Thursday, January 10, 2008

Various Thoughts

1- In an article about Bush's current visit to Jerusalem, some Israeli official was quoted yesterday in the New York Times as saying that the government will not squash free speech (that is, the right to assembly, peaceful demonstrations, etc -- at least, that is my interpretation) while Bush is here, but that they are worried about "extremists." That immediately set off alarm bells for me. Who defines "extremist"? In my world, an "extremist" in this case would be someone who actually tries to physically harm President Bush or his entourage. I might also include protesters who chant something like "death to Bush." But in reality, the way the government here defines extremist is often as "anyone expressing opinions we are really, really uncomfortable with." And indeed, so it has come to be.

2- So, according to news reports, Bush is saying that we might have a peace treaty with the Palestinians within a year. Three comments on this:

a. A peace treaty with whom? Have we forgotten that Hamas is still the elected party in charge? Why isn't all of this being postponed until after the Palestinians have had new elections someday, so we could see what happens? Oh, right, Bush wants a legacy. Good luck with that.

b. Haven't we already reached an agreement in the form of the "roadmap"? Why are they trying to reinvent the wheel? The roadmap sucks but in principle both sides have agreed to it - or, well, Fatah agreed to it, anyway. Why are we now rehashing the same tired issues?

c. A friend of mine married a very intelligent man who has been living in Israel for many, many years, and he has this to say about Israeli newspapers: Never put too much stock in a headline whose verb is in the future tense. It's so true. Israeli media is full of stories on "Minister X predicts such-and-such" and "Action Y will lead to chaos, Minister Z says." And mostly none of these predictions come true, and all that is happening is that a lot of politicians are blowing hot air and creating a lot of tension, fear, possibly some hope -- over nothing.

3- The funeral for Rabbi Wohlgemuth was actually very nice. I know that sounds strange . . . but the atmosphere at a funeral is always a little different when the recently-deceased was very elderly and had been sick for many years. The sense is that the death is sad, but not tragic. I was happy to see that dozens of Maimonides alumni showed up for the burial; I counted about 80. There was a little bit of a reunion atmosphere, mixed with sadness. I saw people from classes ahead of me whom I hadn't seen for about 20 years. (And some of them have aged . . . does that mean that I've aged, also? Surely I have not aged the same 20 years that they have . . . ) A member of the Class of 1966 spoke of Rabbi Wohlgemuth's love for his students, and how three generations of day school students from Boston know how to translate ancient Aramaic because Rabbi Wohlgemuth introduced us to words like "Matnitin" and "aymahtai." He spoke about the Biur Tefillah class which was a required course for decades (though unfortunately, was not offered while I was at Maimo), and how hundreds of people pray with a little more "kavana" (focus/meaning) because Rabbi Wohlgemuth helped them look at the prayers, and at the act of praying, a different way. He reminded us that Rabbi Wohlgemuth never had a bad word to say about anyone, to the extent that parents often went to him last on parent-teacher night, because they knew that he would leave them with a good impression of their child. There was a lot of nodding-in-recognition from the audience. Then Shlomo Wohlgemuth, the rabbi's son, gave a beautiful dvar Torah, and we followed the body to the site where it now lies, next to grave of Mrs. Berta Wohlgemuth. Watching my fellow Maimonides alumni shovel the dirt back into Rabbi Wohlgemuth's fresh grave, I realized that we were all burying part of our adolescence. And as immigrants who all hail from the same city, we were also burying part of our community, part of what to us is "the Old Country."

4- Yesterday I went to Tel Aviv to see my brother-in-law, who was in Israel for business meetings. It was so nice to see a close member of my family! I'd had some grand plans of sightseeing we could do, to maximize his one free day, but in the end at his request we just went to Azrieli Center to shop for gifts for his kids. Do you know, in that entire huge mall, we did not find a single item of clothing that had Hebrew on it? We were looking for kids' tshirts with Hebrew slogans of some kind, and none were to be found in the entire mall. (Comments my friend Yael: The only people who want Hebrew on their t-shirts are the tourists.) We found almost no Judaica except for about 5 cheapy items in one of the department stores, and, other than Michal Negrin jewelry (which is not my sister's style) and the Hebrew books in the book store (which are too advanced for my nephews), or shoes (not good gifts), nothing which is unique to Israel - that is, nothing that my sister can't buy just as easily in America. About 90 percent of the stores' names are in English, and half the products are made in China. It was Little America. We left after 3 hours completely empty-handed and went to lunch, having decided that maybe he'd have better luck at the Central Bus Station, where the wares are more, ah, salt-of-the-earth. (Our search for a particular restaurant I'd heard about is a story in itself. Let's just say that if you want a nice kosher meal in Tel Aviv, you have to really know where to go, because they don't just pop out at you. In the end we went to a perfectly nice meat place on Rothchild Boulevard, called Petrozilia - and it was delicious indeed.) Later, Luiz told me that after he dropped me off at the train station, he went to Dizengoff Center and found a store there that sold "army surplus"-type things, so he got IDF t-shirts and kippot for his boys, and a "birkat habayit" for my parents, and a cute gift for my sister which I won't divulge here in case she is reading this.

Can I just say that I really love Jerusalem?

Oh, and he brought me, from the States, two new sets of sheets (which fit my American-sized mattress) and a copy of Real Simple magazine! Yay!

That's all for now.

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