Wednesday, May 31, 2006
So long Lior... we hardly knew ya
I'm dating myself here, but in order to understand the gist of this post it would be helpful to have seen the 1978 movie Midnight Express. I'll give you a very brief synopsis, but to fully grasp what follows, the film is an important frame of reference.
On one leg (meaning a very short, simple explanation), Midnight Express was based on the true story of a misguided, but likable young American named Billy Hayes who, at the end of a visit to Turkey, decides to tape 2 kilos of hashish to his body and smuggle it out of the country. He's caught at the airport, sentenced to 5 years in an extremely brutal/primitive Turkish prison, and the Turkish authorities decide to make an example of him and extend his sentence. After much brutality, he finally escapes.
That's where the true story and the film part ways... and the division between them becomes deliberately hazy.
Besides being extremely manipulative and xenophobic*, the film deliberately changed certain facts to make sure the audience's sympathies never wavered from the central character and the supporting characters he befriends in the hell-hole of a prison.
From the length of his sentence (the film said it had been extended by 30 years but it was actually significantly less) to the absolute lack of redeeming quality in any Turkish or American legal/judicial or political player, the audience was sent continuous messages throughout the film; 'these are the good guys and those are the bad guys'. White... black.
Maybe it's the cynic in me, but when someone tries to tell me anything in the world is that black and white, I tend to start looking for the missing bucket of gray.
I bring this up today because of a recent news story about a young Israeli who is on the verge of being extradited by US authorities to... yes, you guessed it... Turkey, on drug charges.
All the news reports I've seen on this case seem to be (perhaps unconsciously) spouting the same tropes that made me so uncomfortable with the film:
- The evil, primitive Turks.
- The deliberate miscarriage of justice
- The uncaring government of the accused
- The despair of the accused's parents and friends.
What's noticeably absent from news coverage of this case - as it was missing from the script of the film - is the hard truth about the risky business in which the central character was engaged.
Lior Atuar is a convicted drug dealer. He was convicted in the US for conspiracy to traffic in Ecstasy and served a relatively light sentence of a little more than six years in prison. However, once he was incarcerated in the US, the Turkish government took notice and made an extradition request to the US for whenever he would be released from US custody.
You see, before he went and got caught with about about a gazillion doses of E in the US, he had allegedly been involved with the lower-tech end of the drug trade in a scheme to smuggle an undisclosed quantity of heroin out of Turkey with an associate named Fahri Yasin (who was the one who was actually holding the 'smack' when they were arrested).
I use the term 'allegedly' because; 1) by rights Atuar hasn't been convicted of the heroine smuggling charge; 2) his colleague, Mr. Yasin seems to have fingered him while being aggressively questioned (tortured) by Turkish officials; and 3) Atuar fled Turkey within hours of being accused so a full airing of the charges and any plausible defense have never taken place (other than in the press).
The first and third of these points bother me very little because of his later drug conviction in the US. I'm sure some legal eagles will leave comments telling me that later offenses can't be used as evidence of a previous crime. But I can't get away from the fact that Mr. Atuar was no stranger to the drug trade.
The second point is more serious, and actually rests at the heart of the 'Midnight Express' comparisons in the press. You see, the US is a signatory to international conventions barring torture, and any evidence gathered against a suspect using torture should therefore be excluded from legal proceedings (including the current extradition proceedings).
However, there is a compelling issues that bears examination before we set aside the decision that already seems to have been rendered by the court of public opinion: The accomplice (Yasin) later repeated his accusations against Atuar when not under torture.
Now, don't get me wrong... Is it a family tragedy that a son/brother is likely to be sent to a prison setting far less comfy than the country club where he served his time in the US? Yes, but again... he wasn't arrested while doing charity work in Calcutta and accused of dealing drugs. He was in a US hoosegow for dealing drugs and nobody's heartstrings were pulled. Yet now that he is likely to do some real hard time for the same kind of offense in Turkey, the public outcry to protect this poor boy is enormous.
Is Lior Atuar likely to be singled out for special cruelty (as his lawyer alleges) for being an Israeli/Jew in a Turkish/Muslim prison? I'm not sure, but it isn't an entirely unreasonable assumption. However, Israel and Turkey enjoy pretty warm relations and cooperate on diplomatic, economic and military levels. Israeli tourists, businesspeople, military officers and tourists are a common sight in Turkey... and Turkish reciprocity in all these areas is certainly on the rise. It is also worth noting that in Midnight Express there were several Israeli prisoners portrayed (not coincidentally, also convicted drug dealers), and even back then in the 70s when Israeli/Turkish relations weren't so advanced, they didn't seem to have been singled out for their nationality or religious beliefs.
The drug being smuggled in the movie was hashish, and this was convenient for the screenwriters since to my knowledge deaths from hashish overdoses have to be incredibly rare occurrences. This makes the whole 'victimless crime' angle easy to sell to an already sympathetic audience.
But Atuar was convicted in the US of selling Ecstasy, a drug that has been implicated as at least a contributing factor in many deaths worldwide, and is suspected of long term health risks in those who habitually use it. And heroin... well you don't need me to use pictures and arrows to explain the potential public danger a smuggler/dealer represents.
Many people would argue that the dealers and smugglers aren't responsible for drug-related violence and overdoses. That it is the end user who makes an informed decision to use the drug... or not. We'll leave aside the issue of 'informed decision making' because the number of children using drugs makes that argument a non-starter.
Instead I'd like to approach the concept of 'informed decisionmaking' from another, perhaps unexpected angle:
Don't drug dealers and smugglers also understand the risks of their actions? Just as the user is responsible for where, how and how much of the drugs they use (and any potential health or legal consequences associated therewith)... don't the dealers and smugglers make the same informed decisions?
Personally, I feel bad for most people who pay the price for bad decisions. I feel bad because good people often make bad decisions on the spur of the moment... and the difference between the bulk of the people in jail and a good cross-section of the people who are not in jail basically boils down to who was unlucky (or stupid) enough to get caught.
In the case of Lior Atuar, we're not talking about a guy who had the bad luck to buy a dime bag of weed on the only day of the semester his college dorm was raided by campus security. This is a guy who has gone to considerable time and expense to travel to several foreign countries in order to traffic in dangerous drugs (or at least drugs for which he knew the penalty to be relatively steep).
If the parent of some kid who had OD'ed on heroin or overheated and gone into a coma after taking Ecstasy had confronted Lior Atuar I'm pretty sure he would have told them that he didn't force anyone to take the drugs... it was their decision so the consequences are entirely theirs. I mean, how could a drug dealer/smuggler say otherwise?
Well, I feel bad for Lior Atuar. But if the club kids and junkies are expected to suck it up and take legal and medical responsibility for their decisions... then the same rationale should apply to the dealers and smugglers who supply them.
Tuesday, May 30, 2006
A few (childish) secrets revealed
I am not a gourmet cook by any stretch of the imagination, but I do have a nice repertoire of main dishes, desserts and confections that I make quite well.
Very few of these dishes are old family recipes, and there's really no plausible reason to be secretive about how they are prepared. Yet my Über-patient wife can tell you that I have a childish habit of keeping most of these recipes locked up in a little leather-bound diary... and of not sharing them with anyone!
I can't explain why I started this stupidity. I'm guessing it's because I love when people enjoy the things I prepare, so some subliminal instinct likely kicks in that wants to force them to have to come back to me whenever they wish to taste these culinary treats again.
I'm quite a catch, no?
So, we're all in agreement that I have a problem... and that it would probably be therapeutic to try to work through it.
It would be therapeutic for me to loosen up and realize that people will still want to enjoy things I've prepared even if they could easily prepare them themselves. It would be therapeutic for my wife (she who LOVES to share recipes) since she won't be tempted to chase me around the kitchen with a cast-iron skillet.
But the true beneficiaries of this attempt to become a better person will be you, dear reader. Starting today you will get to see some of the stuff I've had locked away all these years.
So, as the holiday of Shavuot is only a few days away I thought I'd share a couple of recipes that lend themselves nicely to a dairy menu.
The first one is a recipe for ersatz Kahlua® I inherited from a friend back in the early 80's while we were undergraduates at Hebrew University on Mount Scopus. A batch of this stuff costs a tiny fraction of the real stuff... and it tastes exactly the same!
- 4 cups water
- 6 teaspoons instant coffee
- 2 cups white sugar
- ½ cup brown sugar
- 1 ½ cup vodka (use the cheap stuff)
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 1 tablespoon chocolate syrup (optional) *
1. Bring water to a boil and add instant coffee and both white and brown sugar.
2. Immediately after pouring in sugar turn down the heat and simmer for 20 minutes (stirring occasionally)
3. Remove from heat, add vanilla and chocolate (if used) and allow to cool.
4. Once liquid is cool, add vodka
Once all the steps are completed give the whole mess a good stir and immediately pour into empty bottles (using a funnel) and close tightly. The whole process shouldn't take longer than an hour start to finish!
Note: You can safely double this recipe, but I've had bad results when I've tried to triple or quadruple it. Also, if you want to make ersatz Tia Maria® instead of Kahlua®, just use rum instead of vodka. They are otherwise identical recipes.
* If you want to keep your ersatz Kahlua® Parve (meaning non-dairy), make sure to use non-dairy chocolate syrup or leave out this optional ingredient.
I'm glad you asked:
Chocolate [ersatz] Kahlua® Cheesecake
- 8 oz. Chocolate cookie crumbs (I use Oreo® crumbs if I can find them)
- ½ cup melted butter
- 2 envelopes of dessert topping (e.g. Dream Whip®)
- 1 cup milk
- 1 lb. cream cheese (splurge and use the Philly!)
- 2 tablespoons [ersatz] Kahlua®
- ⅔ cup sugar
- 12 oz chocolate chips (melted and cooled)
- 1 cup whipping cream
- One square bittersweet chocolate
- 10" (or two 8") ungreased spring-form pan(s)
1. If chocolate cookies aren't pre-crumbled, crush them into a fine crumbly mess and place in a mixing bowl.
2. Add melted butter to cookie crumbs and mix thoroughly
3. Press buttery crumbs into an even layer on the bottom of the spring-form pan(s)
4. Bake for 7 - 8 minutes @ 350° and then put in refrigerator to chill
5. Process dessert topping with milk until stiff
6. Add cream cheese and mix until smooth (no lumps!)
7. Add [ersatz] Kahlua®, sugar and melted chocolate chips
8. Process until smooth and then pour over chilled cookie crust(s)
9. Lick bowl until face and ears are sufficiently chocolaty and then wash mixing bowl
10. Process whipping cream until stiff (but not too much or you'll end up with butter!!!)
11. Pour over chocolate layer using a spatula.
12. Garnish with shavings of bittersweet chocolate
Note: Refrigerate for minimum of 6 - 8 hours before serving!
Wow, that was a liberating experience! I need to open up like this more often!
Monday, May 29, 2006
Not with a whimper, but a bang
Why is it that small tragedies don't seem to catch our collective attention? Why does it take loud noises and bright flashes of light to make us take notice... or care?
In 1925, T.S. Elliot ended his famous poem 'The Hollow Men' with his memorable prediction about how the world would end:
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.
Personally, I think he was wrong... because if the world were truly to end with a whimper, nobody would notice.
I've always taken Elliot's prediction to be a sarcastic poke at human pride. I mean, how could anything so fantastic as this world we've created end in any manner except with a bang? It's inconceivable that something so great could have a feeble, anti-climactic end.
Same goes for individual ends.
Think about it... people who are shot or blown up catch our attention. Those who's life trajectories place them in front of an onrushing train or a city bus will surely stick in our collective memory.
We learn life's important lessons, and script our morality plays, based on these spectacular 'bangs'. So irresistible are these violent endings that two opposing groups can find enough ammunition in a single splashy tragedy to point fingers and guns at each other for decades... or even centuries.
Clearly the lessons taken from these 'bangs' are open to a bit of creative interpretation.
What I can't figure out is why we have so little regard for the 'whimpers'. Why are there apparently no lessons we can learn from them?
Are we really that callous? Do we really only notice the splashy deaths. Have we gotten so desensitized to tragedy that we need to 'Super Size' our portion of death before we're truly satisfied?
Let me share a recent whimper that garnered the attention and interest of neither the public nor the press (thanks to Avi for mentioning it to me during our morning drive):
A Palestinian girl from Hevron was recently brought to Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital and diagnosed with cancer (I believe Leukemia). After some initial testing it became clear that she was a good candidate for a bone marrow transplant... and that her father was a perfect match as a donor.
So, the procedure was scheduled to take place at Schneider Children's Medical Center in Petach Tikvah.
So far so good, right?
Well, a couple of wrinkles quickly appeared in the plan. First of all, this little girl is not an Israeli citizen and is therefore not covered by the national health plan. By rights she should have been treated in a PA hospital.
What's supposed to happen when a Palestinian ends up in an Israel hospital (such as after a car accident or some other emergent occurrence), is that the care is provided and the bill is then submitted to the PA Ministry of Health for reimbursement.
However, after years of the PA giving the same treatment to these Israeli requests for payment as UN Employees give to NY City Parking tickets, this arrangement fell apart. A more secure payment arrangement was required by the cash-strapped Israeli medical community.
However as this little Palestinian girl was already in an Israeli hospital and suffering from a condition that the Palestinian medical community was not able to adequately treat, a creative solution was sought.
The Schneider Medical Center agreed to absorb a large chunk of operation's cost, as did the Peres Center for Peace. Of the $58,000 price tag, Schneider Hospital and the Peres Center each agreed to pay $24,000, while the PA was asked to kick in only $10,000. Not a bad deal considering how the rising cost of rocket components and guns has the Palestinian Authority in a bit of a financial crunch just lately.
So what happened?
The request for the funds was submitted to Dr. Mahmoud Abbas, the President of the Palestinian Authority. In case you were wondering why he got the bill (seeing as he isn't a medical doctor), Dr. Abbas got the request because all the money and bills seem to come through him these days. That's how things work in a democracy.
Anyway, knock me over with a feather... Abu Mazen (Dr. Abbas' nom de guerre) agreed that the PA would pay its share for the operation and forwarded the bill to his Minister of Health, Dr. Bassim Na'im (who actually is an MD).
Well, it seems Dr. Na'im had a bit of a conflict when presented with the bill. You see, in addition to being a physician ('First do no harm'), he's also a member of Hamas ('First, do no good').
Guess which side won this Faustian tug-o-war? You got it... Dr. Na'im refused to write the check for the PA's share of the bone marrow procedure because, "...it would be seen as cooperating with the Zionist enemy."
This placing of political hatred and religious enmity above human life isn't anything particularly new in this part of the world. We've seen it countless times after natural disasters when Israel's offers of humanitarian aid/support to Muslim countries have been refused out of hand. We've even seen a few cases where the Red Crescent Society (the Arab version of the Red Cross) was completely out of blood, yet refused Israel's offer of desperately needed reserves because the blood had come from Jews.
In this case, the PA's Minister of Health decided that it would be better to see this little girl die than allow contact on any level with the 'Zionist Entity'.
In the end, The Peres Center for Peace ponied up the remaining ten grand and the bone marrow transplant is scheduled to take place in the coming days.
But that isn't the real story... not by a long shot.
The real story is in what a non-story this whole event has been to the press... to the country... and to the world.
One or two non-mainstream media sources (Hatzofe and Arutz 7) mentioned it in passing, but this incredible demonstration of callousness and cruelty on the part of the PA has become so accepted by the world that it wasn't considered even remotely newsworthy.
As an Israeli, and as consumer of news, I'm ashamed. We truly are hollow men.
In addition to a zealous Israeli media, nearly every mainstream news agency in the world has a presence here in Israel. They are here because this is the part of the world where things go 'bang'. Their news cycle has such an insatiable appetite that when nothing has gone bang for a couple of days, they set up their cameras in a likely spot outside a 'refugee camp' and orchestrate some 'made-to-order' bangs.
Yet to these people who drool over even the smallest news story the way a starving man drools over a steak, the willingness of the Palestinian Minister of Health... a Medical Doctor for whom politics should come second (if at all)... to let a little Palestinian girl die rather than cooperate with the Israelis, isn't considered newsworthy.
These news hounds run from place to place breathlessly reporting the bang of rocks on cars... the bang of bullets and artillery shells... the bang of rockets and bombs.
But the whimper of a sick little girl isn't news. It isn't newsworthy to them... because it isn't of interest to us.
I'm no great lover of the Peres Center for Peace. In fact, there are many days where my feelings for these misguided souls are probably not dissimilar to the way Hamas feels about Israel. But I am writing a letter of thanks to them this evening, and enclosing a small donation as well. I am also going to contact the Schneider Medical Center to ask which of their programs is the most under-funded. I can't offer much, but I feel like I should help.
I would encourage anyone who feels the same sense of personal shame that I'm feeling right now to step up and do the same. Can't afford a donation? At least call or write to thank them for doing the right thing.
Perhaps by taking a moment to acknowledge a whimper... we can reclaim a tiny bit of the humanity we've lost by allowing ourselves to indulge this unhealthy fascination with the bangs.
Friday, May 26, 2006
Photo Friday (vol. LXV) [milestones edition]
Don't worry... It's not what you think. You deserve a break from pictures of Roman (or other ancient) ruins for a week or two.
No, this week chez treppenwitz saw another milestone whiz by in the rear-view mirror.
For a change I'll let the pictures do the talking:
Here's a closer look:
Notice the eyes wide open... and the mischievous look that clearly says, "sleep? Surely you jest!. You sent me to BED... not to SLEEP!"
The truth is, Yonah's been lobbying for a few months to change his sleeping arrangements.
This first manifested itself with his wanting to come into bed with us in the morning and grab/hog a pillow for himself. Then he demanded a pillow for his crib (yes, I gave up one of my soft down pillows). And most recently he started refusing to go directly into his crib, and instead would stand in the doorway of his room pointing at our bed while saying "No! I go bed!" After a few minutes in our bed he would call me back and tell me he was ready to go into his own room.
But clearly the idea of sleeping in a real bed had been on his mind for a while.
The best was the first morning he woke up in his new 'big boy' bed and stood on it demanding to be taken out. He didn't fully grasp that the jailer had left the door of his cell open and he was free to go.
Let's just say there has been no further confusion on this last point. ;-)
Thursday, May 25, 2006
A Yom Yerushalayim tradition
It's Yom Yerushalayim... the anniversary of Jerusalem being reunified during the Six Day War.
Every year on this day, no matter where I am, I listen to the recording of the radio broadcast of the recapture of the old city by Motti Gur's Paratroop forces. Yossi Ronen was the news broadcaster reporting the event. Rav Shlomo Goren, who was the Chief Rabbi of the IDF at the time (and also held the rank of General, having served as a soldier in the Haganah - Israel's pre-state army), joined the Paratroopers at the Kotel HaMa'aravi (Western Wall) and led them in prayer. Colonel Motti Gur was the Military commander of the forces that recaptured the old city.
This a wonderful translation that was done by IsraCast*. I strongly recommend that those who understand Hebrew go to their site and click the yellow link in the upper left hand corner and listen to the recording. It might help to read along with the translation as the sound quality is sketchy.
To properly appreciate this you need to imagine being somewhere in Israel at the time listening to this broadcast over your radio at home... or wherever your reserve unit was stationed at that moment. Go get the tissues before you start listening!
Colonel Motta Gur [on loudspeaker]: All company commanders, we’re sitting right now on the ridge and we’re seeing the Old City. Shortly we’re going to go in to the Old City of Jerusalem, that all generations have dreamed about. We will be the first to enter the Old City. Eitan’s tanks will advance on the left and will enter the Lion’s Gate. The final rendezvous will be on the open square above.
[The open square of the Temple Mount.]
[Sound of applause by the soldiers.]
Yossi Ronen: We are now walking on one of the main streets of Jerusalem towards the Old City. The head of the force is about to enter the Old City.
Yossi Ronen: There is still shooting from all directions; we’re advancing towards the entrance of the Old City.
[Sound of gunfire and soldiers’ footsteps.]
[Yelling of commands to soldiers.]
[More soldiers’ footsteps.]
The soldiers are keeping a distance of approximately 5 meters between them. It’s still dangerous to walk around here; there is still sniper shooting here and there.
We’re all told to stop; we’re advancing towards the mountainside; on our left is the Mount of Olives; we’re now in the Old City opposite the Russian church. I’m right now lowering my head; we’re running next to the mountainside. We can see the stone walls. They’re still shooting at us. The Israeli tanks are at the entrance to the Old City, and ahead we go, through the Lion’s Gate. I’m with the first unit to break through into the Old City. There is a Jordanian bus next to me, totally burnt; it is very hot here. We’re about to enter the Old City itself. We’re standing below the Lion’s Gate, the Gate is about to come crashing down, probably because of the previous shelling. Soldiers are taking cover next to the palm trees; I’m also staying close to one of the trees. We’re getting further and further into the City.
Colonel Motta Gur announces on the army wireless: The Temple Mount is in our hands! I repeat, the Temple Mount is in our hands!
All forces, stop firing! This is the David Operations Room. All forces, stop firing! I repeat, all forces, stop firing! Over.
Commander eight-nine here, is this Motta (Gur) talking? Over.
[Inaudible response on the army wireless by Motta Gur.]
Uzi Narkiss: Motta, there isn’t anybody like you. You’re next to the Mosque of Omar.
Yossi Ronen: I’m driving fast through the Lion’s Gate all the way inside the Old City.
Command on the army wireless: Search the area, destroy all pockets of resistance [but don't touch anything in the houses], especially the holy places.
[Lt.- Col. Uzi Eilam blows the Shofar. Soldiers are singing ‘Jerusalem of Gold’.]
Uzi Narkiss: Tell me, where is the Western Wall? How do we get there?
Yossi Ronen: I’m walking right now down the steps towards the Western Wall. I’m not a religious man, I never have been, but this is the Western Wall and I’m touching the stones of the Western Wall.
Soldiers: [reciting the ‘Shehechianu’ blessing]: Baruch ata Hashem, elokeinu melech haolam, she-hechianu ve-kiemanu ve-hegianu la-zman ha-zeh. [Translation: Blessed art Thou L-rd G-d King of the Universe who has sustained us and kept us and has brought us to this day]
Rabbi Shlomo Goren: Baruch ata Hashem, menachem tsion u-voneh Yerushalayim. [Translation: Blessed are thou, who comforts Zion and bulids Jerusalem]
[Soldiers sing ‘Hatikva’ next to the Western Wall.]
Rabbi Goren: We’re now going to recite the prayer for the fallen soldiers of this war against all of the enemies of Israel:
El male rahamim, shohen ba-meromim. Hamtse menuha nahona al kanfei hashina, be-maalot kedoshim, giborim ve-tehorim, kezohar harakiya meirim u-mazhirim. Ve-nishmot halalei tsava hagana le-yisrael, she-naflu be-maaraha zot, neged oievei yisrael, ve-shnaflu al kedushat Hashem ha-am ve-ha’arets, ve-shichrur Beit Hamikdash, Har Habayit, Hakotel ha-ma’aravi veyerushalayim ir ha-elokim. Be-gan eden tehe menuhatam. Lahen ba’al ha-rahamim, yastirem beseter knafav le-olamim. Ve-yitsror be-tsror ha-hayim et nishmatam adoshem hu nahlatam, ve-yanuhu be-shalom al mishkavam [soldiers weeping loud]ve-ya’amdu le-goralam le-kets ha-yamim ve-nomar amen!
[Translation: Merciful G-d in heaven, may the heroes and the pure, be under thy Divine wings, among the holy and the pure who shine bright as the sky, and the souls of soldiers of the Israeli army who fell in this war against the enemies of Israel, who fell for their loyalty to G-d and the land of Israel, who fell for the liberation of the Temple, the Temple Mount, the Western Wall and Jerusalem the city of the Lord. May their place of rest be in paradise. Merciful One, O keep their souls forever alive under Thy protective wings. The Lord being their heritage, may they rest in peace, for they shalt rest and stand up for their allotted portion at the end of the days, and let us say, Amen.]
[Soldiers are weeping. Rabbi Goren sounds the shofar. Sound of gunfire in the background.]
Rabbi Goren: Le-shana HA-ZOT be-Yerushalayim ha-b’nuya, be-yerushalayim ha-atika! [Translation: This year in a rebuilt Jerusalem! In the Jerusalem of old!] *
We should never forget or take for granted the sacrifices that were made so that we could have our city back under Jewish Control after 2000 years! It makes me sad to think about how many people would re-divide Jerusalem again in a second on the off chance that it might buy us a few weeks of a shaky 'truce'.
How soon they forget.
BTW, if you feel like taking a virtual tour of Jerusalem via full screen 360-degree panoramic photos from the comfort of wherever you're sitting... go here and click on some of the incredible views. (thanks Michelle).
* The historic radio broadcast of the liberation of the Temple Mount and the Western Wall was researched, transcribed and translated by Yitschak Horneman / Quality Translations, Jerusalem
© 2004 IsraCast. All rights reserved.
Wednesday, May 24, 2006
A bit of naval [sic] gazing
The announcement of 'MailCall' over the 1MC (ship-wide loudspeaker) system is one of the most wonderful things a sailor can hear during a long stint at sea.
During my years aboard a frigate in the US 3rd and 7th Fleets, I watched longingly as countless helicopters would come and go bringing spare parts, food, people and who-knows-what else... and silently wondered if there was also a mailbag in there somewhere.
Likewise, whenever we would make a port call, there would usually be a few dozen pallets of supplies for the ship waiting on the pier. And as we inched closer to the wooden pilings every topside eye would be scanning to see if some evidence of a mailbag could be seen peeking out from among the boxes and crates.
So coveted was a letter, magazine or package from home that new crewmen were easily tricked into standing out on the fo'csle (the pointy end of the ship) on 'mail-buoy watch'. This tedious detail required that they stand out in (usually) inclement weather with a pair of enormous binoculars looking for a fictitious buoy among the waves and white-caps to which mail bags for the ship had allegedly been fastened. Stern warnings were issued that if the man on watch failed to spot the mail-buoy, we wouldn't be able to turn back and go looking for it... and all the ship's mail would be washed into the ocean!
I know what you're thinking... but no, I never stood a mail-buoy watch.
However, I did once get sent down to sickbay in order to ask an incredulous Senior Chief Hospital Corpsman for two fathoms of fallopian tubing. And I'll readily admit to sending more than a few new recruits to the mess decks for '20 feet of chow line' or to ask one of the ship's burly Boiler Technicians for a badly needed 'BT Punch'.
But I digress.
Where were we? Oh yeah.... 'MailCall'.
The hell of it was that you never new... not for sure anyway... if mail had been brought aboard until an hour or two later when speakers all over the ship would crackle to life with a string of unrelated announcements dealing with ship cleanliness (sweepers) or work parties (muster on the flight deck)... followed by the final terse announcement 'MailCall'.
Instantly all the other announcements would be forgotten and a representative from every division would dash up to the ship's post office to get a small sack-full of letters, periodicals and packages to be distributed to his workmates.
Each division had a set location where its members gathered to intercept the group's stash of mail... and ours was Sonar Control. This dimly lit room full of silent men wearing comically large headphones and unblinkingly watching their displays would suddenly come alive with activity and become both brightly lit and crowded with bodies.
Of course, just because there had been an announcement of 'mailcall' was no guarantee that there was mail for everyone. So the few minutes until the distribution began was always fraught with tension and half-serious jokes about friends and family who must have forgotten about us way out here in the middle of the ocean.
My friends and family were usually pretty good about staying in touch... but one of the things I did early on to ensure I'd always have something waiting for me at every mailcall was to subscribe to a few periodicals. It didn't matter that they would arrive weeks, and sometimes months, out of date. Receiving something... anything from the outside world while floating around the Pacific and Indian oceans was enough to slap a silly smile on any sailor's face.
I subscribed to National Geographic, Biblical Archeology Review and the Jerusalem Post International Edition. The first two usually were put aside under my rack (bed) for later reading... but the Jerusalem Post was immediately taken out on deck to a quiet spot sheltered from the wind... and devoured cover to cover for news of the place I had already decided I was going to live after I got out of the navy.
After the headlines and front page stories, the very next thing to which I would invariably turn was the Dry Bones cartoon.
These pithy cartoons drawn by Yaakov Kirschen allowed me to feel like an insider... like I was in on the latest sarcastic joke about the economic, political or security situation. The news and human interest stories elsewhere in the paper constantly reminded me of how little I really knew about my future home... but this minimalist cartoon somehow made it all make sense.
Dry Bones quietly assured me that all that other stuff was so much chaff... window dressing meant to obscure the small, essential kernel of information that was really important to Israelis at the moment. And Kirschen's creations spoon fed me those kernels of information in such a way as if to say, "See? That wasn't so complicated, was it?"
Each time the announcement for 'Mailcall' rang out, I knew that no matter what else I might or might not receive, I'd have the Jerusalem Post and Dry Bones to give me a conspiratorial wink and make me feel a bit Israeli... if only for a little while.
From that time to this I have been been a fair-weather follower of the Jerusalem Post... but have remained a devoted Dry Bones fan.
So you can you fathom how completely chuffed I was to find a comment from Yaakov (can I call you that? Sir??) on one of my recent posts?
Even though it's not like we've met for coffee or anything, I still feel like I've finally met one of my childhood heroes... and he turned out to be exactly as I imagined!
Pardon me while I go sit down.
Monday, May 22, 2006
I promise not to do this too often...
Have you ever woken up in the morning and spent a few lazy minutes of extra quality time just camped out under the covers... exploring the cool, newly-flipped-other-side of the pillow with your cheek... listening to the silent house around you... and pondering nothing but... being?
I'll take your reverent silence as an affirmative response.
Now, while you're lying there in bed enjoying the quiet nothingness around and within you, do you ever glance lazily at the ceiling and slowly start to take stock of what you have to do over the course of the morning?
Of course you do... no need to answer.
And during this little spell of meditative list-making, has it ever suddenly dawned on you that one of the things on your list needs to have happened, oh, rightthisverysecond!?!
Sound familiar? Anyone???
Well, Yonah seems to have been experiencing the toddler version of this unsettling phenomenon over the past couple of days.
Each of the past few mornings I've heard him start to stir in the nursery (which is right off our bedroom) and make little cooing noises as he talks quietly to himself.
Then they'll be a short bout of grunting followed by a sharp intake of breath caused by the sudden realization that , "OH NO! I WANTED TO DO THAT ON THAT SHINY WHITE THING IN THE OTHER ROOM... DAMMITDAMMITDAMMITDAMMIT!!!" (no he doesn't really say this out loud)... which is followed by a few seconds of whimpering as he desperately tries to reverse the inexorable forces of nature already well underway.
That's right folks, we have started Yonah down the (hopefully) one-way road towards creating a personal interface with the municipal sewer system. Yes, I mean potty training. And unfortunately Zahava and I have been a bit lax (pun intended) and hap-hazard about helping him with this important step.
You see, being our third child it's perfectly understandable that we started him a bit late in the game... on just about everything. By this I mean he's probably been sending us clear signals for months that he's interested in exploring the wonders of indoor plumbing. But as a third child he has to speak up for himself... y'know, send up a flare if he wants something... like food, water or bathroom privileges.
I mean for krissake, even the dog lets us know when she wants to eat or go!
I actually feel kinda bad that we've been so blase about the whole parenting thing with Yonah. I mean, we're not hanging on his every facial expression, wondering what he's thinking... or holding a mirror up to his mouth 5 or 6 times a night to make sure he's still breathing (not that we did that with either of our first two kids, mind you. [ahem]
Oh we've had some lucky moments. On a few occasions we've accidentally caught Yonah at just the right alignment of planets and constellations and he has successfully gotten some or all of his , uh, excrement into the toilet. On each of these occasions we've lavished him with praise and given him big chunks of chocolate (admittedly, in hopes that the caffeine would spur him on to further, um, successes). But most of the time he either isn't sending us the sign or we're just not looking for it.
So getting back to the past few mornings... as he lounges in his early morning fog, cooing and jabbering about who-knows-what, I hear him having one of those moments of sudden clarity where he realizes the train is leaving the station and he's not going to be on it (again!) and I just feel so bad for him.
It isn't clear if the ensuing tears and plaintive wails of "I have pooooooooh" as he points at his sagging caboose, are because he genuinely wants to ride the porcelain horsey... or if he simply wants the praise and chocolate.
Either way, we clearly need to get our collective sh*t together and come up with an organized plan for this kid before he starts first grade... or he's gonna be teased something terrible. I'll keep you posted.
But not too often, I promise.
Sunday, May 21, 2006
In need of an intervention
The withdrawal from Gaza this past year was a calculated gamble. The government gambled that if we would just give the Palestinians a little bit more land... and a few confidence building gestures... they would finally stop trying to kill us and get on with the business of creating their long-awaited state.
Now this morning it seems that due either to luck or divine intervention (you make the call), the government's gamble just barely avoided causing an unspeakable tragedy:
A Kassam rocket crashed through the roof of an Israeli elementary school in Sderot and exploded in the middle of a classroom. The children who had been in this classroom only moments before... and who were scheduled to return in a few moment's time... were in the school's synagogue reciting their morning prayers when the latest olive branch from the Palestinians came drifting down from the heavens.
During the run-up to disengagement from Gaza one of the most frequent arguments I heard from friends who were pro-disengagement was that it was "necessary to remove these few small communities from the midst of a hostile Arab population in order to establish defensible borders and to take Israeli soldiers and civilians out of harms way".
OK, let's review, shall we?:
- Arab population of Gaza more or less hostile since disengagement?
- Newly established border provides more or less protection to Israeli civilians and soldiers?
The crazy thing is that our government's sole strategy to stopping the missiles has been to shell open fields in Gaza each time a rocket is fired... even though the rate of rocket fire has increased - not decreased - since we began doing so.
In addition, the government has declared that the addition of longer range/more accurate Ketyushas to the Kassam barrages is not an escalation on the part of the Palestinians. That's just crazy talk! Of course the introduction of more accurate stuff that falls further into Israel and makes bigger 'booms' is an escalation. You don't need to work in the intelligence field to understand this!
Why is it that the Israeli government, whose strong suit has never been the ability to think strategically (meaning being able to plan more than 15 minutes into the future) ... is completely unaware that it has lost its legendary ability to think tactically (meaning being able to extricate itself from a jam in which most normal countries wouldn't be caught in the first place!)?
Do the missiles actually have to start falling on the Gush Dan (greater Tel Aviv) region or the flight paths to and from Ben Gurion Airport before the government will admit that just maybe... they may have placed a bad bet last summer and given the PA too much credit?
Will this Israeli government's gamble actually have to include the unthinkable 'pay-off' of a schoolyard lawn drafted into emergency service as a makeshift morgue before the country is sufficiently outraged to demand a different strategy to this 'game'? Will the little bodies need to be stacked up like chips on green felt before a sensible Israeli politician realizes the magnitude of the loss???
I'll be the first to admit that I don't have much of a stomach for gambling. In fact my stockbroker politely calls me 'risk averse' when what he's really thinking is 'scaredy-cat'. But I know enough about gambling to know that with the exception of a gambling addict, nobody walks into a casino without a clear sense of how much they can afford to lose before it will be time to get up from the table and walk away.
So let's forget about whether or not the disengagement from Gaza was necessary... there's no turning back the clock. It was a gamble... perhaps a necessary one... but a gamble none-the-less.
However, watching what has happened in the aftermath of disengagement, I've come to the conclusion that my country is being led by a bunch of folks with a serious gambling addiction... a bunch of very sick men and women who honestly don't know how to scoop up what (if anything) they have left in front of them and get up from the table.
Friday, May 19, 2006
Photo Friday (vol. LXIV) [Mikveh edition]
Today the big kids and I went for a short tiyul (hike) just over the far side of the hill opposite our house. Our destination was an ancient road called Derech Avot (Patriarch's Way), so named because it is thought by many to be the path that Avraham took while bringing his son Isaac to be sacrificed.
Even if it was not the exact route taken by the Biblical Patriarchs, it was certainly a very ancient road that was heavily used during Temple times to approach Jerusalem from the south (meaning from the direction of Beer Sheva and Hevron).
There are a few reason we know this.
First and foremost we know it is an ancient road because there are Roman milestones (the markers set up by the Roman Legion to mark the miles between major cities). They can be found all over Israel, but this one marks the spot on the road 12 miles from Jerusalem:
BTW, I only know it is the stone marking 12 miles from Jerusalem because right next to it is this marker put up by the Dept of Antiquities (translation milestone 12):
Anyway, after we'd taken a couple of pics of the kids (happy now Val???) next to the milestone we went up the road to see proof that this was the road Jewish Pilgrims traveled from the south in order to reach Jerusalem for the three major Festivals (Passover, Shavuot, Sukkot). The proof was in the form of two large Mikvehs (ritual baths) sitting off to the side of the road.
[Very] Loosely translated, the sign below says that this mikveh is from the second Temple period and sits along the main route from Hevron to Jerusalem with no paths leading to any nearby town. It makes note of the large wall between the two sides of the mikveh and points out this was certainly built here for use by pilgrims going up to Jerusalem (feel free to provide an exact translation if you have a moment).
For those not clear on this concept, before one could go into the Temple grounds or eat any part of a sacrificed animal (such as the Passover offering), you needed to be in a state of ritual purity. Therefore EVERYBODY heading for Jerusalem would either have to visit a mikveh just outside of the Jerusalem, or take their chances on using one once they got there. This location just south of Jerusalem was likely a very popular spot.
The two mikvehs were discovered by a farmer plowing his field about 10 or 15 years ago and were excavated by the Department of Antiquities. They are right next to each other and each has a double entrance and a dividing wall down the center inside the cave (I think this is what the sign is referring to). This allowed the tameh (impure) to enter on one side... immerse themselves in the water inside... and emerge up the stairs and out the other side as tahor (pure).
Here are the two (in and out) doors to the first mikveh One would go down the stairs on one side... dunk in the mikveh... and come out the other side. Can't you just picture the pilgrims lining up?:
Here is what this one looks like inside. You can see the actual bath is partially filled with rubble but it still has water in it. Also, the dividing wall inside the cave is mostly gone but you can see where it once stood so you would have to go into the water before emerging out the other side:
Only a few feet away was the second mikveh's double entrance:
Inside this one was a massive central column carved from the stone:
It's hard to see from the outside, but one of the two entrances (on the right) to the second mikveh was partially sealed up. This picture from inside makes it easier to see:
On the way out of the mikvehs we ran into a van full of American tourists who were coming to see the mikvehs. I introduced myself and it turned out they were a group of 10 legislators from the Great State of Georgia on a tour of the holy land. I shook hands all around and even got a business card from Emanuel Jones, A very nice State Senator from District 10.
Once we were back on the ancient road the kids started talking about the milestone we had seen and asked a pretty obvious question: "If we go a mile up that way (towards Jerusalem) will there be another Roman milestone?"
So that's about it for today. It was really fun to walk on a road that had felt the tread of thousands of Jewish pilgrims and Roman soldiers... and to step inside two mikvehs that had been used by thousands of people on their way to celebrate in the Temple in Jerusalem.
And to think... all of it is walking distance from our back door.
Thursday, May 18, 2006
Master plan or free will?
One of the interesting sub-themes raised by a few people in yesterday's comment thread was the issue of whether life and death were part of some master plan (meaning controlled by a Higher Power), or simply random events (meaning controlled by human free will).
It's funny that in the midst of this discussion (but unrelated to it), I received an email from a friend inviting me to participate in a discussion of the actions - perhaps more correctly 'inaction' - of an English soldier in WWI; Private Henry Tandey. In light of the [perhaps] coincidental timing of the email, I've decided to invite you all to the discussion:
For most of you the name Henry Tandey won't ring a bell, so allow me to provide some background information:
According to records from his Regiment (The Green Howards), Private Tandey spent the 28th of September, 1918 helping to capture a French village called Marcoing from the German forces holding it. During the fighting for the village and its crossing...
"His platoon was held up by machine-gun fire. He at once crawled forward, located the machine gun with a Lewis gun team and knocked it out. On arrival at the crossings he restored the plank bridge under a hail of bullets, thus enabling the first crossing to be made at this vital spot. Later in the evening, during an attack, he, with eight comrades was surrounded by an overwhelming number of Germans and, though the position was apparently hopeless, he led a bayonet charge through them, fighting so fiercely that thirty seven of the enemy were driven into the hands of the remainder of his company. Although twice wounded, he refused to leave until the fight was won."
For these actions he was awarded the Victoria Cross, 'the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces'.
However, during that same campaign (some historians argue whether it was that day at Marcoing or a few days earlier at another battle site called 'Menin Cross Roads'), Private Tandey encountered a wounded German Lance Corporal... raised and aimed his rifle... and in a moment of mercy decided not to fire. The German soldier nodded his thanks and the two men rejoined their units.
One of the most common questions asked to teenagers in youth groups (especially Jewish ones) intended to spark moral/ethical discussions is whether, given the opportunity to travel back in time, they would go back and kill Adolph Hitler (his name should be obliterated). This question never fails to trigger (pun intended) lively discussions about free choice, the dangers of toying with history and even whether we have the ability to wrest control of G-d's intended plans away from Him.
However, for Private Tandey the question was not some academic discussion point intended to make suburban teenagers calibrate their moral compasses. As he had admittedly done on several previous occasions, he opted not to kill a lighly wounded soldier... a man who turned out to be a Bavarian Lance Corporal named Adolph Hitler.
After WWI a famous photograph depicting British soldiers of the Green Howards regiment bringing wounded soldiers to a first aid station was turned into an even more famous painting. The setting for the photo/painting is somewhat under dispute as it could have been either of the two battle-sites mentioned above. However, this question of location is only somewhat important to the story since both Tandey and Hitler were certainly present at 'Menin Cross Roads' and almost surely also at Marcoing.
In the early '30s, Hitler heard about the famous painting that was now hanging in the Officer's mess of the Green Howards Regiment and requested it for the conference room in his newly built mountain retreat. The reason he wanted the painting is that in the photo from which the painting had been rendered, Hitler clearly recognized the British soldier who had spared his life.
The regiment sent him the painting with very polite greetings.
When Neville Chamberlain came to visit Hitler in the days leading up to WWII, Hitler pointed out the soldier in the painting to him... told him how that soldier had spared his life... and asked that Chamberlain convey his good wishes to the man (which according to several historical accounts - including Tendey's family - he promptly did) upon returning to England.
I've shared this story with you today because whether this event took place at 'Menin Cross Roads' or Marcoing, both Tandey and Hitler were quite certain that it had happened.
For Hitler it was one of many near-death experiences in which he perceived that G-d had interceded on his behalf (as with later assassination attempts), indicating that he was destined to do great things.
For Tandey, he had to live the rest of his life (he died in 1977) knowing that but for a moment of mercy... the smallest squeeze of a trigger... tens of millions of lives might have been spared.
As if I didn't have enough to keep me awake at night, I now have an opportunity to ponder this continuation of yesterday's discussion of whether the events in our world are entirely a result of free will or if they are, in fact, part of G-d's master plan?
And of course, how do we live with the possibility that whatever we decide might be 100% wrong?
Wednesday, May 17, 2006
I say 'end notes' because they weren't posts per se, but rather brief updates left by a friend of the blogger... short Post-Its® written in rapid succession, with the final note - consisting of only 29 words - simultaneously lifting this blogger's veil of anonymity and placing the shrouds upon her newly still form:
"My phone just rang. It was cancerbaby's husband. "I guess you know why I'm calling," he said.
She died this morning.
She was thirty-three.
Her name was Jessica."
I had not even known this woman existed until she was gone, but while reading through her archives in the wee hours of a sleepless morning I was moved by the outpouring of prayers and support she had received throughout her well-documented battle with cancer... and by the outpouring of grief expressed by her readers when the battle was ultimately lost.
I'm a big believer in the power of communal prayer. I saw with my own eyes how a neighbor's son - a young IDF officer who the doctors had given zero chance of surviving his battle wounds - was brought back to a full rich life by the power of people's prayers.
So you can understand how I began to take for granted that if only enough people would get together and say 'pretty please with sugar on top', G-d would have no choice but to answer prayers offered by such a determined mob.
What I failed to realize is the old truth that although He always answers our prayers... sometimes the answer is 'no'.
While reading through the comments on that final entry, I was moved by a poem that one of cancerbaby's readers had left. I found out later that it was was written by an Anglican Bishop who lived and died a century ago... something that should have instantly made it of no interest to an Orthodox Jew living in Israel. Yet for the past few nights while I've played hide-and-go-seek with the sandman, I've repeatedly been drawn back to that poem in cancerbaby's comments.
I finally did a search and found out a bit about the poet... and located the text of his beautiful, non-sectarian take on death:
WHAT IS DYING?
I am standing on the sea shore.
A ship at my side spreads her white
sails to the morning breeze and starts
for the blue ocean. She is an object
of beauty and I stand
and watch her until at last she
fades on the horizon.
Then someone at my side says
"There she has gone" -
Gone from my sight - that is all.
She is just as large in the mast,
hull and spars as she was
when she left my side. The
diminished size and total loss
of sight is in me and not in her,
and just at that moment when
someone by my side says
"She's gone" others on a distant
shore take up
the glad shout -
"There she comes!"
Bishop of the Philippines
1862 - 1929
While this is a beautiful and moving poem... it is the small phrase 'gone where' that kept drawing me back. My religion has countless volumes written on how to conduct oneself in this life, but is strangely laconic (one might even say intentionally vague) on the specifics of what happens... next.
'Gone where?', indeed.
Tuesday, May 16, 2006
Photo, um, Tuesday [Lag B'Omer Edition]
Sunset last night marked the beginning of the 33rd day in the counting of the Omer... otherwise known as 'Lag B'Omer'.
Anyone interested in the background of this quasi-holiday can follow the link above. But for the purposes of this post all you need to understand is that as the sun came up this morning (yes, please kill me now because I was awake to see it rise) the entire country smelled like a big smokey 'Medurah' (bonfire).
I would love to see an aerial photo of the country taken at night on Lag B'Omer. Talk about a thousand (more like hundreds of thousands, actually) points of light!
As in past years, the families on our street got together for a nice neighborhood potluck medurah/sing-a-long. Most of the neighborhood kids went to their own fires around town (either with friends or under the auspices of one of the youth groups), and the rest stayed closer to home.
Some people sat nearby and sang around small family bonfires...
While others combined forces for more substantial neighborhood gatherings:
In addition to the traditional potatoes and onions that were roasted right in the fire... we also had a couple of grills working full time on hot dogs, hamburgers and wings... complimented by tables filled with salads of every description, fresh pita and lots of cold drinks and local wine.
Speaking of tables... one logistical problem that presented itself early in the evening was that we needed two tables for setting out the food, but we only had one. In a classic example of Israeli ingenuity and improvisation, some of the wood that had been earmarked for immolation was diverted to create a very serviceable table (and yes... once the food was finished the 'table' went up in smoke):
One thing I've noticed since moving here is that Israelis seem to be among the least self-conscious people on the planet when it comes to singing around a fire. Little things like not knowing the words or not being able to carry a tune never stopped an Israeli from joining in with gusto and belting out everything from classic folk-songs from pioneering days... to modern pop favorites.
That kind of enthusiasm is simply infectious... and it's nearly impossible not to join in.
There is an innocence about such a gathering that neither words not pictures can accurately convey. You simply have to be there.
So please consider this your open invitation to join us next year.
Oh... one more important thing: If you'd like to celebrate Lag B'Omer by listening to two of my favorite blogging personalities singing what is destined to become a blogosphere classic... go here or here. Funny stuff.
Monday, May 15, 2006
There's a lesson in there somewhere
While not a meme per se... today's post is meant as a response to [am I really doing this???] Dov Bear's request in this post. Specifically, it is meant to relate to #25 (and in an ironic way to #19).
A friend and neighbor of mine who is a shochet (a specially trained person who slaughters kosher animals) told me the following story. I have no idea if these events actually happened... but this is one of those stories that if it isn't true, is really should be:
A group of about 50 ultra-religious shochdim (the plural of shochet) from all over the world were flown to Argentina to spend a couple of weeks slaughtering a large order of animals which were to be put into frozen storage for use by the community over the course of several months.
They arrived, checked into their hotel, and each day of their stay they followed the same itinerary:
- Left their hotel early in the morning to take chartered buses to the slaughterhouse.
- Spent the day slaughtering and checking the animals and placing the kosher meat into a locked freezer storage unit.
- Took the chartered buses back to the hotel in the evening.
The last day of their work followed the same itinerary except that instead of returning to the hotel for the night, the chartered buses were only scheduled to stop at the hotel to pick up their luggage and then take them to the airport for their flights back to their various countries.
When the men were passing the gates to the slaughterhouse for the last time the security guard refused to let them board their buses, insisting that someone was missing. A quick count revealed that one of them was, in fact, unaccounted for.
A search of the slaughterhouse turned up no sign of the man and the group's leader was about to call the police when someone suggested they look in the locked freezer unit where all of the kosher meat they had slaughtered had been put.
Sure enough, the missing man was found there... extremely cold, but otherwise unhurt. However, if he had been left in there until the first shipment of meat was scheduled to be picked up, he would certainly have been long dead.
When the group's leader asked the security guard how he had realized that someone was missing, since with their long beards and almost identical clothes they probably looked alike to the non-Jew, the guard answered "the missing man was the only one of your group who ever said 'hello' and 'good-bye' to me".
I'm pretty sure there's a lesson in there somewhere.
Sunday, May 14, 2006
Two ways to completely charm me
1. If you're a restaurant:
When I walk into your establishment for the first time to place a take-out order, greet me warmly... walk me through your beautiful menu... offer me a comfortable seat while I wait for my order... bring me a free glass of fresh orange juice to drink for no apparent reason... comp me a free order of mushu chicken because I "had only ordered side dishes and sushi, and you should really taste how good the main courses are if this is your first time"... bring me my (what turned out to be delicious) order in record time, beautifully packaged with utensils/chopsticks, napkins and condiments ... smile and wish me 'shavuah tov' (good week) on my way out the door.
Thank you 'Yoja' (on Emek Repha'im street in the German Colony) for charming me with thoughtful service... and great food.
2. If you're my two-and-a-half-year-old son:
Stand on a wobbly step-stool with your little tushy peeking out from under your shirt tail and pee into the toilet... and all over your mother who was kneeling next to you to keep you from falling.
OK, the peeing into the toilet like a big boy for the first time was the part that charmed me. The part where you peed all over your mom was just laugh-out-loud funny (sorry sweetie, you'd have laughed if the roles were reversed... admit it).
Thank you Yonah for charming me... for making me proud... and for giving me a hilarious memory I'll treasure for the rest of my life.
Friday, May 12, 2006
OK, not really... but there won't be a Photo Friday today just the same.
I had a full day of messing around with my bees... building new hive boxes and frames and installing the honey supers to gather the summer nectar which my little buzzing friends will turn into yummy honey.
When I was done with that I had to go into Jerusalem and pick up Chayyei Sarah who is joining us for Shabbat.
The net result of all this busy-ness is that you guys get the short end of the stick.
Sorry... maybe I'll post some pictures during the week to make it up to you.
Thursday, May 11, 2006
Another assumption laid to rest
There's a strongly held belief among many parents that children... especially pre-teens... are incapable of planning and executing complex tasks.
We tell each other over coffee that the personal tools required to sustain endeavors involving multiple participants, external supply lines, logistical support, warehousing capabilities and a host of other long-range multi-tasking skills, are simply beyond the scope of the average pre-teen.
This isn't some unfair assumption... we have empirical data to support our claims.
Earnest promises to clean rooms and pick up dirty laundry made just before dinner are long forgotten by the end of the meal. Expeditions to procure staples such as milk and butter from the corner store are inexplicably diverted to friend's houses and basketball courts.
In short, we understand the demographic of which we speak.
However, in light of recent events, I feel that perhaps this hypothesis of pre-teen ineptitude and goldfish-like recall may have to be reconsidered.
All over Israel, for the past few weeks, well-organized groups of pre-teens have been planning and executing the local equivalent of the Manhattan Project... gathering (and in some cases stealing) and aggregating any combustible material within a 5 kilometer radius of their homes in preparation for the traditional L'ag B'Omer bonfires.
The advanced planning, organizational skills and long-range logistical coordination required to select a suitable site, organize and dispatch workers on daily foraging missions, assign a schedule of guards to safeguard the growing stockpile of wood, purchase foodstuffs and other consumables, and actually bring it all together weeks in the future, is simply a staggering accomplishment for a demographic that has consistently failed to put away clean folded clothes stacked inches from where they sleep!
Yet every day for the past two weeks as I leave Efrat in the morning... and when I return in the evening... everywhere I look I see evidence of these complex projects under way and approaching fruition.
Every empty lot has a growing pile of wood under careful guard. Every street has dozens of youthful workers dragging and carrying fuel towards designated gathering points... and construction sites around town have been picked clean (translation: robbed) of any unsecured lumber and signage.
In the face of such overwhelming evidence I suppose we grown-ups may have to rethink our assumptions about our children's actual ability to multi-task and maintain focus.
Or perhaps - as a friend suggests - it is simply the primal allure of standing around in tribal groups and burning stuff that has kept these easily distracted youngsters focused.
Hmmmm. We may be onto something here. Maybe if I threaten to set fire to their rooms...
Wednesday, May 10, 2006
Waking up giggling... and thinking.
I haven't been sleeping well lately.
The cause is nothing I can talk about here... but suffice it to say that my usual ability to fall asleep instantly, and sleep dreamlessly until someone (or something) wakes me up, has gone on vacation for the time being.
This has resulted in a few pre-dawn hours every day spent sifting through my jumbled mental filing cabinet in search of life's great lessons.
What follows is a random memory that had me giggling... and thinking at 5:00 AM this morning:
Back in my days as a professional trombonist, I played at most of the hotels and wedding halls around the Metro NY area. One of these places was a former Brooklyn movie theater that had been converted into a budget-level catering facility.
The only reason I knew this place had once been a movie house is that my grandmother had taken me there a couple of times as a kid. A strange thing about this place in its present incarnation as a catering hall is that whenever the main room was filled to (or beyond) capacity with guests, the band would have to play from a balcony in a small upstairs room that had once been the projectionist's booth.
Anyway, one of the perks of playing down on the main floor was having ready access to one of the funniest bartenders in NY City. Not only would he keep the band topped up with tasty beverages... but he always had a fresh supply of great (if somewhat irreverent) jokes.
One evening while playing a gig there with the band situated right next to the bar... this bartender leaned over and asked if I wanted another drink. I gratefully accepted but watched as he came up empty after reaching under the bar for a clean glass. Without missing a beat he flagged down a passing waiter with a loud, "Hey communist... do me a favor and bring out a couple of trays of clean glasses from the kitchen."
[Back-story note: For this tactless remark to make sense to the reader, it is important to mention at this point in the story that almost the entire waitstaff in this hall were Russian Immigrants, most of whom still had very thick accents.]
This 18 or 19 year old Russian immigrant responded indignantly in clear but heavily accented English, "I'll get you your glasses but I'm not a communist!"
Without missing a beat the bartender said, "Oh yeah?... That's what you tell people, but I have a little test that will prove you're a communist; Say 'Moose and Squirrel'."
A puzzled look crossed the waiter's face but he complied with a thickly accented "Mooose ent Skvirrel".
With a triumphant look on his face the bartender shouted, "There! I knew you were a communist!"
The waiter, who had obviously never heard of (or watched) 'The Rocky and Bulwinkle Show'... with its cold war caricature villains Boris and Natasha... wandered away to get the requested glasses with a profoundly confused expression on his face.
After he'd returned with the glasses, the bartender and I (still wiping tears of laughter from our eyes) explained to him how these Russian cartoon characters had been a staple of a generation of Cold War-era American kids. We explained that it was one of many ways in which the American media had quietly conspired to remind the American public who the enemy was. Of course after the collapse of the former Soviet Union such blatant jingoistic stereotyping became an anachronism overnight which, we explained, was sort of the point of the joke.
The next time I played at that hall this waiter came over and told me that he'd started watching the Rocky and Bulwinkle Show on the Cartoon Network. He said he found parts of it funny but wanted to know if the Boris and Natasha characters had really made my generation of American kids see all Russians as villains (I think he actually used the term 'bad guys').
I told him that on some level I sometimes subconsciously connected Russian accents with the 'bad guys' as a result of the show... but that I hoped that such simplistic cartoon images didn't have any relation to how I perceived individual Russians as an adult.
He seemed to accept this and over the next few years, whenever I played at this hall he usually came over to tell me how he was doing with his studies at Brooklyn College... and to crack me up with an exaggeratedly accented rendition of 'Moose ent Skvirrel'.
The funny part is that now that I'm the new immigrant with the funny accent... this is the tape my sleep-deprived brain has decided to drag out of cold storage in the wee hours of the morning.
It just goes to show you that the subconscious is always good for a giggle... and sometimes a sensitivity lesson.
Tuesday, May 09, 2006
A post with [very] limited appeal
I apologize in advance for today's bout of navel-gazing. I'll be the first to admit that the only thing more painful than a Broadway musical about some behind-the-scenes aspect of putting on a Broadway musical is a writer continually droning on about various pitfalls of the writing process.
This tendency of some writers to go on about stuff that really doesn't effect or interest the reader is probably the single biggest reason I rarely read the Daily Bleat anymore.
Don't get me wrong... I Looooove the way James Lileks writes and consider him to be one of the sharpest, most talented people writing on-line today. But he spends so much of each 'Bleat' providing a litany of childcare and professional responsibilities that regularly conspire to keep him from his blog that I honestly feel guilty for taking up so much of his precious time.
So with that said, I am now going to introduce a topic that will be of absolutely no interest to anyone who isn't...
a) ... living with me (and therefore somewhat invested in my ongoing happiness).
b) ... the proprietor of a blog/journal of their own.
Yesterday a treppenwitz reader was kind enough to forwarded an article to me about blog plagiarism. While this isn't something with which I've had a huge problem in the past, every month or two I avail myself of a service called Copyscape to do a quick scan of the web to make sure my 'stuff' isn't out there under someone else's by-line.
On three or four occasions I've found most or all of a treppenwitz post on someone else's site without proper attribution. In most cases the offending party simply liked what I had written and wanted to share it with his/her readers. They weren't trying to pass my stuff off as their own... they simply didn't have a clue about the need to provide internal documentation and/or attribution when one 'borrows' material created by someone else.
However, on the last couple of Copyscape searches I've conducted I've noticed a new phenomenon with 'aggregators', and I'm honestly not sure whether I should be bothered by it or not.
Simply put, aggregators are sites that collect feeds from various blogs. This can be something like 'Bloglines' which allows an individual to read the RSS feed of all his/her favorite blogs in one place (this is not what I'm talking about)... or it can be an organized website such as JRants that automatically assembles a list of the most recent posts in the Jblogosphere for people whose interest is mainly in that arena.
Now if we're just talking about a running list of the latest post titles within a particular genre, I honestly can't see the harm. Such lists are a very helpful tool that routinely drives new readers to sites based solely on the merits of an interesting site name or blogpost title. Who could have a problem with that?
But what about when these sights start aggregating entire posts?
My most recent Copyscape search turned up an entire post of mine on the Jrants site. Leaving aside for the moment that troubling fact that the Google ad above my post on the JRant site was for a Messianic Temple targeting Russian Jews in Brooklyn, I honestly didn't realize they were doing this... and in fact I haven't been able to locate any link on their site that allows such a 'full post view'. But it raises the issue of what control a blogger/journaler can reasonably expect to have over his/her work.
Like many of my fellow bloggers/journalers, I have a Creative Commons license in place to make it clear how my content can and cannot be used. One of the stipulations is that it can't be used for any commercial purpose.
So if an aggregator blog relies exclusively on other sites for content and makes money off of advertising based solely on the traffic generated by this content... wouldn't that be considered commercial use?
After reading a recent comment from Allison (one of the matriarchs of the Jblogoshpere despite still being young and hip), on the wisdom/ethics involved in allowing commercial sites to use ones writing for free, I've starting rethinking my decision to allow the Jerusalem Post and other media outlets access to treppenwitz posts for free.
Which brings me back to the point of this post (yes... there was a point in here somewhere) of whether to be flattered that others want to have my content on their site... with or without permission... or whether I wouldn't be better served to do what I can to have people come here to read my content.
Certainly if I decide to try my hand at generating advertising revenue it would make sense to have as many unique visitors as possible (as opposed to having people reading my content on various other sites or via RSS aggregators), no?
OK... of one thing I'm 100% certain. If I post too many more posts like this one I won't have to worry about silly things like traffic or plagiarists coveting my content.
Monday, May 08, 2006
Where are they now?
How many of your childhood heroes went on to do great things with their lives?
Not many, I'd wager.
In fact, if you think about all the TV, film and other media stars you followed closely in your youth I'd bet there are only one or two that managed to do anything with their lives worthy of public notice.
So you can imagine my surprise and delight when I realized that one of the most cherished icons from my misspent youth had overcome tremendous personal obstacles, bad orthodontia and a serious case of ADD to attain the highest office in the land:
I gives one renewed hope in the American Dream!
Shamelessly ganked from Tina.
Update! A friend and neighbor has forwarded me another cute morphing pic... revealing that a former Israeli Prime Minister is actually one of the more prolific commenters on this journal.
Sunday, May 07, 2006
The right to shop vs. the right to rest
In a continuing effort to locate and firmly grasp the third rail of Israeli politics with both hands, treppenwitz is proud to present the following:
I was in Jerusalem stocking up on coffee shortly after the present cabinet had been announced (but hadn't yet been confirmed) when I overheard two women in the coffee shop loudly expressing their discontent over the prospect of Shas (a religious Sephardi party) taking over the 'Industry & Trade' portfolio which had previously been held by Shinui (a vehemently anti-religious party).
The exchange went something like this (I'm quoting from memory):
Woman 1: Oh great... just wait and see. The moment Shas has that 'Tik' (portfolio) we can all say goodbye to shopping on Shabbat (Saturdays)!
Woman 2: Of course... and when do they expect us to be able to do our shopping? The economy isn't bad enough that they need to force businesses to stay closed and turn away money... just to avoid offending a bunch of religious fanatics! Next thing you know they'll start telling us how to dress. I may as well go shopping for my Chador (an all-covering garment worn by some Muslim women) this weekend before all the stores are forced to close!
Clearly I'm not a real Israeli because I didn't jump into the discussion uninvited... and in fact, wasn't even able to formulate a proper mental response on the spot. [Note to self: Keep a ready supply of opinions on hand for just such an occasion.]
Having grown up under the protective blanket of the 'separation of church and state', a part of me immediately sided with them that it was grossly unfair... even with almost half of the country being religious... that the religious beliefs of one group should interfere with the ability of another group to practice (or not practice) as they saw fit.
I went home feeling vaguely unsettled by the conversation I had overheard. I was also angry at myself because, while I clearly had a dog in this fight, I couldn't seem to sort out who I wanted him to bite.
What had tied my tongue was the sense of being part of a religious minority that seemed to be imposing its will on an unwilling non-observant majority. For the sake of this discussion the whole 'majority/minority issue becomes less important as the two sides are almost equally matched these days (especially if one takes into account non-observant Israelis who have expressed support of maintaining the Shabbat status quo). But even so, half the Israeli population shouldn't be able to impose its religious values on the other.
However, what really opened my eyes in this article was an essential factor that had been deliberately omitted from the loud discussion these women had been having. The 1951 Israeli laws that established the delicate religious status quo, including the prohibition against Jewish stores conducting business on Shabbat, was not just a perk for the religious Jews and a slap at non-religious Jews. It was designed so ALL Jews would be protected from being forced to work on the Jewish Sabbath... an untenable space between a rock and a hard place in which disaspora Jews had found it extremely difficult to find and keep a job.
Under less religious stewardship, the 'Industry & Trade' portfolio had deliberately turned a blind eye to more and more businesses staying open on Shabbat and reduced enforcement to virtually nil, which had resulted in more and more Jews having to chose between working on Saturday or losing their Job. Oh sure, the business owners all offered an alternative day off during the week... but who wants Tuesday off if their kids are off from school on Saturday?
As the JPost piece so aptly points out, the Supreme court has spoken definitively on challenges made by the pro-Saturday business lobby's attempts to offer a mid-week day off to any Jews forced to work on Shabbat by ruling unanimously that:
"...existing Shabbat legislation protects workers' rights and that only a universal day of rest, shared by all family members, can afford them one free day that all can spend together. Alternative time off will not achieve the same social aim."
The article goes on to point out that in a scenario where shabbat shopping was starting to become the norm, smaller family-owned mom & pop stores were forced to either work 7 days a week or face unfair competition from the big chains with larger work-forces.
Israel is slowly moving towards an official 5 day work week with more and more businesses closing on Friday in addition to the legally mandated Saturday. While this is slightly out of sync with the rest of the world (when aren't Jews out of sync???), it does offer a reasonable alternative shopping day (Friday) that didn't exist in the previous 6 day work week scenario.
Examined with this information in mind, it is not the religious who are trying to impose their values on the non-religious, but in some respects, the other way around. If one feels that no religious values should be protected, that is a legitimate platform... but it is a tad disingenuous to try to make it seem that it is the religious who are being dismissive of others' rights.
Once I'd absorbed the gist of the JPost article I started getting steamed about an underlying aspect of the conversation I had overheard in the coffee shop... namely that some evil appointed autocrat (even the JPost picture editor went out of his/her way to show a picture of the new Shas minister practically kissing Rav Ovadia's hand) was issuing religious edicts with the king's borrowed signet ring against the interests of the downtrodden populace. This kind of blanket antipathy and suspicion that many non-religious people feel towards all things/people religious is horribly unfair.
By stating his intention to begin enforce existing law supporting a continuation of a delicate status quo (note: he is not advocating anything that isn't already on the books and unanimously upheld by the Israeli Supreme Court), the new Minister of 'Industry & Trade' is upholding a basic right held by ALL Jewish Israelis; the right to have the same day off as everyone else in the country!
It seems to me that something sorely lacking in all other aspects of our national life (a rare commonality) should be seen as a good thing.
Having experienced a sort of quasi-legitimacy in the US where my Sabbath never seemed to align with the plans of my school, office or non-Jewish / non-religious friends, I can see where this law might, in some small way, also offer the opportunity to place everyone on an equal social footing.
Is that such a bad thing?
Go read the article... it deals with the issues much more thoroughly than I do in this (typically emotional) post. Comment if you'd like... but PLEASE don't use unhelpful words or phrases to describe people on either side of this issue. State your ideas in such a way that they stand on their own merits and do not rely on the reader's pre-existing prejudices. Thank you.