March 17, 2017

Gratitude Porn (not) and Real Appreciation

Posted in Commentary, Israel, politics, society, running tagged , , , , at 3:39 pm by degyes

I have no idea who these guys are.

Security Guys at Marathon.jpg

But they were willing to pose for a photo after I stopped to chat with them. I wanted to express my appreciation for doing their bit among the many thousands of emergency services, military, and security contractors who made today’s Jerusalem Marathon possible. Ordinarily, I feel gratitude in my heart, though I tend to hold it inward. I’ll usually try to remember to say thank-you to an individual or small group if I feel a sense of appreciation, or if it’s just the courteous thing to do. But today was a little different.

I “only” ran the 10K this year. That’s after two years of doing the half-marathon. I just got too darn busy this time around, what with “leaving” Cisco, finding new work, getting ramped up and settled into my new professional life, and all that. I simply didn’t have the time to train the way I had the past two years. I realized that, and decided I’d join the throng doing the 10K, as for me that’s more of a fun-run, not requiring a level of preparation that’s beyond my scheduling constraints. [By the way, yes, also I’m tremendously grateful for being fit and healthy, though that’s not the main thrust of this communication.]

WARNING: if you get easily ticked off and flared up reading religio-political commentary, especially where frictions in Israel society are exposed, in all their ugly hostility, please stop reading now. I don’t want to get folks’ anger buttons pressed, and expose their resentments. That’s not my aim, not my purpose, and it’s not what I’m myself feeling right now. My aim is … appreciation.

There were demonstrators at the marathon this year.

Maybe they were out there in past years, but if they were, I hadn’t noticed. This year, around kilometer 3, on King George St., I nearly tripped over one. Had that happened, I’d almost surely have gone flying. On the infrequent occasions that I fall when running, I tend to recover my balance or at least manage to go into a roll, and thus prevent serious injury. But who knows. The field was so crowded this time, and I was frankly clueless that the person blocking me was actually _trying_ to cause disruption and damage.

Honestly, my mind didn’t acknowledge that there could possibly be demonstrators intentionally blocking the path of the runners. My “תן כתף זכות” (“give the benefit of the doubt”) mechanism kicked in and registered him as a photographer, because there are actually photographers who sit, unobtrusively, along the route, snapping pictures.
So what was I to think when suddenly, I saw a police officer literally drag the demonstrator out of my path, just in the nick of time as I was about to plow into him full throttle. And a few additional cops were guarding some of this demonstrator’s buddies, whom they’d apparently managed to apprehend and pull off to the roadside, moments earlier. The demonstrators were chanting slogans, though it was hard to make out what they were shouting, as I was plugged into my running music.

Further down-route, there was another demonstrator carrying a sign. Something about the marathon being terrible for the Jews, and government policies that harm yeshiva boys. Though to be honest, I don’t know if the latter guy was connected with the first group.
To my pleasant surprise, I didn’t for a micro-second feel any sense of anger. From the get-go, my predominant emotion–really the only thing I felt about the incident–was gratitude and appreciation toward the police officer who exerted himself dragging away the demonstrator prior to my having a collision, and his colleagues who were involved in managing the situation. And also toward the other runners, who stayed focused on the race, and kept their collective cool.

That we’re living in such “interesting” times, and somehow manage to pull off a full-blown city-wide athletic event, in Jerusalem of all places, is to me nothing short of miraculous. Thank you, God, for again bringing us to this season.

May we merit the ability, the willingness, and the heart-felt desire to practice really listening to one another, acknowledging in thought, word, and deed the Essential Humanity that unites us as a Species.

Thank you, everyone.

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August 2, 2015

Getting Past the Fear: Israel Today, August 2nd 2015

Posted in Israel, Society tagged , , , , , at 3:49 pm by degyes

I’m disgusted, saddened, dismayed—and yes, angered – as much as anyone, by the violent events of this past weekend. I’m also quite frankly, disappointed and scared by the harsh reactions of decent, caring, and law-respecting people, some of them my friends, who are responding with – perhaps understandable – but misdirected rage at entire sectors of the Jewish population who do not condone, let alone endorse, the horrific acts perpetrated by a few warped and hateful individuals.

In particular, I get worried when people who, under more ordinary circumstances, are deep thinkers and clear-headed deliberators, make statements aligning themselves with proposed “solutions” that are at best simplistic and at worst fan the flames of alienation and suspicion. Can we experience our justified feelings of anger and disappointment without allowing ourselves to be manipulated?

I am very upset – though sadly, not surprised – that politicians are exploiting these events for their own gain. No, I’m not naïve enough to expect they’d do otherwise. But it does make me sad when an opportunity for unity and healing is turned into yet another forum for partisan rants and shouting into the echo chambers of our most base feelings and fears … our lowest common denominator of reactiveness.

Stabbing gay people is not a tenet of religious Judaism, in any of the forms it manifests, Orthodox or otherwise. Burning Arab families asleep in their homes is no way a part of Zionism, or any expression of Jewish nationalism that has withstood the test of time. That individuals somehow associated with these groups have done so is tragic. Though let’s remember, this is a fringe, not a reflection of the vast majority.

The perpetrators of these acts should be apprehended, brought to justice, and prevented from roaming free to cause further harm. The injured should be healed, the mourners comforted, and the communities assured that their safety is vitally important and a priority for the majority of decent folks … across the various divides.

I ask that we reflect quietly before jumping to make general condemnations. That we seek to understand before making ourselves understood. That we fix what’s broken within ourselves before suggesting or imposing solutions upon our fellows.

This is very hard work, exacerbated by our collective feeling of brokenness right now. Speaking for myself, listening compassionately when I’m upset is admittedly not my strongest suit. But I frankly don’t see any other way to help bridge the rifts that are gaping wide open within ourselves, our families, our communities, and our society.

I would like to make myself available to anyone who would like an opportunity to be heard without judgement, categorization, or interruption. Or to just pray together if you find that helpful. I would like to ask that others do the same … if you feel you can.

These are rough times for the Nation of Israel — and Planet Earth – right now. And there are likely to be some difficult days ahead. Let’s be good to one another. If we’re not, no one else will.