As the end of the year approaches, more and more people speak of the end of the world, but not of the beginning. Where is the hope? How can we create a vision for the rest of our lives?
For a while, the entire world was preoccupied with the question of whether the world would end this year. Children and adults alike engaged in interpretations of the Mayan prophecy. All predictions about the world ending were proved wrong, so this is the best time to mention that hope is not lost. It will be 2013 soon, and our wonderful planet continues to spin.
A century ago, at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries, hope flooded the world, due to many scientific discoveries. People believed that we would create a new and spectacular planet. Books were written predicting science’s ability to end the stasis and stagnation in place since the Middle Ages. Writer Jules Verne, through his science fiction novels, tried to imagine how science could feed the masses and alleviate their distress. Walt Whitman, one of the great American poets of the 19th century, who practically invented modern free verse poetry, viewed the new era as a harbinger of democracy and human freedom. Art reached new heights of creativity, from Italian cubist futurism to surrealism. Everyone discussed mankind’s great promise. Our imaginations went wild and tried to conceive of a new society of mass transport, industry and big cities.
Two world wars reduced that hope. It was let down from the flagpole and later forgotten. As the 21st century was born, we were not envisioning a renewed spirit. On the contrary, the world was buried in visions of its end and fears of mass suicide. Anxiety took hold of our children’s faces.
In our era, what connects the world’s population is the Internet. New technologies continuously appear, becoming more advanced every day. We have the ability to transfer data from one end of the world to another. Powerful connections and the ability to share through social networks have become central to our lives. The universal vision has become practical, but it has not yet been realized as we form an image of the future.
Lack of imagination is one of the reasons for end-of-the-world prophecies. Our imagination is both flawed and limited. It is so difficult for us to imagine a future. How do we create a new fantasy? What are the components necessary for a daring, progressive, forward thinking and avant-garde ideal for us to hold on to into the future? For any person who envisions possibilities for the brain, mind and human consciousness, these are pertinent questions.
One appropriate solution would be to create a broader horizon for our imaginations so we can construct a suitable vision. We need to have something to look forward to in the future, an anchor of sorts. This vision must contain all of our needs and desires in times as crazy as these. If humanity could agree on a vision, perhaps our children wouldn’t be busy learning dubious interpretations of history written long ago. A true vision would help us see the future more clearly.
This new imagination could be the beginning of a world with prophecies about the future, instead of the end of the world. But where are these prophets and prophetesses? And why don’t they occupy a more central place in our lives? Why don’t they have a loud shofar with which to sound their prayers for the future? Why is the new prophecy in the second decade of this millennium unable to excite the masses?
“Rain fever” usually arrives in Israel along with the holiday season in September. This year, though, the rains started later, and with them comes a particular local syndrome that is something more than interest in the usual transition of seasons.
Weather forecasters are about to be tested carefully. Israelis treat them just as seriously as they treated the military analysts and government officials who didn’t expect the Yom Kippur War. If forecasters promise a big rain but only a little falls, demands will fly for their dismissal or, at the very least, they will be ridiculed endlessly. The same thing happens if forecasters say there will only be a drizzle and we get a deluge of hail, snow and storm winds instead.
Imagination plays a big role in our passion for the winter. If forecasters promise a big storm, rest assured that entertainment programs, newscasts, newspapers and blogs all write about it, seemingly affecting the national mood. People gather in their homes and consume more products. More than anything, they are ready to take to their keyboards and Internet to catch the guilty party who promised them a certain weather pattern and didn’t come through. Who should be blamed for predicting a storm that didn’t happen and where is the snow promised to the children of Jerusalem?
An invisible tension exists between total faith in science and the cultural need to talk about those drops of rain. Rain is at the forefront of our tribal consciousness. Talking about winter, as part of our belief in predicting the future, unites us. Even when we are disappointed with the random and arbitrary winter discourse, we can still be angry together and laugh when the weatherman apologizes, saying that even his own laundry was hanging outside and got wet.
The facade of winter, especially the endless talk of rain, is rooted in our primal fear of the desert. Suddenly everyone has something to say if the rain does come. It becomes a curse and a blessing. If there is no rain, we will be barraged again with demands to conserve water. No one remembers that Israel is deep in the process of desalination.
The water will make the desert bloom, even if we aren’t standing in the desert, and even if the water doesn’t actually have much to do with the rain. During the summer, everyone forgets the rain and goes to the beach. Only when fall leaves begin to change color and drop from the trees does the talk of early rain return to the public discourse. Some still deny their preoccupation with the rain, at least while they are at the beach with grains of sand stuck in their hair. But they are quick to jump into the Israeli conversation grinder the moment the rain arrives.
Excessive rain will also reveal just how exposed the homefront really is. Israelis also have a deep desire to drive the desert back to the equator and stop it from gnawing away at the country. Desert makes up about 70 percent of Jordan, but Israel refuses to allow its coastline to be counted as a desert in Middle East statistics.
It is easy to make the rain the center of our lives, in the absence of more worthy issues — and even if there such issues, it sometimes seems worthwhile to escape from them into the rain. The rain has always been here and always will be; but we continue to wait for it all the time.
This article was first published on israel hayom
The night that Hurricane Sandy struck the Caribbean coast, CNN described how the storm hit New Jersey. Only a few sharp-eyed people noticed the small line at the bottom of the screen that mentioned fatalities in the Caribbean islands. None of the reporters in the studio spoke of the destruction there.
The hurricane once again revealed what goes on behind the scenes of the media’s coverage. As it turns out, the hurricane did not skip over the Caribbean Islands on its way to the United States.
The number of known fatalities in the islands currently stands at 70, of which 54 occurred in Haiti, 11 in Cuba, and several in Jamaica, the Dominican Republic and the Bahamas. The combined population of the islands is around 40 million people who are exceptionally exposed to natural disasters such as Sandy.
Haiti was devastated by the hurricane. Agricultural crops, those in storage and those under preparation for the winter, as well as the warehouses in which they were stored, were destroyed. In Cuba, more than 200,000 homes were damaged and only a small portion of the country’s renowned coffee beans were saved. In other islands, crops were ruined when the people who harvest them were forced to wait until the storm ended. Throughout the Caribbean there is widespread fear of potential disease from contaminated waters.
In Jamaica, authorities imposed a two-day curfew, which was promptly violated by people who looted shops. More than 70 percent of the people who relied on electricity from the country’s only provider were left without power for days.
Damage to private homes and public infrastructure in the Bahamas was assessed at around $300 million.
Why didn’t the media cover the tremendous tragedy that befell the Caribbean? Was it too hard for people to fathom the damages? Of course not. Are the Caribbean Islanders unimportant? They too are people, but apparently reality proves otherwise.
The destruction in the Caribbean caused by Sandy was a double-edged sword. Not only was there damage to both people and property, but the destitute survivors who reside on the islands now face starvation (supply routes were damaged), endemic diseases (Haitians fear an outbreak of cholera) and rising costs of food products.
The media, which is supposed to take a balanced approach to reporting events around the world, focused on the U.S. and relegated the Caribbean tragedy to a mere footnote, and in so doing possibly denied the islands much-needed world aid.
U.S. President Barack Obama, who went from the storm straight into the elections, symbolizes the upward mobility of the downtrodden. But like other politicians, he too gives precedence to Americans suffering from the results of the hurricane, despite his promises of aid to the weaker elements in society. Take, for example, the Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba, which is still in operation despite Obama’s promise to shut it down during his previous election campaign. Although electricity was also reportedly down in the prison due to the storm, no media outlet cared to cover the conditions of the prisoners there.
What will happen now in the Caribbean? Who will hear their voices? At the moment, there are no clear answers to those questions. There will be no aid for people living in countries that are not reported as suffering. When the world media and politicians consider problems in the Third World a low priority, helpless people have nowhere to turn.
This article was first published on Israel Hayom
All at once, everything flipped. From the look of things, Hurricane Sandy turned parts of the U.S. into a Third World country. The hurricane was not considerate of any technological, political or social parameters. It proved that even America’s superiority in many arenas was no match for Mother Nature.
A week after reading the Torah portion about Noah and the flood, a flood hit America. This storm managed to paralyze the entire East Coast and raised questions regarding its impact on the upcoming presidential elections, to be held next Tuesday.
Mother Nature’s violent outburst gave us a glimpse of what lies beyond a nation’s confidence. When a hurricane, earthquake or tsunami hits a populated area, it exposes the bitter truth: No one can ever fully prepare for the next natural disaster, but still we are hopeful that human wisdom, somehow, will come up with a way to keep us safe.
It seems that even the U.S. government and America’s technological breakthroughs have yet to come up with a method to withstand and resist natural disasters. You can’t make them go away. At most, you can try to face them with dignity. Sandy was the largest Atlantic superstorm on record. Thousands of flights were canceled; New York and Long Island are disaster areas; dams collapsed; millions were without power; hundreds of thousands were evacuated from their homes; the subway system flooded in New York City and many local residents are waiting on their rooftops for evacuation. Atlantic City was completely flooded and water covered many urban centers not prepared for such an event.
Usually such disasters happen in the Third World, far from the West. At most, the West watches them on television and sends disaster relief. Israel, too, does all it can to help (like after the devastating Haiti earthquake). The world enlists in different ways to help out, and sends teams to remote locations. We all remember the massive tsunami waves, the earthquakes and disasters that destroyed entire regions and killed millions of helpless individuals around the world. But in Third World countries, the damage was always twofold: The disaster would hit unprotected cities, and the victims would be poor, helpless populations.
When Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in 2005, it miraculously didn’t span the entire coast. In 2006, The New York Times enlisted 300 engineers and storm experts who studied the hurricane and the area’s disaster protection systems. Their investigation concluded that New Orleans’ defenses weren’t up to the challenge, but it looks like even now, seven years later, the U.S. has yet to develop a satisfactory system of protective measures that can prevent the enormous damage caused by storms.
Hurricane Sandy was merciless, honing in on human weaknesses in the heart of the West. An emergency situation can result from terrorism, but the forces of nature will always be there, lurking. It will be interesting to see how the carnage left by Hurricane Sandy impacts the American psyche. What will happen to the iPhone, iPad, satellite nation, with all its gadgets, once it realizes, again, that they can’t really stop a hurricane? The Americans have always viewed themselves as being above nature. In every Hollywood disaster movie, a superhero comes along with an antidote. But this time, there is no superhero. Only great sadness.
This opinion was first published on Israel Hayom