Your Brain is Green
Of all the brain types, yours has the most balance. You are able to see all sides to most problems and are a good problem solver. You need time to work out your thoughts, but you don't get stuck in bad thinking patterns. You tend to spend a lot of time thinking about the future, philosophy, and relationships (both personal and intellectual).

Monday, December 29, 2008

A Prediction (Gloomy)

It is being reported today in Israel's papers that the captive soldier, Gilad Shalit, has been injured in an IDF air strike.

Of course, no one has seen Gilad since his capture since Hamas, in total contravention of the Geneva Conventions, has never allowed the Red Cross to visit him.

I have thought for some time that he is already dead, and the letter his parents got was a forgery.

Just yesterday I said to Husband that Hamas would use the situation to declare that he had been killed by an Israeli bomb, thus making themselves look virtuous. Especially since they don't have world public opinion on their side.

I hope I'm wrong, and that Gilad is being kept in a safe place.

Sunday, December 28, 2008


Husband returned last night from Ashkelon at about 11 p.m. The trip normally takes about an hour each way, but the IDF wouldn't let traffic into Ashkelon for a while; a Kassam had landed (no damage or casualties; Kassams have no steering ability) not far away from where his client's relatives lived and the army wasn't letting anyone in until the area was declared safe.

Woke up this morning to an international press which is fairer than it usually is. Ehud Yaari, an Israeli expert on Arab affairs, said last night that the Arab world was pretty disgusted with Hamas right now: Egypt had actually warned Hamas that this was not the moment to provoke either Israel or the US. My guess is that the Hamas leaders were under increasing pressure from their own lower-level people to show their "strength", and the top leadership acquiesced lest they be thought weak and therefore lose the allegiance of their supporters.

Of course there are the usual condemnations about "excessive force". We should obviously just retaliate with Kassams, too. How ludicrous. Isn't it obvious, that by using precision bombing, we are being very restrained? We could very easily simply flatten Gaza, in a matter of a few hours, and we wouldn't have this continuing problem. It is our very restraint that has exacerbated the situation. The Gazans don't think we have enough guts to really teach them a lesson; in Arab thinking, if a single enemy remains, you haven't done your job thoroughly enough.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Gaza Op Update 19:45 Israel Time

While I'm waiting for Husband to return from Ashkelon, and Son-in-Law to be stood down (he was called to Shuafat, an Arab neighborhood in the northeast of Jerusalem because of disturbances there), here are a couple of links worth checking out. It seems that the government is taking some of my advice


Jerusalem Post

The Political Analyst Returns

About two hours ago my husband said "Listen: there's going to be a Gaza operation". We heard planes going over for about 10 minutes. Israel is so small that an F-16 jet needs just about all the east-west width of the country just to turn around in. Our son-in-law, who belongs to an elite police unit similar to a SWAT team had been told last night to be ready to be on call; the formal "on call" notice arrived about the same time as we heard the sound of aircraft.

Tim Marshall, on Sky News, not particularly fond of Israel or Israelis, said a little while ago that he'd counted the number of rockets Hamas had fired from Gaza since announcing the "end" of the truce they'd never kept, and "I couldn't see how Israel wouldn't respond within a week". He also said he hadn't thought the Israeli response would be as severe as it is. The real problem, of course, is that it isn't severe enough. As I write this, three more rockets have fallen in Israel.

If you're watching TV now, Israel has taken out, with pinpoint accuracy, ALL the Hamas police [read: "army"] stations in Gaza. Since they have been deliberately sited in civilian areas, to provoke the greatest world sympathy, there are civilian casualties. The bodies of the unwilling Palestinian women and children are their greatest defense in the public opinion game; it is a completely callous decision on the part of Hamas.

What OUR government should do, RIGHT NOW, is get on TV with a news conference. Olmert, Livni, it doesn't matter. Both speak good English. That would pre-empt the Palestinian spokespersons who are already moaning on about the poor innocent women and children "slaughtered" by the inhuman Israelis. And what our government should say is this: this has been just a warning. One more rocket, at any time, anywhere, within Israel's borders, and we ratchet up the bombing. 2 rockets, and we will begin to target more and more civil facilities: power stations, water pumping facilities, everything short of hospitals. And NO more food, NO more fuel, NO more electricity, NO more water [Gaza is dependent on Israel for all these]. Nothing will be allowed in by sea, either. You cannot continue to bite the hand that feeds you. Total, and we mean total, cessation of hostilities against Israel is the only response we will accept. And our diplomats in Egypt should make it clear that supporting the Palestinians is regarded as a hostile act, not in accordance with the peace treaty Egypt signed with Israel.

It won't happen of course. Israel will be castigated for being nasty to the Palestinians [their nastiness to us is of course understandable, we being dirty Jews and all] and urged to relent, to allow ourselves to be bombed [Jews traditionally run and hide anyway, why not now?] and make yet more concessions to appease the poor, downtrodden Palestinian "victims" of "occupation" [in Gaza?]

It's happening now for several reasons. One is that Obama is perceived in the Arab world as being more favorable to them than to the Israelis, or at least, because he wants to "talk"[talk is for women; men act], as being weaker than Bush. And Bush is on his way out, what can he do? Another is that Hamas now claims it can hit Beersheva and the outskirts of Tel Aviv, and wants to see if it can. It has been using the so-called truce [during which rockets were fired continually into Israel anyway] to stockpile and increase the power of its weapons, a good deal of which came through Egypt, by the way, via tunnels from the Sinai into Gaza.

Husband and I will be travelling to Ashkelon later this evening, to pick up a client of Husband's, a mentally disabled veteran of the Yom Kippur War who stays in a Jerusalem institution during the week but with his relatives on the Sabbath. I'll try to update the situation later.

Friday, December 26, 2008

The Laws of Christmas, by the Kringler Rav

This has been sitting in my computer for literally years, but it's well worth review at this season [actually should have put it up several months ago, but better late than never]


Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The "Wish It Wasn't True, But It Probably Is" Department

From today's Jerusalem Post, two articles of note about our Palestinian "Peace Partners" for this Christmas ("Peace on Earth, Good Will to All Men") Eve and Hanukah season:

Palestinian terrorists bombard Ashkelon with Grad rockets
Dec. 24, staff, yaakov katz and AP , THE JERUSALEM POST
Palestinian terrorists on Wednesday morning fired over 60 rockets and mortar shells from the Gaza Strip at Ashkelon and the western Negev, prompting Israel to hold up a shipment of aid scheduled to pass through to the Strip later Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the Security Cabinet scrambled Defense Minister Ehud Barak to a special discussion on the massive rocket fire against western Negev Israeli communities.
A number of Grad-type rockets were fired at Ashkelon throughout the morning. One of them struck outside the home of Benny Gueta, sending several people into shock.
"We heard the alarm and the whistling as it approached, and then we heard a big explosion," which destroyed a storage shed and shattered some of the house's windows, Gueta said.
"We can't live this way," Gueta told Israel Radio. "It's no way to live."
A house in the Sdot Negev region sustained a direct hit from a rocket just before noon on Wednesday. No one was wounded in the attack but the rocket caused extensive damage.
Earlier, two people were treated for shock when a volley of rockets was fired at Netivot, landing in an industrial zone. Several rockets landed in the agricultural areas outlying the town.
Early Wednesday morning, two rockets landed in an open area in the Sha'ar Hanegev region and another Grad-type rocket hit the coastal area south of Ashkelon. A fourth rocket failed to clear the border and landed within Hamas territory. Gaza health officials said that two Palestinian civilians were lightly hurt when the rocket landed on a house in the northern Gaza town of Beit Lahiya.
The Security Cabinet convened on Wednesday morning for a meeting that was scheduled in advance, but in view of the hike in rocket attacks over the last 24 hours, Barak was called in and the meeting focused on the Gaza Strip.
Most ministers voiced strong opposition to extending the truce with Hamas and demanded that Barak order the IDF to react forcefully. Kadima leader and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Vice Premier Haim Ramon and Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Eli Yishai advocated a strong military response.
Responding to the incessant Kassam fire, Barak announced earlier Wednesday that Israel would hold up a shipment of food and humanitarian supplies that was due to be delivered to residents of the Gaza Strip during the day.
Barak had made an initial decision to allow the shipment following calls from the international community regarding the humanitarian situation in the Strip.
Basic food, medicine, gasoline and cooking gas were to be transferred to Gaza through the Karni and Kerem Shalom crossings.
Five Egyptian trucks containing humanitarian supplies were also to be allowed passage into the Strip, an initiative of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's wife, Suzanne Mubarak.
Meanwhile, Hamas announced Wednesday that two of its operatives were killed in a blast in the southern Gaza Strip. The terror group said that the men were killed on a "holy mission." That's the euphemism Hamas uses when gunmen are killed by explosives that go off inadvertently.
Eight mortar shells and two rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip into Israel overnight Tuesday. One of the shells hit a house in a western Negev kibbutz. There were no casualties but the house sustained damage.
On Tuesday night, IDF troops killed three Palestinian terrorists near Netiv Ha'asara, just north of Gaza.
The terrorists were spotted during an attempt to plant an explosive device near the Gaza perimeter fence, and were shot and killed in the ensuing exchange of fire.
A grenade was thrown at IDF troops by the terrorists, but no soldiers were wounded.

Watch Hamas accuse Israel of breaking the "truce" (they have been breaking from day one, but you see, firing rockets at civilian centers isn't in their view a violation. If Israel takes out a rocket launcher which has been deliberately sited in an urban area, that is a violation. Them dirty Jews is always up to tricks, doncha know?)

Hamas pushes for Sharia punishments
The Hamas parliament in the Gaza Strip voted in favor of a law allowing courts to mete out sentences in the spirit of Islam, the London-based Arab daily Al Hayat reported Wednesday.
According to the bill, approved in its second reading and awaiting a third reading before the signature of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, as the Palestinian constitution demands, courts will be able to condemn offenders to a plethora of violent punitive measures.
Such punishments include whipping, severing hands, crucifixion and hanging. The bill reserves death sentences to people who negotiate with a foreign government "against Palestinian interests" and engage in any activity that can "hurt Palestinian morale."
According to the report, any Palestinian caught drinking or selling wine would suffer 40 lashes at the whipping post if the bill passes. Thieves caught red-handed would lose their right hand.
The Jerusalem Post could not verify the veracity of the Al Hayat report.

In other words, life as usual. Want an Alka-Seltzer? I've got heartburn, and not from too many latkes.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

From The Big Apple

It has been colder than a witch's tit here. It was actually warmer than in Jerusalem the evening I arrived -- last Saturday -- but that night it rained and the temperature dropped from the mid-70s to the 40s in a matter of hours, and has barely been above freezing since then. I note that it is due to warm up some just as I return to Israel, this coming Saturday. A great help.

Son took me to my very first live NFL game the morning after my arrival; fortunately I'd packed a hat and gloves, but even so, I froze. At least the Giants won. [Redskins weren't playing in NY] I've liked football ever since my high school days, and parked myself in front of the TV every Sunday during the season, but never actually bought a ticket for a game [usually the price was way beyond my budget]. It was great fun. Right next to us was a guy who, having arrived at the Meadowlands already in a rather elevated state, constantly shouted "Superbowl, you mothaf**kas!" as if the players could hear him about half a kilometer away. It's beyond me how anyone can drink beer when it is just above freezing [the air temperature, not the beer] or probably considerably below zero if you add in the wind-chill.

Then, on Monday, I descended on K-Mart, where, among other things [a lot of other things], I bought a winter coat. K-Mart might not be the last word in fashion, but since the poor are now the obese poor, their clothes fit me nicely and, compared to Israeli clothes, are cheap, and well made. I got two pairs of brand name sports shoes, almost certainly NOT pirated, for half the price they'd cost me at home. And the sales people! So polite! This takes some getting used to, just as the odd fact that everyone, not just the touristsseems to be speaking English.  Oh, right, I'm in the USA.

Since Son is a bachelor, he eats out all the time.  I keep trying to convince him that it would be cheaper to cook, but he laughs and says he can afford it.  After perusing the stuff in the WholeFoods Market, I could see his point.  That is a very intimidating store.  Everything there is so healthy I am constantly afraid someone will come over and tell me that I can't shop there.  Seeing me haul my subcutaneous fat around on my arthritic knees in such an organic, no additives, low fat, healthy place will ruin their reputation for feeding the thin, hip, ecologically-friendly population of New York's young, upwardly mobile.  I slunk off to Gristede's, where I felt more comfortable, and grabbed some additive-laced diet Black Cherry soda and a bag of heavily-salted tortilla chips "with a touch of lime".

Ima, however, did have her revenge.  I'd brought the fixin's for kubbeh with me from Israel (a bag of semolina and the necessary spices) and made up a big pot (well, two smaller pots; Son doesn't have a big pot) of kubbeh with "red soup".  He invited a lot of his Israeli, also single, friends over, so they could all have a taste of home.  Frankly, I'm amazed that no one has opened an Iraqi/Kurdish restaurant in Manhattan; there certainly are enough Mizrachi Israelis to support it.  The evening was a big success.

So far I've been splitting the shopping with visits to museums, and I went to the opera last Thursday (and am going tonight).  There are a couple of films I hope to see before returning home.  I like seeing films in the US because, unlike Israel, you get to see the entire film without a break.  In Israel, almost always smack in the middle of a sentence, the lights come on about halfway through the film for a 15 minute intermission, to let you buy food or go to the bathroom.  Then the projectionists often resume the film at the next reel, so you might lose some very important dialogue or a scene or two.  More on the "cultural" side of my trip in another post.

The big reason for this trip was to sort out my Social Security.  I'm entitled to get the lowest benefit beginning this month, and I wanted to open a bank account here and let the balance grow over the next two years or so, while I'm still working.  Opening the bank account was so quick and easy I was reduced to speechlessness.  Even the assistant branch manager stuck her head in to say hello (which made me wonder if Chase Manhattan was in the same parlous situation as Citibank; my business -- all $500 a month -- seemed so important to them).  Then I went to the Midtown Social Security office and felt like I hadn't left Israel.  Just to change my surname on my card, apply for benefits, and arrange for direct deposit to my new bank account took two days and over six hours of waiting.  When in Israel, I decided, on the second day, behave as the Israelis do.  I buttonholed the guards, and eventually grabbed a clerk (all the other hundred or so folks on line sat there in a kind of apathy--but to be fair, quite a few looked grateful just to be warm) and in my sweetest tone told them I was a diabetic, that I'd missed my breakfast in order to be here early, and that I was now feeling very hypoglycemic and could someone please ascertain just how much longer I'd have to wait?  Miracles of miracles, it actually worked, but the clerk couldn't change my surname.  Two years ago I'd been told I'd have to supply the original documents.  I pointed out that they were all in Hebrew, and was told this didn't matter.  So I brought all the originals, and the clerk looked at me and asked me what language they were in and that she couldn't change the name if she couldn't read it.

It was like being at home.  I have never understood olim who complain about the Israeli bureaucracy, but of course Americans really have little contact with their own government, which is bureaucracy-as-art-form.  In any event, she could arrange direct deposit, and banks generally don't care what the name of the person is on the deposit form, as long as the account number is correct.

Time to close, as I'm off to the Met to see an opera which is completely unknown to me: Tchaikovsky's "Queen of Spades".  Toodle-oo.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Snorkle, #5

Bruce Plante
Tulsa World
Nov 12, 2008

Taking a Break

I will be visiting my Firstborn Son in New York, for a couple of weeks. Computer access will probably be sporadic, so I probably won't post...

But then again....

"Watch this space". I will return...

A Difference of View

All's well with the world: Nir Barkat won the race to become mayor of Jerusalem. He ran against a venerable ultra-Orthodox rabbi, Meir Porush, and a Russian multi-millionaire [or maybe not], Arkady Gaydamak.

Porush was filmed campaigning in Yiddish [which isn't even an official language in Israel], promising that within a decade there wouldn't be any secular Jews left in Jerusalem. In spite of his adherents trying to block voting by intimidation, stone throwing, and trashing polling stations [as well as voting lots of dead people, it is rumored], got only a little more than 40% of the vote. Part of the reason is that there is a feud between the Admor [leading rabbi] of the Gur Hassidim, and Porush, who is a "Litvak". The Admor instructed his followers, one of the biggest hassidic sects, not to vote for Porush. The ultra-Orthodox men always vote the way their rabbi tells them to, and the men tell their wives to vote that way as well [and they do]

Gaydamak, who looks and acts a lot like the Godfather if the Godfather was a Russian with a touch of Mongol about him, and who is very likely now to face various criminal charges in Europe, got barely 3.6% of the vote, in spite of paying residents NIS 300 to hang campaign posters on their homes. The source of his wealth is rumored to be arms trafficking [if people are being nice], but he's apparently in serious difficulties now. He may be the owner of the much-loved local soccer team, Betar Yerushalayim, but he is not someone from whom you would buy a second-hand car, and the public sensed this.

Nir Barkat is young, "traditional" rather than completely secular [that means he hasn't got a problem putting on a kippah or observing Jewish custom at holidays], a successful IT businessman, with a raft of ideas for getting Jerusalem out of its slough. I found it very amusing that the BBC called him "right wing". Here in Israel, his political stance is regarded as centrist. BBC prejudice strikes again.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

The Euphoria is Premature

My Israeli husband, who does not understand the American form of government in the least ("But can't the President do what he wants?"), has just accused me of racism because I have told him that Obama's election changes nothing. And will change very little.

I confess, every time I hear Obama, I hear JFK. And JFK said all the right things for my generation, which was so tired of the gray Eisenhower years, of elderly men playing golf, and having Civil Defense drills in school where we cowered under our desks as a preparation for the nuclear holocaust we'd been taught the Commies were just waiting to unleash on us; the years of Joe McCarthy and Howdy Doody, when TV adverts showed women in high heels and lots of petticoats under full skirts mopping their already spotless kitchen floors in their brand new Levittown homes.

And JFK not only did very little for America (perhaps his assassination actually was the best act of his Presidency, since LBJ managed to steamroll, by invoking the sainted President, through a hostile Congress, nearly all of the programs Kennedy wanted but had not managed to make any progress with), he very nearly got us into the Third World War, and certainly embroiled us, secretly, in Vietnam up to our necks. And the ghost of Vietnam follows America still.

Forget whatever you learned in high school civics classes. The actual work of government doesn't really resemble the model form one studied. The President proposes, the Congress disposes, and the Supreme Court guards the Constitution, we were taugh. Up to a point, but far more goes on in the committees and corridors than on the floor of either the House or Senate.

Special interest groups, and lobbies, and the home constituencies exert immense influence in Washington. The national interest comes a far second. Orange growers in Florida want to be sure they get a good price in Chicago for their produce, and not have to pay high taxes or fuel costs for transport. Congressmen from Florida don't want to have to face their unemployed constituents in two years' time if the orange/orange juice industry doesn't keep making profits, and not just orchard growers, but the local shopkeepers who supply the workers in the orange groves. And consumers in Chicago want their accustomed glass of inexpensive orange juice.

It sounds awfully nice to say "spread the wealth" and "we can change" but the reality on the ground is that for every perk there is a price. America is based on a very simple economic principle: that merchandise from every place in the country can quickly, easily, and cheaply, be moved to every other place in the country. And, for the foreseeable future, that means cheap gasoline. There is NO current technology which can replace the automobile and truck. Electric cars don't have the range or speed, and the electricity which would power them must come from electric plants which are conventionally (i.e. coal, oil, nuclear) powered. The railroad infrastructure can't meet demand, either, and railroads can't come to everyone. Goods have to be transshipped by truck from station to store or factory. Even should Obama decide to drastically increase the number of nuclear plants to meet need, he would have massive resistance from the anti-nuclear lobby, the environmentalists, and it would take more years (and huge governmental and private investment) than he will ever be in office to build the plants and get them running. The same applies to solar and/or wind power. READ MY LIPS: America CANNOT end its dependence on (foreign) oil overnight, or in the next decade, no matter what Al Gore, or anyone else says. It is a delusion, such as the idea that "renewable" energy is free. It will be very expensive, and that price will ultimately be paid by the taxpayer and consumer. (Can you imagine a law forcing all buildings to put solar panels on the roof AT THE EXPENSE OF THE TENANTS? Can you imagine what the cost to the government would be if the government undertook it? It's just not feasible in the short term, although it would make a substantial dent in energy costs. Dent, not hole: parts of America need 24/7 hot water and heating, and there's no adequate storage battery for solar energy to provide it 24/7. And parts of the country don't have sufficient sunlight for half the year or more. I'd love to see Americans change their bathing, dishwashing and laundry habits a la Israel, where we have renewable hot water only during daylight hours on sunny days)

Americans live largely on credit which they hardly see as such. Yes, unlike Israelis, they can't have overdrafts at the bank. But the credit is there, nonetheless, and it would be a sacrifice to forego the pleasantries the average American takes for granted. I watch NFL football here in Israel on a TV channel which broadcasts from Lebanon, and transmits the American commercials as well. I am constantly amazed at the endless repetition of fast food commercials urging us to eat massive amounts of cheap food (I can get heartburn just listening to the description of the calorie, cholesterol, and fat-dripping items), or to leap into our new SUVs, pickup trucks, or flash cars and drive them maniacally all over the place (while being assured that the vehicle is full of the latest safety fixtures, not to mention bells and whistles, and gets what Americans think is good gas mileage--mileage that no European would ever tolerate). Easy to say, Americans are simply gluttons and wasteful--but a huge, huge slice of the economy is based on the jobs (including advertising) these triple-family-sized pizzas with four toppings and extra cheese and these road hogs create.

Obama cannot cut back on the excesses of America's economy and at the same time expand the economy. Neither can he make a high level of health care available to all Americans (or even a moderate level--which most Americans wouldn't tolerate) and lower costs in the health care industry at the same time. He cannot lower taxes and yet expand existing social welfare programs unless he brings the national debt to yet higher levels. He can create something like a National Service program for youth, but in so doing has to create the bureaucracy to manage it (more of your tax dollars, btw), and convince youth there is some benefit to it (why work if not necessary, especially since you can bet the participants won't be paid much), and actually accomplish something (just deciding where and who would do what will demand at least one committee which will sit for a couple of years).

Tax the rich more heavily, I hear you say, and pass on the benefits to the poor. Sounds awfully nice. Except that the rich aren't fools or suckers. In the past few decades the British have watched as entertainers, media moguls, etc. simply abandoned the UK for places which taxed them less. American businesses would simply outsource more to cheaper countries, coincidentally reducing jobs here which leads to ... we're back where we started. I'm not suggesting that the way to improve the economy is to grant yet more perks to big business, but treating them punitively will most definitely not solve the problem.

"Change"; it sounds so easy. The devil is in the details.

My guess is that the situation in the American (and global) economy is dire enough that foreign policy will be definitely on the back burner, although Obama is committed to getting Americans out of Iraq as fast as he can. That will dump a lot of unemployed soldiers back into a depressed job market, btw, as well as cause a lot of cancellations of army supply contracts for small and medium businesses, which means yet more economic distress. So let's not think about foreign policy just yet, let things slide and hope that Putin doesn't try too vigorously to rebuild the former Soviet Union or the Clown of Tehran doesn't seize the moment to work yet more quickly on his pet project, the ability to dominate both the Middle East and Europe through nuclear means. I don't foresee any real difference in Obama policy regarding Israel and the Palestinians as long as the status quo remains static, any more than Nixon, Clinton, or Bush (both of them) really changed anything concrete. The Palestinians will continue to misbehave minimally and not recognize formally the existence of Israel, the two-state solution will be just as remote as it is now, Jerusalem will continue to be an insolvable problem, and there will be constant "summits" and other talk-fests that accomplish just about nothing.

Obama won the Presidency for several reasons. He had good speechwriters, who consciously had him become a Kennedy-clone (both JFK and RFK), and he faced a generation who had never known the Kennedy years but knew the Kennedy myth. He faced a highly unpopular President on whose watch America had been largely humiliated in Iraq and the economy went into severe meltdown. And Obama's opposition had always been working from a position of weakness: McCain is old, his VP candidate obviously unsuitable and the Bush legacy was always palpable. As a result, Obama's lack of experience could almost be played up as a positive characteristic: a new wind through Washington's stagnant atmosphere.

However, in spite of his Democratic support in both Houses of Congress, he is hampered by not having a power base. He can't call in favors given, because he hasn't been around long enough to give any, nor can he lean on relationships forged over years on the Hill, because he hasn't been on the Hill for any time. Just about everyone older than he is will think they can advise him; the army won't like him, as a completely non-military man (Clinton had this problem), and he has inherited a largely conservative Supreme Court (I actually think this will be less of a problem than he expects; the Supreme Court can be surprising). He is reportedly looking at Clinton's people, which is a good idea, from the standpoint of experience, although whether their ideas mesh with his is debatable.

He's damned if he moves quickly and proposes a lot of hastily written legislation and dubious programs, and damned if he doesn't because the American people are expecting so much from him: economic recovery, universal comprehensive health care, cheap oil and low taxes, and a bailout for everyone with a defaulted mortgage. In two years there will be the first midterm elections he will face. All of the House of Representatives and a third of the Senate will be up for grabs. If he doesn't get it right--and I frankly don't see how he can because the problems are so complex--he can find himself up the creek without a paddle for the rest of his first term.

And of course, this all assumes no other pressing emergency intervenes. There's been a lot of talk about assassination attempts. This is of course a possibility. It is for every President, actually, and there's no denying that there is a small but significant minority who find the idea of a nigger coon in the White House so offensive that they'll feel it's their duty to put an end to it. A far greater threat is the otherwise perfectly decent citizen who's lost his home or business and counted on Obama to give it back to him, and breaks under the strain. I give Obama a honeymoon of less than six months before America's patience, never long, becomes disappointment. Too many Americans are thinking the current situation is a bad dream, from which they will wake tomorrow morning, to find it's Christmas Eve, with lots and lots of presents under the tree.

Yes, it's a milestone that a black man got elected. Obama's background is not that of the ordinary American black, however, and that must be remembered. His being a person of color was certainly NOT a reason to vote for him, and I fear far too many Americans did vote for him for just that reason. Whether it was from a sense of political correctness or not, I cannot say. He certainly isn't a BETTER candidate for the Presidency because of his color. I fear it might well backfire on him, and on black Americans in general, if he cannot deliver on all his promises.

America has been shown, in the past couple of years, to have finite limits--not something Americans like to realize. America's history has been one of largely never accepting limits--Americans are the "can do" people. America isn't going to like having its perception of reality changed, and that is likely to be the biggest change the Obama Presidency will attempt to force through; and the one that will ultimately get Obama scapegoated, for the shortcomings of his fellow citizens.

So I watch from outside, hoping some of my misgivings prove illusory, but afraid I'm underestimating. I've never been able to understand why anyone would want to be President, to be honest. It's a thankless job, and never more than now.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The Day After

Victor Harville
Stephens Media Group
Nov 5, 2008

Stay tuned for my post-game show, oops, the post-election analysis [hopefully, soon, but looking at the state of my kitchen, you never know...]

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Latest Poll Results

Clay Bennett
Chattanooga Times Free Press
Oct 9, 2008

The Rules of the Sukkah According to Dr. Seuss

From a cyberfriend of mine, who forwarded it from an anonymous source:

Rules of the Succah (with numbered footnotes)

You can build it very small (1)
You can build it very tall (2)

You can build it very large (3)
You can build it on a barge

You can build it on a ship (4)
Or on a roof but please don't slip (5)

You can build it in an alley (6)
You shouldn't build it in a valley (7)

You can build it on a wagon (8)
You can build it on a dragon (9)

You can make the s'chach of wood (10)
Would you, could you, yes you should

Make the s'chach from leaves of tree
You shouldn't bend it at the knee (11)

Build your Succah tall or short
No Succah is built in the Temple Court

You can build it somewhat soon
You cannot build it in the month of June (12)

If your Succah is well made
You'll have the right amount of shade (13)

You can build it very wide
You can not build it on its side

Build if your name is Jim
Or Bob or Sam or even Tim

Build it if your name is Sue (14)
Do you build it, yes you do!

From the Succah you can roam
But you should treat it as your home (15)

You can invite some special guests
Don't stay in it if there are pests

You can sleep upon some rugs
Don't you build it where there's bugs

In the Succah you should sit
And eat and drink but never ...

If in the Succah it should rain
To stay there would be such a pain (16)

And if it should be very cold
Stay there only if you're bold

So build a Succah one and all
Make it large or make it small

Succah rules are short and snappy
Enjoy Succos, rejoice be happy.

1. Maimonides (RMBM) Mishne Torah, Hilchot Succah, Chapter 4, Section 1.The minimum height of a Succah is 10 tefachim. A tefach is a measureof the width of the four fingers of one's hand. My hand is 3 1/4inches wide for a minimum Succah height of 32 1/2 inches. The minimumallowable width is 7 tefachim by 7 tefachim. This would result in aSuccah of 22 3/4 inches by 22 3/4 inches.

2. The maximum height is 20 Amot. An Amah is the length from the elbowto the tip of the middle finger. My Amah is 15 1/2 inches for amaximum height of 25 feet. Others say that 30 feet is the maximum.

3. According to RMBM the Succah can be built to a width of severalmiles. Shulchan Aruch also says there is no limit on the size of thewidth.

4. RMBM Hilchot Succah Chapter 4, Section 6.

5. RMBM Hilchot Succah Chapter 4, Section 11. RMBM states that one mayconstruct a Succah by wedging poles in the four corners of the roofand suspending s'chach from the poles. The walls of the buildingunderneath are considered to reach upward to the edge of the s'chach.

6. RMBM Hilchot Succah Chapter 4, Section 8-10 discusses the ins andouts of building your Succah in an alley or passageway.

7. There is a location referred to in the Talmud called Ashtarot Karnayim.According to the discussion there are two hills, with a valley inbetween where the Sun does not reach. Therefore it is impossible to sit in the shade of the roof of the Succah. I can't find thereference...hopefully next year.

8. RMBM Hilchot Succah Chapter 4, Section 6. You can go into a Succah built on a wagon or a ship even on Yom Tov.

9. RMBM Hilchot Succah Chapter 4, Section 6. OK, RMBM says a camel but dragon rhymes with wagon a lot better, don't you agree? Anyway, RMBMsays you can build your Succah on a wagon or in the crown of a tree,but you can't go into it on Yom Tov. There is a general rule against riding a beast or ascending into the crown of a tree on Yom Tov
10. Chapter 5 deals with the rules for the s'chach. Basically, you can use that which has grown from the ground, and is completely detached from the ground. So, for example, you cannot bend the branches of a tree over the Succah to form the s'chach. But you can cut the branches from a tree and use them as s'chach.

11. This would be a violation of the rule cited in the prior footnote.

12. Shulchan Aruch, Hilchot Succah, Perek 636, Section 1. The Succahshould not be built sooner than 30 days before the Chag. However, ifthe structure is built prior to 30 days, as long as something new isadded within the 30 days, the Succah is kosher.

13. Of course it's a well known rule that you must sit in the shadef rom the roof of the Succah and not in the shade that may be cast by the walls. It seems that this might affect the height of the walls,depending on the longitude of the location where you are building your Succah.

14. Technically, women, servants and minors are exempt from theMitzvah of Succah. In our day we hope we know better than to read outhalf the Jewish people from the observance of Mitzvot. Of course,that's just a personal opinion of the author.

15. RMBM ibid Chapter 6, Section 6 explains that you should eat, drinkand live in the Succah for the 7 days as you live in your own home.One should not even take a nap outside of the Succah.

16. RMBM ibid, Section 10. If it rains one should go into the house.How does one know if it is raining hard enough? If sufficientraindrops fall through the s'chach (roof covering) and into the food so that the food is spoiled - go inside!

RMBM = The Rambam, Rabbi Moses ben Maimon (Maimonides)
The Shulchan Aruch ("The Prepared Table") is a 16th century compendium of Jewish Law

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

If Broadway "Did" Kol Nidre

Baal HaBos links to a version of Kol Nidre which has simply got to win 1st prize for kitsch.

I hope the singers are going to do serious teshuva this Yom Kippur.

An easy fast, and גמר חתימה טובה to you all.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Eternal Lice Problem

A confession: until I made aliyah, I'd never seen a louse. You might not think that odd, since lice are simply not one of the things middle-class Jewish American girls are supposed to be acquainted with. But I'm a nurse, and I studied nursing in a hospital which had a large percentage of poor Lower East Side Puerto Ricans, Santo Domingans, and Haitians, homeless people, etc. Yet, they seemed to be relatively clean poor people.

However, lice are absolutely ubiquitous among small children in Israel, and for new olim from the US, the discovery that their little darlings are infested is one of the most shocking discoveries they make after getting off the plane.

I'm not sure why lice are so prevalent here. Climate probably has something to do with it, although lice do not spontaneously generate from sand (!) as some Israelis believe. From the time a toddler goes to a playgroup, until he/she reaches an age where children sit at individual desks at school (often as late as 4th or even 5th grade), parents wage a constant battle against the lice. It's because the little heads are so close to each other, you see, that the lice can jump from one kid to another easily.

The life cycle of the louse takes about 10 days from the eggs (nits) being laid until the mature louse is ready to lay some more. The nits are so small that it is almost impossible to get them all, even assiduously combing and manually picking them off the roots of the hair, so whatever treatment option (and nits are almost completely impervious to chemical methods) the parents adopt, it has to be repeated. And repeated. And repeated. It's much easier to let them grow a bit before attacking them.

The simplest thing to do is to shave the kid's head. I suspect this is why you see so many Arab kids with barely any stubble on their skulls, but it's a problem for girls, or boys with sidelocks.
The next line of attack is usually an anti-lice shampoo or lotion, but these have two main disadvantages. The first is that almost as soon as a new product is marketed, the lice become resistant to it. And, two, the stronger the stuff, the greater the chance it will cause skin rash or ulcerations. If you tell a toddler or preschooler to keep his eyes closed as you rinse his head, he will immediately open his eyes. This happened to our son once, and the resulting inflammation was really very serious. If you must use a chemical product, buy some goggles for your kid--or you might later need to buy him a white cane. There is some controversy over whether the chemicals can be absorbed into the blood stream via the skin, also.

Two traditional "remedies" are rosemary oil or a mixture of kerosene and oil. The former does make the hair smell very nice, and maybe lice don't like the smell, but in my experience they are hardly deterred. The kerosene/oil (or margarine) mixture can cause ulcerations and you can smell your kid for days.

This leaves manual removal, which is time-consuming and which both parents and the kids generally dislike. Children have the attention span of gnats, so a method is needed whereby you get them involved. Herewith is Antigonos' Patented Infallible Lice Removal Method, which should leave you and your child (or children) clean and not wanting to murder anyone (other than the lice).

You will need:
One lice comb. The best is Innomed, it has by far the finest teeth.
One regular comb, to comb out tangles and to separate the hair into sections.
Conditioner. Any brand is good, if you want, use one of the ones with rosemary oil, which may possibly be a deterrent.
Clips, to keep the combed hair sections from falling over the uncombed sections (and vice versa). The kind hairdressers use are very good.
A chair for you, and a lower chair or stool for the child, who can sit between your knees
Paper Towels. This is an essential, you'll understand why, in a moment.
A towel or bib, to put around the child's neck.
At least one video or DVD that the child likes. I used to use Disney's Fantasia, which is good because it's long. This will prevent the rapid onset of sitzfleisch.
A child, or children, in need of treatment.
Something for you to drink, preferably alcoholic. Alternatively, some form of calming medication.

And now, we're ready to begin:
[1] Wet the child's hair and liberally slather head with conditioner. Do not rinse.
[2] Put the child, with towel around neck ("just like Mommy at the hairdresser's") on the stool. [3]Insert video or DVD into machine. Inform child that if he's good, and lets you take care of him without undue tantrums or squirming you'll allow him to squash all the lice you collect at the end. This is very important: it is the major incentive for good behavior. Kids LOVE to do this. If you have more than one child to treat, make it into a competition to see who has the most lice. The winner will brag about this for months.
[4] Using the regular comb and clips, divide the hair into sections, starting with the hair on the neck. Comb out each section with the Innomed comb, and you will see the lice--usually still alive, caught in the conditioner and comb. Wipe the comb on a paper towel and put to one side (don't worry; the lice aren't going anywhere). Between their favorite video and the spectacle of the lice (white paper towels are best for contrast), the kids will be entranced.
[5] Don't forget to let them squash the lice. You can use a flat bottomed glass for this. If you forget, they'll never trust your word again and you'll have a devil of a time convincing them to let you comb them out again. Bloodthirsty little beasts, children.
[6] Shampoo hair with regular shampoo and rinse.

You'll have to repeat this every two or three days for two weeks, to get all the eggs of the original infestation, since they will probably only be caught by the comb, even the finest comb, once they hatch. The joker is that the child is probably constantly being reinfested. Lice cannot live more than 24 hours without human blood, so it isn't necessary to constantly change pillowcases or hair brushes. But those little heads are touching every day in class...

Sometimes parents can actually convince the other parents in their child's group to all treat their children together. But it is usually in vain, because the children are infested from other siblings, who are in turn infested by other play- and classmates in other classes and schools. While Americans are shocked, Israelis seem to take lice in stride as "one of those things" that happen to children...think of Treatment Time as Family Quality Time if it makes life easier .

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A Political Cartoon I REALLY Don't Like

Elena Steier
Center for American Blogress
Sep 9, 2008

Generally, I will put up cartoons I find humorous or am in sympathy with. This one really turns me off.

I'm no friend of the evangelical Christian Right. But this one is not only extreme [note the "tattoo"], it is also far too misogynist, and demeans both McCain and Palin.

I find it interesting that the cartoonists are focussing a lot on Palin as a real bitch now, when a good many of my cybercorrespondents are focussing on pledges by both Presidential candidates to lower taxes. As always, the American voter [and voters in most other places, to be honest] is swayed by the state of his/her wallet more than almost anything else.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Notice: Important Change Pending

Stephen Rustad
Petaluma Argus-Courier
Aug 23, 2008

This should have been done a long time ago....

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Only About Two Weeks More Until The Season Begins....

Ed Hall
Artizans Syndicate
Aug 19, 2008

This year the Redskins take the Superbowl! Yeah! [Well, stranger things HAVE happened...]

Thursday, August 07, 2008

The Destruction of A City

Sunday is Tisha b'Av, the day when Jews mourn a lot of things. The destruction of the First and Second Temples, the Expulsion from Spain, Hitler's Final Solution was promulgated--it is an all-round National Catastrophe Day. There are those of us who feel that Holocaust Day is redundant, and should be remembered, in its historical context, along with all the other disasters Jews have suffered throughout the ages.

This year is especially poignant if you live in Jerusalem. In the name of "urban renewal" and "improved mass transit" our Gracious City Fathers seem bent on finishing what the Romans started in AD 70. (A note for the finicky: the actual destruction of the city of Jerusalem by the Romans actually began on the 17th of Tamuz, in the Hebrew calendar, three weeks before Tisha b'Av, when the first breach in the walls of what is now the Old City occurred. But I'm allowed some literary license)

Well over a decade ago a decision was taken to create a network of above-ground light rail lines that would connect some of Jerusalem's more distant neighborhoods with the city center. Jerusalem is a rather odd city. The population is about 700,000, but it is spread over a very large area. Further, as it sits on top of a bunch of mountains, neighborhoods are often defined and separated by deep valleys. There was never any attempt at city planning, indeed, the topography dictates where streets will run, and in the older parts of the city, the streets are narrow and often not straight. Here is a rough city map from 1993; and here is a better one, but you will have to zoom in for the detail. The commercial center is largely defined by the triangle formed by King George Street, Ben Yehuda Street, and Jaffa (Yafo) Road. But it is Jaffa Road that is the real lifeline of the city, running from the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem highway at the city entrance (where the Central Bus Station is) to the Old City.

Jaffa Road isn't a particularly splendid piece of "high street". In fact, considerable bits of it look pretty much as they did in the years of the British Mandate, and even the Ottoman period, tarted up with neon signs and sporting shop windows selling everything from sports shoes to tourist twat and religious articles. Most of the shops are "key money", a kind of protected tenancy whereby the owner sells a leasehold to the purchaser for a one-time price. The purchaser cannot be evicted, but any improvements he puts into the property are at his own expense but are owned by the owner. So there's little incentive to make any real improvement to the property. Consequently a lot of the shops are quite delapidated.

Ben Yehuda Street is a pedestrian mall, and many of the small streets off Jaffa Road have been so converted also, but both Jaffa Road and King George Street are extremely busy thoroughfares, with about 20 bus lines traversing the city's two axes -- from entrance to Old City, from the neighborhood of Gilo to Mt. Scopus. (It was at the intersection of King George and Jaffa that the suicide bomber struck the Sbarro Pizza outlet with such devastating effect). A little farther from the city center is the Machaneh Yehuda open-air market, which has also seen its share of terror attacks, as it is usually crowded with shoppers, especially in the run-up to Shabbat. It is a much-beloved Jerusalem institution.

The light railway was supposed to have its first line open in 2006. To no one's surprise, the date is now some time in 2010, and the cost has escalated exponentially. Not only did all the streets using it have to be dug up in order to put down the necessary infrastructure for the electrical cables, etc., they now have to be dug up a second time to lay the tracks. Further, the railway lane will be slightly raised, except at intersections, so that cars cannot drive on the tracks and impede the progress of the trains. The construction has been inching forward at a pace that would put a snail to shame, largely because the track-laying machines, which were supposed to do everything at once, have turned out to be an untested technology (from France) which is a great disappointment.

This week the City closed the entire length of Jaffa Road from near the Central Bus Station to almost the Old City, except for one lane barely wide enough for a bus, traveling in one direction only, instead of doing it in bits. All the bus lines have had to be rerouted, at least partially, onto narrow streets that were already jam-packed with vehicular traffic. All parking on these streets has had to be prohibited. People have to walk long distances from the nearest bus stop to where they want to go; and since a great many of the usual patrons of the downtown shops are the elderly who don't drive (and thus don't go to the shopping malls on the city periphery), this is quite a hardship. They can't do their shopping, and hail a taxi because taxis can't use the now-restricted bus lanes--they have to retrace their steps, shlepping all their packages, to a bus stop on a street on which traffic backs up for blocks every time a bus comes to a halt. And the current "timetable" for the work allows two years for its completion. More like six, the way things have been going so far.

Forget terrorists: if someone has a heart attack in downtown Jerusalem now, no ambulance, rescue vehicle, or paramedic on a motorcycle can get around the blockages caused by back-to-back buses. The buses themselves cannot keep to any schedule. It normally takes me between 20 minutes and half an hour to get to work; since Jaffa Road has been closed it takes me an hour and a half. Each way. And my son-in-law the policeman has noted that, should a grave, or even a bone, or anything of archeological interest be turned up during the street's excavation, all construction comes to an indefinite halt. By law, all archeological finds must be thoroughly excavated, and the ultra-Orthodox go on a rampage every time they decide some rock or geological formation is a "grave" (because the assumption is it is the grave of a Jew). The opening of the Begin highway was held up for three years because the ultra-Orthodox decided a boulder was a grave (in spite of all evidence to the contrary), and the road had to be rerouted, a section torn up and resited so the "grave" is now in a median strip)

My SIL has told me the police have met with City officials and told them frankly that they cannot guarantee the safety of the city center with the entire length of Jaffa Road affected the way it is currently. The merchants have met with City officials and told them that nearly all of them will be bankrupt within 6 months; I've noticed some "For Sale" signs appearing already on some of the smaller shops. Eventually we'll have rapid transit to the downtown area but the downtown area will be a ghost town.

The cynic in me says that is exactly what the City is hoping for. As tenants abandon their "key money" premises, the owners can be tempted to sell to developers who will knock down every vestige of old "modern" Jerusalem and put up tower blocks for commercial and residential purposes. Currently Jerusalem is enjoying something of a luxury apartment building boom (there are those who say it has not only peaked but the newest construction sites will never even be completed) for the "two months a year residents", a great many of whom are French, and wealthy. When life is good in France, they'll stay there, but they want a foothold in Israel should the Moslems in France go on a rampage (many were pied noirs in North Africa; came to Israel penniless in the Fifties, decamped to France only a few years later because of the austerity conditions here then, leaving some relatives here, so they are not entirely strangers to the country)

I fear an essential part of the city is being undermined. Jerusalem already, because of its uniqueness, suffers from high housing costs, and has been losing residents to the satellite towns halfway between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem (it's a half hour/45 minute commute to Tel Aviv from Modi'in, for example, and maybe half an hour into Jerusalem). The downtown triangle, while it certainly could use a bit of fixing-up, has a very special atmosphere that has managed to survive nearly a century. It would be a tragedy if it went, and the Jerusalem city center looked like a hundred other places.

The whole light railway is a fiasco. Washington DC put in a trolley system that barely 5 years after its inception took out of service, when I was a child, and Washington is a town with broad boulevards, not two-lane streets that suddenly have kinks and curves. If a car that travels on rails breaks down, nothing can go around it. This weakness has had my SIL's unit, an elite one like a SWAT team, practicing various scenarios for several years already, but nothing is simpler than a terrorist suddenly driving onto the rail lane (in spite of it being slightly elevated, a car could drive onto it easily), blocking trains in both directions, and either he or a couple of confederates simply hurling a few grenades into the train compartments. This week the dangers of the raised lane were highlighted when it was shown that a bus lane in Haifa, 7 cm above the street level, but hardly noticeable in dim light, had caused several fatal accidents already, as motorcyclists fell off the edge into oncoming traffic. Since the Jaffa Road construction is now going 24 hours a day, there has been a need for a lot many more construction workers--it's not by accident that the two "bulldozer terrorist" incidents have happened right now. And the traffic rerouting, etc. demands a huge police presence (at a time of year when families schedule vacations). SIL gloomily predicts that once it rains in October or thereabouts, everything will go into abeyance until the spring: roadwork can't be done in wet conditions, and the City has lost about three months of dry weather this year.

We've got the Calatrava "string" bridge now, and it is very inspiring, there at the entrance to the city. So inspiring, in fact, that all the buildings around it look really dull and uninspired. I guess they'll have to be demolished at some point, and rebuilt in a grander style. Despite the removal of the scaffolding, etc. traffic at the entrance of the city still hasn't gone back to normal. It appears that the construction company that won the tender for track-laying has finally figured out how to lay the tracks. Apparently a couple of the cars have arrived from France and more are on the way.

All that the citizens of the city ask is that the work on the main street of the city be done in chunks so the rest of the length of Jaffa Road can function, or there's going to be a really nice rail system going into a deserted city center. I really don't know if the Jerusalem I know can survive this "urban renewal".

Friday, August 01, 2008

Very Dispiriting, but Not Surprising

The writer is an Israeli Arab who often writes for the JPost. He discusses the current infighting between Hamas and Fatah here. Anyone who thinks that Israel is the reason there's no peace in the Middle East doesn't understand the Arab mentality.

"Myself and my brother against the world; myself against my brother". (Arab proverb, quoted by Rafael Patai in "The Arab Mind")

Snorkle! #4

Dick Locher
Chicago Tribune
Aug 1, 2008

The NFL is definitely more interesting than the Presidential election.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Books, Part I

My cousins asked me for some reading material on Israel and Judaism. Here's a short list.

A History of the Jews by Paul M. Johnson
This is an absolute "must". Mr. Johnson is a conservative Catholic, the former editor of The Spectator newspaper. I believe that histories of religion must be written by someone of another religion if they are to have any validity and objectivity. Mr. Johnson's grasp of the subject is stupendous, and, being a journalist, his writing is lucid, succinct, and very approachable, without jargon. It is the best history of the Jews and Judaism available today.

From Time Immemorial: The Origins of the Arab-Jewish Conflict over Palestine by Joan Peters
Ms. Peters set out to write a book about the Palestinian refugees of 1948, but what she found changed her viewpoint entirely. One of the book's strengths, and its main weakness, is the degree of documentation she provides. The actor John Barrymore is reputed to have said that "footnotes are like running downstairs to answer the doorbell on one's wedding night". Every single assertion Ms. Peters makes is so fully annotated that it becomes annoying after a while--but since she so fully documents her sources, you easily see that she is not simply giving her personal views.

The Closed Circle by David Pryce-Jones
Mr. Pryce-Jones is also a newspaperman, but he is also an Arabic speaker, and spent a lot of his childhood in Arab countries since his father was a British diplomat, and has made the Arab world his specialty. This book is an explanation of the psychology of the Arabs, which I think is essential to understanding their world view and their aspirations, and also why they seem to cling to a pre-modern ethic. Rafael Patai's The Arab Mind is also an exploration of the Arab mentality, and very good, but Pryce-Jones' book is better, in my opinion.

Two books about living as a Jew, written by two observant Jews but designed to be read by anybody, are To Be A Jew: A Guide To Jewish Observance In Contemporary Life by Hayim H. Donin, and How To Run A Traditional Jewish Household by Blu Greenberg. Rabbi Donin gives a very concise run-through of the major tenets of Judaism, with explanations, while Ms. Greenberg describes living in a Jewish household, from the standpoint of the woman of the house. There are a lot of anecdotes about day to day situations [such as suggesting that a woman put in her curriculum vitae how many times she's "made Pesach", it's such a major task].

For a world tour of Jewish cuisine (which some would say the Jews haven't got, but they're wrong) coupled with extensive commentary on the various communities from which the recipes are culled, nothing beats The Book of Jewish Food: An Odyssey from Samarkand to New York by Claudia Roden. Ms. Roden, who is Sephardi, is a bit of a food snob, especially when describing Ashkenazi food, which she feels is inferior (a "folk cuisine") compared with Sephardi cooking, but she's still very comprehensive.

One of my cousins asked for books to help him learn Hebrew, which seems very daunting [it isn't, really, but that's another topic]. I recommend How the Hebrew Language Grew by Edward Horowitz, and 501 Hebrew Verbs : Fully Conjugated in All the Tenses in a New Easy-To-Follow Format alphabetically Arranged by Root by Shmuel Bolozky. Hebrew is based on an entirely different system than Indo-European languages, and so seems sometimes very difficult for those who've never "thought outside the box". But Hebrew is actually quite easy, IF you understand the logical underpinnings, which are that words have roots from which one can, if one follows certain rules, derive almost all the necessary forms and parts of speech.

Part II will be about what I'm currently reading, and some of my "desert island books"--the books I can't be without.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Iraq's Archeological Treasures and My IPod

Two articles, one in the NY Review of Books, and the other in the The Wall Street Journal, seem to take different views on the subject. It would be nice to know which is actually correct. And then one begins to wonder how much of what we "really" know about this entire part of the Middle East, Iran included, is correct. The Clown of Tehran now claims to have 6000 centrifuges working.

I sat at home for two months with a broken left wrist, unable to do anything (because I'm left-handed) more complicated than push buttons on the TV remote control. After the first week, I stopped pushing. Thank God for my iPod, which doesn't reduce everything to a 30 second sound bite or repeat itself every hour. I listened to the entire Ring Cycle. I listened to a number of audiobooks, and watched the lemon tree that stands next to the path from the front gate while listening to baroque and early music concerts...

Now I'm back to "normal", whatever that is, and I'm taking my ulcer medication again...

Friday, July 25, 2008

Mr. Nice Guy

I suppose he had a difficult childhood, or something, and we should treat him gently.
See this article in the Jerusalem Post.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Dial Soap, Anyone?

This started out as a comment to someone on the Tachlis list ( )about the availability of Dial soap in Israel [it isn't]. I have been in Israel so long I had to ask what was special about Dial [I was told because it has deodorant]

For as long as I've been in Israel, which will be 33 years this coming January, there has been The Great Washing Machine Debate, between proponents of large American machines which need a specially-sized niche and a hot water hookup [but are supposed to do a load in less time] and the smaller, European ones which heat their own water, fit into the niches in older apartments, etc.

Now there's a new debate: Can I survive aliyah with Israel substitutes for American products? Or maybe it's not so new. When I made aliyah, there were lots of items--food, cosmetics, cleaning items--that Israelis simply didn't know existed [like string mops and Brillo pads, beef frankfurters and real cheddar cheese] and didn't miss. Immigrants had their eyes opened to the gumi and sponja even while they eulogized the sponge mop and the Brillo pad. There was ONE brand of locally produced abrasive cleaner, maybe two or three brands of laundry detergent--essentially all the same. And lo and behold! we all ultimately stopped salivating after those Brillo pads and somehow--amazingly! managed to clean without them! Ditto American deodorant. There's always been soap, water, and talcum powder for those whose skin was too sensitive for Israeli deodorants [like me]

You know what's really eye-opening? Take a trip to NY [or anywhere else in the US] when you've only got an Israeli income, and you find yourself muttering "do I REALLY need this?" when you go shopping because you've got half the budget you had five or ten years ago. You'll be amazed at how different your priorities become. You'll live with the Israeli product rather than the American equivalent and keep your money for the odd gadget that DOESN'T exist in Israel. When I was in NYC about 18 months ago, I bought cunning reusable little bottle corks that really keep air out of wine bottles and the carbonation in soda bottles [I was sick of throwing out half- and quarter- filled bottles of Coke gone flat], and 10" plastic knitting needles [because I only find the longer ones here]. So I've got to use a bit more elbow grease with Sano-X cleanser than Comet! I'd rather spend my limited cash on something for which there's no Israeli equivalent! [I thought I'd buy medicinals like 1000 tablet bottles of ibuprofen, but at $15-24 per bottle, I eventually settled on getting Israeli prescriptions for smaller, but very much cheaper, amounts via the kupah]

It takes time. Some people take more time to adjust, some take less. I personally think food nostalgia takes the longest to overcome, and as others have written, while at first Israeli items seem to taste odd, invariably and eventually it is the American item that tastes too rich. Brillo pads are nice, but Israeli steel wool, dipped in Israel soap paste or cleanser really works quite well, but as long as you mutter "how will I manage once this box runs out?" or "which family member in the States can I hit on for the next Care package?" you only make life harder for yourself.

Some of this undoubtedly goes back to what I've called in a previous post "the homesteading instinct". Some of it is related to the perceived superiority of American products. Some is due to simple familiarity with American items, but some, I suspect, is due to a fear of losing one's American identity, in spite of a committment to Israel. That's a real tough one. Why were our grandfathers so very anxious to leave all remnants of their Eastern European identities behind and become as Americanized as possible as quickly as possible, but we want to remain as American as possible while clutching our Israeli passports? Can it be that we still have doubts about our choice to make aliyah? American Jews are almost unique among Jews because the choice is being made without oppression or persecution, or indeed coercion of any kind. In fact, most of us have had to surmount objections from our American families, who begged us, overtly or covertly, not to leave America.

I think that is one of the biggest things that has changed with aliyah in the three decades I've been here. Once it was "we've come to Israel to build (it) and be built (by it)". Now, it almost seems that we've come to Israel to build it as much as possible like where we came from, and only to be built by it so long as it doesn't threaten our American identities. This doesn't make me very optimistic about long-term aliyah success.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

In a Box

We got back our soldiers today who were kept captive in Lebanon for 2 years. Or rather, we got two bodies back which are supposedly theirs. I presume they will be, since identification is not all that difficult.

For two years no one in Israel knew if they were alive or dead. The Hezbollah, which considers itself to be an organization comprised of human beings, refused every attempt by the International Red Cross or other humanitarian organization to visit the soldiers. Hezbollah did not provide information of any kind about whether the soldiers were alive or dead, well or injured, treated well or badly. They refused to accept any mail from the parents for their sons.

Unlike the Hezbollah, we Israelis ARE human beings, and civilized ones at that. We know what it means to grieve as a mother must, not knowing the fate of her child. Dogs are treated better by the Hezbollah than our soldiers, and that just shows just how sub-human the Hezbollah is.

We care so much for our own that we have now freed a real animal, an Arab who abducted a father and his 4 year old daughter, killed the father before the child, then killed the child, in cold blood, just to get the soldiers back, on the tiny chance they weren't dead. Samir Kuntar should be returned to Lebanon in a box, or better still, as a living suicide bomber, with a microchip embedded in his body so Israel can annihilate his entire family, to teach others a lesson. Because that is the only lesson you can teach animals like the Arabs: we will exterminate hundreds for each one of ours.

Being civilized has gotten us exactly nowhere. It's time we spoke a language sub-humans can understand. 60 years of trying to deal with our enemies as if they were humans has only convinced them of our weakness.

I won't apologize, either, for being "politically incorrect". Millions in Europe would not have died if the British hadn't been so eager to show how civilized they were with Herr Hitler in the 1930s.

In case it doesn't show, I'm really angry.


Last Friday night, as we all sat around the Shabbat dinner table, we began discussing Israeli movies. This is because we recently switched from cable (HOT) to satellite (YES) TV, and the latter has a channel devoted only to what Israelis call "bourekasim". A bourekas is a savory pastry made of flaky phyllo dough with lots of soft cheese inside.

Most of these movies are eminently forgettable. The entire production is amateurish. Working on infinitesimal budgets, they were shot entirely "on location"--the streets and even the apartments of ordinary Israelis. Very few, if any, of these places still exist. Quite a few were already gone by the time I made aliyah in the late '70s.

The stories weren't much, either. But they appealed to simple people. Since the actors also lived among us, we knew them almost as if they were family (and the same couple of dozen were in most of the films). Some of the movies were classics: Sallah Shabbati, Policeman Azulai, Charlie-and-a-Half. The best scripts were written by the Ashkenazi satirist Ephraim Kishon, but very often told stories of the Mizrachim, who were, at the time, a very large but largely ignored "underclass". One or two, such as Daughters, Daughters, were shown internationally at "art house cinemas", usually with some form of explanation. In Daughters, Daughters, it was necessary to explain why having a son was so important to the father.

The Baby, who is 25, recalled a scene in Charlie-and-a-Half where a Mizrachi family is visiting a relative in hospital. To the annoyance of the Ashkenazi staff (in the Sixties, virtually all professionals and academics were Ashkenazim), the whole family camp out around the bed, eating pots of Mizrachi foods, and then all together make the Grace After Meals out loud. Baby said "No one does that any more".

She's right. Hospitals have become "civilized" places--although trying to get visitors to leave when visiting hours are over is still a trial for the staff, since Israelis all think that rules are meant for the other fellow. Many of the second and third generation of Mizrachim are noticeably less religious than their parents (in this, they are very similar to the Ashkenazim; as indeed was the immigrant experience on the Lower East Side).

That made me think of a scene in Policeman Azulai. Played by Shaike Ophir--himself a 10th generation Jerusalemite whose real name was Goldberg--Azulai was a sort of Israeli Clouseau. The name Azulai is Moroccan, and in the Sixties, to be a Mizrachi policeman was a considerable achievement. He bumbles around, rather pompous, more often than not screwing up, but you know his heart is always in the right place. One night, doing his rounds, after being demoted for general incompetence,

to walking a beat, he looks longingly at a black and white TV in a shop window, knowing that he can never afford such a luxury on a policeman's pay. A prostitute accosts him, offers him a freebie, but he declines with great courtesy: "I can't, I'm sorry, I'm a Cohen (member of the priestly caste)". She understands immediately and bids him goodnight. It was amusing because of the reason he declined--not because he was a straight cop, but because he was religious. There are plenty of religious cops today, but somehow one doesn't think they'd refuse for that reason.

Another scene was "the telephone call". Israel is second only to Hong Kong in cell-phone saturation these days. It seems impossible that barely 30 years ago it could take ten years to get a land line. (Israel's telephone system infrastructure was laid exactly before optic fiber replaced copper wire, so the number of available lines was strictly limited) It was common, when placing an ad for an apartment to let to note whether there was a telephone line in the apartment or not--it made the apartment much more valuable. But the line would be on your landlord's name, so you would have to tell friends who wanted to look you up in the phone book that name, not your own. Policeman Azulai is getting a ride back to the station in a police van which has a "motorola", as the mobile phones in cars were called, back then (of course, this was several decades before the invention of the cell phone). Rather shyly, because of the novelty of it all, he asks the driver if he can call his wife to tell her he will be home for dinner. When the driver says yes, Azulai dials not his home, but the neighborhood corner grocery store. The grocery store owner sends his young son to run across the street and shout the message up to a woman hanging laundry off her porch. The woman goes through her apartment, shouts across a courtyard, to Mrs. Azulai, that her husband won't be late getting home. That was the way it was.

My children, aged in their twenties, cannot even imagine an Israel like this, and I for one think it is sad they cannot. Change in Israel comes so very fast it makes one's head spin. Until the mid-80s the gap between the Haves and the Have Nots was much smaller; no matter whether one had money or not, what you could buy with it was very limited. There was, for example, two kinds of coffee: "nes" which was an instant beverage made by Elite which vaguely resembled real instant coffee (the name came from the word "Nescafe", but also means "miracle" in Hebrew), and "botz" (mud) which is Turkish coffee put into boiling water and stirred. At certain, very posh, cafes one could get a real espresso. Now we have a full variety of lattes and cappucinos (but Starbuck's fancy-shmancy, and expensive, coffees did not succeed in Israel) A single black and white TV cost the earth? Now we have 5 color TVs, two DVRs, (and three VCRs we no longer use). Who would foresee the VCR, the microwave oven, the PC -- not even in the US were such appliances available in the 70s and 80s because they hadn't been invented yet. But there is a limited amount of television addiction possible when you've only got one channel, and that one shuts down at 11 p.m.

In my opinion, the three really giant changes in the country came with victory in the Six Days' War, the advent of cable TV, and the hyperinflation of the 80s. Of course the economic purchasing power of Israelis in general has greatly increased--even with massive taxation, Israelis have embraced the "private" (personally owned automobile) with a vengeance. When I made aliyah it was sufficiently enough of a luxury that no one passed a "trempiada" without picking up hitchhikers (now, no one in his right mind stops) and if someone did give you a "tremp" you invariably offered something toward the price of the gas. The hyperinflation created, as I wrote above, huge disparities in the Israeli population, however, and made conspicuous consumption a way of saying "I've got it made, mate", where previously it really hadn't mattered all that much; that the country simply survived was much more important than one's personal possessions. The Six Days' War relieved that anxiety to a large degree, and provided a very large pool of very cheap Palestinian labor. The influence of this labor force has been in several big areas. One, of course, is the accomplishment of huge amounts of building. Another has been the very corrupting idea that the "proper" path for Jews to take is into the white collar world--where once the Mizrachim largely filled the skilled trades and the blue collar jobs and Ashkenazim gave at least lip service to the philosophy of "avoda Ivrit" (Jewish labor) it is now so much easier and cheaper to get an Arab to do it. The Arabs, in turn, have become used to being almost completely dependent on the Jews for their income--so much so that their outcry on the security fence is directly related to their possible unemployment in the country they want to destroy, which is a completely absurd situation. And cable TV brought the wide horizons of affluence, mainly American, to Israel. I can remember when "Dallas" and "Dynasty" and the "Bill Cosby Show" were the main "examples" of American life on Israeli TV. The former two programs were so obviously the lifestyle of a favored few, and bore so little resemblance to anything in Israel, it was almost like watching science fiction. But once we got cable, we got lots of sitcoms which purported to be the lifestyle of the "average guy"--which still had Israelis' tongues hanging out. And let's not get into what Israeli teenagers thought/think of MTV. When I came to Israel, there wasn't really a "youth culture" because the youth grew up very fast (until almost 1980 high school wasn't free and by 18 a teenager was in the army) and in any case, because the country was young everyone perceived themselves as young. MTV showed that a certain kind of behavoir previously thought here to be "degenerate" was really "magneev" (cool).

It's particularly a shame because such a huge amount has been created in the past 60 years. My kids ought to be proud of it, but instead, except when they see, in a film, what it was really like, they just take today's Israel for granted.

One Man's Floor...another man's ceiling?

John Cole
Scranton Times/Tribune
Jul 16, 2008

Monday, July 07, 2008

The Cousins

After years and years of prevarication ("You must admit, Israel is dangerous!" To which I reply, "more dangerous than LA or the Bronx??") recently two sets of my American cousins have come to visit. After a childhood in which numerous relatives would descend on us and expect us to give them the 5 star tour of my hometown, Washington, DC., I thought I was prepared for this task.

We are something of an odd family. My mother had two sisters and a brother, all older and all had been born in Russia. Her siblings married young, and had their children young, and Mother married late, and had me when she was 40, so I have nearly no other relative in the family who is my contemporary. This strange, sort of "split level" family tree, combined with our penchant for moving all over the world, means that we aren't a tight-knit bunch.

Sue, and her husband Rob, arrived first. Sue's father is my mother's older brother, but she's several years younger than I am, and because of family politics, I'd never met her before (or only once; we were unsure, not recognizing each other at all) I doubt they would ever have come to Israel except that Rob's niece was graduating from an Israeli university where she's an exchange student.

Commandeering my daughter's car, I took them for a day trip to the north, to the Crusader castle at Belvoir (Kochav Yarden) and to kibbutz Lavi, to lunch at the Pagoda, a very good Chinese restaurant on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, and then drove them back to Jerusalem via Megiddo and the coastal road. The night before, picking them up at their hotel, I took them to the Sherover Promenade which overlooks the Old City, and had Rob make the "Shchecheyanu" blessing that is appropriate for having a new or unique experience, and then took them to the Kotel (Western Wall). The Wall at night is quite impressive, but I got the feeling that, for them, it was pretty much just a wall.

But they loved wandering through the Machaneh Yehuda open-air market, and seeing what a real kibbutz was like, even though I realized they had some difficulty in understanding why anyone would want to live in one (apart from the lovely landscaping). Rob told me he wasn't interested in historical places anywhere as near as much as seeing how people lived.

On their final day in Jerusalem I drove them to Masada, where we met up with more of Rob's family, including his married daughter. His son-in-law asked so many questions which showed he knew next to nothing about Jewish history that I asked Sue if he was Jewish (neither his name nor his appearance gave any hint). "Oh yes, " she said, "he's from quite an Orthodox home". What she meant by this was that he would go to the synagogue on Yom Kippur.

Then, just last week, the Los Angeles contingent arrived. There is a program, underwritten by American Jewish philanthropists in conjunction with the Israeli government, called "Birthright" which gives American Jewish teenagers a free, guided trip to Israel, lasting a week or so. That's how Lowell got here, several years ago. He's the exact contemporary of my son, but one generation further on, if you get my meaning. His mother Ellen's grandmother and my mother were sisters. He returned to the States so enthusiastic about Israel that he convinced the entire family to come on a visit.

They did it in style, taking a licensed tour guide with a van (there were a total of five persons, which made it impossible to stuff them all in my car) for most of the time. The guide must have had his work cut out, because they had even less knowledge of what they were being shown than my other cousins, and these cousins were interested in visiting all the de rigueur "places", like the Knesset, Yad Vashem and the Supreme Court building and rather obviously weren't all that keen on open air markets, etc.

It was nice, but tiring, and mildly depressing. I'm glad they came, and I'm glad I got to know them better. But if they are at all typical of the "average" American non-Orthodox Jew, and I think they are, I don't have a lot of hope for Jewish survival in the US for more than another couple of generations.

None of them could read Hebrew, not even enough for the prayers. None of them knew any of the traditional liturgy. None of them had more than the vaguest idea of Jewish history, either in the Land or worldwide. None of them knew what the Talmud consisted of (let alone had ever peeked inside one) nor of the commandments which are particular to Israel such as tithes, the sabbatical year, etc., or even many of the commandments at all. None keep kosher, for example. In other words, these very nice, intelligent people were entirely ignorant of their heritage, and quite happy to be so. It just doesn't have any relevance to them.

Long ago, my father predicted that while there would continue to be Jews in Russia, because of the persecution and anti-Semitism there, Israeli Jews would identify themselves more as Israelis than Jews, and that there would no longer be a Jewish community in the US because it would entirely assimilate. I fear he may be right, some day.

Make My Day!

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