Thursday, April 19, 2018

Happy 70th Birthday, Israel,

Every Israeli has their own holiday traditions.  I’m no exception to the rule.

I haven’t mentioned it over the past few years, but I’ve continued to volunteer every Yom Ha’Atzma’ut (Israel Independence Day), at the Pina Chama; literally a warm corner not far from our house which provides food and drinks throughout the year for soldiers serving in the area.

On Yom Ha’Atzmaut a big group of volunteers throws a big BBQ (locally referred to as a 'mangal’) for the soldiers on duty throughout the region.  Hundreds come in during the day to eat and relax, and we send out meals to hundreds more to wherever they are stationed. 

This is my 15th straight year working the first shift on the grill.  And after I finished my 3 hour shift, I went home and grilled up a nice meal for my family and some friends who joined us.

Here are some photos from the Pina Chama today:

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If you look closely at that second to last photo; the one of the guys working on the grill... that’s me in the middle in the light blue shirt (Zahava would call it turquoise)

Oh, and a neat feature of the place is that many of the thousands of soldiers who have enjoyed the Pina Chama's hospitality hang their unit flags, shoulder tags and other insignia on the walls and ceiling. 

 

Posted by David Bogner on April 19, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (2)

Sunday, April 15, 2018

We Saw what You Did There!

Who doesn't love watching a well-executed magic show or a dexterous card sharp at work?

But since I think we can all agree that there is no such thing as real magic, what we all know with absolute certainty is that anyone carrying out a convincing illusion of something magical in front of an audience must get everyone to look - at least momentarily - away from whatever it is that would reveal how the trick is done.

So even though we're all dazzled and amazed by the deft practitioner... on some level we understand that sleight of hand and misdirection are at the core of any card sharp or stage magician's success. 

This knowledge makes us look even closer... trying to catch them out at their trick.  And when we do catch them out, we all want to be the first one to jump up and shout, "Ahah!  I see what you did there!!!".

So why do we have such low standards when it comes to what we hear and see from political and military leaders when they perform the very same tricks?  All the same elements are present:  Not only do we know from experience that what we are hearing and seeing can't possibly be true.  But we should know from long expereince that the more exagerated the gesture, the more likely it is to be designed to take our eye off of what is really going on.

Take, for example, the news today that Israel has uncovered and destroyed yet another huge terror tunnel that extended into Israeli territory.  None of the newspapers or media outlets that condemned Israel for the deaths and injuries of the Palestinians rushing the border fence last week have seen fit to make mention of the incredible coincidence that the discovered terror tunnel went under the border AT THE EXACT LOCATION along the border fence where that huge 'spontaneous' Palestinian march took place (causing all those poor people to be killed and injured!).

Am I the only one who thinks that, just maybe, those thousands of people were sent there to that exactly location by Hamas in a cynical attempt at misdirection in order to mask the sounds of the digging and drilling going on just a few meters below the protester's feet?

Seriously, just how bad does the magician or card sharp have to be before the audience stands up en masse and yells, "We saw what you did there", and walks out?

Posted by David Bogner on April 15, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Hurts So Good

Thanks for the incredible feedback on my remarks from the Bar Mitzvah.  Not to humble-brag too much, but I had really good material to work with. 

I honestly don't know how school principals and community leaders do it.  I mean, it's easy to speak about exceptional people.  But what the heck do you say about the village idiot? 

I guess what I'm saying (badly) is that anyone who knows Netanel could have nailed that speaking opportunity.  He's a truly exceptional young man from a truly exceptional family.  People are instinctively drawn to him and want to be part of his life.  Saying nice things to him - and about him  - was effortless.  That speech practically wrote itself!  I was just lucky enough to have been asked.

That said, I'd like to share a deep dark secret that I've often wanted to reveal... but always held back because I couldn't figure out how exactly to express it without sounding, well, a little nuts.

I have no frame of reference to know if others experience anything like this, but I've lived most of my life with a cruel paradox: Two things that I'm actually pretty good at - writing and public speaking - cause me to experience something so close to physical pain that it would probably be measurable if I were to do either in a clinical setting while hooked up to complex, 'House M.D.'-worthy diagnostic machines.

But... and here's the part which may send you mental health professionals running to the DSM-5 (or as I like to call it: 'The Family Album'), the aftermath of both writing and public speaking leaves me with an endorphin rush akin to what elite athletes experience in the wake of a punishing workout.   Or at least that's what I've heard they experience. 

Personally, I've never gotten anything more than smelly clothing and sore muscles from even the most arduous physical activity.  So as far as I'm concerned, that whole athletic-endorphin-rush thing remains entirely anecdotal... up there with urban legends, like the existence of courteous Israeli drivers or teenagers that wash dishes without being threatened.

So yeah... that's my dirty little secret.  Writing and public speaking really, really hurt when I do them.   

But it's a good hurt. 

Posted by David Bogner on April 12, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

On Being a 'Dutch Uncle'

Last night Zahava, Yonah and I attended the Bar Mitzvah celebration of a someone about whom I've written in the past.  

He was a great kid back then.  He's a fine young man now.

I was privileged to be asked to be among those who spoke at the party.  Afterwards, I received emails, whatsapps and in person requests for a copy of my remarks from a bunch of people.  So, to save time, I'm posting my speech here:

 

"Last year Zahava and I went to the states to attend the wedding of a young man who had lived with us here for almost four years as a ‘Chayal Boded’ (lone soldier).  And when I was asked to speak, I realized that before I could even begin to think about what I wanted to say, I had to figure out in what capacity I was going to be speaking.

I certainly wasn’t this young man’s father.  His father is my age.  And I was too old to really be considered his friend.

So I was torn, because I felt an odd combination of friendship and fatherly protectiveness towards the groom… but I was neither!

So I was forced to go searching for a hybrid relationship; some sort of close connection that combined fatherly protectiveness with friendly intimacy. 

What I discovered at the end of that search was something called a ‘Dutch Uncle’; an American expression that has mostly fallen out of use.

For you amateur lexicographers:

Dutch Un·cle

noun

NORTH AMERICAN informal

a person who gives firm but benevolent advice.

[By the way, benevolent is just a fancy word for ‘kind’]

 

So, getting back to my story, when I was called up to the Chupah at our Chayal Boded’s wedding this past year, it wasn’t as a father or as a friend… it was as the “Dutch Uncle of the chatan”. 

So why is that story relevant tonight?

Netanel, when I think of you – and I think about you more than you will ever know – I feel that same combination of fatherly protectiveness and friendship.   

On the one hand, I want what any father would want for a son:  To shield you and advise you and hug you close while at the same time giving you your wings setting you free on a course towards success. 

But I’m not your father.  Your father was far smarter, far more patient… and understood you far better than I can ever hope to.

I also want for you what any true friend would want:  To see you happy, confident, having fun, to be completely natural and at ease with you, to earn your trust and loyalty… and to offer those things effortlessly in return.

But I’m much too old to play the role of friend to you. 

You are blessed with lots of good friends much closer to your age; friends who can pass endless hours with you, completely immersed in that secret world of looks, gestures, signals, jokes and mind-reading that comes naturally to teenagers… but which is a complete mystery to anyone as old as myself.

And as much as I’d like you to consider me an uncle-figure, you have real aunts and uncles who love you deeply, and deserve to enjoy that special relationship with you without competition.

So I think what’s left for me is that odd title I mentioned:  ‘Dutch Uncle; someone who is always ready to offer firm but kind advice.

And I am far from alone in that role. 

You don’t even have to look beyond this room to see more Dutch Uncles – and Aunts – than you can shake a stick at!   Just the few I can see from where I’m standing are as impressive a list of ‘Dutch Aunts and Uncles’ as anyone could ever want in their life:

You have people like Rav Moshe Aberman, who casually dispenses his Torah knowledge each week in shul as effortlessly and easily as you or I might share a pocket full of candy.  From that first Friday evening more than two years ago when you began saying Kaddish for your father, Rav Aberman quietly stood next to you, helped you find your place and your voice… and made sure you never, for a single moment, felt alone.  You probably didn’t notice it, but months after he was finished with his own Kaddish obligation, Rav Aberman continued to stand with you whenever and wherever necessary.

You have people like Ari Greenspan who helped teach you to daven for the amud, and who, without you noticing, has quietly been placing more and more responsibility on your shoulders and Yonah’s shoulders… to the point where you two are now essentially helping to run the early minyan as assistant Gabbais.

You have people like Johnny Finn, who asks after you constantly and proudly shares stories of your progress and successes with anyone who will listen.  He is a relentless, but quiet force for good in your life who would move heaven and earth to clear even the smallest obstacle from your path.  Don’t let his jokes fool you.  If things ever get tough… Johnny’s the guy you want in your corner.

You have Rav Rosenstark who taught you your Parsha and Haftarah, and learned with you all year towards the Siyum you made tonight…and Rav Lewis, Rav Shrader, and Rav Oren… together with Rav Aberman, these Torah sages comprise a vast ocean of learning and halachic experience so broad and deep that you could test their limits with questions and requests for advice on nearly any topic, and never once glimpse the shores.

I could, and should, go on.  There are so many men and women in this room – and far beyond its walls – who have stood with you, and who will gladly jump to your side at the slightest gesture or signal from you; people who care deeply about what you think and feel… what you experience and want… and who are watching with proud anticipation to catch a glimpse of the man into which you will ultimately develop and grow.

You have your Father, who – you must believe me – will never be far away. I am 100% certain that he is here with us tonight.  And each and every time you are called to the Torah by name, Netanel Ben Rafa’el, your father will be proudly standing beside you.  You couldn’t ask for a better role model.  As long as you remember your father and keep him in your heart, he will be there to comfort you in your setbacks, share in your successes and guide you throughout your life’s journey.   

You have your mother who is one of the strongest, most wonderful and sensible people I know.  Her moral compass always points true north.  She will continue to guide you, and love and nurture you unconditionally.  She is your sure, constant link to the past… and your secure, straight shining path to the future.

You have your extended family that will always be connected to you by the bonds of love, shared memories and blood.  You may not see them as often as you’d like, but take it from someone who also has a lot of family living half a world away; never take those relationships for granted.  They’re as much a part of who you are as the color of your eyes and the shape of your face.   Email, WhatsApp, Skype, FaceTime… whatever it takes.  It’s up to you to take care of those relationships and keep them healthy.

And of course you have your friends – really good friends – who would lie down in traffic for you (which, of course, I hope will never actually be necessary). Take good care of those friendships.  In this tiny country of ours you will be connected to them by school, army, and work… through the happiest and saddest of times, for the rest of your lives. 

There’s a reason our politicians call each other Bibi and Boogie and Bougie and Baiga and Moody and dozens of other nicknames.  It’s because Israel is a tiny playground where, through good times and bad, 60 and 70 year olds still call each other by the nicknames they’ve had since gan chovah!

And since I’ve brought it up, it is worth pointing out something you have more experience with than most people your age: bad times.

They say that experience is something you don’t get until right after you need it. 

Netanel, I hate to break it to you, but over the coming years you’re going to fall down and skin your knees – both literally and figuratively – a bunch more times.  That’s an inevitable part of growing up. 

But whenever, and as often as it happens, please try to remember that you will never have to go through any of it alone. 

That’s where we come in…the rest of us… your Dutch Uncles and Aunts.  We will always be here to help smooth your way through the world. Call it protexia… call it connections… call it finding short-cuts.  Call it your own personal ‘plugat si’ur’ (recon unit), walking ahead of you and letting you know what to expect… and rescuing you when you find yourself in a tight spot.

You don’t have to make all the mistakes yourself, Natanel. You don’t have to fall into every single trap that life sets for you.

As luck would have it, looking around this room, we’ve probably made most of those same mistakes already… some of us more than we’d like to admit! 

So feel free to benefit from our life experience, and use us like a map to navigate your way through the minefield of adolescence and life beyond.   

Please rest assured… we, your Dutch Aunts and Uncles will always be here for you day or night; ready with a sympathetic ear if you ever feel like talking. 

And when you are faced with decisions and want to know what we think… we won’t get all judgmental like your friends… or all bossy like a parent. 

Just ask us, we’ll be happy to offer you firm but benevolent advice… to give you enough information to help you make up your own mind.  As Dutch Aunts and Uncles, that’s our job. 

Mazal Tov, Netanel!  I think I speak for everyone when I say we couldn’t possibly be prouder!"

Posted by David Bogner on April 11, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

With Deep Gratitude and Much Respect

[A Guest Post by Zahava]

On Sunday afternoon I was devistated to learn that my beloved childhood Rabbi had, in the words of one of his sons, “left us this morning in Jerusalem.”

Since four of his six children make their homes in the US, the funeral was delayed until this morning (Tuesday) to allow the four living abroad time to arrive.

As many people have the custom to wait until after the chessed shel emet of burial to offer comfort to the aveilim (mourners), rather than reach out to the family, I sat down to contemplate the profound sense of loss I was feeling.  Between when I learned of Rabbi Zimand’s (zichro l’vracha), passing and the funeral this morning, I have been sifting through an ocean of warm, happy, and deeply meaningful memories.

I'm sure that my childhood friends have spent the past 24 hours engaged in similar reminiscences and introspection. Such was the impact of Rabbi Zimand’s limitless affection, sense of humor, and ability to connect with people.

There are no words sufficient to describe the tremendous hakaret hatov (gratitude) that I feel whenever I think of Rabbi Zimand, for Mrs. Zimand, and for their entire family; and I know that I am in not alone in these feelings. Their example of loving kindness has influenced countless people.

For those not lucky enough to have known Rabbi Zimand, he was a modern-day Abraham, and the Zimand home was like Abraham and Sarah’s tent; Rabbi Zimand was the personification of hospitality and their home seemed to expand to allow sufficient room and attention for all who entered.

As each of the hespedim (Eulogies) at the funeral emphasized – Rabbi Zimand not only listened as though the speaker were the only person in the universe, he gave sincerely and generously of his time and knowledge. An eternal optimist, he believed with every fiber of his being in the essential goodness and potential for good of all he met.

Raised in a traditional home, as a pre-teen I began exploring a deeper connection to Judaism – very much inspired by Rabbi Zimand’s loving approach to Torah, Shabbat and mitzvot. My parents, while pleased that I was embracing our heritage, were a bit disoriented by my sudden desire to walk to shul on Shabbat (we lived 3+ miles away), and my reluctance to eat out. Like many parents whose children choose a path which diverged from their own, I think that my folks grappled with a sense of imposition and rejection.

I will never forget (and will always be grateful for), the sensitivity with which Rabbi Zimand simultaneously eased my parents’ discomfort, and my journey.  He quietly and respectfully pointed out that I was not rejecting lifestyle with which I was raised, but rather was seeking to expand and nurture the very seeds that they themselves had planted during my childhood.

After my parents, Rabbi Zimand was one of the important and positive influences on my life's path. I can honestly say that his love, encouragement, and enthusiasm for life helped shape many of my decisions and goals. Thanks in large part to his guidance and mentoring, I am living a life I could only dream of as a child, and it is even better than I dared hope.

Although as an adult, my busy life and responsibilities kept me out of touch with Rabbi Zimand, my fondness and appreciation for him has only deepened with time, and he is raely out of mind.

On the occasions in recent years when we have had the opportunity to meet at family celebrations, I tried my best to articulate these feelings – to seize those moments to thank him for being my teacher, my mentor, and my friend.  I hope I was successful.

My heart is filled with sorrow for the loss the entire Zimand family has suffered. You are all imbued with the best of Rabbi Zimand.  Having known you all for more than 40 years, it is easy to see how you each carry the torch of his light and goodness into the world in your own ways.

I hope that the knowledge that so many people share your profound sense of loss will be a small comfort at this difficult time.

המקום ינחם אתכם בתוך שאר אבלי ציון וירושלים

May you be comforted amongst the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

Posted by David Bogner on March 13, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (2)

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Memo to Gen Xers and Millennials:

Those of us older than 40 do not live on our phones. 

As a rule, we do not check for new texts (SMSs, WhatsApps, etc.), every minute or two throughout the day. 

Our ears are not alert to the various chimes, bings, beeps and vibrations our phones give off, nor do these sounds and sensations trigger a Pavlovian reflex to take out and stare at our phones, negating/dismissing the presence of real live human beings in our immediate vicinity.

We do not scour social media around the clock to see if someone has 'tagged' us or mentioned us in a tweet.  In fact, stumbling on a week old Facebook conversation that was extremely relevant at the time but is no longer so, feels like hearing about a party to which we were not invited.

We often ignore our email for hours - days, even, if we are away from work -at a time.

Therefore:

If you are trying to coordinate anything with us that is time-sensitive (e.g. a ride, pickup/drop/off, meeting, deadline, dinner reservation, etc.), pick up the damned phone and call us!

If I get to work and find something like this when I sit down to drink a coffee and get around to looking at my phone, please don't ever ask me for a ride ever again:

Sms1

Sms2

If you ask me to have something ready for you to pick-up (something that you need from me!!!), and then leave the following messages on my phone for me to find sometime in the future, you can delete my number... because I am dead to you:

Sms3

Sms4

I can't decide if this behavior is more passive-aggressive, ADHD, anti-social or some combination of all three.  But what I do know is that, as a rule, you need us old farts a hell-of-a-lot more than we need you.

Also, I know it is cumbersome to actually type out actual sentences with verbs, nouns and other basic parts of speech.  We've given you a pass on using recognizable email, memo or letter formats with a greeting, opening paragraph, statement of purpose, summation and closing salutation (including your name!).  We've even given you a total pass on spelling (GR8, CU L8R, GTG. LOL!).

But if instead of sending me an actual written text you send me a recorded message that will force me to disturb people around me in order to find out what you've said... guess who's going on my blocked list?!  And no, I don't need you to show me how to do that!!! [smug little sh*ts]

 

Posted by David Bogner on January 28, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (9)

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Under-Appreciated Magic 

As an ex-pat American who has traveled extensively for work, I have often been struck by how how much more volatile and adversarial (combative, even!), Israeli business culture is compared with elsewhere in the developed world. 

For example, it is not at all unusual for Israelis in a professional setting to cut each other off mid-sentence, shout at one another, slam their hands on the conference table to emphasize a point, shout each-other down or even toss out dismissive and/or insulting jabs to score points in an argument.

A few recently overheard phrases that come to mind (translated to English): 

  • What do you have? - ?מה יש לך (what's your problem? / what's wrong with you!)
  • Have you gone crazy?! - ?השתגעת (said regarding anything outside the speaker's comfort zone)
  • Don't confuse my brain! - !אל תבלבל לי את המוח (stop making me crazy!)
  • Go find your friends! - !לך לחפש את החברים שלך (you'll be on your own)
  • Don't be naive! - !אל תהיה נאיבי / תמים (grow up!)
  • You must be confused! - אתה מבולבל (you don't know your place)
  • Nonsense! - שְׁטוּיוֹת (dismissive usually combined with a wave of the hand)
  • Dumbbell! -  דביל! (Usually said about someone, not to their face)
  • Waste of Time - !חבל על הזמן (can be either very good or very bad, depending on context)
  • What Garbage! - איזה זבל (dismissive used to denigrate bad work)
  • You're living in a film! - אתה חי בסרט (disconnected from reality / a drama queen)
  • What a mess! - איזה בלאגן (anything that isn't arranged as the speaker would have done)
  • He has a cockroach in his head! - יש לו ג'וק בראש (someone who can't let go of a bad idea)
  • A redeemer has come to Zion! - !ובא לציון גואל (used sarcastically when a newcomer to the dicussion thinks they have saved the day)

I was recently in a meeting with several colleagues when the discussion began to get heated.  Opinions were dismissed, facts were discounted, intentions were questioned and feelings (mine, anyway), began to get hurt.

And then suddenly I took a mental step back and looked around the conference table.  There were a few native Israelis, but many of the participants were immigrants; from the former Soviet Union, France, Argentina and the US.

Here we were, a group of people who had grown up speaking a grab-bag of languages, yet we were magically communicating (albeit, rudely).  All I could do was smile.

When the guy directly across from me noticed my grin he gave me that classic Israeli hand gesture where you extend your thumb,index and middle finger and turn your hand palm-up, and asked ?מה יש לך (what's wrong with you?).

I just shook my head and continued smiling as the argument swirled around me. 

How to explain to an Israeli how magical it is to an American (we, who travel the globe screaming in English thinking that will help make ourselves understood), to be able to sit and converse effortlessly in a common language with people from all over the world.

 

[When I started this blog back in 2003, I was fresh off the boat and was constantly getting hit on the head by things that only a new immigrant would see.  That era was rich in blog-fodder which (hopefully) helped smooth the way for others who came after me.  But over the past few years I have become mostly blind to that 'je ne sais quoi' known as 'the immigrant experience'.  Maybe it means I'm acclimating.  Maybe it means I've grown a slightly thicker skin.  Whatever the reason, I have become less attuned to the charming (and not-so-charming), things that only an outsider would notice.  I guess that's why the topic of today's post caught me so much by surprise... and I just had to share.]

Posted by David Bogner on January 25, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (3)

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Culinary Crowd-Sourcing

When I was in high school, I worked in a pizzeria owned by an Italian family. 

Customers ordering would typically ask for a ‘plain’, ‘mushroom’, 'olive', etc., slice.   

But older Italians who wanted a ‘plain’ slice always asked for ‘scamorza’. 

My question:  Did pizza used to be made with scamorza cheese instead of mozzarella?

Posted by David Bogner on December 28, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (3)

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Failing to Understand 'Ozymandias'

Back in the heated days of August 2017, I caught a lot of flak from people I consider both smart and well informed (not, by any means, a matched set in most people these days), for a post I wrote which I expressed my opposition to the headlong rush to tear down statues and monuments to the Confederacy that had stood for far longer than those who viewed them had been alive.

 

My opposition came not from any sympathy for the Confederate cause, or for those who tried in decades subsequent to the war to paint that 'lost cause' as something heroic or just.  Rather, my opposition - outrage, really - came from the same sentiment that stops an archaeologist's from excavating an entire mound, and prompts historians to use reserved language containing ample room for current doubt and future scholarship when building theories. 

 

The simple overriding reason for archaeologists and historians to tread with caution in their work is that future generations may possess better tools, more subtle excavation techniques or more accurate understanding of the significance of the bits and shards that might be brought to light.  They may also possess sources as yet unread,  more nuanced ways of examining motives and a broader perspective of events that only time can provide.

 

Future scholars will surely weep at some, but certainly not all, of the genuine historical artifacts that were banished to the scrapheap along with lawn jockeys, blackamoor and other dubious other more recent 'relics' of the Civil War and its aftermath.

I can't possibly place myself in the shoes of African Americans and understand what they experience when looking at a statue of Robert E. Lee (or any other Confederate leader), as they go about their daily lives.  Perhaps the civil war and the institution of slavery still echo too loudly in their ears, and the scars of Jim Crow are still too fresh to be considered objectively.

But if there is one thing we should learn from history, it is that it is rarely wise to judge the past entirely by today's standards. 

For instance, I like to think that if I had been a southern landowner in the early 19th century, I would have been enlightened in my dealings with my servants and possessions (categories that had considerable overlap). But that's like hoping that I would have been equally enlightened about my diet, personal hygiene and relations with the opposite sex. 

Such mental exercises are as pointless as they are doomed.  Nobody is a visionary in the prophetic sense of the word.  The best we can hope for is that we conduct ourselves according to the highest standards of our own age and that future generations won't judge us too harshly.

Percy Bysshe Shelley understood all too well the folly and arrogance of those who erect monuments, and tried to describe the way those monuments should appear diminished, or even foolish to the modern eye.  In his famous poem 'Ozymandias' he describes a toppled statue of a long-forgotten ruler lying in pieces in the desert with no evidence of the great people or civilization he had once ruled. 

In the poem it is the sand that has defeated Ozymandias.  But the sand is simply a metaphor for the relentless passage of time, and the tremendous advantage of perspective that time provides. 

The existence of modern Southern towns and cities are (or should be), as mocking a rebuke to bronze monuments to antebellum values as the encroaching desert is to the mythical ruler in Shelley's sonnet.

As a Jew, I have trouble understanding why the descendants of American slaves don't view anachronistic Confederate iconography the way I view the Arch of Titus in Rome; as a reassuring milestone against which to objectively measure how much the world has changed and how far we've all come.  My wife can testify that the highlight of our last trip to Italy was my being able to gleefully say, 'f-ck you' in person to a relic of Titus (and his father, Vespasian), who had celebrated the enslavement of my ancestors in what they hoped was an ever-lasting manner.

I won't insult anyone's intelligence by voicing empty platitudes like 'Can't we all just get along'.  But being able to understand the irony in the line, "Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!", when all that is left to see are some tarnished statues of long dead leaders/ideas, should be possible.

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

Thursday, December 07, 2017

'Spontaneous' Combustion

Here are a few quotes from this morning's news.  See if you sense a theme:

"Trump’s Jerusalem decision putting region in ‘ring of fire’"
~Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan~

"Trump's 'flagrant aggression' has opened 'the gates of hell'"
~Hamas political leader Ismail Haniyeh~

"Trump [is] a 'pyromaniac' and ... going through with the move risked inflaming the region."
~MK Ayman Odeh (The head of the Knesset’s Joint (Arab) List)~

"Jerusalem has a tendency to explode when you fool around with the status quo"
~Aaron David Miller, vice president at the Woodrow Wilson Center and a former Middle East adviser to the Clinton and Bush administrations~

"Trump's announcement might be intended as an opening move in the administration's yet-to-be-revealed Middle East peace plan, but risks igniting a "powder keg"
~[unnamed] US Analysts~

This repeated warning of 'spontaneous combustion' on the Arab 'street' is crap.  Violent demonstrations and riots require direction and a lot of advance planning.  They require leadership, communication, transportation, materials, signage, flags, manpower, food, water, etc..  

If the Palestinians were going to 'spontaneously take to the street' because of the US decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital, they would have done so last night.  They didn't. 

What we saw repeated in a loop on the news last night were a few carefully orchestrated groups of people burning US and Israeli flags (gee whiz, who just happened to have US and Israeli flags lying around?!), captured in very tight camera angles so as to hide the modest size of the crowd.

However, the Palestinian Authority (PLO) and Hamas have both called for (meaning ordered) tomorrow (Friday) to be a 'Day of Rage'.  The Imams  and 'community organizers' will get everyone good and whipped up, give them their marching orders and send them off to burn, maim and kill.

It remains to be seen just how wide open the leadership will turn the spigot, and for how long.  But make no mistake,it is a spigot, and there is a firm hand on it... so this should in no way, shape or form be confused with 'spontaneity'.  

But to be clear, spontaneous combustion can, under ideal conditions, occur.  But in the case of the combustion metaphors being tossed around in the news today, there should be no question about who is lighting the fires and fanning the flames.  And when it happens, it will be arson, plain and simple.  

I've said this before but it bears repeating:  What the world leaders and media outlets are doing to the Palestinians is called 'infantilization'.  It is degrading, insulting and actually calls into question the ability of the Palestinians to join the grown-ups at the diplomatic table of nations. 

Simply put, those who scream and lash out violently when they don't get their way are called 'children' (or at very least, are acting childishly).  Such people are not ready to manage their own affairs, enter into international agreements and raise an army.

Yet the 'grown-ups' of the family of nations seem to experience no sense of irony (or cognitive dissonance), when repeatedly warning that if the Palestinians don't get their way, they will be unable to keep themselves from screaming and lashing out violently... while in the same breath insisting that the Palestinians are indeed grown up enough to run their own country (and all that goes with that).

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

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

When Inaction is an Action

In trains and other heavy equipment there is something called a 'dead man's switch'.  It is a mechanism for triggering emergency safety systems (brakes, engine, etc.), that is automatically operated if the human operator becomes incapacitated, such as through death, loss of consciousness, or being bodily removed from control.

In spy novels it is known as a 'button-down' scenario, which is a reference to someone with their thumb on a bomb's trigger... whereby releasing pressure on the button will result in the bomb's detonation.  But just as often the term is used to refer to the automatic release of 'explosive' (i.e. damaging/incriminating) information if the person who placed it with a third party doesn't take one or more prearranged actions; again, due to incapacitation, such as through death, loss of consciousness, or being bodily removed from control.  

It now appears for all intents and purposes that a dead man's switch / button-down scenario has been sitting in plain sight for more than two decades in the form of a US law entitled 'The Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995'.

The Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 is a public law of the United States passed by the 104th Congress on October 23, 1995. It was passed for the purposes of initiating and funding the relocation of the Embassy of the United States in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, no later than May 31, 1999, and attempted to withhold 50 percent of the funds appropriated to the State Department specifically for "Acquisition and Maintenance of Buildings Abroad" as allocated in fiscal year 1999 until the United States Embassy in Jerusalem had officially opened.[2] The act also called for Jerusalem to remain an undivided city and for it to be recognized as the capital of the State of Israel. [source]

Built into that law is a classic dead-man's switch / button-down scenario in the form of a security waiver allowing the delay of the implementation of the law (e.g. the relocating of the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and the formal recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel), for six months due to security concerns.  But the waiver can only be implemented and extended so long as the President actually signs a new security waiver before the six moth term of the previous waiver expires.

Every president from Bill Clinton to Donald Trump has signed the security waiver on or before the six month interval.  That is, until now.

President Trump signed the security waiver the first time it came due.  But December 1st, 2017 was the deadline for Trump to sign the new waiver... and he let it pass without signing.  And to my knowledge, there is no legal mechanism that permits the extension of the waiver once the old one was allowed to expire. And creating a new waiver would seem to require an amendment to the law (something congress is not likely to do).

I'm certainly no legal scholar, but from what I can see, it seems like by doing nothing, Trump has actually taken his thumb off of the button and tripped the dead-man's switch, initiating the move of the US Embassy to Jerusalem and the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

It'll be interesting to see how this plays out.

Afterthought:  

I can make a compelling case for either side of the debate regarding the proposed Embassy move.  But IMHO, one of the most compelling reasons to actually go ahead with it are the overt threats of violence being made by the Palestinians, and the Muslim regimes supporting them, if the US goes ahead with the move.   

Seriously, since when are threats of violence allowed to be made with impunity on the international diplomatic stage?  Since when does the US make decisions with a gun held to its own or its allies' head?  Overt threats of violence are considered 'casus belli' under international law, and open up those who make them to a diplomatic and/or military response.  

Just thinking out loud here.

Posted by David Bogner on December 5, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (3)

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Satan's Merry-Go-Round

Back in the '90s I used to be a fan of a photoblog called Satan's Laundromat which is, sadly, no longer around.  The site hosted an ever-changing collection of edgy photos of urban decay and gritty inner-city scenes.

The picture below could easily be called 'Satan's Merry-Go-Round.  It is of a Carousel located in the city of Bergamo, Italy that recently caught fire and was completely destroyed.

Carousel-on-fire-reddit

The first thing that went through my mind when I saw the photo was. wow, what an awesome name 'Satan's Merry-Go-Round' would be for a blog featuring a collection of circular logic and fallacious arguments from the news.

Don't worry, I'm not shilling for a new blog... I can barely handle the care and feeding of this one.

But think about all the horrible behavior that has been tolerated for decades (if not centuries), which is suddenly considered worthy of setting aside the usual trappings of law and order in favor of corporate lynchings.  And the tortured logic and carefully calibrated outrage one sees at any real or imagined transgression once the offense-du-jour is good and trendy. 

I really think someone should set up a place to archive all the double standards and supporting arguments... just so nobody can later say, "it wasn't me back at the end of 2017, losing my mind".

To qualify for inclusion in Satan's Merry-Go-Round, a story would have to document someone screaming for the immediate firing and blacklisting of someone for an offense they had previously dismissed as "Not a big deal" when someone they supported committed it back in the late '90s.

Just an idea.

 Don't thank me... I'm a giver.

Posted by David Bogner on November 30, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 23, 2017

The Annual Eggnog Post

For quite some time now, Thanksgiving has marked the official start of "eggnog season" here at chez treppenwitz (it runs until the end of Hanukkah or New Years Eve, whenever I feel we've had enough).

Soooo, once again... for those who don't have access to store-bought 'nog (or if you just want to take your eggnog game to the next level), here's a foolproof recipe from a certified fool:

INGREDIENTS:

6 eggs 
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract 
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg 
2 cups whipping cream 
2 cups milk 
3/4 cup brandy, rum or bourbon (optional but highly recommended)


PREPARATION:

All liquids should be very cold. Refrigerate in advance. 

Beat the eggs for 2 or 3 minutes with an electric mixer at medium speed until very frothy. On Shabbat morning, obviously use a whisk.  Gradually beat in the sugar, vanilla and nutmeg. Turn the mixer off (or stop whisking!), and stir in the cold whipping cream, milk and booze.

Chill some more before serving (if you can wait... I never can).

Sprinkle individual servings with more nutmeg.

Makes a little over 2 quarts (after taking several 'samples' for quality control purposes)

Note:  If for some strange reason you end up with leftover eggnog (something that almost never happens here), you can add a splash to your morning coffee and/or to your French toast dip.

Don't thank me... I'm a giver!  :-)

 

Posted by David Bogner on November 23, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Throwing a Congregant Under the Bus

During the return flight from a recent trip to the US, I was seated next to an elderly woman who was absolutely giddy with anticipation and 'over the moon' with barely contained excitement to be traveling to Israel for the very first time in her life.

I don't know much about her, but here are the bits and pieces of information and impressions I got from our conversation during the long flight:

The woman - I'll call her Eunice (not her real name) - is from a medium-large Midwestern city, is Jewish (although has a very limited knowledge of religious matters), belongs to a reform congregation, does not follow Israeli politics closely or seem aware of current events.

She was a delightful seatmate in that she was extremely polite and reserved in an old-school way.  She apologized profusely any time she needed to get up to go to the bathroom or stretch her legs, and always asked me if I wanted anything while she was up.  She thanked me repeatedly for helping her put her bag in the overhead, and would probably have knitted me an afghan if she'd had the time or materials handy to do so.

In short, a refined, soft-spoken American bubbe of the first water.

It turns out she was travelling alone to Israel to take part in some sort of mission comprised of people from various congregations from around the mid-west (or maybe the country... I wasn't clear on the exact make-up of the group).

She was visibly nervous about making her first visit to Israel alone, and politely asked me if she could talk to me about her itinerary.  I, of course, said I'd be happy to serve as a sounding board.

Her group was slated to visit many of the typical destinations of any Israel tour, with the highlight, of course, being Jerusalem.

Almost as an aside while talking about their plans to visit Jerusalem, she mentioned that her Rabbi had suggested she bring along the tallit her granddaughter had worn at her recent Bat Mitzvah so that she could don it during the group's planned visit to the Western Wall (she referred to it as the 'Wailing Wall').

I didn't stop her narrative, but at that point my 'Spidey Sense' started tingling madly and I began listening closely for any sign of an underlying agenda of any sort.  After at least half an hour of talking in general terms about Israel, Jerusalem and religion, I was convinced that Eunice was completely unaware of what had set my senses to tingling.

I then asked her, as obliquely as possible, about her own connection with religious observance and rituals:  Did she attend synagogue regularly? (No); Did she wear a tallit in her own synagogue when she did attend?  (Never);  Did anyone other women in her family wear a tallit in synagogue (only her granddaughter, and only the once on the occasion of her Bat Mitzvah).

I then asked her why she thought her Rabbi might have suggested putting on the tallit at the 'Wailing Wall'?  Eunice quietly answered, "She [the Rabbi] told me that it would make me feel very special and would be the highlight of my visit to the Holy Land" [I could actually hear the capital letters of those two words as she spoke them!].

At that point I had a difficult choice on my hands:  Stay silent and let Eunice stumble into a starring role in the coming week's newspaper headlines, or gently try to give her a glimpse of the future in hopes of avoiding it.  

I opted for the latter.

I began by gently asking her (again) if she followed Israeli news or politics.  She said she did not.  I asked her if she was aware of any controversy about women's roles and ritual at the Western Wall, and she said she was not.

I took a deep breath and offered her a very condensed version of the circus that has been playing out at the Kotel over the past few years, along with my opinion (clearly presented as such), as to what I thought was motivating the various participants. 

To be clear, I told her that in my opinion, the overwhelming majority of the women who have been pushing for the right to pray at the Western Wall while wearing tallit and tfillin, and to read from a Torah scroll during their services, are absolutely sincere... as are most of those who want egalitarian (i.e. non-Orthodox) practices permitted only at the section of the Kotel that has been designated for that purpose further down the wall under Robinson's Arch.

However, I explained, I suspect that a small number of the women involved in the frequent skirmishes with the religious authorities and police at the Wall seem to be acting in a deliberately provocative manner calculated to draw as much publicity and media attention as possible to their actions.  I told her that I am not in any way against protest in general, and am aware that the status quo rarely changes without some sort of public protest... but that there was a price to pay for such protest and it took a toll on everyone involved.  

I then predicted that the moment she went to put on her granddaughter's tallit, many of the women around her would begin shouting angrily at her... as would many of the men on the other side of the partition, once they heard the commotion.  Within moments she would probably be forcibly escorted out of the Western Wall plaza by security personnel or police, and there was a pretty good chance she would be arrested and maybe even deported, since she was a tourist and would technically be breaking a Israeli law.

I'm not sure what frightened her more, the idea of people shouting at her in public, or the idea of being arrested.  Suffice it to say that Eunice was aghast at the prospect of being the focal point of such public unpleasantness.

The last thing I had to say to her was, perhaps, the hardest:  I told her that there was absolutely no chance that her Rabbi was unaware of the events she had set in motion when she suggested that Eunice don her granddaughter's tallit at the Western Wall.  Absolutely none!  In fact, I can't think of any similar cause & effect scenario that contained as high a level of certainty as to the outcome.

Eunice was very quiet for several minutes, and then thanked me quietly for filling her in on a topic of which she had been completely unaware.

I told her that I felt terrible about introducing a sour note to her anticipation of her first visit to Israel, but that I couldn't bear the idea of an innocent tourist being allowed to stumble into such a political hornet's nest during what should be a magical first visit to the Jewish State.  I left unsaid who I felt had deliberately set her blindly down the path towards that hornet's nest.

I called this post, "Throwing a Congregant Under the Bus", for lack of space.  But considering the religious sensibilities involved, a more appropriate title would be "Sacrificing an Innocent Congregant on the Altar of A Rabbi's Political Agenda".

As I said previously, I have no problem with those who choose to protest and expose themselves to potential consequences in the name of advancing their agenda while attempting to change the status quo.  But shame on anyone who would deliberately send an innocent lamb such as my seatmate, Eunice, to the slaughter in order to score cheap political points in hopes of achieving a dubious, and probably fleeting victory.

[If anyone has an ax to grind on either side of the Western Wall ritual observance debate, they can do so on their own blogs or Facebook feeds.  That is not the topic at hand here.  Anyone who ignores this warning and tries to use this post as a soapbox, will have their comments deleted.  You have been warned.]

Posted by David Bogner on November 12, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (14)

Friday, November 10, 2017

Friday Kosher Food Pron

I saw a recipe for Crackling Corn Bread in the New York Times that called out to me, so I decided to adapt it to my quaint cultural ways (kosher). 

To save some of you city folk the trouble of googling it, cracklings are simply the crisp, fatty skin of roast pork.

If your religious background or sheltered urban upbringing has denied you the pleasure of enjoying cracking, cornbread or both, trust me that there is a solution.

The recipe below has undergone a process of Judaisation (to borrow a word from the Pali lexicon), so kosher cooks can proceed without worry (although vegetarians can keep moving... nothing to see here):

Kosher Crackilng Cornbread Recipe

INGREDIENTS
6 tablespoons shmaltz
2 cups stone-ground cornmeal
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 ¾ cups fake buttermilk (use 1 ¾ cups soy mil and 1 ¾ cups tablespoons lemon juice)
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons kosher cracking (gribenes bits and chopped servalat fried in shmaltz) dried on paper towel)

 

PREPARATION
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Put the shmaltz in an 8- or 9-inch cast-iron skillet and set over a medium-low flame. Heat until the bubbling subsides.

Meanwhile, combine the dry ingredients in a bowl and gradually stir in the fake buttermilk. Add the eggs and cracklings. Stir in the shmaltz and pour the batter into the hot skillet.

Bake for 25 minutes, or until golden brown. Let cool 15 minutes, then invert over a plate or cooling rack. Serve warm. The cracklings respond especially well if the corn bread is toasted the next day.

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Posted by David Bogner on November 10, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (1)