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Friday, July 31, 2009

You know you want to walk...

OK, another walking competition has come and gone.  The winner (chosen at random from among all those who met the goal of at least 10K steps per day) was Sunny Sacramento.  Congrats!  Just send me an email with your shipping info and I;ll send out your prize.

What's that you say?  You haven't even signed up for walker tracker yet?

No problem, just click here and sign up.  It's free!

Now go out and buy yourself a pedometer.  They aren't expensive and the little device will change your life.  Trust me.

Once you are registered for Walker Tracker and you have a pedometer, sign up for the next competition.  But hurry, it starts on Sunday!

That wasn't so hard, was it?

Posted by David Bogner on July 31, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

A quiet place to read Eicha (Lamentations)

This Wednesday evening / Thursday is Tisha B'Av .  Since many of you haven't been following along here since the beginning, I decided to share this from the archives... as well as an invitation.

For the first few years that we lived in Israel, I went with my family to the top of Herodion on the evening of Tisha B'Avt o read Eichah (Lamentations).  Herodion is an inspirational setting in which to recall the destruction of the Temples because some of the last members of the Jewish Revolt who were atop Herodion in 70 CE watched from their desert vantage as the smoke and flames rose from the Temple mount just a few miles away in Jerusalem. 

However, with each passing year, more and more people have told their friends about this special setting, and Herodion has become impossibly crowded on erev Tisha B'Av.  So much so, that instead of being a somber, inspirational experience, it has become a 'happening'... an almost festive 'scene'. 

Despite the tradition of not extending greetings or shaking hands on Tisha B'Av, the gathering together of so many Jews in one place pretty much guarantees that people who haven't seen each other in a long time will be calling out to one another over the crowd... shaking hands... slapping backs... laughing.  In short, acting in a manner that is not appropriate for the day.

A few years ago, I decided that I wanted to go somewhere quieter, yet with a similar connection to the past... a place with a Jewish past that now lay in ruins.

Long time readers may remember that I once wrote about a ruin called 'Anim' that I had stumbled across while exploring a small side road on the way home from work.  Anim was a Jewish town that existed in the Mishna - Talmud period (approx. 200 – 400 C.E.) which, if memory serves, had been built atop the ruins of another Jewish town from the First Temple period (825 - 492 B.C.E.).

An enormous area on the edge of the Yatir Forest is strewn with Anim's stone foundations, toppled buildings and an extensive network of caves/tunnels.  And in the center of the ruins is what must once have been a lovely Beit Knesset (synagogue) whose floor and four walls still mostly intact.  You can even see the place along the northern wall (the one closest to Jerusalem) where the foundation for the Aron Kodesh (ark which held the Torah) had been built.

Over the past week, I spoke with a few friends and asked them if they would be interested in going to Anim to read Eichah on Tisha B'Av.  But in addition to the regulars, this year I decided that it might be nice to 'invite' some of you along (at least those who live in the area). 

So, tomorrow afternoon, after finishing the Seudah Mafseket (the meal before the fast) we will again be driving down through the Hevron Hills towards the edge of the Yatir Forest... to the ruins of Anim.    We will arrive just as the last rays of the sun are disappearing behind the horizon and will sit down on the sun-warmed stones of the old synagogue to remember our losses.

Unlike the roar of the crowd atop Herodion, our small group will sit in pristine silence... say Aravit (the evening service)... and hear every word of Eicha.   The only sound will came from the voice of the reader... and the whisper of the wind through the nearby trees and across the ancient stones.

If you think you'd like to join us erev Tisha B'Av in this special place, please leave a comment or email me at treppenwitz - at - gmail - dot - com.  I can send you the very easy directions or you can simply drive with us (we'll be meeting outside the southern entrance to Efrat).  [Don't forget a flashlight]


Tzom Kal (an easy fast) to those who will be observing this difficult day on Wednesday night / Thursday..

Posted by David Bogner on July 28, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (16) | TrackBack

Monday, July 27, 2009

Some housekeeping and airing of comments

I was tempted to confine the discussion of Friday's post to the comments board, but several people offered feedback that deserves a more public forum.  Obviously I haven't shared all the comments here... just a few from different points of view that I thought deserved to see the light of day.

Needless to say, if you haven't read Friday's post, go do so (including the comments) so you will know what we're discussing here.

Issue #1: Trusting the Police:

Ber wrote: "Could the police officer not have "adjusted" the story when he made the report to make himself look better?"

Jordan Hirsch wrote:  "I find it incredible that you take a Police report at face value. It is true that many Police officers are brave and honest, but it is also true that there is a longstanding practice on Police departments to shade the truth to create favorable reports when confronted with gray situations."

My responses: To the two of you I would ask a simple question:  How can we allow thousands of people to walk around armed and empowered with tremendous discretionary powers that could impact our life and liberty... who we don't trust to tell the simple truth?    Before you answer, ask yourself also: Would society be better off without these armed/empowered people in our midst?

It is worth pointing out that a police report requires the same level of corroboration that any witness statement would.  We don't accept it as true just because a cop wrote it.  But by the same token, if you want to impeach a witness statement, you need to bring some evidence.  Impeaching a statement based only on the profession of the witness is risky at best and reprehensible at worst.  

Just as an afterthought I wanted to add that police are (ostensibly) better trained as observers and reporters than the average citizen, and because of their daily responsibilities have become adept at organizing their thoughts in such a way as to present the most cogent information to a case.  This can cut both ways.  A cop might leave out a detail that he/she feels is irrelevant which later becomes critical.  Again, this comes down to matters of both discretion and intent.

In our case, the responding officer presented a well organized time-line of events and his statement was corroborated by a second officer who arrived on the scene mid-incident.  So while I get the healthy distrust you both seem to have of 'the man', I am wondering what alternative you can offer to the present system of law & order other than anarchy.

Problem # 2: Mincing Words:

Mike Spengler wrote:  "First, your quote of President Obama is wrong. He did NOT say "the officer acted stupidly." He said "it appears the Cambridge Police Department acted stupidly."

My response:  OK, let's try this little test:  Go into any biker bar in Jersey and walk up to the biggest guy in the place.  Now tell him that he and his friends appear stupid.  Do you think he is going to give you the benefit of the doubt that you didn't actually say he was stupid?  Get back to me on that one.   I love you like a brother, Mike... but I'm not going to sit by while you excuse another Democratic president who wants to argue over what 'is' means.  At least with Bush we had a reasonable doubt regarding his grasp of vocabulary.  :-)

A cop (Karl) weighs in:

First of all, David is right about responding to a possible burglary. When responding to any felony in progress, we don't play around. Gates can scream racism all he wants, but due to the totality of the circumstances, the responding officers have a responsibility to secure the scene and do so in a manner that minimizes the risk to themselves. Gates wasn't ordered to get on the floor at gunpoint or cuffed until he could be identified, so that tells me that Crowley kept things very cool.

Second, if the police are conducting an investigation and they ask you who you are, you must tell them. The Fifth Amendment does not apply in this situation. Crowley asking Gates for ID while investigating a possible burglary to a structure was reasonable.

Third, the US Supreme Court has ruled that the police are expected to have thick skins. So Gates can scream and yell all he wants at the cops. However, he may not do so in the presence of others, that is Disorderly Conduct/Breach of Peace. There were civilians out on the street in front of Gates' residence. If the Prof had kept his temper-tantrum inside, he would have been OK. But when he took it outside and threw his fit in public and after he was warned by Crowley, then that completes the offense. It was a proper arrest. The charge was most likely dropped due to political reasons, not because probable cause for an arrest did not exist.

A former prosecutor (aliyah06) weighs in:

The police received a report of a burglary-in-progress. The officer responded and made contact with the complaining witness, who is apparently a neighbor of the professor and yet did not recognize him. Burglars often carry duffel bags and/or backpacks to make it easier to carry looted items from the residence. The officer went to the home without cover, assuming a crime in progress with two suspects, and not knowing whether or not they were armed. He made contact with a Black male inside the home who CLAIMED to be the homeowner yet became belligerent when asked to prove it. There is ample law stating that the police don't have to take your word for it--you can claim to be the homeowner, to be the brother of a suspect wanted on a warrant, to have an alibi for a crime. etc., but they still have a duty to investigate your claims. What everyone seems to (deliberately?) miss is that the party escalating this conflict is the asshole professor, who seems to think the being a "black man in America" is an excuse to berate a police officer responding to protect HIS property.

There is another aspect of this, as a police officer's wife and prosecutor in my own right, that you've all overlooked---too many people (regardless of race) belong to a snotty elitist upper class socio-economic group that truly believes that cops are beneath them--mere blue-collar workers who get paid to take their abuse because (as my husband and I have both heard many times) "Do you know who I am? I pay your f%$# salary!!"

Professor Gates suffers from the "I'm a professional and I don't have to answer to people who don't have a post-graduate degree" syndrome--the idea that some mere high school graduate DARES to question him is what set him off. This wasn't "racial profiling" -- stopping a random black man for being in a white suburb with no other probable cause. This was a report of a burglary in progress by a neighbor who presumably would recognize the homeowner if she saw him. He was properly arrested for public disturbance when, instead of letting it go when the cop retreated, he followed him out the door and continued the confrontation in front of witnesses. Personally, I'm glad the arrogant SOB got booked, just like any other citizen would have been for this kind of behavior. Welcome to the real world, you jerk!

A lawyer and former cop weighs in:

A Minneapolis attorney writes to add a note in the matter of Harvard Professor Henry Gates. When asked to come out of his house to talk to the police in connection with the report of a possible break-in, Gates exclaimed: "Why, because I'm a black man in America?" Our correspondent suggests otherwise. He writes:

I know that this Gates incident is getting plenty of play in all quarters right now, but I have yet to see the proper context set out for the police response. In a past life (both before and during law school), I was a Minneapolis cop for eight years. I left in 2002 as a Sergeant supervising a dogwatch shift (9:00 pm -7:00 am), to take my first legal job at a Minneapolis firm.

In the Gates incident, the police were not dispatched to simply "check on a couple of guys acting suspiciously around a home." They were almost certainly responding to a report of a "burglary of dwelling in progress." This is typically one of the highest-priority calls that an officer will encounter during a shift.

Let me explain, and I know this will require a huge leap of faith for certain segments of the population. The vast majority of police officers are deeply, deeply committed to protecting the public from the type of criminal that would force their way into someone else's home. When a "burglary of dwelling in progress" call comes over the radio, officers literally drop everything (yes friends, even doughnuts . . .) and risk life-and-limb driving as fast as possible to get to the scene as quickly as possible.

Cops don't do this simply out of desire to catch "bad-guys." They do it because -- due to prior experience -- they assume that the "dwelling" in issue is occupied, and they have seen first-hand the devastation left behind when an innocent family is confronted with a violent home-invasion, burglary/rape scenario, or something similar.

Sergeant Crowley responded out a desire to ensure the safety of Gates's home and its inhabitants without regard to the race of the homeowner. Period. In return, he was subjected to abusive race-baiting from a purported "scholar" that apparently didn't rise above the intellectual level of a playground taunt. Gates is, quite simply, a jerk.

As our correspondent suggests, Sergeant Crowley's report on the arrest indicates that Crowley was responding to an ECC broadcast for a possible break-in in progress at Professor Gates's address. But why did Sergeant Crowley ask Professor Gates to come out of his house and speak with him? A reserve police officer from Texas writes:

It's done so that the officer can be more certain that the person being interviewed is not being coerced to say that everything is alright. Last year in Hewitt, Texas, we went to a hostage situation. Lady would not come out of the house but kept telling us all was OK. After a couple of hours, we said if she came to the door to tell us all was OK, we would pack up and leave. She came to the door, we pulled her out, and found the hostage taker hiding in a closet with a hunting knife. Another renter had called this in, by the way.

On other occasions on domestic disturbance calls, the wife tells us she's OK and wants to stay home. We ask her to step out of the house to talk, she gets outside and asks us not to force her to go back in.

All we want to do is make sure the person being interviewed is in a safe place to tell us whether he or she really is OK or not.

I have to admit that I was extremely angry when I wrote my original post on Thursday night... and given some time to think I may have toned down the personal invective.  But as many have pointed out, it seems odd that a President who is reluctant to weigh on many pressing issues in the national and international arena seems to have no trouble expressing an opinion that he himself admits that he is ill equipped to offer.  Yeah, ok, he didn't volunteer the opinion...he was asked.  But he seems to know perfectly well how to say 'I don't think it would be appropriate for me to comment about that at this time'... so why didn't he do so here? 

Last but not least... another lawyer weighed in (via email) and since I'm not sure if he'd want his name published, you'll have to take my workd for it that this is for real.  I don't agree with much of what he writes, but out of fairness - and for the sake of balance - I'll give him the last word:

I am a lawyer and at one time did some criminal law work.

I enjoy your blog, but you are way over the top on this one.  Let's take your points in order

"But instead, upon seeing a police officer in his home and being asked to identify himself and provide some proof that he was the owner of the home, the Harvard Professor allegedly responded angrily 'This is what happens to a black man in America."  When the officer asked him to step outside the residence, the scholar continued (according to the report), "I'll speak with your mama outside'."

Prof. Gates wisely decided he was safer in the house than on the porch.  The police were not going to enter if he produced ID.  I think that is what I would have done.  BTW, I disagree with Prof. Gates, I don't think race was deciding factor it was the lip.  This may have been town v. gown situation.  The Cambridge Police called the Harvard Police, other than the accused being an off campus Harvard professor, it is hard to see why the call was made.  A Harvard professor lording it over a townie cop seems to be the problem. However, maybe Professor Gates is right. I don't know how to be sure.

"I think it is safe to say that it would have taken a fair bit of lawyering for the average citizen to get the charges dropped after pointedly refusing to cooperate with a police officer in such a potentially dangerous situation."

No, you are wrong. Your are assuming that the police wanted him tried. The Pittsburgh Police operated under a Judge's supervision for years because they picked people up  who gave them lip, filed bogus low level criminal complaints and the charges were dismissed. This resulted in holding people for a couple of hours during the week and a couple of days on the week end without ever appearing in court. Eventually, they were sued repeatedly and the city started coughing up hundreds of thousands of dollars because the police refused to be supervised. The cops then tried to get people to agree not to sue in exchange for immediate release.  Eventually, the US Justice Department stepped in and it ended in court ordered supervision.   The lawyering to get get the charges dropped is  minor to non-existent.  The police only wanted him held.  They know that  yelling at a cop is not a crime. 

I won't go into your confidence in police reports except to say if it wasn't for the reports lawyers would have a near impossible task to cross exam. The reports, to be charitable, are selective and frequently inventive. 

I have known many police and respect most of them.  However, there are problems. The problems are made worse by the inability to discipline cops. Good cops know it and are embarrassed.

Professor Gates assumed that class would trump race. He is a Harvard professor, his appearance is upper middle class with an intellectual's vocabulary. He guessed wrong. Again, I don't think it was the race that did him in, but the assumption that class would protect him, bad call.

In Israel if I substituted Border Police for the Cambridge Police and Amona for Professor Gate's house do I get the same result?  My Israeli friends have bemoaned the brave Israeli police that are out to get  uncooperative settlers. I think they are right about police abuse. Don't you? Or do you believe that the settlers are unfit gravediggers?

Commenters have already covered that the President did not jump into this, but answered the question put to him. He flat out stated he was not objective about his friend. For some reason this President has inflamed people from the election period forward. It has been everything from he is a moslem, radical christian, foreign born, naive, slick, a traitor, Jew hater and on and on. This is just from my Israeli friends and friends in my Orthodox community.  I have to confess to some fatigue.

Finally, you rant:

"IMHO, this president isn't worthy to dig the graves of the brave police officers who give their lives every year to defend the very same constitution he swore to uphold at his inauguration."

My copy of the constitution says:

"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized. "

In this case I choose to side with the President. 

I concede that reasonable minds can differ about this President. Maybe he is the monster that is being complained of, but I don't think so. I am certain he will be wrong from time to time on the issues.I think he wrong about Israel, but also thought the Presidents Bush, Clinton and Bush were wrong.  However, I think under extraordinary circumstances he has been more right than wrong.  In a civil society, being wrong does not make you a monster. 

Posted by David Bogner on July 27, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (39) | TrackBack

Friday, July 24, 2009

Good to see Obama is solidly in the corner of law & order

A white Cambridge, MA police officer named James Crowley - a cop with a rock solid record- recently approached a private residence in response to a call from a civilian that there were two black men with backpacks attempting to break into her neighbor's house.  While it shouldn't be a factor in this day and age, you can see already why I have mentioned the police officer's race.

Responding to a break-in call can be extremely dangerous, and most police in such a situation are vigilant for their safety, to say the least. 

When Officer Crowley arrived, he found signs of a forced entry... and what he believed to be one of the burglars still in the residence.  However, it now turns out that the man who allegedly broke in was the owner of the residence, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., a black professor at Harvard University and a friend of President Obama, who, for whatever reason, had used force to open the door of his own house.   You can read the entire police report here.

In a normal world, this call would have ended with a relieved police officer being thanked by a grateful home-owner for responding to the mistaken burglary call... and maybe even getting an apology for the trouble. 

But instead, upon seeing a police officer in his home and being asked to identify himself and provide some proof that he was the owner of the home, the Harvard Professor allegedly responded angrily "This is what happens to a black man in America."  When the officer asked him to step outside the residence, the scholar continued (according to the report), "I'll speak with your mama outside".

The confrontation ended with the Prof. Gates being arrested for Disorderly Conduct (a charge that was quickly dismissed by prosecutors, one would assume, after his status in the community and presidential connections came to light).

Now, in addition to the fact that you or I would certainly have been arrested for verbally abusing a police officer under similar circumstances, I think it is safe to say that it would have taken a fair bit of lawyering for the average citizen to get the charges dropped after pointedly refusing to cooperate with a police officer in such a potentially dangerous situation.

But the real kicker is that during a press conference on July 22nd, President Obama stated that the police officer in this case had “acted stupidly”.

In my humble opinion Obama's remark was no less racist and no less stupid than those allegedly uttered by his friend the professor. 

The police have an extremely dangerous and difficult job to do sorting out the good guys from the bad on the best of days.  The 'rules of engagement', so to speak, under which they are required to do their job often result in their paying with life or limb in order to avoid potentially violating someone's civil or constitutional rights. 

I am disgusted that a president - who should always err on the side of law and order - would weigh in on this matter based only on race and friendship.   By doing so, he endangered every police officer in the country by putting them in a position where they will now hesitate an extra few moments in such potentially dangerous circumstances.

Go ahead and argue that I have no idea what it's like to be a black man confronted by a police officer in America.  I say to you (most of you, anyway) that you have no idea what it is like to be a police officer facing someone who has just broken into a private residence and may be armed.  President Obama certainly doesn't... and what's more, he doesn't have enough empathy to care what it's like, or enough respect for the law these officers uphold at risk to their lives. 

IMHO, this president isn't worthy to dig the graves of the brave police officers who give their lives every year to defend the very same constitution he swore to uphold at his inauguration.

Posted by David Bogner on July 24, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (45) | TrackBack

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Using humor to chase away the tears

[A guest post by Zahava]

Despite the fact that my mother (z"l) passed away more than 15 years ago, I still find it difficult to gracefully inform people I've just met (or with whom I'm first becoming friendly) of this aspect of my life....

To wit, a snippet of a recent conversation:

New Acquaintance: "Do your folks visit often?"

Me: "Ummmm.... no, not really. My father teaches, and his schedule makes it difficult for him to come on a regular basis."

New Acquaintance: "Oh. How about your Mom? Or does she not like to travel without your Dad?"

Me: "Ummmm.... there are no flights from where my mother is."

New Acquaintance: "Really? Where the heck does your Mother live that there are no flights?!"

Me: "Ummmm.... she doesn't.... ummmm...."

New Acquaintance(who is, incidentally, showing signs of becoming truly frustrated): "HUH?! What?!... Ummmm.... I don't understand you...."

Me: "She doesn't LIVE anywhere.... My mother passed away more than 15 years ago -- six weeks after my oldest was born...."

New Acquaintance: "Ooohhhhhh. [blushes profusely]. OH! Oh! Oh!... I'm so sorry.... I had no idea...."

Me: "It's okay. Don't be sorry. You didn't know."

I don't quite know what the heck is wrong with me that after nearly 16 years I haven't worked out a less goofy way of dealing with this...

...but the truth is, even after 16 years, the question still is like a swift kick in the gut... and if I can't break the awkwardness with a little humor, I still might just cry....

Posted by David Bogner on July 23, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (18) | TrackBack

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

I'm just talkin' 'bout my g-g-g-generation! *

Although it probably isn't gentlemanly to even hint at such things (much less come right out and say them), for the sake of this post it is necessary to point out that there is 'only' a five year difference between my age and that of my lovely wife.  I say 'only' because, as we get older, this age difference seems less and less relevant.

But this hasn't always been the case.  Back when we met, Zahava was actually at the outer edge of the age range I would consider dating.  I figured anyone more than five years younger than me would have too different a worldview and collection of life experiences.  And, well, let's face it... it would seem strange to date someone who would still have been considered 'jail bait' when I was finished with a four year hitch in the navy and already studying in University.  I'm just saying.

Anyway, although our difference in age is now mostly irrelevant, there are occasional disconnects that highlight the fact that I am a 'boomer' and she is definitely from 'Generation 'X''. 

Not surprisingly, music is one of the fault lines where the tectonic plates of our tastes and experiences bump up against one another.  I've sat on the dock of the bay and watched the tide roll away, spent time California Dreamin' and standing on a corner in Winslow Arizona... while Zahava has walked like an Egyptian, burned down the house, and driven Chrysler as big as a whale to the Love Shack.

But nowhere is the gulf between our tastes more apparent than in movies. 

While I identify more with 'The Big Chill' (including the sound track), Zahava is more in tune with a movie that I finally agreed to watch for the first time last night; 'St. Elmo's Fire' (or as I've now come to think of it: 'The kids from the Breakfast Club' manage to graduate, go to university, graduate again, and then go on to make spectacularly bad life decisions').

Don't get me wrong... 'The Breakfast Club' was actually a decent movie that I watched with my kids to be able to have a springboard for a conversation about peer pressure, bullying and the kinds of tough decisions high school kids are faced with on a daily basis.  But that doesn't mean I'm adding 'St. Elmo's Fire' or any of the other 'Brat Pack' pictures to my DVD collection alongside 'Casablanca', 'Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid', 'The 'Shawshank Redemption' and 'It's a mad mad mad mad world'.

What can I say about St. Elmo's Fire' other than to wonder, 'did everyone smoke in the 80s'?  I mean seriously, it was worse than watching an episode of 'Mad Men'... my lungs actually ached and I felt like I needed to launder my clothes and take a shower after the movie was over. 

And for the first time in my life, I actually identified with the parents in a movie... especially with the shocked line delivered by the straight-laced girl's father: "You're in love with Billy... Billy from the roof?"  If it were my kid, I'd lock her in her room until her AARP invitation arrived in the mail!

So yeah, I feel sort of bad that a movie which Zahava considered evocative of her generation's Gestalt was, arguably the worst cinematic experience of my life.  I really wanted to enjoy it... at least for her sake.  But wherever I looked for some glimmer of hope or a redeeming message, I was shown the most unsatisfying, self-destructive bunch of narcissistic losers imaginable.

Memo to Generation 'X':  If you are going to slap a label like 'iconic' on a film that supposedly represents the essence of who you are and where you came from... don't select a post-college version of 'Fast Times at Ridgemont High'.

Now why don't you all f-f-f-fade away?*

* If you didn't recognize these Who lyrics, you really aren't from my g-g-generation.

Posted by David Bogner on July 21, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (20) | TrackBack

Monday, July 20, 2009

A different approach

In years past I have gone through what I considered the unavoidable agony of weaning myself off of caffeine a week or so before fast days, all in order to avoid the agony of caffeine withdrawal during the fast itself.

If you read that first, breathless run-on sentence carefully, you probably already see the logical flaw in this system.  It's kind of like... well, for the first time I'm actually stumped for an analogy.  This business of suffering for several days in order to avoid suffering for one day (actually only part of one day, if you think about it; the last couple of hours of the fast), lacks even an adequate analog!

Last year before Tisha B'Av I decided that I'd had enough... that I wasn't going to go through a week of withdrawal, and instead simply drank my regular big mug of coffee in the morning.  However, on the day before the fast, I had my regular mug of coffee in the morning... plus another [really strong] one just before the fast.   

Worked like a charm!  I didn't start to feel the small twinge of a caffeine headache until just before the fast was over.  And a cup of good strong tea took care of that chik chak (as we say here).

So in honor of this pleasant discovery of a different approach to weathering a fast, I'm going to share a nifty little product which offers a different approach to enjoying tea and coffee:

On some of my recent business trips to India and Sri Lanka I have developed a taste for good tea.  Or more correctly, I've lost my taste for mediocre tea.  I didn't realize what I was missing out on until I started buying the fresh, loose tea and preparing it properly.  That right there is advice worth every penny!

But in order to prepare loose tea in such a way that you don't end up with a smile full of leaves, you need to have a 'tea ball', spoon or filter pot... all things that have to be washed.  As the primary dish-washer in our house, this was a small, but obvious annoyance. 

That is, until I discovered (thanks to one of my thoughtful readers) paper tea filters.  These are essentially empty tea bags that you fill with the fresh tea or coffee of your choice... and enjoy as you would pre-bagged tea (actually, more so).

The only difference is the taste, since fresh, loose tea and freshly ground coffee make for the best drinking experience.  And if you are going on the road, packing a handful of your custom-loaded tea or coffee bags will offer you a small measure of home comfort, even halfway around the world.

So there you go... two handy tips in one (relatively) short post.  Don't thank me... I'm a giver.

Posted by David Bogner on July 20, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (14) | TrackBack

Sunday, July 19, 2009

An open letter to a pioneer

[a memo best enjoyed after breakfast]

Dear Pioneer,

I address you in this manner because I assume you must be an Israeli of long standing and rich history... a person who, at very least, spent his youth draining malarial swamps, fighting off marauding Arabs and dancing the Hora late into the night among the other brave and hardy pioneers of your generation. 

Although we have never met (that I know of), I assume these things about you because you clearly hark from an era when the infrastructure of the nascent State could not stand even the modest demands placed upon it by you and your fellow pioneers.  The few existing roads were of dirt... the electricity was intermittent, at best... and the plumbing (where it existed at all) could not handle toilet paper.

It is on this last, delicate subject that I must ask your indulgence.

You see, several times per week I am left to wonder whether it is out of habit or nostalgia that, even in this day of modern miracles and more-than-adequate plumbing, you continue to wipe away the remnants of your morning output, and then deposit the soiled paper in the wastepaper basket beside your porcelain perch, rather than committing it to a watery end like the rest of your, er, effluence. 

Who knows, it may be that you act thus out of old habit... or it may be that you are so amazed at the leaps in toilet tissue technology - with yesteryear's scratchy, non-absorbent crepe-paper but a vague memory to you and the other surviving remnants of your pioneering generations - that you just can't bear to let such a luxury go.  I don't know, and because I have never discovered you in the act, I have never had the opportunity to ask.

I admit that as a new immigrant, I am soft, spoiled, and completely undeserving to be an heir to your labors (in the grand sense, mind you... not of your daily output, as it were). 

Instead of foul swamps and unpaved roads, I arrived in the Jewish Homeland to find air-conditioned offices and finely paved highways.  Instead of having to build settlements by day, defend them by night and then dance the Hora with exhausted comrades well into the early hours of the morning, I arrived at my 'settlement' kitted out with a brand new washer/dryer, an enormous self-cleaning oven and a surround-sound home theater system that probably makes my elderly Israeli neighbors wonder if they are time traveling whenever I watch the History Channel or classic films like 'Exodus' and 'Cast a Giant Shadow'.

I apologize for the indirect and impersonal nature of this communication, but I know you only by habit, and sadly, not by name or face.  I recognize your comings and goings by the fragrant Rorschach tests you leave me to find when it comes time for my mid-morning constitutional... and I dearly wish we could exchange a word. 

I am, therefore, left to hope that this unaddressed missive finds you in continued good health, spirits and bodily functions (tfu tfu tfu)...  and that you will come to trust that the marvels of modern plumbing will be equal to the task of conveying the daily labors of your healthy appetites to a suitable resting place, far from whichever bathroom stall I decide to use.

I remain your patient, yet optimistic beneficiary and partner in Zion,

David (although you can call me treppenwitz)

Posted by David Bogner on July 19, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (17) | TrackBack

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Fuzzy Moral Accounting Redux

[The following is a heavily edited version of a post I wrote a few years ago.  Based on a few of the comments on yesterday's post... actually one in particular... it seems that the core issue of the post is still not fully understood by some.  Also, since there has been significant turn over in readership here since this was published, some fresh views might emerge.]

Back when I was attending University in Manhattan, a friend of mine got mugged on his way back, late at night, from a concert at Harlem's famed Apollo Theater.  An impromptu splurge on a couple of CD's after the concert had diminished my friends pocket money to a small collection of coins, so instead of taking a taxi as he'd originally planned, he thanked-G-d for his trusty MetroCard and set off to take the subway home.

On his way to the nearest subway station he was dragged into an apartment vestibule by a couple of teenagers and relieved of his new CDs, his watch and approximately 60 cents in change. 

Whether out of disappointment at the paltry haul or just plain meanness, the teens worked my friend over pretty well, leaving him with a split lip, a bloody nose and more bruises than he'd ever experienced at one time in his life.

The next day as the story began to circulate among his friends, a consensus began to form; 'What the heck was he doing on 125th Street after midnight?'  In short, while there was, of course, general head shaking and outrage over the assault, the conventional wisdom held that my friend had to accept at least some of the blame because he had placed himself in unnecessary danger by walking through such a bad neighborhood late at night.

At the time I remember feeling a mild disconnect at this warped logic.  Were the laws less strictly enforced in Harlem?  Was 125th street some kind of 'Indian Territory' that was beyond the long arm of the law after dark.  Were the people who lived in that neighborhood held to a different standard of conduct?

I have to admit that I didn't dwell on these questions overly long as they were in complete discord with the tenets of my liberal upbringing.  And to pursue that line of questioning would have required exploring the many unconscious departures I'd made from political correctness in the name of survival in the big city. 

Let's face it, for anyone with a liberal up-bringing, it's not comfortable admitting why you cross the street late at night to avoid a street-corner full of black or Hispanic men.  So instead I used fuzzy accounting to balance my moral checkbook - not to the penny, as I had learned in school - but by rounding down to the nearest ten dollars.

In the wake of several years of attacks on Jews and subsequent finger wagging over how they should shoulder some of the blame because they were in a 'dangerous area', I am again reminded of that disconnect I felt so long ago when my friend was blamed for his own mugging.

People who wouldn't dream of suggesting that Arab culture is dominated by hatred and death, or that Palestinians view every Jew as a legitimate target, are somehow able to do just that when it comes to acts of terror... taking the necessary logical leap to allow a nice chunk of the blame to be shifted quite squarely onto the victim.

But like the younger version of myself who once-upon-a-time had made peace with not balancing my moral checkbook to the penny, many Israelis reading about 'minor' terror attacks such as stonings, molotov cocktail events and even shootings, perform their own little bit of fuzzy moral accounting and ignore the inconvenient fact that the only way '125th street'  -  or any part of Israel - could be 'fraught with dangers' is if you have sound reasons to expect dangerous/criminal behavior from the people who live there.

On the few occasions when I've had this very discussion with some of my more 'lefty' friends, they've invariably side-stepped my implied accusation by pointing an accusing finger at 'the occupation' as some sort of blanket justification for any aberrant behavior among a small group of otherwise peace-loving people. 

When I have pursued the argument to the next logical question; 'So when someone sees an Arab at a checkpoint... entering a cafe... getting on a bus... or walking in the woods... how can they tell if this is a 'typical peace-loving Arab' or one of these rare dangerous ones?'  At that point the discussion usually disintegrates into tangents about the evils of 'racism' and 'profiling'... with the result that I've never gotten a satisfactory answer to my question. 

So I throw it out to you, a diverse group of the most reasonable people I know:

1.  Can one reasonably claim that a place is inherently dangerous without acknowledging the source of the danger?

2.  Is it worth making a meaningful distinction between an entire culture being violent and only a few bad actors in their midst acting in a predictably violent manner, if the net result to society at large is the same?

3.  Does the [hypothetical] existence of an educated, reasonable, peaceful majority of Arabs who are committed to peaceful coexistence with Israel really matter if they are completely powerless to curb the violence advocated by their leaders and carried out by a small minority of their people?

4.  If you can't safely walk down 125th street (or anywhere in Israel) after midnight, isn't that a problem worth fully acknowledging and maybe even addressing... or is it safer (physically and morally) to simply cede the night and the territory to those who would do you harm?

Posted by David Bogner on July 15, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (19) | TrackBack

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A senseless and irresponsible provocation

According to Biblical tradition (Joshua 24:30), the Israelite leader Joshua (who took over for Moses and led my ancestors into the land where I now live), is buried at Month-heres, commonly associated with the modern-day Arab village of Kifl Hares in Northern Samaria.

Here's what his tomb looks like today:

Joshuas tomb

As you can see, the tomb itself is covered with Arabic graffiti; an indication of the respect given Jewish holy places by the very people who lose their collective minds if a Jew dares defile the sanctity of a Muslim holy place with his presence and/or payers.  Imagine, if you will, the outcry and violence that would erupt if a Jew ever spray painted graffiti on the Dome of the Rock.

Because of the tomb's proximity to our partners in peace, visits to Joshua's resting place are normally coordinated with the army to ensure 'proper security arrangements'.  In the cynical euphemisms of our region, this basically means that for a Jew to visit one of our own holy places, we need to have an armed escort to ensure that the local Muslims don't take offense and express their legitimate indignation by murdering us. 

To illustrate this point, last night four Israeli Jews were on their way home from a wedding when they decided on the spur of the moment to stop off and pay a late night visit to the tomb of Joshua.   As they were leaving the tomb, their car was beset by Arab villagers throwing stones and shouting 'kill the Jews' in Arabic. 

The driver was hit in the head and lost control of the vehicle... ultimately crashing into a stone wall.  The four Jews in the car fled on foot in different directions, two of them dragging the most seriously injured member of their group with them (he was ultimately airlifted to the hospital and listed in serious condition).  The rest escaped with relatively minor injuries, and after a brief scare, when they couldn't locate the fourth man, they were treated at the scene and released.

Now here's the kicker:  Rather than spurring a public outcry, the only reaction to this attack seems to have been from the local army commander who was livid that these foolhardy individuals had dared to pray at a Jewish Holy site without coordinating their visit with his forces.  It should be noted that such requests are routinely denied by the army... again, for 'security reasons'.

Anywhere else in the world such a late night religious visit - however spontaneous -  would be perfectly acceptable.  If anyone molested a Christian who went to pay a late-night visit to a church to give confession, say a rosary, offer a prayer... or attacked a Buddhist wanting to visit a temple to make a late night offering for the continued health and prosperity of his family, it would be international news, and world leaders and human rights organizations would be lining up at press conferences to offer condemnations.

By contrast, when the Muslims destroyed/burned the tomb of Joseph, mortally wounding a soldier in the process and preventing rescue forces from reaching him before he bled to death, the world paid little notice... except to wonder what the Jews had done this time to provoke the Arabs so.

Sadly, a Jew - even in his own country - is expected to tread lightly (if at all) when visiting sites of religious and historical significance.  It is as though we have accepted this diaspora notion that our very presence is a senseless provocation, and that the guarantee of freedom of religious practice (enshrined in Israeli law and the laws of no other country in the region) applies to everyone in our liberal democracy, except the people whose religion has the most irrefutable and ancient regional provenance!

Let Ariel Sharon dare ascend to the Temple mount - the single holiest place in Judaism - and it is used by the offended Muslims as an excuse to launch a multi-year orgy of murder and mayhem. But let armed Muslim terrorists take hostages within the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem (arguably one of the holiest sites in Christianity), and it is seen by the world as a legitimate expression of Palestinian self-determination.  And in a laughable turnabout the presence, outsidethe Church, of Israeli security forces attempting to capture the terrorists was called an unwarranted desecration of the site.

It is illegal to practice any religion but Islam in many of our neighboring countries.  But even in places where other religions are allowed to practice openly... it is permission of a very limited nature; a barely tolerate second-class status called Dhimmi. 

Don't believe me?  Go ask a Coptic Christian about his perilous existence and bloodstained history in Egypt... or ask a Lebanese Christian (if you can find one willing to even go on record) what it's like living like a hated (and hunted) stranger in his/her own land.

The Universal Declaration of human Rights, which is so often quoted by the Palestinians and their supporters, states; "Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country".  It is inconvenient for some that there isn't an ounce of evidence in the historical / archaeological record to support the presence here of any identifiable 'Palestinian People'.  But what is truly amazing is that those who so often trot out the Declaration of Human rights to bolster the Palestinian case never realize the irony of denying Jews at least equal right of return to a country that was irrefutably ours.

The only reason the State of Israel was established here rather than in Africa or any of a half dozen other suggestions given to Theodore Herzl, is that we were from here... this is the crucible of our very identity as a people... and we have never stopped praying for a return to this place.  Turn over any stone and you will find archaeological evidence of our ancient and unbroken presence here. 

When the 1948 cease fire was signed (creating arbitrary borders that many now want Israel to respect and return to, despite winning two subsequent wars not of our making), it was agreed that everyonewould have access to their religious holy sites, regardless in whose hands they were held. 

We all saw how well that worked out.  From 1948 - 1967 the Jordanians systematically went about destroying Jewish synagogues and holy sites... forcing the Jews to look longingly at the ruins of our holy places through binoculars. 

What is ironic is that many who think Israel is being needlessly argumentative in requiring formal recognition of our national/religious status as a precondition to any peace agreement, fail to recognize that incidents like last nights could not possibly have happened in a region where Israel was universally recognized by our 'peace partners' as the Jewish State.

Since 1967, every religion with even a token representation in Israel has had unfettered access to their holy sites.  Every religion, that is, except Judaism. Here, our very presence is still viewed by the world (and even by many of our own leaders), as negotiable and temporary.  And sadly, the simple act of praying at one of our holy places is still seen as a senseless and irresponsible provocation.

Update: Not surprisingly, Haaretz is now claiming that the crash and injuries sustained by the men were not caused by Palestinian stone throwers (although the article fails to offer an alternative theory).  It does, however, go to great lengths to point out that the men were hassidim (never going to get sympathy from the typical Haaretz reader) and that "Israel Defense Forces stressed that the Israelis entered the Palestinian area without a permit and without prior coordination, and put themselves at great personal risk. Israelis are barred from entering the Palestinian-controlled zone without an army escort". 

Remind me again why Jews making an impromptu visit to a Jewish holy site that happens to be in close proximity to our peace partners is "liable to put themselves at great personal risk?"  Anyone? 

Posted by David Bogner on July 14, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (23) | TrackBack

Monday, July 13, 2009

These sneakers are made for walkin'...

The last treppenwitz walking competition lasted only 6 days, and somehow didn't seem long enough (to me, anyway).  I need a longer period (especially when dealing with averages) so that if I goof off for a day or two, I won't get discouraged at seeing my average number of steps plummet.

The next walking competition will begin Wednesday morning and will end the day before Tisha B'Av.  Hey, I figure most of us need a diversion during the three weeks anyway, so why not get in better shape? 

As I've said before, there is a very nice sense of community and mutual support in these competitions, complete with a message board and a graph showing everyone's daily averages. So even if you are walking alone... you're never really alone.  Personally, I like that I can enter my steps at the end of the day and catch up on how everyone else's walking went.  Just knowing that I wasn't the only one who really didn't feel like walking... but did it anyway, offers a small reward all its own.

For those of you who have somehow resisted joining Walker Tracker, this is another chance.  Click here to sign up.  It's quick, easy and free... I promise!

For those of you who are already walker tracker members, the link to the up-coming competition (called treppenwalk 3) is here.  Get registered (even if you are still shopping for your pedometer or looking to upgrade) because once the competition starts you will be locked out. 

At stake is a shiny new treppenwitz coffee mug, to be awarded by random drawing to one of the lucky people who meet the (very reachable) goal; averaging 10,000 steps per day over the competition period. 

To be clear, this isn't about who walks the furthest or the fastest. It isn't even about who has the highest average.   More than half the people who entered the last challenge reached the goal and became eligible for the prize drawing.  But as the saying goes; you have to be in it to win it.

I'm wondering if I can shame my siblings and parents into this one.  We'll see.

Posted by David Bogner on July 13, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Teaching Vocabulary, Daddy Style

One of the challenges of moving a family from an English-speaking country to Israel has been ensuring that our kids grow up fully bilingual.  Obviously this involved getting them plenty of help with Hebrew after we first arrived... but it also means working hard to continue developing their English skills.

To that end, even though we encourage our kids to speak only Hebrew outside the house... we are careful to speak only English at home.  We also encourage the kids to read English books and newspapers in addition to the standard Hebrew fare.  But even with all this, it kind of took us by surprise to find our children, who speak perfect unaccented English*, suddenly casting about mid-conversation for a word, and occasionally giving up and tossing in a Hebrew substitute when the correct English word eludes them.

After I'd witnessed this a few times, I decided that I needed to find a way to ensure their vocabularies continue to expand (or at very least, don't shrink). 

So now whenever I hear them searching for a word or using a Hebrew substitute, I stop them and offer them the correct word... making sure they repeat it a couple of times and know how to use it correctly.  And when I hear them using a 2 cent word where a 50 cent word would be more age-appropriate, I stop them and offer them the better word choice.

But anyone who has children knows that you can't just tell them something and expect it to stick.  This is especially true with teenagers since they are at an age when pretty much everything goes in one ear and out the other... whatever the language! 

So in order to have the best chance of having them retain something as slippery as vocabulary, I've found it helps to frame things in such a way that they aren't likely to forget.

Here's an example from this past week:

Gilad wandered into the kitchen and said, "Abba, what does 'linger' mean?".

I have no idea whether he'd read the word or heard it on TV or in a movie... but 'linger' is certainly a word he should known at his age.   So I wanted to do something to make sure he'd retain the definition rather than just using it to make momentary sense of whatever he'd heard or read, before discarding it.

I could have told him about a lingering kiss or the way a person might linger after class if they wanted to speak to the teacher.  But I suspected these would be lost on him, so I made a split second decision and offered the following:

"OK, you know how if someone farts in an elevator or a small room, and then you come along a few minutes later, you find that the place still reeks?  Well that's because a fart sometimes lingers in the air even after the person who cut the cheese is long gone."

Gilad, being 13 years old, collapsed onto the kitchen floor in a fit of giggles and donkey laughs.

Zahava, who had been standing at the sink washing dishes, turned around and transfixed me with one of her patented 'you've got to be kidding me' glares... the kind she saves for when something I do or say makes her feel like she suddenly has an additional child to look after.

I just smiled sheepishly, gestured in Gilad's direction and said, "I know, I know, don't say it... but look at it this way; he's never, ever going to forget the definition of linger, right?"

Zahava just shook her head and turned back to the dishes.  She hates it when I'm right.

*  All you Brits can stop sniggering... it's just rude!

Posted by David Bogner on July 12, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (14) | TrackBack

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Excuse me while I pull on my jackboots and invade Poland

Some people mean well, but should really observe a 'cooling off period' - similar to the waiting period many locales require before a person can legally purchase a firearm - before hitting the send button on an email to a total stranger.

Exempli Gratia:

A while back I got an email with the following subject line:  "A surfer with a gripe". 

With that subject the sender was as much as admitting that he wasn't a regular (or even occasional) reader.  He was simply a surfer who had stumbled upon my site and felt compelled (not to mention entitled), to submit a complaint. 

That right there should have been enough to warrant a fast stab at the delete button... but as the name of this site implies, hindsight is my strong suit... not foresight (or whatever kind of sight might entail having the good sense to act wisely at the precise moment a sound decision is required). 

So, having opened the email, here is what I found [with my after-thoughts treppenwitz added in red italics]:

Hi David,

Surely you could have come up with another name for your website, than using a German author.[Um, it's a German word... not a German author, but thanks for getting right down to business without so much as a 'hi, how are you?']  You are Jewish, are you not. [I'll assume that was a question, even though that assumption isn't supported by the correct punctuation]  At least I know you live in Israel. [well played Clouseau!]  You could have called it Hindsight, or something.  [I like that.  I think I'll change the site name to 'something'.  Thanks!]  But to even get one person to look into German literature, well I think your sensitivities are lacking. [Are you suggesting that German literature is the reason so many Jews perished in the Holocaust, and not, say, the rise of Nazi-ism, Adolph Hitler, world apathy/appeasement... or even the Treaty of Versailles?!  Interesting theory.]  I get the feeling you took German in college, and are even proud of that association.  [BZZZT! Oooh, sorry... but thanks for playing.  Just for the record; the sum total of my knowledge of the German language would allow me to politely order between one and nine beers anywhere in Austria, Germany and a sizable chunk of Switzerland.]  Maybe I'm wrong, but for a Jew to flaunt a German banner is much like cutting our legs from under us. [Excellent simile!   Oh wait, you probably weren't trying for a simile there were you?  You almost certainly were going for a metaphor... as in 'Flaunting a German banner cuts the legs out from under your Jewishness'... which doesn't really work either, but hey, at least it isn't likely to make your high school English teacher cry.]

Wishing you the best. [Oh please, that goes without saying.]

BTW, That's a real nice pooch you got. [Uh-uh, No way...  you can't weasel your way into my good graces after a letter like that just by complimenting my dog.  Okay, maybe a little... but that's really not playing fair!]

Since I criticized you, here's your chance to get back at me;  If you visit: http://www.notbloodylikely.blogspot.com/ [If I visit.... what?  What happens if I visit your site?  Oh,I see, you forgot to finish the thought.  Just sort of left it dangling there.  So much for sparing your high school english teacher.  And BTW, that's not really his real URL, I changed it to 'notbloodylikely.blogspot.com... as in not bloody likely that I'm going to give your site free publicity after you were such a complete douche-bag to a perfect stranger]

Kol tuv!

[name withheld to protect the ignorant]

Posted by David Bogner on July 9, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (20) | TrackBack

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

A rant delayed

You may recall two related items from my birthday list that went as follows:

5.  I love spotting religious Jews in Tel Aviv.
6.  I love spotting secular Jews in Jerusalem, too.  Maybe more so. 

When I wrote those two things I was focused on the tensions in Jerusalem between the Haredi population and the city government that was trying to keep a parking lot open to accommodate secular tourists who want to visit the capital on Shabbat.

Personally, I have a big problem with Jews enforcing religious observance upon other Jews.  That having been said, I have an equally big problem with Jews in the only Jewish country in the world being forced to violate Jewish law (i.e. work on the sabbath, eat non-kosher food, etc.).

Clearly it is impossible to create a societal norm where no Jew will have to work on the sabbath if businesses are routinely open on that day. 

Yes, one can argue that it is a matter of free choice and employees can opt to work on shabbat or not according to their personal beliefs.  But we all know that in a free market economy, employers can bring pressures to bear on employees to work when they might otherwise not want to... and employees faced with a choice of adhering to religious law or meeting their family's financial needs may opt for the immediate reward rather than the eternal one.

Where it is less cut and dried is in matters that deal with the 'character' of particular neighborhoods and the right of religious and secular people to feel 'at home' in the neighborhoods where they live. 

This cuts to the heart of what I meant in those two lines above.  I firmly believe that while a strictly religious or non-religious neighborhood might seem desirable from the standpoint of avoiding conflict between people with diverging priorities... it is a recipe for national dis-chord.

You see, it is human nature for a person to be at home with whatever lifestyle choices one makes for him/herself.  However, this means that those who make different lifestyle choices are naturally going to be viewed in a negative way.  But if those 'different people' are friends, or even acquaintances that you see every day, it is harder to think ill of them than if they are strangers living in another neighborhood or town.

This goes back to one of my favorite analogies about driving:

Pretty much everyone thinks they are a good driver (or at least above average).  So as a result we all consider those who zip past us on the highway 'maniacs', and those in front of us impeding our progress are 'idiots'.  The same goes for politics and religion.  We are so completely sure of the choices we make in these areas, that we quite naturally view the choices made by others as suspect (often in the extreme).

So while there have always been communities in Israel that were exclusively religious or exclusively secular, the majority of urban and suburban neighborhoods were mixed to some extent... even if they may lean predominantly one way or the other.

But in the wake of the sabbath protests in Jerusalem over the opening of a tourist parking lot, there was also a recent news article that probably went largely un-noticed by most.  It was about the predominantly secular community of Ramat Aviv getting up in arms over the recent influx of religious Jews, and the perception that this would somehow force religious observance upon them and their children.

The contentions in this case are summed up in these quotes from the article:

Over the past few years, Chabad [Lubavitch] members have begun renovating public buildings and institutions in Ramat Aviv. A movie theater was converted into a kollel. Billionaire Lev Leviev, who is observant and owns the Ramat Aviv Mall, ensured it would be closed on Shabbat. And a center belonging to the Histadrut Labor Federation now functions as a Chabad kindergarten..

These changes have raised concern with the city's secular residents, with a single issue at the center of the debate: the character of the neighborhood.

The ultra-Orthodox "come with [a] purpose, they are well organized, and they have a target - the secular Israeli public," MK Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz) tells The Jerusalem Post.

"I'm not against someone who is religious, as long as they don't force their practices on me," says Dani Borten, a superintendent at the Alliance High School in Ramat Aviv, speaking on his own behalf, not the school's. "Now, in the neighborhood, I can see tensions starting. If we don't do something, there will be problems."
Tel Aviv-Jaffa council member Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) says there is no demand in the neighborhood for the facilities that the haredi community has opened. "What they are doing is definitely part of a bigger purpose," she says.
In another time and place these accusations would have been accompanied by loaded phrases like 'block busting'  and 'those people'.  But from what I can gather, the primary concern among many secular residents of Ramat Aviv is that they and their children will be subject to pressures to become more religious (as if such a thing were possible). 
One example cited in the article is the practice of Lubavitch of setting up tables near the schools and shopping centers and encouraging passers by to put on Tefillin.
What they fail to recognize is that nobody is forcing people to put on tefillin, any more than secular kids handing out flyers for a club or non-kosher restaurant are forcing religious people to attend.  It may make some uncomfortable to be confronted with religious Jews encouraging religious observance... but how is that different from the influence that immodestly clad secular people have on religious communities?  Is a glimpse of a bare belly or a bit of cleavage going to force religious kids away from observance?  It shouldn't.
To be sure, the siren call of 'the other' cuts both ways in an open society.  People are constantly 'switching sides'... choosing to become more or less observant based on the things they experience in their daily lives.  Not only does the grass often seem greener in someone else's yard... but young adults are especially prone to changing paths in order to exert their independenc and/or piss off their parents. 
So yes, I could see why parents of both camps would be worried about the influence that might come from close proximity to 'the others'.
But one can't simultaneously complain about religious Jews sequestering themselves in ghettos where the secular folks are not welcome, and also complain when the Religious people come out of their ghettos and try to move into secular areas... bringing with them the basic educational and religious facilities they need in order to feel at home.
I have a lot more to say on the subject, but I'm curious to see how some of you feel about this topic.
[As always, I would caution everyone to be sensitive to the diversity of people who read this blog and who might want to participate in the discussion.]

Posted by David Bogner on July 8, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (24) | TrackBack

Monday, July 06, 2009

Dirty trick or 'all's fair in love and walking competitions'?

So yesterday was the first day of the six day walking competition.  Right before the deadline for registration I noticed that Zahava had joined the competition... which is a good thing, and a potentially bad thing. 

Good because Zahava can be a strong motivating factor.  If she and I are both in this thing she will shame me into walking even if I'm not in the mood. 

But bad because Zahava is just the tiniest bit competitive.  She is also just a little bit of a gold star seeker.  Mind you, I mean both in the best possible way.  Really.

[~makes preparations to sleep on couch~]

Here, let me give you an example

[~ makes preparations to sleep on back porch~]:

Knitting.  Zahava recently rediscovered knitting; a craft that she learned as a little girl at her grandmother's knee.  It being an artsy sort of thing, it is no surprise that Zahava is quite good at it.  How good?  Like 'her stuff looks store bought' good.  Maybe better than store bought.

Now some of us would be content to be really really good at something and do it once in a while for fun and relaxation.  That's called a hobby.  Not Zahava.  She began knitting gifts for the nieces and nephews and people she hasn't met yet.  She began knitting scarves and sweaters and car covers.  I think she may be working on a cozy for the house... y'know, to lower our heating bills this winter.

Anyway, you get the idea. 

With walking it is a similar thing.  When we both got our pedometers, she began casually asking me how many steps I'd done so far on most days.  And if my count was higher, she'd go out and walk some more just to beat me. 

So you can understand why when I saw that she'd signed up for the competition I was pleased that she'd push me to walk more than I otherwise might.  But I was also worried about her competitiveness.

Sure enough, about halfway through the day yesterday I got an email from Zahava 'casually' mentioning her step-count so far.  It was roughly four times what I'd walked so far to that point.

But it had the desired affect.  I went out and did a couple of quick laps of our office complex, and another couple at lunch time.  I even went and visited people on work related issues who I would otherwise have called on the phone.

When I got home I casually asked Zahava how she'd done, and she flashed her pedometer at me and said 13,407 steps today... how'd you do?

New here's where I may have been just the slightest bit evasive.  I said, "Not so good", and left it at that. 

I then went downstairs, answered some emails and went to bed.  When Zahava and I got up this morning I flashed her a big grin and told her that I'd actually walked over 14,000 steps yesterday.  She din't believe me and went and checked my pedometer.

When she saw the number she was genuinely angry with me.  "That's not fair.  I asked you how you'd done and you said 'not so good'.  That's dishonest!"

I asked her what she would have done if I had told her the whole truth, and she admitted that she would probably have gone out walking again.  So my caution was somewhat justified, no?

I have a feeling my lovely, but competitive wife is going to be walking to Jerusalem today just to show me who's boss.

Posted by David Bogner on July 6, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (12) | TrackBack

Sunday, July 05, 2009

On the horns of another dilemma

This past Thursday I wanted to pick up a particular brand of beer for the weekend.  I drove all over Beer Sheva looking, first at the ShuperSol Supermarket where I normally shop... and then at the larger Mega.  But to no avail.  Nobody had it.

On a whim I went to the local upscale liquor store, and even they didn't have it... but the owner told me that he was 100% certain that the supermarket down the block carried what I was looking for.

However, the 'supermarket down the block' he was referring to was a national chain called Tiv Ta'am.  Unlike ShuperSol and Mega which carry exclusively kosher products and are strictly sabbath observant, Tiv Ta'am has gone out of its way to position itself as the store where you can get anything you want (including pork products) any day of the week (including Sabbath and holidays).

Here's the crazy part:

In the US I would have no problem going into a grocery store that carried a majority of non-kosher products in order to buy the products I knew to be kosher.  There was never a sense of 'Morat Ayin' (over-simplified definition: potentially misleading someone into thinking the place was 100% kosher by my shopping there). 

But here in Israel, I honestly had a feeling there might be something wrong with going into Tiv Ta'am... in spite of the fact that the overwhelming majority of products in the place are kosher.

I tried to call some of my 'go-to' friends for cultural/halachic questions... but everyone seemed to be busy.  In the end I went into Tiv Ta'am to look for my beer... and they did indeed have it.  However I was surprised by some of the things I noticed once inside the store.

First was the shock of seeing an actual bar & gill inside the supermarket.  Seriously, an actual bar where you can sit down, have a cold draught beer and even order a burger or steak while your better half does the shopping.

Next, although the meat and cheese counters were completely traif, the rest of the store was almost identical in layout and stock as the kosher Israeli supermarkets.  As I said before, the vast majority of packaged products were 100% kosher.  And it was every bit as clean and attractive (maybe more so) than any of the places I normally shop.  Just not a single kippah in the place (except mine, of course).  It was like shopping in Alabama or Montana.

Look, I took economics in college and I understand that where there is a demand, a supply will almost always follow.  Although roughly half of Israelis consider themselves 'traditional', that leaves a lot of people who are going to want at least occasionally access to a supermarket on Shabbat, and a somewhat smaller percentage who are actively looking for non-kosher products that are not available at other stores.

Now, as a kosher consumer, I have a vested interest in supporting businesses that go to the considerable extra time and expense of providing me with a product/service that is 100% acceptable to me.  But the question remains, am I doing something wrong by going to the non-kosher competition when I can't find something in my regular supermarket?  Inquiring minds want to know.

Any and all feedback is appreciated (so long as it does't attack or judge those who opt for one kind of shopping experience over another).

Posted by David Bogner on July 5, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (29) | TrackBack

Friday, July 03, 2009

Gentlemen (and ladies), start your pedometers!

You've bought yourself a pedometer, right?  Oh c'mon people... the next walking competition starts Sunday morning... what were you thinking???

There's still time... but not much.  Go out to your local sporting goods store and buy a pedometer.  Splurge and buy one of the better ones.  The features and reliability will make you happy you did.

Now go sign up for walker tracker.  It's free and will allow you to track, graph and share your walking routine with pretty much anyone you want.  It will also give you a fantastic rear view mirror through which to view your progress.

Once you've done that, be sure to log (add) a day or two of steps, even if you have to make up a number and back date your step count a day or two.  This is because the competition is only open o people with an average of 100 steps or more.  Bedridden folks log 100 steps a day just going to and from the bathroom, people! 

Now where was I?  Ah yes, the competition.  Once you have your pedometer and have signed up for walkertracker, you'll need to register for my 'Six days and then you rest' competition.  Again, free of charge, but if you aren't signed up by midnight on Saturday... you'll be left behind.  Again.

So what are you waiting for?  Go!

Posted by David Bogner on July 3, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Not feeling very witty just now...

I had a witty little post all lined up for you today... but I've put it back in the closet for a sunnier day.  I'm not feeling very witty just now, because a friend just got some unwelcome news.

Rivka is a friend of long standing.  We met and became friends when we were both in university (me at YU and she at Barnard).  Our circle of friends overlapped on several levels, and gradually we ended up thrown together often enough that we noticed that we had similar interests and liked each other immensely.

As often happens, we didn't stay in touch after graduating, but since we knew quite a few people in common, we tended to hear updates about each other.  So when Zahava and I moved our family to Israel I wasn't particularly surprised to find Rivka also living here with her husband and family.  And again our circles of friends overlapped.

Eventually our daughters ended up attending the same high school and became fast friends... even spending occasional shabbat together at our home or theirs.

You might already know the Rivka I'm telling you about... she also keeps a blog.  It's called 'Coffee and Chemo', a cute name for a blog that was inspired by Rivka's habit of inviting friends to sip a cup of coffee and keep her company during her regular chemotherapy sessions at the hospital.

Yes, Rivka has cancer.  Here own short-hand description of her condition and history:

"Diagnosed with DCIS (stage ZERO breast cancer) at age 39. Three surgeries and 2 years later... I became a statistical anomaly: breast cancer mysteriously metastasized to my bones, liver and lungs.  Diagnosis: Cancer is a "chronic illness." You can live with it   (Translation: I hope to be on chemotherapy for a LONG time!)."

And live with it she has.  Despite the rather 'in your face' blog title, Rivka's life isn't a pity party by any stretch of the imagination.  She has lived with her cancer the way someone might live with adult acne or arthritis; treating it as a chronic condition and enjoying life to fullest extent possible.

I can't remember Rivka mentioning her cancer on any of the occasions we've seen each other or attended functions at our daughters high school.  I guess she saves that for her blog.  But even the blog is usually up-beat and full of hope and life.  Oh sure, occasionally she gets overwhelmed by something and uses the blog to vent about a particularly painful treatment or her fears about the future.  But by and large, I would have to say that Rivka is one of the most positive people I know.

Which is why the latest news over at her blog took my breath away when I went over there this morning.  Even if you aren't a regular reader, you should go over anyway and lend some support. 

In the mean time, please pray (or have a good, happy, healing thought) for my friend RivkA bat Teirtzel.

Posted by David Bogner on July 2, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Trouble falling asleep last night

I was actually completely exhausted when I went to bed last night... so I have no idea why I had trouble falling asleep.

I ended up watching 'The Big Lebowski' on the laptop in bed, and spent most of the night dreaming about drinking 'Caucasians' and bowling.


Posted by David Bogner on July 1, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Fantastic Quote

I'm sure most of you have seen this already, but it's too good not to share:

"On a more serious front, I sincerely hope that when the president goes in for his annual check-up, the doctors at Bethesda will do a brain scan. Surely something must be terribly wrong with a man who seems to be far more concerned with a Jew building a house in Israel than with Muslims building a nuclear bomb in Iran."

                                                     ~Columnist Burt Prelutzky~

Posted by David Bogner on July 1, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack