ultimately constructive dance. All too often in Israel the big overwhelms the small. We see this when traffic engineers arrogantly impose harmful plans on neighborhoods. We see this when educational bureaucrats prevent parents from raising money in a particular school to lower student-teacher ratios or block principals from doing what is best for their students.

The battle to save Baka the German Colony and the Beit Lehem shopping district is then a small skirmish in a long-overdue struggle. Israel desperately needs a more responsive political system along with more responsive responsible officials at all levels. These public servants would understand that democracies – like the threatened neighborhoods – are delicate ecosystems requiring thoughtful tending.

Jerusalem syndrome

By GIL TROY, Jerusalem Post, 6-22-00

In these days of gotcha politics, it is not surprising that Barack Obama’s Texas two-step about a united Jerusalem became so controversial. Obama’s embrace of a “united Jerusalem” during his recent speech to AIPAC, and then his subsequent backpedaling, made for a good story – and fed into many people’s fears that his support for Israel is a posture not deeply rooted in principle.

In fairness, many American politicians have suffered from their own peculiar variation of Jerusalem Syndrome. How many times have presidents promised to move America’s embassy to Jerusalem – which, as of this writing, remains in Tel Aviv.

Candidates -and incumbents – will inevitably bob and weave when it comes to specific policies regarding Israel. The region is so volatile, the issues are so complex, the scenarios keep shifting. So while it was an amateurish mistake to oversell to AIPAC and come out too strong in favor of the current status quo in Jerusalem, Obama’s miscue probably reflected sloppy staff work more than malice or deceit. And amid the brouhaha, many have missed the most important part of Obama’s speech.

Early on in his address, Obama said: “I first became familiar with the story of Israel when I was 11 years old. I learned of the long journey and steady determination of the Jewish people to preserve their identity through faith, family and culture. Year after year, century after century, Jews carried on their traditions, and their dream of a homeland, in the face of impossible odds.”

Obama explained that as a young man cut off from his roots, not knowing his father, this quest to return and this deep sense of rootedness, moved him. “So I was drawn to the belief that you could sustain a spiritual, emotional and cultural identity,” Obama proclaimed. “And I deeply understood the Zionist idea – that there is always a homeland at the center of our story.”

Those kinds of sentiments do not get adjusted in a press release the next day. That kind of a statement suggests the kind of deep tie to Israel and understanding of Zionism not enough young American Jews have today.

Still, it remains for Obama to reconcile that sincere understanding of Zionism with his many anti-Zionist friends. This challenge parallels the larger task ahead for Obama in the wake of the hard-fought campaign against Hillary Clinton.

The vision Obama has articulated of a united America is as moving as his affirmation of Zionism. But many Americans’ faith in the sincerity of his vision weakened as we learned of his long friendship with the divisive African-American nationalist Jeremiah Wright, and as we occasionally glimpsed dimensions of a typically Ivy League mix of cynicism and elitism.

Clearly, Barack Obama has some explaining to do. Not about his Jerusalem rhetoric but about his own journey. There is a disconnect, a missing piece. The Obama enigma will continue to mystify until he explains how he experienced the superciliousness of so many classmates, the harsh anger of so many African-Americans including his preacher, but arrived at a different conclusion.

Many fears about Barack Obama will not be quieted until he reconciles his heartfelt and longstanding appreciation for Israel with his occasional tone-deafness on the issue when friends may be bashing it, or even his church is divesting from it.

We should judge Barack Obama on his thoughts and his deeds, not on his influences and his associates. But as a candidate, the burden of proof is on him. He needs to give the voters the tools, the roadmap, if you will, for understanding his journey. He should explain how he stopped at various negative places along the way, but ultimately ended up as an American patriot, an American nationalist, and in that same vein, a strong supporter of Israel and other embattled democracies.

All too often, Barack Obama as presidential candidate is a hologram, appearing different from various angles. He now has five months to appear more solid, more consistent, and more like the young Senate candidate who wowed Americans in 2004 and 2006, rather than the battle-scarred candidate of 2008 reeling from the Clinton assault.

If he can rekindle that magic, many will happily shout with him “Yes We Can” and help him on his historic journey.