Drink Down! No Love for Lapid’s new Liqueur Law. Word 36

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Did you hear the one about the former media star turned politician who walks into a bar?
And gets thrown out?
It’s about to happen.
Mid summer heatwave, a new financial decree was announced in Israel this week by Yair Lapid, following up on the most recent 1% hike in income tax: the liqueur law. In an attempt to curb teen drinking and equalize the price of spirits, cheaper alcohol like vodka and Arak goes up 50% while the more top shelf whiskeys are reduced by almost 30%. This law, debated for its reason, reasonability and results, was not Lapid’s idea – it was planned long before he took over finances, but he chose to go ahead with it, earlier than planned, with a clear message to the working/lower middle class: You count less and will pay more.
People are pissed. This isn’t a basic human right violation we are talking about it, and we got bigger problems to deal with, but it is a big deal, if only on symbolic levels. Arak is more than a drink.
Dubbed  the national drink of Israel, Arak has crossed over to the general population since the 70’s. A Middle Eastern favorite for centuries, made of grapes and Anise, affordable and perfect for this climate, it has migrated here from Lebanon, Morocco and Iraq and has become quite popular in many social settings but is still in many ways a low-brow brew. I, too, who grew up knowing nothing of it, have became an avid fan. Especially with an ice cube, mint leave, and a bit of grapefruit juice. A big part of its popularity is its reasonable price. The cheaper Arak bottles go for 35 NIS – about $7.  Not anymore.
The new law goes into effect July 1. Liquor stores are already pretty much empty of Arak. Everybody’s stocking up and the distributors are not releasing new stock. Yesterday, at a random liquor store, while waiting for my car to get some work done in a nearby garage, I interviewed the owner about the news. “it isn’t just the Arak or the cheaper Vodka or the income tax’ he tells me, ‘Lapid just doesn’t really care about your average working person. He and Bibi care about the ones who make as much money as they do, and we are all too weak and tired to scream.’
Arak isn’t bread (that’s getting more expensive also, btw) and it really is too hot to protest, but there is a rumble in the air. Lapid’s party is doing some good things in the Knesset – such as the new bill that was just passed this week incorporating women, for the first time, in the committee that nominates religious judges. But on the whole – there is a thirst for more, for change, for more sensitive wisdom that was promised pre elections but does not seem to be delivered.
I don’t think the Israeli public will hit the streets over the price of Arak. But thirst – of all types, for all reasons, legitimate or not, can topple leaders and create chaos and sometimes create real change.  And sometimes it ends badly, with everybody losing tempers and nobody winning at all.
That’s sort of what happens in this week’s Torah text, Chukat, in which the thirst for water ( if not for harder drinking) dominates the day. Miriam dies, and with her dries up the well that fed the people. It’s a gorgeous metaphor that hints at the loss of matriarchal leadership – quenching the soul thirst of the people, not just the needs for security and jobs.
The thirsty people protest and Moses, helpless, hits a rock instead of talking, as instructed. The place is renamed ‘the waters of strife’.
I think about that thirst of Biblical proportions. Theirs is a thirst of days- not the post workout or bike ride or long day in the heat thirst, with a bottle moments away – but the parched, many long days in heat thirst that dulls the senses: that kind of thirst.  It is not unlike the deeper thirst for love, for meaning, for being part of something bigger and for being truly taken care of.
That ancient frustrated meets today’s as bleak reminder but also as a hopeful hint.
It takes 12 men to replace one woman – shortly after Miriam dies the leaders of the tribes create a ritual in which they stand in a circle, sing a song to the well, and raise the water. This circle of leadership, the popular people’s circle is the response to the thirst, to the leadership that’s gone too far.
The Hebrew words for well, באר, is oddly linked to the English word for watering hole – the bar – exact same letters, and very similar needs. Water, or Arak, and all other options, I hope that we find – and create ways in which to come together, circles of care, to sing, and protest, and care of each other, and clamour for changes, and drink, responsibly, together.
I’ll drink to that! With the last of my cheap Arak.
L’chyaim. Shabbat Shalom.


Amichai Lau-Lavie is the Founder and Executive Director of Storahtelling, Inc. creating sustainable solutions for life-long Jewish Learning since 1999. storahtelling.org

Prayer Shawl/Red Flag: What Sparks Protest Most? Word 35.

WORD: A Word a Week from the World’s Best Seller. Follow the Annual Torah Re-Run Series with Amichai Lau-Lavie’s Newest Year-Long Blog. To subscribe via email click here. To listen to the audio version click here.






We tried different slogans for the protest: “Everybody’s Equal!”, “No More Mo!”, “Enough Already!” A kid sitting in the front put down his copy of Harry Potter and started shouting ‘“De-mo-cracy!” (This is all in Hebrew).  And while we were having a good time translating the old Torah tales of protest for our own realities, angry protesters were taking to the streets of Turkey with slogans and fists and demands for change.

Simple slogans, strong symbols –  works best.

This was this past Shabbat, in the shady courtyard of the Democratic School in Pardes Chana, a smallish city in the North, where 50 people gathered for a cozy afternoon of singing, eating and storahtelling – under the auspices of Darchei Noam – a new Masorti/Conservative congregation to this area.  We brought out the Torah and I translated verse by verse, storahtelling style, acting the story out and inviting the crowd to step into the shoes of ancient rebels and leaders and try to figure out what’s really going on and what can we learn about how to or how not to protest injustice. I was unplugged for shabbat and didn’t know that at the same time the protests were starting to grow in Istanbul and Ankara. But it’s not like all the people sitting there haven’t tasted public protest – even the kids. Recent years have seen a lot of them, everywhere, and also in Israel.

The text we read was Korach – this week’s Torah portion, Mose’s cousin, for whom this portion is named is traditionally  considered to be the bad guy, challenging, arrogantly,  the authority of Moses and of God. The protest that he leads ends with a mythic massacre, a miracle: the earth opens up to swallow him and all his followers.

But the more I read into what I think he was really doing the more I think he wasn’t all that wrong. His protest is the demand for equality in leadership, redistribution of power and wealth, and more access to the Divine.


Of course he ends up in a pit. This history, too, is written by the winners.

The Women of the Wall are called ‘Arrogant Procotours’ by pious protectors of the Status Quo and similar names by top government officials and rabbis; the Turkish Prime Minister named the protesters – a cross section of Turkish society – ‘terrorits’.  The 82 year old ‘terrorist nun’?

There’s more to this than meets the eye.

Some of sages also had a soft spot for Korach  and crafted careful rendering of his saga.  There is this one Midrash – a legend from the 5th century CE, about what sparked the Korach revolt: A blue prayer shawl.

In the text immediately preceding this story, Moses commands the people, on behalf of God, to start wearing shawls with fringes on them, one blue fringe on each garment corner. The midrash links the stories, giving Korach the didactic skills of a Talmudic sage and the showmanship of a modern day performance artist.

Korach, in consult with his wife,  creates 250 shawls, all of blue fabric, and attaches fringes to all corners.

He stages a protest with 250 leaders from the community all wrapped in the shawls, in front of the Big Tent.

And then Korach challenges Moses to a duel of words – with a legalistic question:

If the command is to have a blue fringe, what of a shawl that is all blue? does it also require a blue fringe?

Moses replies yes.

But Korach disagrees. ‘You were not instructed these laws by God. You made it up” – he accuses Moses in an early example of Hebraic religious conflict.

And it’s all downhill from there. Either the content of his protest or the way in which he framed it or both – there is no room for opposition under God and Moses.

(Midrash Bemidbar Rabba 18:3:  Full Hebrew text



This coming Sunday, June 9, is the New Moon and that means back to the Wall for a morning of prayer – and protest. Sparked by prayer shawls, worn by more than 250 leaders of the community – all women this time, a big movement and moment has erupted – calling attention to an uncomfortable and important battle for justice, dignity and the change of the status quo at the Western Wall – and in all walks of Jewish life.

The Women of the Wall are about as much liked by most Orthodox keepers of Judaism as Korach himself. Ovadia Yosef, the leader of Shas, announced that he will attend,health permitting, on Sunday with 100,000 protectors of the faith.



Protester and protectors alike are both chanting the old words of Korach:

“Rav Lachem” – “Enoguh! You’ve gone too far!”


The protest in Turkey was sparked by the refusal of a few young people to see trees uprooted in the the public park; Korach started with a blue fringe. Here in Jerusalem, prayers shawls are again the symobl of all that is sacred and all can stifle the life of the soul.

Korach didn’t win. His story survived to remind us of the right to challenge authority – but also how to do it smarter. and succeed.

I hope that this coming Sunday will offer more prayer, less protest, a step towards respectful co-existence and a bit less hate. I’ll be there, with an all blue prayer shawl, and a slogan turned prayer: enough is enough.

Here’s to more justice, more respect, and way more peace. 

Shabbat Shalom


Amichai Lau-Lavie is the Founder and Executive Director of Storahtelling, Inc. creating sustainable solutions for life-long Jewish Learning since 1999. storahtelling.org