Kippah Clip Genius

Please forgive the unforgivable pun, but it sure is refreshing to see the interwebs blowing up with something positive coming out of Israel.

All over every gadget site this week and joining the ever growing list of examples of Israeli ingenuity—which includes cell phones, portable flash drives and the camera on the end of the hose they shove up you for a colonoscopy—is the Leatherdos, a multi-functional tool masquerading as a barrette.

enhanced-20787-1406490235-3Tel Aviv industrial design student (and obvious future Mossad recruit) Yaakov Goldberg came up with the Most Amazing Yarmulke Clip in History for his yeshiva buddies, and now every observant man in the world will be unclipping his kippah to measure the unkosher space between the slats in your terribly-built sukkah.

It’s good to know I can snatch this off someone’s head in synagogue next time a screw falls out of my sunglasses.

Of course, it still wouldn’t be kosher to use on Shabbat, unless it was an emergency, like if you found yourself locked on a moving trolley (wtf is a trolley coin, anyway?) and needed a chihuahua-tooth saw and tiny wrench to detonate a bomb. (Dammit! I’m sorry. There’s really no escaping the explosively tasteless humor around here.)

Anyway, Presbyterian divestment be damned, young Yaakov has a bestseller on his hands head—the $10 clip is already on back order.

Guessing it won’t be long before it’s standard IDF in rucksacks and on next year’s camp list.

And the countdown until one of these in confiscated by a TSA agent starts now…

Do I Want to Know What You Think About Israel?

images-2A friend messaged me last week: “Dying to know what you think about Israel!”

I knew I’d be called out sooner or later. I’m aware I haven’t posted anything about Israel here or on Facebook, not even to share particular articles that have helped me gain a better understanding of what’s been happening in this latest go round of insanity and violence.

(Now that we’re here, however, this one is particularly enlightening.)

Mostly, I’ve stayed quiet because I don’t feel like I have anything useful to add. There are many people with brains far bigger than mine weighing in on the IDF’s excessive force, Hamas’ misappropriation of humanitarian aid and dead children all over the place. Plus, I just don’t have the stomach to go keyboard-to-keyboard in the comments section of obvious anti-Semitic and historically erroneous propaganda.

Let’s face it: Nothing coming out of a computer in Savannah, GA is going to lift a blockade or neutralize rockets or talk sense into anybody halfway around the world. The world is better off with my hippie peace prayers, said and felt sincerely for every person, everywhere.

But if I’m being really honest, I haven’t jumped into the increasingly hostile conversation because I don’t want to lose any more friends. Back in California, I once almost ruined a four year-old’s birthday party by arguing Israel vs. the Palestinians with one of my neighbors. Another time I also threw a plate of falafel back at some asshole in the middle of my neighborhood’s community festival for selling to me with a note attached to the plate that said “Free Palestine from the Israeli Nazis.”

These confrontations made me so angry I could barely speak. They also made me afraid. These were people who screamed in my face about burning rubble in Gaza and then condoned the vandalism of an American synagogue as understandable retribution. They were anti-Semitic but wouldn’t admit it, condescendingly “explaining” that “I don’t have anything against Jews, I just think Israel is evil.”

Living in the South for the past eight years, I’ve gotten used to a more benign, even welcoming attitude towards Israel, which creeped me out at first and still makes me nervous since it often seems attached to an evangelical agenda.

Truth be told, I’m just not interested debating Israel’s “right to exist” or its right to defend itself. Nor am I interested in doing a ring-around-the-rosie dance to usher in the End Times.

My thoughts on Israel? I am amazed at how a few kibbutzniks have turned a dusty sliver of land into a bustling, fruit-bearing economic nexus in a mere 65 years. I am astounded how Jewish people have created a democracy among hostile neighbors after being decimated in the Holocaust (actually, “decimated” is an understatement, since it literally means to annihilate a tenth of the population. The Six Million killed in WWII were a full third of the world’s Jewish population.)

I am grateful for the advances in technology and medicine that come from Israel’s laboratories (your cell phone? Invented in Tel Aviv.) I am humbled that even in times of war, Israeli doctors treat their enemies.

I’m also definitely not someone who thinks Israel can do no wrong. I think the right-wing settlers and their anti-Arab vehemence are an embarrassment. I think the situation in Gaza—and the West Bank, which will eventually play in—is complicated and convoluted and sad.

Still, when I see other Jewish people posting anti-Israeli sentiments and then read about the looting and intimidation of Jewish businesses and college students in Paris and Belgium and Boston, I want to ask, “Do you think they don’t mean you?”

When I see the posts that portray the abject, undeniable suffering of the people of Gaza that fail to make mention of Hamas’ use of Palestinian children to build tunnels so they can kill Israeli kindergartners, I want to cry out with the injustice.

When I see that a synagogue in Miami was covered in swastikas this morning, I have to put aside my fear of taking sides. That the world would respond so quickly with anti-Semitism only strengthens the reasoning and resolve of the Jewish state.

I stand with Israel, always and proudly. My heart goes out to all who are in pain. I’ve also had enough of the hateful one-sided posts that portray Israelis as brutal and Palestinians as victims. Yes, they are victims—of a fundamentalist terrorist regime that would sacrifice every one of them to destroy Israel and America. Anyone who has seen the tunnels and rockets can no longer deny that Hamas leaders are lying when they claim they want peace.

I like to think I’ve curated my friend list with intelligent, compassionate people, and I don’t have to agree with them all the time. So far, I haven’t defriended anyone for their sympathies. But I am going to start commenting and sharing some of the thoughtful, factual posts that present the truth about Israel.

If anyone feels the need to defriend me for that, I completely understand.


Holocaust Survivor Beauty Pageant? Bring It.

Oh, the people are OUTRAGED.

Lipsticking up 14 sweet old ladies, parading them around on a stage and making them compete for the title of Miss Holocaust Survivor? Hideous, right?

The grossest objectification of the females since “Toddlers and Tiaras,” you say. “Oy gevalt!” cry the naysayers, their hands wringing. “What’s next, a 10-episode season of ‘Concentration Camps and Crowns’ on the Style Network?

The international interwebs are burning up with footage of yesterday’s first-ever Holocaust Survivor Pageant, held in Haifa. Over 500 women vied for the opportunity to strut their stuff and share their stories at the event; the final cuts were based on their contributions to the community, their personalities and maybe, just a little bit, on their beauty (physical appearance accounted for ten percent of the scoring, according to the organizers.)

Dressed in finery and nice flat shoes, women aged 73 to 89 walked the catwalk, the crown ultimately going to 79 year-old Hava Hershkowitz, who escaped the Nazis in Romania during WWII. According event organizer Shimon Shabag, she said the victory was “her revenge, showing how despite the horrors her family went through, her beauty and personality have endured.”

I have to say, as “meh” as I feel about “beauty pageants” in general, creating an opportunity for older women to get gorgeous and enjoy some attention is a good thing. They’re not being exploited, for heaven’s sake – no one had to dance around in a bikini and throw a stupid baton in a sequined unitard. I’m not there yet, but I’m guessing by 70, glamor is in short supply, and when paired with a microphone so you can share your experiences, it must feel validating in a world that generally ignores old people.

And let’s face it, any chance to give our survivors an audience is vital because they won’t be around much longer: There are an estimated 270,000 Holocaust survivors living in Israel, passing at the rate of more than 30 a day.

Though his event was lambasted as “macabre,” “inappropriate” and “sicksicksick,”  Shabag says he’ll likely plan another next year. “We should never forgive and forget what they went through, but I find this a very constructive way to show these people remain beautiful.”

I agree. The fact that these women are alive and full of joy is to be celebrated.

Just as long as no one breaks out a baton.




Israel As A State – of Mind

Israel 60th Anniversary This post was created for the The 60 Bloggers project, a co-production of and the Let My People Sing Festival. It is published daily for 60 days to celebrate Israel’s 60 birthday.

My first (and only, so far) trip to Israel was when I was 21, somewhere in the early 90s. At the time I was terrifically busy maintaining a state of self-loathing and fear of my future, and I was depressed and unimpressed by the Holy Land’s hubbub and history.

I had come with a volunteer group that placed college students on Army bases to perform menial tasks in exchange for a plane ticket. I thought wearing the IDF uniform and combat boots made me look tough, but since we weren’t issued guns, I smoked a lot of shitty TIME cigarettes to keep up the image. My first “tour” was near Chaifa and I enjoyed the company of the other fun-loving Americans, mostly East Coasters, in my group. But when I transferred after three weeks to another base in the hotter, drier Negev with a bunch of nasty, catty girls who wore lipstick to KP duty, I dropped out.

After tooling around on dusty buses for a few days, I found myself one evening in a Tel Aviv youth hostel, feeling sorry for myself. Bono was on MTV – the video was “One,” and he was sitting in a dark bar that looked a lot like the bar I was parked in. There was a Heineken next to him on the table, the same beer I was drinking. Keeping with my belief that the world revolved around me, it seemed that he speaking directly to me – Rock Star in Television As Angel In Burning Bush. Is it getting better, or do you feel the same? he asked me.

Have you come here for forgiveness
Have you come to raise the dead
Have you come here to play Jesus
To the lepers in your head

HELL no, I’m not playin’ Jesus, but damn straight I got a lot of lepers in my head, I thought. It began to dawn on me that I might find redemption in here in the land of my ancestors, that being Jewish might lead me towards something, that I might not be wandering around my life all alone.

As if on cue, the owner of the hostel, a swarthy sabra with lovely eyes, brought me another Heineken, on the house. “Don’t look so sad! You’re alive, aren’t you?”

That night I ended up in bed with the owner of the hostel. When I expressed shock that he tossed the dirty condom out the window, he shrugged. “That’s Israel.”

Redemption would have to wait.

I spent two more months in Israel, mostly in Jerusalem where some dear cousins put me up in exchange for watching their 8-month old daughter (that baby is now getting ready to into the IDF!) I didn’t want to join the other Americans at Hebrew University – they seemed too earnest and too religious, and I felt dirty and unworthy. Mostly I just pushed the baby carriage up and down the uneven streets, read and exchanged piles of paperback novels (I discovered both Amoz Oz and Salman Rushdie during this time), watched my ass get huge on kibbutz milk chocolate, and waited to go home.

One evening I walked to the top of some stairs and discovered a vista that literally took my breath from my body: The entire Old City was laid out before me, the Temple Mount, the Dome of the Rock, the rooftops and hidden alleyways and layers of history, all bathed in a peach-colored sunset, twinkling. I was tempted into my usual despair that I was not really part of such beauty, that I would never be a good enough Jew, that I wouldn’t feel at home here even I stayed forever. After all, I had only learned ten words of Hebrew in three months, attended synagogue a handful of times (in spite of living with a cantor) and wasn’t sure I believed in a God that never seemed to show up when I really needed help.

But then a little thought popped up in my head, banishing the lepers to the shadows: I am a part of it. Then a couple of others that caused my heart to unclench and tears to flow: I am good enough. I am loved. These were new thoughts, not heard before in the negative cacophony of my mind. I listened to them again, watching the orange light fade to pink and finally, dark blue. I hadn’t looked at a Torah since my bat mitzvah, but I felt comforted and only a little bit crazy that I had just heard a few choice words from God. While walking back in the twilight I understood that real love is unconditional, and even if I couldn’t give it to myself, it was there, just like it was for the patriarchs and matriarchs, for the brave people who fought for and sowed this land, for my Israeli cousins, for the Jews scattered like dandelion spores all across the world. No matter what.

That was 15 years ago, and I’d love to tell you I had made aliyah, or have at least returned to Israel. But life has lead me other places: finally out of college, to the redwoods, under the chuppah, to the Deep South. I’m only just a good-enough Jew, lighting candles (most) Fridays, teaching Sunday School, observing the Top Ten Mitzvot but leaving most of the other 603 to the more learned and less lazy. But I hold fast to the belief that God loves us deeply, even if we behave badly, even if we fall into the depths of depravity – and our experience of that unconditional adoration is best felt when we reflect it back out to the people around us.

There is a State called Israel turning 60 – !hallelujah! – A powerful, vibrant, complicated place for the Jews of the world to come and be free. There is also a state of mind I call Israel, a place accessible without a plane ticket or even a sefer, where we are free from our own petty evils and feel at One with our Creator – no matter what.