Tuesday, November 30, 2004
Entertaining the troops
This morning I assumed I'd be alone in the car since I had to go to my company's main offices in the center of the country and none of my 'usual customers' were off from the army. However, as I passed through the Elah valley I ended up picking up three soldiers from the Givati Brigade (you can spot them by their distinctive purple berets).
In case you hadn't noticed, I have a bit of a soft spot for the men and women doing their national service in the IDF.... and whenever I can, I try to make their lives a little easier by bringing them drinks and snacks... and by giving them rides.
The Givati Brigade is one of Israel's elite, front-line infantry groups. They are highly trained, and have been one of the primary IDF units serving in Gaza for quite some time now. All three of these soldiers wore Sergeant stripes on their sleeves and had the serious look of people who have left their childhood far behind.
By the bits of conversation and phone calls I overheard, I figured out that one of their officers was driving down from the north, and they were meeting him so that they could all go together to join the rest of their unit already at the staging area outside of Gaza.
The attitude among these serious young men was quite different from the way I've heard soldiers joke with each other on the way to their training bases. I suppose it goes without saying that the destination really sets the tone for the trip.
As we turned off the twisting road that wends through the valley and got on a smooth-surfaced highway, I picked up my trusty coffee mug to take that first wonderful sip.
Just as the caffeinated elixir passed over my tongue and made its way towards the back of my mouth, a little tickle developed at the back of my throat.
Under normal circumstances I could have kept the coffee from rushing down the now-open windpipe... any two-year-old has mastered this little trick! But for some reason I got the timing wrong and a big hot mouthful of Sumatra's best made a mad dash for my lungs.
I probably don't need to tell you what happened next. We're all men and women of the world, aren't we? We're all familiar with involuntary bodily functions such as gagging... coughing... spraying coffee all over the steering wheel, dashboard and windshield, right? No? Just me???
Well it all happened so fast that it was like that scene from Pulp Fiction where they accidentally shoot the guy sitting in the back seat. One second the car was full of composed, silent grownups. The next second the interior of the car is tinted 'cafe au lait'!
I didn't have time to be embarrassed because instantly the car erupted in brays of laughter! In that same millisecond, the years dropped from the soldier's faces and they rolled against each other, slapping their legs with tears running down their cheeks.
As quickly as I could I pulled the car over to the side and parked on the shoulder.
Looking around, I could no longer see the serious combat veterans who had silently shouldered their way into my car. In their places sat the three little carefree boys they had once been... the kind of boys who would laugh at someone farting... burping in the back of a classroom... or coughing/spraying a drink out of orifices normally used for breathing.
After I got the bulk of the coffee cleaned up it was less than a twenty minute drive before I dropped the soldiers at the junction where their officer's car sat idling... pointed south towards Gaza.
As they got out of the car, they each thanked me for the ride... but their smiles and giggles told me that the thanks were also for the unplanned entertainment.
Well, nobody can say I'm not about improving the morale of our troops!
Monday, November 29, 2004
Losers and Refugees
How did I miss this?
According to the OU's new President:
"People are starting to go to Israel for the right reasons. Years ago aliya was for people who were running away from something. They weren't successful. They didn't have a successful marriage. They were coming because there was a reason. They weren't role models. But today I see really successful people. Young people. Doctors, lawyers, business people, finance people, who are giving it up not to come here to starve. Not to schnorr from their parents."
I beg your pardon?
The above referenced statement was delivered just three hours into this guy's term as OU president! I guess he wanted to hit the ground running, so to speak.
Well, as far as I'm concerned, he can keep right on running... far, far from here.
What he's saying is that all of the people from North America who have previously given up successful careers, financial security, proximity to friends and family, as well as whatever standing they may have had in their former communities... all in order to live with impossibly high taxes and a lower standard of living... these are apparently all just figments of Zionist mythology???
It sounds like he is trying to liken us to Australia's early immigrants; refugees and outcasts from a society in which we all failed miserably. Apparently, it is only the current wave of immigrants that are coming for the "right reasons" and who are proper "role models".
Give me strength!
This pompous fat cat is the very sort of person who turned down the opportunity to return to the land of Israel from Babylonia when it became permissible. After all, it was much more comfortable in Bavel. I can't blame Ezra one bit for refusing to allow this sort of person the opportunity to participate in the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem.
Every few years the North American Jewish community starts making noise about Israel not paying attention to the wants and needs of the Jews in the diaspora. Well listen up folks - it's because your 'wants and needs' are being expressed by insensitive, wrong-headed leaders like this that we don't listen very closely.
Since I moved here within the past two years, Mr. Savitsky probably thinks of me as part of this 'good aliyah'.
Thanks, but no thanks. If you have to lump me with someone... I'd much rather be counted with the brave, selfless, idealistic Americans who came before me... for all the RIGHT reasons!
I want two things from Stephen Savitsky (in no particular order): An apology and his resignation.
[hat tip - and a more reasoned treatment of the issue: My Obiter Dicta ]
Sunday, November 28, 2004
‘Joe’ from ‘Nam’
I recently got an e-mail from my friend Sarah (a fellow Israeli journaler) who had just returned from a visit to the 'old country'. It seems she had returned to the holy land bearing a gift for me.
No, really... I’m not talking about some gag gift or purloined soap from the airplane... a real, honest-to-goodness present.
As if this wasn’t enough to give me a chronic case of the ‘warm fuzzies’ (I mean, really... I’m a daddy for kripes sake... I give the presents around chez treppenwitz!), this lovely young lady informed me that the gift wasn’t really from her... she was simply acting as the messenger for one of my readers who had taken note of my , um, ‘passing interest’ in coffee.
Coffee? OK, now she had my undivided attention!
It took a week of emailing back and forth for us to finally get our schedules in synch, but this past Friday afternoon I actually made it into Jerusalem and hooked up with Sarah.
Now, as most of you know, I consider myself somewhat of a coffee snob. This isn’t to say that I know the flavor and aroma characteristics of every bean from around the world or anything. But being fairly well travelled, I was pretty sure that I was nominally familiar with every possible way to prepare coffee.
This thoughtful gift turned out to be a special contraption for brewing Vietnamese Coffee!
Yes, you heard me. Vietnamese. Coffee.
Go ahead and scoff, I’d never heard of it either.
Lucky for me (and now you) the generous reader who sent me the thoughtful gift has also created a 100% non-commercial website called ‘www.howtobrewcoffee.com’. There you can find out how to make nearly every type of coffee under the sun (notice I said NEARLY… since I’m not so sure of myself anymore)… including Vietnamese Coffee.
After giving my new toy a quick wash and rinse Saturday night, I went to his website to find out how to use the thing. Very clear directions with pictures and diagrams are the rule over at howtobrewcoffee.com (crucial for ADD cases like myself), and within a few minutes I was enjoying a new (and very potent) variation on the much-loved hot caffeine infusion.
Did I mention that I kinda sorta [heart] this guy?
As if I didn’t already consider him a personal hero, it turns out he lives in Boston!
A New Englander and a coffee hound??? Be still my caffeinated heart! Next time I get back to the states I will simply have to look this guy up.
For the time being, there’s no danger of this cute little device crowding out my faithful French Press Pot for the task of brewing my morning ‘cuppa’. The Vietnamese process doesn’t allow the large-scale coffee output on which the successful start of my day depends.
But for an after-dinner treat or a small demitasse ‘pick-me-up’ during the afternoon? Just plop one of those cone shaped hats on my head and dress me in some loose black pajamas ‘cause I’m goin’ Vietnamese! [open invitation to anyone who wants to use their PhotoShop skills to make this scary mental image a reality]
Think you’re a coffee snob? Go on over and learn a thing or three from a true coffee master.
Thursday, November 25, 2004
Photo Friday (Vol. IV)
Welcome, once again, to Photo Friday.
Hopefully those of you in the U.S. had a happy Thanksgiving.. and those of you elsewhere around the world (and all the ships at sea!) are ready for a well-deserved weekend.
I actually feel a little self-conscious posting pictures this week after the way I went on about Steve's photography. I guess one could view my results as proof that if a company builds a better 'idiot proof' camera... there will always be somebody ready to step up and become a better idiot!
Today's installment is brought to you by Chuck, the head chef over at 'There's Pie in the Lunchroom'.
Chuck, who is one of my blogfathers, has made some interesting requests for today's spread:
1. The view from your office window
2. Your workspace at home
3. Due north at 3:45 a.m. (Ha! But if you don't want to set your alarm, let's make it due north three hours and forty-five minutes after you leave the office. Yes, I seem to be hung up on 345 here. Dunno why.)
First comes the view out of our office window (this is the home office window since I can't take pictures out of my 'work' office windows (well I suppose I could, but then I'd have a lot of explaining to do to the company's security officer). The view is of the Arab vineyards along the hilltops behind our house. The small settlement on the distant hilltop is called Neve Daniel (the Prophet Daniel):
Next is my workspace inside the office that Zahava and I share. She has a huge desk with scads of shiny Mac equipment, a scanner and a gigantic printer. I have this small, impoverished corner. [sniff] I don't ask for much.
Oh, one more thing... before Zahava rats me out, I will go on record as saying that, yes, I did straighten up a my desk a touch. However, if she knows what's good for her, she won't gloat too loudly... because when I took this picture, I also took a couple of nice shots of her desk/workspace that could make an unannounced appearance at any time. =:~>
This last request has had me stumped for the past couple of weeks. You see, we live on the side of a mountain... in the middle of a largely undeveloped part of the country. 3:45AM does not provide many interesting photo ops. It's dark out there. North, south, east west... it doesn't matter.
So I started thinking about 3:45 minutes after I leave the office. Lessee now... the sun sets around 5:15 these days... and I don't usually leave work until 6:00 or 6:30!
Yup, pretty much the same view as the early morning shot.
What I settled on was 3 hours and 45 minutes after sunrise (or thereabouts). This found me a little more than half way to work. I pulled the car over... got out... pointed the camera north... and voila! If you look closely you can see the windy road I had just traveled (towards the right):
Well, that about wraps up this week's edition of Photo Friday. It was lots of fun for me... I hope for you as well. If you'd like to make a photo request (3 to a customer), or if you'd like to comment on these, feel free!
I had already decided last night what I wanted to write about today, but when I woke up this morning I found an email from a fellow blogger waiting for me that made me decide to put my original idea aside and share something more important.
Whenever I talk with people who are not involved in reading or creating blogs/journals, I inevitably end up fielding some form of the same question:
"That’s weird… why do you do it?"
The funny thing is that in all the time I’ve been hearing that question, I have never once been able to provide a satisfactory answer… for myself, or the person asking.
Oh sure, I’ve offered up some explanations about needing the act of writing to scratch the creative itch in my life that used to be satisfied by my career as a musician. And I’ve also mentioned that this was an easy way for family and friends in the US to keep up with what I’ve been up to.
But the reason these explanations have always rung hollow for me is that journaling has become much more than a one-way street. What started out almost a year ago as me being in full-time ‘transmit mode’ has become a wonderful ongoing exchange of information and ideas.
Reading and writing in this admittedly strange medium has given me the opportunity to learn a tremendous amount about the world, and about my place in it.
Yes, there are crazies and crackpots out there in the blogosphere… lots of them! The online world is, after all, a microcosm of the ‘real world’. But there are also some wonderful people out there that I would otherwise never have had the privilege to ‘meet’.
The blogger who e-mailed me this morning (I’m sure it was late at night where she lives) was writing to extend wishes for a happy Thanksgiving, and also to say ‘thank you’ to the people who had become part of the ongoing discussion over at ‘her place’.
I liked that.
So, without further ado, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the special people who have made treppenwitz such an enjoyable endeavor for me. I am deeply thankful for the ongoing opportunity to learn from you, and I’m honored that you take the time to read the humble ideas that I post here.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone… May we all continue to have many things for which to be thankful!
Wednesday, November 24, 2004
In the eye of the beholder
From the very first cubicle I ever occupied, to the relatively palatial office I inhabit now, I have always tried to surround myself with comfortable reminders of life outside of work.
Aside from obvious stuff like pictures of my family, I also have small mementos of places I’ve been and events I’ve experienced… as well stuff that has captured my imagination and never let go.
On my desk sits a prized chunk of Portland concrete from the old Route 66 that I picked up during my 'midlife crisis' road trip. On the closest wall hangs a red wooden Burma Shave sign from the same era. You’ll have to read these two entries (here & here) to understand how profoundly these two items move me.
Further down the wall hangs a pair of wooden plaques with the insignia of the two frigates on which I served (USS Whipple & USS Ouellet). These are bittersweet reminders of a life experience that proved beyond all doubt the old axiom, ‘That which doesn’t kill me makes me stronger’.
Near the plaques hangs an ancient framed sheepskin page with a hand-drawn/colored chant that originally resided in some long dead monk’s volume of liturgical music. This fragment of church music never fails to conjure voices that have been silent for nearly half a millennium.
On the same section of wall I also have a pair of framed Two Dollar bills issued by the Confederate States of America (one from 1862 and the other from 1864). These are the only example of American currency (that I know of) that contains the portrait of a Jew (Judah P. Benjamin).
The most recent addition to the office came courtesy of one of my two ‘Blogfathers’.
I think I’ve mentioned once or twice that Steve, the main guy over at Evaporation, is a wonderful writer. He writes in self-assured paragraphs that make one think of a master wood carver taking strong, confident swings with a mallet & chisel… hewing out just the right amount to provide contrast and relief.
Well, besides having a nice way with words, Steve is also (perhaps first and foremost) a photographer. Each time he posts a journal entry he changes the photograph on his index page. Go take a look at some of the pictures in his gallery… you’ll be floored by the honesty of the images.
Norman Rockwell showed us life as we wished it could be, and in so doing, made us nostalgic for an era that never was. Steve’s camera reveals life as it is, with all the gritty, hopeful, imperfect, tragic and joyful reality that the eye can possibly take in.
I guess that’s what I love most about Steve’s images.
Unlike Rockwell, who always spoon fed the observer most of the story, leaving only small nuances of back story to the imagination, Steve’s photographs tell you just enough of the story to make you want/need to know (or invent) the rest.
A few months back Steve posted a picture that disrupted my life. I found myself clicking back to his site every few hours just to stare at it a bit more. I can’t even tell you why this one picture - more that any other he’s posted - captivated me.
According to Steve, he took the photograph at a Ventura County meeting of the United Farm Workers (UFW) who were gathered to elect the delegates who would attend the statewide convention in Fresno. When I asked him how he had come to be there , Steve told me that he had been asked to be there to document, as he puts it, "… the actual practice of democracy among men and women who’ve been driven to action by a history of mistreatment, disregard, outright racism, poor working/living condition, and threat of economic ruin or just plain bodily injury."
He went on to point out that "of note was the fact that very few of these people were official citizens of this country yet here was the most kind and polite constituency conducting itself with pride, optimism, and decorum…".
The actual picture is of a farm worker standing in front of a poster bearing the dual image of Mexican actress Salma Hayek in her role as Frida Kahlo (from the 2002 film ‘Frida’). The contrast between the farm worker's weathered features and the actress’ smooth-skinned portrayal of the Mexican surealist was almost as striking as the similarity in their determined expressions.
Each time I clicked back to look at this picure I felt like Dustin Hoffman's character in ‘Rain Man’ (no offense intended to autistic people)… I just couldn’t stop staring at, and obsessing over that picture.
Finally I wrote Steve to tell him about my ‘mild’ obsession. I was worried that he might think that I was some sort of wacko (OK, we haven't really ruled that out), but he was really nice and seemed to give me the beneift of the doubt.
In addition to describing the confluence of events / people that had brought the photograph into existence… He was nice enough to also give me a little background about his interest and involvement in certain socio-political circles that had called into play both his ethnic background and talent with the camera.
In a generous gesture (that I'll admit turned my head a bit), Steve offered to let me name the picture. I sent him a couple of choices and he informed me that he had chosen "Campesino under ersatz Fridas"*… my 1st choice, as well.
A signed copy of this photograph now hangs on my office wall among my other collected treasures. Whenever I feel the need to escape for a few minutes I simply allow myself to be transported to that little café in Oxnard California where a determined group of farm workers practiced a form of pure democracy rarely seen any more. And while I’m there, smelling the comforting aroma of warm tamales, tortillas, rice and beans, I try to imagine what was going on behind the Campesino's set, chiseled features.
I’d be interested to know about the treasures you have in your offices… and what you see when you look at these special items.
* Campesino means simply 'farmer' in Spanish. However, it has many subtle meanings to Spanish speakers including 'migrant worker', 'subsistence farmer', or even 'peasant', depending on the usage. It is worth noting that, unlike some of these terms in English, the word Campesino does not have a derogatory connotation in Spanish.
Monday, November 22, 2004
Swords and plowshares in unexpected places
One of my hard and fast rules here at treppenwitz is that I don't discuss work-related matters.
Part of that comes from my desire to clearly segregate work from play (treppenwitz being firmly entrenched in the 'playtime' part of my life).
The other part of my decision stems from the fact that I work for a defense company and I don't want to go anywhere near the possibility of discussing things that might turn out to be classified.
However, having said all that, I'm going to bend my rule a little bit and share an interesting experience that is only peripherally related to my work.
As I've mentioned a few times, the Israeli work week runs Sunday through Thursday for most folks here... myself included. So while many of you were lounging around in pajamas and bathrobes ('dressing gowns' for you Brits)... casually sifting through the thick Sunday newspapers... eating casual brunches with friends and family... I was hard at work.
Well, sort of.
One of the many products that my company manufactures is a Fast Patrol Craft which is in use by Navies and Coast guards around the world... including Israel's Navy. As part of my job I have been privileged to be somewhat involved in the ongoing support of the vessels we've delivered to the IDF.
A small perk of my position is that I occasionally get the opportunity to go to sea on one of these fast boats to get a first hand look at what these vessels can really do.
It's a really nice feeling to know that my company turns out a high quality product... but it is also a private thrill for an old sailor like myself to be able to once again feel the salt spray on my face... if only for a little while.
I won't go into the details of my time aboard other than to relate a pleasant surprise that awaited me yesterday on the bridge of the vessel.
As I stowed my knapsack in a corner of the pilothouse, I noticed a small book wedged between the gyro-compass and one of the other instruments. Upon closer inspection, it turned out to be a well thumbed copy of Sefer Tehilim (Book of Psalms).
This small discovery was surprising to me on a couple of levels.
First, it seemed strange because I've gotten to know the small crew fairly well over the past few months, and not one of them is outwardly 'Dati' (religiously observant). Mind you, I didn't get the sense that any of them were particularly anti-religious, but I also knew from things I've picked up here and there that the Navy is not the typical destination for observant kids doing their national service.
Don't get me wrong, I've seen kippot (yarmulkes) and the occasional long skirt on the Navy bases I've visited, but not nearly as high a ratio as one might find on an Israeli Air Force or Infantry base. This phenomenon might be slowly changing... but it really doesn't change the fact that none of this particular boat's crew was openly observant.
So what's the explanation behind the book of Pslams?
While the crew loaded up supplies, I strolled down the pier and glanced into the bridge/pilothouse of some of the other patrol boats that were in port. Not all of them were positioned in such a way as to allow a good look at the instrument panel... but I could see that several of them also had battered copies of the Psalms in plain sight.
I have learned from experience that religious observance and tradition are murky waters for many Israelis, and things in this realm are rarely what they seem on the surface. I have also noted that, strong 'pro' or 'anti' religious sentiments aside, an Israeli's personal observance is a place where a stranger is rarely welcome to intrude.
As an American immigrant, I know I have to unlearn most of what I know about religious observance and tradition. Many Israelis may seem completely secular while in fact living deeply religious lives... and (unfortunately) many openly religious Israelis fail even the shallowest 'scratch test' of religious observance and integrity in their day-to-day lives.
Yes indeed... murky waters everywhere you look.
Anyway, I may never find out the real story behind these dog-eared copies of Psalms, but I suspect from their condition that they are more than the Israeli version of Gideon's Bibles.
If these volumes were of a standard format or in pristine condition, I could accept that some religious organization or military chaplain's office had simply dropped off a copy with each crew and they were kept on the bridge as a sort of good luck charm. But each copy I saw had a unique cover design/color... and they shared only one quality in common; obvious signs of having been well used.
One day I may have the opportunity to take one of the crew members out for a beer. I don't know if it will ever happen, or if that hypothetical meeting will provide an opportunity for a small breach of etiquette.
But if that day arrives... in an unguarded moment of friendly camaraderie... I hope I'll get to ask one of these Israeli sailors about the book of psalms that sits wedged between dials on his ship's bridge... how it came to be there... what the crew thinks of its presence... and if (and under what circumstances) it is ever picked up and read.
Until that day comes (if it ever does), I take simple comfort in knowing that at least some of our warships go to sea with 'inspired poetry' about swords and plowshares within easy reach of the hand that has the power to figuratively wield either.
[update: Yes, all you budding Biblical scholars... I am aware that the 'Swords into Plowsares' bit is from Isaiah. Work with me here... I was trying to communicate an idea!
OK, you need a reference from Psalms?:
In verse 1 of Psalm 144, King David discusses the need to be prepared to go on the offensive: "Blessed be the Lord... who trains my hands for war, and my fingers for battle". And in the very next verse he talks about the importance of taking a more defensive posture: "My lovingkindness and my fortress... my shield and the one in whom I take refuge."
I'd like to think that at least a few Israeli soldiers and sailors might be familiar with the logic behind these seemingly contradictory phrases.]
Sunday, November 21, 2004
Keeping the Yentes* at bay
Over the past few weeks it has been brought to my attention that the state of my youngest son’s hair has gone beyond normal acceptable tonsorial standards and on into that realm normally reserved for mad scientists.
I’ll accept part of the blame.
Being somewhat, um, challenged in the follicle department I was loath to lop off perfectly good hair just to satisfy a bunch of yentes. Besides, there is some aspect of ‘baby-ness’ that floats away with the curls of hair during that first haircut that can never be recaptrured. From that point on, no matter how you dress the kid or smear food on his face, that innocent ‘baby-ness’ will be but a receding image in life’s rear view mirror.
Zahava and I were not in any particular hurry for that to happen.
But I agree, his hair was starting to get out of hand. It was getting in his eyes… it was always full of food… and even when he was clean, his hair looked matted and tangled.
It was only a matter of time before people started coming up to us on the street demanding to know what we intended to do about our child’s hair! I’m not kidding about this, by the way. It is very common here in Israel for perfect strangers to tell you your child is dressed too warmly… not warmly enough… that you are not feeding them correctly… enough…too much… and countless other helpful suggestions on childrearing without which your child simply wouldn't survive! Such is life in a nation of Jewish mothers.
The one ‘out’ I might have been able to rely upon to keep the ‘yentes’ at arms length is the fact that many religious Jews have a tradition of waiting three years before giving a boy a haircut. Unfortunately for us, this is largely a Hassidic custom, and my wife and I don’t really dress the part.
So, before Shabbat I got out my trusty beard trimmer and Zahava held Yonah while I sheared him like a sheep. He was not the least bit happy to have this buzzing things making passes at his head and past his ears, and he really put up a pretty good fight.
It was actually weirdly reminiscent of my experience at the beginning of boot camp when they herded us all into the base barbershop. I can still remember the barber asking me if I wanted to hold on to my sideburns. I asked, “Really?! Can I?” He said, “Sure! Just cup your hand under your ear and you can catch them as I shave them off.”
Well, no such witty exchange took place between Yonah and his dad… but as the wisps of hair drifted down to the floor a startling transformation took place. Our baby floated away with the little brown curls, and in his place was left a tear streaked little boy. His appearance was made even more pitiful because his hair is not particularly thick. In fact, truth be told, it’s a little patchy.
The end result was actually eerily like a little boy in a DP camp, circa 1946. Maybe the striped outfit he was wearing added to the effect.
Anyway, without further ado… I give you Yonah:
Now with winter fast approaching, all we have to worry about are the yentes telling us he’s “dressed too warm”… “not warm enough”… “where’s his hat?”… “he needs a blanket”…
* yen·te (yĕn'tə)
A person, especially a woman, who is meddlesome or gossipy.
Friday, November 19, 2004
Photo Friday (Vol. III)
As advertised, it's once again Photo Friday here at treppenwitz.
Today's lucky contestant hails from 'G-d's waiting room'... that's right, the great state of Florida. Give it up for the captain of the good ship 'Oceanguy'!!!
His requests were:
1. A bookshelf.. the most prominent bookshelf at home
2. How about your favorite kippah
3. Something like your Shabbat candlesticks
Aye Aye, captain!
First comes the bookshelf. If you were sitting on the long couch featured in Photo Friday (Vol. I) , this is the wall you'd be facing on the other side of the room:
No, you aren't mistaken... that is a Muppet on the TV. Three guesses who is crawling on the floor just out of the camera frame.
The next picture is sort of a let down (for me) since my real favorite kippah (which my lovely wife crocheted for me years ago) is so tattered and dirty I was embarrassed to take a picture of it. This is my current runner up (also in need of a good scrub, I might add):
For those of you suffering from vertigo, no you didn't just develop x-ray vision... the kippah was sitting on one of the Plexiglas shelves on my laptop stand.
And last up this morning is our family collection of candlesticks. The big 5-branched one is my wife's which she inherited from her maternal great-grandmother. If you were to lift up the base, you would see an inscription on the round silver tray. You see, the tray is actually a shooting trophy... one of many that Zahava's maternal grandfather won for shooting trap and skeet at his gun club. Bet you didn't see that one coming, did you? :-)
The two smaller pair up front belonged to my maternal great-grandmother. When we first got married, my wife lit Shabbat candles on the set I had inherited. When the kids started coming along she moved up to her family treasure (our family tradition is to light one candle for each person in the family... 5 at present). My pair is kept in reserve for when we have guests who need to light Shabbat candles. For a little more detail about how our family traditions have evolved, feel free to read this post from the archives.
Yes, I took this picture at the breakfast table in the kitchen... and yes, that is an Israeli box of Frosted Flakes (called 'Frosties' here). I usually fix a big breakfast for everyone on Friday mornings since I don't have to run off to work (my work week is S-Th). Usually it's eggs to order or cheese toast. A couple of weeks ago I even surprised everyone with GetupGrrl's Endless Apple Pancake! But this week I was rushed for time and really wanted to polish up the candlesticks before photographing them... so the kids lucked out and got to have a sugar cereal that is normally reserved for a Shabbat morning treat.
If you look closely, Jordan can be seen lurking in the background waiting for the inevitable windfalls from Yonah's breakfast tray.
Well, that's it for today's installment of Photo Friday. Anyone who hasn't yet requested a set of photos can feel free to do so. As always, feel free to provide questions or comments about anything you see here.
Note to Jack: Since you had also requested a shot of the bookshelf, I'll grant you one more wish.
Thursday, November 18, 2004
News Flash: Israelis Reach Consensus!
It hasn’t happened very often lately, but this morning I drove to work all by myself. No hitchhikers… no soldiers… no students… just little old me alone with my thoughts (I know… probably a dangerous thing).
At first I was a little disappointed to be alone because the weather was pretty dreary. The temperature has slowly been dropping for the past week or two, and all through last night and into this morning it has been raining buckets!
Once I left Efrat, I realized that it’s been ages since I had the car to myself. My cell phone number seems to have passed like a virus to nearly everyone who has ever even considered traveling south. However, it occurred to me that one doesn’t realize the joy of just driving… singing along with the music… and quietly contemplating the scenery as it rushes past… until the opportunity to do so has been absent for a time.
Today’s music selection consisted of my big three ‘rainy day’ artists; Carol King (Tapestry), Carly Simon (Greatest Hits), and James Taylor (Greatest Hits). Don’t ask me why I always pick these three for my rainy day listening. Maybe it's because the three of them all collaborated with one another and can even be heard here and there doing back-up vocals on each other’s albums. Maybe it’s because they all sing bittersweet nostalgic songs that lend themselves to looking at the world through rain-streaked windows.
Or, maybe I don’t know what the heck I’m talking about and I just like their music.
Anyway, my solitary drive through the fog and rain was strangely soothing. I got the chance to look around at the way the water was changing the landscape in the mountains near my home… in the vineyards and orchards nestled in the countless valleys I passed… and across the desert landscape near my office.
The seasonal changes aren't as obvious as those in New England, but the leaves in the vineyards turning to yellow and the first few big rains are clear signals that fall has officially come to the holy land.
This line of thought led logically to something that had struck me as funny last year; the national obsession with the water level of the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee). Every news report from now until early summer will include an exact measurement of the lake’s water level and it’s relationship to the ‘red line’ (overflowing point), and Israelis of every stripe will take quiet comfort in the lake’s slow march towards that mark.
It seems strange to me that Israel, which is much more oriented towards industry than agriculture these days, should take nearly universal interest in the annual rainfall. Religious Jews incorporate prayers for rain into their fall and winter services, while secular Israelis offer their own silent prayers for adequate rains.
It’s interesting to me that in so many places around the world rain is seen as a nuisance or worse, and here it is met with smiles and deep, almost primal, satisfaction.
By the time I was nearing Beer Sheva, and the steady drizzle of rain on the windshield had tapered off to a few wisps of fog across the road, I realized that I’d stumbled upon that most elusive thing… something that is common to Israelis of every persuasion! The long sought universal agreement has been sitting here all along, right under our noses!
We may never agree on the correct way to relate to the Arabs. We may never arrive at an agreement on how to properly govern ourselves. But with the first great cloudbursts of the season, I suspect that there might be something approaching a national consensus afoot.
To those of you reading this in your homes and offices around the world, this small concurrence may not seem very important. But in a place like Israel where people can argue bitterly about everything from the proper price for a loaf of bread to the latest bit of foreign or domestic policy, we should probably savor the rare moments of consensus wherever and whenever we find them.
See you tomorrow (Photo Friday… who will it be???).
Tuesday, November 16, 2004
Pulp [truth is stranger than] Fiction
Like most people who spend any amount of time posting their ideas and opinions on the Internet, I frequently get nasty or even insulting e-mail. I figure that posting ones views in the public domain means occasionally having to sit quietly while somebody grinds their personal ax in your ear.
No big deal.
In all the time I've been writing here at treppenwitz, I have never 'outed' anyone for sending a confrontational or insulting e-mail… but I'll admit I've been sorely tempted. In truth, it's just easier to accept the occasional valid (albeit crudely worded) criticism and ignore the crazies.
However, the other day I received an e-mail that truly got under my skin, and I've decided that if I'm going to lose sleep over it... then the author of this little missive is going to see her words up in lights. I won't reveal her name or e-mail address... at least not yet, anyway. But if she continues to use my inbox in lieu of professional counseling, I may not be able to hold myself back .
I know this sort of pettiness is out of character for me (See Imshin... I'm not so nice after all!), but I really need to pick one troll out of the crowd and make an example of her or my head may explode!
First the e-mail:
"I think you should try a little respest[sic] on the internet, their[sic] are a lot of very religious Jews thinking of making Aliyah, what they don't need, is some one talking in a very careless way. You just don't seem serious about Israel. We are in a dangerous and serious time in our lives, try using a little G-d in your life. Maybe things will start going much better for you."
Now, I had no idea who this person was, or what I might have done to set her off, but clearly something was amiss. My best guesses were that either she had gone off her meds or I had inadvertently written something truly horrible.
First things first, though… I wanted to find out a little about who I was dealing with before e-mailing her back. I 'googled her' using her name and e-mail address and came up with a fairly rational comment she'd posted to The Jerusalem Post indicating she is from Los Angeles... but not much else.
Now, I've been accused of being a lot of things since I started keeping this journal, but disrespectful, careless, frivolous and irreverent are not among them! In fact, just the other day I was telling Zahava how fortunate I am that the discussions here at treppenwitz are remarkably respectful and free of the kind of ugly behavior found elsewhere on the web. I mean, Jebus Kripes, I even use those hokey characters above the number keys instead of writing out real swear words! I actually think 'Leave it to Beaver' had more profanity than treppenwitz!!!
I know now that it was a mistake, but I ended up sending an e-mail to this delicately balanced flower asking her to indicate exactly what I had done to offend her sensibilities. I suppose this is a case of 'be careful what you wish for' because to my dismay, her reply were even more, um, unique than the original:
"On your web-page you refer to everything you have to say as "What is this sh#t" I just don't see this kind of behavior as kosher. If you are going to put yourself out there, representing jewish people, please do it in a respectful manner. The world is always watching us. No matter what we are involved in, the arts, writing, medicine, politics, we are suppose to be the "chosen people" therefore let us show it in our thought process, how we conduct ourselves, remember, "salvation is of the Jews. " we can take that quote anyway we want, but it still remains the same, we are different."
Uh, yeah we're different all right! But wait... she's not done yet kids... she's just warming up:
"My question to you is: why are you in Israel, anyway. One would think that if a family picks up and leaves a secure and safe home, to live in a place where safety is in question, there must be a good reason. Through my investigation, Israel is not doing so good with the care and feeding of their young. The night clubs in Tel Aviv are cess pools[sic] of drug use and live sex shows, the young people feel they need this release from all of their anxiety and the upsetting events takeing[sic] place in Israel today. Again they are going in the wrong direction, (my people parish for lack of knowledge) who are leading these young people in the right direction. There is no one that I can see. (Chabad is trying, but they can't do it all by themselves.) No personable[sic] disrespect to you, but, your web-page is full of silly things and nonsence[sic]. There is nothing about the Gathering and Restoration of Israel. Again, why are you there? Duet.30:1 says, And it shall come to pass, when all of these things have come upon thee, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before thee, and thou shall call them to mind among the nations, whither the Lord thy God has driven thee, and thou shall return unto the Lord thy God and shall obey his voice according to all that I have command this day, thou and thou little ones, with all thine heart and with all thy soul. That then the Lord thy God will turn thy captivity, and have compassion upon thee, and will return and gather thee from all the nations whither the Lord thy God has scattered thee. And if any of thine be driven out unto the outmost parts of heaven, from thence will he fetch thee. And the Lord thy God will bring you into the land which thy fathers possessed, and you shall possess it; and he will do thee good, and multiply thee above thy fathers. (The most important promise) Ezek.28:26 And they shall dwell with confidence, when I have executed Judgements upon all those that despise them round about them; and they shall know that I am the Lord their God.
Israel is in serious trouble with the Arab terrorist, just yesterday two Katyusha Rockets was fired from Lebanon into northern Israel. And I am sure there will be more. Thats[sic] why it is important that every religious Jew be seeking God and his protection, for himself and his little ones. There is no time for silly sayings on the web-pages. This is very serious business , when we reach out to God, with all of our hearts, he will be found and answer us.
So when I come across Jews, most importantly the ones already in Israel, who declare that they are religious, with all the trimmings, but do not show it in their fruits, I can't help but, become angry".
Ah yes... welcome to life in the store window folks. Having a blog or journal is not all glamour and adulation, I can assure you. You readers get to see the polite folks who leave thoughtful comments here. I get to sift through what passes for therapy in some circles.
I have to admit that after the long string of Bible quotes (especially ending with the bit from Ezekiel) I was half expecting her to pull out her 44 Magnum and blow me away like Samuel L. Jackson's righteous hit man in 'Pulp Fiction'.
All I can say, dear readers, is that if I ever write anything that offends you (within reasonable standards), or if I’m ever rude or thoughtless in replying to your comments (assuming you have not behaved like a complete troll), I really need you to bring these things to my attention.
That is all.
Most of us work for companies that have nifty mission statements and statements of core values. I've been in the work force for a lot of years and I can honestly say that I have NEVER read one of my employers mission statements.
The reason for my lack of interest (and likely yours as well) is that the mission statement is something that most companies feel they should have, but it rarely relates to the day-to-day activities of the individual employees. If you aren't sure what I'm talking about, go to your company's web site, or the web site of any company you may have heard of, and read their mission statement. It is usually some lofty tome about responsibility to the client and commitment to excellence... my head hurts just thinking about such drivel.
Now that you've done this little bit of research, you understand why most of us have never given much thought to our company's mission statement.
However, over the past few months, I have received a few e-mails about the perceived conduct of the Israel Defense Forces. Specifically, there is an impression in leftist circles abroad that the IDF lacks a moral compass to guide it in its daily duties.
So, I started asking some of the soldiers who drive with me on Sunday mornings about the IDF's code of conduct and was pleased that their 'Mission Statement' is much more than a nicely worded plaque in the lobby. Throughout their training and throughout their army career, members of the IDF are drilled and indoctrinated with their personal, ethical and national responsibilities. They are constantly reminded of the value of life and the 'purity of arms'.
Rather than try to paraphrase what they told me, I wanted to present here the IDF's 'Mission Statement' (which, along with a lot of other neat information, can be found on their official website):
The IDF Spirit:
The Israel Defense Forces are the state of Israel's military force. The IDF is subordinate to the directions of the democratic civilian authorities and the laws of the state. The goal of the IDF is to protect the existence of the State of Israel and her independence, and to thwart all enemy efforts to disrupt the normal way of life in Israel. IDF soldiers are obligated to fight, to dedicate all their strength and even sacrifice their lives in order to protect the State of Israel, her citizens and residents. IDF soldiers will operate according to the IDF values and orders, while adhering to the laws of the state and norms of human dignity, and honoring the values of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.
Defense of the State, its Citizens and its Residents - The IDF's goal is to defend the existence of the State of Israel, its independence and the security of the citizens and residents of the state.
Love of the Homeland and Loyalty to the Country - At the core of service in the IDF stand the love of the homeland and the commitment and devotion to the State of Israel-a democratic state that serves as a national home for the Jewish People-its citizens and residents.
Human Dignity - The IDF and its soldiers are obligated to protect human dignity. Every human being is of value regardless of his or her origin, religion, nationality, gender, status or position.
Tenacity of Purpose in Performing Missions and Drive to Victory - The IDF servicemen and women will fight and conduct themselves with courage in the face of all dangers and obstacles; They will persevere in their missions resolutely and thoughtfully even to the point of endangering their lives.
Responsibility - The IDF serviceman or woman will see themselves as active participants in the defense of the state, its citizens and residents. They will carry out their duties at all times with initiative, involvement and diligence with common sense and within the framework of their authority, while prepared to bear responsibility for their conduct.
Credibility - The IDF servicemen and women shall present things objectively, completely and precisely, in planning, performing and reporting. They will act in such a manner that their peers and commanders can rely upon them in performing their tasks.
Personal Example - The IDF servicemen and women will comport themselves as required of them, and will demand of themselves as they demand of others, out of recognition of their ability and responsibility within the military and without to serve as a deserving role model.
Human Life - The IDF servicemen and women will act in a judicious and safe manner in all they do, out of recognition of the supreme value of human life. During combat they will endanger themselves and their comrades only to the extent required to carry out their mission.
Purity of Arms - The IDF servicemen and women will use their weapons and force only for the purpose of their mission, only to the necessary extent and will maintain their humanity even during combat. IDF soldiers will not use their weapons and force to harm human beings who are not combatants or prisoners of war, and will do all in their power to avoid causing harm to their lives, bodies, dignity and property.
Professionalism - The IDF servicemen and women will acquire the professional knowledge and skills required to perform their tasks, and will implement them while striving continuously to perfect their personal and collective achievements.
Discipline - The IDF servicemen and women will strive to the best of their ability to fully and successfully complete all that is required of them according to orders and their spirit. IDF soldiers will be meticulous in giving only lawful orders, and shall refrain from obeying blatantly illegal orders.
Comradeship - The IDF servicemen and women will act out of fraternity and devotion to their comrades, and will always go to their assistance when they need their help or depend on them, despite any danger or difficulty, even to the point of risking their lives.
Sense of Mission - The IDF soldiers view their service in the IDF as a mission; They will be ready to give their all in order to defend the state, its citizens and residents. This is due to the fact that they are representatives of the IDF who act on the basis and in the framework of the authority given to them in accordance with IDF orders.
I would be curious to know how many countries in the world ask their soldiers to be familiar with and adhere to such a code. I feel confident that none of our enemies are bound by such constraints.
Sunday, November 14, 2004
To protect the innocent
Even before we moved to Israel, I followed with interest the on-again off-again debate over whether to institute a standardized National Identification Card in the U.S..
Having grown up in a family of civil libertarians, a part of me bridled at the very notion of being forced to prove my identity upon demand. The idea that a representative of the government, whether police or military, could demand to know who and where I was at any given time made me very uncomfortable. Quite simply, it smacked of, "Halt! Show me your papers!"
Things as innocuous as ATM cards and EZ Pass have even come under scrutiny by libertarians because of their potential for abuse (i.e. tracking specific people without probable cause, or making note of travel /spending habits).
However, having grown up in an era when trying to buy beer at 16 was more a battle of wits than a criminal offense, I wonder if my views on the subject might be dated.
I came of age at a time when plane tickets could still be purchased without ID in any name and used by anybody. You could withdraw money or close a bank account simply by presenting a handwritten bankbook, and a library card was considered a valid form of ID. One could even give a younger brother one's Social Security Card and a copy of one's most recent report card and get him a duplicate driver's license with your date of birth and his picture on it! (theoretically, of course) ;-)
But in this age of heightened security and potentially dangerous strangers among us, is it still wise to have 50 different state driver's licenses acceptable as valid ID? I mean really, would an airport ticket agent in New York really be able to spot a fake Wyoming drivers license?
Police departments all over the U.S. still have logbooks full of 'John/Jane Doe' arrests for the simple reason that the law does not required that one identify oneself upon demand. Not only isn't it a crime to withhold identity... but the police are nice enough to tell you that you have the right to remain silent on this, or any other subject!
So what is it about a standardized national identification card that frightens everyone so much? I may be wrong, but I get the sense that the wheels seem to always fall off the debate over such a standardized national ID based on two main sticking points:
1. How much information should be included (i.e. medical history, driving record, arrest record, credit history, etc.)
2. The requirement that the ID be carried it at all times (under penalty of law).
I can understand the knee-jerk reaction over number one. If I'm stopped by the police while committing a crime, I think my medical history should be beyond their reach.
Likewise, if someone is hospitalized in an accident, I think knowing that they have terrible credit might unduly influence the level of care they receive (if they receive care at all!).
But requiring people to be able to positively identify themselves... where's the problem people? The constitution still requires probable cause for an official to take you in hand, so what would an innocent person have to fear from his identity being known? If I were (G-d forbid) in a serious accident, I'd like to think that I'd have more than just clean underwear to speak for my identity.
Here in Israel the law requires everyone above the age of 16 to carry identification. Israeli citizens must carry their blue Teudat Zehut (identity card), temporary residents and permanent aliens have different colored cards, and foreigners are required to carry their passports at all time.
There was recently a well publicized case of an American tourist who was rounded up by the police in a sweep of illegal workers simply because she didn't have her passport with her. She was rightly indignant that as a tourist she was treated badly. But she completely ignores the issue of 'what if you were an illegal worker or a terrorist (not mutually exclusive groups, by the way), and not just some flighty tourist who left her passport in her hotel room?'
The Israeli national identity cards contain a lot of information... but IMHO doesn't cross over into 'Big Brotherland'. It has your identity number, your name (first last and middle), your mother and father's name, your birthdate and country of birth. In the plastic folder that contains the card, there is also a paper addendum that lists your current address, your marital status, your spouse's name and identity number, as well as the names, birthdates and identity numbers of all your minor children. Additionally, anyone with a gun license must carry it together with their Teudat Zehut in order for it to be valid.
This may sound a bit intrusive to some, but somehow it bothers me less knowing that whatever I might view as a minor intrusion is certainly viewed by terrorists /criminals as a serious obstacle.
Maybe with Ashcroft out of the way, a more palatable national identity solution can be considered and adopted in the U.S.. It may frustrate a bunch of youngsters from buying a six-pack of beer on the sly, and knock the married folks out of the dating scene. But it might also create an environment where legitimate representatives of the government can, under very specific circumstances, require that you prove that you are who you say you are. Forget all the 'Blue States/Red States' crap, for the moment. Is the U.S. one country or a collection of many?
Somehow, my internal civil libertarian is less offended by a standardized national identity solution... especially when it becomes clear these days that names are seldom changed to protect the innocent.
What do you think?
Friday, November 12, 2004
Photo Friday (Vol. II)
Thanks for being such good sports about all the politics here on treppenwitz this week. I guess Arafat's long goodbye had me a little on edge.
Anyway, it's Photo Friday again (I have this insane urge to call it Photo Phriday, but I'll try to resist the temptation), and today's picture requests come to you courtesy of Tanya, the proprietress over at RedSugar Muse. Here requests:
1. Your morning soldiers, sleeping. (Just turn around at the wheel while driving, it'll be an adventure.)
2. Jordan in a Red Sox cap.
3. Something stereotypically American, labelled in Hebrew. (Like a Coke can, but you can't use that now.)
I couldn't figure out how to safely (and accurately) snap a picture of my slumbering soldiers while driving the windy road south to Be'er Sheva, so I just 'fessed up that I had a friend in the US who was curious about my regular trempistim (hitchhikers). They were pleased as punch to be included (two pics):
The next request - Jordan in a Red Sox cap - was not particularly hard to capture. It seems everyone wants to be seen in a Red Sox hat this year! Ah yes, Victory has a thousand fathers and defeat is an orphan! Here she is:
And last but not least... something stereotypical American, with Hebrew labeling. The obvious choice is the Coca Cola bottle, but that's been done to death. So here are a couple of other products (yes, I know the beer is not an American product, but it is common enough on the American scene that I took some liberty with the selection process. The funny thing about the cola is that RC is pronounced exactly like a Hebrew word (arsee) which means something like venomous /poisonous:
That wraps up this week's Photo Friday presentation. As always, feel free to comment on the pictures or make requests of your own (3 wishes to a supplicant).
Thursday, November 11, 2004
Bogner, David Bogner
Sounds a little like James Bond to say my name like that... but more often than not, that's what I find myself doing here when dealing with the various offices of Israel's well-developed bureaucracy.
Where I grew up, it was clear that my name was David Bogner. If I were in China, they would call me Bogner David (since they use the family name first). I'm sure there are examples of both these name sequences from other places in the world... but I digress.
Israel, on the other hand, seems comfortable not taking sides on this particular issue. We are the Switzerland of bureaucratic name sequencing! One clerk may call me Bogner David... another David Bogner... and still another may take my middle name (Lindsay), and mangle it into something manageable to the Israeli tongue, such as 'Landisay'... and then place all three names in seemingly random order.
The phone list for my company actually has names listed both ways, with no apparent rhyme or reason as to why one person is is 'Eli Cohen' and another is 'Cohen Eli'.
Don't even get me started about the wackiness that ensues when I call directory assistance, because there one gets to add the name of the town (many of which sound like regular 'people names') to the mix!
If anyone can shed some light on how Israel seems to have completely avoided making a decision on the sequence in which names are used/recorded, I would be completely in your debt.
Landisay Bogner David
Wednesday, November 10, 2004
Pride or Prejudice?
OK... this is two political posts in one week... so clearly my word isn't worth squat. All I can say is I will try not to make a habit of this. Really.
Here's the deal.
I love the writers on my good readin' list. I can honestly say that even though I have very different orientation, values and politics from many of them, I have come to think of them as friends (yes, even the ones who have no idea I read them). There isn't one person among them who is not extremely bright, articulate and a genuinely caring person. They represent a slice of the work force and intellectual elite that would be nearly impossible to duplicate in a real life circle of friends.
This preamble is leading up to dilemma (are you starting to get the sense that treppenwitz is a dumping ground for all my dilemmas?).
This particular problem of mine arises when I hear /read an otherwise brilliant blogger offer an opinion that makes no f*cking sense. We're not talking about slightly flawed logic or shadings of political niceties. We're talking about David reading a blog entry and coming up with a big 404 message... File not found... does not compute... WTF!
In keeping with my policy of not outing those with whom I disagree, I won't provide a link to this person's blog. I maintin this policy because my respect for someone rarely suffers when I don't agree with them.
anyway... enough background... on with my quandry:
Things got started when I read the following short entry in his blog:
"Syria wants a peace treaty
So why no response from the Israeli Government? I thought that it was part of a long standing policy to seek peace with our neighbours."
I know from long experience that this blogger is a lefty. He makes no secret of his politics, and I don't mind a bit. If all lefties were like him, I would at least be assured of a well reasoned, thinking-man's left wing in Israel... something I can't say at present. But this brief entry completely baffled me... it made no sense whatsoever!
Here's a copy of our exchange of comments, starting with me:
No, actually what the article says is that Syria wants to return to the negotiating table.
Doesn't it seem odd to you that Israel is the only country in the history of the world that has won all its wars, yet has to sue for peace by giving away big chunks of land?
Wanting a peace treaty is putting out your hand and saying, "No hard feelings... let's be good neighbors." The syrians are extending their hand all right, but the hand is palm up and they expect to be paid for the cessation of violence they call peace."
David 09.11.04 - 10:35 pm
I was tempted to respond right away, but I think far to much of this blogger to respond hastily. Instead, I decided to post my response here, and ask my readers (who are probably even more politically diverse than my good readin' list) to weigh in on the issue.
If you have in-depth knowledge of the history of the conflict all the better, but I'm also interested in hearing opinions from those who are less invested in the Middle East.
Here's the comment that I opted not to post on his site:
Let's put it in a more personal setting:
You and I are neighbors. I don't like you. What's more, my hatred of you is completely based on our religious differences and my feeling that you are sub-human. Even before you legally purchased your tiny little house in my neighborhood full of mansions, I did everything in my power to try to keep you out.
That didn't work.
So, on the day you closed on your little house, I started hurling firebombs at you, and got everyone else in the neighborhood to pitch in with the attack.
In very short order, you proceeded to kick our collective *sses, and even managed to secure a buffer zone around your small property consisting of parcels of my yard, and yards belonging to the other neighbors who I had convinced to attack you.
This happened not once, but several times. Each time you won and we lost more of our lawns. In truth, this didn't make much difference because we had enormous estates and your yard was just a little scrap of lawn by comparison. However, the principle of the thing bothered me... my pride, and the pride of my neighbors, had been wounded by the losses.
Now, I have decided I want to cease my hostilities against you (I'm not using the word 'peace' mind you... but I am willing to agree not to personally attack you any more).
I approach you with the following proposition:
I won't hurl any more firebombs at your house. I can't promise that others won't attack you... and I won't even promise not to supply the other neighbors with the firebombs and encourage them to continue the struggle. But in return for MY promise not to make any more direct trouble with you, I want you to return the portion of my yard that I lost in our various fights.
What I want to know from you, dear readers, is if this scenario sounds reasonable.
Also, maybe somebody can offer suggestions as to why I'm having so much trouble getting my head around the land-for-peace formula that seemingly everyone else in the world, and much of the Israeli left wing, think is perfectly reasonable.
Simply put, is this blogger's question: "So? Is that a reason to say no?" a reasonable one?
Now, it is worth pointing out that the issue of 'land for peace' is obviously a sensitive subject... meaning that it pushes people's religious and political buttons. With that said, I urge you to be respectful of one another and share opinions that address specific ideas, not the people expressing them.
Tuesday, November 09, 2004
Reflections on Fish Wrapping
OK, as usual, I feel the need to take a deep breath and apologize after yesterday’s little rant. All evidence to the contrary not withstanding, treppenwitz is not a political blog, so I promise to try and keep political rants to a bare minimum… say one or two a month, mmmkay?
Now that we’ve (hopefully) put that to bed and there are (hopefully) no hard feelings (Ashamed Blogger), I want to share a wonderful cleaning trick (are you paying attention, Weese???) I learned while sitting around at an Israeli carwash.
My office is located in the industrial section of Be’er Sheva, and there are lots of auto repair shops and carwashes within a block or two in either direction. While two of the carwashes are clean and modern with all the bells and whistles of any American facility (one of them even has a cappuccino bar in the waiting room!), some of the smaller carwashes are a bit primitive, consisting of no more than an open concrete slab… a couple of high pressure hoses… an industrial sized vacuum … and a bunch of burly guys armed with soapy rags.
It must be my union background*, but each time I took my car to one of the fully automated carwashes (c'mon... How could I resist cappuccino?), I felt a pang of guilt at the neighboring crews of rag wielders from who I was withholding my patronage.
I rationalized the decision by taking into account my shiny new car and the faster in-and-out time of the more modern carwashes. However, in addition to my conscience continuing to bother me, I was getting increasingly annoyed that the machine washing tended to miss random spots on my car’s wheels, and leave my windows full of streaks.
So last week, when my car had achieved the appropriate level of filth to justify a trip to the carwash, I decided to throw my business to one of the ‘hand wash’ shops.
I had a seat in a rickety plastic lawn chair and was pleased to see that they used clean cloths to do all the washing, and that they were meticulous about reaching every nook and cranny of my car.
However, at the end I was horrified when it came time to do the final inside-and-out window cleaning. Instead of dry cloths or paper towels, each man on the crew reached into a box of old newspapers, crumpled a page or two into a loose wad, and proceeded to polish the windows. My horror soon turned to amazement when I saw that the newspaper method cleaned the windows to a perfect, streak-free shine! They used a blue Windex®-like spray just like the finishing crew at the machine-wash places, but for some reason the results with newsprint were infinitely better.
I asked the crew leader about this, trying to find out if the newspaper bit was some sort of cost-cutting measure, or if newsprint was his medium of choice. He assured me that nothing could shine windows to a streak/smudge-free shine like newspaper. He went on to explain that he even used newspaper at home since it didn’t leave any lint or streaks on the windows and mirrors.
They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks… but this old hound has just learned a new one! Up until now, I had assumed that the only use for day-old newspapers was for wrapping fresh fish at the market. It turns out that there is nothing better for making glass and chrome shine like, well, a mirror!
And as a bonus, I disovered that there really is a reward for giving work to real live human beings (even if I did miss out on my cappuccino)!
Go ahead and try the newspaper trick at home!
No need to thank me… I’m a giver. :-)
*Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians in NYC
Monday, November 08, 2004
The Burden of Proof
The other day I was reading a blog written by a woman who lives and works in Connecticut. I have never met her, but she is friendly with my older sister… and her personal story has sort of caught my interest. Hers isn’t a political blog, but for some reason she recently included part of a news story from Yahoo News about the current confusion surrounding Arafat’s condition.
No big deal… but it was interesting that she would post it, and nice to see her taking an interest in this part of the world.
The article she had quoted didn’t offer anything new (is there ever anything truly new?), but I was curious to see what kind of comments it had gotten.
The first comment was a fairly innocuous;
"Now let’s see what happens next in the Middle East after his passing."
The second comment said:
"He isn’t actually dead yet, that’s info from the Israelis and you can trust them about as far as you can throw them, especially on info about Arafat."
The commenter then went on to offer a link to a source he considered unimpeachable; The BBC.
You might think that’s what sent my blood pressure through the roof. Well, you’d be wrong. What set me off was the response offered by the blogger… a professed liberal Democrat… saying,
"Thanks [name of commenter]! I’ll check it out… :-)"
Huh?! Excuse Me?!
Now, as I said, this woman does not profess to be particularly political… and my assumption is that she is not really up on what’s going on in the Middle East. In other words, that makes her a typical American.
Most Americans know about as much about Israel and the history of the Arab/Israeli conflict as I know about the conflict in Northern Ireland… meaning, not very much. They buy the big lies coming out of the Palestinian camp because they see the media buying the little lies.
I was not particularly surprised that no two Palestinian sources agreed on Arafat’s condition. Conflicting announcements and outright lies are part & parcel of the way they do business. These were the big lies. The small lies that everyone let slide were comments like the one above which stated that the confusion over Arafat’s condition was somehow due to Israeli dishonesty! The proof that the little lie had been accepted was in the blog host’s response: A thank you and a little smiley face.
Small lie told… both small and big lie accepted.
Saeb Erekat (one of the more visible Palestinian spokespeople) makes almost daily announcements that Israel is carrying out "atrocities" and "genocide" against the Palestinian people. Those are the big lies which make the talk shows and the 10:00 PM News. The lack of even the smallest shred of proof seems to bother the media not a bit. This is because the small lie is very subtle; that the Palestinian and Israeli spokespeople have earned the same credibility. The small lie in the guise of 'evenhandedness' that is continuously presented to the American public is enough to get them to swallow the big lies, hook, line and sinker.
Imams in the mosques whip their congregations into a rage by claiming that the Israelis have poisoned the water of Palestinian villages, murdered Palestinian women and children and blown up the Dome of the Rock. The fact that these things turn out to be untrue (and are easily verifiable) doesn’t bother the mob… they are comfortable with the big lie… mostly because they've grown up with the small lie; that Israelis are capable of such things.
There is a tactic in propaganda called ‘The hair of the beard’:
Simply put, if I tell you I have 10,000 hairs in my beard, you are likely to nod your head and accept this. After all, it’s my beard and it’s a relatively unimportant statistic to concede… so why not agree?
Once you nod and say OK, I have you.
Next I tell you that there are actually 15,000 hairs.
Once I’ve gotten you to accept the first number as fact, you willingly accept me as the authority on how many hairs there are. I can say whatever I want about the beard from then on… because you have surrendered any interest in verification. This is why the small lies worry me so much more than the big ones. Without the small lies - the seemingly unimportant ones that go unchallenged - there can be no big lies.
The burden of proof in this war of information seems to always fall on the Israelis. American and European culture is imbued with the notion that one is innocent until proven guilty. Yet the reverse is mostly true when it comes to Israel. I truly believe the reason for this is far less sinister than anti-Semitism.
I think it is because when Americans hear the small lie, they say ‘thank you’ and type a smiley face. Most people are not really up on the details of the conflict, so if someone presents himself or herself as an expert on the subject (and the world has no lack of experts), then it is easier to just say, ‘OK, there are 15,000 hairs in that particular beard… now tell me something interesting’.
So what's the answer?
Forget trying to lobby Congress or sway the content of the New York Times’ Op Ed page. If you want to make a difference, spend some time showing your friends and coworkers how to think critically about the information they are receiving. If you can just get John and Jane Q. Public to spend a moment looking critically at the little lies… then when the big lie comes along, the burden of proof will fall where it belongs; on the bearded folks telling the lies.
Friday, November 05, 2004
Photo Friday (Vol. I)
OK, here we go. Today’s picture requests were brought to you by Lisa, the landlady over at Weese.
1. a picture of your living room
2. the front of your house
3. one of your kids rooms (no cleaning up...just raw) and if they are in there...all the better.
The living room took some excavation, but I finally found it:
The front of the house right now is sort of a cheat. I took this picture last winter when we still had plants. I’ve since torn up most of the front yard, so you’ll have to wait until the lawn takes hold for a newer picture:
It was a coin toss as to which of the kid’s rooms was less likely to make Zahava stroke out when she saw it online. Gili’s room won the honor… but just barely:
Well, that’s it for today.
So far 14 people have requested pictures… feel free to add your 2 cents about these, or make a request for your very own set of Photo Friday pictures.
Thursday, November 04, 2004
I've been getting a lot of e-mails from folks anxious to see the photos they requested a couple of weeks ago. Not to worry... I haven't forgotten, I've just been wrestling with exactly when and how often to present them.
So, here's what I'm gonna do:
Beginning tomorrow, I am instituting a new feature here at treppenwitz;
No, this isn't a particularly original idea (or even an original title), but too many people are already doing it to figure out who deserves credit for the idea.
What will happen is that every Friday I will post one person's requested photos. I may or may not comment on them (what with the picture already being worth a thousand words), but, as always, you are welcome to use the comments section to ask questions about the circumstances/backstory of the pictures, or to ask the person who made the request if what they got was what they had in mind.
This new feature will actually work out quite well since most of you have noticed that I rarely post on Friday or Saturday. Friday is my day to sleep in, cook for shabbat, help clean the house, and just plain hang around with the family. Saturday is Shabat (at least until sundown, anyway), so I don't mess around with anything electric; computer, phone or light switch.
I like the idea of hanging some pictures on my journal over the weekend rather than making you stare at Thursday's stale old entry 'til Sunday! This will be just like one of those fancy gallery openings... only without the wine, cheese, or talent.
Needless to say, I haven't closed the book on new photo requests, so use your imagination and ask away (3 to a customer). Anything related to me, my town or Israel that occurs to you (again, within reason) I'll try to accommodate.
The order in which these Photo Friday postings will appear is based on how easy the photo request was to fulfill, not the order in which the requests were received.
Also, the management (meaning Zahava) has the right to censor any photo content.
In deference to the truly gifted photographers out there (Steve, Andrea and Satan's Laundromat, to name a few), I want to state for the record that rank amateurs routinely point and snigger at my photography. I've cut off more heads and limbs than all the savages in Iraq combined. I am (ineptly) using a tiny point-and-shoot Canon digital Elf, so don't expect competent composition, luminous lighting or fantastic focus.
If you ask for a picture of a bug, that's what you'll get... no more, no less. :-)
See you tomorrow.