Tuesday, April 17, 2007
Sell crazy somewhere else... we're all full over here!
A couple of years ago I got the first of what would turn out to be a long stream of unsolicited emails from someone that suggested that one of my personal heroes, Natan Sharansky, had actually been a KGB operative who informed on his fellow refuseniks.
This long, rambling email came uninvited from someone I had never heard of. The only thing I knew for sure was that the person who had sent me that informative little manifesto obviously didn't know the first thing about me. If he had he would have realized:
a) I hate unsolicited email.
b) I particularly hate hate loooong, unfocused, unsubstantiated, unsolicited emails that slander people I admire.
c) I hate unsubstantiated conspiracy theories.
d) Probably the only thing that can make angrier than sending me an example of 'a', 'b' or 'c' is to do so and then defend your actions in such a way as to imply that I'm the one with the problem for not wanting your unique brand of crazy inflicted on me first thing in the morning when I check my email.
For those of you who know about whom I speak, please don't mention his name here. While he may be worthy of public ridicule, I'd prefer to keep this discussion in the realm of theoretical and out of the realm of a courtroom (if you get my meaning).
Anyhoo, this theoretical Oliver Stone-wannabe didn't take the hint. In fact he didn't even take my direct instruction (I used small words for clarity) to cease and desist from sending me his crap.
I continued to get emails about everything from how Rabin was actually assassinated by the Shabbak (Israel Security Service) to how nearly every road accident involving a religious person is actually a carefully orchestrated plot by the power-brokers on the secular left to knock off the country's religious leadership. This person's concern for Israel's religious population is especialy puzzling since many of his emails arrive on Shabbat.
Look, I'll be the first to admit that there is a very fine line between hobby and mental illness (not my line, BTW) but I think that 'containment' is critical for preserving that distinction.
Not clear? Here, let me give you an example:
Raising bees... cluttering up your house with beekeeping equipment and protective clothing... reading everything in print about bee culture and apiaries... taking your kids to spend precious free time to work with several hives... writing about it and posting pictures of it on a blog... and giving honey to one's friends and neighbors: Hobby
Emailing / writing letters to people you don't know to tell them that there really is no such thing as a natural death or fluke road accident in Israel: Mental Illness
Clear so far?
There are certain crazies I grudgingly tolerate because they are fairly harmless and honestly feel they are tasked with making me a better person. But I feel strongly that the decision to tolerate craziness or keep it at arm's length should be mine to make... not the crazies'.
Yet here we are almost two years later and I'm still getting emails from this theoretical person. Some of them contain long, rambling rants about G-d-knows-what (I sure wouldn't since I never read them), while others land in my in-box bearing nothing more than a cryptic subject such as "Jonathan Pollard" and a blank email (oooooh, maybe the thought police deleted his email before it got to me!).
I discussed this whole 'tin-foil-hat brigade' thing with a couple of my fellow bloggers a while back and one comforted me with the following observation, "Don't get me wrong, I'm very glad we have renegade independent journalists [ed note: I love that !] questioning the official version of events. It's an important thing to have in a democracy. But he is pretty nuts."
That about sums it up. I'd hate to live in a country where alternative-theory-enthusiasts (Oh who am I kidding, conspiracy nuts) are not allowed to indulge in their, er, hobby. But could they please sell crazy somewhere else... we're all full over here!
Monday, February 26, 2007
Hitting too close to home
The title of today's post is an expression that presumably* has its origins in some conflicted region where projectiles became worrisome to the residents only as they began to 'hit too close to home'. The unspoken assumption is that so long as the projectiles continued to fall far away and on someone else's home the situation could be considered somewhat less than emergent.
Israelis have raised the sentiment behind this expression to such an art-form that we, as a society, will tolerate nearly any attack or atrocity... so long as it doesn't hit physically or ideologically too close to home.
Our enemies have figured out that in the wake of suicide attacks or rocket strikes, the cries for retaliation (perception = irrational) are always strongest from the municipality that was hit... while the cries for restraint and diplomacy (perception = rational) are strongest from the areas that haven't been struck. The result is that a majority of the country will always appear reasonable in calling for restraint in the wake of attacks against geographically marginal targets and targets which reside on society's periphery.
Still not convinced? Then tell me why most shootings and knifings tend to be limited to members of society that are perhaps not universally loved (i.e religious and/or settlers) and most bombings take place in working class settings? Imagine the reaction if rocks were thrown at cars along the Ayalon Freeway or on 'Kvish 6'...if Molotov Cocktails were thrown at cars in Herzelia... or if young couples walking on Tel Aviv's beaches were shot at or stabbed with any regularity.
The overwhelming majority of targets selected by our enemies are in working class communities and/or on public transportation. It isn't just that these are easier targets to strike, but rather that the people directly affected in those locales are removed by several degrees of separation from the decision-makers in the Knesset and those who have the connections to lobby them for a response.
Think about the attacks that have stirred the government to action. They have been attacks on 'high value targets' with which a broad range of the population feels a connection (if not true empathy); hotels, tourist destinations and affluent metropolitan areas.
In fact, the only real 'everyman' target that our enemies continue to exploit with any regularity are members of the IDF. This is because terrorist actions against soldiers... specifically kidnapping... have such a paralyzing effect on the government... and so demoralize the population... that nearly any retaliation is worth the result.
A look at the prestige garnered by Hezbollah in the Lebanon war and the eventual number of prisoners Israel will almost certain swap for each kidnapped soldier (or even the bones of a soldier), is all that is necessary to understand the actuarial calculations performed by our enemies.
The military doctrine of our enemies can be neatly summed up in the following three points:
1. Attacks that 'hit too close to home' for too large a proportion of the population have a unifying effect and will elicit retaliation.
2. Attacks likely to divide the loyalties and/or sympathies of the population will be tolerated nearly indefinitely.
3. Attacks of increasing frequency and/or viciousness against targets described in #2 will be tolerated so long as they do not somehow stir the loyalties and/or sympathies described in #1.
This whole line of thought occurred to me as I woke to the news that a man about my age in a community near mine was murdered last night by a terrorist. On the surface it should have been a textbook no-no according to the accepted terrorist doctrine as the victim was a husband and father of three who was killed while in religion meditation/prayer. Change his religion to Christian or Muslim and the UN would already be convening the Human Rights Commission and Security Council to protest such an unprovoked atrocity.
But given that the victim was a religious settler killed in 'Occupied Territory', the world will never hear about him, and our government will take its lead from the 'reasonable majority' who's curiosity about the incident probably wouldn't warrant skimming the second paragraph of the article over their morning coffee and croissant.
Once upon a time Isrealis considered Israel their home, and each and every terror attack against Israelis, whether at home or abroad, was treated as an attack on the entire country. Retaliation was so swift and disproportionate that our enemies and those who funded / hosted them were forced to weigh the wisdom of every action and the cost/value of allowing their proteges to act.
Today our enemies perceive little or no danger in acting according to their accepted doctrine. A murderous attack such as was carried out last night may have a unifying affect on some small segment of the country who find themselves in close physical or ideological proximity to the victim. But because the majority of Israelis won't have perceived this bloody, unprovoked attack on a husband and father as having been 'too close to home', it will be tolerated and ultimately forgotten.
And our enemies will rejoice.
* Professional and/or amateur lexicographers and linguists may feel free to provide accurate provenance for the expression found in the title.
Sunday, February 25, 2007
Zis title is evoking zeh feelings of, how you say... deja vu, non?
In a move that caught everyone completely by surprise [~snort~], French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy has pledged to recognise the new PA unity government before it is formed or has even stated its official policies towards Israel!
In his statement which essentially gives the PA complete carte blanche, Mr. Douste-Blazy said:
"If the government is formed according to the power-sharing deal worked out in Mecca last month, France will be ready to cooperate with it. And our country will plead on its behalf within the European Union and with other partners in the international community."
Aside from the obvious lack of trouble I'm having conjuring the mental image of France 'pleading', it is worth pointing out that this idiotic statement is in direct contradiction to the official 'wait and see' policy adopted by the European Union (of which France is a member) in the wake of the Mecca conference a few weeks ago.
The EU's rare coolness towards the latest Palestinian accords stems from Abbas' Fatah
gang party having apparently moved unilaterally towards Hamas' policy of non-recognition of Israel and token acknowledgment (but not adherence to) standing agreements between Israel and the PA. But the truth is, nobody... not even the Palestinians... knows for sure what the new PA government will look or act like.
But apparently it's never too soon for the Parisian government to start waving the white flag on their own - or anyone else's - behalf. As if any more proof was need to confirm France's slide into full-fledged Dhimitude (not to mention its open antipathy towards Israel), this un-prompted announcement is more than a little telling.
Personally, I can't wait for another summer of watching France's suburbs burn in riots perpetrated by the Fifth Republic's 'most loyal citizens' .
How do you say 'schadenfreude ' in French?
Update: In an unrelated bit of unintentional irony, Israeli Prime Minister has issued a statement urging the public to "stop beating up on police".
One can only assume (hope) that Olmert hadn't yet been informed of the results of the Zeiler commission published last week as he made the following public statement to
outgoing fired disgraced Police Commissionr Moshe Karadi:
"In my eyes, you are a decent, courageous man who has served the State of Israel for many years, and will continue to do even more for the State of Israel."
Apparently snuggling up to discredited personages and thugs is not exclusively a French trait. Seriously, you can't make this stuff up!
Wednesday, February 21, 2007
I suppose the next step is pictures on milk cartons
While Israel certainly has it's share of 'real world' problems and has unwisely (IMHO) run headlong after some of the worst fashions and trends in western culture, there has always been the sense of innocence... and a blind faith that here in this tiny corner of the middle east that kids could be kids, at least until they reached army age and had to finally grow up.
Israeli children and teens have traditionally enjoyed an autonomy unheard of in the US since the 1950s. Kids here think nothing of taking buses, riding bikes and walking to distant friends after school and on weekends. And for a large portion of Israel's youth, hitchhiking is still a perfectly acceptable way to reach destinations, near and far.
A couple of years ago I wrote a piece entitled 'The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Holy Land' which was, admittedly, a wide-eyed American's take on this practical means of getting around the country. However one of the things I downplayed in that piece was the inherent danger involved.
In early January, 18-year-old Maayan Ben Chorin, a high school senior from a small town in the north, was reported missing by her parents. During the couple of days leading up to the discovery of her body, friends and eye-witnesses aided the police in piecing together her last known movements... and the one thing that became fairly clear was that she had been hitchhiking.
Besides the obvious shock of a young woman being brutally murdered, I sensed an undercurrent of dismay as the country was once again reminded that hitchhiking was no longer the wholesome, carefree convenience it had once been in the early days of the state.
For many years now it has been illegal for Israeli soldiers to hitchhike. But it has remained an open secret that many conscripts from remote parts of the country relying only on 'authorized' means would never be able to reach their destinations before public transportation (buses and trains) shut down for shabbat... and that they would never be able to return to their bases on Sunday morning in time to avoid a 'mishpat' for being late unless they made use of 'less-than-kosher' conveyance.
Therefore, it is safe to assume that hitchhiking is tolerated... and even expected... by the IDF.
But despite the obvious dangers inherent in getting into strange cars and traveling through remote, uninhabited areas... many rural and suburban teens (and even pre-teens) still apparently rely heavily on the kindness of strangers to get from point 'A' to point 'B'.
Such was apparently the case with the unfortunate Maayan Ben Chorin (Z"L).
She first caught a ride with one of her teachers who dropped her at a gas station near the entrance to an Israeli Arab village. She then caught a second 'tremp' in the direction of a remote farm where she intended to apply for a job. She was apparently dropped by the second driver at the head of a long unpaved road down which she would have to walk in order to reach her destination.
According to police forensic sources and the confession of her killer, she met her end after walking only about 700 meters down this lonely dirt track.
Here's where I start to wonder at the wisdom... not of the young hitchhiker... but of those who were nice enough to give her a ride.
I suppose one can give her teacher a partial pass for at least dropping Maayan at a gas station since it is a public place with cars coming and going all the time. The fact that it was near an Arab village might, in retrospect, trouble some people reading this... but it is my understanding that this isn't such a sticking point as the relationship between Jews and Arabs in the north of the country are somewhat more cordial than, say, near my home in the Judean hills.
However, in my mind, the driver who took her from the gas station and dropped her in the middle of nowhere at the head of a dirt track has to bear at least some of the responsibility for the events that followed. Obviously the real blame falls squarely on the shoulders of the man who actually killed her... but there is plenty of peripheral blame to be shared around.
Nearly every day during my commute through the south Hevron hills and northern Negev desert I pick up and drop off hitchhikers. Some of them call me in advance for rides, but a lot of them are simply people that I find waiting at intersections and bus stops along my route.
You can read my earlier piece if you are curious about Israeli hitchhiking etiquette, as I don't want to revisit it here. What troubles me is that few of the drivers, nor the hitchhikers themselves, seem to have adjusted their mentality to the unfortunate dangers that now exist on and near the roads.
Countless actual and attempted kidnappings have taken place at such hitchhiking posts, and roadside shootings and stabbings have become so commonplace as to sometimes not warrant media coverage. Yet I still find young men and women standing alone, quite literally in the middle of nowhere waiting for someone like me to come along and pick them up.
I have a policy that if someone asks to be let off at a remote intersection or bus stop I will always take them down the road to the nearest town, settlement or army check-point. This is more than a courtesy... it is common sense. I wouldn't let my own children off in a setting where they were vulnerable to any passing danger... why would I potentially put someone else's children in harm's way?
I take a small measure of comfort in the expert and timely police forensic work that led to the capture of a suspect whose DNA is apparently a match to tissue found under the victim's nails. But I hope that my countrymen (and their children) will take a lesson in common sense from the events that led up to this tragedy and adjust their hitchhiking habits accordingly.
Yes, it is sad when a country loses the last vestiges of its innocence to tragedies like this. But unless we wake up and take the necessary precautions for ourselves and our children... the age of pictures on milk cartons probably won't be too far in Israel's future.
Note: All of my knowledge about the case comes from news sources such as this one.
Tuesday, February 20, 2007
A breach of trust
When 40% of a country's citizens respond in the negative to the simple polling question: "Do you trust the national police?", you have a problem on your hands!
One can argue that 'trust' is an extremely broad and subjective term and means different things to different people. To some, 'trust' is synonymous with 'honesty'. To others it is more closely related to 'reliability' (think of those team-building exercises where you have to fall backwards with your eyes closed while a coworker standing behind you [hopefully] catches you). Still others associate the word 'trust' with a sacred obligation or even faith.
However, when you ask a statistically significant sample of Israelis if they trust the police and 40% say 'no!'... you can't entirely argue away the results on the basis of semantics.
You see, regardless of which definition of 'trust' you subscribe to, in order to do their job effectively, the police MUST be trusted by the public they serve and protect. Without that trust, the police can only impose their will on the public through brute force in something disturbingly similar to marshal law; a veritable police state.
Even more importantly, since the police's power flows from the government... if citizens don't trust the police, they are essentially saying they don't trust the government.
In an era when nearly every corner of the Israeli plutocracy we call the Knesset is riddled with scandal and corruption, one would at least hope that the 'everyman' of society - the cops - would remain a force for good and above suspicion. But the recent report issued by the Zeiler Commission delivered a scathing picture of an organization rotting from the top down.
At first it appeared that the inevitable shake-up (what some media outlets dramatically referred to as 'an earthquake') in the senior echelons of the Israeli Police might actually give that force an opportunity to restore some of the lost public trust. However within hours of the most senior heads rolling, a startling disappointment was handed to anyone who had hoped for something... anything... other than 'business as usual. I'm referring, of course, to the naming of Yaakov Ganot to replace the disgraced Chief Karadi.
What the country sorely needed after such a revelation of police corruption and breach of trust was a candidate for the top spot who was completely beyond reproach... someone cleaner than the driven snow... a Mother Theresa with a badge. The problem (for those who haven't been following the news) is that the person selected as the new head of the national police was, himself charged with several forms of corruption several years ago when he was serving in a command position in the north of the country. He was ultimately acquitted of the charges by the skin of his teeth, based on reasonable doubt... but was far from vindicated.
Here's the 'Cliff Notes' version of the whole sordid tale from the Jerusalem Post*:
"Ganot was tried in Nazareth District Court on counts of accepting a bribe, fraud and breach of trust. He was originally accused of seven separate offenses. The first four had to do with accepting favors in the form of house renovations provided free of charge or for a low fee from Israeli-Arab contractor Subhi Tanus during the summer of 1992.
According to the fifth charge, Tanus threw a party for Ganot at his home when Ganot was appointed commander of the Northern Police District. According to the sixth charge, Tanus's company painted the exterior of Ganot's house for a low fee. The seventh charge had to do with allegations that Ganot had used a police subordinate to provide personal services for him.
In return for the favors allegedly provided by Tanus, Ganot supposedly provided him with protection when he got into trouble with the law.
The state subsequently dropped the first and fourth charges, and the District Court acquitted him of the rest.
The state then appealed to the Supreme Court. In a two-to-one decision, the court upheld the lower court ruling.
However, Justice Ya'acov Kedmi voted to convict Ganot of breach of faith - the fifth charge - involving the party held for Ganot, while the majority, justices Eliezer Goldberg and Yitzhak Zamir, wrote with regard to the bribery charges that while it was customary not to interfere with the lower court's interpretation of the facts, they had found the state's case to be persuasive, and had they been presiding over the trial, they might have ruled differently."
Not a pretty picture is it... and far from one which might inspire trust among the citizenry.
Considering how demoralized the Israeli public is at seeing blatant and unapologetic dishonesty and corruption at every level of government, it is shameful that Avi Dichter made an appointment guaranteed to further erode any semblance of trust that might remain.
I hold out a glimmer of hope that Ganot's appointment might be quashed or set aside by some legal maneuvering (there are already several legal challenges)... but at this point my trust that the system will work for anything but it's own cynical self-perpetuation is a flickering flame in a windstorm.
And as Forrest Gump would say; 'That's all I have to say about that'.
Thursday, February 15, 2007
smallest coldest room in the place
Remember that unfortunate kid at the school bus stop who somehow got tricked into licking the lamp post on a sub-freezing day in late January? Remember the results? Whether you recall - or perhaps were - that poor kid, you certainly understand the concept of tender flesh hopelessly frozen to an immovable object, right?
Israel has a different take on this cruel game. You see, bathrooms - what we Anglos euphemistically refer to as 'the smallest room in the place' - are actually the coldest room in any Israeli establishment.
You can be dining in the most upscale restaurant or catering hall, replete with carved marble accents and richly inlaid parquet floors... but when you walk into the bathroom it is as though you've been teleported to Siberia!
The first frigid breath you take in the arctic confines of a typical Israeli public restroom actually hurts your lungs and makes all but the most hardy souls rethink the whole idea of 'dropping-trau' (or raising skirt, as the case may be). Invariably, whatever call of nature compelled you to visit the bathroom in the first place evaporates instantly in the face of something more reminiscent of 'The Call of the Wild'.
The dilemma is only slightly less less vexing for men since a good percentage of the time we can, er, take care of business without exposing too much flesh to frostbite. But OMG, the girls... I honestly don't know how they do it!
I have asked a few people about this phenomenon and have gotten the following wild guesses as to the reasons behind it:
1. Manpower: Fewer people actually using the frozen facilities = less clean-up for the staff.
2. Hygiene: Germs and bacteria normal extant in the petri dishes known as public bathrooms can't survive in sub-zero temperatures.
3. Frugality - It costs so much to heat the rest of the joint that they try to save money by not heating the bathrooms (this one doesn't pass muster since in most places the bathroom windows are deliberately left wide open!)
4. Life Preparation: Maybe the reason Israelis are such a hardy lot is that after years of using frosty public bathrooms, an army latrine doesn't seem quite so daunting.
Feel free to share your own experiences or theories concerning Israeli public bathrooms.
Sunday, February 11, 2007
"Not now... I'm on the phone with...
Prime Minister Netanyahu."
Former Prime Minister Netanyahu."
The above serious of whispered mis-steps were all attempted before I could make myself understood to a coworker who had poked her head into my office on Thursday evening.
Clearly I haven't lived in Israel long enough, because I was truly torn over how best to refer to (and address) a former Prime Minister. Whether simply describing the person on the other end of the phone or actually addressing the man, any native born Israeli would have simply started with "I'm on the phone with Bibi".
But having been raised in a culture where former heads of state retain their title up to and including the day they are lying in state on the cold hard catafalque in the Capitol Rotunda, I was stumped.
OK, I'm rambling so perhaps I should back up a bit.
On Thursday evening I was invited by the nice folks at One Jerusalem to participate in a conference call with Former Pri... er, well, you know who it was... never mind that. I had planned on being home in time to call in to the conference center... but I was at work so late that I simply clocked out and went back to my office to call in. It was while I was on the call that my coworker poked in her head.
Anyway... while One Jerusalem tends to have extremely compelling/interesting guests on these conference calls, I only accept their invitations when I am deeply interested in the topic... the person... or both. This is because I know there are always many more participants than allocated time for questions... so why not let those with a keen interest have their say?
The last call I joined was with Natan Shcharansky... who, in my humble opinion, is the only person in Israeli politics today with the stature and personal integrity to be elected President. Unfortunately nobody raised the issue of his potential candidacy on the call [~kicks self~].
Thursday's call was of special interest to me because I have been flip-flopping for years in my feelings about 'Bibi'.
On the one hand I think he is arguably Israel's premier spokesperson to the world. Nobody else seems to be able to state Israel's case to the international media as clearly and unapologetically as he does without sounding either arrogant or belligerent.
It's not just that he speaks English like the American educated career diplomat that he is... but also that he seems to be entirely comfortable with his (and Israel's) position when taking questions and making public remarks.
Other Israeli politicians who have made the rounds of the talk shows seem to be either overly defensive in their posture or aloof to what is being whispered about Israel in the news and diplomatic circles. Thus, they are easily surprised/tricked into taking too a strong stand where a simple statement would do.
However, it seems a shame to waste such a bright guy in the 'perennial Foreign Minister' slot.
Also, I freely admit to being troubled by Bibi's real and alleged personal foibles. While I don't think he is quite as dirty as most of Israel's current crop of political A-Listers, he certainly has his hands dirty most of the way to the elbows.
Call me naive if you wish... as it may simply be impossible to advance within Israel's political structure without wading into the mud... but my perception is that Bibi hasn't wallowed into the filth quite as deeply as some of the current crop of
defendants indicted political leaders.
So, the character issues aside, here are some of the things I liked and disliked about the man before the conference call:
Bibi is tough on Security. And don't give me any crap about how he 'sold out' on security while he was PM (as one of the people on the conference call did). He inherited a fatally flawed document in the form of the Oslo Accords. Those who are now keening over the possibility that the PA unity government may not honor previous diplomatic obligations with Israel need to remember that continuity of legal/diplomatic obligations' is a knife that cuts both ways.
Bibi is one of the few Israeli politicians who has not waffled on the need for the Palestinians to show some shred of good faith (e.g. unequivocally recognizing Israel, renouncing terror, dismantling the militias, stopping attacks, etc.) before Israel gives away anything else. This is the important difference between the simple ability to negotiate from a position of strength and the tendency to bend over and clutch one's ankles each and every time a negotiating table comes into view.
I also find Bibi to be reasonably pragmatic. Few ideologies can survive form outside the rarefied air of party headquarters without some form of compromise. Where necessary, I like that Bibi has a clear sense of how far he can reasonably 'put out' without becoming the class slut.
As a religious settler I can honestly say that if someone has to make difficult concessions about the future of the territories, I would rather it be someone who has thought about the ramifications rather than some self-interested hack who is simply courting the liberal electorate.
Another thing I like about Bibi may ring sour to western ears... but I think that until Israel has the luxury of a few decades of peace (or at least relative quiet) under its belt, the head of our government must have some serious military, defense and/or intelligence experience and credibility. I'm not talking about an African, Asian or South American-style military strong man... just someone who knows a bit more than that it's the pointy end of the M16 that should be aimed at the enemy. Bibi having served in the Sayeret Matkal (one of the most elite of Israel's commando units) is - IMHO - a point in his favor.
As I've already mentioned, Bibi isn't exactly squeaky clean on the whole character issue. I don't know how many qualified candidates for the top slot really are ... but still, it would be nice to have a leader who might have the luxury of spending some of his time actually leading the country instead of doing damage control over the scandal du jour.
Another liability which isn't widely acknowledged is that while his economic policies as Finance Minister were extremely effective (and are largely responsible for our current economic stability), he was aptly seen as not having been sensitive enough to the needs of Israel's under-classes.
I admit it, I'm a fiscal lefty and proud of it. I'm not entirely comfortable with Israel's socialist roots but I feel strongly that it is a government's duty to maintain a safety net for certain groups such as single parents, large poor families, the disabled and the unemployed.
The difficult part is creating economic policy that is just enough to protect the most vulnerable elements of society while defending against those who might find life in the safety net more attractive then the prospect of climbing back up onto the trapeze.
So... back to the conference call.
The lion's share of the discussion was, predictably, dominated by the Iran issue... a hot-button topic that Bibi is currently
flogging discussing with groups and leaders abroad.
On the one hand, I was pleased to hear Bibi compare the world's current complacency with Iran to the policy of appeasement Germany enjoyed in the years before WWII. I was also interested to hear him suggest some interesting measures that might be employed against Iran such as economic isolation/sanctions.
However, I was disappointed that nobody thought to test his WWII analogy and suggestion of economic isolation with the obvious complication that it was partly the policy of economic isolation that contributed to, if not Germany's, then at least Japan's decision to lash out.
But barring that, I liked that Bibi wasn't simply tossing around empty rhetoric about how the world should fear a nuclear Iran. He was at least exploring theories of how best to prevent that specter from becoming a reality.
I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge a couple of other bloggers:
Oceanguy, who (thanks to my self-introduction on the call) now knows how to pronounce my name... and Soccer Dad who emailed me immediately after the call ended to compliment me on the direction my question led Bibi's train of thought.
You can hear the whole (albeit brief) conference call here.
Wednesday, February 07, 2007
The rental cello... an Israeli story
[Some stories just have to be shared... this is one of those.]
My company recently finished a long and complex project in which we had partnered with a German company. This project required several engineers and specialists from the German company to spend extended periods of time here in Israel.
On one such scheduled visit that was to last three weeks, one of the German engineers decided he wanted to bring his 13-year-old daughter along with him. It would be a mini-vacation for her, and he figured she would keep him company in this strange desert city of Beer Sheva.
However, as this German engineer was preparing for the trip, a problem arose. It seems his daughter is an accomplished cellist and was scheduled to perform at a festival two weeks after they returned to Europe... so she would need to practice daily while she was in Israel. The problem was that her instrument was extremely valuable and their insurance company wouldn't cover it in a 'war zone'.
The German engineer contacted my coworker and explained the situation... and asked if there was anywhere in Beer Sheva to rent a cello for three weeks.
My coworker did some asking around and quickly discovered that finding a rental cello in Beer Sheva would be only slightly less likely than finding a lake... so he expanded his search. After umpteen phone calls to friends and associates he finally received a lead... the phone number of a place in Jerusalem that repairs violins.
He called the repair shop and spoke with a pleasant individual who owned and managed the place. The problem was presented and the question asked: 'Did he have a cello that could be rented to the young visiting musician for three weeks?'
Without missing a beat, the repair shop owner replied that it shouldn't be a problem, and gave directions to his shop. My coworker promptly relayed the news to Germany via email and the plans for the father-and-daughter trip went forward.
Fast-forward a few weeks.
The day the German engineer and his daughter arrived in Israel my coworker and his family hosted the two visitors at their home for dinner. Over the meal it was agreed that they would drive to the Jerusalem workshop the next day to pick up the rental cello.
The hour-and-a-half drive to Israel's capitol went smoothly and by late morning they were all standing in the 'violin repair shop' chatting with the owner... a mid-thirty-ish Israeli with a ponytail.
In truth the place was far more than a violin repair shop. It was a workshop filled with violins, violas, cellos and double basses. Repair was only a tiny portion of what went on in this shop as the owner was the third or fourth generation in his family who had been crafting and repairing classical string instruments by hand.
Every wall, nook and cranny was filled with stringed instruments of every type and vintage...the smell of wood and lacquer were heavy in the air... wood shavings littered the floor... and several work tables were strewn with components of unfinished instruments.
The owner of the shop brought my coworker and the two German guests tea and asked how he could be of assistance. My coworker reminded him of their phone conversation and all attention turned to the young woman in need of a practice cello.
The owner sized her up with his eyes and grabbed a cello that had been standing in an open case near his workbench. "Try this one to see if it's a fit" he said in a mishmash of English and German, handing her the instrument.
The young German girl sat down and began to expertly tune the cello and rosin the offered bow. After making a small adjustment to the height of the bottom peg she began to play one of the Bach Cello Suites. The instrument sang beautifully in her hands and the owner looked on appreciatively... clearly surprised at the young musician's skill.
After a few minutes he stopped her and had her try two other cellos... one which was slightly larger and finally a third that seemed older than the first two.
When she began to play the third cello the room was suddenly filled to overflowing with the sound coming from the instrument. The first two cellos had sounded nice to my coworker's untrained ears, but the third seemed to make everything in the room vibrate and resonate with each note played.
The girl stopped abruptly and stared in disbelief at the instrument. A few rushed words in German were translated to English by the engineer and then into Hebrew by my coworker for the shop owner:
"What kind of cello is this? I've never heard or felt music like this in all my years of playing!"
The owner of the shop beamed with pride and replied that it was nearly 300 years old and was one of his favorites. In fact, it was normally kept locked away and the only reason it was out on the shop floor was that he liked to make sure all the instruments were inspected and played regularly. He explained that he had just finished making a small adjustment to the placement of the bridge under the strings and was preparing to put it away when they had arrived.
In a very business-like manner the owner said with finality that this was the instrument she must use while she was visiting Israel. The father hesitated a bit and began to politely protest at the idea of taking responsibility for such an old and valuable instrument... and clearly he was worried about what kind of rental fee such an instrument would command.
The owner waved off the objections and told him to take the instrument for his daughter. "After all", he reasoned, "she has a festival to perform in, so she needs to practice on an instrument worthy of her skills."
All attempts by the German engineer to fix a price for the rental were waved off by the owner. The only thing he would say was "We can talk about money when you come back in three weeks".
Being unused to the informality of Israeli business practices, the German really wanted to sign something or at least leave his credit card information, but the shop owner waved all this off and simply ushered the group - including the beaming young cellist now holding the instrument in its case - to the door and wished them a good day.
The three week visit passed quickly and on the day before they were scheduled to leave, the German engineer asked my coworker if he would take them to Jerusalem again and act as translator/adviser when they returned the cello.
When the three of them walked into the Jerusalem workshop together the owner greeted them like family and asked how the practicing had gone. The young cellist gushed in a combination of German and English over how much she had enjoyed playing the instrument. Again - as when she had first complimented the cello - the owner of the shop beamed like a proud father.
After a little small talk over tea, the German engineer whispered nervously to my coworker that it was really time to set the price for the rental and be on their way. My coworker dutifully asked the shop owner several different ways in Hebrew about the cost of the cello rental... but after each attempt, the conversation wandered off track leaving the question unanswered.
Finally, in frustration, my coworker turned to the German engineer and whispered "I can't seem to get him to set a price. I don't know if it's because hasn't decided on a price or if he is simply waiting for us to suggest one. What do you think?"
The German shrugged helplessly having no idea what to make of these crazy Israeli business arrangements... much less the present impasse.
Suddenly, the shop owner stood and picked up the cello case that had been sitting next to one of the chairs like an extra member of the group. He opened the case and took the instrument out. But instead of looking it over for scratches or damage as one would expect him to do, he handed it to the young woman and said "Play something... let me hear what you've been practicing for the festival."
The young cellist moved her chair back a bit to give herself some room and quickly checked the tuning. Once settled, she closed her eyes and launched into a passionate classical piece (my coworker was so taken by the beauty of the playing that he forgot to ask what piece it was as he had after their first visit to the shop).
Her playing was spectacular! My coworker described the sound of the soaring high notes making his face feel warm and the sonorous low tones making his chest ache (in a good way). When she was finished they all applauded loudly and the young German girl smiled shyly... clearly pleased with her performance.
As she put the venerable instrument back in its case, the German engineer made one last attempt to raise the issue of the rental price with the shop owner. The owner smiled and said "But your daughter just paid the rental fee! There is nothing more to talk about... have a good trip back to Germany."
The German engineer couldn't believe his ears but he didn't have a chance to even thank the shop owner as the pony-tailed craftsman had turned away and was busy addressing the young musician:
"I'm so glad that this old cello had someone worthy to play it. I hope you'll come back to Israel and visit... the cello will be waiting. Good luck with your festival!"
Most of the car ride back to Beer Sheva was spent discussing this odd transaction. The German engineer asked over and over if this kind of thing was typical in Israel... and my coworker tried to explain that while he wasn't terribly surprised by the outcome, there really was no such thing as 'typical' in this country.
In other words, if he was asking if Israeli's always conducted business this way... the answer was 'no'. But if he was asking if most Israelis were nice and more than a little bit sentimental... the answer was 'yes'. The Engineer and his daughter just shook their heads and smiled.
Only in Israel can a priceless cello be rented for a song.
Thursday, February 01, 2007
'Shenkin Glasses': Real and political dyslexia
Back in 2005 I finally admitted to myself that I hadn't been able to read small print for several years. It had happened so gradually that I hadn't felt compelled to act... but when I couldn't read the instructions for one of the kid's electronic gadgets I finally threw in the towel and picked up a set of cheap, off-the-shelf reading glasses.
I have also mentioned on several occasions that I have lived most of my life with mild dyslexia which has made reading of any sort a chore.
Anyway, the drug-store reading glasses weren't much of a success. Sure, they allowed me to see the small print again, but they also seemed to oddly intensify my dyslexia and even gave me headaches after long reading sessions. The result was that I pretty much gave up reading for pleasure and only hauled out the reading glasses when I absolutely had to decipher something small.
A few months ago I finally decided to bite the bullet and get prescription reading glasses.
Now every eye exam I've ever had has lasted no more than 10 minutes, and has gone pretty much like this:
"Read this line... read that line... cover your left ye... now your right... don't mind these drops (although they might make you look like a junkie for a an hour or so)... put your chin right here... just a little puff of air... nope, no glaucoma here... sorry, no pot for you (ha ha)... OK, we're done. You have healthy eyes... but you'll probably need reading glasses in a few years... but no more than a prescription of .75 or 1.00... have a nice day."
So this time when I went to a friend / neighbor's optometry practice in Jerusalem to be tested I was expecting more of the same. I was shocked by the thoroughness of the exam as well the array of tools and tests that were employed. The whole exam took almost an hour!
When we were almost done my friend sat down across from me and handed me a page of text and asked me to read it to myself while he watched my eyes closely. When I finished he asked me if I had ever had problems with dyslexia or other difficulties reading.
I was a little shocked at the question and answered in the affirmative... giving him the full run-down on my difficulties in school and how I found reading to be a cumbersome and exhausting activity. But at the end of my description I asked him what my dyslexia had to do with my eyes since it was a mental problem.
He smiled knowingly and said, "Is that so? Here, let's try something."
With that, he popped a couple of lenses into the enormous 'monster glasses' he had used while testing my eyes and handed me the page of text again.
I nearly fell off the chair as my eyes raced effortlessly down the lines of text. Instead of wrestling with each word and plodding through a sticky quagmire of individual letters I was suddenly seeing whole words flash by in crisp, obvious sequence.
I put down the page and stared at him.
I must have had a pretty comical expression on my face because he laughed out loud. He told me that my problem with reading and dyslexia wasn't mental, but rather was caused by my eyes not being able to perfectly align and focus on the same point in space. Not only that... he said it was not at all uncommon.
He explained that when looking at things in the distance, perfect eye alignment isn't crucial since the dominant and non-dominant eye can pass their respective images to the brain without much perceived shift in the picture you see. But when focusing on something like a page of printed text a few inches in front of one's face, this struggle between the eyes for dominance and the misalignment of the focal point becomes much more noticeable and can wreak havoc with the final image the brain wants to 'show' you.
He confirmed what other optometrists had told me; that my eyes were quite healthy and that I only needed a mild prescription for reading. But he said that he wanted to put a prism in one lens to bring my left eye into better alignment with my right for reading. I eagerly agreed and walked out of his office walking ten feet off the ground (and not because of the drops)!
Now came the daunting task of selecting frames.
I hadn't liked anything in the display case in his office so I promised him I would find a set of frames elsewhere and bring them to him so he could have my lenses ground.
The problem was that for anyone just starting to wear glasses in middle age, pretty much all glasses look odd in the mirror. I didn't want anything too big.... but most of the smaller frames sat too high on my nose and forced me to either rest my chin on my chest to look through them (while holding a book in a typical reading posture)... or to lift the reading material to an uncomfortable level in front of my face.
Someone suggested 'half-lenses' (granny glasses), but I rejected those out of hand. It's bad enough being 45... I didn't want to add 15 or 20 years to my appearance overnight. So the search continued.
Finally I wandered into a trendy eye-glass emporium in the German Colony and noticed a set of small frames on display. They were fairly simple... perfectly round... wire frames. The nice thing was that the bridge was fairly wide which allowed them to sit relatively low This allowed my eyes to look directly through them at an object held out in a comfortable reading position in front of me and a few inches below my chin.
Just my luck, the frames were made by a trendy designer (Jacob Jensen) and would normally have required a small mortgage to purchase. But the shop owner told me that almost everyone wanted the color-tinted versions and that if I wanted the display pair (a simple bronze tone set) he would give them to me for a very reasonable price. We 'haandeled' a bit and arrived at a price we could both live with and I walked out with my new frames.
On the way home, however, I realized that Zahava would almost certainly hate them (yes folks, I bravely/stupidly picked them out without her). Zahava had been pushing for me to get a pair of larger rectangular frames... and she had rejected out-of-hand any of the less-obtrusive models I had tried on for her in the past.
When I walked into the house with my new frames on, the first thing my lovely wife said to me was, "Hey, look who's here... it's Yoko Ono!" It just went downhill from there.
Anyway, I stood my ground and gave the frames to my optometrist friend to have the prescription ground, and eagerly awaited their return.
I got them back just before I left for my India trip and was delighted to find that I could now read so fast that my brain seemed to be literally struggling to keep up with this new, unexpected rush of information. Even though it was an overnight flight to India, I stayed up and read the entire way. I read every evening in my hotel, and I read on every flight within India.... as well as on the flight home.
It was such a wonderful and liberating experience to be able to effortlessly read that at first I didn't take much notice of the comments I got.
The Indian's with whom I met unanimously loved the glasses as they thought they looked like those favored by the late Mahatma Ghandi. But the real eye-opener was the reaction I got from my coworkers when I returned to Israel. A few people confused me by asking me if I had 'switched sides'. Another person jokingly asked if I had moved out of the 'shtahim' (territories). Still another asked rather bluntly when I had become such a 'lefty'.
But the asimon finally dropped when a young Tel Aviv resident I work with (the sort of woman who makes middle aged men involuntarily suck in their gut when she passes) sat down across from me at lunch one day and complimented me on my 'funkie Shenkin glasses'.
For those outside the country, Shenkin is much more than the name of a well-known street in Tel Aviv. It is the epicenter of a very specific liberal, sophisticated, ultra-hip Israeli mentality. This pretty young woman had taken what I considered to be stodgy, old-world frames and plunked them down in the heart of Israel's premier café district. Suddenly, all the previous comments I'd gotten made sense.
I don't think it is much of a secret to anyone living here in Israel that various religious and non-religious factions adhere to fairly specific 'uniforms'. At a glance it is pretty easy to figure out if someone is religious/observant or not... and to what 'camp' they belong. One look at the type of clothing and hair style (or type of hair covering) gives away pretty quickly to the casual observer where the person falls along the religious spectrum... not to mention on which side of the green line they probably reside.
To some extent, accessories are also a dead give-away as to an Israeli's political leanings. I accidentally found this out with my new frames... frames that seemed to be sending out confusing messages to the casual observer.
Apparently my check shirts, kippah and pistol clashed with my 'Shenkin glasses'. Who knew?
People, both at work and at play, suddenly didn't know quite how to pigeon-hole me. Personally, I couldn't care less... I now have the incredible ability to read whatever and whenever I want. If this means that others have a little trouble 'reading' me... I figure that's their problem. :-)
Sunday, January 14, 2007
Why didn't I think of that?
The other day I was driving through the outskirts of Be'er Sheva with one of my regular carpool-mates - an Israeli who was born and raised in London - in the passenger seat when we passed a Bedouin woman who was covered from head to toe in traditional black veil and robes (niqāb and burqa).
As we passed her, all sorts of thoughts swirled through my head:
- How do her friends and family recognize her?
- How does she recognize her girlfriends?
- What kind of picture would they put on her driver's license or passport?
- Is she cold or hot in that thing?
- What if a Bedouin woman is claustrophobic?
- Is that even a woman under there?
I've come to recognize that this sort of free-associating inner monologue is typically American, as we tend to be a bit more sheltered from other cultures in our formative years.
On the heels of this jumble of unspoken questions came a mild wave of frustration that we Americans seem to lack the ability to exercise the economy of speech so common amongst our UK counterparts. I tried to imagine how succinctly my British carpool-mate might have summed up the same observations I had mulled over as we passed this specter in black.
As if on cue, my passenger glanced casually over at the woman and remarked "Hmmm... she looks familiar."
Now why didn't I think of that?!
Friday, January 12, 2007
Photo Friday (vol. LXXXVI) [Snowstorm edition]
I feel guilty that I haven't been able to pull together a Photo Friday in several weeks. It's not that I haven't had pictures... it's just that I haven't had time to post them.
A couple of weeks ago we had a nice snowstorm here and I have been sitting on the pictures ever since. So without further ado:
Our poor Lemon tree was buried... but seems to have survived the storm:
Of course, as soon as the snow began to fall heavily the roads were blocked with Israeli drivers who had no idea what to make of the white slippery stuff. But that didn't stop some of us from putting on the X-Country skis and enjoying the lack of traffic!
Thursday, January 11, 2007
What sort of country is Israel?
Back in January of 2003, Prime Minister Tony Blair was addressing a gathering of British Ambassadors in London when his remarks turned to the topic of global anti-Americanism and why he felt the UK should remain a close - perhaps the closest - ally of the United states.
In the course of those remarks he said:
"For all their faults, and all nations have them, the US are a force for good; they have liberal and democratic traditions of which any nation can be proud."
I couldn't help but think to myself that the very same things would hold true if one were to substitute 'Israel' for 'the US' in that sentence.
Now, Israel certainly has its fair share of warts that deserve analysis and criticism (if not from without, then certainly from within), but Israeli society has freedoms and western traditions that can only be considered to be in the best 'liberal and democratic traditions'... not to mention 'a force for good' in the region and among the nations.
However that wasn't the part of Blair's speech that really made me sit up and take notice. No, the real money line was:
"I sometimes think it is a good rule of thumb to ask of a country: are people trying to get into it or out of it? It's not a bad guide to what sort of country it is."
While I'm certainly no fan of the 'separation/security fence' that has been the focus of such external scorn and internal agitation, PM Blair's remarks made me think of Robert Frost's famous Poem 'Mending Walls' in which he wrote:
"Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out"
While the Israeli government likes to maintain the charade that it is indeed a 'separation' fence, intended to keep two populations from antagonizing one another, the obvious truth is that Israelis aren't struggling to get out and mingle with the Palestinians... the Palestinians are trying - for a wide range of benign and malignant reasons - to get in.
So I ask a simple question: If Israel is indeed the evil spawn of the 'great satan' and so unworthy of even the most basic recognition among the family of nations ... can someone please tell me why so many of our neighbors are quite literally dying to get in?
Tuesday, January 09, 2007
Silly Headline Day at JPost
Today seems to have been a landmark day for silly headlines over at the Jerusalem Post. Take, for example, these gems:
You don't say! And to think, it took a former IDF Chief of staff / Defense Minister to provide this scoop!
No rush fellas... Hizballah was back up to full operational strength in only 3. Nice work!
Oh well... it's not like you guys promised or anything!
Honest injun. Scout's honor. Pinky-swear, even!
Stop the presses!
Monday, December 25, 2006
It's a guy thing
There's just something about a barbershop. I'm not talking about those precious salons you'll find in tony, gentrified neighborhoods or the shiny plastic 'super-cuts' at the mall. No, I'm referring to the venerated, exclusively-masculine institutions that smell of talc, bay rum and hair tonic; A barbershop.
When I lived in the US I frequented a few different barbershops, depending on whether I found myself in Connecticut or New York City when the need for a trim arose... but they all shared these common features (in no particular order):
Storefront location - Whoever heard of a barber shop on a second floor or inside an office building? Unthinkable! Half the charm is the walk-in traffic and having passers-by be able to see you tipped back there in the chair. This is a social occasion!
Old fashioned chairs - No improvements of any consequence have been made in the barber's chair since about 1930. They need to swivel, go up and down, recline (with reversible foot pad for ankle comfort while tipped back), and weigh roughly a half ton. A respectable barber shop will have a minimum of two or three such chairs... even if only one barber is on duty at any given time.
Additional seating - Those who are 'on deck', as well as the inevitable retirees who congregate in barber shops to gossip, must have ample seating in vinyl seats (with chrome trim) as well as a few handy Formica side tables strewn with newspapers and sporting/motoring magazines.
Pictures - Any barber shop worth its salt must have faded photographs on the walls showing haircuts that have been out of fashion for at least two decades. A minimum of one 'mullet' picture is de rigueur!
Barbicide (no, this doesn't mean 'killing your barber after a bad haircut') - The counter under the mirror must have at least two vats of this mysterious blue liquid with combs and scissors soaking in them. Never mind that the comb and scissors the barber used for you were grabbed off the counter. Not seeing that magical blue sanitizing liquid there in plain sight is a deal breaker!
Razor & Strop - When I was a kid I loved watching the barber 'fix' the edge of his straight razor with a few confident swipes at the leather strop hanging from the side of the chair. He did this after he had used a badger brush (or his thumb) to dab warm shaving cream on the back of your neck and behind your ears. One of my most closely kept secrets (until now, that is) is that the only reason I grew a beard when I became observant was so I could continue letting the barber use the straight razor on my neck (front and back) without worrying that he would accidentally stray to one of the areas forbidden under Jewish law. These days for hygienic reasons most barbers use a straight razor handle fitted with disposable blades... but finding a barber who uses an autoclave for his collection of fine old straight razors is a rare treat indeed.
Hot towels - Even if you aren't getting a shave, having a hot towel from the warmer/humidifier tossed on your face and/or neck for a few minutes gives you a whole new lease on life! Any airline that would give me a hot face towel at the end of the flight (instead of just a skimpy hand-cloth) would have a customer for life!
Wisdom - George Burns once remarked that it's "too bad the only people who know how to run the country are busy driving cabs and cutting hair." Truer words were never spoken. In my humble opinion, anyone who complains about a too-talkative barber is probably one of those sad cases who thinks he has nothing left to learn. Along with the whole visual and olfactory experience of visiting the barbershop, one should come to the occasion prepared to soak up all sorts of wisdom... supplemented by additional commentary and sub-text provided by the retirees hanging out in the 'on deck circle. I recall vividly going to the barbershop with my dad when I was perhaps 6 or 7 and imagining I would one day be wise enough to join the banter of these learned sages. I still do far more listening than talking.
In the old city of Beer Sheva, not far from my office, there are at least five barbershops within a two block radius of one another that fit most or all the criteria I have listed above. I try not to play favorites, but in truth I end up going to one in particular most of the time for the following reasons:
a) All of the other barbers seem to wander over to this shop when their trade gets slow in order to soak up the wisdom (basically catch up with the latest gossip).
b) The owner of the shop is an older Moroccan man who speaks in the slow, deliberate, richly accented Hebrew of an immigrant, even though he moved to Israel in 1964.
c) He has two fine old barber chairs but I have never seen another barber at work there. This means that while I wait my turn I can stretch out in the other barber chair and have a short snooze. Inevitably the owner will pause from whoever he is working on to toss a couple of hot towels over my face and neck even if I'm just there for a trim.
d) All the barbers in the old city keep to the old habit of closing down for a few hours in the middle of the day and then re-opening from 4:30 until 7:30 or 8:00PM. This allows me to wander over after work and not feel rushed.
e) I find myself drawn back there for a haircut when I feel news-starved, not necessarily when I need a haircut.
Guys, feel free to share... I'd love to hear about your favorite practitioners (and memories) of the tonsorial arts. Girls, just relax... I don't necessarily expect you to contribute. Just as we don't 'get' the 34 pairs of identical black pumps you have in your closet or your never-ending search for the perfect little formal black handbag... I don't expect you to 'get' this whole barbershop thing.
Trust me, it isn't supposed to make sense.
Friday, December 15, 2006
My bilingual boy
Our three year old Yonah was what you might call a 'late bloomer' when it came to talking. There are lots of things behind this whole late blooming thing... but he seems to be making up for lost time now.
Having been born to American parents in Israel, Yonah has had the added challenge of learning to communicate in two languages... not to mention figuring out when and where each language is appropriate.
A heartwarming story from the supermarket that was related to me by my lovely wife:
Zahava and a friend were conversing when they noticed Yonah trying to force his way past another shopper. After a few tentative shoves against the offending leg blocking his progress, he finally looked up at the
obstacle shopper and yelled "ZOOZ!!!" (literally 'MOVE' in Hebrew).
Without missing a beat, the woman with whom my wife had been talking said, "Oh how cute... he's already learned to say 'excuse me' in Hebrew.
Our little Israeli is growing up so fast. We're so proud.
OK folks, the polls close today so this is your last chance to cast your vote for treppenwitz in the finals of the Weblog Awards. You guys have been great so far... but this is for all the marbles. Go Vote!
Note to Doctor Bean: We're having brunch with my folks so Photo Friday may be up a bit late (if at all).
Thursday, December 14, 2006
Boycotts can be a very powerful tool to express displeasure with (not to mention put pressure on)vendors or service-providers who ignore or abuse those whom they rely upon for income. However, just as with endless demonstrations, Israelis have begin using this potent tool indiscriminately and without just cause. People call for and organize boycotts (and demonstrations) at the drop of a hat without really considering all the angles.
Take for example the Haredi world's call to boycott El Al.
During the recent labor strike, Ben Gurion Airport was closed, and any airline with planes scheduled to fly in or out of Israel was thrown into chaos as the delays rippled through their schedules. Planes/crews ended up out of position for an ever-widening circle of flights and the results were twofold for El Al:
1. They decided that the most expedient solution to this was to fly some of the stranded planes on Shabbat in order to bring them (and their crews) into position for other scheduled flights. This was a purely economic decision... one that is hard to fault.
2. An El Al flight scheduled to return from Russia sat for so long due to the strike that its food supply was found to have spoiled. On such a long flight it would be unthinkable not provide nourishment to the passengers, so a decision was made to buy non-kosher sandwiches and fresh fruit in Russia for the trip. All passengers were informed that the sandwiches were not kosher and anyone who was concerned about such things was advise to eat only the fruit.
So, because a flight or two flew on Shabbat and because non-kosher food was served on a flight... the Haredi world immediately called for a boycott of El Al.
What makes this boycott misguided is the fact that El Al is no longer an Israeli government owned entity subject to the dictates of the Rabbinate. It is a private company that is obliged to compete in a cut-throat business environment. Yet, for whatever reason, El Al still bends over backwards to adhere to their previous policies of not traveling on Shabbat and always serving kosher food.
The same Haredim who called for this boycott of El Al all willingly fly on other privately owned/managed airlines that desecrate the sabbath and serve non-kosher food. And I guarantee you that these other airlines do not take nearly the same pains to accommodate the needs of religious Jewish travelers as El Al.
The result: The moment El Al was forced to look after its own well-being for just a moment... BOYCOTT!
Another of these misguided boycotts is aimed at UPS, the world's largest package delivery company. Emails have been flying around the Jewish world for the past couple of days stating (quite correctly) that UPS has a policy of not delivering to Jewish communities outside the green line.
Yes, you read that correctly.
They will deliver anywhere inside the green line... and they will deliver to any Arab community outside the green line... but they won't deliver to Gush Etzion... Ariel... or any other community in Jewish areas of Judea and Samaria.
On the surface, this appears to be a perfectly legitimate cause for Jewish outrage. However, once again there are factors that the people calling for a boycott have willfully ignored:
First of all, UPS may be a global company, but they rely on local workers to deliver their packages. A company of UPS's stature isn't going to turn up their nose at potential revenue just because of political considerations. UPS has an obligation to its stock-holders to maximize profit... and every package delivered is money in the bank.
However, to include any destination in their available delivery routes, a courier company has to have a reliable way of getting the packages there EVERY SINGLE TIME!
The Arab UPS drivers have no problem driving into Ramallah or Jenin to deliver a package... but the Jewish drivers (many, if not most, of whom live inside the green line) are terrified to drive into 'the territories. This isn't UPS's fault or some anti-Semitic plot. It is the fault of the typical Jewish Israeli.
I can hear you already asking: "So why don't they simply have the Arab drivers deliver to the Jewish communities outside the green line?!" To which I would ask you the following question:
Even if all Jewish communities outside the green line allowed unaccompanied Arabs to drive past their gates (which is certainly not an assumption that can be made during these difficult times), How many of you residents of Efrat, Ariel, Elazar, Karnei Shomron, Kiryat Arba, Beit El, etc. would feel comfortable opening a box that had been dropped off by an Arab UPS driver?
I know this sounds terribly racist (and it is... sorry), but in an age where the first two questions the airline security people ask are a) "have any of your bags or packages been out of your possession?"; and b) "did you receive any packages from someone you don't know?", I would feel a little queasy opening a package that could easily have been diverted to a bomb-maker on its way to my kitchen table.
Getting back to the call for a boycott of UPS, there is certainly cause for anger when a vital service is being withheld from Jews in Judea and Samaria (although it should be noted that FedEx and DHL somehow manage to deliver to these areas). But the anger in this case is misdirected and misguided. It isn't that UPS doesn't want the additional business from the settlers (and those who want to mail them packages). It's just that UPS can't find enough Jewish/Israeli drivers willing to routinely drive beyond the green line. That may be a shame and an embarrassment... but it isn't cause for a boycott.
Both of the calls for boycott I have mentioned here are perfect examples of how this powerful tool/weapon is being abused.
By all means, if a vendor or service-provider is unresponsive (or even abusive) to the people it relies upon for sustenance... call for a boycott. But if there are perfectly valid reasons for the services to have suffered that are outside the control of a company, it might behoove us to take a deep breath, make an honest assessment of who did what... and then, if appropriate, direct our frustration in a direction where it is likely to actually do some good.
Just my two cents.
On a related note... I hope nobody out there is boycotting the Weblog Awads since someone we all know is a finalist (hint hint)
Monday, August 08, 2005
Desert trick to try at home
[Yes, I meant 'desert' and not 'dessert']
One of my favorite places to eat in Beer Sheva is a little Yemenite restaurant located on a small one-way side-street in the heart of the 'old city'. The place is a bit dumpy, and the small seating area is open to the street (read: no air conditioning), but the food is fresh, authentic and delicious!
The first time I was taken to this place (I don't know if it even has a name) by one of my co-workers, I was impressed by both the excellent quality of the food... and the copious quantity of fresh-baked breads, salads, soups and grilled meats that crashed like waves upon the table.
The crowning achievement, though, was the Hummus.
Like all the other dishes on the menu, the restaurant made it's own Hummus. I suspect they grind in some peanuts with every batch because there was a distinct nuttiness about the flavor that made it irresistible!
However much this may sound like a restaurant review, I actually wanted to share a bit of desert wisdom that I learned as we were being walked (rolled) out of the restaurant by the friendly owner.
On the way out through the large open entryway of the place I noticed several small clear plastic bags of water hanging by strings from the awning. As we stood outside on the sidewalk chatting with the owner, my eyes were drawn again and again to these small bags of water.
The owner noticed me staring at the suspended bags and offered an amazing explanation about their function.
He said that a Bedouin friend of his had told him that the way the desert tribes keep flies out of their tents is to hang such bags of water at the entrance. Once upon a time they had used small glass bottles of water... but the little clear sandwich bags work just as well and don't hurt when someone inadvertently bumps into them with their head.
Once he'd shared this explanation with us it occurred to me that, despite the restaurant being open to the street, we had not seen a single fly inside. This may not sound like anything worth mentioning... unless you've experienced the fly-potential of Beer Sheva in the summertime.
In this desert town, flies are everywhere! The Souk (open air market) is teeming with the annoying buzz of flies... and nearly anywhere one stands or sits outside these days necessitates a fairly constant waving motion with the hand or a newspaper to keep the flies from alighting on face or food.
But sure enough... the restaurant had been fly-free!
I asked him to explain the science behind the little bags of water and he half-closed his eyes, stuck out his chin and offered a shrug that anyone not born to a middle eastern culture could never hope to imitate. It was the sort of shrug to make the Gallic version seem vague!
After a moment he offered up that perhaps the way the light shines through the water scares the flies away. He was clearly humoring me with his guess, though... because this tentative statement was followed by yet another one of his broad meaningful shrugs... after which he waved us to our car.
I don't know about you... but I'm dying to try this at home!