Archive | October, 2013

Orthodox goes Unorthodox

26 Oct

What would you do if you were told what to think, what to say, what to read, who to socialize with?

This is not an idea lifted from George Orwell’s book “1984.”  This Mind-Control is taking place in 2013, in some of Israel’s ultra-orthodox Jewish communities.  Israel is predominantly secular (75%), but if you were to go into Mea Shearim (One-Hundred Gates, in English), one of Jerusalem’s inner-neighborhoods – you step back in time and space.  Jews there don’t live in the 21st century; they live in a world all their own.  The men wear all black, the women are rarely seen or heard – they want nothing to do with the State of Israel.

Bella Mendel Today

Bella Mendel, Center

They await the coming Messiah to redeem the “true” Israel.  Until that day, they live in a separate state within a state.  They spend their days in prayer.  They don’t get involved with any of Israel’s citizens, and they refuse to enlist in the military.  To many secular Israelis, this “Neturei Karta” sect (Guardians of the City) is a thorn in their side.  And a pain in the rear.

Bella Mendel, age 24, and the mother of two, “escaped” from Mea Shearim.  Bella appeared on a much-watched TV talk show this week.  The moderator, Dan Shilon, asked her to share her story.  The first thing you notice is her constant smile.  She’s wearing a fashionable purple dress and knee-high boots.  Her luscious brown hair hangs on her relaxed shoulders.  “I grew up in Mea Shearim,” she starts, “I’m one of 14 brothers and sisters.  I was told what to do and what not to do since I was little.”

Ultra-Orthodox Jews in Stamford Hills, London

Ultra-Orthodox Jews in Stamford Hills, London

The Neturie Karta Jews settled in Jerusalem some 200 years ago, originally from Hungary and Lithuania.  To this day they speak Yiddish, not Hebrew.  Bella Mendel didn’t know any Hebrew until age 10, when she secretly “smuggled” in a radio.  The broadcasts opened her hears.  And her eyes.

She rebelled.

She was beaten.

At 15, a matchmaker “introduced” her to her husband-to-be.  Bella says to the camera:  “My family thought I was a trouble-maker.  They sent us off to London, to my aunt, to the ultra-orthodox neighborhood of Stamford Hill.”

Stamford Hill?

I stare at the TV screen.  That’s where I grew up as an eleven-year old, decades ago.  I can still remember the black-clad men rushing off to synagogue.  Even then, as a boy, I stepped off the sidewalk anytime I saw them coming my way.  I can still smell the London bakery, the Kosher butcher.

My old stomping ground in London's Stamford Hill

My old stomping ground in London’s Stamford Hill

Bella continues: “I ended up in London’s shelter for battered women.  I couldn’t endure any more beatings from my husband.”

“What about your two children?”

“They were taken from me.  But civil rights groups won them back for me.”

“Now that you broke away from the life you know, do you keep in touch with family?”

“They’re still in Jerusalem.  I live in Tel Aviv – ‘City of Sins,’ according to them.”

“What do you want to do in the future?”

“I don’t have a university degree; I never went to high school.  I was kept at home, underfoot.  So I have a lot of catching up to do.  Now I live every moment to its fullest.”

Do you still believe in the Torah (bible)?

“Yes.  Only one verse: ‘Love your Neighbor as Yourself.'”

I switch off the TV.  I can live with that.

What about you?

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Maurice Labi is an Israeli-American who lived in Los Angeles for many years. In 2011 He returned to Northern Israel (Galilee) with his wife and twin teenage daughters. He is of two lands, of two cultures and he blogs about his experiences in Israel, particularly from Galilee where Jews and Arabs dwelled for centuries.

He has also written three novels: “Jupiter’s Stone,” “Into the Night,” and “American Moth” — available at Amazon.com

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=maurice+labi&rh=n%3A283155%2Ck%3Amaurice+labi

or at BN.com

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/maurice-labi?store=allproducts&keyword=maurice+labi

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Happy cows at LAX?

12 Oct

“Remove all items from your pockets.  Take off your shoes.  Place all your belongings in the plastic bin and move forward.”

These same words on the PA system could work well in prison or at the airport.  But this time around I’m at the Los Angeles airport bound for Tel Aviv with a stopover in Istanbul.  The walls in the airport’s “confinement area” are gray.  The floor is gray.  The overhead lights are harsh.  Carry-ons are wheeled.  Stop.  Move.  Stop.  Elbows bump.  Body heat is high.  Tensions are high.  Energy is sapped.

Airport Security

Airport Security

I’m packed with hundreds of other passengers.  An endless maze of stainless steel poles and stretched ribbons contain us.  TSA officers stand with feet apart, hands behind their backs.  “Move, forward,” they insist.

The herd moves.  There’s a bottleneck ahead.  A man takes too long removing his jacket, his watch, his belt.  A TSA officer is losing his patience, but you wouldn’t know it behind his manufactured smile.  He prods him to move.  Gently.  There’s no sharp poker to poke his flesh.  There’s no stick to whack his ass.  He’s not going to turn him to lunch meat.  Not yet.

I inch forward, push my carry-on, watch the human cattle groan.  The packed surroundings, the heat, the breathing leads me to think of a morning I spent milking cows in Galilee. There too, in the cattle pen, the cows lined up.  They hated the place.  They kicked their sisters, their milk-laden udders swaying between their rear legs.  They stretched their necks high to get some breathing room before being prodded into the milking station.  Suction cups grabbed their tits.  Milk flowed.  Relief.  They were turned around and sent back to the pen(itentiary).

Milking Station

Milking Station

Another day in the office.

cow

Free Roaming Cows in Galilee

By if you’re cattle raised for beef, that’s a different story.  You endure countless hours trapped in a small place.  London and Paris are out.  You’re fed the same crap day in and day out with one intention in mind: to make you big.  And if you’re sick, you get loads of antibiotics needled into you.  Eat.  Drink. Sleep.  You don’t travel much.  And if you do, it’s your last trip.  You begin to kick.  Your hooves stomp the concrete ground.  Your tail snaps.  You moo.  You sense something’s not right.  Your ears twitch.  Your blood’s boiling.  It doesn’t look good, friend.  You’re pushed through the steel cages.  Animals with two legs await you at the end of the line.  Why are they dressed in white aprons?  What’s with the red stains on their uniforms?  There’s one brother bull in front of you.  You hear a shot.  He goes down in a heap.

You’re next.

Take a deep breath.  For those of you weak at the knees, take a seat.  I’ll let you live.

This time.

I doubt we’re suppose to consume beef patties for breakfast, hamburgers for lunch, steak for dinner.  I doubt we’re engineered to chew crunchy bacon for breakfast, fish tacos for lunch, grilled chicken for dinner.

Let’s give these fellows a break.

I’m not for going all vegan.  Tofu is not my thing.  I DO like meat.  But we can eat animals in MODERATION.  Early humans gathered.  They hunted.  It took them days to track down one giraffe.  They dragged it back to camp, shared it with the tribe.  Had leftovers.  In Tupperware.  Days later they sharpened their spears and went out again.

Cattle in Galilee meadow

Cattle in Galilee meadow

The PA is at it again: “Place all your belongings in the plastic bin and move forward.”

I move without thinking.  My mind’s someplace else.  In Galilee.  And the cows there.  They roam the countryside freely.  Happily.  Until the day of reckoning.

So when someone asks you to pass the ketchup, or mustard, think of how you last felt at the airport.

Enjoy.  Less.

____________________________________________________________________________________

Maurice Labi is an Israeli-American who lived in Los Angeles for many years. In 2011 He returned to Northern Israel (Galilee) with his wife and twin teenage daughters. He is of two lands, of two cultures and he blogs about his experiences in Israel, particularly from Galilee where Jews and Arabs dwelled for centuries.

He has also written three novels: “Jupiter’s Stone,” “Into the Night,” and “American Moth” — available at Amazon.com

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=maurice+labi&rh=n%3A283155%2Ck%3Amaurice+labi

or at BN.com

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/maurice-labi?store=allproducts&keyword=maurice+labi