Thursday, December 22, 2011

In my Heart, In my Soul

Liverpool has been a part of me since I was growing up in Israel. I'm still not sure who got me into the footy team, but since I was 8/9, I was a fan of Liverpool FC. A few years later, I was hooked on the Beatles after being a part of a 'She Loves You' skit while in Club Med in Italy. The passion for both took on another level when my parents sent me to Carmel College in 1992, a boarding school in Oxfordshire. Unfortunately, I never made it up to Liverpool and when my family moved to the US in '94, it seemed like the dream of seeing the city would be put on hold indefinitely. With the development of the internet, following Liverpool became easier and so that passion, as well as listening to the tens of Beatles CDs I had now accumulated, became an every day activity. Fast forward through high school and uni, and I moved to Israel. Within a few years, I was working for IDT Telecom and finding myself in London once to twice a year. In 2010, I managed to see Liverpool live for the first time, a 2-1 Carling Cup defeat to Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium. It was time I decided - I had to get up to Liverpool.

When my boss told me he wanted me in London from November 28th to 30th, I quickly glanced at Liverpool's schedule. YES! Liverpool were playing Manchester City at Anfield on the 27th, not to mention the added bonus of playing Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on the 29th. I started looking for tickets, and soon, a family friend (Ian) from Leicester struck gold. I had tickets ... The dream was about to be realized at the ripe old age of 31! I arrived in England on Nov 25th, and made my way up to Manchester to spend some time with friends I met in Israel. It was a pleasant Shabbat, and on Sunday morning, I made my way to Liverpool for the first time.

I arrived at Liverpool's Lime Street Station around noon, and met Ian. The next two hours were spent touring the city: From St. Luke's Church, to the Cavern Club, to the schools that John, Paul and George attended, to the Albert Dock, to the Royal Liver Building, to seeing the Mersey, to Penny Lane, to Strawberry Fields, and to a few other landmarks. The last landmark was what I was anticipating for decades ... Anfield.

Before the walk there, I stopped at King Harry, a pub frequented by many of my mates from, a Liverpool forum. It was nice to put faces on people I've been talking to for years. After a pint, I had to run. I wanted to go into the stadium a bit early and soak up the atmosphere. As I walked towards Anfield, it was an incredible feeling. I've been waiting for this for so long, a childhood dream that became an adult dream that was finally being realized. Here it was ... and I was smiling as if I'd just won the lottery. I stopped and bought a scarf - how else was I going to sing You'll Never Walk Alone with the 40,000 other Liverpool fans? I passed the gates and there was the statue of Shanks, the mythical manager. A quick picture, and I started walking with Ian towards the gate. I was in footy heaven.

We started walking up the stairs towards the pitch and I caught a glimpse of the green grass. I started smiling like a little child again. As I walked in, I saw the Liverpool lads warming up and the famous Kop. I was actually there ... Anfield. I sat down, and started staring, filming and taking photos. I was on cloud nine and it was only 30 minutes before kick off! As the clock ticked down to kick off, the players walked onto the pitch. A minute of silence. Gary Speed, a fantastic player in his day and the current manager of Wales, had committed suicide in the morning. Anfield was silent. You could hear a pin drop. The whistle blows, and the famous anthem starts ... You'll never walk alone. Goosebumps ... I have sung this song many times with the fans, but it was always in front of a TV monitor or the PC, but now I was singing with 40,000 Reds. "When you walk through a storm ..." "Walk on with hope in your heart ..." It was special. The whistle interrupts the high ... kick off!

The first twenty five minutes were very frustrating. Liverpool gave Man City far too much room, and in the process, the back four was harassed continually. It felt like only a matter of time really, and City duly obliged with a Vincent Kompany goal off a corner. "Great," I thought to myself, "Let's hope we can find a way to stay in this." Before I even had a chance to finish my next thought, Charlie Adam had equalized thanks to a wicked deflecion. 1-1. Game on! That goal changed the momentum of the game. From then on, Liverpool were on top and creating chance after chance. A few minutes later, we all jumped thinking 2-1 but Joe Hart produced a great save off Adam after some great work from Dirk Kuyt & Luis Suarez. A few more half chances, and it's half time. Lucas, the much maligned Brazilian, has been dominant. Our defense has been strong. We're on top here, and there's a sense that we're about to hand City their first loss this season in the league. What a great 45 minutes - I'm loving every minute of this.

The second half kicks off. The first 30 minutes are ok - with neither side managing to dominate. It's back and forth, with a few half chances but neither keeper is troubled. Kuyt seems a shadow of the player he was last year - either bereft of confidence, or on one of his regular 2-3 month slumps. The first real chance for Liverpool in the 2nd half comes around the 80th minute, a great ball from Jordan Henderson finds Stuart Downing. His shot (or cross?) is hit brilliantly but misses the net and the onrushing Kuyt. Downing has had an ok game, but the amount of money we've spent on him, you'd want a goal or an assist every few games. He's yet to register one, though that was close. The last 10 minutes are looking tense for both clubs, but it swings Liverpool's way with a second yellow for Mario Balotelli. He's a nutter, but a player I've loved since his days at Inter. It may be harsh, but Liverpool fans are all too happy to boo him off. The last few minutes are going to be great!

The game picks up. Suarez, on a nice link up with Henderson, forces Hart into a great save. Big Andy Carroll is now on the pitch. As the fans sense a late winner, City almost hit us on the counter with a great run by Edin Dzeko leaving David Silva one on one with Pepe Reina. Reina comes out so fast that Silva hesitates, and by the time he shoots, 3 Liverpool players await the shot on the line and clear without much commotion. Three minutes added on. The seconds are ticking away, and I'm hoping for a miracle to end this great day. Great cross from GlenJo, Carroll gets a head on it - and another brilliant save from Joe Hart, extending to his left. Suarez gets the rebound, and Hart keeps it out again, with Downing's follow up effort booted over the bar. The whistle blows. It's over.

A great game, but I left absolutely gutted. 1-1? We should have won. With my voice almost gone, Ian and I started discussing the game. Pity, a real pity. The result wasn't what I wanted, but the last seven hours were. Seeing the city that has been a part of me for almost 25 years, meeting mates and watching the mighty Reds at Anfield in one day? Sheesh, very few non-family events can compare to this experience. As we made our way back down to Leicester, I told Ian I'd be back. You can't do this just once ...

For more photos, click here (they include pictures from Liverpool's game at Stamford Bridge - an experience which I hope to write about in the next few weeks).

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Who am I?

He was one of the most important Jewish leaders during WWII ... Do you know who he is?


Monday, December 05, 2011

At Any Cost?

There isn’t a place in Israel where you couldn’t see his face over the past five years, be it on bumper stickers, billboards or large road signs. His name was on the tongues of politicians, reporters and ordinary citizens over the same time period. He became a celebrity of sorts, and thousands rallied for him across Israel and major cities worldwide, including London, Rome, Paris and New York. On October 18, his popularity reached its peak—Gilad Shalit was coming home after almost 2,000 days as Hamas’s hostage. How did this soldier become such an iconic figure worldwide?

A year and a half after Shalit’s abduction in June 2006, Noam and Aviva Shalit turned to the media in order to ensure their son was front-page news as often as possible. The Israeli PR firm Rimon-Cohen-Shinkman worked tirelessly to ensure Shalit remained in the country’s daily thoughts. Their stickers, billboards, flags and iconic blue and white picture of the soldier struck gold. With full media support (they referred to Shalit as “The child of all of us,” or “The boy”—and not “the soldier in captivity”) and little opposition to the idea of a deal from politicians (career suicide?), porters, pressure continued to pressure grew on Bibi Netanyahu’s government to strike a deal with Hamas. The deal Bibi eventually struck was a costly one (90% of Israelis polled thought the price was too high), but one the Israeli public supported (80%) – 1,027 Palestinian prisoners would be released, amongst them some of the most evil terrorist minds Israel had arrested. The days that led up to, and those that followed, the release were extremely intense – a nation united around this joyous occasion despite the other side – a side of mourning, anger and fear.

There wasn’t one family in Israel that wasn’t happy for Gilad Shalit and his family. The soldier, who had been in captivity for over five years, was finally home. The pictures of Shalit on the phone with his family, saluting Bibi after disembarking, hugging his father or just smiling united the country. It was a feel good story – one that showed how much importance Israel places on our soldiers’ lives and how important of a figure Shalit had become in the Israeli psyche. However, despite this immense joy, there was another side. The wounds of families who had been ripped apart by the actions of some of the terrorists we released were inevitably reopened, and little to no attention was afforded them by the media or Supreme Court, whom they petitioned to stop the deal. Their pain and anger at this neglect highlighted how the “other side” was marginalized in the Gilad Shalit debate.

The other side of the “at any cost” campaign waged through the media cast, and will cast, a shadow on this deal for many years. The deal clearly shows terrorist groups that kidnapping Israeli soldiers works – an open invitation to capture the next Shalit. It also sadly ends the idea of a prison sentence, no matter how long, being a potential deterrent for terrorists; far too many of the terrorists released had so-called life sentences, and now they’re free with a university degree (courtesy of Israel). Many of the terrorists released have vowed to continue killing Jews, or helping educate the next generation of terrorists how to do so.

Since Israel released 435 prisoners for Elhanan Tannenbaum and the bodies of two Israeli reservists in 2004, 27 Israelis have died as a direct result of those prisoners’ actions. Israel has directly endangered the lives of many Israelis by releasing so many cold-blooded, unrepentant killers in this deal. The Tannebaum deal strengthened Hezbollah’s position within the Arab world, and likewise, the Shalit deal has strengthened Hamas and greatly increased their popularity amongst the Palestinians. They sadly seem to be the biggest winners here.

Some have said that halachically this deal was a must as it fell under Pidyon Shvuyim (Redemption of Prisoners; the Talmud calls it a mitzvah rabbah, a great mitzvah, as captivity is viewed as worse than starvation and even death [Bava Batra 8b]). However, many rabbis have said that the issue is far more complicated due to the danger the released terrorists will pose to Israeli society. Despite the many worrying issues, Bibi’s government pushed through the deal. Gilad Shalit is home…but at what cost?

When Shalit was released, I went through a wide array of emotions. I was happy for him and his family. I sincerely hope he can get back to being “anonymous,” and that the media leaves him alone. I was also greatly saddened by the difficulty and pain the trade was causing victims of the terror attacks, as the perpetrators returned home as heroes, brandishing victory signs to the celebrating masses. At the same time, I was angry—we’ve freed killers who will kill again. If a few Israelis are killed because of these people, were their lives really worth less than Gilad Shalit’s? Perhaps my feelings, and those of many combat soldiers, have been best expressed by “Y,” a Shayetet 13 (Navy Seals) soldier:


If, heaven forbid, I should be abducted by a terrorist organization, I request the following from you:

Please do not organize any demonstrations, please do not conduct any interviews, please do not talk about how much this is hurting you and please do not organize any festivals or musical competitions on my behalf. Any novice in business knows that that is not the way to lower the asking price.

I am not “everybody’s child.” I am a combat soldier in captivity. Please do not use me as a pawn. I do not want the entire world to know who I am and what my name is, while nobody can remember the name of the soldier who died right by my side. I don’t need the media to use me as a freebee. I don’t want to become a tool for furthering all sorts of political agendas, power games or manipulations.

I don’t want to become the national beacon, nor do I want to be the entry ticket to the Israeli consensus. I don’t want the idea of my release to become official dogma that is forbidden to be questioned.

I do not want the people who dare think differently to be silenced on my behalf.

I don’t want the media to use me to get better ratings.

I don’t want entertainers to write a song about me to improve their Google results.

I am not a bottle of shampoo: Do not make a logo of my picture. Do not add my face to your Facebook profile. Do not stylize my silhouette to make a slogan.

Do not hire a public relations firm to mold public opinion and that of the decision makers. Do not set up “creative teams,” “optimization teams” or “marketing teams.” Do not set up a “headquarters.” Do not hold any staff meetings with burekas and slideshows. Do not hold any brainstorming sessions and do not create any “critical mass,” do not arrange any advertising budgets or market penetration. Do not write any strategy sketches, do not build any chart-, cross section- or graph-analysis of the population.

I do not want any “panel of experts” or conferences. I don’t want anybody counting the number of days of my captivity. I don’t want any “depression merchants” making a career off my story.

Do not produce any pins, ties, flags or t-shirts. Do not hold any marches, demonstrations or parades for me. Do not set up any on-campus petition booths for me. These things will decrease my chances of being released. These things only serve to confuse our decision makers. I am not a reality show. I don’t want you to photograph me with my father as a souvenir while thousands of murderers are being released on my behalf.

I don’t want you to wave any blue-white flags when really, we are in a white-flag atmosphere.

I don’t want the cold-blooded murderer of 16 people smiling as he is being released, having gained some weight within the few years since he directed a victory sign at the families of the murder victims in the court room.

I am not prepared for the hundreds of families who only recently buried their babies, who are rightfully filled with rage, to be presented as “party poopers.” I am not prepared for the kid who went with his father, mother and three brothers to eat pizza and came back alone, to watch the murderer eat baklava in his “victory hut,” a mere 20 kilometers away. I don’t want the murderers released to eastern Jerusalem to ride the light rail together with my niece. I don’t want families whose entire world has just caved in on them to read in the paper that the man who murdered their boy is going on a Club Med vacation in Turkey. I don’t want their pain to receive a mere one-eighth page coverage, just before the sports news, because “reporting-wise it is better that way.” They already know that the blood of their beloved sons is cheap; they don’t need to have their hearts crushed completely.

I feel just so comforted to know that the president has “pardoned but not forgiven them.”

I don’t want the next Intifada to be named after me.