Monday, May 30, 2011
Letters... oh we get letters...
First of all, thanks to everyone who jumped in on the first weekend to make donations to the 'Dream Ride' fundraiser for the Efrat Emergency Medical Center Radiology Center. We are past past our first $1000!
But apparently some of you still have questions you need answered before you'll feel comfortable tossing something into the hat... so here are my response to some of your questions received to date:
Q: Why are you doing this? Why not just ask for donations? It's not like we'd demand our donations back if you decide not to do the whole 1000 mile ride, right?
A: Good point. The truth is that the idea of the ride occurred to me first... and the fundraiser was a way to give the ride the kiss of legitimacy. The ride is now scheduled to be the culmination of the fundraising effort, and will mark the end of this particular campaign. Like most things... people are easier to move towards action when they have both a deadline and a point to focus on. The deadline for meeting the goal is the date of my ride... and the ride itself is the focus (although not the recipient) of the campaign.
Q: What do you get out of this?
A: Not much. Yes, I'll hopefully get a nice certificate saying I rode 1000 miles in less than 24 hours (a feat whose bragging rights are of value to a truly minuscule portion of the population). But I'll also have the satisfaction of having pulled together a bunch of good people and focused their generosity on a truly deserving project. In life, we very rarely get to identify a real problem... figure out an achievable solution... and actually fix it. Being able to share that feeling with a big group of like-minded people is the cherry on the whipped cream!
Q: How much of the money raised actually goes to the Radiology Center?
A: 100%. Okay, there is a truly minuscule processing fee that is charged by the donation server we use... but even that was selected to make sure that the maximum possible amount of each donation ends up benefiting the project. No management fees, overhead costs, salaries, commissions, administrative fees, etc. are taken out. Everything donated is going to be used for the completion of the Radiology Center.
Q: Will people donating money get their name on a plaque? Will you?
A: To be clear, I get nothing from this... not even gas money for the ride. If they do decide to put up any kind of marker in the Radiology Center to mark the campaign's contribution (and I doubt they will)... I will ask that it honor 'The Readers of Treppenwitz'. That's the thing about being a worker bee... we get the satisfaction of an important job well done, but the credit gets spread around. :-)
Q: What is the campaign goal?
A: I am reluctant to give that away just yet. There is a great passage from Randy Pausch's famous 'Last Lecture' (http://www.cs.cmu.edu/~pausch/Randy/pauschlastlecturetranscript.pdf) where he described giving the first class of a new course what he thought was a difficult assignment... and they shocked him with the results. So he asked his mentor how to respond:
"...I just gave a two-week assignment, and they came back and did stuff that if I had given them a whole semester I would have given them all As. ..., Sensei, what do I do? [laughter] And Andy thought for a minute and he said, you go back into class tomorrow and you look them in the eye and you say, “Guys, that was pretty good, but I know you can do better.”
I know approximately how much the Radiology Center needs to open its doors. But I'm afraid that if I tell you a number now, we won't really find out what we're capable of. There are always extras on the wish list that they could do without. But if we can raise enough for the extras too... why not?! As we get close to the date of the ride I'll let you know what the real goal is. Okay?
Friday, May 27, 2011
A Midsummer Night's Dream Ride
Wednesday, May 25, 2011
Defending the rights of some by trampling the rights of others.
I find it interesting (and not a little sad) that many of the political activists who insist that their loud, and often disruptive, protests are protected free speech (and therefore inviolable), frequently use their protests to silence the free speech of others.
A perfect example of this double standard is the premeditated outburst by a member of 'Code Pink' during Benjamin Netanyahu's address to the US Congress yesterday.
Of course, there's no rule that says one has to actually listen to the people against whom you you are protesting... but in this case, if Code Pink member Rae Abileah had actually taken a moment to listen to the person she was trying to silence, before screaming "Stop the occupation... ", she would have heard him laying out his vision for doing exactly what she demands.
But when interviewed following her release from police custody, she quickly dispelled any notion about anyone else being entitled to express their ideas, or that she had any interest in engaging the issues or solving problems.
She volunteered the information that she had "visited Gaza a year ago and witnessed the destruction caused by Operation Cast Lead". Afterwards deciding to "devote her life to countering Israel's war crime".
I wonder if she bothered to visit Israel's northern or southern communities to 'witness the destruction' caused by the indiscriminate firing of more than 12,000 rockets by Hezbolla and Hamas to Israeli civilians.
Nah... that's crazy talk.
In any case, as if to put to rest any doubt that she might be interested in a free exchange of ideas, or that she supported Netanyahu's right to free speech, she said, ""We are a young generation of Jews who don't intend to sit by in silence and allow prime ministers who commit crimes against humanity speak... As far as we're concerned he can speak at the International Criminal Court in the Hague."
For anyone who posits that Jews, by definition, can't be anti-Semites... this misguided and intolerant young Quisling should put that idea to rest.
Tuesday, May 24, 2011
Don't tell me there's no correlation between then and now [updated]
What we do and experience in our early twenties surely has some influence on who we become later in life... no?
[Seen on too many sites to give proper credit]
Afterthought: Yes, I know it is completely unfair to juxtapose two random photos from two people's past and suggest that the content of the photos sum up who they are/were. I'm sure there are photos of Bibi from his past that would not portray him in a flattering light... and I'm sure there are photos of Obama from his past that make him look, well, less like a slacker college student.
However, I think what made me decide to post this in spite of its inherent unfairness is the fact that Bibi has done some very specific things - big things - in his youth for which there is nothing even even close to comparable in Obama's.
This doesn't disqualify Obama from being capable of great things. It just (IMHO) draws the discussion of defense and security concerns into sharp focus and makes one wonder about the relative qualifications of the two men to engage in meaningful discussions, much less monumental decisions, related to such topics.
People who have led men in battle, and experienced first hand the terrible cost of war, tend to think twice... and then twice again...before making decisions that might send other leaders and men onto the battlefield.
That is what I am trying to convey here. It was my complaint about Ehud Olmert... and it is my concern about Barack Obama.
Monday, May 23, 2011
Some of you may recall that I was toying with the idea of a bit of a stunt for my upcoming 50th birthday.
Let's just say that the toying stage has progressed to active preparations... and a date has been selected; 22nd - 23rd of June.
Because of the date, I have decided to call this 'A Midsummer Night's Dream Ride' (that night is traditionally known as 'Midsummer's Eve').
Most important, I found an incredibly worthwhile local project that is just thiiiis close [~ Holds up thumb and forefinger a couple of inches apart~ ] to being able to open its doors to provide a critical service to a local population of more than 50,000 people.
The funds I am going to try to raise with this birthday stunt will (hopefully) bridge the gap between 'close' and 'there'. A lot, of course, will depend on you.
Stand by for details.
Sunday, May 22, 2011
The Nursemaid: A Tribute
When Ariella and Gilad were still in their crayon and play date years, and our young family was still very much in the 'getting on our feet' phase, an unusual set of circumstances presented us with the opportunity to have a nursemaid come live with us.
I know what you're probably thinking; that a 'nursemaid' (or governess, nanny, au pair, or whatever you want to call live-in help), is the realm of the wealthy. And you'd be correct.
But what had happened was that an elderly friend of the family who had a terrible, degenerative disease, had deteriorated to the point where she had to move into a full time nursing facility. And her live-in companion/nursemaid, who had no family or immediate prospects, was without a place to live. We were asked if we would consider taking her in... if only until a new position or living arrangement could be found?
Our small Connecticut home was comfortable, but space was at a premium. Ari and Gili each had their own rooms, but whenever we had shabbat guests or family staying with us, one or both of the kids would end up with a roommate. But the idea of a nursemaid/companion for the kids - even for the short term - was hard to resist. So we said okay, and welcomed a pleasant stranger into our home. But she didn't remain a stranger for long.
I suspect that most parents of young children harbor a secret Mary Poppins fantasy. You know, the idea that you can have a wise, wonderful helpmate in raising your children. I'm sure part of this dream is born of doubt in our own parenting skills. But it is also the idea that we could occasionally step back and see our children learning responsibility, compassion and manners from a well-bred caregiver.
Our new nursemaid turned out to be the answer to those secret longings. She was endlessly patient with our children, and they seemed to become more responsible and empathetic people nearly overnight. But the nursemaid was also still young enough that she could tire the children out with her games, and became a natural companion and confidant for them.
Zahava and I were tempted to pinch ourselves, because we knew that we'd been blessed with the perfect addition to our household. And for her part, we never got the sense that the nursemaid was restless or looking for another position. She simply settled in and created a place for herself in our home... and in our hearts.
Granted, some of her habits took some getting used to. But if anything, they endeared her to us even more.
For example, she was an extremely light sleeper and made it her habit never to retire for the night until everyone in the house was in bed. Since my second job was as a musician, this meant that several times a week I would come home in the wee hours of the morning to find the nursemaid dozing in the front room... awaiting my return. As I would hang up my tuxedo and slide into bed, I would hear the nursemaid's soft tread around the house, past the master bedroom door...and finally into each of the kids rooms to make sure they were alright... before finally allowing herself to go to bed for the night.
She was also eerily aware of everyone's health. If a member of the family was coming down with something, she was almost always the first to know about it. And she took it upon herself to sit by the bedside of whoever had been stricken until the fever, cold or stomach ache had passed. I can't say for sure that any of us healed from our illnesses any faster as a result of her concerned ministrations... but I can't discount the possibility either.
One of the odd things was that, despite not being Jewish, the nursemaid immediately took a shine to the pomp and ceremony of shabbat and the various holidays... especially the festive meals. She was always the first at the table when we returned from synagogue... and by agreement, whoever made the blessing on the braided Challah, always passed her the first slice.
But when we started finalizing our plans to move to Israel, Zahava and I had to do some soul searching. We knew that Ari and Gili loved the nursemaid and considered her a member of the family... and that the feelings were reciprocated. But we also wondered if it would be fair to even consider taking her with us to a new country.
In the end the decision was an easy one to make. She had made her life with us, and even though she didn't exactly meet the requirements of the Jewish Agency and Ministry of absorption, Nefesh B'Nefesh made special arrangements for the nursemaid to join us on our charter flight to Israel.
Our nearly eight years in Israel have literally flown by.
The nursemaid helped us welcome Yonah into our family, and immediately took it upon herself to become his best friend and playmate. But we couldn't help noticing that she was slowing down quite a bit... and that her age was becoming more and more apparent.
Then one day a few years ago she fell ill. Zahava and I took her to a specialist for some tests, and after a short interval were devastated to hear the diagnosis; Lymphoma. Not being a citizen, she didn't have health insurance, so we paid for her treatment out of our pockets, and took her for months of chemotherapy sessions that left her a shadow of her former vivacious self.
But after she had recovered from the debilitating effects of the last treatment, we sensed that she had truly turned a corner. After a few more visits to the specialist, our prayers were answered. The cancer seemed to be in remission.
Slowly but surely the nursemaid got her strength back and resumed her role in the family. But by this time, we had forced her into semi-retirement, having taken on a new nursemaid... capable of seeing to the needs of the children, while giving our beloved original nursemaid someone young to mentor and mold.
We never regretted for a moment the efforts we'd made to secure treatment for the nursemaid, even tough we could ill afford it. And we were blessed with more than three years of her presence in our home and in our lives as a result. In spite of the fact that her hearing was going and her sight was dim, she kept to her well-loved rituals - even when not feeling her best - insisting on putting the household to bed each and every night.
But this past week we saw dramatic evidence that her health was once again failing her. She could barely get up, and walking was clearly painful. Not only that, but she seemed disoriented and took a serious of truly frightening falls when she seemed to lose some of her gross motor control. On Friday morning she seemed to be going downhill fast... so we rushed her to the specialist. And this specialist who had helped us nurse our beloved nursemaid through illnesses and regular check-ups, had to lay all the information before us.
He didn't pull any punches. He told us that her condition was terrible. Her quality of life was quickly disappearing. He couldn't say for sure that she was in serious pain (because she was not the sort to complain), but he couldn't rule it out either.
What the veterinarian could tell us was that her life was rapidly nearing its end. It might be a day... or a few weeks at most. And it might also be a few hours. Her organs were beginning to fail, but to the extent that things were still working, she still had control of most of her bodily functions. As we watched Jordan shuffle around his small clinic, occasionally slipping and stumbling when her hind legs lost the signal sent by her brain, a long silence stretched out among us.
At first I thought the vet was gathering his thoughts and was going to tell us what to do. But as I looked into his eyes, I realized that he was waiting for us to come to a decision. It was one of the first and only times since I was 18 that I have truly regretted being a grown up.
As if to confirm that we were to guide the decision, the vet said, "I won't think you are a monster if you decide you want a little more time with Jordan. She might have a little more left to give, and I can't say for sure it would be a bad thing for her... or for you. But I also won't think you are a monster if you decide that her quality of life... and her dignity... are so far gone that you want me to help her to leave comfortably right now.
He had spoken fairly quickly, and in a more nuanced Hebrew than Zahava was probably used to, so I paraphrased what he had said for her. By now we were both crying.
I broke the silence and said, "We have to do this now". Zahava couldn't speak at first and simply sniffled in her tears and nodded her agreement. But then she said, "Let me lift her onto the table. I want her to feel that it's me".
Zahava gathered Jordan into her arms and lifted her from the floor up onto the exam table where she'd been so many times before. The two of us helped her to lie comfortably on the table; Zahava cradling her noble head, and I stroked her sides and flanks.
The vet worked quickly setting up the injection point in her leg. When he saw that we'd whispered our 'thank yous' and goodbyes, he gave the first injection. Jordan whimpered at the sensation of the injected liquid as she'd done at each of her long-ago chemotherapy sessions. But almost immediately she relaxed and began to breathe in long, audible snores. A second injection was given and her breathing stopped altogether... and a final injection directly to her heart a few moments later stilled the wonderful being that had been our family's faithful companion and nursemaid for almost 12 years.
As we stood silently stroking the soft remains of our departed friend, a woman walked through the open door of the exam room and began to ask the vet a question. He held up his hand to indicate that she should wait. And taking in the scene before her she instantly understood what had just transpired.
After a few moments we thanked the vet for all his guidance and wonderful treatment of Jordan over the years. We then broached the subject of his payment. He held up his hand to us as he had to the woman a few moments before.
He explained that he never took payment for this particular act of kindness ((he used the Hebrew word 'Chessed'). It turns out that this was how he ended up a vet in the first place. He had originally wanted to become a pediatrician, but when he realized that he would not be allowed to end the suffering of terminally ill children who were in excruciating pain, he changed his mind and decided to treat animals instead. He also said that he never accepted payment for euthanizing a pet lest anyone think that he had a financial interest in ending an animal's life before its time.
The vet reassured us that we had acted correctly, and gave me a warm embrace, telling me that he wished that all of his clients loved their pets as much as we had ours. He then told Zahava that if she weren't religious, he would give her a hug as well. She saved him the trouble by pressing her tear-stained face against his chest and initiating a warm embrace.
As we were leaving, the vet removed Jordan's collar with her name tag and annual municipality registration tags, and handed it to me. He told us to hang it in our garden so that the wind would make the tags jingle together and remind us of her life.
On the way out of the office, the woman who had entered earlier stopped us and expressed her condolences for our loss. It turns out that she had come to the clinic to consult with the vet about her own aging dog who was deaf and blind and losing control of its faculties. And even though I don't know what she ultimately decided... I know she understood that she was talking to someone who took the seriousness of the decision to heart.
We all miss our treasured nursemaid Jordan more than words can express. Yonah, who has never known a world without her attentive presence, is especially distraught. This is his first real experience with death. Some friends helped their child write Yonah a letter of condolence, and some other friends had a tree planted in her memory. A third friend sent over a children's book that helped explain things in terms that Yonah could understand.
Jordan was just a few days past her fourteenth birthday on Friday when she left us. She lived a wonderful, long life surrounded by her family. We tried throughout her life to let her know how much she was loved and appreciated. We hope that we did right by her in her final hours, and ask her forgiveness if we erred in any way.
Thursday, May 19, 2011
Spring is bustin' out all over
This is my favorite time of year... especially during my commute. The winter grains are being harvested, and the camel, sheep and goat herds return from the south to graze on the stubble.
Some of the old (and not-so-old) shepherds remember me and wave hello... and there are a few new ones to get to know.
Of course, one of my real spring pleasures is tending to my bees. However sometime shortly after I checked on them at the start of the season, someone (presumably kids) kicked the tops off the hives... and all the bees died as a result of the still quite chilly mountain nights we have here.
The decision now is whether to start over now with a couple of nucleus hives... or take a year off. [sigh]
Wednesday, May 18, 2011
That New York, Greek Diner, Street Cart, Paper Coffee Cup
If you've ever been in New York and grabbed a kawfee to go from a street vendor, convenience store or diner, you know what I'm talking about.
It looked kinda (OK, exactly) like this:
The back story to this cup is fairly simple. [source here]
In the mid 20th century, Greek immigrants had become a force in the diner / take-away market... especially in the metro-New York area.
In the early 60s, in an attempt to appeal to these Greek-owned businesses, a designer named Leslie Buck at the Sherri Cup company came up with a design which had the colors of the Greek flag (blue and white), a pleasant greeting ("We are happy to serve you") written in Greek-looking letters, framed by two ancient Greek amphorae and bordered by a classic Greek 'key' motif.
To keep the design from being too bland-looking, he added three yellow coffees in the same color as the greeting.
As a play on the word 'amphora' the company called the cup 'Anthora'... and the the rest, as they say, was history. It went on to become the definitive New York take-out cup.
About ten years ago I was was killing time in Grand Central Station while waiting for my train home to Connecticut, when I saw a ceramic replica of this classic paper cup in a store called 'Our Name Is Mud'. I immediately bought one as a gift for Zahava.
Zahava loved the gift... and I immediately started coveting it. But it took a few years before I actually bought one for myself.
Since moving to Israel, that ceramic Anthora cup has been my default morning coffee cup. It has gotten chipped and crazed over the years... but I loved it and refused to give it up.
However, this past week it finally broke. I'm pretty good at fixing things, but knowing it has to hold hot liquid, I decided that it was beyond repair.
No problem. I just went to the 'Our Name Is Mud' website to order a replacement... but they apparently don't make them anymore. I don't know if they got sued or simply didn't sell enough of them to keep them in their catalog. But for whatever reason... I was out apparently of luck.
Yeah right. G-d bless the Internet.
Within a few minutes of being let down by O.N.I.M., I found someone else who was making the ceramic Anthora cups. Not only that, but it is a much more faithful reproduction of the original. The O.N.I.M. version had been kind of clunky and lacked the rolled lip of the paper original. But this one was... well, see for yourselves:
[~insert squealing little girl noise here~]
Sunday, May 15, 2011
An accident. Right.
This morning, on the day which the Arabs call 'Nabka Day' (commemorating the 'catastrophe' of Israel coming into existence) an Arab truck driver in Tel Aviv crashed into a bus and several cars... killing one person and injuring at least five others.
He then went on ramming cars for several kilometers before being stopped and arrested.
And he is now claiming that it was an accident (and not a deliberate terror attack).
Forgive me if I'm a bit skeptical.
A chip off the old block
Did I mention that at our town's Independence Day ceremony, a member of our family was on stage performing in front of an appreciative audience of screaming fans... and it wasn't me?
The boy did his old man proud.
Wednesday, May 11, 2011
Counting our Blessings
Sunday, May 08, 2011
A Friday Lesson
Friday, May 06, 2011
Them vs. Us
I've been bothered by all the chest thumping and 'USA' chanting that has been going on over the death of Osama Bin Laden, but I haven't been able to pinpoint exactly why.
Until, that is, I read the following on Elisson's blog (which was quoted from still another fine blog):
"I don’t care how heinous the slain monster be, people who dance when blood is spilt have a little bit of their soul missing. Justice is grim stuff, and should be treated with respect."
That's really it, isn't it?
The problem isn't so much that a man was killed. I trust history to sort out who was right and who was wrong. The problem is that civilized people don't celebrate death. Victory, yes. But not death.
I'm sure you have all seen that classic WWII-era news photo of the crowds celebrating in Times Square... the one where the sailor is kissing the nurse.
Those people weren't celebrating the fire-bombing of Tokyo. They weren't celebrating the dropping of the atom bomb on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. They were celebrating V-J Day (Japan's surrender). It may seem like a fine distinction to some... but that fine distinction is what preserves our humanity.
I get upset when the Palestinians find death worth celebrating. But given the celebratory atmousphere over OBL's death, I have to wonder if we are really all that different.
While thinking about this, I was reminded of a passage from Ambrose Bierce's excellent short story 'An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge' which describes the preparations for a Civil War era military execution of a spy, by hanging:
"Excepting the group of four at the center of the bridge, not a man moved. The company faced the bridge, staring stonily, motionless. The sentinels, facing the banks of the stream, might have been statues to adorn the bridge. The captain stood with folded arms, silent, observing the work of his subordinates, but making no sign. Death is a dignitary who when he comes announced is to be received with formal manifestations of respect, even by those most familiar with him. In the code of military etiquette silence and fixity are forms of deference."
The genius of Bierce is that his words ring true even today.
Here was a group of Union soldiers about to hang a man who was caught spying for the Confederacy. He wasn't just the enemy... but one of the most insidious forms of enemy imaginable in times of war; a non-uniformed spy on his way to burn a strategically important bridge. Today we'd call him a terrorist.
Yet because death was involved, they observed the goings on with respect and deference... not celebration.
I suppose that is the primary difference between an execution and a lynching.
Tuesday, May 03, 2011
A long, long time ago in a well traveled upper Manhattan neighborhood...
[Props to Mark Zomick for tagging me in that photo on Facebook. It was so long ago that I can't for the life of me identify anyone else in the photo!]
Monday, May 02, 2011
Do as I say... not as I do!
I hate to rain on anyone's parade... and make no mistake, the death of Osama Bin Laden is certainly parade-worthy... but I find the international chorus of congratulations being offered to the US over the successful termination of this terrorist leader to be just a tad hypocritical.
- It was an extra-judicial killing.
- The operation entailed the violation of another country's sovereignty.
- The attack risks perpetuating the 'cycle of violence' (there will certainly be revenge attacks on US targets and targets belonging to most/all of the countries offering congratulations).
- There were almost certainly others killed in the attack. Is there irrefutable proof that they were combatants?
I mention these uncomfortable, inconvenient facts because when Israel hunts down and kills known/proven terrorists, we are soundly condemned for it.
I guess this is just one more lesson in paternalism that we have to swallow from the US; 'do as I say... not as I do'.
Sunday, May 01, 2011
The orbits of our lives
As part of my undergraduate Liberal Arts education, I was required to study psychology and philosophy. Some of it I found useful... some perhaps even profound. But none could hold a candle to the following insight that I stumbled upon on a random web site last night:
"You don't really understand human nature unless you know why a child on a merry-go-round will wave at his parents every time around - and why his parents will always wave back." ~William D. Tammeus~
I'm not saying that much of my expensive university education was wasted... but jeez, how did they miss something so obvious?!
[William D. Tammeus is an editorial page columnist for The Kansas City Star. He has written for several other newspapers, as well as for Time, Newsweek, The Reader's Digest, and Rolling Stone. He is an elder in Second Presbyterian Church, Kansas City, and serves on the Heartland Presbytery Committee on Preparation for the Ministry.]