Sunday, January 22, 2012

Needham Art in Bloom - March 2-3-4, 2012

The Beth Shalom Garden Club will again team up
with the Needham High School Fine Arts Departmentfor their popular annual fusion of fine art and floral arrangement.

We invite you to experience
Needham Art in Bloom 2012.

Check out our website for details and
more photos of previous year's exhibits.

A flavor of previous years exhibits.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Israel Trip - December 2011

This post originally appeared on Rabbi Sonsino's blog, “From Istanbul to Boston

Rabbi Rifat Sonsino
We just returned from a week stay in Israel a few days ago. We went only to Jerusalem, a city made holy by our memories, not for tourism but to spend time with the family, and celebrate my daughter Debbi’s 40th birthday and her 10th wedding anniversary to Ran, her Israeli husband. My wife Ines, Debbi, Ran and our two grandchildren, Avi and Talya, came along. It was a great trip, though very short. Here are some personal impressions.

This time I found a greater alienation between the secular and the fundamentalist religious groups. Jerusalem is turning into a “haredi” (extreme religious) city. One top Israeli executive told me, “Seculars Jews have already given up.” This may be an exaggeration but there is a kernel of truth in it. The month of December was marred by attacks on women’s civil rights: an eight year old girl was hit by extremists because she was not dressed modestly; some Orthodox soldiers refused to listen to the singing of female soldiers; a woman was asked to sit in the back of the bus but she refused. Many leading Rabbis condemned this anti-women attitude by saying, “Israel does not belong to the religious alone.” A number of secular Israelis raised banners in Bet Shemesh that read, “This will not be another Teheran.”

There was quiet between Israelis and Palestinians during our stay, but animosities are still present. One day I went to Abu Shukri, a well-known restaurant in the Old City, which displayed a Palestinian flag on its wall. I ordered pita, humus and “Israeli salad.” The waiter told me, “We don’t serve Israeli salad here,” only “Arabic salad.” That was curious because in our hotel the same salad was labeled “Israeli,” even though many Israelis call it “Arabic.”

The Palestinians I met in Jerusalem seemed content living among Israelis. The Palestinian life-guard at our hotel, a student at the University, told me that he had many Israeli friends and that the problem was with the extremists on both sides. I walked the streets of the Old City without fear. Yet, when we took the train from the Center of Town towards the Hebrew University, we were told to get out of the train outside of the Damascus Gate because of a “suspicious object.” A police robot quickly discovered that it was harmless, and we boarded the train again. A passenger told me, “We live every day with miracles here.”

Because of Christmas and Hanukah, Jerusalem was full of tourists, more than ever before. Consequently, traffic between mid-mornings to around 8 pm. was terrible. A trip from Har Hatzofim to Talpiyot that usually takes about 15 minutes by cab often took us more than an hour.

The economy of the country seems to be doing well. We saw lots of people shopping at stores and local Malls. The new Mamila Mall is magnificent. The Western Wall was full of tourists as well as local Israelis. We visited the tunnels by the Western Wall- an archaeological marvel. You see under a glass walk, ruins that go back to the First and Second Temple.

The best time, however, was spent with the family. We walked by the Tayelet, went to the Hebrew Union College on King David Street, visited the Hebrew University, walked through Ben Yehudah Street, bought gifts at Geulah, attended an Orthodox service on Shabbat Eve, and ate almost every night at our son-in-law’s parents’ home. Quite a treat. We also got together for a great meal with our Israeli family and friends at Abu Gosh, an Arab village between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

And we returned happy but tired. Our grand-children are ready to go back. We too.

Rifat Sonsino

Jan. 5, 2012

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

A Different Kind of Two State Solution

Ed. Note: Professor Aner Shalev at the Einstein Institute of Mathematics at Hebrew University in Jerusalem published this very "tongue-in-cheek" analysis of the current two-state solution existing in Israel today. We are grateful for his permission to share the piece (which first appeared in the newspaper Haaretz on January 4th in an article titled "The Haredi State").

Professor Shalev's opinion piece speaks about the current balance between orthodox and progressive, "religious" and secular, Haredi and other Israelis. What is your opinion of this divide? How can we work to balance the needs and desires of the "second state" Shalev describes while at the same time working to procure peace with a Palestinian  "second state"?

Shalev's post is written with a great sense of irony which translates well from the Hebrew it is originally written in. If you would like to read the original Hebrew language piece, it can be found here.

Have you always dreamed about living to see the establishment of two states for two peoples? The dream has long since come true. Fantasized about a welfare state? Look no further, it's here. Demonstrated for affordable housing? Behold, it is now reality. Striving for a country not drained by enormous security budgets? You've already got it. Demanded classes with few pupils, a long school day, and free higher education? All these dreams have come true in the Haredi State, living in peace alongside the State of Israel.

The Haredi State is a welfare state that would make the Scandinavians jealous. Most inhabitants are supported by pensions and stipends, and are almost completely exempt from income tax and municipal taxes.

The state initiates huge housing projects which are made available to the public for affordable prices. The education system of the Haredi State has many advantages in comparison to its parallels in neighboring countries: fewer pupils per class, and students that aren't required to sweat over core studies or practical studies, allowing them to calmly concentrate on spiritual issues.

Fortunately, the Haredi State has no army and needs none, thanks to the defense treaty with its closest neighbor. Yes, it's difficult to be a woman in the Haredi State, but one cannot interfere in the internal matters of a sovereign state.

Lately, several border spats have occurred between Israel and the Haredi state, events that included spitting, cussing and humiliating Israeli citizens. Still, as Israel's Prime Minister and many of the pundits explained, these were the actions of miniscule splinter groups which don't represent the majority of ultra-Orthodox who eagerly support the peace agreement with Israel, and its benefits. According to these pundits, the victims of the fanatic splinter groups, trying to enforce Haredi laws within Israel's borders, are not the women who have been attacked, but rather the Haredi population as a whole, which is completely innocent.

Some claim that the latest border events stem from innocent territorial misunderstandings. Does the bus line running from Ashdod to Jerusalem, boarded by Tanya, run in Israeli or Haredi sovereign territory? And line 49A, boarded by Doron, the female soldier? And the pavement in Beit Shemesh, where 8-year-old Naama was afraid to walk? Could it be that Tanya and Naama encroached Haredi sovereignty unawares?

The fiscal agreements between the two states, regulating funding of the Haredi state by Israeli taxpayers, are ironclad, as are the military agreements guaranteeing protection from the Israeli army and the judiciary agreement giving the Haredi State control over matters of matrimony, divorce and burial. However, the actual border line between the new states has never been clearly drawn. Therefore it is only natural that the rapid growth of the Haredi population causes the border line to be moved every so often, as part of a slow - and ultimately justifiable - annexation of Israeli lands. This process of Haredi expansion and Israeli retreats has only one danger: The Haredi State might eventually lose the hand that feeds it.

Interior Minister Eli Yishai recently declared with surprising honesty that a Haredi-only city will have no income, and since it won't collect local taxes it can't survive. Yes, it's nice to feel needed every now and then.

The issue surrounding the exclusion of women by the ultra-Orthodox should not be reduced to strong condemnations and local enforcement of the law, as the government wishes. Its an opportunity to hold a frank and honest debate about money, power and exemptions handed out by all Israeli governments to the Haredi public in exchange for political support, a deal with a high price for many Israelis. This was one of the main causes of the social unrest last summer.

Israel should avoid this debate only if it wishes to commit suicide.