Friday, March 31, 2006
Photo Friday (Vol. LXI) [unknown ruins edition]
One of the problems that occurs nearly every time any sort of construction, landscaping or roadwork is done in this country is that they uncover ancient ruins... sometimes several sets of ruins from different periods.
What happens then is a government archaeologist is sent out to do a quick survey and determine if it is significant enough to warrant a full excavation. A tent is set up over the site and the area is uncovered methodically and anything found is identified, dated and documented.
Obviously whatever project initially uncovered the ruins is halted while the archaeological work is going on so the team has to quickly determine if the find should be uncovered and left in place... uncovered and moved to a different place for viewing... or documented in situ and then recovered with the initial project.
One such site that seems to have gone with option number 2 is lacated about 10 minutes south of where I live.
During the early days of the Intifada a decision was made to build a bypass road around several Arab villages where Israeli cars had come under attack and to widen some existing stretches of road in between these villages. In the course of this roadwork just north of Kiryat Arba some ruins were uncovered and a full excavation/study was conducted.
When they were done the roadwork continued - albeit next to the site - and the ruins were left uncovered for anyone to see. I'm not sure if it was the urgency of the Intifada or that the location was right next to an Arab village, but the site was never publicized and no signage was ever erected to explain anything about the site.
For about a year now I have wanted to stop and take photos but I never seemed to get around to it because it had to be on a day when I was traveling mid-day (something that rarely happens) AND on which I would have someone with me who was armed and could stand guard while I turned my attention to the site.
A couple of weeks ago such a confluence of events took place, so here's what the place looks like:
Here is part of the interior of the ruins with the stone paving clearly visible:
One of the details that always catches my eye in places like this is how the doorways and passages between buildings are formed:
And perhaps the most fascinating aspect of these ruins is that they all seem to be built atop underground passages/caves. I really need to start keeping my climbing harness, ropes and a flashlight in the car:
That's it for today... Shabbat Shalom.
Thursday, March 30, 2006
Death By Caffeine!
Not too long ago I stumbled across a great website called Energy Fiend that featured a cute 'Death By Caffeine' calculator. The way it works is you select a particular beverage from a pull-down menu and then enter your body weight. It then tells you how much of your selected 'poison' would constitute a lethal dose.
At the time I assumed it was a purely theoretical tool to find out what implausible amount of various beverages would be potentially dangerous... y'know, like who would actually drink that much of anything?!
And then my family came to town.
I've mentioned on several occasions that Zahava and I enjoy coffee. I mean REALLY enjoy it. We are pretty much coffee snobs, consuming lovingly pressed coffee made from dark, oily Arabica beans grown in the rich volcanic soil of Sumatra.
But I was completely unprepared for the sheer volume and relative strength of the coffee that would be consumed when my parents, sisters, in-laws and significant others descended upon our home.
To begin with, I thought Zahava and I made our coffee fairly strong... using an extra-large measure of freshly hand-ground beans in the press pot, and letting it steep extra long. But when I proudly passed around what would be the first of an almost continuous
waterfall mudslide of Java, I immediately noticed the sidelong glances that passed amongst my relatives.
I'd seen these glances before.
In fact Zahava and I have exchanged such glances on the rare occasion when we have been served instant coffee or Israeli 'Nes' at friend's homes. The 'look' clearly indicated that something about the coffee was simply not measuring up.
Luckily I didn't have to guess the nature of the problem because my [ahem] normally shy younger sister assumed the role of family spokesperson and made a polite-but-firm request for 'strongercawfeeplease!'.
From that point on our trusty wall-mounted grinder was in almost constant use, churning out a veritable avalanche of fragrant ground beans... and our two press pots were, well, pressed into alternating service so that there would always be fresh hot
jet fuel coffee to top off the family's mugs.
From the crack of dawn until the last book, laptop or newspaper had been put away for the night, everyone simply wandered around with a mug of steaming coffee in one hand. The lulls between meals tended to require only one press pot, but breakfast and lunch demanded both pots simultaneously as well as a thermal carafe as a momentary staging area to buy me a few precious moments of extra brew time in between.
On our longest day of touring away form home I brought my trusty gas stove, Ibrik and a large container of Turkish coffee just to keep everyone properly caffeinated!
I've read in the past how the underground chemists who set up and run LSD and Crystal Meth labs have to wear all sorts of protective clothing and filtered breathing gear and yet still end up getting a tremendous contact high from the drugs that manage to reach the few tiny bits of their exposed skin.
Walking into our kitchen reminded me a lot of that. Just wandering in there to refill the cream pitcher or bring out a fresh pot was enough to set me to jittering wildly.
Now that my two sisters and their families have departed and the coffee consumption has slowed to something that can be measured at a glance by the human eye, I decided to take an inventory of how much coffee we actually burned through in the 8 or 9 days that everyone was here.
No, no... I want you to take a wild guess. To reveal the answer just use your cursor to select/highlight the text between the two arrows below:
-->FOUR AND A HALF KILOS! DID YOU GET THAT? THAT'S ALMOST 10 POUNDS OF COFFEE BEANS!<--
I feel like I should send an urgent cable to Indonesia to explain the sudden jump in demand. In all fairness, they did arrive bearing a gift of 4 pounds of Peet's stowed away in their luggage... but that is now but a distant memory.
Anyhoo... this morning I only had to brew two pots of coffee for my parents, Zahava and myself... and I imagine that the grinder will probably be silent until lunch time. I'll have to call Zahava later and see how many kilos to pick up this evening from our
Suddenly that theoretical 'Death by Caffeine' calculator doesn't seem quite so theoretical!
Wednesday, March 29, 2006
I'll always have gum
Wow, this past week has seen a bit of a drought here on treppenwitz! Sorry... lots of entertaining the visiting relatives and requisite touring around the country.
First off, thank you so much to everyone who left such beautiful comments on the slide show from Ariella's Bat Mitzvah. Several of you emailed me for the details of the background music so I'll post it here (sorry if the translations are choppy):
The first song was Etti Ankari, one of my favorite Israeli singers, performing 'Yoducha' which is actually Psalm 67 set to music:
For the conductor, on neginoth; a psalm, a song.
God will be gracious to us and bless us;
He will cause His countenance to shine upon us forever.
That Your way should be known on earth, Your salvation among all nations.
Nations will thank You, O God; Nations will thank You, yea, all of them.
Kingdoms will rejoice and sing praises, for You will judge peoples fairly, and the kingdoms-You will lead them on earth forever.
Nations will thank You, O God; Nations will thank You, yea, all of them.
The earth gave forth its produce; God, our God, will bless us.
God will bless us, and all the ends of the earth will fear Him.
You, O God; Nations will thank You, yea, all of them.
The second song was by another favorite of mine - Matti Caspi - singing Yalduti HaShniyah (My Second Childhood):
This is my second childhood
Whatever you give me I’ll accept
This is my second childhood
This is my second childhood
The burden of years has been forgotten
This is my second childhood
My heart is opened.
Through your eyes, daughter
I see and discover the world again
Through your hands I’ll learn
To touch the ocean waves again.
Through your lips, daughter,
A new taste to words
And with you I’ll grow-up again with no fear
Now we are three
This is my second childhood
Whatever you give me I’ll accept
This is my second childhood
This is my second childhood
The burden of years has been forgotten
This is my second childhood
My heart is opened.
Through your songs, daughter
I’ll learn to listen to creation again.
In your footsteps I’ll step,
On the way to the seven wonders.
In your smile, daughter
A new morning to nights.
And with you life has a reason…
Now we are four.
In your gazes, daughter,
I’ll learn to love again without thinking.
In your tears I’ll tremble
As if the end of the world were near.
In your hugs, daughter
A shiver goes through my body
And with you I’ll ask for another day.
Now we are five.
This is my second childhood
Whatever you give me I’ll accept
This is my second childhood
I suppose that I can't really post today without some mention of the elections.
No, I won't tell you who I voted for... but suffice it to say there were few surprises (other than the pensioner's party) yesterday. It was a thrill to be able to walk into an Israeli polling station, walk behind the partition, select my party's 'petek' (slip of paper), place it in the envelope... and then drop the envelope in the sky blue ballot box.
Something about physically placing one's vote into a ballot box is so much more satisfying than pulling a lever in a mechanical or electronic voting booth.
The real fun will be watching Olmert try to build a coalition over the next few weeks. Oh, he'll build one, but I honestly doubt he'll be able to create a government that will allow him as free a hand as he wants/needs in order to act unilaterally to quickly establish permanent borders for Israel.
The net result of the outcome is that I think (hope) Kadima will be forced to act more slowly and transparently than their founder (Sharon) ever felt compelled. This is a good thing in a democracy. Slow and deliberate... with lots of discussion and heart searching... is how a democracy is supposed to function. Such monumental moves as disengagement are not akin to tearing a band-aid off a child (best done quickly and with little discussion)... but rather a deadly serious process that requires a national discussion and a real consensus (not just a small majority). The entire country has to be able to live with the results... not just 55% or 60%! And those that are most effected (e.g. the evacuees) must be properly taken care of... not just thrown in tent cities and fleabag hotels to rot while waiting endlessly for their promised compensation.
Anyone who wants to learn more about Israeli politics from someone deep inside can go read my friend and neighbor Ben Chorin. He has spent the last few days writing a primer on the current lay of the land. You may not agree with all of his observations and opinions, but he is very careful not to blend fact and opinion. This is more than one can say about ANY of the Israeli print media which has been shamelessly blending facts, opinions and wishful thinking for years.
Lastly I want to say how sad we all are to see my two sisters and their families return to the US. My older sister left yesterday and the younger left this morning. It was the first time to Israel for both of them (as well as their families) and we covered a lot of ground for such a short stay (Dead Sea, Masada, Jerusalem's Old and New City, Machane Yehuda, Beit Guvrin, etc.).
My two sisters have been doting aunts to our children and have competed with one another for years to see who could spoil them more. I'd have to say it is still too close to call.
There is a line I love from the TV sitcom 'Friends' in the episode where Ross and Rachel's baby is born. Monica - the baby's aunt - is so overcome with a need to express her future role in the baby's life that she blurts out "I'll always have gum!".
Both my sister's are like that.
In addition to providing all the love and emotional support that an aunt ever lavished on nieces and nephews, their role really boils down to that simple statement of absolute readiness to offer sweets behind our backs. And that's how it should be.
Yes, even from half a world away... they'll always have gum.
Sunday, March 26, 2006
Growing up in the blink of an eye
It may seem sometimes that our Ariella has grown up in the blink of an eye... but the loving witnesses to her headlong race towards adulthood will always see her something like this.
Note: This post will self destruct (or more likely, be removed) within a day or two because of a combination of bandwidth usage and flagrant copyright infringement.
Friday, March 24, 2006
Photo Friday (missing edition)
Deepest apologies to all for my lack of posting this week. At least it is due to good things (family visiting from the states and preparations for Ariella's party) and not bad (tfu tfu tfu).
Hopefully some semblance of normalcy will return next week.
Tuesday, March 21, 2006
'Great John' my @ss!
I know I'm gonna get flamed (not to mention go straight to hell) for this post, but I just couldn't hold myself back.
Chalk it up to the unusual living conditions here at Chez Treppenwitz. I'm over-tired and my defenses are down. Let me start by saying that if someone reading along has a serious glandular/metabolic condition that makes this post seem insensitive or hurtful, I sincerely apologize in advance. This obviously isn't directed at you. It is directed at the people who've made a lifetime of bad eating decisions... and then compounded them by making silly accessory choices to try to minimize the damage.
It was only a matter of time... I mean, how did I not seen this coming?
Super-sized people have been shoveling super-sized meals into their collective maw for so long now that it has given rise to an entire set of sub-industries; super-sized clothing... super-sized furniture... and now even super-sized cars.
I'm not trying to be indelicate or mean to any of my readers who (like me) are 'gravitationally gifted'. But when your entire business wardrobe comes from Big & Tall (psh'yeah, no denial in that name!) and your leisure-wear consists exclusively of velour track suits and mu-mus, it seems the only thing left to do is just give in and super-size the rest of your life.
Enter a company called Great John [pause while I clean coffee off the computer screen after reading that name!] which has super-sized the end-game of gluttonous consumption; the toilet.
The folks at Great John have designed ("from the floor up!") a throne fit for the likes of Idi Amin... and are trying to explain away its raison d'être as the standard toilet's poorly-designed "small seat". [emphasis mine]
Uh huh... the design flaw is in the standard toilet, not in the butt that has to interface with this essential piece of plumbing. Let me put it this way; I own a pair of Levi 501s with a 32" waist that I haven't been able to wear since college. The problem is not with the jeans. I wear larger sizes now because of me... not because I discovered some essential design flaw in the old clothes I used to buy! 'Nuff said.
I know I must sound horribly mean pontificating from my low 200s (pounds, not kilos!), but when the Great John website says stuff like:
"A regular toilet... creates very uncomfortable pressure points, consequently producing numbness in the legs and thighs from lack of proper blood flow"
... it makes me wonder if maybe there isn't some unmentioned other problem at work here besides the toilet... like the inexorable forces of gravity exerted on the ginormous person perched daintily on the seat!
Look, everyone occasionally gets numb legs from spending a little too long on the crapper. I don't know one person who hasn't gotten engrossed in a little bathroom reading and ended up doing the stiff-legged 'monster walk' afterward until feeling returned to their lower extremities. But that's simply nature's way of gently reminding us to spend less time in there... not turn it into a porcelain Barcalounger!
Of course, there was one memorable Purim seuda (festive meal) Zahava and I attended at a close friend's house where I would have been deeply appreciative of a comfy toilet such as the ones advertised at Great John:
Strictly speaking, I had imbibed a little beyond the required amount that Purim... and what with all that good food I'd packed away at the meal I excused myself from the table in order to go 'sit a spell' in the smallest room in our host's beautiful home.
The selection of reading material was rather sparse (mostly old Jewish Press') and I was a little drowsy... so within seconds I, er, drifted off.
Zahava must have missed me after 15 or 20 minutes (or so she later told me) because she sent someone to make sure I was OK. I eventually answered the urgent banging on the bathroom door with much embarrassed throat clearing and promises to 'be right out', but the horrible truth was that my legs were so numb that I couldn't even stand up. I was essentially paralyzed from the waist down!
After several minutes of really heroic effort I was able to put myself back together and exit the bathroom... but I would have dearly loved to have waited until even a little tingling sensation returned to my nether-regions before attempting any ambulatory movement. Unfortunately, I had no idea at that point how long I'd been M.I.A. from the table and didn't want to be any more rude to our hosts than I'd already been.
As I did my stiff-legged stagger into the dining room... nonchalantly using the wall and nearby chairs for support... everyone at the crowded table politely ignored my dilemma.
But one person - one of my closest friends in the world - just couldn't look the other way. Instead he quickly picked up a shot glass... made a fist... and pressed the rim of the shot glass deep into the fleshy spot where thumb and index finger converge. After a few moments he removed the shot glass and held up his fist (now bearing a deep red semi-circular indentation) for the assembled guests to see and gleefully exclaimed, "Hey Dave... does this look familiar?!"
The place just fell apart.
All pretense of decorum went out the window, and long after the shrieks of laughter had died down, people were still dabbing at teary eyes and emitting little residual giggles and sighs.
OK, so yeah... I'll admit that under very narrow and specific circumstances I can see how one of these super-sized commodes might actually come in handy. But please don't make it seem like the reason you designed the thing with "150% more contact surface area than a standard elongated seat" is because of idiots like me or because there is something flawed in the basic design of a standard toilet. We all know the score here.
Oh, and the blurb towards the bottom of the web page where they casually mention that the "toilets are tested to 2000 lb... and to eliminate the problem of the SEAT SLIDING, we provide "Anti-Slide" fins for safety" sort of gives the game away. Let's face it, if you're subjecting your commode to those kinds of G's, and you routinely find yourself in need of structural appendages to keep your, um, seat centered on the can, you don't need a new toilet... you need an intervention.
I am soooo back on my diet!
Monday, March 20, 2006
Day 1 of the occupation
Over the next few weeks treppenwitz may suffer from obvious symptoms of sleep deprivation,
mal- over-nutrition, hyper-caffeination and sibling rivalry.
You see, Chez treppenwitz is rapidly filling up with siblings, spouses/significant-others, cousins, grandparents and dogs. Although we marked Ariella's becoming a Bat Mitzvah on her birthday back in January... it wouldn't be official without a small party. And it wouldn't be a party without family. Soooo, we scheduled the party to coincide with the cousin's school vacations.
I picked up one sister (with S.O. and daughter) from the airport last night and another (with Hubby and two kids) first thing this morning. I'll be making another trip to Ben Gurion on Wednesday when my parents (and their dogs) arrive.
From this point until some time after Passover our place will resemble the 'Palace flophouse & Grill' from Steinbeck's Cannery Row. The sibs and their families are only here for a week or two (first time for both) so I'll be playing tour-guide, hotel manager and barkeep instead of mild-mannered blogger.
Yeah, they'll still be posts... but they will be more like communiqués from the front.
Day 1 of the occupation is not even halfway over. :-)
Friday, March 17, 2006
Photo Friday (Vol. LX) [desert ruin edition]
I'll cut to the chase today since the pictures do most of the talking anyway.
Just north of Beer Sheva, off to one side of the main road (Rt. 40), sits a ruined building that never fails to catch my eye when I pass it. Invariably I am running late and don't have time to stop and explore... but last week I finally pulled over and checked it out.
I have no idea what it was or who built it, but the stonework and location suggest it is probably left over from when Beer Sheva was a sleepy, southern outpost of the Ottoman Empire.
On the extreme right side of the picture above you can see the remains of a small room that had little niches in two walls. Were these for pigeons, mail, keys? ... who knows. Here is a closer look at this detail:
Once inside the ruin I noticed some neat architectural touches that further reminded me of some of the Turkish Ottoman buildings in Beer Sheva's Old City. Here is an arched doorway (note that some of the mud/plaster that once covered all of the walls remains inside the room beyond the archway):
That's it for today. I've been poking around more ruins lately (closer to home) so in the weeks to come you may see more of this sort of thing.
Thursday, March 16, 2006
Fixin' ta die w'thar boots on!
[Warning... boring political post.
Come back tomorrow for pretty pictures.]
There's an old cowboy ethic that states that it is always preferable to die with one's boots on. This concept stems not from any sensitivity to revealing one's tender toes to view... but rather to an ideal of continuing to work (and wear work clothes) up until one's dying moment. It's a matter of pride and honor.
We know a little bit about pride and honor here in the
wild west near east. Or at least I thought we did.
There is a raging debate currently going on (perhaps debate is too urbane a term) regarding the PA policemen and assorted security prisoners who had been holed up in the Jericho Prison choosing to surrender (and being stripped to their underwear in the process) rather than die fighting with their boots (and clothes) on, as they had threatened.
Much as both sides would like to oversimplify these recent events for their own agenda, what transpired was actually quite complex and requires a close examination of many of the 'facts'.
First of all, like the various intifadas that supposedly 'spontaneously erupted', the events at the Jericho prison were carefully orchestrated and deliberately set in motion by the Palestinian leadership. Likewise, the Israelis didn't wake up last week and decide "Hey, let's go raid the Jericho prison!"
Likewise, these events didn't unfold suddenly. They came about over several days of Hamas playing ever-more dangerous games of 'chicken with the Israeli, British and American officials responsible for enforcing the 'status quo' agreement over the security prisoners held in Jericho.
This game of 'chicken' was not unlike what a child plays when trying to find out how far they can push a parent before a punishment will result. The major difference is that the Palestinians/Hamas are not children. They and their leadership are grown-ups with legitimate national aspirations, and therefore they cannot reasonably expect the world (and Israel) to allow them to 'act up' whenever they want to abrogate a standing agreement.
And it is this important point about the standing agreement that many people want to conveniently ignore while discussing the events of this past week in Jericho.
The standing status quo agreement about the prisoners at Jericho was reached after a long stand-off at the Muqata (the real one... not Jemeel's blog). Basically, the crisis arose when a bunch of the most wanted murderers and terrorists sought by Israel's security services had been granted refuge by the PA leadership inside Arafat's governmental compound. Among the wanted men were the people responsible for the murder of a sitting Israeli cabinet member.
This last point may seem irrelevant to some, but here in the
wild west near east, there are rules... and one of those rules clearly and unequivocally states that while it may appear that it is open season (with no bag limit) on civilians... elected officials on both sides are strictly out of bounds!
You can discuss/argue the legitimacy of terrorism as an effective tool against occupation... and you can argue/debate the legitimacy of extra-judicial targeted assassinations to deal with/punish terror. But not here! Not Now! This is not what I'm talking about right this minute.
What I'm referring to is that all parties in the current/ongoing conflict have had ample time and opportunity to 'off' the elected leaders of the other side... and have not done so! That tells me that a very powerful agreement is/was in place and has been respected by absolutely everyone.
Amazing when everyone agrees to just get along, no?
However, on 17 October 2001, all that changed when a Palestinian terrorists assassinated Israeli Tourism Minister Rechavam Ze'evy outside his hotel room in Jerusalem. That act broke all the rules.
The situation could have immediately spiraled out of control with both sides picking off the other side's elected officials, but I'm convinced that cooler heads prevailed on ALL sides. I believe this because any other scenario would have seen Israeli and Palestinian snipers declaring open season on each other's government leaders.
That this didn't happen was an amazing development that few people noted at the time. But that doesn't mean that the event was swept under the rug either.
Almost immediately the Israelis found out exactly who was responsible (another indication that information was being exchanged between the Palestinians and Israelis via back channels), and the culprits conveniently ended up among the men who took refuge in the Muqata. I say conveniently because now both sides knew what the stakes were and instead of the Israelis hunting down and killing the fugitives... Arafat was holding enough chips to negotiate a better deal for them.
The predictable media circus ensued with Israeli tanks and combat troops surrounding the place and various dopey 'human shields' going in and out to 'risk their flesh and blood' to keep the big bad Israelis from harming a hair on anyone's chinny-chin-chin.
What everyone sort of ignored with a wink and a nod was that the IDF troops had Ramallah and the Muqata hermetically sealed and could easily have stopped any of these 'human shields' from entering or leaving if they so wished. Instead the Israelis allowed these well-meaning idiots to participate in this sappy street theater for the eager media cameras.
In the end, an agreement was reached between the two sides.
Basically the agreement stated that the security prisoners would be removed from the Muquata and transferred to the Jericho prison where, in a face saving gesture, they would be watched over by international (US and British) troops instead of suffering the humiliation of being guarded by Israelis. This last bit is crucially important to what happened this week because it was an acknowledgment of how central a role pride, ego and honor play in such negotiations.
Most of us who get our news from the mainstream media (MSM) willfully ignore the level of unofficial communication and horse-trading that has to go on for such a negotiated compromise to take place... and more importantly, stay in place. But when you step back and realize that these men went from being hunted animals to enjoying three hots and a cot... some serious negotiations obviously took place.
Unfortunately, with the election of Hamas, and their brash promises to abrogate all standing agreements and understandings concerning the 'Zionist entity', the apple cart was in serious danger of being up-ended.
Even so, it was reassuring for anyone watching closely to see that Hamas didn't act rashly and break all the taboos at once. Instead they decided to pick a test case where they could suss out the other side's resolve without putting too much 'face' at risk. They were also wise to select as their test case a target that Israel had inexplicably assumed would be conveniently ignored indefinitely.
You see, due to the stand-off at the Muqata and the resulting rushed agreement, both sides willingly entered into a devil's bargain that denied the suspected terrorists/murderer's their day in court.
Yes, you heard me right... even though everyone knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that these men were guilty (they had willingly admitted, even bragged about their crimes), they had never been afforded the niceties of a trial to make it all official - like.
Instead, in a case of true frontier justice, both the Palestinian and Israeli leadership... under the watchful eyes of the international community... agreed to indefinitely incarcerate these men without officially declaring them guilty. Yes, that's right... the Palestinians and Israelis agreed to violate all accepted norms of law. Just like that.
This, in my opinion, is why Hamas chose the Jericho prison as the test case to begin unraveling standing PA/Israeli agreements. Simply put; it was a soft target with little downside if they lost. They could simply say (as they are now doing) that the prisoners were officially innocent until proven guilty, so they were setting right an old injustice.
Hamas began the game by announcing that they intended to set the security prisoners free. This by itself would have been an empty threat except that they also made it clear to the British and American prison guards that their safety could no longer be guaranteed.
In a prudent move, the foreign prison guards made hasty preparations to 'get out of Dodge' before the shootin' started. But before doing so, they did the responsible thing and announced their withdrawal timetable, thus preventing a power vacuum that would have been dangerous to all sides.
Just like clockwork, Israeli troops and PA policemen took up their respective positions inside and outside the prison for the scheduled showdown. The the cameras were given time to take up optimal positions... and on cue the obligatory exchanges were made ("Come out with your hands up, the place is surrounded."... "You'll never take us alive", etc. etc. etc.).
I can just see some network lighting director storming out to the middle of the 'set' with his hands on his hips and demanding that one of the combatants raise or lower his weapon a couple of inches because the sun was reflecting off the barrel directly into the camera lens and spoiling the shot!
I don't mean to make light of the situation because in truth it was deadly serious business with lives on both sides at risk throughout the ordeal. But at the same time, the leaders on both sides were making very calculated decisions based on their understanding and knowledge of their opponents.
This was a game of deadly serious brinkmanship... and it was also Hamas's opening move in a much larger and more serious geopolitical game.
In the end, the outcome wasn't particularly surprising to anyone. Both sides had their day in front of the cameras and some important issues were allowed to see the light of day.
First of all, there is no way the PA Police surrendered without an Ok from above. That this was given gives me some hope for at least one or two cool heads in the Hamas-led government. They could have easily served up a prison full of martyrs for the eager cameras... and it would have scored them serious sympathy points in the process. But instead, someone in a position of authority on the Palestinian side acted like a grown up and made a difficult call.
Another important point: The world was reminded that technically (and only technically) the prisoners held in Jericho need a 'church weddin' (so to speak) to solemnize their status as official guilty men... something Israel has since promised to do. Again, it may seem like a small thing, but so much of international law hinges on such little niceties.
Hamas has now tested the murky waters of agreement dissolution and found them a bit chilly. I think (hope) they may have gotten a message that they have almost as much to lose as the Israelis if they want to start setting aside 'understandings' and 'gentlemen's agreements' willy-nilly. After all, this part of the world with its egos and 'honor' operates almost entirely on such back-alley understandings and unspoken agreements.
This isn't to imply that anyone is going to be riding off happily into the sunset anytime soon. Mistakes were made in this little showdown... big ones... and there will be a high political price to be paid.
For instance, although anyone with even a passing familiarity with security precautions understands the need to have the re-captured prisoners and PA police stripped down to their skivvies (guns, knives and explosives are just too easily concealed in clothing)... after all nobody was going to risk having a stabbing, shooting or worse take place after the hard part (the negotiated surrender) was over and done with. But that doesn't mean the nearly naked prisoners should have been paraded before the world's media cameras either.
If the Israelis wanted to send the prisoners and captured PA police out of the prison in an organized 'perp walk', they could have easily set up some privacy partitions (like the ones that magically appeared at the hospital when Sharon was wheeled in after his stroke) behind which the detainees could have been changed at gunpoint into prison garb or IDF-issued overalls.
That was a huge gaff by the Israeli side, and I think the present outcry from the PA media and leadership is not only predictable but perfectly justified.
Nobody in this part of the world can pretend to be ignorant of how much honor and modesty are inextricably linked. If the settlers at Amona (the ones who were witnessed acting violently, anyway) had been stripped to their underwear in a search for weapons and then paraded before the waiting news cameras, the religious right (and yours truly with them) would have started a firestorm to make the PA's current tirade look tame!
No, this was a biiiiiiiig mis-step on the part of the IDF.
But I'm hopeful that if nothing else comes out of this first test case, at least the new Hamas-led PA and the Israeli government will have had the opportunity to look each other over and set in place some new ground rules. It's going to be a long, hard process... and we'll need some rules in place to keep things from getting out of hand.
As I said, this little psychodrama was just the opening move in a much larger game - a deadly serious game to be sure - but a game none-the-less. Hamas made a bad opening gambit and lost big. Their subsequent bluff of having the prisoners and PA police fight to the death went nowhere, and in the end the guys holed up in the prison were allowed to fold... doing away (for the time being) with the need for anyone to die with their boots on.
But winning this round doesn't give anyone bragging rights. Israel made a strategic error in the closing moments of the game, and there will be a price to pay. Just as they should have been sweeping the whole pot onto their side of the felt... they are now obligated to quietly give something back during the next round of the conflict, wherever or whenever that may be. Israel knows it and Hamas knows it.
That's how things are done here. Middle east politics are seldom about what is said in the press conferences... and almost always about what isn't.
This is life here in the
wild west near east ... and things are seldom (if ever) what they seem.
Wednesday, March 15, 2006
There are minions... and then there are minions!
An alleged insult that has been leveled at treppenwitz on more than one occasion is the presence here of a large number of 'adoring fans'. Each time this accusation has been tossed at me I scratch my head and wonder exactly how this is supposed to qualify as an insult.
Apparently the people who throw out such an 'accusation' feel that the amiableness and general bonhomie that holds sway here on treppenwitz's comment board demonstrate a general lack of both critical thinking and diversity of opinion.
One pundit even went so far as to call the loose confederation of treppenwitz commenters my 'minions'! Yes, you read that correctly. No, not 'minyans'... that's a quorum of Jews required for communal prayer.
They really called you people my 'minions'!
The Oxford English Dictionary (second edition) has pages of definitions for the noun 'minion', but I think that:
"...a person who is dependent on a patron's favour... a hanger-on... a follower or underling, esp. one who is servile or unimportant... a henchman...'
... pretty much sums up the sense my accusers likely had in mind.
Just curious... is that the role in which you all view yourselves?
I mean, granted, how cool would it be to actually have henchmen to blindly do one's bidding? But in reality I think you'd be pretty hard pressed to find a group of people with a wider range of backgrounds and opinions than the readers of this journal.
Now if you want to see a web site with real live minions at work... go check out one of my new favorite reads; Book of Joe, the home of the "World's most popular blogging anesthesiologist". It is a blog that is chock full of the most interesting and useful information, Products and well, neat stuff you could ever ask for... and it's updated more frequently than Jack's Shack!
But what about the 'minions' you ask?
The neat thing about Book of Joe is that if you are interested in a topic... any topic... and Joe hasn't touched on it (yet), you can submit a comment asking for help with your quest and within minutes his minions will hit the ground running.
OK, Joe doesn't actually use the term minions anywhere on his site... preferring the phrase 'crack research team', but who are we kidding? These henchmen (and henchwomen) are his minions, and they're there to do Joe's (and your) bidding!
I first discovered Book of Joe via one of my
minions, er commenters named Elizabeth a couple of weeks ago while I was asking my readers for help with the whole shabbat/coffee dilemma. Elizabeth left me a thoughtful comment suggesting I submit my question to Joe's 'crack research team'... so I did.
In less than an hour I got an email from a woman named Shawn (with a picture, even!), who politely identified herself as "the bookofjoe staff member who has been assigned to your coffee question".
She then went on to clearly state the criteria she had used to research my question (to make sure we were both on the same page), and then laid out a veritable treasure trove of links to thermal solutions that would meet my needs.
Apparently Joe's minions compete for his favor (or some other kind of reward) because at the end of her helpful message she closed with:
"If you feel this e-mail has helped you in some small way, please help me win the coveted bookofjoe Crackpot Researcher of the Month title. Just forward this e-mail to Joe at firstname.lastname@example.org with "I Vote for Shawn" as the title."
I'm not trying to put anyone down here... but someone would have to be crazy to call treppenwitz readers 'my minions'. I mean holy crow... If you want to see 'minions' at work, just go check out Joe's crack research team. Now, those are 'minions'.
You guys are just a bunch of poseurs! :-)
Tuesday, March 14, 2006
I've been Spoofed!
I was starting to feel like the uncool kid in the class...
But Treppenwitz has finally been parodied!
PS Thank you all for your wonderful comments on yesterday's post. I will respond this evening but right now we are having too much fun!
Monday, March 13, 2006
One of the many downsides to being religiously observant is that one sometimes develops a slight blindness to the deep cultural connections our less-observant coreligionists have to Judaism. This tends to happen less outside of Israel... perhaps because of the wide spectrum of observance and cultural connection that reaches from ultra-orthodox to reform and re-constructionist.
But in Israel many people (myself included) sometimes make the mistake of looking at Jewish religious connections as a binary - yes/no issue. I'll admit it... I often mentally divide my friends into 'religious' and 'secular' (dati and chiloni) rosters, and in so doing ignore the less obvious connections (or lack thereof) that exist.
For instance I know plenty of people in the religious community who wear the 'uniform' and show up for the requisite ritual observances... but they view their connection to religious observance the way some might view a country club membership. It is an inertial decision... a status symbol... maybe even a safety zone, but little thought is given along the way to a Higher Power.
By the same token, I am starting to notice how many seemingly non-observant people (no kippah... very revealing clothing, etc.) keep a very clearly defined level of kashrut (dietary observance), show profound respect for Torah and Torah scholars, observe holidays quite carefully (although perhaps not according to the same religious precepts I do), and believe fervently in a Divine Creator who influences the world and holds the keys to the world to come.
This blindness of mine was once again brought home to me yesterday as I sat waiting for a friend in Ben Gurion University's 'Beit HaStudent' (Student Union) building. As I sat there I noticed that many of the students wandering the campus, as well as the clerks in the many stores and eateries, were wearing Purim costumes.
This by itself wouldn't be much of an indicator of religiosity since for many, Purim is a secular 'dress-up' holiday not unlike Halloween.
But then I started thinking about the timing. Purim was two days away, so why was everyone in costume? Then I realized that, of course!... there would be no classes scheduled on Purim. So why not dress up on the day before Purim? Then I realized that there must have been at least a tacit acknowledgment of the somber nature of 'Ta'anit Esther' (the fast that takes place the day before Purim) so dressing up would be inappropriate. Therefore everyone was dressed up two days in advance!
I also noticed that there were many university-aged students running around with pre-adolescent kids in costume. I recognized the older of one such pairing as a girl who often travels with me from Efrat, and I called her over to say hello and ask about the kids. She explained quietly that many students had 'adopted' kids from 'troubled homes' in Beer Sheva and they met with them weekly in a big brother/big sister-type capacity. I had caught them on their way to attend a pre-Purim party.
As I watched teddy bears, clowns, red riding-hoods, spider-men, and, um, I'm guessing hookers (judgmental? Who me???), walk in and out of the building I noticed another thing. Many of the students I had mentally labeled as non-religious instinctively reached up to kiss the mezzuzah as they passed through the doors!
I'm not doing a good job of expressing myself here and it's really frustrating me!
The best I can do is tell you that I am constantly being surprised by a Jewishness here in Israel... even among the ostensibly non-observant (perhaps especially among this segment of the population)... that makes the religiosity of many observant diaspora Jews seem affected and half-hearted by comparison.
Sitting there in the 'Beit HaStudent' I once again got a reminder of how little I know... and how important it is not to make assumptions about people. We can argue (no that isn't an invitation) about the prospects for Jewish continuity... intermarriage... loss of tradition and the growing chasm between religiously observant and secular Israelis. But yesterday I realized I can't worry about everyone and everything all the time.
Some things just 'are'. Take my daughter for instance.
Unlike her diaspora counterparts, the moment Ariella turned 12, her physical presence here allowed her to instantly fulfill a positive religious commandment that the most pious Hassid in Brooklyn can't hope to approach. She didn't have to go to synagogue to do it... she didn't have to recite a complicated benediction to accomplish it... she didn't even have to have the proper kavanah (intention) to receive 'credit' for having fulfilled this precept.
It just happened!
A while back I remember welling up while watching a Nefesh B'Nefesh video during some of the most unlikely points in the film; When a new arrival is shown descending from the El Al plane onto the tarmac carrying a Sefer Torah (Torah Scroll) in his arms it didn't move me. What got me was when a soldier standing nearby reached over to take the heavy Torah from his arms but paused first to instinctively kiss it. My heart skipped a beat! And then a few moments later in the film... as the Torah is seen being carried past a woman Police officer at passport control, she instinctively reached out... touched the Torah... and then brought her fingers to her lips. The gestures were so natural... so instinctive... that I know it would be the worst sort of sin for any man to stand in judgment of such holy people.
When people ask me how I could in good conscience bring my children to a place so potentially fraught with danger... I wish I could figure out a way to let them have a peek at what I see in my mind's eye when I think about those two small, almost unconsciously gestures of respect on the video. I wish they could see the costumes and children and mezzuzza-kissing in the Student Union building at Ben Gurion University.
Let them come and take pictures of the Kotel (the western wall)... let them take in the holy sites and study in Yeshiva. But if only I could show them the hidden holiness found in the most fervently secular Israeli... they could never even ask such a silly question about why I would bring my family here!
No matter what the rest of the world may say to try to tear us down...
... no matter what terrible things we may say and think to try to tear down one another...
... there is an indescribably, untouchable, unsuspected holiness in all people... and all things here.
And for this I am profoundly grateful.
I'd like to wish everyone an early happy Purim since I expect to be away from my computer tomorrow.
Sunday, March 12, 2006
A great new blog concept
One of my blog fathers is fond of pointing out that any blog/journal entry that mentions him is vastly and immediately improved. In his case, he happens to be quite correct. In mine... I suppose it depends on the context.
For instance, this past week a
pro-Palestinian anti-Israel anti-Semitic Joo-hating blog turned it's jaundiced eyes towards treppenwitz and gave me a bit more of a mention than I would have liked.
I'm a mostly non-political Israeli journaler (meaning less than 1% of my posts so far have dealt with politics), but I still live in fear of showing up on the radar of bloggers who firmly believe the air I am breathing belongs exclusively to the Palestinians... so would I please cease and desist from breathing any of it?! To defend oneself against attacks from people who hold such a horribly antagonistic worldview is just tiring and demoralizing.
Well, today I'm happy to report that treppenwitz has garnered a little attention of the positive kind.
My friend and fellow web-denizen Chaim (of Life of Rubin) has come up with a fantastic new concept for a blog. He is doing weekly interviews with J-bloggers and posting the results on his new site called - you guessed it - The J-Blogger Interviews.
This past week he launched the site featuring an inaugural interview with Mobius (known to many as a contributor to JewSchool as well as by his nom de blog Orthodox Anarchist). Mobius is one of the more prolific bloggers in the 'sphere, and is the creative hand behind some of the most cutting edge blog designs on the web.
Today Chaim is scheduled to post his second interview (it should be up at 9:00AM EST)... and as my blogfather would say, 'it has been vastly and immediately improved by the simple act of mentioning me'. :-)
I can't imagine there is much about me you don't already know... since I haven't exactly been shy about sharing details of my life. But in general, this new j-blogger interview concept is a fantastic way to learn a little bit more about the real live people behind your daily reads. And the Q & A interview format allows you to get information that was interesting to the interviewer instead of simply what the blogger felt like writing that day.
Anyway, go check it out... bookmark the site... and maybe even drop Chaim a note suggesting some J-bloggers you'd like to see interviewed in the weeks to come. I know that so far he has interviews lined up with 'sphere stars such as Renegade Rebbetzin, Aussie Dave (of Israellycool), Dov Bear and Blog in Dm.
Friday, March 10, 2006
Photo Friday (Vol. LIX) ['huh?' edition]
Sorry this is up so late in the day... I'm home alone with Yonah on a rainy Friday morning and he has required my, er, undivided attention. :-)
Today's Photo Friday is a tiny sampling of the kind of signage one sees around Israel that blurs the border between Hebrew and other languages spoken here.
First up is one of the many political billboards that have sprung up around the country with the elections fast approaching. It is an ad for the party 'Yisrael Betainu' which has a very strong following in the Russian immigrant community. No party can take for granted its support base and most are always looking to strengthen ties. The billboard has pictures of the #1 candidates on the Likud, Kadima and Yisrael Betainu lists respectively (I guess they consider Amir Peretz - with his Stalin mustache - to be a non-starter) above the Russian words 'Nyet' 'Nyet' and 'Dah' (no, no, yes) written in Hebrew characters:
The next picture is a neon sign I notice each evening as I leave work. I 'notice' it, but until yesterday I hadn't bothered to read it. It is written in Hebrew letters but they spell the English words 'Car Lease Trade In'' phonetically.
Last up is a Beer Sheva florist (who knows, it might be a national chain for all I know) that chose as its name an English expression (There for You), but written phonetically the way an Israeli would pronounce it. I crack up every time I pass this place:
[Update: Thank you to the astute commenters who pointed out to me that 'Zer' is both the Hebrew word for 'bouquet' and a play on the way Israeli's would pronounce the English word 'there'. I'll still giggle when I see if but part of the joke will be on me for not knowing the Hebrew word. In fairness... an Israeli living in the US might not be familiar with the English word 'bouquet'... oh wait a minute... bouquet is a French word! There goes that theory! ;-)]
That's it for this week. Next week I have some great pictures of a ruin that sits in the Negev Desert outside of Beer Sheva.
Thursday, March 09, 2006
Where was this when I was an undergrad?
There are a few ways that milk is packaged in this country, but they fall into two basic categories:
1. Hard packaging, which includes both hard translucent plastic bottles and opaque waxed cardboard cartons.
2. Soft packaging, which consists of thin plastic bags that fit into a reusable hard plastic holder/pourer.
At Chez Treppenwitz we use the soft packaged milk bags... partly because it's cheaper, and partly because it is much more ecologically responsible to use something with minimal packaging to throw away. Since we don't normally use milk in hard packages, I haven't really kept pace with any of the latest innovations.
Innovations? In milk packaging???
I can hear you all asking this question to your computer screens, but I assure you there have been giant leaps in milk carton technology. Really!
One of these innovations came to my attention yesterday morning as I sat through a meeting where the usual assortment of hot drinks and cakes had been served. While I sat there trying desperately to feign interest in the topic, something about the milk carton in the middle of the conference table caught my eye (yes, A.D.D.-boy is easily distracted).
At first I wasn't sure what I was looking at, but then someone picked up the carton and poured a splash of milk into his coffee... and all at once I realized I was looking at something special. RIght there on the conference table was a packaging solution that could have prevented all (OK, most) of the fights I used to have with my college roommate.
You see, our standing agreement was that whoever finished the milk would go out and buy more. Simple, right?
In theory this was a perfectly sound arrangement. But in practice my roommate had worked out a system where he could justify never buying milk by leaving the carton in the fridge with about half an inch of backwash (sorry girls, guys drink directly from the carton... deal with it!) sloshing around the bottom!
From the outside you couldn't tell how much was in there... so I would only find out we were totally milk-less at 2AM while looking for something to wash down a box of chocolate-covered Entenmann's donuts!
Getting back to yesterday's meeting... there on the side of the milk carton was a clear, skinny 'window' that allowed you to see exactly how much milk was left inside! The window even had graduation marks next to it which saved you the trouble of having to estimate how much was left.
I must say, it takes a lot to impress me... but I was impressed!
Of course, I was so fixated on the milk carton that if you put a gun to my head I couldn't tell you what yesterday's meeting was about! :-)
Anyway, here's a picture (if you look closely you can see the carton is nearly empty... although it still contains considerably more than my roommate used to leave me!):
Now comes the part where everyone on the planet tells me that this nifty milk window has been around for the past 10 years!
Wednesday, March 08, 2006
Your big chance to become an Internet icon!
It doesn't happen very often, but once in a while I write (or link to) a post that evokes an emotional response (tears) from some of my readers. Each time this happens at least two or three people will leave a comment saying something to the effect of "You should have a 3-tissue warning on that post!"
The first couple of times I read this suggestion I liked it enough to go poking around the on web for a little icon I could use to warn people to drag over the tissue box before proceeding. Unfortunately, the few icons I found were pretty lame. Beside, I don't make a habit of writing tear-jerkers... so I never expended much time or effort trying to track down an appropriate icon.
I know what some of you are thinking; "You're married to a kick-ass graphic designer... why not ask her to design you some icons?" The answer to that unasked question is: Yes, my wife is a very talented graphic designer (she designed the nifty banner you see at the top of my journal), but I have to be a bit circumspect about how often I mooch free design services off of her. She's crazy busy most of the time... and she also pretty much considers me the worst possible 'client' on the planet.
So... I'm throwing it out to all of you budding artists and Internet sleuths.
If you can design or track down a small, simple icon that can be used to preface an emotional post, I will be deeply indebted to you (meaning I'll think of an appropriate way to thank you).
If more than one person sends in an icon for consideration I'll post them all and let everyone vote for the winner. Just one request... if you 'borrow' an existing image from somewhere (rather than designing an original one), please either secure the owner's permission to use/distribute it or ensure that it is legally considered 'public domain'.
While you're at it, if anyone wants to submit an appropriate icon I could use in order to warn readers of an impending rant... that might be helpful too. :-)
Icon submissions can be emailed to treppenwitz AT gmail DOT com. Deadline for submissions is Thursday, March 16th.
Tuesday, March 07, 2006
The secret magic of a father's shoulder
The other evening Zahava and I attended a Bat Mitzvah in a neighboring town and left our big kids to look after Yonah.
Ari and Gili are more than up to this task and have fallen into a rotating division of labor when it comes to who will feed him, get him drinks, change his diapers, get him into his PJs and sing Sh'ma (a Biblical recitation that is said in the morning and evening) with him before bed.
Most of these tasks entail a certain amount of horse-trading ("I changed the last diaper... no, it's your turn!"), and there have been more than a few occasions when both kids developed a temporary visual and olfactory blindness to Yonah's excretory prowess ("Uh, guys... what's that smell... oh my G-d!!!... why does Yonah look like he's wearing an inflated beach ball instead of a diaper?!"). But for the most part the kid is relatively clean and well fed whenever he's left in his sibling's capable hands.
However, there is also a logistical aspect to having the big kids babysit.
You see, we live in a three-story townhouse.... what is call a 'cottage' over here. The big kids each have their own bedrooms on the third floor and share a bathroom. There is also a guest room with it's own bathroom up there. The kitchen, dining room and living room are on the middle floor, and our master bedroom/bath, along with our office and Yonah's nursery, are on the first floor.
So, whenever the kids are babysitting for Yonah in the evening, one of them has to go to sleep in our bed in order to be able to be close enough to hear him if he wakes up.
Unlike other responsibilities associated with taking care of their baby brother, sleeping in our bed (at least until we get home) is a privilege that both kids fight to claim ("No, you got to sleep downstairs last time... no you did... it's my turn!").
The funny thing is, I know instinctively what this bickering is about. I can remember with perfect clarity the comforting smell and feel of my parent's bed. No matter how freshly laundered the linens, there is a faint, pheromonal connection that irresistibly draws children to the safe warm place where their parents sleep.
There is also the inevitable rough intimacy of being evicted from the parental bed with gentle kisses and soft tickles when we finally get home... as well as the treat of being carried up to bed with a sleep-tousled head lolling drunkenly on my shoulder.
When we returned from the Bat Mitzvah, all was silent (always a good sign) so Zahava and I went about our unspoken routine of putting our home to sleep for the night; locking the doors... turning off a forgotten light here and there... putting an errant shoe with it's partner near the stairs... and finally going down to 'our' part of the house.
I poked my head into the nursery to make sure Yonah hadn't kicked off his covers in his sleep (he had), and when I came back into our bedroom Zahava was standing with her hands on her hips staring lovingly at Gilad nestled deep into the pillows on my side of the bed.
The stark contrast between Yonah's soft cuddliness and Gilad's lean, angular build was accentuated by their sleeping proximity. But despite the sharp athleticism of Gili's muscular arms and legs, a small soft place on his neck... just behind his left ear... demanded to be nuzzled and kissed.
In his slumber Gilad reacted exactly as Yonah does when I go 'hmmmmm' against that tender spot; leaning into the kiss and reaching up to return my embrace. However as he came fully awake, Gilad's babiness fell away from him like a sleep-tossed blanket, and the precursor of the man he will become emerged from the tangled comforter standing up shockingly close to my own eye level.
There was a moment where his arms remained around my shoulders... and I half hoped he would hop up against my shoulder to be carried up to bed. I could still do it... and I knew he would enjoy it. But then he absent-mindedly rubbed the defined '4-pack' of his bare midriff and seemed to come to a silent decision. He simply kissed me on the corner of my mouth and shuffled off to his own bed.
Though he is only ten years old, that moment hit me as though he had already left for the army! I'm not ready to admit that two of my three children no longer need to be carried off to bed.
Carrying sleeping children to bed is one of a father's most cherished privileges and sacred duties. It's a comforting touchstone... a carry-over from a time when tiny feet are innocent of callouses and pudgy little legs have yet to take a step. But even though we fathers continue the charade of necessity long after walking has turned to running... we secretly pray the day will never come when a sleepy embrace is deliberately broken... rather than culminating in a soft toss onto a waiting shoulder.
Gilad probably doesn't realize it yet, but his days of being carried up to bed ended the other night the moment he kissed me and shuffled away. Somewhere in his sub-conscious mind a decision was made... to set off on his own... or perhaps simply to spare my aging back.
I'm 44 years old now, but I have crystal clear recollections of the impossibly safe feeling and comforting smell of falling asleep in my parent's bed. And if I close my eyes I can still feel the protective, gently rocking warmth of my father's shoulder as he carried me back to my own bed.
The funny thing is, I had always secretly wondered if these memories were as strong for my father as for me. How did I not realize the obvious answer to that question?
Even though a small part of our relationship changed the other night, I'm sure Gilad will still occasionally camp out in my bed. And I'm certain the scent of my pillow will transport him... in his dreams at least... back into my arms. I know this because each time I embrace my own father... kiss his neck and smell his secret paternal aroma... l am mentally swept up into his waiting arms and carried off to my own childhood bed... to be tucked in safe and sound.
This is the secret magic of a father's shoulder... and that magic never wears off.
Monday, March 06, 2006
Time flies when you're not talking politics!
Has it been a week already?! :-)
I have a few non-political entries waiting to be posted, but this is too good not to share.
A close friend and long-time treppenwitz reader sent me a link yesterday to video clip of an Arab-American woman being interviewed on an Arabic language talk show.
While watching the clip I was simultaneously elated and terrified. Elated because here was an intelligent, articulate woman accusing her own people, IN ARABIC, of things I normally only hear from the right end of my own community. But terrified (for her) because the leaders and communities she is taking to task are not known for taking criticism in stride. If I were her I would install a remote-controlled starter in my car.
Editorial disclosure: The woman admits to not being a practicing Muslim, so it would be a mistake to assume that she is speaking for any portion of that community.
Next, while there are enough Arabic and Hebrew words that sound alike that I can tell that the translation stays basically on topic... I can't vouch for the detailed accuracy of the sub-titles.
Lastly, in her enthusiasm the woman misspeaks herself about certain aspects of Jewish 'innocence' in the current conflict. She states that there has never been a Jew who murdered innocent people to advance an agenda (I'm paraphrasing), and unfortunately though rare, we can no longer say this is true.
Sunday, March 05, 2006
Can you help a brutha out?
I need your help. Yes, I know I've stated several times on this site that I hate when bloggers and journalers busk their audience for free tech tips and various and sundry advice.
But this is totally different. I'm the one who needs the help!
Here's the deal. I love coffee. It's actually way beyond love and deep into the realm of chemical dependence... but we'll leave that aside for the moment.
This ritual has become the axis upon which my world turns.
But each week my world teeters on this axis because of a little thing called Shabbat. I won't go into the excruciating details of why, as an orthodox Jew, I can't brew coffee on Shabbat. If you know, you understand... and if you don't it will take way to much time/effort to explain.
But not to worry... I have questions for those who 'get it', and those who don't.
Up 'til now what I've been doing to get my Shabbat morning
fix cup is to brew a large press-pot full of coffee a few minutes before Shabbat begins, and then pour it into a thermal carafe. This way, come Shabbat morning my lovely wife and I have luke-to-medium warm coffee to enjoy. But while this is infinitely better than instant coffee [~shudder~] taste-wise... it lacks that 'wack me in the head with a cast-iron skillet' quality of a fresh, hot cuppajoe!
So here are my questions (feel free to answer one or both as your knowledge and/or experience allows):
1) What is the very best thermal carafe/thermos-type vessel on the planet? I'm talking about something that will keep liquids piping hot for 15 hours or more. Most of the thermoses and thermal carafes out there are designed to keep stuff really hot for only 3 or 4 hours. I am also not interested in anything with any sort of heating element to keep the coffee hot. Anyone who has ever gone to an all-night diner and been served a cup of
brown battery acidcoffee that has been sitting for hours on the Bunn-0-Matic heating element already understands why this is not an option.
Or failing that...
2) Is there a halachic (Jewish Law) loophole or leniency that will allow me to make fresh coffee on Shabbat that won't violate the prohibitions against 'bishul', 'borer'' etc.? Just to anticipate some of your responses, please don't suggest preparing 'sense' or pre-brewed concentrate in advance as this is actually several orders of magnitude of wretchedness below instant coffee on the taste scale.
Thank you for indulging me this rare request for help. I will try not to make a habit of it (unlike, say, my coffee consumption).
Friday, March 03, 2006
Photo Friday (Vol. LVIII) [stones edition]
One of my regular regular traveling companions, an expat Brit/longtime Israeli, works at Ben Gurion University. He recently volunteered for something called the British War Memorial Project... and because it sounded like a worthwhile endeavor I offered to help him out.
Simply put, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission maintains the cemeteries of British and Commonwealth countries around the world. With the Internet age in full swing, the British War Memorial Project has been launched to digitally photograph the hundreds of thousands of headstones so that they can be researched and viewed on-line by relatives and historians.
There are several such cemeteries in Israel, but since my friend works in Beer Sheva he was assigned to photograph the headstones in a WWI cemetery on the edge of Beer Sheva's old city.
I initially volunteered to help my friend take pictures because it seemed like a vaguely worthwhile undertaking (pun intended), and it would get me out of the office and force me to walk around a bit in the fresh air. Also, my friend is a very pleasant chap, so that was an added attraction.
What I didn't anticipate was the incredible history I would learn as a result of the project. You see, as an Israeli I tend to think of British soldiers in a fairly negative context because of the latter part of the mandate period. But this project has taught me the danger of looking at small sections of history without the benefit of context or background.
WWI had many theaters and many battles... but the battle for Beer Sheva between the British/Commonwealth troops and the Turks should be of particular interest to anyone who counts themself a Zionist.
We tend to think of the Brits only in the context of the later struggle for Israeli statehood. But it is now clear to me that without the efforts of these mostly forgotten young men, buried in a Beer Sheva cemetery so far from their homes ... there very likely would not be a modern state of Israel!
Here is a passage from a book called '800 Horsemen' by Col Stringer upon which I can't improve:
"The key to the battle were the Gaza-Beersheba fortifications. Beersheba, meaning "well of the oath", so named by Abraham in the book of Genesis. The well had provided water not only to Abraham, but to Moses and David. Any army approaching its life-giving wells has to march for days through the waterless desert. All the Turks had to do was hold off an attack for one day and the merciless desert sun would do the rest. Despite constant assaults by the combined forces of the British and Australian armies, the place could not be taken. Then came the fateful day of October 31 1917. The generals were desperate, 50,000 British infantry with tank support had been driven back into the desert. With the sun about to set and with no water for many miles, disaster stared them squarely in the face. The Australian Light Horse Commander Chauvel's orders were to storm Beersheba, it had to be won before nightfall at all costs. The situation was becoming grave as they were in urgent need of 400,000 gallons of water for men and horses.
Chauvel concocted a crazy plan. Why not let his 800 horsemen charge the Turkish artillery? A cavalry charge across 6000 yards of open terrain straight into the face of the massed Turkish guns. It sounded like a recipe for disaster. No wonder the German Officer commanding the Turkish defences described the Aussie Light Horsemen as "madmen!" For a start the Light Horse were not cavalry, they were mounted infantry. They had no swords or lancers but were equipped with rifles and bayonets designed for infantry warfare. But left with virtually no alternative the desperate General gave the order for the last great cavalry charge in history! The 800 young men mounted their magnificent Walers (horses) and lined up to face the Turkish guns, their young faces bronzed and tanned from the desert sun, their emu plumes swaying in the breeze from their famous slouch hats, rifles swung across their backs and bayonets in hand. History was about to be written. These 800 young men were about to open the doorway to the liberation of Jerusalem!
The Light Horsemen charged magnificently across the dusty plains, so fast that the Turkish artillery could not keep pace with them and the "mad" horsemen were able to slip under their guns. As they leapt the trenches laced with machine gun bullets, a magnificent cheer went up from the British ranks, even some of the Turks stood and applauded, such was the magnificence of the feat. Although hopelessly outnumbered and outgunned they charged on. Beersheba - the gateway to Jerusalem, fell that day, not to the Crusaders, not to the British, German or US Armies - but to the Australian Light Horsemen!
Let me quote from the book "True Australian War Tales" by Alec Hepburn. "...the British swept towards Gaza. They stormed the city on 26 March but were thrown back by determined enemy resistance. A second attempt on 17 April also ended in failure. The Turks, with German and Austrians of the crack Asia Corps, stood firm along a fortified line from Gaza on the coast, to Beersheba, near the Judean Hills. The key to victory was Beersheba. Many nations claim to have mounted the last cavalry charge in history, but most of these actions were minor skirmishes of no real significance towards the outcome of the war in which they fought. The Australian Light Horse attack on Beersheba was the last important cavalry charge in history and the last to win a resounding victory that altered the course of a war." (And the course of a nation - Israel).
"The late afternoon sunlight flashing from their bayonets, Australian troopers of the 4th Light Horse Brigade made a proud sight as they spread in a khaki flood over the stony Palestine plain. The thundering hoof beats of their mounts rolled over the arid land ahead like some macabre overture . ... Wearing their distinctive feather-plumed slouch hats at a variety of jaunty angles the troopers seemed nonchalant in the face of death.... Topping the last rise Beersheba suddenly came into sight, the graceful minaret on its Mosque pointing the way to glory, in what was to be the last important cavalry charge in history. Almost as one the big, brown warhorses surged forward in a mad gallop, their hoofs striking thunder from the hard sun-baked earth."
"Then from somewhere within the barbed-wire-encircled town, heavy artillery began firing. The first shells roared overhead, exploding in fiery geysers amid the charging ranks. Yelling men and bellowing horses went down in tangled heaps, their screams filling the choking smoke clouds that swirled everywhere, But not even shrapnel could halt their fierce onslaught. Leaping their mounts over fallen comrades, the horsemen swept towards the Turkish line. Soon the shells were falling harmlessly behind the advancing ranks. With the first gauntlet behind them the Australian horsemen raced into the next. From the flanks Turkish machine-guns took over the defence. Many more men and horses went down, but still they came on. The tough Turkish infantry had been unnerved by the seemingly invincible horde bearing down on them. Wild with fear, for they knew their foe by reputation, the Turks put up a formidable rifle barrage in a frantic effort to stop the mounted madmen. Troopers pitched from the saddle; others had their mounts shot from under them: and yet the suicidal charge swept on. As the Light Horse galloped nearer the excited Turks forgot to lower their sights and found themselves firing high. With bullets now buzzing harmlessly overhead the leading squadrons thundered in line across the last kilometre then jumped their mighty Walers over the trenches."
The rest is history. "Beersheba - well of the oath, was in Australian hands by the time the last rays of fading daylight had gone from the desert sky. This deed would live on as the proudest achievement in the colourful story of the legendary Light Horse, the force that was probably the most uniquely Australian fighting unit ever raised. The Light Horseman was the best mounted soldier in history, finer even than the Cossack or the American Plains Indian."
In fact the British General Allenby rated the Cavalry charge as one of, if not the most magnificent in history. Eight hundred Aussie Light horsemen had achieved what 50,000 British troops with tanks could not do, what even the Crusaders or Napoleon could not do! They had opened the doorway to Jerusalem against seemingly insurmountable odds.
I am in no way attempting to glorify war, it is terrible. But I believe we need "to give honour where honour is due." Many of the Light Horsemen were visibly moved when they realised they had opened the gateway to the Holy Land, a doorway which had been firmly shut for centuries. One writer put it this way "Without the ANZAC involvement the modern state of Israel would not have come into existence!" On December 11th 1917 the Australian Light Horsemen rode triumphantly into Jerusalem, so far from their homes, their emu feathers proudly fluttering in the breeze, to be greeted with a hysterical welcome by Jews and Christians. A far cry from the scenario when Godfrey of Bouillon and his bloodthirsty Crusaders had entered the city in 1099. Centuries of Moslem rule was over. As the triumphant British General Allenby entered the city through the Jaffa gate, his honour guard was made up of slouch hatted Aussies. Opposite him as he stood on the steps of the Citadel of David he was encircled by another honour guard of proud ANZAC Light Horsemen! Their magnificent effort was being honoured by the world!"
The cemetery lies within sight of where the battle took place. It contains about 1200 graves, with most of the deaths having occurred on the last day of October 1917 or the first week of November.
Here is a shot from outside the gates:
This is a typical headstone... typical until one looks at the unit and date and realizes how much is owed to one of the brave men who unknowingly helped set the stage for the birth of my country:
Although seemingly every headstone had a neat cross (or sometimes a more ornate Victoria Cross if the soldier had been awarded that distinction), in one corner of the cemetery was a unique headstone with a star. The few small pebbles on top of the headstone indicated that occasionally someone comes to visit the grave of this Jewish soldier. I added one of my own (although, in truth each soldier in this cemetery deserves to be remembered by the people of Israel).