Sunday, February 18, 2007
Buttons and Baskets
Two opportunities to do good today:
First up is a project that the 7th grade class at my daughter's school has undertaken with the goal of collecting 1.5 million buttons corresponding to the approximately 1.5 million children who perished in the Holocaust.
- A button is a basic component for clothes; however each button has a unique shape and color. This reminds us of the special uniqueness of every child who perished.
- A button can close a jacket and protect us. This reminds us of the protection which was lacking for those children who perished.
- A button is circular, which reminds us of the life cycle and that these children ending their cycles too soon.
- A button is whole and complete. The Nazis uprooted children from the families and home and made their lives torn and incomplete.
The kids in my daughter's class are about two-thirds of the way to realizing their goal and are broadening their search for buttons to the international community for the final push.
That's where you come in.
Please check to see if there are buttons attached to any of those old shirts and dresses that you've consigned to the rag bin at your house (or which you are about to throw away). Even a few buttons will be welcome!
Please send the buttons to:
Asseh Chayil Elementary School
1 1/2 million buttons project
The Gefen Hill
The next project is perhaps a bit less esoteric... but every bit as important:
You may remember last summer that I was involved in the great Zionist Underwear Drive which delivered much needed underwear and socks to reservists who had been called up to fight in the Lebanon war but who had no way to wash or replace their, um, soiled skivvies.
You guys came through in a spectacular way... resulting in several car/truck loads of these essential undergarments being delivered to staging points along the northern border. This program was managed by the very worthwhile organization; Standing Together.
This campaign, known as 'Purim Together', serves as a practical and simple way to demonstrate your solidarity, support and appreciation of Israel's young soldiers. This is a wonderful way to show Israel's young heroes how much you care.
Just as with the Zionist Underwear Drive, I will be volunteering to drive some of the goodies. I'll be dropping off some of the Mishloach Manot baskets to the troops stationed along my drive to work (Gush Etzion, South Hevron Hills and northern Negev).
The goal is to send 50,000 Mishloach Manot packages. About 30,000 have already been committed by the 'Friends of the IDF in Israel', and they are looking for the support of your schools, synagogues and communities for the additional 20,000.
This project provides a terrific opportunity to express your support and commitment to Israel, her people and her defenders. It is operated by Standing Together and the Friends of the IDF in Israel, as a philanthropic project, and is not a business venture [Ed. note: Unlike some of the ads you may see on various websites].
There are a couple of ways you can help:
Click here to download the Purim Together Color Flyer. Click here to download the Purim Together Black and White Flyer. These are ready for you to distribute to your synagogue, organization and all your contacts.
Click here to make your donation for Purim Mishloach Baskets.
OK, that's it for today. Whether you pick buttons or baskets (or both), I applaud you for your generosity.
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
'The Darkest Night'
If you haven't done something special yet for Hanukkah, tonight is the night. Invite friends over... make a party... do something special with the kids. If you have an old copy of the Birnbaum siddur (prayerbook) around the house you can even curl up in a comfortable chair and read through a seldom-remembered 'megilah' called 'The Scroll of the Hasmoneans' (Here is a translation thanks to long-time treppenwitz reader 'Customer Servant'... and a good, in-depth explanation of its history can be found here).
So, why is this night different from all oth.... um, sorry... wrong holiday.
But seriously, tonight is different.
The fifth night of Hanukkah is called 'the darkest night', not because it falls on one of the last days of the Hebrew month of Kislev (meaning there is no moon), but because it is the only night of Hanukkah that can NEVER fall on Shabbat.
That's right, you heard me right... the way the Jewish calendar is set up, any night of Hanukkah can fall out on a Friday night except the fifth candle.
On all other nights we eat both bread and matzo... er, sorry, did it again. What I meant to say was that on all other nights the light of the Hanukkah candles is enhanced by the light - and kedushah (holiness) - of the Shabbat candles. But on the fifth night the light from the Hanukiah (menorah) has to fight the darkness by itself.
That's where we come in. A nice tradition has arisen of bringing extra light... extra celebration... extra kedushah to this night by doing something special with family and friends.
I was so moved by this tradition when I first heard about it that I decided to create a tangible reminder that I could carry around with me throughout the year. Since I was a teenager I had wanted a signet ring but didn't like the ones with initials (and I didn't have a family crest). So Zahava created a simple design that would always remind me that at times in my life when I am not surrounded by light and holiness... I have to provide a little of my own to help chase away the darkness.
May your fifth night be bright (here's a picture of the big kids lighting the fifth candle from a couple of years ago).
Monday, December 18, 2006
A guilty seasonal tradition
Every year about this time I make some reference to a guilty little pleasure of mine... something in which I have continued to indulge since moving to Israel: 'Holiday' music.
Growing up in New England you can't really avoid being exposed to the onslaught of holiday music that pours from every radio, television and mall loudspeaker from Thanksgiving (now Halloween) on.
I wasn't even aware to what extent I had internalized these 'classics' until I was cruising around the western Pacific on a ship one December in the Early 80s and realized I didn't miss the cold... I didn't miss the snow... I didn't even really miss eggnog back then. I missed the Xmas music!
Remember, this was before Mariah Carrie and every other 'name' started churning out Christmas albums. I'm surprised William Shatner didn't grace us with one of his own!
Anyway, I'd been listening to the classic seasonal music for so long that it had become like the thrill of the first pick-up baseball game of spring... the taste of sweet corn in late summer... the smell of burning leaves in fall. In short, it wasn't December without that music!
I'm not a purist by any means. I loved quirky hits like 'Grandma got run over by a reindeer' and 'Jingle Bell Rock' every bit as much as the more traditional 'Sleigh Ride' and 'Chestnuts Roasting on an open fire'. And this is before I realized that a lot of the Christmas music was actually written by Jews (think 'White Christmas' by Irving Berlin')!
As I write this (at 5:55AM), Zahava is still asleep next to me and I have Vince Guaraldi's 'Charlie Brown Cristmas' soundtrack playing softly on iTunes. She's also a child of the northeast, but I don't know if she shares my soft spot for the seasonal musical saccharine.
A recent favorite of mine is by the late Wesley Willis, a former homeless schizophrenic who attained cult status back in the 90's with his peculiar brand of song-writing.
Here it is: 'Merry Christmas', (it also has a cute animated video).
Lastly, just so you don't think I'm a total sucker for anything seasonal... here is arguably the worst Xmas song ever recorded. It is an amateur recording of 'Oh Holy Night' (Steve, of 'The Sneeze' called it, appropriately, 'Oh Holy Crap!') Please listen to the end as each time you think it can't possibly get worse... it does. If you need a good belly laugh, give it a listen.
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)