Thursday, July 17, 2014
Please let this be the last time...
Tuesday, July 15, 2014
Calling a spade a spade
I have so far successfully resisted the temptation to weigh in on the current conflict. And I will continue to hold my tongue for the simple reason that I have nothing helpful to say beyond the following which I shared a few days ago in a more intimate online setting:
I want to ask that people refrain from contemplating and/or assigning blame. It is unhelpful. I cringe when I hear people say they are 'pro-Israel' or 'pro-Palestinian'. This isn't the world cup or some zero-sum game where you root for a side. Wanting anyone to win implies that you also want the other side to lose.
In a just, peaceful solution (as my country has so far achieved - tenuous as it may be - with two of our neighbors), both sides should win and nobody should lose. And by 'win', I mean both sides should enjoy the benefits of peaceful coexistence. That can't happen so long as anyone (here or around the world) actively works and prays for anyone's victory or defeat.
If you can view current events through that mindset, it quickly becomes clear who wants peace and who can't exist without war.
I encourage everyone to follow the news and think critically about what you see. There are state actors involved in the current conflict as well as non-state terror organizations (as defined by the US, EU and UN) that do not represent any state and, in fact, would cease to be relevant the moment a just and lasting peace would be achieved. Don't forget that essential fact for a moment as you scan the news!
That said, I can't remain silent in the face of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's most recent hateful, anti-Israel rhetoric.
Today he managed to ignore the fact that Israel heeded a 9:00 AM cease fire while Hamas continued to fire more than 50 unanswered missiles into Israel civilian population centers.
Instead, when after four hours of unabated bombardment Israel resumed military operations to protect its citizens, Erdogan accused Israel of "perpetrating a 'massacre' of Palestinians" and of "committing 'state terrorism'".
But the bit that shattered the last of my resolve to stay silent was his statement this afternoon in which he compared Israel to Adolf Hitler (according to Turkish daily, 'Hurriyet'). [source]
Okay, here's the deal, Recep. As a Turk, you should know a thing or two about Genocide... and about shame.
Specifically, you should be able to differentiate between legitimate self defense and the stated intention to wipe out an entire people. After all, your country murdered a million and a half innocent Armenians in 1915 and created the model on which Hitler built his own grand vision for genocide.
In fact, in his 22 August 1939 speech prior to Germany's invasion of Poland, Hitler famously said:
"Our strength consists in our speed and in our brutality. Genghis Khan led millions of women and children to slaughter – with premeditation and a happy heart. History sees in him solely the founder of a state. It’s a matter of indifference to me what a weak western European civilization will say about me. I have issued the command – and I’ll have anybody who utters but one word of criticism executed by a firing squad – that our war aim does not consist in reaching certain lines, but in the physical destruction of the enemy. Accordingly, I have placed my death-head formation in readiness – for the present only in the East – with orders to them to send to death mercilessly and without compassion, men, women, and children of Polish derivation and language. Only thus shall we gain the living space (Lebensraum) which we need. Who, after all, speaks to-day of the annihilation of the Armenians?"
For reasons that have thus far evaded me, the world continues to tip-toe carefully around using the 'G' word in reference to Turkey's massacre of its Armenian minority.
So let's call a spade a spade: Turkey committed Genocide. And they need to face up to their criminal past and national shame. Only then, like Germany, can Turkey accept responsibility and educate its citizens against ever contemplating such evil again.
Accusing Israel of perpetrating genocide is monstrous, and Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan is indeed a monster; a throwback to a time when dictators and despots could bend the world to their will with deceptive words as much as unspeakable deeds.
As an afterthought, I would add that I am deeply ashamed of the civilized portion of the world that sits by and raises no objection to such monsters and their vile pronouncements... and even allows them the veneer and cover of membership in legitimate organizations like NATO.
Wednesday, July 02, 2014
Jumbled Thoughts. In No Particular Order.
[A guest post by Zahava]
The past two days have passed in a state of semi-suspended reality. I know I am not alone in finding myself ‘stuck’ –- in the middle of a task, and yet completely disconnected to the task at hand.
Over the past two days, the country has experienced a bit of a reverse Memorial-to-Independence paradigm shift, as we felt a fervent and unified hope collapse into an equally fervent and unified mourning.
The remarkable families – Fraenkel, Yifrach, and Shaer – have exhibited kindness and courage that must serve as bar for to each and every one of us to strive to reach. Individually, we must internalize their example. We must take upon ourselves the responsibility to speak and act positively -- even (or perhaps, especially) in the face of adversity. And if we succeed, we can, and we will accomplish much.
To my olah eyes, the most tragic casualty of the Disengagement from Gaza was the cataclysmic rending of the fabric of Israeli society. Left and right nearly succeeded in amputating the battered limbs from a shattered national body. The events of the past 20 days have, if nothing else, proven that ideological and political differences can be set aside, that our heart do beat as one – and, perhaps even more importantly, that we need both hands/wings to achieve our goals.
Our rich theological and historical liturgy is filled with examples and admonishments on how we must conduct ourselves. Mishne Torah, Pirkei Avot, and Kohelet are but three sources which urge us to examine and understand our place in the continuum better known as human existence.
Mishne Torah; Hilchut De’ot teaches us that our primary attributes require balance – a moderate meeting place which the Rambam calls the ‘middle road' or 'golden path'.
Pirkei Avot reminds us that we will be treated and judged as we ourselves treat and judge others.
And Kohelet lamentingly reminds us that divine and earthly dominions, while occasionally joined, are more often separate.
While it is profoundly human to yearn for vengeance, it is, simply put, is not ours to exact.
Justice, however, is most definitely our dominion. Not only is it our right, it is our obligation. We must define it. We must enforce it. And we must uphold it.
The State of Israel has a legal and a moral obligation to protect the property and lives of her citizens.
In families, when there is dissent between siblings, the parents – in an effort to be expedient – often call upon the older child (generally the stronger and the more secure) to ‘walk away.’ A responsible parent must, however, later investigate the root cause of the dissent. The parents must ensure both children understand their individual roles and provide each child with an understanding and the tools to avoid similar conflict in the future. When parents fail to do this, they simultaneously encourage the instigator and punish the peacemaker.
Within the dynamics of a family unit, when the parents fail to properly address the instigator, it sadly often falls to that older, stronger child to enforce his own brand of justice. This usually occurs in the absence of the parents, and though often less effective, usually suffices to settle differences.
In the 66 years since Israel’s Independence, during times of conflict and crisis, the global community has, for purposes of expediency, required Israel to be more 'grown up'... to walk away.... to take the high road. All because we are stronger and more secure. What the world seems to have forgotten, however, is that being stronger and more secure doesn’t make us wrong, nor does it negate the need to hold perpetrators of acts against us accountable.
Moreover, we are not without our own internal moral compass. The dirt on our recently filled graves remains loose and unpacked, and already there are audible Israeli voices crying out for measured and proportional reactions, cautioning against collective punishment, and begging us to recognize the suffering of those who seek to cut us down in our youth and in our slumber. Two Israelis, three opinions – we already have a functioning internal mechanism with which to measure our response.
If the international community spent as much time fostering ‘collective cooperation’ on the part of the Palestinian people as it spends admonishing Israelis against ‘collective punishment’, the Middle East – or at least our extremely tiny corner of it – would be an entirely different place.
If instead of interfering with and obstructing search and rescue efforts, the Palestinian people had assisted in these efforts, a 19 day search yielding vioolent confrontations and arrests might have been a 3 day search yielding a spirit of cooperation and a fraction of those arrests.
That would have been justice.
There have been terrible realities borne of the past 20 days. So too there have been glimmers of goodness and hope.
Yes, we have seen Palestinian Arabs rejoicing in the streets – mothers so racked with hatred that they embrace death for their own children as a means of depriving us life for our own. This sadly and tragically is not new.
What is new, what we must seize, cherish, and nurture, is the quiet awakening within our own diverse citizenry. For the first time, we are hearing voices of Israeli Arab men and women – some teenagers -- speaking out against terror, and claiming their rightful place in Israeli society.
66 is a ripe old age for a country's infancy. The time has come for the Palestinians – the government and the people who elected them – to be held accountable not only for their interactions with Israel, but for how they envision and plan for their future. At a certain point the world must tell them that they can't place the blame for their stunted national aspirations entirely at Israel's feet.
But national aspirations are their problem and their responsibility. We can only do what is right for us.
Israel is a vibrant, diverse and democratic compilation of over 8 million citizens. We are simultaneously nascent and ancient; strong and vulnerable.
We defy odds. Unified, we are far, far greater than the sum of our mighty parts. Am Yisrael Chai.
Tuesday, July 01, 2014
Are you afraid?
[a guest post by Ariella]
Someone asked me if it makes me scared. No. I'm not afraid.
What I feel can't be described in a word. It's a bunch of different things but afraid is not one of them. Sad? Yes. Upset? Yes. Furious? You bet your ass. But not afraid.
But that's the way we are, we Israelies. We hurt. And we grieve. And we fume. But we do so quietly... and life continues, or else they win.
You ask what I'm fuming about? We'll besides the obvious, I hate the fact that my ten year old brother lives in this reality. That my mom can't come to the phone because she is busy consoling him. That he is old enough to understand. To hurt. That he IS afraid.
That my friends and I already know to do head counts when we hear that there was a shooting. To make sure we are all safe.
That I know too many stories, friends, families and names.
But I'm a twenty year old living in Israel. And I guess all this is all just part of the everyday life here.
But ask any other 10 year old, 18 year old or 20 year old in any other place in the world:
Are you afraid? The honest answer should not surprise anyone.
Monday, June 23, 2014
The first day of the rest of my life
Hi, my name is David Lindsay Bogner... and I'm fat.
[all together now] Hi David!
The funny thing is, I've always been slim. In 7th grade I was so skinny I started browsing around the store at the mall where they had all those protein supplements endorsed by bodybuilders.
I didn't have the cash or stomach for those awful shakes, but I did start trying to build up from skinny to 'slim'.
In 8th grade I went out for football, got cut, but stayed on the team anyway as a pity case... the coach's pet. The practices beat the snot out of me, and probably would have killed me if I hadn't broken both thumbs on one memorable (but failed) attempt at a fumble recovery.
By the time I got to high school I was lifting a bit. Nothing organized, but I was hanging out with the jocks and pumping enough iron to see a small improvement in muscle tone, if not size.
It was while working out in the school weight room that I got the idea to join the wrestling team. I'd heard the workouts were brutal, and all of my friends on the team were totally ripped. The coach accepted me to the JV squad at the 155 pound weight class (a mark at which I could binge eat and still safely come in at 5 pounds under), and although I wasn't a particularly dedicated (or skilled) wrestler, the workouts did their job... by the end of the first season I had successfully graduated from skinny to slim.
I would remain firmly entrenched at 'slim' throughout my years in the navy... during my time in Israel... and even through my university years.
After graduation I went to work, started dating, eventually got married, had three wonderful children with my lovely wife... all while remaining 'slim'.
The problem is, I remained slim only in my head.
Physically, my metabolism had slammed on the brakes somewhere around 22, and the trajectory of my waistline could best be described as one long skidmark up the weight chart my doctor handed me last year on my 52nd birthday.
Every year on or near my birthday, my company pays for a full medical work-up. It is an early morning affair starting with blood work, followed by a full stress test, vision and hearing exams, and capped off by a physical exam so intimate that, for propriety sake, the doc should have to make me breakfast afterwards.
As it turns out, my company springs for a voucher for a free breakfast following the physical, so I get the meal without having to make small talk with the person who has just been handling my junk.
Exactly one year ago today my physical ended with the doc sending me off to enjoy my free breakfast having just informed me that I am officially 'morbidly obese'.
I'm here to tell you that nothing, but NOTHING, kills a free breakfast like those two words.
As I sat watching my food get cold, I was at a loss as to how I got where I was. I had always been slim. Even as recently as this morning when I got out of the shower and walked past the mirror, I was still slim.
But what slowly dawned on me was that I'd gotten to those two words - morbidly obese - one bite at a time. I'd ignored the tire screech of my metabolism shutting down, and kept right on eating as if I was 16. I did that for more than half my life.
And not one person, friend or family, had the decency to tell the emperor that his clothes needed to be sourced from the 'Big & Tall' store.
A normal person would have taken that birthday wake-up call and used it to make some hard decisions. Being something other than normal, I decided to hit the snooze button for 6 months.
By the time December rolled around, I'd added another 5 pounds for good luck.
I'm not a big fan of New Year's resolutions, but a decision had to be made, and counting the days from January seemed, somehow, easier.
I didn't do anything drastic or jump on any trendy fad diet. I just started watching what I ate. And instead of picking up the phone to call colleagues at work, I got up and walked to their offices to see them face to face.
Then I cut back on the sweets and junk food. And I started watching my secretary's breaks. Whenever she went out to smoke a cigarette, I went out and walked the security track around our campus (exactly a kilometer).
Once I was walking 4-5 kilometers a day at work, I started also walking on the treadmill at home. And I kept watching what I was eating... taking smaller portions and eating slowly enough to feel myself filling up before I was tempted to take seconds.
Today I turned 53, and I weigh 38 pounds less than I did on New Year's Day. But I am still fat.
I have at least 52 more pounds to go before I reach what the medical charts say is the ideal weight for my height. But even then I will still be fat.
You see, I can never again allow myself to think of myself as slim. That word is a license to kill... and it almost killed me once.
I'm writing this here, not because I expect so many people to see it... but because, on my birthday, I needed to see it in print... so I will remember that today is the first day of the rest of my life.
Wednesday, May 28, 2014
It's that time again...
Close the door to your office... turn off the lights... put a box of tissues within easy reach... and press play:
Partial Transcript / translation:
Colonel Motta Gur [on loudspeaker]: All company commanders, we’re sitting right now on the ridge and we’re seeing the Old City. Shortly we’re going to go in to the Old City of Jerusalem, that all generations have dreamed about. We will be the first to enter the Old City. Eitan’s tanks will advance on the left and will enter the Lion’s Gate. The final rendezvous will be on the open square above.
[The open square of the Temple Mount.]
[Sound of applause by the soldiers.]
Yossi Ronen: We are now walking on one of the main streets of Jerusalem towards the Old City. The head of the force is about to enter the Old City.
Yossi Ronen: There is still shooting from all directions; we’re advancing towards the entrance of the Old City.
[Sound of gunfire and soldiers’ footsteps.]
[Yelling of commands to soldiers.]
[More soldiers’ footsteps.]
The soldiers are keeping a distance of approximately 5 meters between them. It’s still dangerous to walk around here; there is still sniper shooting here and there.
We’re all told to stop; we’re advancing towards the mountainside; on our left is the Mount of Olives; we’re now in the Old City opposite the Russian church. I’m right now lowering my head; we’re running next to the mountainside. We can see the stone walls. They’re still shooting at us. The Israeli tanks are at the entrance to the Old City, and ahead we go, through the Lion’s Gate. I’m with the first unit to break through into the Old City. There is a Jordanian bus next to me, totally burnt; it is very hot here. We’re about to enter the Old City itself. We’re standing below the Lion’s Gate, the Gate is about to come crashing down, probably because of the previous shelling. Soldiers are taking cover next to the palm trees; I’m also staying close to one of the trees. We’re getting further and further into the City.
Colonel Motta Gur announces on the army wireless: The Temple Mount is in our hands! I repeat, the Temple Mount is in our hands!
All forces, stop firing! This is the David Operations Room. All forces, stop firing! I repeat, all forces, stop firing! Over.
Commander eight-nine here, is this Motta (Gur) talking? Over.
[Inaudible response on the army wireless by Motta Gur.]
Uzi Narkiss: Motta, there isn’t anybody like you. You’re next to the Mosque of Omar.
Yossi Ronen: I’m driving fast through the Lion’s Gate all the way inside the Old City.
Command on the army wireless: Search the area, destroy all pockets of resistance but don't touch anything in the houses, especially the holy places.
[Lt.- Col. Uzi Eilam blows the Shofar. Soldiers are singing ‘Jerusalem of Gold’.]
Uzi Narkiss: Tell me, where is the Western Wall? How do we get there?
Yossi Ronen: I’m walking right now down the steps towards the Western Wall. I’m not a religious man, I never have been, but this is the Western Wall and I’m touching the stones of the Western Wall.
Soldiers: [reciting the ‘Shehechianu’ blessing]: Baruch ata Hashem, elokeinu melech haolam, she-hechianu ve-kiemanu ve-hegianu la-zman ha-zeh. [Translation: Blessed art Thou L-rd G-d King of the Universe who has sustained us and kept us and has brought us to this day]
Rabbi Shlomo Goren: Baruch ata Hashem, menachem tsion u-voneh Yerushalayim. [Translation: Blessed are thou, who comforts Zion and bulids Jerusalem]
[Soldiers sing ‘Hatikva’ next to the Western Wall.]
Rabbi Goren: We’re now going to recite the prayer for the fallen soldiers of this war against all of the enemies of Israel:
El male rahamim, shohen ba-meromim. Hamtse menuha nahona al kanfei hashina, be-maalot kedoshim, giborim ve-tehorim, kezohar harakiya meirim u-mazhirim. Ve-nishmot halalei tsava hagana le-yisrael, she-naflu be-maaraha zot, neged oievei yisrael, ve-shnaflu al kedushat Hashem ha-am ve-ha’arets, ve-shichrur Beit Hamikdash, Har Habayit, Hakotel ha-ma’aravi veyerushalayim ir ha-elokim. Be-gan eden tehe menuhatam. Lahen ba’al ha-rahamim, yastirem beseter knafav le-olamim. Ve-yitsror be-tsror ha-hayim et nishmatam adoshem hu nahlatam, ve-yanuhu be-shalom al mishkavam [soldiers weeping loud]ve-ya’amdu le-goralam le-kets ha-yamim ve-nomar amen!
[Translation: Merciful G-d in heaven, may the heroes and the pure, be under thy Divine wings, among the holy and the pure who shine bright as the sky, and the souls of soldiers of the Israeli army who fell in this war against the enemies of Israel, who fell for their loyalty to G-d and the land of Israel, who fell for the liberation of the Temple, the Temple Mount, the Western Wall and Jerusalem the city of the Lord. May their place of rest be in paradise. Merciful One, O keep their souls forever alive under Thy protective wings. The Lord being their heritage, may they rest in peace, for they shalt rest and stand up for their allotted portion at the end of the days, and let us say, Amen.]
[Soldiers are weeping. Rabbi Goren sounds the shofar. Sound of gunfire in the background.]
Rabbi Goren: Le-shana HA-ZOT be-Yerushalayim ha-b’nuya, be-yerushalayim ha-atika! [Translation: This year in a rebuilt Jerusalem! In the Jerusalem of old!] *
Friday, May 16, 2014
Echoes in Time
Yesterday my older sister posted an old photo on her Facebook page showing me and our younger brother, Benjamin.
Once I got over the initial shock of seeing what a fashion disaster I was back then, I started trying to figure out how old I was... and by extension, how old Benjamin had been.
Turns out that we were the same age as Gilad and Yonah are right now; 18 and 10, respectively.
Never one to pass on an opportunity to poke fun at myself, I asked the boys to pose for a similarly posed photo... with Gilad wearing a pair of my Navy shorts from back when I was 18 or 19.
Here you go:
Wednesday, May 07, 2014
Sunlight is the best disinfectant
In the past I've shared my opinion regarding Israel's current President. Specifically, I've pointed out that he doesn't seem to fully grasp the scope of the duties that the President is expected to carry out... and the limitations of the office's powers / responsibilities.
Just in case he happens by this site, I'll (once again) provide the broad strokes:
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]
Personally, I can't think of any issue which has more potential to divide the public than negotiating the terms and conditions of a potential peace accord with the Palestinians.
Today, President Peres announced that he had secretly negotiated a peace agreement with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas back in 2011. In the interview he complains that when he brought the draft agreement to Prime Minister Netanyahu, Bibi rejected it.
Here's the article.
I have a few problems with this.
First and foremost is the fact that negotiating with foreign powers, particularly those hostile to Israel, is the exclusive domain of the Prime Minister (or whomever he designates). Holding secret negotiations with the PA is, by law, completely outside the scope of what the President is allowed to do.
Once we get past the problem of the President involved in negotiating the terms of a political agreement, we are faced with the additional damning fact that these negotiations were unsanctioned and carried out in secret without the knowledge or approval of the elected government.
President Peres seems to have a history of conveniently forgetting that Israel is a democracy with laws and statutes. He is quick to accuse others of being anti-democratic when they don't agree with him, but does not seem to feel that he, himself, is bound by the laws of the land.
His most serious breach of law was when he and Yossi Beilin (then Foreign Minister and Deputy foreign Minister for foreign affairs, respectively) began the 'Oslo Process', a set of illegal negotiations with the PLO without the knowledge or approval of the government. These negotiations were illegal because the PLO was defined as a terrorist organization, and Israeli law forbade such contact with an organization so defined.
Once the Oslo process was so far progressed that it would have been nearly impossible to back-track did Peres and Beilin bring then Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin into the loop, and presented him with a fait accompli. For Rabin to have rejected the draft agreement would have made him appear anti-peace (just as Peres is now attempting to make Netanyahu look anti-peace for having rejected Peres' latest secretly negotiated agreement).
Israel's leftists makes a big show of supporting democracy and the rule of law when they perceive that anyone on the political right appears to be motivated by ideals or principles not enshrined in the letter of Israeli Law (such as when there is friction between adherence to Jewish law and adherence to civil and/or military law).
Yet when it comes to advancing their own agenda, Israeli law is often treated as a body of suggestions.
I am tired of secret negotiations which are presented to the public as 'done deals' so that anyone who finds the methods or content objectionable is immediately labeled 'unpatriotic' or 'anti-peace'.
I have never met a single Israeli - right or left wing - who is anti-peace. I mean seriously, ask yourself this: What parent, if given the choice, would prefer to have their children serve in a wartime military than one tasked with maintaining peace?
There is an old saying that 'Laws are like sausages... it is best not to see how they are made'. And to a certain extent, I agree that, in politics, one expects that a lot of back-room horse trading will take place between lawmakers.
But laws can be repealed or revised to suit the changing political mores and preferences of the population... while treaties negotiated between states and powers are binding and not so easily set aside. So to conduct so critical aspect of Israel's long-term foreign policy in secret, without the knowledge or guidance of the elected government, is anathema to democratic values.
Yet this is precisely what Shimon Peres has done throughout his career. He sees no problem with admitting that he violated the rules / limitations of his own office, and has the chutzpah to complain that when he did so, the sitting Prime Minister didn't roll over and eat the fruits of his poisoned tree.
Secrecy has its place. But if we Israelis will have to live with the results of some future peace accord with the Palestinians, it is paramount that we are aware of what is being negotiated in our name.
If we've learned anything from the failed Oslo Accords, it is that any deal hatched in darkness is doomed to failure once it is brought out into the light of day.
Sunlight truly is the best disinfectant.
Tuesday, May 06, 2014
Remembering to remember
[A guest post for Israel's Memorial Day by my daughter, Ariella]
Stop. Everyone off the bus. It's in a minute.
Everyone understands. Everyone gets up and files off the bus quietly.
As we gather on the sidewalk I look around. Soldiers and civilians stand as one. The soldiers start to put on their כומתות (berets). I'm one of them.
And then it starts.
The siren wails loudly for all that we have lost, and in that moment everything stops. Nothing else matters. No matter where you are from, who you are, you are connected. To the loss. The pain. The remembering. You remember someone you knew, someone important and special who used to be the world.
And then all at once it ends. Just as suddenly as it began. And we all get back on the bus.
But none of us are the same. We all remember.
Monday, April 07, 2014
It's a Small World After All
Zahava and I started out our married life in an apartment in the Midwood section of Brooklyn. And like many of our contemporaries, when in due time our firstborn came along, once the short maternity leave was over, we had to find a safe, reliable daycare situation.
After some asking around and many interviews, we settled on a daycare in a private home run by a middle-aged widow who called herself 'Auntie Ro-Ro' (short for Rosalie). Auntie Ro-Ro's place was just a few blocks from where we lived, and was immaculately clean and full of toys, books and educational games. Best of all, Ro-Ro had a fixation with safety and security that was somewhere between eccentricity and obsession. In short, exactly the kind of place first time parents dream about.
Auntie Ro-Ro only accepted a few kids at a time, and we felt truly lucky to have found a place with her for Ariella.
Among the other children at Auntie Ro-Ro's was a little girl named Yakira who was the same age as Ariella. Yakira's parents also lived in the neighborhood and, like us, were young and just starting out in life.
Here's a picture of Ariella and Yakira at one of Ariella's birthday parties (Yakira's the little blonde girl):
(That's my younger sister there on the left)
Anyway... life marches on. When GIlad was born, he joined Ariella for a short time at Auntie Ro-ro's. But before long we left New York for Connecticut, the kids got bigger and went to school... and our brief sojourn in Brooklyn became a fond, but faded memory.
We enjoyed our time in Connecticut, but by the time Ariella and Gilad were 9 and 7 respectively, we were off again, this time to Israel.
Ari and Gili quickly adapted to their new surroundings, language and culture... and among the pleasant surprises we found in our new community was that Yakira's family had moved to Israel (directly from Brooklyn), a few years before us.
Fast forward a bunch of years and Ariella was finished with high school and off to the army. She decided to pursue a challenging combat support basic training, followed by a commander's course; all for the small chance to win one of the few coveted spots as a drill instructor at a very special base in Israel's north.
Without going into too much detail, suffice it to say that this special basic training base/course was designed by the army to give young men from 'troubled' backgrounds (meaning anything from criminal offenses, to broken families to severe learning and/or discipline issues, etc.), who by most standards were deemed completely unsuited for military life, a last chance to join that great equalizer of Israeli society; the IDF.
All of the drill instructors at this special base are specially trained, hand-picked female soldiers who not only are expected to be stronger,faster, and better than their trainees at every task... but are also required to be hard as nails and as patient as saints.
Unlike most basic training courses, the drill instructors at this base are not allowed to mold their charges through yelling or intimidation. Rather, they take these young men, many of whom have never experienced discipline or success in any form in their lives... and through consistency and sheer force of will, show them how to succeed and become disciplined soldiers.
Naturally some are beyond the reach of even the most enlightened attempts to help them. But most of these soldiers go on to meaningful jobs in the IDF, and some even end up serving in combat and leadership roles. In short, they serve with distinction and finish the army with the abilities and tools to work, study or pursue anything they want...a situation that would have been nearly unthinkable at the time they were drafted.
Ariella was selected to be a drill instructor in this special program, and has now graduated her first group of soldiers.
But the reason I've shared this whole story today is the complete surprise that awaited Ariella when she reported to this special base: Who should be there to greet her with hugs and screams of "Achoti" ("My Sister!"), when she arrived, but Yakira... the little girl who had been her playmate all those years ago at Auntie Ro-Ro's daycare in Brooklyn.
Here they are together on their base (where they continue to serve together):
Obviously, growing up in the same Israeli town, Ariella and Yakira were friendly and had overlapping social circles. But they had been in different youth groups, had gone to different middle and high schools and had no clue the other was interested in this special army program.
So even though we live in a relatively small country, you have to admit that the odds of these two girls ending up being hand-picked for the same job in the army, and end up serving on the same base, is rather remarkable.
It really is a small world after all!
Wednesday, March 12, 2014
The trials of an oblivious Israeli abroad
I got back to my hotel a couple of hours ago from a long business meeting here in a rural area of south India. I had my dinner of tuna, cup-o-noodles and a diet coke on the room's patio (it's actually more of a cottage than a room) while watching the sun set over the Indian Ocean.
Once it was completely dark out, I went back into the room, closed the sliding glass doors... making sure to draw the curtains so I wouldn't wake up in the morning to find monkeys staring in at me from the patio (something that happened on a previous visit to this place).
No sooner had I settled in at the desk to start typing up my report of the day's meeting, when I suddenly heard a series of loud pops from not too far away. There was a brief pause, and then more pops - bangs, actually - and then a series of loud explosions that were close enough to change the air pressure slightly; each one feeling as though someone had elbowed me gently in the stomach.
Then the power went out, and I found myself sitting in the dark staring at the glowing screen of my iPad, which was the only thing in the room emitting light.
Although less than 10 seconds had passed since the first pops had caught my attention, it felt like I had been sitting with my mind stuck in neutral for the better part of an hour... vaguely aware that something was not right, but not mentally engaged enough to sort out what, if anything, to do about it.
Finally, when the lights went out, my mind clanked into gear and I started to run through a checklist I had heard in dozens of briefings but had never believed I would ever need to employ:
- Run to check that door is locked, latched and dead bolted: check.
- Turn off light switches so that my room wouldn't appear occupied should the power go back on: check
- Check lock on patio doors: check
- Push dresser against door: check
- Sit on floor on the side of the bed away from patio doors so nobody outside the room can see there is anyone inside the room: check
- Take out cell phone and card with my list of emergency numbers and start dialing security officer at the nearest Israeli diplomatic mission (Mumbai): ch...
As I was about to hit send on the cell phone, a new series of pops and explosions shattered the silence... but from my new vantage point sitting in the dark on the floor, I could clearly see through the sheer curtains that the sky over the beach was lit up with a multi-colored fireworks display.
I dropped the phone onto the floor, leaned my forehead against the bed and sucked in a ragged breath... suddenly aware that I hadn't been breathing.
And then the power came back on, accompanied by the various beeps and boops of my various electronic gadgets starting to charge again.
As I climbed shakily back into the desk chair, I noticed the hotel activities flyer sitting next to the desk blotter.
And there at the end of the day's planned activities... after the yoga and meditation classes... after the spa and health club hours, treatments and sessions... after the list of restaurants and the hours that meals would be served... was an invitation to come to the beachside bar to enjoy a complimentary cocktail while watching a special fireworks display.
Holy crap, I really need to pay closer attention to the hotel activities flyer.
It turns out the short power outage was simply a case of unfortunate timing, but not that uncommon an occurrence in a resort that is situated in the midst of tropical jungle.
For the first time that I can remember... I treated myself to a couple of little airline bottles of overpriced hooch from the room's minibar. Let my company accounts manager try to argue with me over the expense. Have I got a story for him!
Sunday, February 16, 2014
The Glory and Splendor
I don't know about the rest of you, but I've been truly enjoying the pageantry, traditions, rivalry and commentary over the past week or so.
There are some storied names to follow, as well as new faces hoping to write their own page in history... but enough time has gone by that it all seems fresh and innocent again.
Best of all after a long cold winter are the images of bright sunshine on green grass... shirtsleeves and ball-caps... and the sharp slap of horsehide on leather.
Wait, what? You thought I was referring to the Winter Olympics in Sochi? [~yawn~]?!
Nah... I was talking about the fact that pitchers and catchers reported to spring training camps. And once again, all is right with the world.
Monday, February 10, 2014
Palestinians Planning New Airport
It's really a bit much... the people who refined airborne terror to an art-form, are planning an international airport. I mean, let's face it, back in the 1960s and 1970s few people bothered to use the cumbersome terms 'Palestinian Hijacker' or 'Palestinian Terrorist' because of the obvious redundancy.
But you have to admire the overreaching ambition of the Palestinian Authority in planning an airport which will presumably be named for their founding father; Yassir Arafat.
The Yassir Arafat International Airport. Kind of trips off the tongue, doesn't it? For short it will be called YAIA (sort of like the last sound passengers might make as they tumble through the debris of their exploded aircraft). I can hear the reservation agents asking departing passengers: "Will that be hijacking or non-hijacking?".
The grisly irony is almost too much... kind of like Jeffrey Dahmer (if he were still alive), opening a chain of fast food restaurants.
Then again, this plan isn't all that surprising or ironic... if you take into account that the same entity that sent terrorists to slaughter the Israeli team at the Munich Olympics has been welcomed with open arms into the family of Olympic nations.
The upside of all this is that the European powers will be forced to show if they are really pro-Palestinian or simply anti-Israel. The proof will be in how many (if any) of their national carriers commit to booking regular air service to and from YAIA.
Let's see how far this actually goes... and if the donated funds for the project actually make it to the ground, or are diverted to PA officials' Swiss bank accounts. I'm betting on the latter.
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.