Wednesday, February 05, 2014
The UN Grows a Sense of Purpose... Sort Of
The United Nations has just come out with a withering condemnation of the Vatican (and by extension, the Catholic Church), for "…adopting policies that allowed priests to rape and molest tens of thousands of children over decades", and urged it to open its files on the pedophiles and the churchmen who concealed their crimes". [source]
As positive a sign as it may be that the UN might actually be taking an interest in real world issues, I can't help but wonder why they didn't find the time or wherewithal to also criticize Muslim regimes where homosexuals are routinely executed, women's rights are non-existent, pre-pubescent child brides are married off to old men and sometimes die as a result of internal injuries sustained on their wedding night, rape victims are stoned to death as 'adulterers', and 'honor killing' of daughters and wives is a widespread and accepted practice.
Oh, I remember now. Despite hosting an organization (The UN Human Rights Commission), specifically created to address such heinous institutional/systemic crimes carried out by member states, they will never get around to even mentioning such crimes committed by Muslim regimes for the simple reason that it would be disrespectful of their ancient and peaceful culture. After all, if a simple disrespectful cartoon was enough to spark worldwide riots that resulted in thousands of injuries and more than 200 deaths globally, what would be the result of a formal condemnation?
Not to worry, it will never be necessary to test my theory because the moment the UN would criticize the Muslim world for their 7th century behavior, it would be a tacit acknowledge that Israel is the only country in the entire region with a successful and positive human rights record for practicing first world legal norms, protecting women, children, homesexuals and disabled from discrimination/persecution, and assuring the autonomy and freedom of religious and ethnic minorities.
Wednesday, January 29, 2014
A Sign of Things to Come
The President of the State of Israel is not supposed to involve himself in partisan politics. In fact, to ensure the apolitical nature of the role, Israeli law states that the president may "neither intervene politically nor express personal views on issues that divide the public". [source] Not suprsingly, he routinely comments on political matters.
Once again Shimon Peres has conveniently forgotten that the office he holds is supposed to be an apolitical ceremonial figurehead role. Today he weighed in on a statement Naftali Bennett made regarding any Jews who would remain under Palestinian sovereignty after any peace agreement; specifically that they would be in mortal danger.
Peres poo pooed Bennett's warning with the following doozy:
"What is this fear that has struck us? That we will be killed? Today? The fear was well placed in 1948 when we had no cannons or tanks or planes against seven armies." [source]
Well Shimon, since you asked... let me help you out.
You are apparently so detached from reality there in the Presidential residence that you are unaware that according to the disastrous Oslo accords that you helped foist upon the state you nominally head, it is illegal for an Israeli citizen to enter any area controlled by the Palestinian Authority (the entity that would presumably become the government of a future Palestinian state).
In fact, at the entrance to all of these areas are big red signs that look like this:
The Palestinians didn't put up those signs... the Israeli government did!
Please note that it isn't just a matter of whether it is allowed or not. These signs make it quite clear that the reason it is illegal to enter areas under Palestinian Authority control is because it is "dangerous to your lives".
You are the President of the State of Israel. The state that posted those signs. Have you already forgotten what happened to reservists Vadim Nurzhitz and Yossi Avrahami in 2000 when they took a wrong turn and were literally torn to pieces by a mob in Ramallah?
Someone needs to remind our President about those signs. True, this isn't 1948... it is 2014. But Shimon... there are still a frightening number of Palestinians who, given the chance, would like nothing better than to kill us.
Monday, January 27, 2014
Is a friend who spills your secrets really a friend?
Has anyone else noticed a very disturbing trend in the relationship between Israel and the United States? Specifically that the US government seems to be ratting out just about every single military / intelligence operation the Israeli government allegedly carries out. It's like a jealous friend running to betray a secret shared in confidence in order to impress someone else. After all, publicly shaming Israel is a tried and true way to curry favor with much of the world.
For its part, Israel is generally circumspect about its military and intelligence operations. This is part of its deterrence. The unknown is often far scarier than the known. Months and even years after Israel has allegedly struck a target, or eliminated a terrorist in an extra-judicial killing, there will be no confirmation or denial from the Israeli government regarding responsibility.
Yet in the past few years (i.e. during the Obama administration) the following 4-step scenario has played out again and again:
- Something (or someone) somewhere in the world is blown up (or killed).
- The media or one of Israel's enemies (redundant, I know) speculates that Israel is behind it.
- Israeli offers a demurral or refusal to comment.
- An unnamed White House spokesperson confirms that Israel was, in fact, behind it.
If you want to discuss whether Israel is right or wrong to be blowing stuff up or introducing terrorists to their 72 virgins, I'd be happy to host that discussion. The primary responsibility of every government (not just Israel's) is to protect its citizens. That means if a government identifies a clear and present danger to its citizens, and has the ability to eliminate that danger, they are not only allowed, but required to do so.
Obviously if they can eliminate a clear and present danger through peaceful/diplomatic means via cooperation with domestic or international law enforcement agencies, friendly governments, etc., that is ideal.
But in a few select cases, which hopefully don't require sock puppets to explain, the most reliable/expedient way to eliminate a threat against one's citizens before the threat can be realized is to blow it up / kill it.
All day yesterday Lebanese media was abuzz with reports of Israeli jets operating over Beirut and flying low over the Beka'a Valley. Maybe true. Maybe not. Naturally Israel refused to confirm or deny entering Lebanese airspace. And there the matter would likely have been left.
Except that late last night in the Syrian port city of Latakia, something big went boom.
Now, there is no lack of 'splody stuff in Syria these days, and no lack of people running around that country trying to blow up and murder one another. But this was a particularly large explosion in a country where large explosions are increasingly routine.
According to the article I was reading, Palestinian sources immediately claimed that Israel had struck an arsenal holding Russian S-300 missiles. For those not familiar with the S-300, it is a long range Surface-To-Air missile that has been defined by Israel as a 'regional game changer' (i.e. a weapon that would alter the current balance of power between Israel and the countries and entities with which it is officially at war).
For most observers, the fact that Israel has repeatedly called the introduction of the S-300 a regional game changer... followed by a foreign media report of S-300s located in a Syrian port being blown up, would have been enough to be able to connect the dots. A red line was announced. A red line was crossed. Boom. Nothing left beyond the red line but a smoking crater. Equilibrium restored.
This is the very definition of deterrence. Nobody had to take credit for the explosion. Grown up nations with skin in the game all had a pretty good idea of what had happened. And close 'allies', whose relationship is often called 'friendly', had almost certainly been given a 'heads-up' as a courtesy.
This past October something else went 'BOOM' in the Syrian port city of Latakia. Despite Israel's customary silence on what, if anything, they might have had to do with the explosion, a White House spoke-person immediately gave a statement confirming that Israel had been behind the strike:
"According to the [White House] source, the target was rockets and rockets-related equipment that Israel feared would be transferred to Hezbollah". [source]
I mention this because I'll be curious to see how many hours will pass today before an unnamed White House spokes-person confirms that Israel was responsible for last night's explosion in Syria.
If it happens (and I'm fairly certain it will), I think the time may have come for Israel to kick our tattle-tale 'friend' in the nuts (metaphorically speaking, of course) by revealing a few uncomfortable secrets that I'm sure the Mossad has about clandestine US ops.
Israel isn't the only player on the world stage with secrets worth keeping.
Sunday, January 26, 2014
A nudge in the (hopefully) right direction
In my last post I sent out a call for suggestions. Apparently I didn't give enough direction.
For the record, I like most of the stuff you guys recommended. Except for Slivovitz. I wouldn't use Slivovitz to loosen stuck bolts on my Vespa, for fear of offending the Vespa's sensibilities.
Slivovitz is what people come up with when trying to manufacture something, anything, intoxicating that is also kosher for Passover. What, constipation isn't bad enough... I need burnt tastebuds and hearburn too?!
Back to the mission at hand, I mentioned Drambuie, Cointreau, Benedictine and Gran Marnier in my previous post in order to provide some parameters... some chalk lines within which I like to play the game.
It's not that I don't like those other things you suggested (except Slivovitz!). It's just that I particularly like things that fall into that brandy-ish, liquory, aromatic realm of the four I mentioned above.
Just so you don't think I'm a snob, I used to be fond of an Israeli triple-sec-sort-of-liquor called 'Moishe Shicker' (literally drunk Moses). I kid you not! I used to have people bring it back from Israel for me! But I'm pretty sure they stopped making it... and besides it was good, but not great.
Drambuie is good. Cointreau is good. Benedictine and Gran Marnier, as far as I can remember, are good. But I'm looking for great. Sabra Grand was great!
Soooo, now you say something.
Thursday, January 23, 2014
Crowd-Sourcing an Alternative Tipple
I rarely do this, but since the readership here at treppenwitz consists of a very diverse group of people, I wanted to ask for a little help / advice.
I'm not a big drinker. I do enjoy a little wine and beer with a good meal. But on occasion, I like something stronger.
I generally go in for Bourbon for sipping. But if I want an Apéritif and Digestif, I generally like something a bit sweeter.
I like (but don't love)things like Drambuie, Cointreau and such. And back in my pre-kosher days I was very partial to Benedictine and Gran Marnier. I've discovered that I don't, however, enjoy straight brandy (even really high end brandy). What can I say... I'm a cheap date.
A few years ago I discovered that the folks who make Sabra (a sweet, orange/coffee liquor) had started making a brandy based liquor called 'Sabra Grand' that was very close to perfect (for me). It very quickly became my 'tipple of choice'.
Which of course meant that within a very short time, they stopped making Sabra Grand.
So... what I'm looking for are recommendations for kosher Apéritifs and Digestifs in the liquor family (based on brandy or some other spirit), which might fill this new hole in my life.
Thanks in advance for all the advice.
Tuesday, January 14, 2014
Tell us more about the genocidal Israelis
It has been an open secret that, unlike the Palestinian Refugee camps in Israel where nobody is forcing the residents to remain, the Palestinian refugee camps in Syria and Lebanon are virtual concentration camps where the residents are forced to live in open air prisons.
For years, there have been reports of Palestinians living in Syria and Lebanon being denied the most basic freedom of movement, being barred from being able to work in a wide range of desirable fields, and being forced to live in truly appalling conditions.
But because these were Arab regimes violating human rights and ignoring international law, the world has taken little or no notice.
Today I read a news report that in the midst of the ongoing Syrian civil war, as well as a particularly harsh winter, the Yarmouk refugee camp in Syria has been kept under a stage of siege by Syrian President Assad's forces, and more than 40 people have died recently from starvation... with another 10 near death.
According to the article, there used to be 170,000 Palestinians living in this camp, but most of them fled to Jordan or Lebanon during the chaos of the recent military upheaval. But 18,000 or so remained in the camp, and are now being deliberately starved to death by Syrian troops.
Where is the public outcry? Where is the EU's Catherine Ashton's public outrage? Where are President Obama's 'red lines'? Where are the United Nations' resolutions condemning these atrocities?
Oh I know... they are all too busy condemning the construction of apartments and houses in existing Israeli communities. It is this construction that is the cause of such outrage around the world that college students in the world's capitals routinely hold anti-Israel demonstrations, invariably waving placards about 'The Israeli Genocide of the Palestinian People' and shamelessly comparing Israelis to Nazis.
It is apparently of interest to nobody that nearly as many Palestinians in Syria have been killed in the two-and-a-half years since the start of the Syrian Civil War as have been killed in the last 25 years of the ongoing 'armed resistance' of the various Palestinian groups against Israel (a conflict to which they are an active party).
But please... tell us more about the genocidal Israeli nazis.
Monday, January 13, 2014
Making the most of a life set on 'fast-forward'
I just read the sad news that a remarkable young man named Sam Berns has passed away from 'old age'. Sam was 17 years old.
Watching Sam's TED talk last month, entitled, 'My Philosophy for a Happy Life', I was prepared to feel sorry for this kid... but instead came away feeling deeply grateful for the life lesson he taught me.
Take a few minutes to watch this inspirational presentation:
Rest in peace, Sam Berns. When my time is done, I hope that I will have been able to collect and pass on as much wisdom as you managed to share in your short life.
Tuesday, January 07, 2014
A Sign Of The Times
I can still remember when I was a kid, that the sign beneath McDonalds' golden arches said something other than "BILLIONS AND BILLIONS SERVED".
That's right, when I was a boy (and dinosaurs roamed the earth), the number of hamburgers served up there on the sign was listed in the millions, not billions... and they actually had removable numbers on the sign like the ones gas stations use to show the changing prices, to announce just how many millions of their hamburgers they had sold to date.
In fact, while driving across the US with my family during the summer of 1973, I clearly remember wondering to myself if I'd get to see the numbers changing on one of the McDonalds' signs as ever more hamburgers were served... like a car's odometer rolling up the miles (it never happened).
Granted, it made little difference to me (or anyone else, I assume) whether it was 255 million or 943 million hamburgers served. It was simply a neat marketing ploy, because it let the public know that someone was tracking how many of their hamburgers had been consumed by the eating public.
But at a certain point, someone in McDonalds' corporate marketing department decided that this ploy had run its course, and to simplify things, they started making signs for all their restaurants saying simply, "BILLIONS AND BILLIONS SERVED".
I mention this tidbit of Americana because of a little news snipet I saw this morning that casually mentioned that "The UN's human rights office... has stopped updating the death toll from Syria's civil war since its last count of at least 100,000 in late July".
The reason given for this decision to freeze the death toll at the nice round 100,000 mark was "the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights'... own lack of access on the ground in Syria and its inability to verify "source material" from others".
Now, I think we can all agree that nobody realistically expects the UN to report exact numbers of casualties in the ongoing Syrian civil war (or any conflict, for that matter). That would require not only a level of omniscience virtually impossible in any war zone; much less a third world war zone, but would also require a real time reporting mechanism (like an odometer readout) capable of providing an up-to-the-minute count as each new death occurred.
As difficult as it is to fathom such staggering numbers of casualties, I think you'll agree that any thinking person can appreciate the difference between 50,000 and 75,000 dead. And as round numbers go, 100,000 dead Syrians is certainly markedly different than, say, 150,000!
I'm sure some of you have already decided that I am either callous or cruel to have drawn a mental parallel between a fast food chain's hamburger count and the body count in an ongoing armed conflict. What can I say... my mind goes to strange places at 5:00 AM.
I think the obvious parallel that caught my attention is that, just as McDonalds' management came to realize that nobody really cared enough about exactly how many hamburgers had been served to even feign an accurate tally... so too, the UN seems to have reached a similar conclusion about the body count in Syria. At a certain point the numbers all become meaningless expressions of 'too many to count', so why bother, right?
I don't want to give the mistaken impression that I hold the UN to a higher standard of conduct or accuracy than the management of McDonalds. Because I don't.
But I find the UN's excuse of their "inability to verify "source material" from others" to ring a tad hollow, to say the least, given that they have been more than content to take a third party's word for the number of Palestinian refugees there are at any given moment. In fact the UN quite literally set up a unique agency to do nothing but believe in the miraculously growing number of Palestinian refugees, and tend to their every need.
What do I mean by 'unique'?
Since WWII, the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees has been responsible for all refugees in the world... except the Palestinians. With that one glaring exception, all refugees in the world are quickly counted up as soon as whatever upheaval created them subsides, given immediate aid, and promptly resettled. As much as I love to criticize the UN, this UN agency actually works fairly efficiently.
As a result, reasonably accurate statistics exist for the numbers and dispensation of refugees all over the world over the past seventy years. Except, that is, for the Palestinian refugees.
Unlike all other refugees who are defined as 'a person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster', the definition of a Palestinian refugee has been expanded to also include all of the descendants of those original refugees displaced in 1948. That means, instead of a few tens of thousands of displaced persons, there are today somewhere north of five million Palestinian refugees!
To deal with this exponentially expanding pool of Palestinian refugees, the UN created a unique organization called the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) whose raison d'être, not to mention enormous staffing requirement and budget, would instantly evaporate if anyone were to miraculously find a solution to the Palestinian refugee issue (or define them as all other refugees in the world are defined).
And unlike the excuse being used for abandoning any semblance of accuracy in reporting the body count in Syria, the UN is perfectly content to rely on the Palestinians themselves to provide the current refugee figures. This incredible situation is allowed to exist because UNRWA's funding is based on the number of refugees under their care, which provides a hefty incentive to accept the inflated figures provided by their charges (not to mention a teeny tiny conflict of interest).
Bottom line, when deciding how /if to create any kind of accounting of hamburgers, bodies or refugees... it all comes down to who considers the numbers important.
Just as McDonalds long ago decided that the public didn't really care to see a real number up there on their signs, the UN has apparently decided that the public no longer cares, in anything more than the most abstract terms, how many Syrians have been killed since the start of their bloody civil war.
But it is a telling sign of the times that despite the UN's "inability to verify "source material" from others"... when it comes to the Palestinian refugees, they are still able and willing to provide up-to-the-minute Palestinian refugee numbers in order to calculate UNRWA's burgeoning budget... as well as Israel's ever expanding culpability.
Sunday, January 05, 2014
Because Who is Perfect?
I somehow missed this last month, but someone sent it to me over the weekend and I wanted to share it here:
In a Zurich store window, between the perfect mannequins, they placed figures with scoliosis or brittle bone disease modelling the latest fashions. One had shortened limbs; another a malformed spine.
The campaign was devised for the International Day of Persons with Disabilities by Pro Infirmis, an organisation for the disabled. Entitled "Because who is perfect? Get closer.", it was designed to provoke reflection on the acceptance of people with disabilities. Director Alain Gsponer has captured the campaign as a short film.
I hope this makes your week (month... year!) as it has mine.
Thursday, January 02, 2014
A Complete Lack of Curiosity
I find it fascinating that yesteday's news about the Palestinian ambassador to the Czech Republic being killed in an explosion at his official residence in Prague is being treated largely like a a common car accident by the major international news outlets.
I mean seriously, what could possibly be considered out of the ordinary about a senior diplomat being blown up in his official residence, right? After all, diplomats routinely handle explosives in their homes while representing their countries in foreign capitals, right? Right?!
As the story has developed in a ho-hum fashion over the past 24 hours, more details have emerged, including the bizarre explanation that "the explosion occurred while [the ambassador] was opening a safe, inadvertently setting off a security protection". [source]
Am I the only one who is just a little curious whether having explosive booby traps in safes is a common practice among diplomats? Apparently so, because so far, not one news organization (that I have seen) has contacted any other country's ambassadors or consul generals to ask this basic question.
The media has also failed (so far as I can tell) to contact any government officials anywhere in the world to make the obvious (to me, anyway) inquiry as to whether there is any problem, from a legal and/or diplomatic protocol standpoint, with a foreign country's diplomatic staff possessing explosives in their missions and/or official residences.
The only consistent quotation I see regarding this event is the following police statement that appears in the first paragraph of nearly every article: "[The Prague police spokesperson] said there was no indication the explosion was sabotage or a terrorist attack".
It must be frustrating for the world's media outlets to be faced with that fairly ironclad statement as it somewhat limits their ability to trot out idle speculation that Israel might somehow be responsible. But you have to give credit to the New York Times which still managed to insert the following non sequitur into their coverage of the explosion:
"Difficult negotiations have been underway for months between the Palestinian leadership and Israeli officials over a two-state solution to their prolonged conflict."
Well played, NYT... well played, indeed!
Yet there remains a fairly obvious line of questioning that, inexplicably, isn't taking place. Anywhere!
As you probably know, I'm nothing, if not a giver... so feel free to forward the following crib sheet to any journalists you might know to help prod them along:
Question: Is there any possibility that the explosion was a 'work accident' which occurred while a bomb was being constructed, stored or transported?
Question: If the explosion was, as reported, caused by a security device in a safe located in the ambassador's residence, are such security devices common... and if so, are they in use by other country's diplomatic personnel?
Question: Are diplomatic missions required to seek permission for, or at least declare, explosives in their possession as they do for weapons used by their protective detail/security personnel?
Question: Are there any commercial manufacturer's currently marketing safes equipped with explosive security countermeasures, or is this the type of thing which one would have to have custom built/installed by a demolitions expert?
Question: The fatal injuries the Palestinian ambassador sustained, specifically "head, chest and stomach injuries", seem to suggest a fairly substantial explosion... certainly in excess of what one would assume would be required to destroy the contents of a safe in case of a burglery. Unless, of course the 'security device' was an offensive weapon meant to maim or kill an intruder. And if the latter, are there any restrictions on the importation and use of such offensive weapons in the Czech Republic or other countries where the Palestinians maintain diplomatic missions?
Question: It has been stated that the explosion took place in the ambassador's residence and not in the actual 'Embassy' which is housed in a building next door. Why would an ambassador be required to have materials in his residence that require such a high level of security when the formal diplomatic mission is a few steps away?
Question: The New York Times has stated that , "The Palestine Liberation Organization, the main umbrella organization of the Palestinian national movement, maintains missions in a number of European capitals as part of a broader diplomatic effort aimed at advancing the cause of Palestinian statehood". So if Palestine is not (yet) an official country, and the diplomatic missions it maintains are largely for 'advancing broader diplomatic efforts...', what kind of data/information could they possibly be safeguarding that would warrant a security system that employs explosives?
Maybe these will stir the journalistic juices and spark a glimmer of curiosity.
Don't thank me... I'm a giver.
Wednesday, January 01, 2014
Ain't Technology Grand?
Standing on the side of the road a few hundered meters from the Cave of the Patriarchs (Ma'arat HaMachpelah) in the Judean Hills, I was able to take out my portable computerized video tablet (also known as an iPad), and watch a live stream of the ball dropping in Times Square at 7:00AM Israel time.
I was then able to pull out my pocket-sized computerized video communicator (also known as an iPhone), and make a free VOIP call to my (much) older sister on the other side of the world and wish her a Happy New Year.
I'm still waiting for my unisex metalic jumpsuit, flying car and robotic dog... but I have to admit that the future is almost everything I'd hoped for when I was a kid.
Happy (secular) New Year!
Monday, December 30, 2013
A New Olympic Event: Political Correctness
...and the New York Times has scored a perfect 10 with its coverage of the second suicide bombing in Russia in 24 hours with their article entitled "Second Blast Hits Russia, Raising Olympic Fears". Yet nowhere in the lengthy article did they even allude to the 1972 Munich Olympics.
For those of us who remember the 1972 Olympic Massacre in which most of the Israeli Olympic team was murdered by a PLO terror group calling itself 'Black September', it seems inconceivable that there could possibly be any discussion of the Olympic Games and their vulnerability to terror attacks without some mention of Munich.
After all, even though previous modern Olympic games had been tarnished by political manipulations (e.g. the 1936 summer Olympics hosted by Hitler in Berlin), 1972 was the first targeted with political violence.
And yet, in the New York Times article discussing the world's concerns about Russia's security preparations for the Winter Olympics to be held in the Caucus city of Sochi, the Munich Olympic massacre isn't mentioned, even parenthetically.
It seems that the Times has joined the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in not wanting to "alienate other members of the Olympic community" by mentioning the Palestinians in an unflattering light. After all, they are now part of the big, happy Olympic family of nations!
Here's a bit of fun Olympic trivia for those who are interested in such things:
- According to Abu Daud, the Palestinian mastermind behind the Munich Olympic massacre, the funding for Black September's Munich attack was approved and provided by Mahmoud Abbas (the current President of the 'moderate' Fatah led Palestinian Authority). [source]
- The day after the Munich Olympic massacre, the IOC decided that despite the killing of most of a participating national contingent, the games had to continue... and they quickly organized a memorial service attended by 80,000 spectators and 3,000 athletes in the Olympic Stadium. However, in his speech at the event praising the strength of the Olympic movement and equating the attack with the recent arguments about encroaching professionalism and disallowing Rhodesia's participation in the Games, IOC President Avery Bundage made no reference whatsoever to the murdered Israeli athletes. [source]
- During the memorial service, the Olympic Flag was flown at half-mast, along with the flags of most of the other competing nations. However ten Arab nations objected to their flags being lowered to honor murdered Israelis; so the Olympic organizers allowed those nation's flags to be restored to the tops of their flagpoles. Once the memorial service was concluded, all of the flags were returned to the top of their flagpoles and remained there for the rest of the Munich games. [source]
- Once the Munich games resumed, many of the 80,000 people who filled the Olympic Stadium for West Germany's football match with Hungary carried noisemakers and waved flags, but when several spectators unfurled a banner reading "17 dead, already forgotten?" Olympic security officers removed the sign and expelled those responsible from the grounds. [source]
- Many people mistakenly assume that all of the Black September terrorists were killed during the botched German rescue attempt at the Munich airport. In fact, three of the eight terrorists survived with relatively minor wounds and were arrested and held for trial in Germany. However a month later the PLO hijacked Lufthansa Flight 615 and threatened to blow up the plane with all aboard if the three Munich terrorists were not released. Germany, likely relieved at being presented with the opportunity to avoid the international scrutiny over their handling of the Olympic attack that a trial would entail, immediately released the terrorists and they were flown to Libya where they received a hero's welcome and held a triumphant press conference. [source]
- The IOC has refused repeated requests from Israel to observe a moment of silence at the opening ceremonies of the Olympic games in memory of the slaughtered Israeli athletes and coaches. The reason given is "it would be inappropriate" and that it might offend some olympic participants. Obviously it is never made clear which participants might find the condemnation of the massacre of an Olympic team by terrorists, 'offensive'.
- Individual athletes can be disqualified, and even banned for life, from participating in the Olympics for a range of offenses, including using performance enhancing drugs and other banned substances. However,the Palestinian Authority (the current incarnation of the PLO which planned, approved and financed the Munich massacre), has been sending teams to represent 'Palestine' at the Olympic Games since 1996.
The New York Times is far from alone in their deliberate obfuscation of Munich as 'patient zero' of the epidemic of the Olympic games being targeted by terrorism. But to be fair, they are in good company with most of the world's media, and of course, the OIC, in willfully ignoring the very essence of what the Modern Olympics was supposed to echo from its ancient past:
Specifically, from 776 BCE until 394 CE, the ancient Olympic Games were held every four years despite international warfare whose brutality would dwarf today's relatively sterile conflicts. What made this possible was a remarkable idea called an Olympic Truce. The truce (Ancient Greek: ékécheiria, meaning "laying down of arms"), was announced before and during the Olympic Games to ensure the host city state was not attacked, and athletes and spectators could travel safely to the Games and peacefully return to their respective countries. During the truce period (lasting up to three months), wars were suspended, armies were prohibited from threatening the Games, legal disputes were stopped, and death penalties were forbidden. [source]
In 1990s the modern OIC revived the tradition by calling on all nations to observe the Olympic Truce. Heck, the UN even issued resolution 48/11 of 25 October 1993, making the Olympic Truce all nice and official. [source] But like most well-meaning modern declarations and UN Resolutions, this one wasn't worth the paper on which it is written.
And because newspapers like the New York Times balk at the mere mention of the attack on the Munich Olympics, much less actually holding the guilty party up for international condemnation! (because, you know, it might offend many of the participating nations), the very idea of a modern Olympic Truce will remain just that; an idea.
Instead of the Olympics being a sacrosanct event that would call down the world's wrath on whoever might violate them, terrorists around the world now train and prepare for the Olympic Games every bit as diligently as the athletes. After all, there is little to be lost by targeting the games, and if history is any teacher, quite a bit to be gained!
An Australian Army General named David Morrison recently delivered a scorching speech which is recommended watching for any thinking person. But it was most remarkable for the fact that his central point transcended the subject. In fact one single sentence from his speech could just as easily have been talking about the topic I've been writing about today:
"The standard you walk past is the standard you accept".
General Morrison was talking about sexual harassment in the ranks. But his point is just as cogent to the world's willingness to walk past certain kinds of religious and political violence so as not to upset practitioners of a certain religion or school of political thought.
In my humble opinion, the New York Times should receive an Olympic medal in this Political Correctness event they have so soundly endorsed by willfully ignoring the genesis of Olympic terrorism; the 1972 Munich massacre.
Thursday, December 26, 2013
The violence here is many things... but not cyclical
Anyone who happened to be surfing the New York Times Middle East page yesterday morning was greeted with the following little gem:
Aside from trotting out the well worn (and demonstrably false) 'cycle of violence' cannard, the author managed, in surprisingly few words, to suggest a moral equivalency between the deliberate murder of an Israeli civilian worker by a Palestinian terrorist, and the unfortunate collateral death of a young Palestinian child when a rocket launcher that Hamas (or one of the other terror groups in Gaza), had cynically installed next to her home, was destroyed in an air strike by the Air Force of the sovereign State of Israel.
When US drones kill terrorists in Yemen, Pakistan or Afghanistan, the Times doesn't talk about a 'cycle of violence'. There are terrorists and there are those who attempt to kill them before (or after) they kill innocent people. The process is linear, not cyclical.
There is, however, a lot of discussion in the Times about collateral deaths and damage in many of these extra-judicial killings (we might as well call them what they are, right?). And that's as it should be. Before and after any such action there needs to be a serious cost/benefit analysis to ensure the costs of such strikes do not dwarf the benefits.
But in their reporting, the Times doesn't write that the US and Al Qeada are engaged in a cycle of violence. The Times doesn't report that the US and the Taliban are engaged in a cycle of violence.
There is certainly violence... but as I stated earlier, it is not a cycle.
So why is Israel's legitimate (according to the United State's Government's own statements), targeting of Hamas' and Islamic Jihad' (both of which are formally recognized as terror organizations by the US and European Union), personnel and infrastructure consistently reported by the Times as if the Bloods and the Crips are going at each other in South Central LA instead of a legitimate military operation carried out by a sovereign nation in defense of its citizens?
The answer is simple:
The Times would like its readers to reach the conclusion that the State of Israel is on the same level as the illegitimate terror groups that continuously attack its citizens. 'Forget that the government of a sovereign nation's primary responsibility is to protect its citizens'. 'Pay no attention to the fact that only one side feels in any way bound by international law and the conventions of modern warfare'. 'It's the middle east... why can't those savages just stop killing one another?!', right?!
But the Times' mendacious reporting doesn't stop there.
To the uninformed reader (which, according to the rules of journalism is assumed to be 100% of those reading any given article), the news snippet above provides the following simple narrative:
'An Israeli laborer was killed, so Israel retaliated by killing a Palestinian toddler'.
Just the chance to juxtapose the deaths of an Israeli laborer (presumably an adult) and a Palestinian toddler in so deliberate a fashion must have given some Times copy editor a case of the vapors!
I have a little fantasy:
I would like to handcuff the right hands of the entire New York Times Middle East Desk to the chain link fence separating Israel and the Gaza strip... the very fence, in fact, that the Israeli civilian laborer was repairing when he was murdered by the Palestinian sniper.
Oh, don't worry... I'd outfit each of them with bullet proof vests; albeit ones that only had ballistic armor on one side; the back.
I'd leave them there, chained to that fence by one hand, until the inevitable orientation of their bodies provided an admission that the bullets that could rip their vital organs to shreds at any moment, could only arrive from one direction... their fear and certainty turning them to face towards Israel, and in so doing, forcing them to finally look our tired, blameless citizens in the face while admitting that the violence here is many things... but it isn't cyclical.
Wednesday, December 25, 2013
A Holy Day
We all know what today is. That's right, it's the day when Jews traditionally go to the movies in the afternoon and then dine on Chinese food. At least that was the tradition back in the 'alter heim' (e.g. America).
If not for the Jews, who esle would have kept all the Chinese restaurants and movie theaters in business on Xmas?
But then Shmulke Bernstein's went out of business and the treppenwitz family moved to Israel... and sadly, the traditions have largely fallen by the wayside. After all, for most of us here in Israel (except for those in Bethlehem and Nazereth), today is just another work day.
I have to tell you, I love living here, and have no misgivings whatsoever.
But I gotta admit... I could really go for a matinée, followed by a nice serving of chicken Egg Foo Yung.
Happy Wednesday! ;-)
[and yes, Virginia... I'm aware this is not an authentic sign.]
Tuesday, December 24, 2013
Get a Clue, Clouseau!
I'm wondering how long these terror attacks will continue before our government decides - Clouseau-like - that a pattern just might be emerging.
Here are just a few of the most recent clues, Inspector:
December 7th: Two rockets fired into Israel from Gaza
December 16th: Israeli sailor is killed by a sniper near the Lebanese border.
December 22nd: A bomb explodes on a bus in a community south of Tel Aviv
December 23rd: A terrorist is shot while planting a bomb next to the Gaza fence.
December 23rd: A rocket fired from Gaza lands in a residential area south of Ashkelon
December 23rd: An Israeli policeman is stabbed in the back by a terrorist (but survives)
December 24th: A civilian worker repairing the Gaza fence (damaged in the recent storm) is killed by sniper fire.
For context, there were 82 terror attacks* recorded in July of 2013, 99 in August, 133 in September, 139 in October and 167 in November. Anyone want to venture a guess whether December will follow this trend?
Now let's see, what else has been going on since mid summer that might correspond with the terror attacks? Oh I know; the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks!
Get a clue, Clouseau... we see this every time peace talks are underway. There is nothing isolated or spontaneous about these attacks. They are well coordinated to turn up the heat on Israel without being concentrated enough to elicit a strong military response. The goal is to whip the Israeli left and liberal media into a chorus of "See what the occupation is causing? Let's just agree to anything so we can make it stop!!!".
I hope that the Oslo Accords, 2000 Camp David Summit and the Gaza Disengagement have provided proof enough to even the most clueless observer that acting rashly under fire is never going to earn us a single day of quiet, much less peace!
I suggest a week away from the negotiating table for every act of terror. To do otherwise is to negotiate with a gun to our head.
* A terror attack is defined as any attack with a nationalistic motive (as determined by the police or security forces), and can include rocks, Molotov cocktails, stabbings, shootings, bombs, rockets, etc.
Sunday, December 22, 2013
A Bilingual 10-Year-Old Israeli and a Used Dog
I've had to cut back on posting embarrassing personal stories about our kids because, well, I suddenly realized that at some point they are going to be in charge of picking out my nursing home.
But some stories are just too cute not to share.
Our youngest son, Yonah, recently turned 10. He is a good student and an excellent athlete. And in so many ways he is already far more Israeli than Zahava or I will ever be.
But despite our shortcomings in Hebrew, we recognize that mastery of (or at least proficiency in) English is the key to Yonah's future opportunities. So we have been taking pains to speak to him exclusively in that language at home, and have even invested in a private tutor to work with him on honing his English reading and writing skills.
But invariably, a kid who spends 98% of his waking hours speaking, reading, writing and thinking in Hebrew, is bound to have a few rough patches in his use and understanding of English; rough patches which he strives valiantly to bridge with Israeli ingenuity and logic.
For example, a few months ago Yonah had gone to sleep with wet hair after a bedtime shower and came downstairs in the morning with his hair sticking out at crazy angles. He sat down at the breakfast table, composed his question carefully, and asked, "Did someone come upstairs while I was sleeping and try to haircut me?"
When the rest of the family had finished wiping away the tears of laughter, we gently explain to him that, while it may be the norm in Hebrew, English does not automatically embrace other parts of speech masquerading as verbs. Had someone come upstairs and tried to give him a haircut? No.
The jury is still out if this particular lesson will take hold.
Another ongoing battle is Yonah's penchant for beginning interrogative sentences with the word, 'right'... as in, "Right, you told me I could go play football [soccer] with my friends after school if I took out the trash?"
While this arrangement may be perfectly acceptable in Hebrew, it is jarring to the native English speaker's ear, and as a last resort we have begun affecting deafness whenever he does this.
After three or four tries without getting a response, he finally sighs deeply, rolls his eyes and says, "You said I could go play football [soccer] with my friends after school if I took out the trash, right?"... to which he gets an immediate positive or negative reply (depending on the accuracy/truthfulness of his statement).
Another little language tic which makes me want to have him surgically fitted with electrodes so I can surreptitiously trigger a corrective remote-control shock is his use of the words 'many' and 'much' interchangeably. No matter how many times I explain to him that 'many' is for discrete units (people, tires, hours, meatballs, etc.), and 'much' is for things that are measured in graduated amounts (sand, time, cereal, juice, etc.), he still asks, "How much people are coming for Shabbat?".
And on the rare occasions when he does manage to get a handle on this important distinction, he'll come out with something truly breathtaking like, "How much time until we get there?" (which, while technically correct, usually provokes a response like, "Did you mean, how soon will we be there?")... sending him into an annoyed silence (which is a serendipitous turn of events on most long car trips).
I'm sure to some of you reading along, this all sounds a bit pedantic (or even mean-spirited) on our part. But we see ourselves as the last bulwark against the day when a 27 year old Yonah will walk into a job interview with an International widget company and ask, "Right, zis is where zeh interview is for zeh associate widget engineer? You can to tell me how many time the interview will take?"
Then there are the idioms which aren't technically wrong... but which often require a gentle correction, none-the-less.
For example, a few months ago Yonah was reminiscing about our deceased dog, Jordan. Jordan was already part of the family when Yonah was born, and we adopted our present dog, Lulu, when Yonah was old enough to remember her arrival. So in an effort to gain a better understanding of family lore, his question to me was, "Did we get Jordan as a puppy or was she a used dog?".
It took everything in my power not to laugh. I think I even bit my tongue to stem the belly laugh that was brewing. Yonah is old enough to know that adult animals that are adopted often come from a previous owner... but his tenuous grasp of English idioms tripped him up... and will almost certainly continue to 'out' him in the future as someone who is not a native English speaker.
We've all had those moments where we've been conversing with a stranger whose English is perfect and unaccented... until some shibboleth comes tumbling awkwardly off the stranger's tongue, allowing us to make a mental note that there is a bit of 'international flavor' in the speaker's back-story.
By the way, I may be a bit of a pedant, but I didn't have the heart to shatter such a touching moment of family reminiscence. In response to Yonah's sweet inquiry about our previous dog... I simply smiled and said, "Yes, Yonah... Jordan was a used dog".
Sunday, December 15, 2013
A couple feet of the white stuff
Yeah, I'm sure those of you from upstate New York, Canada, North Dakota and Minnesota are looking at that title and going, "So? That's most days here in the winter!".
The problem is that the unlike places such as those I just mentioned, on the one or two times per year when Israel gets a decent amount of snow, we are faced with certain, um, limitations:
- There are only a handful of snow plows, so it takes a long time to dig out.
- The electrical infrastructure is not designed to withstand snow.
- Israelis get so little opportunity to practice driving in snow that they are essentially clueless.
The result is that once an inch or two accumulates, the army just closes all the roads.
The snow started falling on Wednesday night, and by Thursday morning was deep enough to bring down trees (and power lines), block roads and bring the affected areas to a standstill.
There were long periods where we lost power (did I mention we heat with electricity), but for most of this long weekend we were relatively well off.
The same can't be said of the tens of thousands of households that lost power early and still aren't back online. It isn't for lack of trying, mind you. It's just that the Israel Electrical repair crews can't always reach the damaged areas of their infrastructure without help from the army.
There have been some truly inspiring stories of rescues (army helicopter airlifting a woman in labor to the hospital for a problematic delivery), hospitality (strangers hosting stranded drivers who walked in off the main roads after abandoning their vehicles) and people sharing whatever they have with those who were without.
Ariella and Gilad were both supposed to be away for Shabbat, but one serendipitious aspect of the storm was that we had our entire family here with us.
We have, or more correctly had, three very tall poplar trees out in our front yard. They offered shade in the summer and privacy year round. Two of them snapped in half under the weight of the snow. The jury is still out on whether the third one will spring back from being bent over nearly double.
Anyway, the main roads are still closed, and probably will remain closed until later this afternoon. So for the time being we're shoveling, chipping ice, sawing the downed trees and dragging them out to the curb.
Here are a few pics:
Gilad and a friend.
Ariella early in the storm
Thursday, December 05, 2013
The Eggnog Post
For quite some time, "eggnog season" here at chez treppenwitz has run from Thanksgiving to Hannukah.
You can see how that would be a little problematic this year, right?
Truth be told, we started a little early this year... and due to a special request from Ariella, who will miss much of the eggnog season due to being away in the army, we will be whipping up our last batch of this rich, creamy beverage on her birthday in early January.
Soooo, once again... for those don't have access to store-bought 'nog (or if you just want to take your eggnog consumption to the next level), here's a foolproof recipe from a certified fool:
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)
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. Gradually beat in the sugar, vanilla and nutmeg. Turn the mixer off and stir in the cold booze, whipping cream and milk.
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)
What are you still doing here looking at the screen?! The kitchen is that way!
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 make french toast with it.
Don't thank me... I'm a giver! :-)
Wednesday, December 04, 2013
'Tis The Season (according to some)
I've been hearing from some of my friends in the US that the smell of stuffing and turkey wasn't even out of the kitchen before stores and malls began breaking out the Christmas decorations and music.
Personally, I sort of miss Christmas music for purely cultural reasons (I grew up in New England!). But I can understand how some might find the early onset of 'the season' (some vendors already had Christmas stuff on display as soon as the Halloween decorations come down!!!), to be a tad intrusive.
It turns out that I can help you out with a little insider information from the Holy Land.
In the Bible, Efrat (the town where I live) and Bethlehem are used interchangeably. At that time, apparently they were one and the same. Today, Efrat is right next door to Bethlehem, and each time I make the ten minute trip to Jerusalem, I pass the entrance road to Bethlehem... just a few hundred yards from Manger Square.
What I'm here to tell you is that, at least as of today, there are no Christmas lights up in Manger Square or anywhere on the approach road to it. The Monastery on the Jerusalem side of Bethlehem has no decorations up yet, and the Christian Quarter of Jerusalem's Old CIty has yet to break out the Christmas trimmings.
I'll let you know when things start to go up here... but for the time being, if you want to have a chat with the management of your local mall or Home Depot (without being a grinch, mind you), you can politely tell them with some authority that it's crazy to be rocking Christmas decorations and holiday music in Hackensack or Peoria when at ground zero of Christianity they haven't begun to even un-box the tinsel!
Don't thank me... I'm a giver! :-)
Tuesday, December 03, 2013
I've met quite a few people via this blog over the years. Some have remained in the virtual realm, and a few have made the transition into real flesh and blood friendships.
One of the real life friends I have made via treppenwitz is a gentleman (and later, his wife) from the US who began following my blog early on... and after becoming an avid reader, made up his mind that he wanted to make my acquaintance.
Now, lest anyone think this sounds a little stalkerish... let me assure you that it turns out we knew plenty of people in common, and he even had a relative living in our community. But truth be told, making such a decision, and then quickly carrying it out, is actually quite typical of this gentleman. He lives life almost entirely on his own terms.
Which is how it came to pass as I was out puttering in our front yard one sunny day, that a stranger walked up to our garden gate with a big smile on his face, held out his hand and said, "Hi, I'm '______'... you must be treppenwitz".
I've never made any attempt to keep my identity a secret (much to my wife and kids' chagrin), so I didn't take this sudden introduction as any particular feat of detective work. But I have to admit that the few times I've been 'recognized' (to mis-use a term normally reserved for criminals and celebrities), I've been completely stunned that anyone would bother.
Our first introduction came about because he had been in my town visiting his relatives and had simply decided to walk the few blocks to my house and say hello.
Over the years since that day, his complete lack of reserve and almost child-like directness, have taken me, again and again, by surprise. Although I knew relatively little about him, here was a well respected family man, several years my senior, who had sought me out and had repeatedly taken great pains to make me feel smart, eloquent and even important.
As we corresponded, visited one another on family trips and got to know each other better, I discovered that there was no bluster or bluff to his outgoing persona. He is simply the most honest and direct person I think I have ever met. And his wife, while perhaps not quite so direct, is every bit as open and genuine.
One of the things that I figured out as I got to know this couple better is that they have attained, (through hard work, mind you), a level of affluence that has allowed them to do many things that most people in my circles only dream of.
I'm not talking about palatial homes, fancy cars or flashy clothing. Material possessions and the outward trimmings of wealth don't seem to be high on their agenda. In fact, they make their primary residence in a community that is next door to several neighboring wealthy enclaves, but is not, itself, associated with affluence.
Rather, they shuttle frequently between the US and Israel to dote on their children and grand kids... and are quietly generous with a wide range of philanthropic endeavors that few ever hear about.
In fact, even the one aspect of their life that struck me as a bit 'over the top'; owning a small private plane, turned out to be a hobby that allows this couple to take modest vacations around the US within their busy schedule, and as a highly qualified pilot, the husband is a frequent participant in 'Angel Flights', a volunteer organization of private pilots who provide free transportation for any legitimate medical-related need such as flying patients to and from distant hospitals for treatments.
A couple of years ago I was at the Israeli apartment they maintain to be able to be close to their kids' families when they visit, and I noticed a small photo of a Torah dedication ceremony. The image caught my eye because the photo showed a room full of religious Jews in typical Haredi garb (black hat, dark suits and ties), but my friend, who is also quite observant, was wearing a black cowboy hat instead of the typical fedoras that the other people in the picture were wearing.
I didn't even have to ask to know a couple of things:
First, based on the composition of the photo, my friend (and his wife, obviously) had donated the new Torah scroll whose dedication was being celebrated in the picture. And second, that although he too was dressed in a dark suit and tie... the black cowboy hat was his playful way of saying that he marched to the beat of his own drummer.
The reason I shared this last part is that a few weeks ago Zahava and I received a letter from these friends inviting us to yet another Torah dedication ceremony, to be held on the fifth night of Hanukkah. They had commissioned the writing of this new sefer Torah in memory of both their mothers who had passed in the previous two years.
For those who are not up on such things, a new Torah scroll is an incredibly extravagance. Putting aside the intrinsic holiness of the scroll for a moment... the cost of the huge amount of parchment required, the decorated wooden spindles, exquisitely embroidered mantle, hand beaten sterling silver crown and accoutrements... and of course paying a talented scribe to work for a year (or more) doing nothing else but hand writing the Torah... well you can take my word that it would be financially easier to purchase a high end luxury car than to commission (and give away) a new sefer Torah!
But this is exactly what my friends had done once already, and were about to do again!
Two nights ago was the dedication ceremony where the last few letters of the Torah would be written and the scroll then marched in a celebratory parade to its new home in a fledgeling Israeli synagogue.
Sadly with Ariella in the army, Gilad busy with his mechina and Zahava incapacitated with her annual change-of-season migraine, Yonah and I were the sole representatives of the treppenwitz household to be able to attend.
When we arrived at our friend's apartment, we were greeted with hugs and warm handshakes. I was amused to see that my friend was wearing his (now) trademark black cowboy hat with his modest dark suit, and that a pair of black cowboy boots were poking out from beneath his well pressed trousers.
On the drive down, Yonah had expressed some concern about attending the party. He is a shy kid to begin with, but he has also never had any contact with the Haredi world, and wasn't quite sure how they would view him in his navy blue pants, white shirt and white knitted kippah (yarmulkeh). I reassured him that he'd be fine, but in the back of my mind I was more worried about his sensitivity issues which make crowding, pushing and frequent jostling intolerable.
Have you ever been to a Haredi party of any kind?! Their celebratory enthusiasm is rivaled only by their lack of awareness of personal space.
As soon as the room started to fill up, Yonah pressed himself to my side and held onto my hand like a drowning man. As the crowd swelled, and adults and kids caromed off the furniture and one another, Yonah began to whimper. When a couple of kids actually crashed into him while pushing their way to the refreshment table, Yonah pleaded to be taken home.
Just then my friend and his wife broke away from the people they had been talking to and joined us in the corner of the room where we had taken refuge. I don't know if they had noted Yonah's body language, but they immediately engaged Yonah in conversation and asked him how old he was, what grade he was in, etc.. They spoke to him as though he were the guest of honor (something I would see each of them do to countless people all evening), with the result that Yonah not only was able to relax, but he actually began to feel like he belonged.
Once the scribe had arrived and seated himself at table on which the unfinished Torah had been placed, a crowd formed around him to watch the completion of the writing of the Torah.
One by one, bearded Rabbis and important members of the community were called to sit next to the scribe. The last few lines of the Torah had had the letters carefully outlined by the scribe... but not filled in. Each of the dignitaries was handed a feather quill dipped in the special ink, told to recite a brief statement that what they were about to do was for the holiness of writing a Torah, and then they filled in one of the remaining letters.
I explained to Yonah what they were doing, but because of the crowding and jostling, he was unable to catch a glimpse of what was going on. Then he asked if I was going to write one of the letters.
I had been to several Torah dedication ceremonies in the past, and had never been asked to write a letter. And looking around at the long beards and learned friends and associates of my friend, I confidently responded that no, we were just there to celebrate the birth of this new sefer Torah and to escort it to its new home at the neighborhood synagogue.
Yet once again, as if he had overheard my quiet conversation with Yonah (an impossibility in that din), my friend suddenly shouted to me over the heads of the crowd and gestured for me to come take a seat next to the scribe. I was suddenly excruciatingly conscious of the fact that I was the only adult there in Khakis and a white shirt (rather than the requisite Blues Brothers uniform).
Yonah and I made our way to the table as the crowd parted for us, and for the first and only time in my life, I actually wrote a letter in a sefer Torah. And it may sound like the worst sort of conceit, but having one's ten year old son standing at your elbow watching as you sit at the center of a crowded room wielding a quill to parchment, is heady stuff. For that moment, I felt like the biggest of big shots! I doubt John Hancock felt any more important when he got to make his famous mark.
After I'd handed the quill back to the scribe and started to get up, I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes. I really didn't want to make a spectacle of myself in front of these bearded strangers. But I needn't have worried. Once again my friend was there at my side extending his hand and thanking me!!!... as though I was the one who had done him a favor!!!
At that point I felt that both Yonah and I could use some fresh air, so we went out onto the balcony to enjoy the cool evening air and listen to the music from the gathering parade that awaited the new Torah out in the street.
Several people were handing out toys and candy to the kids, and Yonah was delighted to suddenly find himself in possession of both. I explained that once the last few letters were completed, we would be going outside where the city police had closed off the street to traffic and several vehicles bedecked with flashing lights and loudspeakers were waiting to lead the crowd of men, women and children the few hundred yards to the synagogue where it would be taking up residence.
Nothing I could have said could have prepared Yonah for the bedlam of the parade. Once my friend emerged carrying the Torah and surrounded by a dancing, singing crowd, the parade instantly swelled to the point where it looked like the entire town was there. Older kids were handed lit torches to lead the procession up the street, and the rest of the crowd followed behind with the Torah being carried by my friend underneath a large canopy.
Almost immediately I saw my friend hand the Torah to someone in the crowd, and from then on he stood back and let each person take a turn carrying the sacred scroll.
While most people's attention was on the Torah and whoever happened to be holding it at any given moment, I couldn't help watching my friend. He stood off in the periphery with a smile on his face and a twinkle in his eye, enjoying the event he had created, but content to let others be at the center of it.
When the parade reached the synagogue and the Torah was escorted up the steps and inside to its new home, everyone was invited to stay for dinner. Once again, my friend and his wife had planned things so as to ensure that the focus remained on the new Torah... on the memory of their departed mothers... on their extended family and their community... and on the various rabbis and dignitaries who spoke.
But then my friend got up to deliver his remarks. I suppose you can't throw a party like that without saying something, right?
As my ten year old son and I sat there like a tiny island of khaki and white in a great ocean of black hats and suits, my friend began by saying that in preparation for the evening's celebration, he and his wife had sent out many invitations. He said that a response he'd gotten from a friend from Efrat had said "I wouldn't miss it for the world... you know how I feel about the 5th night of Hanukkah!". He then went on to mention me by name and to describe my blog post from several years ago , (although he spoke far more eloquently than I had written).
When Yonah heard my name mentioned, he turned to me and blurted, "Abba, he's talking about you!", which attracted approving nods from of several of the people seated near us.
Although startled by the sudden attention, I wasn't at all surprised that even in his own speech, my friend would focus his words on others. I just wasn't prepared for the fact that some of them would be focused on me.
Many times in old cowboy/western shows, a plot device is employed where a father is humiliated in front of his son by the bad guy. It's a powerful plot device because the script writers knew that on some level, every son thinks his father is bigger, better and more important than anyone in the world... and by the same token, every father wants, at all cost, to earn and keep the respect and admiration of his son.
Yet, my friend, standing before an enormous crowd in his cowboy hat and boots, who should, by any standards, have been basking in the thanks and admiration of this religious community to which he and his wife had given such a monumental gift, instead turned the attention on someone else... and in so doing, had turned that well-worn 'oat opera' plot device on its head. For the second time in one evening, he'd allowed me to be a big shot in front of my son... a gift almost as rare as the one the synagogue had received.
Many years ago, another friend confided in me that his one wish was that he could be wealthy enough that when it came time to marry off his children, he and his wife could make modest weddings. He had gone on to explain that when you are poor and make a small wedding, people secretly feel sorry for you. While if a wealthy person makes a small affair, everyone admires them for their restraint and modesty.
I've pondered that for many years, and have gone back and forth on whether I agreed with his thesis. But I now realize that it's central flaw lay in the fact that it was completely based on the perception of others. Why should anyone be so invested in with what others may think?!
This week I learned that you can't control how others make you feel. But you can control how you make others feel. And in that, this special evening was a master class on how to make others feel wise, respected, honored, important... and yes, like a big shot.
If you don't know who I've been talking about in this post, I can only suggest that you try to emulate him.
If you do recognize the person I've been writing about, you're likely smiling right now, because you know that the reason I haven't mentioned his name is that with all the good he and his lovely wife do for others... they would never want to draw attention to themselves.
Thank you, my friend, for making me feel like a big shot.