Foto Friday – President Obama comes to visit

Barack-Obama-visit-2013_logoUS President Barack Obama leaves today and soon it will be all over but the shouting. Although, this being Israel, probably the shouting will continue.

In anticipation of Barack Obama’s first official visit to Israel since becoming US president over four years ago, Israel’s Government Press Office switched into high gear with new media applications such as a smartphone app — compatible with both iPhone and Android — featuring real-time updates, video, photographs and behind-the-scenes glimpses at the visit. (The app is available in Hebrew and English and will soon be available in Arabic as well).

The busy bees at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Office of the Prime Minister and the President of the State of Israel were working overtime to keep their Facebook pages, Flickr photo streams and Twitter feeds updated with news of the impending visit, starting with preparations on the Ben Gurion Airport tarmac…

Barack-Obama-visit-2013_0_500wPhoto by GPO

There, an Dome Battery defense system was on display for the American president to review. President Obama was then whisked up to Jerusalem and the International Convention Center to deliver a speech on policy before an audience of students.

.Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

Outside stood activists from all sides of the political and social spectrum, from the Green Peace activists climbing up Jerusalem’s Chords Bridge in protest of exploratory drilling in the Arctic Circle…

.Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

While on the other side of the street were supporters of Jonathan Pollard, calling for his pardon and release from US prison after 28 years in jail.


The visit to Jerusalem include a stop at the Israel Museum for a remarkably Israel21c-like presentation of Israeli innovations that improve daily life for people around the world. Here, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Obama observe Radi Kioff, a Druze Israeli citizen who was wounded while serving in the Israel Defense Forces during the first Lebanon War. Kioff, a paraplegic, is aided by the ReWalk exoskeleton that enables him to walk upright. (You read it here first in 2008).

Barack-Obama-visit-2013_5_500wPhoto by Kobi Gideon / FLASH90 / GPO

The welcome at the Palestinian Authority was a little less public protest, a little more Yanqui Go Home

.Photo by Issam Rimawi/FLASH90

All went well at the joint press conference with President Obama and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, held at the Muqata Presidential Compound.

.Photo by Issam RImawi/FLASH90

And soon it will be time to bid our guest — laden with hopes, wishes and messages from all sides — goodbye.

Barack-Obama-visit-2013_9_500Photo by GPO

Nostalgia Sunday – Zvi Oron in the service of the High Commissioner

Zvi OronA new exhibit of wonderful old photos by Zvi Oron (Oroshkes) of pre-State Israel opens on March 21 at the Eretz Israel Museum in Ramat Aviv.

The exhibition displays Oron’s perspective of the British Mandate years, through photographs that show the construction of Jewish settlements, state and military events of the British administration, and the lifestyle of the traditional Arab population.

Photographer Oron came to the Land of Israel in 1918 with the Jewish Legion. Curator Michal Ben-Tovim writes: “Having already acquired his photographic skills in Poland, he opened his first photography studio in Tel Aviv in 1920.

“Initially, most of his photographic work was commissioned by the information department of the Jewish National Fund. In 1925 he began working for the British administration.

“In 1929, High Commissioner John Chancellor officially appointed him as provider of photography services to the British administration in Palestine. Thanks to this position he was able to move without difficulty between British military facilities, and stay outdoors during curfew hours.

“Because the British trusted him, Oron managed to establish professional ties with the Arab population, and was on friendly terms with Emir Abdullah. He thus became one of the few photographers who were able to photograph the different populations that inhabited Palestine during the British Mandate.

“In a letter he wrote in 1938 to Moshe Sharet, his friend from the Jewish Legion and then head of the Jewish Agency Political Department, Oron described his impressions of the situation in Eretz Israel as reflected in his photos:

“‘…When I went over the collection of the photos I published in the press in the past two years, I had the impression that the English were making extraordinary efforts to calm down the situation; the Arabs were revolting, and the Jews were weeping at funerals.’”

“Oron, a sworn Zionist, made an effort to convey a standpoint as objective as possible in his photographs.”

“His Jewish origins, his ties with British officials, and the trust he had among the Arabs yielded an outstanding photographic archive, which documents objectively the life in Eretz Israel of that time.”

If you can’t get to Ramat Aviv in time, there are some lovely examples of his work — including celebrated persons of the time such as High Commissioner Arthur Grenfell Wauchope — on Wikimedia Commons. Enjoy.

Foto Friday – Frames of Reality

Frames of Reality is a seminar and workshop advocating thought, personal criticism and open dialogue among professional Israeli and Palestinian photojournalists. The project was initiated in 2008 by the Peres Center for Peace together with the group that founded Local Testimony, a regional exhibition of photojournalism that runs concurrently with the annual World Press Photo exhibition of work by international press photographers.

Frames of Reality_Daniel TchetchikPhoto by Daniel Tchetchik

This project aims to bring together Israeli and Palestinian photojournalists and documentary photographers to participate in a joint creative process, recognizing that under regular circumstances they have little opportunity to work together.

Frames of Reality_Adi SegalPhoto by Adi Segal

This year through a series of workshops and lectures by journalists and photo-journalists, 11 Israeli and Palestinian photographers worked together to develop their professional skills as well as to open their minds to the reality of the “other side”.

Frames of Reality_Elias HalabiPhoto by Elias Halabi

The programs encourage participants to express their own experiences and portray alternative views of the conflict in an unrestricted environment. Throughout the year-long program, each participant develops a body of work which is then presented in a professional trilingual book and a photographic exhibition.

Frames of Reality_Wael DaoudPhoto by Wael Daoud

The annual exhibition of works by “Frames of Reality” participants opens next Friday at the Peres Peace House in Old Jaffa. The event is also the book launch party – to date, 70 photojournalists have participated in the workshops, resulting in three books that have sold over 3,000 copies and have been viewed by thousands in exhibitions worldwide.

Frames of Reality_Hosam SalemPhoto by Hosam Salem

Among the topics chosen by the photographers: urban loneliness, community life on the fringes of society, the elderly, immigrants and foreign workers.

Frames of Reality_Shady AblasiPhoto by Shady Ablasi

Work produced by the participants of “Frames of Reality” can be viewed in full on the Local Testimony website.

Frames of Reality_Yehoshua YosefPhoto by Yehoshua Yosef

“Frames of Reality” will be on display at the Peres Peace House, 132 Kedem St., Tel Aviv-Jaffa from March 22 through April 13, Sun-Thu 9:00 – 17:00 and Fri/Sat 10:00 – 14:00. Next Friday’s opening event is open to the public free of charge.

Frames of Reality_David DectorPhoto by David Dector

Troubles at my alma mater

March 12, 2013 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: coexistence, News 
Students at Oberlin teach-in hold a sign reading Ahava ("Love") in Hebrew

Students at Oberlin teach-in hold a sign reading Ahava (“Love”) in Hebrew (picture courtesy Paris Achenbach)

My alma mater was all over the Jewish news last week, but not for good reasons. Oberlin College, which I attended as an undergraduate some 30 years ago, has inexplicably seen a number of racist and anti-Semitic incidents in the past month.

On February 15, students found a note reading “Whites only” tacked above a water fountain. Less than two weeks later, a swastika appeared above the window of a lecture hall. More signs with epithets against African Americans and gay people proliferated. There’s a complete list here.

The events culminated on Monday of last week when, shortly after midnight, a student reported seeing someone walking through campus dressed in Ku Klux Klan robes.

I say “inexplicable” about all this because Oberlin has long been one of the most tolerant campuses in the U.S., with a well deserved reputation for diversity and liberal activism. In 1835, it was the first college in the U.S. to admit black students. So where is all this hate speech coming from?

The college took an unprecedented step of canceling classes on Monday in favor of a “teach in” and all hands-on gathering. About 1,200 students attended (a big chunk of the total Oberlin student population of 3,000); there were speeches and music. I wasn’t there, but knowing Oberlin, people took things seriously.

Rabbi Shimon Brand was the Hillel rabbi when I was at Oberlin, and he’s still in the job. “It’s really strange and sad in such a lovely environment that someone would come in and do something so inflammatory in order to make Jews and other people feel uncomfortable,” he told the Cleveland Jewish News. A Jewish student was quoted in The Los Angeles Times, calling the painting of a swastika not far from his dorm an “existentially scary moment. I think to see it is to be reminded that maybe, just maybe…no matter how accepted Jews feel in society, it’s a reminder. There’s this doubt.”

Approximately 29% of Oberlin’s students are Jewish. The campus has a “kosher and halal” coop for those who wish to observe religious dietary laws.

There are a fair number of Obies in Israel, too; Rabbi Brand has been good at pushing Israel as a post-graduate option, especially the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies, where I spent a couple of formative years in the mid-1980’s. The college’s president, Marvin Krislov, is Jewish and visited Israel a few years ago, hosting a mini-reunion at the Bible Lands Museum.

I’m saddened that hate speech has appeared on a campus I have such fond memories of, as a place of peace and a time for non-judgmental exploration. I’m pretty sure this is just the work of a very few cowardly individuals and doesn’t reflect any kind of bigger trend. Still, as I plan my first trip back to Oberlin in years, for a college reunion in May, I suspect that the conversation will now always include a footnote of “wasn’t that the school that…” But knowing Oberlin, there will be an activist response: “yes, and here’s what we did…”

Did you hear the one about the woman rabbi at the Kotel?

Rabbi Susan Silverman, center, and her daugher Hallel at the Kotel this morning. (Tovah Lazaroff)

Rabbi Susan Silverman, center, and her daugher Hallel at the Kotel this morning. (Tovah Lazaroff)

It was bound to happen. On a monthly basis, women seeking religious pluralism at the Kotel in Jerusalem have been getting arrested at their Rosh Hodesh services for wearing men’s tallitot.

The uproar has been vocal, but on a low burner. But today, everything changed. One of the ten women arrested this morning and later released for brazenly doing what they can do anywhere else in the free world – pray in public as they are accustomed to – was Rabbi Susan Silverman and her 17-year-old daughter Hallel.

Silverman, who lives in Jerusalem, happens to be the sister of outspoken American comedienne Sarah Silverman. So by mid-day, stories were going out on the wire services to outlets around the world with the headline: “Sarah Silverman’s sister arrested for praying at the Western Wall.”

It’s a headline too juicy for anyone to pass up, and thanks to the substantial coverage the story will undoubtedly receive, it could be a turning point in the effort begun 24 years ago by Women at the Wall in their monthly service to stake their claim to pray as they wish at the Kotel, Judaism’s holiest site.

According to Rabbi of the Western Wall Shmuel Rabinovich, a council led by the chief rabbi of Israel determined the customs of the site in 1967 when the Western Wall came under Israeli sovereignty. The Supreme Court ruled in 2003 that worshippers must “uphold the customs” of the holy site, though there is nothing written in the court decision about specific types of tallit.

The situation is getting absurd however. As a friend of mine observed – ‘A woman rabbi and her 17-year-old daughter were arrested today for praying at the Western Wall. You can’t make this stuff up.’

Unfortunately, it’s true. But maybe with the international publicity that Silverman’s arrest will bring to the cause, the reality on the ground will begin to change.

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