Thursday, April 27, 2006

The PA is broke, and Hamas is less corrupt than Fatah . . .

And $450,000 is a perfectly reasonable per diem, eh?

As AKS asks, is the PA Foreign Minister on the road collecting governmental funds in cash? Or does he always take along a little extra spending money, in case he needs to take a taxi or, oh, buy a chalet somewhere?

Let's get this straight, the Palestinians need urgent humanitarian aid (which I believe), and their Foreign Minister is hauling around enough cash to pay for 1.5 bat mitzvahs in Long Island?


Thursday, April 20, 2006

My Radio Debut

Consistent with my quest to become a brand, I agreed to be interviewed today on the English-language "Aliyah Show" at Simcha is one of the co-hosts, and he called me up today asking if I'd be willing to talk for a few minutes about living in Katamon. I'll post the link as soon as the new episode is uploaded. It was fun. Thanks to Simcha and his co-host, Goel, for giving me a platform.

Someday this will ALL be mine! Bwahahahahaaaaaa . . .


To listen to the show, click here (I come on halfway through). That link will be good for one week, after which it will be replaced by next week's show.

Let me know if I sound like what you expected!

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Bitter and Sweet

As we head into the final stretch of the Passover holiday, I have to say that I've had a wonderful time being in Israel for the chag this year. In addition to the phenomenal Seder at Beth and Simcha's house, I enjoyed some great hospitality at the homes of wonderful families, rented plenty of B5 episodes, and went on two walking tours of Jerusalem with the AACI (Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel). I've learned a lot, managed to eat well (thanks to my mother's recipe for amazing Pesach rolls), enjoyed some fresh air, and did a lot of relaxing. It's been great. I hope to blog about the walking tours after Yom Tov.

But I think the family of this boy has not been having such a good holiday:

. . . a sixteen-year-old tourist from the United States who sustained critical wounds in Monday's suicide bombing was still in serious condition on Tuesday.

The teenager was fighting for his life after doctors operated on him most of the night, said Karen Bronner, a spokeswoman for the Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv.

His injuries were mostly to his stomach and internal organs and his aorta was torn, she said.

The American boy's family did not want any details about him released to the media, Bronner said.

(From today's

I trust that all my readers will be praying for this kid, who is only 16 and should have his whole life ahead of him. And if any of you in America know who he is, please do not release that detail here; let's respect the family's wish for privacy.

Best wishes to all my Jewish readers for a happy and healthy and kosher end of Passover.

PS This response to yesterday's terrorist attack seems much more intelligent than the idea of a military strike. Obviously Israel has to do something, and believe me, I'm the first to admit to being angry enough about the senseless killings to somewhat relish the idea of going into the PA and blowing some people's brains out. But what would it really accomplish? Yeah, I hear the argument that "all they understand is violence," but it doesn't work. At least, it wouldn't work any more than all the blowing of people's brains we've already done. The Palestinians are already pounded into the dirt, and they are still not getting the message. They are still attempting multiple terrorist attacks every day. Call it bravery, or call it sheer stupidity, or blind religious fanaticism. Whatever it is, they are not getting it. They still think that if they blow up enough of our restaurants that we'll decide eventually to leave and go back to who knows where. So going in to the PA and blowing up some things, while emotionally satisfying, wouldn't really do much to make Israel a safer place. Not in the long run.

I'm glad to see Olmert and his cronies are thinking more creatively, and doing something to make the PA leaders' lives more difficult without caving in to Hamas's desire for a violent escalation. It's like they are hitting us and saying "you want a piece of me? Huh? Come and get it!" And Olmert is saying "Uh, you are so not worth it. Move aside. You are blocking my view of the television." Diss. My understanding is that, in the Arab mentality, being ignored is much more painful than being physically attacked. I see Olmert's move not as one of caving to international pressure (which it may be) but rather as a calculated way of telling Hamas that they are not even worth fighting with. It is the powerful man not bothering to step on the ant, because we have better things to do. That message is more powerful than our tanks and fighter jets could be right now.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Never the Same

Since moving to Israel three years ago, I've become accustomed to a lot of things. I'm used to bagging my own groceries, and having to request taxi meters to be put on, and checking the garbage dumpster for stray cats before I throw in my trash. The sight of people handling supermarket bread rolls that are exposed to the public no longer grosses me out -- well, not so much-- and I've come to accept that the locals can pronounce my Hebrew name but not my English one.

I'm used to opening my pocketbook or backpack to show the contents to guards in front of cafes. Walking through metal detectors on my way into malls doesn't faze me at all. I don't notice the soldiers and guns that are there to protect me, or the citizens who carry licensed firearms because they might need them to protect themselves. I hardly look twice at the bullet-proof windows on the intercity bus between my house and Beth's. And when I'm stuck in traffic because an intersection has been closed due to the finding of a "suspicious object," I sit back and wait patiently until a distant "boom" indicates that some kid's schoolbag has just been destroyed by a robot, and I go on with my day.

But I can't get used to the bombings. I can't become accustomed to knowing that there are people who lost today their spouse or their parents or their child. I can't get used to knowing that there are people who had four limbs this morning, but have fewer now.

I can't get used to thinking about the people who were eating a falafel one minute, and were on their way to the emergency room the next . . . not because of a traffic accident, or a fire, or some other tragic event that may have been preventable but was at worst a case of negligence . . . and not because they were involved in a bad crowd or were unfortunately associated with evil or troubled people . . . but because they happened to be eating a falafel in the wrong place at the wrong time, and there are people who hate us just that much.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

My Most Excellent Passover

Well, if you can't be with your family for Pesach, it's a good idea to attend the seder at Beth's house. Beth and Simcha planned and implemented the best-paced, most truly meaningful seder I've been to for . . . well, ever. I say this with the confidence that comes from knowing that my parents never read my blog.

The problem with most seders is that you have to choose between meaning and timing. You either have a lot of great divrei Torah and activities to bring the story of the Exodus alive, but finish late and suffer through maggid as your stomach grumbles . . . . or you go more quickly through the rituals, but sacrifice the time one needs to really contemplate their meaning.

At Beth and Simcha's seder, after their small children asked the four questions, we did a play acting out the story. Eli (age 3 that very day) played Moshe, Neshama played Miriam, another guest played Aharon, I played God (YES!), Simcha played Pharoah, and Beth was the director. She brought in Eli from the kitchen in a plastic bin on wheels, as if he was coming down the Nile, and he even pretended to wimper on cue. We spent most of the time with me telling "Moshe" to "go tell Paroah that if he doesn't let the Jews go, I will make bad things happen! Lice! Boils! Bad things!" Upon which Eli would run to his father and say "Abba, Abba, Sarah said you have to let the Jews go! Or bad things will happen!" After a while, "Miriam" was like "I'll take care of this" and sort of took Moshe's place, because, being 4 already, she can conceptualize that I'm not Sarah, I'm Hashem. The play climaxed with the kids screaming in mixed delight and fear, as Abba/Paroah chased them and I, the river, barred their way. Finally I let them through, and we all danced in a circle, singing "Hashem saved the Jews! Hashem saved the Jews!"

Then the kids played with the plastic plague toys and the Four Questions Finger Puppets, while we grownups recited Maggid. At some point the kids were put to bed, and the rest of us recited divrei Torah during the meal, which meant we could concentrate instead of listening to our stomachs growling.

We read aloud an English translation that I'd procured at Beth's request of the 7th chapter of Hachsharat Avraychim, by the Piasetzer Rebbe (otherwise known as the Aish Kodesh, aka the rabbi of the Warsaw Ghetto). The chapter includes a sort of guided visualization encouraging readers to imagine themselves as if they were lay Jews working as slaves, and being redeemed. I'd modified the text somewhat to put it into first person, and Simcha read it aloud while the rest of us closed our eyes and pictured ourselves in Egypt.

It became a very pensive Seder. While munching on the afikoman I suddenly felt like I was there, sitting outside a tent under the stars in the desert, having just experienced the splitting of the sea . . . munching on these crackers we'd brought with us in our hurry . . . not knowing that soon the manna would start to fall, but feeling that even if this is my last meal and we're going to die of starvation in the desert, it was all worth it to have one meal as a free person, under the stars, away from the Egyptians.

We finished singing chad gadya at about 2 am, but I wasn't tired. I was on an amazing religious high. It's all about the pacing, people! I can't thank Beth and Simcha enough for an incredible experience. So I'll just say: Thank you, my friends, for including me in your family.

Oh, and by the way, having only one seder is clutch. This whole concept of having two seders becomes passe very quickly. It is a very good reason to make aliyah.

And one more thing: My mother's recipe for Pesach rolls is the best. I don't care what the rest of you think about your mothers' Pesach rolls. My mother's rolls can beat your mother's rolls any time, you understand?


Happy Pesach!

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Appreciation Wednesday

Last night I was searching my collection of Jewish books for those that might be appreciated at the Seder I'm attending. Although I'll miss my parents and the familiarity of my family's Seder very much, one nice thing is that my hosts strike me as being open to having more divrei Torah than my parents normally do. Granted, I do not relish the idea of a Seder that goes until 4 am, but a few divrei Torah are always nice. And my hosts are very spiritual people, so I took down my Haggadah by Abraham Twerski ("with a commentary illuminating the liberation of the spirit"), and checked my book of "Techinas" (prayers written by women in Yiddish in the 1600s and 1700s), and found a beautiful prayer to recite upon lighting the Passover candles. In the introduction to this particular prayer, the translator-editor, Rivka Zakutinsky, points out that the women had an even harder time than the men in Egypt, since the throwing of male newborn children into the Nile was even more heart-wrenching for them than for their husbands. Yet although their babies had been murdered, the Jewish women never lost faith that they would someday be saved, and made sure to bring musical instruments with them when leaving Egypt, so that they could celebrate properly with song and dance.

Reading that took my breath away. When we talk about our slavery in Egypt, we usually talk about the back-breaking labor, the terrible restrictions on our lives and the cruelty of Egyptian taskmasters. But how it hits home to me, now that my sister just had a baby, the atrocity of all the baby boys being drowned in the great river. The collective memory of the slave labor makes one sigh; the image of a baby being taken out of its mother's arms just minutes after birth, to disappear forever, could make me weep. Strange that it is not emphasized more. Isn't that the true horror of the Egyptian slavery? What is sweating over the pyramids in the face of the orderly killing of our newborn babies? And how inspirational, that women whose babies had been drowned still managed to find enough joy in their hearts to praise God for the victory at the Reed Sea, rather than simply walking away with empty arms and haunted eyes.

So as we enter Passover, I appreciate that, for all the stresses involved in living in the 21st century, and particularly in Israel, in the grand scheme of things my life is very stable and blessed. Yes, there are those who would have me disappear forever, but there are also those protecting me. I live in a free country where I have choices, and I earn my bread by sitting in a comfortable apartment talking on the phone and typing on a computer. I do not have children, but if I ever have any, I will not have to hide them from my government or send them floating down a river in a basket, hoping that somehow they will survive. I made it to the holy land without having to wander for 40 years. I have been blessed to have been raised in a beautiful religion that enriches my life. The limitations on my lifestyle-- my finances, my religious choices, other forces -- encourage me to be creative in how I express myself, and ultimately highlight just how free I really am.

I'd like to include here the English translation of the Techina for Passover. I love the way it weaves in references to toil, servantry, the plagues, water, and other themes from the Passover story, but in sometimes unexpected ways. I appreciate the work of Rivka Zakutinsky in compiling and translating these simple but beautiful prayers.

You are God, the Omnipotent Creator of heaven and earth.
Listen from Your holy abode to the outpouring of my prayer.
For You perform wonders for us at all times.
You took us out of Egypt to be Your treasured nation.
Therefore I implore that our entreaties be pleasing to You.
May Your mercies be upon me, Your maidservant, as I knock on the gates of mercy.
Remove from us all harshness and evil.
Let no sickness or plague befall us.
And in the merit of our eating matzot, may we never be impoverished.
Bless us with livelihood and sustenance which fully satisfies.
Look down from heaven and observe the worship of Your people.
They do all that is within their ability to fulfill Your commandments.
And You, God, be mindful of our toil.
In Your great mercy watch over us and bless us.
Give us the merit of recounting the many wonders that You will yet do for us.
Protect us from all harmful and destructive influences.
Let not the children of Your nation die early.
Recall the merit of Your standardbearers who crossed the sea of reeds.
Watch over us that we not drown in the deep waters.
Let not the rivers dry up during the summer days that lie ahead.
Please accept my blessing on the candles.
Brighten my fortune so that my foes will see me and be ashamed.
Let the eyes of my children and husband be illuminated by Your holy Torah.
Illuminate the darkness of Jerusalem and Your holy Temple
so that we may bring the Paschal offering upon the fire of its altar. Amen.

To all my Jewish readers, best wishes for a joyous and meaningful Passover.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Health Reminder to My Readers

The incidence of Emergency Room burn cases in areas with high Jewish populations spikes dramatically in the days before Passover (and other holidays, too, but especially Passover).

When kashering your kitchen, please remember that boiling water and hot stoves and ovens are extremely dangerous. Be careful, and please keep your kids well away.

For those with a lot of family visiting, or who are visiting other relatives, be mindful of all those Shabbat/ Yom Tov candles burning in one place. Candles should be lit away from curtains, and not on tables with tablecloths, if there are any children who might pull on the tablecloth in the house. And with all that cooking going on, be mindful of kids running around in the kitchen. Keep pot handles pointed toward the wall. And be careful yourself when dealing with all that hot food!

A good tip I've heard is to put tape on the kitchen floor, outlining an area around the stove, and telling children that they may not step beyond the tape.

Check with your rabbi about using a flashlight for part or most of bedikat chametz, rather than using a candle for the whole thing.

If going away to visit another family for the holiday, be sure that you and all your kids know where all the exits are from the house!

Have a happy, kosher, and safe Pesach.
Don't Feed the Animals

Via Orthomom, this New York Magazine article about a creative -- but against city rules-- way of getting rid of one's chametz.

I don't know whether to laugh or cry.

You know, there is "weird in a good way" and "weird in a bad way."

Innocently feeding your chametz to zoo animals, not realizing that it's not good for them, is being quirky and creative, if a little ignorant. Weird in a good way.

Telling off zoo volunteers who ask you to stop is being weird in a bad way.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Making a House a Passover Home

This year will be the first time in my life that I'll be spending several days of Pesach in my own apartment. In the past, I've always been either at my parents' home for chol hamoed (the middle days of the holiday), or at the very least in a home that I shared with roommates.

So suddenly I had to face the fact that when it comes to Passover dishes, I'm completely, totally unequipped. Yeah, there was the box of Passover dishes my mother gave me before my aliyah, which I haven't looked at for three years . . . but I wasn't even sure which of the dishes I could use until I reached my mom today to ask her which of the dishes were Dairy and which were Meat. Besides, there wasn't much there to begin with.

So today I went to Jerusalem's famous open-air market, the "shuk," where prices are good, and spent about $200 worth on new Passover gear. Paper for lining shelves, a pot, a frying pan, a mixing bowl, silverware, a measuring cup, a potato masher, potholders, a drying rack, baking pans, a sharp knife, a cutting board, a bin for lining the sink, a can-opener, etc etc . . . all the things that are really essential, but I don't think about needing the rest of the year, because in the 15 years since I moved out of my parents' home, I've picked up all those items one way or another. I only got the bare minimum -- for example, I left getting a proper set of plates and bowls for next year, and this year will use plastic -- but still, it's a lot of stuff!

When I got home, I put it all into the big new plastic bin I'd bought for storing Passover dishes from now on, and you know, I was proud.

My own Passover dishes . . . it made me feel so grown up, and self-sufficient, and like I'm on my way to becoming a proper "balabusta." It's hard to feel like you are building a home when you are single and living in a studio, but that box of Passover stuff, which I can use from year to year from now on, feels to me like a gateway into the rest of my life.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

The Little Peanut has a Name

Yesterday was the brit milah (circumcision) of my new nephew. They named him David! Yay! The plan is that his nickname will be Dovy, which makes me sort of wonder why not just name him Dov, but whatever. "David" is a fabulous name for a fabulously cute baby. I've seen more pictures and he's such a cookie! A little peanut!

This was the first bris in my sister's family at which there were older children who had an idea of what was going on. Ilan and Nathan watched it happen, and apparently Nathan, who is 5 years old, looked like he was about to pass out. He turned white and had to go sit down on the couch. My mother went to sit with him, and he said in his little voice "I feel hot." Poor little kid. He'll have nightmares for sure.

I remember going to the brit milah of one of my cousins. I must have been somewhere between 6 and 10 years old (I don't remember which cousin it was). They did the circumcision in a hospital, in a room that had a lounge next door for the party. There was a window between the rooms, so people could watch the brit happening, I guess for entertainment while they nosh on their pigs-in-a-blanket. Odd thought. I remember that I was too short to see through the window properly, so I sneaked into the room where they were working on the baby. One look at all those scissors and what they were doing to my cousin, and I was traumatized for life. I never forgot that row of scissors . . . . Seriously, children should be kept far away from this ceremony. If you are too young to watch horror films, you are too young to watch a bris!

Did you know that there is an anti-circumcision movement, claiming that it's barbaric to do unnecessary surgery on a baby? Thing is, circumcision is a widespread cultural ritual among non-Jews as well as a religious one for Jews. It's very ingrained, and under most circumstances, it doesn't really harm the baby. Just hurts like hell for a while.

Still, they have a point. I've done some research about this and it would be hard to claim very strongly that circumcision per se has any major health benefits. Whatever health and/or aesthetic benefits there are, surely one could wait until a child was in his teens so he could make up his own mind about whether to do this?

As for the religious aspect, there's no way to get around it. Like it or not, we have a commandment to circumcise male children when they are 8 days old. For religious Jews, the health and aesthetic considerations don't matter in the face of a Biblical commandment.

So, I'm wondering, how many Jewish families would circumcise their children if it weren't a commandment? It does seem barbaric to me. There's no logical reason to do this at all. The Torah never claims to be logical - it just is what it is. Doing a bris is such an accepted part of being a Jew, something we hold very dear. It gets a party and is supposed to be a happy occasion. Is anyone besides me bothered by the idea that, happy as it is to have a new baby and to be peforming a religious ritual, we are cutting off part of his body? Does anyone other than me think this is really, really strange at best, and more than a little macabre at worst?

I'm not saying people shouldn't do a bris. I'm just saying I think it's weird. Lots of things in Judaism are weird when you stop to think about it, and I do them anyway. But this is weird and painful. It bugs me.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Once we were slaves in Egypt . . .

Now the slavemasters are among us.

Read this very important post at Jewlicious, about a topic that is slowly getting the recognition it needs and deserves.

Read it.

And weep.

And then do something about it.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Ode to a Moroccan ex-Boyfriend, as She Shops for Passover

[readers who do not know much about the Passover holiday should do a Google search for "kitniyot," "Ashkenaz," "Sephard," and "Passover."]

Dark and handsome, and intelligent
(But not smart enough to be nice to me)
The loss of you is my gain.
Free, free of insults and lies.

in your blood flows the pulse of Africa.
Your table is laden with rice.
A small price to pay to be relieved of you, jerk.
But, sometimes,
how the heart yearns
For a nice bowl of lentil soup.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Flotsam and Jetsam

Interesting and thought-provoking post over at Treppenwitz about land-grabs and readers' prejudice.

My cough was going away, but now it seems to be back. My voice was lost, then it was found, now it's lost again. Time to go to the doctor. Time to wish I'd gone on antibiotics a week ago.

My apartment is one-quarter cleaned for Pesach (Passover), at least in terms of space. I'm very proud of myself. Unfortunately, the one-quarter that is done was the easiest one-quarter. Time to tackle the kitchen and my main eating area . . . ack! . . .

My sister has a new baby, but I have a new vacuum cleaner! It's a nifty hand-held thing with four different attachments, perfect for sucking up the dust in between my bookshelves, which I haven't quite been able to get at properly for the past three years. Every crevice, every nook and cranny, is being sucked up of dust! My suede boots: Dust free! My mattress and box spring: Dust begone! Very cathartic to watch that dust being sucked up into the netherworld that is the inside of a vacuum cleaner, let me tell you. Even the sound is extremely satisfying.

FYI, Israel put its clocks forward one hour last Thursday night. My understanding is that the US did the same this weekend. Therefore, we in Israel are still 7 hours ahead of the East Coast, and 10 hours ahead of the West Coast. Please bear this in mind when calling your friends and family.

I'm almost done reading Robert Jordan's Knife of Dreams, which is Book 11 of the Wheel of Time fantasy series, and it's terrific. FYI you won't understand it unless you first read books one through ten. Jordan seemed to be "slipping" a bit into slow-moving plotlines in the last few books, but he recovers here. Several plotlines get a boost forward. I'm reading that Jordan has promised to finish the series in Book 12, even if that means the book has to be 2,000 pages long (which it probably would be, if he really wants to wrap up every plotline properly). Personally I'd rather have two more shorter books, but as long as everything is wrapped up, with no loose ends, I'll be happy. Personally, I'm dying to know what the heck is up with Verrin (v'hamayvin yavin- those who understand, understand). And, less seriously, will the women ever stop "sniffing" condescendingly at the men? What does it mean for someone's dress to be "slashed" with color? How do "patience" and "indignation" smell any different from "calm" or "anger"? In a war of personalities, who would win: Aes Sedai, the Sea Folk, or Aiel Wise Ones? When will these people figure out that to save Moiraine, they just have to bring musical instruments, iron, and weapons into the Tower of Ghenjei (or whatever it's called) and "break the rules," just like in Snakes and Foxes? Does anyone care anymore?