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Sunday, April 30, 2006

A 'Warm' Tradition

One of the most cherished traditions Zahava and I inherited from my mother's family is a delicious recipe for lightly breaded fried sole flounder fillets.  I'll be happy to share the recipe so long as people don't mind measurements like 'a pinch'... 'a smidgen'... 'a sprinkling'... etc., but be prepared... because the true greatness of this oniony, peppery dish is the fact that it is served cold.

In order to do this recipe justice it needs to be prepared well in advance.  As each batch is passed carefully from the frying pan to the platter and stacked gently between layers of paper towel to absorb the excess oil, the house fills with the intoxicating smell of fried onions and pepper that are part and parcel of the breading.

Once finished, all the fish is placed lovingly in the refrigerator to await the hungry crowd that will hungrily devour every last crumb and stray burnt onion.

This recipe was passed down from my Great Grandma Dora (my mother's paternal grandmother), and my mother has fond memories of frequently enjoying it at her grandma's table as a little girl.   

For years, 'Grandma Dora's fish' was an eagerly anticipated informal weeknight staple at our house.  Forks and knives were the preferred way of eating... but late in the meal fingers often saw action in search of the last stray bits of fish or onion between the oil-stained paper towels.

The funny thing is that as sometimes happens, my parents recently found out something interesting about the recipe from a long-lost relative.

A few years back I went on a genealogy jag and documented many generations of ancestors on both sides of my family.   In the process I also unearthed a bunch of living relatives with whom my mother had lost touch for most of her adult life. 

During a trip down south my parents made arrangements to pop in and say hello to one of these lost relations, and the visit provided a wonderful opportunity for all parties to catch up and share family gossip.  One topic that my mom raised during the visit was our family's reverence for Grandma Dora's cold fish recipe.

This pronouncement was met with utter incomprehension from the relatives my parents were visiting.  My parents went on to describe the recipe with its breading, fried onions and pepper... and suddenly a look of comprehension dawned on the faces of our relatives.  They knew exactly the recipe my parents were talking about... only it was always supposed to be served piping hot directly from the skillet!

It took only a few minutes to sort out how the culinary traditions had parted ways.

It seems that my mother's extended family was fairly large... and as the matriarch, Grandma Dora couldn't host everyone at once.  So, some relatives were routinely invited for leftovers. 

Now, I'm not saying that my mother's part of the family were second-class citizens in the pecking order of familial love or anything (although it certainly would seem that way), but more often than not they were the ones invited over on nights when Grandma Dora was serving left-overs... and quite frequently these leftovers included cold fried fish.

Personally, I can't imagine Grandma Dora's fish served hot.  The very idea offends both my palate and my sense of tradition.  Served cold, it is the perfect informal weeknight summer dish accompanied by fresh corn on the cob (smothered in clarified butter) and washed down with lots of lemonade or iced tea.   Serving it outside on a patio or deck seems to only enhance the enjoyment!

I, for one, am hugely relieved that, for whatever reason, my grandparents were not sufficiently close to Grandma Dora to warrant a dinner invitation on nights when the fish was served hot.  I know it probably sounds selfish to an outsider, but if not for a certain prevailing 'coldness' towards our branch of the family tree, some of my most treasured childhood sensory memories would never have come to be.

Many people read the words 'cold fish' and think of an aloof, unemotional person.  But for me, it will always conjure the very warmest associations of familial tradition and love.

Update (by popular demand):

Grandma Dora’s Fish Recipe (as transcribed by Zahava)

The Onions
Minimum 3 large onions, sliced for frying
Oil for frying (use olive usually)
Salt for frying (makes the onions crisp faster)

Gently heat oil prior to adding onions. Add onions and salt lightly. Add additional salt when “turning” onions to assure they brown evenly. Fry onions until brown and crisp. Remove onions from fry pan and drain on paper towels. Retain the oil — onion flavor in the oil greatly enhances the flavor of the fish!

The Fish
Note: you should assume minimum of a quarter pound of fish per person.

One Kilo flounder fillets (2 lbs +/-) -- if you use frozen fillets, thaw completely before frying
2 or so eggs, gently beaten
Matzo-meal (generous amount — usually start with at least 1.5 cups, though you may need more)
Salt/pepper to taste (we use LOTS of black pepper)

Again, heat oil before adding fish. Oil is hot enough when a drop of water “bounces” in the oil (a tip from Zahava’s Grandmother). Dip each fish fillet in the beaten egg, and then dredge in the seasoned matzo-meal. Fry breaded fillet until edges begin to brown and then turn to cook the other side — generally 3-5 minutes per side. Remove cooked fillet and drain on paper towels.

For best flavor, it is advised to place fish and onions in layers between new sheets of paper towels and refrigerate overnight (or at least 4 hours) -- start with layer of towel, then layer of fish, then layer of onion, then start again with layer of towel. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap.

Recommended side dishes:
  Sliced tomato
  Potato salad
  Antacid (good, but still greasy)  =:-P


Posted by David Bogner on April 30, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (25) | TrackBack

Friday, April 28, 2006

Photo Friday (vol. LXII) [Limoncello edition]

Some of you may recall a Photo Friday from last December where I shared pretty pictures of our lemon tree dripping with ripe lemons... and wrote about my plans to use this home grown fruit to make a batch of Limoncello*. 

Well guess what?  The Limoncello is finally ready!!!

It has been sitting in an out-of-the-way spot on our house slowly getting better and better... until finally it was practically begging to be strained and bottled.

This is what it looked like with all the Limoncello and lemon zest all mixed up together:

I tied a piece of clean cloth over the spigot inside the big holding vat and started pouring it off into whatever containers I had around the house:

Once all the Limoncello was poured out, all that remained was a fragrant pile of lemon zest:

One of my helpers couldn't resist tasting some of the zest and pronounced it delicious.  She packed a bunch of it into a jar in the 'fridge, and I may have to make a batch of chocolate covered [Über-alcoholic] lemon zest next week.  'Waste not want not' I always say...

Anyway... here is the result of many months of patience (less one bottle that was already given as a gift to a close friend for recent assistance above and beyond the call of neighbors).  All that remains for us to do is to buy some pretty bottles and have my talented wife design up some labels:

Oh, and for the uninitiated...one keeps Limoncello in the freezer so it is always ready to be served ice cold.

That's it for today.  Shabbat Shalom.

* Limoncello Recipe courtesy of my blogdaughter (and high school classmate) Weese and her lovely wife.

Posted by David Bogner on April 28, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (14) | TrackBack

Thursday, April 27, 2006

It's nice to be noticed, but...

Any blogger/journaler who tells you that he/she doesn't give a whit (no, that isn't a typo... look it up) about mundane things like traffic, 'hits', links, track-backs, comments and other indicators that their writing has been noticed by the world beyond their computer screens is, in my humble opinion, a big fat liar.

Yeah, most of us are pretty convincing with our straight-faced 'I write only for myself' act... but the real tip-off to this lie is where we do our writing. By choosing to publish our thoughts in the public domain rather than in a private paper & ink journal/diary we are actively hoping that others will take notice of what we write.   To say otherwise is just silly!

It's like people who practice Tai Chi in the local park rather than in their rec room at home.  Sure it's nice to go through the entire form flawlessly nestled in the serene bosom of nature... but I'd bet that for many practitioners there is also a tiny bit if exhibitionism tied up in the choice of practice venue.

So, with that excruciating preamble out of the way, I guess I can move on to what's really on my mind this morning.

Once in a while I unwittingly write a post that makes people laugh or cry... and it garners a flurry of generous links in jblog round-ups and from BOFs (Blogs Of Friends).  I think this happens to most of us at periodic intervals.  Those moments in time where our stats begin jumping and something we created is being talked about by people we respect... that's what sustains us while we churn out the barely readable drivel for the next few weeks.

Then late last year a pivotal event in treppenwitz history occurred. I was approached by the Jerusalem Post asking if they could publish some selected archived treppenwitz posts on their web site.  This was more than a "Hey go read trep's latest post..." from one of my blog-buddies.  I was both please and flattered... and nearly broke my arm rushing to type the oh-so-casual response giving them permission.

Then a few weeks later I noticed that one of my posts had been picked up by Pajamas Media on their 'Best of the Blogs' page... and my last shred of modesty and nonchalance began to fall away. I was officially becoming pretty full of myself!

Then a recent event caused me a couple of sleepless nights, and I decided to write a post called 'Ibrahim's Mirror'.  The resulting avalanche of links and traffic made me realize that perhaps the whole journaling thing wasn't entirely an exercise in self-aggrandizement (thanks for providing the perfect phrase, Elisson), but was instead a handy vehicle for comparing my 'take' on certain feelings and events with those of an extremely diverse group of people. 

Life is sunny and fine when you get noticed and everyone seems to be patting you on the back and agreeing with you.

As if to confirm this, the other day I got an email from one of the editors at Arutz Sheva (Israel National News.com) asking if they could republish 'Ibrahim's Mirror' as an opinion piece on their web site.  I mulled it over for a little while and asked Zahava what she thought.  There seemed to be no downside to saying yes... yet something inside made me hesitate.

For those of you not familiar with Arutz Sheva, it is the political polar opposite of Haaretz.  Its reporting and editorial content is as tailored to the right wing political sensibilities of its readership as Haaretz's is to the lefty leanings of its own audience.

Nothing wrong with that.  Most media outlets are quite open about having a conscious editorial bias agenda orientation these days, so it comes as no surprise that no single news outlet is going to be able to satisfy the needs of a theoretical universal audience. 

Most regular readers have figured out by now that my political views are pretty scattered.  But being nominally a religious settler [Note:  The word 'nominally' is meant to modify only the word 'settler'... not the word 'religious'], my sympathies line up more often closer to Arutz Sheva's political line than that of Haaretz, although neither is anything close to a perfect fit. 

With that in mind, 'Ibrahim's Mirror' wasn't meant to support or promote any particular worldview... but rather was a cheap parlor trick intended to fool people into examining their preconceptions about events and actors in the region.  However, from the comments I received on the post I got the sense that many people (from both side of center) had taken the piece to be simply a confirmation of their current view.

Long story short (yeah, I know... that ship sailed about 10 or 15 minutes ago), I told the editor from Arutz Sheva 'yes', and even did something I almost never do with my posts: I went back and edited a second draft.

The piece ended up being posted around 11:00PM last night (Israel time), and within minutes the email started to arrive.

The tone of anger and the general sense of betrayal present in many of the emails (almost all from abroad) caught me completely off-guard.  One of the kinder, more erudite emails used the word 'puerile' to describe the piece... and - not satisfied at savaging 'Ibrahim's Mirror' - the author even tried to make me feel a bit dense for expressing genuine surprise in yesterday's post at having received all of Passover off from work ("hasn't it sunk in yet that you're in a Jewish state of Jews?")

As a result, I'm starting to rethink a few things:

Is treppenwitz's readership as diverse as I originally thought or is the respectful calm that prevails around here only a result of most of us being clustered close to one side or the other of political center? 

Also, this strong negative reaction has made me wonder if perhaps the wide recognition and attention we bloggers/journalers seem to crave isn't a classic case of 'be careful what you wish for... you just might get it'. 

I'm not exactly sure why this should be... but I have the good fortune to write for an audience whose views tend not to be too extreme.  Perhaps the very reason many of you come here is because there is little of the shouting, name calling or finger pointing that goes on in sites with more extreme (or perhaps simply more clearly defined) points of view.

Whatever the reason, I am starting to have serious second thoughts about how much 'bigger' I want treppenwitz to become... and whether being noticed is always a good thing.


Posted by David Bogner on April 27, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (39) | TrackBack

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

It's the small stuff that reminds me why we're here

Just before my office closed for the Passover break (yes, the entire company closed for the whole holiday!), our departmental secretary came into my office and handed me a memo. 

Now my Hebrew is pretty passable at this point, but we still follow a ritual where my eyes glaze over when confronted with any document containing densely printed Hebrew... and after asking her how important it is that I read every word, she dictates the Cliff Notes© version of whatever's printed on the page.

Obviously this arrangement requires that I have a tremendous amount of trust in this woman or else I'd end up in a 'Colonel Blake - Radar O'Reilly' situation with no idea what I was signing or agreeing to. 

But so far she has been quite helpful and more than willing to screen my memos.   And of course, since her English is almost non-existent there exists a nice symbiosis whereby I get to check her outgoing correspondence to our English-speaking clients.   

I suppose that in the back of her mind is the knowledge that if she ever pulls a fast one on me with a Hebrew memo, the next English document she faxes out may not be um, exactly what she expected. 

I think they called this concept Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) during the cold war.  :-)

Anyway, getting back to the memo...

It turns out that it was an invitation for our daughter Ariella (and of course her parents) to attend a Bar/Bat Mitzvah reception at the company's headquarters next month.  My secretary explained that the company keeps track of when employee's children pass important milestones such as Bar/Bat Mitzvah, graduation, army induction, etc., and arranges parties and gifts to mark these events. 

My head is still spinning from the very idea of it.

Not only do I not have to use up every last vacation day in order to celebrate the Jewish Holidays (something that made taking 'real' family vacations nearly impossible while we lived/worked in the US), but my company actually keeps track of when my children become Bar/Bat Mitzvah and throws receptions in their honor!

My secretary explained that it will be a very nice evening with yummy refreshments, and all the kids will receive gifts in honor of their Bar/Bat Mitzvah.  The crazy part is that she seemed genuinely non-plussed that I found this at all unusual.

Y'know, no matter how many stock options or other real/imaginary perks were thrown at me while I worked in the US... I never once felt that my employers really understood who I was (or cared, for that matter).  Yet here I am, earning a fraction of what I used to make in the states... and I feel like my name is printed in bold letters at the top of the company's annual report.

It really is the small stuff that reminds me why we're here.


Posted by David Bogner on April 26, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (31) | TrackBack

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Fred Basci

Like a post I wrote last year, this is not really my story to tell... but it is a story that, today*, needs to be told:

When our older son Gilad was approaching his 3rd birthday (he's 10 now) he began a one-man harassment campaign to get us to let him have his first pair of 'tzitzi'ot' (a small undershirt-type garment that has ritual fringes attached to it on its four corners) a few weeks early. 

Traditionally in many families where the boys wear this garment, parents wait until the 3rd birthday so that they are sure that the boy is old enough to be both 'potty trained' and able to understand the significance of the blessing he is making over the garment each time he dons it.

Gilad was absolutely relentless with his repeated requests to have his first pair of 'tzitzi'ot', but we still made him wait until he actually turned three.

On the morning of his third birthday I woke him up and pointed to the neat folded pile of his clothes next to his bed and his eyes instantly locked on the crisp white garment folded on top with the knotted strings tied to the corners.  No little boy in the history of the world has ever gone from sleeping to fully dressed so quickly.  As I stood proudly watching him literally leap into his clothing, I was pleased to hear him recite the blessing perfectly.  Clearly he'd been practicing for some time!

As it was a school day and it was my job to bring Ariella to her school and Gilad to his nursery school, we all hurried through breakfast and piled into the car.

The first stop was at Ariella's school which happened to be right next to our synagogue. 

As we pulled into the parking lot I spotted one of the older Hungarian gentleman in our community coming out of the morning service and waved him over to the car.  This man, who we called Fred Basci (The honorific 'basci' is actually pronounced 'batchi' and is the respectful Hungarian term for old man and/or uncle) was a solid, fireplug of a man who was a retired master plumber and had the powerful corded arms and shoulders to show for his years of work.  However, whether from malnutrition as a youth or simple old-world genetics, he stood only a few inches over 5 feet tall.

Adults sometimes found Fred Basci to be prickly... and often even difficult (I'm being kind... I've heard him called a 'tough old bastard' on more than one occasion), but the obvious love and admiration between Fred and our children could not have been stronger if they had been his own flesh and blood.

It was because of this strong bond between Fred Basci and our kids that I waved him over in the parking lot that morning so he could personally wish Gilad a happy birthday and congratulate him on wearing his 'tzitzi'ot' for the first time.

However, when Fred came up to us and I proudly explained to him that Gilad was now three and had made the blessing on his first pair of 'tzitzi'ot' all by himself that morning, I was completely unprepared for this wizened old man's reaction. 

Instead of smiling warmly and giving Gilad a congratulatory kiss on the cheek as I'd expected, his eyes welled up with tears and he turned on his heel and strode quickly away towards the corner of the parking lot where his car was parked.  As I watched him stand there next to his own car with his back to us, it was obvious to me that he was sobbing uncontrollably.

I waited a few minutes until it appeared that Fred Basci had gotten himself somewhat under control and told Gilad to wait while I walked over to see if everything was alright.  When Fred Basci finally turned around he was holding a damp handkerchief in his hand and had only succeeded in spreading the tears around his cherubic face.

I had no idea what to say.  As a rule, men don't deal well with the sight of one another crying... but Fred had earned his reputation as a 'tough old bastad', and I was shocked silent by the unexpected/unexplained outburst of emotion.  I just stood there wondering if perhaps I was shaming him by coming over before he'd had a chance to fully regain his composure.

To my surprise, Fred smiled at me through the last of his tears and waved me closer.  Without any reference to his behavior or his damp face he began by saying the following (you'll have to imagine the thick Hungarian accent... I can't do it justice here):

"I'm going to tell you a story about myself, but the story isn't for you... it's for Gili.  The problem is, Gilad is too young to hear this kind of story right now, but I may not be here to tell him by the time he is old enough.  So, I'm telling you the story and you have to promise that when you think Gilad is ready to hear it you will tell it to him in my name, Okay?"

What could I say? Of course I agreed.

Without making any further attempt to dab at his streaming eyes or mask the husky remains of the tears in his voice, Fred Basci began telling me that he had lost most of his family in Auschwitz and he had emerged from the camp at the end of the war more dead than alive.

Rather than submit to living in a displaced person's camp, Fred set off on foot and began the long walk back to Hungary to see if anyone in his family or community had survived. 

For weeks he walked and slept in forests and inside ruined buildings, but when he got back to Hungary he had the misfortune to be captured by Russian troops who were arresting anyone and everyone who might possibly have been a German in order to exact vengeance for the atrocities the Nazi's had inflicted on their people.

Fred knew only one word in the language of his captors - the Russian word for 'Jew' - and he used it over and over while pointing to himself to try to convince the Russian troops that he was a Jewish victim and not a German collaborator or (G-d  forbid) a Nazi. 

No amount of using the word 'Jew' and pointing to himself had any effect on the Russian soldiers and it soon became clear that Fred and his fellow prisoners (most of whom were in fact collaborators and Nazis) were going to be given a field trial and summarily executed.  So deep was the Russian hatred for the Germans in the wake of countless atrocities that all attempts to explain and plead for mercy fell on deaf ears.

One day when a Russian officer appeared and it seemed that the trials and executions were about to begin, Fred made one last attempt to convince his captors that he was Jewish and not a German war criminal.  The officer overheard him screaming the Russian word for Jew and came over to the caged enclosure where the prisoners were being held.  After determining that Fred didn't know any other Russian, the officer asked through a soldier who spoke some Hungarian why Fred kept screaming the word Jew.

Fred answered that it was because he was a Jew who had been in a concentration camp and that he had been mistakenly arrested while trying to make his way back to his home village in Hungary.

The officer asked him via the interpreter why he should believe him.  He continued by saying that this was a common trick among the Germans to try to avoid the firing squad.

Fred responded by untucking one side of his shirt and pulling out the soiled strings of the 'tzitzi'ot' he wore underneath.

The officer looked at the strings and said,

"So what... how do I know you haven't taken these strings off the body of a dead Jew?  Surely it would have been an easy thing to accomplish with so many of them dead all over Europe.  Tell me, is there some prayer or blessing that one has to say on these strings that would prove to me that you are a Jew?"

Without hesitation Fred recited the Hebrew blessing one says each morning over the 'tzitzi'ot', all the time staring up into the cold eyes of the Russian officer.  As he finished the blessing the officer said something in Russian to the soldier who had been acting as interpreter and the soldier went around to the gate of the enclosure clearly intent on unlocking it.

While Fred watched in disbelief as the gate was being unchained, the Russian officer took advantage of their momentary solitude to whisper to him softly in perfect Yiddish:

"I am also a Jew so I hope you understand why I had to be sure you were who you said you were.  By the time you wake up tomorrow morning the rest of these prisoners will be dead and buried.  It is not a common thing to find a Jew in a position of authority in the Russian army so take my advice... as you make your way to your home village, try to avoid any other Russian troops if you can." 

As Fred Basci finished relating the tale of his narrow escape, his clear blue eyes locked onto mine and he grabbed my upper arm in a vice-like grip, and said,

"When you think Gilad is old enough to hear this story I want you to tell him in my name that these strings we wear are important.  They remind us who we are every single moment that we wear them... and sometimes they remind others who we are too.  Because of these strings I lived instead of being shot.  I was able to marry, raise a family and live to be an old man who gives candy to your beautiful children in shul.  Please tell Gili in my name so that every morning while he is making this blessing, he will never forget how important these strings are to us."

When I got back to the car Gilad asked me if Fred Basci was OK.  I assured him that he was, and told him that Fred had given me a birthday gift for him... a story that in a few years I would share with him. 

And a few years ago I kept my promise to Fred Basci and told Gilad his belated Birthday story.

Note:  Today is Yom HaShoah (Holocaust remembrance day).  At 10:00AM a two minute siren will sound throughout the country and the entire nation will stand in silence thinking about the incomprehensible idea of six million Jews who were murdered only a few years before the establishment of a Jewish state/homeland. 

When the siren sounds I will be thinking about one Jew who survived.

Posted by David Bogner on April 25, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (47) | TrackBack

Monday, April 24, 2006

When moonbats come home to roost

Warning: Irony Alert Level - High

Approximately once a year I find myself having to gently remind the reading public of a few salient facts about myself and this site.  Today seems to be such a day:

Although I was unanimously elected the sole representative of the global religious Jewish community several years ago, and dutifully assumed office the moment I began keeping this journal, I'll be the first to admit that I occasionally lose focus and become a bit of a potty mouth.  It is one of my great failings and I always regret such lapses when they are brought to my attention.

Unfortunately, most people lack the courage of their moral convictions and fear telling the emperor he is wearing no clothes.  Speaking 'truth to power' is, sadly, a challenge to which almost nobody wishes to rise.

It is my good fortune, therefore, that somewhere in the wilds of Marina Del Rey, California lives a selfless woman whose thankless self-appointed job it is to vigilantly monitor my writing output... and when necessary, guide me gently back onto the straight and narrow. 

This must be a tremendous personal burden which, I fear, likely keeps her from enjoying the finer things in life such as direct human contact, periodic interaction with members of the medical community, and the latest advances in the pharmaceutical arts.

Others may look at this woman and see only a housebound agoraphobe with a puritanical streak and a cable modem.  But I see her for what she is; a crusader for truth, justice and the evangelical way... dedicating herself to tirelessly conferring upon countless others a level of exquisite moral purity that she has already carefully distilled in herself.

As the sole representative of religious Jews everywhere, I can't help but be thankful for such a spiritual proctor who frequently demonstrates the moral courage to remind me when the august mantle I wear begins to drag in the mud. 

I'm deeply ashamed to admit that when the mood for sincere introspection is not upon me I occasionally delete her comments.

If only there were some honors or awards I could confer on such a selfless person that would adequately express my gratitude.  But alas she prefers to humbly pursue her chosen quest from behind the anonymous veil of multiple surnames... choosing instead to be known to the world only by the simple moniker; 'Joan'.

Therefore, from this day forward... by the powers invested in me by the those who so long ago crowned me 'Treppenwitz - Protector of Jewish Values and Sole Representative of Religious Jews Worldwide' , I hereby dub thee 'Dame Joan - Mistress of the Most Noble Order of the Common Garden Troll, Protector of Cyber Purity and Defender of the Faith'.

Arise Dame Joan and sally forth on your chosen quest with vigor and strength.


Update:  In reading through the last post I wrote about one of Dame Joan's visits to treppenwitz, I noticed some sage advice offered by doctor Bean that is as relevant now as it was then:

"If you've been more sad than happy for many weeks, or if you see or hear things that other people don't see or hear, or if you believe that public things like the TV or the internet have secret private messages just for you, please see your doctor and report to him these symptoms."


Posted by David Bogner on April 24, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (30) | TrackBack

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Ballad of a former M$ slave

I'm please to report that my transformation from M$ slave to Mac master (the distinction being based purely on my perception of who answered to whom) is now complete.

All of my important files, apps and information now reside on my nice wide-screen PowerBook, and our home is completely WiFi-ed from top to bottom. 

My iTunes library has been transferred to the Mac and all the necessary language stuff has been installed so I can transition effortlessly back and forth between my mother- and adopted-tongue as the mood strikes me.

I've even managed to dodge the M$ monopoly on things like browsing, text editing and spreadsheets by downloading the latest version of Firefox as well as a nice suite of open-source apps called NeoOffice that do everything M$ Office did... without the need to sell off any children to finance the purchase.

As I've been putting the final touches on my computing world I've even found a wonderful Firefox plug-in that allows me to escape the tiny tyranny of the disk-on-key and effortlessly use a gMail account (I splurged and used one of my 100 invitations on myself) as a free on-line storage/back-up facility.  Brilliant!!!

Now if I could only figure out how to play all those .wmv video clips friends are always forwarding to me (they don't work in QuickTime), my life would truly be perfect.

Yes, Bill Gates can now officially kiss my @$$... this former M$ slave no longer answers to the man!


Posted by David Bogner on April 23, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (32) | TrackBack

Friday, April 21, 2006

Long time no... anything!

When I said I was taking 'a few days off for passover' perhaps I should have been more specific.  Unfortunately I didn't have any idea if I'd have the time or inclination to write during my vacation so I left it intentionally vague.  My bad.

I have tons of things to share and lots of pictures for future Photo Fridays... but for today I'll just ease back into things with some short topics that don't really deserve a post of their own (for now, anyway):

1.  Under the general genre of 'too much information' is my sincere desire to reacquaint myself with the wonders of indoor plumbing... or any plumbing for that matter.  When Moses said 'Let my people go' he was being more prophetic than even he knew at the time.  Oy, matzoh!

2.  A petty, self-serving religious request that will be lost on those who don't participate in organized Jewish religious rituals:  Would those of you who insist on squeezing your eyes closed and making pleading/imploring gestures with your upraised hands/fists during prayer please stand in the back of the synagogue where you won't distract the hell out of the rest of us who clearly don't enjoy such a close personal relationship with The Creator?  Much appreciated.

3.  On having bad neighbors:  Longtime readers of this journal will remember that we live in a wonderful neighborhood full of warm, caring neighbors... with one notable exception.  Any hope on our part that time, divine intervention or other influences might result in even a tiny improvement in the status quo have thus far remained, er, unfulfilled.  Yes, that is one of the largest understatements of the new century... and no I can't elaborate.  For now.

4.  The Golan Heights and upper Galilee (where we spent most of our vacation camping, wine tasting and touring) are national treasures.  Anyone who visits or lives in Israel without taking in these breathtaking areas cannot claim to have really 'seen the country'.  There is a world out there beyond Dizengoff, Ben Yehudah and Eilat, people.  Go experience it!

5.  There is a tradition among observant Jews to conduct a ritual counting of the days between Passover and Shavuot.  This counting is done each evening, and if no interim days are missed, is preceded by a blessing.  I have a personal tradition of missing the second or third evening of this counting, therefore denying myself the privilege of including the blessing before the rest of the 47 or 48 days.  Miraculously, I haven't yet missed a night of counting.  Standby for the inevitable report of failure.

6.  More to follow on Sunday, Monday and beyond... but for now I hope that the links in my pre-Passover post provided an opportunity for you to meet some new and interesting people... and the blogrolls on each of their sites even more so.  We tend to fall into ruts in our online reading. Following new links on your regular reads is the virtual equivalent of 'taking the road less traveled'.  We all need to do that much more often than we do... even if it means not coming back to where we started.

Shabbat Shalom and thanks for coming back to visit after having been abandoned for so long.


Posted by David Bogner on April 21, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (23) | TrackBack

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The sweet diversity of the incense...

I feel very lucky that treppenwitz has been blessed with a very diverse group of readersWe don't all agree... and that's as it should beThe hallmark of any healthy group is a certain amount of diversity

When the Temple still stood, the priests were responsible for painstakingly combining an exact measure of a diverse collection of 11 specific substances to create the incense that was burned as part of the daily serviceSome of these substances were sweet and/or aromatic while others were foul smelling or even offensiveHowever, if the priest omitted even one of these substances he was liable for the death penalty!

The idea that a measure of diversity is essential to create a proper whole is a lesson missed by many who want the world to march with them in lockstep

I'm taking a few days off for PassoverBut before I turn off the computer I want to thank all the special people who have made treppenwitz a sweet and fragrant incense of intellectual curiosity and tolerance


Posted by David Bogner on April 11, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (67) | TrackBack

Monday, April 10, 2006

Adventures in authentic seasonal food

~Warning:  Occasionally I write posts that vegetarians - as well as people not fully committed to a carnivorous lifestyle - may find er, repulsive.  This is one of those posts.  Don't say you weren't warned.~

In the weeks leading up to Passover we begin seeing some of our favorite seasonal foods featured on the crisp, paper-lined shelves of our local supermarkets.  Of course Matzoh is the first thing that comes to mind when most of us think about Passover staples... but there are a whole range of seasonal cakes, candies and of course macaroons that only seem to make an appearance at this time of year.

However, the original, and most authentic food for this holiday was of course, the Passover offering; a lamb. 

We read every year about the Passover offering in almost every text related to the holiday, but I don't think we pay much attention to the extremely vivid and detailed descriptions of how it would be carefully selected, prepared and completely consumed by the Jewish pilgrims who would flood into Jerusalem.

Unfortunately, since the destruction of the Temple and the abolishing of the Temple service/sacrifices, we do not eat roasted meat of any kind at the Passover Seder.   This has always been frustrating for me because I've been captivated by the the description of many families banding together to bring an unblemished lamb to be sacrificed in the Temple and then sharing in what amounted to a big all-night Luau

Such mental images make even the most fantastic modern Passover food pale in comparison.

We are told that in Temple times that the reason many families would bring the sacrifice together was because of the requirement to consume the entire lamb at one sitting.  That's a lot of meat!  No leftovers were allowed from this feast, and anything not eaten had to be burned immediately. 

Even the plates on which the Passover lamb had been served had to be broken immediately after the meal!

Every year my carnivorous imagination runs wild picturing the hillsides of Jerusalem dotted with fires as clusters of happy celebrants enthusiastically consumed their freshly roasted lambs and loudly retold the story of the Exodus from Egypt to one another. 

With that image clearly in mind, you can imagine my excitement when I got an urgent phone call yesterday morning from a close friend. 

It seems that a long-time Arab friend of his had called him early in the morning to tell him that he wanted to make a gift of a lamb from his flock.  It was a hugely generous and completely unexpected gesture, and my friend was overwhelmed... not to mention at a loss for what to do.


The reason my friend started making phone calls was not simply to relate his good fortune... but also to ask his friends how the heck he was supposed to deal with such a gift!

In more rural/agrarian cultures, the offer of a prize lamb automatically sets into motion a flurry of well-coordinated activity designed to quickly reduce such a windfall to its most basic components. 

However, we suburban Jews don't exactly have a prepared check-list for how to deal with a sudden offer of a live barnyard animal.  As town-dwellers, we don't give much thought to what happens between the image of a fluffy lamb grazing happily on a grassy hillside... and the baby lamb chops that sit nestled under plastic in the glass butcher case. 

So, my friend started making phone calls... to Rabbis, friends, and anyone else who might be able to offer advice on how best to convert this gifted lamb into something that one might reasonably be expected to find in a Styrofoam tray under cellophane. 

Luckily the actual 'silencing of the lamb' had already been arranged as part of the gift and a well known kosher slaughterer was dispatched to the site to 'wack' several other lambs as well. 

Likewise, as part of the necessary kosher inspection/certification of the carcass, the grisly business of removing the skin and internal organs was already well underway by the time my friend arrived on the scene.

But even after this initial processing was completed there still remained something that looked remarkably like the little lamb it had once been... a reality that most meat-eaters never have to confront.

This is where the rest of the friends (including yours truly) were drafted into service. 

The carcass was quartered by a mutual friend of ours who is as strong as an ox... and the hind quarters were given to a skilled butcher with instructions that he would remove the necessary items to make it kosher* and to give the remaining meat to a needy family.

I was drafted to help with soaking, salting and rinsing the meat from the front quarters in order to make it permissible for kosher consumption.  This is a time-consuming process of first soaking the meat in cool water... then salting it with course salt to draw out any remaining blood... and then rinsing it repeatedly to remove any traces of salt. 

Only then were the various sections of the lamb ready to be carved into the recognizable cuts one would see in the butcher case.  The shoulder roasts and legs were cut up and placed in his freezer for safe-keeping, and the ribs were separated and placed in the refrigerator in anticipation of the evening's festivities.

Around 10:30 last night a bunch of us (including some of my friend's neighbors) took a break from our passover cleaning and converged on his back yard where an intoxicating aroma was being produced by the lamb ribs roasting noisily on the BBQ.

As we stood around in the dark with faces and hands smeared with grease, I couldn't help thinking that this was probably very similar to how things looked in ancient times when the passover offering was passed from hand to hand and shared in big communal feasts under the stars. 

OK, so they didn't have gas grills... but for me, eating this incredible gift into the wee hours of the morning helped move the whole concept of this authentic seasonal food from purely theoretical... into the realm of delicious reality.

Sadly, we don't yet merit to eat the Passover sacrifice in the appointed time and place... but I could really get used to this pre-passover reminder of what it must have been like. 

* A nice collection of information about how kosher meat is processed and prepared (including the special care needed for the hind-quarters) can be found here.


Posted by David Bogner on April 10, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (25) | TrackBack

Sunday, April 09, 2006

OJ on the freeway

Last week I drove a good portion of the way to work with a police car chasing me. 

OK, he wasn't actually chasing me so much as he was following directly behind me for about 20 or 25 minutes.

Anywhere else in the world this wouldn't be worth mentioning, especially since I've written in the past about how my feelings towards the police have changed since moving to Israel.   However,  I may have neglected to mention an important detail that strikes many non-Israelis as odd... and therein lays the reason for today's post: 

Israeli police cars drive with their flashing blue roof lights on all the time! 

I'm told that this is a fairly recent phenomenon (since the second Intifada began), but as a relative newcomer I still get a shock when I look in my rear-view mirror and see those blue lights flashing directly behind me.

The rule of thumb is that you only have to pull over if they also turn on their siren and/or hail you with their loudspeaker ("Hey you in the silver station-wagon... pull over and wait on the side").  But having learned to drive in a country where flashing lights mean PULL OVER IMMEDIATELY AND KEEP YOUR HANDS IN PLAIN SIGHT, each and every time I look up and see those flashing blue lights in my mirror I'm still programmed to obsessively check my speed and silently wonder if I've done anything wrong.

So getting back to my commute with the police car chasing driving behind me...

After about ten minutes I started to have a little fun with the situation.  Having never had the opportunity to drive for any length of time in front of a police car with its flasher on, I began feeling a bit like I was in one of those cop shows you see in the US where some dangerous fugitive is hurtling down a long stretch of highway followed by a bunch of police cars... with their flashers on. 

I could just imagine how I must look from a helicopter's vantage point.


Most of my passengers were asleep during all this, and those that were awake - being used to seeing flashing lights - didn't notice anything out of sorts.  But for the entire time that I drove in silence ahead of that flashing police car I pretended to be a dangerous fugitive running from the law. 

I suppose that the success of James Thurber's famous character lay in his understanding that we each harbor an inner Walter Mitty.

When the police car finally turned off and left me alone on the winding desert highway, I breathed a silent sigh of disappointment.  I'm ashamed to admit that there was a little part of me that got a thrill out of pretending to be an outlaw fleeing from the cops. 

For those of you who are Israeli (or long-time immigrants to Israel), what I've described here has probably left you scratching your collective heads.  But I assure you that for a new immigrant (or anyone reading this outside of Israel), the concept of driving for an extended period of time ahead of a police car with its flashers on is like getting to be 'OJ on the freeway' for a little while...

... albeit without having actually murdered anyone, of course.


Posted by David Bogner on April 9, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (21) | TrackBack

Friday, April 07, 2006

Tough Call

Hmmmm... No Photo Friday yet... I wonder why?

Let's see now, play on the computer........


........... do my fair share of Passover cleaning and stay married?

I know... tough call.


Shabbat Shalom

Posted by David Bogner on April 7, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (20) | TrackBack

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Where are you?

We recently did a family cell phone upgrade at chez treppenwitz. 

By this I mean that when my employer upgraded my cell phone, we decided to buy the same model for Zahava as well (so she could use the hands-free kit in our car). 

While we were negotiating speaking with the cellular provider's representative, we decided to purchase two additional phones... theoretically for Ariella and Gilad to use when they are out on school/ youth group activities or trips.  Of course, since we purchased the phones, the kids have practically slept with them.

Anyhoo... after I'd finally signed the reams of paperwork that this transaction generated, I experienced some serious buyer's remorse and started asking myself what the heck a 10 and 12 year old need with cell phones? 

Oh sure it will make it marginally easier to summon them home when we need them... and it'll allow them to call us (or G-d forbid an ambulance or policeman) in an emergency.  But despite the fact that I threatened them with bodily harm if they ever make any unauthorized calls to friends, I was already envisioning astronomical phone bills at the end of each month.

Amazingly, I'm OK with it now.  Really.

You see, I just visited the web site of our cellular provider and noticed an interesting service called 'Eyfoh Atah?' (translation: 'where are you?'), and suddenly the hidden possibilities of having the kids surgically attached to their cell phones came to light. 

This 'where are you?' service will allow me to send a quick SMS message to either of my progeny...  and immediately get a reply on my phone's screen with their exact physical location as computed by the positioning software in their phones and the cellular network. 

This is huge!  Within moments of 'pinging' either of the kids, I'll actually get a text message back with the nearest address to where they (well actually the phones) are located.  That's right... inside these little electronic money pits I've given my children is roughly the equivalent of the electronic ankle bracelet they lock onto Martha Stewart felons serving house arrest! 


Does the fact that I'm over here doing a little happy dance make me a bad person?!

Of course, for legal reasons the system doesn't allow me to receive the coordinates of my offspring without their consent... so when they receive my coded SMS message they have to approve the track-back.

But I'm not worried about that. 

I figure that since I've already threatening them with serious bodily harm if they make unauthorized calls to their friends... I can also explain the consequences of not approving my occasional attempts to 'ping' them.

At the moment, while they're still pretty young, I don't see myself making much use of this nifty service.  But as they progress further into their stupid years I can see this powerful tool becoming more valuable than the recipe for cold fusion.

Hypothetical future call to one of my kid's cell phones:

[cue inane ring-tone of the moment]

My future teenager:  [shouting over loud club music in background] Hello?

Me: Hi there... Mom and I were just wondering what time you're planning on coming home.

MFT:  Oh hi Abba... um, well I'm at Rachel's house and we have a big test tomorrow so it'll probably be pretty late.

Me:  OK, that's fine... you guys have fun with your studying.  Oh, by the way... when we get finished with this call I'm going to be sending you an SMS... and I hope that when you respond it tells me you're really at Rachel's house.  Love ya... bye.

MFT: [!!!]

Oh yeah... I anticipate that just the threat of this thing is going to keep them on the straight and narrow.  :-)


Posted by David Bogner on April 6, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (41) | TrackBack

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Turn it up...

Looking back at the last couple of posts one could be forgiven for thinking I'm this serious, introspective... even morose kinda guy.  Boy-oh-by would you be wrong with that assessment!  You are simply seeing a lot of the stuff that rattles around my gourd late at night or in the wee hours of the morning. 

Strange stuff wanders, unbidden, off of my fingers and onto the keyboard at that time of day.  But that's not me.  Not really, anyway.

I've been aware of this perception gap for some time and have been trying to jot down ideas for posts during the day when I'm feeling more, er,  bright and chipper.  OK... truth be told, I've studiously ignored most of the things on the 'daytime post list'... but one idea that hit me a couple of weeks ago seemed worth sharing:

I was driving to the airport with my iPod broadcasting to my car stereo when Lynyrd Skynyrd's 'Sweet Home Alabama' came up in the shuffle rotation.  During the first 5 or 6 seconds of the song's signature opening guitar riff the singer commands: "Turn it up!"

And I did.  Way up.

I suddenly realized that since high school, every single time I've heard that command to turn up the volume on this song I have complied.

Every. Single. Time.

And this isn't the only song.  Even though there isn't a specific command to crank the volume knob, there are a few songs in everyone's personal life soundtrack that absolutely, positively, MUST be turned up the moment the opening riff leaves the speakers.

These songs make us happy... bring back a flood of memories... or simply make us do that silly head bob that causes drivers around us to smirk and point.

I haven't spent a lot of time thinking about this but here is my short list of songs that, no matter where I am or what I'm doing, will force me to hang up the phone, stop mid-sentence in any conversation and start playing air-drums, guitar or horn:

1.  Sweet Home Alabama - Lynyrd Skynyrd

2.  Hotel California - Eagles

3.  Joy to the world - Three Dog Night

4.  Late in the evening - Paul Simon

5.  Stairway to heaven - Led Zeppelin

6.  Dream On - Aerosmith

7.  Let it be - Beatles

8.  California Dreamin' - Mamas and the Papas

9.  Free Bird - Lynyrd Skynyrd

10.  Proud Mary - Creedence Clearwater Revival

These aren't my favorite songs... not by a long shot.  In fact most of them are trite, over-played and even a little embarrassing.  But they all share the ability to grab me by the ears, shut my mouth and get me to crank that volume knob waaaay to the right.

Know what I mean?

[Note:  This is not a meme!  If this had been an actual meme you would have been instructed to compile a similar a list, post it on your own blog, and then 'pass the stick' to a pre-determined number of other people.  Once again, this is not a meme.]


Posted by David Bogner on April 4, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (47) | TrackBack

Monday, April 03, 2006

More on perception and prejudice

No, this won't be another surprise ending.  That'd be like when my older kids were little and I would sneak up and scare the bajeezus out of them.  After they'd put their eyeballs back in the sockets and stop crying/hiccuping, they'd squeal "Surprise us again... surprise us agaaaaaain!"  I'd have to patiently explain to them that that sort of thing only works once in a long while... when the person isn't expecting it.

Anyway, my friend Lisa left an interesting comment on yesterday's post that I really didn't do a good job of answering.  She said, "What a pity that we live in a society where it would seem unlikely that Ibrahim's wife was, indeed, your children's piano teacher".

I agree.  In a perfect world, the wife of an Arab gardener could very well be my kid's piano teacher.  But then again, in a perfect world I'd also have a full head of hair.

No seriously, there are real cultural issues to be considered:  Other than the fact that I'm guessing piano ownership amongst Palestinian villager's is probably fairly low... Palestinians traditionally eschew the western octave in favor of the more jarring (to western ears, anyway) Arabic octave that can contain up to 24 tones (more on that here).   You can't play that on a piano.

I have nothing against my kids learning about music from anywhere in the world... but if they are taking piano lessons I want a teacher from the western tradition.

But leaving artistic schools aside, there was something missing from Lisa's comment that it took me hours to pinpoint;  Why wasn't anyone bothered by my stereotypical depiction of an Arab as a laborer/gardener.  Once I had revealed that 'Ibrahim's professional connection to me was a fabrication, why didn't anyone say, "Hey, wait a minute... why didn't you make him your refrigerator repairman or the guy who installed your wireless computer network?"

And you know what?  I know there are refrigerators and computers in many, if not most, Palestinian homes... and they aren't being installed and serviced by guys named Chaim or Moshe.  Clearly there are plenty of skilled technicians and 'professionals' among the Palestinian population... so why are we so comfortable thinking of Arabs who work among us as day laborers, menial tradesman or waiters?

The answer is that the realities of a modern economy dictate that people will gravitate to where there is the greatest need.  Supply and demand. 

There are plenty of Jewish Israelis who can set up a computer network or diagnose a bad compressor.  But there aren't enough Israeli Jews who have any desire to lay bricks, cut grass or do any of a hundred other 'menial' but essential jobs.  This has created a need in these more menial fields.

This isn't just a norm where I live.  My friend Imshin lives in Tel Aviv and had her fabulous new apartment paint job done by a couple of Jewish bosses overseeing a crew of Arab painters.  And there is really nothing wrong with this.

So why am I still feeling uncomfortable about the lack of comment on this aspect of yesterday's post?

There was an episode of 'West Wing' a few years ago when they were hiring the 'Charlie Young' character (a bright young black man) to be the President's personal aide (holding his coat, etc.). There was much hand wringing among the West Wing's liberal Democratic staff about how it would look to have a young black man waiting on the President.  The matter was put to rest when the African American Chairman of the Joint Chiefs gruffly assured those in the room that if they were going to treat Charlie with respect and pay him a fair wage there was nothing wrong with him serving the President.

But for life-long liberals like myself (and I suspect much of the West Wing's viewing audience) the matter wasn't really put to rest.  Not by a long shot.

When we lived in Connecticut and Zahava and I were both working outside the home, we had a Hispanic woman come to our house once a week to help out with the cleaning.  She was a perfectly lovely woman who spoke almost no English, and we both fussed over her and made overtures that we would never have done had she been white.  Although we never discussed it, I think it subconsciously killed us both to have a woman of color doing manual labor for us.

Likewise, when I used to pass through Grand Central Station every day I loved getting my shoes shined at the stands near the platform entrances.  However, I would consciously go to a white shoeshine rather than one of the black or Hispanic ones.  The idea of sitting there for all the rush hour commuters to see with a black man hunched over in front of me polishing my shoes made me want to vomit!

I can't explain it... I was raised with the understanding that there is nothing wrong or dishonorable in a good day's work... but somewhere in there was also a bunch of liberal guilt/baggage about not falling into the role of the white master.

My next door neighbor is in construction and last summer he saw me sweating and swearing over a tree stump that had spent most of a day refusing to be displaced.  He came over mid-afternoon and asked me if he should have one of his Arab workers come over at the end of the day and make short work of it.  He named a fair price to pay the man and told me it would take less than 30 minutes to finish up.  I refused... not because this Arab was going to do in half an hour what I'd failed to do with a pick and shovel in most of a day (OK, there was a little of that)... but because I hated the automatic assumption that an Arab would be ready and willing to do manual labor for me.

Once again I'm expressing myself poorly, but I felt dirty yesterday for manufacturing an Arab gardener for myself... and dirtier still that nobody was particularly bothered by the stereotypical choice of profession for him. 

Sure it would be lovely to live in a world where my kids (or anyone else for that matter) would think nothing of having a Palestinian piano teacher.  But better still to live in a world where it wasn't automatically taken at face value that the garden in front of my house would be tended by an Arab.

Yeah... I have some stuff to work through.


Posted by David Bogner on April 3, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (32) | TrackBack

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Ibrahim's mirror

This is a very troubling post to write, and it will be doubly so if people leave comments based on their prejudices rather than their intellect. 

My intention is to demonstrate an example of how even relatively small disputes here in our region often have many layers of complexity.  Much as we would love them to be... things are rarely black and white.  As you will soon see, there is plenty of blame to go around.

There is a man who does some light yard work for us from time to time who, for the sake of this post, we'll call Ibrahim. 

Ibrahim lives with his wife and children in a neighboring Arab village, and like many people in his village he cultivates a few dunam of table grapes to supplement his meager income.  The land he farms is his by legal purchase and document, but he has had several recent disputes with his Jewish neighbors over where exactly his property ends.

In a recent show of solidarity with Israeli residents in my area, a visiting group of American Jews spent a few days enthusiastically planting trees out on the hills between our town and Ibrahim's.  Whether by accident or design they planted many of the trees on Ibrahim's land. 

It is Ibrahim's opinion that the trees were deliberately planted there to create facts on the ground that would eventually erode his claim to the land.  I've tried to assure him otherwise, but in my heart I'm not so sure.

Ibrahim is not a wealthy man and did not consider for a moment pursuing a solution to the problem through legal channels.  Instead, a few nights ago he went out and hooked his beat up old tractor up to the new trees and one-by-one, pulled them up by the roots.

Whether his action was expected or someone simply overheard the tractor and called the authorities is still not clear.  What is clear is that the police arrived and promptly arrested Ibrahim.  Not only that, they impounded his battered old tractor to boot. 

Ibrahim pleaded with them not to confiscate his tractor as it was essential to his ability to work his land and provide for his family... but the more animated and agitated he became the more adamant (some witnesses even say spiteful) the police commander was in assuring him that he had lost the tractor forever. 

Finally the police called in some IDF soldiers to help subdue Ibrahim and make sure there was no trouble from the large group of men from his village that had gathered on the scene upon hearing the noise and seeing the flashing police lights.

This story is terribly troubling to me from many standpoints. 

First of all, as much as people would like to say otherwise, the land in this area has been extensively surveyed and everyone living here has had ample opportunity to present documentation showing their claim to all parcels of land that are inhabited, cultivated or even idle. 

I'm not talking about the issue of 'occupation' or 'conquered land' at the moment, but simply about land that was legally purchased by, deeded to, or inherited by private individuals.  Of course, landmarks change... surveyors make mistakes... and documents are sometimes forged or altered.  But for the sake of the small picture, the people here know pretty much to the inch who owns what. 

Therefore, if a well-intentioned bunch of foreign Jews head out to plant trees, they almost certainly have a very good idea on whose land they are planting them.  After all... this kind of thing doesn't happen without some local guidance.

Secondly, although the laws in this part of the world may seem rather primitive or arcane to an outside observer, there are laws... and Ibrahim should have known better than to eschew proper channels in order to take the law into his own hands.  By taking the course of action he did it now appears to the courts (real, and of public opinion) that he was doing the land-grabbing and not the Jewish tourists (or the local Israelis who organized the tree-planting outing).

Lastly, with tensions always high in this area I have to question whether the intention of the Israelis who sent the Jewish tourists out to plant trees wasn't to use their combination of enthusiasm and ignorance to shave off a few precious meters of Ibrahim's land, knowing he was too poor to mount a meaningful legal challenge.

I've shared this with you today for several reasons. 

First, no matter who you are or where in the world you are reading this you likely aligned yourself with one side or the other based more on who you wanted to see as right rather than who had the stronger claim to actually being right.

Second, in almost every modern altercation over property in this part of the world, mistakes are made... poor judgment is exercised and blame can easily be assigned in more than one direction.

Lastly, if you honestly disagree with the previous two points I have some news for you:

What I have told you to this point is nearly all true.

The only minor details I have changed (which shouldn't matter to a fair and balanced consideration of this case) are the following:

a) Ibrahim is not my sometime gardener... he is the husband of my children's piano teacher.

b) Rather than being a Palestinian farmer from an Arab village who cultivates a few dunam of table grapes on legally purchased land... he is a Jewish farmer from a legal settlement who cultivates a few dunam of wine grapes on legally purchased land.

c) The contested tree-planting was not performed by a bunch of American Jewish tourists under the guidance of some local Israelis, but rather by a bunch of European tourists at the behest of local Palestinian leaders.

Everything else is exactly as I've described it... legal title to the land where the trees were planted... taking the law into his own hands... the confiscated battered old tractor... the IDF troops called, etc.

Of course you are free to continue reading the news as you always do, and to award the black or white hat to the players based on your current world view.  But I try very hard to read the news as if with a mirror.  Wherever and whenever possible I try to reverse the roles, religions, nationalities and motives of the players involved to see if my sympathies remain as firmly in place.

I am here to tell you that when I have looked at the news using such a mirror, neither Israeli nor Arab comes away wearing pure black or pure white. 

I didn't expect to change anyone's mind here... and this was actually not my intention.  I just want some of my readers to try using what I've come to think of as 'Ibrahim's mirror' for a few days to challenge their own objectivity.


Posted by David Bogner on April 2, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (65) | TrackBack