Sunday, September 24, 2006

Why Is It So Difficult to be A Secular Jew in Israel?

This question popped into my mind the other night while watching the movie “Private Benjamin”. In the opening scene Goldie Hawn is getting married. The wedding is obviously Jewish, and everybody seems very comfortable singing Jewish songs, and dancing Jewish traditional dances. I was struck by this casual familiarity with the Jewish tradition. It reminded me of another TV series that I like – The Nanny -who is also Jewish and also displays a very comfortable relationship between man (in this case, woman) and God and Jewish tradition. This is in complete contradiction to my experience as a secular Jew in Israel.

This situation was brought home to me, as it usually is, before the high holidays. Being secular, it is always a question what we should be doing on the holidays – should we celebrate in the traditional manner? If so, what tradition – the tradition of my family that has a large meal, dips an apple in honey, sweetly wishes everybody a good year and then promptly resumes the decades long, free-for-all family power struggle? Or should we follow the tradition of my wife’s more conventional family, preparing the numerous blessings, saying the (more or less) proper prayers over each one, and especially, getting into the proper holiday spirit of innocent joy mixed with awe at God’s works and blessings, at another miraculous year gone by, with yet another one, hopefully no less blessed, to come?
Should we follow the real tradition – the orthodox tradition, which would actually mean that I would need to learn what it is, and how to perform it? Or maybe we should do absolutely nothing – after all, who needs these stupid traditions, and this stupid, good for nothing God, that fills the world with so much hate, and pain, and endless, unimaginable suffering? Do I really want to believe in such a God, and fulfill his commandments? What for, really? What’s the point?
What to do in the holidays is a perennial question for secular Jews here in Israel. We are not bound by any previous traditions, but on the other hand we have never actually bothered to build a new secular tradition to replace the one that our communist, secular,Zionist forefathers threw away, into the proverbial “trashcan of history”. I know that there had been, and maybe still are, some attempts to re-interpret the orthodox tradition by the Kibbutz movement, but as far as I can tell, after having been in the movement for almost a decade, no kibbutz has ever been able to establish a viable, meaningful interpretation of our tradition (reviving pagan agricultural rituals is not meaningful in my view). I think that is a real pity, but that’s just the way it turned out and as a result, more and more Kibbutzim are re-introducing the orthodox traditions. ( current examples of this are here and here)
I know that many secular people are not bothered at all by this question “ what to do in the holidays” and all it means for many of them is just – where should we escape to in the holidays so we don’t have to feel all this Jewishness, and be with our horrible families. The answer used to be vacationing in Israel, maybe somewhere around the Kinneret, but today the vacation will be abroad, as evidenced by the huge upsurge of flights out of the country before the holidays.
But I am not satisfied with that kind of solution. I despise the secular, sacrilegious attitude prevalent in my family and in the society I grew up in. However, I also find that I cannot access the orthodox traditions- they do not belong to me, and there is so much political baggage in doing so, that it has become almost impossible for me.
Actually that is what I set out to say – every individual has to deal with questions of faith - is there a God, and what is my relationship to him. In Israel this difficult question is made much more complicated because of the political situation, formed at the beginning of the Zionist movement, which boils down to this – everything we do or do not do regarding Jewish tradition is part of the political landscape. If I go to synagogue – that is a political statement, and so is not going; celebrating the New Year or not celebrating and how I celebrate is as much a political matter here in Israel as it is a personal issue. I think that’s a shame. Dealing with God is so hard as it is, that no undue, external pressure should be brought into it. That is what I like in the American attitude to religion and God, expressed in the aforementioned movie and
TV series - it’s completely personal, and to me it feels, at least from afar, a much better position to be in, if you honestly want to figure it all out for yourself, as I do.

Be that as it may, I am still stuck with myself and with the same question – “what to do in the holidays”, which is actually a smaller version of the big question “what to do with this Jewishness that I have inherited from my forefathers?”
The first option that crosses my mind is simply to convert. It is with no pleasure that I find myself a target of the frustrations of nearly every other human being on this planet, just because I had the great misfortune of being born to a Jewish mother, and I certainly do not see why I should subject my theoretical offspring to such a horrible fate.
That could have been a very attractive and easy option, except that an Israeli secular upbringing is really a peculiar thing – it is actually a rebellion against orthodox tradition and as such it has, as it’s point of reference that same tradition. Only a free man can create a new tradition, and secular Jews in Israel have never bothered to free themselves to that extent, and were always content to wing it.
What do I mean by that? I mean that for several years, when we were children my father said the kiddush on Friday night, although we did not keep any other aspect of the Sabbath, and openly scorned anyone who did. We celebrated Rosh Hashana – but not Yom-Kippur, eating silently in our house, or vacationing somewhere, Passover but not Succoth or Shavuot. We would dress up on Purim, but we never read the Megilath Esther. As a boy scout in the Israeli Tzofim, we would stay up all night and do a tour of the synagogues on Yom-Kippur, apparently going to watch the believers pray to their God, like other people go to the zoo to watch the monkeys. This tour ended in the traditional Yom-Kippur meal, which we would buy from the Arabs in the Eastern part of the city. I have a mother who would be quite happy to shoot up Mea Shearim, if she knew for sure that she would not get into any trouble with the law over it, but when my brother brought a Christian girlfriend home she nearly broke into tears that he would even think about marrying a shikse girl! I cannot tell you how astounded I was at that outburst.
Really, there is no end to the contradictions in this kind of secular upbringing.
Last but not least - not too long ago I removed all my remaining belongings from my parents house, and guess what I found – a beautiful embroidered velvet bag, containing, of all things, a teffilin and talith. I imagine that I got them on my Bar Mitzvah, which I did not want, but my parents, who never, ever went to synagogue, insisted upon. From whom and for what purpose I received them I do not know. I also do not know how to operate this equipment, which is basically, the problem with my secular education – I have received just enough Judaism to realize that ignoring it or converting to another religion would be a futile exercise in escaping from myself, but not nearly enough to understand what I should be doing with it and what it should mean to me and my family. I received just enough hatred of the orthodox tradition to automatically despise it and it’s protagonists, but not nearly enough knowledge to free myself from the secular Jew’s utter dependence upon the orthodox society.
In fact, without the orthodox it would simply be impossible to be secular, because we would have no one to count on to keep the tradition, no one to stop in the street and ask what day of the Jewish month it is, or when does the Sabbath enter (I have seen non-orthodox people do this). As a secular Jew I can rest assured that if I ever do want to find out about the heritage that was half-hidden, half-despised and half-cherished by my secular parents – all I have to do is go to the nearest Habad house and I will be welcome, and yes, I’m not that bad at math, I know it doesn’t add up, but neither does the secular education I received, so there.
Anyway - this is the secret of orthodox power in Israel, and, i suspect, the real reason behind the secular hatred towards the orthodox– because they are the true carriers of our Jewish identity, and until secular Jews come up with a meaningful alternative, this situation will remain in place.

All of this still leaves me absolutely nowhere. Although I tried, I have not been able to connect with the orthodox tradition. Every time I approach the subject, if by reading a (hebrew) book, or by learning directly from orthodox people I encounter the same obstacle – a profusion of religious technical detail, coupled with the complete absence of any kind of god. I can get all the “How” that I want, but for some reason nowhere can I find the “Why”, almost as if the orthodox in Israel have forgotten it, or else they have become so used to the practice of Judaism that the accompanying beliefs and underlying meanings are too obvious to be mentioned, or perhaps they believe in religious ritual much more then they believe in God – take your pick.
In any case, I do not think that there is a way back for me. I am too modern, too secular, too knowledgeable to go back two hundred years in history and pretend that nothing important happened in human spiritual history. Doctor of Jewish Studies, Eli Ben-Gal from Kibbutz Baram says it perfectly in his partially autobiographical book (in Hebrew) “While Dining With the Devil”:

…”I do not mean the Haredim, the virgin souls, who, for some sociological reason, still live before the schism (of modernity). Towards them I feel a mixture of sadness and jealousy, but their sincerity is beyond question. For people like me, there is no returning to such completeness, even if I try to pretend. That is why the Haredim are both correct and cruel when they, at one and the same time, take pride in the phenomenon they call “hazara betshuva” (Returning to God), while avoiding these disappointed secular people like the plague, keeping them in separate Yeshivot,, marrying them with each other, not letting them into their families, because the return of this secular wreckage to the springs of eternity is evidence of the spiritual need of man, not of a real, innocent faith. There is no going back to innocence.”

Actually I disagree with that last sentence – there is a possibility of returning to innocence, but Eli Ben-Gal, after going through a rigorous and painful Freudian analysis (more about that here) was persuaded to give up on that possibility. But the rest of the passage is true for me as it is for many other people, and baalei tshuvah. It even applies to many orthodox believers who have come to realize that they actually are not innocent, and do not really have the child-like faith in God needed to be a true believer, to experience a personal relationship with God.

In any case, there probably is no way back for me – at least no way back to the orthodox tradition, to the innocence needed to perform all the rituals in good faith.
I already stated that I abhor the secular practice of completely neglecting our Jewish heritage and it’s meaning to us, while hating those that keep the traditions, those who, in doing so, enable us secular Israelis to behave like irresponsible children wreaking havoc in their own house, in the sure knowledge that their parents – the Orthodox Jews - will always be there to clean up after them.
So what’s left?

Of course I can always turn to Reform Judaism. The very word “Reform” strikes a chord, for I too feel at heart like a reformer, a changer, perhaps even a revolutionary. But for an Israeli, Reform Judaism presents a problem. I have lived enough in the United States to know that there the Reform Movement is simply the way things are. If you are Jewish you are Reform, and the two are almost synonymous. Here in Israel that is not true – here, if you are Jewish you are orthodox or at least traditional, which means accepting the orthodox way, while not fully practicing it, or else you are secular which means that you an orthodox Jew playing hooky- for the past century or so.
So Reform doesn’t really fit in. As a secular Jew growing up in orthodox Israel all I see is Jews trying to be Jewish without actually inconveniencing themselves. Personally, I cannot imagine something more repelling. In fact, Reform Judaism, in the Israeli context at least, seems to me to be the exact opposite of Judaism, and again, I will turn to Dr. Eli Ben-Gal the secular kibbutznik who expresses this matter perfectly:

“There is no Judaism without Halacha (religious law), which is what it means, literally – going on, proceeding to impose itself on this world that is evil so long as it is not good, Repaired. The Jewish Reformers of the past century, whose name you (Ben Gal is addressing the Israeli Reform Youth Movement) wish to bear while distancing yourselves from their failure, made a dire mistake; their mistake was trying to make Halacha accomodate reality. Making Halacha fit with reality is like canceling Halacha, and bringing an end to Judaism; for Judaism is the negation of reality, or at least it’s adaptation, by way of the Halacha, to what is desirable. We should not be surprised at the existence of evil; rather we should be surprised at our successes, limited as they are – in creating good. To do this, we must cling to the eternal faith, and be prepared to change Halacha not in order to make it fit reality, but in opposition to it.”

So the Reform project indeed seems to be at complete odds with the concept of Tikkun Olam that is the essence of Judaism.
I do like one aspect of Reform Judaism, and that is the freedom, and even the responsibility, that Reform Judaism places on the individual believer to find his or her own way in the tradition, in forming a personal relationship with God, a freedom that is severely lacking in orthodox Judaism. Still, there is a limit to how far the individual can stray from the collective before disconnecting himself , and it seems to me that the Reform Movement has done just that.
Perhaps all of this would not be enough to keep me away from Reform Judasim, but, regrettably, Reform Judaism in it’s Israeli version resembles a political party, not a movement that can emancipate secular Israeli Jews, who find themselves, once again, mixing politics with personal belief. The Reform Movement in Israel has an unfortunate hand in many different political pies, mostly radical left ones, which means that going to a Reform synagogue is no less a political act then going to an orthodox synagogue, and even more so - going to Reform shul is like going to a political meeting at Meretz headquarters, a political identification that most orthodox synagogues have the sense to avoid.
I cannot imagine a worse mistake for the Reform Movement then the one they are consistently committing – combining religion with politics. If there is something I am sick of it is this, and I do not see the advantage of replacing the orthodox religious state institutions, and orthodox political parties and agendas with Reform ones – I want both of them out of politics, the sooner the better. Really, is there a worse form of idolatry than religious political parties?
Religious people can take part in all walks of life, but turning their personal belief into a political platform means just one thing – they do not actually believe in God – they just want to replace Him with The Party. So, sadly, I say no to Reform Judaism.

Negation is fun, up to a point, but I still have to decide what to do. What I would really like is to fully understand Jewish tradition - not the technicalities, although I want to learn them too - but what I am really looking for is the underlying spiritual meanings of the traditions and rituals, which are my heritage. I am sure that if I am able to reach that deep level, where the soul meets the spirit of God, and they understand each other, than I will be able to regain that innocence that Ben-Gal claims cannot be recovered, I will be able to respect and perhaps even live the Jewish tradition without feeling foolishly out of place, a stranger in my own house, because everything will have meaning for me, a spiritual meaning that is relevant to the spiritual condition of modern man.

Of course, such a project can take years. In the meantime the High Holidays are upon us and I still have to decide what to do. In the absence of a clear, meaningful alternative I have to go along with my dear wife, who wants us to celebrate the holidays the way she was taught to – with dignity and respect for tradition, and a touch of innocence and faith, things that seem to me easier for a woman then for a skeptical, over-cerebral man, (which is probably why men were saddled with so many Mitzvoth - women can be relied upon to believe in God without being reminded of Him twice every minute). So, maybe, instead of studying Torah and praying during the High Holidays, like a normal Jew, I’ll just study my wife in the hope that some of that faith and innocence (and sweetness) will rub off on me.
Hmmm. On second thought, perhaps being a secular Jew in Israel isn’t as bad as I thought…

Read More......

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Freud in Israel - The Spiritual Infrastructure of A Culture

This is my holiday gift to all those curious, restless Jews who are interested in what makes our society tick or else just want to impress their relatives , or maybe need something to talk about after exhausting the usual ten-minute -"who is doing what with whom" gossip - for all of you- i give a very long post that answers all these needs and more.

Shana Tova,


This is the fifth part in a series of posts that constitute the main concern of this blog: What Is Wrong with Israeli Society and How to Repair it. The previous posts are filed under the category “ RepairingIsrael-TheSeries.” The original, somewhat different, Hebrew version of this post may be found here.

Advice: if you read long articles on the internet sometimes it is difficult to focus on where you are exactly, especially if you do a lot of things at once and take your eyes away from the screen. This is why I recommend installing the Paragrasp extension , which highlights the paragraph you are reading, and the highlight moves along as you scroll with your keyboard or mouse – it’s indispensable really. Of course it is intended only for Firefox users. If you are not yet using the firefox browser you can get it here.

Previously I explained the expression “Tikkun” (Repair), and why World Repair should be done in a scientific manner, with the use of the knowledge available in the field of Psychology. I started reviewing this knowledge with Freudian theory explained here from the perspective of a believer. In this post, the second and last one about Freud, I will try to show how Freudian thought has influenced Israeli society and culture.

Freud in Israel
According to the statistical yearbook of the Mental Health Unit in The Ministry of Health in 2004 (the latest yearbook available), there were 7000 certified psychologists in Israel. 55 percent of these were clinical psychologists, and almost 30 percent educational psychologists, with the remainder split between four other specialties (which we will ignore from now on).

Clinical Psychologists
Clinical psychologists work in hospitals, Primary Care Clinics (Kupat Holim), psychiatric hospitals, local government, and private practice, treating individuals couples and groups. A Ministry of Health license to practice clinical psychology is contingent upon receiving a graduate degree in the field, and several years of internship. Thanks to the internet, it is very easy to study the curriculum required of clinical psychology students in the Universities of Tel-Aviv, Jerusalem (the two major universities in Israel) and Bar-Ilan (the sole Zionist-Religious university in the country). Doing so clearly reveals that the training of clinical psychologists is based for the most part upon the teachings of Freud and his followers. Apparently the situation is the same in other institutes of higher education, a conclusion reached also by Proffesor Eli Zomer, senior clinical psychologist from Haifa University who recently talked about the unhealthy situation of psychological treatment in Israel (Hebrew transcript here). I am aware that Freud’s followers do not all completely agree with his theories, and some have suggested and implemented changes to his theory and practice. However, the assumptions behind the theory which we spelled out in the previous post, the philosophy of despair and materialism diametrically opposed to Tikkun, has not been challenged nor changed within the Neo-Freudian framework.
In addition to the teachings of Freud and his followers, students get acquainted with Cognitive Psychology and Behavioral Psychology. For those of you not familiar with these terms, I would like to take a brief recess and explain. The rest of you can just skip this part.

Schools of Thought in Psychology – Cognitive and Behaviorist
The cognitive approach is most concerned with what goes on in our brains – how we perceive the world, how we think about it, what are our feeling and emotions, how they arise, how we process information – everything that goes on within our skulls, unseen by human eyes, is of interest to the cognitive psychologist. This approach assumes that human behavior is a result of human cognitive processes. Therefore, in treatment, a cognitive approach would seek to discover the motives of the behavior, our opinions and positions in respect to the problem being treated. Once this is discovered, treatment will consist of shifting the patient’s point of view, which will presumably result in a corresponding change in the patient’s behavior. This is very similar to the Freudian approach except that usually, cognitive psychology deals with the conscious part of our minds, while psychotherapy focuses more on the unconscious part. Another important difference between the two is that cognitive psychology never developed a whole, conscious and articulate philosophy concerning human beings and the world. Historically speaking, the term cognitive was not applied until recently, but in terms of the research areas and interests, there have always been cognitive psychologists.
Behavioral psychology, generally speaking, stands at the opposite extreme, claiming that: “What we do not see, does not exist”, meaning that the only justifiable object of scientific research should be observable human behavior. Anything else – thoughts, emotions, motives and so on cannot be measured directly and therefore are not scientifically acceptable. By the same token, behaviorist treatment is intended to influence and affect behavior and nothing else. The Jewish practice of “doing and then hearing” is basically a behaviorist practice, assuming that the way we behave will shape the way we think, (an idea picked up millennia later by the young Karl Marx stating that “what we do is what we are “). This is a major difference between Judaism, which emphasizes action, and Christianity, which emphasizes thought. In Christendom it was most important to posses the correct thoughts, and countless wars were fought over heretic beliefs. In any case, Behaviorism reached it’s peak with the writings of B. Skinner, an American psychologist who elevated this theory into a wide-ranging practical philosophy which, he believed, could change the world for the better. His ideas, which dominated American psychology for decades merit discussion in a future post in this series.
Freud himself clearly belongs to the Cognitive division of psychology although he grew up and studied at a time in which the Behavioral approach was dominant (but not so called at the time). The idea that there is something important and worthwhile of research between our two ears, something that we are completely ignorant about, was for most psychologists at the time, quite a foreign notion. Freud started a new era in psychology, which stressed the Cognitive approach. His success gave rise to a counter-attack by behaviorists, especially in the United States and to this day, one of the main divides in psychology remains the division between Cognitive and Behavioral psychology.
In Israel the cognitive approach has a distinct advantage. This is clear when reviewing the curriculum in the various psychology departments, and also in the treatments made available to the public, which are for the most part based on a cognitive approach. Behavioral treatments, or even combined cognitive-behavioral treatments barely exist. This is a shame because the differing approaches have varying degrees of effectiveness, and limiting the available treatments on an ideological basis is a disservice to the public.

Clinical Psychology in Israel – Conclusion
If the training of the clinical psychologists is based largely upon the teachings of Freud and his followers, then it is reasonable to assume that belief and faith do not play a part in the treatment, except as a clear symptom of disease, and that such a treatment does not consist of a philosophy and practice geared towards Repairing the world. Likewise, clinical psychologists in public service, as expert witnesses in court, in the Knesset committees shaping future legislation, in the Health ministry – they are not, by force of their training, equipped with faith, and do not believe in the possibility of Tikkun Olam.

Psychology in the Israeli Education System
The training of Educational psychologist is similar to that of clinical psychologists, with the added stress placed upon the subject of child development and education. Educational psychologists are part of SHEFI (link is in Hebrew), the Educational Psychology Service, which is a division of the Ministry of Education. They participate in shaping the Ministry’s policy on issues such as violence, drugs, special education, sex education and more. Educational Psychologists working with and through the local municipalities, give guidance to teachers and principals, shape and implement interventions as necessary, and also give short-term treatment to students and their parents, if needed. The psychologist’s point of view is paramount when dealing with many educational issues. For instance the educational psychologist may be called upon to help with the problem of school violence. This means that he has to have some idea what is the source of violence, and it makes a big difference in treatment if violence is assumed to be inevitable, or else a symptom of another, deeper problem. Educational psychologists also create the framework and guidelines within which school councilors operate. School councilors are also a part of SHEFI but they do not receive the training of psychologists. Usually, in Israel, their ranks are made up of education students, who took the graduate program in counseling. This program is supposed to give practical methods of working with individuals and groups, and understanding of the school environment. Every school has a counselor, usually a woman, working part-time. Her job description includes many tasks, above and beyond what any mortal can accomplish within the allotted time. Foremost among them is counseling with individual pupils, diagnosing their problems and directing them to the appropriate treatment. Counselors also have a curriculum that they must teach in class. This includes the flagship program called “Life Skills” (Kishurei Haim) aimed at developing the social and emotional skills of the student body. This program touches upon various subjects including dealing with situations of stress and anxiety (a somewhat common affliction in Israeli society), conflict resolution, dealing with drugs, sex education, moral dilemmas, preparing for Army service, tolerance training and more. Unfortunately this program, does not include a lesson called “Faith” or “Believing in God”, and even if there was such a lesson, the counselor would have quite a problem in teaching it since her training most definitely did not include this part of the human soul.

Freud’s Influence on Child Education
The End of Childhood, Loosening the Reins, Canceling Parenthood

I think that we can point out three major Freudian influences upon the way we – parents and educators – think about child education.
The first is the idea that postponing gratification (reining in the instincts) causes suffering, and that this suffering is the cause of mental illness, and that therefore, it is better to loosen the reins and gratify our desires. This is not directly Freud’s idea but it is a very popular interpretation of his work (perhaps due to the efforts of Herbert Marcuses in Eros and Civilization). By no means did Freud advocate loosening the reins since he understood perfectly well that this would destroy our culture. He just wanted the socialization process to be open, transparent, and without the burden of religious sanctity. Freud thought that in this manner it would be possible to reason with people and convince them of the usefulness inherent in society and culture, thus making the price we pay for it somewhat more palatable. Be that as it may, the interpretation that the instincts must not be blocked has become the popular one. As a result, in order to avoid mental illnesses in the future, parents and educators have simply stopped educating, all in the name of psychological science. I remember reading about a Jerusalem school that installed an “Anger Room” where violent children were sent to act out their rage, thus curing them by way of catharsis (an extremely inefficient treatment, as we shall see later). Perhaps this kind of attitude is what lies behind the complacence of educators towards violence in school.
Another instinct that, if thwarted, can cause psychological harm is the sexual instinct. The alienated attitude towards sex in our culture (it’s just an instinct), the constant expedition of the age of sexual relations, the public, open, and technical discussion of sex, and school sex education – are a result, among other things - of the Freudian approach to sex.
The second Freudian idea that has deeply influenced education is the idea that children, even babies, have as much of a sex life as adults do. This approach has been widely accepted, although in it’s infancy, Freud’s colleagues greeted the notion with revulsion. The sex life of adults is one of the main aspects of human maturity that separate adults from children. Therefore, the gradual acceptance of this Freudian idea has, at the same time, eroded the separation between adults and children, and actually granted this process a scientific legitimacy. This explains, in part, the tendency of educators to treat children as if they were adults just like them, and it also causes children to adopt adult behaviors, interests and privileges, without, of course, the concomitant duties. (Which involve restraint, and therefore may thwart the healthy psychological development of our children)
The third idea to influence our educational practices is the idea that there is a known and scientifically proven, objective way to raise psychologically healthy children. Since this way is not known to parents who have not specialized in the field of psychology or educational psychology, than obviously, most parents simply do not know what they are doing. It seems to me that many parents share this feeling, and that they are only too glad to share the responsibility of raising their children with the various state-appointed experts, which include psychologists, educators and social workers. All these experts welcome the opportunity to tell us how to raise our children and in some circumstances actually force their views on the parents, views that are, as I have explained, inherently secular and devoid of faith.

Psychology in the Israeli Education System –Conclusion
Israel’s parent’s and children receive a wide array of psychological services administered by experts whose training precludes the possibility of faith, belief and Tikkun Olam. It is important to note that this conclusion is valid not only for the secular school system in which the majority of Israeli student reside, but also in the Religious-Zionist school system. This is so because the religious system uses the same psychological services and it’s counselors are trained in the same universities with the same curriculum as every secular counselor.

Freud in Social Work
The chief task of the social worker is to provide help to the segment of our society that is having trouble adjusting to modern life. Actually, the social worker is a socialization agent, stepping in if and where parents and the school have failed.
This role developed following the industrial revolution and the ensuing social upheaval. Industrialization tore apart communities, and broke the traditional framework of education by the family. As a result, a large segment of the population failed to adjust quickly enough to the swiftly changing times. While society as a whole made it’s way to modernity, large groups of people were left stranded behind destitute and forced into a life of unemployment, crime, and perpetual poverty. Many charities sprung up to meet this challenge, assisting at first mainly by giving money, food, clothes and other necessities but also by regular visits to the needy. These house calls are a staple of social work to this day, and one of the biggest differences between social workers and psychologists and educators. As time progressed the attempt at assistance became more sophisticated and well planned. Western society, through the agency of Social Security, took upon itself to ensure and provide the minimum of social rights and requirements of every member of society. Social work too, evolved and it’s rapidly growing practices came to be based more and more on scientific research. Today the social worker is expected help individuals, families and communities who have become unable to fend for themselves. This includes, at least in Israel, events such as car accidents, bereavement, caring for isolated elderly people, the poverty stricken, the homeless, juvenile delinquents, drug addicts, criminal rehabilitation, terminal cancer patients, domestic violence, children at risk, abandoned or orphaned children, rape victims and more. Social workers are employed in hospitals, Social Security, local municipalities, retirement homes, rehabilitation facilities, nursing homes, hostels, shelters, and dormitories for battered wives, children at risk, and pregnant teenagers, in the prison system and many more institutions, most of them publicly funded, and some – a growing part – in the private sector.
As I see it, the profession of social worker is set apart from all the others by one distinction: it is the only one that is committed to social justice. I view it as an academic endeavor dedicated to Tikkun Olam – World Repair. As far as I know this is the only academic profession that is openly committed to non-scientific values, and that conducts academically credited courses in subjects that train for political activism such as “Gaps and Equality: Using Coalitions to Reduce Them” , in Tel-Aviv University, or “Political Thinking” in Ben-Gurion University, both aimed at teaching student how to use the political system, including topics like initiating a law in order to help distressed citizens.
Probably you are wondering by now, like I am, what has all of this to do with Freud?
As I mentioned before, the social worker receives various tools which enable her to deal with individuals, families and other groups. These tools include the ability to identify the problem diagnose it properly and suggest the proper course of treatment. Therefore the curriculum for social work includes various courses in psychology and group dynamics, although the social worker is neither a psychologist nor a group facilitator. Many other parts of the curriculum lean heavily on psychological theory such as courses about domestic violence, structure and role of the family, what is a child, how he is supposed to grow up, what is crime, what causes it and how it can be treated, what is addiction, what causes it, how it should be treated and so on. This means that to the extent that the psychological knowledge being offered is based upon the Freudian and neo-Freudian theories, then to that extent the worldview and practical tools the social worker uses in her job, will be influenced by Freudian assumptions and values.
I find it difficult to estimate the degree of that influence, but I can point out some more obvious influences.
First of all, do the models that guide social workers in their daily routine assume the possibility and desirability of World Repair, of harmony between people, or is all they offer are solutions of conflict management and acceptance of the reality of conflict – a well-known Freudian idea?
Do the solutions offered by social workers further their clients independence from the government support system, or do they actually do the opposite, turning the client into a junkie, addicted to external forces? Do these solution include faith as a solution, and the lack of faith as the problem at the root of much distress?
From what I have seen and read so far in my life, the answer to these question would be no. The Freudian approach, which is dominant in the Psychology Department, is dominant also in Social Work. Perhaps this is the reason, that our social problems, in Israel and in the West, despite the well-intentioned, honest efforts of many good people for several decades are actually growing worse, instead of steadily declining.
There are other aspects of social work which are worthy to note, that have nothing to do with Freud such as: what is the norm that social workers aim to bring their clients up to? Is it a secular, material norm, which views the Israeli elites as ideal? Do the majority of taxpayers accept this norm? What can we do about this? Here’s another one: who is responsible for the distress of the individual – society or the individual himself? Both? To what extent? Where is God in this worldview? These, and other interesting questions will be discussed in a future essay, probably when I get around to discussing how we can Repair the Economy.

Freud in Israeli Culture
Freud’s main ideas may be summed up in a few statements like these:

1 – Reason is our God.
2 –The masses are childish, ignorant brutes that need the leadership of a rational elite.
3 – Faith and religion are a form of mental illness.
4 – God is an illusion. We are alone in the world.
5 - The purpose of life is to increase pleasure, and reduce pain.
6 – Pleasure can be bought with money, therefore the more money you have the more pleasure you get. People who don’t have money are miserable.
7 – The world cannot be Repaired. What was - shall be to the end of eternity (If we are lucky).
8 – Human life has no meaning
9 – There is no despair in this world, except for our own, endless, existential despair.
10 – Either you are with us or else you are against us.
11 – If you are against us, we will do anything in our power to destroy you, if not physically, then at least spiritually.

Well, I admit that the last two items on this list are not any inventions of Freud – the intolerant, dictatorial frame of mind is as old as mankind itself. However, it must be noted that Freud used these two principles with abandon, and they have become the hallmark of his successors, at least in Israel, both in psychology and in our culture.
This is evident, for instance, in the fact that both Adlerian and Jungian theory, are completely absent from the psychological curriculum. It is hard to believe that this is a coincidence, since both of them were Freud’s main competitors, and he did all he could, when he was alive, to discredit them. It is very disappointing for me to see that Freud’s ideas are being continually researched, funded over the years by millions, and yet competing ideas, fascinating ideas, with much more scientific merit, such as the idea of the archetype, will not be even discussed between psychologists.
In any case it is interesting to note that as a result of this policy, conscious or not, most of Freud’s works have been translated into Hebrew, and they are always in good supply at your local bookstore. On the other hand, nearly nothing by Jung has been translated to Hebrew, and the little that had been was of poor quality. (This has changed in the past two years when a new publishing house started to translate and publish Jung’s smaller works). Books about Adlerian theory and practice are available at the Adler Institute. In the university libraries there is, as expected, a very complete representation for Freud, a small one for Adlerian theory, and a surprisingly fair representation of Jungian books, especially in Tel-Aviv University, but much less so in Bar-Ilan and the Hebrew University.
In any case, ever since Freud invented the system of “if you are against me you are insane” it has been adopted successfully by the left in Israel and throughout the world, proving once again that where reason fails, coercion will rush to help.

If we go back a moment to the list above, I think it is fairly reasonable to say that such a set of values and principles creates a certain, easily recognizable type. I am talking about a secular type of person, a hopeless, depressed, greedy, value-free, power-abusing individual. A person that has no past and no future, who is completely absorbed in the task of satisfying his desires and ambitions in the here and now, a person who has no respect and empathy towards anyone who does not feel and think what he feels and thinks. In a word this is the Israeli secular elite, personified by no other than the Enlightened One himself, recently retired ( judicial dictator) Supreme Justice Aaron Barak.

Freud in Israeli Politics
So where can these people be found, the secular elite and their minions? Their presence is quite obvious in politics –they gave us the Peace Now Movement – because, like children, they cannot wait or work for it, the depressing, sour-faced Women in Black, the “We must eat Hummus in Damascus Now” Peace Movement, The Four Mothers who lacking the patience to end the first war properly, gave birth, eventually, to the second Lebanon War, and the Oslo Accords, where the Israeli secular, immoral, un-democratic elite met the Palestinian secular immoral, un-democratic elite, resulting, inevitably, in a disaster for both peoples who had no choice in the matter – there were not consulted of if they were, their choice was simply ignored. It is also evident in the oft-repeated phrase “we must switch the people”, uttered by Israeli leftists every time they fail to democratically convince the people to adopt their suicidal agenda. As a result of their failures they have simply created ways to circumvent Israeli democracy, mainly with the use of the Judiciary (again, thanks to Barak), the Media and the Police. In fact, if there is one common thread uniting the European Union, Israeli secular elites and Arab elites it is the complete disdain and utter disregard for the will of the people, those childish, ignorant brutes, who are only fit to serve.
But the real problem arises when the secular elite has to deal with a believing, God-fearing elite, as is the case with the Hamas. As you may recall, the Freudian approach views religion and God as some form of mental illness, so the elites cannot conceive of taking these people seriously. After all – they are sick, childish people, perhaps to be pitied, maybe somewhat uneasily indulged – because what harm can it do, really - but certainly not to be taken at their word, and never, ever to be treated as equals, as rational people with rational goals who say exactly what they mean.
The secular elites have a terrible blind spot when it comes to anything that has to do with God and religion, because they were taught that the two do not actually exist. Therefore admitting the force and vitality of this relic of primitive times endangers the spiritual well being of any Freudian, and as far as I can tell they would much prefer physical death to the alternative – facing the fact that Freud’s worldview is flawed to the extent that it is actually endangering our very existence, that there might be, after all, a God with whom we might have to reckon.
Needless to say this affliction is not limited to the Israeli elites and is shared by all secular elites in Europe and the United States who constantly align to the far Left, waging a desperate, futile war against a spiritual reality – God, Islam, Christianity, Believers, Judaism - that they cannot even begin to comprehend.
I do not begrudge these people their right to do so – after all I grew up that way, and the pain and suffering these people experience daily is not to be underestimated. That said, they should not be given any hold in our vital interests since they will do their best to take us down with them - like a drowning man holding on to his would be rescuer, they will drag all of us down to the abyss, whether we want to join them there or not.

Freud in the Academia, the Arts and the Media
This type can be identified in Academia too, in the Humanities and Social Sciences, especially in the departments of psychology, sociology, anthropology and literature, all fields that have embraced parts of Freud’s theories and agenda.
There is an obvious Freudian presence in Israeli art which is, on the whole, secular, alienated, gloomy, lacking identity or a sense of values, and worst of all for the public and the artists themselves - totally in the service of the prevailing political winds.

The mainstream media has an obvious Freudian streak; trying to prove that man is indeed a vile, corrupt creature, a slave to his drives, instincts, and senses. That is why the vast majority of news stories deal with various forms of corruption, criminality, and violence, that is why our media are actually celebrating every offense, every domestic violence case, every rape, bribery, and embezzlement case, in the happy knowledge that they are proving their own worldview, so that every editor and every journalist can breathe a sigh of relief, knowing that everyone is as corrupt, immoral and debased as they are (and as I write this I see in the grocery store today’s Yediot headline: “President should be charged with sexual offenses”)
I can recall two incidences that shed light on this phenomenon. The first is a daily column in Israel’s leading (monopolistic) “news”paper, Yediot Ahronot titled “something good”, if I recall correctly. One may assume that if one item out of hundreds is dedicated to the good in Israel, then the rest is dedicated to the bad. But are we really that bad? Are all of us actually as corrupt, degenerate and shamelessly immoral as the people documenting our lives seem to be? I really doubt it. I am sure that I could establish a newspaper that would do the exact opposite – it would document all the daily acts of selflessness, kindness and virtue that are enacted daily in Israel, and it will dedicate one column to “something bad”. I think Israel needs that kind of antidote, and I wonder that Arutz 7, for instance, hasn’t picked up on this obvious need. After all, if most of the population is exposed to a parade of public and private decadence, how long will it take until they become convinced that there is no hope or virtue left in us and the best thing would be to join in this orgy of wickedness, and try to get away with whatever you can before it all falls apart?The second incidence is this: I remember when I worked at the Jewish Agency, I came upon this one guy working in a small room, dedicated to one job – sorting out applications for funding, sent in by various not-for profit organizations in Israel, all of them doing some kind of “good works”. If you read Israeli newspapers you would be surprised that such righteous people actually lived in this Sodom, and you would be even more surprised, as I was, to learn that the list he was checking on was 400 organizations long. As an avid reader of Israeli newspapers, at the time, I really had no idea that so many people were actually concerned about their fellow man.

Sexuality in Our Culture
Sexuality holds a central place in Freudian theory, and as a result many see Freud as the harbinger of the 20th century sexual revolution. This revolution brought with it a very open and free discourse about anything that relates to human sexuality. We have already mentioned sex education in schools, but this theme has also affected the arts, the media, fashion, the open spaces we live via the billboards, not to mention a burgeoning, multimillion pornography industry.
The sexual revolution has meant a much more tolerant and understanding attitude towards complaints about sexual abuse, causing the number of complaints about rape and sex abuse to skyrocket. Problems that in the past would have been silenced are now, finally, out in the open. At the same time, the age of consensual sex has dropped, together with a rise in the number of teen-age pregnancies (yeah- that’s a surprise!).
For better and for worse, Freud opened up a can of worms, a Pandora’s box. In my view it is our duty to select from this cornucopia anything that can help us as believers, and to try to minimize the ill effects of the rest. Actually, this can be accurately stated about the whole of Freud’s doctrine.
The question is, therefore, to what extent is the world of Israeli believers, the Religious-Zionist and the Haredi Societies dealing with this task of separating the wheat from the chaff?

Freud in the World of Religious-Zionist and Haredim
I did not grow up in a religious environment, and I cannot claim a firsthand knowledge of this society, therefore I will rely on second-hand sources and on my own recent contact with these societies. I would be very grateful if religious readers would enhance the following observations with their own personal experiences.

Freud in the Haredi World
The Haredi society, by definition, and more so in Israel than in other countries, does not want anything to do with secular culture, and contact with it is limited as much as possible to the bare necessities. Therefore it is very rare to see haredi students in Israeli academia. This has changed somewhat in recent years, as the haredim, for a variety of reasons, become more involved in Israeli public life. Haredim now have a variety of academic institutions, mostly in technological, value-free areas such as computer science and industrial occupations. However I have already seen oneHaredi academic institution that offers degrees in social work and educational counseling. I have not seen their curriculum, but since it has gained the approval of the Council For Higher Education, I find it hard to believe that it differs greatly from the course taught in every other university. I have not encountered a Haredi institute that trains psychologists. Of course there are Haredi psychologists but it seems that they are for the most part, repentant Jews ( baalie tshuva), or else they have received their training abroad and made aliya to Israel. That counts for the training, but what about treatment? What does a Haredi couple do if their marriage is on the rocks? How do Haredim deal with domestic violence, with rape victims, drug addicts, juvenile delinquents and all other manner of sin which is also part of Haredi society?
I have no answer for that question. As far as I can tell from afar, it seems to me if such cases actually receive recognition, than they are dealt with by the community rabbi, which, obviously, has not been professionally trained to deal with them.
Judging by this site of the International Network of Orthodox Mental Health Professionals , it seems that there is a growing acceptance of the necessity and utility of psychological treatment in the Haredi society, as long as the therapist is an orthodox Jew. I cannot say to what extent the training of these therapists has been adapted to the needs and beliefs of the society they are treating, and has become, as a result, a believing therapy. From the aforementioned site I learned that the organization called “Nefesh Israel” is dedicated to coping with halachic problems arising during treatment of orthodox population. I am sure this is a positive step, from the viewpoint of the orthodox sector, but there is serious doubt in my mind if this, by itself, can bring about a therapy of belief.

Freud in the Religious-Zionist Sector
The sons and daughters of this sector receive their professional training in the Israeli Academia, which we have already reviewed. The curriculum of the flagship academic institution the Bar-Ilan University does not offer, as far as I can tell, any kind of alternative in the mental health department, and basically the curriculum in Bar-Ilan is about the same as the one taught in the universities of Tel-Aviv or Jerusalem.
As for treatment, the Religious-Zionist public uses the psychological services offered by the state, including educational counseling and the social services. I assume that the difference between the services that the general, traditional or secular public receives, and the service they receive is in the people doing the servicing, which in the latter case will be orthodox practitioners, however the training, the diagnoses and the treatment in both cases will be similar if not exactly the same. I have not been able to detect any signs that the Religious –Zionist public has developed any alternative, faith-based treatments for itself, and it seems quite content with using the tools developed by the secular society, tools which are based on a complete rejection of the Religious-Zionist world view.
To me, this is simply incredible. How is it possible that people that would not, in their darkest hours, even think about eating something that is not one hundred percent kosher, will not pause long enough to blink when they feed their very souls with an ideology concerning the nature of man and Tikkun Olam that is the complete opposite of their own worldview?
I am not nitpicking here – the assumptions underlying the way we understand ourselves have an immense influence in many areas of our lives, as I have tried to show.
Further - even if an orthodox Jew would by chance actually eat something that is not kosher – our bodies will easily remove the treif from our system within a day or two. Do the Religious-Zionists have a similar mechanism that identifies and removes abstract ideas from their souls? What tools do the young children of this sector have to identify the ideas that are inimical to their worldview despite their academic respectability, ideas that are, after all, aimed at suppressing and even destroying the Religious-Zionist society, and any other believing society or individual?
Judging by the events of the summer of 2005, when the valiant sons and daughters of this society forcibly (but valiantly) removed their own brethren from their own homes, I would say that they have none whatsoever – they are poisoned from their heads down to their shoes.

Freud in Orthodox Society – A Summary
Based upon an admittedly limited amount of information, the situation in this society can be stated, tentatively, as follows: the orthodox society, both the haredim and the Religious-Zionists, have not bothered to adopt or develop faith-based alternatives to the Freudian worldview which dominates Israeli society, and dictates to an enormous extent the type of mental treatment made available to the Israeli public in a variety of areas from the private sphere to public policy including topics such as dealing with crime, unemployment, poverty, and policies concerning rehabilitation, education, and the family. This means that in many areas of state policy the orthodox simply have nothing to offer, effectively abandoning the field to their rivals.
This is especially vexing since orthodox Jews, at least in Israel, have nothing but contempt and disdain for the secular culture whose social inventions, it turns out, they are only too glad to use blindly, unthinkingly, to their own detriment, and I believe, to the detriment of Israeli society as a whole.
In any case, criticizing the current situation although somewhat pleasurable is not completely satisfying – what we really long for is a faith based alternative and we want to know – does it exist, and what would it look like?

The Faith – Based Alternative
Previously, I had defined faith or belief as the existence of a direct connection with the Creator, or at least recognizing that such a connection is possible and desirable.
So, what would be “believing” in this context? What kind of psychological worldview would this entail?
After reading some of Freud’s writings and surveying the field, as it exists today, I think that a faith-based psychological attitude would simply be the exact opposite, as expressed in the following principles:

1 – Faith in a Creator
2 – A desire for World Repair (Tikkun Olam)
3 – A clear definition of what is wrong with this world and how it can be fixed
4 – A working assumption that man has free choice, that he is responsible for his situation, and that therefore he can Repair himself, and that therefore, there is hope.
5 – Since there is a Creator, a possibility for Repair, and free choice – then there also is a meaningful human existence.

In the following posts in this series I will present theories that answer, if only partially, these criteria.

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Sunday, September 17, 2006

Child Abuse - The Emotional Aspect and The Blog Carnival

The Blog Carnival

The Fourth Child Abuse Blog Carnival is up thanks to hostess ScarlettDemon.
I’ve already managed to read most of the posts and I’m sure that anyone who has gone through such experiences will find them (the posts!) worthwhile. It is especially comforting to realize that you are not alone, which is the main purpose of the carnival.
But what am I doing there?
Although this blog is ostensibly dedicated to repairing Israeli society, it is also dedicated to whatever I feel like writing, and I thought this piece about Billy Elliot would fit in. Apparently Scarlett thought so to and I thank her for that.
Also there is another reason, which I would like to discuss separately.

Child Abuse – The Emotional Aspect
This blog is dedicated to Repairing Israeli society, and outwardly has nothing to do with child abuse. However, as I have already explained here, Tikkun (World Repair) for me means first of all Repairing the individual, since a society cannot be considered repaired if it’s members are not themselves Repaired. I’ve already started to write the lengthy detailed explanation of what is broken and needs fixing within us in this category RepairingIsrael-TheSeries, which is mainly concerned with the application of psychological theory to the problem of World Repair. But the real issue, as far as I am concerned, is child abuse in it’s various forms, because it is this abuse that ruins children, who later become ruined, malfunctioning adults.
I believe that most people would say at this point that I am being ridiculous – after all they would say: “How many children are being abused? Admittedly the problem is much more widespread than we once thought”, they will say, “but still” they continue, “these children constitute a minority – maybe five percent of the population, and therefore they are not really the reason why our society is in such a bad state. All we need to do to solve society’s problems once and for all is to: pass a law/ raise taxes/create another government agency/lower taxes/privatize government/abolish government/abolish money/ and so on and so forth.”
I disagree. I believe that child abuse is far more prevalent than anybody, except the people who actually deal with it, is willing to believe. I don’t want to get into the numbers here so I refer the reader, for starters, to this article “What Parents Need to Know About Child Sexual Abuse” (which I found through a previous carnival) by psychologist Dr. Deborah Serani which states, among other things the following:

Parents should know that:
1. 85 to 90% of all abuse occurs at the hands of someone known to the child, someone in a position of trust.

2. About one in every four children will be sexually abused by the age of eighteen.

3. Most sexual abuse involves no outwardly visible physical damage to the child.

4. The damage comes from the physical and emotional violation of the child, and the violation of a trusted relationship. These can be more long-lasting than physical injury.

5. Most abusers are family, friends, and neighbors, someone the child knows and trusts.

6. Parents, schools and organizations may use all of the avoidance technology at their disposal against strangers, yet experience tells us that they are almost always surprised to discover perpetrators in their midst.

“About one in every four children will be sexually abused.”
This is an astounding number. This means that about a fifth of the population are walking around with scars that will hinder them for the rest of their lives to a very large extent. I don’t mean that survivors can’t thrive; I mean that they will have to fight for it every inch of the way.
And this is only the sexually abused children. There are others who are physically abused and are in as much pain and anguish, and others who suffer from severe neglect.
Whatever the specific abuse these children have suffered, it was always accompanied by a degree of emotional abuse. Personally, I have the feeling that the emotional scars from physical abuse are much harder to deal with than with the physical pain itself. I cannot really speak from personal experience on this matter, except to say that although I was very accident prone as a child and adolescent, and ventured near death a couple of times, the pain I endured in these injuries has been forgotten long ago. But I can remember clearly many, many instances of emotional abuse, and I have found it very difficult to get over the pain that was inflicted upon me years ago. I also know that I am not alone – I have known many other people who feel exactly the same, and struggle, even in their old age, to come to terms with insults and affronts they incurred decades ago. All in all if we would add emotional abuse to the list of recognized abuses, than we would have to face the fact that most children growing up in our society are being abused to some extent, and then we can begin to understand that the level of alienation, violence and cruelty in our society is not a matter of chance, a blip in the numbers, a fad. It is what we are.

What is Emotional Abuse?
Emotional abuse is very difficult to deal with mainly because it is invisible. Personally, I never thought of myself as being an abused child – after all, I was not assaulted sexually; and physically – well, sure, I got some spankings in my time when I was a small child , but nothing worth mentioning, no scars remain. I never went to bed hungry, and I always had a shelter over my head – so what should I be complaining about? Well, I had my share of problems, in school, with my parents – but who doesn’t, at a certain age? So what if I was afraid of my shadow, if people scared me, if I was ashamed of myself no matter what I did, without knowing why? If my hands shook so bad I was dropping stuff, and never was any good with tools and mechanical stuff, and always had trouble relating to people, with men and women alike, so what if I always felt like a walking husk of a human being whose soul had run away, and left me with this stupid, useless body until he decides to come back? None of this mattered because I always knew that even if there was something wrong with me, a fact that is hard for me to admit even now, then it was always clear that it was my fault. That I alone am responsible for my problems and no one else. And in any case, I was considered a normal child, both in school and in my family (although I was the proverbial black sheep, to be sure), and lacking any reason to think otherwise, I really had no choice but to think of myself as a normal child, and later on a normal guy, with a few, small, personal problems of his own.
These “few small personal problems” have occupied me for many years, but throughout all that time I never imagined that I had been a subject of any kind of abuse – after all I had no scars, and no vivid, frightening recollections of any violence towards me. All I really wanted was to be myself – I knew intuitively that such a person existed and I was determined to find him and bring this self to life. That’s all I wanted and it had nothing to do with being abused. I did know that I was very angry at my parents, but I never really understood why – and in any case our Judeo-Christian culture strongly prohibits directing any anger or blame towards our parents, so for a long time I was an unsuspecting victim of emotional child abuse.
Actually that is one of the sure signs of abuse – not being able to acknowledge it, and taking responsibility for all your problems. The full list, which I found in Toxic Parent’s , a book by renowned child abuse expert and therapist Dr. Susan Forward is actually derived from a questionnaire, below, designed to help the reader find out if he had, or has toxic parents. (I’m translating from the Hebrew version)

Relationships with the Parents During Childhood
1 – Did your parents tell you that you are bad and worthless? Did they call you names? Did they criticize you all the time?
2 – Did your parents use physical punishments to educate you? Did they hit you with a belt, a brush or other instruments?
3 – Did your parents get drunk or use drugs? Did it make you feel embarrassed, afraid, hurt or ashamed?
4 – Did you lack the ability to reach your parents because they were very depressed, or because of other emotional or spiritual difficulties they had?
5 – Were you forced to take care of your parents because of these difficulties?
6 – Did your parents do something to you that you had to keep secret? Did they hurt you sexually?
7 – were you afraid of your parents most of the time?
8 – were you afraid to express anger towards your parents?

There are twenty more questions, concerning adolescence and adulthood and if you answer affirmatively to a third of them then, according to Dr. Forward, this book is worth your while, or in other words – you had been abused to some degree as a child.
What struck me at first was the emphasis on emotional abuse, and on the many, simple, everyday things that parents do in order to destroy their children. What child hasn’t been criticized, chided, and scolded for all manner of offenses, real and imagined? I have never met children who aren’t afraid of their parents, who feel free to talk to them about what is bothering them, to confide in them, children who feel they can trust their parents. I’m sure there are such parents, somewhere, but I don’t see them. I do see parents ignoring their children, disregarding them, dragging them along the street because they are in a hurry, telling them what they should and should not be doing in the playground and how to do it. If this really can be considered child abuse, then most of us have been abused, most of us have had our native curiosity and trust throttled, our joy in life shattered, and our spirits broken, to some extent or another.
If we are indeed living in a society of abused people then it may explain the prevalence of alcohol consumption, cigarette smoking, and drug abuse - the slow suicide methods - not to mention the growing success of the multibillion legal drug industry, whose second best-selling product in the U.S. in 2005 was the anti-depressant Cymbalta, earning almost 700 million dollars in sales (first on the list was an anti-cholesterol drug).
If so many people need so many avenues of escape then we may well ask what are they escaping from – and as I see it, and as I tried to explain – they are escaping from their past, from themselves, from the abuse and humiliation they suffered, and are probably still suffering.

What Can We Do About Emotional Child Abuse?
Really, not much.
Society as a whole does not recognize this as a problem. Emotional abuse is so commonplace as to be normative, the way people are supposed to behave. As a result, a constant state of depression is the accepted norm, being sad and unhappy the rule. We comfort ourselves with small things – fast-food, a favorite television show, if we are lucky, if not – we grow ourselves an addiction - to work, to sex, sports, debts, religion, illness, - almost anything can become an addiction - because really, who actually likes living?
I know my parents never did. As far as they were concerned life was some kind of punishment, and death a longed for, though dreaded, release. In between we must do our duties to our families and society, but we are not expected to enjoy it because life is inherently miserable. Of course with this kind of attitude, change is impossible.
So the first thing to do is to change our expectations. Once it was expected to have a stable of Negro slaves on your farm. You would have been ostracized and perhaps even imprisoned if you didn’t want slaves. Eventually this mindset changed. Perhaps one day emotional abuse will too be considered so outlandish, so preposterous that no one would dare to dream about doing it – or even want to.
The first step is to imagine a reality without abuse. A reality where children are loved – not choked, strangled and controlled, but not neglected, ignored or shunned either – just loved and cherished for being part of creation, for being themselves.

Imagining an alternative reality is a most difficult task, but it is the first step towards changing the world we live in.
Can you imagine? Are you willing to try?

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Saturday, September 16, 2006

ITB Book Review: Diet for a Small Planet

I finally managed to finish this book after reading it periodically for the past few weeks. This does not reflect on the quality of the book, but more on my lack of time.Here is my opinion about it:
Diet for a Small Planet was written by well-known food activist Francis Moore Lappe more than thirty years ago. The book I read was the 20th anniversary edition from 1991 which includes a new preface by the author explaining how the book was created and what she has experienced since it’s publication. It should be noted however, that the scientific and other nutritional data in the book seem to be updated only up to about the year 1980.
I have read several books about vegetarianism and the first thing that struck me is that this is not that kind of book. First and foremost this is a book about the politics of hunger. In fact, the author herself is not a vegetarian, and does not try to convince the reader to be one. She is focused on showing the connection between our daily choices, our government’s policies, and the resulting world hunger and health problems. I think that she does so very convincingly. Using a very large array of sources, especially considering that the Internet did not even exist at the time, she proves that all of us are responsible for the way the world is. As author of the Tikkun Blog, which has the exact same idea in mind, I must applaud both the sentiment and the diligence she displays in proving the connections. So, for people interested in a better understanding of the world we live in, especially in relation to the food we eat – this is an excellent book. I learned a lot of interesting stuff, and I really cannot wait to read the sequel to this book called Hope’s Edge , published just a few years ago.
For instance, I learned about the ratio between grain and meat – how much grain it takes to grow one pound of meat, poultry, and pork. The proportions are 16 pounds grains to grow 1 pound of beef, 6 to 1 for pork and 3 to 1 for poultry. Interestingly, I actually grew poultry once, and that ratio was always important for me but in a completely different manner – it was an indicator of how well I was managing the farm. The point being that the less grain the chickens ate, and the more poundage I got from them – the more profitable I was. I never thought about it from the viewpoint of how many non-renewable resources are being wasted here, including water, and I am sure that other growers don’t do so either, or else they would not be able to continue growing meat in good conscious.
One of the main arguments in the book is that world hunger is caused not only by our wasteful meat-centric diet, but mostly, and first of all , by a lack of democracy, by a concentration of power in the hands of a few, unaccountable elites:

“Brazil is an extreme and tragic example…black beans, long the source of cheap protein for the poor are now expensive and out of reach of many. The reason? Landowners have shifted from growing black beans to what is more profitable – growing soybeans for livestock feed.”

Inevitably, of course, the meat produced in this manner is even more expensive than the grains used to feed the cattle, and the beneficiaries are the few local rich people and foreign markets in the First World. The local poor just go without, and sometimes die because of it. According to Lappe, all over the Third world, landed aristocracy have started to grow what is more profitable, usually exporting the expensive food, leaving the local, landless population on the brink of hunger. In many instances the U.S. supported these governments at the expense of the local population. (to be fair – European policies are as much to blame, the offenders being mainly France, Belgium and England, mostly in Africa, not to mention that President Bush is doing his best to reverse that policy, 30 years later).
The book covers the origins of the new rich meat centered diet, the marriage of government policies and food industries to the detriment of the general public, the health risks inherent in this new “experimental” diet as it is called, and the ways to combat them.
In the second part of the book Lappe offers a kind of starters kit for the beginning vegetarian cook and lots of tips and easy recipes, none of which I have tried yet. The recipes include dairy products, which I prefer to avoid and are in English, which is really weird for me, cause I’m used to Hebrew recipes and ingredients. In any case, if you are looking for a vegan cookbook - this would not be your first choice.
The book also includes several interesting appendixes, the best one being, for me, the list of food additives and their properties compiled by the Center for Science in the Public Interest. This has always bothered me but until now I haven’t found a reliable and clear source of information. The Center has an updated list of additives on it’s site here.

All in all I am very happy to have read this book, I learned a lot, and I am sure to read it’s sequel. Lappe is undoubtedly committed to the truth and she endeavors, and succeeds, in serving up a very good, nourishing helping of the truth about the food we eat and what it is doing to us, and to every other human being on this planet.

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Friday, September 15, 2006

This Is Exactly Why I Stopped Buying "News"papers

This is what happens when you combine politics with journalism : you, long time NY Times reporter and op-ed,  Frank Rich , publish a picture, weave the 9/11 story that you want around it and then – well just read for yourself.  Slate magazine brought it up with astounding results (via the exceptional U.S.S Neverdock and Hot Air).
This is the original Slate column, and this is one of the people photographed speaking up and telling what was actually going on. I’m sure this happens all the time but it is very rare that a newspaper gets exposed in such a dramatic manner. I do not know where the New York Times got it’s reputation, but today it is no better than Pravda used to be.

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Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Why the Israeli Right Goes Wrong

Writing a post about the consistent failures of the Israeli right is a futile task, because this sorry subject is much more suitable for a book or even a ten volume encyclopedia. Nevertheless, I just have to get some of my anger at this situation out of my system, especially after reading this on the GOPBloggers site: under the inspiring title, “Believers of the World Unite!” blogger Mark Noonan describes one instance of political cooperation between Evangelical Christians and Mormons (link) despite the fact that many Evangelicals would consider Mormons to be non-Christian.It seems that this kind of cooperation is expanding and Mark sums it up with these words of wisdom:

“…there is plenty for Mormons and Evangelicals to squabble over - and, of course, plenty for Catholics, Evangelicals and Mormons to argue about, and when we throw Judaism in to the mix...well, the dissent between theologies just grows to massive proportions. For many years, these divisions among believers have helped the secular progressives to prevail. They are united against all believers, while all believers were not united against them - well, now differences are being composed and arguments glossed over in the interests of survival. (My bold fonts)
In the end, after all, a devout Mormon and a devout Jew have more in common with each other than either does with a secular progressive. And we can all get back to arguing matters theological once we have securely re-established the right to free-exercise in this nation.”

This is, in a nutshell, one of the main problems of the Israeli Right. In the past elections three religious parties – Shas, (orthodox Sephardic), Yehadut Hatorah (Ashkenazi Orthodox), and the National Unity (settler) parties garnered 27 seats in the Knesset, out of 120, which is 22.5 percent of the seats. That’s a lot. Many political analysts have attributed the recent successes of the GOP to it’s vigorous and loyal base consisting mainly of Evangelical communities, which constitute an estimated 50-60 million people. That’s roughly 20 percent of the American population. Now, why is it that such a base can bring so much success in one democratic country and yet, here in Israel , a religious base that is even larger cannot do anything except suffer one political defeat after another for years on end?
This a very important question that is hardly ever addressed, except in the most superficial of ways (witness the reluctant, ugly unification of the Mafdal – the National Religious Party with the National Unity Party that resulted in a spectacular flop.)
A few reasons come to mind, but I will dwell on one. The rest will wait patiently in that crowded corner of my brain dedicated, like many other Right-wing supporters in Israel, to political frustration.
First of all the quote from above – believers in Israel have never been able to find it in themselves to unite against the common enemy. Apparently carrying over Halachic nit-picking into politics, the religious parties will invariably dwell on the unbridgeable differences between them, and not on the fact that their similarities and common interests far outweigh their petty squabbles and internal power struggles. This is why the Mafdal, the National Religious Party, agreed to enter a coalition with Shinui, an openly, rabid, secular Anti-Semitic Party, a coalition whose prime target, at it’s conception, was the orthodox Haredim, which make up the Shas and Yehadut Hatorah constituencies. I assume the national religious MKs were flattered to be invited into a coalition with straight-backed, blonde, blue-eyed Israelis like Tommy Lapid , and were only too glad to prove their loyalty to the cause of secular Zionism by financially strangling their opponents in the two remaining orthodox parties. Of course, after the Mafdal outlived it’s usefulness they were unceremoniously kicked out of the coalition, which was held up by – you guessed it - the two Haredim parties, who proceeded to give the Mafdal and their constituency – the settlers -  as good as they had received from them previously. And so on and so on etcetera etcetera.
In other words, Israeli religious politicians would much prefer arguing about the seating in the burning synagogue than actually joining hands and dousing the fire so that they can continue the argument later. No, they would rather burn with their rivals, as long as they are assured that they (their rivals) will go to hell.
Is it a wonder then that we fail miserably? Is there no Jewish wisdom corresponding to the well-known American adage (attributed to Lincoln?): “Together We Stand Divided We Fall?”
I can only imagine, and be thrilled by such a vision – all the believers in Israel uniting under a common banner, against a common enemy – against all those within and without who wish to destroy us physically and spiritually. Such a coalition would include a population much larger than that of the three religious parties; after all the evangelical support base is just that – a base, a starting point. There are many, like me, who are not religious but do want to live in a Jewish State, and not in the abstract, value-free, a-historical,  “State of all it’s citizens” advocated by the Israeli Left, a state in which they themselves most likely would not want to live in. I am thinking of the many Israelis, like me, who wish to keep or regain their ties with our past and traditions, I am thinking of working parents who are concerned about the alarming degree of alienation and immorality displayed and encouraged by our leaders throughout many areas of our culture, not to mention our political culture, I am thinking even of the few secular people who have realized , or can be made to realize that the choice is between us, the believers, and the end of this miracle we call Israel.
So the inability of Jewish believers to unite against their common enemy, as opposed to the secular-radicals ability to do so consistently and effectively, is one reason for our failures.
But, being a restless guy I wish to ask – what is the reason for the reason? Why is it impossible for us to unite? What’s holding this back?
I can think of a few possibilities. I do not if any of them hit the mark or not and to what extent. I’ll just jot them down and welcome any further suggestions and comments.

Reasons why Religious Parties in Israel Politics do not Unite or Act in Unison:

1 – The differences between them are really that big, much bigger than the differences between Shas and Shinnui or Yehadut Hatorah and the Labor Party.
2 – Religious parties are run by religious people, who are not necessarily believers. As I explained here, believing in God is not the same as believing in ritual, whether religious ritual or secular ritual, so it is wrong to assume that religious parties are also believing parties, and the whole issue becomes moot.
3 –The leaders of the religious parties, the political and spiritual elites of this public, are simply not up to the task. They lack the necessary vision needed to unite the believers, they lack the political and social skills needed for such a monumentous task, and most of all – they lack the intellectual knowledge and sophistication needed to understand Israeli politics and act effectively in them.
4 –Religious people in Israel are every bit as greedy, near-sighted, selfish, sectarian, fanatic, and abysmally stupid, clueless and out-of-date as the Israeli secular press makes them out to be.
5 – The various Religious parties really could care less about the well being of Israeli society, as far as they are concerned, it is hard enough to survive in such a hostile environment as it is, without shouldering the responsibility of running a state and caring for a society that shuns them.
6 – The religious parties are so intimidated by secular society that all they want is to get what they need from it and hurry back home to their familiar and reassuring insulated existence.
7 – any combination of the above
8 – none of the above. I’m clueless. The real reason(s) is________________________.

Like I said, suggestions and comments are welcome.

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Friday, September 08, 2006

Where Do the Children Play - In Jerusalem?

A few days ago I heard the song “Where do the Children Play” on the radio (for me, radio means my Itunes  partyshuffle).  Written by popular (in the 1970’s) British musician Cat Stevens, the lyrics lament the loss of natural resources we are experiencing as a result of our ever-expanding consumer culture, and especially as it affects our children. Take for example, the first stanza:

Well I think it's fine, building jumbo planes. Or taking a ride on a cosmic train. Switch on summer from a slot machine. Yes, get what you want to if you want, 'cause you can get anything. I know we've come a long way; We're changing day to day, But tell me, where do the children play?

Indeed, where do the children play?
Hearing the song, I thought about the new playground that had been installed in our courtyard this pass summer. The courtyard itself is small, bordered with trees and shrubs, consisting of bare flagstone and a couple of peeling, unused park benches. Children rarely came to play there, and most of the time it was deserted. All this changed about a month ago. Municipal workers arrived and started drilling, lifting, and cutting. Within two weeks they had laid out a small, rubberized surface playground with a few simple facilities, (a see-saw, and such). The playground is extremely small, about 10 meters length, and five meters width (about 33 x 17 feet). If more than four or five children are playing there together it is already crowded, considering that there are only four recreational games available. But despite this, ever since they finished putting it up, the playground is packed – literally dozens of kids of all ages come to play there, together with their parents. I had no idea that so many kids even lived in my neighborhood, and I began wondering – where did they all play before this small, completely insufficient playground was built?

As a kid, one of the best things about coming to Israel from the states (as opposed to many bad things), was that in Israel it was expected and also possible that children spend most of the time outdoors, in the sun. At the time Jerusalem, the country’s capital , was like a small village, and we really had a lot of room to play, lots of open fields, and unpopulated hills and valleys. We never lacked for things to do, or places to be.
Within a period of ten years all that had changed. I had left Jerusalem the Village in the middle of the eighties, and came back more than a decade later to Jerusalem the Metropolis, burgeoning, and forever developing. The change was enormous – virtually all of the open spaces I used to play in had been turned into inner city streets and highways, or else apartment buildings and whole new neighborhoods inhabited my former playing grounds. It was, and still is most depressing. Of course, I am very happy that my country and people are vibrant enough to need this kind of accelerated growth, but I feel that we have lost something in the process, something that might as well be summed up in the question with which I began – where do the children play?

I do not have any children yet, so I cannot say from first hand. But it seems to me that they must be playing indoors since there simply isn’t enough place for them to play outside. There is only one large municipal park in the city, Gan Sakker, which is always very crowded, and not much else on that scale.  I do have a few cousins who are constantly being kept inside, or else they are being driven from one afternoon class to another. This tendency to keep kids at home or else chaperone them all the time is evident also in the amount of parents driving their kids to school each day. I live next to two schools, and I see the traffic jams each day. In my mind this is incredible – as a kid, nobody I knew would be driven to school, and the bus ride to school was part of our daily ritual.  Considering that child obesity is becoming a problem also in Israel, then maybe it is true – children do not really have places to play outside.
So where do the children play in Jerusalem?
Sadly – because I do not think this is good - the answer is: in the dark, grim recesses of their air-conditioned homes. Well, maybe the homes are clean and bright, but still, it’s not the same as sunshine and open fields. Personally, I’m glad I do not have to grow up in such an environment, and I really hope my children, if I ever have any, won’t have to do so either.

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Wednesday, September 06, 2006

God Truth and Football Outsiders

The American Football season starts tomorrow, and obviously such an event merits attention by a blog dedicated to Repairing the world.
Well, maybe it isn’t that obvious, so I’ll explain. First of all I love sports, always have and, if things continue this way, always will. As a kid I loved playing soccer, and was even pretty good at it. Unfortunately my successful international career was cut short by a freak accident of nature – I was born into a family of aspiring academics, who encouraged me to play soccer only as one of the best ways to get me out of the house for long periods of time. Otherwise, it was worthless.
So, as I grew older, I stopped playing games and moved on to do stuff that responsible grown-ups are supposed to do like being depressed and cynical. But I still liked watching sports. I grew to love basketball, and in recent years I discovered American football, while soccer seems to me nowadays an extremely slow and boring game. Funny how things change!
Anyway, I am forever looking for connections between different fields of life, and especially between my various interests. One of the things that intrigued me about basketball was the level of interpersonal communication and coordination needed between all members of the team in order to be successful. American football is the same in this respect. The pace is slower than in basketball, but the overall complexity of the events on the field is much greater. In fact it is downright perplexing. So much is going on that it takes me a couple of replays to really absorb and understand each play. The incredible complexity and multi-layering of football play makes it harder than usual to understand what is really going on, who is actually responsible for the success and failure of each play, and in what way.

Actually, this is one of the most effective critiques that postmodernists used to defeat the modernist project.
As I already explained here, the modernist philosophy holds that there is a true, objective world, an ideal world – to use Plato’s term for it – and that it is our task, through science, to get as close as we can to the true nature of the world. For most of the modernist scientists – people like Copernicus, Galileo and especially Newton, this project was part of a general belief in God, in the world that He made, a world that is therefore, harmonious, accessible and understandable to human beings, a world that is not arbitrary, but has reasons for everything – we just have to find them.
However, finding the reasons, or causes, of events is not always easy. The more complex the event, the harder it becomes to separate different causes and their interactions with each other, from their effect on the event itself. There are fields, like mechanical physics where this is less of a problem, but the more we study open systems – like the weather for instance, the harder it is to determine cause and effect. Since many of the systems we live in are open systems, the postmodernists definitely struck a nerve when they pointed out the need for a different, better philosophy to explain the world – a philosophy which was finally drafted by Albert Einstein, as the Theory of Relativity.

Sports analysis suffers from the same problem – everybody watches the same games, but usually opinions will differ about what happened, about why we lost or won the game and who was responsible for it. Even when everybody agrees about what are the real causes for success and failure, then sometimes everybody can be wrong, a fact illustrated beautifully in “Money Ball”, a portrait of Oakland A’s innovative manager Billy Bean.
Former ballplayer Billy Bean found himself managing a small-market ball club that had to make battle with obscenely wealthy teams like the New York Yankees. He didn’t have enough money to contend, so, like many underdogs in history, he used the Truth as his only weapon. In this case, it means that he re-examined some of baseball’s deepest truisms, in order to find the edge that he needed to overcome his financial disadvantage. The result was a whole new way of thinking about baseball, accompanied by a new set of analytical tools, that gave the Oakland A’s the advantage of a better, truer understanding of what contributes to success and failure on the baseball field.
It should be obvious that if baseball had (actually, still has) such problems in determining cause and effect, and if it had been so crude in it’s methods of discovery and analysis, that the situation in football, a far more complex game involving many times the number of players would be much worse. If you thought so you would be right. If you thought so and actually did something about it, than you would be Aaron Schatz – founder of the Football Outsiders project and web site, dedicated to discovering the Truth about football.
What is the truth in football? What kinds of truths are there to be found in what many people (mostly wives and girlfriends) would consider a childish, brutal game, dedicated to the destruction of Sunday afternoons?
Browsing through the new, second edition of Football Outsiders flagship publication “ProFootball Prospectus” I found lots of truths, some proven, some hypothetical, waiting to be tested and tried. For instance, many football experts would agree that a tall receiver is better than a short receiver, and most clubs draft talent accordingly. In true modernist fashion, the staff of FO checked the numbers (page 175 in the Prospectus) on this and discovered that statistically speaking, size doesn’t matter, at least as far as wide receivers are concerned, and that speed has as much or more to do with a successful career as size. Another example that seems to me important is the vulnerability of running backs as related to the degree of usage in previous seasons, a line of thought perhaps similar to the pitch count philosophy in baseball, (misused to great effect by the Chicago Cubs in recent years).  According to the statistical analysis presented in the Prospectus (page 167), it would seem that age is a much better predictor of future performance for experienced running backs than number of carries.
There are many other observations like these in FO outsiders work, but what is perhaps the most important aspect of their work is the effectiveness of their models in predicting future performance. Actually, from the perspective of a modernist philosophy of science, such as Carl Popper’s, this is the one major test that every theory must pass before it can be accepted as science – it must be falsifiable. Or, in other words – it must make statements and predictions about reality that can be compared with actual results, and on the basis of that comparison the theory may be rejected or proven true. So, how good is FO track record in predicting future performance? So far it has proven better than anyone else, although not entirely perfect and perhaps it never will be – like I mentioned before – the truth, the ideal, is just that:  we can strive for it but we will not always achieve it, if at all.

So why bother?
Because we are curious, because we believe that we can understand the world we live in, because we hold that it is not arbitrary, that there are reasons and causes in our lives as in football, because we yearn for the truth, wherever we can find it, because, in our hearts, we believe in a God that has made all of this possible, made the search for truth necessary, and perhaps even crucial for our spiritual well-being.
Hence God, Truth and Football Outsiders seem to me as natural a connection as, say, Peyton Manning connecting with Marvin Harrison for a touchdown.
I hope to enjoy both – the action on the football field, as well as the truth behind it, starting this Thursday.

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