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

Are world leaders getting younger or am I getting older? (or both) Word #18

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.





It’s not that I feel old or unaccomplished at 43 but I was startled by how many of the new members of Knesset are younger than me, or just about my age. Whatever happened to “Elders”?  Are leaders getting younger or am I just getting older? Or both?

I watched the official swearing-in of the 19th Knesset on TV with my parents, and was really moved by the ceremony and esp. by the glowing faces of a few friends of mine, standing up to state their commitment to the government and the people and a better future for us all. One by one, each of the 120 members rose in their seats to declare “I commit’ to public service.

48 new members, 27 women, 39 religious Jews, 10 Muslims, 1 Christian, 1 Druze, 13 PhD’s, at least 15 currently single, 1 (out) LGBT rep. I don’t know how many live across the green line, how many are parents, or musicians, or happy. 16 are younger than 40. Or as the official webpage of Israel’s Foreign Ministry puts it:  “The 19th Knesset average age is young.“

When Obama (who at 51 is still on the youngish side) visits Israel this coming spring (Wouldn’t it be awesome if he comes for Seder?) he will meet Lapid – who’s a few months younger than him, Bennett who’s 40 and Stav Shafir – at 28 the youngest women to sit at the Knesset.  Feels like teen spirit? Not exactly, but it sure feels like fresh energy and a leadership that understands the world as is and as will be through a more contemporary lens, more digital than analogue. It’s mostly a good thing and hopefully can help make new realities happen.

But what about the sages of ages? That whole ‘the older you get -the wiser?’ Where, in our youth-obsessed culture, is there room and respect not just for young sexy and restless but also for the real role of elders? For patience, humility and the wisdom that comes with wrinkles?

Elders, back in the Biblical day meant those who had  beards. The word for Elder – Zaken, and the word for beard – Zakan are written the same way in Hebrew, though pronounced a bit differently. It’s a not so subtle statement about gender roles but also, possibly about age and status.  And the very first time in which an official gathering of the Seventy Bearded Elders of Israel is convened happens in this week’s Torah text, Mishpatim:

“Moses climbed, with Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel” Ex 24:9

The scene is auspicious: Yet another rendition of the Revelation at Sinai, but in this version Moses does not arrive alone for the Summit Meeting with God.  He has an entourage: The High Priest and his two heirs are followed by the first official public body-politic of the Jewish people – seventy anonymous leaders. No names or stats are available, but we’ll assume no women, and no Ph’ds. Probably beards. Who were these founding fathers? How old were they? How were they chosen? What was their role? And why seventy?

We won’t know the answers to most of these questions. The number of elders, for instance, is a Talmudic debate. During the Second Temple era and right after the destruction there is mention of an assembly of seventy, or seventy two. But there is also talk of 120 members of the Great Assembly – the first Knesset. This was the number that inspired the first Israeli Knesset back in 1948.

There is another direct link between the first gathering of Elders in Exodus and the 19th Knesset. The 120 members, along with family members and guests gathered at the Chagall Lounge after the swearing-in ceremony to raise a glass and enjoy one last friendly moment before the political agenda start stirring the pots. Moses, the Torah, and the Seventy Elders were depicted by Chagall on one of the three tapestries that dominate the room since 1966.

Regardless of age, agenda, gender or faith – let’s hope that this new gathering of state leaders waste no time in making good on the many promises and, like Moses and his elders, bring us one step closer to Divine truth, shared responsibilities, and a better life for all. 

(and no, I’m not going to say a word about Sarah’s dress. )


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

The Choosing People, Not The Chosen People: Word #16

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.





Joan Lavie voting Yesh Atid. Jerusalem 1/22/13

The wheel chair access polling station at a school near my parents home was a mess. A too narrow corridor with crowded wheel chairs and walkers, a very nervous and disorganized lady in charge, but lots of goodwill. There was excitement in the air and lots of people showing up, including a group of 10 residents with severe MS who wheeled themselves over from a neighboring institution. When it was finally my father’s turn to go in I wheeled him in, and joined him behind the screen to help him -physically – choose the right slip of paper. It was overwhelming – 32 tickets, an array of Hebrew letters. I pointed at each one and repeated who and what they represented, and then did it again. he thought for a moment and named his choice. (That’s his private business to share but I’ll say that I was more than happy to help and I was so glad he didn’t choose Bibi which he thought of the day before.) He dropped the envelope into the slot and nodded in approval. As soon as we started wheeling outside a commotion erupted- the elder grand rebbe of the Ehrloy chasidic dynasty was wheeled in – his wheelchair throne covered in plush golden fabrics.  An hour later, when asked, my father didn’t remember who he voted for exactly- his short term memory is sometimes erratic these days- but I’m quite sure, standing there with him inside the voting booth ( a rare, intimate, borderline legal but necessary moment) that he processed the information and made a sound and good choice.
How and why we choose what we do is a fascinating thing always, and was very much so this time round. My friend Shai was telling me yesterday how in the US people who are ‘floating votes’ get bad rap for being undecided but here in Israel – so many of us were wrestling with choices until the last minute – really debating the issues we care for vs. the practical thing to do.
Till the very last minute  people I know were debating and I too made up my final mind early on Tuesday morning, during a one on one with God. Never mind the details right now, but She made it clear to me that the choice is between fear and trust. She was also delighted about the fact that four parties are running with a woman at the lead, and that more smart and motivated women are entering the arena at these elections.
We spoke in Hebrew and then God started talking in Arabic, and I think She was saying (My Arabic is still quite raw) that more Arabic women should be heard in the arena, if only to balance out the Jewish masculine/macho majority. But cautioned me to be also pragmatic and not lose a vote to a party that will most likely not make it. There were four impressive Israeli Arab women running for seats this time around and on Tuesday morning it looked like at least 3 will make it.  2 did.  In obedience to Divine instructions, and in consult with other factors and data, I made my choice with clear direction as to which one of these brave ladies gets my vote. (Spoiler – she wasn’t elected but WILL be in the knesset in two years time, thanks to the rotation agreement of Hadash.)
I voted later in the afternoon at yet another school turned election station,  much calmer this time, along with my mother, who explained to me, during our short drive from home, what her deliberation were and who she chose and why:” I asked my doctor who she chose and why – and she said who and explained that he had good people,” she said “and I don’t like Lapid very much but I too like his choice of people, with accomplishments and good sense.” Her choice made perfect sense, much better than the more right wing vote she contemplated, I thought, and she tactfully didn’t ask me much about mine.  As it is, she chose a winner..
We shook hands afterwards, in the car, and said Mazal Tov to democracy. Will I be there again in four years? She asked me as we started the car. Will any of us? who knows? We choose things, in or our of ballots, and life happens…
And then what happened happened and the next days and weeks will tell us more. I think it looks good and interesting and a change for real.  But for now the end result is not the issue – the process is  – the privilege, the exercise of will and decision and choice and change, for good, in the world, each according to their own version. With all the flaws – this is still a humbling and important experience. It’s a privilege to choose and vote.
On Monday night we watched Obama’s inauguration speech on TV, moved by the dignity, his powerful words – some heard for the first time by a president – brought me to tears. Tuesday’s experience of reality making through Hebrew letters that conspire in small notes to make change through our choices became an almost mystical moment, casting a spell, a ripple  of change, perhaps improvements. Hopefully more than less. There’s good people up there now. My mother was right.
Choose People, Good People is always good advice. It’s what  Moses instructs Joshua, at the end of this week’s epic Torah text, B’shalach. “Choose the people who will fight for us against the tribe of Amelek”  (Ex.17:9) . This is happening five minutes after the song of the sea and the big euphoria of the Exodus. Bam. right into war and the choosing of people is the first thing that they have to as a nation to survive- pick leaders to battle the dangers. It’s not at all the same kind of choosing as the one we had this week but inherent in the action is the same primal drive – for security, for trusted leaders, good people who will stand up for real values, and fight  fear. Amalek, in many traditions, does not represent another race or nation – Amalek means Fear. And to stand up against fear we need good people, leaders, teachers, friends.
The people chosen this week, as Moses told Joshua, are our people – people for the greater good of this bigger reality, one way or another, I hope and trust – it’s all good choices. There are new leaders, some of them good friends, who will help us with more trust, less fear, less wars, more peace, and change for the better.
As for God. She was pleased when we had tea today and reminded me to always listen to my mother.


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