The people are everywhere. We pass each other and I nod my head in a “what’s up?” or “hey” kind of way. The nod is returned, along with a smile. My eyes are round and blue. Some have eyes that are mere slits. Others look back at me with oval, brown eyes. But the smiles. The smiles are the same.
Our skin is not the same color. Some are onyx black, deep and beautiful. Others are hues of olive tones, earthy and rich. I scan the crowds and see white skin too. Milky white like me. Our skin is not all the same color. But the smiles are the same.
I hear music. The tune is familiar but I do not understand the words as the olive skinned people sing. My lips hardly move and slight whispers escape; I sing along.
The trees are full of birds of every feather yet it seems they all sing the same song. I am free to walk the grounds and nod at strangers. I am free to take pictures of the thousands of flowers lining the walkway and filling the gardens. The flowers, every color in the palette, rest in beds of green. The sun turns its face towards them and the dew glimmers like diamonds on velvet. Their beauty is surpassed only by their fragrance.
I have traveled half way around the world for this walk. For this day. I find my place on a large rock on the hillside. The breeze blows past my face. I close my eyes and feel the warmth of the sun kiss my face.
There is a lake nestled at the bottom of the mountain. I watch the water as waves gently lap the shore. Tranquility. Beauty.
I have been here before. This is my fourth visit in 30 years. I am comfortable on “my” rock. The crystal blue sky meets the sparkling sapphire water; there is perfect peace.
I am free to cry. Free to exhale and weep with no fear of judgment.
I am free to rest. Free to put pain aside, forget stress, and simply rest.
I am free to dream. Free to envision all that is possible.
I am free to trust. Free to cast doubt over the side of the mountain, tumbling into the sea below.
I live in a glass house. My husband is a pastor; through good times and not so good times our family is on display. At home, I carefully guard my emotions around others. But here, in this place, the walls come down and I can just be.
In my heart, I hear blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God. Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, they shall be called children of God.
This place is the Mount of the Beatitudes. The water nearby is the Sea of Galilee. Pilgrims from all over the world travel by the hundreds of thousands each year to walk where Jesus walked. They come here to sing hymns. They are here to meditate. Their Bibles are opened to study the words Jesus spoke, words we know as The Sermon on the Mount.
There’s something amazing about feeling an incredibly safe aloneness while surrounded by many. In that safe aloneness I am content. What a glorious feeling! Contentment.
I have to wonder as I walk toward my car. The brown eyes, blue and green. The black skin, olive and white. The smiles that are all the same. Do all the people behind the smiles feel the same freedom here that is mine?
Shelley Pierce is a pastor’s wife, mother and grandmother. She is a speaker and freelance writer as well as a Director of Preschool and Children’s Ministries. She loves to encourage others and use her writing to make a positive impact in the lives of her readers.
Growing up an American Jew in Los Angeles, I was always told if you ask three Jews a question, you will get four opinions. Last Friday night, I went to shabbat services at Stephen Wise Temple. I began by reading the words below from Rabbi Joshua Knobel about Pioneers and the weekly parsha. Then, I listened to Rabbi Woznica’s passionate sermon about the issues with the Iran Nuclear Agreement. I included information from AIPAC and the Jewish Federation about their desire for Congress to oppose the joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Iran’s Nuclear Program, signed on July 14, 2015.
Be Brave and Form an Opinion. Take Part and “remember that while the greatest victories are not won without bravery, they are also not won without risk.” What is your opinion on the Iran Nuclear Agreement? What do you think Congress should do? Are you willing to be vulnerable and share your opinion? What risks are you willing to take?
From Rabbi Knobel about this week’s parsha:
In modern Hebrew, the word ‘halutzim’ refers to the pioneers of the Israeli state, brave souls who, in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, ventured forth into an unknown, often dangerous land, determined to create a home for themselves, as well as their Jewish brothers and sisters worldwide.
The origins of the word ‘halutzim’ appear within this week’s Torah portion. The tribes of Reuben and Gad, enamored of the land west of the Jordan River, ask Moses’ permission to stay, rather than pursue holdings in the Land of Canaan. In exchange, they boldly offer to lead the invasion of Canaan by serving as the vanguard – the halutzim.
The gallant bravery shared between the Biblical and modern halutzim seems plainly evident, but these two groups share another characteristic, as suggested by their names’ Hebrew root – halatz. In the Bible, halatz refers to genitals (Gen 35:11), while halitzah denotes a public shaming ritual (Deut 25:9). What common thread ties these disparate ideas together?
It appears our ancestors understood that true audacity requires us to expose ourselves to peril. Only by rendering ourselves susceptible to the cost of failure can we accomplish greatness. As we seek achievements as individuals, as a congregation, and as a people, let us remember that while the greatest victories are not won without bravery, they are also not won without risk.
The Iran Nuclear Agreement: Unacceptable Consequences
After 20 months of negotiations, Iran and the P5+1 have reached a nuclear agreement. The agreement fails to halt Iran’s nuclear quest.
Instead, it would facilitate rather than prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and would further entrench and empower the leading state sponsor of terror.
Iran is the world’s leading state sponsor of terror and is racing toward a nuclear weapons capability. Through its proxy armies of Hezbollah in southern Lebanon and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, the Iranian regime is supporting terrorists that have carried out attacks on American troops and Israeli civilians.
Click here to read AIPAC’s press release on the proposed deal.
Iran must stop its nuclear weapons program.
American policy must unabashedly seek to prevent Iran from achieving a nuclear weapons capability. A nuclear-armed Iran is an existential threat to Israel and would arm the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism with the ultimate weapon.
Iran is the leading state sponsor of terrorism.
Iran finances, arms and trains terrorist groups operating around the world. It is the leading sponsor of Hamas and Hezbollah, and armed insurgents that have fought U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Stop the human rights violations.
In the aftermath of the 2009 Iranian presidential election, which falsely awarded Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a second term, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) quelled popular protests by arresting civil leaders, beating and killing peaceful protesters and cutting off internet and mobile access to its citizens.
AIPAC has consistently supported diplomatic efforts to end Iran’s nuclear weapons program, and we appreciate the commitment and dedication of President Obama and his administration throughout these negotiations. Unfortunately, this proposed agreement fails to halt Iran’s nuclear quest. Instead, it would facilitate rather than prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and would further entrench and empower the leading state sponsor of terror.
We strongly believe that the alternative to this bad deal is a better deal. Congress should reject this agreement, and urge the administration to work with our allies to maintain economic pressure on Iran while offering to negotiate a better deal that will truly close off all Iranian paths to a nuclear weapon.
Congress should insist on a better deal. Contact your members of Congress and urge them to oppose the bad deal with Iran.
The proposed deal does not ensure “anytime, anywhere” short-notice inspections;
The proposed deal does not clearly condition sanctions relief on full Iranian cooperation in satisfying International Atomic Energy Agency concerns over the possible military dimensions of Tehran’s program;
The proposed deal lifts sanctions as soon as the agreement commences, rather than gradually as Iran demonstrates sustained adherence to the agreement;
The proposed deal lifts key restrictions in as few as eight years;
The proposed deal would disconnect and store centrifuges in an easily reversible manner, but it requires no dismantlement of centrifuges or any Iranian nuclear facility.
This summer Congress will be reviewing the Iran nuclear agreement and it is imperative that our elected officials hear our voice. Below is our statement on this matter of national security. Please contact your member of Congress today — the time is now.
The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles joins with Jewish communities across the country in urging Congress to oppose the joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Iran’s Nuclear Program, signed on July 14, 2015.
The proposed agreement with Iran is not a partisan issue; it impacts the security of the United States, the stability of the Middle East, the future of the State of Israel and the safety of every Jewish family and community around the world. This Iran deal threatens the mission of our Federation as we exist to assure the continuity of the Jewish people, support a secure State of Israel, care for Jews in need here and abroad and mobilize on issues of concern.
Our Federation wants a diplomatic solution that ends Iran’s nuclear program. We recognize the efforts of the Administration to reach such an agreement. We regret and are gravely concerned that the proposed agreement allows Iran to remain a threshold nuclear state, does not allow for “anytime, anywhere” inspections of Iranian nuclear facilities, and offers immediate rather than gradual sanctions relief without requiring Iran to address the military dimensions of its nuclear program.
The proposed agreement releases Iran from arms embargos in five years and ballistic missile sanctions in eight years. Iran’s past behavior gives us reason to be concerned that these deadly weapons will be shared with terrorists including Hamas and Hezbollah and will hasten the creation of an Iranian hegemony in the Middle East.
As Americans and Jews who yearn for peace and are invested in the future of our children and grandchildren, we must voice our concerns about an agreement that will destabilize a fragile region. We encourage members of our community to raise their voices in opposition to this agreement by contacting their elected representatives to urge them to oppose this deal.
Congress has until September 18th to review the agreement. That means that by acting promptly, you can start the Jewish New Year knowing you made your voice heard when it counted.
Some of you might remember the old 1970s television show, Kung Fu which aired from 1972-1975 on ABC. I remember it from re-runs.
The main character of the series, Kwai Chang Caine, is played by David Carradine. Kwai Chang is the orphaned son of an American man and a Chinese woman As a boy, he comes to study martial arts and wisdom at a Shaolin Temple. His master is blind.
“You cannot see,” the boy says when he meets the master for the first time.
“You think I cannot see,” says the master.
“Of all things,” says the boy, “to live in darkness must be the worst.”
“I hear the water. I hear the birds.” – says the boy.
“Do you hear your own heartbeat?” asks the master.
“Do you hear the grasshopper which is at your feet?”
The boy looks down and sees the grasshopper. He is amazed.
“Old man, how is it that you hear these things?” asks the boy.
“Young man,” says the master, “how is it that you do not?”
From then on, the master calls the boy “Grasshopper” as a term of affection.
This week’s Torah portion offers us several “grasshopper” lessons.
Here’s the context: God tells Moses to send scouts to spy out the land of Canaan, to see what the land is like, what types of agriculture it supports, what the people who inhabit it are like, are they strong or weak, are their cities fortified or not?
Twelve spies are sent out – one from each tribe.
Ten spies bring a negative report. Agriculturally speaking, they say, the land indeed flows with milk and honey. It’s a good land. However, the inhabitants are fierce, their cities are well-fortified, and there are even giants there.
Caleb, one of two spies who bring a more hopeful account of the land, tries to calm the people and tells them: “We should go up at once and possess the land for surely we are able to do so! We can do it”
But the spies retort: “We cannot win – לֹא נוּכַל. For they are stronger than we – כִּי-חָזָק הוּא, מִמֶּנּוּ.”
And then, after just praising the land for its bounty, they now spread lies about it, calling it a land devours its inhabitants – אֶרֶץ אֹכֶלֶת יוֹשְׁבֶיהָ הִוא.
And then, perhaps the most devastating part of all, the ten spies say that when they scouted out the land they came across the Nephilim, the “fallen ones”, the sons of Anak, the giant. “And in our own eyes, we were like grasshoppers, and so we were in their eyes as well –
The first lesson I’ve already shared and it comes, ultimately, not from the Torah of the ABC series “Kung Fu” – but is actually based on the teachings of Lao-Tze, the great Chinese philosopher who taught approximately 2500 years ago. There are many kinds of darkness. The master may be blind but he can see many things that the student cannot. The spies who go out into the land “see” many things but what, ultimately, do they understand? Lesson number one, young grasshoppers: there are many ways of knowing, many ways of seeing, many ways of apprehending and sensing.
Lesson number two comes from the Midrash. Our Torah portion says: “In our own eyes, we were like grasshoppers, and so we were in their eyes as well!” – Says the Midrash: “I take no objection to your saying “In our own eyes, we were like grasshoppers,’ but I take offense when you say, ‘and so we were in their eyes as well!’How do you know how I made you look to them?Perhaps you appeared to them as angels?”
אמרו: “וַנּהִי בְעֵינ֨ינוּ כּחֲגָב֔ים”. אמר הקב”ה: “ויתרתי עליהם.” אלא, “וְכֵן הָיִינוּ בּעֵינֵיהֶם.” יודעים הייתם מה עשיתי אתכם לעיניהם? מי יאמר שלא הייתם בעיניהם כמלאכים?
Here’s the lesson – we mustn’t allow our fears to paralyze us. It’s natural for the scouts to be afraid – they are a group of former slaves who must imagine what it would mean to conquer a land populated by other nations with armies and fortified cities and men of great stature. Sometimes we feel like grasshoppers, small and insignificant. But we mustn’t let our fears get the better of us. The spies are certain that the Canaanites see them as but grasshoppers. How could they know this? Maybe, as the Midrash suggests, the Canaanites saw them as angels? As holy men? Or, perhaps, as fierce and clever warriors. It’s OK to be afraid, young grasshoppers, but as the Midrash suggests fear is a type of darkness that must be managed.
Lesson number three comes from the great Hassidic master, Menachem Mendel of Kotzk. He turns the Midrash on its head. The midrash asks how the spies could have known how they were seen to others. The Kotzker is upset that the spies should care how they looked to others. When the spies say, “and so we were in their eyes as well,” the Kotzker replies: “What’s with this?!?!? What do you care how you appear in the eyes of others.” (Itturey Torah, 5, p. 83)
They see you as grasshoppers, they see you as angels – what difference does it make? asks the Kotzker Rebbe. The important question is not how do others see us but WHO ARE WE? What kind of people are we? Are we good? Are we kind? Are we generous? If others see us as those things but we are not really those things, what have we accomplished? Will we have fooled God? Will we have fooled ourselves?
As Rabbi Steven Kushner puts it: “…their sin wasn’t simply that they lost faith or that the scouts had misrepresented what they had seen… Their failure wasn’t even that they had low self-esteem, that they saw themselves as grasshoppers. For this they could be forgiven. Rather it was their preoccupation with how others saw them that was their sin.”
Lesson number three, young grasshoppers: Worry less about how others see you and more about who you are and about who you are capable of becoming.
One last lesson that’s really about right now, this place and this moment: There is in this world much of which to be afraid. Escaped felons, dwindling water supplies, nuclear proliferation, rising antisemitism around the world and on college campuses, racism, this past month’s report that the number of homeless people in our city – right here in Los Angeles – went up 12% over the past two years– the list goes on and on.
But there is an even bigger list, a list so big that it makes this first list look puny and small like a little tiny grasshopper – it’s a list of the things in this world which give us hope and strength.
Our 3000+ year-old tradition of wisdom and learning
Our community right here and communities like it across the Jewish world
Our Jewish belief that better days are ahead of us, not behind us
These doctors, these nurses who brought healing with their hands and their hearts their intellect
Our tikvah – our hope – that our world can be perfected, that it will be perfected and that WE CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE in our world today, we can make things better, more just, more loving, more peaceful…
This list goes on and on and on and on.
And so, when we are afraid, let it be Caleb’s voice we hear when we close our eyes, telling us:
Israel is a land of multiple religions in a country surrounded by enemies on all borders. The Jewish people have occupied the land for generations. A land of sand, mountain terrain, minimal water and a warm climate is home to a truly brave peoples. In this coastal country one finds great strives made by a couragous people converting desert regions into wonderful crop producing areas.
The enemy states surrounding Israel make the country ripe for terrorism and threats of war. Jewish families send their young men and women to mandatory military service. The males are conscripted for 3 years and the women for 2 years. It is with trepidation and pride that these young men and women serve their country. The citizens of Israel have vowed to never let the autrocities of the holocaust happen to them again. I this land marked by hostile borders a vigilance of enemies is maintained at all times.
The stretch of beaches outlining the Mediterranean Sea is in itself a beautiful site. Proud people enjoy the warm sun splashed beach areas. The roman ruins of Cesarea contrasting the blue waters of King Herods palace are spectacular to behold. The land draws one into its being at first site. In the midst of the beauty a proud people carrying on with their lives in pleasant manners. Guides willing tell a story of the land, the many struggles from Roman rulers to present day terror threats and political misunderstandings with the United States. Allies and yet at odds with world policies. Israel is a place where world political struggles are carried out in social media broadcasts on a daily basis.
Following my first experience in Israel I was compelled to question why so many political and military conflicts were always in the news. I have since discovered that partly because of many jealous attitudes and the strength of the Jewish peoples bravery are the answers. One must recognize that a people who are forced to defend their nation on a daily basis are strengthed in their resolve to maintain military preparedness.
In the Palistenian area of Bethlehem most Christians have been forced out over time. The Holy sites are maintained for Christian tourists in hostile territories. This in and of itself is a sad state of affairs. Throught Israel ancient holy sites are for the most part respected by all Jewish, Christian and Muslim people. The Israel Military keeps a watchful eye to protect their land, their rights as a nation and the ancient religious ruins. In a land where many religious were born and where a conflict might begin at any given moment there is a sense of calm. The brave men and women of Israel stand their ground to protect the ancient sites as well as their prideful nation and the many visitors.
If being vigiliant by posting armed military at various checkpoints, patrolling the skies over the country are seen as hawkish exploits then we are all very wrong. The brave citizens of Israel thrive because of a common bond that was welded when world exploits attempted to eradicate their race. The bravery of these people to stand against insurgents who would see them eliminated is above comparison.
The bravest of the brave are world citizens who protect their rights, religious beliefs, antiquities and traditions from enemies who would do them harm. There is no need to look further for bravery than in the wonder filled land of Israel.
Concave apricot slices are belly up towards the desert sky, their wet insides unaware of the drought to come. In three days time, they’ll shrivel to brown. Lulu and I have just finished spreading hundreds of these slices on four white tables, singing Hebrew nursery rhymes all the while, laughing as I echoed her words.
For two weeks now, I’ve been volunteering on the Arazuni Family Farm, located in a small Israeli town called Ezuz. I’m not sure if I can call it a town, really—it’s more of a collection of stone slabs and metal sheets slapped together to create a charming, ramshackle cohesion in the middle of the desert. Each home is a haven of shade, with flat roofs extending far beyond the borders of walls made of mud bricks and old buses transformed into living spaces. There’s no corner store here because there are no corners—just a circle of families vying for the simplest life.
As soon as I’ve secured the mesh screen over the apricots to keep the flies from feasting, I race back to the volunteer cabin and slip out of my farm clothes. The cabin is a converted train car that houses three of us: Laurette, a French woman who follows Bob Dylan on tour around the world, filling gaps between shows by volunteering on farms; Tom, an aquaculture specialist from Hawaii who’s travelled far from the sea, searching for something only found in open air; and me, a twenty-one year old student who fled to the desert between semesters to escape a life of appointments. I peel back layers of dirt and replace them with a clean Yankees shirt, grab my notebook, and head a half-kilometer to my favorite rock, hoping I didn’t miss the show.
I’ve claimed my rock among the hundreds lining the path, carving its contours from the sandscape. I mount it, loving it for its plateau top, for its cratered form, for its strong stoneness supporting me, for this earth supporting me. I stretch my legs out before me to welcome the sweet soreness now streaming through my thighs and calves—sweet like the plums I picked this morning, when the sky mirrored a dim purple. All through the day, I said to myself: This is how my body was meant to work—not hunching over an office desk, but stretching and reaching for the pear from the highest branch, or squatting to search for the ripest eggplant hiding beneath tangled stems.
While out in the orchard or the greenhouse, my mind tends to wander: what will I do with my life? What can I offer to this planet? Will today’s lunch be hummus or goat cheese? To these questions I have few answers, so I turn them off and reach into the depth of memory, hoping to find something more tangible: poetry. I repeat the handful poems that accompany me wherever I travel, reciting them to the coriander beds: Forever – is composed of Nows – and hope they can understand Emily Dickinson’s wisdom. But then, I admire their patience in the hot sun, and wonder if they understand her words better than I do.
And tonight, I’m reminded of Yeats’ sky—of night and light and the half-light—as I glance over my left shoulder to watch the sun’s descent. It feels like a crime to take my eyes off the scene to write what I’m witnessing—to slice the stillness with my pen—but I feel a duty to store this sky in ink, to save it for storm clouds. Telephone poles and wires fail to frame boundless rays of pink and purple. In the foreground, rocks and brush are steeped in amber. Above my right shoulder, a faint moon gets bolder against a deep blue, rising higher and higher, as if lifted by the heavy sun at the end of an invisible pulley.
Back in Manhattan, I don’t look at the sun the same way as I do in Ezuz. Seeing the sun in the desert is like running into an old friend out of context and suddenly noticing all the intricacies of his face. I watch in wonder as the sun sinks down before me, enwrought with golden and silver light, burning with a fervor matched by my gaze. And when it finally disappears behind the sand dunes, I slide off my rock, dusty toes hitting the earth, comforted by the tender desert air and the astounding knowledge that this has happened, and will happen, forever.
The voice on the inspirational relaxation CD instructed me to “Find a place where I could relax and feel comfortable. Study it. Commit to memory how it looks, how it sounds, how it smells and above all how it affects my feelings.”
The theory was that if I could internalise the actual sensations of peace and positiveness; later I could sit anywhere, shut my eyes (and ears) and bring to mind my little haven of tranquillity enabling me the ability to find the strength and energy to tackle anything! My difficulties wouldn’t disappear, but they would become not only manageable, but resolvable. Life would become relaxed and filled with successful achievements. I certainly liked the sound of those ideas.
I had listened to the CD a dozen times, wondering if I would ever find the safe harbour the speaker was describing. Then one day, out of the blue I discovered IT!
I was accompanying my three grandchildren up the hill to the swimming pool. Climbing the slope was hot, tiring, thirsty work. We stopped half way up so I could rest on the seat, in the shade of a huge carob tree and take a drink from the mandatory bottle of iced water. When I’d quenched my thirst the children took the bottle from me, squabbling over it as they carried it further up the hill.
I sat and looked about. The sun was hot in the cloudless blue sky, but in the shade of the old tree the leaves rustled slightly, the birds twittered and all around was a sea of greens with bright yellow flowers scattered everywhere. I had discovered my haven.
“Grandma, Grandma” the children shouted impatiently. Reluctantly I returned my thoughts to the immediate time, I got up, changed back to loving, happy Grandma mode and we all continued to trudge up the hill.
Next day, with the grandchildren all at kindergarten, I returned to my little oasis to really enjoy it and to imprint it into my brain. I sat on the bench, in the shade of the the huge old carob tree with the sun shining in a cloudless blue sky. Everywhere was green, brown and yellow. There were green trees, carobs, pines and even date palms, green flowering bushes and green grass, with brown tree trunks and paths and a myriad of bright yellow flowers hanging in the trees and gently floating in the air as they joined their fellows carpeting the huge expanse of grass.. Above and around the various birds flew; sparrows, finches, tits, herons, crows, pigeons and larks all twittering, warbling, cooing and cawing at each other. Sweet-scented yellow blossoms perfumed the air, while a few bushes of red or orange nectar centred flowers also attracting the softly buzzing bees. In every direction there were sights, sounds and smells that I drank in and committed to memory.
This would be my oasis of peace and contentment. This is where I would go, in my mind’s eye, to revitalize my thoughts and restore my positivity. My haven would enable me to relax, gain the strength and inspiration I need to solve life’s problems.
The knowledge that I had found my haven at last, gave me the feeling I could cope with anything life threw at me, like I was almost immortal.
[Publisher’s Note: This article arrived yesterday August 5, 2014, but is being published on August 6, 2014]
Today at 8AM a cease fire has been declared in operation Protective Edge. The public discussion over the operation, however, will stay with us for a long time.
Public opinion is one of the key influence factors on countries and people behavior. In the digital and social networks world, that opinion might very rapidly turn itself into large-scale action (the ‘Arab Spring’, for example) , thus better understanding of it might shed some light on future trends and phenomena which are about to take place.
During armed conflicts, in addition to the traditional battle front, another front takes place in cyberspace, particularly if Israel is involved.
The MasterMineDS office is based in Tel Aviv. From here, a quick look at Facebook provides the common Israeli sense of solidarity with the military operation, proudly showing Israeli soldiers finding another rocket launcher or assault tunnel on one hand, and mutually helping each other at the home front between missile attack sirens, on the other hand.
However, while this is the situation in Israel, a brief view on TV channels, as well as news websites from all around the globe, actually shows very severe reactions, emotions and opinions against Israel.
Twitter is Left Behind
Israelis love social networks. They are highly active on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram; WhatsApp and Viber were invented in Israel and are also very popular among its citizens.
But when it comes to Twitter, the amount of tweets per citizen is fairly low compared to the rest of the world, and it seems Twitter is being left behind in the Israeli arena.
With that in mind, we decided to research the global public opinion regarding operation Protective Edge as it reflects these days in Twitter, and by using sentiment analysis techniques find out whether Israel is regarded as a country who defends itself, or as an aggressor.
MasterMineDS’s Part – Tweet sentiment analysis
When you live in a country at war (like Israel), it is natural, although possibly incorrectly so, to feel as though the whole world is talking about the war going on in your backyard.
We at MasterMineDS are doing our part for the situation by trying to better understand the mood on Twitter regarding the on-going Israel-Gaza conflict from a quantitative, unbiased perspective.
We have decided to try answering the following questions through analyzing the data available from Twitter:
Level of interest by country: What portion of the Twitter conversations are related to the Israel-Gaza operation in every country?
Tweet sentiments: sentiment analysis will allow us to find the ratio of tweets supporting Israel’s activity to non-supporters in every country.
Anomalies: Who are the anomalous users in different regions and what are they saying?
After setting up a server to collect millions of tweets per day, we started analyzing the data.
The analysis is based on roughly 17,500 daily Protective Edge related tweets, gathered for over a week on July 25-July 31, 2014, over 120,000 tweets in total.
Total tweeter conversations during that period stood on roughly 10,000,000 tweets per day.
Those numbers represent only a portion of the entire tweets database, due to capacity limits embedded in Twitter’s api. Nevertheless, the gathered sample consistently represents trends and proportion between countries.
First Goal: Level of Interest by Country
A point of interest in this research is the volume of the conversation around the world about the situation in Israel and Gaza.
We wanted to find out, per country, how many people are talking about the Israel-Gaza conflict through all the general tweets out there.
We have mapped the top 40 countries in aspect of the public conversation per country about the Israel-Gaza situation:
Who is interested in the Gaza situation?
We have organized the list by the amount of interest, Markers with higher then 1% of conversation are Big on the map, less are just a red dot.
As you can see, Pakistan leads the table, with 5.25% of the conversations in the Pakistani Twitter are about the Israel-Gaza conflict. Despite being a Muslim country, the numbers looked a bit high, therefore we decided to more deeply investigate it. See results below.
Next on the table are Israel’s neighbors Jordan and Lebanon, with 4.5% and 3.6% volumes, respectively. For those of you who were wondering, no, the conversations are not pro-Israeli.
Generally speaking, we noticed that the variance was high between the Arab countries that either contain a large population of Palestinian minorities or are known as radical vs moderate Arab countries.
One of the big surprises for us was Turkey, where the interest in the situation was around 0.45% despite the high volume of general tweets [Turkey contributes about 10% of the world’s tweets regarding Protective Edge]. As it seems, the people of Turkey love to tweet in general, yet not discussing the situation at the same extent. Are these the first signs of a difference in priorities between the Turkish government and its citizens? Only time will tell.
For the people of Israel who were planning on taking a trip to see the great Safari in Kenya, prepare yourself for plenty of questions from the locals. Our data shows as much as 3.33% of Kenya’s Twitter conversations are related to our subject.
South America, in general, seems to be worrying about other issues and despite some media noise from some countries over there, the current Middle East situation is not on their daily agenda.
The bottom line for the rest of the Western World is steady: less than 1% of the total conversations are related to the Israel-Gaza conflict.
Second Goal – Finding the Sentiment:
After measuring the extent of the conversation, we wanted to test the sentiment level of the tweets for\against Israel.
For that purpose, we have created an algorithm for finding the sentiment level, based on the severity of the tweet content.
Then, we created user segmentation, based on their amount of followers, tweets, sentiments and sentiment levels.
Finally, each user was assigned to one of 4 types: with\against Israel, and high\low social impact using Protective Edge related tweets.
In order to better understand the general feeling or pulse regarding the situation, we have created the following map, and pinned around 2,500 markers on it
– The map contains random tweets related to the conflict, and has a negative\positive sentiment.
– Pro Israeli sentiment is represented by green markers.
– Pro Palestinian sentiment is represented by the red markers
– The marker size represents the user’s involvement level
-The sentiment accuracy level for this map is 90%.
As you can see on the map, the USA is the only country that has a relatively high representation of the Israeli perspective by the users [around 30% of the tweets are in Pro-Israeli]. Other countries in the world may contain some Israel supporters, but they are quite a small minority.
Final Goal: Anomalies and Interesting Cases
The Twitter audience is generally not fond of users who are extreme in their views. Users who are tweeting radical content are bound to have fewer followers. With this in mind, we have decided to look for and try to track the users that express their tweets demonstrating extremist content, or exhibit properties such as frequency or having an interesting social root.
Here are some examples of our findings:
Zahid from Pakistan is flooding the stream with more than a 100 anti-Israeli tweets per day. Zahid managed to add 50 more followers to his list this week, with a total of 1,500.
The persistence of Zahid’s work in tweeting substantialy contributes to the extreme involvement levels in Pakinstan, a country that uses Twitter quite poorly.
A deeper analysis of the Growth Hacking Techniques used by Zahid can be found will be published soon.
Few Vs. Many
A few brave users can be found at the heart of some Arab countries, tweeting in favor of the Israeli side. For their own safety, and despite the great amount of appreciation we have for those users, we have decided not to reveal their user names. What we can say, however, is that it seems that some of those users are originally from Europe and are currently in those countries for work related reasons.
The first user is located in Kuwait, and he is calling on the Israeli government to stay strong.
Another user is located in Turkey. His tweets are arguing that the Hamas is a guerrilla organization who threatens journalists not to expose any violent actions it turns against the people of Gaza.
For the Attention of the Israeli ambassador in the UK:
The user Tony Huges is busy these days promoting an e-petition calling to expel Israeli ambassador Daniel Taub from the UK to his 1,500 followers.
Our findings show, that while the western countries are not extremely interested in the conflict, the amount of users who condemn Protective Edge operation is dramatically higher than those who support the Israeli side, legitimizing pretty severe messages through the web against the state of Israel.
As it has been demonstrated in this article, a deep sentiment analysis of social network data, such as Twitter, could lead to very interesting insights of global public opinion.
Intelligent use of some the of findings – in this case by Israeli foreign affairs officials and others – could help in engaging more people to help balancing the world’s public opinion, both during the fighting and after the cease fire.
In 2012, I decided to move to Israel. Initially, I went to volunteer with the Ethiopian Israeli community and along the way, I had the opportunity to travel to Greece, Budapest, Petra, Germany, and throughout the entire state of Israel. My time in Israel was challenging. I did not know the language. I did not understand the culture. I was constantly frustrated at the aggressive nature of Israelis and my inability to understand what was going on. I was annoyed when someone I didn’t know gave me advice on a topic they had no knowledge about. I was so upset at the terrible customer service. I was confused by Israelis’ genuine desire to embrace you and also push ahead of you to get on a bus.
It took me a few months to recognize how to interact with Israelis and Israeli culture, which forces you to both be impersonal and exclusionary and yet welcoming and inviting. I was invited over for dinner by strangers more than once, but I had to fight to go grocery shopping or get on a bus.
I came to Israel with no support system in place, something I felt was going to make me feel free and unattached – an ability to make independent decisions for myself without my parents or my friends giving me input. I knew absolutely no one before I decided to make a leap of faith to come to Israel. It has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
I did not know what meaning I would derive from my time in Israel, but I learned that being free is not what’s it cut out to be. The only way I learned how to live in Israel was because of people I met along the way. My host family and program facilitator specifically helped me learn things about myself and stay confident that coming to Israel was a great decision. Because of them and because I learned how to better interact with Israeli culture, I came to a point in my life where I had the confidence and, if I may, freedom to make decisions for myself. It was these decisions that led me to meeting my fiance, and to continue studying Judaism in a way that I never thought I ever would. After all the struggles I experienced I was able to find my way to freedom in a way that I never did in the US.
Every Saturday, my fiance and I would walk up to the Tayelet, a promenade that overlooks Jerusalem from the southern part of the city. It was there that we would feel the breeze coming in from the west and look out to the eastern and southern deserts. It was there that we would see the Old City, with the gold Dome of the Rock and be able to feel that we both belong and don’t belong in this city. And it was there that she proposed and we decided to spend our lives together.
None of that would have happened if I had given up or had not sought my independence or had not been open to learning about myself, another culture and country, and Judaism. It was only because I sought freedom that I found freedom. I’m proud of myself for being brave and making that decision back in 2012 to go alone to Israel.
Part of me will always remain in Israel. It’s where I gained friends, experiences, and a life partner, and where I came into myself in ways I never thought possible.
About the Author:Jessica is an Atlanta-born Jewish social justice and nonprofit professional. She is a traveler, writer, and life-long learner who is readjusting to life in the US after a year and a half in Israel.
There is something about landing down for the first time in Israel that is breathtaking. Many would argue there is nothing particularly stunning or original about the Tel Aviv airport. But you can feel the weight of the history of the land engulfing you, feeding you, squeezing you when you touch down.
I’ve had people ask me to describe what this feeling is. It’s exasperating how inexplicable it is. You stand there hoping that the emotions you felt and the beauty in the sights you saw could be played back in your eyes in the magnificence that you experienced them as they stare at you. But, try as you might, the only words that come out are “It’s hard to exactly explain the feeling of being there.” How can one recount a feeling of magic to someone? It’s not really the magician, it’s the wonders that the magician performs, the feeling that she leaves you with that is what you remember.
With both of my parent being Jewish, I knew some of the basics of Judaism, but outside of our little brown house it always felt that it was shameful or had to be hidden in some way. Even growing up in the safe suburbs of Los Angeles there were plenty of jokes made at the expense of Jews. Jabs that I had to hear and didn’t feel like I could speak up against.
After high school when I came out as gay I was pretty focused on the fallout and emotional turmoil from that. At the time I didn’t think too much about what it would mean for me Jewishly, but when I finally took the time to think about it, I didn’t think there was any space for me in Judaism. It felt awkward, almost like I could only be one or the other. Like the last missing piece in a giant jigsaw puzzle and somehow you have ended up with two pieces in your hand. You know that only one of those pieces is going to fit. So I just ignored it.
Then in college came the amazing opportunity to travel to Israel for free. Who wouldn’t want to take advantage of that opportunity? As someone that was not religious at all, I didn’t expect to have any great revelations there. How cliche are all the things you hear about people having emotional experiences in holy places? So I didn’t have high expectations about having any feelings there that were different than anything I had ever felt before.
But as our bus arrived into Jerusalem and then deeper into the Old City, and as I approached the Kotel, the Western Wall, something sparked in me that I didn’t know existed. When I stepped up to the wall, I felt the coolness and jaggedness of the rock in the palm of my hand. With the brightness of the blue sky above my head I felt the presence of all of the women around me praying, crying and hoping and I felt something open within me, and with it, the overwhelming realization that I was finally home.
At the end of the trip I returned to the US and finished college, but when I was finally able to return 10 years later, the tumult and ups and downs of life hadn’t changed the way I felt when I arrived in Israel. I fell in love all over again, and then, fell in love with my fiancee who I had the serendipitous fortune of meeting in Jerusalem.
I remember a little while before landing in Israel for the first time, the flight attendant announcing, “We’re approaching our final destination, Tel Aviv”. Reflecting now, it’s funny how final destinations can really just be the beginning of things. There are a lot of stunning places, places so beautiful they make you want to cry. Israel happens to be one of them. But feeling safe, feeling embraced and being held by a community, that is special. Being celebrated for who you are- that is true freedom.F
About the Author: Emet Zyon is the author of Big Gay Breakup Book. She is recently engaged and now spends most of her time looking for wedding suits.
The names and places in this story have been changed.
I’ve experienced several Aha moments, as Oprah likes to refer to them over the course of my now fifty-nine years. Some small, some large, most occurring when least expected and all to some degree having a life defining affect. One memory in particular surfaced recently during a conversation with a friend about the transforming power of travel and how a particular place or person can forever alter long held perceptions.
Having been raised in a traditional, conservative, Jewish family, a constant thread of dinner table conversation often centered on the importance of Israel’s existence to the Jewish people as a whole. My parents and extended family were all extremely pro-Israel. There was no gray area when it came to this topic. Israel always wore the white hats. As a result certain perceptions were imprinted into my brain from a very young age about the world, cultures, and of course the situation between the Palestinian’s and the Israeli’s, which lent to the formation of some deep-rooted belief’s regarding the conflict and the people on each side.
I was almost twenty years old the first year I spent in Israel, arriving a few months before the Yom Kippur War broke out. I lived on a Kibbutz (a large, communal farm) by the name of Kfar Blum located approximately four miles from the Lebanese border in the northern region of Israel called the Galilee. From here, I could look out and see Mt. Hermon, as well as the Golan Heights, the mountain range dividing Israel from Syria in the not so far distance.
My days were split; one half learning Hebrew and the other working within the community alongside Israeli’s and student volunteers from all over the world. One small aha moment occurred a mere three weeks after I’d arrived with the realization I’m not in any way, shape or form meant to be a farmer. Another incident taking place on a Saturday evening in late September a few months later had a far longer lasting effect, though at the time I didn’t know how deeply it would change me.
My Friday started out like every other day, with me oversleeping, (I swear I’ve never had a reliable working alarm clock) rushing up to the dining room for breakfast and complaining about my boring work assignment to my friends. I’d been stuck on kitchen duty for more than a month. I guess the work manager thought I couldn’t do too much damage peeling potatoes and washing dishes. I’d already been fired from working with the sheep, (losing a flock of sheep along with the sheep dog I guess wasn’t particularly impressive) feeding chickens, (okay, stepping on a chicken’s head and killing it clearly not a point scorer) picking oranges, (did you know if you ate more than a dozen oranges within three hours’ time your stomach will revolt?) I don’t even want to get into what happened when I was assigned to work with the cows!
On this particular morning, my luck took an upward turn when I managed to trade my kitchen shift and get the weekend free so I could hitch down to Tel Aviv where friends were throwing a party to celebrate the end of an unbearably long heat wave. The trek down must have been unremarkable as I don’t recall any of the details, except I left right after lunch (weekend’s began Friday at noon in Israel) and traveled down to the city with two friends and fellow volunteer’s; Anne, who was from Sweden and Nancy from Toronto. I remember the party turned out to be not quite as exciting as I anticipated, though why I’ve no recollection at all. Maybe a boy I liked hadn’t paid attention to me. Maybe I got bored, ran out of money or had a quarrel with a girlfriend. I don’t recall why I decided to leave after being there just one day, or why I chose to hitchhike back up to Kfar Blum on my own.
I caught a ride within a few minutes of getting myself onto the side of the highway with an Israeli family heading north. I remember because I had to fold myself into the back seat of their small car and squish myself in beside three bickering tween age girls. They took me a good distance, about half way of the two plus hour drive dropping me off at a junction along highway ninety where two roads surrounded by fields of rock and patches of high grasses diverged in opposite directions. I was familiar with the spot, comfortable another ride would come by soon as had always happened in the past. I gave no thought to how daylight was fast turning to dusk. I didn’t consider how I’d be standing on this crossroad alone. At twenty I still held to the illusions of my own immortality, confident I was able to take care of myself in any situation. I assured my ride I’d be fine. The harried parents took me at my word and drove off.
I’d been standing there for about twenty minutes, I’m sure hoping for one of the many army trucks always traversing this route to come by, (they always picked up hitchhikers) wishing I had brought something to eat, probably wondering what my friends in Tel Aviv were doing and contemplating whether I should have stayed when a van pulled over maybe twenty yards from where I stood. Five men in traditional Arab dress stepped out. I watched them slowly approach. It didn’t take more than one terrifying instant to understand their intent was not a good one.
I had nowhere to run except out into the empty landscape where I knew for certain they would easily outrun me before I’d gotten more than a few yards. There wasn’t another car in sight, the nearest houses a shadowy mirage at least half a mile away across the field. I’ve no recollection of their faces. I couldn’t tell you the color of their robes, their headdress or if they were wearing shoes or sandals, yet with absolute clarity, I can still see them stalking toward me with each step I took back.
As the five of them came closer and closer, my breath felt like it was being choked off and my vision blurred. In a cyclonic whirl of dust an old, beat up station wagon screeched up within inches of me and the back door was thrown open. With one glance I took in the two men in the front seat wearing similar dress to those coming at me and the veiled woman with two small children in the back. With no more than an instant’s hesitation I jumped in just managing to pull the door shut as the driver peeled out in another spray of gravel and rock to speed down the road.
It was a long moment before I gained control of my breathing, gulping down wave after wave of deep, body racking sobs. My face was wet with tears I hadn’t been aware I’d given into and my clothes soaked with sweat. I felt a gentle squeeze around my fingers and I looked down beside me into the eyes of a dark haired little girl who had slipped her hand into mine. She had long black braids and eyes the color of chocolate. When I smiled back she climbed onto my lap. A little boy with equally dark hair and eyes sat beside his mother quietly studying me. All I could make out of woman was her eyes, a matching dark chocolate brown as her two children. I realized she was gently patting my back.
Looking over at the driver, my gaze met his in the rear view mirror. Unlike his wife and children, his expression held little sympathy. He looked like he had been waiting for me to make eye contact with him. He looked angry. He began to shake his head at me and then he began to shake his finger at me as well. He began to speak and though I had no understanding of the words. I did understand his tone. He sounded just like my father when he went into lecture mode, usually after I did something that scared the hell out of both he and my mother. If I had to guess at the meaning of his words, I imagine they went something like: “Stupid, reckless, crazy American girl. Your parents should not allow you out of the house on our own…ever!” I could be wrong about the translation. I doubt it.
Over the course of maybe a half hour he seemed to repeat the same rant over and over, every few moments. He would shake either his head or his finger at me. The other man said not a word, though I could see him shake his head from time to time as well. I didn’t know where they were taking me, but I was certain they were not going to hurt me. I don’t know why, but I felt safe.
After another ten minutes or so, I could see we were driving through a village. Small, stone houses were set in no particular pattern on one long, curvy gravel road. Smoke curled out of many of the roofs. I could see sheep wandering about at will. Pulling up to one of the structures the man driving turned off the ignition and everyone got out. The woman gestured for me to follow her and the children inside.
I remember one large room with two smaller rooms off the end. There was electricity for light, but no running water and the bathroom was outhouse style. The woman began to cook on what I can only describe is a combination of hot plates somehow jury-rigged together. For the next hour or so, I tried to help her but was shooed away. She kept trying to get me to sit on the one cushioned chair in the room. Instead, I played with the children all the while trying to figure out where I was and how I was going to get back to the Kibbutz; every moment, supremely grateful I was not back on the road with those men. Through gestures, smiles, and laughter the three of us managed to communicate an exchange of names. The little girl was called Laila, her brother Makhi and the mother’s name, Hana.
Pointing outside to the two men now sitting right outside the door, smoking, I learned from Laila, her father’s name was Yusuf. I don’t remember the other man’s name or what his relation was to this family. I taught the kids the Itsy Bitsy spider. (The only fun childhood song I could remember all the words to.) I wasn’t able to get them to say the words but they could follow along as I sang and quickly learned the finger motions. Eventually the men came in and we ate. I remember it was lamb and rice. I had the feeling they normally did not eat this well or have as much food on their table. With little ability to communicate the remainder of the evening passed quietly, ending around nine and with me sharing a small bed with Leila and Makhi.
The next morning, I woke to find Hana again cooking up more food. Yusuf was there, sitting with another man. He motioned for me to sit and once I had settled myself at the wooden table, he nodded to the other guy who began to speak in halting English. I was relieved at being able to communicate, to be understood. I was overjoyed I was going to be able to figure out where I was and how to get back. Equally as important, I was going to be able to thank Yusuf for saving my life.
Rashad was the name of the English speaker who also turned out to be Yusuf’s brother. I explained who I was, how I happened to be on the crossroads and where I was going. Yusuf began to shake his head again. Before he started his lecture, I asked his brother to tell him I knew how reckless and stupid I had been. I asked Rashad to also relay to Yusuf how grateful I was for what he had done. Apparently my words took Yusuf off guard because he didn’t begin his rant again. He gave me an almost smile, a nod and immediately began to eat without uttering another word.
Shortly after breakfast, we all piled back into the station wagon. I assumed Yusuf was going to take me back to the crossroad where in daylight it would be safe for me to hitch a ride. His brother turned and informed me they were going to drive me to Kfar Blum. He said it was an hour’s drive from where we were. I wanted to tell them it wasn’t necessary, that I would be fine now. I couldn’t bring myself to say the words. What had almost happened last night and the terror I’d felt was still very much with me. I didn’t want to be dropped on an empty road again.
We reached the gates of Kfar Blum in an hour as promised. Hana and the children gave me hugs and kisses goodbye before I got out of the car. Rashad stayed in his seat as well, turning to look at me with a friendly smile and wish me well. Yusef walked me to the gate. I think he wanted to see me walk in. I knew he wanted to give me his lecture one more time. He did. Before going in I grasped his hand and squeezed. I repeated the word Shukran, over and over. Rashad had taught me how to say thank you in Arabic. Yusef nodded as if he had done nothing remarkable and turned back toward the running car. I watched them drive away.
I’m not sure I could find the village or if its even still there. I don’t know if Yusuf or Hana are alive. I have often wondered did they get to raise their children into adulthood? Did they get to see them married and have children of their own? I hope so. What I do know with absolute certainty is in the middle of one of the most long lasting and violent conflicts between two groups of people, this man did not give into the hate must have been born into from birth. He saw a human being who needed help. He chose to risk his own life and that of his family to do the right thing. Those five men could have been armed. I’m certain they could have easily found out where Yusef lived and taken retribution for his interference. I’m not sure they didn’t. Seeing me on the road, Yusuf had to know from his first look at me, I was not a Muslim woman. He probably thought from my dark, Mediterranean complexion, and dress I was Israeli. He still intervened. For me it was a lesson in the importance of seeing people as individuals, not as one homogenous group whom all feel and think the same way. Fanatics screaming their hate and call to violence are not all the people in any group. There is in the end very little in this world that is black in white,, most times all you have is varying shades of gray.
So many people are born into hate without even knowing why they hate. We are taught to see certain groups of people in a certain ways. We are taught to fear what’s different. We are taught to fear the others and to expect the worst from them. I have to wonder what would happen if we dumped our learned preconceptions of each other and simply began to talk, one person to another.
Too simple, I am sure they would tell me. Neither side would do it, I’m certain they would say. Maybe the answer is we all need to stop listening to the fear the “theys” running our governments work so hard to instill in us and begin seeing each other as individual human beings, some good, some bad, all of us unique.
About the Author: Bobbi Lerman is a writer of historical romance, memoir and travel essays.