Monday, December 30, 2013
A New Olympic Event: Political Correctness
...and the New York Times has scored a perfect 10 with its coverage of the second suicide bombing in Russia in 24 hours with their article entitled "Second Blast Hits Russia, Raising Olympic Fears". Yet nowhere in the lengthy article did they even allude to the 1972 Munich Olympics.
For those of us who remember the 1972 Olympic Massacre in which most of the Israeli Olympic team was murdered by a PLO terror group calling itself 'Black September', it seems inconceivable that there could possibly be any discussion of the Olympic Games and their vulnerability to terror attacks without some mention of Munich.
After all, even though previous modern Olympic games had been tarnished by political manipulations (e.g. the 1936 summer Olympics hosted by Hitler in Berlin), 1972 was the first targeted with political violence.
And yet, in the New York Times article discussing the world's concerns about Russia's security preparations for the Winter Olympics to be held in the Caucus city of Sochi, the Munich Olympic massacre isn't mentioned, even parenthetically.
It seems that the Times has joined the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in not wanting to "alienate other members of the Olympic community" by mentioning the Palestinians in an unflattering light. After all, they are now part of the big, happy Olympic family of nations!
Here's a bit of fun Olympic trivia for those who are interested in such things:
- According to Abu Daud, the Palestinian mastermind behind the Munich Olympic massacre, the funding for Black September's Munich attack was approved and provided by Mahmoud Abbas (the current President of the 'moderate' Fatah led Palestinian Authority). [source]
- The day after the Munich Olympic massacre, the IOC decided that despite the killing of most of a participating national contingent, the games had to continue... and they quickly organized a memorial service attended by 80,000 spectators and 3,000 athletes in the Olympic Stadium. However, in his speech at the event praising the strength of the Olympic movement and equating the attack with the recent arguments about encroaching professionalism and disallowing Rhodesia's participation in the Games, IOC President Avery Bundage made no reference whatsoever to the murdered Israeli athletes. [source]
- During the memorial service, the Olympic Flag was flown at half-mast, along with the flags of most of the other competing nations. However ten Arab nations objected to their flags being lowered to honor murdered Israelis; so the Olympic organizers allowed those nation's flags to be restored to the tops of their flagpoles. Once the memorial service was concluded, all of the flags were returned to the top of their flagpoles and remained there for the rest of the Munich games. [source]
- Once the Munich games resumed, many of the 80,000 people who filled the Olympic Stadium for West Germany's football match with Hungary carried noisemakers and waved flags, but when several spectators unfurled a banner reading "17 dead, already forgotten?" Olympic security officers removed the sign and expelled those responsible from the grounds. [source]
- Many people mistakenly assume that all of the Black September terrorists were killed during the botched German rescue attempt at the Munich airport. In fact, three of the eight terrorists survived with relatively minor wounds and were arrested and held for trial in Germany. However a month later the PLO hijacked Lufthansa Flight 615 and threatened to blow up the plane with all aboard if the three Munich terrorists were not released. Germany, likely relieved at being presented with the opportunity to avoid the international scrutiny over their handling of the Olympic attack that a trial would entail, immediately released the terrorists and they were flown to Libya where they received a hero's welcome and held a triumphant press conference. [source]
- The IOC has refused repeated requests from Israel to observe a moment of silence at the opening ceremonies of the Olympic games in memory of the slaughtered Israeli athletes and coaches. The reason given is "it would be inappropriate" and that it might offend some olympic participants. Obviously it is never made clear which participants might find the condemnation of the massacre of an Olympic team by terrorists, 'offensive'.
- Individual athletes can be disqualified, and even banned for life, from participating in the Olympics for a range of offenses, including using performance enhancing drugs and other banned substances. However,the Palestinian Authority (the current incarnation of the PLO which planned, approved and financed the Munich massacre), has been sending teams to represent 'Palestine' at the Olympic Games since 1996.
The New York Times is far from alone in their deliberate obfuscation of Munich as 'patient zero' of the epidemic of the Olympic games being targeted by terrorism. But to be fair, they are in good company with most of the world's media, and of course, the OIC, in willfully ignoring the very essence of what the Modern Olympics was supposed to echo from its ancient past:
Specifically, from 776 BCE until 394 CE, the ancient Olympic Games were held every four years despite international warfare whose brutality would dwarf today's relatively sterile conflicts. What made this possible was a remarkable idea called an Olympic Truce. The truce (Ancient Greek: ékécheiria, meaning "laying down of arms"), was announced before and during the Olympic Games to ensure the host city state was not attacked, and athletes and spectators could travel safely to the Games and peacefully return to their respective countries. During the truce period (lasting up to three months), wars were suspended, armies were prohibited from threatening the Games, legal disputes were stopped, and death penalties were forbidden. [source]
In 1990s the modern OIC revived the tradition by calling on all nations to observe the Olympic Truce. Heck, the UN even issued resolution 48/11 of 25 October 1993, making the Olympic Truce all nice and official. [source] But like most well-meaning modern declarations and UN Resolutions, this one wasn't worth the paper on which it is written.
And because newspapers like the New York Times balk at the mere mention of the attack on the Munich Olympics, much less actually holding the guilty party up for international condemnation! (because, you know, it might offend many of the participating nations), the very idea of a modern Olympic Truce will remain just that; an idea.
Instead of the Olympics being a sacrosanct event that would call down the world's wrath on whoever might violate them, terrorists around the world now train and prepare for the Olympic Games every bit as diligently as the athletes. After all, there is little to be lost by targeting the games, and if history is any teacher, quite a bit to be gained!
An Australian Army General named David Morrison recently delivered a scorching speech which is recommended watching for any thinking person. But it was most remarkable for the fact that his central point transcended the subject. In fact one single sentence from his speech could just as easily have been talking about the topic I've been writing about today:
"The standard you walk past is the standard you accept".
General Morrison was talking about sexual harassment in the ranks. But his point is just as cogent to the world's willingness to walk past certain kinds of religious and political violence so as not to upset practitioners of a certain religion or school of political thought.
In my humble opinion, the New York Times should receive an Olympic medal in this Political Correctness event they have so soundly endorsed by willfully ignoring the genesis of Olympic terrorism; the 1972 Munich massacre.
Thursday, December 26, 2013
The violence here is many things... but not cyclical
Anyone who happened to be surfing the New York Times Middle East page yesterday morning was greeted with the following little gem:
Aside from trotting out the well worn (and demonstrably false) 'cycle of violence' cannard, the author managed, in surprisingly few words, to suggest a moral equivalency between the deliberate murder of an Israeli civilian worker by a Palestinian terrorist, and the unfortunate collateral death of a young Palestinian child when a rocket launcher that Hamas (or one of the other terror groups in Gaza), had cynically installed next to her home, was destroyed in an air strike by the Air Force of the sovereign State of Israel.
When US drones kill terrorists in Yemen, Pakistan or Afghanistan, the Times doesn't talk about a 'cycle of violence'. There are terrorists and there are those who attempt to kill them before (or after) they kill innocent people. The process is linear, not cyclical.
There is, however, a lot of discussion in the Times about collateral deaths and damage in many of these extra-judicial killings (we might as well call them what they are, right?). And that's as it should be. Before and after any such action there needs to be a serious cost/benefit analysis to ensure the costs of such strikes do not dwarf the benefits.
But in their reporting, the Times doesn't write that the US and Al Qeada are engaged in a cycle of violence. The Times doesn't report that the US and the Taliban are engaged in a cycle of violence.
There is certainly violence... but as I stated earlier, it is not a cycle.
So why is Israel's legitimate (according to the United State's Government's own statements), targeting of Hamas' and Islamic Jihad' (both of which are formally recognized as terror organizations by the US and European Union), personnel and infrastructure consistently reported by the Times as if the Bloods and the Crips are going at each other in South Central LA instead of a legitimate military operation carried out by a sovereign nation in defense of its citizens?
The answer is simple:
The Times would like its readers to reach the conclusion that the State of Israel is on the same level as the illegitimate terror groups that continuously attack its citizens. 'Forget that the government of a sovereign nation's primary responsibility is to protect its citizens'. 'Pay no attention to the fact that only one side feels in any way bound by international law and the conventions of modern warfare'. 'It's the middle east... why can't those savages just stop killing one another?!', right?!
But the Times' mendacious reporting doesn't stop there.
To the uninformed reader (which, according to the rules of journalism is assumed to be 100% of those reading any given article), the news snippet above provides the following simple narrative:
'An Israeli laborer was killed, so Israel retaliated by killing a Palestinian toddler'.
Just the chance to juxtapose the deaths of an Israeli laborer (presumably an adult) and a Palestinian toddler in so deliberate a fashion must have given some Times copy editor a case of the vapors!
I have a little fantasy:
I would like to handcuff the right hands of the entire New York Times Middle East Desk to the chain link fence separating Israel and the Gaza strip... the very fence, in fact, that the Israeli civilian laborer was repairing when he was murdered by the Palestinian sniper.
Oh, don't worry... I'd outfit each of them with bullet proof vests; albeit ones that only had ballistic armor on one side; the back.
I'd leave them there, chained to that fence by one hand, until the inevitable orientation of their bodies provided an admission that the bullets that could rip their vital organs to shreds at any moment, could only arrive from one direction... their fear and certainty turning them to face towards Israel, and in so doing, forcing them to finally look our tired, blameless citizens in the face while admitting that the violence here is many things... but it isn't cyclical.
Wednesday, December 25, 2013
A Holy Day
We all know what today is. That's right, it's the day when Jews traditionally go to the movies in the afternoon and then dine on Chinese food. At least that was the tradition back in the 'alter heim' (e.g. America).
If not for the Jews, who esle would have kept all the Chinese restaurants and movie theaters in business on Xmas?
But then Shmulke Bernstein's went out of business and the treppenwitz family moved to Israel... and sadly, the traditions have largely fallen by the wayside. After all, for most of us here in Israel (except for those in Bethlehem and Nazereth), today is just another work day.
I have to tell you, I love living here, and have no misgivings whatsoever.
But I gotta admit... I could really go for a matinée, followed by a nice serving of chicken Egg Foo Yung.
Happy Wednesday! ;-)
[and yes, Virginia... I'm aware this is not an authentic sign.]
Tuesday, December 24, 2013
Get a Clue, Clouseau!
I'm wondering how long these terror attacks will continue before our government decides - Clouseau-like - that a pattern just might be emerging.
Here are just a few of the most recent clues, Inspector:
December 7th: Two rockets fired into Israel from Gaza
December 16th: Israeli sailor is killed by a sniper near the Lebanese border.
December 22nd: A bomb explodes on a bus in a community south of Tel Aviv
December 23rd: A terrorist is shot while planting a bomb next to the Gaza fence.
December 23rd: A rocket fired from Gaza lands in a residential area south of Ashkelon
December 23rd: An Israeli policeman is stabbed in the back by a terrorist (but survives)
December 24th: A civilian worker repairing the Gaza fence (damaged in the recent storm) is killed by sniper fire.
For context, there were 82 terror attacks* recorded in July of 2013, 99 in August, 133 in September, 139 in October and 167 in November. Anyone want to venture a guess whether December will follow this trend?
Now let's see, what else has been going on since mid summer that might correspond with the terror attacks? Oh I know; the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks!
Get a clue, Clouseau... we see this every time peace talks are underway. There is nothing isolated or spontaneous about these attacks. They are well coordinated to turn up the heat on Israel without being concentrated enough to elicit a strong military response. The goal is to whip the Israeli left and liberal media into a chorus of "See what the occupation is causing? Let's just agree to anything so we can make it stop!!!".
I hope that the Oslo Accords, 2000 Camp David Summit and the Gaza Disengagement have provided proof enough to even the most clueless observer that acting rashly under fire is never going to earn us a single day of quiet, much less peace!
I suggest a week away from the negotiating table for every act of terror. To do otherwise is to negotiate with a gun to our head.
* A terror attack is defined as any attack with a nationalistic motive (as determined by the police or security forces), and can include rocks, Molotov cocktails, stabbings, shootings, bombs, rockets, etc.
Sunday, December 22, 2013
A Bilingual 10-Year-Old Israeli and a Used Dog
I've had to cut back on posting embarrassing personal stories about our kids because, well, I suddenly realized that at some point they are going to be in charge of picking out my nursing home.
But some stories are just too cute not to share.
Our youngest son, Yonah, recently turned 10. He is a good student and an excellent athlete. And in so many ways he is already far more Israeli than Zahava or I will ever be.
But despite our shortcomings in Hebrew, we recognize that mastery of (or at least proficiency in) English is the key to Yonah's future opportunities. So we have been taking pains to speak to him exclusively in that language at home, and have even invested in a private tutor to work with him on honing his English reading and writing skills.
But invariably, a kid who spends 98% of his waking hours speaking, reading, writing and thinking in Hebrew, is bound to have a few rough patches in his use and understanding of English; rough patches which he strives valiantly to bridge with Israeli ingenuity and logic.
For example, a few months ago Yonah had gone to sleep with wet hair after a bedtime shower and came downstairs in the morning with his hair sticking out at crazy angles. He sat down at the breakfast table, composed his question carefully, and asked, "Did someone come upstairs while I was sleeping and try to haircut me?"
When the rest of the family had finished wiping away the tears of laughter, we gently explain to him that, while it may be the norm in Hebrew, English does not automatically embrace other parts of speech masquerading as verbs. Had someone come upstairs and tried to give him a haircut? No.
The jury is still out if this particular lesson will take hold.
Another ongoing battle is Yonah's penchant for beginning interrogative sentences with the word, 'right'... as in, "Right, you told me I could go play football [soccer] with my friends after school if I took out the trash?"
While this arrangement may be perfectly acceptable in Hebrew, it is jarring to the native English speaker's ear, and as a last resort we have begun affecting deafness whenever he does this.
After three or four tries without getting a response, he finally sighs deeply, rolls his eyes and says, "You said I could go play football [soccer] with my friends after school if I took out the trash, right?"... to which he gets an immediate positive or negative reply (depending on the accuracy/truthfulness of his statement).
Another little language tic which makes me want to have him surgically fitted with electrodes so I can surreptitiously trigger a corrective remote-control shock is his use of the words 'many' and 'much' interchangeably. No matter how many times I explain to him that 'many' is for discrete units (people, tires, hours, meatballs, etc.), and 'much' is for things that are measured in graduated amounts (sand, time, cereal, juice, etc.), he still asks, "How much people are coming for Shabbat?".
And on the rare occasions when he does manage to get a handle on this important distinction, he'll come out with something truly breathtaking like, "How much time until we get there?" (which, while technically correct, usually provokes a response like, "Did you mean, how soon will we be there?")... sending him into an annoyed silence (which is a serendipitous turn of events on most long car trips).
I'm sure to some of you reading along, this all sounds a bit pedantic (or even mean-spirited) on our part. But we see ourselves as the last bulwark against the day when a 27 year old Yonah will walk into a job interview with an International widget company and ask, "Right, zis is where zeh interview is for zeh associate widget engineer? You can to tell me how many time the interview will take?"
Then there are the idioms which aren't technically wrong... but which often require a gentle correction, none-the-less.
For example, a few months ago Yonah was reminiscing about our deceased dog, Jordan. Jordan was already part of the family when Yonah was born, and we adopted our present dog, Lulu, when Yonah was old enough to remember her arrival. So in an effort to gain a better understanding of family lore, his question to me was, "Did we get Jordan as a puppy or was she a used dog?".
It took everything in my power not to laugh. I think I even bit my tongue to stem the belly laugh that was brewing. Yonah is old enough to know that adult animals that are adopted often come from a previous owner... but his tenuous grasp of English idioms tripped him up... and will almost certainly continue to 'out' him in the future as someone who is not a native English speaker.
We've all had those moments where we've been conversing with a stranger whose English is perfect and unaccented... until some shibboleth comes tumbling awkwardly off the stranger's tongue, allowing us to make a mental note that there is a bit of 'international flavor' in the speaker's back-story.
By the way, I may be a bit of a pedant, but I didn't have the heart to shatter such a touching moment of family reminiscence. In response to Yonah's sweet inquiry about our previous dog... I simply smiled and said, "Yes, Yonah... Jordan was a used dog".
Sunday, December 15, 2013
A couple feet of the white stuff
Yeah, I'm sure those of you from upstate New York, Canada, North Dakota and Minnesota are looking at that title and going, "So? That's most days here in the winter!".
The problem is that the unlike places such as those I just mentioned, on the one or two times per year when Israel gets a decent amount of snow, we are faced with certain, um, limitations:
- There are only a handful of snow plows, so it takes a long time to dig out.
- The electrical infrastructure is not designed to withstand snow.
- Israelis get so little opportunity to practice driving in snow that they are essentially clueless.
The result is that once an inch or two accumulates, the army just closes all the roads.
The snow started falling on Wednesday night, and by Thursday morning was deep enough to bring down trees (and power lines), block roads and bring the affected areas to a standstill.
There were long periods where we lost power (did I mention we heat with electricity), but for most of this long weekend we were relatively well off.
The same can't be said of the tens of thousands of households that lost power early and still aren't back online. It isn't for lack of trying, mind you. It's just that the Israel Electrical repair crews can't always reach the damaged areas of their infrastructure without help from the army.
There have been some truly inspiring stories of rescues (army helicopter airlifting a woman in labor to the hospital for a problematic delivery), hospitality (strangers hosting stranded drivers who walked in off the main roads after abandoning their vehicles) and people sharing whatever they have with those who were without.
Ariella and Gilad were both supposed to be away for Shabbat, but one serendipitious aspect of the storm was that we had our entire family here with us.
We have, or more correctly had, three very tall poplar trees out in our front yard. They offered shade in the summer and privacy year round. Two of them snapped in half under the weight of the snow. The jury is still out on whether the third one will spring back from being bent over nearly double.
Anyway, the main roads are still closed, and probably will remain closed until later this afternoon. So for the time being we're shoveling, chipping ice, sawing the downed trees and dragging them out to the curb.
Here are a few pics:
Gilad and a friend.
Ariella early in the storm
Thursday, December 05, 2013
The Eggnog Post
For quite some time, "eggnog season" here at chez treppenwitz has run from Thanksgiving to Hannukah.
You can see how that would be a little problematic this year, right?
Truth be told, we started a little early this year... and due to a special request from Ariella, who will miss much of the eggnog season due to being away in the army, we will be whipping up our last batch of this rich, creamy beverage on her birthday in early January.
Soooo, once again... for those don't have access to store-bought 'nog (or if you just want to take your eggnog consumption to the next level), here's a foolproof recipe from a certified fool:
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 cups whipping cream
2 cups milk
3/4 cup brandy, rum or bourbon (optional but highly recommended)
All liquids should be very cold. Refrigerate in advance.
Beat the eggs for 2 or 3 minutes with an electric mixer at medium speed until very frothy. Gradually beat in the sugar, vanilla and nutmeg. Turn the mixer off and stir in the cold booze, whipping cream and milk.
Chill some more before serving (if you can wait... I never can). Sprinkle individual servings with more nutmeg.
Makes a little over 2 quarts (after taking several 'samples' for quality control purposes)
What are you still doing here looking at the screen?! The kitchen is that way!
Note: If for some strange reason you end up with leftover eggnog (something that almost never happens here), you can add a splash to your morning coffee and/or make french toast with it.
Don't thank me... I'm a giver! :-)
Wednesday, December 04, 2013
'Tis The Season (according to some)
I've been hearing from some of my friends in the US that the smell of stuffing and turkey wasn't even out of the kitchen before stores and malls began breaking out the Christmas decorations and music.
Personally, I sort of miss Christmas music for purely cultural reasons (I grew up in New England!). But I can understand how some might find the early onset of 'the season' (some vendors already had Christmas stuff on display as soon as the Halloween decorations come down!!!), to be a tad intrusive.
It turns out that I can help you out with a little insider information from the Holy Land.
In the Bible, Efrat (the town where I live) and Bethlehem are used interchangeably. At that time, apparently they were one and the same. Today, Efrat is right next door to Bethlehem, and each time I make the ten minute trip to Jerusalem, I pass the entrance road to Bethlehem... just a few hundred yards from Manger Square.
What I'm here to tell you is that, at least as of today, there are no Christmas lights up in Manger Square or anywhere on the approach road to it. The Monastery on the Jerusalem side of Bethlehem has no decorations up yet, and the Christian Quarter of Jerusalem's Old CIty has yet to break out the Christmas trimmings.
I'll let you know when things start to go up here... but for the time being, if you want to have a chat with the management of your local mall or Home Depot (without being a grinch, mind you), you can politely tell them with some authority that it's crazy to be rocking Christmas decorations and holiday music in Hackensack or Peoria when at ground zero of Christianity they haven't begun to even un-box the tinsel!
Don't thank me... I'm a giver! :-)
Tuesday, December 03, 2013
I've met quite a few people via this blog over the years. Some have remained in the virtual realm, and a few have made the transition into real flesh and blood friendships.
One of the real life friends I have made via treppenwitz is a gentleman (and later, his wife) from the US who began following my blog early on... and after becoming an avid reader, made up his mind that he wanted to make my acquaintance.
Now, lest anyone think this sounds a little stalkerish... let me assure you that it turns out we knew plenty of people in common, and he even had a relative living in our community. But truth be told, making such a decision, and then quickly carrying it out, is actually quite typical of this gentleman. He lives life almost entirely on his own terms.
Which is how it came to pass as I was out puttering in our front yard one sunny day, that a stranger walked up to our garden gate with a big smile on his face, held out his hand and said, "Hi, I'm '______'... you must be treppenwitz".
I've never made any attempt to keep my identity a secret (much to my wife and kids' chagrin), so I didn't take this sudden introduction as any particular feat of detective work. But I have to admit that the few times I've been 'recognized' (to mis-use a term normally reserved for criminals and celebrities), I've been completely stunned that anyone would bother.
Our first introduction came about because he had been in my town visiting his relatives and had simply decided to walk the few blocks to my house and say hello.
Over the years since that day, his complete lack of reserve and almost child-like directness, have taken me, again and again, by surprise. Although I knew relatively little about him, here was a well respected family man, several years my senior, who had sought me out and had repeatedly taken great pains to make me feel smart, eloquent and even important.
As we corresponded, visited one another on family trips and got to know each other better, I discovered that there was no bluster or bluff to his outgoing persona. He is simply the most honest and direct person I think I have ever met. And his wife, while perhaps not quite so direct, is every bit as open and genuine.
One of the things that I figured out as I got to know this couple better is that they have attained, (through hard work, mind you), a level of affluence that has allowed them to do many things that most people in my circles only dream of.
I'm not talking about palatial homes, fancy cars or flashy clothing. Material possessions and the outward trimmings of wealth don't seem to be high on their agenda. In fact, they make their primary residence in a community that is next door to several neighboring wealthy enclaves, but is not, itself, associated with affluence.
Rather, they shuttle frequently between the US and Israel to dote on their children and grand kids... and are quietly generous with a wide range of philanthropic endeavors that few ever hear about.
In fact, even the one aspect of their life that struck me as a bit 'over the top'; owning a small private plane, turned out to be a hobby that allows this couple to take modest vacations around the US within their busy schedule, and as a highly qualified pilot, the husband is a frequent participant in 'Angel Flights', a volunteer organization of private pilots who provide free transportation for any legitimate medical-related need such as flying patients to and from distant hospitals for treatments.
A couple of years ago I was at the Israeli apartment they maintain to be able to be close to their kids' families when they visit, and I noticed a small photo of a Torah dedication ceremony. The image caught my eye because the photo showed a room full of religious Jews in typical Haredi garb (black hat, dark suits and ties), but my friend, who is also quite observant, was wearing a black cowboy hat instead of the typical fedoras that the other people in the picture were wearing.
I didn't even have to ask to know a couple of things:
First, based on the composition of the photo, my friend (and his wife, obviously) had donated the new Torah scroll whose dedication was being celebrated in the picture. And second, that although he too was dressed in a dark suit and tie... the black cowboy hat was his playful way of saying that he marched to the beat of his own drummer.
The reason I shared this last part is that a few weeks ago Zahava and I received a letter from these friends inviting us to yet another Torah dedication ceremony, to be held on the fifth night of Hanukkah. They had commissioned the writing of this new sefer Torah in memory of both their mothers who had passed in the previous two years.
For those who are not up on such things, a new Torah scroll is an incredibly extravagance. Putting aside the intrinsic holiness of the scroll for a moment... the cost of the huge amount of parchment required, the decorated wooden spindles, exquisitely embroidered mantle, hand beaten sterling silver crown and accoutrements... and of course paying a talented scribe to work for a year (or more) doing nothing else but hand writing the Torah... well you can take my word that it would be financially easier to purchase a high end luxury car than to commission (and give away) a new sefer Torah!
But this is exactly what my friends had done once already, and were about to do again!
Two nights ago was the dedication ceremony where the last few letters of the Torah would be written and the scroll then marched in a celebratory parade to its new home in a fledgeling Israeli synagogue.
Sadly with Ariella in the army, Gilad busy with his mechina and Zahava incapacitated with her annual change-of-season migraine, Yonah and I were the sole representatives of the treppenwitz household to be able to attend.
When we arrived at our friend's apartment, we were greeted with hugs and warm handshakes. I was amused to see that my friend was wearing his (now) trademark black cowboy hat with his modest dark suit, and that a pair of black cowboy boots were poking out from beneath his well pressed trousers.
On the drive down, Yonah had expressed some concern about attending the party. He is a shy kid to begin with, but he has also never had any contact with the Haredi world, and wasn't quite sure how they would view him in his navy blue pants, white shirt and white knitted kippah (yarmulkeh). I reassured him that he'd be fine, but in the back of my mind I was more worried about his sensitivity issues which make crowding, pushing and frequent jostling intolerable.
Have you ever been to a Haredi party of any kind?! Their celebratory enthusiasm is rivaled only by their lack of awareness of personal space.
As soon as the room started to fill up, Yonah pressed himself to my side and held onto my hand like a drowning man. As the crowd swelled, and adults and kids caromed off the furniture and one another, Yonah began to whimper. When a couple of kids actually crashed into him while pushing their way to the refreshment table, Yonah pleaded to be taken home.
Just then my friend and his wife broke away from the people they had been talking to and joined us in the corner of the room where we had taken refuge. I don't know if they had noted Yonah's body language, but they immediately engaged Yonah in conversation and asked him how old he was, what grade he was in, etc.. They spoke to him as though he were the guest of honor (something I would see each of them do to countless people all evening), with the result that Yonah not only was able to relax, but he actually began to feel like he belonged.
Once the scribe had arrived and seated himself at table on which the unfinished Torah had been placed, a crowd formed around him to watch the completion of the writing of the Torah.
One by one, bearded Rabbis and important members of the community were called to sit next to the scribe. The last few lines of the Torah had had the letters carefully outlined by the scribe... but not filled in. Each of the dignitaries was handed a feather quill dipped in the special ink, told to recite a brief statement that what they were about to do was for the holiness of writing a Torah, and then they filled in one of the remaining letters.
I explained to Yonah what they were doing, but because of the crowding and jostling, he was unable to catch a glimpse of what was going on. Then he asked if I was going to write one of the letters.
I had been to several Torah dedication ceremonies in the past, and had never been asked to write a letter. And looking around at the long beards and learned friends and associates of my friend, I confidently responded that no, we were just there to celebrate the birth of this new sefer Torah and to escort it to its new home at the neighborhood synagogue.
Yet once again, as if he had overheard my quiet conversation with Yonah (an impossibility in that din), my friend suddenly shouted to me over the heads of the crowd and gestured for me to come take a seat next to the scribe. I was suddenly excruciatingly conscious of the fact that I was the only adult there in Khakis and a white shirt (rather than the requisite Blues Brothers uniform).
Yonah and I made our way to the table as the crowd parted for us, and for the first and only time in my life, I actually wrote a letter in a sefer Torah. And it may sound like the worst sort of conceit, but having one's ten year old son standing at your elbow watching as you sit at the center of a crowded room wielding a quill to parchment, is heady stuff. For that moment, I felt like the biggest of big shots! I doubt John Hancock felt any more important when he got to make his famous mark.
After I'd handed the quill back to the scribe and started to get up, I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes. I really didn't want to make a spectacle of myself in front of these bearded strangers. But I needn't have worried. Once again my friend was there at my side extending his hand and thanking me!!!... as though I was the one who had done him a favor!!!
At that point I felt that both Yonah and I could use some fresh air, so we went out onto the balcony to enjoy the cool evening air and listen to the music from the gathering parade that awaited the new Torah out in the street.
Several people were handing out toys and candy to the kids, and Yonah was delighted to suddenly find himself in possession of both. I explained that once the last few letters were completed, we would be going outside where the city police had closed off the street to traffic and several vehicles bedecked with flashing lights and loudspeakers were waiting to lead the crowd of men, women and children the few hundred yards to the synagogue where it would be taking up residence.
Nothing I could have said could have prepared Yonah for the bedlam of the parade. Once my friend emerged carrying the Torah and surrounded by a dancing, singing crowd, the parade instantly swelled to the point where it looked like the entire town was there. Older kids were handed lit torches to lead the procession up the street, and the rest of the crowd followed behind with the Torah being carried by my friend underneath a large canopy.
Almost immediately I saw my friend hand the Torah to someone in the crowd, and from then on he stood back and let each person take a turn carrying the sacred scroll.
While most people's attention was on the Torah and whoever happened to be holding it at any given moment, I couldn't help watching my friend. He stood off in the periphery with a smile on his face and a twinkle in his eye, enjoying the event he had created, but content to let others be at the center of it.
When the parade reached the synagogue and the Torah was escorted up the steps and inside to its new home, everyone was invited to stay for dinner. Once again, my friend and his wife had planned things so as to ensure that the focus remained on the new Torah... on the memory of their departed mothers... on their extended family and their community... and on the various rabbis and dignitaries who spoke.
But then my friend got up to deliver his remarks. I suppose you can't throw a party like that without saying something, right?
As my ten year old son and I sat there like a tiny island of khaki and white in a great ocean of black hats and suits, my friend began by saying that in preparation for the evening's celebration, he and his wife had sent out many invitations. He said that a response he'd gotten from a friend from Efrat had said "I wouldn't miss it for the world... you know how I feel about the 5th night of Hanukkah!". He then went on to mention me by name and to describe my blog post from several years ago , (although he spoke far more eloquently than I had written).
When Yonah heard my name mentioned, he turned to me and blurted, "Abba, he's talking about you!", which attracted approving nods from of several of the people seated near us.
Although startled by the sudden attention, I wasn't at all surprised that even in his own speech, my friend would focus his words on others. I just wasn't prepared for the fact that some of them would be focused on me.
Many times in old cowboy/western shows, a plot device is employed where a father is humiliated in front of his son by the bad guy. It's a powerful plot device because the script writers knew that on some level, every son thinks his father is bigger, better and more important than anyone in the world... and by the same token, every father wants, at all cost, to earn and keep the respect and admiration of his son.
Yet, my friend, standing before an enormous crowd in his cowboy hat and boots, who should, by any standards, have been basking in the thanks and admiration of this religious community to which he and his wife had given such a monumental gift, instead turned the attention on someone else... and in so doing, had turned that well-worn 'oat opera' plot device on its head. For the second time in one evening, he'd allowed me to be a big shot in front of my son... a gift almost as rare as the one the synagogue had received.
Many years ago, another friend confided in me that his one wish was that he could be wealthy enough that when it came time to marry off his children, he and his wife could make modest weddings. He had gone on to explain that when you are poor and make a small wedding, people secretly feel sorry for you. While if a wealthy person makes a small affair, everyone admires them for their restraint and modesty.
I've pondered that for many years, and have gone back and forth on whether I agreed with his thesis. But I now realize that it's central flaw lay in the fact that it was completely based on the perception of others. Why should anyone be so invested in with what others may think?!
This week I learned that you can't control how others make you feel. But you can control how you make others feel. And in that, this special evening was a master class on how to make others feel wise, respected, honored, important... and yes, like a big shot.
If you don't know who I've been talking about in this post, I can only suggest that you try to emulate him.
If you do recognize the person I've been writing about, you're likely smiling right now, because you know that the reason I haven't mentioned his name is that with all the good he and his lovely wife do for others... they would never want to draw attention to themselves.
Thank you, my friend, for making me feel like a big shot.