Monday, December 20, 2010

Chanuka Enlightenment

One of the big differences of living in chul as opposed to Israel this time of year is of course which holiday is being emphasized. In Israel, one can't get around it being chanuka. Everywhere there are chanuka decorations, sufganiyot, chocolate money, chanuka music and of course the beautiful sight of chanuka candles in everyone's window sill.
Now, anyone who has been to chul this time of year knows that the streets are filled with tiny glittering, golden lights (one of the things I always missed in Israel, I have to admit), giant green trees decorated in perfectly aligned color schemes and a red and white bearded fellow carrying lots of presents.
Growing up in chul I have learned to put up with the big fuss that is made out of the birth of Jesus (let's not even get into how Santa Claus and his reindeer are even remotely related to this). I have also learned that my holiday is completely obliterated. I can except that my holiday isn't on full display and it is quite understandable given that we Jews really are a tiny minority where I live (unlike in NY, where you can buy anything chanuka related in almost any store).
However, the fact is that in most European countries things like Chanuka arent simply hidden because it isn't relevant to the majority of people. Rather, it is hidden because we Jews still feel the need to hide our identity. A few weeks ago a prominant Dutch politician Frits Bolkestein remarked that all Jews that are outwardly identifiable as such should move to Israel or America, since he sees no future for them in Holland. This statement caused a huge outrage amongst other Dutch public figures. Some question his sanity (he is getting old), while others like Geert Wilders simply replied that the anti-semitic Muslims should leave, not the Jews. I, and many with me, do not believe Bolkestein is trying to take the easy way out. He is simply identifying a major problem in a country that prides itself on being so progressive, open and tolerant of everyone (think gay rights). I am glad that Bolkestein has started this debate and that even the Jews there are starting to realize that the way they are forced to live their lives is not as it should be in a first world country.
The only thing I don't understand is why it has taken everyone, especially the Jewish community, so long to realize this. One of the reasons I left my European country was because I knew I was not safe there as a Jew, Granted, in Israel one isn't either, but there one is in the majority. There one can stand up and fight for oneself. There one knows the enemy. Whereas where I grew up, we lived a contradictory life. On the one hand we were told things were different now. People had learned from the Holocaust and this would never happen again. They are set on making it up to us. This country is tolerant. People here are open-minded and well educated. Jews no longer have to live in fear. There is a flourishing Jewish community, with synagogues and Jewish schools. Yes, this was all true, to an extent. My mother taught me never to tell strangers I was Jewish, for one can never know how they might react. I grew up in a neighborhood that called the cops, the Jews. Even in the capital, whith the biggest Jewish community of about 20000 people, men cant walk with kipot outside of the small suburban area where they mostly live (and this has been like this at least all my life). The schools, synagogues, youth movements and any other organized Jewish event was always guarded by several shomrim. The schools are fenced in, with cameras everywhere. We learn to live with them, but what is most problematic, we learn to accept them. We trick ourselves into thinking that we are the same as everyone else. Really, is there any other minority group that has to hide who they are in public? That has to cage themselves in? That has to surround themselves with armed men?
I saw this country for what it was and left.
However, it is only recently that I saw how different things can be. Chanuka has just passed us by, yet it wasn't ignored at my work. Though here also, only a small minority is Jewish, the children learned about Chanuka, the menora and the dreidel. I can be a Jew, without having to hide anything and without having to explain much. My daughter goes to daycare there and the staff has looked into kashrut (of their own accord). I get to leave work early on Fridays without any fuss. Same goes for any of the holidays.
Actually, what shocked me most was my own attitude. I started there presuming I would have to somewhat hide my identity. I bought a sheitel, so as not to stand out. I tried to hide the fact that I was doing netilat yadayim and bentching. I still do somewhat. I've had to learn to let go, to be open and to not be afraid of letting people know who I am and what I stand for. And all I can conclude is how ironic it is that this is the mentality I was taught by my progressive, modern and enlightened Western country.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Offensive Yodeling

An Austrian man was fined 800 Euros when a judge ruled that his yodeling was offensive to Muslims. The man was yodeling whilst mowing his lawn. Unfortunately for him, his yodel session took place at the exact same time his Muslim neighbor was praying. The Muslim man felt his neighbor was making fun of the call of the Muezzin and hence sued him.

We all know by now that caricatures are a no no, but yodeling?
I thought Europe is trying hard to integrate their immigrants. I guess in Austria it is now the other way around. The Austrian  people now have to give up their own longstanding culture and traditions in order to make the new comers happy.
I'm surprised about the chutzpa of the Muslim man, but what's even more shocking is the judge's ruling. Does he really feel there is no room left for his own culture?
I wonder if this judge has ever been to an anti-Israel demonstration in Europe. Maybe next time I should invite him to one and I'll be rich after suing all the people there for their offensive remarks.
It's a sad day when people can't sing a simple tune in their own garden.
I guess Dutch politician Geert Wilders is right:
As a side, Switzerland shouldn't be read, since they really took their stand by banning the building of new minarets. I guess their next political campaign will involve some serious yodeling.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Comfortable Conversation

I recently returned from a trip to my parents, who live abroad.
I hadn't been back home in a while. To be honest, I don't really miss much from there, beside my parents. Most of my close friends don't live there anymore and I've learned to live without my favorite products. Usually the trip isn't anything special and a little complicated, since my parents don't keep kosher and there isn't a lot of space for all of us, so I try not to go often.
This time, however, I had a very different experience. I actually found myself wishing I could live there again. Not because I like the country so much, or the people. It's cause I like the language. Well, actually, it's an ugly language, but what I actually love about it is that I speak it fluently. It's so nice going shopping, asking questions and getting answers when you understand everything perfectly. I haven't lived in a country where I speak the language fluently for over 7 years. I've gotten by, and where I live now it's really fine. I understand almost everything and speak it somewhat, at least for the basics. But being back home I noticed how comforting it is to be surrounded by your native tongue. I even had a very interesting literary conversation with the saleswoman in the bookstore. I would have never been able to do that where I live now, or in Israel.
The sad thing is, I probably wont ever live in a country of my mother tongue again, since the only place we plan on moving to in the next few years is Israel. I guess all I can do is strengthen my comprehension of these foreign languages and hope that some day I will be completely fluent in them.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Har Habayit Beyadenu?

Rav Berel Wein wrote a nice article on Jerusalem, it's importance and why we cannot even contemplate breaking it up. (it was published in the Jerusalem Post and by Aish, one can read it here).

Rav Berel Wein has got me reminiscing. And yet, however much I do agree with what Rabbi Wein is saying, I feel there is something missing. For some reason, in the religious community, people seem to ignore the fact that we actually aren't in control of all of Jerusalem. In fact, we aren't in control of the most important, treasured and Holy site in our entire religion. We tend to forget that when it comes to Har Habayit we almost have no say at all. 

On the day of my wedding, in stead of going to the kotel, I went with one of my rabbis up to Har Habayit. It was inspirational. Here I was, on the verge of getting married, standing on the most Holy spot we have. My rav was saying the very Tehilim that would be sung later that day when I would walk to the chupa. I don't know if I would advise just everyone to go visit Har Habayit whenever they have a chance, but visiting the home of our religion on the same day that I was starting my own, was the best thing for me. It made me see the importance of my union, not only for me, but for my nation. By getting married, i wasn't just building up my own family, but I was contributing to all of Am Yisrael. And hopefully, some day, that contribution will help make Har Habayit look like what it is ment to look like.

And not what it looks like now. When I was there 5 years ago, it made me want to cry. Even though my visit was one of the highlights of my life, there was a low. The arabs had treated our most holy place as a garbage dump, literally. There was a gigantic pile of waste right when you walk onto the site. But maybe even more painful was the police patrolling the area, making sure we Jews stick to the rules. And that's not only the Wahkf, but also our own. They're not standing there to make sure we don't provoke a coup (though maybe they are doing that as well), but they are checking whether or not we have the audacity to say anything religious on our own land. And I mean ANYTHING religious. My rav told me to make a bracha on my water bottle before going up, since even that isn't allowed! Yes, this seems contradictory to what I told you before about the beautiful Tehilim that were said during my visit. These Tehilim were said while my rav was waving his hands, pointing out certain landmarks. One has to pretend  to be giving a tour in order to do this (and be carefully aware that the police are always out of earshot).
Let's face it Har habayit lo beyadenu and it's time we do something about it.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Latke or Hamantash?

I saw this here and enjoyed it so much, I just had to share.

From wikipedia:

The Latke-Hamantash debate is an anual humorous academic debate concerning which of the two the respective debater prefers. The debated started at the University of Chicago and has since then been held at very prestigious universities like Harvard, Brandeis, Princeton and Stanford.

I particularly enjoyed reading about the different arguments that these serious academics used:
  • Hanna Gray discusses the silence of Machiavelli on the subject; noting that "The silence of a wise man is always meaningful",[12] she comes to the conclusion that Machiavelli was Jewish, and like all wise people, for the latke.
  • Isaac Abella, professor of physics, asserts that "Which is Better: the Latke or the Hamantash?" is an invalid question, since it does not exhibit the necessary property of universality, is culturally biased, implies gender specificity, exhibits geographical chauvinism and appeals to special interests.
  • Michael Silverstein, professor in anthropology, linguistics, and psychology, argues that it is not mere coincidence that the English translation of the letters on the dreidl spells out T-U-M-S. He cites this as evidence that "God may play dice with the universe, but not with Mrs. Schmalowitz’s lukshn kugl, nor especially with her latkes and homntashen."
  • Professor Wendy Doniger of the divinity school, in a carefully footnoted paper entitled "The Archetypal Hamentasch: A Feminist Mythology", asserts that hamentaschen are a womb equivalent, and were worshipped in early matriarchal societies.
  • In the debate at MIT, Robert J. Silbey, dean of its School of Science, has cited Google, which returns 380,000 hits on a search for "latke" and only 62,000 for "hamantaschen". Silbey has also claimed that latkes, not hamentashen, are the dark matter thought to make up over 21 percent of the mass of the universe.
  • Allan Bloom posited a conspiracy theory involving Sigmund Freud and the Manischewitz company.
  • Developmental psychologist Kenneth Kaye cited Freud's most important works, Constipation and its Discontents and The Goy and the Yid in proving that a latkedikh or a hamentashenlikh personality is determined by an infant's mother's breastfeeding behavior in the first two weeks of life.[13]
  • According to literature professor Diana Henderson, "The latke is appropriate for lyric, tragic, and epic forms", but "There is very little poetry in the prune," a common hamentashen filling.
  • The physicist Leon Lederman's contribution is entitled "Paired Matter, Edible and Inedible".
  • An entry by the economist Milton Friedman discusses "The Latke and the Hamantash at the Fifty-Yard Line".
  • Criminal lawyer Professor Alan Dershowitz, during a debate at Harvard University, accused the latke of increasing the United States' dependence on oil.[2]
  • In a memorable debate in the early 1970s at the Clanton Park Synagogue Purim Party in Toronto, Canada, attorneys Aaron Weinstock and Meyer Feldman - debating in their formal legal robes and wigs - debated with much hilarity. The result was a draw.
  • When he was President of Princeton University, Harold Tafler Shapiro argued the hamentaschen's superiority by pointing out the epicurean significance of the "edible triangle" in light of the literary "Oedipal triangle."
  • In the 2010 Stanford Law School debate, Constitutional Law Professor Pam Karlan quoted from the majority opinion of Blackmun in the case County of Allegheny v. ACLU, which said: "It is also a custom to serve potato pancakes or other fried foods on Chanukah because the oil in which they are fried is, by tradition, a reminder of the miracle of Chanukah."[14] She noted that the Supreme Court has given no such recognition to the hamantash.
  • The most recent University of Chicago debate featured Chemistry professor Aaron Dinner, who argued from a standpoint of energy efficiency, pointing out the oil of the Latke must have at least eight times the energy density of traditional fuels.
Hanna Gray has stated for the record that "both the latke and hamentasch are simply wonderful. We welcome them to our diverse, pluralistic and tolerant community of scholars." She has, however, taken a stand with her statement that "Renaissance humanism grew out of the revival of the latke."
Maybe someday I'll be lucky enough to attend this debate.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

1 Child 3 Birthdays

Well, it's over.

Today was the last of the birthday parties of Darling Daughter nr 1.
There was the first celebration on shabbes (her non-Jewish birthday, which we celebrated only because it was later then the Jewish-we're procrastinators) with the family, a second with her friends from gan and a third in gan.
Of course, for her it was fantastic. She walked around for weeks, boasting to everyone that she has three birthdays.
But for me it was a different story.
First there was the shabbes meal, which was fine, since it wasnt a big effort compared to any other shabbes. Then came the kids party. It was my first time hosting a birthday party with a group of little kids; and well, it's exhausting.
For some reason, at least in our house, the woman is still automatically the one in charge (even though my husband said he would take care of the entertainment). And really, there's a lot to do, from preps weeks before (I saved the overload of simchat torah candy, though, so didnt have to buy any) to on the day itself, not to mention the hosting and the cleaning up afterwards. Then there was still the goody bag , which naturally had to be put together only minutes before the party. Plus, let's not forget the home-made elmo cake, which came out really well-if I do say so myself.

And then finally the last celebration in gan. It was so cute, with games, a present and some snacks. Actually, if it were up to me, this would have been her party and we could have scratched number 2. I guess it is up to me, but not entirely. Of course, nobody is forcing me to throw her a party at home. But then again, I don't want my daughter being the only one without a party. My parents didn't think much of birthdays, so I never had a party. When I was very young it was still ok, I didn't really realize what I was missing, but once as I got older, it got worse. Other kids wouldn't invite me, following the logic that since I didn't invite them, they wouldn't invite me. Then word got round that I didnt have a party and slowly I started getting invite again. But not having a party (or very often even a present) and having a birthday during the summer holidays when even my closest friends were gone, was never easy. Till this day it's a sore spot for me. I stopped expecting anything, and kind of like not doing anything. But secretly, I wish that once someone would make a big deal out of it, though I know I would't be able to deal with a big shabang, won't like being in the spot light and would be nervous the entire time about whether or not people are having a good time. So after every birthday, I feel a little disappointed and a little relieved.
I dont want my daughter to grow up with such conflicted feelings over her birthday, a day that should just be fun and a little special. I'm trying not to turn her into my project, giving her all I never had. Rather, I'll follow the minhag hamakom, and, even though I find 3 parties a little over the top and, not to mention exhausting for all, I do not want my daughter to become the odd one out.
I am glad it's over, though.
Now on to my friend's wedding and sheva brachot planning!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Unconventional Kiddush

I've been attending a shiur on hilchot shabbat. We learn from the materials put together by Tzurba, which is gemara, shulchan aruch, mishne brura and some achronim. I'm really enjoying it, especially since I love learning gemara, but here, we also learn the practical, halachic implications.

The latest shiur left me a little puzzled.
In our post-feminist society, modern, but halachically careful women have been braking boundaries. Women minyanim have been popping up everywhere, women are proving to be serious learners and they are taking up more religious practices that were previously only done by men.
In a lot of my newly married (especially Israeli) friends the wife is the one to make hamotsi on shabbes. I've gotten used to this, even though we personally don't do this.

But did you know that when it comes to Kiddush, women and men both have a chiyuv doraita? And hence, women can be yotzei men. In fact, since a man says veyechulu in shul, he has actually already fulfilled his chiyuv doraita (not derabbanan) and some suggest it's even better if the wife makes kiddush (if she hasnt been to shul) since she still has a chiyuv doraita and derabbanan.

In fact, everyone agrees (when does that happen???) that a women can be yotzei a man in her own house, and only some achronim say that for tsniut reasons she shouldn't do it in front of non-family members.

Now, this really makes me wonder. How come has making hamotsi been accepted as being something a woman can do, and yet kiddush is never done by a woman? If women truly want to be able to do all they can within halacha, why is this one (which is conveniently not controversial) so easily ignored? I'm really stumped on this one. Anyone have any suggestions?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

What Women Want

I've been struggling with this for a while and have decided to put my thoughts "on paper" as to hopefully get some perspective.

In our world today, women seem to have all the possibilities they could ever want in life. Modern Orthodoxy has opened up a whole new reality of women's learning. Women are not mere followers of their fathers, brothers and husbands, but some are coming out and becoming halachic leaders, like the yoatzot halacha. But also academically, we have come very far. However, our Jewish ideals still stand. Women in the dati leumi community are still getting married early, having children, yet somehow they are managing to combine it with a university degree.
When I got married I told my husband that if I would become pregnant during my studies, I would surely never get my degree. I mean, the odds were against me as it was, with my poor Hebrew. Add kids into the equation and the lack of family in Israel to help us out; I was sure I would never manage. In the end, I had two children during my studies and I passed with flying colors.

I thought I had won the war, but it turned out, it was only one battle. Now I have a BA, little kids and am trying to start my career. I don't mind not having an actual career. I studied something in humanities and am not looking to be academically successful. But here comes the clash. I believe in the importance of being a mother and raising your kids. Add in the factor that I live in a place with a weak Jewish structure making it up to us to teach our kids the dati values we believe in. However, I also need to be intellectually challenged. Before I found a job, I was just going through the motions at home, feeling lonely and apathetic. Now, I come home and appreciate my family. Also, I work better under pressure. The more I've got on my plate, the better I perform.

The reality is though, we still have to compromise on something. Either I put my kids in full time day care (which in my case isn't even Jewish) or I only work part time. Starting off your career in a part time job isn't exactly the road to success. It means taking a job that I am overqualified for and it's only slightly related to what I really want to do. I've now, however, chosen the latter. It still feels good to get out, but I wish I could do something more challenging. It is my own choice to compromise my career for my family, but somewhere there's still this itch. I need something more. Now I feel like I go to my work to help out, not to actually work and use all my skills and abilities. And quite frankly, I don't want to feel that all the work I put into my degree has not led me anywhere.
So now, I've found my niche. I have decided to focus on writing, hence this blog. I'm trying to write a novel, which has been intellectually challenging and stimulating, while also using my degree and Jewish ideals. And as for my Jewish knowledge, I'm trying to learn an amud a day as to prepare for a learning program I would like to join when I get back to Israel.

I'm wondering how other women have been coping with this, so please share. Do you feel like you're forced to compromise? Which side of the coin have you chosen? And Why? What do you do to feel fulfilled if you don't have your career?

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Shopping, European Style

After reading this blog post I got inspired to write about my new shopping experiences.

1. I always feel like I should be ashamed of my shopping habits. About 95% of the people shopping here use a nice small basket. Apparently, it's much more convenient to go every day and buy only a few things, than buy a lot at once (which of course explains the tiny in built fridges that cannot handle 2 pots, let alone a 3-day yom tov).

2. After getting over the embarrassment of taking the big shopping cart, you realize it's actually not really a bit shopping cart, but about half the size of the one I'm used to in Israel. Which of course causes an even bigger feeling of embarrassment when your cart ends up overflowing.

3. The fruits and vegetables are insanely expensive, except for the few weeks they're in season.

4. I have to shop at at least 3 different stores (but often more than that), just to get what I need. The kosher list isn't that big and unfortunately the supermarkets don't sell the same products. So to get all I want, I have to go to at least 2 different ones, plus the meat, plus the kosher products store. And if I wanted to save a little money I'd have to go to yet another supermarket where their drinks and snack food are a little cheaper.

5. Just getting to the supermarket is a little overwhelming. There are about 10 parking spaces available right next to my local supermarket. Plus the parking meter only takes a 50 cent coin and nothing else, as do most other parking meters. Do they really expect everyone to have an endless supply of all these coins?

6. Do not go shopping before a Christean holiday. People here freak out if the supermarket is going to be closed for even just a day (see point 1.). The two days before this happens, the supermarket is packed, all day long, with people trying to buy enough food to make it through this catastrophe.

7. For some reason, the store I go to only writes the price on the product itself. Which means, if you want to see how much it costs, or want to compare, you have to pick up each and every product. Although, to give them some credit, by the end of 2010 they have realized this isn't the most practical and are starting to put up prices in the store.

8. A good point is that they deliver. You can order online, which is really nice and convenient. You do have to order at least a kilo of the fruits and veggies and of course pay nicely for shipping. Though, to be fair, it's kinda nice that they provide a coolbox for your fridge products, even if it does cost extra.

9. So now you made it to the cash register. You feel really pressured. There are lots of people in line with only a few products in their basket. If this had been Israel, I would have let them go in front of me. But here if I'd do that, I'd never get a turn. There isn't much space, so you have to pack really fast. There's always a lot going on (cranky baby, which is of course not an option in the overly polite country where such noises are an intruding on people's privacy) and I end up feeling totally overwhelmed.

10. Trash bags are a novelty here. You have to use special ones given out by the municipality. First off, they're very expensive (there's a whole technique to throwing out your trash, but this is definitely for another post). But besides this, you can only get them at the cash register. Now, after reading nr 9, you can imagine how often I haven't come home with them. I guess if you go on daily trips for only a few items then it's not hard to remember this one.

I'm sure there's more, but I can't think of any right now.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Surviving the Chaos

My home is a mess. Not dirty, but very messy.
I had to work 4 days in stead of 2 last week and ever since then I'm off course and fighting to do all the chores I have to do. It just doesnt seem to matter how much I do, there's always another mess waiting. Ah, the joys of little kids. The best is when you're cleaning up in one room only to find that in that time your kids weren't sitting nicely and playing, but actually they were preparing a whole new mess for you to clean up. So unless you install them in front of the paralyzing machine (aka the tv), it really doesnt help to clean up during the day. But then comes the evening. Your husband is finally home and you'd like some quality time. Also, you spent most of the day playing kids games, cooking, sometimes even working and keeping the mess to a minimum, so who wants to spend their evenings cleaning up?
Hopefully next year I will have some time alone at home during the day so I can get stuff done. The daycare system isnt like in Israel. Here, the  Jewish education only starts at the age of 2.5. Of course, there are non-Jewish options (which are crazy expensive), but even amongst the non-Jews here the mentality seems to be that mothers stay at home till their kid is at least 2. And lets not forget that everyone has a nanny. 

Oh well, I'm going to go back to fighting against the tide of unfolded laundry and dishes galore. Again, at least it's clean.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Friday Versus Sunday

Every Israeli misses Sundays. The chutznik reminisces back to the time when he had a day a week to have some good old family qualitity time. It's especially hard for datiim, who can only have day trips with their families a few times a year during the holidays. As a student, I missed Sundays immensely. While all my non-religious friends would have Friday and Saturday to catch up on all the homework we had, I spent Fridays cooking and Saturdays Shabbating. I really missed having a day like Sunday, where you could just sit down and do your homework, without it having to be in the middle of the night.

Now, of course we have Sundays. It's been a year, and we're still getting used to it. Very often we just spend a Sunday being lazy with the kids, though we're starting to get better at planning fun family things on Sunday (too bad the stores aren't open though). Yet, as I work a full day on Fridays and with shabbat coming in very early now in the winter, I found myself this Friday willing to give up that previously so desired Sunday for a free Friday to be able to prepare for shabbes like a mentsch and not some raving lunatic running around trying to defy time.

Today it's Sunday again, we survived shabbes, and I'm happy again to have a calm day with my family. Honestly, I don't know which is better, but I'm starting to see that a free Friday instead of Sunday wasn't so bad after all.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Game Theory and the Peace Process

I just received this email and thought it worthy to share.
Professor Yisrael Aumann won a Nobel Prize for his knowledge of 'game
which includes the art of negotiation.  Although he lives in Israel
(his son was a soldier killed defending the country) the Israeli government has never asked
his opinion or his help in negotiating with the Palestinians. Below, Prof.
Aumann explains just what Israel is doing wrong. Hello, is someone out there
in the Israeli government listening? Give the Professor a call.

Israel's Conflict as Game TheoryBy Prof. Yisrael Aumann, Nobel Prize Laureate

Two men-let us call them Rick and Steve- are put in a small room containing
a suitcase filled with bills totaling $100,000. The owner of the suitcase
announces the following:"I will give you the money in the suitcase under one
condition:you have to negotiate an agreement on how to divide it. That is
the only way I will agree to give you the money."
Rick is a rational person and realizes the golden opportunity that has
fallen his way. He turns to Steve with the obvious suggestion: "You take
half and I'll take half, that way each of us will have $50,000."
To his surprise, Steve frowns at him and says, in a tone that leaves no room
for doubt: "Look here, I don't know what your plans are for the money, but I
don't intend to leave this room with less than $90,000. If you accept that,
fine. If not, we can both go home without any of the money."
Rick can hardly believe his ears. "What has happened to Steve" he asks
himself. "Why should he get 90% of the money and I just 10%?" He decides to
try to convince Steve to accept his view. "Let's be logical," he urges him,
"We are in the same situation, we both want the money. Let's divide the
money equally and both of us will profit."
Steve, however, doesn't seem perturbed by his friend's logic. He listens
attentively, but when Rick is finished he says, even more emphatically than
before: "90-10 or nothing. That is my last offer."
Rick's face turns red with anger. He is about to punch Steve in the nose,
but he steps back. He realizes that Steve is not going to relent, and that
the only way he can leave the room with any money is to give in to him. He
straightens his clothes, takes $10,000 from the suitcase, shakes Steve's
hand and leaves the room humiliated.

This case is called 'The Blackmailer's Paradox" in game theory. The paradox
is that Rick the rational is forced to behave irrationally by definition, in
order to achieve maximum results in the face of the situation that has
evolved. What brings about this bizarre outcome is the fact Steve is sure of
himself and doesn't flinch when making his exorbitant demand. This convinces
Rick that he must give in so as to make the best of the situation.

The Arab-Israeli ConflictThe relationship between Israel and the Arab countries is conducted along
the lines of this paradox. At each stage of negotiation, the Arabs present
impossible, unacceptable starting positions. They act sure of themselves and
as if they totally believe in what they are asking for, and make it clear to
Israel that there is no chance of their backing down.
Invariably, Israel agrees to their blackmailing demands because otherwise
she will leave the room empty handed. The most blatant example of this is
the negotiations with Syria that have been taking place with different
levels of negotiators for years. The Syrians made sure that it was clear
from the beginning that they would not compromise on one millimeter of the
Golan Heights.
The Israeli side, eager to have a peace agreement with Syria, internalized
the Syrian position so well, that the Israeli public is sure that the
starting point for future negotiations with Syria has to include complete
withdrawal from the Golan Heights, this despite its critical strategic
importance in ensuring secure borders for Israel.

The Losing SolutionAccording to game theory, Israel has to change certain basic perceptions in
order to improve her chances in the negotiations game with the Arabs and win
the long term political struggle:
a.         Willingness to forego agreements
Israel's political stand is based on the principle that agreements must be
reached with the Arabs at any price, that the lack of agreements is
untenable. In the Blackmailer's Paradox, Rick's behavior is the result of
his feeling that he must leave the room with some money, no matter how
little. Because Rick cannot imagine himself leaving the room with empty
hands, he is easy prey for Steve, and ends up leaving with a certain amount
of money, but in the role of the humiliated loser. This is similar to the
way Israel handles negotiations, her mental state making her unable to
reject suggestions that do not advance her interests.
b        Taking repetition into accountGame theory relates to onetime situations differently than to situations
that repeat themselves. A situation that repeats itself over any length of
time, creates, paradoxically, strategic parity that leads to cooperation
between the opposing sides. This cooperation occurs when both sides realize
that the game is going to repeat itself, and that since they must weigh the
influence present moves will have on future games, there is a balancing
factor at play.
Rick saw his problem as a onetime event, and behaved accordingly. Had he
told Steve instead that he would not forego the amount he deserves even if
he sustains a total loss, he would have changed the game results for an
indefinite period. It is probably true that he would still have left the
game empty handed, but at the next meeting with Steve, the latter would
remember Rick's original suggestion and would try to reach a compromise.
That is how Israel has to behave, looking at the long term in order to
improve her position in future negotiations, even if it means continuing a
state of war and fore going an agreement.
c.         Faith in your opinions
Another element that crates the "Blackmailer's Paradox" is the unwavering
belief of one side in its opinion. Steve exemplifies that. This faith gives
a contender inner confidence in his cause at the start and eventually
convinces his rival as well. The result is that the opposing side wants to
reach an agreement, even at the expense of irrational surrender that is
considerably distanced from his opening position.

Several years ago, I spoke to a senior officer who claimed that Israel must
withdraw from the Golan Heights in the framework of a peace treaty, because
the Golan is holy land to the Syrians and they will never give it up. I
explained to him that first the Syrians convinced themselves that the Golan
is holy land to them, and then proceeded to convince you as well. The
Syrians' unflinching belief that they are in the right convinces us to give
in to their dictates. The only solution to that is for us to believe
unwaveringly in the righteousness of our cause. Only complete faith in our
demands can succeed in convincing our Syrian opponent to take our opinion
into account.

As in all of science, game theory does not take sides in moral and value
judgments. It analyzes strategically the behavior of opposing sides in a
game they play against one another. The State of Israel is in the midst of
one such game opposite its enemies. As in every game, the Arab-Israeli game
involves interests that create the framework of the game and its rules.
Sadly, Israel ignores the basic principles of game theory. If Israel would
be wise enough to behave according to those principles, her political status
and de facto, her security status, would improve substantially.

Copyright Yisrael Aumann
I think this theory is even stronger in light of the Arab mentality. Whenever we give in even a little, the Arabs celebrate it as if they won completely. When operation cast lead came to an end, Hamas sold it as if they had defeated the Israeli army.
The examples of this type of behavior are endless.