The wave of violence spreading across the United States is shocking, even as the growing protests are understandable. It boggles my mind that this country, the “land of the free”, is still mired in deeply routed racism, and inequality.
Every society has its challenges, certainly. Israel is no different. We have divides of our own. Despite that, it’s up to each of us to move beyond those divisions.
As I mentioned on Twitter earlier:
It’s the 21st century, this shouldn’t still be an issue to fight for. Racial equality should be a given. ✊
We live in challenging times. Here in Israel we have the dual challenges of this new coronavirus, and having just had our third elections in the hope that our leaders will grow up, place Israel first, and form a sustainable government.
Larger forces, and uncomfortable spaces
The recent elections had been coming, so we knew more or less what to expect. This new coronavirus really shook 2020 up for us. Between these two events (at least here, for me), there’s a lot of uncertainty, and a sense of larger forces at play.
This is not a comfortable space for me to be in at all. I have very little control over either situation, only my responses to them. Even then, my responses are limited. So, like I said, not a comfortable space to be in.
Both events have a sense of inevitability to them.
Either our leadership will form a government (at the very least an emergency government to deal with the current situation), or they won’t (and we’ll head to a fourth set of elections).
As for the coronavirus, and the spread of COVID-19, well hopefully we’ll see a vaccine developed, and the virus’ spread start to slow sooner rather than later. In the meantime, we wash our hands, cough into our sleeves, and limit our exposure to people who could be affected, or infected.
Toilet paper shortages, and panic in homes
With all of this going on, it’s hard not to be concerned, even scared. When terrorists fire rockets into Israel, we can see the projectiles, and where they’re going. We have defense systems that can literally blow them out of the sky.
A virus is invisible to us, and unless a person is symptomatic, we can’t see our “enemy”. This unseen enemy, coupled with the coronavirus’ spread being categorised as a pandemic, is leading to panic.
We see this in empty toilet paper shelves as families fear they’ll be forced into two weeks of quarantine. Supermarkets are limiting access to 100 people at a time due to a prohibition on more than 100 people in a closed space, some are even doing temperature checks before allowing people in.
On the one hand, this is no longer “business as usual”. On the other, panic is hardly helpful.
Now and then I hear or see messages that our kids friends exchange in their WhatsApp groups. They’re telling each other that simply going outside will make them sick, as if COVID-19 is hiding in the bushes, ready to pounce.
When our education minister mistakenly said that kids in my daughter’s grade would still need to go to school (school is closed for kids in her grade and older), she burst into tears because she didn’t want to “get corona” by going to school.
This is despite our kids understanding that the virus is transmitted from person to person, and what precautions to take. They also understand that even if they become infected, it should be pretty mild for them.
Parents are also panicking (understandably).
Perspective, and sanity
Despite this being an unprecedented event in our lifetimes, I’m working to maintain a healthier perspective on the pandemic with our kids.
I remind our kids that as viruses go, this one isn’t deadly to all who contract it. I also remind them to wash their hands, cough or sneeze into their sleeves (or a tissue), and to be mindful of how close they are to people.
I also tell them that it’s ok to be scared. This pandemic is almost unprecedented in our lifetimes (we weren’t particularly affected by SARS or MERS in South Africa). At the same time, we understand how to reduce the likelihood of being infected.
Still, it’s scary when you see so much discussion about the coronavirus everywhere you look. The Media’s coverage often leaves you with the impression that the Zombie Apocalypse has finally arrived with virtually every image being somber looking people dressed in environmental protection suits.
Taking a step back, or several outdoors
I went for a walk the other day to pick up some items for home. It was a warm evening, and I was thinking about Israeli politics, and the pandemic. I caught myself, and decided to rather just walk mindfully in the warm evening, appreciating being in that space.
It worked, and I felt better. It didn’t fix these challenges we face, but it reminded me that sometimes all we can do is change our response to situations like these. That and these challenges will pass in time. Change happens.
The Central Elections Committee said that 65.5 percent of registered voters cast their ballots by 8 p.m. — the highest figure for the hour since 1999.
Although I have my preferences for who will form a coalition (and my strong hope that someone actually forms a coalition this time), I’m proud of Israelis for turning out in these numbers to have their say.
Sacha Baron Cohen recently spoke about how social media services have become the “greatest propaganda machine in history”.
Much of the media’s focus, when reporting on his remarks, was on his attack on Facebook. While he certainly targeted Facebook, he also spoke about how Google, YouTube, and Twitter shape online discourse, and how they help spread lies, bigotry, and attacks on fact-based discussions.
Think about it. Facebook, YouTube and Google, Twitter and others—they reach billions of people. The algorithms these platforms depend on deliberately amplify the type of content that keeps users engaged—stories that appeal to our baser instincts and that trigger outrage and fear. It’s why YouTube recommended videos by the conspiracist Alex Jones billions of times. It’s why fake news outperforms real news, because studies show that lies spread faster than truth. And it’s no surprise that the greatest propaganda machine in history has spread the oldest conspiracy theory in history—the lie that Jews are somehow dangerous. As one headline put it, “Just Think What Goebbels Could Have Done with Facebook.”
As much as we embrace free expression, we find it difficult to draw a line when liars and bigots abuse their right to free expression because doing that feels like hypocrisy.
Free expression isn’t unlimited, though. And pushing back against channels that help propagate misinformation, abuse, and false statements that impact substantial segments of the population is becoming more important.
At the very least, it’s worth watching Cohen’s talk, or reading his remarks:
We should also think carefully about how much trust we place in services that profit from the social chaos we see around us.
We started off by taking a relatively new train to Jerusalem from the Ben Gurion Airport. This train takes about half an hour to reach Jerusalem, and shaves an hour (or more) off the previous train route that left from Tel Aviv.
We arrived at Yad Vashem at a pretty busy time. There were easily half a dozen tour buses there already.
We picked up two audio guides for a self-guided tour (although the guided tours are apparently really good too).
The main museum was pretty crowded, although the tour groups eventually moved past us as we walked through the exhibits describing the events leading up to, and the Holocaust itself in visceral detail.
Walking through the museum takes time, and I almost always felt like I was moments away from tears as I listened to the narrative describing how European Jews were first marginalised, dehumanised, and then eradicated in the many death camps they were shipped to like cattle.
It took us three hours to make our way through the exhibits, and each step reinforced why Israel is so important. Having our own country with an effective military means that Jews are no longer subject to the whims of other nations who repeatedly return to old stereotypes, and prejudices.
What still alarms me (even though I know better), is that we see the same rhetoric being repeated in various countries as the Nazis used in the 1930s, and other groups used in the centuries that preceded them. It seems that some things never change. Some people seem to drift back to anti-Semitism when they need someone to blame.
From Yad Vashem, we made our way to the Old City, towards the Western Wall.
We arrived at the Wall after lunch at a nearby schwarma place, and during preparations for Yom HaZikaron (our memorial day for soldiers and victims of terror attacks) two days later.
This photo of these three men sitting, facing the Wall reminded me of a previous visit where I saw three monks leaning over the railing, looking at the Wall and it’s visitors.
From here, we made our way back out of the Old City towards the train station, and home.
I especially like how it was an interview with Israelis living in Tekoa, a settlement town, by an Israeli. If you’re interested in what seems to be a pretty honest perspective from Israelis living in one town, it’s worth watching this:
I also enjoyed the Vox documentary series (1, 2, 3) about Israeli settlements. Most of the documentaries I’ve watched tend to present pretty dramatic, skewed perspectives of the settlements, and the Vox documentaries seem to be more balanced, given my experiences in Israel so far.
Those grainy Moon photos the public saw back in the early days of NASA’s Moon missions were a ruse!
No, not that ruse. Humans really went to the Moon. The ruse is that NASA actually captured much higher resolution images, but didn’t disclose them publicly because they didn’t want the Soviets to know how good their imaging technology was at the time.
Fifty years ago, 5 unmanned lunar orbiters circled the moon, taking extremely high resolution photos of the surface. They were trying to find the perfect landing site for the Apollo missions. They would be good enough to blow up to 40 x 54ft images that the astronauts would walk across looking for the great spot. After their use, the images were locked away from the public until after the bulk of the moon landings, as at the time they would have revealed the superior technology of the USA’s spy satellite cameras, which the orbiters cameras were designed from. The main worry was the USSR gaining valuable information about landing sites that the US wanted to use. In 1971 many of the images were released, but nowhere near to their potential quality, and mainly to an academic audience as public interest in the moon had waned. Up until 2008 most of the reported images from the project were the 1966 versions that were grainy and lower quality.
A glimmer of joy amidst today's gloom, as Israel's national anthem, Hatikvah, plays in Abu Dhabi for the first time ever after Israel's Sagi Muki wins gold at the Abu Dhabi Judo Grand Slam. 🇮🇱🥇🇦🇪 #JudoAbuDhabi2018pic.twitter.com/DRKCAez91T