Friday, September 21, 2012

Israel's population nears 8 million on eve of 5773

Israel's population nears 8 million on eve of 5773
5,978,600 Israelis (75.4%) are Jews and one-fifth are Arabs. The population grew 1.8% in 2011.

Israel has 7,933,200 residents at Rosh Hashana (Jewish New Year) 5773, the Central Bureau of Statistics reported today in its "Selected Data from the New Statistical Abstract of Israel 2012". 5,978,600 are Jews (75.4% of the total population), 1,636,600 are Arabs (including Bedouin and Druze) (20.5%), and 318,000 are categorized as "others" (mostly non-Jews who have one Jewish grandparent, and are entitled to Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return).

The rate of growth was 1.8% in 2011, similar to the rate over the previous eight years and during the 1980s (during the massive immigration from Russia in the 1990s, the growth rate was 3% a year). The rate of growth among Jews was 1.8%, it was 2.5% among Muslims, 1.3% among Christians, and 1.7% among the Druze. The growth rate of Israel Arabs has slowed to 2.4% from 3.4% in 1996-2000.

In 2011, 16,892 immigrants arrived in Israel, 1.5% more than in 2010. The largest number of immigrants was from Russia (3,678 immigrants), Ethiopia (2,666), the US (2,363), Ukraine (2,051), and France (1,775).

The Israeli population is younger than the populations of Western countries. In 2011, 28.2% of Israelis were aged 0-14 compared with the OECD average of 18.5%, and 10.3% of Israelis were over the age of 65, compared with the OECD average of 15%.

Israel's population density has been rising, due to the increase in population, reaching 347 persons per square kilometer (excluding the Judea and Samaria) in 2011 from 288 persons per square kilometer in 2000.

Life expectancy continues to increase, reaching 80 years for men and 83.6 years for women. The leading causes of death are cancer and heart disease, accounting for 46% of all deaths. One sixth of Israelis needs social services as do one-third of the elderly. A quarter of social services recipients are children up to 14, as are one half of Ethiopians. The rate of applications among the Arab population is 1.5 times more than that of the Jewish population.

Belying conventional wisdom that a majority of Israelis have overdrafts, the Central Bureau of Statistics says that only 21% of Israelis have a permanent overdraft, and 48% have never had an overdraft. 90% of Israelis have never had their bank accounts blocked, and only 32% have received a warning from the bank that they exceeded their overdraft limit.

166,296 children were born in Israel in 2011, unchanged from 2010, and the average number of children per women declined to 3.0 from 3.03. The average number of children for Jewish women continued to rise, reaching 2.98 children per women in 2011 from 2.97 children per woman in 2010. The same trend is prevalent among Christian women, with the number of children per woman rising to 2.19 in 2011 from 2.14 in 2010. In contrast, average number of children for Moslem women continued to decline, reaching 3.51 children per woman in 2011 from 3.75 in 2010. The average number of children for Druze women declined to 2.33 children per woman in 2011 from 2.48 in 2010. The average age of women having their first child was 27.3: it was 28.2 years for Jewish women and 23.4 years for Muslim women.

93% of Israelis over the age of 20 have a bank account. 95% of employed persons have a bank account compared with 81% of unemployed persons, and 97% of employees earning more than NIS 10,000 a month have a bank account compared with 85% of persons who earn the minimum wage.

95% of Jews have a bank account, compared with 80% of Arabs and other minorities. 33% of Jews have applied for a mortgage compared with 13% of Arabs.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Make Some Noise in Synagogue

Make Some Noise in Synagogue

Prayer shouldn’t be a spectator sport. So why do so many shuls insist that congregants sit in silence?

The CEO and managing director of the Brooklyn Philharmonic set off a storm of protest in the classical music world this spring when he suggested that concert halls could benefit from less audience decorum and more clapping, laughter, cheers, and other expressions of emotion. Don’t sit still so much at the symphony, Richard Dare urged: Performances of classical music need to be livelier, less hushed, less boring, and audiences can do their part in making that happen.
The idea horrified some musicians and orchestra officials. If people can’t “sit still and be quiet,” said Robert Spano, the music director of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, “I don’t think classical music is for them.” Dare has clarified his position in subsequent articles, but has not backtracked. “I don’t want bedlam to break out,” he told reporter Daniel J. Wakin for a piece about the controversy published June 8 in the New York Times. “I’m keenly interested in not dismantling the experience we have now,” he explained. But he does want to make that experience “relevant to more people.”
I’m with him all the way. If you substitute “synagogue” for “concert hall” and “prayer services” for “orchestral performances,” you realize that Dare’s proposal is relevant—point after painful point—to the experience that many Jews have in all too many North American synagogues. Since several million Jews are about to spend a great deal of time in synagogue—the High Holidays are almost upon us, to be followed immediately by Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret, and Simchat Torah—I think there is good reason to ask whether something could or should be done to alter the atmosphere in a shul in the ways that Dare wants to change it at the concert hall. I vote yes for two principal reasons.
One: Jewish religious leaders desperately need to make the experience of communal prayer much more relevant to many more people. Attendance at services has been falling steadily for decades—outpacing, I’d venture, even the decline in orchestra subscriptions. On the other hand, many synagogues are quite successful. Livelier services have consistently led to higher attendance. New and better music has proven especially crucial to generating new excitement in many congregations. Participatory services are more popular than services in which the congregation sits quietly for the most part, watching the rabbi and hazzan perform the work of worship up on the bimah.
Two: Tefillah was never meant to be a spectator sport, and by nature is the very opposite of a passive activity drained of emotion. We are talking about the attempt to stand before God, after all, however one understands God. This has never been an easy thing to do—consult the writings of religious virtuosi throughout the centuries—and is certainly not a routine matter for modern Jews in the pews. Nor is it easy to stand before oneself. The verb “to pray” in Hebrew is reflexive. Prayer is about exposing and facing up to depths of self, asking difficult questions and trying to answer them, pondering the meaning of God’s teachings for one’s life. The process can be uplifting, upsetting, or both. The tefillot we utter are meant to move us. At times the movement within has a chance to find expression in movement of the body—we bow, dance, sway, or parade around the synagogue. At other times, we keep what is inside bottled up, not wanting to reveal the turmoil.
And sometimes, I fear, the prohibition against showing too much emotion in the synagogue—laughing aloud or crying out, moving our feet repeatedly, getting up and walking around—actually gets in the way of feeling the feelings that the prayers are designed to elicit and express. These include gratitude, anxiety, need, anger, longing, fulfillment, wonder, and love. The list is not exhaustive. But it suggests the terrain on which tefillah takes place—a terrain not well suited to strict decorum. There are occasions when the liturgy explicitly directs us to “sing a new song unto the Lord,” literally and figuratively. When we say the psalms of praise called Hallel on new moons and festivals, we try to make joyful noise unto the Lord. I think our services would benefit from other expressions of emotion, communal as well as personal: cries of grief or despair, expressions of awe before the wonders of creation, hand-clapping with God’s thunder. Silence is sometimes the best vehicle through which we summon courage to face up to life or to death, but not always. The point is to be fully present before ourselves, one another, and God. Noise can help.
It’s telling, I think, that before reciting the so-called “silent” Amidah, we say, “Open my mouth, O Lord, and my lips will proclaim your praise.” For Jews at prayer, “silence” means lips in motion, mouth open rather than closed. Let me be clear: Gossip and idle conversation during the Amidah are rightly frowned upon. They are a harmful distraction. It’s difficult to concentrate on the work of encounter when the people in front of you are talking about their kids or the election. The same holds true when the rabbi is preaching, when the Torah is being chanted, or when the hazzan is trying to achieve and maintain a high level of intentionality (kavanah) while getting the notes right. But as you know, if you have experienced it, silent prayer is greatly assisted by murmurings of prayer all around you, by occasional outbursts of a word or phrase that strikes another person with special force as she or he prays, or by the humming of melodies that go along with particular passages in the liturgy. Cries of children are often a welcome accompaniment to the sound of the shofar during the High Holidays. Shouts of joy or pain likewise add valued punctuation.
When Jews first entered the social, cultural, and political worlds of the modern West in the 19th century, we took pains to model our notions of what should happen in synagogue on the aesthetics of Protestant churches. Architecture, music, sermon styles, language of prayer, and—above all—decorum were transformed. Synagogues were no longer places for displays of emotion, any more than concert halls or museums. Movements of the spirit took place within the self, and were meant to remain there.
There is still a place for that aesthetic, I think. I would not want to lose the moments when the congregation follows along quietly as the Torah is chanted, or listens attentively to a sermon or teaching, or permits itself to be transported by the prayers of the hazzan. There are times to rise in unison and sit in unison, to take three steps back or forward in lockstep with those around you, to say the names of friends or family in need of healing before a silent congregation and gratefully answer questions afterward about their condition.
But, let’s not lose the proper balance between quiet and noise, receptivity and participation. The rabbi will forgive you for talking to the person beside you if the point is to check in, offer support, get the news. The hazzan will not only forgive you, but thank you for singing or humming along, filling the sanctuary with the collective murmur of “davening” during silent prayer, or adding to the sense of life and movement in the synagogue. Kol Nidre’s recital is not meant to be an operatic solo before a hushed multitude; the rhythm of Yom Kippur is marked as much by congregational chants and breast-beating (and tears) as it is by the progression from service to service, confessional to confessional. And if you are lucky enough to be part of a congregation that has come together at Kol Nidre, and has reflected and sung, sat and stood, fasted and swayed together all the way through to Ne‘ilah, you can expect that communal recital of the final Avinu Malkeinu—when darkness falls, the “gates of repentance” close, and the end of the fast approaches—will be an experience of prayer that you will long remember.
I’d trade decorous silence for more noise in synagogue any day, and especially on the High Holidays. Let’s put our hearts into our davening, and strengthen each other with our song.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Berliners don skullcaps to show solidarity with Jewish community

Berliners don skullcaps to show solidarity with Jewish community

Following two anti-Semitic attacks in Germany and Austria last week, a Berlin newspaper asked politicians and celebrities to pose wearing skullcaps.
                                                           The cover of BZ newspaper 

A man wears a skullcap as he takes part in a kippah-flashmob on September 1, 2012 in Berlin. "Berlin wears a yarmulke," the popular BZ local newspaper declared to its readers on Saturday. The reason: the front page presented a photo of five Berlin celebrities posing with skullcaps – including Mayor Klaus Wowereit, one of the best known gay politicians in Europe.
The city's residents decided to show their solidarity with the city's Jewish community following Tuesday's attack on Rabbi Daniel Alter. The assailants, locals of Arab origin, asked Alter - who was wearing a yarmulke - if he was Jewish, and then proceeded to attack him. On Thursday a rabbi was attacked in Vienna by soccer fans who abused him with anti-Semitic and Nazi slogans. A spontaneous rally was held in the city on Saturday.
Reinhard Naumann, head of the Charlottenburg– Wilmersdorf Berlin district, called for immediate action in response to the events. Naumann called on the Berlin newspaper to take action: "Berliners can show solidarity with Daniel Alter and the Jewish community by wearing skullcaps," Naumann told BZ on Friday.
The newspaper decided to accept the challenge, and turned to politicians, celebrities and citizens, who all agreed to pose wearing skullcaps. Sven Schulz, a parliament member from the Spandau neighborhood, explained: "'Berlin wears a yarmulke' is an excellent idea, and is a powerful symbol of solidarity."
Mayor Wowereit published a notice of support for the rally, calling the attack on Alter "violence directed against peace and communality in a multi-religious city… Berlin is proud of its liberal and tolerant heritage. Our multi-national city includes numerous religious communities. Churches, synagogues, mosques and temples are all communal centers and carry an important social role."
A Facebook initiative also led to a demonstration which saw 150 people, most of them wearing skullcaps, marching through the streets. "We cannot accept the fact that people can be attacked in our streets only because they [are] identified as Jews," the organizers explained.
The demonstration was also meant to send a message to a Rabbinical College near Berlin, which advised its rabbis not to wear skullcaps on the street.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Where Is the Flotilla for Syria?

Where Is the Flotilla for Syria?

Assad's war has claimed four times as many victims in 20 months as have been killed in the Israel-Palestine conflict in the last 20 years.

Last month, a group of Scandinavians pulled up anchor from a Swedish port and set off toward the Middle East under the pretense of delivering humanitarian aid. The Nordic fog may have clouded their choice of destination. The moral compass of these self-proclaimed human-rights activists steered them to the Gaza Strip, not Syria.

The fleets of flotillas, ferries, yachts, sailboats, canoes and catamarans and that have set sail for Gaza in recent years rival the size of the Spanish Armada. Yet one might argue that humanitarian flotillas are needed just a bit more urgently in Syria, where more civilians have been murdered by the Assad regime than those killed during Japan's 2011 earthquake and tsunami, Hurricane Katrina, and 9/11 combined.

The conflict in Syria has also claimed roughly four times as many victims in the past 20 months as were killed in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict over the past 20 years. The residents of Gaza continue to enjoy more international assistance than virtually any other population on the planet, but almost no aid is reaching the two million people displaced within Syria—roughly 10% of the country's population.

The flotilla crowd has different priorities. They prefer to work around the clock to protest Israel's legitimate defense against the terrorists who target its citizens and fire thousands of rockets into its cities. Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised: It's much easier to face news cameras in Tel Aviv than bullets in Damascus.

Demonstrators at an anti-Israel rally in Stockholm, May 2010.

Indeed, Israel is the luxury destination of choice for this type of "human-rights activist." In Israel, these weekend revolutionaries are free from the dangers of arbitrary arrest, imprisonment and execution that abound in the totalitarian states that make up the rest of the region. Instead of trying to dig into the dark abyss of abuses in neighboring states, they prefer to lounge in the comfort of Israel's democratic institutions, civil society and independent media, which offer a wealth of easily accessible information that they use to attack Israel.

The burden of democracy is always heavy, and Israel is proud to carry it. With more reporters and human-rights activists per capita than anywhere else on the planet, we understand deeply the invaluable role of civil society, even though its institutions can sometimes be used and abused by those with the most radical of agendas.

Today much of the international human-rights arena resembles a masquerade ball, where the most extreme views can be easily masked beneath the empty utterance of words like "democracy" and "human rights." Norwegian scholar Johan Galtung, the leader of the Scandinavian ship to Gaza, was recently suspended from the Swiss World Peace Academy for a series of anti-Semitic rants. He recommended that all university students read "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion," the infamous piece of 19th-century propaganda used in Nazi classrooms.

Far from criticizing the tyrants of the Middle East, the flotilla crowd often joins hands with them. Just this May, the British activist group Viva Palestina enjoyed the hospitality of Bashar Assad, making a pit stop in Syria on its way to trying to enter Gaza. Around the same time that Assad's thugs were gearing up for their massacre of children in Houla, members of Viva Palestina were proudly tweeting their whereabouts and posting photos on Facebook of themselves next to the regime's representatives.

Instead of dancing with dictators and tangoing with tyrants, what if the flotilla crowd actually set sail in the direction where aid is so desperately needed?