Tuesday, June 20, 2017

[Today's] Favorite Cocktail

Zahava and I are not big drinkers.  But we do enjoy a glass of wine with meals, as well as the occasional postprandial cocktail.

Our taste in wines and mixed drinks is both transient and eclectic, which makes us susceptible to picking up new 'favorites' from friends and relatives... as well as from the random tipples we encounter in our travels.

I have a long relationship with Bourbon Manhattans that has withstood the test of time.  The preference for Bourbon over Rye I got from my dad, who has always been a Bourbon man.  But other than that, I haven't been too picky about what goes into this basic and nearly fool-proof cocktail.

That is, until the recent one-two combination of a trip to Italy followed by a visit to my sister Elizabeth, opened my eyes to the possibilities.

First the Italy trip.  

Zahava and I were enjoying one of several meals we ate in the Roman Ghetto last summer.  After dinner we asked the waiter to recommend a digestif to go with the desert we were going to share (we were both stuffed!).  He offered us a choice of grappa (which Zahava doesn't love), and Luxardo Maraschino (a clear Italian liquor distilled from sour Marasca cherries).  We had never had the latter so we opted for that.  

Heaven!  When we got back to Israel I tracked down a store that carried it and have endeavored to keep a bottle on hand.

As to my sister... each time I have visited her in recent years, I've been floored by how much better her Manhattans are than the ones I mix up at home.  Okay, to be fair, I've been floored by the alcohol content of the multiple Manhattans I usually have when visiting her... but they really do always taste better than mine.

It turns out there are a few reasons Liz's are better than mine.  

First, she uses Rye instead of Bourbon.  There is a difference!

And second, she doesn't use those bright red Shirley Temple-style cherries for the garnish.  Instead, she buys the original deep red Maraschino Marasca cherries from the Luxardo company in Italy (yes, the same one that makes the liquor I mentioned above).  She also adds a teaspoon or two of the Marasca cherry syrup from the jar to the cocktail.

Recently, I've been trying to think of anything that could possibly improve on Liz's Rye Manhattan, and it occurred to me that a splash of the Maraschino liquor would be a nice touch.  It is.

And in addition to a dash or two of the Angostura Bitters which the standard drink recipe calls for, I thought maybe a dash or two of orange bitters would go nicely.  It does.

The following, ladies and gentlemen, is my latest take on the venerable Manhattan cocktail (makes two generous servings):

Maraschino Lover's Perfect Rye Manhattan

  • 4 oz. Rye whiskey 
  • 2 oz. sweet vermouth (I use the kosher Martini Rossa found here in Israel) 
  • 1 oz. Luxardo Maraschino liqueur
  • 4 dashes Angostura Bitters
  • 4 dashes Angostura Orange Bitters
  • 2 tsp. Luxardo Maraschino Cherry juice 

Shake well in a cocktail shaker with cracked ice and serve in chilled glasses with a garnish of orange slices and Maraschino Cherries.

[Depending on the feedback, I may do a semi-regular cocktail/wine post here on treppenwitz]

Posted by David Bogner on June 20, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (3)

Thursday, June 15, 2017

If You Didn't See This Coming...

... you weren't looking very hard!

Heck, if anyone is honestly surprised by yesterday's shooting in Alexandria, VA., they had their head in the sand.

Let's forget that the shooter happened to be a far left wing 'moonbat'.  He could just as easily  have been a 'wingnut' from the fringes of the political right.  The extremists are always the vanguard of any conflict... but when push comes to shove, they inevitably have the mainstream firmly at their back.

My point is that political discourse in the US has become so toxic and disconnected from reality that it has, for all intents and purposes, ceased to be discourse.  Instead of an earnest discussion or debate of the issues of the day, it has become an aggressive, belligerent game of dogma-tennis played with political mortars and grenades lobbed over the partisan battlements. 

In warfare, one of the challenges facing the military establishment, and society as a whole, is to justify setting aside the tenet of 'Thou Shalt Not Kill'.  This is accomplished by an organized campaign of vilification of the enemy... to such an extreme extent that they can be viewed as something less than human.  After all, the prohibition is only against killing one's fellow man; so those monsters over there must be fair game!

If you look at some of the propaganda films put out during WWII, you can clearly see the Nazis (always Nazis... never just Germans, because that would allow one to think in terms of civilians), as cruel, unfeeling monsters.  And the Japanese were portrayed as reptilian automatons!  Then, and only then, could the allied countries get behind sending our wholesome boys out to mow them down like weeds and burn entire cities like garbage heaps.

Such is the nature of warfare.  To set aside the rules of civilization, the enemy must be seen to be well outside civilized norms.  Think about that the next time you hear someone called a 'Nazi' or ''Fascist'  over their political beliefs.  

Unfortunately, such is now the nature of political discourse in the US.  

Nobody is actually talking anymore.  They are broadcasting a one-way stream of invective and venom.  Ideas and philosophies are no longer debated on campus or in the halls of government.  Instead, each side has drawn its battle lines, and everyone on the other side of those lines is held up as the most extreme, crazy, dangerous transgressor of dearly held political orthodoxy.  

The language and venom used by both sides is indistinguishable from heresy accusations between competing religious sects.  For the reactions they garnered, each party's platforms during the presidential election might as well have been the 95 Theses nailed to the door of the Wittenberg Castle church!

If you ask historians what the 100 Years War was about, they will tell you it was "a series of conflicts waged from 1337 to 1453 by the House of Plantagenet, rulers of the Kingdom of England, against the House of Valois, rulers of the Kingdom of France, over the succession of the French throne".[source]

But if pressed, as to why the warfare in that conflict was particularly savage, most will be forced to admit that the English and French setting aside the religious rules of warfare had a great deal to do with it.  After all, both sides had invoked religious justification for their cause (read up on the 'Great Schism of 1378').  So even though the rules of chivalry and warfare among Christians demanded humane treatment of captives and allowed for negotiation and compromise where possible, the moment the other side was deemed to be heretics... all rules went out the window.

One of the more famous battles of the 100 Years War took place at Agincourt in 1415.  The French King flew the Oriflamme (from Latin aurea flamma, "golden flame"); the battle standard which indicated that no quarter would be granted to captured or surrendering enemy forces. The battle is also notable for the use of the English Long Bow which allowed large scale killing from a remote position... another departure from the accepted rules of chivalry.

All this was made possible - inevitable, actually - by the battle lines being drawn along 'all or nothing' zero sum terms.  A respected adversary had to be treated chivalrously.  A heretical enemy could be slaughtered without remorse.

Rory William St Clere Cox, a lecturer at The University of St. Andrews put it quite succinctly when discussing the increasingly religious nature of the rift between the English and the French:  "The interaction between war and religion helped to create increasingly xenophobic and jingoistic societies, so that a conflict which began as a dynastic or feudal struggle increasingly came to be understood in terms of a national crusade". [source]

Sound familiar?  It ought to.

On his way to the the baseball field yesterday, the shooter - James T. Hodgkinson - is reported to have stopped a departing player (Rep. DeSantis), to ask who was on the field, Democrats or Republicans?  Even from the dugout it wasn't immediately apparent who was who.   They all looked like a bunch of middle aged men in baseball uniforms engaged in the national pastime.  

But once they were identified as Republicans, their attire became enemy uniforms, and in his mind they became legitimate targets.

I have no idea how we got to this present state of partisan warfare in the US, or how we might extricate ourselves from the trenches long enough to be able to see the 'soldiers' on the other side as people just like us.

But so long as we continue to hold up our political views as sacrosanct doctrine instead of simple political constructs, we will increasingly be drawn into religious wars from which there can be no chance of compromise or quarter.  And the bodies will continue to pile up on the battlefield... even if it looks just like a ball-field.

Posted by David Bogner on June 15, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (7)

Friday, June 09, 2017

Let's be honest...

Memo to Lebanon (and Jordan, and much or the Muslim world) on banning the screening of the new Wonder Woman movie starring Israeli actress Gal Gadot.

You claim the motivation is that she used to do this:

But let's be honest, for a change. What really bothers you is that she still does this:

Meanwhile, shame on the world for their silence in the face of any sort of boycott based on the nationality and/or religion of a movie's star.

I wonder what the New York Times headlines would look like if Israel ever banned the screening of a film because the star came from a culture or country the government found offensive or distasteful. I imagine the object of such an Israeli boycott would be an automatic winner at the various film festivals around the world.

 

Posted by David Bogner on June 9, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, June 05, 2017

What's In Your Coffee Kit?

Since moving to Israel 14 years ago, I have been commuting about an hour each way to my job in Beer Sheva.

Almost as soon as I started doing this commute, word got around among the Army and University crowd and I began getting requests for 'tremps' (rides) from people in my community (I've written about this at length in the past).

After some time, I began to get 'regulars'; students who had to go south every Sunday morning for the week's classes as well as soldier's serving at bases throughout the Negev desert.

I've mentioned this because at the end of the first academic year, three young women who had been my 'regulars'; traveling with me almost every week, chipped in and presented me with a touching gift:  A 'Pakal Cafe' (פק''ל כפה).  That three letter Hebrew acronym stands for פקודת קבע לחייל which very roughly translates as Standard Equipment for a Soldier.  In the US military it would be General Issue (GI).

So what is a 'Pakal?  Technically it can be anything that is standard equipment for a given task, role or setting.  But if you copy and paste פק''ל into a Google image search, most of the results will be for coffee kits.  And that's what those girls gave me.

Despite its name, Israeli coffee kits are anything but standard.  The ones sold commercially share certain commonalities in that they contain at a minimum:

  • A small camping stove
  • Fuel for the stove
  • Containers for sugar and coffee
  • At least 3 small cups for serving the coffee
  • A pouch of some kind to hold it all

In case you didn't have the patience to do the Google search I recommended above, here are a few commercial offerings that show the range from simple to elaborate:

Coffee kit 1

Coffee kit 3

Coffee kit 2

The reason these girls settled on a פק''ל as a thank you gift to me was that they'd noticed that every morning I brought a thermal travel mug full of coffee with me for the drive, and assumed (correctly, as it turned out), that coffee played a fairly central role in my daily routine.  Giving me the ability to fix a hot cup of coffee while camping or on a day trip was indeed a very thoughtful gift.

Over the years, my daughter Ariella has 'borrowed' most of the components such as the little butane stove and the coffee/sugar containers.  But despite my having made so many modifications and substitutions in the contents of my פק''ל that it doesn't contain a single item from the original gift kit... in my mind, what I use is still the פק''ל I got from the three University students.

Today my kit includes my venerable old Svea 123R stove (which I've had since the mid '80s);

Svea 123 1

Svea-123

Instead of the fragile glass cups, I have substituted collapsible silicon cups (which are also easy on the fingers when the coffee is piping hot):

Coffee cups

And I use a range of tiny Tupperware-style plastic containers for coffee, sugar and Splenda.

I've been toying with the idea of adding a little hand grinder to the kit, but the expense (about $25 bucks) and extra space/weight has kept that out of the kit so far.

But given that people love to customize and modify their 'Pakal Cafe' (e.g. travel size French Press, mini espresso maker, etc.), I am wondering what's in yours?  Anything unique or interesting?

Posted by David Bogner on June 5, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (4)

Sunday, May 07, 2017

Please Stop Making Me Cringe!

There is a tempest in a teacup brewing today over an ad outlining the President's accomplishments in his first 100 days, that the Trump team has tried, unsuccessfully, to place on pretty much all the major US networks.

It turns out that all of them - NBC, CBS, ABC, CNN - except for Fox, have refused to accept the ad.

Depending on who you rely upon to reinforce your bias, your outrage might be directed at either:

a)  the networks for what the Trump team has called "an unprecedented act of censorship in America that should concern every freedom-loving citizen";

OR

b)  the Trump team for creating a 30 second spot that both verbally and visually labels the mainstream media as 'Fake News', and then expecting the media outlets to run said ad spot that openly insults them.

To be clear, we're talking about a paid ad... not a press conference or some other typical media event.

To put it in perspective, let's ask ourselves if the Trump Organization would be likely to accept a paid billboard ad to run on the side of one of their famous buildings if the ad openly insulted or lampooned President Trump?  I thought not.

Here's the ad:

Okay, so for so good.  Hopefully you can understand why the Trump team made it, as well as why it would be a silly thing for them to expect the people they are insulting to run it on their networks (even for money).

As I said, a tempest in a teacup... nothing to see here, move along.

Except that Trump's Daughter-In Law - Lara Trump - has now gone public with a really troubling quote:

"Apparently, the mainstream media are champions of the First Amendment only when it serves their own political views." 

Okay, here's why anyone who stayed awake in a high school civics class should be cringing:

The First amendment to the US Constitution states:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."

I would like to draw the reader's attention to the first word:  Congress.

If an individual, or a business or pretty much anyone else except for congress wants to censor you, shut you up or in any way deny you a soapbox from which to express your views, they can.  

Seriously... if you walk into a business and decide to make a speech or hang up political or religious posters, they can throw you out (and tear down your posters).  And for the record, if you come into my home and try to share views I find repugnant or insulting, I can likewise refuse to let you speak and show you the door.  I probably won't... but I could!

So I would advise Lara Trump, and anyone else who thinks that the First Amendment grants them unimpeded rights to place and express their views anywhere they want... that they are mistaken.  

That tricky First amendment only keeps Congress from passing laws that stifle our freedom of speech.  ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN... they are perfectly within their rights to refuse to run an ad that insults them.

Dust off your civics books, people.  Sad!

Posted by David Bogner on May 7, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Coincidence? I think not!

Believe it or not, every single time I've seen a picture of him making this gesture, it's tugged at a distant memory... but I could never put my finger on it.

Then last night it came to me (sorry about the crude photo skilz):

Trump-bug

I am soooo relieved to have finally figured that out!

Posted by David Bogner on April 26, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Morbid Curiosity or Self Preservation?

I'm probably inviting wry comments given the subject of my previous post.  But I'm wondering if I'm alone in feeling a bit resentful and cheated when a news article or obituary about someone's untimely death fails to mention a clear cause or any potentially relevant health history?

Obviously, when someone passes away in old age, such details are perhaps rightly left out (unless the deceased's longevity was considered remarkable specifically because of a history of risky behavior (e.g. heavy smoker, long-time drug and/or alcohol abuse, participation in extreme sports or career involving active participation in military conflicts or documentation of same, etc.).

I think it is more than just morbid curiosity that makes me look for causative information in obituaries and news articles.  After all, it seems reasonable to look for (and presumably learn from), cautionary tales. Otherwise, we relegate our lives and eventual deaths to passive, 'There, but for the grace of G-d, go I' acceptance and helplessness.

I feel this is especially true when celebrities die prematurely.  After all, if they knowingly, or even unwittingly influence countless fans with their risky behavior and unhealthy life choices, shouldn't those same fans be made aware that the risky behavior may have been a contributing factor in their untimely deaths?

To be clear, I'm not suggesting that such information should precede or overshadow a person's accomplishments.  But if we are supposed to learn from a noteworthy person's life... shouldn't we also learn something - at least when there is something to be learned - from their death?

Posted by David Bogner on April 26, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (3)

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Schmaltz Revisited

I've written in the past about how to render schmaltz at home and the wonderful things you can do with it (assuming you keep a supply on hand).

During the years when pretty much everything but celery was accused of raising cholesterol and causing strokes and heart attacks, a special level of scorn was reserved for animal fats (of which schmaltz is pretty much the poster child).

However, most peer-reviewed research has forced scientists and nutritionists to back off their blanket condemnation of things like red meat, eggs and classic sources of animal fats.  In fact, it turns out that a lot of those over-engineered foods, exotic oils and fat substitutes turned out to be far worse for you than eggs and animal fats (eaten in moderation, of course).

So with that in mind, I wanted to remind folks who are restocking their larder (yes, that word comes from exactly where you think it does), after turning over their kitchens post-Passover, that this is a good time to lay in a supply of one of the tastiest and most versatile cooking fats out there:  Schmaltz (or as I like to call it; 'G-d's gift to roasted potatoes').

And best of all, unlike expensive commercial cooking oils, Schmaltz is (or should be) virtually free!  You just need to do a little leg work and preparation.

First of all, you will need to cultivate a relationship with your butcher (or the head of the meat department at your local supermarket).  Just being a good customer and asking the occasional question or advice should be enough.  You don't have to take the guy/girl out for dinner or anything!

Next, once you are known to the meat department, mention that you plan to render some schmaltz at home.  If that word draws a blank stare, take a moment to explain that rendered chicken fat is a delicious cooking aid, and that it is prepared using chicken skin; something the butcher likely throws out by the bag-full every day as he or she cleans and trims poultry for customer orders and the refrigerated display case.

This past Friday morning I picked up enough chicken skin from my butcher to fill a small garbage back, and spent much of the day rendering the golden goodness (see the linked article above for instructions).  The key is a combination of relatively low heat and patience.

On top of that, I cooked Roast Goose for the family for Friday night dinner, so I was able to collect a nice supply of goose fat from the drippings pan I placed strategically under the goose in the oven.

Here are the resulting containers at the end of the process, (the first picture is while the schmaltz is still a warm, translucent liquid, and second is after it has become an opaque white solid after spending Shabbat in the freezer.  The salt shaker is there for context/size.

Shmaltz Before

Shmaltz After

The chicken schmaltz is in the big container and the goose schmaltz is in the smaller one.  This should last for six months or more in the freezer.  

Use in a skillet as you would oil (a few frozen curls shaved off are enough to grease the pan and add incredible flavor.  If you are making roasted vegetables / potatoes, a little bit goes a long way.

Don't thank me... I'm a giver!

Posted by David Bogner on April 23, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (2)

Sunday, January 29, 2017

If You Read Only One Article This Week...

... let it be this one.

In the wake of the US presidential election, one of the key questions repeated on both sides of the political aisle (conservatives out of bewildered delight, and liberals out of abject despair), is how the hell Donald Trump  - a man who both sides considered to be a highly improbable candidate, albeit for very different reasons - managed to get elected to the highest office in the land.

To this day, I think almost everyone who has tried to answer that question has gotten it dead wrong... until now.

While knowing the reason(s) behind 'The Donald's' ascent won't provide his fans or foes with much of a foothold (or comfort), this article (IMHO) provides a Rosetta Stone for anyone - regardless of the political language they speak - to understand how we got to where we are today.

I can't think of too many things that will be more important today than finding the time to read this article.

Prepare to have your conventional wisdom challenged.

 

    Hat tip to SWMBO

Posted by David Bogner on January 29, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (2)

Sunday, January 01, 2017

Who Better For The Job?

You may not have noticed, but the dignitary selected to push the button to trigger the descent of the glittering Waterford Crystal ball in Times Squares last night was none other than outgoing UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

A perfect choice, in my humble opinion.

After all, who has had more experience in dropping the ball?

 

 

Hat tip to the Cajun

Posted by David Bogner on January 1, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Feeling Rather Virtuous

For the first time in a long time (oh, who am I kidding... it never, ever, happened before!), I actually took down and put away our Sukkah within two hours of the holiday ending.

On too many occasions to count, late-winter snow has fallen on our still-fully-assembled 'temporary' dwelling.  

And we have conducted more than one Passover Seder with the frame of our Sukkah silently mocking me through the sliding glass doors leading to the back deck.

But the sloth record for our family was firmly established the year I had to stay up past midnight taking down the Sukkah the night before the annual mid-summer BBQ we used to throw for my musician friends.  And then it was not so much to avoid the inevitable ridicule of my friends... but rather, simply to make room for them!

So yeah, I'm feeling a little virtuous today.   I think when I get home from work, I might take a leisurely stroll around the neighborhood... y'know, just to pass judgement on all the malingerers, slackers and layabouts who haven't taken down their Sukkot yet.  ;-)

Posted by David Bogner on October 25, 2016 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

What's Good For the Goose...

Yesterday, the Knesset finally passed a controversial bill into law that will allow Israeli lawmakers to expel a Member of Knesset who supports armed struggle against the State of Israel and/or incites racial hatred.  The new law - which many assume is meant to target Joint Arab List MK, Hanin Zoabi - will require at least 90 of the 120 MKs to vote in favor of their colleague's removal.

The law passed by a margin of 62-47, but one has to wonder how such an obvious idea wasn't unanimously embraced and approved!

Not surprisingly, since it was a right wing coalition majority that passed the new law, many left wing MKs are calling it 'anti-democratic', and are bemoaning it as 'the death of Israeli democracy'.

Yet, interesting, the Israeli left had no problem whatsoever passing an amendment to the Israeli election law back in 1988 which had essentially the same intent; albeit to keep someone from entering the Knesset rather than creating a provision for removing them.  

That 1988 amendment had the stated goal of barring Rabbi Meir Kahane's far-right Kach party from participating in that year's Knesset elections where polls predicted it would likely increase its Knesset representation from 1 to 3 (or maybe 4) seats.

The 1988 amendment codified into election law that a party could be prevented from participating in Knesset elections for even one of the following:

  • Negation of the existence of the State of Israel as the state of the Jewish people
  • Negation of the democratic character of the State
  • Incitement to racism

While I don't think anyone would call me a Kahanist, I find it puzzling that none of our lefty lawmakers ever felt the need to invoke the above-mentioned amendment in order to ban Zoabi and her party from elections, since she has repeatedly and unequivocally met all three of these legal conditions.

So, to the Meretz and Zionist Union MKs who are currently bleating about this evil new law I say that, had you pushed for the fair and honest application of the election law amendment your predecessors passed back in the 80's specifically to block a far right party from entering the Knesset, the current right wing coalition government would have had no need to pass a new law to allow for the removal of a far left wing lawmaker who espouses anti-democratic / anti-Israel values.  

Sadly, the Israeli far-left subscribes to a chillingly Orwellian worldview of fairness and entitlement where, under the law, some are more equal than others.

In a real democracy, what's good for the goose must be good for the gander.

 

Posted by David Bogner on July 20, 2016 | Permalink | Comments (3)

Monday, July 18, 2016

To Call Something Unnatural Is To (Unwittingly) Acknowledge Nature's Role

Rabbi Yigal Levinstein, head of the the Bnei David religious military academy, recently referred to LGBT individuals as "perverts", and criticized the Israeli military for allowing them to "force their way' into the IDF's ranks".  [source]

Really?!  There is such a paucity of things to criticize in our fraying society that able-bodied citizens who want to serve in our country's defense forces should be publicly shunned and shamed?

One would at least wish that Rabbi Levinstein's ill-advised comments could be dismissed as a lone, confused voice among otherwise reasonable people.  

Sadly, another prominent religious leader, Rabbi Yaakov Ariel, the Chief Rabbi of Ramat Gan (a wealthy suburb of Tel Aviv), recently declared that gays and lesbians are "disabled people suffering from a real problem that must be solved with psychological and pharmacological treatments."

Rabbi Ariel went on the add that, "pride in one's sexual orientation is unusual and presenting it as "progressive" causes many young persons to choose not to identify as straight. Young boys going through puberty who are looking for their identity—instead of helping them to find their natural and normative identity, they push them to go in the opposite direction and ruin their lives". [source]

Under what rock have these people been living to be able to spout such antiquated and discredited ideas?

I have a news flash for Rabbis Levinstein and Ariel.  When I hit puberty, I didn't go looking around for my sexual identity, and there is exactly zero chance that I could have tailored my newfound longings to prevailing trends.  It fell on me like a ton of bricks!  

That I was hit by the equivalent of heterosexual lightning was, perhaps, fortunate for me, since my urges and actions were naturally channeled into socially acceptable rituals of dances and dating.

But had my hormones come on-line at puberty and powered up a plant tuned to a different frequency, I would have been forced by society to hide in the shadows and watch with envy as my peers openly kissed and groped one-another at proms and in the back-seats of their families' willingly lent cars.

In the not-too-distant past, being anything other than heterosexual was considered a criminal offense in many parts of the modern, western world (and remains a capital offense in much of the less evolved third world).  And there was widespread belief not too long ago that such 'deviants' could be hypnotized, counseled, shamed, punished, drugged, shocked or tortured out of their non-traditional 'life-choices'.

The root of the problem, then as now (IMHO), is the completely mistaken idea that one's gender identity and sexual orientation are, in fact, matters of choice.

To those who would say otherwise, I would remind them that you can't call something unnatural (which implies a clear natural order), and in the same breath imply that it is a product of a conscious choice.  Nature decides our gender and sexual proclivity.  If a religious person has a problem with the cards that nature dealt an individual, I suggest that their beef is with G-d, not with the person who, according to religious doctrine, was created according to G-d's will ("ברוך... שעשני כרצונו").

Just as with natural hair color, a person can use dye to try to conform to current styles, trends and mores.  But the dye doesn't actually change the natural color.  It simply offers a temporary mask which fades and is inexorably pushed aside by time.

I would respectfully suggest to these (and other) Rabbis who feel inclined to offer commentary and criticism on the sexual activities of others, that there is fertile, un-plowed territory awaiting their much-needed scrutiny:  Their efforts can be best employed in weeding out predators and pedophiles from among the ranks, not of the IDF, but of the clergy and educators who are their professional peers and colleagues.

By perpetuating a medieval approach to human sexuality, these religious leaders are stifling enlightened, educated discussion of the most basic of human urges, and are thus both marginalizing it and relegating it to an exiled underworld without rules, communal norms or oversight.

It is within this dark, unmentionable world that far too many religious educators and community leaders are allowed to abuse and prey on the most vulnerable members of the human flocks that are entrusted to their care.  

This abuse spans the entire spectrum of human sexuality (it isn't just a gay thing), and will continue only so long as un-enlightened Rabbis (and priests, ministers, imams, etc.), continue to err in their most basic assumptions about what makes us all human.

Personally, I am not offended by images like this:

Gay-idf

I see two, responsible adults walking hand-in-hand in the light of day, who have agreed to defend me and my family... even at the cost of their own lives.  That they happen to be gay is as relevant to me as their hair color.  And if my pre-pubescent son were to see them walking down the street holding hands, it wouldn't make a bit of difference to which ton of hormonal bricks falls on his head in the coming months.

I would suggest to Rabbi's Levinstein and Ariel et al, that their exhortations to exclude LGBT individuals from serving in the IDF is nothing more than a solution in search of a problem. Rather, their time would (IMHO) be better spent worrying about the wolves in sheep's clothing who are lurking among the leaders and educators they call their colleagues.

 

[Before anyone posts a knee-jerk rant accusing me of insulting the Torah or the Sages of Israel, please don't make me post a list of convicted sexual abusers from among the leaders of our religious community.  That would, indeed, be a hillul hashem (a desecration of G-d's name.]

Posted by David Bogner on July 18, 2016 | Permalink | Comments (6)

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Sunlight Is The Best Disinfectant

This week the Israeli Knesset passed the NGO Transparency Bill into law, setting off a firestorm of criticism around the world... especially in the US, Europe and, of course, the UN.

This criticism was dutifully reported in the Israel-bashing media with varying degrees of accuracy as to what, exactly the NGO law is.

For those who are unfamiliar with the new Law, here are the main points (Don't thank me... I'm a giver):

  • NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations) that receive more than 50% of their income from foreign governments must report this fact each year to the NGO Registrar in the Justice Ministry, which will publish a list of said NGOs.
  • NGOs that receive more than 50% of their income from foreign governments must note this fact on their websites for the rest of the year.
  • NGOs that receive more than 50% of their income from foreign governments must note this fact on any publications related to the NGO’s advocacy that are readily available to the public, as well as in their communications with public servants and elected officials.
  • NGOs that receive more than 50% of their income from foreign governments  are required to inform the chair of a Knesset committee that they are on the list whenever they appear before said committee

No, nobody has to wear badges (Badges?! We don't need no stinkin' badges!!!), nobody is being silenced, and certainly nobody is being shut down.  Everyone simply has to declare (i.e. be transparent) about foreign governmental financing in excess of half their annual budget.  

One of the phrases that was nearly universal in both the international and domestic condemnation of the new law was that "it is anti-democratic".  

Um... you keep using that word, but I do not think it means what you think it does.  

Let's review:  A bill was introduced by a member of Israel's democratically elected parliament, and voted on three times after three separate readings (as required) before being passed into law.  The law itself asks for nothing more than that information that could potentially indicate the presence of hidden agendas or motives be made available to all active members of the democratic process, from the voting public to the decision makers in government.  

How is that anti-democratic?!

Here are some excerpts from yesterday's international hand-wringing sessions, along with some much-needed context from me:

UN:

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said he was, "...concerned by Israel’s passage of the so-called ‘NGO Transparency Law,’ which contributes to a climate in which the activities of human rights organizations are increasingly delegitimized.”

No, no delegitimization going on here.  Human rights groups (more like Palestinian rights groups, since they make no attempt to advocate for Jewish Israelis whose human rights are violated), can continue doing whatever they have been doing.  They simply have to be open and transparent about who thinks their work is important enough to give them more than half of their operating budgets". 

EU:

The EU's External Action Service said "the reporting requirements seemed aimed at constraining the activities of civil society organisations".

No.  Once again nobody is being targeted or constrained.  But if an NGO is actually a front for a foreign governmental entity, they are no longer allowed to hide this fact.

US:

The US State Department said that the new law "could have a "chilling effect" on the activities of civil society organizations in Israel".

I find it troubling that foreign countries and media feel free to weigh in on internal Israeli policies, yet would bridle at similar interference in their own domestic affairs.  I suspect that this tendency stems from an ongoing international consensus that it's still 1947 and Israel's existence and legitimacy are still up for discussion, and subject to international deliberation.  

Sorry to break the news, but we are a sovereign country, with all that implies. Kindly sod off.

I also find it interesting that suddenly everyone is using the same terminology to describe these NGOs; 'civil society organizations'.  As if only so-called Human Rights NGOs are invested in promoting civil society.  In fact, quite the opposite is true if anyone bothers to track their activities.  

The very NGOs that are screaming the loudest against this new law are the ones behind much of the unrest and violence going on in Israel and the West Bank today, not to mention their direct involvement in incitement against Israel, and our demilitarization abroad.  

Let's think for a moment which foreign countries would encourage such un-civil behavior?  I guess this new law will soon put that question to rest.

What's interesting is that many countries have similar (or more stringent) laws which, just like Israel's, are meant to prevent undue foreign interference.  But the community of nations has not seen fit to lose their collective minds about those laws... only about Israel's.  

For instance, the US has had a law on the books since 1938 called the 'Foreign Agents Registration Act', requiring that agents representing the interests of foreign powers in a "political or quasi-political capacity" disclose their relationship with the foreign government and information about related activities and finances. The purpose is to facilitate "evaluation by the government and the American people of the statements and activities of such persons." [emphasis mine]

Russia also has a similar law called the 'Foreign Agent Law' that requires non-profit organizations that receive any foreign donations and engage in "political activity" to register and declare themselves as foreign agents.

All laws are meant to promote and/or discourage behavior.  In this case the new NGO Transparency Law is meant to discourage foreign governments from meddling in internal Israeli matters... at least without their proxies being forced to make their foreign governmental backers known to those they are trying to influence.  

But despite all the wailing, the new law isn't going to shut anyone down or silence any voices in our vibrant democracy.  In fact it has a loophole so big you could drive a tank through it:  If anyone wants to be exempted from the new law, they need only say 'no thank you' to all those foreign governments who are bank-rolling them, and find some private donors.  

If you pay attention, you'll notice that most of the critics of the new law are screaming some variation of the following:  "The new law will apply almost solely to Human Rights organizations".  

That's not exactly true.  What is true is that at the moment it will apply almost solely to left wing Human rights organizations, because they are the only ones that are directly funded by foreign governments. Most right wing (and non-political) NGOs are funded by private individuals and grass roots sources.  There is nothing nefarious in that.  There are plenty of wealthy left wing donors who these NGOs can approach for funding.  

By the way, private donor funding is usually a better indicator of popular support for a position, since they are putting their own money where their mouth is.  For governments, even a huge donation (relative to the size of the organization), is just another line item in a bloated budget that nobody is checking very closely.

Complaining about who is most impacted by the new law is a bit like saying that drunk driving laws are inherently unfair because they only target those who drink to excess and get behind the wheel.  No government wants drunk drivers on their country's roads... nor do they want foreign powers having undue and/or hidden influence over their internal policies.

You know who hates this new law?  Those who have benefited for years from the ability to operate in the shadows.

So now, as a result of this new law, when an NGO tries to directly influence Israeli law and/or policy, those citizens, politicians and decision-makers that the NGOs are trying to influence will have the right to know that it is the Netherlands, UK or Spain backing their play.  

And as much as I would like to believe that all modern democracies have nothing but altruistic and unbiased motives for how they project their influence abroad... their voting records against Israel at the UN seem to suggest otherwise.

It isn't always the case, but it stands to reason that if a foreign power wants to assume an active role in another country's internal affairs, the public and decision-makers have a right to know about it.  Thus the word 'transparency' in the middle of the new law's name.  

Anyone who thinks that forcing an NGO to reveal their source of funding may prejudice their target audience against them, is probably right.  As it should be (see the bolded line in the US law above).  

Are Sweden's and Israel's interests always perfectly aligned?  Of course not!  So why should Sweden's funding of an Israeli NGO that tries to take a direct and active role in influencing Israeli policies, be hidden from view and consideration?

The rest of the world seems to think they always know what is best for my country.  But they don't have to live with the results of their often-mistaken and misguided ideas.  At least now their involvement and influence in Israeli politics will be brought into the light of day for all to see.   How can that possibly be a bad thing?  

After all, sunlight is still the best disinfectant.

Posted by David Bogner on July 13, 2016 | Permalink | Comments (7)

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Word-Cloud of Misery

[A Guest Post by Zahava]

Grief-stricken.

Horrified.

Mournful.

Furious.

Heart-broken.

Ill.

Distressed.

Irate.

Sorrowful.

Demoralized.

Upon learning that yet another innocent soul was violently and prematurely stolen in what should have been the sanctity of her own home...

Hallel Yaffa Ariel, הי׳ד -- may your memory always be for a blessing and may G-d comfort your family, loved ones, and friends during this tragic and difficult time.

We have never met, but you will forever live in the memory of my mind in a special corner dedicated to remembering the ones you unfairly and brutally joined today...

Including, but not limited to:

Rachel, Neriyah (15), Tzvika (12) and Avishai (5) Sabo of Itamar -- June 2002

Yossi Twyto of Itamar June 2002

Gavriel Hoter of Otniel -- December 2002

Eli and DIna Horowitz of Kiryat Arba -- March 2003

Udi, Ruth, Yoav (11), Elad (4), Hadas (4 months) Fogel of Itamar -- March 2011

Dafna Meir of Otniel -- January 2016

To say nothing of those viciously torn from their lives and loved ones in suicide bombings, shootings, stabbings, ambushes, stonings, rock-throwings, and car-rammings....

Determined.

We will pause to mourn. To be inconsolable. To grieve. And to rant and rave over the insufferable and intolerable and hateful and fanatical nature of our enemy.

And then.

With a bit more heaviness in our step from the weight of an added tragic memory, we will pick up our feet, steel our hearts, and continue our daily living with a touch more vigor, love, and resolution to honor the memories of those who have been ripped from our lives.

The hate, the zealotry -- they are neither contagious nor deterrent.

For the first time in 2 millenium, we are home. And. We. Will. Not. Leave.

Posted by David Bogner on June 30, 2016 | Permalink | Comments (0)