Tuesday, January 27, 2009

135 days... and counting

Here in Dhaka, my colleagues and friends keep on asking my if I've solidified any more of my plans for next (academic) year. It's only January (albeit the end of January) so it might seem a bit early for all this questioning- but not here. We (the teachers) had to officially declare our intent stay or leave back in December. I, personally, informed my bosses way back in October. In the international school system, things move fast.

The air is abuzz with who is leaving, who is staying and who is coming- at the school and in the greater international community. Some diplomatic friends are moving to Taiwan, others to Ghana. Even though it's months in advance- many of us already know.

In fact, it's exactly 135 days until June 11- the end of the school year. For many of us moving on, our household belongings will have already been shipped or sold and we'll be living out of suitcases for our final weeks. And on the last day of school- we'll say our good-byes- and then many of us will see each other a few hours later as we scurry to board midnight flights out of Dhaka.

Coming to Dhaka was easy - I was ushered into a perfect little community where all the details- plane flights, shipping, housing, transportation, etc- were already arranged and paid for by my employers. Leaving is going to take a little more effort on my part. In lieu of searching for another job in another international school, I doing a little self-improvement time. I'm taking a huge plunge- and moving to Israel. These past few evenings I've spent figuring out budgets, searching for information, thinking about housing and shipping, etc. Every time I look at my 3-bedroom, 4-full bathroom, 1-bowling ally apartment, I keep on crossing items off of the mental "keep" list. I quizzically look at each object- chair, painting, decorative, memento, kitchen device- and think about what it's worth to me, how much it would cost to replace it once in Israel, how much it weighs (important for international shipping consideration) and what I'm already planning on taking with me. I'm downsizing to either a small shared apartment or even dorm-like living. I don't know.

So, I'm feeling a wee bit overwhelmed. (I use the word 'wee' in honor of my Scottish friends here.) At least I'll have health insurance when I get to Israel. One less thing to worry about. (whew!)

So, 135 days, and counting. I'm re-evaluating everything- it's not just a moment to cut 'stuff'- but this move is also a step for investing in me and re-evaluating what truly matters. I'm looking at a possible year without income- but I year of studying Hebrew and Judaism- Maybe I should say: I'm looking at a year that might have limited financial income but great possibilities for building personal and spiritual capital. 135 days and counting- planning, searching, finding, weighing, selling, purging, calling, talking, building, learning, working, playing, saying goodbyes, preparing for hellos- 135 days until I return to the USA for the first time since July 2007. 135 days until I make my whirlwind summer visits. 135 days to make most- if not all- of my preparations for my new life-

135 days- a little over four months- and counting

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Help Me Help a Friend

Being in Bangladesh, I meet many interesting people. Last year, I met Shawn, who founded uncultured.com in an effort to raise awareness about ending global poverty. He has traveled around Bangladesh working in concert with various aide organizations to help end global poverty. (He's original goal was to see the impact that one person could have on ending poverty but quickly realized that his efforts would go further with the help of others.) What make's Shawn's story a little different is that throughout his whole experience, he has been collecting amazing footage and photographs, blogging and youtub'ing for a cause. He currently has the #1 youtube channel on the subject of ending poverty- more than CARE, Save the Children, and all the other professional channels. He has also traveled to Africa, and is currently working to earn a coveted sport for ONE non-press normal person at the World Economic Forum. Part of the application is based on ratings and comments on youtube.

So I'm asking you, watch the clip- and RATE it- COMMENT on it. Help me help Shawn. He has already done so much- and I think this would be a great chance for him to do more to help end global poverty. THANKS!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Love Song to Islamic Fundamentalists

I love my people. :)

And I wish I could put this on my ipod. Credits to the song writer/ singer, Jeremy Pesach David Stadlin.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Problem? Solution!

When I came back from my winter holiday travels, I was quite saddened to find that in my absence, someone had hacked the beautiful tree that used to envelope half of my balcony. It was so lovely sitting on my balcony, surrounded by green, shaded from direct sunlight. What I also quickly realized while looking through the new sun induced glare was that I had and an incredibly breathtaking view of the electrical box and wiring directly outside of my balcony. Really, the mess that is Bangladeshi wiring is not my preferred view. I also noticed that behind the mess of wires and poles and metal was a new sign- advertising that the house across the street was soon to become a demolition and then construction zone. Thrilling, really.

But nothing prepared me for the fact that, in addition to the daylight heinousness, my new neighbors- the construction company- insured that I would not be pining after the view of their beautiful signage after the sun set. In fact, there are Florissant bulbs behind the sign that illuminate it straight into my bedroom. And I had already been robbed of my beautiful tree that would have somewhat protected me.

After about a week of not fully using my balcony in the finally beautiful weather (defined as not sweating the minute you walk outside) due to the harsh direct sunlight and less than appealing view, I decided to take action. Really, I'm a woman of means. I can handle this. So, despite my original idea of not further investing in the apartment I will vacate in five months, I decided to take a stroll down to my local nursery. What constitutes a nursery here is a several different individuals with a bunch of plants lined up in a vacant lot. Each man vies for your business as you walk by. My local nursery is just a few blocks away from my apartment, directly across the street from the Embassy of the State of Palestine.

I had my eyes searching for large bushy plants that could successfully block my view and the sunlight (not to mention give me a bit of privacy on my balcony). I saw some potential candidates and took a non-committal stroll to the back of the lot to investigate. When I reached the back, I saw a construction zone in the adjacent lot. Here, women in cotton saris are using small pick hammers to break bricks into gravel to be used in the construction. Bangladesh is short on dirt and gravel so they either 1) import it or 2) make bricks from the mud and then have women (yes, this is a woman's job) bust the bricks into gravel. (Look at the pile in the background of the photo. The pick can be seen in the hand of the woman in the foreground.)

After being sufficiently distracted by the women and bricks, I went back to picking out and bartering for plants. I found a nice ficus and a couple of flowering plants (whose name I've already forgotten) for the bargain (yet still inflated due to my white skin, I'm sure) price of approximately sixty dollars. And of course, for an additional seventy-five cents, the plants were delivered to the exact place on my balcony that pleases me most. And -voila- I once again have a balcony I can truly enjoy!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Jewish Shanghai- with Photos!

Take time to read the captions on the photos. I write 'ghetto' because it didn't ressemble what we think of as ghettos in Nazi controlled areas. It wasn't exclusively Jewish and it wasn't completely closed off. There were checkpoints. Jews who were refugees from Nazis were confined to the 'ghetto'; however, other Jews and non-Jews could come and go as they pleased. This was my favorite day in China- hope you enjoy the show!

Talking about a new tactic

Friday, January 9, 2009

Contemplating donating my status

Many people who use facebook see status messages such as the following:

NAME is 763 Palestinians murdered by Israel in Gaza (more than 230 children & 100 women) & 3100 injured. Donate your status : http://apps.facebook.com/supportgaza/.
11 hours ago - via STOP Israel's War Crimes in Gaza


NAME QassamCount: Hamas fired 30 rockets into Israel Thursday and 17 so far today. Total since 2000: 8690. Donate your status: http://qassamcount.com/fb

I, myself, donated my status. My motivation? A simple, emotional, "I don't feel that this side of the story is being heard!" - and I imagine that at the base of all people who have chosen to donate their status have a similar base feeling- the desire for their perspective, their side, to be heard.

But as a friend asked (sorry M, I don't remember your exact wording) How does live counting contribute to the goal of peace?

And I think the answer is- it doesn't. It just makes people on which ever side feel slightly more 'heard' and their perspective slightly more 'justified'.

After my conversation, I crawled into bed and go ready to offer my prayers- In Judaism, there are many ready-made prayers to choose from- but I decided to bypass them all and let my heart speak. And this is what my heart came up with- something simple.

Ein od milvado.
Justice for the Palestinians and Everlasting peace for B'nei Israel v'Eretz Israel.
There is nothing but God.
Justice for the Palestinians and Everlasting peace for the Children of Israel and the Land of Israel.

A break down of the three parts of my prayer:
1) Ein od milvado is my standard meditation/ prayer. Two summers ago when I volunteered with Livnot in Tzfat (or Sefed if you prefer) I bought a piece of Kabbalah artwork with this prayer.

2) Justice for the Palestinians
One may wonder why I put Palestinians before b'nei Israel. In Judaism, we are taught to pray for others before we pray for ourselves. Obvious in this prayer is my belief that Palestinians do not have justice now- and I do feel that they are victimized- I feel that they have long been used as political pawns by Arab States wanting to demonize Israel. These same Arab Nations that attacked the infant State of Israel, encouraged the Palestinians to flee and promised them a quick victory and return to their home land. They are victims of groups like Hezbollah and Hamas- hate groups buoyed up with military training and arms from Iran. They are victims of their own hatred- as so evident in the Palestinian Civil War that divided Hamas-controlled Gaza and Fatah-controlled West Bank. And yes, as much as I love Israel, I cannot say that it has always treated Palestinians in a just manner. So my prayer, is a prayer for justice- and recognizes that many entities hold responsibility for Justice- Arab Nations, Iran, Israel and the Palestinians themselves.

3) Everlasting peace for B'nei Israel v'Eretz Israel
I do pray that B'nei Israel- Jews all over the world- find respite from discrimination and peace. The establishment of a Jewish State in Eretz Israel has provided a safe haven for prosecuted Jews from places ranging from Europe, Russia, Ethiopia, and many, many Arab Nations. I think Peace will only be possible once all nations recognize Israel's right to exist. I also know, that as long as the State of Israel has enemies bent on her annihilation, that everlasting peace will not come to the region.

I've read many articles talking about Gaza and the State of Israel's current military actions. I've sought out contrasting viewpoints. Out of all of the articles I've read, my favorite is from the Israeli author Etgar Keret. In his article, he recognizes that the spiraling blame game being played out on both sides only leads to more violence, more hatred, more death, and more justification for violent revenge. I don't want to be on the 'Palestinian side' or the 'Israeli side'- I want to be on the side of stability, peace, humanity and justice.

I'm sad though- because so many people who don't believe in my cause- stability, peace, humanity and justice- are armed with words of hatred, blame and vengeance, and have access to weapons to kill. People on 'both sides' may feel that their side is 'right'- but unfortunately, I think they are 'dead right'.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Jewish History in Shanghai

Today is my last- and favorite- full day in Shanghai. Mom and I were guided by Dvir Bar-Gal on a tour of Jewish Shanghai. Dvir has been in Shanghai for 7 years searching for the tombstones form Jewish cemeteries that were dismantled during the Cultural Revolution. He's currently trying to convince the Chinese government to use the tombstones to create a memorial to this one segment of Chinese-Jewish history. Below is a movie Dvir made and is using it to gain more interest.

Either tonight (if packing goes well) or once I return to Dhaka (tomorrow) I'll upload some of the pictures I took on the tour.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Reflections on Gaza

This is my contribution to a conversation via email about the current situation in Gaza. I have requested permission from the other participants in the conversation to post their contributions. If I receive permission, I will also post their thoughts. For the meantime, here are some of my thoughts:

I deeply appreciate the conversations taking place in this email thread. Firstly, as a Jew trying to understand what is happening in Israel/ Gaza while living in Bangladesh (and currently traveling in China)- I feel that at most I get little snippets of information, selected views from various media outlets- It’s like looking at the world through a straw. Secondly, it reminds me of our wonderful ability to communicate respectfully and articulately as we struggle to understand an imperfect world and how to interact with it while maintaining our own safety and integrity.

I must say that my love for Israel is still young- a green, impassioned love- full of hope and optimism. It has not been tempered by time, allowed to grow cynical with hurt and betrayal. Maybe I still wear the proverbial rose-tinted glasses-

SRG. wrote of her friend’s uncle in Gaza who recently became injured in the current escalation of violence, “He's just a guy trying to make a life for himself and his family in one of the most difficult places in the world. And merely for existing in the place that he exists, which was his only crime, he became a casualty.”

I must echo the chorus of voices that are appalled by violence and deplore the harm done to people who are not actively fighting against us- but I will not use the term ‘innocent bystander’. The reason is thus: Were Americans in the South who did not own slaves but did not speak up against slavery, innocent of that crime to humanity? Were Whites in Apartheid South Africa who did not actively oppress Blacks but nevertheless benefited from the segregation and didn’t speak out, innocent of their country’s crimes? Were German’s who did not actively kill Jews and others in Hitler’s Germany but remained silent innocent of the crimes of their co-patriots? I know nothing of your (SRG) friend’s uncle other that what you yourself have told us, and I pray that he recover quickly and completely. I also pray that Hamas does not limit his access to medical care in order to play to international media sensationalism and further neglect the wellbeing of the people with which they’ve been charged to protect and care for. I also know that not being active in a crime that one sees taking place and nevertheless, chooses to remains silent, does convey approval of that crime.

There are so many pieces of this conflict. We’ve gone beyond the never real black and white and the umpteen shades of grey. These shades of grey in Israel and around are tinged, or sometimes doused with color- the red blood of loved ones that can transform itself into blind hate, the blue of possibilities trying to break through the bloodstained grey, the burnt orange of tarnished love, of betrayals, misunderstandings- As many people that have lived in the Promised Land and surrounding lands since the keeping of history- that is how many perspectives, stories, emotions and colors exist.

I’m saddened that when these stories and colors clash- and the ever long existing conflict escalates- that some people are blinded by the colors- their emotions. SRG. wrote, “And the right wing protesters who gathered to oppose us carried Israeli flags and shouted that we should die.” I cringe that any self-respecting Israeli would wish death upon those who are shouting for peace.

SRG., I applaud you and your friends’ efforts to show, to shout, that our peoples need not continue to hate. It adds a drop of sunshine yellow hope to the dreary plethora of grays.

I also know that qassam rockets continue to fall on Israel and are launched from Hamas-controlled Gaza. This is unacceptable, period. From reading respected authors, such as Alan Dershowitz, and the media and listening to people when I visit Israel, it seems that the only language Hamas speaks is that of guns and bombs. Diplomatic ceasefires are not a step towards peace and stability, but rather a chance to train and gather weapons for the next offensive, completely unhampered.

The question seems to be: How can people outside Gaza stop the qassam rockets from falling on Israel? I think the answer is, we can’t. The IDF can go in, and take out the people deploying qassams and the rockets themselves- but there will be enough hate and knowhow to find more people willing to shell Israel and means to obtain more rockets.

It is the responsibility of precisely those people inside Gaza who do not agree with Hamas and their escalating cycle of violence to not remain silent. Just as it is our duty to seek dialogue among our fellow Israelis and Jews, to create a platform that could one day open up to the possibility of peace based on understanding that both sides have suffered. We- Gazans, Israelis, Palestinians, and Jews- must understand that the only true end to this heinous cycle is coexistence, not the annihilation, occupation or submission of one group of people. But just as there are voices that shout in Israeli- as you and your friends have- there is a need for voices inside Gaza to be shouting as well. Although it is a necessary start, the voices and actions of Palestinians and Jews inside Israel is not enough.

I thank JD. for reminding us of Golda Meir’s poignant and ever true statement, “We will have peace with the Arabs when they love their children more than they hate us.” I would like to add, that we will have peace, when people on both sides are willing to actively pursue peace and not remain silent.


Hi SRG and everyone:

I appreciate people sharing their feelings and experiences with the current situation and I believe discussing it is the best thing that we can do at the moment. Please allow me to share some of my thoughts. To begin, the term carpet bombing is very misleading, and I must say that I've never heard of massacres being preceded by phone calls being made by someone's enemy telling them to get out of the house because it's about to be destroyed or leaflets being dropped telling people of the upcoming bombing. These types of humanitarian efforts are being done in Gaza. It is true that the matter at hand is sad and that it is a terrible thing when innocent people are killed, but blaming Israel as solely responsible for these circumstances is just plain wrong.

Israel is not carpet bombing. They have been attacking with high precision bombs where the civilians who are getting hurt or killed are in positions which are very close to places where Hamas is hiding. It is a known fact that Hamas keeps weapons in the bottom floors of apartment buildings or schools. In addition, most of the children killed in the bombings so far, though not all, are related to Hamas operatives, and though I don't want to condemn these children for having bad relatives, I will and do put the blame of their death on Hamas. Hamas and the Palestinian people need to understand that Israel will not accept Terror and bombings of its cities and people and when they understand this, Gazans and Israelis both will live much better lives. I just heard from my from friends in Beersheva. When the rockets fell there, their only warning was the sirens. My friend who is on the left-leaning side of politics said she didn't really feel the reality of this whole thing until she first heard sirens and then the explosions. Life for them is hard as well where stores and schools are also closed. The fact remains that the rocket attacks and kidnappings against Israel need to stop and when a group is in power that is completely against negotiation, against compromise, and against the well-being of her own people; force may be the only solution. I pray that it is quick and just.




Any innocent life lost to violence is a tragedy. It is a shame that Hamas has no reservation to put their people in harms way (in the name of martyrdom) and use civilians as human shields, by using public facilities (such as Mosques, Schools, Apts ect) for weapons stockpiles and launch sites. As in a bank robbery, any hostages killed by the police puts the blood on the hands of the robber.

In any war, (and launching hundreds/thousands of rockets over a boarder is a declarative act of war), the innocent always suffer.

We all wish/hope/pray for peace, but we do have a right to protect ourselves, preemptively or otherwise.

It is a vicious cycle of violence, and it is up to the heads of all parties involved to lead us to peace.

As Golda Meir said

'We will have peace with the Arabs when they love their children more than they hate us'


p.s. feel free to check out this link and sign it if so inclined.