Wednesday, December 30, 2009
A bit of marital advice
Ladies, if you find yourself in the situation where your husband is abroad in a place where the clothes shopping might be a bit better than where ever you live, please resist the urge to ask him to pick up bras for you.
Unless, of course, your intention is to completely humiliate him *... in which case disregard this advice.
Don't thank me... I'm a giver.
* Actually, I'm not sure who was more embarrassed, me, the female shoppers who evacuated the bra department en-masse when I showed up, or the salesgirl at Marks & Spencer who helped me pick out the requested undergarments.
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
To re-learn English or not to re-learn English...
Yesterday I overheard a woman speaking to her husband on the street in Stratford-Upon-Avon about their young child's litany of complaints and moans. Okay, she wasn't so much speaking as she was hissing in that barely audible way that only Brits seem to be able to manage without sounding unbalanced. It went something like this:
"Ian, would you please get Olivia to stop that incessant whinging. It's simply got to stop this instant or we're going straight home."
Forget the fact that Zahava and I have played that tune a hundred times in public with our own children (without managing to sound balanced), I was completely smitten with the word 'whinge'.
Unlike its American cousin, 'whine', whinge (rhymes with hinge) has that delightful electric 'g' sound in the middle that so perfectly sums up the shock that a child's braying can administer to the central nervous system of any nearby adult.
When I got back from touring and did a quick check of the on-line word-hounds, I found that I'm not the first American to have fallen in love with the word 'whinge'. Sadly, the article (you'll find it about a third of the way down the page starting with "Aw, Mr. Cheney..."), went on to pronounce such American affectation of British-isms to be "pretentious" and "Pathetic".
So much for my shiny new word. A shame really, since what Yonah does most days is so much more whinging than whining.
Monday, December 28, 2009
A long distance telephone conversation with my beloved
After catching up on the kids' day and the goings on around the house, I told Zahava about my day. As the conversation was winding down, the following passed between us:
Zahava: So what are you up to now?
Me: I'm in the campus laundromat washing my clothes.
Zahava: You know how to do laundry?!
Me: Bite me.
Reads like a Hallmark card, no?
Yes folks, one day you too might have a relationship so grounded in trust, and framed in mutual admiration, that touching exchanges like the one above are possible.
Sunday, December 27, 2009
Some disconnected thoughts
So far Limmud totally rocks.
Of course, I feel like a dinosaur and am having a bit of trouble identifying accents. At dinner friday night I was seated with two pretty girls who I assumed were British and Irish respectively (I didn't look closely at their badges). Turns out the suspected Brit was originally from Berlin and the Irish girl was from Amsterdam. The Chap on my left who was from London was very nice and explained some of the finer points of accent recognition (and the importance of accent in British social pigeon-holing).
I'm not sure what I was expecting from Limmud, but it is almost (but not quite) a throw-back to my Reform synagogue youth group days. Very earthy-crunchy, touchy feely... and refreshingly free of judgment.
Not that everyone here is Reform (or Liberal, as they call it here). There is actually a fairly nice distribution of Liberal, Masorti (Conservative) and Orthodox Jews here... with separate minyanim for each group's services, but kashrut and shabbat being observed according to the standard with which everyone can feel comfortable; orthodox.
It is actually quite touching to see the lengths to which people here will go in order to make sure not to insult or impinge upon anyone's sensibilities.
Limmud Shabbat had 'only' about 700-800 people, with lots of sessions, singing, meals, etc. together. During the week there will be several thousand people!
I haven't been around long enough to sense whether this camaraderie and apparent unity among Britain's Jews is genuine or a temporarily agreed upon truce for the sake of Limmud. But even if it is simply a truce, it is very nice to know that such things are possible.
I gave my first session this morning... on Aliyah. It went well, but was sparsely attended (relatively speaking). Nice group and sensible questions at the end. But I sense that Aliyah is not a huge issue with this crowd.
In more exciting news, I got to sit and chat with Ruthie Blum Leibowitz and her husband a few minutes ago. I've been reading her stuff for years and am a big fan. So when I spotted her (she's also presenting a few sessions here at Limmud), I couldn't resist going over and saying hello (total fanboy moment).
She and her husband were very pleasant, and when Ruthie heard where I was from she turned to him and said, "Thank G-d, I thought we were the only 'right wing fanatics' here!" (I may be slightly misquoting her, but that was certainly the gist). I had to agree, since the vast majority of Jews I have met so far are either vaguely anti-Israel or apologetically pro-Israel (as in, I support Israel, but...).
Overall I'm having a great time (even thought I miss my wife and kids something terrible), and hope to have more good things to report.
Friday, December 25, 2009
Best line so far here in the UK
My flight landed well after 11:00 PM on Xmas eve at Heathrow. By the time I'd gotten my bag and made my way to the nearby hotel, it was well after midnight. Luckily I'd told them when making my reservation that I would need a late check in.
Or so I thought.
When I arrived at the front desk, the West Indian looking (and sounding) gentleman behind the counter seemed to have some trouble locating my reservation... and they were all booked up. I watched him poking around in his computer for a minute or two and then spoke up:
Me: "I hope there's no trouble with my reservation, I can't imagine trying to find a room at this hour.
Desk Clerk [after glancing meaningfully over the top of his glasses at my kippah]: "Don't worry sir, if there's one thing the hospitality industry has learned in the last 2000 years it is to never turn a Jew away on Xmas eve".
We both had a laugh about that, and within a few seconds he'd located my reservation (under 'Vogner') and sent me on my way to a small, but very clean and comfortable room.
You have to admire a guy who can come up with a line like that without the slightest hesitation. Me? I would have thought of it on the stairs. :-)
Shabbat Shalom from Warwick University in beautiful Coventry.
Thursday, December 24, 2009
Semper ubi sub ubi... and other morbid throughts
I'm sure most of you reading this were told at some point in your life that you should always make sure to wear clean underwear when leaving the house... especially when embarking on a trip.
From what I gather, the reasoning behind this bit of parental advice is that in case you are ever in an accident (G-d forbid) and have to be brought to a hospital, the medical staff will not have cause to ridicule you for the sorry state of your skivvies (presumably somewhere between cutting off your outer garments and beginning life saving measures).
The logic here is obviously flawed, since one can safely assume that any accident serious enough to require medical staff to cut off your outer clothing is almost certainly going to result in your undies being in, ahem, less than pristine condition (if you catch my drift). Also, I want to believe that professional medical staff are above leering and jeering at critical patients (feel free to jump in and correct me if your experience is otherwise).
Being both a bit of a rebel as well as a male of the species, I've never really gone in for the whole meticulous underwear thing. In fact, IMHO, a clear indication that underwear is just coming into its prime (comfort-wise) is when wives or mothers start trying to throw them out.
But I promise you that I didn't set out to write about undies today. Honest, I didn't! What got me going down this line of thought was an even more morbid memory.
For several years I volunteered as a member of our community's Chevre Kadish (burial society). In Jewish tradition, once a person dies, their body must be watched over (guarded), ritually washed and dried (a ritual called a 'tahara', or purification), dressed in pure white burial shrouds, and conveyed to the cemetery for a proper burial.
The responsibilities I've listed above were split amongst several people, but I was usually involved in the washing and preparation of the body. In most cases I hadn't known the people personally for whom we were performing this 'favor', but occasionally it was someone I'd known... and that made things a bit hard (although I was never squeamish).
To help deal with such potential emotional upheavals, I used to go through a small mental preparation ritual on the drive over to the place where we prepared the bodies for burial. I used to tell myself that even if I walked into the room and saw a face I recognized... it was no longer them. The person I had known was long gone, and all that I was doing was taking care of something that they'd left behind... like a forgotten jacket or a hat.
Once I was actually in the room and working with a few other members of the society to wash, dry and dress the body, I would maintain that narrow focus by looking at only the part of the body I was dealing with at any given moment. This wasn't a dead human being, I would tell myself... it was a hand, a head, a foot. Somehow that helped depersonalize the process for me and allowed me to maintain the necessary 'distance'.
But on one particular evening when we were preparing a body and I was narrowly focused on the task, my mind made note of the fact that the toenails of the deceased were particularly long. It was just a passing thought, but for some reason my mind wouldn't let it go. Perhaps the man had died after a long hospitalization and nobody had thought to trim them. But whatever the reason, that observation stuck with me for the rest of the evening... and well into the next day.
It was such an odd thing to have stuck in my mind. After all, I had performed many taharot for accident victims, amputees and others whose imperfections (for lack of a better word) should certainly have stuck more solidly in my mind. But they didn't. At least not nearly to the extent that this one corpse's long toenails had.
I'm not sure how long it was between that day and my next business trip... but I distinctly recall showering the morning of the first airline flight I was to take after that particular tahara, and thinking absently to myself, "Oh yeah, when you get out of the shower, make sure to find the nail clippers. After all, if (G-d forbid) the plane crashes, you don't want to have someone on the Chevre kadish staring at your overgrown toenails tomorrow".
Ever since then... even if I'm not so careful about clipping my nails at other times (c'mon girls, what husband is?), I've never gotten on a flight since that day without having trimmed my toenails within the previous 24 hours.
This is the kind of information that is unlikely to be helpful to anyone... and I'm not even sure why I shared it today... other than the fact that I have a blog, and I can.
But I'm sure of one thing: When I get back from England next week, the first thing my wife is going to do is hit me in the head with a frying pan for timing this post to appear after she's seen me off at the airport and I'm still in the air. :-)
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Double standard? What double standard?!
As the late Mr. Roger's used to sing, "Who are the people in your neighborhood, in your neighborhood, in your nei-bor-hood...?" Let's take a peek, shall we?
Jordan...a country and monarchy invented out of whole cloth by the British (in direct violation of their Mandate) which everyone loves to think of as the most enlightened, democratic member of the Arab world. Well, guess what? 'King' Abdullah just dissolved the legislature and pushed off elections indefinitely. Outrage? Anyone... anyone? Oh yeah, I forgot. We have to respect their unique culture.
Lebanon... Another 'enlightened' Arab state. 'Paris of the Mediterranean' they like to call it. A cafe culture so close to our own that misguided lefty Israeli journalists are compelled to do a Jane Fonda-esque cameo from Beirut within hours of a shameful end to a war... a war that was started by these peace-loving, latte-sipping Lebanese! These same Lebanese now count Hezbollah - a terrorist militia that was supposed to be disarmed under the terms of U.N. Resolution 1701 - as part of their government. For context, that would be like the KKK holding a veto-wielding majority in the U.S. Congress, and also being given the right to raise and command their own army.
Syria... Another country made up out of whole cloth... this time by the French. Funny how Europeans who love to toss the word 'Colonial Power'' at Israel conveniently forget that it was Israel's neighbors that were created in the last gasp of the colonial era, while Israel was voted into being by a recognized legal world body. But don't tell that to any of the religious or ethnic minorities in the Arab world... it might stir them from their satisfied slumber. Syria's constitution requires that all positions of power remain in the hands of the Bathe party... and even though there is a national referendum for president every seven years, the Syrian people are essentially required to appoint the head of the Bathe Party as President. Thus this bastion of democracy is essentially saddled forever with a dynastic ethnic minority (Alawite) leader who also happens to head a minority political party.
Iran... Do we really need to do this exercise? They call themselves an Islamic Republic yet ironically consider Israel's self definition as a Jewish state to be racist. And as to the 'republic' part, any country where the highest office - called 'The Supreme Leader' - is a religious leader and not subject to election... well, I don't think you'll find that one in Wikipedia under 'Republic'. And as to their elections... I think we can pretty much agree that the outcome of these farces are set and approved by the Supreme leader well before anyone goes near a ballot box.
Iraq... Okay, since the U.S. kinda pushed the 'reset' button on the Iraqi government and all instruments of power when they invaded, it will be some time before we know what the political face of this country will look like long-term. But the likelihood that anybody will be playing nice with anyone else once the U.S. leaves the sandbox is not very high.
Saudi Arabia... Pshah! Another theocracy (see Iran, above) in a region where only Israel is castigated for religious 'offences'. The Saudis cut of the hands and feet of petty criminals and behead drug dealers. The Royal family is a dysfunctional nightmare from the dark ages, and less than 5% of Saudi women are allowed to work (the lowest percentage in the world). Heck, Saudi women aren't even allowed to drive! And if you wants to talk about freedom of speech... well you'd better not be in Saudi Arabia because it doesn't exist. There are actual laws against criticizing the government or anyone in the royal family.
Yemen... Another so-called 'republic'... this country is a model of a modern democracy, if you don't count the rampant corruption, torture, inhumane treatment of political prisoners and even extra-judicial executions. But on the feminist front there seems to be some progress (not!). They have recently abolished the rule whereby the onset of puberty marked the minimum age for a girl's marriage. Apparently those romantic Yemenis couldn't wait that long to bed their child brides. Again, outrage anyone?
Gaza... Puleeze, can anyone say failed proto-state? If Anyone were to faithfully document the situation in Gaza and make it into a movie, the American Muslim Anti Discrimination Committee would protest the absurd depiction of the adherents to 'the religion of peace' as sub-human terrorists.
Egypt... Okay, this one is really scary in much the same way as watching a car crash in slow motion. We have an aging autocrat hanging on to power by the skin of his teeth while the Muslim Brotherhood is already passing out portfolios in anticipation of their inevitable rise to power. Even though in theory the executive power is split between the President and Prime Minister, in reality all of the power rests with the president. Mubarak has even changed the election laws, raising the threshold for potential opposing candidates so high that he is virtually assured to remain in power for however much time remains of his life.
So it was beyond laughable when the current Israeli government was being formed, that much of the world (including our closest allies) bemoaned the end of Israeli democracy because Natenyahu's choice for Foreign Minister had some, let's just say 'controversial' opinions. And the two countries from the list of thugocracies above that are actually on speaking terms with us (Jordan and Egypt) had the gall to announce that they wouldn't meet with our FM. Nice.
Seriously, when are we going to simply announce to the world that we will play by whatever rules they want... but only if everyone will be bound by the same rules? How's that for a controversial opinion?!
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
How is it...
... that in a country with over 100 human rights organizations, and probably twice that number of special interest groups dedicated to protecting the rights of the country's citizens (and non-citizen residents), that something like this has not caused a groundswell of outrage.
I was so horrified reading the article that I nearly threw up from the sickening mixture of anger and fear it caused. Clearly the kid in question was no choir boy. But the police seem to have been so far outside the lines on this case that I am absolutely amazed that human rights groups and NGOs aren't lining up to file Amicus briefs.
Then again, after witnessing rampant police misconduct and brutality during the disengagement, and the selective violence they have meted out against settlers and their sympathizers ever since, I really shouldn't be surprised. In fact it is the reason I refuse to go to even the most benign demonstrations in this country. I fear that if I was ever deliberately injured by a policeman while peacefully demonstrating that I would not be able to restrain myself from responding in an equally violent and criminal manner.
The police in this country must be reigned in and forced to acknowledge that they are bound by the same laws they are tasked with enforcing. They must understand that at least some of the violence in our society is a direct result of their own brutality in dealing with suspects. They can't possibly hope to hold the respect of the public when they public sees them riding rough-shod over the law.
Official misconduct such as flagrant brutality, ignoring special requirements when processing and questioning minors, and employing illegal/punitive measures against certain 'less popular' segments of society would get police officers anywhere else in the civilized world dismissed from their jobs, if not prosecuted. But in Israel such things have become so commonplace and accepted throughout the system that, at worst, an officer or commander might be reassigned to a different job and in a short time rejoin the promotion track of his/her career.
I don't know what the answer is, but if one of the many existing organizations isn't prepared to step up, I am sorely tempted to start my own organization to mount a guerrilla campaign to document and prosecute police misconduct via still & video photography and collected sworn testimony from victims.
It can't be that the entire population of a country must live in fear of the very people who are sworn to protect us!
Monday, December 21, 2009
A blank check
I give what I can to worthwhile organizations. I'm not unique in this. In fact most of the people I know also give what they can, when they can. We don't have much... but there are always others who have far less.
So we give.
Then there are the 'big givers'. These are the people who are perennial honorees at gala dinners, and whose homes and offices are lined with plaques of appreciation and sterling sculptures in glass cases bearing inscriptions of thanks.
But above and beyond all those there is an entirely different level of giver... people who quietly, and without fanfare, hand over blank checks to organizations, telling them to take as much as they need... but not more. That kind of giving goes mostly un-noticed, but is breathtaking in its generosity, selflessness, and above all, trust.
This morning some close friends of ours handed over such a blank check. They gave it to the State of Israel (even though they are not Israelis) and were too modest to even show up to see the check change hands.
However, since I happened to be there to witness the transaction, I thought I'd share a few words about the informal rite so that they could know that their generous gift had been received. You see, the blank check that my friends handed over today was their oldest son... and the recipient was the Israeli Army.
But there is another side of this giving. Their son, Meir, was certainly an active and willing participant in this transaction. Even though we laud the Biblical patriarch Abraham for selflessly offering up his son Isaac, many people forget that Isaac was an adult at the time and, if anything, was making more of a sacrifice (pun intended) than his father.
Not too long ago, Meir found himself at a crossroads in his life. He had finished an undergraduate degree at a prestigious college, had completed a rigorous course of training in a completely unrelated field... and was working in yet third profession that was only tangentially related to the other two. Some people complain of not having any choices in life. Meir's problem, perhaps, was having too many.
In the course of trying to figure out which road to take, Meir came to a mature conclusion that few people will admit... even to themselves: He admitted that he didn't know what to do.
But rather than sit around and wait for something to happen, he decided to dedicate a finite period of time to serve in the IDF under a program that has existed since before the State was established, called MACHAL (an acronym which stands for 'Volunteers from outside the country'). Because he is not an Israeli citizen, Meir will serve in the regular army (in an infantry unit), but will serve 18 months rather than the full three years.
Since Meir has been living with us since arriving in Israel, and we'll be his 'home away from home' during his army service, I drove him this morning to the IDF Induction Center, and handed him over to a group of female soldiers who were waiting to process him into his new life (at least the only life he'll know for the next year-and-a-half).
I have to admit that even though it will be a few years before I have to drive any of my own children to the Lishkat Giyus, handing over such a precious gift - a blank check of sorts - is still a very powerful and emotional experience.
Giyus Na'im, Meir... and Kol HaKavod to his parents Beth and Bobby.
Thursday, December 17, 2009
The new phone book's here! The new phone book's here!
I feel like Steve Martin in that scene from 'The Jerk' where he runs around his house shouting "The new phone book's here! The new phone book's here!"
Nobody will admit it, but back when phone books were the way to find a phone number or address, one could experience a tiny thrill of seeing proof that 'I exist' just from seeing one's name and personal details published for all the world (or at least the surrounding county) to see.
If you don't agree, please take the following one question test:
1. Have you ever 'Googled' your own name in order to see where / how many times you are mentioned on the Web?
Anyway, late last night I noticed that the program (excuse me, programme) of speakers for the Limmud Conference had just been published on line, and I naturally had to click straight to the 'B's to confirm my existence.
I'm such a child.
Patron: casino online
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Getting a few things off my chest
I know it's not healthy to let things fester, yet I constantly find myself bottling up my feelings on a wide range of topics and keeping them to myself.
Part of the problem is that I have nobody to whom I can consistently vent. Those who understand/agree will get annoyed at my incessant preaching to the choir... and those who are not on-board likely feel abused by my repeating the same arguments.
So I end up storing the bile to the point where I find myself expanding the use of the prefix 'Irish' to things other than just coffee (e.g. Irish Cheerios... Irish Ice cream, etc.). So I hope you'll forgive me if, in the interest of better nutrition, sobriety and sanity, I get a few things off my chest here today:
1. Memo to the United States: It's bad enough that you don't respect Israel's sovereignty or the right of our government to manage domestic affairs without outside interference. But for kripes sake, obey your own freaking laws before you come trying to tell us what to do! Back in 1995, the Jerusalem Embassy Act was voted on, approved and signed into U.S. law. It unambiguously required the United States of America to recognize Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel, and to take the obvious step of moving its Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem by May of 1999. The act even created funding for the move so there would be no excuse to tarry. It is now almost 2010 and every President since 1998 has availed themselves of a loophole in the law that allows them to delay the move. If even our closest ally projects open ambiguity about the status/sovereignty of Jerusalem, is it any wonder that others feel empowered to lay claim to the it?!
2. Memo to the UN: No matter how ill advised the Israeli leadership may have been to enter into a ceasefire under U.N. Resolution 1701, it is a binding international treaty. So please explain why we are the only ones adhering to it? You clowns even have observers on the ground all over southern Lebanon... so you can't reasonably claim that you haven't noticed that; a) Hezbollah hasn't been disarmed; and b) there are actually far more Hezbollah rockets pointed at Israel today than there were in the summer 2006. When the fighting starts again (as it surely will in the not-too-distant future), the blood of the Lebanese villagers who now shield these rocket batteries with their bodies, will be on your hands as much as on Hezbollah's when Israel is forced to bomb them into the stone age.
3. Memo to the the U.K.: You've had soldiers fighting terrorists in both Afghanistan and Iraq, and have caused your own share of the inevitable civilian casualties (collateral damage) as a result of the way your enemies use human shields. So you can't reasonably point an accusing finger at Israel, especially when the former Commander of British Forces in Afghanistan has given testimony before the U.N. that "no army in the history of armed warfare has acted as morally, or taken such pains to protect civilian life, as the IDF did during Operation Cast Lead". Yet you allow your legal system to be manipulated by Jihadists and their supporters so that Israeli politicians, officers and soldiers are forced to avoid travel to your country for fear of being arrested placed in the dock for war crimes. This is not how allies treat one another, and it is certainly not the behavior of a country which wants to be recognized as an honest broker of peace in the region!
4. Memo to Ehud Barak: Stop using the Israel Defense Forces to carry out policing duties and political fiat. The army of any country is a security instrument that exists to fight (or at least deter) enemies. It must never be employed against its own people. By doing so you are placing many of your most loyal and patriotic soldiers in an untenable position. I suspect that, given your hard line secular / labor credentials, this has been your intention all along. After all, there is no better way to make religious Zionist soldiers appear disloyal than to give them orders that they will almost certainly consider to be immoral, and even contrary to religious law. But of course you know all this... just as you know that the construction freeze was only supposed to apply to buildings whose foundations had not yet been laid. Yet this hasn't stopped you from sending in your troops to violently confront ongoing construction that is perfectly legal (having been started well before the freeze began). And another thing about refusal; You can''t have your cake and eat it too. Refusing orders is disastrous to the fabric of the IDF whether it is done by left or right wing soldiers. You and your party were strangely silent when left wing 'objectors' refused to serve in the territories, and left wing pilots refused to carry out targeted attacks on terrorist leaders in Gaza. The politicization of soldiers began with the secular left, not the religious right... so spare me the hand-wringing about how religious zionists are the ones tearing the army apart. The solution is to issue orders that are ethical, moral and above all legal, so all soldiers can go back to doing what they are trained to do; defend the country against its enemies.
Whew, I feel so much better now. Thanks.
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Illinois Connecticut Nazis"
I had a nifty rant all lined up for you today about the UK issuing an arrest warrant for Tzipi Livni. It was full of piss and vinegar and was terribly therapeutic for me to have written. But that can wait for another day.
You see, Zahava just emailed me a newspaper article about the town in Connecticut where we used to live.
The following picture (taken at a rainy public Hanukkah Menorah lighting near the center of Fairfield, CT) says it all:
Looking at the title of today's post, I can honestly say that I never thought I'd have cause to paraphrase John Belushi's 'Blues Brothers' character in real life... yet as you can see, that day has arrived.
A small gathering of Jews and local politicians, including the town's First Selectman (that's what they call Mayors in much of New England), were gathered in the rain under a picturesque Gazebo on the Town Green for the Menorah lighting ceremony when three men in ski masks showed up and unfurled flags for a ceremony of their own.
This wasn't some spontaneous shout of "Kike" or "Dirty Jews" from a passing car (as we had occasionally heard when we lived in Connecticut). This was a well planned show designed to let the Jews know that they have more to worry about than just Muslim extremism.
Nazis don't just fall out of a clear blue sky in the center of a New England town. They are simply an extreme manifestation of a sentiment that is already widely held in the community to which they belong.
People, get the hell out of there. This is the stage before they start burning stuff... and people. It doesn't matter that it isn't the government coming after you. Burned is burned and dead is dead... and it doesn't matter who does the burning or killing.
Monday, December 14, 2009
What goes around, comes around (a little tip)
One of life's little annoyances is having to fish out my reading glasses every time I need to figure out which of my iPod ear-buds goes into which ear.
Yes, in case you hadn't noticed, there is very small offset of the ear-bud relative to the center-point of the stem, allowing it to fit more comfortably into either the right or left ear. Therefore, to guide the user, there is a small gray letter 'L' or 'R' printed on the stem of each ear-bud.
All fine and good... unless (like me) you need reading glasses to see that small gray letter. Then it becomes a hassle and you find yourself simply settling for 50-50 odds of getting the right fit with the first try.
One evening last week I found myself standing in the check-out line of a supermarket near my office when a young woman came up behind me (and my full shopping cart) with three items in her hands; a baguette, a package of sliced yellow cheese and a tomato.
For some reason this particular supermarket doesn't have an express line, so shoppers often have to deal with an annoying series of people with "just one or two items" who ask to cut the line.
I knew that if I let her cut in front of me, anyone in the store with just a few items would gravitate to me like lions to the weakest member of the herd. So to head off the inevitable question, I fished out my iPod shuffle and stuck the ear-buds into my ears.
The wrong ears, of course. So I switched the ear-bud placement and exerted a lot of mental effort into trying to ward off the tap on the shoulder and inevitable request to cut the line. But to my surprise, the young woman waited patiently behind me, watching me fiddle with my ear-buds... and didn't say a word.
After a few minutes I started to feel bad... my order would take some time to ring up, and hers would be bagged and gone in the time it would take me to take out my wallet. So I took out the earphones and offered to let her cut in front of me.
She accepted gratefully... and as she went ahead in line I took out my reading glasses and went about trying to figure out how to correctly position the ear-buds.
Noticing this, the woman started to laugh. She explained that she had the same trouble seeing things up close, and almost always used to put her ear-buds in the wrong ear. "But", she explained, "a friend showed me a neat trick".
Without asking, she reached over, took the headphones from my hands and in one quick movement she took the wire leading to the left ear-bud and wrapped it once around the right one at the point where the two wires diverge... inserting the ear-bud through the loop she'd created and then pulled the knot tight.
"There", she said, as she let the earphones drop back to my chest. "Now you'll never have to guess which is is which again. The right ear-bud will always hang slightly lower than the left".
I looked down and noticed that she was correct... because of the small loop knot she'd made, there was about a quarter-inch difference in the relative length of the ear-bud wires.
It was such a simple thing, this little tip of hers... but it has eliminated a big source of annoyance in my life. And to think, she might never have shared it if I hadn't offered to let her go ahead of me in line.
Just one more reason to be nice.
Oh yeah, one more thing: Don't thank me... I'm a giver!
Sunday, December 13, 2009
A real miracle or the doing of extraordinary people?
By Daniel Gordis
This piece appeared in the Jerusalem Post this past weekend, and it touched me deeply. Because so many of this site's readers don't frequent JPost, I requested permission to share it here, and Dr. Gordis generously agreed.
Warning: Kleenex Alert!
It's been almost a year since St.-Sgt. Dvir Emanuelof became the first casualty of Operation Cast Lead, losing his life to Hamas mortar fire just as he entered Gaza early in the offensive. But sitting with his mother, Dalia, in her living room last week, I was struck not by loss, but by life. And not by grief, but by fervent belief. And by a more recent story about Dvir that simply needs to be told, especially now at Hanukka, our season of miracles.
This past summer, Dalia and some friends planned to go to Hutzot Hayotzer, the artists' colony constructed each summer outside Jerusalem's Old City walls. But Dalia's young daughter objected; she wanted to go a week later, so she could hear Meir Banai in concert.
Dalia consented. And so, a week later, she found herself in the bleachers, waiting with her daughter for the performance to begin. Suddenly, Dalia felt someone touch her shoulder. When she turned around, she saw a little boy, handsome, with blond hair and blue eyes. A kindergarten teacher by profession, Dalia was immediately drawn to the boy, and as they began to speak, she asked him if he'd like to sit next to her.
By now, though, the boy's father had seen what was unfolding, and called over to him, "Eshel, why don't you come back and sit next to me and Dvir?" Stunned, Dalia turned around and saw the father holding a baby. "What did you say his name is?" she asked the father.
"Dvir," responded Benny.
"How old is he?" Dalia asked.
"Six months," was the reply.
"Forgive my asking," she continued, "was he born after Cast Lead, or before?"
Whereupon Dalia continued, "Please forgive my pressing, but can I ask why you named him Dvir?"
"Because," Benny explained to her, "the first soldier killed in Cast Lead was named Dvir. His story touched us, and we decided to name our son after him."
Almost unable to speak, Dalia paused, and said, "I'm that Dvir's mother."
Shiri, the baby's mother, had overheard the conversation, and wasn't certain that she believed her ears.
"That can't be."
"What's your last name?"
"Where do you live?"
"It is you," Shiri said. "We meant to invite you to the brit, but we couldn't."
"It doesn't matter," Dalia assured her - "You see, I came anyway."
And then, Dalia told me, Shiri said something to her that she'll never forget - "Dvir is sending you a hug, through us."
At that point in our conversation, Shiri told me her story. She'd been pregnant, she said, in her 33rd or 34th week, and during an ultrasound test, a potentially serious problem with the baby was discovered. After consultations with medical experts, she was told that there was nothing to do. The baby would have to be born, and then the doctors would see what they could do. A day or two later, she was at home, alone, anxious and worried. She lit Hanukka candles, and turned on the news. The story was about Dvir Emanuelof, the first soldier killed in the operation. She saw, she said, the extraordinarily handsome young man, with his now famous smile, and she felt as though she were looking at an angel.
A short while later, Benny came home, and Shiri said to him, "Come sit next to me." When he'd seated himself down next to her, Shiri said to Benny, "A soldier was killed today."
"I heard," he said. "What do you say we name our baby after him?" Shiri asked.
"Okay," was Benny's reply.
They told no one about the name, and had planned to call Dalia once the baby was born, to invite her to the brit. But when Dvir was born, Shiri and Benny were busy with medical appointments, and it wasn't even clear when they would be able to have the brit. By the time the doctor gave them the okay to have the brit, it was no longer respectful to invite Dalia on such short notice, Shiri told me. So they didn't call her. Not then, and not the day after. Life took its course and they told no one about the origin of Dvir's name, for they hadn't yet asked Dalia's permission.
So no one knew, until that moment when a little blond-haired, blue-eyed boy - whom Dalia now calls "the messenger" - decided to tap Dalia on the shoulder. "Someone's looking out for us up there," Shiri said quietly, wiping a tear from her eye, "and this no doubt brings Him joy."
It was now quiet in Dalia's living room, the three of us pondering this extraordinary sequence of events, wondering what to make of it. I was struck by the extraordinary bond between these two women, one religious and one traditional but not religious in the classic sense, one who's now lost a husband and a son and one who's busy raising two sons.
Unconnected in any way just a year ago, their lives are now inextricably interwoven. And I said to them both, almost whispering, "This is an Israeli story, par excellence."
As if they'd rehearsed the response, they responded in virtual unison, "No, it's a Jewish story."
They're right, of course. It is the quintessential Jewish story. It is a story of unspoken and inexplicable bonds. It is a story of shared destinies.
And as is true of this little country we call home, it's often impossible to know which part of the story is the real miracle, and which is the doing of extraordinary people. In the end, though, that doesn't really matter. When I light Hanukka candles this year, I'm going to be thinking of Dalia. Of Shiri. Of Dvir. And of Dvir.
I'm going to think of their sacrifice. Of their persistent belief. Of their extraordinary decency and goodness.
And as I move that shamash from one candle to the next, I will know that Shiri was right. These are not easy times. These are days when we really could use a miracle or two. So perhaps it really is no accident that now, when we need it most, Dvir is sending us all a hug from heaven above.
If you were as moved by this true story as I was, please go tell Dr. Gordis personally.
Thursday, December 10, 2009
I can't believe I'm about to say this, but...
... I agree with Peace Now. There, I said it.
Peace Now, for all their delusional nuttiness, occasionally says something sensible.
Today, the Labor Party and Peace Now both came out strongly against Netanyahu's new 'Priorities Map', a plan which indicates where special government funding for education, infrastructure, employment and direct tax breaks will be allocated.
The reason given for their dissatisfaction (to say the least) with the plan is that it includes many settlements in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) where the average income is considerably higher - and where unemployment is slightly lower - than in many develoment towns inside the Green Line.
Personally, I was a little embarrassed to see my town listed among the communities that will benefit from this reallocation of government funds. Sure it would be nice to see my kid's school get new computers, have the street signs and lamps updated, and to feel a little less of a tax bite on my paycheck. But compared with many development towns on Israel's periphery (specifically in the south and north), my town is really doing quite well.
So yeah... kol hakavod to Labor and Peace Now for calling Bibi out on a very poor prioritization of funds.
However, what is missing from Labor's and Peace Now's outrage is the necessary acknowledgment that the sorry state of communities on Israel's periphery can be directly attributed to several generations of left wing Mappai / Labor governments' policies of systematically sending new immigrants from North Africa, Yemen, South America, 'Edot HaMizarach' and other less developed (meaning less refined) parts of the world, to the noisome, under-funded corners of the country, while more cosmopolitan immigrants from western Europe and North America were magically welcomed to Jerusalem and Gush Dan (Tel Aviv and its environs).
My point is that, yes, it is laudable that the Labor Party and Peace Now are suddenly interested in making sure that the state's limited 'priority' funds are directed towards those who most need them. But it comes off as just a tad suspect when those very communities are in such dire straights specifically because of the callous (racist, even) immigration and social welfare polices of the left.
I suspect that this hand-wringing we're seeing from the political left has more to do with the fact that evil settlers stand to see a windfall from Bibi's new priority map, than about suddenly deciding to champion Israel's poorer sectors.
Just my 2 cents.
Wednesday, December 09, 2009
[soon to be] on the road again...
Back in June I mentioned in passing that I'd been invited to speak at the Limmud Conference, a week-long, multi-disciplinary, Jewish learning festival that takes place in the UK each year during the last week of December.
In June, December seemed as far away as the era of flying cars and unisex silver jump suits. And yet, here we are in December... and Limmud is just a couple of weeks away! Guess I'd better finish working on my sessions, huh?
This is just a quick post to encourage anyone who will be in the UK then, to register for Limmud... and to sign up for my session!. Seriously, there are some really heavy hitters scheduled to be speaking, and I'm worried that people are going to be skimming down the session registration lists and be all like, "Rabbi, university president, novelist, scientist, publisher,Nobel Laureate, treppen-what? Who the heck is that??!"
I'm scheduled to give the following sessions:
Sun Dec. 27th 1100-1210: "Everything you didn't know about Aliyah"
This session should be of interest to anyone with even a fleeting interest in moving to Israel. Basically I'm giving you a chance to learn from my mistakes. :-)
Tue Dec. 29th 1530-1640: "So you want to be a Jewish Blogger"
The dos and don'ts of blogging (again, a chance to learn from my mistakes), as well as a discussion of how to use social media to advocate for Israel and Jewish causes.
Tue Dec. 29th 1830-1940: "Settlers & Settlements 101"
This is the introductory session where the ground rules, vocabulary and historical facts will be laid out in preparation for the second session. I'm expecting a somewhat hostile crowd, so a friendly face or two would be nice. :-)
Wed Dec. 30th 0930-1040: "Settlers & Settlements 202"
This is where (hopefully) an intelligent discussion of the topic will take place. This one should be a doozy (in spite of the groundwork I hope to lay at the 101 session). And to be clear, I expect to learn as much (or more) from these sessions as those who will attend.
I'm sure I'll be attending many of the other sessions given throughout the week as well, but I hope to do a little local touring / sight-seeing as well. For instance, I've always wanted to visit Stratford upon Avon. Limmud is being held this year at Warwick University, which is quite close (15 miles, or so I'm told).
I've only been to England a couple of times (short stop-overs on the way to and from the US)... and have never been outside of London. So if any of my UK readers have suggestions of things to do and see while in the West Midlands/Coventry area and London, please feel free to share.
Tuesday, December 08, 2009
And here I thought it was me
Have you ever popped a DVD of one of your favorite movies into the idiot box and settled in to watch... only to find the familiar characters jabbering in a foreign language you can't identify, much less understand? We used to have a haunted DVD player that would occasionally lose its mind and randomly pick an overdub language (Serbian, Hungarian, Finnish, etc.) for movies that had previously played flawlessly in English.
The result of these occasional DVD malfunctions was an unsettling mix of familiar and unfamiliar.
When Zahava and I started raising kids, I felt that same mix of familiar and unfamiliar in just about everything we were hearing from experts, as well as other parents, about child-rearing.
My only frame of reference was my own childhood which, while not Theodor 'Beaver' Cleaver perfect, was certainly happy and normal enough to have produced a fairly well adjusted, functioning adult. Yet everything I was hearing and reading about how to be a good parent made me feel inadequate, disorganized, uninvolved and even (at times) reckless.
This morning, my younger brother, who is a psychologist and heads up a unit of a large California county's Child Protective Services, sent me a link to an article. As I read through the article it was as though someone had gotten up off the couch and changed the disc language back to English. Suddenly everything made sense. The problem wasn't me... it was the system which had gone and lost its mind.
If you do nothing else productive today, take 10 minutes and read this piece. Trust me.
Note: Ignore the intrusive advertising links between paragraphs. They are unrelated to the article.
Monday, December 07, 2009
Years ago when I was a single man, I once decided to wreck my kitchen whipping up a batch of blintzes. SIngle men can do that with impunity. Married men require permission.
Anyhoo... It wasn't a rational decision, since you could get perfectly acceptable blintzes at local restaurants... or even in the freezer section of well stocked grocery stores. But for some reason the idea of making blintzes from scratch really appealed to me, so...
As I recall, those long-ago blintzes came out fine, but the trauma to my small apartment kitchen was both extensive and extended. I think I finally washed the final pan and mixing bowl about two weeks after the last blintze was consumed. If you've never tried to scrup dried-on farmer cheese and sour cream off of dishes and mixing bowls, trust me... it's no picnic.
Well, the other day I was reading one of my favorite blogs and was delighted to see he had posted about making home-made blintzes... and had even shared pictures and a recipe. I have no idea what ever came of the recipe I had used way back when... but here was an engraved invitation - a challenge, even - to give it another try.
So this past Motzei Shabbat (Saturday night) we invited my parents over to celebrate both Yonah's and my father's birthdays (Yonah is 6 and my dad is, well... older than 6, keneynahorah, tfu tfu tfu), and I whipped up a metric buttload* of blintzes.
The bletlach (crepes) came out just the tiniest bit thicker than I would have liked (which can probably be attributed to the 70% whole weat flour I used), but the filling was perfect... a little sweet, as befits a main course, but not so sweet as to be confused with a dessert.
I even made a big batch of eggnog (nicely seasoned with nutmeg and Bourbon) for the occasion!
Sadly no pictures were taken, but I assure you that Elisson's recipe is a traditional winner!
Don't thank me... I'm a giver. But do go thank Elisson, since he did all the heavy lifting . :-)
* Elisson is an engineer, so I rely on him for all my technical terminology.
Friday, December 04, 2009
My new hero (and I'm not even the designer in the family)
Hat tip Book of Joe
Thursday, December 03, 2009
I'm confused (as usual)
Picture the following scenario:
A kidnapper has a hostage at gunpoint and is barricaded inside a house or place of business.
The crime scene is surrounded by police S.W.A.T teams.
After several tense hours, the hostage negotiator manages to convince the kidnapper to release the hostage to an attorney (i.e. a 'neutral third party') pending the granting of the ransom request and safe passage for the kidnapper out of the country.
The kidnapper's attorney walks into the building, and after a few tense minutes, walks out again accompanied by the hostage.
What happens at this point?
Here are a few questions to ponder:
- Once the hostage is safe are the authorities obligated to follow through with the payment of ransom and the granting of safe passage to the kidnapper?
- As an officer of the court, is the attorney obligated to turn over the hostage to the police immediately.
- If the attorney doesn't turn over the hostage and insists on holding on to him until the authorities live up to their end of the bargain, does the attorney now become an accomplice to the kidnapping?
The reason I've asked you to engage in this little thought experiment is that this is precisely the scenario that is being played out with Gilad Shalit (or is about to be, depending on which reports you trust).
Gilad Shalit was kidnapped in a blatant terrorist attack. The kidnapping was a crime by any standard and under any legal definition. It was not part of a declared or undeclared military operation. The kidnappers were not part of any recognized army, nor did they wear uniforms, rank or identifying insignia (as required by the Geneva Convention) to be considered soldiers in combat.
The terrorist organization which ordered the kidnapping (Hamas) is not recognized as a government body by anyone and has no rights under international law to formulate foreign policy (i.e. enter into treaties and raise or maintain a military force).
That Israel has been negotiating with Hamas has no bearing on Hams' status any more than a kidnapper's status is elevated by the ongoing dialog with the police hostage negotiator. When police negotiate with a 'garden variety' kidnapper , those negotiations do not elevate the kidnapper's status above that of common criminal, or grant him special legal status whereby unreasonable terms would have to be honored after the hostage has been freed.
There are credible reports that Gilad Shalit has been (or will soon be) transfered to the custody of the Egyptian government pending the last stages of the exchange of nearly 1000 terrorist.
What I can't quite figure out is why Israel (or any country) should be obligated to follow through with deals struck (under duress) with extortionists and terrorists once the hostage has been safely released to a third party?
How is it that Egypt (roughly parallel to the attorney in the scenario above) is able to continue the hostage's imprisonment without being considered an accomplice to the crime? Aren't they obligated under any international conventions to free the hostage as soon as he is in their hands? Aren't they subject to enormous pressure from the U.S. based on the large amount of foreign aid they receive (second only to Israel) to live up to such conventions?
I'm honestly confused as to why this proposed exchange of terrorists for our soldier is being viewed by the world (and even by the Israeli government!) in the same light as, say, the exchange of POWs at the end of a war.
As stated earlier, Hamas has no standing under international conventions of war. They did not observe any of the requirements for the treatment of POWs (e.g. visits from representatives of the International Red Cross, inspection of living conditions and health audits. etc.) and certainly nobody has ever alleged that Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli prions have POW status (even though Israel has granted access to its security prisoners and guaranteed living conditions consistent with international norms).
This kidnapping was a crime, plain and simple. It was carried out by private individuals with no authority to enact treaties or claim diplomatic privilege. Why has everyone forgotten this?
And most important, if/when Gilad is in Egyptian custody, how is it possible that that country will be allowed, under international law, to continue his imprisonment until Israel (the police in the scenario above) agrees to complete a devil's bargain struck during a hostage situation at the point of a gun?
I can't wait for someone to make sense of this for me!