Sunday, September 16, 2007


I'm serious!

This was posted in Message #6093 on the Tzfat Yahoo! site:

"Doreen for Mayor of Safed!

Having seen young mayoral candidate Ilan Shochat at his public toast last week, he has to be an improvement on the incumbent.But, with no denigration intended, "a sefard is a sefard is a sefard!".What is needed is a non-sefardi mayor. And I don't necessarily mean "ashkenazi", as most ashkenazi sabras have also been "sefardified".It needs someone who was born outside of Israel, but who knows the foibles of the Israeli mentality, without succumbing to them.I nominate Doreen!She has the IQ, memory, zeal, keeness, Judaic knowledge, has a sense of history and destiny, good ideas, knows perfect Hebrew and English, genuinely cares for Safed and its inhabitants, is incorruptible, hasthe right presence, personality and physiognomy, would get the women's vote, and is the right age.I think she'd make a good mayor, or at least stand for the Moatza, inNovember 2008."
I declined the offer, of course, that for two reasons. First, I am a Sephardia Tehora (pure Sephardic, as opposed to Mizrahi, Jew). Second, and much more to the point; I am a decent person and no decent person ever succeeded at being a politican. The wise ones did not so much as try.

It is a nice vote of confidence and compliment, though.

Doreen Ellen Bell-Dotan, Tzfat, Israel

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


"Am I dressed shabbily enough?", I thought to myself as I got ready to go out to lunch at the new restaurant called Me'ir Panim that was opened in the poorest area of Tzfat, the south, by Yaakov Avni, the newly religious brother of perhaps the most famous actor in Israel, Akni Avni.

"This is only the third time I'm wearing this caftan and my sandals are very new too", I thought, concerned that it would give me away, "but I'll take this old brown handbag. The thin leather is worn and the color patchy."

Adorned in these glad rags I set off.

How shall I explain the many layers of meaning of the name of the restaurant? Taken together they mean an endearing welcoming, but it is so much more than that. 'Me'ir means to 'enlighten' or to 'brighten' both physically and as a result of bringing joy. 'Panim' means 'face', but spelled exactly the same way yet punctuated differently it also means 'innards'; 'the internal part of'; innerness', inwardness; 'internal depths'.

I arrived at the Me'ir Panim Restaurant just at opening time. Uncharacteristically for Israelis, the people waiting outside in the heat for the door to open were patient, soft-spoken and mindful of one another's rightful place on line. I recalled the evening not long ago that I waited on a line with the well-heeled of Tzfat for the gates to open before a Margalit Tza'anani concert at which wine and cheese was served at every table. How rude they were, despite the fact that they greeted those who were important to them with "How are you dear?", a phony smile and a dry peck on the cheek. How galling was their sense of entitlement and self-importance as they vied with one another to get to the gate first in order to get the most desirable seats. Now, waiting for the Me'ir Panim Restaurant to open, there was no tussling, no disrespect, no arrogance. They spoke in a familiar and good-natured manner with one another. There was no posing.

The doors opened and we filed into the simply-appointed, but immaculate, dining area in an orderly manner.

I paid the two Israeli Shekels (48 cents American) that were asked of me for lunch and received a chit of paper with a number on it. True to what the write-up of the restaurant said, no questions were asked. No one inquired as to whether I was in real need of the soup kitchen that treats those who come to eat lunch there as though they were in a restaurant, or if I was hustling them. No one looked at my dress or sandals in a way that would make me feel that they looked just a bit too new. No one looked me up and down at all, as do the people I am sometimes obliged to associate with.

I went to where the food was being served. No less than six volunteers were working. There was a tray in front of me with a roll and corn with dill and pickled vegetables on it. I turned to the man behind me and said: "Excuse me. This is my first time here. I do not know what I have to do. May I take this tray?"

He said: "First pay at the door", not having noticed that I had done so. I told him that I did. Satisfied that I paid the establishment their due and due respect, he became very helpful and said: "Don't worry. They'll do everything for you." Suddenly a number of people were around me helping me and showing me what do to. One man said: "There is a first time for everything. I hope this won't be your last time here", in a manner that meant: "Consider yourself one of us."

One of the women volunteering serving the food is a long-time acquaintance of our family. Upon seeing me she greeted me warmly and served me my food carefully, lovingly: chicken noodle soup, two chicken wings, couscous, the cooked chick peas and vegetables in gravy that accompany couscous. This was in addition to the roll, corn and pickled vegetables on the tray. She did not so much as ask me to surrender the chit with the number on it that represented proof of payment. On the table was a bowl of apples as well.

I understand from what I read about the restaurant that they vary the menu quite a bit.

One of the volunteers called out: "Does anyone want macaroni?" She held up a 500-gram bag of macaroni, one of many in a large pile. I should mention that the cheapest those bags of macaroni sell for retail is four for eleven NIS.

She also came around with candy bars and gave each of us one. Those candy bars sell for two shekels a pop in candy stores.

Later the woman who served me the food, who has known my family for years and whose father is friends with my husband ,came over to me and discreetly asked: "How is your financial situation? Alright?" I answered that we are fine. She did not believe me. It is well that she did not. I did not want her to. She wished me a healthy and prosperous year.

I ate everything on the tray in order to know how satisfied the meal would leave me. It really was quite good and very filling. It is now some nine hours later and I am still not hungry. One could, if one had to, live on that one meal per day.

Looking around I liked the people I saw: men and women, young and old, a mother with a baby, a mother with a youth, Russians immigrants beside born Israelis. One of the volunteers, who looks as though he might be a convert, spoke only English.

Just as I was making my way out I saw Ya'akov Avni on his way out too. He had, despite being the owner and operator of the restaurant, been serving along with the volunteer staff. The door was positioned such that none of the diners still left there could see him going out. The moment I had anticipated came. I seized the opportunity that I had been waiting for. I walked over to him and said: "Reb" quietly so that the other diners would not hear. He looked at me kindly. I said: "The meal was very good, the service excellent and the ambiance unlike any other." He thanked me. I went on: "That meal was really worth more than two shekels and I put a hundred shekel bill in his hand. Our eyes met as he understood why I had come.

Doreen Ellen Bell-Dotan, Tzfat, Israel

Tuesday, September 04, 2007


Israeli Gov't Officials: Islamic Jihad to Bear Brunt of IDF Response to Kassams

"Islamic Jihad will likely bear the brunt of Israel's military response to the Kassam rockets that hit the western Negev on the second day of the school year, including one that slammed into a day care center's courtyard, government officials said Monday night. Islamic Jihad was responsible for all nine of the Kassam attacks, the officials said. The rockets were timed to hit when parents were taking their children to school, defense officials said...."


Is there any doubt in anyone's mind that both the Jews and the Palestinians are being set up to for "culling" a few at a time here, a few at a time there, and are not being allowed to engage in any serious kind of deliberations or implement real plans for the benefit of all that will stop this madness, so that someone can make A LOT of money in the arms business?

Unfortunately, both sides are so filled with hate, hubris and absolute certainty in their own absolute righteousness and superiority that they can't see. They can't see that both Peoples are being set up and that this is the "legacy" that the British left before they folded up the Mandate.

Instead of being stupid and letting those who are setting our teeth against one another to play us for fools at the expense of our lives, we should be joining forces to get the Western dirty business interests out of this area.

Ego always makes for easy victimization.

Doreen Ellen Bell-Dotan, Tzfat, Israel

Sunday, September 02, 2007


It is common nowadays to speak of religion and rationality as though they are mutually exclusive, as though never the twain will, or can, meet.

This premise should not be accepted as a foregone conclusion. It needs to be carefully examined. Upon doing so, we will see that it is in gross error.

The basic premises of religionists and atheists, the latter of whom claim that they are rationalists and hold sole claim to rationality, are equally non-rational. To say that we can reasonably posit the existence of a Being that is Ineffable, wholly non-corporeal, without qualities of any kind and so vastly beyond our comprehension that we cannot begin to fathom It, is a wholly irrational position. Such a position may be taken on an experiential claim, on the basis of hope that such a Being exists or on blind faith, but it is not a rational statement.

The position of the atheists is equally irrational. To say that we can, with any degree of certainty whatsoever, posit that there does not exist a Being that is Ineffable, wholly-incorporeal, without any qualities of any kind and so vastly beyond our comprehension that we cannot begin to fathom It, is a wholly irrational position as well. The only difference between this position and the former is that this position is one that smacks of hubris.

Having demonstrated that the starting points of both the religionists and the atheists are equally without rational basis, we can proceed to examining whether or not rationality can play any part in a religious take on the world.

The afflatus of this treatment of the subject is a new restaurant, the owner and founder of which, Ya'akov Avni (brother of the actor Aki Avni) insists that it not be called a soup kitchen, which opened in the most disadvantaged area of the city of Tzfat, the notorious South (where the author of this essay chooses to make her home).

The restaurant provides full-course meals to come whoever may, no questions asked, for the price of two NIS (about 47 cents American). Great pains have been, and are, taken to provide not only nutritious meals, but to having created a pleasant ambiance in the restaurant, having the meals served by a staff of dedicated volunteers with respect and a smile and giving those who patronize the restaurant the feeling that they are coming to dine (thus the nominal charge) and not having favors dished out to them by a charity.

One can find equally rational and pseudo-scientific reasons for feeding the poor, making them feel wanted and cared for and not. So, it is not therein that the rationality resides.

Having made the leap of faith and deciding to feed the poor and give them a feeling of honor and dignity, the rationality comes in in the planning and implementation of the programme.

It takes a great deal of rational, systematic and methodical thinking to plan such a project, implement it and keep it going.

One has, first and foremost, to rationally and correctly assess the socio-economic situation in which people are found. One must then determine correctly and rationally the needs of real people in real situations. Next, one has to rationally and correctly assess one's own abilities to help them. One has to be able to formulate a plan or programme of assistance in one's mind. Having done so, one has then to arrange for subsidization of the food costs and costs of operation. One has to systematically go about finding an umbrella organization that will assist the program if need be and find donors. One has to go about finding suppliers of the food, buying the necessary equipment, furnishings, arranging the permits from the city, paying the bills, finding the fitting staff for the operation and do on.

Rationality comes into religion in the application of its principles.

Rationality can not be said to be the basis either for a religious position or lack of it, as we demonstrated at the outset of the essay. It must reside in how we carry out the articles of our faith and what we believe to be right.

To date, because many Human societies are so very cruel and do not provide for Human needs rationally or with compassion, people have turned to religion for all the wrong reasons. People turn to God in desperation: for the love they do not get from others, for the security that society does not provide them with, for the fulfillment of their hopes and dreams that society does not allow or has dashed and so on. They come in desperation and, as an inevitable result, their religious practice is pathological.

A society that will foster healthy religion must be created. We cannot dismiss the possibilities of what religion can be and can offer in healthy societies based on the reasons that people turn to religion in sick societies.

I have witnessed in the secular Kibbutz Movement, on wealthy kibbutzim the residents of which have all of their socio-economic needs provided for, that a feeling of superficiality and meaningless begins to creep into the hearts and minds of a good percentage of the members. They begin to feel that, though they have everything they need and want materially, something profound is yet missing. Some of those who feel that way, and they are a goodly number, turn to religion.

They turn to religion not in desperation, not in fear, not in loneliness and not in insecurity or need. They turn to religion for a final fulfillment.

The religion that they consider is based on their traditional religion, but they are not afraid to experiment with new forms of ceremony or discard those which do not seem meaningful to them. They feel free to innovate, to question and to improvise. This to my mind is all very healthy and I believe that were we all living in a communalistic society, as are the members of the Kibbutz Movement, this seminal spiritual/moral enterprising would arise spontaneously and would prove to be fecund, producing new expressions of ancient religions and new religions that would provide the deepest fulfillment of the Human experience.

Doreen Ellen Bell-Dotan, Tzfat, Israel