Category: Gidon BenZvi

Confessions of an American Zionist in Israel


The Jewish Agency, Nefesh B’Nefesh, Israel’s Ministry of Diaspora Affairs and other organizations charged with convincing world Jewry that its destiny is intertwined with that of Israel fail to mention, on their glossy websites and in their slick public relations tool kits, the single greatest sacrifice one makes when embarking on an open-ended Zionist adventure: cultural DNA.

While some scientists maintain that culture is encoded in the genome, many more believe that language, religion, cuisine, social habits, music and arts are learned characteristics and knowledge. Now, some people are naturally more amenable to imbibing exotic new cultural stimuli. These are the fortunate souls who don’t imbue their personal senses of self with local cultural references.

I hereby state that I have to date not reached this higher state of consciousness. Having lived in the Land of Milk and Honey for nearly a decade, I remain a staunch supporter of the Zionist enterprise. However, I also continue to be defined by cultural totems that are far removed, in time and space, from the Israel of the here and now.

Eyal Golan is an incredibly popular Israeli singer who sings in the Mizrahi style. The national love affair between Israel and Golan is well into its second decade. To many, he is Israeli music.

Yet my MP3 collection features songs by the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Oasis, Billy Joel, Bob Dylan, Nirvana, Simon & Garfunkel, Beck, John Denver, Guns ‘N’ Roses and REM, to name but a few.

I have burned close to 1,000 songs onto my device, and not a single one is by an Israeli artist.

Regarding sports, I used to watch Dodgers games, either at home or at Dodger Stadium, at least three times a week when I lived in Los Angeles. But in Israel my knowledge of the local sports scene is actually zero. How can I become a fan of a team that doesn’t have a name? American immigrants with adult attention deficit disorder, such as yours truly, space out in a hurry. Maccabi Fox Tel Aviv basketball club? Why not just call them the Tel Aviv Lions? 

Since we never bothered to replace the TV converter box that our daughter destroyed a few years back, I have no opinion of Israeli television. Shtisel, which takes place in an ultra-Orthodox Jerusalem neighborhood and tells the wildly complex narratives of a large Haredi family, is by all accounts must-see viewing.

Yet, here I go again, letting my finger click onto YouTube, where I inevitably will search out and find a biography of an American president, actor, musician or athlete to watch.

What kind of an Israeli am I?

Thing is, while listening to Buddy Holly, Radiohead, or Creedence Clearwater Revival, I also read the Israel daily newspapers, in Hebrew. I can count on two hands the number of times I read the news, not sports or entertainment, section of the Los Angeles Times when I lived in Southern California. And though I probably won’t be streaming Mossad 101 or Srugim anytime soon, I will be discussing Trump, Bibi, the peace process, Syria, Iran, and the eternal Israeli real estate bubble, over a cup of Turkish coffee or pint of Belgian beer — with a motley array of characters I call friends.

Being culturally schizophrenic means never quite feeling at home. Does that gnawing feeling of being an outsider make me a less than authentic Israeli? No, dear reader, feeling like a stranger in a strange land makes me little more and nothing less than an immigrant.

And both Israel and the United States have flourished because they have been nourished by so many cultures, traditions, and peoples.

So, while I speak an imperfect Hebrew and stubbornly repeat obscure Seinfeld references, I also bring several gifts to my adopted homeland. Should I be able to somehow synthesize the best of my American traditions with the best of Israel’s culture, I will consider my Zionist excursion an abashed success.

The Jewish Agency, Nefesh B’Nefesh, Israel’s Ministry of Diaspora Affairs and other organizations charged with convincing world Jewry that its destiny is intertwined with that of Israel fail to mention, on their glossy websites and in their slick public relations tool kits, the single greatest sacrifice one makes when embarking on an open-ended Zionist adventure: cultural DNA.

While some scientists maintain that culture is encoded in the genome, many more believe that language, religion, cuisine, social habits, music and arts are learned characteristics and knowledge. Now, some people are naturally more amenable to imbibing exotic new cultural stimuli. These are the fortunate souls who don’t imbue their personal senses of self with local cultural references.

I hereby state that I have to date not reached this higher state of consciousness. Having lived in the Land of Milk and Honey for nearly a decade, I remain a staunch supporter of the Zionist enterprise. However, I also continue to be defined by cultural totems that are far removed, in time and space, from the Israel of the here and now.

Eyal Golan is an incredibly popular Israeli singer who sings in the Mizrahi style. The national love affair between Israel and Golan is well into its second decade. To many, he is Israeli music.

Yet my MP3 collection features songs by the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Oasis, Billy Joel, Bob Dylan, Nirvana, Simon & Garfunkel, Beck, John Denver, Guns ‘N’ Roses and REM, to name but a few.

I have burned close to 1,000 songs onto my device, and not a single one is by an Israeli artist.

Regarding sports, I used to watch Dodgers games, either at home or at Dodger Stadium, at least three times a week when I lived in Los Angeles. But in Israel my knowledge of the local sports scene is actually zero. How can I become a fan of a team that doesn’t have a name? American immigrants with adult attention deficit disorder, such as yours truly, space out in a hurry. Maccabi Fox Tel Aviv basketball club? Why not just call them the Tel Aviv Lions? 

Since we never bothered to replace the TV converter box that our daughter destroyed a few years back, I have no opinion of Israeli television. Shtisel, which takes place in an ultra-Orthodox Jerusalem neighborhood and tells the wildly complex narratives of a large Haredi family, is by all accounts must-see viewing.

Yet, here I go again, letting my finger click onto YouTube, where I inevitably will search out and find a biography of an American president, actor, musician or athlete to watch.

What kind of an Israeli am I?

Thing is, while listening to Buddy Holly, Radiohead, or Creedence Clearwater Revival, I also read the Israel daily newspapers, in Hebrew. I can count on two hands the number of times I read the news, not sports or entertainment, section of the Los Angeles Times when I lived in Southern California. And though I probably won’t be streaming Mossad 101 or Srugim anytime soon, I will be discussing Trump, Bibi, the peace process, Syria, Iran, and the eternal Israeli real estate bubble, over a cup of Turkish coffee or pint of Belgian beer — with a motley array of characters I call friends.

Being culturally schizophrenic means never quite feeling at home. Does that gnawing feeling of being an outsider make me a less than authentic Israeli? No, dear reader, feeling like a stranger in a strange land makes me little more and nothing less than an immigrant.

And both Israel and the United States have flourished because they have been nourished by so many cultures, traditions, and peoples.

So, while I speak an imperfect Hebrew and stubbornly repeat obscure Seinfeld references, I also bring several gifts to my adopted homeland. Should I be able to somehow synthesize the best of my American traditions with the best of Israel’s culture, I will consider my Zionist excursion an abashed success.



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Jerusalem, Los Angeles…You're 18 Only Twice


It’s akin to déjà vu on acid, being a 43-year-old driver’s ed. student. The last time I sat through a lesson on defensive driving, the Los Angeles Police Department was caught on video behaving badly – firing a taser into Rodney King’s spine and beating him down with batons for good measure. 

 

Back in 1991, I had Nirvana’s Nevermind album (remember albums?) blaring from my tape deck (remember tape decks?) as I boned up on hand-to-hand steering, hand-over-hand steering and highway hypnosis.

 

Once I passed the California DMV’s written test for a Class C license, I was ready to assume the 10-2 steering wheel position.  And while the Soviet Union was collapsing under the able management of Mikhail Gorbachev, I was eased into the vagaries of the Basic Speed Law by the deliciously flamboyant Señor Torres, a San Fernando Valley legend.

 

Learning to make lane adjustments on the 405 freeway – birthplace of ‘road rage’ – could have ended very messily indeed. Yet, Señor Torres – sitting to my right, foot elegantly dangling over the instructor’s break – would effortlessly coo Puccini’s Madame Butterfly during my lessons. And these musical interludes proved to be a most effective salve. My jitters sufficiently soothed, I was now ready to take my 20-minute driving test.

 

With complete calm and utmost confidence, I adeptly navigated left and right turns, stops at controlled and uncontrolled intersections, straight line backing, lane changes and driving in regular street traffic. I even managed to maneuver through one of America’s worst bottlenecks, the US-101 at I-405 interchange, with the silky smoothness of an F-16 fighter pilot.

 

While 1991 was epochal in many ways, being of course the year that Princess Diana and Prince Charles split up, for me it will always be the year I became street legal – a status I would retain until I sold my 2001 Honda Civic DX (with spoiler) on Craig’s List and hopped an El Al flight to Lod.

 

In my first two years as a new old immigrant, I successfully avoided the dentist’s chair, the optometrist’s checkup and the inevitable trip to the Jerusalem DMV.  My dawdling, however, came with a price tag. Bleeding gums, blurry vision and an itch to burn rubber propelled me to finally get off the schneid.

 

And having sufficiently lollygagged, I was now required to take both the written and driving tests in order to qualify for an Israeli driver’s license.

 

This is where the blue-eyed Moroccan maestro, David Nachmani, blazed into focus. Oz Driving School’s premier instructor calmly pulled up to the front of my Mitudela Street apartment one fine fall day and, after shaking hands and exchanging pleasantries, away we rode.

 

I was to learn much during my first 45-minute lesson with David. Following a serene start, things devolved rapidly with me being roundly scolded for accelerating too quickly; breaking too suddenly; shoulder checking and generally driving “like an American.”

 

Still, I felt reasonably confident when David asked me how I thought I did. “Not bad,” I answered. “You were atrocious,” he corrected.

 

In subsequent outings with the impeccably-dressed Mr. Nachmani I would be both chastised for buying into the “speed of traffic” myth and commended for leaving the Golden State behind to attempt a life in a state of striking prosecutors, cottage cheese boycotts and convicted former Presidents.

 

David managed to simultaneously keep his eyes on the road ahead and on my eyes not being where they should. And whenever I changed lanes after only checking my rearview mirror, I got an earful of knowledge. 

 

With a lively guru in my corner, I quickly improved. I had one, final, pre-test outing with David that included him telling me: “You really have no idea what you’re doing, do you?” Still, after a shaky start, I rallied mightily and earned my teacher’s undying support: “You’re a bit unfocused, but you’ll do fine.”

 

And I did. Having a drill master for the dry runs made test day a breeze in comparison. When David called me with the good news, I conveyed my gratitude: “You’re an amazing instructor!”

 

Both Torres and Nachmani were highly effective teachers. While Nachmani was fire and brimstone, Torres was flash and tinsel. While Torres coached an unsure, timid teenager, Nachmani mentored a slightly overconfident man who was in need of a swift recalibration.

 

So, while the plutonium-powered 1981 DeLorean DMC-12 (remember the DeLorean?) time machine is still in the concept stage, it is indeed possible to experience being an eighteen-year-old twice.

It’s akin to déjà vu on acid, being a 43-year-old driver’s ed. student. The last time I sat through a lesson on defensive driving, the Los Angeles Police Department was caught on video behaving badly – firing a taser into Rodney King’s spine and beating him down with batons for good measure. 

 

Back in 1991, I had Nirvana’s Nevermind album (remember albums?) blaring from my tape deck (remember tape decks?) as I boned up on hand-to-hand steering, hand-over-hand steering and highway hypnosis.

 

Once I passed the California DMV’s written test for a Class C license, I was ready to assume the 10-2 steering wheel position.  And while the Soviet Union was collapsing under the able management of Mikhail Gorbachev, I was eased into the vagaries of the Basic Speed Law by the deliciously flamboyant Señor Torres, a San Fernando Valley legend.

 

Learning to make lane adjustments on the 405 freeway – birthplace of ‘road rage’ – could have ended very messily indeed. Yet, Señor Torres – sitting to my right, foot elegantly dangling over the instructor’s break – would effortlessly coo Puccini’s Madame Butterfly during my lessons. And these musical interludes proved to be a most effective salve. My jitters sufficiently soothed, I was now ready to take my 20-minute driving test.

 

With complete calm and utmost confidence, I adeptly navigated left and right turns, stops at controlled and uncontrolled intersections, straight line backing, lane changes and driving in regular street traffic. I even managed to maneuver through one of America’s worst bottlenecks, the US-101 at I-405 interchange, with the silky smoothness of an F-16 fighter pilot.

 

While 1991 was epochal in many ways, being of course the year that Princess Diana and Prince Charles split up, for me it will always be the year I became street legal – a status I would retain until I sold my 2001 Honda Civic DX (with spoiler) on Craig’s List and hopped an El Al flight to Lod.

 

In my first two years as a new old immigrant, I successfully avoided the dentist’s chair, the optometrist’s checkup and the inevitable trip to the Jerusalem DMV.  My dawdling, however, came with a price tag. Bleeding gums, blurry vision and an itch to burn rubber propelled me to finally get off the schneid.

 

And having sufficiently lollygagged, I was now required to take both the written and driving tests in order to qualify for an Israeli driver’s license.

 

This is where the blue-eyed Moroccan maestro, David Nachmani, blazed into focus. Oz Driving School’s premier instructor calmly pulled up to the front of my Mitudela Street apartment one fine fall day and, after shaking hands and exchanging pleasantries, away we rode.

 

I was to learn much during my first 45-minute lesson with David. Following a serene start, things devolved rapidly with me being roundly scolded for accelerating too quickly; breaking too suddenly; shoulder checking and generally driving “like an American.”

 

Still, I felt reasonably confident when David asked me how I thought I did. “Not bad,” I answered. “You were atrocious,” he corrected.

 

In subsequent outings with the impeccably-dressed Mr. Nachmani I would be both chastised for buying into the “speed of traffic” myth and commended for leaving the Golden State behind to attempt a life in a state of striking prosecutors, cottage cheese boycotts and convicted former Presidents.

 

David managed to simultaneously keep his eyes on the road ahead and on my eyes not being where they should. And whenever I changed lanes after only checking my rearview mirror, I got an earful of knowledge. 

 

With a lively guru in my corner, I quickly improved. I had one, final, pre-test outing with David that included him telling me: “You really have no idea what you’re doing, do you?” Still, after a shaky start, I rallied mightily and earned my teacher’s undying support: “You’re a bit unfocused, but you’ll do fine.”

 

And I did. Having a drill master for the dry runs made test day a breeze in comparison. When David called me with the good news, I conveyed my gratitude: “You’re an amazing instructor!”

 

Both Torres and Nachmani were highly effective teachers. While Nachmani was fire and brimstone, Torres was flash and tinsel. While Torres coached an unsure, timid teenager, Nachmani mentored a slightly overconfident man who was in need of a swift recalibration.

 

So, while the plutonium-powered 1981 DeLorean DMC-12 (remember the DeLorean?) time machine is still in the concept stage, it is indeed possible to experience being an eighteen-year-old twice.



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Terrorism Lessons: The High Price of Israel's Segregated Educational System


On Feb. 23, Israel’s Education Ministry, Jerusalem District Police and Shin Bet security agency closed down a Hamas-operated school in east Jerusalem for teaching a violent, anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli curriculum.

Which begs the question: How did a terrorist organization manage to infiltrate the Israeli school system?

Israel’s balkanized public education was created almost 65 years ago, with the passage of the National Education Law that allowed Arabs, ultra-Orthodox, Religious Zionist and secular Jews to maintain separate school systems. The result has been a farcical testament to the folly of multiculturalism, which only encourages minority groups to adopt hyphenated identities, play grievance games and submit spurious victimhood claims.

With regards to the education of Arabs living in Jerusalem, multiculturalism morphed into straight out indoctrination in 1995, when the Oslo Agreement mandated that the educational system in east Jerusalem be run by the Palestinian Authority (P.A.). As a result, only eight of about 180 schools teach the Israeli curriculum and only two of those are public schools.

What’s the danger of having the P.A. teach Palestinian kids? In 2015, an exhaustive report published by Palestinian Media Watch revealed that Israel’s ostensible peace partner, the Palestinian Authority, is teaching its children to hate Israel and Israelis. The P.A.’s official educational system uses virulent anti-Semitic concepts and materials that are proving to be one of the greatest obstacles to peace.

And Israeli citizens are reaping the whirlwind of this strange exercise in segregated education. Most perpetrators of the ‘knife Intifada,’ a recent yearlong wave of Palestinian terror attacks, came from east Jerusalem.

Instead of teaching all Israeli students about the underpinnings of Israeli society—democracy, civil rights and national solidarity – Israeli education has veered into tribalism, ideological indoctrination and hatred of the “other.” As a result, the alienation between students of these parallel educational systems is growing at an alarming rate.

Moreover, the segregated nature of Jerusalem’s school system touches upon the festering issue of sovereignty. If Jerusalem is indeed the undivided capital of Israel, then there’s can’t be separate curricula for Jews and Arabs. More broadly, Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem means that “there are no separate laws for Israelis and for non-Israelis,” as Israeli President Reuven Rivlin recently said.

If the goal of public schools is to develop well-rounded citizens who can think critically, process information, make good decisions, support themselves and serve the needs of society, what can Israel do to reform its divisive educational system? 

One idea is to integrate public education in a manner that would both feature a morning core curriculum and include separate afternoon classes. Such a system would enable students from minority population groups to explore their distinct ideological values and religious teachings, while simultaneously obtaining a valuable all-around education.

Less grandiose but more realistic is the Education Ministry’s plan to offer extra funding to east Jerusalem schools that switch from the Palestinian to Israeli curriculum.

Schools that either partially or completely adopt the Israeli educational plan will receive additional resources, for such things as counseling, music and art classes, teacher’s continuing education and more.

Despite the incendiary rhetoric of autocratic, corrupt Palestinian leaders, most Arabs living in Israel quietly understand that the key to obtaining a higher education and entering the Israeli job market is to learn core subjects such as Hebrew, English, science and math.

But until an equal application of Israeli law is applied to all Jerusalem residents, regardless of national or religious background, the best bet for east Jerusalem schools is to choose real knowledge over incitement and accept the Education Ministry’s offer.

As things stand, young Arab men and women going to schools in east Jerusalem today, instead of being prepared to win at the race of life, are all too often being brainwashed to take up arms and fulfill the Jihadist mandate to destroy Israel.

 

On Feb. 23, Israel’s Education Ministry, Jerusalem District Police and Shin Bet security agency closed down a Hamas-operated school in east Jerusalem for teaching a violent, anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli curriculum.

Which begs the question: How did a terrorist organization manage to infiltrate the Israeli school system?

Israel’s balkanized public education was created almost 65 years ago, with the passage of the National Education Law that allowed Arabs, ultra-Orthodox, Religious Zionist and secular Jews to maintain separate school systems. The result has been a farcical testament to the folly of multiculturalism, which only encourages minority groups to adopt hyphenated identities, play grievance games and submit spurious victimhood claims.

With regards to the education of Arabs living in Jerusalem, multiculturalism morphed into straight out indoctrination in 1995, when the Oslo Agreement mandated that the educational system in east Jerusalem be run by the Palestinian Authority (P.A.). As a result, only eight of about 180 schools teach the Israeli curriculum and only two of those are public schools.

What’s the danger of having the P.A. teach Palestinian kids? In 2015, an exhaustive report published by Palestinian Media Watch revealed that Israel’s ostensible peace partner, the Palestinian Authority, is teaching its children to hate Israel and Israelis. The P.A.’s official educational system uses virulent anti-Semitic concepts and materials that are proving to be one of the greatest obstacles to peace.

And Israeli citizens are reaping the whirlwind of this strange exercise in segregated education. Most perpetrators of the ‘knife Intifada,’ a recent yearlong wave of Palestinian terror attacks, came from east Jerusalem.

Instead of teaching all Israeli students about the underpinnings of Israeli society—democracy, civil rights and national solidarity – Israeli education has veered into tribalism, ideological indoctrination and hatred of the “other.” As a result, the alienation between students of these parallel educational systems is growing at an alarming rate.

Moreover, the segregated nature of Jerusalem’s school system touches upon the festering issue of sovereignty. If Jerusalem is indeed the undivided capital of Israel, then there’s can’t be separate curricula for Jews and Arabs. More broadly, Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem means that “there are no separate laws for Israelis and for non-Israelis,” as Israeli President Reuven Rivlin recently said.

If the goal of public schools is to develop well-rounded citizens who can think critically, process information, make good decisions, support themselves and serve the needs of society, what can Israel do to reform its divisive educational system? 

One idea is to integrate public education in a manner that would both feature a morning core curriculum and include separate afternoon classes. Such a system would enable students from minority population groups to explore their distinct ideological values and religious teachings, while simultaneously obtaining a valuable all-around education.

Less grandiose but more realistic is the Education Ministry’s plan to offer extra funding to east Jerusalem schools that switch from the Palestinian to Israeli curriculum.

Schools that either partially or completely adopt the Israeli educational plan will receive additional resources, for such things as counseling, music and art classes, teacher’s continuing education and more.

Despite the incendiary rhetoric of autocratic, corrupt Palestinian leaders, most Arabs living in Israel quietly understand that the key to obtaining a higher education and entering the Israeli job market is to learn core subjects such as Hebrew, English, science and math.

But until an equal application of Israeli law is applied to all Jerusalem residents, regardless of national or religious background, the best bet for east Jerusalem schools is to choose real knowledge over incitement and accept the Education Ministry’s offer.

As things stand, young Arab men and women going to schools in east Jerusalem today, instead of being prepared to win at the race of life, are all too often being brainwashed to take up arms and fulfill the Jihadist mandate to destroy Israel.

 



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