Monday, March 28, 2005
In it's 19th century usage, the word dumb didn't refer to a person's mental abilities (or lack thereof), but rather it was a synonym for 'mute', or 'unable to speak'. One of the few surviving vestiges of this sense of the word is the expression 'dumb struck', a mildly offensive phrase (to people who can't speak) meaning to be struck speechless.
I woke up this morning (sounds like the start of a blues riff, right?), and found an e-mail waiting for me from one of my NY musician friends. It said that one of my first mentors in the music business, Gene Brusiloff, had been hospitalized by a serious heart attack.
Gene had offered a wonderful example to me of how to comport myself... what to play... what NOT to play... and basically showed me how to be a mentch. On the occasions that I sat next to him on the bandstand, I felt as though I'd gotten a free music theory lesson. I was never officially one of his students, but anyone who knew him could say they learned many lessons from him.
The e-mail frightened me, as this was at least his second major heart attack (the first one forced his retirement from performing), but he was still alive.
What's the old saying? "Where there's life... there's hope."
Off I went to work with memories of the gigs we had played together... each one a rare treat I was only now appreciating.
Then while I was at work I got a call telling me that two brother's with whom I am very close had lost their younger brother during the night. He'd tucked his kids into bed, gone to sleep next to his wife and never woken up in the morning.
Just like that. Game over.
The rest of the day was spent in a fog of driving to Jerusalem... watching the horror show of a family burying a young man who just yesterday had no clue he had arrived at the jumping-off point.
By the time I got home I needed a few minutes to myself.
I gave the kids their hello kisses and headed downstairs to check my e-mail and do some online reading before supper.
The subject line of the first e-mail I opened knocked the wind out of me. It read: "Sad News", and was from the same friend who had written to tell me about Gene's heart attack.
With trembling hands I clicked open the e-mail and numbly read about the senseless end of yet another life. Senseless in the sense that I was somehow not privy to G-D's master plan... and that I suddenly felt like I've been playing a game whose rules I didn't fully understand.
I don't get it. It seems as though I had just opened a fresh sleeve of cherry Pez. All this time I've been reaching into my pocket and eating great handfuls of those sweet candies... and now I am terrified that I really have no idea how many are left! Are there any at all left down there among the pocket lint and change? Maybe just a few? Why wasn't I savoring every one???
How could I have been so short-sighted and childish?!
Treppenwitz has always been a comfortable refuge for me... a creative outlet, as well as a rain bucket where many special people shower me with their wit and wisdom. It was never intended to be a psychiatrist's couch, and I have tried very hard not to use it (or you) as a tool to exorcise my demons... and I don't intend to start now.
I may take a few days off. I'm not in a very good place right now.
I am, to use a familiar expression, 'dumb struck'
I have nothing useful or witty to say... so I'll leave you with some thoughtful words from Jordan Hirsch... another of the musician friends I left behind when I moved to Israel:
"We have entered the part of our lives where we can no longer take our immortality for granted. We can be paralyzed by fear, or emboldened by the opportunity each day brings. Your words, and the love of friends near and far, present or softly treading in the background, are words not to live by, but to seize life by."
...is a good day"
The title of today's post is the second half of one of my favorite sayings. I generally share this particular bit of wisdom when people ask, "How are you?" without really wanting to know the answer.
My reply to this casual question catches people off balance, and makes them uncomfortable... but I assure them it is meant to be positive... and to express gratitude for what I have.
Today is a beautiful day here in Israel. The sky is the color of a robin's egg... there is a warm, gentle breeze blowing the smell of fresh flowers into recently opened windows... the sound of birds carries for an unusually long distance through the fresh, clear air... and everybody seems to have forgotten their jackets and sweaters in their cars on the way to wherever they were going this morning.
Unfortunately, someone forgot more than his sweater this morning. Someone went to sleep yesterday and forgot to wake up. He forgot a lifetime of living and a universe of people that he had spent his short stay on earth loving. When he closed his eyes for the last time, he couldn't know that they would never open again.
Why am I getting ready to leave work early to attend the funeral of a close friend's younger brother? Why, instead of enjoying this beautiful day, is a man more than two years younger than I am, laying on a stone slab in Jerusalem waiting with endless patience for his two older brothers to place him carefully in his grave? Why doesn't he deserve to enjoy this beautiful day?
It scares me not to have handy answers to these and other questions... but I take a bit of comfort from having a handy saying... actually more of a mantra... to offer perspective.
"Every day above ground... is a good day"
Sunday, March 27, 2005
Sunday... the new Monday?
OK, for long-time Israelis, Sunday has always been the start of the work/school week. However, since Purim fell out with the whole Friday/Sunday arrangement (depending on if you are celebrating in Jerusalem or not), many people (including Zahava and the kids) had a day off from school and work today.
Me? Not so much.
Of course that didn't stop me from staying up late watching 'Strange Relations' (a cute-but-sappy Paul Reiser film), and then two back-to-back episodes of West Wing.
This morning I felt as though a truck had repeatedly run over me during the night... and my morning soup bowl of coffee didn't seem to have its usual magical powers.
If you must know... this is what I looked like on this Monda... um, I mean Sunday morning as I consumed the hot brown elixir of life:
Gargoyle is © Walter S. Arnold, a very talented, classically trained stone carver.
[Hat tip to Craig for linking to this image and for all he does in support of the coffee drinking public]
Friday, March 25, 2005
Photo Friday (Vol. XX) [Purim edition]
Quick update: I don't like to play favorites with mishloach manot... but I think this one from one of 'my soldiers' qualifies as the best one this year:
Just a quickie today because I have to take the kids out delivering 'mishloach manot' (gift baskets of food and sweets) to friends in the neighborhood. This is a bit like Halloween, but in reverse... the kids dress up, but they deliver sweets instead of going around asking for them!
Far be it from me to pass judgment on anyone else's culture... but I much prefer the values that this arrangement imparts.
In past years the kids have opted for costumes that have had Zahava sewing late into the night (I still remember the fantastic Hogwart's robes that she made for Ari and Gili's Harry Potter & Hermione costumes), but this year they opted for relatively easy characters:
Gilad wavered between wearing a beekeeper suit (yes, I got a small one so either of the kids could help me with the hives) and dressing up as a Doctor. In the end he opted for the MD (Doctor Bean... I know you are kvelling right now!). This outfit consisted of a lab coat (actually a white bathrobe that Zahava sewed for him last year) over a dress shirt, tie and dress slacks. A toy stethoscope topped off the ensemble. Unfortunately he's not strong enough to carry around the golf clubs yet. :-)
Yonah didn't get dressed up this year. Under normal circumstances we probably would have whipped up a costume for him, but he has been sick this week with one of those non-specific, high fever-inducing viruses that little kids get from jamming their fingers up each other's noses at day care. Trying to get him into a costume just seemed like cruel and unusual punishment.
As the day goes on I'll try to add a few pictures I snap around the community, so stop back.
Purim Sameach & Shabbat Shalom!
Thursday, March 24, 2005
A fast, I mean quick post
Yes, today... the day immediately preceding Purim, is a fast day (Ta'anit Esther) and you'll never guess who forgot to wean himself off of coffee.
Anyone care to venture a wild guess?
Unfortunately, I forgot to set my alarm to wake me up in time for my pre-dawn caffeine infusion... and the day has been out of sorts ever since.
So far, the big challenge of the day was picking up a new hitchhiker who had called last night to arrange a ride.
I had never driven this particular person before, but since I only had one soldier and a couple of academics from Ben Gurion University coming with me, I had no problem offering up the last seat. The problems began when I pulled up to the bus stop where I had arranged to meet this person.
[At this point you're probably scratching your head and asking yourself why I'm avoiding the use of gender-specific personal pronouns. The reason is that in English, I can, DAMMIT!]
The name I had written down when the hitchhiker called was one of those vague modern Israeli names that could easily belong to either a boy or girl. But from the voice on the phone it was clear that I was speaking to a young woman... so during the entire conversation I adjusted my Hebrew verb endings accordingly.
When I pulled up to the pre-arranged pick-up point she was nowhere to be seen. There were a few male soldiers and a skinny 13 or 14-year-old boy waiting at the bus stop... but no girls!
I proceeded to tell the other occupants of the car how annoying it was that this thoughtless girl was either late or had stood me up altogether... and cringed at the first twinges as the caffeine headache began to take shape just above my ears!
Being delayed was mildly annoying, but I decided to wait a few minutes in case she was running late.
While we sat waiting, this 13 or 14-year-old boy walked up and knocked on the car window. Since there was only the one extra seat, I waved him away with the ever-so-polite Israeli hand sign for 'no' (wagging the raised index finger from side to side while staring intently in another direction).
After a minute or two the boy again approached the car, and this time I rolled down the window and explained abruptly that the last seat was reserved for someone (of course I used the feminine form of the word 'someone'; Mi'she'hee.
After I had made this very gender-specific statement, the teen-aged boy asked me, in a high wavering voice, if I was David.
Giggles and snorts escaped from the female soldier sitting behind me, and one of the academics grinned knowingly in my direction waiting to see how I would handle my gaff.
Obvious now to all... I had mistaken this teen-aged boy for a girl on the phone, which was vexing enough. But as he got into the car I realized that he hadn't made any attempt to correct me throughout our phone conversation, despite the fact that I had repeatedly addressed him as if he were a girl!
Between the gender blunder on the phone and then waving him off with the curt statement that "the seat is saved for [a female] someone", my cheeks must have been bright red for most of the trip.
Now, as I sit at my desk suffering from the beginnings of severe caffeine withdrawal, I'm no longer feeling embarrassed... just a little miffed.
I'm sorry, if you have a gender-neutral name and your pre-pubescent voice has yet to change... the burden is on you to gently correct the hapless driver if he mistakenly addresses you as if you are a girl, mmmkay?
I make enough bone-headed mistakes in Hebrew when I've had my morning
soup bowl cup of coffee... I don't need any outside help, thank-you-very-much!
[Cross-posted on Israelity]
Tuesday, March 22, 2005
Lunatics running the asylum
The two weeks leading up to the Jewish holiday of Purim are always fun to watch.
During this festive fortnight of pre-holiday preparation, Israeli schoolkids, who on the best of days are somewhat less than deferential towards their teachers, drop the last pretense of decorum and let it all hang out!
In my kid's school, this period is celebrated with skits and songs lampooning teachers and school administrators (just imagine how far the kids go when on normal days they call the teachers by their first names!)... strange and creative modes of dress... and of course a complete moratorium on the assigning or completing of homework.
In addition, many of the teachers have instituted special 'rules' to capture what little remains of their charges attention. For instance, my daughter's teacher promised to buy a cake for the class each time her cell phone rang this week during class. Needless to say, many parents were recruited to place a well-timed call... resulting in a cake a week for the foreseeable future!
Every free moment during the children's day seems to be spent breathlessly discussing costumes and Purim plans with their friends... and the community e-mail list has been abuzz with panicked requests for an incredible array of odd accessories needed to complete purim costumes (e.g. light saber, bunny ears, fedora hat, clown shoes, wedding gown, tiara... you get the idea).
Even the folks at work have gotten into the spirit. Today, as I briefed a military attache from a medium-sized Asian country, my secretary served Oznei Haman (Hamentashen) cookies with the coffee.
Somewhere along the line this officer had been told a little about the upcoming holiday and he asked a question about the cookies. This prompted a lively discussion about a political struggle in ancient Persia... with an Asian attache... who had come to be briefed on a piece of Israeli military technology.
Yes, on many levels the lunatics really seem to be running the asylum.
[crossblogged on Isreality]
Sunday, March 20, 2005
"Rhinestone shades and cheap sunglasses!"
While sitting at a stop light, broadcasting my iPod selections to the small area immediately around my car, I suddenly made a fairly obvious connection between what was playing at that moment (ZZ Top’s ‘Cheap Sunglasses’) and a group of young female soldiers standing at a bus stop wearing, you guessed it… cheap sunglasses. I would have employed the adjective ‘attractive’ to describe them, but because their faces were completely hidden behind their big goofy sunglasses I really couldn’t say!
I’ve mention on several occasions my opinion that there is really no middle ground when it comes to Israeli fashion sense. Israelis are either fabulous fashion plates… or horrible fashion victims. However, when it comes to Israelis trying to accessorize with eyewear, there seems to be a common thread of ‘uh oh’ that spans the religious and political spectrum from Metulla to Eilat.
Once upon a time every self-respecting Israeli wore sleek aviator-style sunglasses. I suppose the reason for this was that every Israeli secretly wanted to be mistaken for a fighter pilot (the apex of the Israeli military pantheon)... and every Israeli Air Force pilot favored this one distinct style of aviator shades.
Thus, for the first 30-40 years of the State, there was a comfortable conformity in Israeli summer eyewear.
I don’t know exactly when or where the train left the tracks, but at some point in the early ‘90s, Israelis seem to have abandoned the fighter pilot look and instead took leave of their collective fashion sense.
Some went for the marginally tolerable wrap-around surfer/shabak (secret service) shades… but most took a nasty turn towards the big, gaudy drug store sunglasses favored by senior citizens the world over.
I really wish I could understand the mental checklist that the youth of Israel ‘tick’ off as they get dressed these days:
- Perfectly styled hair - CHECK
- Tastefully applied make-up - CHECK
- Latest fashion clothing – CHECK
Hmmmm… something’s missing… oh I know:
- Clown glasses!
I feel confident that my maternal grandmother (she should rest in peace), whose taste in sunglasses (and many other things) bordered on comfortably garish, would have felt right at home with the typical Israeli teenager’s taste in sunglasses.
Oh, and my comment earlier about these oversized, rhinestone-festooned circus-shades being cheap drug-store fare?
Not so much.
I recently went into several high-end eyeglass stores looking for some reading glasses (yes, I’ve arrived at that stage of life) and was floored to see what Israelis are paying for sunglasses that will hide their faces from mouth to hairline. These are definitely NOT your grandmother’s sunglasses (my grandma Fay would have flat-lined after one glance at the price tag)!
In an inexplicable flip-flop of the price-to-quality equation, what used to be a dime-store bargain is now expensive beyond reason… and what was once a pricey commodity is now relatively affordable. Such is the case with the Israeli sunglass market.
You want a pair of plain aviator glasses? No problem, how many would you like?
You want a pair of these big foolish eyesores? We’ll have to check your credit before we can let you try them on!
As the light changed and I slowly accelerated past this gaggle of [perhaps attractive] young soldiers, I couldn’t help mentally paraphrasing the end of the song:
"What would really knock me out’d be some cheap sunglasses! Dudda da da d’da da DUH, dudda da dada…"
Friday, March 18, 2005
Photo Friday (Vol. XIX) [distraction edition]
Sorry this is up so late in the day... you see I somehow got distracted.
If you look at this shot of the view from our back mirpesset (balcony) which overlooks West Turdistan and the Arab vineyards in the wadi, you may notice a small white thing in the lower right hand corner.
Hmmmm... Let's zoom in a bit and see what that could be.
A few months back I wrote a post about a growing obsession... beekeeping. I devoured every book I could find on the subject and decided to give it a try.
Yesterday evening after work I picked up two 'nucs' (half-sized beehives) from a commercial beekeeper in Kfar Bilu (near Rechovot) containing the nucleus of two well established colonies (yes, it's always about colonialism with us settlers). Each 'nuc' contained a queen, approximately a gazillion female workers, a few drones (males) and 5 frames of brood comb (honeycomb with developing bee larvae).
This morning I weed-whacked the tall grass in West Turdistan and made preparations to transfer the colonies into their new home; the two full sized hives I built a few weeks ago.
A good time was had by all (and nobody got stung), and now West Turdistan officially has its first bit of economic activity (frankly, its economy was in the sh*tter).
Yes folks, my wife is a saint.
Tuesday, March 15, 2005
Um, I think you meant 'occupancy'
No, in case you were wondering about the odd title... the word in question isn't 'occupy' (we try not to use that word around here).
Confused? Let me begin by saying I'm sorry... I clearly have too much time on my hands, but I just can't keep my mouth shut when someone uses the wrong word or makes a glaring grammatical error. I do this to my kids all the time (and also to my wife when she isn't close enough to whack me with a skillet).
You wouldn't expect that someone who runs roughshod over the rules of grammar and randomly employs ellipses (...) in place of commas and semicolons would be such a pedant about such things, but there it is. Do as I say... not as I do!
I can understand if a person occasionally chooses a word that isn't exactly right, so long as it 'works'. That kind of thing is a judgment call, and everyone listening/reading knows what you were trying to say. With a little thought, though, you could have come up with a better, more correct word, but it wasn't important enough to stop the flow of conversation and really think about.
But there are other times when you reach hastily into your personal lexicon and pull out... the wrong word. I'm talking about a word that isn't even close... one that leaves the listener/reader scratching his/her head and waiting for context to put the derailed sentence back on track.
I've done it... you've done it... we've all done it. That's all fine and good because, hey!, I'm not a professional journalist with several layers of editors reviewing my work before it gets published. If spelling, grammar or word choice errors slip through here on treppenwitz... no big deal. The point I was trying to make usually gets across.
However, one expects more from a newspaper.
The Jerusalem post is good newspaper. It's not the New York Times (who is?), but the editorial standards seem to be steadily improving under David Horovitz's editorial leadership.
However, yesterday while I ate lunch at my desk I was glancing over the headlines on the JPost web site and saw the following:
Now this seemed exciting! Anyone reading this headline would immediately understand that Jerusalem was undergoing a construction boom with an incredible 30% more hotel rooms being added to the already large inventory of tourist accommodations. This was fantastic - the very signal the country had been waiting for to indicate that the Intifada was truly over!
So when I clicked on the link, you can understand that I was more than a little confused to find an article about the Hotel Association's predictions (wild guess) for a 30% increase in occupancy this year, not capacity!
My first clue was when the article stated, "Jerusalem hotels are expected to increase their capacity by 30% to 1.7 million lodgings in 2005...".
Just for the sake of a reality check... Las Vegas, which has more hotel rooms than any other city in the US, at last count had a total of 17,205 hotel rooms. Somehow I didn't think Jerusalem was going to have 1.7 million rooms to rent.
Capacity, when speaking about hotels, is used to describe how many people a hotel, or any number of hotels, can hold (e.g. "I'm sorry madam, we have no more rooms... the hotel is filled to capacity.")*. Therefore, the only way a hotel (or in this case, a city) would be able to increase its capacity would be to add more rooms, right?
I was tempted to blame the error entirely on whoever wrote the headline since it's quite common for the journalist who writes an article to have little or no say in the headline that appears above his/her work. But as you can see from the quote I provided above, the author (mis)uses the word 'capacity' in exactly the same way in the body of the piece.
C'mon JPost... I'm a loyal reader. I really don't want to have to go get comfortable with Ynet. I finally know where everything is on your oh-so-counter-intuitive site. And I've even come to terms with your many idiosyncrasies (like the annoying fact that none of your pictures actually link to larger versions of the pictures!).
Otherwise, everything is just hunky dory.
[* Special thanks to my brother-in-law Jesse (the bigshot lexicographer) for confirming that I wasn't mistaken about the Post's incorrect word choice. I promise not to 'go to the well' too often.]
I hate to poop on Canada...
... but poop I must.
I know, it would appear that I have doody on the brain this week (what with my Turdistan post on Sunday, and now this), but bear with me.
I seems that Canada is finally trying to shed the squeaky-clean image it has always enjoyed in the world of public opinion, and is doing everything possible to become just as troubled and dysfunctional (not to mention bigoted) as the rest of the world.
Exhibit 'A' is the rash of troubling events that were recently described by Celestial Blue: Mounties being killed... parents throwing their children from highway overpasses... a request by a man for the police to please kill him... Self immolation... and the list goes on.
Add to all this 'crime-blotter' type stuff the fact that Canada has decided to become a world pariah by increasing the number of baby Harp Seals that can be legally clubbed to death this year from 275,000 to 975,000, and you have the making of a trend. Even Israel has jumped on the protest bandwagon to defend the baby Harp Seals (hey, it's nice to be on the other side of the protest barricades once in a while).
Now there is a news story out this morning about Canada issuing a recall of any Canadian Passport that was mistakenly issued with the offending words 'Jerusalem Israel' in the spot reserved for 'Place of Birth'.
I sh*t you not. On top of all the violent criminal stuff going on in the great white north... the least political country on the planet seems to have awakened from its neutral slumber in order to set its sights on what it must consider an easy political target: Israel.
In this morning's Jerusalem Post there is an article about how Canada has thrown in its lot with the rest of the world (except for Costa Rica and El Salvador) on the issue of whether Jerusalem is part of Israel. It seems that not even Micronesia recognizes Jerusalem as the Capitol of Israel, so Canada has apparently decided that listing someone who was born in Jerusalem ISRAEL somehow gives credence to the 'myth' of Jerusalem's Capitol status.
I'll admit I skipped nearly a third of the classes for the Introduction to Logic course I took in college, but am I missing something? The passports don't say 'Capitol and country of birth': Jerusalem Israel. No, they say ''Place of Birth', which is commonly understood to mean 'city and country'.
As I wrote in a previous post, West Jerusalem (which contains almost all of the hospitals in which one might be born) has never been disputed territory (unless you count those who say we shouldn't have any of Israel). So what the heck is the problem with listing Jerusalem as a city that exists in Israel?
These are simple facts that have absolutely no dark political agenda behind them!
Can somebody please explain (Please use little words so I'll be sure to understand) why using 'Jerusalem' and 'Israel' next to one another in a passport somehow gives credence to Israel's claim that Jerusalem is its capitol?
Seriously, I need small words, and maybe some pictures because I'm just not getting it.
As for Canada, I am hereby giving notice that I will no longer play Ice Hockey, Lacrosse or Curl... I will not drink beers by Molson or Labatt's... I am officially deleting all the Gordon Lightfoot ballads from my iPod... and from this day on, I promise to turn off the Rocky & Bullwinkle Show whenever Dudley Do-Right is on the screen.
So take that!
Monday, March 14, 2005
Affixing a position
One of the many things that have become crystal clear to me since we moved here is that Israelis have no problem wearing their politics on their sleeves… and on their cars.
Gil wrote a wonderful piece about how the anti-disengagement crowd seems to have cornered the market on the color orange. In fact, so much so that anyone who is not firmly in that political camp has by now discarded any clothing with even an accent in that particular day-glo hue.
Because I do so much driving every day, I get to absorb a lot of political ideology in the easily-digestible form of bumper stickers.
I’m not talking about the funny ones we used to point out in the states, like:
"My karma ran over your dogma"
"My kid just beat up your honor student"
"I love animals (they taste great!)"
"Nuke the gay whales!"
"Horn broken… watch for finger"
"Honk if you’ve never seen a pistol fired from a car"
"Visualize using your turn signal!"
"Guns don’t kill people… postal workers kill people"
"Jesus Saves… he shoots… HE SCORES!"
I’m sure you have your own favorites (feel free to share).
No, living in ‘the territories’ the overwhelming majority of ‘bumper lectures’ I see tend to express right wing sentiments:
"The nation is WITH the Golan"
"The nation is WITH Gush Katif"
"Oslo criminals to justice"
"This is not ‘Shalom’, friend"
"Hevron… now and forever"
"We want a different peace"
You get the idea… I’m sure you’ve seen many more of this kind.
Obviously, whenever I go to Tel Aviv I see more of the vehicle signage from the other side of the spectrum:
"Peace is a greater ‘Height’"
"Seek peace and pursue it"
"We are the majority"
As with the right wing stickers… there are countless other left wing ones.
For the longest time I wondered where all these bumper stickers came from since I hadn’t seen many actually being sold in stores. Then I started noticing that during periods of intense national debate, teenagers would magically appear at intersections dressed in tee-shirts bearing political slogans, and offering matching bumper stickers to motorists stopped at the red lights. Needless to say, the message on the stickers would vary widely based, for instance, upon whether the intersection was closer to Ramat Gan or Kiryat Arba.
On several occasions I wasn’t fast enough (or perhaps not forceful enough), with my ‘no’, and I ended up having to pull over a few blocks away to disengage the latest missive from my bumper or rear window.
My only firm policy about politics is not allowing political bumper stickers on our car.
Not too long ago a catchy song by HaDag Nahash called ‘Shir HaSticker’ came out which gave a very amusing portrayal of the Israeli propensity for crystallizing political / religious ideology into terse sound bites and catchy bumper sticker slogans. Not only was it a wonderful song… but it also (hopefully) made a few people realize how silly and dogmatic they really sound (OK, probably not).
Personally, I don’t worry about silly, though. I worry about the real dangers presented by this oversimplified form of expression.
First of all, it leaves people who are closer to the center and those who don't like to be pigeonholed (like me) without a voice in the public debate.
In my humble opinion, the last thing you want to do is make the centrists (i.e. the more reasonable segment of the society) feel they are disenfranchised and therefore should not participate in the political process.
And more importantly, by fixing a firm position on their cars, both right- and left-wingers are making a public statement that they are no longer able or willing to be swayed, no matter how compelling the argument or what new facts / opportunities may come to light.
This last seems startlingly un-Israeli to me.
Israelis have historically been masters of tactical thinking. Israeli military (and political) doctrine has always been about staying mobile… ‘Hit and move’… ‘Never dig in’… ‘Do the unexpected’… ‘If something isn’t working, try something new!’
The old joke goes, "Israelis have the uncanny ability to get themselves out of difficult situations that any other nation would have the good sense not to get themselves into in the first place". The kernel of truth behind this joke speaks directly to the pragmatic gift for improvisation and tactical thinking that has always served Israel (and Israelis) so well.
However, by anchoring themselves to one-line policy statements on the back of their cars, an enormous chunk of the Israeli population seems to have inexplicably decided to ‘dig in’. They have chosen static WWI-era trench warfare and immobile WWII-era fox holes over the option to employ their historical gifts for tactical/creative problem solving.
I miss the days when the most common sticker you were bound to see (no matter where in Israel you lived) was the one stuck on the panel behind the driver’s seat on every Egged bus that read, "Love your neighbor as yourself".
Sunday, March 13, 2005
Adventures in Turdistan
East Turdistan is the geographic designation by which I’ve been identifying our front yard since Marn coined the term a couple of months back. I even have a clear idea of what the Turdistani flag should look like:
Picture a background of deep green grass, and a Carvel SoftServe chocolate ice cream cone in the foreground... sans the cone.
You see, Turdistan (divided into East and West) is the dangerous landscape where our black Labrador mix, Jordan, converts expensive gourmet dog food into fragrant land mines.
Each Friday I send one of our two older children (henceforth to be know as the Foreign Legion) to patrol whichever one of the Turdistans have been most recently occupied by canine forces, to pick up the unexploded ordnance.
Because East Turdistan is the first thing that visitors to our house encounter when they arrive, I am careful to make sure the grass is nicely trimmed… and that the Foreign Legion has been scrupulous about doing its patriotic duty (specifically not in that order).
For most of the winter Jordan had been banished to West Turdistan (the back yard) for her bathroom breaks while I cultivated the lawn out front. We don’t go out back very often, so the Foreign Legion wasn't deployed there on ‘mine-sweep patrol’ very often (and when they were, I'll admit that as Commanding Officer, I didn’t review their work very diligently).
This morning, while I was waiting for the coffee to brew, I made the mistake of assuming that the Foreign Legion had recently patrolled all of West Turdistan, and made some preliminary preparations for the impending introduction of some light industry (a honey production facility), to this sovereign nation.
Unfortunately the Foreign Legion had not been through in some time... and I succumbed to some of the unexploded ordnance that the former canine occupying forces had left behind.
This by itself wouldn’t have been a tragedy had I noticed the damage right away. But unfortunately, the extent of my injuries didn’t become apparent until I was about a third of the way to Be’er Sheva... with the heater blowing full blast into the footwells.
I had been driving south with my car full of soldiers for about 20 minutes when I first noticed a smell that nobody in their right mind would mistake for coffee (or victory!*).
I quickly shifted the heater to the defrost setting (meaning that it was now blowing only on the windshield) and cracked the driver's window in hopes that the outflow of warm air would pull the offending odor up and out of the car with it.
Wouldn’t you just know it?! I must have forgotten to pay my physics bill because all the laws were temporarily suspended!
Instead of the warm air (and all the doggy goodness it contained) rising up and out into the desert sky, ‘Le Parfum de Chien’ decided that the rush of incoming cold air would be an exciting way to circulate throughout the car.
I have to wonder at the fact that for the next 40 minutes nobody said anything about the increasingly unbreathable air in the car.
Not. One. Word.
Either these guys (and girl) were so deeply asleep that the offensive olfactory stimuli were not making their way into the Limbic System of their brains… or else they just really, really, REALLY didn’t want to risk losing a regular ride to their bases on Sunday mornings by mentioning the ‘odeur choquante’.
I guess we’ll find out next Saturday night whether the battle for West Turdistan has sent some of the IDF’s bravest soldiers scurrying away to find rides with less of an ‘international flavour’.
* gratuitous 'Apocalypse Now' reference.
Friday, March 11, 2005
Photo Friday (Vol. XVIII) [BBQ Edition]
Although it has nothing to do with the topic at hand, I'd like to take a moment to point out that not everyone seems to have gotten the word about peace having broken out here in the Middle East.
My blog-buddy Harry was stoned (no, not that kind) early this morning while driving home from a rehearsal with his band (he was on the Jerusalem-Modi'in highway, Road 443). It seems that Harry committed the unforgivable 'crime' (Saeb Erikat would probably use the term 'atrocity) of DWJ (Driving While Jewish).
Fortunately, he escaped without injury... but his car wasn't so lucky. Once he posts the pictures of the damage I think we will be able to set aside the 'kids will be kids' excuse that the PA loves to trot out when these things happen.
Anyway, if you know or read Harry (and if not... what's wrong with you!), go say hello and tell him not to let this incident turn him into a lunatic right wing settler like me. :-)
OK, now that we've gotten the Public Service Announcement portion of our program out of the way... on to Photo Friday!
Over the past year I've mentioned several times that I have a long-standing Friday ritual of BBQing the main course for Shabbat dinner... and enjoying a little corn-based beverage from the great state of Kentucky.
Several readers have written to ask about my BBQ technique... and several others have written to suggest (not too gently) that I am misusing the term BBQ, and that what I'm really doing is grilling.
I love my readers.
Even when they are calling me an idiot they offer endless inspiration for journal entries and photo ideas.
First a little clarification about terminology:
1. Grilling is the act of placing expensive cuts of meat or poultry on the cooking surface of a gas-powered cooking appliance and immolating said meat or poultry at approximately the same temperature as the surface of the sun. Cooking times vary from a few nanoseconds up to 10 or 15 minutes (by which time the neighbor's smoke alarms are all going off). Sometimes sauces or marinades are applied to the food before or during the cooking process to suggest the idea of moisture and to keep the expensive animal flesh from crumbling into dust before it reaches the table. The fine art of grilling is practiced primarily in northern areas of the United States as well as Canada.
2. BBQ (pronounced BAR-ba-kyew), when expressed as a verb, is the act of slow cooking any available cut of meat or poultry over a cool, smoky bank of wood coals. The word BBQ is also commonly used as a noun to describe the results of the verb form (e.g. "I had me a plate of bubba's BBQ the other day... damn but that boy makes some good dry rub."). Best results are achieved when the heat source is not directly under the food, and there is usually a can of water somewhere in there to raise the humidity in the cooking area. Dry rubs made of various herbs and spices are often applied to the meat as are a wide variety of either mustard- or tomato-based sauces (depending on where you live). However, many BBQers forgo the rubs and sauces and let the woodsmoke flavor the food. It is not unusual to BBQ meat or poultry for several hours (or even half a day!). Even if one started with an undesirable cut of meat, or a chicken that met its end at a more, um, advanced age... the process of BBQing usually results in a tender, delicious treat that practically falls apart as you eat it (sorry if I'm grossing out my vegan readers). BBQing is practiced primarily in states where Nascar Racing is enjoyed.
The type of outdoor cooking that I practice is a hybrid of these two techniques.
Yes, I use a big gas Weber grill. But I use it strictly for good, not evil!
[note: if you do a bit of outdoor cooking, it might be worth your while to run a gas line out to your grill as I have done. It saves the stress of your tank running dry at the worst possible time.]
Here is a step-by-step primer of my cooking technique:
1. First go buy yourself a couple of smoker boxes. You can buy them (as well as a nice selection of wood chips) from my good friend Sam. I don't normally endorse commercial products here on treppenwitz, but Sam was so helpful about getting me my smokers as well as shipping a nice selection of alder, mesquite and hickory chips to me here in Israel that I'm happy to give him a plug.
Put the smoker box(es) above the heat source, but below the grill surface. Soak the wood chips in warm water for at least 15 minutes, and then put them in the box and replace the box's cover as shown:
It's hard to see here, but there are actually small holes in the bottom and top of the smoker boxes.
Now that the smokers are all set up, replace your grill surfaces, and if you like... set up a roasting rack to raise the meat even higher. The smoker boxes block most of the direct heat, but I have found that roasting racks slow down the cooking even more.
The next step is to light the burner(s) underneath the smoker boxes. It is very important to make sure that no burners outside the area covered by the boxes are lit as this will directly cook the meat... a definite BBQ no-no!
The ideal temperature is somewhere between 200 - 225 F. Play around with the gas setting until you get a constant temperature within this range. Within 10 or 15 minutes the wet wood chips will start to give off smoke... this is your cue to put the meat on the racks (or directly on the gill surface, if you must). Arrange the food so that none of it is sticking out beyond the footprint of the smoker box(es).
Now close the lid, pull up a chair and begin consuming the bourbon-based drink of your choice. I usually go with a mint julep, but when there is no fresh mint growing in my neighbor's garden I've been known to drink it neat.
I'll anticipate a few comments here by saying yes, you can substitute drinks based on rum, vodka or even tequila, but I've always enjoyed the best results with bourbon. Scotch is not recommended for this type of cooking.
After 2 or 3 hours you should arrange to have one of your kids wake you out of your stupor to check on the progress of the meat. Whether or not you have rubbed /marinated the meat or left it to the smoke to provide the flavor, 2 hours is still the bare minimum if you are cooking at such low temperatures. If you are cooking ribs or a roast, 4 hours or more is perfectly OK, but after 3 or 4 hours you will have to empty the ashes out of the smoker box(es) and add fresh wet wood chips.
Now that my appetite is all stoked, I think I'll go upstairs and get started cooking some eggs for everyone's breakfast.
As always, keep those cards and letters coming. If there's something that you'd like to see a picture of here on a future Photo Fridays, just let me know.
Wednesday, March 09, 2005
Sometimes food is love
Like many companies in Israel, my employer provides a hot meal for its employees at lunchtime.
The company cafeteria is strictly kosher (although my guess is that the majority of employees are not observant of the dietary laws), and the food is actually quite good.
There is always a choice of two or three meat entrees plus a fish or vegetarian option. The side dishes, soups and salads are all very tasty, and every day fresh warm bread is served with the meal.
To round things out you get a choice of several types of soda or seltzer/mineral water.
In case someone can't get away from their desks during lunch, there are bag lunches containing a nice selection of fresh bread, soft and hard cheeses, fresh vegetables, canned tuna/sardines, a pudding cup... and a soda to wash the whole thing down.
Yes, it would seem that most Israelis eat their big meal in the middle of the day.
I have a sneaking suspicion that the reason my weight loss is stalled is that I'm eating an enormous meal at lunch (I had steak yesterday and a big piece of brisket today), and then I'm coming home to have a big American-style supper with Zahava and the kids.
Nope, you can't slip anything by me!
Well, that last statement might not be entirely true.
One of the better known bits of cafeteria lore circulating at my company involves a little faux pas I made during my first week on the job.
I was still pretty fresh off the plane and my Hebrew skills were very rusty. I did a lot of smiling and nodding around the office and tried not to speak unless I was asked a direct question. This meant that I didn't ask about the food choices in the cafeteria... I simply pointed at what I wanted and helped myself to any of the soups and side dishes that I could identify.
On the third day of work I accepted a delicious-looking piece of baked chicken with a stiff grin that by now was actually hurting my face. I then moved quickly to the area where the soups and side dishes were kept and began helping myself to a nice tossed salad, a couple of avocados and a big bowl of a hearty-looking soup.
As I sat down at a table where I recognized a few friendly faces, everyone greeted me with the traditional 'b'tayavon' (good appetite). However, unlike the first two days when conversation had started right up immediately after my arrival, on this particular day everyone seemed to be quietly studying my tray.
I looked quickly to see if I had spilled something or taken an unusually large portion of anything but everything seemed in order.
As I started eating my salad and the silence continued I started to really worry that I had unwittingly broken some rule of Israeli etiquette. Not only had I come to count on the pleasant flow of other people's conversations to camouflage my inability to put together a coherent sentence, but I liked having the opportunity to quietly observe others. Now for some reason I had become the object of everyone's unblinking attention!
As I tucked into my delicious chicken I was relieved to see my boss approaching and I used my eyes to indicate the open seat directly across from me. My boss is also originally from the US but has been here since the early '80s. I figured maybe I would have an opportunity to quietly ask him why everyone seemed to be acting strangely towards me.
After a few minutes I started eating my soup and I immediately noticed two things:
1. Unlike the excellent food I had been enjoying, the soup was horrible.
2. My boss was now staring at me with his fork poised halfway to his mouth.
As I put down my soup spoon and pushed the bowl away from me I made an off-hand comment to my boss about the food being wonderful but the soup being a salty, greasy disappointment.
As if on cue everyone at the table started giggling uncontrollably, and my boss informed me in a loud stage whisper that I had finished about a third of a bowl of gravy.
I have to say, it's a wonderful thing that my company is nice enough to provide us with a nice healthy meal in the middle of the workday. But I have a feeling that if I work there for the next 20 years I will still be receiving frequent offers of extra gravy by my friendly coworkers.
Tuesday, March 08, 2005
The Pardoner's Tale
- an absolving or setting free from guilt, sin or penalty; forgiveness of an offense.
- the exercise of priestly jurisdiction in the sacrament penance, by which Catholics believe that the sins of the truly penitent are forgiven.
- an absolving from ecclesiastical penalties; -- for example excommunication.
[First off, I can't tell you how happy I am to be back in Israel. I'm sorry for the light blogging while I was away, but the combination of a packed schedule, jet lag and an epileptic iMac conspired to keep treppenwitz dark for a few days. Somehow I imagine you all managed just fine without me.]
I borrowed the title for today's entry from Chaucer's Canterbury Tales for a very specific reason. Chaucer's Pardoner's Tale pokes fun at a phenomenon that existed during his lifetime whereby the Church granted licenses to professional confessors, or 'Pardoners' who would travel around selling absolution to anyone with money enough to pay. Today, the idea of paying a professional pardoner is ridiculous... especially now that there are so many of us that are available to do it for free!
As a rule, when I travel I tend to wear baseball hats rather than my kippah (yarmulke). The reason for this is that invariably I will be approached by people on the plane who feel the need to tell me that they were once observant... that their parents or grandparents were very religious people... that their brother-in-law's half brother once kept kosher... that they had wanted to have a Passover Seder last year but they suddenly found themselves on vacation in Sri Lanka during the holiday and there was no place to buy matzoh...
I don't know exactly what motivates these impromptu confessions, but the end result is that I end up being placed in the unenviable position of having to somehow make them feel OK about the fact that they (or their various relations) are no longer interested in being observant Jews.
The truth is, I have enough trouble keeping myself on the straight and narrow... I can't possibly help anyone else deal with their personal crisis of faith. Therefore, I don't wear my kipah anymore on planes... just my trusty 'Bosox' cap.
However, on last week's whirlwind speaking tour around Connecticut and New York I was obviously unable to keep a low profile as an observant Jew, and as an Israeli. This combination seems to have brought out many people who are genuinely interested in moving to Israel... as well as a few in search of absolution for NOT wanting to move there!
Let me give you a 'for instance':
"Hi, my wife Vashti and I really, really want to move to Israel but we're concerned about a couple of small issues. I have a doctorate in an extremely obscure sub-dialect of Sanskrit poetry and my wife has an asthmatic condition that requires that she live in a humidity free area that has a constant ambient temperature of between 76 and 81 degrees Fahrenheit. In addition, all 8 of our children have a rare behavioral disorder that requires them to be given special medication and several hours of 'restrained quiet time' during the middle of the school day. We have been very fortunate to live near the world expert in this particular problem, and he is always available to us when one of the kids needs a supplemental dose of Thorazine. Up until this point the only thing keeping us from packing up and moving to Israel has been that my mother has become too frail to look after her 37 cats by herself. Can you give us some advice on how to put our Israel plans on the fast-track?"
Whenever I had one of these encounters (and I'm really not exaggerating), I felt like I should make the sign of the cross and say, "I absolve you... you are forgiven".
C'mon people... it's really OK to not want to live in Israel. Really.
You have to understand that what people like this are looking for is permission to stop feeling guilty about not moving to Israel. What they want is the smallest sign of hesitation on your part so they can spend the rest of their lives confidently telling people "we would have gladly moved to Israel... but we met someone who said it really wouldn't be the right place for us".
Don't get me wrong. I met many, many wonderful people on my trip who are quite serious about their plans to move to Israel.
I also met many, many wonderful people who are quite comfortable with their decision to live their lives outside of Israel.
Either way is really okeeydokey with me. Really.
My role on this trip was to offer limited advice to people who are thinking about moving and to share my own personal experiences (having gone through the process of moving to Israel in the not-too-distant past). It was not to assuage or escalate anyone's guilt over decisions they have already made!
There is something called 'Free Will' (no people, not Free Willy) that each of us was given at birth. Some of the choices we make require us to act decisively... and other choices are made by simply taking no action. Yes, inaction can also be a decision.
The neat (and difficult) part of the whole 'free will' thing is that very few choices we make during our lives are clearly wrong or right. They are simply small decisions whose ramifications may or may not become clear to us before the end of our lives.
Some of us make most of our decisions without input or advice from others (kind of like the way I drive without ever asking directions, or put together the Ikea stuff without ever glancing at the instructions), and others are diligent about doing extensive research and looking directions up on Mapquest.
In my experience there is merit to both approaches to decision making. Just please, please take some personal responsibility for whichever way you decide to live your life. If at some point you decide to change your mind... that's OK too.
As the song goes"
"Yes there are two paths you can go by
but in the long run
There's still time to change the road you're on"
Just don't look to me for absolution.
Friday, March 04, 2005
Photo Friday (Vol. XVII) [Making Amends]
I know, I know... Don't say it. Just remember, however much it annoyed you to show up here every day this week and find bupkes waiting for you... that's nothing compared to how much I missed writing!
I actually sat down and wrote several short, but interesting, entries. But did my dad's iMac let me publish them? I think we know the answer to that one, don't we?
Today's eclectic collection of photos spans the week from last Friday to this.
Last Friday Zahava and I took the kids and the dog up to Givat HaTurmusim. For those of you who weren't around last year when I explained what this is, go here. We ran into quite a few people we knew while we were up there (some by accident and some by design). We even got to have a pleasant bite to eat with Dave (of Israelly cool) and his family.
Here are some shots of this lovely setting:
First up are a group of the Lupine flowers that give Givat HaTurmusim its name:
Here is Yonah eating a yogurt (or at least playing with it). And yes... the same people who select the fabric and color schemes for the Egged bus seats also designed Yonah's outfit!
Saturday evening I flew to the states for my speaking tour in the New York / Connecticut areas. I almost missed my flight, but thanks to a little luck and the patience of my lovely wife, I managed to get on the plane.
While in the US I stayed with my parents in Westport, and I discovered that it is still quite wintery!
I drove through a neat blizzard to see my old high school classmate and blogdaughter Weese (and here lovely wife). Not only did they make me feel welcome in their beautiful home, but I got to meet many of the characters who regularly appear on Weese's blog, including Ferris (their charming and funny son) and Riggs (the free dog). A good time was had by all (and I didn't even track up the kitchen with my snowy shoes!).
On another evening this week I got to step out with Mr. & Mrs. Efrex (Orthodox Jewish Straight Theater Queen). I have corresponded with these warm and funny people and we knew several people in common... but we had never met before. All I can say is that if these two can ever manage to tear themselves away from the piano bars and musical theater scene... Israel (and we) will be the richer for their presence.
This morning I took some pictures at my parent's house so you could all see what a beautiful view they live with.
These are some shots from my parent's bedroom window. What you are seeing is the mill pond behind their house. A mill pond is a tidal pond that is fed by the ocean... filling at high tide and emptying out at low tide. in the old days the house next door was actually a working mill and the water rushing in and out of the pond turned a wheel that operated the mill. Before we moved to Israel, we lived 15 minutes away from my parents and we often took the kids canoeing out on the mill pond.:
The view from the front of their house is of the ocean (actually Long Island Sound), and is every bit as beautiful as the view of the mill pond in the back. In the summer the tide goes out so far that we would take the kids and dogs out for long walks on the tidal flats... collecting shells and watching hermit crabs scurrying in the shallow puddles.
Two more days and I'll be back in Israel... thawing out my fingers and toes, and catching up on some long overdue kisses.