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Monday, January 31, 2005

Who says advertising doesn't work?

Anyone from North America probably remembers a big blue canister of Morton Salt in their pantry.  You may say you don't remember but let's play a simple little game to test your memory:

1.  On the blue Morton Salt canister there is a little girl wearing a yellow dress and carrying a big _____________:

A.  Bowl of Popcorn
B.  Slab of Nova Salmon
C.  T-Bone Steak
D.  Umbrella

If you answered 'D' , congratulations, you've won the first round and can advance to the second level.  Moving on...

2.  Directly behind the little girl the viewer can see___________:

A.  A little dog pulling down her bathing suit to reveal her tan line.
B.  Detective McRuff reminding her to "Take a bite out of crime".
C.  The exhaust from her Harley Davidson Motorcycle
D.  A wide trail of salt pouring from the canister she holds under her arm.

How'd we do?  If you answered 'A' I'm sorry, that would be the Coppertone Girl... but I like that you were still focused on advertising.  Anyone else? OK, if you answered 'D' again, you were correct.  You advance to the 'Bonus' round!

3.  At the bottom of the canister there is a memorable sentence that does not describe the free-flowing properties of the salt, its taste or even its color.  The sentence reads:  "This salt contains ___________ a necessary nutrient."  The missing word is:

A.  Plutonium
B.  Retsin
C.  Vitamin C
D.  Iodine

Alright, time's up.  Oh, I'm sorry, if you answered 'B' you were thinking of Certs.  But as a gift you'll be receiving the 'Play at Home' version of our game!  How about a nice hand!!! 

Alright, our winner, of course, answered 'D'... Iodine.

Now how is it that absolutely everyone I know remembers that Morton's Salt ("when it rains it pours") contains iodine, but very few know why.  Also, if I ask people if Morton's was the only iodized salt, there is a lot of hemming and hawing, but few definitive answers.

Despite what you must be thinking at this point, I didn't just pick this topic out of clear blue sky.  Believe it or not, the whole iodized salt issue has been bothering me since we moved to Israel.  You see, when I went into the store to buy that first batch of groceries for our new house a little over a year ago, I read every single canister, bag, shaker and baggie of salt to find some mention of iodine... and found none.

This is where the magic of advertising comes in.  If you ask anyone what the active ingredient in Certs brand breath mint is, they will yell 'Retsin!'.  They have no earthly idea what Retsin is, or why it is important, but they remember the commercial with that drop of sparkling Retsin being placed on each Cert.  Sorry to disappoint you folks, but Retsin is vegetable oil, and if you want to know why Certs made such a big deal about it, the answer lies in the fact that you remember it all these years after first hearing about it.

The Iodine in Morton's iodized table salt is similar, although not completely bogus advertising hook. 

Is Morton's the only salt to have iodine?  No, of course not. 

Is iodine a 'necessary nutrient'?  Why yes... yes it is. 

But the more important question that needs to be asked is; If I don't use iodized salt, will I no longer get this necessary nutrient? 

This is the question I found myself agonizing over in an Israeli supermarket's salt section during that first big shopping spree.

It turns out that the answer is a resounding 'It Depends'.  It depends on factors such as:

a) Where you live: Many areas of the world have iodine in the soil and it gets transferred to vegetables, fruits and even milk as it is passed up the food chain.

b) What you eat: Iodine is found in many sea foods and plants that grow in or near the ocean.  People who have a diet rich in such foods probably get a pretty good amount of iodine without supplementing with iodized salt.

So let's say I eat a diet low in sea food, I live in an area that does not have iodine in the soil and I don't use iodized salt.  What happens then?

Well, to answer that question you need to understand that most of the iodine you take in is stored in your Thyroid gland, a butterfly shaped gland that straddles your wind pipe inside your neck.   

Near the beginning of the 20th century, the US government became concerned about two fairly common (and preventable) conditions caused by lack of iodine: Cretinism and Goiters.

Cretinism was a preventable form of retardation caused by lack of iodine in the mother during pregnancy.  It manifested itself through stunted growth, mental retardation and a tendency to leave inappropriate comments on total stranger's blogs.  OK, I made that last one up to see if you were paying attention, but the first two are real.

Goiters are those big, unsightly growths on the front of the neck that are actually acute swelling of the thyroid gland.  Chances are, if you've seen someone with a goiter it was probably in National Geographic or some medical journal since they are quite rare in developed countries these days.

So, as I was saying, the US government decided around 1920 to add iodine to something that most everyone was likely to use.  They picked salt.  It just so happens that Morton's ran with the idea and made it part of their marketing strategy.  Long after people had forgotten about goiters and cretinism, there was that memorable line of advertising on the familiar blue canister in all our pantries.

This brings us back to David standing in the salt aisle of the Israeli supermarket, panicked over his inability to find iodized salt.  At that point I didn't have a clear sense of why iodine was important, but I knew that Morton's wouldn't have made a big deal about it unless it was pretty darned important. I ended up buying regular salt and made a note to have some Morton's sent over from the states at the earliest opportunity.

What I recently found out is that Israel is not one of the 'high risk' iodine countries (this must have been G-d's consolation prize for not giving us one drop of the world's crude oil supply). Not only is iodine present in the soil in much of the land used for agriculture, but the per-capita consumption of seafood is high enough to ensure that most people have plenty of iodine in their diet.  But just to be on the safe side, Israel's largest salt company contracted with a Swiss company to provide iodizing technology to its plant in Eilat.

So, there it is.  Unless an Israeli uses one of those fancy European sea salts to the exclusion of all others, and completely avoids seafood, fruits, vegetables and milk products, chances are pretty good that he/she won't have to worry about developing a goiter or leaving inappropriate comments on anyone's blog.

[Note:  Most (but not all) of the information found in today's post came from the Morton Salt web site and/or herbalicious.com .  The rest is just stuff I have picked up through 43+ years of collecting trivia.]219_9

Posted by David Bogner on January 31, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (22) | TrackBack

Saturday, January 29, 2005

These booties were made for walkin'...

OK, just a reminder to anyone who caught the Nancy Sinatra reference in the title... make sure you're getting plenty of calcium in your diet because bone density can become an issue at your age!  ;-)

No, seriously... you'd think that by the third kid I'd be used to this sort of thing.


I still nearly wept this afternoon when Yonah took his first steps.  Of course we couldn't use the camera on Shabbat so this clip was taken about an hour after Shabbat ended:

Download Clip

[Note:  You'll need Quicktime to view the film clip.  If you don't have it you can download it here]

Posted by David Bogner on January 29, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (24) | TrackBack

Friday, January 28, 2005

Photo Friday (Vol. XII) [Deluxe Edition]

Once again, I am sorry about last week.  As chief cook and bottle washer (not to mention primary nose-wiper and back-up diaper changer) I was busier than a one legged man in an *ss kicking contest (I've always wanted to use that expression... don't ask me why)!

So this week I'm going to do something a bit different.  As I mentioned before, I have been having trouble finding that elusive 3rd picture for many of you, and several requests were for similar pictures.  So today I'm going to have a combination Photo Friday featuring requests from several of you.

To begin with, Christopher Naze (the timekeeper over at Days of Naze), asked for 2 interesting things (actually 3 but I'm still thinking about the 3rd):

1) The one food you would eat if you could only eat one thing for the rest of your life.
2) The moon as viewed from your home.

I liked these two requests because they ended up looking quite similar.  First comes the food I would eat for the rest of my life if I could only eat one thing.  For you movie buffs, this is the question that one of the kids asks the other in the film, Stand By Me.  The unhesitating answer in the movie was "Cherry Pez... no question!"  As tempting as that might be, I think that most of the treats I enjoy would get tiresome after a while.  So I give you my answer:

The incredible edible egg!   A while back I had a journal entry about eggs, and many of you chimed in with your favorite way to prepare/eat them.  From the staggering number of ways one can prepare eggs, it is easy to imagine why I would never get bored of this wonderful food.  The discoloration is one of the things that come along with getting warm, farm-fresh eggs delivered to the house every week.

Christoper's second request was for a picture of the moon from my house.  I don't know how many of you have tried to photograph the moon using a point-and-shoot digital camera, but it ain't easy, trust me.
It was just a happy coincidence that the night sky and my favorite cast iron skillet offered such similar backgrounds.  By the way, Chris's son just went through a nasty tonsillectomy... go show him some love.

Next, Sandra (your German speaking guide at Discover the World) was very nice about mentioning a candy store, but then said she didn't want to tempt me.  No problem... I withstood the test (and I'm working on your other two requests):


Alice Jonsson made three interesting requests (two of which I've included here today);

1.  Something that makes you laugh every time you see it.
2.  Something that you see often that makes you think "That needs to go away."

Ironically,  I found these things within walking distance of one another. First is a restaurant sign near Zion Square.  I don't know what kind of clientele they are trying to attract here, but by the looks of the sign I'm guessing that they won't be very good tippers:

Alice's other request is something that really has to be experienced in person to understand the extent to which it really 'has to go away'.  I'm talking about the 'scene' in Zion Square late in the evening.  It has become a gathering place for (ironically, mostly religious) teenagers who have wandered off the path on which their parents, teachers and society in general had tried to place them.  They hang out, deal/buy drugs, smoke (various things), drink (various things)  and generally revel in the extent to which they have left behind society's norms.  There are a few do-gooder organizations that try to do outreach there and supply warm food to the kids... but to my way of thinking the kids simply accept the generosity and think 'cool, if I don't have to buy food, that means more money for me to spend on booze and drugs!' [sigh]


Last but not least, I got a few requests from the The Kerckhoff Coffee House's medical Chief of Staff - Doctor Bean.   he asked for :

1) Your Havdala set (For the Judaically challenged, Havdala is the ceremony that ends the Sabbath, it involves a multi-wicked candle, wine, and fragrant spices. Many families have a beautiful wine glass, candle holder and spice container that they use for this.) 
2) The Mediterranean (If you're never near the beach, scratch that and substitute the most expansive view you have during a typical week.)

Here is our Havdala Set (It consists of a wine cup, a spice tower (filled with cloves & cinnamon) shaped like a bird house, and a beeswax candle in a an ornate holder.  All are made of silver:

For the next pictures I took some liberties.  I have some photos of the Mediterranean, mostly backgrounds from shots of the kids on our trip to Ceasaria (you can see them in our photo album on the right).  However, on a recent business trip up north I stopped for an hour at Har (Tel) Megiddo (also known as Armageddon) to wander around the excavations.  The view that this ancient city commands is magnificent (although as you can see, it was a bit foggy the day I was there).   It is small wonder that this place was the inspiration for James Michener’s "The Source".

First is a picture of the circular alter (under which there were several dozen earlier alters):

Here is the view from the top, overlooking the Jezreel valley (known by some as the plains of Armageddon).

Well, that's it for this week.  I hope the extra pictures made up for last week's no-show.

I would ask those of you who are still waiting for your requests to be fulfilled (including those illusive 3rd shots) to please bear with me... I'm working on them.  If anyone wants to request other shots (including those who have already gotten requests fulfilled) please feel free to send them in.

Hope everyone had a good week.

Shabbat Shalom!

Posted by David Bogner on January 28, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (14) | TrackBack

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Me and my big mouth!

When I opened this little coffee shop called treppenwitz I didn't think it would be necessary to get all bossy with a bunch of rules and regulations.  Heck, I couldn't imagine that anyone besides my immediate family and a small handful of old friends would have any interest in reading what I had to say... so I just hung out my sign and started writing.

During the past year I have been fortunate to cultivate an extremely diverse group of regular readers, all the while continuing to write about stuff that interests me.  More than that, I have been blessed with the respectful advice, opinions and wisdom of countless people... many of whom don't necessarily share my religious, political or social views.

Treppenwitz has regularly been host to two of the three classic taboo subjects; religion and politics (I won't mention the third for fear of another googleanche), yet I can't remember ever reading a confrontational or disrespectful comment.  Not one!  I've never had to ban anyone (except for comment spammers), and I can honestly say that I have learned a great deal about the world (and my place in it) from those whose opinions were the furthest from my own.  All this can be explained in one word:


Unlike most of the blogosphere, treppenwitz has been a refuge where doctors, strippers, housewives, teachers, students, salespeople, computer geeks, lesbians, Hasidim, artists, bankers, professors, and countless others, have gathered to respectfully exchange ideas with people that they would likely never meet in the 'real world'.  Because we all have our sensitivities and vulnerabilities, the give-and-take has been done delicately... much like I imagine a porcupine might make love (OK, that was my oblique way of mentioning that third taboo!).

The result has been that I have been able to air out ideas and observations that require a broader perspective than I can give them.... and you have been generous enough to share your collective life experience, intellect and worldview.  I hope that you feel that you have gained from the relationship... because I know that I have.

However, a couple of days ago I made a mistake.  While ranting about a very specific issue (car seats) within a broader topic (personal responsibility), I made the mistake of painting too detailed a picture of the person and community within which I had witnessed the incident.  In my mind I was providing important backstory and set descriptions so you the reader could get a better idea of the event as it actually happened. 

You should know by now that I can't just mention a pencil.  It has to be a bright yellow #2 Ticonderoga... sharpened unevenly... with only a sliver of the eraser showing above the dented lip of the silver retaining band... and with a few deep bite marks where some anonymous user has worried at it during a moment of stress.

In this case, describing a thoughtless woman among a group of religious settlers was too much information for one of my readers.  Mentioning religious settlers must be like waving a red flag in front of somebody with an agenda, because instead of commenting on the gist of the story (child safety/personal responsibility), this reader decided to hijack the discussion in order to air out his own agenda.

That too was my own fault.  When he said something to the effect of  "Good story David I wrote something about it on my blog", I made the mistake of following the link to his site.  His entry was not about child safety or personal responsibility, but rather a tirade about how settlers were the single biggest danger to the State of Israel.  He did end it by saying that he wasn't talking about Efrat (we must be the 'good settlers').

I compounded my mistake when I responded to his tirade in my comments section by pointing out where I respectfully disagreed with him.  I really should have known better.  He replied with his true colors flying and suddenly 'all settlers' were wrong (no mention of the good Efrat residents this time).

Well, I'm human.  I waited 24 hours before responding, but my response was far from the respectful tone I have come to expect from others.  In fact, I played the dreaded 'if you aren't living here shut your cake hole' card... something I try not to do very often.

Anyway, I'm calmer now.  I haven't changed my mind about this particular cretin and his heavy-handed way of imposing his views on others.  But I am just embarrassed enough about my own behavior that I won't edit or remove my own comments either.  They are there for everyone to see what I have always sought to avoid here at treppenwitz. 

So in conclusion, I'm still not ready to impose any hard and fast rules of conduct... but going forward I would like to set the bar just a little higher for myself. 

Photo Friday should be up by early afternoon Israel time (that announcement was so Doctor Bean can go to sleep at a decent hour tonight).  :-)



Posted by David Bogner on January 27, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (30) | TrackBack

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

No, it won't be OK!

Fasten your seat belts folks... this morning we wander into that uncharted territory located somewhere between the cultural norms within which I was raised and the rich tapestry of cultural attitudes which hold sway here in Israel.

Most of the time when I venture into this gray area it is to point out something that tickles my fancy, or in some way pleases me with its newness or ingeniousness.

Not this time.

Last week I was driving home from work around 7:30PM. As I drove through the south Hevron hills my headlights illuminated a small group of women hitchhikers waiting outside the front gate of a settlement called Karmel. It was bitter cold outside and had been raining intermittently, so of course I stopped to pick up as many of them as my car could hold.

As several of the women climbed quickly into the car, I took note of the general appearance of the new passengers without paying too much attention to the individuals.

Most were dressed in what is often referred to as ‘settler chic’, but which a good friend calls ‘the layered shmatte* look’. When done nicely, I find ‘settler chic’ to be quite attractive, in a bohemian sort of way. When done poorly (or overdone), it drifts over into ‘hippie bag lady’ territory.

I know... I’m being judgmental, but there it is.  Anyway, back to the story of my car full of hitchhikers.

Since moving here I have become much more of a stickler about all passengers in my car wearing seatbelts. Not only have studies shown that an unsecured passenger is particularly vulnerable to injury or death in an accident, but also such an unsecured body acts as a potentially lethal projectile to anyone else inside the car.

As if that weren’t enough to convince me, as the driver of the car I am also the one who would get a very expensive ticket if the police were to stop me and find anyone unbelted.

So, as the last of the group got into the car I made my usual reminder for everyone to put on seatbelts and checked my rear-view mirror to see if it was safe to pull back onto the road.

Geographically, if one is headed north on Route 60, Karmel is the last Jewish settlement before entering a long stretch of the road where there are only Arab villages. While I don’t find this stretch of my drive to be overly worrisome, I also don’t dawdle or stop anywhere on this stretch. Why tempt fate, right?

Well, as soon as we were approaching the first of the Arab villages I heard an odd sound from behind me: A baby crying!

As I said before, I didn’t look too closely at the women who had gotten into the car, but apparently, tucked somewhere in the folds of one woman’s ‘shmattes’, there was a baby!

Now I was pissed! I didn’t have a baby seat in the car and this idiot had put herself, her baby, and me in a very awkward (not to mention dangerous) situation.

If we were near a Jewish settlement I would have pulled over and let her out right away. But in a potentially hostile area I was faced with the unhappy choice of continuing on with an unsecured baby in the car, or turning back and wasting half an hour in order to return her and her baby to Karmel.

In the end I fumed in silence and dropped off the group in Kiryat Arba without a word.

I have related this incident to several Israeli friends, and have been shocked to find that nobody seems to view this the way I do. In fact, while most people I’ve asked agree that it is not safe to transport a baby without a car seat, they were very quick to suggest excuses for this dopey mother, such as:

Maybe she doesn’t have a car and therefore never bought a baby seat.

Perhaps she can’t afford a baby seat.

What if she has a baby seat but her husband has the car and she needed to take the baby somewhere.

Among the young, ‘new-age’ religious settler crowd, there seems to be a kind of blind optimism, above and beyond the typical Israeli ‘yihiyeh b’seder’ (loosely translated as ‘everything will be OK’) attitude.   The subtle subtext of this attitude seems to be that personal responsibility is no longer necessary because everything is in the hands of G-d.

I understand that this total trust in the Almighty (read: surrender of basic common sense/prudence) is a necessary personality trait for anyone who elects to raise a family in a trailer on one of these windswept hilltops amidst a gazillion angry Arabs. But where does one draw the line?  When does this blind faith that everything will be OK cross over into dragging others (e.g. me) into extremely serious safety/liability issues?

Since this incident I have noticed a few other cars on the road with unsecured infants on a parent’s laps. What the hell is going on here? Has everyone taken leave of their collective senses?!  Is this kind of thing happening in Tel Aviv???

Somebody please tell me that I’ve simply been unlucky enough to witness a few isolated examples of incredibly bad judgment, and not a trend towards the ultimate, reckless level of ‘yihiyeh b’seder’!

* Shmatte is a Yiddish word that literally means ‘rag’, but which can also be used to describe a dress or garment. It is rarely a compliment when used in the latter sense.


Posted by David Bogner on January 25, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (35) | TrackBack

Sunday, January 23, 2005

End of an Era

I can remember the first time I felt like somewhat of a grownup (or perhaps somewhat less of a little kid) was the first time my parents let me stay up to watch Johnny Carson.  I'd been doing it occasionally without permission, but the permission made it clear that I was sometimes allowed to enter this dimly lit, glowing blue, late evening world of grownup humor.

Up until I first watched Johnny Carson, I knew him only by the sound of those around him.  Ed McMahon's "Heeeeeeeeere's Johnny!"... or "You are correct sir!"... or perhaps my father's breathless belly laugh during the opening monologue... these were the sounds I heard from my bed late at night.  I can remember standing in my pajamas outside the doorway of my parent's bedroom, as the blue light of the TV spilled out into the hallway.   And then one day, when I was old enough... my parents, and Johnny Carson, invited me in.

I learned about politics, showbiz, music and, of course comedy, from Johnny Carson.  He taught a generation of comedians that a sideways glance or a tight-lipped grin could make even a terrible joke funny.

Johnny Carson was, above all, a master of timing.  Even though today, at the relatively young age of 79 he may have rushed his exit from the world's stage, he once again proved the most important rule in show business; 'Alway's leave 'em wanting more.'   


Posted by David Bogner on January 23, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Friday, January 21, 2005

No Photo Friday :-(


Sorry folks, you might want to stand back from your computer... there are sick people here!

Specifically, Zahava and Yonah seem to have the Flu.  Ariella, Gilad and I all had a milder form of it earlier in the week, but this seems to be the real deal.  We even had to call and give a rain check to our shabbat guest!

With the Divine Ms. Z under the weather and the baby being more than his usual handful, I will be making shabbat this week; Chicken soup, grilled chicken... the works.  Sooo, I don't have time to start playing with pictures and such.

Maybe next week I will have a bonus round or something... I'll see what I can come up with.

Shabbat Shalom!

Posted by David Bogner on January 21, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (20) | TrackBack

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Lesson Learned... and how!

I need to publicly acknowledge that I was wrong and Mademoiselle a. was right.

There, I said it.

When I posted my journal entry about that cute little girl singing about her, um, aquatic reptilian friend... Mademoiselle a. immediately warned me about the 'googleanche' of searchers who would surely come looking for this addictive song.

Of course, in my response I assured her that I knew what I was doing and basically poo-pooed her warning.

Heh heh... funny how truly unappetizing one's own words can be when the time comes to eat them.

It is now one week since I unwittingly exposed my cozy little journal to the ravages of the searching public, and I soooo wish this would end.

I went from a few hundred 'regulars' who came most days to read the stuff I had posted, to over 2500 hits a day!  A small handful of you often post comments (what I've come to think of as my 'round table'), and I'd even started to recognize many other readers just based on their location.  But now, all I see on my statistics page is an endless list of faceless referrals from search engines... all looking for Schna...er, you know who.

My bandwidth allowance is maxed out for all but a couple of hours a day, and my little intimate 'coffee shop' now feels more like a shopping mall.

OK Mademoiselle a., tell me how do I make it stop?


Posted by David Bogner on January 20, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (22) | TrackBack

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

An idle mind is a dangerous thing...

Until yesterday I was unable (or unwilling) to allow my mind to do any serious contemplation of the recent natural disaster in South East Asia. From the first reporting that began to trickle in from the devastated countries, I began to have a terrible feeling about how I was processing the information.

There seemed to be a sick part of my subconscious mind that was morbidly excited each time the death toll doubled and then doubled again. This was no ferryboat capsizing in Bangladesh, or an exploding volcano on some sparsely populated South Sea island.

No, this was history I was witnessing… the kind of event that ones grandkids ask about when they learn about it in their history class… 50 years from now! And it seemed that some part of my mind wanted numbers that could stand the test of time.

As much as I immediately loathed myself for having experienced this voyeuristic thrill, each time I heard the death toll being revised ever higher I couldn’t push away from that self-congratulatory thrill at having my personal timeline coincide with a truly historic event.   

Wasn't it Stalin who said "The death of one man is a tragedy.  The death of millions is a statistic."?  Well, my sick little mind was having too good a time with these 'statistics'.

And so, because I was so revolted with my inner ghoul, I stopped watching any coverage of the tsunami or its aftermath.  I put up a big fence around the topic and refused to give my mind further access to it! No ifs, ands or buts!

But the mind is a funny thing. You can cut off all information… sever all ties with an offending source… fill your life with perfectly suitable things to occupy your imagination… and your mind will decide to do exactly as it damned well pleases.

Yesterday, on my way back from meetings in the north, I was driving through a torrential downpour in Haifa. The thunder and lightning shattered the late afternoon at frequent intervals and I drove carefully through standing water that reached the car’s doors. I was warm and dry inside the cocoon of my company car, and my iPod was serving up a pleasant selection from my ‘Early 60’s’ playlist.

The result:  For several hours my mind was left unsupervised.

Bad. Very bad!

This morning I woke up from a horrible dream about thousands of bloated corpses floating in the lagoon of Gilligan’s Island. And I immediately knew why.

My mind had used the stormy drive time to free-associate through its messy little card catalog of topics and words related to the forbidden subject. It had played its own little game of ‘Taboo’ during the long drive, and had blindly inched its way towards the illicit topic the way one might creep towards the fuse box immediately after a blackout.

As best as I can figure out, the free-association probably went something like this:

It’s cold and wet outside the car windows… Look at that poor guy walking without an umbrella or raincoat in this downpour… I hope he doesn’t have too far to go to get out of this messy weather… Oh! Bad luck… he just got soaked by a passing car… Good, traffic is moving nicely now, I’m on the coastal highway south of Haifa… Wow, look at the beach and the waves… the highway is literally right on the beach… Look at the palm trees along the water… they are really getting blown around… Hey, wasn’t there an episode of Gilligan’s Island where the palm trees along the lagoon were being blown like that?… Hmmm… maybe it was the opening credits ("The weather started getting rough, the tiny ship was tossed…")… No… That only showed the boat at sea… there must have been an actual episode that showed a storm on the island… I’ll bet if this were Southern California there would be surfers out there enjoying the storm…Wait, there WAS an episode of Gilligan’s Island with a surfer!… Oh yeah, right, the one where the surfer catches an enormous wave from Hawaii and makes it all the way to the Island… and he ends up catching the same kind of wave off of the island (but hits his head and gets amnesia so he forgets about the castaways!)… Now I remember… that’s where I learned the word for those huge waves… ‘tsunamis’... cripes, I learned more important stuff from ‘The Professor’ than I did from any of my teachers back then!… Oh good, it looks like the rain is letting up a little bit…

And just like that my mind found a way under the fence I had built around the topic. But it didn’t shout "Ah HAH! Look what I did!!!" No, instead it waited until I was fast asleep and then started trashing the joint.

The result: I woke up with a lagoon full of bloated bodies and the realization that I could no longer hide from the subject.

Well, I can take some small comfort in the fact that I was able to hold off confronting the topic for almost three weeks. At least now I can sit down and read real accounts from real people who were actually there, rather than the various network ‘talking heads’ trying desperately to keep their remote-control-wielding viewers from clicking away to somebody else’s coverage.

Now it is no longer ‘news’. The ink is starting to dry, and as I suspected it would; the event is starting to harden into something very much resembling history.

OK, History I can handle.


Posted by David Bogner on January 19, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Monday, January 17, 2005

Pinger or Pingee?

Recently, while admiring the home office of a fellow journaler which he shares with his wife, I tried explaining that it was sometimes difficult for me to do my late-evening online reading with my wife sitting nearby.

He looked at me with a puzzled expression so I rushed on to explain. You see, I have always been a very slow reader.  Mild dyslexia and a very short attention span sometimes make it hard for me to comprehend long sentences, much less a complex paragraphs.  Unfortunately, Zahava and I often do our blog reading at the same time. This means that I have to contend with a nearly constant stream of, “oh… can I read you something?”, or “Did you read so-and-so yet?”, or any one of a hundred similar well-intentioned interruptions.

What Zahava doesn’t internalize is that each time she speaks to me while I’m reading something, my little mental choo-choo runs off the tracks, and I have to start at the beginning of the sentence (or sometimes paragraph).

Not fun at all.

While I was telling Ben about this small (in the grand scheme of things) inconvenience, it occurred to me that this 'problem' isn't confined to our home office. I can be anywhere in the house and Zahava will yell up (or down) to tell me something, or share a passing thought. Even when I’m at work, several times a day I’ll get a cheerful call or an SMS message ‘just checking in’.

As I explained to Mr. Chorin, I don’t usually mind these little bits of non-essential contact (unless I’ve already read the same sentence 15 or 20 times without comprehending it), but I don’t fully understand them either. That’s when he turned to me and put it all in perfect focus.

He said, “Oh, she’s pinging you.”

And just like that I understood.

As a former Navy sonar technician, I’m intimately familiar with the term ‘pinging’. It is the slang word for sending active sonar into the water in order to locate an underwater object (such as a sub) based on the returning echo.

In the online world the word ‘ping’ refers to a utility that checks to see if a particular IP address is accessible. It does this by sending a small packet of information, and waits for a reply.

Blogger/journalers automatically ‘ping’ those who have blogrolled them each time they update their sites.

No matter what the frame of reference… it all comes down to the same thing:

Pinging = “I’m here… are you still there?”

This is essentially what has been going on in my marriage. But until I spoke with Ben I hadn’t been able to put a term to it.

Zahava and I ‘ping’ one another at fairly predictable intervals… but the intervals at which Zahava 'pings' me are much shorter than the intervals at which I ‘ping’ her. For instance I can go several hours before I feel the urge to ‘reach out’ and make contact with her. If the demands on my attention are particularly heavy, most of a day can pass before I feel that longing for connection.

But Zahava seems to be wired a little bit differently. Even with a gazillion things going on with work and kids and teaching and reading and, well, ‘stuff’… she still has a nearly constant need to ‘ping’ me.

“I’m here… are you still there?”

And it doesn’t matter if I’m right next to her, in the next room or on another continent… the 'ping interval' stays basically the same.

Other than the whole ‘pinging David while he’s reading’ thing (which will never be OK), I really enjoy being the ‘pingee’ and my mood is usually much improved after a quick call or text message. But I can’t help thinking that maybe there’s supposed to be some sort of ‘ping parity’… you know, equal transmission/interval time.

I don’t know… I’ll have to ponder that one for a while.

In the mean time, I'd be interested to know if 'pinging' is as widespread as I suspect... and if so, do you find yourself more often the 'pinger' or the 'pingee'.

Posted by David Bogner on January 17, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (23) | TrackBack

Sunday, January 16, 2005

The ‘35’

I live in a part of Israel 20 kilometers south of Jerusalem called Gush Etzion (the Etzion Block). To my way of thinking there is no more beautiful area in the country. The Judean hills with their ancient terraces all around... the clear cool air (even in July and August one sometimes needs a sweater in the evening)… the rich Biblical/archeological history tying nearly every hilltop and valley to a person or event in Jewish history... all combine to make me feel very much at home here.

However, today marks a sad chapter in the more recent history of this region, and as a journaler living within walking distance of where these events took place I would be remiss if I didn’t take time out from my 'navel-gazing' to pass along a brief description of this tragic story:

During Israel’s War of Independence, the area responsible for protecting Jerusalem’s southern flank was Gush Etzion. This small collection of agricultural settlements were themselves quite vulnerable due to the difficulty in maintaining supply lines, and the Arab armies took full advantage of the Etzion Block’s relative isolation to lay siege to the four kibbutzim; Kfar Etzion, Masuot yitzhchak, Ein Tzurim and Revadim.

On Wednesday January 14th, 1948, under cover of darkness, the Palmach (the elite strike force of the Haganah) sent a group of 40 reserve soldiers (mostly students from Hebrew University who were seasoned veterans) on foot from Jerusalem’s Ein Kerem neighborhood towards kibbutz Ein Tzurim. In their 30-40 kg packs they carried first-aid supplies, plasma, weapons and ammunition.

Unfortunately, the steep terraced hillsides made for such slow going that they were less than half way to their destination as dawn approached. The commander, Danny Moss, made the difficult decision to abort the mission and return to Jerusalem.

However, despite the soldier’s fatigue it was decided to make a second attempt the next night... but from a different direction. The new plan called for the unit to travel by armored vehicle to the village of Hartuv, and from there attempt to climb approximately 25 km up to kibbutz Massuot Yitschak. Of the 40 original soldiers, two were sent back to Jerusalem because there weren’t enough weapons for them, and quickly another one had to turn back with two escorts because of a severely sprained ankle... leaving 35.

The march began near midnight, but by dawn they were only approaching Surif, the last Arab village on the way to Gush Etzion... less than 7 km from Massuot Yitzchak. At this point an Arab shepherd detected them and they came under fire.

They had no radio with which to call for help and it was nearly impossible to push on during daylight so Danny split his unit into two and began climbing what is today called Givat HaKrav (battle hill)... a very high position that was somewhat defensible.

Hundreds of Arabs from neighboring villages surrounded the hill and took up positions on neighboring ridges and laid siege to the small group. In a few short hours the supply of ammunition that the group had been carrying ran out and the last of the 35 was killed.

Because the final battle had taken place so far from any Jewish settlements, there was no way for anyone to know exactly what had become of the overdue unit. However, a day or two after the battle a British policeman interviewed a few wounded Arabs and was taken to the site of the battle. Though he didn’t immediately relate the full scope of what had happened to the Jewish leadership (out of fear of reprisals), after a short delay he did arrange for the bodies to be transported to Jerusalem for burial.

In the end, the Etzion Block fell and the last 240 men and women were executed by the Jordanians at Kfar Etzion. However Gush Etzion had done its job and had distracted enough of the Arab legion that Jewish Jerusalem was able to hold on until the end of the war.

David Ben Gurion said, "I can think of no battle in the annals of the Israel Defense Forces which was more magnificent, more tragic or more heroic than the struggle for Gush Etzion... If there exists a Jewish Jerusalem, our foremost thanks go to the defenders of Gush Etzion."

It wasn’t until after the Six Day War that this British policeman returned to Israel and agreed to show representatives of the army exactly where the battle of ‘The 35’ had taken place and to relate all he knew about the events of that day. It had always been assumed that the hill where the battle took place had been in Jordanian hands from 1948 until 1967. But using his notes from that period, the policeman was able to clearly identify a high hill that had been on the Israeli side of the border all along! He also was able to show exactly where all of the bodies had been found, and in what condition.

Today is the anniversary of this terrible battle. May the memory of ‘HaLamed Hey’ (The 35) be a blessing for my beautiful Gush Etzion, and for all Israel.

This coming Thursday night I hope to take part in the annual all night march along the route of ‘The 35’. There will be a break part way for a lecture /kumzitz, and the journey will culminate with morning services at the top of Givat HaKrav. If anyone would like information on joining this inspirational 25 km hike, you can call the Field School at (02) 993-5133.


Posted by David Bogner on January 16, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (17) | TrackBack

Friday, January 14, 2005

Photo Friday (Vol. XI)

I had a difficult decision to make this week. Because of all my business travel I’m not much further along in getting that elusive 3rd picture for a lot of you. So, I had to decide whether to just bag Photo Friday this week, or exercise some discretion.

In the end, I decided that I didn’t want to be responsible for Doctor Bean going through painful withdrawal and anxiety attacks so I opted to go the discretion route.

This week’s selection of photos is courtesy of Jack, owner and operator of ‘The Shack’. His requests were:

1.  A picture of the books you own. Shelved or otherwise.

2.  Picture of the music you own.

3.  Sunset from your home

The first one was sort of a duplicate since I had already posted a picture of the largest concentration of books in the house in one of the early editions of Photo Friday. However many of you (including Jack) cried ‘foul’ because your wanted to see books up close.

Soooo… This morning I went up to our Ma’amad / shelter (every Israeli house and apartment has a steel & concrete reinforced room with a steel door in case of… well, you know.). We use our shelter room as a sort of library for all the books and videos that won't fit on the living room shelves.

I have one or two shelves of very eclectic books in this makeshift library so I selected one shelf and snapped (shnapped!) a picture of the books there:

In case you can’t make out the titles, here is a list (from left to right):
Chutzpah by Alan Dershowitz (signed during an interview I did with him for my undergrad newspaper), Jewish as a Second Language by Molly Katz, Robert’s Rules of Order, Ship of Fools by Katherine Porter, The Moonlit Road and Other Ghost and Horror Stories by Ambrose Bierce, The Iliad and the The Odyssey by Homer, Civil War Stories and The Devil’s Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce, First and Second editions of The ‘F’ Word by my Brother-In-Law Jesse Sheidlower (a very scholarly reference book containing everything you ever wanted to know about, well, the ‘F’ word), The Art & Adventure of Beekeeping by Aebi, Selected poems and prose of Edgar Allen Poe, Wuthering Heights by Bronte, Man and Superman by GB Shaw, Chagall (Zahava’s book), Short works of HD Thoreau, Last of the Mohicans by JF Cooper, Alaska by Micherner, Waiting for Gedot by Becket, The Plays of Anton Chekov, Dorian Grey by Oscar Wilde, Slaughterhouse Five by Vonnegut, Kentucky Moonshine (a how-to guide) by Maurer, Zohar (don’t ask… it was a gift), How to Clean Practically Anything, The complete Book of Breastfeeding (no, not mine), East of Eden and Cannery Row by Steinbeck (Sweet Thursday is on my night table), Foe by J.M Coetzee, The Passion by Winterson, What it Feels Like (an Esquire selection), The Red Letter Press Book of Bathroom Trivia (another gift),The Complete Poems of Keats and Shelley, Jesse’s Word of the Day (another book by my Brother-In Law), Bookbinding and Conservation By Hand by Young, Miss Manner’s Guide to Rearing Perfect Children and Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior.

Next up is the music I own. This one stumped me. Did he mean this:

Or perhaps this:

There is at least one more wine crate of CDs somewhere in the house but I couldn’t lay my hands on it. The fact is I haven’t had much use for the CDs since I started using my iPod.

The third request is the one that I’ve been unable to fulfill. I am never home during the week at sunset, and on Friday and Saturday I can’t use the camera at that time of day. What to do… what to do?

So I decided to include a couple of pictures that were taken in Tzfat (Safed) last year of some beautiful stone carving on the side of a synagogue. I am a sucker for wood and stone carving (especially geometric patterns) and these made me think of the sun.

I hope these substitutions are acceptable:


Thanks everyone for continuing to send in Photo Friday requests. I’m going to have a lot of fun trying to fulfill them.

Shabbat Shalom!

Posted by David Bogner on January 14, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBack

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Schnappi das kleine Krokodil

I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Gail of Crossing the Rubicon2 for tipping me off to just the thing I needed to get all those Harry Chapin songs out of my head yesterday.  She posted a link to a story about a 4-year-old German girl named Joy Gruttman who wrote and recorded a song called 'Snappy the little crocodile' which was posted to her family's web site.

That right there should have been heartwarming enough to get me to go click over and have a listen.  But it turns out a Cologne radio station discovered the song and started playing it on the air.  This led to people calling in to request the song... several remixes (a dance mix, a beat mix and a pop mix so far), and it is now the #1 song on the German pop charts!

Please, please I have one request:  If it turns out this is something really sinister (like, for instance her parents are drug addicts who sold their little girl to a recording studio in order to pay off their dealer), please don't tell me. My kids were still singing the song when I tucked them into bed last night and I don't want anything to sully that fun.

Click here to listen to her sing the original version, and click here to see the words and to find links to the other versions of the song.  According to a story about the 4-year-old star, 'Schnappi das kleine Krokodil' even edged out the likes of Kylie Minogue and Linkin Park for the top spot on the charts. 

One question I would ask my German readers:  Does she sound as adorable to your ears as she does to mine?  Also, if anyone wants to tell me what (besides a little crocodile, of course) this little angel is singing about, it would make my week.  However, in keeping with my original request, if it turns out she has a real potty mouth in German, I would rather not know what she's saying.... mmkay?

[UPDATE:  Here is a little more information as well as a servicable translation provided by a dear (and patient) friend]

1.  The little girl was 6 when she recorded the song, not 4. 

2.  She didn't write it, her aunt (who is a professional children's song writer) wrote the words and composed the tune.

And now, here is the translation:

I am Schnappi, the little crocodile,
I live in Egypt, right next to the Nile,
first I lived in an egg,
but then shnapped my way free

Schni-schna-schnappi schnappi-schnappi-schnapp

I am Schnappi the little crocodile
have sharp teeth and mighty many of them
I shnap what's there to shnap
I shnap and am good at it


I am Schnappi the little crocodile
I love to shnap, that's my favourite play
I sneak up to mum
and show her how well I shnap


I am Schnappi the little crocodile
I'm never tired of shnapping
I shnap daddy's leg
and then just fall asleep



Posted by David Bogner on January 13, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (103) | TrackBack

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

I am the morning DJ...

With apologies to Harry Chapin, I couldn’t resist borrowing the title of today’s post.

With all the traveling around the country I’ve been doing lately for meetings, my iPod has been getting quite a workout. I play my iPod through my car stereo by way of a nifty little item called an iTrip. Basically, the iTrip (which is a bit bigger than a AA battery and plugs into the iPod’s headphone jack) transmits to any free FM frequency you select.

Although the iTrip was the ‘must have’ holiday gift item in the UK this year, it is also illegal because it violates the British ‘Wireless Telegraphy Act of 1949’ (essentially you are creating a low-powered FM radio station when you use it).

Fortunately, the Israeli broadcast authorities have not yet weighed in on the legality of the iTrip. I guess they've been too busy trying to shut down the hundreds of illegal radio stations run by Arabs and Hasidim (no, they aren’t working together… but it’s still an interesting aggregation of lawbreakers at these two ends of the spectrum).

So, here I’ve been, driving from one end of the country to the other… minding my own business, and listening to selections form the nearly 600 CDs that I’ve loaded onto my iPod so far.

If you were in the car with me you’d be surprised at the eclectic mix of country, classical, jazz, rock, zydeco, Israeli, Mediterranean, funk, fusion, folk, gospel, and klezmer music blasting from my car speakers on any given trip.

But since I’m alone, what do I care what others think, right?  Funny you should ask, since I recently had to redefine my definition of ‘alone’.

While driving on Route 6 (the new Israeli north/south toll highway), I noticed a car that was annoying everyone by exactly keeping pace with me. If I sped up, he sped up. If I slowed down, there he’d be… right next to me.

Not only was this off-putting for me, since I like to maintain a large defensive ‘bubble’ of empty space around me when I drive, but it was annoying the crap out of the drivers behind us who had to cross three lanes of traffic in order to pass us.

When I finally used an internationally recognized hand signal to inquire about the exactly nature of his problem (picture holding your hand up to ask a question and then rotating the pinky and thumb quickly back and forth), he surprised me by answering with two very surprising signals of his own:

First came a hand signal that would only be recognized by Jews who are in the habit of attending synagogue on Yom Kippur. Although he wasn’t wearing a kippah, this 20-something man gestured by beating his closed fist against his chest, the Jewish sign for contrition... he was apologizing.

Then he surprised me even further by taking the same hand with which he had been beating against his chest and extending his index finger to point towards to his ear, and then pointing directly at me.

A little light bulb went on above my head. He apparently had been using the scan function of his car radio and had stumbled across the frequency on which my iTrip was broadcasting. This was amazing to me on a few levels... mostly because the broadcast range of the iTrip is about two car lengths (which explains why he stayed in the lane next to me), and also because it required him to have figured out that the music was coming from my car!

I still don’t know if he put together the connection between the odd broadcast and my car because he was familiar with the iTrip and had seen me fooling with the iPod between songs, or if he simply made a fantastic deductive leap (I assume it was the former), but for the next 50 minutes I got to play DJ to a (mostly) appreciative audience of one.

Once or twice I tried out an obscure bit of opera or a Buxtehude organ selection and he signaled his luke-warmness by holding his hand out palm down and alternately raising and lowering his thumb and pinky ('cosi-cosi').

When we got to the end of the highway near Hadera, he signaled to turn right and I moved into the left lane. As he turned east towards his destination he opened his window, stuck out his hand and waved. Another universal signal transmitted and received.

Anyone who knows me is aware of my passion for music... but I am just as passionate about communication. When cultural/linguistic barriers crop up to block effective communication it frustrates me to no end... and when signals are clearly sent and received, I’m a happy camper!

So sharing my musical selections for almost an hour was fun in a DJ-ish sort of way... but those few brief bits of improvised sign language were an unexpected highlight in an otherwise uneventful day.


Posted by David Bogner on January 12, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (19) | TrackBack

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Whose trees are these?

While running to a meeting in Rehovot the other day, I was stunned to see that the streets of this city are lined with orange trees.  No, I don't mean trees that are colored orange... but rather lush green trees whose branches are literally sagging under the weight of the most beautiful oranges you've ever seen.  I was kicking myself for not having my digital camera with me.  In fact, when I got back to my office and googled 'Rehovot', I found that the city's seal features... you guessed it:  Oranges!


In other aspects, Rehovot is very similar in layout and architecture to other 'older' Israeli cities.  The main street is lined with the kind of stores and restaurants that exist in nearly every large Israeli community.  The drab apartment buildings crowd the center of the city, and in the distance one can see the groves and agricultural fields from which the population centers originally sprang.

But I'm intrigued by the decision to line the main streets with fruit trees.  This raises several questions in a newcomer's mind:

1.  To whom does the fruit belong?

2.  Can anyone pick the fruit as they walk down the street?

3.  Does the city pick the fruit and sell it?

4.  Do the local fruit and vegetable stands bother trying to sell oranges?

5.  What happens to the fruit that doesn't get picked?

I'd like to think that the oranges that are grown within the city limits are there for the taking... and I'll be very disappointed if I find out otherwise.  Can you imagine the tragic irony if even one child in Rehovot suffers from a lack of vitamin C? 

Anyway, if anyone knows more about this interesting phenomenon, I would welcome your insights.


Posted by David Bogner on January 11, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (12) | TrackBack

Monday, January 10, 2005

$20 on Abu Mazen to ‘Finish’

I’m a bit tired this morning… I was up late watching the returns on the Palestinian Elections. Late into the night as the precincts reported in it became clear that it was going to be a nail-biter. The exit polls, as reported by the various networks, made it difficult to accurately predict the final outcome... and when I drifted off about 4:00AM there had yet to be a concession speech.

Of course I’m kidding. The typical American high school has a more hotly contested election for class officers (not to mention fewer irregularities).

The funny thing is that when betting on a horse race one usually has the option of picking a horse to ‘Win’ (1st place), ‘Place’ (2nd place) or ‘Show’ (3rd place).

But this was what they generally call a ‘one horse race’… all the smart money was on that sway-backed, old gray mare named Dr. Mahmoud Abbas (his doctoral thesis, for those who might be interested, is a fairly scholarly denial of the holocaust), not to win, place or show… but simply to trot around the track and unceremoniously ‘finish’.

One thing that struck me as interesting is that in the weeks leading up to the election, the western press completely dropped the standard practice of using ‘Abu Mazen’ parenthetically after his real name. I guess the powers-that-be figured that if the PA was going to go to the trouble of dressing up an old war horse as a legitimate candidate for civilian office, they should probably stop referring to him by his nom de guerre.  A nice touch, if you think about it.

As jaded as I may sound this morning, I have no choice but to be hopeful for some sort of positive change.  The alternative is too dismal to contemplate.

We’ve been told over and over that even though Dr. Abbas was already the de facto leader of the PA and all of its security apparatus, he couldn’t control all the 'militant factions' (another interesting euphemism) until he received a mandate to rule via legally binding elections.

Well, he has his mandate, for what it’s worth. Now let’s see if the Palestinian people will ever have the opportunity to collect on their bet.


Posted by David Bogner on January 10, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Friday, January 07, 2005

Photo Friday (Vol. X)

Can you believe it... this is the 10th installment of Photo Friday!  I still have a few more requests from that original batch, but my backlog is definitely dwindling.  As I mentioned last week, I am going to be e-mailing a few of you who requested similar things to ask you to provide a replacement photo request.

Also, I will be traveling around the country again this week, so if anyone has been contemplating making a request for their own set of Friday Photos (3 to a customer), this would probably be a good time to do so.

Without further ado, today's collection of images is the direct result of a request from Gail, the lady who runs the ferryboat over at Crossing the Rubicon2 (yes, she also wrote the now-defunct original Crossing the Rubicon).  If you aren't familiar with her blog, you probably aren't as well informed about the world as you thought you were.  Just go there and see what I mean.

Gail's Requests:

1. Your favorite restaurant.

2. Your synagogue.

3. Any type of animal that could not be found in the US.(Hoping for a camel...but will accept something else if more convenient)

First up... my favorite restaurant.  Yeah right, like I could possibly make that call.  Israel is a country of 'foodies'.  Not the snobby sort that relies on food critics to tell him/her where to eat, but rather what my friend Jim Leff would call 'Chowhounds'... people who know the best place to get any and every type of food under the sun (and they will argue for hours as to where exactly is the best place for whatever is being discussed).

This is the little 'jook joint' I discussed last year, called Gavne.  It is in the middle of nowhere... perched on the side of a mountain and only accessible by driving down a dirt road that winds through a forest.  Wonderful food... rustic ambiance... and a well stocked bar.  What more could you want?   I actually had to go up a neighboring mountain in order to get this shot:


Next up is our synagogue, Tiferet Avot.  It is a beautiful building, albeit with a less than optimal interior design.  By less than optimal I mean that the women's section was not well thought out... but that is a discussion for another day.


Last but not least is the obligatory animal picture.  Truth be told, I couldn't think of any animals that  couldn't be found in the US, so I settled for a common sight along my commute:  A shepherd with his flock.  This is especially apropos since whenever people ask me what I do, and I'm not interested in going into the details and nuances of the position, I simply tell them I'm a shepherd.  So far nobody has called me on it.


That's all we have time for today.  As always, I welcome new requests and any feedback you may wish to offer on the things you see and read here at treppenwitz.

Shabbat Shalom

Posted by David Bogner on January 7, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (11) | TrackBack

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Not my story…

Yesterday morning I was in Zichron Yaakov on business. I hadn’t been there since the summer of 2002 when Zahava and I visited this charming little winery town (the Carmel Mizrahi winery is its cornerstone), and I had nearly forgotten about this picturesque community overlooking the Mediterranean.

My surreal meeting (which warrants a journal entry of its own, I assure you) ended around lunchtime, and my colleagues were anxious to try out one of the trendy little restaurants in the center of Zichron. I wasn’t particularly hungry so I opted to wander around and look in the shops instead.

After I had exhausting the complete gambit of arty boutiques that seem to populate every ‘wine community’ in the world, I wandered over to the old 19th century synagogue which Zahava and I had visited during our previous trip.

I was really hoping that the caretaker, an elderly holocaust survivor, would be somewhere in the synagogue... but unfortunately he was nowhere to be found. I was deeply disappointed because I had really wanted to ask him some details about a story he had told us during our 2002 visit.

As I wandered around the old synagogue, I started to worry that perhaps he had passed on... he had to have been in his late 80’s when we met him.

As I was passing the wall full of memorial plaques on my way out, I decided that even without the few details he might have been able to provide, I wanted to share his story here.  As I said in the title of today’s post; it’s really not my story, but it is a story very much in need of telling:

This caretaker, originally from Slovakia, had lost his entire family in the holocaust and had spent the final months of the war as a laborer in the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps.

Each night while he was in the camp, he shared a wooden bunk with another man of about the same age named Jacob Katz. Jacob Katz had been taken from his wife and daughter. And while he was fairly certain that his wife had been killed, he stubbornly refused to believe that his teenage daughter ‘Magda’ was dead. Each night Jacob took a picture of his daughter from its hiding place and kissed her goodnight.

After some time, Jacob Katz and his bunkmate created a ritual whereby they would both kiss the picture and say goodnight to Jacob's beautiful blonde daughter, Magda.

As the allied troops advanced towards Auschwitz during the final weeks of the war, the camp guards began making preparations to move the inmates, and decided to kill the ones who were too sick to walk. Unfortunately Jacob fell into this category, and he was led away to be shot... all the time thinking that he was being taken to the infirmary. His longtime bunkmate heard the shots that waited for Jacob at the end of this terrible ruse.

Jacob’s bunkmate survived the war and made his way to Israel where he raised a family on a Moshav not far from Zichron Yaakov. In his retirement years, he became the caretaker and default tour guide for the old synagogue in Zichron, and was happy to do the countless small tasks that came with that role.

One day while the caretaker was puttering around the small lobby of the synagogue, making adjustments to the memorial plaques on the wall, he noticed a group of three women standing nearby. There was an elderly gray-haired woman, a middle aged woman, and a pretty teenaged girl with blonde hair. It was this teenager... the identical image from that long-lost photograph... that completely took his breath away.

He went over to the small group and interrupted the two older women to ask the older of the two if her name was Magda. When she said yes, he asked her if she was the daughter of Jacob Katz. She said yes, but wanted to know how the caretaker knew who she was... she couldn’t remember having met him before.

Through his tears the caretaker explained the story of how, though they had never met, he had kissed her goodnight countless times when she was a young girl.

It turns out that Magda had also come to Israel after the war and had never found out what became of her father. She explained that he had been taken away by the Nazis and she had assumed he had been killed... but she never knew the time or place of his death. That afternoon she finally learned of her father’s fate, and that his thoughts were on her up until the very end of his days.

And she, along with her daughter and granddaughter, got to meet a living link to Jacob Katz... a man who, during the darkest days of his life, had given her countless kisses goodnight.

As I said, this was really not my story to tell, but walking around the quiet synagogue in Zichron Yaakov (which fittingly means ‘the memory of Jacob’), I was suddenly afraid that the person from whom I had heard the story might no longer be around to tell it. I really hope I’m wrong about that... and that he was simply taking a much-deserved afternoon off. But if not, you now know one of the millions of stories that exist in this tiny country of mine... stories that too frequently are left untold as the last of the ‘holocaust generation’ takes its leave to ask the important questions of the only One who can possible answer.


Posted by David Bogner on January 6, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (17) | TrackBack

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Ladies Night Day

Today is a special day.

11 years ago today (according to the Gregorian calendar) Zahava and I went from being just a couple of semi-adults who happened to be shacking up together (albeit with the consent and blessing of the government), to being entirely responsible for the care and upbringing of a whole new human being.

Although we now have three wonderful children (kenaynahara, tfu, tfu, tfu), each one completely unique and lavished with affection, there will always to be something special about our first child... the one that magically transformed us from a couple into a family.

Most kids shoot out of bed on their birthdays ready to take on the world. But Ariella woke me up early this morning to tell me (in an Academy Award caliber performance) that she had a stomach ache.  I went through all the fatherly motions; kissing her forehead to check for fever... all the while softly rubbing her neck for swollen glands and asking gentle questions to determine if this was a medical or emotional 'emergency'.

At the end of this careful layman's screening, I silently rendered a diagnosis of a patient in dire need of a 'mental health day' from school, but loudly agreed that she indeed looked sick, and sent her upstairs to snuggle back under the covers.

I happen to know that Zahava is going to be home all day.  I also suspect that, Ariella 'symptoms' not withstanding, the two of them will probably end up baking something and/or having an impromptu sewing lesson while the house is temporarily free of the menfolk.

There are some among you who will have read the end of the last paragraph and bridled a bit at the implied chauvinism.  Let me assure you that your concerns are misplaced.   

Ariella plays in the local little league and can hold her own against her brother, Gilad, on a bike, on a hike or in any number of other physically demanding activities (including a fight).  But with each passing day she is morphing into a woman... and she desperately wants to know the secrets that only my wife can impart.  At the same time that there is some natural 'pulling away' from her mother (in the form of sullenness and small arguments), there is also an obvious desire to connect with Zahava, and to 'tap into' that database of skills and information that Zahava learned from her mother.

In Zahava's family, sewing and cooking are not skills to be learned for their own sake (although, having learned from a master... Zahava is a master of both).  But rather, they seem to be the activity of choice that women of her family perform while sneaking up on matters of import.

I won't be at all surprised if I come home today to find tear-soaked tissue balled up in the corners of the couch.  I also won't be very shocked if both Zahava and Ariella act as though this were just another sick day. 

But if I see the sewing machine and a stack of patterns out on the dining room table... or if the kitchen counter is littered with handwritten recipe cards (in two or three generations of meticulous handwriting)... It will be a good indication that secret things have transpired in my absence, and that information, far beyond the mundane instruction of sewing and cooking, has passed between these two women that I love.


Posted by David Bogner on January 4, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (17) | TrackBack

Monday, January 03, 2005

Half Duplex Mode

According to Webopedia, 'Full Duplex Mode' is a useful phrase that describes the simultaneous transfer of data in two directions.

An example of something that operates only in 'Half Duplex Mode' would be a typical 'walkie talkie'.  You push the button to transmit, and your voice is broadcast far and wide.  Release the transmit button, and you can listen to someone else's transmission.  But because it is only a 'Half Duplex' system, you cannot send and receive information at the same time.

So far so good?

Telephones, on the other hand, were designed to operate in 'Full Duplex Mode'.  The theory being that you are supposed to be able to talk and listen simultaneously... providing a close approximation of having a live, in-person conversation.

That's the theory anyway.

So why is it that nearly everywhere I look these days I see people (OK, it's mostly men) holding their cell phones directly in front of their mouths (with the earpiece nowhere near their ear), carrying on an uninterrupted monologue?  Doesn't this sort of defeat the magic of the 'Full Duplex' feature?

I mean, in theory I understand what these Neanderthals are doing.  They are using their phones as if they were 'walkie talkies'... holding down an imaginary transmit button until they are good and ready to hear what the other person has to say. Then (and only then) do they hold the phone against their ear and allow the other person to join the conversation.  However, the moment the cretin decides he wants to interrupt, the phone moves away from his ear and takes up its position directly in front of his mouth!

It's really an amazing thing to watch in action, and I know I'm not doing it justice here... but I need to ask a couple of questions:

Has anyone else noticed this 'Half Duplex' behavior? 

Also, Is this phenomenon only an Israeli thing???


Posted by David Bogner on January 3, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (16) | TrackBack