White Night

July 6, 2010 at 4:28 pm | Posted in Adam Baratz, Voices from Israel | Leave a comment
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This Friday, I attended Tel Aviv’s White Night Festival. In 2003, UNESCO declared Tel Aviv a World Heritage Center and dubbed it as “The White City.” Since then, the Tel Aviv-Yafo municipality has held an annual citywide party, offering a slew of special events for the benefit of the residents and visitors of the city.

As a firsthand witness, I can confidently say that this is an extraordinary event. Its uniqueness helps to providing some interesting clues about the Israeli culture. For starters, the event, which began at 8pm, continued until sunrise. I only got back home at 9:30am. For those familiar with Israeli culture, this might not sound too surprising. Israelis tend to be nocturnal, especially on the weekends. As a youth, I can vividly recall consistently staying up for the entire night with my friends.  Back then, when we finally surrendered to our exhaustion, we would wake up in the late afternoon. There is something humbling and exhilarating about watching the night from the sunset until the sunrise. Continue Reading White Night…

First Step Towards Change

June 25, 2010 at 4:55 pm | Posted in Adam Baratz, Voices from Israel | Leave a comment
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For my summer project I am partnering up with an older man. To maintain anonymity, let’s call him David. David is a volunteer who organizes one of Beit She’an’s neighborhood councils. A neighborhood council is a body composed of local people who handle neighborhood problems, thereby empowering residents.

For obvious reasons, when starting a community garden, it is important for the “community” to be involved. The neighborhood council therefore serves as a central component in both the planning and execution of the garden. Since David is the coordinator of the Neighborhood Council, he is a key contact person. Continue Reading First Step Towards Change…

Voices from Israel: A Different Culture by Adam Baratz

June 22, 2010 at 10:48 am | Posted in Adam Baratz, Voices from Israel | Leave a comment

Israeli’s have a unique culture.

In the States, I frequently hear criticisms of Israeli culture. Often times, visitors will balk at the aggressive nature of the Israeli people. This aggressiveness materializes in a variety of ways. Israelis are pushy. The very idea of a well ordered line is a distant dream in Israel. When I first returned to the country, I was patiently waiting in line to get through passport control. I had been waiting for 15 minutes, when all of the sudden, out of nowhere, an obnoxious women with 4 children scooted past me. After confronting her, it became clear that she was not in a rush. The action was therefore entirely superfluous. This woman explained that I should have been more aware. In her mind, I was in the wrong for being passive. Her twisted reality evoked a combination of extreme anger and frustration.

Israelis do not sugar-coat their thoughts. If they disagree with you, they will tell you. If they don’t like you, they will probably tell you. For example, my grandfather, Gideon Baratz, was very politically driven. Visitors who referenced “controversial” politics were immediately booted out of his home. However, as the saying goes, there are two sides to the same coin. While I do be live that Israelis are uncouth, I also believe that Israelis are also very honest, a trait that I highly value. Knowing what people actually think makes life much simpler. Instead of having to decipher a complex arrangement of references, hints, and body language, in Israel, one can find things out by simply asking.

What is more, Israelis are wonderfully approachable. Last week I was building a pool for a botanical garden in a high school. All of the sudden, a young chap who attended the high school approached me and asked me what I was doing. I started a conversation with the fellow student. In short time, 4 other high school seniors had joined in on the discussion. Five minutes later, all of the 5 students were helping in the construction of the pond: 3 were preparing cement, the other two were slapping the cement on the floor of the pool. I had not even asked them to help out. They approached me and volunteered on their own initiative. This interaction is very revealing. In the States, I know that I would never approach a construction site and volunteer to help out. There is an openness and a kindness in Israel.

The point is this: while there are many elements to Israeli culture which might be somewhat distasteful, there are other wonderful parts of the culture that are unique to Israel. As a person  who grew  up in Israel, I accept the good and the bad. These quirks are what make Israel home.

Voices from Israel: A New Perspective by Adam Baratz

June 18, 2010 at 1:59 pm | Posted in Adam Baratz, Voices from Israel | 1 Comment
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Today I am going to discuss a sensitive subject. Two weeks ago, on May 30th, a flotilla carrying humanitarian aid was raided by Israel. Ultimately, 9 people who were onboard the ship were killed by the raid. This event has elicited angry responses of world leaders. Unfortunately, differing accounts of this event have made it difficult for people to know what to really believe. For example, Israel explains that the soldiers use live ammunition in an act of self-defense. The activists on board the Mavi paint a picture in which Israeli soldiers massacre innocent victims.

What is more confusing, news outlets throughout the world choose which account to legitimize. I for one am generally skeptical of the media when it comes to reporting big tragic stories such as this one. Unfortunately, the information provided by news sources is often politically charged, attempting to use the news to convince the public to have opinions, not knowledge. Some news outlets support the Israeli story. Others support the activists’ stories. What you end up with is a lot of emotionally charged imagery. There is little understanding with regards to why or how the tragedy took place.

To be honest, I have accepted Israeli narrative. However, my goal here is not to support an account whose legitimacy cannot be verified, that will be the job of an investigative panel. Instead, I hope to show how this tragedy can be reframed to promote dialogue instead of divisiveness.

To better understand the events of last week, it is important to put oneself in Israel’s shoes. When thinking about the flotilla raid and the vehement international response that it has elicited, it becomes clear that this attack was not good for Israel. Although it may seem obvious, Israel had a great deal to lose when it used ammunition in the flotilla.

What happened on May 30th was the last thing that Israel wanted. Clearly, Israel knows that shooting “peace activists” has terrible repercussions. It would be foolish to think that the Israeli military would carelessly massacre activists. Consider the many diplomatic troubles that have followed this event. Consider the anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic rhetoric that has developed in the past week. Israel knows that it is unacceptable to attack innocent civilians, if only because of the international controversy such an act elicits. Additionally, why would Israel shoot innocent activists? Such an act of violence brings only trouble. One can therefore conclude that going in, Israel was not planning on using live weapons. The weapons that were employed were used in response to an attack, not as an instigator of violence. Even without knowing the whole story, one could easily infer that Israel would not randomly attack a bunch of civilian boats.

This new perspective is very important. This is because people who disagree with Israel’s policies have used this flotilla raid as a way to vilify the nation. Such a manipulation is unfair. The fact that people died on the Mavi Marmara is tragic. However, extrapolating this event as a metaphor for the entire Israeli-Palestinian is disingenuous. Common sense has shown that, Israel used live weapons in the Mavi Marmara in response to violence.

Voices from Israel: A Sense of Independence by Adam Baratz

June 7, 2010 at 2:20 pm | Posted in Adam Baratz, Voices from Israel | Leave a comment
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For my summer internship, I am working to start a community garden in Beit She’an (Cleveland’s sister city). Beit She’an is a city in Northern Israel. This week I am receiving an intensive course on community gardening. I am receiving training with Dani Frakdin, a guru in the field.

During the week, I live with Dani and his family. Dani lives in Mevaseret, a town at the outskirts of Jeruslam. I should note that this is no ordinary family. A passerby might label them as hippies, but such a label would be off mark. The Fradkins cannot be categorized.

An analysis of the physical structure of Dani’s house helps to show the unique nature of the household. The Fradkins are all about self-sufficiency. For starters, Dani and his six children constructed an underwater water reservoir beneath their house. Rainwater that falls from the roof is channeled into the reservoir. This structure provides the family with all of their non-drinking water needs. Additionally, Dani has built much of the furniture in the house. Outside of the house, one can pick fruits, vegetables, and herbs in a beautiful garden. Lastly, food is often prepared in a homemade mud stove, located outside of the house.

Thus, independence is a very important theme in the Fradkin household. Their understanding of independence differs greatly from the common understanding of independence. Instead of emphasizing independence from parents, family, or responsibility, the Fradkin’s emphasize independence as self-sufficiency.

As a person who values this form of independence, I am pleasantly surprised by the family’s level of self-sufficiency. This is the first time that I have seen a family actually live a Thorauean lifestyle. Over Dani’s tool-shed, a sign reads, “One who hears will forget. One who sees will remember. One who does will do again.”

Unsurprisingly, my week is therefore filled with very little “hearing,” a bit of “seeing,” and a lot of “doing.” I can confidently say that I am learning more in this single week, than in any other week in my life. Each day, I learn a new skill with Dani. I learn, not by watching, but by doing. To be brief, I have built: a wooden stool, a mud-oven, two concrete pools, a bench out of tires, terraces, stairs, and a walking-path.

There is something very rewarding about the act of creation. It is fun to see a pile of raw materials transform into a finished product. Coming out, you feel like you have a sense of ownership over the finished product. Instead of holding commercial value, these objects hold sentimental value.

Voices from Israel: Arrival by Adam Baratz

June 2, 2010 at 2:09 pm | Posted in Adam Baratz, Voices from Israel | Leave a comment
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Flight number: CO84
Date: SAT 29 May 2010
Airline: Continental Airlines
Miles: 5692 miles

I board the Boing 777 at Newark International Airport. I have taken many flights out of Newark before, however, this time something is different. I am going back home for the first time in three years. This is the longest stretch of time that I have been away from my home. But at long last, I am going to Israel.

My name is Adam Baratz. I am currently a junior at Cornell studying Natural Resources and Development Sociology. To make a long story short, my grand scheme of being poor for the rest of my life is almost complete. In any event, this summer I will be working to develop a few community gardens in Beit She’an.

During my flight, I had two notable interactions. Boarding the plane, I had been waiting in line for 5 minutes. Suddenly, out of nowhere, an Israeli woman pushed in front of me for no apparent reason. This aggressive move was not warranted; no one was actually in a rush to board the plane. Such an experience would understandably annoy most people. Next, I interacted with an Israeli flight attendant. When serving water to children, this flight attendant jokingly tells them that the cups are full of vodka. To many, such anecdotes may seem strange and even rude. However, for me, these jokes were a breath of fresh air. These experiences gave me small glances into Israel’s culture. I have not been home in so long that I accept both the good and the bad with open arms.

Four and a half movies later (airplane time), which translates to 12 hours (human time), we touch down in Israel. Looking out the window I gaze out into the country of my birth.

This will be a trip of self-discovery. I grew up in Israel, but moved to the Cleveland 6 years ago. To put it simply, my sense of place is very complicated. Although I was born and raised in Israel, my life journey has not resembled the experience of the typical Israeli. For example, when growing up, my closest friends came from Americans families, we communicated in English. I spent a number of years attending the American International School in Kfar Shmaryahu. I am currently studying in an American university. Although my identity is intricately intertwined with Israel and Israeli Identity, it is also distinct in its own way. I therefore believe that this trip will help to resolve many uncertainties that I have about my own identity. What does it mean to be Israeli? What constitutes a home? Why do we need a home?

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