To All Who Don’t Understand

When is the right time to make aliya? I guess you could say I’m paying for my decision to make aliya early. Already, I have friends who I thought I was leaving behind coming to make aliya. They’re mostly all better off than me, and have started with their lives. Most of my friends from high school (the 20% who aren’t in kollel), have one or two degrees, stable jobs, in some cases great jobs, houses, wives and children. I’m still in university, and will be for the better part of the next two years. And that’s just for a bachelor degree.

Needless to say, had I waited to make aliya, things would definitely be easier. In fact, I think that any person considering aliya, looking at his or her present situation, will always find evidence for pushing off aliya by another year or two (or ten). I don’t think there’s any stage in life where it wouldn’t be beneficial to wait. If you’re just out of high school, then it’s definitely advantageous to get a degree first. Making aliya with a degree is a whole new world over making one without, and roughing it in an Israeli university. If you already have a degree, why not wait until you have an MA, or an MBA? Israeli companies salivate over the prospect of an American MBA, and there’s always the option of telecommuting for an American company, an option much more feasible with a US degree. If you have an MA or an MBA, why not wait a couple of years to build up a nest egg? You can make more in a year in America than you can save in five in Israel. You might also want to get married in America. Why risk the Israeli singles scene? The American singles scene is something you understand, or even enjoy. What compares to the Upper West Side? Certainly not Katemon. On the UWS you can find a mate who compliments your American background, and who wants to make Aliya. After all, she told you so on the first date! You put together a five year plan, to save up money. Now you’re comfortable in Queens, you’re making money, you’re saving money, and you realize you can even start having kids and still save money. So why not? Have a kid or two.

At this point you’re thirty-two and you’ve got two kids. Maybe you’ve got another one on the way. Do you really think you’re still making aliya? (I mean, maybe you are. But you’re in the minority. Let’s not delude ourselves here.) To your horror (or perhaps bemused acknowledgement) everything you’ve accumulated in preparation for aliya has become an anchor to life in America. You love your job. You love your community. You love your wife, who’s beginning to have second thoughts about relocating. You love your kids, and you don’t relish the thought of them having to start school over in another language. You played all your cards right, and looked at the situation rationally at each and every stage, and decided every time that even though you definitely want to make aliya, it would simply be irresponsible to do so at this stage in your life, and you need another year or two of prep. And you were right every time! So where did you go wrong?

I’ll tell you were you went wrong. You went wrong because you simply want to make aliya. You don’t need to. It doesn’t hurt to stay in America. It doesn’t pain you when the plane takes off at the end of your yearly vacation in Israel. Living in America doesn’t make you feel like a fish out of water. And I don’t mean “fish out of water,” in the general, uneasy-feeling like you don’t belong sense. I mean the actual gasping for breath, dying because you’re in a hostile environment sense. If you did, you wouldn’t stay for a degree, you wouldn’t stay for money, and you wouldn’t even stay for love. After all, a fish can only love another fish. He doesn’t belong with the mammals. He doesn’t need to rationalize jumping back in the water. He simply has to, and damn the consequences.

Capital of Poland Before 1600

Looking for the answer? Read on…

I can’t curl my left fist into the gun shape. You know, the pointer finger extended outward, the thumb up? And every time you “shoot,” you push down the thumb even though that isn’t at all the way a gun shoots? So yeah, that. I can’t do it. I haven’t been able to do it, for as long as I can remember. For some reason, whenever I try, my pinkie finger sticks out, at a ninety degree angle from my hand. Just straight out there, as if without a care in the world. It looks stupid. (My right hand can do it with no problems). If I force the finger down, I can sort of wedge it under the ring finger and have it stay down, but I can’t accomplish it without manual assistance form the other hand.

I can’t think of any possible consequence this may have on my life.

SPECIAL NOTE – I notice that many people reach this post by way of google, because they’re looking for what the capital of poland in 1600 was. You must be dissapointed reaching this page and not getting the answer, so I’ll help you out – The capital of Poland until 1600 was Krakow, and the joke in Calvin and Hobbes is that Suzie asks Calvin during a test, Calvin clearly doesn’t know the answer, but is engrossed in a daydream and accidentally gives her the right answer. This post is about my inability to make the gun gestures that Calvin makes in that strip. Case closed. As thanks, you can click my ads, or buy this great complete collection of Calvin and Hobbes – a must for any fan.

Marlon Brando and Lag Ba’omer

A few years ago, I made a bet with a friend of mine over how long Marlon Brando was going to live. My friend said he wasn’t going to last out the year, and I had faith in the Godfather’s health. Brando lived, I won, and the twenty shekel was mine. I got greedy, though, and we went double or nothing for the next year. Sure enough, a couple of months before the end, good old Marlon kicked the bucket, and I lost my hard-earned twenty shekel.

I saw this friend again at a wedding tonight, and we decided to make another bet. This time the subject is me (though thankfully, not in death). I bet him that I could be engaged within a year, and he took that bet without hesitation (actually, his reaction was something like “a year? I’ll take that bet for any period of time…”). His faith in me was somewhat underwhelming. So here I am, without a girlfriend or even prospects on the horizon, with 364 days to go until next year, Lag Ba’omer. Wish me luck.

In other Menachem-related betting news, me and David are still neck and neck in our ongoing 50 shekel Omer-with-a-bracha bet.

Bonfire of the Vanities

What’s the point of Lag Ba’omer? Like, seriously, what does it commemorate? What does it celebrate? The day Rabbi Akiva’s students stopped dying? That doesn’t really make sense.

Rabbi Akiva had, near as I can tell 24,005 students. From Pesach until Lag Ba’omer, 24,000 of them died. So we have this big celebration on the day they stopped dying? If 99.98% of your students died of plague in a 33 day period, would you go out and celebrate with bonfires? (Bonfires? Where in our religion do we have that? Or anything remotely like that? It seems very pagan to me).

The Answer

The answer is, and nobody is going to like it, that there is no such thing as a “terrorist.” There are “good guys,” and there are “bad guys.” In the fight against evil, all weapons and methods of battle are valid; be they nuclear missiles, carpet bombing, wiping out Amalek, suicide attacks, or a rifle shot. All these weapons are “terrorism,” when wielded by an enemy, fighting for an immoral goal. We tend to give the bad guys a break, and give them certain allowances. We allow them to fight on the fields of battle, in a declared war. They can use all types of conventional weapons. But once they break the rules (or, “Geneva Conventions”) we brand them for what they are, terrorists.

This definition doesn’t work at all from a post-modern relativist standpoint, in fact it screams out against it. Dubya would probably like it.

The reason there has been so much terrorism in the world lately, is because the “good guys” have become so strong that the enemy has to resort to asymmetrical warfare. I think that, in this light, the prevalence of terrorism in the world today can be seen as a good thing, or at least something with a silver lining. Terrorism is a symptom of the weakness of evil in the world today. (As opposed to Nazi Germany, which didn’t resort to terrorism (by today’s standards) precisely because it was so strong.)

T for Terrorist

Remember, remember, the fifth of November…

While you don’t need to be familiar with British history to enjoy V for Vendetta, it certainly helps. The movie starts off with a short scene from 1605, as Guy Fawkes is caught trying to blow up the parliament building in London, and executed shortly thereafter. What was then known as the “gunpowder plot,” is commemorated every year in England on Guy Fawkes day, November 5th.

The antagonist of V for Vendetta shares little with Guy Fawkes, who may have been the world’s first religious fundamentalist terrorist. Or was he? A lot of the debate surrounding this film is because it supposedly glorifies terrorism. V, the ‘terrorist,’ fights the ‘freedom fighter’s’ fight against an oppressive government. At least, that’s what people are saying.

So what exactly is terrorism? I think it has something to do with indiscriminate killing of non-combatants, for starters. That would include suicide bombings in civilian centers. What it would not include would be suicide bombings on military bases, or soldiers. Some might say that any suicide attack is terrorism. Would that include kamikaze pilots in World War Two? What about shooting attacks on soldiers on guard duty? What about off-duty soldiers? Any definition that the media comes up with (and they really need to come up with one soon, an industry standard.) is going to have to be consistant. I’ve made up a “terrorism labeling test,” here (for lack of a better name). Let’s plug in a definition and see what happens.

Let’s start with this simple definition: “Terrorism is the indiscriminate targeting and killing of non-combatants.”

Now, let’s run that through some test examples:

1) The Sbarro bombing. Definitely fits. Civilians were targeted, indiscriminately.

2) September 11th WTC attack. Also works. They just wanted the highest number of kills possible. They also attacked a symbol, the World Trade Center, which isn’t really relevant to this definition, but we might want to keep it in mind if we want to refine it.

3) September 11th Pentagon attack. This one’s tricky. The Pentagon is a military target, and the civilians on the plane itself could be construed as collateral damage. We either need to change this definition of terrorism, or accept this attack as a legitimate military action.

4) The Allied bombing of Dresden in World War Two. Hmm… now we’re getting controversial. Dresden had no military targets. According to this definition, the USAF and the RAF were terrorists, clear and simple. We may need to go back and change something if we want to avoid condemning the Allied air forces.

5) An Israeli rocket attack that kills a wanted terrorist and two bystanders. Obviously, the targeted killing itself isn’t terrorism according to our current definition, but what about the bystanders? Again, collateral damage, but how far does this go? What if we launched a rocket that killed the terrorist and ten civilians? How about the terrorist and a hundred civilians? When does collateral damage become unacceptable and turn into terrorism?

6) The EZL and Haganah blowing up the King David Hotel. This probably escaped the terrorism label here. Even though many civilians were killed, the target was the headquarters of the British Army in Palestine, and if anyone should be at fault for the civilian deaths is was the British. Also, they telephoned in with a warning long before the explosion.

7) A Palestinian sniper attack on a soldier at a checkpost. This is actually the closest thing here to a legitimate act of war; a soldier attacking and killing another soldier.

I think the average Israeli, or even the average Westerner, would want 1,2, 3 and maybe 7 to be labeled terrorism, while 4, 5, and 6 should remain legitimate acts of war. But how can you label something to fit only those first three, and none of the last? I think we made need to introduce additional elements to our definition. For example, something about the terrorists themselves using civilian garb as cover, and not fighting in uniform might be in order. Also, a distinction needs to be made (if there is a distinction to be made) between targeting civilians, and executing military strikes where you know with certainty that there will be collateral civilian deaths. But I’ll leave it up to you.

Here’s my challenge. Define terrorism in one or two sentences. Then run it through these seven test cases, be completely honest with yourself, and publish the result, either on your blog, or in my comment space (but if you do it in your blog, let us know, and provide a link here). I’ll alter my definition here, and put up a new one soon, too. I’m going to “tag” to do this (but it’s open to anyone) David, Regreg, Umar, OC and OY, and mousetrap84, as her triumphant return to the blogging world.

Update: I want to add an eighth test case to run the definitions through. In 1943, Warsaw Ghetto fighters resisted the Nazis, and controlled the Ghetto for about 4 months. During that time, the non-uniformed resisters carried out attacks on German troops, and executed reprisal attacks on Jews that had been collaborating with the Nazis.

Key points here: They had no uniforms, fought for no country, and executed civilians in addition to fighting the Germans.

Obviously, I don’t think that the Warsaw Ghetto fighters were terrorists, and I don’t think anyone will debate that. However, there’s no doubt that the German High Command at the time considered them as such. Prove them wrong.