Tuesday, November 30, 2010
Usually when you hear that expression, the speaker is trying to describe something silky smooth... perfectly creamy... in other words; just right.
But something is certainly not right when Israeli supermarkets from Metulla to Eilat have all kinds of butter substitutes (margarine, oil spreads, etc.), ... but no real butter on the shelves!
As many of you already know, Israel is currently experiencing its worst butter shortage in the history of the state. The reason? Well, chalk it up to global warming (or whatever you blame for the unseasonably warm weather we've been experiencing).
Having milked my share of cows in both winter and summer when I was younger, I know that our bovine friends give much less milk fat when it's hot out than when it's cold. That's just they way they're built.
Another excuse floated by the dairy insustry is that the increased demand for dairy products has forced them to stretch their milk supply over a larger quantity of products; most of which require some milkfat. Whatever you believe... if you're in Israel, you aren't buying butter for your buiscuits any time soon.
Usually this wouldn't be a problem for our little country, since many people are trending towards 'healthier' low-fat dairy products. In fact, butter represents less than 2% of Israel's huge diary industry. And in a normal year, there would be a surplus of butter rather than a shortage.
But this isn't a normal year.
As I mentioned earlier, I haven't seen a bar of butter in the stores for at least three weeks. And for a host of reasons, it doesn't look like they'll be getting any in the near future.
This is partly due to the kosher side of the equation. The obvious thing to do (at least from a supply & demand standpoint) would be to import butter from Europe. But the various dairy companies in Israel are reluctant to do this because they would risk their kosher certification; something that is based heavily on their exclusive use of 'Chalav Yisrael' (literally Jewish Milk... but more correctly, milk that is certified by a reliable Jew to have not come from any non-kosher animal).
This may sound silly to some, but once you have a big tank of milk, there is no way of knowing if it all came from cows, or if some milk has been added from another kind of animal in order to boost the milk fat content (for which dairy farmers get paid a premium).
Another contributing factor to the slow response to the shortage is the typical Israeli assumption that 'yihiyeh b'seder... zeh ya'avor' (everything will be ok... it will pass). This mindset has helped Israel through decades of shortages and austerity, but is a powerful inertial force that often keeps people from acting quickly to avert a crisis.
I decided that I wasn't willing to wait until the weather changes and/or the dairy industry gets its collective shinola together.
So the other evening I made a nice big batch of fresh butter. No, not 'like buttah'... the real thing.
Anyone who has ever over-whipped home-made whipped cream knows how easy it is to accidentally make butter. But in case you want the full instructions, here's how it works:
Start with a pint or two of whipping cream (at least 35-38% milk fat).
Let the cream come to room temperature. If you have a chilly house, you might want to warm your kitchen a little bit by turning on the oven for a little while with the oven door ajar.
Once you have your cream at room temp, pour it into the big mixing bowl of your food processor (I'm assuming you don't have a butter churn handy).
[Junior scientist note: Theoretically you could use the 'jar method' (basically you put the cream in a big closed jar and shake it constantly for half an hour or so). But unless you have arms and shoulders like a body builder, this will not be much fun.]
You can start out with the whisk attachment for the first few minutes to get things started... but at some point around when it starts to look a little like whipped cream, you'll want to switch over to a beater (like the 'k' tool on the Kenwood kitchen centers). Trust me.
The reason for this switch is that once the butterfat starts to clump together (as it will seconds after the whipped cream stage), things will start to happen very quickly, and the whisk attachment will start tossing viscous liquid all over your nice clean kitchen. Don't ask me how I know this.
After the whipped cream stage, you will start to see small particles of butter floating around ... and as they pick up more butterfat, the clumps will get bigger and bigger.
At the same time, the portion of the mix that isn't turning into butter is getting thinner and thinner. This is the buttermilk.
Once the butter is pretty thick and you see thin buttermilk starting to pool around the edges of the mix, pour the buttermilk off into another bowl. Keep mixing (and occasionally pouring off the butter milk) for a few more minutes until you have a lumpy, mass of what looks like whipped butter.
Don't worry that it isn't bright yellow like the butter you buy at the store. Yours will be off-white. If you really need that store-bought yellow color, add a drop of yellow food coloring. Silly, if you ask me.
Put your buttermilk in the fridge for baking use later (Zahava makes great buttermilk scones), or enjoy it as a yummy treat on ice while you finish off making your butter.
Get a big pitcher of icy cold water and slosh a good amount into your mixing bowl along with your butter. The reason you want it veeeery cold is to make sure it doesn't melt your butter.
This stage is called 'washing the butter'. Mix the butter with the cold water for a few seconds and then spill the water out into the sink. Then do it a few more times.
The first couple of times you wash the butter the liquid you pour off will be cloudy. This is the last of the buttermilk being washed out of the butter. After a few more times, the liquid being poured off will be clear. This means you're done.
The reason you wash the butter is because if you aren't planning on consuming the butter immediately (tempting, I know!), the buttermilk will quickly allow the butter to turn rancid.
Now that you have a mixing bowl full of butter, you have a few decision to make.
1. Do you want salted or unsalted butter? If you want salted butter, sprinkle a little salt (don't overdo it!) over the butter and mix a bit more with whatever you've been using to churn the butter. If you find it is too salty, you can always wash it once more with ice cold water to remove some of the salt.
2. What form do you want the butter to be in? Once upon a time, most kitchens had a few butter molds laying around for this task... but unless you're an antique collector, those days are long gone.
You can either use crème brulée ramekins (please don't tell me you don't have crème brulée ramekins!), or muffin tins to form your butter. You can also use little honey jars as butter crocks. Whatever you decide to use, just spoon it in and push it into the mold using the back of the spoon.
Once all the butter is in the molds, put it in the refrigerator for an hour or two and it will harden.
Now that you have fresh butter, enjoy it as you normally would.
Oh, and if you live in Israel... don't forget to bring a gift of fresh butter to your friends and neighbors. Unless they were raised on a kibbutz (as my neighbors were) they'll think you are a magician! And another thing... if you've been trying to think of a fun project to do with young kids while they're off for Hannukah... this really is magic!
And as a bonus... when you have grandkids, you can tell them that when you were younger, things were so bad, you couldn't buy butter in the store... you had to make your own!!!
Don't thank me... I'm a giver.
[veteran butter makers, please feel free to add your pro tips in the comments section]
Monday, November 29, 2010
Anyone who lives near, or travels through, any sort of desert landscape is probably familiar with tumbleweeds.
Heck, anyone who has ever watched a film or TV series set in the old west is familiar with the symbolic use of tumbleweeds (usually along with the sound of wind) as a visual cue to the audience that the scene is one of desolate abandonment.
Simply put... if you see a tumbleweed rolling past, you (or more correctly whoever is on the screen) is probably all alone, and maybe in a heap o'trouble.
But in real life, one really doesn't give much thought to tumbleweeds... much less expect to be nearly unhorsed (ok, unscootered) by a one.
I was riding along, minding my own business on a long, empty stretch of desert roadway, when this ginormous tumbleweed, almost as big as my scooter, came rolling out of nowhere and was nearly my undoing.
It rolled directly into my path... stopped... and then started rolling the other way. I'd pretty much decided to risk going right over it rather than try to swerve around it, when it changed directions again and tumbled out of my way with a split second to spare.
A few minutes down the road I decided to circle back to take a picture... because even I had started to doubt that it had been that big!
[You can see another tumbleweed almost as big, on the other side of the guardrail]
My life is sometimes a little too surreal for my own liking.
Thursday, November 25, 2010
Off being thankful... back soon
And while I'm in a sharing mood... why not whip up a batch of eggnog?!
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
History and legends... the importance of knowing the difference
Some of you may not know this, but the North Koreans were actually forced to sign the armistice document ending the Korean War in July of 1953 by my father. True story!
At least that's the story we grew up with in my house.
You see my dad was a young US Army Corporal on a troop ship sailing towards the Korean peninsula when the Armistice was signed. The joking assumption about the chronological proximity of these two events is that once they heard that Cpl Del Bogner was on his way towards the 38th Parallel, the North Koreans had no choice but to sit down and talk terms.
There are all kinds of open problems in this silly story I grew up with... some less obvious than others. In fact, some I am am only now starting to understand.
First off, even at an early age, I understood that this was a tongue-in-cheek anecdote that was destined to become part of our family lore specifically because it was utterly implausible. After all, while I love my father, he is not the image one conjures when thinking of the dog-face American GIs who fought the North Koreans, Chinese and Soviet Union to a bloody draw back in the early '50s.
In fact, to my knowledge, my father's time in Korea was mostly spent performing clerical tasks (think Radar O'Reilly) and honing his oil painting skills (as evidenced by a couple of nice framed canvases we had in our house; one a portrait of his then fiance (who would one day become my mother), and another a portrait of the Korean houseboy who looked after the needs of the tent where my father and a few of his fellow soldiers lived).
But back to the shaky story/family legend.
1. The most glaring fallacy we've already discussed; the idea that my father had anything to do with the armistice. I think we can all agree that this simply isn't true... nor was it ever believed to have been.
2. Another problem with this well-loved family legend is that even though there was, in fact, an armistice signing that coincided with my dad's arrival in Korea, South Korea never actually signed it... and the North Koreans have stated countless times in the ensuing half century that they do not feel bound by the Armistice Documents. So while yes, the shooting stopped... it has been the presence of armed troops (a lot of them) rather than the armistice, that has kept the shooting from starting again (for the most part).
3. But the worst flaw in that old family story is the mistaken idea that anyone was brought to the negotiating table and forced to sign. Sure, both sides had a vested interest in ending hostilities. But the two sides had been negotiating an end to hostilities for more than two years when the firing was finally stopped. The real sticking point was that most of the North Korean and Chinese POWs refused to be repatriated... a situation that the North couldn't accept. Obviously a formula was finally worked out... but the problem remained that like any military conflict without a clear winner or loser... both sides got to write their history books the way they liked them, and then went on to set foreign policy as if they were the victor. A dangerous situation. (sound familiar?)
Clearly we haven't evolved much since 1953, because the UN and western powers still place an inordinate amount of faith in the power of ceasefire documents and signed agreements where there are no victors or vanquished.... and where non-adherence carries little or no risk to one or both parties. They also seem to operate under the illusion (delusion) that anyone can be forced to sign anything.
So while bedtime stories of how daddy won the Korean War may be fine for an eight-year-old... anyone who has studied the causes and history of the Korean Conflict can't help but look at this week's violence as nearly inevitable. Yet, the UN is acting completely gobsmacked by this week's North Korean aggression... as they'll almost certainly act gobsmacked when the Palestinians set aside whatever document they are eventually 'forced' to sign with Israel.
Learn your history, people. Or get used to seeing it repeated.
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
Too interesting not to share
I'm no health nut, but something I saw yesterday on Book of Joe really piqued my interest; Bespoke Cereal / Granola.
Here's how it works:
First you go to a site called Me & Gojiand decide what the base for your special mix is going to be. You can choose from among Artisanal Cereal, Flaxed & Flake, Samurai Wheat, Raw 5-Grain Muesli, Goji Oats, Healthy Hoops, Golden Granola or Choco Granola.
Then, once you have your base, you decide what you want to add to it; yummy stuff like goji, dried cherry, dried apple, dried cranberry, dried mulberry, raisins, dried strawberry, shredded coconut, acai powder, dried banana slices, golden raisins, dried raspberries, dried, goldenberries, dried blueberries and/or dried currants.
But your just getting started.
Now you get to decide what kinds (and quantities) of seeds and shelled nuts to add to your secret recipe. You can choose from among chia, whole almonds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, sliced almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, macadamia nuts, pecans, pine nuts, walnuts, flax, pistachios, soy and amaranth.
Then, once you have your private trail mix or breakfast cereal just right, you get to name it and add a custom picture or logo to the canister (what they call a 'capsule').
A word about the capsule itself:
Not only does your mix come in an attractive package (seeing as it has your name and picture/logo on it), but it holds about 50% more product than the average cereal box while taking up less room. I'm guessing the idea is that you'll be tempted to leave it on the counter (or maybe on your desk at work) where passers-by can see it.
Being of the Jewish persuasion, I have the additional concern about the whole kosher thing.
According to their site's FAQ page:
"q: are your ingredients certified organic and kosher?
a: over 80% of our ingredients are certified organic. you can see more info about an ingredient by clicking "Info" next to any ingredient in the Mixing Area. we use Organic ingredients wherever possible, but in certain situations we have found that the "organic" offerings were inferior to what we chose. For example: our blueberries are wild blueberries from Bar Harbor, Maine from a wonderful small farm, but, they are not certified organic. our philosophy is to offer food as nature intended it: unprocessed and without synthetic or artificial ingredients. As for Kosher, although most of our ingredients are individually certified kosher, me & goji has yet to become certified. we can, however, state that our ingredients come from natural growers that use zero animal byproducts as ingredients."
And they have a helpful phone number listed so you can call up to find out (among other things) what things are certified kosher and organic.
One problem (for me, anyway) is that they only ship within the US at the moment... so if I want to put together my own brand of gorp, I'll have to have it shipped to friends or family and see if I can have someone mule my Meusli to Israel when they come for a visit.
[ahem] Announcement: Chez treppenwitz is actively seeking volunteer mules.
[BTW, I have no connection with this company whatsoever, and am shilling for them simply because I am intrigued by their product]
Sunday, November 21, 2010
Two tidbits that gave me hope this morning
At the start of November I offered some advice to PM Netanyahu as to how to extricate himself from the conflicting demands of the US administration and his own government.
I said then (and still maintain) that if Bibi would simply tell Obama that Israel can only deliver the new 90- day building freeze the US wants if Jonathan Pollard were released, there isn't a single person in his ruling coalition who would vote against such a trade-off. And in addition to finally getting Pollard out of jail, it would finally show the US what it means to make difficult concessions in the name of peace.
Well, if today's news is to be believed, either Prime Minister Netanyahu is a closet treppenwitz reader... or he is getting excellent advice from other quarters. OK, probably the latter.... but still gratifying to read about a politician doing something sensible for a change.
On a more personal note, my optometrist, Dr. Robert Lederman, (you may remember I wrote about a small miracle he performed on my behalf here) shared an 'only in Jerusalem' anecdote with me that I couldn't resist posting here in his own words:
"I was recently examining an 8 year old boy. He looked like a regular kid wearing a T-shirt and shorts. I was in the middle of doing a retinoscopy when in the distance I heard the siren of an ambulance, as happens in any city from time to time.
The 8 yr old boy asked me if I could stop the exam.
I thought that he wanted to go to the bathroom. But what he did instead was to recite Psalm 121 by heart in Hebrew to pray for the well-being of whoever it was in that ambulance.
When he'd finished, he let me carry on."
A wonderful reminder that, despite what many think, there is far more in the clear, cool Jerusalem air than the sound of sirens.
Thursday, November 18, 2010
A lesson in modesty
Since I didn't serve in the military here, I rarely engage in the typical Israeli 'what did you do in the army' Q & A sessions with new acquaintances.
Oh sure, at some point during the process of becoming friendly with Israelis, one usually figures out what they did in uniform... but I've always subscribed to the theory that if you weren't a member of a club, it's bad form to ask questions about the club.
A few months back I was having lunch with a few friends when one of them asked a new face at the table what he had done in the army. The new guy shrugged affably and said, "Hayiti Nahag" (I was a driver).
Considering how many types of Jeeps, armored vehicles, APCs, tanks, etc. the IDF has in its inventory, 'driver' is probably about as common an answer as you are likely to hear to the question 'What did you do...?'. But since that job doesn't carry a lot of cache, it isn't an answer likely to spark a lot of follow-up.
And so it was at this long-ago meal. Everyone smiled at the new guy and went on talking about their own army experiences.
The other day I happened to visit the office of the 'new' guy who had said he was a driver, and noticed a very small framed photograph hanging near his desk in an unobtrusive spot on his otherwise uncluttered walls.
I had to wait for him to finish up a phone call, so I wandered around looking at the book titles on his shelves, and ended up peering at the small photo. It was a photograph of an Israel Air Force helicopter hovering over a body of water... lowering (or maybe raising) a soldier on a cable attached to a rescue winch.
There was a small brass plaque attached to the photo frame indicating that it had been given as a memento to the pilot... an officer who happened to have the same name as the 'driver' who was sitting a few feet from me, finishing up his phone call.
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
I'm feeling kind of old today
Anyone who knows me understands that I am not into flashy, ostentatious gewgaws. But I do enjoy owning and using quality things.
I've never felt the need for a shiny new gold Patek Philippe or Rolex. I'm quite happy with my vintage stainless steel Swiss watches from lesser known companies like Enicar, Lanco and Mulco.
The same goes for writing instruments. While some people like flashy fountain pens from Mont Blanc and other high-end manufacturers, I'm perfectly happy with my simple black vintage (1930s) Sheaffer.
There is no question that my choices in watches and pens are to some extent ornamental. Otherwise, I would be wearing a Swatch and writing with a ball point Bic. But I don't care what others might think of these little vanities. They are meant to catch only my own eye... and they do that many times per day (not to mention making my heart go pitter pat).
Since most people only want to know what time it is, I have never had to lend out my watch. But it sometimes happens that someone sitting near me in a meeting needs to borrow a pen for a moment... putting me in an awkward position.
If the person asking to borrow a writing instrument is my age (or older), and has presumably had experience with a fountain pen, I generally hand it over without a thought.
But many of the younger crowd remain blissfully unaware that between the age of feather quills and the invention of the ballpoint pen, writing instruments underwent a long golden age of craftsmanship and innovation.
I can't tell you how many times I've had to stop some Generation Xer from trying to rip off the screw-on cap of my Sheaffer, or worse; from trying to scratch out a few words with the 14k gold nib stabbed upside down onto the paper.
This morning it happened again.
I was sitting in a meeting next to a pretty young thing who has made fewer trips around the sun than most of my neckties, when her ballpoint ran out of ink and she started searching her pockets and purse for a replacement.
Having come up empty, I could see her scanning her neighbors and those across the table for a likely donor. Since I was speaking and presenting the PowerPoint deck on the screen, I was busy with the computer mouse ... and not writing.
Without even asking, she reached into my shirt pocket, removed my beloved Sheaffer and began tugging at the cap. I stopped talking briefly and set aside the mouse long enough to pantomime a twisting motion.
She finally freed the cap and looked in wonder at the shiny gold nib. I could tell from her expression that she'd never encountered one before, but I couldn't really stop what I was doing to give her a tutorial. All I could do was observe her out of the corner of my eye as she made a few fruitless passes on the paper with the nib at right angles to the paper.
Again, I put aside the mouse and made a leaning gesture with my hand to try to get her to tilt the pen over at a more oblique angle... but this concept seemed to elude her.
After she'd torn a couple of jagged holes in the paper I finally stopped my presentation, gently grabbed her hand, and with my other hand, removed my pen from her infant-like grasp.
She seemed startled by my intervention and blurted out, "I thought religious men aren't allowed to touch women!"
I quietly responded, "That's only if the touch is intended to be romantic in nature. I can assure you, after seeing you try to use my pen like a Neanderthal, I couldn't possibly feel less romantic towards you!"
And with that, I put my pen gently back into my shirt pocket and went back to my presentation.
I'm feeling kind of old today.
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Playing the 'protexia' Card
I read an interesting statistic yesterday:
62% of Israelis surveyed indicated that they would be willing to donate at least some of their life-saving organs after they were done using them (i.e. after they died). That's a pretty impressive number considering that there is a lot of confusion and misinformation floating around about whether, and/or to what extent, organ donation is permitted under Jewish Law.
But despite nearly two thirds of the population indicating that they would donate organs, only 10% of the population has actually signed up for an Adi donor card which would make it possible for them to do so.
I've never been very good at math, but even I can figure out that if 62% of the population says they are willing to do something, but only 10% have taken the necessary step to ensure that this 'something' can actually happen... well, Houston, we have a problem.
Now, I don't normally have a lot of confidence in the government's ability to solve problems (What's the old saying? 'If you aren't part of the solution, there's a lot of money to be made perpetuating the problem'). But based on what I've been reading, I think the mighty Israeli bureaucracy might actually have a good idea (for a change).
Basically, their big idea boils down to something Israelis hold near and dear: Protexia.
[protexia is a slang term which describes having an inside track to limited goods, services and/or opportunities. In short, knowing someone who knows someone... knowing how to short circuiting the system (in your favor) by tapping personal connections, etc..]
Simply put, anyone who signs up for an organ donor card will (along with their immediate family members) be given priority over non-card holders when it comes to receiving donor organs.
I'm sure there are medical ethicist out there who might argue that life-saving organs should be prioritized blindly to those who need them most urgently... full stop. But it seems to me that if the goal is to change the organ donation scenario from 'who lives and who dies?' to 'who goes first?'... we're going to have to make the potential donor pool as large as possible.
And this newly enforced government ruling seems (to me) to be a hell of a good way to do just that.
I've had my Adi donor card in my wallet since 2007, and a corresponding HOD (Halachic Organ Donor) card for the US since about the same time.
Yes, the act of signing up for any kind of a donor card is an unpleasant acknowledgement that we will (one day) die. As obvious as that may be, it is a reality that most of us do all kinds of mental gymnastics to avoid confronting.
In a nod to this completely understandable mental stumbling block, the Israeli government has decided to appeal to arguably the only thing that might force people to overcome their own (and their family's) fear of mortality: Their will to live (at least a little longer).
While we all hope that we will live to 120, and pass away quietly in our sleep surrounded by loved ones... we understand deep down that our life's trajectory is probably weighted far more in favor of an earlier... less pleasant demise. And in many cases, the only hope for gaining a few more precious years on this mortal coil, is to have access to a life-saving donor organ.
And if there is one thing Israelis understand... it is that when demand outstrips supply (as it surely does in the case of donor organs), having protexia for oneself (and for ones immediate family) can take a lot of the chill off the contemplation of death.
I strongly encourage anyone reading this in Israel to sign up for an Adi organ donor card.
Knowing that you have protexia can be an incredibly comforting thing... even if you never have to use it.
Monday, November 15, 2010
No, that's not a spelling mistake. It is the name of the latest app I've installed on my iPad.
[I promise not to make this a regular feature since it is likely boring as hell to people who don't have iPhones, iPods or iPads and such.]
Wunder Radio is a neat little app that allows you to listen to radio stations from around the world... wherever you are in the world... on your iPhone, iPad or iPod, Blackberry, Android or Windows mobile device. Best of all, it is searchable by location, genre and a half dozen other criteria!
For instance, as I was doing my Friday chores this past week, I had my iPad hooked up and blasting through our home stereo system, playing 'classic rock' courtesy of WEBE 108 (Long Island, NY) and 95.9 Fox FM (Fairfield Country, CT).
Almost as enjoyable as the music were the ads and traffic reports. What a hoot!
On the other hand, some of you who have spent time in Israel and miss the palce may want to tune in and listen to Galei Tzahal (Army Radio), Galgalatz or Reshet Gimel. I'm just saying...
That is all (for now).
Sunday, November 14, 2010
Technically correct... if not politically so
One of the many 'apps' I've recently downloaded to my iPad is a nifty free alarm clock app which turns the svelte tablet computer into a bedside alarm clock, complete with big glowing green digital numerals.
Not only does it perform all the requisite functions of the old-school bedside alarm clocks (wake, snooze, etc.) but it has a few tricks up its sleeve that make it extra-helpful:
For instance, you can set the snooze interval to whatever you want (no more being stuck with the preset 7 or 10 minutes).
And with a swipe of your finger, you can adjust the brightness of the glowing green read-out from barely discernable... to Chernobyl meltdown.
You can also select from a pre-loaded menu of sounds and music for your wake-up call (or download many more). They range from gentle (birds chirping, rain pattering on a window pane, etc.) to jarring (shrill beeps, construction noise, Allied bombing of Dresden, etc.).
You can even program the alarm to come on full strength, or fade in gently.
In addition to all that, the app has a function that checks the web for local weather for your area and displays the day's temperatures (high and low) and weather conditions in the corner of the screen.
It's this last feature that revealed a small wrinkle in the overall goodness of this app. You see, in order to feed the local weather onto the display, you are asked permission to allow the app to use your 'current location'.
So far so good. This makes sense, since things like weather, time zone and such are pretty much tied to where you are.
But when I'd finished setting the thing up and was getting ready to go to sleep, I noticed that it helpfully displayed the name of 'my location' in the corner with the rest of the local info.
Apparently, I live in Bethlehem.
Granted, Bethlehem is (often quite literally) just a stone's throw from my town of Efrat. In fact, in the first book of the Torah, we see that they were considered one in the same:
"Rachel died. She was buried on the road to Efrat, which is Bethlehem." (Genesis 38:19)
Add to the mix that modern Efrat is not in the exact location of Biblical Efrat(a).
But politically, they couldn't be more distinct.
Bethlehem is an entirely Arab city where Jews are forbidden by law from entering. And Efrat is an entirely Jewish town where the sight of Arab contractors and workers is fairly common-place.
So yes, while the programmers of this useful alarm clock app may be somewhat technically correct in designating my present location as 'Bethlehem'... politically, they aren't even close.
Thursday, November 11, 2010
Seriously thinking about this. Sort of.
I don't normally dwell on fantasies of revenge, but three times in the past week I've been the victim of such impossibly bad driver's stupidity, that I can't help feeling that there must be some way to get even... or at least mark them so they'd be easier for everyone else to spot.
Having been nearly run off the road twice on my scooter, and having had someone make a shameless left turn from the right line right in front of my car (if I hadn't slammed on the brakes I would have t-boned them), I am at my wits end!
Whenever someone does something truly brainless on the road, I usually think of the old saying "Stupid Should Hurt". But sadly, it doesn't... so stupid people go on flying in the face of the most basic rules of traffic... not to mention etiquette.
I'm seriously thinking of getting myself a little self-inking stamp made up with the following image:
That way, whenever some idiot driver puts my life in danger and then waves me off when I try to call them on it... I can simply reach out and leave them with an indelible token of my esteem stamped on their window in purple ink.
Wednesday, November 10, 2010
Through Yonah's eyes
Our youngest, Yonah, is in first grade this year.
This is a wonderful time where we are able to see the boundaries of his intellectual world expanding exponentially nearly every week.
Unlike nursery school where he was essentially playing educational games and learning through playful subterfuge. He is now immersed in real learning that isn't (usually)disguised as something else.
So far he seems to be gobbling it up. Yesterday he proudly showed me a thick workbook he'd completed, and most evenings he approaches his homework with a confident eagerness that is, well... to be honest, sort of new to our home.
But even though he seems to be developing into a serious student, vestiges of the wide-eyed little boy still pop up at unexpected moments.
For instance, last week his religious studies class had gone over the weekly Torah reading about Jacob and Essau, and learned how, after Essau had given up his birthright for a bowl of lentils, Rivka had orchestrated things such that her now-blind husband Isaac would give the blessing of the firstborn being given to Jacob rather than his older brother.
For those who are rusty on their Bible stories, this switch was accomplished by the smooth skinned Jacob following his mother's instructions to tie some goat skin on his arms and neck so that his father would think he was actually the more out-doorsy Essau.
I mention this, because I was snuggling with Yonah last week just before his bed time and he was nestled down in the crook of my arm as we watched something on my iPad. At some point he began absent-mindedly stroking the hair on my arm... and then, making a connection, he turned to me and said, "Abba, you feel like Essau!".
I love that he is growing up and becoming book-smart. But at the same time, I want desperately to preserve that kind of unabashed innocence for just a little while longer.
Tuesday, November 09, 2010
In Memory of RivkA
The following initiative - which is also described on her blog - is being launched by RivkA's friends, with the blessing of RivkA's family.
We want to tell you about an amazing Tzedakah/Charity opportunity we are launching in RivkA's memory: A Breastmilk Pump Lending Service (Gemach) to serve the women of Jerusalem and region with top-of-the-range, new pumps.
The idea for the Gemach came from RivkA’s friend Noa Hirsch-Choritz, a certified lactation consultant, during the funeral while Moshe recounted the story of RivkA breastfeeding her youngest daughter while hospitalized. It suddenly became clear how we could honor RivkA's memory with something she was truly passionate about. While there are various pumps available for hire, no service currently exists in Jerusalem offering modern, high-quality pumps (the kind that lactation consultants recommend to patients). As such, many Jerusalem women, for a number of reasons, sadly end up abandoning their efforts to breastfeed their babies. This was something that RivkA- a staunch breastfeeding advocate, educator and La Leche Leader- wished to change.
And so, the Gemach idea has taken shape. "Meneket RivkA", (the name chosen for its biblical reference, meaning "Rivka's Wet-nurse") will be initially housed in the Jerusalem Breastfeeding Center in Talpiot, with a satellite branch in Gush Etzion. Uniquely, lactation consultants will provide free professional consultations, “fittings” and advice for each woman renting the pumps, which will be loaned at a nominal charge based on models provided by other successful pump gemachs around the country.
We hope to raise enough money to purchase up to 20 pumps, incorporating several models. We've built an initial budget and have plans for strategic growth together with The Eden Center, the mikva/women's center project which RivkA wholeheartedly supported.
It is envisaged that Meneket RivkA is developed over time into a full-service breastfeeding center, providing subsidized lactation consultations, La Leche League support groups, pre-birth breastfeeding classes and of course, low-cost/free breastmilk pump rental.
We truly believe that this project is really in consonant with RivkA's thoughts- she believed that breastfeeding knowledge and skills should be available to everyone, without pay (as is La Leche League's directives). We think this would make her really happy. We are overjoyed to have received the blessing of her family in creating this project, and we hope that all those who shared her vision, or who wish to honor her memory, will consider supporting us. No donation is too small to realize this dream.
To read more about the project or to make a donation- please visit www.meneketrivka.org or email email@example.com
[note: The graphics/banner for the 'Memeket RivkA' site were created by my lovely and talented wife in consultation with the people organizing this worthy effort]
Monday, November 08, 2010
Like peas & carrots
Bread & butter... peas & carrots... peanut butter & jelly... milk & cookies...
It may take a while for someone to put them together, but once combined, you can't imagine them apart.
Case in point is my (our) new treadmill... and my (our) iPad.
Between Netflix (and all the other movie/TV apps), and iTunes... an hour or two on the treadmill passes in a snap!
And if I want to take a break from watching old episodes of Dick Van Dyke or Gillgan's Island to check my email... read a few chapters of the latest best seller... peek at the news... well, as Mario Perillo (Mr. Italy) used to say; "It's included!"
It really takes so little to make me happy.
[update: Zahava called me this morning to tell me she'd just finsished a cardio workout on the treadmill... while she watched 'Grey's Anatomy'.]
Sunday, November 07, 2010
At some point over the past week, the Jerusalem Post became aware of the outpouring of love on RivkA's blog (as well as on many other blogs around the world). So they contacted RivkA's family and asked for an obituary that they could run in this past Weekend's print and online editions.
It must be pointed out at this point, that from a stylistic and content standpoint, an obituary and a eulogy are two entirely different animals.
A bereaved person generally has no problem eulogizing a loved one because it pours from the heart. But because an obituary is supposed to provide factual information about the person who has passed, without being colored by the feelings that the author may have for the deceased, it is a task that few loved ones feel capable of tackling.
So the family turned to Jameel, a long-time family friend of Moshe and RivkA. And because he knew of my history with RivkA, he turned to me.
Jameel and I spoke at length about what we wanted the obituary to say, and he sent me over some of his ideas via email. In our early drafts, both of us fell victim to the urge to eulogize our friend, and as the drafts passed back and forth, we delicately stepped back from our friendships and feelings... and tried as best we could (mostly successfully) to present an honest picture of RivkA that would tell a stranger who she was, and what kind of mark she had made on the world during her short stay here.
As the drafts made the rounds and were augmented and edited, RikA's family also made suggestions on things we'd overlooked... and ultimately approved the final version. So that by the deadline given us by the Post, we were able to hand in something that we felt at least began to tell the story of this incredible person.
Needless to say, there was so much more that we would all have liked to say, but the Jerusalem Post gave us only one full page in their weekend magazine. I suppose our hope is that even so brief an outline might allow people who had never met RivkA to visit her blog and read all the wonderful things people were sharing there about her.
I think Jameel can vouch for the fact that her blog's site traffic supports this.
In the obituary we announced an initiative that has been launched by RivkA's friends (with the blessing of her family). I will be writing more about it in the coming days. But suffice it to say that it is a fitting tribute to her memory... and I think she would be very proud to have it as part of her legacy.
[BTW, I'm told that Haaretz also ran a copy, but since I don't read them I can't say for sure]
Thursday, November 04, 2010
A chilling silhouette
I left for work on the early side this morning, so took my time... enjoying the crisp morning air on my scooter as I rode through the south Hebron hills.
There is a fork nearly half-way to Beer Sheva where one can go right or remain straight.
The right turn would take me on a route which is about ten minutes shorter, but the road that goes straight follows a more scenic route. The two roads rejoin one another about 20 minutes north of Beer Sheva.
On nice days when I'm not in a hurry, I generally go straight. If I'm in a hurry or the weather is bad, I turn right. Today I continued straight into the bright morning sunshine.
After a few kilometers I found myself stuck behind a car. Even though it was going a bit slower than I would have preferred... I remained a respectful distance behind him and used the slower pace to take in some of the scenery that I might have missed if I were going faster.
As we rounded a bend in the windy road, the car in front of me suddenly jammed on his brakes and went into a crab-skid towards the shoulder.
Luckily I wasn't following too closely, but not wanting to lock up the brakes on the scooter, I slowed as quickly as I could and swerved around the left side of the car... hoping against hope that I would be able to stop before I got to whatever it was that the car had been trying to avoid.
As I passed abreast of the car, I caught sight of what had spooked the driver, and instead of continuing to brake, I grabbed a handful of throttle and shot forward as fast as I could, swerving the scooter from side to side and ducking my head as low to the handlebars as possible without losing sight of the road.
This change of heart came about because there on the left shoulder less than 50 meters ahead of where the car had skidded to a stop stood a man. He was standing facing the direction from which we were coming... with his left elbow tucked into his chest... his right elbow cocked out to the side... his head tilted slightly to the side...and his hands cradling something dark and metallic in front of his face.
As the sun shining from behind the man glinted off the top of what was surely a telescopic scope, I suddenly took in the entirety of the chilling silhouette that had sent the driver of the car into a panicked skid. It was an ambush, and I was staring at the dark outline of a man aiming a rifle directly at me.
Within a few seconds I'd gotten the scooter up to about 120 Kph, but never-the-less braced for the impact of the bullet while praying that my swerving and acceleration would be enough to throw off his aim.
Even with the burst of speed, it seemed like it took an hour to pull abreast of the man... and as I passed him, I turned my head to get a better look. But to my surprise he hadn't turned his aim towards me as I had expected him to. Instead, he was still peering through his scope...
... a scope that I could now clearly see was sitting atop a surveyor's tripod... aimed at an assistant's marker on the other side near the bend in the road we'd just rounded.
It's almost an hour later as I write this, and I haven't stopped shaking. I'm thinking maybe they should put up a 'men at work' sign or something.
'scuse me while I go puke.
Wednesday, November 03, 2010
Of Active and Passive Verbs... and Frogs
There is an old saw that posits that if you place a frog in a pot of hot water, it will instinctively jump out. But if you place the same frog in a pot of cool water and heat it gradually... that the frog will remain in the water until it dies, par-boiled. *
The reason I've mentioned this old story will become clear in a few minutes. But for now, put it aside and read on.
I was never much of a grammarian in English. I grew up speaking and writing fairly well because I was raised by well educated parents who took pains to speak and write correctly. Had I been born and raised within earshot of the Bow Bells, for example, I suspect that my command and usage of the English language would have been somewhat different.
However, even though I intuitively know what is correct and incorrect in English... I'm ashamed to admit that with a gun pressed to my head, I couldn't explain the the definition of a participle (or why it might be a bad thing to leave one dangling)... the difference between a metaphor and a simile... or any of the rules governing the various parts of speech used to build a proper English sentence.
In short, thank G-d I was provided with a good example by my parents, and that from them, I developed a good ear and instincts about language. Because after having willfully resisted the best efforts of a generation of English teachers, that example and the resulting instincts have had to serve me for much of my adult life.
But my relationship with the Hebrew language is more rooted in knowledge. I learned Hebrew as an adult, and was forced to learn the different parts of speech and the various verb forms and tenses contained in this condensed language... if for no other reason than to avoid sounding like a complete lunatic in casual conversation.
The problem is, once you learn the rules of grammar and how the underpinnings of a language work, you become keenly aware of when people are playing fast and loose with the rules (often deliberately... and even to your detriment).
Such was the case with a recent encounter which, for various reasons, will have to remain mostly obscured by the cloak of discretion. I hope you'll forgive me for being deliberately vague in describing the following:
A person in a position of authority did/said something to me which I found to be very insulting. Objectively, this person's actions/words were rude. Subjectively, they were sufficiently disgusting that in another time and place, they would have demanded swords or pistols at dawn to satisfy the insult to my honor.
Fortunately, we don't live in such a time or place, and the bureaucracy within which this person exists was adequately equipped to allow me to demand a hearing with the person who insulted me... as well as the participation of an interested functionary of the state.
At this meeting I described the events surrounding the insult I had received. And in addition to openly questioning the judgement of the person who had insulted me... I demanded an apology.
Sadly, when faced with an immigrant making a formal complaint about a perceived insult (even when the insult can't possibly be open to perception and/or interpretation), the default response of many people in this country is, "You must not have understood...", or "That was not my intention...".
This is doubly frustrating for a non-native Hebrew speaker because even in cases where the insult is so glaring as to be beyond misinterpretation, the immigrant is often expected to feign difficulty with the language in order to allow the insulter to climb down from their tree and save face.
In the old country, this would be called 'Not making a federal case out of it'. In other words, 'Yes, you're right, but is being right important enough to justify burning this particular bridges?'.
In a country the size of Delaware, many Israelis prefer this more pragmatic approach, and are unwilling to burn bridges so quickly because, hey, you never know when you will have to deal with this person again on a business or personal level.
During the hearing with the person who had insulted me, he indeed tried to go the 'you didn't understand...' route. And when that didn't work, he dutifully played the 'that wasn't my intention...' card.
But when I refused to accept either of these gambits, he finally began dusting off something resembling an apology. His first attempt went like this:
But to the ears of an immigrant who'd been forced to conjugate countless verb forms, the passive nature of the verb 'נפגעת' (you were hurt) rang false to my ears. What he was literally saying was that my hurt feelings were somehow the issue, and not the fact that he had hurt them.
When I pointed this out to him, he seemed genuinely puzzled. Either he wasn't used to having the sincerity of his apologies questioned... or he didn't apologize frequently enough to have become very good at it.
Whatever the case, I demanded that he make another attempt.
After much hemming and hawing (actually, the Hebrew equivalent; emmming and aaahing), he finally managed the active form of the verb, along with an appropriate accompanying verb to describe what he was actually doing:
In short, we risk being burned because we're never quite sure when to jump.
Yes, I probably burned a bridge there... and yes, maybe one day I will regret not letting the insult - or the luke-warm apology - pass. In fact, I'm still not sure if this person's insult rose to the level that should objectively have justified the level of anger it elicited in me.
But for some reason I felt that if didn't respond this time, that I would lose all sense of proportion, and would condemn myself to remaining indefinitely in the pot with my damaged pride... until the water finally boiled.
* Yes, I am aware this theory has been debunked. It still makes an apt metaphor... or simile... or analogy. Whatever, you know what I meant!
Monday, November 01, 2010
Win. Win. Win!
All the news reports seem to portray Prime Minister Netanyahu as being hopelessly trapped between a rock and a hard place... between the demands of the Palestinians (along with the US, EU, UN, et all) to declare another building freeze, and the demands of his coalition constituency to refuse another freeze.
On the one hand our PM is being asked (once again) to make painful concessions in the name of peace. While on the other hand, he is being asked to keep his promise to the people who put him in office... a promise that the building freeze was a one-time-only gesture.
What nobody seems to be talking about is a near-perfect solution that was floated briefly near the end of the now-expired building freeze, but which was never mentioned again:
Simply put, our Prime Minister needs to tell President Obama the following:
"Mr. President, You are asking me to declare another building freeze; something that would be extremely unpopular with much of the Israeli public... and a move that could have dire political consequences for me and my ruling coalition if I were to agree.
Therefore I need you to do something potentially unpopular as well, in order to help me sell another building freeze at home: I need you to commute Jonathan Pollard's sentence to time served and send him home.
I'm not asking you to pardon Pollard or pretend he didn't commit a crime. Just use your executive powers to declare that he has served enough time, and put him on the next plane to Israel.
If you would do that, there isn't a single party, in or out of my coalition, that would utter a word of protest at a few more months of a building freeze... so long as it was clear that it comes as the price of Jonathan Pollard's freedom.
The U.S. is always asking Israel to make painful sacrifices for peace, and Israel is forever saying 'yes'. Mr. President, I've lost track of how many 'confidence building gestures' we've agreed to... only to be met by endless demands for even more from our so-called partners in peace.
Well, I'm willing to commit to yet another painful concession in the name of peace. I'll declare another building freeze for a reasonable period of time if you want me to. But the price of that freeze will be that you will have to make a difficult concession of your own; one that will show the Israeli public that we are not alone in taking political risks for peace."
With this simple formula, Netanyahu could come out smelling like a rose no matter what the Palestinians do.
If Obama says no, it will give the PM a clear signal that only Israel is expected to make difficult concessions... and he can justifiably ignore the demand for another freeze.
If Obama says yes, and the new freeze forces the Palestinians back to the negotiating table (possibly bringing us a few steps closer to peace)... great! It will have been worth the risk.
And if the U.S. President says yes, only to have the Palis squander this building freeze (as they did the previous one), we will at least have Jonathan Pollard home (where he should have been long ago), and a terrible injustice will finally have been corrected.
Win. Win. Win!
So the question of the hour is, "why isn't Netanyahu doing this?!"