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Sunday, February 06, 2005

Low-Hanging Fruit

Looking back over my archives of the past few months it would seem I have been eating my way through the blogosphere.  By this I mean that I have been fortunate enough to meet many of the people I regularly read for meals in my home or in various Israeli eateries. 

The most recent participants in this ongoing gastronomic shmoozefest were the esteemed Mo Chassid, Ben Chorin and Chayei Sarah, with whom I recently shared a delicious breakfast at Cafe Hillel.  Noa, of Jerusalem Revealed, was also supposed to join us, but an exam (she's a nursing student at Hadassah) kept her away.  :-(

One of the interesting things about this trio of talented writers is that each of them blogs under a nom de plum, maintaining the thinnest imaginable pretense of anonymity.  By this I mean that anyone who reads them regularly and hasn't yet figured out who they are simply isn't paying attention (I know, I know... to each his/her own).  Be that as it may, it was an honor and a pleasure to join them on Jerusalem's trendy Emek Rafa'im street for good food, coffee and conversation. 

As we took our seats in this comfortable eatery (that had been the site of a tragic bombing only a year ago), I looked at my dining companions and silently took stock of my good fortune to associate with such active and disciplined minds. 

The pleasant aroma of freshly-pulled espresso shots competed quietly with the murmur of the morning crowd for my attention.  Meanwhile Stan Gets played Jobim bossa novas quietly from the overhead speakers, and Jerusalem Post Editor-in-Chief David Horovitz sat splayed conspicuously a few tables away... simultaneously crowd-watching and allowing himself to be be seen by the watching crowd.

As I've mentioned before, Ben Chorin (a pseudonym that translates roughly as 'Free Man') is a neighbor of mine... at least physically.  I make this distinction because I don't consider myself Ben's peer in any other respect.  While we may share a love of the Judean hills and a fondness for the combination of bourbon and schmaltz herring, the topics about which he writes make my scribblings seem downright pedestrian by comparison.  Mind you, he's not for everyone... this is not the freshman intro-level course.  But if you are interested in Jewish topics on a rarefied level, you'd be crazy not to blogroll him.

Chayeh Sarah is also someone with whom I would suffer in certain side-by-side comparisons.  While Sarah blogs anonymously, she makes no secret of her training and vocation as a journalist (and even occasionally links to articles with her own byline!).  Here too I gladly stand aside and give credit where credit is due.  I may write a pleasing passage from time-to-time, but Sarah has all the discipline, focus and innate curiosity that I lack... all necessary ingredients in someone who wants to scratch out a living from the fourth estate.

Although I have been following various incarnations of his online writing for almost a year now, MO Chassid's face over the breakfast table was a new one for me.  For those not familiar with him or his oxymoronic pen name, MO Chassid stands for 'Modern-Orthodox Chassid', two groups that most would consider to be mutually exclusive.  However, his writing makes it clear that there is much the Modern Orthodox and Chassidic 'worlds' could (and should) learn from one another, and that one would do well to emulate a subset from the best qualities of these two groups.  When I found out MO was going to be visiting Israel on business, I jumped at the opportunity to meet him in person.

Now that you have a sense of who was sitting at the roundtable (OK, it was square, but the self-important literary reference was irresistible), I should probably share a bit about the topics such able minds discussed during this momentous meeting. 

Prepare to be disappointed.

When relative strangers who respect one-another gather for conversation and sustenance, they rarely set out straight-away to create workable solutions for world hunger or peace in the middle east.  The boring truth is that we talked about family, about the weather, about food, about current events... in short, about pedestrian things.  It was pleasant to sit back and observe occasional flashes of their online personas (MO's compassion, Ben's wit and Sarah's intensity) as these three active minds held forth on various topics and the latest news, but it was deeply satisfying to have them mostly on my turf; talking about the mundane, the street-level observation... the here and now.

Why am I telling you all this?  Could you have gone on living your lives without knowing I enjoyed a mushroom quche with three other bloggers?  Yes, of course.  But I couldn't figure out a better way to tell you that I consider myself rich beyond measure. 

These conversations and personal encounters I've been lucky enough to experience are all low-hanging fruit which most readers and writers in the online world walk past every day.  Anyone who lacks for the growth and insight that comes from meeting better and brighter minds than his/her own simply hasn't opened the door and looked to see who is waiting right outside.  This isn't to say that meeting your blogging heroes is for everyone... but opening one's eyes and learning from them is an education that everyone can afford.

I can't wait for this Shabbat when another online personality will [hopefully] grace chez treppenwitz with her presence ... and unique view of the world.

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Posted by David Bogner on February 6, 2005 | Permalink

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Yeah, so who is it?

What a pity I didn't get to meet up mishpachat Treppenwitz. But hopefully another day!

Posted by: Hatshepsut | Feb 6, 2005 1:46:38 PM

Having had the pleasure of dining with MOChassid this morning, I totally understand what you're saying. I thought the merging of my worlds would be weird, but so far, its been a smooth transition.

Posted by: Noa | Feb 6, 2005 5:09:11 PM

Well, I certainly don't have to look hard to meet brighter minds... I think geographically, the closest of your blog-linked authors to me is Carol. She genuinely seems like a very nice person, but we disagree on every issue of substance, even the words "and" and "the". The nearest ideologically might be RedSugar Muse or Hatshepsut but they live very far away in places with snow. Moreover, any of them would be reasonable to want to meet me and ball-and-chain slightly less than wanting to have a cavity filled. What if I turn out to have a very squeaky voice and marginal personal hygene? What if ball-and-chain hunts liberals for trophies?

That's the beuty of the web. The exchange of ideas without the dance.

Having said that, your invitation to pick us up when we visit Israel is very sweet. We are saving up for a trip in January 2005 (which probably means we won't have saved a dime and will have to put it all on credit). We would love to share a meal with all the Bogners and I promise to shower and have my voice lowered the day before.

Posted by: Doctor Bean | Feb 6, 2005 5:34:33 PM

ooops. of course, I mean Jan 2006

Posted by: Doctor Bean | Feb 6, 2005 5:35:53 PM

Hatshepsut... I now know many secrets about many of the good people here in the blogosphere (including you, dear). With those secrets comes a tacit promise of trust. I'm also sorry that our get-together didn't work out. Next time.

Doctor Bean... Ah, but you've missed my main point. Most of the people I've had the pleasure of meeting do not share my political or religious point-of-view (I'm not sure anyone does, actually). But putting a face to someone with whom we disagree forces each of us to keep the dialogue civil, and to remain focused on the issues rather than vilifying the person speaking about the issues.

For example, if you have a sibling who has adopted a radically different worldview, you may not agree with them, but you would be more likely to make a careful study of their views because someone you love is connected to that view. In this way, they never become the enemy.

Another example is something I have been meaning to blog about. Many of my friends who have lived for a long time in Efrat remember a time when they freely rode the Arab buses when the Egged schedule was not convenient... bought produce from Arab vendors because it was convenient and very fresh... and had cordial relationships with the Arab workers with whom they interacted. The Intifada changed all this in ways that most people don't think about. Statistically a few terrorist attacks were enough to force a complete separation of the two communities as well as a mutual vilification. Politically there was a growing gulf between the two sides, but the chasm that lay (and continues to exist) between the two sides was far more dramatic than such political differences could justify. The reason is that when you said 'Arab' or 'Palestinian' to an Efrat resident, they no longer saw the face of the people they knew... they saw the pictures from the news and the blood on the streets. Likewise, when you said 'Jew' or 'Israeli' to most Arabs, they didn't see their former customers, they saw the pictures of the soldiers at the checkpoints and the monsters that were described to them in their media.

I don't know if the Jews and Arabs will ever allow the kind of face-to-face relationship that once existed here, but I refuse to believe that all people who hold different political and/or religious opinions from mine are automatically my enemies. I may not change their way of thinking, but when they talk about the 'other side' of the issue, they will see my face... and not a monster.

Posted by: David | Feb 6, 2005 6:12:42 PM

So I'm the only one who doesn't know who all the other pseudonymous Israeli bloggers are? (Except for Sarah, who gave it away.)

'Sall right. It's more fun this way.

Posted by: Zman Biur | Feb 6, 2005 6:47:14 PM

David: But in my world, I am the Martian. I have lots of friends who are my opposite politically, and at work I'm surrounded by secular Jews. I know that there are liberals who are smarter, better informed and as patriotic as me. I know secular people who are as ethical and kind as me. I know that the opposition is not the enemy. I go to the web as a refuge where I can find a handful of people who actually think like I do. Most of my friends in LA would agree with most of what Carol thinks and think I'm a nut. Meeting her would be a pleasant experience, but I already have lots of real faces to associate with Dems.

Posted by: Doctor Bean | Feb 6, 2005 7:08:57 PM

Zman Biur... No, I think that many people aren't particularly curious about who is who... I agree it is sometimes fun not knowing.

Doctor Bean... I see your point about not needing to meet more people not like you... but maybe some of them might need to meet you. :-) I'm actually quite serious, in spite of the smily face. I'm not saying to become a missionary or anything. But since you mention Carol, and I like her very much, I hope she won't mind if I use her as a hypothetical example. Let's say you and Carol regularly read each otherr's blogs and exchange frequent respectful but spirited comments. Let's also say that without too much logistical gymnastics you two ended up meeting... either as part of a larger group of bloggers who are getting together, or for dinner (with your lovely wife as wel, naturally). This is what I'm talking about... not going out and making new friends for the sake of becoming a presentable spokesman for the right wing.

Everyone is a martian to someone.

Posted by: David | Feb 6, 2005 8:01:35 PM

It sounds like it was a lot of fun. I sometimes wonder if my mental impressions match the "real deal." There could be room for disappointment, who knows.

Doc,

I have lived in LA for essentially all of my life and one thing that I know is that there are far more conservatives running around this town than anyone realizes.

The Hollywood influence overshadows it, but the reality is there.

Posted by: Jack | Feb 6, 2005 9:17:21 PM

Jack... Of course nobody is as you expect them to be (for better or worse), but that's kind of fun. There is a five or ten minute period where your mind does this elastic morphing thing as it matches up the original idea of what the person was supposed to be like with the reality in front of you along a smooth continuum. After a little while you can't remember what you used to think they looked like!

For instance, because I was so impressed with MO Chassid's parenting skills (as told in his now-defunct Foster Boy blog), I was expecting a Jewish Mr. Rogers.

The first time I met Ben Chorin I was a bit shocked because his brainy commentary had let me to imagine him as a Jewish looking Frasier Krane.

Sarah had the biggest disconnect because when you name your blog Chayei Sarah, one sort of expects to meet THE Sarah (Abraham's wife). You don't expect to end up meeting a funny, pretty, Ivy League graduate.

Go Figure.

Posted by: David | Feb 6, 2005 10:24:46 PM

David I think it's obvious that everybody in the world of Israeli and Jewish blogs likes you and wants to meet you. This is why I propose that you host a big blogger get-to-gether at your house. Sometime next year, after I'm there of course!

Secrets about me? Oh dear. Where did you get that from? Give us a hint, will you?

Posted by: Hatshepsut | Feb 6, 2005 10:28:11 PM

Hatshepsut... Do you need to borrow money or something??? I can't think of any other reason you'd be saying such nice things to me! Just let me know. :-)

As to the secret, I was referrring to the poorly kept secret of your name. Oh, and I finally think I have your real nationality memorized. :-)

Posted by: David | Feb 6, 2005 10:33:13 PM

Haha no I just want you to host a party :)

Posted by: Hatshepsut | Feb 6, 2005 11:00:56 PM

Hatshepsut... You just get yourself here, I'll get the party organized. However, considering that not everyone would feel comfortable coming all the way out here to Efrat (It's a long drive and all), perhaps we could hold the next blogmeet in a more central location.

We have a tradition of having at least one non-Israeli blogger attend (the last time Was Celstial Blue), so you could be the token tourist this time.

Posted by: David | Feb 6, 2005 11:07:36 PM

Oh that would rock!

Posted by: Hatshepsut | Feb 7, 2005 3:12:51 AM

After a little while you can't remember what you used to think they looked like!

That makes me think of my son. I keep looking at the four-year-old trying to remember what he looked like as a baby. I know, I have the pictures, but it is hard to remember the baby.

One of the things that I appreciate about the audioblog is the chance to listen to people speak, to put a voice to the words and or face if they posted pictures of themselves.

Posted by: Jack | Feb 7, 2005 3:33:42 AM

OK Treppenfans, I just came from voting on the JIB Awards...so far David is ahead by one vote (Mine, which happened to be the only vote when I was there)in each of his categories. Zahava???

http://www.israellycool.com/

Love, Carol

Posted by: Carol Feldman | Feb 7, 2005 10:48:47 AM

It was a great meeting you and the rest of the chevrah (and the lovely Noa on Sunday). I am up to my eyeballs at work (anyone who thinks my Tel Aviv gig is a boondoggle, try working from 9 a.m. till 8 p.m. and driving almost three hours round trip every day) and I don't have time to blog although I hve a lot of thoughts.

Posted by: mochassid | Feb 7, 2005 11:32:59 AM

Jack... You'l have to clue me in to how to audioblog. I have enjoyed listening to yours and wanted to give it a try. I doubt I'd do it very often, but there are times when it would be fun to employ some of the inflections and emphasis that can only be accomplished with the spoken word.

Carol... You've shamed me into writing a post. Stay tuned.

MO Chassid... All work and no play...
I hope you get a little more 'down time' while you're here.

Posted by: David | Feb 7, 2005 6:38:33 PM

Hi David,

I use Audio Blogger but I believe there are some other services as well.

-J

Posted by: Jack | Feb 8, 2005 2:02:19 AM

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