Friday, December 31, 2004
Photo Friday (Vol. IX)
Well it's that time again... and unfortunately I have a small confession to make. I've been traveling around the country on business this week, so I've been a bit lazy with the camera. There are still a bunch of requests I have yet to fill (although new requests are always welcome)... I've taken 2-out-of-3 pictures for several of them... but I don't yet have all three pictures for any of the remaining requests.
Also, several of you have asked for similar or overlapping pictures, so I may have to e-mail you to ask you to submit alternative picture requests.
So, where does that leave us?
That leaves us with pictures of my choosing (although not of my taking)... related to a timely topic.
This week another planeload of North American Olim (immigrants) landed in Israel, making 2004 the highest American Aliyah year since 1983!. The flight was organized by Nefesh B'Nefesh, the same organization that organized the flight on which we immigrated. I'm here to tell you that the excitement of being on a flight filled with other people who are also moving to Israel is indescribable, and the arrival ceremony (IMHO) is like something out of a fairytale.
Take my advice... if you are ever offered the opportunity to experience the 'red carpet treatment' when arriving in a country, I suggest you give it a try.
By 'red carpet treatment', I mean walking down the boarding stairs to the strains of a military band to be met by a head of state and the opposition leader. Then walking through a military honor guard, while being followed by news photographers and video crews. Then going into a hanger festooned with welcome banners and colorful bunting. Inside the hanger a huge crowd of well-wishers joins you as you listen to members of both the government and opposition make speeches thanking you for making the decision to come.
That is what I mean by 'The red carpet treatment'... and, yeah, it was pretty neat. Seriously, you should try it. ;-)
I've been wanting play 'show and tell' with these pictures* of when we arrived for some time now:
This first one is of the VIPs (and their body guards) waiting at the bottom of the boarding stairs. Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert (in the dark blue suit) and Opposition Leader / Former Prime Minister Shimon Peres (in the lighter blue suit) were the first people to shake our hands and say 'welcome home' (I can't remember who the woman between them is).
After being greeted by the dignitaries we walked across the tarmac through an honor guard of soldiers.
That's me in the light blue oxford (big surprise there, huh?)... Zahava is is in the white blouse and black knapsack.... Ariella is between us wearing the red shirt and Gilad is to my left in a peach colored shirt.
This last one really has nothing to do with us (since Yonah was born here in Israel), but I loved the picture. Many of the soldiers helped families by carrying babies and extra baggage. This little toddler has no idea how good he has it! :-) [note: the different colored berets signify the specific army unit to which the soldiers belong]
Anyway, as 2004 draws to a close, I am pleased and proud that immigration from North America is on the rise. For those who make a big deal over watching the world's odometer turn over, I'd like to wish you a happy, healthy and prosperous Happy New Year. Zahava and I don't usually make a big fuss, but I may have a sip of bubbly to toast this week's arrivals.
*All pictures are from the Nefesh B'Nefesh web site
Wednesday, December 29, 2004
Try to remember...
It seems somehow wrong to be saddened by one elderly man's death in the midst of all the tragic news still coming out of South East Asia... but saddened I am.
Jerry Orbach died today at the age of 69.
Most of you probably knew him for the role of Detective Lenny Briscoe which he played to jaded perfection on Law & Order. But he was also an amazingly talented singer and dancer with over 20 years of leading man roles in musical comedies on Broadway, as well as many film roles to his credit. He even did the voice for the Candelabra in the Disney film 'Beauty and the Beast' in which he sang 'Be our guest'.
What most people don't realize is that he was a member of the original cast of the long running off-off Broadway hit 'The Fantasticks'. In that role he sang a song which perfectly sums up my present feelings; sadness at his passing... but gratitude that I was around to experience his talent:
"Try To Remember"
Try to remember the kind of September
when life was slow and oh, so mellow.
Try to remember the kind of September
when grass was green and grain was yellow.
Try to remember the kind of September
when you were a tender and callow fellow,
Try to remember and if you remember the follow.
Try to remember when life was so tender
that no one wept except the willow.
Try to remember when life was so tender that
dreams were kept beside your pillow.
Try to remember when life was so tender that
love was an ember about to billow.
Try to remember and if you remember then follow.
Deep in December it's nice to remember
altho you know the snow will follow.
Deep in December it's nice to remember
without the hurt the heart is hollow.
Deep in December it's nice to remember
the fire of September that made us mellow.
Deep in December our hearts should remember and follow.
Tuesday, December 28, 2004
Through my eyes
Here I sit...
(no, you bathroom poets, not broken-hearted!)
236 journal entries...
2000+ insightful comments...
and 373 days later...
trying to put it all in perspective.
I honestly don't know what I was thinking a little over a year ago when I sat down to write my first journal entry here on treppenwitz.
I'm fairly certain that I didn't have a clear game plan other than to try and nail down the flashes of brilliance that always seemed to flit through my ADD-addled brain hours, or even days, after said brilliance ceased to be even remotely relevant.
If you had asked me back then if I thought I could come up with a year's worth of ideas and observations, I would have probably said, "sure... so long as I only have to update the site once every 3 months!"
236 journal entries is a staggering amount of writing to contemplate. I've written the equivalent of a nice thick novel here, albeit one with a horribly disjointed story line. If I'd set out with the goal of doing all that writing from the get-go I would probably have given up after that first entry!
Maybe that's why there are so many abandoned blogs and journals out there, floating like so much flotsam & Jetsam on the oily waters of the Internet. Few people can stand up under that kind of pressure. Blogging/journaling is supposed to be fun! If I wanted to exist under constant deadlines and expose myself to ongoing criticism and rebuttals I would have gotten a degree in English Lit! Well actually I did, but that's besides the point. :~>
My real point is that if I could offer one bit of advice to fledgling bloggers/journalers (now that I have a whole year of experience under my belt)... If I could impart what I believe to be the secret of making this fun... it would sound something like this:
Let others see the world through your eyes.
Since you were a child you've secretly suspected that you were special... that you could see things in a way that nobody else could. Well guess what? You were right!
This very day your brain processed a thousand unique signals... chewing up each one like sticks of cheap gum, and spitting them out as the flavor quickly faded. Your job as a blogger / journaler is to make note of those things... to document those people... catalog those experiences... before the flavors have faded beyond your ability to recall and describe them.
Some time today... maybe even just a few minutes ago... you thought about something that had never occurred to me. You had a meal or drinks with people I will likely never get to meet. You saw places and events that I will probably never visit or experience. .. unless, of course, you think to write them down.
To you, all of these things seemed perfectly commonplace... but to me (or anyone else, for that matter) they could be wildly interesting or entertaining.
Already life in Israel is starting to become commonplace for me. It's not that I appreciate it less, but rather that I don't always recognize the fact that people around the world can't see what I saw today... can't experience what I experienced just this minute... can't understand the humor and struggle of life here.
In the coming year I will try very hard to continue to take my own advice and to share these seemingly commonplace events and experiences... and to allow you, dear reader, a regular glimpse of this beautiful, interesting corner of the world... through my eyes.
Monday, December 27, 2004
In the comments section of Friday's post, I fell into a discussion with someone about the abundance of Israeli culture and communities abroad. In the context of that discussion I shared a joke which, admittedly, is not in very good taste. However it got me thinking about the issue and... well... as you know, that's what I use this space for; thinking out loud.
The Joke went like this:
A man is waiting for the elevator outside the Israeli Consulate in New York City (which happens to be on the 14th floor of a midtown Manhattan office building). When the elevator finally arrives it is full of people speaking Hebrew. He asks them in Hebrew, "Yordim?" (which can mean both 'going down?' or 'a derogatory term for Israelis who have emigrated'. In unison the occupants of the elevator answer, "Lo, Shlichim!" ('No, we're here as emissaries / temporarily').
This joke illustrates a couple of points which bear some discussion.
First and foremost it points out a simple fact that is ignored by many: If moving to Israel is called 'Aliyah' (literally 'going up'), then by default leaving Israel must be 'Yeridah' ('going down).
Whether one looks at aliyah from a religious or cultural point-of-view, the fact remains that moving to Israel is regarded by many as a positive act. However, this puts Israelis who want to exercise the same right to decide where in the world they want to live, in the unenviable position of doing something which is perceived as negative.
This is the reason the joke I related leaves such a bitter aftertaste, even to those who laugh at its humor. The sad truth is that many, many Israelis who have made the decision to live their lives abroad feel compelled to tell anyone who will listen (and sometimes even themselves) that their residency abroad is only temporary... and that they will one day move back.
I guess the question that is troubling me so much is, If I had the right to chose where in the world I wanted to live... why do Israelis feel guilty about exercising the same freedom of choice?
Friday, December 24, 2004
Photo Friday (Vol. VIII)
Sorry this was posted so late on Friday (Israel time, anyway). A combination of some errands this morning and some technical difficulties when I got home almost derailed photo Friday completely (notice how I dodged all blame there?)
Anyway, without further ado… this week’s selection comes to you courtesy of the lovely and knowledgeable Chavi. No… I didn’t neglect to place a link on her name. Chavi is perhaps the last literate person on earth who doesn’t keep a blog of online journal.
So Chavi’s requests were:
1. The inside of your Fridge (always curious to see what treats you have there)
2. Jordan (we need updated pics!)
3. A bustling street full of shoppers on Friday (Ah, the erev shabbos rush!)
Zahava will probably have my a..., um, I mean head for this, but here is our fridge in all its glory. For those that were unfamiliar with such things, please note the beige plastic pitcher with the bag of milk sticking up out of the top:
Next is an updated picture of Jordan. If she starts wearing flannel shirts and ‘Doc Martins’ I may have to start worrying about her obsession with Ariella (not that there's anything wrong with that!). :-)
The last request was one of the reasons for this morning’s outing.
I usually do my shopping closer to home, but I’ve been meaning to get into Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda market for ages. So, after giving Yonah and Ari breakfast (Zahava and Gilad slept in), I snuck out to the shuk.
This is one of the many spice stores (I can smell the aroma just by looking at the picture!):
One of the many fishmachers:
Beans and nuts and dates and .... well, stuff:
Olives and pickles and tomatoes and smoked fish and ... more stuff!
I can't tell you how good these fruits & vegies smelled as I walked by!
This bakery was almost my undoing! The honey cakes and baklava were actually calling me by name! Honest!!! I was a good boy, though.
Yes, I can hear you all yelling, “Hey! That’s not fair… Chavi got more than 3 pictures!!!” Settle down kids. Mahane Yehuda is a huge place… one picture wasn’t going to tell the tale. As it is, these pictures barely scratched the surface. There are countless stalls selling, well, everything!
Many of the numerous vendors sell nearly identical items, which makes for true buyer’s market. While many regular shoppers have their favorite 'fishmacher’ (fish seller), fruit & vegetable stand, bakery, etc., the vendors all yell at the top of their lungs, extolling the freshness, low price and general superiority of their products to anyone within earshot in hopes of attracting the undecided shopper.
I hope that you enjoyed your little taste of Friday in Jerusalem.
Thursday, December 23, 2004
Where in the world is...
On a recent visit to Jack’s Shack, I noticed a nifty little map in his right hand column with red dots showing where his readers were geographically situated in the world.
seen a couple of different maps where readers could place a virtual pin with
their name and a message, but that required opting in, and not all browsers
This was something completely passive… meaning that as readers arrive, their geographic IP info is fed into the map, and a clustering algorithm assigns different sized dots depending on how many visitors come from that specific area. There is no specific personal information being captured, but it still seemed pretty sci-fi!
Though I have a pretty good idea where some of my ’regulars’ live (based on their comments and our occasional e-mail exchanges), looking at Jack's map made me realize that the overwhelming majority of people who come here are a complete mystery to me. I mean, I’m getting up several times a week and jabbering in front of a crowd that would pretty much fill my old high school auditorium.... so how is it that I’ve been able to go on ‘talking’ to them when I can’t see their faces?
I can’t really complain when someone comes and reads day after day without leaving a comment, because there are a few places I lurk online that I do the same thing. Let’s face it, finding someone interesting is not always the same as wanting to engage them in conversation. Anyone who has ever taken their lunch out to the park on a sunny day to do some people watching knows what I mean. It’s fun to watch strangers, but the inclination to turn strangers into friends is not always as strong.
Anyway, after a moment’s hesitation I followed the link on the map and ended up installing the code on treppenwitz. It’s over there on the right if you want to take a look.
I don’t know what I expected… maybe I figured that if I could just see where in the world my readers were situated I might gain some deep understanding of who these silent readers were and what they were looking for from me.
Well, whatever I was thinking, I was wrong. Instead of scratching the itch, this map has just made me more curious.
Who are the readers in Spain and Portugal?
Who is that way up there on the western shore of Hudson Bay in Canada?
Do I really have a reader or two up on the northern tip of Scotland (or maybe even the Orkney Islands) and in China?
Is that reader off the southern coast of Sicily on a tiny island?
And, Brazil? I am fascinated by the idea that someone in Brazil sits down with a cup of coffee and reads my blather every day.
Now this isn’t to say I’m not pleased as punch to see many of my suspicions about many of you validiated. The cities in North America are pretty well represented, as are the big European cities. From the incoming referrals I’d already discovered that I seem to have a loyal readership in Germany, and I have a pretty good idea who is reading me down in Australia (Hi Kay!) and in Iceland (hi Hatshpsut)!
So now I’m wondering if it was such a good idea setting up that map here on treppenwitz. Before I was satisfied to enjoy the informative dialogue with a small group of my readers and allow the rest to lurk in peace. Now I want to meet everyone!
I have to run out to a conference today up in Herzlia, so I can’t dwell on this conundrum as much as I’d like. But I would enjoy hearing from others as to whether it’s reasonable for a blogger/journaler to want to know more about the far-flung people who are reading his or her words… or is it enough to look at the hit counter and know they are there.
I'd really like to know what you think... and if you happen to let slip where you're writing from, I won't complain. ;-)
Wednesday, December 22, 2004
The journal entry I posted the other day about ‘freshness’ reminded me how profoundly grateful I am to have such an abundance of good fresh food so close at hand. But it also got me thinking about the little things that aren’t within easy reach.
Zahava chimed in with her ‘miss list’ (just in case friends and family need a hint as to what to pack for their next trip to Israel):
Ghiradelli unsweetened cocoa powder
Real Vanilla Extract
Powdered or dried sage
Real chili powder
Unsweetened baker’s chocolate
However, while doing my regular online reading, I realized that there is a seasonal treat that used to magically appeared in American dairy cases a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving that I've been subconsciously missing here:
Yes, that's right... besides being a sentimental sap for Xmas music and holiday displays along 5th Avenue, I become a hopeless eggnog addict around this time of year.
Soooo... off I went to my favorite food site - Epicurious - to find out how to make the stuff.
For those of you who haven’t discovered this culinary treasure trove, please go bookmark the site immediately… I’ll wait.
Epicurious is the mother lode of food, drink and recipe advice. Anyone who still has tattered old editions of Gourmet Magazine from 1972 laying around just because they have pages folded over to mark recipes they've been meaning to try for the past 32 years (Shmiel) ... can now throw all those old magazines away!
Epicurious has a searchable database of nearly every recipe that has ever appeared in nearly every food / homemaking magazine. You can search by recipe name or by any of the ingredients. In fact, if you’re stuck for an idea as to what to make for dinner, it even has a search function where you can enter in all the ingredients you have to work with and it will give you a list of every possible recipe that you can create from your limited larder!
I went to look up Eggnog, and quickly found everything from Eggnog French Toast (with cranberry-apple compote) to Eggnog Crème Brulee to Tiramisu Eggnog Trifle! Naturally, there was also a selection of eggnog recipes that varied according to regional tastes.
There is even a yummy sounding recipe for making a bourbon-based spice mixture for spiking eggnog (appropriately called Kentucky Eggnog Spike). Did I mention that I love this site!
Anyway, I may have to substitute Splenda for sugar (Atkins and all), but can anyone guess what I'll be consuming in copious quantities this evening (and for the next week or two)? Anyone???
Tuesday, December 21, 2004
A fish in a tree
I recently had the pleasure of a brief email exchange with a Jerusalem blogger whom I’ve been admiring from afar.
I’ve actually been enjoying Rahel’s blog ‘Elms in the Yard’ since around the time of the great Anglo-Israeli blogmeet last September, but since she doesn’t allow comments on her site (and I’d been too lazy and self-absorbed to actually send her an email), I’m sure she had no idea I’d become a big fan.
One of the reasons I love Rahel’s blog is that it has forced me to examine many of my long held convictions about gender roles in Jewish law, Jewish observance and good old-fashioned tradition. She doesn’t always write about women’s issues… in fact such topics are more of a sub-text on her blog. The topics about which she chooses to write are actually quite varied, but have the common theme of trying to advance and illuminate goodness in the world... an important (and seldom assumed) task if ever there was one.
Most long-time readers of treppenwitz are aware that I became more religiously observant in my late teens… an age when most observant Jews are completing their formal religious education, not just setting out. As a result of my many insecurities and lack of extensive textual knowledge, I take great pains to always stay very close to what I perceive to be the more centrist position when choosing among the wide range of ‘minhagim’ (traditions) and interpretations of Halakha (a very broad term encompassing the sum of Jewish Law).
Over the twenty-something years that I have been observant, I have noticed that I tend to become uncomfortable when dealing with people and ideas that ‘push the envelope’ towards either of the extremes of Jewish observance (right or left).
Many people don’t realize that halakha is actually quite elastic, and that it has evolved dramatically throughout the history of the Jewish people. However, to those who view halakha through a lens of months or even a few years, it probably seems quite static and inflexible.
The downside is that those who have been brave (or foolish) enough to place themselves on the cutting edge of Jewish law … pushing for subtle (and not-so-subtle) change based on prevailing conditions and ‘modern norms’… are often viewed during their lifetimes as, at best kooks, and at worst heretics.
Even worse, just because an individual or group attempts to push halakha and observance in a particular direction doesn’t necessarily mean they will be successful. It is only decades, or even centuries later that scholars can look back and discern whether a particular trend became incorporated into ‘normative’ Jewish practice or whether it became an aberration or even a cautionary tale against religious rebellion.
One of the things I’ve realized since I began reading Rahel’s blog is that I have made many of my decisions about my own level of religious observance based on wanting to be in the center (what the Rambam – Maimonides called the ‘golden mean’)… and more specifically not wanting to be perceived as being near one of the extremes.
The best way for me to explain this is to compare Jewish observance to walking through a house with all the lights out. If it’s your house and you are intimately familiar with every nook and cranny, you probably have no problem navigating easily through the rooms, and even the more obscure corners, without bumping into something. But if you are in an unfamiliar house... say an extended stay in a friend’s home… you may not trust your recollection of where the furniture and stairs are located once the lights are turned off.
For me, straying too far from the most widely accepted path of religious observance means risking barking my shins on something hard/sharp. To stretch the analogy to its breaking point, I worry that by not knowing the precise halakhic guidelines for why a controversial practice may be either permissible or problematic, I may transgress and fall down a darkened flight of stairs.
In one of her emails to me, Rahel said:
"I firmly believe that today’s committed Jews need to learn to distinguish between their personal comfort level and what halakha allows. Too many times I’ve heard people say, when confronted with an idea they’re not familiar with such as women reading from the Torah, wearing tallitot (prayer shawls), or the like, some variation of ‘I don’t care if halakha allows it. I don’t like it, so they shouldn’t do it’. In my opinion, that is intellectually dishonest, to say the least."
I get the impression from her blog that Rahel is comfortable in her role as a pioneer in the world of Jewish observance/law. I’ll be the first to admit that many of the ideas she espouses make me uncomfortable. But I will also freely admit that I don’t necessarily think she is wrong. It has taken me over two decades to arrive at a place where I can admit such a thing to myself.
However, for me to embrace all the ideas and practices that Rahel holds dear, would be like sprinting through an unfamiliar house with all the lights off. I’m sure I would eventually make it through… but as an 'Am Ha'aretz' (one who is largely ignorant of Jewish texts and practice), am I brave enough to risk all the bumps and bruises that would surely accompany such a dash in the dark?
In response to my request to publish exerpts from our correspondence, Rahel related some of the hateful and thoughtless things that have been said to her because of her opinions and practices. Apparently many of the people who claim extensive knowledge of the laws dealing with women’s roles in Judaism are somewhat less familiar with the laws of Loshon HaRah (‘guarding one’s tongue’) [my observation, not hers]. That is indeed unfortunate, and I cringe to think that sincere people like Rahel, who are not using Judaism as performance art or to advance a secular feminist agenda, are frequently denigrated and insulted without the opportunity to debate or defend their position in a scholarly environment.
I know from a comment she made in one of her emails that Rahel is not immune to the pain associated with constantly living on the cutting edge. She said that much of the time she felt "like a fish living in a tree." This off-hand remark from such a knowledgeable, deeply committed woman reinforced for me the difficulty of being part of a group struggling to affect change from within. It indicated that she is often excluded from orthodoxy’s warm embrace to which those of us in the center have become accustomed.
The question then is whether I am a traitor to my values (or at very least a coward) for allowing someone else to ‘take the heat’ for doing something that makes me uncomfortable... but which I do not consider objectionable?
Obviously, for women’s roles to continue evolving within the world of observant Judaism, someone has to be the vanguard. However, being part of a vanguard can be painful business. I became observant partly to seek the order and security of well-worn ritual. I’m just not sure I am brave enough to expose myself to the pain of living on the cutting edge... and potentially becoming 'another fish living in a tree'.
[Note: I have a small request to make. Before leaving a comment, please take a moment to note that this is not a discussion of Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist or any other form of Judaism. I have limited myself to that broad area known as Orthodox Judaism (although I intensely dislike the term "orthodox’). I welcome and encourage lively, repectful debate... but I would ask that before bringing up any issues you might have with orthodoxy, you remember that this is not an invitation to compare and contrast orthodoxy’s merits or flaws according to the viewpoints of the other movements, but rather a difficult topic within the orthodox world. Please be sensitive to that distinction. Thank you.]
Monday, December 20, 2004
While puttering around the kitchen this past week making chopped liver, I couldn’t help but marvel at the incredible freshness of the ingredients I was using.
Some of you may remember a journal entry I wrote about the freshness of Israeli eggs. But while poking around the kitchen, I started taking stock of how lucky I am to live in such a tiny country.
For those who need a frame of reference… Israel is roughly the size of New Jersey. This means that even if you are in one of the most remote communities in the country… you are probably less than 4 hours from the source of all the fruits, vegetables, dairy products, fish, eggs, poultry and other natural products that your family consumes. We live very near the geographic center of the country, so that estimate can probably be cut in half.
Our eggs come from a farm 30 minutes south of us and are delivered fresh to our door. We get fresh squeezed orange juice delivered every Thursday evening from another local supplier… again, right to the door.
Many people in our neighborhood grow a nice assortment of the herbs and spices they use most frequently, and while the selection on an American supermarket spice shelf may be dazzling in its scope… there is something amazing about an Israeli spice department (yes, an entire supermarket department) which contains countless overflowing burlap bags and heaping canisters of the freshest, most fragrant spices imaginable!
The fruits and vegetables we eat are almost all local (meaning Israeli) grown, and therefore the selection varies with the seasons. In Connecticut I had grown accustomed to having South American summer produce during our winter months, and didn’t give a moment’s thought to what was 'in season'. If I had a taste for something, I could usually find it. I also didn't think too much about how far the produce had traveled to reach me or how much time had elapsed since it had been picked. But with my present frame of reference, I can safely say I'd much rather have 'just-picked' flavor in my produce and not have as wide a selection year-round.
There is also a growing organic food industry here in Israel, and according to an article in this past weekend’s Jerusalem post, organic aint just for hippies anymore!
Each week I see trucks on the road taking chickens and turkeys to be ‘shechted’ (slaughtered), and I know when I walk into my butcher that the poultry couldn’t be any fresher if I raised it myself
While there are several good bakery options within a few minutes of my door, every local store and makolet has shelves of fresh baked bread that was delivered from the baker that very morning. Much of it is left unwrapped because it is too warm to package when it arrives. Larger supermarkets almost all bake their own bread and rolls on the premises.
I'll admit that after 18 short months, my longing for a few specific American products has not abated much, but I can say without hesitation that most of what I miss are the processed products, and not the fresh foodstuffs.
Friends and family often accuse me of gushing about how great things are in Israel… and I admit that I do this maybe a little too much. But it isn’t a dig at where I came from... only an ongoing indication of happiness at where we are.
Zahava and I picked up our kids and moved to Israel largely for ideological reasons. We did so knowing full well that Ideologues tend to live lives of deprivation... always sacrificing for their beliefs. We came expecting to have to ‘do without’ and instead have been amazed at how very much is now ours for the asking.
I guess what I am trying to do when I carry on this way is to reassure people I care about (and those who care about us) that we’re doing just fine here, thankyouverymuch. But if you happen to think of it, could you bring some Ghirardelli unsweetened cocoa powder and some real vanilla extract from Trader Joe’s next time you come for a visit?
Sunday, December 19, 2004
The good, the bad… and the chopped liver
OK, the good part is that Photo Friday had the desired result; lots of discussion.
The bad part is that seemingly all of the discussion revolved around a minor detail that was visible in one corner of one picture. C’mon people, there were at least two other potentially lethal weapons in those pictures (not counting the liver) and yet you felt the need to fixate on the gun. Sheesh!
Granted some of you may be new to treppenwitz, and weren’t around when I discussed my thoughts on gun ownership and my personal reasons for reluctantly deciding to carry one. But for the rest of you [wags finger reproachfully]… when the busty waitress at your favorite greasy spoon leans over to wipe your table… have a little class and resist the temptation to stare at the now-familiar cleavage!
I’ll admit that I should have followed Zahava’s sage advice and just cropped the picture. But then the only part of me left in the picture would have been my arm (as opposed to my sidearm)… and the request was for a picture of me chopping liver!
Since you all glossed over the other, more interesting details of the photos, I’ll share some of the answers to questions you DIDN’T ask:
A: Milk in a bag… what a neat concept! Why yes it is. In fact we buy our regular milk in bags too (albeit in liter-sized bags). Less packaging = more environmentally friendly. Also from what I’ve observed, the bagged milk has a faster turnover rate in the store than the milk in more traditional packaging so it is probably slightly fresher too.
A: Why yes, Ari and Gili look sleepy because they woke up moments before I shoved the shoko/moka into their hands and snapped this photo. BTW, the white bathrobe Gilad is wearing was made from the white flannel runner that served as our wedding aisle. Zahava couldn’t bear to see all that soft white fabric thrown out, so she has used it for several worthy sewing projects such as this bathrobe.
A: Yes, that little dark shape next to Gilad’ knee is indeed Yonah. No he didn’t get a Shoko.
A: Yes, you heard me correctly… a retractable fountain pen. It fills and writes like a traditional fountain pen, but retracts into a sealed chamber like a modern ballpoint so you don’t risk any ink stains on your shirt.
Also, if you read through the comments... how cool is it to have a couple of German girls (ahem, women) discussing 'Krapfen' filling and season in English on my blog!. I feel so international!!! :-)
OK… now to the subject that seems to have diverted your collective attention from the more central themes of Friday’s Photos:
Yes, I’m wearing a gun. As I said before, if you want some general background about my reluctant decision to do so, go here. As to why it is so prominently displayed… that’s a reasonable question for which I have a reasonable answer:
Before I got married I had never heard of the concept of ‘fat clothes’ and ‘skinny clothes’. However, living in close proximity to a woman (and loitering within earshot while said woman talks with others of the species) I have discerned that, depending on the day, some cloths simply may or may not fit. Fascinating!
It wasn’t until I went on a diet and had to buy pants in a much smaller waist size that I began to understand the concept. My first such diet was very successful, although the success was rather short-lived. However, my wardrobe expanded to include a nice selection of clothing for whenever I might return to the less ‘husky’ version of myself.
As I am now almost 10 pounds lighter (and seemingly stuck on this plateau) I am starting to fit into some of my ‘skinny clothes’ again. However my gun, which is usually tucked discreetly inside my waistband and mostly obscured by the billowing folds of my shirts, no longer fits there. Instead, I have to wear a much more visible holster outside my pants… at least until another 6 or 8 pounds vacate the delicate area around my ‘love handles’ and belt.
Riveting stuff, huh? This should put a hefty dent in my stats.
Anyway, my dad was kind enough to share his version of the family recipe for chopped liver, but mine differs in enough ways that I will post it here:
Grandma Fay’s Chopped Liver (David’s version)
1 lb. fresh chicken liver
1 or 2 yellow onion
4-5 hard-boiled eggs
* Schmaltz is rendered chicken fat. Whenever I go to the butcher for chicken, I ask him to put the skin he trims from the bird into a separate bag for me. Once a month or so I take out all the collected chicken skin and fry it up in a frying pan. As the skin gives up its fat, you pour it off into a container. You will do this several times before all the schmaltz is rendered and you are left with crispy-fired chicken skin (also called ‘gribinis’ in Yiddish. Gribinis is a huge (although infrequent) treat in our house! Anyway, I always keep a big container of schmaltz in the fridge to add to pot pies, soups, meatloaf, etc. And, it is essential for frying onions and, ye... making chopped liver.
Into a large cast iron skillet put a couple of big dollops of schmaltz and place over medium flame. Coarse chop your onion and dump into the now hot frying pan. Sauté until onions are transparent and starting to turn brown (don’t burn the onions or it will give the chopped liver a smoky flavor!). Put onions and schamltz drippings into a bowl.
My dad likes to cook the liver in with the onions, but because I keep kosher, the liver must be cooked under a broiler or on an open flame (complicated reason… e-mail me offline if you really want the full explanation). I broil the liver on my outdoor grill but you can do it on a cookie sheet in the oven (on the broil setting). Don’t overcook the liver or it will be too dry.
While the liver is cooking you can hard-boil your eggs and set out your other ingredients and a good mixing bowl.
Once you have all your ingredients in front of you, begin by putting almost all of your liver into the mixing bowl. The key here is to always hold some of each ingredient in reserve because you are going to be constantly adjusting the ratios. The goal is to make sure no one flavor dominates. Like having great seats at the symphony, you should be able to ‘hear’ each individual ‘performer’ just by concentrating on it.
Into the bowl with the liver you should add a big dollop of schmaltz. If you don’t have schmaltz (shame on you!) you can use olive oil, but it won’t be the same. Start mixing/chopping the liver until you come up with a fairly wet lumpy mixture. Don’t chop the liver too fine! Big chunks are ok. Now add most of your onions and 2 or 3 eggs. Now add a little more schmaltz/oil. Continue chopping/ mixing. You’re going for a coarse texture here… not a paste. Now add in a tablespoon of mayo and your seasonings (salt, pepper and garlic power to taste).
From this point on you should be constantly tasting the mixture to see what is needed. Too ‘livery’… add another egg. Not ‘livery’ enough… add more liver. Too dry… add a bit more of the onions and more schmaltz/oil.
As I said, the finished chopped liver should look something like what you see in my mixing bowl but it shouldn’t taste like any one of the ingredients.
Serve at room temperature.
One of my astute readers asked about the chopper in the picture. I hate it! This is a truly stupid design that does indeed need three hands to operate. There are much better single-blade choppers that are designed to be held in one hand, and I will be buying one very soon! You can find them in any good kitchen/cutlery shop. Also, a good wooden bowl is not essential but is very pleasant to work with.
I hope everyone outside of Israel enjoys the rest of their weekend… and to my fellow Israelis; Enjoy the new work week.
Friday, December 17, 2004
Photo Friday (Vol VII)
This week’s Photo Friday selection is courtesy of mademoiselle a., the creator of ‘Ze Shtripey Original’… whose ‘nom de net’ suggests a blog overlooking the Seine… and whose persnickety personality gives a hint to her German upbringing… but whose heart and soul (and hopefully soon her person) belong only to Israel.
Her requests are:
1. How you bribe your children into your house duties with choco yodvata
2. Your salad-bowl-sized coffee mug (and maybe a pen for proportional studies)
3. Yourself chopping up chicken liver for the week-end
The first one may be a bit of a mystery to those outside of Israel. Choko also spelled ‘shoko’ in English) is part of Israeli childhood. It is fresh chocolate milk, but it comes packaged in a dizzying number of forms and concentrations. My children like the traditional ‘sakeet shoko’ which is basically a small plastic bag filled with fresh chocolate milk. These are found in a cold bin the local ‘makolet’s’ dairy case, and it is quite common to see kids stopping in on their way to school for a ‘lachmaniah v’shoko’ (fresh baked bread roll and chocolate milk), which they will munch/slurp as they walk.
Here is a picture of the shoko bags (Gilad actually prefers ‘moka’ [the one on the left],
which is a coffee flavored milk, and Ariella likes the traditional shoko). You drink them by biting a tiny hole in one corner and then squeezing the milk into your mouth. Yum! Just ask these sleepy kids if this is a nice way to wake up in the morning!!!
My ‘salad-bowl-sized coffee mug’ is not so special for its impressive
capacity, but rather for its aesthetic appeal. It is equally at home with a hot portion of cream-of-tomato soup, a king-sized hot toddy
or a steaming serving of Sumatra’s best. As requested, I have included a pen (my trusy Namiki retractable fountain pen) for scale.
I don’t make chopped liver every week… more like once every month or
two… so it took a while to honor this request. It occurred to me after I had already started to chop the liver that the
request was for a picture of me actually chopping the liver… sorry. Instead I have a picture of the basic
ingredients ready to be combined, and another shot of me making the final
adjustments to the proportions. If
there is any interest I’ll post my recipe and preparation instructions as an
As always, I would love to hear what you have to say about any of these pictures, and would welcome any new requests for Photo Friday pictures (3 to a customer).
I hope Hanukah was enjoyable for those who celebrated it… and that Xmas and Kwanza are everything they should be (and more) for my non-Jewish friends.
Wednesday, December 15, 2004
A Dream Come True
Sometimes when I see a blog recommended by someone... even someone I trust... I kind of gloss over the link because, let's face it, we all have our regular reads and only so many hours in the day to surf.
If the recommended blog turns out to be a dud, then I will have wasted valuable time that could have been spent elsewhere! If it turns out to be a really good site, then I have to chose between adding it to my already daunting list of 'must read' blogs, or eliminating something from my regular surfing routine.
Trust me when I tell you that the blog I'm about to share with you is worth the read. And what's more, it is not a long-term commitment... the story is almost at its end.
Well, sort of.
As it's subtitle explains, Joshua's Dream is "the unfolding saga of a 6 year old's journey to Jerusalem with the Children's Wish Foundation". But it is so much more than that.
The first post in this moving blog begins:
"A BIG surprise!
Almost two years ago our four year old son Joshua was diagnosed with Leukemia. Those were dark days and we spent a lot of time reading Psalms and praying. There were many difficulties and trials but with God's help we have made it until today. Joshua is now six years old..."
Yeah, it grabbed my attention too.
I've been following along as Joshua and his family have gone through a harrowing regimen of debilitating treatments. What seems to have kept Joshua focused on the twinkle of light at the end of the tunnel was a dazzling prize.
Early on in the treatment, Joshua's parents became aware of various programs that were in the business of granting wishes to very sick children. Some offered wonderful things like trips to Disney World and such places... while others, such as the 'Children's Wish Foundation' offered to grant a wish of the child's choosing.
I don't know about you, but at 4 or 5 years old, I think my little overactive brain could have come up with a pretty long list of shiny things I wanted and neat places I wanted to go.
The one thing that would have never occurred to me back then was the one thing that Joshua wished for: Joshua's Dream was to go to Israel and walk in the footsteps of his hero, King David.
The Children's Wish Foundation initially balked at granting Joshua's wish because of the security situation. But in the end, they agreed that at the end of his course of treatment, for better or worse, they would indeed send him and his family to Israel.
I'll leave it to you to read about Joshua's brave, often heart-breaking, battle with Leukemia.
At first I assumed that Joshua was Jewish. Certainly King David is an unlikely hero for a non-Jewish 4-year-old to adopt. But it turns out that Joshua's family are observant members of a faith that, among other things, is very pro-Israel... very pro-Aliyah (meaning they support the notion of Jews moving to, and living in Israel)... and to my relief, are not in the business of trying to proselytize Jews (or anyone else) to their way of life.
If you are curious, I'm sure Joshua's dad (Dave) would be happy to tell you more, but that's his place... not mine. Suffice it to say that these are my kind of folks!
Joshua is now six years old and has just finished his last treatment. In the not too distant future he and his family will be realizing Joshua's Dream and flying over to my part of the world.
I, for one, am thrilled beyond words at the prospect of meeting this brave young man and his special family.
Although Joshua's Dream has been about his ongoing treatment and the anticipation of his trip to Israel... I am happy to report (kenaynahara, ptu, ptu, ptu) that Joshua has just received a clean bill of health and is now free to dream a hundred... a thousand... a million different dreams, and with G-d's help, will have a lifetime to make them all come true.
Tuesday, December 14, 2004
No Weddings, Five Funerals
Due to the closely related nature of the following subject matter to David’s last post, I asked if I might have the opportunity to guest blog on his site. Since you are reading this, obviously, he granted me the request (thanks honey!)….
David’s last post expressed his dismay over the lack of clear outcry from within our community when acts of violence – no matter how infrequent or misrepresentative – are perpetrated by Jews against our Arab neighbors.
Today, as I sat reading the headlines recounting the details of the deaths and funerals of 5 Israeli Arab soldiers, I was gripped by the question of whether or not these five families have received condolences from our community? If so, have the gestures been merely symbolic in nature? Or, do the numbers reflect the same courtesies and practices shown to Jewish families whose sons have been killed in the-line-of-duty while protecting our country?
It is a terrible question. What is worse, I don’t know the answer. Nor do I, as a new immigrant, even know how to go about gathering the information to answer this question.
What I do know is the following: Five young men who reported for duty Sunday morning are dead. Their families are bereft. Some of the deceased were Christian, some Muslim. None were Jewish. All the deceased were soldiers protecting our land, our government and our people.
I say “our” with pride and with gratitude to the soldiers (their memories should be blessed) and to the families that they left behind.
For all of our potential and realized differences (cultural, theological, sociological, and political) we still DO share several key commonalities, not the least of which is citizenship. Whilst some might consider this a minor thread of commonality, I do not.
I realize that for these men and their families, unlike the those in my social circles, service in the army or another form of national service is NOT a given. Additionally, their decision to serve can create a hostile environment for them (or their families) in their communities. I do not wish to argue the merits of if, or why this is true. Nor do I wish to begin a discussion on how to address these issues.
What I would like to do, however, is express my sorrow and heartfelt condolences to the families of these brave young men. As a parent, I shudder in horror at the thought of losing a child in battle. As an Israeli, I participate in the both their pain and loss. As a citizen hoping for a better collective future, I am grateful that these sons have shared in the defense of our country and our ideals of freedom and democracy. I am truly sorry that their honor and decency has exacted such a terrible cost.
These men who gave their lives to our country -- Sgt. Adham Shehada z”l, Sgt. Hussein Abu Leil z”l, Sgt. Araf Azbarga z”l, Sgt. Tarek Al-Ziadne z”l, and Sgt. Sayid Jaja z”l – have prompted me to write today not because their service was any more or less important than the service of any other Israeli citizen, but rather because the service of Arab, Beduin, and Druze Israelis is so much less expected than the service of Jewish Israeli soldiers. Less expected, and therefore I would argue, less easily taken for granted.
And yet, sadly, I suspect that ‘taken for granted’ is exactly how their families may feel in the coming days, weeks, months and years if no effort is made to show them the proper respect, comfort, and gratitude for the sacrifices their sons made on our behalf this past Sunday. I know that my words, in this context and format, will offer no tangible evidence to these specific families that we do in fact share in their loss. I hope, though, that my desire to remind myself that common human decency is not only decrying that which is destructive and evil, but praising and elevating that which is noble and good.
“Ani mishtatephet b’tsorechim” (I participate in your sorrow). I hope that the day will soon come when such losses will be unnecessary. I hope that together we will win the war on terror so that we might start rebuilding instead of burying. I hope that our children will one day serve side-by-side in an army to maintain peace rather than endlessly chasing it.
Sunday, December 12, 2004
Not in my name!
In private conversations... and occasionally here on treppenwitz... I have spoken out against the so-called 'moderate Arab majority' for not publicly condemning acts of violence committed by terrorists against Israeli civilians. My position has always been that to remain silent in the face of barbaric attacks against innocent men, women and children is morally equivalent to supporting those acts.
However, a recent article in the Jerusalem Post gave me a sobering reminder that I often fail to do what I demand of others. It made me realize that whenever I hear about attacks against Arab civilians by Jews (however infrequently such attacks may occur), I tend to quickly create rationales and scenarios within which I can sort of excuse them. Well, 'excuse' might be too strong a word. Maybe what I do is more like 'let's wait until the full story comes out and then make a moral judgment'.
The problem with such a 'wait and see' approach to passing judgment on bad people and bad acts is that the investigation and criminal proceedings are often pushed out of the spotlight by more current news stories... and the much needed scream of moral outrage is delayed until it is nothing but a soft whimper... if that.
Every few months I hear a news story about 'armed religious settlers' from places like Itamar or Bat Ayin, being arrested for allegedly shooting at an Arab car... suspicion of plotting a bomb attack against a local Arab institution... or some random act of thuggery against an Arab target of opportunity.
My first reaction to such reports is to cringe. After all, I too am considered a settler. Whether or not the incident turns out to be true, the news report provides fuel to the convictions already held by people around the world (and by many Israelis) that all settlers are extreme right-wing messianic fanatics who support a Jewish version of Jihad.
My second reaction is caution, because accusations made by Arab plaintiffs and witnesses have a better-than-even chance of turning out to be complete fabrications. In this respect the Arabs have become their own worst enemy, having 'cried wolf' so many times that even their staunchest supporters sometimes take a 'wait and see' approach to legal proceedings.
The problem here is that Arab culture is unencumbered by the Western Judeo-Christian guilt associated with telling lies. In fact, in Arab culture, one is considered a bit of an idiot for not weaving the most expedient story to completely outrage the listener's sensibilities. If all Arab accusations were true, the Dome of the Rock would have been blown up countless times, every well in every Arab village would be awash in poison, and there would be nothing left of the Palestinian population but mass graves and empty villages.
You can't argue with success though. As a tactic, the lies seem to be far more effective than the truth! A recent poll in Germany showed that "51 % of respondents said that there is not much of a difference between what Israel is doing to the Palestinians today and what the Nazis did to the Jews during the Holocaust." Also that "68 % of Germans believe that Israel is waging a 'war of extermination' against the Palestinians."
This is the root of what makes supporters of Israel scream at their televisions and radios day after day. When CNN or BBC interviewers give equal time (and credence) to Benjamin Natanyahu and Saeb Erikat, they are completely ignoring the former's obligation to presenting the truth, and the latter's long association with what turn out to be outrageous lies. They also willfully ignore the fact that such lies usually make much better news than the truth. This is why the term 'even-handed' has become a dirty code-word in places where Israel's supporters gather.
But getting back to my own reactions to hearing about real or alleged Jewish acts of violence... my third and fourth and fifth reaction are a series of frustrating justifications and fruitless searches for accurate information. By the time I feel I have the full story (or as full a story as a private citizen is likely to get), my rage is largely spent... and in its place is a silent shame at having to to share the same label as these criminals who, by an accident of birth, happen to be Jewish.
The end result is that I rarely speak out. My liberal democratic upbringing screams for justice, but the correct time and forum to express my outrage never seem to present themselves.
So why not now... and why not here?
Yes, I am a settler (by the broadest of interpretation of the term) and I am armed... and I am also religious. If one were to use this check-list in the manner of the proverbial group of blind men, who after each has touched a portion of an elephant come to wildly inaccurate conclusions about what they have discovered, then one could assume this small minority of right wing Jewish extremists speaks and acts in my name, too.
I can't stop ignorant people from painting me with the same broad brush as these criminals. However, what I can do is speak out for myself and condemn these misguided people who feel they have the right to take the law, and in effect the present war with the Arabs, into their own hands.
By saying this I don't excuse the Arabs who dance in the street when I bomb goes off in a crowded mall or bus, or when a pregnant woman and her children are shot like fish in a barrel inside the family minivan. I don't even excuse the so-called moderates who give tacit approval to Arab terrorism by remaining silent.
The polls that come from within the Palestinian community consistently show majority support for all acts of violence against Israeli civilians. The only glimmer of humanity revealed by these polls is a small murmur of resentment at the various terrorist groups for recruiting such young 'martyrs'.
These polls also consistently show that a majority of respondents reject the two state solution. Clearly, the elimination of Israel, at any cost, remains a viable option in the mind of our enemies.
But I refuse be lowered to their level.
Israel has a legally elected central government, a defense force with a clearly defined moral code and chain of command, and the rule of law is firmly on its side. I will not tolerate or condone the existence of armed militias or self-appointed free-lance Jewish Jihadists who do nothing more than provide the world (and sometimes even ourselves) with confirmation of the most deeply held prejudices.
Israel is not the country the anti-Semites accuse us of being... and I am not the instrument of their blood libels.
Anyone who is convicted of committing illegal acts of violence should be locked up along with their Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Al Aksa Martyrs Brigade blood-brothers!
These people don't act in my name, in the name of my country or according to the tenets of my religion.
Saturday, December 11, 2004
Happy 5th Night!
Happy Hanukah (especially to the extended family gathering in Westport Connecticut tonight)!
Friday, December 10, 2004
Photo Friday (Vol. VI)
Welcome to the Hanukah edition of Photo Friday!
Today’s collection of snapshots is brought to you by, well, me. It’s not that I don’t have a healthy backlog of photo requests – there are at least 12 people (at last count) waiting patiently for their requests to be honored (and hopefully many more to come).
But you know what? One of the perks of owning the pushcart is being able to sample the goods whenever the mood strikes. Being Hanukah and all, I wanted to share a few snapshots from my ride home last night…
The first stop after leaving work was the bakery/coffee shop down the street from my office. This time of year they churn out an incredible quantity and selection of sufganiyot –traditional softball-sized donuts that are filled with jelly, caramel or chocolate and topped with powdered sugar. There are other, more exotic varieties (feel free to share your favorite), but these are the ones you’d be most likely to find in stores around Israel.
Next, about 20 minutes north of Beer Sheva (probably on or near the spot where Harry spent the last week of his army service) I came upon the first roadblock. It was manned by a couple of miluimnikim (reserve soldiers). A pretty large portion of the population does annual reserve duty, leaving their families behind for weeks at a time, until well into their 40s. Please note the non-regulation headgear! Reservists tend to take a perverse pride in not looking (or acting) like their younger conscript counterparts.
About 10 minutes north of the first roadblock is a second one. There are two roads that lead off into the desert towards the town of Arad… so in order to control traffic on both there are two groups of reservists. I couldn't bring for one and not the other, right?
When I was almost home I decided to stop into another bakery and pick up more sufganiyot for my family (our fave is ribat halav – caramel filled). While I was there I decided to pick up a few extra for a roadblock that sits off on a lightly traveled road behind our town. Whenever I think of it I try to bring goodies to this roadblock in particular since a) they are in a spot that sees very little traffic (light traffic = light goodies); and b) they are protecting one of the back approaches to my town…I sleep better at night knowing they're there.
I arrived just as this new group of soldiers was being dropped off. And no, it wasn't my idea to be in the picture... one of my hitchhikers picked up the camera and decided to document the event.
Last but not least (yes, owning the pushcart also means I get more than 3 pictures!) is the response to a question I’ve gotten countless times. Apparently one of the pictures of me holding Yonah shortly after he was born has a clear view of my signet ring. Here’s a link to the picture… but I’ve also included a close-up of the ring here (yes, I know the menorah is set up backwards… that’s the second most common question I get. The reason is that this is a signet ring. It is carved with a negative image so that it leaves a correct positive image when pressed into sealing wax):
The most common question I usually get is, “why are only some of the candles lit on your ring’s menorah?”
The answer comes from a Hasidic tradition of calling the 5th night of Hanukah ‘the darkest night’ and making special celebrations on this night. According to the way the Jewish calendar is set up, the 5th night of Hanukah is the only night that can’t fall on Shabbat. It’s called ‘the darkest night’ because on all other nights you could potentially have the Shabbat candles to provide additional light / holiness to the home. But on the 5th night… only the Hanukah candles are lit. As a result, there is a tradition to try to do something special on the 5th night… invite friends over… even have a party to elevate this ‘dark night’.
I’m not a Hasid, by any stretch of the imagination, but I really liked the concept of having to bring extra holiness to one day of a holiday. To me, it implied that even though we may celebrate the holidays… even though we may surround ourselves with good people and live in a wonderful community… there will always come a time when it will be up to us to provide a little extra ‘something’. Whatever goodness exists in the holiday… in our friends… in our communities… it won’t be enough to just be passive and enjoy it. We will one day be called upon to step up and throw a little of our own light on the world.
I liked that. In fact I liked it so much that I asked Zahava to design the image and I had a goldsmith create the ring. So, if you've been waiting for just the right time to do an especially good deed, Saturday night after lighting the 5th candle might be a nice opportunity. :-)
Happy Hanukah & Shabbat Shalom!
Thursday, December 09, 2004
I wanted to say thank you to everyone for your good wishes and wonderful words of comfort. Ariella still has a bit of a headache and is still a little out of sorts... but she is feeling worlds better than she was two days ago.
Today I had wanted to post an entry about a fellow blogger in Jerusalem who has made me take stock of some of my own religious and observance-related decisions. However, because these include issues that tend to bring out strong reactions in even normally circumspect individuals... I had promised my lovely wife I would let her preview it for potential landmines. Needless to say, our little medical adventure with Ari has diverted our attention for the past couple of days.
Zahava and I don't agree about many of the opinions I express here on treppenwitz, which is fine... that's why they're called opinions. But I have learned from long experience that she has a much better developed 'uh-oh meter' about things that perhaps should be saved for a less public forum.
Invariably whenever I have been taken to task for something I've written here... Zahava has already told me, "Uh-oh! You should have thought twice before posting that one."
Tomorrow is Photo Friday as scheduled. I hope that by Monday or Tuesday I will be able to post the above-mentioned journal entry.
Thank you again for all the comments and e-mails inquiring about Ariella and wishing her a speedy recovery. She is almost completely unaware of what goes on here on treppenwitz, but this evening I plan to let her sit down at my computer and read some of your thoughtful words.
Wednesday, December 08, 2004
Right candle… wrong place!
Last night was the first night of Hanukah… meaning that only one candle is lit (aside from the shamash). This makes it fairly hard to screw up the count (don’t ask… I manage to get mixed up at some point during the holiday nearly every year).
However, this year, fate intervened and almost kept us from lighting the first candle at all!
While I was at work yesterday afternoon, Zahava called to tell me that Ariella was going on two days with the same nasty headache… she also had a fever and had thrown up a couple of times.
Within the hour she called back to tell me that our pediatrician suspected meningitis and felt that she needed to be evaluated at the hospital in order to determine if it was viral or bacterial.
For those of you who didn’t go to medical school, bacterial is the one that can be life threatening… and viral is just a painful few days that will pass of its own accord. Unfortunately, even if the symptoms are presenting classically as viral meningitis, many health professionals want to absolutely rule out bacterial… and the only way to do that is by performing a Lumbar Puncture (L.P. in E.R. speak).
So, a friend drove Zahava and Ariella to the Hospital in Jerusalem, and I quickly left work in Beer Sheva to meet them there.
During the hour-and-a-half drive to Jerusalem I went back and forth between making rash promises to G-d and trying to get the title of that ‘80s cult movie; “This is Spinal Tap” out of my head. Clearly I’m not your ideal ‘go to’ guy in a crisis.
By the time I got to the Hospital, Zahava and Ari were the next in line to be seen in the Pediatric Emergency room… and within minutes a team of doctors and nurses had taken a full medical history and had hooked my baby (I don’t give a crap that she’s almost 11 dammit!) up to an I.V. drip.
Most of my biggest worries (aside from her actual medical condition) were assuaged within minutes of arriving. First and foremost I didn’t want my baby girl to be poked and prodded by a bunch of scary strangers in a scary big city hospital. I also was sad that she would miss the first night of Hanukah.
I shouldn’t have worried too much though, because the doctors and nurses were beyond wonderful. They all had that disarming, kid-friendly quality that puts both parents and kids instantly at ease. They also maintained (IMHO) the perfect balance between keeping Ariella informed of what was going on and not giving her too close a look at the serious stuff.
I was also delighted to see that the first night of Hanukah was not going to be a total wash out. A group of teenagers wandered the corridors singing Hanukah songs and people kept appearing with packages of candy and boxes of fresh sufganiot (traditional donuts filled with jelly, caramel or chocolate and sprinkled with confectioner’s sugar) for kids and parents alike! For the second time since going on my diet I allowed myself a lapse… a caramel-filled sufganiya actually called me by name… what could I do???
Each of the nurse’s stations had menoras and boxes of candles for anyone who wanted to light. Between medical exams and infusions of sugar, we went over and lit the first candle on the menorah. We recited the blessings and sang ‘hanerot halalu…’ amidst the groups of excited children who somehow managed to forget they were sick.
For those who have never visited a Pediatric ward (and, health professionals aside, I hope you never get the opportunity) there is something achingly sad about the décor. Everywhere you look there are pictures and murals of fish and lambs and puppies and kittens. There are toys and activities and eye-catching splashes of primary colors no matter where a child might chance to look.
But any adult understands this is all smoke and mirrors… slight-of-hand whose only purpose is to distract sick children from the deadly serious business of trying to keep them from dying.
Within a short time we got the bad news that, indeed, Ariella was going to have to have an L.P. While we were all in the exam room preparing for the procedure, we were also told that Ariella would have to stay overnight for observation.
While Zahava and I were discussing the fact that it made the most sense for me to stay and for her to take the car and go home to look after Yonah and Gilad, the nurse (who was holding Ariella in a bear hug) turned to us and said that since she also lived in Efrat she would be happy to drive Zahava home.
With the L.P. completed (Ariella was a real trooper) and her blood and spinal fluid samples sent off to the lab, Zahava and the nurse left Ari and me to settle in for the night. The combination of a headache, her I.V., the constant voices, bells and other hospital noises, and being in a strange bed meant Ari was up for most of the night (and therefore so was I).
At 8:00 the on-going and off-going medical staff made their rounds and we were given the results of the tests (everything negative!) and told we would be discharged in a few minutes.
The pediatrician in charge of the morning shift was the one to do the final exam and prepare Ari for discharge. In the course of the chitchat he asked about our pediatrician and it turned out they were good friends. As if to provide proof, he produced an invitation to our pediatrician’s daughter’s wedding from among his stack of paperwork.
If we weren’t already getting first class treatment (which we were), this new revelation cleared the way for a super-dooper express discharge. He didn’t even wait for the nurse to take out the I.V…. with a practiced flourish he did it himself!
We’re all home now and the patient is resting comfortably. I made a big pot of chicken soup for us to enjoy on this nippy December day and there is a movie marathon scheduled for later this afternoon.
While the fisrts night of Hanukah 2004 was certainly now what we would have planned, the odd locale for its 'celebration' has indelibly marked this Hanukah as one to remember. In years to come when I look back on this Hanukah, I will always think of it as 'right candle... wrong place'.
Monday, December 06, 2004
The other day we packed all the kids into the car and set out for the Malcha Mall in Jerusalem.
Zahava had a long list of things we needed to find, but one of our primary missions was to buy a pair of gym shoes for our daughter Ariella.
We went to an incredible number of shoe and sporting goods stores in search of something that would be both comfortable and functional. She tried on all the high-tech running/cross training shoes (all of which seemed to employ NASA-level engineering and materials), but she has a very narrow foot (like her mother) and none of the stores seemed to stock narrow sizes in the ‘more expensive than gold’ category of sneakers. Maybe a lifetime of wearing sandals tends to widen the foot somewhat.
This left us to ponder the old fashioned flat-bottomed, canvas sided, high-top sneaker of my youth; Converse All-Stars. Sure, some kids in the 60s wore Keds and PF Flyers… but all the really cool kids wore Converse. I seem to also remember that the girls used to write on each other’s canvas sneakers (feel free to set me straight on that point).
Anyway, in the end she settled on a pair of purple high top canvas Converse All-Stars. Ariella was delighted with the selection (purple being her favorite color) and the style looked adorable on her.
But, when we got home Ariella began worrying that her gym teacher (who is very strict) might not allow her to wear her new sneakers for gym since they looked so different from the typical modern sneakers. She informed me that he routinely yelled at kids with inappropriate footwear and made them take gym class bare-foot!
I assured her that these sneakers were perfectly appropriate for gym class. I patiently explained that generations of grade school, college and even NBA athletes had played in these sneakers, and that if her gym teacher took issue with her new footwear I would have a talk with him. This seemed to settle things for her and she skipped away, happy as a clam (I constantly wonder about the origin of that expression), in her new purple sneakers.
However, within a few minutes she was back with a statement which indicated to me that perhaps her integration into Israeli society isn’t quite complete: She said, “Since I have gym class tomorrow, maybe I should show the teacher my new sneakers today and ask him if they are OK.”
Up until this moment I’d assumed that the kids were much more ‘Israeli’ than either Zahava or myself. They spoke the language with unaccented ease… they effortlessly navigated the clerical nightmare of the Israeli schoolday… they even blended perfectly into their youth groups. But this statement revealed a remnant of Ariella’s American upbringing that was sure to mark her as an outsider.
There’s an old joke making the rounds that has been attributed to the late Henny Youngman:
A Jewish man pulls up to the curb and asks a policeman “Can I park here?”
“No” says the cop.
So the man asks “What about all these other cars?”
To which the policeman answers “They didn’t ask!”
I have no idea if Henny Youngman ever uttered this bit of humor, but the joke offers a deep look into that most Israeli of concepts; ‘The Kitbag Question’.
It seems that during army basic training soldiers are asked to do a fair bit of walking. Long marches up mountains and through valleys are the preferred method of gaining and holding a young soldiers attention… and as the training progresses, the distances and pack loads are steadily increased.
While the forced marches are often used as punishment for real or imagined transgressions, the unspoken truth is that they provide the best sort of conditioning available, and force untested soldiers to constantly redefine their self-imposed limits of endurance.
Within this framework of nearly endless marching in every sort of heat and inclement weather comes the inevitable simpleton who, when informed that the unit is about to embark on a particularly grueling trek, raises his hand and asks the commander, “Are we going to march with or without our kitbags (the pack that holds all the soldiers gear)?
A stunned silence usually follows, followed by the commander smiling cruelly and barking, “Yes, 20 kilometers WITH kitbags.”
The fate reserved for bright young soldiers who ask such silly questions is not even worth contemplating here.
Since the overwhelming majority of Israelis share the common experience of military service, an aversion to asking ‘kitbag questions’ seems to carry over into most other areas of their lives… and even becomes a basic lesson they teach to their children. The Henny Youngman joke perfectly illustrates this mentality.
As I explained all this to Ariella, a little lightbulb seemed to come on over her head.
Both our big kids have frequently complained of feeling frustrated at the way some of their classmates do things without asking… and get away with breaking rules. As much as I am ashamed to have taught my child this lesson… I gently explained to her that it is often easier to beg forgiveness than to ask permission.
I made it clear that this didn’t give her license to disregard rules willy nilly… especially rules that involve safety, discipline or manners. But it did give her more latitude to observe what other kids are doing and, within reason, become more assertive.
I hope I haven’t just opened a Pandora’s box!
Sunday, December 05, 2004
Suffering a fool gladly
There is a person in every synagogue whose job it is to make sure everything runs smoothly. He isn’t the Rabbi, although he is expected to have an encyclopedic knowledge of Jewish Law. He isn’t the President, although he wields arguably more power than the president or any of the officers.
He opens the synagogue in the morning and is the last to turn out the lights at night. If you have a problem with your seat.… if you have a guest for Shabbat and want to arrange the proper honors… if you want to lead the service because it’s your mother’s yartziet (anniversary of death)… he’s the guy you need to call.
He’s the Gabbai.
If you are lucky enough to have a good gabbai in your synagogue, you probably don’t even realize the extent of your good fortune, because everything runs smoothly and people are basically happy (or as happy as any group of Jews can ever be).
But if you have an inept or inexperienced gabbai, your synagogue is likely an unhappy place, full of chaotic ritual and insulted people.
My synagogue is fortunate to have a truly wonderful gabbai. He is familiar with even the most obscure nuances of Jewish ritual and protocol. He knows virtually everybody by both his or her common and Hebrew names (including parents names). He remembers birthdays, Yartzeits and seating preference and can recall every honor that has been given to every member of the congregation.
Basically, if there is a problem… one needs only to talk with our gabbai and the problem will be solved.
Our Gabbai’s name is Motti.
It just so happens that my insurance agent is also named Motti. I mention this only because, as will soon be made clear, these two names are located next to one another in my cell phone’s memory.
You may remember that not too long ago I had the misfortune of hitting a dog on my way home from work. Actually it was probably more the dog’s misfortune, but I ended up with a fair amount of damage to my car in the process. Insurance covered everything, including replacing the punctured radiator, and all was right with the world (except, of course, for the dog).
This past week I noticed an indicator light on my dashboard telling me that my radiator needed fluid. I stopped at a gas station and checked it… nope, plenty of fluid. The sensor must have been damaged or reinstalled incorrectly, so when I got back on the road I called the garage that had worked on the car.
Needless to say, they insisted that everything had been installed properly and they didn’t want to talk to me about new problems. They suggested I talk with my insurance company about opening up another claim if something was wrong with the car.
Sooooo… I called Motti... my insurance agent.
Motti answered the phone and I quickly began telling him about the indicator light… the fluid level… the sensor… the phone call to the mechanic… their suggestion that I open a new inurance claim.
Motti replied with some sensible questions: Did I speak with the owner of the garage or just a clerk? Was I sure the fluid level wasn’t a little bit low? Had I hit anything else since the car had been fixed? Did the car have any other problems that could be related to the accident/repair?
As he was asking the last couple of questions, something about his voice over the cell phone didn’t sound right. I couldn’t figure out what was amiss, but alarm bells were starting to ring in the back of my head… something was definitely out of place.
Then it hit me… I’d dialed the wrong Motti! I’d called Motti the Gabbai!!!
When I interrupted him and called him by his full name, he calmly said, “Yes?”
I asked him why he hadn’t just told me I’d gotten the wrong number and said good night?
He replied that people called him at all hours with far stranger problems, fully expecting him to make everything right. He went on to say that even if it wasn’t necessarily in his exact area of responsibility, it was usually easier to try and help the person solve their problem.
Now that's a gabbai!
The lesson we learn from this, boys and girls, is that the true role of a gabbai (a good one anyway) is to suffer fools gladly... and this time the fool was I.