Wednesday, September 29, 2004
Look over there!
The past few days I have been so captivated by someone else's journal that I have been neglecting my own.
I had wanted to post a light little entry before the Holiday of Sukkot began this evening, but I am still reeling from what I've been reading in this other journal.
Go here to understand what I'm talking about. It is the heartbreaking journal of a family (written by the father) about their on-again/off-again relationship with two troubled (but special) foster children.
Start at the beginning and bring a box of tissues.
There isn't a person alive who won't be able to learn something from this journal. As a parent, I'm humbled by how easy I've had it, and how little I've been tested.
Tuesday, September 28, 2004
Kidnapping the truth
When I was in my second year at The Hebrew University in Jerusalem, I became friendly with a Druze student who was a year ahead of me in the International Relations program.
Those unfamiliar with the Druze faith/culture shouldn’t feel bad. They prefer it that way. There are less than a million practitioners of this secretive religion worldwide, and even those who are familiar with the tenets of the Druze faith have trouble placing them within the more accessible framework of the larger world religions.
The Druze nominally consider themselves a type of Muslim, but do not accept the Koran. They believe in reincarnation, but do not share the eastern concept of constant rebirth leading to a joining with a higher power. They are pure monotheists, but believe that there have been as many as 72 human incarnations of a higher power/order. They believe in man having complete free will, but they also believe in a passionless deity that doesn’t care about man’s actions. They believe that there is no longer a chance for further human incarnations of the deity, but that at some point there will be some sort of divine intervention in world events.
And most of all, he told me that their first and most important ‘commandment’ is to love truth.
Obviously, what I don’t know about the Druze religion and culture can (and does), fill volumes. But what I learned from this one Druze student helped me understand why his coreligionists were so difficult to classify… even in terms of religious and national allegiances.
Druze villages in the mountains of Lebanon and Syria are often staunchly anti-Israeli… and the Druze communities living a few miles away in the upper Galilee region of Israel are so ardently patriotic that many of them serve in elite combat units of the Israel Defense Forces/Border Patrol. The irony is that these disparate Druze communities are mostly related by blood or marriage to one another, and would gladly reunite with one another without regard to their divergence of loyalties.
When I asked him about this strange (to me) situation, he pointed out that when a perfect truth is not available (when is it ever?), one has no choice but to accept the best available truth. These communities in Israel, Lebanon and Syria are first and foremost Druze (a term he used interchangeably with truthful) … and then things like allegiance to governments and policies come into play.
When we met, I had assumed he was either a Christian or Muslim Arab (there were plenty of both on campus), but noticed that his circle of friends was exclusively Jewish. He had done his national service in the Border Patrol, and had chosen to study International Relations because he thought it offered the best opportunity to discover the truth about why countries (especially in the Middle East) acted the way they did.
I would like to say I kept in touch with this friend over the years and that we had a joyful reunion when I moved back to Israel. But the fact is I have always been a lousy correspondent (even for a guy), and we really hadn’t been that close. Truth be told, the reason I haven’t mentioned his name is that I can’t remember it!
What got me thinking about this long-ago friendship was the recent Palestinian kidnapping of Riyad Ali (who would have been a few years behind me at Hebrew U), a CNN producer who was born and raised in a Druze village in the Galilee.
That a Druze would pursue a career in journalism is not particularly surprising, given their affinity for truth. But why would the Palestinians grab a Druze hostage rather than one of the more abundant Jews? They had targeted a non-combatant (even by their own malleable definition of that term) in an otherwise target-rich environment. It made no sense!
Then it hit me: Few people in the world even know what a Druze is! Someone not intimately familiar with the Middle East would assume that this was some internal Muslim-on-Muslim violence and look elsewhere to dole out their daily ration of western empathy.
But Riyad Ali was perhaps the perfect target for the Palestinians. His kidnapping would outrage both the Druze and Jewish Israeli communities, but would ruffle few feathers outside of the region. It give the Palestinian’s the perfect opportunity to engage in the sort of barbarism that the ‘Religion of Peace’ has been perpetrating over in Iraq, without incurring the inevitable international outcry and condemnation.
The awful irony in all this is that the Palestinians, by targeting a Druze… a ‘lover of truth’… have found the perfect way to conceal the truth about their own viciousness and barbarism from the rest of the world.
If you love truth (regardless of your religion or lack-thereof), don’t view this kidnapping as ‘just another act of violence in an already violent region’. See it for what it is… an attack on the truth.
Monday, September 27, 2004
good news & bad news
Trust me when I say that there is some very convoluted rationalization involved in how I have come to consider my ‘good news’ good. And, trust me when I say that there is nothing whatsoever that can mitigate my bad news into anything less bad.
Today, as I was wrapping up some loose ends at work in preparation to leave, Zahava called to say she was having trouble with the stove. All the symptoms she was describing sounded like the gas was off, so I asked her to tell me the position of the cut-off switch (on), and to test whether the oven worked (nope).
Next I asked her to go out and try lighting our gas grill. When we moved in, I had the gas company run a gas line out to the front garden so I would never again have to deal with the hassle of refilling a BBQ tank. My Weber has been humming along nicely ever since… that is, until today.
You guessed it… the gas was definitely turned off.
Lest anyone think that we are down on our luck and eating government cheese (do they even have that here???), all of our utilities are automatically billed to our credit card (a fairly common practice here) and our bank/credit card balance is solidly in the black (a fairly UNcommon practice here).
Even though it was already after business hours, I ended up speaking with a representative from the gas company; a perfectly lovely young woman.
It turns out that even though we have had an account with them for over a year now, for some reason their computerized billing system had not requested payment from our credit card for the last 6 months... and it seems they had just noticed today.
This went beyond hmmmm, and into WTF…as in Who’s The Florist you're gonna call to send apology flowers to a customer when your screwed-up billing system shuts off their gas 3 days before a big holiday (Sukkot)?!
The nice rep and her supervisor at first had indicated that it might be several days before they could have the gas back on. But once the extent of their error was obvious (it turns out that someone had changed our last name in the system so it no longer matched our credit card or ID number), they asked me to hold on.
Coming back on the line about 5 minutes later, the supervisor said that the gas technician actually lived in our town and that they had tried to reach him (so he could come over after dinner to turn the gas back on). Unfortunately, the technician’s wife said he was out running pre-holiday errands for her and wouldn’t be home until late. She (via the customer service rep and the supervisor) wanted to know if it would it be OK if he stopped by tomorrow morning instead?
Only in Israel would a gas company’s customer service rep and her supervisor relay messages between a customer and a technician’s wife!
And since this was a small inconvenience in the grand scheme of things, I feel comfortable putting it firmly in the ‘good news’ column because of the outcome (and the odd way at which it was arrived).
The bad news, however, is that my car (recently given the moniker ‘Birdslayer') has taken a big step up the food chain.
On the way home from work I hit a dog.
To understand how horrible this was for me you have to understand what it means to be a ‘dog person’.
I grew up with dogs. I have always been the one, even in a family of ‘dog people’, who had the most intimate relationships with our pets. I babied them and talked to them… I scratched their bellies in just the right spot and I let them gently take food from my lips.
At the dinner table when I cut a big loaf of challah, the first piece doesn’t go to me, my wife or even one of our children. The first piece always goes to our dog. Jewish law dictates that one’s animals should be fed before you eat… but the truth is I would give our dog the first piece in any event.
So when I rounded a sharp turn near one of the Arab villages I pass on my commute and my headlights picked out a feral dog directly in my path… a small part of me almost turned the car into the stone wall along the side of the road rather than hit the dog. G-d forgive me, but those were my choices and I don’t know if I made the right one.
I won’t pretend that in that split second I was able to contemplate my choices rationally and consciously pick one over the other. But I wonder at my instincts that assigned more inherent value to the material worth of my car than to the life of a highly intelligent animal.
Immediately after the horrible double thump of the wheels informed me of the consequences of my 'choice', I realized there was no way I could even stop to check on the animal.
To stop my car 100 yards from an Arab village after dark would have been madness. Even if I would have been that stupid, what could I have done? Even the small measure of mercy that my pistol might have offered a suffering animal was beyond consideration. Both the Arabs in the village and the soldiers at the not-too-distant checkpoint would misinterpret the shot. There was truly nothing I could do!
And so I continued driving through the moonlit hills, sick with guilt… to a home where the ‘good news’ is we have no gas.
Saturday, September 25, 2004
Inquiring minds want to know...
OK people... The question of the moment:
How did you break your fast?
(If you weren't fasting but have ever fasted for any reason in the past, you can recycle your own 'break-fast fantasy meal' for everyone's reading enjoyment)
My answer to this pressing question:
5 egg cheese omelet
2 cups (yes, my cups) of coffee [ahhhhhhh]
2 large glasses of seltzer with a splash of red grapefruit syrup
Actually... truth be told, the first thing to pass my lips after the fast was a double shot of bourbon (which is what I always break my fasts on), but the origin of that tradition is a story for another day.
So... tell me what you ate!
Friday, September 24, 2004
An apology (of sorts)
To the wonderful people around the world who inexplicably stop in here from time to time:
As Yom Kippur will begin in a few hours, I wanted to take a moment to ask your forgiveness. I'm not talking about the pro forma request that many of us mechanically repeat during the days before Yom Kippur... but rather a genuine plea for understanding and forgiveness.
I'm not perfect (far from it). I have a temper. I have frequent lapses in common sense. I often say things, and learn weeks (or even months) later how offensive they were. And, I often neglect to say things (thus the name of my journal) that desperately need saying.
For these, and so many other things... I hope you will forgive me.
To those of you around the world who want me to apologize for being a humiliator... an occupier... a thief of other people's land:
I wish you luck on your judgement day. Look to a Higher Power for an apology (and perhaps forgiveness) because I have nothing left to give.
G'mar Chatima Tova. May we all be inscribed in the book of life for another year... and if it's not to much to ask, perhaps it could also be a year of peace.
Thursday, September 23, 2004
Confessions of guilty pleasures
At this introspective time of year, I find myself wanting to confess some of my less admirable behavior… even for some of my so-called ‘victimless crimes’. A blogger I greatly admire used my name, along with the word ‘nice’ in the same sentence (and actually intended to relate the two), and I now feel honor-bound to reveal my true colors, so to speak.
In the privacy of my own thoughts, I have often taken a guilty pleasure in silently snickering (or as the Brits would say; sniggering) at the many fashion victims I encounter in my daily life.
In particular, I’ve noticed that Israelis either have breathtakingly beautiful taste in clothing… or are such shocking fashion victims that one is tempted to throw a tarp over them and say, “you poor thing!” That neither of these groups seem particularly self-conscious about their attire is sort of beside the point. If I were such a nice person, I probably wouldn’t take such guilty pleasure in noticing the chasm between them.
My wife is probably reading this and holding her sides from painful laughter. After all, in our dating days she used to shake her head at my shockingly poor fashion sense… once refusing to be seen with me on the Miami Beach boardwalk because I committed the fashion crime of wearing Bermuda-length khaki shorts, A blue oxford shirt, with a striped ‘rep’ tie. It is probably worth pointing out that I was not a schoolboy enrolled at Eton at the time.
Yes girls, when Zahava met me, she must have clapped her hands together and silently squealed, “project!”, because the alternative is too sad to contemplate… a lonely bachelor existence dressed in nothing but khakis and blue oxfords.
Of course, I still favor relatively conservative attire, but Zahava has introduced many other colors into my wardrobe… and many patterns (besides stripes) into my tie rack. And most important… she has opened my eyes to the fashion crimes being committed every day by otherwise good people. My crime in all this, and my confession to you all is that I can’t unlearn what I’ve been taught… and I’m powerless to look away.
Some of the blame for my behavior must also fall to a talented writer I follow who tipped me off to what seems to be the Olympics of fashion crimes; a web site called ‘Go Fug Yourself’. The thinly veiled profanity in the title aside, this site is surprisingly reserved and has a sidesplitting combination of fashion victim mug shots and scathing commentary from the host(s).
And, though I’m not proud of the fact that I (privately) sometimes make fun of the way other people dress… I would feel much less good about myself if I allowed someone I admire to continue thinking I am so ‘nice’.
There! Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, I can contemplate the new year with a clean(er) conscience.
Wednesday, September 22, 2004
West (Bank) Side Story
Almost 14 years ago, a musician friend of mine called to ask if he could crash at my Brooklyn apartment that coming Sunday night. It seems he had an afternoon date with a girl in Manhattan, but he needed to pop into his grandmother’s Brooklyn apartment first thing Monday morning to help her with some things.
Of course I said yes.
Sunday evening found the two of us sitting in my place, with him going on and on about what a great girl he had gone out with… and what a great time he had had… and how pretty she was… and how nice… and how I needed to go out with her.
I’m no idiot, I asked the obvious question: “If she’s so great… pretty… nice… whatever...why the hell aren’t you going out with her again?”
He went on to give me some song and dance about how all he could think about during the whole date was how perfect she’d be for me.
Guys think about a lot of stuff on dates. But I can honestly say that I never - not even once - thought about one of my friends while on a date. I wouldn’t even let him finish with his story after that one. I mean, c’mon… guys lie to each all the time (especially about dates), but this had clearly crossed a red line. And if he was telling the truth, it meant he had spent his entire Sunday afternoon in Central Park thinking about nothing else except which one of his friends he could inflict this girl on.
Either way, I couldn’t think of one compelling reason to say yes.
After about an hour of watching TV and eating ‘guy food’, curiosity got the better of me and I asked him what the girl’s name was.
I’d never heard of her, so that was that. I told him that after 14 blind dates, I was retiring. End of story.
A week went by, and I’d completely put the whole thing out of my mind when the phone rang. It was an old girlfriend (most of my old girlfriends had a habit of morphing into friends after we stopped dating) who I hadn’t seen in several months.
The conversation went something like this:
Old Girlfriend: Hi David, are you busy?
Me: Not really, what’s up?
OGF: Can you come over to my apartment?
M: Sure, what’s up… you need help moving something (not an unreasonable assumption)?
OGF: No, I want you to meet my roommate.
M: [suddenly on guard] Uh…No thanks, I appreciate the gesture, but I’m not doing blind dates anymore. Thanks anyway…. It was really sweet of you to…
OGF: Will you stop talking for a second… I never said anything about dating her…you’re going to marry this girl. So come over and meet her!
M: Yeah, I’m here. You know that’s not funny. [long pause] What’s her name?
OGF: [says same name that I’d heard the previous week]
M: I’ll be over in an hour (I lived in Brooklyn and they lived on the Upper West Side of Manhattan).
When I got to the apartment, my old girlfriend met me at the door and invited me in.
There were actually 4 women living in the apartment at the time, but to clear up any confusion, she gestured with her eyes towards ‘the roommate’ and made the introduction.
I may not be the sharpest tool in the shed, but one thing was immediately clear to me. This roommate was an unwilling participant in this little game. I mean, when you’re expecting to be introduced to a guy and you have an entire hour (maybe more, since the call had originated in this apartment) to prepare, you probably clean yourself up a little bit, right?
This young lady was dressed in a ratty denim skirt… an old faded work shirt… her uncombed blond hair was tied up in a bandana… she didn’t have on a lick of make-up… and on top of all that, she was studiously ignoring me while she busily went about doing just about everything except talking to me.
I was intrigued.
After an excruciatingly uncomfortable half hour of chitchat I started hinting that I had to get back to Brooklyn, and my old girlfriend nearly hip-checked this poor girl into walking me to the door.
I must have mumbled something about ‘nice meeting you’… and ‘maybe you’d like to get together some time’, because by the time I was out the door, we had made a date to go out.
Our first date was brunch on the beach in Connecticut (it was January!!!) On the way home in my car... with the heater blowing full blast... she put her feet up on my dahsboard.
I was smitten.
Three months after we first met we were lounging on the balcony of my suite at the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach (I was the bandleader at the hotel for Passover) watching the stars rise over the ocean when I heard someone who sounded just like me, popping the question!
Although there was initially some doubt as to whether she had heard me correctly… and had in fact understood the question… she ultimately said yes.
A little over six months later we were married… and exactly thirteen years after that, I feel like I’ve won lotto as we've finally made it to Israel with our three wonderful kids.
Happy anniversary Zahava. I can’t wait to see how the rest of the story turns out!
Postscript: That old girlfriend and her husband live within walking distance of our home here in Efrat… and their oldest daughter and Ariella are inseparable friends.
Tuesday, September 21, 2004
“Funny, he never asks for a second cup at home!”
Those who remember this line from the 1960’s / early ‘70s-era Folger’s commercials will also remember that this was Mrs. Olsen’s (played by Virginia Christine) cue to teach the young housewife the secret to getting her hubby to ask for a second cup: Folger’s Coffee…“It’s mountain grown, the richest kind!”
Well, I never thought I’d hear myself saying this… but I've only had one cup of coffee this morning and I’d gladly settle for a cup of Folger’s right now! Yup, you heard me… freeze dried coffee, and I’d drink it with a smile! At the moment I'm scowling over a cup of [shudder] herbal tea!
That’s right…it’s that time again. In preparation for the Yom Kippur fast I’m once again weaning myself off of caffeine, and it’s not a pretty sight.
Now, before the usual suspects start posting alarming comments again, let me state unequivocally for the record that I have never, and will never use suppositories to get my caffeine fix! Nu-uh, don't even start with me people…not gonna happen!
Anyway, to help divert my attention from this latest caffeine dilemma, I am embarking upon a quest of sorts… and to accomplish it, I need to ask for some help from my loyal readers:
As most of you know, my daily commute takes me through one of the most beautiful, but desolate, parts of Israel: the Judean Desert. Along the way I pass a couple of extremely isolated Israeli Army checkpoints, and I've gotten in the habit of occasionally bringing them cold drinks during these scorching summer months. Standing out in the middle of the desert in full battle gear is hot (but vitally important) business, and I know these young men and women deeply appreciate it when commuters remember them.
However, now that the weather is beginning to change, I realize that these soldiers will now have to prepare to spend the late fall and winter months manning (and womanning) the same exposed checkpoints… in cold, damp and windy conditions.
I got to thinking that I would love to occasionally drop off some hot coffee and/or tea for the soldiers... but getting it there presents a logistical challenge. I could always invest in some kind of thermal carafe… but then I’m faced with the issue of getting it back (I don’t always take the same route home… and quite frequently, the checkpoints are re-staffed, relocated or even temporarily abandoned).
What occurred to me is that Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts (and other places too, I’m sure) have these nifty foldable cardboard boxes that are lined with a plastic. They hold 8 or 10 cups of coffee and have a convenient pouring spout. Most important, the cardboard keeps the coffee piping hot for well over an hour and can be thrown away after it is empty!
What I need from you, dear readers, is help in locating a source for these foldable coffee boxes. I have called a couple of Starbucks, and have been told by the minimum wage baristas that they aren’t allowed to sell the boxes empty and in large quantities…. Only one at a time filled with coffee.
I tried a couple of different ways to convince them of the merits of my request, but I let's face it... these are the same people who think that by calling it a 'tall' I won't notice that they have just sold me a $3, micro-sized serving of coffee. Whatever.
Anyway, if anyone out there can help find a source (it doesn’t necessarily have to be Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts) that will sell me a case or two of these boxes, please shoot me an e-mail with the details and I’ll take it from there.
The young men and women of the IDF who will be serving in the chilly, windswept hills of the Judean Desert this winter will deeply appreciate your efforts.
Monday, September 20, 2004
Changing my stripes
I consider myself a journaler and not a blogger. Granted I often use the terms interchangeably or smooshed together, but there is a difference (at least in my limited experience).
Journalers use their little corner of the web to put forth original ideas and commentary. These can be short, pithy asides or long, developed opinions and/or stories.
Bloggers, on the other hand, seem to be the worker bees of the web... cross pollinating various journaler's (and other compelling web content's) audiences by 'blogging' lots of links, as well as opinions about said links... broadcasting to the online world, "Go over there! There is something over there that is well worth your time and consideration!"
I make this distinction without any preference or prejudice. Both are interesting to me, and both are necessary to one another. In fact, one might view the blogging/journaling communities as one big dinner party (yes, I'm still onto that theme from yesterday).
At a nice dinner party, journaler-type people trot out their best stories and most compelling gossip to share with whoever is sitting beside or across from them. The buzz of conversation is fairly localized, and once the party fragments into little clusters for dessert and drinks, these journalers of the group get an opportunity to retell their best stories/gossip to those who were not seated near them earlier... while the blogger-type folks flit from group-to-group sharing delicious highlights of the stories, pointing out the source for anyone who wants to find out more.
However, a great dinner party (in my humble opinion) is like a well organized, but unstable element throughout it's brief half-life. The role of nucleus/positive focus of conversation shifts naturally from speaker-to-speaker, and the gravitational pull of that speaker holds most, if not all of the group's attention. Such parties are rare, and are almost always the result of careful planning (who to invite... where to seat everyone) on the part of the host. The need for side conversations and small groups is minimized by the fact that everyone will have had an opportunity to hear and be heard at some point during the evening.
The web community, made up of journalers and bloggers is (to my way of thinking) a nice dinner party... not a great one. There are no invitations or seating charts... in fact it's probably more like an open invitation 'kegger' that the host has made no effort to control. In such an environment the journalers make their rounds... talking, talking, talking... and retelling their stories to anyone who will listen. Likewise, the bloggers circulate energetically, whispering and pointing, whispering and pointing... sharing a tidbit here and then flitting to there. Like a beehive, everyone has a role.
As I said earlier, I consider myself a journaler. I talk and talk, and talk to anyone whose attention I can hold. I am also content to occasionally listen to the other journalers in my little sphere, and to the bloggers who point out interesting writers in other neighboring spheres.
In my experience, bloggers seem more than willing to switch roles, and often expand their brief commentary to extended opinions when the mood strikes them. But the fatal flaw in many journalers (myself included) is that we rarely pause long enough to play the vitally important role of blogger.
Even though, in typical journaler fashion, I have wasted hundreds of words where a dozen should have sufficed, today I want to blog. I want to point out a voice of reason in an otherwise unreasonable debate.
My friend Ben Chorin is a relative newcomer to the online world, but I usually read him before most of the 'more established' addresses on my 'Good Readin' list. The simple reason is that he thinks... a lot. I respect him because he stubbornly shuks conventional wisdom and the status quo... and because he makes me examine the worth and validity of my own opinions, each and every time I read him.
Today he takes on the much discussed issue of Israeli disengagement from Gaza (Aza). Most people who are even remotely familiar with the topic already have strong opinions to share... and have long since made up their mind on the subject.
Ben approaches the topic academically and refuses to become enmeshed in the emotional rhetoric that has been the hallmark of nearly all debate on the subject.
When you are done reading him, you might make the mistake of thinking that he hasn't taken a clear position.
He has... he just hasn't used his position as a bludgeon. How refreshing!
But more importantly, you will see that he has forced you to think... to confront the issues rather than test ideologies... and to not place so much value on whether or not you agree with his conclusion.
Today I am without a story to tell... I'm a journaler who, for the moment, has changed his stripes and is content to point over there... to someone who is saying something well worth your time and consideration.
Enjoy the party.
Sunday, September 19, 2004
Alone with the dishes
When we moved here almost 15 months ago, my wife imported a large, industrial-sized dishwasher…
I’m not complaining. In fact one gets to do a fair amount of thinking late at night… alone with the dishes.
Zahava does her fair share of the dishes, but for the big jobs… particularly after dinner parties, large Shabbat/holiday meals, etc… I’m the guy left surveying the wreckage and not knowing exactly where to begin.
So it is (for me) with the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
For me, these holidays are like the aftermath of an enormous, wild dinner party… one where invitations were extended to 12 or 15 more than the house could comfortably accommodate…. the kind of rollicking soirée that is talked about and savored for months.
But such a party comes with a price to pay.
Rosh Hashanah (for me) is roughly analogous to standing [aghast] in the doorway between the kitchen and the dining room surveying the damage.
What was I thinking?
Every horizontal surface is stacked high with glasses and dishes.
Half-empty bottles of merlot, syrah and chardonnay stand abandoned beside empty bottles of bourbon and scotch.
The sinks overflow with greasy dishes, and the dessert service (dishes, tea cups and saucers) seem evenly distributed between the dinning room table and the various kitchen counters.
Linen napkins sit balled on (and under) chairs, and glasses of every description seem to wink at me from wherever the wandering conversationalists deserted them.
On Rosh Hashanah I stand slumped in that imaginary doorway trying to make the insurmountable seem… well, surmountable. Trying to place the soiled contents of my slovenly year into some kind of framework where things can be addressed in some orderly fashion.
Anyone who has been left to clean up after a big dinner party understands the daunting nature of the task. At first glance it seems the house will never be the same.
But then cooler heads prevail and I pick up that first wine glass (with the half-moon of lipstick on the rim) and place it in such a way as to demonstrate to the long departed guests and sleeping wife that this spot on the sideboard is where the crystal will be gathered.
And so Rosh Hashanah begins (for me)… nothing getting washed just yet… just making the insurmountable seem surmountable.
Several circuits of the house bring more wine glasses, whiskey glasses, and water glasses than I ever knew we owned, to join the first.
Then, emptying one of the sinks of its precariously balanced contents, I draw a basin of steaming hot soapy water. As the sink fills I designate other places for dishes and cups and saucers… each to each… all according to size. Warming to the familiar task, I take comfort in the muffled sound of the water under its foamy cloak… almost like a prayer.
And so Rosh Hashanah continues (for me)… nothing getting washed just yet… just making the insurmountable seem surmountable.
Next the sterling flatware and serving pieces are gathered into a soup pot full of soapy water, and the linen napkins are bundled with the tablecloth into the hamper in the laundry room.
With the leftovers put safely into the refrigerator and the trash bundled to the bin, the place is starting to look more sane… not one iota cleaner, yet… but the illusion of order has begun to emerge.
Now pots and pans of every shape and size are filled with soapy water and placed on the stove to soak. Measuring cups and carving knives are placed beside legions of serving platters. Spices are returned to their places and canisters of flour and sugar are placed back on their shelves… each gestures creating a bit of space… and again, the comforting suggestion of emerging order.
And so Rosh Hashanah ends (for me)… nothing having been washed just yet… but the insurmountable seems… surmountable.
I stand again in the spiritual doorway between the kitchen and dining room… balanced on the threshold between what I have created during the year…and what I have consumed. I haven’t yet washed a thing, although some of the bigger problems have been identified and have been placed in to soak. The glasses all sit with their fellows and the dishes are stacked according to size. Everything still bears the smudges and smears of too much fun… too much indulgence…
But now as I look around, the task seems manageable… surmountable.
As I stand listening to the soft shhhhhhhhhh of the soap bubbles as they settle in the sink, I am ready for Yom Kippur. I know what has to be washed… and I know (hope) that after the necessary amount of work I will find myself at the end of Yom Kippur’s fast with the dish towel in my hands, surveying the sparkling china… the lovingly polished sterling… the immaculate crystal… each in its place, and the house looking (and feeling) ready for a fresh beginning.
Wednesday, September 15, 2004
Shana Tova (Happy New Year)
To all my friends and family who make treppenwitz a part of your regular reading routine:
I will be 'off the air' for Rosh Hashana (Thurday & Friday) as well as Shabbat (Saturday).
Fresh treppenwitz goodness (aren't I the smug optimist) is scheduled for publication first thing Sunday morning.
As always... Thanks for stopping by!
Wishing everyone a sweet and happy New Year!!!
Tuesday, September 14, 2004
Long in the tooth
The title of today’s post is actually an old expression originally associated with horses. It seems that one of the best ways to get a sense of a horse’s age is to look in its mouth. As a horse gets older its gums recede, exposing more and more of the root… thus making its teeth appear longer. This is also the origin of the phrase ‘looking a gift horse in the mouth’… since it would seem rude to check the age of a horse one has just received as a gift.
So what, you are probably wondering, is today’s fascination with teeth… and age?
My 10-year-old daughter Ariella - our first baby - lost her last baby tooth. This is yet another sign in a ling line of signs I’ve been ignoring that my baby is growing up.
As the resident tooth fairy, I am now in possession of the last tangible remnant of her childhood… bought and paid for like all the ones that came before. As I turn the tooth over in my hand, I can’t help feeling that I should have seen this coming. Like a predictable plot twist in a movie, there was plenty of foreshadowing and hinting… yet I didn’t notice.
I’m the guy in the theater who is always surprised into spilling his soda, no matter how obvious and telegraphed the bombshell. I could watch ‘The Sixth Sense’ again today and still be surprised at the end. And don’t even get me started about the trauma that was waiting for me one hour, 12 minutes and 37 seconds into ‘The Crying Game’!
Men in general seem to resist looking ahead, apparently preferring to revel in the comfortable present. I suspect that many fathers share this willful lack of foresight when it comes to their daughters. We smugly presume that they will always remain our little girls… and then spill our sodas when we catch sight of the young women they inevitably become.
This past summer our extended family spent a week in a huge old house on a private island on the southern coast of Cape cod. The setting among the dunes and beaches was magical, and the kids loved being so close to the ocean.
Late one afternoon after the rest of the family had returned from the beach, Ariella and I set off down the sandy path to have our own dip in the Atlantic. While I watched this child wade confidently into the surf, I was reminded of the afternoon, almost exactly nine years before when I carried this squalling baby into the ocean a few miles south of where we stood (on Martha’s Vineyard) to give her first taste of the sea. These two unremarkable events only a few miles apart, yet separated by most of her young life, triggered that special sense that parents seem to have… one I’ve always thought of as ‘the cinematographer’s view’.
As if holding up long strips of movie film to view individual frames, a parent sometimes has the ability to look at separate moments in time, and to superimpose them momentarily over each other… comparing, contrasting, and bursting with pride and astonishment at the graceful miracle we helped create.
As I stood on the beach drying off… enjoying that tight-skinned feeling that comes from that secret mixture of salt and sand and sun… I watched Ariella go through her ritual of drying herself. My heart skipped a beat as she instinctively made a wrap-around dress out of one towel, and then a turban of another… precisely as I’ve watched her mother do a thousand times.
When did this womanchild learn to do this?
I noticed with a fatherly combination of pride and alarm that she no longer looked anything like a little girl. She unknowingly carried herself across the sand with a swaying feminine gait, and the angles and lines of her athletic physique whispered barely audible hints of evening gowns and perfume in her future. But the hug she gave when she reached me, burying her face against my salt-tightened skin, still had that fierce, almost panicky power that it had nine years before as she clung to me in her sea-sodden diaper.
As we walked hand-in-hand up the path from the beach to have dinner with the rest of the family, I had no idea that a small tooth in her mouth - the last of its kind - was beginning to work itself loose. If I had, I doubt I would have given it much thought. After all, from the first time I sprinkled a trail of purple glitter from her windowsill to her pillow, the tooth fairy had become such an old pro at handling teeth that one more would be all in a night’s work.
In typical fatherly fashion… I didn’t anticipate the significance of this tooth until I had removed it from under her pillow.
Ariella often (but not always), leaves notes for the tooth fairy. At first they were earnestly scrawled notes asking what the tooth fairy did with all the teeth (“…do you build castles out of them?”). Then they became slightly more sophisticated messages, with veiled hints at the knowledge that the tooth fairy might have a secret identity… known only to certain wise little girls.
Truth be told, the tooth fairy is a wonderful example of the willing suspension of disbelief. There would be nothing to be gained by any of the participants ruining the little charade… so we all continued to play our roles.
But this last tooth was wrapped in a note that was a bit different. Like the contrast between the adolescent girl on the beach and the earnest little girl hugs, the note was a study in contradictions. On the one hand it was written in a beautifully mature hand on a piece of paper towel she had dyed to look like some kind of cloth. But the note broke my heart with its innocent statement that could only have come from someone still partly entrenched in childhood:
I am heartbroken that Ariella and I will no longer be able to continue this little sham. No, she and I are now on the same side of the pillow, and for her there is no longer a reason to suspend her disbelief. For Ariella, the tooth fairy went away yesterday… never to return. So why am I the one who’s sad?
When I started this post, I was working under the assumption that the title ‘long in the tooth’ would be a tongue-in-cheek reference to Ariella’s march into adolescence… but I see now it was a subconscious (and all too accurate) reference to her father.
Why didn’t I see that coming?
Monday, September 13, 2004
Anyone who has read any of James Fenimore Cooper’s classic Leatherstocking Tales about Natty Bumppo’s exploits will be familiar with the nickname; ‘Deerslayer’. I’ve always loved these classic 19th century wilderness adventure stories, and I especially liked the idea of Natty receiving a meaningful sobriquet from the Indian tribe that had adopted him.
The Native American tradition of awarding a name to mark a memorable event, or a distinctive character trait, seems very wise… and I have carried on this tradition in naming many of my family’s cars.
For instance, years ago I gave my mother’s trusty Volvo station wagon the name ‘Deerslayer’ because of the alarming frequency with which it seemed to hit these docile, four-legged road obstacles. The irony lay in the fact that my mom is a huge animal lover (please G-d, don’t let her ever have to chose between her dogs and any of her children!), and each one of these vehicular slaughters shook her to the very essence of her being.
On the memorable occasion that precipitated the name being given, she walked into our home, aghast at having ‘offed’ yet another defenseless deer. When she came into where we were all seated (barely keeping her composure), she glanced at the TV and saw that the kids were watching Bambi, and completely dissolved into tears. From that day on, her car was known (at least by me) as ‘Deerslayer’.
With that in mind, I’ve decided that my own car has earned a tribal name of its own: ‘Birdslayer’. I chose this name because I think my car has developed an unhealthy appetite for our fine feathered friends.
At least once a week I have the disquieting experience of having a bird fly directly into my windshield with a sickening thud. I then watch my rear-view mirror in horrified fascination as the avian remains execute a slowly rotating arc and come to rest amidst a cloud of feathers in the roadway.
Unlike the countless animals I see (and usually avoid hitting) during my daily commute… the birds fly out of nowhere, and are impossible to evade. On one memorable occasion, I watched in revulsion as the airborne carcass of a bird I had just hit slammed into the windshield of the car directly behind me. The second impact looked as though somebody had placed a hand grenade inside a feather pillow!
So...Birdslayer it shall be called.
Just as a reference…y’know, in case anyone is curious as to what this aweful event actually sounds like… click on this link to an advert for a Ford sport coupe that is eerily accurate!
Friday, September 10, 2004
Up a tree…
Those who follow such things will have noticed that there are a two new pictures of Yonah over there (on the right side of the page) in his album (All Yonah, All the Time).
I don’t usually call attention to these random additions, but these two pictures tell a special tale… a tale that could be the archetype for all children’s tales.
You see, Yonah has learned a new trick: Pulling himself up to the standing position.
Unfortunately he picked up this new skill before having developed a sound strategy for sitting back down. This has resulted in either Zahava or myself regularly following the sound of shrieking, only to find him hanging by his fingertips… quivering with rage and fatigue. Truth be told, he looks quite silly when we find him stranded like this… but to Yonah this is deadly serious business.
The look on his face when someone finally goes in to rescue him is eerily like those posters that showed the wide-eyed kitten hanging precariously from a tree branch with the caption, “Hang in there baby…”. Like I said… silly, except to Yonah.
I wish I could tell myself that this is just a phase that will soon pass… that in a few weeks he will have developed enough common sense not to strand himself this way. But I know from long experience with Ariella and Gilad that every aspect of growing up can be boiled down to this same insane process: Climbing trees before figuring out how to get back down.
The scary part is that no matter how old our kids get, they still believe with unwavering faith that Zahava and I will always be there to catch them… to rescue them… to talk them down from wherever they strand themselves. I sometimes lay awake at night smothered by the responsibility. Don’t they know that we’re just making it up as we go along… that we can’t possibly catch every falling child in time?!
Hopefully, by the time our children reach the age when they become the rescuers they will appreciate just how improvised and scary this parenting gig can be… and how, despite all the ‘expert’s’ claims to the contrary, this whole child-rearing mess is a very inexact science.
The real irony is that I have rarely communicated to my own rescuers - who after 50 years of marriage (this weekend) still occasionally find one or more of their children up a tree with no idea how to get down - how much I appreciate the safety net of patient words and deeds that they lovingly continue to provide.
Thank you Mom & Dad, for being better-than-average improvisers at the whole parenting thing… and for never pointing out (at least to our faces) how silly we all look whenever we find ourselves stranded up a tree.
Thursday, September 09, 2004
The other shoe...
I will not say 'I told you so'.
That would be insulting to the 7 (as currently reported) people who were just killed, and 160+ who were wounded, in the bombing outside the Australian Embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia. No, I will simply say how very sorry I am that savages seem bent on discrediting the liberal voices around the world who always seem ready to defend them (or at least excuse them).
A couple of days ago treppenwitz was host to a lively (but academic) discussion of whether terrorism was a stand-alone evil, or a reaction to bad behavior on the part of the targeted nations. One of the participants in that discussion, a bright and eloquent (no, those two attributes don't always go together) blogger from Australia, took the position that terrorism was inexcusable... but could ultimately be tied to previous bad acts on the part of the targets.
I would have to think long and hard to come up with a country that is less offensive to the terrorists than Australia... maybe Finland. Yet, here we have horrible, tangible proof that no nation, no matter how inoffensive to the sensitivities of Islam, is safe from harm.
This is one case where I would have much, much rather have been proved wrong.
Not getting the point 101
Well, I'm not particularly surprised... but still a bit disappointed.
A U.S. District Court judge has ruled that, even though there is actually black & white legislation on the books recognizing Jerusalem as an Israeli city (not to mention the capital of Israel), there is no good reason why that fact should be reflected in things like passports and other consular documents issued by the State Department.
The judge's argument seems to revolve around a willful disregard of the issues involved, not to mention existing legislation.
It may seem like a small thing to many... but such deliberate action (or more correctly, inaction) is an indication of how far the U.S. will go in order to 'hedge its bets' and mollify the mullahs.
Wednesday, September 08, 2004
Wanting vs. Missing
The other day I wrote that I could now officially say that I wanted for nothing here in our new country. I was happy… I had just ‘discovered’ a source for really good freshly roasted coffee beans… I was giddy… it was clearly too much for somebody.
As has become the trend (just look at yesterday’s comments) someone had to call me on it and demanded to know if there is truly nothing I miss from ‘the old country’.
This is just proof that people don’t pay attention when they read. I never said (or even implied) that I didn’t miss things from the states… I simply said that I didn’t want for anything here. There is a difference… a big one, in fact.
One implies that I have everything I need (which I do). The other suggests that I have undergone some sort of brainwashing/deprogramming which has wiped away a lifetime’s worth of likes, dislikes and experiences… not gonna happen, people.
On the one hand, a very important part of a successful absorption into any society is letting go of many of the things that were previously taken for granted.
For instance… the simple pleasure of not having to bag one’s own groceries… that is something I always took for granted, but which I have learned to live without here.
Another good example would be driving to work without a gun next to the gearshift. Now, granted there were sections of my old commute (especially in the Bronx) where I sometimes wished I had something, other than my charm, for self protection… but for the most part, I have made my peace with this small inconvenience as well, and barely notice it. I’m sure there are other equally apt examples, but for now you get the idea.
But just plain missing things… that is something that is always there (like a phantom itch), which will always separate me from Israelis who have never lived abroad.
Take, for example, diners. Granted, it’s been a very long time since I’ve ordered a BLT with a chocolate milkshake (with the leftover shake in the metal blender cup) or a turkey club on white toast (heavy on the mayo) in a diner… what with keeping kosher, and all. Even after I started keeping kosher (and especially during my Route 66 trip) I frequently popped into vintage diners to order a cup of coffee, a couple of hard-boiled eggs (in the shell, thank you) and maybe one of those little single-serving boxes of Kellogg’s breakfast cereal. You see, that was the beauty of a diner… the real ones were open 24 hours and served breakfast at any time of the day or night, no questions asked. Try finding a comfortable place to sit drinking coffee at 3:00AM in Israel!
Another thing… New England in the Fall (especially the Merritt Parkway) is something else that will always be there… calling to me the way an open package of chocolate calls to my wife. Since I don’t see myself making scheduled trips to the states in the Fall (what with the kids in school, the Jewish holidays, work, etc.), I have resigned myself to looking at pictures and webcams of the fall foliage.
Xmas songs. I’ll bet you didn’t see that one coming! Yes, I’ll admit it… I love that time of year when all the radio stations (and mall loudspeakers) spew an endless stream of these hokey old songs. Heck, most of 'em were written or performed by Jews, so stop staring at me that way! Let’s face it… I don’t care if you’re Sihk, Buddhist, Rastafarian or Druid… you can’t grow up in New England and not develop a soft spot for all those sappy carols. ‘Jingle Bell Rock’, yeah baby! I guess Internet radio will have to suffice.
I have an idea… why don’t some of the Israelis (or any expats living abroad) chime in with the things you don’t absolutely need… but, which in weak moments, you sorely miss.
The comments section is open for business.
Tuesday, September 07, 2004
[With apologies to the countless people with a much better grasp of Jewish law than I will ever have]
The translation of today’s title is literally, “…Before a blind person”, which is shorthand for the prohibition (in Jewish law) against 'placing a stumbling block in front of someone who is blind'.
This may sound like a fairly easy law not to break… I mean, when was the last time you had the opportunity, much less the urge, to trip a blind guy, right?
But as in most things related to Jewish law (and Jewish legal scholarship in general), nothing is as simple as it first appears. Most scholars explain ‘lifnei iver’ as a prohibition against causing someone to transgress in a way that they might be particularly susceptible to stumbling.
For instance, one could argue that a poor, but honest, person might be tempted to steal if you continuously left large amounts of money unattended in places they are likely to find it. Another example would be putting a plate full of delicious food in front of someone on Yom Kippur (or any other fast day) when they might (through ignorance or hunger) be tempted to eat.
I mention this particular concept in Jewish law because it occurred to me that the world seems to be taking ‘lifnei iver’ to an absurd length when it comes to terrorists and terrorism.
Allow me to explain:
If you go into a bad neighborhood and get mugged… there is sometimes the temptation to say it happened because you were walking at night in a place you shouldn’t have been. In short, we reason that the responsibility becomes blurred because we placed an irresistible temptation in front of the person who mugged us. But this is not ‘lifnei iveer’! It is flawed rationalization, because truly criminal behavior is the responsibility of the criminal. Period.
Terrorism is vandalism, mugging and murder on a much larger scale - and on a much larger stage – but it is still simply another form of criminal activity. So why, even after the most heinous act of terrorism, is the world so anxious to rationalize that the victims somehow invited the criminal assault on themselves… stretching the concept of ‘lifnei iver’ to the breaking point and beyond?
Take the most recent villainy in Russia. Instead of placing all of the blame where it rightly belongs (on the terrorists), the world (and even Putin) wonders aloud if perhaps the Russians didn’t do something… or perhaps not do something… to cause this to happen: “If only there had been better intelligence”…” if only there had been better security”… “if only the policies in Chechnya had been more humane”… “if only…”
What far too few people are saying is what must be said: That the terrorists did not attack because the Russians placed an irresistible temptation in their path. They attacked because that is what they wanted to… they are vandals, criminals and killers… and they respect no law or boundary.
In my humble opinion, the only blind people are those who still feel that law-abiding nations should have to undergo self-flagellation because they fall victim to the international equivalent of a mugging.
Monday, September 06, 2004
David, East of Java!
OK… I’ll admit that the title of today’s post will be lost on 95% of you, but it amused me (and that, after all, is the main purpose of this little journal).
It (the title) was actually a lame reference to a lamer 1969 movie about the volcanic island of Krakatoa – more correctly spelled ‘Krakatau’ - located east of the Indonesian island of Java (ok… the film got it wrong… it was actually west of Java). Krakatoa erupted in 1883, causing one of the loudest noises in recorded history (not to mention killing some 36,000 people with the resulting lava storm and tidal waves). This movie was really only notable (IMHO) for having been the second of the genre of pre-digital epic disaster movies ('The Poseidon Adventure' being the first).
Confused yet? Indifferent, perhaps???
As always, there is method to the madness that passes for title selection here at treppenwitz. Observe:
Java = Coffee
David [heart] Coffee
David is thousands of miles East of his favorite coffee purveyors
Therefore…David is East of Java.
[sound of crickets as hundreds of readers click away to find something… anything useful/interesting to read]
OK, for those of you who are still here (I love that in English one can still use ‘the collective you’… even when addressing one person), the purpose of today’s post is to notify everyone that ‘The Great Coffee Search’ seems to have come to a more-than-satisfactory end.
Never again will I have to coerce friends into ‘muling’ illicit bags of Peets, Community or Starbucks into the country. No more will I have to hound kind-hearted Germans into seeking out the best kaffeeroesterei in all of Hamburg. In the end, thanks to Jennifer (who only had to tell ‘A.D.D. Boy’ twice about this treasure), I have located a reliable purveyor of freshly roasted coffee beans right here in Israel!
Located north of Tel Aviv in the beautiful (but humid) town of Ra’anana, is a national treasure called Cup O’Joe (OK, they have other locations, but this is the one I visited). It is an indoor/outdoor café with wonderful (kosher!) food, seemingly clairvoyant wait staff, and most important… heavenly, fresh-roasted coffee!
While we were there, Zahava and I each sampled hot and cold examples of their dark liquid fare, and without exchanging a word knew we had finally located 'the grail'. Cup O’ Joe roasts a staggering variety of beans from around the world. And as a nice touch, they seal them in reusable tins to keep everything very fresh.
As a celebratory gesture to mark this exciting ‘discovery’, I’ll pass along a coffee tip which was revealed to me on a trip through the funky little college town of New Paltz, NY:
On a hot summer day, Zahava and I were passing through New Paltz when we decided to pop into a promising little coffee shop for a couple of iced coffees. Now, iced coffee, as many of you know, is wonderfully refreshing… but it has the one fatal flaw of becoming increasingly diluted as the ice melts. Except, that is, for some reason the iced coffees from this little coffee shop held their own… maybe even got better… as we sat in the August heat, sipping our drinks! How was this possible?!
The secret turned out to be the most obvious thing in the world (isn’t that usually the way?). Instead of pouring the end of each pot of coffee down the drain before starting a new one, the baristas poured these precious remnants into ice trays and froze them for use with Iced Coffee! Iced cofee made with frozen coffee cubes!!! Genius!!!
Anyway, now that I find I'm only an hour’s drive (instead of thousands of miles) East of a reliable supply of ‘Java’, I can truly say that I want for nothing here in my new home (excepting, of course, for a visit from my extended family abroad)!
As a reward for anyone who may have made it this far… I have a few G [please don’t use search engines to find this] Mail invites to give away. A pleasantly worded, grammatically correct, sentence will earn you or a friend an invitation.
Sunday, September 05, 2004
I’m still stumbling across new terminology associated with blogging, and the people who engage in this very public form of narcissism. I’ve riffed briefly on blog crushes and blog envy… but I recently heard a new term; blogfather, used in reference to, um, me!
I have been in touch for years (on and off) with someone who has become one of my favorite morning reads. Even stranger is the fact that we actually went to high school together… same graduating class and everything, yet we had never met… until a couple of weeks ago. While my family and I were in the states, I had the pleasure of hosting the charming and talented Lisa/Weese (along with her equally charming and talented significant other) for drinks.
Anyway, Lisa insists I’m her blogfather... meaning that I inspired her to start blogging. She even wrote some nonsense on her site about me giving her tips about blogging etiquette and such. Yeah… and Salvador Dali used to call me up for painting advice.
Well, I’m not going to demand a paternity test or anything… mostly because the period just before Lisa began blogging is a bit fuzzy. But based on the high quality of the writing and the cool layout, I’m fairly sure I’m in the clear as far as child support goes. ;-)
In the past I’ve acknowledged my own blogfathers (Chuck & Steve) several times (although I didn’t know the actual term). Their famous road trip to hang up a payphone in the middle of the Mojave Desert started me down the slippery slope of reading, and finally writing, online. Oh, by the way… my wife says thanks a whole heck-of-a-lot for that!
All these years later… while I’m still a relative neophyte in the blogging/journaling community… I’m tickled that someone would stoop to claim me as their blogfather... And I'm filled with pride that the ‘child’ has already far surpassed the ‘parent’.