Tuesday, June 30, 2009
Getting down off the soapbox and mingling with the crowd
If you passed someone on the street holding forth from atop a soap box on your way to the office, and stood listening to him/her for a few moments, you could be forgiven for not stopping to listen on subsequent days if what you'd heard was not compelling.
But if you make a point of building time into your daily commute to stand and listen to to this soap box orator day after day - or even go a few blocks out of your way to do so - that would indicate that there is something there that makes you want to come back for more.
But how big a fan would you have to be to invite someone that you only know from hearing a semi-regular, 10 minute harangue, to speak to your colleagues, friends and family?
I have to admit that it is endlessly flattering to have people from all over the world come to my small corner of the Web in order to 'hear' the random things that fall out of my head on any given morning. Seriously, it never grows old. And even more flattering is that many of the people who don't agree with me seem to come back again and again in order to voice their disagreement.
But what blows me away is that occasionally I'll get an invitation to give a live presentation here in Israel or abroad, based solely on my 'status' as a blogger... and I can't help thinking; what the heck are these people smoking? For all they know I might be an ax murderer or a raving lunatic ... or worse; a religious settler!
Well, it's happened again, and I couldn't possibly be more flattered... or shocked.
I've been invited to speak in the UK at this year's Limmud Conference which is scheduled to take place (IY"H) during the last week of December at Warwick University (located on the border of Coventry and Warwickshire).
I have to admit that having spent no more than a day or two in the UK, I was unfamiliar with Limmud. However, after receiving the invitation I went to their site to see what it was all about, and found that the list of speakers from previous Limmud Conferences was simply astounding. Seriously, world renowned Rabbis, political figures, scientists, artists, writers, musicians... it was a veritable 'Who's Who' of Western Society.
So as I sat there looking at this invitation, I had to figure out if perhaps...
a) ... someone was playing a practical joke on me;
b) ... whoever arranged for my invitation to speak wasn't carefully supervised and had made a rash decision for which they will likely to be sacked.
c) ... the vetting process for potential speakers had taken a sudden turn for the worse.
Just to be on the safe side I dashed off an email to the woman who had sent the invitation just to make sure it wasn't a joke. I should point out that this is far harder than it sounds, because you have to walk a very fine line between sounding genuinely interested (grateful, even), and not wanting to walk face-first into a pie.
In the end it turns out that the invitation to the conference was not only quite genuine, but they want me to give four sessions! Woot!
So now that I've accepted the invitation all I have to do is:
1. Convince Zahava to join me for a week (during the winter) in the UK.
2. Let my office know I'll be taking some time off.
3. Come up with some compelling topics (I'll be asking for your help on this one, don't worry!).
The best part (for me, anyway) is that I get to step down off this virtual soap box for a moment and actually meet some real live people. It'll be nice to finally meet some of the UK treppenwitz readers. I hope I can live up to my billing.
Updates to follow...
Monday, June 29, 2009
Winners of the treppenwitz 10k challenge
Some of you may recall that a little over a month ago I issued an open invitation for people to join a walking challenge to see who could accumulate the highest daily average of steps over a 34 day period. The idea was to get people to do at least 10,000 steps per day... but the sky was the limit.
I was pleasantly surprised by how many people signed up for the challenge since it required making a small purchase (going to a sporting goods store and picking up a pedometer) and actually getting out and walking every day.
The competition ended on Friday, and the final results were tabulated over the weekend by the elves in the servers at WalkerTracker.com. I'm pleased to announce that a very nice woman who calls herself 'lighthouslady' ran away with the top spot with a blistering daily average of 31,000 steps!
First of all, everyone who actually finished the 34 days is a winner in my book (awwww, group hug!). That's a long commitment and I'm proud of everyone who toughed it out. Hopefully it will lead to good habits and make all of us aware of how much we actually don't move unless we force ourselves off the couch.
But as promised, there are multiple prizes in this competition:
First place (as already mentioned) goes to 'Lighthouselady'.
Last place prize (but having completed all 34 days) goes to 'nycspark1'
A 'Middle of the pack' prize was picked out of a hat (actually a paper bag) from among all the walkers who completed all 34 days... and the lucky winner is 'Ilanadavita'.
The winners (in all three categories) will receive a genuine treppenwitz coffee mug:
Winners can claim their prize by emailing their shipping address to: treppenwitz [at] gmail [dot] com.
Just as an aside, anyone who wants to feel like a winner can order this mug (or any of the other products) from the 'treppenwitz swag shack'. 100% of the profits from sales go to support this site, as well as to enable the philanthropic impulses of the site-owner.
So what's next? Glad you asked.
Starting immediately, you can sign up for the next treppenwitz walking challenge which begins this coming Sunday morning. Rather than being a month-long slog (which seems to have scared off a lot of people off), this one will be for 6 days only... and is appropriately named 'Six days and then you rest'.
Not to be discriminatory or anything, but for this competition I have limited the field to those with an average step count of between 100 and 15000. So this will require you to have at least a day or two of steps registered before you can join the competition if you are new to the site.
If you aren't already a WalkerTracker member, come on over and sign up (it's free!). It's really kind of nice the way a micro-community springs up around these competitions and everyone offers encouragement to one another.
What are you waiting for? =:~)
Thursday, June 25, 2009
Not realizing which team he's on
The other day Zahava came up from her studio late in the afternoon to find all three kids camped out in front of the TV, watching something that was highly inappropriatefor the youngest member of the group (Yonah, age 5).
After giving Ariella and Gilad the the requisite lecture about what kind of shows are appropriate for a five year old to watch, Zahava gave them the stink eye (something only mothers know how to give properly) and then went on about her business.
Fast forward to a tender moment on the couch in the living room. Zahava asks Yonah if he'd like to watch something on TV with her. Yonah considers her offer seriously for a moment and answers, "OK Imma, but make sure it's 'propriate for me".
I don't think he fully grasps that he and his parents are playing for opposing teams in this competition.
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
I can't believe I ate (almost) the whole thing
I would have liked to have played hookey from work yesterday in honor of my birthday, but unfortunately life as a grown-up doesn't always work out the way you'd like. However I did the next best thing; after work I went with my lovely wife to Tel Aviv for the evening.
We started out at the Ramat Aviv Mall where Zahava had to shop for a new computer for her design business. The iDigital store there at the mall is wall-to-wall Mac products... heaven!
While she was meeting with a technical adviser about the machine she wanted, I explored all the neat Apple toys and accessories. BTW, if any of you noticed a hit on your sites from Ramat Aviv last night, it was because I caught up on some blog reading on one of the ginormous 30" screens they had hooked up to their demonstrator computers. I didn't even need to put on my reading glasses!
In the end Zahava, closed a deal on their top-of-the line professional machine which has more raw computing power than the old Cray Supercomputers, hard disk space in the terra-byte range and more RAM memory than my last computer had storage! Since they'll have to ship this monster to her Mac technician for configuration and transferring all her work files over from her old computer, we left the mall happily unencumbered.
BTW, the mall itself... OMG!
Don't people wear clothes in Tel Aviv! :-P' ' ' I mean seriously, who needs 'pron' when you can simply stroll through the mall and be literally assaulted by thongs, bikini lines and boob jobs for free? And irony of irony, I forgot to wear my concealed holster for my gun (which I try to do when in Tel Aviv), so as we walked through the mall, people were glaring at me like I'd just opened my raincoat to flash a bunch of girl scouts!
Anyhoo, the technical negotiations regarding Zahava's computer went later than we'd expected because they apparently aren't used to actually selling this high end computer. I guess they keep just one in the store to make people drool... so it was really late when we finally hit the road.
As we got into the car I asked Zahava if she wanted to get something to eat since neither of us had eaten dinner before heading out. She readily agreed, and we immediately settled on one of our very favorite restaurants in the Tel Aviv area; Dr. Shakshuka.
For those of you not in the know, Dr. Shakshuka is a landmark eatery in old Yaffo (Jaffa) whose menu only begins with pretty much every kind of Shakshuka known to man. From there it branches out into middle eastern grilled meats, soups, salads, breads, desserts... you name it.
Ever since our friends Imshin and Bish introduced us to the place we have been addicted! It is located around the corner from the old clock tower in Yaffo and is in one of those old Arab style stone buildings with outdoor courtyard seating for the overflow crowd. Inside the walls are packed with memento photos from soldiers and celebrities, and the ceiling is strung with hundreds of antique brass 'Primus' cooking stoves.
We normally go for just the Shakshuka when we're there, but since it was my birthday we let the waitress talk us into the 'sampler menu'. She started by bringing us a big skillet of Shakshuka with grilled Margez (a spicy South African sausage) mixed in, a dozen or so different salads and a big jug of lemonade.
From that point, we started getting a couple of new dishes every 5 minutes or so. Grilled beef kabobs, pergiyot (spring chicken), steak, lamb in gravy, beans and beef in a spicy tomato sauce, a spicy North African meat and vegetable soup, and on and on and on.
Somehow we also attempted to have a couple of draught beers (Zahava finished hers... I managed only half of mine)... and that, just to keep things moving in the right direction. But finally we both leaned back in defeat and signaled to the waitress not to bring anything else.
She seemed mildly hurt that we hadn't finished everything but agreed to wrap up the remains of our favorite entrees. As she was taking away some of the wreckage of our meals she asked us about dessert and tea or coffee. It was like that scene from 'The Meaning of Life' where the obese guy is being offered 'just a tiny after dinner mint' ... if you've seen the movie you know what I'm talking about.
Finally we were talked into just a glass of Nana (mint) tea... but naturally it came with a few 'small' pieces of spiced honey cake (and sparklers since Zahava had told them it was my b'day). Oy!
On the ride home Zahava tipped her seat back and went to sleep, leaving me to concentrate on driving... and digestion. All in all, a great way to spend a birthday evening (even though I consumed my calorie allotment for the rest of the month). :-)
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
48 things you may not have known about me
So let's get right to it:
- I hate being subjected to snap judgments.
- I admit I often judge others in a snap.
- I can feel my older kids starting to pull away, and although I know that's normal and healthy... I can't help myself from fighting to try and keep them close.
- At 21 I couldn't wait to jump on that ride called 'adulthood'. Now that I'm 48 I wish I could slow it down just a bit.
- I love spotting religious Jews in Tel Aviv.
- I love spotting secular Jews in Jerusalem, too. Maybe more so.
- My favorite soft drink is Root Beer.
- The only thing better than a tall glass of Root Beer is a tall glass of Root Beer with chocolate ice cream floating in it!
- I love giving gifts.
- I'm impossible to gift shop for.
- I'm a great secret keeper... mostly because I forget most things people tell me.
- Although I'm a total coffee snob... I'm starting to understand and appreciate (good) tea.
- I used to think glasses were the coolest thing. Now I just find them to be an annoyance.
- I traveled the length and breadth of Israel by bicycle in my 20s.
- I want to do it again before I'm 50.
- I have a secret desire to hike Shvil Yisrael (the Israel National trail that goes from Eilat to Dan near the Lebanese border) with my family.
- I have resigned myself to the fact that I am not 'special' in the way that all people think they are somehow destined for greatness when they are young.
- I look into my wife's and children's eyes and finally know I am special.
- I've stopped asking 'why me?' when bad things happen.
- I look around at my life today and my relative good fortune (tfu tfu tfu), and ask myself every day 'why me?'... what did I do to deserve such 'riches'.
- I love that we use the good silver, china and crystal at least once a week. They're for us to enjoy now... not to save for 'someday'.
- Using the good silver, china and crystal means occasionally losing or breaking a piece.
- We can always buy more silver, china or crystal... We can't buy more enjoyment from life.
- I often wish there were some sort of cable that would allow me to transfer my hard-earned life experience directly to my kids.
- I know in my heart that the previous is a silly wish since much of my enjoyment for, and appreciation of, life has come directly from those life experiences.
- My wife works from home and I have an hour commute each way. I know I'm the lucky one.
- I miss my brother and sisters because we live so far away from one another. I feel bad that I don't tell (or show) them that enough.
- I would love to take a serious carpentry/cabinet-making course.
- I've have promised myself that, one day, I will own a fine swiss watch... but I'm OK with the fact that it may not happen soon.
- I hate shopping for clothes so much that I have very little presentable clothing left to wear.
- When I get angry about the relatively minor stupidities that my older kids perpetrate, in the back of my mind I silently wonder what kind of saints my parents must have been to not have given up on me during my tumultuous teenage years.
- Naps (especially on Shabbat) are more important to me now than when I was 3.
- Although I miss my family when I'm away... I never tire of all the new experiences that come with traveling.
- I wish I could travel more with my family.
- I want to learn how to use a slide-rule.
- I wish I knew how to use a sextant.
- A couple of times a year I decide on the spur of the moment to call up someone with whom I've only had an online friendship.
- I have never regretted reaching out and turning a virtual friendship into a real one. In fact we have hosted an incredible number of such friends in our home.
- I've regretted not asking for something far more often than I've regretted asking.
- If you asked my two older kids if I've ever had 'the talk' with them, they will probably say no. But in truth we've had hundreds of talks that contained far more useful information than I could have ever packed into one tense, sweaty-browed lecture.
- I'm not done talking to them... there's still lots more for them to learn.
- If I could have only one wish granted, I'd still ask for two or three. At least that much I've learned from living here. It never hurts to ask!
- Although I don't have the patience to write a real honest-to-goodness letter... mail it and wait for a reply... I genuinely miss the anticipation, surprise, touch and even smell of real mail.
- When I was younger I had enormous appetites.
- I still have huge appetites, but my desires are now focused on quality over quantity.
- Without being morbid, I wish I could make my kids understand that they should be nicer to each other since one day they will wake up and find that there is nobody else left in the world who truly knows and understands what makes them tick.
- I once greeted an Indian client of mine with a casual 'How are you?'... expecting to get an equally flippant reply of 'Fine'.. His response surprised me: He said, "I am the ocean, David. On the surface the ocean might appear calm or angry... but the ocean is so huge and deep that nothing can change it. It is always just the ocean.".
- I don't know what the secret of life is or what happens after this life is over. But I sure am enjoying the ride.
Happy "New Orbit Around the Sun"
[A Guest Post by Zahava]
Someone I know quite well has an aversion to the "B" word. So please join me in wishing him a "happy new orbit around the sun!"
[and many happy more!]
Monday, June 22, 2009
If you make something idiotproof, someone'll build a better idiot!
The title of this post is one of my favorite sayings. I have no idea who to credit for this bit of wisdom, but I have seen it proved on countless occasions.
What I didn't realize until this past week is that there is a parallel bit of wisdom that goes like this: "The inclusion on otherwise standard technology of features that are subject to foolish abuse will guarantee that otherwise responsible individuals will aspire to ever higher levels of foolishness."
You can credit me for that last one.
Here's the deal. My company just upgraded all of our mobile phones last week, and aside from some basic gripes I have about screen visibility (non-existent out of doors) and battery life (better invest in one of those solar chargers), the phone has some pretty cool and useful features.
However, in keeping with the axiom I coined (above), rather than avail myself of all the time-saving and work-related functions, I have concentrated most of my efforts on the feature which allows you to assign a unique ring-tone to as many people in your contacts list as you want.
Yeah, so you are probably already imagining the potential for foolishness here without my having to spell it out... but I'll give you a glimpse anyway. Don't thank me... I'm a giver.
For my lovely wife I selected the theme song to the Mary Tyler Moore show ("Who can turn the world on with a smile?")
I haven't quite made up my mind about a ring-tone for when my daughter calls from her cell, but so far 'J'y Suis Jamais Alle' from the soundtrack of 'Amelie' is what plays when she calls.
My older son was easy. When he calls from his cell phone, I hear the theme song to 'The Little Rascals' (Our Gang).
Calls from our home phone cause Hila Harari's 'Ze Haya Beiti' (Translation: this was our house...) to blast from the phone's speakers.
The default reningtone for anyone that didn't get a special tone assigned (yet!) is John Lennon leading the Beatles through a screamed chorus of 'Twist and Shout'... although I'm thinking switching to the theme song to the Bob Newhart Show since that actually starts with the sound of a phone ringing.
I have to say, although it wouldn't be a career enhancing move if it were ever to be overheard (and understood), I am sorely tempted to use Johnny Paycheck's anthem Take this job and shove it" for one of the more odious people in my otherwise delightful workplace. But that one will probably remain a fantasy.
What makes me fairly certain that this pretty much proves my axiom is that I have probably invested more time in converting and installing these ring-tones on my new phone than I expended in building the pergola behind our house. All for the convenience of being able to tell who's calling without having to take the damned phone out of my pocket.
Note: For those interested in converting music they already own into free ring-tones, go to www.zedge.net and use their free tool to create and save ring-tones. I mean, why should I be the only one avoiding housework and personal hygiene? :-)
Sunday, June 21, 2009
Not a good Shabbos... a great one!
The weekend already started out in a positive note on Friday morning when friend / fellow blogger 'the sandman' and his family joined us at the Gush Etzion Cherry Festival. Many cartons of cherries were picked ... and throughout the morning, a careful process of quality control (i.e. eating as many cherries as were packed into the containers) was maintained.
After much cherry
eating picking, and enjoying the other aspects of the festival (live music, games for the kids and lots of crafts, art and other stuff for the adults to consider buying), we parted from the Sandman and his family and went home to prepare for the arrival of some other friends who were joining us for Shabbat. Our Shabbat guests were also at the festival but we only saw them coming in as we were leaving.
Shabbat itself was amazing from every aspect. The weather was perfect, the company excellent and the food a delight.
I may be strange in this respect, but my favorite meal on Shabbat is one that few allow themselves. In fact, many consider it problematic from a halachic standpoint; I'm talking about breakfast.
Here's the deal: According to
many most pretty much all respected halachic authorities, one isn't supposed to eat a meal before saying the morning prayers. Some people are very careful about this and others are, ahem, less so. But I simply can't get started in the morning (especially on the weekend) without a 'little something'.
Our 'little something' this Shabbat morning(which was consumed while lounging on swings and couch on the back balcony) consisted of:
Fresh coffee & tea
Cherries (roughly a metric ton of them)
Buttermilk scones with blueberries
Fresh whipped sweet cream
I can already hear the frum folks deleting this apicoros from their blog-rolls... and rightly so! After all, a grown man should be able to hold off until after shul when such things can be eaten as part of a proper 'kiddush'. But unless I get up for the early minyan (a rare occurrence which requires me to rise at 6:15AM on Shabbat!!!), it means having to wait until after 11:00AM for my 'breakfast!.
Look people, there are limits to my frumkeit. I gave up BLT sandwiches and buttered lobster tails when I was 18. That's got to count for something, right? But a proper breakfast on the weekend is just too hard to do without. Sorry, if that makes me a bad Jew, so be it. At least it gives me something to 'klap al cheit' about on Yom Kippur. :-)
But as I walked to the synagogue in the cool morning air with all those exceptionally yummy treats under my belt, I thought to myself; this wasn't just a 'Good Shabbos' ... it was a great one!
UPDATE: I almost forgot to tell you that as I came out of services on Shabbat morning, I was introduced to a beautiful little girl wearing the most attractive pair of delicate gold-rimmed eyeglasses imaginable. Just when I thought the day couldn't possibly get any better... it did!
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
I'm more Israeli now than I was 6 years ago because...
... I enjoy 'light tuna' much more than 'white albacore'.
... I applaud at wedding ceremonies when the bride walks down the aisle.
... I understand the news broadcasts (but wish I didn't).
... I have no problem telling the guy stuffing my pita/laffa at the grilled meat joint, "Al TItbayesh... Sim, Sim!" (Don't be shy, put more, more!)
... I yell at survey takers for calling during dinnertime rather than apologize to them about my poor Hebrew.
... I am surprised now when people acknowledge my having given them the right of way... rather than when they don't.
... I can answer the phone and not think it the least bit strange to say 'hello' (actually 'hollow') half a dozen times (while the calling party also says 'hollow' half a dozen times), before the calling party finally gets around to telling me who they are looking for and/or why they called.
... I finally feel I have a handle on the whole 'tipping waiters at weddings' thing.
... I would have no problem asking someone about their salary or what they paid for their house.
... When I hear an Israeli politician talking, I automatically assume he/she means something different from what is actually being said.
... I've finally learned to stop worrying and love the fact that I can't do anything about the people, entities and countries that want to kill me. Being powerless to change the reality is actually liberating!
Monday, June 15, 2009
Regarding Bibi's Speech...
I don't have much to say about the nuts and bolts of the speech. There are plenty of people who can do a far better job of Fisking the speech... so I'll leave them to it.
But two not-inconsequential points are worth mentioning:
To begin with, there is no such thing as a 'de-militarized' state'. Any independent state must have a security force to enforce order. That force can also be used to secure the borders. But in reality, any security force is a de facto army if the government wants to use it as such. And once that happens there is nothing anyone can do about it short of declaring war and attacking.
Next, there is no way a Palestinian state ( 'de-militarized' or otherwise) can be prevented from entering into agreements and alliances with other countries. That's what states do. So even if the U.S. and E.U. do manage to limit the Palestinian arsenal to mostly defensive weapons (good luck with that!), an agreement with any other middle-eastern country for military cooperation would nullify the idea of being demilitarized.
If the Palestinians feel threatened, any parties to military cooperation agreements they make would be obligated to bring their military assets to bear in order to 'defend' this fledgling state. In such a scenario, it wouldn't be much comfort to Israel that the markings on the planes and missiles attacking Tel Aviv would be Syrian, Iranian or Lebanese instead of those of the Sovereign State of Palestine.
So that's all I have to say about that.
However, I can't help but offer the following general observation:
In diplomacy, as in business, you can usually tell if a proposed agreement is a good one by the simple fact that neither side is happy about it. Quite simply, for a deal to be good, nobody should feel they are getting too good a deal.
So what worries me is that the U.S. and EU seem far more satisfied with the contents of the speech than the Israeli right. And so far, the Israeli left and the Palestinians aren't making much noise at all... an indication that they weren't outraged by the speech's content.
Yes, worrisome indeed.
Sunday, June 14, 2009
Maybe she's a fan of Tesla
A few weeks ago I was about half way home from work when I saw a young woman standing at a bus stop with her finger out (we use fingers to hitch here in Israel, not thumbs), so I pulled over to offer her a ride.
It turns out she was heading to a town not far from where I live, so she got in and buckled up.
A few minutes before we got to the junction where we were to part ways I noticed that a series of tall metal towers had been newly erected along the road to carry high tension electric lines through the area... although the wires had yet to be put up.
So, as much to myself as to her, I said, "Wow, the towers sure look strange like that with no wires.".
She thought for a couple of beats, and then without a trace of irony asked, "You mean the new ones are wireless?"
I think when she got out of the car she may have taken some of my IQ points with her because, you know, nature abhors a vacuum.
Friday, June 12, 2009
I've known for a few days...
... but didn't feel it was my place to share it here.
However, now that she has broken her silence, I suppose it is okay to mention that our dear friend Imshin - one of the first voices to emerge in what would become the Anglo-Israeli blogosphere - has lost her father.
May she and her family be comforted among the mourners for Zion and Jerusalem.
Thursday, June 11, 2009
Fighting a hostile lexicon of our own making
I was recently entertaining some business guests from outside the country. They are from a country in Asia and were not at all familiar with the history of our region or the intricacies of its problems... but wanted to learn. So I sat them down with a map of the middle east (and some visual aids from a few fairly unbiased reference web sites) and gave them the 50 cent tour of the Jewish Homeland and its history.
It's always interesting to see how someone with no stake in regional politics and no prior knowledge of how we arrived at the present impasse, perceives the map and the various players on it. For one thing, the relative size of Israel as compared with the rest of our neighbors never fails to garner a strong response:
"They have all this... and they are fighting you all these years for part or all of your country as well?!"
I also enjoy showing the map of Israel, with the outline of the 'west bank' (Judea and Samaria) and Golan Heights clearly delineated, to people unfamiliar with the local geography. Even without knowing the full extend of our historical rights to the area, or the fact that our neighbors lost the territory in wars that they themselves instigated and lost... actually seeing the size and strategic value of these two areas never fails to get a reaction:
"Oh my goodness! If you give that much of your country away, any enemy can cut you in half in minutes, and reach your primary airport and major cities with even the most primitive weapons! Why would you do this?!
Now, obviously a newcomer who is getting the 'Cliff Notes' version of regional history is not going to have a very nuanced understanding of the issues. And since I obviously have a dog in this fight, the fact that I am the one presenting the history can't help but further color their perceptions.
But then the conversation ultimately gets around to a word which provides a negative, and entirely unnecessary differentiation between towns and cities inside and outside the green line; 'settlements'.
Rishon L'Zion, Petach Tikvah, and many of other of the early communities in Eretz Yisrael were all originally called settlements. Back then, this word fired the imaginations of anyone who was even passingly interested in the Zionist enterprise, and 'settlers' were not only national heroes, but came in pretty much every flavor and stripe (i.e. right wing, left wing, religious, secular, etc.).
The one thing that is indisputable is that the intent of the settlers was always to create (and in many cases re-create) permanent communities in their ancestral homeland. But back then, nobody seemed to notice or care that the word 'settlement' sounds rather temporary... or worse; colonial.
A quick glance at some of the definitions listed on-line for 'Settlement' turned up the innocuous:
"settlelment. a community of people smaller than a town"
... as well as the more troubling:
"settlement. see also, 'colony. a body of people who settle far from home but maintain ties with their homeland; inhabitants remain nationals of their home state but are not literally under the home state's system of government"
Even more troubling than how the rest of the world defines 'settlement' is the fact that roughly half of Israelis today attach a strong negative connotation to the word, and use it quite deliberately in place of more appropriate and accurate words like 'village', 'town', 'city', etc., in order to impugn the people living in them.
Whenever I hear the word settlement, I think of a few caravans or temporary structures (legal, illegal or somewhere in between) sitting on a windswept hillside... a reality which today are more correctly called 'outposts'.
But intended or not, the word 'settlement', as used in the press and in political circles, has a decidedly colonial ring to it, and retains enough of the temporary aspect that Israelis and foreigners alike see no real or semantic problem with discussing their removal... despite the fact that many are, in fact, large towns and cities that were established and nurtured with government approval (encouragement, even!) on Israeli government-owned land.
The sad result of this semantic tug-o-war is that more than sixty years after the establishment of the Sate of Israel, the rest of the world (including some of our closest allies) still relates to us in a manner that suggests that our sovereignty, borders and very existence are all provisional... temporary... and are therefore still a legitimate topic for discussion and decision-making. In short, the nightmare situation in which we find ourselves is that every day is a virtual do-over of the 1947 partition vote, and the outcome is anything but assured.
This is especially frustrating when seen in contrast to parallel discussions being held around the world regarding the sovereignty and borders of a Palestinian State that exists only in theory. For some reason, there is a permanence and inviolability of Palestinian rights, borders, choice of capital, etc. that has never been assumed of, or applied to, Israel.
But worse even than the way foreigners speak about Israel in such tentative/provisional terms, is when I hear my fellow Israelis using language that calls into question the permanence and legitimacy of towns and cities that were established with the full approval and blessing of the Israeli government!
I wish they would think for a moment about the fact that for much of the world, the 'settlements' of Rishon L'Zion and Petach Tikvah are every bit as colonial, illegitimate, and disruptive to peace efforts as Ariel, Ma'aleh Adumim and Efrat.
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
A treppenwitz moment
Some newcomers may not have given much thought to the name 'treppenwitz'... thinking that it is just a nonsense word, or perhaps even my name. My 'about me' page actually explains what it means, but it bears repeating because there is a very serious reason for the name:
'Treppenwitz' is a German word for which there is no real English equivalent. It literally means the 'wit/wisdom of the stairs', and in usage, it is meant to describe the belated realization of the perfect retort to a lively conversation/argument with someone... only as you are already on the stairs leaving the building.
Sound familiar? Anyone???
Personally, I experience this phenomenon of treppenwitz on such a regular basis that when it came time to name this journal, there was simply no other moniker in the running.
So, apropos of this site's name, I'd like to share a story from this past weekend:
This past Shabbat we had a family visiting from the U.S. join us in our home. The parents are dear friends of Zahava's from her University days at Wash. U. in St. Louis, and as often happens with couples, they have managed to create a beautiful family over the years. Bottom line, we like them a lot... which is why we had them over.
As often happens with old friends, the conversation over one of Zahava's delicious dinners was a rollicking combination of 'catching up', sharing news/views, and the usual taboo subjects; religion and politics (we eschewed sex for Yonah's sake).
At one point near the end of the meal, one of their daughters casually floored me with the kind of honest statement that only the young can manage; she frankly explained that she was personally against all organized religion, and that she felt religion was at the root the world's ills.
Wow. Just wow. Where do you go from there?
First of all, I should mention that this young woman is no dummy. Just based on what I know of her parents, she and her siblings have all won the equivelant of the genetic lottery when it comes to smarts. Seriously... scary smarts all around. So, pooh-poohing her thesis about religion would be a disingenuous and cruel condescension to a bright young woman.
Also, there was a part of me that had to conceal a smile at hearing her statement, as I could easily have seen myself making similar pronouncements at her age. And to be clear, I was every bit as certain of myself then as I am now.
So, having once felt as she does, I wanted to gently point out that one never knows where life's experiences will lead. So instead of staking out a position of my own or asking her to defend hers, I simply offered the following quote (which I misattributed at the time to Twain) that I hoped would allow for her position... as well as for the possibility that her ideas might change over time:
“If you're not a liberal at twenty you have no heart, if you're not a conservative at forty you have no brain.”
But, being that; a) I am an observant practitioner of an organized religion; and b) I have roughly three times the life experience of this young woman, my first instinct was to gently challenge her to defend her position. This is where treppenwitz came into play. When faced with such a sweeping generalization, the mind quite literally goes into lock-down... and doesn't know where to go. Until later, that is.
After we had said our good-byes and parted ways, I kept turning over in my mind the enormity of what she'd said... and all the possible things I should have offered in response (i.e. classic treppenwitz). So with the indulgence of the regular readers here, I'd like to address the following to that bright young woman as if she were still seated at my table:
You are absolutely correct in your statement that organized religion has had a hand in many of the world's ills. In fact, I would go so far as to concede that organized religion was at the root of some (though certainly not all) of the darkest and most savage chapters in human history.
But before we lay all the world's problems at the feet of religion, maybe it makes sense to set out a few things where they can be seen and fairly considered by all.
First of all, since no religion is in complete agreement with any other in all it's tenets and beliefs, and no religion has absolute proof of its validity as the 'correct' one... it would be pointless to try to come to any kind of consensus on thesepoints. In short, let's agree for the moment that matters of faith will remain so. I won't try to prove to you (or anyone else) that G-d exists so long as you acknowledge the futility of trying to prove the opposite.
Next, let's share a John Lennon moment and imagine a world with no religion, no possessions, no countries, no promise of heaven or threat of hell, etc.. Mr. Lennon (of whom I'm a tremendous fan) made a few logical leaps in his song that, when examined closely, don't quite hold up.
To begin with, he posits that without the things I've mentioned above (religion, possessions, countries, etc.), there would be "nothing to kill or die for"... and "no need for greed or hunger". But that isn't quite true is it?
Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think John Lennon was advocating a descent into anarchy in his song... where everyone can simply take what they want/need. So we can safely assume that he had a kinder/gentler set of civic organization/rules to replace religion that would keep people from slaughtering one another over the limited resources.
And we can also assume that he didn't have some secret remedy for the basic human condition, so barring some sort of miracle, people will always want more of whatever is available... and therefore greed and hunger aren't likely to be going anywhere unless held in abeyance; again, by some set of enforceable rules.
So what rules are we talking about if not religious ones?
What many fail to recognize is that countries tend to organize themselves according to rules and principals that are somewhat analogous to the tenets of the religion(s) practiced by its population. In both there exists the concept of, if not reward for adherence... then at least of punishment for transgression.
However the main difference between civil and religious ordinances is the extent to which the ruling authority (e.g. G-d or the government) is perceived to be aware of what people are/are not doing.
Let's take a couple of simple examples where individual needs and the needs of society collide; speed limits and income tax. Both enshrined in law, but both tend to be observed only to the extent that they can be enforced.
For example, in the case of income tax, if you know that certain financial transactions (such as those conducted with cash), are outside the ken of the government, there is a tremendous motive to understate (or neglect to report altogether) such income. Even though we know that the taxes we pay are the life blood of our government, we tend to favor our own benefit over that of society.
By the same token, if you know from experience that a stretch of road is rarely, if ever, patrolled by police for speeders, you are much more likely to travel at a speed that is comfortable for your needs/schedule than at the posted speed limit. You know that by exceeding the speed limit you not only breaking the law, but you may be endangering yourself, your passengers and others who share the road. But your own needs - especially if you are running late - tend to win out over the needs of society.
Organized religion, like an organized state, offers a codified set of rules. But instead of (or sometimes in addition to) human enforcement (think peer pressure, not inquisition), there is the added belief in an omniscient authority to whom one is ultimately answerable for transgressions.
To give even more examples, while most societies have laws against theft, assault, arson, graft, extortion, murder, etc., to keep people from having a negative impact on one another, there is a 'wild west' mentality that kicks in when the Sheriff is perceived as being weak or absent (i.e. when the likelihood of being caught/punished is remote).
One of the best examples of this can be found in one of the most chilling books I have ever read; William Golding's 'Lord of the Flies'. In it, the both religious and civil authority are suddenly removed from the lives of a small group of humans stranded on a small island. Though a few of the castaways try in vain to re-create the safe, structured society of their homeland, they discover that the rule of law is difficult or impossible to bring to bear when there is no enforcement except (by rule of force).
So aside from the theological aspect of organized religion (i.e. the worship of/belief in a higher entity), you have to admit that having a codified set of behavioral laws in the framework of a community where the 'sheriff' is omnipresent/omnipotent (i.e. religion), kinda closes up some of the incentive to cheat.
Now, obviously I have already decided what team I'm on. Call me 'observant' or 'orthodox' or whatever floats your boat. But I subscribe to a particular religious doctrine. Full stop.
You are obviously free to opt out of religion altogether. But even if you claim no religious beliefs, you will still benefit from the fact that many around you still adhere to some sort of organized belief system... kind of like the way kids whose parents opt out of organized immunization programs are still protected from infection by the majority who do get there shots. If everyone suddenly stopped getting there immunizations, we'd see a huge resurgence of diseases we thought were banished to obscurity, if not oblivion! By the same token, if everyone suddenly opted out of religion, I believe we'd see a huge surge in lawlessness.
So with that in mind, I want you to think about what would happen if religion suddenly disappeared from the world. Most people refrain from stealing from one another because it is morally wrong, not because it is illegal. The proof of this can be found in the roadside produce stands in and around rural America where passers-by can take what they want and leave their payment in the unattended cash box. That system works because of trust and honor codified in various religious beliefs, not because the act of stealing the produce and the cash is illegal!
That concept of trust/honor is what I think of when I hear the word religion. Religion doesn't have to be Jewish or Christian or Muslim or Buddhist. It can be any organized moral/ethical code that keeps people from acting badly towards one another... even when there is no risk of being observed/caught.
Of course, there are religions whose beliefs bring them into conflict with others (I don't really need to name names, do I?), and this is absolutely a problem every bit as serious as that of a nation that feels it is entitled to infringe on the rights/resources of its neighbors/citizens. But this doesn't mean all religion is bad any more than the idea of national sovereignty is bad. It simply means that some religions - and some nations - will periodically need to be confronted... and if necessary, de-fanged.
I don't profess to have all, or even most, of the answers. But I do know that as I take each additional trip around the sun, I become more convinced that there are very few absolutes in the world.
I can't wait for your next visit to our home. It was a pleasure meeting you and I'm sure we have much to learn from each other.
Monday, June 08, 2009
Yesterday evening was a quiet one at home. Zahava and Ariella went to see the Ballet for the evening, and Gilad was out late at Taekwondo practice... so Yonah and I were left to man the fort.
I don't often get home in time to spend a lot of time with Yonah, and it is a rare thing for it to be just the two of us at home... so we really pulled out all the stops. We read several of his favorite books... did a puzzle... watched a little TV... and shared a little post-dinner dessert together.
Even then, Yonah didn't really want to call it a day. But with a little cajoling I was able to get him headed upstairs for his evening ablutions.
That's when the 'fun' began.
Yonah's bedtime ritual is basically comprised of the following 10-step program:
Get into pajamas
Lay out the next day's clothes
Go to the bathroom (in both senses of the phrase)
Wash face and hands (or a full tubby if he is particularly filthy)
Final drink of water (hah!)
Say Sh'ma (bedtime prayer) in bed
30 - 40 minutes of Yonah singing to himself (on a good night) or coming repeatedly downstairs to ask for extra drinks or more food (on a bad night).
Last night we got to step 5 when Yonah began insisting that he wanted to put the toothpaste on the toothbrush himself. I always resist this request because he makes the overly-generous amount used in the toothpaste commercials seem downright miserly. He basically squeezes until physically restrained.
About 50% of the time he will relent and let me apply the toothpaste. But last night he decided that a tug-o-war was in the offing. We each grabbed for the toothbrush, but I wasn't in the mood for a pitched battle... so I let go after only a token show of resistance.
Apparently he wasn't expecting me to give in so quickly, because the moment I let go, the toothbrush flipped out of his hand and landed with a splash in the toilet.
Now, Zahava can vouch for the fact that I'm a tiny bit of a germaphobe. I don't like sharing utensils at meals, and I generally don't subscribe to the 'five second rule'. If it's down, it's out! But to be honest, if the toothbrush had 'only' fallen on the floor (even in the kid's bathroom which is a cesspool on a good day), I probably would have given it a good wash (with alcohol) and let him use it.
However, even a clean toilet is out of bounds in my book... and the kid's toilet (which is a superfund site as far as I'm concerned), is an automatic game ender. Anything that goes in there that can't be flushed requires a 'Haz-Mat' suit and a CDC-approved decontamination station to retrieve.
I gently told Yonah to say bye-bye to his toothbrush and that I'd give him another one... but he immediately began wailing that he liked the one that was in the toilet.
I asked him if he really wanted to put something in his mouth that had been in the place where his 'kaki' goes, and fully expected this to sway him. Instead, he responded by telling me that whenever his toothbrush fell in the toilet, he simply washed it off.
As I considered this amazing statement, a few troubling thoughts crossed my mind:
The word 'whenever' suggests that this happens on a fairly regular basis [~gag~]
Yonah never brushes his teeth alone, so either Ariella or Gilad have apparently sanctioned this horrifying behavior
Yonah apparently lacks the common sense that even Lulu has developed regarding personal hygiene
I think all three kids are going to require a paternity test because there is no way they are my biological offspring.
Anyway, getting back to our story... I reached for a new toothbrush, but Yonah was in such a state of protest over his old one (still sitting on the bottom of the toilet bowl) that I gave up and told him we were skipping teeth-brushing... off to bed!
When I went up to wake the kids up this morning I was horrified to see Yonah's old toothbrush had been fished out of the toilet and was back in it's place by the sink. I couldn't even bring myself to touch it in order to throw it in the trash.
Note to self: Bring rubber gloves upstairs this evening for toothbrush disposal duty before Yonah's bed-time.
Friday, June 05, 2009
People-watching over breakfast
So, Ben Chorin, Mo Chassid, Mo's son and I all met for breakfast at the new dairy place on Emek Rafa'im (Luciana) around ten this morning. It was a beautiful, warm morning with a nice breeze stirring, so we sat outside on the wooden deck overlooking the passing vehicular and foot traffic... shaded from the sun by huge umbrellas.
As we were tucking into our eggs and salads a rather corpulent man who looked to be in his 60s walked into the place with an enormous dog (a Bernese Mountain dog, I think) with a small red cowbell hanging from around his neck (the dog, that is... not the man).
He had a gray goatee (the corpulent man, that is... not the dog) and was wearing white shorts, a summery shirt (with tzitzit hanging out), a small kippah and eccentric eyeglasses that if worn by a less affluent person, would probably have been considered strange. As he stood surveying the open tables for a likely place to sit, an unlit cigar that was at least ten inches long and easily as thick as my wrist, jutted from one side of his mouth.
Before picking a table, the man went inside the restaurant (leaving the sweet dog to wander over to our table for a scratch behind the ears), and emerged a few moments later with a big Tupperware filled with water for his canine companion. He placed the water in front of his dog and began murmuring sweet nothings to it in Yiddish. That is, I assume they were sweet nothings. I don't understand a word of Yiddish... but his tone, and my vast experience murmuring sweet nothings to my own dogs, leads me to believe I'm pretty safe with this assumption.
Once the dog had been watered, the man selected the table next to ours, toppled into his chair and signaled to the waitress for a menu.
I should mention at this point that the conversation at our table became quite spotty the moment the Yiddish speaking fat man with the big (Yiddish understanding) dog appeared on the scene with his cigar jutting from his mouth like a gun on a battleship.
Once he'd settled into his seat and had ordered his breakfast, the man began a routine of patting his pockets that could only be a prelude to setting fire to his cigar. Ben Chorin leaned over to me looking nervous and whispered, "I think he's gonna light that thing".
Sure enough, the man located a box of wooden matches after searching only two pockets, lit one (a match, that is... not his pocket), and went through an overly elaborate lighting ritual that is familiar to anyone who has ever watched a a cigar smoker who is aware he is being observed.
I thought for a moment about complaining (I hate the smell of smoke), but since the breeze was mostly carrying the smoke away from us, I decided it wasn't necessary. But I did whisper to Ben Chorin that the guy looked like a character from Mad Magazine.
Ben Chorin leaned over with a big smile and said, "This is really just too great... this guy with the white shorts, the big cigar and talking to his dog in Yiddish... this is almost too good to be true. This is Gan Eden!"
I had to agree... as far as people watching goes, this really is as good as it gets.
Thursday, June 04, 2009
The best comment of the week
First of all, don't take the title too seriously, folks. Every single comment is extremely appreciated and I read and enjoy every one. In fact, I suspect that many people come here specifically because of the quality of the discussions in the comment board (and not so much for what I have to say).
"Given the ever-growing Palestinian population, it would appear that we're as bad at genocide as we are at hasbara [ed: PR]."
That about sums it up.
Wednesday, June 03, 2009
Popping 'the question'
I've mentioned on several occasions that for most adult men today, the question; 'Ginger or Maryanne?' is instantly understood from a contextual standpoint, and that pretty much every man knows, without a moment's hesitation, what his answer is.
Part of the fun of this question is that the show (Gilligan's Island) never provided an answer to how the unmarried castaways (Ginger, Maryanne, Gilligan, the Professor and the Skipper) might have hooked up had the need arisen.
But in truth, the question 'Ginger or Maryanne?' was only about who GIlligan would end up with.
The skipper and Professor were never in the running (although the two single girls never hesitated to use their feminine wiles to gain an alliance with one or the other when needed). But these two 'older men' seemed to have been cast as asexual... and completely unaware that despite the possibility of living out their days on the island, there were not one, but two totally beautiful potential mates.
Gilligan, for all his goofiness, was the one character that the viewer always assumed might have a shot.
But one forgets that before there was 'Gilligan's Island'... and before there was the question of 'Ginger or Maryanne?' ... there was another cornerstone of American pop culture that invited American boys to contemplate a similar question; 'Betty or Veronica?'. I'm talking, of course, about the Archie comics (and the TV spin-offs it created).
Unlike Gilligan, Archie was always actively chasing after either Betty or Veronica... and it was always understood that one day he would end catching (or more likely, being caught by) one of them.
Amidst all the other adolescent hi-jinx of the Archie comics story-lines, the 'Betty or Veronica?' question was an ongoing moral play; demanding that the reader root for Archie to go for either the pushy, self-entitled (but totally hot) brunette from the wealthy family, or the sunny, down-to-earth (and also totally hot) blonde who embodied the 'girl next door' we were always told we should bring home to mom.
Sadly, if all the online talk is true, the upcoming issue of Archie Comics will finally resolve this tug-o-war that Betty and Veronica have been waging over Archie. Archie Andrews is set to propose to one of them, and the leading assumption is that it will be Veronica Lodge.
If this actually happens it will be (IMHO) a tragedy of cultural proportions. Several generations of kids who grew up with Archie will finally be told that the opportunity to marry into money is worth overlooking bad character.
Personally, I hope that if Archie and Veronica really do get engaged, he should leave her at the alter and elope with Betty Cooper... evenif it means they will end up living in a trailer park next door to Moose and Midge. That, my friends, is the only story line that would properly resolve this incredible injustice!
And now back to the real world...
Tuesday, June 02, 2009
They have no idea...
My commute takes me through/past dozens of Arab towns and villages, and I have long since gotten used to seeing Palestinian flags, Hamas flags and even the occasional Hezbollah flag, waving from a house or painted on the side of a building. What do I care? Let them cast their lot in with whoever they like.
But as our parents used to remind us, people are judged by the company they keep as much as (and maybe more than) by their actions.
With that in mind, it didn't really bother me much when a few months ago I saw that a Hamas flag was fluttering from the electrical lines along the road I travel (Rt 60) just south of Hevron. It was a little flag, with stones tied to the two short snap ropes. It had been tossed up so that one of the stones would catch over the wire while the other one would weigh down the flag, allowing it to fluttter as if tied to a pole... actually quite a clever idea.
However, a few days ago one of my passengers pointed out that the Hamas flag was gone... and in its place fluttered a small white flag.
There wasn't much of a breeze so at first glance it was difficult to tell what was painted on the flag. But as the breeze picked up...
It became clear what was painted on the flag.
The Palestinians and their supporters toss around the words 'Nazi' and 'Genocide' quite glibly as if it was an accepted fact that Israel was a modern analog to the Third Reich, and that the Palestinians were being systematically liquidated by us.
I wish I could have a few minutes in a public forum to debate the Holocaust denier Abbas or his lying snake of a side-kick Saeb Erikat. I'd challenge them both to show the world the mass graves... to show everyone the bodies! Let them name the people Israel has killed, and number them on a list for all to see as we have done at Yad Vashem.
Once they had failed to produce the evidence they claim, I would then show them the lists created by the Nazis themselves (who were nothing if not orderly) of the Jews (and others) they murdered. I would show them the irrefutable evidence of the mass graves and the remaining infrastructure of the 'final solution'. I would hold up to their lying eyes the actual records proving that far more Palestinians have died at the hands of their brother Arabs than at the hands of Israelis.
But this would be an exercise in futility... because they already know all this. Abbas did his Doctoral thesis on the Holocaust (although he arrived at somewhat different conclusions than even the German Government), and Erikat seems to have a Holocaust fixation, to the point that heuses every public speech to convince the world that the Palestinian 'Holocaust' is even more horrible than the Jewish and Armenian genocide's combined.
But the saddest part is that the uneducated idiots who hung the white flag with the swastika have no idea what a Nazi really is. For them, the word has lost all it's power... and that is perhaps the worst thing of all.