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.
Thursday, November 28, 2013
... you keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.
With apologies to the film, 'The Princess Bride' for the opening line of this post, there are those in the US who seem to take for granted the blessings of liberty they enjoy, and who are blissfully (or perhaps willfully) unaware of the sad alternatives that exist elsewhere in the world.
I saw the following banner ad paid for by 'The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee', on the New York Times website this morning, and it made my blood run cold:
As someone who lives in a country where a political party was banned / outlawed simply because of the distance between its positions and those of the mainstream*, I am deeply troubled to see anyone in the US trying to stifle political debate through means that smack of Bolshevism.
Radicalism (of any sort) is troublesome and alarming to the mainstream. It's meant to be! But if radicals can garner enough support to work, or even game the existing political system... it doesn't necessarily mean the system is broken and needs fixing. It usually just means that a new voice is emerging that must be reckoned with (within the existing system); for good or for bad.
After all, much of what was considered politically radical a generation ago is solidly mainstream today. We recently marked the somber anniversary of JFK's assassination. John F. Kennedy was a social progressive, but was far more conservative on defense and foreign relations issues than most current Republicans (and even Tea Party members). I honestly can't think where in the US political spectrum he would find a comfortable home if he were still alive today.
The following quote is equally true of books and political parties:
“Books won't stay banned. They won't burn. Ideas won't go to jail. In the long run of history, the censor and the inquisitor have always lost. The only sure way against bad ideas is better ideas. The source of better ideas is freedom. The surest path to wisdom is liberal education.”
― Alfred Whitney Griswold
One of the truly terrible things (IMHO) about Israeli politics today is that the discourse is fraught with attacks on opposing ideologs rather than presenting reasonable alternatives to opposing ideologies.
I really hope that the banner ad on the Times website was some sort of political joke and not truly sponsored by 'The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee'. If not, it might be time for the Democratic party to take a long, hard look at the definition of their name.
* I am in no way defending the ideas professed by the banned 'Kach' party in Israel. I am simply saying that a democracy (or republic) shouldn't ban ideas or parties. It should produce a range of ideas, politicians and parties so rich and diverse with viable alternatives that human nature will naturally ignore and/or marginalize the truly dangerous/evil ones... and let the existing laws take care of any that truly stray into illegal territory.
Monday, November 25, 2013
Pigs must be flying somewhere
The BBC actually ran an article that painted Israel in a completely positive light:
Color me gobsmacked!
It turns out that the interim agreement signed with Iran isn't as problematic as I originally thought.
I was just reading the text of the agreement, and it starts out, "If you like your current nuclear program, you can keep your current nuclear program...".
Problem solved. Iran is totally going to have to give up its nuclear program!
Sunday, November 24, 2013
It must be good news... they signed something!
Baroness Catherine Ashton of Upholland, the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy for the European Union, returned from marathon meetings with Iranian representatives to make the following triumphant speech:
"The settlement of the Iranian problem, which has now been achieved is, in my view, only the prelude to a larger settlement in which the whole world may find peace. This morning I had another talk with the Iranian President, Mujtahid Hassan Rouhani and here is the paper which bears his name upon it as well as mine. Some of you, perhaps, have already heard what it contains but I would just like to read it to you: ' ... We regard the agreement signed last night as symbolic of the desire of our peoples never to go to war with one another again...
My good friends, for the first time since President Jimmy Carter allowed himself to be held hostage in his own White House, a diplomat has returned from meetings with Iran bringing peace with honour. I believe it is peace for our time. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Go home and get a nice quiet sleep." *
I, for one, am deeply relieved.
Oh, in case anyone is concerned with those pesky details, at present it is being reported that in return for signing the proffered piece of paper in a legible manner, Iran will immediately receive sanction relief to the tune of $4.2 billion in foreign exchange, and is also expected to receive limited sanctions relief on gold, petrochemicals and autos with a value of an additional $1.5 billion in revenue. Iran will not, however, have to cease Uranium enrichment or dismantle any of their existing nuclear facilities... although they have pinky sworn to limit enrichment to no more than 5% and not to install new centrefuges in a few named facilities (leaving open the possibility of doing so in unnamed facilities).
Further, going forward, Iran has agreed to play a more fair game of 'hide the nuclear facilities' with visiting International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors who have complained in the past that "the way those Iranian chaps play the game just isn't cricket".
* By the way, if you don't recognize the format and tone of the ersatz speech I posted here, you need to brush up on your history.
Tuesday, November 12, 2013
A Veteran's Day Post
Although a day late, it's never too late to say thank you.
Many of us have heard and seen parts of the following quotation used in TV and movie titles, but don't know the source:
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember’d;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition.
~Shakespeare, Henry V, Act 4, Scene 3
I have brothers and sisters all over the world with whom I have a complete unspoken understanding on a wide range of subjects and values. With the words, 'I served...' nothing more needs to be said.
We shared similar experiences. We endured similar trials and measured ourselves against similar standards. It doesn't matter what branch, task, or rank... for a time we served our countries and followed orders (even if we didn't always agree with, or fully understand them). We set aside, for a time, the concept of 'I', and became part of a 'we'. We relied on others, and others relied on us. That reliance was complete and reciprocal. Our lives depended on that mutual trust.
It's all understood with that short opening phrase; 'I served...'.
Thank you, my brothers and sisters, for your service.
A follow up from Ariella
[The following was posted as a comment on the last post, but since several people had specifically asked about the cookies for soldiers initiative that Ari mentioned, I decided to publish her comment here as a new post]
I want to thank everyone who left comments. I really appreciate them. It means a lot to me!
As for the cookies for the soldiers, it's a small but growing orginization that a friend of mine started with his army buddies. The idea was that coming back to the army after a Shabbat at home is always tough so a taste of home always helps. Also knowing that families all over the country care about the soldiers does a lot as well. So every week people make cookies and every Friday they are destributed to soldiers who don't get to go home for Shabbat and on Sunday to those who are returning to their bases.
As I said. It is a small but growing organization and they can always use help.
They can be found on facebook under העוגייה למען החייל. (the name is in Hebrew but they post both in Hebrew and English) and aryeh (one of the founders) can be reached by email:
Again thank you for all the wonderful comments!
Friday, November 08, 2013
Thoughts of a soldier during a very long shmira (guard duty)...
[a guest post by Ariella]
Well I guess I should start at the beginning.
My name is Ariella Bogner. I was born in the US, and in 2003 when I was 9 years old, I moved with my family to an Israeli town called Efrat. I went to a high school in Jerusalem called Pelech, and after i graduated I did a year at a Pre-military Academy in the Jordan Valley called HaEmek. On july 18th I enlisted in the IDF. Five days later I celebrated a decade of living in this country.
As I mentioned, I have lived in Efrat (located south of Jerusalem in Gush Etzion) for the past ten years. Over that time I learned a lot about the history of the place. The battles fought and the lives lost trying to protect my home.
Where I live it is not unusual to see civilians with a weapon or a Palestinians walking nearby... and honestly, I think nothing of either. Another detail in the everyday view is the presence of soldiers. Whether its at the Machsom (check point), trempiadot (bus stop/hitch hiking place), or entrances to the yishuvim, they have always been there.
These are soldiers that came from all over the country to protect the place I love and call home.
And it is because of that, that we love these soldiers like family. There is no such thing as a soldier who is left without a place to eat on Shabbat, or doesn't get a snack or hot drink in the cold or even a cookie (shout out to the 'Cookies for the soldiers foundation') before Shabbat.
I guess what I'm trying to say is that as a kid, growing up here I always admired the soldiers. It's because of these soldiers that where I come from everyone enlists and is proud to do so. We aim for as high as we can go.
So I reported for duty on the 18th of July with a feeling of pride.
I am now four months into my service, a month away from finishing my sergeants course. One of the obligations of my course is that we do haganat yishuvim (protecting of settlements). It basically means that my unit splits up for a week between 15-20 yishuvim and guards them for a week. I ended up in a settlement in an area south of our home in the south Hebron hills.
I can't help thinking that I am here, in uniform, protecting the place I love and for the past ten years have called home. I can't think of a better way to thank all those soldiers who protected my family, friends and home. I can't possible thank you enough. But I'll try.
As my shift came to an end I walked by a school bus and the driver shouted "kol hacavod lachayelet shelanu!" (well done to our soldier) OUR soldier... a feeling of pride ran through me as a lump formed in my throat.
But then again, that's how we always felt about the soldiers stationed near our town. OUR soldiers... our kids, brothers, sisters, parents... whatever! That have always been ours.
And this time it was me.
Tuesday, October 15, 2013
A bit of nostalgia
This video from the early 50s landed in my inbox this morning. Watching it over breakfast I couldn't help but be charmed by its innocence... and amazed by how far we've come. I have no complaints about my own arrival and absorption into Israeli society.
Hat Tip to Ari Greenspan
Tuesday, October 08, 2013
Boycott Israel if you must...
A surprisingly cogent response to a nagging question:
Friday, September 13, 2013
The other shoe
Anyone want to venture a guess what sort of statement was made yesterday afternoon to the press?
And I quote:
"Syria President Bashar Assad said Thursday that Israel should be the first to disarm from weapons, since it has nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. He added that all countries in the Mideast should be held to international protocol in order to achieve stability in the region."
Notice he didn't say 'also'. He said 'first'... as in 'Syria isn't going to do anything until Israel is forced to do it first'.
Russia knew it (and maybe even planned it). America never even saw it coming. Rookie move by Kerry to offer such an opening; even rhetorically. And foolish for Obama not to have slammed the door quickly by issuing an immediate clarification.
[Hat tip to Roni Brandl for spotting it first]
Wednesday, September 11, 2013
Let me tell you how this all plays out in Syria
No, I don't have any special powers of prophecy... nor do I have access to secret intelligence that would give me an inside track as to what will happen in Syria.
What I do have is a voracious appetite for both history and current events. Anyone with access to both, and the curiosity to occasionally compare the two, will have a pretty good idea of what is about to happen.
Just to allow those returning from summer vacation to catch up, let's review:
On August 21st, somebody launched rockets armed with a nerve agent at a suburb of Damascus, killing upwards of 1400 civilians.
According to US reports, the rockets were fired from areas controlled by the Syrian Army. And at least to this point, of all the factions currently fighting in Syria, only the Syrian government is known to possess chemical weapons.
Of course, Syrian President Assad claims that it was one of the anti-government rebel factions who fired the chemical weapons, and the Russians and Chinese have blocked US-led efforts to drum up support at the UN for a limited military strike to punish Syria with for breaching one of the few sacrosanct 'norms' of modern warfare.
Flash forward past the dwindling international support for an attack, past by President Obama's decision to seek congressional support for a military strike on Syria... and it was getting pretty hard to decide who was more isolated/embattled by the crisis; the Syrian or US government.
Then, by a mere offhand remark/slip of the tongue, US Secretary of State Kerry served up a potential alternative to a military strike. When asked if anything could be done to avert a US strike on Syria, he said, "Sure, [Assad] could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week...without delay and allow the full and total accounting for that, but he isn't about to do it and it can't be done, obviously."
Although Kerry's remark was meant to be rhetorical, the Russians immediately latched onto the idea and launched an initiative of their own to convince the Syrian government to do pretty much what Kerry had suggested, albeit without a specific time-frame.
Okay, so now we are at the stage where the powers that be are fine-tuning the language on the newly minted 'Russian Initiative' to give it some teeth in terms of both timing and verification... but the other shoe has yet to fall. And that other shoe is where the cigar blows up in Israel's face:
I predict that everyone will sign off on the Russian Initiative to have Syria turn over all of it's stockpiles of chemical weapons to International control (and eventual destruction). The wording of the final agreement will be very stern, and will have a fairly short time-frame for compliance. The consequences of non-compliance will also be spelled out in equally serious language... and the Syrian government will soberly agree to sign on the dotted line.
But then......... just as the document is about to be signed, and the international inspectors/collectors are en-route to Damascus, President Assad (at Russia's urging, no doubt) will drop the other shoe: He will demand that Syria's compliance be linked to Israel's compliance to the exact same terms.
Assad will state that if the international community is really serious about ridding the region of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) and not just giving lip service to the idea, Israel must also be forced to open up its chemical, biological and nuclear facilities to international inspection, and to turn over everything for destruction.
At that point, the success or failure of the Russian Initiative will be laid entirely at Israel's feet. All of the word's superpowers will align in a rare show of unity and demand that Israel must - for the sake of regional and world peace - abandon its longtime stance of ambiguity regarding WMDs, and agree to the same terms as are being imposed on Syria.
It won't matter that Israel has never even hinted at the use of such weapons (much less confirmed their existence), and that Syria has actually used them; quite frequently, as it turns out. Israel will be painted into the same corner as a pariah regime. And when we refuse to comply (as we surely will), the failure to punish Syria will be blamed not on Russia, China, the UK, US or even the UN Security council... but rather on Israel.
This is one time that I pray I am wrong.
Tuesday, September 10, 2013
Alone with the dishes (reprised)
[I wrote this post back in 2004 to describe the mental preparation that goes into this period between Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur. I haven't been able to improve upon it. yet.]
One gets to do a fair amount of thinking late at night… alone with the dishes. Zahava does her fair share of the dishes, but for the big jobs… particularly after dinner parties, large Shabbat/holiday meals, etc… I’m the guy left surveying the wreckage and not knowing exactly where to begin.
So it is (for me) with the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur.
For me, they are like the aftermath of an enormous, wild dinner party… one where invitations were extended to far more people than the house could comfortably accommodate…. the kind of rollicking soirée that is talked about and savored for months.
But such a party comes with a price to pay.
Rosh Hashanah (for me) is roughly analogous to standing [aghast] in the doorway between the kitchen and the dining room surveying the damage.
What was I thinking?
Every horizontal surface is stacked high with dirty glasses and dishes.
Half-empty bottles of merlot, syrah and chardonnay stand abandoned beside empty bottles of bourbon and scotch.
The sinks overflow with greasy dishes, and the dessert service (dishes, tea cups and saucers) seem evenly distributed between the dinning room table and the various kitchen counters.
Linen napkins sit balled on (and under) chairs, and glasses of every description seem to wink at me from wherever the wandering conversationalists abandoned them.
On Rosh Hashanah I stand slumped in that imaginary doorway trying to make the insurmountable seem… well, surmountable. Trying to place the soiled contents of my slovenly year into some kind of framework where things can be addressed in an orderly fashion.
Anyone who has been left to clean up after a big dinner party understands the daunting nature of the task. At first glance it seems the house will never be clean again.
But then I pick up that first wine glass (with the half-moon of lipstick on the rim) and place it in such a way as to demonstrate to the long departed guests and sleeping house that this spot on the sideboard is where the crystal will be gathered.
And so Rosh Hashanah begins (for me)… nothing getting washed just yet… just making the insurmountable seem surmountable.
Several circuits of the house bring more dirty wine, whiskey, and water glasses than I ever knew we owned, to join the first there on the counter.
Then, emptying one of the sinks of its precariously balanced contents, I draw a basin of hot soapy water.
As the sink fills, I designate other places for dishes and for cups and for saucers… each to each… all according to size. Warming to the familiar task, I take comfort in the muffled sound of the water under its foamy cloak… almost like a prayer.
And so Rosh Hashanah continues (for me). Nothing getting washed just yet… just making the insurmountable seem surmountable.
Next the sterling flatware and serving pieces are gathered into a soup pot full of soapy water, and the linen napkins are bundled with the tablecloth into the hamper in the laundry room.
With the leftovers put safely into the refrigerator and the trash bundled to the bin, the place is starting to look more sane… not one iota cleaner, mind you... but the illusion of order has begun to emerge from the chaos.
Now pots and pans of every shape and size are filled with soapy water and placed on the stove and sidebaord to soak. Measuring cups and carving knives are placed beside legions of serving platters. Spices are returned to their places and canisters of flour and sugar are placed back on their shelves… each gestures creating a bit of space… and again, that comforting suggestion of emerging order.
And so Rosh Hashanah ends (for me)… nothing having been washed just yet… but the insurmountable beginning to seem… surmountable.
I stand now in the spiritual doorway between Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur… balanced on the threshold between what I have created during the year…and what I have consumed. I haven’t yet washed a thing, although some of the bigger problems have been identified and have been placed in to soak. The glasses all sit with their fellows and the dishes are stacked according to size. Everything still bears the smudges and smears of too much fun… too much indulgence.
But now as I look around, the task seems manageable… surmountable.
As I stand listening to the soft ahhhhhhhhhh of the soap bubbles as they settle in the sink, I am ready for Yom Kippur. I know what has to be washed… and I know (hope) that after the necessary amount of work I will find myself at the end of Yom Kippur’s fast with the dish towel in my hands, surveying the sparkling china… the lovingly polished sterling… the immaculate crystal… each in its place, and the house looking (and feeling) ready for a fresh beginning.
May we all be inscribed and sealed for a good year.
Monday, September 02, 2013
I find it telling that the Arab League and Turkey (many of whom receive sizeable military aid/equipment packages from the US and other western countries), are coming out strongly in favor of a US military attack on Syria... but have no intention of lifting a finger to help.
In fact, Turkey's Prime Minister has made several public statements to the effect that a few days of firing missiles at military targets won't be enough. He wants the US to intervene militarily to remove the Assad regime.
My question is this:
Why the hell do the US and other western powers give military aid to these clowns? Why do Turkey, Egypt and Saudi Arabia have the latest jet fighters and helicopters provided by the US and Europe. Why do these countries have well-equipped armies, navies and air forces on someone else's dime if there is no expectation that when push comes to shove, they will join a coalition led by their benefactor(s)?
I've heard the old saw that 'It isn't a reasonable or ethical request to expect Muslim countries to join a US attack on another Muslim country!'
Oh really? Why not?!
Have we really all bought into their bullsh*t that Muslims are some sort of special class of humans, and to expect them to take a stand against one of their own would be tantamount to fratricide?!
Puleeze! They have no trouble slaughtering one another at the drop of a hat when the mood strikes them.
Are we really saying that we have zero expectations of these countries after all that has been done for them? Are we really okay with them, once again, standing by like some schoolyard mob pushing the hapless combatants forward, yelling, "Fight, fight, fight...", all the while staying safely on the sidelines and enjoying the spectacle?
I think the time has come for the western powers - particularly the US - to take a close look at who they supply with military aid, and make that aid contingent upon rolling up their sleeves and providing some support (troops, planes, ships, airfields, refueling tankers, intelligence, etc.), whenever a fight breaks out.
Fail to step up just once? Kiss that fat aid check good-bye.
I don't really care that this risks pushing them into the sphere of influence of Russia or China. I'd rather Russia and China be bled dry by these leeches.
Bottom line: If these countries aren't willing to vote with the west at the UN... side with the west on global issues... share their oil with the west at an equitable price...and above all, put some skin in the game when the west really needs them to have our back... they aren't really in the west's sphere of influence in the first place, now are they?
Sunday, September 01, 2013
That about sums it up
One of the few things that most people can agree upon regarding Syria is that there are few, if any, good choices... at least as far as foreign intervention of any sort goes. Yet that doesn't stop people from holding forth very loudly and criticizing both action and inaction (often in the same, convoluted, rant).
I've actually taken to challenging taxi drivers, office pundits and amateur political analysts in cafes when I hear them carrying on about what should and/or shouldn't be done vis-à-vis Syria.
Like placing a piece of sheet music in front of an electrical guitar player, there is apparently no faster way to get a know-it-all to turn down the volume on their opinions than to ask them to 'play the melody' of their so-called solution.
It turns out pretty much everyone is big on criticizing what is or isn't being done, but when asked to outline specific alternatives (and the consequences of those alternatives), they get very quiet, very quickly.
To be clear, I don't envy President Obama his current position, having haplessly painted himself into a corner with last year's ill-advised 'red line' speech, and now having had to take a step back and pull Congress into the corner with him to wait for the paint to dry.
I think that, probably for the first time, Vice President Joe Biden - standing off to the side while Obama slowly twisted in the wind - was genuinely relieved to hold an office with few, if any, real responsibilities.
As private citizens, we hope/trust that the free world's elected leaders have access to better intelligence, advisers and resources than we do when tackling the big problems. Surely what looks like a Gordian Knot to us down here must have some sort of solution when viewed from the lofty heights of power... right?
So it is frustrating to hear the leader of the free world admitting in a globally broadcast speech that he wants to ask around a bit more before deciding what, if anything, can be done to punish Syria and keep them, and other despots, from repeating such a massacre.
Yes, I can already hear some of you saying that in a democracy like the US, the Executive Branch can't act alone. The President has to consult with the people's elected representatives; the US Congress.
And I accept that answer.
But I can't help wondering why Obama didn't consult Congress two weeks ago while the bodies of the victims were still warm... or a week ago when his intelligence sources had concluded beyond a reasonable doubt that Assad's regime had indeed carried out a massacre using chemical weapons.
So, lacking a ready solution from Washington, London or Paris, I've been scanning the media for someone - anyone - to offer sounder opinions than I've been hearing on TV or forming for myself. And I've been coming up empty.
I can't conceive of a good plan, for action or inaction, that will have the smallest impact on Syria's (or any other player's) potential future use of unconventional weapons. Short of performing an Etch-O-Sketch-esque reset of the whole sandbox (not a reasonable option at present) there just aren't any good plans.
But I did get a chuckle out of an observation, quoted in today's New York Times, provided by a Syrian citizen after watching Obama's speech on TV:
"... for Homs resident, Abu Bassam, 31, the only possible response was black humor.
“Man, I wish Bush was the president,” he said. “He would have reacted right away. He may have invaded Cyprus or Jordan instead of Syria by mistake, but you know he would have done something at least.”
That about sums it up.
Thursday, August 22, 2013
Lending the UN a Modicum of Moral ClarityAt a time when the UN Security Council is having difficulty forming a consensus as to whether the deliberate killing of as many as 1300 Syrian civilians - many of them children - with nerve gas, warrants explicit condemnation, muh less a clear directive to actually investigate... it is reassuring that Israel can offer itself as a unifying force; crystallizing the UN's resolve to act with haste and moral clarity to address the pressing issue of suburban apartment construction in the West Bank.
Tuesday, July 23, 2013
Some Unsolicited Thoughts from an Olah Vatikah on Her First Day as a non-Olah Chadasha/10 Signs Your Klita is Going Well
[A Guest Post by Zahava]
Welcome new olim!
It is with a profound and combined sense of gratitude, pride, surprise, and joy that I spent some time this morning thumbing through the pix of today’s new olim over at the Nefesh B’Nefesh FB page. In many ways it feels like just yesterday that my family and I stood in your shoes –- feeling simultaneously exhilarated and shocked by our new reality. It was, to put it mildly, quite an emotional experience.
I well remember the charge of excitement mingled with more than a touch of nervousness. What had I done? I had thought I was prepared before we left, but upon landing –- despite the warm and sincere welcome -– I was suddenly unsure that “sane” was an appropriate description of my mental status….
10 years later, I am still exhilarated and shocked -- exhilarated because I still truly believe that living here is the best choice for me and my family, and remain somewhat in awe that we get to “live the dream” -- and shocked because it simply doesn’t seem possible that 10 years have already flown by!
But, 10 years have elapsed since that incredible day that we alit from our charter NBN flight and became Israeli citizens. When I take an honest look at the many memories that have been collected over the past 10 years, I realize how much we have all grown.
In no particular order, and by no means a complete list, here are 10 signs that my family and I have successfully made the transition from completely American to Anglo-Israeli:
10. Ability to hear the breaks between the words when listening to Adi Ashkenazi! (She is hilarious, btw!)
9. Successful anticipation/prediction of the contents of a can of tomato product BEFORE opening it and without consulting a dictionary –- and it is CORRECT! (Let’s just say we had a lot of “tomato-surprise” dinners!)
8. Gratitude to the point of giddiness when it rains – even when you are freezing your tush off!
7. Solid white albacore seems dry.
6. Ability to UNDERSTAND Adi Ashkenazi! (What can I say, she is really funny – and so are Asi and Guri)!
5. The automatic answer to any question involving directions is “yashar, yashar v’aaz tishol!” (Straight, straight, and then ask!)
4. The ability to refrain from throttling someone whose answer to you is either “y’hiyeh b’seder” (it’ll be okay) or “aval lo kara klum!” (but nothing happened).
3. A tourist, even after hearing you speak in Hebrew, asks if you speak any English.
2. Your idea of “special occasion” clothing for your youngest son is a white shirt, blue shorts and sandalim – and you are genuinely shocked that your family in the States expected him to be in a suit.
1. Your kids celebrate that day which signifies them having lived more than half their lives in Israel!
Welcome home “NBN Olim Class of July 23, 2013!” The entire Treppenwitz (NBN Olim Class of July 23, 2003) family wishes you a successful and soft klita!
Sunday, July 21, 2013
Lie down with dogs... get up with fleas
According to a news report, an 'observer' from the self-described Human Rights group 'B'tselem' has filed a complaint about being shot in the thigh with a rubber bullet while filming a violent confrontation between Palestinians hurling stones and Israeli Border Patrol officers using non-lethal crowd dispersal measures (tear gas and rubber bullets).
To be clear, I am all for neutral observers filming interactions between civilians and military/police personnel. It is an extra layer of accountability, in addition to existing laws and rules of engagement, that can help reduce or even prevent abuses by government forces... while discouraging civilians and/or irregular combatants (terrorists) from filing spurious charges against official forces who are acting lawfully.
The problem is that B'tselem long ago abandoned any pretense at neutrality/objectivity. Their cameras are invariably pointed at the Israeli military, police and settlers, while systematically editing their footage in such a way so as to only show Palestinian civilians acting peacefully, waving flags and chanting.
I've personally witnessed violent confrontations here where B'Tselem photographers stood amongst the Palestinians who were throwing stones and molotov cocktails... yet their cameras were pointed only at the Israeli's, apparently in hopes of capturing their violent reaction. And there are countless cases of violent clashes being 'made to order' by the very presense of B'tslem cameras.
I won't get into analyzing the mindset that motivates a certain segment of Israeli society to stoop to such levels of self-loathing that they aid and abet groups that have openly dedicated themselves to Israel's vilification and destruction.
Shame on B'Tselem for abandoning their original mission which, as I stated at the outset, was not only laudable, but IMHO, essential. Their current actions are so one-sided and biased as to be indistinguishable from acting as human shields from behind which violent and illegal actions can be carried out against Israeli government forces and citizens with impunity.
And as far as I'm concerned, this B'tselem 'observer' put herself in harms way and got exactly what she was looking for; harm.
If you align and embed yourself with people carrying out illegal/violent acts, you can't cry foul when you get winged by one of the non-lethal tools at the disposal of the military and police forces whose job it is to confront such acts.
As Benjamin Franklin wrote in his Poor Richard's Almanac, "qui cum canibus concumbunt cum pulicibus surgent" ("He that lieth down with dogs shall rise up with fleas").
Friday, July 19, 2013
She hasn't lost her shine
I was basically useless at work yesterday. All I could think about was Ariella being bounced around the IDF processing center like a shiny silver ball in a pinball machine. I knew she could hold her own and stand up to most any abuse. But I didn't want it to be at the cost of the light that shines from within her.
Finally at the end of the day when I was on my way home from work, a single photo hit my cell phone.
I needn't have worried.