Sunday, May 31, 2009
A reason for everything... even a lack of 'Zitz Fleisch'
For those not in the know, 'Zitz Fleisch' is a yiddish expression that literally means 'sitting meat'. It is used to describe the admirable ability to sit still and pray, study, etc. for long periods of time. So, someone who is fidgety and unable to sit still in synagogue or study hall is said to lack 'Zitz Fleisch'.
Clear so far? Good.
Now, even though my posterior would seem ample to long periods of sitting, I am a classic example of someone who lacks 'Zitz Fleisch'. Throughout my less-than-stellar educational career, my teachers complained that I had problems staying focused on the tasks at hand, and that a short walk for a drink of water, a trip to the bathroom or even a quick stare out the window was far more interesting to me than anything that might be transpiring in class.
Sadly, the same problem of restlessness has always been part and parcel of my synagogue attendance, and I have had to create countless 'work arounds' and tricks to keep my mind inside the building and focused on the tefilot (prayer services) going on around me.
These include (first and foremost) choosing a minyan where the length of tefilot are kept to a bare minimum. I have no patience with people who want to show off their cantorial skills (or their ability to shoehorn various inappropriate/random melodies into the liturgy), and my absolute limit for Shabbat or holiday services is 2 hours (and that's pushing it!). Even then, I need to build in at least one short break to get up and stretch my legs.
Additional reading material is also a must. It may be the 'parsha sheets' that are available at the entrance to the shul, or translated sources from home... but I need a few such crutches to keep me from wandering around and talking to people.
Even so, at least once during a two hour davening I will need to get up and stretch my legs. I usually try to make these appear as if I am actually taking Yonah out (ie.. during speeches, etc.), but if I have no handy child on which to pin my departure, I'm not proud... I simply get up and go. I'm sure most people [mistakenly] assume I'm taking part in a 'kiddush club' (a much maligned custom of going out in the middle of services to make kiddish on fine whiskey).
This past Shabbat was especially hard for me since it came on the heels of a late Thursday night and Friday celebration of Shavuot. By Saturday morning I was just completely out of 'Zitz Fleisch'. Luckily Yonah was being a bit fidgety at the mid-point of the service (gee, I wonder where he gets that from), so I asked him if he needed a break to go outside and 'shake out his sillies'. To my relief, he readily agreed.
Once out in the lobby, I noticed my lovely wife standing with a few other women who had just arrived, so I went over to say hello. One of the women was a young British immigrant who had a pretty little girl clinging to her skirt. I'd seen the little girl before and remembered her because even though she was three or so, she already wore glasses... something that one doesn't often see with children so young.
Anyway, as I walked up, the conversation had just turned to her daughter's glasses and how kid's frames were extremely expensive... and that they were mostly unattractive due to having to be overbuilt to survive rough treatment.
As I looked down at her daughter I noticed that the frames were indeed quite thick and dominated the girl's pretty face. And all at once it struck me that I might have a possible solution.
You see, a few years ago when I was trying to figure out what kind of frames to get for my first pair of reading glasses, I did some online shopping for antique frames; specifically gold rimmed Windsor style (think John Lennon) since I liked the style and the antique frames seem to have been made quite well (judging by how many have survived).
Anyway, most of the places selling such eyeglass frames know the value of what they have and were selling them for at least as much as modern frames (if not more). But some 'junk dealers' were selling 'lots' of multiple eyeglass frames for very reasonable prices. Among the lot were usually one or two decent frames... and the rest were truly junk. But since the lot was reasonably priced you didn't really mind buying them all in order to get the one or two frames you really had your eye on.
Such was the case with a lot I purchased. In among the crap was a pretty pair of antique gold-filled Windsor style frames. I didn't know what size they were and didn't dare ask too many questions about them (for fear that they would jack up the asking price), so I just bought the whole lot for $15 or $20 bucks.
When the lot of frames arrived I was disappointed to find that the only frames I really cared about were much too small for me. In fact, even though they were exquisitely made and in perfect condition... they were obviously meant for a small child, not an adult. So with a heavy heart, I put them back in their original antique case, slipped them into my junk drawer... and promptly forgot about them.
That is, until I found myself eavesdropping on this conversation about the high cost of unattractive, substandard children's frames. As I stood there looking at this pretty little girl, all I could think about were these lovely gold frames that were sitting in the bottom of a pile of junk.
Since we live only a five minute walk from the synagogue, I ran home to get them. When I opened the case at home, I was stuck anew by how well they were made, despite their delicate appearance. I went back to shul and took the young mother aside and asked her if she had ever considered antique eyeglass frames for her daughter. She said no, but after I'd explained what I was talking about and showed her the pair I had, she immediately wanted to see if they fit her daughter.
Not only did they fit, but the 'riding cables' (the flexible curved portion that goes behind the ears; designed originally for equestrians) were perfect for making sure they didn't fall off an active child.
It was clear that she loved the frames but I could sense her reluctance to accept something of such apparent value. I just smiled, told her how I had acquired them and assured her that they were simply being wasted in my junk drawer and that it would please me to no end to see her little girl in such pretty frames.
Usually when I return to the synagogue after one of my much-needed breaks, I feel a bit guilty at having taken a stroll when everyone else was somehow able to carry on uninterrupted. But this time I couldn't help feeling that there was some extra purpose to my little walk-around... and that the world was just the tiniest bit better for my inability to stay in my seat.
This could be just my sorry attempt to excuse away a childish habit of mine. But to be honest, when I see that little girl in a week or two with her new glasses, it won't really matter. I'll know in my heart that there is purpose to everything... even a chronic lack of 'Zitz Fleisch'.
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
Just in time for Shavuot
[I posted these recipes before Shavuot back in 2006, but it occurred to me that there has probably been a significant turn over in readership here at treppenwitz since then. So here they are again. Don't thank me... I'm a giver!]
I am not a gourmet cook by any stretch of the imagination, but I do have a nice repertoire of main dishes, desserts and confections that I make quite well.
Very few of these dishes are old family recipes, and there's really no plausible reason to be secretive about how they are prepared. Yet my Über-patient wife can tell you that I have a childish habit of keeping most of these recipes locked up in a little leather-bound diary... and of not sharing them with anyone!
I can't explain why I started this stupidity. I'm guessing it's because I love when people enjoy the things I prepare, so some subliminal instinct likely kicks in that wants to force them to have to come back to me whenever they wish to taste these culinary treats again.
I'm quite a catch, no?
So, we're all in agreement that I have a problem... and that it would probably be therapeutic to try to work through it.
It would be therapeutic for me to loosen up and realize that people will still want to enjoy things I've prepared even if they could easily prepare them themselves. It would be therapeutic for my wife (who LOVES to share recipes) since she won't be tempted to chase me around the kitchen with a cast-iron skillet.
But the true beneficiaries of this attempt to become a better person will be you, dear reader. Starting today you will get to see some of the stuff I've had locked away all these years.
So, as the holiday of Shavuot is upon us, I thought I'd share a couple of recipes that lend themselves nicely to a dairy menu.
The first one is a recipe for ersatz Kahlua® I inherited from a friend back in the early '80's while we were undergraduates at Hebrew University on Mount Scopus. A batch of this stuff costs a tiny fraction of the real stuff... and it tastes exactly the same!
- 4 cups water
- 6 teaspoons instant coffee
- 2 cups white sugar
- ½ cup brown sugar
- 1 ½ cup vodka (use the cheap stuff)
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 1 tablespoon chocolate syrup (optional) *
1. Bring water to a boil and add instant coffee and both white and brown sugar.
2. Immediately after pouring in sugar turn down the heat and simmer for 20 minutes (stirring occasionally)
3. Remove from heat, add vanilla and chocolate (if used) and allow to cool.
4.Once liquid is cool, add vodka (don't add the vodka to the hot mixture or the alcohol will evaporate)
Once all the steps are completed give the whole mess a good stir and immediately pour into empty bottles (using a funnel) and close tightly. The whole process shouldn't take longer than an hour start to finish!
Note: You can safely double this recipe, but I've had bad results when I've tried to triple or quadruple it. Also, if you want to make ersatz Tia Maria® instead of Kahlua®, just use rum instead of vodka. They are otherwise identical recipes.
* If you want to keep your ersatz Kahlua® parve (meaning non-dairy), make sure to use a parve pot and non-dairy chocolate syrup (or leave out this optional ingredient if you can't find parve choc. syrup).
OK, other than getting hammered on ersatz black/white Russians, sombreros and mudslides, I'm sure you were wondering what else you could do with your newly minted stash of ersatz Kahlua®.
I'm glad you asked:
Chocolate [ersatz] Kahlua® Cheesecake
- 8 oz. Chocolate cookie crumbs (I use Oreo® crumbs if I can find them)
- ½ cup melted butter
- 2 envelopes of dessert topping (e.g. Dream Whip® or similar)
- 1 cup milk
- 1 lb. cream cheese (splurge and use the Raskas or Philly!)
- 2 tablespoons [ersatz] Kahlua®
- ⅔ cup sugar
- 12 oz chocolate chips (melted and cooled)
- 1 cup whipping cream
- One square bittersweet chocolate
- 10" (or two 8") un-greased spring-form pan(s)
1. If chocolate cookies aren't pre-crumbled, crush them into a fine crumbly mess and place in a mixing bowl.
2. Add melted butter to cookie crumbs and mix thoroughly
3. Press buttery crumbs into an even layer on the bottom of the spring-form pan(s)
4. Bake for 7 - 8 minutes @ 350° and then put in refrigerator to chill
5. Process dessert topping with milk until stiff
6. Add cream cheese and mix until smooth (no lumps!)
7. Add [ersatz] Kahlua®, sugar and melted chocolate chips
8. Process until smooth and then pour over chilled cookie crust(s)
9. Lick bowl until face and ears are sufficiently chocolaty and then wash mixing bowl
10. Process whipping cream until stiff (but not too much or you'll end up with butter!!!)
11. Pour over chocolate layer using a spatula.
12. Garnish with shavings of bittersweet chocolate
Note: Refrigerate for minimum of 6 - 8 hours before serving!
Wow, that was a liberating experience! I need to open up like this more often!
BTW, on a related note... Zahava and I went to a wedding a couple of years ago where something very special was done for the bride and groom. Everyone was asked to give an extra gift:
On every table was a stack of index-size cards and pens, along with a note asking everyone at the table to write down their very favorite recipe... the one that they knew by heart and which never failed to get rave reviews (everyone has at least one!!!). It could be an appetizer, a soup, a main dish, a dessert, anything at all... so long as it was a personal favorite.
The result was that at the end of the wedding, the bride and groom were able to start their married life with a huge stack of well-loved and proven recipes that would normally have taken a lifetime to compile.
If you know anyone making a wedding soon you should suggest this to them.
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
And they're off...
Okay, not a bad start. In the end 54 people signed up for the treppenwitz 10k challenge. However only 39 have actually logged on and entered their steps. Hmmm... I'm guessing we have a few people who need to be shamed off the couch. ;-) Not that I'm naming names, mind you...
Anyway... anyone who would like to follow along with the daily results over the next month or so can go here and cheer on their favorite competitors. I'm lost somewhere in the middle of the pack, so I'm going to have to take my game to the next level if I'm going to make a good showing (what with being the host, and all).
A few notes:
1. If you had meant to sign up and got locked out (the registration closed when the competition began) don't worry. Get yourself a good pedometer and start getting in shape. There will be another challenge. Soon. With ever-more-glamorous prizes!
2. Some of you have reported technical difficulties with your pedometers. My advice is to play with it for a few hours and if it doesn't work properly, take it back and exchange it for a different model. I personally have a mid-level model (Omrom Walking Style II) that I am very happy with, but there are lots of good pedometers out there. Look for ones that can go in your pocket as well as be worn on your belt. Trust me, you won't always want to have it on your belt where it can get knocked off or broken. Also, look for ones that keep a 7 day memory of your steps so if you forget to record your steps for a day or two, you can still catch up with your record keeping.
3. Looking at the graph on the competition page, here seems to be a wide range of endurance/experience in the current competition. Don't be discouraged if you are near the bottom of the heap. The competition is all about getting a good average over the month. And even if your monthly average is not the best, you might be surprised by some of the award categories I have planned (i.e. most consistent, most improved, etc.)
4. There will be ongoing shout outs on this site to anyone who spots me walking and sends me an email or comment giving the time and place of the sighting... as well as who I was walking with at the time. Those of you outside of Israel can also participate in this game of 'trep spotting' since at my current weight I am clearly visible on Google Earth.
Monday, May 25, 2009
Proud Moments In Parenting
You have no idea how proud I am to be able to tell you that, in addition to his beguiling charms and impish good looks, our youngest son Yonah (now almost 5 and a half!) has mastered a clever little party trick... perfect for impressing company:
Whenever Yonah feels a sneeze coming on, he stands up, bends slightly forward at the waist, spreads his arms wide like a bird, plants his tongue firmly against the roof of his mouth... and in one enormous explosion, expels the entire contents of his head (phlegm, brains, etc.) from his nostrils.
Oh sure, he makes a half-hearted show of whimpering to indicate his helplessness in the face of such involuntary impulses. But the intermittent giggles give away just how proud he is of the feat.
Trust me folks, this never gets old. No matter how many times I see him do this trick I am amazed anew at how such a little boy can produce such copious (not to mention pendulous) ropes of unspeakable wet matter. On a good day, it is not uncommon for said mucous ribbons to reach his waist... or even his knees!
I honestly can't decide whether I'm more impressed by the fact that he can sustain this horrible post-sneeze posture pretty much indefinitely (i.e. until someone runs for a kleenex and removes the offending booger-lanche or the dogs get to him... whichever happens first), or by his incredible luck at not having once succeeded in blowing out his eardrums or making his eyes pop out of their sockets.
Sunday, May 24, 2009
Let her stand where she wants
There was a Bar Mitzvah in our synagogue this past Shabbat, and the young man did an admirable job in all respects. However, as he was getting towards the end of his Torah reading, I noticed a little old lady standing in the men's section next to the Bima (raised platform with the reader's table).
I'll admit that having grown up in a Reform temple, the sight of a woman in the men's section didn't really phase me. But knowing that such a departure from the norm in orthodoxy might raise a few eyebrows (to say the least) among the other congregants, I waited for the expected commotion.
But none came. She just stood there leaning on her cane, and nobody said a word.
When the reading was finished, the congregation began throwing candies at the young man... and it quickly became apparent why the old lady had taken up a position so close to the Bima: She had stuffed her pockets with candies, and wanted to make sure she was within easy throwing range of the Bar Mitzvah Boy.
While the candies were thrown (and the old lady tossed well-aimed salvos of her own), a friend of mine came over to where I was standing and asked if I'd noticed the old lady in the men's section. I nodded and then asked why nobody seemed to mind that she had spent most of the Torah reading in the men's section?
He just smiled and said, "Oh, you don't know who that is? Let me tell you a story":
"That lady", he began, "is the Bar Mitzvah Boy's grandmother. Before the Six Day war she lived in one of the Jerusalem neighborhoods that abutted the 'non-man's zone' dividing the Jordanian and Israeli positions. She had endured years of random sniper fire aimed at her apartment building, and had seen many injuries and deaths in her time."
"Just before the war she had undergone surgery on her hip and was only able to walk with the aid of a cane. When the news went out over the radio that the war had ended, she was among the first to emerge from the bomb shelters. She limped into the street, blinking at the bright sunlight, and immediately began beating the bodies of the Jordanian soldiers with her cane to make sure they were dead. Many weren't... at least when she found them."
"She was so full of fury at the conditions under which the Jordanians had forced her, and her neighbors, to live for so many years that she'd jumped at the opportunity to dole out some personal retribution."
When my friend had finished telling me the story, he tilted his head in the direction of the old lady (who was, by then, slowly thump, thump thumping her way back to the women's section with the aid of her cane), and asked, "Do you want to be the one to tell her where she is and isn't allowed to stand?"
Friday, May 22, 2009
Last call for the Treppenwitz 10K Challenge!
I can't believe only 35 brave souls have signed up for my walking challenge so far. You are aware that it begins this Sunday morning, right???
C'mon people, this is as much for me as it is for you. Do you really want to be responsible for me remaining a pudgy middle aged man?
Okay, to be fair, there isn't much you can do about the middle aged part... and I'm pretty comfortable with being a man. But the blame for the whole pudgy thing? Squarely on your shoulders if you don't get yourself a pedometer and sign up for this challenge!
[And yes, there will be prizes... as in multiple prizes! And not necessarily just for being the best!!!]
Thursday, May 21, 2009
In honor of Yom Yerushalayim
I have a new post up over at the OU site in honor of Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Reunification Day) entitled 'Forgetting Jerusalem'.
Feel free to go have a look.
A Wake Up Call For Memorial Day
Even though I don't live in the U.S. anymore, I am still vaguely aware of the passing of the calendar milestones there.
This coming Monday, for instance, is Memorial Day. For most people this day marks the first day of summer... with pools and parks going into warm weather mode, families dusting off their BBQs and stores advertising sales to lure shoppers who are off from work.
But for some, it is a day to remember those who gave their lives for their country; friends and strangers alike... and to pay tribute to the concept of loyal service and self-sacrifice.
My friend Karl in Florida sent me the following video. It perfectly sums up the idea of how real and imagined differences can be bridged by shared values, commonality of purpose and respect.
Regardless of how you spend your Memorial Day, take a moment to remember what the day is really about:
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
10 Lessons Israel Should Take From The Sri Lankan Victory Over Terror
Although most people couldn't find Sri Lanka on a map if their lives depended on it, something amazing happened this week on this beautiful Island nation that sits just south east of India in the Indian Ocean. They did something that all of the European and American pundits had said was impossible: They won an asymmetric war against a well entrenched, ethnically/politically motivated, insurgent terrorist army.
Since Israel has been fighting a similar war against a similarly motivated terrorist army, it would be a shame to squander some of the priceless lessons that can be taken from the Sri Lankan victory:
1. Fighting for a draw or ceasefire will only ensure an endless war. Fight to win or don't fight at all. A draw is a victory for the terrorists.
2. The rest of the world will never support a war of any kind, much less one fought against an enemy willing to use civilians as human shields and combatants. Seeking foreign support for such a war is less than useless; it is counterproductive. As soon as Sri Lanka began fighting an all out, no-holds barred war against the Tamil Tigers (LTTE), the world turned against them. Sri Lanka ignored the world and followed their chosen course of action to the desired conclusion; victory. They did this at the cost of isolation and economic hardship. But they won.
3. When civil rights and the war effort bump up against one other (as they must in a war fought on home soil), there must be an accepted legal mechanism for temporarily setting aside some civil rights and personal freedoms in such a way that they can be easily and completely reclaimed by the populace once the war is over. Societies at war are not free. Get over it. The sooner the war is won the sooner you'll get all your freedoms back.
4. Civilian shields are the sole responsibility of those who hide behind them. Once a warning has been given and the civilians have not been released, the war must be prosecuted despite the regrettable loss of human life. Once civilians lose their value as shields they will cease to be used as such. It remains to be seen if the world will hold the Sri Lankans or the Tigers responsible for the high civilian death toll. But the end of the war will certainly ensure that no more civilians need die (on either side).
5. Once an insurgent enemy abandons the conventions of 'civilized warfare', the army fighting them must do so as well (in a limited and organized way). This does not mean the abandonment of ethics/morals or allowing government soldiers to become savages. It means adopting new rules of engagement that place all combatants on an even footing. It means assassination for assassination. It means restructuring the army into small, semi-autonomous units that are more mobile and have clear objectives. It means occasionally telling soldiers to take no prisoners... especially when flags of truce are routinely used cynically to gain lethal advantage.
6. Ask friendly nations for support, but be willing to turn to the enemies of our friends when the requested support is withheld. Sri Lanka initially asked India for assistance and was turned down (due to the large Tamil minority in southern India). This gave them no choice but to turn to China and even Pakistan for arms and support. Eventually India came around. They never actually provided material support, but once they saw Sri Lanka was serious about fighting the war to a conclusion, they stepped up efforts to stop domestic Indian support for the Tigers from being smuggled to LTTE strongholds.
7. Ceasefires rarely help the stronger side. The multi-year cease fire that existed between the Tigers and the Sri Lankan government was used by the LTTE to re-arm and wage a low-intensity terror war against Sri Lankan civilian and government targets. Each government retaliation was roundly condemned by the rest of the world as a breach of the cease-fire while each terror attack was met with indifference and resignation (sound familiar); a trend that emboldened the Tigers and won them many new supporters/combatants among the Sri Lankan Tamil minority.
8. Insurgencies are like a cancer. They must be removed completely or they will metastasize again and again in ever-more-dangerous incarnations. But by the same analogy, care must be taken to differentiate between healthy (i.e. neutral) population and cancerous (insurgent) population. As in the body, this designation isn't made by the doctors... it is apparent by observing the population. Those who act as terrorists (or support/shelter the terrorists) are insurgents/cancer. Those who don't are not. Let them make their choice and then let everyone live (or die) with their choices. I was never a big GWB fan, but one of the truest things he ever said was (paraphrased) "You are either with us or against us. Time to choose."
9. Being ethnically unique may entitle a population to pursue self-determination... but not necessarily at the expense of an existing sovereign nation. Yes, it would be wonderful if every ethic and religious group had its own country. It would also be wonderful if the global energy requirements could be met by burning rainbow dust and unicorn farts. But the world has a finite amount of real estate, and in some cases there may need to be some multi-ethnic countries. Sorry. The ones who got there first and hung out a shingle get to make the rules. Barring that, ethnic populations perpetually in conflict with their neighbors may occasionally need to seek out a new place to live near populations that are more similar to themselves.
10. Make sure the checks and balances of power adjust to the reality of a war footing. New rules of engagement must be enshrined in law, and the executive/judicial branches of government must uphold (but not exceed) these new temporary powers. An executive branch without checks is a dictator/tyrant. A judicial branch that continues to operate on a peacetime footing during a war will undermine the government's ability and resolve to win.
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
Treppenwitz 10K Challenge
No, not ten kilometers. And to be truthful, not really that challenging (unless you are as out of shape as I am).
What we're talking about here is a challenge to try to walk at least 10,000 steps per day for just over a month. To participate in the challenge you will need to get yourself a pedometer (they're pretty cheap and can be found at most stores that sell sporting goods), and sign up for a membership (free) on the walking tracker website (http://walkertracker.com).
Once you've taken care of those two things, you're good to go.
The actual competition page is here. The way it works is that once you've signed up for walker tracker, you accept the challenge and then beggin logging your steps every day.
I've added a wrinkle in the rules:
Since I can't carry a pedometer on Shabbat, I give myself a nice round 5000 steps (a rough estimate of how many steps I walk on a typical Saturday). Therefore, anyone in the challenge who wants to take a day off each week from tracking their steps (for whatever reason) can assign themselves 5000 steps on that day.
I had actually tried to set up this challenge a while back, but I must have been distracted at the time (or just used to reading Hebrew from right to left) because I reversed the starting and ending dates, with the competition ending before the starting date. Needless to say, some of the would-be competitors had a field day speculating about time travel and beaming up to the Enterprise and such. Funny bunch.
Anyway, the Treppenwitz 10K Challenge officially kicks off this Sunday, 24 May and ends on June 26th. There's no prize for winners (okay, maybe there is a secret prize... but you'll have to wait until the end of the competition to find out what it is), and no shame in being dead last. I'll probably be right there at the bottom of the list with you. The important thing is to take those first steps... and then keep on going.
I'll be posting encouragement throughout the competition, and I'll mention the top few walkers at the end of each week.
Oh, and this thing is based on the honor system, so you can post whatever number of steps you want and nobody will be the wiser. But what's the fun in cheating?
A bunch of people have already signed up and space is limited to 150 participants (for now), so what are you waiting for? Go get your pedometer (or change the battery if you already have one gathering dust in a drawer somewhere) and sign up!
[Note to the cell phone industry: Steal This Idea! - How hard would it be to put a pedometer in the cell phones you design? A cell phone is something that most people carry all day long anyway... so wouldn't a pedometer be a neat (and inexpensive) feature that might help the general population slim down. Don't thank me... I'm a giver. ]
Monday, May 18, 2009
Not all clothing deserves (or gets) a second chance
[Today's post about men's clothing has been rattling around in my head for a few months and is likely of interest to nobody. But I had an inexplicable need to write it down... so feel free to came back another time.]
I think it's safe to say that with very few exceptions, men's formal/business attire must be in new (or like-new) condition to be worn in polite company.
With the exception of replacing a lost collar button (using the exact match sewn onto the back of the placket by the thoughtful manufacturer), you usually shouldn't repair dress clothes. Basically, if you have patches on your jacket, you'd better be a professor... and the patches had better be of fine leather and be located on the elbows of a tweed hacking jacket.
Barring that, if you have obvious repairs on dress clothes, you will be perceived as homeless and escorted off the premises.
But the rules for repairing causal men's clothing seem to be somewhat more flexible... albeit a tad arbitrary:
"Do guys who aren't in relationships just let their toenails grow until they poke through the front of their socks?"
While Zahava can attest that I'm probably not the best person to answer that particular question, it does raise a topic that has puzzled me for ages: Why are socks considered completely disposable?
[funny aside: When I first heard the Beatle's song 'Eleanor Rigby' as a kid, I thought the lyric; "Father McKenzie darning his socks in the night when there's nobody there" meant he was swearing at his socks in private.]
But seriously, 'darning' socks was once a well respected pastime that marked the darner as both thrifty and responsible. But in my adult life I have never met a single person who wouldn't toss even their favorite pair of socks in the trash at the first hint of a hole.
Underwear/undershirts - Okay, unlike socks, the idea of repairing 'holy' underwear is just creepy. But by the same token, underwear's very invisibility under clothing offers the lazy among us a ready excuse to hang on to them, ehem, somewhat longer than their condition might normally warrant.
Pants: For some reason, pants - especially blue jeans - lend themselves nicely to being repaired. Patched knees, seats and crotches are the mark of a well-loved pair of jeans. Heck, you can even buy bluejeans these days with the knees that have been thoughtfully pre-torn by the manufacturer (there's a career there somewhere for both of my sons)!
But just try and patch a pair of khakis/chinos and suddenly your wife doesn't want to be seen with you in public! Sheesh!
Shirts: Here's a real puzzler: While you can repair some casual pants... once any casual shirt has a tear, or the collar becomes the least bit frayed, wives and girlfriends immediately start trying to toss the blameless garment into the trash, or relegate it to the rag bin.
During our first year of marriage, Zahava made several clandestine attempts to throw out some of my favorite shirts. That we remained married after the third time I found my favorite over-sized, diaper-soft light purple cotton oxford in the trash, is a testament to how much I love my wife.
These days, a bigger problem is that she has finally realized the true value of these 'vintage' shirts and is constantly trying to pilfer these treasured heirlooms for her own use around the house.
OK... I feel better now that I've gotten that out of my system. Of course, I'm pretty sure that what got me started down this thought path is the sad fact that more than 3/4 of my available drawer and closet space is now occupied by clothing that:
a) ... doesn't fit me properly (but may fit me again some day if I would stick to a diet and exercise program for more than a week)
b) ... is missing a button or two in a place that can't be ignored or hidden.
c)... is torn in places that social convention and local ordnance demand should be patched before being worn in public.
d)... is wrinkled beyond acceptable norms (even for linen shirts) and needs to be ironed.
e)... is clothing associated with a particular task or sport, such as bee suits, baseball pants / jerseys, tai chi clothes, polar thermal underwear (''gotkes'), climbing pants & shoes, cross-country ski clothing, etc., that should really be relegated to a storage room or a box in the attic... but I'm afraid I'll have trouble finding it when I really need it.
Women have it so much easier; a simple black cocktail dress and a couple of pairs of pumps and your wardrobe all set, right? < /sarcasm >
Friday, May 15, 2009
I couldn't help myself
The following landed in my inbox this morning. It is a bit (ok, a lot) bawdy, but it made me literally laugh out loud (LOL)... something that forwarded stuff almost never makes me do anymore.
Some of you felt that Guy #2 in yesterday's post should have been more flexible and understanding before ending the relationship with the girl he was dating.
Well, here's the poster boy for 'flexible and understanding':
All I can say about this is 'thank G-d this never happened on one of my dates!'
Thursday, May 14, 2009
A recently overheard a portion of conversation between two twenty-something guys while standing on line in a store. I'm not usually in the habit of eavesdropping on conversations around me, but since making aliyah I've started doing so... not to glean prurient details of the private lives of others, but rather to practice and improve my Hebrew comprehension without the pressure of having to formulate a response.
On the one hand, I was proud of myself that I understood pretty much every word. But on the other, the content of the conversation keeps playing over and over in my head, and I can't decide how I feel about it.
I'd be interested in your thoughts:
Guy 1: I'm thinking of getting a few couples together for a week up north this summer. Do you think you and Shifra [not her real name] would want to come?
Guy 2: We broke up.
Guy 1: What! You broke up?!
Guy 2: The truth is I broke up with her?
Guy 1: Why? What happened?
Guy 2: I went into her purse looking for gum when we were out the other day, and I found a pack of cigarettes. She never told me she smokes!
Guy 1: You didn't know that? Everyone knows that Shifra smokes!
Guy 2: I didn't. When we started going out she specifically told me she didn't smoke. There were plenty of occasions that I've mentioned how much I hate the smell of smoke and how I would never want to live with a smoker. Forget the fact that the house would smell like smoke and our clothes would stink. I'm more concerned about the health risks, to her, to me, to our kids!
Guy 1: You have kids?
Guy 2: Don't be a moron... of course I don't have any kids. I'm talking theoretically about my future family.
Guy 1: Oh. Okay, you had me worried for a second.
Guy 2: But wait... you said everyone knows she smokes?
Guy 1: Yeah, I've seen her with her friends at clubs plenty of times and she's always been smoking. You mean you never even smelled smoke on her clothes?
Guy 2: Yeah, but her roommate smokes so whenever I've complained about the smell she blames it on her.
Guy 1: So maybe she only smokes when she's out drinking?
Guy 2: That's what she started to tell me when I found the cigarettes... that she only smokes when she's out having a drink with friends. But when I asked her why she never smoked when we were out having drinks she didn't have an answer!
Guy 1: You have to admit, knowing how much you hate being around smokers, she'd have to be an idiot to smoke around you.
Guy 2: You don't find that just a little dishonest? She knows I don't like being around smokers, so she pretends she doesn't smoke. What did she think, that we would get married and then she'd tell me when it was too late for me to do anything? I mean, what kind of guy divorces his wife because she smokes, right?
Guy 1: I see you've thought this through. So when you gave her a choice between quitting smoking or breaking up, she chose the cigarettes?
Guy 2: No, I didn't give her a choice... I just told her we were done.
Guy 1: But what if she would have quit? You two have been together since the army... I can't believe she wouldn't choose you over smoking?
Guy 2: You don't get it. She lied to me. Someone who will lie about a little thing will lie about a big thing. And besides, smoking is no different from drugs or alcohol. You can't tell the difference between someone who uses them once in a while socially and someone who has a problem. Even the people themselves sometimes don't know the difference until they try to stop.
I lost track of the conversation at that point because they'd paid for their order and I was stuck waiting for the cashier to ring up my stuff. But even though I didn't know the two guys ahead of me in line, I spent the rest of the day thinking about their conversation... and feeling personally conflicted about the decision that Guy 2 had made.
I'm not sure why I shared this. Feel free to comment or not as the mood strikes you.
One request, though. Please don't make this a discussion of the evils of smoking or your gripes about smokers (or non-smokers, for that matter). That's not what this is about.
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
The importance of having access to the piano
As I drive to work each day through the breadbasket of ancient Judea, the ripening orchards vineyards and fields I pass remind me that just as in the days when the Temples stood in Jerusalem, the first wheat from the southern slopes of the Hevron hills will be ready just in time for Shavuot (signaling the traditional start of the wheat harvest).
Shortly after we moved here, our (then) 7 year old son Gilad made a memorable observation.
He had been taking piano lessons in the US, but was on a forced break in his musical studies due to our move. Even though he remained keenly interested in music, we explained to him that it made no sense to start his lessons with an Israeli teacher until our lift arrived and he had a piano in the house to play.
At the same time, being in an Israeli school with a strong religious Zionist curriculum, he was also starting to become aware of the direct connection between the land of Israel and the mitzvot (commandments) found in the Torah.
One morning after our lift had arrived and he had finally restarted his music lessons he said to me, "Abba, being a Jew outside of Israel is sort of like someone taking piano lessons but not having a piano to practice on".
From the mouth of babes...
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
Things I love about Lag B'Omer
Last night and today mark Lag B'Omer, the 33rd day of the counting of the Omer (the count which starts on the night after the Passover Seder and continues until the holiday of Shavuot).
I won't go into details about the counting or the reasons why the 33rd day is somewhat special (you can read about that here). But one of the activities associated with the evening of the 33rd day (at least here in Israel) is sitting around a Medura (bonfire) with friends and family, singing, eating and basically having a grand old time.
I know from past years when I've written about this holiday that many of my readers hate the smoke, scavenging of wood (i.e. petty vandalism) and potential danger associated with the bonfires. If you have to vent, go ahead... I won't stop you.
But I love the Medura tradition, and I love so many things associated with it:
I love that my entire street gets together on the slope behind our homes and makes a neighborhood Medura, complete with singing, drinks and lots of salads and roasted foods.
I love that from our vantage point on our hillside we can see dozens of other Medurot dotting the landscape all around.
I love that there is a nice chill in the evening air which forces us ever closer to the hypnotizing blaze.
I love that the little kids ran around feeding twigs into the fires as their parents alternately yell encouragement and warnings to them.
I love that the humble potatoes in tin foil which are tossed into the flames at the start of the evening are elevated to star culinary status when pulled from the embers towards the end.
I love that Israelis (of every age and vintage) sit around the fires singing songs at the top of their lungs that they first learned in gan, even when they don't remember all the words. [la la lala...]
I love that at every Medura there is at least one person who remembers to bring a guitar.
I love that even tired, stressed Israelis look relaxed and elegant by firelight.
I love that once Israeli kids turn 13 or 14 they start lobbying to stay out (and up) later and later... until finally it is understood that they will be sitting around a Medura with their friends until dawn.
I love that at some point, teenagers start preparing a 'Poike' (pronounced poy-keh); a big cast-iron stew pot filled with some of the most unlikely ingredients, and cooked over glowing coals, as part of their Medura ritual. The recipes for a proper 'poike' are as varied and wonderful as the Jewish people.
I love that for days (and sometimes weeks) before Lag B'Omer kids team up to collect 'scrap' wood for their Medurot and stake out desirable spots for the blaze.
I love that the afternoon before Lag B'Omer friends ask casually about your plans for the Medura, and remind you to close all the windows in your house so the place doesn't stink of smoke for a week afterwards.
I love that when the singing dies down momentarily at one Medura, the participants can get ideas for new songs from (or even join in with) people singing at neighboring bonfires.
I love that as the evening ebbs, people go from Medura to Medura offering leftover food and extra wood.
I love that when pre-teen boys make their first Medura away from the prying eyes of adults, they have a 'unique' way of extinguishing it at the end of the evening.
I love that our youngest child Yonah (born here) has no idea that there are places in the world where Jews don't make Medurot on Lag B'Omer.
I love that Ariella and Gilad (our older kids) left us sweet notes informing us of their safe arrival back in the house, and asking (pleading) not to be awoken until absolutely necessary.
I love that most schools are closed on Lag B'Omer because the kids are all sleeping from having been out all night at Medurot.
I love that I don't have to explain any of this to my fellow Israelis. They know.
A life well spent
Seldom would one think of turning to the obituary pages in order to find uplifting stories or comfort... unless of course, one finds inspiration or comfort in seeing printed proof of having outlived another human being.
But thanks to one of my favorite daily blog reads, I started my day with a smile on my face (and a happy tear in my eye) after reading the following New York Times obituary. I feel strange saying this about a death notice, but enjoy:
Martha Mason, Who Wrote Book About Her Decades in an Iron Lung, Dies at 71
By MARGALIT FOX
Published: May 9, 2009
Ever since the 1940s, when she was a girl in a small Southern town, Martha Mason dreamed of being a writer. But it was not till nearly half a century later, with the aid of a voice-activated computer, that she could begin setting a memoir down on paper.
Published in 2003, Ms. Mason’s memoir, “Breath,” is not well known outside the Southeast, or perhaps even outside North Carolina, where she was born, grew up and died. It was published by a small regional house, Down Home Press, and was not widely reviewed. But the truly significant thing is that the book was written at all.
Ms. Mason died on Monday at her home in Lattimore, N.C. She was 71 and had lived for more than 60 years in an iron lung.
Her death was confirmed by a friend, Mary Dalton, who said Ms. Mason had died in her sleep.
Paralyzed from the neck down as a result of childhood polio, Ms. Mason was one of the last handful of Americans, perhaps 30 people, who live full time in iron lungs. There is no documented case of any American’s having done so for quite as long as she, David W. Rose, the archivist of the March of Dimes Foundation, said on Friday.
Ms. Mason is the subject of a documentary film, “Martha in Lattimore,” released in 2005 and directed by Ms. Dalton. She also appeared in “The Final Inch,” a documentary about polio that was nominated for a Academy Award this year.
From her horizontal world — a 7-foot-long, 800-pound iron cylinder that encased all but her head — Ms. Mason lived a life that was by her own account fine and full, reading voraciously, graduating with highest honors from high school and college, entertaining and eventually writing.
She chose to remain in an iron lung, she often said, for the freedom it gave her. It let her breathe without tubes in her throat, incisions or hospital stays, as newer, smaller ventilators might require. It took no professional training to operate, letting her remain mistress of her own house, with just two aides assisting her.
“I’m happy with who I am, where I am,” Ms. Mason told The Charlotte Observer in 2003. “I wouldn’t have chosen this life, certainly. But given this life, I’ve probably had the best situation anyone could ask for.”
Ms. Mason’s only immediate survivors are her aides, Ginger Justice and Melissa Boheler, whom she considered family.
Martha Ann Mason was born on May 31, 1937, and reared in Lattimore, a small town about 50 miles west of Charlotte. In September 1948, when she was 11, Martha went to bed one night feeling achy. She did not tell her parents because she did not want to compound their sorrow: that day, they had buried her 13-year-old brother, Gaston, who had died of polio a few days before.
Martha spent the next year in hospitals before being sent home in an iron lung. Doctors told her parents she would live another year at most.
She survived, she later said, because she was endlessly curious and there was so much to learn.
With daily visits from her teachers, Martha resumed her studies, graduating first in her high school class. She entered Gardner-Webb College in Boiling Springs, N.C., receiving an associate’s degree in 1958.
Afterward, Ms. Mason and her iron lung were transported by bakery truck to Winston-Salem, where she enrolled in Wake Forest College. There, she joined a student group seeking to integrate the campus. She earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Wake Forest in 1960.
At both colleges — they are now universities — Ms. Mason lived with her parents in a campus apartment and attended lectures by intercom. At both colleges, she graduated first in her class.
Returning to Lattimore, Ms. Mason began writing for the local newspaper, dictating her articles to her mother, Euphra. Not long afterward, Ms. Mason’s father, Willard, suffered a major heart attack and became an invalid, requiring Euphra to care for him, too. There was no more time for taking dictation. For decades afterward, Ms. Mason wrote only in her head, publishing nothing. Her father died in 1977.
Perhaps only in a place like Lattimore, whose current population is not much more than 400, could Ms. Mason have thrived as well as she did. For if Ms. Mason could not go to the town, then the town was quite prepared to come to her. The doctor visited regularly, of course, but so did all the neighbors and the neighbors’ neighbors. So did members of the local fire department, who came by during power failures to make sure her backup generator was working.
Ms. Mason often gave dinner parties — she ate lying down, with her guests around the table and the iron lung pushed up beside it — and savored lively conversation, good gossip and the occasional bawdy story. Amid the rhythmic whoosh ... whoosh of the iron lung, the local book club met in her home. High school graduates stopped by so she could admire them in their caps and gowns, as did just-married couples in their wedding finery. Souvenir magnets from faraway places, gifts from traveling friends, adorned the yellow exterior of Ms. Mason’s iron lung like labels on a steamer trunk.
But small-town life could have its drawbacks. “She’s an intellectual, yet the local video store was not going to have ‘Wild Strawberries’ for her to rent,” Ms. Dalton, an associate professor of communication at Wake Forest, said in a telephone interview on Wednesday. “She could talk to anybody, but she needed that kind of intellectual stimulation, too. And there were years when I imagine that was a little hard to come by.”
That changed in the mid-1990s, when Ms. Mason acquired a voice-activated computer with e-mail capability and Internet access. The computer brought her the world. It also let her contemplate writing her memoir, which is subtitled “Life in the Rhythm of an Iron Lung.”
She began the book in tribute to her mother. In the late 1980s, after a series of strokes, Euphra Mason descended into dementia and abusiveness, occasionally slapping and cursing her daughter. Ms. Mason insisted that her mother remain at home. From her iron lung, she took over the running of the household, planning meals, paying bills and arranging for her mother’s care.
After her mother’s death in 1998, Ms. Mason began work on her book in earnest. There, in her childhood home, with a microphone at her mouth and the music of the iron lung for company, she wrote her life story sentence by sentence in her soft Southern voice, with her own breath.
A version of this article appeared in print on May 10, 2009, on page A29 of the New York edition.
Sunday, May 10, 2009
Exactly 62 years ago today (according to the Hebrew Calendar), a 16 year old named Alexander Rubovitz was hanging posters near the Jerusalem intersection of Ushiskin and Keren Kayemet streets. He had been tasked with this job by the Lehi (which along with the Etzel/Irgun, was one of two underground paramilitary Jewish groups) of which he was a member.
While engaged in this task, he was abducted and never seen again.
His abduction had been witnessed, and a hat found at the scene was linked to a British policeman (actually a soldier seconded to the Police) named Major Roy Farran. Farran fled the country but was returned to face a military court martial connected with his role in the disappearance of Alexander Rubovitz.
Unfortunately, since the body was never found and no eye witness could positively identify him as having been at the scene of the abduction, Farran was acquitted due to lack of anything but the most circumstantial evidence.
Considering the lack of solid evidence in the case at the time, and the fact that Farran was a highly decorated WWII veteran, it is not particularly surprising that he was acquitted. Add to that the fact that he was accused of having kidnapped a member of what the British considered a terrorist organization, and the outcome makes perfect sense.
After the acquittal, members of both the Etzel (Irgun) and Lehi (Stern Gang) plastered the country with posters holding Farran personally responsible for the abduction and murder of the 16 year old boy, and swore revenge against him.
An article that appeared in Time Magazine in 1947 paints Roy Farran in fairly glowing terms, and recounts how, shortly after his return to England, a package bomb intended for him was opened by his brother Rex, resulting in Rex's death.
According to Wikipedia, former MK Geula Cohen (who served in the Lehi) recounted having heard that a package bomb was addressed to 'R. Farran', and that they did not know at the time that he had a brother who shared his first initial.
Roy Farren moved to Canada, served in the Police force there, and entered politics... ultimately rising to hold the position of Solicitor General until his retirement in 1979. Throughout his life he refused to discuss the case of the abduction of Alexander Rubovitz, and he presumably remained on the assassination list of the Lehi until his death of natural causes in 2006.
Some 57 years after the abduction of Alexander Rubovitz, Israeli private investigator Steven Rambam of Pallorium Investigations released a Report containing evidence, interviews and previously classified British documents allegedly proving that a British "Q" team headed by Farran had abducted Rubowitz, and that Farran had personally "bashed in Rubowitz's head with a rock" and then disposed of the body with local assistance. His body was allegedly buried in the desert between Jerusalem and Jericho, near what is today the Jewish town of Ma'aleh Adumim. [Source: Fay Greer, Jerusalem Post, March 17, 2009]
In a very well researched book entitled 'Major Farran's Hat', extremely compelling evidence is presented that leaves little doubt that Farran was involved in the abduction, and that he even delivered the fatal blow. But since he is now dead (and considering the egregious fact of the botched assassination attempt that took the life of his blameless brother), I think it would be unproductive in the extreme to continue the pursuit of the case with the sole goal of proving Farran's guilt.
However, the body of a 16 year old boy named Alexander Rubovitz remains missing to this day, and his family, friends and former comrades deserve the closure that can only come with the discovery of his remains and his re-interment in a marked grave.
It may be a bit cynical of me to say, but I feel in my heart that if this young man had been a member of the Hagannah, the Israeli Defense Ministry's unit tasked with locating missing combatants (including pre-state paramilitary participants) would have long ago found him and laid his remains to rest on Mt. Herzl.
This afternoon at 4:00PM, a group of Lehi veterans will hold a memorial service at the site of the kidnapping – the corner of Ushiskin and Keren Kayemet streets in Jerusalem's Rechavia neighborhood. I urge anyone who can, to attend and show their support. [If you attend, please send me a photo so I can add it to this post.]
Anyone can argue that it was only through the efforts of the Hagannah... or of the Etzel... or of the Lehi... that the British were finally convinced to depart and hand the Mandate for Palestine to a world body empowered to approve the Partition Plan that would lead to our statehood. But the truth is that all three acted in what they thought the best interest of the nascent Jewish state, and some combination of their efforts did eventually have the desired result.
Now is the time to find the remains of a boy who fought for Israel's Independence, and who certainly deserves to be interred among the heroes of the nation he helped to create.
Friday, May 08, 2009
While trying to track down the source of the quote found in the previous post, I stumbled across the following gem:
"Two Connecticut professors got curious about the constant denials that extremely harsh critics of Israel were anti-Semitic. Edward H. Kaplan, the William N. and Marie A. Beach Professor of Management Sciences at Yale, and Charles A. Small, Director of Urban Studies, w:Southern Connecticut State University, decided to examine the issue in formal way.…"
"Kaplan and Small ask whether individuals expressing strong anti-Israel sentiments, such as the statement by Ted Honderich, Emeritus Grote Professor of the Philosophy of Mind and Logic at University College London, that “those Palestinians who have resorted to necessary killing have been right to try to free their people, and those who have killed themselves in the cause of their people have indeed sanctified themselves,” are more likely than the general population to also support in such old-style anti-Semitic slurs as “Jews have too much power in our country today.” "
"The correlation was almost perfect. In a survey of 5,000 Europeans in ten countries, people who believed that the Israeli soldiers “intentionally target Palestinian civilians,” and that “Palestinian suicide bombers who target Israeli civilians” are justified, also believed that “Jews don’t care what happens to anyone but their own kind,” “Jews have a lot of irritating faults,” and “Jews are more willing than others to use shady practices to get what they want.” "
"The study’s other interesting finding was that only a small fraction of Europeans believe any of these things. Anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism flourish among the few, but those few are over-represented in Europe’s newspapers, its universities, and its left-wing political parties."
What you've just read is an excerpt from an article by Diana Muir entitled 'Anti-Semitism and Anti-Zionism: The Link, [History News Network. George Mason University]. Click here to read the whole thing.
The Irony of Being a Jew
When Paul Newman died, they said how great he was but they failed to mention he considered himself Jewish (his father as Jewish).