Of life in the shtetl; Tevye had a point

A fiddler on the roof…
it sounds crazy.
But here,
in our little village of Anatevka,
you might say every one of us…
is a fiddler on the roof.

Before I lived here in Israel, I lived in a tight-knit Jewish shtetl called New York.

Trying to scratch out
a pleasant, simple tune
without breaking his neck.

To narrow that down, I was part of a small Jewish community within a small section of a small New York City borough. Maybe this would all be different if I had actually grown up in Brooklyn.

We were a mish mash of lost and found souls – who has never been lost, who doesn’t desire to be found? – and one thing we all had in common was, I suppose, a sense of Jewish tradition. It’s how we got there and it’s why most of us stayed as long as we did.

And how do we keep our balance?
That I can tell you in one word:

A friend randomly sent me the Fiddler on the Roof clip today; I suppose you’ve guessed which one by now. It must be a decade and a half since I last watched the movie or heard the soundtrack, but while I was a kid, my family was kind of obsessed with it. For a family growing into some new traditions of its own, I guess it really spoke to us. Or maybe that’s looking at it too deeply; maybe it was just another exciting part of being a minority finding pop culture that fit so perfectly.

Maybe it was because we also totally had the butcher; the mikvah; the Judaica shop.

But after I watched the Tradition scene today, I felt something I haven’t felt in nearly nine years of living here, in Israel, in a paradise Tevye only dreamed about, if he could dream past becoming a wealthy man.

I felt nostalgia and longing for Diaspora. A sense of loss, a sense of missing out.

The strong sense that living as an outsider is the ultimate way to stay true on your inside.

Halacha and tradition came easier there, in the shtetl, surrounded by the majority. Ok, we’re talking about New York, not pre (or post) World War Russia here, and I haven’t forgotten the end of the play.

But… still. In our kind of modern, safe shtetl, explaining holiday schedules to your boss was a pain; declining edible treats from college classmates was awkward; never quite understanding Christmas while watching TV was odd.

We don’t bother them,
and they don’t bother us.

But it made everything else so much more… inclusive. We belonged, to ourselves.

Yes, of course, there were major downsides to the ‘shtetl mentality’ – why do you think I left?

However, Israel is the biggest shtetl there is, surrounded by the largest majority that could be. Together, all seven-something million of us, we certainly have moments when we laugh, we cry, we bicker, we build, we live.

As intimate as it can get here, it’s not as intimate as the shtetl I knew, the outsider’s shtetl, based on local traditions, based on the narrowed-down group of insiders you cast your lot with.

Traditions, traditions.
Without our traditions,
Our lives would be as shaky as…
as a fiddler on the roof!

Simply put, I kind of miss it.


Speaking up.

It won’t be long before Jewish parents of school-age children no longer remember the point. The memory becomes a faded square of yellow fabric, eventually disintegrating under museum lighting. The pictures, cliche. The speeches, routine.

It’s probably already true to some degree, but most of us are young enough to remember the first time we met a Holocaust a survivor. Really met.

Who will remember those who remember?

We’re going to have to preserve the message, the memory, the moment somehow.

Linking the past to the present, the moral to our future.

What about teaching our kids to speak up?

Speak up the way some of our grandparents didn’t. Speak up when everyone else would rather speak about something else.

Speak up against intolerance. Speak up against misunderstanding. Speak up against baseless hatred.

Speak up for healing. Speak up for moving forward. Speak up for the people who can’t.

Who am I kidding, we’re Jews <insert stereotype>, Israelis <insert stereotype>, Middle Easterners <insert stereotype> – we don’t know how to speak up?



The way the Internets are played in Israel.

This is a funny kind of report, funded by Google Israel, but it’s still interesting to note: Arabs in Israel blog more than Jews, study finds (or if you can’t stomach JPost so well, here’s Israel Hayom).

It’s not surprising that over 70% of Israelis surf the internet. It is kinda interesting to learn that Haredim beat out Hilonim (secular) when it comes to video-watching online – it’s 81% over 73%. Wonder what website all those shiurim are on.

Some more bite-size pieces:

  • On Captain Obvious: “The study found that the online habits of Israelis directly reflect the country’s social, economic, cultural and religious makeup, with the secular public being more connected to the Internet than the ultra- Orthodox, higher earners and young people spending more time on social networking platforms and Hebrew speakers preferring to surf Hebrew-language websites.”
  • On blogging: According to the study, Israeli Arabs prove more active in their blogging than their Jewish counterparts. 28.3% of Arab speakers reported writing a blog said they updated it daily, while only 12% of Jewish bloggers said the same. 37% of the blog-reading Arab population does so  everyday, with 24% of blog-reading Jews read with such frequency.
  • On video watching: “Comparing the Jewish and Arab sectors, research found that 76% of Jews and 63% of Arabs watch online videos, although more Arab users (27%) upload videos than Jewish users (19%).”
  • Pretty much true: And not shocking. All the recent immigrants aged 15-17 responded that they’re active in social media.

Also, 87%-98% of surveys are pretty much for entertainment value.

The Google is Us.

A friend sent me Gdumb and so inspired me to play around a little bit with the Google suggestions-as-you-type feature. I explored the big three topics an Israeli Jewish blogger such as myself might feel connected to:

Image 1: Israel

I know I’m American, and I know that makes me a candidate for being dumb about geography, but I also haughtingly enjoy pointing out that I was a snotty Poli Sci major in ‘uni’.  Which is why I can chuckle as I smoke my pipe by the fire while looking at this:

Europe, eh? Then why are our EasyJet flights so expensive?

Image 2: Jews

I have some non-Jewish friends who would probably agree about all of the above. I have even more Jewish friends who would.

Alanis, sum that up for me: “I’m liberal, but hated… I’m successful, but cheap… I’m rich but I’m circumcised, baaaaby…”

Image 3: Aliyah

Ok, I said Israel and Jews, so… Finally, the ego-driven portion of this experiment:

No kidding, over one million results for ‘aliyah israel blog’? There are that many of us “I made aliyah, let me tell you my story whether you like it or not, hey wait, where are you going, I said I’m special because I picked up my Western life and moved to the Middle East” bloggers?


Welcome home, endangered American Jew.

Here’s the ‘welcome home’ I got while waiting at a bus stop:

Danger to American Jews? Fo real?

Hmm. I’m pretty sure it’s not as crazy as they make it sound, but who am i to judge? I’m not living in the wild jungle of dangerousness that is America.*

* Ok, ok. I’m being harsh. There is truth to moving to Israel for identity-security from the States. But this note is also harsh. And just funny to me, that it’s so American in its hunger for melodrama.

Today's word: שנאת חינם

Here’s a backup to my last post in case it wasn’t enough to get my point across.

I proudly observe my own brand of Jewishness – and consider it great, holy and everything else – if my alternative for spiritual ‘climbing’ is this:

U.S. immigrant beaten up in ‘pogrom’ by ultra-Orthodox gang

“An American immigrant was attacked and beaten Sunday night in Beit Shemesh by a gang of ultra-Orthodox zealots, in what appears to be an escalation of tension between religious groups in the city.

T., who is himself ultra-Orthodox, was kicked, beaten and threatened with further violence in an attack that landed him in the hospital. T.’s car windows were also smashed. T., who asked to go unnamed, has been active in trying to stem the recent tide of Haredi violence in the city.”

Ah! Of course! Extreme modesty, extreme Shabbat-keeping, extreme Judaism are waaay more important than keeping a shrinking nation bound together by love for fellow Jew! I must not have studied that gemora in high school. It’s a wonder they’d skip such an important part.

This is completely sickening. Perhaps this is what it feels like to an ultra-Orthodox charedi who sees a gay couple.

But is a person’s sexuality – hidden under layers of skin and human organs – really worse than a Jew with payot beating up another Jew with payot in the middle of the street for not being religious enough?

Is homosexual sex really worse than שנאת חינם? Is it as damaging to the Jewish people than hatred of your neighbors? Did homosexuality single-handedly bring down the Temples?

I didn’t think so.

Israeli Jew on Christmas.

Back home in New York, Christmas for Jews means Chinese food and  going to the movies (apparently).

Because I have a TV this year, I can’t forget that tonight the rest of the world is celebrating various versions of this holiday.

My Australian husband has recalled the Chinese food and movies tradition (which I’ve actually never done back in the States) and made Chinese food… and now we’re watching movies.

Santa Chinese food

Happy holidays to those who are celebrating! Enjoy the Chinese to the American Jews who are stuck at home…

Small world for us (Flatbush) Jews.

My high school was big on its alumni culture. For four years I endured being laid on thick with Israel, Zionism, Hebrew, and… the amazing alumni culture of the Yeshiva of Flatbush.

I guess people always had stories about meeting fellow alumni halfway across the world or neat twists on finding each other after all those years. The cheer and enthusiasm for the Flatbush culture lives on waaay past your graduation day.

Personally, I never really felt that way. Even today, in a lecture by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks at Bar Ilan, sitting two seats down from a man who seemed to look exactly like my high school principal.

I confirmed the identity after my brother sent me an online profile of the guy and after the lecture my old principal and I chatted. I think it was a nice, calm moment of recognition for both of us.

And it turns out, he made aliyah and lives in Jerusalem, a few minutes away from me. So here we both are, calmly living the Flatbush alumni dream – meeting halfway across the world, with a neat twist.