Thursday, July 29, 2004
Starting Sunday, you will be treated (or subjected, depending on your point-of- view) to a week or two of ‘The Best of Treppenwitz’.
Truth be told, I could have simply put up a sign on the door saying “Gone Fishing”… or even sneakier; “Back in 15 minutes” (which would result in certain readers clicking the refresh button like crack rats in some perverse Pavlovian experiment). But I realize that this little vacation I’m going to take is actually a pretty neat opportunity to resolve a conundrum that has faced pretty much every person to ever start a blog or journal:
I’ve given a name to this conundrum: “David’s Room Full Of Wasted Words.” For the purposes of brevity, we’ll just call it ‘David’s Room’.
In a nutshell, the most frustrating aspect of a journal’s early life is that you can’t save your ‘good stuff’ for when you have a bigger readership… because, guess what? That readership is never going to show up unless you have the good stuff out there for them to read.
‘David’s Room’ posits that the first few months of a blog/journal’s life can be compared to someone reading their most intimate prose into an intercom… all the while hoping that someone – anyone - will eventually walk into the room on the other end and start listening (and maybe even talk back).
I’ll use my own experience to further illustrate:
You may find this hard to believe… but Treppenwitz didn’t always command the impressive audience of 23 regular readers (OK… 22, since Eunice’s cat got sick on her keyboard) that it does today! It took months of flushing, um, I mean publishing my best stuff to the sound of deafening silence before I had myself what you might call ‘a going concern’.
When I first started treppenwitz, I was writing to an audience of, um… well, my wife. I wrote with the zeal of the recent convert (yes Virginia, journaling is addictive), creating elaborate metaphors… witty anecdotes… epic imagery… all to describe events and people that my one-woman audience (Zahava) had already witnessed with her own eyes.
According to the conundrum of ‘David’s Room’, anyone thinking about starting a blog or journal should keep in mind that:
a) the room at the other end of the intercom may remain empty (except for your wasted words, of course) indefinitely.
b) if you withhold your best words for the day when you start to hear people moving around in the other room, that day will almost certainly never arrive.
c) the words that you read into the intercom early on may as well have been your laundry list, or the phone book, for all of the attention they will garner.
So how do you overcome ‘David’s Room’ and get people to notice the words coming out of the other end of the intercom?
And once they do show up, how do you get them to notice all those ‘wasted words’ languishing in the early archives?
To answer the first question, I should point out that Treppenwitz owes most of its early readership to a group of people I have come to think of as ‘Keanu Reeves Bloggers (or, KRBs for short):
These are bloggers whose pages are always littered with linked statements such as: “DUDE!, check THIS out!: [LINK]”… “SWEET!, this is totally awesome!: [LINK]”… “Whooah, you totally HAVE to read this!: [LINK].”
Obviously I’m exaggerating for effect (and shamelessly merging Keanu Reeves’ persona from ‘Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure’ with those of the two guys from ‘Dude, where’s my car?’)… But my point is that there are a lot of adventurous, thoughtful people out there who are constantly on the lookout for new and interesting things to read... and they are not shy about sharing these ‘discoveries’ with their friends and readers when they find them.
These ‘KRBs’ also serve an additional role within the delicate ecosystem known as the blogosphere: They are like bees, cross-pollinating the web and making connections where logic, distance, and ideology would dictate that none should exist.
In short, every fledgling journaler hopes and prays that a popular ‘KRB’ will stumble into his/her room full of wasted words and yell to the crowd waiting outside:
“Dudes, this treppenwitz thing I surfed today, like, totally doesn’t suck!”
To everyone who has ever linked to me, or said a kind word about my writing on his or her site, this is my way of telling you I noticed, and deeply appreciate the gift of readership that you gave me.
That leaves us with the issue of how to ensure that those early words that were sent into that empty room don’t really go to waste.
To anyone who is considering taking a break from writing because of a vacation, real-life commitment, or a well-deserved mental health break from the creative process, I would make the following suggestion:
Go through your archives… especially the really early stuff that very few people got to see… and pick out some of the posts that felt as though they almost wrote themselves. You know, the ones I mean... where the ideas came spilling off your brain in a feverish torrent, faster than your fingers could channel them onto the page!
It doesn’t matter that the writing was erratic or immature… or that you hadn’t yet ‘found your voice’. By republishing those early posts, you will finally be able to provide an audience for those ‘wasted words’ … the passionate words you read into the intercom so long ago… the words you heard echoing off the walls in that empty place now known as ‘David’s Room’.
I’ll be checking messages so feel free to share.
Wednesday, July 28, 2004
Brushing away the dust
I was a little curious when I glanced at my stats this morning and noticed a series of ‘hits’ from the Department of Commerce in Boulder Colorado, starting at 6:45AM. Then it occurred to me that this was precisely the time I had finished my first cup of coffee… and suddenly it all began to make sense. You see, I am now vibrating at exactly the same frequency as the Cesium atom… and the folks who maintain the Atomic clock over there in Colorado were just checking in to make sure their clocks are correct.
In short... Always happy to help out the scientific community!
To quote a wonderful fiction blogger named Queenie: "Definition of me: Standing over the fresh pot of... coffee on my kitchen counter, my arms outstretched, exclaiming, "Look what I have created!""
Anyhoo… as the title of today’s post suggests, this entry is not about my renewed state of caffeination, but rather the more somber events of Tisha B’Av.
Monday night, a few minutes before sunset, Zahava and I put the kids into the car and drove twenty minutes into the Judean Desert. Our destination: the ruins of King Herod’s mountain fortress; Herodyon.
We weren’t alone in our journey.
Like the scene from the end of ‘Field of Dreams’ (where the long line of headlights weaved slowly through the cornfields at dusk)… we were near the head of a procession of cars winding through the desert landscape towards a mountain that looks for all the world like a volcano.
Along the way, the winding road took us through several Arab villages, so there was a reassuringly frequent encounter with army patrols, check points, and border police. Each time we came upon a uniformed presence, we were greeted with the traditional, “Tzom Kal” (translation: [your] fast [should be] easy). The overwhelming majority of these soldiers are not religiously observant. In their homes around the country, they may, or may not, have marked Tisha B’Av by fasting or reading the book of Lamentations. But being Jewish… and wearing the uniform of Israel’s modern army on the anniversary of the destruction of our ancient national aspirations… these teenaged Jewish soldiers offered this traditional greeting as if to acknowledge their connection to the date… the place… and the long line of their fellow Israelis winding towards Herodyon.
Another reason Jews traditionally wish one other an ‘easy fast’, is because one shouldn’t offer normal greetings (such as ‘Hi’, ‘How are you?’, etc.) on a day of mourning. Handshakes and hugs are not exchanged, and even within a crowd, one is encouraged to refrain from levity.
As we got closer to Herodyon, the volcano-like appearance became more pronounced. King Herod, who also built the mountain fortress of Masada, essentially took this mountain… sliced off the top… and scooped out the insides before constructing a desert palace for himself. Here is what it would have looked like in its day:
Long after Herod was gone from the scene, this fortress became a refuge for Jews fleeing the destruction being wrought in Jerusalem by Titus’ Roman Legions. The Jews who stood on top of Herodyon on Tisha B’Av in 70 C.E. were able to clearly see the smoke and flames from Jerusalem as the Temple was being destroyed. The feeling of hopelessness most have been overwhelming!
And so we came to the same spot to sit on the stones and on the ground… they way they most have sat… in order to continue mourning over those terrible events.
Since it was inappropriate to exchange greetings on Tisha B’Av, the hundreds of people streaming up onto the mountain acknowledged one another with nods, weak smiles and the inevitable ‘Tzom Kal’. This reserved behavior further emphasized the sense of loss, and set the tone for the scene inside the mountain fortress.
As we descended the stairs/ ramp into the fortress interior, the broken pillars, tumbled building stones, and whispering desert wind further hushed the assembled crowd until nearly all available space was filled with somber mourners, seated in the dust.
As the sun set in the distance, the assembled group of people got to their feet, turned to face Jerusalem and began the evening service (Aravit). The adults prayed, and the children wandered tentatively through the crowds. Even thought the kids seemed less aware of the specifics of the occasion (no hurry… they will learn the heartrending details soon enough)… they were markedly more reserved in this setting, and most took their cues from the demeanor of the adults.
After the conclusion of the evening service, the crowd broke up into smaller groups, seeking out little sheltered niches around the windy mountain and began reading the book of Lamentations aloud.
I have heard Lamentations read every year since I was 18, but have always had trouble connecting the comfortable surroundings of the synagogue with the destruction described in the book. Sitting in the dust with my back against a broken pillar… with a direct line-of-sight to the remains of the Temple mount in Jerusalem… I felt no such disconnect.
The circumstance separating the assembled crowd on this Tisha B’Av from the crowd that sat and mourned here in 70 C.E., is that we had a small glimmer of hope… ‘The first flowering of the redemption’… waiting for us outside this ruined fortress. There are once again Jewish soldiers manning the ramparts of a sovereign Jewish state, and despite the best efforts of those who would gladly see us once again led into slavery (or worse), we were privileged to brush away the dust… walk down the mountain… and resume writing the story that was interrupted almost two millennia ago.
* All photos are from the Ministry of Tourism.
** Thanks to my friend Ben Chorin (no, not his real name), who spotted me on Herodyon and [correctly] assumed I would write about my experience.
Monday, July 26, 2004
The 52nd St. BUMblebee
I’d like to share a portion of an e-mail I sent to one of my favorite journalers. I had mentioned this person’s writing in a post a while back, and had made a small reference to the fact that his site had been ‘dark’ for a while.... meaning he hadn't posted a journal entry in quite some time.
Out of a clear blue sky, he e-mailed me to apologize for not updating. There were mentions of deadlines… obligations… age. I was floored!
One of the wonderful things about blogging/journaling is that you don’t have to meet anyone’s expectations… there are no schedules! If inspirations strikes… you write. If life happens… you enjoy it (or endure it)… and then if you feel like sharing… you write about that, too. But in my mind it was just plain wrong that this talented journaler felt an obligation to write. Where’s the fun in that?
Since that time, I have seen a few of my regular reads making similar excuses for taking time off, or posting late, or for not having anything worth sharing… so I decided to turn the [slightly cleaned up] e-mail that I sent to that long-ago apologist into an open letter to anyone feeling pressure to write:
“First off, you don't owe me, or any of your readers an explanation or apology. That's why it's called a personal journal/blog.
Say it with me: PER SO NAL!
I assume it is as therapeutic for you to write, as it is enjoyable for me to read. But ultimately, that’s not what one would call a symbiotic relationship, because I'm not giving you anything back.
As a reader, I'm taking, enjoying, and checking back daily for more good stuff to take and enjoy. You, on the other hand, are taking time out of your real life to write wonderfully entertaining prose... not a quick or easy feat.
Since you took the time to write, I'll share a true story that should clarify my point:
When I was still living in the states and working in Manhattan, I used to have a morning ritual. While buying my coffee, I'd buy an extra cup and danish for a friendly BUMblebee who usually camped out in an alley off of 52nd street... near the building where I worked.
He was a grizzled old guy with random teeth, and an alarming lack of motivation. I singled him out for this little act of kindness because he stood out in stark contrast to all the aggressive panhandlers I encountered during my commute.
Over the first few months, while we drank our coffee and he munched his danish, he shared a bunch of disjointed (and often conflicting) stuff about who he was, and how he had arrived at his present station in life... and I fancied I had earned, if not his trust, than at least some small measure of his esteem for having taken on this small kindness.
One day on Tisha B'Av (the 9th day of the Hebrew month of Av is a fast day, but work is still permitted), I was almost to my building when I realized that since I was fasting, I hadn't bought anything to give to the BUMblebee (as I had mentally come to call him). No problem... I figured I'd give him a couple of bucks and explain the situation, and he'd understand.
He gave me a long, loud harangue on pride... and how he's hungry... and where is his damned breakfast! It wasn't pretty. I was so ashamed at my bad treatment of this guy that I turned and started walking back towards the coffee shop.
However, after a half a block I started thinking about the relationship that I had allowed to develop. I was doing all the work, and he was yelling at me for not bringing him his damned breakfast. Granted I had created certain expectations by doing the same thing on a fairly regular basis. But had I truly obligated myself to this guy to the extent that I should be shamefacedly marching back to the coffee shop?
On the spot I decided that our relationship, such that it was, was entirely of my creation and it was mine to continue or dissolve at my whim. It made me feel good to give him that small kindness each morning, but if time, or money, or 'whatever' precluded my being able to do so... I felt that I had the right to opt out.
Now, I don't know you... but from the level of your writing, I see that I don't need to use pictures or sock puppets to explain the connection between the 52nd street BUMblebee and your readers (myself included), right?
You don't owe me breakfast. I love it when you show up, and it probably makes you feel good to provide the goods. But it is entirely up to you when or IF you continue doing so. I'll be right here in my alley when, and if, you drop by with a coffee and danish.”
To those of you who create the stuff I read… Thank you for writing. I appreciate it more than you will ever know.
To those of you who will be fasting on Tisha B’Av (starting tonight and ending tomorrow night), may your fast be easy… and may Tisha B’Av next year be a day of celebration instead of mourning.
Sunday, July 25, 2004
Note from a 'slow idiot'
It’s Saturday night and I just finished reading a humbling comment that an old friend left on Thursday’s post (‘Traction’). In her comment she thanked me for writing about the painful subject of infertility (with which she’s had some experience), and for not being “an insensitive clod”.
Heh…. That’s funny. Mostly because this journal (aptly named ‘treppenwitz’) got its start as a place for me to jot down all the stuff I should have said (or refrained from saying) in ‘real life’ but was too brain dead or insensitive to act on in ‘real time’.
The truth is, I have been ‘an insensitive clod' on too many occasions to count.
I have learned from bitter experience not to ask women about their ‘due date’ unless they are actually in active labor. Suffice it to say I am not so good at judging the difference between advanced pregnancy and a little weight problem. Not good at all.
I have also experienced the yummy taste of shoe leather over the delicate issue of divorce/separation: "Hey, great to see you... where's your wife/husband?”… [long uncomfortable silence]. Note to self: It is, perhaps, never good to assume everyone else is as happy as I am.
If I write about something here in my journal, it is because I needed the time to sit and quietly consider it from a few different angles. Simply put, most anyone can sound wise, or witty… or even sensitive, given enough time and a good spell checker.
Please don’t assume from anything you read here that I am some sort of super-dad, wonder-husband or sensitive Renaissance man. The combination of ‘time’ + ‘multiple revisions’ + ‘long conversations with my wise and patient wife’ = ‘a person who is slowly developing the ability function in polite society’.
There is a great line from an old Kaveret/Poogy (one of the truly timeless Israeli rock bands) song that translates, “It’s not good for an idiot to be fast.” Truer words were never spoken or sung.
In short, I'm far from perfect on the whole sensitivity thing... but I'm [slowly] learning.
Friday, July 23, 2004
Friday odds & ends
First off, I should apologize to anyone who was thrown off by the unannounced reversal of the order in the comments section this week. For some reason, I had never noticed how counter-intuitive it was to read the feedback in reverse order (i.e. seeing the responses and follow-ups before the original comments). Stupid, right?
Now that the comments issue is taken care of, I’m hoping to get over to my ‘about me’ page this weekend and bring that into the realm of reality. The truth is, I wrote the existing ‘about me’ blurb in about 30 seconds as sort of a place holder while I was busy trying to set up treppenwitz’s ‘look & feel’. Despite the fact that, without exception, the first thing I look for when I visit a new blog is the ‘about me’ link… at the time, the colors, fonts, layout and type-list titles all seemed so much more important.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, I have noticed an interesting assortment of search terms referring web surfers to my journal. I can understand fairly specific search strings like, “mid+life+crisis” , “route+66+trip+plan” and “route+66+trip+trip” bringing people to treppenwitz, since these were some early topics that I dealt with in depth. The same goes for “A+true+romantic” and “popping+the+question” . But, the only thing that these searches all have in common is that I’m certain the people didn’t find what they came looking for.
However, the people that showed up at my doorstep because they used search strings like “David+Bogner” or “David+Bogner+Israel” have me more than a little curious.
Who are you? Are you old classmates… old girlfriends… old Navy buddies? And more important… once you found me, what kept you from saying hello? Am I that unapproachable? I’m just saying…
Lastly, for those of you who have written to inquire how the decaffeination of David is going… the answer, surprisingly, is ‘not bad!’ I had a little twinge of a headache the morning of the 2nd day. But I have been stepping down my caffeine intake so gradually that the only thing that has really suffered has been my taste buds.
Right after Tisha B’Av, I am soooo breaking open a bag of Peet's Italian Roast beans! I’m gonna have two huge cups of that oily black goodness… with a couple of big dollops of whipping cream… and then I’m gonna ‘shake, rattle and roll’ through all those house and yard projects I’ve been putting off all year! =:~>
Thursday, July 22, 2004
A few weeks ago Zahava and I were out for a walk with Yonah (and of course Jordan the wonder dog) on a Shabbat afternoon. Since I was pushing the stroller at the time, I saw something that I had never noticed before. Where the curb is ramped to allow access to wheelchairs and strollers, there was a deep pattern pressed into the concrete to provide traction. What I had failed to notice before were the words that made up the central part of the traction pattern:
For those who don’t read Hebrew, the words in the concrete translate as: “For mother and baby”.
At the time I thought this was a funny bit of chauvinism, and joked with Zahava that I was going to sue the town in order to have the word ‘father’ added to all the ramps.
The next morning, I jotted down a breezy little blog entry about the irony of something meant to provide traction actually acting to hasten the slide of feminism back towards the ‘50s. The reason you never saw that post is that I filed it with a bunch of other odds & ends that I keep for a rainy day… you know, just in case my muse should decide to take an extended vacation.
Awhile back, Allison over at 'An Unsealed Room', wrote about a woman calling herself ‘Getupgrrl’ whose blog, Chez Miscarriage, (about her struggles with fertility issues) was brilliantly written and funny beyond belief. Both my wife and I became semi-regular readers of this strong, confident woman, and followed with interest her personal struggles to realize her dream of having a baby.
Well, yesterday’s news over at Chez Miscarriage just tore my heart out. The strong façade… the self-deprecating humor… the hysterical descriptions of the humiliating medical procedures… all came crashing down. In addition to my amazement that Getupgrrl had the strength left to write about her latest set-back, for some reason I kept seeing that damned concrete stroller ramp in my mind’s eye. And in that context, it wasn’t so funny anymore.
How many stumbling blocks disguised as baby carriage ramps, glowingly pregnant women, and large happy families does a woman like Getupgrrl face every day? How is she able to leave the house knowing that a world filled with babies, children and stroller ramps, waits to silently mock her at every step.
Last night I snuck around the house and gave my sleeping children an extra kiss. They don’t lack for kisses, mind you… but I am slowly realizing the obvious: That there are people in the world who lack for children to kiss.
We rarely think about our amazing luck. A couple of years after we got married Zahava and I had 'the talk' about having kids. A few weeks later we were looking at an EPT with a + rather than a –, and 39 weeks later we were walking out of the hospital feeling like the most ill-equipped parents on the planet.
Each time we wanted another child, G-d, or fate, or science (or whatever combination of these things you believe in), said, “Oh, OK…here have another one… I have plenty to give! While your asking... do you want a Gmail invite???"
It was always just that easy! So, is it any wonder that people who are fertile take the miracle of children for granted? Just as people who are musical or artistic can’t imagine what it’s like being tone deaf or colorblind… fertile parents can’t imagine the pain endured by those who are not blessed with the ability to share in the miracle of creation.
In an age where many people use abortion clinics as their primary form of contraception, and women routinely hit the snooze button on their biological clocks well into their 30s and 40s… We sometimes need a reminder of how lucky we are, and how our public jokes about the aggravation of parenthood can be a knife in the heart of people who would give anything for such aggravation.
Don’t get me wrong. I feel strongly that there are legitimate reasons for having abortions… and it often makes sense for a woman to get her career off the ground before starting a family. All I’m saying is that perhaps we are just a tad too comfortable with our ‘options’. I say this mostly because there are so many people in the world that were never offered a choice.
In retrospect, I’m glad I never got around to posting that breezy little journal entry about the chauvinistic words in the concrete stroller ramp. As funny as it might have been at the time, the humor would have rung hollow in the ears of people like Getupgrrl who expend every ounce of their being trying to gain enough traction to make headway in a world filled with other people’s children.
Wednesday, July 21, 2004
I must say I was a little surprised at some of the comments on yesterday’s post. Not that I disagreed with them, mind you (I didn’t)… but because everyone seems to have glossed over the central ethical issue that had been troubling me.
The word ‘Birthright’ is the root of my ethical dilemma. If this ‘Birthright’ trip is, in fact, an inherent right of every person who is born Jewish (as the name of the program implies) … then it seems somewhat unethical to place conditions upon any Jew’s participation. Unlike, say, the terms of a legal will, or some other form of inheritance which is given or withheld at the whim of the benefactor, a birthright is, by definition, a right that one is due exclusively because of their birth.
Of course the Bible contains plenty of precedents for revoking, selling, or otherwise diverting a birthright… but in almost every case, a terrible price in enmity or regret is paid. I also would hesitate to place myself on the level of the biblical Patriarchs and Matriarchs who had the wisdom to toy with their children's birthrights.
Those of us who live in democratic countries consider things like voting and civil liberties to be a portion of our own ‘birthright’. Do we exclude anarchists and people who actively oppose the policies of our governments from the free exercise of their birthright, or the protection which that birthright is supposed to afford? Even though these poeple seek to destroy the system that protects them... the answer is obviously 'no'.
Perhaps the name of the program is the root of its problem. It is a lofty ideal… this assumption that simply being Jewish is a basis for a potential lifelong bond with Israel. But in reality the people who put together the birthright program didn’t consider the possibility that a small minority of the people eligible for the program would be truly unworthy of it.
I suggest that they would have been better served naming it ‘Yerushah’ - a Hebrew word much more closely associated with inheritance than birthright. That way, like a parent who finds cause to disown a wayward child, there is a remedy that does not fly in the face of the original premise.
And of course, if that child should ever discover the error if his/her ways (as I truly hope people like Max and Jessica do), one can always write them back into the will.
On a completely unrelated note: I am heart-sick at the latest news over at the normally witty Chez Miscarriage. I can't even talk about it. Suffice it to say that if I had a uterus... I would offer to carry her baby.
Tuesday, July 20, 2004
I am torn concerning an ethical issue, and I hope writing about it (and perhaps hearing some other viewpoints) might help me clarify things.
In Friday’s online version of the Ha’aretz newspaper, there was an article about ISM activists from the U.S. using the Birthright program to get a free trip to Israel.
I’ll pause here to fill in some background for those not familiar with these two terms.
ISM (International Solidarity Movement), a Palestinian-run program (which many assert is partially funded and supported by the PLO) attracts many American and European volunteers to its activities here. They conduct demonstrations… lay down in front of bulldozers… barricade themselves inside buildings slated for demolition (it is Israel’s stated policy to destroy the home of any terrorist who carries out a lethal attack)… confront Israeli soldiers at checkpoints... and even make public attempts to breach the security fence.
Birthright is a program that provides an all-expense paid visit to Israel to any Jew between the ages of 18 – 26 who has never participated in an organized trip to the Jewish Homeland. Airfare, transportation, food and accommodations are all taken care of. The goal of the program is to foster a lasting bond between Israel and the Jewish diaspora. The guides who take these groups around the country, and the soldiers who occasionally protect them are forbidden from talking about political topics or even answering questions about sensitive issues. The assumption is that the trip itself is supposed to provide enough background for the participants to be begin to form their own political opinions.
So, you can see where there might be an ethical problem if Jewish students who are anti-Israel activists on their respective college campuses and in their communities, use the Birthright program to get to Israel. Basically they are using Israeli government money to afford themselves the opportunity to frustrate, and even attack the Israeli government.
The article interviews a couple of college students, Max and Jessica, who deliberately withheld information about their anti-Israel activism (Jessica went so far as to apply for Birthright from another town since she was well known for her activism at her own school). They tell the reporter that, “I was afraid they would uncover my intentions”. The organization also makes no secret of the fact that it gives instructions to its volunteers on how to hide their true intentions from the Birthright organizers and guides.
Once they were on the trip and their political leanings became clear to the leaders of the birthright program, Max and Jessica were encouraged to direct their energies to one of the left-wing political/social causes within Israel. However, it seems that the excitement of demonstrating and activism were much more attractive than the relatively mundane clerical tasks they would have been assigned as volunteers within the Israeli political mainstream.
Here’s my problem: Birthright is ostensibly for any Jew. But by admittedly concealing their true intentions and political sentiments, these ISM volunteers seem to be acutely aware that they are crossing some sort of ethical boundary (for all I know this subterfuge/ pseudo-espionage may be an exciting part of the attraction). I just feel that it is a bit cynical to use a gift from the Israeli government as a springboard for attacking the Israeli government.
I'm particularly curious to know how people (Jewish or not) outside of Israel view this topic. I'm not asking whether you favor the Israeli or the Palestinian cause... but rather whether you feel it is ethical for ISM to be encouraging its members to use Birthright to finance their trips to confront the policies of the Israeli goverment. As always, please play nice and be respectful of other people's opinions.
Read the article… give it some thought… and let me know what you think.
Monday, July 19, 2004
Alas, a rant…
For those who have just joined us, you may want to read a previous entry I posted regarding how nice it feels to give away Gmail invites. For those short on time, I’ll paraphrase in 4 quick points:
1. It feels really good to receive such a gift.
2. It feels wonderful to pass that gift along.
3. Even though some people may attach some perceived value to the invites, it costs nothing to give or get a Gmail invite… you just have to have a cordial relationship with someone who already has one.
4. I applaud the folks at Google for coming up with such a win-win model for incrementally introducing and testing their new e-mail client.
That about sums it up, no? Please let me know if I’ve left anything out.
Ah yes, upon further reflection... there appears to be a need for a 5th point:
5. No good deed ever goes unpunished.
I’m still not entirely sure why I’m so angry at the dozens of e-mails and comments I’ve received from people who…
1. …have never been to my blog before.
2. …have never read a word of my writing.
3. …have zero interest in the topics that interest me or my readers.
4. …have no problem demanding (not requesting) a Gmail invite.
5. …have no shame about demanding additional Gmail invites for their friends.
However, the modus operandi of these cyber-scavengers is quite clear: First they perform a web search for ‘Gmail invites’. Then, like a pack of hyenas, they converge on the unsuspecting people who are still flushed with endorphins from the whole altruistic Gmail gift giving high.
One of the more literate and well mannered ‘requests’ so far (no I did not make this up):
“I dunno if you got any but… send me one if you do.”
[Note to Neanderthal web scavenger: Would you like to attempt to insert a specific noun… and perhaps offer up something in a polite interjection?]
Occasionally one of these cretins will attempt to pass themselves off as a longtime reader. I love that! Really. Because even a neophyte like myself knows how to search the IP log to discover [gasp] that the sum total of this person’s experience with treppenwitz is, at most, 30 seconds long.
Let me be clear:
1. Yes I have more Gmail invites.
2. Yes, of course I will gladly give one to anyone with even a passing interest in the things about which I write (even if you disagree with me!).
3. If you attempt to scam me out of a Gmail invite, I will post your e-mail address onto so many Pr0n sites and right-wing lunatic message boards that sex-offenders and the UniBomber will consider you a public danger, and you will probably get some sort of award for the sheer volume and revolting depravity of the ‘SPAM’ you'll receive.
Stop back tomorrow. By then I will (hopefully) have recovered my composure.
Sunday, July 18, 2004
search?q=Serengeti watering hole
I took the title of today’s post from a Google search someone once used to reach my blog. I have no idea what combination of Boolean logic and key words brought this particular explorer to the shores of treppenwitz (since I have never knowingly discussed either the Serengeti or watering holes), but this nameless person ended up spending over two hours reading almost everything in my 'favorite posts' list and archives. One can assume from this that this person either really enjoyed my writing, or perhaps had painfully little to do at the time. Either way, I was somewhat disappointed to see that he/she left no comment.
For all I know this person has since become my most devoted reader (I’m not curious enough to start tracking IP addresses) and quotes me daily to his friends and family. But without any communication, I have no idea what made that seeker-of-information on the Serengeti want to spend a couple of hours of their life reading my random thoughts and observations. It’s not that I am so in need of a stranger’s validation. But by the same token, if I truly didn’t care I’d be writing in a paper diary and not posting my thoughts on the web, right?
Many of my blogging/journaling cronies periodically voice either pride or concern over their traffic statistics. Specifically, there seems to be some perceived correlation between the success of a blog/journal and the number of ‘hits’ it registers in a particular day/week/month.
I’ll admit that my head was turned ('spun around' might be a better description) by the number of people who typically wander by treppenwitz on any given day. But as time has passed I have become much more curious about the 'who' and 'why' of visitors than the dry data of simply 'how many'.
A charming and talented European blogger who I follow made a couple of interesting points in her blog’s disclaimer: In addition to asking people not to hit her up for free technical advice (a reasonable demand that I inadvertently trampled), she also made a request that frequent, and especially repeat visitors extend the courtesy of leaving a comment or e-mail saying ‘hello’ once in awhile. I was floored by the reasonableness of her request , and how few of us practice this basic courtesy.
Most of us surf our 'morning reads' as though we are perusing a newspaper, or walking briskly past public sculpture. For some reason we feel that since the artist/journalist is not present, there is no reason to comment or provide feedback.
However, with bloggers/journalers, the artist is sitting next to his/her painting… the journalist is sitting within earshot of the newspaper! In the real world I can’t imagine passing up the opportunity to say hello to a person whose work I enjoy… yet here on the web I do it all the time!
The 'Serengeti watering hole' search term also resonated with me on another level. Anyone who has ever spent any time watching one of the many nature networks has doubtless seen a few documentaries about the diverse wildlife that congregates at a typical African watering hole. Animals of every description are drawn to these places by a wide range of needs. Some come for the cooling/soothing mud… others for the life-sustaining water… and still others (the predators) to feed on the other visitors.
In creating and nurturing treppenwitz, I have deliberately tried to stay away from the specifics of politics and religion that might scare people away from my 'watering hole'. Obviously, living in this politically- and religiously-charged corner of the world, it would be odd if I made no comment on these topics… but with the exception of the sanctity of human life (meaning terrorism, not abortion), I have always tried to leave room in my commentary for the possibility of other opinions.
Another blogger friend who lives over in ‘the mitten’ once made the following observation about me to her readers, “Do I agree with him all the time? Nope. Do I always appreciate the different world perspective he brings to my computer screen? Absolutely.” That is one of the nicest compliment I’ve ever received. If treppenwitz had a mission statement, that would be it!
I am also pleased that with rare exceptions, I have seldom had to play the role of lifeguard here at the watering hole. Few predators show up (I’ve had to delete only one or two overtly anti-Semitic or anti-Israel comments that would not have elevated the level of discourse), and I have (so far) never had to pry a gazelle loose from the jaws of a crocodile (meaning there haven’t been any flame wars).
So I guess my point is this: Don’t feel obligated to leave a comment or send an e-mail every time you stop by (not that there’s anything wrong with that). But if you find yourself coming here to my ‘watering hole’ on a regular basis… or even if you come only once for an extended drink… please say hello. I don’t need accolades or validation, but if you are a stranger and enjoyed reading my most intimate thoughts… I’m curious to know what brought you here, and why you stayed.
Friday, July 16, 2004
The 'Mixed Party Bag'
Many of my readers outside of Israel have expressed 'concern' that I seem to only juxtapose the good things about life in Israel against the ‘less good’ things available in the rest of the world. Well Today's entry is a short rant about an Israeli phenomenon that I could definitely have done without!
Wednesday I went to the store to pick up some snacks to keep in my office. I like pistachio nuts. A lot. So I picked up what I thought were a couple of bags of these yummy nuts
However, when I got back to my office I discovered that one of the bags of pistachios was actually a “party bag of mixed roasted nuts.” I hadn’t read the label closely and had noticed only the pistachios… but upon closer inspection, there were also plenty of almonds and peanuts mixed in with the pistachios.
No problem, you say?
Well what if the pistachios had the shells on… and the almonds and peanuts had the shells off? That changes things a little, no?
Now imagine trying to eat these mixed nuts while working (e.g. without looking). I could usually tell by feel, which were the pistachios, and would proceed to shell them and pop them into my mouth without too much distraction from my work. But every so often I would pop what I thought was a peanut or almond into my mouth only to feel/hear the soul (and tooth) shattering sensation of splintering pistachio shell!
You’re probably thinking that I threw out the bag after the first or second time it happened, right? Or perhaps I poured the bag out and sorted the nuts into less lethal categories?
Heh, yeah, right.
You must have me confused with some logical species of omnivore… That’s right, I just continued to play dental roulette until the bag was empty.
Now that my sore teeth and bleeding gums have started to recover, I’ve started to wonder about the Israeli marketing genius who thought it would be a good idea to package shelled and unshelled nuts into the same ‘party bag’?
Oh, to be a fly on the conference room wall as he pitched the concept for this 'Mixed Party Bag'. It probably sounded something like this:
OK... Picture a dimly lit cocktail party with soft music playing… well-dressed people mingling, and bowls of our ‘party mix’ on all the tables.
As some oh-so-suave lounge lizard walks over to make his big move on the mysterious brunette who has been loitering by the punch bowl all night, he passes one of the bowls... scoops up a manly handful... and nonchalantly tosses back a few of the nuts, and bites down.
When he finally stops wimpering and recovers enough of his poise to smile at the girl (who had been expectantly watching his approach), the random, bloody remnants of his shattered teeth give him the ghastly appearance of a jack-o-lantern!
Cue the onscreen 'Premier Club Mixed Party Bag' logo!
[Looking around expectantly] So, what do you think?!
To be honest, what I really want is to meet this evil marketing genius, just to see if he has any of his own teeth left.
If he does, I might just offer to fix that for him!
Thursday, July 15, 2004
I wanna go to Switzerland!
First off… I’m still reeling from some of the comments I got on yesterday’s post.
Very nice, people!
What started out as a perfectly pleasant ramble about coffee quickly turned into the on-line equivalent of a prison uprising, with some of you (you know who you are) trying to hold me down and turn me into pharmaceutical piggybank. Remind me not to turn my back on any of you!
Aaanyhooo... on to the topic of the day:
Just a short entry today to point out something that has grabbed my imagination. When you have finished reading, you will have one of two reactions:
1. How cool, I wanna go to Switzerland!
2. Lessee now…'Favorites'…'Blogs'… 'treppenwitz'… 'right click'… DELETE!
One of my daily online stops is Snopes, which is a clearinghouse for debunking urban legends and online scams of all kinds.
If you haven’t been there, you should at least bookmark the site so you can check the veracity of that offer from Bill Gates before forwarding it to everyone in your address book.
Anyway, here is a link I found on Snopes to a story that turned out to be true.
It’s about a public bathroom in the middle of a crowded street corner that is made entirely from one-way mirrored glass. This means that people on the street can’t see in, but the person doing his/her business on the inside feels as though everyone has a perfect view of the festivities!
Think about it for a second; The mirrored surface on the outside of the facilities might even attract people to apply make-up, adjust clothing, or remove flakes of pesto from between teeth… all within inches of the person inside the magic box!
This is sort of the safe fulfillment of that adolescent nightmare everyone seems to have had at one time or another... you know, the one where you show up for school in your underwear (please tell me I didn't just reveal myself to be the only one to have ever had that particular bad dream!). I'm sure the mental health profession will have a field day with this one!
I can’t explain why this has captured my imagination… but for those of you who have just now decided that this will be your last trip to treppenwitz… It’s been fun!
Wednesday, July 14, 2004
The Coffee / Fast Dilemma
And so it begins…
Yesterday Zahava reminded me that the time has come to once again begin tapering off my caffeine intake in anticipation of the full-day fast on Tisha B'Av. So… since I am going to be fixated with coffee (or lack thereof) over the next week or so, guess what? You get to fixate on it right along with me.
Some people get hungry or thirsty when they fast… I usually don’t. Maybe it’s the, ahem, significant stores of reserve fuel I so prudently put aside during the rest of the year. Or maybe I just have a higher threshold for discomfort.
However, coffee - or more importantly the potent drug it delivers: caffeine - is what holds me in its evil grip. I don’t drink gallons of coffee throughout the day the way some people do. I usually have one… perhaps two cups in the morning, and don’t even think about coffee for the rest of the day. However, I’m a bit of a fanatic about the coffee that I do drink… making it oh-so-hard to wean myself down to mornings of decaffeinated tastelessness.
First, and foremost is the quality issue. I am a bit of a coffee snob when it comes to my beans. I don’t require brand-name coffee (although many of the well-known brands tend to be more consistent in their quality), but outside of the big roasters, I find it hard to find good, consistently fresh, medium-dark roasted beans. To that end, some of the beans I like best:
Peet’s (Berkeley, CA) – Major Dickason's Blend
Community Coffee (New Orleans, LA) – Breakfast Blend
Starbucks (Seattle, WA) – Gold Coast Blend
Green Mountain Coffee (Waterbury, VT) – Wild Mountain Blueberry (the only flavored coffee I have ever really enjoyed…and it is available only during the summer ...great for making iced coffee!)
[Request: I would appreciate a recommendation from anyone in Europe (hint, Mlle A.) who knows a good, consistent, continental coffee purveyor who won’t mistake me for his banker]
Whole bean…preferably vacuum packed. Since I live so far from the source, I like to buy the beans whole so they can be ground immediately before brewing. A few years ago I restored a 1930’s era wall-mounted, hand-cranked coffee grinder. It holds exactly a pound of coffee, and can be adjusted to exactly the grind I want. Also, since it only grinds as fast as you can turn the crank... it doesn’t inadvertently heat the beans the way most electric grinders do. [more on that here]
While I enjoy the occasional espresso, cappuccino, or even ‘Turkish coffee’ (which I’m told is actually not Turkish, but Arab in origin), I almost always use a press pot. Some people complain that the few minutes the coffee steeps in a glass press pot means it won’t be hot enough when served. I’ll share a trick I learned in the navy: When boiling the water, add a very small pinch of salt. The salt raises the boiling point of the water by a few important degrees, but is not nearly concentrated enough to be noticed when you drink the coffee.
I like fresh cream in my coffee. I don’t understand people who put milk (especially skim milk) in coffee. Why not just get some white food coloring, mix it with water and use THAT to hopelessly dilute your coffee??? I’m not talking about using heavy whipping cream (although if there is an open container in the fridge I have been known to treat myself), but rather light cream… the kind you use for cooking.
Since I try to stay away from sugar, I usually use Splenda® (which is made from sugar that has been bonded to an inert substance that your body won’t digest). It tastes like sugar, and it doesn’t add carbs to my day. Best of all, no sugar-substitute aftertaste!
If I’m drinking coffee at home, I like to drink from what my wife affectionately calls my ‘soup bowl’. OK, it might be a tad bigger than your typical coffee mug… but I like it because when I’m sitting outside on the mirpesset (balcony), it rarely requires refills!
If I’m in the car, I have my trusty Starbucks travel mug. I hated to pay the exorbitant prices that they demand for their products… but this happens to be the absolutely best travel mug ever. I challenge anyone to show me something that even comes close! It keeps the coffee hot for over an hour… it has a rubber gasket in the screw top to prevent leaks… and most important, the drinking hole has a hinged stopper that clicks securely into place to keep every drop inside the cup (even if you hold it upside down!) until you want it to come out. I have forgotten this cup on the top of my car (only to see it bouncing on the pavement in my rear view mirror), and it has survived countless winter mountain climbing trips. It has dents and scratches and stickers to attest to its beloved status, and it is absolutely perfect in every way.
Well after all that, here I am… facing a couple of weeks of less and less caffeine (read: less and less flavor). To accomplish this self-deprivation I will have to start mixing in more and more decaf to the morning grind. Hopefully Tisha B’Av, won’t find me in the fetal position wishing for the world to end.
Feel free to share your coffee-related hopes, dreams and stories. I’m assuming that anyone still here at this point is either an extremely close friend or a dedicated coffee aficionado.
Tuesday, July 13, 2004
I'm declaring a holiday
I'm declaring a holiday from blogging today in honor of a joyous occasion:
It seems that one of the matriarchs of Israeli blogging has become a mother, yet again!
Please join me in wishing Allison Kaplan Sommer a hearty Mazal Tov on the birth of a daughter (whose name shall be called in Israel ?????????)
May she grow to Torah (5 books of Moses), Chupah (Wedding canopy) and Ma'asim Tovim (Good deeds)!
Monday, July 12, 2004
Update to yesterday's post:
Sorry everyone... imagine my embarrassment! I seem to have gotten it all wrong yesterday. *
Hat tip to Yasser Arafat for setting me straight on a few facts:
1. Even though his Fatah faction took credit for the bombing before the body parts and assorted hardware had stopped falling from the sky, apparently the bombing was an Israeli plot to discredit the Palestinians.
2. Killing a beautiful, intelligent teenaged soldier waiting at a bus stop was just a little bit too obvious a ploy for public sympathy and outrage. I should have noticed that right off the bat.
3. Arafat said: "We are against such kinds of bombings [sic]..." and asked that reporters ignore the Al Aksa Martyrs Brigade members dancing in the street and passing out candy after the bombing.
4. Arafat added: "You know who is behind these acts, which are aimed at harming the court decision. Europe knows it, the Americans, the Egyptians, the Jordanians, and the Israelis also know it."
In light of this overwhelming and convincing evidence, I have to apologize for yesterday's outrageous journal entry. You have a right to expect more responsible blogging.
This is a good example of why I should leave politics to those with a better command of the facts, and just stick to more intimate stuff here at chez treppenwitz.
* source: Here
Sunday, July 11, 2004
Well, it seems it was only a matter of time and opportunity.
While the western media, and even some of the left-of-center Israeli media, like to tout the recent lack of Palestinian terrorist attacks as good faith on the part of the Palestinian leadership, the truth is there has been no slow down in the efforts to kill Israelis.
In fact, based on the number of foiled suicide bombings and ill-directed missile launches, there seems to be a clear intensification of efforts on the part of the Palestinian terror infrastructure. What the west (and left) mistake for calm is actually increased success on the part of the security services, police and army to thwart attacks on Israeli targets. In my humble opinion, the International Court of Justice's decision on Friday concerning the legality of the security fence is simply the world's frustration at our having found an effective way to defend ourselves.
However, it was almost inevitable that someone or something would eventually slip through the cracks and find a target. Statistically, it was only a matter of time.
This morning a small-to-medium-sized bomb was placed behind a bus stop in one of Tel Aviv’s poorer neighborhoods (near the old central bus station). When it went off, it killed a woman, and wounded approximately 20 other morning commuters. The injuries range from mild to critical.
Fatah’s Al Aksa Martyrs’ Brigade, which is under Yasser Arafat’s direct control, considerately saved the investigators a little footwork by immediately claiming responsibility for the attack.
I am officially going on record as saying the time has come to treat Arafat like any other terrorist. His actions make it clear that this is the role he wants to play.
Friday, July 09, 2004
Adventures at the 'Horror Consulate'
I’ve been dreading today. We’d already put ‘it’ off once (on the flimsiest of excuses)… but finally the day had arrived when we had to face the music.
Today was the day that we had to visit the American Consulate in East Jerusalem to register Yonah’s birth, and apply for his social security card and American passport (he already has an Israeli passport).
Since moving here, we have been warned by numoreous people about what an unpleasant experience a trip to the U.S. consulate can be.
For those of you who are not ex-pats in their child-bearing years, let me clue you into a little secret: Having children abroad entails a lot more paperwork than having them back in the states. Provided, of course, that you want your kid to have U.S. citizenship, you must register the birth with the American consulate or embassy.
To do this you need to have copies of both the parent’s birth certificates (certified by a State Department Apostille stamp), the parent’s marriage certificate (also Apostille certified), both of the parent’s American passports, a small mound of forms listing everybody’s particulars (but worded slightly differently on each form), and of course the baby’s birth certificate (preferably with a translation, or else you will be asked to fill out still more forms attesting to the particulars of the unintelligible document).
Also, just so you really appreciate the whole experience, the petitioners are obliged to pay a couple of hundred bucks in fees.
Although we were among the first on line in front of the consulate (yes, the line begins to form about an hour before the consulate opens for business), two things immediately put me on edge.
First, since the consulate sits in an entirely Arab neighborhood in East Jerusalem known for periodic attacks agains Jews (right near the Damascas gate of the old city), I kept instinctively touching the place where the reassuring bulk of my pistol usually resides. I say ‘usually’ because guns are not allowed at the consulate. Entering the U.S. consulate makes airline security look like a couple of frat boys checking hand stamps at a keg party. So, despite having to go to one of the more dangerous parts of town… I had to leave my gun at home in the safe.
Second, as we arrived, I saw that there were two lines in front of the door, with security personnel shepherding people into one or the other. I’m way too young to have any first hand experience with the concept of ‘Selectzia’ (a selection process performed by the Nazis during the holocaust), but perhaps I’ve read enough that I instinctively blanched at the idea of a guard looking at my papers and herding me into a line… all based on my nationality.
I guess all the stories about the ‘horror consulate’ had made me hypersensitive, because it turns out that the two lines were actually two parts of the same line… the first being the line to state your business and get your forms / number, and the second to actually wait for the guards to invite you into the building. It was all quite sensible and orderly, and I observed that the two-line system also allowed a well-dispersed crowd of security personnel ample opportunity to look people over.
Once inside, there are two separate security checks, complete with X-ray baggage screening, and another extended opportunity for security personnel to ask you a few questions… but surprisingly, everyone was very polite and helpful.
Next, we waited in a waiting room for all of about five minutes before our number was called. A cheery young woman from Texas took all our forms and documents (complimenting us for having everything all filled out) and quickly took care of everything. There was a tense moment when she asked if we had a photocopy of one of our documents (we didn't). Silence seemed to fall suddenly over the waiting room...and the wall clock seemed to tick loudly among the turned faces... but the tension quickly passed when she offered to make the copy for us! OK, maybe I'm making up the part about the silence and the stares. :-)
In less than an hour from start to finish, we were out on the sidewalk, blinking in the bright Jerusalem morning sunshine!
I guess the lesson to be learned here is to NEVER listen to people’s horror stories about bureaucracy. Almost without exception, every time we have had to deal with any kind of bureaucracy here, it has gone far smoother than people originally led us to expect. I’m sure part of it is that we always go out of our way to be polite and not try to outsmart the system. We also are usually very prepared, paperwork-wise (the photocopy incident not withstanding). But on some level, I imagine it is a lot more fun from the point-of-view of the bureaucrat, to give people what they came for and send them away happy.
The Connecticut Department of Motor Vehicles could stand to take a lesson from the ‘horror consulate’.
Anyway, I have chicken to grill, and a promised game of catch with the big kids...so Shabbat Shalom!
Thursday, July 08, 2004
I could just bust!
I am so proud of my lovely and talented wife!
Since we moved here, she has quietly worked behind the scenes, nurturing existing relationships with her design clients back in the U.S., and cultivating new free-lance design opportunities here (all while acting as mother hen to an unruly brood).
Throughout her pregnancy… even during labor pains… when she could have been enriching herself with extra ulpan classes, tiyulim (day-trips), and socializing, she continued to spend her time and talents to create a better present (and future), for our family.
Even though she is a kick-ass designer with scads of high-profile, international design work/clientele in her portfolio, in recent years she has taken the safe road – the one which would allow her to stay closer to home, and maintain hours more conducive to routined family life.
Watching her apply her considerable talents to more ‘mundane’ design work is frustrating for me. It's like watching a Ferrari pulling a trailer up a hill, or seeing a jet fighter being used for crop dusting. She never complains… but I know that she has been secretly ‘chomping-at-the-bit’ for some design-related work to make her soul sing the way it did when she was a passionate, idealistic Fine Arts student.
Well, yesterday Zahava was given the opportunity to spread her wings a little bit. She was offered a position in an undergraduate college in Jerusalem, teaching Graphic Design!
She’s not exactly unhitching the trailer from the Ferrari or taking the fighter jet out for aerobatics… but she is going to have the opportunity to bring her burning passion for design to a group of equally passionate young artists. In her new role she will get to speak in absolutes, and demonstrate ideals, instead of having to compromise because some client doesn’t have the budget (or the design sense) to let her 'do the right thing’ for a project.
The new hours will still allow her to be the 'mother hen' that she wants to be. But the intellectual/artistic stimulation of this teaching position will (hopefully) give her the opportunity to stretch her wings and soar to the heights of her full potential.
Congratulations sweetie… I couldn’t be prouder!
Wednesday, July 07, 2004
The ruins of ‘Anim’
At some point in our distant school days, most of us were forced to read a poem by Percy Shelley entitled Ozymandias. For some strange reason I must have been paying attention that day, because whenever I encounter any kind of ruins, the poem and its message come back to haunt me.
For those who have forgotten, here is an opportunity to refresh your memory before I move on to the point of today’s post:
I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read,
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed,
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look upon my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
Percy Bysshe Shelley
Every day, my commute takes me through the spectacularly beautiful wilds of the Judean hills and along the edge of the Judean desert. Besides the wildlife that I have already mentioned, there are countless archeological ruins. Some are from the more recent Ottoman or Arab periods…but remnants of the Jewish communities that once thrived here also poke from among the rocks of the rugged countryside. Nearly everywhere you look there are burial caves, ritual baths, and entire ruined communities dating back to the period during, and after the first and second temple stood in Jerusalem.
Most days I am too hurried or too loaded down with hitchhikers to stop and poke around. But since yesterday’s fast was the start of a three-week period dwelling on the subject of destruction… I decided to pull off the road just south of Susiya and look around one of the sites. The spot I chose was the ruins of Anim, a fortified Jewish community from the period of the Mishna and Talmud (approx. 200 – 400 C.E.) that had been built atop the remnants of another Jewish town from the First Temple period (825 - 492 B.C.E.).
As soon as I turned off the car, a blanket of silence fell over me. Nothing but the murmur of the wind through the nearby forest intruded on my solitude. As always, Shelley’s words sprang to mind, as if to rub my face in the fact that man had again failed to understand the transience of his work.
But then I started thinking about what people the fictional Ozymandias was supposed to have ruled. The term, “…an antique land…” could refer to just about anywhere. But because of the reference to sand and desert, in my mind’s eye the setting had always been one of the ancient kingdoms of the middle east; Egypt, Persia,… perhaps even ancient Israel.
As I wandered around what was left of Anim, I realized that of the thousands of Jewish ruins in Israel, none of them had the arrogant grandeur that Shelley described. They consisted instead of modest buildings, synagogues, storehouses , cisterns and burial caves. None of them challenged G-d. In fact, I spent most of my time wandering around a building built to serve Him – the remains of Anim’s synagogue.
The ruins of ancient Anim sit next to a forest. A few hundred yards up the road are a couple of Jewish communities, as well as their orchards and fields. Here was the main difference that told me that Shelley’s Ozymandias couldn’t have been set here. Unlike the majestic monuments of ancient Egypt and Persia which languish amid “…lone and level sands”, this modest estate sits among forests and orchards… and most important; possesses modern heirs.
The people living and working just a short walk from these fallen stones are the actual physical and cultural descendants of the people who had thrived here two millennia ago. The grandeur of the ancients had not been entrusted to stone, but rather had survived the ages in more resilient vessels: the children, and the children’s children…
During this three-week period where we contemplate the destruction of transitory monuments to our relationship with our creator, I am comforted by the knowledge that in the land from which we were once exiled, no one - mighty or meek - need look upon these works and despair.
Tuesday, July 06, 2004
Kill me now!
Mid-Afternoon (Israel Time) Update:
Today is the 17th (Shiva Asar) day of the Hebrew month of Tamuz.... A day in Jewish history on which the following five tragedies occurred:
1. The (first set of) Tablets with the Ten Commandments were broken by Moses.
2. The daily sacrifices were prevented from being brought in the Temple in Jerusalem.
3. The walls of Jerusalem were breached, ultimately leading to its destruction.
4. Apostumus (a Greek official during the second temple period) publically burned the Torah.
5. An idol was allowed to be erected in the Temple.
This information is probably only of interest if you are observing this relatively 'minor' fast day today (as I am).
It is almost 5:00 in the afternoon, and I have the mother of all caffeine headaches. Coffee, you are a cruel mistress!
Right now I'm trying to decide how best to end my miserable existence; by sticking a sharp object through my eye and into my brain... or by forcing myself to re-read this morning's excruciating blog entry.