Sunday, September 01, 2013
That about sums it up
One of the few things that most people can agree upon regarding Syria is that there are few, if any, good choices... at least as far as foreign intervention of any sort goes. Yet that doesn't stop people from holding forth very loudly and criticizing both action and inaction (often in the same, convoluted, rant).
I've actually taken to challenging taxi drivers, office pundits and amateur political analysts in cafes when I hear them carrying on about what should and/or shouldn't be done vis-à-vis Syria.
Like placing a piece of sheet music in front of an electrical guitar player, there is apparently no faster way to get a know-it-all to turn down the volume on their opinions than to ask them to 'play the melody' of their so-called solution.
It turns out pretty much everyone is big on criticizing what is or isn't being done, but when asked to outline specific alternatives (and the consequences of those alternatives), they get very quiet, very quickly.
To be clear, I don't envy President Obama his current position, having haplessly painted himself into a corner with last year's ill-advised 'red line' speech, and now having had to take a step back and pull Congress into the corner with him to wait for the paint to dry.
I think that, probably for the first time, Vice President Joe Biden - standing off to the side while Obama slowly twisted in the wind - was genuinely relieved to hold an office with few, if any, real responsibilities.
As private citizens, we hope/trust that the free world's elected leaders have access to better intelligence, advisers and resources than we do when tackling the big problems. Surely what looks like a Gordian Knot to us down here must have some sort of solution when viewed from the lofty heights of power... right?
So it is frustrating to hear the leader of the free world admitting in a globally broadcast speech that he wants to ask around a bit more before deciding what, if anything, can be done to punish Syria and keep them, and other despots, from repeating such a massacre.
Yes, I can already hear some of you saying that in a democracy like the US, the Executive Branch can't act alone. The President has to consult with the people's elected representatives; the US Congress.
And I accept that answer.
But I can't help wondering why Obama didn't consult Congress two weeks ago while the bodies of the victims were still warm... or a week ago when his intelligence sources had concluded beyond a reasonable doubt that Assad's regime had indeed carried out a massacre using chemical weapons.
So, lacking a ready solution from Washington, London or Paris, I've been scanning the media for someone - anyone - to offer sounder opinions than I've been hearing on TV or forming for myself. And I've been coming up empty.
I can't conceive of a good plan, for action or inaction, that will have the smallest impact on Syria's (or any other player's) potential future use of unconventional weapons. Short of performing an Etch-O-Sketch-esque reset of the whole sandbox (not a reasonable option at present) there just aren't any good plans.
But I did get a chuckle out of an observation, quoted in today's New York Times, provided by a Syrian citizen after watching Obama's speech on TV:
"... for Homs resident, Abu Bassam, 31, the only possible response was black humor.
“Man, I wish Bush was the president,” he said. “He would have reacted right away. He may have invaded Cyprus or Jordan instead of Syria by mistake, but you know he would have done something at least.”
That about sums it up.
Thursday, August 22, 2013
Lending the UN a Modicum of Moral ClarityAt a time when the UN Security Council is having difficulty forming a consensus as to whether the deliberate killing of as many as 1300 Syrian civilians - many of them children - with nerve gas, warrants explicit condemnation, muh less a clear directive to actually investigate... it is reassuring that Israel can offer itself as a unifying force; crystallizing the UN's resolve to act with haste and moral clarity to address the pressing issue of suburban apartment construction in the West Bank.
Tuesday, July 23, 2013
Some Unsolicited Thoughts from an Olah Vatikah on Her First Day as a non-Olah Chadasha/10 Signs Your Klita is Going Well
[A Guest Post by Zahava]
Welcome new olim!
It is with a profound and combined sense of gratitude, pride, surprise, and joy that I spent some time this morning thumbing through the pix of today’s new olim over at the Nefesh B’Nefesh FB page. In many ways it feels like just yesterday that my family and I stood in your shoes –- feeling simultaneously exhilarated and shocked by our new reality. It was, to put it mildly, quite an emotional experience.
I well remember the charge of excitement mingled with more than a touch of nervousness. What had I done? I had thought I was prepared before we left, but upon landing –- despite the warm and sincere welcome -– I was suddenly unsure that “sane” was an appropriate description of my mental status….
10 years later, I am still exhilarated and shocked -- exhilarated because I still truly believe that living here is the best choice for me and my family, and remain somewhat in awe that we get to “live the dream” -- and shocked because it simply doesn’t seem possible that 10 years have already flown by!
But, 10 years have elapsed since that incredible day that we alit from our charter NBN flight and became Israeli citizens. When I take an honest look at the many memories that have been collected over the past 10 years, I realize how much we have all grown.
In no particular order, and by no means a complete list, here are 10 signs that my family and I have successfully made the transition from completely American to Anglo-Israeli:
10. Ability to hear the breaks between the words when listening to Adi Ashkenazi! (She is hilarious, btw!)
9. Successful anticipation/prediction of the contents of a can of tomato product BEFORE opening it and without consulting a dictionary –- and it is CORRECT! (Let’s just say we had a lot of “tomato-surprise” dinners!)
8. Gratitude to the point of giddiness when it rains – even when you are freezing your tush off!
7. Solid white albacore seems dry.
6. Ability to UNDERSTAND Adi Ashkenazi! (What can I say, she is really funny – and so are Asi and Guri)!
5. The automatic answer to any question involving directions is “yashar, yashar v’aaz tishol!” (Straight, straight, and then ask!)
4. The ability to refrain from throttling someone whose answer to you is either “y’hiyeh b’seder” (it’ll be okay) or “aval lo kara klum!” (but nothing happened).
3. A tourist, even after hearing you speak in Hebrew, asks if you speak any English.
2. Your idea of “special occasion” clothing for your youngest son is a white shirt, blue shorts and sandalim – and you are genuinely shocked that your family in the States expected him to be in a suit.
1. Your kids celebrate that day which signifies them having lived more than half their lives in Israel!
Welcome home “NBN Olim Class of July 23, 2013!” The entire Treppenwitz (NBN Olim Class of July 23, 2003) family wishes you a successful and soft klita!
Sunday, July 21, 2013
Lie down with dogs... get up with fleas
According to a news report, an 'observer' from the self-described Human Rights group 'B'tselem' has filed a complaint about being shot in the thigh with a rubber bullet while filming a violent confrontation between Palestinians hurling stones and Israeli Border Patrol officers using non-lethal crowd dispersal measures (tear gas and rubber bullets).
To be clear, I am all for neutral observers filming interactions between civilians and military/police personnel. It is an extra layer of accountability, in addition to existing laws and rules of engagement, that can help reduce or even prevent abuses by government forces... while discouraging civilians and/or irregular combatants (terrorists) from filing spurious charges against official forces who are acting lawfully.
The problem is that B'tselem long ago abandoned any pretense at neutrality/objectivity. Their cameras are invariably pointed at the Israeli military, police and settlers, while systematically editing their footage in such a way so as to only show Palestinian civilians acting peacefully, waving flags and chanting.
I've personally witnessed violent confrontations here where B'Tselem photographers stood amongst the Palestinians who were throwing stones and molotov cocktails... yet their cameras were pointed only at the Israeli's, apparently in hopes of capturing their violent reaction. And there are countless cases of violent clashes being 'made to order' by the very presense of B'tslem cameras.
I won't get into analyzing the mindset that motivates a certain segment of Israeli society to stoop to such levels of self-loathing that they aid and abet groups that have openly dedicated themselves to Israel's vilification and destruction.
Shame on B'Tselem for abandoning their original mission which, as I stated at the outset, was not only laudable, but IMHO, essential. Their current actions are so one-sided and biased as to be indistinguishable from acting as human shields from behind which violent and illegal actions can be carried out against Israeli government forces and citizens with impunity.
And as far as I'm concerned, this B'tselem 'observer' put herself in harms way and got exactly what she was looking for; harm.
If you align and embed yourself with people carrying out illegal/violent acts, you can't cry foul when you get winged by one of the non-lethal tools at the disposal of the military and police forces whose job it is to confront such acts.
As Benjamin Franklin wrote in his Poor Richard's Almanac, "qui cum canibus concumbunt cum pulicibus surgent" ("He that lieth down with dogs shall rise up with fleas").
Friday, July 19, 2013
She hasn't lost her shine
I was basically useless at work yesterday. All I could think about was Ariella being bounced around the IDF processing center like a shiny silver ball in a pinball machine. I knew she could hold her own and stand up to most any abuse. But I didn't want it to be at the cost of the light that shines from within her.
Finally at the end of the day when I was on my way home from work, a single photo hit my cell phone.
I needn't have worried.
Thursday, July 18, 2013
We dropped off our little girl today...
I feel like my whole life has been spent dropping Ariella off.
I can still remember dropping her off at nursery school, kindergarten and grade school. We dropped her off at youth group events, at friends' houses and at the mall. We dropped her at high school, at her navigation and survival courses and at her mechina (pre-military academy).
What every one of those drop-offs had in common was that no matter what... no matter how focused, excited, frightened or ambivalent Ariella might have been about where she was going... she always looked back... just as she had on that first day of nursery school... and smiled. Some kids look back to seek reassurance and courage from their parents. Ariella always seemed to peek back over her shoulder in order to reassure us... as if to say, "Don't worry, I'll be just fine."
But nothing prepares a parent for dropping a child off at an army induction center.
This morning at 7:30 AM, Zahava and I dropped our little girl off on Ammunition Hill, to begin a challenge/adventure that will last two years, perhaps more.
When we arrived, there were dozens of other families already milling about outside with their draft-age children. And although many of the 'kids' knew each other and spent a lot of the time hugging old friends and trying to act like this was just another day, all the parents could do was look at one another and smile with our hearts in our mouths.
After about half an hour (after all, the army is all about waiting, right?), a voice came over the loudspeaker telling everyone to come inside. As we filed inside, the 'kids' were asked to show their teudat zehut (national I.D. card) and tsav giyus (draft notice) to a Sergeant stationed at the entrance.
Ariella's name was duly checked off on the list, and we went in and stood around waiting for her name to appear on a big electronic board.
Like all the other families, we took photos of Ariella... as if by capturing her image at this place and time we could somehow keep her in our pockets and by our side.
Before long, we heard Ari's name called over the overhead loudspeaker, and her name, along with several other soon-to-be soldiers, flashed up on the electronic board.
We took our little girl through the crowd to the end of the large hall where her I.D. and draft notice were checked once more against a list, she was handed a small book of Psalms and a wrapped piece of candy... and ushered through a door to a curving outside walkway. And although we knew that up that walkway waited the beginning of the rest of our little girl's life, we couldn't join her... she had to go alone.
As I said, nothing prepares a parent for such a moment. How could it?
But as my heart was both breaking and bursting with pride, just before Ariella turned the corner and was lost from view, she looked back just like she always had... just a little peek to reassure us that she'd be just fine.
Monday, July 15, 2013
Trying to stay out of this
Even though I still pay taxes (and vote) in the US, since I no longer live there I should probably refrain from weighing in on current events there.
However, I have to say I am non-plussed by the demonstrations taking place in the wake of the Zimmerman verdict. A demonstration/protest usually has some goal in mind... some expectation of a changed outcome.
Yet here is a jury verdict at the end of legal proceedings and trial that were conducted under a media microscope. That's the nature of the beast. That's the horse race. The police, prosecutors, attorneys, and judges (and let's not forget the media) all did their utmost to influence the outcome of the trial. But in the end, the decision was left in the hands of a bunch of people too dumb to get out of jury duty. I kid. Sort of.
Seriously, it's an imperfect system. But it's better than most.
But I just wish that the public would grow up and realize that the time to examine (and perhaps change) the rules by which this game is played happens in the voting booth. Sure, some pressure can be brought to bear on elected officials. But for the most part, you ask the policy questions before you vote for someone... not after. Otherwise it just seems like silly buyer's remorse to protest that the race was run according to rules you approved of by voting for this stiff over that one.
What's that? You didn't vote for the people who wrote / upheld the current laws? Well, guess what? The majority of your neighbors did. Welcome to democracy! Better luck next time around.
If you think a law is unjust and should be changed... or there is some gap in the legal code that needs filling... by all means try to elect people who feel as you do, or at least do what you can to influence those already in office. That is an excellent reason to hold demonstrations and do other things to express your outrage.
But to protest the outcome of a jury trial is just childish. It is like calling to rerun the horse race after the last horse has crossed the finish line, just because your horse didn't finish in the money.
And one other thing that troubles me deeply: There is, in my humble opinion, an unmistakable racist element to these sort of protests. After all, I didn't see anything of this sort after the OJ verdict; a flawed verdict if ever there was one!
I guess when the flawed system lets your horse win, you shut up and count your winnings.
But as I said... I'm trying to stay out of this.
Sunday, July 14, 2013
Ever wonder what happened to the Blue Meanies?
Yellow Submarine fans can rest assured that the Blue Meanies are alive and well... and living among us.
I present as proof, this photo of a recent European protest surrounding the Snowden affair:
Do you see her?
I love when a plan comes together!
A few days ago I wrote a post about a ten year old girl in Missouri who had had her toy scooter stolen... and how, upon reading about the incident, the crowd from the scooter forum I frequent had stepped up to try to make things right.
Well, here's the end result. I pixelated her face because I don't have her parent's permission to post her photo online. But trust me when I tell you she is smiling ear to ear!
Scooter are expensive, and like any valuable commodity, attractive to criminals. So, naturally, a reoccurring theme on the scooter forum is the near universal problem of theft... and what kind of punishment those who steal scooters deserve.
But of all the stolen scooter threads I've read where we fantasized about the revenge we'd take on the thieves if we could ever catch them... I think this one collective triumph of good over evil is, by far, the best revenge imaginable.
Thursday, July 11, 2013
The unbearable strangeness of... wanting
I must be wired strangely.
Because I can't find a reasonable explanation for why certain things bore me to tears... while others fascinate me to the point of sleeplessness and obsession.
Take, for example, a little factoid I recently read about an element called Gallium.
Gallium is an unremarkable element but for the fact that this shiny silvery substance begins liquefying at 85.85°F.
Which means that holding a chunk of Gallium in your hand for a few minutes will allow you to watch it turn into a quick-silver-esque puddle of kewlness... without any of the health risks associated with, say, Mercury.
Oh, and did I mention that you can pick up a nice chunk of Gallium on Amazon for a song?
To be clear, there is absolutely no practical reason I can think of for owning any Gallium. And yet...
Must. Resist. Temptation....
You secretly want to do this...
... you know you do!
[hat tip: Book of Joe]
Wednesday, July 10, 2013
I love the smell of altruism in the morning...
I may have mentioned on one or two occasions that I frequent an online scooter forum for Vespa enthusiasts (although the forum's international membership consists of scooterists and motorcyclists of myriad stripe and brand allegiance).
Aside from the pleasure I get from sharing scooter-related opinions and advice with like-minded people around the world, there is a very satisfying sense of community and civility in this little corner of the Internet that is sorely lacking in most other parts of the online and offline world.
While this forum certainly has a clear set of posted rules governing the behavior of the participants, there are also unwritten rules - an oral tradition of sorts - that has developed organically, which deplores bad behavior in general... and larceny in particular.
When one of the members has a crash as a result of a careless or aggressive motorist, the forum rallies around the member with soothing words of sympathy, advice and 'care packages' of chocolate and such.
And if a member's scooter is stolen (something that happens with alarming frequency, despite security precautions such as alarms and locks), a network of members springs into action to offer advice on dealing with insurance issues, as well as passing around regional lookout notices to help try to recover the stolen property.
But at the end of the day, everyone is expected to be responsible for their own safety, as well as for the security of their equipment. Which means that while we may sympathize with an injured rider and commiserate over a stolen scooter. As adults, everyone is expected to play the cards they are dealt... and, where necessary, ante up.
This past week, an unusual, but heartbreaking photo was posted on the forum by a member.
It seems a ten-year-old little girl in Missouri had been given a mini-electric (rechargeable) scooter, and had parked it for safe-keeping on the front porch of her family's home. This wasn't a real scooter, mind you. It was just a sophisticated electric (albeit, rideable) toy meant to be used in parking lots and on sidewalks.
In spite of the precaution of placing it on the porch, some miscreant stole the little girl's scooter. The next day, the girl made up a large sign which she placed in a prominent spot near her house... and a picture of the sign was posted to the forum:
Something about the sign seems to have struck a note with the members of the forum. Maybe it was the fact that the little girl was responding to her loss in such a positive and mature manner. Maybe it was because of her excellent spelling, grammar and penmanship. Maybe it was just a basic, 'There but for the grace of G-d, go I...', sort of thing.
Whatever the reason, forum members started asking questions such as, "What kind of scooter was it?"... "How much did it cost?"... "Can you show us a picture of what it looked like?".
Apparently the scooter was still so new that the family hadn't had a chance to photograph the little girl riding it, but they posted a picture they found of the exact model and color along with an estimated replacement cost (according to Amazon) of about $250:
Without anyone actually issuing a call to action, one by one many of the hundreds of forum members around the world started chiming in to pledge a few dollars towards replacing the little girl's scooter.
After it quickly became clear that we were well on our way to covering the cost of the stolen scooter, the owner of a (real) scooter dealership in LA, who is also a forum member, stepped up and promised to provide the balance of whatever was needed to replace the little girl's scooter.
All of this took place in the course of just a few days. And ironically, it wasn't even a 'real' scooter that was stolen... just a battery powered, rechargeable sidewalk/parking lot toy.
It made me feel proud to be part of such a community. And it warmed my heart to see that the instinct to perform 'Tikun Olam' (repairing the world), crosses religious, racial, political and geographic lines.
I love the smell of altruism in the morning. It smells like... kindness.
[I hope to post a photo of the little girl on her new scooter once this small corrective action has run its course]
Monday, July 08, 2013
Giving our Teachers What They Deserve[Here's a little something that I thought was worth sharing. Maybe you know a Jewish teacher worthy of recognition...]
"Jewish Continuity" has become a byword for the concern that many people in the Jewish community feel about the future of Judaism in the diaspora. The subject is particularly important to Jewish educators who feel the weight of the community's alarm because, whatever solutions are proposed, they all point to Jewish education as the core element that will ensure a strong and vibrant Jewish society of the future.
Countless Jewish organizations and institutions devote themselves to the question of how to educate upcoming generations of Jewish leaders, activists, and members in a way that will inspire them to become active members and leaders in the Jewish world. Some of these organizations identify with a particular stream or philosophy of Judaism while others promote a specific educational mode, project or framework for Jewish learning.
As Jewish leadership focuses on Jewish education, a few groups have decided to focus on individual Jewish educators. A creative and effective Jewish educator can make all the difference in a young person's life, inspiring, motivating and modeling behavior that the student will, hopefully, wish to emulate in his future life. To address the importance of Jewish educators in creating quality diaspora Jewish education, several Jewish educator awards have been established. These awards aim to acknowledge the work of effective Jewish educators and set a higher standard for all Jewish teachers nationwide.
The Steinhardt Foundation, the Grinspoon Foundation and the JESNA forum for Jewish Education have partnered to create the Grinspoon-Steinhardt Awards for Excellence in Jewish Education. This award was created to acknowledge the influence of classroom-based teachers on the Jewish lives and future community involvement of their students. Grinspoon-Steinhardt award recipients are recognized for their demonstrations of exceptional achievements in the field of Jewish education as well as for their service as effective Jewish role models for their students.
Milken Educator Awards
Lowell Milken from the Milken Family Foundation created the MFF Jewish Educator Awards as a forum that recognizes the work of outstanding Jewish educators. The award is nationwide and is presented annually to deserving Jewish educators as a way of acknowledging their efforts in support of their students, their professional leadership and their relationship with the families and communities that rely on their teaching skills and their devotion to their work. Lowell Milken who also created a a number of non-Jewish education projects including TAP and the MEA, hopes to strengthen the moral of Jewish teachers through the award.
Helen Diller Family Awards for Excellence in Jewish Education
The Helen Diller Family Award for Excellence in Jewish Education presents an annual award to K-12 Jewish classroom-based educators who teach in the San Francisco Bay area. The award recognizes effective Jewish educators who transmit Jewish values and knowledge to their students through innovative and creative classroom approaches and strategies. Recipients of the Diller Awards do not need to be Jewish but are recognized for their demonstrated commitment to providing their students with a strong Jewish foundation within the Jewish educational system.
Association of Orthodox Jewish Teachers Awards
The Association of Orthodox Jewish Teachers presents its annual award to teachers who work within the New York Public School System. The award aims to recognize the efforts of educational personnel who strive to sensitize the school system, including New York Public School administrators, teachers and students, to the special concerns and needs of the Jewish community. The Association award emphasizes the activities of teachers and other educational professionals who present Jewish concerns and Judaism to the non-Jewish community.
The Covenant Award is awarded annually to three outstanding Jewish educators whose innovative educational models and practices have influenced their students' Jewish lives. Covenant Award honorees are recognized for having distinguished themselves in their classroom teaching skills, professional development, the arts, family education, storytelling, curriculum design, Tikkun Olam, adult education, leadership and other relevant areas of Jewish education.
Stuart I. Raskas Award
The Stuart I. Raskas Award operates out of the St. Louis branch of the Central Agency for Jewish Education (CAJE). The Raskas Awards recognize Jewish educators in the St. Louis region who have exemplified proficiency in subject matter, their dedication to Jewish education and their commitment to their students and families. Recipients of the Raskas Award automatically become that year's St. Louis nominee for Grinspoon-Steinhardt Award for Excellence in Jewish Education.
Sunday, July 07, 2013
Instead of rushing to judgement...
Within hours of the first reports of this weekend's Asiana (South Korean) 777 airliner crash in San Francisco, the news and tweet-o-sphere were crowded with people making grand pronouncements as to what went wrong.
One commenter observed that "It was pilot error...the plane came in low and slow and hit the breakwater before the runway". Another shared that she saw the plane coming in "fast and heavy". Countless others have weighed in with pseudo-technical jargon to express their own views on how/why the scheduled flight from Seoul to San Francisco broke up upon arrival rather than touching down smoothly and taxiing to the terminal as one would expect.
What all of these pundits share is a dearth of solid information, and a complete lack of background in aeronautics, engineering or accident investigation.
At this point, the pilots of the ill-fated airliner may have some clue as to why things went pear shaped at the end of their long international flight. But even they will have to wait for the black boxes and other data to be compiled and examined by the folks in the white lab coats who actually look into this sort of thing for a living, before knowing the full scope of what happened.
My point being: will the pundits, media talking heads and their ill-informed 'experts' please STFU?!
If you have to fill the news cycle with something, why not focus on something that can actually be quantified and parced: the number of survivors and the reason there were so few causalties in what appears to be a devastating event.
My guess (and, I stress, it is only a guess) is that the credit for the mostly positive outcome can be largely attributed to the cabin crew... the underpaid, under-appreciated and frequently abused flight attendants.
I fly... a LOT. I admit that like many passengers, I tolerate, rather than listen to, the safety briefing at the start of each flight. Truth be told, I could probably give the safety briefing if they asked me to, having heard it so many times. But if push came to shove, I doubt I could carry out the instructions without the close supervision of the cabin staff.
Think about that for a moment... if most people are like me, that means that but for a few random interested souls, the entire responsibility for making sure everything goes correctly in an emergency falls to the poor woman you watched being verbally abused because she didn't bring the pillow or scotch fast enough to suit the traveler seated in 13C.
Whether the crash ends up attributed to mechanical failure, pilot error, some combination thereof, or something else completely... looking at photos of the burned-out plane reminds me just how important the overworked cabin staff are to the safety of travelers.
That there were so few fatalities, and that everyone was evacuated from the shattered and burning aircraft, is worthy of note. I hope the cabin crew gets some sort of medal and/or recognition... but they probably won't.
These people spend most of their time handing out snacks and drinks... but we allow ourselves to forget that their real function is to make sure scores of inattentive, uncooperative, and ultimately terrified people get off the plane quickly and safely in the event of an emergency.
That's no small feat.
So as we enter peak vacation season, I'd like to suggest that we ALWAYS treat the cabin staff with deference, and try to make sure they feel appreciated rather than harassed.
Next time you fly, make sure to say thank you to the flight attendants when they bring you that extra blanket... and as you leave the plane. You don't have to be exiting on an inflatable slide to recognize the selfless heroism of their service.
Sunday, June 30, 2013
The Daily Wave
I have a fairly consistent morning commute.
Sure, there are rare days when I leave early to make a meeting, or late because of responsibilities at home. And once or twice a month I head west (instead of south) for meetings at my company's headquarters.
But for the most part, I leave within a 30 minute window on most days.
There's another scooterist who has a similarly predictable morning routine. He rides a non-descript black and silver Asian maxi-scooter (SYM, Kymco…?), wears a black full face helmet and black/gray riding jacket… and he rides north each morning at about the same time that I am heading south.
For the past few years this scooterist and I have passed each other most mornings somewhere between the mixed (Israeli / Palestinian) city of Hebron and the Palestinian village of Beit Ummar; which are about 20 minutes apart on the twisty road we both travel.
I had no idea where he was coming from or traveling to. All I knew is that I had never seen him further south than Hebron or further north than Beit Ummar. I didn't even know if he was a Palestinian or Israeli. And he was presumably similarly ignorant of who I was, where I was coming from or going to.
All I knew is that whenever / wherever we passed each other on that twisty stretch of road, we always waved to each other.
I can't even remember when we started exchanging this daily greeting or who made the first gesture. All I know is that Powered Two Wheelers are so ubiquitous here in Israel that scooterists and motorcyclists don't usually wave at one another, unless they are friends. So this daily greeting was notable for being out of the ordinary.
There was one memorable incident a little over a year ago when I thought I had finally met the mystery waver with the opposite commute to my own:
I was on my way to work at a lonely point in my commute where it would be normal to encounter the other rider, when I noticed a maxi-scooter pulled over on the opposite shoulder with the rider standing next to it. The color of the scoot, helmet and jacket all matched what I remembered… so I did a quick U-turn to introduce myself and to see if everything was alright.
The rider – a twenty-something Arab - was very pleased that I'd stopped. He explained, in accented Hebrew, that he'd picked up a nail in his front tire. I always have a patch kit (sticky string & CO2 cartridges as well as spray foam), with me, so together we got to work and quickly sorted his problem.
But while we worked together to fix the flat, I couldn't get a sense if this was the mystery waver or not. He was friendly and chatty…but I couldn’t tell if it was because of our 'history' or if he was just really happy that someone had stopped to help. When we were saying our good-byes I dropped a broad hint by saying "Looking forward to waving at you", but his response of "Yes, yes… see you", could just have easily meant he did or didn't get the wave reference.
The question was answered a few minutes later when I was back on the road when I saw another maxi scooter come around a curve up ahead towards me, and I received the familiar wave from the rider.
So as I said, this nearly daily greeting ritual has gone on for almost three years now… with neither of us having any clue who the other is, where the other is coming from or going to.
Until, that is, this past Friday.
I had done much of the weekend shopping in Jerusalem's 'Machane Yehuda' market. But on my way home my wife called to tell me about a few more things we needed. I told her I'd drop off what I had at home and then go to the local supermarket to get whatever else we needed.
After unloading my scooter at home, I rode over to the Rami Levi supermarket which is about ten minutes south of where we live.
I don't recall if I've ever mentioned Rami Levi here before… but this particular supermarket is a model of cooperation and coexistence which the media will never mention. The management, employees and customers of this large modern supermarket are a fairly even mix of Palestinians and Israelis. And despite whatever feelings/political baggage any of the managers, staff and shoppers might have in their personal lives… the atmosphere inside the store is as relaxed and cordial as in any big supermarket anywhere in the world.
But back to the story…
When I came out of the store with my shopping cart full of purchases, I noticed that there was another scooter parked next to mine with the owner still sitting astride it. The rider had on a gray and black riding jacket… and a black full face helmet hung from one of the grips.
When he saw me start loading my groceries into the saddlebags on my red Vespa, he jumped off his scooter and with a big grin on his face, walked over and extended his hand.
We shook hands and clapped each other on the shoulder with hands that had exchanged anonymous waves for the last three years. We couldn't spend too much time catching up since I had some passion fruit sorbet in my saddlebags melting in the 90F+ afternoon heat. But we chatted long enough to exchange phone numbers and for each of us to tell the other where we live (he's from Hebron) and where our daily commute takes us.
And that was enough.
There isn't a scooter 'scene' here as there is in other places where I could ever see us going out for recreational rides together. And to be honest I can barely find the time to get together with the friends I already have.
But I'm glad I got to meet the guy with whom I've exchanged 'the daily wave'. He seems like a good person, and I know if either of us is ever stuck out on the road anywhere between our respective homes… there's someone who is just a phone call away, and who is bound to come along and lend a hand.
Tuesday, April 30, 2013
Is this 2013 or 1947?
Last night when I got home from work, my older son was sitting on the couch watching one of the cable sports talk shows... so I joined him in order to share a little father-son time.
The topic of the moment was the news that Jason Collins, an NBA basketball player for the Washington Wizards, had mentioned in an interview with Sport Illustrated magazine that he is gay.
Apparently he is the first pro basketball player in the US to formally 'come out of the closet'.
As I sat watching with my son (who has grown up with openly gay family members and friends), I was sort of pleased that a pro in any major sport felt comfortable enough to reveal something so intensely personal (not to mention potentially a source of ridicule), in an interview with arguably the most prominent sports magazine in the world.
But as the show went on, the topic continued to be discussed. And went on and on... until it was clear that his being gay was to be the topic for the entire 30 minute show.
Within a few minutes I went from being mildly pleased at how evolved society had become that a player could reveal something that only a decade ago would have made him a pariah... to realizing that a society hasn't really evolved so much if this kind of revelation was enough to fuel an entire 30 minute sports talk show.
We're not yet at the point where a person's sexual orientation is as much 'news' as his right/left handedness, hair color or any other 'hard-wired' aspect of who they are. That's certainly a looong way off.
But in my humble opinion, the litmus test for how big a deal to make of something should be how many times it would be appropriate to raise the subject in a face-to-face, one-on-one interview.
Being an openly gay pro basketball player in 2013 is arguably worthy of a question or two. Being the first is certainly worthy of a follow-up question or two.
But if I'm Jason Collins and the fourth and fifth question of the interview are still about what I enjoy in the privacy of my bedroom, I'd have to wonder out loud if the other player's sexual preferences were worthy of an entire sports show.
Move on, people. This isn't Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in 1947. And if we treat it like it is on the same level, we need to face up to the fact that, as a society, we aren't nearly as evolved as we think we are here and now in 2013.
Tuesday, April 23, 2013
Does John Kerry speak for the Obama administration?
I ask because in a question and answer session held while he was visiting Turkey this week, Mr. Kerry was asked a pointed question regarding reapproachment between Turkey and Israel (in the wake of the Gaza Flotilla raid).
In his response, the Amemrican Secretary of State, who presumably speaks for the U.S. adminsitration, said:
"I have just been through the week of Boston and I have deep feelings for what happens when you have violence and something happens and you lose people that are near and dear to you. It affects a community, it affects a country. We’re very sensitive to that." Source
Let's parce that, shall we?
First, who are the victims of violence in the cases in which he is drawing a parellel?
That would be a) those who were killeed or injured in the Boston Marathon bombing and; b) those who were killed or injured in the IDF raid of the blockade runner MV Mavi Marmara.
So, unless I'm mistaken, that would leave both the Boston Marathon bombers and the IDF Commandos as the perpetrators of "violence [where] something happens and you lose people that are near and dear to you".
Have I missed anything?
So far I haven't seen or heard of any attempt at clarification from anyone in the U.S. government.
Wednesday, April 17, 2013
Fear the Primitive Weapons Made by Primitive People
As a former New Englander now living in Israel, I have been following the news quite closely since hearing of the horrible attack on the crowd at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. And several things about the media coverage have me genuinely concerned.
First, despite the obvious carnage caused by the two explosive devices, officials almost immediately began stressing to the media (and by extension, the public), that the bombs seemed to be small and unsophisticated... as if this were somehow good news.
As parts of pressure cookers (which apparently housed the bombs) and kitchen egg timers (which were apparently used to trigger the bombs) were found and identified, this emphasis on the unsophisticated, improvised nature of the weapons has continued to be at the core of nearly every news story.
Apparently someone decided that telling the public that the bombs were relatively small, home-made affairs would be reassuring, since an unseen enemy lacking high end tools and materials (e.g. plastic explosives, electronic triggering devices, etc.), is far less threatening than an enemy with access to military grade stuff, right?
After all, Hollywood has indoctrinated us to know that nothing short of a custom machined metallic briefcase containing an organized medley of circuit boards, neat blocks of C4 sprouting colored wires that lead to an ergonomic push button panel and blinking digital display, is worth worrying about.
Take for example the New York Times headline story "Boston Bombs Were Loaded To Maim", which stresses the simple nature of the bomb's construction as if to soften the gory details of the damage inflicted on the innocent bystanders by the ball bearings and nails which were apparently packed around the core of the pressure cooker bombs:
"The explosives that killed three people and injured more than 170 during the Boston Marathon on Monday were most likely rudimentary devices made from ordinary kitchen pressure cookers, except they were rigged to shoot sharp bits of shrapnel into anyone within reach of their blast and maim them severely, law enforcement officials said Tuesday.
The pressure cookers were filled with nails, ball bearings and black powder, and the devices were triggered by “kitchen-type” egg timers, one official said." [emphasis mine]
But that word 'except' which I've highlighted in the first paragraph of the quote above is the problem with the whole premise.
At a certain point, someone – either the American public or the media – is going to twig to the fact that, far from being good news, the primitive construction and deliberately barbarous scattergun nature of the bombs used in the Boston attack are, in fact, extremely bad news.
You see, modern military weapons are designed to attack specific targets with a high degree of accuracy.
Neither the current conventions of warfare nor the news-reading public will tolerate the use of weaponry that kills or maims indiscriminately. Surgical strikes and precision laser-guided weapons are de rigueur, and any state that cuts too wide a swath of collateral damage in persuit of an enemy is likely to find itself in the dock of the International Criminal Court at The Hague.
But that's not what happened in Boston.
The terrifying thing about being attacked by non-state actors (i.e. terrorists), whether of the domestic or international variety (and nobody knows it better than we Israelis), is that when primitive bombs packed with nails and ball bearings start blowing up in public places, everyone and anyone is the target… making it nearly impossible to mount a meaningful defense.
So as a former New Englander, my heart goes out to the victims of the Boston bombing and their loved ones.
But as an Israeli, I hope against hope that the American public and the international media come to their collective senses sooner rather than later, and realize that it's the sick son-of-a-bitch cooking up a shrapnel bomb filled with nails and ball bearings from a pressure cooker and egg timer, that civilized countries need to be deathly afraid of… not some secret agent with a shiny metal briefcase containing a photogenic Hollywood bomb.
Tuesday, March 12, 2013
Education Minister? Really?!
Is anyone else out there completely at a loss for words in the face of Yair Lapid's demand for the Education Ministry in the current coalition negotiations?
I mean seriously, Lapid never even finished high school... never passed his 'Bagrut' (matriculation exams)... never got a degree... was even thrown out of a post graduate degree program once it came to light that he didn't possess even the minimum requirements for admission to the program...
And he honestly sees nothing problematic with demanding to be Minister of Education for the State of Israel?
I think I've finally found a working definition of the word 'Chutzpah'!
Friday, March 01, 2013
The 19th on the 19th
A Guest Post by Zahava
So. Here we are again. It is hard to believe that yet another year has passed without you as a physical presence in our lives.
I specify physical, because I feel your presence daily as I go about the business of living my life.
One of my favorite adult memories of you is the weekend that David first spent Shabbat with us up in Schenectady. You offered him chocolate cake or cherry pie. His answer made you grin with delight: “Yes, please!” Without missing a beat, you turned to me and said, “This one, you can bring back!”
You – like so many Jewish mothers – were driven by a desire to nourish (both gastronomically and emotionally), and you were beyond delighted when people allowed you to spoil them.
The past few weeks have – from a professional standpoint -- been exceptionally hectic. David was travelling for work,and I was up to my eyeballs in wonderful and challenging projects. Today is the first time in several months that I have had the time to prepare Shabbat for my family (thank G-d David is a good cook, and an even better sport)!
As I began to plan out my menu, it dawned on me that I had subconsciously chosen your favorite recipes for Shabbat. I have long known that I inherited your belief that “love = comfort food.” And so in your honor, tonight, after we usher in the Shabbat Queen and say good-bye to the saddest day of the year, we will enjoy a number of your “go-to” recipes.
We will start with your delicious beef-based tomato cabbage soup, followed up by your sweet and sour meatballs, rice, and broccoli. Tomorrow’s lunch is oven-fried garlic chicken, green salad, and potato salad. And we have a marble pound cake for dessert.
I can’t think of a more appropriate way to honor your memory than spoiling the people I love with the food you taught me to both love and prepare. I just wish I were making it for you. But then again, I guess I am.
I love you Ima... with all my heart.
Monday, February 11, 2013
New (to me) Hebrew slang
I'm always stumbling over new Hebrew words, slang and espressions in my day-to-day life. Not being a native speaker of the language, I suppose this is to be expected.
Most new (to me) words I can figure out from context. But occassionally I have to rely on one of my teenagers for enlightenment.
This past week I learned a new bit of slang from my daughter that is so perfectly elegant (and sounds Italian, to boot), that I had to share it:
Fluoroscenti (flʊəˈ rɛ sən ti)
adjective - slow on the uptake, dim-witted, perennially late to comprehend
Based on a fluorescent lamp's tendency to flicker for a few seconds before becoming fully illuminated, 'fluoroscenti' is used to describe a person who seems to always lag a few beats behind any conversational topic or joke.
There, now go forth and share this newfound knowledge.
Don't thank me... I'm a giver! :-)
Full Disclosure: In an ironic twist, it took me a moment from when my daughter explained the word to me before the light bulb went on over my head and I understood exactly what she was describing.