Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Spiritual Aspect of Freelancing

One of the less discussed aspects of freelancing is the spiritual side of this kind of life, but for me this aspect was dominant from the start. I was surprised to find that from a spiritual point of view the difference between a salaried lifestyle and a freelancing one was vast, and the jump to freelancing, which I made recently, a lot more difficult because of it.
As a child I grew up in a "salaried" family. Both my parents worked in large, governmental bureaucracies and both had tenure. This kind of position was held to be the ideal job offering steady pay, a respectable position in society and most importantly – security in an unpredictable world. So it will not surprise you to hear that for most of my life I had been working as a salaried worker in the city or else living in a kibbutz where salaries, of course, were unheard of at the time.
A salaried worker, at least here in Israel, is in many respects like being a child. Your union takes care of negotiations so the salary is fixed without any effort on your part. Benefits, pension plans and saving plans are also already taken care of by the employer, by agreement with the union. Many workers do not even know that they have such things, and I am continually surprised to get in my mail all kinds of announcements, updating me on the status of pension plans I had no idea I was part of. Taxes are deducted directly from your salary so the salaried worker also does not have to deal with the IRS. Vacation and days off are set too, and many times arranged and even paid for by the employer. Sick leave is taken care of. In many instances, the salaried worker just has to appear at work on a consistent basis and everything else will be taken care of. You can be fired but usually the union will make sure that the terms are favorable and in any case you are entitled to unemployment pay for several months. In short – there is a lot to be said for this kind of job, although the mileage may vary depending on the country you live in and your field of work.
The main point is that there exist a spiritual relationship between the salaried worker and his or her employer: dependence. The worker expects the job and the salary to be there for him every day, for years on end. He comes to see it as his birthright: "I deserve this job and this salary and these conditions" is a major underlying assumption in a salaried workers life. I submit that this is also one of the major reasons why workers, even when suffering like in the TV show The Office, dare not venture out of the familiar and quit their jobs.

Yes, it is not easy to find another job. But the bigger obstacle in leaving the salaried life and striking out on your own is overcoming the mental atrophy that is characteristic to the salaried life.
As a freelancer you must exercise muscles that have not been in use for years or perhaps forever. As a freelancer, for the first time, everything is on you. There is no one to blame but you. You yourself are responsible for everything. That is a drastic reversal.
Being independent means that you are not beholden to anyone. You do not have to toe the party line (which, in Israel, is a significant part of the salaried workers life. See: academia, the legal system and so on) and you are free to think for yourself and form your own opinions without peer pressure coupled with economic pressure. Come to think of it, I remember reading that one of the reasons British PM Margaret Thatcher insisted on a huge program that let people buy the governmental houses they were living in at the time (seventies and eighties) was on the assumption that they would become more independent minded and therefore more inclined to favor the conservative party. Conversely, the enormous public sector in Israel, established by the Jewish communists who built this country, has always been extremely dominant and the only one fighting it, for some of the same reasons as Thatcher, has been consistently reviled by almost every public figure in Israel. I'm talking about Bibi Netanyahu of course.

But back to freelancing. The most difficult part in freelancing is getting the client, especially in the beginning. Sometimes your money is running out and so is your time. You know you can do the job but you are not getting any. What's wrong? Is anything wrong? Is the world out to get you?
I find that freelancing is like fishing – you find a body of water – where your clients are- and throw out as many hooks as possible with various baits. Some days the catch is great and sometimes you come back home with nothing. More often than not, in the beginning, the fish will not bite. It takes a lot of faith in yourself and the world – or God – to go through this period.
I admit that sometimes I yearn for a steady job: going to the same office everyday, living securely in the knowledge that at the end of the month I will get a paycheck for the exact same amount I did last month. But then I remind myself how much more satisfying it is to live like an animal – to survive by your own instincts and wits and abilities, to set your own prices, to work with the people you choose to work with and do the jobs you want to do. In a sense, as a freelancer, you interview every new client to see if he "fits". And you can always fire him. Of course, the reverse is true also, but that's what makes freelancing so exciting – it's unpredictable.
In freelancing, everyday can bring a new surprise. For better or for worse. Sometimes you'll get a shiny new project, and sometimes an existing client will call and say:
"Sorry, I have to cancel" (sometimes without the "sorry"). Living in such an uncertain world takes a lot of faith. To me, it is like trying to keep your balance constantly while the world throws at you endless distractions, the biggest of which are, of course – your fears.
As a salaried worker, your fears are taken care of. In fact I would say that being a salaried worker is mostly the result of fear (which, by the way, I completely understand and sympathize with).
As a freelancer you have chosen to face that fear – the fear of the unknown - on a daily basis. This takes a lot of guts, and self-confidence and, I think a lot of faith.

Which reminds of this fable that sums it all up very nicely: The Dog and the Wolf by Aesop:
(I do not know where this version is from. It is much more elaborate than the usual ones. I remember translating it from English to Hebrew many years ago, but I forget the source. For this post, I translated it back.)

"A starved, bony wolf happened one night to meet a fat, satiated dog. After greeting each other the wolf said:
"Hey, what's up? How is it that you look so good? No doubt you are feeding well, while here I am, running around day and night trying to make ends meet, barely keeping myself from starving."
"Well, if you want to look like I do, just do what I do," said the dog.
"Really," said the wolf, "what does that mean?"
"All you have to do is protect the master's house at night, and keep away the robbers," said the dog.
"With pleasure," said the wolf, "seeing that I am in such a bad way right now. Life in the wild, in the cold and rain are very tiring. Methinks a warm roof, and a full stomach are not a bad substitution!"
"Certainly not," said the dog. "Come with me."
As the two companions were walking along the wolf noticed a strange mark on the dog's neck. Being of an inquisitive nature he couldn't help but ask what was the meaning of it."
"Hmmm, nothing," said the dog.
"Yes, but…"
"It's nothing, maybe you mean the collar that is attached to my chain," said the dog.
"A chain," the wolf cried out in surprise. "You mean you aren't allowed to roam where and when you please?"
"Well, not exactly," said the dog. "You see, they think I am quite a frightening creature so they tie me up during the day, but I assure you, at night I am as free as a bird, and besides, the master feeds me from his own plate, and his servants give me leftovers, and everybody loves me and…wait, where are you going, what's wrong?"
"Well, good night to you," said the wolf. "You can eat all the delicacies you wish, but I prefer a stale loaf of bread and my freedom over the pamperings of royalty and a chain."

But life is not always so clear-cut and there is a lot of gray area between "wolf" and "dog". Many free-lancers use a combination of the two, hoping to get the best of both worlds. This is a very good tactic, especially for beginners.
Also, being a wolf can be a lonely business while some people just need the warmth and security of human company. Freedom does have it's costs and ultimately the question is: are you willing to pay the price? Is it worth it for you?

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Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Political Failure of Religious-Zionism in Israel - An Explanation

Summary: This post will try to understand the consistent, abysmal political failure of right wing religious Israelis (Religious-Zionists) using the basic concepts of a simple but effective psychological theory called Transactional Analysis.
This post will address the following questions:

  • In what way is the Religious –Zionist sector subservient to secular Jewry in Israel. Can this be changed? How?
  • What is the role of Religious-Zionism in Israeli Society?
  • Why does the Religious Right in America have political power that matches their numbers while in Israel it continually fails?
  • Why and in what ways are Israeli Orthodox Jews so different from their Anglo-Saxon counterparts and why does this matter?
  • Why does any of this matter to a secular Israeli like me?
  • What will happen if the Religious-Zionist sector does not change? What are its options?

Obviously the subject is complex so this will not be short but it should be interesting and perhaps useful if you are interested in the future of Israel and the Jewish people.
The post is divided into frequent headers so you can scroll down to the parts that interest you.

Background - Anecdotes From RZ Life

Previously I promised that after explaining the basic terms and ideas of Transactional Analysis with the help of a few clips from Seinfeld, I would use this theory to discuss and hopefully clarify several of the bigger issues that our society faces.
This is my first attempt to do so (If you do not know T.A. you can catch up in this wiki or get the drift of things as you read). This post was inspired by a Moshe Feiglin article on the Jewish Leadership Blog. Feiglin ran just a few weeks ago in the Likud primaries and garnered a quarter of the vote. Moshe is an original fellow who has some very interesting observations to make about his fellow Religious-Zionists. He starts by relating an anecdote from the elections:

As the polls closed Tuesday night in Haifa, the poll chairwoman eyed the two official observers suspiciously. "You're pulling my leg, aren't you?" she half stated, half asked.
How could it be? The Feiglin representative is an obviously non-observant, veteran Likud woman, while the Bibi representative is obviously a Religious Zionist, who has spent the entire night in dread that Feiglin will get more than 30% of the vote! What is going on here?

In this post, Feiglin tries to explain why his fellow Religious-Zionists continually fail to implement their own beliefs and policies and he reaches this conclusion:

The Left has designed our national symbols and culture. And as long as we are culturally captive to the Left, we will necessarily reach the Left's conclusions…Why doesn't the belief based public stand up on its own two feet? …The answer is that Religious Zionism draws its legitimacy from secular Zionism.

Fieglin concludes by stating that only when Religious-Zionists take upon themselves to lead Israel as opposed to following will they be able to implement their policies.

I agree with Feiglin's observations but that is all they are – observations. In my mind it is possible and even necessary to ask: Why are the Religious-Zionists willing to be culturally subservient to the secular left? How did this situation come about and why does it continue? For that matter, why is Feiglin's wake up call rejected , sometimes violently, by so many of them?
There is a reason for this and I believe that with the help of Transactional Analysis we can understand the problem correctly and perhaps even solve it – if that is at all possible.

I will begin with another anecdote, this time from the 2005 Jerusalem Conference (site is in Hebrew). The conference was established (or should I say "cloned") by the right wing Israeli National News network as an alternative to the prestigious and influential Herzelyia Conference where the secular Ashkenazi leaders of the country gather each year to determine the future of Israel. The Jerusalem Conference is a pale imitation, sparsely attended by the public. An inordinate number of the participants are prominent left-wing secular spokesmen like Dan Margalit ( I imagine this is done in order to receive some coverage from the Israeli media, surely not because these people are underexposed….).
In any case, two years ago the conference happened to occur just before the disengagement from Gaza and discussions were heated and also very depressing. Two things struck me then.

First was the question: "Should the soldiers of the Religious Zionist sector obey the order and help to ruin the homes and lives of their brethren?"
One after the other prominent RZ leaders said, "Without the army we have nothing" and that disobeying orders will be disastrous. This came after a two hour discussion in which it became obvious that there is no way that Israel would be better off after the disengagement. Most prominent was the voice of General (ret.) Yaakov Amidror who urged the young people to conform. What was worse was that his words were greeted enthusiastically by the small Religious-Zionist crowd. When I heard the applause I knew that nothing would save Gush Katif.
The only one to display any kind of human feeling, common sense and faith was a secular person. This was Col. (ret.) Moshe Leshem, a secular Jew who stood up and said: "I don't have a Kippah but I believe in God and I believe that the Disengagement is an act of ethnic cleansing and should be fiercely resisted." Leshem of course called upon the soldiers to refuse the illegal orders. Leshem spoke with force and confidence and belief – and his words were greeted largely with silence by the Religious Zionists.

The second interesting event was what I learned when Motti Shecklar, CEO of The Second Authority for Radio and Television, stepped up to discuss the relationship between the media and the RZ. He said that when the Second Authority was being established he traveled all over the country begging his people, the Religious Zionists, to get their foot in the door, to apply for jobs there and also to start training their children as media professionals. Motti said that everywhere he went the answer was that they preferred their children to do something useful and lucrative like being a lawyer or doctor. Media was looked down upon. Today, the same people complain that radical, secular, left-wing moonbats have "taken over" Israeli media. But they didn't takeover - they created it and made it viable.
Motii went on to establish Maale, the first RZ "School of Television, Film and the Arts" but that may be too little and too late – it has only 20-30 graduates a year according to Motti, compared to thousands of secular graduates.

Religious-Zionism – Depending upon Secular Creativity and the Secular Social Center

These stories demonstrate recurring themes:

1. Religious Zionists following in the footsteps of secular Jews, imitating them, sometimes lagging behind by decades.
2. Religious Zionists rejecting a new idea in favor of the familiar old ways while secular Jews embrace the unknown and pave the way to the future, leading the way for everybody else.

One last anecdote which illustrates how dependent the RZ are upon the creativity and originality of secular Jews, even in the face of their own destruction, this time from an old post on this blog, also concerning the disengagement:

I recall walking in downtown Jerusalem a year ago, a week or two before the Disengagement. I saw a middle-aged National-Religious woman all dressed up in the official Gush-Katif colors (orange ribbon around the hat, orange bracelet, orange ribbon tied to her purse, orange shirt, orange cap) walking up to a newsstand and buying a copy of Yediot Ahronot. This paper happens to be not only the largest in the country but also the worst in terms of anti-religious and anti-Zionist sentiment (tied with Haaretz). In fact even now, in the midst of a war with Hizballah that has already cost many lives – Yediot has yet to match the degree of animosity and pure, unadulterated hatred it directed towards the settlers at that time with its current, slightly adulating coverage of Hizballah today.
Anyway, I was shocked. After she bought the paper I just had to ask her what the hell does she think she’s doing? I told her that she just donated a dollar to the cause of evicting her people from the Gaza Strip. She shame-facedly admitted it but said, in justification – “ I just wanted to be in the know”.

And that is the root of the problem. Because to know what's going on you have to be connected to the heart of things and this heart, the center of our society is - as Fegilin correctly points out - in the hands of secular people and everything and everyone else in Israel revolves around this center.
So Feiglin is right: the Religious Zionists are subservient to this center. Of course they are not alone in this servitude but they are alone in trying to directly challenge this center.
Most Israelis are quite content with having this center in secular hands and living around it or in it. Haredi society seems just as content living completely outside of it and they tend to erupt only when they feel that their self-imposed boundaries are being overrun. But the RZ seem to want it both ways – to let others create and sustain the cultural center and at the same time they want to look down upon it with disdain and contempt while receiving recognition and admiration for their own endeavors from the very same people they despise! They enjoy the secular papers and music and TV shows and yet decry and sometimes even violently oppose the political results of this culture. It is this two-sided attitude that is so baffling.
But now we can begin to answer the real question: why is this so? What is this center and why is it so powerful? Why did secular Jews establish it and not RZ Jews? And most importantly, why don't Religious Zionists establish their own center to rival it? Why are secular Jews always the first, with the RZ a distant second? How can this be changed?

Creativity in Israel: Secular Compared to RZ

I think this situation can be explained by one basic psychological difference which sets secular people apart from religious people. This difference is in the attitude towards the Free Child (explained here with the help of a few clips from I Dream of Jeannie).

According to Transactional Analysis the human psyche is comprised of four states of mind:
The Adult, which is oriented towards reality, processing information and making decisions dispassionately, like a computer.
The Parent, which makes the laws and rules that govern our behavior, emotions and thoughts and is oriented towards the complete fulfillment of these rules at all times. This is the invisible mental prison in which we live our lives.
The Child, which contains all our emotions and feelings. Three different states can be recognized in the child:
The Adaptive Child – this part does its best to adapt to the demands of the Parent.
The Rebellious Child - this part does its best to reject the demands of the Parent.
The Free Child - this part does not care at all about the demands of the Parent. It is centered around the needs of the moment, whatever they may be. It is spontaneous and carefree and endlessly curious, living in the moment just like a kitten. But unlike other animals the Free Child can also be creative. Emotions and senses and intuition are the realm of the Free Child.

The Attitude Towards Creativity in RZ Society
Generally speaking, in most cases the attitude of religious people in Israel towards the Free Child is that of the Parent towards any child that is breaking the rules and threatening to overthrow the established order of things. This is an orthodox view in which everything new is bad, the best days were in the past and things can only get worse. It is a defensive, frightened attitude towards life itself. This is not especially surprising considering that for the past two hundred years and more, orthodox Jewry, especially in Europe and in Israel, has been under constant, sometimes violent attack, on the part of "The New" – the new secular way of life, new freedoms and new ideas, not to mention the new, extremely secular state of Israel. Under these conditions education tends to be dull and stifling and defensive. Children are encouraged to conform and their gaze is turned inwards and backwards – to the glory of the past. This is a most unfavorable atmosphere for innovation and creativity but it is a time-tested Jewish defense: when danger is abroad, circle the wagons and cling tightly to the familiar tradition.

The Attitude Towards Creativity in Secular Society
On the other hand, secular Jews in Israel tend to the opposite – they favor the new. They are curious and inventive and bold and brash, sometimes stupidly and brazenly so. They are not tied to the past, in fact they are taught to hate it and disengage from it. In many cases they are taught to despise and disengage from the community. This leaves them free to experiment in every way possible – there are no limits to what can be done, for better and for worse. They do not care who they are hurting, because they do not share anything in common with the rest of society.
Of course these are generalizations. Living in Israel, it seems to me that the majority of the population stands somewhere in the middle between the two extremes and in fact – only a small part of secular society is actively engaged in a creative endeavor. But that is more than enough, and far, far more than can be said of Religious- Zionists who, it seems, need a Rabbi's permission before they are allowed to think of something new, much less act upon that thought.

The Creators Can Dictate the Rules
From its inception Zionism was a secular endeavor. Apparently it took a completely secular, assimilated Jew to have the nerve to think of something completely old, in a radically new way. This is the essence of creativity – taking the existing materials and combining them or viewing them in new ways. The representatives of the Parent at the time – the orthodox community - rejected this new idea. But some did not and they formed the Religious-Zionist movement in a valiant effort to combine the new Zionism with the old orthodox Judaism. Many of the ideas and certainly the spiritual authority of this movement in Israel may be attributed to Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook the first Chief Rabbi in Israel and a very original thinker, perhaps the first and last free thinking Religious Zionist in Israel, until Moshe Feiglin popped up a few years ago.
The secular Zionists broke away from their traditional parents, like good Rebellious Children, and made their way to Israel where they proceeded to create the infrastructure of the future state which their spiritual heirs control to this day.
And therein lies a second lesson for Religious-Zionists – if you want to control something you had better create it. In social life, it is far easier to invent something then to take it over (although to be sure, Feiglin seems to disagree, which is why he joined the Likud instead of doing something new and different - and better) .

Why the Religious Right in America Succeeds

This is the secret of the success of the religious right in America. Consider this: numerically, right-wing Christians number about a quarter of U.S. population – about the same porportion as orthodox Jews in Israel, and yet their influence is enormous while orthodox Israelis have to fight every year anew for very basic elements of life such as an education budget!
I think the reason is this: in cultural terms, right-wing Christians are the descendants of the founders of America. The accepted form of public debate which they set two centuries ago are much more suitable to a rational argument than it is to the disinformation campaigns conducted by the Left.
In terms of transactional analysis American culture has had from the very beginning a strong orientation towards the Adult – towards facts, reality, effectiveness and utility. This is the "matter- of- fact" and common-sense attitude that pervades much of American society. This is a society that is so used to considering facts and distinguishing between fact and opinion and fiction that to this day, despite the concerted efforts of the Left, if you have a good, truthful argument for something – you still have a good chance to win. If you build a better mousetrap – it will sell and you will be successful. The best the left can do in America is to confuse the issues and feed the public misinformation, but with the development of new technologies and the diffusion of news delivery this effect is not as great as it once was.

The Founders of Israel – The Patronage System

In Israel it is almost the opposite. The founders came from a society and political culture that favored patronage. The relationship between the government and the population is the relationship between the Parent and the Adaptive Child. Reality is not a necessary part of the equation. Argument is useless. All you have to do is abide by the rules, do what you are told and hopefully you will be taken care of. Graft and protectionism are a way of life in this system. If you build a better mousetrap, well so what? First, get a license from the government. Second – get another one and another one, each time from a different ministry. Finally you begin to sell your great mousetrap only to find out that a different company with a far inferior mousetrap has a monopoly (brought and paid for, of course...). It undersells you and after a year you go out of business.

Although it is true that this system has been attacked ferociously from many sides and it has suffered many defeats in the past thirty years (dating from the fall of the Labor Party in the 1977 elections), the framework and most importantly the frame of mind for many Israelis has not yet changed. In many areas we are still satisfied with doing what we are told. For instance, ask military historian Dr. Uri Millstein (Hebrew link) – he is an expert on the lack of rationality- of the Adult - in the Israeli Army, or Bibi Netanyahu who did his best to fight this all-embracing nanny state, as Finance Minister.

Creativity in Israel Today

The attacks on the Eastern-European political culture have had one positive effect – they have spurred a renewed wave of creativity in Israeli society which has been led, as usual, and in spectacular fashion, by the secular sector. So it is that for the majority of the people in Israel secular Zionism has proven its vitality over and over again. It has proven itself when it began to establish Israel years before the Holocaust and it seems correct to this day - it has created an extremely free, vibrant, rich society in the midst of an intense struggle for national survival. No other group has done as much or offered a better vision to the people of Israel to this day. Will this change?
Perhaps the depravity and negligence of the current secular leadership will be its downfall as Feiglin predicts but I personally do not see it happening. The orthodox vision has been available all this time and while it has grown in popularity orthodox society is still not close to numerically rivaling mainstream Israeli society and the settler vision is not attracting many new supporters – their numbers have remained pretty constant throughout the past 10-20 years.
What is the problem? I will repeat again – the Free Child.

There is an old Chinese story that explains it well:

A beggar receives two dimes. With the first he buys a loaf of bread, with the second a lily.
"Why did you waste half of your money on a lily?" he was asked.
" The bread is to sustain me, and the lily I bought so I will have a reason to live!" answered the beggar.

Creativity and the Future of Israeli Society

And that is the point – without the Free Child, without the full gamut of emotions and senses, without the ability to at least potentially experience life at its fullest – what is the point? Without this, life is dull and routine, like watching TV in black and white when the neighbor has color television. This why Orthodox Jews, RZ as well as some Haredim, read secular newspapers and watch secular television and hear secular music – because it is fun.
Until the Israeli public loses its taste for fun, secular culture will prevail, unless someone provides a better alternative – perhaps one that achieves a better balance between the need to survive and the need to have a reason to survive. Because secular culture is definitely not perfect and in many ways its imbalance is becoming evermore pronounced, even dangerous. Therefore it is possible, maybe even necessary, for a new player to come in and offer a different cultural option. The question is: can the religious right – can Religious –Zionism do this? Can it finally lead the way and thus have its way? Can it lead instead of following?

Religious-Zionism and Creativity – The Dilemma

Religious Zionists face a unique problem: how to be creative, without ruining the existing order? How can one be assured that the newly created will not destroy the way of life that has been diligently preserved for thousands of years?
From its inception Religious-Zionism was intended to achieve a healthy balance between the old and the new – between the Parent and the Free Child. This is why RZ has been very careful in adopting the new, always following in the footsteps of secular Zionism. It joined the institutions created by the first Zionists and assimilated into them. Its party, the Mafdal, participated in the same political practices of political patronage and corruption as the Labor Party did, using its power and influence to funnel funds (and new olim) to its own people just like Labor did and especially into its own education system. Later these funds went where the people went – into the recaptured territories of Judea, Samaria and Gaza.
The first settlements were established while struggling against the government (or at least part of it to be exact) reminding the new settlers of the struggles of the secular Zionists against the British Mandate. They saw themselves as a logical and necessary continuation of the secular settlement that began a century earlier.
RZ prides itself in these settlements which are a copy of the previous secular settlements and also on its contribution to the Army's elite. Like the Kibbutznikim before them, RZ sons and daughters now comprise a very large proportion of the Army elite, much higher than their part in the population. The only difference is this: when the kibbutzim sent their sons to the Army, their party ruled the country. Today, the RZ sons are sacrificing themselves for an ideology that is openly trying to ruin their own community. The RZ education system is another source of pride and perhaps rightly so – but at the same time secular Jews built an education system that is open to everyone. Perhaps it is not as good but it is certainly not something to be sneezed at and you can guess by yourself which education system is appreciated more by the general public, especially when even RZ parents do not have an easy time getting their children in.

What Has Been Created By Religious-Zionism?
It seems that, to date, the RZ creations have been copies and variations on previous secular themes adapted to the needs of the RZ community. When I try to think of something new that the RZ community has created for the benefit of Israeli society I come up blank. Perhaps this is because I do not know it well enough. I know of new trends in RZ society such as a new openness towards woman studying Torah but this is again a careful adoption of Feminist ideas into orthodox society.
Actually, I can think of three new things: The aforementioned "Maale School of Television, Film and the Arts", Jewish Leadership and the "Hilltop Youth".

1 - Maale makes a specific point of making quality visual art while avoiding any contradiction with Jewish law. A committee which includes a Rabbi reviews all scripts in order to ensure their propriety. This is an interesting way to give the Free Child a safe place without threatening the Parent. But is it effective? Will Maale writers and filmmakers break new ground? Can such a trapped creativity invent something so new, so interesting that it will rival their secular counterparts? That remains to be seen. Still, if nothing else, their award-winning films are testament to the fact that such a combination is indeed possible. It is an open question if this combination can also be attractive and influential enough to change the tide.

2 - Jewish Leadership has a well-known and colorful history so I will not repeat it here. But as far as RZ society is concerned one point is clear – Feiglin himself and his new ideas are viewed as completely contradictory to what constitutes traditional Religious-Zionism and he has been under constant attack not only from secular elites which is to be expected, but also from what should have been his own home base. Once again, when RZ society is confronted with a new idea it attacks.
This case is significant in my view because Feiglin's ideas arrive at a time in which RZ has witnessed more than one devastating defeat. One would expect that a society on its heels would at least be willing to consider something new, some new idea or new way to stop the breathless, hopeless retreat and perhaps even go on the attack. Feiglin offers just such a way that by no means contradicts Jewish Law. That it is not even considered tells me all I need to know about the sickness of Religious-Zionist society in Israel - a society of Adaptive Children and their Parents.

3 - The Hilltop Youth , on the other hand, do not seem ready to adopt to anyone's demands except themselves. They seem to be Rebellious Children, rebelling against their parent's placid, accepting ways, renewing the settler tradition, which is the old secular tradition of Homa u migdal. If this is indeed the case then this is nothing new. Anyway, the reaction of mainstream RZ society is the same – rejection, reprimands, and threats. At least that is the story if you hear it from Avi Ran. Again, it fits the pattern: something new is created and then it can either be brought under control or else it is immediately attacked and rejected.

The Connection Between God, Creativity, Obedience and Belief

The RZ track record with creativity seems to me to be very poor. The main reason is that there is a built-in contradiction between keeping the old ways and encouraging creativity, between the Parent and the Free Child – they cannot co-exist.
This is because the essence of creativity is its unexpected nature. Creation is always an ongoing experiment with results that are yet to be determined. Creativity by its very nature is uncertain. In a way, it is absolutely necessary for creative people to have some kind of belief in God because without it, the uncertain aspects of creation will gnaw at them constantly and sometimes even ruin them.
So, at least theoretically speaking, one would expect that believers would be among the most creative people around! For a believer is not afraid of creation, of the unexpected, of life itself – because he knows that the world is in God's hands and everything is for the best even if we cannot understand it. I would go even further and state that a believer realizes that it is our duty, as men created in the image of God, to emulate him and be creative. In fact, if there is one reason for our being created I think that it is in order to continue God's work – and be creative human beings.
But if this is a believing attitude towards creation, how can we explain the RZ approach, and the orthodox view of creativity in general?
As far as I can tell it is a question of confusing belief in God with obedience to the Parent.
This means that children in RZ society, as in every other society, obey their parents as best they can in order to survive. For RZ children, belief in God and Jewish god-given law is "inherited" so to speak, not discovered or achieved. I
n other words - their belief in God stems from obedience to their parents who insisted upon this belief with all its attendant behaviors and opinions. But obedience is not the same as actually believing.

Children in such a society are forged into being Adaptive Children with strong Parents. The Adult is relatively weak because many areas of enquiry are not open to rational discussion. The Free child is curtailed because by its very essence he is the enemy of the Parent (think about the child who sees the naked emperor). So it is most likely that an RZ child will be an Adaptive Child and if he fails at that – a Rebellious Child. It will be very difficult for him to be creative and I would suspect that creative RZ people will come from homes that were comparatively less strict and more open-minded. These kind of homes tend to be more Leftist than the usual RZ and indeed, I have already heard one complaint that the movies being produced at Maale have a definite anti-religious and anti RZ slant.
What this means is that RZ education, at home and later in school, will tend to encourage a very conformist state of mind. This is why the sons of RZ serving in the Army have such trouble disobeying orders. Psychologically they have been trained to obey the Parent, the voice of authority, which in the case of the various expulsions and demolitions happens to be an Army officer. This is why the leaders of the RZ community seem to be at a loss with the new situation. They know how to deal with the familiar. The new confuses them and even paralyzes them. Imagine if the tens of thousands of RZ gathered in Kfar Maimon were let loose? And why did they not free themselves to act? The lack of creativity and freedom in RZ society has come back to bite it in a most cruel and ironic manner.

The Difference Between Anglo-Saxon Jews in Israel and RZ Israeli Jews

Not all orthodox education is the same. RZ children in Israel will likely have a stronger Adult than Haredi children since their range of legitimate, Parent-approved interests is much larger. A notable difference is also to be found in Anglo-Saxon Jews. They are much more apt to think freely and creatively and to treat all the aspects of life in a rational manner. In terms of Transactional Analysis – their Adult is stronger and so is the Free Child. The light air of fear and suffocation that seems to me to pervade much of RZ society does not seem to touch Anglo-Saxon Jews, at least in my experience.
I imagine that not growing up in a nanny state like Israel helps. Perhaps the innate tendency of American society to encourage and reward rationality and also the complete separation of state and religion helps too. Maybe turning religion into something completely personal frees the individual. Or rather, perhaps this separation creates the individual and enables him to forge his own way in this world? Maybe that is how a Nadia Matar is born? Many of Feiglin's supporters (not to mention his wife) are also Anglo-Saxon and they are prominent in the political activities of the Israeli Right, or even when they walk the streets of Jerusalem! (now that guy is a believer!).
In any case it is clear to me that growing up in an American society with its great and historic emphasis upon the individual, affects Anglo-Saxon orthodox Jews in a way that makes them obviously different from the average Israeli orthodox Jew who grows up "within the tribe", with a very strong emphasis on the group and its survival.
In my opinion, the most important thing that Anglo-Saxon Jews bring with them when they make aliyah is not their money, if they even have any, nor their professional education and work experience – it is their attitude of freedom, liberty, and civil rights, the outlook of citizens who expect their government to serve them and not the other way around, what may be called - cultural capital. RZ would do well to learn and emulate them, as indeed it seems they are.(Hebrew link. No English, but it's start…)

Why A Secular Jew Cares About RZ

Growing in a Secular-Zionist home and living in this part of society for most of my life, I have no illusions about our situation. There are many people in the ruling elites who seriously view orthodox Jews as the enemy and a far more dangerous one than Hamas or Iran. People like Yuli Tamir have no compunction about killing Orthodox Jews and in fact that is a major reason why weapons are still being supplied to the Palestinians.
Of course, this kind of internal struggle in Jewish society is nothing new. It has been going on for over two hundred years and Orthodox Jews have been, at times, just as violent and intolerant. But today we actually have a country and this struggle between "enlightened" Jews (as they used to be called) and orthodox Jews is threatening to bring the house down.

I have spent most of this post describing the imbalance of RZ society. But Israeli secular elites are just as imbalanced, just in different ways and areas. As a good secular Israeli child, the issues of faith, belief, God, and Judaism were all taboo. The secular Israeli can go to a mosque or church and can respect the beliefs of anybody – as long as they are not Jewish. Even years later it is still difficult for me to access those parts of my soul, as I once described on this blog.
Where RZ stress the group, secular society emphasizes the individual to the exact same degree of extremity. Family values, marriage, rearing children – they are viewed with concern if not actual horror by the members of the ruling secular elite, while anything the individual does for himself, especially in the realm of art, is considered good and proper no matter what havoc it wreaks upon other individuals or society itself. Self-expression is the master, society its slave.

The Role of Religious-Zionism in Israeli Society

RZ and secular society are almost mirror images of each other and that is why there is so much antagonism between the two. It is a love-hate relationship between two parts of society that are simply incomplete without the other. Secular Jewish society is not viable in Israel without Zionism. Religious-Zionism is not viable without the creativity, the fun and excitement generated by secular society. Each without the other is like a cripple hopping about with only one leg. Together can they stand on two feet and deal with life's challenges in an appropriate and timely manner.
They can also do so alone – if they grow the other leg. In other words if secular society can return to Zionism it will be able to deal with the external and internal threats facing it with relative ease, as it has done many times in the past. If RZ learns to be creative and original it will be able to overcome its problems and defeat its enemies.
Personally, I do not think that secular society can overcome the malady of the ruling elites. There are some healthy, Zionist parts in this elite but they are definitely the weaker and smaller part. Help is needed and that help can only come from the one remaining Zionist sector in Israel – the RZ.
RZ youth still have the energy and enthusiasm needed to carry on the work of their secular predecessors. Joe Settler describes this scene, from August, 2005, a scene which I too have seen at various times:

This evening I had the opportunity to observe the children of Gush Katif (who have just been brutally ripped from their homes) and the children of Israel’s secular elite (who promoted the ripping of these people from their homes).

The Children of Gush Katif gathered in Kikar Safra in Jerusalem and spent the night

* dancing,
* singing their hearts out, and
* simply supporting each other to keep their wonderful spirits high.

In contrast, the Children of the Secular Elite gathered near Ben-Yehuda and spent the night

* dancing,
* puking their guts out,
* supporting each other (as they were too drunk to stand on their own), and
* simply getting high.

It is no surprise to discover that nearly every member of Nezer Hazani served in an elite combat unit, while in contrast, secular hero Aviv Gefen (the draft dodger) and his friends literally dance on a flag of Israel.
If I were a secular Israeli, I too would be terrified of the tremendous uplifting, positive spirit of the Na'ar HaGivaot and want nothing more than to destroy their communities.

We are insurmountable.

Well, I am not terrified – I am glad. And as I have tried to point out and as recent history proves, RZ is definitely surmountable, unless it embraces change.

The Choices Facing RZ Society

RZ society is culturally enslaved to secular society in Israel. This results in one political defeat after another and it may even result in the eventual elimination of Religious-Zionism in Israel. What can be done? Here are some options and their likely results.

1 – Do nothing and continue the current state of affairs
Most likely result – an eventual retreat from most of Judea and Samaria and Jerusalem. RZ will be dragged (by their sons who serve in the Army) kicking and screaming from their homes to caravans all over the country. This will probably be more painful than the retreat from Gaza. RZ will not be able to recover for years if at all. Israel itself may not survive the war that will follow.

2 – Embrace Feiglin, join the Likud, liquidate the Religious-Zionist parties.
Most likely result – The Likud will get a majority of the votes next elections, but its base will be a lot more Hawkish enabling the prime minister (Feiglin?) to implement a Zionist agenda in internal and external affairs. In this scenario, the state will divest itself of all religious affairs, as Feiglin suggests, so that the one major obstacle to the involvement of Orthodox Jews in Israeli government will be removed. Such a move will be devastating to secular Jewry in Israel, in the best way possible - they will have to deal with their identity themselves instead of relying on Orthodox Jews to sustain it for them, while hating them for it.

3 – Fully integrate into Israeli society. This means giving up on all the separatist institutions – no more separate schools, synagogues, or settlements. This means embracing the revolutionary idea that all Jews were created equal by God.
Most likely result – a huge increase in contact between secular and RZ members of society will lead to a wave of both secular Tshuva and RZ desertion. Eventually everything will even out. Jewish identity in the general population will be stronger but orthodoxy will be weaker than before. This intermingling may bring about a new wave of very original, Jewish creativity in Israel, which is severely lacking today.

4 – Meekly surrender. Accept that the secular elites are too powerful to resist at the moment. Try to rescue whatever is possible, retreat and regroup.
Most likely result – depends on what philosophy the survivors of this move will adopt. This may lead to complete disintegration of RZ or to a future renewal which may be inspiring. Some groups will splinter off and continue to resist the secular elites and they will be hunted down and destroyed.
5 - Empower the people. The current secular elites treat the population as if they are children in need of a parent. Everything is the responsibility of the state, while the individual is not only blameless, but worse - helpless. Of course this puts the elites in a position to wield their power and keep it indefinitely.
An alternative elite will do the opposite - do its best to empower the citizens. A great example of this, which deserves an entirely separate post ,is Paamonim. Ten more initiatives like this, offered to all citizens, will work wonders for RZ and the country. Remember - in order to get power from the people - you must give it up and trust them and trust God.

6 - Something else. Religious Zionism starts to get serious about its future and develops a new strategy, or even better, several new, original strategies and tactics to deal with the threats it faces.
Most likely result – Hope, perhaps even victory, eventually.

Gmar Hatima Tova

Jerusalem Joe

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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Jewish Agency and Neo-Nazism in Israel

Probably you have already heard about the Israeli police busting a ring of Neo-Nazis. They were all immigrants from Russia with a very tenuous connection to their Jewish origins.
How did they arrive in Israel? I do not know them personally so I cannot say, but I did happen to witness the state of mind that has brought about this reality:

A few years ago I was working in the Jewish Agency helping to install new software. This entailed individual instruction sessions in which I got to know the Agency and its personnel very well. I was very impressed with the quality and sincerity of the people working there. But some things struck me as odd, if not actually stupid.
For instance, a major concern of the board of governors at the time was how to become cost-efficient. Management tried to think of ways to measure output. In some cases this is very difficult but in the case of the Aliyah Department there was an obvious formula : the more new olim the department brings to Israel, the more successful the department (and its head and staff...) would be considered. So the Aliyah department had a clear goal - bring more olim till the next meeting of the board of governors (when allocations are made). But by then there were not that many Jews left in Russia. The solution was simple:

find more Jews and if needed - manufacture them.
This is possible because according to Israeli law, if you have a Jewish grandparent you are considered Jewish for the purpose of immigrating to Israel, receiving many benefits and also citizenship in a modern, Western country. It's not a bad deal if you are sick of living in a backward, third world shit hole.
So the Jewish Agency's shlichim supposedly encouraged people to find out if they had any Jewish connection. They helped people with this and with the whole process. This way the number of olim remained high and even grew, as the department staff pointed out to me with unabashed pride one day.

But, as I said, I got around and soon enough I saw the other side of the equation. I was having a session with the head of a completely different department in the Jewish Agency who told me an enlightening story: the other day he saw on the street one of his
old tormentors from his hometown in Russia. This acquaintance was a violent antisemitic bully at school and he used to torture this Jew who now headed a department in the Jewish Agency. The bully smiled at his old victim and explained proudly how he discovered - with the help of the good people from the Jewish Agency- that he had a Jewish grandmother he never even heard about. They offered money and a new future in a modern country so he came...
This Department Head lamented the policy that enabled this to happen but said that he was powerless to stop it.

So when I heard about Neo-Nazis in Israel I cannot say I was surprised. The Jewish Agency has brought thousands of people to Israel who have no business being here and some of them were, and still are violently antisemitic.

I wonder if this will cause the Jewish Agency to change its aggressive aliyah policy, if it still is in place. Carl from Israel Matzav seems to think the Agency is hopeless. Go there for a good review of the situation. For some history you can read this post on the same subject - but two years old on Simply Appalling.

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Saturday, August 18, 2007

A Glimpse Into the Israeli Education System

A few incidents concerning writing and reading skills at various levels seem to illuminate a bigger problem in the education system and for once - it isn't money:

Several years ago, just as I was finishing my studies in the School of Education, a friend of mine, who was an assistant teacher, informed me that the faculty of the School had instituted a new, obligatory course for the freshman class called "ELEMENTARY SKILLS IN ACADEMIC READING & WRITING". Apparently, the students who were arriving at the university were so deficient in these skills that it was deemed necessary to invest in a new program to teach them what previous generations had known before ever arriving to study in the Hebrew University.

By coincidence I was teaching at the same time a similar class intended to prepare high school students for academic life. The skills involved were the same in both cases: how to summarize text, how to headline a block of text, how to recognize what is important in a text and what isn't, what is the difference between fact and speculation and opinion and how to differentiate between them and why this is important, how to write a foreword, a table of contents, a summary and so on. These high school students were seniors in their last year of school and they still did not possess most of these skills, not even at the level needed for high school.
The following year

I got a job at a teachers college and I was fortunate enough to be asked to grade students' seminary papers. These were important enough to be graded by a teacher not familiar with the student. The pay was excellent and I was very proficient in checking them quickly and writing down everything that was wrong or right about the paper. I am sad to say that I quickly noticed that most of the papers would not get a passing grade in any respectable university and some would not pass muster in a high school setting. I remarked upon this to the person responsible for these papers and she agreed that the level of the students' writing is terrible but, she added, " there is nothing we can do about it".
I did not dare suggest that actually teaching the students how to write a paper can and should be considered a worthy endeavor in a teacher's college and would actually constitute a fair return for their tuition. I did not do this first of all because I was happy to do this job. Second, I did not want to antagonize anybody before I quit, which I knew would be at the end of the year because of three - I had already realized how corrupt the system was.
One example will suffice: one day I was called into the principal's office for a talk. The issue was that my students had complained that I was giving them homework. I was asked to stop giving them homework. I was told clearly: "These are our students and they pay the rent. If they are unhappy they will leave and we will go out of business. It is your job to keep them happy."
I cannot not tell you what I said because I didn't say anything. I was shocked into complete silence. Afterwards I was depressed. I did not wish to continue teaching in such a corrupt atmosphere but I didn't want to leave in the middle of the year either. I stuck it out till the end and did not return the following year.
What is clear to me is that if the teachers-to-be do not know how to write a paper then they will not be able to teach the necessary skills to their pupils in elementary and high school. These students will then continue on to academia where the system will try to plug the holes in their education - as a friend told me recently:
ust last week I was back at the university for work with a client when I happened to meet an old friend, a fellow student, who had now become a mid-level administrator in the social sciences. While talking, it came out that they too had to institute a new course in academic reading and writing skills because the level of the students arriving had gotten so bad. He also said that this course was the one that students flunked the most – even more than the statistics course! He did admit that the lecturers, usually the youngest and most inexperienced ones, were too busy to teach properly, especially since the lesson combined their own subject matter with academic skills. Obviously they are more comfortable with their specialty than with teaching the academic skills which some of them, I am afraid, do not possess at a very high level.

I told him that I was both glad and sad to hear this.
I was sad because this reflects upon our culture which is raising an ignorant "educated" class, whose influence is growing and contributing to the dumbing down of public discourse in almost every field. These are people who finish college without the ability to think and articulate themselves clearly and what is worse – they have no idea that such a thing is possible because they had not been exposed to this standard. Very few lecturers retain this ability so the students do not have many good examples to learn from and also they are held to such low expectations that they really do not know any better. This situation is described clearly in the well known critique of the American educational system from the eighties, Allan Bloom's "The Closing of the American Mind". It seems to me that the same thing is happening in Israel.

On the other hand, I told my friend, I am glad to hear it because as editor many of these people come to me to help them so, in a way, I make a living off the failures of the system.
That isn't so nice perhaps, but I have a much cleaner conscience than the teachers who remained at the teachers college and continue to betray the trust of their students and the professional academics in the universities who are too busy climbing the steep, slippery slopes of academia to give their students the education they deserve.
Many times we hear that the problem of the education system is money. But none of this has to do with financial resources but rather with moral resources. All that is needed is the moral character to fulfill the teacher's mission: to educate. Do not lie, do not shirk from your duty even when it is unpleasant or when it conflicts with your own personal agenda. Set the proper standards and teach your students up to them – that is educating. Lowering or abolishing the standards to please the students and make it easy on yourself is a betrayal of the trust that exists between teachers and the students who pay to get an education and between the teachers and the tax-paying public who finance the system and expect the teachers to do their job, not pass the problems on to the next level.
It is as if the city garbage men would pick up the garbage from your street and throw it into the streets of another neighborhood. We would never allow it would we? So why should we allow it in the education system? I guess "Teachers" is alive and well in Israel.

My conclusion from this experience has been that morals, not money, is what we lack most in the education system.

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Sunday, August 05, 2007

I Dream of Jeannie - The Free Child

I really enjoyed using a Seinfeld episode to demonstrate a psychological theory so I started thinking about a lot more possibilities of combining fun video evidence with what may be, for some, stale theory. In this post I will be using a clip from "I Dream of Jeannie" as an excellent example of a term from Transactional Analysis I explained in the previous, aforementioned Seinfold post - the "Free Child".
"I Dream of Jeannie" is a TV series from the sixties which remains pretty popular to this day. It is about an astronaut who finds himself on a deserted island somewhere in the Pacific. There he finds a bottle with a genie which quickly becomes his very own "Jeannie". She returns with him to civilization and much laughter and hilarity ensue.

Jeannie - The Free Child
Jeannie is sweet, warm-hearted and loving. She is also very emotional, spontaneous and delightfully creative but also extremely difficult to predict and therefore also quite difficult to live with despite being charming and beautiful and all-powerful. Another problem is that despite her love for her master, Major Nelson, she keeps landing him in trouble. There is a good reason for this which will be explained below.
Jeannie obviously possesses all the qualities of a Free Child and that is indeed her dominant mood. One of the main characteristic of the Free Child, which puts him at odds with the rest of society and especially The Parent, is a complete disregard for the value of time. Since the Free Child is always completely immersed in the present, then the basic elements of time, the past and future, are of no consequence to him. Another way to put is this: for the Free Child, past present and future blend into one.
This conflict is demonstrated beautifully in the chapter "Every Day Is Sunday". In this episode Jeannie decides that Major Nelson has been working too much and needs a rest. He protests that he has to go to work and so she just makes everyday Sunday, announcing that it will remain Sunday until he enjoys himself. But Major Nelson is committed to working and, well, see for yourself.

I made two clips using an amazingly simple free software - Solvieg Multimedia AVI Trimmer - all you have to do is put in the start and end times and press a button and voila – you have a clip. I don't think it can get any simpler. Now, if I can find such an easy way to rip my DVDs I will be able to use a lot more material on this blog.
In any case, here are the clips from the second episode of the second season. You are invited to watch them and read the accompanying remarks. Enjoy!

The first clip is from the very beginning of the episode:

In the beginning of this clip we see Jeannie displaying much concern over her master. She sounds caring and also reasonable – it is true that everybody needs some time off to relax. Many episodes start like this, with Jeannie in a Parental or Adult mode. But soon enough the Free Child comes to the fore. Major Nelson says:
"Too bad every day can't be Sunday."
With an impish smile and a gleeful laugh, Jeannie turns this thought into action. Creativity and laughter are sure signs of the Free Child – and it is such a free, infectious laughter, isn't it?
Tony, on the other hand, is in full Adaptive Child mode: he must ignore his bodily and psychic needs and go to work. He has to be on time. He must hurry. "He must", "He has to", "There is no time for…" - these are all Parental dictates that cannot be reasoned with. The use of the words "must" and "have to" precludes any rational conversation.
Throughout the series Tony alternates between issuing these Parental decrees to himself and to his Jeannie and obeying them as an Adaptive Child. Throughout the series Jeannie does her best to bring the Free Child into his life. Tony's Parent resists valiantly but he never does get rid of Jeannie, does he? Perhaps he realizes deep inside that she is exactly what he needs.
Surely Jeannie realizes that what he needs is some fun and she is out to make sure he gets it:

Here we can see the dynamic explained above: Tony admonishes his Jeannie, telling her what to do without explaining why - the Parent talking to the Adaptive Child. But Jeannie is too much of a Free Child to slip into that role. She listens, and ignores him completely.
Tony says, in a most condescending tone (another sure sign that the Parent is speaking) : "There is a time for working and there is a time for tiger hunting."
But Jeannie is only interested in the experience, in having fun: "Did you bag a tiger?" she asks.
But Tony cannot enjoy himself. He knows he is supposed to be at the office. His Parent is killing him: "Things aren't supposed to be this way," it is telling him. "The regular order of things has been disturbed!" it shouts.Tony's Adaptive Child is cringing and he tries to correct things but to no avail - the Free Child is loose! Only when Tony lets his own Free Child loose, will the world return to normal (Well, nearly.The episode does not end on such a happy note. But I won't ruin it for you.)
By the way, how did Tony get back from safari? Throughout the series Jeannie sends him and Roger all over the earth and yet they always manage to get back within minutes. How do they do it? Am I the only one that is bothered by this inconsistency?

Here is one last clip for your enjoyment. Tony tries to explain to Jeannie why she must turn off Sunday and let everybody work.Actually he does an admirable job. But Jeannie does an even better job explaining why her way is better. I find it hard to argue with her! This demonstrates the difference between the Adult, which is extremely utilitarian, and the Free Child which is immersed in the moment.

Finally, one last point. Tony is right - if everybody stopped working, society as we know it would collapse. This may or may not be a good thing. But the point is - the Free child does not think that far. He is so immersed in what is going on now, in himself, in his immediate interests that all other considerations are mostly beyond him. This is why, with all her good intentions and all her love for her master, Jeannie always screws up.
In order to function properly and be effective in the real world, the Free Child must be accompanied and guided by a strong Adult. Jeannie does not possess such an Adult. But - her master, the successful and intelligent astronaut does.

This suggests that their "Tikkun", the reason God (or fate if you wish) brought them together, is to correct their mutual deficiency: Tony will learn from Jeannie to be a Free Child, and Jeannie will learn the Adult from Tony. In time, each will become a whole healthy human being.
Will they manage to do this? I think it would be very difficult for them to solve their problems using the Transactional Analysis theory by itself. It is useful in describing what is going on and communicating with other people about it but the theory lacks an accompanying, effective practice. This has been supplied by the Imago Theory which has been described on this blog several times (see the all Imago posts here).

In any case, I haven't seen the rest of the series yet so I don't know how the relationship develops. But you can buy the whole series here and find out for yourself!

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Sunday, July 15, 2007

Understanding Seinfeld's "The Opposite" with Transactional Analysis

In this post I wish to demonstrate the basic terms of Transactional Analysis (T.A.) with the help of one of the best Seinfeld episodes ever.

Why This Is Worth Reading
I have been wanting to write this for a long time, but delayed until I could find a way to explain this theory in a short format. Finally I realized that this is impossible, and I am proceeding with it because the theory is well worth understanding.
There are simply so many things that can be understood and discussed with it. For instance, the following questions can and will be discussed in future posts with the tools of Transactional Analysis:
Creativity - what is it? Why are some people creative and others not. Why do religious people have so much trouble being creative and where would America be without the infinite creativity of Black people?
Religion - what is religious experience? What is the difference between religious people and believers? Why do secular Jews hate orthodox Jews so much?
Criminality - what do criminals and policeman have in common? Why will crime never stop in these conditions?
Capitalism - what is the psychological meaning of capitalism, what does it try to do to us?
Society - why is it so messed up and what can we do about it? Specifically, what is wrong with Israeli society? Is Western society really going down the drown? What is going on?

These are but a few of the fascinating questions that we can deal with intelligently after we learn about this theory.
But to get there we must do some studying first. I used a Seinfeld episode to demonstrate hoping that it will make it easier. Be sure to watch the video, it's priceless.

Seinfeld – The Characters
Seinfeld was a very popular sitcom about Jerry Seinfeld, a comedian, and three of his friends – Elaine, Kramer and George, the hero of this episode.
Jerry Seinfeld is a successful comedian who lives alone. He is clean and neat and seems quite successful. Of the four friends he is the only one that seems to have a job and a steady financial income. He is the steady center, observing and participating in the ups and downs of his friends, while he himself keeps an even keel most of the time.
Elaine – Jerry's charming one time girl friend. She is very emotional and expressive. She lights up the room, has an infectious laugh, and without her the series would be very bland.
Kramer – Jerry's crazy neighbor. Has no job or any discernible income, he jumps from one fantastic endeavor to the next, never completing anything but never getting bored or discouraged either. Completely oblivious of his surroundings and the effects of his actions on other people. He can be at times generous and caring but more often is extremely self-absorbed and unintentionally hurtful.
George – A balding, near-sighted short man . George is extremely insecure, and somehow always manages to do the wrong thing and land himself in absurd situations and worse – out of jobs. George is a complete failure, and his parents never let him forget it. Currently, he has no job, no girl, and absolutely no prospects. In this episode he goes to the sea and comes back with a revelation:

The Opposite
One of the most popular and well-known episodes. If you haven't seen it you can see clips on YouTube, for instance this five-minute clip is a fine one.

And there also is a synapses of the episode here.
After reaching rock bottom, George comes to the conclusion that everything he has ever done in his life has been wrong,

"Every instinct I have, in every aspect of life has been wrong, be it something to wear, something to eat – it's all been wrong."
To which Jerry eventually replies:
"If every instinct you have is wrong, then the opposite would have to be right."
And George agrees:
"Yes, I will do the opposite. I used to sit here and do nothing and I would regret it for the rest of the day…"

In the rest of the episode George proceeds to do the exact opposite of what he has always done, netting a girl, a dream job and most importantly, a ton of confidence. Suddenly, George can do no wrong.
This is an amazing turn of events and I believe it is an excellent illustration of some deeper psychological truths. George was on to something and we can all learn from his experience, even if it was fictional – after all, art is but an imitation of life.
But in order to correctly understand ourselves we need a model, a theory to piece together reality in a meaningful way. Transactional analysis is one such theory which will serve us here very well.

Transactional Analysis
Transactional analysis was invented by Eric Berne, a psychologist who became disillusioned with Freudian practice and who thought he could formulate a more accurate and more easily understood psychology (needless to say, he was ostracized by the psychological community). The most popular presentation of his theory was written by his colleague Thomas Harris in the bestselling "I'm O.K you're O.K." and I will mostly be referring to the more simplified theory as presented in that book.

I'm OK You're OK
This book is an attempt to understand our interactions with others and with ourselves. It points out, explains and defines basic psychological phenomenon. Thus it provides a vocabulary that helps us name things, and once we have the words we can communicate with ourselves and others and attempt to understand and eventually change the interactions.
It is simple enough to be understood by most people but still complex enough to be accurate. I read this book many years ago and I have reached the point where the understanding of interactions with other people comes to me almost automatically. I can also understand my own inner dialog and recognize when I am being "possessed" by my Parent, Free Child or other players in our daily drama, although, to be honest, understanding what's happening does not necessarily mean that I can change it at will.
Anyway, it turns out that we are not alone, and we share our inner lives with many other players.
So now, let me introduce the actors, those who try to pull your strings and direct your actions to suit their own needs, even when quite contrary to yours.
T.A. recognizes three basic states of mind: The Parent, The Child and The Adult. All of these are formed by the age of five and are for the most part unconscious.

The Parent : contains all the information we received, and did not receive from the people we were dependent upon as babies and small children. The Parent is the voice of authority, the giver of rules and laws, customs and regulations. The Parent has an ideal picture of an ideal world and we must live up to that ideal, or else we will not survive.
Every state has specific vocabulary and emotional content to go with it.

Common Phrases:
You must (or mustn't), Don't (or Do) do it!, You should (not), always, never, everybody (does it), and most famously "Thou shalt not…"

Emotional Tone: The Parent is always judgmental. The judgment can be positive or negative but the evaluation is always there. The Parent cannot be reasoned with and it does not refer to reality. The Parent Knows and that's it. You either do as it says or suffer it's disapproval, which for the baby is equivalent with being disconnected from the life-giving Parent, in other words – equivalent to death.

Consequences: As adults we follow the Parental injunction feeling that we must, but usually not recognizing the force behind it. More importantly, we do not understand why it is so very difficult to disobey the command and do the opposite.

: Your parents. Teachers, policemen and Army officers also have very dominant Parents.

Basic Stance
: I'm OK - You're not OK.

The Adult – this is the rational, unemotional player. The Adult receives information, analyzes it dispassionately and files it away or acts upon it. The Adult deals with reality as it is, without any preconceptions and prejudice. The Adult is a data processing computer gathering information from within and without and checking its utility.

Common Phrases
: statements of fact. This is true, this is not. This accords with the facts as known to me, this does not. The facts of the case are these…

Emotional Tone
– none, of course.

: A strong Adult means that our activities will be effective since they are closely related to reality. A strong Adult is constantly learning from experience and adjusting accordingly. A weak Adult means a weak connection to reality, and action dominated by the Parent's decrees, or by emotions of The Child.

: Famous fictional detectives Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot. The Terminator and most other sci-fi robots.

Basic Stance:
I'm OK - You're OK

The Child

The Child feels and senses. The Child is made up of the emotional content of our experiences from birth and onward. The child is spontaneous. The Child is curiosity, and love and excitement and creativity and empathy as well as rage and anger and frustration and anguish and sorrow and despair. But most of all, the Child is "Not OK." In other words the basic emotional state of any child growing up in an environment that is trying to mold him, is that of inadequacy, of being unsuitable, wrong and, simply put, "Not OK".

Common Phrases
: I want, I need, I feel now and most emotional expressions.

Emotional Tone
: "all out", in other words whatever the emotion expressed, The Child is completely engrossed in it, to the exclusion of all else.

: The Child is a result of adaptive behavior to the original Parent, so consequences vary accordingly: The Child may be Adaptive, Rebellious, or Free.

(note: these distinctions are not from the book but they are extremely useful nonetheless)

The Adaptive Child – adjusts his behavior to the demands of The Parent, seeking approval of the Parent at all times.

: Policemen and Army officers have a very strong Adaptive Child which is one reason they enlisted in the first place - to receive orders they can follow and be sure that they are OK. People who work in bureaucracies and of course every child is an example of this too.

Basic Stance:
I'm not OK - You're OK.

The Rebellious Child – adjusts his behavior to be in constant opposition to that of the Parent. This type of Child is defined by his anger towards the Parent and anything resembling a Parent such as normative institutions. Action and words are always angry, and most importantly, the rebellion is always short-lived and futile and ultimately uncreative since this Child is always referring to the Parent and rarely to himself where true freedom lies.

: Everything Sixties: the Black Panthers, Anti- War demonstrations, doing drugs and free sex and not studying, and also most teenagers regardless of the decade they live in.

Basic Stance:
I'm OK - You're Not OK

The Free Child
– this child is free from the Parent, and he is free to be curious and happy, to behave spontaneously, to be creative, to feel what he feels and to express it as and however necessary.

: Artists. Writers, musicians, painters, dancers. Michael Jackson moonwalking, Jimmy Hendrix playing the guitar, Miles Davis improvising, black kids break dancing on the sidewalk, Dr. J dunking from behind the backboard as well as Bach, and Beethoven and Kandinsky and, well - the list is endless.

Basic Stance:
I'm OK - You're OK.

Summary of the actors in our personal drama:
We each possess a Parent, an Adult, and A Child who may exist in three different states. We differ from each other in the contents of each part, and in the interactions between them and it these interactions which determine our personality.

Interactions Between Different Parts

: Ideally the three parts are kept separate, but that is quite rare. Usually the parts infect each other. Here a few examples:

Adult contaminated by Parent
This means that wherever the Parent dominates, the Adult is unable to receive data from the world and update itself accordingly. For instance a strong parental decree that "Jews are killers" will preclude any information from the world to the contrary. On this specific subject the person is not rational. Politics are rife with this sort of contamination, which is why reasoned political discussion is so rare and why elections are about images which are irrational and not facts and theories which are in the realm of the Adult.

Adult contaminated by Child
This occurs when feelings intrude upon the scene and interfere with the proper functioning of the Adult. Childhood fears can have such an effect. For instance some people are afraid of bugs and can be absolutely terrorized by a beetle that is harmless and can be killed easily besides.

In both kinds of contamination the variations are endless. People who are perfectly rational can become idiots when it concerns certain subjects such as: black people or Jews or Arabs, men or women, math or reading comprehension, engines or cooking, or doing the laundry. Suddenly the Adult is suspended. But that is not the worst case scenario. Sometimes whole parts may actually be excluded from every day life.

(The Child may also be contaminated and so can the Parent creating dozens of possible permutations, too many to discuss here.)

Exclusion: These are extreme cases in which one of the three parts of the personality is completely excluded from life.

Exclusion of the Free Child: in this case the Adaptive Child is completely dominant. Such a person has learned that the consequences of being spontaneous, happy and childish, of not conforming to the Parent, are so terrifying that he has learned to do without. These are the sad, humorless people who work for hours on end, and never take vacations and never laugh or surprise themselves.
Example: Michael Douglas in the movie "The Game". The movie is also a good example of what it really takes to dig yourself out of such a psychological disaster.

Exclusion of the Parent
: If the Parent had been too harsh and too hard to take, it may be rejected and divorced from the rest of the personality, creating a person who has no Parent and therefore also no conscience – a profile of a very self-centered person who may also be a dangerous criminal.

Exclusion of the Adult
: in some cases the Adult has been impaired to such an extent that it does not exist. This means that the only reality is the internal reality of the Child and it's Parent, creating quite the madman.

The Ideal Personality
Ideally the Adult will examine all the data in the Parent and determine what is true and useful and discard the rest, and then proceed to do the same with the contents of the Child. This will leave us with a very strong Adult accompanied by a Free Child. In this state one can experience reality directly, without the annoying interference of the Parent("This flower is called a daisy. Daisies are nice flowers" etc...) , and also react spontaneously as well as appropriately due to the strong Adult. This state is also known as as being Buddha…

Seinfeld and T.A.
Now we can get down to business. First we will tag the characters and then go on to the episode itself. It is important to remember that there are really almost endless combinations of the various states, and that a person can go through many states sometimes even switching from one to another within minutes. This is clearly seen when a Parent switches to an Adaptive Child and vice-versa. Thus, an officer behaves towards his superior as an Adaptive Child but to his inferiors he acts like a Parent. That said, most people can be characterized by their dominant state, the one that is most typical of them.

Jerry Seinfeld himself is I think a good example of a person with a very strong Adult. He displays very little emotion – even when performing his comic routine. He thinks things through and his actions are usually appropriate to the situation. Of all the characters his life is the steadiest. His basic stance is certainly non-judgmental, one that is I'm OK-You're OK as befits the Adult.

Kramer is a true original. Everything he does is original, including his famous entrances. This is typical of a Free Child. Kramer clearly has absolutely no regard for conventions and laws and he is also completely absorbed in satisfying his own whims. regardless of the price other people pay. I would say that Kramer has a very strong Free Child coupled with a very weak Parent.

Elaine is charming. She smiles and talks a lot and does the things that women are supposed to do when in company. She is emotive but definitely not original. She does a lot of criticizing and scolding and judging in the series, especially with George And Jerry. Elaine has a strong Parent coupled with an Adaptive Child.

George Costanza is clearly doing his best to conform to his Parent. He is inherently Not OK, always out of his element, always criticizing himself. Fortunately for him he is a miserable Adaptive Child and this, eventually, prompts him to change things. I say "fortunately" because any adaptation sacrifices parts of the personality so even a relatively "successful" one is no cause for joy.

What is The Opposite of the Parent?
So, what happened to George? What does it mean for him to do "the opposite?"
For an Adaptive Child doing the opposite can mean one of two things – becoming a Rebellious Child or a Free Child. In this case it is clear to me that George is not rebellious – he completely lacks the anger typical to the rebel - as shown in the video above. In fact George seems to be completely at ease with himself. He is calm and confident and brave and he is successful – all sure signs that he is doing what he is meant to do, meaning that he is acting from within himself – from the Free Child.
When confronted with an opportunity to hit up on a woman, George's first reaction, what he terms his "instinct", is to shy away - this is the Adaptive Child conditioned to be afraid and Not OK. But when challenged by Jerry to do the opposite he declares:
"Yes, I will do the opposite. I used to sit here and do nothing and I would regret it for the rest of the day..."
Living out of time is typical of the Adaptive Child. In fact only the Free Child actually lives in the here and now because to do so one must act spontaneously, one must be present in mind and body. The Adaptive Child is so busy trying to comply with the Parent and wondering if what he is doing is OK, that he barely stops to notice what is going on in the world. The Adaptive Child lives out of step, never acting until it is too late, and living out a life of missed opportunities, regrets and wishful thinking. George does manage to free himself from his horrible Parent (and they really must be seen to be believed - a pair of Toxic Parents if I ever saw one).

Unfortunately, in real life it is very difficult to reach such a point – divorcing the Parent - without considerable effort. Epiphanies may occur but in real life they are not generally sustainable without, again, a lot of conscious effort.
In the final analysis only a thorough examination of the contents of the Child and the Parent can make you free, and this usually occurs only when all other options have been pursued and failed.

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Sunday, June 24, 2007

Psychology for the Jewish Wedding Season

The wedding season is upon us and with it a renewed interest in this most fascinating ceremony of Jewish life - marriage.
During the last wedding I attended, the mother of the groom mentioned the well known phrase from Genesis, chapter 2, verse 24: "Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife, and they shall be one flesh."
This is a most beautiful verse. I've heard it before and it always struck me as profound in some way, but this time it really got me thinking – what does it mean to leave the parents? Has this been addressed in the past? Is the intent merely physical or also spiritual, and if so, in what manner?
If you are interested in food for thought while you're standing around waiting for the ceremony to begin (average delay: 1 hour, Israeli time), as well an idea or two for a wedding present, here's my two bits:

The Halacha Interpretation
Well, I am definitely no Halacha expert, but I do have a copy of the popular Da'at Mikra and from it I learn that Rashi took this verse to mean a physical separation so as to prevent incest. The writers of Da'at Mikra also says that the meaning is physical, intended to reduce the fighting that may occur for instance, between the bride and her mother in law. In any case, they say, this is not actually a mitzvah but rather just the natural order of things. An internet search for this phrase in Hebrew or English yields an astoundingly small number of results, none of which were actually relevant to my question. I would be glad to hear of any other Halacha-acceptable interpretations from my readers but until then, I will try to give my own interpretation which will be, as usual, from the inside:

The Parent As a Psychological Function
It is possible to interpret this verse from a psychological viewpoint if we understand the parent as representing not only a physical presence but also a psychological function. This function has been described by Transaction Analysis:

The Parent:

This is our ingrained voice of authority, absorbed conditioning, learning and attitudes from when we were young. We were conditioned by our real parents, teachers, older people, next door neighbors, aunts and uncles, Father Christmas and Jack Frost. Our Parent is made up of a huge number of hidden and overt recorded playbacks. Typically embodied by phrases and attitudes starting with 'how to', 'under no circumstances', 'always' and 'never forget', 'don't lie, cheat, steal', etc, etc. Our parent is formed by external events and influences upon us as we grow through early childhood. We can change it, but this is easier said than done."
In short the Parent, with a capital "P" is our code of behavior, some of it conscious most of it not. It is behind many of our quick involuntary social reactions, our likes and dislikes and our prejudices. It is everything we received, for better and for worse from the authority figures in our lives, and also-everything we did not receive- meaning any gaps in our information about the world. Such gaps may vary from sexual misinformation to spiritual neglect.
Transactional analysis was invented by Eric Berne, a psychologist who became disillusioned with Freudian practice and thought he could a formulate a more accurate and more easily understood psychology (needless to say, he was ostracized by the psychological community). The most popular presentation of his theory was written by his colleague Thomas Harris in the bestselling "I'm O.K you're O.K."

In any case – we now have our psychological Parent, and we can now rephrase the original verse thus: Therefore shall a man leave his Parent, and shall cleave unto his wife, and they shall be one flesh."
If this is true, why is it so important to leave the Parent before marriage? What happens if you don't? Is this the man's duty alone? Should the man leave his Parent and the women retain hers?
The answer to these questions lie, I believe in the second part of the verse, which defines the goal of the marriage: "to be one flesh"

"To Be One Flesh"
This can be taken to mean a simple physical union, creating a newborn child which unites the married couple in "one flesh" as Rashi comments. Da'at Mikra says that they shall treat one another as if they were one flesh, meaning they will complete each other – spiritually - until they feel they are as one.
But if the bible is talking about a psychological union between two people then we must ask how can this be possible? In other words, how can two people retain their unique individuality, and yet, at the same time be as one? I see two possibilities.

The Symbiotic Union
In this marriage the couple unite unconsciously. Most of what they think and feel about each other and themselves remains unknown to them. They react to each intuitively, for better or for worse. They are driven by inner forces, including the Parent, to love or hate each other, to remain committed, or to divorce, to talk about the difficulties, or ignore them, or blame each other in an endless, hopeless cycle of unconscious irresponsibility.
Most marriages assume this state of affairs rather quickly. Sometimes the couple are satisfied with it and remain married for years, but increasingly often, this does not suffice. Marriage holds a great promise of "becoming one flesh" and many more people than ever before are unwilling to settle for less, which is why divorce rates are skyrocketing.
But there is another possibility waiting for every new couple to realize.

The Conscious Marriage
In this marriage the couple make a conscious effort to understand themselves. All the unconscious parts of the psyche are brought to light in a long and painful but exciting and hopeful process.
A major component of this process is checking each and every component of the Parent: every judgmental remark or attitude, whether positive or not must be brought into the light and it's contents examined. For example, the husband may be bothered by the incessant chattering of his wife (which he found delightful before they got married) while his wife may be depressed by her husbands long silences (which she found intriguing and full of promise before they got married). Such feelings and thoughts are brought into the open and examined.
Only when the Parent has been banished from the psyche, can a true spiritual union between two independent individuals become a feasible possibility.
When this happens it will become clear that the partners do indeed compliment each other beautifully. Traits that the man has been missing are possessed by his wife and vice-versa. The husband will understand why he does not talk, and his wife will know why it scares her so much, and they both will learn the opposite – the man will start talking, and love it, and the wife will cherish her new-found ability to enjoy silence, her own and others.
In this manner both become complete, whole individuals. The relationship becomes one of independence not dependence. If a man can cook for himself, iron his shirts, and clean the house he is not dependent on his wife to do so. He can love her for what she is, not for the services he needs to receive from her. When a woman is financially independent, she will be freer to be honest about her feelings towards her husband and decide if she loves him for what he is, or she is sticking around because she was taught that women aren't supposed to work

Conclusion: Married Couples Must Choose Between God or Their Parents
In researching this article I came across what seems to be a well-known commentary:

Rabbi Joshua ben Korha said that man at first was called Adam to indicate his natural constitution--flesh and blood (dam). But when woman was created, the two were referred to as fiery (esh)--living, dynamic beings. God insinuated Himself into the marriage, then added two letters of his own name, Y and H, to the names of man and woman. He inserted the Y into man's name, turning esh (fire) into i-Y-sh (ish, man); and H into woman's name, making i-sha-H (ishah, woman). The Chronicles of Yerahmeel (6:16) comment on this: "If they walk in My ways and observe My commandments, behold My name will abide with them and deliver them from all trouble. But if not, I will take the letters of My name from them, so that they will revert to esh and esh, fire consuming fire." Hence with God as a partner, marriage is a blessing, ish and ishah.

The whole article is about Jewish marriage and very interesting. You can read it here.
What this means is what I have been trying to say all along: every couple has a choice between living with God, or enduring the presence of their Parent. As experience tells us, when the Parent is present in the marriage, there is no place for God. The fires of the unconscious will consume the marriage and devour the initial spark of love.
So, to all the couples getting married this season: I hope that you indeed manage to leave your Parent and I wish you a happily conscious marriage.

Here are some books to get you started on the right foot:

Further Reading For Married Couples
I'm OK--You're OK– an excellent, most useful simplification of the psychology behind our everyday interactions and thoughts.
Toxic In-Laws: Loving Strategies for Protecting Your Marriage – another gem from the author of the incredibly insightful Toxic Parents: Overcoming Their Hurtful Legacy and Reclaiming Your Life
Getting the Love You Want: A Guide for Couples – The ultimate guidance book for couples who want to save their marriage from the Parent. A step-by-step indispensable self-help book for couples. Useful even before the marriage.
A previous article on God as Self, for those of you who, like Freud, confuse God with the Parent.

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