Jerusalem Syndrome

Travelblog of Wesley Pinkham. August 4 - January 7.
Jan 31
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Why 30 Rock is the Second Best Show on Television

  • Lemon: All right, Tracy, the kid gloves are coming off.
  • Tracy: Oh, that explains it. Those are gloves. No wonder they're so coarse and wrinkly.
  • Lemon: Five years ago, I rescued your career. And how do you repay me? By making my life harder at every turn. You are late, you blow off rehearsals, and your online romance prank was not funny. I fell in love with you!
  • Tracy: Hahahahaha. You wore a yellow hat to that coffee shop. You know what's actually funny about all this? You think I'm the problem. Have you ever tried to work with you?
  • Lemon: Really? You're trying to blame me?
  • Tracy: Five years ago, I saved your show. I rode on here in a white horse that you made me leave in the lobby.
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Aug 17
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Breaking News: Major World Religions Rename Their Celestial Ruler as ‘Fun,’ Billions Rejoice!
— All agree: those who believe and act in the name of Fun are guaranteed immense happiness in the presentlife. (via culturecash)
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Dec 21
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Intolerance of Christmas in Jerusalem is the Iceberg’s Tip: Gaps between Jewish and Christian Zionists Lay Below the Surface

I agree with Rabbi Hirschfield in his post today in the Jewish Journal in which he condemns the group Lobby for Jewish Values for their public fliering against the celebration of Christmas and “foolish” Christian symbols. I agree with him on principle in his outright condemnation of religious intolerance. I applaud his “footnotes” (Biblical references to religious tolerance, really) but I believe his response glosses over the complicated currents running through the incident.

The fliering will no doubtedly raise heated criticism and unrest amongst the Christian Zionists this side of the Pacific. It will likely be met with a sense of indignation and Jewish supremacy by the entrenched Jewish right-wing. And, though I cannot predict the future, most Israelis will continue to respond with apathy and ambivalence. The issue of Christianity, particularly American Evangelism, is, at best, a secondary issue in the Israeli sphere, but its implications run deep here in the Diaspora – both politically and symbolically. This is, unlike most issues in Israel, not a threat of demographics, but of growing fears against multiculturalism, played out via multinational support by evangelicals. Incidents such as this threaten the shaky alliance between the Jewish and Christian right-wings.

Hirschfield’s main argument is that it is immoral for those who have been oppressed (Jews) to become the oppressors (of Christians). The words are charged, even if they are being used in a context separate from Israeli occupation politics. Is this oppression or is it digging deeper the trenches of a Jewish Jerusalem? How big a threat is a Christmas tree in a Jewish state? If it isn’t oppression, it is at least hypocrisy. The ADL and other Jewish-interest groups have for years lobbied for the inclusion of Chanukah as a means of breaking the American religious hegemony. In that context, it would seem intolerant to lobby for the exclusion of Christmas in Israel.

When I was studying abroad at Hebrew University, my Christian classmates were appalled that class was held on December 25th. They understood when classes were held on Sundays, and that was a disservice they could live with. But to hold class on one of their holiest days was unfair, at least in the same way that we feel about class on Yom Kippur. I’m not advocating granting a national holiday for Christmas, but to vastly marginalize a holiday celebrated by some 2 billion people is wrong.

Hirschfield does not go far enough to elucidate the opinions of Lobby for Jewish Values; the article might as well be titled “Bid to ban Christianity in Jerusalem is wrong.” It seems that such a pointed attack on the Christian population (calling their symbolism foolish, for example) is a response to Christian influence in relation to American political policies related to Israel. The anger embedded in the message is misplaced; a Christmas tree does not threaten the Jewish capital any more than outward displays of the Muslim faith. Ultimately, Israel’s anti-missionary efforts are biased in their anti-Christian leanings and infringe on Christian freedom of religion. A precept of Evangelical Christianity is missionary, the core component being to spread the word of Jesus to us non-Jesus types. If they are denied the right to evangelize, then they are being denied freedom of religion.

Some might take this argument to the extreme, saying sardonically that if a religion wants to commit human sacrifice but cannot, then they too are being persecuted. In doing this, we lose sight of what it means to adhere to faith, and fail to recognize our own proselytizing. For one thing, organizations such as Aish Ha’Torah, Chabad or even Jeff Seidel’s Jewish Student Information Centers in Israel are actively pursuing secular Jewish converts to Orthodox Judaism. These organizations rid themselves of guilt convinced that they are doing a service to the Jewish world in create Ba’alei Teshuva (returners to faith). There is no doubt that they provide a number of important, sometimes critical services and outreach to the Jewish community, but it is still done using many of the same tactics developed by Evangelical organizations. BeliefNet.com notes, from an article in Moment Magazine, that “Jewish proselytizing was so successful, it’s estimated that by the first century C.E. fully 10 percent of the Roman Empire was Jewish, close to 8 million people.” Judaism does have a history of conquering nations and converting them, either forcefully or through cultural assimilation. We deny this practice now, after thousand of years of persecution and laws against practicing or converting to Judaism.

Efforts to exclude Christians in Israel are not only seen on the organizational ground level as done by the Lobby for Jewish Values but also at the state level in the efforts of Shas, Porush and other Jewish exclusionists to limit visibility and create legal implications for any Christianizing of the holy city. The International Christian Embassy of Jerusalem throws an annual Feast of the Tabernacles parade that has liminal exposure considering the performative vibrancy of its participants. Clearly there are other fears at play here, and to approach them timidly or to circumvent them is dangerous. Namely, the influence of Christian Zionism (substitute here Messianic Judaism or the International Christian Embassy of Jerusalem or any number of related Christian efforts) which, through foggy theology, support the State of Israel in financial and political means. These Christian Zionists lay claim to Lord Alfred Belfour (of Declaration fame) who was both a Christian and a Zionist, but not necessarily a Christian Zionist, whom I define as a Christian who believes that redemption is specifically tied to a return of all Jews to the Holy Land. Regardless, Christian Zionists have attempted to draw their own lineage and history into the very founding of the State and their involvement in the State is sizable.

The “pro-Israel” mindset of Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell has grown rapidly in America, where Christian guilt has led to a theology based around redemption and resurrection. The State of Israel is the axis of their apocalypse and its success is tied to the coming of their Messiah. This Messianism is similar in many ways to the outposts of Gush Emunim and the Kookist/Religious Zionists of Israel. These shared views of a Greater Israel, an Israel where all Jews must gather to bring the Messiah, can only extend so far. It is only a matter of time until Christian Zionists realize that we will take their vocal support in Washington, on their television stations and in their Megachurches. We will welcome their money and their support organizations bringing mobile bomb shelters to the South or assistance to marginalized ethnic communities. But, at the end of the day, we will not take Jesus as our collective Lord and Savior.

There is no doubt that these issues are complex and intersect issues at many places in Israeli religious and secular society. Incidents such as this one in Jerusalem complicate the advocacy and experience of Jews in the Diaspora and our relations to our Christian neighbors. I’m not in favor of missionary work. I grew up in Orange County, California where being a Jew meant being encompassed in prayer circles and kind invitations to uncomfortable informal Christian gatherings. But it’s religiously intolerant to push outright condemnations of missionary work – this is how these people practice their faith.

For me, in my time studying abroad, I had a unique chance to practice my own Christmas tradition. Determined to accomplish the impossible, a friend and I sought out an authentic Chinese food restaurant somewhere in Jerusalem. We searched for hours for something, and before giving up, discovered Mandarin off of Shlomtzion HaMalka. Perched up three flights of stairs and heralded by an inconspicuous white door at the top, the restaurant had one of the best hot & sour soups I’ve ever had. If the Lobby for Jewish Values wants to truly try and eradicate American Christmas from Jerusalem, perhaps they should start at Mandarin by asking them to close for the holiday as to avoid Jews practicing any Christmas traditions.

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Jul 12
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Many religions approach their movements like a ladder: the higher up you climb, the more “authentic” your faith. And generally speaking, the more conservative practice is usually what you’re striving for. Judaism has a motto of horizontally-intergrated faith. A belief that Judaism is not a climb to the top, but rather a continuum that you place yourself on. More liberal? Slide to the left! More Orthodox, then move to the right.

Judaism, for me, is more like a spider web. A spider web starts by having a few pillars to hold it together. From these platforms, the spider is able to weave its web to the center. The purpose: to catch what the spider needs in order to survive. If one of the pillars that the web is connected to simply cannot hold the web, then the creative little spider finds a new anchor. If someone breaks the web from the inside, then the spider repairs it, differently than it was originally created. Still, the web stays intact. And every spider web is different, just like everyone’s Judaism.

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Feb 24
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It’s a Wrap

Well, I’ve been home for over a month now. Readjusting to school, trying to reposition myself to make some positive changes for the people around me.

I find myself cutting in line, as it was to be expected. However, I also find myself getting into many almost-fights while I’m out in Westwood on account of my hyper-agressiveness. Also, Persians seem to not like me.

I find myself saying funny things like “I’m not gonna date Jewish girls no mo” but still find a strong pull towards the strong-nosed, motherly types.

I find myself explaining my time abroad as “a really special experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything. But I’m glad to be home.” This feels like the most truthful way of projecting my time in Israel. There are so many things people expect or hope for me to say upon my return, and while I can say them fairly easily, I just don’t feel like using the verbatim words I’ve heard a hundred times before.

Because, honestly, it might be a while until I go back and I’m okay with that. Right now, Los Angeles is home, even if it’s just a house. I never thought I would find a place with people who move faster than they do in LA, are more blunt about their opinions than LA or has arguably better weather than LA, but Israel was at least all of that for me. So the decompression continues into month number two, and that’s okay. Today was a better day than yesterday. Yesterday was easier than the day before. I only check Ha’aretz and JPost once or twice a day now.

With that, this blog’s purpose has expired. I will probably maintain it in someway. Repurpose it. I hate to let a good URL go to waste.

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Dec 29
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Some additional thoughts on Gaza

I’m closing up my study abroad time here in Jerusalem. After 5 months, I have to admit that I’m just sick of religion and politics and war. But I’ve also learned a few things.

This is no longer an issue of national identities, unfortunately. It has boiled down into a war of ideas, perhaps the worst kind of war because it means top-to-bottom reconciliation on a whole ‘nother dimension. This is now an issue of Western democracy versus Islamic theocracy. On December 24, Hamas voted in favor of implementing Sharia law. If you want to name a straw that broke the camel’s back, I believe this is it. (That’s funny, because there actually are camels here…)

Unfortunately, the Israeli blockade since Hamas took power has made Gazans even more dependent and endeared towards Hamas. This is why the blockade has backfired.

Itamar Marcus at Palestinian Media Watch documents the TV shows, music videos, cartoons and crossword puzzles made available in the territories - the indoctrination is very obvious. Israel has begun to teach about the War of Independence simultaneously as “The Nakhba.” Yet, Hamas teaches only hate and fatalism in its schools. There is no hope in the territories, only a desire for death. Khomeini only encourages this by declaring each death in Gaza a martyr.

Hamas leaders knew that this would happen. Israel’s humiliation in Lebanon in 2006 necessitated a showering of force. Israel has not even received its newest toys from the US yet, which is a whole set of top-of-the-line F-35s. Israel did give fair warning, for nearly two weeks. But the only thing that changed is that Hamas leadership bolted from Gaza to Lebanon while Qassams continued to rain down. 2,500 mortars and qassams have been launched at Israel in 2008.

Imagine sitting down for your morning paper while your kid eats sugar cereal. A siren goes off and you have 12 seconds to get to safety. After 12 seconds, a chunk of your daughter’s wall is missing. What if she had been sleeping? Now imagine this happening over 100 times a month. What would you expect the United States army to do, really?

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Dec 28
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Tensions Devolve into Violence

Why do we clip our fingernails if they keep growing back?

Violence begets violence, and with Hamas, as soon as one top official is killed, another steps into his place. So Israel, after experiencing relentless mortars and Qassam rockets fired at the southern regions of Ashkelon and Be’er Sheva, as many as 80 in one day, decided to do something else.

Rather than keep clipping the fingernails, they decided to cut off the finger at the joint.

Here in Jerusalem, I am isolated from what is happening in Gaza. Certainly there are many Arabs here who are outraged, and I am also quite close to the West Bank. The Arabs in East Jerusalem have a fairly functioning middle class and conditions are definitely better there than they were in 2000-2003. Most violence coming out of East Jerusalem is being perpetrated by youth, teenagers and young adults.

The Old City is supposedly closed off and I’ve been advised to avoid it anyway. Most of the Old City is comprised of Arab residents, even in the Jewish Quarter. Tension can be high there even with smaller incidents such as in Akko earlier this year. However, I would like to visit my friend Suleiman before I leave and here what he thinks about these “developments”. (See what I did there, that was an understatement!)

I’ll be avoiding inter-city public transportation and places like Ben Yehuda. Finals are closing in and I need to stay in and work anyway. I just wanted to update everyone with the situation from my perspective and let you know that I’m safe and well-informed regarding changes going on. Jenna is also here, of course. She is on a trip with a private bus and I’m sure will be fine. All the Birthright trips have full-time security staff.

At this point, the best thing you can do is imagine the human condition in Gaza, because that’s where the tragedy is. But it’s like I told my friend Alex who got caught in Haifa during the Lebanon War in 2007 and came back to study abroad at Hebrew U last spring, “it wouldn’t be abroad in Israel without getting caught in a war.” B’hatzlacha l’Tzahav.

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Dec 21
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Graffiti & Israel’s Largest Canvas

Please view my presentation on Banksy and other artistic responses to the West Bank Barrier. Some label it the “Apartheid Wall” and some call it the “Security Fence.” Others call it canvas:

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Nov 28
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Nariman Chabad House, Mumbai, India
The terrorist attacks in Mumbai sent shockwaves through my system today. The Indian special forces have been calculated and impressive, but something disgusting happened to day at Nariman. As I spent the whole day following the Twitter stream with up-to-the-second information, I felt an immense rush of hope after an initial victory was declared. I felt a madness of confusion as information about hostages was not being made available. I knew renewed fear when the battle picked up again on the 3rd floor. I began mourning the terrible news that has emerged since.
5 dead hostages, among them, the Rabbi and his wife. Their 2-year old child was released to safety yesterday and now awaits its new orphaned life. My feelings for Chabad aside, the attack on such Jewish ground is a direct challenge to my senses and my understanding for humanity continually dimineshes.
I will probably write more about this story because this attack has potential repercussions the world-over. Know that India and Pakistan have large nuclear arsenols pointed at eachother, and any unilateral action will invoke immediate responses by China and Russia. This could be the powder keg. The times they are a-changin’.

Nariman Chabad House, Mumbai, India

The terrorist attacks in Mumbai sent shockwaves through my system today. The Indian special forces have been calculated and impressive, but something disgusting happened to day at Nariman. As I spent the whole day following the Twitter stream with up-to-the-second information, I felt an immense rush of hope after an initial victory was declared. I felt a madness of confusion as information about hostages was not being made available. I knew renewed fear when the battle picked up again on the 3rd floor. I began mourning the terrible news that has emerged since.

5 dead hostages, among them, the Rabbi and his wife. Their 2-year old child was released to safety yesterday and now awaits its new orphaned life. My feelings for Chabad aside, the attack on such Jewish ground is a direct challenge to my senses and my understanding for humanity continually dimineshes.

I will probably write more about this story because this attack has potential repercussions the world-over. Know that India and Pakistan have large nuclear arsenols pointed at eachother, and any unilateral action will invoke immediate responses by China and Russia. This could be the powder keg. The times they are a-changin’.

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