Monday, March 31, 2008
An African Correspondent
I've noticed over the years that this site has attracted a fairly diverse readership. By this I mean that Jews of pretty much every stripe feel comfortable stopping by, and many non-Jews from around the world visit treppenwitz to catch a glimpse (however subjective) of life in Israel.
A common thread that seems to bind my readership together is a shared love for Israel and the desire to visit the country personally. For some, visits to Israel are an annual (or more frequent) ritual. For others a visit to Israel is a pilgrimage to be undertaken once in a decade. And for still others it is a once-in-a-lifetime dream to visit 'the holy land'.
Several years ago I noticed from my sitemeter that I was getting a daily 'hit' (site visit) from a reader in Kenya. At first I assumed it was probably an expat Israeli living there who was longing for a taste of home. But then I started getting thoughtful comments on my posts from a young non-Jewish African man who seemed to be remarkably well informed about Israeli history and culture... and I realized that this must be my faithful Kenyan reader.
Over the years I've enjoyed reading this young man's comments and have delighted in seeing his 'take' on current events here in Israel. And after a while, his comments were joined by occasional emails and the sharing back and forth of essays and news clips we each thought the other might find interesting.
But despite the ongoing correspondence, this young man remained an anomaly... and the reason for his love of Israel remained a complete mystery. I knew nothing about his religious beliefs or his political leanings (other than that he supported - unconditionally - Israel's right to self-defense).
As time went on, his detailed references to local geography and his use of Israeli slang piqued my curiosity and I asked him how many times he had been to Israel. I was shocked by his response. Apparently he had been reading about Israel since he was a child and had sustained a dream of visiting since grade school. But he had never been to Israel.
After almost three years of reading this young man's topical comments and thought-provoking emails I learned that he had applied for a tourist visa to visit Israel.
His plan was rather straightforward: He wanted to take a week or two vacation from his job as an IT manager, buy a plane ticket to Israel and simply do the tourist bit. The majority of you reading this are probably nodding approvingly, wondering what could stand in the way of something so common and straightforward... something many of us have done dozens of times in the past.
Well, what few people from the industrialized west ever stop to consider is the ease with which they can get permission to visit a foreign country if they so desire. Many citizens of western countries don't even require visas to visit Israel as a tourist, and most of those that are required to get visas consider it a mere formality.
But what if your life's dream was to visit Israel... but you lived in the third world? What then?
As a young adult, my African correspondent's frequent contacts with the Israeli Embassy/Consular staff for information had been politely but firmly rebuffed. This young man had made numerous inquiries about visiting Israel... volunteering on various programs... and even looked into serving in the IDF. But despite his enthusiasm, his requests were politely, and routinely, declined.
You see, Israel, like most industrialized countries, is very cautious about letting residents of the third world come to visit because of the fear that they might overstay their tourist visas and become illegal residents.
Having been frustrated by the Israeli bureaucracy on many occasions, I couldn't imagine there was much advice I could offer my African correspondent... except to be politely persistent.
As weeks turned to months and the target date for his Israeli vacation grew near, I occasionally asked how his request for a visa was going, but the news was always the same.
Finally, less than a week before his scheduled vacation he sent me a frustrated email with the subject line: "They obviously don't want me there", and the opening line, "Hi David, Tomorrow marks the last day I try to ever travel to Israel... "
While I couldn't fault the Israeli foreign ministry for exercising caution with granting entry to residents of developing countries, I knew this guy! Even though we'd never met or spoken on the phone, I knew more about this young man than I knew about most of my neighbors!
I wrote back asking him to email me his passport info, proof of medical insurance and the name / contact info of the officer he'd been dealing with at the Israeli Consulate in Nairobi. I figured maybe it would help if they knew he had a contact in Israel who could vouch for his character.
After he'd sent back the information I'd asked for, I dashed off a quick email to the Consular staff worker explaining how I knew this young man and expressing my certainty that he wanted to come for an innocent tourist visit... not to stay as an illegal worker or refugee.
Within an hour I received a phone call from the Consular officer in Nairobi. She was all business and reminded me a lot of those serious young men and women you encounter when getting on line at the El Al counter in the airport. She asked me about a dozen questions about how long I'd known my African correspondent and what I really knew about him. She asked me where he worked, what he did for a living, where he lived... and as I answered each question I was pleasantly surprised to realize that I have plenty of local friends for whom I probably couldn't give as thorough an accounting.
When the interrogation session was nearly over she had just one more question for me... a question that took everything out of the realm of the theoretical:
She asked me if I would be willing to sign an official document declaring that I was personally inviting this young man to Israel and that I would be legally responsible for him during his entire visit... including making sure he returned to his home country before his visa expired.
Up until that point we'd been chatting cordially and near the end, we even joked a bit about the weather here and there. But hearing this last question kind of wiped the smile off my face. You see, there is a big difference between being an anonymous big shot, telling a stranger to take the word of another stranger, and being asked to put pen to paper and make things very up-close-and-personal... and legal.
After a moment of silence on the phone I told her to email me the form and that I'd look at it. But before I hung up I asked her how important this form would be in the visa process for my friend. Her answer cut right to the point: "If you sign the form I will issue him a tourist visa. If you don't, I won't."
Within seconds the form landed in my email in-box and I printed it out so I could read it more carefully. I even showed it to a friend who is an attorney to ask some 'what if...' questions. But the bottom line was that I was being asked to take legal responsibility for someone who I knew only theoretically.
To be continued tomorrow...
[but in the mean time, I'm curious what you would do in my place]
Sunday, March 30, 2008
If a film this shocking had been made about Judaism...
... every film festival in the free world would be lining up to screen it and shower it with awards.
But because it was made about Islam, the head of the UN has condemned it as hate speech and the original site that had been hosting it, 'Live Leak', has had to remove it because of credible threats against the lives of their staff.
I am, of course, talking about the film 'FITNA' which is, for the time being, still viewable here [shocking image warning: not for children]:
Don't get me wrong. This film is is not particularly groundbreaking... or even good. It uses many of the same images we've seen before, and if anything manages to devalue the impact of most of them.
However, the fact that a second-rate film-maker and his distribution channel have received death threats for daring to show real events, and for translating passages from the Koran that reveal uncomfortable truths about the violent nature of Islamic beliefs, pretty much tells us all we need to know about Islam... without the need to see the film.
UPDATE: If you have 6 minutes you can spare from your busy day, you must, must, MUST watch the following film which says nearly everything I have been struggling to put into words regarding Islam's deliberate clash with western culture (and western culture's deliberate surrender at every turn).
Hat tip to Avi (A.K.A. British Academic)
Thursday, March 27, 2008
Today's post stank so bad...
[~how bad was it?~]
... it stank so bad that I had to delete it twice just to get rid of the stench. Seriously... it was the blogging analog of a 'two flusher + spray'.
It was that bad.
Don't thank me... I'm apparently also a taker.
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
I usually hate being told I'm wrong...
... but in this case I am actually inviting - begging even! - someone to step up and tell me where I've missed something here, and that I'm totally wrong.
Here, as usual I'm getting ahead of myself... so let me start at the beginning:
When the State of Israel was founded, the leadership had to come up with a solution for balancing the young state's pressing defense needs against the basic economic need to allow the citizens do something besides serve in the army (i.e. go to work).
The country on which Israel chose to model its military structure was Switzerland.
Switzerland, it turns out, requires that it's citizens perform a relatively short mandatory military service, followed by an extended period of reserve obligation. This allows the country to field a small standing army, yet have the ability to rapidly call up a much larger, well trained, reserve force in case of national emergency (i.e. a war).
For decades this model has worked well for Israel despite the exemptions given to certain sectors of the population such as Arabs, religious Jewish women and Haredi men who are actively engaged in yeshiva study [it should be pointed out that most religious men perform army service] and that many religious women opt to perform some sort of civilian national service.].
However, over the past couple of decades, the Israeli Army has faced a growing problem of draft dodging among citizens who would not normally be eligible for the exemption or deferment mentioned above.
A very small number of these are actual draft dodgers (in the classic Vietnam-era sense) in that they leave the country and go live with friends/relatives abroad rather than allow themselves to be drafted into the IDF. But most who wish to avoid service remain in Israel and receive exemptions based on various easily obtained disqualifications ranging from 'ideological reasons' to 'mental instability'.
In order to try to counter this trend and increase the number of draft-eligible Israelis who actually serve, the IDF has begun a program of sending officers to speak at high schools in order to explain to the students the importance of performing military service, and to encourage kids to shoulder their share of the national defense responsibility when their time comes to be inducted.
I should interject here that there are an incredible range of non-combat roles in the IDF so we're not talking about glorifying war or pressuring kids to be heroes.
Well, apparently there's a group of 'activists' calling themselves "New Profile" who have taken exception to what they deem an "inappropriate militarization of Israeli society" as well as what they call the attempted 'brainwashing' of Israeli high school students by IDF officers.
In order to protest these things, the group is planning on dressing up as IDF officers and literally 'washing' large models of brains in front of Tel Aviv's Ironi Alef High School, which reportedly has one of the highest draft-dodging rates in the country.
Here are some quotes attributed to Lotahn Raz, one of the organizers of the 'New Profile' protest (followed by my take):
"I think the fact that military officers have free access to schools exploits the status of soldiers and the status of schools."
First off, Lotahn, since the government funds the schools, it seems to me that it also has the right to establish the curriculum... including allowing occasional visits by government officials to discuss matters related to civics, law, defense and shared national responsibility. Would you object to a policeman visiting a school to discuss drunk driving or using illegal drugs? Do you object to any other aspects of the school curriculum... or just this?
"We want to reach out to students across the country and tell them that they have an opportunity to think differently. We also want to reach out to the larger Israeli public and tell them that the army should not play a part in our schools."
It seems to me that if the government can send police officers into schools to discuss law enforcement issues such as drunk driving and using drugs, it also has the right to send representatives of the military into schools to discuss matters related to the national service which all of the students are required to perform (or show cause why they should be exempt). You aren't really asking students to "think differently". You are encouraging them to break the law and avoid national service.
"The issue isn't about enlistment, but about the army putting pressure on students to enlist."
Um, yes it is about enlistment... just as an occasional visit from a policeman/woman to the classroom is intended to apply gentle pressure to the kids not to break other laws, an occasional lecture by an IDF officer about the importance of not dodging the draft seems an acceptable amount of pressure to me. I don't see the problem here.
"The army is something that they need to think about... It shouldn't be an automatic decision. But the army coming in and exploiting their position of power is brainwashing."
No, this is exactly where your logic falls apart. You don't encourage people to think about obeying the law... you encourage them to do so as a matter of reflex. Like drunk driving and using illegal drugs, draft dodging is not something that kids should be encouraged to think about... and following the law should be an automatic decision. If you have a problem with the law, by all means try to change it. That's called living in a democracy. But encouraging people to break the law is called anarchy... and blaming your potential failure on 'brainwashing' by government representatives is just wrong-headed on too many levels to count!
"The army is a hierarchical organization... It doesn't have respect for life, and they have no regard for the equality of women. It encourages following orders instead of individual thinking."
Yes, Virginia, the army is a hierarchical organization. And yes they do encourage following orders and discourage individual thinking. Otherwise in wartime people die in horrifically large numbers. To me, that demonstrates an enormous respect for life. You should know this but alas, you yourself dodged army service based on the old stand-by; 'ideological reasons'. As to the equality of women, I defy you to show me another military in the world whose female soldiers hold a larger percentage of combat, technical and intelligence roles than those serving the IDF.
"[The IDF has] brought us constant conflict with our neighbors.
No, actually our neighbors have brought us constant conflict. The IDF, on the other hand, is the only reason those conflicts haven't ended with the destruction of your country and the untimely death of little old you.
"The military's presence in schools is reminiscent of countries we'd rather not like to think of ourselves as. If there is a change in the attitude of young people and Israeli society in general about the military, maybe that's what needs to be heard."
I'm curious what you imagine would happen if your bit of 'street theater' succeeded beyond your wildest expectations and all high school graduates suddenly began opting not to serve in the IDF. Do you imagine it would be like those 1960s-era posters that said "What if they gave a war and nobody came?" Do you really think that the next time one (or more) of our neighbors 'gives a war' they won't remember to show up?
I'm asking - no begging - for someone to please tell me what I've missed here. Does this guy really have a point I'm missing?
Tuesday, March 25, 2008
It's about time!
Yesterday the Knesset finally approved a long-overdue organ donation law. The expected result of the new initiative is an increase in available of organs for transplantation and a decrease in Israelis seeking transplants abroad on the black market.
In addition, since the new law will establish a steering committee that is responsible for training and approving doctors qualified to declare brain death, it is expected that many Israelis who were previously hesitant will now be more willing to sign organ donor cards. This is because a doctor's potential eagerness to harvest viable organs will now be checked by an iron-clad, even cumbersome, dual approval procedure for determining that a patient is truly dead by the strictest medical and halachic (Jewish law) criteria before they pull the plug.
However, I have to admit that stories like this don't exactly serve to calm people's fears.
For the record, if (G-d forbid) I seem to have checked out with no forwarding address, and you are preparing to harvest my organs, please stick me with something sharp other than a scalpel... like, say, a pocket knife under my fingernails or on the sole of my foot... before carving the turkey.
I'm just sayin'...
Monday, March 24, 2008
You'd think he'd remember!
There's an old theater joke that goes like this:
An out-of-work actor gets a call from his agent one day.
"I got you a job. It's a one-liner."
"That's okay!" replies the actor, "I've been out of work for so long I'll take anything. What's the line?"
"Hark, I hear the cannons roar," says the agent.
"I love it!" says the actor. "When's the audition?"
"Wednesday," says the agent.
Wednesday comes and the actor arrives at the audition. He marches on stage and shouts, "Hark, I hear the cannons roar!"
"Brilliant!" says the director, "you've got the job! The first show is at 9 o'clock, Saturday night."
The actor is so excited that he goes on a major bender. He wakes up 8:30 Saturday evening and runs to the theater, continually repeating his line, "Hark, I hear the cannons roar! Hark, I hear the cannons roar!" He arrives and is stopped by the bouncer.
"Who the heck are you?"
"I'm Hark, I hear the cannons roar" says the actor.
"You're Hark, I hear the cannons roar?" says the bouncer. "You're late! Get up to makeup right now!"
So, the actor runs up to makeup.
"Who the heck are you?" asks the makeup girl.
"I'm Hark, I hear the cannons roar!" he says.
"You're late! Sit down." So she applies the makeup. "Now, quick, get down to the stage, it's almost time to say your line!"
So he dashes down to the stage.
"Who the heck are you?" asks the stage manager.
"I'm Hark, I hear the cannons roar!" he replies.
"Oh, thank God! Just in time! Now get out there, the curtains are about to go up!"
So, the actor runs onto the stage. The curtains rise and he sees that the house is full. Suddenly, there is an almighty bang behind him, and the bewildered actor shouts,
"What the f#%k wasTHAT?!"
For the past month the kids in Yonah's Gan have been doing almost nothing else but learning about Purim. They've been learning Purim songs... drawing Purim pictures... making Purim masks... dressing up in Purim costumes (a different one every day)... and eating Purim cookies (Hamentashen/ Oznei Haman). They've been catechized on the various characters found in the Megillah and taught to use the gragger/ra'ashan (noisemaker) whenever the villain Haman's name is mentioned.
So naturally on Purim, at the first mention of Haman's name, when everyone in the crowded synagogue began simultaneously yelling and making noise to blot out the villain's name, a very startled Yonah jumped about two vertical feet off of his seat, burst into tears and promptly burrowed deep into my lap screaming a kiddie version of "What the f#%k wasTHAT?!"
And yes, the exact same thing happened last year too.
Sunday, March 23, 2008
Post Purim Post
It seems like everyone else is doing it, so here's the treppenwitz post-Purim wrap-up:
1. Every Purim I go over to my friend Ben Chorin's house at midnight for his traditional 'Rebbishe Tish'.
For those who weren't raised around Hassidim, 'Tish' means table... but in this context it means a semi-formal gathering where a hassidic rebbe hosts his adherents at a long table and offers them deep words of enlightenment and delicious morsels of enheavyment.
Every Purim, Ben presides over his tish wearing a fur streimel and long black coat and holds forth to a packed room of inebriated friends on a wide range of religious and political topics... some of them even coherently. One of the much-anticipated events at the tish are the numerous phone calls Ben makes (on speaker-phone) to highly placed members of government and industry (both here and in the US). Nobody knows how he manages to get the home and cell phone numbers of world leaders and VIPs from the news... but he has yet to disappoint. There may still be repercussions from some of this year's calls so I won't mention the names. Yet.
All in all attending the tish is a wonderful experience, but not without some small logistical problems that have tripped me up in years past. For instance, since the tish only gets underway after midnight, I tend to get home in the wee hours of the morning, three sheets to the wind, and end up going to sleep in my clothes.
This year I solved this problem by showing up at the tish in my pajamas and bathrobe. Not only did this allow me the rare luxury of sleeping in proper attire for the first Purim in recent memory... but I was so delighted with the unaccustomed comfort that I opted to attend synagogue in the morning still wearing my pajamas. I think this may become a treppenwitz Purim tradition.
2. Purim day brought with it such beautiful spring weather that Zahava and I couldn't bear the idea of keeping the family inside for the traditional meal. So after the kids had made their rounds delivering Mishloach Manot (gift baskets of food) to our friends, we piled everyone into the car and drove over to a National Park (Begin Park) not far from where we live and had a sumptuous picnic lunch in a sun-dappled forest.
While we were there I got a phone call from Jameel (of the Muqata) asking where I was. It turned out he was standing outside our front door with a gift basket of - what else? - waffles! I explained that we were only 15 minutes away and even offered to give him directions to where we were... but he still had miles to go - and waffles to deliver - before he slept (in other words, he crapped out on us).
For the record, we shared Jameel's waffles on Shabbat morning... and even cold they were among the best damned waffles I've ever had in my life. Joe settler was apparently also on Jameel's list, so since I didn't get a chance to photograph the waffles, here are a couple of pictures I lifted from his site:
Jameel delivering waffles:
The (now) famous waffle Mishloach Manot:
I hope everyone who celebrated the holiday had as much fun as we did.
Head over to Jack's place...
... because the 'Purim Is Over' edition of Haveil Havalim is up.
For those new to the J-Blogosphere, Haveil Havalim (vanity of vanities) is the Jewish & Israeli blog carnival. It's kind of a tradition with us... like drinking syrupy-sweet wine, never paying retail and controlling the banks and media.
I'll have my own post-Purim post up here later today, so be sure to stop back.
Thursday, March 20, 2008
I'm all about the rules
Today, Ta'anit Esther (the fast of Esther) is what is known in Jewish circles as a 'minor' fast day. That means instead of fasting from sunset until sundown the next day like we do on Yom Kippur or Tisha B'Av, the fast lasts only from sunrise until sunset. No big deal.
My usual routine on minor fast days is to set my alarm for 30 or 45 minutes before the fast starts so that I can get up and have a cup of coffee before sunrise.
This morning my alarm went off at the usual time... I rolled over and dashed off a cringe-worthy blog post... immediately deleted it out of disgust... and went upstairs to wake up the kids.
The first indication that things were not going well were the 4 puddles of dog vomit on the living-room floor. Apparently Jordan had consumed too much of one of those raw-hide bones and it had made her sick.
Oh, did I mention that Zahava doesn't do vomit?
After I'd cleaned up the mess I called up to the kids and then went into the kitchen to begin the morning routine. I was just starting to grind the coffee when Zahava come into the kitchen and casually asked, "Aren't you fasting today?"
How could I have been so stupid??? Now instead of a typical work day I'm faced with an endless span of time during which I will have a headache so bad that the sound of my eyes blinking will be enough to reduce me to tears.
Oh, and please... I'm begging you... no helpful caffeine suppository comments. I'm serious. I let you lot gang up on me once in this post and it left me emotionally scarred. I'm fragile as it is, but the idea of getting my Java fix by putting something up my... gah! I can't even type it!!!
No thank you! My caffeine ingestion is a clearly marked one-way street... and in this respect, I'm all about the rules!
* Klong is defined as 'the sudden rush of sh*t to the heart'.
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
The day before the day before the day
[scroll down for photos]
Today is an auspicious day for many Israeli school children (and their parents). It is the day before the day before the festive Jewish holiday of Purim!
If you aren't 'in the know' this pre-preamble to our annual costume holiday (think Halloween, but with kids and parents giving away treats instead of asking for them), may sound a bit strange, but bear with me while I explain.
Purim starts this Thursday evening and continues through Friday evening (except in Jerusalem and other ancient walled cities). The holiday is marked by four main elements; reading the 'Megilla' (a scroll containing the entire book of Esther) in synagogue, giving gifts to the poor, sending food baskets to friends and eating a festive meal. Of course, costumes are a big part of the fun.
Needless to say the kids are off from school on Purim.
The day before Purim is a fast day (Ta'anit Esther) which commemorates the three days of fasting from the Purim story, so although the kids are in school it is not really a good day for dressing up in costumes (this may be different in more secular communities where the fast may not be widely observed).
Which brings us to the day before the day before Purim... which is today. Clear enough?
Today is the day that a lot of the kids show off their Purim costumes to their friends and teachers in school. In our town the kids leave school for an hour or so in the morning for a Purim costume parade on the town's main street. I had to go to work, but Zahava was out with the camera as they parade passed our house:
Before our kids left for school I managed to take a few pictures of them in their costumes.
Here's a picture of Yonah in his Harry Potter get-up:
Next is Gilad dressed as a basketball player (Ariella did his hair):
Of course, Ariella made a splash in her new Saree (complete with jeweled bindi between her eyes):
And lastly, a picture of the whole gang before they went happily off to school:
In case you were wondering, none of us had any idea how to put on a Saree, so I went onto the Web and found several helpful video demonstrations. There are apparently a bunch of different ways to wear a Saree so I picked what I considered to be the easiest (and funniest). It is by a young Indian girl who posted her tutorial - along with a funny impersonation of her auntie - on YouTube:
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
"Sometimes people need to move"
The title of this post is a statement made by US Ambassador to Israel Richard H. Jones yesterday after touring several overcrowded Jerusalem neighborhoods. I pulled it from a Jerusalem Post article infuriatingly entitled, "US concerned over building in Jerusalem".
Although not specifically stated in the article, such a tour should have caused any reasonably intelligent observer to reach the conclusion that 'natural growth' in and around Israel's capitol city is an internal issue and not something open to international debate. Yet the conclusion that the U.S. Ambassador reached was exactly the opposite. He decided that rather than allow natural urban sprawl, such as surrounds nearly every major city in the world, Israel must instead relocate its growing population to unspecified remote locales.
Well I have a few news flashes for His Excellency, Mr. Jones:
We've done enough moving thankyouverymuch. We've spent the last two millenia moving from one place to another, all the time trying not to give offense to our hosts and neighbors. Yet despite being an industrious, peaceful people that has enriched our hosts far beyond all proportion to our modest numbers, we've been systematically victimized, caged, enslaved, slaughtered, disenfranchised, outlawed and expelled more than any single people in recorded history. And ... though we are (very) occasionally tolerated for short periods of time by progressive people like yourself... these periods of relative quiet are inevitably followed by more victimization.
Lather rinse repeat.
So guess what... now that we've finally managed to regain sovereignty over the only patch of land to which even your own family Bible gives us undisputed ownership, we're done moving. Go sell your plan elsewhere.
To the east of us is a spanking new country called Jordan that was created out of whole cloth by the British Mandatory power (at our expense). Not only is more than three-quarters of that country's population ethnically 'Palestinian', but there are huge, unused tracts of land east of the Jordan river that nobody is even looking at, much less fighting over. If you feel the burning need to find some suitable contiguous land to offer the poor Palestinians, why not start there?
But wait... I'm not done yet, there's more!
To the west of us is a vast empty chunk of land called the Sinai peninsula that is nominally administered by Egypt, but is for all intents and purposes abandoned. While the interior of Sinai is largely un-arable desert, the long fertile Mediterranean coastline, up to and including the Gaza strip, is nearly unparalleled in potential to provide a crowded, downtrodden people with a spacious (and contiguous) future paradise. Why not try that?
Why are you demanding that Israel eviscerate herself to make room in her soft underbelly for a Palestinian state that will have no natural resources, little potential for development and above all, no chance for contiguity (at least so long as Israel remains stubbornly extant)?
Could it be because you know perfectly well that Jordan and Egypt won't consider having a real or defacto Palestinian terror state stirring up discord and unrest in their midst? Could it be that it is much easier to bully little Israel into slitting open its belly and allowing an openly antagonistic and parasitic entity to metastasize inside her than to ask Jordan or Egypt to tolerate a restive and radical Palestinian entity on their flank?
Is Bush's presidential legacy so all-encompassing important to you and the US State Department that you would rather work to establish a rudderless Palestinian terror state that will have one hand on the sword and the other on Israel's Aorta, rather than force the countries who are severally and collectively responsible for causing and perpetuating the 'Palestinian refugee problem' to clean up their own mess?
For you as an American, the idea of moving has positive connotations which are enshrined in the concept of 'Manifest Destiny'. This concept gave your intrepid (and mobile) fore-bearers the 'right' to all of north America despite the niggling issue of those Mexicans and Native Americans who were inconveniently 'squatting' there between the U.S.'s burgeoning population and the great Pacific Ocean. Even today, it is considered a foolish American who doesn't flee his neighborhood at the first sign of trouble, or move his/her family across the country at the drop of an opportunity.
The very fact of your easy mobility seems to be a tremendous source of pride to most Americans, so you can't imagine why these stubborn Jews (or Native Americans, for that matter) would show some small preference for one particular rocky plot of land over another. 'What's the big deal?' you seem to be asking us. You've likely moved your family a dozen times for diplomatic postings around the world! So you're probably wondering why it's so hard for these stubborn Israelis to move 15 miles this way or 20 miles that way in the name of peace?'
The answer to that is that we no longer have to. We are done moving at other people's whims. Our only reason for existence in this world is the stony soil on which we now stand. Zionism, a word that is considered to be a curse pretty much everywhere except within our borders, is the simple belief that after two thousand years of exile... after remaining faithful to our dream of one day returning... that this is the only place that is rightfully ours. The moment we entertain an alternative to our historic homeland our very right to exist becomes open to debate.
It may seem to you that after two thousand years of diligent practice, we Jews are a mobile, malleable entity whose primary skill-set consists of being able to pack a bag quickly and be ready to move on a moment's notice. But I think you underestimate the strength of our historical connection to this land we were forced to leave at the point of a sword. I think you have mistaken our stated (and demonstrated) goal to live in peace with our neighbors for a willingness to hand our neighbors the keys to our father's house.
Israel is routinely bludgeoned with a quote from the 'Universal Declaration of Human Rights' that states: "Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country". This simple statement is used by most to champion the 'Palestinian refugees' right of return.
However nobody, least of all our good friend the United States, seems willing to acknowledge that the provenance of the Jew's right of return to his own country is far older, and better documented, than any other in history. Our origin in this land is not a matter of faith. It is indisputably recorded on the very stones beneath our feet... in the Bible that sits on your bookshelf... and even in the Koran! The Jewish people's right of return to the land of Israel trumps the relatively modern claims made by this so-called Palestinian people that nobody ever heard of before the second half of the 20th century and whose name you will not find carved on a single stone!
Therefore, Mr. Jones, I must respectfully disagree with you. Sometimes people don't have to move. Sometimes we need to stay exactly where we are... in the only place on earth that is rightfully and legally ours.
Monday, March 17, 2008
Free advice (and worth every cent)
Every so often a new (or would-be) blogger emails me to ask for advice about blogging. On the one hand I find this flattering... since by simply keeping my shop open this long I have magically become one of the 'elder statesmen' of the blogosphere.
But on the other hand, I find it kind of funny since ove rthe past 4+ years I've gone against almost every bit of advice I tend to give others.
Anyway, below is a post I wrote about a year after starting up treppenwitz. Although I'm sure you probably have many pearls of wisdom to add from your own experience, I find that this is what I tend to tell newbies to read before taking up blogging (you'll have a chance to toss in your two cents at the end if you're so inclined):
Success: Define it before you go looking for it!
I should begin by saying that I already considered treppenwitz a success before I even published my first entry. Some people measure success in numbers... of hits... of comments... or of visitors. I measured my initial success by the tingly, mildly buzzed sensation I got when I was writing down something that was important to me. I absolutely loved the feverish, almost possessed way the writing made me feel. It's a good thing too, because even before I had any readers to speak of, I suddenly had a 'born on' date stamped on every entry... a date that created a constant demand (at least in my mind) for fresh material.
In other words... if you are going to set up a blog, you'd better like the subject matter... and you'd better enjoy the idea of feeding it, because it is always going to be hungry. The huge number of abandoned blogs floating around the blogosphere with only a handful of half-hearted entries is a pretty good indication of how many people want to adopt a virtual puppy, kitten or bunny... but had no desire to own and care for a full grown virtual dog, cat or rabbit.
The Child That Never Grows Up
Keeping up a blog is like having a 'special needs' child. It is never going to be completely self-sufficient and it will make demands on your time and attention that you can't even begin to imagine. This isn't to say that your efforts won't be richly rewarded... but the reward isn't always what you expected it would be.
This goes back to the issue of care-and-feeding I mentioned earlier. If you manage to attract a regular readership, you're bound to find that even the perception of reader demand takes a bit of the fun out of blogging. Doing something when you feel like it is fun. Doing something out of a sense obligation or because someone else is waiting for you to do it, can sometimes feel suspiciously like a job.
If you don't like the idea of posting frequent blog entries that start with "Sorry I haven't had much to say lately"... imagine how much your readers will enjoy it!
Most of the 'successful' bloggers I have spoken to about this seem to have struck a balance between selfish indulgence and fulfilling reader's expectations.
Remember back in the '90s when everybody thought that all you needed to do in order to become a gazillionaire was to set up a web site and wait for the venture capital firms to start throwing money at your feet? OK, maybe that's a bad example since during the first couple of years of the 'dot com' revolution making money was almost that simple.
My point is that the bubble eventually burst on that kind of thinking when people finally started to wake up to the fact that you had to have something of value to offer or nobody was going to visit your little plot of online real estate.
Blogging is no different.
What you do on your blog has to be of value... at least to you. The world is big and diverse enough that you are likely to find quite a few people who also find value in what you are publishing. But first and foremost your blog has to mean something to you in order to have any chance of success or longevity.
Even Attention-Whores Should Consider Anonymity
This part of our little lesson deals with how much (if any) personal information to reveal... and why it could be hazardous to your job and home-life to to assume 'nobody will ever find out'.
I've mentioned before that if I had thought things through beforehand, I would probably have opted to remain anonymous here. Even if one doesn't make a practice of blogging about, or from, work (an absolute no-no), there is a growing tendency for employers to consider all of your thoughts to be 'company property'. Moreover, it is almost inevitable that at some point you will succumb to the temptation to say something unflattering about your workplace, your boss or one of your coworkers on your blog... and search engines are much too good these days to hope that a passing remark will go unnoticed.
Similar issues come up with friends and family who you might want to roast when you're having a particularly bad day. The only difference between writing about your work and home life is that if you blog about your friends and family you might end up losing a friend or even your spouse instead of just your job!
I can't over-emphasize the importance of being nice to people online. This sounds easy but it is often quite difficult. The online world is full of 'tards and trolls. Most of them are trying to provoke confrontations that they wouldn't dare attempt in real life. Be nice if you can... ignore them if you can't.
Being nice to other bloggers is a simple way to get your first few readers. Not surprisingly, some of the most voracious readers of blogs are bloggers. If you find a few blogs that interest you and occasionally leave a cogent comment, there is a a good chance that the blogger or some of his/her readers may wander over to your site to see who you are.
Shamelessly plugging your blog in someone else's comments section or begging other bloggers for reciprocal linking is not the way to endear yourself to anyone. You'll most likely just come off as sounding needy. The same can be said for sending impersonal, cut & paste email requests for linkage to every blogger with a visible e-mail address.
You also probably don't want to go the route of leaving deliberately provocative / inflammatory comments around the blogosphere in hopes of drawing attention to yourself and your site. This kind of 'Jerry Springer' approach to blogging will get you noticed... but will probably not get you the kind of attention or reputation your were hoping for.
Most bloggers I know place almost as much value on comments/feedback as they do on traffic in terms of measuring their 'success'. Both traffic and number of comments can be helpful tools... but they are not always reliable indicators of success or failure.
For instance, you might post 20 straight entries about things that are deeply meaningful to you without garnering any significant traffic or comments... yet when you dash off a mindless post about something salacious or controversial you are suddenly flooded with both. The combination of search engines surfers looking for specific terms and certain topics that will always garner an eager audience has tempted many a blogger to abandon their original format and pander to the basest interests of the mob.
I would strongly discourage anyone from going down that road.
Just as the class clown and the class slut know the most expedient way to attract attention to themselves... I suspect that neither one ends up entirely pleased with the long-term quality of the attention they've attracted to themselves.
If you find that you have to frequently do the blogging equivalent of 'putting out' or taking a pie in the face to get your hit counter or comment indicator to jump... I doubt you'll be very anxious to sit down at the keyboard and write.
Being nice to people who comment on your blog (if you decide to allow comments) is also quite important. If you habitually argue with people in your comments section or ignore them altogether... chances are they will go somewhere more welcoming.
Burn Out or Fade Away?
Another personal choice that every blogger/journaler makes is how frequently to post. Besides the issue of setting expectations (i.e. how often your readers will expect to see new material on your site), there is the issue of setting a pace that can be sustained for an indefinite period of time.
Sometimes the pace will be dictated by your subject matter. For instance, if you want to set up a 'meteorological blog' (meaning you'll be writing about the weather conditions in your area), you aren't likely to develop much of a steady readership if you only update once a month. By the same token, if you are a Civil War buff and you want to blog about your hobby, you will probably burn out rather quickly if you attempt to post fresh entries once or twice a day.
Aside from which topic(s) you chose to write about, there is the more basic issue of how much time and energy you have to devote to your blog.
I follow a few blogs that are updated several times a day. I honestly wonder how these bloggers manage to maintain any sort of gainful employment or personal life with the kind of frenetic blogging pace they maintain. There are other bloggers I read who update their sites only once or twice a month (if that). I can't imagine how these bloggers stay engaged and sustain any kind of interest in their writing.
However, with both of these examples, it doesn't matter whether I understand or approve of their pace... it is only important that they have found a pace that is comfortable and works for them.
And now you tell me how I'm dead wrong...
Well, maybe not in so many words, but one of the wonderful things about blogging is that everyone with a computer and an Internet account is a potential dissenting opinion! I'm sure many of you have your own ideas and advice to offer on the subject... so feel free.
The comment board is open.
[Hat tip to a new blogger named Hadassah for inspiring this re-run]
Sunday, March 16, 2008
As if I needed a reason to bail
A while back I wrote a post about how I viewed Facebook as a potential source of time-wastage that I could really do without. I'd signed up on a lark and kept the account active mostly to keep track of my teen-aged daughter's on-line activities (she's aware of this).
But the recent decision by Facebook to re-designate Israeli towns and villages (i.e. settlements) beyond the green-line as residing in the as-yet-to-be-established country of 'Palestine' was pretty much the last nail in the coffin for me.
But as if to add insult to injury, I noticed that my town (one of the largest in the 'west bank') has been deleted altogether! I sent a short note of protest to Facebook and, not surprisingly, haven't gotten a response.
So that's it for me Facebook. I watched as you refused to lift a finger to block Facebook groups calling for the elimination of Israel, and allowed new groups to prosper that openly celebrated the murder of Israeli children. You've obviously thrown in your lot with the Israel bashers and anti-Semites (I'm sure you'll have plenty to talk about), so I'm throwing my lot elsewhere.
I strongly encourage anyone with a sense of decency and fairness to cancel their Facebook accounts and let them know why you are doing it. This isn't 1937 and you aren't stranded in Berlin with six kids and a baby grand piano. There are plenty of Social Networking sites out there to choose from. Heck there are actual real-live people out there... and sunshine. Turn off the computer and go outside!
Don't thank me... I'm a giver.
Friday, March 14, 2008
Alan Dershowitz at his best
Shortly after I graduated from University I somehow wrangled an hour interview with Alan Dershowitz for an article I was writing. The meeting was arranged to take place at his apartment in Manhattan, and I prepared what I figured to be about an hour and a half worth of questions just in case I was given a little extra time.
In retrospect, I should have been prepared for the incredibly agile mind I was about to encounter and for what short work he would make of my questions, because within 20 minutes he had answered every last one of them in perfectly crafted paragraphs.
When he'd finished answering the last question he seemed to sense that I was out of ammo so he politely offered me a cold drink to help cover the lapse.
While he puttered around in the kitchen I desperately cast about for something - anything - intelligent to ask the man to fill up a respectable amount of the remaining time alloted to me. But the more I tried to think the less coherent my thinking became. He had done such a seamless job of dealing with my questions that I could not think of a single follow-up to ask.
When he came back into the room carrying two sweating glasses of water I glanced up at his boyish face and a question suddenly occurred to me:
"You know", I began. "You were the youngest full professor of Law in the history of Harvard. You've amassed an incredible record and reputation within the law community... but it occurs to me that you are still a relatively young man."
I was pleased to see in his eyes that he wasn't sure where I was going with this... so I pressed on.
"What I'm trying to say", I continued, "is that when an attorney has achieved what most would consider a respectable lifetime's worth of successes in less than half a lifetime... what does he shoot for next? Where do you go from here? Would you want to be a judge?"
He actually blanched when he heard the question and put his glass down on the coffee table before responding
"Let me ask you something", he began... clearly weighing his words. "Are you a baseball fan?"
When I nodded he continued, "Well then, if you had an hour to kill with Micky Mantle, would you ask him if he wanted to be an umpire?"
I must have looked crestfallen, because he immediately smiled and changed the topic to his recent (at the time) book; 'Chutzpah'. He talked easily about many of his experiences that had inspired the book... and having noted the kippah on my head, he even touched on his views on Jewish law and justice.
When the hour was up he graciously inscribed a copy of the book we'd been discussing, handed it to me and walked me outside before saying a cordial good-bye.
On the subway ride back to my apartment I couldn't shake the sense that I had just encountered one of the most active and able minds I was ever likely to meet in my life. Having seen that imposing intellect at work in the living room, I could well imagine how terrifying it would be to face it in the courtroom.
Over the years I have watched with interest as Mr. Dershowitz has weighed in on Israel. I haven't agreed with everything he's said or written. For instance I think he was dead wrong to praise Aaron Barak, former president of the Israeli Supreme Court as a great jurist, and even more off base to compliment Israel's terribly flawed legal system.
However he has been a staunch defender of Israel's right to self defense and secure borders, and has never hesitated to punch holes in the fallacious arguments with which the international community delights in skewering the Jewish State. Yet the one thing he doesn't seem to do often enough is, ironically, the kind of thing you would expect from a brilliant attorney; cite the relevant law.
It is one thing to point out the hypocrisy and flaws in someone else's position... but quite another to point out the case law that demonstrates the legality of one's own position.
So you can imagine I nearly jumped for joy when I read his latest piece in FrontPage Magazine that began with a clear citation of the relevant laws under which Israel has been acting. I highly recommend that you go and read every last word. It isn't that he lays out what Israel should do (he doesn't), but rather that he defines the legal status of being under military attack... and then puts the burden of proof squarely on Israel's detractors to prove that Israel's responses have been disproportionate and illegal under those laws.
Reading the article, I was transported back to that long-ago subway ride home from Alan Dershowitz's apartment, and for the second time in my life felt deep relief that such a great mind is on our side and not sitting at the opposing counsel's table.
Thursday, March 13, 2008
Every young child has a unique way of expressing him/herself. But having been born into a dual-language environment, Yonah seems to have more than a few quirky expressions that are so uniquely 'him' that it pains me to correct him.
Here are a few examples (along with helpful translations):
"I want to talk into your ear" = I want to tell you a secret.
"Can I snuggle you?" = I'm lonely in my bed so I want to invade yours.
"My nose doesn't work" = I can't remember the word 'stuffed' and am several years away from knowing 'congested'... so blow my nose already (by the time he says this he usually has a nice pendulum of phlegm swinging from each nostril)!
"Can you 'shpoch' [Heb: spill] some milk on my cheerios?" = This is what I want you to do but I'm so hungry I can't be bothered to think of the correct English word.
"Where's my 'weeee-oooooh'?" = I can't find my toy ambulance/police car/fire truck, etc. (A cartoon he once saw had a siren that sounded like that, so now Yonah describes all siren-ed things with the onomatopoeic label; 'weeee-ooooohs').
"Look at me!" = I don't believe you when you say you're really paying attention to what I'm saying so I need your eyes pointed at mine!
"I hug you?" (not to be confused with 'I kiss you') = I'm in big trouble and want to get back into your good graces.
"Goodbye-I-love-you-have-a-nice-day" = Yonah's standard phone sign off... expressed as one long run-on word, followed immediately by him pressing the 'off' button.
Well, that's it for now... goodbye-I-love-you-have-a-nice-day! [~click~]
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
For those who are loathe to open email from unrecognized senders, but hate the idea of deleting something that might be legit, here is a simple rule you may find useful:
Treppenwitz's Q-Tip: The presence of a 'Q', 'X' or 'Z' in an unrecognized name/email address raises the likelihood that it is spam. The presence of two of those letters in the name/email address significantly increases the probability that it is unsolicited junk... and the presence of all three in the same unrecognized name/email address provides near-certainty of a spurious missive... delete it immediately.
[Note: According to the Oxford English Dictionary, 'Z', X' and 'Q' are the among the least frequently used letters in the English language (Scrabble enthusiasts probably already knew this). 'J' and 'K' are also listed as being very infrequently used, but I didn't include them in my rule since it is quite common to find them in given names (e.g. Kate, Kevin, Kim, Jim, James, Jack, Janet, etc.).]
Don't thank me... I'm a giver.
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
A single word that denies us our very right to live
Within hours of the massacre at Merkaz HaRav in Jerusalem I noticed more than a few lefty blogs here and abroad popping up with their 'spin'.
You're probably asking yourself, 'How do you spin the pre-meditated slaughter of innocent students in the library of their school?' Well the answer is simple; you take away the presumption of innocence. Once you've done that, anything is plausible.
Here's a perfect example of the kind of people who are out there flacking for our 'peace partners':
March 08, 2008
There can be no justification for the murder of eight Israeli students, studying in the library of their yeshiva.
But an explanation of why now, and why students at a particular yeshiva were selected as targets, could help us understand the seemingly never ending cycle of death in the Middle East.
Sadly, the American press is far too intimated to give us the full story.
You have to go to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz for the first blunt assessment of the tragedy, which they classified as "revenge."
"The Israel Defense Forces' attacks in Gaza, which caused the death of many civilians, provided the legitimacy for yesterday's brutal attack."
Earlier in the week, the I.D.F. had attacked a number of targets in Gaza, murdering a minimum of 19 Palestinian civilians (four of whom were children.) in one operation alone.
The Israeli students killed were studying at a particularly militaristic yeshiva - one that sought to provide a religious justification for the illegal occupation of territories in the West Bank. As the N.Y.Times wrote:
The yeshiva is famous, a symbol of the national religious strain of Judaism that provides the backbone of the settler movement.
It is closely linked with both "Religious Zionism" and Gush Emunim.
In fact at least four of the young students killed came from settlements in the West Bank. One was from Shiloh, in the West Bank, while another was from Kochav Hasahar, a settlement even Israel recognizes as illegal. As the BBC has reported, "the international community regards all settlements in...the West Bank... as illegal under international law." Another of those killed was from Elkana, a town whose enlargement was of concern to the Bush Administration:
White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the US "will be seeking clarification from the government of Israel" over the plan for new homes in Elkana.
"Israel should not be expanding settlements," he said.
A fourth was from the illegal town Neveh Daniel, an outpost from which Israeli settlers "severely" beat a 65 year old Palestinian farmer back in 2005.
The implication left by reporting in our press was that a random act of murder occurred in a Jerusalem school last week. The truth is more complicated.
When people of good faith such as Kofi Annan and Jimmy Carter are mocked by the likes of a Marty Peretz and a Fausta for planning a trip to the region in search for peace, the lives of more Israeli and Palestinian children are endangered. But then one of the tragedies of the Middle East is how far Israel's "supporters" are willing to go to undermine peace.
This was by no means the worst of the lot... Believe me. But I wanted to quote this here because it contains a common thread that you'll see whenever innocent Israeli civilians are deliberately targeted. That common thread is some variation on; "There is no excuse for the killing of innocent civilians, but..."
With that single word - 'but' - the ardent supporters of our enemies begin the evil process of stripping the victims of their presumed innocence ... and us of our very right to live.
Monday, March 10, 2008
Ari made a funny
I don't know if she heard it somewhere or if she came up with it herself... but after a long walking tour with my parents yesterday Ariella ploppeed herself down in a chair and exclaimed:
"I'm so bushed I can't pronounce 'nuclear'!"
I'm still giggling.
When words of consolation fall on deaf ears
It merited a modest mention in the Israeli media, and went unmentioned outside our borders... an IDF soldier in the Givati Brigade, 20 year old Staff Sgt. Liran Banai (Z"L), died Sunday morning of wounds he sustained during a routine patrol along the Gaza border last week.
He and his comrades had been driving along the Israeli side of the border near Kibbutz Eyn HaShloshah when a bomb was detonated directly under their vehicle. As rescue workers arrived at the scene, the Palestinians across the border sprung a well planned ambush of sniper fire and mortars. It was only at the risk of many lives that the dead and wounded were able to be evacuated from the scene.
The soldier who had been in the front seat beside Liran was killed instantly, and the soldiers in the rear sustained relatively light injuries. But although Liran lost both of his legs in the blast, the doctor's kept him alive long after they probably would have given up on another patient. In fact, by all rights, Liran probably shouldn't have been allowed to serve in a combat unit. But I'll get to the reason for that in a moment.
Now, I'm no stranger to terrible funerals. On Friday Zahava and I attended the incredibly difficult funeral of a 16 year old boy who was cut down at Merkaz HaRav. We stood just a few feet from the small, tallit-wrapped body as the murdered boy's family poured out their grief at his loss... and expressed heartfelt gratitude for the gift of those 16 years they'd been allowed to share with him. But for all their eloquence, and having received the small relief of saying a proper good-bye, each of those who got up to speak knew that their parting words were, quite literally, falling on deaf ears.
However, in the case of Liran Banai, the parent's he left behind could not eulogize him in a way that would be easily understood, nor easily share their pain with their friends and family. They couldn't fully appreciate the words of comfort offered by Liran's sister (also a soldier) or by those who gathered to help them bury their only son.
[Update: Contrary to some news reports a helpful commenter has informed me that Liran is survived by a younger brother]
You see, Liran's parents, Guy and Gila Banai are both deaf mutes whose primary conduits to the world were their son Liran and his surviving sister.
[Update: While most news reports I read yesterday indicated that Liran's parents could neither hear nor speak, at least one commenter has seen an interview where his father was able to speak.]
While the unimaginable pain of losing a child can sometimes, in some small way, be made manageable through the eloquent expression of anguish... and the salve of neighborly compassion can perhaps help keep the very worst of the grief at bay... Liran Banai's parents remain isolated in a world of silent, perpetual grief. I don't know how this couple's only son was allowed to be placed in harm's way.
May they somehow be comforted among the mourners for Zion and Jerusalem.
[Update: I have been informed that 'Deaf Mute' is considered derogatory. I have to admit I don't keep up with all the latest terminology in this field, but I used the exact phrasology found in at least one of the news reports. I would appreciate it if someone would let me know the more PC way to describe someone who can neither hear nor speak.
One last thought. Yes, the parent's condition does matter to the depth of this tragedy. It may be un-PC to say so, but nothing anyone can tell me will convince me otherwise. ]
Sunday, March 09, 2008
Treppenwitz in Pajamas
I have a piece up on Pajamas media today about the British NGO report that, ironically, suggests a conclusion that is more pro-Israel than they probably intended.