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Thursday, July 29, 2010

The good, the bad and the worse (not in that order)

First the bad:

Among the very last thing I wanted to hear this morning midway through my 05:50 commuter (i.e. puddle jumper) flight from Delhi to Visakhapatnam which took off in Mmonsoon rains was, "Ladies and gentlemen...  we're going to be making an unscheduled landing back in Delhi due to technical problems with our aircraft."

The worse:

Having to sit through the above-mentioned announcement in Hindi, while everyone else on the flight performed a collectivesharp intake of breath... and then with the subsequent exhale, began jabbering in frightened tones to their neighbors... in Hindi, Kashmiri, Urdu, Tamil, Kannada, Telugu, Sindhi, Konkani, Manipuri, Nepali and Dogri, etc... seemingly everything but English... leaving me to wonder what the pilot had just announced.

Finally, after a pause of what seemed like ten minutes (but was probably closer to ten seconds), the announcement was repeated in English as related above.  But that was all the information we were given.  No updates... no clarification... no odds for a safe landing. 

For 10 or 15 minutes, everyone on the plane alternated between panicked chattering with their neighbors, and listening intently to the sounds of the aircraft to try to discern abnormal sounds that might indicate impending doom.

It was only after several people began pestering the flight attendants for information that one of them disappeared into the cockpit to convince the pilot to, you know, maybe share a little bit more.

As the flight attendant reappeared, the captain's voice came over the intercom and again, in Hindi, he launched into an extended explanation of our fate.  I watched the faces around me visibly relax, so I know the news wasn't as bad as I'd imagined. 

The good (finally):

Sure enough, when the English translation was given he explained that after take-off the flight crew had tried unsuccessfully to activate the auto-pilot.  They had spent almost 30 minutes performing diagnostics and trouble shooting (obviously while flying the plane manually).  But once they determined that they couldn't bring the auto-pilot back on line, Indian civil aviation regulations stipulated that, during Monsoon conditions, they were not allowed to complete the flight, and had to return to their point of origin.

This last bit confused me since by the time we turned around we were at least half way to our destination.  Maybe the conditions in Visakhapatnam were worse than in Delhi, but it still seemed an odd rule given that the real dangerous bit was the landing... and the Autopilot would, presumably, play no part in that.

Anyway, I missed my morning meeting and am currently cooling my heels at a local hotel coffee shop waiting for my afternoon meeting time to roll around.   

I have an evening flight to Mumbai (with a brief stop in Hyderabad), so here's to hoping I can maintain my perfect (tfu tfu tfu) travel record of having the number of landings equal the number of take-offs.

Posted by David Bogner on July 29, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

OK, you caught me

A couple of people have emailed me to say that my last few posts seemed... how to put this gently... pre-packaged.  Um... guilty as charged.

I am currently in India and have been in transit since Saturday night.

The bad news:

1.  While I know that Tourettes is nothing to make light of, and those suffering from it have no control over the symptoms.  Sitting next to a chatty insomniac with Tourettes on an overnight flight from Tel Aviv to Bangkok should qualify a person for some sort of award.  Two Benadryls and a double bourbon did nothing to dull my senses.

2.  "Free Internet" access seems to be dead in Asian airports.  Many coffee shops offer it, but it turns out it is given in bite-sized 15 minute increments... forcing you to buy more coffee and other stuff in order to qualify for another 15 minute session.  Who can surf under that kind of pressure??

The Good News:

1.  The flight from Thailand to India (on Thai Air) was wonderful.  The flight attendant took one look at the bags under my eyes and moved me to a row all by myself where I could stretch out.  They didn't even wake me for landing.  Somehow they managed to cover me with a plush purple blanket... buckle my legs, waist and shoulders in with the three sets of seat-belts... and left me to sleep until all the other passengers had deplaned.

2.  The hotel in Goa is as luxurious as I remember (remember the bathtub big enough for a lawn party?).  It was raining cats and dogs, but it was such a warm rain that I didn't bother with the umbrellas they had stationed at the entrance to every room and building.  I even did a meditation class after my morning session on the treadmill... and you'll be proud to know I didn't fall asleep like last time. (Imshin will certainly appreciate that).  I opted not to try the Yoga class this time since I think my body is not, um, yoga-friendly. 

3.  I am now in Delhi and got a free upgrade to a 'club room' at my hotel.  I don't know what I did to deserve this, but I'm not complaining about the lush digs, free everything and hot & cold running attendants waiting right out in the hall to bring me anything my little heart might desire 24/7.  Another Cappuccino?  Why yes, thank you.  I believe I will. 

Blogging may be spotty for the next week and a half until I say goodbye to the sub-continent... but I'll try to post tidbits when I get a moment.

Posted by David Bogner on July 28, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Monday, July 26, 2010

a crapella

Definition:  Singing out loud while listening to music with your headphones on. Whereas the singer gets the benefit of the music, those unfortunate enough to be standing nearby are subjected to an unaccompanied (and invariably crappy) rendition of the song.

Usage:  "I wish that guy would turn his iPod off - his a crapella version of Bohemian Rhapsody is killing me"

Hat tip to my friend Shuby.

Source:  urbandictionary.com

Posted by David Bogner on July 26, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Sunday, July 25, 2010

My new best friend

Anyone who keeps a journal or blog can relate to the following scenario:

There you are... you've just seen, read, or thought of something that inspired you to write a post... and for a change, you aren't in the shower, driving to work or in some other place without access to a computer.

You open your blogging software or word processor of choice... and you begin writing.

The ideas start coming fast a furious... perfectly crystallized concepts trip off your synapses so fast that your fingers can barely keep up.  What is coming out on the screen before your eyes is (for a change) exactly what you meant to convey, and in a million years you couldn't replicate it.

And just as it occurs to you to save your text (or likely just before it occurs to you), your bowser quits... your computer freezes... . someone blows the house fuse box with a hair dryer... there is a neighborhood-wide electrical outage.

You get the picture.  All that prose you managed feverishly get onto the screen before it evaporated... lost. 

Enter a brilliantly simple but necessary online tool called Just Paste It!  It is a free website that has a very nice, basic test editor with all the usual formatting options you're used to.  Just open it up and start writing.  You don't even have to register!

Best of all, every three minutes whatever you have written is saved to their server. 

Here's what their intro page has to say:

Why JustPaste.it is so special?

Easy to use text editor with text formatting feature
Just paste text from other web-page or word processor. Text formatting and images will be preserved.

Pictures and movies
By using "Upload images" module you can easily add new graphic to your notes. You can embed videos by using [video] marks, e.g. [video]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XOXvdfcct8g[/video].

Mathematical formulas
You can add a professional-looking mathematical formulas to the notes.
Simply, use LaTeX: [tex]m = \frac{m_0}{\sqrt{1-\frac{v^2}{c^2}}}[/tex].

Importing from file
If you have written your note originally in word processor: Microsoft Word, MS Works or Open Office, simply upload it to server using "Import from file" function. Text formatting and graphic will be preserved.

Automatic text backup
Every 3 minutes your currently written text is saved to server. Never ever lose your notes by browser crash again.

Save notes as PDF
Your notes can be downloaded as PDF files.

It is also great for collaborative writing like sharing school notes, scripts, project updates, etc., without having to send an email.  

Needless to say,  'Just Paste It' just became the official test editor of treppenwitz.

Huge hat tip to Book of Joe

Posted by David Bogner on July 25, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Thursday, July 22, 2010

A day in Vienna

I know the title of this post probably sounds like the name of a Strauss Waltz.  But it''s actually a unit of time... a cultural/educational opportunity... a window through which, in a few weeks, my family and I will pass. 

In the not too distant future (IY"H),  Zahava and I will be flying with our kids to the US.  The way the flight connection and scheduling worked out, we will have a full day (8:30 in the morning until 8:00 in the evening), stopover in Vienna during which we can leave the airport and explore the city.

So we need your help in deciding what to do with this small gift we've been given.

What would you do with a full day in Vienna?  What tourist attractions, cultural touchstones, must-see attractions would you recommend we take in while we are there?

Top three suggestions (maybe more... we'll see), will receive a picture post card from there.

Posted by David Bogner on July 22, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (42) | TrackBack

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A cultural lesson in an unlikely meeting

One of my clients from India came on a business visit to Israel recently, and I had the pleasure of hosting him and showing him around my beautiful country.

Early in the visit he mentioned to me that before he had left India, an old school chum had mentioned to him that their school headmaster was Jewish and had moved to Israel many years ago after retiring.  Having only the experience of India's billion-plus population, the old school chum didn't hold out much hope of actually tracking him down... but he suggested that while in Israel, if he had time, my client should try to find the old man and perhaps say hello.

Keep in mind that my client is an Indian Hindu of late middle age who has never been to Israel.  He had no idea of how 'small' the Jewish world is, or that as soon as he mentioned his old high school headmaster having moved to Israel, no self-respecting Israeli would be able to rest until he'd put the two of them together in the same room.

On-line directories were searched, phone calls were made and Internet map sites were employed.  And within a few hours of my client having mentioned his old headmaster, I had spoken to the man and arranged for us to visit his home in Rishon L'Zion that very afternoon.

As the appointed hour approached, we got in the car and headed towards Rishon.  During the drive over, my client worried that the headmaster might not remember him from among the thousands of students for whom he'd been responsible, and fretted that the visit might be an imposition on what must have been an extremely old man.

I reassured him that his old headmaster had seemed delighted by the prospect of a visit form an old student, and that he'd extended the invitation.  If it wasn't convenient he would simply have said so.

When we arrived all misgivings were swept away by an extremely warm welcome.  The headmaster, who must have been in his late 70s or early 80s, ushered us into his apartment, introduced us to his wife and seated us in the salon where a handsome array of traditional indian dips and finger foods (all vegetarian) had been set out on the coffee table.  Playing softly in the background on the large screen TV was an old Bollywood move from one of the Indian cable channels.

It seems that my client's extended family had sent nearly a dozen students through the headmaster's school over the course of a decade, so the family name was well remembered.  The headmaster had retired and made aliyah with his wife and children nearly 30 years prior, and had married off his children, and raised a nice crop of grandchildren, in Israel.  He'd even had a second career here as an English instructor on army bases, from which he'd comfortably retired.

I sat happily listening to these Indians - Hindu and Jew -  reminiscing in a melodic mixture of Hindi and English.  And every so often the headmaster would turn to me with a proud twinkle in his eyes and tell me how happy he was that after so many years, a student thought highly enough of him to come visit him in a country half way around the world!

The headmaster's wife graciously urged food and drink on us all, and I was pleasantly surprised to find I enjoyed it very much (Zahava can tell you I'm not a big fan of most Indian food). 

Within a few minutes there was a knock at the door and we got a visit from the headmaster's best friend... another Indian immigrant/retiree who arrived with a pair of traditional Indian drums tucked under his arm.  It turns out that the day we'd chosen to drop in was the same day they met every week to play and sing traditional Indian songs together.

As I looked on appreciatively, the headmaster took out an antique Harmonium and the two of them launched into a series of what must have been classic old Indian folk songs.  My client happily joined in with the singing, and after each song the three of them tried (mostly unsuccessfully) to explain to me the hidden meaning behind the already obscure Hindi folk lyrics. 

It didn't matter that I didn't understand.  What mattered was that the three of them were awash in three lifetimes of memories brought to life by these old Indian melodies... and were visibly moist-eyed from the experience.

After a little more than an hour, we thanked our host/hostess for having us, and the headmaster graciously insisted that our visit had been an unexpected highlight to his already rich and satisfying retirement.

On the way out, the headmaster and his wife proudly introduced us to their children and grandchildren via portraits that were present on nearly every wall and surface.  They explained that their children had married here in Israel... this one to a man from Holland... that one to a Moroccan... another still to a Romanian. 

As we drove away I had a good laugh when my client turned to me and asked if I didn't find it odd that his headmaster's children had all met and married non-Jews in Israel. 

I assured him that in India, with well over a billion people, and where just the population of Mumbai (Bombay) was three times that of the entire state of Israel), the headmaster and his family had been part of a microscopic minority who were called (and who called themselves) Jews.  And that even though they had come from smaller countries, the same went for the families of their children's spouses in Holland, Morocco and Romania.  No matter where in the world we found ourselves, we were always considered (and self-identified as) Jews.

But, I explained, here in our little Jewish corner of the world called Israel, where a long-retired headmaster with an extremely common family name (Cohen) can be tracked down with nothing more than a 30 second internet search and a phone call, we tend to self identify by where in the world we came from. 

I assured him that his headmaster's children were Dutch, Moroccan and Romanian Jews... and that their Jewish grandchildren looked in the mirror and saw Israelis looking back.

Posted by David Bogner on July 21, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (19) | TrackBack

Monday, July 19, 2010

An unsettling simile

I write almost every morning... on a good day sometimes two posts.

But for some reason, while I am still enjoying the intake of ideas and the therapeutic value of the writing process... lately the end result of these morning sessions has been not unlike the end result of processing all the delicious and interesting food I enjoy.

I hope to post something inoffensive here just as soon as my writing output looks and smells a tad less like my digestive output.

In the mean time, hope everyone has a meaningful fast this evening and tomorrow.

Posted by David Bogner on July 19, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

So... the dog poop post

One of the pet peeves (pun intended) I included in my list yesterday was that of dog owners who don't pick up after their charges.  In it, I made reference to an incident which took place almost five years ago... and which I fully expected would  land me in hot water.  Read the original post (below) and then see the post-script that I deliberately omitted back then:

Going to the dogs

[originally posted here in November of 2005)

There is a hot-button issue in my community that periodically gets the emails flying and the tempers flaring.  It isn't a political or a religious issue...  and this issue has no right or left side.

The issue that is able to get nearly everyone's panties in a bunch is dogs.  Well actually, not dogs in general (although there are those who object to the very existence of the canine species) but rather a couple of specific issues related to dogs:

First is the issue of Stray/loose dogs.  Israel's problem with feral cats tends to eclipse the nuisance value of nearly every other animal species, but in truth there are many places in the country with a very real problem with feral and/or loose dogs.

My town, like many relatively affluent communities, has a fairly high number of pet dogs.  I make the connection between relative affluence and dog ownership because it makes no sense to host a perfectly tuned protein digestion machine under one's roof if putting protein on one's table is sometimes an 'iffy' thing. 

So with the relatively large number of dog owners in Efrat, it is inevitable that there are going to be a few (OK, a bunch) that are not the most responsible people on the planet.  Many dog owners don't spay/neuter their pets, and many of these make only a token attempt to keep their dogs at home.

Add to this the fact that there are plenty of feral dogs from the surrounding Arab communities that come to Efrat for its superior culinary and romantic opportunities, and you have a problem of ever-expanding proportions.

The second issue, which is tangentially related to the first, is that of dog sh*t.

Not only do the strays avail themselves of our streets for the purposes of completing the digestive process, but many dog owners who responsibly keep their pets on leashes refuse to pick up after their own dogs!

One particularly memorable Friday morning I was playing center field in a pick-up softball game on the town's baseball field.  In the middle of the game a 30-something woman walked her German Shepherd right through the outfield and stood patiently by while it deposited an ankle-high, steaming, Tom Carvel-worthy pile of crap within 3 feet of where I stood.  When the dog had finished its business the two of them calmly began walking away.

I called time out and yelled after the woman to pick up her dog's mess.  With the two teams watching, she indignantly said, "This is a public place, I don't have to!". and turned again to walk away.

I'm not normally in the habit of threatening women, but I very calmly got her attention by saying, "Lady, you are going to take your dog's sh*t with you... it's up to you whether you carry it off the field wrapped in a piece of paper or smeared across the back of your sweater".

She began shrieking that she would call the police and that I had no right to threaten her.  But she didn't walk away, either.

We waited there staring at each other for almost a full minute without speaking... with two teams of softball players waiting to see how things would play out... and then I finally said, "Nu... time to choose... paper or sweater?"

With an enormous amount of dignity (nobody does dignity like an angry Israeli) she picked up an old windshield leaflet that was laying on the ground nearby, scooped up the crap and walked off the field.  Her parting gesture was to look pointedly back at me and toss the crap - paper and all - into a bush at the edge of the field. 

I'm sure in her mind she showed me!  [* see postscript below for the real ending]

As most of you know, I am a dog owner.  Like most dog owners I have a blind spot when it comes to many of the fears and neuroses that some people have about dogs.  But that doesn't mean I let my dog run wild or leave land mines on which unsuspecting pedestrians might tread.

I know that some communities have enacted stiff ordinances to deal with some of these issues and some have even gone so far as to put up little dispensers containing plastic glove/bags with which to clean up after one's pet.  These are all good ideas, but I'm wondering how to overcome the nearly universal Israeli willingness to overlook 'quality of life' ordinances in the face of a nearly universal Israeli municipal unwillingness to enforce such statutes.

Suggestions are welcome.

* postscript:  Back when I wrote that post I was worried that, even though there were witnesses to everything that transpired, if I published the entire incident, it would be inviting prosecution.  I'm not sure what the statute of limitations is on sh*t-slinging, but I assume it has expired by now.

When that lady looked back at me and pointedly tossed the dog crap and paper into the bushes at the edge of the ball-field I kinda lost my mind.  Even though a bunch of the guys were calling after me to forget her and get on with the game, I ran after her... picked up the dog crap (yes, in my bare hand)... jogged after the miscreant... and when I caught up with her on the street nearby, gave her a nice long sh*t-stripe down the back of her sweater.

The result was predictably satisfying, but it triggered the equally expected threats of police intervention and law suits.  I told her to 'bring it on' and went back to resume the game... feeling considerably less confident than I was acting.

In the end, although I played the rest of the softball game fully expecting the police (or at least the woman's husband) to pull up at any moment... nothing happened.  The blog post I wrote was meant to state my case (and her offenses) in the off chance that she decided to press charges... but I deliberately omitted the last part since nobody had seen it happen and I thought it would be unwise to hand her a signed confession (in case she was still on the fence over whether to call the authorities).

I'm not proud of what I did, but I'm not sure I wouldn't do it again under identical circumstances.  In fact, I'm fairly certain I would. 

As I said yesterday... 'don't trifle with me people'.  :-)

Posted by David Bogner on July 14, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (16) | TrackBack

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

I just hate that!

[I know my posts here are usually pretty up-beat and optimistic.  But I'm in a bit of a funk lately and I'm just not feeling up to being Little Mr. Sunshine.  I haven't had a decent night's sleep since breaking my ribs, and it is taking its toll on my outlook.  Mind you, I don't have the insane stabbing pain I experienced in the first week or two after the fall.  Now it is a dull ache that wakes me up whenever I roll over in my sleep.]

I hate when people fart in elevators.

I hate people who eat things in supermarkets and don't pay for them (and teach their kids to do the same).

I hate people who brag about cheating the government (and teach their kids to do the same).

I hate people who do leisurely 3 (or 4 or 5)-point turns on narrow streets without any regard for how much delay/inconvenience they cause to traffic.

I hate people that park their cars illegally blocking other vehicles who, when confronted, say things like "I'm just going in for a second".

I hate people who inflict their ill-behaved spawn on an upscale eatery when my wife and I finally scrape together enough for a long-overdue fancy dinner out without our children.

I hate people who dress up their pre-pubescent girls like over-sexed middle-aged women. Let 'em be kids ferkrissakes!

I hate people who, when you give them the right of way in a toss-up situation, don't wave thank you.

I hate people who talk loudly on cell phones on public transportation.

I hate people who ask 'what do you do for a living' within the first 30 seconds of meeting you, because they need the frame of reference your reply will offer in order to know how to relate to you.

I hate people I don't know who say random things like "Hot enough for ya?" .  Yes, my sweat stained clothes should make that clear... what's your point, pinhead?!

I hate 'homeless' people who beg for change while smoking and talking on a high-end cell phone.  No I won't work to pay for your vices and gadgets.

I hate people who think it is ok to corner me at social functions and try to sell me on whatever business, religious, social opportunity they are scamming these days.

I hate people who use corporate speak instead of plain language ("At the end of the day, the synergies we are trying to leverage and shifting paradigms we are hoping to target should allow us to raise the bar, think outside the box and drill down to our core competencies".)  Here, let me introduce your head to this white board.  Now that's synergy!

I hate people who introduce their views with "To be honest...".  What they hell have you been up 'til now?! 

I hate people who complain about the service and selection at the neighborhood mom & pop store, but do most of their big shopping at the giant box stores or on-line.  What, they're supposed to stock every size and color of every item on the off chance that you'll wander in one day and actually spend a little money at a local merchant???!

I hate celebrities who think that their fame/success gives them some special insight into politics and/or international relations.  Accept the award graciously, say thank you, shut your pie hole and sit the F#$% back down.

I hate people who wear sunglasses indoors.  Get over yourselves!

I hate people who stand smoking in the entrances to restaurants and office buildings. 

I hate people who flick cigarette butts out of their car windows or empty their ash trays onto the roadside.  Howsabout I take a crap on your hood?!

I hate when people make verbs out of nouns.

I hate when people say 'Irregardless", "Me either" or "I could care less".  Think before you speak.  Please.

I hate the kind of people who populate reality shows.  Couldn't wait patiently for your 15 minutes to find you, huh???!

I hate the idea of 'women only' gyms.  If anyone ever tried to open a 'men's only' gym they would be sued before the paint dried on the 'Grand Opening' sign.  The reason the rates are so high at the health clubs I'd like to join is because half the potential members have the ability to make a sexist choice with impunity.  And nobody is allowed to call it sexist.

I hate people who misuse the word "literally"... as in, "I was literally climbing the walls!"  No, Spiderman, you weren't.

I hate telemarketers.  "Here Yonah... you want to talk on the phone to the nice lady?"

I hate people who spit in public.  People who close one nostril with their finger and blow the contents of the other onto the sidewalk should simply be shot on sight.

I hate people who don't pick up after their dogs.  On one memorable occasion a woman who refused to pick up her dog's crap ended up wearing it home on the back of her sweater.  Don't trifle with me people!

I hate when people nod when I am talking to them even though they haven't a clue what I mean.  If you don't understand the words coming out of my mouth, give me a sign... I'll slow down or explain myself.

I hate people who don't lock their cellphone keypads and then end up calling me at odd hours when they sit on or lean against the damned thing.  And no, I won't pretend I didn't listen to 5 minutes of you prattling on about someone we both know, to G-d knows who.

I hate women who wear extremely revealing clothing who then act offended when my eyes go where nature demands they go.  You don't want me to look at your boobies?  Don't put them out where I can't help but stare at them.  I'm married and relatively polite... but I'm not dead.

I hate people who stop for no apparent reason in doorways, narrow stairways, crowded sidewalks, etc.  When exactly did your rear-scan radar stop working, nitwit?!

I hate sweating.  I would rather freeze my @ss off and pile on extra layers than realize I can't [politely] take off anything else... yet I'm still sweating!  Gah!

I hate hearing a recording by a successful musician/artist where the horn lines and strings are done by a synthesizer.  Dude, you can afford to pay union scale for the musicians to come into the studio. 

I hate people who can't be bothered to turn away when sneezing at the salad bar. 

I hate it when salespeople tell me to hold on while they spend 10 minutes helping someone on the phone.  I made the trip all the way down here, Chuck... all they did was pick up a phone.  Who do you think should be given priority?!

I hate people who, halfway through your story, stop listening because they are using all their mental energy to prepare to tell you the story you just reminded them of.  You can see it in their unfocused eyes that they just want you to finish so they can get to their bit.

I love asparagus... but I haaaaate the way it makes my pee smell. [I know... TMI]

I hate people who get offended on someone else's behalf.  Yes, I said  'Gypped', 'Indian Giver' (yes, I know that one makes no sense), 'Black', 'Oriental', blah, blah, blah...  If you aren't Romani (Gypsy), Native American, African American, Asian, etc., please just STFU.

I hate trust fund jerks and beneficiaries of shameless nepotism who were born on third base but act like they hit a triple.

Wow... I feel so much better now.  If only I could follow this up with a good night's sleep!  Feel free to share your own peeves.

[Full disclosure.  I've been collecting and saving these up for a while, so some of them are not my original peeves (although I heartily agree with them).]

Posted by David Bogner on July 13, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (52) | TrackBack

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Finally square with the house

Shortly after Zahava and I were married (during the late Cretaceous period), we formulated a 'five year plan' for making aliyah. 

However, as sometimes happens, 'things' kept us from realizing our timetable.  Zahava's mother was diagnosed with, and ultimately succumbed to, Ovarian Cancer... professional and familial obligations beckoned... jobs were lost and gained... promotions were anticipated and sometimes realized... financial set-backs and windfalls came unbidden... bigger and better living arrangements were sought and secured...

And before we knew it, ten years had passed.

Each year I recall sitting in synagogue when this past week's Torah portion (Matot) was read.  One particular passage tugged at my heart and accused me mercilessly.  The Israelites were poised on the far side of the Jordan... after forty years of wandering they were finally ready to cross and take possession of the land that G-d had promised them.  But the tribes of Reuven and Gad asked for permission to remain behind:

The Reubenites and the Gadites owned cattle in very great numbers. Noting that the lands of Jazer and Gilead were a region suitable for cattle,  the Gadites and the Reubenites came to Moses, Eleazar the priest, and the chieftains of the community, and said,  "Ataroth, Dibon, Jazer, Nimrah, Heshbon, Elealeh, Sebam, Nebo, and Beon —  the land that the Lord has conquered for the community of Israel is cattle country, and your servants have cattle.  It would be a favor to us," they continued, "if this land were given to your servants as a holding; do not move us across the Jordan."

Moses replied to the Gadites and the Reubenites, "Are your brothers to go to war while you stay here?"

~Numbers 32:1-6~

This last line was always a knife in my heart.  I felt like a gambler who had pledged a note in the game of life... but had no clear plans to redeem it.  I was always beholden to the house, and felt the weight of the debt each time this Torah portion was read.

My friends and I were happily ensconced in comfortable jobs and homes that were every bit as enticing as the pasture-lands which beckoned to the people of Reuven and Gad.  I lost count of the number of times I heard people react to my stated plans to make aliyah with some mumbled excuse about wanting to make aliyah... but having to stay behind to make a living.  And in some ways I wondered if I was doing the same, despite my stated intention to go.

Apparently this phenomenon is so common that some pundit photo-shopped a sign which stands at the entrance to a well-known American Jewish enclave:


[Note: 'parnassa' is Hebrew for 'making a living']

Make no mistake, I never made judgments about those who opted (for whatever reason) not to move to Israel and to this day have never done so.  But it pained me each year to hear Moses admonishing those of us who seemed to have placed our comfort before the need to secure the land for our descendants.  It was as though he was speaking directly to me:

"Are your brothers to go to war while you stay here?"

In the Parsha, a compromise is reached whereby the two tribes are allowed to build fortified cities for their wives, children and cattle in the foreign lands they had asked for.  In return, they agree to join the rest of the nation in conquering the land of Israel.  Only after the entire land had been secured would they be allowed to return to their families, herds and possessions on the other side of the Jordan.

More than ten years after we had formulated our five year plan, we finally found ourselves on an EL AL plane to Israel, making the big move.  But with all the upheaval I hadn't paid much attention to the date.

Clearly Someone was paying attention. 

That first shabbat in Israel I was called up to the Torah in my new community, and read along in the sacred scroll as the tug-o-war between the Reuvenites / Gaddites and the rest of the nation took place... but this time I felt it was no longer being read with an accusatory finger directed at me.  I had finally crossed the Jordan and had done my part to secure the land.

This past week marked seven years since we moved to Israel.  And when I was called to the Torah on Shabbat morning, I smiled to note that it was once again to look on as that ancient compromise was reached.  I smiled because I could finally look Moshe Rabbeinu in the eye and tell him with a clear conscience that I had done my part.

The children of Israel - at least the ones over which I exert some semblance of influence - have returned to their borders, and have asked nothing in return but the land beneath our feet.  After all these years I'm finally 'square with the house'.

Posted by David Bogner on July 11, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (15) | TrackBack

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Rock the Casbah

This has been bounced around in the news and the blogosphere for the past week or so, but I haven't weighed in because I was (and to some extend, still am) conflicted.

First watch the video and then we'll talk:

OK, here are the bare facts:

The six soldiers are from the IDF's NAHAL Brigade and were on a patrol in the city of Hebron.  Based on the quality of light it is probably early morning.  The call of the Muezzin in the beginning supports this, but could easily have been added later along with the music soundtrack.

Clearly this was not spontaneous since the routine was rehearsed and the cameraman was in place to record the soldiers before they arrived on the scene.  However, they were on duty, wearing full combat gear and carrying weapons... something that needs to be kept in mind during any reasonable discussion.

This is where we depart from facts and move into opinion and conjecture.

First off, if indeed it was filmed early in the morning, the intent may have been to do so before any of Hebron's Arab citizens would be up and around.  Personally I hope this was the intent because if I were an Arab living in an area that was being patrolled by armed combat troops, I'm not sure I'd be happy with the idea of them making a game of their position of authority over me.

Second, the music seems to have been added later by whoever edited the video.  They were likely dancing to a much softer version of the song being played on an ipod or cell phone of one of the soldiers.  So from a disrupting standpoint, I doubt many (if any) of the locals were aware of what was going on outside their windows.

Another point worth making is that this is far from the first such video by combat troops.  U.S. troops in Iraq and UK soldiers in Afghanistan have recorded similar videos, but to my knowledge, most or all were done on base and not among the population they were patrolling.

There have been many versions of this video circulating on YouTube (some of which have been removed), but the comments have spanned the full spectrum from those who found it was very positive because it showed the human, youthful side of the IDF troops in the midst of difficult, dangerous duty assignments... to those who found it akin to Nazi guards doing the makerena in Auschwitz.

Personally I fall somewhere in the middle.  I think it is extremely important to show the human, youthful side of our soldiers since they are so often portrayed as inhuman, unfeeling monsters.  But there are other ways to do that which wouldn't come off as mocking. 

I have personally seen our soldiers doing humanitarian work and offering assistance and kindness to the population among which they are forced to serve.  If the IDF spokesman's office would assign a few still and video cameramen to document the reality of our troops service, I'm sure they would end up with plenty of footage that could be combined into a nice montage showing the human side of the equation.

In some ways I think whoever carried out the video stunt shown above may have unwittingly played into a trap that Israel seldom avoids:  In the court of public opinion, any conflict between a modern industrial people and a less developed agrarian one will invariably be ruled in favor of the 'noble savages'.  I discussed this ages ago in a post entitled 'Questioning the National Geographic Worldview.  Feel free to have a look. 

The meeting point of this un-winnable struggle is the moment at the start of the video which juxtaposes the call of the Muezzin with club music.  When that Muslim call to worship bumped up against a dance beat, we lost the debate before it even began.

Anyway, if you haven't talked this topic to death already amongst yourselves, please feel free to weigh in here.

Posted by David Bogner on July 8, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (22) | TrackBack

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Organized Anger

Most of the Arabs I pass on my way to work either ignore me (most common) or wave as I pass (hey, who can resist waving to a bright red Vespa?!).  The waving is much more prevalent among teenagers and kids... but I've gotten more than a few sober head nods from elderly shepherds and roadside fruit mongers if there is nobody around to witness such a frivolous gesture.

I had a very strange experience on my way home from work yesterday.  The ride into work was typically bucolic and friendly.  But for some reason the ride home was ... different. 

It's as if somewhere in a harmonic range that only Arab ears could hear there were jungle drums pounding out a war beat.  As I passed through each Arab village, people - young and old - yelled at me and shook their fists in my direction.  Teen-aged shepherds and kite-flying kids throughout the Hebron Hills who had previously waved enthusiastically at the passing Vespa, were suddenly shouting angrily at me (and any other Israeli car that passed).  Two teens even tossed stones at me as I rode by; missing by a wide margin (chalk one up for being a small target).

If this had occurred in only one village or locale along my 85 Km commute I would have chalked it up to someone having a bad day and infecting his friends and neighbors with the funk.  But this happened in every single village and hillside, reinforcing a theory that I have held dear since the 'spontaneous' ignition of the second intifada; that there is some central controlling mechanism among the Palestinians that orchestrates and organizes the anger and violence... turning it on and off like a spigot.

Very likely, what I witnessed yesterday was a periodic test of this caustic broadcast system... making sure the war drums still worked. 

Israeli leaders have long used generic words such as 'incitement' to describe this phenomenon without bothering to track the mechanism that sets the organized anger into violent motion.  It seems to me that if we can track arms shipments to terrorists from halfway around the world, we should be able to identify and track the source of this incitement that quite deliberately sets the Palestinian 'street' on a violent collision course with Israel and Israelis.  After all, this well-oiled network is delivering something every bit as dangerous as rockets or mortars.

Once we can provide incontrovertible proof to the U.S and Europe that the very same people with whom we are supposed to be negotiating peace are directly responsible for instigating the periodic organized anger and 'spontaneous' violence, we would be in a better position to demand as a precondition to any further 'gestures', an honest negotiating partner with whom peace can actually be achieved.

Posted by David Bogner on July 7, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (14) | TrackBack

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Cool Concept

What would you do for $5. 

No, that isn't some kind of dirty come-on... I'm serious.  Think about the question. 

If there was some unique skill-set you possessed (or unique positioning in the world) that would allow you to do something for which others would pay... would a fiver make it worth your while?

Clearly someone thinks that this is a business model worth exploring, because a new website called fiverr.com is now live giving anyone the chance to post 'gigs' (meaning a particular task they are willing to do for $5), and the rest of the world can log on and potentially hire them.

The business model is pretty straight-forward:  The person doing the work gets $4 of the $5 fee, and the site owner gets the remaining buck for bringing the the two of you together.

Maybe it's the economy... but you should go have a look at the amazing things some people are willing to do for five bucks!

The site still seems to have a few bugs in some browsers, but definitely worth checking out.

Don't thank me... I'm a giver.  :-)

Hat Tip to Book of Joe

Are you looking for a unique Jewish Gift?

Posted by David Bogner on July 6, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Sunday, July 04, 2010

More Dairy Nirvana

 Every once in a while I stumble across some dairy product here in Israel that completely blows me away.

A few years ago it was 'old fashioned sour cream' (Shemenet Shel Pa'am) with 27% milk fat.  And before that it was the incredible continuum of soft cheeses.  More recently I noticed that a new milk was in the dairy case (4-5% milk fat) that was being marketed as 'old fashioned milk' (Chalav Shel Pa'am) which basically makes regular whole milk (3%) taste like skim.

Well, this past Friday it happened again.  I noticed a new offering in the cottage cheese section of the dairy case that I'd never seen before.  Up until now they've had 3%, 5% and my favorite, a decedent 9% milk fat cottage cheese. 

But now they have a 12% cottage cheese! 

You know I had to try it.   And all I have to say on the subject is:

Oh. My. G-d. 

And the best part... most of these higher fat dairy products actually have lower carb counts!

[~cue angels singing!~]

Posted by David Bogner on July 4, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (15) | TrackBack

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Excuse me while I kvell

Many of you know that my lovely and talented wife is a graphic designer.  After all, she designed the nifty graphics at the top of this page

Some of you may also be aware that she runs her own graphic design company; 'Zatar Creative', with a team of kick-@ss graphic artists, and clients around the world.

Well, I'll bet you didn't know that Zahava's new website just went live with her studio's digital portfolio.

I'm just kvelling.

Posted by David Bogner on July 1, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBack