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Sunday, December 31, 2006

Wishing I were in hot water [for a change]

Burst pipe repaired... water mopped up and water damage seems to be limited... phone/Internet cable temporarily mended (thanks Avi)... plumber due out today to look at hot water heater/tank.

I honestly don't have anything meaningful to offer this morning.  I do, however, have a few questions:

Does anyone out there have any experience with on-demand gas-fired water heaters?  If so, I'm specifically interested to know about the following:

1.  Savings (over traditional tank/electrical element system): big, small or a wash?

2.  Shabbat:  Is there a way to use hot/warm water on shabbat for washing dishes?

3.  Regulating output temperature:  I've heard that output temp. can vary based on demand (i.e. how much water is being used at any given moment).  Are there units that compensate for this and maintain constant output temperature?

4.  Any other reason I should/shouldn't consider one?

Thanks in advance for any and all information you would care to share.


Posted by David Bogner on December 31, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (18) | TrackBack

Friday, December 29, 2006

Other than that Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?

Let's see...

Burst pipe... water cascading down stairs into living room... drilled through phone/Internet cable... hot water heater died...

You get the idea.

Shabbat Shalom

[posted from my trusty Nokia cell phone]

Posted by David Bogner on December 29, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (25) | TrackBack

Thursday, December 28, 2006

A measured response...

... to yesterday's commenters, not to the Palestinians (just so we're clear).

I would love to be able to tell you that yesterday's post was a calculated provocation on my part in order to get people riled up enough to provide their honest opinions on what Israel should and should not do in the face of the ongoing rocket and terror attacks. 

Unfortunately, I'm just not that good.  It was a rant, plain and simple.

What you read here yesterday was yet another emotional outburst from your host... and the only saving grace was that many commenters stepped up and provided some very interesting insights far beyond the scope of my tirade.  So, having read your comments I decided they deserved a more detailed response than a line or two in the thread. 

Here we go:

To those of you who were outraged by my 'immoral' suggestion that Israel begin targeting entire communities in Gaza for destruction, let me ask you the following questions:

1.  Is Israel at war (meaning are we under direct military attack)?

2.  Has the enemy declared Israeli civilian communities to be legitimate targets... and have they made good on that threat?

3.  Has there ever been a war in the history of the world where only uniformed, insignia-wearing combatants were involved in hostilities?  If not, why should Israel be asked to create such a ground-breaking precedent?

4.  Should the civilian population on one side of a conflict continue to be declared inviolate and off-limits to deliberate and concentrated attack when they:

  • declare overwhelming majority support for deliberate and concentrated attacks against their enemy's civilian communities?
  • give aid and shelter to combatants who carry out such attacks against civilian targets?
  • allow military workshops (bomb/rocket-making factories) within their urban population centers?
  • enable attacks against civilian population centers to be carried out from within their midst (essentially using themselves as human shields for the combatants)?
  • elect and support a government with a declared policy of targeting civilian population centers, not as a means to force their enemy to surrender, but rather to completely eradicate the sovereign state with whom they are at war?

5.  Has there ever been a war - just, or otherwise - in which the resolve of each side's citizens was demonstrated by their willingness to personally take the life of one of the enemy's citizens?  I know my grandmother was 100% in favor of the allied bombing of German cities in WWII, but I doubt whe would have had the stomach to point a gun at a citizen of Berlin and pull the trigger.  Does this indicate that our attacks on German cities were immoral?

Just as a side-issue:  The historical validity/relevance of my reference to Dresden has been called into question by one or two readers who have asserted that that city was in fact a strategic military target because of its location along the rail route of the advancing Soviet troops.  To these commenters I would suggest a look at a period map.  Please note that the rail route was on the outskirts of the city and almost all of the bombing was deliberately concentrated in the city's civilian center.

Now, on to the other side of the discussion:

To those who agreed with me and even took my rant to what you believed was the next logical level, let me ask you the following:

1.  Would your suggestions remain valid/ethical if you were to remove the subjective value judgments you have made about Palestinian society and/or religious beliefs?

2.  How much do you think your feelings about Islam/Muslims in general colored your statements about the justness of attacking Palestinian civilians?  Would you still maintain your support for my 'Dresden option' if the terror and rocket attacks were coming from a Buddhist or Shinto entity?  What about if they were Christians?

3.  Does a civilian population become undeserving of protection from attack during war simply because they:

  • place a different value on human life than their enemy?
  • are not empowered by their society to participate in demonstrations against decisions made by their political leaders and militias without fear of reprisals?
  • do not have a culture of social activism that would make protest appear to be a viable option?
  • would welcome such an attack as it would make them religious and political martyrs to their cause?

4.  If your support for collective punishment (i.e. viewing all citizens as part of the enemy war machine), can you honestly say that the civilian population has the ability to influence their leader's policy once they realize they will be targeted?

What say you all?


Posted by David Bogner on December 28, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (30) | TrackBack

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The Dresden Option

There sometimes comes a time in a war where one or both sides realize that there is no chance of the enemy leadership surrendering based solely on what is transpiring on the battlefield.  When that happens the next logical move is to begin targeting civilian population centers... essentially declaring the entire enemy territory a battlefield.

The Palestinians took this extreme step almost from the inception of their declared war against the 'Zionist Entity'.  For more than 35 years they have used booby-trapped items of every description to terrorize, maim and kill us.  They have used kidnapping.  They have used stones and bullets and Molotov cocktails.   They have used suicide bombers.  And they now use rockets

All of these tactics... legitimate or not... have been used almost exclusively to target Israel's civilian population... and the world has been pretty much OK with this. 

To a certain extent Israel has also targeted Palestinian civilians... but in a much less direct/deliberate way.  We have put up roadblocks and have limited Palestinian freedom of movement.  We have made frequent (almost daily) military incursions into Palestinian towns and cities when intelligence sources have tipped off the location of a fugitives or a high probability of an imminent attack.   But by any objective measure of brutality, the IDF has taken super-human pains... often at the risk of IDF lives... to limit Palestinian civilian casualties during these actions.

I make this distinction because one can't reasonably suggest that the suffering of the Palestinian population under Israeli rule has been our primary objective.  Rather, it has been a byproduct of our blundering attempts to simply protect ourselves. 

I have to believe that even the most strident Tel Aviv leftist who spends his/her free time protesting IDF raids and roadblocks sleeps a little better knowing that the local mall and cafe are less likely to be blown up as a result of this Israeli brutality.

Our actions stand in stark comparison to the Palestinian attacks against Israeli civilians and population centers which are openly intended to cause maximum physical and emotional injury.

Even when Israel agrees to a cease-fire, rockets and mortars continue to fall on our cities and daily attempts to smuggle suicide belts and bombs into Israel continue unabated.   

Therefore, I can't understand why we don't simply abandon this blundering and adopt the Dresden option for stopping the carnage.   

In the later years of WWII, the Allies and Germany had set about systematically attacking each other's cities in attempt to bring about a surrender that wasn't forth-coming on the battlefield.  In many cases there were legitimate military/strategic targets in amongst the civilians who where being incinerated.  But Dresden... with its relative paucity of strategic targets... represented the antithesis of the industrial German war machine.   It was what modern military planners would call a 'soft target'.

Several of Japan's 'soft targets' were also burned to the ground.  Forget Hiroshima and Nagasaki for the moment... as the deliberate firebombing of Tokyo was equally gruesome, albeit not quite so technologically sophisticated to carry out.

The results of these attacks against civilian population centers is indisputable.  Even if one wanted to argue that the leaders were fanatical enough to fight to the last civilian standing... the home-front support for the war literally evaporated in the face of such devastation. The London blitz severely damaged some of that city's infrastructure.  The bombing of Dresden erased that beautiful city from the map.  Guess who surrendered?

Look at the way Israel's resolve has weakened in the face of much less concentrated attacks against its civilians!   At any given point easily half of the Israeli population is ready to throw up its collective hands and say "enough...  give them whatever they ask for... just make the bombs and rockets stop!"  So please don't try to tell me that attacking civilians doesn't work.

So... if we can agree that this is a declared war...

If we can agree that showing restraint will not stop the attacks against our civilians...

If we can agree that support for continued armed struggle against Israel will continue to be strong amongst the Palestinian population so long as there are relatively few consequences...

... then the only answer is to create consequences.  Massive consequences.

In the past I have suggested that for each rocket that falls inside Israel a member of the Palestinian legislature be killed.  I'm still in favor of that policy, but I am also now strongly in favor of exercising the Dresden option in order to end, once and for all, the relentless attacks against our civilians.

Starting today.  Right this very minute... for every rocket that falls, a Palestinian city in Gaza should be firebombed.  Burned to the ground.  No warning... no mercy.

I know... I know.  I can hear you out there saying that it isn't fair... the Kassams are a primitive, home-made rocket and the IDF has sophisticated smart bombs and missiles with pinpoint accuracy in its arsenal. 

To this I say tough sh*t.  Tell that to the parents of the two boys who were wounded in the most recent kassam attack.    Tell it to the large families where parents have to make the unthinkable nightly choice of which children to put to bed in the family's small reinforced rocket-proof room.

Better yet, don't tell anyone anything.  Get up from your latte in Ramat Gan and go live for a few weeks in Sderot.  Not willing to risk it?  Then shut your mouth and shut your windows... because the smell of burning flesh may carry quite a ways if the wind turns northerly. 

When rockets were falling on cosmopolitan Haifa you guys were all for the the war effort.  But when a development town like Sderot comes under daily attack all you can suggest is 'restraint'?  Puleeze!  Maybe Sderot needs a few more art galleries and sidewalk bistros before it will qualify for your outrage.

As always, I am open to anyone's suggestions... but please don't tell me that doing nothing is still a viable option.  As foreign policy, 'restraint' only works when both sides in a conflict are willing to practice it.

Many of you pooh-poohed warnings that giving Gaza over to Palestinian autonomy (and yes, even Abbas admits that Gaza is now fully autonomous, unoccupied territory) would allow them to use it as a launching pad for rockets and terror into Israel. 

So now what? 

Don't like my suggestion?  Let's hear one or two of your own!


Posted by David Bogner on December 27, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (41) | TrackBack

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

A memory of James Brown (May 3rd 1933 - December 25th 2006)

The music business lost its hardest working member yesterday.  It seems James Brown, the 'Godfather of Soul', has finally taken a break after a lifetime of hard work and legendary performances.

The following story about James Brown came to me third hand via a guitar player I know:

We were playing the Jerry Lewis telethon one year in the 70's and James and his band were supposed to go on at some specific time, let's say 3:00.  All the bands were asked to arrive an hour early to be sure they were directed to the proper stage, set-up, sound-checked, etc. 

Well, by 2:00, no James, no band.  2:15...2:30...nothing.

Suddenly, at around 2:45, two extremely dirty, noisy and rusting old automobiles that looked like they came from a 1940's movie came screeching into the studio parking lot.  Out from the cloud of dust emerged six very messy looking people who appeared to have driven all night and day and slept in their raggedy clothes (which, in fact, they had).  Five of the six grabbed their instruments - guitar, bass and amps (not even in cases), drums and horns, and with a cool air mixing indifference and joy, they sachet their way into the building.  The sixth one was James, strutting behind them.

No time for a sound check, no time to even tune up.  The guitarist and bassist plopped down their amps, sharing some joke between them.  The horn players found some stage microphones.  The drummer slapped his rickety hardware together in about 5 minutes, leaving about 60 seconds until airtime.  We (The house band for the telethon) were watching the scene, wondering what the hell this unkempt and exhausted gang would do next.

We didn't have long to wonder as we were instantly blown away by the baddest, funkiest, kick-ass groove we had ever witnessed.  We just stared... all our jaws dropped.  James and his band drove through their set with passion and perfection, nailing every note, every punch, every hit, and reminding everyone why they were the best R&B backline on the planet.

15 loud and proud minutes later, the show was over.  The six of them picked up their pawn-shop-looking gear and dragged themselves back to the waiting cars, muttering something about getting to Virginia by 8:00. 

The guitar player from the telethon band (from who this story was passed) said there was a large pool of sweat on the floor and a stench that lasted the rest of the day... but also a memory of seeing the type of music and attitude born of pain and gospel truth that creates legends.

Rest well JB... you've earned the break.


Posted by David Bogner on December 26, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Monday, December 25, 2006

"It's a Good Thing" *

I'm posting a rare second post today because the recent scandal involving Dov Bear has been weighing heavily on my mind.  It's not that I'm such a great friend of Dov bear.  I mean, I think he's very bright, and I admire his ability to coax an argument out of even the most docile reader.  But at the same time I've made no secret of my distaste for bloggers who stir up controversy for controversy's sake.

Well, it now seems that the gods of irony have turned the tables on DB as he now finds himself the focus of a very serious controversy.  He has been accused of lifting entire blocks of text from multiple sources on an ongoing basis without providing proper attribution.  In short, he stands accused of being a plagiarist.

To his credit Dov Bear has publicly (and privately) admitted to the accusations, but IMHO his mea culpa fell a few articles of clothing short of 'the full monty'.  For example, he opened his apology with "I am writing to update you on my efforts to address the allegations made against me...", and then goes on to say that his lapses were borne of laziness rather than dishonesty.  I am certainly not in a position to judge the correctness of that sentiment, but I felt compelled to leave a response on his blog none-the-less:

Full disclosure:  I have fixed a couple of bone-headed spelling errors before republishing my comment here.

[Dear Dov Bear]

I'm certainly in no position to 'cast the first stone' since, although I try to attribute anything I present on my blog which isn't my own... I do sometimes get lazy after a quick search fails to turn up an authoritative source.

But that isn't really what we're talking about here, is it?

Two suggestions DB:

1. Your use of the word "allegations" in your mea culpa is ill advised. It suggests that the accusations are unfounded (i.e. that you allegedly copied material without providing attribution). Allegations are accusations that have been made but not proved. Is that really what you still maintain?

2. While I agree with an earlier commenter that Dov Weasel [the anonymous blogger who leveled the accusations] clearly has too much time on his/her hands... the issues raised are serious. It isn't that you used a picture that appeared on several sites without trying to find out who actually took/owned it (something I have done too frequently). It isn't that you used/paraphrased a witty expression you heard or read without giving credit because it would have taken too long to track down the original source (again, something I admit freely to having done). What you are accused of is copying large blocks of text from their source (indicating you knew where they came from) and pasting them into your blog. Further, in most cases you made small cosmetic changes to the phrasing. A cynical person would say that you made these small changes to throw off anti-plagiarism software that searches for verbatim text lifts... but I think you were probably just unhappy with the way the original text fit into your flow of thought and simply wanted to tweak it. However this doesn't minimize the fact that attributing the source would have taken far less time than the additional tweaking you did afterward. It would have been as simple as the cut and past that brought the ill-gotten prose into your domain in the first place.

You are a bright guy... nobody can reasonably say otherwise after having read you for even a short time. So I can't help but wonder why you cared more for other people's ideas than your own... so much so that you appropriated them. But that seems to be what you did. It wasn't laziness and it wasn't an oversight. It was plagiarism.

You haven't lost most of your reader's trust, and you certainly haven't lost mine... yet. But unless you make a clean breast of what happened here I think you will find it hard to shake this scandal off.

Do you really want to end up the Joseph Biden of the Jblogosphere? I mention Biden because in the end it turned out he was guilty of far less than he was accused of... but because he obfuscated and dodged rather than admitting that yes, on one single occasion he had acted unethically... he is now remembered incorrectly by many as a serial plagiarist.

I honestly don't wish that on you.

Although I don't envy Dov Bear his moment of notoriety, I do think it is a healthy development for the blogosphere that a form of peer censure has occurred.  Years ago the blogosphere prided itself on its free-wheeling, 'wild west', anything goes way of conducting business.  We were like a bunch of kids on a playground with no grown-ups around to impose the stuffy rules of organized society on us. 

Pictures, stories, jokes, memes and just about anything else on which we could lay/click our grubby little mice were passed around without attribution.  Anyone who complained about purloined intellectual property... pilfered prose... ill-gotten images... was called an old hen or a prude.  The very idea of private ownership seemed antithetical to the way the web had organized itself.  Bandwidth was something other people shell out for and hot content was only occasionally 'paid for' with a 'hat tip' to the last person who had 'borrowed' it.

What we failed to realize back then was that we weren't playing in a schoolyard devoid of teachers.  We were more like the castaway children in William Golding's 'Lord of the flies' who, in the absence of the conventions of organized society, had become savages.

The fact that we now have a situation where a blogger has leveled charges of plagiarism... and that those charges aren't being 'poo-poohed' is, quite frankly, incredible!  This is a promising indication of the blogosphere's slow transition into a serious, mature medium.  That plagiarism is being debated in many corners of the Jblogosphere is extremely healthy... and that the accused himself seems to be [mostly] taking the charge quite seriously is perhaps the most positive sign of all.

The MSM has historically looked down its nose at the blogosphere, calling us a bunch of unruly children lacking in journalistic and ethical standards.  A few years ago that might have been mostly true, but the way the Dov Bear scandal is being picked over and debated among bloggers provides hope that the blogosphere has indeed passed from its unruly childhood into the realm of adult rules and standards.

As Martha Stewart would say (* note the internal attribution there, DB), "It's a good thing."


Posted by David Bogner on December 25, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (16) | TrackBack

It's a guy thing

There's just something about a barbershop.  I'm not talking about those precious salons you'll find in tony, gentrified neighborhoods or the shiny plastic 'super-cuts' at the mall.   No, I'm referring to the venerated, exclusively-masculine institutions that smell of talc, bay rum and hair tonic;  A barbershop.

When I lived in the US I frequented a few different barbershops, depending on whether I found myself in Connecticut or New York City when the need for a trim arose... but they all shared these common features (in no particular order):

Storefront location - Whoever heard of a barber shop on a second floor or inside an office building?  Unthinkable!  Half the charm is the walk-in traffic and having passers-by be able to see you tipped back there in the chair.  This is a social occasion!

Old fashioned chairs -  No improvements of any consequence have been made in the barber's chair since about 1930.  They need to swivel, go up and down, recline (with reversible foot pad for ankle comfort while tipped back), and weigh roughly a half ton.  A respectable barber shop will have a minimum of two or three such chairs... even if only one barber is on duty at any given time.

Additional seating - Those who are 'on deck', as well as the inevitable retirees who congregate in barber shops to gossip, must have ample seating in vinyl seats (with chrome trim) as well as a few handy Formica side tables strewn with newspapers and sporting/motoring magazines.

Pictures - Any barber shop worth its salt must have faded photographs on the walls showing haircuts that have been out of fashion for at least two decades.  A minimum of one 'mullet' picture is de rigueur!

Barbicide (no, this doesn't mean 'killing your barber after a bad haircut') -  The counter under the mirror must have at least two vats of this mysterious blue liquid with combs and scissors soaking in them.  Never mind that the comb and scissors the barber used for you were grabbed off the counter.  Not seeing that magical blue sanitizing liquid there in plain sight is a deal breaker!

Razor & Strop - When I was a kid I loved watching the barber 'fix' the edge of his straight razor with a few confident swipes at the leather strop hanging from the side of the chair.  He did this after he had used a badger brush (or his thumb) to dab warm shaving cream on the back of your neck and behind your ears.  One of my most closely kept secrets (until now, that is) is that the only reason I grew a beard when I became observant was so I could continue letting the barber use the straight razor on my neck (front and back) without worrying that he would accidentally stray to one of the areas forbidden under Jewish law.  These days for hygienic reasons most barbers use a straight razor handle fitted with disposable blades... but finding a barber who uses an autoclave for his collection of fine old straight razors is a rare treat indeed.

Hot towels - Even if you aren't getting a shave, having a hot towel from the warmer/humidifier tossed on your face and/or neck for a few minutes gives you a whole new lease on life!  Any airline that would give me a hot face towel at the end of the flight (instead of just a skimpy hand-cloth) would have a customer for life!

Wisdom - George Burns once remarked that it's "too bad the only people who know how to run the country are busy driving cabs and cutting hair."   Truer words were never spoken.  In my humble opinion, anyone who complains about a too-talkative barber is probably one of those sad cases who thinks he has nothing left to learn.  Along with the whole visual and olfactory experience of visiting the barbershop, one should come to the occasion prepared to soak up all sorts of wisdom... supplemented by additional commentary and sub-text provided by the retirees hanging out in the 'on deck circle.  I recall vividly going to the barbershop with my dad when I was perhaps 6 or 7 and imagining I would one day be wise enough to join the banter of these learned sages.  I still do far more listening than talking.

In the old city of Beer Sheva, not far from my office, there are at least five barbershops within a two block radius of one another that fit most or all the criteria I have listed above.  I try not to play favorites, but in truth I end up going to one in particular most of the time for the following reasons:

a) All of the other barbers seem to wander over to this shop when their trade gets slow in order to soak up the wisdom (basically catch up with the latest gossip).

b) The owner of the shop is an older Moroccan man who speaks in the slow, deliberate, richly accented Hebrew of an immigrant, even though he moved to Israel in 1964. 

c) He has two fine old barber chairs but I have never seen another barber at work there.  This means that while I wait my turn I can stretch out in the other barber chair and have a short snooze.  Inevitably the owner will pause from whoever he is working on to toss a couple of hot towels over my face and neck even if I'm just there for a trim.

d) All the barbers in the old city keep to the old habit of closing down for a few hours in the middle of the day and then re-opening from 4:30 until 7:30 or 8:00PM.  This allows me to wander over after work and not feel rushed.

e) I find myself drawn back there for a haircut when I feel news-starved, not necessarily when I need a haircut.

Guys, feel free to share... I'd love to hear about your favorite practitioners (and memories) of the tonsorial arts.  Girls, just relax... I don't necessarily expect you to contribute.  Just as we don't 'get' the 34 pairs of identical black pumps you have in your closet or your never-ending search for the perfect little formal black handbag... I don't expect you to 'get' this whole barbershop thing. 

Trust me, it isn't supposed to make sense. 


Posted by David Bogner on December 25, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (22) | TrackBack

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Elaborate exculpation or lame excuses... you be the judge

I really apologize for the lack of posting and for my woeful performance in responding to your comments lately.  Here are some reasons (pick any that sound plausible):

a) Family Time 1: I've been spending time with my parents that would normally be spent online.

b) Family time 2: The big kids off from school for Hanukkah all last week. 'Nuff said.

c) Poor equipment: I lent Gilad's clunky desktop computer to my parents for their apartment... so he hijacked my beloved wide-screen Mac G4 Powerbook, leaving me with a borrowed IBM Thinkpad that is perfectly suited (IMHO) to serve as a doorstop.

d) Professional obligations: Preparations for an imminent business trip abroad have found me in the 5th or 6th level of Powerpoint and Excel hell during my 'free time' when I would normally be responding to your thoughtful comments, writing new posts or taking pictures for Photo Friday.

e) Looking back:  Late December is when I started treppenwitz 3 years ago.  This time of year always gets me nostalgic for my early days of blogging/journaling.  Don't get me wrong... I love that the Blogoshpere has blossomed the way it has.  But I miss the 'golden age' of blogging  when there weren't quite so many of us doing this.  Nostalgia has its place in the creative process... but looking in the rear-view mirror can sometimes impede forward progress.

f) Fitting in:  It may sound strange as an excuse, but looking back at my first couple of years keeping up treppenwitz I see that I was much more attuned to cultural peculiarities and 'new immigrant moments'.  I guess it's a good sign that I don't notice this stuff much any more... but it certainly removes a whole genre of potential post topics.

Happy Sunday all... and thanks for another great year.


Posted by David Bogner on December 24, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (14) | TrackBack

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Details, details...

Look at me... two posts in one day! 

Amir Peretz proved today that overseeing the military and security concerns of our country is not the only things for which he is ill -prepared.  It seems that logic (or reality, for that matter) is also not his strong suit.

At a Hanukkah party at the Labor party headquarters in Tell Aviv (where he was desperately trolling for votes in order to retain leadership of the party) he told his fellow Laborites that were it not for the war in Lebanon, Labor under his leadership "would have changed the face of Israel in every aspect."

Uh-huh.  And were it not for the lack of b@lls, my auntie would be my uncle. 

Seriously... just exactly what does it take for an Israeli politician to actually admit making a complete hash of the job he/she was given, and step down with some semblance of grace and dignity?! 

For the answer to this question all you have to do is look at who is waiting in the wings to try to take back the party leadership; Ehud Barak... one of the most ineffectual Prime Ministers in Israel's history and architect of the ill-advised unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon whose direct result was last summer's war!

[bangs head against wall to keep from thinking any more about these morons]

Note: Sorry, I really meant to lay off politics for a while but I just couldn't leave this one alone.


Posted by David Bogner on December 21, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Caffeinated Kids

I don't recall if I have written about this or not... but about a year ago Zahava and I came to a decision (with the help of our pediatrician) to have Gilad try Ritalin in hopes it would help him concentrate in school.  We HATED the idea of medicating him more than words can describe... but we were at our wit's end trying to figure out how to keep him from duplicating his father's abysmal academic performance.

So, we picked up a prescription for 'Vitamin R' (a low trail dosage that would only last a couple of  hours) and sat Gilad down for a talk.

He certainly wasn't happy wandering around in a fog in school and having his parents and teachers tag-teaming him at regular intervals over his failure to perform, so he was willing to give just about anything a try.  But at the same time, he wanted to know how the pills would make him feel.

I'm embarrassed to admit that this questions caught me completely off guard.

Zahava and I had been so focused on the potential results of the drug that we had completely glossed over its direct effects on our child; a feeling, thinking human being.  As a parent, I can't tell you how sh*tty this made me feel.  I promised Gilad we would look into it.

I did some research on the web (I know all you physicians out there are slapping your forehead right about now), and Zahava asked our pediatrician for his opinion.  As expected, our pediatrician (an excellent diagnostician and physician) hedged a little bit and said that kids described a wide range of 'observed feelings' after taking Ritalin and that we would simply have to wait until Gilad took it to know how it would make him feel.

However, my research on the web gave me pause.  It seems that not only were most of the success stories for Ritalin reported with ADHD kids (Gilad definitely did not have the 'H' (hyperactive) in whatever group of letters might be holding him back)... but in studies, Ritalin has been linked to abnormal liver function, cerebral arteritis, leukopenia, and death* (there have been at least 19 cases of sudden death in children taking methylphenidate [Ritalin's chemical name], leading to calls by the Drug Safety and Risk Management Advisory Committee to the FDA to require the most serious type of health warning on the label, but this advice was rejected**)!

Sure Gilad has serious attention issues... but he is one of the mellowest kids on the planet (just like his dad was).  Parent-teacher night with him traditionally starts with "You should know that your son is such a nice boy and a pleasure to have in class, but... " which is traditionally followed by a report of non-performance (sound familiar mom & dad?).

Anyway, with heavy hearts we decided to go ahead with the little white wonder pills and Gilad gave his consent.

Long story short, almost immediately Gilad reported feeling more alert and 'there' when he was in class.  But at the same time he said he didn't enjoy the 'hyper' feeling that the Ritalin was giving him.  This went on for a few weeks, but we finally decided that the improvement wasn't significant enough to justify having Gilad feel out of sorts all the time.

Enter a treppenwitz reader who recently stayed with us for a few days on a trip to Israel.  During one of our late evening chats she mentioned that she had decided not to go the Ritalin route with her kids and instead just let them have coffee.


Well, if you think about it, it makes a certain amount of sense.  Ritalin is essentially a stimulant (amphetamine), and most, if not all or the effects mirror what people report after drinking a cup of coffee; alertness, better ability to focus... even enhanced ability to reason and make mental connections. 

Coffee, on the other hand, contains the single most widely used drug on the planet; caffeine.  As I pointed out before, it provides many, if not all, of the same effects of Ritalin without potentially serious health risks.  In fact, new research has uncovered a host of health benefits to drinking coffee in moderation.

So, if coffee might potentially fill in for Ritalin, why not avoid something that has serious potential health risks?

We have now officially invited Ariella and Gilad into our little morning coffee ritual... Ariella because she's now old enough to make an informed decision, and Gilad because, while it might help him focus, it certainly can't hurt.

Oh, and for all you parents out there who are itching to admonish me about how coffee will stunt their growth... not only are both of the big kids (11 and 12 respectively) already, well, big (Ariella is already her mother's height and Gilad is on track to surpass his 6'2" dad)... but it turns out that the whole 'stunting your growth' scare-story our parents handed us was nothing but a myth with no scientific evidence whatsoever to support it.

Also, unlike Ritalin, there is no negative stigma attached to drinking coffee to further damage Gilad's self-esteem.  If anything, our inviting him join us for a cuppa is bound to make him feel a little more grown up (and who knows... responsible?)

Look, I figure it's worth a try.  Worst comes to worst, Gilad will continue plodding down the path of academic mediocrity that was blazed before him by his dad.  But we will at least enjoy a few extra minutes together with the kids in the morning over a delicious cup of coffee. 

I'll let you know how things work out. 

* Source, ** Source


Posted by David Bogner on December 21, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (38) | TrackBack

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

'The Darkest Night'

If you haven't done something special yet for Hanukkah, tonight is the night.  Invite friends over... make a party... do something special with the kids.  If you have an old copy of the Birnbaum siddur (prayerbook) around the house you can even curl up in a comfortable chair and read through a seldom-remembered 'megilah' called 'The Scroll of the Hasmoneans' (Here is a translation thanks to long-time treppenwitz reader 'Customer Servant'... and a good, in-depth explanation of its history can be found here).

So, why is this night different from all oth.... um, sorry... wrong holiday.

But seriously, tonight is different.

The fifth night of Hanukkah is called 'the darkest night', not because it falls on one of the last days of the Hebrew month of Kislev (meaning there is no moon), but because it is the only night of Hanukkah that can NEVER fall on Shabbat.

That's right, you heard me right... the way the Jewish calendar is set up, any night of Hanukkah can fall out on a Friday night except the fifth candle.   

On all other nights we eat both bread and matzo... er, sorry, did it again.  What I meant to say was that on all other nights the light of the Hanukkah candles is enhanced by the light - and kedushah (holiness) - of the Shabbat candles.  But on the fifth night the light from the Hanukiah (menorah) has to fight the darkness by itself.

That's where we come in.  A nice tradition has arisen of bringing extra light... extra celebration... extra kedushah to this night by doing something special with family and friends.

I was so moved by this tradition when I first heard about it that I decided to create a tangible reminder that I could carry around with me throughout the year.  Since I was a teenager I had wanted a signet ring but didn't like the ones with initials (and I didn't have a family crest).  So Zahava created a simple design that would always remind me that at times in my life when I am not surrounded by light and holiness... I have to provide a little of my own to help chase away the darkness.


May your fifth night be bright (here's a picture of the big kids lighting the fifth candle from a couple of years ago).



Posted by David Bogner on December 19, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (26) | TrackBack

Monday, December 18, 2006

A guilty seasonal tradition

Every year about this time I make some reference to a guilty little pleasure of mine... something in which I have continued to indulge since moving to Israel: 'Holiday' music.

Growing up in New England you can't really avoid being exposed to the onslaught of holiday music that pours from every radio, television and mall loudspeaker from Thanksgiving (now Halloween) on.

I wasn't even aware to what extent I had internalized these 'classics' until I was cruising around the western Pacific on a ship one December in the Early 80s and realized I didn't miss the cold... I didn't miss the snow... I didn't even really miss eggnog back then.  I missed the Xmas music!

Remember, this was before Mariah Carrie and every other 'name' started churning out Christmas albums.  I'm surprised William Shatner didn't grace us with one of his own!

Anyway, I'd been listening to the classic seasonal music for so long that it had become like the thrill of the first pick-up baseball game of spring... the taste of sweet corn in late summer... the smell of burning leaves in fall.   In short, it wasn't December without that music!

I'm not a purist by any means.  I loved quirky hits like 'Grandma got run over by a reindeer' and 'Jingle Bell Rock' every bit as much as the more traditional 'Sleigh Ride' and 'Chestnuts Roasting on an open fire'.  And this is before I realized that a lot of the Christmas music was actually written by Jews (think 'White Christmas' by Irving Berlin')!

As I write this (at 5:55AM), Zahava is still asleep next to me and I have Vince Guaraldi's 'Charlie Brown Cristmas' soundtrack playing softly on iTunes.  She's also a child of the northeast, but I don't know if she shares my soft spot for the seasonal musical saccharine.

A recent favorite of mine is by the late Wesley Willis, a former homeless schizophrenic who attained cult status back in the 90's with his peculiar brand of song-writing. 

Here it is: 'Merry Christmas', (it also has a cute animated video).

Lastly, just so you don't think I'm a total sucker for anything seasonal... here is arguably the worst Xmas song ever recorded.  It is an amateur recording of 'Oh Holy Night' (Steve, of 'The Sneeze' called it, appropriately, 'Oh Holy Crap!') Please listen to the end as each time you think it can't possibly get worse... it does.  If you need a good belly laugh, give it a listen.

Happy Hanukkah!

Posted by David Bogner on December 18, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (32) | TrackBack

Sunday, December 17, 2006

The Inevitable Concession Post

Well, we all knew this post was coming.  :-)

On Friday evening the polls closed on the final round of voting for the Weblog Awards... and not surprisingly, the best man won. 

Since 'discovering' him back in July during the Lebanon war, I have been an avid reader of the Sandmonkey's blog.  It is, admittedly, a bit humbling to see someone from outside the country routinely demonstrate a better grasp of local events than we Israelis... but that is exactly what I said was happening back then... and continue to say today.

Does this mean I always agree with the Sandmonkey?  Of course not!

But there is something refreshing about reading someone who isn't personally invested in either the Palestinian or Israeli myths/legends that always seem to crop up whenever the ongoing conflict is discussed.  It is also instructive to have an Arab writer (albeit one who was educated in the west) taking Israeli and Palestinian extremist to task with equal fervor... and humor.

No, this is one race in which I was delighted to have been the runner-up.  We Israeli bloggers can certainly learn a lot from Mr. Sandmonkey... and I, for one, intend to study the lessons well.

Thank you to everyone who participated in the 2006 Weblog Awards: The bloggers who wrote (and continue to write)... the voters who voted... and of course, the loyal readers who continue to show up every day to make sure we navel-gazers don't end up sounding like a bunch of lunatics talking to ourselves.


Posted by David Bogner on December 17, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (11) | TrackBack

Friday, December 15, 2006

My bilingual boy

Our three year old Yonah was what you might call a 'late bloomer' when it came to talking.  There are lots of things behind this whole late blooming thing... but he seems to be making up for lost time now.

Having been born to American parents in Israel, Yonah has had the added challenge of learning to communicate in two languages... not to mention figuring out when and where each language is appropriate.

A heartwarming story from the supermarket that was related to me by my lovely wife:

Zahava and a friend were conversing when they noticed Yonah trying to force his way past another shopper.  After a few tentative shoves against the offending leg blocking his progress, he finally looked up at the obstacle shopper and yelled "ZOOZ!!!" (literally 'MOVE' in Hebrew).

Without missing a beat, the woman with whom my wife had been talking said, "Oh how cute... he's already learned to say 'excuse me' in Hebrew.

Our little Israeli is growing up so fast.  We're so proud.


OK folks, the polls close today so this is your last chance to cast your vote for treppenwitz in the finals of the Weblog Awards.  You guys have been great so far... but this is for all the marbles.  Go Vote!

Note to Doctor Bean:  We're having brunch with my folks so Photo Friday may be up a bit late (if at all). 

Posted by David Bogner on December 15, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (12) | TrackBack

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Misguided Boycotts

Boycotts can be a very powerful tool to express displeasure with (not to mention put pressure on)vendors or service-providers who ignore or abuse those whom they rely upon for income.  However, just as with endless demonstrations, Israelis have begin using this potent tool indiscriminately and without just cause.  People call for and organize boycotts (and demonstrations) at the drop of a hat without really considering all the angles. 

Take for example the Haredi world's call to boycott El Al. 

During the recent labor strike, Ben Gurion Airport was closed, and any airline with planes scheduled to fly in or out of Israel was thrown into chaos as the delays rippled through their schedules.  Planes/crews ended up out of position for an ever-widening circle of flights and the results were twofold for El Al:

1.  They decided that the most expedient solution to this was to fly some of the stranded planes on Shabbat in order to bring them (and their crews) into position for other scheduled flights.  This was a purely economic decision... one that is hard to fault.

2.  An El Al flight scheduled to return from Russia sat for so long due to the strike that its food supply was found to have spoiled.  On such a long flight it would be unthinkable not provide nourishment to the passengers, so a decision was made to buy non-kosher sandwiches and fresh fruit in Russia for the trip.  All passengers were informed that the sandwiches were not kosher and anyone who was concerned about such things was advise to eat only the fruit.

So, because a flight or two flew on Shabbat and because non-kosher food was served on a flight... the Haredi world immediately called for a boycott of El Al.

What makes this boycott misguided is the fact that El Al is no longer an Israeli government owned entity subject to the dictates of the Rabbinate.  It is a private company that is obliged to compete in a cut-throat business environment.  Yet, for whatever reason, El Al still bends over backwards to adhere to their previous policies of not traveling on Shabbat and always serving kosher food.

The same Haredim who called for this boycott of El Al all willingly fly on other privately owned/managed airlines that desecrate the sabbath and serve non-kosher food.  And I guarantee you that these other airlines do not take nearly the same pains to accommodate the needs of religious Jewish travelers as El Al. 

The result:  The moment El Al was forced to look after its own well-being for just a moment... BOYCOTT!

Another of these misguided boycotts is aimed at UPS, the world's largest package delivery company.  Emails have been flying around the Jewish world for the past couple of days stating (quite correctly) that UPS has a policy of not delivering to Jewish communities outside the green line. 

Yes, you read that correctly. 

They will deliver anywhere inside the green line... and they will deliver to any Arab community outside the green line... but they won't deliver to Gush Etzion... Ariel... or any other community in Jewish areas of Judea and Samaria.

On the surface, this appears to be a perfectly legitimate cause for Jewish outrage.  However, once again there are factors that the people calling for a boycott have willfully ignored:

First of all, UPS may be a global company, but they rely on local workers to deliver their packages.  A company of UPS's stature isn't going to turn up their nose at potential revenue just because of political considerations.  UPS has an obligation to its stock-holders to maximize profit... and every package delivered is money in the bank. 

However, to include any destination in their available delivery routes, a courier company has to have a reliable way of getting the packages there EVERY SINGLE TIME! 

The Arab UPS drivers have no problem driving into Ramallah or Jenin to deliver a package... but the Jewish drivers (many, if not most, of whom live inside the green line) are terrified to drive into 'the territories.  This isn't UPS's fault or some anti-Semitic plot.  It is the fault of the typical Jewish Israeli. 

I can hear you already asking:  "So why don't they simply have the Arab drivers deliver to the Jewish communities outside the green line?!"  To which I would ask you the following question:

Even if all Jewish communities outside the green line allowed unaccompanied Arabs to drive past their gates (which is certainly not an assumption that can be made during these difficult times), How many of you residents of Efrat, Ariel, Elazar, Karnei Shomron, Kiryat Arba, Beit El, etc. would feel comfortable opening a box that had been dropped off by an Arab UPS driver?

I know this sounds terribly racist (and it is... sorry), but in an age where the first two questions the airline security people ask are a) "have any of your bags or packages been out of your possession?"; and b) "did you receive any packages from someone you don't know?", I would feel a little queasy opening a package that could easily have been diverted to a bomb-maker on its way to my kitchen table.

Getting back to the call for a boycott of UPS, there is certainly cause for anger when a vital service is being withheld from Jews in Judea and Samaria (although it should be noted that FedEx and DHL somehow manage to deliver to these areas).  But the anger in this case is misdirected and misguided.  It isn't that UPS doesn't want the additional business from the settlers (and those who want to mail them packages).  It's just that UPS can't find enough Jewish/Israeli drivers willing to routinely drive beyond the green line.  That may be a shame and an embarrassment... but it isn't cause for a boycott.

Both of the calls for boycott I have mentioned here are perfect examples of how this powerful tool/weapon is being abused. 

By all means, if a vendor or service-provider is unresponsive (or even abusive) to the people it relies upon for sustenance...  call for a boycott.  But if there are perfectly valid reasons for the services to have suffered that are outside the control of a company, it might behoove us to take a deep breath, make an honest assessment of who did what... and then, if appropriate, direct our frustration in a direction where it is likely to actually do some good.

Just my two cents.

On a related note... I hope nobody out there is boycotting the Weblog Awads since someone we all know is a finalist (hint hint)

Posted by David Bogner on December 14, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (27) | TrackBack

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

So we're a little nutty. So what?!

OK, before we get started I want to thank everyone who has been going over to vote for treppenwitz in the finals of the Weblog Awards.  There are only a couple of days left and I'm running either second or third depending on what time of day you check... but I could really use a shot in the arm here.  Every vote counts.  You can vote once per day (per computer).

I was going to make a lame joke about "If you don't vote the terrorists win"... but considering that most of my worthy opponents are Muslims that would have been... um... unfortunate, no?  :-)

Just click on the image below to go do your civic duty!

The 2006 Weblog Awards

Alright... on with the show:

There is no better way to get an objective assessment of how nutty you sound talking to your pets than to get a glimpse of the spectacle through the eyes of someone who dislikes you.

Anyone out there with pets... especially dogs or cats... will be nodding their heads in enthusiastic agreement when I say that no human baby in the history of the world ever received the level of saccharine baby-talk that we reserve for our furry friends.

From the moment our black Lab Jordan wakes me up in the morning by sticking her cold wet nose under my chin, to when I give her a final scratch behind the ears goodnight, I unabashedly shower her with a steady stream of flattery and affectionate 'cootchy-coo' talk. This, in and of itself, isn't really a problem since, at home, we are all crazy about Jordan and we each have a secret language we use when lavishing our affections upon her. 

Jordan gets the first slice of challah at the shabbat table (in deference to the requirement to feed one's animals before feeding yourself), and many a guest in our home has witnessed her ever-so-gently taking offered tidbits directly from my lips!

All of this is perfectly normal... until non-animal folks witness us losing our collective minds.

Yesterday morning when I got home from work, Jordan was waiting patiently for me at our garden gate with her tail wagging... her tongue lolling from her huge doggy smile... and her body nearly levitating with excitement at my arrival. 

As I approached the gate I began speaking sweet nothings to her in our secret language and calling her all sorts of flattering pet-names:

"Who's my shweet baby dog?  Did my shweety-dog miss her abba?  Did she???  You're such a good, good dog!  YES YOU ARE!!!"

You get the idea.

Well, as I was showering her with these effusive compliments, I glanced over to my right and caught sight of my neighbor (yes, that neighbor) standing next to his front gate with his hands on his hips, scowling at me.

Yup... the best way to really get a sense of just how insane we animal lovers sound is to step back and watch our antics through the eyes of someone who really, really dislikes us.

I'm OK with that.


Posted by David Bogner on December 13, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (29) | TrackBack

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

In search of the 'Killer App'

Killer Application

noun.  (often shortened to Killer App.) 

1.  A term borrowed from the software development world and now used both on and off-line. It refers to the eternal search for next big idea.

2.  A computer application that surpasses its competitors.

Since moving to Israel, Zahava and I have been exploring various solutions to inexpensively bridge the communication gap between ourselves and the friends and family we left behind in the old country.

Obviously email is our primary communication tool since it is fast, cheap and reliable.  However there is something about actually hearing someone's voice that email can't hope to replace.  That leaves various incarnations of the old-fashioned phone call:

Dial Direct - This is the easiest and most intuitive way of hearing the voices of friends and family abroad.  Unfortunately it also requires that one have a money tree growing out back (heck, Israelis assume we Anglos all have money trees!).  Even with the cut-throat competition between international long-distance carriers direct dial is still a very expensive way to reach out and touch someone.

Calling Card - There are countless companies out there that sell calling card plans with blocks of minutes that can be used to pretty much any calling destination.  There are some real bargains in the calling card market, but the hassle involved with navigating a multi-level electronic touch-tone menu and then punching in a long list of code numbers before you can even dial your call is daunting, to say the least.  And I have yet to meet someone who hasn't lost their calling card or put it through the wash long before the minutes on it were used up.

Skype (et al) - We have been using this extremely inexpensive Voice over IP (VOIP) program for a year or so with very good results.  It is similar behind the scenes to Vonage and other VOIP schemes except that you don't need a special phone to make it work.  A standard computer headset and microphone is all it takes.  Sure, you can buy special Skype phones (even cordless ones), that are designed to be hooked up to your computer, but we always just use the headset.  However I couldn't help thinking there must be some way to get the computer all, or at least most of the way out of the equation.  Enter the killer App:  Jajah.

Jajah - A loyal treppenwitz reader was kind enough to send me an invitation to join Jajah (it is still in Beta testing so it is by invitation only).  Simply put, Jajah has almost everything I love about Skype... except that it has almost entirely eliminated the computer from the process.  Almost

Here's how it works (from the Jajah website):

"Unlike other companies that are trying to replace the phone with the computer, JAJAH believes that phones are great the way they are. Phones work. People are not interested in headsets, downloads or hotspots. They simply want to make a call. And we completely agree."

Calls between JAJAH users are FREE under the following conditions:

  • You and your friends have to use mobile or landline phone in Zone 1 (USA, Canada, China, Singapore, Hong Kong) or a landline phone in Zone 2 (mainly Europe, Australia & New Zealand, [Israel] Taiwan)
  • Your friend's phone number must be registered with JAJAH
  • Your friend's account must be "active" (an account will become inactive after two weeks of no operation, ie. a free call, a cheap call or sending a text message)
  • You have not exceeded the FAIR USE policy: 1000 minutes a month, five hours a week, 1 hour a day

Basically you only need the computer to initiate the call.  Jajah then calls your home or mobile phone (whichever you choose) and simultaneously calls the home or mobile pone of whoever it is you wanted to speak with.  Calls to most other Jajah users are free, and calls to non-registered phone numbers are pretty cheap (most are in the Skype price range and like Skype, you can buy blocks of time).  There are also free plug-ins you can download to your mobile phone so that you can initiate the calls from there (using an SMS) rather than via the computer! 

There are a couple of catches to the free call thing (see above).  For instance, the fair usage policy limits you to an hour of free calls per day before you get bumped over to the low cost rates... but still, an hour a day ain't bad!  Also, if a registered Jajah user goes more than two weeks without using the service, they are considered 'inactive accounts' and any calls to them are now cheap instead of free (but you can see this before you initiate the call by whether or not their home or mobile number appears green in your Jajah phone book).

So, perhaps referring to Jajah as a 'killer app' might be a very slight exaggeration... but for the long distance calls you make on a regular basis it seems to make a LOT of sense (and cents).  And not surprisingly, although the company HQ is in California... the development center for Jajah is right here in Israel!

I have no idea how many Jajah invitations I have to give out... but if anyone would like to give Jajah a try, just ask me in the comments and I'll try to send you an invitation to join.

Oh... if you leave me a comment AND vote for me in the Weblog Awards finals I'll really, really want to send you an invite!  ;-)

The 2006 Weblog Awards


Posted by David Bogner on December 12, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (12) | TrackBack

Monday, December 11, 2006

'Ma Pitom?!', and other inscrutable Israeli expressions

One of the [many] things I enjoy about my job is that it affords me the opportunity to interact with Israelis from all parts of our rich national/cultural tapestry.  The people with whom I work are secular, observant, traditional, leftist, rightist, sepharidim, ashkenazim, edot hamizrach (eastern communities)... you name it!

Unlike in the US where religion and politics are taboo... people here are not shy about sharing their religious and political views at the drop of a hat.   And the absolute conviction with which they hold forth on these topics is something one has to see/hear to appreciate.  It's not enough that they are correct... but everyone else must be portrayed as so criminally wrong as to defy rational logic.

A woman with whom I frequently eat lunch perfectly fits this template of the smug, self-assured Israeli... certain beyond a shadow-of-a-doubt that every one of her long-held convictions is like Torah from Sinai. 

She can best be described as follows:

  • Polish (meaning her parents immigrated from that country after the war.  The stereotypical Polish-Israeli woman has a reputation for being extremely direct, pushy and opinionated.  I can't say this is true for the entire species... but this example certainly bears that out.)
  • Secular (meaning she thinks religious people are mildly disturbed)
  • Traditional (meaning she is deeply invested in many aspects of Jewish culture and sees the holidays as extremely important to family and society at large.  She sees no conflict between this and her view of religious people)
  • Left-of-center (meaning she's a life-long labor voter, but admits to using her vote to block right wing platforms she thinks will give the religious too much power over the rest of the country rather than out of any love for the agenda of the left).
  • Dyed (meaning her coif has been colored so many times in so many different hues that I don't think that even she remembers the original color of her hair)

I mention her because she approached me - quite reluctantly - a few months ago, before the 'High Holidays' for a chat.  She broached the subject on her mind in such a casual, off-hand manner that it was obvious to me that she had been carefully planning her opening for hours... if not days.

"David", she began in her smoke-tinged Hebrew, "your parents aren't religious, are they?"

We'd had this conversation on more than one occasion, so I couldn't imagine where she was going with this.  I answered in the affirmative and waited for her to let me know what was really on her mind.

"I see that you have a good relationship with them... I mean, after all... they come to visit you all the time, right?"

I admitted this much but assured her that it probably had more to do with my kids than with me.  This seemed to strike a nerve, and for several minutes this woman sat and contemplated how much it was safe to share.

"You know I'm a grandmother, don't you?"

I remembered seeing the pictures of her son and daughter-in-law's wedding all over her office... the dreadlocks (both)... the nose ring (her) and eyebrow piercing (him)...  and the awkward angle of the pointy yarmulke on the groom's head under the Huppah. 

I also remembered a year later when this tough-as-nails Polish-Israeli woman had come into the office and tearfully announced to everyone that her first grandchild had been born... and then promptly disappeared for two weeks to go help her daughter-in-law take care of the new arrival.

I looked at her as she waited for the answer to her question and said, "Of course I know you're a grandmother!"  The sudden look of horror that crossed her face made me rush on "But I would never have known if you hadn't told me personally when the baby was born". 

This seemed to put her mind slightly at ease... but she still seemed to be tip-toeing around a subject without knowing how to broach it.

As if suddenly making up her mind, she blurted "Do you ever go to your parent's house for dinner?"

"All the time", I answered.

"No, no, what do you do... you know... about the fact that they don't keep kosher?"

I went on to explain that my parents had made a decision on their own to learn about Kashrut and always had kosher dishes, utensils and pots & pans for when we came to visit.  I also explained that we made certain 'allowances' for innocent mistakes that my parents habitually made since the Biblical commandment to 'honor one's parents' took clear precedence over the largely Rabbinic ordnances involved in keeping kosher.  I explained that this didn't extend to eating non-kosher (treif) food... but if my dad accidentally used a dairy spoon to stir a pot of chicken soup, I kept my mouth shut... put the spoon aside for later 'kashering', and handed him the correct utensil.

Tears welled up against the sturdy dam of mascara around her eyes as she listened to me talk and I started to get a hint of what this might be about.  As if to confirm my suspicions, she blurted out, "So why won't my son and his family come to my house for Shabbat?!"

I feigned surprise and asked "I don't understand, are your son and his wife religious"?

She answered "Yes, they became religious (Hozer b'tshuvah) shortly after they got married, and since then they haven't come to us for shabbat or any of the holidays."  By now the tears were flowing freely, leaving dark tracks down her cheeks.

"Well", I ventured, "have you invited them?"

She looked at me as if I had asked the dumbest question in the world.  "Ma Pitom!  (no translation possible, but this is sort of a combination of 'what are you talking about?!' and 'Don't be silly!')  I never invite any of my kids for shabbat or holidays... they just come.  It's understood!"

I looked at this woman who was teetering between self-confident Sabra and abandoned Jewish mother/grandmother, and decided to get a little background before moving on.

"OK, let me ask you something.  What was your reaction when you found out your son and his wife were becoming more religious?"

"Reaction?" she said.  "What reaction?  I told them they could go as crazy as they liked... just not to expect me to go crazy with them."

"Ahah!" I exclaimed, "Now we're getting somewhere.  Put yourself in your son's shoes.  He's just told his mother ... the mother that raised him to be a certain way... that he and his family are changing their whole way of life.  It sounds like you reacted as if he had told you they were going off to live in an ashram."

Before she could even stop herself she answered "That I could accept!"

We sat looking at each other for a couple of minutes before I asked my next question.

"What do you usually do for Pesach?  Do you make a big family seder?"

"Of course!" she replied.  "What a question!"

"What about Rosh Hashannah and Sukkot... does the whole family get together?"

I could see she wanted to give me the same 'of course' answer, but instead she said, "So, what does that have to do with anything?  We also get together on Hanukkah... and I always send the kids a basket of treats on Purim... so what?  That has nothing to do with religion!"

I cut her off gently by holding up my hand, "Of course it does!  For you, those holidays are cultural family observances.  But these holidays wouldn't exist without their religious origins.  All your son has done is take what you raised him with and gone looking for more.  He hasn't rejected his parent's life-style, he's just gone looking for the explanation behind what you always did."

"So then why don't they come for Shabbat and the holidays?!" she blurted.  The question came out as a sob, although I'm sure she was unaware of it.

I ignored the rawness of her outburst and said, "When I asked you before if you had ever invited them for shabbat or the holidays, you made me feel like it was a foolish question.  But I have to tell you that I think that's why they haven't come.   They changed the way they eat and the way they observe Shabbat and the holidays.  You let them know you thought they were crazy... so they are probably just staying away as a way of avoiding a potential source of conflict."

"Let me ask you", I went on, "What would you do if they came for Shabbat and the holidays".  Would you prepare the food so that they could feel comfortable eating it?  "

"Ma Pitom!  she responded.  "All the food in my house is kosher!"

This caught me off guard.  "You keep kosher?" I asked.

"Well, not with two sets of dishes like the fanatics, but all the food in my kitchen is kosher."

I thought this over.  Of course, most food available in Israeli supermarkets is kosher... and you'd actually have to go looking for non-kosher food in most places.  So I gently pointed out "Sure, all the food in your kitchen is kosher... but by the time it reaches the dining-room it isn't anymore.  Don't you see that for the price of a few disposable aluminum pans and a couple of sets of cheap utensils you could have your son back?"

She thought about this for a few minutes before arriving at the obvious stumbling block.

"But they wouldn't trust me to do things correctly... I'm sure they wouldn't eat what I make."

I shook my head and said "They don't have to trust you.  Invite them for shabbat and tell your daughter-in-law you need her help in the kitchen so everything will be OK for them.  I guarantee you that not only will they come... but they will thank you for extending yourself and going out of your way."

Again she waved me off with a "Ma Pitom!", but this time I could see her objection was just for show... she was seriously thinking it over.

"Look", I said, "You have it easier than most people in your situation.  You live in a mixed community with religious and non-religious people so there is a synagogue nearby.  Really the only thing keeping your son and his family from joining you for Shabbat or the holidays is the food.  Trust me... call your daughter-in-law and ask for her help."

Several months have gone by since that conversation took place and I didn't hear a thing.  I didn't want to pry into a private family matter... and this woman didn't normally volunteer much about her private life.  So that was that.

But the other day we were all sitting around waiting for a meeting to begin when several people started talking about their plans for Hanukkah.  Without missing a beat this woman proudly mentioned to everyone present that her kids were coming to her house for Shabbat Hanukkah for latkes.

I didn't want to give anything away, but I had to ask.  "All your kids?"

"Ma Pitom!" she snapped.  "Where else would my children go for the holiday?"

Nobody else saw it... mostly because they weren't looking for it... but as the words left her mouth, her eyes twinkled and the corners of her lips turned up in a small smile that was meant just for me.

Ahem... Have you voted yet today?

The 2006 Weblog Awards


Posted by David Bogner on December 11, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (38) | TrackBack

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Missionary Position

Before you do anything else, go vote!  I know you're dying to find out what that title is all about... but I'd consider it a tremendous compliment if you'd take a moment to go vote for treppenwitz.  Of course, if you can't find it in your heart, at least go vote for Elder of Ziyon or Sandmonkey... but GO VOTE! 

Just click the icon below to be taken to the voting page:

The 2006 Weblog Awards

Now on with the show...

One of the challenges of immigrants raising bilingual kids is coming up with entertaining ways to keep their mother tongue fresh. 

We encourage the kids to read, which gives their passive vocabulary (meaning words they recognize when they hear or read them) a work-out.  But we also encourage them to use their English so that their active vocabulary (those words that they can actually call upon when speaking or writing), has a chance to continue growing.

However, this often makes them self-conscious about accidentally mis-using a word or choosing the wrong word altogether.

I explain to them that we've all done it... y'know, been in a tough spot in a conversation, casting about for just the right word... only to find out the hard way that the word we came up with didn't mean what we thought it did. 


I told them to trust me that those malapropisms with which we shame ourselves in front of friends and colleagues are forever burned into our memories.  I explained that one of the best methods of enlarging one's vocabulary is known as 'making an ass of yourself'.

One of my favorite examples... in fact the one I used this weekend to teach my kids the definition of the word 'malapropism'...  is a story from my navy days:

I served on a couple of frigates during my enlistment.  A frigate (for those not in-the-know) has a relatively small crew of perhaps 200 - 225 men (these days there are women too!).  This may seem like a lot of people, but imagine being deployed for six months away from your home port and spending a lot of time bobbing around the trackless reaches of the world's oceans. 

Let's just say that you get to know your neighbors on such a small ship very well.

Our story centers around one of my shipmates in particular... a man we'll call 'Bruce' (because that was his name).  Bruce was a specimen of southern manhood who had somehow emerged from high school somewhere in Alabama completely innocent of nearly all aspects of book learnin', but who was an absolute genius on the topic of guns. 

If you were to generate a computer model of the overlapping readership demographics of 'Guns & Ammo', 'Soldier of Fortune' and Field & Stream' magazines, your printer would spit out a picture of Bruce.

As I said earlier, everyone pretty much knew everyone else in our little floating community... but there were various sub-groups that better defined the circles in which the crew socialized.

For example, the 'twidgets' (technicians who operated the electronic equipment and who maintained the ships various weapons and sensors) pretty much kept to themselves and were easily recognizable by their clean, crisp uniforms. 

The  'snipes' (engineering types who worked on the ship's boilers, generators, turbines and other greasy machines) also kept mostly to themselves and could be identified by their greasy jump-suits and nearly universal disdain for twidgets.

Now Bruce was a gunner's mate, so he nominally belonged to the twidget end of the social spectrum, but he was actually a bit of an 'untouchable' in the unwritten shipboard caste system.  This was because of his unabashed bigotry for the minorities who were strongly represented amongst the ship's snipes... and because, frankly, he scared the hell out of the twidgets.

I steered clear of Bruce whenever possible because of my suspicion that he felt about Jews pretty much the same as he did about the blacks and hispanics in the crew.

So you can imagine my surprise when, late one night, as I was climbing sleepily up through the darkened ship to take the 'mid-watch'  (the watch from midnight to 4:00AM), I ran into Bruce standing silently in the shadows at the end of a darkened passageway.  He was decked out in camouflage face paint and was wearing crossed bandoleers of shotgun shells... a .45 pistol on his belt... and a riot shot-gun held lovingly at 'port arms'.

I couldn't very well ignore him since I had to pass directly in front of him to reach Sonar Control... but I wasn't really keen on engaging him in chit-chat either.  He broke the ice by explaining that he had been "cleaning a few weapons" and that he was on his way to return them to the small arms locker.  Despite the fact that he hadn't seemed to be on his way to anywhere when I spotted him, I just smiled and nodded as if this was the most obvious thing in the world.

Then came the question.

Bruce put his hand on my shoulder as I tried to pass him and said, "Dave... I have some exciting news!"

I cringed.

He went on to say, "You know I'm getting out in a couple of months, right?   [I had no idea]  Well, I decided what I'm going to do when I get out."

I really had no interest in his post-military plans, but I was sort of trapped into responding by both his bulk blocking the passage... and by the conventions of good manners with which I was raised.  So I asked cheerily, "So, what are you planning ondoing when you get out?"

To my utter amazement he blurted out, "I'm gonna be a missionary!"

He might as well have been speaking Chinese because my sleepy brain refused to process this newly-offered information.  Bruce had never shown any interest in organized religion except to loudly voice is opinion that "Papists were ruining the country"... and to use the 'N' word and 'Baptist' pretty much interchangeably.

Then it dawned on me that Bruce might be using this ruse as a way to suss out my feelings on religion.  I was, after all, one of the few guys on the ship who wore an outward symbol of religiosity (my kipah).  So I decided to humor him and said, "That's great Bruce... but why a missionary?  I have to admit I never thought of you as the missionary type."

He quickly answered, "Well, for one thing missionaries get to travel a lot."

I thought about that for a moment and had to admit he was onto something.  I told him that for someone who had spent four years in the semi-nomadic life of a sailor, the travel opportunities as a missionary might hold some appeal.

He nodded vigorously... glad to see that I 'got it' and plowed on, "Yeah, that... and you also get to kill people!!!"

And just like that the sleep cleared from my brain and I understood with perfect clarity where Bruce's train had left the tracks.  I delicately asked, "Uh, Bruce... by any chance do you mean mercenary?"

His face lit up and he nodded vigorously, "Yeah, that's what I meant... mercenary!"

By this time I had managed to squeeze past him in the narrow passage, and as I fled towards Sonar Control I mumbled something about being late to relieve the watch and quickly put as much distance between myself and Bruce as possible.

I heard from someone that Bruce actually did go on to become a mercenary somewhere in Africa... but that's not really relevant to our story.  The tale of Bruce's malapropism offered a nice way to let the kids know that people - even grown-ups! - make mistakes with words all the time.  Sometimes it's embarrassing... and more often than not it's just plain funny.

But one thing is for sure... my children will never confuse 'missionary' and 'mercenary'.


Posted by David Bogner on December 10, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (23) | TrackBack

Friday, December 08, 2006

Photo Friday (vol. LXXXV) [1 year later edition]

A while back I wrote a post called 'truncated' in which I talked about a husband / father from my part of the country named Yossi Shok Z"L who was gunned down just before Hanukkah while driving not far from his home.

In that post, I published a few photos showing the stone marker that had been erected at the site where he had been murdered, and two olive trees that had been planted in his memory on either side of the monument... but which had been cut down by Arab vandals.

I pass this monument and the two small trees that kept it company nearly every day on my way to and from work... and I probably wouldn't have bothered to mention them here except for the troubling fact that not long after the memorial had been erected along the side of the road, some local Arabs took it upon themselves to deface the stone marker and to cut down the trees.  If you didn't see the post and pictures I encourage you to do so.

Since then, there have been several additional incidents at the site.  Swastikas and Arabic curses were spray painted on the stone, and a fire was set agsaint the monument so as to blacken it.

Each time an act of vandalism ocurred, friends and/or family of the murdered man came to try and scrub away the paint... the soot... the hate.

Here are a few pictures I took of the monument yesterday morning. 

In this first one you can see the faint remains of the soot from the fire:


Here is the stump of one of the two trees.  It isn't clear if it will survive the winter, but a couple of tiny sprouts about two thirds of the way down the stump give reason for hope.


But by far the most encouraging (and symbolic) sign is the second tree which, after having been cut down by vandals, has sprouted new brnaches and leaves quite defiantly:


I decided to take and post these pictures this week because it is the anniversary of Yossi Shok's Z"L murder (according to the Hebrew calendar).  He was killed by terrorists for the simple crime of DWJ (Driving While Jewish).  He was 33 years old.  He left behind a wife and five children, aged 9, 7, 5, 4, and one month. 

Each morning when I drive past this spot I think the 'there but for the grace of G-d...' thought, and drive on.  But many imges linger on.  In my mind's eye I still see the photo of Yossi that was in the papers for a week or two after the shooting:


I see the news photo of the medics and rescue crews trying deperately to save him at the site where the momument now stands:


And perhaps the most difficult image to forget was that of the 'Zaka' volunteer 'cleaning' the interior of Yossi's car of blood and tissue so that they could be buried with him according to Jewish law:


But I now take small comfort in a new image that greets me each morning as I pass by... and which peeks at me in the periphery of my headlight beams as I return each evening.  It is the symbolic promise of the small olive tree that refuses to die.

May the Memory of a young Jewish father named Yossi Shok be a blessing forever...  may his children grow tall and strong... and may they and their mother find comfort beneath the shade of this tree.


Shabbat Shalom.

P.S. Dont forget to vote.

The 2006 Weblog Awards


Posted by David Bogner on December 8, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (16) | TrackBack