Friday, November 30, 2007
Dust off your heritage
I know that not everyone out there is Jewish, so I apologize that this may not be the most inclusive post I've ever written. But a neat contest just came to my attention and I'd like to make sure as many people hear about it as possible.
The National Jewish Outreach Program is sponsoring a contest called 'Judaica Across America'. Simply put, they want you to take a peek in your cabinets, drawers and breakfronts for Judaica that has become, if not an heirloom, then at least a member of the family.
It could be something commonplace like a Challah knife, kiddush cup, spice box, Hanukiah, Shabbat candle sticks or even a mezuzah. Or perhaps it is something a little more exotic such as an antique Samivar, a shochet or mohel's knife, salt cellar, Megilat Esther or even a sefer torah.
What they want you to do is take a picture or two of your heirloom Judaica, write a few words about its history (as much as you know) and email your entry to the judges.
Ten finalists will be selected from among all the entries and a panel of judges will pick a grand prize winner to receive two round trip tickets to Israel (or $1,500) and other prizes.
To sweeten the deal, if the winner turns out to be a treppenwitz reader (and can provide at least one reliable character witness to attest that they aren't an ax murderer), Zahava and I will personally host the lucky couple for a meal during their visit to Israel.
Thursday, November 29, 2007
My cab ride to Beirut
OK, truth be told, I didn't actually take a taxi to the capital of Hezbollah-land.
But when I tried to arrange a cab to take me from Beer Sheva to my home in Efrat the other night, you would have thought that Lebanon was my destination based on the number of cab drivers who refused to accept the fare.
It was about 10:00PM and I had long since missed my regular carpool home. Under normal circumstances I would have either stayed over in Beer Sheva at a local hotel or tried to hitchhike home. But seeing as it was really late and I needed to be in Jerusalem first thing in the morning, I decided to treat myself to a taxi ride home.
So far so good... until the fun began, that is.
The process would begin with a call to the taxi dispatcher:
Me: Hi, I need a taxi to come to [name of my company].
Dispatcher: No problem, where are you going?
Me: Efrat... In Gush Etzion.
Dispatcher: No problem... someone will be right there.
Within a few minutes a taxi would pull up and the driver would ask "Where did you say you needed to go?" I would tell him, which would result in the him saying he had to speak to his dispatcher... getting back in his cab... and promptly driving away.
This was repeated several times. One or two drivers asked if it was possible to get to Efrat without entering the 'shtachim' (territories)... while others offered excuses ranging from not having enough gas in the car to never having heard of Gush Etzion.
I was shocked. At the risk of generalizing, the typical taxi driver here tends to be the salt of the earth... an Israeli 'everyman' of sorts. As a group they tilt heavily towards mizrachi (Sephardi and eastern) origins, and even more heavily towards the political right.
I don't know exactly what I was expecting, but it certainly wasn't the abject horror that crossing the green line seemed to evoke in these normally devil-may-care men.
Finally I got a driver who, after a few minutes of reassuring, agreed to take me home.
Once we were on our way he began peppering me with a string of non-stop nervous questions:
"How far is it?"
"Are you sure?"
What's that village over there... Jewish or Arab?"
"Arab!? Is it 'problematic'?"
"What about that one?"
"You really drive this road every day?"
"Have you ever had any problems... roadside bombs... shooting... rocks... Molotov cocktails???"
"What the h... that was a Palestinian license plate on the car that just passed us! I didn't know they were allowed on the roads?!"
Oh G-d!... I see headlights behind us. Should I be worried that it might be a terrorist following us?????!"
And on and on and on...
By the time we'd passed half a dozen sleeping Arab villages and were approaching the southern outskirts of Hevron, the driver had worked himself into a state of panic about terrorists who seemed to be lurking just around every bend to turn his wife into a widow and orphan his children.
Five or six times he reached for the same empty cigarette pack, each time tossing it back on the dashboard in disgust. So finally, as much as I loathed the idea of being trapped in a car full of smoke, I suggested we pull into Kiryat Arba where he could buy himself a fresh pack of cigarettes, thinking that it might help calm his nerves.
Once inside Kiryat Arba he visibly relaxed and stared in amazement at the neat streets lined with stone-clad apartment buildings, parks and playgrounds.
"All these buildings have people living in them?" he asked me in wide-eyed wonder. When I answered in the affirmative he just shook his head and kept repeating "I didn't know... I didn't know...". Apparently he had bought into the media version of 'the territories' where everyone lives in trailers on wind-swept hilltops.
When we'd finally parked and gotten his smokes, I suggested he take a short break from driving and just sit outside enjoying the cool night air. I figured that not only would this spare me from the stink of smoke inside the cab, but it would also give me the opportunity to point out a nearby feature I had a hunch might be of interest to him.
I pointed at an electric gate in a chain-link fence that was less than 100 yards from where we were parked. "You see that gate?" I began. "Just a minute or two beyond that gate is the Ma'arat HaMachpelah (the cave of the Patriarchs)".
He stared at me as though I'd just told him that Abraham himself was waiting in the dark just beyond the fence.
"Are you serious? I thought the Arabs destroyed that during the Intifada! It still exists?!"
I explained that it had been Joseph's tomb that was destroyed by the Arabs, and that the Ma'arat HaMachpelah - the tomb of the Patriarchs - was sill very much extant.
Apparently forgetting all about the previous 45 minutes of white-knuckled terror, the driver sprinted around the car, reached through the window for the radio microphone, and called his dispatcher.
"Itzik... ITZIK... you hear me?"
The click of a far-away mic was followed by a laconic, "Shome'ah" [I hear you]
"Itzik, you'll never believe where I am. I stopped for cigarettes in Kiryat Arba and I'm parked within a few meters of the Ma'arat HaMachpelah!"
The dispatcher's voice burst over the radio... this time full of excitement and now, apparently on the public channel: "Hey Dudu, tchacho, Zvika, Hezi... everyone! Yossi's calling from the Ma'arat HaMachpelah in Hevron!"
While this wasn't exactly true (since we were still technically in Kiryat Arba), the response was immediate and electric. The radio speaker began broadcasting a competing jumble of joyful salutations from his fellow drivers in 'far-away' Beer Sheva:
"Kol Hakavod [congratulations], Yossi!"
"Zachita!" [you won!]
"Yossi, you have to say Tehilim [Psalms] for my mother at the Ma'arah [cave]... she's having an operation tomorow. [Her name is]... Sarah Bat Shifra... Sarah Bat Shifra... you hear me... Sarah Bat Shifra!"
"Aizeh Gibor [what a hero!]"
"Yossi... Tell us what you see."
"Sarah Bat Shifra... Yossi, don't forget!"
"Yossi... Hazarta B'Tchuvah? [Did you become religious?]... Kol HaKAvod!"
"How did you get there... did you get lost"
What does it look like... is it beautiful in the moonlight?"
"Sarah Bat Shifra... Yossi... Sarah Bat Shifra!"
It was like a replay of Motta Gur's famous "Har HaBayit B'Yadainu!" [the Temple Mount is in our hands!] broadcast.
Apparently forgetting completely about how frightened he had been just minutes before, the driver turned to me and asked if we could go into Hevron to pray at the Ma'arat HaMachpelah.
I looked at my watch and noted that it was after 11:00PM already... but he misunderstood the gesture.
"Don't worry", he assured me. "You're not on the meter. I have a flat-fee voucher from your company so nobody will mind if we take a short side trip."
I quickly reassured him, "No, it's not that. I'd actually love to go the the Ma'arah... I haven't been there in a few months [last time I was there was with Jameel and Psychotoddler]. But I'm almost sure they close it to visitors at 9 or 10PM."
He looked crestfallen. He stared longingly towards the closed gate leading into Hevron and into the darkness beyond, and asked, "Are you sure?"
I just shrugged and said, "Look, that's what I remember. But don't take my word for it. There's an army Jeep parked by the gate... let's go ask them."
We quickly jumped into the taxi and drove the short distance to the gate and pulled up alongside the idling Jeep. Yossi got out and had a brief conversation with the soldiers. There were some animated hand gestures from Yossi, but they were of the disappointed sort... such as one might see in the aftermath of a natural disaster. Lots of breast beating and placing of hands on the head as if in despair.
A few minutes later the driver came dejectedly back to the taxi... but instead of getting in he reached over to the recess under the radio and fished out an embroidered velvet kippah (yarmulke) and a well-thumbed book of Psalms with an ornate silver cover. Without a word he strode back towards the gate and upon reaching the chain link fence, began reciting out loud into the darkness beyond:
"Shir Lamalot... Esa Einai el heharim... mayayen yavo ezri..."
[A song of ascents. I raise my eyes to the mountains... from where will my help come? My help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth... He won't allow your foot to be moved... He doesn't sleep... The protector of Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps! ... ]
I sat there in the front seat listening to the taxi driver recite the 121st Psalm into the darkness beyond the fence. Although he occasionally glanced at the small silver-clad book in his hand, it was clear to me that he knew the verses by heart as there was certainly not enough light to see the small print there by the fence.
I seemed to be the only one taking any notice of the goings on. The soldiers sitting nearby in their idling jeep barely looked up from their coffee and conversation... and the two or three people standing outside the store where Yossi had bought his cigarettes didn't even glance in our direction.
I thought to myself, 'what a funny country we live in'. We're all terrified of the unkown / unfamiliar, but completely un-phased by the things we know.
The secular and religious experience emotions about each other ranging from distrust to hate because they no longer know one another. The urbanites and settlers experience similar emotions about one-another due to the same sort of unfamiliarity and disconnect.
The non-political Jews and Arabs are just as wary of each other as their more 'active' counterparts, again, due largely to the scariness of the unknown strangers. Those that live and travel in the territories are (mostly) at ease with commutes and ambulations that, for some reason, fill the hearts of Israel's city-dwellers with dread.
When my driver, Yossi, had finished reciting a few more psalms - presumably with his fellow driver's mother in mind - we resumed our journey, and within 20 minutes arrived outside my house in Efrat. I asked him if he wanted a cup of coffee for the ride back to Beer Sheva, but he shook his head and said he'd be fine.
I reviewed the return route with him and gave him my cell phone number in case he lost his way... but I could see he was writing it down mostly to humor me. Gone was the cloud of hesitancy and fear under which we'd begun our trip together. In it's place was a confident, macho mizrachi cab driver who was completely at home in his surroundings.
Almost as an afterthought I asked him if he was glad he'd taken the fare. Without hesitating he answered that he'd lived his whole life in Israel... most of it in Beer Sheva... and had never realized how close Hevron was. He told me that on his next day off from work he was going to bring his family to pray at the Ma'arat HaMachpelah. "My son's going into the army this year" he confided with a shrug. "If not now... when?" *
I couldn't agree more. As I watched him drive away I couldn't think of a better way to sum up the need for people's perspectives to change; 'If not now, when?'
* He was quoting Hillel from Pirkei Avot. The full quote is "If I am not for myself who will be for me. If I am only for myself, what am I. If not now, when?"
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
"Is he calling me a 'battle-axe'?" She asked herself
Yesterday our 12 year-old son, Gilad, went on a class trip.
Knowing from experience that my kids operate their finances on pretty much the same footing as our government (i.e. at a constant deficit), I took him aside before I left for work and quietly asked him if he had pocket money for the trip.
I already knew his answer would be a big fat 'no' since not two weeks ago I'd personally witnessed him squandering six months worth of saved allowance and babysitting money on a basketball jersey... but I had to ask the question.
As expected he shifted his gaze to a far corner of the room and mumbled that he didn't really have any spare money at the moment.
I remember what it was like taking field trips as a kid. No matter where we went, there was always an opportunity to stop into some sort of gift shop or souvenir stand. Somehow my parents always seemed to be able to send me off with just enough money to buy something inconsequential... but little enough so as to minimize the damage in case I used bad judgment (as I inevitably did).
Well, I couldn't very well send my own son off on a field trip with nothing in his pocket, so I slipped him the equivalent of about 5 or 6 bucks and told him to try to resist the temptation to buy something, well, useless.
We both knew that this last instruction was just for show since 'useless' is pretty much the best description for what one finds in the typical gift shop or souvenir stand.
I can't tell you how many times Gilad has come back from a trip to a truly educational destination such as a science museum or religious/historical site... only to proudly show me the fake snot, magic trick or sharks tooth that he somehow decided would be the most suitable memento of the trip.
Anyway, he thanked me, gave me a kiss, pocketed the money and we went our separate ways... me to work and he to meet his class bus for the trip.
About half way through the day my cell phone rang and I was delghted to see that it was Gilad calling. He was standing in the inevitable gift shop and wanted my advice about something he wanted to buy.
I was speechless! This was truly a momentous occasion. My boy was growing up and showing signs of maturity!!!
Then he dropped the bomb. He explained that he wanted to buy a necklace for a girl who he has been spending a lot of time with (she goes to another school and was not on this trip).
Whoa... not so fast there! I thought they were just friends! You know, 12 year olds hanging out and eating the occasional slice of pizza together. Sure he had brought her back a thoughtful mug full of her favorite colored M&Ms when we came back from our trip to the states... but that was the kind of gift one gives a buddy... not a girlfriend, right?
But a necklace was a gift with romantic overtones that even I couldn't fail to notice.
I delicately asked whether he felt she would like receiving a necklace from him. The question was intended to suss out whether he had even thought this through that far. I remember having the mother of all crushes on a beautiful girl when I was about his age, only to find out too late that she barely knew I existed. I wanted to make sure he had really considered this from her side of the transaction.
He assured me that he was sure she would enjoy getting it... he just wanted to know if I would mind him spending all the money I'd given him on the gift.
I told him to go ahead, but not to buy something too over the top just in case he needed to re-frame it as a friendship gift at the last second.
When I got home from work Gilad took me aside and proudly showed me the necklace he'd picked out. It was a slim black silk string with a pretty pendant suspended on it. The pendant was a very feminine robin-egg blue.
My first impression was very favorable. I was proud that a 12 year-old boy could pass up the sharks teeth, magic tricks and even fake snot in order to pick out something so tasteful and feminine for a girl he liked.
But then I looked more closely at the pendant.
I'm kicking myself that I didn't take a photo of it, so you'll just have to live with my description here. This pretty, robin's egg-blue pendant was actually a small double edged battle axe with a bullet in between the two blades.
I did a quick Google search and here is the basic idea... except instead of the pointed shaft between the two blades, a small bullet forms the center axis:
I just looked at it and was truly torn as to whether I should say something. Anything!
At this point I should probably mention that I was never any great shakes in the gift-picking-out department. Heck, most guys are clueless. Girls always seemed to know exactly what to buy for any occasion and recipient... it's almost as if they attended some sort of class in gift selection.
I think the only suitable gift I ever bought a girl when I was a kid was the one year in 7th grade when the de rigueur gift was either a necklace or bracelet made from white 'pukah shells' (did I just date myself?).
Not wanting to make him feel self-conscious, I asked Gilad what the pendant was. He looked at it closely and said "I think there's a bullet there in the middle". So I continued, "And what about on either side of the bullet... what is that?"
He took another long look and said, "I'm pretty sure it's an ax or a hatchet".
Now, I've met the intended recipient of this necklace on a few occasions. She is a pretty girl with sandy blonde hair who exudes wholesomeness and athleticism. There was definitely not a hint of goth or heavy metal there anywhere... so I was still confused by his choice of pendant.
He shrugged and simply said, "it's just a neat design... I'm sure she'll like it".
I didn't have the heart to tell him that he had just set out upon a lifetime of giving terribly inappropriate and/or ill-conceived gifts to people of the opposite sex. Not only that, but that he comes by this particular talent quite honestly since his old man has handed over some gift-wrapped bombs in his time.
In the silence that stretched between us there in the dining-room I could clearly visualize a series of girl's faces flashing by... each with a more horrified/disappointed look than the previous one, as I handed over one stinking dud after another.
Zahava has actually done fairly well (or so she says), with only about one gift in three being truly cringe-worthy.
I also decided not to share with Gilad the fact that 'battle-axe' is a fairly derogatory epithet reserved for overbearing mothers-in-law such as those found in 'The Honeymooners' and it's cartoon reincarnation; 'The Flintstones'. I just prayed that his girlfriend (or however they think of themselves) wouldn't catch the reference.
Oy, When did he become a teenager? I'm not ready for this! I think I was happier when the worst thing I could imagine was him coming home from a field trip with more fake snot, a magic trick or a pocket full of sharks teeth!
Monday, November 26, 2007
A short one for now...
A post I wrote this morning may or may not be ready for publication. I need to read it again at lunch-time through fresh eyes to decide how smart it would be to allow it to see the light of day (yes, despite all indications to the contrary... I do censor myself). So stay tuned.
In the mean time, here is a link to a page set up by a fellow Anglo-Israeli, Jacob Richman, that contains pretty much all the well-known Hanukkah videos out there. So, if you're getting a little fed up with 'Jingle Bell Rock' or 'Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer'... here's everything you need for your holiday
time wastage enjoyment on one convenient page:
Update: He also has a neat page up on his site that contains what seems to be every Hanukkah-related resource on the web.
Updated update: Alright, I just couldn't resist. Here is a link to Wesley Willis' quirky Xmas jingle. Pure seasonal gold! Feel free to share links to your favorite seasonal vids. In fact, provided they aren't potentially offensive, if you share links to your favorite holiday fare in the comments, I will repost them (with due credit, of course) here on the page.
Here, I'll get the ball rolling:
Hat TIp to Karl
Hat TIp to Alan & Chedva
Hat TIp to Jack
Sunday, November 25, 2007
Me (to my 4-year-old son): "Yonah, I thought Grandma already asked you to stop banging your car into the wall".
Yonah: [ignores me and continues driving his toy car into the freshly painted wall of my parents living-room]
Me [slightly louder]: "Yonah, are you listening to Abba? I want you to stop that!"
Yonah: [continues to ignore me and gleefully crashes his toy Porsche into the wall yet again.]
Me [sharply]: "YONAH! LOOK AT ME... I'M TALKING TO YOU!!!"
Yonah: [startled, stops what he's doing and looks up at me with big, baby Harp Seal eyes]
Me: "Did you hear me ask you to stop doing that?"
Yonah [lower lip trembling, he hides the little car behind his back]: "Yes Abba."
Me: "If you heard me then why didn't you stop doing it?!"
Yonah [bursts into tears and throws himself into a fierce bear hug against my leg]: "Because I looooove you Abba!! Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!!!"
My first inkling that this might be an extremely unfair tactic on Yonah's part was that in a millisecond I went from being mildly annoyed that he might be marking up the wall in my parents new apartment, to feeling his heavy sobs and the wet tears soaking through my pants... and being perfectly willing to burn down their apartment if he'd asked me to.
I think this is what they call 'fighting dirty'.
Thursday, November 22, 2007
Sometimes less is more
As in 'I have so much more to say on the current and continuing folly of running after this elusive thing called peace... but I won't'. At this point I've likely chased away the last thinking leftist ever to visit this site... and I don't need to keep preaching to the choir on the right.
So basically I got nuthin' today except maybe to send you over to the OU site where I have a Thanksgiving post published.
I hope everyone has a fantastic Thanksgiving (we're having our Turkey with my parents Tomorrow night).
Hey, maybe when we all wake up from our tryptophan-induced comas (yes, kids I know it's just a myth), we might find that the Israeli leadership and the American State Department have all somehow miraculously come to their collective senses and told the Palestinians to come back to the table when they can actually offer something tangible in return for Israeli concessions.
Anyway, Happy Turkey Day to all!
"Neurologists at Jerusalem's Hadassah-University Hospital, Ein Kerem, are the first in the world to help multiple sclerosis (MS) and amyotropic lateral sclerosis (ALS) patients by injecting their spinal columns with large numbers of adult stem cells taken from their bone marrow and multiplied in culture." *
But wait, look at the accompanying photo (click to embiggen):
Either JPost screwed up their picture placement (again!) or the adult stem cells they grew look suspiciously like Defense Minister Ehud Barak.
Aside from the fact that they continue to pay Larry Derfner to spout every last thing to cross the uncharted desert that passes for his intellect, the most annoying part of going to the Jerusalem Post's site is their pictures.
First of all, they often have very interesting photos on their site. But when you click on them you are taken to the related story... WITH NO PICTURE! It is totally counter-intuitive!
Also, the pictures and captions seem to match up only about 60% of the time, leading to funny pairings such as what you see in the screen capture above.
So yeah, I'm excited about the medical breakthrough... but I'm hoping against hope that if I ever need stem cells (G-d forbid) that they don't try to inject Ehud Barak into my spine. I mean, that's gotta hurt!
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
Sacrificed to an imaginary god
Two nights ago a 29 year old Israeli husband/father named Ido Zoldan was driving from one Jewish town to another... a route that took him past an Arab village called Funduk... when according to reports, terrorists in a passing car opened fire, fatally wounding him. Paramedics who arrived on the scene were unable to revive him. His wife and two small children buried him yesterday.
The Al Aksa Martyr's Brigade (which is affiliated with, and under the direct control of, Mahmood Abbas' Fatah party) took responsibility for the attack saying it was, "a protest against the Annapolis conference and a response to Israel's crimes against the Palestinians."
To be clear, this wasn't Hamas, Islamic Jihad, or Al Qaeda, over which Abbas and Fatah maintain not a shred of control. This was a terrorist group that is under direct orders from the 'moderate' Palestinians who have been anointed as Israel's partners for peace.
In the days of Arafat, Israel began committing slow suicide by entering into agreements with someone who wrapped himself in the cloak of 'plausible deniability'... a clever policy of claiming to speak for all the Palestinians, while claiming to have control over the actions of exactly none of them when 'bad things' (i.e. terror attacks) would happen.
A quick scan of the foreign press and even the leftist Israeli media hasn't revealed even a murmur that this latest attack coupled with the increase in rocket and mortar attacks, might indicate that now is not the correct moment to engage the Palestinians in peace negotiations. No, if anything the conventional wisdom seems to be that these attacks only underscore the desperate need to continue the headlong rush to try to make peace... immediately... at any cost!!
The suicidal urge is no longer slow... it has increased to a mad dash.
Now as then, the far left has branded anyone who recommends caution as 'an obstacle to peace'. I beg to differ. Anyone who can ignore the continued rocket, mortar, knife, shooting, Molotov Cocktail attacks... as well as the actual words coming from the mouths of the Palestinian leadership that deny Israel's most basic right to self determination... is, in my humble opinion, condoning murder.
Many commenters on a previous post of mine insisted that the architects of the Oslo accords could not be held responsible for the 1000+ Israel deaths that followed because they could not have known this would be the result.
Well, now with the experience of Oslo under our belts and the exact same thing happening again, we can no longer claim ignorance. Rabin and Peres callously called those who were murdered in the Oslo War 'sacrfices for peace'. Well, I say they were sacrificed to an imaginary god... the same stone idol to whom Ido Zoldan was offered up two nights ago.
I have no doubt that the secular left will continue to refuse to listen to any right wing religious drivel from Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) about there being a time for peace... as well as a time for war. They can't imagine any scenario where peace isn't like an apple hanging in a tree... just waiting to be picked by anyone who is hungry enough.
But maybe they'll listen to one of their own:
"No Arab ruler will consider the peace process seriously so long as he is able to toy with the idea of achieving more by the way of violence."
-Yitzhak Rabin -
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
Karma? You're soaking in it!
Sometimes it's strange how seemingly random things with apparent thematic connections come to our attention within a very short period of time. Your rational mind tells you that the close proximity they momentarily shared in your consciousness was nothing more than a coincidence, yet...
For instance I was watching the news last night and was sickened to learn of a young Israeli who was gunned down by terrorist and yet another mortar barrage pounding the western Negev. And that amidst all these overtures from our peace partners, our leaders had finalized a list of 441 Terrorists to be released as a 'goodwill gesture'.
And then just as I was about to turn off the TV in disgust and close my computer before going to bed, an email from a friend popped up in my inbox with a very interesting film clip (click link to view movie).
Coincidence? I think (hope) not.
Monday, November 19, 2007
Like finding the owner's manual under the bed
Our younger son, Yonah, has some sensory and information processing issues. By this I mean that he doesn't always process information in the same way as most of the world. He is making great progress in this respect, but we still sometimes find ourselves speaking to him... only to find him unreceptive because he is busy broadcasting his own urgent distress signals for our attention.
Example: Yonah wants a glass of chocolate milk. Right now! Right this very second!!! His thirst for chocolate milk is so great that he can't imagine a world without this cold, refreshing beverage. And for all he knows, he is the only person in the world not enjoying chocolate milk at that moment.
Even as Zahava or I tell him that, yes, we would be glad to pour him some 'choco' he will continue to ask with an ever greater sense of urgency. He observes us taking out the milk and the glass and the chocolate powder, but there is still somehow enough uncertainty about the end result in his mind that he can't bring himself to stop asking (demanding, by this point).
This is but one small example of something to which we are actually saying 'yes'. So you can probably imagine what it's like when we have to pretend to be responsible parents and say 'no'. Even if Yonah understands on some level that his request is unreasonable (e.g. for salami or chewing gum... or both!... for breakfast), once he has asked for it and imagined how wonderful it would be to get it... he can't seem to back away from the idea.
Enter my brilliant wife.
One of the professional staff involved with Yonah's gan suggested that part of the problem might stem from his inability to see anyone or anything else in the situation once he has asked for something. He is a very bright little boy and is extremely eager for approval and reassurance. So, she suggested that Zahava make a bunch of exaggerated drawings of faces showing happiness, anger, sadness, disappointment, etc., so that when Yonah begins revving himself up we would be able to draw his attention to the way we were feeling by making him look at the appropriate drawing.
Zahava took it one step further. She figured that if a drawing of a face was good, then a real face would be better.
The next time Yonah went on one of his chocolate milk jags (after already having drunk his allotment for the afternoon), she took his chin gently in her hands and made him look directly into her face... a face which she had made into an exaggerated scowl of disapproval.
She asked him, "Yonah, what face does Ima have on?", to which he answered, "An angry face". That seemed to break the spell because he simply shrugged and asked if he could go watch a movie... the chocolate milk apparently all but forgotten.
The way she described the event to me later was as though she had suddenly found the owner's manual for the kid while straightening up his room. She was that elated!
This morning while I was making the coffee and starting to put out breakfast for Yonah, he walked over to one of the 'out of bounds' cupboards (where the treats are locked away) and began demanding Bisli (a horrible salty-onion flavored crunchy snack that Israeli kids love only slightly less than the old standby; peanut flavored Bamba.*) in a very loud voice.
I gently explained that Bisli was not a breakfast food (I'm actually not sure it qualifies as any kind of food!), and that I wanted him to have Cheerios instead. He continued tugging at the cabinet handle and demanding Bisli with the familiar increasing urgency. No matter how I tried to divert him towards Cheerios (a cereal he truly loves), he could not tear his attention from the salty snack hiding behind door number one.
I was running late and was sorely tempted to give in... but I could just imagine the look on Zahava's face when she came back from her morning walk if she found Yonah eating Bisli for breakfast. In other words, Daddy Syndrome writ large! No husband willingly sets himself up for that kind of ridicule!
Suddenly I remembered the revelation Zahava had shared with me and decided I had nothing to lose by test driving her method. So I got down on one knee... gently cradled Yonah's soft chin in my hand and directed his face towards my own (and away from the cabinet containing the Bisli). I put on a very sad expression and asked him "What kind of face is Abba wearing?".
Almost as though a spell had been broken, his eyes cleared of their Bisli-lust and he calmly said "A sad face. Abba is wearing a sad face."
I hid my surprise and continued, "And what does a sad face mean?"
Without hesitating he responded "It means I'm having Cheerios for breakfast".
I swear I kissed that little boy's happy face in so many places that I'm surprised he still has any skin left. It was so wonderful to find a perfectly rational little four year old hiding underneath that veneer of unchecked wants and needs.
I couldn't help thinking back to the way Zahava sounded when she first told me about her success. It was, indeed, a lot like finding Yonah's operator's manual.
Look, I have no illusions that we still have a long road ahead of us in terms of helping Yonah catch up with his peers and then make his way in a world full of people who don't have to contend with the sensory and processing issues that he does.
But this small victory was so satisfying I can barely describe it here. It was not a victory of us over Yonah... but rather a victory whereby we and Yonah were suddenly (miraculously!) on the same side, facing... and overcoming... new challenges together.
More Info on these horrid snack foods Here.
Friday, November 16, 2007
A glimpse of life in the shop window
One of the risks of expressing political opinions in as public a forum as this is that I often get 'interesting' (if not alarming) responses.
However, no email I have ever received demonstrates the disconnect between the Arab/Muslim mindset and the rest of us (and yes, the other way around)as clearly as the following email exchange that took place during the 2006 War in Lebanon:
and lots of peaceful and happy wishes for yourself and your family.
in your blogpost about "A difficult lesson", you tried to takes sides of Israel and suggested the continous bloodshed to go on forever until one party gives up. brother, i am not as wise as you are but still i believe fight between two men and between two countries or between two religions, they are all different. you can't compare such a "personal" fight to a "national" or "religious" fight, that will be absurd and too childish to do that. i hope you study about Islam more and try to befriend a Muslim and ask him/her all the questions you got in your head before hating Islam or Muslims that much as is evidenced in your blog.
i wish i was near you and could do all i can to guide you towards a good way instead of you becoming voice of the war machine murdering kids/women/old in the name of "ending" war.
instead of helping the bombs, try to help humans who are suffering, not just Muslims but Jews civilians too. try to read more about Islam and why does it ORDER its followers to wage a holy war against anything evil?
hope you got some idea. it is a personal email request to you and i hope instead of getting any "stupid" or the usual racial response, i would get a response from a wise and thinking person who definitely got brains to think before acting.
I was tempted to simply hit delete and move on with my life, but after rereading his email a few times I decided to engage 'Ali' (not his real name) in order to find out how sincere and intellectually honest he was willing to be on so touchy a subject.
I have studied Islam extensively and have come to the conclusion that Islam cannot coexist peacefully with any other religion or culture. The only way Islam tolerates anyone else is in Dhimmi status... and then only barely.
There are obviously peace-loving Muslims who do not wish for Jihad and martyrdom and constant war against 'the infidel'. But they are not the ones calling the shots and they are certainly not ever going to be in a position to influence the Arab/Muslim governments or terrorist organizations.
You tell me to "stop helping the bombs and start helping the suffering people". I am. I am trying to stop the bombs that are causing the ongoing suffering of my people.
If you can dispute the truth of the following statement I will continue to speak with you as long as you wish. If not... have a nice life. Here it is:
"If the Arabs were to put down their weapons tomorrow, there would be immediate peace. If Israel were to put down her weapons tomorrow, there would be an immediate holocaust."
The complete destruction of Israel and the death of all the Jews is the stated goal of our current enemies in Iran, Syria, Lebanon and the PA. It is clearly written in the charter of the people you say I should trust and embrace.
You sit there and tell me about how I need to make peace with my neighbors even as they continue to rain rockets down on my country's civilian population, and send their children with bombs to blow me up.
I think not.
I figured that would be the end of 'Ali' and his 'peaceful' overtures and his attempt to "guide [me] towards a good way". I was wrong.
you are definitely a likely recruit of IDF, US Army or others who are currently killing nobody but kids, women. unfortunately, if you were successful in killing Muslim fighters, i would love to commend your bravery. But you are ending up killing innocents and that is why you are being hated so much all around the world that COMPELS every person, government, etc to write that kind of "charter" of destruction of israel from the face of the earth. just look at the past 50 years destruction and try to compare it with the history, just this tiny state of "israel" comes into being and the whole world becomes unsafe for peace lovers.
yes, Islam clearly asks for dominance, but not for the price of innocent blood. it asks you to fight evil, not kids/women. and as a representative of good, islam wants to take the whole world as it should. i strongly condemn the Hizbollah rockets on israeli civilians and the suicide bombers in israeli public places. i simply love soldiers who fight only to soldiers by caring about families, kids, women, elderly. that is what Islamic war "JIHAD" teaches its soldiers, what kind of war is your religion teaching you? that is a coward act to kill those un-armed people.
briefly, if dog barks at us humans, do we have to become a dog in return and leave our superior being a human dignity? you are a wise man and i invite you to think before trying to spread such a hatred. that is simply killing you from inside and you know that but your brainwashing around jewish religion and media stops you from considering the consequences. i really feel sorrow for young jewish who will be or are being murdered in such a young age by blindly following such a bad strategy of killing innocents and inviting rage of not just 1 billion muslims but the whole world.
i am talking to you as i talked to my brother who commit a crime last year and i was trying to teach him. i hope i am not hurting you and i hope and pray that you and your family be safe.
There was something decidedly un-brotherly about Ali's unsubstantiated allegations so I decided to put an end to what had been a bad job from the start.
I don't know a nicer way to say this so I'll just say it: I am not your brother and I do not wish to continue this 'discussion'.
I asked you to respond honestly to a simple statement and you refused. Instead you ignore the fact that Hezbollah (as well as the Palestinians) deliberately places their military infrastructure in civilian areas and use civilians as human shields.
How would you like to be in one of those villages being used (against your will ) as a shield for these brave Muslim warriors of yours.
Please don't bother responding. You are clearly not looking for dialog. You are simply trying to wear me out.
That should have been the end of it, but sadly...
none of your "kid" style evasions can make me angry, rest assured. however, i wish you die quickly in hands of any Muslim fighter instead of a long painful death and believe me it would be a favor to "brainwashed" person like yourself. i wish i could abuse you in return but my being elderly than you and being a Muslim stops me from disgracing you as you tried to disgrace me. i will just wish you could see light and come out of darkness. nothing more.
a well-wisher (Ali)
'Ali' seems to have a teensy-weensy problem with boundaries. Being an apologist for global Jihad is one thing... but actually wishing that I "die quickly in hands of any Muslim fighter instead of a long painful death" crosses a little red line of mine. So I decided to cross one myself.
I have forwarded a copy of this entire thread to your company's VP of Human Resources to demonstrate that not only have you initiated an unsolicited correspndence with me via your company's computer system (on company time), but despite my polite request that you not continue to contact me you have sent me an harassing and threatening email. I'm sure he will be quite interested to see your novel religious/political ideas in print.
I had really hoped that would be the end of 'Ali' and his kind wishes for my speedy demise... but within twenty minutes the following popped up in my inbox:
I did not harrasse you, unfortunately. Anyways, instead of sending such a childish emails to my company or anyone, why don't you send nukes? my God, you totally mis-understood me. I will be probably the FIRST amongst Muslims to save your or your family's lives as we dont' believe in such childish things.
Sorry, it is all mis-understanding and I take back all words that might have caused you disturbance. They were all meant to be as a "communique" between human beings, not between animals.
Anyways, sorry again and I apologize and I am sure you got enough human dignity to accept my apology. I assure you that I will never ever reach out to any Jewish person in order to pacify things around him.
Please be safe and take care of your family, I pray you see the light and come out of the darkness,
Admittedly I made a few crucial errors (that largest was responding in the first place), but I'm curious how some of you would have handled this kind of thing.
Postscript: 'Whether by accident or design, Ali invitd me to be his friend on facebook last week. I clicked 'ignore'.
Thursday, November 15, 2007
Is it just me?
I know I was being extra snarky when I wrote the post entitled 'Peace... when?' last week. But after hearing of the Palestinian's reluctance to recognize Israel's right to exist as a Jewish State, I just couldn't let such an asinine justification as "There is no country in the world where religious and national identities are intertwined" (by Saeb Erakat) pass without comment.
Obviously there are many countries that openly describe themselves as 'The Islamic replublic of...", not to mention the Vatican wich one would be hard pressed to describe as not having nationality and religion intertwined.
So I'm wondering why everybody in the media let such a bald-faced lie pass without challenge. It all comes back to the old 'Zionism is racism' libel that should have been put to rest long ago. However, it never occurred to me that this issue of Israel's very right of self-determination might really be the sticking point... the line in the sand, so to speak... for the Palestinians.
In preparing for the Annapolis Conference our leaders are sitting up nights trying to decide whether to give away half of our territory... or all of it (except for Tel Aviv and its suburbs, of course). Yet in the Palestinian camp, the insurmountable issue that seems to have stuck in their craw is Israel's very right to self determination!
I have often joked that the trend in Arab-Israeli negotiations is that Israel is expected to bring large tracts of land to the negotiating table in order to sue for peace... and the Arabs are expected to bring a pen. But this time around I'm struggling to find the joke.
How sad is it that after all these years we still haven't settled the most basic issue of Israel's right to self-determination... yet Palestinian self-determination is not only a given, but their right to define themselves any way they like is considered sacrosanct.
Just to review:
1. The Palestinians
wantdemand their own state... but they want all of the 'Palestinian refugees' to have the right to retrn to Israel... not the Palestinian state. Isn't the very raison d'etre of a Palestinian State (and the Paletinian self-determination movement) to provide people who self-identify as ethnically, politically or culturally 'Palestinian' with a place they can call their own???
2. The Palestinians claim the right to self rule and bridle at any whiff of outside interference in their internal affairs... yet they demand that Israel be treated like some bankrupt company languishing in receivership that must be administered by an outside fiduciary trustee (i.e. the UN or the EU).
3. The Palestinians are arguably the least transparent legal/political/financial entity on the planet, yet they dismiss as cumbersome and insulting any request from those who have been pouring unprecedented amounts of foreign aid into their
Swiss bank accountscoffers (more per capita than even the Marshall Plan provided to Europe after WWII) for even the most basic accounting of where the money has gone.
4. The Palestinians have no single centralized authority to govern political, military, economic, infrastructure, medical, intelligence or security issues. In fact there are as many as seven or eight entities claiming control of some of these 'departments'... and nobody at all minding the store in others. But despite this novel 'decentralized' approach to government, they expect Israel to enter into binding negotiations with them even as they engage in open civil war amongst themselves... without a clue as to who might emerge the winner or how the victor might be disposed towards honoring exisitng agreements with Israel.
5. Normally a people yearning for nationhood have some basic idea of what kind of government they want, how the economy will be arranged, how basic infrastructure (electricity, sewage, water, roads, transportation, etc.) will be provided for, how the citizenry will receive medical care and education... and perhaps most important, how it will relate to its neighbors and the rest of the world. The Palestinians have done about as much thinking on these subjects as one can comfortably fit on a cocktail napkin. Yet they have several full-fledged chapters of their charter that, to this day, still call for the destruction of the Zionist entity . Clearly they have given some thought to that part of the plan.
6. Even as the Palestinians bring claims to the UN and other interested parties of 'Israeli atrocities and genocide' they continue to bombard Israel cities with rockets, stab Israeli citizens in the street, throw Molotov cocktails and rocks at civilian traffic and attempt to smuggle explosives to terrorist cells for use against Israeli civilian targets. Yet we still provide them with fuel, electricity, water and other 'humanitarian' services.
Somebody please explain to me again why we are talking to the Palestinians about anything right now (except possibly terms of surrender)?
[UPDATE: An excellent op-ed from the Jerusalem Post on the whole issue of the 'Recognition Sham']
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
The zombie bus shelter
It's been quite a while since I've written about hitchhiking here in Israel. Most of what I've posted on the topic has been fairly positive, if not downright informative (if I do say so myself). Other posts... less so.
But I've had this post gestating for the past year or two and I think the time has finally come to just push it out in one cathartic contraction:
I enjoy picking up hitchhikers... I really do. Whether they are students or soldiers or just plain folks like you or me, it feels really good to help someone get from point 'A' to point 'B' quickly and safely.
I mention the good feeling because, truth be told, there is very little altruism in my habit of giving lifts to strangers.
First of all there is the whole karma debt thing. Meaning, I've been there and done that... standing for hours on the side of the road in all kinds of weather waiting for someone to give me a ride. There have been so many times when people have gone out of their way to take me where I needed to go that I feel like emulating them is a repayment of sorts.
Secondly, similar to paying off a karma debt, I feel like I need to make frequent and generous deposits in the karma bank since I have three kids who will almost certainly be hitchhiking in the not-too-distant future. I figure if I give rides to other people's kids, maybe some of the good will will trickle down when my children find themselves trying to flag down a ride.
The last reason I enjoy giving rides to strangers is that they are an amazing source of information. You'd be amazed at what I've learned about my new country, it's people and its institutions, just from sitting back and listening to what native born Israelis say to pass the time during the drive.
But over the past couple of years I have noticed a strange phenomenon that seems to be centered around one particular hitchhiking post. It is a bus shelter at the entrance to a town (whose name I won't mention here) that is almost always crowded with people waiting for rides no matter what time I pass.
The problem is as follows:
In most cases I stop, roll down my window and let the waiting crowd know where I'm headed. If my route coincides with where they are going, one or more people will get in and join me. If not, they will give some verbal sign, such as "thanks anyway, have a nice drive" or a simple "no thank you" to let me know that there are no takers.
But at this one, crowded bus stop there seems to be a problem. I will pull up... roll down my window... tell the assembled group where I'm going... and... nothing.
They stand there staring at me with vacant, bovine eyes. I'm not talking about the kids who are simply bad at geography who, when I tell them I'm going to Beer Sheva, ask "By way of Jerusalem?" (sort of like being in L.A., telling a hitchhiker you are going to San Francisco and having them ask "By way of San Diego?").
At first I thought perhaps they weren't understanding what I was saying because of my American accent. But this never happened to me elsewhere... only at this one place. Sometimes if I repeated my destination several times loudly enough a couple of hitchhikers might stir from their slumber and start to make a move as if to get in. But then they would start to look expectantly at each other as if in a mental game of 'no, you first... I insist'... and ultimately the seconds would tick past and NOBODY would get in. Then another car would pull up behind mine and I would see the zombies shuffle off towards the new arrival and stare uncomprehendingly into his window.
It honestly baffles me. Its as if they haven't considered where they need to go until the instant I pull up! And once I tell them where I'm going they need to boot up the rusty Commodore 64 computer between their ears and try to figure out if where I'm going is anywhere near where they need to end up.
After about a year of this I mentioned to one of my regular carpool mates that I was starting to think there was something about the location causing this to happen. The more I thought about it, the more it seemed to make sense that the bus shelter there at the entrance to that town was actually sucking the intelligence out of the heads of whoever stood in its shade.
It finally got to the point where it aggravated me so much that I frequently passed the spot without stopping. Sure it made me feel bad to see all those people standing forlornly there on the side of the road waiting for a lift... but I just couldn't bear the inevitable shocked silence as the herd chewed their collective cud and pondered the strange wheeled object inexplicably blocking their view of the other side of the road.
My regular carpool mate started gently chiding me whenever I would pass them by, insisting that it was all in my imagination... that it couldn't be as bad as all that. But whenever I gave in and decided to give it another try, the same exact thing would happen again!
Yesterday was my carpool-mate's turn to drive, and as we approached this particular town on our return journey I silently wondered if he would stop to offer a ride. Sure enough, as the intersection came into view he started to brake and put on his turn signal. But instead of pulling up to the bus shelter he pulled into the adjoining gas station. I started to kid him gently, saying, "Oh, I see you can't bear to stare into the vacant eyes either!" But when he'd finished gassing up his car he offered his own response by smugly pulling up to the crowded bus stop.
Down came the window... our destination was announced... and... nothing.
For a moment anyway.
Then a young woman wearing an enormous backpack seemed to start from her slumber and began walking towards the car. This movement seemed to have broken the log-jam because a couple of other, equally encumbered kids started walking towards the car door.
My carpool mate headed them off with a loud "Please put your backpacks in the trunk".
As if he hadn't said anything they all began piling into the car with their gigantic packs.
Again, the instruction to put the bags in the trunk was yelled and one young man stepped around to the back of the car to comply. But the other two sat happily in the back seat with their packs jammed tightly between their chests and the front seats.
Incredulously my friend got out, put his hands on his hips and began yelling "Didn't you hear me? I said to put the bags in the trunk! If G-d forbid we're in an accident I don't want one of them flying up and hitting me in the back of the head... what's wrong with you?"
As if hearing him for the first time the other two passengers slowly complied and then returned to the back seat.
As we pulled out onto the main road I leaned over and whispered (in English) to my friend "Now do you believe me when I tell you there's something wrong with that spot?"
He just smiled and drove on.
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
My new best friend
OK, anyone who can actually make me scream with laughter to the point where I can't catch my breath is an automatic lock to be added to my blogroll.
[Note: Slightly irreverent, but a total panic!]
[Don't thank me... I'm a giver]
Update: Just to show you I'm not afraid to admit that I too came of age during the 70s, here is a photo that my blogdaughter Weese was nice enough to scan from our high school yearbook:
For the record, the suit was powder blue... not 'Fantasy Island White' as it appears in the picutre. And that brittle puffy hair? Compliments of Prell.
Monday, November 12, 2007
Our esteemed president, Shimon Peres, made an interesting statement today:
"I believe, we can make peace now with Palestinians"
This would be a laudable sentiment if not for the inclusion of that troubling little word: 'now'.
Let's leave aside the fact that Peres has had no real experience in making peace with the Palestinians. Heck, nobody has! While many have tried, nobody has actually successfully made anything resembling peace with them... not the Jordanians... not the Lebanese... and certainly not any of the various Palestinian factions themselves.
But hey, there is something vaguely comforting, in a Mr. Rogers kinda way, about our president extending a theoretical olive branch and keeping alive the idea that Israel might someday, somehow, be the first to pull off this trick.
But why use the word 'now'? Is there something we're missing?
Is there something about the 5 dead Palestinians (and more than 30 wounded) from today's internecine warfare in Gaza that would offer some glimmer of hope for a stable peace partner any time soon?
Is there something about the shrapnel pattern from today's rocket strikes (6 so far) - like tea leaves at the bottom of a cup - that portent a growing willingness on the part of the Palis to respect Israel's territorial sovereignty and the right of our civilian populations to live safely in their homes?
Is there even a tiny sign of sign of willingness on the part of the 'moderate' Palestinian leadership to remove language from their charter calling for the destruction of Israel, and even tacit recognition of Israel's right to exist as a Jewish State within secure borders?
I was once talking with a friend about what to look for when hiring tradesmen (plumbers, carpenters, electricians, brick/stone masons, etc.). He said to be wary of anyone who mentions how many years of experience they have as part of their pitch.
You see, some will have 5 or 10 years of experience, with the breadth of expertise that goes along with such a respectable span... while others who brag of '20 years experience' actually have had only one year of experience, repeated twenty times over.
The 5 or 10 year veteran has made his/her mistakes and likely learned from them. The one who has repeated that first year of experience twenty times over without gaining any real experience or practical knowledge is still, at best, a journeyman and probably has learned nothing from the mistakes he/she repeats from year to year.
A perfect example of such a journeyman (other than Peres, of course) is PM Olmert's hapless plan to release yet another 400 prisoners in return for, well... nothing. A 'goodwill gesture'. Isn't the point of a goodwill gesture to get the other side to make a similar gesture? After all these 'gestures' isn't anyone getting the sense that the only gesture we're likely to see from the Palestinians is a raised middle finger?
FOreget concrete gestures... just listen to what our 'peace partners' are saying.
Today Saeb Erakat, the top Palestinian negotiator, rejected Israel's demand that the Palestinians acknowledge Israel as a Jewish state, saying: "There is no country in the world where religious and national identities are intertwined".
Can't argue with that... oh, wait... except for:
- Islamic Republic of Afghanistan
- Arab Republic of Egypt
- The Holy See (Vatican City)
- Islamic Republic of Iran
- Islamic Republic of Pakistan
- Islamic Republic of Mauritania
And add to those the countries that are almost exclusively Muslim and/or have Islamic law as the prevailing legal and cultural force*:
- Algeria (99%)
- Azerbaijan (93.4%)
- Djibouti (94%)
- Gambia (90%)
- Iraq (97%)
- Jordan (95%)
- Libya (97%)
- Maldives (99.41%)
- Saudi Arabia (89% but 100% of citizens are Muslims since this is a requirement for citizenship)
- Somalia (99.9%)
- Syria (90%)
- Tajikistan (90%)
- Tunisia (98%)
- Turkey (99%)
- Turkmenistan (89%)
- Western Sahara (99.8%)
- Yemen (99%)
So yeah, I'm not sure that Mr. Erakat's statement is entirely correct.
I'm not saying that peace with the Palestinians is an impossibility. But forgive me if I don't look to our cadre of journeymen politicians who brag about their many years of diplomatic experience... yet who are still making the same stupid mistakes Israel they made twenty years ago.
I mean seriously, after all these years is it possible that Israel is still making unilateral concessions just to get the Palestinians to recognize our right to exist? And they are still saying no?
Maybe it's time to take the word 'now' out of our aspirations for peace.
Short school buses, grade-school cruelty and the language of limitation
I knew even as I was typing the title of yesterday's post that I would get at least one comment demanding an explanation... if not an apology. I even briefly considered posting a preemptive note to head off people who might take offense, but decided to wait until the inevitable comment arrived.
It took most of the day... but it arrived. And even though I would have taken it seriously no matter who it had come from, the fact that it was submitted by a regular reader who, it turns out I knew in a previous life, makes the need for a considered reply even more imperative.
For the sake of clarity, here's her comment:
"Hi, we don't really know each other (although our paths crossed a few decades ago at Hebrew U), but I'm a regular reader here...and I have to take exception to the title of your post...which I believe makes reference to the "short bus" used to transport mentally retarded students to school. I'm sure you can guess where this is going...my son Binny has trisomy21 (down syndrome), and rides the short bus to his public school class (in the afternoon, after his morning at the day school). Perhaps this is not what you meant, in which case I withdraw my comment, and commend you on your score! Sorry if I come off sounding like the political correctness police, but as long as people look at my cute, innocent son and see something to mock, it's my job to stand up and say something."
Here's the deal.
Yes, I intended the 'short school bus' descriptive to indicate some of what the commenter described... but I certainly didn't intend any of deliberately hurtful baggage she assigned to it.
The idea of a short school bus is instantly understood by all as short-hand for anyone who is limited in some way or who has 'special needs'. To be fair, kids with both physical and mental limitations traditionally rode the short buses, but for the most part any such reference probably refers to the latter.
In any event, it is pretty much taboo in polite society to use 'short school bus' as an insult directed at someone who might actually have ridden on one. However, in the context I've used it here - as a deliberate bit of self-deprecating humor designed to announce that I see myself as lagging behind... in need of extra help... not hitting the benchmarks of my peers... in short, limited - I feel strongly that it should not be completely out of bounds.
I don't accept the implied assumption that invoking the short school bus automatically summons the cruelty of unenlightened elementary and Jr. High School students. Such young students are, admittedly, unbelievably cruel to anyone who is even a little bit different, not just the 'special' students who had alternative transportation provided. But yes, special needs kids certainly bore (and continue to bear) a fair amount of rough treatment in this respect.
But as kids get older there is an evolution - albeit not a complete one - in the sensitivity that they exhibit towards their peers. Once they reach high school the short school bus still obviously exists, but social taboos have (hopefully) kicked in making it very un-PC to make fun of the special needs students. But that doesn't mean that the vocabulary of limitation becomes entirely off limits.
Let's take a look at a list of words that have historically been used to describe a person of subnormal intelligence:
I don't think anyone can reasonably argue that any of these are acceptable to use, even in the heat of anger, towards someone who is genuinely limited. But with the possible exception of 'retard' almost all the others would be considered fair game for tossing out in a heated argument... and certainly would be okay to use when referring to a third party who may or may not be present.
Example: "Can you believe that moron? If I hadn't interrupted him I'm sure he would have given the vendor our entire client list. What an idiot!".
With that in mind, one can make a pretty strong case for using the same vocabulary when talking about oneself.
Example: "I can't believe what an idiot I was during my date with Zahava last night. She probably thinks I'm a complete moron... or at least an uncultured cretin."
My point is that we regularly use words when talking about ourselves - especially when admitting mistakes, pointing out embarrassing mis-steps and yes, when owning up to our limitations - that would be considered pejorative and socially unacceptable when talking about others.
Words, like people, evolve.
I can't think of too many words in the English language with more terrifying potential to give offense than 'nigger'. Yet despite its history of insulting/demeaning usage, and still being fraught with racial baggage, within a very narrow scope of self-description it is considered not only acceptable, but even intimate, friendly and even funny. Of course, if a white man could still hurl the 'n' bomb at a black man with impunity, the word could never have migrated to the informal salutation it has become within a segment of the African American community.
My point is that just as people and social norms evolve and mature, so do words and their applications.
While most would still consider it unacceptable to remark that an obtuse or socially inept person was a retard, I think it is fair to say that it wouldn't raise too many eyebrows to laughingly call him/her an idiot... especially if the person was aware of having been 'slow on the uptake' and was in on the joke.
Oh, and although it isn't really cogent to the discussion at hand, I think it is worth mentioning that Zahava and I also have a child who rides a 'short school bus' every day. And while he loves his bus and gleefully anticipates its arrival each morning, I am sure there will probably come a point in his life where his limitations will mark him for cruel treatment at the hands of his peers. But I also know that this too will eventually pass and he will make his way in the world.
So while I am sensitive to how some people - especially parents of special needs kids - might be to my choice of yesterday's title, I prefer not to allow certain words to retain their power... not when I posses the ability to de-fang them and point out their innate silliness in a world where - let's face it - we all have limitations of one kind or another.
Sunday, November 11, 2007
Treppenwitz: The short school bus of weblogs
Apparently there is a site out there that will scan your blog and tell you what level of education is required to understand what you write.
My friend Jameel (he of the Muqata Pancake House) emailed me with the bad news:
So obviously the first thing I did was go and enter in most of the blogs I know. I mean seriously, if we're going back to school here we may as well admit that it's all about what all the other kids are doing.
I'm not sure what algorithm they're using to come up with their ratings, but if a board certified anesthesiologist is rated at Elementary School level and a graduate of an Ivy League journalism school is stuck in Jr. High with me... well, I must doing OK.
I was pleased (maybe relieved would be a better choice of words) to see that most of the people I read write at either the Jr High or Elementary School level. A couple of really bright people I read were rated at the High School level, and one was even at the University level (undergrad)... but I suspect that these results were skewed by a particularly high ratio of foreign words not recognized by the software scanning the home page of the site.
Update: Yeah, just as I figured. Dov Bear comes in at the high school level... a sure sign that something is rotten in the state of New York, er I mean Denmark.
What confused me about this is that I am constantly getting comments from people about how many of my posts send them running to look up words.
Hello Pot? You're black!
Jerusalem Post columnist Larry Derfner is laughable on so many levels that I've generally avoided mentioning him here... except to occasionally poke fun at his Groucho Marx-esque eyebrows (which look like they were drawn onto the stock photo that accompanies his columns with grease pencil).
Also... what kind of writer calls his column "Rattling the Cage"? My guess is that it is the kind of arrogant writer who feels it is his duty to disabuse the readers of their dearly held, but terribly flawed beliefs.
Well, now it's my turn to share a few hard truths with Mr. Derfner.
This past week he wrote a piece entitled 'The 90 minute hate' about the Beitar Yeushalayim fan's less-than-PC behavior during the Rabin moment of silence... and the elegant solution he proposes for punishing those cheeky low-lifes. In it he leads off with the following incredible two paragraphs:
"If I could, I would outlaw soccer, or at least limit it to pick-up games with no more than a half-dozen spectators. What happened this week on the anniversary of Rabin's assassination, when Betar Jerusalem fans booed during the minute of silence and sang songs of praise to Yigal Amir, was just another expression of the sort of thing that goes on all the time at soccer games not only in Israel, but all over the world.
It's called mob fascism. Nationalist, racist, violent human herds doing their thing. It's not clear why this is so, maybe because the game resembles primitive warfare, but soccer attracts these kinds of people and inspires this kind of activity like no other sport. I'm not saying that all soccer fans are fascist scum, of course, but I am saying that all fascist scum seem to be soccer fans."
No, um... actually Larry, your opening line "If I could, I would outlaw..." is more fascist than anything those beer sotted fans could have managed. Classic fascism is exactly that nasty tendency you've demonstrated towards thought control, censorship and authoritarian quashing of anything that doesn't support the party line.
Fascism fears freedom of speech/expression above all else and enjoys the notion that the government can forge a kind of national consensus through sheer force of will. Clearly there is no national consensus about Rabin's beatification, so folks like Larry seem to feel that the great unwashed masses need to be taught a lesson!
Pay attention Larry... besides sounding suspiciously like a kid who never got picked for soccer at recess time, you also seem to have drunk deeply from the Kool Aid with the rest of the fascists in our leadership who just woke up and realized, "holy crap, you mean it isn't against the law to boo and heckle at a sporting event? We need to do something about that... I want somebody punished!"
I'm sorely tempted to paste the whole article here... there's just so much to pick over and lampoon in what he's written. But I won't. Go read it... it's an eye opener. He rants and raves for several paragraphs about how soccer is a global breeding ground for fascism and how soccer fans (who he tellingly refers to a "these kinds of people") are all animals.
What he is really saying is that he doesn't much like the smell of the earthier fans who follow the sport. It is a classist rant that reveals much about this so-called journalist's prejudices. It shows how completely he has fallen into lockstep with the lily-white secular Ashkenazi leadership on the left... as if to say, "How dare those swarthy low class people boo our hero... they seem to have forgotten their place!"
The only saving grace to Derfner's piece is that in the heat of his condemnations, he openly and explicitly accuses Beitar owner Arkady Gaydamak of money laundering, illegal arms sales "and a slew of other big time felonies", apparently forgetting that:
a) We live in a democracy where a journalist can't actually say someone committed a crime without using the word 'allegedly' until a trial has been held and a guilty verdict returned.
b) No such trial or verdict has been held/returned for any of the crimes Mr. Gaydamak is alleged by Larry to have committed.
c) Mr. Gaydamak has enough big time lawyers on retainer that the lawsuits are probably already piling up on the Jerusalem Post's doorstep like blue paper snow.
So besides sitting back and enjoying the spectacle of Larry Derfner being chased through the Israeli courts for the next few years (or until his money gives out, whichever comes first), I want to offer one parting gift to the man with the uni-brow... because I'm a giver:
Fascism isn't about a bunch of working stiffs - a demographic that Americans affectionately refer to as 'Joe Six-Pack - yelling obscenities or acting in bad taste at a soccer match. Fascism is "an authoritarian political ideology (generally tied to a mass movement) that considers individual and other societal interests subordinate to the interests of the state" *... a definition that not only fits the government's actions towards dissenting opinions, but also your own intolerance of anyone who doesn't share your tennis-ethic world-view.
Before I go, let me point you to a wonderful post by my good friend Ben Horin who, as usual, has condensed the pure essence of what I could only dream of writing on my most rational day... and then said it even better and more concisely.
Friday, November 09, 2007
Too good not to share
Since giving Scott Adams and Dilbert the heave-Ho from my daily routine I have found a new love; Day By Day by Chris Muir. It is a thinking person's conservative strip that isn't afraid to point out the right's foolishness once in awhile.
Today's strip was too good not to share:
I couldn't resist.
Now go bookmark DBD so you can enjoy Mr. Muir's goodness, well, day by day.
Thursday, November 08, 2007
Can anyone say 'whiplash'?
OK, I'm not quite sure what to make of the recent attention I've been getting from the media, but I have to say it's gone straight to my head.
Yesterday I was interviewed for about 30 minutes on Arutz 7 by Eve Harrow. Now before any of my remaining lefty friends gets their undies in a twist, I should quickly point out that it was entirely a human interest thing with almost no political content. Eve conducted a great interview that felt like having coffee with an old friend... and I managed not to disgrace myself (Click here to listen... I'm about half way through the first hour)
I don't know if there was a connection (doubtful) but within an hour of finishing Eve's show I got an email from from someone at the BBC asking if I would like to come on for a live international discussion group radio program on the BBC called 'World Have Your Say'. After a brief email exchange to reassure both of us that there wasn't a kook on the other end of the line, it was agreed that I would participate.
If you have access to the BBC on your radio, between 6 - 7 PM London Time (8 - 9 PM in Israel) tonight, or feel like listening to today's broadcast of 'World Have Your Say' online, you just might have another opportunity to catch me saying something truly horrifying. They even have a place on the site to offer your feedback on the discussion... providing nearly unlimited opportunities for trouble-making.
Anyway, if my ego survives all this media attention I may end up with whiplash from being on both Arutz 7 and the BBC in such a short period of time.