Why MLK Day is a Jewish Holiday.

Today, on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. day, Jewish Americans have more to thank than anyone else other than African Americans. Why? Because in America, prior to the work of MLK that created the Civil Rights Act, it was ok to discriminate against Jewish people for education, for jobs, for places to live, for social associations and even in stores. There were Jewish fraternities because Jews were discriminated, there were Jewish law firms because Jews were discriminated, there were Jewish schools because Jews were discriminated. Prior to the Civil rights act, Jewish people in droves hid their Jewishness, changed their names, did everything they could to blend in. Those that couldn’t, found other ways to band together and survive. Before civil rights act, we survived but afterwards, we thrived. And this would not be so for American Jews, if not for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Today, articles appear that remember the rabbis who marched with him, because we think they marched for MLK. No, they marched for all of us. They marched for the freedoms they desired. They marched for the freedoms they envisioned that all people would have if MLK succeeded. But the person that gave them the ability to march, was Dr. Luther King Jr.

Today is an American holiday, an African American Holiday, and a Jewish Holiday. Today is also a reminder, that the work is never finished, this is an eternal fight. Because today, there were men marching in Richmond VA, with guns, organized by the same people who chanted “Blacks will not replace us” and “Jews will not replace us”. They say they march for guns, but we and they know that this not true. They march for what guns represent: their majority and their ability to use the power of the gun to suppress, to oppress, to do that which they did to black people and Jewish people in America for hundreds of years. They are a reminder, that MLK did not come out of nowhere, but from a reaction to oppression. A reminder that there will always be those who desire to oppress based on any reason they can find.

So if you’re an American Jew, do not take this day for granted. You cannot afford to forget the past, you cannot afford to ignore those who made your current freedoms possible and who desire to make your current freedoms history. Your dignity depends on you being ever vigilant so as not to lose what was gained.

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Why “Jews are Smart” (they are not).

If Bret Stephens spent any time outside his circle, he would know that far from all Jews are smart. He would know that far from all Ashkenazi Jews are smart. If he visited Israel, he would know that Jews are just as smart and as fallible as all other humans. Bret Stephens who is not a scientists, or a psychologists, writes on a topic for which he has no credentials and little expertise. In doing so he makes two major logical mistakes. He confuses correlation for causation and he confuses accomplishment with intellect.

I’ll start with the second fallacy: it is true, considering the amount of Jews there are in the world, Ashkenazi Jews are fairly accomplished. However, so are Iraqi Jews with David Sassoon, so are the Mizrahi (Middle Eastern) and Libyan Jews like the Safras. There are many very accomplished writers and philosophers like Spinoza and Maimonides who were not Ashkenazi. However, as a whole, Ashkenazi do tend to be more accomplished, because those who did not accomplish were killed. Europe was far less forgiving of Jews than India or middle east. As a result those Jews who could not prove themselves deserving of being given refuge, they were often forced to live in small villages where many were slaughtered through regular pogroms. Only Jews of means often found their way towards safety, like the shores of America. America as we know, put a quick cap on Jews arriving who in the words of the current administration “don’t contribute”. Hard quotas were set on Jews from East Europe and so only those with means could come to America. Thus it is a correlation that Jews in America are smart, correlation with the immigration policy, not the causation of their intellect. It is not evolution that created “intelligent” Jews in America, it is the policy of the government that allowed only intelligent Jews to emigrate, just as it was American policy that only allowed the strongest Africans to come US during the slavery period which is well explained by comedian Chris Rock.

However, American Jewish exceptionalism does not end with the immigration policy. In America, it is common knowledge that Jews are not afforded the same freedoms as the White Anglo-Saxon men. This goes beyond the pre-Civil rights era when Jews were redlined from living in certain areas or barred from attending certain colleges or not allowed in certain professions. Even today, after the lifting of those past restrictions, Jews understand that their place in American society is not conditioned on them being American Citizens, but on their success in the marketplace and in their a “reputable” profession. Jews have no choice but to become engineers, lawyers, doctors. No choice because failure to do so would bring anger of society for being lazy and ungrateful and undeserving of life in the US. Such demands are never placed on white counterparts who are free to succeed or fail without having their citizenship or worthiness as Americans questioned. Jewish loyalty to America is forever questioned, while at the loyalty of Irish or Italian American is never questioned in spite of their love and pride for their heritage.

However, avoiding failure is not enough, success for Jews in eyes of society cannot be too great. In spite of the number of Jews in politics, there never has been and never will be a Jewish president or vice-president (sorry Bernie). This is because while Jews can succeed in middle class, when Jews succeed above middle class, they are accused of a conspiracy to control the country. Even though it was Jewish actors who created Hollywood at a time when acting on film was derided by the arts community of United States, when Jews created a whole new art form, their success was seen sinister and as an assault on America through phrases like “Jews control Hollywood.” Jews giving black people a platform in music through Jazz and Rap recordings, was seen as “Jewish control” of music industry. Jewish lawyers who were barred from jobs at reputable law firms created huge firms focusing on Mergers and Acquisitions which were later accused of “controlling” the legal professions.

Jews are never free to fail or to truly reach the American dream and enjoy it. Thus Jews can be smart but not too smart. And Jews are not smart. While there are some geniuses, far from all are geniuses. The requirement that Jews not fail creates a culture that pushes average Jewish kids into fields where they feel no passion but must succeed to show that they are not slackers. It is success which is not to be confused for intelligence that is part of Jews in America and other places where Jews live as diaspora.

The idea of a “smart” Jews can be destroyed with one visit Israel. There one will see plenty of average people, Ashkenazi or Mizrahi. One will quickly lose the myth of the “intelligent” Jew just by driving and experiencing the average Israeli driver. One will quickly see the Jewish designed bureaucracy, that is clearly not the work of a genius. One quickly can see lack of Jewish genius just by witnessing the debacle that is the Israeli election, more than one year now the Jewish state is without a working government.

Furthermore, if one digs at rankings of Israel, worlds only Jewish democracy, the rankings do not fit the stereotype of a smart nation. Israel has good universities but they are not nearly where one would expect a “genius” race to be. The high school student grades and exam test scores in almost every field make it obvious that it is asian kids who are geniuses, not Jewish Israelis.

So while there is a correlation of Jews to success, it is simply that, a correlation which is a result of years of immigration policies that only allowed the smart to enter. That an American culture that demanded success from Jews as a condition of their citizenship. Because of that Jewish parents make their average kids focus on studies and make them focused on entering college rather than play football and enjoy high school the way their non-Jewish counterparts get to. And yet, when those children reach success, that success for Jews in America does not give the fruits that American dream promises: it brings about antisemitism, suspicion and derision.

What I described is not singular to the US. These attitude and requirements of Jews were the same in Soviet Union, they are the same for Jews inFrance and even in Austria-Hungary where Theodore Herzl realized the double standard. This fact of Jewish life is the reason why he realized that to be free people, Jewish people would need their own state. A state that would allow any Jew, smart or dumb, poor or rich, to emigrate. A state that would treat all Jews equally, smart or dumb, successful or a failure.

These are the things that Bret Stephens left out, these are the things he would write had he done a little more research on Jews and their success in Diaspora.

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Two Years in Israel

It is hard to sum up two years in Israel. It included working on two master’s, continuing to work on my consulting business in the US, creating a wrestling club in Tel Aviv and many many, many adventures with my wife.

We visited and spent time with my family from all over Israel. We camped on Mount Meron and visited Jordan and spent weekends in Eilat. We traveled to West Bank to eat Knaffe in Nablus and bar hop in Ramallah. I attended talks by Rwanda survivors and current ambassador from Rwanda as well as ambassador from Russia. I joined a cohort of executives from four continents in a program that stretched my management abilities and expanded my network. I learned to become a scientist by traveling as far as Namibia to study plants and animals in a desert far far away. I spent time in Goa, Cochin, and Bangalore through my MBA and showed Jerusalem and Golan heights to friends from around the world.

We participated in Palestinian weddings and Israeli weddings. We hiked mountains and streams in the South and the North. We visited the ruins of old and high rises of new. We made quick trips to England, Italy, and Prague. We made new friends and strengthened old ones. We celebrated Purim and Halloween, Chanukah and New Year’s Eve. We rode our bikes in empty streets of Purim, stood captivated by the tabernacles of Bnei Brak and we stood silently during sirens of Itzkor and Yom Hashoah. We ate delicious pastries in Arab Village Taibe as we drank tea at a local friend’s home and heard minarets from Jish. We watched boars run by as we drank wine in our favorite winery in Golan and swam in the waters of Kineret.

Two years in Israel can probably be described through the many articles that I wrote over that time and summarized in this one, but I cannot give you the happiness, pride, and gratitude I felt when I received my Israeli passport. I cannot make you feel how I felt when I ordered in Hebrew for my first time, or how it felt to play with my cousins and watch them grow from toddlers into kids over monthly meetups at the beach or my monthly talks with my grandmother as she passed on story after story about her life and the life of our ancestors.

I can’t express how free it felt to run along the Tel Aviv beach and to hop from bar to bar, or listen to Jazz or metal performed by Israeli Jews and Muslims or sit on the bus on my way to work or class, looking at the characters we pass in the Tel Aviv streets.

Israel was not easy, as a 35-year-old used to the life of an advanced democracy it often felt slow and frustrating, but the warmth I felt when I was brought coffee at the ministry of interior, or the help I received at the Israeli DMV, or the kindness we got from our neighbors who would hide us during times of sirens, cannot be expressed through words. These feelings are inside and show themselves through tears of memory past.

After two years, we left Israel, as we had planned. What we did not plan to have are heavy hearts full of sorrow and desire to return. The renting out the apartment and selling off of final things was like small steps towards the abyss and moving back to the states, left us both feeling like a part of us is missing, like a part of us is still back there, at the Tel Aviv beach, where the sounds of Matcot never end and the sounds of waves are barely heard, where Jaffa’s calls to prayer blends with the electro music of bars and kids ride their electric bikes and scooters past Arab families making BBQ and Shisa on the beach like there is not a care in the world.

What I learned in two years in Israel is that “Next year in Jerusalem” was not written by those who had never been to Israel. It was written by those by who had been there and yearn with all of their being to one day return. Love of Israel is the love of parent over a child, it is the love of the imperfect, it is the love that is whole and all-encompassing, it is the love that protects and dotes and never forgets.

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The Riots In The Cities

Aside from some added traffic and re-routing of buses, the city is generally quiet. We live in Tel Aviv next door to a predominantly black and immigrant neighborhood. On my way home last night, as I walked through the neighborhood, there were no issues with anyone on the street or on buses. If you look at the videos, the protests have actually a small number of people, 100-200 people or so per site max. There is also an interesting article that talks about how the non-Ethiopian Arab and Jewish players are directing the protests and riots.

As I see it, these protests are not about the kid who was killed, but basic neglect by the Netanyahu administration at making sure that all people are respected and understand that everyone has a place in the society.

Over the years there has been racism and abuse. The government has not reached out to communities affected after abuse and has not done anything to rectify the abuse by police of marginalized communities: Arab or Jew. Thus, there had to come a time, when someone would take this can of kerosene and would light it.


This is a dangerous situation because the divisions can be exploited and can harm society for a long time to come. Although it a tiny percentage of people rioting, and many of them are not Ethiopian, the perception created by headlines and videos is that it is only Ethiopians, creating a dangerous backlash and divisions that can take a long time to heal.


We are people who suffered too much in lands foreign to us. It is no time to blame, it is no time to hate, it is no time to burn. It is time for the administration to step up and figure out a way to resolve the longstanding grievances and the system that creates the abuses and fix it. Because if they let it fester, and ignore it, it will only get worse and work against us in the worst possible moment.


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No Longer A Stranger in a Stranger’s Land

She turned to me and tears were streaming from her eyes. The thought that someone would say, that she never never felt trauma pierced her deeply. I never meant her, I simply meant, anyone who has not felt that, is lucky.

I was at a Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance event at the Tel Aviv Museum of the Diaspora on the campus of Tel Aviv University. An elderly gentleman who survived the war by pretending to be a Catholic boy at a convent in Belgium. He was on the board of Righteous Among the Nations and after his recounting of his father’s death and his survival, we broke into groups to talk about how we felt. A third were international students studying at NYU program in Dubai and Israel, a third were Israelis and a third were Tel Aviv students and random people.

There is a black girl with a star of david, short hair with top of it bleached told us of her time growing up in Belgium, feeling racism there, feeling lack of any thought to the harm caused in Congo and other colonies. She spoke of her trauma as a Tutsie and that it is ok to deal with it, it is for the perpetrators to feel guild and it is not on the victim to make the perpetrators feel ok.

There was a girl with a German friend whose grandfather was a Nazi, who may have contributed to killing thousands but now the two are friends who had to decide, if it was ok to be friends.

There is an Israeli wearing Teva’s whose Romanian grandparents never got to tell their stories, of relatives dying by being starved. There was a host who translated the Haggadah to her Russian grandparents, realizing that we are all freed slaves.

There was the American blond blue eyed kid, for whom it was the first time hearing a survival story. Who knew that every time someone said “White American without trauma” we meant him and all the white men and women who feel entitled to power and more than equal system that allows them to dole out punishment and then have us feel guilty for daring to make them feel shame.


And the American black girl, who has had decades of repression her skin, of her character and of her story. She can never be fully free in her own country and cannot even express her trauma because white men and women will crush her with hatred for daring to make them think about their actions, about her hurt. Few people on earth feel as downtrodden as the American black people, who face up hill battle to get education, to get a job, to vote and to feel their truth.

I took a bus down the quiet streets of my country. All shops are closed, because on a day that we remember, when half of our people, men and women were born a crime and killed without a trial or a second thought, when we survived, thanks to the fact, that Germany attacked all countries, not just us, a day when bars are closed, cafe’s a still, the city is in a moment of silence for all who died. I think how lucky I am, to be in my country, that is not perfect, surviving did not make us saints, but in my country where I am free, where I am represented, where I am protected. How lucky am I and how important it is, to work to keep that luck, to not lose as my ancestors did, to not end up again, a stranger in a strangers land.

Am Yisrael Chai!

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Enemy of My Enemy is Not My Friend A Rabbi shot in the hand, an 8-year-old girl who moved from Sderot and her 32-year-old uncle visiting from Israel, a mother with a 22-year-old who shielded the Rabbi with her body: are these the victims of the right or the left. He was a teenager, 19, with the freedom to carry an automatic rifle with pure hatred of a people because of propaganda online with a clear right-wing ideology and a fan of New Zealand anti-Muslim killer. He radicalized online, on Facebook and Twitter. These companies cannot take down that hate because it originates from the base of the President. It originates from people like Congressman Jim Jordan, a well-known anti-semite.

I look on twitter and who do we focus on? New York Times cartoon, a barely literate Congresswoman Omar and Congresswoman Rashid. These are people also hated by the same killers. This killer would have killed Omar and Rashid as he was moved by the writings of the New Zealand killer.

We confuse the antisemitism of the left and of the right as the same thing, they are not. The antisemitism of the left is easy to spot, it is anti-Israel and confuses all Jews for supporters of Israel. They say they have no qualms with Jews, they clearly lack the understanding that being Jewish can be a religion and ethnicity, that Jews are also Semitic and that Jews come from Israel and that we are not colonizers but returning refugees. BDS and left anti-Israel activists say they have no issues with Jews living anywhere but in Israel.

The far-right ideologues are the opposite, they are fine with Jews living in Israel but nowhere else. They are fine with Jews living in Israel but having no power or influence. The difference between the methods of the left and the right are stark. Whereas the left leave leaflets and protest and boycott in a peaceful manner, the right takes out arms and attacks with deadly force. But just as the people in America are confused by the rhetoric, confused by the ethnic and religious duality of Jewish people, confused by the ignorance of the lack of information, in the same way, are Americans of all creeds and religions confused by the differences in the two hateful ideologies.

The difference is important. To Israel, the threat is from the left as it funds and supports terrorism. To diaspora around the world, the threat is from the right that has tried to purge the Jewish refugees from their midst since their exile from Israel by Romans 2000 years ago.

I repeat, the differences are important and Jews and all who fight for equality and respect in the United States must understand them, must understand who and where and how is attacking them to battle them in the legal arena and in the press. By treating them as one and the same, we will continue to fail on both fronts because if we call them one and the same, both will have the ability to deflect an attack.

“Never Again” has lost its meaning. From Israel to Pittsburgh to San Diego, the prayer hall where I put a kippa and a tallit, “Never Again” has become Again and Again. If we want to stop the next time, we must learn from the past, we must stop saying and doing the same failed actions, and defend ourselves from these threats. Defense from a knife is different from defense from a gun. Let’s know when to use which defense, so that we can say Never Again, and mean it. We must demand action from the left on Israel and from the right on antisemitism. Action like re-instating the DOJ task force monitoring and prosecuting the white supremacists that Trump and Sessions dismantled. We must all as a united force monitor events and demand specific actions to ensure they do not happen again. Empty words will no longer do. Empty words will not do help the Rabbi, nor the 8-year-old girl, nor her uncle, nor the 22-year-old daughter without a mother. If we say “Never Again” we must mean it and act on it.

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Response to Mr. Rafael Castro.

Dear Mr. Rafael Castro,

I read your “open letter” to me and my people. While I appreciate the sentiment, your love for our land and your advice, I feel you misunderstand Israel and Jewish people in a few very important ways.

You see, I have been to Mexico. And while I love tacos and tequila, but I would never say to you, that you and all Mexicans without exception should make Tequila and Tacos your sole purpose in life because you are the originators and masters of tacos and tequila. I believe that you, like many people who come to Israel, see Israel and Jewish people through a specific prism — a personal prism of your personal life. While you saw the land and culture that created the Freud, the Einstein and the religion of Abraham and Moses, you missed the fact that those are exceptions to the rule, not the rule. Just as George Washington and Abraham Lincoln are not the average Americans, those figures that you spoke of, are not the average Jews, they are the rare but very important exceptions. In fact, the entire reason for Israel as conceived by Theodore Herzl, is so that for once, Jewish people would not be expected to rise to be special to be valued, but instead could be like Mexican, Indian and Russian people in Mexico, India or Russia: free to be mediocre.

You see, I believe that in your time in Israel, you missed the very things that I through my prism saw when I first came to Israel: Jewish cab drivers, Jewish street workers, Jewish artists. And not the great ones, but terrible street artists who will never be great and always have the freedom to be happy and mediocre. This is because for all the time that we lived without a nation, we had to prove ourselves as being worthy of having land, of having a place to live, of being given a chance at life. For that reason we had to prove to people that we are somehow special. We showed as evidence for that Abrahamic faith and our great science exploits. However, we are not unique in inventing a religion, nearly every culture had one, and no less interesting and important than ours. You yourself will know that Aztecs and Mayans had amazing written language, science, culture and religion. While we do have many science and engineering prizes, and do slightly better than others, but that was by necessity, not by choice. Furthermore, we do not have even close to the most inventions, China, France, Russia and America outnumber our inventions by many factors.

We are good at marketing ourselves that is true, but that is again, by necessity, in order to survive centuries of antisemitism as we sought refuge in distant lands. It is thanks to Israel, to the blood we shed in pure and simple warfare, through hard fought diplomacy and persistence of Jewish farmers, the simple people, that all Jewish people are now valued, regardless of their adherence to Jewish faith or their success in arts and sciences. It is in Israel that Jewish people aspire to create a nation where all Jews are valued just as Mexicans aspire to create a country where all Mexicans are valued and America where all Americans are valued, regardless of their economic, artistic, or scientific contribution.

I hope that you will take these words to heart, and take away the high bar of expectations that you placed on us, and allow me and my people, the simple benefit of being simple people, in our land, without any expectations other than being human, as imperfect as we are.

As for the liberal ideas of humanity, there are plenty of people of Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Atheist and all other backgrounds, who are equally capable of spreading the simple idea of kindness, compassion and respect. 

Sincerely yours,

Sam Litvin

SamTheJewishGuy.com

Writer and Photographer of Your Story, Our Sipur

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Cloudy With a Chance of Missiles

Bars are full, 5 minutes after an alarm and a missile that landed a few hundred meters from this spot.

It’s nine o’clock on Thursday night. Friday night in the Middle East. The weekend’s here and all are heading home or with their kids, or out and about at bars. I’m with my fellow students, walking on wet walkways of our University. The skies are almost clear, the moon is out. It’s fresh and quiet when the siren begins to make its whine. We freeze. We are between the buildings and three thoughts stream to our minds: is this a real siren, which building do we go to, are our loved ones safe?

We see a building ahead of us where I know to be a shelter, we walk towards it as we call our loved ones. “Go to a shelter,” I tell my wife. She runs down the stairs. The shelter is closed. “I don’t have a key. I don’t have a key.” The line goes dead. We are in front of the doors, the guard on the other side, won’t let us in. We stare at him as one of the girls, falls into a panic attack, flack back to a previous terror attack. Then we hear it. Explosive boom, not far, it shakes the ground. Then siren is quiet. I call and call and call. No answer. What have I done I think, bringing her here?

We make our way to parking structure under a Natural History Museum resembling a Noah’s Ark. We get in a car and I get a message, “go to the shelter”. We stop the car and check if this is true if another siren sounded while we were in the parking lot. “I’m at a neighbor, in the basement.” I am relieved and want to get home fast.

We drive through the city, half silent because of rain, half out and drinking because it is a Thursday night. Out as if nothing happened. My fellow students, field calls from parents, spouses, kids. They do their best to calm them. We get messages from Arab friends, emails from bosses, from the school. “Elections are near, some people are interested in making an issue,” one email says.

We drive through the quiet night and frantically search for news on Twitter, Facebook, Google. Two rockets passed through the night sky, Islamic Jihad is blamed, they deny it. Some Israelis began with humor at the situation, a kid fell off his electric scooter in front of Dizengoff fountain because of a siren, people laugh on twitter at the video. Other jokes abound: “One rocket intercepted, the other one is still looking for parking.”

But thoughts creep in as I arrive at home. How do we sleep? I’m wearing a shirt, my shorts are at the ready. How do I shower? Do I make it quick? What if another alarm goes off? We now discuss where to hide, which way our windows face. These questions grip the city, every family and home. The shelter rooms are opened and cleaned out in the new homes. Old homes review their procedures and shelters in their basements are opened up again. Parents of kids who have been through this before, calm their children who are at shock’s door. The ones for whom this is a first, are shocked and are on edge. New parents are faced with a brand new fear they never had. Parents with older kids face a fear that lay dormant for two years. Parents of kids in the Army, await the morning and commanders orders.

Meanwhile, the families on the other side of the fence, wonder, what hell hath fury brought. What will be a response from a mighty military that a nation will expect to have a swift response? We are all hostages, we are all in terror, brought out of the comfortable life, oblivious to how one bleary oscillating sound and one big boom can snap you into action, terror, flight.

A boy of ten years old, ran for shelter, was hit by a car driven by a parent on their way home. We cannot be afraid, but we cannot stop it either. We are the Russian kids of 1942 Leningrad, of 1941 Pearl Harbor, of 1939 Warsaw and London. We hear the sirens that they heard, we hear the explosions that promise death. We wonder if this will be a one-off thing or something that’s much longer, deadlier and sinister. We go to bed, clinging to each other, not really sleeping, not resting.. waiting, for tomorrow. And yet, in the New York Times, in Boston Herald, on NPR and Guardian, there’s no mention of the rockets, of fears, our terror. All is quiet in the west, we are alone, we wait alone, together.

Update: it was an accidental firing in North Gaza. Bibi knew this but bombed poor Gazans in the south all night to make himself look good for election. Gaza bombed poor people of Sderot in retaliation. All is quiet and we all feel as pawns in this silly game.

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The 2500 killed in Israel every year that no one talks about.

Yeshiva boys walking outside of pollution haze of Haifa in the background.

It’s an early Wednesday morning when I put on my shoes and pop in my head phones. I turn on my running app and begin my morning stride down a street in south Tel-Aviv. By the time I get to Eilat Street near the beach, in spite of years of running, my lungs fill up with heavy air and I have to slow down. At the same time, at home my wife is sick again. It seems every two weeks or so she comes down with respiratory disease of some sort. We’re both suffering from same thing that many Israelis who fear terrorism, suffer without knowing it: the air is rich in particulate matter.

In spite of all the wonderful news about Israel and their environmental tech, they are still reliant on coal, 50% as of 2014 with plans to eliminate it by 2030 according to Times of Israel. However today, there are still over 2000 people a year who die in the area between Ashdod and Tel-Aviv every year according to Haaretz. In Haifa, 15% of cancer cases are attributed air pollution. Israel is dead last of all OECD countries in quality of air. How can StartUp Nation, an intelligent and small country, afford to lose so many people while expending so many resources to fighting the comparatively rare occurrence of terrorism? The Jewish diaspora is quick to defend Israel from outside hate and threats, but it seems to be ignorant of the internal threats and self inflicted harm that costs Israel every year 3.3% of the country’s GDP.

The damage is not just from coal, but from heavy reliance on diesel which powers the large amount of trucks, trains and buses that pass through Tel Aviv narrow streets. The city and it’s surroundings account for 42% of Israel’s population . All of them are exposed to high pollution from cars and passing planes which have been linked to premature deaths, Dementia and Alzheimer’s.

What are some of the reasons for this? One reason is protectionism. While Israel now has the natural gas to solve the issue, enough that it exports it to Egypt and Jordan, the several hundred coal jobs hold heavy sway in politics, which is why it will take 12 years to transition away from coal, gas and diesel. The temporary jobs of a thousand Israeli workers will cost as many as 30,000 Israeli lives in the next 12 years. This is nearly 10 times more than all the Israelis killed in all the combat since 1948. A few hundred jobs and a few million dollars in profit for a few individuals will cost Israeli citizens $42,000,000,000 US Dollars. That’s twice the entire annual spending of Israeli government.

I love living in Israel. So does my wife. Having lived on three continents and traveled to over 40 countries, there’s no place that makes me feel at home like Israel. After making Alija and putting in the hard work to become Israelis, we thought long and hard about whether we can make a home here and how that will be living far from our parents and friends in US. But health is important, and so we have to ask ourselves, is our health and children’s health is more important than comfort. Do we stay and be sick or leave and be healthy? That is a question that no Israeli should every have to ask themselves.

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The Challenge of Learning Hebrew

I always felt that I was good at languages until I came to Israel.

I was born in Ukraine and learned to speak Russian and Ukrainian almost simultaneously. I moved to the US at ten and learned English to a point that most don’t know I was born outside of the United States. In middle school and high school, I took French, and I can still converse in it. Conversational Spanish and Portuguese I picked up in my travels. I even took Chinese and thought it to be fairly simple and easy to learn. But Hebrew, the language of my forefathers, In Hebrew I learned my match.

I faced difficulty learning it while traveling and working on the book. I looked into the prayer books and tried to make it out. I wrote down the alphabet but that didn’t help. I finally decided to go to classes where once a week, I learned to read, letter by letter, I learned to pronounce foreign words. Each word came out slowly, laboriously. I thought I was ready for Israel, but I soon learned that being to read HaTikva, means nothing. It means nothing when trying to get around when paying for services or reading a menu. I also learned that hundreds of hours spent on Duolingo made me no more capable of answering people when they asked for directions. After a year in Israel, I thought I would be virtually fluent, but I was virtually mute.

You see, most Israelis that I work with, have no patience to teach me. We have to work and converse and so we switch to English after a few pleasantries. I use Google translate for difficult things and so I learned to get by. I was waiting also for my Alija (immigration) to come through. I was waiting because I thought that Ulpan (Hebrew School) is expensive. I was sad to find out that the government Ulpan is generally very good and very affordable compared to University and private classes. And so it was a year after arriving in Israel that I began my Hebrew journey.

Twice a week in a class full of French and Russian young people, I waded through the learning of how to read and write, how to speak, how to answer questions. Let me tell you, it is no piece of cake.

Hebrew is an ancient language. It is built to “make sense” which makes it very difficult to learn. It lacks vowels to save space and is written left to right, both reasons thought to be because it was a language developed before paper, and so was etched into stone. It has fewer consonants as well, this makes words look and sound similar to each other as there are fewer sounds. Then the grammar, which has prefixes, suffixes, and endings. The prefixes and endings sound also the same and vary a lot for the female and male gender. The female and male gender are not consistent and neither are endings for the nouns, adjectives, and verbs. The verbs can be irregular and they modify the adjectives and nouns depending on who or how many people speak. The adjectives also switch their placement compared to English. It is the upside-down language that requires a consistent practice that is hard to find when working on two simultaneous graduate degrees.

After four months, it is starting to come together. I am starting to hear more words when people speak and I am starting to find it easier to speak with others. I find it also with a little effort, possible to read more complex text at a faster rate. I have a long way to go but one of my big goals and greatest challenges is starting to make progress. With effort and practice, I hope to be conversational, come October, our two-year mark.

As a Jew in Israel, there are many difficult things I find here. The language is the toughest. It gives me perspective on my parents and others who emigrate in their mid-thirties, the difficulties they find in learning a language and providing for their family. These are not weak people, this takes hard work and America and Israel are lucky to have the type of people who were able to do so. Because from first-hand experience, by the number of people I saw drop out of my Hebrew classes and give up on learning the language, it is far from everyone who can adapt, learn and thrive.

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