Tuesday, March 13, 2018

With Deep Gratitude and Much Respect

[A Guest Post by Zahava]

On Sunday afternoon I was devistated to learn that my beloved childhood Rabbi had, in the words of one of his sons, “left us this morning in Jerusalem.”

Since four of his six children make their homes in the US, the funeral was delayed until this morning (Tuesday) to allow the four living abroad time to arrive.

As many people have the custom to wait until after the chessed shel emet of burial to offer comfort to the aveilim (mourners), rather than reach out to the family, I sat down to contemplate the profound sense of loss I was feeling.  Between when I learned of Rabbi Zimand’s (zichro l’vracha), passing and the funeral this morning, I have been sifting through an ocean of warm, happy, and deeply meaningful memories.

I'm sure that my childhood friends have spent the past 24 hours engaged in similar reminiscences and introspection. Such was the impact of Rabbi Zimand’s limitless affection, sense of humor, and ability to connect with people.

There are no words sufficient to describe the tremendous hakaret hatov (gratitude) that I feel whenever I think of Rabbi Zimand, for Mrs. Zimand, and for their entire family; and I know that I am in not alone in these feelings. Their example of loving kindness has influenced countless people.

For those not lucky enough to have known Rabbi Zimand, he was a modern-day Abraham, and the Zimand home was like Abraham and Sarah’s tent; Rabbi Zimand was the personification of hospitality and their home seemed to expand to allow sufficient room and attention for all who entered.

As each of the hespedim (Eulogies) at the funeral emphasized – Rabbi Zimand not only listened as though the speaker were the only person in the universe, he gave sincerely and generously of his time and knowledge. An eternal optimist, he believed with every fiber of his being in the essential goodness and potential for good of all he met.

Raised in a traditional home, as a pre-teen I began exploring a deeper connection to Judaism – very much inspired by Rabbi Zimand’s loving approach to Torah, Shabbat and mitzvot. My parents, while pleased that I was embracing our heritage, were a bit disoriented by my sudden desire to walk to shul on Shabbat (we lived 3+ miles away), and my reluctance to eat out. Like many parents whose children choose a path which diverged from their own, I think that my folks grappled with a sense of imposition and rejection.

I will never forget (and will always be grateful for), the sensitivity with which Rabbi Zimand simultaneously eased my parents’ discomfort, and my journey.  He quietly and respectfully pointed out that I was not rejecting lifestyle with which I was raised, but rather was seeking to expand and nurture the very seeds that they themselves had planted during my childhood.

After my parents, Rabbi Zimand was one of the important and positive influences on my life's path. I can honestly say that his love, encouragement, and enthusiasm for life helped shape many of my decisions and goals. Thanks in large part to his guidance and mentoring, I am living a life I could only dream of as a child, and it is even better than I dared hope.

Although as an adult, my busy life and responsibilities kept me out of touch with Rabbi Zimand, my fondness and appreciation for him has only deepened with time, and he is raely out of mind.

On the occasions in recent years when we have had the opportunity to meet at family celebrations, I tried my best to articulate these feelings – to seize those moments to thank him for being my teacher, my mentor, and my friend.  I hope I was successful.

My heart is filled with sorrow for the loss the entire Zimand family has suffered. You are all imbued with the best of Rabbi Zimand.  Having known you all for more than 40 years, it is easy to see how you each carry the torch of his light and goodness into the world in your own ways.

I hope that the knowledge that so many people share your profound sense of loss will be a small comfort at this difficult time.

המקום ינחם אתכם בתוך שאר אבלי ציון וירושלים

May you be comforted amongst the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

Posted by David Bogner on March 13, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (2)

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Memo to Gen Xers and Millennials:

Those of us older than 40 do not live on our phones. 

As a rule, we do not check for new texts (SMSs, WhatsApps, etc.), every minute or two throughout the day. 

Our ears are not alert to the various chimes, bings, beeps and vibrations our phones give off, nor do these sounds and sensations trigger a Pavlovian reflex to take out and stare at our phones, negating/dismissing the presence of real live human beings in our immediate vicinity.

We do not scour social media around the clock to see if someone has 'tagged' us or mentioned us in a tweet.  In fact, stumbling on a week old Facebook conversation that was extremely relevant at the time but is no longer so, feels like hearing about a party to which we were not invited.

We often ignore our email for hours - days, even, if we are away from work -at a time.


If you are trying to coordinate anything with us that is time-sensitive (e.g. a ride, pickup/drop/off, meeting, deadline, dinner reservation, etc.), pick up the damned phone and call us!

If I get to work and find something like this when I sit down to drink a coffee and get around to looking at my phone, please don't ever ask me for a ride ever again:



If you ask me to have something ready for you to pick-up (something that you need from me!!!), and then leave the following messages on my phone for me to find sometime in the future, you can delete my number... because I am dead to you:



I can't decide if this behavior is more passive-aggressive, ADHD, anti-social or some combination of all three.  But what I do know is that, as a rule, you need us old farts a hell-of-a-lot more than we need you.

Also, I know it is cumbersome to actually type out actual sentences with verbs, nouns and other basic parts of speech.  We've given you a pass on using recognizable email, memo or letter formats with a greeting, opening paragraph, statement of purpose, summation and closing salutation (including your name!).  We've even given you a total pass on spelling (GR8, CU L8R, GTG. LOL!).

But if instead of sending me an actual written text you send me a recorded message that will force me to disturb people around me in order to find out what you've said... guess who's going on my blocked list?!  And no, I don't need you to show me how to do that!!! [smug little sh*ts]


Posted by David Bogner on January 28, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (9)

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Under-Appreciated Magic 

As an ex-pat American who has traveled extensively for work, I have often been struck by how how much more volatile and adversarial (combative, even!), Israeli business culture is compared with elsewhere in the developed world. 

For example, it is not at all unusual for Israelis in a professional setting to cut each other off mid-sentence, shout at one another, slam their hands on the conference table to emphasize a point, shout each-other down or even toss out dismissive and/or insulting jabs to score points in an argument.

A few recently overheard phrases that come to mind (translated to English): 

  • What do you have? - ?מה יש לך (what's your problem? / what's wrong with you!)
  • Have you gone crazy?! - ?השתגעת (said regarding anything outside the speaker's comfort zone)
  • Don't confuse my brain! - !אל תבלבל לי את המוח (stop making me crazy!)
  • Go find your friends! - !לך לחפש את החברים שלך (you'll be on your own)
  • Don't be naive! - !אל תהיה נאיבי / תמים (grow up!)
  • You must be confused! - אתה מבולבל (you don't know your place)
  • Nonsense! - שְׁטוּיוֹת (dismissive usually combined with a wave of the hand)
  • Dumbbell! -  דביל! (Usually said about someone, not to their face)
  • Waste of Time - !חבל על הזמן (can be either very good or very bad, depending on context)
  • What Garbage! - איזה זבל (dismissive used to denigrate bad work)
  • You're living in a film! - אתה חי בסרט (disconnected from reality / a drama queen)
  • What a mess! - איזה בלאגן (anything that isn't arranged as the speaker would have done)
  • He has a cockroach in his head! - יש לו ג'וק בראש (someone who can't let go of a bad idea)
  • A redeemer has come to Zion! - !ובא לציון גואל (used sarcastically when a newcomer to the dicussion thinks they have saved the day)

I was recently in a meeting with several colleagues when the discussion began to get heated.  Opinions were dismissed, facts were discounted, intentions were questioned and feelings (mine, anyway), began to get hurt.

And then suddenly I took a mental step back and looked around the conference table.  There were a few native Israelis, but many of the participants were immigrants; from the former Soviet Union, France, Argentina and the US.

Here we were, a group of people who had grown up speaking a grab-bag of languages, yet we were magically communicating (albeit, rudely).  All I could do was smile.

When the guy directly across from me noticed my grin he gave me that classic Israeli hand gesture where you extend your thumb,index and middle finger and turn your hand palm-up, and asked ?מה יש לך (what's wrong with you?).

I just shook my head and continued smiling as the argument swirled around me. 

How to explain to an Israeli how magical it is to an American (we, who travel the globe screaming in English thinking that will help make ourselves understood), to be able to sit and converse effortlessly in a common language with people from all over the world.


[When I started this blog back in 2003, I was fresh off the boat and was constantly getting hit on the head by things that only a new immigrant would see.  That era was rich in blog-fodder which (hopefully) helped smooth the way for others who came after me.  But over the past few years I have become mostly blind to that 'je ne sais quoi' known as 'the immigrant experience'.  Maybe it means I'm acclimating.  Maybe it means I've grown a slightly thicker skin.  Whatever the reason, I have become less attuned to the charming (and not-so-charming), things that only an outsider would notice.  I guess that's why the topic of today's post caught me so much by surprise... and I just had to share.]

Posted by David Bogner on January 25, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (3)

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Culinary Crowd-Sourcing

When I was in high school, I worked in a pizzeria owned by an Italian family. 

Customers ordering would typically ask for a ‘plain’, ‘mushroom’, 'olive', etc., slice.   

But older Italians who wanted a ‘plain’ slice always asked for ‘scamorza’. 

My question:  Did pizza used to be made with scamorza cheese instead of mozzarella?

Posted by David Bogner on December 28, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (3)

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Failing to Understand 'Ozymandias'

Back in the heated days of August 2017, I caught a lot of flak from people I consider both smart and well informed (not, by any means, a matched set in most people these days), for a post I wrote which I expressed my opposition to the headlong rush to tear down statues and monuments to the Confederacy that had stood for far longer than those who viewed them had been alive.


My opposition came not from any sympathy for the Confederate cause, or for those who tried in decades subsequent to the war to paint that 'lost cause' as something heroic or just.  Rather, my opposition - outrage, really - came from the same sentiment that stops an archaeologist's from excavating an entire mound, and prompts historians to use reserved language containing ample room for current doubt and future scholarship when building theories. 


The simple overriding reason for archaeologists and historians to tread with caution in their work is that future generations may possess better tools, more subtle excavation techniques or more accurate understanding of the significance of the bits and shards that might be brought to light.  They may also possess sources as yet unread,  more nuanced ways of examining motives and a broader perspective of events that only time can provide.


Future scholars will surely weep at some, but certainly not all, of the genuine historical artifacts that were banished to the scrapheap along with lawn jockeys, blackamoor and other dubious other more recent 'relics' of the Civil War and its aftermath.

I can't possibly place myself in the shoes of African Americans and understand what they experience when looking at a statue of Robert E. Lee (or any other Confederate leader), as they go about their daily lives.  Perhaps the civil war and the institution of slavery still echo too loudly in their ears, and the scars of Jim Crow are still too fresh to be considered objectively.

But if there is one thing we should learn from history, it is that it is rarely wise to judge the past entirely by today's standards. 

For instance, I like to think that if I had been a southern landowner in the early 19th century, I would have been enlightened in my dealings with my servants and possessions (categories that had considerable overlap). But that's like hoping that I would have been equally enlightened about my diet, personal hygiene and relations with the opposite sex. 

Such mental exercises are as pointless as they are doomed.  Nobody is a visionary in the prophetic sense of the word.  The best we can hope for is that we conduct ourselves according to the highest standards of our own age and that future generations won't judge us too harshly.

Percy Bysshe Shelley understood all too well the folly and arrogance of those who erect monuments, and tried to describe the way those monuments should appear diminished, or even foolish to the modern eye.  In his famous poem 'Ozymandias' he describes a toppled statue of a long-forgotten ruler lying in pieces in the desert with no evidence of the great people or civilization he had once ruled. 

In the poem it is the sand that has defeated Ozymandias.  But the sand is simply a metaphor for the relentless passage of time, and the tremendous advantage of perspective that time provides. 

The existence of modern Southern towns and cities are (or should be), as mocking a rebuke to bronze monuments to antebellum values as the encroaching desert is to the mythical ruler in Shelley's sonnet.

As a Jew, I have trouble understanding why the descendants of American slaves don't view anachronistic Confederate iconography the way I view the Arch of Titus in Rome; as a reassuring milestone against which to objectively measure how much the world has changed and how far we've all come.  My wife can testify that the highlight of our last trip to Italy was my being able to gleefully say, 'f-ck you' in person to a relic of Titus (and his father, Vespasian), who had celebrated the enslavement of my ancestors in what they hoped was an ever-lasting manner.

I won't insult anyone's intelligence by voicing empty platitudes like 'Can't we all just get along'.  But being able to understand the irony in the line, "Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!", when all that is left to see are some tarnished statues of long dead leaders/ideas, should be possible.

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

Thursday, December 07, 2017

'Spontaneous' Combustion

Here are a few quotes from this morning's news.  See if you sense a theme:

"Trump’s Jerusalem decision putting region in ‘ring of fire’"
~Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan~

"Trump's 'flagrant aggression' has opened 'the gates of hell'"
~Hamas political leader Ismail Haniyeh~

"Trump [is] a 'pyromaniac' and ... going through with the move risked inflaming the region."
~MK Ayman Odeh (The head of the Knesset’s Joint (Arab) List)~

"Jerusalem has a tendency to explode when you fool around with the status quo"
~Aaron David Miller, vice president at the Woodrow Wilson Center and a former Middle East adviser to the Clinton and Bush administrations~

"Trump's announcement might be intended as an opening move in the administration's yet-to-be-revealed Middle East peace plan, but risks igniting a "powder keg"
~[unnamed] US Analysts~

This repeated warning of 'spontaneous combustion' on the Arab 'street' is crap.  Violent demonstrations and riots require direction and a lot of advance planning.  They require leadership, communication, transportation, materials, signage, flags, manpower, food, water, etc..  

If the Palestinians were going to 'spontaneously take to the street' because of the US decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital, they would have done so last night.  They didn't. 

What we saw repeated in a loop on the news last night were a few carefully orchestrated groups of people burning US and Israeli flags (gee whiz, who just happened to have US and Israeli flags lying around?!), captured in very tight camera angles so as to hide the modest size of the crowd.

However, the Palestinian Authority (PLO) and Hamas have both called for (meaning ordered) tomorrow (Friday) to be a 'Day of Rage'.  The Imams  and 'community organizers' will get everyone good and whipped up, give them their marching orders and send them off to burn, maim and kill.

It remains to be seen just how wide open the leadership will turn the spigot, and for how long.  But make no mistake,it is a spigot, and there is a firm hand on it... so this should in no way, shape or form be confused with 'spontaneity'.  

But to be clear, spontaneous combustion can, under ideal conditions, occur.  But in the case of the combustion metaphors being tossed around in the news today, there should be no question about who is lighting the fires and fanning the flames.  And when it happens, it will be arson, plain and simple.  

I've said this before but it bears repeating:  What the world leaders and media outlets are doing to the Palestinians is called 'infantilization'.  It is degrading, insulting and actually calls into question the ability of the Palestinians to join the grown-ups at the diplomatic table of nations. 

Simply put, those who scream and lash out violently when they don't get their way are called 'children' (or at very least, are acting childishly).  Such people are not ready to manage their own affairs, enter into international agreements and raise an army.

Yet the 'grown-ups' of the family of nations seem to experience no sense of irony (or cognitive dissonance), when repeatedly warning that if the Palestinians don't get their way, they will be unable to keep themselves from screaming and lashing out violently... while in the same breath insisting that the Palestinians are indeed grown up enough to run their own country (and all that goes with that).

Posted by David Bogner on December 7, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

When Inaction is an Action

In trains and other heavy equipment there is something called a 'dead man's switch'.  It is a mechanism for triggering emergency safety systems (brakes, engine, etc.), that is automatically operated if the human operator becomes incapacitated, such as through death, loss of consciousness, or being bodily removed from control.

In spy novels it is known as a 'button-down' scenario, which is a reference to someone with their thumb on a bomb's trigger... whereby releasing pressure on the button will result in the bomb's detonation.  But just as often the term is used to refer to the automatic release of 'explosive' (i.e. damaging/incriminating) information if the person who placed it with a third party doesn't take one or more prearranged actions; again, due to incapacitation, such as through death, loss of consciousness, or being bodily removed from control.  

It now appears for all intents and purposes that a dead man's switch / button-down scenario has been sitting in plain sight for more than two decades in the form of a US law entitled 'The Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995'.

The Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 is a public law of the United States passed by the 104th Congress on October 23, 1995. It was passed for the purposes of initiating and funding the relocation of the Embassy of the United States in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, no later than May 31, 1999, and attempted to withhold 50 percent of the funds appropriated to the State Department specifically for "Acquisition and Maintenance of Buildings Abroad" as allocated in fiscal year 1999 until the United States Embassy in Jerusalem had officially opened.[2] The act also called for Jerusalem to remain an undivided city and for it to be recognized as the capital of the State of Israel. [source]

Built into that law is a classic dead-man's switch / button-down scenario in the form of a security waiver allowing the delay of the implementation of the law (e.g. the relocating of the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and the formal recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel), for six months due to security concerns.  But the waiver can only be implemented and extended so long as the President actually signs a new security waiver before the six moth term of the previous waiver expires.

Every president from Bill Clinton to Donald Trump has signed the security waiver on or before the six month interval.  That is, until now.

President Trump signed the security waiver the first time it came due.  But December 1st, 2017 was the deadline for Trump to sign the new waiver... and he let it pass without signing.  And to my knowledge, there is no legal mechanism that permits the extension of the waiver once the old one was allowed to expire. And creating a new waiver would seem to require an amendment to the law (something congress is not likely to do).

I'm certainly no legal scholar, but from what I can see, it seems like by doing nothing, Trump has actually taken his thumb off of the button and tripped the dead-man's switch, initiating the move of the US Embassy to Jerusalem and the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

It'll be interesting to see how this plays out.


I can make a compelling case for either side of the debate regarding the proposed Embassy move.  But IMHO, one of the most compelling reasons to actually go ahead with it are the overt threats of violence being made by the Palestinians, and the Muslim regimes supporting them, if the US goes ahead with the move.   

Seriously, since when are threats of violence allowed to be made with impunity on the international diplomatic stage?  Since when does the US make decisions with a gun held to its own or its allies' head?  Overt threats of violence are considered 'casus belli' under international law, and open up those who make them to a diplomatic and/or military response.  

Just thinking out loud here.

Posted by David Bogner on December 5, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (3)

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Satan's Merry-Go-Round

Back in the '90s I used to be a fan of a photoblog called Satan's Laundromat which is, sadly, no longer around.  The site hosted an ever-changing collection of edgy photos of urban decay and gritty inner-city scenes.

The picture below could easily be called 'Satan's Merry-Go-Round.  It is of a Carousel located in the city of Bergamo, Italy that recently caught fire and was completely destroyed.


The first thing that went through my mind when I saw the photo was. wow, what an awesome name 'Satan's Merry-Go-Round' would be for a blog featuring a collection of circular logic and fallacious arguments from the news.

Don't worry, I'm not shilling for a new blog... I can barely handle the care and feeding of this one.

But think about all the horrible behavior that has been tolerated for decades (if not centuries), which is suddenly considered worthy of setting aside the usual trappings of law and order in favor of corporate lynchings.  And the tortured logic and carefully calibrated outrage one sees at any real or imagined transgression once the offense-du-jour is good and trendy. 

I really think someone should set up a place to archive all the double standards and supporting arguments... just so nobody can later say, "it wasn't me back at the end of 2017, losing my mind".

To qualify for inclusion in Satan's Merry-Go-Round, a story would have to document someone screaming for the immediate firing and blacklisting of someone for an offense they had previously dismissed as "Not a big deal" when someone they supported committed it back in the late '90s.

Just an idea.

 Don't thank me... I'm a giver.

Posted by David Bogner on November 30, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 23, 2017

The Annual Eggnog Post

For quite some time now, Thanksgiving has marked the official start of "eggnog season" here at chez treppenwitz (it runs until the end of Hanukkah or New Years Eve, whenever I feel we've had enough).

Soooo, once again... for those who don't have access to store-bought 'nog (or if you just want to take your eggnog game to the next level), here's a foolproof recipe from a certified fool:


6 eggs 
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract 
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg 
2 cups whipping cream 
2 cups milk 
3/4 cup brandy, rum or bourbon (optional but highly recommended)


All liquids should be very cold. Refrigerate in advance. 

Beat the eggs for 2 or 3 minutes with an electric mixer at medium speed until very frothy. On Shabbat morning, obviously use a whisk.  Gradually beat in the sugar, vanilla and nutmeg. Turn the mixer off (or stop whisking!), and stir in the cold whipping cream, milk and booze.

Chill some more before serving (if you can wait... I never can).

Sprinkle individual servings with more nutmeg.

Makes a little over 2 quarts (after taking several 'samples' for quality control purposes)

Note:  If for some strange reason you end up with leftover eggnog (something that almost never happens here), you can add a splash to your morning coffee and/or to your French toast dip.

Don't thank me... I'm a giver!  :-)


Posted by David Bogner on November 23, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Throwing a Congregant Under the Bus

During the return flight from a recent trip to the US, I was seated next to an elderly woman who was absolutely giddy with anticipation and 'over the moon' with barely contained excitement to be traveling to Israel for the very first time in her life.

I don't know much about her, but here are the bits and pieces of information and impressions I got from our conversation during the long flight:

The woman - I'll call her Eunice (not her real name) - is from a medium-large Midwestern city, is Jewish (although has a very limited knowledge of religious matters), belongs to a reform congregation, does not follow Israeli politics closely or seem aware of current events.

She was a delightful seatmate in that she was extremely polite and reserved in an old-school way.  She apologized profusely any time she needed to get up to go to the bathroom or stretch her legs, and always asked me if I wanted anything while she was up.  She thanked me repeatedly for helping her put her bag in the overhead, and would probably have knitted me an afghan if she'd had the time or materials handy to do so.

In short, a refined, soft-spoken American bubbe of the first water.

It turns out she was travelling alone to Israel to take part in some sort of mission comprised of people from various congregations from around the mid-west (or maybe the country... I wasn't clear on the exact make-up of the group).

She was visibly nervous about making her first visit to Israel alone, and politely asked me if she could talk to me about her itinerary.  I, of course, said I'd be happy to serve as a sounding board.

Her group was slated to visit many of the typical destinations of any Israel tour, with the highlight, of course, being Jerusalem.

Almost as an aside while talking about their plans to visit Jerusalem, she mentioned that her Rabbi had suggested she bring along the tallit her granddaughter had worn at her recent Bat Mitzvah so that she could don it during the group's planned visit to the Western Wall (she referred to it as the 'Wailing Wall').

I didn't stop her narrative, but at that point my 'Spidey Sense' started tingling madly and I began listening closely for any sign of an underlying agenda of any sort.  After at least half an hour of talking in general terms about Israel, Jerusalem and religion, I was convinced that Eunice was completely unaware of what had set my senses to tingling.

I then asked her, as obliquely as possible, about her own connection with religious observance and rituals:  Did she attend synagogue regularly? (No); Did she wear a tallit in her own synagogue when she did attend?  (Never);  Did anyone other women in her family wear a tallit in synagogue (only her granddaughter, and only the once on the occasion of her Bat Mitzvah).

I then asked her why she thought her Rabbi might have suggested putting on the tallit at the 'Wailing Wall'?  Eunice quietly answered, "She [the Rabbi] told me that it would make me feel very special and would be the highlight of my visit to the Holy Land" [I could actually hear the capital letters of those two words as she spoke them!].

At that point I had a difficult choice on my hands:  Stay silent and let Eunice stumble into a starring role in the coming week's newspaper headlines, or gently try to give her a glimpse of the future in hopes of avoiding it.  

I opted for the latter.

I began by gently asking her (again) if she followed Israeli news or politics.  She said she did not.  I asked her if she was aware of any controversy about women's roles and ritual at the Western Wall, and she said she was not.

I took a deep breath and offered her a very condensed version of the circus that has been playing out at the Kotel over the past few years, along with my opinion (clearly presented as such), as to what I thought was motivating the various participants. 

To be clear, I told her that in my opinion, the overwhelming majority of the women who have been pushing for the right to pray at the Western Wall while wearing tallit and tfillin, and to read from a Torah scroll during their services, are absolutely sincere... as are most of those who want egalitarian (i.e. non-Orthodox) practices permitted only at the section of the Kotel that has been designated for that purpose further down the wall under Robinson's Arch.

However, I explained, I suspect that a small number of the women involved in the frequent skirmishes with the religious authorities and police at the Wall seem to be acting in a deliberately provocative manner calculated to draw as much publicity and media attention as possible to their actions.  I told her that I am not in any way against protest in general, and am aware that the status quo rarely changes without some sort of public protest... but that there was a price to pay for such protest and it took a toll on everyone involved.  

I then predicted that the moment she went to put on her granddaughter's tallit, many of the women around her would begin shouting angrily at her... as would many of the men on the other side of the partition, once they heard the commotion.  Within moments she would probably be forcibly escorted out of the Western Wall plaza by security personnel or police, and there was a pretty good chance she would be arrested and maybe even deported, since she was a tourist and would technically be breaking a Israeli law.

I'm not sure what frightened her more, the idea of people shouting at her in public, or the idea of being arrested.  Suffice it to say that Eunice was aghast at the prospect of being the focal point of such public unpleasantness.

The last thing I had to say to her was, perhaps, the hardest:  I told her that there was absolutely no chance that her Rabbi was unaware of the events she had set in motion when she suggested that Eunice don her granddaughter's tallit at the Western Wall.  Absolutely none!  In fact, I can't think of any similar cause & effect scenario that contained as high a level of certainty as to the outcome.

Eunice was very quiet for several minutes, and then thanked me quietly for filling her in on a topic of which she had been completely unaware.

I told her that I felt terrible about introducing a sour note to her anticipation of her first visit to Israel, but that I couldn't bear the idea of an innocent tourist being allowed to stumble into such a political hornet's nest during what should be a magical first visit to the Jewish State.  I left unsaid who I felt had deliberately set her blindly down the path towards that hornet's nest.

I called this post, "Throwing a Congregant Under the Bus", for lack of space.  But considering the religious sensibilities involved, a more appropriate title would be "Sacrificing an Innocent Congregant on the Altar of A Rabbi's Political Agenda".

As I said previously, I have no problem with those who choose to protest and expose themselves to potential consequences in the name of advancing their agenda while attempting to change the status quo.  But shame on anyone who would deliberately send an innocent lamb such as my seatmate, Eunice, to the slaughter in order to score cheap political points in hopes of achieving a dubious, and probably fleeting victory.

[If anyone has an ax to grind on either side of the Western Wall ritual observance debate, they can do so on their own blogs or Facebook feeds.  That is not the topic at hand here.  Anyone who ignores this warning and tries to use this post as a soapbox, will have their comments deleted.  You have been warned.]

Posted by David Bogner on November 12, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (14)

Friday, November 10, 2017

Friday Kosher Food Pron

I saw a recipe for Crackling Corn Bread in the New York Times that called out to me, so I decided to adapt it to my quaint cultural ways (kosher). 

To save some of you city folk the trouble of googling it, cracklings are simply the crisp, fatty skin of roast pork.

If your religious background or sheltered urban upbringing has denied you the pleasure of enjoying cracking, cornbread or both, trust me that there is a solution.

The recipe below has undergone a process of Judaisation (to borrow a word from the Pali lexicon), so kosher cooks can proceed without worry (although vegetarians can keep moving... nothing to see here):

Kosher Crackilng Cornbread Recipe

6 tablespoons shmaltz
2 cups stone-ground cornmeal
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 ¾ cups fake buttermilk (use 1 ¾ cups soy mil and 1 ¾ cups tablespoons lemon juice)
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons kosher cracking (gribenes bits and chopped servalat fried in shmaltz) dried on paper towel)


Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Put the shmaltz in an 8- or 9-inch cast-iron skillet and set over a medium-low flame. Heat until the bubbling subsides.

Meanwhile, combine the dry ingredients in a bowl and gradually stir in the fake buttermilk. Add the eggs and cracklings. Stir in the shmaltz and pour the batter into the hot skillet.

Bake for 25 minutes, or until golden brown. Let cool 15 minutes, then invert over a plate or cooling rack. Serve warm. The cracklings respond especially well if the corn bread is toasted the next day.



Posted by David Bogner on November 10, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Stupid Statement of the Week

With all the natural disasters, bloodshed and personal tragedies being reported in the news recently, one looks for some sense of guidance and protection from the institutions of government and justice to lend, at least, a sense of sanity to our lives.

Sadly, as is usually the case, one need only peek at the news to have those hopes dashed.

Yesterday a New York jury rendered a verdict of 'not guilty' in the closely followed case of an off-duty New York City police officer who shot and killed a man during a traffic confrontation.

I won't waste your time rehashing the case which has been closely reported at length in the news.  I don't even have an opinion on the outcome of the case, since I didn't follow it very closely.

What gave me pause was the bizarre statement to the defendant delivered by the judge immediately after the jury had delivered its verdict:

“Only you know what exactly happened out there. So no one’s passing any judgment, and let’s try to hope that we have no further incidents like this in the future. I guess that’s the only thing I can hope for.” [emphasis mine]

Um, actually, your honor, someone is passing judgement!  That's sort of the point of the exercise.  Your job title actually has the word 'judge' in it, so your dumm@ss statement isn't really what one could call an understandable mistake.

In today's hyper-politicized atmosphere where many have either lost faith in the the rule of law (bad) or taken the law into their own hands (worse), it falls to the pillars of the system - the elected leaders, legislators and jurists  - to try to restore the public's confidence in the infrastructure, reliability and essential goodness of the system. 

I get that there are many cases where a judge may not agree with the verdict rendered by a jury.  And in fact, in extreme cases where a jury has clearly ignored evidence or instructions received from the bench, a judge may even set aside a jury's decision in favor of his/her own. 

But by making an asinine statement like..."no one’s passing any judgment", after such a fraught and controversial trial outcome, Justice Jeong has abdicated his role as 'grown-up in the room' and has essentially joined the faceless mob outside the courtroom screaming that the system doesn't work and that there is no Justice in America.

Memo to Justice Alexander B. Jeong:  The U.S. legal system isn't perfect (what system is?).  But if you, as a representative and practitioner of that system show such disdain for it that you can say ..."no one’s passing any judgment", it won't be long before the mob will take your message to its logical conclusion and begin passing judgement of their own.

Posted by David Bogner on November 7, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (3)

Monday, October 16, 2017

Sorry Colin, Nobody Owes You A Job

I think I made my position crystal clear in a previous post that I have absolutely no problem with protesters using just about anything (short of violence or incitement), to direct attention to their issue and deliver their message of protest to as wide an audience as possible.

However, protesting is by no means a risk-free endeavor.

Right or wrong, protesters often risk verbal and even physical counter-protests, arrest, notoriety, loss of current employment, and even future black-listing (i.e. loss of potential future employment).

It now appears that as brave and admirable a gesture as it may have been, Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback who kicked off (see what I did there?), a wave of player protests by kneeling during the playing of the Star Spangled Banner, didn't think things all the way through to their logical conclusion before taking a knee.

He has just filed a grievance against all 32 NFL teams, accusing them of colluding to keep him out of the league.

Listen up, Colin:

In the great country where you have the incredible good fortune to reside, you are blessed with the right to use your visibility as a professional sports figure to protest any real or perceived injustice you want.  But actions, even if they are enshrined in the Bill of Rights, are tricky things.  They carry with them nagging little things called consequences.

Just as in nature where there can be no action without an equal and opposite reaction, pretty much any action we choose to carry out in our lives carries a directly related reaction of some sort. 

For example, in a dictatorship or similar tyrannic state, the reaction to protesting anything related to the government or its various organs is likely to be horribly disproportionate and unreasonable (e.g. getting tortured, shot or dissapeared).

And in a healthy, open, society, the reaction is more likely to be proportionate and legally defensible... although there is certainly no guarantee it will be pleasant or brief: 

You are likely to be loudly disparaged by opponents of your stance (as well as by opponents of your chosen form of protest).  You are also likely to face professional stigmatization and ostracization; especially if you decided to use your professional standing and/or workplace setting to stage your protest. 

That's why academics who reach the higher levels of their fields are offered tenure; specifically so that they can advance and 'push the envelope' in their chosen discipline by presenting controversial scholarship and potentially incendiary viewpoints.  [We'll leave aside the fact that in order to qualify for tenure, most academics are forced to "profess conformance to the same level of mediocrity as those awarding the tenured professorships".] [source]

But outside the ivory tower of academia, even in the most liberal and open societies, public protest is almost always met with tangible consequences.

To be clear, Colin Kaepernick was not fired for using his workplace, uniform and fame to protest social injustice.  He opted out of his contract earlier this year all on his own, assuming (incorrectly, as it turns out), that there would be no consequences to his decision to stage a protest on the sidelines of a game, and that other teams would be falling over themselves to sign him.

Well guess what?  It is really hard to get into the NFL.  It is also really hard to maintain the level of professional prowess to stay there.  For every spot in the NFL, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of qualified players literally fighting to win a berth. 

Ever watch a college football game?  There's a reason they look so much faster and sharper than NFL games:  The players are literally playing every second of every game as if their professional futures depended on it!

So, if you are the owner of an NFL team and have the choice of signing one of dozens of qualified players, and one of those candidates has a track record of acting out on the field (i.e. using the workplace he was hired by in a way that turns away paying fans and reduces revenue), guess who isn't making the cut?

That isn't collusion.  That's called a sound business decision.  Those NFL teams are businesses with shareholders, balance sheets and bottom lines.  Every player has the right to behave as they see fit.  But any behavior that loses the teams viewers and causes empty seats in the stands, is going to make a player virtually unemployable once they are no longer under contract.

We're not talking about whistle-blowers or similarly motivated employees who should (must) be protected against retribution.  We're not talking about the NFL equivalent of Norma Rae.

This was a simple case of free choice on the part of all parties involved;  Kaepernick chose to protest.  Kaepernick chose to opt out of his contract.  The NFL owners each looked at the potential downside to signing him and chose not to do so.

As it turns out, along with the right to protest, free choice is another hallmark of a healthy, open, society. 

So, sorry Colin.  It turns out nobody owes you a job.  What you're thinking of is called 'communism'.  But hey... you're always free to go play for the other team.

Posted by David Bogner on October 16, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (3)

Monday, October 02, 2017

Who's Allowed To Join The Family?

As dysfunctional as that family may be, that question is a reference to the international family of nations.

In a perfect world, separatist movements and proto-nations would be subject to something analogous to the process to which you or I have to submit when applying for a bank loan. 

After all, just as there are potential consequences to lending money (the borrower might use the money unwisely or even default on the loan), there are obvious potential consequences to turning a new country loose on the world with all the rights and powers that come with that status; including the right to form an army, enter into international agreements and join international bodies, to name just a few.

To be fair, this is far from a perfect analogy, since the lending of money is essential to a healthy economy, while the creation of new nations is something that is more a matter of 'convenience' than 'necessity'.

That said, whether considering lending money or supporting the establishment of a new country, it really all comes down to risk assessment.  At the end of the day, the bank wants to put its money to work earning interest, and the only way to do that is to lend it out.  

So, let's say you're a Bank Loan Officer and someone walks in and sits down across from you asking to borrow money. You may start the chit-chat with marginally important things such as what the money is going to be used for.  But before you approve a loan, the really critical thing you have to determine is how sure can you be that the money (principle and interest), will be paid back on time.

And be very clear, no matter how good a candidate might appear in person or on paper, there is no 100% certainty.  So instead of the decision being a simple binary yes or no, it actually becomes one of risk management and attaining as much insurance (security) as possible against a bad outcome.

But even that isn't perfect.  Let's say the applicant is willing to put up their house as collateral for the loan.  If they default, the house isn't easily fungible.  It can't be placed into the vault or easily used as legal tender (yes, I know banks do sell bad mortgages).  The bank would have to convert it to cash by selling it; a process that anyone who has ever tried to sell a home can tell you is fraught with risk, and is usually far from quick.

Banks assume that a certain percentage of their loans will be bad, so they put in place safeguards to mitigate the losses.  Some people make the cut and are given the loans, albeit with better or worse terms (safeguards for the bank) based on the apparent risk.  And some people are rejected, having too much risk for the bank's taste, and not enough of the prerequisite stability.

Just as any discussion of lending money must include an understanding of the things that might lead a borrower to default on a loan, any discussion of the risks associate with creating new countries must include a clear understanding of the term 'Failed State' and a historical understanding of what might lead to a country achieving that status.

"A failed state is a political body that has disintegrated to a point where basic conditions and responsibilities of a sovereign government no longer function properly. Likewise, when a nation weakens and its standard of living declines, it introduces the possibility of total governmental collapse. The Fund for Peace characterizes a failed state as having the following characteristics:

  • Loss of control of its territory, or of the monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force therein
  • Erosion of legitimate authority to make collective decisions
  • Inability to provide public services
  • Inability to interact with other states as a full member of the international community"

Naturally in a world where Gold, Silver and Bronze Medals have been largely replaced by participation trophies, many people take exception to the term 'Failed State'.  In fact, there are so many competing criteria and definitions that seem to have been created for the sole purpose of excluding states from being called 'failures', that there is now a new, more politically correct, term that is used instead of 'Failed State': 'Fragile State'.

I won't go into too much detail since there is an entire page here that gives the social, economic and political criteria by which countries are graded and ranked as 'Fragile States' (FS).  Go read it... it's a hoot.

Suffice it to say, just as with lending money where it is fairly easy to spot excellent and terrible risks, the same can be said for identifying countries that have a high likelihood of success or failure.

From a risk perspective, the separatist movement pushing for Kurdish independence should be a virtual slam dunk.  Let's go to their credit score:

From a social standpoint, the Kurds are a religiously and culturally moderate people.  They are also committed to gender equality (their female Peshmerga fighters that have been kicking ISIS ass on the battlefield for years), as well as minority rights, having peacefully absorbed more than two million Assyrians, Yazidi, Turkmen, Shabak and Christian refugees from the conflicts in Iraq and Syria. [source]

From an economic standpoint, the Kurds have a well developed and functioning economy based primarily on energy.  What distinguishes them from other, less stable, countries that possess rich energy assets, are the Kurd's willingness and ability to control access to the assets and ensure the proceeds are used towards the betterment of their population. [source]

From a political standpoint, the Kurds have fully  functioning governmental institutions (and have had for decades!), including free and transparent elections for Parliament and a relatively unfettered media. Their government also has successfully exerted a monopoly on the use of force and has consistently ensured that that their military, which has been successfully fighting ISIS for years, is not a danger to other nations or its own population. [source]

Yet, most of the so-called First and Second World countries have come out quite vocally against the non-binding independence referendum that was just successfully passed in Kurdistan.  And the most frequently heard reason for opposition to the idea of Kurdish independence is the risk of instability that even the discussion of Kurdish independence might cause.  

Now I'd like to draw your attention to an independence movement that is a veritable infant compared to that of the Kurds;  one whose bid for independence is considered by nearly everyone in the world to be an urgent and immediate imperative: that of the Palestinians.

From a social standpoint, the Palestinians are an unsurprising social mix of the Egyptian and Saudi social mores from which the majority of the Palestinian population hails.  Thrown into the mix are the social and religious influence of Gaza's Iranian patrons who have long sought a foothold in the Levant, and you have a socially dysfunctional, religiously intolerant entity which, in grade-school terms 'does not play nicely with others'.  Honor killings still abound in all areas under Palestinian control, and 'criminal offenses' such as being gay and selling property to unapproved buyers are quite literally punishable by death.

From an economic standpoint, on paper the Palestinians should have viable, perhaps even robust, economic prospects due to their potential income from tourism to historic sites located in areas under their control, and their prime Mediterranean coastal real-estate holdings in Gaza that are geographically and climatically ripe for development as a resort destination.  Yet it is clear from the absolute absence of even the most preliminary development of those economic areas that the Palestinian leadership prefers an economic model based exclusively on international charitable donations, for the simple reason that that type of revenue stream is the easiest for the rulers to divert into their Swiss bank accounts, and for the population (at least those well connected to the leadership), to enjoy without the need for gainful, productive employment.

Lastly, from a political standpoint, the Palestinians, except in name, are far from a unified people.  The two major political forces - Fatah and Hamas - are joined by no fewer than six other political parties that claim to represent the true will of the people: Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), Palestinian National Initiative (PNI), Third Way, Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), Palestinian People's Party (PPP).  Add to that a host of armed militias (Al-Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), Islamic Jihad, Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, Popular Resistance Committees (PRC), Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - General Command (PFLP-GC), Harakat al-Sabireen), which may or may not be directly under the command of some or any of the previously mentioned political parties, and 'risk' seems to be one of the first words that jumps to mind.

So regardless of which Palestinian faction one thinks is the most stable and/or moderate,the moment there is a Palestinian State, the actual political power will reside with the strongest warlord (or warlords) left standing at the end of the country's birth pangs.  And if the current Palestinian leadership (or any leadership in the Near East at present), is any indication, the idea of a Palestinian government having any sort of monopoly on the use of force is actually laughable.

So, let's put our Bank Loan Officer hat back on for a moment and try to look dispassionately at the Kurds and Palestinians purely in terms of their respective risk factors and the likelihood of their respective national experiments having a successful outcome:

The Kurds are an ancient people with a centuries long history of moderation, stability, religious tolerance, self-reliance, education, institutional control of essential services and governmental functions and a firm but stable grip on the ability and prerogative to use force. 

And since I'm into the whole brevity thing, the Palestinians are simply the polar opposites in pretty much every way possible.

So why are we, the world, stamping 'Rejected' on the Kurds application... and fast-tracking the Palestinian's request? 

The only explanation that comes to mind (feel free to offer another), is that the Kurds have been pushed around and oppressed by various peoples and nations that, to us white folks, are indistinguishable from the Kurds.  While the Palestinians have had the good fortune to accuse the Jews, out of all the nations and organizations responsible for their current plight (Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Iraq, Yemen, Pakistan, Sudan, Muslim Brotherhood, Arab Liberation Army, etc.*), of pushing them around and oppressing them.

 Is it any wonder that Israel is pretty much alone in supporting the idea of an independent Kurdistan?

* Belligerents in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war

Posted by David Bogner on October 2, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Some Of You Are Half Right

But most of you are completely wrong.

I've watched from afar as many NFL players have decided that kneeling during the singing of the National Anthem is an appropriate way to protest racial inequality in America.  

I've also watched as many people have criticized these players for choosing this specific form and forum for their protest; labeling it unpatriotic and disrespectful... and in the process dredging up all kinds of patriotic bonafides to bolster their viewpoint, such as distinguished military service, holding public office, hailing from a hard-working immigrant family, etc..

The problem is that none of this could remotely be called a debate since, by definition, a debate is a formal discussion on a particular topic in which opposing arguments are put forward.  So far I haven't seen opposing arguments or discussions of any kind. 

What I have seen is the positioning of opposing agendas, ad hominem attacks and straw man statements that have everything to do with whether this particular kind of protest is legitimate or potentially effective, and nothing to do with what the players are actually protesting!

So let's cut through the noise and make a little order, shall we?

First, so long as it doesn't involve violence or incitement, any sort of protest is legitimate and legal in the US.  I'm sure some budding legal scholar will present an exception to the point I have just made, but be assured, it will be as unhelpful as it is irrelevant. 

Effective protest takes place in the public square employing the loudest, most visible means at the disposal of the protesters.  To do otherwise would be pointless.  That is why public figures - actors, athletes, politicians and others in the public eye - are often the ones selected to give voice to words and gestures of protest.

True, they are public figures because of things that are nearly always unrelated to whatever cause they are protesting or supporting with their momentary celebrity.  But the last time I checked, there was no rule in public debate against drafting prominent spokespeople to give voice to causes that are less well known.

Next, the whole, "I (my brother, father, uncle, etc.), served in the military, and I say kneeling during the Star Spangled Banner is disrespectful, treasonous behavior!" crap has to stop.  I'm a veteran and I can assure you that my status as a veteran lends my voice no more weight than someone who didn't serve, and gives me no special privileges to arbitrate what kinds of protest are appropriate.

By the same token, while celebrities are chosen for their visibility to give voice to various causes, their celebrity does not automatically make them right any more than my car having a louder horn gives me the legal right of way. 

It is up to the listener/viewer to weigh the message - not the messenger! - and decide for themselves what is right or wrong.  And it is only through thousands and millions of free citizens of a free, open democracy weighing the message and reaching their own individual conclusions that some semblance of consensus for the terms and scope of the actual debate can emerge.

The national anthem, kneeling players, flag-waving veterans, etc., are not the debate.  They are the protest.  What emerges (or is supposed to emerge), after the protest is the debate.

And that is what is completely absent from the town squares and public spaces in the US today:  Legitimate, intellectually honest debate. 

People seem to be so terrified of actual debate that they will shame and denigrate anyone with an opposing opinion so as not to have to refute what they are saying.  Do you realize how toxic and anti-democratic that is when ideas and opinions are silenced and nullified by calling the person giving them voice a pariah?

I'm not a big American football fan, but I can't deny the visibility of the players on game day, or the effectiveness of the timing of their protest during the playing of national anthem.  If they (or political activists behind the scenes), use the gridiron to draw attention to a real or perceived injustice... that is legitimate protest, and you can't deny that it is hard to ignore. 

But by the same token, those with equally visible positions who Tweet criticism of the protesters actions are also protesting.  The problem is they are protesting completely different things.  They aren't talking to one another.  They aren't engaging in an exchange of ideas.  And they certainly aren't engaging in debate!

Sadly, none of this is new, or even unique to the US.  Public protest around the world has been reduced to the level of ancient warfare, with the two sides refusing to even face one another and simply trying to subdue the 'enemy' by lobbing flaming boulders over the ramparts with catapults.  

Those rhetorical boulders are the outrage-filled rants that I see day in and day out on the Facebook feeds of people who I used to think of as reasonable; the people engaged in shamelessly virtue signalling and threatening to unfriend anyone who doesn't immediately denounce the last offensive statement or action of their perceived opponents.

Grow up, people! Protest is offensive!!!  That is why it works.  It ignores the norms (note, not laws), of civilized society.  Social norms stigmatize raising one's voice, giving offense and/or causing discomfort to one's neighbor.  Protest deliberately flies in the face of those norms.  If it didn't, nobody would notice the protesters, or by extension the thing they are protesting!   

The NFL players who are kneeling in protest know they are being deliberately offensive and disrespectful.  For proof one need only look at Sunday's game between the Baltimore Ravens and the Jacksonville Panthers which was played in London.  Many of the players knelt during the playing of the American anthem, but all stood during the playing of the British anthem.  They were making it clear that their protest was aimed at an American audience (even though the UK has its own problems with race relations), and was not meant to give offense to the host nation that had no ability to correct the injustice being protested by the players.

So please get down off your high horses about the mode, forum and channels being used by protesters.  Protest is unsettling and offensive.  If doesn't unsettle or offend someone, it isn't a protest... it's a pep-rally. 

The irony that seems to be lost on virtually everyone is that there is almost no disagreement about the thing the players are protesting.  Seriously!  If you are the odd duck who is actually in favor of discrimination, police brutality or racial injustice, please feel free to tell us all why. Otherwise, it may surprise you to discover that we are almost all on the same side of this particular protest.  The protest, not the debate.

What remains to be debated, however, is how to set about correcting the things that set the protests in motion.  And so far, I see almost none of my otherwise reasonable friends stepping up with positions or ideas on how to do that. 

In my humble opinion, if you are broadcasting emotional, hate-filled vitriol from your little Facebook soapbox without even touching on the issues that are actually up for debate, you are simply out of order... and you are wrong.  

Posted by David Bogner on September 26, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (13)