Wednesday, April 30, 2008
I can't remember the last time I turned off my cell phone. Seriously... I mean, who turns off their cell phones anymore? With 'silent' and 'vibrate' settings for meetings and such there's really no need.
Or so I thought.
I was trying to make a call yesterday when my cell phone suddenly started acting a little hinky... you know, giving me error messages and saying that it didn't recognize the network. So I figured, what the heck... It's not much different from a computer... I'll just reboot the damned thing.
I turned off the phone, took out the battery, reseated the SIM card and put it all together again before pressing the ON button.
When it had cycled through the start-up process and played the catchy little Nokia theme song, a brief message flashed on the screen:
I love you soooo much Abba!!!
Love Ariella <3
Apparently, some time during the past year my daughter had surreptitiously changed my phone's programmable 'Welcome Note' to something a bit more personal. Her message was like a little 'love bomb'... with a delayed fuse... waiting to go off in my heart whenever I would restart my phone.
I think tonight when everyone is asleep, I'll sneak upstairs and plant a little love bomb of my own on Ariella's and Gilad's cell phones. It may be months before the bombs go off... but considering the warm 'after-shocks' that are still going off in my heart... it's certainly worth the wait.
[Note: Most cell phones allow you to program a 'Welcome Note' (this is usually found in the 'Settings'/'Phone Settings' menu). My guess is that this feature was designed so people could program in their names and addresses in case the phone is lost. But I know from experience that whenever I've found a lost cell phone I simply scroll through the address book for listings such as 'Home' or 'Mom' or 'Dad' in order to contact the owner. So why not use this little feature to plant a little 'love bomb' in someone's phone. Trust me... it'll make their week.]
Tuesday, April 29, 2008
The Sandman sends pictures
Yesterday I posted some of our vacation pics and alluded to the fact that on one of the days we were privileged to tour a Nabatean ruin in the Negev with none other than the Sandman and his family.
Apparently in addition to passing some mean gas (he's an anesthesiologist... what did you think I meant?!) the Sandman is also an accomplished photographer. Here are some shots he took:
First is a picture of us kicking back while the Belly dancer performs:
Here are Ari and Gili enjoying some fresh squeezed grapefruit juice:
And just to prove that it wasn't only the men who were leering at the belly dancer, here is proof that there were a few appreciative women in the audience:
Apparently, the Sandman is a giver too! Who knew? :-)
Ex-President for Sale
[This has made the rounds on the net over the past few weeks but it is so incredibly important and well written that I wanted to share it here]
Ex-President For Sale, by Alan M. Dershowitz
Jimmy Carter is making more money selling integrity than peanuts. I have known Jimmy Carter for more than 30 years. I first met him in the spring of 1976 when, as a relatively unknown candidate for president, he sent me a handwritten letter asking for my help in his campaign on issues of crime and justice.
I had just published an article in The New York Times Magazine on sentencing reform, and he expressed interest in my ideas and asked me to come up with additional ones for his campaign.
Shortly thereafter, my former student Stuart Eisenstadt, brought Carter to Harvard to meet with some faculty members, me among them. I immediately liked Jimmy Carter and saw him as a man of integrity and principle. I signed on to his campaign and worked very hard for his election.
When Newsweek magazine asked his campaign for the names of people on whom Carter relied for advice, my name was among those given out. I continued to work for Carter over the years, most recently I met him in Jerusalem a year ago, and we briefly discussed the Mid-East.
Though I disagreed with some of his points, I continued to believe that the was making them out of a deep commitment to principle and to human rights.
Recent disclosures of Carter's extensive financial connections to Arab oil money, particularly from Saudi Arabia , had deeply shaken my belief in his integrity. When I was first told that he received a monetary reward in the name of Shiekh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahayan, and kept the money, even after Harvard returned money from the same source because of its anti-Semitic history, I simply did not believe it. How could a man of such apparent
integrity enrich himself with dirty money from so dirty a source?
And let there be no mistake about how dirty the Zayed Foundation is. I know because I was involved, in a small way, in helping to persuade Harvard University to return more than $2 million that the financially strapped Divinity School received from this source.
Initially I was reluctant to put pressure on Harvard to turn back money for the Divinity School, but then a student at the Divinity School Rachael Lea Fish -- showed me the facts.
They were staggering. I was amazed that in the 21st century there were still foundations that espoused these views. The Zayed Centre for Coordination and Follow-up - a think-tank funded by the Shiekh and run by his son hosted speakers who called Jews "the enemies of all nations," attributed the assassination of John Kennedy to Israel and the Mossad and the 9/11 attacks to the United States' own military, and stated that the Holocaust was a "fable." (They also hosted a speech by Jimmy Carter.) To its credit, Harvard turned the money back. To his discredit, Carter did not.
Jimmy Carter was, of course, aware of Harvard's decision, since it was highly publicized. Yet he kept the money . Indeed, this is what he said in accepting the funds: "This award has special significance for me because it is named for my personal friend, Sheik Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan." Carter's personal friend, it turns out, was an unredeemable anti-Semite and all-around bigot.
In reading Carter's statements, I was reminded of the bad old Harvard of the 1930s, which continued to honor Nazi academics after the anti-Semitic policies of Hitler's government became clear. Harvard of the 1930s was complicit in evil. I sadly concluded that Jimmy Carter of the 21st century has become complicit in evil. The extent of Carter's financial support from, and even dependence on, dirty money is still not fully known.
What we do know is deeply troubling. Carter and his Center have accepted millions of dollars from suspect sources, beginning with the bail-out of the Carter family peanut business in the late 1970s by BCCI, a now-defunct and virulently anti-Israeli bank indirectly controlled by the Saudi Royal family, and among whose principal investors is Carter's friend, Sheikh Zayed. Agha Hasan Abedi, the founder of the bank, gave Carter "$500,000 to help the former president establish his center...[and] more than $10 million to Mr. Carter's different projects."
Carter gladly accepted the money, though Abedi had called his bank-ostensibly the source of his funding-"the best way to fight the evil influence of the Zionists."
BCC isn't the only source: Saudi King Fahd contributed millions to the Carter Center- "in 1993 alone...$7.6 million" as have other members of the Saudi Royal Family. Carter also received a million dollar pledge from the Saudi-based bin Laden family, as well as a personal $500,000 environmental award named for Sheikh Zayed, and paid for by t he Prime Ministe r of the United Arab Emirates.
It's worth noting that, despite the influx of Saudi money funding the Carter Center, and despite the Saudi Arabian government's myriad human rights abuses, the Carter Center's Human Rights program has no activity whatever in Saudi Arabia. The Saudis have apparently bought his silence for a steep price.
The bought quality of the Center's activities becomes even more clear, however, when reviewing the Center's human rights activities in other countries: essentially no human rights activities in China or in North Korea, or in Iran, Iraq,the Sudan, or Syria, but activity regarding Israel and its alleged abuses, according to the Center's website.
The Carter Center's mission statement claims that "The Center is nonpartisan and acts as a neutral party in dispute resolution activities." How can that be, given that its coffers are full of Arab money, and that its focus is away from significant Arab abuses and on Israel's far less serious ones?
No reasonable person can dispute therefore that Jimmy Carter has been and remains dependent on Arab oil money, particularly from Saudi Arabia .
Does this mean that Carter has necessarily been influenced in his thinking about the Middle East by receipt of such enormous amounts of money? Ask Carter. The entire premise of his criticism of Jewish influence on American foreign policy is that money talks.
It is Carter-not me-who has made the point that if politicians receive money from Jewish sources, then they are not free to decide issues regarding the Middle East for themselves.
It is Carter, not me, who has argued that distinguished reporters cannot honestly report on the Middle East because they are being paid by Jewish money. So, by Carter's own standards, it would be almost economically "suicidal" for Carter "to espouse a balanced position between Israel and Palestine."
By Carter's own standards, therefore, his views on the Middle East must be discounted. It is certainly possible that he now believes them. Money, particularly large amounts of money, has a way of persuading people to a particular position.
It would not surprise me if Carter, having received so much Arab money, is now honestly committed to their cause. But his failure to disclose the extent of his financial dependence on Arab money, and the absence of any self reflection on whether the receipt of this money has unduly influenced his views, is a form of deception bordering on corruption.
I have met cigarette lobbyists, who are supported by the cigarette industry, and who have come to believe honestly that cigarettes are merely a safe form of adult recreation, that cigarettes are not addicting and that the cigarette industry is really trying to persuade children not to smoke. These people are fooling themselves (or fooling us into believing that they are fooling themselves) just as Jimmy Carter is fooling himself (or persuading us to believe that he is fooling himself).
If money determines political and public views -as Carter insists "Jewish money" does -then Carter's views on the Middle East must be deemed to have been influenced by the vast sums of Arab money he has received. If he who pays the piper calls the tune, then Carter's off-key tunes have been called by his Saudi Arabian paymasters. It pains me to say this, but I now believe that there is no person in American public life today who has a lower ratio of real [integrity] to apparent integrity than Jimmy Carter.
The public perception of his integrity is extraordinarily high. His real integrity, it now turns out, is extraordinarily low. He is no better than so many former American politicians who, after leaving public life, sell themselves to the highest bidder and become lobbyists for despicable causes.
That is now Jimmy Carter's sad legacy.
Alan M. Dershowitz is the Felix Frankfurter professor of law at Harvard Law School and author of The Case for Israel.
Monday, April 28, 2008
The obligatory vacation pics
Even though we only took day-trips and goofed off near home during our Passover vacation, the bylaws still make it quite clear that vacation pictures must be shown in front of friends and neighbors.
Sorry for any inconvenience, but rules are rules.
Look at the bright side. You get to see these on the web from the comfort of your own home. Once upon a time (say, 1965) you would have been a
hostage guest in our family's living-room, eating potato chips and bad onion dip, while my father wrestled with a balky slide projector.
Feeling pretty lucky right about now, yes?:
One of our day trips was a two-and-a-half hour trek through the Judean Desert down into Wadi Kelt (Nahal Prat in Hebrew). We took the dogs along and everyone sweated buckets. Much fun was had letting Yonah wander close to the cliffs and watching Zahava's heart stop. If memory serves, we put my mother through the same treatment at the Grand Canyon. Good times:
Next up is a picture of Gilad using a cliff as a convenient backdrop:
Ariella had some fun taking arms-length self-portraits... a genre of photograph that is apparently all the rage with the teen glam set:
Down at the bottom of the Wadi there is a nice cool spring-fed stream flowing into a series of pools. This is an incredibly welcome reward for anyone stupid enough to hike through the desert to get there. We all got nice and wet... even the dogs. This is a shot of Zahava and Lulu relaxing, post dip (Note: those are not Zahava's cancer sticks there on the rock. She does not now, nor has she ever smoked.):
After I got wet I did what I do at the end of every hike; I took a nap. Lulu liked the idea and joined me:
The next day we took a trip to the ruins of a Nabatean city near Dimona in the Negev Desert where there was a Bedouin festival going on. [update: The Sandman, whose lovely family we enjoyed this particular tiyul, points out in the comments that it was a Nabatean festival featuring Bedouins]. For some reason I didn't take very many pictures (or maybe Zahava deleted all the pictures I took of the Belly Dancer), but all I seem to have left is this shot of Yonah playing near one of the stone walls of the ruin:
Last up is another picture of Yonah.
Here's the deal. When Gilad was about Yonah's age, he wanted desperately to learn how to catch a baseball. But he was also desperately afraid of getting hit by the hard ball. My solution was to buy him some mini-catcher's equipment. Once he was all decked out I was able to chuck balls at him full speed without him being afraid of getting hit. And sure enough, he's grown up to be an all-star utility infielder (including catcher, of course) in the Israeli Little League.
So a few weeks ago Gili and I were having a catch and Yonah started pestering me to throw him the ball too. As soon as I lobbed the ball to him he ducked for cover. I knew it was time to break out the catcher's gear. Trust me parents... there is no better (or safer) way to teach your kids to catch a baseball without all the flinching and closing their eyes!
So now that you've gotten the whole explanation... here's a picture of Yonah calling for 'the deuce' from his big brother:
Well that's about it. The chips are all gone and only a few smudges of onion dip are left in the bowl. That wasn't so bad, was it?
[maybe if you ask nicely Zahava will send me one of the belly dancer pics to post]
Bonus Pictures (thanks to my lovely wife who 'found' the missing shots of the belly dancer) For those who are interested, she was Israeli... not Arab. Oh, and one more thing. In his comment, The Sandman pointed out that she had lovely eyes. I'll have to take his word for it as I didn't notice at the time:
Sunday, April 27, 2008
An honest mechanic
Some friends recently had some car trouble and asked their regular mechanic to have a look. When he'd finished with a thorough inspection he gave them the bad news; that the required parts would take a few days to order.
Not wanting to be left without a car, they asked him if it was OK to drive in the mean time.
Normally an Israeli mechanic would offer a confident "It'll be OK" or "Trust me... don't worry". But this guy was much more my type of mechanic. His reply:
"No problem... just don't drive anywhere you won't want to walk home from."
Friday, April 18, 2008
I'd like to take this opportunity to thank all the people who have made treppenwitz such a safe, comfy corner of the web. I'm talking, of course, about all of you who show up here and read the loopy stuff I write.
Some of you comment and others just lurk. But seeing you show up here each day is both gratifying and humbling. Thank you.
I am signing off for a few days to enjoy the Passover holiday with my family. I hope all my Jewish readers enjoy the Yom Tov... and that all you non-Jews have me in mind when you are enjoying a nice, freshly baked croissant with butter and jam this week. :-)
Chag Kasher V'Sameach!
Thursday, April 17, 2008
Omphaloskepsis (look it up)
The other day I received the following chatty little email:
Wikio, an aggregator of online news and blogs, has recently kicked off our own blog ranking where your blog treppenwitz stands at number 850. Check out by clicking directly on this link:
So how does our Top Blogs ranking work?
The position of blogs in their Wikio ranking depends on the number and value of links that other blogs point toward them. The value of these links depends on the ranking of the blog publishing them. So in our algorithm, the value of a link published on a highly ranked blog is more important than a posted link on a blog with a lower ranking. This way, we hope to produce a ranking more representative of blogs' influence.
I wondered if you would be interested in a badge allowing you to display your ranking on your blog?
'Badges? We don't need no stinkin' badges!'
(sorry, I couldn't resist)
Yeah sure, I'd love one... who wouldn't?!
"Laying the groundwork for an insanity defense since 1961"
Which is why this
stinkin' badge is sitting over there on my sidebar. Thanks to everyone for making this possible.
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
What they say vs what they do
One of the many valuable lessons contained in the video I posted yesterday related specifically to how one can identify the true intentions of someone who is romantically pursuing another:
"Ignore everything they say and pay attention only to what they do"
Having once been a teen-aged boy, I can fully appreciate the basic truth behind this simple rule... and I made a mental note to pass it along to my teen-aged daughter at the earliest opportunity (the lecture to my almost-teen-aged son is an ongoing, and far more complicated one).
But this morning when I woke up and scanned the news I realized that this sage dating advice has a much wider application. Like, say, to the current 'relationship' between the 'moderate' Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government.
Given the Israeli government's penchant for dropping it's nickers at the slightest hint of interest, it isn't clear who is the pursuer in the current model. But the P.A. seems to be a good fit given that they've made an art of saying just the right thing in order to coax more and more gestures and concessions from Israel... while doing exactly the opposite with impunity.
Case in point is today's announcement of the recipients of the P.A.'s highest medal; 'The Al Kuds Mark of Honor'. One would think that this august award, which is given at the sole discretion of the P.A. President, would go to one of the moderate leaders of the P.A. negotiating team or to some poet or national icon who has worked tirelessly for the peaceful achievement of Palestinian Statehood.
But one would be wrong.
Instead, 'The Al Kuds Mark of Honor', was bestowed upon the following worthy individuals:
Ahlam Tamimi - A Hamas terrorist currently serving a life sentence for driving the suicide bomber who blew himself up in the Sbarro restaurant in Jerusalem, killing at least half a dozen people, including an entire family.
Amra Muna - The female terrorist who seduced Israeli teenager Ophir Rahum over the Internet and then lured him to Ramallah where he was murdered by her co-conspirators.
Again, can there be any doubt as to the P.A.'s true intentions if these are the models they hold up to their people as paradigms of exemplary civic behavior and praiseworthy contributors to the cause of Palestinian nationalism?
Memo to Olmert and Livni: Ignore what they say... watch only what they do! They say they want a two state solution but their maps, Arabic speeches and operations are focused solely on a 'war of stages' whose stated goal is the achievement of a one-state solution; at best a bi-national state flooded with Palestinian refugees... and at worst a Palestinian state in place of Israel!
The consequences of heeding only what Mahmoud Abbas says and ignoring what he does go far beyond your own personal reputations. You are not carrying on some public flirtation with a potential paramour. You are parked on a dark back-street with a serial rapist who celebrates murderers and thirsts for your (and our) blood.
[UPDATE: I guess someone pointed out the small conflict of interest to Mr. Abbas. He just announced that he is 'revoking' the awards. Mind you, he hasn't explained how he came to the decision to honor these two terrorists or even hinted that it was in ill-advised decision. He just made a perfunctory announcement that the medals would not be given. I'm sure our leaders will fall all over themselves trying to use this as proof that he is, indeed, a man of peace.]
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
And you thought *I* was a giver!
I spotted this a few days ago over at Jack's place and bookmarked it 'for later'. I didn't watch it right away... which, with me, is usually the kiss of death for actually getting around to something. But I really wanted to see it, so yesterday I found the time and I am so glad that I did.
All I can say is that watching this video was a life changing experience for me.
What you are about to see is called 'The Last Lecture'. It was was modeled after an ongoing series of lectures at Carnegie Mellon University where top academics are asked to think deeply about what matters to them, and then give a hypothetical "final talk," i.e., "what wisdom would you try to impart to the world if you knew it was your last chance?"
This 'Final Lecture' was delivered by Dr. Randy Pausch, a professor at CMU who, amazingly, is only a year older than I am. But sadly, not for much longer.
You see, Randy Pausch has cancer. The bad kind. Pancreatic Cancer... which has a 4% survival rate at 5 years.
He is a husband and father, and despite being given only a few months of quality life by his doctors, he decided that rather than wallow in self-pity, what he really needed to do was use the clarity that his diagnosis has given him, and share his life's lessons with his colleagues and students. This is a video of that 'Last Lecture'.
He has only been on this earth for 47 years... but he has somehow assembled such an incredible collection of life lessons that - if you don't watch this - you will be passing up one of the most valuable, life-affirming set of lessons that has ever been offered to you.
And it's free.
Trust me. Skip lunch... pass on one of your regular TV shows this evening... sit down with your spouse and kids... and watch this:
[Updates: 1) A book entitled 'The Last Lecture' co-authored by Dr. Pausch just went on sale on April 8th'. If it is half as wonderful as the actual lecture it is a must have for every thinking, caring person; 2) You can follow Dr. Pausch's medical updates here on a page he updates whenever there is nows (good or bad).]
Monday, April 14, 2008
The Zen simplicity of placing a ball in a bowl
One of the small challenges of dog ownership is occasionally having to find a suitable place to leave them when you want to go on vacation to a place that doesn't welcome furry guests. Luckily this isn't such a big deal for us since we tend to 'rough it' on our vacations; either camping or visiting places that aren't too picky about their clientele having opposable thumbs.
However, when we started making plans to go away to the Field School this past shabbat (see yesterday's post), one of the logistical issues we had to resolve was what to do with the dogs.
We've cultivated reciprocal pet-sitting arrangements with several 'dog families' here in Efrat, but with a relatively new puppy and an aging dog with cancer, we didn't feel comfortable asking any friends to look after them this time around.
Luckily, through trial and error, my parents had stumbled upon a centrally located place that boards dogs in a family setting. By this, I mean that it isn't a traditional kennel arrangement with cages and runs. They take in no more than 10 - 12 dogs at a time... and the dogs live in the house with the family. The place has a big fenced yard and the dogs can go inside and out whenever they want.
I have to admit I was a little leery when I first heard about the place. I was worried that it was the doggy equivalent of one of those noisome inner city day-care mills that take in more kids than they can possibly care for... just to make a quick buck. But when I went to drop off my parents dogs for their first visit there I was sold.
My parent's dogs can be... how do I put this diplomatically... a tad rambunctious. You may remember them from their last brush with the law:
The father/husband of this family that boards dogs happens to be the regional pet food distributor. He is a soft-spoken, young Yemenite (I think) guy who is, without a doubt, a 'dog whisperer'. You know how some people just seem to have a special bond with animals? Well he is one of those... times 10!
When we'd gone to drop off my parent's dogs, he let us in... closed the door after us and then told us to take the leashes off. He then called all the other dogs into the house to meet the new arrivals and spoke calmly to all of them... encouraging them to get along and play nicely together.
As if by magic the dogs immediately took 'the new kids' and ran off to play in the yard! His wife and kids were perfectly calm around the dogs and took almost no notice of them beyond the occasional skritch behind a conveniently located ear.
When we dropped our dogs off this past Friday morning, the same thing happened. Jordan and Lulu were immediately adopted by the pack (a different mix of characters this time) and within moments were wandering around the house happily as though they had been there all their lives.
After taking careful note of our dog's health and vaccination records, he shook our hands and told us to have a nice Shabbat... assuring us that the dogs would be just fine.
We needn't have worried. Although both dogs were overjoyed to see us when we came back Saturday night (Lulu was so 'faklempt' she peed on my shoe), they seemed perfectly at home among the group of dogs that wandered comfortably around the house.
When I asked him how things had gone, he said they'd been perfect house guests and got on well with everyone. But then his brow furrowed a bit and he went on:
"You know", he began, "Lulu seems to be eating her food much too fast. She swallows it whole without chewing. Not only is she always hungry since she is not getting the full nutritional value of the food... but I'm sure that's why she's so interested in her own poop since it isn't changed very much as a result of the quick trip through her digestive system."
I assured him that we'd noticed her tendency to wolf her food... but nothing we'd tried seemed to slow her down. We'd tried making her wait before letting her attack her bowl. We'd tried interrupting her meals. We'd even tried changing the quantities of her food to see if perhaps she wasn't getting enough... but nothing seemed to help.
Without hesitation he said, "Have you tried putting a tennis ball in her food bowl?"
I must have looked doubtful because he immediately explained, "If there's a ball in her bowl she will have to slow down enough to eat around it. Trust me... it works."
Guess what? It works! Overnight Lulu has learned table manners and is eating her meals slowly... and actually chewing! Forget 'dog whisperer'... this guy is the Zen master of dog whisperers! Needless to say, we are delighted to have found him.
If anyone is interested in a perfect 'doggy spa' for when they go away, the place is called 'Tevat HaHayot' (roughly translated as 'Ark of the Animals' - a reference to Noah's boat). They are located in a rural town called Li-On in Emek HaEllah (not far from Tzomet Ha'Ellah), and the proprietor, Avi Ashri, can be reached at:
Home: 02 999 4122
As I said, Avi is also the regional distributor for most major brands of pet foods so if you'd like home delivery he happily does that as well (including non-chametz food for Passover!).
Don't thank me... I'm a giver.
Sunday, April 13, 2008
A gang of big tough bikers...
... with folded pink dinner napkins perched daintily on their heads.
Presents an 'interesting' mental image, doesn't it?
This past Shabbat, Zahava and I (and the kids, of course) joined about 40 friends from our neighborhood on what has become an annual tradition; a pre-Passover weekend away at a Field School.
First a little background for the non-Israelis reading along:
Field schools are located all over the country and are often associated with The Society for the Protection of Nature. In addition to providing a learning environment for undergraduate and graduate students in environmental, wildlife and archaeological disciplines, these schools offer classes and tours to the public.
Many Field Schools also offer comfortable, albeit rustic, guest accommodations that allow visitors to spend extended stays in close proximity to nature. This is what we try to do each year. This year's pre-Pesach trip was to the Field School at Midreshet Sde Boker (near Kibbutz Sde Boker, the former home of David Ben Gurion, Israel's first Prime Minister).
Midreshet Sde Boker is set in the heart of the Negev Desert on the edge of a breathtaking canyon that rivals Arizona's Grand Canyon and South Dakota's Badlands for wild, spectacular beauty. The place houses a wide array of programs including an Environmental High School, an Interdisciplinary Institute, a Desert Research Institute and a Solar Energy Center.
The Guest Houses are centrally located on the campus and enjoy incredible views of the canyons beyond. There is also a very nicely appointed kosher dining room and a Synagogue that seem to be mostly for visitors.
When we arrived on Friday, a lecture had been arranged for our group and was given by one of the Field School staff at 'The Snake House'. This is a small building with enclosures containing live examples of many of the snake species that are indigenous to Israel. Outside the building they also have enclosures for various animals such as owls, falcons, and foxes that, due to injuries, can't be returned to their natural habitat.
The lecture was fascinating and was perfectly balanced to offer enough descriptive analogies for the kids... and enough 'meat' to keep the grown-ups engaged.
As we were leaving the 'Snake House' and heading back to our rooms to clean up and change for Shabbat, we heard the roar of motorcycles entering the Field School campus and watched as a large 'gang' of bikers rode into the parking lot.
Once I got over the initial shock of the noise in this quiet desert setting, I was fascinated to see that they were riding a collection of classic old bikes including lots of Indians, BSAs and Nortons that were all in pristine condition. The same could not be said for the riders, however, who all seemed to be showing their mileage to a greater extent than their rides.
The group was made up of older men... mostly approaching or just past retirement age... who wore their gray hair closely cropped, and sported the pot bellies and beefy arms one would expect of the biker set. But when they got off their bikes I was surprised to hear them conversing in Hebrew. I honestly didn't know that motorcycle culture (especially classic motorcycle culture) had made such deep inroads here in Israel!
If there had been a fleeting worry about this group of bikers being a bit, um, unruly, it was quickly set aside as I watched them turn off their bikes and thoughtfully push them the last dozen yards to the area near their rooms. In addition, as some of us were admiring the beautiful antiques they'd been riding, they quickly apologized in advance for any noise they might need to make on Shabbat morning when they were planning on leaving to continue their ride.
I, for one, was charmed.
After Friday evening services in the Synagogue, our group went to the dining room for dinner. We quickly went about making the traditional Kiddush over the wine and washed our hands in preparation for making the Hamotzei blessing on the Challahs.
But while we were waiting for the last few stragglers in our group to finish washing their hands, the group of bikers - wearing clean t-shirts (sporting various motorcycle logos and mottoes) and bluejeans tucked into dusty engineers boots - filed into the dining-room and sat down around a long table near us.
Again, I was struck by a small tickle of dissonance at seeing these burly old bikers striding confidently into an Israeli Field School dining hall... speaking Hebrew!
But the real eye-opener came a few moments later when one of the bikers opened a bottle of wine, poured himself a full glass and stood up at the head of the table. As one, the rest of the bikers stood, took the neatly folded pink cloth dinner napkins from their place settings, and perched them carefully on top of their heads as makeshift yarmulkes, while the leader began making Kiddush (the blessing over the wine).
Too often I allow myself to forget that Israel is a very diverse place with Jews of every conceivable stripe and color. Too frequently we are quick to label and be labeled... and in the process forget that in the Jewish State, Judaism is not simply a binary switch that toggles between secular and religious, but rather a continuum that also covers all the territory in between.
It is not uncommon - especially amongst the older set - to find 'secular' Israelis who know their 'Tanach' (Bible) better than many Yeshiva students... and who can tell you the connection between most places in Israel and our ancient past. Sadly, as Tanach is increasingly watered down and redacted from secular elementary and high school curriculum, the labels will likely become more apt... and the fuzzy continuum between the secular/religious divide will contain fewer and fewer inhabitants.
As the leader of the bikers finished saying kiddush, and the group sat down to a traditional Shabbat dinner, I turned to Zahava and said, "I think that has to be the holiest kiddush I've ever heard".
It wasn't that it was fancy or flashy, mind you. The leader didn't chant the kiddush particularly beautifully and the listeners didn't seem particularly moved when they answered 'amen'. It was the very 'matter-of-factness' of the kiddush that struck me as wonderful.
It was Friday night, and the most natural thing for these old Israeli Bikers to be doing before tucking into their dinner was to stand up, place a pink dinner napkin respectfully on their heads (in place of a kippah) and listen to one of their members make a proper kiddush.
It reminded me (once again) how essential it is that the Jewish state remain true to her Zionist roots. Because if anyone takes the time to consider why we Jews are here in this small corner of the world... they'd have to admit to themselves that we are bound together by far more than divides us.
Thursday, April 10, 2008
You oughta be in...
Occasionally, after I've gone off on one of my political rants, some well-meaning reader will leave a comment saying something like, "You oughta be in politics!" Which is kinda funny considering that you would be hard pressed to find someone less suited to the knock down, drag out, brawl that passes for political discourse in this part of the world.
Heck, when filling out our absentee ballots for US elections Zahava and I don't even tell each other who we're voting for... and I still don't know who she voted for in the last Knesset elections!
Well, a few months ago, the two founders of a high end, boutique political advertising firm in the US 'outed' themselves as treppenwitz readers, and went way beyond the standard 'you oughta be in politics!' pitch by making a shiduch (match) of sorts between Zahava and I and an MK (Member of Knesset) they felt was 'our kind of politician'.
This MK is, first and foremost, one of the good guys. He has a resume so full that it could happily be split amongst three or four people and still allow each to be called 'accompished'. He hails from a political legacy that finds its roots among Israel's ideological founding fathers and his politics refreshingly transcend the whole tired religious/secular paradigm.
In short, he's the real deal. A leader with a white hat and a bag full of clearly defined, constructive ideas for the future if Israel.
Mind you, it isn't a perfect fit with us... but hey, do you agree with every single paltform of your party-of-choice? These small areas where Zahava and I have felt small ripples of dissonance could as easily be our newness as Israelis as our political naivete. Only time will tell.
But to be able to find an Israeli politician (more like the anti-politician) who actually says what he thinks and means what he says... well, that's worth its weight in rubies.
I'm not going to name names right now... not the right time for that... but after reading a stack of this MK's position papers and articles and meeting with him in his Knesset office for a few hours, Zahava and I were floored by how many issues and platforms perfectly agreed with our own world-views.
Long story short, we've recently started working with this MK on an exciting project that leverages Zahava's considerable design talents and my modest skills as a writer. This is just a bit of moonlighting, mind you... we still have our day gigs to tend to. But to anyone who has ever left a comment suggesting that I oughta be in politics... I can only say be careful what you wish for.
Needless to say, in the weeks ahead you will be hearing a lot about this... including where you can go to hear him speak when he visits the US after Passover. So stay tuned.
Wednesday, April 09, 2008
She talks the talk, but...
When we first decided to get a new puppy Zahava went on a serious reading jag, bringing home and devouring an impressive number of tomes on dog training.
Naturally she insisted that I read them too, but I don't know why I bothered. After all, as she was reading she would continuously provide verbal highlights of the salient points, shouting them to me at the top of her lungs wherever I happened to be in the house.
Zahava: "Honey, listen to this... it says here that you should never let dogs sleep on the same level as you. One of the ways they recognize that their owners are the 'alpha dogs' in the house is that they sleep on a higher level. That means that you can't let Lulu up on the bed the way you do with Jordan."
Me [from the opposite end of the house]: "Whaaaat?
Repeat as necessary until I either stop what I'm doing and come to wherever she is reading... ~or~ ... I simply pretend to have heard her and yell back the standard catch-all, "Oh... very interesting. Thanks."
So go ahead and guess who was sleeping curled up contentedly next to Zahava on her side of the bed last night?
Here's a hint: It wasn't me.
Tuesday, April 08, 2008
Seeing Israel... through African eyes
[The following is a guest post by 'My African Correspondent'. I was tempted to make small edits and/or correction here and there, but I think you'll agree that reading his original text allows you to 'hear' the charming lilt of his Kenyan accented English and to better experience his innocent excitement.]
I know, it's weird that I should have this obsession about Israel. It's rare to have a 12-year old boy stand at 'departures' at an airport and watch a bunch of passengers headed for Israel board an El Al plane surrounded by numerous IDF soldiers, and from that moment develop an obsession. It's also rare to have an African coming from a third world country, and not exactly living a King's life visit a developed country with all opportunities available, yet barely even look at the classifieds section of the Jerusalem Post newspaper (only English newspaper I saw while in Israel).
Why? Because 'I think' I have an understanding of the contemporary Israeli society. You see, very few countries have managed to create the kind of diverse society Israel has created, having in mind, that no man is equal!
The minute I got the Visa to Israel, I stood there for a minute and thought "Is this it?", I thought it comes with something more, like a congratulations from the Israeli Ambassador after which the Israeli national anthem is played… It had taken me years to get this piece of note on this booklet! I was excited but tried not to show it, back here walking around overly excited will definitely have someone follow you, thinking you have not less than $ 1,000 on you. I placed my passport somewhere safe and walked out of the embassy like nothing had happened.
I arrived at the airport way ahead of time, it was the first time I was to board a plane and I didn't want to miss this for anything, not traffic and definitely not my mum asking me "why I want to go and get bombed?". After a while I boarded the plane and before long I was experiencing something new!, 8 hours later and it didn't take a genius to realize that we were approaching Eretz Yisrael, everyone wanted to have a peek as we entered Israeli airspace. I was calm, trying to pull a its-not-my-first-time look but couldn't help it as we started descending on the Ben Gurion airport airstrip.
As the plane touched down, the passengers clapped, and I thought to myself "thank you very much" :-) Of course they were congratulating the pilot for getting them to Israel safely, something this lady from South Africa seated next to me explained was a tradition, she had obviously noticed that I joined in the clapping long after it had started.
I was in Israel.
Everything was different! The kind of stone used for construction in Israel is somewhat lighter in color than the one here, most buildings, especially from the plane seemed 'whiter'. As I approached the immigration booth at the airport I thought, whether or not I was to be granted permission to enter Israel, I was in Israel!! my experience then I assumed had been enough. I had been to Israel.
Since I had done a lot of reading about Israel, I sort of knew my way around, I boarded a train and sat across two Israeli girls who had a conversed in Hebrew non-stop, being a mr-know-it-all at the time, I pulled out my Hebrew phrasebook and tried to understand what they were saying. That got me very frustrated! My frustrations snowballed as I noticed that no one really bothered to know who I was, or what it had taken me get to Israel (that was pretty selfish, but I thought a pat on the back would be in order), for a second, as I headed to board a bus at the central bus station in Tel Aviv I felt like yelling "hey its me, I made it!!".
10 hours of sleep and I was ready to explore Old Yaffo, the weather was perfect for me and I couldn't help smile as everyone spoke in Hebrew all around , I occasionally resisted the temptation to shout out some phrases I could understand but saved it all for the manager at the hostel where I was staying, I realized that it got to a point where she was beginning to show how irritated she was every time I uttered some broken Hebrew and expected some positive response for my effort, I obviously sucked at being Israeli, two more attempts of my multi-lingual experiment and I would be sleeping with the O'leiy Tzion street gang of stray cats!
A walk on the Tel Aviv tayelet (Hebrew word for promenade) from Jaffa and the view of the cosmopolitan Tel Aviv city is amazing! On one side a perfect view of the Mediterranean Sea accompanied by a warm breeze, and on the other, bustling modern buildings landscaping the sea side. A military helicopter made its way south along the beach obviously on patrol, and I couldn't help think of the people that worked round the clock to ensure that everyone in this and some other part of the country were safe. A walk down Ben-Yehuda street and AC DC's back in black is playing on my ipod, the track obviously complements the hip western-like style adopted by the numerous Israelis I walk past, both young and old. Meanwhile Trep, must have been on the other side of the see-saw thinking, what have I done!
It was time to head to Jerusalem and I called Trep up and informed him when I would be arriving.
The Tel-Aviv central bus station is an interesting area, and you wouldn't want to get caught in the wee hours of the morning doing some touring there. The need to restrict immigrants visiting Israel with dubious intentions is obvious when you walk around this part of Israel late into the night.
I booked a ticket with a friend I had met at the hostel who was also touring Israel, in 20 minutes our bus parked at departures. I couldn't help notice the numerous soldiers waiting to catch a bus at the bus station, a couple of Israeli Ethiopian female soldiers caught my attention a number of times but I dared not to stare too much at them since they were carrying weapons, not that I meant any harm to them or they were welding their guns in a manner to suggest that I would be a victim but, I was not quite adjusted to the number of M-16's I saw with soldiers almost everywhere I went.
The trip to Jerusalem was interesting, along the way we came across the burnt out wrecks of home-made armored vehicles and civilian trucks used in 1948 to deliver supplies to the Jews living in Jerusalem at that time, this road I thought is a significant symbol to the independence of the Jewish state of Israel, and serves as a significant reminder of the will of patriotic Israelis, that Israel is here to stay and no man should ever succeed in an attempt to make Israeli Jews extinct. As we made our way into the city a mixture of predominant religious and secular folk could be seen about their business. I boarded my first moneet (taxi) in Israel there and after negotiating our fare we were on our way to the hostel (a sister hostel to the hostel in Tel Aviv).
I met more friends at the hostel and we had a 'multi-continent' dinner, 3 guys from different continents, US, Europe and Africa. We obviously had a lot to share, one thing we had in common (among others) was that Israeli ladies were difficult to approach, they either carried weapons (soldiers) which dissolved the motivation to strike a conversation, for obvious reasons or they spoke their native language too much making us wonder if they spoke any English at all, apart from the British guy, no one had bothered to ask, it became apparent to me that most Israeli youth speak English or Anglit as you may have it. Enough Said!!!
Part of my day found me exploring the Old city and the numerous shops along Ben-Yehuda street amongst other streets. That evening I met David and he gave us some well needed Israeli hospitality by taking us (me and the friend I had met at the hostel) to his favorite restaurant, after the first culture shock meeting (I obviously wanted to give him the African American 'street' hug but figured what the heck! I might as well show him some Kenyan 'love'). I threw a couple of unnoticed glances at David's well tucked-in glock and was tempted to ask him to empty his cartridge and let me have a James-Bond moment, I've gladly never caught a gun before and never might, in self-defense. It became apparent to me that David might not want to carry his weapon but is forced by circumstance. I met lulu, energetic as ever and Jordan, mature and responsible, we gladly accepted an invitation from David to accompany him to the vet and I couldn't help notice how Jordan was keen on David's driving, she keenly stood between the driver and passenger seat and was tempted to clear the traffic for David in a number of occasions.
Thursday morning found me headed towards Ein Gedi. We boarded a bus and I sat next to a German tourist obviously headed towards this part of Israel for the first time, we silently but pleasantly enjoyed the countryside together. I noted that the country buses were very comfortable and were driven at pace sufficient enough for first time tourists to have a good view of this hilly beautiful country. The Dead Sea and expanse desert were breathtaking but I was anxious to get back to Jerusalem on time so as to meet David, I had accepted his invitation to sleep over and have some home hospitality from the Bogners.
I caught the last bus to Ein Gedi and on my way back I began to realize that my stay in Israel was about to end, it was a feeling I can equate to pre-school when I suddenly realized that (after two weeks) school was a must, I constantly inquired as a child why I had to leave home and go to school but I received a firm and sometimes painful answer that school was important and that it was a must! My visa was to last for three weeks but I had to report back to work in 3 days.
I met David and Yonah that evening, Yonah was catching up on his twenty winks ahead of his busy day the following day , we headed to Efrat and there I met the rest of the Bogners, the reception was affectionate and I was careful not to get into an emotional whirl and start crying. Ariella and Gilead impressed me with their friendly and mature personalities, they obviously had many questions about where I was from and I gladly answered them over dinner. Zahava like David wrote fed me within an inch of my life, she is charming and kind, on my way to the guest room I realized that Chez Treppenwitz had been the most welcoming place I had been to while in Israel.
It was time for me to head to Tel Aviv and after a fulfilling breakfast over which I expressed my gratitude for the cordial hospitality I received from the Bogner's, we headed to Jerusalem with David on the way, I got a glimpse of the level co-existence between the Israeli Jews and Arabs. This was not the only effort I saw to try and integrate these communities, I saw numerous businesses in the old city and other part of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv owned by Israeli Arabs, I even rode on a bus on my way back to Tel Aviv that was driven by an Israeli-Arab. To me, I think its was a matter of whether the Arab neighbors can co-exist with Israelis, it's still not clear to me how someone could contemplate of annihilating the citizens of Israel. And yes, even if a Jewish terrorist unfortunately attacks Palestinians, targeting the Israeli civilian population is not a justified means of action. Israeli military installations are not 'mixed' with civilian public facilities, its obvious that even if Hamas were to be given weapons that would precisely target military personnel and Installations in Israel, they would aim them elsewhere and come up with an excuse to justify their actions grrrr! Enough said!!
There's something special about the Jewish Sabbath day in Israel, every Israeli seems excited to get home on time and as dusk nears they part with their friends and colleagues wishing each other 'a good rest'. Not much goes on around the Sabbath and a number of shops are closed, David had made sure I had enough food to last me during this period in case the shops in my area were closed.
Part of my Friday evening and Saturday had me reminiscing how lucky I had been to have a perfect trip. Although I missed out on the waffles from my friend Jameel from the Muqata (Hat tip for the idea to guest blog) I headed to the airport thankful, thankful for the incredible time I had in Israel.
Here are a few points I noted about Israel during my stay:
1. Israel is perfectly safe and the notion that most people have about it being a mine field is an inaccurate perception of life in Israel.
2. While in Israel, learning some common Hebrew phrases will go along way helping you get some assistance. Israelis rarely tell foreigners (from my experience) "I don't know!", even if you get a "go straight, take a left and a right then 3 lefts" they'll be to make an effort to assist you.
3. If the police stop you and ask for your identification, don't be intimidated, help them identify you and you'll be on your way in no time.
4. There's always a just course you can volunteer to participate in while in Israel, from assisting the roughly 700 Sudanese refugees settle in Israel to merely showing a city sweeper some respect by placing your rubbish in a rubbish bin.
5. Don't overstay the required time you have indicated on your passport, especially if you are from Africa, the authorities will get you, one way or another.
6. Expect to gain some serious weight while in Israel, one week of a delicious home cooking, falafel, schwarma, and sweet pastries, and I definitely gained more mass.
Monday, April 07, 2008
Feeling like a monkey's...
I bet you thought I was going to say 'uncle', right?
Well, it turns out my dentist (who is also a close friend and neighbor), moonlights on the side treating patients over at Jerusalem's Biblical Zoo. Of course, anyone who knows Dr. Ari Greenspan isn't a bit surprised by this news.
Here is Ari working on one of his patients:
Of course, it isn't until you pull back a bit that it becomes clear he is working on a monkey (actually a 19-year-old mandril monkey named Shiroko):
Considering that the appointment book for Dr. Greenspan's Malcha office is usually full for weeks in advance, one could be forgiven for wondering why he would bother doing this sort of thing. That is, if one didn't really know Ari Greenspan.
I have been friends with Ari and his wife for over 20 years (and our daughters are friends/classmates), and at this point nothing about him surprises me.
In addition to being a highly sought-after dentist with a showplace office that looks like it could be used to host fancy dinner parties (which it has, by the way), Ari is also a fully qualified Mohel (he circumcised our son Yonah) and a highly skilled Shochet (a person who is trained/certified to slaughter animals in a kosher manner). As if that weren't enough, he and his wife Shari are also incredibly gifted artists who work with a wide array of media (stained glass, metal, paints, etc.) to create breathtaking masterpieces.
Yes, I know... that's an odd assortment of skill-sets for one person to acquire. But again, if you knew Ari, it would all make perfect sense. You see, he simply doesn't understand that mental roadblock in most people's daydreams where we say to ourselves "Hey, wouldn't that be neat?" before going back to our regularly scheduled lives. He's one of those people who actually says "Hey, wouldn't that be neat?"... and then goes and does it!
Here are a couple of his better known, ""Hey, wouldn't that be neat?" musings that have been added to his list of accomplishments:
1. Several years ago, Ari and a friend (Dr. Ari Zivotofsky), were discussing the fact that due to the migration of the world's Jewish communities to more concentrated urban and suburban settings, most of the more exotic birds that were technically kosher were no longer being shechted (slaughtered) and consumed.
Think about it... aside from chicken, turkey (a story all its own), duck and the occasional goose, what other fowl do kosher Jews eat? Pheasant? No. Partridge? No. Guinea Fowl? Dove? No. Sparrow? No! The list goes on, but the answer remains the same; no, no and no.
Here's the problem. Unlike large animals and fish where the Torah gives specific 'signs' so we'll know what is kosher and what is not... the kosher birds are actually listed by name. So what happens when a couple of generations go by without any Jews eating a particular bird... or even calling it by its proper Biblical name? You got it... once the Jewish community loses the 'mesora' (tradition) of recognizing and eating a particular bird, it can no longer be reliably called kosher.
So Ari and his friend went around interviewing old retired 'shochtim' (ritual slaughterers) from various North Africa and Yemenite Jewish communities. They showed these old men drawings and photographs... and asked them if they recognized the birds. If they did, the next questions were 'what is it's name?', and 'did you ever slaughter and eat this kind of bird?'
Once they had collected enough reliable testimony, they organized a series of 'Mesorah' dinners in Israel and the US. They invited prominent Rabbis and community representatives to come and eat these exotic species of fowl (PETA would have a fit if they knew), so that the tradition of these birds being kosher could be extended for at least another generation. You can read more about these Mesorah dinners by scrolling down to the 'Mesorah and Kashrut' section of his website.
2. Another passion of Ari's has been the rediscovery and reintroduction of the Biblical blue dye called Tekhelet. In the third blessing of the 'Shema' prayer, we find the following:
"Speak to the Children of Israel and bid them that they make fringes on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and that they put upon the fringe of each corner a thread of blue (tekhelet). And it shall be for you as a fringe, that you may look upon it and remember all the commandments of G-d, and do them..." (Numbers 15:38-39)
But after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and exile of the Jews from the traditional dye centers in what is today the coastal areas of northern Israel and southern Lebanon, the source of this special dye was lost. So, for more than two thousand years Jews have been wearing white fringes on their garments with no blue string.
Ari and several friends spent years playing detective and reviewing sources and leads from previous people who have searched for the identity of the mysterious 'Hillazon' which was the source of the special dye.
I can't do the story justice here but you can read about their triumphant discoveries here on the Tekhelet site. Simply put, they amassed an amazing volume of compelling evidence to suggest that the 'Hillazon' was in fact a marine snail called 'Murex trunculus' which is native to the Mediterranean. One of the more compelling bits of evidence was turned up in archaeological digs in Northern Israel that revealed mounds of 'murex' snail shells with a hole punched in the shell exactly where one would need to access the dye gland... as well as massive dying vats nearby stained a vibrant blue.
But discovering the truth after all these years wasn't enough for these sleuths. Once they had identified the source of the dye and established that the Hillazon was the real deal, they realized that they had an opportunity to reestablish the practice of a long-neglected biblical mitzvah (commandment). So they founded a factory to manufacture the dyed strings (tzitzit) for tying onto ritual prayer shawls (Tallit), and the rest, as they say, is history!
I haven't even scratched the surface of the wacky stuff my friend Ari has gotten involved with over the years... trekking through Spain, Portugal and Morocco in search of historical tidbits about the expelled Iberian Jewish community... searching throughout Europe for information about baking Matzoh (Ari has a matzoh oven in his yard and we bake for our own needs every year a day before Passover)... and on and on.
I've even drafted him as an assistant beekeper when the kids have been unavailable to help me with my hives, knowing full well that Ari is up for literally anything on a moment's notice!
I keep telling him that he should write a book about his experiences... but the truth is that just the table of contents and index would take up several volumes!
It goes without saying that Ari Greenspan has my full confidence as a dentist (my whole family goes to him), so if you ever find yourself in his chair, forget about the movies or music he has on hand to help his patients to pass the time. Instead, ask him about his latest adventure. I guarantee it will be better than any movie or book you've ever read... and it just might make you consider turning your own daydreams into reality.
Here's one more shot of Ari with yet another patient from the animal kingdom...so yes, I suppose you could call him a monkey's uncle:
Like I said... go over to his web site and explore. I live vicariously through his adventures.
To visit Ari on the web, you can go to his eclectic (to say the least) web site.
To visit him in real life (IRL):
Dr. Ari Greenspan
Gan Technology, Malcha -מלחה , גן טכנלוגי
The Tower floor 5 - קומה 5
Jerusalem - י-ם
Sunday, April 06, 2008
"... from my cold, dead hands!"
At the National Rifle Association's annual convention in 2000, the organization's President, Charlton Heston brought the crowd to its feet by holding up a replica of a Revolutionary War-era Musket and using the title of this post to paraphrase the old saying, "I’ll give you my gun when you take it from my cold, dead hands”.
It would appear that for anyone wanting to take Mr. Heston at his word, Saturday night would have been a fitting opportunity, since it was announced by his spokesman that he passed away at his home in Beverly Hills at the age of 84.
Now is not the time or place to discuss my stance on this contentious issue which is alternately known as 'Gun Control' or 'the right to keep and bear arms', depending where one stands. Trust me, I have opinions on this one that will surprise most readers.
No... today I simply want to say good-bye to a movie icon with whom I grew up.
Last June I posted a list of the 100 films I'd like to own on DVD... and looking back, I see now that the only Heston film represented on the list (correct me if I've missed any) was 'Ben Hur'. I guess I'll need to go back and update the list to include several more of his classic roles that I seem to have overlooked.
To this day, whenever I sit in synagogue and listen to readings from the Torah relating to the Exodus from Egypt, the Moses I see in my mind's eye looks like a rugged young Charlton Heston. Sure, I've learned enough since first seeing 'The Ten Commandments' to understand that Cecil B. De Mille took a few liberties with the Bible. So what?! Heston's steely portrayal of Moses remains as sacred to me as the memory of those food-stained Maxwell House Hagadahs my family used at our passover Seders throughout my childhood. Some things may change with education and maturity, but those early experiences are always hiding there at the back of your mind... coloring our experiences for the rest of our lives.
Just to be clear, I'm not nearly old enough to have seen most of his films on the big screen. I saw his early movies on TV, or when they were re-released in the theaters... but they were as epic and magical to me as a second-hand pony would be to any kid. Truly special gifts can't be diminished with age.
I'm sure some will question my taste when I admit that two of my favorite Charlton Heston movies were 'Planet of the Apes' and 'Beneath the Planet of the Apes', respectively. I'm not saying that they were the pinnacle of his artistic career, mind you. You just have to understand that those were among the first movies I got to see completely on my own in elementary school. No parents. No chaperon. Just me, my allowance and my bicycle heading off with a friend to the Saturday matinee at the big local movie house with its formal stage and pre-show organ performances.
So yes, you could say that part of my sadness at hearing of Charlton Heston's passing is less about his range as an actor and more about the mourning process for my lost innocence and youth. I feel truly privileged to have come of age when such giants sill roamed the silver screen, and movies were still mostly magic.
Friday, April 04, 2008
Photo Friday - Canine Edition
There have been a few people clamoring for pictures of the new puppy (Lulu), so here are a few shots that we took this morning after breakfast:
Thursday, April 03, 2008
You knew this was coming
You have to admit that part of the prurient interest in these news stories about public figures and well-known persons getting arrested for their peccadilloes is the anticipation of seeing the high and mighty (or at least those who claim to be higher and mightier than us) paraded before the press in the traditional perp-walk.
Some bear this hand-cuffed walk of shame with quiet dignity while others try to hide as much of themselves as possible under newspapers, raincoats or whatever is handy.
So when the leader of the Beit Shemesh Burka-Wearing Heredi Ladies (BSBWHL) got herself pinched for allegedly abusing her kids, you just knew the perp-walk was going to be, um, somewhat less-than-satisfying:
Wednesday, April 02, 2008
So I don't usually do this, but...
This past weekend there was a write-up in the Jerusalem Post about an Israeli company that has patented and produced a nifty sets of pre-inked math stamps for math students. The basic premise is that it frees students from having to do repetitive sketching in math class and lets them concentrate on the math.
Keren Or Lalo, the owner of the company said the idea hit her when she made the transition from math teacher to math student:
"I really thought that the high-school students I was teaching just didn't like math or were too lazy to do the sketches right," she says. "But when I started taking courses in management and economics at the Open University and was asked to draw these figures myself, it suddenly dawned on me how hard it really is to trace the same shapes over and over again and to get them exactly right."
It's one of those ideas that makes you hit yourself in the forehead and go 'why didn't I think of that?'
Apparently, up until now if you wanted to draw many of the common graph axis's, curves and formulas, etc., you either had to use one of those clumsy plastic tracing stencils or sketch the damned things by hand.
I'm guessing there is at least one math teacher out there among treppenwitz readers who is nodding along approvingly, am I right?
As if the idea wasn't attractive enough, the set comes nicely packaged in a convenient storage box:
Naturally, being the impulse shopper I am, right after shabbat I went onto the net and visited the URL that was mentioned in the JP write-up. I then called up the owner of the company and had a nice chat with her about how perfect this would be for my kids and their friends since they were both at the age where these subjects are coming into play.
They have three different sets of stamps (click images below to see actual size):
The basic 'Student Set' contains these stamps:
The 'Algebra Set' that contains these:
And of course there's a 'Geometry Set':
Ms. Lalo explained apologetically that she is still getting her website organized (it's only in Hebrew at the moment), so for the time being the only place you can purchase these stamp sets is in the eBay store she set up as a temporary measure. You'll need to have a PayPal account... but hey, you should have one of those anyway (you can sign up for free!) if you do any shopping at all on the web!
So if you want to set your kids up for some serious extra credit in math, or pick up some Bar/Bat Mitzvah gifts that will be appreciated long after the shine has worn off that
crap silver-plated pen & pencil set you were thinking of giving... here's your chance to give something truly useful.
I've already oredered all three for my kids and I'm thinking of stocking up for all those Bar Mitzvah gifts Gilad has to give this year.
You can buy one set... or all three, right over here.
And tell her treppenwitz sent you. :-)
Tuesday, April 01, 2008
An African Correspondent (Part II)
[If you didn't read yesterday's post, please do so first.... otherwise this one won't make sense. Trust me.]
So if you'll recall, when last we met I was on the horns of a dilemma.
I realized belatedly that it is a very easy thing to act the anonymous big-shot and assure some faceless bureaucrat that they should go ahead and give a tourist visa to someone you've never met (or even spoken). It is quite another matter to have that faceless bureaucrat turn the tables on you and ask if you are willing to sign a legal paper taking full responsibility for someone who could easily turn out to be very different from the polite, sincere correspondent you thought you knew.
One of my smart-alecky readers emailed me yesterday afternoon to ask if my African correspondent had initiated our email relationship with something that looked like this:
I AM GIDEON ARAP MOI, THE SON OF THE FORMER PRESIDENT OF KENYA MR DANIEL ARAP MOI. I CAME TO KNOW YOU IN THE COURSE OF MY SEARCH FOR A RELIABLE AND GOD FEARING PARTNER, AND I DECIDED CONTACT YOU, BECAUSE I BELIEVE YOU ARE A REPUTABLE PERSON AND I FEEL YOU CAN HELP ME AND MY MOTHER OVER THIS CONFIDENTIAL MATTER.
I COUNT ON YOUR INTEGRITY AND HONESTY TO BE ABLE TO HANDLE THIS BUSINESS. MY FATHER...
Hardee har har... very cute. :-)
Let me state for the record that up to and including the point where I volunteered to contact the Israeli Consulate staff on his behalf, not once in almost three years did this young man ever ask me for anything other than my opinion on matters related to Israel and the middle east.
Of course, one could argue that a request for someone's opinion is perhaps the most potent flattery and could serve to ingratiate the asker for any number of future favors. But I honestly didn't think that was his motive.
And on another point, in answer to one of the commenters on yesterday's post who suggested that it was not possible that my African correspondent was coming to get a job washing dishes in Tel Aviv... even dishwashers in Tel Aviv make more than many middle managers in the third world. Add to that the high rate of unemployment and the lack of opportunities in developing countries, and suddenly the food service industry in Israel doesn't look all that bad anymore.
But let's get back to my African Correspondent.
After staring at the very official-looking form for a few minutes I decided that the right decision (for me, anyway) was to sign it. After emailing a scanned copy back to the Consulate in Nairobi, I called the consular officer and told her to go ahead and issue the tourist visa.
For the rest of the day my emotions see-sawed between feeling very good about myself for trusting this young man... and nagging self-doubt as I realized that I was powerless to keep this person from overstaying his visa (or even from engaging in criminal activity) if he was so inclined.
It turns out that any fears I might have had were completely unfounded.
My African correspondent arrived in Israel over a week ago and spent his first couple of days exploring Old Yaffo and Tel Aviv with a Harvard Doctoral student that he met at the hostel where they were both staying. It wasn't until the two of them came to Jerusalem that I got to finally meet the person with whom I'd been corresponding for so long.
We arranged to meet on Ben Yehuda Street and it wasn't hard to spot him crossing the street.
During the inter-tribal violence that surrounded the recent Kenyan elections, my African correspondent had told me that he'd been spared from some of the danger because, being very tall, he could pass for a Massai instead of his Kikuyu tribe, if he had to. As I watched this tall, slim African man walk across King George Street to meet me, I understood what he meant.
The first culture clash occurred when I gave him a hug. I'm used to the typical American male single hug (with some back slapping thrown in to keep things hetero) followed by a quick release. Apparently they do a 'double hug' with a partial release in the middle where he comes from. Oops. :-)
But seriously, once I saw him and we began to chat, all I could think of was, 'of course this is what he would look like... and why on earth was I worried about him?'
My African correspondent had originally intended to visit the north of Israel as well, but since he lost a few days of his vacation waiting for his visa to be issued, he split his time between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem... with a day trip to Ein Gedi thrown in to boot.
During his time in the Jerusalem area we were honored to be able to host him in our home and Zahava expressed her hospitality the only way she knows how; she fed him to within an inch of his life!
For his part, my African correspondent was the perfect guest; soft spoken, considerate, engaging, funny and embarrassingly generous. He brought gifts of traditional tribal clothing for everyone in our family plus some peacock earrings and a handbag which Ariella instantly claimed for herself.
For my part, I gave him a gift of a couple of books about sections of Israeli history that are largely ignored and/or overly politicized. One was called 'Zion before Zionism' which is about the history of what is today called Israel before the modern Zionist movement was born. The other (whose name escapes me at this early hour of the morning) was an unvarnished look at the Lehi (Stern Gang) and Etzel (Irgun) during the period immediately before the establishment of the state. I figured he could find the more conventional stuff to read on his own.
I find it interesting that the the comments on yesterday's post were fairly evenly split over whether or not to sign the papers for this young man to be able to visit Israel. Most of what people had to say - both for and against doing so - went through my mind during the decision-making process. But in the end I felt that the right thing to do was to trust my gut... and this young man.
He's now back in Kenya and is probably reading this at work (shame on you for reading blogs on company time!). From what I understand he enjoyed his trip very much and would like to come back for another visit some time in the future. Most importantly, we Israelis don't seem to have tarnished his vision of the region very much and he still counts himself among Israel's staunchest supporters in East Africa.
All I can say at this point is that whenever my African correspondent (I'll leave it up to him to reveal his identity or not) wants to visit again, the guest room at chez treppenwitz is waiting patiently for his return.