Friday, May 28, 2010

The New Crusaders: On the Gaza Flotilla

[I submitted this piece to a few papers. I fear, though, it might be a bit too esoteric for that. In the meantime, I've come to agree that we should let them in, and finally put the lie to the idea that Gaza is besieged.]

The Gaza Flotilla: A Medieval Moment

Jeffrey R. Woolf

The flotilla that is wending its way to the Gaza coast is a quintessentially post-modern enterprise; a perfect internet moment. Different codes, different world-views, and different scales of values are in play here. Ironically, the fundamentally disconnected character of the encounter is apparent to none of the players. From the vantage point of the ivory tower, we medievalists can discern the real contours of the unfolding drama.

On the one hand, there are the participants. Driven on by a burning sense of mission, they are determined to smash the inhuman siege of Gaza. Their determination to bring Justice to PalestinePalestine to redeem it from occupation and oppression. Pious Christians all, they sallied forth with the cry: Deus lo VultHumanitas et Justitia volunt. Phenomenologically, they are crusaders. invokes that of their ancestors a millennium ago. They, too, travelled by boat to (God wills it!), on their lips. The intrepid sailors en route at present, are similarly driven by their abiding faith in universal Justice and Liberal Humanism. Their cry might be:

Then, there are the recipients of this aid; the suffering masses of Gaza. There is no question that there are many innocent victims among them. They, however, live in a very different world than their putative saviors. Their society resembles the Palestine into which the ancestors of the Gaza flotilla sallied forth in 1099. It is a totally integrated world that revolves around a deep and abiding Islamic faith. It is a highly stratified world, in which those in power exploit the masses for advancement, both their own and that of the religio-political ideals that they share with those masses. Believing that God has placed them in power, the Hamas government of Gaza (as the Ummayids, Abassids, Fatimids, Ayyubids, Mamluks, Ottomans and Fatahids) sieze and control the material sustenance the Israel sends to Gaza, in order to strengthen its grip on the strip. Ad majorem Dei gloriam.

And then there are the Jews.

A trained medievalist cannot but be stunned by the feeling that he’s seen this all before. The Jew poisons the wells of Gaza (this time with low grade uranium), and gleefully tortures Palestinian children (as with Simon of Trent). The Jew is rapacious, unfeeling and diabolical. If he sends tens of millions of tons of supplies to the civilians of Gaza, these are either too little, corrupted or ignored. This is certainly understandable. The Jew is eternally condemned for the original sin. Once, it was deicide. For the humanitarians of Sweden, they are guilty of the original sin of returning to Palestinedhimma and establishing their state in the ‘House of Islam.’ For Jews, it is frightening confirmation of the Passover refrain: ‘In every generation they rise up to destroy us.’ and succeeding. For Muslims, they are guilty of the original crime of violating the

The flotilla that is wending its way to Gaza is quintessentially post-modern. It exemplifies the encounter of different, totalistic world-views and cultures that do not understand the ‘other.’ It is also typically medieval. Sincerely held, Faith based worlds, fueled by messianic fervor that only a medievalist can appreciate.

Monday, May 24, 2010

What to Do When You're Feeling Overwhelmed....Write

I confess that, of late, I've been feeling quite overwhelmed.

On the home front there's teaching, a last minute rush by dilatory graduate students to get their research proposals in on time, research, writing, two deadlines for book reviews, the Bat Mitzvah of our youngest, preparing for Summer School, and marketing and preparing DKT's upcoming trip to the Baltics (aka Lita).

Then there are the larger issues, about which I've written so often here but whose real resolution I am skeptical about really affecting. You can't fight every battle, as deserving as they all are. I think I know which one I'll pick to fight. I've already started by picking up the pen in the cause.

You can guess which one I've decided on.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Join me in the Baltics!!!!

Choral Synagogue, Vilna

It's official!!!
I will be personally leading, P-G, Deluxe Kosher Tours' upcoming trip to the Baltic,
from August 1-9.

In addition to the breathtaking beauty of the area, we will visit Vilna, Volozhin, Riga and Kovna. (I am planning a few, off the beaten track visits, too).

As an added attraction, we will be joined by best-selling author, Naomi Ragen. Naomi is currently at work on a new novel with Lita as a backdrop.

Check out our website: for details.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Jerusalem Day 5770: Time is Fluid

An approachable past, an anchored present and an attainable future are the basic components of the traditional Jewish sense of time and of history. I first learned that lesson from the Rav זצ"ל. Later, my appreciation of this sophisticated view of history was deepened by studying with the late Yosef Haim Yerushalmi, and by reading Geoffrey Barraclough, Mircea Eliade and Aron Gurevitch.

That kind of merging of Past, Present and Future are reinforced for me daily by living in Israel.

As I write these words, I am seated in the Reading Room of the National Library in Givat Ram (Jerusalem). It's very quiet here, as the patrons of the library are (largely) well-behaved. There are great minds seated around me, and there are great researches into the past of our people, our religion and our civilization developing on the perennial green tables that furnish this room. The stillness, for me, invokes the timeless nature of the pursuits that its patrons undertake.

Yet, it was not always so quiet or pastoral here. Forty three years ago, Jordanian guns opened up on West Jerusalem and shelled it. The shells fell not far from where I am sitting. The verdant campus outside was a staging area for the Israeli counter-attack that liberated Jerusalem, and the Temple Mount. Some of the predecessors of my colleagues in this room were killed either by shells, or in the fight to liberate the City of God, bedrock of Judaism and the Jewish People, Jerusalem.

In my imagination I can hear the shells scream overhead. They resound in the silence of this room, where the eternity of Torah and of Israel is retrieved, recorded and advanced. The quiet determination of the scholars here, along with the whispers of eternity, betray a secret that our enemies have never quite understood. Long after the Jihadists, long after the Radical Left and Radical Right have all been consigned to the dustbin of history, there will be Jews in Jerusalem; celebrating Jerusalem; studying Torah, researching our past and securing our future, here.

That's not kitsch. It's not maudlin jingoism. It's an existential reality. All you need to do is listen to the echoes of the shells in the silence, and the cry of הר הבית בידינו.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

אני אחיך

This song is being roundly condemned for incitement against Israeli Democracy, and the singer has received death threats. ) (Words and music here.)

The truth is that the song is really a heartfelt (though not too musical) protest on behalf of Israeli soldiers, patriotism and against such paragons of Israeli patriotism as Anat Kamm, Uri Blau, Ha-Aretz and the New Israel Fund. The Left, it would appear, is becoming increasingly desperate to silence the Jewish majority of the state of Israel. As it's masthead publication puts it: Haaretz: 'The Newspaper for Thinking People' (as long as they think as we do).

"אני אחיך" / מילים ולחן: עמיר בניון

אני שומר לך על הזהות

אני מגן לך על הילדים

אני מוסר את נפשי בשביל המשפחה שלך

ואתה יורק לי בפנים

אחרי שלא הצליחו להרוג אותי בחוץ

אתה בא והורג אותי מבפנים

לא ראיתי את אמא כבר חודש

לא את בני לא את ביתי לא את אשתי

אני מסתער תמיד קדימה

עם הגב שלי אליך

ואתה משחיז את הסכין

יותר מכל, המחשבה הזאת שורפת לי את הנשמה

ואתה, איך אתה עוד לא מבין

אני אחיך,אתה אויב

אתה שונא אותי אני אוהב

כשאני בוכה

אתה צוחק מאחרי גבי

אתה הורג אותי

אתה הרי אחי

אתה הרי אחי

אני עתיד

אתה עבר

וההווה בינינו נשבר

אני רעב למענך אתה זולל וסובא

כשגרוני יבש אתה שותה שיכר

הפה שלי חתום תמיד למען ביטחונך

אבל אתה מוסר אותי לזר

אני אחיך, אתה אויב

אתה שונא אותי אבל אני אוהב

כשאני בוכה

אתה צוחק תמיד מאחרי גבי

אתה הורג אותי

אתה הרי אחי

אתה הרי אחי מִי שֶׁבֵּרַךְ אֲבוֹתֵינוּ אַבְרָהָם יִצְחָק וְיַעֲקב

הוּא יְבָרֵךְ אֶת חַיָּלֵי צְבָא הֲגַנָּה לְיִשְׂרָאֵל,

הָעוֹמְדִים עַל מִשְׁמַר אַרְצֵנוּ וְעָרֵי אֱלהֵינוּ

מִהלְּבָנוֹן וְעַד מִדְבַּר מִצְרַיִם

וּמִן הַיָּם הַגָּדוֹל עַד לְבוֹא הָעֲרָבָה ובכל מקום שהם בַּיַּבָּשָׁה בָּאֲוִיר וּבַיָּם.

אני אחיך, אתה אויב

אתה שונא אותי אבל אני אוהב

כשאני בוכה

אתה צוחק תמיד מאחרי גבי

אתה הורג אותי

אתה הרי אחי

אתה הרי אחי

כי אדוני אלוהיכם ההולך עמכם

להלחם לכם עם אויבכם להושיע אתכם ונאמר אמן.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Ani Yehudi

For years I've been saying that Israel is, Barukh HaShem, becoming increasingly Jewish (something that is driving the troglodytes of Schocken Street and Ramat Aviv crazy). This video, courtest of RivkA, says it better than I ever could.