Brexit in Bali

It’s not the JFK assassination or 9/11, but even so, I’ll never forget where I was when I first read about Brexit.

I was on a beach on Lembongan Island, just off the coast of Bali.

Look it up on Google Maps: It’s a dot in the Indian Ocean. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more remote place.

And yet, there I sat at Nyoman’s Warung, a slab of concrete on the beach fitted out with battered teak tables and chairs, a thatched coconut-mat roof overhead. Just a few feet from my table, impossibly blue water lapped against the crushed white coral. Bamboo wind chimes sounded a timeless echo. Just behind me, I could hear Nyoman herself cooking the day’s fish on a sheet-metal grill primed with coconut husk charcoal.  

I popped open a cold Bintang and told myself to just enjoy the moment, the astonishing view, the edge-of-the-world quiet. But I couldn’t help noticing the strong cell signal on my iPhone. OK, just a quick peek at the New York Times app.

In Britain, some 8,000 miles away, a majority of voters had just chosen to leave the European Union. The pundits were calling the results of the historic referendum a rebellion against globalization. Britain’s disgruntled working class failed to sense the benefits of a system of open trade and porous borders. They saw it benefiting urban elites, leaving everyone else vulnerable to an influx of cheap foreign goods and labor and increased regulations. Globalization, they felt, undermined their economic stability and their English identity. 

Well, I thought, at least they had a vote.

My wife and I were winding down a two-week trip to Bali — for our 25th anniversary — and one indelible impression was that globalization had hit little Bali like a tsunami. Even if people there wanted one, there would be no Balexit.

The challenges of globalization that have been rocking the developed world — blamed for everything from Brexit to Trump — are even starker in the developing world. 

The Bali of your dreams, the Bali of “Eat, Pray, Love” has become a globalized tourist mecca. Cars, motorcycles and tour buses choke the small roads lined with global brands. The village of Ubud, where author Elizabeth Gilbert discovered the “Pray” part of her journey, now makes the Venice boardwalk look pastoral. I don’t think she would have been as taken by the Ubud Starbucks or Polo store.  

“People come here because it’s quiet,” our driver, Ketut, told us, “but then it’s not quiet. They come for the culture, but for them we give up our culture.”

Bali has lured foreign tourists ever since the first travel posters of bare-breasted Balinese women hit Europe in the 1930s. But what’s different now is the sheer rapidity of change, fueled by foreign investment, technology and international tourism. 

“That book was like a bomb that went off — boom!” Ketut said. All over Bali, people spoke of the island pre- and post-“Eat, Pray, Love,” a love letter turned wrecking ball. 

But it wasn’t just the book. Globalization has also spawned a gigantic middle class in India and China, and guess where they were all spending their holiday? With us, in Bali.

It is a blessing and a curse. The average Balinese lives on $1,800 per year. Tourism has enabled our guides to make that, or more, in a good month. That means better education and health care for their children. But they also complain that payoffs enable developers to plant hotels and restaurants next to sacred temples, and the fragile Balinese environment is being bled for the last dollar.  

With all these pressures and few controls on development, plus a lot of graft, the spiritual, quiet Bali is now harder and harder to find. 

We found it on the mainland’s back roads and on Lembongan — there is still remarkable beauty, romance and culture in Bali. But as I sat in Nyoman’s café, I wondered how long that would last. International hotels were engulfing the island’s fishermen’s shacks. Oil from the motorboats that show tourists the wonders of Lembongan have already destroyed the island’s once-thriving seaweed farms and are now choking out the coral and killing the plankton. When I looked more carefully at my photos of the island, I noticed just how many cellphone towers were nestled among the coconut palms. 

“We were too late for Ubud,” my wife said, “but just in time for Lembongan.” 

The Balinese we spoke with see these forces at work but feel powerless to control them. And the truth is, it isn’t even clear Britons have a choice. Now that the full implications of Brexit are beginning to become clear, there are calls for a do-over, or at least for making the implementation something less than a clean exit. The angry Brits are realizing what the Balinese already know: There is no going back; you can only learn to surf the tsunami.  

As I left Nyoman’s, I stopped to thank the small, middle-aged owner for one of the simplest and best meals I’d ever had. 

“You’re welcome,” Nyoman said as she took my hand. She looked up into my eyes. “But please say you like on Trip Advisor.”

ROB ESHMAN is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. Email him at You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter @foodaism and @RobEshman.

Globalization of Hope

“Come, let us build us a city, and a tower with its top in the sky, to make a name for ourselves; else we shall be scattered all over the world.” The Lord came down to look at the city and tower that man had built, and the Lord said, “If, as one people with one language for all, this is how they have begun to act, then nothing that they may propose to do will be out of their reach. Let us, then, go down and confound their speech” (Genesis 11). Thus ended humanity’s first attempt at globalization.

What was the sin of Babel? What so disturbed God? The Torah doesn’t say. So the Midrash answers: The sin, one Midrash teaches, was the intention of the builders to construct a Tower, ascend to heaven and displace God as ruler of the universe. According to another teaching, as the tower climbed into the sky, the worth of the human being declined. When a brick fell, the workers stopped to mourn. When a human being fell, he was ignored.

Today, Babel is being built again. You’ve been there. You phone an airline to check a reservation, and the person at the other end is in Manila. The computer help line connects to a technician in Bangalore. Our clothing is made in China, our cars in Japan, our appliances in Singapore. Fresh fruit is no longer seasonal — in winter, we eat peaches from Chile. Your ATM card works as well in Amsterdam and Bangkok as it does here. No bar mitzvah is kosher unless sushi is served.

With global commerce and communications, the boundaries of nations and cultures are dissolving. In the Bible’s words, we are of the one language and one speech. In the words of journalist Tom Friedman, “the world is flat.” Globalization means people, products, ideas and capital flow freely across the planet. National sovereignty, cultural identity, and economic boundaries give way before multinational corporations and communication. You can go anywhere in the world today and eat at Kentucky Fried Chicken, shop at Wal-Mart and watch “Sex and the City.”

We find this astonishing. It enriches our lives and opens limitless business and cultural opportunities. It binds us together. According to Friedman, no two countries that have McDonald’s have ever fought a war against each other.

But as at Babel, there are dark sides to globalization. What we so readily invite into our lives is experienced elsewhere as invasion. Like the Midrash, many perceive the tower as an assault on God — an attempt to displace God. Globalization destroys boundaries, obliterates local cultures, and dissolves identity. Globalization makes people feel powerless and invisible. If they fall from the tower, does anyone notice?

People who feel that way can be dangerous. They may turn inward and reassert the loyalties of the tribe, the verities of ancient faith. Or they may fight back in desperation. The more invisible and powerless they feel, the less they have to lose, the more aggressive and reckless their response is likely to be.

Can we avoid the sins of Babel? In the history of human cultures, e-mail, CNN, MTV, and Starbucks, are all very new. Globalization is not new. Twenty-seven centuries ago, the world’s first great global empire came to power. In 722 B.C.E., the Assyrian empire swept across the Fertile Crescent, destroyed the northern kingdom of Israel, and enslaved Jerusalem. Witness to this cataclysm was the world’s first critic of globalization, a prophet named Isaiah.

In Isaiah’s global vision, history is not about power. In history, the powerful come and go. History is about the justice we bring to humanity. It is justice that determines whether a civilization, even a powerful global civilization, thrives or vanishes. Justice is God’s stake in human history. Therefore, the globalization of commerce and culture demands a globalization of justice and responsibility.

At Babel, humanity began as one, but exploited unity for conquest and viciousness. So God divided and scattered us across the globe. Suppose, Isaiah imagined, the powers of globalization were instead directed to the pursuit of justice and securing human dignity. Then we would witness Babel in reverse: Not scattering, but uniting; not conquering, but nurturing; not demeaning the human being, but upholding human dignity; not displacing God, but seeking and revering God; not the globalization of our power, but the globalization of redemption. Isaiah foresaw a Babel in reverse:

The many peoples shall go and say:

Come, let us go up to the Mount of the Lord,

To the House of the God of Jacob;

That He may instruct us in His ways,

And that we may walk in His paths.”

For instruction shall come from Zion,

The word of the Lord from Jerusalem.

Thus He will judge among the nations

And arbitrate for the many peoples,

And they shall beat their swords

into plowshares

And their spears into pruning hooks:

Nation shall not take up

Sword against nation;

They shall never again know war. (Isaiah 2)

May globalization bring this vision to life.

Ed Feinstein is senior rabbi of Valley Beth Shalom in Encino, and author of “Tough Questions Jews Ask” (Jewish Lights, 2003).

Messages of Meaning on Rosh Hashanah

Southern California rabbis used their Rosh Hashanah pulpits to speak on globalization, Africa’s drought-ridden refugees and America’s hurricane-drenched evacuees as well as Israel’s Gaza pullout.

“This was a terrible year. 5765 was a terrible year!” said Rabbi Elazar Mushkin of the Orthodox shul Young Israel of Century City.

Mushkin’s Pico Boulevard shul had an LAPD patrol car stationed in front, with plainclothes police checking congregants entering the security-rich back door. Inside, toddlers ran to and from their parents sitting in separate sections; a small boy wearing an NBA kippa saw the ram’s horn being prepared, smiled and whispered to his father, “Shofar!”

Strong security was evident elsewhere, too, in the wake of an investigation into an alleged local terrorist cell. Police reported no Rosh Hashanah incidents.

Security also was tight further down Pico Boulevard at the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the adjacent Yeshiva University of Los Angeles high school. In the school’s small, book-lined sanctuary, Wiesenthal Center associate dean Rabbi Abraham Cooper was part of a packed and solemn prayer service on Rosh Hashanah’s first day.

Another Jewish institution on Pico Boulevard, Rancho Park’s Reform shul Temple Isaiah, held its High Holiday services at the nearby Century Plaza Hotel, where hundreds of worshippers filled the Plaza’s downstairs ballroom.

Rabbi Zoe Klein spoke about Hurricane Katrina, gay marriage, the U.S. Supreme Court’s changing face and other tikkun olam matters close to this traditionally Democratic-leaning Westside shul.

“A flood emphasizes loneliness, it separates people,” said Klein, who talked of how life can collapse like a huppah.

“The collapsible huppah is ready to relocate, to evacuate at the threat of hurricane. To take your place in fifteen hours of traffic…before the water moves in,” said Klein, according to her sermon text.

She also spoke of Gaza: “To pack your home, pack your synagogues, and unbury your dead in your cemeteries in order to resettle outside of Gaza. Taking everything before the Arab neighbor moves in…The world is a shattered glass, and it is a holy obligation to piece it back together.”

In another part of town, on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, a non-entertainment industry congregation enjoyed a small post-service line-up of bread and sliced apples at the annual free High Holiday services at The Laugh Factory.

Sermons at other shuls emphasized traditional High Holiday themes such as charity and reaching out to the non-Jewish world. In separate sermons, rabbis at two Reform shuls — Wilshire Boulevard Temple near Koreatown and Kol Tikvah in Woodland Hills — quoted from the Emma Lazarus poem “The New Colussus,” famed for its Statue of Liberty-inscribed words, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…”

In the San Fernando Valley, Rabbi Steve Jacobs marked his final High Holiday services for Kol Tikvah worshippers, while Ed Feinstein presided over his first High Holidays as senior rabbi at Conservative Valley Beth Shalom in Encino.

“When all is said from this pulpit over the next ten days, and in the remaining months until I retire on July 1,” Jacobs said. “I will finish my career grateful to you and the memories we have created together…I learned as a child that life is not only a puzzle to solve. but also a mystery to embrace.”

“At certain times in my 40 years as a rabbi, I frankly did not find much solace in hearing ‘God has his reasons,'” said Jacobs, according to the text of his Erev Rosh Hashanah sermon. “To be honest, faith is not an easy or steady possession. I am, even as a rabbi, assaulted by anguished doubt.”

At Valley Beth Shalom, Rabbi Feinstein focused on American power abroad and globalization.

“Globalization makes people feel powerless…and people who feel that way can be dangerous,” said Feinstein, according to a copy of his sermon. “Tribalism is one response to globalization. Terrorism is another. Society does not have to guarantee equality of income, or wealth, or even opportunity. Society must assure equality of dignity…

“God is the author of history. This was Isaiah’s most powerful idea,” Feinstein said. “Either we use our global power to construct a world of justice, or we face a future of never-ending warfare, and ultimately the destruction of our own civilization. Choose between the future prophesied by Isaiah, or the future predicted by Mohammed Atta and Osama bin Laden.”


A Stand for Darfur

Don't throw away the newspaper! Newspapers are the day-to-day records of history. Judaism has a passion for meaning. Events have meaning. What do events mean? How do changes instruct us? Look around at the world. Every event has something to teach us. As the Zohar instructed: “There is nothing in the world empty of God.”

When the Industrial Revolution took place, it overwhelmed the world of the shtetl, the Jewish village. It is told that the disciples in one shtetl asked the rabbi, “What does it mean? What can we learn from the invention of the train, the telegraph, from the telephone?” The rabbi answered, “From the train, we learn that, but for one moment, everything can be lost. Once the door of the train is closed, you miss the great journey. Pay attention!

And what can you learn from the telegraph? From the telegraph you learn that every word counts. Guard your tongue! And what can you learn from the telephone? From the telephone you learn that whatever you speak here is heard there.” Words have consequences.

We live in the age of globalization–economic, political, cultural, technological globalization. What meaning does globalization have for us? It has entered our life, the life of our country, the life of world civilizations. This is the age of the Internet, satellite television, computers, cell phones, email and out-sourcing. The world is smaller and more interconnected than ever before in its history. Things move faster. Space is more constricted. Geography has shrunk. What happens in Baghdad affects Tarzana. What happens in Darfur affects Washington. What happens in Indonesia affects Iowa.

What does globalization mean? What globalization means has produced many debates and many interpretations. Historian Francis Fukuyama, in his End of History, argues that Globalism means that economics, in the future and in the present, is more powerful than politics. The Soviet Union imploded, not because a single missile was shot. The Soviet Union imploded because it could not bear the burden of its command economy. Trade unity will do what politics did not do before globalization.

On the other hand, Professor Samuel Huntington, in The Clash of Civilizations, believes that globalism not only stabilizes, but also destabilizes the world. Jihad and McWorld occur at the same time and are both linked together, driven by technology, ecology, communication, congress. Huntington foresees, not global harmony, but tribal factionalism, the clash of civilizations. The world is falling apart–the center will not hold.

How about us? Judaism is a religion of meaning. What does Judaism have to say about the phenomenon of globalization?

Rosh Hashanah speaks to the entire world because Judaism is a global religion. Consider the different calendars of religions. How do different religions mark the calendar of time? For Christianity, this is 2004 Anno Domini, the Year of Our Lord. It marks the birth of Jesus as the Son of God.

Muslims begin their calendar differently. They begin the calendar of the world with 622 A.D., which dates back to Mohammed's Hajira, his flight from Mecca to Medina. Here history begins. But the Jewish calendar is 5765, which celebrates not the birth of a Jewish savior, not the birth of a Jewish redeemer, not a Jewish event such as the Exodus out of Egypt or the revelation of the Law at Sinai. Rosh Hashanah celebrates the birth of the universe and the birth of humanity.

Open the first pages of the book of Genesis: The first eleven chapters do not deal with a Jew–not with Abraham nor Isaac nor Jacob nor Moses nor Aaron. It deals with Adam, and Adam as the archetype of humanity. Adam is not a Jew–the name is derived from “adamah” which means “earth”. And when the sages ask, “From which place in the universe was this earth taken? Was it from Athens or Rome or Jericho?” (or Encino?)? the answer given is that it was taken from four corners of the earth: north, south, east and west. And what was the color of this clay that formed the human being? Our sages answered, “It was black, and white, and red and yellow.”

Rosh Hashanah doesn't celebrate the birth of any particular religion–God did not create religion. God created the universe and within the universe, humanity. And the singular biblical verse which resonates throughout Judaism and world history is the verse in Genesis: chapter 1, verse 26: God created every human being–man, woman, child–in God's image. Whatever color, whatever race, whatever ethnicity. God created every human being with Divine potentiality.

There were other traditions that believed that some people are informed by God. The Egyptian Pharaoh believed that he was God. The kings of Sumeria believed that they were gods. But in Judaism, every single human being is created by God, prince and pauper, the mighty and the weak.

For Adam is not created as different species or kinds. Adam is one. There is only one humanity and only one universe and only one God and only one universal obligation.

In the Midrash it is written: “When the Holy One, blessed be He, created the world, he took Adam around to see the trees of the Garden of Eden, which included the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge, and He said to Adam, “Behold My work. All this I create for you. Take care you do not destroy it, for if you do, there is no one left to repair it.” This charge is addressed to every man, to every human being, and every human being can say,

“For my sake was the world created.” For when the rabbis asked, “Why did He create Adam singly, by himself, and not as part of a family?” the rabbis answered, “So that no one should say, 'My ancestor is superior to yours.'”

Rosh Hashanah conveys a Jewish particular, universal, global meaning.

To be a Jew is think big.

To be a Jew is to think globally.

To be a Jew is to act globally.

To be a Jew is to love God, who is global.

Baruch Attah Adonai, Eloheiny Melech Ha-Olam.”

Blessed art Thou, Lord our God, King of the entire universe.” King of this universe. God's universe is not to be escaped, or denied, or demeaned. The universe is to be sanctified.

The text books in comparative religion Christianity and Islam as universal religions, but not Judaism. From Spinoza to Kant to Hegel, and to many Jews and non-Jews, it is believed that while every religion I have mentioned is universal, Judaism is ethnic, small and provincial, tribal–concerned only with its own believers and well-being and with no one else.

We are a small people with a big idea. When Egypt, by 3000 B.C.E., had built its pyramids, and Sumer had its huge empires, we Jews were a tiny band of nomads milling around the upper regions of the Arabian desert. When this small people finally settled down on the land, it was 150 miles in length, from Dan to Beersheva; 50 miles across Jerusalem. But significantly, this small people accepted God's majestic agenda. God's agenda is the entire world and humanity.

Look at God's agenda. Look at God's world. Close the book–open up a newspaper:

  • God's world is populated by six billion people.
  • One sixth of the world's people, twenty two percent, live below the poverty line.
  • 1.3 billion human beings have no access to safe drinking water.
  • 2.6 billion live without elementary sanitation.
  • 841 million people are severely malnourished.
  • 150 million people go to bed hungry every night.
  • Thirty thousand children will die today, as they will every day, from starvation, from lack of shelter, from poverty.

Enough! Close the newspaper! Open the Machzor: This is a synagogue, not a political party, a political convention. This is Rosh Hashanah, not an economic summit. Close the newspaper.

But–you can't close the newspaper once you believe in a global God. For if you close the newspaper, you make God's world irrelevant. If you close the newspaper, you make a mockery out of prayer and repentance and goodness. A synagogue of prayer must have a window, not a mirror; a window to look out at the world.

But Rabbi, we are a small people. Would you add new burdens upon us?

Who in the world do you think we are? That is the question of Rosh Hashanah: “Who in the world do I think I am?”

Let me rather talk about the membership at our Temple and its dues structure–that's important, but evasive. I confess: “There is another man within me, and that man is angry with me.” If I close the window of the newspaper, I close the character of Jewish world religion. What shall I say to my children and my grandchildren? That we are a tribal faith with a narrow vision?

Our greatness as a religion is that we Jews conceived of ourselves as God's allies, as God's partners, as God's friends. We gave the world conscience. We gave to the world a sacred universalism that remains at the foundation of our relationship with the world. Our prophets cared about the ethical behavior of the Ammonites, the Hittites, Syrians and Babylonians. Our last prophet, Malachai, spoke to the world population: “Have we not one Father? Did not one God create us all? Did He who made me in my mother's belly not make him? Did not one God form us both in his womb?

How else can I understand our tradition, which on the very first day of Rosh Hashanah speaks of Hagar and Ishmael, not as Jews, but as a mother and a son who are protected by the Angel of the Universal Lord? How else can we explain that our sages chose for us to read the Book of Jonah, which chastises the Jewish prophet Jonah for his unwillingness to preach to the citizens of Nineveh, who are the enemies of God? How else can I explain the grandeur of Abraham's challenge to God in defense no less of pagans, those of Sodom and Gomorrah?

Judaism gave the world not ziggurats or pyramids or mausoleums, but compassion and responsibility. We gave the world a sacred humanitarianism. We gave the world an economic which commands us to set aside a corner of a field, to set aside a corner of the harvest, for the poor.

Shickah“, to see to it that the forgotten seed not be scrounged up from the fields, but let to lay for the hungry. We gave the world the notion of tithing. The third and sixth year of the seventh agricultural year must go to the hungry. We gave to the world dignity, empathy, economic justice. In Exodus, chapter 22: “And if you take from your neighbor a cloak as a pledge, you must return it to him at sunset, because his cloak is the only covering that he has.

Bameh yishkov?“, “With what shall he sleep? And when he cries out, I will hear.”

Clinton Talks at UJ Series

The United States must stay involved in the Middle East peace process, even when it appears to be failing, former President Bill Clinton urged more than 6,000 listeners Monday evening.

Even though the United States may risk its prestige in an unsuccessful effort, “We will be judged by what we tried. It is better to try and fail than not to try at all,” Clinton said.

The former president was the lead-off speaker in a University of Judaism lecture series and was enthusiastically greeted by an audience that filled every place in the 6,200-seat Universal Amphitheatre.

Looking back at his own strenuous efforts to broker peace between Israelis and Palestinians, Clinton said, “I did my best, and perhaps when I failed, I made it worse.”

On the eve of a visit to the Middle East, Clinton pledged that “We will never stand by and let Israel be destroyed…. Those who seek this objective cannot achieve it.”

Clinton will visit Israel later this month to receive an honorary degree from Tel Aviv University. He will also give a speech on the Middle East peace process Jan. 20 in Tel Aviv and participate in the opening of the Clinton Center for American Studies at the university, which will teach U.S. history, culture and political science.

The former president, looking fit and relaxed, devoted most of his talk to the causes of international terrorism, which he termed the “dark side of globalization,” and the disparities between rich and poor nations.

However, in a question-and-answer session with Dr. Robert Wexler, president of the University of Judaism, Clinton addressed topics of special Jewish interest.

Why did the Camp David meeting with Yasser Arafat and former Prime Minister Ehud Barak in July 2000 fail? Wexler asked.

“I don’t know,” answered Clinton. “The Palestinians got 95 percent of what they wanted…. Perhaps Arafat didn’t want to be the target of assassination.

“If Arafat and Barak had had one year to slug it out, perhaps they would have gotten somewhere,” he said.

Clinton noted that he had been invited to the world racism conference in Durban, South Africa, last fall, but decided against going because he feared it would turn into an anti-Israel sideshow.

But he argued that anti-Semitism was not a primary focus of the conference.

Most developing nations believe that the Palestinians “are getting the shaft” and used the conference to show their displeasure with the United States and Israel, he said.

What happened at Durban, he added, was a display “more of ignorance than anti-Semitism, and more of sympathy with the Palestinians than hatred of Jews.”

Asked to explain the overwhelming electoral support he had enjoyed among African Americans and Jews, Clinton said that both communities “have a finely tuned sensibility of who is for them and who is against them.”

The assertion was echoed by Peter Lowy, president of the UJ Board of Trustees, who introduced Clinton as a personal friend. “No American president has worked harder for peace,” Lowy said.

The next speaker will be former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, to be followed by political strategist James Carville. The series ends with Barak.

Gady Levy, the UJ’s dean of continuing education, opened the evening by recounting how each of the four speakers offered remarkable life stories. “This,” he said, leaving his prepared speech, “is very exciting.”