Friday, February 29, 2008
A bloggy week
In addition to the usual email and comment board interaction with friends in the blogosphere, this weeks was chock full of planned and unplanned bumping into bloggers.
On Tuesday evening Zahava and I met Safranit and Gila (of My Shrapnel) for coffee, ice cream and waffles (ok, only Gila and Safranit had waffles) on Emek Rafa'im in Jerusalem. Jameel (of The Muqata)was supposed to join us but he was on milluim (army reserve duty). My guess is Jameel would have opted for the waffles.
Last night Zahava and I attended a beautiful wedding on Har Hatzophim (Mount Scopus) and who should I run into at the table with the place cards? Aussie Dave of Israellycool who was there with his lovely wife and baby daughter.
And right this minute Noa (of the now defunct Jerusalem Revealed) her husband and son just surprised us by popping in and are sitting in our living room.
I love how small this country is. Sure you sometimes have to arrange to meet people... but more often than not you end up running into them anyway.
Now if we can only find time to see some of our Tel Aviv friends more often. :-)
Thursday, February 28, 2008
Shackled to the peace process... or free to wage war
Asymmetric warfare is defined as "two or more actors or groups whose relative military power differs significantly". This definition is often expanded to describe "a conflict in which the resources of two belligerents differ in essence and in the struggle, interact and attempt to exploit each other's characteristic weaknesses". [source]
I think that almost everyone would agree that the current hostilities between Israel and its assorted non-state antagonists (e.g. Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Al Aksa Martyrs Brigade, PFLP, etc.) are textbook cases of asymmetrical warfare. So why is it that the Israeli government is so shackled to the 'peace process' that they are unable (or unwilling) to make decisions appropriate to a country at war?
For some reason the Olmert government seems intent on clinging to the irrational self-delusion that ongoing attacks against Israel are not part of a war - asymmetrical or otherwise - but rather isolated anomalies that must viewed simply as stumbling blocks on the way to peace.
Going back to the definition of asymmetrical warfare, it should be noted that it isn't just about size. It is also very much about "exploiting characteristic weaknesses". In this respect the asymmetry is most pronounced since these various non-state actors seem to have zeroed in on Israel's most glaring characteristic weakness; that we are so consumed with garnering the approval and sympathy of the U.S. and Europe that we refuse to 'lower ourselves' to the standards and norms of our attackers.
Being at war requires adopting a cold-blooded mindset... a willingness to dehumanize and destroy the enemy... an overriding imperative to defend the home-front at all costs... and most importantly, an unwavering desire to win!
The Israeli government has lowered its expectations to such an extent that the smallest glance or gesture from our enemies is mistaken for a peace overture. They didn't know we were at war in the summer of 2006 even as they sent our armed forces into an aimless stroll around Southern Lebanon (only officially calling it a war months after the ceasefire)... and they certainly don't know it now.
What we have is a leadership that is in complete denial. They are so deeply entrenched in a quagmire of imposed negotiation time-tables that they are unable to acknowledge that Israel is in a shooting war with enemies who respect no conventions of organized warfare and issue no restrictive rules of engagement to their combatants.
Not one of the non-state actors I named above is a signatory to any of the Geneva Conventions. Not one has agreed to the conventions protecting civilian populations in a war zone. Not one has agreed to any internationally accepted norms of how prisoners must be treated or where and how combatants may conduct operations.
This, in a nutshell, is why asymmetrical warfare is so irresistibly easy for the 'Davids' to wage, and such an impossible thing for the 'Goliaths' to defend against. When one side in a conflict is held to conventional standards of behavior and the other is allowed to carry out unrestricted warfare, the result is as terrible as it is inevitable.
It may surprise you to know that I have no problem with the world ignoring countless regional conflicts (and even genocide) while continuing to view Israel's actions under a microscope. I don't mind it because it is time that Israel became the scientific test case for finally cutting the Gordian knot of asymmetrical warfare.
Here's what I propose:
Rather than negotiating 'final status agreements', borders, or the so-called right of return we should, for the time being, take 'peace negotiations' off the table.
Once the seductive distraction of peace is out of the way we must begin by sending negotiating teams to meet with each of the groups who are currently in an active state of belligerence against us. Each Israeli team should bring unsigned copies of the Geneva Convention, all current agreements on prisoner treatment and protection of medical vehicles/facilities and the inviolate nature of civilian populations.
In addition, the Israeli negotiating teams should bring pictures and diagrams clearly showing all current IDF uniforms and insignias. They should provide photos of military and civilian ambulances as well as maps showing the location of vital humanitarian infrastructure facilities that provide water and electricity to civilians and hospitals.
Once all of these documents are spread out on the conference table, the Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Al Aksa Martyrs Brigade, PFLP, (et al) representatives will be invited to sign each and every convention, agreeing to treat POWs humanely and to allow Red Cross access to all prisoners... to outfit combatants in recognized uniforms and insignia... to exclude civilians from attacks... to refrain from placing military infrastructure in or near civilian centers... and to insure that humanitarian facilities remain outside the scope of hostilities.
If they balk at agreeing to any of these most basic terms of warfare, our negotiating teams should be instructed to gather up their papers, photos and drawings and to leave behind only Israel's unambiguous declaration of our intent to carry out unrestricted warfare until an unconditional surrender agreement is duly signed.
Let the international community go ahead and wring their hands and gnash their teeth at this rude departure from chivalry. Sooner or later they will have to come to terms with the fact that Israel's current war is the test run for the wars they will each have to fight in the years to come. They will need to finally understand that when no quarter is offered by an enemy, none can be given in return.
Simply put, we must prove beyond even the smallest doubt that it is entirely within our power to deprive these vicious insurgencies the unfair advantage they've enjoyed from the asymmetrical warfare model. To do this, we must demonstrate in word and deed that the heavy shackles of humane / civilized behavior must either be worn by all parties in a conflict... or by none.
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
Wise words from The Wall Street Journal
While certainly not as troubling as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal has not been a consistent friend of Israel nor a consistently balanced source of news and commentary about this region.
* Please see note at end of this post for an explanation of why I crossed out this flawed opening
The following is just so 'right' in its thinking that I just had to share it:
The Sderot Calculus
By Bret Stephens, WSJ
The Israeli town of Sderot lies less than a mile from the Gaza Strip. Since the beginning of the intifada seven years ago, it has borne the brunt of some 2,500 Kassam rockets fired from Gaza by Palestinian terrorists. Only about a dozen of these Kassams have proved lethal, though earlier this month brothers Osher and Rami Twito were seriously injured by one as they walked down a Sderot street on a Saturday evening. Eight-year-old Osher lost a leg.
It is no stretch to say that life in Sderot has become unendurable. Palestinians and their chorus of supporters — including the 118 countries of the so-called Non-Aligned Movement, much of Europe, and the panoply of international aid organizations from the World Bank to the United Nations — typically reply that life in the Gaza Strip is also unendurable, and that Palestinian casualties greatly exceed Israeli ones. But this argument is fatuous: Conditions in Gaza, in so far as they are shaped by Israel, are a function of conditions in Sderot. No Palestinian Kassams (or other forms of terrorism), no Israeli “siege.”
The more vexing question, both morally and strategically, is what Israel ought to do about Gaza. The standard answer is that Israel’s response to the Kassams ought to be “proportionate.” What does that mean? Does the “proportion” apply to the intention of those firing the Kassams — to wit, indiscriminate terror against civilian populations? In that case, a “proportionate” Israeli response would involve, perhaps, firing 2,500 artillery shells at random against civilian targets in Gaza. Or should proportion apply to the effects of the Kassams — an exquisitely calibrated, eye-for-eye operation involving the killing of a dozen Palestinians and the deliberate maiming or traumatizing of several hundred more?
Surely this isn’t what advocates of proportion have in mind. What they really mean is that Israel ought to respond with moderation. But the criteria for moderation are subjective. Should Israel pick off Hamas leaders who are ordering the rocket attacks? The European Parliament last week passed a resolution denouncing the practice of targeted assassinations. Should Israel adopt purely economic measures to punish Hamas for the Kassams? The same resolution denounced what it called Israel’s “collective punishment” of Palestinians. Should Israel seek to dismantle the Kassams through limited military incursions? This, too, has the unpardonable effect of resulting in too many Palestinian casualties, which are said to be “disproportionate” to the number of Israelis injured by the Kassams.
By these lights, Israel’s presumptive right to self-defense has no practical application as far as Gaza is concerned. Instead, Israel is counseled to allow goods to flow freely into the Strip, and to negotiate a cease-fire with Hamas.
But here another set of considerations intrudes. Hamas was elected democratically and by overwhelming margins in Gaza. It has never once honored a cease-fire with Israel. Following Israel’s withdrawal of its soldiers and settlements from the Strip in 2005 there was a six-fold increase in the number of Kassam strikes on Israel.
Hamas has also made no effort to rewrite its 1988 charter, which calls for Israel’s destruction. The charter is explicitly anti-Semitic: “The time will not come until Muslims will fight the Jews (and kill them); until the Jews hide behind rocks and trees, which will cry: O Muslim! there is a Jew hiding behind me, come on and kill him!” (Article Seven) “In order to face the usurpation of Palestine by the Jews, we have no escape from raising the banner of Jihad.” (Article 15) And so on.
It would seem perverse for Israeli taxpayers, including residents of Sderot, to feed the mouth that bites them. It would seem equally perverse for Israel merely to bide its time for an especially unlucky day — a Kassam hitting a busload of schoolchildren, for instance — before striking hard at Gaza. But unless Israel is willing to accept the military, political and diplomatic burdens of occupying all or parts of Gaza indefinitely, the effects of a major military incursion could be relatively short-lived. Israel suffered many more casualties before it withdrew from the Strip than it has since.
Perhaps the answer is to wait for a technological fix and, in the meantime, hope for the best. Israel is at work on a missile-defense program called “Iron Dome” that may be effective against Kassams, though the system won’t be in place for at least two years. It could also purchase land-based models of the Phalanx Close-In Weapons System, used by the U.S. to defend the Green Zone in Baghdad.
But technology addresses neither the Islamic fanaticism that animates Hamas nor the moral torpor of Western policy makers and commentators who, on balance, find more to blame in Israel’s behavior than in Hamas’s. Nor, too, would an Iron Dome or the Phalanx absolve the Israeli government from the necessity of punishing those who seek its destruction. Prudence is an important consideration of statesmanship, but self-respect is vital. And no self-respecting nation can allow the situation in Sderot to continue much longer, a point it is in every civilized country’s interest to understand.
On March 9, 1916, Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa attacked the border town of Columbus, N.M., killing 18 Americans. President Woodrow Wilson ordered Gen. John J. Pershing and 10,000 soldiers into Mexico for nearly a year to hunt Villa down, in what was explicitly called a “punitive expedition.” Pershing never found Villa, making the effort something of a failure. Then again, Villa’s raid would be the last significant foreign attack on continental U.S. soil for 85 years, six months and two days.
Don't thank me... I'm a giver.
Hat Tip Ted Belman of Israpundit
* A commenter asked me what prompted me to suggest that the WSJ was not a consistent source of balanced information on the Middle East. While I have never been a subscriber to the Journal, I recall seeing a couple of articles passed around which were less than balanced. However now that I have spent my lunch hour looking for them I am seeing overwhelming evidence that the WSJ is actually quite balanced... and is even accused by many of being reflexively supportive of Israel. I stand corrected.
Tuesday, February 26, 2008
Thank you Yaeli!
This article is, quite simply, a must read for anyone who wants to be able to discuss the current 'situation' with anything approaching intelligence and honesty.
Written more than half a decade before the Six Day War, the article gives a clear-eyed, outsider's view of the mindset and pathology behind the Palestinian refugee problem and those who have used the so-called refugee issue to bludgeon the world's collective conscience into submission.
In preparation for writing the piece, the author, Martha Gellhorn, toured refugee camps throughout the region (back while I was still in diapers) and despite being prepared to relate to her readers the unparalleled suffering of the Palestinians... she ended up writing about a people that were, on the whole healthier, wealthier (or at least more secure) and better educated than most of the Arab world.
The author manages to keep her dismay at disinformation, exaggeration and out-and-out lying in check with utterly charming phrases like "There is a limit to the amount of Mad Hattery one can endure...", and the course of the article reads like a triptych of her journey from sympathy to incredulity over the mythic, insoluble problem that turned out to be neither. Remember, this is an 'objective' third party who actually came prepared to champion the Palestinian cause!
I won't say more than that for fear of ruining the reading experience for you... but please read it. It is long, but there isn't a single word or sentence that can be considered wasted or superfluous. And as you read, remember that it was written long before the war that revisionists, inside Israel and abroad, consider the raison d'être of Israel's current pariah status.
Monday, February 25, 2008
I thought I had it ruff, er rough!
I often feel a bit sorry for myself, what with being a non-native Hebrew speaker awash in a sea of new words, slang expressions and vague pronunciations. But the thing that most frequently trips me up is the spelling.
Since most of the Israelis I interact with are not older Temani (Yemenite) people or people who are equally careful about differentiating between Het and Chaf, Aleph and Ayin, Tet and Taf, etc., I have never really gotten the knack of spelling things properly.
This causes a circular problem of not being able to differentiate between words that sound similar, such as was demonstrated in yesterday's post (thanks for the frequent catches Dave and Rahel) and in this post where, instead of saying "I have my doubts..." I casually explained to a room full of people that "I committed suicide".
Well, I just stumbled across a poem that made me put away my self-pity and thank my lucky stars that I was raised in the U.S. and didn't have to wade into the trackless swamp of arcane spelling, conflicting rules and improbable pronunciation that is the English language, as an adult!
Here, see for yourself:
Hints on pronunciation for foreigners
By T.S.W. *
I take it you already know
Of tough and bough and cough and dough
Others may stumble but not you,
On hiccough, thorough, laugh* and through.
Well done! And now you wish, perhaps,
To learn of less familiar traps?
Beware of heard, a dreadful word
That looks like beard and sounds like bird.
And dead: it’s said like bed, not bead -
For goodness’ sake don’t call it “deed”!
Watch out for meat and great and threat
(They rhyme with suite and straight and debt.)
A moth is not a moth in mother
Nor both in bother, broth in brother,
And here is not a match for there
Nor dear and fear for bear and pear,
And then there’s dose and rose and lose -
Just look them up - and goose and choose,
And cork and work and card and ward,
And font and front and word and sword,
And do and go and thwart and cart
Come, come, I’ve barely made a start!
A dreadful language? Man alive!
I’d mastered it when I was five!
I hereby solemnly swear to have much more compassion for non-native English speakers who have gained even modest proficiency in my convoluted - even cruel - mother tongue. And people like Mademoiselle a. (German) and Lioness (Portuguese) who actually blog in English... I'm just not worthy to breathe the same air!
* While this poem is occasionally attributed to George Bernard Shaw (likely because he was so passionate about the horrendous state of English spelling and pronunciation that he was the driving force behind the creation of a new alphabet), but most sources I've seen say that this poem was first published in 'The London Sunday Times' on January 3, 1965 under the otherwise unknown author T.S.W.'s initials.
** Some of the versions of this poem I've found have 'lough' (pronounced lock; which is a lake or arm of a sea) instead of 'laugh'. This was probably changed by people sharing the poem who, lime myself, were unfamiliar with the word 'lough' or its pronunciation.
Hat tip 'Mostly Cajun'
Sunday, February 24, 2008
n. A wooden spike weighted at one end with a circular whorl; it may have an optional hook at either end of the spike. It is used for spinning wool and other fibers into thread.
Continuing with Friday's theme (crossing stuff of my 'to do' list), I'd like to follow up on some of the emails and comments I've gotten over the past few weeks asking about Ariella's high school admissions saga. The dust has finally settled so I figure this is as good a time as any to tell you how things stand.
Ariella applied to four high schools; two in Jerusalem and two in Gush Etzion. Of these, three of them are considered elite schools with exceptionally high admissions/academic standards, and one was somewhat less competitive... making the latter her 'safety school'.
When last we spoke, Ari had received one rejection letter from one of the elite schools (many tears), and one 'wait list' letter from another elite school (more tears with an added dose of self-doubt). In the mean time, her 'safety school' remained unheard from (mildly troubling) as did the third elite school (extremely troubling). BTW, it was this third, unheard-from, elite school which was really Ariella's first choice!
Needless to say, Ariella was an emotional wreck and Zahava and I weren't doing much better. The day after receiving the above-mentioned rejection and wait-list letters, Ariella stayed home from school. Truth be told, she really wasn't feeling well... but I have a suspicion that the real reason she wanted to stay home was that she didn't want to to have to potentially face her classmates walking around with their acceptance letters. I'd also taken the day off to attend to some personal stuff, so in the early afternoon Ariella and I hung out on the couch watching old movies and eating cookie dough (what else are fathers for???).
By late afternoon I had to go pick up Zahava so I left Ariella curled up on the couch watching the end of a movie and headed out. On a lark I stopped by our mailbox.... and sure enough, there was a fat envelope inside from the elite school that she really, really wanted to attend. Now, for those who have never applied to a school, here is the rule of thumb regarding envelopes:
Skinny envelope = Rejection (or wait list) letter
Fat envelope = Acceptance letter (the envelope is fat due to all the paperwork that needs to be filled out by the perspective student and her parents)
I turned the car around and raced home. I ran into the house and found Ariella still on the couch with a pile of soiled tissues on her lap. I am well known in our family for making multiple trips back into the house after forgetting my coffee, office keys, cell phone, ID card, etc... so Ari barely looked up when I jogged back into the room. But when she finally looked over at me I was grinning like an idiot and holding up a FAT! envelope with the school's name and logo clearly visible on the front.
It's now several weeks later and I am just now getting the hearing back in my left ear. Yes, she screamed. And cried. And jumped up and down. And cried and screamed some more.
In between all that screaming, jumping and crying I received a few hugs... and after a few minutes Ari settled back onto the couch to read and re-read the letter to confirm that she had actually been accepted. By this time I was really late picking up Zahava, so I left Ari on the couch with the movie and her still-growing pile of tissues.
So what, you may be wondering, does all this have to do with the title of today's post (and subsequent definition)?
The high school which Ariella will (G-d willing) be attending this coming year is called 'Pelech'. And the word 'Pelech' describes a rather archaic tool known as a spindle. When I looked it up in the dictionary it didn't mean much to me... and I couldn't imagine that they had named a school after such an implement. But then I went to my handy Jastrow Talmudic Dictionary and found an interesting reference:
A wise woman asked R. Eliezer: What was done with the golden calf being equally forbidden, why were the penalties different [for those who worshiped it], some being slaughtered with the sword, some dying by water, or by a plague? He answered: A woman has no wisdom except in the spindle, as it is written [Ex. xxxv. 25]: "All the wise women spun with their hands." It was taught: Rav and Levi said--the one, that he who slaughtered to the golden calf and offered incense was slain by the sword; he who embraced and kissed it, died by the plague; and he who rejoiced in his heart thereat, died from dropsy. And the other says: They who did it in spite of warning by witnesses, were slain; they who were not warned but only witnessed, by the pest; and those whom witnesses had not seen, died by dropsy.
On the surface this is a tad troubling. A wise woman asks a respected rabbi an excellent question, and rather than answer her he seems to relate only to the fact that she was considered 'wise', saying:
אין חכמה לאשה אלא בפלך
"A woman has no wisdom except in the spindle" [Spindle in Hebrew = Pelech]
Now, first of all, we need to set aside our modern sensibilities about gender roles (or lack thereof) when reading ancient texts. At the time that Rabbi Eliezer delivered his answer, his comment might have been construed as evasive or even dismissive... but I doubt it would have been considered insulting on the level that a 21st century woman might view it.
However, here was a woman who was described by those who knew her (or at least knew of her) as 'wise'. She asked a rather insightful question about why the generation that worshiped the golden calf at Mount Sinai didn't all receive the same kind of divine death sentence... and for her trouble she was handed what was, at best, a non sequitor, and at worst a somewhat condescending and unhelpful answer.
As you can see for yourselves (above), two other Rabbis (Rav and Levi) provide the wise woman (and by extension us) with two different, but equally satisfying answers regarding why different people suffered different deaths following the sin of the golden calf.
It is worth pointing out that many of the Rabbis in the Talmud said far worse things to one another in the course of their scholarly discussions. One of my favorite snubs (which I'm paraphrasing here from memory) is found near the beginning of Tractate Ta'anit where two rabbis are dining together and one says to the other: "Master, share some words of Torah". To which the other answers "it is brought down that one shouldn't speak during a meal".
But all of that is really beside the point.
I've shared this here because, although I'm not certain (meaning I've never seen it in any of their printed materials), I suspect that this High School, which was one of the first to take the (at the time) radical step of teaching Talmud to young women, chose it's name in order to deliberately turn Rabbi Eliezer's statement on its head.
You have to admit that, "A woman has no wisdom except in [Pelech]" reads very differently when, instead of pelech simply being the Hebrew word for 'spindle'... it is also the name of a top notch school.
I can't tell you how much this interpretation appeals to me.
Friday, February 22, 2008
I once got the following comment on one of my political rants:
I read your site almost everyday, and generally it is true that you are moderate and interesting. However, these past two posts were fairly bothersome, if not annoying. I really enjoy your thoughtful and witty posts, but these past two posts seem more like a spoiled child complaining to his mom about how mean his teacher is.
They are far from moderate, and they are far from thought provoking.
I understand that this is YOUR outlet, and this is a blog about your life and opinions, but come on. These posts seem strictly reactionary.
I find it incredibly boring to read the long rants on blogs about how oppressed the Palestinians are, but on the same note, I find it equally annoying to read about how the poor settlers aren't being included and treated fairly.
To say it tripped most of my fuses would be an understatement... but I quashed my first knee-jerk reaction and instead left the following reply:
Sorry buddy, I can't sh*t diamonds every single try. I am reactionary... I am boring... I am interesting... I am moderate. I'm all the things that you enjoy and dislike...just not all at the same time. You seem to have caught me on a couple of bad days. Come back some other time and I'll try to scale back the bothersome and annoying quotient.
I then went on later in the comment thread to get into a pissing contest with the guy, and as a result I didn't really stop to think about the kernel of truth in his original comment... or in my reply.
Bottom line, the guy was right in that my posts would be far more enjoyable for people to read if I had the patience to sit on them for a few days and had the wisdom to delete the ones that are beyond redemption. But I was also right in saying that "I can't sh*t diamonds every single try".
Nobody can! Or so I used to think.
Several of the bloggers I read have recently added 'My Shrapnel' to their blogrolls. I am not that adventuresome but I ended up taking a peek at the site when I noticed that even Zahava was reading her.
The blog is mostly a collection of notes and recollections from the aftermath of the author being seriously wounded in a suicide bombing outside Machane Yehuda. I fully expected it to be full of self-pity and attention-seeking... but I was shocked to find crystal clear, brutally honest and often laugh-out-loud funny, essays that she has meticulously collected from a period when her life and world were quite literally blown to pieces.
Gila (the blogstress) is an excellent writer without a trace of an agenda. I've been reading her for weeks and don't have a clue about her politics or her views on religion. It is an amazing feat to be able to write about one's life, family, friends, experiences, traumas and recovery without relying on religion or politics to explain events or assign blame.
And unlike yours truly who wakes up and vomits whatever is on his mind into a blog post, most of Gila's essays have been sitting like fine wine in her notebooks and memory for years... waiting to be shared or set aside. The result is a collection of diamond perfect posts that have been carefully weighed for their relevance and doled out slowly like precious gems.
I know I will never be able to sit on my posts long enough to allow them to mature and crystallize the way Gila has. I will probably continue to toss up good, workman-like writing on most days and sh*t the occasional diamond on a lucky day. But rather than try today, I think I'd rather point you over to 'My Shrapnel' and let you see how it's really done.
[Note: If you have the patience, go to the earliest posts and work your way forward]
Thursday, February 21, 2008
Settling up some IOU's
Ever notice how relatively small things that you promise people (or yourself) can start to snowball into a long list of stuff that somehow never got done?
Yeah, me too. Well today's post is an attempt to try to do some catching up...
First off, a special little girl asked her abba to send me an email requesting more pictures of the dogs.
It's not nice to keep a young lady waiting, so here you go TT (ask your abba to click the pictures to make them bigger):
It's hard to tell since they are both black, but this first one is of Jordan sharing her bed with Lulu for an afternoon nap.
Next is a picture of Yonah in doggy heaven:
And one more in case you wanted to see his happy face:
OK, that scratches one item off the list.
Next... there were several requests for the cornbread muffin recipe.
I had to do some thinking about this one since I try to be careful about posting copyrighted material on my site without the owner's permission. You see, the recipe I used is from a wonderful cookbook devoted entirely to muffins.
What I've decided to do is post this one recipe along with a few links to a few sites where you can purchase the whole book (new or used) if you are so inclined. This may or may not satisfy the letter of the law... but it's enough to let me share the recipe with a clear conscience:
Mad About Muffins: A Cookbook for Muffin Lovers
Recipes by Dot Vartan
Illustrations by Shelly Reeves Smith [Zahava's note: book is GORGEOUS!]
Publisher: Andrew McMeel Publishing
1 1/4 c all purpose flour [Zahava's note: Bogner clan uses 70% whole wheat/30% all purpose]
3/4 c yellow corn meal
1/2 rounded tsp salt
1 Tbsp baking powder
1/3 c granulated sugar
1 cup milk (Zahava's note: we sometimes substitute buttermilk, yum!)
1/4 corn oil (Zahava's note: we use canola oil)
Heat oven to 400 degrees (Fahrenheit/that’s 200 degrees for our Celsius friends). Combine the flour, cornmeal, salt, baking powder, and sugar in a large bowl. Lightly beat the egg in a small bowl. Add milk and oil to the egg and stir well. Pour the egg mixture into the flour mixture and blend the ingredients. Fill greased muffin tins (do not grease pan if you use a silicone pan like we do!).
Bake for 20 to 22 minutes or until a tester comes out clean. Serve warm. Makes one dozen muffins.
Zahava's note to treppenwitz readers: This book contains a ton of fabulous, easy to make, and very creative muffin recipes! I have not been disappointed by even one of the many I have tried... And I have tried quite a few, including: Cinnamon; Butternut Squash; Pear Cardomom (a favorite!); Prune Nut; Oatmeal Applesauce; Orange Chocolate; Fudge; Mint Chocolate Chip; Peanut butter Chocolate; Mocha Chocolate Chip; and Lemon Coconut; and I haven’t even tried a third of the book!
David's note: This recipe is truly idiot proof. This is demonstrably true since I was able to pull it off (with the able assistance of my 12 year old son), and the results lived up to Zahava's exacting culinary standards!
Last (but not least) for today are a couple of huge thank you's to fellow bloggers/treppenwitz readers for gifts above and beyond the call...:
Completely independent of one another two lovely women came to the conclusion that I looked a tad malnourished (hah!) and decided to send me (ok, my family too) some Girl Scout cookies. So here is a huge shout out and thank you to both Orieyenta and Jaime. Just one question: Does this make me look fat?
Anyway, I think I've whittled down the list enough for one day. Thanks to everyone for your patience... if I've promised you something (yes you, NRG) I hope to deal with it in the next few days.
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
Faith in human nature
Depending on where you live and the sum of your life's experiences, your faith in human nature might range anywhere from wildly optimistic to pessimistically jaded.
I grew up a part of southern New England whose proximity to New York lent its denizens the mores and habits of the Big Apple. However, many of our family vacations took us to northern New England where puritan values and work ethics still held sway. A prime example of this could be found in rural areas of Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine where farmers often set up self-serve roadside stands to display/sell their wares.
I have vivid memories of seeing these rough-hewn wooden stands stacked with melons, sweet corn, blueberries, honey or some other seasonal/regional specialty, along with a hand-lettered price list and a small metal box where you were supposed to leave your payment and make change for yourself!
Now, it doesn't take a Nobel prize in Economics to understand that this kind of arrangement depends much more heavily on the honesty of the buyers than the good faith of the sellers. However, the seller's participation in such endeavors is undoubtedly essential to the process, since without it the buyer would never have the opportunity to demonstrate his/her honesty.
A few years after university I found myself in Maine with an Israeli friend on a warm summer day. On a lark I stopped the car and bought a small basket of fresh blueberries from one of these roadside stands. This pretty Sabra was absolutely gobsmacked at seeing the unattended produce and money sitting there along the side of the road. She insisted that such a system couldn't possibly work in Israel since the 'honest' Israelis would take only the produce while the 'dishonest' Israelis would take the money as well.
After living here in Israel for almost five years I can sort of see her point.
Most transactions - whether interpersonal or financial - seem to be based primarily on what can best be described as 'do unto others before they do unto you'. Where my American upbringing tends to make me view most transactions as 'there's enough for everyone so what is all the pushing and grabbing about?', the typical Israeli seems to view every opportunity as a pie that has only a finite number of slices [thanks Yonah for this description], and therefore just about anything goes when it comes to getting one's 'fair share'. According to the typical Israeli point of view, anyone left without a slice at the end of the exercise is basically a 'frayer' (sucker).
I've written a few times about the vet who saved our older dog's life, and who is now our regular practitioner for both Jordan and Lulu. His small office is in a residential section of Jerusalem and is comprised a one-room surgery/office which is accessed via an unattended entry hall-cum-waiting room.
The entry hall/waiting room is lined with shelves and stacks of every kind of cat and dog food imaginable, as well as various grooming aids, pet toys and specialty products. The vet and his assistant spend all of their time in the surgery/office with the door closed and if someone is inside with their pet when you arrive, you'll have to wait amongst the bags/cans of food and assorted pet products in the entryway.
Early in my relationship with this vet's practice I began wondering to myself how he could leave all of that valuable inventory unattended where anyone could come and take what they wanted with impunity. I mean, there has to be $10,000 bucks worth of stuff out there if there's a dime! I remember one time while waiting out there I spent ten or fifteen minutes looking for hidden cameras or some other anti-theft technology... but found nothing.
I'd finally decided to ask the vet about his seemingly misplaced trust, but for the past few weeks there has been a young female vet filling in whenever I've brought Jordan in for chemo treatments so I didn't get the chance. * So last night I asked this other vet if she didn't find it strange that the owner of the practice left so much valuable stuff out where anyone could steal it.
Her answer was instructive.
She told me that she too had been surprised to see so much pet food and product left unattended when she'd first started working there. But when she'd asked her boss about it, he'd simply told her he was "a big believer in human nature".
When I pointed out to her that this statement could be taken two very different ways, she nodded and said, "It's funny, but I think he meant it both ways. The people who who are basically dishonest will find a way to steal from you no matter what. But the rest of the people who walk through our door are one of two kinds of people; those who might take some pet food simply because they can't afford to pay for it all the time... and those who walk away with a good feeling simply because someone trusted them not to steal."
Knowing this vet for several years now, I could totally see him subscribing to such a kooky ideology. He rarely seems to take much more in payment than he needs to cover his expenses... and I've personally witnessed him performing small acts of kindness for random people ("Don't worry about it... you can pay me next time.") who have shown up with their pets.
I suppose what I'm trying to say is that, while I'm in general agreement with the jaded outlook held by my Israeli friend who insisted that New England's roadside 'honor system' could never be made to work here in Israel, I also think that this country is chock full of exceptions to the rule.
Israelis like my vet seem to be able to maintain deep faith in the duality of human nature; accepting the worst in people while continuing to expect the best.
I like that.
* Unrelated to the story, it turns out the reasons my vet hasn't been around is that he was in a motor scooter accident and is in the hospital. Ouch!
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
Snowy morning breakfast
I got up early to take Lulu out into the swirling snow that fell overnight so she could 'do her business'. When I came back inside I had every intention of simply climbing back into bed and checking my email. But while I was puttering around the kitchen and putting out food and water for the dogs I spotted a bag of corn meal in one of the cupboards and decided to have some fun.
I called Gilad down from his room and the two of us set about whipping up a warm country breakfast for the girls of the house who had slept in (Yonah was curled up on the couch watching a movie).
When Zahava and Ariella finally made an appearance an hour or so later, blinking at the bright whiteness from the snow outside the windows, here's what they found waiting for them on the nicely set table:
- Orange Juice
- Fresh coffee
- Cheddar cheese omelets
- Freshly baked cornbread muffins
- Blueberry and strawberry jams
I'm not trying to make trouble for any of the other husbands/brothers out there, but I have to admit that it's nice to raise the bar every so often and spoil the people we love. It just worked out nicely that a rare sleepy, snowy weekday morning provided the perfect opportunity.
No promises, mind you... but I may have some snow pictures later.
Monday, February 18, 2008
The definition of insanity
The long-awaited exit strategy which has apparently been the only missing element keeping the Israeli government from launching a major ground offensive into Gaza, has finally been announced. Apparently their big plan is to invade Gaza and simply refuse to leave until the international community agrees to send in a multinational peace keeping force.
I mean, how can you argue with a plan like that? After all, it worked out so well in Southern Lebanon, right?
Let's review, shall we?
Tzipi Livni negotiates a
controlled surrender cease fire to cap off the rudderless wanderings she and her colleagues 'directed' which later... almost as an afterthought... came to be called 'the second Lebanon war'. The key to that surrender, er, I mean cease fire was to be the presence of a multinational force to keep Hezbollah from rearming and rebuilding their infrastructure along Israel's northern border.
How'd that work out? Oh yeah, total disaster! Hezbollah is once again sitting on our northern border, and they have more (and better) rockets than they did at the start of the war. The only difference is that now we can't shoot at them for fear of hitting a bunch of UN troops. Well done!
So now who is calling for a multinational force in Gaza? If you guessed 'Her Fecklessness' herself, give yourself ten points! Tzipi Livni is once again leading a French Charge (otherwise known as a surrender), except this time she seems to be waving the white flag before the fighting has begun.
Seriously, the only thing a multinational force in Gaza will provide is the 100% certainty that Israel will end up accidentally blowing up some hapless Norwegians or Canadians while trying to introduce a kassam crew to their allotted number of virgins.
Or, barring that... Israel will be so hyper-careful about shooting too near the 'peace-keepers' that Hamas et al will follow Hezbollah's example and set up their rocket launching and bomb-making infrastructure next to UN camps, making them virtually immune from attack.
What the hell did we do to deserve such leaders? Are they really that stupid or are they simply addicted to failed policies???
It may be funny each time Lucy pulls the football away at the last minute sending Charlie Brown flying through the air. It may be a laugh riot every time Wyle E. Coyote straps himself to an Acme rocket sled and launches himself off a cliff. But in real life, doing the same exact thing over and over and expecting different results is a sure sign of insanity!
If Eli Yishai and his merry band of Shastitutes are too deep in Olmert's pocket to consider pulling out of the coalition, perhaps it's time for Labor's supporters (a fairly substantial chunk of the voting public) to begin pressuring Ehud Barak to finally keep his promise and bring down the government.
Enough is enough!!!
Sunday, February 17, 2008
The beginning of a beautiful friendship
I posted two pictures on Friday; one of Jordan greeting her new charge, and the other of Yonah sitting on the floor with Lulu on his lap. It is this latter photo that requires a little extra explanation.
As I've mentioned before, Yonah is a bright, wonderful four year old... who has some fairly significant sensory issues. These issues manifest themselves in many ways, but one of the most noticeable to anyone (or anything) interacting with Yonah for the first time is that he sometimes has trouble regulating his touches.
Yonah's hugs are often the culmination of a running start. His 'snuggles' in bed or on the couch are often full of elbows and knees which he didn't adequately stow before burrowing in. His caresses, and even kisses, are delicious to someone who is prepared for the loving onslaught... but they can sometimes be a tad overwhelming if you don't see them coming.
Yonah doesn't fully understand that his unbridled displays of affection are sometimes uncomfortable, or even painful, for those on the receiving end.
To be fair, things have gotten quite a bit better over the past year but even our older dog Jordan, who has been his constant and faithful companion for as long as Yonah has been alive, never leaves herself without an escape route when in close quarters with him. While I think it would be fair to say that Jordan's love for Yonah is completely unconditional... her instinct for self preservation is still strong enough that she is uber-vigilant when he is feeling affectionate.
Which brings us to the new addition to the family you saw in Friday's photo; Lulu.
For all the excitement and anticipation that's been bubbling around the family over the past few weeks, Yonah has kind of gotten lost in the noise. For a week or more, while the rest of us were talking loudly about whose dog she would be... in whose room she would sleep... who would feed her, walk her, love her more... Yonah quietly told the four walls (and anyone who would listen) that he was getting a new puppy named Lulu.
On the way out to the breeder to pick up the puppy on Friday, the chatter in the car was deafening. Zahava was loudly quoting chapter and verse from the puppy training books she's been reading (by the Monks of New Skete), and I was holding forth on who would be responsible for what. The big kids squabbled amiably about who would be the better master and who Lulu would inevitably love most.
And all the while Yonah sat alone in the eye of the storm... smiling in happy anticipation, but unsure where he rated in all the assignments and claims of responsibility.
Despite everyone's solemn promise not to startle Lulu with noise or wild gesticulating, when we finally arrived at the breeder, everyone immediately began shouting happily and vying to hold the little dear. Photos were snapped and the puppy was passed willy-nilly from hand to hand. Everyone got a turn to hold and caress here, and the little black bundle never came to rest for more than a moment.
Before the tug-o-war could begin over who would hold Lulu on the ride how, Zahava put her foot down. Since I was driving, she made a unilateral decision that she would hold the puppy all the way home so as not to compound the potential stress of a first time car ride for the puppy. The kids weren't happy about the decision, but at least Ari and Gili could take small comfort from the fact that one's loss was not the other's gain.
And again, though disappointed, Yonah accepted not having access to Lulu during the trip with stoic aplomb.
When we finally got home (over an hour's drive), everyone piled out of the car and immediately hands went out to hold the puppy and carry her inside. But I'd laid claim to the privilege of carrying the new arrival over the threshold... so it wasn't until we were inside that Lulu again began the circuit from hand to hand.
And yet again, Yonah was pushed aside each time he tried to get a turn with 'his' puppy.
Once the commotion began to subside, Zahava went to prepare some food and water for the puppy and Ariella and Gilad began taking photos as Lulu ambled happily around, exploring her new home. The only one (besides Lulu, of course) who wasn't actively doing anything specific was Yonah. He had long since given up trying to get our attention and had plopped himself down in the middle of the living-room.
Without needing to be prompted, Lulu immediately took notice of a small person sitting on the floor amidst the sea of Giants who were parading around the room.
It may have been that Yonah was the only person in the room who wasn't running around, shouting happily or creating bright explosions of light.
It may have been that Yonah was the closest to Lulu in size.
But whatever the reason, Lulu went to Yonah like a ship goes eagerly towards a sheltered harbor during a storm. And without hesitating for a moment, she plopped herself into Yonah's lap and fell instantly asleep there.
In order to understand what a shock this had to have been for Yonah, it should be mentioned here that no living thing had ever before put itself entirely at his mercy. The animals who visited his gan for play therapy were cuddly and passive, but they and their adult handlers were always wary of the grabby little kids.
Yonah's siblings and parents frequently cuddle with him, but our instinct for self-preservation ensures we are always careful to do so only on our terms, and often only until he falls asleep.
Even his beloved Jordan, who has indulged Yonah's affections since he first began to crawl, has never closed both eyes when he's been within petting range... and certainly has never slept soundly while Yonah was in the room.
Yet here was this new puppy that Yonah had been breathlessly anticipating for weeks... the one he'd been telling all the big kids at the bus stop about... the one he'd tried so many times to join his siblings in discussing... asleep on his lap!
The photo I posted of Yonah and Lulu on Friday doesn't begin to capture the magic of that special moment.
I have to admit that I was tempted to drop the camera and rescue the sleeping puppy from Yonah's clutches. But Yonah just sat... barely breathing... with his hand poised, but not daring to touch this small furry miracle that had occurred in his lap.
And then, slowly at first, but soon with a bit more confidence, Yonah began to gently stroke the sleeping puppy's head... with soft, perfectly appropriate caresses. So light was his touch that Lulu never even stirred... a fact that didn't escape Yonah's proud notice.
On the car ride home from the breeder Zahava had whispered to me that holding the puppy had made her heart nearly burst with love. As I watched my precious Yonah experience the joy of receiving complete and perfect trust for the first time in his life... I understood exactly what she meant.
I'm sure we'll still have to be vigilant to make sure that Yonah's love for Lulu doesn't bubble over into over-enthusiastic displays of affection. But as Rick said at the end of Casablanca, "... I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship".
Friday, February 15, 2008
A new addition to the family
The original idea for the puppy came when we learned that our aging family pet Jordan was diagnosed with cancer. We suspected that having a young dog around to mentor would give Jordan a new lease on life and would also give the kids a larger canvas on which to continue dabbing their seemingly limitless love.
Jordan seems smitten with her and has been sniffing and licking her affectionately.
Today is the day!
No, not a ground invasion. Ok, it is an invasion of sorts... but of the good sort. We are leaving in a few minutes to finally pick up our new puppy!!!
Stand by for pictures (if I can get them posted beofre shabbat).
Thursday, February 14, 2008
Stop the clock!
The 48 hour countdown I set in motion yesterday (for the start of a ground offensive in Gaza) seems to have, thankfully, ground to a halt for the time being.
Why? Did Olmert come to his senses?
No, our Prime Minister hasn't gotten any smarter since yesterday morning. He just managed to use the old Jedi mind trick on Shas Chairman Eli Yishai to convince him there is no reason to bolt from the coalition since [~waves hand in front of glassy-eyed victim~] there are no negotiations - secret or otherwise - being held over the fate of Jerusalem!
Truth be told, I'm not terribly surprised at this turn of events. Anyone who has small children knows that it isn't all that hard to convince someone of something that they already want very badly to believe.
Yishai painted himself into a corner with his pledge to resign as soon as Jerusalem came up for discussion and was desperately looking for a way out. So, rather than demand assurances from Olmert and Livni that Jerusalem was not now -NOR WOULD IT EVER BE -on the table, he settled for an easy lie (or at best, half-truth).
Let's see if we can deconstruct the house of cards within which Mr. Yishai has taken refuge:
a. The Shas party is adamantly opposed to the division of Jerusalem.
b. Shas has threatened to leave the government the instant the division of Jerusalem is placed on the table.
c. There is compelling, independently-corroborated, evidence to indicate that secret negations on Jerusalem's fate are already well underway.
d. Both Olmert and Livni have made it clear that Jerusalem WILL BE NEGOTIATED, although they claim it will be left for last.
e. Yishai hears the words "We are not negotiating over Jerusalem right now", and grabs this lifeline Olmert and Livni have thrown him saying, "OK, You say you aren't negotiating Jerusalem right now... that's good enough for me!"
Do you see the logical problem with his position?
If Eli Yishai says he won't keep the Shas party in a government that negotiates over the fate of Jerusalem... and the current government's leaders are perfectly open about the fact that they have started a process that will absolutely, positively lead to negotiations over Jerusalem... how can he justify staying?
It's like someone sitting high up in a tree watching someone saw through the branch on which he's sitting... all the while telling himself that the person wouldn't dare saw all the way through. But the person continues to saw and tells the ambiguous truth, that so long as he is sawing the branch will still be there. Yet the person out on the limb stubbornly refuses to see that at the end of the process the limb - and he - will fall.
There is no sane rationale for remaining in the tree, or in the coalition, under such circumstances!
Jerusalem is going to be negotiated! Heck, we have only the word of Olmert and Livni that it isn't already being discussed! Shas is going to eventually have to leave the government! Every day that the Olmert government remains propped up the population of Israel's periphery communities remains in peril! Why would Shas continue to prop up a government that cares more about preventing a potential humanitarian crisis among Gaza's population than for ending an existing humanitarian crisis among its own citizens?!
The answer is ... I don't know. I honestly don't understand it!!!
Don't get me wrong. I am pleased as punch that we won't be sending large numbers of our soldiers into harms way in order to keep Olmert's coalition from imploding. But the reason for this stay of execution is a bit difficult for a thinking person to swallow!
[I seem to have used up my yearly allotment of exclamation pints with this post]
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
Pray we don't get fooled again
I'm not one who frivolously quotes pop lyrics when lives are on the line... but watching what is going on here over the past 48 hours - and looking forward to the next 48 hours - I couldn't help but be reminded of the classic song by 'The Who' by the same title as today's post.
The first and last stanzas are:
We'll be fighting in the streets
With our children at our feet
And the morals that they worship will be gone
And the men who spurred us on
Sit in judgement of all wrong
They decide and the shotgun sings the song
Just like yesterday
Then I'll get on my knees and pray
We don't get fooled again
Don't get fooled again
Please pay close attention to what has been happening in the past 48 hours:
1. Prime Minister Olmert promised the Shas party that they would be kept apprised of any discussions regarding the future status of any part of Jerusalem. For their part, Shas made it very clear that the moment the subject of Jerusalem was put on the table with the Palestinians, they would leave the governing coalition. It has now been revealed that secret negotiations over Jerusalem's final status have been taking place between Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei.
2. If Shas lives up to its promise and pulls out of the government, Olmert will be left with a minority government of well under half the 120 seats in the Knesset, meaning the first 'No Confidence' motion would likely bring down the government and trigger new elections.
3. While Olmert's supporters in the Knesset have been mouthing platitudes such as "This is not the time to bring down the government... Israel needs stability in a time of crisis" and similar tripe, the opposition has been saying that it is precisely because of the looming crisis that we need a change of leadership/government so that we don't have the same flawed decision makers at the helm as we did during the failed Lebanon war.
5. At this point Shas Chairman Eli Yishai is sort of trapped by his promise. He wants more than anything to be able to remain in the government and retain all the creature comforts of life as a minister. But he is pretty much required at this point to leave the coalition now that he is faced with irrefutable proof that Jerusalem negotiations are well underway. Prime Minister Olmert knows this and is pretty much powerless to stop it from happening.
I predict that Olmert will chose the next 24 - 48 hours to launch a large-scale ground offensive into Gaza. He won't have any more idea what he wants to accomplish in this offensive than he did when he ordered the opening of hostilities in Lebanon. But in this case his motives will be far less trustworthy. Simply put, he needs a national crisis to save his political career.
You see, once Israel is involved in a shooting war - and make no mistake, a ground incursion into Gaza will quickly escalate into a war - the 'we can't bring down the government during a time of national crisis' crowd will suddenly start to sound sane, and will give Shas the excuse it needs to remain in the government.
Olmert is going to make cynical use of the current national rage over the relentless attacks from Gaza to remain in power. After arrogantly ignoring the will of the overwhelming majority of the country for more than a year, he is now going to go through the motions of doing what the country wants; He's going to take us to war.
Except that what the country wants and what the country needs are two very different animals... and Olmert wouldn't know one from the other on his best day. He only knows what is best for Ehud Olmert. Just remember that when our sons start coming home in body bags and the IDF commanders in the field start yelling that they are, once again, not getting any clear direction from above regarding objectives or exit strategy.
The next 24 - 48 hours will tell. I pray we don't get fooled again.
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
Falling off the face of the earth
[I don't know who will hate this post more; men or women. If you fall into either of those categories, feel free to take a pass and stop back tomorrow.]
For whatever the reason, male relationships seem to require less tending/nurturing than their female counterparts. Having had personal experience with only the XY side of the gender divide, I can't really say with any certainly how female relationships work... what kind of investment in time/effort is required to maintain those relationships... or what it feels like for a woman to lose an old friend.
I only know how these things work over here on my side of the fence. Or I thought I did, anyway.
I can go years without speaking with old friends, yet when we run into each other or one of us remembers to call/email, it is as though the intervening time was no more than a few days. Like a good book that falls behind the couch, so long as the page where I left off remains folded down, it takes only a moment to blow off the dust and pick up where we left off.
But I've noticed in recent years that occasionally I'll fold down a page on a friendship and push it aside, only to find out that someone I thought would be waiting there behind the couch has been picked up by The Housekeeper and thrown away.
When this happens, it highlights an even more glaring difference between male and female relationships; specifically, how and why each grieves after losing a friend.
Again, I have only second-hand observations on which to base what I write here, but women seem to grieve very differently than men when they experience a loss. More specifically, they seem to grieve for the the wreckage that the loss wreaks on their world. I've heard the hushed conversations; "Oh, those poor children... what will her husband do? How will they manage without her?"
Witnessing this kind of empathy makes me feel shallow and selfish by comparison. On the occasions when I've heard about the death of old friends, the first thing that occurs to me - even before the sense of personal loss, and before the thoughts of the good times we shared - is my own mortality.
I know. Selfish. Shallow.
Death is something that happens to old people... older than me, anyway. I mean, for cryin' out loud, I'm not supposed to be getting email notices from my university alumni association telling me that holes in the ground are being filled with people I used to drink beer with!
Yesterday a coworker called me over during lunch and motioned for me to sit down. When we were seated face to face he said, "You remember ___________ right?" The name he mentioned was of a guy a year or two younger than me. We'd both been 'eydim' (witnesses) at this coworker's wedding. I wasn't close with the guy, but our world's are interconnected enough that we'd always behaved as buds whenever we ran into each other.
I said, "Yeah sure, but I haven't seen or heard from him in years. How's he doing?"
I didn't even need to wait for the reply. Just the way my coworker winced when I used the present tense told me all I needed to know. But Just the same I waited for confirmation.
"Yeah, I kinda lost touch with him too", began my coworker. "I've been meaning to look him up but I never seemed to get around to it. Well I sat down yesterday and started Googling him to see if I could track him down, and the first thing I came across was his name on a 'Refuah Sheleima' (wishes for a full recovery) list on his synagogue's website from more than a year ago. I did a little more digging but couldn't find anything else. I knew he'd gone a couple of rounds with cancer about ten years ago, but the last I'd heard he was in remission and everything was fine. I guess the cancer came back last year."
"So...?" I prompted him, "Did you find anything else out?"
"Yeah", he began. "I looked up his phone number and called to see how he was doing. His wife answered the phone. [a long pause] When I asked to speak to _________ she told me that he'd died this past year."
I suddenly felt cold and clammy. To buy time to deal with the icky stuff I was feeling... and to try to make my coworker feel a little better... I fell back on one of my most trusted defenses; I told an 'I can top that for sheer stupidity' story.
I began, "Well at least you didn't do what I once did. I called up looking for an old friend I hadn't seen in years and chattily told his brother's wife, "Hi this is David Bogner, I'm a friend of __________. I've been trying to track him down for ages but he seems to have fallen off the face of the earth. Can you give me his current phone number or email address?" After a long pause she informed me that her brother-in-law was dead, having been killed when he, quite literally, fell off the face of the earth. It turns out he'd gotten separated from his hunting buddies one night in the Adirondacks, and accidentally walked off a cliff."
My coworker digested my story and agreed that, yeah, at least he hadn't said anything quite that unfortunate to the guy's wife. But he still felt terrible about calling a year late to accidentally offer his condolences to the the widow of a guy with whom he was supposedly good friends.
We sat there for a couple of minutes in silence. I was still a bit floored by the way I was taking the news. After all, I hadn't been all that close with the guy. We'd run into each other at intervals of about three years... and I think I might have gone out with his sister once upon a time. But I just couldn't shake the feeling that the emptiness in the pit of my stomach was as silly and inexplicable as Zahava's tears when the screenwriters for 'ER' killed off a pregnant wife in front of her husband and kids.
What the hell?!
It was that last thought that helped me zero in on what was bothering me. Walking back to my office I started thinking about what it was that made Zahava cry at certain television plot twists and not others. The scenes that invariably got to her were the ones where a ragged hole was torn out of the fabric of someone's world. She cried for the people who were left behind... the ones who had to try and repair the hole in their lives. I invariably ended up staring only at the ragged hole.
As I said earlier, it may sound shallow and selfish, but when I hear about the passing of someone who could, in any way, be considered a contemporary, my first - and sometimes only - thought is of my own mortality. And as if that weren't bad enough, my first feeling isn't about things like "Oh my G-d what would Zahava and the kids do without me". There's no thought of "Goodness, how hard will it be for the kids growing up without me around?"
No, for some reason I seem to fixate on selfish thoughts like "Think about how much I'd miss out on if it were me taking the dirt nap instead of him!"
I honestly don't know where I'm going with this, but I really got the wind knocked out of me yesterday. I guess I needed to do some thinking out loud to figure out why the death of someone who could best be described as an 'acquaintance' had been able to shake me up so badly.
The best I can come up with at the moment is the observation that I wish I could be more like my wife (and her XX cohorts) and focus on those left standing at the top of the cliff. It might also be nice to have a few less shallow, selfish thoughts about how much I dread the idea of being the one who, someday, will miss out by falling off the face of the earth.
Monday, February 11, 2008
Just one more reason to kick myself for not going to medical school
There's an old joke about a physician who passes away and finds himself standing at the end of a long line of people. He asks the person in front of him what everyone is waiting for and is told that everyone is on line to find out if they will be judged worthy to enter 'Olam Habah' (the world to come).
After waiting for what seemed like hours without the line having moved even an inch, the doctor walks up to the front of the line and explains to the gate-keeper that he was a doctor and that he shouldn't have to wait in line. After all, based on all the lives he'd saved and all the charity he'd given it was a shoe-in that he'd be admitted. So why not let him go in right away?
The heavenly functionary apologized for the wait but explained that everybody had to stand judgment and nobody was given head-of-the-line privileges no matter what their role had been on earth. The doc wasn't happy with the answer, but he had no choice but to go back to the end of the long line and wait his turn.
However, a few moments later he was surprised to see a man in a white lab coat and wearing a stethoscope draped casually around his neck walk right to the front of the line, wave to the attendant and walk right into paradise.
This was too much to take, so he stormed back to the front of the line and in a loud voice began demanding an explanation: "Hey, I just saw you let that doctor in without having to wait in line. I thought you said nobody had head-of-line privileges here!"
The gate-keeper put his finger to his lips and said, "Shhh, I didn't mislead you. That was G-d... he just thinks he's a doctor".
I've shared this joke today for a couple of reasons. First and foremost is that I just discovered yet another reason to kick myself for not going to medical school.
You see, Nefesh B'Nefesh has recently announced their latest initiative: Helping Israel solve its doctor shortage. They are doing this by offering very attractive incentives (I've heard the number $60,000 tossed around) to doctors who make aliyah.
I've mentioned on several occasions how indebted Zahava and I are to Nefesh B'Nefesh for their advice and assistance before, during and after our aliyah. While we would have certainly moved to Israel with or without their help, they helped streamline the process, and most importantly, helped us differentiate the important issues from the small stuff that olim usually waste time and energy worrying about.
Well, Nefesh B'Nefesh hasn't been sitting on their laurels since helping us with our aliyah back in 2003. In fact every year since, they've continued to set the bar ever higher by bringing record numbers of immigrants from Canada and the US to live - and stay! - in Israel.
This doctor incentive program isn't some improbable 'Northern Exposure' scenario where NBN is waving money in front of newly minted (i.e. broke) docs in hopes they will spend a couple of years in Israel before heading back to nip and tuck aging matrons in Beverley Hills. Let's face it, there isn't much you can offer someone - doctor or otherwise - in the way of incentives that will make them voluntarily want to move long term to a place they have no desire to be.
However, if someone already has in the back of their mind that it might be nice to live in Israel... but with student loans and various professional fees hanging over their head, they are finding it difficult to figure out how to extricate themselves from the present long enough to even think about the future... well, then Nefesh B'Nefesh's new program might be just the ticket.
Add to this the fact that - today's joke not withstanding - doctors moving from North America to Israel take a huge hit in both the pocketbook and prestige. This is another reason for Nefesh B'Nefesh to be involved in the whole aliyah process with doctors, since the re-entry and absorption process can sometimes be a little more bumpy for physicians than for many other professions. And it is exactly NBN's well-known holistic approach to aliyah that has resulted in their retention rate (% of people who remain in Israel long-term) remaining so high!
In addition to the assistance NBN is offering to doctors, they are obviously still going full steam ahead with new and existing programs designed to help potential olim from all walks of life begin to shift their aliyah from the daydreaming to planning stage.
They are constantly visiting large Jewish communities throughout North America to run live seminars on a wide range of general topics related to aliyah. But they have also recently started reaching out to potential olim who may be outside major metropolitan areas by running Webinars (web-based seminars) on very specific topics, in a format that will allow anyone with an Internet connection - regardless of their physical location - to participate and learn. You can find out more about NBN Webinars here.
And of course, for those who want to simply get the ball rolling, the first step is to get your hands on a Nefesh B' Nefesh application. As luck would have it, You can find one right here.
And remember, whether you're a doctor or a just needle-fearing layman like myself... Israel has one important advantage over life in Canada or the US; Nobody here bothers to wait on lines!
Don't thank me... I'm a giver!
Sunday, February 10, 2008
... and that, your honor, is why I'm not in politics
Every so often I get comments (or emails) on a post saying that I should run for a seat in the Knesset. Let the following post be the judge of such a foolish idea:
Last night after shabbat ended, the kids and I went to a climbing gym in Jerusalem to have some fun. Ariella and I concentrated on climbing the walls with top ropes and Gilad and Yonah spent most of their time in the 'bouldering' area working on their free-climbing skills.
Ariella is a strong climber and has a lot of natural talent, but I had to constantly remind her to keep her hips close in to the wall, and instead of relying on the strength of her arms and upper body, to use the powerful muscles in her legs.
On the way home I turned on the radio at the top of the hour in order to catch the news, and the first thing I heard completely knocked the wind out of me:
"... two brothers aged 8 and 19 were among four members of a family who were wounded in a kassam barrage on Sderot. The older brother is in moderate condition and the younger is in serious condition. Doctors are not sure if they will be able to save the legs which were partially severed by the rocket blast."
I snapped off the radio and we rode the rest of the way home in silence. All I could hear in my head was the echo of myself yelling up to Ariella, "Use your legs! Use your legs!" as she struggled for the top of the wall. I felt shamed by my words because somewhere in Israel was a wounded mother whose 8 year old son may not have any legs left to use when he comes out of surgery.
[Update: Surgeons were forced to amputate the 8-year-old's left leg and are still fighting to save the right one]
When we got home and everyone was tucked into bed, I turned on my computer to check the news.
The headlines were terrible. More than 50 rockets had been fired so far over the weekend. Several had scored direct hits on homes in Sderot... one even crashing through a roof as the family sat in their dining-room eating Shabbat dinner. And the Palestinians of Gaza were openly celebrating the wounding of a Jewish family by firing guns into the air and passing out sweets to the children.
There was no lack of detail about the situation in Sderot. Not only about the damage and carnage, but about the perfectly justifiable fury of the residents at having been abandoned by their government in the face of unrelenting attacks.
At a certain point I couldn't read anymore without exploding with rage, so I clicked over to some other news stories of the moment.
Britain, it turns out, is up in arms over the looming 'humanitarian disaster' posed by Israel's threat to reduce Gaza's electricity by between 1% and 5%... and were demanding that Israel continue supplying full power to the beleaguered civilian population there. Of course there was no mention of the very real humanitarian disaster being perpetrated on Sderot and other communities of the western Negev by the thousands of rockets targeting those civilian population centers.
I began to see red.
I know I shouldn't be surprised or angry that the rest of the world doesn't care a bit about the residents of Sderot. After all, our own government doesn't seem particularly troubled by the ongoing carnage there. But more than that, even the so-called hawks in Israel are inexplicably calling for a large-scale ground operation in Gaza without really talking much about specific goals... or the chances of success in achieving these un-stated goals.
I'm no strategic expert, but one of the key failures of the Lebanon war seems to have been sending ground troops into harm's way without a clear battle plan... or exit strategy. IMHO it would be the height of foolishness to risk the lives of our young men simply to punish Gaza. If punishment/revenge is all you want, you can do that from the air... or by turning a switch and throwing the savages into darkness. By my way of thinking, one puts Military troops at risk only to achieve specific objectives... and not one person in or out of government has been able to elocute what military objectives await our young men in Gaza.
My friend and fellow blogger Yaeli (one of my favorite lefties because she sometimes sounds more right-wing than I do) came up with a novel idea: For every kassam fired into Israel, we should fire an equally primitive/random weapon into Gaza. However the flaw with this plan is that it presumes that the Palestinian leadership cares a bit about what happens to its civilian population... a theory that has been debunked by their ongoing use of civilian population centers as human shields for explosive labs, smuggling tunnels and kassam launching sites.
The only thing a few random rockets would do is enrage the international community, provide some cheap sympathy points for the Palestinians and give the anti-Israel media a hook on which to hang the old 'cycle of violence' saw. It's the old playground paradox: When a little kid takes a swing at a big kid the big kid is trapped. If he defends himself, he is called a bully for beating up a kid half his size. If he doesn't fight back, he becomes a laughingstock for having been bloodied by a kid half his size.
No, I don't think that kassams for kassam is a formula for success. I also don't think that sending IDF troops on a massive invasion to fight among Gaza's dense urban centers is anything but a death trap. Besides the fact that the Gazans now posses all the sophisticated anti-armor weapons that Israel faced in Southern Lebanon... the rules of engagement that would be placed on the IDF in such close proximity to civilians would be so drastic that our boys would end up being mowed down while trying to decide if they could legally/morally shoot the 'civilian' who were suddenly firing at them.
No, that's not the answer either.
Truth be told, if someone had put a button in front of me last night labeled 'kill every man, woman and child in Gaza' I would have pushed it without hesitation... and then pushed it again just to make sure it worked. And then I would have gone to bed and slept with a clear conscience. A population that celebrates the slaughter and wounding of innocent civilians is infected with a disease for which the only cure is death.
But this morning I am just the tiniest bit more circumspect. I'm not saying that there is a cure for what ails Palestinian (and by extension all Muslim/Arab) societies, but my main concern right now is Gaza... and genocide is obviously not on the menu of Israel's options.
So what then?
It goes without saying that Israel should not be giving Gaza any of its power, food, water or fuel. All that should have stopped the moment we closed the gates behind the last person out in the summer of 2005. Heck, if we could throw together a plan to uproot 10,000 Israeli civilians from their homes, I have to believe we could have found a moment to also send a memo to Egypt and the other Arab sponsors of the Palestinians saying, "Oh yeah... they're your responsibility now. Best of luck with that."
But I honestly think that at this point, the only thing to be done is to drop leaflets throughout Gaza's periphery announcing that within 48 hours a no-man zone will be created by Israel. The exact size of the zone would be defined by the longest range rocket in the Palestinian arsenal, and clear instructions would be given to evacuate specific areas before the deadline.
At hour 49 the IAF would go in with blockbuster bombs and fuel-air explosives and turn that no-man zone into rubble so fine that nothing would remain standing above the height of, say, an 8 year old boy sitting in a wheelchair.
And that, your honor, is why I am not in politics.
Friday, February 08, 2008
Viva la Difference
It's always dangerous to generalize along gender lines, but sometimes something jumps out at you that can't be ignored (and simply must be shared).
Take for example the wedding Zahava and I attended last night at the Great Synagogue in Jerusalem. The ceremony had separate seating, so it was fairly easy to observe the difference between the way the men and women were reacting to what was going on around them.
For the most part the women sat in reverent silence, memorizing every detail from the trim on the brides gown to the color of the flowers in the beautiful arrangements... and then occasionally to architectural accents of the sanctuary.
The men were a bit more restless and I watched in amusement as their glances shifted from the sound system components to the musicians playing the music... and then over to the uniform insignias on the large group of soldiers present from the groom's army unit.
I glanced over towards my wife to see if I could catch her eye, but she was sitting between couple of friends... all of them staring in rapt attention towards the Chupa (wedding canopy).
Just then I felt my phone vibrate. I surreptitiously took it out and saw that I had a text message waiting to be read. It was from a friend who was also attending the wedding but who was seated elsewhere. His message:
"If you have a direct shot, take it. :-)"
And no, I didn't have a camera with me. It was simply a sarcastic/cynical joke between two married men at a wedding. While our wives sat side by side soaking up every detail of the ceremony... we were making childish jokes about how to 'save' this bachelor from a life of wedded bliss.
Viva la Difference!