Cross-Cultural Reality

Just about this time last year, I began reading a newly-published book by our Temple Shalom member, Andy Molinsky, who is an Associate Professor of Organizational Behavior at Brandeis University’s International Business School, with a joint appointment in the Department of Psychology. Andy has been an active player in many of our re-visioning projects around Temple and I was thrilled for him when his book was published last year. I was even more delighted when he presented me with a signed copy of his book, which I promised I would read during the summer. And I did!

In his book, Global Dexterity, Andy tackles the question of how we can be more successful in living and working in what I equate with New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman’s notion that we live and work in “a flattened world.” We move in and out of different cultures and as well as their accompanying values systems and behavioral norms. Andy claims, and masterfully illustrates, how we can be more successful as we make these moves by developing what he calls “global dexterity.” He defines global dexterity as “the ability to adapt or shift behavior in light of . . . cultural differences.” As Andy notes, “That’s something that’s often easier said than done.”

I have found myself thinking back to Andy’s concept of “global dexterity” and his book quite often during these past weeks while I have living and studying in Israel. Since 1976, when I first visited Israel I have been here more times than I can remember, and for varying lengths of time. Thinking back to that first visit, which was an academic year on a kibbutz, I now realize that really could have used Andy’s book back then. But the concept was not yet around, and I doubt it would have meant much to me as a college junior.

Since my arrival in Israel on June 27th, I have been a part of the unfolding drama that is life in this region during these tense and challenging weeks. In years past, I have been in Israel during numerous high-points as well as at challenging moments, which I won’t recount now. This trip has been different. Past visits have included some military activity, and even some anxious moments due to suspected terrorist activity or the threat of bombings. This time I have joined Israelis in the midst of the ever-widening conflict between Israel and Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the various other groups who have as their common goal the destruction of the State of Israel. Like others, I have curtailed to some degree where I go. Like others I have been glued to the news, be it television, radio or via the Internet. Like others I have scrambled at the sound of a tzeva adom, a “Red Alert” which tells Israelis they have between 15 and 90 seconds to get to secure room or shelter. In the past two weeks (depending on where you are and where the factions in Gaza aim) this can be a recurring event several times an hour or throughout the day; or as has been the case where I am in Jerusalem, an occasional episode.

Machane Yehuda Friday, June 11, 2014

Machane Yehuda
Friday, June 11, 2014

These are not normal times. Yet, even with the “Red Alerts” there is a sort of normalcy to the pattern of life as Israelis go about their business. Restaurants, which are always full at this peak tourist season, sit empty in the evenings. My friends and I are sometimes the only ones dining in one restaurant or another. The Ben Yehuda Street Pedestrian mall, which at this time of year would normally be bustling is relatively quiet. Machane Yehuda, the Jewish market in the center of town is often desolate. I’m usually there on Friday afternoons to buy food for Shabbat and the week to come. This past Friday, in the early afternoon, when the crowds often peak and gridlock is reality, it would have been possible to run through alleys and paths of the market which was quiet. The relatively new Mamilla Mall, near the Jaffa Gate entrance to the Old City has, in my experience, always been filled in the evenings with the crowd a blend of tourists, Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs. The two most crowded times at Mamilla are Thursday night and post-Shabbat. Both were very quiet this past week. And as I looked, I realized there was not a single Israeli Arab in sight. Amidst the daily struggle for normalcy in a time that is not normal, it’s been a bit surreal over this past week since the IDF began responding to the missiles being fired from Gaza. I’m not going to delve into the politics and the powerfully charged questions of settlements, borders, occupation and the like right now. That I’ll save for another time.

Right now, I sit in a friend’s apartment. We watch and listen to the news; we constantly read a wide spectrum of news sources on the Internet; and we monitor the “Red Alert”

Red Alert app

Red Alert app

app to keep up with what’s going on. Each morning my friend  Rabbi Jacob Herber and I plot the day’s activities. Over the past week I have found that my mind keeps returning to Global Dexterity.

Yesterday we awoke to the news of an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire which Israel’s Security Cabinet accepted. The news suggested that a response would be forthcoming from Hamas and the other groups in the Gaza Strip later in the day. Reflected back on it last night, it was clear to Israel’s leaders, her population, and any one (including me) who was paying attention, that the answer came in the form of even more intense missiles flying out of Gaza towards various parts of Israel, from north of Haifa to the southern communities.

Israel’s IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) issued warnings to the residents of the communities in northern Gaza Strip to evacuate towards shelters and school in the more southern part of the Strip. One such warning, issued late last night read: “For your own safety, you are requested to vacate from your residence immediately and head towards Gaza City by Wednesday morning, July 16, 2014, at 08:00 AM. The IDF does not want to harm you, and your families. The evacuation is for your own safety. You should not return to the premises until further notice. Whoever disregards these instructions and fails to evacuate immediately, endangers their own lives, as well as those of their families.”

I awoke this morning to reports of a call issued by the Hamas Interior Ministry calling on Gaza Strip residents to not evacuate from their homes as requested by the IDF. “There is no place for concern or for cooperation with the evacuation notices; they are part of a psychological warfare,” said the ministry’s announcement.

This brings me back to Global Dexterity. Sometimes we are faced with a reality that we do not wish to adopt or adapt to, because it runs counter to our values.  For me, this has been an important part of my experience on this visit. It leads me to confront what I will call cross-cultural reality. When I arrived in Israel, the three Israeli boys were still “missing.” Israelis were gathering in prayer vigils and trying to maintain a sense of hope. In the West Bank and on the Gaza Strip, Palestinians were jubilant and thrilled, calling for more kidnappings. The night that Gilad, Eyal and Naftali’s bodies were found, Israel went into a collective state of mourning. Yes, there were calls for revenge, but they were not the main sentiment across the State. Shortly thereafter we were met with the news of the abduction and brutal murder of 16-year old Mohammed Abu Khdeir. As is understandable, the Palestinian community was outraged. Most Israelis were horrified and as a nation, the abduction and murder were condemned. There was a sense of national shame as the cry, “This is not representative of Jewish values or what our State stands for.” Yes, there were Jewish voices celebrating, but I can tell you they were few in number. The Israeli police quickly apprehended the suspects believed to have murder the 16-year old Palestinian boy. They confessed to the crime and they now await trial. The Palestinian Authority did lend a level of cooperation with Israeli authorities in regard to finding those response for the deaths of the three Israeli boys. The suspects are still at large and the calls for further kidnappings continue.

When I couple the responses to these heinous crimes on both sides of the divide in this region, with the contradictory approaches of the IDF, who warn civilians in Gaza to get out of harm’s way, and the calls from Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the other militant groups, I realize that we are once again being reminded that there are opposite sets of values at play in this conflict. We can debate the reasons for the conflict (and I am confident that we will.) But now is not the time for that debate. Now is the time to support Israel, and our brothers and sisters, who are truly being subjected to psychological and physical warfare. I agree that the Palestinians in Gaza are being subjected to psychological warfare. But I believe that the lion’s share of that comes at the hands of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the other groups which use that population as human shields against military actions. “How can they do that?” we might ask. They can do it because their cultural reality and norms celebrate death, even if it is the death of brothers, sisters, mothers or fathers who are lauded as martyrs. I am not suggesting, nor do I believe this is an Islamic cultural norm. This is the worldview and philosophy of those Muslims who twist and distort Islamic teachings so that they celebrate martyrdom and death rather than working to preserve life. Why are there almost no bomb shelters in Gaza into which Gazans might flee as do their counterparts in Israel? Because Hamas and its allies have taken whatever money comes to support those living in Gaza and used it to build tunnels for smuggling resources with which to build bombs so they can continue to reign terror down upon the heads of Israelis.

One irony, among the many I have noted in these past few weeks, is that the sirens have blared in not a few Arab-Israeli villages in recent days. Hamas, et al, don’t care where their missiles go. If they harm Israeli Jews, they’ll celebrate. If they harm fellow Muslims who live in Israel, or in the communities on the West Bank, they’ll celebrate their deaths too, for they are martyrs in the cause.

The cross cultural reality has never hit home quite so starkly for me. Perhaps it is because for the time being, I am no different that the Israelis living in the next apartment, the next building or on the next street. I walk the streets, making mental note of where I might go in the case of a “Red Alert.” This is no heroism, and it’s not hyperbolic. As I wrote last week, the first alert I heard found me walking on a street where there was no place to go save for a nook between two brick walls. Then it was a gut reaction. Now the thought process has settled in as a part of everyday reality. Mind you, I feel completely safe here, especially in Jerusalem, which has been the target relatively few times compared to other places in Israel. I was supposed to spend four days in Tel Aviv including this past Shabbat. I would have felt safe there too, but

With Louis Stein and Anna Kim at Kibbutz Tzuba

With Louis Stein and Anna Kim at Kibbutz Tzuba

elected not to go for the peace of mind of my loved ones at home. Rather, together with my dear friend and colleague, Rabbi Howard Jaffe, from Temple Isaiah in Lexington, I went to Kibbutz Tzuba, a short drive from Jerusalem in the Judean Hills. There we welcomed Shabbat with four of the NFTY groups, including students from our respective congregations. I have also been in touch with our students who are on other programs in other parts of the country by phone.

Global Dexterity is an incredibly useful concept. After nearly 40 years of visits to Israel (as well as other places around the globe) it helps me learn how to appreciate and, where possible, fit in with the surrounding culture. I think that Andy Molinsky has made a great contribution to helping us live in today’s flattened and multi-cultural. My experience here in Israel during these past weeks has challenged me to balance the concept of global dexterity with the values I hold as a Jew, as an American and as a human being. I have learned over the past four decades how to live in Israel, how to sit with Jews, Christians, Muslims and others to learn together ands to discuss challenging differences among us. What I have also re-learned this trip is just how different the Jewish values that Israel strives to uphold and the set of values espoused by groups like Hamas, Islamic Jihad and their comrades are. One celebrates and preserves life; the other celebrates death, even the death of a loved one. Again, l am not talking about all Muslims, nor all Palestinians. The reality is that many, perhaps most, Palestinians simply want to live their lives without fear of military attacks. They are not Zionists and their resentment and even hatred of Israel are real. But this current conflict has shown that many Palestinians do not support the values or tactics of Hamas.

There are serious problems which must be addressed in this corner of our globe. Israelis and Palestinians cannot maintain a status quo mindset as some might wish. Both peoples deserve to live their lives securely, to raise their children with hope for the future, and in peace. That day, I fear is a ways off. I continue to hope, as do my Israeli friends, that the current situation will be brought to a halt in the coming days. My even greater hope is that the leaders who need to work out a future that does not hold yet another replay of the current hostilities some time down the line will be bold, will have vision, and will embrace life, justice and peace. And I pray they will do it!

3 thoughts on “Cross-Cultural Reality

  1. Fred Cohen says:

    The reality of the prayer “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem” has never been more intense than this summer, a time in years past when the lazy days of July led to carefree thought. Now we daily worry about our friends who live in and are visiting Israel.

    Thank you for your updates, thoughts, and wise insights.

  2. Mary Jane Suzman says:

    I am troubled by some of the language here and in the CJP announcement of the rally to support Israel. The focus is largely on the suffering of Israeli Jews, and how we have to stop debate during the present conflict and come wholeheartedly to the support of Israel.

    I don’t think there is ever a time when we shouldn’t debate.

    David Hartman, in a chapter many of us have studied at Temple Shalom, asks “Auschwitz or Sinai?” Do we want to see ourselves as endless victims, or do we want to aspire to live by the highest ethics of the Torah? The Torah teaches we are all made in the image of God; we all share the breath of divinity that was blown into Adam at creation. ALL of us.

    Clearly Palestinians do not speak with one voice. They do not all celebrate death and martyrdom. That’s why when Israel warns them to leave their homes, they leave, clogging the roads with cars and donkey carts. When family members are hurt, they seek medical care. It’s true Israeli citizens are traumatized, but there is also a humanitarian disaster in Gaza. No shelter or escape from continuous bombing; disrupted food, water and electricity supplies; medical supplies running very low; hundreds dead,more than a thousand wounded, including many children. I have to believe that Palestinian mothers grieve for their children as deeply as we do ours.

    Can we not hold both of these realities in our hearts at once? Our love and support for our people and the state of Israel, but also the suffering and cries of the Palestinians in Gaza? Does not the eventual path to peace depend on our listening and hearing all the conflicting voices, all the conflicting truths?

  3. Rabbi Eric Gurvis says:

    MaryJane, you raise a fair question. However, I am first obligated to care for my family. Part of is lost on so many is the humanitarian crisis in Gaza is largely the fault of Hamas and not Israel. Israel allows hundreds if not thousands of trucks with food, water and medical supplies into Gaza every week, including this week.

    I agree that all mothers (and fathers) grieve for their children deeply. I simply cannot equate Israel and Hamas as equal in this battle. Israel’s goal is peace for her citizens. Hamas’ goal is the end of Israel, even if their own people have to die in the process.

    I cannot see a levelness in the two sides. One, making mistakes, is nonetheless trying to act according to a Code of morals in defending her people. The other is Evil and driven bye pure hatred.

    I rarely agree with Rabbi Danny Gordis, but I suggest folks read his article, published today in the Jerusalem Post:

    http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Columnists/A-Dose-of-Nuance-Whatever-happened-to-evil-363186 utm_source=Whatever+Happened+to+Evil%3F+%28Jerusalem+Post%29&utm_campaign=Whatever+Happened+to+Evil%3F&utm_medium=email

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