The Ever Blurring Distinction Between Judaism And Zionism: Passover with Gilad Shalit And A Partial Solution To Anti-Semitism

As the high holiday of Passover speedily approaches us on Monday, April 18th, some of my fellow Jews worldwide begin and some continue to make what I believe is a great and grave mistake.

Let’s define a few terms. A Jew is someone with a Jewish mother, or who converted to Judaism through the Jewish ritualistic processes, and an Orthodox Jew is someone who, beyond merely being Jewish, lives in conformity with the Jewish halachic laws and rituals. A Zionist is one who believes that the Jews have a right to the modern day land of Israel, or, at very least, the right to sovereignty in their own Jewish national homeland. That being said, the terms are by definition mutually exclusive; while Jewish people are not necessarily Zionists, the vast majority of Zionists are Jews. Finally, Gilad Shalit is an Israeli soldier who was captured and taken away from his people on June 25, 2006 by the  terrorist organization known as Hamas, in a cross-border raid.

There is a difference between Zionism and Judaism, and it is one that I have seen the world, Jews and non-Jews alike, begin to minimize. But this minimization of the difference, and thus, the equating of the two terms, has not begun solely with the non-Jews. Rather, it has started with Jews who practically view Judaism and Zionism as interchangeable terms which share the same goals and points of view. But this idea is not simply false or ignorant; though it is both, it is also dangerous and destructive for the Jewish people, for anyone who identifies with the Jewish people in the slightest. And, regrettably, this idea has grown to be extremely prevalent within most modern Orthodox Jewish communities.

I shall briefly explain the awful dangers that such a widespread subconscious belief poses to the Jewish people. Simply put, the Israeli government is fallible. They err, they mess up, they make mistakes. Though most modern Orthodox Jews I have encountered admit to this and say that “they know Israel is not perfect,” they also ironically say that “they stand by Israel in all of Her decisions.”

Can these two statements coexist? Unlike Zionism and Judaism, which can but do not have to coexist, they cannot. It is terribly ironic that most Orthodox Jews of authority that I have spoken with claim both these things, because not once have I heard them admit to the so-called “imperfection” that they admit is evident in the Israeli government. They only seem to recognize Israel’s imperfection in theory, but not once have I heard any true Zionist Jew  criticize an Israeli decision. No matter what, there is a reconciliation of Israel’s decisions with Western Morality; to my sadness I have very rarely heard any opposing viewpoints and have instead been bombarded with ready-made defenses to take down any opposing viewpoints on any Israeli decision whatsoever, be it on the streets or on college campuses.

Cutting to the chase here, the problem this poses, beyond the potentially widespread ignorance among Jews, is the way the non-Jewish world will view us as a result. Since we have established that the Israeli government makes mistakes, like any government that has ever graced planet Earth, to equate Orthodox Judaism with Zionism is to integrate a fallible, imperfect source as a primary influence of mainstream Judaism.

God is perfect. If God created the world and gave the Torah to the Jewish people, the Torah and all its practice must be 100% perfect as well. Therefore, if Judaism is “right,” its practice by Orthodox Jews must be pretty close to God’s word, assuming modern Orthodoxy has it down correctly. But letting in an imperfect source into an arguably perfect and Godly tradition that has been preserved – through painstaking effort over thousands of years – both tarnishes the perfect source, and elevates the imperfect one.

If you go onto Youtube and watch any video related to Israel, you’ll no doubt see a stream of anti-semitic, hateful comments somewhere at the bottom of the page. There are thousands upon thousands of websites –, for example – that discuss how the Jews controls America, how the Jews corrupt everything important in the world, etc. But what they really mean, unfounded as their opinions tend to be, is that the Zionists control the media, because it’s the “Israeli agenda” they refer to, even though they label it the “Jewish agenda.” Israel and her action’s are primarily criticized, but criticized under the label of Jews and the Jewish problems and how the Jews are powerful and how the Jews are in control and how the Jews run the media, etc, etc, etc.

This very Passover, which begins in a few short hours, a custom is both beginning and continuing as it has for many years. Many people have decided to somehow incorporate captured soldier Gilad Shalit into their respective Pesach celebrations, literally incorporating him into the Passover Seder, and thus elevating Gilad beyond a captured Israeli solder in distress, a symbol of Zionist struggle, to a symbol of unity for the whole Jewish people. Now, I pity Gilad Shalit, and I advocate for his immediate release from the hands of Hamas as much as I can. But I do so as a Zionist, and as a humanitarian, and importantly, not as a Jew. I firmly believe that the second I do that, I begin to elevate Gilad and the Israeli government to a nearly divine status. And if I do that, if we do that, we provide anti-semitic fodder for those who hate us to hate us even more, and for those who don’t hate us to begin to hate us. Because the Israeli government is bound to mess up sometime, and many believe it already has messed up many times.

In conclusion, as long as we allow a necessarily fallible, imperfect source to heavily influence an infallible, perfect source, the perfect source becomes tarnished. It is a very sad world indeed when a huge percentage of powerful and opinionated non-Jews do not themselves appreciate the difference between Zionism and Judaism that we absolutely need to reinforce. If that day does unfortunately come (you might say it already has!), Jews worldwide – myself included – will ask why the world antagonizes us so. Of course, there are many, many reasons for anti-semitism, spanning from far before the modern State of Israel was eve  a vague dream. But all I’m saying is that the unhealthy, unnecessary blending of Zionism and Judaism will definitely feed many antisemitic mouths, and will also promote a false idea of Judaism to its followers… As I have observed and described I already see unfolding.

As a Jew and as a humanitarian who deeply sympathizes with Gilad, his family, and the entire Israeli people, I ask people to consciously understand the distinction between these two very different ideas. They are not interchangeable, not mutually exclusive, and when totally combined, their synthesis only promotes unnecessary negativity. I sincerely wish any Jew reading this (and any Jew that isn’t) a Chag Kasher V’Sameach and a meaningful, spiritually uplifting Passover. Here’s to a week of the worst food we’ll ever eat in our lives! Just kidding. Matzah pizza and Matzah with cream cheese really isn’t all that bad.

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Inspiration, Move Me Brightly

Rediscovering old things is always fun, no matter what those things are. Well, unless the old thing in question is something upsetting or unpleasant, in which case, it is not always fun. Let me rephrase that.

Rediscovering old things is fun when those things bring back pleasant or even neutral memories. There. Point is, I like finding things I’ve forgotten about. A few months ago I re-re-re-re discovered a personal journal (I would call it a diary but come on, you know it has a negative connotation) that I kept periodically from 2nd grade throughout elementary school. Cool stuff. I couldn’t believe who I “liked” in 4th grade. Of course, I didn’t even consider that until I got over the fact that I couldn’t believe I actually wrote down who I “liked” in 4th grade in my own little journal. Some may call it cute, some may call it pathetic. Some may call it a mixture of both and extremely embarrassing. That last “some” may be me.

Last night, I stumbled upon a collection of old poems and lyrics from my Freshman and Sophomore years. This little one was written sometime during the latter and it gave me a nice, equally little chuckle. Hurray for reminiscence!

La Inspiracion

I’d like to write a poem, but I lack the inspiration.

Oh what the hell, I might as well turn up the radio station.

“You should be working now!” says mom, but work is such a bore.

I’ll start after a song or two, or maybe three or four.


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Why I Love Phish Shows: A Post Completely Unrelated to Phish Shows

I discovered the awesomeness of music way back in 2nd grade, which is roughly 2002-ish, I think. But I truly truly discovered the awesomeness of music in May of 2009, when I stumbled upon what would become my all time favorite band since the Beatles, who I had so adored in my youth. And once I listened to some of their more radio-friendly songs off of Limewire – Waste, Bouncing, Heavy Things – I became forever hooked. This led to the heavier jams – Weekapaug Groove, You Enjoy Myself, Divided Sky for starters – which just blew my mind. Not since my days as a Beatle-worshiping 2nd grader had I been so enraptured by… anything, really.

But on the subject of youth, here’s a random, completely unrelated thought: Isn’t it funny how the younger we are, the older we try to appear – we call ourselves however many years “old” in our youth, and always try to round up; for instance a 6 1/2 year old will proudly identify as such and not tolerate being labeled merely 6. But the older we grow, the younger we wish to seem – we facetiously refer to ourselves as however many years “young,” as many older people tend to do, and we try to round down; I once knew a lovely woman who told most people she was a year younger than she actually was. I’m sure that very same woman would have proudly touted the fact that she was 6 and 3/4, not even just 1/2, and God forbid not only 6 measly years old! Maybe (Definitely) I’m getting a bit carried away, but you get the point. Throughout life, viewpoints change – and drastically so.

We’re so eager to mature, to finally make it to the big leagues, to be grown up, as is the expression. But once we finally make it to that league we wish nothing more than to be sent right back down to the minors. With adulthood, and even with adolescence, comes responsibility. And once you have it, who needs it? Don’t we all yearn for the days when we had nap time after all our effort and toil was spent building blocks? Yes, those were the days. Their name: kindergarten. What a year that was, right? Hence, I can look back and say that the things that I had to deal with 12 years ago are so comparatively trivial compared to the things that trouble me now.

The thing is, everything is comparatively trivial when it’s already happened to you. The past always seems somehow magically better than the present. I complain incessantly about the unbearable stress of Junior year, the pressure to keep up my grades, ace the SAT, and get into the best damn college I can get into, or forever be deemed a complete and utter failure at life. Recently, I voiced such sentiments to my younger sister, and she reminded me of something very interesting: how much I voiced my complaints of my 6th-8th grade hardships to her, way back when. My father too reminds me that if he could spend a day in his teenage shoes, he would, without a doubt. I ask him, “Even with this wretched thing called the SAT and the looming pressure to succeed when the economy is still down the toilet?”And he doesn’t change his mind.

No matter what, life always seems to have been easier in the past, or appears that it will be so in the future.

As such, I think one of the most important goals in life is trying to enjoy the present as if we were looking back on it from a future date. I’m not getting all preachy – uch, God forbid – that was ironic – but it’s advice I would most certainly give to anyone who asked, and an idea which helps me get through a whole lot when the going gets tough. AKA, throughout my entire Junior year. Its very mention is shudder inducing.

Anyway, this really had nothing at all to do with Phish shows. To make a long story short, music is still a defining characteristic of my personality, Phish is really awesome, and I like their shows a lot because the band, the music, and the community are all in sync. They’re really the best. And that’s why I love Phish shows.

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The Pros and Cons (But Mostly Cons) of the SAT: the Standardized Testing Debate

So before I proceed to unrelentingly bash the SAT and standardized testing in general, I’ll get some of its benefits out in the open…

Any proponent of this whole standardized testing deal will have you know that there are bare minimums necessary for a student to be considered competent in the world today. In order to be remotely useful to society, which is the ultimate goal of our education system, a student must be able to do things like sit in a classroom against his wishes and do homework even when he deems it unnecessary. Similar situations are apparent in almost any job in the adult world. There are basic skills all kids need to be considered something above retarded – quite literally, without using the term in a derogatory sense. Standardized testing is an efficient way of weeding out individuals who lack the skills to contribute anything to society; that is, people who cannot do basic math (God knows I’m not a math genius) or basic vocabulary/writing questions. I’m not being mean or pompous about it. There are certain things you have to be able to do and that’s a given. It can also tell apart the geniuses from the norm; obviously, no ignoramus is going to waltz right into the testing room and walk out with a 2400. That’s also a given. Another benefit is the simpler means of comparison that a standardized test provides. One school may offer a curriculum that is exceptionally harder to succeed in than another school’s “easy A” type of curriculum. A test like the SAT provides an objective measure that is roughly the same for everyone who takes it and therefore makes it easier to assess a particular student when compared to another one who took the test. Congratulations, College Board. The way I see it, that’s about it for the “pros.”

The negative aspects of the current standardized testing system far outweigh the positives mentioned above. I mentioned that the SAT provides an “objective measure.” The question remains, what is the SAT objectively measuring? It’s measuring math and English skills that were supposed to have been acquired throughout one’s academic career, and nothing more. The problems with this simple fact are limitless, but there are two in particular which I want to discuss.

1) What if somebody’s skills lie outside of the realm of traditional mathematics, reading, or grammar skills? One could say, “sucks for them, there are some things you just have to be good at to get by.” Yes, this is usually the case. But imagine a budding artist whose drawings are somehow better and more revolutionary than the likes of Pablo Picasso or Vincent Van Gogh. Let’s say this kid really, really sucks at the subjects the SAT deems worthwhile. What of this poor student? He could go on to accomplish great things in the world, but the SAT will make it extremely difficult for him to get into a top notch college if he really just can’t do well on it. I guess this objection could be summarized by saying that the SAT does not make room for multiple intelligences. It idealizes only a very specific set of skills and impedes the goals of students who might be otherwise extremely talented.

A better comparison might be the hypothetical situation of Albert Einstein in the modern education system. You’d take it for granted that Einstein would graduate from a school like Harvard or some other elite school with numerous honors at the top of his class. But let’s say, he couldn’t construct the best essay in the world and maybe didn’t have the finest grammatical skills. Then, from a purely statistical level, Albert Einstein could have been labeled a fairly mediocre (or even worse) student, especially if his SAT score was looked at holistically and not broken down into the individual sections. Sure, young Einstein would have been equipped with the math skills to grow up and change the world as everyone knew it. But had he been living today, when SAT scores are placed on a level of utmost value, and when so is the college that one attends, who says he would have attained the same level of success that he did in reality? Eh. The argument might be a little shaky. But the point is that there are different types of skills and intelligence levels that the highly valued SAT simply doesn’t allow for, thus making it harder than necessary for children of such skills to thrive.

2) Another gaping flaw in the logic behind the SAT is the supposed “objectivity” of its measurements. As I said originally, one potential benefit is the ease with which two SAT takers can be compared, instead of being compared through their school curricula, which could differ greatly in levels of difficulty. But the simple fact of the matter, and my strongest objection to this method of testing, is that standardized tests such as the SAT are clearly socioeconomically biased. All these tests – the SAT, ACT, LSAT, GRE, you name it – cover skills which are supposed to be learned over an extended period of time. The vast majority of test-takers will have forgotten some of the information that the test demands not be forgotten, hence the need for private tutoring, which most people I know (myself included), do make use of. Even the books that some students study religiously count as extra tutoring. That being said, standardized tests are too obviously biased towards wealthy students.

Since these students are wealthy, or at least wealthier than some who may be less economically fortunate, they can afford professional help in studying for these tests. They will therefore score higher than students who cannot afford, for example, a course designed to increase scores. I think anyone who can make use of it will make use of it, which is why I do. Nobody wouldn’t due to some moral objection. But if I didn’t have the money to cover it, my scores would be dramatically less than the scores I’ll apply to colleges with. And those scores make a huge difference, whether you and I like it or not. I happen to perform excellently in both the verbal and writing sections of the SAT. I also happen to perform downright terribly on the math section, because it’s just not my thing. My point is that if I had no money to buy the books, the courses, and the tutors, it would be apparent to colleges from one glance at my test scores that math is really “not my thing.” But thanks to the extra help I acquired through way too many dollars spent, my scores will ultimately be at least 150-200 points higher than what they would have been with no extra help. Had I been less fortunate, my college options would be slimmer than they will be, and we all know how important a decent college is in the current economy (may it make a speedy recovery, now let us all respond amen).

It is primarily due to the facts that standardized tests make no room for certain talents, and that they are socioeconomically biased, that I have no respect for them. They’re not a valid measurement of intelligence at all, rather a measurement of how many tutors you can buy and how many books you can bury yourself in order to increase your score, and thus your college options, and thus perhaps the big picture of your lie. All around, an epic fail at pretty much everything it pretends to be, if you ask me.

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The Peculiarities Of Time: A Pseudo-Scientific View

Want to try something cool? Check this out. Here’s something interesting in regards to time. You are reading this sentence. Now you are reading this one. And now this one. As you read this very sentence, I’m sure you think this moment – right now – is what is happening. Now, the moment in which you are reading these very words has already passed! That moment in time is no longer happening; this one is. Even as you read the word “peculiarity” which I placed in that set of quotations, it is already finished. Which begs the question, is there such thing as a present? Is there ever a period of time during which you can perceive an action and know that you are currently doing it, or will that period of time already be gone?

In short, is time ever actually happening, or is there only a past and a future, constantly updating themselves? Enough with the question marks. I’ll make a statement. Time does not exist.

The scientific outlook of reality is that we know things are real because our senses, which send messages to our brains, perceive them as such. We perceive our respective “realities” by that which can be known through the senses. The only way we can possibly describe those realities is through our senses. But what about that which doesn’t actually exist in the physical world? Things such as those can only “exist” within our minds, and we cannot sense them in any way at all. Therefore, we lack a way of perceiving them and then describing them. So it can be said that that which lacks a way of being perceived, therefore a way of being described, does not exist.

But what about gravity, one might ask? Gravity can’t be perceived, so by this logic, it shouldn’t exist. Seems like a conundrum, but not really. Gravity absolutely exists. It isn’t a material object that can be perceived by our senses, of course, but we know it makes objects fall. We can definitely observe that. We see the effects of gravity unfold in the material world. As such it is an accepted fact that gravity exists.

If time were to exist, we could prove it through something physical. How about a clock, though? Isn’t a working clock solid proof for time’s existence? Not really. A clock runs on springs and batteries, and nothing more. With the issue of gravity, a natural event occurs which, left alone, will always happen. It is an absolute law of the universe. We see that time does not work like that – the clock is a result of purely human intervention. We can’t perceive time and we really can’t describe it either. Conclusion: Time does not exist in reality.

Time, time, time. Side-thought: List as many songs you can think of about time, or with time in the title. I can think of several. Side-hint: Does time exist on the dark side of the moon? But maybe that’s a topic for a different day…

Regardless of whether or not time exists.

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The “Ground Zero Mosque” Debate: Salt On Our Wounds or the Perfect Band -aid?

As I have contended since I first acquainted myself with the matter at hand… Well, here’s reality: At this point, contentions are worthless. The odds are that any news following, somewhat politically aware individual will have by now developed their own opinion on the subject. Therefore, I’ve decided against simply stating my own opinion. If I say I support it, or I oppose it, anything else I have in mind is immediately supported or opposed. So here are some facts for anyone looking for some truth.

  • The proposed building is a Muslim community center, similar in that regard to a YMCA or a JCC. It will be open to the public – technically to everyone. It will house a nice basketball court, a good sized gym, a swimming pool, a culinary school, a 500 seat performing arts center, a center for several groups such as the Cordoba Initiative, a group devoted to harmony between Islam and America. In addition, the 15 storied building would house a prayer space for Muslims.
  • The proposed building is two blocks away from the site which has been labeled as “Ground Zero.” So it’s established that a far more accurate name for the building in question is the “two blocks away from Ground Zero Islamic community center.” It is clear that both Ground Zero and Mosque are misleading components of the structure’s widely publicized nickname.
  • The first sixteen words of the first amendment to the Constitution state that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” In other words, regardless of the morality of the situation, it would be specifically “anti-American” and against the law to prevent the builders from doing their jobs.
  • Sarah Palin posted from her Twitter account, “Mr. President, should they or should they not build a mosque steps away from where radical Islamists killed 3000 people? Please tell us your position. We all know that they have the right to do it, but should they?” In this post, Mrs. Palin advocates simultaneously acknowledging a right while suppressing it. She acknowledges a law-given right and then insists against that same right being used. It’s interesting to note that Palin makes absolutely no distinction between “steps” and “blocks.”
  • Apparently, Sarah Palin has no problem with the little known strip club and adult video store within the very same proximity of Ground Zero. How could this be? If Ground Zero is some sort of sacred ground which cannot be in any way “desecrated,” what’s with those two dirty shops right next to it? The answer is that the Mosque has something that the sex shops don’t, and something that obviously angers certain people more than anything those filthy little shops could ever do. The answer: Muslims.

And here’s where I get opinionated. Sarah Palin and her conservative cronies object to this building because it’s a community center which will house a – gasp – Muslim prayer space. Indeed, most of the mosque objections have been along the same line. It’s something about those gosh darned Muslims that just ticks everyone off these days! Why? Isn’t it simple? Why, because the Twin Towers were destroyed on 9/11 by people who were – guess what – Muslims, of course. So doesn’t this make perfect sense? Well, not quite.

A crazy, insane, bloodthirsty group of vile human beings who use Islam as a veil for their thirst to kill breached American security and destroyed the WTC nine years ago. People have every right to be angry at the Islamic fundamentalists who flew planes into those buildings. There’s really no denying that.

But the people who would use this center are not them. Muslims in general had absolutely nothing to do with 9/11. Terrorists who happened to be Muslim did, however. Those people should be punished, but Muslims as a whole should not be punished. That’s like punishing all white people today for what white people in the past have done regarding slavery. Just because people share skin color or creed does not make them equally responsible for the acts of all people who have something in common with them.

Salt in the wounds? Yeah, it will be, if the building is prevented. At that time, terrorists outside of our country will be able to sit back, high five, and celebrate because then they will know that they truly breached America. Then, they will have had the satisfaction of not only crumbling our towers to the ground, but watching the effects unfold as American society is turned against itself. And they will have been the ones to do it!

On the other hand….. I see this as an American “band-aid” of sorts. I firmly believe it. Its beauty is found in the signal it would send.  The nationalism and unity it could foster. We, the American people, could show those evil terrorists that we can rise above their petty acts of hatred. And then, the terrorists will have lost, and we, the American people, will have triumphed. And as an added bonus in my little fantasy, I picture Osama Bin Laden’s hateful face when he finds out that peaceful, non-radical Muslims want to build an actual building to create harmony between Islam and America. Just think of what he’d say when he discovered that the wife of the man behind the project doesn’t cover her body from head to toe.

No, this isn’t them rubbing salt in our wounds. This is us showing how much better we are than the Islamic societies who would never do this sort of thing if the tables were turned. We’re forgiving. We, unlike many other countries since the dawn of man, do not let the actions of the few speak for everybody else in a particular group. America is smarter than that. Bearing all of the facts in mind, it’s painfully obvious that any opposition to the Mosque lies in blatant racism, childish emotion, or simple ignorance. None of those three are good foundations for any decision. That’s what this debate boils straight down to: bigotry and intolerance. Take your pick.

I, for one, like to pick rational thinking. If people want to openly oppose it due to the fact that they simply hate Muslims, I guess that’s their opinion. But when the Mosque is a public community center, several blocks away from the site itself, clearly supported by the law, and could potentially be one way to spread peace and understanding… I certainly hope that opinion is not widespread.

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Cedar Tree

“Cedar Tree”

It’s a clean cut piece of paper
From a memory book of scrap
That is lifted by the wind
Until it settles on my lap.

And soon a pencil shall expire
And with it, all the memories
Which slept beneath my brain
But they need not be retained.

For the gnarly tree of Cedar
And its bark all drenched in sap
Will protect me as I nap.

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