A Tale of Two Photographs

By Gina Jacobson

It was election day in Israel and that meant that we got the day off. No school and no work, so once my husband and I had voted, we gathered the kids, hopped on a train and went into Tel Aviv to visit the Eretz Israel Museum.

 

We wandered around looking at the various exhibits and then we came across the David Rubinger, I Captured the Truth, 1947-1997 exhibit. Being a photography nerd, my husband was fascinated and spent a bit more time in the exhibit than the kids or me. So, we headed outside and sat on a bench to wait for him.

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David Rubinger (1924-2017)

The photographer, David Rubinger, who won the 1997 Israel Prize in Communication and died in 2017 was one of a small selected group of photographers whose works are etched on local and international memory. His career began at the end of the enlisted “Zionist photography” period, that dominated the local photography scene until the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. His iconic picture of the three soldiers at the Western Wall is an image that is seared in the collective consciousness of Jews around the world. It is a symbol of hope and our shared connections. His photographs have recorded some of the most important and poignant moments in Israeli history.

Rubinger took his photos with analogue reflex cameras, in other words, he never saw the image at the moment it was photographed, and this exhibition was a journey into his memories.

Once the husband was done, he headed out of the exhibit and seeing us sitting together, stopped to take a photo of us.

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David Rubinger’s iconic photograph of paratroopers at the Western Wall during the liberation of Jerusalem in the Six-Day War, June 1967.

As he took the photo, the usher for the exhibit came rushing out, ‘No, no, no, you cannot take a picture there!’ She exclaimed (in Hebrew). My husband, who has been shouted at before for taking photos where he was not allowed to, started looking for a no picture sign. ‘No’, she said again. ‘You cannot take a picture here, that wall, that wall is old and ugly!’

She then pointed across the courtyard, ‘That is where you must take a picture!’ She was pointing at a shady spot with a colourful flower bed.

‘Here. Here is a pretty wall covered in Jerusalem stone, and look at these beautiful flowers. This is where you must take a photo!’

And so, slightly bemused, we proceeded to let her direct us to sit in front of the pretty wall and pretty flowers.

‘No!’ She cried again. ‘Abba (dad), must be in the photo too!’ while taking my husband’s camera out his hands and directing him to sit with us.

She even laid her uniform jacket on the bricks for the children to sit on while shuffling us around to best show off the pretty blooms.

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After a few misfires with the camera, and my 11-year-old popping up to show her what to press, she snapped a beautiful family photo of us, and the pretty Jerusalem stone wall and the pretty flowers.

We thanked her and she told us that she had planted those flowers herself and was very proud of them. We also had a conversation about where we came from, ‘Oh, you are not tourists, why did you make aliyah? How long have you been here? How are you settling in?’

She told us that she is also an immigrant, from Uzbekistan, and that she came to Israel many years ago. She then took our map and showed us the best exhibits for the children to enjoy and wished us well before going back to the photography exhibit.

It may not have been an iconic picture that captured Israeli history, but it was a picture that recorded Israel’s present.  This is a country whose diverse population is reflective of those who have been here since the birth of the state and those who for a variety of reasons have chosen to come home. Capturing the simple delights of a family outing after a democratic election, speaks about the optimism that encapsulates Israel. It also creates a lasting memory of all the country has endured and its unpredictable but hopefully bright future.

We had a wonderful day, voting, exploring the history of our country and generally relaxing, but the best part of the day for me, was a photo, with my family, in front of some gorgeous flowers!

 

 

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Gina Jacobson is a mom, a wife, a dreamer. She hates mornings and loves coffee and when she’s not reading, she’s writing.

It’s Risky Being Alive Today…

in the USA!

By David E. Kaplan

It was a weekend to weep – two mass shootings within 24 hours, leaving 31 people dead. First an attack on a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas on the Saturday that left 22 dead, then nine died in a shooting in Dayton, Ohio on the Sunday.  

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Death At A Store. Virgil for the victims of the El Paso shooting at a Walmart store on August 3, 2019 that killed 22 people and injured 24 others.

As one movie buff in Dayton poignantly lamented, “Sunday, Bloody Sunday”.

Clearly, that county’s position on “the right to bear arms”, trumps – pun intended –  the right of people to live.

While many folk in Israel carry firearms – mostly young adults in military uniform – mass shootings are an aberration not the ‘norm’ as it is today in the USA.

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Sign Of The Times. Someone holds up a sign during the vigil in Dayton,Ohio. John Minchillo/AP

What is it about American gun culture?

Yes, we know:

  • that gun ownership in the United States is constitutionally protected by the US Bill of Rights.
  • that firearms are widely used for self-defense, hunting, and recreational uses, such as target shooting.
  • that American attitudes on gun ownership date back to the American Revolutionary War and the militia/frontier ethos.

 Though guns have not been an essential part of daily survival in the USA for well over a century, generations of Americans continue to embrace and glorify it as a living inheritance. While the statutory law of any country is complex, ask any American what is the “Second Amendment” and he or she will rattle off  this 1791 snippit of legalese – “the individual right to keep and bear arms.”

From frontiersmen like Davy Crockett through to characters of the “Wild West” like  Jesse James, Wyatt Earp, and Annie Oakley to villains and heroes of the 20th century glorified in movies from the Godfather to tough cops types like “make my day” Dirty Harry or Robocop is it any wonder that guns are so culturally ingrained in the American psyche.

To those outside America watching these mass murders on the news networks, it’s like a familiar script. The sad unfolding human tragedy has become so predictable from the instant of the murderous act to rolling out the security experts and psychiatrists, to the politicians who either advocate tougher gun control to those in the pocket of the all-powerful gun rights advocacy group, the National Rifle Association (NRA).

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Mass Memorial. Mourners gather during a prayer vigil following a shooting at Santa Fe High School in Santa Fe, Texas, on Friday, May 18, 2018. How and why was 17-year-old Dimitrios Pagourtzis – charged with capital murder in the shooting rampage – doing with a firearm? (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

How often have we heard – particularly when many children have perished at a massacre at a school – “maybe this time it is different.” It never is!

In 2018, the NRA membership reached 5.5 million, while its membership dues reached $170,391,374 – an increase of 33% from the previous year!

Aspirant US presidents frequently tout American “exceptionalism”.

Well, here are some examples of “exceptionalism” not to be proud of:

  • With over 350 million privately owned firearms, the United States substantially exceeds all other countries in both per capita ownership of guns and absolute number of guns
  • It is estimated that there are more guns than people in the country.
  • Approximately 30% of all privately-owned firearms in the world are in the hands of US residents.
  • The US rate of suicide by firearm is 8 times higher and the rate of homicide by firearm is 25 times higher than the rates in other economically developed countries
  • Mass shootings, although a major news item, generally accounts for 1% or less of all firearm violence, and suicides routinely take twice as many lives as homicides.
  • More US citizens have been killed by gunssince 1970 than all US servicemen and women killed in all foreign wars combined. We’re talking tens of thousands every year.
  • The number of mass shootings across the U.S.so far in 2019 has outpaced the number of days this year, according to a gun violence research group. The Gun Violence Archive defines a mass shooting as any incident in which at least four people were shot, excluding the shooter.
  • The public health impact of firearms in the United States is staggering.

What was once labeled an epidemic is now better described as hyperendemic.

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End Gun Violence. A demonstration on March 24,2018 in LA organized by March For Our Lives, a movement dedicated to student-led activism around ending gun violence and the epidemic of mass shootings in schools today.

It’s Mental Illness, stupid!

Who’s being stupid? An increasingly common message from gun supporting politicians, is that people with mental illness are prone to violence in general and are responsible for mass shootings. This is demeaning, offensive and false.

According to studies (Duwe 2004Fox & DeLateur 2014Stone 2015Taylor 2016Vossekuil et al. 2002), mental illness is minor factor in the majority of cases of mass murders and shootings.

Studies tend to indicate not only is there zero to negligible correlation between mental illness and shootings, but that there are far superior predictors for gun violence.

Weighing in on the debate, researchers from the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) concluded that having a mental health diagnosis – whether it’s a mood disorder, PTSD, borderline personality disorder, or schizophrenia – doesn’t make you more likely to threaten somebody with a gun.

What does? Simply knowing you have access to a weapon.

Findings revealed that by far the most significant clue to a propensity for gun violence is simply knowing where you can lay your hands on a firearm. Those who answered in the affirmative to the question  “do you have access to a gun if you needed or wanted one?” were 18 times more likely to have used one to threaten violence.

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Capital Idea. Go tell It to the legislators on Capitol Hill.

The false linking of mental illnesses to gun violence is shown to have two effects. First, they promote stigma by conflating mental illness and violence — a bias that affects patients, providers, the public, and policy makers and secondly, diverts attention away from effectively dealing with the real problem – proper gun control, starting with background checks.

Don’t blame those with disabilities; the only ‘disabled’ here are the politicians!

 

 

Ukuleles for Peace

If music be the road to peace, play on!

By Rolene Marks

In the town of Tir’a in central Israel, a group of teenagers have gathered for a rehearsal. Over the cacophony of greetings in both Hebrew and Arabic, the strumming of a tiny instrument can be heard.

The humble ukulele has been “instrumental” in bringing together teens from Arab and Jewish backgrounds and the result is not just the creation of beautiful music, but the building of bridges that ultimately will lay the foundations of peace in this part of the world often mired in conflict – and mistrust.

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Paul Moore with his ukulele: “This instrument saved my life.” (Photo credit: Avishag Shaar Yishuv)

The brainchild of musician, Paul Moore, who was fed up with the situation after the Second Intifada, Ukulele’s for peace aims to bring together children from different backgrounds who can find common ground by doing something creative and unifying – playing music together.

“I thought that if peace was possible between Israel and Egypt and Jordan then perhaps the same could happen with its Palestinian neighbours. Israel has a dynamism that is extraordinary and I felt that I had to either leave or do something. The hatred had to stop”, says Moore.

Moore is a vibrant personality. Dressed in beach chic short, his sartorial nod to his passion for the ukulele is the lei tucked around the brim of his hat. A seasoned performer, Moore is dedicated to helping build positive bridges between people and what better instrument than the ukulele. Small and easy to use (it only has 4 strings) ukuleles are very versatile and as a result, there is a burgeoning global ukulele movement.

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Strike A Chord. Arab and Jewish kids find common ground through music.

Paul Moore’s love of the ukulele coupled with his experience and passion for performance sparked an idea. What if he brought children from opposite sides of the conflict and creates a space where they could get to know each other – and play a little music.

The result was the birth of Ukuleles for Peace in 2004. Moore’s dream was that the children would really integrate into each other’s lives and become friends, not just live parallel lives.

How did it all start?

Moore approached the mayor of Tir’a and in literally a day, found a cooperative partner in the Democratic School. And so Ukuleles for Peace was born. Parents became involved because after all, it was them who were doing the major schlepping with carpools and lifts. Initially, some of the parents were resistant to coming to Tir’a but the project has become such a communal success that families meet up for picnics, holidays and recitals.

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‘Moore’ The Merrier. In 2004, Paul Mor, a musician originally from England, suggested to the headmaster of the Democratic school in Ramat Hashron, to teach children in his school to play the ukulele. At the same time he persuaded the headmaster of the el-Zahara school in the Arab town of Tira to open a class there. The project caught on quickly and soon there were classes in both schools for children aged 8 to 18.

Ukuleles for Peace hasn’t just shared joy through music – it has created real and lasting friendships between children who under different circumstances would never have had the opportunity to meet each other.

Singing in Arabic, Hebrew and English, Ukuleles for Peace has grown beyond the neighbourhood of the Middle East. The groups which through the years have been about 11-12 strong have played at schools, different towns, coexistence events, Holocaust survivors and autistic therapy.

This has also taken these talented and open-hearted youth overseas to play in places like Hawaii, Croatia, Italy, Poland and Georgia. It is proof that the even the most humble instrument when paired with the greatest intentions, can bring much needed positivity to the world.

It is not only the children that have benefitted from friendships – but their parents as well. During our visit to a rehearsal in Tir’a it was hard to see who was having more fun – the parents or the ukulele band!

“It is a joy to see these children blossom as musicians and performers,” says Paul. “I would love to turn up at the United Nations and just simply play our Music to them as a statement of what is possible words seem to only divide whereas music unites us all in harmony” he continues.

It is evident as the music flows seamlessly from Arabic to Hebrew and then to English that Paul Moore’s dream of bringing children together to know and appreciate each other’s cultures and build friendships that it has come to fruition.

Ukuleles for peace is living proof that the foundations of coexistence and peace will be built from the ground up through every day interactions between people. There may even be ukuleles involved.

 

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Give Peace A Chance. Different cultures; same desires – Arab and Jewish school kids embracing the future together.