Tuesday, August 31, 2010
Four Israelis murdered by terrorists
Seriously... Are we really supposed to make peace with these people?!
I rode my scooter past the site where the attack took place about an hour before it occurred. These four blameless people were guilty of nothing more than 'driving while jewish'... a crime I commit daily.
The Pali huggers will be coming out of the woodwork to explain how this is all because of 'the occupation'. But they will all somehow forget how much they detest 'collective punishment' now that it is random Jews being killed instead of Arabs.
I say we give Abbas' security forces 48 hours to find the terrorists and turn them over. After that we knock down every home in the village closest to the site of the attack.
Let's play by their rules for a change.
Monday, August 30, 2010
The Great Time-suck
Yes, the new iPad is a wonderful tool for keeping up with email, news, blogs, etc.. And it also is a fantastic way to read books, having access to not only Apple's own iBook inventory, but also to that of Amazon's Kindle. So, naturally I have a few books all loaded up, ready to be read when I have some free time.
But 'free time' is becoming a scarce commodity around chez treppenwitz because of the new time-suck app installed on the svelte device; Netflix.
If you sign up for Netflix (the first month is free!) you have access to an incredible collection of movies and TV shows on a monthly 'all you can eat' basis... many of which can be streamed directly to your iPad. If, like me, you live outside the US, the DVD deliveries are of no use, so the streaming selections are the only ones of interest.
[Tech Note: To stream American TV shows and movies to a computer or iPad outside the US, you will need to make the source think you are actually inthe US. This is not difficult. Google the term 'VPN'. The makers of the iPad must have anticipated Americans roaming the globe, jonesing for their fix of US TV and film, since VPN is one of the first things listed in the settings panel. Anyone who needs help with this can send me an email.]
Last night during dinner I watched an episode of The Dick Van Dyck Show... and after dinner I put a few dozen other shows and movies into my 'instant watch' que so that they are, quite literally, a click away whenever I want to see them.
Sleep? I can sleep when I'm dead.
Sunday, August 29, 2010
definition: attractively thin; gracefully slender.
Although I've always thought the word sounded vaguely Scandinavian, it is actually borrowed from the French 'svelte', and directly related to the Italian 'svelto', both of which mean roughly “stretched out”.
Apropos since I am currently stretched out on the couch, writing this post on my new toy which is indeed svelte; my new iPad.
I know, I know... I said I was planning to wait until the second generation iPad (with a camera) came out. But two things conspired to send me home from the US with this new toy tucked into my carry-on:
1. I'm not so good with the whole 'delayed gratification' thing. Granted, I was doing pretty well with this. We paid two visits to the Apple store on Broadway in Manhattan... and Zahava can testify that she was able to drag me from the store empty-handed (albeit sobbing) on both occasions.
2. My parents have been wanting to get an iPad for themselves so my mom can do her daily reads (Times op-eds, news, magazines, blogs, etc.) without having to sit down at the dreaded computer. The idea of being able to consume her media fix from the couch or a comfy chair without wires, mouse or other distractions was incredibly appealing to her.
She had asked me to check out the iPad for her when I was at the Apple store, and if I thought it was a good fit for her, I would take her to the Apple store in Stamford to buy one. What I didn't know is that once they saw how much I was jonesing for an iPad, they decided to surprise me at the Stamford store by buying two and handing one to me.
As the saying goes, resistance is futile.
I can't remember why I ever used a computer, and have been happily reading and writing email and blog posts, reading the news, following my daily comics, reading books, listening to my iTunes collection and even watching TV shows and Movies; all on something smaller than an issue of InStyle or Cosmo.
Is it a computer? No. But it can do almost everything a computer can do...all while being described as 'svelte'. On the rare occasion that I need a full blown computer, I'll book some time on one of the Macs belonging to Zahava or the kids. Lord knows they will all owe me some reciprocity for all the iPad time they are logging.
I am a happy camper.
Friday, August 27, 2010
It seems like nearly every day during the time we spent in the U.S. there was some kind of prominent news coverage of the latest scourge; bedbugs.
Apparently, these little parasites, which were largely wiped out in the developed world by heavy use of DDT in the 40s and 50s, have bounced back with a vengeance... and are now largely resistant to just about everything science is throwing at them.
In one particularly horrifying New York Times article, various stories were shared about piano teachers losing work because people feared they might be transporting bedbugs from house to house, apartments became unsellable because of the unwanted residents, people were shunned by friends and family because they'd had an infestation, and even a large midtown Manhattan movie theater was forced to close (at least temporarily) because its seats were found to be literally crawling with the little monsters!
Each time I read a piece about bedbugs turning up in some new locale, my body would start to itch in what I'm sure (I hope!) was a psychosomatic reaction.
All I could think about was how this is going to affect the Jewish community where it is extremely common to open one's home to even relative strangers.
Has anyone else been thinking about this?
Thursday, August 26, 2010
We spent this past Shabbat in Teaneck with our friends Shmiel and V.V.. In addtition to having an absolutely wonderful time with them, our friends Jordan and Marjorie were nice enough to invite us over to their home for the third meal on Shabbat afternoon.
After Shabbat, my friend Jordan offered my family a ride back to Shmiel and V.V.'s.
While we drove, a recording of Lotte Lenya singing [her husband] Kurt Weill's 'Mack the Knife' in the original German, came on the radio.
For those of you who may be more familiar with 'modern' swing versions of Mack the Knife in English (think Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, etc.), here's what we were listening to in Jordan's car:
After listening to Lotte Lenya singing for a few minutes, my 14 year old son Gilad remarked, "Hey, she sounds just like Lily Von Schtupp!"
Now, if you haven't seen Blazing Saddles (what rock have you been living under?!), this should give you some idea of just how serious an indictment of our parenting it is that our 14 year old son knows enough about Lily Von Schtupp to make such an observation.
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
A special place in hell...
... should be reserved for the kind of people I am about to describe.
But first the [relatively] good news:
Our flight left New York at 5:50PM on Sunday afternoon. Or, more correctly, it pushed back from the gate at that time. But due to heavy rain and lightning, our flight, and every other flight waiting to depart JFK, was held on the ground pending a break in the weather.
Finally, after more than five hours of wating for the rain to let up, we were told to buckle up... and so a few minutes after 11:00PM we were finally airborne.
However, our plan had been for the overnight flight to put us into Vienna first thing in the morning... allowing us a full day of touring before our evening flight. The pilots were able to make up about an hour over the Atlantic, but by the time we'd landed we'd still lost four hours of our stop-over in Vienna.
Once we'd deplaned, we took the 16 minute train ride into the center of Vienna and spent an enjoyable half day visiting the historic district in the center of the city. We had wanted to visit the synagogue at the Judengasse (Jew's alley), but when we arrived we were told that it was only open to organized tours. Instead we had a quick lunch at the nearby kosher bagel joint (good food, but pricey).
A couple of hours before our flight we took the return train to the airport.
Our Tel Aviv-bound flight left on time... but I would gladly have traded another extended delay for what happened next.
The plane we were on was clean and new, but like all airlines, the seats (at least in cattle class) were very close to one another. I'm almost 6' 2", so this means that my knees are jammed against the seat in front of me. The only small relief I can look forward to is that after take-off and between meals, I can recline the seat-back the few meager inches it can travel.
So after we'd taken off, I waited patiently for the drink and meal service to be concluded. Once the trays and other trash had been collected, I breathed a sigh of relief and finally reclined my seat.
However, almost instantly two kids sitting behind me started shouting loudly (in Hebrew) that my seat-back was bothering them. When I asked what the problem was, they told me that they were watching a movie on a laptop computer and that they couldn't put the screen at the proper viewing angle if I reclined my seat.
As a gesture of good will I tried to give them an inch or two. But they responded by using their feet to push my seat violently into the full upright position.
That was it for me. I explained that if I had to choose between my comfort and their ability to watch a movie, it was a no-brainer... their movie was going to have to wait 'til they got home. I reclined my seat again.
Apparently, these two kids (one a teenager and the other a pre-teen) weren't used to hearing 'no' for an answer, and they continued to complain loudly and kick my seat-back in an attempt to force it back to the full upright position.
I tried to ignore them for a few minutes, but when it became clear that they weren't going to stop the abuse, I stood up, turned around and yelled at them to stop kicking my chair. I told them that if they didn't stop I would report them to the flight attendants.
Things quieted down for a few moments. But not because the kids had gotten the message. One or both of them had apparently gone to tell their parents that the mean man in front of them had yelled at them and was using his seat to keep them from watching their movie.
Within a few minutes my seat back began to be kicked again, but this time more violently.
When I turned around to yell again, I saw that now their mother was sitting behind me, and she was using both her hands and feet to try to push my seat into the upright position. When I told her to stop, she petulantly explained that I had been asked to straighten my seat, and that I was required to comply with the request. Since I had refused, she was doing it for me.
I pushed the button and forced the seat back again. She continued to pummel my seat, but after a few minutes it seemed she'd lost interest.
No such luck. Without warning my seat was pushed fully upright with such force that I nearly hit my head on the seat-back in front of me. I turned around to yell at the woman, but now saw that she'd moved over one seat and her husband had taken the seat behind me.
I asked him what the hell was wrong with him. He replied as his wife had... that I had been requested to straighten my seat, and that since I'd refused, he'd done it for me.
This was too much. I sat back down... pushed my seat all the way back, and at the same time pushed the flight attendant call button. It was a full flight, so it took the flight attendant several minutes to arrive. But in the interim, the idiot behind me continued to pummel my seat with his hands and feet... all the time making derogatory comments about 'religious people' (I was wearing my kippah).
When the flight attendant finally arrived she explained to the neanderthal that everyone was permitted to recline their seats and that he had to stop pushing my seat. But as soon as she left the abuse continued.
So I pushed the call button again. When the flight attendant returned, I explained that I was being assaulted and that I wanted her to take action. She promised to send her crew chief.
In the interim, the husband and wife began assuring me and Zahava (who was sitting across the aisle from me) that they were going to have me arrested for threatening their children when we landed in Israel. They promised us that ours would be a very sad vacation (they assumed we were tourists). When Zahava sweetly explained that we lived in Israel, the husband said, "what a shame".
We exchanged a few more 'pleasantries', and he continued to kick and jostle my seat-back... all the while telling me that I was required to come with him to the police station at the airport, and that if I refused to give him my passport and ID number I was committing yet another crime.
I told him to do whatever he wanted, but I was certainly not going anywhere with him when we landed or giving him anything.
Within a few minutes the flight crew chief arrived and asked me my name... checked it against the flight manifest, and then asked the man behind me his name... and checked it against the manifest. He then listened patiently while the moron and his wife ranted on about how I had been asked to move my seat and that I was required to comply. He then said the following:
"I am responsible for the safety and comfort of over two hundred passengers on this flight. I do not have time to play kindergarten teacher. Every seat on this plane is capable of reclining and everyone who wants to is allowed to use this function. This man's seat reclines and so does yours. You are not allowed to move his seat and I must insist that you stop doing so immediately."
As if they hadn't heard, the two of them continued to loudly argue that they had asked me to move my seat and that since they'd asked, I was required to comply. Each time they said this the crew-chief corrected them and patiently explained that they were mistaken. Except for during take-off, landing and meal service, everyone was allowed to recline their seats.
After the third time the crew chief had patiently told them they were in the wrong, they loudly asked, "Are you telling us we have no place to make a complaint?" The crew chief answered, "That's correct... you have no place to make a complaint".
I thought that would be the end of it, but then the cretin began asking the crew chief if he could put his feet against the back of my chair. The crew chief said that he could, but that he couldn't use them to move my seat. He then asked "what if I need to move around or adjust my position... can I do that?". Again, the crew chief answered in the affirmative, but stressed that he couldn't intentionally jostle my seat.
After the crew chief left, the misanthrope spent about 15 minutes digging his feet and knees into the back of my chair and playing at readjusting his position. It was only after Zahava took out a camera and aimed it at him that he stopped.
But he wasn't done yet. He began loudly telling us that it was illegal to photograph someone without their consent, and that this was yet another thing we'd be charged with when we landed. Not knowing the law, I whispered to Zahava not to take any pictures/movies... but to be prepared to in case things got worse.
Throughout the rest of the flight the miscreant continued to grind his knees into my lower back and 'accidentally' jostle my seat. But I didn't respond except to return my seat to the recline position whenever he pushed it forward with his 'position readjustments'.
When we finally landed I got our things out of the overhead compartments and ushered my family to the front of the plane. As we passed the flight crew, several of them gave me sympathetic smiles and head tilts, but that was not much consolation. The crew chief was standing near the door and he apologized for my discomfort and wished me goodbye with a sympathetic head-tilt.
As we stepped off the plane I saw a large group of security personnel standing in the jet-way just outside the door, but didn't think much of it.
On the way to passport control, several Israelis approached me and offered what were intended to be comforting statements ranging from "You were in the right", to "You should have beaten him and his wife unconscious".
Sadly, these comments offered little comfort. Where were these people during the flight? If they had shouted at the idiots behind me and told them that their behavior was unacceptable, perhaps they might have stopped. Bullies rely on the silence and timidity of others to get their way... and these well wishers were classic examples of the sort who passively enable bullies everywhere.
It was only after we'd gotten our baggage and were in the car service on the way home that Zahava turned to me and said, "Did you notice?"
"Notice what?" I said.
"All the security personnel outside the aircraft... and the fact that, even though our bags were relatively late to come off the conveyor, the family who had been behind us never made it to baggage claim."
I have no idea what really happened to them. It may be that we just didn't see them (although Zahava was clearly looking for them). It may also be that one or both of the parents was detained and maybe even charged for their disorderly behavior on the flight.
I don't know, and I don't care. I know it is not particularly in keeping with the seasonal spirit of forgiveness... but I firmly believe that there is a special punishment reserved for such people. And that if they are not punished in this world.. the world to come holds an unpleasant surprise or two for people like that.
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
We're back. A couple of stories to tell later on. But first a video that has me mesmerized:
[watch to the end]
Thursday, August 19, 2010
Shopped out and homesick
It has been great seeing family... but I am so sick of shopping that if I don't see the inside of a store for another ten years, I'll be fine.
Except an Apple store. I want an iPad so badly I can't even tell you how much will power it is taking to wait until they release a version with a built in camera (for video calls), mic and a USB port.
Sunday, August 15, 2010
The lost luggage saga
So the lost suitcase I mentioned earlier turns out to be anything but an isolated bit of bad luck on our part.
My parents came in a few days later on the same airline (Austrian)... and they had two of their bags opt for separate vacations.
Since landing, every day (multiple times per day) we called up the number we'd been given by Austrian Airlines and listened to the same recorded voice telling us that while the office was open, they were busy dealing with other customers, so we'd have to leave a message and someone would get back to us.
Needless to say, nobody ever called us back.
Finally we started sending emails to the address listed in our lost baggage form. First one a day, and then several emails each day... with increasingly creative use of invective and expletives.
At long last Zahava got an email from a woman in Israel representing Austrian Airlines (presumably because that was our point of origin) asking how to reach us by phone (we'd included our phone number in every email). Zahava sent it, and within a few minutes the woman actually called. In addition to telling us our bag had so far vacationed in Amsterdam, she authorized Zahava a budget of $150 dollars to go buy some replacement clothes (which she confirmed in a follow-up email).
Many of you may not know Zahava. Where most people would take that $150 bucks and buy a pair of shoes or a dress... she headed out on a hard-target search of every outlet store within a 4 hour radius, hell-bent on finding already discounted items, marked down several times... and on close-out. Talbots and Old Navy were especially hard hit. And when the dust had cleared, Zahava had an entire new wardrobe, And change left over from the $150 for accessories!
But still our wayward suitcase (and my parent's two bags) remained abroad.
It turns out that our bag was reluctant to cut short its European vacation and had made its way from Amsterdam to Athens where it was having a great time ("wish you were here dahling... mwah!"). Several attempts to send it to JFK via Olympic airways, and other carriers failed.
My parent's suitcases were just gone. AWOL. Vanished. Sorry. No idea.
Each passing day brought a fresh lack of news. And now my parents (who had not yet been authorized to shop-til-they-dropped) were getting, um, annoyed (understatement... have you met my mother?!).
Then last night around 8PM we got a call telling us that all three of our bags would be delivered to the family compound between midnight and 1 AM. And so it was. And we all lived happily ever after.
Moral of the story: If you don't mind rewashing the same outfit for a week, you should fly Austrian Airlines whenever possible. You might even get to buy yourself some new togs.
P.S. We had a very short stopover in Vienna on the way here, but the day-long visit I asked your help in planning is not taking place until the homeward leg of the trip. I'll let you know how it goes.
Wednesday, August 11, 2010
In my last post I made a sarcastic reference to my parent's place in Westport as 'the family compound'... as if we were Kennedy's or something.
The fact is, growing up in Connecticut one learns all the signaling behaviors required to be accepted. To explain this let me quote my friend Ben Chorin:
"... signaling behavior [is when] members of the community do apparently costly and useless things simply to signal to each other that they are reliable colleagues. One wears just the right sort of hat and frock (or jeans and earring), eats the approved foods, and so on. The more tight-knit and insular the community, the more costly and bizarre the signals and hence the more exclusionary."
Now, in the quote above, Ben was describing the way members of Haredi communities act to ensure inner identification, In WASP enclaves like New England, there are also behaviors one learns, and signals one adopts in order to gain acceptance (or at least to not stand out).
Like light skinned blacks who attend the 'right schools' and learn to speak with academic accents in an attempt to 'pass', many Jews in the U.S. go to great sartorial, linguistic and culinary lengths to gain admission to non-Jewish society and mingle freely in the rarefied social strata of the 'goyim'.
I loved being a New Englander and embraced pretty much all of the requisite signs and behaviors required to fit in. I can still tie the leather laces on my docksiders just so and favor LL Bean over just about any other brand. And even after becoming religious (an act which required setting myself apart in many ways), I retained my taste for WASPy fashion.
Heck, even though I had to swear off lobster tail and bacon when I embraced Jewish culture, the taste of summer blueberries and sweet corn still brings canoes full of youthful memories flooding back.
I noted that on the first couple of days that we were here in Westport, when I wore a ball cap around town, I moved effortlessly among the neighbors and shopkeepers. But today when I went out wearing a kippah, a polite but impenetrable barrier sprung up around me and people greeted me with the cool cordiality normally reserved for foreigners who take care of the yard work.
Driving down the Merritt Parkway in my parent's BMW, I looked at the drivers around me and knew that to them, I appear to be just another local on the way to the tennis club or to play a round of golf. But despite our common taste in cars and clothes (and sports)... these people are as strange and different from me as the people I encounter in India or Sri Lanka.
The point is that while the people of Sri Lanka and India (and American Blacks, for that matter) have rich and valuable cultures of their own, and tastes and traditions that are every bit as substantial and valid as the ones I grew up with... it would be as silly for me to try to 'pass' in one of those cultures as it would be for me to continue to try to 'pass' as a WASP.
The U.S. has been wonderful to the Jews, and continues to offer nearly unparalleled opportunities to my people to excel in any field they choose. I say 'nearly', because there is one other country where Jews can excel at anything they choose... and do so while never feeling the slightest need to 'pass'.
I don't really have to mention it by name, do I?
Tuesday, August 10, 2010
Flight from India to Israel landed on Friday... and the flight from Israel to New York (via Vienna) took off early Sunday morning.
The flights to Europe and the U.S. were punctuated by my excited six year old sitting next to me alternating between looking out the window and asking me if we are there yet. The whole way. No exaggeration. Seriously.
Luckily the Austrian Airlines planes were both clean and new, and the flight attendants (who looked like the result of a Third Reich eugenics experiment) were pleasant and helpful.
We arrived safely at JFK but were less than pleased to find that one of our suitcases (Zahava's) opted to take a side trip to Amsterdam. The lost luggage agent seemed just a little too glib with her explanation for this to have been an aberrant event.
We are now safe and sound at the family compound in Westport, and it is only the smell of the ocean and the promise of being lulled too sleep by the sound of the surf that are keeping me sane right now.
Wednesday, August 04, 2010
Israeli politics look strange from here
It must have been a mis-print... or perhaps I'm just tired.
But does anyone else find it just a tad ironic that Defense Minister and Labor Party chairman Ehud Barak announced that he is against deporting illegal immigrant children because, "expulsion is anti-Jewish".
Excuse me?! And where was your Jewish soul in 2005?
I need to get some sleep... I must be hallucinating.
Tuesday, August 03, 2010
Some favorite things
A couple of things I love about visiting India:
Jasmine. I love the smell of fresh Jasmine. And it is seemingly everywhere in Chennai (Madras). But best of all, here in the state of Tamil Nadu, many of the women walk around with fragrant strands of fresh cut Jasmine woven into their hair... so at the most unexpected moments, walking down the street, a waft of Jasmine will sock you right in the nose!
Masala Chai. I'm not about to give up good coffee as a way to start my day. But just about everywhere i go throughout my day I am offered a cup of 'Masala'; a heavenly blend of spices brewed with tea, hot water and milk. You can buy Masala Chai teabags pretty much anywhere in the world which already have the spices and tea mixed. But I plan on buying a nice supply of the spices before I go home so I can brew the stuff myself at home.
Anyway... it's been a long few days and I need to get to bed. Maybe I'll call room service for a last cup of Chai before bed.
Sunday, August 01, 2010
The sharp edges of our tiny Jewish world
A week or two ago I wrote about a 'small Jewish world' experience where I was able to reconnect an Indian client of mine visiting Israel with his long-retired former headmaster living in Rishon LeZion.
For me, this was a wonderful experience... not only because I got to vicariously enjoy the reunion of these two people more than 40 years after they had inhabited the same proximal sphere... but also because I got to make the acquaintance of an Indian Immigrant who I would otherwise never have met.
The fact of playing the Israeli host and being able to take part in such a joyous visit to a complete stranger was wonderful.
This Shabbat I was in Mumbai and attended services at the old Knesset Eliyahoo synagogue there. While there, I was able to reconnect with the gentlemen who had suggested to my Indian client they he look up their former headmaster during his Israel trip.
When I approached this gentleman after Friday night services to personally thank him for making the connection, I was unprepared for his reaction. The old man's face fell, and he looked positively stricken. After a moment, he said, "Oh my... you must have just arrived and missed the news".
I have to admit that when I'm abroad I tend not to follow Israeli news too closely because it can really play with my focus... so standing there I had to shake my head and ask him what he was referring to. The only events I was aware of were some relatively small exchanges of hostilities with Hamas in Gaza, and a tragic Israeli Air Force helicopter crash during a training exercise in Romania... but I couldn't imagine that either of these were what he was talking about.
He explained that the retired headmaster I had met with my client had suffered a terrible personal tragedy. One of the officers killed in Romania had been his grandson... the child of his oldest daughter.
As he told me, the scene played back in my mind of our last few minutes with the old man and his wife in Rishon. As we'd stood in their homey foyer preparing to say our good-byes, they had proudly pointed out all the family photographs of the children they had brought from India to Israel, as well as the many grandchildren they had raised to be proud Israelis. In my mind's eye I could still see the photograph of their oldest daughter and her children, smiling sometime in the past... blissfully unaware of a future tragedy.
On Friday, just hours before I received this terrible news from an Indian in Mumbai, the remains of the fallen Israeli airmen had been returned to their families for burial... and one by one, just a few hours before shabbat, each of these grieving families buried a part of their lives... a part of their dreams.
How strange that an Indian visiting Israel should cause me to make the happy acquaintance of this former headmaster. And then only a few weeks later, I would find myself in Mumbai learning that I would have to phone this same headmaster as he and his family sat grappling with such a horrible loss.
As shabbat was ending here, I sat here in my hotel room watching the sunset over the Arabian Sea... knowing that it would take several hours to move far enough across the sky towards Israel so that Shabbat would be over there, and I could make that phone call. It's almost time.
Yes, there are some wonderful aspects to being a part of such a small, interconnected community. But there are sharp edges to this tiny Jewish world of ours.