Sunday, September 24, 2017

Alone With The Dishes

[I wrote this essay back in 2004 to describe the mental preparation I go through between Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur.  I haven't been able to improve upon it. Yet.]

One gets to do a fair amount of thinking late at night… alone with the dishes.  Zahava does her fair share of the dishes, as do the kids.  But for the big jobs… particularly after dinner parties, large Shabbat/holiday meals, etc… I’m the guy left surveying the wreckage and not knowing exactly where to begin.

So it is (for me) with the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur. 

For me, they are like the aftermath of an enormous, wild dinner party… one where invitations were extended to far more people than the house could comfortably accommodate…. the kind of rollicking soirée that is talked about and savored for months.

But such a party comes with a price to pay.

Rosh Hashanah (for me) is roughly analogous to standing, aghast, in the doorway between the kitchen and the dining room surveying the damage.

What was I thinking?

Every horizontal surface is stacked high with dirty glasses and dishes. 

Half-empty bottles of merlot, syrah and chardonnay stand abandoned beside empty bottles of bourbon and scotch. 

The sinks overflow with greasy dishes, and the dessert service (dishes, tea cups and saucers), seem evenly distributed between the dinning room table and the various kitchen counters.

Linen napkins sit balled on (and under), chairs... and glasses of every description seem to wink at me from wherever the wandering conversationalists abandoned them.

On Rosh Hashanah I stand slumped in that imaginary doorway trying to make the insurmountable seem, well, surmountable. Trying to place the soiled contents of my slovenly year into some kind of framework where things can be addressed in an orderly fashion.

Anyone who has been left to clean up after a big dinner party understands the daunting nature of the task. At first glance it seems the house will never be clean again.

But then I pick up that first wine glass (with the half-moon of lipstick on the rim), and place it in such a way as to demonstrate to the long departed guests and sleeping house that this spot on the sideboard is where the crystal will be gathered. 

And so Rosh Hashanah begins (for me)… nothing getting washed just yet… just making the insurmountable seem... surmountable.

Several circuits of the house bring more dirty wine, whiskey, and water glasses than I ever knew we owned, to join the first one there on the counter.

Then, emptying one of the sinks of its precariously balanced contents, I draw a basin of hot soapy water.

As the sink fills, I designate other places for dishes and for cups and for saucers -each to each -all according to size. Warming to the familiar task, I take comfort in the muffled sound of the water sighing under its foamy cloak… almost like a prayer.

And so Rosh Hashanah continues (for me).  Nothing getting washed just yet.   Just making the insurmountable seem... surmountable.

Next the sterling flatware and serving pieces are gathered into a soup pot full of soapy water, and the linen napkins are bundled with the tablecloth into the hamper in the laundry room.

With the leftovers put safely into the refrigerator and the trash bundled to the bin, the place is starting to look more sane; not one iota cleaner, mind you... but the illusion of order has begun to emerge from the chaos.

Now pots and pans of every shape and size are filled with soapy water and placed on the stove and counter to soak. Measuring cups and carving knives are placed beside legions of serving platters. Spices are returned to their places and canisters of flour and sugar are returned to their shelves… each gesture creating a bit of space… and again, that comforting suggestion of emerging order.

And so Rosh Hashanah ends (for me)… nothing having been washed just yet.  But the insurmountable beginning to seem… surmountable.

I stand now in the spiritual doorway between Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur… balanced on the threshold between what I have created during the year…and what I have consumed. I haven’t yet washed a thing, although some of the bigger problems have been identified and have been placed in to soak. The glasses all sit with their fellows and the dishes are stacked according to size. Everything still bears the smudges and smears of too much fun… and too much indulgence.

But now as I look around, the task seems manageable… surmountable. 

As I stand listening to the soft ahhhhhhhhhh of the soap bubbles as they settle in the sink, I am almost ready for Yom Kippur. I know what has to be washed… and I know (hope) that after the necessary amount of work I will find myself at the end of Yom Kippur’s fast with the dish towel in my hands, surveying the sparkling china… the lovingly polished sterling… the immaculate crystal… each in its place, and the house looking (and feeling) ready for a fresh beginning.

May we all be inscribed and sealed for a good year.

Posted by David Bogner on September 24, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thoughts on Time

Time is a theme that weighs heavy on my mind this time of year.  The following are a couple of thoughts (from others) that I had wanted to print out and share with my family over Rosh HaShannah.  

Except that time got away from me before the holiday started, and I kinda forgot.  I'm Captain Paradox, and my superpower is 'irony'.

"Instead of saying, "I don't have time", try saying, "It's not a priority" and see how that feels. Often that's a perfectly adequate explanation. "I have time to iron my sheets but I don't want to... so it isn't a priority".  But other situations are harder; try these: "I'm not going to edit your resume, sweetie, because it isn't a priority". "I don't go to the doctor because my health isn't a priority". If those phrases (and others like them), don't sit well, that's sort of the point. Changing our language reminds us that time is a choice. If we don't like how we are spending an hour, we can change our priorities. "

Laura Vanderkam  (slight paraphrasing by me)

Here's another one:

"The infinite possibilities each day holds should stagger the mind. The sheer number of experiences I could have is uncountable, breathtaking, and I'm sitting here refreshing my inbox.

We live trapped in loops, reliving a few days over and over, and we envision only a handful of paths laid out ahead of us. We see the same things each day, we respond the same way, we think the same thoughts, each day a slight variation on the last, every moment smoothly following the gentle curves of societal norms. We act like if we just get through today, tomorrow our dreams will come back to us.

And no, I don't have all the answers. I don't know how to jolt myself into seeing what each moment could become. But I do know one thing: the solution doesn't involve watering down my every little idea and creative impulse for the sake of someday easing my fit into a mold. It doesn't involve tempering my life to better fit someone's expectations. It doesn't involve constantly holding back for fear of shaking things up."

Randall Munroe (of xkcd fame)

 

Posted by David Bogner on September 24, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, August 27, 2017

I Have a Friend Named Shmuel

[This post may seem too raw or too direct or too soon for some.  It may seem to walk roughshod over the unwritten rule that one shouldn't speak ill of the dead (which, if we're being honest with ourselves really means one shouldn't speak with complete honesty about the dead).  It's partly out of a sense of fair play that these conventions have become enshrined in practice.  After all from the earliest age we are taught that if you don't have anything nice to say... don't say anything at all.  And certainly not if the person being discussed is not there to defend him/herself.  I want to be clear from the outset that this post is a labor of love and is not meant to damage or disparage anyone's memory.  It is meant to be a contribution to an ad hoc cooperative project where countless grieving people who hold only a few pieces of a complex puzzle are allowed to glimpse the pieces that have been hidden from view, and perhaps find some closure by gaining a more complete view of a person who had such a central and profound place in our lives. If you are looking for blame or excuses, you won't find them here.  And if you seek to control a legacy or shield yourself (or others) from a less than eulogy-worthy recollection of a man... please read no further.  This is a discussion for grown-ups.  Each reader will know if they are prepared for a grown-up discussion.  Lastly, I must stress that I am as flawed and biased a person as any man who has ever lived.  I am entitled to pass judgement on no man, and my opinion is worth only the value you may place on it.  Like the parable about the group of blind men grasping at parts of an elephant, their individual assessments are valid, limited and ultimately wrong.  I accept that I am basing my observations on sadly limited information, but that maybe, by sharing our impressions, in time we can all come to an honest, loving understanding of the elephant in the room, and in our hearts.]

 

I first met Shmuel at a camp in the Catskills where we were both in our mid 20s and scheduled to play in the band for a youth group retreat; he on drums and I on trombone.  But when we were introduced, we weren't playing... we were eating, an activity that would be almost as central to our friendship as our shared love of music.

What made our meeting particularly memorable was the fact that Shmuel sat across the table from me, trying in vain to flag down one of the teen-aged waiters for a bottle of ketchup to go with the impressive mound of hot dogs and hamburgers he had piled on his plate.  After one last fruitless attempt to obtain some ketchup, Shmuel shrugged at me and tucked into his lunch with gusto.

Exactly at the moment he finished the last morsel of meat on his plate, a harried young man in an apron ran up and plopped a squeeze bottle of ketchup at Shmuel's elbow,  Without missing a beat, he raised it in my direction as if making a toast, and tipped it back like a bottle of beer... finishing two thirds of the red condiment before slamming it back on the table.

My expression must have been one of bafflement, because by way of an explanation he said, "You can't have hot dogs and hamburgers without ketchup!".

To borrow Morgan Freeman's line from the beginning of 'The Shawshank Redemption', "Yeah, I think it would be fair to say... I liked [Shmuel] from the start".

From that first encounter and many more like it, I realized that Shmuel thoroughly enjoyed doing the unexpected.

No, that isn't exactly correct.  It was much more than that.  His very persona depended upon being unpredictable.  He was the one in any group who would deliberately defy, and more often than not, explode, any standard social convention.

He was unconventionality, writ large.

It didn't occur to me then, or even during the more than 30 years of our on again, off again friendship, that maintaining that role must have been mentally and physically exhausting for him.

Think about the person in your social group who always seems to have a joke ready... or the one who seems to have an inexhaustible supply of ecdotes handy for any occasion.  There is homework and preparation that go into maintaining those roles, even if at first blush it seems effortless.

Shmuel's role in any group was to be larger than life.

If someone mentioned spotting a celebrity or politician, Shmuel had a story about a close personal friendship with a former General, Mossad Chief or Prime Minister to recount.  A part of me wanted to call 'bullshit' on many of these stories.  But another part deeply enjoyed that two degrees of separation Shmuel afforded me to the rich and powerful people who seemed to populate his world. Make no mistake, if any of his tales lacked perfect candor, we were all willing participants in the possible deceptions, small and large. 

But the reality-gaps between Shmuel and those who knew him were far greater than that.  

We all have mortgages and do the daily financial triage in which modern grown-ups engage in order to maintain the illusion of stability. Shmuel didn't go to work (at least not in any organized or conventional sense), yet somehow he had a fabulous house, nice cars and a collection of whiskeys and wines that could only be described in Edwardian terms of quality and quantity.

Everything about Shmuel seemed a bit magical. But upon reflection, that descriptive is probably quite apt.

Just as a magician relies on careful placement of the audience and props to carry out convincing slight of hand, Shmuel artfully arranged his various social audiences in such a way that they saw only what he wanted them to see... and were hidden from the underpinnings of the illusions he created, and from each other.

To the extent that it was humanly possible, Shmuel created carefully curated groups of acquaintances (and in some cases, friends), who remained perfectly isolated from one another.  In George Costanza terms, his worlds were never allowed to touch one another.  To be clear, I don't want to imply anything sinister or intentionally dishonest.  I'm not even sure Shmuel was completely aware of what he was doing.  I think he was actually a bit of a savant when it came to setting the stage on which he performed his frequent miracles.

Most of us experience moments of discomfort when our work, home and social lives overlap.  This is because we have slightly different personas in each place, and having those worlds overlap places us in an awkward position of having to decide which persona is real, or at least dominant.  Like most other things, Shmuel simply accepted this natural internal conflict and took it to new heights.

In any event, this careful partitioning of his various worlds worked out quite nicely for Shmuel.

Until one day his worlds collided.

Those of us who populated the orbits of those various Shmuel-systems will likely debate for some time to come what led to the collision.   But from my vantage point in a warm orbit in his musician universe, it seemed inevitable. No juggler, no matter how deft or talented can keep that many balls in the air forever.

Without going into prurient details, what happened was that one day his wife was confronted with fairly irrefutable evidence of something that would be a deal-breaker for most reasonable people, and his perfect world began to come apart at the seams.

As those who knew him desperately tugged on those loose threads he had so carelessly allowed to protrude from the fabric of his carefully segregated worlds, the thin curtains that had shielded his many spheres from one another were pulled aside.

The Great and Powerful Oz turned out to be a man after all... with all the flaws and frailties inherent in the species.

As the fallout from the collision bared the framework of Shmuel's financial world, and led to the acquaintence of people who were never meant to meet, it became increasingly clear to any casual observer that smoke and mirrors played as important a role in Shmuel's apparent affluence as his considerable financial acumen.

And the more the attorneys played wack-a-mole with Shmuel's assets, the harder it became for him to maintain any semblance of solvency.  Sadly, for anyone who makes their living being trusted with other people's money, insolvency is perhaps the only unforgivable sin.

Yet, somehow, Shmuel went about building new worlds, and set them in new orbits around himself.

I was relegated to a distant Plutonian orbit... which was mostly okay with me, having been burned a few too many times by the proximity of his marriage and personal relationships as they went super-nova.  But I still missed him deeply.

Just as I said earlier that many of us gladly basked in the fame by association of Shmuel's star-studded circle of [real or imaginary] friends... we were found guilty by association by the court of public opinion as gossip mongers drove people to choose sides and assign blame. Anyone who thought they could have one without the other was quickly disabused of that notion.

But time marches on.

Shmuel met and married a new wife at the far reaches of his new universe... or so it seemed, since so few of his former friends had even glimpsed her.

Those of us who were desperately struggling to reconcile Shmuel's behavior with the person we had met and come to love years before were left grasping for straws.  Until a single word began to dominate the way I came to view Shmuel (in hindsight and in the present). It was a powerful, tragic word that was suggested to me by a mutual friend who is a physician:

The word is 'Manic'.

Rather than color the definition with his own baggage, this doctor friend told me to look it up.

According to the current standards of assessment, to be considered to have had a manic episode, at least three of the following must be present:

  • Inflated self-esteem or grandiosity
  • Decreased need for sleep (e.g., one feels rested after only 3 hours of sleep)
  • More talkative than usual or pressure to keep talking
  • Flight of ideas or subjective experience that thoughts are racing
  • Attention is easily drawn to unimportant or irrelevant items
  • Increase in goal-directed activity (either socially, at work or school; or sexually) or psychomotor agitation
  • Excessive involvement in pleasurable activities that have a high potential for painful consequences (e.g., engaging in unrestrained buying sprees, sexual indiscretions, or foolish business investments)

In my unschooled, layman's assessment, Shmuel passed that diagnostic threshold with ease on more occasions than I could count.

And somehow, learning the definition of that one word was a priceless, liberating gift.

By framing his behavior in terms of mental illness instead of malice or intent, I no longer had to struggle with the idea of forgiving Shmuel (something I was having great difficulty doing), and placed him mostly beyond blame or responsibility.

I realize now (with shame and remorse), that many of the things that drew us all to Shmuel were actually textbook symptoms of an illness which I suspect contributed to his death at a tragically young age.

Reading back over this piece, I was a bit shocked to notice that I had used the present tense in the title even as I wrestled to come to terms with Shmuel's death.

The mind is funny that way; saying what we are really thinking even when it defies the facts before our eyes.

The truth is, I'm devastated over the loss of my friend.  But in many ways, I lost that friend years ago... at least in the shared sense that most people take from the word friendship.

If I'm being honest, I'd been using the past tense in pretty much all my thoughts about Shmuel for some time; pining for a time in our relationship when he was more in control of his demons and I was less in control of mine.

Now, as I mourn him and come to terms with the personal challenges he must have faced, perhaps I can allow myself the luxury of thinking of Shmuel exclusively in the present tense.  In my heart he can now safely remain that larger-than-life friend who made me feel larger-than-life when we were together.

In my heart we will be forever celebrating our bachelorhood together... our young married lives together... our fatherhood together... our new lives in Israel together.

And in my mind's eye, Shmuel and I will forever be sitting together, up to our necks in a cool stream in northern Israel, with the sun on our shoulders, sipping bourbon and pitying anyone who isn't us at that very moment.

Better times

Because as much pain as Shmuel may have caused those who loved him most in recent years... to me, the world is a poorer, duller, less colorful place without him in it.

So if it's all the same to you, I will continue to use the present tense to carry him along with me... as I try my best to carry on.

Posted by David Bogner on August 27, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (8)

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

A Bit of Perspective, Please!

Look, I get that to descendants of African slaves, being confronted throughout the southern United States by daily reminders of a regime that chose to secede from the Union rather than bow to Federal demands to abandon the cruel institution of slavery, must be demoralizing and degrading.

But trying to sanitize the south of its Confederate symbols and monuments - especially at this late date - smacks of partisan showmanship more than cultural sensitivity.  After all during the deliberately harsh period called 'reconstruction', the carpetbagger functionaries had ample opportunity to nip such pride-filled, nostalgic public displays in the bud.

And it is worth noting, that a confederate memorial on Martha's Vineyard that I noticed on many of my family vacations to that Massachusetts Island, still stands proudly and unchallenged to this day!  In fact, in an article about that monument's re-dedication ceremony after having been lovingly restored in 2001, contained the following breath of fresh air:

This monument was proposed,” said Mr. Streit, “not as an attempt to justify or rationalize the cause many in the South fought for. We should be clear from the beginning that this monument is not about excusing or explaining the grotesque and inhuman system of slavery. This monument was conceived and built as an icon of healing — as a testament to our nation’s need to come together again in spite of all the killing, all the casualties, all the destruction that both sides endured.”

And let's be very clear, Robert E. Lee was not a demon in need of a modern exorcism ceremony.  He was no more or less passionate about the institution of slavery than many of his former West Point Colleagues who opted to fight on the Union side.  After careful consideration (he had been offered command of the Union Army by Lincoln), Lee decided his loyalty to his home state outweighed his loyalty to the Union (not an uncommon sentiment at a time when that very issue was at the center of secessionist debate).  So he decided to resign his commission in the U.S. Army and accepted a commission as the commander of the armed forces of the State of Virginia. 

The idea that violence erupted in 2017 over the proposed removal of a statue of General Robert E. Lee from a public park is both misguided and devoid of historical justification.  After all, once the Union turned Lee's family plantation into its National Cemetery (does Arlington ring a bell?), any future insult to his memory rather pales by comparison.

And if someone were to posit that any symbol reminiscent of slave-holding regimes must be removed and destroyed, I would ask if that should apply to the Romans as well?  Should we tear down all remnants of the Roman empire, or are some chapters of history more worthy of preservation than others?

While you're pondering that, consider the fact that the Romans oversaw the capture and cruel servitude of far more slaves than the confederacy ever did!  In fact, the staggering number of Jewish slaves that were exported to the Italian peninsula by the Romans after the destruction of the second Temple was reported by contemporary historians to have been so great that it ruined the market price of slaves for decades afterwards.

I'm not trying to be glib here.  I'm just wondering out loud if we (and by 'we' I am talking about everyone), aren't trying a little too hard to score points by lashing out at the dearly held talismans of our political opponents?

I'm Jewish.  So it stands to reason that the sight of Nazi imagery such as swastikas and SS uniforms should be repugnant to me.  And on some level,they are.  But I was starting High School when United States Supreme Court ruled that the use of the Swastika is a symbolic form of free speech entitled to First Amendment protections, and determined that the swastika itself did not constitute "Fighting Words". Its ruling allowed the National Socialist Party of America to march. [source]

That stuck with me.  I was angry about it at the time... but on some level it was reassuring that the laws and institutions of my country were deemed strong enough to withstand such poor treatment and blatant abuse.  

Further, I remember an AP history teacher explaining to us that it was downright inspiring that the opposing sides had fought their battle largely in the courtroom, and not on the street, as would have happened in a country with a weaker constitution and/or an imbalance of powers between the various branches of government.  "Taking the law into their own hands", he had said, "would have been the surest sign that they had no confidence in the rule of law.".

In the end, I'm sad to say that as shocking as I found the lethal car attack on the crowd demonstrating against the neo-Nazis, what has been haunting me at night is the scene that followed shortly afterwards, where left wing demonstrators took the law into their own hands and settled the central issue of the dispute by summarily tearing down and destroying the contested statue of General Lee.

As tragic as the car attack was, it was a one-off criminal offense perpetrated by a hate-filled madman.  That the left-wing mob deciding to bypass the courts and decided for themselves what is and isn't fit to display in a public park, will echo for years, and will probably be seen as a precedent to be emulated elsewhere by those wishing to right real or imagined wrongs.  After all, a length of rope and a towing hitch are far cheaper and more expedient remedies than years of legal wrangling with an uncertain result.

This was a test case in American history every bit as important as the National Socialist Party of America v. Village of Skokie.

And sadly, when scholars look back on this week's events through the clear lens of time, it will be the American left that will be held responsible for breaking faith with the constitution, and with the institutions that document so thoughtfully established and carefully nurtured.

To be sure, there were monsters worthy of eternal revulsion before and during the Civil War.  But Robert E. Lee - a deeply principled gentleman and exemplary military officer -  certainly wasn't one of them.  It is troubling that his statue became the rallying point for people General Lee would have found irredeemable and repugnant... and that his statue was ultimately illegally toppled and destroyed by people in whose company he would have probably felt far more comfortable.

Now you say something, Jordan.

Posted by David Bogner on August 15, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (13)

Monday, August 07, 2017

Support BDS? Then be prepared to really boycott Israel!

Over the years there have been no lack of catchy YouTube videos and emails pointing out all the Israeli medical, scientific and technical inventions and innovations... and how if the haters were really serious about boycotting everything Israeli, their lives would be rather primitive, and likely significantly shorter.

Yesterday, it was announced that Palestinian 'diplomat' Saeb Erekat, one of the most strident Israel-bashers, and disseminators of blood libels* and lies about Israel, had requested to be placed on the waiting list to receive a lung transplant in Israel.

Let's pause a moment to let that register.

Here is a guy who has made a career out of trying to vilify and isolate Israel through calls to boycott diplomatic, commercial, educational and medical cooperation with the Jewish State.  

Yet now that a lifetime of heavy smoking has caught up with him, he fully expects that the very Israeli medical establishment that he has tried to strangle, and which he has accused of illegal organ trafficking (and even of having killed Palestinians in order to harvest their organs!), will let bygones be bygones and give him a new lease on life.

The crazy thing is that he will probably get his wish.

For decades the powerful and wealthy among our enemies have been quietly sending their family members to Israel for life-saving surgeries and treatments.  Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas sent his wife's brother to Israel for life-saving heart surgery [source].  Hamas leader and former Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh sent his sister's husband to Israel for life-saving surgery [source].  Senior Hamas member Nayef Rajoub received spinal surgery in Tel Aviv.  Last year a member of the Bahraini royal family came to Israel for life-saving surgery [source].

The list, like the hypocrisy, goes on and on.

However, unlike many of the other medical treatments that Israel has offered to those calling for our isolation and destruction, the pending transplant requested by Saeb Erekat is slightly different in that it requires more than just skilled surgeons and world-class hospitals; it also requires a donor.

Therefore, in addition to sending a formal letter of protest to Israeli Minister of Health, Yakov Litzman and the National Transplant Center (you can click on those links to be able to send your own emails of protest), I have taken my Adi Donor card out of my wallet and locked it away in my safe.  I have also given clear instruction to my wife and family that in the case of my untimely demise, I do not authorize the harvesting and donation of any of my organs so long as Erekat remains a potential recipient.

This parasitic behavior must stop.  The very definition of a parasitism is when one entity benefits at the expense (and to the detriment) of another.  So long as our enemies portray their struggle for a Palestinian state as a zero sum game where one side can only gain at the expense of an equal loss on the part of the other side, anything that is done to benefit the Palestinians can only hurt Israel.

The world is silent when the Palestinians make cynical use of ambulances to transport fighters and weapons, and hospitals to house their military headquarters.  I won't remain silent while this scumbag incites terrorists to kill Israelis with the full expectation that his own life will be saved by an Israeli donor, surgeon and hospital.

If someone wants to talk about peaceful coexistence, you know where to find me.  But if you call yourself my blood enemy, don't come to me for a donation.

 

* During the Second Intifada, Erekat called the IDF operation to uproot the terror infrastructure in the town of Jenin a "massacre" and a "war crime", alleging in interviews to multiple international media outlets that Israel had killed more than 500 Palestinians in the Jenin refugee camp. After the incident was investigated, it was determined that the Palestinian death toll was between 53 and 56, mostly combatants. [source]

Posted by David Bogner on August 7, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (2)

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Addressing Things 'Head On'

I'm sure most of you have had to wrestle with this dilemma at one time or another:  A friend or business colleague gets a scary diagnosis and begins navigating their own personal version of hell.  How do you relate to them with this new information hovering in the room?

They run the gauntlet between doctors' appointments, debilitating treatments and maybe even surgeries... with each one whacking off small pieces of their self-esteem, souls, and maybe even their bodies.

And somehow - especially if they are women - through it all, they are expected to keep their family lives on an even keel, and even 'comfort' well-meaning distraught friends and family who inexplicably express a range of emotions that would be more appropriate at a funeral or shivah (the seven-day mourning period observed in Judaism after the death of an immediate family member).

Zahava and I have a close friend - a young woman with a husband and three young kids, whose life has been deeply intertwined with ours for the past 15 or 20 years - who was recently diagnosed with breast cancer.  

As if life wasn't being unfair enough to this young woman, she got the bad news as a result of a routine follow-up check-up after having undergone a prophylactic double mastectomy due to a family history of cancer and a bad result on the the BRCA Gene Test (a blood test that uses DNA analysis to identify harmful changes  - mutations - in either one of the two breast cancer susceptibility genes — BRCA1 and BRCA2).

Seriously, this girl did everything right.  She eats right, exercises, runs marathons (you can pretty much bounce coins off her, she's so fit!).  And when she got her BRCA test results, she made the incredibly brave and selfless decision to have her boobs lopped off.

And yet... here we are.

Which leads me to the dilemma:  How we, the friends and family of people going through this kind of thing, fit in and act.

As I've already intimated,the last thing someone with a cancer diagnosis is looking for is pity. 

They may need help with managing their day-to-day responsibilities when chemo incapacitates them and doctor's appointments keep them from getting their kids to and from extra-curricular activities (our community has stepped up admirably in this respect with rotating meal preparation and logistical help).  

But what they don't need is puppy-dog head tilts, sad eyes, tongue clucking, whispered medical terms or recommendations for the miraculous curative properties of ginseng tea, kale enemas or Mexican crystals.  

Trust me, if they want to explore 'alternative medicine', they are probably waaaay ahead of anything you can possibly share with them (the Internet is one scary-ass repository of fear mongers peddling such crap). 

You may not fully appreciate it, but while your friend or relative has received a scary diagnosis, they are still the same person.  And they desperately need you to remain the same person they know and love.  While they are losing control of many aspects of their day-to-day lives, the constancy and predictability that you represent are safe harbors in a stormy sea.  If you allow someone's bad news to set you emotionally adrift, don't be surprised to find a growing distance between you.  They need calm waters and secure anchors... not more sturm und drang!

But that does't mean pretending everything is okay, or that everything is as it was.  Illness takes a toll on a person... as do many of the treatments.  It took life 25+ years to take away my hair.  It takes chemo a matter of days.

From discussions with our friend, I knew her beautiful strawberry blonde tresses' days were numbered.  And knowing how assertive our friend is, I wasn't surprised when my wife told me that rather than wait for the chemo to make her hair fall out in great handfuls, she had elected to get out ahead of it and shave her head.

Yesterday evening I was headed out to my car and I ran into our friend walking with her daughter on the street.  She was as beautiful as ever, albeit  with a head full of stubble, and I was suddenly faced with a decision I hadn't fully considered; to acknowledge the obvious or ignore the elephant in the room?

I made a split-second decision which was probably somewhat at odds with the norms of our mostly religiously observant community, and grabbed her smiling face in both hands and planted a big kiss on the top of her head.

I don't know who was more shocked, the two grown-ups or the little girl... but the deed was done.  To close the deal, I smiled at her and said, "You're really rocking the look"...  and meant it.  She is really that gorgeous, even without her hair!  Then I waved and continued on to my car.  The smiles I got from my friend and her daughter reassured me that I hadn't overshot the mark (at least not by too much).

We all have an expiration date stamped on us somewhere, and life is far too short to regret missed opportunities.  

I know there have been private tears in our friend's life lately, and countless worried conversations late at night between her and her husband.  So I will never regret the smile I saw on her (and her daughter's) face, when I planted that smooch on her newly shaved scalp.  

And even on the off chance that on some level my kiss embarrassed her... I'd rather she dwell on that this morning while she's getting her next chemo treatment... rather than obsess about the inevitable side-effects waiting to ambush her over the next couple of days.

Everyone will have their own way of being there for friends in times of need.  I've decided that for me, the best approach for this particular friendship is to address things head on, so to speak.  

If you assign any value to the power of prayer, put in a good word for my friend and neighbor, Noa Bat Tova.  

She's a fighter, but we can never have enough friends in our corner.

Posted by David Bogner on July 30, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (6)

Monday, July 24, 2017

In Medical Terms

They're like anti-vaxer parents; enjoying the safety provided by others while denying the danger they harbor. 

Metal detectors: society’s vaccines!

Posted by David Bogner on July 24, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

[Today's] Favorite Cocktail

Zahava and I are not big drinkers.  But we do enjoy a glass of wine with meals, as well as the occasional postprandial cocktail.

Our taste in wines and mixed drinks is both transient and eclectic, which makes us susceptible to picking up new 'favorites' from friends and relatives... as well as from the random tipples we encounter in our travels.

I have a long relationship with Bourbon Manhattans that has withstood the test of time.  The preference for Bourbon over Rye I got from my dad, who has always been a Bourbon man.  But other than that, I haven't been too picky about what goes into this basic and nearly fool-proof cocktail.

That is, until the recent one-two combination of a trip to Italy followed by a visit to my sister Elizabeth, opened my eyes to the possibilities.

First the Italy trip.  

Zahava and I were enjoying one of several meals we ate in the Roman Ghetto last summer.  After dinner we asked the waiter to recommend a digestif to go with the desert we were going to share (we were both stuffed!).  He offered us a choice of grappa (which Zahava doesn't love), and Luxardo Maraschino (a clear Italian liquor distilled from sour Marasca cherries).  We had never had the latter so we opted for that.  

Heaven!  When we got back to Israel I tracked down a store that carried it and have endeavored to keep a bottle on hand.

As to my sister... each time I have visited her in recent years, I've been floored by how much better her Manhattans are than the ones I mix up at home.  Okay, to be fair, I've been floored by the alcohol content of the multiple Manhattans I usually have when visiting her... but they really do always taste better than mine.

It turns out there are a few reasons Liz's are better than mine.  

First, she uses Rye instead of Bourbon.  There is a difference!

And second, she doesn't use those bright red Shirley Temple-style cherries for the garnish.  Instead, she buys the original deep red Maraschino Marasca cherries from the Luxardo company in Italy (yes, the same one that makes the liquor I mentioned above).  She also adds a teaspoon or two of the Marasca cherry syrup from the jar to the cocktail.

Recently, I've been trying to think of anything that could possibly improve on Liz's Rye Manhattan, and it occurred to me that a splash of the Maraschino liquor would be a nice touch.  It is.

And in addition to a dash or two of the Angostura Bitters which the standard drink recipe calls for, I thought maybe a dash or two of orange bitters would go nicely.  It does.

The following, ladies and gentlemen, is my latest take on the venerable Manhattan cocktail (makes two generous servings):

Maraschino Lover's Perfect Rye Manhattan

  • 4 oz. Rye whiskey 
  • 2 oz. sweet vermouth (I use the kosher Martini Rossa found here in Israel) 
  • 1 oz. Luxardo Maraschino liqueur
  • 4 dashes Angostura Bitters
  • 4 dashes Angostura Orange Bitters
  • 2 tsp. Luxardo Maraschino Cherry juice 

Shake well in a cocktail shaker with cracked ice and serve in chilled glasses with a garnish of orange slices and Maraschino Cherries.

[Depending on the feedback, I may do a semi-regular cocktail/wine post here on treppenwitz]

Posted by David Bogner on June 20, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (4)

Thursday, June 15, 2017

If You Didn't See This Coming...

... you weren't looking very hard!

Heck, if anyone is honestly surprised by yesterday's shooting in Alexandria, VA., they had their head in the sand.

Let's forget that the shooter happened to be a far left wing 'moonbat'.  He could just as easily  have been a 'wingnut' from the fringes of the political right.  The extremists are always the vanguard of any conflict... but when push comes to shove, they inevitably have the mainstream firmly at their back.

My point is that political discourse in the US has become so toxic and disconnected from reality that it has, for all intents and purposes, ceased to be discourse.  Instead of an earnest discussion or debate of the issues of the day, it has become an aggressive, belligerent game of dogma-tennis played with political mortars and grenades lobbed over the partisan battlements. 

In warfare, one of the challenges facing the military establishment, and society as a whole, is to justify setting aside the tenet of 'Thou Shalt Not Kill'.  This is accomplished by an organized campaign of vilification of the enemy... to such an extreme extent that they can be viewed as something less than human.  After all, the prohibition is only against killing one's fellow man; so those monsters over there must be fair game!

If you look at some of the propaganda films put out during WWII, you can clearly see the Nazis (always Nazis... never just Germans, because that would allow one to think in terms of civilians), as cruel, unfeeling monsters.  And the Japanese were portrayed as reptilian automatons!  Then, and only then, could the allied countries get behind sending our wholesome boys out to mow them down like weeds and burn entire cities like garbage heaps.

Such is the nature of warfare.  To set aside the rules of civilization, the enemy must be seen to be well outside civilized norms.  Think about that the next time you hear someone called a 'Nazi' or ''Fascist'  over their political beliefs.  

Unfortunately, such is now the nature of political discourse in the US.  

Nobody is actually talking anymore.  They are broadcasting a one-way stream of invective and venom.  Ideas and philosophies are no longer debated on campus or in the halls of government.  Instead, each side has drawn its battle lines, and everyone on the other side of those lines is held up as the most extreme, crazy, dangerous transgressor of dearly held political orthodoxy.  

The language and venom used by both sides is indistinguishable from heresy accusations between competing religious sects.  For the reactions they garnered, each party's platforms during the presidential election might as well have been the 95 Theses nailed to the door of the Wittenberg Castle church!

If you ask historians what the 100 Years War was about, they will tell you it was "a series of conflicts waged from 1337 to 1453 by the House of Plantagenet, rulers of the Kingdom of England, against the House of Valois, rulers of the Kingdom of France, over the succession of the French throne".[source]

But if pressed, as to why the warfare in that conflict was particularly savage, most will be forced to admit that the English and French setting aside the religious rules of warfare had a great deal to do with it.  After all, both sides had invoked religious justification for their cause (read up on the 'Great Schism of 1378').  So even though the rules of chivalry and warfare among Christians demanded humane treatment of captives and allowed for negotiation and compromise where possible, the moment the other side was deemed to be heretics... all rules went out the window.

One of the more famous battles of the 100 Years War took place at Agincourt in 1415.  The French King flew the Oriflamme (from Latin aurea flamma, "golden flame"); the battle standard which indicated that no quarter would be granted to captured or surrendering enemy forces. The battle is also notable for the use of the English Long Bow which allowed large scale killing from a remote position... another departure from the accepted rules of chivalry.

All this was made possible - inevitable, actually - by the battle lines being drawn along 'all or nothing' zero sum terms.  A respected adversary had to be treated chivalrously.  A heretical enemy could be slaughtered without remorse.

Rory William St Clere Cox, a lecturer at The University of St. Andrews put it quite succinctly when discussing the increasingly religious nature of the rift between the English and the French:  "The interaction between war and religion helped to create increasingly xenophobic and jingoistic societies, so that a conflict which began as a dynastic or feudal struggle increasingly came to be understood in terms of a national crusade". [source]

Sound familiar?  It ought to.

On his way to the the baseball field yesterday, the shooter - James T. Hodgkinson - is reported to have stopped a departing player (Rep. DeSantis), to ask who was on the field, Democrats or Republicans?  Even from the dugout it wasn't immediately apparent who was who.   They all looked like a bunch of middle aged men in baseball uniforms engaged in the national pastime.  

But once they were identified as Republicans, their attire became enemy uniforms, and in his mind they became legitimate targets.

I have no idea how we got to this present state of partisan warfare in the US, or how we might extricate ourselves from the trenches long enough to be able to see the 'soldiers' on the other side as people just like us.

But so long as we continue to hold up our political views as sacrosanct doctrine instead of simple political constructs, we will increasingly be drawn into religious wars from which there can be no chance of compromise or quarter.  And the bodies will continue to pile up on the battlefield... even if it looks just like a ball-field.

Posted by David Bogner on June 15, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (8)

Friday, June 09, 2017

Let's be honest...

Memo to Lebanon (and Jordan, and much or the Muslim world) on banning the screening of the new Wonder Woman movie starring Israeli actress Gal Gadot.

You claim the motivation is that she used to do this:

But let's be honest, for a change. What really bothers you is that she still does this:

Meanwhile, shame on the world for their silence in the face of any sort of boycott based on the nationality and/or religion of a movie's star.

I wonder what the New York Times headlines would look like if Israel ever banned the screening of a film because the star came from a culture or country the government found offensive or distasteful. I imagine the object of such an Israeli boycott would be an automatic winner at the various film festivals around the world.

 

Posted by David Bogner on June 9, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, June 05, 2017

What's In Your Coffee Kit?

Since moving to Israel 14 years ago, I have been commuting about an hour each way to my job in Beer Sheva.

Almost as soon as I started doing this commute, word got around among the Army and University crowd and I began getting requests for 'tremps' (rides) from people in my community (I've written about this at length in the past).

After some time, I began to get 'regulars'; students who had to go south every Sunday morning for the week's classes as well as soldier's serving at bases throughout the Negev desert.

I've mentioned this because at the end of the first academic year, three young women who had been my 'regulars'; traveling with me almost every week, chipped in and presented me with a touching gift:  A 'Pakal Cafe' (פק''ל כפה).  That three letter Hebrew acronym stands for פקודת קבע לחייל which very roughly translates as Standard Equipment for a Soldier.  In the US military it would be General Issue (GI).

So what is a 'Pakal?  Technically it can be anything that is standard equipment for a given task, role or setting.  But if you copy and paste פק''ל into a Google image search, most of the results will be for coffee kits.  And that's what those girls gave me.

Despite its name, Israeli coffee kits are anything but standard.  The ones sold commercially share certain commonalities in that they contain at a minimum:

  • A small camping stove
  • Fuel for the stove
  • Containers for sugar and coffee
  • At least 3 small cups for serving the coffee
  • A pouch of some kind to hold it all

In case you didn't have the patience to do the Google search I recommended above, here are a few commercial offerings that show the range from simple to elaborate:

Coffee kit 1

Coffee kit 3

Coffee kit 2

The reason these girls settled on a פק''ל as a thank you gift to me was that they'd noticed that every morning I brought a thermal travel mug full of coffee with me for the drive, and assumed (correctly, as it turned out), that coffee played a fairly central role in my daily routine.  Giving me the ability to fix a hot cup of coffee while camping or on a day trip was indeed a very thoughtful gift.

Over the years, my daughter Ariella has 'borrowed' most of the components such as the little butane stove and the coffee/sugar containers.  But despite my having made so many modifications and substitutions in the contents of my פק''ל that it doesn't contain a single item from the original gift kit... in my mind, what I use is still the פק''ל I got from the three University students.

Today my kit includes my venerable old Svea 123R stove (which I've had since the mid '80s);

Svea 123 1

Svea-123

Instead of the fragile glass cups, I have substituted collapsible silicon cups (which are also easy on the fingers when the coffee is piping hot):

Coffee cups

And I use a range of tiny Tupperware-style plastic containers for coffee, sugar and Splenda.

I've been toying with the idea of adding a little hand grinder to the kit, but the expense (about $25 bucks) and extra space/weight has kept that out of the kit so far.

But given that people love to customize and modify their 'Pakal Cafe' (e.g. travel size French Press, mini espresso maker, etc.), I am wondering what's in yours?  Anything unique or interesting?

Posted by David Bogner on June 5, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (5)

Sunday, May 07, 2017

Please Stop Making Me Cringe!

There is a tempest in a teacup brewing today over an ad outlining the President's accomplishments in his first 100 days, that the Trump team has tried, unsuccessfully, to place on pretty much all the major US networks.

It turns out that all of them - NBC, CBS, ABC, CNN - except for Fox, have refused to accept the ad.

Depending on who you rely upon to reinforce your bias, your outrage might be directed at either:

a)  the networks for what the Trump team has called "an unprecedented act of censorship in America that should concern every freedom-loving citizen";

OR

b)  the Trump team for creating a 30 second spot that both verbally and visually labels the mainstream media as 'Fake News', and then expecting the media outlets to run said ad spot that openly insults them.

To be clear, we're talking about a paid ad... not a press conference or some other typical media event.

To put it in perspective, let's ask ourselves if the Trump Organization would be likely to accept a paid billboard ad to run on the side of one of their famous buildings if the ad openly insulted or lampooned President Trump?  I thought not.

Here's the ad:

Okay, so for so good.  Hopefully you can understand why the Trump team made it, as well as why it would be a silly thing for them to expect the people they are insulting to run it on their networks (even for money).

As I said, a tempest in a teacup... nothing to see here, move along.

Except that Trump's Daughter-In Law - Lara Trump - has now gone public with a really troubling quote:

"Apparently, the mainstream media are champions of the First Amendment only when it serves their own political views." 

Okay, here's why anyone who stayed awake in a high school civics class should be cringing:

The First amendment to the US Constitution states:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."

I would like to draw the reader's attention to the first word:  Congress.

If an individual, or a business or pretty much anyone else except for congress wants to censor you, shut you up or in any way deny you a soapbox from which to express your views, they can.  

Seriously... if you walk into a business and decide to make a speech or hang up political or religious posters, they can throw you out (and tear down your posters).  And for the record, if you come into my home and try to share views I find repugnant or insulting, I can likewise refuse to let you speak and show you the door.  I probably won't... but I could!

So I would advise Lara Trump, and anyone else who thinks that the First Amendment grants them unimpeded rights to place and express their views anywhere they want... that they are mistaken.  

That tricky First amendment only keeps Congress from passing laws that stifle our freedom of speech.  ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN... they are perfectly within their rights to refuse to run an ad that insults them.

Dust off your civics books, people.  Sad!

Posted by David Bogner on May 7, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Coincidence? I think not!

Believe it or not, every single time I've seen a picture of him making this gesture, it's tugged at a distant memory... but I could never put my finger on it.

Then last night it came to me (sorry about the crude photo skilz):

Trump-bug

I am soooo relieved to have finally figured that out!

Posted by David Bogner on April 26, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Morbid Curiosity or Self Preservation?

I'm probably inviting wry comments given the subject of my previous post.  But I'm wondering if I'm alone in feeling a bit resentful and cheated when a news article or obituary about someone's untimely death fails to mention a clear cause or any potentially relevant health history?

Obviously, when someone passes away in old age, such details are perhaps rightly left out (unless the deceased's longevity was considered remarkable specifically because of a history of risky behavior (e.g. heavy smoker, long-time drug and/or alcohol abuse, participation in extreme sports or career involving active participation in military conflicts or documentation of same, etc.).

I think it is more than just morbid curiosity that makes me look for causative information in obituaries and news articles.  After all, it seems reasonable to look for (and presumably learn from), cautionary tales. Otherwise, we relegate our lives and eventual deaths to passive, 'There, but for the grace of G-d, go I' acceptance and helplessness.

I feel this is especially true when celebrities die prematurely.  After all, if they knowingly, or even unwittingly influence countless fans with their risky behavior and unhealthy life choices, shouldn't those same fans be made aware that the risky behavior may have been a contributing factor in their untimely deaths?

To be clear, I'm not suggesting that such information should precede or overshadow a person's accomplishments.  But if we are supposed to learn from a noteworthy person's life... shouldn't we also learn something - at least when there is something to be learned - from their death?

Posted by David Bogner on April 26, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (3)

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Schmaltz Revisited

I've written in the past about how to render schmaltz at home and the wonderful things you can do with it (assuming you keep a supply on hand).

During the years when pretty much everything but celery was accused of raising cholesterol and causing strokes and heart attacks, a special level of scorn was reserved for animal fats (of which schmaltz is pretty much the poster child).

However, most peer-reviewed research has forced scientists and nutritionists to back off their blanket condemnation of things like red meat, eggs and classic sources of animal fats.  In fact, it turns out that a lot of those over-engineered foods, exotic oils and fat substitutes turned out to be far worse for you than eggs and animal fats (eaten in moderation, of course).

So with that in mind, I wanted to remind folks who are restocking their larder (yes, that word comes from exactly where you think it does), after turning over their kitchens post-Passover, that this is a good time to lay in a supply of one of the tastiest and most versatile cooking fats out there:  Schmaltz (or as I like to call it; 'G-d's gift to roasted potatoes').

And best of all, unlike expensive commercial cooking oils, Schmaltz is (or should be) virtually free!  You just need to do a little leg work and preparation.

First of all, you will need to cultivate a relationship with your butcher (or the head of the meat department at your local supermarket).  Just being a good customer and asking the occasional question or advice should be enough.  You don't have to take the guy/girl out for dinner or anything!

Next, once you are known to the meat department, mention that you plan to render some schmaltz at home.  If that word draws a blank stare, take a moment to explain that rendered chicken fat is a delicious cooking aid, and that it is prepared using chicken skin; something the butcher likely throws out by the bag-full every day as he or she cleans and trims poultry for customer orders and the refrigerated display case.

This past Friday morning I picked up enough chicken skin from my butcher to fill a small garbage back, and spent much of the day rendering the golden goodness (see the linked article above for instructions).  The key is a combination of relatively low heat and patience.

On top of that, I cooked Roast Goose for the family for Friday night dinner, so I was able to collect a nice supply of goose fat from the drippings pan I placed strategically under the goose in the oven.

Here are the resulting containers at the end of the process, (the first picture is while the schmaltz is still a warm, translucent liquid, and second is after it has become an opaque white solid after spending Shabbat in the freezer.  The salt shaker is there for context/size.

Shmaltz Before

Shmaltz After

The chicken schmaltz is in the big container and the goose schmaltz is in the smaller one.  This should last for six months or more in the freezer.  

Use in a skillet as you would oil (a few frozen curls shaved off are enough to grease the pan and add incredible flavor.  If you are making roasted vegetables / potatoes, a little bit goes a long way.

Don't thank me... I'm a giver!

Posted by David Bogner on April 23, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (2)