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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The stuff of nightmares - Part II

[Note:  If you didn't read yesterday's post carefully, today's post will make absolutely no sense.]

Where were we?  Ah yes...

Suddenly a blinding red alarm explodes in my head and I realize what must have happened.  My hand goes into my left front pants pocket and my heart nearly implodes with shock as my fingers find nothing there but a small ball of lint.  I've been pick-pocketed and the ring is gone.

You read in bad fiction about time slowing down during times of crisis and things happening as if in slow motion.  In my dream, which already has a slightly surreal / slow-mo feel to the goings on, things really slow to a crawl at this point.

The first rational thought I have after realizing the ring is gone comes from that well-honed New Yorker sense of subway timing that tells me that any moment there would be a two-toned bell chime (bing-bong!) and the doors would slide shut.  Once that happens the train would begin to move and I would be forced to watch helplessly as the train takes us slowly away from these three young men standing on the platform... and from the ring they had stolen.

The second thought that arrives on the heels of the first is that Zahava still has no idea what's happened.  She looks somewhere between puzzled and annoyed at being unceremoniously jostled into the car by these strangers... but she doesn't have a clue what has resulted from what seemed to simply have been rude behavior.

As I am already imagining the train pulling away from the scene of the crime, I realize that, other than the vague 'three 20-something black men in puffy coats', I would be completely unable to describe these men to the police.  Call me a bigot if you want, but like many white folks from the 'burbs, I have a certain level of ethno-specific prosopagnosia (face-blindness) born partly of not having had much contact with people of color as a kid... and partly of a tendency to reflexively avoid eye contact with young inner-city blacks on the street (or in the subway).  Again, this probably correctly makes me a bigot.  But we're not talking about sitting across a conference table here.  I'm in the NYC Subway system, and for better or worse, political correctness has to take a back seat to self-preservation.

Because the subway doors are about to close, I know I don't have time to explain the situation to Zahava.  But I can't very well jump off the train leaving her to ride away into the night wondering why I had suddenly abandoned her, can I?  So I grab the back of her coat and jerk her (and her overstuffed suitcase) back through the doors onto the subway platform.

Once we are safely off the train, I grab the nearest of the three young men by the front of his puffy down parka and slam his back against the outside of the subway car a couple of feet from the conductor's open window.  As his head bangs loudly against the subway car and rebounds in my direction I begin yelling into his startled face, "Give it back or you're a dead man", over and over as if I actually have the means to carry out the threat.   

But even as I'm doing this, I realize that I have no idea which one of them actually took the ring or is currently in possession of it.  It's a sort of human shell game, and I've simply grabbed the nearest shell in hopes that it conceals the prize.

Clearly I haven't really thought this situation through, because the moment I have this guy pinned against the train, I mentally brace myself for one of two things to happen:  Either he is going to pull a knife or gun and kill me... or one of his two cohorts will do so.  At very least I'm in for a beating since I am out-numbered three to one.

But through no design of my own, a few things begin to subtly shift the situation in my favor.

First, now that I have one of the men pinned a few feet from the bemused face of the guy driving the subway, the train is effectively stuck in the station.  I'm not sure why, but having the conductor - arguably the only semi-authority figure in the vicinity - and his radio close at hand feels mildly reassuring (even though in typical New Yorker fashion, the conductor isn't actually getting involved.  Instead he seems to be taking a wait and see attitude, and like the gathering crowd, is enjoying the show.

Second, rather than assaulting me and freeing their friend, the other two guys have turned on their heels and are bounding up the nearby steps three at a time towards the upper level and the freedom of Columbus Circle.  And for whatever reason, the guy I have pinned against the train (to this day Zahava insists that his feet were dangling off the floor as I pushed him further and further up against the curved side of the train) hasn't made any moves to produce a weapon or fight back.

And then time resumes its normal pace... and I'm left with no ring, a subway full of angry commuters who aren't concerned with my problems, and a young black man in temporary custody who may or may not actually have what I am desperately trying to get back.

The crowd around us swells... and with it the noise in my ears.  The commuters begin to complain about the delay and I become increasingly sure that I've picked the wrong shell ... which means that my ring is already up in the 'fresh' air of Columbus Circle and heading towards points unknown. 

As the time passes and the situation refuses to resolve itself, I begin to sweat in the sauna-like atmosphere of the subway, certain that at any moment a cop is going to show up and ask me why I'm assaulting this upstanding young man.  And when a search of said upstanding young man fails to turn up a stolen ring, I'm going to be the one dragged off to the hoosegow... sentenced to relive the loss of the ring, my dignity and maybe even my fiance, over and over... all because of circumstances completely beyond my control!!!

And that's it... that's where I always wake up. 

In real life, the incident never got to the part written in italics above.  What really happened is that the guy I was holding against the train actually still had the ring (wrapped in tissue paper) in his hand, and when he saw that I was quite literally out of my mind with rage, he tossed it in my face, tried (unsuccessfully) to kick me, and as I released my hold on him to catch the ring, he ran up the stairs after his companions.  Zahava and I got on the train, and we lived (so far, tfu tfu tfu) happily ever after.

Replaying the whole episode in my head later that night, I realized that one or more of these guys must have seen me showing off the ring to my coworker on the street at lunch time, and then waited outside my office for me to leave work.  They had seen me put it away, so they knew exactly which pocket to pick.  And if the subway platform had been more crowded I probably wouldn't have noticed the whole pushing ploy as anything out of the ordinary. 

With horror I understood that the only reason I had noticed something was wrong was that we happened to be getting on a train at probably the only moment during rush hour that the platform was relatively empty. 

That's it.  Blind luck.  But for that, and for the fact that I had the good fortune to have randomly grabbed the guy who actually had the ring... the story could/would have ended badly.

And that, my patient readers, is the stuff of nightmares; the terrible realization that we walk through the world with our valuable property... our priceless relationships... our irreplaceable families... exposed to the vagaries of chance and the whims of evil people who see us only as the sum of our vulnerabilities.

Maybe it's because I know how unbelievably fortunate I am that I've been having this recurring nightmare.  Maybe it's because I know how vulnerable each and every precious thing in our lives makes us.  But whatever the reason, this dream about a long-ago event destroys me emotionally for days afterwards, and makes me walk around waiting for some unspeakable tragedy to happen.

I'm hoping that by writing it down and posting it here, it will be like turning on the lights and revealing a monster perched at the foot of the bed to be nothing more than a shirt and hat draped casually over a chair... harmless to nobody and symbol of nothing more than my untidiness.

Posted by David Bogner on October 28, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (18) | TrackBack

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The stuff of nightmares

I rarely share dreams here... not because I'm such a private person, but rather because I rarely remember them after waking.  But every few years I have a recurring nightmare which is incredibly realistic, probably because it is a faithful replay of an event which actually took place.

I'm not a mental health professional (heck, I slept through most of psych 101 and passed the test by studying from a friend's excellent notes), but I am so disturbed by this dream each time I have it that I'm hoping that the simple act of writing it down and letting it see the light of day will banish it to wherever nightmares go when they lose their power to frighten.

What makes it most nightmarish... is that it actually happened in real life exactly as I dream it.

It always begins the same way... with the sun hitting the pear shaped diamond held in a delicate platinum setting just so... and exploding with light.  It is so dazzling that I have to look away.

I am standing on the sun-drenched sidewalk near my workplace on Broadway and 72nd St drinking a cup of coffee and showing off the engagement ring I have just bought for Zahava to one of my coworkers.  The ring has been burning a hole in my pocket all day, and now that I only have a few more hours before I see my fiance, I need to show someone.

My coworker is a pleasant looking single girl with a pierced eyebrow and too much make-up who probably has a somewhat different picture in her minds eye of what her engagement ring will one day look like.  But she graciously oohs and aaahs over the simple ring I am showing her and makes all the right admiring envious statements about how lucky Zahava is.

After a few moments she hands me back the ring and I wrap it carefully in the tissue paper before putting it back into my front left pants pocket.  I haven't gone the velvet box route because there will be no dramatic presentation on bended knee.  I have already proposed... asked her parents for her hand... and we have already spent a long afternoon with a friend in the diamond business looking at a small fortune in stones in order to let Zahava select just the right one. 

Once she's picked out her stone and sketched out the design she wanted for her setting, we thank my friend for his expert assistance/advice and go out to begin crossing off the endless list of tasks in which engaged couples typically find themselves, well, engaged.

Fast forward a week or so, and on my way to work I pick up the ring from my friend.  At lunch time I go to have the ring appraised (for insurance purposes) and send the paperwork to my insurance agent so that this tiny piece of jewelry (valued at a bit more than my car) can be included in my policy. 

Unfortunately, because it is already mid-day, my agent informs me that the policy 'rider' for the ring wouldn't kick in until the following day.  Zahava is due to fly to Canada on business that evening and I had promised to go with her to the airport and give her the ring before she left.  We had made up to meet after work on the subway platform at Columbus Circle, and go together from there to JFK.

The afternoon moves like molasses.  I'm already missing Zahava and can't wait to give her the ring.  My co-worker's admiring comments a few hours earlier had made the ring burn even hotter in my pocket and each time I looked at my watch the second hand seemed to have stopped.

Finally, after what seems like a year, it comes time to leave work and I head downtown on the train to meet Zahava.  I leave my office and cross the street to the the subway entrance... all the time walking a foot off the ground with happiness and barely noticing that the 'walk' light turns green just as I reach the curb.  I go down into the station and emerge onto the platform just as my train is pulling into the station. 

Apparently lights naturally turn green and trains arrive just in time for people in love.

I sit in the crowded car for the short ride to Columbus Circle consumed with thoughts of how Zahava's hand will look with her engagement ring sparkling on her delicate finger.

When the train pulls into Columbus Circle, I get off and go over to our appointed meeting place next to the candy/newspaper kiosk and begin scanning the crowd for my fiance.  For several minutes the crowd crashes and ebbs on the platform like waves on a beach as each train rumbles in and out of the station.

Finally I see Zahava walking towards me and all is right with the world.  She has her bulging suitcase with her for her trip and is all smiles.  We walk a few feet up the platform and stand together on the relatively empty platform waiting for the next train to arrive that will take us to the airport.   When it finally arrives we position ourselves where the doors will open and wait patiently for the train to stop.

Suddenly, as the doors part, three 20-something black men in puffy parkas begin pushing from behind as if worried about not getting on the train in time.  But the behavior is odd in the extreme because the platform is otherwise quiet and the conductor's window is right next to the door we face.  There is no chance that they might miss the train... and thus no need for them to push us.

Just as quickly as the three men had pushed us into the train, they all step back out onto the platform and stand looking at the overhead signs as if confused about which train to take.

Suddenly a blinding red alarm explodes in my head and I realize what must have happened.  My hand goes into my left front pants pocket and my heart nearly implodes with shock as my fingers find nothing there but a small ball of lint.  I've been pick-pocketed and the ring is gone.

[Part 2 tomorrow]

Posted by David Bogner on October 27, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Monday, October 26, 2009

So that's what they're after!

For weeks now analysts and political pundits have been watching Turkey (the moderate Muslim country] throw the equivalent of a temper tantrum, and have been trying to figure out what it is the Turks want.

It began with Turkey - a full member of NATO - nixing the Israel Air Force's participation in a multi-nation military exercises it was hosting.  The reason given by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan  for this move was that he wouldn't allow the same planes that were responsible for war crimes in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead to take part in the war games.  As a result of this move, the US and other major players backed out of the planned exercises and Turkey was left looking foolish.

At the same time, Erdogan began making deliberately provocative statements about his country's warm relations with Syria... a move not unlike a rebellious teenager letting his parents spot him hanging out with the neighborhood hoodlums.  But again, the Europeans and US scratched their heads and couldn't understand where this behavior was coming from.

Turkey has long been tauted as a model for what the rest of the Muslim world could be.  It is a western-facing, secular democracy that has historically kept its more restive Islamist elements under tight control.  Even when the current Prime Minister - a man who is more aligned with the religious Muslims than his predecessors - was elected, the pundits reassured each other that the moment Turkey started courting the Islamists and/or turning away from the west, Erdogan's government would be toppled by cooler heads.

And yet, in the past few days we've seen Erdogan making ever more provocative statements to the press such as accusing Israel foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman of threatening to drop a nuclear weapon on Gaza... while in the same breath extolling the warm friendship Turkey enjoys with Iranian madman Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and the close bond that exists between the two countries. 

Well, yesterday it finally became clear what is bothering Turkey.  They are pissed off because they haven't yet been welcomed into the EU.

Here are his own words on the subject:

"Among leaders in Europe there are those who have prejudices against Turkey, like France and Germany…It is an unfair attitude. The European Union is violating its own rules... Being in the European Union we would be building bridges between the 1.5 billion people of [the] Muslim world to the non-Muslim world. They have to see this. If they ignore it, it brings weakness to the EU."

Here, allow me to parse that for you:

1.  European leaders are prejudiced against Turkey... because they are a Muslim country. 

2.  Europe is violating it's own rules.  Apparently Turkey can exclude anyone it wants for any reason it decides... but Europe must welcome all comers.

3.  Turkey sees itself as the bridge between Europe and the 1.5 billion people of the Muslim world.  Note that when Israel wants to be defined as the Jewish state, that is racist... yet here is a 'moderate' Muslim country making a clear 'them and us' statement about how the world is divided.  Also, the only way this linguistic symmetry works is if Europe is seen as Christian (or at least non-Muslim). 

4.  "If they ignore it, it brings weakness to the EU"... In other words, Europe ignores Turkey's offer to play 'good Muslim' at its own peril. 

I don't know about you, but I don't think there is any place in the EU for an extortionist state which panders to terrorist regimes and positions itself as the best and only conduit for dealing with the 'Muslim World'.  If ever there were a case of 'If you aren't with us, you're against us', this would be it. 

Would it be nice to have them aligned with the west?  Obviously, yes.  But not at any cost.   There are grave dangers in using incentives that can't easily be rescinded. 

For instance, in 2005 Saudi Arabia was granted admission to the World Trade Organization in exchange for agreeing to drop its enforcement of the Arab Boycott against Israel.  Notice I didn't say actually dropping their enforcement.  Once the Saudis had their coveted membership in this exclusive financial club they promptly forgot about their promise... and if anything, increased their enforcement of the anti-Israel boycott.  But good luck trying to expel them from the WTO.

By the same token, now that we know that EU membership is behind Turkey's sudden interest in courting Syria and Iran, EU membership is the last thing anyone should give them. 

Not only should they be required to demonstrate a solid decade or so of unambiguous pro-western policies before they can be considered for EU membership, but each indication of warming relations between Ankara and Syria and Iran should reset the clock to zero. 

The Turks have made it very clear in their own words that they see the world divided between Muslim and non-Muslim.  What the Turks don't yet seem to understand is that even though they sit astride the land bridge between Europe and Asia... in an age of jet airplanes and space travel, bridges are no longer the valuable real-estate they once were.

Posted by David Bogner on October 26, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Disposable DVD Players

Is it just my bad luck or have DVD players gotten so mind-bogglingly crappy that you basically use them for a few months and them throw them away when they stop working?

Granted, we live in a dusty area.  But after the first few machines crapped out I began using a lens/laser cleaning kit religiously.

At a certain point the damned things just decide to stop reading discs and basically become expensive doorstops.

Up until now I have been buying mid-priced DVD players. 

Now I'm torn between buying a really high end machine in hopes that it will actually last longer than a carton of milk... or simply buying a bunch of the really cheap Taiwanese ones so I can just toss them in the trash and hook up a fresh one whenever the inevitable failure message appears on the screen.


Posted by David Bogner on October 25, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (11) | TrackBack

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Don't know much about history (or vocabulary, apparently)

Yesterday I got a comment from a woman who lives in the UK that ignored the substance of my post and simply accused Israelis of being a colonial power and of acting like Nazis towards the Palestinians.

Obviously I deleted the comment, but it never ceases to amaze me the way Europeans casually toss around the word 'Nazi' to describe the actions of Israelis towards the Palestinians.  It demonstrates a kind of willful amnesia of exactly what the Nazis did and the kind of ruthless, genocidal policies they were capable of carrying out.

But even more troubling than the casual use of the word 'Nazi' is the frequency with which Israel is accused by Europeans of being a brutal colonial power.  Given the European (and especially British) history of colonialism that's kind of ironic, no?

Just as a little reality check I decided to write a post today that gives a glimpse at just one tiny chapter in the long story of real European colonialism; the 'Mau Mau Rebellion' against British rule in Kenya. 

Remember, we're not talking about un-enlightened 17th, 18th or even 19th-century colonialism.  This is post-WWII!  The 1950s!  Many of you reading this were alive when this happened (or at least your parents were)!!!

Back before Kenya became an independent country, it was a British colony (quaintly termed a 'protectorate'). In addition to rich natural resources and strategically positioned ports, the cool highlands of the country were especially sought after by the British settlers (there's another word whose ironic use today to describe people like me escapes most Europeans) because of the rich farmland and moderate climates; perfect for cultivating tea and coffee. 

Up to and including the early 1950s the British settlers went an an unchecked campaign of confiscating land for their own use in Kenya's central highlands and relegating the native peoples to ever-shrinking reservations.

I won't go into the blow-by-blow details of what led to the creation of the civil and paramilitary rebellion forces of the native peoples against the British... but I recommend this page as a good starting place.  I will, however use some numbers to illustrate how things looked when all was said and done:

British settlers killed by Mau Maus:  26

Native Kenyans killed by British forces:  Somewhere between the 'official' number of 11,503... and as high as knowledgeable estimates of 50,000... with approximately 10% of the dead being children.  One study indicates that as many as 300,000 Kikuyus (the largest native Kenyan ethnic group and the mainstay of the Mau Maus) remain unaccounted for from that period.

During the uprising the British governor and military leaders created 'Special Areas' within which anyone who failed to halt when challenged could be legally shot on sight.  They also designated the Mount Kenya area and Aberdares Range as exclusion zones within which anyone without government authorization (papers) could be shot ... even without the nicety of being challenged.  These two policies were tantamount to declaring open hunting season on anyone with black skin. 

The British also allowed the cutting off of hands of the dead - ostensibly for fingerprint identification - but also to facilitate the collection of an unofficial bounty.

In the end, the Mau Mau Rebellion failed on a military level... but succeeded in hastening the end of British colonialism in Kenya and the establishment of an independent state.  And the real irony is that at the end of the rebellion, the British granted pretty much all of the demands that the originally peaceful protests / civil disobedience movement had demanded before the rebellion began.

So, I would say to the witless British woman who trolled my blog yesterday (and anyone else who is fuzzy about European history),  I encourage a serious review of your own country's track-record and policies on colonialism.  Real colonialism... as in a foreign power invading a land with which they have no previous connection and seizing territory and resources from, and subjugating, indigenous peoples.  And before you call Israelis Nazis, I suggest you visit Yad Vashem and learn a tiny bit of what the real Nazis did in their short, but genocidal, time in power.

Then, dear reader, if you feel the urge to accuse Israel of Nazism or colonialism, compare and contrast polices and actual facts before spewing your wrong-headed prejudices onto pro-Israel blogs and on-line forums.

Israel is not a colonial power for the simple reason that this land was ours historically (read your Bible), a fact that was reaffirmed again in modern times under international law by both the League of Nations and later the United Nations.  Not only are we not foreign interlopers (as you love to imply), but today far more legally purchased/owned Jewish property is held (illegally) by Arabs than the reverse. 

As a parting gift, I would direct you to the U.N. Declaration Of Human Rights; a document which is so often mis-quoted as a weapon against us.  It clearly states that "Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country".  You can't turn over a stone anywhere in the length and breadth of this country (especially in Judea and Samaria; the areas you refer to as occupied Palestinian territory) without finding hard, indisputable evidence of an ancient and continued Jewish presence here.  The very label 'Jew' comes from the word 'Judea'; the real name for the southern half of the so-called 'West Bank'. 

You want to engage me in an intelligent discussion of prejudice, of second-class status, of disenfranchisement and confiscated property?  I won't rub your face in your own country's shameful conduct against the Jews (although by all rights I should).  Instead I will freely admit that like most countries in the world, Israel has many social and legal hurdles to clear before we have the Utopian society we would all prefer.  But our societal shortcomings and ills are not unlike the problems each and every one of your countries has had to face in trying to balance civil liberties and homeland security. 

But if you want to call me a Nazi?  If you want to tell me I'm a colonialist?  That tells me that not only are you not interested in an intelligent discussion... but that you don't even understand the meaning of those words.  

And by the way... in reference to your continued reference to Palestinians as the only indigenous people of this land, I am still awaiting the discovery of the first 'Palestinian' artifact tying that people to my homeland and giving them a greater claim to it than mine.

Posted by David Bogner on October 22, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (31) | TrackBack

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


If you ask pretty much any Olim (immigrants to Israel) how their 'klita' (absorption into Israeli society) is going, they are likely to share a host of horror stories about their encounters with the various bureaucracies here as well as the slow process of cultural acclimatization to the abrupt way native Israelis tend to interact.

However, after they've had their chance to vent, there will usually emerge at least an equal number of heartwarming 'only in Israel' stories that help balance the scales. 

You may remember that my parents are relatively new Olim.  They spend part of each year in the US, but spend the majority of their time here.

During their last visit to the US my mom had on operation on her hand.  The procedure was performed by one of the top hand surgeons at New York's Hospital for Special Surgery, and from all reports the operation was a great success.

However, in the post-operative stage of things it quickly became apparent that the surgeon and patient would have only as much contact as would be absolutely necessary for the hand to be perfunctorily examined... and that no words - especially no questions - would actually be allowed to pass directly between patient and doctor. 

Instead, there would be several layers of secretaries, physician's assistants and nurses to insulate the surgeon from anything more than the most clinical contact with his handiwork.  Just as the immediate area of the incision had been carefully draped in the operating room to exclude all other parts of the patient from view... my mom's surgeon continued to relate to her as though she were still asleep on the table with all but her knuckles carefully draped.

Having been born and raised in the US, both of my parents were used to a certain, shall we say, professional aloofness on the part of physicians... especially those at the top of already rarefied disciplines.  But even so, they were a bit put off by the fact that the surgeon who had, without question, performed stellar work was unwilling to pass even a moment's discussion with the owner of the hand he'd repaired.  After every attempt at contact, he simply waved them away and assured them that his staff would be able to answer any questions.

Fast forward a couple of months and my parents found themselves back in Israel. 

Zahava did a lot of leg-work before they returned to make sure we had the names and numbers of hand therapists and physicians who would be able to follow up with my mom's post-operative care.  But even with this significant groundwork taken care of, it still took a few weeks before my mom had a regular schedule of sessions with an occupational therapist (not a physical therapist)... and an appointment to see an Israeli hand surgeon who could monitor the post operative care.

It actually took a little time to wrangle the appointment with the hand surgeon since my parents had decided to get a consultation from one of the top experts in the country; one of only a couple who actually perform this particular procedure.   So on the day when my mom's 5:00 PM appointment rolled around, my parents were careful to leave two hours early in order to make sure they were on time.

Unfortunately, the best laid plans and all that... delays on the bus and a missed connection turned what should have been an hour ride into more than two-and-a-half hours. 

As you can imagine, my parents were beside themselves with worry as the time for the appointment neared and they were still on the bus.  My dad made several frantic calls to the doctor's office to assure them that they were on the way and not to leave.  In each case the secretary gently assured them that it was all right... whenever they arrived would be fine.

When they finally walked into the office it was after 5:30.  But to their surprise, the waiting room (or more correctly, waiting corridor) was still full of people.  When my mom tried to go in, the secretary said that she still had plenty of time and to take a seat.

Apparently, unlike their experience in the US, my parents noticed that things were severely backed up because the doctor personally took a lot of time with each patient (i.e. as much as needed).  It turned out that my mom was the last patient to be seen, and it was well after 8:00 PM before she walked in and sat down next to the doctor. 

The surgeon took her time with my parents, examining the repaired hand, evaluating the other arthritic hand for a potential future surgery, talking about the therapy sessions and the progress being made, and of course carefully answering each of their questions.  Near the end of the interview the surgeon told my mom that she wanted another x-ray done and wrote out a referral.  However, as it had been such a long day and my parents were so tired and hungry, they decided not to go directly for the x-ray and opted to go home and deal with the radiology department the next day.

As they stood at the bus stop anticipating another extended journey home, a woman came running towards them from the direction of the building where they had just been.  It was the hand surgeon.  She apologized for how long they'd had to wait and told them it had been her intention to offer them a ride home once they'd finished getting the x-rays.  When they hadn't shown up right away, she assumed (correctly) that they had decided to deal with the x-rays the following day.

My parents gratefully accepted the offered ride and went with the doctor to her car which was parked nearby.  But once they were in the car and most of the way home, my parents got a bit of a shock when they asked the surgeon where she lived.  They had assumed she lived in their neighborhood and had offered the ride after seeing their address in the computer.  But to their surprise the doctor explained that she lived in the same area as her office, but felt so bad about how long it must have taken them to get to her office and how they'd waited so long to see her, that she felt compelled to drive them home.

I would have chalked this up to a remarkably kind individual and nothing more, except for another positive experience my parents had with the Israeli health-care system:

A couple of years ago my father had suffered what we think must have been a mini-stroke.  During a walk through Jerusalem he suddenly felt dizzy, and lost some sight in one eye.  Fortunately within a relatively short time he was examined by a doctor and had a battery of tests done and eventually was given a clean bill of health. There was some lingering doubt about what had actually happened to him, but the docs decided it was best to treat him as though he'd suffered a small stroke.

Fast forward a week to when my dad went with all his test results for a consultation with a doctor who was not only considered one of the leading neurologists in the country, but she also specialized in the geriatric end of that field. 

While going through my dad's test results and asking him a long list of questions about his past and present health, the doctor suddenly stopped and began looking closely at one of his cheeks.  Without missing a beat, she told my dad that she had noticed a small skin tag on his cheek which she didn't like the look of, and she wanted him to go across the hall to a dermatologist colleague of hers to have it cut off and biopsied.

It turned out the skin tab was just that... and nothing to have been worried about.  But in looking back my parents were amazed by what had happened.  Here was a highly recognized physician... at the very top of an already very specialized field... and in the midst of going over complex neurological test results she was able to maintain such holistic view of my father as a human being that she noticed a potentially worrisome skin problem and wanted have it checked right away. 

In discussing it later, both of my parents agreed that in all of their experiences with medical specialists in the US, they couldn't imagine one of them stepping back and adjusting their focus to encompass the entire human being sitting before them. 

I'm sharing these stories here, not to imply that doctors in the US are arrogant jerks or that Israeli doctors all have hearts of gold.  Obviously there are many examples of both (and everything in between) no matter where you might look.

But if I were to dabble in sweeping generalities (always a dangerous game), I'd have to say that aside from old-time general practitioners and pediatricians, the physical, clinical and social distance that exists between doctor and patient in the US, is much larger than what you are likely to experience here in Israel.  And Israeli doctors seem to be more accustomed to treating humans rather than the assorted parts of which we humans are composed.

I like that.

Posted by David Bogner on October 21, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (16) | TrackBack

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Pinch me... I think I must be dreaming

The founder and former head of Human Rights Watch wrote an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times yesterday that defies belief.  He actually criticized the organization for ignoring what he called "brutal, closed and autocratic" Arab and Iranian regimes while publishing "far more condemnations of Israel for violations of international law than of any other country in the region".

You must read the whole thing, but this is a bit that I especially enjoyed:

"Israel, with a population of 7.4 million, is home to at least 80 human rights organizations, a vibrant free press, a democratically elected government, a judiciary that frequently rules against the government, a politically active academia, multiple political parties and, judging by the amount of news coverage, probably more journalists per capita than any other country in the world — many of whom are there expressly to cover the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Meanwhile, the Arab and Iranian regimes rule over some 350 million people, and most remain brutal, closed and autocratic, permitting little or no internal dissent. The plight of their citizens who would most benefit from the kind of attention a large and well-financed international human rights organization can provide is being ignored as Human Rights Watch’s Middle East division prepares report after report on Israel.

Human Rights Watch has lost critical perspective on a conflict in which Israel has been repeatedly attacked by Hamas and Hezbollah, organizations that go after Israeli citizens and use their own people as human shields. These groups are supported by the government of Iran, which has openly declared its intention not just to destroy Israel but to murder Jews everywhere. This incitement to genocide is a violation of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide."

Seriously... read the whole thing.  It'll make your day!

Hat tip Dave

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

Monday, October 19, 2009

Who are you going to trust?

Hat tip Jack

Posted by David Bogner on October 19, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Dr. Jon..., er, Greenspan, I presume.

I don't know about the rest of you, but for most of my life, whenever read or heard the word 'dentist' I usually pictured a slightly nebby guy (wearing a cardigan sweater, chinos and sensible shoes), who went the DDS route after college to make his mother proud, as well as to assure a nice, secure 'parnosa' (a living) for himself and his family. 

In my mind's eye, such a Mr. Roger-esque figure probably opted not to go to medical school because of the insane working hours and/or to avoid being abused as in intern. Yeah, I know... this sort of generalization is bad from a number of perspectives.  So sue me.

Anyway, that's what I used to think when I read or heard the word 'dentist'.  Not so much anymore since I became friends with someone during my university days who completely defies the stereotype. 

I've written about him here and here, but I just stumbled on a reprint of an article about my friend/dentist/Jewish adventurist, Dr. Ari Greenspan, and felt the need to share (you know me... I'm a giver!).  The article provides a really neat glimpse of just one of this incredible guy's interests/exploits. 

Like some Jewish Indiana Jones, Ari travels the world looking for clues to the history and traditions of lost/vanishing Jewish communities in Europe, North Africa and Asia.  And he has an uncanny knack for showing up in little villages just as renovations of an ancient building reveals the presence of a hidden cache of dusty Judaic or a long-forgotten entrance to a secret basement synagogue clogged with sodden Torah scrolls and holy books. 

But unlike the fictional Indiana Jones, whose adventures benefited only his university, some musty museum, and maybe expanded some narrow understanding of a lost/forgotten culture, my friend Ari's halachic adventures benefit and expand the boundaries of his own people's 'knowledge-base', and assure that future generations of Jews will be able to experience and enjoy aspects of their own traditions that might otherwise have been lost to the sands of time.

Reading the article reminded me that, even though we see each-other every week in shul, it's been far too long since I've brought a bottle of wine over to Ari's house and heard the details of his latest adventure unfold over a good game of billiards.


Posted by David Bogner on October 18, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Oh yeah? Top that!

I'm sure most of you have encountered people at work or in social settings who like to one-up you on pretty much any topic of conversation that might pass between you.

It might be about the great deal you got on your new car or your children's accomplishments: 

Me:  We're so proud of Ariella for being accepted to such a great school.  She worked very hard and it really paid off for her.

Idiot du jour:  Hey, did I tell you that my nephew just graduated high school at 14 and has been accepted to the elite IDF program for excellent scholars?

A darker side of this phenomenon is the idiot who finds it necessary to 'top' whatever illness or injury you or your loved ones my have just suffered:

Me:  Sorry I missed the meeting yesterday, my son hurt his finger and I had to leave early so I could take him to have it x-rayed and make sure it wasn't broken.

Idiot du jour:  No problem. I completely understand.  I had to miss a lot of work last year when my wife was having her cancer treatments and my father in law needed to be taken twice a week for dialysis.

The problem in both cases is that, although the Idiot du jour seems to have offered a response that was on topic... he was clearly more interested in using your good / bad fortune as a springboard for his own story than offering congratulations or sympathy. 

You can always spot such people in any gathering.  They are the ones who listen to the conversations around them intently for any key-word that might trigger one of their stock favorite anecdotes.  And from that moment on you can see them completely glassy-eyed and tuned out; mentally dusting off their story, and waiting for the speaker to take a breath so they can interject their unhelpful offering.

There's really no cure for this kind of boor.  So you have a choice:  You can either ignore/tolerate them... or make something up that so completely trumps their story that it makes them look even more foolish than they tried to make you.

For the record, as tempting as it might be, I don't indulge in the latter sort of one-upsmanship... and prefer to just smile and let them top me.  But occasionally real life offers a third option... the best kind of revenge; the truth.

Here's a real conversation from last week:

Me [getting out of my car in the parking lot at work on a cool sunny morning]: Good morning!  Man I just had the most beautiful drive to work!

Idiot du jour: Are you just now getting here?

Me:  Uh huh, you saw me drive in... didn't you just arrive too?

Idiot du jour: Yeah, but I live fifteen minutes away! It's great living so close to the office.  I was still asleep half an hour ago!  Moving closer to work was the best decision I ever made.  I'll never understand why anyone would want to spend so much time in their car!

Me:  True, there are advantages to living so close.  But I need some time between home and work... and especially between work and home,... you know, to clear my head and mentally change gears.  My commute lets me do that.

Idiot du jour: But you drive over an hour through 'the territories' every day?  Doesn't that scare you.  I heard on the radio last week about someone getting stones thrown at his car near some Palestinian village.

Me:  You're right, that kind of thing happens occasionally.  But I hear about people being hurt or killed in serious traffic accidents on the roads inside the green line almost every day!  And Arabs throw stones (and worse) in both sides of the green line.  Statistically, since I drive on pretty much empty roads until I get to work, and you have to pass through the busiest section of Beer Sheva to get here, I'd have to say I'm much less likely to be in a traffic accident than you are... much less to be deliberately attacked! [tfu tfu tfu]

Idiot du jour [after a few beats of stunned silence]:  But you have to admit that an hour of driving each way is a lot more stressful than 15 minutes? Right?  You hear about people going crazy from long commutes and having to either change jobs or move closer to work!

Me:  That might be true of people who have long commutes through high-congestion areas, or where they have to contend every day with crazy drivers, road construction, detours and bumper-to-bumper traffic.  But I barely have to touch my breaks from the moment I leave my house to the moment I pull into the parking lot here.  My drive takes me through the most beautiful and sparsely populated area in the country.  And if I want, I even have my choice of alternate routes that are equally scenic and lightly traveled.  Not only that, but there are never any police radar traps or cameras to worry about along my commute, so I can travel at speeds that I feel are comfortable and safe, rather than at an arbitrary speed limit set by some clerk in the ministry of transportation.

Idiot du jour [now sputting with frustration]: Oh come on now, you want me to believe that you never have traffic jams?

Me:  Okay, you got me.  It happens once in a while  that I have to stop and wait as long as 30 seconds... to let a flock of sheep or goats cross the road.  When that happens I have no choice but to smile and wave at the shepherd.  Or occasionally if I see a camel, a family of partridges or an ibex crossing the road... I have to stop and get my camera out to capture the moment.  But of course, when something like that happens, it gives me even more time to adjust the great music on the stereo, appreciate the scenery around me and maybe even roll down the window and breath in the clean cool air.  I honestly don't know how you deal with such abrupt transition from home to work, and from work to home.  A person needs time to make such a big adjustment, no?!

Idiot du jour: [looking at his watch]:  I'm late for a meeting... gotta run.

Me {doing a mental touchdown dance]:  Have a nice morning!

Posted by David Bogner on October 15, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (20) | TrackBack

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

It's about time

I've mentioned on several occasions that I am a bit of a gadget nut.  Okay, perhaps more than just a bit.  I can't explain it... without warning I'll see or read about some new gadget that I simply can't live without, and for several days, or sometimes even weeks, I will be absolutely obsessed with it. 

The only saving grace about this sort of temporary insanity is it tends to pass almost as quickly as it arrives.  Which is a good thing, considering I have very expensive taste in gadgets and a very modest budget for such foolishness.

So what usually ends up happening is that I spend a few days (or weeks) pining for the gadget-du jour like some teen-aged boy mooning over an unattainable girl... and then just as quickly it passes, and I'm sane again.   Just like that.  Afterwards I look back and wonder what I was so jazzed about... and our bank balance remains undamaged.  As a friend of mine would say:  It's all good.

But there is one object of desire (I won't even call it a gadget) that has stood the test of time.  Years after I first started thinking about it and doing research, the wanting kept growing from a small ache into a full blown longing.  The object I have wanted since I was in university is a good mechanical (not quartz) Swiss watch. 

The only reason I mention this in the same breath as my gadget urges, is that it isn't what you would call practical.  You see, mechanical watches are a bit of an anachronism.  They don't keep time as well as their inexpensive quartz cousins, and unlike the mass-produced watches you see in the mall, fine mechanical watches are made and assembled completely by hand.  So, on the face, it doesn't seem to make sense to pay more (by an incredible factor) for something that doesn't work as well.

Now, obviously the term 'Swiss Watch' covers a lot of ground... and the modifier 'good' can mean anything from tossing away a couple of mortgage payments to investing the value of a whole house.  So I came to the conclusion that I would need to narrow my search down to more realistic parameters.

Early on I realized that I would never be able to indulge in the kind of horological excesses that some of my wealthier friends and colleagues had.  So I started making lists of features and criteria to figure out what I needed in a watch... and almost as important; what I didn't need.

The first thing I concluded was that I didn't need a lot of complications (the term used by watch-makers to describe any additional feature beyond the most basic time-keeping function).  Hour, minute and second hands were a must, but beyond that I was even willing to forgo on a date indicator or hand if necessary.

Precious metals were also out of the question, which was fine with me since my interest was more in a fine watch movement, not in a flashy case or bracelet. 

I also realized from my early perusal of the various watch outlets that I would be better off looking for a pre-owned / vintage time piece rather than a new one.  This Revelation came from a patient store clerk who saw me come into his shop nearly every day for a week without once asking to actually take out and examine a watch.  I had asked him a million questions about features and manufacturers, but each time he offered to show me something I simply said 'no thank you'. 

He must have surmised the truth; that I was not in a position to plunk down a small fortune on a piece of wrist bling.  So he took me aside and offered a bit of advice. 

He told me that people who bought fine watches were a lot like people who bought fine cars.  They tended to have several of them... and invariably they fell out of love with one or two.  As a result, a patient person could usually find good deals on pre-owned watches either through watch shops or via referrals from watch repairmen.

From that point on I continued to haunt watch stores... invariably eschewing the new stuff and straight away asking the shop owners and repairmen to see any interesting used watches they might have for sale.

However, this revealed a new wrinkle.  The first tier swiss companies, even in the used watch market, remained well out of reach.  So I received a second piece of valuable advice from a different watch dealer. 

He explained that not all of the high-end Swiss watch companies manufacture their own movements.  Most actually bought movements from other companies and assembled and/or modified them to meet their own needs.  He said that it was important to make sure the movement was from one of the good watch-making regions of Switzerland where there was a culture of good workmanship, and that it had been made (and signed) by a reputable company. 

Those two bits of advice stayed with me for many years, but I was never able to find a watch that I liked enough to bust the monthly budget.  Either they had too many complications, were too flashy or were not in good enough condition to warrant the investment.

On many of my trips to India I spent a lot of my free time bothering the owner of a very upscale watch store located in the lobby of one of the hotels where I stayed.  Most of his inventory is really high end stuff; brand new and solid gold to catch the eye of the well-heeled captains of industry and vacationing Arab despots who frequent the hotel. 

But he also keeps a small collection of used watches, and he indulges me a few hours every trip to check out anything interesting he may have acquired since my last visit.  He knows my criteria, and by process of elimination has even figured out a sense of my budget.  But because of his clientele, even his used watches tend to be both too pricey and too flashy... both deal breakers for me.

However, on my last trip to the sub-continent, as soon as I walked into his shop the owner rushed over to shake my hand.  He told me that he'd been wondering when I would be arriving to India again because he had set aside a watch almost a month ago that he had a feeling I'd like. 

Before showing it to me, he explained that it was a vintage piece from the late '40s, but that it was in like-new condition.  The only thing he had changed was the crystal since it had been scratched at some point in its life. 

the watch itself, he explained, was a large (but thin) gentlemen's timepiece with a simple, classic face, blue steel hands and a calendar hand to boot.  He told me that it had been made by a company called Mulco that had been well respected and quite prolific in its day, even making movements for many other companies, in addition to its own offerings.  But like many good Swiss watch companies, Mulco had gone out of business some time in the '60s when quartz nearly destroyed the hand-made watch industry.

He said that while the company wasn't in the same league as, say Patek Phillipe, it had been a mainstay of the La Chaux-de-Fonds area of Switzerland where some of the top Swiss brands were made, and their movements had actually been procured for the officers on both sides of the conflict in the WWII European war because of their durability and reputation for longevity. 

As he took it out of his safe he explained that this was a civilian model that was triple signed (meaning the manufacturer's name was engraved on the case, the movement and embossed on the face), and had just been cleaned and inspected by his staff.  It had 15 jewels (the ruby pivots on which the moving parts rotated)... not as desirable as 17 jewels, but still quite respectable... and most important, it kept excellent time.

It sounded too good to be true, but when he took it out of the case I swear I heard angels sing.  It was exactly the sort of watch I had been looking for.  Simple, clean lines.  Easy to read face.  A calendar hand instead of a window (which I could never read even when my eyesight was good).  A relatively slim profile but nice large masculine face.

I examined the hands and face under the offered loop and there wasn't the slightest sign of pitting or discoloration.  He opened up the case and showed me the gleaming movement and the frantically racing balance wheel.

When I could speak I asked him the obvious question:  How much?  He refused to answer.  Instead he asked how long I was going to be in Mumbai.  When I told him four day, he took off my battered diver's watch and fastened the new/old watch's leather band on my wrist.  The softly rounded back felt perfect against my skin and the size was also perfect.

He told me to wear it for a few days and get to know it.  This way, he explained, I'd also be able to see if it kept good time.  He waived away my offer of a security deposit saying that even if I hadn't been a regular face over the years, it would be enough that I was a guest at the hotel.

On the day before I was to leave Mumbai for Goa (my next stop in India), I went back into the watch store and laid the watch on the soft mat on the counter.  The owner and I exchanged pleasantries about my trip and then we finally got around to discussing the watch.  In almost four days it had gained only two seconds (I had set and checked it against the atomic clock on the Internet), and if anything I was more attached to it than I had been at first blush. 

But of course I tried not to let my enthusiasm show.  Instead I made a show of being undecided, and even used my wife and the family budget as a potential excuse for not making such a serious purchase.  When I'd finished, I looked up and he was smiling broadly at me.  All he said was, "I knew you'd like it". 

I guess there's a reason I don't play poker.

Anyway, I agreed that it was exactly what I had been looking for... but told him that I hadn't been joking about the budget thing.  He took out a small pad of paper, scribbled a number that was more area code than zip code, and we shook hands.  No haggling... no protests.  Just like that I knew that I'd found the right watch at the right price.  There was nothing else to do but say yes.

When I got home I distributed the gifts I'd bought for Zahava and the kids and then showed off my watch.  I had actually told Zahava about it on the phone from India (she doesn't like surprises), but I watched her face for any sings of annoyance.  All I saw there was the same admiration the shop-keeper had probably seen on mine.  Zahava agreed that it was perfect. 

After all these years of longing, I finally have my good (mechanical) Swiss watch.  I enjoy everything about it.  I enjoy winding it every morning.  I enjoy looking at it a hundred times a day.  I enjoy examining it while I'm engaged in conference calls or waiting for a web page to load.  And I especially enjoy the admiring glances I get from other people who, like me, have an eye for nice things.

So while you might say's it's about time I finally scratched this itch that has been with me longer than even my wife and kids, I'd put it even more simply: It's just about time.

Rotation of watch 003 

[BTW, the face is actually off white, but the flash seems to have washed out the face a bit.  And the tiny splash of color between the 3 and the 4 is a reflection of something in the crystal, not a smudge on the face.]

Posted by David Bogner on October 13, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (30) | TrackBack

Monday, October 12, 2009

Too Much Fun

A Guest Post by Zahava

Many parents of kids with sensory integration disorder look forward to school vacations with a mixed sense of joy and dread.

There is the joy of having time to reconnect and enjoy each other’s company. But, there is also the dread of knowing that at least a few times, the lack of regular routine will be too much for the child.  Almost certainly there will be some rough patches which require patience – often more patience than the parents possess – and the requirement for creative outlets to help keep the kid “on track” with the rest of the family.

The festival of Sukkot is not only a harvest festival, it is quite literally a feast for our senses. The ארבה מינים (arba minim/four species) have tactile and olfactory factors (shaking the לולב/lulav; the fragrance of the אתרוג/etrog).

Sitting in a  סוכה/Sukkah for meals for a week involves weather (good and bad). And the grand finale, שמחת תורה/Simchat Torah, involves singing, dancing, and more sweets than you can shake a stick at -- and often in overly-crowded, hot, boisterous conditions. Difficult, often, for folks without sensory issues -- overwhelming for those who do have them.

Now, several days later, I am rather surprised we didn't see the inevitable breakdown coming... but alas, we were too caught up in admiring Yonah's newly achieved ability to "go with the flow" this vacation to think proactively about how  שמחת תורה/Simchat Torah might affect him.

After having been a champion traveler/participator for two very long and extensive day trips, not to mention having been the perfect sleep over guest Thursday night at his Grandma and Grandpa's, we were not prepared for him becoming so over-stimulated during הקפות/hakafot that we would need to take him home early.

And 'overstimulated' might be a bit of an understatement.

The poor kid had been pushed just past the outer limits of self-control. The slightest request by David to modify his behavior resulted in earth-shattering screams and uncontrollable tears. Recognizing that he was well past the point of no return, David sent a search party into the woman's section to retrieve both me and our house key.

Upon exiting the shul I found my exasperated husband, and my beet-faced youngest child engaged in a battle of wills. To his credit, David was calm and collected, but Yonah -- oy, poor Yonah - was wrapped around one of David's legs, wailing wildly, resisting attempts by David to extricate himself from Yonah's tear-streaked grasp, and upon seeing me, ratcheting up the volume to new heights.

David quickly explained that Yonah had hit "critical mass," and that really, sleep was the only option at this point. Since Gili enjoys having David to celebrate with, and since Ari was off dancing with her friends, I offered to take the little guy home.

Yonah, unfortunately, did not agree to go willingly. After what seemed an eternity, we crossed the 100 yards between the shul and our front door and I managed to get him inside. I am quite certain that we presented quite the sight to everyone we passed. Yonah, was drenched with sweat and tears, and flailing wildly from my attempts to "move him along." I walked next to him, stooped over so that I could growl urgent whispers of "you had better control yourself little man!" into his ear as I tugged him past gaping neighbors and passers-by.

Once the front door snapped shut behind him, Yonah really kicked his indignant reproach into high gear. "I don't love you no more!" he screamed at me fiercely. "I don't love you no more! And I don't love אבא/Abba no more!" he screamed at me defiantly, his eyes locked on mine in an open challenge.

"Well, that's too bad, Yonah." I responded softly, "because even when we are upset with you, אבא/Abba and I still love you very much." `For emphasis, I placed a gentle kiss on his sweaty forehead.

"I am not going to bed", he hurled at me bitterly, "and, you can't make me!" he threw in for emphasis.

"Sweetie, you are going to bed. The only question is if you are going with a full or empty tummy." I responded crisply.

"I'm hungry," roared the little tyrant.

"I am sure you are," I answered as I was already busily preparing a plate of dinner and a cup of grape juice for his קידוש/kiddush.

Sensing that he really was going to be fed and sent off to bed, he desperately tried a new approach. With genuine sadness added to his fervent wail, he began bemoaning that he didn't want to eat dinner by himself. He wanted dinner with the family. Placing his meal on the table, I gently explained that shul wouldn't be over for quite some time, and that if he wanted to eat, he needed to do so at that moment. I explained that he wouldn't be by himself, because I would sit with him and keep him company.

As he was processing the state of affairs, a dramatic shift took place. A shift that really illuminated the huge distance we have traveled with Yonah since his surgery a year and a half ago. My sweet, affectionate, but usually rather inarticulate little boy began to sob. I quickly realized that the anger had completely subsided, and had in fact been replaced by deep and inconsolable sorrow.

"Yonah, sweetie?" I asked as I used one hand to gently wipe away the flood of tears and the other hand to gently caress his back, "Yonah, what is it?"

With a dismal toss of his head, he lifted his hands in a dramatic gesture, and declared, "I am really sad! I want to love you and אבא/Abba, but now I can't! You. Made. It. So. I. Can't. Love. You!" he yelled, punching each word for added emphasis.

The shift in his attitude caught me so completely off-guard! It was suddenly so hard not to laugh at the poor kid! (I know, I know, I got on the express elevator to hell!, but you try keeping a straight face when your kid goes all "Sybill" on you and let me know how that works out for you!)

I instinctively knew that the sadness was the manifestation of genuine regret for having said that he didn't love us "no more" earlier and that he hadn't a clue of how to retract the heinous sentiment and still "save face."

"Yonah, sweetie. That's the beautiful part about wanting to love someone -- all you have to do to love someone, is to want to, and it happens by iteself."

"But I can't!" he moaned miserably.

"Why not?" I asked gently.

"Because you were not speaking to me nicely. And אבא/Abba wasn't speaking to me nicely." he began to explain through his tears. "And I cannot love someones who don't speak nicely!" he finished with a twinge of defiance returning to his voice.

Determined not to allow his hilarious grammatical inconsistencies to be my undoing, I carefully bit down on my lip. "Well, then it's easy, then!" I began as he tossed me his best 'what kind of nonsense is this?' look. "Since you've stopped yelling and howling and carrying on, I have been speaking to you nicely, haven't I?"

As a sign of grudging acquiescence, he picked up his fork and began stabbing at the assortment of chicken and olives on his plate. Tears, of course, continued to trickle down his cheek.

As we sat quietly -- him chewing and sipping, and sniffling -- I was overcome with gratitude. Granted, it would have been a far more enjoyable evening had Yonah not gotten derailed somewhere during הקפות/hakafot, and had we all been able to enjoy dinner together. But the opportunity to watch him work through a range of emotions and circumstance -- to be able to identify and articulate his emotional status, and to be able to hint at what he needed to move past the momentary roadblock... well... it was nothing short of miraculous considering how incapable he was of doing this even just a few months ago.

The progress he has made at being able to communicate and express himself articulately is truly remarkable! 

By the time he'd finished his meal, washed up and changed into pajamas, the rest of the family had returned.

David, who was at first mildly perturbed at seeing the vonce(Yiddish for bedbug) still awake, melted as Yonah bounded across the room in a flying embrace mumbling, "I'm sorry I was a not-listening boy in shul."

After Yonah was safely out of earshot, I recounted the details of his supper with everyone. Both Ari and Gili cooed, "Oy! חמוד/chamood/cute!" with love and appreciation. David tried to appear non-plussed as he also murmured his appreciation of the events, but the surge of moistness in the corners of his eyes confirmed that he was also bowled over by the magnitude of Yonah's development.

Maybe not the fun celebratory meal we'd anticipated... but definitely the meaningful celebratory meal we needed in order to appreciate Yonah's hard-won growth and new-found ability.

Posted by David Bogner on October 12, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Sunday, October 11, 2009

A prize for just showing up is no good to the recipient... or to the society that condones such a ridiculous thing

My lovely wife is fond of telling a story about a hapless young man she once invited to her parents home for a holiday weekend during her university years (this was long before we met).  Apparently the weather over that particular holiday had been so terrible that Zahava and this young man had ended up trapped in the house playing an endless series of scrabble matches... which the young man just couldn't seem to win.

After suffering a particularly crushing defeat (and from personal experience I'm sure there was also some unseemly celebratory gesturing on Zahava's part) the young man turned to Zahava's mother, Gail (OB"M) and said, "You know Mrs. Pomeranz, where I come from we were taught that it isn't winning or losing that counts... it's how you play the game."   Without missing a beat, my future Mother In Law turned from what she was doing in the kitchen and responded, "Well if you don't win you must not play the game very well!".

I love this story for many reasons, not the least of which is that it reveals both the nature and provenance of my wife's competitive streak.  But I also love it because it resonates deeply with me as a member of the generation that abandoned the old ethos of playing fairly to win, for one of playing nicely in order to allow everyone to feel as though they have won.

There is a scene in the otherwise forgettable film 'Meet the Fockers' where Bernie Focker (played by Dustin Hoffman) and Jack Byrnes (played by Robert DeNiro) hold the following exchange:

Bernie Focker[showing off a display board with an assortment of his son's school awards and ribbons... mostly for dubious achievements such as 9th place finishes]: Isn't it nice to finally display all your accomplishments?


Jack Byrnes:Oh, I didn't know they made 9th place ribbons.

Bernie Focker:Oh Jack, they make them all the way to 10th place! ... It's not about winning or losing. It's about passion.  You know what I mean, Jack.

Jack Byrnes: Not really, Bernard. I think personal competitive drive is the essential key that makes America what it is today.

I grew up at the tail end of an era where kids were expected to excel at something.. anything.  If you went out for sports, you were expected to play fairly, but by G-d, you played hard to win.  If you were in the chess club or debating society, there too you either won or you went home trying to figure out how to do better next time.  Only one team had a noisy, boisterous ride home on the bus.

Heck, even in the music programs, school bands, orchestras and choirs went to 'adjudication festivals' where they were weighed dispassionately against ensembles from other schools... and the best performances were singled out for actual awards.  Yes, some - most, actually - of the competitors went home empty-handed to work harder... or to abandon a fun diversion for an area of potential excellence. 

That's how the world works.  Or worked, anyway.

Now, you can bemoan the fact that society may seem to place a higher value on a 1st pace football, baseball or wrestling trophy over 1st place awards for dance, debate or marching band.  But the fact remains that being the best at something - anything - used to count for something.

But somewhere along the line the rules started to change, and we began to accommodate, and even reward, mediocrity.  Rather than steering kids towards areas where they were naturally gifted, parents, schools and society at large began an organized indoctrination campaign of telling kids that 'playing nice' was the same as 'playing fair... and hard'.  And pardon my French, but that is just a load of crap! 

Clearly not everyone is given the raw talent, drive and ability to be an olympic athlete.  But then again, not everyone is given the requisite gifts to become a world renowned opera singer or an award-winning astro-physicist.  Even more importantly, if any of the parents of such outstanding individuals had tried to steer their offspring towards an unsuitable discipline, not only would the kid probably have failed.. and failed badly... but the world would be a poorer place for the achievements they would never have attained.

This trend towards trying to make everyone feel good, no matter how tentative, preliminary or meager their efforts, reached its apex this past weekend when President Barack Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. 

I don''t care who you are, how much you love Barack Obama, or what you think you may know about international relations.  You cannot hold up any achievement of his that would (as of this point in time) make him deserving of such an august award. 

For the sake of clarity, let me say that I would be saying the same thing if Benjamin Natanyahu or even my beloved wife were given the nod by this misguided bunch of Scandinavians (there, happy now?).  An honorary doctorate?  Sure.  A certificate of merit?  Why not?  The keys to the city?  Go for it! 

But a Nobel Prize?  Obama's Nobel is for "his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples".  Efforts?!  We're supposed to applaud the awarding of a Nobel Prize for efforts!?  What about all the gazillions of people who have been trying to create cold fusion... figure out if any odd perfect numbers exist... or cure cancer?  What of them... don't their efforts deserve a Nobel too?

I, for one, say no!  Because the moment we start handing out prizes, ribbons and awards for efforts rather than accomplishments, people will simply stop trying.

True, Obama has certainly charted a starkly different course than his political predecessors and he should be congratulated for having the courage to try new things in the face of such unprecedented criticism.  But awards are distributed at the finish line... not when the competitor still has the report of the starter's gun ringing in his ear and has yet to hit his stride.

By this standard of mediocrity, Neville Chamberlain should have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize when he returned from Berlin clutching a worthless paper and declaring to the world:

"This morning I had another talk with the German Chancellor, Herr Hitler, and here is the paper which bears his name upon it as well as mine.... We regard the agreement signed last night and the Anglo-German Naval Agreement, as symbolic of the desire of our two peoples never to go to war with one another again."

There is no doubt that Neville Chamberlain tried valiantly, not only to avoid war, but to advance the cause of peace.  But in a few short months his efforts were shown to have been just that; efforts... not accomplishments.  In truth, what he held in his hand that fateful day was a 9th place ribbon... a booby prize that said: 'Nice try, but no cigar'.

I may not be an Obama fan, but I am also not ready to close the book on him.  But things like Presidencies, Supreme Court Justice-ships and yes, Nobel Prizes, are supposed to be given with the same sense of gravity and singularity of occasion as 'lifetime achievement awards'... not handed out like so many door prizes for simply showing up.

Posted by David Bogner on October 11, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (15) | TrackBack

Friday, October 09, 2009

מועדים לשמחה/Moadim L'Simcha!

A Guest Post by Zahava

One of the truly special things about living in Israel during the chaggim is the relaxed-but-still-celebratory mood that permeates the air. Many businesses close or run holiday hours. Kids are off from school. And families... we get to spend time together – exploring our beautiful country and reconnecting with one another.

Earlier in the week we enjoyed a wonderful trip up the Biqua (Jordan Valley). Our destination: Beit She'an, where we enjoyed:

  • lunch at פלפל זהבה/Felaphel Zehava (of course!)
  • a dip in the spring-fed waters of גן השלושה /Gan Hashlosha (סח'נה /Sachne)
  • a hike through Beit She'an National Park (excavations have revealed archeological remains dating from time of the Egyptian Empire!)
  • a delicious dinner in the comfortable Sukkah at שיפודי הקיקר/Shipudei HaKikar

Midweek we enjoyed the hospitality and company of friends in Ramat Beit Shemesh.

Yesterday was the big finale. We drove up the northern coast to חוף דור/Chof Dor and זכרון יעקוב/Zikhron Ya'akov.

Yonah_Chof Dor

We really enjoy the beach at Dor. It is sheltered and serene. The water, on a sunny day, is the most lovely shade of sparkling aqua, and the sand is soft, warm, and inviting.

We first became acquainted with the area when we participated with a פתיל תכלת/Ptil Tekhelet marine tour a few years ago. Note: if you haven't done this trip, you really must!

It was such a luxury to enjoy the warm lapping waves of the Mediterranean, to feel the gentle kiss of an autumn sun on the backs of our necks, and to observe small schools of darting silver-fish as they maneuvered around delighted children!

After our time at the beach, we meandered over to  Zichron Yakov for a tour of the יקב כרמל/Carmel Winery.

The tour is also a must if you are in the area! It is just about an hour-and-a-half and includes a scenic walking tour, an informative film, and a delicious tasting.






Following the tasting, we enjoyed a scrumptious meal in the spacious Sukkah of the winery's bistro before exploring a few of the lovely shops around the town's מדרחוב/pedestrian mall.

Aaaahhhh..... vacation....

A nice way to go into שבת/Shabbat and שמחת תורה/Simchat Torah!


שבת שלום וחג שמח/Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach!

Posted by David Bogner on October 9, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

14 Years Ago Today….

A guest post by Zahava Bogner

…I met a bundle of energy that burst into the world with the speed and urgency of a run-away freight train!

His arrival was celebrated in a traditional manner – a שלום זכור (shalom zachor) – by dear friends and close neighbors. While traditional in nature, this שלום זכור was a bit extraordinary! You see, the good folks who managed to pull it off had only 20-minutes to pull it together!

Born so close to שבת (Shabbat) that his father 1) only got a perfunctory glance; and 2) almost didn’t make it home in time, Gili quickly established himself as the “one with unlimited energy!” in our newly expanded family.

14 years later, he still takes our breath away!

Hey kid?! Could ya slow it down for just a sec? We’d like to wish you a very happy and healthy birthday! May the year ahead grant you health, happiness, and many reasons to celebrate!

(Oh! And may it also grant us the energy to keep up with you!) 


אמא ואבא
(Ima and Abba)!

Posted by David Bogner on October 7, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (18) | TrackBack