Tuesday, January 31, 2006
That's gotta be a new record!
I'm referring, of course, to the elapsed time between when the EU threatened to cut off all PA funding if the Palestinians were to throw in their lot with Hamas, and when they totally caved and announced that they would, in fact, continue sending the monthly
blood money, er, funding.
Look, I'm a relative political neophyte so don't take anything you read here too seriously... but I think I'm sophisticated enough to understand that cutting off funding to the PA 'cold turkey' would probably create a humanitarian disaster on the ground. And the Europeans are nothing if not big humanitarians.
But at what point do the Palestinians stop being the world's responsibility?
The outgoing Fatah cleptocracy had no reserves (not counting their personal reserves in Swiss bank accounts, of course), on which the 'governing administration' could draw during a transition. So come the first of the month all the lackeys, relatives and thugs who have been given patronage jobs in the PA's civil administration and/or security forces will all start rioting.
The Palestinians are like a welfare mother who squanders the monthly government hand-out on beer and cigarettes and then hauls her puppy-eyed kids in front of the TV cameras to demonstrate who was going to starve if some supplementary funding isn't immediately forthcoming.
The PA is not responsible for providing any of the usual stuff that a civil administration is supposed to oversee such as electricity, running water, medical services, or a host of other basic infrastructure needs. All of these things are provided free of charge by Israel or one of the external sponsoring agencies (UN, EU, US, etc.).
So the question that nobody seems willing to ask is 'what have they been doing with the billions of dollars in foreign aid that have been flowing into their coffers for decades'? When anyone does hint at this sensitive topic the Palestinians and their supporters shout "How dare you ask such an insensitive and accusatory question? Don't you see those starving kids over there with the big puppy-dog eyes?"
I'm not saying I'm surprised that the EU caved and is going to remove the only consequence that loomed over the Palestinian electorate for having defied the word's warnings about Hamas. I'm just surprised it happened so quickly. I really figured that the Europeans would have at least had the good graces to funnel the money through some third party under the guise of emergency humanitarian aid.
Robin Williams used to have a funny bit about the British police (back when they were unarmed) where he would imitate the uniformed 'Bobbies' shouting "Stop, or I'll say 'stop' again!"
Sad as it is to say, that is exactly the comically sad state to which the EU has reduced itself.
Reminder: Less than 2 voting days left in the JIBs. If you haven't voted in the last 3 days, you can go to the main page here to vote in all the categories... or go directly to the two categories in which treppenwitz is a finalist here and here. You are allowed to vote every three days.
Monday, January 30, 2006
Words we use (and eat)
[Note: Vegans may want to take the day off from treppenwitz]
Once upon a time before supermarkets and neatly cellophaned meat in Styrofoam trays, we humans had a close relationship with someone called a 'butcher'. Through this important relationship we acquired an incredible vocabulary and depth of knowledge regarding the butcher's trade and wares.
Looking back on my typical American Jewish upbringing, it never occurred to me to ask any of the grown-ups what exactly 'tenderloin', 'skirt steak', 'flanken' or 'brisket' were. Likewise, I knew terms like 'roaster', 'fryer', 'pullet', and 'capon' described various sorts of chicken... but if you put a gun to my head I couldn't possibly be more specific than that.
Since my few outings to the butcher (Benny Levine's on State Street in Bridgeport CT), were usually spent 'skating' through ankle-deep sawdust (didn't all butchers have sawdust on the floor?) and staring longingly at the candy display near the big, old-fashioned cash register, I was never in a position to question where these exotic names had come from or how to identify them. I simply assumed you asked the butcher and he gave you what you wanted.
When we moved to Israel I was delighted to note that even in supermarkets consumers typically had a face-to-face relationship with a knowledgeable butcher and frequently held extended discussions about cuts of beef and make specific requests regarding the quantity and type of chicken.
The only problem is that if in the states I only had the vaguest idea of what to call the mind-numbing array of meats and poultry... here in Israel I've been reduced to pointing like a Neanderthal at likely selections in the meat display and hoping for the best.
I bring this up because my ignorance of local nomenclature has me a little gun shy about ordering meat products here.
A perfect case in point would be the time I went to a popular shwarma joint in central Jerusalem and saw that they had 3 different rotisseries of roasting meat (shwarma). One was lamb, one was turkey and the third seemed to be a combination of the two. The guy ahead of me in line ordered 'Me'urav' (mixed), so I naturally assumed that he had requested some shwarma from the third 'mixed' rotisserie. It sounded like a good idea so when it came my turn I ordered the same.
When I bit into my pita stuffed with 'me'urav' I was nonplussed because it didn't taste like either lamb or turkey. In fact it didn't taste like shwarma! However, not wanting to look like an idiot I finished my portion and made a mental note to ask someone what I'd eaten.
As all you laughing Israelis already know, I found out soon enough that 'me'urav' is a Jerusalem mixed grill delicacy consisting of all the tripe and organs from inside the chicken that any civilized person would discard while cleaning the bird.
This culinary mishap caused by not knowing what the hell I was ordering had me deeply worried because one of the things I've fallen in love with here is something called 'Pargiyot'. For the longest time I didn't want to ask anyone what it was because I was secretly afraid that these tender morsels of grilled poultry would turn out to be the ass, feet and brains of the chicken!
I eventually went to a reliable friend and asked him what 'pargiyot' was. He explained that some restaurants mistranslated 'pargiyot' as 'Cornish Hen', but that this fallacy was based on bad information someone had given them that Cornish Hens were simply tiny chickens. He explained (and you can correct me if I've been misinformed), that 'pargiyot' are, in fact, very young chickens... basically what used to be called 'spring chickens' in yesteryear.
So, this begs two questions:
1. Was I given good information about the definition of pargiyot?
2. If so, is there anything comparable in the US or Europe? I mean, other than an expression for someone who is young, is there an American equivalent of a 'spring chicken' any more?
Reminder: Less than 3 voting days left in the JIBs. If you haven't voted in the last 3 days, you can go to the main page here to vote in all the categories... or go directly to the two categories in which treppenwitz is a finalist here and here. You are allowed to vote every three days.
Sunday, January 29, 2006
Be careful what you wish for...
... because you just might get it!
I'm pretty sure that almost all bloggers/journalers secretly (or even openly) wish to amass a large readership and even attain a certain measure of fame/recognition for their on-line literary efforts.
Oh sure, most of us say we would continue writing even if nobody showed up to read... and on a certain level a few might sort of mean it. But if anyone tells you that they wouldn't get a strong sense of validation from having hundreds, or even thousands, of daily readers... scores of inbound links from other websites... and a consistently high number of topical comments... well, I'll have to throw out the 'liar, liar pants on fire' card.
Like money and chocolate, few of us can imagine having too much traffic, too namy comments or too much attention.
At least I couldn't.
Then, this past Thursday I made one of my ill-advised forays into the political realm and posted my feelings of disappointment over the results of the Palestinian elections. I made it clear that my disappointment was entirely with myself for having misread things so completely for so long. I mean, let's face it... I'm no political pundit. I'm just a 'daddy-blogger' who happens to live in a part of the world where even daddies can't completely ignore politics.
But suddenly I was faced with thousands of 'hits', and over 70 (at last count) very erudite and complex comments. It was gratifying to see that pretty much everyone presented their ideas respectfully and that tangents were often as interesting as the original topic. I smiled to see several polite requests made and granted for off-line exchanges of data... and as far as I can tell nobody has yet sworn off my site as a result of the post.
Not bad, right?
Well, because of the sheer volume of comments and the extent to which several commenters attempted to thoroughly 'fisk' one another's contributions, I quickly lost the ability to be much more than a spectator here on treppenwitz.
I'm not complaining, mind you... it's just sort of like when that sleepy little watering hole where you nurse your occasional after-work adult beverage suddenly becomes 'trendy'. Overnight instead of being on nodding terms with 90% of the clientele and 100% of the staff... you now have to shout to remind the harried waitress what your 'usual' is.
I'm sure when I go back to writing about non-political stuff most of the commotion will die down and treppenwitz will go back to they way it was... and I'll go back to secretly wishing it was more crowded. But while I'm wishing, I'll be enjoying the lively and intimate repartee with the 'regulars'.
As long as I'm already most of the way down the path of admitting what a transparent hypocrite and attention whore I am, I may as well bring up a few thoughts that have been bouncing around my head regarding the Jerusalem Post's JIB Awards as they wind down to the last few days of final voting:
I can't help but wonder if a few competitors aren't missing the point of the awards completely and wishing for things that will do them no good.
For instance, when I see a blog leading a category with hundreds of votes and absolutely no tangible evidence of site traffic (one or two inbound links, no comments, single or low-double digit daily visitors), then I have to figure that these people have come up with a 'system'.
It doesn't take a genius to figure out that with enough friends/relatives/business associates and a well designed strategy of 'get as many people as you can to vote for me and then have them get as may people as possible to vote for me...' nearly anyone can turn in a strong showing in the JIBs.
But to what end?
Will hanging that coveted 'BEST OF...' icon in their sidebar where none of those people they coerced into voting will ever come and see it accurately reflect that this blog is in-fact the 'Best Jewish or Israeli Blog' in that category?
People have cried foul over there not being enough left- or secular-leaning blogs represented in the competition, and that is true, to a point... though only through the fault of those who failed to nominate more of them. But in my opinion the real flaw in the JIBs seems to be one that is impossible to fix... specifically that for some, winning the little award icon will always take precedence over paying the dues in order to actually create a blog that is worthy of the words written on the JIB 'BEST OF...' icon.
Last year I loved that I was able to mention the awards in passing exactly once, and from there it was up to the readers to poke around and figure out who they liked for each category's top slot. This year there are 'sticky posts', overt campaigning and even frantic 'election updates' sent out via electronic chain letters imploring entire far-flung geographic communities to get out and vote, vote, vote!
What's the point of that? There are no tangible prizes or responsibilities that comes with winning a JIB!
I guess it seems eerily like a Rosie Ruiz-type victory these people are shooting for. Not only am I having trouble imagining what possible pleasure anyone could take in such an empty 'triumph'... but I can't understand how they could fail to see how they are cheapening the competition results for those whose blogs have put in an honest year's effort to achieve both excellence and a faithful readership.
So, yeah... it feels nice to get some traffic and see people who actually know what they're talking about linking to a treppenwitz post. And yes, it certainly feels wonderful to see treppenwitz's popularity validated with reader votes in the JIBs.
But numbers and prizes can't compare to reading the goofy comments from the regular readers... or seeing that regular 'hit' in the stat counter from a friend's sister in Brazil who has never once left a comment.
Sometimes just being a sleepy little 'boutique' blog has its charms.
Friday, January 27, 2006
Photo Friday (Vol. LIV) ['hidden treasure' edition]
Sorry about how late this is going up today. Zahava gave her blessing to my going out for breakfast with a few blogger buddies (Chayei Sarah, Ben Chorin and the visiting MO Chassid) at Cafe Hillel in Jerusalem. This was an incredibly generous gesture on Zahava's part because she is suffering with what I had last week... and I was leaving most of my pre-Shabbat chores over until I returned from Jerusalem (something that makes her bananas).
Well, I'm back... the Cholent is up... the dishes are washed (most of them anyway) and I can finally post a couple of pictures.
This Blogger breakfast we had is the second time this particular quartet has assembled for morning nourishment at this same spot in the trendy German Colony. It seems our meetings are destined to revolve around MO Chassid visits to the holy land.
During breakfast Ben got a call from his lovely wife asking him to pick up some challah for shabbat. This reminded me that my lovely wife made a similar request before I left the house. Sarah was nice enough to recommend one of Jerusalem's hidden treasures; the Par Bakery on 'HaMagid Street' not far from where we were seated.
Not only had I never heard of this bakery, but in a million years I would never have found it without Sarah's able guidance. You have to go up one alley off of Emek Refa'im and then turn left onto HaMagid which is essentially another glorified alley. You walk past the back of several stores and houses and weave around road construction and a few creatively parked cars and there you are... a literal hole in the wall! If you look closely you can see the spot just inside the doorway where these three anonymous bloggers had just been standing!
Yes, this little hole in a stone wall is it... the famous Par Bakery. I have a feeling that the two white nylon temporary signs are a recent move away from complete anonymity chic!
Suddenly the corner was turned and We were looking into about 3 square yards of space surrounded by shelves and racks of challah, kugel and pastry. You could comfortably fit about 5 - 7 people inside at any one time, but the closeness just added to the concentration of delicious smells and eye-catching comfort food.
Once inside you don't know where to look first, but I was fortunate to catch this artfully lettered sign (I ended up buying two of the Shgarless Challas):
For this last shot I went back and stood in the doorway (the one in the second photo) and took in the Par Bakery in all its grandeur (note: my camera's auto-focus malfunctioned in this shot and inexplicably blurred the only 3 people present who blog anonymously!):
I resisted temptation and only picked up the requested Challah and a chocolate coffee cake for shabbat morning (for the kids!!!). If I can ever figure out how to get back to this hidden treasure, it may just become my new favorite bakery!
Thursday, January 26, 2006
The Palestinians have spoken...
I had written another post this morning that was scheduled to be published after lunch... but in light of some local political developments, I think I'll put it aside for another day.
It seems that Fatah officials have officially acknowledged Hamas' victory in the Palestinian elections which confirms rumors that have been circulating since early this morning of a Hamas majority win.
This Hamas victory fundamentally (yes, pun intended) invalidates three basic assumptions I've developed about the Palestinian 'street' over the two-and-a-half years we've been living here:
1. I had come to believe that the overwhelming majority of Palestinians did not support armed conflict with Israel, terror attacks against Israelis or the goal of destroying Israel.
2. I had believed the data I'd read indicating that the Palestinian population supported the secularization of their society and did not embrace the fundamentalist Islam position concerning Israel and non-Muslims.
3. I had attributed support for, and the actual participation in, the terrorism/violence to a tiny sub-set of the Palestinian people.
I am devastated to have been proven so utterly and completely wrong about all three of these basic assumptions.
I know there will be many apologists who will come out in the coming hours and days to say that Hamas only won because of all their humanitarian projects in the refugee camps and because they are seen as 'Robin Hoods' of sorts among the populace.
I know there will be many that will say that a vote for Hamas was more an expression of the Palestinian's dissatisfaction with the corruption and ineptitude of the current Fatah-led PA than an overt endorsement of terrorism.
I'm sure there will even be those who say that it is at least a good sign that the Palestinians were able to participate in one of the basic rites of democracy, indicating an amazing step in the right direction that can never retraced.
But all I see is that Hamas, the group that has never wavered from its founding charter calling loudly for the complete destruction of Israel and the creation of a Palestinian State in its place, has become the banner around which the majority of the Palestinian people have chosen to rally.
This wasn't some renegade Imam screaming in a mosque.
This wasn't some embattled politician making a hot-headed speech while fighting for his political (or actual) life.
This wasn't an ill-advised statement issued in the aftermath of an Israeli targeted killing of a 'militant'.
In a legally executed, internationally supervised democratic process, the majority of Palestinian adults calmly and thoughtfully committed themselves to pursuing a one-state solution built on the ashes of a defeated Israel.
There can no longer remain the fiction of the the Palestinian majority who silently wish for coexistence with The Jewish State... if only Israel will allow them to fulfill their dream of self-determination. What these election results declare loud and clear is that the Palestinians intend to make their national dream Israel's worst nightmare.
When pundits have extrapolated a national consensus from the actions of a few violent groups, I have always been among the calmer heads who have maintained that without a national referendum we have no way of knowing what the Palestinians really think.
This victory doesn't now mean that every Palestinian is a Hamas terrorist any more than a Likud victory meant that every Israeli was in favor of Ariel Sharon's vision for Israel's future. In fact, we've all seen how people can vote for one thing and get quite another. However voting for a particular leadership places an electorate in the position of accepting the future actions of those leaders. That's democracy at work.
So when the majority of Palestinians tell me with their words and deeds that they have committed their future to Hamas' vision of Israel's destruction... then I have no choice but to take them at their word.
The world has been asking me to listen to the Palestinians and not to the terrorists. Well, the Palestinians have spoken.
Wednesday, January 25, 2006
'Sweeps Week' Reader Drive
As some of you may or not be aware, treppenwitz has somehow managed to
sneak advance into the final round of the JIB (Jewish and Israeli Blog) Awards in both of the categories for which it was slated.
The final round of voting began yesterday and will continue until February 2nd. You can vote once every three days.
The categories in which this site was graciously nominated are:
[Update: The Jerusalem Post linked to the wrong post for one of the finalists for 'Best Post' and it wasn't noticed until the voting was well underway. The Post decided that the only fair thing to do was to reset the counter and begin voting again. I'm told that voting will be extended in this category to allow everyone the opportunity to cast their votes.]
OK, honesty time... I feel a little dirty for campaigning so shamelessly for votes. But it's really hard not to when so many people are running 'ALL JIBS ALL THE TIME' type campaigns on their sites.
At least on TV the networks put up their best stuff during 'sweeps week'. Wouldn't it be nice if we bloggers and journalers did the same during the JIBs instead of taking a week-long campaigning break from the very thing that earned us readers in the first place?
Unfortunately, as in politics, if the other guy is out flogging the voters one would have to be a bit of a 'frier'* to not go out and do at least a little of the same.
But just so we're clear, many of the other writers in the two categories for which treppenwitz was nominated have been around a long time and have worked hard at making their sites something to be proud of. They have forged their own unique relationships with their daily readers (many of whom are also treppenwitz readers), and I wouldn't mind a bit to see them win.
What would be a shame is if we finished this JIB season without boosting the readership of the blogs that are most deserving of exposure.
Dave of Israellycool and the Jerusalem Post have done a fantastic job of putting together and promoting the JIBS (and fielding insane criticism in the process). What they can't do is encourage people to change their surfing habits.
That's where you come in.
Let's face it... we are all creatures of habit. Every day we sit down with our coffee (or beverage of choice) and check the same news sites... giggle over the same comic strips... and read the same blogs. Once in a blue moon we might check out a new site if someone we read and trust gives it a rave review... but for the most part we rarely deviate from this daily pattern.
What I'd like to suggest is that everyone select one or two of their favorite reads from their daily circuit around the Internet and forward the link to one or two well-chosen people who might enjoy those sites. Some of the sites in my blogroll were introduced to me in exactly that manner (thanks Tess!). It doesn't have to be treppenwitz (although obviously that would be nice)... just so long as you think the site(s) and the reader(s) would be a good fit for each other.
This isn't as simple as it sounds.
Granted, it's not quite as complex as trying to fix up your Star Wars-obsessed high school buddy who still lives in his mom's basement at 41... but there are still obvious compatibility (and credibility) issues to be considered when recommending reading material to friends.
For instance, I wouldn't try sending a a dyed-in-the-wool carnivore to the PETA site for enlightenment. Nor would I suggest referring a devout Christian Deacon to a website devoted to exploring the edgier side of the BDSM scene in Eastern Europe.
We're looking to gently expand horizons here people, not prompt calls to the EMTs!
Anyway, that's my suggestion. A reader drive. Plain and simple.
If you want to vote for treppenwitz (or anyone else) in the JIBS, the links are there (above) for your convenience. But if you want to turn a couple of friends on to the blogs/journals that give you pleasure on a daily basis... that would be a few minutes of your morning well spent.
So what are you waiting for? Go pick out a couple of nuggets from your favorites/bookmarks list... why should you be the only one getting a moon-tan from the blue light of the computer monitor?
* frier = sucker
Tuesday, January 24, 2006
A promise long forgotten
I ran into someone last week who reminded me of a promise I made and never kept. Following this chance meeting I realized that while writing this tear-inducing post (there, you've been warned), I had promised to revisit the details of a surreal business meeting in its own journal entry... and I never did.
Almost exactly a year ago two business colleagues and I were visiting the pretty coastal community of Zichron Yaacov in order to discuss some potential business dealings with a local company there. If you'd like a more guide-book take on my day in Zichron, you can read that other post (2 tissue warning)... today I want to talk only about the surreal meeting and what I learned therein:
As we pulled into the parking lot of the headquarters of the company with which we had scheduled the meeting I experienced the first of what would be many instances of cognitive dissonance that day. The building itself did not look like any of the other Mediterranean-style structures in the area, nor did it look like a modern high-tech complex.
The main building was bordered in very dark wood and the selection and placement of trees lent the place almost a storybook quality. I was just about to comment to one of my colleagues about the 'Hansel & Gretel' architecture when one of them said, "Someone check the map... are we in Israel or Bavaria?" We all had a giggle over that and then put on our business faces as we filed into the lobby.
Once inside we noticed that our first impression of 'German-ness' was reinforced with signage in English, Hebrew and German. We weren't exactly sure where our meeting was supposed to take place so we approached a woman who was standing in the lobby.
Even this woman's appearance seemed just slightly out of cultural focus. For lack of a better way of saying this, she was dressed in the same manner as small town German women from the 20s and 30s I've seen in historical photographs. Her skirt was heavy wool and came exactly to mid-calf. Her blouse was starched and white with tiny flowers embroidered on the collar, and her front was primly covered by a business-like gray apron. She wore knee socks and no-nonsense leather flats on her feet. Her hair was the sort of gray that had certainly once been blond, and was gathered severely in coiled braids into a tight bun.
Standing there in the lobby and staring at her pale white skin and impossibly rosy cheeks I felt as if I had fallen into the setting of one of Grimm's Fairy Tales... the only thing missing were the bread crumbs! When I politely asked her where we could find our 9:30 meeting she answered us in German-accented Hebrew. By now our 'business faces' were long gone and we followed her towards the conference room.
We were welcomed into the conference room like long-lost brothers by the company's President and several of the its executives and introductions were made all around. Once again I noticed the German accented Hebrew and tried valiantly to get my bearings in this increasingly unfamiliar territory.
I gathered that the disorientation we were experiencing was a common occurrence for visiting Israelis because while coffee, tea and pastries were being served the head of the company graciously provided much of the missing information.
He explained that his company was one of several enterprises undertaken by a small group of Christian German immigrants that had come to Israel in the 1960s to form a collective community based on modesty, hard work and a love of the land and people of Israel. He went on to tell us that they were not affiliated with any of the mainstream Christian denominations and that they did not believe in converting the Jews. They lived according to a literal understanding of both the old and new testaments without any additional commentaries.
From what I was able to gather, their two biggest tenets seemed to be that only those Christians who lived among the Jews would merit a share in the world to come, and that those who help/protect the Jews would themselves be helped/protected.
The president interrupted his opening remarks at this point because he noticed that I hadn't helped myself to any of the pastries. A few whispered words in German sent one of the attendants (who were dressed almost identically to the woman we'd met in the lobby) scurrying to bring the original packaging so he could show me the kosher certification. I was a bit mortified by his sudden solicitousness having come to enjoy the relative lack of notice my kippah garners in Israeli business circles. But he rushed to put me at ease by saying that all of the products they served were strictly kosher, and that many were even produced by one of the community's other businesses (under the supervision of Zichron Yaacov's Chief Rabbi).
This by itself would have been the single most surreal opening to a meeting I'd ever experienced, but he then turned to me and asked if I would mind making the blessing on the pastries since I was the only one present with a kippah.
I looked desperately to one of my colleagues for help but he had a big grin on his face and was enjoying watching me squirm. All I got from him was "Go on Rabbi, we're waiting". I quickly made the proper blessing on the pastry and with my cheeks now quite red, turned the meeting back over to our host.
The primary business focus of the company we were visiting was filtration systems... specifically filters that could protect the interior of vehicles, rooms or even entire buildings from the poisons present in the air after a nuclear, biological or chemical attack. He explained that this went back to their guiding principle of 'those who protect the Jews being protected'.
The rest of the meeting and tour of their facilities was pretty much what I had experienced at other Israeli hi-tech and manufacturing facilities, except that everywhere we looked we saw men and women (with names like Hans, Dieter, Gretta, Ingrid, etc.), dressed as if they had been plucked from a pre-war Bavarian village.
During the tour I was able to speak informally with the president and he gave me a bit more background about his group. They lived in a close-knit community and grew/produced much of what they needed. They had their own schools and their children were taught both Hebrew and German.
It turns out that in the 80s several of the group's members had taught themselves engineering after becoming interested in filtration systems and had gone on to win Israeli government approval for their unique devices. The '91 gulf war saw them perfectly positioned to provide their adopted country with extremely effective and cost-effective air-filtration systems for military facilities, hospitals, homes and vehicles. They also earned the grudging trust from their neighbors during those tense weeks of Iraqi SCUD attacks by inviting local residents into their protected facilities whenever the sirens would sound.
He acknowledged that the surrounding Jewish community had always viewed them with a jaundiced eye, both because they were German and because they were Christians. The former because of obvious bad feelings (now there's and understatement) following the Holocaust, and the latter because of ongoing missionary efforts by many of the evangelical Christian sects to convert Israeli Jews. He acknowledged that a certain amount of collective guilt over the Holocaust was likely responsible for the Genesis of their group, and he said that a generous dose of distrust was both expected and accepted by the group. He also said that though his group did not believe in seeking converts they all knew that it would take many years before this became apparent to their Israeli hosts.
Even though he was being extremely forthcoming and open I didn't dare ask him about the apparent irony of Germans manufacturing devices to protect Jews from poison gas. However, an article I read several months later (* linked below) confirmed this as one of the motivating factors in their choice of industries.
Last week Zahava and I attended the wedding of a neighbor's daughter which was held in a hotel in Ariel. During the ceremony we noticed a couple that seemed to look, uh, less like the others. There were plenty of secular guests among the mostly religious crowd, but this couple just seemed 'different'. Afterwards I was making my way to the bar to get drinks for Zahava and myself when I came face to face with that couple. It turned out to be the President of this company I've been telling you about and his wife. Not only did he remember me, but he asked how my beekeeping was going and extended an invitation to come see his community's hives so I could observe some of the German apiary techniques they had imported.
While we stood and chatted I thanked him again for the warm welcome he had given me during our previous meeting and told him it must be extremely difficult to begin every social or business relationship with a preemptive recital of who he was and what he stood for. Even thought it was only last week I honestly don't recall how he responded because at that very moment I realized that as an observant Jew living in a 'settlement', quite frequently I feel compelled to provide an accounting of myself to people who view me with suspicion or even contempt.
You may think that the title of this journal entry refers to the promise I made in that earlier post to write about the 'surreal meeting'. But in fact it is a reference to the promise I made to myself many years ago that once I moved to Israel I would no longer feel compelled to explain myself to anyone. Unfortunately such arrogant promises are made with youth's enthusiasm as well as its ignorance.
I still feel that Israel does not owe an explanation to anyone on earth for decisions we make regarding our safety and security. But I know in my heart that for any hope of a national rapprochement to occur we Israelis need to get used to doing a bit of explaining to one another.
Monday, January 23, 2006
Sorry I haven't responded to all of your wonderful comments on yesterday's post. Shortly after arriving at work yesterday I realized I had the flu... turned around and came home.
Since arriving home I have been alternately shivering and sweating in my bed while Zahava doses me with yummy soup (she always keeps 6 - 8 quarts of various kinds of homemade soup in the freezer... y'know, just in case we need to ride out a pogrom or something).
Just for the record, I am the word's biggest baby when I'm sick.
For those of you in the medical profession, rest assured I've already been to see a doctor. I was sitting across from him in the examination room and he said, "Nice fever you have there!" Mind you he hadn't taken my temperature yet. When I asked him about this apparently miraculous diagnosis he said that he could feel the heat radiating off of me from two feet away.
He said that he would have liked to put me on TheraFlu, but he doubted any pharmacy would have it in stock. Apparently, when the avian bird flu showed up virtually next door in Turkey there was a run on both TamiFlu and TheraFlu. He ended up prescribing something called Paritrel (Amantadine Chlorhydrate) which he said worked every bit as well but tended not to be hoarded because it lacked the brand name recognition of the other two preparations. The interesting thing is that Paritrel seems to also be prescribed as an anti-parkinson agent. hmmmmm... I suppose I should be grateful that it doesn't have mutually complimentary side-effects like excessive drowsiness and incontinence.
OK, I must be hallucinating to have thought any of this would be remotely interesting to you. Back to bed.
I don't think I'll be spending much time in front of the computer today, but if you are so inclined, words of sympathy will be gratefully accepted.
Sunday, January 22, 2006
The incomplete place-setting
I've mentioned in past posts how my kids seem to be rushing headlong towards adulthood without my fully noticing it. But this weekend I looked around and it is as though someone hit the fast-forward button on our lives!
You see, this weekend marked Ariella's 12th Birthday, which according to Jewish Law is the date on which she officially becomes an adult, and is therefore responsible for her own conduct. This isn't to say our job is finished... not by a long shot. But from here on in, her good deeds are recorded on her 'account', as are her mis-steps.
Nearly every week she has been attending the Bat Mitzvah parties of her classmates and friends, and has been excitedly talking with us about what she's seen and what she'd like for her own Bat Mitzvah party (which will be in late March when the extended family comes in from abroad). But we wanted to let her know on as many levels as possible that her party will be just that... but that her coming of age is right now... and has nothing to do with halls, bands, caterers and decorations.
On Friday evening Zahava and I sat Ariella down and told her a story about Zahava's great aunt Raizel. We told Ariella about how this strong, beautiful, independent woman had been born during extremely difficult times, and how she had sailed in steerage from Belarus to the US as a child with nothing but what she could carry.
We told her how Raizel had tragically lost a husband early in life and how she had gone on to make a life-long commitment to care for her younger brother whose already-tender mind had been permanently shattered by shock and guilt after watching the emaciated Auschwitz inmates he had helped liberate writhing on the ground in their death throes from the sweets and rich rations he had innocently handed them.
Great aunt Raizel had been the first in the family to take Zahava on 'grown-up' outings in Boston... to sit along the Charles and watch the Swan Boats... to go shopping in the nicest shops... and to show Zahava how to take tea like a lady. Ariella was told all this and more about this wonderful woman she would never meet. And then Ariella received a string of perfect pearls with rich gold accents with which Aunt Raizel had marked one of Zahava's 'coming of age' milestones.
Along with the messages of continuity and love, we also wanted Ariella to feel the joy of receiving gifts given with 'warm hands'. You see, many of Zahava's finer pieces of Jewelry were, sadly, given with 'cold hands'... not for lack of love... but simply for lack of time, when her mother passed away at 53 of Ovarian Cancer.
Ariella doesn't remember Zahava's mother, but we have pictures of her being held by this courageous woman... a woman who tenaciously clung to life months beyond even the most wildly optimistic predictions of her doctors, simply so she could feel the reality of her first grandchild in her arms.
Two weeks after Ariella was born, Zahava's mother felt she could finally let go and went on to discover that secret that is eventually revealed to us all.
I'm sure that as Ariella continues (G-d willing) to mark important occasions in her life, Zahava and I will continue to pass along heirlooms that the owners would much rather have given in person. And each time this happens, she will learn about the value beyond rubies of each of the original owners... and how we see the very best of these people in both her beauty and her demeanor.
One of the things for which Ariella and her brother Gilad are responsible each week is setting the Shabbat table. They take turns with this task and each knows the proper way to fold a cloth napkin, lay out the polished silverware, arrange the china and place the crystal. They both also know to check how many adults will be dining so they can set the correct number of wine and/or cordial glasses.
As Ariella was putting the final touches on the silver and making sure that the settings were just so, I snuck up behind her, gave her a kiss and whispered in her ear that she'd forgotten something. She quickly glanced around the glimmering table at the accents of azure, gold and silver, and asked me what she'd forgotten.
As the heavenly smells of roasted chicken, challah and other Shabbat treats tantalized our senses, I leaned in again and moved aside her new string of pearls so I could nibble on that delicious spot on the back of her neck (the spot I have loved since the day in 1994 when I carried her out of the maternity ward) and whispered, "You forgot to set a wine glass for yourself".
Friday, January 20, 2006
Photo Friday (Vol. LIII) ['I got nothin' edition]
Well, not exactly nothin'... just nothin' of my own.
Oh, and what I do have isn't really photographs but rather a video... a music video to be exact.
Other than that it's another typical Photo Friday here at treppenwitz! :-)
Alright, the truth of the matter is that it was crazy week and I didn't take the camera out once. In fact I even published one post (Wednesday's) that I absolutely hated but decided to drag it out of my computer's recycling bin when I realized that I had nothing else of any value to say.
I actually have a huge hoard of uncatalogued photos on my computer that I've been wanting to organize for future Photo Fridays, but last night when I would have been mining that stash for photographic gold Zahava and I were out at a fancy shmancy dinner at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem (it was an alumni thing from her Alma Mater, Washington University in St. Louis).
Sooooo... I think I've now used up every excuse other than 'my dog ate Photo Friday'. This is what I meant by 'I got nothin'.
But I do have something.
Almost every day I get neat cartoons, pictures, news images and all sorts of interesting videos from friends around the world. I almost never pass them along because of copyright issues (meaning I don't have a clue whom I should contact for permission to publish them).
This week I received a link to a fantastic music video that I just keep going back to. It features a rock band called Cheah which is fronted by a brother and sister (she plays cello and he plays violin) performing an unbelievably complexly-textured tune call 'Muezzin'.
The song itself borrows a lot of motifs and harmonies from middle-eastern music which makes for an interesting result when combined with classical instruments in a rock format.
Go to the site and download the video. You have the option of downloading it at 26MB or 9MB depending on your connection speed... the only difference being that the 9MB version is played in a much smaller window. If you have a couple extra seconds be a sport and go for the larger format.
Watch 'til the very end because it just gets more and more intense until the mind-blowing finale.
If you'd like more information about the backgrounds/biographies of the performers you can go here.
[By the way, to give credit where credit is due... I got the idea of sharing a music video from Jack who shared this addictive video last year. If you have RealPlayer you can watch a better quality version here].
Thursday, January 19, 2006
I'm with Meryl on this one...
An open letter to anyone who wants to use my comment board to troll for traffic, promote an agenda or for any other purpose not even tangentially related to the current treppenwitz entry:
Dear Self-Absorbed Commenter,Do I know you? Have you ever visited my site before? Have you ever commented here before? Am I even listed on your blogroll?If the answer to most or all of those questions is a resounding 'no', then what would give you the idea that it would be OK to just show up here without so much as a "Hello, nice blog you have here..." , and start posting external links on my comments board?Please don't take the fact that I deleted your comment as an indication that your petition, blog post, manifesto or personal prophesy direct-from-G-d-Almighty is unworthy of publicity. Nothing could be further from the truth! In fact, I'm certain that whatever you were linking to is far more important than any of the vacuous crap I churn out here very day.But manners are important too, and by spamming my comment board you have exhibited a shocking lack of them.Let's make a deal, mmmkay? If you have a post that supports or disproves something I have written here and you are a regular part of the discussions here on treppenwitz, by all means feel free to post a link. Such external references immeasurably enhance the quality and scope of the discussions. Same goes for something you may have seen on a news or commentary site that directly relates to the topic at hand... please feel free to share.But I work hard to churn out the vacuous crap that appears here on a semi-regular basis... and dagnabbit, my comment board isn't there to help drive people over to look at your brand of vacuous crap! It's there so people can discuss my vacuous crap!Love,'Treppie'
Wednesday, January 18, 2006
My personal take on Hevron
I'm hoping that the combination of bold, italicized and underlined words in the title of this post will head off some (but certainly not all) of the nonsense that ensues whenever I make the mistake of wading into politics. Only time will tell.
First of all, I should start by saying that I have no more or less information about what's going on in Hevron than anyone else in the world with an Internet connection. I haven't visited Hevron in over a year, and contrary to popular belief, we settler types don't have some Magic 8-Ball® that makes us privy to the goings-on throughout the West bank.
So with that said I'll tell you that I think the biggest tragedy in what is being reported from Hevron right now is that the Israeli press is falling into the same trap as their foreign counterparts; specifically, of looking at events on the ground with little or no reference to the historical and/or legal context.
Without sounding like some kind of zealot/messianist, it is worth pointing out that Hevron is one of the few cities in this region to which the Jewish people have an iron-clad, ancient, internationally known (but oft-ignored) claim of ownership.
No matter which version of the Bible you have on your bookshelf, you can open to the book of Genesis and read word-for-word about the negotiated purchase by Abraham of the cave of the Machpelah and surrounding fields of Mamre in Hevron (in front of witnesses) for cash money.
What's more, both Judaism and Islam agree that the deal was consummated and that many of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs are in fact buried there. This may seem superfluous to many, but it is a point that is frequently ignored by people who like to view only the Arabs as the ancient claimants to any part of the land.
Next, up until late summer of 1929 when 133 Jews were murdered, 339 more were wounded and pretty much all of the Jewish owned property/real estate in Hevron was seized by Arab rioters, there had been a sizable and long-standing Jewish population in Hevron.
It is also worth pointing out that up until the 1929 riots (which were deliberately instigated by the then Mufti of Jerusalem), there had been comfortable (I won't say cordial) relations between the Jewish and Arab residents of the city.
I find it interesting that so many who have latched onto the Palestinian 'right of return' to land and property that was abandoned or seized during the War of Independence in 1948, consider 1929 to be such distant and ancient history as to be legally moot (or not worth mentioning at all).
I am not a subscriber to the myth that the Jews came to Ottoman and mandatory Palestine and began settling an empty land. But in fairness the land was never empty of Jews either, and there are at least as many un-adjudicated Jewish land claims throughout the region as there are Arab ones... and the Jewish claims aren't being held in interest-bearing accounts the way the bulk of the Arab ones are.
Some of the journalists have been thorough enough to add closing paragraphs or even footnotes to their articles that make reference to the fact that the current trouble is essentially over property that was undisputedly owned by Jews and which has now been re-occupied by Jews as a form of protest. The really fair-minded ones even mention in passing that the stores were re-occupied by Jewish residents as a reaction to the murder of a baby (who was being held in her mother's arms at the time) by an Arab sniper.
I have mentioned several times here on treppenwitz that I don't personally have the time or interest to participate in the tradition of answering each act of terror with a new act of settlement. However, I like this formula a great deal more than answering violence with violence. Call me old-fashioned.
So with that sorely truncated and inadequate historical groundwork laid, what do I think of what's going on in Hevron right this minute?
I think that the Government and Police (not to mention the media), have bestowed the villain's black hat upon the settlers once again without allowing for any historical or legal motivation to their actions. This was done to great effect during the disengagement from Gaza, and I have made no secret of my disdain for such deliberately biased politicizing of what should be fairly straightforward legal issues.
With that said, I should point out that I think the settlers involved in the current scuffle have once again missed an important opportunity to wear, if not a white hat, then at least not the black one. Simply put, they have confused 'fair' with 'legal'.
If they were on a playground and a tribunal of kids from various cliques was asked if there was a 'fair' Jewish claim to any or all of Hevron, the answer would (IMHO) be an easy yes.
But there's the rub... this isn't taking place on a playground.
The shops that these settlers took over and converted into residences were unquestionably once owned by Jews and subsequently taken by force from the legal owners by Arabs. Nobody... not even the press... says otherwise. The problem is that these Jewish settlers have appointed themselves the legal heirs to the property based solely on fairness without any regard for the law.
If they had taken the simple step of tracking down and contacting even one of the legal heirs to the property (presumably not too difficult to do only a few generations later), and gotten their permission to either assume title, or at least become a co-claimants, to the land, then they would be on much more solid legal ground. But like so many of the activists who continue to set up non-viable 'McSettlements' on any random piece of Jewish or State-owned land, they are missing the clear distinction between what's fair and what's legal.
I also get more than a bit angry when I see the press reporting on events in Hevron as though the more violent participants were elected and recognized representatives of all settlers (religious or otherwise). This is simply not the case. Left and right...secular and religious...these loose classifications within Israeli society are rife with factions and individualists. In this respect, 'fair' should carry some weight... but it is being largely ignored in favor of a more convenient and homogeneous view of all settlers as religious troublemakers.
So, what will happen now?
Sorry, my Magical Settler 8-Ball® says "Not clear...try again later". I can venture a pretty safe guess that the police (as the pointy end of the government's current policy) will have little difficulty in tossing out a few angry Jews from an area that has become controversial at a time when Israel finds controversy to be inconvenient.
But if you ask me what I think... I'll tell you that having Hevron join Gaza in Judenrien status is not kosher from either a legal nor fair standpoint.
Hevron has both an ancient and modern Jewish provenance unrivaled by any other place, including Jerusalem. I would hope that the current anti-religious and anti-settler sentiment held by much of the media (and more than half of the country) wouldn't give people the mistaken notion that the legal and 'fair' aspects of the Jewish claims to land and property in Hevron can simply be tossed aside as inconvenient and irrelevant. But it looks to me like that is exactly what will happen in the end.
Or, as I often point out... I could very well be full of sh*t.
Tuesday, January 17, 2006
In two of my previous jobs I was lucky enough to have had a very able assistant, who for the sake of this post I'll call Jane (not her real name). Jane and I moved together from one subsidiary in a large corporation to another, but our working relationship remained pretty much the same.
I hated referring to Jane as 'my assistant' because she was better educated (and probably smarter) than I... and also had much better people skills. She was the 'assistant' and I was 'the supervisor' mostly because I had more seniority within the company, more work experience... and of course I was the one who hired her. I couldn't very well hire someone to be my boss no matter how talented I thought she was.
Over the course of several years of working together Jane and I developed a very nice friendship and could joke about things that in some corporate circles might pass for 'inappropriate'. Of course these jokes were almost as much about what wasn't said as much as what was.
Allow me to clarify... one of the things we occasionally joked about (without actually talking about)was the issue of 'female problems'.
Early in our working relationship Jane asked me if she could take the afternoon off for a doctor's appointment. The professional thing would have been for me to simply say 'yes'. But a combination of curiosity and empathy compelled me to ask her if everything was OK.
She looked at me with her head tilted sort of sideways and a half-smile on her face and said "It's a female thing".
Just like that the discussion was over.
There are some things that are so far beyond the scope of what men want to know that they are utter and total conversation stoppers! Saying "It's a female thing" is a perfect example of this genre.
Of course she took the afternoon off and I never asked her about it (as I surely would have if she had said she was going to have her vision tested or to see a podiatrist). But she must have noticed that 'deer in the headlights' expression on my face because from then on, whenever she needed time off... regardless of the reason... she would simply say it was 'a female thing' and smile while I covered my ears and said "lalalalala I can't hear you" while shooing her out of my office.
Further proof that she knew perfectly well that she held an unbeatable trump card was a Dilbert cartoon that frequently passed between us which dealt with exactly this scenario:
I honestly don't know what it is about this very tiny subset of physiological/medical topics that sends men running for the door with their hands over their ears... but women seem to be perfectly aware of it.
At least most women seem to be. Unfortunatly, my wife and daughter aren't among them.
You see, my wife and 12-year-old daughter have taken to discussing, er, certain feminine undergarments that start with the letter 'B' ,and general topics related to, uh, women being a bit more, um, 'moody' according to a fairly predictable cycle... and I honestly don't know where to run and hide anymore.
I have to be straight with you... my 10-year-old son and I are ready to pitch a tent out in the yard and avoid their company altogether if they insist on continuing to bring up these, um, topics at meals.
With Jane there was at least the 'don't ask don't tell' pact between us that allowed us to smile about it without actually having to discuss anything. But the two women with whom I live are really starting to freak me out!
Look, I'm having enough trouble dealing with the idea that my daughter is, ah, developing into a woman before my averted eyes... do we really have to talk about it all the time???
Lalalalalalalal... I can't hear you!!
Sunday, January 15, 2006
Through the kindness of women...
Last week I was in Tel Aviv for a couple of days, and the rest of the week was such of a whirlwind that I didn't get the opportunity to properly thank two of the better known women in the J-Blogosphere for saying embarrassingly nice things about me. Well, actually they said nice things about treppenwitz, but I'll take any compliments that come my way... even by proxy.
First Chayei Sarah, a good friend and very talented writer, posted her personal recommendations for the JIB (Jewish & Israeli Blog) Awards, and was kind enough to give my post 'Daddy Syndrome' the nod in the 'Best Post' category.
Then, based on Sarah's recommendation, another female powerhouse in the J-Blogosphere - Renegade Rebbetzin - devoted an entire post to making me blush. I've been following RenReb almost since she began her site and love the way she walks that fine line between maintaining the 'midot' (positive character traits) one would expect from the wife of a community Rabbi... while venting both side-splitting humor and very lady-like rage at the sources of stress one encounters in this often-frustrating community role.
If you aren't reading her you should be... if for no other reason than to gain a new-found appreciation and respect for the smiling, well-mannered diplomat/guiding force your community unknowingly gained when it hired its Rabbi.
As long as I'm already giving credit to women, why stop here when there are so many things in my life that can be directly attributed to the female influences in my life?
To mention just a few:
Shoes: My two sisters are largely responsible for expanding my footwear repertoire beyond penny loafers and Topsiders.
My little sister introduced me to the wonderful world of Camper Shoes. This Spanish company's incredibly comfortable and versatile footwear are by turns reminiscent of bowling shoes and old-fashioned baseball shoes... but they are the closest thing we, the proletariat, will ever come to the rich, luxurious comfort of bespoke casual footwear.
My big sister introduced me to the sometimes-intimidating world of Doc Marten's. While I don't go in for the more 'militant' styles of Doc's, my 'inner lesbian' has become a devotee of one particular design to the extent that I purchased not one, but two pairs before we moved to Israel!
Bath Sheets: My lovely wife introduced me to the wonderful concept of a bath towel roughly the size of a racing spinnaker. I'd grown up with good quality, no-nonsense cotton bath towels, but they were of the sort that were very thick and could barely be wrapped around one's waist (from hip to knee) once.
Before our wedding Zahava and her mother (OB"M) went out and selected all the linens and bath accouterments for our new apartment. Among this trousseau of mysterious dust ruffles, hand towels and sham pillows were these marvelous lightweight towels that were large enough to cover one's entire body from chin to shin several times around. Apparently this is one of those things that girls learn about in 6th grade... and boys only discover (if they're lucky) after marriage.
Big Band Jazz: Although my father gave me a lifelong appreciation for classical music, I suspect that I would have gained at least some of this via studying classical trombone and my participation in youth symphony. On the other hand, during the musical upheaval of the 60's and '70s, my mother managed to pass along her love and nostalgia for the 'Big Band' era.
Again, one could easily imagine that my musical education and career might have exposed me to the swing music of the 30's and '40s. .. but I am pretty sure that my mother's enthusiasm and fond memories (from her very early childhood, mind you!) were responsible for my decision to play trombone and pursue a professional career in music.
Birds: My parents have always been big bird-watchers in a very general way, and have always gone to great lengths to attract a wide assortment of birds to their yard. But it is my daughter Ariella who has really trained me to look around and take note of the incredible variety of avian wildlife that calls Israel home. This past summer Ariella attended a 'bird camp' run by Israel's Society for the Protection of Nature. I have never seen a child so revved-up over wildlife, and nearly every morning she calls me over to the glass doors leading out to our back yard in order to hand me the binoculars and breathlessly point out some new (to me) species of bird. My ride to and from work has been immeasurably enriched by the knowledge she has given me of the feathered wildlife I pass.
Macintosh: I'd bumped up against the early Apple computers, both in school and at home (my dad was an early adapter). But it was 'her designerness', my wife, who really opened my eyes to what complete and utter crap the Windows operating system was/is. My little sister and her husband were/are also great fans of the products coming out of Cupertino, and through these influences I have arrived at the conclusion that the smartest thing I can do is to use my balky desktop Windows XP machine for target practice and migrate all my day-to-day computing over to my sexy wide-screened Mac Powerbook. I'm still on the fence as to whether to stick with OS X or embrace Linux... but I will no longer be rewarding Bill Gates & Co. for inflicting cumbersome, vulnerable, crash-prone software on an unsuspecting world.
I'm sure there are countless other things in my life for which I have the double-X chromosome crowd to thank... but I'll stop here for now. Maybe I'll have to come up with a post about some of the masculine influences in my life. Naaah... who wants to read about 'pull my finger' jokes and a genetic reluctance to ask directions? :-)
Happy Sunday !
Friday, January 13, 2006
Photo Friday (Vol. LII) ['unchanged hillside' edition]
Unfortunately there were only three people who responded with pictures of their cookie jars/tins so I will have to put off the 'carnival of the cookie jars' until next week (or until such time as you lazy people get off your collective butts and send me some pictures).
This week I will share the end of the story I began a couple of weeks ago regarding the hillside opposite our house.
If you remember, a bunch of teens and young adults had decided to squat on a parcel of land that is either State or Jewish owned (I haven't seen any documents personally). They had erected a small temporary building on the spot and began waiting for the inevitable visit from the police and army.
Within a week the building had been torn down by the authorities and nothing remained but a pile of wood where the structure had stood.
However the following week a new initiative was undertaken... this time to plant a vineyard rather than build a structure. The reasoning behind this was that all of the other vineyards on the hillside and in the valley below were planted illegally on state or Jewish owned land... so why would the police object to one more?
So this past Friday many of the same teenagers and adults went out to the hillside to engage in a little agricultural protest. I first noticed what was going on when I looked out my back window. It looked like this:
In the end there was no real confrontation, but a policeman wanted closeup video footage of everyone there for future reference. I have to admit that I found that a bit intimidating considering nobody had been in the least disrespectful to the authorities (unless you count Nadia Matar... which I don't).
In the end, everyone began to disperse. Many of the soldiers, police and settlers shook hands and exchanged 'Shabbat Shaloms' before heading off the hillside.
Personally I don't see that anything positive was accomplished. I would rather see a bunch of lawyers forcing the government to address the settler position in much the same way that the Arabs have learned to use the courts.
But I'm just one person with an opinion that doesn't count for much.
Thursday, January 12, 2006
Funny you should ask...
Have you ever felt like you were being asked the same questions over and over... and that you were basically at fault for not making the answers more obvious?
Here are the two most frequently asked questions I get emailed to me here at treppenwitz headquarters:
1. Does treppenwitz mean something or did you just make up the word?
This is probably the single most common email I get... somewhere in the neighborhood of 3 - 5 time per week. It really is my fault for not posting the definition of treppenwitz at the top of the page. Oh wait a minute... I did post the definition at the top of the page!
Treppenwitz is a German word that means 'the wisdom (or wit) of the stairs'. It describes the perfect response that occurs to you only as you are walking down the stairs after a heated discussion. More simply put, it means 'thinking of a witty remark too late'.
Sorry I wasn't more clear with the banner.
The French version of treppenwitz is 'esprit d' escalier'. Someone once suggested that I should have selected the French version as the title of my journal since it is in much more common English usage.
No, I'm serious... I get helpful emails and comments like this all the time. Lucky me.
The reason I chose to go with treppenwitz instead of esprit d' escalier is that it's easier for non-Europeans to say. In retrospect I'm also glad that people don't refer to me as 'esp' or 'esc'.
2. You're religious and you live over the 'green line', so are you right wing... or extreme right wing?
OK, granted people usually craft their questions a little more subtly than that... but the underlying assumption remains essentially the same; that anyone living over the 'green line' is a hard right winger... and if you are religious, your right wing views are even more extreme, not to mention ideologically driven.
Rather than tackle this fallacy head-on, let's look at the other side of the coin. Do all secular Israelis who live inside the 'green line' agree on some unified, monolithic platform of domestic and foreign policy, values, ideas and cultural norms? Do they all embrace the same worldview, legal opinions and vacation destinations? So why would it be logical for me to share all of these things in common with other folks, whether religious or not, who live on this side of the 'green line'?
Basically, if you are making assumptions about me based on my address or religious affiliation, you are almost certain to miss the mark.... by a mile.
There are as many opinions and motivating factors at work on this side of the political and religious divide as there are on the other.
In my humble opinion, at least 80% of Israel's problems could be eliminated overnight if people would simply stop making over-simplified assumptions about people they don't know. The other 20% of the problems could, in my opinion, be solved if we could all agree that sometimes people do act according to our most basic assumptions about them... and it would be the worst kind of foolishness to dismiss that possibility entirely.
If you think I'm talking only about Jews, you haven't been reading me long enough.
I hope this has been helpful... let's do it again sometime soon.
Wednesday, January 11, 2006
Here are a few things that were on my mind when I sat down at the computer this morning:
1. What did he/she mean by that?
English graffiti spotted yesterday in Tel Aviv:
Since seeing this spray-painted message on the wall of a building not far from Azrieli Center, I have been wondering if the spelling of the first word was accidental or deliberate.
2. 'Carnival of the Cookie Jars'
The comments (both online and off) to the post about our cookie jar gave me an idea. Provided I get enough responses, this week's Photo Friday will feature YOUR photos. Everyone is invited to email me a digital photo of your family's cookie jar (treppenwitz AT gmail DOT com). Feel free to include any background info and/or your rules about when and by whom the cookie jar can be accessed.
I deleted a comment that was submitted on my post about having lunch with Lisa before I'd really thought about it. Without revealing the author I will re-post it here:
"Zahava, Be there next time. I'm sure you trust David but this is a loose woman he's hanging out with."
This comment was so far out of bounds that I instinctively hit the delete key before I'd considered what might be behind it. No, I'm not trying to find a way to make such a deliberately hurtful statement acceptable... I just found it interesting how relative (yes, I'm taking about moral relativism... get over it!) things are from community to community.
For instance, my wife dresses very modestly (by our community's standards), and we are raising our children to understand that issues such as modesty and premarital intimacy should not to be treated lightly. Yet many Haredim (ultra-orthodox) communities would see that my wife doesn't cover every strand of hair or wear opaque stockings all the time and make a snap judgment that she is a shameless hussy. My point is that just about everyone is morally 'loose' in the eyes of someone else.
If you can't help yourself from thinking the thought... at least try to keep it from coming out of you mouth (or being transmitted through your fingers onto the computer keyboard). A little self-editing is all I ask.
4. JIB (Jewish & Israeli Blog) Awards
It's that time of year again (where did the time go?). IsraellyCool and the Jerusalem Post are behind this year's effort and the first round of voting is going on now.
I had intended to write a bit about my favorites in some of the categories but there are far too many wonderful new and veteran sites to possibly do them all justice. Go here and discover some wonderful new points of view.
By the way, at the risk of sounding presumptuous, if you happen to find yourself in the 'Best Life in Israel' (group 'B') or 'Best Post' (group 'B') categories, and you notice a familiar name (wink wink, nudge nudge), I'd be deeply honored to receive your vote (you can vote only once every three days).
BTW, thank you to whichever kind soul(s) nominated me for these awards.
Tuesday, January 10, 2006
Most of you are probably familiar with the classic Milton Bradley game Battleship. Basically, two players sit across from one another and take turns guessing where the other person's ships are located. Correct and incorrect guesses are marked with pegs (red for 'hits' and white for 'misses'), until the constant probing reveals the exact location and orientation of all the opponent's ships... and leads to their sinking in as short a time period as possible.
Playing the game of friendship is sort of the opposite of this... a reverse version of Battleship, if you will. Two people sit opposite one another and delicately probe one another to make sure that they don't sink any of the other person's religious, political or emotional 'ships'.... and the objective is to make the game last as long as possible.
Close friends know the exact location of each other's 'fleets' and instinctively avoid coming too close to the other's 'ships'... but new friends have to ply the waters very carefully or risk causing inadvertent damage.
Yesterday I was in Tel Aviv for a conference and found myself with some unexpected free time in the afternoon. On a whim I called up Lisa, a talented journaler/journalist with whom I've exchanged many emails and comments... but to whom I've never actually spoken in person. Lisa immediately suggested we meet for a late lunch at her favorite neighborhood cafe.
Food? Good company? Twist my arm!
I pretty much knew who I was looking for since Lisa has posted pictures of herself from time to time on her site. But as I approached the cafe I was still a little nervous about not recognizing her right away.
I needn't have worried... there she was, sitting in the center of the cafe's courtyard as though she owned the place. I felt like I'd walked into 'Cheers' with Norm Peterson... she seemed to know all the waitstaff and even knew when their shifts changed! To say we got excellent service (not to mention wonderful food) would be an understatement.
Anyway, back to the game of Battleship... er, I mean reverse Battleship.
Lisa and I know enough about each other from reading one another's journals to realize that there are more than a few potential mines floating just below the surface of any potential friendship between us. We are from very different religious and political 'places', and we look at our little corner of the world from very different perspectives. But I think that both of us are more than the sum of any imprecise labels that someone might use to describe us.
Sitting across from one another in this Tel Aviv cafe, the conversation was quite relaxed and covered an incredible range of topics. But I sensed that we were both probing gently to see where the other person's 'ships' were located... not to attack, but rather to avoid even the perception of an attack. But it was inevitable that every so often there would be a subtle sign... a change in tone... a tilted head... indicating that one or the other of us had come a little too close to one of those pesky 'ships'.
It's easy to find what separates two people and point out the obvious. We see it all too often in on-line flame wars. Finding common ground takes a little more time... and a bit more sensitivity.
As I said earlier, a more seasoned friendship can effortlessly navigate dangerous shoals because there is a history of mutual respect and trust to keep feelings from being hurt and sensibilities from being offended. But early in a friendship there is only respect... the trust (hopefully) comes with time.
Lisa, I'm glad you were free to show me a slice of the city you love so much. I'm delighted that we finally got to sit down and meet face-to-face. And it was a pleasure playing a nice, leisurely game of 'reverse Battleship' with you over delicious soup, quiche and coffee.
Next time we'll have to include Zahava.
Monday, January 09, 2006
'For Later' (pronounced: 'fah laytah')
There's an old joke that goes something like this:
An old man is on his death bed surrounded by his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. As his life ebbs slowly away he uses his last few breaths to speak lovingly to each of his progeny.
Suddenly his nostrils twitch and his eyes begin to run freely with tears.
Several of the assembled loved-ones ask what's wrong... is he in pain?... does he need anything?
The old man shakes his head and says to the nearest great-grandchild, "Sweatheart... I'm crying because I can smell the delicious aroma of your great-grandma in the kitchen baking her famous rugalach. That is one of my favorite smells in the whole world! In fact... if you could go down and ask her to bring me just one of her rugalach to taste warm from the oven, I could truly die a happy man."
A few moments later the little child is back in the room and announces to all assembled, "She says you can't have any... they're for the shiva."
[Note: Shiva is the seven day mourning period observed after a 1st degree relative's death]
I grew up in a home where both parents were very capable, and often inspired, cooks.
My father did the majority of the day-to-day meal preparation in our house since his teaching schedule allowed him to be home before my mother on most days. And on holidays and other special occasions, my mother was more than capable of turning out a mouth-watering array of tried and true family favorites.
Perhaps this egalitarian culinary background influenced me to feel completely at home in the kitchen... but then again, it could also have been the need to feed myself during more than a decade of bachelorhood.
However, one thing I never learned to do was bake. Oh sure, I have a couple of easy recipes I can sometimes make work, but there is more art than science to baking... and I simply never did my lab work.
In our house cakes (when we weren't going through one of our no-sugar phases) were either bought at a bakery or assembled from a Betty Crocker or Duncan Hines box. Cookies were likewise store-bought or prepared from freezer-case cookie dough rolls. Baking from scratch was something I'd only heard about.
But when I met Zahava a whole new family dynamic came into play.
Zahava came from a long line of accomplished bakers. In the house where she grew up 'store bought' was an expression usually delivered with a sneer, and a separate freezer was always stuffed with a dizzying array of home-baked goodies that were earmarked 'for later'. There were always enough pasties horded in that deep freeze, y'know... justr in case they would have to host a tea party, kiddish or wedding on short notice.
As a result of this upbringing, Zahava has a tendency to rush all her delicious baked goods into the freezer after giving the kids a fleeting taste. Luckily we have neither the space nor cash for a separate freezer or they might not even get a taste!
I realized shortly after we were married that both Zahava and I had unhealthy relationships with sweets and desserts, in no small part because of our family backgrounds. She came from a long line of hoarders, and I came from a household where sugar cereals and cakes were likely to be banned for long periods of time... so I exercised zero self-control when they were around.
When our kids came along it seemed that we were powerless to keep them from developing the same food issues we had.
But then a magical item full of possibilities came into our lives.
A table prize we won a few years ago at a UJA/Federation Hanukkah dinner offered us an opportunity to put sweet, yummy things out in a place where the kids could live comfortably with them: It was a big gaudy cookie jar. The cookie jar was painted in garish colors and went with nothing we owned, but something about it just felt right.
All of my friends growing up had had cookie jars in their kitchens and they had all seemed immune to the content's gravitational pull. Yet whenever sweet things showed up on my house I found myself sitting down and finishing the box!
So after we moved here I took the cookie jar out of its hiding place in the breakfront and put it out on the kitchen counter where it belonged.
I have a feeling it's too late for me to change my stripes, but we've started putting some of Zahava's yummy cookies and pastries into the cookie jar so that the kids can become accustomed to having good stuff around on a regular basis without feeling the need to eat every crumb in sight!
Don't worry though... a fair amount of Zahava's baking still gets squirreled away into the freezer... but there is always something there for the kids to 'stick their hands in the cookie jar' without fear of being 'caught'.
I want my kids to grow up comfortable in the knowledge that cookies and cake can just as easily be for now... or for later.
Friday, January 06, 2006
Photo Friday (Vol. LI) ['stone on stone' edition]
Last year I introduced you to the stacked columns of stones I see all over the landscape through which I travel to work. I've heard several explanations for these small piles of rocks, but the most plausible came from a shepherd that I spoke with on the day when I took those pictures. He said that they marked the location of holes, drop-offs and roads, and made it easy for shepherds to tell at a distance if their flocks were wandering near places where they could get hurt or lost from view.
There's another rock-related image that I see throughout the Judean hills and into the northern Negev that I'd like to share with you today.
Unlike the little rock piles from that earlier post, these are the remains of buildings made entirely of stone and probably each have a different history or construction and function.
This first structure sits in the corner of a terraced field. From discussions with a few people my guess is that it was either a dwelling for the workers during harvest season or a storage facility for either agricultural tools or the harvested crop. The roof is long gone and the stones themselves are basically unfinished... meaning they are pretty much as they were found on the ground by whoever built it. The fact that no tools were used to shape or dress the stones meant that exactly the right shape had to be found and a lot of trial and error probably ensued. I especially love the arch of the doorway:
Here is another, slightly more sophisticated structure that sits in the corner of another terraced hillside field. I didn't look too closely but my guess is that at least some of the doorway, corner and/or lintel stones were finished or broken to shape because the overall effect is much more exact:
For comparison's sake, here is another structure (in the foreground) that sits just down the hill from it. Note the use of much more rounded stones and a much less geometrical effect:
This last structure is situated right next to a rather large village called Al Arub and never fails to catch my eye as I pass. Unlike the other structures you've seen here, these stones were shaped and roughly finished so I am guessing that this was not a make-shift shelter or storage facility like the others, but rather a store or residence. Because this was so close to Al Arub (a site where there have been numerous stonings, Molotov cocktail attacks and shootings against motorists), one of my passengers was nice enough to get out and stand guard while I hastily snapped this picture (thanks Avi!).
If only stones could talk.