Bari Weiss is my new hero. I say that with some trepidation. 

Weiss’s conservative political outlook is not one with which I normally identify. But the more I’ve been reading her newsletter, “Common Sense,” and listening to her podcast, “Honestly,” the more I find myself nodding, sometimes begrudgingly, in agreement.

Weiss’s background confounds expectations. She’s an outspoken conservative who’s also staunchly pro-choice; a married gay woman who abhors intersectionality and cancel culture; a fierce critic of both Donald Trump and Joe Biden; a triple vaxxed mask mandate critic. 

Weiss was hired by The New York Times in 2017 as part of an effort to bring more conservative voices to the paper’s traditionally left-leaning opinion pages. She resigned three years later, charging that she had been “the subject of constant bullying by colleagues who disagreed with my views” and who called her “a Nazi and a racist” for what she’s dubbed “wrongspeak.” That led in part to Weiss’s searing yet brilliant book, “How to Fight Antisemitism.”

Post-New York Times, Weiss has become a high-profile example of how to squeeze life’s lemons into lucrative lemonade. A year after her departure, Weiss had amassed 14,000 subscribers to her Substack newsletter paying $5 a month, plus another 75,000 non-paying subscribers. That means Weiss is earning more than $800,000 a year. (Note to self: Weiss may be on to something I should look into, too.)

What do readers of Weiss’s newsletter get?

Perhaps her most provocative piece was a deconstruction of the “Central Park Karen” story that became emblematic of how America has reduced all conflicts to the issue of racial justice. 

In May 2020, Amy Cooper was walking her dog off-leash in a mostly deserted part of the park.

Birdwatcher Christian Cooper (no relation) was there too and asked Amy to leash her rescue dog, per the rules. Amy Cooper felt her life was in danger and called 911. 

“There’s an African-American man…threatening myself and my dog,” she repeats over and over in an increasingly hysterical tone while Christian Cooper films the interaction.

Christian Cooper subsequently posted the video online. Amy Cooper was doxed (her address and phone number were leaked to the public), the humane society demanded her dog back, Cooper’s employer fired her and, following hundreds of death threats, hate mail and incendiary phone calls, she was forced into hiding. 

The incident seemed the perfect embodiment of white privilege with Amy Cooper playing the ideal “Karen” (derogatory slang for an entitled white woman) – that is, until Weiss and Kmele Foster, co-host of the podcast, “The Fifth Column,” dug deeper and discovered that the story was not quite what how it appeared. 

Left out of most reports was Christian Cooper’s threat that if Amy Cooper didn’t leash her dog, “I’m going to do what I want but you’re not going to like it.” 

The media also glossed over Amy Cooper’s history with sexual abuse and suicidal ideation and Christian Cooper’s past interactions where he threatened other dogwalkers in the park. Anxiety over social distancing during the early days of the pandemic also played a role.

Does this exonerate Amy Cooper as a classic “Karen?” Does it turn Christian Cooper from a recipient of racism into the story’s real bad guy? Not at all. That’s what’s brilliant about Weiss’s reporting: She doesn’t take sides but rather adds a level of nuance and complexity that is missing in today’s turbocharged, rancorous discourse. 

Other Weiss columns and podcasts have covered the less-than-straightforward backstories behind the Kyle Rittenhouse and Jussie Smollett cases, why both sides can’t stop screaming about abortion, and Abigail Shrier’s controversial book “Irreversible Damage” on what’s fueling an explosion in trans-identifying teenage girls. 

Reading and listening to Weiss, one might be tempted to consider a personal pivot to the right. Weiss probably wouldn’t be opposed. In one column, she recommends Liel Leibovitz’s piece in Tablet, “The Turn,” where Leibowitz, who also cohosts the podcast “Unorthodox,” opines about how he feels the left, where he grew up, has betrayed its principles in a mad rush to be uber-woke. 

“You might be living through The Turn if you ever found yourself feeling like free speech should stay free even if it offended some group or individual but now [you] can’t admit it at dinner with friends because you are afraid of being thought a bigot,” Leibovitz writes. “You are living through The Turn if you seethed watching a terrorist organization attack the world’s only Jewish state but seethed silently because your colleagues were all on Twitter and Facebook sharing celebrity memes about ending Israeli apartheid.”

This new, woke ideology captivating America, Weiss argues in Commentary, results in persuasion being “replaced with public shaming. Moral complexity is replaced with moral certainty. Facts are replaced with feelings. Ideas are replaced with identity. Forgiveness is replaced with punishment. Debate is replaced with de-platforming. Diversity is replaced with homogeneity of thought. Inclusion, with exclusion.” Bullying is wrong,she adds, “unless you are bullying the right people.”

I don’t think rejecting wokeness requires joining the Republican Party (or the Likud). But it does require a level of critical thinking that doesn’t make it into sound bites and cancel culture. That’s what Weiss excels at. Her flight from The New York Times has turned her into a superstar of balance. 

What’s the solution to our modern predicament? More courage, Wess writes.

“Courage means, first off, the unqualified rejection of lies. Do not speak untruths, either about yourself or anyone else, no matter the comfort offered by the mob. And do not genially accept the lies told to you.”

Courage can be contagious, Weiss concludes, “and your example may serve as a means of transmission.”

May we all merit a little more courage in these troubling times. I look forward to what Bari Weiss chooses to debunk next.

I first anointed about Bari Weiss my hero at The Jerusalem Post.

Picture credit: Martin Schoeller / Creative Artists Agency

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I let down my guard a few weeks ago. This was before the Greek letter “Omicron” was associated with Covid-19 and we all thought being triple-vaxxed meant we were relatively safe. 

So when friends invited my wife, Jody, and I to an indoor Hanukah party, I opted to drop my mask entirely, even when I was not in the midst of ingesting the decadent sufganiot on display.

A few days later, I started to feel sick. Sneezing, runny nose, a dry cough. I assumed it was my seasonal allergies but when I spiked a fever 10 days later, I started to worry. The newer variants of Covid present differently than the original, with symptoms often resembling allergies or a nasty cold.

I had already purchased several rapid antigen test kits “just in case.” I swabbed my nose and squeezed four drops of potentially Covid-saturated liquid onto the control strip. I waited the requisite 15 minutes. A line appeared under the negative indicator. 

Whew. I guess I dodged that bullet.

But when I glanced at the strip again an hour later, a second, blurry line had appeared under the indicator for “positive.”

Freaked out, I did another test. Same: negative at first, turning positive after an hour.

Now the instructions on the home test kit specifically state, “Do not read these results after 30 minutes.” That should have been enough to calm me down, but the fever, the aches, the coughing and my overactive imagination wouldn’t let it go.

It was 9 pm at night when Jody and I drove to the Kraft Stadium PCR testing facility in Emek Ha’arazim, near the Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramot.

The system is remarkably efficient. As you enter the queue of cars, an attendant hands you a flyer with a QR code. Scan it to open a web page where you enter your name, ID number and why you’re here. (I ticked the box for “suspected symptoms.”) When the technician comes to swab your nose, your online “file” is already set up and the results are sent by SMS.

The results arrived 12 hours later: also negative.

“You’ve got some virus,” my family doctor told me. “It’s not Covid and it’s not the flu.” (Another nasal swab at the clinic confirmed I was “negative” for influenza.) “Take pain killers, drink lots of water and rest.” 

The thing is, for the past two years, I haven’t gotten sick with any virus. I hear the same from friends. Masks, social distancing, avoiding indoor dining, concerts and synagogue have all contributed to a population that’s in some ways healthier than before the pandemic.

The U.S. CDC recorded 1,316 cases of flu between September 2020 and January 2021. In the same period the year before there were 130,000 cases.

I never want to get sick againI thought to myself.

Which is, of course, completely unrealistic. It goes against what it means to be human, which is to get sick from time to time. 

My aversion is understandable. When I was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s follicular lymphoma in 2018, one of the guidelines my hematologist emphasized was that if I developed a fever higher than 100 Fahrenheit (37.7Celsius), I needed to get to the ER straight away. If whatever I had turned into pneumonia and my immune system was compromised, I could be too.

So, it’s not surprising that any sign of illness would unnerve me. I have legitimate concerns.

Legitimate enough, though, that I should wear a mask in public indoor situations for the rest of my life? Never shake hands with a stranger? Cancel attendance at an event when there’s even the hint of illness?

When I was in grade school, I regularly attended class even when I was sick. Staying home was not socially acceptable. Ditto for work. 

Since the start of the pandemic, that now seems insane. If you’re ill – whether it’s Covid or the common cold –stay home. Protect others. 

“The decision to attend a gathering while unwell looks rather narcissistic,” writes Jenni Avins in The New York Times. “It says to your fellow attendees, ‘I know I risked your health by turning up here, but isn’t my presence worth it?’ Even if it’s not Covid, it’s never a good look – especially in flu season – to show up resembling an extra from [the movie] Contagion.

Even though I was negative for Covid, I didn’t want to get Jody or any of my kids sick. So for the next week, I wore my Sonovia mask at home. It was a bit awkward and my glasses fogged up while I tried to watch TV. I didn’t even attempt to hold my new grandson.

Admittedly, I may be in a different category because of the cancer. But living in dread of what is essentially the human condition doesn’t seem healthy, either.

If I do eventually contract Covid – which, sadly, seems more likely than ever given Omicron’s ability to break through vaccine protection – hopefully we will have treatments to keep people from getting severely ill or dying. 

Monoclonal antibodies, the new anti-viral pills from Merck and Pfizer, rejiggered vaccines and AstraZeneca’s Evushield prophylactic antibody cocktail for the immunocompromised all hold great promise.

Fighting even a “normal” virus took a lot out of me. I am leaning towards staying vigilant – if not for me, then for the sake of six-week-old Ilai Ze’ev. He deserves at least a few months of perfect health before he comes face-to-face (or is that mouth-to-nose?) with the inevitable, unavoidable viruses of modern life.

I first wrote about not ever wanting to get sick again in The Jerusalem Post.

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Two recent headlines about the new Magic Kass amusement park and adjacent DCITY shopping mall make for an instructive contrast.

Knafe at the DCity mall

The Jerusalem Post’s Zev Stub reviewed the new developments east of Ma’aleh Adumim. The headline: “Israel’s newest amusement park brings ‘magic’ to Jerusalem outskirts.”

The headline in Haaretz took a different tack: “Israel’s shiny new theme park and mall that aren’t technically in Israel.”

While Stub’s article is a personal review of the amusement park, the Haaretz piece by Jonathan Shamir leans heavily political. 

“It’s part of the efforts to normalize Ma’aleh Adumim to the Israeli public,” Shamir quotes Hagit Ofran, executive director of Peace Now’s Settlement Watch program. The area is “a huge problem for the development of a Palestinian economy, let alone a state.”

But one of the pictures included with the article subverts Shamir’s agenda: It’s an image of an Arab family taking a selfie and enjoying the park alongside their Jewish neighbors. If that’s normalization, I want more. 

The contrast between Shamir’s critique and the photo chosen to go with it illustrates exactly why this part of the Middle East is stuck in a status quo that no one really wants but, at the same time, no one can figure out how to get past: Israel, to much of the world, is a symbol rather than an actual place. 

This Israel-as-a-symbol is not filled with real people who strive to make a living and who mostly eschew politics. Instead, the country has become a talking point used by both sides to virtue signal to like-minded individuals. 

Now, I’m hardly pro-settlements in my personal political views. I would have preferred that most had never been built.

But let’s step back for a critical reality check: The settlements aren’t going anywhere. Certainly not the big ones like Ma’aleh Adumim, Ariel and the Gush Etzion block. 

Not the smaller ones either. 

After 2005’s Disengagement and the subsequent Hamas coup in the Gaza Strip, few in Israel have any interest in taking risks that could launch another terror wave. There’s scant political will for making a deal on the Palestinian Authority’s side, either.

If, however, we take as a starting point that the settlements – whether you believe they were established in sin or are the flourishing of Zionism 2.0 – are here to stay, then you are compelled to think out-of-the-box for a solution that will allow us to live in the same space. Maybe not together but neither on the constant verge of violence. 

Symbols, by contrast, don’t allow for innovative ideas; they push people to dig their heels in further.

One of the most interesting approaches I’ve seen comes from the Hartman Institute’s Micah Goodman. In an article he wrote for The Atlantic, based on his book Catch-67, he reviews a proposal developed nearly 20 years ago called “Keep it Flowing.” It’s based on the idea that traditional borders ensuring contiguous territory simply won’t work here. 

Instead, the plan calls for a network of bridges and tunnels to connect Palestinian cities and villages, eliminating checkpoints and allowing free movement below, above and alongside entirely separate Israeli highways. 

“It would not be cheap to implement, because it involves tunnels and bridges, but it would create transportational contiguity for Palestinians,” Goodman writes. “If Israel were to pave this network of roads —and more important, give the Palestinian Authority autonomous control over it — the reality on the ground would be completely transformed. Israel would be able to abolish the main source of friction between the [Palestinian] civilian population and the [Israeli] military authorities.”

(A related plan to build a 37-kilometer bridge from Gaza to the West Bank was mooted in 1999 by French-Jewish architect Mark Mimram.)

To be sure, Goodman is not proposing a Palestinian state – at least not yet. This is not “part of a perfect, redemptive project” – for either side, he notes. Rather, “the occupation of the Palestinians can be shrunk without also shrinking Israelis’ security.” 

Is this what activists on either side want? Not really. But compromise comes in many colors. For Goodman, this kind of “creeping segregation,” as he calls it, could be a good thing. 

Compromise has proved to be beyond the scope of the Israel-haters. 

Recall that, in 2015, SodaStream gave in to a high-pressure campaign by the BDS movement and relocated its bottling plant, the one that had been located not far from where the Magic Kass amusement park is today, to the Beersheba area. The move resulted in the loss of about 500 jobs for local Palestinians and the end of a workplace that was proud of its contribution to coexistence.

I’m not saying that a proposal like Goodman’s is inherently better or worse than two states with clearly defined borders. Nor am I advocating separation over integration as the ideal long-term solution. But it’s at least realistic. The alternative, as we’ve seen, is simply more stagnation.

Israel is here to stay. So are the Palestinians. And so are the settlements, whether they should have been authorized in the first place or not. Did their creation result in injustice? Absolutely. But libeling Israel as an apartheid nation run by genocidal settler-colonialists won’t solve a thing. 

It’s time to move forward, to see Israel and the Palestinians for what they are, and to seek solutions that build up rather than obliterate coexistence.

If you’re still in need of a symbol, though, look no further than the Magic Kass roller coaster. It may have its ups and downs, but once on the ride, we’re all in it together – and there’s no getting off (just like those new highways to be built). But, hey, the view of the Dead Sea is spectacular.

I originally reviewed Magic Kass and the politics of normalization for The Jerusalem Post.

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My wife, Jody, and I joined a club that we really wanted entrance to – the grandparents club. Our daughter, Merav, gave birth to a healthy baby boy a bit more than two weeks ago. I gave a speech at the brit milah ceremony. Here’s what I said.

If I were to tell you that I fell in love with this little guy in the first minute I met him, you’d say that that was a cliché. But sometimes cliches are true.

There is something about a newborn that is hard to resist. Even more when that newborn is your first grandson and your daughter and son-in-law’s first child.

It’s difficult to describe exactly the feeling. We don’t know him yet, nor has he expressed a strong personality yet (although he’s got a good set of lungs on him).

So, it’s not his witty jokes, his seamless repartee or his physical actions that led to this love affair. It’s a visceral, subconscious feeling that seeps over you with an intensity that’s different than even having your own children.

Maybe that’s because with a grandson you can simply enjoy him, knowing that at the end of the day, someone else will be doing the feeding and changing and not sleeping.

But even that doesn’t explain entirely this love. 

Is it his sweet baby smell?

Is it those little baby noises he makes that are so adorable (until they transition into full on crying)?

Is it his lips – oh, those beautiful lips – that are so perfect?

Is it his skin that is so incredibly soft because it’s brand new? 

Or is it simply the fact that Merav worked so hard to carry him, to nurture him inside of her, to grow him for nearly 40 weeks with all his toes and fingers and body parts (now minus a foreskin, of course), and to take care of his every need for the rest of his life! (An exaggeration, but only slight.)

Regular readers know I am not much of a religious person these days, but the first thing I thought when I saw him was, “He’s a miracle.”

Another miracle: that Merav and Gabe found each other. 

Merav moved with us from California to Israel when she was one year old. Gabe didn’t come from New York until he was a teenager. Somehow, they found each other and they’ve created an entire world with their own circle of friends and now a new human being.

The baby’s name is Ilai Ze’ev. (That’s pronounced “ee-lie,” accent on the second syllable.) My son-in-law Gabe explained the meanings of the names at the brit milah. 

Ilai stands for greatness and strength, Gabe said. (It literally means “supreme.”) His middle name honors my father who passed away in 2009. I am so thrilled and delighted that this name will be continuing on in the world.

My father’s name in English was Walter but his Hebrew name was Tzvi Ze’ev. His parents added Chaim when he contracted polio at age 17 and they were told that adding a third name – meaning “life” – would be a good omen. 

It was – he recovered and was able to live a full life, even if he could never run or play sports again the way he did when he was an active teenager.

Ze’ev is Hebrew for “wolf” – it’s an animal that runs in packs. “Merav and I take community very seriously,” Gabe said in his naming speech. “We have incredible friends and family. We wish for Ilai Ze’ev that he grows with the same support system we are so lucky to have.”

My father was a complicated man – aren’t we all? – but I can say with certainty that I wouldn’t be half the person I am today were it not for him. He was a writer, a radio disk jockey, a connoisseur of classical music. His creativity, his love of politics, science, literature and culture – those are all things that I received from him in abundance. I hope that this little baby boy picks up some of those attributes by sharing a name. 

My father didn’t have the ability to play ball with us, but he was passionate about reading to his own children and then to his grandchildren. He would have loved to have met his great grandson. I am so sad that he didn’t make it this far, but I know that his spirit will live on in little Ilai Ze’ev. And I will take up the mantle and read to him the way his great-grandfather surely would have.

Ilai Ze’ev is fortunate to have five great grandparents still alive. And the sixth is here in spirit through his name.

Merav and Gabe: You have brought an incredible gift into the world – another human being who will be so loved by all his many relatives and your many friends. You are going to be incredible parents – no, you already are incredible parents – I’ve seen that in just a week with this little guy. 

Savta and I (still getting used to that) are so happy for you, so excited for him, and so over the moon in love. 

I first welcomed Ilai Ze’ev to the fold in The Jerusalem Post.

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When I was growing up in the U.S. in the 1970s, I would often need to fill out some official form that asked for race or ethnicity. I always marked the box for “white” and sometimes “Caucasian.” I didn’t think much of it at the time. My Jewish identity wasn’t yet particularly developed. Of course, I was white. What else could I be?

That’s come back to bite me – and Jews everywhere – big time.

To be white these days “is a kind of slander,” writes The Jerusalem Post’s Seth Franzman. Jews have been transformed into “white Jews” which Franzman correctly notes is, at its core, “anti-Jewish.” 

Muslims in Albania are not called “white Muslims,” he points out. Nor are there any “white Hindus,” “white Buddhists” or “white Catholics.” 

“Only Jews are called ‘white Jews,’” Franzman stresses, which forces them into the ‘white category in America, the category that means ‘majority’ and ‘privileged.’” As a result, in some American circles, identifying as Jewish “has become synonymous with ‘white supremacy,’” he says.

That amalgamation is “obscene,” writes former Jerusalem Post editor and current The New York Times columnist Bret Stephens, in that it “lumps Jewish Americans with the sort of people who marched in Charlottesville [in 2017] chanting ‘Jews will not replace us.’” 

Tell that to Rebecca Vilkomerson, executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace.

“We white Jews especially need to recognize that centering our own status as victims here is a power move, as well as a way to avoid self-reflection on our relative status in a white supremacist world,” Vilkomerson tweeted last year. 

“The United States today is undergoing a cultural transformation as radical as the one last seen in the 1960s,” writes Stephens. Among the most disturbing changes: “Race is replacing ethnicity as a defining marker of group and personal identification.”

Nor is it limited to American Jews. Israelis are now being castigated as “white.” And if Israeli Jews are white, then who are the people of color that these “white Jews” must be oppressing through their white supremacy? The Palestinians, of course.

Daniel Gordis, whose most recent book is Saving Israel: How the Jewish People Can Win a War That May Never End, refers to a letter penned by 93 American rabbinical students after Israel’s early summer operation in Gaza, in which the authors assert that American Jews are “part of a racial reckoning [that asks] ‘how are we complicit with racial violence” in Israel and Palestine?

Gordis responds: “Whatever one wants to call what is happening in Israel, or what happens periodically with Hamas, it is not racial violence.” Rather, the desire to see Israel as a reflection of America’s unique history with racial injustice is a “wholly Ashkenazi take” which would be ironic if it weren’t so ignorant, since the majority of Israel’s Jews are not Ashkenazim but Mizrachim who would never consider themselves “white.” 

Jews who hail from the Middle East, who were expelled from the countries in which they had lived for centuries and whose appearance is often indistinguishable from other non-Jews in the region, are not, as Tablet’s Liel Leibowitz calls, “white passing” or “functionally white.”

“As an Israeli, and the son of an Iraqi Jewish mother and North African Jewish father, it’s gut-wrenching to witness this shift,” laments Hen Mazzig, a senior fellow at the Tel Aviv Institute, in the Los Angeles Times.

But if a simplistic black vs. white, oppressor vs. oppressed explains “everything” in America, notes Gordis, “it must explain everything that’s wrong with Israel too.” 

If the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is about race, Gordis posits, “There are not two sides with narratives that need to be heard, but rather, one side good, one side evil. [So] if you’re a Zionist, you’re a racist.”

“Israel, like America, is deeply messed up,” admits journalist and author Matti Friedman. It’s just “messed up in completely different ways.” 

Western observers “are often tempted to see foreign countries as mirrors of their own, because it makes a story more compelling for members of their audience, who are interested—who isn’t?—mainly in themselves,” Friedman continues. “So, Narendra Modi of India is Donald Trump, France’s problem is racial inequality, and Dutch conservatives are Republicans.”

“In reality, Israel is one of the most multicultural societies on earth, composed of immigrants from around the world,” notes Susie Linfield in an excellent analysis in The Atlantic entitled “Palestine isn’t Ferguson,” referring to the riots that erupted in that Missouri town following the fatal shooting of Michael Brown. 

How did we get here? 

The U.S. has abandoned the proverbial “melting pot” metaphor for “a country of unyielding binaries, in which people are grouped as being either ‘of color’ or ‘white,’” writes Stephens. “The result is that the vast majority of Jewish Americans…are being shunted into a racial category with which few have consciously identified [and]which is alien to Jewish cultural, religious, and political traditions.”

“The story of the Jewish minority in Europe and in the Islamic world, which is the story of Israel, has nothing to do with race in America,” Friedman writes. “My grandmother’s parents and siblings were shot outside their village in Poland by people the same color as them.”

Every country, every conflict and every individual should be judged on its own merits. This destructive binary applies an unfair and inappropriate American lens on Israel and the conflict. That won’t help us come to any kind of an equitable resolution. It will only lead the players who have the most at stake to dig their heels in further. 

Getting there will require nuance, empathy and intellectual rigor. Sadly, I’m not sure if that’s something Americans know how to do anymore. 

Palestine/Ferguson image from NFG – Neighborhood Funders Group.

I first wrote about Jews not being white for The Jerusalem Post.

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When cancel culture comes for you

November 10, 2021

When cancel culture comes for the Jews, it comes for all of us. Here are some times I was canceled in the past and what that means for the future

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Dysmorphia of the social body

October 24, 2021

“Body dysmorphic disorder” is real. But metaphorical religious, political and science “dysmorphias” affect not only the physical but the social body.

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Science denial and the wellness industry

October 10, 2021

Why are so many in the wellness industry opposed to basic science? Blame it on Louise Hay who proposed our thoughts create our physical reality

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11 ways to distinguish real from fake pandemic news

September 26, 2021

Amidst a torrent of pandemic misinformation, I’ve compiled a list of 11 ways to distinguish between real and fake pandemic news. Essential reading in confusing times!

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Biking the capital: An electrifying experience

September 11, 2021

When Jerusalem introduced rental bike stations across the capital, we had to give them a spin. My story of our e-bike trip to Ein Lavan.

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