Sunday, July 31, 2005
It's a Small World...
Have you ever gone to a really crowded place such as a shopping mall or amusement park and found yourself constantly bumping into the same people over and over throughout your stay? If it's someone you know, you tend to laugh and say hello each time your path's cross. And if it's a stranger, you end up smiling and giving each other knowing nods by the end of the day.
Sometimes life can be like that, with the life-paths of two families constantly criss-crossing... and frequently intertwined.
Such has been the case with our friends Y & R (I don't know how they'd feel about my using even their first names here, so I'll just use initials for the time being).
Y and I met in the trenches of the New York music business. We played mostly for different bands, but ended up on the same bandstand frequently enough, and knew so many of the same people, that it was inevitable that we would eventually become friends.
As our relationship developed we discovered many connections including the facts that Y had grown up in the town where I was born... that he was very friendly with a family that had befriended me while I was stationed in Hawaii... and that we shared a love (and disdain) for many of the same kinds of music.
Even after we each got married and started our families, our paths continued to cross.
We ended up playing a few of the same 'road gigs' (bringing our spouses along where they too became friends), and while playing gigs in Miami Beach at neighboring Hotels (he at the Eden Roc and me at the Fontainbleu), we ended up walking with our infants together on the boardwalk.
One year we even ran into each other while on vacation at Disney World. We had planned our vacations independently and had unknowingly booked our stays at the same hotel for the exact same period of time. It was only too fitting that we should run into each other on the morning of our first day while taking our kids on the 'It's a Small World' ride!
As the years passed, Y and I used many of our bandstand breaks to talk about Israel and our 'someday' plans to move there... but we never talked specifics with one another. However, neither of us was particularly surprised to discover that our families ended up seated next to one another on the charter El Al flight that brought us all to live in Israel! It was also fitting that both Zahava and R were at about the same stage in their pregnancies during that flight!
Even our respective choices of where to live in Israel seemed to have similarities, with both families choosing to live in communities that are technically 'settlements'... albeit so well-established and close to the 'green line' as to make the 'settler' title seem ridiculous!
Over the years we have celebrated together at each other's smachot (happy occasions), and mourned together at the graves of mutual friends, and at the funerals of friend's parents.
This past Shabbat our trajectories crossed again (by design for a change), when Y & R came to visit us in Efrat for the weekend with their youngest; a beautiful little girl a few weeks younger than our Yonah (their older kids were visiting relatives in the states).
Although we have never been the kind of friends that kept in constant touch or made frequent plans together... the weekend was as natural and spontaneous as the pleasant history of our crossing paths. We ate and drank in the unhurried, relaxed manner of old friends... and sat around on the back mirpesset (balcony) talking about everything ... and nothing at all... late into the night (I rudely nodded off mid-conversation).
Y and I swapped work stories and talked about my adventures in landscaping, as well as the new home he and R are building. Zahava and R talked about their own professional lives and aspirations (and I suspect they also found time to jokingly compare notes about husband complaints).
During the weekend we fussed over how proud we all are that R plays for the Israel National Women's Softball Team (she is the only religious woman on the team). We were deeply impressed with the team's Bronze Medal finish in the recent Maccabiah Games... and hopeful for the upcoming European championship series (this week) in Prague. R is one of those naturally athletically-gifted people that looks supremely buff and amazingly graceful even when lounging on a couch or pushing a stroller down the street!
As we sat around the table swapping parenting stories and playing 'can you top this' with our many aliyah tales, we realized that, without any forethought, we had ended up getting together exactly on the two-year anniversary of our moving to Israel together... and a nice bottle of chilled white wine from the Golan was retired toasting the occasion.
There are some people that you know beyond a shadow of a doubt... without really trying or making complicated plans... that your paths will continuously cross and re-cross in this great amusement park called life.
I've come to the conclusion that it's not just a small world... but also a much better world because of the way our paths cross with the people who truly matter in our lives.
Friday, July 29, 2005
Photo Friday (Vol. XX*XVI) [black thumb edition]
I can hear you thinking: 'Black Thumb'... doesn't he mean 'Green Thumb'?
No, actually I meant what I wrote. Both Zahava and I seem to have a pretty poor track record for keeping things alive. If the nurses in the maternity wards had seen our garden, I seriously doubt that they would have allowed us to bring our children home!
Never-the-less... our next door neighbors (the ones we like) have an incredible garden with flowers and herbs providing a lush border for a manicured lawn. Granted they have a professional gardener come in once a week to primp and fuss over the already stunning arrangement of greenery, but still we end up looking like bad neighbors with our spotty lawn and poorly trimmed trees.
A few weeks ago I stopped and picked up some ceramic flower pots and planters that Zahava had been asking for. I also picked up some soil to fill them. But they sat and sat... poor things. We just couldn't find an opportunity to go to the neighborhood mashtela (nursery) for plants and flowers to fill them.
Until this week.
My father-in-law was nice enough to give us a gift earmarked specifically for stuff to plant in the yard (THANKS DAD!!!). Never ones to hesitate when it comes to putting a generous gift to use, we went right out and selected some
likely victims lovely plants.
More of the Yellow and Purple flowers:
If you look on the left side of this next picture you can see the rare 'wagering flower'... so called because one can wager money on what color it will be if it lives long enough to actually blossom. True story!
This next picture shows some of the more useful herbs Zahava picked out. The tall one on the left is the very us useful 'Julep plant'... which gets its name from the popular Mint Julep to which it lends its minty flavor! The two plants on the right are the versatile 'Pesto plant'... whose leaves will hopefully find their way into many a batch of my famous Pesto sauce Yum!!! Oh... there are some purple and pink flowers in with the Julep.
For my choices I went with stuff you can actually eat, as opposed to stuff that simply adds flavor. I chose a nice lemon tree (so I will be able to make my own Limoncello) This is a 4-year old tree that already has fruit on it!:
All this digging, planting, carrying and other labor-intensive stuff was back-breaking work. It was a hot day to do all this, but we didn't have much choice... it was the only day our
slave laborer hired hand was available:
I'm afraid to make any predictions about the long-term health and welfare of this, the latest installment of
doomed foliage beautiful plants in our lives. But to improve the odds I'm installing some drip irrigation for all of the plants, trees and vines this week. This should at least make the watering relatively idiot-proof... although there is always an idiot ready and willing to rise to any challenge.
Thursday, July 28, 2005
Way behind the curve
The following is a brief public service announcement:
I am still the only literate person in the civilized world who has not read a single one of the Harry Potter books.
My wife and the big kids have read all of the previous installments... and the newest one (many thanks to my younger sister for FedExing it around the world) has just passed from Zahava to Ariella.
However, for some reason I never got around to reading any of them.
It's not a religious thing, I promise! In fact, I've always been a bit puzzled when I hear religious leaders (in many religions) voice objection to the Harry Potter stories.
From what I've seen in the films, it seems as though there are many very healthy lessons for children of all ages. Unlike the typical Disney fare, the world created by JK Rowling doesn't rely exclusively on fairy godmothers or prince charmings to arrive at the last moment to make everything OK. Instead, we learn that even people with magical powers must study and work very hard at perfecting their wizardry... and that there are limits on the powers of even the most skilled practitioners.
All of the social (bullies), financial (the poor Weasleys) and organizational (the Ministry of Magic) problems that exist in real life also exist in the fictional world of Harry Potter, et al. And most telling, strength of character seems to count for at least as much as having an encyclopedic knowledge of spells and potions.
So... I really have no reasonable explanation as to why I haven't read any of the books.
Therefore, this Shabbat I will finally begin reading the first in the series; HP & the Sorcerer's Stone.
Wednesday, July 27, 2005
A welcome distraction
Yesterday was a difficult day.
One of our closest friends from the US landed here yesterday with her mother. This wasn't a family vacation. You see, our friend and her siblings were bringing their mother's body to Israel to be buried next to their father - not yet 6 months in his own grave.
Losing a parent is never easy... but it was just this past March that we gathered for her father's funeral! How does a family come unraveled so quickly? I simply can't imagine the unspeakable heartbreak of losing two parents in such a short period of time.
I have written before about the stark differences between Israeli and American funeral practices. Simply put, everything about an American funeral is designed to allow the mourners to avoid direct contact with mortality. The whole process simply hints at death or makes oblique references to it. But the mourners are never really confronted by the reality of death. The funeral chapels are tastefully decorated and the deceased is discreetly hidden from view.
In Israel, the funeral chapel is as spartan as the grave... and the mourners are forced to confront the stark reality of death when their loved one is carried in on a stretcher wrapped in white shrouds. There is no metaphor for death in Israel... and nobody leaves an Israeli funeral without contemplating their own mortality.
In old movies it was not uncommon to see a hysterical person receive a bracing slap across the face followed by a stern command to "pull yourself together". An Israeli funeral provides both the raw emotion of hysterics... and the emotional equivalent of a slap in the face.
As we sat in the small chapel, or 'Beit Hesped' (eulogy house) as it is called in Hebrew, listening to the emotional tribute of the departed woman's grandson, all I could think of was to thank G-d over and over for the gift of my two healthy (insert every possible superstitious word, noise and gesture to ward off the evil eye!!!), parents.... may I never commit the sin of taking the gift of their presence for granted.
I have attended far too many funerals in the past two years. At each one I pray that I will grow a protective callous on my heart... or that I will at least become accustomed to the process. But each funeral is just as painful as the last.
At times of stress the human mind tends to cast about for something... anything... to distract it from confronting things that are emotionally painful. I honestly think the only thing that got me through yesterday's funeral was the distraction of a hugely unfortunate design flaw in the interior of the chapel.
The absurdity of the accidental arrangement of windows and words on the wall behind where the body lay provided just a tiny distraction. But it was enough.
I'm sure that the family was so immersed in their own grief that they were oblivious to the unfortunate 'smiley face' looking down upon the gathered mourners. But if I ever meet the person who designed the interior of this particular Beit Hesped, I will thank him/her for the inadvertent, but welcome distraction that allowed me get through an otherwise unbearable funeral.
May these recent orphans be comforted among the mourners for Zion and Jerusalem.
[Note: This picture was taken long after the burial had been completed]
Tuesday, July 26, 2005
An open letter
I am still a bit worked up over my last entry and am not really in the mood to pretend otherwise. I am also not interested in having treppenwitz become 'all politics all the time'. So instead I have spent my free time making a couple of small fixes to my template that have been suggested to me by some of my favorite readers (yes, I took the hint you left me TWICE on your site).
The most noticeable of these fixes is the fact that commenter's email addresses will no longer be visible or accessible to anyone here on treppenwitz.
I know that many of you have been using fake email addresses when commenting because you didn't want to have your address picked up by spammers. Typepad (my host) has had a pretty good script in place that made it nearly impossible for 'bots' to vacuum up email addresses from the comments section. But we all know that there is nothing that is truly impossible... so I really can't blame you for being overly cautious.
However, it has always saddened me to see obviously bogus email addresses attached to otherwise thoughtful comments. The main reason is that I often like to respond privately to something... the way one might lean over and whisper a friendly aside when talking to a new acquaintance at a cocktail party.
Some things just aren't meant for public consumption.
So, going forward I just want everyone to know that your email addresses are completely and safely hidden whenever you leave a comment.
I look forward to continuing the conversation when the bourbon has had a chance to do its work.
"Laying the groundwork for an insanity defense since 1961"
Sunday, July 24, 2005
I must say, I'm having a lot of trouble maintaining my position here in mid-stream on the rushing currents of Israeli politics.
It's not that my views have changed that much... but rather I can't help the fact that more and more I am being forced to take people to task who are politically to the left of me for using inflammatory language... which ends up making me appear as though I am firmly entrenched on the political right.
Political relativism aside, I still consider myself a centrist with a strong moral rudder that allows me to veer both right and left when necessary.
However, what keeps pushing my buttons lately is hearing/seeing people stake out a position against the anti-disengagement crowd without making even a token effort at espousing a rational pro-disengagement philosophy.
A relatively new blog on the scene here in Israel called 'Something Something' is written by a couple of eloquent people calling themselves simply 'he & she'. I check it a few times a week because, while I don't agree with many of their opinions... I can always learn something from a well-written opinion piece... especially one that challenges me to mentally defend my own views.
In fact, I firmly believe that many of Israel's social and political problems stem from people not paying enough attention to opinions other than their own.
Unfortunately, when I surfed over to read the latest installment on 'Something Something' all of my circuits blew.
I would really rather not try to summarize the post that set me off because I know I can't be completely fair. Go read it and then come back. I'll wait.
Here's my response (warts and all):
I must say that I am a bit taken aback by the tone and content of your post.
You expressed very strong feelings against the color orange and the people who have chosen it as their banner, yet you have said nothing about your own beliefs on disengagement. This is, unfortunately, very typical of many on the far left today. Their agenda is not a free-standing one, but rather an active opposition of anything they perceive as coming from the religious and/or right.
You mentioned the actions of a couple of lunatics as your reason for denouncing the entire disengagement movement, yet you ignored the responsible, non-violent actions of the disengagement movement as if it doesn't exist (and yes, irresponsible/dangerous actions are loudly denounced by both the leaders and participants in the anti-disengagement camp!). This selective presentation of facts is both intellectually dishonest and blatantly biased. I doubt you would want someone in Europe to judge you as an Israeli based only on what they read about some underworld crime figure in Tel Aviv.
I have a feeling that if the government made a decision to give away your home you would do exactly what most of the settlers have sworn to do, which is to use all means of protest and civil disobedience at their disposal... and then walk away in tears once all efforts have failed.
These people are not criminals or evil. They were encouraged to live in Gaza by a grateful government who applauded them for their pioneering spirit in building a paradise amongst the sand dunes. What changed from that time to this? If a general orders his troops to pull back they have no choice but to comply... but these people are civilians and not bound to follow orders blindly. Regardless of what you feel about disengagement, you cannot ignore the basic issue of forcefully relacating Jews from their homes simply because they are Jews.
You insinuated that part of the 'orange agenda' is injuring police and soldiers, yet you made no mention of the many documented unprovoked injuries that have been inflicted on demonstrators by the police and mishmar hagvul. The leaders and organizers of the anti-disengagement movement have done a tremendous amount to ensure that protests and demonstrations are conducted responsibly, and without violence... can the police say the same?
You are entitled to have your say, but please recognise that blindly opposing someone else's opinion is not really the same as having an opinion of your own.
Pretty shrill and strident of me, huh?
I will freely admit that I find it personally infuriating when people don't share my opinion on important issues. I doubt that this small failing of mine is unique. But to hate someone so much that you lose sight of your own position? That's not only not rational... but the barely concealed hatred of an entire group of people because they hold an opinion different than one's own is repugnant.
For the record, I actively denounce political violence and irresponsible/inflamatory language whenever I hear or see it (regardless of whether it comes from the right or left of me). But I really try not to get so carried away (read: pissed off) that I lose sight of my own position relative to theirs!
If you oppose disengagement, please state your case... protest enthusiastically... demonstrate peacefully... march the length and breadth of the country... and even pray with all your might. If you support the disengagement please do likewise. We live in a democracy, so every demonstration and editorial is a celebration of what makes Israel unique here in the middle east.
But please, please don't pretend that the people who don't share your opinion are evil or sub-human. They are not... and you are not.
Nothing good can come from an orgy of schadenfreude at seeing someone else's agenda on the verge of being defeated when your own hatred has left you adrift in a sea of vitriol without an agenda of your own.
What this country needs is a couple of years of marriage counseling to learn how to fight amongst ourselves. Both the right and left need to learn that at the end of the day we will all be sharing this big lumpy bed called Israel with 'those people' (meaning those with whom we are presently angry)... so everyone needs to fight fair and not say too many things that can't be taken back.
[UPDATE: Dave (author of A Current Window) was thoughful enough to post a link to a wonderful 'kevvanah' (meditation) that one should have in mind while reciting the prayer for the State of Israel. I thought it was important enough to share the link here in case you aren't in the habit of checking the comments. Thanks Dave!]
Friday, July 22, 2005
Photo Friday (Vol. XX*XV) [sacred & profane edition]
Just two pictures to share with you today... and one of them isn't even mine.
Howzabout we start with the profane? We can all use a giggle, right?
Near my office in Beer Sheva there is a billboard that has been cracking me up for the past couple of weeks. It is an ad for DHL's courier service to Asia.
The rough translation of the text is, "For your inner peace/peace of mind in the Far East. DHL" ('hasheket hanafshi shelchah' literally means the the quietness of your soul... but the the true meaning is somewhere between my rough translation and the literal one):
Those wacky Israeli marketing people... what will they think of next? The Dali Lama hawking investment advice?!
Seriously... you're selling shipping services and you want to make potential customers think of swiftness... timeliness... punctuality. So you choose as your ad's centerpiece a Tibetan monk - an image that most people associate with slow, deliberate movement and sitting perfectly still for unusually long periods of time!
Also, how funny is it that a Buddhist monk - someone that is typically associate with simplicity and poverty - has clearly sold advertising space on his robes? Seriously, this is a slippery slope that could end with a monk's trademark maroon robes festooned beyond recognition with corporate logos and symbols like a NASCAR driver or professional cyclist!
Another thing that tickled my funny bone isn't really visible in the way the picture came out.
The 'monk' was clearly some Asian guy they grabbed out of central casting, because he has a really clear 'farmer tan'... odd for someone who is supposed to have spent his every waking moment wearing an off-the-shoulder ensemble! In person, the billboard clearly shows that his arms and neck are deeply tanned while his torso and shoulder are lily-white.
I'm thinking that if this guy was really a monk he'd have the 'toga tan' to prove it!
Anyway... now that I've gotten that out of my system... here is the picture I'd like you to keep in your head whenever the media tries to tell you about the irreconcilable rift between the people who oppose disengagement and those who are tasked with carrying it out:
What you see here is a minyan of Jewish men fulfilling their shared obligation for communal prayer. Though a fence (and orders) divides them... they have other things that unite them. These are the same people that photojournalists showed the world shouting at each other over following orders and following conscience.
You won't be likely to see this image in the mainstream media.
I have searched everywhere for some attribution for this picture, but can only find two references to the fact that it was taken at Kfar Maimon, 16 miles east of the Gaza border, where anti-disengagement demonstrators and security forces clashed yesterday.
This picture isn't meant to imply that the very worst hasn't been brought out in people on both sides of this painful issue. Rather, it is meant to remind you that the worst often gets reported... while the best (and the mundane) almost never does.
The press would have the Israeli public (and the world) believe that disengagement is a struggle to the death between the secular left and religious right. That is a horrible and deliberate misrepresentation of the issues, and nothing could be further from the truth. Yes, it would be much easier to mobilize sympathy and generate loyalty if the lines were so clearly drawn. But like everything else in Israeli society... this is messy and not nearly so simple to define.
There are plenty of secular Israelis who strongly oppose disengagement, and there are plenty of religious Israelis who support it. The thing that has tempted many people to deliberately try to make this a religious/secular issue is the fact that almost all of the Jews living in Gaza - the people most directly impacted by the disengagement - are religious.
It would seem that for those who see red at the sight of a kippah and beard (or long skirt and tichel), the temptation to simply ignore the sympathies of the rest of the Israeli public proved a bit too strong. This struggle isn't 'The settlers of Gush Katif vs The nation of Israel'. It is a national struggling with itself over a very painful internal issue.
Like most people in Israel I hope and pray that whatever comes to pass, does so without violence.
The anti-disengagement demonstrators and settlers need to remember that the police and soldiers are their brothers, sisters, fathers, cousins and countrymen. The police and soldiers need to remember that they are the protectors of our democracy... and that the demonstrators and settlers are entitled, in a liberal democracy, to use civil disobedience to express their will.
The picture of the soldiers and demonstrators praying together gives me hope that when the ugly struggle comes to pass... through their tears and their rage, everyone will remember that they are facing Jews, Israelis, and brothers across the barricades.
Wednesday, July 20, 2005
The blogger wore white
Last night Zahava and I had the privilege of attending the wedding of Noa (Jerusalem Revealed) and Bryan. Some of you may remember that I wrote about their heroic idea of arranging to have a bone marrow registration drive as part of their wedding reception.
Well, last night was the big night!
Set on a hilltop with a magnificent view of Jerusalem's Temple Mount, the wedding venue could not possible have been more beautiful. Unusual for us, we arrived exactly at the time listed on the invitation.
There's an old saying here in Israel, "The only problem with arriving on time to an affair is that there's nobody there to appreciate it!" OK, that might be a small exaggeration in this case, but we were definitely among the first to arrive. Luckily there were plenty of yummy hors d'ouvres and an open bar to keep the early birds from wasting away. :-)
The ceremony was held outdoors at dusk with the glowing panorama of Jerusalem's old city as the backdrop. The weather was perfect, and the couple and their attendants were impeccably turned out. There was even a 'flower dog' (Noa's little dog Sharona), who walked proudly down the aisle with one of the flower girls.
[Stay tuned for a post in the not-too-distant future in which I reveal that this is not the first time I have witnessed a dog at a Jewish wedding ceremony.]
For those of you who might not be familiar with the specifics of the Jewish wedding ceremony, it is worth pointing out that there is more than just the Rabbi officiating. There are several official witnesses... groomsmen to hold the poles of the canopy (or perhaps to keep the groom from running away)... as well as many distinguished Rabbis and family members to read the legal/halachic documents aloud and pronounce the various blessings.
In short, a traditional Jewish wedding is indeed a group effort.
There is also usually someone who makes announcements throughout the ceremony, calling up the various honorees and dignitaries to perform their specific roles. One of Bryan's close friends peformed admirably as Master of Ceremonies, calling up Rabbis, community leaders and family members.... each person along with his title and role.
When it came time for the penultimate blessing, the MC announced to the assembled guests, "For the sixth blessing the bride and groom would like to honor Mr. David Bogner, the face behind the blog treppenwitz". Yes, after all the distinguished Rabbis and family members... I was called to the chupah to help complete the marriage ceremony. Although Noa and I have become quite friendly since meeting last year... I assume the honor she and Bryan extended to me was in large part a way to thank my wife for the late night talks she and Noa had at our house. Zahava thinks the world of Noa and they bonded over the Shabbats that Noa spent with us.
As I walked up to stand in front of the couple under the chupah, I could hear the assembled crowd murmuring "Who's that?... what's a blog?... what's a treppenwitz?", to one another. I just smiled at Noa and Bryan and said quielty, "I am sooo blogging about this tomorrow!", before reciting my blessing.
It turns out that there were more than a few people there who knew perfectly well what a blog is.
Seated behind us at the ceremony was the charming author of Lapis Dreams, who introduced herself when I returned to my seat. At dinner Zahava and I were seated at the blogger table with Chayei Sara (and her very flattering new short hairdo), Gil Ben Mori and his lovely wife, as well as 'Purple Parrot', the engaging author of Slighly Mad. I heard rumors that there were a few more of our ilk in attendance, but I was too busy eating, drinking and being merry to notice if anyone was trying to send me the secret blogger signal.
As to the bone marrow registration, the phlebotomists were every bit as adept as advertised. When it came time for me to submit my paperwork and give my tablespoon-sized sample of blood, I didn't even realize it had happened until I was told to hold a cotton ball on the place where the needle had gone just come out. I didn't get the exact count, but there seemed to have been a long line of people throughout the first part of the wedding reception that were waiting to participate in the registration drive.
I'm still blown away by the simple beauty of this idea! I hope more people follow their example.
As we were leaving the wedding, we enjoyed one last stroll along the promenade in the cool Jerusalem breeze. It was truly a beautiful wedding, and a magnificent reception celebrating the union of two wonderful people. In typical Noa and Bryan fashion, every aspect of the affair was designed to make the guests feel both welcome and involved... and the added boost of having the opportunity to do a good deed ensured a truly special glow at the end of the evening.
Bryan and Noa... may you be worthy to watch your children's children celebrate life's bounty the way your parents and grandparents celebrated with you last night.
Tuesday, July 19, 2005
The most depressing lyrics ever!
Thanks to everyone who took the time to take part in the survey. The results were both helpful and enlightening... and not surprisingly, not one person felt my posts were too short! :-)
I also appreciate the thoughtful comments on the topic, as well as the bits of poetry that were submitted. Quite the literary round table we have here!
All that poetry somehow got me thinking about song lyrics... and before I even knew I was doing it, I'd started writing a journal entry about music lyrics. Go figure! This just might be one of those entries you end up 'blipping over'. :-)
I should begin by saying that I love music.
Since moving to Israel, my music collection has become an unbelievably important link to my 'old life'. This isn't to say I don't enjoy Israeli music (I do... very much), but you can probably understand that I frequently long for songs sung in a language where I understand all the little nuances and hidden meaning.
My CD collection includes a representative amount of almost every musical genre... which is good, since I don't like to listen to any one kind of music for an extended period of time. 'Rock', 'Pop', 'Jazz', 'R & B', 'Classical', 'Fusion', 'SKA', 'Regae', 'Gospel', 'Funk', 'Folk', 'Zydeco', 'Show Tunes'... and yes, even 'Country' (although mostly older stuff)... You name it, and I probably have it!
The only one of these genres that I go out of my way to take in very limited doses is ''Country'. You see, country music tends to be a bit... um... dark. By this I mean that it tends leave the listener somewhat despondent. I'm sure you've all heard the old joke:
Q: What do you get if you play a country song backwards?
A: The 'repo man' brings your car back... your dog comes back to life... you get out of jail... Your wife calls off the divorce...etc., etc.
My point is, you don't hear too many Hank Williams tunes about getting promoted or winning the lottery!
So why am I telling you all this?
Because, I've discovered on my iPod what I believe to be the darkest, most depressing country lyrics ever recorded! Seriously! If there is some kind of prize for depressing lyrics, this song is the all-time world champ!!!
On his self-titled album from 1971, John Prine recorded a song called 'Sam Stone' about a drug-addicted Vietnam War veteran whose life spirals terminally downward following his discharge from the army. Truth be told, the whole album is pretty depressing, but this one song really takes the cake!
It's only 3 verses...see for yourself:
Sam Stone came home,
To his wife and family
After serving in the conflict overseas.
And the time that he served,
Had shattered all his nerves,
And left a little shrapnel in his knee.
But the morphine eased the pain,
And the grass grew 'round his brain,
And gave him all the confidence he lacked,
With a purple heart and a monkey on his back.
There’s a hole in daddy’s arm where all the money goes,
Jesus Christ died for nothin’ I suppose.
Little pitchers have big ears,
Don’t stop to count the years,
Sweet songs never last too long on broken radios.
Sam Stone’s welcome home
Didn’t last too long.
He went to work when he’d spent his last dime
And Sammy took to stealing
When he got that empty feeling
For a hundred dollar habit without overtime.
And the gold rolled through his veins
Like a thousand railroad trains,
And eased his mind in the hours that he chose,
While the kids ran around wearin’ other peoples’ clothes...
Sam Stone was alone
When he popped his last balloon
Climbing walls while sitting in a chair
Well, he played his last request
While the room smelled just like death
With an overdose hovering in the air
But life had lost it’s fun
And there was nothing to be done
But trade his house that he bought on the 'G.I. Bill'
For a flag draped casket on a local heroes’ hill
So go ahead... I dare you... no, I double dog dare you to show me an actual set of recorded lyrics that are darker or more depressing than that.
Monday, July 18, 2005
A penny for your thoughts
One of my daily reads, the talented SF Bay-area journalist, Maggie Mason ('famous among dozens' as ''Mighty Girl'), posted a poem by a poet named Ted kooser. The poem is about the kind of person the poet would most want to read his work:
Selecting a Reader
by Ted Kooser
First, I would have her be beautiful,
and walking carefully up on my poetry
at the loneliest moment of an afternoon,
her hair still damp at the neck
from washing it. She should be wearing
a raincoat, an old one, dirty
from not having money enough for the cleaners.
She will take out her glasses, and there
in the bookstore, she will thumb
over my poems, then put the book back
up on its shelf. She will say to herself,
"For that kind of money, I can get
my raincoat cleaned." And she will
The poem is wonderful all by itself... but it also really got me thinking about who I picture in my minds eye when I'm writing. Who am I speaking to?
The truth is, I don't really know.
There have been plenty of times when I've written something and quickly deleted it because I felt it wasn't appropriate for a portion of treppenwitz's readers... but I honestly have never stopped to actively consider what it is that people come here looking for. The more I thought about this, the more I realized that I have no worldly idea if I'm meeting your needs.
There are 40 or 50 regular and semi-regular commenters who I have come to know from our frequent interaction... but my statistics tell me that there are a few hundred others who come here on a fairly regular basis, yet never say a word.
That's fine, of course... not everyone is looking for an interactive experience when they read a blog or journal. But it leaves me somewhat in the dark as to what brings some of you back (or perhaps why some of you drift away).
So I have a favor to ask. Would you be so kind as to answer a few easy questions that will help me understand you a bit better?
All you have to do is select the answer that comes closest to reflecting your views... click the little circle next to the answer.... hit vote... and go on to the next question. There are only eight questions in this survey. You can can answer each question only once... and the results are completely anonymous.
Needless to say, if there is something you'd like to add that isn't mentioned in the survey... please share it in the comments section.
I really appreciate you taking a moment to give me some feedback. I can't promise that I'll act on everything I find out from this survey... but it will help me have a better picture of who you (i.e. y'all, you lot, etc.), are in my mind's eye when I sit down to write.
Friday, July 15, 2005
Photo Friday (Vol. XX*XIV) [anchors aweigh edition]
As I promised yesterday, here are some pictures from Wednesday's commissioning ceremony in Ashdod. I could carry on for a few paragraphs, but the photos speak for themselves for the most part.
I'll just stick in a word or two between pictures...
Before the ceremony began, sailors and staff were milling about in loose formation... waiting for the order to come to attention:
The honor guard marches forward with 'the colors (the base flag, the Navy flag and the flag of Israel):
A well-rendered salute:
The colors are hoisted and the formation is ordered to parade rest ('amod noach'):
For those who are not familiar with IDF insignia, the central image is a sword and olive branch. It is also used as part of some rank insignia... here is the shoulder board of a Rear Admiral (tat aluf) who was present:
Here you can see the Israel Navy insignia on this sailor's hat.
The Captain of one of the boats stands in front of his crew. I met his parents after the ceremony and you could not imagine two people possibly being prouder of their son. His mom kept flicking imaginary dust from his uniform and his dad would occasionally reach out and and give the back of his neck an affectionate squeeze. The captain's two teen-aged sisters followed him everywhere after the ceremony and took about a million pictures holding onto his arm:
Thursday, July 14, 2005
Ceremony by the sea...
I apologize that I didn't respond to comments in my usually timely fashion yesterday. I honestly didn't have a chance to turn on a computer until late last night... but I assure you, the day was well spent:
One of the neat things about my job is the frequent opportunities it offers to interact with members of the Israel Defense Forces. This interaction takes place mostly because my company makes lots of the stuff the IDF uses. I won't say too much more about my company except to point out that quality control takes on a whole new meaning when the stuff you are building might be sailing, driving or flying around with your children, or one of your neighbor's kids, in it!
One of the many things we make for the IDF is the Super Dvora (Dvora is Hebrew for 'Bee') Fast Patrol Boat. You may remember that I got to tag along with the navy on the shake-down cruise for one of our boats a couple of weeks ago...
... so yesterday was the official commissioning ceremony for these latest two boats we delivered.
In a slight departure from my usual weekly format, I'll tell you a bit about the event here today... and share some pictures taken at the ceremony tomorrow for Photo Friday.
Before I go on, I should point out that the IDF is not known for Pomp & Circumstance (that statement may qualify as the understatement of the century!). They also don't do a lot of saluting or parade-ground drilling. In fact, truth be told, they really don't spend much time in dress uniforms either. When I pointed this out to an Israeli friend once, he responded, "If you see a farmer with a shiny new tractor sitting next to his barn... it probably means he doesn't do a lot of farming." The point being that such ceremonial posturing is the province of countries with large, peace-time standing armies... a concept with which Israel, unfortunately, has had no real experience.
Most of the ceremonies that do exist within the IDF are rarely witnessed by 'outsiders', and are usually meaningful, intimate affairs... such as the completion of basic training when each soldier is simultaneously issued a Tanach (Bible) in one hand and an M16 rife in the other.
But yesterday proved that when necessary the IDF can put on a nice show for the crowds.
The commissioning ceremony was scheduled to begin at 5:30PM, so my plan was to bring the whole family. Unfortunately Zahava and Yonah decided to take a last minute rain check, so just the big kids accompanied me to the Ashdod Naval Base on the Mediterranean coast.
I honestly don't know how people live near Israel's coast during the summer. It was so hot and humid – even in the late afternoon – that I wondered how anything could maintain the will to live. One of the sailors who I have gotten to know told me that this was a relatively cool day... "It's usually much worse!", he said. Yikes!
Thank G-d I live on a mountaintop where it gets chilly in the evening... even in July and August!
Anyway, the crews and support staff for most of the naval base were turned out for the ceremony in their 'dress whites'... and the new patrol boats were tied smartly alongside at full dress ship, with their young crews sweating proudly at attention on the pier.
The Commander of the Israel Navy spoke briefly, as did the Commander of the Ashdod Naval Base. There were traditional honors rendered... boatswains pipes sounded... a well turned-out honor guard 'presented the colors'... and the assembled sailors snapped smartly from 'parade rest' to 'attention' and back several dozen times to mark each segment of the ceremony.
In most other countries there would be martial music playing throughout such a ceremony, but these drills were performed silently except for the sound of the spoken orders and the soft crunch of marching feet.
When the Israeli and Israel Navy flags were finally raised, the most striking contrast came to light with the playing/singing of Israel's national anthem, Hatikvah (the hope). There are no references to battles or military victories in Hatikvah. There is no mention of strength of arms, courage or valor. It is simply a folk song about a people's 2000 year longing for a return to their homeland... and the dream of living there as a free nation.
Everyone stood and sang... the sailors... the assembled family and friends... even a forklift operator on a distant pier across the harbor stepped out of his vehicle, stood at attention, and sang.
I'm a hopeless sentimentalist when it comes to these things. I'll admit it... I cried like a baby.
As a former sailor (who has a weak spot for tradition), I can say without hesitation that the whole ceremony - start to finish - was very nicely done.
At the end of the ceremony the crews were ordered to man their ships. They ran quickly up the gangways onto their new boats and got underway smartly. Although they only did a quick ceremonial circuit around the harbor... everyone was pleased to see how quickly and efficiently the evolution - from the line-handling to the ship-handling - took place.
Once the boats were once again tied securely alongside, the entire group was called to attention one last time and dismissed. The final order was followed by an announcement for everyone to join in a celebratory dinner nearby.
Ariella, Gilad and I joined the crews, their families and the assembled base personnel for the wonderful outdoor meal. There were tables sagging under the weight of countless eastern delicacies (falefal, kibeh, lachmajin, shishlik, stuffed grape leaves, etc.) and more familiar fare (schnitzel, salad, fresh fruits /vegetables) as well as breads of every description.
Throughout the meal there was a seemingly endless stream of watermelons brought out and sliced up to help quench everyone's thirst. The melons were frosted from a day spent waiting in a freezer somewhere... and the icy cold sweetness was the perfect thing to deal with the oppressive heat.
The meal was as remarkable for me as any part of the ceremony. First of all, it was completely kosher (a rule throughout the Israel military). The idea of eating a strictly kosher meal at a military installation is still jarring for me since I spent 4 years as the only Jew aboard an American frigate.
Also, during the meal, the base commander stood up and invited everyone to raise their wine glasses to join him in wishing the crews well. In his remarks he never once mentioned military power or victory, and in fact made no references to the enemies the ships were built to counter at all. Instead he spoke only of his wish that the crews would be safe on their new ships... and that with G-d's help they would protect the country while never having to fire a shot in anger.
He ended his brief toast with the traditional "L'Chaim!" (to life!), which everyone enthusiastically answered.
After the meal, the kids and I were invited on board the two boats where my company presented each crew member with their plankholder certificates. This is an old naval tradition that is practiced around the world. The certificate identifies each sailor as a member of the commissioning crew, and figuratively gives them ownership of one of the planks from which the ship was built.
One line on the certificate sums it up nicely: "A part of the ship will remain with him forever... and a part of him will forever remain with the ship."
I'm so glad I was able to share this experience with my children. Soldiers have become part of their everyday lives. The sight of tanks on transport trucks and helicopters flying low overhead doesn't even catch their attention anymore.
Yesterday's commissioning ceremony was a rare opportunity to remind them that ours is a citizen army... manned (and 'womanned') by people whose only wish is for a time when 'man will learn war no more'.
Wednesday, July 13, 2005
Anything worth saying once...
...certainly bears repeating!
Now that we are in the heart of the summer's hottest weeks (except for those of you who are bundled up in your winter clothes throughout the Southern Hemisphere, of course), I thought I'd once again share one of my favorite summertime tips that Zahava and I received a few years ago:
On a hot summer day, Zahava and I were passing through New Paltz, NY when we decided to pop into a promising little coffee shop for a couple of iced coffees. Now, iced coffee, as many of you know, is wonderfully refreshing… but it has the one fatal flaw of becoming increasingly diluted as the ice melts. Except, that is, for some reason the iced coffees from this little coffee shop held their own… maybe even got better… as we sat in the August heat, sipping our drinks! How was this possible?!
The secret turned out to be the most obvious thing in the world (isn’t that usually the way?). Instead of pouring the end of each pot of coffee down the drain before starting a new one, the baristas poured these precious remnants into ice trays and froze them for use with Iced Coffee!
Voila! Iced coffee made with frozen coffee cubes!!! Genius!!!
Anyway, I thought this tip was worth sharing again since we are well into iced coffee season.
Feel free to share any of your own 'beat the heat' (or coffee) tips...
Tuesday, July 12, 2005
Yesterday I saw something I have never seen during my commute home from work: A traffic jam.
I've posted pictures of the terrain through which my commute takes me. Other than the occasional shepherd crossing the road with his flock of sheep or an Ibex leaping across the roadway, there is usually nothing standing between me, the speed limit (hee hee) and an hour's worth of music and daydreams.
So, when I came around a curve in the road yesterday and saw a long line of cars sitting at a dead stop... with soldiers and police swarming in the distance, I feared the worst; Either there had been a terrible accident or a terrorist attack.
Most of the drivers had turned off their cars and stood in the late-afternoon heat asking each other if they had heard any news. The shrugs and sideways glances told as much as the steady tic tic tic of the cooling engines... nobody knew a thing.
Before too long, a line of cars began approaching us from the opposite direction. As they passed we looked closely at the faces behind the windshields to see if we could read any information there... a frown... a grimace... anything that would hint at the untold story of what they had just seen. But the passing faces were inscrutable... a long line of poker players traveling on to play another hand. At least this meant there was one lane open... so maybe the accident hadn't been too bad.
After almost half an hour of watching the cars wind slowly past the place where we stood, the on-coming traffic slowed to a trickle... and then the last car passed us by, leaving nothing but the desert wind in our ears.
Then we noticed a flicker of movement on the horizon as some of the cars and trucks in our lane came to life and started to move forward.
It was another 15 minutes before the inch-worm movement of the traffic made it back to where we waited... but by then we were all in our cars with the engines running.... ready to go.
As we drove slowly towards the spot where the road dipped over the horizon we began to see soldiers.... lots of them. They were wearing full combat gear and scattered on every hilltop... one here... a pair there.... as far as the eye could see.
Although I worried about what the soldier's presence might mean, I was kicking myself that I hadn't brought my camera with me. There is something about seeing Jewish soldiers standing with their dusty boots planted on the same hills where Jewish warriors stood thousands of years ago that never fails to get me choked up. I couldn't have been prouder of such a sight if my own children were among the scattered sentinels.
As the line of cars drew abreast of each soldier's position we noticed two things that put our minds somewhat at ease: Many of the soldiers had planted their unit flag in the rocky soil near their positions... and most waved and nodded at the cars as we passed.
As I watched the black and green flags snap smartly in the breeze I realized that they would not have brought their flags with them if this were an emergency response... and the cheerful waves and nods indicated that, at least for the moment, all was right with the world.
I unconsciously exhaled a breath that I was unaware I'd been holding. From each of the cars hands waved at the soldiers standing on the hilltops... and we traveled on to find our answers.
As we approached the point which had previously been our horizon, a group of police made urgent hand signs for us to drive slowly and to drive only in the left lane. As we rounded the next bend in the road we found out why.
A long line of teeneaged bicyclists were riding in small groups as far as the eye could see. The road rose imperceptibly into the distance and the cyclists struggled slowly against the grade.
Many of them had orange ribbons tied to their bikes... but many others did not. I couldn't imagine this was a protest over disengagement, since out here anyone who was likely to see them was probably already in agreement on the issue... preaching to the choir, so to speak. But what else could it be?
Mile after mile (er, I mean kilometer after kilometer) I passed scores of cyclists. I had no idea what they were riding for, but there was an infectious optimism about the riders that had all the passing cars waving and shouting encouragement as we passed. All along the route, the soldiers looked on from their hilltop positions on either side of the road... and waved along with the passing cars at the kids who sweated up the hills for reasons only they understood.
It wasn't until I got home and turned on the computer that I found out the back-story to what I had seen. It turns out that over 100 kids had decided to organize a bike ride in memory of their friends Avichai Levy and Aviad Mansour, the two teenagers who had been shot and killed a couple of weeks ago by terrorists while standing on the side of the road waiting for a ride.
The ride began in Beit Haggai (the site of the attack) and passed Otniel. These were the two communities where the boys had lived out their short lives. The riders continued past Otniel and on through Judaen hills... and concluded their journey in the distant community of Susiya.
They could have chosen to march... or organized a caravan of cars. But intead they chose to ride bikes. No matter how old or mature you are, there is something inherently childish about riding a bike. I love that they chose a bike ride to remember two childhood friends.
I'm sure that the heavy police and army presence was mostly to ensure that another tragedy didn't take place (I can only imagine what a tempting target these riders presented to the terrorists)... but the dozens of soldiers also served as a fitting honor guard for the kids during their trek.
I can clearly remember the many walk-a-thons and bike-a-thons in which I participated as a kid. I'm sure most of you can too. I can remember the sunny days... the camaraderie... and the sense of accomplishment when we finished.
What I don't remember so clearly is which causes these exertion-a-thons were meant to benefit. Maybe Multiple Sclerosis... Breast Cancer... Multiple Dystrophy... I really have no idea.
Like most kids, I was long on energy and short on interest in the details... making me the perfect fundraiser participant! Who doesn't want to sponsor a kid for some worthy cause, right? You toss in a couple of bucks for a good cause and give the kids something to do for a few hours... a win-win for all involved.
Well, these kids weren't raising money... no amount of money would bring back their friends. They weren't raising awareness... anybody in this part of the world is already acutely aware of the depths to which our enemies will stoop.
This ride was a cathartic exercise for a group of kids who had lost two of their friends in the war. They were a few years shy of their army service, but the boys and girls on these bikes new perfectly well that they had lost their friends because each and every one of them is viewed by the enemy as a legitimate target in this war... no matter what their age.
As I sit here in my house with my children sleeping two floors above my head, I am still struck by the contrast between the kids I saw on their bikes, and the teenager I once was.
Like these kids, I rode as part of a worthy cause. But unlike me... in 30 years these kids will have forgotten the ride itself, but will surely remember why they rode.
Sunday, July 10, 2005
You may remember that I posted an entry last week about a site that had inexplicable lifted the little graphic I use to show my current weight. Not only that, but a sharp-eyed reader noticed that this thief was stealing my bandwidth in order to display it on his blog (something I've talked about at length)!
One or two of you went over and gently asked him what the deal was with my button, and he finally owned up to lifting it from my site. However, he made no attempt to apologize... and in fact tried to use religious tap-dancing to rationalize his behavior.
So, I'd like to ask a favor from my readers.
I'd like to ask you to go to this post. The post itself has nothing to do with the subject at hand (although if I hadn't made so many typos in my comments to him I would use his post as an example of why a spell-checker is a must for bloggers)... it is the comments section to which I'd like to draw your attention.
Read through the comments section where the site-owner is finally confronted for stealing my weight button, and ask him the hard questions yourself.
Most of you have proved yourselves to be level-headed, fair-minded people. I know I can count on you to inquire politely, without name-calling or profanity, about his behavior.
Obviously, if you think he did nothing wrong you should tell him that as well. After all... I'm not trying to organize a mob here!
Yes, I am aware that this is a very petty thing I'm doing here... opening up a fellow Jew to possible scorn/ridicule... but when I give someone the opportunity to do the right thing and they choose to 'dig in' rather than 'fess up'... then all bets are off.
Friday, July 08, 2005
Photo Friday (Vol. XX*XIII) ['teach your children well' edition]
...Anyone who isn't familiar with the old CSN&Y hit mentioned in today's title should go and find a copy of So Far ... listen to it... and understand that the song is talking about how information is passed (or sometimes not passed) between the generations.
The song was written during a tumultuous time when the 'children' were convinced that their parents couldn't possibly understand them... and the parents were equally sure that the children had willfully abandoned all of the teachings with which they had been raised.
The truth is, the song is quite conciliatory. It says that neither parent nor child can (or should) completely understand one another... but that it is important for both to make the attempt. Today it is not enough to "just look at them and sigh".... we must help them understand.
The attack yesterday in London was something that every parent should discuss with their children. They should talk to their kids about the things that lead to acts of violence; bigotry, intolerance and xenophobia.
At the same time it is important to listen to the children. They often don't know how to tell us about their fears... about the monsters that visit them in their dreams. Their demons are every bit as real and valid as ours... perhaps more-so because they don't have the life experience to compute the odds and set the irrational things aside.
The Internet offers a wonderful opportunity to teach our children about our world... both the good and the bad. The information on television moves too quickly and we can't control what words or images will pop up next. But if in the course of our surfing for information about the bombings we're carefully choose images, headlines and captions before inviting the kids over for a chat, I think you will be surprised at where the conversation will take you.
As I said yesterday, we will unfortunately remain involved in a World War for the foreseeable future. I honestly don't see it ending before my children go out into the world... so it is up to me to help them understand things as best I can.
Teach Your Children - Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
(Lyrics by Graham Nash)
You who are on the road
Must have a code that you can live by
And so become yourself
Because the past is just a good-bye.
Teach your children well,
Their father's hell did slowly go by,
And feed them on your dreams
The one they picks, the one you'll know by.
Don't you ever ask them why, if they told you, you will cry,
So just look at them and sigh
and know they love you.
And you, of tender years,
Can't know the fears that your elders grew by,
And so please help them with your youth,
They seek the truth before they can die.
Teach your parents well,
Their children's hell will slowly go by,
And feed them on your dreams
The one they picks, the one you'll know by.
Don't you ever ask them why, if they told you, you will cry,
So just look at them and sigh and know they love you.
Thursday, July 07, 2005
We interrupt this journal...
I had posted a light-hearted journal entry around lunchtime here in Israel... but I have decided to post something more fitting to push it down the page a few inches.
Now is not the time for light-hearted things.
Apparently London has been the target of a particularly vicious and well-coordinated attack on it's transportation system during the height of the morning rush hour.
My heart and prayers go out to the people of London... particularly the individuals and families who were injured or killed.
This is yet another sure sign that World War III is well underway, though one side of the conflict pretends with all its might that it isn't. On the one side you have militant Islam. On the other is absolutely anyone and everyone with whom militant Islam takes umbrage. Today it was the peaceful citizens of London... but tomorrow it could be absolutely anyone else. Welcome to the war that knows no borders.
I can say with absolute certainty (as I did after the 9/11 attacks) that the world will willfully ignore this proof of the ongoing international conflict... just as they have ignored all previous signs from around the globe. For some reason, the civilized world cannot acknowledge the existence of an organized army if they are not affiliated with a single country and/or wearing uniforms/insignia. All international doctrine, conventions and laws are written to address only such enemies, therefore any other sort of enemy can presently act with impunity... because technically they don't exist.
There will be a short period of extreme vigilance in Western capitols, followed by a return to 'normalcy'. This pattern has repeated itself for decades each time an airliner is blown from the sky... each time a military installation, ship or embassy is targeted... and each and every time the very fabric of a country's ability to engage in commerce is slapped into oblivion like a child's toy.
It is only a matter of days, or even hours, before someone makes a public statement blaming Israel/Jews for directly or indirectly causing this latest tragedy. The 'kooks' will float conspiracy theories stating that it was a Mossad plot to discredit the Arab world and Islam. As a result of such 'crazy' accusations, the 'more reasonable' explanation that England's support of the US - and by association, Israel - is to blame for what happened this morning, will gain wide acceptance.
The net result will be that England will follow Spain's example and withdraw from the unpopular business of waging war against an army which, according to international doctrine and convention, does not really exist.
I predict that before long there will not be enough days in the calendar for the number of commemorative memorials that will result from this undeclared World War.
New bloggers tend to 'borrow'
Anyone who has a blog will have to admit to doing a bit of 'borrowing' when they first started out.
By 'borrowing' I mean that many of us probably spent those early days wandering around the blogosphere getting layout, design, and content ideas from more established sites.
Those using free or inexpensive blogging applications have the problem of how to spice up the limited template choices available. Let's face it... we all want our site's to look and feel unique.
Not being particularly astute with graphic issues, I looked at other people's color schemes and internal navigation to see what worked (i.e. which were easiest on the eyes and most intuitive to explore) and which were not (e.g. dark-colored type on darker backgrounds).
I also realized very quickly that since I didn't enjoy the flashing/blinking stuff on other people's pages... that I should avoid such gimmicks on my own. Let's not even bring up the unpardonable sin of auto-loading sound files that assault the ears the moment a site's home page loads! That is the single quickest way to ensure I never visit your blog again.
During the first few weeks after starting treppenwitz I also checked out all those nifty organizational and association links that people have in their sidebars/'gutters'. Some, like technorati and sitemeter were helpful (and more importantly, free!) tools that allowed me to have a better sense of things going on 'behind the scenes'.
Others, such as the many 'web-rings' and associations that exist to affiliate and link like-minded blogs/bloggers were interesting, but weren't particularly useful to a completely non-specific site like mine.
I mention all this because I want everyone to understand that I really have no business looking down my nose at someone who borrows general ideas from my site. In fact, I can't think of anything more flattering that to notice someone taking blogging/journaling hints from treppenwitz.
But there have to be limits to all this 'borrowing'! !
Those that have been coming here for a while know the purpose of the little graphic in the lower right hand corner of every post (You know, the one looks like this: ). For you newcomers, this post explains that this small graphic is my way of shaming myself into being more careful about eating. You see, that number is my current weight. When it goes up by a pound or two I usually get a few chiding comments from friends and readers. If it goes down (which hasn't happened in quite some time) people are nice enough to offer encouragement and praise.
All-in-all a nice system of public shame/reward.
But when a sharp-eyed reader recently pointed out a new blog that had lifted my weight graphic, I had to laugh.
I don't want to offer a direct link to the site... partly because they also have a big graphic link to a virulently anti-Zionist blog... but mostly because I don't want to tip them off to the fact that they've been caught doing something foolish.
But if you go to www dot rachack dot blogspot dot com and scroll down to the catchy collection of links and graphics they've lifted from around the blogosphere, you will see my little weight button!
It really isn't such a big deal. But it indicates that someone (or several someones) went running around the Jewish blogosphere as if they were at a trade show, grabbing anything eye-catching that wasn't nailed down.
Perhaps one day they will take a moment to go through their collection of 'borrowed' junk and realize that unless one of the contributors actually weighs 221 pounds, it might behoove them to remove my button! :-)
Wednesday, July 06, 2005
The name's David...
... but you can call me 'trep'.
I've had a few nicknames over the years... and enjoyed almost all of them.
Don't get me wrong, I love my given name. But when I was in grade school you couldn't shoot a spitball without hitting someone named David! Apparently David was the default name on the boomer generation male birth certificate.
Teachers and friends attempted to sort things out by experimenting with variations on a theme. A typical question that I'd get asked on the first day of school was, "Do you want to be called David, Dave, Davey (The Lutheran cartoon series 'Davey and Goliath' was really big back then), or maybe something else?"
Other than a short period in 4th grade where I wanted to be called by my middle name (Lindsay) I usually asked people to call me 'David' (although, interestingly... all of my siblings call me 'Dave').
When I was in the navy I was known by several derivations of 'David', as well as 'Bogie'/'Bogey' (from my last name; Bogner). Given that 'Jewboy' or something even worse was altogether possible, I guess I should count myself lucky.
While studying at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, I worked evenings at the now-defunct Richie's Pizza on King George street (remember the big message board?!). One of the long-time workers had already laid claim to 'Dave', and another recent hire was named 'David'. So for almost two years I I grudgingly answering to the name 'Dudu'.
Yeah, I know... pretty lame.
Since moving to Israel I haven't really had too much trouble with my name beyond the occasional struggle to keep Israelis from calling me 'Daaayveeed' (I usually put the kibosh on that by politely asking the offender just how many 'yuds' he/she thinks are actually contained in my name).
The blogosphere seems to be another story altogether, though. As I look around at the people I read on a regular basis, I get the sense that very few of us named our blogs with an eye towards what other people would call us in on-line discussions.
I have never made a secret of my real name here on treppenwitz, so I figured most people would simply call me David (if they talked about me at all). However, when we had that first (and so far, only) blogger bash in Ra'anana last year, all I got were blank stares when I introduced myself to my fellow Anglo-Israeli bloggers as 'David'.
I quickly realized that most people were walking around introducing themselves by the names of their blogs (boy, would 'Psychotoddler' or 'Orthodox Jewish Straight Theater Queen' have gotten some funny looks if they had attended!).
I have to admit that it felt really strange to walk up to someone and say, "Hi, I'm treppenwitz... who are you?" But at least I was sometimes able to spot a glimmer of recognition with this approach.
However, it has been sort of interesting to lurk around the blogosphere these days and see what other people call me.
So far, I have been noticing a decided trend towards 'Trep'.
OK... not terrible... but if someone was going to truncate the name of my blog, couldn't they have picked the part of treppenwitz* that means 'wit/wisdom' rather than the part that means 'stair'? I'm just saying...
I suppose I really have no room to complain. After all, nicknames are rarely of one's own choosing.... and having a nickname does indicate that people feel a certain familiarity when speaking about you, right?
I'll tell you what... I can't wait 'til the next blogger bash. I am so gonna be walking up to people and saying, "Hi, nice to meetcha... I'm Trep!" :-)
* Teppenwitz literally means 'the wit of the stairs'. The striking reply that crosses one's mind belatedly when already leaving, on the stairs. People are often angry because they did not have the fitting answer directly during a conversation. The term is old, but it was made popular by W. Lewis Hertslet who published his book in 1882 entitled 'Treppenwitz der Weltgeschichte'. In that book, he writes: "Like to a petitioner who is just leaving after an audience, a piquant, striking words occurs to history almost always delayed."
Source: Munich University: Sabine Engelke - Idioms - Neues vom Treppenwitz (in German)
Tuesday, July 05, 2005
A [long overdue] silly post
For those of you who may not be familiar with the typical Israeli radio news format, each hour (on the hour) a series of short beeps emanates from radios around the country, and a final slightly longer beep compels people to look at their watches as they listen to the opening words from the somber-voiced newscaster.
The whole 'somber voice thing' must be some sort of job requirement in Israeli news circles because each one of the small pool of regular newscasters seems to try to out-do one another with ever greater levels of deep, deep concern dripping from every syllable (and everyone in the country seems to have their personal favorite).
When I first moved here I started worrying immediately upon hearing that terribly pained tone of voice as the newscaster slowly introduced him/herself (obviously in Hebrew):
"This is the Voice of Israel from Jerusalem, the time is [...] and this is the news as reported by [name of newscaster]...
By this point I would be thinking to myself, 'surely something tragic has happened for the newscaster to sound like that'. I would brace myself to hear about a terrorist attack or a horrible traffic accident... I mean if he sounds like that, someone must have died!
Even during times of relative calm, people unconsciously stop talking on buses and in offices to hear the first few lines of the hourly newscast. If something important (i.e. bad) had happened, it would be mentioned during the first 15 seconds of the news.
If the lead story is something mundane, people unconsciously tune out and go back to whatever they were doing when they first heard the 'beeps'. I would wager that most Israelis don't even realize that they pause each hour to catch these first few words of the news.
So last week I was standing in a coworker's office when the radio behind his desk started to give off the familiar beeps. I was pleased to see that by unspoken agreement we both broke off our conversation mid-sentence and glanced at our watches in unison as we waited for the newscast to begin.
Sure enough, the voice from the radio sounded as though he were broadcasting from a state funeral. Instinctively I braced for the worst and listened carefully as he led off with a story about some internal squabbling in the Knesset. I breathed a sigh of relief and began to turn back to my coworker when one of the next stories caught my ear.
"What did he say?", I asked my coworker.
I usually have to concentrate quite closely to follow the news, but the words that had caught my ear were vaguely familiar... even in Hebrew. This happens frequently since there are many English words that have been adopted for use in modern Hebrew. But in this case I was sure I must have been mistaken.
[I'll pause here to give a quick primer to people with no background in Hebrew. Like many languages in the world, Hebrew has masculine and feminine nouns. If there are more than one of a particular noun it takes on either a masculine plural ending; im (pronounced 'eem') or a feminine plural ending; ot (pronounced 'oat') depending on its gender.]
Anyway, back to the story:
The news story was about the reactions of the Israeli gay and lesbian community to the various countries around the world that have recently introduced or passed legislation allowing same-sex marriage. What had caught my ear were the terms the newscaster had used for 'gays & lesbains': 'Homo'im V'Lesbi'ot' [the 'v' sound is the Hebrew word for 'and'].
I still don't know exactly why those words gave me the giggles. I suppose it could be that the word used for 'gay' is a mildly pejorative term (unless, of course, the person using the term is gay) in English. On top of that was the fact that this sad-voiced newscaster was attempting to inject the maximum amount of desperation and tragedy into every word as he read the copy, without regard to the actual content of the story... so it just sounded to my foreign ears like a bad joke.
OK, maybe not such a laugh-out-loud funny story. But it sure made me giggle at a time when I desperately needed the laugh.