A Prospective Convert Wrestles with the Sabbath amid Pandemic and News Overload

Jan. 15 2021

Two years after beginning the process of conversion to Judaism, Nellie Bowles reflects on coming to appreciate the beauties and challenges of Shabbat. Writing last Thursday, she found herself “dreading shutting off the faucet of news out of DC,” and thus realizing she had all the more reason to do so. She recalls her initial resistance to the Jewish day of rest:

Why does it have to be Friday night to Saturday night? I get the point of resting, but couldn’t I adjust it a bit for what works best for my [schedule]? When I talked about this with my rabbi, Noa Kushner, she explained that part of it is just submission to the tradition. It’s Friday nights because it’s Friday nights.

With some time, Bowles began to find the weekly routine salubrious, a superior version of the “tech detox” recommended by the trendy gurus of “wellness.” Yet she also understood that such a perspective on the holy day effectively reduces religion to a form of self-help. To observe Shabbat, she writes, is much more than that: it is to “continue a project started long before me, for reasons I only partly understand.”

But then came the coronavirus:

Without friends and shul, it was hard to make the day feel special. It certainly didn’t feel holy. Saturday rolled around, and I looked at my phone all the time. And so it was that I came to Shabbat this past week with a new determination. . . . Going 25 hours without touching electronics during  lockdown was, let’s say, humbling. Miserable at points. Depressing in its clarity about how atrophied my self-control had become.

And it was precisely the difficulty, she writes, that helped her renew her commitment to observance.

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Read more at Chosen by Choice

More about: Conversion, Judaism, Shabbat

UN Peacekeepers in Lebanon Risk Their Lives, but Still May Do More Harm Than Good

Jan. 27 2023

Last month an Irish member of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) was killed by Hizballah guerrillas who opened fire on his vehicle. To David Schenker, it is likely the peacekeeper was “assassinated” to send “a clear message of Hizballah’s growing hostility toward UNIFIL.” The peacekeeping force has had a presence in south Lebanon since 1978, serving first to maintain calm between Israel and the PLO, and later between Israel and Hizballah. But, Schenker explains, it seems to be accomplishing little in that regard:

In its biannual reports to the Security Council, UNIFIL openly concedes its failure to interdict weapons destined for Hizballah. While the contingent acknowledges allegations of “arms transfers to non-state actors” in Lebanon, i.e., Hizballah, UNIFIL says it’s “not in a position to substantiate” them. Given how ubiquitous UN peacekeepers are in the Hizballah heartland, this perennial failure to observe—let alone appropriate—even a single weapons delivery is a fair measure of the utter failure of UNIFIL’s mission. Regardless, Washington continues to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into this failed enterprise, and its local partner, the Lebanese Armed Forces.

Since 2006, UNIFIL patrols have periodically been subjected to Hizballah roadside bombs in what quickly proved to be a successful effort to discourage the organization proactively from executing its charge. In recent years, though, UN peacekeepers have increasingly been targeted by the terror organization that runs Lebanon, and which tightly controls the region that UNIFIL was set up to secure. The latest UN reports tell a harrowing story of a spike in the pattern of harassment and assaults on the force. . . .

Four decades on, UNIFIL’s mission has clearly become untenable. Not only is the organization ineffective, its deployment serves as a key driver of the economy in south Lebanon, employing and sustaining Hizballah’s supporters and constituents. At $500 million a year—$125 million of which is paid by Washington—the deployment is also expensive. Already, the force is in harm’s way, and during the inevitable next war between Israel and Hizballah, this 10,000-strong contingent will provide the militia with an impressive human shield.

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Read more at Tablet

More about: Hizballah, Lebanon, Peacekeepers, U.S. Foreign policy