Monday, May 13, 2013

The Day I Grew a Second Head

I moved to a small city in east Texas last year and, for the first time in my life, I found myself living in an area with a miniscule Jewish population. There must be some other Jews in the area because one local market does have a kosher/Israeli food section very similar to what I found in supermarkets in the Raleigh, NC area where I lived before. On the other hand, the nearest shul is more than 40 miles away.

As Pesach approached I expected that the market that had a kosher foods section would have foods which were kosher for Passover as well. Less than a week before Pesach there still wasn't anything there so I decided to ask and see if maybe they were just late in arriving. When I talked to the help and the manager and asked about "Passover foods" they looked at me like I had grown a second head. I was asked "What's that?" or even "What's Passover?" Special foods? Nope, not that they knew of.

There is a huge market about 20 miles away that is in the outermost suburbs of Houston. They have a somewhat larger kosher/Jewish foods section there including frozen foods. Surely they would have what I needed. No such luck. Once again, the looks I got as I explained what I meant would be appropriate if a two headed space alien had walked into the market. The next day a coworker suggested I try another large market in the town with the shul. That made sense. Sadly, the results were exactly the same as I had experienced at the two previous markets I tried.

There is a significant Jewish community down in Houston. Looking up where the Jewish community is online and where I'd likely find the selection of kosher foods I wanted revealed that it would be 80 miles each way to get to that part of the city. I decided to check the College Station/Bryan area which is closer to where I live. It turns out there is a Chabad there and they recommended two markets. Sure enough, I found a very nice selection of Passover foods only 50 miles from home.

I went back to the first market mainly for fresh produce a couple of days before Pesach started. Their little Jewish foods section was picked clean. The matzo that was clearly labeled "Not for Passover use" was gone, as was the gefilte fish and pretty much anything else that resembled food for the holiday. Clearly if the had brought in Passover food it would have sold well. It was also clear that what Jewish community we have is probably not religious and was willing to make do with anything that resembled what would be found on a seder table.

Anywhere else I've lived, from Raleigh to Green Bay to Florida to New York, asking those questions would have resulted in someone pointing me to the correct aisle or, at the very least, a "no, sorry" followed by a suggestion about which market would have what I was looking for.

Despite the very nice pay rate that came with the contract work here I've come to the conclusion that moving to east Texas was a mistake. Culturally I feel like a fish out of water here. Identifying myself as a somewhat traditional, somewhat observant Jew shouldn't have generated the kind of reactions I got when I went shopping that day. We tend to believe that Jewish people are accepted and welcome in the United States. My experiences served as a stark reminder that, once you go away from the cities with large Jewish populations, we are still seen as strange and somehow alien in America.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Time to March on Jerusalem? I Don't Think So

Yesterday on The Times of Israel website, blogger Emanuel Shahaf wrote an article imploring Israelis to march on Jerusalem and demand that the Israeli government gets serious about making peace with the Palestinians. He concludes:
If the Israeli public doesn’t take the initiative, gets its act together and without much further ado marches on Jerusalem to convince our fearful politicians that this is crunch time, that we have to act, seize the moment and negotiate this conflict away before it consumes us, then we deserve no better.
I strongly disagree with Mr. Shahaf and wrote a response which I posted as a comment. Here it is in full:

I've read the article as well as the comments and responses. עמנואל שחף, with all due respect, you can only make peace when both sides want peace. The majority of Israelis still accept a "two state solution." I put it in quotes because today that means a four state solution within what was the original British Mandate of Palestine: three Arab states (Jordan, Gaza, West Bank) and a Jewish one which would be much weakened. Most of the recent polling I've seen from the P.A. indicates a two state solution is only acceptable as a step to liberating "all of Palestine," meaning, of course, all of Israel. The percentage that accepts the idea of living along side of a Jewish state is around 19%, and that was the most generous number I've seen.

The fact is that Ehud Olmert's 2008 offer, while now "off the table" as you point out, certainly was about the maximum Israel could ever offer. Mahmoud Abbas didn't even grace it with a formal response. There was no counter offer. Prime Minister Netanyahu lost his first government, in part, over the Wye River Accords. Yes, I know the budget was the final straw that broke the proverbial camel's back, but after withdrawing from most of Hebron he lost most of his support from the right. In his second term he tried the settlement freeze which was ignored up until the last minute by Abbas and then it's end was used as an excuse for not negotiating. Recently we heard of a possible freeze again and Abbas suddenly needed every last Palestinian prisoner released no matter what they had done. Neither the Prime Minister nor his predecessor have failed to work for peace at all.

The reality is that Abbas has little popular support and nowhere near the courage to risk his life for an agreement even if he believed in peace. Having read and listened to his statements over the years, and what he has to say to his fellow Arabs in particular, I don't really believe he has any interest in peace at all. Once upon a time I was a peacenik. Like so many in the '90s I thought peace might be right around the corner if only we worked hard enough for it. Like so many I've since come to realize that I succumbed to a popular delusion.

Israel should always leave the door open to peace. We should always be ready to sit down and negotiate in good faith. We shouldn't beg those who fire rockets into Israel daily or those in Judea and Samaria who plot destruction to please, please, please make peace. That smacks of weakness and achieves nothing.

A mass march on the government that fails to work for peace is a wonderful idea. You would need to march on Ramallah, not Jerusalem.

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