#tomorrow13: Bill Clinton on Israel, peace, and how to change Us vs Them

Another year, President Shimon Peres turns 90, and we join together for the fifth Israeli Presidential Conference.

I know there’s quite a bit of criticism and controversy when it comes to the event. It comes from a good place but there are also good questions to ask about who isn’t present and what isn’t said.

But as an exercise in thought, I like to engage. I like to remember that at one point, I was headed toward a career in conflict resolution.

Today President Peres granted former US president Bill Clinton the high Israeli honor of the Presidents Award. Looking for ‘the meaning in all of this’, here’s how Clinton took it:

Note: This is mainly transcription, but also shortened to large excerpts for the sake of keeping it readable.

Former United States President Bill Clinton addressing the Israeli Presidential Conference:

The search for peace and reconciliation and a shared future does not fit easily within the flow of life as normally we think of it. We like to think of political efforts  almost as if they are sporting events. There’s a beginning, a middle and an end. At the end, good guys triumph. It is much more than that. It’s a way of life. That’s why Shimon Peres has survived 90 years! He gets up today and imagines tomorrow. And focuses on today only insofar as it is relevant.

The wonderful Hebrew phrase, tikkun olam – to repair the breach – is a good and constant responsibility we all have. Truth is, in a world of increasing independence, we not only have to repair the breach in the fabric of our current community, but we have to push our imaginations to expand the definition of that community.

We are not truly independent; we can’t escape the consequences of what we do and what others do, not only in our own neighborhood but around the world. So there is today and the foreseeable future – a constant struggle to redefine those to whom we owe the definition of tikkun olam. Should we be trying to put everyone in our crowd?

I read an interesting quote this week by Rudyard Kipling; it went something like this: Whoever is in our group is us, everybody else is them.

In a funny way, most of the world’s struggles, since the first people showed up on the Eastern African savanna, emerging into tribes (and so on) – the whole of human history has been a constant battle to redefine who is us and who is them.

The imperatives of our ability to destroy each other have imposed on us a heavy responsibility to continually expand the definition of who is us, and to shrink that of who is them.

Sometimes the most shining examples of what has worked in this endeavor are found in small places. I think it is important to acknowledge that since everything that has been said here about the work I’ve tried to do is positive – a lot of it has been mistakes.

One of the best examples of overcoming past conflict towards unity is represented by the president and first lady of Rwanda. It’s also one of the greatest examples of my neglect as president. (We were so focused on Bosnia) and the people in Rwanda, through the genocide, were slaughtered so quickly – 10% of the people in 90 days – we literally never had a meeting on how to stop it in the White House.

I say this to make a larger point. Each and every one of us will face challenges in our lives.. We will not meet them all. A lesson from Shimon Peres: not to give up and give in, but to get up and go on. Keep the process going.

Later, I went to Rwanda and apologized for the neglect to help. In 2001 I saw a stunning example of the (reconciliation) work done to change the mindset of Rwandans – of who is us and who is them. And how important it is to let go of yesterday and embrace tomorrow.

The press with me (on that trip) wanted to find people who would say ‘what is President Clinton doing here, why wasn’t he here when we needed him before?’
One press member asked that to a cab driver. He answered, “No I’m glad he’s here.”

The journalist asked, “Why?”

The cab driver said, “Firstly, no one came to help us, and he’s the only one who came and said he’s sorry. Secondly, he didn’t make us kill each other. we have to take responsibility. And as he says, we need all the help we can get.”

No matter what anyone has done to us, or each other, the first step is to get rid of the things that divide us, including seeing ourselves as victims – we have to claim a future that we make. The great beauty of the state of Israel from its beginning that has allowed it to transform itself into what it is now commonly referred to, a start up nation, center of innovation for the whole world, is that it was seen as a safe place for the people of Israel to learn that they need no longer to be victims. That the beginning of freedom requires a responsibility.

What has that to do with today?

It is nice to receive a reward. It is nice for a country to have its monuments. But there are no final victories than tikkun olam. There are no perfect warriors for peace. No flawless leaders. Every day inside every person in the modern world where we are all crashing into each other and compelled to share the future, the battle begins as the morning breaks.

Everyone one of us, when we wake up in the morning, has inside, in our souls, a scale. You feel it every morning. On one side, all your hopes and dreams and best impulses. The world you want to make for your family, your community for people everywhere. On the other side, all those fears and resentments and disappointments, they are weighed too. Every day the balance between the bright side of the scale of our lives and the dark side, is a little different, isn’t it? Some days we get up full of hope – some days we get up and we’re just – can’t let go of anger and heartbreak.

We have to let go. For all of life is a constant struggle to expand the definition of who is us, and shrink the def of who is them.

The first time in Rwanda – the most amazing person I met was a lady – she seemed to have no visible marks (scars). She said she was attacked by her neighbors to find her husband and six children in a pool of blood around her.

“I screamed out at god – why was I spared?”

She started an orphanage with no regard for ethnic background and matched them with families with no regard for ethnic background.

Later on, I met a dashing young man, looked like he got an MBA at Harvard, who gave me a tour. I asked, “Did you lose anyone?” From his family, 73 people were killed.

“Isn’t this hard for you, taking me through here?”

“Oh no, it’s therapeutic. Our president tells us we have to face the past and let it go, and face the future.”

“You remind me of a lady I met the first time I was here.”

He smiled. “Well I should – she’s my aunt.”

Why do I tell you this?

Between the Israelis and Palestinians there are many reasons for distrust.
The one thing i know is – the lesson that had been driven home – and I could give a hundred examples of this that i have personally seen in tiny Rwanda – if you’re compelled to share the future, you have to decide what the future will be.

If the terms favor you more than them, there will always be us vs them. There is no perfect answer to any of this – there is simply the perfect obligation to expand the definition of us, and shrink the definition of them.

I ask you to think about that.

In one of the places I’ve been in the fundraising work, there’s a phrase of saying,
how are you? The answer in English is not translated into ‘I’m fine, how are you?’

It’s: I see you.

Think about that. There are people all over, serving nice food in rich countries, etc – who are not seen.

I’m honored to be here because I think President Peres always tries to see everyone.

All the people we sometimes don’t see are going to be part of the future. They have to be able to advance their dreams too. All our lives and our children’s and grandchildren’s will be determined by whether today we have succeeded in expanding the definition of us and shrinking the definition of them.

We have to say we see you – and stay on the path – and keep living and keep working.

More #tomorrow13:

Fifty-Two Frames: Portrait

The one day my son did not wear his beloved black kippa to kindergarten was the one day I needed to take a portrait shot for Fifty-Two Frames.

Divine intervention?

Since living in Israel, never has it been more trendy to debate religious practice, engage or disengage from extremism, ritually cross-dress, or hate people you don’t actually know in real life.

Personally, I think it would be healthiest for us all to stand back and examine the big picture more often. And then turn to the person on our left or right and offer a compliment. And a listening ear.

What does the portrait mean? Is it cynical, is it thoughtful, is it offensive?

Portrait of a misguided Jewish nation.

(Hope I don’t get in Rav Ovadia Yosef’s way any time soon.)

Week 24: Portrait

Don’t judge a man until you’ve thought a mile under his head gear.

Tzur Hadassah update: New pool, new bus, new neighborhood, new park, and… Swiper.

It’s been a while! Plenty to update on Tzur Hadassah. In no particular order, except for saving the weirdest for last… five bits of small town news:

1. THE Tzur Hadassah Pool

You’re not a true Tzur Hadassian if you’re not already putting on your floaties in impatient anticipation for the new pool, possibly making its debut next summer and supposedly being completed by December 2014.

Tzur Hadassah's new pool: December 2014

Here’s where they’re doing the construction; not sure exactly where the pool will be housed, because this entire area will also include a recreational area and more.

2. New bus line and tremp stations

Last month the Illit bus company (that runs from Beitar Illit) established a new Bet Shemesh line, the 138. It’s an express line to the Bet Shemesh train station, stops at the entrances to Tzur Hadassah, and the line is public, so seating is mixed.

By the way, months back, we had an upgrade in our two ‘trempiadia’ stations at either gate.

Tremp stations in tzur Hadassah

There’s also been a project of putting up new signage throughout the town, now that we have more local ‘attractions.’

3. New neighborhood

Remember this? They’ve been carving out the space for the new monster apartment complex to go up behind the Mavo area. It seems from the look of it that this new neighborhood will be even closer to the security fence.

New neighborhood construction in Tzur Hadassah

4. Park Yuval

Yuval Yohanan was a teenage born and bred in Tzur Hadassah, who died of cancer earlier in the year. Her family decided to create this serene park space in her memory, in the ‘valley’ between main Tzur and Har Kitron. It’s nearly finished.

Park Yuval in Tzur Hadassah

The plan is actually to ‘activate’ that entire valley space with different sections of park and fields. There is a sign outlining the plan, but it isn’t all that clear. I hope it remains as beautiful and quiet as it does today… I like to walk there sometimes and rarely see anyone else around. Go deep enough, and shock – there is no trace of litter anywhere.

5. Swiper

The story I’ve heard goes like this: the head of the va’ad was given a Swiper the Fox keychain (of Dora fame) by one of his nieces… or a daughter? He thought, ‘this here is a fine creature to have sculpted for the grassy area across from the school…’ and so it was done.

Swiper statue in Tzur Hadassah

At least we’ve got character!

P.S. The pizza place closed, and Cafe Cafe opened… at the shopping center/gas station outside the machsom. Havaleh, the farm cafe inside Tzur Hadassah, is still going.

Unicorns, leprechauns, EL AL customer-friendly UX, & other mythical creatures

ELAL Israel Airlines For months, I’ve been trying/failing/procrastinating/trying again/failing again/sighing/punching walls in disbelief/trying again to log in to my EL AL Matmid Frequent Flyer account and handle some points issues. I’ve tried online, I’ve called, I’ve tweeted, my travel agent has tried for me, but nothing helped, and yet on every log in attempt, I’ve gotten an assortment of unclear red error messages, sighed, and moved on.

Apparently, it turns out, despite the depths of my wild imagination, I’m just not creative enough to have figured this one out on my own.

I tried calling again today. After 15 minutes of Hold jingle and Hold lady telling me to Hold, I finally got through to a nice phone rep, and told her my issue. She entered my details and responded that the account looked great. “I’ll send you your password via SMS,” said she, and I merrily hung up and went back to the computer.

It didn’t work.

I called back. Another 15 minute-hold brought me to another lovely rep, who again accessed my account.

“Looks great!” she said.

“I wish I could see,” I said.

“Oh, dear -” she said, in an I’m so sorry you’re kinda clueless voice, “you’re forgetting to enter a number on your account ID; that’s why it doesn’t recognize  it online.”

“What? A number? I’ve entered what it says on all my emails, notifications, etc…”

“You’re missing the mispar bikoret. There’s a 1 at the end.”


Oooooooooooh. A ONE at the end. Of course! Please hold while I feed my pet unicorn the tears of a hypochondriac dragon, bred on the lush farms of 16th century Icelandic garden gnomes.

A ONE at the end! You know, I had searched every coat pocket, and still couldn’t locate it.

Dear family and friends and readers abroad, allow me to introduce you to the elusive, surreal, magical creature, the mispar bikoret. I don’t even know how to properly translate it into English, and after polling, am still unsure between ‘verification number’ ‘CRC’ ‘prefix’ ‘security number’ and of course, ‘unicorn.’

In Israel, it shows up here and there. Most commonly, it’s on your teudat zehut (though it’s 99% of the time written out as part of a complete nine-digit sequence; I’ve never not had to include it…).

It might be any digit on the numeral palette, but let me tell you now that if you’re missing it from your EL AL frequent flyer account ID, it will put you through absolute airline frustration for MONTHS.

For how was I to know my account number even contained one, when my log in errors and email messages never included it or its necessity in the sequence?

Example 1: Signing in with the right password.

Example 2: Signing in with the right password, and then clicking Forgot Password.

Example 3: The member number written out at the bottom of an ELAL email; I promise that under the blur are six digits, missing the final one.




While it’s true the EL AL website won’t win any design awards post-1996, I do think it’s possible to get a passing grade in usability even if the design isn’t appealing. The website is a major UI/UX fail. It should not have taken a high-functioning internet literate person like myself this long to figure out the login problem.

Another failing grade for accessibility: It’s wonderful to have multiple (and updated!) Facebook pages and Twitter accounts, but what’s the good in social media investment if there is no flood of two-way conversation? Or even a functional  EMAIL ADDRESS for contacting customer support with quick questions?

[When I have been able to email EL AL, I’d get an auto-reply that they’d get back to you within ten business days. Ten? Really? Still using AOL dial up?]

I would like to say though, that I did actively choose EL AL over Delta and United for two reasons, despite the fact that Delta was cheaper, and United was the same exact price. Confidence in their security is one, and the second – I appreciate the way the EL AL staff, from start to finish, handles parents traveling with children. They are the only airline I’ve been on that really gets it. Truly ‘your home away from home.’ Despite some glaring service setbacks, it’s heimish. And as we know, United failed at that the last time I flew with them.

I’m a no-frills kind of gal, so lacking certain perks (or, manners) doesn’t phase me. But I travel alone with kids enough to require the security in knowing I’ll have supportive flight attendants.

So I actively choose EL AL.

Is it too much to ask for a pleasant customer experience before the flight as well?

Getting your feet (ritually) wet: An American-Israeli’s mikvah story

Perhaps, for a taharat-mishpacha-keeping American-Israeli olah (female American immigrant to Israel who keeps laws of family purity), nothing else can quite epitomize the cultural differences of here and there better than… the mikvah.

Because I got married in Israel, my mikva knowledge and experiences have been molded here. The closest I got in the States before emigrating was a very swanky, fancy Sephardic mikvah in Brooklyn, that my high school class was taken to on a school trip while learning the halachot (laws) in our senior year. A gorgeous facility, including pre- and post- manicure, robes, blow driers, and made-up balaniyot.

The idea to me seemed, pretty clearly, to make the practice more attractive.

Fast forward to 2006, when I became engaged in the monthly ritual in an old, very ‘Jerusalem’ mikva facility tucked into a shoddy building behind a meat market in Katamonim.

Out of any of the mikvot I’ve been to, I came to love it the most.

I hated going, but I loved coming out. I loved the sound of Kaaaaasherrrr rolling off the tongue of the elderly Mizrachi balanit. Deep, warm, the rrrrrr is what made me really feel purified. I loved that she wished me the best of luck, speedy pregnancies, a million children, a good life. I loved believing her, that it would all come true this month, even though the next set of birth control pills were somewhere in the depths of my handbag.

To contrast that, there were the few times I’ve gone in New York during visits. It was my hometown mikva, a place I had passed a billion times during childhood, the heavy red door shut tight during the day. I had known what it was, but I had never been inside.

It was classy enough, comfortable, even kind of PC.

And it was home. Imagine my delight when the first time I lifted my head out of the water, the middle-aged New Yawka balanit was shrilly calling, KOH-shuuuh!

I’ve even been to the mikvah in Melbourne, Australia. This was by far the most comfortable, beautiful facility I’ve dunked in yet. Everything was provided; everything was just right.

Later, when I moved to Tzur Hadassah, I experimented before settling on a permanent mikvah. I tried what seemed like a tiny pre-1967 free-standing stone room in Bar Giora. I visited Efrat, where I felt I had entered an alternative universe (we spoke in English of course). I’ve been to the small but equipped mikvah in Nes Harim.

But where I’ve mostly settled, and returned to every month, are the mega-mikvot in Beitar Illit.

Israeli mikvah: Beitar Illit

These are free-standing buildings with their own identities; secret entrances shield visitors from publicity. A reception desk greets you. Corridors of prep rooms are available. Two mikvot are rotated inside, available depending on your tradition.

And the pre-check questions, oh, the questions.

It’s a personal challenge. I don’t love it like I was able to come to love my elderly Sephardi balanit in Jerusalem. I’ve had to make the experience completely separate and personal so as not to claw at the kisui rosh of an unassuming ‘just doing my charedi job’ Beitar Illit balanit, who to her credit, as she checks the length of my too-long nails, never fails to ask,

‘So, are you from around here?’


P.S. I have it on good faith that I’ll be able to report on the ever-in progress Tzur Hadassah mikvah very soon. It’s been completed and waiting for electricity, so they say. Stay tuned…



The outsiders inside

peekingLast week, I was driving through the machsom, or checkpoint, between Beitar Illit and Tzur Hadassah. When I say ‘driving through,’ I mean that literally: I slowed for the speed bumps, waved at the soldiers on duty, and sped up to get home.

But not before noticing the driver in front of me, who had also slowed at the speed bumps. And then stopped next to the soldiers. Rolled down his window, stuck out his arm, passed his blue-coated (Israeli) identity card. And drove on a few meters to pull over at the side lane. I caught the sight of him stepping out of his car, deep blue button down shirt, neat hair, honest face.

Speeding up past him in the main lane, I was swept with a sadness. It’s unfair. It’s unfair it has to be that way. That a normal guy has to do that every time he passes through. It’s unfair that the reason is complicated. It’s unfair that there are way too many people exclusive to making it not unfair. That those people are all so different. That it mostly seems there’s no chance.

I’ve been thinking about that guy since. I’ve been doing that drive over five years and something about this guy struck me. I’ve thought about him a lot.

Yesterday, I was at Hadassah hospital for a low-key follow-up with my son. The doctor was beyond late, and everyone in the waiting area – which could be broken down to charedi, Arab, and me – was growing impatient.

More impatient than the kids, who were content to stare at each other with curiosity, were the parents. I was unwillingly pulled into a threesome of speculation with two other mothers. They didn’t hide their displeasure at the waiting period, which happened to take place in a modern first-world hospital where in the scheme of everything, the doctor was an hour and a half late.

When the patient before me went in, the other two mothers looked at me with an urgent excitement – you’re next, their stares implied. You better be ready and you better be quick. 

When my predecessor came down the hall, I hustled my son to get ready, but the doctor never came to call our name; instead a nurse gestured at a mother and son in the corner. The older teenage boy was on crutches, and they passed between us to make their way into the office.

“We’re next after them,” I said, eye level to my son.

“What happened?” One of the other mothers cried. “Why aren’t you in? You’re NEXT!”

I looked up at her.

“They were first.”

“What do you mean, who?” said this mother #1. “You were after that woman before.”

“The Arabs,” said mother #2. “They went in.”

“They were first,” I said from my son’s eye level.

“Oh,” mother #1 replied to the other woman, giving her a knowing look. “They just slip right in.

“They were before us,” I said again, standing up.

“No, YOU were next.”

“They were before any of us, and got called back in. We’ll go in soon.” I bent back down to my son’s height. His was the only company I could stand.

His, and the boy of mother #1, who was chasing after my son like a puppy, his soft, yellow payot bouncing up and down the hospital corridor.



The time I made muffins! Sweet Potato Banana CHOCOLATE CHIP Muffins!

Oven disco!When a lazy person loves muffins, and has a motivated friend who loves muffins, amazing things happen. In the mouth.

Yesterday, inspired by a friend who refuses to give up on my baking potential, I made the decision to bake these incredibly simple Sweet Potato Banana Muffins. Except, I realized all too late, I wasn’t prepared… so I made these incredibly simple No Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies instead.

Which should have meant I wasn’t to bake again for another 3 or 4 months. But in a total bakethrough, I went for the muffins today, making this a two-day streak.

For the lazy non-bakers like myself, you’ll need to prep a little in advance to make sure you have sweet potatoes (already baked BEFORE you want to start, right Yesterday Liz?), ripe bananas, and in my case, whole wheat flour (or flour of any kind) in the house.

And, naturally, I did not keep to the recipe completely in that I added chocolate chips. I tend to do that.

So… here’s what I used based on Kristina’s original recipe:

  • 2 chunky sweet potatoes
  • 2 ripe bananas
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar (except it spilled and was probably more)
  • 1/2 cup butter/margerine (originally called for coconut oil, but wha-?)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/1/2 -2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 2 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • Chocolate chips! I chucked in whatever I had left which was 1/3 of a bag. Scientific, I know.

Kristina offers a few other optional ingredients, and I took her up on the vanilla extract. Check the original for the rest of the process. Her recipe’s amounts made about 20+/- smallish muffins. Perfect size for kiddies.

These were great to bake with the kids since it involved a masher. Also, they’re a lot healthier than, say, yesterday’s chocolate chip cookies. Not overly sweet, but the amount of chocolate chips I used was enough to make it awesome with no overkill.

Hello there, delicious breakfast dessert.