Monday, June 24, 2013

Tony - Green Horizons

I met tony for the first time just a moment before the Hanukkah Camp. His mom called me while we prepared for the torch parade and said she saw the Green Horizons flyer that we handed in his school, Mekif Gimel. He was in 8th grade at the time, and came every day to school for two hours until he got bored and returned home, to everyone's joy the recruitment in that school was in those two hours. 

The first activity he attended was a preparation for the trip and immediately after we bought food together for the trip, I saw that he could not read the shopping list that I prepared or the packing list for the trip.

We went to the Hanukkah camp which was challenging and interesting, of course none of the kids knew Tony even though he went to school with them, he just never stayed after the first two hours, whenever he came at all. Every time I spread the map tony tried to read what I read out from the route, but confused the letters or read names that made sense better sense to him.

After the trip I did a few activities, and in some there was a need to read a few lines or words, I noticed that he couldn't, but still tried every time. When I inquired a bit I noticed that he can read English perfectly. About Russian I am not sure but he sure knows a lot about Russian grammar. I decided to ask him and he said he never studied Hebrew in an organized way, and no teacher ever tried to understand his reading level.

To my understanding, this is the reason that he was bored in school and went home – he just didn’t understand what people were talking about.  He had learned Russian and English from his mother and television. Tony's mom doesn’t speak Hebrew well and thus she speaks with him mostly in Russian mixed with Hebrew. Her conversations with me are also in Hebrew with a touch of English and Russian.

The next attempt was before the annual navigation competition. I made a huge attempt to advance the group in multiple levels and teach them topographic navigating during a long activity in which we used both an aerial photograph and a topographic map, which we love so much. Tony was amazed by the way he could get a point and reach it by analyzing the map. I felt that suddenly he was dealing with something complex that would force him to test himself. Soon after he started to tackle the maps on our trips, and I saw him attempt to understand what he read on the map.

Many times he asked me or his group members for an explanation of one letter or another, or for some words that he did not understand, but mostly his attempt was independent. 

He came to summer camp and during the trip he took it upon himself a few times the privilege of navigating the group while trying to read the names of the places and attractions we visited in the Upper Galilee. One thing led to another and I now two years later, I see the progress he has made.  He may not read Hebrew at the speed of an average 10th grader, but his attempt to read from signs, maps and flyers in activities is amazing and touching.

Tony doesn’t go to school.  Since nobody noticed until the 8th grade that he couldn't read of write, he never managed to benefit from a school setting. He works as a cook in Ringelblum CafĂ© under the supervision of a social worker. He never missed one of our group trips though, and I can count on one hand the number of activities he missed. 

If I ask myself what has been the most meaningful activity in Tony's life, undoubtedly it will be the one before the annual navigation competition. That is when the first time it was understood that he cannot explain where he is going without being able to read the legend or the name of the sites.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

When artists scapegoat Israel

Op-ed from the New York Post

Editor’s note: The novelist Alice Walker recently wrote a public letter asking singer Alicia Keys to cancel a concert in Israel. Keys declined to follow the advice — but Israel’s consul general here in New York has some words for Walker.
Dear Ms. Walker,

I am writing this letter to you with great pain, after encountering your name in the news, again, calling for a boycott on my home and country.

Recently, you urged a popular American artist to boycott Israel. In your statement you claimed that “under a campaign named ‘Brand Israel,’ Israeli officials use culture and arts to showcase Israel as a modern, welcoming place.”
As it happens, I’m the founding head of Israel’s brand-management team and the originator of the Brand Israel movement you refer to. Let me tell you the real story of Brand Israel:

For decades, dozens of countries, cities and regions all over the world have engaged in a “branding” process — a comprehensive attempt to present an attractive image of a place, which should lead to increased tourism, foreign investment and export. “I Love New York” is part of one such campaign.
No other country has ever been criticized for engaging in this common practice of courting tourists and businesses. Only in Israel’s case is it — for some reason — deemed a demonic exercise of the “Israeli propaganda machine.”

This is even more ridiculous, when the Israeli government sponsors award-winning films with self-critical viewpoints that often deal with the conflict that the critics claim we are trying to hide. An odd “propaganda machine” indeed.
So why is it that in your view, the Jewish state has no right to promote itself, dress up for its tourists and appeal to millions, while entities like Iran and North Korea, not to mention Gaza under Hamas, avoid your harsh words and condemnations?

Why is it considered a ploy in our case, when it is a worthy and normal endeavor when everyone else does the same?

Here’s a strange twist: A well-known American author, who prides herself of the protection of freedom and pluralism, is trying to deprive millions of Israeli music fans of their right to enjoy music.

Let’s admit: You do not think Israel has the right to be presented positively. You displayed your own inability to relate to Israel other than through the prism of the conflict with its neighbors.

Have you done anything about Syria? Ninety thousand dead, 1.5 million refugees. Full-blown civil war.

Israel, like many other places on Earth, experiences a variety of issues and challenges — some related to our society, others to the geopolitics of a changing region. Israel should not be viewed solely through the prism of its problems, nor should any other country.

Israel is a vibrant nation, with hard-working people who make the world a better place on a daily basis. Our legendary foreign minister, the late Golda Meir, was one of the first leaders to reach out to the “newly decolonized” nations of Africa immediately after their independence, to join hands in sharing our respective experiences as young nations.

Meir’s work and legacy still thrive all over the developing world, spreading the light that is Israel, and for the benefit of making people’s lives better.
This legacy was manifested not too long ago when Israelis from all walks of life received word of the earthquake in Haiti. In just a few hours, planes were packed with supplies and manpower to help in the relief efforts.Israel was one of the first countries to arrive in Haiti after the earthquake, and we immediately got to work in order toset up entire field hospitals, complete with pre-natal units, in the hardest hit areas.

While Israeli search-and-rescue teams went to the wreckage to look for survivors, our doctors were delivering new life and providing a new hope for survival. After the wreckage was cleared, teams of doctors and engineers traveled once again to Haiti to help with the efforts to rebuild.

We all know that there is a dire need in the world today for greater understanding and mutual respect between peoples and nations. Once we start excluding others unjustly and immorally, it can only serve to harm the greater good.

Let’s use our words carefully, to build bridges, not destroy them. To bring healing, not pain. Ms. Walker, Israel is a country of history and wonder, surprises and values.It is a source of light. Let it — and us all — shine.

Ido Aharoni is Israel’s consul general in New York.