Archive | November, 2013

Love beyond the Jewish grave

23 Nov

This is not my most cheerful post but it has a bittersweet ending.  Israel prides itself in offering its citizens religious freedom.  To its credit, is also safeguards the sites holy to Jews, Christians, and Moslems, in Jerusalem and elsewhere around the country.

Jewish Cemetery in Galilee

Jewish Cemetery in Galilee

But there are strings attached.  In Israel there’s no separation of State and Church (Oops!, Synagogue).  The Halacha, Jewish law, dictates the three main cycles of life: birth (circumcision of the male newborn), marriage (who can marry and how), and ultimately, death (burial rituals).

Death – not a lively subject.  But it’s been a heated topic in Israel for decades, more so since the early 90s when over a million Russian and Ukrainian Jews immigrated to Israel.  They now make up 1 in 6 Jews in Israel.  Many hardcore Israelis, mostly the observant and the orthodox, question the Russians’ Jewish purity.  The old-timers suspect tens of thousands, possibly hundreds of thousands of Russians are not 100% Jewish, but rather 1/2, 1/4, or 1/8 – the result of intermarriages with goyim (gentiles).  These non-Jews simply hitched a ride to Israel to escape from the former Soviet Bloc, to enjoy subsidized housing, employment opportunities, pension, and the warm Mediterranean sun. Twenty years later, the Russians assimilated into Israeli society although they still retain their own delicatessen, bakeries, theaters, newspapers, radio and TV stations.  (Much like the Russian Jews in New York a century ago). Many settled in Israeli cities and towns; they married, raised children and grandchildren, and then, some died.

This is where it gets sticky.  Hevra Kadisha, Israel’s religious burial society, buries only Jews in Jewish-only cemeteries.  It’s an exclusive club.  And some want in.  There are thousands of cases where a Jewish-Russian husband, for instance, wishes to bury his deceased wife, a non-Jew, in the cemetery – but can’t.

Kadisha follows the centuries-old burial rites: cleanse the body from any impurities, immerse or rinse with water from head to toe, dress it in white shrouds – a white linen garment, inform the community of the death by posting bills, arrange for the reciting of the Kadish, the memorial, and the headstone.

It’s a humane service.  And a business that employs thousands.

But if the deceased, the loved one is not Jewish, Kadisha provides nothing.cemetary 1

The body is buried outside the cemetery walls.  An outcast.

This practice offends the surviving spouse and family.  The husband, Jewish, gets buried in one place, the wife, elsewhere, sometimes miles away.

Anger mixed with pain sounds like this:  “We were together in life.  Why can’t we be together in death?”

This logic and need to stay together led Yoel Razvozov, a young Russian-Israeli Member of Parliament, to propose legislation that will enable to set aside “civilian” plots inside the traditional, Orthodox cemetery.

Kadisha, worried it might lose its grip, is not happy.

This hot-potato is not going to die anytime soon.

It seems anytime the Orthodox want to explain away why things are the way they are, they reach for the Bible and cite the scriptures.

Well, here’s one for tolerance, for acceptance of the stranger within, for having compassion, from the Book of Ruth:

Ruth said, “Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you! Where you go, I will go; Where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die—there will I be buried. May the Lord do thus and so to me, and more as well, if even death parts me from you!” When Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more to her. 

What do you think?

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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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A Big Texas Footprint in Galilee

9 Nov

Galilee, like much of ancient Israel, was at the crossroads of the Fertile Crescent.  Not everyone came in peace. The Babylonians, the Romans, the Crusaders, the Ottoman Turks trampled the region on horseback.  And with swords.

Nazareth

Nazareth

Last month we learned of another “invader,” this time from America, from Texas.  This time, they’re not coming with knives in their satchels.  Instead, they’re coming with a fig leaf, big Texan smiles, and lots of money.

Texas A&M, the 4th largest university in America is coming to Nazareth in Galilee.  Their mission: to build a “Peace Campus” in the Arab town.  Texas A&M will join forces with the one and only Arab college in Israel: Nazareth Academic Institute.

Texas A&M University logo

Texas A&M University logo

The project is the brainchild of Texas A&M’s chacellor John Sharp and the Texas governor and former Republican presidential candidate, Rick Perry. Christians United for Israel Pastor from San Antonio, Texas also “lobbied” for Nazareth, a town where Jesus grew up.

Texas University Chancellor John SHarp and Texas Governor Rick Perry

Texas University Chancellor John SHarp and Texas Governor Rick Perry

They’ve already built an American university elsewhere in the Middle East, in Qatar, in the Persian Gulf.  Now they’re bringing their science and research branch to Nazareth.  It’s not going to be as big as the “mothership” university in Texas (1/2 the area of Tel Aviv!), but the modest start is drawing attention from many educators and hands-on involvement from Israel’s president, Shimon Peres.

Simon Peres wants to be remembered as the advocate for peace.  It follows his recent ambitions to foster cooperation between Jews and Arabs in Galilee.  And the Americans are coming with $70,000,000 in their briefcases to help build the new campus.

Israel is 80% Jewish, 20% Arab.  The Arabs remained here after the war of 1948.  They enjoy equal rights under the law.  The official languages are Hebrew and Arabic.  All road signs, milk cartons, bags of potato chips carry both languages.  However, in elementary school, the Arabs kids, Christian and Moslem, start out in Arabic and eventually they turn to Hebrew as well.

This late start in Hebrew plus their wish to retain their culture are what keeps them from getting ahead in later years. Rarely do they catch up in high school and colleges where all is taught in Hebrew and English.  They don’t get the grades.  Many fail the universities’ entry exams and end up in quasi-academic schools that churn dubious diplomas.  In recent years, Arabs have made great strides in education.  They work in hospitals, pharmacies, law firms, social work.  They’re narrowing the gap.  Somewhat.

Students at Nazareth Academy Institute

Students at Nazareth Academy Institute

So what’s an Arab to do if he can’t get the grades, can’t graduate?  Up until recently, not much.  As many as 10,000 Israeli Arabs study in Arabic — in Jordan(!).  Many trek to study in the West Bank.  Thousands more study abroad, in Hungary, in Italy, Bulgaria.

That’s all about to change in 2015, the opening of the “Peace Campus” in Nazareth.  The Texas university will award degrees in chemistry, engineering and other science programs.

The kicker?

Classes will be taught by American professors as well as Israeli.  Arabs who’d struggled with academic Hebrew will have to deal with another challenge – English.

But everyone’s excited.  Israel’s Ministry of Education stresses the American campus will be open to all: Arabs and Jews.  Classrooms at Haifa University, Zefat and elsewhere in Israel already cater to both populations.

It’s not a melting pot.  Not by a long shot.  At best, it will be a salad, with the greens next to each other, Jews and Arabs.  The salad dressing will be American.

So if you’re near Nazareth in 2015, come see the students: Arabs women wear head covering, Jews wear aviator sunglasses, and Texans wear ten-gallon hats.

What’s next?  Texas steakhouses next to Hummus joints?

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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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