Tuesday, July 31, 2007
Maybe I need to post a warning label of some kind
Remember that lawsuit where some lady won a bazillion dollars when she burned herself In a delicate place while trying to drive away from the McDonald's drive-thru window with a cup of piping-hot coffee held between her thighs?
Shortly after that hit the news, a comedian (I think it was Leno) joked that fast food places were going to have to add a warning label to their hot beverage cups saying:
"Please allow beverage to cool before applying to crotch"
I was reminded of this by following SMS message I received this morning from an IDF soldier (who shall remain nameless) who is currently out on patrol:
"For the record, I've found that I can access your blog from my cell phone while doing guard duty. Thanks for keeping me entertained while I watch rocks."
Um, maybe it's just me, but some people might be taking this whole blog-reading thing a little too far.
People... I am deeply touched that so many of you have made treppenwitz a part of your daily routine. I'm flattered that you will sometimes even defer relatively pressing things (i.e. work) in order to stop by and check my site.
But please... I'm asking as a personal favor... please don't try to read my site while operating heavy machinery, driving a vehicle... or say, standing guard duty. Mmmkay?
Sunday, July 29, 2007
Sleeping with Abba
[Note: For the purposes of this post, 'Abba' is Hebrew for father... not the name of a kitschy Swedish band from the 70s]
I've mentioned in the past that all of our kids have gone through their stage of sneaking into the parental bed during the night. I should clarify that by 'parental bed' I mean my side of the parental bed since my wife does not do well with little visitors thrashing around during the wee hours of the morning.
So, whenever the need has arisen for nocturnal comforting, all of the kids in their turn have instinctively known that they could insinuate themselves into abba's bed without too much resistance.
Based on the number of late-night requests I've received to 'snuggle you' in the past few months, I'm guessing that Yonah, our three-and-a-half year old, is almost finshed with this stage. But apparently he isn't completely finshed with it.
I work for a company in Israel's Aerospace/Defense industry, and gaining entrance to my workplace requires that I present a special plastic photo-ID card that has all sorts of information about me embedded in a microchip.
When I was getting ready to leave for work this morning I couldn't find my plastic ID card. Since I wear it in a display case attached to a lanyard around my neck, it usually lives on one of a hook near the door when I'm at home. However, this morning it wasn't there.
I checked our bedroom. Not there. I checked the kitchen counters... all of the living-room bookshelves... behind all the couch cushions... nadda! I was getting increasingly stressed as the minutes ticked by and finally decided that I wasn't going to find it.
While not the end of the world (this happens about once every two months), it is certainly a pain in the butt. It always turns up in a fairly obvious place... but showing up at work without my ID requires a trip to see the company's security officer... answering questions ("No, I didn't lose it... I just couldn't find it this morning... see the difference?"), and having to be issued a temporary ID card for the day.
Besides looking like a complete flake in front of the guy who determines my security clearance, it means having to get out of the car and request/return the card at the beginning and end of the workday. Not fun.
Anyway, about 15 minutes after my usual departure time I had finally resigned myself to having to face the security officer again and went upstairs to give the kids their kisses goodbye. Ariella didn't budge as I kissed her cheek... and Gilad was too tangled up in his sheets on the far side of his bed to reach him.
But when I went to give Yonah his kiss I stopped short. There, pressed against his sweaty cheek with both hands, was my company ID card. Apparently, as he'd headed off to bed last night with the big kids, he'd decided he needed to sleep with his abba - or at least a picture of his abba - and swiped my ID card and lanyard off the hook on his way upstairs.
I was a little later than usual this morning... but I smiled all the way to work.
Friday, July 27, 2007
Not an apology or an excuse, mind you. I write at my own pace about things that are on my mind. But lately I have had far more on my mind than time to write.
For now, I strongly urge you to view the short presentation at the link below. It is powerful, disturbing... and dead-on right. One of my readers sent it to me... and I'm sharing it with you.
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
A quiet place to sit
Every year since moving to Israel I have gone up to the top of Herodion on the evening of Tisha B'Av to read Eichah (Lamentations). It is an inspirational setting because some of the last members of the Jewish Revolt who were atop Herodion in 70CE watched from their desert vantage as the smoke and flames rose from the Temple mount in Jerusalem. What better place to sit and recall our terrible loss?
But each year, as more and more people have told their friends about this special setting, Herodion has become impossibly crowded on Tisha B'Av. So much so, that instead of being a somber, inspirational experience, it has become a 'happening'... an almost festive 'scene'.
Despite the tradition of not extending greetings or shaking hands on Tisha B'Av, the gathering together of so many Jews in one place pretty much ensures that people who haven't seen each other in a while will be calling to one another over the crowd... shaking hands... slapping backs... laughing.
This year, I decided that I wanted to go somewhere quieter, yet with a similar connection to the past.
Several years ago I wrote about a ruin called 'Anim' that I had stumbled across while exploring a small side road on the way home from work. Anim was a Jewish town that existed in the Mishna - Talmud period (approx. 200 – 400 C.E.) which had been built atop the ruins of another Jewish town from the First Temple period (825 - 492 B.C.E.).
This enormous area on the edge of the Yatir Forest is strewn with Anim's stone foundations, toppled buildings and an extensive network of caves/tunnels. And in the center of the ruins is a lovely Beit Knesset (synagogue) with the floor and four walls still mostly intact. You can even see the place along the northern wall (the one closest to Jerusalem) where the foundation for the Aron Kodesh (ark which held the Torah) was built.
Over the past week, I spoke with a few friends and asked them if they would be interested in going somewhere 'new' to read Eichah on Tisha B'Av. Once I had a minyan (ten men) committed, I stopped making calls.
So, after finishing our Seudah Mafseket (the meal before the fast) yesterday around 7:15PM, a bunch of us drove with our families in a caravan through the Hevron Hills towards the edge of the Yatir Forest... to the ruins of Anim. We arrived just as the last rays of the sun were disappearing behind the horizon and sat down on the warm stones of the old synagogue.
Unlike the dull roar of the crowd atop Herodion, our small group sat in pristine silence... said Aravit (the evening service)... and heard every word of Lamentations. The only sound came from the soft voice of the reader... and the whisper of the wind through the nearby trees and across the ancient stones.
I think I've found a new place for Tisha B'Av.
Tzom Kal (an easy fast) to those who are observing this difficult day.
Sunday, July 22, 2007
Can I ask you a question?
That was the preamble to a question we heard from one of our shabbat guests this past weekend. But as usual, I'm getting head of myself.
This past shabbat we hosted a couple of female soldiers in our home. We'd never met them before... and they weren't distant relatives, or even friends of friends. We simply got a call from a neighbor's daughter who is their commander in the army, asking if we could host them for shabbat... and of course we said yes.
Several other families in our neighborhood received similar calls from this young woman, and each agreed to host a soldier or two for shabbat.
Anyway, what made this interesting (or at least, less commonplace) for us was the fact that the soldiers under this young woman's command are not Jewish. At least not right now. They are mostly young men and women whose families came to Israel from the former Soviet Union... families that met the criteria for citizenship under the Israeli Law of Return (based loosely on the Nuremberg Laws)... but who were not considered Jewish according to strict Jewish law (halacha).
So, Friday afternoon we welcomed two women in uniform - both named Marina - into our home. I had always heard that during the days of the former Soviet Union, there had been severe shortages of basic commodities. However judging by the fact that we welcomed two Marinas... and one of our neighbors hosted another two Marinas... combined with at least three Yevgenys being hosted down the street... it would appear that there were also shortages of names there. :-)
So how did this group of non-Jewish soldiers end up together for a Shabbat?
Apparently, the army is the place in Israeli society where things get 'fixed' for many people in this country. If you somehow got off the track academically in High School and want to try to take (or retake) your matriculation exams... the army is where you can do it. If you somehow made it to age 18 without being able to read or write above a third grade level, the army has teachers who do nothing but bring such people up to adult standards. If you are a new immigrant and can't speak the language... the army will enroll you in a class to teach you Hebrew. If university isn't in your future and you want to learn a trade, you can do so while in the army... or at least get a voucher from the army to attend a trade school after your service is completed.
All of these examples are intended to give soldiers the best chance of integrating into (and becoming well-adjusted members of) Israeli society when they become civilians.
So it should come as no surprise that the army also offers non-Jewish soldiers the opportunity to take steps towards another important aspect of integrating into Israeli society; becoming Jews.
As a rule, Judaism does not encourage converts, and in fact has a well-earned reputations for discouraging them wherever possible. And I'm sure many people probably take exception to the army's 'group' approach to instructing potential converts.
But to my way of thinking, given a choice of giving someone the tools to make such an important life decision as a young adult (i.e. while old enough to make an informed decision yet young enough to have an open mind) it's probably preferable to having them go through a sham conversion down the road simply in order to marry a Jewish Israeli. Of those two options, at least this way would seem to hold the best chance of such a future union producing a home and family that is culturally Jewish.
In a well known exchange from the Biblical Book of Ruth, Naomi - after losing both of her sons - gently tries to send her two newly widowed daughters-in-law back to the nations from which they'd come. After some modest prodding, Orpah gives a kiss good-bye and returns to her Moabite people. But Ruth answers:
"Entreat me not to leave thee, and to return from following after thee; for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge; thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God"
At that moment Naomi could have been forgiven for questioning Ruth's commitment to Judaism considering how easily her other daughter-in-law had adopted and then discarded her association with the Jews. But in the future, Ruth would give birth to the line of King David, so go figure!
However, getting back to the modern world... becoming Jewish isn't just about taking a pledge, studying for an exam or mastering a certain group of skill-sets. It is about searching... and asking questions.
That's where we began this post, right? We were about half way through one of Zahava's delicious meals when one of these pretty, blonde soldiers put down her fork and inquired if she could ask us a question. And it was a doozy:
"Why would you invite a couple of total strangers to eat and sleep in your home for an entire weekend?"
I'll admit that I wasn't completely unprepared for the question, since our friend's daughter had warned us that this was one of the most difficult things for these would-be converts to wrap their heads around.
She told us that no matter how much preparation she gave 'her' soldiers, it still shocked them to have total strangers welcome them into their homes... show them to a guest room (or often sharing rooms with their children)... feed them extravagant (by army standards, anyway) meals... and even hand them a key to the house.
However, despite the heads-up I'd gotten, when the question was asked, I still had trouble explaining why we did this odd thing.
I started out with the obvious... that 'hachnasat orchim' (welcoming guests) was a mitzvah (commandment) that we traced back to Abraham.
However, telling someone that you do something strange simply because you have a religious obligation to do so is neither completely correct nor liable to impress them with your hospitality. After all, in a world where we Jews have created a legal fiction of 'selling' our chametz so as not to transgress the prohibition of possessing it during passover, many of us simply invite our friends and neighbors for meals... and with a wink and a nod, call it 'hachnasat orchim'.
Also, it would also be inaccurate to portray this as solely a religious trait since most secular Israelis have inherited this penchant for hospitality to strangers without having any sense of its religious imperative.
Obviously the answer lay in another direction.
I then went into a little history of how the Jewish tradition of hospitality was the main reason that, throughout much of the history of the diaspora, Jews had been among the only people on the planet who could move freely around the known world. Wherever there was a Jewish community, I explained, a Jewish traveler could find shelter, hospitality and trust. The latter was especially important... to the extent that for a good portion of recorded history, the Jews were able to leverage this immediate trust among co-religionists as the basis for a rudimentary mail and banking service between nation-states that enjoyed no such proficiency.
Then I told them a story of a Friday plane ride from Los Angeles to New York that had been diverted to Chicago due to heavy snow in the Metro New York area. I explained how the few observant Jews on the plane came the the simultaneous realization that even if the plane would be allowed to continue, it would arrive in New York after Shabbat would begin. This meant that shabbat accommodations had to be found in Chicago, and fast.
Without preamble, the observant Jews from the flight, none of whom had previously met, huddled in the waiting area near the gate and began taking inventory of the contacts they might have in the Chicago area. One of the passengers had shared a dorm room for two years with a Chicago native. Another had a business contact in Chicago who was religious. A third had gone to seminary with a girl from Skokie.
By unspoken agreement, anyone with a contact immediately began dialing... hoping to re-establish contact with someone they hadn't spoken to in years. Within 10 minutes shabbat accommodations were found for all of the observant travelers. Host families immediately dispatched drivers to the airport to pick up the stranded travelers... and the offer from the airline's gate agent to check them into the airport hotel with the other travelers was politely declined.
And, as if to make this more understandable to these non-Jewish female soldiers...I pointed out that none of this seemed the least bit odd to the members of this stranded group of Jewish travelers.
I then told them about how I had been in the U.S. Navy for four years... and how my ship had sailed to more than 30 countries during that time. I told them how if there was even a tiny Jewish community in any of the places I visited, all I needed to do was show up at the synagogue and I would receive an invitation to someone's home for a meal... a Shabbat... or even longer. On one notable occasion, a family in Perth Australia actually spotted me walking down the street and literally dragged me to their home for several weeks of unforgettable hospitality (they even called my parents in the U.S. to tell them I was in good hands).
As I finished laying all this out before our guests, I could see from their expressions that they still didn't understand. It was at that moment I realized that I'd been giving them examples of how Jews extend (and expect) hospitality from one another... but not why! I honestly couldn't explain why we do this odd thing.
All I can hope is that if these young women decide to go ahead with the conversion process, they will figure it out for themselves... and perhaps one day they'll find themselves inexplicably inviting total strangers into their own homes for shabbat.
Friday, July 20, 2007
Photo Friday (Vol ???) OMG Edition
The photograph below landed in my inbox while I slept last night. It shows an impossibly young, skinny (and not-bald) me surrounded by a bunch of young girls.
While I recognize some of the girls, I have no earthly idea when or where this photo was taken.
Any help in placing this photo into its proper context would be appreciated.
Thursday, July 19, 2007
I do not like that Face book, Sam-I-am
[with apologies to the late, great Dr. Seuss]
I do not like that Facebook puts me in a box.
I do not like zombie/vampire invites from a fox.
I do not like food-fights or fake gifts of food.
I do not like knowing so much about your mood.
I do not like being informed when you are here or there.
I do not like friend invites that hound me everywhere.
I do not like time suckage one step above spam.
I do not like Facebook, Sam-I-am.
Look, I'm not deleting my Facebook membership. Yet. But I'm not going to be much of a Facebook participant from here on in, either.
This Facebook thing is like 'Live Journal' on steroids, and is well on its way to turning otherwise intelligent adults into blathering, jabbering, housebound adolescents.
Given a choice of actually living life or selecting life-like actions and emotions from check-box lists and pull-down menus... I'll take the real thing.
Just my $0.02
Wednesday, July 18, 2007
The slap heard 'round the country
As old news goes, this certainly qualifies as first rate fish wrapping. My only excuse for beating this particular dead horse is that when the topic was still somewhat fresh, I was so bat-sh*t angry about the event that I couldn't put together a coherent sentence on the subject.
I'm referring, of course, to Justice Ministry attorney, Amnon De Hartog, having slapped a Member of Knesset (Yakov Cohen) after Cohen had said that the attorney was "more evil and terrible than the Nazis".
First of all, public discourse in Israel (and specifically in the Knesset) has always been shamefully full of obscenity, personal invective and ad hominem attacks. In the UK and U.S., elected officials may despise one another, but they still refer to the subjects of their insults as "my esteemed colleague" or "the gentleman from Ohio"... although identifying someone in the latter manner might qualify as an insult all its own. ;-)
Next, While many people made a big deal over the fact that MK Cohen is Haredi (ultra-orthodox), very little was mentioned in the media about the fact that Amnon De Hartog is also religious, albeit from the National Religious (Dati Leumi) camp.
Another thing not widely discussed in the media is the fact that Hartog has a truly unenviable job; divvying up government funding for educational institutions (not just haredi schools). Much as the Haredim would like to say otherwise, Hartog's decisions to withhold funds from Haredi institutions seem to have been based on the fact that they (the institutions) don't adhere to government mandated curriculum/standards. They simply don't teach what the government says they should teach... and they don't have exams and documentation required by the government body they expect to pay the bills.
Hartog may not love Haredim, but if he is hanging his decisions on vetted policy... the Haredim should take their grievances to the Ministry of Education and not shoot (or curse) the messenger. And likewise, if the Haredi institutions object to government criteria for receiving funds, they are under no obligation to meet them. Just don't expect to receive a check at the end of the month. Free will is a wonderful thing.
While MK Cohen may have been the 'injured party' in terms of being on the receiving end of the much-reported slap... I have zero tolerance for Jews who toss the 'N' (nazi) bomb at anyone with whom they disagree. Yes, I feel that there should be zero tolerance for physical violence in the halls of government (as well as on the streets of this country), but there should also be some recognition that some speech is so incendiary as to be considered incitement to violence.
My friend Ben Chorin put it best when he said "I think there should be a rule that any Jew who is called a Nazi by another Jew should have the right to slug the guy".
Taking a government employee to task over a real or imagined offense is one thing. Calling someone whose father spent four years in Auschwitz, a nazi is quite another. In a country where so many people are survivors, children of survivors or grandchildren of survivors, one can't reasonably trot out the 'how was I to know' defense.
Lastly, anyone who tries to turn this insult and resulting slap into a springboard for a discussion about government-funded Haredi education is being disingenuous. Plain and simple, this was about the more immediate problem of the complete lack of civility in Israeli public discourse.
'At the back of the hill' has a nice dissection of the topic here.
[~gets down off of soapbox~]
Tuesday, July 17, 2007
This always happens to me during 'the 9 days'
For those not in the know, 'the 9 days' refers to the almost-week-and-a-half leading up to Tisha B'Av. During this period many Jews observe a semblance of mourning rituals such as abstinence from swimming, attending live musical events, getting haircuts, shaving, drinking wine and ... eating meat. For you Catholics out there, think of it as a concentrated form of 'Lent'.
I know, I know... it's really kind of silly to get worked up about this since it isn't even nine full days.
The first day doesn't count since it's Rosh Hodesh (the celebration of the new month) when wine and meat are allowed. And in the middle of the 9 days is Shabbat, when you can also enjoy these two important food groups.
Then, of course there is the last day - the 9th of Av (Tisha B'Av) - when you aren't supposed to eat anything!
So all told, 'the 9 days' is really more like 6 days of actual abstinence for us carnivores/winos.
So why have I been sitting in the dining-room late at night with my Weber Grill's new rotisserie unit on the table in front of me, dreaming of how I'm going to prepare dinner this Friday?
Could it have anything to do with the fact that when I came home last night, my lovely wife cheerfully announced that there was a cold bowl of lentils in the fridge if I was hungry.
Monday, July 16, 2007
Of wood and testosterone
A few weeks ago I was over at the local lumberyard placing the order for all the wood and hardware I'd need to build my pergola. As I was waiting for my order to be tallied up, I noticed a flyer taped to the back of the cash register, advertising a basic carpentry course.
Now, while I consider myself fairly handy, and own plenty of woodworking tools, I have never had any formal training. It's mostly been a matter of trial and error... and figuring things out for myself. So, when the sales rep came back with the paperwork for my order, I asked him about the course.
I was a bit shocked by his response:
"No, no... we only offer the carpentry course for women."
I thought for a moment that he was pulling my leg and waited for him to crack a smile. But it turns out he was dead serious. He explained that he had tried open enrollment for the course... but he'd noticed from the very start that there was always a problem with the men.
Apparently, if you tell a woman to hold a drill a certain way... or to measure a certain way... or to do any of a thousand other simple-but-vitally-important tasks ... she is going to make a note in her notebook and do exactly as you say... every single time.
But if you tell a man to do any of those same things, he will nod, smile and think to himself, "OK, I can disregard that 'advice' since I already know how to do that."
You see, most men think they were born knowing how to use tools. Not only that, but if their fathers ever showed them how to do something a certain way... even if it was such a dangerous method as to risk disemboweling oneself... no amount of instruction or classroom demonstration will have the slightest effect.
The crazy part, he explained, was that plenty of men would sign up and pay good money to ignore his advice. But the end result was that the women were losing out because he was spending most of the class time helping men fix the damage they'd done to their projects due to simple inattention to instructions.
So after a while he decided that men simply needed to learn carpentry by trial & error or osmosis... or select themselves out of the gene pool trying. And no amount of classroom instruction would have any effect whatsoever on the outcome... other than to annoy the female students.
His parting words as he walked me towards my car were:
"I count myself lucky that I didn’t have to teach any of those guys to shoot. I can't imagine how the army is able to teach anyone about guns with all that testosterone flying around."
And that my friends, is why the local über-macho lumberyard only offers carpentry classes for women.
Money for nothin' and your chicks for free
OK, maybe not money. And well, no... I guess no chicks either.
But hey, guess what? A lucky treppenwitz reader was recently informed by the folks at Webads that she'd won a free wall clock... just for taking a short survey! Sorry RenReb, but Alexis Baron won the clock.
As if that weren't enough to get you all excited, apparently when Alexis was asked which website she had come from to take the short survey... she answered 'treppenwitz'! So take a guess who also won a free clock? No really... go ahead and guess! That's right. Moi.
So the lesson we learn from this, boys and girls, is that the next time you see an invitation to take a survey over there on the upper right where the webads reside... you should take it! That, and you should remember to mention your humble host. :-)
I'm not at liberty to give specifics, but I have it on good authority that the prize accompanying future surveys will be much more, um, significant. And that's all I'm gonna say about that.
Sunday, July 15, 2007
Adventures in home improvement
This past Friday afternoon I was out on our back porch engaged in a little home improvement: building a pergola. Over the past week the big kids and I had stained the lumber and (mostly) cut it to size for the project. But on Friday we finally started assembling it.
The first, and arguably most important, step of the pergola assembly required that deep holes be drilled into the stone-clad face of our house, and a long, unwieldy 2 x 6 board be bolted securely along the length of the of the porch. This, by itself would be a daunting task to attempt with only an 11 and 13 year old handy for help. But consider the fact that the drilling/bolting had to be done at a considerable height (almost 11 feet), we were heading into uncharted territory.
Thankfully, one of my neighbors was able to lend me a painter's ladder (the kind that opens up to an A-shape). But it wasn't a very tall ladder (6 or 7 feet) and still required that I stand on the top step (something expressly forbidden on at least two separate warning labels on the ladder) with the drill held above my head in order to reach the place I had to drill.
However, since there was no other way to drill the holes and mount this long board... I drafted the two kids to brace the ladder tightly between them while I did my high-wire balancing act.
Everything was going just peachy as I drilled 4 of the required 5 holes into the stone. As repositioned the ladder and began drilling the last hole I was silently patting myself on the back for coming up with such a workable solution to the accessibility problem.
Then, in rapid succession the following occurred:
- I told the kids that I was just about done with the last hole.
- I gave the drill a little extra push as the bit neared the desired depth in the stone.
- There was an odd clattering sound... much like one would expect to hear when driving a Buick through a symphony orchestra's percussion section and into the the French horns.
- I found myself sprawled on the stone surface of the porch, surrounded by the drill, electrical chord, upturned ladder and two terrified children.
I have no idea exactly how long I lay there, but I think there is an automatic restart procedure that most people go through after a fall that is not unlike the way a computer checks all of its components and sub-systems after a crash.
The first thing I did was reassure the terrified kids. I had no business doing this, mind you, since I had no way of knowing how badly I was hurt. But when your kids are standing over you near tears, the correct (and only) response is "I'm OK".
Once I had them momentarily mollified I started doing the inventory. One by one I tenderly flexed my limbs and digits to see if everything worked. Lots of dull aches and the sting of scraped skin... but none of the tell-tale electrical shock-like pain associated with broken bones.
Once I knew I had the use of my hands, I started exploring my head and legs for blood. A little, but not much. Mostly scraped knuckles, elbows and knees and a rising bruise on my forearm and knee seemed to be the sum total of my injuries. Not bad considering I'd fallen about seven feet onto solid stone amidst my entire collection of power and hand tools.
After a few minutes the kids asked sort of an obvious question: "Why aren't you getting up, abba?"
I have to admit, I didn't have a reasonable answer for that one. Everything worked and I was anxious to get up and 'walk it off' (as my baseball coach used to say after I'd gotten knocked down by a fastball). But there was something oddly reassuring about remaining in a position where no further falling was possible.
Finally I allowed them to help me up to a sitting position and leaned heavily against the stone wall of the house.
I looked from Ari to Gila and back again and asked "OK, what happened?" No accusation intended, mind you... just a request for information. Almost immediately the finger pointing began.
"She let go first"
"No I didn't, I only let go when I saw you let go"
"I thought abba was done"
I held up my hand for silence and did the fatherly version of the Jedi mind trick... you know, where you attempt to erase all memory of what has just been said and try to restart the conversation in a more productive direction.
"OK, maybe I wasn't clear... I'm not assigning blame here, I honestly don't remember what happened between when I started drilling the last hole and when I found myself on the ground. Can you help me fill in the gap?"
As if by magic, my two children went from trying to throw each other under the bus to giving a remarkably detailed descriptions of what happened:
- Apparently, when I told the kids that I was just about done with the last hole, all they heard over the noise of the drill was the word 'done' and they both loosened their grip on the ladder.
- When I gave the drill that little extra push, the newly unsupported ladder flexed outwards allowing the bottom of the ladder to start sliding out from under my weight.
- That odd clattering sound (remember the Buick driving through the orchestra?) I'd heard was the spirit level, tape measure, saw horse, drill and ladder all crashing into each other on their way to the ground (and making contact with the falling human).
It was actually quite amazing to see them work together to reconstruct a fairly complex sequence of events once there was no blame being assigned. But despite this remarkable bit of forensic analysis, I still had one question:
"OK, let's assume for the sake of argument that you thought you heard me say I was done. Didn't the sound of the drill and the fact that I was still standing on top of the ladder make you think that letting go might not have been such a good idea?"
Instantly my two forensic experts evaporated... running to bring me a cold, damp washcloth for my wounds... an ice pack for my bumps and bruises... a cold drink to revive my spirits.
As I sat alone there on the stone flags soaking up the late-afternoon sunshine, I felt my cheeks go red as I considered the untenable position in which I'd placed the kids. I'd deliberately ignored not only a common sense rule... but one that was printed in big red and black letters in two separate places on the ladder. Not a very good way to indoctrinate them on the need to observe safety rules. Not only that, but if I'd really hurt myself badly (or worse, G-d forbid), they would have been guilt-ridden for years.
As I lie here at 4:00AM Sunday morning feeling the sore stiffness of the bumps and bruises that will be with me for some time to come, I need to come up with a plan for the rest of this pergola construction so that the kids will take some valuable lessons with them to future projects of their own.
First and foremost is going to be a review of the importance of following written warnings on equipment. We'll figure the rest out as we go along. I'm thinking that having their dad serve as a handy cautionary tale will help them retain the lessons.
Thursday, July 12, 2007
Another reason to love Google
I just noticed this little icon and quotation in the middle of the Google Hebrew home page:
"ושבו בנים לגבולם"
[Translation: 'And the children shall return to their borders']
It is a quote from the Prophet Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah) (Chapter 31 Verse 16), that never fails to move me. It moves me partly because of a connection to the area of Israel where I live... and partly because it speaks directly to me as someone who has returned to his borders.
Bereshit (Genesis) 47:30 finds Yaakov (Jacob) on his deathbed asking his son Yosef (Joseph) not to leave is bones in Egypt, but rather to bring them for burial in the Ma'arat Hamachpela (cave of the patriarchs & matriarchs) in Hevron. For some reason he then takes that opportunity to remind Yosef that his mother Rachel died "in the land of Canaan in the way, when there was still some way to come unto Efrat; and I buried her there in the way to Efrat--the same is Bethlehem."
Why would he do that? After all, Yosef was there when his mother died giving birth to his brother Benyamin (Benjamin). Doesn't it seem odd that he would ask Yosef to go out of his way to bury his bones in a distant place, and almost in the same breath remind him that he'd buried his mother Rachel on the side of the road instead of taking her the short distance to the family burial cave in Hevron?
In his famous commentary, Rashi points out that Jacob was afraid that Joseph was carrying a grudge against him for having buried his mother 'on the way'. So he needed to make Yosef understand that it was not done randomly or out of callousness... but rather as part of G-d's plan for the Jewish people.
When the Jews were led into Babylonian exile, they passed by Rachel's burial place on the side of the road. In that context, read the words of Yirmiyahu to which Rashi refers:
""A voice is heard in Rama, Rachel is weeping for her children. She refuses to be consoled for her children, for they are gone."" God answers her: ""Restrain you voice from weeping and your eyes from tears. There is a reward for your toil and your children will return to their borders."
Every time I visit the tomb of Rachel - a short distance from my home in Efrat - I picture the Jewish exiles walking along the dusty road... not knowing what the future might bring. And I picture Rachel standing there by her tomb, weeping for the exiles and being consoled by G-d with a promise of their eventual return.
This phrase; "ושבו בנים לגבולם" is the essence of modern Zionism. It is why I'm here.
So you can imagine what a nice surprise it was for me to see it posted in the center of the Google Hebrew home page.
I was up late last night combing the web for photographs of damage caused during last summer's war in Lebanon.
As odd as it may sound, while I scrolled through the pictures of buckled streets, pock-marked highways and shattered buildings in both Israel and Lebanon, I didn't really register the human suffering amidst the rubble. Instead I was struck by an odd realization... of just how thin the veneer of civilization is spread across the surface of the earth.
I'm not speaking euphemistically about the paucity of civilized behavior or the patterns in which our civilization is dispersed... but rather the fallacy of how deeply man's physical /communal presence is embedded into his environment.
Think about this: Why do we find images of palm trees on tropical beaches so soothing and reassuring? Why do we take comfort from their reclining, improbable posture? What is the allure of watching as their shallow roots are undercut by the surf... waiting for the inevitable moment when they will be tossed into the foaming breakers and become flotsam in a vast, trackless ocean?
I suggest that it's because of their stark contrast to the solid, embedded civilization from which we day-dream about taking our tropical vacations.
We go to school and work each day secure in the knowledge that, unlike those transitory south sea palms, our towns and cities are sturdy, permanent things rooted deep in the earth like clean, well-cared-for teeth.
But anyone who has ever taken a moment to look closely at the aftermath of earthquakes or wars, or even a construction site, knows a different truth... the truth of a paper-thin glaze of man's presence on the untamed earth. A pretty garnish. An afterthought's afterthought by the Master Chef.
The humbling realization that followed me down the slope into sleep last night was that nearly everything we cling to for comfort, status and identity in this world is little more than the brittle surface of a Crème Brûlée... waiting there on the crisp, clean linen for the spoon of fate or whim or avarice to shatter it... and us.
Is it any wonder I'm exhausted this morning?
Following the Jerusalem Post's lead
I was impressed that the Jerusalem Post ceased all activity on their website for five minutes this morning at the exact moment (one year ago today) that Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev were kidnapped by Hezbollah.
The placeholder on their site looked like this:
The soldiers cannot be found
Exactly one year ago, in these moments precisely, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev were abducted by Hizbullah and taken into Lebanese territory.
Ever since, no contact has been made with them and no signs of life have been given.
As a show of solidarity, JPost.com is ceasing all activity for the next 5 minutes, since we cannot let apathy take over.
Here is what can be done:
Don't let apathy and indifference take over!!!
JPost.com will return in a few moments.
May I suggest that we follow Jpost's lead... but instead of ceasing activity, that we begin any and all possible activities to raise awareness of the kidnapped soldier's plight, and press the international community to assist in facilitating their return to their families.
Tuesday, July 10, 2007
Parenting 101: 3 for 3
The treppenwitz family is gathering at the dining-room table for dinner. David and the big kids are already seated at the table and Zahava is in the kitchen preparing a pitcher of iced tea.
Yonah, our willful three-and-a-half-year-old son, is refusing to be seated and is, instead, pushing a matchbox car around the perimeter of the table.
As he pushes the car along the edge of the tablecloth he makes 'vroom vroom' noises under his breath and causes the miniature race car to veer wildly from side to side... nearly out of control.
After a particularly reckless turn, one of the little car's wheels pops off and arcs high across the room.
Yonah: "Oh sh*t!"
David, Ariella and Gilad (staring at Yonah in silent disbelief as he wanders nonchalantly over to pick up the tiny tire): [~ ?! ~]
Zahava (entering the dining-room with a grin on her face): "My work here is done."
Monday, July 09, 2007
I woke up this morning with such a strong taste for something that I was actually drooling. I turned over to tell Zahava about it but she was already out on her morning walk with Jordan. I just have to share this with someone... so, guess what? Lucky you!
I should begin by saying that one of the fruits that I miss the most here in Israel is my beloved New England wild blueberry. I recall picking and eating wild blueberries on a family trip to Maine so vividly that the memory sometimes makes me stop and check my hands and chin for the tell-tale stains of this indulgence.
Oh sure, they have blueberries here... but in such small supply and in such remote locations as to be almost non-existent. Apparently the soil here is not ideal for growing blueberries.
If you want to bake with blueberries you have to either buy frozen bags of berries that are imported from the US, or suffice with the syrupy-sweet canned blueberry pie filling that sometimes shows up in supermarkets frequented by anglos.
But ironically, this morning's longing wasn't even for fresh blueberries... it was for an unlikely product I discovered late one night while returning home from a gig in Manhattan.
It was about 2:00AM on a warm June night and I was driving up the Merritt Parkway in my Jeep Wrangler Sahara Edition with the top down (can anyone say 'midlife crisis'?) watching the birch trees flip by and trying to stay alert for the deer that seemed to dart out at the most inopportune time.
I normally didn't have much trouble staying alert on these late night drives, but for some reason on this particular evening I was becoming hypnotized by the warm air on my face and the monotony of the white-barked trees slipping past.
I had a huge fear of falling asleep at the wheel, so I always kept a blanket and pillow in the car in case I had to pull over and nap on the side of the road for a few hours (which I did frequently enough that many of the State Troopers knew me by name). But just as I was preparing to pull over, I saw the lights of a familiar gas station emerging from the darkness up ahead. I knew they always kept a nice selection of fresh coffees (did I mention I love coffee?) so I pulled in and parked the jeep near the door.
When I walked through the door I was nearly bowled over by the smell of fresh blueberries. This was one of those Mobil stations with a bakery section where fresh donuts and pastries were brought in (from a kosher bakery, no less!) around the clock, so I immediately went looking for the blueberry muffins or danish that, judging by the aroma, had to have just arrived.
But there were none.
When I asked the attendant where the blueberry smell was coming from, he pointed to the row of insulated coffee pots.
Blueberry coffee??? The very idea was appalling... revolting, even. But as the smell attacked my senses, the idea took root and for a full ten minutes I paced around the place trying to come up with a rational excuse not to try it.
I don't know how many of you have read Steinbeck's 'Cannery Row'... specifically the part where Doc becomes obsessed with the idea of a beer milkshake. Long story short, he finds the idea of a beer milkshake simultaneously disgusting and enticing... but finally gets to the point where he absolutely has to try it. So he waits until he is on a road trip and orders one from a shocked waitress at a roadside diner.
Well, that's what this blueberry coffee was like for me. It wasn't that I wanted it or didn't want it. Once I'd smelled it, I HAD TO HAVE IT!
So I poured myself a huge cup of the stuff (the blueberry coffee, not a beer milkshake... pay attention people!), added my usual dose of Splenda and Half & half, and... the world tilted on its axis.
It was as though I'd just finished a big slab of fresh baked blueberry pie with a rich, buttery crust... and was simply washing it down with a strong cup of fresh coffee. I took a few more sips, waiting for the cloying fruit flavor to emerge, but had the same sensation... not of drinking flavored coffee... but of washing down fresh blueberry pie with strong, unflavored coffee.
I didn't even make it all the way home before turning around, heading back to the gas station and buying a few pounds of the stuff to make at home.
So when I woke up this morning with this stuff on my mind, I realized it had been years since I'd had a cup of this ambrosia, and it was everything I could do to keep my hands from trembling as I surfed over to the Green Mountain Coffee website to see if they even still made the stuff.
You see in the past, this was a specialty flavor that was only available for a few months per year. When it was gone... it was all gone. Sure, you could sometimes find stray bags of the stuff on eBay at exorbitant prices, but no, I never went that far.
So you can imagine the happy dance I did when I got to their site I found that not only was it now available year 'round... but it was now being made with Fair Trade beans! What more could you ask?
The only annoying part is that, like many of the other retail coffee
pushers suppliers, Green Mountain has shrunk their 'pound bags' to 12 ounces while keeping the price the same. Not a very savory business tactic, to be sure... but I suppose if they have to shaft someone, it may as well be the addicts end-users who can afford it rather than the farmers and field hands who pick and bag the beans around the world.
Anyway, I wish I could offer you some consolation prize for having endured this private reminiscence. Oh wait, I can! Here's a link where you can go and get yourselves some of this fabulous stuff!
Kashrut Update: In answer to an email I received; Yes Virginia... Green Mountain Fair Trade Wild Mountain Blueberry Coffee is certified kosher by the Orthodox Union (OU).
Sunday, July 08, 2007
A great time... and a missed opportunity
The first time that Zahava and I went out for dinner with our friends 'Imshin' & 'Bish' (Imshin writes the popular blog 'Not a Fish') it was considered such a noteworthy event that Allison Kaplan Sommer of 'An Unsealed room' issued a mock press release:
"An historic outing in the Israeli blogosphere.
David and Imshin double date.
Left meets right!
Religious meets secular!
"Settlers" meet North Tel Avivis!
And everybody has a good time! Let's all hold hands and sing "Kumbaya!""
Up until that moment I hadn't really dwelled too much on our potential differences. All I knew was that Imshin had made us feel instantly welcome and comfortable at our first (and only) blogmeet, and we wanted very much to get to know her and her husband better.
But after seeing Allison's tongue-in-cheek announcement, I realized that our respective backgrounds made us (Imshin and me, that is) fairly unlikely pen-pals, much less friends.
Despite the potential cultural differences, that first dinner with the Imshins went swimmingly, and over the following months we stayed in touch... reading each other's blogs and sending the occasional email to make a private observation... all the while looking for a suitable time and place for another get-together. However, it wasn't for over a year that the stars aligned again to make another meeting possible.
It turned out that Imshin and her family would be vacationing in the upper Galilee within days of the end of the war in Lebanon... and so would we. In fact, we were staying less than five minutes from one another! So one evening we all tucked in our kids and snuck out with our spouses to meet up for a wonderful evening of drinks and dessert under the stars at 'Dag Al HaDan'.
Over the course of another year we somehow never found another opportunity to get together... but we stayed in touch.
Then a couple of months ago Herod's tomb was uncovered on the slopes of Herodion and Imshin mentioned in a post that she was excited about the discovery. Seeing as Herodion is practically in our back yard, I jumped at the opportunity and invited the whole Imshin clan out for a tour, followed by lunch at our place.
In the end we missed meeting their elder daughter because of a scheduling conflict, but Imshin, Bish and their younger daughter all made the trip out to see us (oh yeah, and Herod's tomb) this past Friday.
I should probably point out that for someone living in Tel Aviv, trekking out to Gush Etzion is a big deal. It means not only taking a long trip (something Israelis seem to loathe unless traveling abroad), but also potentially crossing comfort (as in OMG, is it safe???) and even ideological (as in OMG, is it in occupied territory!) boundaries. I still don't know what personal demons the Imshins had to set aside to make the trip, but knowing how I feel like a fish out of water in Tel Aviv, I'm sure it was no small thing for them to come to our neck of the woods.
As always, we had a wonderful time renewing our friendship with Imshin and Bish... and their younger daughter (sandwiched in age between Gilad and Ariella) was a delightful addition to the bunch.
We drove out to Herodion and climbed to the top... and then down through the Herodian and Bar Kochva-era tunnels... before stumbling upon a tour group that had gained permission to enter the normally restricted tomb site. Being good Israelis we simply waited until the gate was unlocked and
snuck followed them inside as if we were part of the group :-)
I'll leave it to Imshin to describe her impressions of Herodion since I've written before about my awe of Herod's desert refuge. what I wanted to mention here was a small event that occurred while we strolling around lower Herodion where the Roman pool and ruins are located at the foot of the mountain.
As we approached the lower ruins we noticed a couple of Arab kids walking towards us. One was a pretty girl of perhaps 12 or 13, and the other was (I assume) her older brother who I'd say was 15 or 16.
Maybe it's because I've done so much touring in the middle- and far-east, but I was instantly suspicious of the kids. It was plain to see that they didn't represent a safety risk, but I guess I assumed they would be chatting us up for a hand-out or perhaps trying to sell us antiquities they'd found in the area.
So I simply nodded hello to them and wandered with Ariella over towards the ancient pool. It wasn't until we were almost to the stone steps leading down into the pool that I noticed that Bish had stopped to chat with the kids. Imshin, her daughter and Gilad were standing nearby as the 'conversation' unfolded.
I could hear some of it from where I was standing, but it was pretty clear that there wouldn't be that much actual communicating going on since the kids spoke only Arabic and a tiny smattering of English. I say 'kids' but in fact it was the young girl who was doing most of the talking. She had a quick, beautiful smile and seemed quite confident talking to strangers (Israelis!) despite her limited English vocabulary. And the few English words she knew how to use were so deliciously accented that I wish I'd had a tape recorder!
It wasn't until we were in the car heading back to our house for lunch that I started to realize the enormity of the opportunity I'd missed.
Perhaps because of my experience with street beggars... and equally likely because of my (yes I admit it) knee-jerk suspicion of local Arabs... I had instinctively veered away from making contact with the kids. Bish, on the other hand, had instinctively engaged the kids and spent most of our time in lower Herodion trying to talk with them instead of touring the ruins.
In retrospect, I feel like I made a silly decision. Those ruins aren't going anywhere, and I've actually seen them all before. But the kids... the kids... who knows how many opportunities I'll have in the foreseeable future to be in a completely relaxed, non-political setting and play charades with a couple of Arab teenagers.
I have to be careful with what I say at this point because I don't want to give anyone the wrong idea. But aside from the fact that Bish and Imshin are genuinely wonderful people and share many values and priorities as people, parents and Jews with us, a tiny part of the allure of maintaining a friendship with them is certainly the 'otherness' of who they are.
They live in Tel Aviv... a world that may as well be in China for how mysterious it and its residents sometimes seem to us. We also like the idea of 'representing' religious settlers since it's reasonable to assume that Bish and Imshin have as many preconceptions about people 'like us' as we have about people 'like them'.
In the end, if there's one thing I've learned from getting to know Imshin and Bish it's that there really are no typical Tel Avivis. And hopefully they have gotten an idea that there are also no typical religious settlers. In truth, what we rarely admit to ourselves is that most of the closely held stereotypes harbored by both sides of the political divide tend to be the exceptions rather than the rule.
But for all my cultural sensitivity about 'us Jews', I kinda missed the boat with a rare encounter with Arabs.
Don't get me wrong... nothing, but nothing is going to convince me to wander into a cafe in Ramallah or Jenin any time soon looking for someone with whom to sing 'Koombaya'. Statistically I would be very unlikely to meet someone who was prepared to actually do me harm... but politically, the gulf is still much too wide to risk such a visit. But it was truly silly of me to squander a rare opportunity such as was presented this past Friday.
Who knows where those kids will be in ten years?! It may be that this brief encounter ends up being the only thing on the 'other side of the ledger' from all the terrible things they are taught about Israelis. While I certainly wasn't insulting or rude to them... I also wasn't particularly friendly either. And while I haven't discussed it yet with Ariella and Gilad, I'm sure they followed my lead and ended up missing an extremely valuable opportunity to see some Arab kids their age up close.
It's funny, but in our email correspondence leading up to the visit, Imshin wrote jokingly about being pleased that her kids would have the opportunity to visit a settlement and see that settlers don't have horns. I think I wrote back something witty like 'thanks for the heads-up since we usually don't take our horns off at home'.
The irony is that our kids (like many Jewish children in post-Oslo Israel) are being raised with an extremely jaundiced view of Arabs... and when an opportunity presented itself for them to see two blameless Arab kids in a completely non-threatening, relaxed setting, I steered them away.
Anyway, as the title of the post sates, we truly had a great time playing host to Imshin, Bish and their youngest daughter... and can't wait for the opportunity to have them show us around their part of the country. But at the same time, I'm really kicking myself over a missed opportunity that would have made the day that much more memorable.
Thursday, July 05, 2007
Facebook: The jury is still out
Scene: A couple of days ago a well-meaning person foisted this thing called Facebook on an unsuspecting neophyte (me). That, by itself, would have been manageable from a damage-control standpoint. I adapt easily to new situations. Usually.
But in the process of exploring this strange new
nether-world, either they or I inadvertently invited everyone in my gmail address book to 'become friends'.
Look, while somewhat embarrassing, sending an unsolicited invitation to everyone in one's email address book is not necessarily a bad thing. Right? I mean, just because gmail dutifully adds everyone to my address book that has ever sent me an email (or to whom I've ever replied), I shouldn't be worried or embarrassed, right?
Actually, the only thing that saved me from humiliation on a much grander scale is that I periodically go through my gmail address book and weed out people I can't identify (mostly one-time commenters on my blog) and/or those I can't imagine ever having to email. So yeah, most of the people who received invites to become my 'Facebook Friend' this week are actually people with whom I wouldn't necessarily mind maintaining contact.
But to the 50 or 60 people who emailed me or sent me Facebook messages saying something along the lines of "Um, who the hell are you and how the hell do I know you?", please accept my deepest apologies and feel free to go back to your regularly scheduled lives.
Likewise, if anyone 'friended' me out of guilt or laziness... feel free to 'unfriend' me. I swear on a stack of bourbons that I'm not a stalker and I'm not going to ambush you in a chat-room late some stormy evening asking tearfully why you don't want to be my friend.
However, there have been some serendipitous results from this whole Facebook debacle. I've reconnected with several people who had slipped off my radar for a few years (I've meant to write them... honest!), and I've also been able to actually see what several of my regular commenters look like (Hi NRG!).
Anyway, like I said in the title of this post. I have no idea whether Facebook will turn out to be a blessing or a curse... or simply another in a long list of pratfalls I've executed during my colorful and exciting life.
For all I know, Facebook may be a forum reserved exclusively for the young (or young at heart), and my intrusion there is akin to walking through the local mall wearing a 'Hello Kitty' backpack.
But for now, whatever embarrassment I've had to endure since being unceremoniously thrown into the deep end of the Facebook pool seems to have been mitigated by the warm welcome I've received from 'friends' (in the traditional sense of the word) around the world.
Tuesday, July 03, 2007
100 Words Everyone should Know
[Fasting today (17th of Tamuz), so instead of tossing down lunch, I put up a second post. Lucky you.]
One of my favorite reads - Defective Yeti - has a fantastic test up on his site.
Apparently, the American Heritage Dictionary (sorry Jesse) has come up with a list of one hundred words that every high school graduate should know.
I've always thought I had an above-average vocabulary, but I scored only 77 out of 100 (with a few more words that were close but no cigar).
Rather than just post the list along with the definitions, DY constructed a way to test yourself honestly without doing the old 'Oh, of course... that's what I meant' when in fact, you totally missed the word.