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August 15, 2013 - Image 40

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2013-08-15

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Guest Column


Lost In Translation

Talks Shouldn't Hinge On
Dispute Over Settlements

Kfar Saba, Israel


ack when I was growing up,
the modern State of Israel was
the center of the Jewish uni-
verse. It was at the core of being Jewish,
tucked inside the greater American-
Jewish identity. There were no con-
tradictions. Jews were solid
U.S. citizens, equally proud
of their American heritage.
But the brutal sting of the
Holocaust, which had hit
home more often than not,
made the establishment and
continuity of the Jewish state
a prerequisite of daily life.
Having just spent a semes-
ter sabbatical in the United
States, I unfortunately have
witnessed a different state of
American Jewry. Jews have
never been so successful;
the urge to integrate has seamlessly
transitioned into assimilation. The
result? Today Israel is a blip on the
Jewish-American radar screen, and
for many there's a definite disconnect.
When I brought this up to one rabbi,
his response was more troubling than I
expected. "The disconnect you sense,"
he explained, "is a byproduct of the
general disconnect to Judaism!'
A cleric of a flourishing congrega-
tion, he confessed that he felt more like
an entertainment director than a rabbi.
"I have to constantly think up new gim-
micks to draw the crowd in," he elabo-
rated, while admitting that without the
constant beat of bar and bat mitzvah
celebrations bringing in hundreds at
a time, weekly attendance would be
down to a drizzle.
Certainly, similar worries existed
when my generation was growing up.
Still, back then, American Jews under-
stood that, with or without Israel, they
were part of a nation within a nation.
Unfortunately, this fact seems to have
been lost in translation over the past
few decades. Not with the minority
who send their children to Jewish day
schools, but with the majority shep-
herding their children to synagogue
religious schools, if at all. It's not their
fault alone. This latter educational
framework either fell asleep at the
wheel or did not have the resources to
ignite a sense of pride.
While the holiday curriculum is
important, it's become too humdrum
and detached from the students' own
lives. In this digital age, with kids seek-
ing links, what better tie-in for educa-
tors than Judaism's contribution to day-
to-day living in the Western world.


August 15 • 2013


Believe it or not, there are some techies
who do a better job at getting this message
across. Take Tiffany Shlain. A filmmaker
and founder of the Webby Awards, she was
cited by Newsweek as "One of the Women
Shaping the 21st Century" Shlain declared
sundown Friday to sundown Saturday to
be her personal "technology Shabbat."
She explains on her blog:
"The idea of taking one day a
week off from responsibilities
and work is a very, very, very
old idea!" What makes Shabbat
so special? Tiffany hits the nail
on the head: "Unplugging for
a day makes time slow down
and makes me feel very pres-
ent with my family. I not only
appreciate this quality time
with my family, but it has also
made me appreciate technol-
ogy in a whole new way."
Succinctly said. A day of
rest removes stress, providing time for
a fresh and new perspective. That's the
kind of "disconnect" Jewish profession-
als should be promoting; precisely the
type of "assimilation" Jewish clerics
should be encouraging. It's all about
the ABCs of Jewish life and the gifts
Judaism has given the world: the con-
cept of a day of rest; the foundation
for a socially just legal system; a com-
mandment to respect one's parents and
an annual reminder every Yom Kippur
not to cast us away in our old age; an
ecological love of the land coupled with
humane treatment of animals. The list
of ancient Jewish commandments and
values that are part and parcel of mod-
ern day life is impressive indeed!
And the holidays? For those into medi-
tation, nothing beats the soul-searching of
Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Organic
produce lovers should be directed to the
harvest-dedicated holidays of Sukkot
and Shavuot; creatively couple them with
the biblical laws of Shemitah [resting the
fields during the seventh year] and Orlah
[not eating fruit of a 3-year-old or young-
er tree] and you have a show stopper of
a lesson. This is the kind of reverence
Judaism deserves if it is to be properly
translated into 21st-century life.
And then, once American Jews proud-
ly reconnect with their religious-cultural
heritage, bonding with the Jewish state
and the greater Jewish nation will be a
mere hop and skip away.

Tami Lehman-Wilzig is an award-winning,

Jewish content children's book author. She

has written 10 books and one children's

book app. Her 11th book, Stork's Landing,

will be coming out fall of 2014. Visit her

website: www.tlwkidsbooks.com .


ettlement construction is blamed by almost the entire world
as an obstacle to peace between Israel and the Palestinian
Authority, which governs much of the West Bank. In reality, it's
more of a distraction from, than a cause of, the stalled peace talks that
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is trying mightily to restart.
Settlement activity is but one of many bargaining chips. Others include
borders, security, Jerusalem, refugees, water rights and holy sites.
Although the Jewish state has a right to build in the West Bank, esp-
cially in Jewish settlement areas, as well as in all of Israel-governed
united Jerusalem, settlement building certainly has increased Israel's
isolation on the world stage.
In an insightful interview with JTA, a Jewish wire service, the top
European Union representative to the peace process raised the prospect
that continued construction could further delegitimize Israel in Europe,
many of whose countries already are cool toward the Netanyahu admin-
istration. So while Israel may have a legal and historical right to extend
settlements, the political blowback from it will force the government to
stay vigilant of irreparable damage from European punitive policies.
Andreas Reinicke, E.U. special envoy for the Middle
East peace process, pointed to two such policies that
won't have an immediate effect, but could over the long
haul: increasing levies on goods made in West Bank
settlements and putting labels on such products to dis-
tinguish them.
What Reinicke told JTA can't be discounted: "What
the Europeans feel compelled to do is to make clear
E.U.'s Andreas that our political position, our understanding of the
territory of the State of Israel, which is the borders of
1967, including west Jerusalem, has to be reflected in
our legal relationship between Israel and the European Union."
The E.U. favors the Palestinians returning to the negotiating process
without preconditions. It rejects a violent resolution to what diplomacy
should yield: ultimately, a two-state solution.
The prevailing European mood is against the BDS (Boycott,
Divestment, Sanctions) movement, but it doesn't outlaw what Reinicke
calls policies distinguishing settlement products from Israeli products
to reinforce isolating Israel. The West Bank includes Judea and Samaria,
part of Eretz Yisrael, the biblical Land of Israel - a fact that Israel active-
ly promotes. The role that settlements play in Israel's security is less
well known, especially in Europe, where the Zionist state is a pariah in
many capitals.
Notably, one of Israel's best friends in Europe, the Czech Republic, is
on record saying Israel should be wary of viewing settlement growth as
a political nuisance instead of a political liability. The Czech Republic was
alone among 27 E.U. member nations to join the U.S. and Israel last year
in unsuccessfully opposing the P.A. bid to gain enhanced "non-member
state observer" status in the United Nations.
The Zionist Organization of America opposes freezing settlement
construction to coincide with the Arab states agreeing to reiterate their
2002 peace initiative, which makes unacceptable security demands on
Israel. The ZOA argues the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not territorial, but
rather is rooted in Arab opposition to Israel's existence as a Jewish state.
"Moreover," it argues, ''Jewish construction has been, in any case, occurring
only within pre-existing boundaries of established Jewish communities."
The ZOA makes reasoned demands not to restrict settlement con-
struction. Israel, however, must make critical decisions about such build-
ing based on its perception of the international political climate.
If the Palestinians continue to cite settlements as the roadblock to
resuming talks, mixing that charade with relentless public incitement
to hate and murder Jews, they plainly have no desire to ever talk again.
The Palestinian Authority didn't acknowledge Israel's 10-month halt,
begun in late 2009, on new construction in West Bank settlements until
the freeze was nearly over. That underscored how extending the stale-
mate, not engaging in talks, was foremost on its mind.

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