Wednesday, January 12, 2011


After the troubling events of this past weekend in Tucson, Arizona, and the blog I posted yesterday, I found myself doing what I normally do after shocking events: searching for reasons to believe in people again.  I found a past blog I wrote when I was blogging on MYSPACE -- a piece done as a recollection of a month I had spent in Israel.  Perhaps I write a bit didactic at times, and maybe a bit overreaching, but I remember my return well and how enlightening going to a country of such high tension can be.  Anyway, I hope you'll read and enjoy.

Jan 3, 2009


Every story has to have an ending, right? So here I am, sitting in Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv. It seems fitting with my impending return to be for the first time in a month eating American food. That's right, I'm eating McDonald's in Israel. I ordered a McRoyal. Let me tell you, it's McWeird. Either they misunderstood me when I ordered it, or they just like their burgers hot and spicy, because this thing is burning my face off. However, I thought it was just the burger until I ate the fries. There's something on them too that seems to be just as spicy. So it just goes to show that McDonald's is screwed up in every country equally. The difference is here I have Russian immigrant custodial workers speaking on one side of me and everyone else speaking Hebrew on the other. Surreal. However, in American fashion, I'm quite sure my food here will have the same effects on my insides as in the U.S. too. Come to think of it, maybe this is how they sell their ice cream. Makes sense. Give someone so much acid that they have to purchase a base, or their flight will be miserable.

However, the most humorous thing about the McDonald's at the airport here are the garbage cans that say 'THANK YOU' when you drop your trash in. I was expecting Todah, the Hebrew word for thanks. It would have been much cooler. Then I realized McDonald's is totally American and there's no way any garbage can manufacturer for this franchise would know the Hebrew word for thanks. It probably came from China anyway.

I look back on this trip and realize there are so many experiences that were amazing. I know I've learned so much. One thing I've learned is that Israel brings out many emotions for many different people. And when you leave it, it has a pull that makes you consider why you're going.

Upon my departure from America, I received an email from a frequent Israeli traveler which bestowed upon me the wisdom of 'never trust an Arab.' I often wonder how they'd feel hearing that the only person who tried to rip me off was a Jewish cab driver in Tel Aviv, even with the meter on.

I know that there are things about Israel that are impossible to represent until you've been here. Initially, you can't help but feel really out of place, even if you are Jewish. It's truly a foreign country – different languages, multiple religions (and within those religions, various degrees of sects with different intensities) and tons of culture. And in Jerusalem, those cultures are pushed so close together, it's understandable at times the clash that occurs. Can you imagine the Crusaders or the Turkish invaders coming into the Old City of Jerusalem to find the Jewish, Christian, Armenian and Muslim quarters of the old city living side by side? I think the Crusaders particularly would feel like they wasted a lot of time, energy and death for nothing.

A lot of the American media paints the people over here as savages; that death is somehow a daily part of their lives and thus, they get used to it. No one gets used it. Not Jew, nor Muslim. And the pain they feel is so deep at times in this atmosphere they never fully seem to let it go.

I've learned that for some Palestinians, land is something that is valued beyond anything Americans can understand; so much so that if all the jobs and money left their home town and relocated to a town just five miles north, they still wouldn't move. Imagine if you will the city of Flint, Michigan, where the auto industry decline left that city in a complete mess. If Flint had been full of Palestinian Christians and Muslims, it'd still be jam packed, and the population would actually be increasing. It's not something we understand. And most Jews aren't this way. They're too dang practical, unless you speak about the ultra ultra orthodox. These folks don't read anything but the scriptures and their interpretations. So while they may get on an airplane to go to New York, many of them have never read a book that ever mentioned flight before. And they wouldn't even care about the science that went into creating it. Yes, even on the Jewish side, things can bad.

None of us are perfect, but in our own minds we like to think we always do our best. And from our own point of view, we are doing what is right, what we know would work for us. And because it will work for us, we often believe it will work for the other person. That's where we fail. The other person isn't us. They don't necessarily have one iota of the same experiences we had, nor react the same way with the same emotions to what we do. I've learned, and had to remind myself over and over on this trip, that it's time we stop doing --- it's time we stop talking. It's time to listen.

The amazing gift that listening offers cannot be measured. If you think I'm full of it, next time you sit with someone, look them in the eye while they're talking and really listen. Turn off the cell phone and cut out the other distractions. Just listen. Not only will you realize you often miss things about the person you thought you knew, but you'll also notice that they will be really engaged with you. And they will feel connected to you in ways I don't think many of us realize anymore.

This is why the policies of engagement for me, no matter who you're engaging – enemy or otherwise – is much better than the policy of isolation. Isolation leads to the other form of engagement – that with weaponry. We've had that engagement time after time in history, and rarely has there been a true winner. The only way there's a winner in a war is if you just simply devalue human life. If you can say, "well heck, only 40 people died, that's nothing,'" and you can be OK with that justification, I think you seriously need to reconsider your language. Because to a mother who lost her son as one of those 40 it's so much more than nothing. When you've seen your battalion torn apart, and amongst the body count were some of your friends who were defending their right to live peacefully, it's so much more than nothing. And when your family was forced into a refugee camp, and your mother's brother died because no medical attention was available, it's so much more than nothing.

I've learned that this is one of America's giant problems. We've learned to get along with death in a way that's really quite odd. It's in our movies, our TV shows, and our daily lives. We've learned to fictionalize it and ignore it until it deals a direct blow to one of our family members. Then, and often only then, do we speak out against the things that are unjust and cause such tragedies. In its place, we've filled our lives with stuff – countless items that neither fulfill nor redeem us. If they did, we wouldn't always be looking for the next sale. I say this after staying with what would have been considered a rich family by their villages' standards – a family that has no central heating, and worries about the electric bill when they run their space heaters too much. This same family's values mean that Christmas gifts for their four young cousins means a chocolate Santa, a balloon and some gum. And the cousins don't complain about it. They smile at it, maybe because their father lost his job. Or maybe because they know it took an effort for their other cousin to put it together for them. I honestly can't imagine any American child who wouldn't be crushed by such a small gift these days, and for that I'm embarrassed.

Israel makes you appreciate your country even more. And I do appreciate the amazing freedom and opportunity our country provides. It truly is second to none. But staying for a while also allows you to realize how caught up we've become in crap that means absolutely nothing: the cool car, the coolest electronic device, the best dress or suit, or the highest paid contract. Try to use any of those things to keep you warm and loved during a winter's night. If you can do that, I'll be very impressed.

With America's economy hurting, Israel hurts more. There's an old saying that when America's economy coughs, it's Israel's economy that catches the cold. Everyone is feeling it here. So when you consider that the average Palestinian Arab makes $800 a year, you have to wonder just how they manage dealing with the basics. Never mind worrying about the political officials trying to screw them left and right. If they get a warm house and job out of the deal, you can bet they'll elect anyone.

Yes, this is didactic, but it's the end of a month long examination. And what kind of a writer would I be if I didn't end it with some sort of conclusions and realizations? What kind of a writer would I be if I didn't make you think even for a second?

But I don't want to leave you just thinking. I want to leave you with some optimism. I want to leave you smiling. I want you to feel like that if you got up and danced in the middle of your workplace right now just because you felt like doing it, people wouldn't laugh and point, they'd simply join in.

So here it is: in history, all conflicts have worked themselves out one way or another. Sometimes it was war. Sometimes it was peace. They don't go on forever. In this age where we log on to Facebook so we can connect with all of our friends with the click of a mouse, where we can find out the world's news in a split second, where we've donated millions of dollars to a cause like Live Aid over the period 24 hours, there's nothing we can't do if we try. Even with all of what I have seen and heard, and by measure it's really not that much considering how much of the country I've seen, I still believe in that hope. Even with what seems to be an impossible case of consistent miscommunication between the two parties involved (and by that I mean the people on the ground – not their governments), there is no doubt an Arab and a Jew can dine together. Even though it's not perfect, they were able to find co-existence in Northern Ireland, and Apartheid ended in South Africa. Someday this will end too.

At one point in the trip, one of the mother's said something rather simple but powerful. She said she wondered if she had somehow stopped using kind enough words with her children. That's truly a bold insight to have about oneself in front of a person you hardly know. So perhaps, all that's really needed is something simple: a little more kindness; A little less cuddling up with a television, and a little more coffee out with your friends; A little less time walking on the treadmill, and a little more time walking over to your neighbor's place to get to know him/her; A little less time spent labeling groups of whole people in fear, and a little more time approaching that which we fear to see if it's even legitimate.

As Franklin Delano Roosevelt so aptly put it, "the only thing we have to fear, is fear itself."

I, for one, am no longer afraid.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


So I'm on a conference call the other day and one of the parties involved mentioned he was suffering from the flu. Without delay, medical advice was offered up as to the various ways to ameliorate all his maladies.

"Have you taken Emergen-C?" advised one person.

"Are you drinking electrolytes cause you should be," was another pointed directive.

"Chicken Soup -- it's medically proven to help your chest and your cough."

It's not surprising people don't want any sort of mandated health care. Everyone already has their honorary doctorate from the University of "Know". We know. We do.  And we're encouraged to  know.  Message boards are attached to every news item, as if they were up for discussion of the facts because the reporter who printed the piece wasn't quite sure.  We're supposed to sound off.  We're supposed to know.

And although this generation is intent on knowing things, this generation has no shortage of popular advice for everything. We have Dr. Phil on television (and had Dr. Laura on radio) to set us straight with our familial dilemmas and point us in the right direction of how to handle things morally. We have Sean Hannity and Keith Olbermann to tell us from each side of the aisle what our candidates 'really' are saying. We have Jim Cramer telling us how to make "Mad Money." We have Oprah Winfrey telling us what books are really worth reading.

And while these people supposedly tell us what we don't know, we seem to know everything else. The internet has made it possible to sort of know something about things you once knew nothing about. There's a myth that dragonflies only live for 24 hours. But because of the internet, I know that's not true. Although, there's also just as many sites it seems that don't have the correct information on that. What's wrong? How do they not know?

I had a softball coach that was a conspiracy theorist. It was kind of funny because here he was this big guy, a guy who looked like he could cause a lot more harm than have harm caused upon him, and he was certain the government was responsible for all sorts of things. He just knew. It didn't matter what proof there might be against any said argument, the fact that there were holes meant somehow the government had filled them.

It was like the people that thought President Clinton had still gotten away with some sort of massive wrongdoing even after $70 million of taxpayer money went to an investigation that uncovered Lewinsky. Of course, I would make the argument to those that just knew he had somehow escaped any sort of culpability, that really what they were saying was that Clinton was brilliant. He somehow outwitted Ken Starr and all those that wanted to see him crash to the ground...he was that good.

Now we have Arizona, where Jared Loughner had apparently become very distrustful of the government because somehow he just knew they were bad. Not unlike those in the radical Michigan militia who weave fantasies of the government invading their lives and taking away their freedom by force, Loughner appeared to be vulnerable to those that preached paranoia and hatred toward government officials. And the argument has begun as to whether the continual negative rhetoric we all know exists in the political arena has simply gone too far?

Irrespective of that is the sad realization the Loughner was certain his government was worthy of distrust; and that more to the point, Gabrielle Giffords was the administrator of that distrust worthy of the action that too many people find reasonable, that of killing.

While the left and right argue or try to point fingers at why this happened, all of them should be agreeing that responsible words might have helped someone like this. What they'd rather tell you is that Loughner was deeply disturbed, without ever questioning why someone like that is deeply disturbed? Why is someone so young intent to kill, a theme that is repeating itself over and over in this last decade, from Columbine, to the recent shooting of a Principal Vicki Kaspar in a high school in Omaha. There are now countless cases where we of Generation "Know" have decided the best way to solve problems is through horrific violence that leaves a legacy forever, albeit one tainted with bloodstains and bitterness.

Generation "Know" will now blame Loughner's parents --saying if they were on top of things, this would have never happened. This is just a bit too simplistic if you ask me. Or like we're seeing on television, what has now become the most reprehensible of media outlets, more irresponsible finger pointing by political pundits whose biggest concern is neither solving the problem nor asking the right question -- it's simply about their ratings.

So how come no one in Generation "Know" knows how to fix this? How come Generation "Know" can't solve the problem?

Because dare I say that's where Generation "Know" knows too much. We know what causes lymphoma, whether UFOs are real, how to find the gossip on the Kardashians, or who the Bachelor is dating, or how to get the best flight to St. Lucia in seconds.

What we've lost is the ability to not know something.

What we've lost is the ability to admit we don't know someone else's motives. We don't know why someone's doctor put him on those pills, or why the government chose to bail out the banks. We can guess, but we don't know. We don't know for a fact O.J. actually killed his wife. We don't know if Ben Roethlisberger raped that girl. We simply don't know, for all the hubbub and the gossip and the bogus news stories tainted with half-truths in attempts to get your ear and your viewership, we simply don't know.

What we've lost is the ability to stick with something. How many people do you listen to time and time again find a person they oh so wanted to date only to blow off that person at the first sign of flaws or imperfection? Generally this happens after having sex of course, because sex is the easy part. The temporary. The information you needed to know, while the fact that they were abused as a child or see a therapist is the part you'd rather not know.

We've lost the ability to work through conflicts while treating our foil with courtesy and respect.

We've lost the ability to be thankful. These people who serve our government like Representative Giffords do so most often than not from a feeling they can make a difference for us. Not just for them necessarily, but for us. Whether I like John Boehner or not does matter one iota because in the end he deserves the respect for trying to do what he feels is best for his constituency. And the same goes for our Presidents, who the last two decades have simply become talking head fodder for shows claiming they are reporting the news when really they're reporting whatever they wish were the news.

We've lost the ability to sit at a dinner without pulling out our phone or our blackberry to email or text. By far the rudest behavior there is (and I myself have been guilty at times) I have friends who do this so much I no longer wish to do anything with them. I don't want to compete with a computer. No one does. There's about as much friendship and intimacy in those get-togethers as I have with my television. Dare I say, more people are choosing the TV for friendship while crying foul that they don't feel connected.

What about the woman who posted her suicide attempt on Facebook and succeeded because so few people responded.  They knew everything, even that she had taken pills, but did not know what to do when a human at her most critical moment needed someone to do something.  How come they didn't know?

Is it any reason Loughner or the many others out there who haven't yet reached his stage of distrust, loneliness or hopelessness are disturbed?  Aren't you disturbed enough yet that the job of school Principal is becoming high risk? Or that guns are so easy to get that a man like Loughner can get one with ammunition within day of killing six people?

This generation, the informational generation, the generation with all this knowledge at the touch of a button, this Generation "Know", doesn't seem to know much.