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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Thank G-d it's Tuesday!

Today is the Likud primary.

For the past week my phone has not stopped vibrating and ringing with SMSs and recorded messages from various factions literally begging me to vote for their candidate to lead the party.

After I vote today I am so quitting the party.  Not out of any ideological change of heart mind you.  Just so I won't ever be subjected to this kind of harassment again!

I may go back and count the calls and messages and cast my vote based entirely on who harassed me the least!


Posted by David Bogner on January 31, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

A follow up to the whole blurred image post

Rather than bury new information at the bottom of the page, I decided this update deserved its own post.

First of all, as some of you have pointed out in the comments of my previous post on the topic, Machon Meir did, in fact, post an apology on their Hebrew language website stating:

"מכון מאיר מביע בזאת את התנצלותו הכנה על פרסום בלתי ראוי של תמונתה של רותי פוגל הי"ד"

[Machon Meir offers this apology for publishing an inappropriate photograph of Ruth Fogel (may her blood be avenged)]

As other comments have pointed out, that leaves some ambiguity as to whether they are apologizing for blurring out her face... or if publishing a photo of her at all was 'inapropriate', and thus required an apology.

So I called up Machon Meir and spoke with a gentleman there who agreed to forward written questions to their management.  Here is exactly what was contained in the email (my questions are in black and his responses are in blue)  He pasted the management's responses onto my emailed questions:

Dear Mr. Listman,

Thank you for taking the time to speak with me a few moments ago.

 My questions are as follows:

Dear Mr. Bogner,

The replies to your queries are below.

Thank you,

Question 1.  The published apology that is on the Hebrew language website of Machon Meir seems to be apologizing for publishing an inappropriate picture of Ruth Fogel, rather than for having blurred out her face.  I would like to know if Machon Meir's current policy would allow the publication of a woman's photo (assuming she is dressed modestly) without having her image blurred out?

Response:  No, it does not allow publication of a woman's photo.

Question 2.  Rav Aviner has gone on record defending the blurring out of Ruth Fogel's face when he was asked specifically about last Shabbat's alon. He says that by blurring her image it was honoring her, not insulting her.  As Rav Aviner is associated with Machon Meir, I am confused as to what your institute's formal policy is regarding publishing photographs of Women. Please clarify this for me.

Response:  The policy is to publish articles that woman write but not pictures. If we would be obligated to publicize a picture of a woman then we do so.

Question 3.  I have not gone back to check older issues of the Alon, but have there been photographs of other women in past issues that were not blurred out, and is there a policy in place whereby Machon Meir tries not to publish photographs of women at all?

Response:  No, there have not been pictures of such.


R' Menachem Listman

Machon Meir English Department Director


I think those responses speak volumes as to exactly what they were apologizing for. 

Posted by David Bogner on January 24, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (17) | TrackBack

Zahava begged me not to blog about this...

... because it would make me sound nutty.

Sorry, I couldn't stop myself.  :-)

There are certain appliances and tools we use in our day-to-day lives that have remained relatively unchanged for decades.  The can opener in your kitchen probably looks very similar to the one that was in your grandparent's kitchen. 

This amazes me because so many of these ageless tools and appliances are flawed in one sense or another.  Take the can opener example I used:  Sure there are uber-expensive models that work somewhat better, but the standard model that you likely have at home jumps up over the lip of the can 4 or 5 times before you make it all the way around.  And in some cases it may not even finish the job properly, forcing you to improvise with spoons and knives to bend the lid of the can up enough to pour out the contents.

Well, in my humble opinion, no household device is more flawed, yet so universally accepted as the venerable nail clippers that each and every one of you have in your bathroom cabinet.  Without exception these clippers are a challenge to use because they are:

a)  Too small

b)  Too dull

c)  Too flexible (meaning the lever you press down to force the blades together on the nail)

This past year I finally got fed up with crappy nail clippers and started reading online reviews of nail clippers in hope that somewhere out there a company had figured out how to make a decent product.

Enter 'Seki', a Japanese company whose products are sold largely via high end Beauty/grooming companies... as well as Amazon.com.

What all the reviews seemed to stress was the importance of several elements that Seki had mastered:

1.  Slightly oversized to make handling more comfortable

2.  Hand ground/honed cutting edge made from twice tempered surgical steel

3.  (and this is the clincher!) Massive cast iron lever with no flexibility whatsoever.  Even thick nails cut effortlessly with even mild pressure.

I ordered a set from Amazon (I had to have them shipped to my sister's place in New York because for some reason they don't do international shipping on that item), and can honestly say that it is so superior to any other nail clipper I have ever used in my whole life that it seems disrespectful to call it a nail clipper.

Here's what it looks like:

See what I mean?  Similar to what you have at home... but a different animal altogether!  We must have 5 sets of crappy nail clippers scattered around our house.  Yet everyone in the family keeps asking to use mine.

Coincidence?  I think not.

Seriously, go get yourself a set.  I have nothing to gain in all this.  I'm just sharing my view of an excellent product in hopes it will improve your life as it has improved mine.

Posted by David Bogner on January 24, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Monday, January 23, 2012

Bucking for a Darwin Award

Mid-day yesterday Zahava called to tell me she'd just heard that there was a winter storm warning for our area (we live in one of the highest elevations in Israel).

I rushed through I report I was working on and bugged out shortly after lunch time to start heading home in a driving rain... all the time watching the temperature gauge on the instrument cluster of the Vespa drop like a countdown timer of a rocket launch.

When the temp gauge started blinking 3° Celsius the rain turned to sleet... and I was still only about half way home and traveling at a crawl.  At one point I came upon an overturned dump truck that had spilled its load of sand all over the road.  It was blocking both lanes and traffic was backed up in both directions.  Being on two wheels I was able to squeeze by on the shoulder.

After a bit the sleet started to pile up in the lanes, and as the temp hit 0° Celsius, the roadway started to freeze with uneven clumps of frozen sleet.

And then the snow started... blowing nearly horizontal by a strong, gusting wind coming from the side.

By now I was riding at walking pace with my heels dragging on both sides of the scooter to catch myself from falling over each time one or both of the wheels side slipped on a patch of ice or a mound of frozen slush/sleet.

It changed back to freezing rain a couple of kilometers from home and I was able to get the speed back up to about 20 Kph for the rest of the ride.

But once I was home and sipping a hot mug of tea to thaw out, I couldn't help thinking about the series of bad decisions I'd made.

First and foremost was not leaving the scooter at work and taking the bus home once I knew bad weather was imminent.  Oh sure, it would have added a few hours to my commute, but it would have been warmer (and safer).

Then there was the decision not to turn back (or pull into one of the towns along my route) once it really got yucky.

Maybe it's a guy thing, (like not pulling over for directions... even after passing the same landmark for the third time!), but there is something that probably has a fancy name and pathology in the DSM, which causes men to forge on... even after they know beyond a shadow of a doubt that they've made a bad decision.

As if by beating the odds and surviving the ordeal there awaits some partial vindication for the original bad decision. [~shakes head~]

That my wife hasn't left me after all these years of such bad judgement calls is all the proof of her love I'll ever need.

[Afterthought:  I rode my scooter to work this morning in a driving rain.  Ouch!, that stove is hot!  Hmmmm... I wonder what'll happen if I touch it again?

Posted by David Bogner on January 23, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Sliding into darkness, not striving for enlightenment

As I've previously noted here, Israel is as egalitarian and progressive a society as exists anywhere on earth, and the whole exclusion of women thing is a completely fabricated non-issue designed to vilify the religious community.  In any place where women are being physically excluded in Israel, it is a criminal matter and can/should be dealt with under the perfectly ample body of existing Israeli law. 

I use the modifier 'physically' above because there are others way that women can be excluded from our day to day lives.

I have recently begun to notice that the creeping (and in my opinion, insidious) trend by certain extreme segments of Orthodox Jewish society to eschew pictures of women in advertising (and even news stories) has led to the practice of cropping and photoshopping women out of photos in just about every form of media that serves those communities.

While we were getting ready to leave our synagogue on Shabbat morning, my daughter handed me one of the many flyers and parsha sheets that were scattered on the table by the entrance and asked me if I noticed anything 'different'.  It was a shabbat parsha sheet published by an organization called Machon Meir.

For those unfamiliar with it, Machon Meir is a venerable Jerusalem Torah institution that teaches Zionist 'Torat Eretz Yisrael', the importance of service in the IDF, and prides itself on being a very centrist and inclusive 'Kippah Srugah' (knitted Yarmulke) institution. 

So you can imagine my dismay when I looked at the front page of the Parsha sheet to see what was bothering my daughter and noticed the following notice of a memorial to be held for the murdered members of the Fogel family (who were slaughtered in their home by terrorists last year).


If you look at the following close up, you can see that in the notice they used a family photo of the Fogels which had appeared in many of the news stories at the time of their murder.  But I was horrified to see that whoever had prepared the notice had blurred out the face of the mother!

What in the world is mainstream Orthodox Judaism coming to when the face of a woman (a murder victim, for G-d's sake!) is blurred out so as to not stir the base urges of religious men who might find her visage too erotic to withstand?! And how ironic is it that the name of the flyer is B'Ahava U'B'emunah' (In Love and in Belief), when by all indications, those who pubish it seem to lack both?!

I'm not sure who the 'Meir' is for whom 'Machon Meir' is named, but the name 'Machon Meir'  in Hebrew can also be translated to mean 'Institute of Enlightenment' (or illumination)'.

I have to say, seeing the notice this week from Machon Meir with a woman's face deliberately blurred out helps make a pretty good case for exactly the opposite: Rather than striving for enlightenment, mainstream orthodoxy seems to be starting a relentless slide into darkness and ignorance.

May we come to our collective senses before it's too late.

[Update:  While discussing this issue with my friend Jameel, he emailed me a link to a videotaped response given by Rav Shlomo Aviner to the question of whether it was correct to have blurred out Ruth Fogel's photo.   To be clear, he was asked about this specific case.

He responds in the affirmative.  Rav Aviner is supposed to be one of the guiding voices in the Religious Zionist movement.

I weep for the future if this is his response.

Posted by David Bogner on January 22, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (36) | TrackBack

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Learn Something Every Day

So, how did everyone manage without Wikipdia yesterday?

I have to admit that I was unaware of just how many times a day I look things up there.

To begin with, one of the first things I do every morning when I wake up is enter the day's date into Google. 

Invariably, the first link on the Google results page is to Wikipedia... and clicking on that link delivers a list of pretty much everything of note (objectively speaking) which happened on that date.

I've been doing this for years, and I never fail to learn something new, and usually end up clicking on a link to another entry to find out more about a person place or thing mentioned in that day's list of historical events.

Try it... it's addictive.

Posted by David Bogner on January 19, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Shabbat Alarm for iFolks

If you have an iPhone, iPad or iPod touch, you fall into the group of people I think of as iFolks.  

You probably got your iDevice for one particular purpose... but have since discovered a treasure trove of other iFunctions it has to offer to enhance your life.

When I first started using my iPad, I mostly availed myself of its web surfing, ebook and ezine capabilities.  But over time it has become my default blogging, movie watching, date book keeping, emailing, online banking, and nearly everything else, tool.

I check the local weather forecast on it before I go to bed, and it wakes me up in the morning to anything in my iTunes library.

I use it as a siddur (prayer book) during the week, and have the entire Tanach (Jewish bible) and Talmud available, quite literally at my fingertips.

Pretty much the only time I don't use the iPad is on Shabbat and holidays.

Well, now even that isn't quite true anymore.  You see, I prefer going to the early services on Shabbat.  But I have trouble waking up on time.

Turns out, there's an app for that too!

An app developer called Ary's Software Garden has a fantastic, simple to use app called Shabbat Alarm.  

Think about it... What's the big problem with most electric/electronic alarms?  Right, you can't turn them off on Shabbat.  So even if you are lucky enough to find an alarm that will turn off by itself, eventually.  By the time it shuts itself off, you've woken everyone else in the house.

With Shabbat Alarm, you can set the alarm to go off for as little as one or two seconds, after which it will stop by itself.  Need a snooze to make sure you're up?  No problem.  Set a second alarm to go off a few minutes after the first... again, for just a second or two.

You can set as many alarms as you want.  And the best part is that you can set a different set of alarms for successive days (think of the different alarm requirements for a three day Yom tov).  You can be sure to get up in the morning for minyan... and also be confident you won't oversleep your afternoon shluf.

Just to be clear, I have no interest in this app (financial or otherwise), and have already paid full price for it in the app store (I think it was like 2 bucks).  So if the developers saw this post they couldn't compensate me even if they wanted to.

No, I'm telling you about this because your iPhone, iPad or iPod touch is no longer just a weekday wonder... it can now enhance your life, even on Shabbat!

Don't thank me... I'm a giver!

Posted by David Bogner on January 18, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

A Dark Day for Students

For those who may not have noticed, Wikipedia turned off the lights today on all of their content in a protest that will last for 24 hours.  They are protesting two bills currently under consideration by the US Legislature:

"Wikipedians have chosen to black out the English Wikipedia for the first time ever, because we are concerned that SOPA and PIPA will severely inhibit people's access to online information. This is not a problem that will solely affect people in the United States: it will affect everyone around the world."

"SOPA and PIPA represent two bills in the United States House of Representatives and the United States Senate respectively. SOPA is short for the "Stop Online Piracy Act," and PIPA is an acronym for the "Protect IP Act." ("IP" stands for "intellectual property.") In short, these bills are efforts to stop copyright infringement committed by foreign web sites, but, in our opinion, they do so in a way that actually infringes free expression while harming the Internet. Detailed information about these bills can be found in the Stop Online Piracy Act and PROTECT IP Act articles on Wikipedia, which are available during the blackout."

I haven't read enough to know whether I agree with Wikipedia or not. 

But if I had to make a knee jerk call as to whether those who drafted this legislation might have gone too far in pursuit of a noble cause (think 'Patriot Act' for context), I'd have to guess that this is another case of a good cause having been hijacked by some misguided folks who don't have a clear understanding of just how badly the framers of the Constitution wanted to keep the government from messing with the freedoms of private individuals. 

Or perhaps those folks do know, but have the odd notion that they know better than the framers.

In either case, the real losers in all this IMHO are the students who have reports/papers due today or tomorrow, who will now be forced to actually go to the library and do actual research rather than simply cutting and pasting passages from Wikipedia.

Posted by David Bogner on January 18, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (14) | TrackBack

Monday, January 16, 2012

People... Chill!

[Disclaimer: I am no techie and have no particular expertise with computers or the programs that run them.]

Over here you learn to thank G-d for slow news days. You know, the kind of days where the media can put its cluelessness on display for the amusement of the crowds.

The problem is that not everyone gets the joke.

As we become more and more reliant on computers in our day-to-day lives, the prospect of someone with malicious intent gaining access to our computers is, admittedly troubling.

But let's put things in perspective, shall we?

First, let's differentiate between two different kinds of cyber-attacks; hacking and virus. Yes, the two bump up against one another - and slightly overlap, but they are as different as petty vandalism and chemical warfare.

Hacking is all about finding a weakness in a computer's security system and finding a way in (most often to do mischief and/or steal information).

Viruses are computer programs that can replicate themselves and spread from one computer to another. Even though it is not necessarily accurate, for the sake of this discussion, I'll toss other types of 'malware', such as adware and spyware programs, into the virus pot even though they don't have reproductive ability.

As I mentioned earlier, the two bump up against one another, and actually overlap, with programs such as 'Trojan horses' which are designed to be carried past security barriers and unwittingly placed onto target computers.... and from where they can start broadcasting information outward (a direction of information flow that most security firewalls doesn't pay much attention to). Thus, a malicious virus is able to accomplish much the same result as a hacker.

To demonstrate the potentially devastating result of a well executed virus, look at the stuxnet virus (that many attribute to Israeli computer scientists) which attacked computers that controlled essential equipment within Iran's atomic program. That is the real deal, and is terrifying to contemplate someone returning the favor.

But over the past couple of weeks we've seen screaming headlines about foreign hackers breaching the security safeguards of several Israeli institutions.... as if this were the equivalent of stuxnet.

What the media doesn't seem to understand (or can't be bothered to distinguish for their readers) is that there are varying degrees of seriousness to any cyber attack.

For instance, a hacker gaining access to, and publishing, the credit card numbers and personal information of several thousand Israelis is bad. But not terrible.

The banks involved immediately realized what had happened, replaced all the compromised cards, and took steps to lock the door through which the hacker had accessed the information.

They also quickly realized that while some of the compromised information was current, a lot of it was quite out of date. Clearly the hacker had accessed a secondary data storage facility which hadn't been updated in awhile. That's likely the reason for the relatively lax security.

The banks/credit card companies found the breached door and put a stronger lock on it. End result; better security. A good thing.

The next round of headlines (today) dealt with another cyber attack on the websites of El Al Airlines and the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange. And if anything, the Media is screaming even louder than with the credit card breach.

Now here's where the media gets it wrong. Hacking a website is not (usually) the same as accessing the inner workings of a company's data/infrastructure command and control centers.

Here's a cartoon that best explains this:



See the difference?

Hacking the website of these two very visible symbols of Israel is a lot like spray painting graffiti on the front of the Knesset. It is a national embarrassment that it could happen. But the people and stuff inside were never in any real danger.

Yes, El Al customers who enjoy the convenience of checking flight schedules and such via the website were inconvenienced. And the company almost certainly lost a bit of revenue from the tickets that would have been purchased online instead of through the more costly call centers. But I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for an announcement that a single El Al plane has been grounded, or even delayed as a result of the attack.

Same goes for the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange. I promise you that trading continued as usual despite the results of the trades not being displayed on the TASE website.

So is it a shame that hackers are able to take down prominent Israeli websites? Yes. Will it force website administrators to put stronger locks on the doors? Yes. Will it result in better security on high profile websites? Yes.

Is this really worthy of every Israeli news site's screaming headlines? No.

But considering that there isn't anything more pressing to report... I guess we should count our blessings.

Posted by David Bogner on January 16, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Conditional Permission? What's that?

Having lived here in Israel for more than eight years, I am proud to report that in most ways, I have become acclimated to the local culture.

It's hard to say whether I have actually become culturally Israeli, or if I am simply less sensitive to the cultural differences between my actions and the actions of those who were born and raised here.

But of all the little cultural differences that I used to notice (and write about here) there remains one defining act which, for me, embodies the essence of true 'Israeli-ness': The curb-to-curb turn.

Anyone who has ever driven a car knows what a curb-to-curb, or three-point, turn is. With the proliferation of European-style 'round-abouts' here in Israel, one would think that curb-to-curb turns would become an artifact as anachronistic as throwing soiled toilet tissue in the trash bin next to the toilet instead of flushing it down the drain.

But one would be wrong.

What startles me anew each time I see someone making a curb-to-curb turn is not that they are doing it… but rather how they are doing it. The how of this simple driving maneuver remains a yawning chasm between the mindset of native born Israelis and those who learned to drive abroad.

Allow me to explain:

A typical immigrant who learned to drive in, say, Canada or the US, knows that while a curb-to curb turn may be required in order to reverse the direction of travel in places such as a parking lot or residential street, it may only be performed under the following circumstances:

1. No oncoming vehicles are approaching from the opposite direction
2. No vehicles are following or approaching from behind
3. There is ample room to be able to perform the curb-to-curb in a quick, three-point maneuver

Once these three criteria have been met, the immigrant driver quickly turns the car into the first point of the three point run. Before the car has even come to a complete stop, the transmission is put in reverse, and the car is quickly backed to achieve the second point of the turn. Again, before the car has fully stopped, the transmission is put into 'Drive' (or first gear) and the car is propelled quickly into the new direction of travel... hopefully causing inconveneience to no one.

However, if the curb-to-curb is not performed quickly enough, and/or a car suddenly appears from either direction, a typical immigrant driver will suddenly feel pressure, and will likely break out in a sweat…. while trying to complete the curb-to-curb even quicker than had previously been planned. Once completed, an apologetic wave and shrug are required to be offered in the direction of the oncoming (or following) driver who has been inconvenienced by your poorly planned/timed curb-to-curb.

Native born Israelis, on the other hand, see curb-curb-to-curb turns the way they see everything else on the road. In fact every single action of a native Israeli, on or off the road, falls into one of two clearly defined categories: Permitted or Forbidden. There are no grey area of 'conditionally forbidden' or 'conditionally permitted'.

This is why stop signs never made any inroads here, and had to be replaced by 'round-abouts'. Israelis couldn't grasp the idea of 'you have to stop, and then only proceed if the intersection is clear… and then only in order of preference, starting with the vehicle to your right'. That kind of rule based on multiple levels of conditional permissions blew all the circuits in the Israeli driver's mind.

That's also why as soon as a solid center line gives way to a broken center line, Israelis feel free – compelled even - to pull out and pass the car in front of them without regard to whether any cars are approaching in the oncoming lane.

The broken line allows passing. Therefore, it is incumbent upon oncoming traffic to somehow adjust to the sudden appearance of the Israeli's vehicle in their lane. Otherwise, it would be forbidden. Right?

I can already hear you starting to quote your high school Driver's Ed. Teacher, ""You may pass on a broken line, but only after checking to make sure you have enough time to complete the pass without interfering with oncoming traffic. If the oncoming lane isn’t clear, you are not allowed to pass".

Silly immigrant! What you have just described is an example of 'conditional permission'. Remember, there is no such thing here in Israel. Rules here are binary: Permitted or Forbidden.

So when an Israeli executes a curb-to-curb turn, in their mind they are performing a 100% legally permitted act. Therefore, traffic approaching from either direction must make allowances and wait patiently.

An Israeli will execute the first leg of the three point turn quickly. Not out of any sense of urgency, mind you. But rather to announce unambiguously to everyone else on the road that the maneuver has begun.

You see, in a society where everything is either permitted or forbidden, ambiguity is the enemy. If anyone can reasonably tell a policeman or insurance investigator that your intentions were not clear, you are to blame. But if you act boldly, in such a way as to remove all doubt in the minds of those around you as to what you were trying to do... you are 100% in the right (or so goes the Israeli way of thinking).

So once that first leg of the curb-to-curb has been accomplished (effectively blocking both lanes of travel), the Israeli driver feels no pressure to proceed precipitously. Radio stations can be adjusted...coffee can be sipped... cigarettes can be lit...make-up can be checked (or even applied)... all without regard to anyone who might be waiting.

Because permitted is permitted. Having to complete the turn within a given period of time would suggest conditional permission. And such a concept is alien to the culturally Israeli way of doing things.

Which is why, at least in this regard, I will always be considered an immigrant.

Posted by David Bogner on January 11, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

A Vespa Ride through the Old City of Jerusalem

A couple of weeks ago I was playing around with the new helmet camera I got and decided to take a spin on my Vespa through the Old City on a Friday morning.

I'm sure most of you have walked or driven this route many times. But I've included some labels in the video for those who have never been so they have a frame of reference.

Anyway, enjoy!

BTW, the background music is 'Jerusalem' by Matisyahu. If you liked it, consider supporting this artist by purchasing his music on iTunes. He has a lot of great music.

Posted by David Bogner on January 10, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (35) | TrackBack

Monday, January 09, 2012

Not quite understanding the process

Yesterday the Knesset approved a new law that will provide free education for children starting at age three, as well as discounted aftercare. The internal debate and fast-track process that led to the passing of the ground breaking legislation came as a direct result of the social justice protests held last summer, and is just one of several initiatives that have been given priority by the Netanyahu government in answer to the protester's demands. [source]

The budget allotment to support the new law was achieved through unprecedented cooperation among ministries where all but the defense budget saw cuts.

Not surprisingly, one of the spokespeople of the social justice movement (presumably an economics major) was quick to condemn the passage of the new law:

"Itzik Shmuli, Chairman of the National Student Union, rejected the new law and said, “The Free Education Law is a desirable and necessary move and is one of the main demands of the protest movement, but the decision to implement it through broad budget cutting is no more than a budgetary trick that takes from one pocket and moves into another pocket.” [source]

In response to Mr. Shmuli's comments, the Israeli government has kicked off an urgent initiative to generate new income from rainbow dust and unicorn farts. Because, like, there should be an infinite amount of money available to fulfill the whims of today's youth.

Posted by David Bogner on January 9, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Solving a problem begins by calling it by its proper name

It's difficult these days to talk about anything associated with the 'ultra-religious' (i.e. Hareidi') sector of Israeli society without being drawn into an unhealthy mix of side-issues that, if extant in any other sector of the population, would not be seen as being in any way relevant.

For example, open a discussion of the terms of service by ultra-orthodox Jews in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), and you will not only find yourself being given contradictory information that ultra-orthodox don't serve in the IDF, and that they are taking over the IDF... but you will also likely be dragged into a discussion of the illegal behavior or the ultra-orthodox civilians(!) towards their less Hareidi neighbors in Beit Shemesh, and their attempts to segregate Israeli buses along gender lines.

The problem in allowing the mixing of all these issues/stories into a single discussion isn't that they aren't true (at least in part), but rather that they attempt to discuss all religious people when each of the sub-discussions being tossed in may only apply to a specific (and often tiny, non-representative) portion of the religious/Hareidi population.

This is akin to trying to hold an intelligent discussion about affirmative action in the US while allowing the introduction of side issues such as welfare statistics, crime rates, the prevalence of single parenthood within the black community, and even unsubstantiated personal anecdotes by participants in the discussion about negative interactions they've had with blacks. 

In short, not only does a productive discussion of affirmative action become impossible under such circumstances, but the discussion can't help but be hijacked by those whose intention it is to portray African Americans in as unsympathetic a light as possible… specifically so as to make them seem undeserving of any sort of systemic preferential treatment (such as affirmative action).

I use the example of affirmative action advisedly.  According to a commonly accepted definition, affirmative action refers to policies that take factors including "race, color, religion, gender, sexual orientation or national origin" into consideration in order to benefit an underrepresented group, usually as a means to counter the effects of a history of discrimination. [emphasis mine] [source]

I don't think anyone will argue that new policies and laws being introduced in the IDF and Israeli society as a whole, are intended to benefit Hareidim because historically they have been underrepresented.  The main difference here is that the underrepresentation of Hareidim in the IDF, and the Israeli workforce, has largely been a matter of their own choice rather than the workforce and the IDF overtly excluding them.

But even that isn't entirely correct.  And to illustrate this I need to borrow yet another example from the US.

I served in the U.S. Navy at a time when women were just beginning to be allowed to serve on combat ships, and in roles/areas that had been entirely male bastions.   

I recall that suddenly there was a lot of discussion of topics that had never been raised onboard American Navy ships such as 'appropriate behavior', 'sexual harassment', 'creating a hostile environment', etc..  

Also, inspections were being held on a regular basis to ensure that Playboy centerfolds and other potentially offensive images were no longer taped up in workspaces, and workshops were held to role play what kind of jokes and slang was acceptable in a mixed-gender environment, and what was considered appropriate behavior between superiors and subordinates of different gender.

Things that had formerly been considered part and parcel of 'team building' and 'unit cohesion' such as initiations, hazing and good natured reinforcement of the military hierarchy known as the 'Chain of Command' had to be reexamined to see how they would be perceived by women. 

Needless to say, whether or not you were in favor of the gender integration of Navy ships, you had to admit that the practical aspects of integration required a significant upheaval of the prevailing culture if the new system was going to work.

It has taken awhile, but a combination of economic and cultural pressures on the Israeli Hareidi community has begun to make them reassess the workability of their isolationist policies.  

First of all, the Israeli government's slow winnowing of benefits to larger families (a policy begin by current Prime Minister Natenyahu when he was Ariel Sharon's Finance Minister), by itself has had little effect on the Hareidi population's willingness to make internal changes.  

But add to those polices the global financial down-turn which has shattered the model by which a significant portion of the Hareidi population subsisted, at least in part, on largess from more affluent Hareidi communities and organizations abroad… and suddenly you have a community that is extremely motivated to find new ways to support itself.

So for a number of reasons, the proportion of Hareidim in Israel who want to join the workforce has taken a noticeable jump.  The problem is that translating the desire to work into actually going to work requires a clearing a legal hurdle:  According to Israeli law, you can't legally get a job without having done military, or some other approved national service.  

One could argue that this law isn't applied uniformly / equitably across the board to Israel's Arab population (or even to some segments of Israel's secular draft dodgers), but that's a discussion for another day.  I won't fall victim to the same sort of topic blending that I complained about above.

For whatever reason, the Hareidim have begun to be stirred from their isolationist slumber, and are starting, albeit slowly, to be show up in the IDF and the civilian workforce.  It is a trickle at present… but with the right encouragement, it could swell to a torrent.

I would argue that this is a good thing.  There is a lot of work yet to be done, and the numbers need to grow exponentially… but you can't complain that a segment of the population isn’t carrying its load… and yet continue to make them feel unwelcome when they show up to shoulder their share.

Like those U.S. Navy combat ships that saw the first female officers and sailors serving aboard them, the IDF has a period of adjustment ahead of it.  And media reports incorrectly portraying religious soldiers' unwillingness to listen to female voices in song as a desire to outlaw women singing in the IDF is not helpful (to say the least).

Retired Israeli judge Tzvi Tal said it far better than I ever could when he offered the following to an interviewer this past week on that topic:

"I think this matter of women's singing is strange. No one forbids women's singing. There is a group that thinks that for religious reasons, it must not listen to women's singing. So why force it upon them? Why do the 'champions' of freedom of expression and the 'champions' of minority rights want to force this [singing] upon a minority?" … "Who said that [female soldiers] must not sing? Let them sing until they are blue in the face." … "Let's say that another minority in the army says that it refuses to hear women's singing – the Druze or Circassians, for instance. Would anyone force it upon them? Does service in the IDF compel people to listen to singing? Service in the IDF demands self-sacrifice. And this, these [religious] soldiers are willing to give."  [source]

I couldn't agree more. 

For many religious (not just Hareidi) soldiers, hearing a woman sing is as overtly erotic as a Playboy pinup.  You can argue all you want that they need to toughen up and join the modern world.  But in doing so, you are also saying that those women who began serving on U.S. Navy back in the 80s should also have 'toughened up' and acclimated themselves to the testosterone-laden environment they were so keen to join.  

The difference is that, unlike the navy example I gave earlier… the IDF isn't saying that in order to make religious soldiers feel more comfortable female singing should be eliminated from all gatherings and ceremonies.  No, they are simply saying that anyone who might have trouble listening to it should not be forced to do so (and should be quietly excused).

Sadly, one wouldn't know that from the news coverage and public discussion of the subject.

In fact, this has been the defacto policy for decades in the IDF.  It only became a cause célèbre for the media when a secular commander in an elite IDF naval officer's course decided to break with the accepted status quo and ordered several religious cadets to remain in an organized event where women were singing.  The cadets followed their conscience instead of their commander's orders, and as a result, were dismissed from the course (most have subsequently been readmitted).  

I tried having this discussion with one of my coworkers, and was shocked to have him start talking to me about the ultra-religious who were attacking less religious school children in Beit Shemesh, and others who were trying to force women to sit at the back of public buses.  He even tossed all religious settlers under the proverbial bus due to the criminal actions of a few teenagers who had recently thrown rocks at an army officer.  

No amount of persuasion on my part that such actions were as illegal as they were non-representative of the larger populations to which the perpetrators belonged, had the slightest affect on the bile being spewed by this gentleman.  All he knew was that these problems were being caused by 'those religious fanatics', so he felt justified in attacking the entire group.

When I asked him how he would feel if I asked him to take personal responsibility for the leftists who had injured scores of soldiers and police officers over the last few years at daily protests over the route of the 'separation fence', he waved me away with a dismissing hand.  

I asked him if he felt that the criminal acts by Anat Kamm represented him?  I even asked if he wanted to be held responsible for the nearly daily acts of violence carried out in Tel Aviv and Natanya by rival crime gangs?   

After his initial dismissal, my questions fell on deaf ears.  He considered my questions ridiculous (which, of course they were)… but could not make the intellectual leap to see that his blanket accusations were equally silly.

In short, we all seem to see our own camp as a richly diverse heterogeneous mosaic, while we see those we dislike (or simply don't understand) as belonging to a monolithic, homogeneous block possessing the attributes and intentions of its most deviant and subversive members.

I've written this today, not because I have a suggestion on how to get the media to stop mixing unrelated subjects and inciting baseless suspicion and hatred between the religious and non-religious segments of Israeli society.  I have written it because sometimes the only way to begin to solve a problem is to identify it and begin calling it by its proper name; In this case, Bigotry.

Posted by David Bogner on January 8, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (16) | TrackBack

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Don't Support MDA 'Court Jews'

I have written in the past about my deep displeasure with the International Red Cross' insistence that the Israeli chapter (MDA; Magen David Adom; Red Star of David) jump through hoops and debase itself in order to maintain its conditional membership.

The most glaring example of this is the requirement, to which Israeli Magen David Adom acquiesced, that its teams operating abroad abandon the Red Star of David in favor of a non-sectarian 'Red Crystal' that would, presumably, be less offensive to the sensibilities of Muslims and Christians in the countries where Israeli MDA crews might be called upon to render assistance.


Because, you know, the Red Cross and Red Crescent are non-sectarian too, right?

Anyway... several months ago, residents of Judea and Samaria began noticing a disturbing trend.  Whenever one of the Magen David Adom ambulances stationed in a community over the green line went in for routine maintenance, it came back with the MDA logo removed, and in its place a generic red star.

When reports of this trend hit the news, MDA rushed to send out press releases and emails assuring the public (and their financial supporters) that there was no change in MDA policy regarding serving Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria.  They explained that it was simply a natural trend towards making the various communities more autonomous in terms of providing emergency medical services.

Hmmm.  Yeah, I wasn't convinced either. 

Not to worry, an agreement between MDA Israel and the International Red Cross soon came to light that formally "abrogated the right to serve any areas not recognized internationally as within Israel's borders.  [excluding] large population centers such as  Kiryat Arba, Efrat, Maaleh Adumim, Ariel, Kedumim and parts of Jerusalem as well as all the smaller Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria".

Today Israeli MDA finally offically admitted that they had, in fact, changed their policy regarding serving the communities in Judea and Samaria. 

But according to the report, they justified their action by explaining that the new agreement was made "because it raises the status of [MDA] as an official member of the International Red Cross".  And that "[MDA's] membership allows it to participate in worldwide rescue efforts and to receive funds from the organization, according to the MDA".

At first blush this sounds reasonable.  Until, that is, one stops to consider who actually benefits; Israel or MDA?. 

Once you ask that question MDA comes off sounding a lot like the classic definition of a 'Court Jew'. 

For those who aren't familiar with the concept, historically a 'Court Jew' was someone who, in return for serving the agenda of a wealthy patron, gained social privileges—sometimes even titles—and was allowed to live outside the Jewish ghettoes and mingle with non-Jewish society.

How is that different from what we're seeing here?  In return for the privilege of being able to go out and rub shoulders with the rest of the world, MDA is being asked to show its willingness to serve the agenda of a wealthy patron; the International Red Cross.

Isn't it in the interest of the International Red Cross to have Israeli MDA teams respond to international emergencies? 

Is it such an honor for us to be able to participate in such efforts that MDA should turn its back on its domestic responsibilities? 

And it also begs the questions of just how much of MDA's funding comes from the International Red Cross, as opposed to private funding?

Well, I propose that we help MDA weigh these important questions. 

I encourage those who support MDA financially to give directly to Israeli hospitals and to community medical clinics, instead of continuing to help the Court Jews at MDA maintain their status with those who have shunned us at every turn, and who wish to gain an unhealthy influence in our internal affairs.

Posted by David Bogner on January 4, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (11) | TrackBack