Evicted, Angry and Worried

There is no place like home, and no one knows it better than the former Jewish settlers of the Gaza Strip. Evicted from their beachside villages on the shores of the lapping Mediterranean Sea, they are living this week out of hotel rooms, high school dormitories or in refugee-like tent camps.

Late last week, post-eviction, Ruth Etzion found herself wandering the streets of the Samaria settlement of Ofra, the home of her in-laws. Walking under tall pine trees in an almost trance-like state, Etzion, her husband Yaacov, and their three children reside in a two-room dormitory “suite” in the local religious girls school. It’s a step down from their two-story home on the sandy streets of the isolated Gush Katif settlement of Morag.

But Etzion was content in some ways. For her, moving into the girls’ school in August brought closure. Exactly four years ago that is where she and Yaacov got married.

“We are trying to recover from our expulsion,” Etzion said, as her blonde haired, blue-eyed toddler Shira wailed in the background. “What they did to us was horrible and brutal.”

By “brutal” she meant mostly the insult of the eviction itself, with its psychological and economic toll. She did not say that any soldiers or police physically or verbally abused family members.

For now Etzion is trying to regroup and keep her family united. The Ofra high school is the perfect place to do just that, with local residents arranging free Shabbat meals, afternoon children activities and a free babysitting service for the 20 displaced Morag families.

The scars of the evacuation are far from disappearing, she said. On Monday, Etzion told her 3-year-old son Yoav to finish eating dinner, because she needed to clear the table.

“Ima,” Yoav asked. “Are they now coming to evacuate the table?”

But stories like Etzion’s are already a blur of the recent past for most Israelis. The army completed the disengagement on Tuesday with the evacuation of two settlements in northern Samaria: Homesh and Sa-Nur.

Attention has now returned to the question of whether Sharon’s disengagement plan will, in the end, benefit the Jewish state.

On Tuesday, veteran settler leader Benny Katzover milled around the burning streets of Homesh watching the destruction of a dream. A pioneer in the Gush Emunim settlement movement, Katzover was one of the first to establish a modern Jewish outpost in Hebron. He later became head of the Samaria Regional Council, where he literally helped to build settlements with his bare hands.

A short, bearded religious man, Katzover sucked hard on a cigarette as he watched security forces break through a home surrounded by barbed wire. The soldiers were being pounded with eggs, paint and pickles by the entrenched anti-disengagement activists. Homesh looked like a war zone on Tuesday with close to 1,000 anti-disengagement activists barricading themselves inside abandoned settler homes to put up a last fight against their planned expulsion.

But although passions ran high, pickles can only make so much headway against military gear and professionally trained officers, especially ones who would, under other circumstances, rather be sharing the pickles with their adversaries over dinner — or using the paint to help spruce up settlers’ homes.

And, indeed, when settlers are lobbing pickles instead of grenades, it’s a sign that there are limits to this last stand against disengagement. That doesn’t make the settlers any less angry.

“Sharon has established an expulsion machine,” Katzover said under the scorching August sun. “By surrendering to the Palestinian terror he has placed the entire Jewish settlement enterprise in danger.”

Katzover’s views resonate with a vast majority of the Israeli rightwing, which openly worries that Disengagement 2006 is just around the corner. With defense officials predicting that Palestinians will renew terror attacks against Israel, Katzover and thousands of others are wondering what Israel really got out of disengagement.

“Every settlement that is not behind the West Bank security fence is in danger of destruction,” said Yossi Zilber, a settler from the tranquil community of Peduel, in Samaria. Pointing to the nearby Palestinian cities of Nablus and Jenin, Zilber shrugs his shoulders, wondering aloud what Sharon was thinking.

“Instead of protecting us, he is expelling us,” the 31-year-old father of four said. “After we leave northern Samaria it is only a matter of time before rockets begin falling in Kfar Saba. And then what will we do? Leave Tel Aviv?”

But the settlers also will be part of another looming challenge — reunifying the Israeli people. If disengagement did one thing, Etzion said, from her dormitory suite in Ofra, it alienated settlers and their supporters from many other Israelis.

Knesset Member Uri Ariel faced off last week with Maj. Gen. Yisrael Ziv, head of the military’s operations division, in one of the Gaza Strip settlements. It was a sign of the growing rift between the right-wing religious Zionist movement, the Israel Defense Forces and those who back each, inside and outside of government.

“How many Jews have you expelled today,” Ariel shouted at Ziv as security forces got to work pulling people out of houses. “You should be embarrassed.”

In a manner that seemed out of character for a senior military officers, Ziv yelled back: “On the contrary, it is you who should be embarrassed.”

Maj. Gen. Uri Bar-Lev, who was in charge of the evacuation, talked this week of curing the division in the nation.

“For now the rift is out there,” he said, as security forces wrapped up the peaceful evacuation of the Gaza settlement of Katif on Sunday. “But it is only temporary and we will reunite together again, like most things in life do, similar to the birth of a child after which everything eventually comes together.”


Limits Needed to Set Path for Youths

A few weeks ago, three students at Milken Community Jewish High School in Los Angeles were expelled for making a sexually explicit video of themselves that was eventually seen by members of the student community. Many parents and teachers in the Jewish community have expressed confusion at how educated Jewish students at a school like Milken did what they did.

But to think that what happened at Milken is isolated to the particulars of the parent-child relationships of the families involved is myopic — and too easy. To be sure, such behavior is not widespread in our children’s communities. But we can be relatively certain that for every incident brought to light, many more are hidden in the shadows.

Parents and teachers — really all adults — owe it to those three teenagers to take some responsibility for what happened. Those teenagers grew up in the society we created.

We are the adults. They are the kids. We owe it to them to enter the darkness of our confusion and investigate the source of what happens in our midst. We must ask whether what happened is indicative of other things gone awry.

Rabbi Kalonymus Kalman Shapira, the rebbe of Piaseczno, in early 20th century Poland, wrote a book of educational philosophy called, “Chovat Hatalmidim” (“The Student’s Obligation”) to address the problem of young Jews leaving the yeshivot for the tempting world of modernity. He shared our problem: How do we teach children to be their best selves amidst a culture of overwhelming power?

His diagnosis of the problem is as follows: “Today’s youth consider themselves grown up before their time … they have come to see themselves as grown up and independent — in their opinions and in their desires — though their mind is still upside down and their desires unripe and bitter…. This trait causes harm [because] it causes the child to see any guide, teacher, or educator as a foreign overlord who has come to rule over him with a strong hand, and to strip him of his independent mind and will.”

Relationships between parents and children, teachers and students, adults and youth, this generation and the next are complicated. Each of us wants to nurture teens, to help them navigate the complex web of ideas and emotions that define adolescence. Helping them is hardest when it means risking our children’s friendship so we can keep being their parent.

I remember having a fight with my father when I was 15 years old. As happens in most parent-teenager relationships, it was not unheard of for us to have a disagreement turn heated and eventually end with us yelling at each other.

But this fight ended differently. At the end of this fight, I got so upset at something my dad said (sadly, today I do not even remember what it was he said or even what we were fighting about), I told him, “screw you.”

What happened next I do remember: My father started to kick me out of the house. I managed to apologize quickly enough to avoid eviction, but my dad made it very clear to me that if I was going to speak that way, I was not going to stay in his home.

“You may speak to your friends that way, but you will not use that kind of language with me. I am your father. I am not one of your friends.”

“That’s right!” I screamed, “you’re not my friend.” I said these painful words with all the self-righteous accusation I could muster, hoping to win the argument by making my dad feel that he had failed me. His response was one I never expected and have yet to forget.

“That’s right,” he said. “I’m not your friend. But I am your father. You should feel lucky that you have a father and not just a friend.”

I believe Rabbi Shapira would have agreed. Now, so do I. I was growing up too fast, and though I craved someone who would make me feel understood, what I needed most in that moment were limits, even at the cost of friendship.

I saw my father as “a foreign overlord” (and tried to treat him like one), but I did not need another person with whom to be lost. I needed someone who knew who he was, against whom I could begin to see the contours of my own self becoming.

But to say that I needed a father, not a friend, was also a false distinction, a straw man I made up to win a petty argument. True friends — like our parents — must teach us, love us and help us to grow not by accepting who we are but by sensing something of our essence, our hope, something of who we can be and lifting us beyond ourselves. They succeed not by shying away from a fight, but by being willing to risk what is for what can be.

Parenting this way is painful and tiring. The midrash teaches that words of critique are like bees — they hurt the one who is stung but kill the one who stings.

I love my sons from a place of indescribable depth and they know it. When I rebuke one of them, I feel it for days. I simply hate it. It takes a heavy toll I bear with me as I walk on the street.

I am not alone — it is a burden we must all help to bear: parents, grandparents, teachers and God. But we must do so because we are neither our children’s parents nor their friends if we fail to tell them when they are wrong.

“As children become adolescents, even the best parents struggle as their teenagers are influenced by their peers and the popular culture we adults are creating for them. A few weeks ago, three Jewish teenagers learned that it was unacceptable to make a sexually explicit film of themselves. They learned our society has limits about what is acceptable to do with our bodies at a young age in public. They should have known better. But could it be that they were only doing what our society never told them was wrong?

Rabbi Daniel Greyber is executive director of Camp Ramah and the Max and Pauline Zimmer Conference Center.

Milken High Learns From Video Scandal

Milken Community High School is facing a series of complex issues and emotions following the administration’s discovery a few weeks ago that three students had filmed sexually explicit videos and then shared them with other students.

The three students, two boys and a girl in 10th and 11th grades, were expelled.

Parents and teachers were devastated to learn of the incident, which follows two scandals last year, one in which a student hacked into computers to erase a senior’s SAT score, and another in which a girl left the school after allegations of promiscuity damaged her reputation.

The events have raised questions about whether it is realistic or fair to hold students at a Jewish high school to a different standard than the society at large.

"Children will be children, and some children make some terrible choices," said Rennie Wrubel, head of school at Milken, which is associated with Stephen S. Wise Temple. Wrubel said that while students are given the tools to make ethical decisions, the adolescent drive and societal influences can present formidable obstacles.

"I think what you have when you come to a Jewish day school is the opportunity for your children each and every day to be discussing values and ethics and morals…. We can’t prevent every problem from happening, but we can be there for our community and for our children."

The school, with 834 students in grades 7-12, has responded to the latest incident with an aggressive openness, holding an assembly for parents last Thursday, having continuing coffees with parents and dialoging with students in Jewish studies classes and in meetings with faculty advisers. The school has consulted with professionals in areas from mental health to public relations.

"Our first concern was to get the community involved, because this is not only a school issue, this is a community issue and this is parenting issue," Wrubel said. "We felt it was very important to bring us all together in partnership to talk about how we deal with situations like this and other situations that could arise at any time, because these are adolescents and it is their job to push boundaries, and we know that."

Administrators found out about the videos about three weeks ago when parents came forward saying their child had viewed the DVD on a school computer.

The school interviewed students who had reportedly viewed the DVD, and later the three who were in the film. All three admitted their involvement. Roger Fuller, the upper-school principal, and Jonathan Cassie, the 11th-grade dean, conducted the interviews with parents present, and no one from the administration viewed the videos.

Since the case involves minors, law enforcement officials were called in, though Wrubel declined to say which agencies were involved, fearing it could impede the investigation.

Wrubel said the school has corroborated the existence of two videos and possibly a third involving one of the students. The school does not know how many copies were made. While it is believed the DVDs were only shared with a select group of students, Wrubel said there were unverified rumors that the video has been posted on the Internet.

The videos were taped in May and June of last year. Wrubel said that many students had heard about it, but not seen it.

Milken, a school that fosters open communication between faculty and students, is trying to figure out how so many kids knew for so long without coming forward.

"It is disturbing to me as an educator and as an adult to think that students would know of this and not come forward, and yet from our dialogues we’ve opened up. We know that adolescents view their own world with a great deal of privacy and feel there are things that happen in their world that adults should not be privy to," Wrubel said.

One 12th-grader said students knew of the videos only through rumors, and so were reluctant to tell. Others just didn’t want to get involved.

"Everyone was just pretty disgusted. A lot of people didn’t want to see it and overall we were kind of grossed out by it," she said, adding that these incidents should not define the student body as a whole, which takes seriously the moral education they receive at Milken.

"I have friends in public school and these kind of things are so much more common there, and so much worse stuff goes on," she said.

Some parents praised how Milken is using the incident to open dialogue with parents and students on morals and values.

"At any high school things are going to happen, and you judge a school by how they respond, and Milken has responded in an exemplary manner," said one mother of a 10th-grader and 12th-grader.

When this incident broke, the school set aside classes and special sessions where kids could work through their emotions about the complex issues of sexuality, dignity and lashon harah (gossip and slander).

"They didn’t go overboard and didn’t give sermons or anything like that," the 12th-grader said. "They just brought it up in Jewish studies class, which seemed like the place to talk about ethics and things."

Teachers let the kids’ emerging emotions and thoughts guide the discussion, but they also tried to help them stay rooted in core Jewish values, according to Rabbi Gordon Bernat-Kunin, rabbinic director of the high school. Administrators are hoping that both the immediate reactions and the long-term curricular changes will help the students better grasp the difficult issues of sexuality and self-esteem.

Sex education and discussions of intimacy and relationships are part of a progressive program throughout high school, in health classes co-taught by rabbis, in Jewish studies classes and through informal programming.

Using both traditional and liberal source material, discussions about platonic and intimate relationships focus on human dignity and ideas about kedushah, making things holy by keeping them elevated and exclusive; the notion of tzniut, of privacy and internality; and the need to stay away from situations that can lead to deception, Bernat-Kunin said.

"We are looking at pluralistic tradition that does not have single position on sexuality, but certainly has agreed upon boundaries and shared values within which students are deliberating. In the end, the sexual decision making is theirs — they have autonomy — but we are trying our best to create a conversation in which that decision making is done in the context of Jewish sources, Jewish values and Jewish ideals," Bernat-Kunin said.

Wrubel said: "We want our children to value their self-respect and to care about who they are. We teach our children that we are all born be’tzelem Elohim [in God’s image], yet we see things like this and we have to pause and say we need to work harder on getting kids to feel better about who they are and the great potential they have, and not to resort to the social pressures that these kids obviously resorted to."