A State of Mind
Why Israel must become secular and democratic. A memoir
By Ofra Yeshua-Lyth
Contents & summery of chapters
Three introductory chapters present the case for separating religion from politics
Chapter 1: Falling Stars
Describing an enchanting night watching a meteorite shower in the West bank and the pleasures of other friendly visits in Palestine; wondering why such normal contacts are considered impossible.
Chapter 2: Anything Left for Us to Do
Remembering innocent 1950's Israel; diagnosing the Israeli malaise as the mistake of allowing the Jewish religion in its Orthodox grim version become State Law; The orthodoxy dictates segregation from non-Jews, building up the Chimera of "demographic" fears.
Chapter 3: Theodore's Business Plan
An unbiased reading of the original Zionist manifestos reveals that the vision of Theodore Herzl had nothing to do with according Jews the right or the motivation to turn non-Jews into second class citizens; for Herzl separation of Church and State was a pre-condition. The Jewish State was supposed to become a shining model of political humanism.
Introducing Jewish Orthodoxy and its perspectives on statehood
Chapter 4: Monsey, New York
A truly Orthodox rabbi in upstate New York is horrified by the unholy mixture of Judaism and politics in Israel. His plea for a separation of Church and State for the sake of the true believers and the integrity of the faith is shunned by fellow ultra-Orthodox.
Chapter 5: A Man from Mars
A chance meeting with an ultra-Orthodox man in a Tel Aviv neighborhood grants eye-opening observations. With no access to modern education and no professional qualifications, isolated from mainstream sources of knowledge and entertainment, community members suffer spiritual as well as material deprivations.
Chapter 6: The Rabbis' Great Grandchildren
Family history tales illustrate how all secular Jews are descendants from some rebellion against the tyranny of the orthodoxy which happened at some earlier generation. Almost every one of us may trace a rabbi as a forefather. For present day ultra-Orthodox, rebellion is made harder through state intervention.
Chapter 7: Divinely Alone
A modern kosher food controller enlightens the author about the concept of being the Chosen People, nourished by a special diet. Concepts that young Israelis were educated to lament and to ridicule in the 1960's are making a comeback with a vengeance.
Following the firm grip religion has on the life of non-religious Israelis, trying to fathom the surprising acquiescence of the so-called liberals in the country with blatantly discriminating practices.
Chapter 8: Three Weddings
A friend's choice of an un-recognized wedding ceremony illuminates the peculiarities of the matrimonial legal status in Israel which is geared to block any infiltration of non-Jews into the community.
Chapter 9: Till Death Do
Staunch liberal maternal grandmother was defeated in her last plea not to be buried with religious ceremony.
Chapter 10: The Bicycle revenge
Without the interference of religious officialdom, Jewish holidays develop into uplifting modern feasts.
Chapter 11: Shawls of Discontent
Official Judaism's nightmare is the reformed version of the old religion; Reform and conservative Jewish rabbis are not recognized by the Jewish State, although their disciplines unite the majority of non-Israeli Jewry.
Cutting Down to Size
Circumcision brands the male members community with mothers as accomplices.
Chapter 12: The Blood Bond
The unanimous verdict of the medical profession worldwide against the practice of surgically interfering with baby boys genitals is still a state secret in Israel.
Chapter 13: Ready for Action
Mythological roots and psychological impacts of circumcision; this uniquely effective method of imposing traditional values helps choke dissent from the elders' teaching in Jewish as well as in Moslem communities.
Looks into the ascent of religious political forces in Israel as the logical outcome of state sponsored mass immigration based exclusively on religious criteria.
Chapter 14: How the State was Stolen
The State founders were mostly secular Jews from Eastern European (Ashkenazi) descent. They were appalled in the 1980's to find their hegemony challenged by the rising political power of Jews who emigrated from Arab countries.
Chapter 15: What Color are Jews
Color-base discrimination came naturally to many Eastern European immigrants in Israel. They conveniently forgot that in their countries of origin "looking Jewish" meant having a dark complexion.
Chapter 16: The Short Cut
In the early 1900's Yemenite Jews, including the author's parental grandparents, willingly flocked to Palestine as the first guest workers of the new Jewish colonies. Local Palestinians, equally offering cheap labor were not welcome to the new jobs as their religious identity was different.
Chapter 17: Working Hands
Following the establishment of the Jewish State in 1948 a mass immigration scheme was put in motion. As European Jewry was almost extinct Jews from Arab countries were invited to join Israel and secure its Jewish majority. Serious social problems were created as the newcomers found it hard to adapt to the positions offered to them at the bottom of the Israeli Jewish society.
Chapter 18: Black Panthers in Silk Gowns
Frustrated and discriminated, the deeply antagonized Arab Jews were first attracted by populist political forces that encouraged Arab bashing. Eventually they created a powerful religious-nationalist political force. Religion is the one cultural element that distinguishes Arab Jews from non-Jewish Arabs. It is also useful for defying Ashkenazi hypocritical secular patriotism.
Chapter 19: Russians on the Move
The latest immigrant wave from the former USSR was supposed to tip the demographic balance in favor of the Ashkenazi Jews in Israel; its considerable contingency of non-Jews is putting extra-pressure on the already problematic Israeli identity.
Chapter 20: Sweet and Thorny
Encounters with Palestinian-Israeli intellectuals Fouzi al Asmar and Sabri Jiriis. What does it mean "To be an Arab in Israel".
Chapter 21: Love Sick in Baltimore
An expectant very young Israeli Jewish mother is being separated from her lover and sent to the other side of the globe to have her baby born and adopted by strangers on US soil. The reason: the would be father is an Arab from Gaza. Judaism's zero tolerance to mixed marriages has profound impact on Arab-Israeli relations.
Chapter 22: Back to the Water Cisterns
Israeli wars, occupation history and evolving public opinion seen from a personal perspective.
Chapter 23: No Translation into English
A young journalist believes that direct Egyptian-Israeli parlay opens the road for Peace for a lifetime, with no need of superpowers' intervention. The illusion does not last long.
Chapter 24: A night at the Opera, Morning in Ramalla
Days of the second Inthifada, and why Israeli Peace slogans no longer make any sense.
Chapter 25: The Bird Man
Finding comfort in reconciliation ecology near Eilath, in southern Israel.