Emergency room: A city, in all its cruelty and kindness


Mr. Twenty-Something is obviously in pain.  His face is contorted and his right shoulder doesn’t look like his left. He’s wearing a tank top, and the complex and colorful tattoos across his upper torso don’t conceal the deformity of the top of his right arm. Where the left shoulder had the expected dome of muscle extending from the edge of his collarbone, his right one is flat. Grimacing, he clutches his right hand to his body to prevent it from moving even a millimeter. 

As a gray-bearded emergency doctor, I recognize an anterior shoulder dislocation—while rushing past the open curtain on my way to see a 74-year-old woman with severe abdominal pain. It doesn’t take any longer than that; I have seen dislocations so many times by now. 

I used to love the mystery and intrigue of a challenging diagnosis. I thought it was thrilling to order X-rays and tests and use complicated maneuvers to arrive at the truth of what was ailing my patients. Not anymore. I am running my whole shift. I don’t have time to play House. At the county hospital in Salinas, California, that sort of self-gratification is a rare luxury. We are busy tonight; it is always busy. Very busy.  There are 20 patients waiting to be seen; crying babies in the hallway; prisoners surrounded by guards to my right; and a sweet, little old lady to my left who I know has kidney cancer. She does not know yet.  Neither does her frail little husband sitting nervously at her bedside. His eyes are flitting around the mayhem, not given privacy by a flimsy, open curtain. I will tell them when I get a chance.

Monterey County is a microcosm of the United States in 2015. You have on the coast Tiffany & Co. jewels, Pebble Beach, movie stars, and Rolls-Royces. There are services, order, and plenty. In Salinas, we have open-air drug markets, mass homelessness, multiple families living in tiny abodes, scabies, mentally ill people running into the street, and children who threaten and swear at their protectors and authorities.  

But we also have young parents literally breaking their backs stooped over in the fields working to improve their children’s lives. Community workers come into our emergency department in the middle of the night to counsel gunshot victims and show them the way to a better life. We have law enforcement officers risking their lives to protect the weak and innocent. We have agricultural leaders donating huge amounts of money for medical equipment rather than taking that money as profit. We have EMS workers running non-stop for 12 or 24 hours to save the lives of people who spit, vomit, and urinate on them (and sometimes take swings at them). We have fire fighters running into fires and toxic spills to haul out people they never met and who will never know their names. And we have young men with dislocated shoulders giving up their emergency department waiting-room chairs to pregnant women with small children.

Salinas is a crucible. We have the best and the worst of human experience. The heat and pressure generated by the poverty, deprivation, conflict, and abandonment separate the gold of human kindness from the filth of human evil, making each clearly visible.

To work in the emergency department in Salinas is to watch all the behaviors, the pure metal and the dirty dross, swirl around each other.

So, I really needed to get to this dude’s shoulder. He has a shot of pain medicine in him now, but he’s still in a world of hurt. The quick and easy way to get the arm bone back into the shoulder joint doesn’t work.  I write all the orders to get him sedated, fold up sheets to wrap around him to provide traction and counter-traction to his shoulder, and get him hooked up to the monitor. My awesome nurse and respiratory therapist are standing by.  Showtime…

Then an announcement blares out of the loudspeaker:  “CODE TRAUMA—Emergency Department—Room 7.  CODE TRAUMA—Emergency Department—Room 7.”  Damn! Sorry, shoulder guy. Gotta go.

As we scramble to pull on plastic gowns, shoe covers, face shields, and gloves, we hear from another nurse, “ETA 5 minutes.  Twenty-something male, motor vehicle crash, 100 miles-per-hour, ejected from open convertible, no seatbelt, unresponsive, EMS trying to get vital signs.” Gulp. Minutes later I am placing a breathing tube down the man’s throat when we here from the overhead again, “CODE TRAUMA—Emergency Department —Room 6. CODE TRAUMA—Emergency Department—Room 6.” And from the nurse, “It’s the driver from the same wreck. ETA 3 minutes.”

It is a Sunday evening in Salinas. The orange glow from the ambulance bay doors down the hall suggests another beautiful Pacific sunset. The other emergency doctor on duty with me has just been told by his methamphetamine-and-alcohol-intoxicated patient that he and his family will be murdered. I get back to the shoulder guy’s little slot. His is next to the little old lady now, everyone having been shuffled around to make room and order from chaos. She and her husband know about the kidney mass now.  He stares blankly at the floor. She flashes me a little smile as I dash past.

I say to Mr. Twenty-Something, “Sir, I am so sorry that you have had to wait so long!” 

He gives me a pained smile as he says, “That’s okay doc, I know those guys needed you more.”

Craig Walls is an emergency doctor in Salinas, California.

This essay is part of Salinas: California's Richest Poor City, a special project of Zócalo Public Square and The California Wellness Foundation.

Living in a mash, not a ‘clash,’ of civilizations


Karl Marx once said that history repeats itself: first as tragedy, then as farce. The riots and Iranian fatwa calling for the death of Salman Rushdie, which forced the British-Kashmiri author into hiding for 13 years, can only be described as tragic — for him and for the cause of freedom and tolerance.

In the years since the 1989 fatwa, the rage expressed at perceived Western “insults” to Islam and its prophet, Muhammad, have transcended tragedy to become farcical, with often tragic consequences. Rushdie’s “Satanic Verses” — which, as those who have actually read it are aware, betrays a profound admiration and respect for the person of Muhammed, despite its criticism of religion and human nature — at least had the merit of artistic and literary quality.

In contrast, most subsequent targets of this brand of outrage have been crude and amateurish, such as the Danish cartoons mocking Muhammad, and consciously out to provoke a reaction, like the poorly scripted and badly acted “Innocence of Muslims,” which those “pre-incited,” “pre-programmed” Muslim protesters, as the film’s spokesperson Steve Klein described them, obligingly did.

At a certain level, I can understand, though I am personally not a believer, why Muslims would find offensive the infantile suggestions contained in the film that their prophet got the inspiration to establish his faith by performing oral sex on his first wife, Khadijah, or that the Quran was authored for him by a Coptic monk.

To my mind, the best reaction to this so-called “film” — which looks like it cost about $10 to make over a weekend, but was alleged to have cost $5 million — would have been not to dignify it with a response, so its makers would have been left to wallow in the bitter realization that their endeavor did not capture an audience beyond the 10 people who turned up to watch its one and only public screening.

The Muslims who expressed their outrage peacefully had every right to do so, since freedom of expression guarantees not only the right to cause offense but also the right to take offense. However, the minority that chose violence not only went against liberal, secular values, but also against the teachings of their own prophet and an ancient tradition of mockery of religion in their own societies.

Moreover, the protesters triggered widespread disapproval and disbelief across the Arab world. “The only thing that seems to mobilize the Arab street is a movie, a cartoon or an insult, but not the pool of blood in Syria,” tweeted one dismayed Syrian activist.

So why did a production so out there that it wouldn’t even qualify as the lunatic fringe provoke such outrage and violence?

Part of the reason is a simple case of ignorance. Many Muslim conservatives fail or refuse to understand that the United States and many other Western countries hold freedom of speech, at least in principle, in higher regard than religious sensibilities. That would help explain why so many protesters called on the United States to apologize for the film and ban it, despite the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees freedom of speech.

But before Westerners take too much of a holier-than-thou attitude toward their commitment to free speech, they would do well to remember that, up until very recently, Christian conservatives had a powerful influence on constraining freedom of expression. This shows that it is religion in general (or rigid secular ideological orthodoxy) that is a significant barrier to free thought and inquiry, not just Islam.

In fact, a number of European countries with a Christian majority, as well as Israel, still have laws against blasphemy or insulting religion on their books, and though most no longer apply them, some still do, such as Poland and Greece. Meanwhile, nearby Albania is a majority Muslim country that has a long history of atheism and no laws against blasphemy or insulting religion, and has never prosecuted anyone for such a crime.

In Russia, the punk-rock band Pussy Riot was recently convicted for “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred.” How their “punk prayer” was offensive to Christianity is unclear, though it was highly insulting to Russia’s earthly deity, President Vladimir Putin.

Further West, cinematic classics, such as Martin Scorsese’s “The Last Temptation of Christ,” elicited angry protests across the Christian world, including the firebombing of a Paris movie theater, and was banned outright in Mexico, Chile and Argentina.

Likewise, “The Life of Brian” also elicited widespread protest — despite Monty Python’s respectful portrayal of Jesus and its insistence that the film is not blasphemous but only lampoons modern organized religion and the sheeplike mentality it inspires in followers — was banned in parts of the U.K., Norway and Ireland, and British television declined to show it.

The current protests are paradoxically both about Muhammad and have absolutely nothing to do with him. The insult to Muhammad was just an issue of convenience and, had it been absent, another cause would have emerged for popular frustration and fury.

This is not because, as some Westerners seem to believe, rage and fury are full-time occupations for Muslims, but because they are fed up with American hegemony (and local corruption) and dominance over their lives —– from the bloody wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to the decades spent supporting and propping up corrupt and brutal dictators, while paying lip service to the haughty ideals of freedom and democracy.

This fact has been conveniently overlooked by Pax Americana’s cheerleaders, who, despite having been thrown off kilter by the revolutionary wave that has swept the Middle East, are now returning to business as usual with their suggestions that the fury unleashed by the anti-Muhammad film is incontrovertible proof of the irreconcilability of Western and Islamic values.

Describing herself as a “combatant in the clash of civilizations,” Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Somali-Dutch feminist, atheist and advocate of neo-con policies, uses the latest flare-up to call for more, not less, U.S. intervention in the region to bring down political Islam “in the same way we helped bring about the demise of the former Soviet Union.”

Although I admire Hirsi Ali’s courage in standing by her convictions despite death threats, I cannot abide her politics, her willful myopia to the destructiveness of much of America’s interventions and her insistence that there is a “clash of civilizations.”

In my view, there are clashes of many things in this world — trivializations, idiocies, fundamentalisms — but no clash of civilizations. Although culture and ideology can on rare occasions lead to conflict, for the most part, societies enter into conflicts due to a clash of interests.

That would explain, for instance, why the United States decided to invade Saddam Hussein’s secular Iraq, even though it was a sworn enemy of Al-Qaeda and jihadist Islam, yet is bosom buddies with Saudi Arabia, the hotbed of reactionary Wahhabism and the home of most of the hijackers who took part in the 9/11 attacks. It also sheds light on why Israel once shortsightedly backed Islamist Hamas as a counterweight against the secular Palestinian Liberation Organization.

Despite the mutually exclusive historical narratives of Dar al-Islam and Christendom, of crusades and jihads promoted by extremists, any deeper reading of history will soon reveal that conflicts within self-identified cultural or civilizational groups are greater than those between them. Christians and Muslims have gone to war and killed more of their co-religionists than each other. Take, for example, World War II, whose Christian-on-Christian carnage far surpassed anything the Muslims had ever inflicted. Moreover, the mutual hatred of Catholics and Protestants and Sunnis and Shias has often surpassed the rivalry between Islam and Christianity.

Add to that the fact that alliances regularly cut across presumed civilizational lines, such as the Arabs allying themselves with the British and the French against the Turks, or the Ottomans fighting alongside the Germans against the British, French and Russians. In fact, throughout its centuries as a major power, the Ottoman Empire’s alliances shifted between various Christian European states, including France and Poland, as well as the Protestant Reformation against the Catholic House of Habsburg.

More fundamentally, despite popular references to a “Judeo-Christian” civilization, Islam actually also belongs to the same civilizational group, with common roots in the Abrahamic tradition, not to mention the Greek and Hellenistic, Mesopotamian and Egyptian influences. In fact, Europe and the Middle East, especially the Mediterranean countries, have more in common with each other than they do with their co-religionists in Africa and farther east in Asia.

Some will undoubtedly protest that, even if this is true, the Enlightenment and its values, such as freedom of expression, have largely passed the Arab and Muslim world by. But the reality is far more complex and nuanced. Although Arabs and Muslims generally lag behind scientifically, this is not just due to local cultural factors. There are plenty of geopolitical and economic factors that are beyond their control holding them back.

More important, the values of the Enlightenment have been an integral part of the secularizing and modernizing reform project in the Middle East that began in Turkey and Egypt in the 19th century. More recently, it was the desire for freedom and democracy — as well as economic justice — that lured millions of protesters onto the streets, and even if mainstream Islamists have made the biggest gains for now, they have had to adapt their discourse to suit this public mood.

What all this demonstrates is that the clash of civilizations exists mostly in the fevered imaginations of extremists on both sides. But we are in danger of it becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy if we allow ourselves to fall for the divisive, though alluringly simplistic, logic of the prophets of doom. To remedy and challenge this, moderates on all sides must join forces to highlight the reality and benefits of the mash of civilizations in which we really live.


Khaled Diab is an Egyptian-Belgian journalist, blogger and writer currently living in Jerusalem, who has spent about half his life in the Middle East and the other half in Europe. Follow him at @DiabolicalIdea. A version of this essay originally appeared at haaretz.com.

What is western society’s place in determining halachah?


The Orthodox community is rapidly approaching a moment of truth. The many issues that the Orthodox community is debating internally are rapidly collapsing into one overarching issue, one macro-question, with which it must grapple head-on. And this is: whether the ethical norms of Western society should figure into the process of determining halachah (Jewish law).

Consider the issues that have most roiled Orthodoxy just over the past year or so. There is the controversy over the statement of principles concerning the place of homosexuals within the Orthodox community, a document that while upholding the biblical prohibition on homosexual behavior, mandates that people who are homosexual be afforded full dignity and respect, and that they be included in their Orthodox communities. Signed by 150 Orthodox rabbis and educators, it was flatly rejected by at least as many. There is also the ongoing debate over whether women may serve as synagogue presidents, as well as the sure-to-return debate over women being ordained as rabbis. More recently, we have seen renewed controversy over whether halachah permits us to donate our organs following our brain-stem death, even as it is clear that we are permitted to receive organs from non-Jews who are brain-stem dead. And, most recently, we have witnessed the controversy in Israel as to whether halachah prohibits the sale or lease of apartments to non-Jews in the land of Israel. Each of these issues is complex in its own way, and none can be facilely decided in the absence of rigorous halachic analysis. But over and over again, the wedge issue turns out to be whether consideration of Western ethical norms is relevant to the analysis.

This emerged clearly last week, as the Rabbinical Council of America registered its objection to the ban on renting to non-Jews in Israel, saying that the halachic analysis of this issue demands “special sensitivity to societal realities, widely held ethical principles, and historical injustices.” Which is to say that when we examine our universe of viable halachic alternatives, our choice of alternative can and should be influenced by wider ethical considerations. Yet this is, of course, precisely the point of contention.

The story is the same with regard to the organ donation issue. Here, too, viable and scholarly halachic positions have existed on both sides of this issue for many decades. Last month though, a Rabbinical Council of America report (ironically), which preferred the position that effectively prohibits Jews from donating organs, elicited the following response from Rabbi Dr. Moshe Tendler, a prominent scholar and bio-ethicist (and a longtime proponent of the brain-stem definition of death, which results in the permissibility of organ donation): “Their final conclusion is that a Jew who is in need of a heart transplant can receive a heart from a brain-dead patient but he can’t donate his heart if he is brain dead. Such a ruling defames Judaism and exposes every Jew to the hatred of non-Jews. It is saying that a Jew can take a vital organ from a non-Jew even though Jews consider him still alive — that his life doesn’t count. How could you justify such a ruling?”

The wedge issue is the same when it comes to the place of homosexuals in the Orthodox community. The opening words of the above-referenced Statement of Principles are: “All human beings are created in the image of God and deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.” While it is of course true that the idea that all people are created in the image is biblical, its specific application to homosexuals is a distinctly modern historical development. It is our way of clothing in our religious language the modern, Western ethical assertion that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” The relevance of such ideas to our halachic calculus is again what stands at the center of the controversy. Similarly, when rabbinic scholars in pre-State Palestine debated whether women ought to have the right to vote in Yishuv elections, the old/new “image of God” idea was one of the main pivots of the discussion. And it continues to play out in today’s controversies over the position of women in the Orthodox community.

Are the ethical norms of modern Western society essential to halachic discussion or are they irrelevant? Are they to be integrated or to be shunned? This is, in the final analysis, the central issue that the Orthodox community is grappling with. And the answer will determine Orthodoxy’s long-term viability as a positive force in the wider Jewish community, and the wider world.

Yosef Kanefsky is senior rabbi at B’nai David-Judea (bnaidavid.com), a Modern Orthodox congregation in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood.

Same-sex marriage and the fabric of society: What does it all mean?


If you look at the fine print, last month’s landmark Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage doesn’t change much in practical terms. Domestic partnership, available to Californians since 2005, gave couples nearly all the same legal rights and responsibilities as marriage, outside of a few arcane legal details. And calling it marriage in California still does not trump the Federal Defense of Marriage Act, which since 1996 has defined marriage as between a man and woman.

At the same time, no one denies that the ruling changes everything.

For some, it is a spiritual moment of human dignity finally resting upon everyone. For others, it is a sign that society is being sucked into an eddy of moral dissolution.

Many who are not directly affected are still processing and digesting the new reality, with the long-term implications up for grabs. As people begin to take the word “marriage” out of quotes when referring to same-gender couples, many questions come up. What do the ceremonies look like? What about divorce? Intermarriage? How will this affect the November ballot initiative to amend the constitution to ban gay marriage? And there are the larger philosophical questions of what marriage means and who makes the rules for a whole society.

What’s the Difference?

Although the actual legal differences are scant, attorney Jenny Pizer says the implications are more than symbolic.

“In practical terms, domestic partnership has resulted in confusion, and the status has not been respected the way it was intended,” said Pizer, senior counsel at Lambda Legal and one of the members of a team representing couples in the Supreme Court case. “People are familiar with marriage, and having same-sex couples be in a different system has often caused people to err on the side of not respecting rights, which is not what we had hoped would happen.”

Using the same nomenclature can help others understand that gay and lesbian couples want the same thing as straight couples — the ability to express their love in a way society understands, under the protection of the law, providing a strong family structure.

The May 16 Supreme Court decision was sweeping in its language, saying that like all other rights, marriage couldn’t be limited to only a portion of the population. The broad decision put discrimination against gays and lesbians into the same legal category as race or gender discrimination.

That inclusiveness also made many gays and lesbians see this as a spiritual moment, whether or not they plan to marry.

“It been such a fight for civil rights over such a long period of time, that this is an affirmation of our humanity and our dignity,” said Rabbi Denise Eger, rabbi of Kol Ami Synagogue in West Hollywood, a Reform congregation with a large gay and lesbian population. “Something that we have always talked about is the notion of b’tzelem Elohim, being created in the image of the Divine, and for the same notion to be echoed in a secular court, I think for many people has been uplifting and has been affirming of their humanity.”

Lebanon war underscores inequality of Arab Israelis


Wars, like hurricanes, tend to expose flaws in societies. In Israel, the recent war with Hezbollah revealed lack of preparedness for this kind of war against an elusive enemy, mediocre
conduct of the operations, deficiencies in equipment, shortages of shelters for the civilians and more.

 
The fact that Israel after the war is in a better strategic position than the prewar situation doesn’t seem to sweeten the pill.

 
People here vocally demanded a commission of inquiry, wishing to see heads rolling.

 
Hurricane Katrina shed light on flaws both in the preparations for such disasters and in the U.S. government response to it. Likewise, in Israel, the recent war has triggered great controversy.

 
Another common aspect is that the war and the hurricane mainly hit the weaker elements of both societies. In Israel, where half of the north is populated by Arabs, they became — like their Jewish neighbors — victims of Katyusha rockets launched by Arabs from over the Lebanese border. Yet, they don’t enjoy the same shelter system as the Jewish residents, and once the rockets hit them, further lack of past adequate investments in infrastructure were exposed. In short, the war has reminded us once again of the issue of inequality of Arabs in Israel.

 
Not that the Israeli Arabs make things easy for anyone. Last week, Arab members of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, stretched the Israeli democracy to its limits. Three of the Balad Arab Party went to Damascus — defying the Israeli law that forbids visits to enemy countries — and one of them, the vocal Azmi Bishara, went as far as warning his Syrian host of an impending Israeli attack.

 
I thought this was outrageous. That’s like Jane Fonda visiting a North Vietnamese anti-aircraft gun crew at the height of the Vietnam War or former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark offering his services to the enemies of America.

 
I took out my frustration on my good friend and taxi driver Zachariah, an Israeli Arab living in Abu Gosh, near Jerusalem. There is nothing like a ride with your favorite taxi driver to have a good and heated discussion on the important issues of the day. With Zachariah expertly maneuvering through the crazy Israeli traffic, we always get straight to the point.

 
“What’s the matter with you Arabs?” I asked him. “Must you bite the hand that feeds you?”

 

“We learnt it from you Jews,” he retorts. “It’s called chutzpah.”

 
“Gimme a break. What kind of people would vote for such a shmuck like Bishara?”

 
He grinned in that special way, reserved only for an Arab in a Jewish state who had just outwitted a Jew.

 
“Not you, Zacharia!”

 
“Me and many in my village,” he announced triumphantly.

 
“But why? He is a communist and a Christian, and you are a bourgeois and a Muslim. What on Earth do you have in common?”

 
“Nothing,” Zachariah said, not smiling anymore. “He just knows how to annoy you. That’s the only way to make you Jews think about us Arabs.”

 
Do we really need a war or an outrage like Bishara’s visit to Damascus to remind us that one of every five citizens in Israel is an Arab, and that the Arab does not enjoy the same equality promised by our Declaration of Independence? Prime Minister Ehud Olmert toured the Israeli north, which had been badly hit by the Hezbollah rockets, and promised that in the reconstruction ahead, Arab villages and townships would get the same treatment as the Jewish ones.

 
However, if we were smart, we would use some affirmative action here to compensate the Israeli Arabs for past neglect. The news of Arabs living as equals in a Jewish state will spread like brush fire in this region and would be the best outcome of this war.

 
In the meantime, an American Jew sent a donation to the people of the Israeli north, with the proviso that the money go to Jews only. I hope that the check was duly returned to the sender.

 
However, I didn’t hear an outcry from the American Jewish leaders, who would raise hell if someone dared contribute to Hurricane Katrina refugees only if they were not Jewish. When will Jews who care about Israel understand that enhancing Arab equality in Israel is the best way to support the Jewish state?
Once the inequality of the Israeli Arabs becomes a nonissue, my taxi rides might become boring. But then I trust good old Zachariah and the Bisharas to keep us busy with other things.

 

Uri Dromi is international outreach director at the Israel Democracy Institute in Jerusalem.

Beyond Left and Right in Israel


When it comes to politics in Israel, left and right rarely agree. In a country where even sports teams are aligned with political parties, there is

one issue that should unite Israelis and their American supporters from across the political spectrum: the need to foster opportunity and equality for Israel’s 1.2 million Arab citizens.

At a time when Israel faces profound external and internal challenges, some may question whether this issue belongs at the forefront of the nation’s agenda. For a growing number of Israeli leaders on both sides of the political divide, however, Jewish-Arab coexistence and equality is beginning to get the attention it deserves. Improving living conditions in the Arab sector and reversing the growing alienation between Israel’s Jewish and Arab citizens are necessary steps towards building a more cohesive and stable society.

Although living standards for Arab Israelis have increased steadily over the past 15 years, disturbing socio-economic gaps still exist between the Jewish and Arab communities. By all measures, Arab Israelis lag far behind their Jewish peers. Infant mortality, for example, is twice as high for Arab citizens, while average wages are 40 percent lower. When it comes to education, Arabs also fare poorly, with larger classes and fewer resources. Although Arabs comprise 18 percent of the population, only 5 percent of Israeli college graduates are Arab. The picture is equally grim in terms of housing; since 1975, Israel’s government has built nearly 340,000 public housing units for Jews and only 1,000 for Arabs.

Conditions like these, coupled with a string of broken promises from governments on both the left and the right, are fueling alienation and anger within the Arab community. In October 2000, sparked by the resurgence of the Palestinian intifada, violence between Israeli Arabs and the police erupted in the Galilee. When it was over, 13 Israeli citizens — 12 Arabs and one Jew — were dead. The riots, along with the emergence of Islamic fundamentalism in Israel and the involvement of a small number of Arab Israelis in terrorist acts, have created a new level of fear, mistrust and anxiety among Israeli Jews. On the other side, provocative public rhetoric and calls by some Jewish political figures for the transfer of Arab citizens from Israel have added to the tension.

As the government’s Or Commission noted in its report investigating the riots, the status of the Arab sector “is the most sensitive and important domestic issue facing Israel today.”

Israelis and their American friends must tackle these issues head-on to halt the further fragmentation of Israeli society and build a culture of co-existence based on the values of mutual respect, equality and shared citizenship.

Education will play a major role in achieving these objectives. Israel’s few experimental bilingual schools have been a success among students and parents. So successful, in fact, that a large group of Jewish and Arab parents in the often-contentious Wadi Ara area, eager to create stronger bonds between their communities, are preparing to open a bicultural school in the Arab town of Kafr Kara.

Next January, an important pilot project in Haifa will mandate the study of conversational Arabic and Arab culture in 25 percent of the city’s Jewish elementary schools. This breakthrough program will give Jewish children a window into their neighbor’s culture and will send a much-needed signal of respect and inclusion to Arab Israelis throughout the country.

Schools are only one institution in Israel that must undergo fundamental change.

More than three years after the Galilee riots, relations between Arab Israelis and the police remain strained. Problems in Arab neighborhoods and villages are often improperly handled or unaddressed. Many Jewish police officers lack sufficient knowledge to serve Arab or ethnically mixed communities effectively.

To counter this, the Israel Police and The Abraham Fund Initiatives, with the support of the UJA-Federation of New York, have implemented a project to transform relations between Arab Israelis and the police. Through education and training, the recruitment of Arab Israeli officers and volunteers, and improved communication, the project is raising awareness among police working in the region and reducing the chance of violence.

Major institutional changes such as these must be accompanied by tangible government efforts to improve infrastructure, close spending gaps and expand opportunities for Arab Israelis in education and employment.

The goal of creating a more just and equitable society is a Jewish value that transcends traditional notions of left and right. That is why former President Yitzhak Navon and other leaders from all of Israel’s major political parties are advocating for change. They recognize that social security is as important as physical security, and that Israel’s future will rest in part on a more complete integration of the Arab minority into the economic, social and cultural mainstream of Israeli life. Although they may differ on many other issues, securing Israel’s future is one objective on which all should agree.

Ami Nahshon is president and CEO of The Abraham Fund Initiatives, a New York- and Jerusalem-based nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing coexistence and equality among Israel’s Jewish and Arab citizens.

Invasion of the Creature Feature


In 1956’s “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” a mannequin-like figure mysteriously appears on a billiards table, a half-formed thing without hair, face or fingerprints. Meanwhile, a woman insists that her uncle isn’t her uncle, but an imposter who looks just like him; husbands say the same of their wives and children of their parents. The town doctor finally discovers the awful truth: giant, fluid-oozing pods are producing human clones, part of a plot to — what else? — take over Earth.

But the science fiction classic isn’t just another alien invasion B-picture, according to Jordan Peimer of the Skirball Cultural Center. It’s among a group of 1950s sci-fi flicks that mirrored red scare paranoia — four of which will screen at the Skirball’s upcoming “Red Menace Film Series.”

The films, which include “Red Planet Mars,” “Invaders From Mars” and “Invasion USA,” “played on the fear that Communists were secretly infiltrating America,” Peimer said. ” Suddenly people you knew and loved could be replaced by soulless automatons.”

The series, which accompanies the Skirball’s “Arnold Mesches: FBI Files,” began when Peimer first saw that exhibit at Manhattan’s PS 1 gallery about a year ago. There, he learned that the FBI started spying on Mesches, a one-time Communist Party member, during the McCarthy-era blacklists. The collages, inspired by his FBI dossier, included an image of Robby the Robot from the 1956 film, “Forbidden Planet.”

While looking at Robby, Peimer suddenly remembered another sci-fi classic, 1978’s remake of “Body Snatchers,” and reviews that described the original as a political allegory.

“I had always thought of those kinds of movies as guilty pleasures,” he said. “So the idea that they actually could contain a sociological message startled me.”

Peimer figured a series featuring such films could parallel the paranoia reflected in Mesches’ work. Accordingly, “Red Menace” includes movies such as “Red Planet Mars” (1952), in which radio signals reportedly from space spur earthlings into a mass panic. In “Invaders From Mars” (1953), a UFO turns humans into brainwashed (read Commie) aliens.

“The films all describe an inhuman enemy that threatens American society, and that wants to purge it of religion and emotion,” said Julianna Brannum, a consultant who helped plan the series.

If the movies seem melodramatic by today’s standards, consider the source, Brannum suggested.

“They reflect the level of hysteria people felt about the red menace,” she said.

“Red Menace” consists of two Sunday afternoon double features: On Feb. 22, “Red Planet Mars” screens at 1:30 p.m. and “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” at 3 p.m.; on March 28, “Invaders From Mars” screens at 1:30 p.m. and “Invasion USA” at 3 p.m. For tickets, $8 (general per double feature), $5 (students and members), call (323) 655-8587.

Home Repair


In a narrow Jerusalem alley a few blocks away from the souvenir shops of Ben Yehuda Street, a former drug addict who wants tobe called Shimon is telling me the story of his horrific childhood.

Born into a large Chasidic family in Eilat, Shimon and his 11 siblings were repeatedly raped by their father. The father was eventually arrested and sent to prison, where he is serving a 10-year term.

At 12, Shimon turned to the streets — and drugs. He sniffed glue, drank, smoked. He tried to commit suicide twice. After two years, a friend pushed him toward a program called Susan’s House.

Now 17, Shimon sleeps at a psychiatric institution at night. But during the day he reports for work at Susan’s House, an on-the-job training center for Jerusalem’s most troubled teens. Shimon works under the guidance of caring adults, including some of Israel’s most acclaimed artists who create beautiful crafts for sale worldwide.

“The place really helps me,” he says of Susan’s House. “It gives me self-confidence.”

I thought of my visit to Susan’s House this week because so much of the news from Israel was of a particularly nasty sort. Israel’s ambassador to Sweden, Zvi Mazel, vandalized an art installation by Israeli-born Dror Feiler, setting a sorry example for the rest of the world; Yigal Amir, the assassin of Yitzhak Rabin, is set to wed in a prison ceremony (“I want a grandchild already,” his mother told Israel’s daily Ma’ariv); and outside Israel’s soccer stadiums, Jewish fans have been regularly shouting slogans such as “Death to Arabs” at Israeli Arab players and flinging rocks at them, apparently without fear of repercussion from Israeli authorities.

There is no doubt that the combined effects of the Palestinian uprising, or intifada, and the collapse of the Israeli economy have contributed to a social coarsening. Homelessness, hunger, drug abuse, alcoholism and school violence are growing problems; academic scores are plummeting to what one analyst called “pathetic” levels; and the ruling Likud Party is in the midst of a scandal that parades tales of bribes, underworld thugs and payoffs across the front pages. The Israeli press is full of eulogies for a kinder, gentler nation. Two weeks ago, Education Minister Limor Livnat warned of “marginal groups with economic interests, including criminal interests, who are trying to take over the ruling party.”

And she’s a member of the ruling party.

The American Jewish dream of Israel has always been rosier than the reality. But these problems, along with the ongoing political crisis in the Middle East, threaten to enlarge a cultural gulf between Diaspora Jews and Israelis.

That’s why visiting Susan’s House, as I did last November, felt so reassuring. Eyal Kaplansky is a successful diamond merchant whose counterculture beard and clothes hide a savvy business mind. He dreamed with his wife, Susan, of memorializing a young friend by starting a home to help troubled teens. A year after planning began, Susan died of cancer, and Kaplansky continued the project in her memory. Now in business two years, the home provides a last chance for the increasing number of wayward Israeli youth in Jerusalem.

“I thought that the Jewish people don’t rape, abuse or kick their kids,” Kaplansky told me, “and I found out the Jewish people do all these things. We’re getting the toughest kids off the street.”

Susan’s House rents a series of small rooms in an old stone building. About 20 teens sit at work stations creating extraordinarily beautiful crafts of glass beads and homemade paper. Renowned papermaker Zvi Tolkovsky and glassmaker Louis Sakolovsky of the Bezalel Academy helped Susan’s House establish the training program. Kaplansky combines the artistic endeavors with lessons in business.

“These kids are scared of the grown-up world,” he says. “But we teach them if you know the game and play by the rules you can make it.”

Kaplansky knows because he was one of the kids. Rebellious and heavily involved with drugs, he turned his own life around. “I knew that if these kids could survive the streets they could accomplish a lot,” he says.

The organization has a $250,000 annual budget. There are five paid staff, 22 kids and a huge waiting list. Susan’s House doesn’t look to the government for help, because, Kaplansky says, the government is cutting budgets anyway and the red tape would suffocate the endeavor. Instead, Kaplansky tries to expand his project through individual donors and the sale of items in bulk to businesses and institutions around the world (the next time your organization needs items for charity banquets, think of buying them through Susan’s House, www.kys.org.il/susanhome.html).

It is a model Israeli-created charity, and it is not alone. Amid adversity, Israelis are taking it upon themselves to soften their society’s edges. The number of nonprofit associations has swelled to 35,000, according to a Ben-Gurion University of the Negev study, and 77 percent of all Israelis contribute to charity (compare that to 50 percent of Europeans).

“After the streets,” Shimon told me of Susan’s House, “it is a place I can come and feel like family.”

Treating one another like family — wasn’t that the ideal of the Jewish State from the start?

Zionism, by George


In a key scene in “Masterpiece Theatre’s” “Daniel Deronda,”adapted from George Eliot’s 1876 novel, the hero attends a Zionist meeting.”Isn’t the way forward through assimilation?” asks Deronda (Hugh Dancy), anorphaned aristocrat unsure of his roots.

“When we pretend to be what we are not, we lose a bit of oursouls,” Mordecai, a Jewish mystic, replies. 

If the early Zionist movement seems an unlikely topic for aVictorian novel, Eliot (“Middlemarch,” “Silas Marner”) was an unlikelyVictorian novelist. “She raised eyebrows,” said “Deronda’s” Jewish producer,Louis Marks, who spearheaded the teledrama with screenwriter Andrew Davies.

Born Mary Ann Evans, Eliot began shocking people when sherejected Christianity at age 22, according to Marks.  She was further shunnedwhen she moved in with her married lover in 1854.  Although the unofficialeditor of the influential Westminster Review, she was never publiclyacknowledged because she was a woman.  In 1859, she began publishing a stringof acclaimed, socially conscious novels under the pseudonym George Eliot. 

Her final novel was “Deronda.”  “As an outsider, sheidentified with the Jewish experience of oppression,” Marks said.

“She was outraged and disgusted by the degree ofanti-Semitism that existed in English society,” Davies, Marks’ longtimecollaborator, said.

Eliot began writing “Deronda” after befriending theGerman-born scholar Emmanuel Deutsch, the prototype for the fictionalMordecai.  An official in the Jewish manuscripts department of the BritishMuseum, he taught Eliot Hebrew and about the then-nascent idea of Zionism. When he was diagnosed with terminal cancer in the 1870s, he went off to die inJerusalem. “That inspired Eliot,” said Marks, whose daughter lives inBeersheva. “His return to his roots perhaps moved her to create Deronda, a manalso struggling to find his roots.”

The producer said the novel inspired early Zionist leaderssuch as Eliezer Ben-Yehuda and aristocrats who backed Britain’s BalfourDeclaration, the first political recognition of Zionism.  With war erupting inthe Middle East, he believes its message is equally relevant today:  “Manypeople are worried about Israel’s survival, and ‘Deronda’ makes people aware ofwhat is at stake,” he said.

The two-part drama airs March 30 and 31 on KCET.

Making Show Business Our Business


It has almost risen to the level of obsession, this concern about Hollywood Jews and Israel. Why aren’t they speaking out on Israel’s behalf? Why aren’t they flying to Israel to show their support? Why aren’t they sending gobs of money to help out?

In Los Angeles, the questions arise soon after any conversation about the Mideast conflict starts. We might not be able to calm the racket in Gaza or Jerusalem, but can’t we ratchet up the noise in Beverly Hills and Burbank?

Throughout this recent intifada, The Journal has tracked how Jews in the entertainment industry have reacted to the conflict. What we found and reported is what Rachel Abramovitz, writing in the Los Angeles Times last month, also discovered: Various and sometimes innovative efforts on Israel’s behalf by a younger generation of Hollywood Jews are not mirrored in the actions of the entertainment industry’s most powerful Jews. The foot soldiers have mobilized while their generals remain, for the most part, immobile.

Those critical of Hollywood’s reaction maintain that an A-list celebrity stepping onto the tarmac at Ben-Gurion Airport would do more for Israel’s image these days than yet another English-challenged spokesman from the Foreign Ministry on CNN.

These critics may be right, but they have chosen a glass-half-empty approach. The strong, silent studio heads and big-name celebrities make an easy target. They are a source of constant frustration to those activists who have recently tried, in a concerted and behind-the-scenes way, to push them into a more public role.

But focusing on the top billing shouldn’t blind us to the names below the title, including young-ish agents, writers, producers and directors for whom this crisis has been a watershed in their Jewish involvement. It’s true they don’t have studio-boss clout. But they are grappling to find their voice in difficult times — launching some innovative projects, raising money, organizing speakers and outreach for their peers (three such programs that I know of in the past two weeks). And they are no less frustrated than their non-entertainment industry friends at the silence of other Jews in the business. To tar these people with the brush of apathy is uninformed and shortsighted.

But what about the big names at the top of the marquee? I have three theories on why we’re not hearing more from them.

Some are already giving plenty in their own way. Take Steven Spielberg. The founder of The Righteous Persons Foundation and the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation and the creator of a movie called "Schindler’s List" is working on a movie about the birth of the Israel air force, which will probably do for Israel what "Saving Private Ryan" did for World War II veterans.

Some love Israel, but don’t support its current government. On the one hand, it is unfair to chastise American Jewish celebrities for not falling in lockstep behind Israel when many Israeli celebrities feel just as uneasy with Ariel Sharon. On the other hand, how hard is it to craft a message in support of democracy and against terror that any Jewish celebrity would be proud to stand behind?

Those celebrities who do speak out in support of Israel but against some of its government policies, such as Richard Dreyfuss, are pilloried by political opponents who want only their pro-Israel message delivered. For these Hollywood Jews, it’s damned if you don’t, more damned if you do.

Finally, this: some, maybe most Hollywood Jews just aren’t all that Jewish. Muslim, Christian and Jewish zealots all share the belief that Hollywood is home to a latent Zionist strike force ready to be mobilized the moment some top-secret, high-frequency shofar is blown. Sure, there are a lot of Jews who work in Hollywood (although even that is changing faster than the stereotype). But most of them are no more passionate about their Judaism than their Christian counterparts are about their Christianity.

Headlines don’t create a passionate and outspoken Jewish identity; upbringing and education do. It is no coincidence that the Hollywood Jews who are most outspoken on these issues have a history of Jewish involvement predating the current crisis. Some are the sons and daughters of Holocaust survivors, others were raised in culturally or religiously Jewish homes and still others entered Jewish life as part of spiritual search. As Neil Gabler documented in his seminal "An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood" (Anchor, 1989), the men who created the film industry rushed to assimilate into an America that they idealized and that their movies mythologized. But the Goldwyns and Warners had a Jewish identity ingrained by an immigrant past and anti-Semitism. New generations of Jews in Hollywood have lost that particular birthright. In the long run, creating Jewish activists, whether in Hollywood or Agoura, means building Jewish community.

The other lesson, which Americans of all creeds are quickly forgetting, is that celebrities are not heroes. As the late Joseph Campbell pointed out, the difference is clear as day: celebrities live primarily for themselves, heroes act to redeem society. Very few of us can ever be celebrities, and we ought not to wait for them to show any of us how to be heroes.