Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Yom Kippur, Sinners Repent!!

Yom Kippur is coming up and traditionally Jews go to synagogue, vid. this image and think about their actions during the past year.  This shows a 19th century synagogue in Europe, painted by Gottlieb..  There is another tradition that has grown up in Israel amongst those who do not participate in the religious aspects of the holiday.  Since no one drives on this day except for ambulance and fire truck drivers, the highways are empty and are filled with bicycle riders.  Here is a shot of the Ayalon Freeway in Tel Aviv near the crossing of the Yarkon River.
 This is also a form of introspection.
Thanks to Hadass for a very appropriate Rosh Hashana card:

  More seriously, I find Yom Kippur with the fast and the focus on things that are not usually in our immediate sphere of attention during the other days of the year to be a positive experience.  I belong to a small Reform congregation that does not even have a synagogue and we do it all ourselves without even renting a cantor.  It is fine, my friend Lev and I split the Torah reading and Haftarot (prophetic readings) between us, Reuven serves as volunteer cantor and our former Rabbi will come in to preach, although to me the sermon is not what is important.  It is the private thinking of the individual inspired to some extent by the ancient words of the liturgy.  There is lovely Hebrew poetry from the Golden Age in Spain and there is anguished lamenting from the Crusader era in England and Germany and somehow it binds together for me.  It must for others as well for over a quarter of the avowedly secular people in Israel fast on this day.  It is not a bad idea to think a bit about ourselves and our world.

This year Rosh Hashana coincided both with Eid el Fitr and the anniversary of the attacks by terrorists on the United States.  Instead of deep thinking, we saw a nut threatening to burn the Quran.politicians blathering nonsense and fascism and fanaticism on the rise all around us.  It is somewhat reassuring that there are people out there writing and blogging for rationality, decency and the hope for peace.    We have Natanyahu and Abbas sitting down to try to work out a deal.  I hope they succeed and more important that they can sell the deal to their people.  We have peace with the governments of Egypt and Jordan, but it is hard to say that we have peace with the people of these two countries.  Maybe in a generation it will evolve.
Yom Kippur is obscured this year by the silly return to standard time caused by Orthodox politicians who love to show how much power they have.  Actually religious people are upset because they now cannot raise a minyan (prayer quorum) for afternoon and evening prayers.  I suspect that with over 200 kilosignatures on a protest petition things will be different next year.

I skipped blogging last week and am debating
  whether the weekly or biweekly frequency is best.   There is much to blog about both  nice and nasty.  The nasty stuff is here.

I am a bit bemused by the labeling that people use to describe other people's political and religious
positions.  On Rosh Hashana we were riding home with some family members and Yosefa described certain dear friends with whom we had just shared a holiday meal as "extreme leftists" which caused our family to crack up. It seems that they apply this label to us, whereas we regard ourselves as liberal democrats while our political adversaries are of course all foaming at the mouth fascists.  
  One usually thinks of laws against blasphemy in connection with Muslim and Third World countries.  Yet here we have  an example of a democracy in the EU enacting such a law.  This is the country where the reigning church has compiled a record of child abuse by priests that filled up a 700 page report for Dublin alone.  Holy indeed are our Irish friends.  Indeed we also have had some cases of rabbis getting out of line and one notorious case may lead to an indictment, but we have had nothing like the pattern of abuse and cover up that has stained the escutcheon of the Catholic Church.

Let us have a bit of good news.  For the past two years we have been bombarding the Mexican government about a human rights activist who was arrested and indicted on a trumped up murder charge.  It had to do with his activity against tycoons who are dispossessing peasants and in general the human rights scene in Mexico which is dismal.  I am pleased to bring the good news that a judge has shown some courage and Raul Hernandez has been acquitted.
In China an activist has also been released, but his return to his home village was marred by the
actions of the authorities.  The case of Chen Guangcheng, a blind, self-taught lawyer who drew worldwide attention to his rural neighbors' stories of forced sterilizations and late-term abortions by local authorities has also kept us busy during the past several years.  It is time that the Chinese government joined the family of enlightened civilized nations.  Of course, as an Israeli I am open to comments about pots and kettles.
Another issue on which we have spent a great deal of  postage is the commutation of a death sentence in Ohio.  Yes, there is value to sitting down and writing letters if enough people do so. 
Please click to thank the governor who has shown political courage and integrity.  These are, alas, rare commodities in our modern world.

Apropos death sentences and China, I would like to share some news from Amnesty Intermantional about reforms in the death penalty laws in China.  China  has capital punishment for no fewer than 68 offenses including white collar crimes such as fraud etc.  I append a report from the China team of Amnesty International and a link to a press release with commentary.  The question is of course whether this is real reform or just window dressing as is so often the case with China.

Good news ? Including AI's impact

?       The Supreme People's Procuratorate and the 
Ministry of Public 
Security jointly issued a pilot guideline on 17 August 
setting out 
procedures on how supervision could be strengthened. 
Under the new 
guideline, prosecutors and police at the same administrative 
level must 
set up an information-sharing system, where the police 
must regularly 
report to the prosecutors about cases reported to 
them and cases they are 
handling. Prosecutors must also respond to complaints 
from citizens. The 
prosecutors can also ask police to explain their 
decision to accept or 
decline a case, and can order the police to accept 
or decline a case if 
certain criteria are fulfilled. The pilot guideline will take effect on 
October 1.
?       Chinese government news agency Xinhua reported on 
23 August that 
the proposed amendments to China's criminal code may 
see the death penalty 
removed from 13 out of 68 crimes, the so-called white 
collar crimes such 
as tax fraud, and for smuggling valuables and cultural relics, that 
currently carry the punishment although are rarely used. 
It would also 
remove the death penalty as a punishment for those 
over 75 years of age. 
The draft amendments are working their way through 
numerous readings in 
China?s legislative chamber. The China team issued a press 
commenting on the proposed amendments.  
Click here for the press release.

We all should be glad that the nutty pastor in Florida called off the Quran burning.  As Heine wrote, where books are burned, people will be burned.
BTW, anyone who goes to Berlin should visit the memorial to the 1933 book burning.

  It provides food for thought.  The Jewish museum there is also well
 worth a visit.

The return of Fidel Castro to the Cuban and international scene is worthy of note.  Here is an interesting interview with him.  The interview continued with a dolphin show.Both posts are  worth a read. Castro regrets his role in the missile crisis and admits that the Cuban model no longer works even for them.

In other places, the inhumanity of man to man goes on.  In Afghanistan, it is considered a crime to send a girl to school.   People say the NATO troops should get out, but it is sad to think of what will happen to women there if we all turn our backs on them.   Then we have a grave miscarriage of justice in Nigeria.  Please join the appeal.
We also should not forget environmental irresponsibility as practiced in Canada.  The tar sand oil exploitation issue is a disgrace for a country that claims to be a world leader.

In the past fewweeks nothing has gotten much better in our neck of the woods.  The repeated destruction of the Bedouin village of    El Arakib  shows the level of depravity of our society and of
ourselves as we allow this to happen.  We go, we demonstrate and it is all futile.  The village has been razed five times.

Carlo Strenger imagines an anthropologist from Mars trying to make sense out of Zionism and anti Zionism as defined in Israel.  Indeed, he make s a good point since the people who are labeled as post or anti Zionists are the people who are trying to preserve the Zionist vision of our founding fathers/mothers and in particular the ideas of Herzl, Weizmann and Ben Gurion.  It is an indication of the collapse of rational thinking that has taken over our body politic and our society in general.

Yossi Gurwitz (see his blog on my right margin) makes a good case (in Hebrew) against the "nation state of Jews" that the right wing is blathering about.  I agree with him and wish his blog were available in English.  I would, however, point out to him that  the rise of the nation state in 19th century Europe was what caused Herzl and his colleagues to conclude that the end of Jewish life in Europe was at hand.  The events of the 20th century proved them right and brought  about the rise of Israel.  The same attitudes of ethnic supremacy are bringing about the collapse of Israel as a democracy.
  A Jewish democratic state is a contradiction in terms.  The racism of the Orthodox and their xenophobia and  general hatred of humanity outside the tribe has become part of the mind set of the majority of Jews in Israel including the secular component.  It is not only in Israel that we see this.  It  is shocking to see how Jews are jumping onto the Islamophobic bandwagon in the US and in Europe..  Of course they would condemn us to perpetual warfare, but it is not their blood that would be spilled.  In any case,  the Palestinians are absolutely right in their rejection of the demand that they recognize Israel as a Jewish nation state. First, it is not their concern to define our state and secondly the racist implications, especially for non-Jews who live in Israel are something no decent human being can accept.  Let us face it--if we do not vacate the occupied territory we will have a bi-national state.  If it is democratic, then the Jewish majority will be a thing of the past.  If we are to replicate the old South Africa, we should fold up our tents and vanish into the night.

An example of our Jewish paranoia is seen in the reaction of the right wing of the US Jewish community to an article in Time about the attitudes of Israelis.  It is real chutzpa on the part of these people who have nothing to lose if we do not have peace.   I am also getting fed up with Jewish billionaires in the US or Austria who come in here with their money to play with power with no fear of consequences and buy themselves a politician or general as a pet animal.  The fact that our politicians and generals are for sale is in itself an issue of concern.

On a more positive note, a soldier is being indicted for a crime in Gaza.
It is a step forward, but the indictment of commanders is still far down the road.

Let us wind up with Andy Borowitz and Gene Weingarten
just to stay in an optimistic mood.

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