Reflection on 15-Year-Old Writing


I found something I wrote in February 26, 2002. I was 16 days away from the gibush—a week-long intense tryout—for Shayetet, the Israeli Naval Commando, that includes marches on the beaches of Atlit while carrying bags of sand, and hours of sprinting in and out of the sea. I had been training for the gibush for months (the picture was taken during training).

I was 18 and scared shitless. Not of failing or not passing the test, but of reaching a breaking point and giving up. I was afraid of not being as strong as I thought or hoped I was. Of reaching a wall and not making it through. Of disappointing myself.

This is the pick-me-up note—painstakingly word for word—I wrote myself almost 15 years ago:
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Jewish Reconciliation

During the first week of March this year, students stood on the stairs of Columbia University’s Low Plaza with eight-foot panels calling Israel an apartheid state. In front of Butler Library was a table with the words “Boycott Israel.” On the pathway between the two were panels covered with Israel’s flag. The activists thrust flyers and words at passersby, hoping to win the rhetoric war on Israel and Palestine. This was Israel Apartheid Week (IAW).

I wasn’t surprised that IAW takes place on over 150 university campuses worldwide. I was surprised, however, that many of the protestors were Jewish, and one of the co-organizers of the week was Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), an organization of Jewish students. I wondered why so many Jewish students were turning anti-Zionists and protesting against Israel, and how the greater Jewish community has responded.

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The Nuance of Victim Blaming

When Miss. USA, Nia Sanchez, said women should learn self defense to avoid sexual assault, she was accused of victim blaming, receiving numerous tweets to the tune of “how about instead of woman learning to protect themselves, men learn to not rape women?” When Police in Sussex, UK hung posters in female bathrooms at nightclubs, urging women to remain in groups to prevent sexual attacks, a representative of the national charity Rape Crisis said police should instead use their resources to target young men with messages about consent. When journalist Emily Yoffe wrote in Slate that binge drinking “presented a particular danger for young women because it made them more vulnerable to sexual assault,” she was disinvited to speak at a West Coast college for fear her presence would make student victims “feel unsafe,” and Alexander Abad-Santos, a writer for Vox and The Atlantic, responded by asking, “What about teaching men not to rape?”

Yet we don’t find this sentiment with any other crime. We lock our homes at night and put alarm systems in our cars; we move our wallets from our back to front pockets on the subway; we look both ways before we cross the street. And even though there is not a history of blaming theft victims like there is of rape victims, we still use preventive behavior every day without ever considering it victim blaming.

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Killing with Respect

A warrior of the Hamas Naval Commando drowned during a training exercise in northern Gaza on September 2015. In an Israeli online newspaper’s report on the story, they opened the article with the sentence, “He didn’t excel in his role.” They showed a picture of him which they titled “the schlemiel.” They wrote, “to strengthen the absurdity [of him drowning], his name means ‘ocean.’” They called him an “unskilled fighter.”

As an Israeli and a five-year veteran of an elite combat unit in the IDF, I don’t care about this man; it’s good he’s dead. He was training to infiltrate my country via the sea and kill Israelis. His death is beneficial to Israel’s national security.

But we don’t have to mock him in a newspaper report of his death.

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Punching Through Jamestown

The blood on Akimos Annan Ampiah’s hands wasn’t his own; it belonged to a boy who foolishly told him he couldn’t walk down the street. The boy punched Ampiah in the face. Ampiah responded with a left jab, followed by a quick right cross and left hook that sent him to the ground. Ampiah stopped; he can’t fight blood, he says, it makes him feel bad.

Two years ago, on that day, a spectator saw potential in the 18-year-old Ampiah, took him to a boxing gym in Accra, and paid for Ampiah to train there. Within a year, Ampiah was on the national team. Currently, he is training for the All African Games and the 2016 Olympics.

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Your Freedom of Speech is Not Under Attack

Here’s the thing about speech: It’s never free.

Billy Bob Thornton was right when accepting his Golden Globe this past January: “These days you get into a lot of trouble no matter what you say… you can say anything in the world and get in trouble. I know this for a fact. So I’m just going to say thank you.”

Being right isn’t the same as being smart.

Justine Sacco was fired from her PR job after a tactless tweet about white people not contracting AIDS. When Patricia Arquette said in her Oscar acceptance speech that it’s time for all gay and colored people to “fight for [women] now,” she came under fire for being white, privileged, and insensitive to minority intersectionality. Journalists and cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo were threatened and then attacked for drawing cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad.

All these are cause and effect. You have the right to say and do anything within the realm of the law, but can’t ignore that words and actions carry consequences, regardless of whether or not those consequences are justified or legitimate. From internet shamers to fanatic extremists, the consequences can include public humiliation, loss of employment, and even violent and fatal attacks, which leads to the intersection of free speech, hate speech, and responsible speech; being right versus being smart.

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The Problem with Zero Tolerance

Parker Rice and Levi Pettit were expelled on March 10 from the University of Oklahoma, two days after the two were filmed leading their Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) fraternity members in a racist chant on a bus. Many on the bus, including Rice and Pettit, repeatedly sang, “There will never be a nigger at SAE, you can hang them from a tree, but they’ll never sign with me.”

The expulsion of these students is problematic. Whether we agree with the expulsion or not — and despite first amendment issues that exist — expelling these students for a racist chant creates a zero tolerance standard that will be too complex and almost impossible to uphold across the board. Continue reading

Dear 18-Year-Old Omri: Happy Enlistment

You get on the bus. It’s just for show, the bus only takes you about 200 meters into Tel Hashomer Base; you and all the others enlisting with you can just as easily walk. But it means something to get on that bus, for your family to see you doing it. It’s the last time they’ll see you as a civilian. You’ll come home that night or the following week or month in uniform. A soldier. You look behind you and smile, then you take a seat.

Omri Enlistment Bus

You come home that night and the uniform you have on is green and crisp and new. You look awkward wearing it. You’re not really a soldier, not yet, only by name. I look at this picture of you thirteen years later and there’s so much you don’t know, so much I want to tell you to make the following years easier for you. To put you more at ease. The truth is, I don’t remember you at that age anymore. I don’t remember what you were like. I don’t know how much of you was you back then, and how much of you was built over the following two or five or even eight years.

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Glorifying Inaction

This is in response to an article in the New York Times by Moriel Rothman-Zecher, titled “Why I Won’t Serve Israel,” where he explains in detail why he won’t serve in the IDF:

I have a problem with people who glorify inaction. I take issue with those who point out a problem and offer no solution. People who claim to act out of ideology and belief, when those things are only disguising selfishness. This is my problem with Moriel Rothman-Zecher and his article, “Why I Won’t Serve Israel.”

I used to have an extremely harsh attitude towards those who didn’t enlist in the military. I wouldn’t speak to them because I couldn’t accept them breaking the social contract we were all born into and that existed between us. I gave my sweat and blood, almost my life, so they can be safe. So they can go to malls and ride on buses and not blow up. That’s not an abstract notion, it’s literal. But you’re not allowed to live in our country under the safety and freedom I, and every other soldier, provide, and not extend the same courtesy. That’s not how our system works, whether you believe in that system or not. Continue reading

What I Learned from Getting Kicked in the Head — 25.12.13

I always thought that when I die, I would want it to happen slowly. Maybe not cancer slowly, but nevertheless to have those few minutes before I die to understand that this is the end. To know that I spent my whole life wondering how it would end, and now I know. I’m a true storyteller: I need to know how the story ends. To spend my whole life wondering how I’m going to die and then to not find out seems unsatisfactory. I want to be able to reflect on my life. I want to have a last thought and say it out loud if there is anyone there to hear it. To go through the process of slipping away. To understand, finally, what dying means. But getting kicked in the head changed all that.

I arrived early at Krav Maga to spar with Nils. We went three rounds and I wasn’t at my best. I remember us touching gloves and saying, “Last round.” The next thing I remember is a floating sensation. White light focusing in on fluorescents. Nils sitting me up and taking my gear off and me saying, “What? No, we can keep going.” Then asking the same three questions in a loop for twenty minutes: “What happened? I got knocked out? Did anybody see?” I had lost consciousness for three seconds; I had been knocked out. Someone offered to drive me to the ER. I said I had to go to an NYU plenary lecture and I went. I made my way to the ER five hours later and found out I had a concussion. Continue reading