Saturday, December 18, 2010

Leight on Light

On December 14th, Foreign Policy published an article Let There be Light by Charles Kenney which discussed the advances in the developed world in regards to the lightbulb and compared it to the lack of access to electricity grids and energy in the developing world.

There are many development initiatives throughout the developing world to improve access to clean water, healthy and nutrient rich foods, malarial drugs, mosquito nets, education for children and women, HIV-prevention and antiretroviral drugs. However, to my knowledge (I haven't done any googling on this subject), there has not been a larger movement to provide light in an efficient, environmentally friendly and accessible way.

A great public diplomacy initiative--that could be a public-private partnership between governments, NGOs and the corporate sector--could be "light accessibility". The above article mentioned that children in India did better in school when they had access to light because it provided more time to study. The public-private campaign could focus on education -- Light for Learning, and wherever educational training is offered by governments (or UN programs) to local teachers, NGOs could fund-raise with corporate sponsorship (CSR or globe engagement projects) to provide light to children outside of the classroom.  These partner corporations, some of which must be in the electricity/LED/solar technology businesses could sponsor/fundraise with the NGOs in order to provide the newest light technology LED lightbulbs powered by batteries, recharged by the sun to each child (and in turn families). This would not only provide much needed access to more energy efficient, cost saving, environmentally friendly light products, but also facilitate the education of young children who with better education have future opportunities and more access to help their family and country.

Education is the key to a better future for all people, sustainable development is essential for a healthier planet, mix the two goals together, and voila, Light for Learning. 

Thursday, December 16, 2010

On Coincidence

People are always shocked or freaked out by coincidence. Some chalk it up to the random workings of the universe, some believe in fate, some don't take notice at all. Today, I am enjoying a quote from Albert Einstein on those random incidents that make the world and people just a little more interconnected.

Coincidence is God's way of remaining anonymous
 Enjoy the little surprises and coincidences, maybe they mean something after all.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The World on the Bus: Public Diplomacy for the Public Transit System

As a Washingtonian Jersey Girl transplanted to Los Angeles, I try to keep myself sane by using public transportation. Although public transportation in LA is harder to use, less efficient, unreliable and slower than every city I have ever had the pleasure of using public transportation in around the globe (est. 25), it generally feels the same as any where else. Tonight, I did not expect thee bus ride home from work to be any different than usual, but it indeed was. 

This gray evening, the bus was crowded and I chose to stand reading the Economist near the back exit to allow those whose jobs are physically demanding space to sit. An older hispanic man came onto the bus and gestured for me to take an empty seat, his eyes told me that I should, so I graciously accepted. A stop later, he sat next to me and started speaking to me in Spanish, but with an accent that was difficult for me to understand. After a few attempts at communication, I finally understood what he was saying:

"The whole world rides on the bus, God is everywhere"

He pointed to the Economist and recommended that instead of reading the news, which discusses much of the worlds' hardships, I should read the Bible. He asked if I know the Bible, and I replied "mas o menos" (more or less). He suggested that I read it for 30 minutes before I go to sleep at night. I explained that I needed to read the news to know what is happening in the world. He just shook his head, smiled warmly and said, that "God is great" and that there is only one God. I agreed with him whole heartedly. 

שמע ישראל ה' אלוכנו ה' אחד - Hear O' Israel, the Lord Our God, the Lord is One

This surprising conversation got the public diplomacy ideas flowing.  The whole world rides on the bus, I looked around me, people speaking multiple languages, different lives, religions, dreams, careers and stories. Everywhere around the world, people ride the bus. I would recommend two initiatives to encourage understanding between culture through bus rides. To call on bus commuters to make short videos about their bus rides. What is your bus story? What is your bus world like? Collect videos from everywhere in the world and create a video documentary of "The World on the Bus". This documentary could clearly illustrate through shared culture and values how everywhere in the world, people can relate to each other on buses. The documentary could be launched on a new international day which suggests that every commuter try to ride the bus to show how people around the world may be different in numerous ways, but can also be the same. The whole world on the bus. 

A UNique Plan for Israel & Palestine

I am not one to advocate for an imposed settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, nor am I a huge fan of the United Nations when it comes to Israel, however, I am interested in the idea put forth by Robert Wright, today, in a NYT Opinion piece

Wright advocates that a plan can be imposed on both Israelis and Palestinians:

The United Nations created a Jewish state six decades ago, and it can create a Palestinian state now. It can define the borders, set the timetable and lay down the rules for Palestinian elections (specifying, for example, that the winners must swear allegiance to a constitution that acknowledges Israel’s right to exist)....  

By comparison, a United Nations solution looks Israel-friendly. Borders could be drawn to accommodate some of the thickest Israeli settlements along the 1967 lines (while giving the new Palestinian state land in exchange). But perhaps the biggest advantage is the political cover this approach would give President Obama.

Sure, he’d have to endure some noise from America’s Israel lobby. But at least he’d have to put on his noise-canceling headphones only twice: (1) when he agreed to explore this path with other members of the “quartet” — the European UnionRussia, the United Nations; (2) when the quartet, having produced a plan, handed it to the Security Council, at which point America would vote for it, or at least not veto it. 

I would argue that this is an interesting path to advocate for BUT that the Israeli and Palestinian publics MUST buy-in to this plan. The governments must agree as well, as the consequences could also result in disaster. 

Hope to continue to write more on this topic and think a bit more critically about this proposal.  

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

WikiLeaks Playlist

So WikiLeaks are taking over my life, but to make it more enjoyable, Huffington Post Blogger, David Wild has provided the public with a fabulous soundtrack. 

THE LOST ART OF KEEPING A SECRET - Queens of the Stone Age
HEY WIKI - The Magical Wombat
SPIES - Coldplay
SECRET GARDEN - Bruce Springsteen
IN MY SECRET LIFE - Leonard Cohen
DIRTY LITTLE SECRET - All-American Rejects
TRUTH - Amos Lee
MYSTERY TRAIN - Elvis Presley
SECRET WORLD - Peter Gabriel
TELL ME A SECRET - Ludacris & Ne-Yo
I SPY - Guster
SECRET - Madonna
SOMETHING STUPID - The Secret Sisters
SECRET - Spanic Boys
YOUR LITTLE SECRET - Melissa Etheridge
SECRET MESSAGES - Electric Light Orchestra

Thank you David. For the full post, click here.  

Monday, November 29, 2010

Support Houses of Worship for All

I'm not one to beat a dead horse, but I really wanted to share this article from Jonathan D. Sarna, titled, When Shuls were Banned in America. Please take a moment to read the article and share with your friends and families.

When New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg stood on Governors Island, in sight of the Statue of Liberty, and forcefully defended the right of Muslims to build a community center and mosque two blocks from Ground Zero, he expressly made a point of distancing himself from an earlier leader of the city: Peter Stuyvesant, who understood the relationship between religion and state altogether differently than Bloomberg does.
As governor of what was then called New Amsterdam, from 1647-1664, Stuyvesant worked to enforce Calvinist orthodoxy. He objected to public worship for Lutherans, fought Catholicism and threatened those who harbored Quakers with fines and imprisonment. One might easily imagine how he would have treated Muslims.

When Jewish refugees arrived in his city, in 1654, Stuyvesant was determined to bar them completely. Jews, he complained, were “deceitful,” “very repugnant” and “hateful enemies and blasphemers of the name of Christ.” He wanted them sent elsewhere.
Stuyvesant’s superiors in Holland overruled him, citing economic and political considerations. He continued, however, to restrict Jews to the practice of their religion “in all quietness” and “within their houses.” Being as suspicious of all Jews as some today are of all Muslims, he never allowed them to build a synagogue of their own.
In 1685, with the British in control of the city, 20 Jewish families petitioned to change Stuyvesant’s precedent so that they might establish a synagogue and worship in public. They were curtly refused. “Publique worship,” New York City’s Common Council informed them, “is Tolerated… but to those that professe faith in Christ.”
Eventually, around the turn of the 18th century, Jews in New York won the right to worship in public, and Congregation Shearith Israel opened America’s first synagogue. Subsequently, in Rhode Island, what is today known as the Touro Synagogue, the oldest synagogue building still extant in North America, was dedicated in Newport in 1763.
Elsewhere Jews were not so fortunate.
In Connecticut, for example, statutes limited the right of religious incorporation to Christians long after the Bill of Rights mandated religious liberty for all on the federal level. It took a special act of the state legislature, in 1843, to ensure that “Jews who may desire to unite and form religious societies shall have the same rights, powers and privileges as are given to Christians of every denomination.” Thanks to this act, Congregation Mishkan Israel opened in New Haven that year; it was only the second synagogue in all of New England.
The New Haven Register viewed the synagogue as a public defeat for Christendom. “The Jews…,” the paper thundered, “have outflanked us here, and effected a footing in the very centre of our own fortress. Strange as it may sound, it is nevertheless true that a Jewish synagogue has been established in this city — and their place of worship (in Grand Street, over the store of Heller and Mandelbaum) was dedicated on Friday afternoon. Yale College divinity deserves a Court-martial for bad generalship.”
Jews continued to “outflank” Christians, owing to immigration, and by 1856 there were enough of them in the nation’s capital to consider opening a synagogue close to the very heart of the federal government. Questions arose, however, as to whether this was legal under the District of Columbia’s Religious Corporation Act. Some contended that only Christian churches could acquire real estate in Washington for public worship, not Jews. In the end, it took an act of Congress to resolve the question. Signed by President Franklin Pierce on June 2, 1856, it established the principle “that all the rights, privileges and immunities heretofore granted by law to the Christian churches in the City of Washington be… extended to the Hebrew Congregation of said City.”
Long afterwards, however, and even down to our own times, synagogues have frequently faced fierce opposition when they attempt to build in locations that some would prefer to see devoid of Jewish religious institutions. In the 1950s, new suburban synagogues commonly had to face down angry neighbors and change-averse zoning boards when they applied for building permits. As recently as 1999, opponents of a new Orthodox synagogue seeking to build in New Rochelle, N.Y., warned residents that the planned structure would bring with it “rats,” “traffic” and “creeping commercialization.” The real fear, one opponent confessed to the Forward, was that “the identity of the neighborhood would change.”
Mayor Bloomberg likely had some of this history in mind when he asked “should government attempt to deny private citizens the right to build a house of worship on private property based on their particular religion?” In distancing himself from Peter Stuyvesant and the many others who have defined American religious liberty in narrowly restrictive terms, he reminds us that if today’s target is the mosque, yesterday’s was most assuredly the synagogue.
Jonathan D. Sarna is the Joseph H. & Belle R. Braun Professor of American Jewish History at Brandeis University and chief historian of the National Museum of American Jewish History.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Globalizing a Monarchy

Recently, Foreign Policy Magazine produced an article, title "God Save the Colonies" by Alex Massie. The article recommends that the U.S. adopt the British Royal Family as its own -- so that the President can be relieved of filling the diplomatic role of Head of State and the Monarchy would encourage unity among the people. While Massie recognizes the historical implications of this idea, he argues that the U.S. public is fascinated by the Monarchy anyway, so we might as well embrace it. I find this idea ridiculous but fascinating - we live in such an interconnected world that Americans are focused on a foreign country's monarchy and invested in their relationships just as much as any American celebrity couple or "king". The traditional isolated America spurning the idea of monarchy embracing it. However, I completely disagree that the U.S. should adopt a royal family in order to unite the country in a way that the President cannot because of bipartisanship. Our President, the most powerful official in the world, must be our diplomat-in-chief. However, I wouldn't disregard the notion of somehow changing our political system in a way to encourage political unity and change the current political discourse from two opposing parties to a more efficient and representative system -- without compromising the ability to pass legislation (or current lack there of). Maybe we should think Prime Minister, instead of Queen...

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Just Listen

So about a week ago the blog The View from Israel posted a piece titled "The Time for Coordinated and Professional Israeli public diplomacy action is now". The post advocates for a 'Public Diplomacy Institute' comprising key players [all men and none from the left-movement] in Israeli advocacy and hasbara -- not a team I would consider adept at successful public diplomacy. The short of it is that I wanted to comment on the blog post, but the comments are moderated by the blogger and he refused to post my comment. So, I'm taking the liberty to post it on my own blog. Here is my response:

While I agree that public diplomacy should be apolitical and a coordinated effort with a clear message, Israel is considered to have one of the most advanced public diplomacy strategies. From the strategic partnership with the U.S. Jewish Diaspora (both monetarily and politically) to being the first nation with a Twitter account and country blog, Israel has a well-oiled hasbara machine. Israel explains, however, what Israeli public diplomacy does not do is listen. Listening is the key component to an effective public diplomacy strategy. Instead of listening to the world, to her Arab neighbors, to her left-leaning public and to the Palestinians, Israel sticks her fingers in her ears and continues to explain without success. In order for Israel's public diplomacy to succeed, more than anything, she needs to start listening.
-Naomi hold a Master of Public Diplomacy from the University of Southern California 

Normally, it wouldn't irk me so much that my comments were not heard but Israel is of great concern to me. Being heard, especially as a left-leaning American Jew -- as a part of a group that does not always stand up and advocate for a better Israel because of the fear of being ostracized from the Jewish community -- and as a strong believer in the state of Israel and the future state of Palestine, I couldn't stay silent. All I am asking is for Israel and its diplomatiya tziboori [דיפלומטיה ציבורי - new public diplomacy] apparatus to start listening.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

May It Be So...כן יהיה רצון

It is not often that I am moved to think about prayer or truly feel other peoples prayers are meaningful enough for me to "re-pray" them (say an Ah'mehyn...Amen in English). However, President Clinton's Op-Ed in The New York Times moved me to take that action -- not just an amen but more of a "make it so".

“Enough of blood and tears. Enough. We have no desire for revenge. We harbor no hatred toward you. We, like you, are people — people who want to build a home, to plant a tree, to love, to live side by side with you in dignity, in empathy, as human beings, as free men. We are today giving peace a chance, and saying again to you, enough. Let us pray that a day will come when we all will say, ‘Farewell to the arms.’” - Yitzhak Rabin, 1993

"Let us pray on this anniversary that his service and sacrifice will be redeemed in the Holy Land and that all of us, wherever we live, whatever our capacity, will do our part to build a world where cooperation triumphs over conflict. Rabin’s spirit continues to light the path, but we must all decide to take it." - President Bill Clinton, 2010

Rabin's words ring true, but should not be taken in their original context, a message directed solely at the Palestinian people--but a message directed at both Palestinians and Israelis and to all people invested in seeing peace in Israel and Palestine, no matter what nationality.

Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they study war anymore
לא ישעה גוי אל גוי חרב לא ימדעו עוד מלחמה
- The Book of Isaiah, 2:2 

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Miss Independent

Every time I think about attending an event, a talk, or a mixer by myself, there is always that twinge of anxiety, especially being used to connecting people together and convincing them to come with me to things that I don't want to go to by myself. Tonight, although I still had the - I don't want to go by myself and how will I talk with people I don't know - moment, I forced myself out the door and into a situation where I didn't know if I would know, recognize or connect with anyone there.  I once again was reminded that, I will meet people and that I really enjoy meeting people solo. It allows me to be the bold, carefree, I don't care if you're judging me Naomi that I really love to be. Introducing myself to a group of strangers with a glass of wine in one hand and my hand shake in the other, it's always a thrill and it always creates new connections and potential friendships. I write this post, not to pat myself on the back, but to remind myself that I do enjoy going to things solo and should continue to do so. It always expands my social circles and my understanding of the many different people where I live. Having a "wing-person" at my side, while fun and comforting, doesn't allow me to network and reach out as much as I can by myself. So I hope this solo pattern continues for a while, it's always a surprisingly good time!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Einstein Quote of the Day

"A man should look for what is, and not for what he thinks should be."

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Independence and Society

Albert Einstein Quote of the Day

The health of society thus depends quite as much on the independence of the individuals composing it as on their close political cohesion

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Language Kills

Richard Cohen has a great piece in the Washington Post today on how words can kill and that the rhetoric being spewed from different people and view points around the U.S. remind him of the Vietnam War protest days and how words led to bullets and American soldiers killed American students. It reminds us of the lessons we have learned and the lessons we should not have to learn again.

The governor of Ohio, James Rhodes, demonized the war protesters. They were "worse than the Brownshirts and the communist element. . . . We will use whatever force necessary to drive them out of Kent."

That was the language of that time. And now it is the language of our time. It is the language of Glenn Beck, who fetishizes about liberals and calls Barack Obama a racist. It is the language of rage that fuels too much of the Tea Party and is the sum total of gubernatorial hopeful Carl Paladino's campaign message in New York. It is all this talk about "taking back America" (from whom?) and this inchoate fury at immigrants and, of course, this raw anger at Muslims, stoked by politicians such as Newt Gingrich and Rick Lazio, the latter having lost the GOP primary to Paladino for, among other things, not being sufficiently angry. "I'm going to take them out," Paladino vowed at a Tea Party rally in Ithaca, N.Y.

Back in the Vietnam War era, the left also used ugly language and resorted to violence. But the right, as is its wont, stripped the antiwar movement of its citizenship. It turned dissent into treason, which, in a way, was the worst treason of all. It made dissidents into the storied "other" who had nothing in common with the rest of us. They were not opponents; they were the enemy: Fire!

These lessons should always be remembered by public diplomats as our words and that influence are the most powerful weapons.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Cyber Warfare

To follow up on my Cyber Diplomacy post, here are some fascinating articles on Cyber Warfare and Internet Freedom that have popped up in the news over the last few days:

In a Computer Worm, a Possible Biblical Clue

The internet: The web's new walls

Internet Privacy

Thanks to everyone who sent them my way!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Cyber Diplomacy

Last night I had the pleasure of attending my first official "state" dinner. It was at the Canadian Consul General's residence in Los Angeles. On the evening of the hottest weather ever recorded in downtown LA, we dined by candlelight, as the heat killed the electricity, and discussed cyber politics, warfare and diplomacy. In attendance were a few USC colleagues, a professor from that institution on the other side of town, the Canadian Fulbright chair, the very interesting Dr. Ronald Deibert of the Munk Centre at the University of Toronto, and of course the Consul General.

Now, for the most important part, the guests enjoyed a delicious four course meal, starting with a cilantro chili corn avocado soup [which I am going to have to figure out how to recreate], a farm fresh greens salad, halibut & salmon with veggies and pilaf, and a delicious berries, cream and meringue dessert.

Over the course of the meal we discussed the power of the internet, the capacity for interdisciplinary work, the inconsistency and lack-there-of government policy regarding internet security and the political will/absence-of-will to change the path that the world is heading towards--the cyber arms race.

From a PD practitioner's perspective, the conversation yesterday evening left me with the desire to look further into the ability to turn the cyber arms race that is occurring globally -- which many/most of us don't know about or understand -- into a moment for cyber public diplomacy. There are so many actors at play in this field, from governments to private corporations to civil society actors and individuals--most of whom have a lot of money at stake [Google, RIM (BlackBerry)]-- that there are just enough influential actors that might make PD possible in this scenario. I learned in more than one MPD class that in order for a PD initiative to have a chance at succeeding all of these actors and the international institutions must "buy-in" and fund the project/initiative/campaign.

So I'd like to turn the potential fear of cyber arms race -- which could also lead to over-regulation of the free and public internet by democratic (and non-democratic) governments -- into a moment in which public diplomacy can shine. These various actors should come together to discuss this "cyber world" and advocate and push to avoid the cyber arms race and restriction of internet freedom (and the unforeseen consequences that could arise from that action). Cyber diplomats need to use this key moment to bring the cyber world closer together and fight to maintain the internet freedoms that we support and use every day. If we stopped thinking of the world with eyes from the 20th century - where the biggest and strongest wins the war -- and turn to the 21st century where public diplomacy, transparency and multilateralism can provide security far better than cyber guns, bombs and firewalls -- we could turn the cyber arms race into cyber diplomacy.

Interestingly enough, over the next few days, the U.S. government, along with 12 other countries and 60 private firms are launching the first tests with the new "plan of attack" against a "cyber-blitz" that could be launched by an enemy at our power, water and banking systems. Clearly, the cyber arms race has already begun, once again, the public diplomats must race to catch up...

Mr. President - Step it Up

Interview from the October Issue of Rolling Stone:

One closing remark that I want to make: It is inexcusable for any Democrat or progressive right now to stand on the sidelines in this midterm election. There may be complaints about us not having gotten certain things done, not fast enough, making certain legislative compromises. But right now, we've got a choice between a Republican Party that has moved to the right of George Bush and is looking to lock in the same policies that got us into these disasters in the first place, versus an administration that, with some admitted warts, has been the most successful administration in a generation in moving progressive agendas forward.

The idea that we've got a lack of enthusiasm in the Democratic base, that people are sitting on their hands complaining, is just irresponsible.

Everybody out there has to be thinking about what's at stake in this election and if they want to move forward over the next two years or six years or 10 years on key issues like climate change, key issues like how we restore a sense of equity and optimism to middle-class families who have seen their incomes decline by five percent over the last decade. If we want the kind of country that respects civil rights and civil liberties, we'd better fight in this election. And right now, we are getting outspent eight to one by these 527s that the Roberts court says can spend with impunity without disclosing where their money's coming from. In every single one of these congressional districts, you are seeing these independent organizations outspend political parties and the candidates by, as I said, factors of four to one, five to one, eight to one, 10 to one.

We have to get folks off the sidelines. People need to shake off this lethargy, people need to buck up. Bringing about change is hard — that's what I said during the campaign. It has been hard, and we've got some lumps to show for it. But if people now want to take their ball and go home, that tells me folks weren't serious in the first place.

If you're serious, now's exactly the time that people have to step up.

Thank you Mr. President. Now, continue to step up and stand up for what you believe in and be our commander in chief. 

Returning to our Values

Donniel Hartman of The Jerusalem Post has finally said to the Israeli public what I have been advocating for the last year - to return Jewish values to the Jewish State. 

"To state it more clearly, if Zionism means a willingness to occupy another people, and where the holiness of the land takes precedence over the moral principles of our people, then many will want to shed the Zionist ideal, leading to a post- Zionist identification. In the world, even among our most loyal friends, the occupation of Palestinians in the West Bank is viewed as contrary to international law, antithetical to Israel as a democratic state and in opposition to Jewish values, which are rooted in the equal treatment of all human beings created in the image of God.

Ending the occupation and maintaining a morally defensible position until which time that we are able to bring it to a close while preserving our legitimate security needs are thus of critical significance to Israelis who care about Zionism and Jews around the world who want to maintain a strong and viable relationship with the state. Zionism will not be strengthened through educating Israelis and Jews about its history, but by ensuring that it is the expression of moral excellence."

Please read the full article, titled, The Future of Zionism Depends on Moral Excellence.

Toda Paul for sending the article my way.

Monday, September 13, 2010

PD Ideas

PD ideas are floating around in my brain and I can't sleep. Too wired and excited as the creative juices are flowing. Forgot how much I missed this part of the PD world....

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Being a Jew in the U.S.--A View from my Father

This posting comes from my Father in regards to the closure of a Jewish Day School in the area of FL that my parents live. I am posting this because it is the Jewish New Year and really, the piece demonstrates the values of plurality and how it is to be a Jew living in the US as an integrated citizen holding a distinct tradition, culture and religion. With all of the politicization fo religion and discussion of integration v. isolation in the discourse already, I'd like to share this post and how it represents the values I was personally raised with -- how to be a good Jew living in a multicultural, open and free United States. It also demonstrates how to reflect, grow and change as a community. To not blindly follow the status quo but to truly consider alternate paths (for whatever issue anyone is tacking). The 21st century brings many challenges to humankind and navigating the religious and secular ways of our society has come into the forefront in the last few days. If anything, with this New Year, we should all be reflecting and considering different options for many different issues having to do with religion and civic life and to provoke thoughts to create a better future for all. Wishing everyone a happy, sweet and healthy 5771.

Jewish Day Schools – A Contrarian Viewpoint

I write this as a Conservative Jew, and as someone who served on his Temple Board for 15 years, including 6 as Chairman and 4 as chairman of the Ritual Committee. For me, there are so many things wrong with the whole concept of Conservative Jewish Day Schools that it is hard to know where to start and how to limit myself to a length appropriate to a letter to the editor. So let me ask the parents of day school students two
questions –Do you believe that all Jewish children should receive a good Jewish education? Or just yours? Do you believe as a Conservative Jew that we should live in society or apart from it?

I grew up in the New York City area before the development of Solomon Schecter Schools. We had a vibrant Talmud Torah [after-school Hebrew school[ taught by well educated and observant teachers and a community wide Hebrew High School. What I have seen over the last 40 years is the widespread decline of the Talmud Torah system. This seems to be due to four factors: Parents, students, teachers and demographics. Each of these factors is complex, and I have clearly oversimplified the issues. First, there are simply fewer children and how they are split between two systems. When it comes to teachers, the most qualified teachers have been skimmed off by the day school.

The parents who seem to care the most about Jewish education send their children to day schools. A large proportion of those who remain primarily care about getting to the Bar/Bat Mitzvah with a minimum amount of effort. They pressure the schools not to give homework, reduce class hours and generally make it easier to get through. The constant threat being that they’ll take their children and their membership somewhere that expects less. So the pressure on the schools is to become less and less rigorous.

If that weren’t bad enough, the peer leadership has been stripped from the Talmud Torah. Those children who are motivated and would set a high standard for others are mostly in the day school. Jewish education becomes something that prevents children from doing other things, instead of being of value in and of itself.

As much as the Talmud Torah students are injured by this system, the day school students also lose out. They go through school without having to negotiate being a Jew in a secular world, without learning how to be different without feeling left out. We throw them into the deep end in 9th grade or in college without ever having taught them how to swim. Many will feel that their choice is between having no friends and abandoning what they’ve been taught. Is this the choice we want to give them? Should we be surprised at how many abandon observance and marry non-Jews?

As I see it, the competing systems of Day School and Talmud Torah are a detriment to the community. The demise of the PCJDS is unfortunate. However, before we jump back in to recreate what I see as a failed system, perhaps we should seriously consider alternatives that serve the whole community. Perhaps we should consider a consolidated Jewish educational system that serves all students, whether they chose to attend public schools for their secular education or not. Perhaps we should give up on the model where every Temple has its own school. Whatever we do, let us not squander this opportunity by blindly following the model of the past. 
-  Dr. Ronald S. Leight

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

PDiN Monitor - Digital Diplomacy

Check out the latest issue of PDiN Monitor from the USC Center on Public Diplomacy. It's all about Digital Diplomacy!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Trouble in Shangri-La

So I currently have a slight obsession with the album with the afformentioned titled by Stevie Nicks. The obsession is bordering on unhealthy but it's amazing. I recommend a listen.

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Sparkle of a New Beginning

In general, I do not reflect on my Judaism or my beliefs in a more spiritual way.  I don't normally feel the need to, so this post will be out of the ordinary for me.  But this summer has been full of many wonderful and challenging experiences and I've been very emotive, self-aware and reflecting a lot, which is a bit new for me. So this post is dedicated to reflecting, choices and new beginnings.

I recently happened across something for the month preceding the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah) entitled The Jewels of Elul.  

What is Elul? 

It is the Hebrew month leading up to the Jewish New Year. During this month, it is a time for self-reflection. A inventory of the year, some might say, so that you can spiritually cleanse your mind, heart & soul of the previous year and ask your sins to be forgiven before and on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippor). 

What are Elul's jewels? 

They are little email notifications from a diverse group of people that are coming into my inbox every day until Rosh Hashannah begins. These emails have made me think, reflect and have influenced me to make a choice to take action - in this case, write a blog piece featuring one of the "Jewels". This Jewel comes from the 11th day of Elul from a Hassidic rabbi and psychiatrist. He wrote a wonderful piece on the choice God made to create humankind and the choices people have been privilege to make because of God's decision to create humans with the potential to live with freedom, awareness and choice.

Happy Birthday, Humanity by Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski, M.D.
Contrary to the popular belief, Rosh Hashanah does not commemorate the creation of the world. Rather, it commemorates the sixth day of creation, the day Adam was created. It is of interest that in the creation of man, G-d said, “Let us create man?” Whose participation was G-d seeking? The Baal Shem Tov explained that both animals and angels were created in a state of completion. Angels do not grow at all, and although animals do grow, they do not voluntarily change themselves. The transformation of a caterpillar to a butterfly or a tadpole to a frog is programmed in their genes. They do not voluntarily make this transformation and are powerless to stop it.

G-d now desired a different creature, not totally physical like an animal nor completely spiritual like an angel. Rather, this was to be a creature that comes into the world completely physical, but by one’s sheer effort develops spiritually. For this, G-d required man’s participation. It is as if G-d said, “I can create you completely spiritual, but then you will be just another angel. I will create you physical, but with the potential to become spiritual by your own effort.” G-d was seeking man’s participation in his own creation. Therefore, G-d said to man, “Let us make man. I will give you the potential, and you must develop it.” Thus, Rosh Hashanah is our beginning.

If we develop only intellectually, with technologic and even scientific advancements, but neglect our spiritual development, we will be self-centered hominoids, with just a higher intellect than chimpanzees. To do our part in creation, to be the true human beings that G-d intended, we must be masters over our physicality rather than slaves to it. Spiritual development enables us to give of ourselves to others. Angels were created spiritual. Man has the ability to achieve a status higher than angels, because his spirituality is the result of his own efforts.

So, as the month of Elul continues on, I am looking through a new lens to reflect with, a view that allows me to see and look forward to a new beginning for this new year, continue to make choices for myself and work to achieve my greatest potential. Maybe I'll even throw in some spiritual growth. L'chaim to the birth of humanity, choices and to a sweet and happy new year. 

Disclaimer: This blog post does not reflect this author's Jewish leanings, practices or affiliation.  It is a mere reflection on life with a Jewish theme.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Shopping Diplomacy

For those who love to travel and shop, now you can travel, shop, and provide free promotion for the fabulous and unique tzchotchkes you acquire while abroad. Today, from Daily Candy -- "a handpicked selection of all that's fun, fashionable, food related, and culturally stimulating in the city you’re fixated on (and all over the Web)" with a mainly female audience -- an email came to my inbox entitled, Think Global, Shop Local.

How could a PD nerd resist a gander, and then a blog post?

The email called to me:
"Your horoscope says you’re a consummate wanderer. And your Myers-Briggs personality type indicates you’ve got a talent for networking. Put both skills to use with the The Traveler’s Collection, a new site that sells artisan goods from all over the world and allows you to nominate vendors you’ve discovered while traveling for inclusion in its online shop."

You don't have to tell me twice. So for those travelers, public diplomats and shoppers, check it out and start a new field of PD, shopping diplomacy.

Shopping diplomacy: not quite nation branding, not quite cultural diplomacy, but the visitors takeaway and promotion of a place they visited. It's a foreigners perception of what represents a country they have traveled to and want to personally promote. It might not be what the people or the country view as their culture or brand and it might not even be from that country (sometimes you can't tell what's local and what's not). But it's promoting an image, a brand and a culture through the only truly global culture--consumerism. So be a part of the global culture, go shopping!

Monday, August 16, 2010

On Cities, Building Blocks and Rocks

Marco Polo describes a bridge, stone by stone.

"But which is the stone that supports the bridge?" Kublai Khan asks.

"The bridge is not supported by one stone or another, " Marco answers, "but by the line of the arch that they form."

Kublai Khan remains silent, reflecting. Then he ads: "Why do you speak to me of the stones? It is only the arch that matters to me."

Polo answers: "without stones there is no arch." - Invisible Cities

Friday, August 6, 2010

We do it out of LOVE

For the American Jewish community that struggles with Israel, identity and being heartbroken over a seemingly intractable conflict. To question is to support and make better. This is an important piece to read. An excerpt from Bronfman's HuffPost Piece is below. I encourage everyone to read it in its entirety. 

But what would a "better Israel" actually look like? First, it has to be noted that the American Jewish community will only support a liberal and democratic Israel. These are not just slogans, and as I wrote earlier this week; they need to be backed up by the right policies and the right kind of political system. Maintaining control indefinitely over millions of Palestinians will inevitably lead to a demographic nightmare and cannot be sustained if Israel is to remain true to its founding principles.

Making this point publicly should not be controversial. The notion that as a Jew, one has to take the position of "my Israel, right or wrong," is deeply problematic. I would rather have the right kind of Israel. Moreover, calling anyone who criticizes certain Israeli policies a "self-hating Jew" is simply alienating and divisive.
In my frequent discussions with prominent Israeli and Jewish Diaspora leaders, we regularly air our own frustrations with the Jewish state's current direction, while at the same time also appreciating the country's many positive attributes. I am sure that these same types of conversations are repeated in synagogues and Jewish community centers and college Hillels all across the Diaspora. The beauty of Judaism is that it demands we ask questions, especially of ourselves.

Indeed, there is really no better sign that we care deeply and profoundly about Israel - otherwise, we would not spend our days working on its behalf, giving money, thinking about its future, or simply following events half a world away. We do it out of love.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Peace through War is not Peace....There Must be Another Way

This week in the Huffington Post was a great piece by Andrew Bacevich entitled The End of (Military) History? The United States, Israel, and the Failure of the Western Way of War. The heart of this article demonstrates that the military industrial complex is failing and the way warfare has been conducted in the West, by winning through sheer force of numbers, is no longer a guaranteed success. For me however, the heart of this article demonstrates that public diplomacy again, should be the "weapon" of choice. 

There is one quote that stood out to me in this piece. In discussing the aftermath of WWII, Bacevich noted that only two liberal democracies continued to build their military forces instead of downgrade them (as in Europe), the United States and Israel. 
            "By the 1950s, both countries subscribed to this common conviction: national security (and, arguably, 
            national survival) demanded unambiguous military superiority.  In the lexicon of American and Israeli
            politics, “peace” was a codeword....So even as they professed their devotion to peace, civilian and
            military elites in the United States and Israel prepared obsessively for war.  They saw no contradiction
            between rhetoric and reality."

This contradiction has finally come into view, whether peripheral or direct line-of-sight, of the global public. For the U.S., the two wars we are stuck in now and for Israel, the constant contradiction between peace and security plays out in the news media every day. Bacevich puts it smartly, "they saw no contradiction between rhetoric and reality". What is even more apparent, is that they do not see that war does not create peace, bombs do not create stability and security will never come from isolation and building walls so high no one can see over them. Peace will come through the pursuit of developing ties with your "enemies". Peace will come through relationships and building trust and understanding. Peace will come economic development, empowerment, listening and public diplomacy.

To continue with Bacevich's Israel example (and because I cannot help myself), peace for Israelis and Palestinians will only come for recognizing the mutuality and interconnectedness of both peoples struggles and situations. Both are right and wrong, both have had too much bloodshed and tears and on a microscopic level, Palestinians and Israelis are more genetically similar to each other than both  populations would like to admit. Recognize the sameness and capitalize on it, develop relationships and ties, create through those ties new relationships. Stability and security will only be afforded to Israelis when Israelis can afford the same to Palestinians. It is going to take years, if not decades, for that trust to take hold, but it has to start small and has to start somewhere because clearly this notion of "peace through war" is clearly failing. The global public sees through the rhetoric and will not stand for it much longer and that is dangerous for Israel's security as well.

Bacevich's article just highlights to the public diplomacy junkie that we are on the right path, that nations big and small, enemies and friends can learn to conduct international relations better through the use of public diplomacy.

A song from the 2009 Eurovision Contest says it best, There Must Be Another Way...

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Beach & Theater

Today was a wonderful SoCal day. My friend Kaitlin and I have an official quiet spot somewhere along the beaches of LA where we enjoyed the sun, wind and sand. It was gorgeous and not crowded at all. In the evening we went to a performance of the California International Theatre Festival called Tempting Providence about a nurse from Britain in the 1920s who went to serve the coastal people of Newfoundland. It was based on a true story and a very clever  and endearing play. The set was sparse, consisting of 4 chairs, a table and a while cotton sheet. The acting was fantastic and in an hour and a half you got to know the main character and learn about her life adapting to Newfoundland, the people, the environment and a new way of life. It was charming and the Newfoundland accents are a mix of Canadian and Irish. We then led a talk back with the audience who surprisingly were mainly from Labrador and Newfoundland. Some of the older women in the audience knew the daughter of the nurse that the play was based on. I'm not doing justice to the story or the discussion, however, it was really a wonderful evening and terrific day. Excited for many more!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Back to Life, Back to PD

Well, it was my first official week as the newest staff member, the Assistant Director for Research & Publications at the USC Center on Public Diplomacy. After three weeks of full-time work, I feel almost adjusted and very excited about public diplomacy. Of course I'm excited about PD but what's even more exciting is that I feel like I've been reading more about PD and enjoying myself more than I had in quite a while. I guess a vacation and break from school work does that to a person.

So this week was the start of the 2010 Summer Institute in Public Diplomacy and I got to attend a fabulous talk by Charlotte Cole of Sesame Workshop. Public Diplomacy, co-production and children's television programming, it automatically puts a smile to my face. Just hearing the Sesame Street theme song brings back fantastic memories - and broadcasting to children globally, in their own languages and cultures - can certainly bring smiles to many small faces around the world. Muppet Diplomacy - such a great project - if only the adults would stay out of it and if we could all remain children forever.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Street Performances, Political Protests and Cultural Diplomacy

Please check out my premiere blog on the USC Center on Public Diplomacy's Blog (CPD Blog)

JUL 21, 2010 Posted by Naomi Leight
All posts by Naomi Leight

This past weekend, I had the privilege of attending a performance at the California International Theatre Festival in Calabasas. The annual festival offers an array of presentations meant to broaden “cultural understanding by means of community outreach, student training and cultural exchange through the performing arts”. As a whole, the festival is an excellent example of cultural diplomacy towards American audiences as presented by various countries such as China, Ireland, Canada and Mexico, among others. The play I attended was the most engaging and powerful work of art I have ever experienced. Stones, or Anavim, was created and performed by…... Full Text

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More blogging to come now that I'm back in the States and settling in to my new working professional life. I'll share some stories soon about SE Asia and my latest Los Angeles adventures. 

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Floral Arrangements

Sweet, Aromatic, Pungent, Vibrant, Colorful, Beautiful, Thai, Orchids, Smiles, Smells.

Tonight was certainly a bouquet of Bangkok. Callie and I were determined to have an experience out on the town. We eventually decided on food at Arun Prathtit - The Sun Road, right around the corner from Koh San Road . We happened upon Royal India and had incredible Chili Paneer, Samosas, Garlic Naan and Sag Kofta. Of course with large Chang and Singha beers. We then found our way to Koh San with all the lights, music, and Hebrew, Israelis and dirty hippies. It was a bit of a shock for us, but definitely worth the experience. What's better than Elvis sung by Thais in Los Angeles? Elvis, the Beetles, Country and Oasis sung by Thais in THAILAND! More Chang beer to accompany our journey and some highly entertaining drunk Irishmen/boys.

We closed out the bar and decided to meander on over to the Flower Market - only a few kilometers away...but just getting started at 3 am. We were told to take a why waste the money? Plus we needed to burn off some beer calories ;) So we walked a little out of the way before getting on the right path, walking by the sparkling and glittering Grand Palace and Wat Po at night. We then approached the vegetable market, whole sale fruits and veggies for the restaurants, hotels and other sellers. We received lots of "hellos" and smiles along the way. We finally found what we were looking for...surprisingly it was our eyes that found the way, not our noses to the fragrant flower market. Pictures to follow...words cannot describe. Looking forward to sharing the vibrant beauty with you in some photos....Lah Dee Sawat (Good Night!)

Monday, May 31, 2010

Sawadee Ka - Hello Bangkok

Sporadic posting is the theme of the month - both  May and June. I have just arrived at the Lub D hostel in the Silom Quarter of Bangkok. We arrived from Cha'am on a minibus which dropped us at Victory Monument. Without a word of English spoken, Callie and I managed to find the SkyTrain and get two tickets, complete 1 transfer, passing a destroyed Central World via the SkyTrain to our stop in Silom. A two block walk with our giant packs and we arrived to a beautiful and inexpensive hostel. We found some nice Thai food restaurant where I finally had a Thai Iced Tea - or Iced Milk Tea. Now we're taking it easy this afternoon, uploading photos, doing laundry and planning our next two days in Bangkok.

Once I've got some extra time on my hands, I will start back-posting my journal entries from my trip so far.

South East Asia is a beautiful place, with beautiful people and delicious foods. My friend Phil asked me to describe my trip in three words, so here they are: Foreign, Humid, Delicious.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Whirlwind to Asia

It's been a crazy week and a half...last Friday, I graduated at USC. Now, it's Sunday in Taiwan...

I'm officially a Master. I received my confirmation email yesterday/Friday in LA that I am commenced as a Master of Public Diplomacy. Two years of amazing learning, friendships and experiences.

I'm heading off to the airport again to go to Cambodia by way of Vietnam.

It's been a crazy week to get here but I'm very happy to be traveling.

I'm keeping all of my experiences in a written journal and will type them up either when I get home or when I have time here in Asia.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

From JStreet to JCall: European Jews Call out to Israel

As I finish my last academic paper of my Master's degree, I write about Israel, the uniqueness of Zionism and immigration to the Jewish State and the various waves of immigration have on Israeli society, culture, politics and the relationship Israel has with the Arab world. So with all of that in mind, here is a great little piece on Europe's version of JStreet.

While we're on the subject, take a look at a piece my friend Paul and I wrote back in February for PDiN Monitor on Israel's public diplomacy entitled Lost in Translation.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Soap Opera Diplomacy - Part II

While I found it intriguing the first time around, I just find it even more exciting the second time around. Another few articles have come out this week regarding Turkey's soap opera diplomacy to the Arab world and the rapprochement in Turkish-Arab relations. An excellent article, sent to me by my friend Paul, is written by a Turkish journalist who went on a journalist exchange to Syria. His multifaceted understanding of the meaning of this new "soap opera diplomacy" an ability for exchanges as well as Turkey's soft power to influence many in the Arab world is refreshing. The ability for a country like Turkey, with a complicated (at best) history with the Arab world to in the 21st century begin to positively influence its Arab neighbors while maintaining close and positive ties to the West is very encouraging. It makes me think that the U.S. government needs to stop trying to devise unsuccessful public diplomacy strategies to the "Muslim world" and the "Arab Street" and start listening the the multitude of voices coming from the the "Muslim world" and take a good and hard look at how Turkey is showing some great successes in this arena.

Friday, April 30, 2010

PDiN Monitor, Volume 1, Issue 4: PD Publications

Check out the latest issue of PDiN Monitor brought to you by the USC Center on Public Diplomacy at the Annenberg School.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The End of the Beginning...

Well, today was my last day of classes for my graduate career. In two weeks time, I will have a Master's of Public Diplomacy. I like to think my very last class had a fitting end - the discussion of global culture. Is there such thing? As Dr. Manuel Castells so eloquently put it, "well, yes and no". Global culture is not a homogeneous or monolithic creature - global culture is partly multiculturalism, partly cosmopolitanism and partly consumerism. The most profound part of this lecture for me, was that as people, we do not share a common global culture, however our global culture is that of sharing. So as I end my academic career and begin my life as a professional public diplomat, knowing that people around the globe do share a common culture - we all share. As I end one chapter of my life and start a new one, I am happy I can share with whomever is reading a little bit about my new journey and just snippets of the end of the beginning.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Israel, Israel, que bonitas Israel...

The Israeli Foreign Ministry does it again. They created a terrible-quality video in a feeble attempt to promote a positive image of Israel. This time, the target audience is the Spanish-speaking world of the Americas. I wish I knew more about the artists that they had performing in the video, the status they hold in various countries in the Americas and whether or not the Israeli MFA did their research on their audience before producing this type of campaign. Even if the artists draw large audiences, the poor quality of the video does not say much for Israel...

Enough words though, the video speaks for itself.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Leight the Fire

It's amazing how certain words, places, songs, smells, tastes and touches impact life in ways you could not expect. The latest surprise came in the form of a name, the name of my blog, Fire & Leight. It's creation was inspired by my friend Paul, but the words fire and light have had special meaning for me since my DC days...

"And I came here
Knowing no one
With nothing at all
But I'm here
Here for a reason
This is the reason
It is my call
So take a look at me
Try to understand me
Believe in me, this is what makes me happy - so
Light, light the fire" ~ by ADHD Rock

A song and words that bring up memories and emotions from a wonderful past and excitement for the future. Much love for friends, new and old...always believe in what makes you happy.