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Thursday, November 30, 2006
When I hear or read the word 'routine' I think of vaguely negative word describing everyday things... things that happen regularly, and without a lot of fanfare.
For anyone who has been religiously observant for most of their life, many rituals can't help but become somewhat, well, routine. However when one leaves the comfort of one's home and community to spend shabbat in a hotel, the expectation is that things will be anything but routine. At least that was my expectation when a few months ago Zahava and I were invited to attended a Bar Mitzvah held over a whole Shabbat at a hotel in Jerusalem.
It was a wonderful weekend and every detail of the event was arranged and executed to perfection. On some level I knew that an Israeli hotel... especially in Jerusalem... had to be accustomed to hosting religious guests. But having grown up in a country where the typical hotel banquet staff aren't well versed in Jewish ritual, it was particularly refreshing to see all of the staff had anticipated even the smallest ritual needs of the guests.
On Friday evening before dinner the guests were shown into a ballroom that had been set up to serve as a synagogue, and I was again impressed by how every detail seemed to have been anticipated.
As I was passing a tall set of shelves on which all the prayer books had been arranged, I noticed a sheet of paper peeking over the top. Curiosity got the best of me and I pulled it down to see what it was. I have posted a scanned copy of this sheet of paper here for you to see:
[click the image to embiggen]
This is obviously a standard form used by the hotel staff to communicate what is obviously a routine requirement. This form (I have deleted the names and dates) is used by the banquet staff to arrange for Siddurim (prayer books) and a Sefer Torah to be placed at the disposal of guests at a particular time and place. The form also indicates which 'Nossah' (e.g. ashkenaz. sephard, edot hamizrach, etc.) is needed... which suggests that they have a wide enough variety of Siddurim and Sefrei Torah to meet the needs of most/all Jewish guests.
The fact that this internal hotel memo was so routine as to warrant a standard, photo-copied form made me smile. This was not only a reflection of the frequency with which these items were required by hotel guests... but the lack of complex explanation also speaks volumes of a routine familiarity that the entire staff have with these items.
Even as I feel myself becoming less and less surprised by the 'only in Israel' moments... this one reminded me that I'm still pretty new.
I know, I know... this really isn't a big deal. But that's exactly the point! With very few exceptions, you can't book a weekend Bar/Bat Mitzvah party at a hotel anywhere else in the world and assume that the staff will know to provide all the trappings of a synagogue (right down to which tradition you follow) with the same routine ease with which they provide (l'havdil) clean towels, shampoo and bath gel.
Additionally, in a Jerusalem hotel you can likely turn to pretty much anyone - from the bellman to the catering manager - with a question about what time shabbat begins/ends, where to wash your hands for bread or how to get an extra roll for making the 'HaMotzei' blessing.
Try that at your local Ramada!
On many levels the big challenge facing those who are religiously observant is to keep things fresh and avoid the sense of doing things by rote. But I have to admit, there is something comforting about being able to check into a hotel and know that, for the staff, my religious needs are completely routine.
Posted by David Bogner on November 30, 2006 | Permalink
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Wednesday, November 29, 2006
'N' as in, uh...um, mnemonic
I recently overheard a phone conversation where an Israeli friend was trying to spell out his email address to a non-Jew in the US. He began the email address with "OK, the first letter is 'R' as in... um, Rechovot...". I can just imagine the puzzled look on the other guy's face as he silently wondered, 'what the hell's a Rechovot'?
But this phenomenon isn't limited to native-born Israelis.
I used to cringe as I'd listen to my lovely wife (with whom I share an office at home) trying to come up with words to spell things out over the phone. But one day while listening to her struggle to find recognizable words starting with the necessary letters I finally began interrupting her. It went something like this:
Zahava: "OK, my email address is Zahava... that's 'Z' as in um, uh... Zamboni"
Zahava: "uh, yeah, I mean Zulu. 'A' as in, er, ah, um..."
Zahava: "Right, 'Alpha'... H, as in, um..."
Me: "Hotel... Alpha... Victor...Alpha............"
You get the idea.
Anyway, when she finally got off the phone she turned to me and asked, "How did you do that? I can never come up with good words that quickly!"
I couldn't believe she really thought I came up with those words on the spot. There and then I decided to share an open secret with her... as I'm about to share it with you:
There is something called the phonetic alphabet (sometimes called the NATO alphabet). It is an internationally agreed upon series of common words that correspond with every letter of the alphabet.
These words are your friends. They will keep you from sounding
like a complete idiot silly when trying to spell things out to strangers over the phone. Each one of these words was selected for its ability to be easily pronounced... and because anyone with even a rudimentary proficiency in English will instantly recognize the word and know what letter it begins with.
I first learned the phonetic alphabet when I was in the navy, but I soon found out that pilots, shipping companies, couriers, bankers and a host of other people also use this common list of words in order to avoid confusion when spelling important things out on the phone or over the radio.
Here is the list. Print it out and learn it well... and never again let me overhear you saying something like "That's 'M' as in, uh...um, mnemonic":
Letter - Code
A - Alpha (AL fah)
B - Bravo (BRAH VOH)
C - Charlie (CHAR lee)
D - Delta (DELL tah)
E - Echo (ECK oh)
F - Foxtrot (FOKS trot)
G - Golf (GOLF)
H - Hotel (hoh TELL)
I - India (IN dee ah)
J - Juliett (JEW lee ETT)
K - Kilo (KEY loh)
L - Lima (LEE mah)
M - Mike (MIKE)
N - November (no VEM ber)
O - Oscar (OSS cah)
P - Papa (pah PAH)
Q - Quebec (keh BECK)
R - Romeo (ROW me oh)
S - Sierra (see AIR rah)
T - Tango (TANG go)
U - Uniform (YOU nee form)
V - Victor (VIK tah)
W - Whiskey (WISS key)
X - X Ray (ECKS RAY)
Y - Yankee (YANG key)
Z - Zulu (ZOO loo)
Note: The syllables printed in capital letters are to be stressed.
Don't thank me... I'm a giver.
Posted by David Bogner on November 29, 2006 | Permalink
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Monday, November 27, 2006
One of the movies that our soon-to-be-three-year-old Yonah loooves is 'Finding Nemo'. He knows a lot of the dialog by heart and can hum along with much of the score (that's my boy!). But I found out not long ago that his favorite part of the film is a little aside where one of the sea turtles (surfer-dude types) says to his son "Dude... noggin!" and they proceed to bump their heads together in greeting.
I found out about Yonah's fixation with this exchange early one Friday morning while I was stretched out on the couch reading. Yonah tore himself away from the movie and climbed onto my chest. Once he was in position he planted his little hands on my shoulders so that his face was a few inches from my own and shouted "Dude... noggin!" at me with a big grin on his face.
I, of course had no idea what he was talking about (having been deeply engrossed in my New Yorker magazine) and simply smiled up into the smiling face of my beautiful little boy.
The next moment I was writhing on the floor, semi-conscious... with a small trickle of blood coming from my nose. It seems his social-head-butting skills were still pretty rudimentary and he needed a little work on his aim. In his youthful enthusiasm he had smacked his ample forehead directly into the bridge of my nose!
Of course, Yonah was upset at having been unceremoniously tossed off my chest (I'm not sure he understood yet that he had hurt me) and he started crying.
After drying his tears and putting a bag of frozen peas on my aching nose, I decided that some head-butting practice might be in order. I pointed out a couple of times where contact had to be made and explained that one needn't make contact as if with a soccer ball at the World Cup finals... just a nice, social tap of the upper forehead.
I think he gets it now, although he still occasionally stuns me with an over-enthusiastic 'noggin'. :-)
I've shared this story today because I've had another sort of 'noggin' in my mind over the past few days; Specifically Egg Nog-in!
This is the time of year when all the US supermarkets are well stocked with this yummy seasonal treat... and those of us who are living abroad begin yearning for its smooth, creamy goodness.
So, for those of you who can't find Egg Nog in your local dairy case, here are a few recipes:
Egg Nog Version One (source here):
1 whole egg
1 tablespoon superfine sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup milk [I use light/cooking cream]
Beat the egg with the sugar and salt and pour into a 10-ounce highball glass. Add vanilla and milk and stir to mix. Grate a little nutmeg on top.
Egg Nog Version Two (source here):
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3/4 cup brandy
1/3 cup dark rum (Captain Morgan for best flavor, but Myers is OK)
2 cups whipping cream
2 cups milk
All liquids should be very cold. Refrigerate in advance.
Beat the eggs for 2 or 3 minutes with an electric mixer at medium speed until very frothy. Gradually beat in the sugar, vanilla and nutmeg. Turn the mixer off and stir in the cold brandy, rum, whipping cream and milk Chill before serving. Sprinkle individual servings with more nutmeg.
Makes about 2-1/2 quarts.
Egg Nog Version Three (source same as version 2)
12 eggs, separated
1-1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 quart (4 cups) whole milk
1-1/2 quarts (6 cups heavy cream)
3 cups bourbon
1/2 cup dark rum
2 cups cognac
1 quart vanilla ice cream, softened
In a very large bowl, beat the egg yolks until thick and pale yellow. Gradually add the sugar and nutmeg, and beat until well mixed. Using a wire whisk, beat in the milk, 4 cups of the heavy cream, bourbon, rum and cognac. Chill for at least 4 hours or overnight.
Before serving, beat the egg whites with 1/4 cup sugar until stiff, and fold into the egg mixture. Whip the remaining 2 cups of heavy cream, and fold into the egg mixture. Fold in the ice cream, gently stirring to combine all ingredients. Sprinkle individual servings with additional nutmeg.
Eggnog can be refrigerated; however, the cream will rise to the top. Stir the mixture gently to recombine before serving. The amount of liquor can be adjusted to taste.
This recipe will make a punch bowl full of eggnog.
Note: If there is a big problem with eggs in your region, you may not want to prepare these recipes. However, please note that you can slowly heat the egg mixture portion of the recipe in a sauce pan over a low flame until a reliable thermometer shows it has reached a uniform temperature of at least 165° F... then chill overnight. I can't promise the resulting eggnog will taste or feel exactly the same... but at least you won't have to worry about salmonella.
Posted by David Bogner on November 27, 2006 | Permalink
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Sunday, November 26, 2006
Better to receive than give... bad directions
I've mentioned here on more than one occasion that I have a mild problem with dyslexia. Over the years I've created lots of work-arounds to help deal with this... but I still live in fear of giving or getting information/instructions... especially anything involving numbers.
On Friday morning I went to a cemetery outside Beit Shemesh (yes, the one with the smiley-face in the eulogy chapel), with the intention of attending the unveiling of the headstone for a fellow blogger's father-in-law.
Up until the last minute I wasn't sure if I would be able to attend, but when Zahava and I had hosted this blogger and his lovely wife at our home a few days previous, I had intimated that I would really make an effort to show up.
To that end, as soon as I got back from dropping them off at the place where they were staying I surfed over to his blog and printed the entry where he listed the exact time, cemetery, block and section. I printed it out because I was sure I would transpose either the time or location if I simply wrote it down.
Fast forward to Friday morning. By some miracle I had actually shown up to the right cemetery. And by even a bigger miracle, I had remembered to take the print-out of his post so I didn't have to worry about the details:
"The unveiling for Karen's father, Rabbi Philip Harris Singer ZT'L will take place Friday, November 24, 2006 (Kislev 3) at 10:00 am. The cemetery is Eretz Hachaim near Beit Shemesh, Israel. Block 1 Section 8. "
So there I was... 10:00AM sharp... standing in Block 1, Section 8. Alone.
I had made a point of showing up on time because I knew Robert was speaking... and if his spoken remarks were anything like his written prose, I knew they would be memorable.
As the minutes ticked by a trickle of nervous sweat dripped down my back as I started to wonder if perhaps the time given was 'Israeli Time' (meaning nobody need show up on time xcept the idiot American immigrant). But after almost 15 minutes of standing alone amongst the graves, I suddenly realized that, besides the obvious lack of people, there was also no new headstone in this section. All of the gravestones were piled with stones indicating months... or even years... of faithful visits by loved-ones.
Several times I took out the folded piece of paper and examined the location and time to make sure I hadn't gotten confused. Each time I did this I walked out to the main path and looked at the sign which told which block and section lay nearby. Let me tell you, it is pretty near impossible to look inconspicuous at a cemetery. Waiting for someone at the mall? No problem... you can window shop or people watch. At the cemetery? not so much.
No matter how hard I looked at that paper the numbers remained fixed in their positions... and the block remained stubbornly empty of other people.
I finally resigned myself to having somehow missed them but walked over to the cemetery office just on the off chance that they could shed some light on my dilemma.
I was unprepared for the level of efficiency in the office. I poked my head into the room and cleared my throat. Instantly a Hassidic man popped up from his desk and asked if he could help me. I was sure my question would , at best, send him shuffling through papers, but the moment I asked if he know where the 'Singer Haskara' was being held he unhesitatingly took me to the door and pointed to a hill quite distant from where I had been waiting and said "Right over there... Block 8, section 1.... where all those people are standing."
Needless to say, I arrived too late to hear Robert speak (he's promised to email me his remarks), but I got to hear other family and friends share heart-warming stories about the deceased.
Besides being privileged to hear some very moving stories about the departed, I also experienced the inevitable 'small blogger world moment' over whiskey and cake after-wards when I made the acquaintance of the sister-in-law of the Maggid of Bergenfield, who had come down from the Golan for the memorial.
I drove home on Friday afternoon feeling slightly unsettled at having missed the first part of the unveiling. But strangely, I took comfort in the fact that, for a change, I wasn't the one responsible for transposing the numbers.
It truly is better to receive than give... bad directions.
Posted by David Bogner on November 26, 2006 | Permalink
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Thursday, November 23, 2006
My most memorable thanksgiving meal was one I didn't eat
Many years ago when our daughter Ariella was perhaps just two and Gilad was a newborn, our extended family was scheduled to converge on the family compound (my parent's house in Westport) for a traditional New England Thanksgiving dinner.
For many years my mom & dad had been hosting the turkey-day feast... and out of gracious concern for our dietary restrictions (Zahava and I are the only ones in the extended family who keep kosher) they had always prepared the entire meal according to the strictest interpretation of the laws. They were able to do this because, in addition to their own very nice (but treif) kitchenware, they also kept two complete sets of kosher dishes, pots & pans and utensils on hand for those occasions when we stopped by.
Yes, my parent's are truly special people.
So, for several thanksgivings the entire family (grandparents, parents kids, grandkids and various invited friends) had gathered at my parent's house and enjoyed a delicious - and completely kosher - thanksgiving dinner.
However this one thanksgiving about which I'm writing was to be a bit out of the ordinary.
I had unwittingly accepted a date to play a gig with my band on Thanksgiving out on Long Island somewhere, and Zahava and baby Gilad were both in bed with some sort of bug. It was arranged that Ariella would go to be with the rest of the family at my parent's house, but because she was such a picky eater we told everyone to assume she would not be eating.
However, we found out after-wards that my parents had gone ahead and prepared a completely kosher thanksgiving... from the first appetizers to the last slice of pecan pie!
We were absolutely astounded.
Not one person at that Thanksgiving table kept kosher in their daily lives... yet, on the off chance (an extremely long shot, I assure you) that this finicky little two-year-old girl might ask to taste a sliver of turkey or a bite of pie, they had all agreed that the entire repast would be kosher... served on kosher dishes... and eaten with kosher utensils.
I could bring countless examples of how my siblings and parents have gone to similar lengths to accommodate our religious lifestyle out of a combined sense of duty and love, but this thanksgiving memory is the one that stands out most clearly in my mind as a reason to count my blessings.
I am so thankful that I have a family so ready and willing to recognize the distinction between making personal choices for ones-self, and creating common ground where everyone can feel included and welcome.
The memory of that long-ago thanksgiving - a meal Zahava and I didn't even attend - is like a well-banked bed of embers that continuously warms my soul.
Posted by David Bogner on November 23, 2006 | Permalink
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Wednesday, November 22, 2006
Kicking bad habits
The title of this post doesn't refer to any of the usual vices: drinking, drugs, gambling or smoking. In fact, with the exception of the first one, I don't indulge at all.
OK, in a stretch you could probably count my caffeine monkey as a drug problem, but really... that's it. Honest.
No, I'm talking about a veeeeery bad habit... arguably the worst habit in which a blogger/journaler can indulge: Stats.
I used to check my site statistics a maximum of once... maybe twice a week. On more than a few occasions a month would go by before I'd think to take a peek at who had stopped by or linked to treppenwitz.
Now don't get me wrong, looking at one's statistics and referrer logs can be very helpful. You get to see where your traffic is coming from and who is linking to you... both very good indicators of who your audience is. I think most of us in the blogging/journaling dodge come to a realization at some point that our audience chooses us... and not the other way around. Once this happens, a writer either goes with the flow or continues writing for an audience that isn't really there.
Since I started this thing without any solid expectations, I was pleased to find that anyone at all was interested in reading the crap that fell out of my head on a regular basis.
But still, I considered the stats to be more instructive than a pat on the back. They gave me a sense of which posts were resonating with the regular readers... and which ones weren't. So I continued to check them, but only intermittently.
But then the summer's war happened... and posts that wouldn't have registered with most of my regular readers were being read on the air by talk show hosts, and I suddenly felt like a Jr. high plain-jane on her first Monday morning at school with her new boobs. Attention? Oh my yes!
The result was that I became addicted to all that extra attention... and to checking my stats.
Here, let me show you a picture. I think even those of you with the kind of rudimentary math education I enjoyed (think 'math for poets') may just manage to spot the summer's war in the following graph:
For a couple of years now I had been plodding along... doing whatever it is I do... steady and reliable every month. And then suddenly, Bam! I was like a crack addict who cared more about the high than about work, family, friends.
Once you've tasted that first high of momentary recognition, it's really, really hard to go back to being a daddy-blogger whose oeuvre is heavily weighted in favor of stories about dog poop, three-year-olds peeing and grappling with cultural mis-steps.
But I'm trying... I really am.
I've written about a dozen times in the past that I consider myself particularly ill-suited for political writing... and it now seems that I'm even less adept at tackling the 'comparative religion' beat.
[All together now: YA THINK?!]
Anyway, what I'm trying to say is that it's taking me a little longer than I'd hoped to re-find my voice in the wake of all that shouting last summer.
Thanks for not bailing on me.
Posted by David Bogner on November 22, 2006 | Permalink
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Tuesday, November 21, 2006
In which David shares sweeping cultural generalizations and also gets telepathic barbs from his wife
Nothing like a bunch of broad, terribly-flawed generalizations to get the day off to a nice start, right? So here we go...
A couple of nights ago on my way home from work I stopped off at a home in Beer Sheva to visit a woman from my community who was 'sitting shiva' (the 7 day mourning period) for her recently departed father. This woman is of Moroccan descent and is (IMHO) the 'alpha mom' in an enormous Moroccan family that has branches all over the center and south of Israel. She is one of about 11 siblings who, between them, have around 90 kids (and even a few grandkids already!).
This shiva house was like nothing I had ever experienced before. Every room (I lost count how many rooms there were in this modest-sized home) was crowded with chairs for the visitors and mattresses on the floor on which the mourners reclined.
Dozens of women, children and pre-teens constantly circulated throughout the house with trays of pastries, as well as hot and cold drinks.
Unlike the Ashkenazi shiva homes I have visited where everyone sat around in one or two rooms talking in hushed tones to the mourners, there was a constant buzz of activity throughout this home as people entered and left. What was even more surprising to me was that my friend and her sisters were constantly popping up and making introductions and trying to make all the visitors feel welcomed and at home.
I have to admit it was rather off-putting to have a grieving person I had come to comfort ushering me around and introducing me to her extended family like an honored guest.
Tradition forbade her from serving me directly while she was in mourning... but she constantly gestured to this cousin or that nephew to bring food and drink in my direction, and she didn't visibly relax until I had accepted refreshment.
I have always understood that there is often a distinct cultural difference in roles (especially gender roles) between traditional Sephardi households and the typical Ashkenazi homes with which I have more experience. However, even that basic knowledge didn't prepare me for this Moroccan shiva house.
By and large the men among the mourners remained reclined on the mattresses and the male guests were seated and served. The female mourners were also sitting or semi-reclined on the mattresses, but they somehow also seemed to be in constant motion... popping up to greet someone, gesturing for one of the kids to bring a tray of food or drink to someone who didn't appear to be eating or drinking enough, or standing and talking with women guests who had come to visit.
When it was time to leave I was shocked to find the woman I had come to visit walking me all the way out of the house and thanking me for coming. It may very well be that this is not typical and she was simply unable to switch off her 'hostess/uber-mom mode' long enough to properly mourn, but it seemed to me that she wasn't the only woman among the mourners who was also busy acting as hostess. Her mother (the matriarch of the family) was really the only woman in the room who, like the men, remained seated and was completely doted upon by the others present.
On the way home, all I could think about was a politically-incorrect observation a friend once shared with me during our dating days.
He said, "I don't believe in just one perfect match for each person... but I do believe in certain combinations of culture/personality that are more likely to succeed than others. For example, in my opinion the perfect match is an Ashkenazi man and a Sephardi woman. She probably comes from a home where the women are more attentive to the comfort and needs of the men... basically a patriarchal tradition, while he likely comes from a matriarchal tradition where the men basically do as they are told. In such a match, both the husband and wife will feel as though they have won lotto because their spouse treats them like royalty."
"However", he went on to say, "the worst match is an Ashkenazi woman and a Sephardi man He is used to his mother and sisters being attentive to his needs, and she comes from a home where the men take much more direction (to put it lightly) from the women. Both of them end up feeling as though something is terribly wrong but will have a lot of trouble articulating what is bothering them." [ed. note: In fairness I've seen with my own eyes many, many cases that prove this is not necessarily so].
Now obviously my friend and I were speaking privately at the time, and his comments were - at best - a terrible over-generalization... and at worst, an unfortunate ethnic slur. But my experience last night at this Moroccan shiva house stirred up the memory of that long-ago conversation and left me wondering at the incredible cultural nuances and distinctions that exist within the global Jewish community. I am not writing any sort of cultural dissertation here... and certainly not passing any sort of judgment. I'm just sharing my observations and passing thoughts.
Oh, One more thing. While I was sitting there in the shiva house watching in wonder as the women scurried around serving refreshments and the men reclined comfortably on the mattresses, I could feel my wife communicating with me telepathically, saying "Yeah right, cowboy... in your dreams!". :-)
Posted by David Bogner on November 21, 2006 | Permalink
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Monday, November 20, 2006
Putting my nose where it probably doesn't belong
OK, I'm sure I will get nasty comments from people for what I'm about to write... but I just read an incredible article in the Jerusalem Post and I have to share some thoughts.
The article was about a huge meeting that was called by many of the heavy hitters (meaning many of the most influential Rabbis) in the black hat Yeshiva (Haredi) world. These types of meetings don't occur very often so I was curious to see what pressing issues warranted such a gathering. Did it address poverty, allocation of resources, education, some of the new Haredi units in the IDF... maybe something related to the current political coalition?
It seems that the pressing topic that warranted such an extraordinary gathering was the alarming trend towards shorter skirts and tighter sweaters amongst married women in the Yeshiva world.
I'll pause for a moment while you digest that.
Now that I have your attention, you might be interested to know that the Rabbis chose an interesting conduit through which to convey their concerns. They didn't ask to meet with the married women themselves. Oh no... after all, that might lead to, um, mixed dancing! No, the meeting was exclusively for thousands of married men from the Haredi community.
No wait... it gets better.
According to the article, a paper was distributed at the meeting that read "Each and every father and husband has an obligation to vigilantly ensure that his wife's and daughters' dress is in accordance with the laws of modesty".
I'm sorry, whose responsibility?
The article then spiraled into absurdity (IMHO) as it began talking about the plans these 'Sages of Chelm' have for curbing the Risqué attire adorning all those married hussies. One of the best is a proposal to boycott stores that sell clothing deemed to be immodest.
This, by itself, isn't really so troubling since I believe strongly in the consumer's right to use or withhold his/her buying power in order to get merchants to better serve their needs. But do these Rabbis really think that it is the lack of available modest fashion and not the informed decisions of the women at work here? Do they really think the women won't simply go buy their togs elsewhere? Oh, and if the answer is 'no, they wouldn't dare go against the wishes of the Rabbis', then why don't the rabbis simply issue such an edict directly to the women?
According to the article:
"In Bnei Brak, a group calling itself "The Guardians of Holiness and Education" has already met with clothes merchants to convince them to start selling more modest merchandise... "
Oh, to be a fly on the wall when that bit of arm-twisting was going on!
The article continues:
"One of the ideas is to provide 'modesty certificates' to those clothing stores that meet our demands," said one of the activists who helped organize the conference in Jerusalem. "Stores without the certificates would be boycotted."
Oy, 'The Mullah's Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval'... coming soon to a burkah store near you!'
My favorite was this little aside:
"The activist admitted that checking all the apparel stores in Bnei Brak was labor intensive but added that he knew several fellow activists who expressed their willingness to help out."
Yeah, I'll bet. I can already see the men lining up for the arduous task of standing outside the dressing rooms to give the thumbs-up or thumbs-down to the outfits as they emerge. Way to take one for the team, guys!
I'm sorry... what is this, Iran? Reading this article, a bunch of questions occurred to me and I'd like to open up the floor to anyone who thinks they can provide serious answers:
Why weren't the women themselves being engaged in discussing this issue with the community leaders? Is it a foregone conclusion that they make no informed decisions in the way they dress themselves?
I understand that each community has its own 'norms' of what is considered appropriate attire, but isn't that supposed to be something that is the result of a broad and ongoing consensus... or at very least the informed decision of those who live there?
The men of these communities ostensibly rely completely on their wive's ability to make incredibly important decisions every single day concerning kashrut (dietary laws) and/or nidah (the application of family purity laws/mikveh)... so why is it that these same women, who quite literally hold the very fabric of the Haredi community in their hands, are not deemed capable of making their own fashion decisions.
This kind of meeting suggests to me that some of the Rabbinic leadership in the black-hat community may be in need of some useful things to fill their time.
Well, I'm nothing if not a giver:
May I suggest that they take their attention off the, admittedly distracting, hemlines and tight sweaters of the community wives... and if they really feel the need to tackle issues related to women... that they take a whack at the pesky Agunah issue that has been languishing on their 'to-do' list for a few decades.
Just my two cents.
Posted by David Bogner on November 20, 2006 | Permalink
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Sunday, November 19, 2006
Framing the argument
I've finally begun to understand why little of substance ever gets honestly debated - much less decided - in the public forum: You see, people aren't interested in defending their ideas... their convictions... their most closely held beliefs. They simply want to score easy wins by making the opposing camp appear cruel, stupid and/or insane.
People have been worshiping for so long at the alter of public relations and spin doctoring that they can't imagine the need to do more than frame their arguments in the most disingenuous, intellectually lazy/dishonest terms to carry the day.
This isn't a right - left thing. In fact, this trait is perhaps the only thing that spans the entire political and religious spectrum:
Staking out the 'Pro-Life' label is obviously intended to imply that the only alternative position is 'Pro-Death'.
Claiming the mantle of 'Peace' is a transparent attempt to make everyone else out to be blood-thirsty war mongers.
Invoking the holiness of Jerusalem as your justification for burning dumpsters and attacking policemen isn't going to keep one kid (including your own) from becoming a fagot if that is what G-d has in store for him. But by the same token, indulging in extremes of public displays of affection and pornographic attire that you wouldn't dare bring into your parent's living-room or your office does not make everyone you offend guilty of wanting to punish you for being gay.
Trying to trump the 'Land for Peace' debate by citing the religious prohibition against giving away even one inch of 'Eretz Yisrael' is ludicrous in light of the scores of adjustments that have taken place along our borders over the years without so much as a peep from the religious camp.
By the same token, labeling someone 'unpatriotic' and 'selfish' for refusing to obediently abandon their home/community/livelihood is a cruel oversimplification and conveniently ignores both the human and security consequences of making hasty territorial concessions.
I could go on, but I won't.
People... I know it's a lot more work, and will require you to actually defend your precious positions... but none of the issues are as simple to define as you'd like them to be.
If most of what you think, feel and believe can fit on the narrow real estate of a bumper sticker or be expressed in the terse, rhyming cadences shouted at a demonstration, please don't flatter yourself that you are part of the solution. You are, in fact, willfully perpetuating the problem.
Almost everything I see wrong with the world... and particularly with this country... can be traced to this juvenile (and essentially lazy), practice of vilifying and attacking whoever/whatever is perceived as standing in the way of your goal rather than carefully laying out your agenda for honest evaluation.
If you honestly can't conceive of extenuating circumstances under which the other guy's position might be tenuously defensible and yours ever so slightly flawed... then you have no business debating issues in the real world.
I don't imagine I can change the style or substance of public discourse... but I promise you this: If you try that sh*t around me, we're done. Full stop.
Posted by David Bogner on November 19, 2006 | Permalink
| Comments (34)
Friday, November 17, 2006
Photo Friday (vol. LXXXIV) [welcome home edition]
Just an aside... getting off the elevator at the airport I noticed that all the points of interest were identified in both Hebrew and Arabic... except the Synagogue. Heh heh.
Anyway... enough foolishness. Please say hello to Israel's newest Citizens:
And yes... you are not mistaken. They are holding their 'Teudat Oleh' (immigrant book/certificate) upside-down. Next week we are going to get them signed up for an ulpan (a Hebrew language immersion class). :-)
Posted by David Bogner on November 17, 2006 | Permalink
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Thursday, November 16, 2006
Letting the cat out of the bag
I have lost track of the number of emails and IM's I've gotten over the past month or two asking if everything was OK with me... with my family. One kind soul even asked if my marriage was in trouble.
Here are a few of the warning signs you noticed:
- Less frequent posting
- Inconsistent posting times
- Slower (and fewer) responses to comments
- Odd (often bizarre) choices of subject matter
I can see how some of you might have noted these things and come to the conclusion that something was very wrong behind the scenes. What you couldn't know is that something had gone incredibly (and inexplicably) right!
At the beginning of October I mentioned that my parents had dropped an exciting bombshell on us. Instead of coming for their usual annual visit of a month-to-six-weeks, they had decided to rent an apartment in Jerusalem and come for five months.
Well, the bombshells kept falling.
Over the next week or so this 'extended vacation' morphed into an incredible announcement. They told us they would still keep their house in the US (they still have a passel of kids and grandkids in the US, after all!), but they had decided to spend a little more than half of every year here in Israel from now on... as citizens, not as tourists. They were going to officially make aliyah!
This decision obviously set in motion a flurry of paperwork on their end. Luckily one of our neighbors from Gush Etzion is running the NY Aliyah office and he was able to take a special interest (can you say 'proctezia'?!) in their paperwork.
Forms were filled out... birth and marriage certificates were located and certified... a letter form their Rabbi (attesting to their Jewishness) was obtained. Everything was done by the book... but in record time their 'tik' (file) was approved and their 'oleh' (immigrant) visas were issued by the Consulate.
Yesterday evening at 6:04PM, Israel's two newest citizens (four if you count the dogs) deplaned at Ben Gurion International Airport, were ushered into an office to meet with an official from the Ministry of Absorption, and began writing an exciting new chapter in their lives.
I still can't believe they did it!
So yeah... I've been a little distracted lately. I hope that, under the circumstance, you'll cut me a little slack. :-)
Posted by David Bogner on November 16, 2006 | Permalink
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Wednesday, November 15, 2006
The great disappearing act
Sorry to have fallen off the planet for the past day or so. Thank you to those who emailed and IM'ed me to find out if everything was OK. However, I should remind you that I don't post every day.
OK, I am pretty regular in my posting and responding to comments so I can sort of understand the concern.
I actually wrote a post for yesterday and it was scheduled to automatically publish at lunch time (according to the Israeli clock), but either I screwed up something or TypePad decided to be stubborn... because when I got home last night, the post's status was still listed as 'Draft'.
So where was I yesterday? Since he has
ripped-off reposted a couple of my things in the past, I have no problem shamelessly reposting the following 'away message' that was up on Joe Settler's site yesterday (he ganked it from the movie 'Stripes'):
I'll be out of the office for the next few days...
General Barnicke: Where have you been soldier?John Winger (Bill Murray): Training, sir.Soldiers: Training, sir.General Barnicke: What kind of training?John Winger: Aaaaaarmy training, sir.Soldiers: Aaaaaarmy training, sir.General Barnicke: Are you telling me that you men finished your training on your own?John Winger: That's a fact, Jack.Soldiers: That's a fact, Jack.
Joe Settler (not his real name) and I live in the same region. However, the only time we seem to run into each other is at anti-terror squad (kitat konenut) training sessions.
Yesterday we were at the local army base rediscovering long-forgotten muscles (OK, He's a lot younger than I am and Probably in much better shape), running around wearing heavy body armor and shooting copious amounts of ammunition at cardboard, people-shaped targets.
Granted it's not a day at the beach... but I'd be lying if I said there wasn't an element of fun to the process. I mean, hey... it's better than a day at the office. :-) But tempering the fun is the constant underlying knowledge that the object of this training is that our towns are inviting targets for terrorists and need a small force to defend against an attack until the army can arrive and take over.
This morning I have a few things to show for all that 'fun':
1. Thighs that actually shake when I try to put all my weight on them.
2. A lower back that feels as though I tried to lift the house off a dead witch.
3. A sunburn on the back of my neck that makes me feel like an extra in one of those films where pasty-skinned Europeans suddenly find themselves shipwrecked on some tropical island or stranded in the middle of the Sahara Desert after a plane crash. And yes, I used sunscreen (it sweated off in nano-seconds).
4. A spectacular bruise exactly halfway between my sternum and my right shoulder that perfectly matches the outline of the butt-stock on my M-16.
5. A hamper full of dirt-spattered clothes that smell of sweat, cordite and gunpowder (yuck).
I'm going to pick up my parents at the airport today (their arrival was delayed by a couple of weeks for reasons that will be made clear in the next day or two)... so I must try to remember the following:
1. Don't limp or stagger when I greet my mom. She may be a modern, educated woman with a lifetime of corporate experience... but under all that modern veneer there beats the heart of a typical mama bear/Jewish Mother. I really don't need her calling up and yelling at my commander for hurting her baby.
2. Empty pockets of all extra ammunition before going to the airport. The Israelis certainly aren't as touchy as the Indians about such things... but I'd prefer not to set off any bells. Oh... while I'm at it... note to self: Don't forget to stop at the police station at the airport and check the Glock before going into the arrivals terminal. :-)
Have a nice day, all!
Posted by David Bogner on November 15, 2006 | Permalink
| Comments (14)
Monday, November 13, 2006
It's called chiropractic... look into it!
Memo to Tzippi Livni:
I know I was probably way out of line when I mentioned a while back that you bore a striking resemblance to a certain American real estate mogul.
To your credit, you are considered (quite correctly) one of the most powerful women in the world. And miraculously for a woman in a position of power, I have never once heard anyone use the 'B' word to describe you or your management style.
With the exception of juvenile missives such as this, the people who don't share your views have, by and large, limited their criticism to your politics.
In fact, I think the most personal insult I have ever heard directed at you was when a fellow blogger (who had first hand dealings with you during your Likud days) remarked that your "utter lack of charm, grace and charisma is occasionally mistaken for intelligence"'... a criticism that, while unkind, is not necessarily gender-dependent.
The reason I'm writing to you today is not to make another cheap personal attack, but rather to implore that you seek immediate medical attention.
You see Tzippi (may I call you Tzippi?), every picture I see of you in the press these days shows you with your head lolling at some grotesque angle as though you've experienced some sort of tragic cervical injury.
But don't take my word for it:
You've been giving off subtle signs of neck pain for a while now:
Of course the problem could simply be your atrocious posture. I mean, stand up straight dear... and don't let your head loll to the side quite so much:
Seriously, the other day my wife went so far as to mention that your posture has started to remind her of Vincent D'Onofrio as 'the bug' in MIB... and that's just plain scary:
So take this memo in the spirit in which it was intended and go find yourself a good chiropractor, mmkay?
Posted by David Bogner on November 13, 2006 | Permalink
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Sunday, November 12, 2006
We will sell no rant before its time
Anyone who watched TV back in the '70s probably recognizes Paul Masson's famous tag line (memorably uttered by Orson Wells) which underlined the Madera County (CA) vintner's reluctance to release a wine to the public until it had reached the peak of perfection.
Me? I don't wait for anything close to perfection when it comes to foisting my rants upon the unsuspecting treppenwitz reader. 'Perfection' by me is if nobody gets hurt and I manage to avoid undue attention from the legal authorities.
With that in mind, it is with deep regret that I have to admit my Beit Hanun post is still unready for public consumption... and unlikely to be ready any time soon. Rather than mellowing with age it has become bitter and acidic in the aging cask. Personally I don't think it will ever be ready for polite company and it may just have to be dumped down the electronic drain.
But here you are on this Sunday morning (or afternoon, as the case may be) expecting ... something... and frankly, I got nothin'.
So instead... may I show you something in a very nice new site called 'The Maggid of Bergenfield' *.
It is the whimsical (but enlightening) creation of a close friend. Each week he shares pearls of wisdom based loosely on the weekly parsha... and packaged in such a way as to sneak past the best-constructed defenses of even the most jaded scholar (or know-it-all).
Go on over and drink in the wisdom.
* Definition of 'maggid' here.
Posted by David Bogner on November 12, 2006 | Permalink
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Saturday, November 11, 2006
A real monster hiding under the bed
This is the kind of crime for which they should reserve the death penalty.
I'm not talking about the painless euthanasia of the gas chamber or lethal injection. No, this calls for somewhat more medieval methods such as the systematic tearing off of skin and fingernails... followed by the use of block & tackle to wrest the limbs from their sockets... and eventually... in due time... death by slow disembowelment.
As the father of a 12 year old daughter I would volunteer to carry out such a sentence on this predator. Forget volunteering... I would pay for the privilege.
Posted by David Bogner on November 11, 2006 | Permalink
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Friday, November 10, 2006
Photo Friday (vol. LXXXIII) [bike edition]
I had to run down to Kfar Bilu (near Rehovot) this morning to see my beekeeper mentor about some medication for my bees. Honeybee colonies can sometimes be infested by tracheal mites which can decimate them over the winter, so there is a medication that needs to go into each hive before the cold weather starts.
The fastest way for me to get to Kfar Bilu is to take a route down from Gush Etzion down a winding mountain road in the direction of Beit Shemesh. This road, called 'Nes Harim', is extremely popular with cyclists because of its beauty and challenging elevation. Today being a gorgeous fall day, the cyclists were out in droves.
The first hint that this might be a popular bike route is the following sign. I've always wondered if the person who made this sign had ever actually seen a bicycle... or if someone simply described one to him over the phone.
A little further along is a fork in the road with a bunch of signs... one of which is the bike route (as well as mine):
It is worth pointing out that most of the cyclists come from the direction of Beit Shemesh... meaning they are going up the hill and then turning around at the top for a nice reward in the form of a fast coast towards the Elah Valley below. However one doesn't want to go too fast because the drop off can be, um, a bit unforgiving:
OK, so where are all the cyclists you ask? Here are a couple. You can see that road and mountain bikes are both popular:
Here is a fairly well-developed specimen of the Israeli cyclist:
I can't imagine why they needed to carry backpacks, but here are a couple of mountain bikers on their way up the hill (I spotted them on my way back up towards the Gush):
I count among my friends many avid cyclists. A couple of blogger friends recently took part in the 7th Annual International Alyn Charity Bike Ride from Jerusalem to Eilat. This is a ride for charity that benefits the children of Alyn Hospital in Jerusalem. Kol HaKavod to MoChassid and Devrei Moshe! You guys (and all the other people who finished this incredible ride) are my heroes.
All this talk of cycling has me itching to dust off my own Gary Fisher mountain bike and put in some miles.
Posted by David Bogner on November 10, 2006 | Permalink
| Comments (11)
Thursday, November 09, 2006
[I wrote a post about the events in Beit Hanun that is still setting off Zahava's 'uh-oh' meter... meaning I need to sit on it for a bit and allow reason to set in. Stay tuned. In the mean time here's something I've wanted to post for a bit]
A good friend and I were once sitting around over a bottle of wine when the topic of secret wishes came up. I asked him to tell me what he wished for in life. Without missing a beat he told me that he wished he were so rich that he could afford to make very low-key Bar/Bat Mitzvahs and Weddings for his kids.
This made absolutely no sense to me and I told him as much.
He went on to explain that if you are filthy rich and make a low-key affair, people quietly applaud your modesty and compliment your priorities behind your back. If you don't have money and make a modest affair out of necessity, your friends all understand... but in the back of their minds... and perhaps in their private conversations at home... they'll make note of what a shame it is that you couldn't afford to do more.
The simple truth behind this sentiment became immediately clear to me and I have never been able to forget it.
Up until I heard my friend's explanation, my aspirations had always been a bit more modest (if I can use the word in a completely different context). You see, I had always wanted to be so rich that I could buy a whole cheese pizza for myself and eat only the first two perfect bites of each slice without feeling the tiniest twinge of guilt.
I don't remember which one of my deepest desires I ended up telling my friend there over that bottle of wine when it came my turn to share... but I'm sure it wasn't the thing about the pizza.
Posted by David Bogner on November 9, 2006 | Permalink
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Tuesday, November 07, 2006
No dog in this fight
They say that decisions are made by those who show up. This is especially true of elections.
I was raised by a couple of dyed-in-the-wool liberal democrats who voted religiously and who even volunteered their time for candidates when the mood was upon them.
However, for the first time since I turned 18, I didn't vote in an American election.
Even when I was in the navy and sailing around Asia and the South Pacific on a frigate I managed to cast an absentee ballot. And two years ago I voted in the presidential election from the comfort of my kitchen table here in Israel.
But at some point I made the decision not to vote in this year's mid-term election.
I've dealt with the issue of expat election ethics in the past so I won't rehash it in excruciating detail here. But the long and short of it is that while I can (mostly) justify voting in a presidential election because of the potential impact on the part of the world where I now live... the mid-term elections are not likely to have any substantive impact on Israel.
Let's face it, the candidates from both major parties have been jumping through hoops to prove their pro-Israel bona fides, and to vote solely based on local issues in the state where I'm still registered (Connecticut) when I won't really be affected by the results seems, well... just wrong. I mean, what are they gonna do... ding my trust fund with a new tax??? [kidding, I'm dirt poor just like all of you!]
It may seem to many that I crapped out on my civic duty... but I truly feel that I don't have a dog in this particular fight. Zahava and I will just have to wait another two years before we once again refuse to tell each other who we voted for.
Posted by David Bogner on November 7, 2006 | Permalink
| Comments (39)
Monday, November 06, 2006
Watching the the haredim rioting on the streets of Jerusalem has been instructive on many levels.
It has been instructive to note that many haredim feel that making open threats of violence (and even death) against fellow Jews is permissible when faced with the simple presence of a person/people considered to be objectionable. This sounds suspiciously like the rationale used by the Arabs for launching the intifada in the wake of Ariel Sharon visiting the Temple mount.
It has been instructive to note that not one of these black-clad men would dare take to the streets without explicit instructions and encouragement from their Rabbinic leaders. Make no mistake, the violence can be turned on and off like a spigot. Yet until the attorney general intervened, the police were seriously considering calling off the gay pride parade because of uncontrollable violence. This suggests an extremely poor understanding of the word 'uncontrollable'.
It has been instructive to note that the reason given for the violent reaction to the proposed gay pride parade is the desecration of Jerusalem's sanctity. Funny how Jews threatening to beat, and even kill, other Jews on the streets of holy Jerusalem isn't considered a desecration if her sanctity.
It has been instructive to note that the requirement under Jewish Law to obey the laws of the land is transgressed here in the Holy land by many haredim to the same extent as in other countries where they may reside... if not to a greater extent. Apparently Jewish law can be applied selectively when it suits an agenda.
It has been instructive to note that the 'pious' Rabbis who send their followers into the streets of Jerusalem to protect the sanctity of the holy city feel no pressing need to use their considerable influence to find a way to free the chained women (agunot) whose continued suffering is a blight on the very soul of Jerusalem, Eretz Yisrael and the entire Jewish world. Perhaps most instructive of all is that some issues demand decisive action while others can be placed on a halachic back-burner.
I am a religious Jew who endeavors to observe the commandments. I believe that we will all be called to answer for what we do in this life... and perhaps more importantly, what we fail to do. I believe in my heart that there is a special punishment awaiting so-called Rabbis who abuse their authority, lead their followers astray and shame the Jewish people before the world. I believe the punishment that awaits them is the same as for false prophets and messiahs.
Of course, I could just as easily be wrong as right in what I say here. Ask me again at the end of days. That should prove to be especially instructive.
Posted by David Bogner on November 6, 2006 | Permalink
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Sunday, November 05, 2006
Nice idea, but...
A couple of weeks ago I saw a fantastic idea on 'Book of Joe' : A toilet bowl light!
Here's the description from the web site:
Unique Johnny-Light toilet seat floods the bowl with soft green light when the lid is lifted, preventing nighttime accidents.
Helpful for potty-training children and a great reminder to lower the seat when finished.
Uses 2 AAA batteries (included).
Fits standard toilets.
I see so many great things on 'Book of Joe' that I've started putting my wallet in the safe before surfing over to his site. This item in particular whispered lovingly to my inner impulse buyer.
But, once I started thinking about the need to disable the thing on Shabbat, and the inconvenience it would cause if I should forget to do so, well... the moment passed. It really is a great idea if you think about it, but not at all practical for people who can't turn electrical things on and off for 25 hours every week.
However, in the on-again-off-again struggle to get Yonah interested in consistently standing up to pee in the toilet this toilet light idea got me thinking that part of the reason behind his intermittent interest (and random aim) might be that once a kid has done this trick a couple of times... the fun sort of wears off.
So, while not practical for our lifestyle, the glowing light in the toilet gave me another idea. One day last week I came home from work after having given a Power Point presentation and had the idea of shining my handy-dandy laser pointer into the bowl to give Yonah something colorful to aim for.
The results were better than anything I could have hoped for... spectacular even! He was absolutely mesmerized by the colored light in the water. The problem is that he started asking to stand in front of the toilet with his pants around his ankles all the time... even when he doesn't have to go.
Please don't think me a bad father...I love the kid to pieces... I really do. I just don't have the patience to stand for hours in the bathroom, flashing the laser pointer into the toilet bowl while Yonah stands there with no intention of peeing!
Of course, the law of averages demands that occasionally a good thunderstorm is going to coincide with the performance of a rain dance.
So it happened Friday afternoon.
The moment I gave up on Yonah and turned my back to lead him into the shower with me... Yonah followed along and dutifully peed all over the back of my legs (yes, folks... it would seem that Yonah and I in the shower together is a recipe for comic genius).
So now what to do about keeping Yonah interested in standing up and 'taking care of business'?
I'm guessing there must be some middle ground between crushing ennui and fascination so intense that all excretory function is temporarily disabled. Perhaps I should put the laser pointer away for a bit and use the old tried-and-true targeting device; Cheerios floating in the bowl.
Posted by David Bogner on November 5, 2006 | Permalink
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