Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Come On Out... The War's Over! [at least for now]

In the 1970s, the last four confirmed WWII-era Japanese soldiers (also called 'holdouts') - Corporal Shoichi Yokoi, Private 1st Class Kinshichi Kozuka, Lieutenant Hiroo Onoda and Private Teruo Nakamura - were, captured, killed, successfully ordered to lay down arms and convinced to surrender (respectively, and in that order).  

Fascinating stories, all... and an afternoon passed reading about them would not be considered poorly spent.

Those four faithful soldiers had been hiding out for decades in caves and bunkers in remote locations on Pacific islands, either unaware or unconvinced that WWII was over; the outcome decided thirty-some-odd years before.

I mention this random factoid in order to convey a gentle hint to my online friends: 

If you find yourself suspiciously examining every single thing you see or read to test whether it seems to suggest support or or criticism of your preferred political party / office-holder / dogma / position / turf... guess what, you are a holdout.  You are behaving as though the war is still raging, and are hiding in a bunker (of your own making), ready to shoot at anyone and anything that moves.  

Historically, people in bunkers (and those with a bunker mentality), are notoriously difficult to dislodge for the simple reason that they remain willfully ignorant of the changing reality outside their bunkers.

I completely get it.  The outcome of the last 'war' was not to your liking.  In fact, even some of the people who crossed party lines and tipped the scales are experiencing a bit of 'buyer's remorse' just now. That has to be especially frustrating in such a closely fought contest.

But guess what?  You (and your country) survived.  There is no shame in having been a loyal soldier on the losing side.  But your current behavior - your fixation on, or denial of, the outcome -  is neither helpful nor liable to garner the results you seek.

The good news is that, unlike in real a war, there is a new political 'war' to 'fight' every four years in the US ; a 'do-over', in playground parlance. 

That's the beauty of living in a strong, vibrant democracy with a proven mechanism for periodically facilitating the peaceful transfer of power.  A peek at a history book should go a long way towards allaying your fears, and assuring you that the pendulum inevitably swings back.. and never, ever, stops moving.

The bad news is that it's hard to influence the current regime, and harder still to have a hand in picking the next one, if you are still holding out in your bunker, shooting blindly at anything that moves... engaged in a conflict whose outcome was decided years ago!

Come on out, the 'war' is over (at least for the next couple of years).  

Posted by David Bogner on July 10, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (2)

Monday, July 09, 2018

Go Ahead and Bring Up Paris...

There’s a powerful line in the classic film, Casablanca' where Rick drunkenly chides Ilsa, saying “I wouldn't bring up Paris if I were you. It's poor salesmanship".

Image result for "I wouldn't bring up paris if I were you"

The line is powerful, not because Rick is right and Ilsa is wrong… but because we, the viewer, are aware that to broach the subject of Paris will lead to a painful discussion ... and that some hard truths are inevitably going to be shared.

Over the last couple of days we’ve been reading a lot about the genuine national disgrace of immigrants to the US who were actively recruited to serve in the US military with the promise of a path to citizenship, now being quietly (ok, not so quietly anymore), discharged… and told that the previously offered path is actually a dead end.

That's 'Paris'.  That's the uncomfortable linchpin of a discussion that nobody seems prepared to have.

Specifically, what nobody seems prepared to discuss is the far greater national disgrace that the US Military is so strapped for man-power that it had to stoop to recruiting non-citizens to do the heavy lifting of defending the freedoms and liberties of the very citizens who routinely  ignore and shun them.

Well, America... I wouldn't bring up 'Paris' if I were you... it's truly bad salesmanship!

Are the freedoms and rights you shout and carry on about on college campuses, in editorials and in town hall meetings, so cheap and meaningless that you (and your children), can’t be bothered to take a short turn standing watch to protect and defend them? 

Is uniformed service something that only the children of ‘other people’ – that great invisible, unwashed underclass – are expected to do, while your kids are left free and unencumbered to pursue their important, charmed, successful lives?

Is patriotism a costume you take out of the closet and put on for parades once or twice a year to make yourself feel part of something worthy and good, while the rest of the year you and your families support and idolize an elitist movie industry that consistently and deliberately portrays the military as evil, and veterans as irreparably damaged, drug-addled, ticking time-bombs?

Yes, it is a terrible thing that these immigrants who volunteered for military service in exchange for a path to citizenship are now being told ‘thanks, but no thanks’.  But that issue can’t be discussed in a vacuum. 

If you want to bring up 'Paris', you’d damned well better be prepared for a bunch of larger, broader discussions; discussions that, so far, aren't taking place:

The discussion about what exactly it means to be an American.

The discussion about what responsibilities and obligations come with that privilege.

The discussion of how despicable it is to ignore the very existence of dishwashers, bus-boys, lawn-mowers, home care-attendants, house-cleaners and other immigrant laborers who make your comfortable lives possible, while expecting these same invisible human beings (and their children), to fight and die for you… all while your precious children attend expensive colleges, and grow up to run things and write policy checks on an account to which they never made a single deposit!

So, yeah… go ahead and ‘bring up Paris’.  It’s a legitimate discussion; no matter how potentially divisive and painful.  

But don’t think you can broach such a fraught subject and not be expected to confront all the unpleasant truths attached to it.

Posted by David Bogner on July 9, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (3)

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Hoping For a Bad Meal Seems An Odd Strategy For An Evening Out

Okay, so here’s the picture I’d like to paint for you today:

After a contentious office discussion, you and a big crowd of friends, acquaintances and coworkers have come to an uneasy consensus as to where to go out for dinner.  The choice was far from unanimous… but then, in these workplace ‘cattle-call’ situations, a narrow majority is often the best one can hope for.

You all arrive outside the designated restaurant and, as often happens, a few of the more vocal proponents of the place begin loudly singing the praises of the venue’s chef, ambiance, and entrees… while a few of the more vocal detractors begin loudly knocking the shoddy décor, the crappy service, limited menu and inedible food.

All this, of course, is going on outside on the sidewalk before anyone has even crossed the threshold or been shown a table.

The crowd shuffles slowly into the place and is seated, and the vocal fans and foes of the restaurant begin loudly vying to sway the silent majority (who voted for or against the place, but have, so far, decided to reserve judgment), to their camp.

Now, as anyone who has ever dined out can tell you, going out to a restaurant is one of the most subjective experiences in life (which is why I’ve chosen it for today’s hopelessly-flawed analogy). 

The décor, although static, is just as likely to appeal to me as it is to offend the sensibilities of someone seated at the next table. 

The service will depend on how busy the place is, and can vary drastically even from server to server. 

The mood music can be caustic or conjure fond memories of one’s youth. 

The food is subject to arguably the widest range of perception since even expertly prepared meals may not live up to expectations (or one’s memory of the last time it was ordered)… and, of course, even great chefs have off nights.

So you and your crowd have ordered and begin receiving the various salads, appetizers, soups, entrees and desserts (hopefully in approximately the correct order).

I get that many of the group are unhappy with where they are right now.  I know they wanted with all their heart to have the group go a different way.  But this is where they are for the rest of the evening. 

So, why, at this point, are the nay-sayers still waging their full-throated campaign to convince everyone what a horrible mistake this place was?  It seems to me that once everyone is seated and eating their meals, they would share – at least momentarily - a common interest in trying to make the best of the situation.  

Why continue to ridicule the décor and table-service.  Is there a chance the management will give the place a facelift before dinner is served?

Why berate or sabotage the staff?  Don’t you  know these servers have unfettered access to your food?  

Why denigrate the chef to his face?  Do they think insults will motivate him to make an extra-special effort to turn in a Michelin-star-worthy performance for an ungrateful bunch of loudmouths who are already predicting his failure?

Short of walking out (something many threatened to do at the outset, but few actually followed through with), it would seem that the smart thing to do would be to try to make the best of the situation.  After all, most people in the world don’t have the resources or choice of going out to dinner.  In fact, most of the world would be deliriously happy if there was simply ample food on their table to get them through the day. 

So in that context, this idea of periodically being able to have a say in where to go to have someone prepare your food and serve it to you (and then clean up afterwards), seems to be a bit of an under-appreciated luxury.

Metaphor clear enough?  Obviously, there’s no magical, O. Henry-esque ‘reveal’ at the end of this essay.  I’ve been pretty ham-handed with where I’m headed, metaphorically speaking.

I get that Trump is an inarticulate buffoon. I suspect that for many, he was a gag-choice (think Jesse Ventura in Minnesota).   I can’t watch Trump  speak… it’s too cringe-inducing. But for all his ineptitude and seat-of-the-pants management ‘style’, by accident or design he isn’t screwing up absolutely everything.  Whether talking about the economy or some of the thornier foreign policy mine-fields, a couple of things appear to be, inexplicably, working out for him.  And by working out, I mean to America’s benefit, not just Trumps. 

I get that Trump and many of his appointees are rank amateurs who are clearly making it up as they go along.  Guess what, I can give you a long list of appointees in every Democratic and Republican administration who were also amateurs with little or no government experience.  Some were political patronage drones and some were savvy policy wonks.  But all had no choice but to produce or perish.  Some rose to the occasion… others didn’t. 

But when I see every YouTube mouth-breather and street-corner bigot being blamed on ‘Trump’s America’, I have to wonder if these same people were somehow in hibernation or medicated under previous presidents.  In my experience, idiots don’t wait for particular seasons and opportunities to strut their stuff.  Their bigotry and ass-hattery are well-developed and on display for most of their adult lives, and had little connection to who lived in the White House when they were filmed behaving badly.

But back to the topic at hand, my point is that once a group has exercised some semblance of democratic process, and the results have been announced, doesn’t everyone have a shared interest in making the best of the situation?  There’ll be plenty of time after the meal and back at the office to dissect take-away lessons from the experience, and campaign for the choice of venue for the next office outing. 

But while you are actually sitting in your seat, why try to ruin an unavoidable experience that is already underway?  Why insult the chef, trip the waiters and vandalize the furniture?  This time you got Red Lobster.  Maybe next time you’ll get your way and steer the group to Peter Luger.

I guess I don’t understand the mindset of those who, having had their preference rejected (by however narrow a margin), would pray for food poisoning rather than hope that perhaps the breadsticks and one or two of the less-complicated entrees might be safe.

After all, like I mentioned earlier, not many in the world actually have a choice.

Posted by David Bogner on June 10, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (3)

Thursday, June 07, 2018

Sit Down and Shut Up!

This just in from disgraced Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert (yes, the one who just got out of prison!), in an interview with German broadcaster Deutsche Welle, about the way Israel is dealing with the violence from Gaza:

 "In this context, I think that we have to consider other options of operations which will be less violent and damaging…I mean, it's not a thousand kids only, there were tens of thousands of people and they were, indeed, there were many casualties and there were 62 people killed. And I am terribly sorry and sad about it… Is it necessary to use the guns the way they were used, snipers the way they were used? (...) I have questions, I have doubts”.

Okay, listen up surrender boy.  The current catastrophe in Gaza is the gift from your failed Kadima party that just keeps on giving (you do remember the ‘Disengagement, don’t you?!). 

Thirteen years ago, you and your elitist cronies assured us you knew what was best for us.  You promised us that a frantic, unilateral retreat from Gaza was the best and only solution to Israel’s problems.  'The world will respect us', you said.  'The Palestinians will thank us', you said.  'There will be no missiles from Gaza', you said.  'The seeds of peace, so generously sown, will spontaneously sprout flowers all over the middle east', you said!

That was the summer of 2005. 

You were a Cabinet Minister in 2005 and Prime Minister from 2006 - 2009. 

Before you were shown the door, your popularity rating had slipped to below 3% in most polls, and a ‘Google Bomb’ brought up your Wikipedia page whenever anyone did a Hebrew search for the term ‘Miserable Failure’.

So am I missing something?  Did you get smacked around in prison so hard that you lost all memory of the 'Disengagement' from Gaza over which you and your Kadima-led government presided?  Did the disastrous war in Lebanon (which ended with you and Tzippi Livni literally pleading for a cease fire), slip your mind?  Did you forget that according to the UN-brokered ceasefire agreement, the enemy was required to do only two things:  Return our kidnapped soldiers and disarm Hezbollah?

Up until the moment the bodies of the kidnapped soldiers were dumped like yesterday’s trash at our northern border, you and your feckless Kadima comrades didn’t even know if they were alive or dead.  It was a devastating gut-punch to Israel, and a huge PR win for Hezbollah.  And as for the promise that the Iranian proxy in Lebanon would be forced to disarm?  How’s that working out so far?  Interesting that the UN Security Council isn't meeting to discuss non-compliance with that resolution, right!

So you’ll excuse me if I suggest that you should have confined your entire interview to those last few words:  “I have my doubts”.  We know.  We had them too (and still do).  But back in 2005 you managed to convince everyone that you knew better… that you had all the answers.  That you had no doubts.

In case you hadn't noticed, it's not 2005.  It's 2018.  You're not in charge anymore. 

I get that you're unhappy with the news from Gaza.  Take a number… nobody (except, perhaps Hamas and Islamic Jihad) is happy watching the news from Gaza these days.  Unfortunately, managing that snake pit in Gaza from outside is a lot like trying to cook a meal without being able to lift a pot lid or open the oven door.

So unless you have a more concrete solution than ‘we should consider other options’, just take a knee and let the grown-ups have a crack at this.  You had your chance.  We'll let you know if/when we've finished cleaning up your mess.

Posted by David Bogner on June 7, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Committing [National] Suicide

The classic definition of chutzpah is murdering one's parents and then pleading for leniency from the court because your're an orphan. So, what do you call it when someone commits suicide in an attempt to similarly garner sympathy or preferential treatment?

I won't waste time discussing the legitimacy of the Palestinian struggle for self-determination, or which / how many entities actually represent the Palestinians in that struggle.  What baffles me is the methodology the Palestinians are employing in that struggle, which is, at best, chutzpadik, and at worst, suicidal to their national aspirations.

Abba Eban once famously quipped that, "The Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity."  This has been proven wrong on a couple of notable occasions when Arab leaders opted for peace and progress when opportunities have presented themselves.  I'm referring, of course, to the Egyptians and Jordanians.

But either the Palestinians are incapable seizing any of the multiple opportunities that have been presented to them... or they are actively working towards a different outcome.  I honestly don't know which is correct.

Here is a short list of the opportunities  - clear paths to statehood - which the Palestinians have missed: 

  • In 1937, the Peel Commission proposed the partition of Palestine and the creation of an Arab state.
  • In 1939, the British White Paper proposed the creation of a unitary Arab state.
  • In 1947, the UN would have created an even larger Arab state as part of its partition plan.
  • In addition 1948 to 1967, Israel did not control the West Bank. The Palestinians could have demanded an independent state from the Jordanians. On the contrary while Jordan was in control Arafat said there was no longer a claim as it was no longer part of Palestine. Once it was back in Israeli hands it miraculously became disputed land again! This is one of many reasons Israelis remain cynical.
  • The 1979 Egypt-Israel peace negotiations offered the Palestinians autonomy, which would almost certainly have led to full independence.
  • The Oslo agreements of the 1990s laid out a path for Palestinian independence, but the process was derailed by terrorism.
  • In 2000, Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered to create a Palestinian state in all of Gaza and 97 percent of the West Bank. The Palestinian response was not only a resounding 'no' (without a counter-offer), but also the launch of the 2nd Intifada.
  • In 2008, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert offered to withdraw from almost the entire West Bank and partition Jerusalem on a demographic basis.
    [source]

During the 2005 'disengagement', Israel withdrew its military and civilian presence from Gaza, leaving extensive agriculture infrastructure to the Palestinians. Yes, Israel continued to maintain control of Gaza's airspace, land borders (with the exception of Gaza's border with Egypt, abandoned by Israel in 2005), and territorial waters.  But that was not a punitive or unilateral decision on Israel's part.  It was part of the Oslo accords which, to date, neither side has formally abandoned. 

Instead of creating a new proto-state on the Mediterranean, the Palestinians destroyed the existing infrastructure and diverted much of the international humanitarian aid they received to terror programs; launching thousands of rockets at Israel and building scores of attack tunnels under the border.

Now Gaza's government (Hamas) has started a novel campaign of directing thousands of their own people to violently breach the fence with Israel, invade and overrun the country and carry out murder and mayhem as they go.

This goes far beyond missing opportunities.  It is committing national suicide!

How can the Palestinians ask for sovereignty for themselves when they don't understand or respect the inviolability of sovereignty?

How can the Palestinians expect to be given a state when the explicitly stated goal of their national project is to destroy / supplant an existing state?

How can the Palestinian leadership reasonably hope to be entrusted with the protection and welfare of their own citizens when they don't understand (or are willfully ignoring), a basic tenet of statehood: that when forced to choose between the safety and welfare of its own citizens and the safety and welfare of demonstrably violent invaders, a state must always choose to protect its own citizens?

Which brings me back to my original question:  What benefit does the Palestinian leadership expect to gain by this suicidal play for international sympathy if it results in the demise of their national aspirations?

Posted by David Bogner on May 15, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (5)

Sunday, May 13, 2018

... a nation like any other.

There is a quote that is usually attributed to Chaim Nachman Bialik, the great modern Hebrew poet (and great-great-great-grand uncle of actress Mayim Bialik), who said, ''We will be a normal state when we have the first Hebrew prostitute, the first Hebrew thief and the first Hebrew policeman". 

That quote always bothered me.  After all, why set the bar so low?  Aren't we supposed to be 'a light unto the nations'?

It wasn't until I was watching the Eurovision finals last night that something clicked, and I finally understood the context of his quote.

In order to be a ‘normal state… 'a national like any other'… Israel has to not only accept, but also embrace, its normalcy.  More than that, we have to make the rest of the world see and accept us as completely normal.

It's great to have brilliant Israeli Nobel laureates and scientists so we can point and say how erudite we are. 

It's great to have achingly beautiful Israeli models and actors so we can point and say how attractive we are.

It's great to have a healthy, thriving democracy so we can point and say how evolved and civilized we are.

And it's great to have impressive military and intelligence capabilities so we can point and say how powerful and self-reliant we are.

But Bialik understood that a 'normal' state is the average of its people, not its top 1-2%; That the typical citizen - the everyman/everywoman - is not necessarily a scientist, a model, a legislator / jurist, a spy / commando… yet can still excel, impress and astound!

The average citizen of a 'normal’ state is a work-a-day person, struggling valiantly to carve out a life for him/herself and family.  That means an endlessly normal list of normal occupations including bus drivers, bank clerks, secretaries, insurance agents, telephone operators, ad executives, rear-echelon soldiers, entertainers, policemen and yes, thieves and prostitutes.

Israel has been participating in the annual Eurovision Song Contest since 1973. 

Including last night's triumph, we have won a total of four times.  On the face of it, that feat would seem to be fodder for our list of bragging rights along with Nobel laureates, models, military heroes, etc.

But look at the Israelis who have won:

Our first win was in 1978 with Alphabeta, sung by Izhar Cohen the child of Yemenite immigrants (considered at the time to be an underprivileged minority).  We won the following year with Hallelujah, sung by Gali Atari, another child of Yemenite immigrants.  Our third win came in 1998 with 'Diva' sung by Dana International, a transgender individual.  And last night's winning song, 'Toy' was performed by Netta Barzilai. 

While I was watching Netta peform, a few things hit me all at once:

First, although Barzilai is a fairly typical surname among Jews from Morocco and other North African communities, I hadn't seen or heard one person categorize her by ethnicity.  That's huge for us Israelis that Netta's family origin is such a non-ssue that nobody feels compelled to hyphenate her Israeli-ness.

Next, while almost all of the Eurovision performers in last night’s program were talented singers / performers, most looked like they could easily moonlight as runway and print models.  In the back of my mind I couldn't help wondering if some of them might not have been selected if they hadn't first won the genetic lottory.

Netta, like most of us, doesn't come close to conforming to the prevailing - and certainly flawed - modern ideals of beauty as sold to us by the entertainment and fashion industry.  She is a plus-sized woman with a larger-than-life stage presence that is at first a bit shocking... but very quickly quite appealing.  She is so completely at home in her skin that she practically forces the viewer/listener to recalibrate in their head what ‘normal’ is for a star.

And the lyrics of her song reinforce her moral authority to take up the #metoo banner in the name of everyone who has ever been objectified, harassed, victimized or assaulted... deftly and rightly taking it from the manicured hands of Hollywood A-listers who, let's face it, look better the morning after an all-night pub-crawl than most of us looked on our wedding day.

When Christina Aguilera sings, "I am beautiful no matter what they say, Words can't bring me down...", it's honestly a little hard to feel her pain...or reflexively, to believe that she truly understands the self-image issues that the 'normal' woman (or man), wrestles with.

But when Netta sings, "Look at me, I’m a beautiful creature... I’m not your toy. You stupid boy”, you instantly get that she is not talking about some subjective external criteria of beauty... she is talking about the intrinsic beauty & value of every human being, and the right we all have to not be reduced to a kind of object, prize or plaything.

What a powerful yet obvious message!  And it carries extra gravitas because it is delivered by a 'normal' everywoman.

This is the 'normal' that Bialik was talking about.  This is the 'normal' that Israel consistently projects. 

We Israelis are worthy and valuable, not because we have accomplished all these wonderful things through the luck of being born exceptional... but rather in spite of the fact that we were not.

There can be extraordinary things to be proud of in being ordinary.  But to do so, one has to first be prepared to embrace and celebrate being 'normal'.  Last night’s Eurovision performance /win was all that, and more!

Netta

Posted by David Bogner on May 13, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, May 10, 2018

New York Times Report Card: D-

Last night just after midnight, Iranian military forces in Syria launched a missile strike on Israel using between 18 and 20 Fajr-5 rockets. 

For reference, each of these unguided rockets is about 6.5 meters long (a bit over 21 ft), has a range of approximately 75Km (about 50 miles) and can carry a warhead weighing 175 kg (385 lbs) – consisting of either high explosives (HE), fragmentation, submunitions, incendiary, smoke, or chemical payloads.

Here's a glimpse (lest anyone confuse it for a home-made Kassam):

Fajr-5-960x400

Israel's Iron Dome system intercepted 4 of the incoming Iranian rockets, and the rest reportedly fell short/wide of military bases and civilian areas in the Israeli Golan Heights, causing no damage.

Naturally (and justifiably under international law), within an hour, Israel launched air and missile strikes on a number of military targets in Syria, destroying nearly all Iranian military and strategic facilities in the country.

Equally naturally, The New York Times reported the Israeli aggression... and soft-pedaled the Iranian attack.

Let's check the highlights:

Headline:

"Israel Strikes Iranian Targets in Syria as Tensions Escalate"

Hmmm, to anyone skimming the headlines it sounds like Israel is the aggressor here, no?

First paragraph:

"JERUSALEM — Israeli fighter jets struck dozens of Iranian targets in Syria overnight, Israeli officials said, following soon after what the Israeli military described as an unsuccessful Iranian rocket attack against its forces in the Golan Heights."

Again, the Times leads with "Israel struck...".  Always Israel attacking, never 'allegedly', 'reportedly', etc.... and always 'targets... never 'military targets', and always active verbs. 

Then as a follow up, whatever Iran may or may not have done is not confirmed, it is only what "...the Israel military described"... and even then it is important to point out it was a "failed Iranian rocket attack against forces in the Golan Heights". 

According to the Times, not only did the Iranian attack not hurt anyone or anything, but it was absolutely, certainly an attack on 'Israeli forces'; a good trick for a rocket that has no guidance package, a range of 50 miles, and which was fired at an area dotted with civilian communities!

The article then spends two paragraphs trying to connect the violence to Trump's withdrawing the US from the Iran Nuclear deal.  Then, and only then does the patient reader find out more clearly what happened.  and the Times doesn't disappoint:

Fourth Paragraph:

"Overnight, Iranian forces fired around 20 rockets into the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights, targeting forward positions of the Israeli military, according to an Israeli military spokesman. The rockets were all either intercepted or fell short of their mark, the spokesman said, but were nevertheless a significant escalation in Iran’s maneuvers in the Middle East. Though Israel has hit Iranian forces in Syria with a number of deadly airstrikes, Tehran has been restrained in hitting back, until now."

Yes, Iran fired rockets.  But not approximately 20 rockets... but rather "around 20 rockets".  I hate to split hairs, but the former is the accepted word when the exact number is not known in a  professional setting or a military conflict.  'Around' is more commonly used when discussing how many rocks your son may have thrown at your neighbor's dog.

Again, the certainty on the part of the Times that the Iranian rockets were "targeting forward positions of the Israeli military" despite there being no way to actually aim them with an accuracy of less than a few kilometers (at best).  

And the paragraph ends with a real whopper, even by NYTimes standards, pointing out that even in the face of punishing Israeli airstrikes, "Tehran has been restrained in hitting back, until now".  No context.  No reporting of the constant Iranian threats to wipe Israel off the map.  No mention of Israel's clearly stated red line of moving Iranian advanced weaponry into Syria.  Just 'Iranian restraint'.

I won't continue to parse the article, even though it continues to reinforce Israel as the aggressor and Iran as the mature, patient, statesman-like victim.

Overall Grade for today:  D-

Why not a big red F?  

Well, whether by accident or design, The Times used 'Jerusalem' in the dateline instead of Tel Aviv.  Also, instead of using the usual formula of 'Israeli occupied Golan Heights', they called it "Israeli-controlled Golan Heights'.

Baby steps.  If they can include a couple of accuracies in each article - even accidentally - I'm willing to give them a barely passing grade.

 

Posted by David Bogner on May 10, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

Seeding Winds of Change

Over the past few weeks Palestinians in Gaza have begun using low-tech incendiary devices  suspended from kites and helium balloons to set fire to crops, trees and infrastructure on the Israeli side of the border.  So far the fires cause by these improvised flying devices have caused millions of Shekels in damage to the Israeli agricultural communities along the Gaza border.

I'll leave it to others to waste their breath trying to explain to an uninterested world why every sovereign country has the right to protect its borders (not to mention the responsibility to protect its citizens), from demonstrably hostile invaders.  

I've gotten to the point where I just don't have the patience or headspace to explain what should be obvious to a hostile audience that is actively rooting for the people carrying out the mayhem.

So as I read yet another article about Gazan helium balloons lofting flaming payloads into Israeli wheat fields, I was struck by a thought:

These oversized balloons, and the Helium to fill them, are relatively cheap, widely available and can carry a modest payload.  And they go wherever the wind takes them.

What if Israel were to set up assembly and launching points along the Gaza periphery for our own helium balloons, and wait for a  favorable change in the winds? 

But instead of carrying fire and destruction into Gaza, the Israeli balloons would carry small humanitarian payloads; first aid kits, asperin/tylonol, candy, toys, flashlights, toiletries, cosmetics, batteries, spices, etc..

The Hamas military government would almost certainly try to foil such grass-roots gestures by forbidding Gazans from touching things flown over the border by 'the Zionist enemy'.  In fact, they would probably claim the items were booby-trapped with explosives or poison (perhaps planting a bit of both to frighten their population into compliance). 

But if enough balloons were launched... and enough Gazans received a glimpse of humanity from the people they've been indoctrinated to believe are completely lacking in that quality... it can't help but influence the winds of public opinion, at least in a small way.

Just floating an idea...

Wind

Feel free to take this idea and run (fly) with it!

Posted by David Bogner on May 8, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (3)

Thursday, May 03, 2018

Imitation is the sincerest form of... colonialism?

Taking offence seems to have been raised to an art form these days. 

Don't believe me?  Just take a peek at the Sturm und Drang over a young woman in Utah who committed the unforgivable sin of 'cultural appropriation' by wearing a prom frock modelled after a traditional Chinese dress known as cheongsam or qipao.

Kindly also note that in the previous sentence I have brazenly committed an act of cultural appropriation by using the German 'Sturm und Drang' rather than a less objectionable (but also less descriptive), English equivalent.

So what was the fuss about?

Like pretty much every prom attendee since the dawn of social media, the young woman in the article shared pictures of herself online wearing the Asian-inspired dress... and was immediately crucified by the cultural sensitivity police.

"My culture is not your prom dress.." wrote an outraged gentleman; presumably of Chinese ancestry.  He continued his tirade in a follow-up post, “For it to simply be subject to American consumerism and cater to a white audience, is parallel to colonial ideology.”

Wow, a Utah high schooler furthering colonial ideology with her sartorial choices!  Who knew?

Another guardian of cultural purity named 'Jeannie' wrote: “This isn’t ok.  I wouldn’t wear traditional Korean, Japanese or any other traditional dress and I’m Asian. I wouldn’t wear traditional Irish or Swedish or Greek dress either. There’s a lot of history behind these clothes. Sad.

Note that this upright, sensitive person is Asian and says she wouldn't even wear traditional Asian clothing!  GIve me strength!  And as if there isn't enough to hate about her already, ending a post with 'Sad' makes me want to Photoshop Trump hair onto all her online pictures!

Also, I'm a little offended that her presumably Asian parents appropriated American culture by naming their hyper-sensitive little angel, 'Jeannie'.  But let's stick a pin in that for the moment (assuming that isn't somehow appropriating Haitian Voodoo culture).

One would think that in today's shrinking world, multiculturalism (also known as ethnic pluralism) would be a welcome change from the old days where minority cultures were expected to shed their cultural identities by diving (or being thrown) into of the great melting pot.  And to a certain extent, it is.  But at the cost of taking those cultural touchstones - particularly clothing - and turning them into quaisi-sacred vestments that can be wielded/worn only by authentic members of the source culture.

I've written in the past about my unfulfilled kilt-envy, and how I've adopted wearing a lungi in extremes of hot-humid weather.  In the former case where I don't think I could get away with it; and the latter where, at least in semi-privacy, I can, I see no problem whatsoever.  

Truth be told, the couple of times that Indians have seen me wearing a Lungi (in my hotel room or out by the pool), the reactions were unanimously positive.  And considering that Queen Victoria, a British monarch, was largely responsible for popularizing traditional Scottish culture and costume, you'd have to take a lot of upper-crust Brits to task over alleged cultural appropriation before attacking me for lusting after a Utilikilt.

So why is it that people are so uptight about Caucasians adopting the fashions of Asia and Africa?

When Zahava and I hosted an African visitor several years back, he gifted me a beautiful Dashiki which I have been, frankly, terrified to wear outside the house because of exactly the sort of foaming-at-the-mouth-PC nonsense mentioned above.  I'm white.  So what?!  I didn't colonize Africa.  I work and travel extensively in Africa and am friendly with many wonderful people there.  Why is wearing a bit of their cultural kit considered insulting; particularly to non-African people who have never set foot in Africa and are likely projecting their white guilt onto me?

My wife and daughter enjoy the style and comfort of wearing Indian Shalwar Kameez here in Israel; especially in the summer.  And Ariella has even worn a Sari I bought her.  In neither case were the garments worn ironically or in any way meant to be insulting or demeaning to the people of India.    

Of course, one could argue that it is possible to go too far when trying to 'go native', making it seem a little, um, forced (as Canada's Prime Minister and his family found out):

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So getting back to the article that sparked this little rant, why, if a caucasian woman decides to wear a dress in the Chinese style should it be considered cultural appropriation and culturally insensitive?   We enjoy so many other aspects of Chinese culture - cuisine, games, frgrance - in our day-to-day lives.  Why not clothing?

We're not talking about black-face minstrel shows or lawn jockeys! 

We're not talking about native American buckskin and feathered head-dresses!

We're not talking about dressing up like a 19th century coolie with clogs, buck teeth and a long queue (braid)!  

And we're certainly not talking about dressing up in religious garb (although, I find it ironic that none of the PC police seem to be bothered by religious garb being forced upon non-native visitors by certain countries):

Hijab 2
Hijab 2

So, yeah... I'm honestly curious what harm can come from someone wearing clothing or accessories that come from (or were inspired by), other cultures.  How is it insulting to the source culture?!

Call me old fashioned, but to my way of thinking, imitation is still the sincerest form of flattery.  

Posted by David Bogner on May 3, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (2)

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

Have We Learned Nothing?!

Did we really learn nothing from the tragic death of ten precious teenagers last week?!

There were clear weather warnings and strongly worded recommendations from various government agencies that, if followed, would have saved those precious lives.

Yet here we are a week later and I am seeing the same “yihye beseder” (It'll be okay) attitude among decision-makers who should really know better.

Tonight is L'ag B'Omer (the 33rd day of the counting of the Omer period between Passover and Shavuot), and it is a well-loved tradition to light Medurot (bonfires).  Among Israel's youth, it is arguably the highlight of the social year.  After all, what kid doesn't like staying up all night with his/her friends at a bonfire?!

Only one problem.  There is a strong storm warning for much of the country, with unseasonably warm temperatures (read dry everything) and high winds.  Exactly the things you don't want when people are lighting bonfires.

The fire departments and many civil administrations are strongly recommending limiting or even cancelling bonfires due to the weather.  The mayor of our town is among these sensible voices.

Yet there are those who are saying that since bonfires haven't been outlawed outright, that it should be okay to go ahead and have them.

What the hell, people?!  Do we need to burn down the entire country (and maim or kill a bunch of kids in the process), before we learn that not being forbidden from doing something doesn't mean it is a good idea!

I'm not one of those people who screams every year about air polution and poor supervision.  I think the annual bonfires are a wonderful tradition.  But not at the risk of lives and property!

 

Posted by David Bogner on May 2, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Just because someone doesn't share your views doesn't necessarily make them your enemy!

Can everyone please tone down their righteous indignation over Natalie Portman?

It seems like everywhere you look these days, people are out for a stroll in public with their sacred cows; just daring anyone to even think about taking a whack!

Last week we had the Holocaust and Memorial Day zealots who saw it as their sacred duty to call out entire segments of the Jewish population for not standing at rigid attention during the requisite minute (or two) of silence.  "Here, look at my Facebook feed... I have a video of two Hassidim walking during the siren, so the entire Haredi world must be spitting on the graves of every holocaust victim and fallen soldier.  They are worse than the Muslims!!!"

And once the siren zealots get themselves worked into a lather... why should they limit themselves to siren-policing when they can ignore the verified enlistment and employment statistics altogether and accuse the entire black-hat-wearing community  - a community that is struggling valiantly to find their place in the modern world without sacrificing the essence of all they hold dear - of being blood-sucking parasites!!!

Give me strength!

And this week we have people tripping over each-other to shout the loudest, most incendiary insults at Natalie Portman for saying 'no thank you' to a third-tier prize that was made up out of whole cloth by a Prime Minister (and his cronies), that she dislikes and distrusts.  "Revoke her citizenship!"... "Bar her from entering the country!"... "She married a non-Jew and hasn’t lived in Israel since she was five, so of course she's a self-hating Jew and a BDS supporter!!!"

People, people, puleeze!  Do you even hear yourselves?  You aren't the thought police, and have no moral authority to be rounding up a posse!

Many of you have likely heard of my friend Allison Kaplan Sommer.  If not, go ahead and Google her.  I'll wait. 

She and I rarely see perfectly eye-to-eye on matters of Israeli politics.  But not because she is wrong-headed or misinformed.  On the contrary, Allison is one of the brightest people I know and brings the facts to back up anything she has to say.  We both love our country deeply, but hold different views about the exact route to where we hope our country should be.  She's one of the people I routinely check myself against... not the raving lunatics at the two extremes of Facebook political shouting matches!

Today she had quite a bit to say about the orgy of Portman-bashing going on, and I have to admit that much of what she had to say was as new to me as it was refreshing to read.

I recommend you follow that link and read her well-written case for why Natalie Portman's reluctance to accept the Genesis Prize is, at best, a tempest in a teacup. 

But if you need the Cliff Notes version, suffice it to say that people are allowed to look at who wants to give them an award and say, "Um, thank you for the offer, but I feel that publicly accepting your prize would seem like publicly accepting your views."

And frankly, that's fair. 

Could she have been a little smarter about heading off the dog and pony show before they actually announced her as the awardee?   Of course she could have!  I'm sure she was approached well in advance to suss her out... if only to check her scheduling availability.  That would have been the smart time to say 'Thanks, but no thanks'.  But there are different kinds of smart... and a Harvard degree doesn't confer upon anyone the full set of smarts (just Google 'Noam Chomsky' if you need any more proof of that).

And while we're at it, let's try to quantify just what kind of a 'big deal' this prize is she turned down, and what refusing it has to say about her views on Israel.  People are acting as if refusing the Genesis Prize is akin to tongue-kissing Roger Waters during a press conference to announce an endorsement of a wall-to-wall boycott of the entire Zionist enterprise. 

Get a grip!  The Genesis is not the Israeli Nobel!!! It's not even in the same league as the The Israel Prize (which actually is considered 'the Israeli Nobel'). 

The Genesis Prize itself is only a couple of years old (they gave out the first one in 2012),, has had only four previous recipients, and by all indications, seems to have the same rigorous eligibility standards as the honorary doctorate degrees we see handed out like Mardi Gras beads at commencement ceremonies everywhere this time of year.

The entire Wikipedia article about the Genesis Prize is exactly one paragraph long, and consists of two short sentences (not counting the list of awardees).  Here it is (don't thank me, I'm a giver):

"The Genesis Prize (פרס בראשית‎) was founded in 2012 as a US$1 million award given annually to Jewish people who have attained recognition and excellence in their fields. The prize was founded with the objective of inspiring and developing a sense of pride and belonging among young unaffiliated Jews throughout the world." [source]

Nothing about Zionism, the State of Israel or Religious Identity.  And as Ms. Portman likely learned long ago in Hollywood; there's no such thing as a free lunch (or award dinner).  Very few organizations give out anything without expecting something in return.

Just as the Genesis Award seems designed to hitch a ride on the coat-tails of Jewish celebrities in an effort to show unaffiliated Jews how cool and important some of their co-religionists are... it has only slightly more gravitas than Adam Sandler's catchy Hannukah Song, and significantly less likelihood of convincing any unaffiliated Jews to change a single thought or feeling they may have about their Jewishness or the State of Israel.

Add to that the fact that the award is the brainchild of a politically conservative Israeli Prime Minister (and various oligarchs whose friendship Netanyahu enjoys), and it isn't hard to understand that accepting the award isn't exactly a great fit for a politically liberal Israeli/Jewish actress.  Let's just say that I'd be just as unlikely to fly to Washington to accept an award from J-Street (not that they are banging down the door to give me anything).  Just sayin'.  

What can I say, call me oldfashioned, but I still feel that everyone is allowed to choose their favorite flavor of ice cream without being told they have no taste.

Posted by David Bogner on April 22, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (1)

... In The Eye Of The Beholder

Many towns and villages in Israel have email and/or Whatsapp groups to allow their respective residents to ask for/seek rides, post important community news, give-away/seek furniture and household items, and exchange other information; both urgent and mundane.

And within regions, it is not uncommon for these email lists and whatsapp groups to have a certain amount of overlap.  Meaning that residents of neighboring communities often have members signed up for more than one community's lists.  This ends up being helpful if anyone wants to spread a message or seek information beyond the borders of their town or village, since anything posted ends up having a ripple effect outwards geographically.

So it is with us. 

My town — Efrat — has a lively email group (sometimes too lively, if you ask me), and there exists a fair bit of overlap with other communities in Gush Etzion and the southern Hebron hills.  This offers a sense of extended community throughout the heart of Judea.

The reason I'm sharing this bit of communication esoterica is that last week word went out from one of the other communities that a hitchhiker had caught a ride from one of the villages south of Hebron, to the Gush Etzion junction, and had accidentally left his cell phone in the car.

Now, anywhere else in the world, a hitchhiker leaving something in a stranger's car would simply kiss it goodbye and move on.  The anonymity of the brief hitchhiker-driver relationship combined with the long distances that the lost property could potentially travel once the passenger gets out of the car, would usually be insurmountable obstacles to recovering forgotten property no matter how urgently the driver and hitchhiker may want to locate one another.

But because of our overlapping network of email and whatsapp groups, the young man who forgot his phone didn’t lose hope.  He simply tossed a pebble into the regionalal pond, and within a short time, word had spread the length and breadth of our part of the country.

The pebble/message was a simple one:

"I was in a 'tremp' (ride) from Susya to Gush Etzion Junction this afternoon and left my mobile phone in a grey Renault driven by an old man with glasses and hearing aids."

Within minutes of him posting that, the ripples of that tossed stone spread from community to community, until someone from a town near ours who knew the route I drive to and from work, called my wife and asked her if I happened to have found a cell phone in my car.

FIrst of all, while I do wear glasses and hearing aids... and I do drive a grey Renault... I'm not 'an old man'!!!

But when I checked, it turns out that a cellphone had, indeed, been left in my car.  Which leaves me with decidedly mixed feelings.

On the one hand, it feels nice to have been able to return lost property to its rightful owner.  But on the other hand, the fact that I was 'that driver' shines a glaring light on how someone under 25 actually sees me.

[sigh]

I guess age, like beauty, is truly in the eye of the beholder.

Posted by David Bogner on April 22, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (5)

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Happy 70th Birthday, Israel,

Every Israeli has their own holiday traditions.  I’m no exception to the rule.

I haven’t mentioned it over the past few years, but I’ve continued to volunteer every Yom Ha’Atzma’ut (Israel Independence Day), at the Pina Chama; literally a warm corner not far from our house which provides food and drinks throughout the year for soldiers serving in the area.

On Yom Ha’Atzmaut a big group of volunteers throws a big BBQ (locally referred to as a 'mangal’) for the soldiers on duty throughout the region.  Hundreds come in during the day to eat and relax, and we send out meals to hundreds more to wherever they are stationed. 

This is my 15th straight year working the first shift on the grill.  And after I finished my 3 hour shift, I went home and grilled up a nice meal for my family and some friends who joined us.

Here are some photos from the Pina Chama today:

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If you look closely at that second to last photo; the one of the guys working on the grill... that’s me in the middle in the light blue shirt (Zahava would call it turquoise)

Oh, and a neat feature of the place is that many of the thousands of soldiers who have enjoyed the Pina Chama's hospitality hang their unit flags, shoulder tags and other insignia on the walls and ceiling. 

 

Posted by David Bogner on April 19, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (2)

Sunday, April 15, 2018

We Saw what You Did There!

Who doesn't love watching a well-executed magic show or a dexterous card sharp at work?

But since I think we can all agree that there is no such thing as real magic, what we all know with absolute certainty is that anyone carrying out a convincing illusion of something magical in front of an audience must get everyone to look - at least momentarily - away from whatever it is that would reveal how the trick is done.

So even though we're all dazzled and amazed by the deft practitioner... on some level we understand that sleight of hand and misdirection are at the core of any card sharp or stage magician's success. 

This knowledge makes us look even closer... trying to catch them out at their trick.  And when we do catch them out, we all want to be the first one to jump up and shout, "Ahah!  I see what you did there!!!".

So why do we have such low standards when it comes to what we hear and see from political and military leaders when they perform the very same tricks?  All the same elements are present:  Not only do we know from experience that what we are hearing and seeing can't possibly be true.  But we should know from long expereince that the more exagerated the gesture, the more likely it is to be designed to take our eye off of what is really going on.

Take, for example, the news today that Israel has uncovered and destroyed yet another huge terror tunnel that extended into Israeli territory.  None of the newspapers or media outlets that condemned Israel for the deaths and injuries of the Palestinians rushing the border fence last week have seen fit to make mention of the incredible coincidence that the discovered terror tunnel went under the border AT THE EXACT LOCATION along the border fence where that huge 'spontaneous' Palestinian march took place (causing all those poor people to be killed and injured!).

Am I the only one who thinks that, just maybe, those thousands of people were sent there to that exactly location by Hamas in a cynical attempt at misdirection in order to mask the sounds of the digging and drilling going on just a few meters below the protester's feet?

Seriously, just how bad does the magician or card sharp have to be before the audience stands up en masse and yells, "We saw what you did there", and walks out?

Posted by David Bogner on April 15, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Hurts So Good

Thanks for the incredible feedback on my remarks from the Bar Mitzvah.  Not to humble-brag too much, but I had really good material to work with. 

I honestly don't know how school principals and community leaders do it.  I mean, it's easy to speak about exceptional people.  But what the heck do you say about the village idiot? 

I guess what I'm saying (badly) is that anyone who knows Netanel could have nailed that speaking opportunity.  He's a truly exceptional young man from a truly exceptional family.  People are instinctively drawn to him and want to be part of his life.  Saying nice things to him - and about him  - was effortless.  That speech practically wrote itself!  I was just lucky enough to have been asked.

That said, I'd like to share a deep dark secret that I've often wanted to reveal... but always held back because I couldn't figure out how exactly to express it without sounding, well, a little nuts.

I have no frame of reference to know if others experience anything like this, but I've lived most of my life with a cruel paradox: Two things that I'm actually pretty good at - writing and public speaking - cause me to experience something so close to physical pain that it would probably be measurable if I were to do either in a clinical setting while hooked up to complex, 'House M.D.'-worthy diagnostic machines.

But... and here's the part which may send you mental health professionals running to the DSM-5 (or as I like to call it: 'The Family Album'), the aftermath of both writing and public speaking leaves me with an endorphin rush akin to what elite athletes experience in the wake of a punishing workout.   Or at least that's what I've heard they experience. 

Personally, I've never gotten anything more than smelly clothing and sore muscles from even the most arduous physical activity.  So as far as I'm concerned, that whole athletic-endorphin-rush thing remains entirely anecdotal... up there with urban legends, like the existence of courteous Israeli drivers or teenagers that wash dishes without being threatened.

So yeah... that's my dirty little secret.  Writing and public speaking really, really hurt when I do them.   

But it's a good hurt. 

Posted by David Bogner on April 12, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

On Being a 'Dutch Uncle'

Last night Zahava, Yonah and I attended the Bar Mitzvah celebration of a someone about whom I've written in the past.  

He was a great kid back then.  He's a fine young man now.

I was privileged to be asked to be among those who spoke at the party.  Afterwards, I received emails, whatsapps and in person requests for a copy of my remarks from a bunch of people.  So, to save time, I'm posting my speech here:

 

"Last year Zahava and I went to the states to attend the wedding of a young man who had lived with us here for almost four years as a ‘Chayal Boded’ (lone soldier).  And when I was asked to speak, I realized that before I could even begin to think about what I wanted to say, I had to figure out in what capacity I was going to be speaking.

I certainly wasn’t this young man’s father.  His father is my age.  And I was too old to really be considered his friend.

So I was torn, because I felt an odd combination of friendship and fatherly protectiveness towards the groom… but I was neither!

So I was forced to go searching for a hybrid relationship; some sort of close connection that combined fatherly protectiveness with friendly intimacy. 

What I discovered at the end of that search was something called a ‘Dutch Uncle’; an American expression that has mostly fallen out of use.

For you amateur lexicographers:

Dutch Un·cle

noun

NORTH AMERICAN informal

a person who gives firm but benevolent advice.

[By the way, benevolent is just a fancy word for ‘kind’]

 

So, getting back to my story, when I was called up to the Chupah at our Chayal Boded’s wedding this past year, it wasn’t as a father or as a friend… it was as the “Dutch Uncle of the chatan”. 

So why is that story relevant tonight?

Netanel, when I think of you – and I think about you more than you will ever know – I feel that same combination of fatherly protectiveness and friendship.   

On the one hand, I want what any father would want for a son:  To shield you and advise you and hug you close while at the same time giving you your wings setting you free on a course towards success. 

But I’m not your father.  Your father was far smarter, far more patient… and understood you far better than I can ever hope to.

I also want for you what any true friend would want:  To see you happy, confident, having fun, to be completely natural and at ease with you, to earn your trust and loyalty… and to offer those things effortlessly in return.

But I’m much too old to play the role of friend to you. 

You are blessed with lots of good friends much closer to your age; friends who can pass endless hours with you, completely immersed in that secret world of looks, gestures, signals, jokes and mind-reading that comes naturally to teenagers… but which is a complete mystery to anyone as old as myself.

And as much as I’d like you to consider me an uncle-figure, you have real aunts and uncles who love you deeply, and deserve to enjoy that special relationship with you without competition.

So I think what’s left for me is that odd title I mentioned:  ‘Dutch Uncle; someone who is always ready to offer firm but kind advice.

And I am far from alone in that role. 

You don’t even have to look beyond this room to see more Dutch Uncles – and Aunts – than you can shake a stick at!   Just the few I can see from where I’m standing are as impressive a list of ‘Dutch Aunts and Uncles’ as anyone could ever want in their life:

You have people like Rav Moshe Aberman, who casually dispenses his Torah knowledge each week in shul as effortlessly and easily as you or I might share a pocket full of candy.  From that first Friday evening more than two years ago when you began saying Kaddish for your father, Rav Aberman quietly stood next to you, helped you find your place and your voice… and made sure you never, for a single moment, felt alone.  You probably didn’t notice it, but months after he was finished with his own Kaddish obligation, Rav Aberman continued to stand with you whenever and wherever necessary.

You have people like Ari Greenspan who helped teach you to daven for the amud, and who, without you noticing, has quietly been placing more and more responsibility on your shoulders and Yonah’s shoulders… to the point where you two are now essentially helping to run the early minyan as assistant Gabbais.

You have people like Johnny Finn, who asks after you constantly and proudly shares stories of your progress and successes with anyone who will listen.  He is a relentless, but quiet force for good in your life who would move heaven and earth to clear even the smallest obstacle from your path.  Don’t let his jokes fool you.  If things ever get tough… Johnny’s the guy you want in your corner.

You have Rav Rosenstark who taught you your Parsha and Haftarah, and learned with you all year towards the Siyum you made tonight…and Rav Lewis, Rav Shrader, and Rav Oren… together with Rav Aberman, these Torah sages comprise a vast ocean of learning and halachic experience so broad and deep that you could test their limits with questions and requests for advice on nearly any topic, and never once glimpse the shores.

I could, and should, go on.  There are so many men and women in this room – and far beyond its walls – who have stood with you, and who will gladly jump to your side at the slightest gesture or signal from you; people who care deeply about what you think and feel… what you experience and want… and who are watching with proud anticipation to catch a glimpse of the man into which you will ultimately develop and grow.

You have your Father, who – you must believe me – will never be far away. I am 100% certain that he is here with us tonight.  And each and every time you are called to the Torah by name, Netanel Ben Rafa’el, your father will be proudly standing beside you.  You couldn’t ask for a better role model.  As long as you remember your father and keep him in your heart, he will be there to comfort you in your setbacks, share in your successes and guide you throughout your life’s journey.   

You have your mother who is one of the strongest, most wonderful and sensible people I know.  Her moral compass always points true north.  She will continue to guide you, and love and nurture you unconditionally.  She is your sure, constant link to the past… and your secure, straight shining path to the future.

You have your extended family that will always be connected to you by the bonds of love, shared memories and blood.  You may not see them as often as you’d like, but take it from someone who also has a lot of family living half a world away; never take those relationships for granted.  They’re as much a part of who you are as the color of your eyes and the shape of your face.   Email, WhatsApp, Skype, FaceTime… whatever it takes.  It’s up to you to take care of those relationships and keep them healthy.

And of course you have your friends – really good friends – who would lie down in traffic for you (which, of course, I hope will never actually be necessary). Take good care of those friendships.  In this tiny country of ours you will be connected to them by school, army, and work… through the happiest and saddest of times, for the rest of your lives. 

There’s a reason our politicians call each other Bibi and Boogie and Bougie and Baiga and Moody and dozens of other nicknames.  It’s because Israel is a tiny playground where, through good times and bad, 60 and 70 year olds still call each other by the nicknames they’ve had since gan chovah!

And since I’ve brought it up, it is worth pointing out something you have more experience with than most people your age: bad times.

They say that experience is something you don’t get until right after you need it. 

Netanel, I hate to break it to you, but over the coming years you’re going to fall down and skin your knees – both literally and figuratively – a bunch more times.  That’s an inevitable part of growing up. 

But whenever, and as often as it happens, please try to remember that you will never have to go through any of it alone. 

That’s where we come in…the rest of us… your Dutch Uncles and Aunts.  We will always be here to help smooth your way through the world. Call it protexia… call it connections… call it finding short-cuts.  Call it your own personal ‘plugat si’ur’ (recon unit), walking ahead of you and letting you know what to expect… and rescuing you when you find yourself in a tight spot.

You don’t have to make all the mistakes yourself, Natanel. You don’t have to fall into every single trap that life sets for you.

As luck would have it, looking around this room, we’ve probably made most of those same mistakes already… some of us more than we’d like to admit! 

So feel free to benefit from our life experience, and use us like a map to navigate your way through the minefield of adolescence and life beyond.   

Please rest assured… we, your Dutch Aunts and Uncles will always be here for you day or night; ready with a sympathetic ear if you ever feel like talking. 

And when you are faced with decisions and want to know what we think… we won’t get all judgmental like your friends… or all bossy like a parent. 

Just ask us, we’ll be happy to offer you firm but benevolent advice… to give you enough information to help you make up your own mind.  As Dutch Aunts and Uncles, that’s our job. 

Mazal Tov, Netanel!  I think I speak for everyone when I say we couldn’t possibly be prouder!"

Posted by David Bogner on April 11, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

With Deep Gratitude and Much Respect

[A Guest Post by Zahava]

On Sunday afternoon I was devistated to learn that my beloved childhood Rabbi had, in the words of one of his sons, “left us this morning in Jerusalem.”

Since four of his six children make their homes in the US, the funeral was delayed until this morning (Tuesday) to allow the four living abroad time to arrive.

As many people have the custom to wait until after the chessed shel emet of burial to offer comfort to the aveilim (mourners), rather than reach out to the family, I sat down to contemplate the profound sense of loss I was feeling.  Between when I learned of Rabbi Zimand’s (zichro l’vracha), passing and the funeral this morning, I have been sifting through an ocean of warm, happy, and deeply meaningful memories.

I'm sure that my childhood friends have spent the past 24 hours engaged in similar reminiscences and introspection. Such was the impact of Rabbi Zimand’s limitless affection, sense of humor, and ability to connect with people.

There are no words sufficient to describe the tremendous hakaret hatov (gratitude) that I feel whenever I think of Rabbi Zimand, for Mrs. Zimand, and for their entire family; and I know that I am in not alone in these feelings. Their example of loving kindness has influenced countless people.

For those not lucky enough to have known Rabbi Zimand, he was a modern-day Abraham, and the Zimand home was like Abraham and Sarah’s tent; Rabbi Zimand was the personification of hospitality and their home seemed to expand to allow sufficient room and attention for all who entered.

As each of the hespedim (Eulogies) at the funeral emphasized – Rabbi Zimand not only listened as though the speaker were the only person in the universe, he gave sincerely and generously of his time and knowledge. An eternal optimist, he believed with every fiber of his being in the essential goodness and potential for good of all he met.

Raised in a traditional home, as a pre-teen I began exploring a deeper connection to Judaism – very much inspired by Rabbi Zimand’s loving approach to Torah, Shabbat and mitzvot. My parents, while pleased that I was embracing our heritage, were a bit disoriented by my sudden desire to walk to shul on Shabbat (we lived 3+ miles away), and my reluctance to eat out. Like many parents whose children choose a path which diverged from their own, I think that my folks grappled with a sense of imposition and rejection.

I will never forget (and will always be grateful for), the sensitivity with which Rabbi Zimand simultaneously eased my parents’ discomfort, and my journey.  He quietly and respectfully pointed out that I was not rejecting lifestyle with which I was raised, but rather was seeking to expand and nurture the very seeds that they themselves had planted during my childhood.

After my parents, Rabbi Zimand was one of the important and positive influences on my life's path. I can honestly say that his love, encouragement, and enthusiasm for life helped shape many of my decisions and goals. Thanks in large part to his guidance and mentoring, I am living a life I could only dream of as a child, and it is even better than I dared hope.

Although as an adult, my busy life and responsibilities kept me out of touch with Rabbi Zimand, my fondness and appreciation for him has only deepened with time, and he is raely out of mind.

On the occasions in recent years when we have had the opportunity to meet at family celebrations, I tried my best to articulate these feelings – to seize those moments to thank him for being my teacher, my mentor, and my friend.  I hope I was successful.

My heart is filled with sorrow for the loss the entire Zimand family has suffered. You are all imbued with the best of Rabbi Zimand.  Having known you all for more than 40 years, it is easy to see how you each carry the torch of his light and goodness into the world in your own ways.

I hope that the knowledge that so many people share your profound sense of loss will be a small comfort at this difficult time.

המקום ינחם אתכם בתוך שאר אבלי ציון וירושלים

May you be comforted amongst the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

Posted by David Bogner on March 13, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (2)

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Memo to Gen Xers and Millennials:

Those of us older than 40 do not live on our phones. 

As a rule, we do not check for new texts (SMSs, WhatsApps, etc.), every minute or two throughout the day. 

Our ears are not alert to the various chimes, bings, beeps and vibrations our phones give off, nor do these sounds and sensations trigger a Pavlovian reflex to take out and stare at our phones, negating/dismissing the presence of real live human beings in our immediate vicinity.

We do not scour social media around the clock to see if someone has 'tagged' us or mentioned us in a tweet.  In fact, stumbling on a week old Facebook conversation that was extremely relevant at the time but is no longer so, feels like hearing about a party to which we were not invited.

We often ignore our email for hours - days, even, if we are away from work -at a time.

Therefore:

If you are trying to coordinate anything with us that is time-sensitive (e.g. a ride, pickup/drop/off, meeting, deadline, dinner reservation, etc.), pick up the damned phone and call us!

If I get to work and find something like this when I sit down to drink a coffee and get around to looking at my phone, please don't ever ask me for a ride ever again:

Sms1

Sms2

If you ask me to have something ready for you to pick-up (something that you need from me!!!), and then leave the following messages on my phone for me to find sometime in the future, you can delete my number... because I am dead to you:

Sms3

Sms4

I can't decide if this behavior is more passive-aggressive, ADHD, anti-social or some combination of all three.  But what I do know is that, as a rule, you need us old farts a hell-of-a-lot more than we need you.

Also, I know it is cumbersome to actually type out actual sentences with verbs, nouns and other basic parts of speech.  We've given you a pass on using recognizable email, memo or letter formats with a greeting, opening paragraph, statement of purpose, summation and closing salutation (including your name!).  We've even given you a total pass on spelling (GR8, CU L8R, GTG. LOL!).

But if instead of sending me an actual written text you send me a recorded message that will force me to disturb people around me in order to find out what you've said... guess who's going on my blocked list?!  And no, I don't need you to show me how to do that!!! [smug little sh*ts]

 

Posted by David Bogner on January 28, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (9)

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Under-Appreciated Magic 

As an ex-pat American who has traveled extensively for work, I have often been struck by how how much more volatile and adversarial (combative, even!), Israeli business culture is compared with elsewhere in the developed world. 

For example, it is not at all unusual for Israelis in a professional setting to cut each other off mid-sentence, shout at one another, slam their hands on the conference table to emphasize a point, shout each-other down or even toss out dismissive and/or insulting jabs to score points in an argument.

A few recently overheard phrases that come to mind (translated to English): 

  • What do you have? - ?מה יש לך (what's your problem? / what's wrong with you!)
  • Have you gone crazy?! - ?השתגעת (said regarding anything outside the speaker's comfort zone)
  • Don't confuse my brain! - !אל תבלבל לי את המוח (stop making me crazy!)
  • Go find your friends! - !לך לחפש את החברים שלך (you'll be on your own)
  • Don't be naive! - !אל תהיה נאיבי / תמים (grow up!)
  • You must be confused! - אתה מבולבל (you don't know your place)
  • Nonsense! - שְׁטוּיוֹת (dismissive usually combined with a wave of the hand)
  • Dumbbell! -  דביל! (Usually said about someone, not to their face)
  • Waste of Time - !חבל על הזמן (can be either very good or very bad, depending on context)
  • What Garbage! - איזה זבל (dismissive used to denigrate bad work)
  • You're living in a film! - אתה חי בסרט (disconnected from reality / a drama queen)
  • What a mess! - איזה בלאגן (anything that isn't arranged as the speaker would have done)
  • He has a cockroach in his head! - יש לו ג'וק בראש (someone who can't let go of a bad idea)
  • A redeemer has come to Zion! - !ובא לציון גואל (used sarcastically when a newcomer to the dicussion thinks they have saved the day)

I was recently in a meeting with several colleagues when the discussion began to get heated.  Opinions were dismissed, facts were discounted, intentions were questioned and feelings (mine, anyway), began to get hurt.

And then suddenly I took a mental step back and looked around the conference table.  There were a few native Israelis, but many of the participants were immigrants; from the former Soviet Union, France, Argentina and the US.

Here we were, a group of people who had grown up speaking a grab-bag of languages, yet we were magically communicating (albeit, rudely).  All I could do was smile.

When the guy directly across from me noticed my grin he gave me that classic Israeli hand gesture where you extend your thumb,index and middle finger and turn your hand palm-up, and asked ?מה יש לך (what's wrong with you?).

I just shook my head and continued smiling as the argument swirled around me. 

How to explain to an Israeli how magical it is to an American (we, who travel the globe screaming in English thinking that will help make ourselves understood), to be able to sit and converse effortlessly in a common language with people from all over the world.

 

[When I started this blog back in 2003, I was fresh off the boat and was constantly getting hit on the head by things that only a new immigrant would see.  That era was rich in blog-fodder which (hopefully) helped smooth the way for others who came after me.  But over the past few years I have become mostly blind to that 'je ne sais quoi' known as 'the immigrant experience'.  Maybe it means I'm acclimating.  Maybe it means I've grown a slightly thicker skin.  Whatever the reason, I have become less attuned to the charming (and not-so-charming), things that only an outsider would notice.  I guess that's why the topic of today's post caught me so much by surprise... and I just had to share.]

Posted by David Bogner on January 25, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (3)

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Culinary Crowd-Sourcing

When I was in high school, I worked in a pizzeria owned by an Italian family. 

Customers ordering would typically ask for a ‘plain’, ‘mushroom’, 'olive', etc., slice.   

But older Italians who wanted a ‘plain’ slice always asked for ‘scamorza’. 

My question:  Did pizza used to be made with scamorza cheese instead of mozzarella?

Posted by David Bogner on December 28, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (3)