Thursday, December 9, 2010

HOSPITAL: an interview with author Julie Salamon

Julie Salamon is the author of HOSPITAL: Man, Woman, Birth, Death, Infinity, Plus Red Tape, Bad Behavior, Money, God and Diversity, a book about Maimonides Hospital in Borough Park, Brooklyn.

Julie was a reporter and the film critic for The Wall Street Journal for many years and then a culture writer on the staff of the New York Times.

Maimonides Hospital is named for the 12th century Jewish philosopher and teacher, who is also known as Rambam.

One of Julie's books explores our culture of giving in the context of Rambam's teachings and meditations about generosity.

Riding the subway every day from her home in Manhattan's Greenwich Village to Borough Park in Brooklyn, she spent more than a year getting to know the innermost workings of this unusually multicultural hospital and we benefit from wonderfully intimate insights into many of the people who work there, from the highest level managers and "star" surgeons to the staff of the emergency room. She shares with us the most mundane process of note-taking and recording the interviews to how writing this book has affected her personal life.

Hospital is Julie's seventh book and, on the face of it, each of them is very different from the other. Despite the variety of their themes however, she says everything she has written reflects her abiding interest in how human beings are able to maintain their humanity in the face of the most challenging of circumstances.

I found myself thinking about this hospital in the pauses between reading the book. Now, a month after I finished reading it, Maimonides remains vivid and alive for me: I can see the place and the people very clearly, even though I've never been there!

I urge you to read it and to listen to our interview on Tidings, recently broadcast on WPKN independent radio.

Friday, November 12, 2010

It's not about 'peace': interview with Jeff Halper

Jeff Halper of ICAHD, Israel Committee Against House Demolitions, spoke to Tidings from Jerusalem and gave us his take on 'the peace process' in which he makes these points:

1. Israel will never stop the Occupation (they haven't invested in all that infrastructure for nothing).

2. The US problem is not Obama but Congress--it's not just AIPAC but the war-industrial lobby which is actually bigger and stronger than AIPAC.

3. The only hope may come from BDS, the Boycott Divestment and Sanction movement, whose momentum and reach are extending daily, resulting in increasing isolation for the US which will one day be damaging enough to finally bring the message home.
4. He also says he really doesn't know how this thing will end. He can't see that far or around enough corners but believes it will happen sooner or later.

Please listen to his impassioned point of view. It's one that you won't hear in the mainstream media!

Check out this article and his most recent book too.

Tom Damiani: advocate for the birds

Because I don’t know how our society would function without them, I have a particular interest in knowing more about volunteers, why people become volunteers, remain volunteers but you so I interviewed Tom Damiani, who is an especially successful leader of volunteers. As one of volunteers, I got to know Tom this summer.

This is a very local story. Tom is on the board of the North Fork Audubon Society and runs its Endangered Species Program, a project designed to protect the piping plovers and least terns on the North Fork beaches of Long Island.

He talks about an entire life devoted to learning about birds and protecting them. He is a musician which accounts for his ability to capture the songs of numerous birds. Please listen to his story. It's wonderful!

EAARTH: an interview with Bill McKibben

I was honored that Bill McKibben agreed to be interviewed on Tidings from Hazel Kahan and am buoyed by knowing that his message will be heard by radio audiences in Connecticut and Eastern end of Long Island.

Bill McKibben is an environmentalist, writer, educator, research scholar and activist and a significant force in raising our awareness of climate change and in directing international action through his leadership of the 350 movement, the largest grass roots environmental movement in the world. If you want to feel uplifted, please visit his site.

Bill is the author of many books, the first The End of Nature originally published in 1989 and, most recently, in 2010, the book Eaarth, spelled e-a-a-r-t-h with two a’s to distinguish it from the earth we have known. In everything he does, Bill McKibben advocates tirelessly for a kinder relationship between human beings and the planet, whether it is eating local, having smaller families, dismantling our belief that growth is good and arguing against human engineering and the moral and existential threats of a post-human future.

His message today is more urgent than ever.

Welcome, citizens of earth, his web site greets us and introduces us to the new Eaarth. Bill McKibben goes on to say:

We live on a new planet. We’ve built a new earth. Its not as nice as the old one. It’s the greatest mistake humans have ever made, one that we will pay for literally forever.

What happens next is up to us.

McKibben then tells us what we can do as he offers us: a guide to living on a fundamentally altered planet.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Palestinian women make music: an interview with Ayeda Ayed


In these unfortunate times, the word “Palestinian” often conjure up a spectrum of negative associations, from terrorists age and suicide bombers to dispossessed victims and supplicants living in rubble and political violence.

Of course some of these are accurate descriptions but they do not tell the whole story. Palestinians are also a creative, talented people, proud of their heritage, determined to preserve their culture and to join the international music community.

Ayeda Ayed tells us the other story as she paints the landscape of Palestinian music history against which we can appreciate three of its leading women musicians today.

Displaced in 1948 to refugee camps in Jordan and West Bank, Ayeda’s parents came to Canada in 1965. She was born in Winnipeg, becoming politically active after the first intifada, vowing to show the world that ‘we Palestinians do have a heritage’.

A performer herself, she now directs event programming for Beit Zatoun, a cultural organization in Toronto.

As in most cultures, music plays a significant role in Palestinian daily life. Before 1948 and the creation of Israel, Palestine was a rural, agricultural society with music marking births, marriages, funerals, olive picking and other harvests.Urbanization and modernization along with the loss of agricultural lands threatened these music traditions but women, who had always played an active cultural role, now took upon themselves the urgent task of rescuing and revitalizing ancient songs.The Palestinian liberation struggle imbued music with a nationalistic flavor to which has been added a more artistic emphasis, recreating and modernizing the idea of what a Palestinian song is.

Poetry is the common thread that runs through Palestinian songs, whether the style is hip hop, ballads, rock, folk songs, lullabies, laments or classical Arab music. Palestinian songs stretch from the universal themes of love and death to love of the land, remembering by name political prisoners and children killed by violence along with the longings inherent in exile, isolation and dispossession of land and home.

“It’s difficult to be a Palestinian artist and not be political,” Ayeda says. For women musicians, feminism and self expression, the making of art in a patriarchal society further strengthens the politicization of today’s Palestinian music.


The musicians

Ayeda tells us why she chose these three Palestinian women musicians for our Tidings program:

Amal Murkhus sings “Diary of a Palestinian Wound” on her CD Shauq (Longing), with words by Mahmoud Darwish, including the famous and beloved line:

“My country is not a suitcase, I am not a traveler, I am the lover and the land is the beloved.”

Rim Banna sings “The Carmel of My Soul “ on her CD Mirrors of my Soul, a tender song about a prisoner in which she honors Mount Carmel in the Galillee as the soul of her soul. Palestinian poetry makes frequent references to places humanizing them or making them parts of one’s body, elevating both the person and the place.

Kamilya Jubran,whom Ayeda describes as ‘my favorite Palestinian artist’, for her modern, electronic edginess combined with rigorous, classical Arab sound. She was formerly a member of the group Sabreen. On her CD Wameedd, Kamilya sings “Ghareebah” (Stranger) the poetry of Khalil Gibran, expressing the melancholy of exile:

A stranger in this world..

A stranger/In estrangement there is cruel loneliness/And painful desolation/But it makes me forever think/Of a magical home I know not…

Ayeda concludes our interview: "This is a theme a lot of people talk about inside and outside of Palestine. Exile is not physical. Often my friends in Palestine who are inside Israel tell me they feel exile on the inside. They’re exiled inside.”

This interview on Tidings from Hazel Kahan was originally broadcast on WPKN radio on August 11, 2010. Tidings is produced by Tony Ernst.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Being a Palestinian Israeli: Dr. Adel Manna

The world is watching Israel has been the focus of increasing international attention since the attack on Gaza in December 2008 but even more so recently for the attack on the flotilla bringing humanitarian aid to Gaza, for the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, for aggressive building of settlements on occupied territory, for housing demolitions in East Jerusalem, for its nuclear potential and for tension in the special relationship it has historically enjoyed with the United States.

Less attention has been paid to the 1.5 million people, 20% of its population, who are Palestinians—Arabs, Christians, Druze—and citizens of Israel.

Dr. Adel Manna, an insider as member of this Arab Israeli minority, talked with us from Israel to provide a current perspective on the situation. He is the director of Academic Institute for Arab Teacher training at Beit Berl, a government-funded institute in central Israel and Senior Research Fellow at the Van Leer Institute in Jerusalem. He is a well-published authority on the history of the Ottoman period and is now writing a book about the Palestinians during the first decade of Israel's existence. His views on the subject are available here and here.

Declaration In December, 2006, in response to the growing discrimination and denial of human rights by the Israeli Government, the National Committee of the Heads of the Arab Local Authorities in Israel released a declaration—The Future Vision of the Palestinian Arabs in Israel—highlighting the aspirations of the Arab minority in Israel.

The declaration reads, in part: We, the Palestinian Arabs living in Israel, the natives of the land and the citizens of the state, part of the Palestinian people and the Arab nation … the 1948 war brought about the creation of the State of Israel on 78 percent of the territory of historical Palestine. We, who counted 160,000 in our homeland, found ourselves within the borders of the Jewish state, cut-off from the rest of our Palestinian people and the Arab world, were forced to accept the Israeli nationality and we became a minority in our historical homeland.

From Dr. Manna's perspective, things have got much worse for the native population since this declaration was released, making him fearful for the future of his children and grandchildren.

Here are selected excerpts transcribed from the June, 2010 Tidings from Hazel Kahan interview which can be heard in full:

We are perceived as people who are living temporarily in this place, as second-class citizens and, more than that, as a fifth column, as part of the Arab world, part of the Palestinian people in conflict with Israel while all the Jews in the world are perceived potentially as citizen of Israel…all they have to do is come to Israel and the next day they can be citizens of Israel while myself, who was born on the eve of the establishment of the State of Israel, for the last 60 years or more I am experiencing this discrimination…which is getting worse...

We are perceived by the majority and their representatives as challenging the State of Israel as a Jewish state…Being Jewish means automatically Jews have more rights than others and we say we don’t agree to that. We will not acquiesce to the status since 1948 that all Palestinians particularly Arabs would be forever second-class citizens in this State...The definition of the State of Israel as of the Jewish people and a Zionist state means we are excluded from the common goods of this state.

Passports and citizenship Dr. Manna explains that traveling on an Israeli passport means that as Israelis, Palestinians are not allowed into many Arab countries. At the same time, certain notation identify him to the Israeli authorities as a Palestinian, and is given rigorous inspection at airports. This is an established, ongoing policy:

In my country, I’m an Israeli citizen, they behave to me as a stranger…they want to remind me whenever I leave this country, at the airport, that I am a foreigner in the country, I am not an Israeli citizen. Everywhere else in the world…my Israeli passport protects me as an Israeli citizen, the same way like any Jew. This passport gives me equality outside Israel. This same passport discriminates against me when I come to the airport in Israel.

An imposed divided loyalty Palestinian Israelis are faced with a profound dilemma and a conflicted identity:

I am loyal to all the laws of Israel. This is what a citizen in a democratic state should be asked for…but in Israel that is not enough. They are asking us as a Palestinian minority to be loyal to all the policies of this right-wing government…against the Palestinians or Lebanese. And we question those wars…there are other ways to solve problems. Whenever you say that, you are automatically fifth column, partners to Israel’s enemies…Loyalty to policies that exclude us? It’s like asking Blacks in South Africa to be loyal to apartheid. We can't do that... The policy is that Israel wants to bring more Jews into Israel and to get rid of us.

Unintended consequences The years of discrimination, of what Dr. Manna describes as an “ethnic democracy” are having unanticipated consequences:

Arabs in Israel are getting more and more bitter…they are getting more experience as citizens of Israel, more educated, more outspoken and less willing to accept the discrimination. They (the Government) are no longer frightening them.

As long as the Palestinian minority was a weak minority which did not challenge the identity of the State, they were able to live with that. In the last decade the Palestinians became more outspoken, they are telling the majority that…the problem is the ideology of the State—Zionism. Being Jewish and Zionist means the State has an ideology against all non-Jews and non-Zionists and since we can’t be Jews and Zionists they want to get rid of us, and if they can’t get rid of us they want us to be second-class citizens…

Dr. Manna describes it as “an unfortunate, delicate, difficult situationwhere “we always have to balance our feelings and what we think with what the Israeli law is asking from us.”

We are citizens who are keeping the laws since 1948, we are good citizens. All that we demand is equality…

Unfortunately, instead of appreciating the relative silence and nonviolence struggle of the Palestinians, this government and other governments are pushing us into the corner to choose: either you are with Israel or you are with Israel’s enemies.

The future? Expulsion and transfer will not be possible, according to Dr. Manna, because “there is nowhere for us to go.” Instead:

This issue will be on the focus of the next year more and more.. rights and fair representation in all the institutions of Israel, a promise made in Israel’s declaration when statehood was declared…We are waiting this for 62 years.

Israel can’t behave to us the way they behaved in the past…Israel is paying a high price. I do hope, I really do hope, that the Jewish majority will understand that what they are doing lately is counterproductive…this heavy use of force, to try to frighten everyone is not working any more. They have to change their policy towards the Palestinians in occupied territories and towards the Palestinians in Israel.


This interview on Tidings from Hazel Kahan was originally broadcast on WPKN radio on June 30, 2010. Tidings is produced by Tony Ernst.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Israel through the eyes of a psychotherapist

Avigail Abarbanel is an Israeli-born psychotherapist who migrated to Australia in 1991. A few months ago, she and her husband moved to the Scottish Highlands where they plan to set up their counseling practice. I spoke with Avigail from her home near Inverness. (The full interview is available as a podcast.)

I found it refreshing and interesting to talk to a psychotherapist about a subject—Israel—that I find increasingly confusing. Along with more and more people it seems, I am asking: Why do the Israelis do what they do? Why do they keep on doing it? Can’t they see what damage they are doing to themselves, to the Palestinians, to us all? I asked Avigail if she would diagnose Israel as if the nation were a client of hers and then suggest an appropriate treatment regimen.

Here, summarized as succinctly as I can, are the main threads of Avigail’s response along with her emphatic assertion that underlying everything she says is a
clear distinction between explanation and excuse. (I do urge you to listen to the podcast and listen to her compelling, fluid presentation. Sometimes an mp3 is worth thousands of words of text!)

Trauma and its ramifications lie at the heart of the Israeli nation:

it is the organizing principle of the Israeli people and the psychology that has shaped its national character. But not just because of the Holocaust of World War II; rather, the seeds are already there, in the culture, the biblical stories (see Joshua, see Deuteronomy, Numbers, Exodus) and through centuries of history, including the Zionist movement in the late 19th century. The roots of victimhood and persecution go back to a long time ago. The roots of victimhood and persecution go back to a long time ago.

Unfortunately, one of the characteristics of trauma is that it is passed on, through the generations and proliferates within the generations.

Trauma, as we know from PTSD, is a clinically-established phenomenon that can manifest whenever the suffering individual perceives existential threat. The problem is that this threat may or may not be real today. Objectively Israel, with its military might and nuclear power is one of the most formidable forces in the world; however, the irrational aspects of insecurity persist, nourished rather than managed, treated and healed, amplified now to include Iran.

With an identity forged by its enemies and reinforced by the state’s religious, education, military and cultural institutions along with the trauma narrative, Israelis are not open to seeing themselves in new ways.

Those who suggest such alternatives—you, me, liberal Jews, Judge Goldstone--are dismissed as hostile to Israel and included among the expanding number of enemies. As George W. Bush put i: “You’re either with us or with the terrorists.”

Protective isolation against what is perceived as a highly dangerous world and against anyone perceived as an enemy is a natural consequence of trauma.

The huge dimensions of the wall and fence complex built by Israel in the West Bank speak clearly to just how dangerous every Palestinian man, woman and child is seen to be.

On her blog in the extensive section about Palestine/Israel, Abarbanel writes: “the story of Israel and the Palestinian people is the story of trauma being transmitted from one generation to the next” and “my people…have allowed the quality of their life and their identity to be determined by those who hated them and committed crimes against them.” But, she continues: ”Healing is a risky business that requires a willingness to change one’s identity” and not, as she puts it, an endeavor for the faint-hearted.

Abarbanel draws on the work of the American psychiatrist Murray Bowen, and the “close relationship between trauma and persecution, and a tendency to emphasize the force of togetherness. When togetherness is emphasized, those those who do not feel, think, agree, act in the way that the group does, can be seen as traitors.” Citing Bowen’s theory of differentiation, she believes Israel is a “culture of consensus” and a “very poorly differentiated society …with the sense of self very, very meshed and entangled with the sense of the group.”

Based on this analysis, Avigail Abarbanel believes “Israel cannot be reasoned with”, that it “is a traumatised society and it is therefore very dangerous.” Applying family therapy models, she compares Israel to the abusive husband, the Palestinians to the abused wife and the United States to the enabling neighbor;.

She advocates for a one-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict but warns that the coexistence of two traumatized people will require a great deal of imagination and intelligence.

She suggests that there are enough good and skilled and spiritual people in the world whose energies can be mobilized to do the work of healing and reconciliation when the time comes. “It can be great, you know!” she adds.

The interview ends with Avigail reflecting on the ‘secondary traumatization’ that can affect volunteers and human rights workers who are dealing with traumatized populations all over the world. “Look after yourself first,” she counsels, since “you have to be well to help other people…The only way I am able to work sustainably without burning out…is because I do put myself first.”


To hear more about this provocative and thoughtful interview, please turn to the podcast.


To become more familiar with the body of Avigail Abarbanel’s work, here are her writings and her professional website.


My interview with Avigail Abarbanel will be broadcast on Tidings from Hazel Kahan, a monthly program on WPKN radio on May 12, 2010 and is also available as a podcast. Tidings is produced by Tony Ernst.

The interview is also available in German.