Sunday, February 27, 2005

Lifting Our Voices

Local singer-songwriter Sandy Cash expresses my own feelings on disengagement far better than I can myself.

I fear for my country. It’s not just the tragedy of “disengagement”—the recent adoption of a policy that calls for the total destruction of 25 Jewish communities. It's not even the fact that there’s no guarantee that this enormous sacrifice, far from having a positive effect on Israeli security, is expected to put more Israeli population centers within striking distance of Palestinian missiles.
No. What scares me is that this entire retreat process is being shoved down the country's throat without any real discussion.

She posted this article on her Israel Diary several days ago, and it is well worth a read. Especially now, unfortunately.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Bone Marrow Donors Needed

From the FolkDJ-L mailing list (posted with permission):

Dear Friends of PeterPaul & Mary who have been so kind and concerned about Mary:
As you are probably aware, Mary has been battling leukemia and we had hoped that the cancer’s remission would sustain. However, recently the cancer returned and therefore she has been admitted to a New York-based hospital for further treatment.
Notwithstanding this new unwelcome challenge Mary’s spirits are strong, her humor intact, and her determination to beat the cancer undiminished.
At this point her doctors are investigating the possibility of a bone marrow transplant and so we are reaching out to all of her many friends around the world to see if you might be generous enough to consider registering as a potential bone marrow donor. Your bone marrow might be a fit for Mary and if not you might be able do a great service for others who similarly need a transplant.
The National Marrow Donor Program offers the test to determine your blood and bone marrow specifics for free and can be contacted through Tel. 800-627-7692; an online form at the National Marrow Donor Program website; or mail to
National Marrow Donor Program
Suite 500
3001 Broadway Street Northeast
Minneapolis MN 55413-1753

Refuah shleimah, Mary.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

A New Blog in Town

Israel21c has a blog! It’s a group effort with some familiar faces (well, virtual ones, anyway) from the Israeli blog scene.

I found the site through Imshin, whose item on riding the train in Israel is right on track (pun intended). I confess I have fallen in love with the Israeli train system and am ecstatic about the return of the Jerusalem train. (Actually, there will be two lines, but the faster one isn’t due for another three years or so. The slower line—via Beit Shemesh, with a travel time of approximately 73 minutes—is due to begin operation in about a month.) Like Imshin, I remember the old train ride from Jerusalem to Haifa and I didn’t like it much either, for all the reasons she describes (even if the views were stunning). But as she writes, train service here is much better now.

In recent months I have been on trains where employees actually walked through the cars, counting the number of passengers on little hand-held gadgets that clicked every time they pressed a button. At first it felt a little strange being counted like that, but then I was glad. The more passengers, the more trains.

Oh, right. I was blogging about Israelity ... but I guess I got sidetracked.

Heh.

It’s a ... Bird!

The first time I saw a Palestine sunbird, I thought it was a hummingbird. But despite its small size, it isn’t.

The males have gorgeous, iridescent coloring. The females are plain and brown, a bit like sparrows.

Last Shabbat, as I passed by an almond tree in full flower, I saw two Palestine sunbird couples flitting from blossom to blossom, chirping as they went. I could almost imagine that they were saying, “Hey, check out this one! Good nectar over on this side!”

I named them Fred and Wilma and Barney and Betty. They weren’t impressed.

A few months ago, I saw another Palestine sunbird couple outside a friend’s apartment building. The two birds were chittering loudly and I got the feeling that they were in some distress.

I wasn’t wrong. A few moments later I discovered a small orange cat lurking in the bushes just below them. He didn’t look too pleased to have his cover blown.

Palestine sunbirds are among my favorite birds. They’re absolutely beautiful and seeing one always gives a lift to my day. (Pssst ... wanna see one in action? C’mon over here.)

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Slow Day

Today I finished making six eye pillows before heading to the shuk to buy more flaxseed to fill them ... and if I’m writing that up on my blog, you can bet that today was a slow day. And I really should be translating (at home, not at work).

In fact, I’ve been so preoccupied with work this week that I forgot to mention that this past weekend I spent a sweet and relaxing Shabbat at the home of David and Zahava of Treppenwitz. It was wonderful.

I have to confess that I always feel a little nervous the first time I stay at someone’s home over Shabbat. It has nothing to do with the people involved; I’m just a type that likes to sleep in my own bed. But any nervousness I may have felt was dispelled during the pleasant ride with David and Zahava. Almost as soon as we arrived at their beautiful home, they put on Mary Poppins for their little son Yonah. The tape happened to be in the middle of the film, so among the first things I heard in their home was Dick Van Dyke as Bert, singing: “On the rooftops of London:/Cor, what a sight!”

That was it. That’s my very favorite part of one of my very favorite films, and that was the moment I knew I’d come to the right place. And then there was the breathtaking view from the window of the guest bedroom, which made such an impression on me that I was almost reluctant to go to sleep. I could have gazed at it all night. Best of all was the pleasure of hanging out and shmoozing with David and Zahava, and meeting their older children, Gilad and Ariella, who sparkle—I don’t know how else to describe it. I even fell in love with their sweet-natured black Lab, Jordan.

I keep saying that I think the Internet is a modern-day miracle. Of course, as with anything else in life we have free choice as to how to use it—and if we use it correctly, we can do so much good in the world. Yet in my opinion the Internet’s most miraculous feature is its ability to connect people, both old friends and new. So blessed be the Creator for the miracle of the Internet—and, through that miracle, for the gift of my new friendship with the Treppenwitzes!

(Bogners, Rahel. Bogners.)

Monday, February 14, 2005

It’s Lighter Later

This is my favorite time of year in Israel. The days are getting longer, the flowers and herbs are sprouting and it’s mostly pleasant outdoors.

This afternoon I looked out the window and saw that it was still bright at 5 p.m. Every year at about this time I look forward to seeing the sun at that hour.

I just hope that the cold snaps are over, or that if we get another one, it will at least compensate us with some snow that sticks.

(Hey, I can dream, can’t I?)

Whom Do They Think They’re Kidding?

The riots in the northern village of Mughar this past weekend were sparked by rumors that Christian youths had pasted pornographic photographs of local Druze women on the Internet. Yesterday’s printed edition of Ma’ariv had two brief opinion pieces on the rioting. One, by a Druze public figure whose name currently escapes me, condemned the violence but at the same time pleaded with readers to understand the special Arab attitude toward women’s honor. The other, written by Zoheir Andreus, the editor of the Arab newspaper Kul al-Arab, was all too predictable: it blamed the Jews.

Regarding the former: come off it, Mr. Druze Public Figure; whom do you think you’re kidding? In Arab culture, women’s honor has nothing to do with the women themselves. It is merely a reflection of the honor of the men. If a woman has sexual relations out of wedlock or is unlucky enough to be raped, her entire family is disgraced and is often pressured to kill her in order to cleanse the stain on their honor. In some cases the wearing of a miniskirt and makeup is enough to draw a death sentence. The grim task of execution is often given to a minor because he will receive a lighter punishment, after which he will be able to return to his family as a free man. Rather a bizarre way of demonstrating respect for the honor of women, don’t you think?

We know that honor killings are the dirty little secret of Arab culture. Like spousal or child abuse in western countries, everyone knows it goes on but no one likes to talk about it. A few months ago Israeli Arab members of the Knesset were guests on a political television program. The topic was the phenomenon of Arab men pretending to be Jewish in order to pick up Jewish women whom they took back to their villages and married, sometimes without letting the women know that they already had wives. Every time the program host tried to speak, the Israeli Arab MKs methodically shouted him down, accusing him of smearing all Arab men and demanding that he also show examples of Jewish men who had committed similar offenses.

Yet this was nothing compared to what happened when one of the women guests, an official of a local women’s rights organization, dared to mention the topic of honor killings. She barely got a word in before she was shouted down at twice the volume.

Let’s see: control issues, murder, hypocrisy, denial. Special treatment, indeed. Tell us another one, Mr. Public Figure.

(UPDATE: The author of the article is Knesset member Majalli Whbee.)

And Now, in the Hakarat ha-tov Department ...

(Hakarat ha-tov, literally “acknowledging the good,” is the Jewish principle of expressing gratitude and appreciation where due.)

Last Friday afternoon I got another reason to love my Panda.

(My friends who work at the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo can relax. I promise I am not raising pandas illegally in my apartment.)

I am referring to my antivirus program, Titanium Antivirus 2005, made by Panda Software. It was recommended to me by our wonderful computer technician at work, Dani, whom I like to call our cyber-knight in shining armor. I bought it several years ago when I was still using Windows 95 (remember that?), which was by then so out of date that I couldn’t update the antivirus program I was using without spending way too much money. In desperation, I called Dani for advice and he recommended Panda, noting that it would be less expensive to buy the entire program than to update the one I already had. I bought it and have never looked back since.

Last Friday afternoon, I had a major computer crisis that somehow involved my antivirus program. (It wasn’t actually the program’s fault, but I needed the company’s help to fix it.) When I called the office of Panda Software in Netanya for help, the technician stayed on the phone with me for forty minutes until the problem was solved.

Forty minutes. In Israel. On a Friday afternoon.

I should explain that Israel had no weekend until recently. The work week lasted from Sunday until Friday afternoon, when employees went home a bit earlier than usual in order to get ready for Shabbat. Long ago I worked for an office that was open until 1:30 on Friday afternoons, which was a relief at the time since I no longer had to bargain for permission to leave work earlier on Friday afternoons in the wintertime, as I did when I lived in the United States.

Today Israel has a sof shavua, a weekend, which consists of Friday and Shabbat. Among religious people, Friday is always a short day; there never seems to be enough time to prepare for Shabbat even when it comes in at 7:00 p.m. and you don’t have to spend the morning at work. (Well, sometimes I do, but that’s another story.) In order to dispel the tension between those who feel that Shabbat should remain a day of rest and those who feel that stores should be open and public transportation available then, some activists are trying to institute Sunday as an additional day off while reinstating work on Friday mornings. But that’s all beside the point of this post.

So what is the point? my (few) readers may ask.

It’s this: The Panda technician spent forty minutes helping me out on a Friday afternoon when he could have just told me what to do and left it at that. In fact, I offered him that option since I’m pretty decent with computers and good at following instructions. But he went the extra mile, staying with me until the problem was solved, and for that I’m grateful.

So now I’m telling the world: Panda rocks!

Thursday, February 10, 2005

How Sharper Than a Kitty’s Tooth

A cat bit me last night.

She was a cute little gray lady, tame and friendly, who wandered into the neighborhood grocery store while I was there. The proprietor, a young woman, was not at all pleased, to say the least. As I listened to her talk about how she couldn’t stand cats, I got a bit worried about what she or someone else might do if the cat stayed there much longer.

So I figured I’d make friends with the cat and take her outside. Since she was tame, she responded to my outstretched hand and offer of skritches. Everything worked according to plan until I had her in my arms and was walking out of the store. She figured out what was up, squirmed a bit and the next thing I knew: chomp. Cat tooth to lower right palm.

I hadn’t realized that part of the hand is so sensitive.

Well, I can’t blame the cat. It was a cold night, she wanted to be inside where it was warm and she couldn’t know that I was trying to get her out of trouble.

So I headed home, washed the cut with soap and running water as per instructions (thank Heaven for the Internet!), smothered it in tea tree oil and called Magen David Adom for advice on what to do next. You need to get a tetanus shot within twenty-four hours, they said. You also need to contact the Ministry of Health in order to find out whether you need the rabies vaccine.

Ouch.

So this morning, off I went. My first stop was the sparkling new building of the Maccabi Health Fund downtown, where the line was short and the service great (if one can use such terms to describe getting a tetanus shot, but I mean it; the nurse practitioner was wonderful). After that it was across the street to the district health office where I met with the physician on duty. After hearing my story and asking me questions about the cat’s behavior, she decided that I didn’t need the rabies vaccine.

It was only then that I realized how frightened I’d been.

I know that the rabies vaccine is not given today the way it was when I was a child. And I don’t mind needles that much. Yet even though I told myself that if I had to get the vaccine the main thing I wouldn’t like would be the time commitment involved (one needs to receive several injections over the course of a month), I still had the memories of what I’d heard when I was little, and I had visions of having to lie down on a table, uncover my abdomen and ...

I’ll stop here with just one comment: Whew.

And yes, I still like cats.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

A Most Unusual Taxi Ride

After watching the snow flurries from my window this morning, I went out and took a cab.

The taxi was from a company I know well, but I had never seen the driver before. Surprisingly, she was a woman. (Most taxi drivers in Israel are men.)

Even more surprising was the white snood she wore on her head. I thought: A haredi woman taxi driver? Now I’ve seen everything.

When I got into the cab, I saw that she was wearing slacks. OK, definitely not haredi, but then ... what?

My interest piqued, I began a conversation. “Where are you from?” I asked her, unable to place her accent.

“Jerusalem,” she answered in halting Hebrew, and then: “I was born in Kuwait and came here after the first Gulf War. My parents and siblings live in Jordan, and I live here with my husband and children.”

“How long have you been driving a cab?” I asked.

“One year,” she said.

After some more conversation, I asked her: “Besides Kuwait, how does the Arab world feel about Saddam’s fall?”

“They are happy about it,” she said. “The Arab world never liked him, and they’re glad he’s gone. What a horrible man.”

She was listening to the news in Arabic about the conference at Sharm el-Sheikh, then switched to a Hebrew-language station so that I could listen too. “Finally, we will have peace,” she said. “It’s all we want. I have three children, and all I want is for them to grow up in peace.”

“So do I,” I answered. “Inshallah.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Blessed Be Esther

Now that Purim is around the corner, here’s a word from the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance (JOFA):


Posted by Hello

“Blessed Be Esther,” JOFA’s Megillat Esther CD-ROM, in memory of Esther Farber, is now available for purchase!

This interactive tutorial, recorded with women’s voices, offers you the opportunity to learn everything you need to know to leyn Megillat Esther with proper melodies and pronunciation.

When viewed on a computer, “Blessed Be Esther” contains the entire text of the megillah, both with cantillation marks and without. The easy-to-use navigation system allows you to simultaneously follow along with the on-screen text while listening to the reader. You can pause, fast-forward and rewind, enabling you to focus your practice time where you need it most. You can even play the CD on your CD player and listen to the megillah wherever you go!

The CD-ROM also includes:

  • Instructions on how to organize a megillah reading
  • A discussion of the halakhic sources related to women’s reading the megillah
  • A devar Torah about the Book of Esther
  • And much more ...

To order, visit the JOFA website or call 888-550-JOFA.

(And that’s the whole megillah!)

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Yes, Mistress

Today I petted one of my feline buddies near work. (She’s a very friendly white and silver shorthair who adores being petted.) When I turned to go after a good skritch, she reached over and tapped me on the arm, meowing as if to say, “Hey, wait a minute! You can’t be done yet! Come back here and skritch me some more!”

So I did. And when I turned once more to go, she did it again. So what could I do?

You may say she’s unreasonably demanding, but I take it as a compliment.

(I must have the word “sucker” written on my forehead in great big letters in a language only cats can read.)

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Flashback

At work today, I came across an article about a Jewish woman who lived in Russia at the turn of the twentieth century. At that time, entrance to Russian high schools for Jewish pupils was restricted by the numerus clausus (quota) system, though all candidates, including Jewish ones, had to pass a special test in order to continue their education.

When the time came for this young woman to take her high-school entrance examinations, another candidate, a Russian princess, asked her to write the examination essay for her. (Yes, I know that sounds strange. Maybe the candidates really did crib for each other, or maybe they just wanted help writing their own essays, but that’s neither here nor there.) The Jewish woman replied that she already had two essays to write—her friend’s and her own—and told the princess that she would write her essay if she still had time after completing the other two.

On hearing her answer, the angry princess called her a dirty Jew. The Jewish woman slapped her across the face. As a result, she was expelled from all Russian high schools and had to go abroad in order to continue her education.

Remind me never to take my American public-school education for granted.

Yet there was plenty of antisemitism in the United States too. A family member of my parents’ generation recalls that when she was honored for having placed second in her high-school entrance examinations, one of her classmates hissed, “She’s Jewish.” My relative did not challenge her classmate, but I would like to think that if she had, she would not have been punished for it, certainly not with expulsion at the national level. For all its imperfections, the United States was not czarist Russia.

By the time I was of school age, antisemitism was less visible but still existed. When I was seven years old, my family moved to a rural town which did not contain many Jews at the time. Consequently I was the only Jew in my class for the next several years. I did not encounter much antisemitism then, at least not overtly, except for one incident from third grade that came to mind as I read the article.

During that year my stop was one of the last on the morning school bus route, so by the time I boarded the bus, most of the seats were full. At the time, we were still small enough to sit three abreast. When I got on the bus one morning there was only one empty place left, next to E., a boy who lived several streets away. When I approached it, getting ready to sit down, E. turned to me and said, “You can’t sit here, you dirty Jew.”

I stared at E., too shocked and hurt to speak. Since I had moved to the area only the year before and was originally from a place where many Jews lived, I knew about antisemitism from stories my relatives told. But I had never experienced it personally. It was a monster from the old country, a demon from the dark and distant past, a hostile alien from another planet. This was my first encounter with it, and I did not know what to do.

No one intervened, including the bus driver, so I stood all the way to school.

Some of my readers may say: Why bother with such a disturbing memory? That’s all in the past. All of you were, what, seven or eight years old at the time? Surely E. has learned better by now.

I’d like to believe that. Heaven knows that when I was small I did my share of parroting stupid things I heard outside or on television, much to my parents’ dismay. But even if E.’s offensive remark was only mindless imitation, where did he hear it at such a young age? How did he know about the concept of a “dirty Jew”? Where did he learn that he could stop a classmate from sitting next to him on the bus because she was Jewish?

E. has a German surname. In the context of this story that may mean much or little, but either way, sometimes I wish that I had known enough Jewish history at that moment to ask him, loudly enough for the entire bus to hear, Who taught you to say “dirty Jew,” E.? Do you know what a Jew is? And of course, the clincher: Tell me, E., what did your grandparents do during the war?

(For all I know, E.’s ancestors may have come to the United States before World War II. Yet everyone knows that antisemitism existed in Germany, and indeed in all of Europe, long before then.)

I recently looked E. up on the Internet and discovered that he is now a physician in a particularly sensitive specialty. This is an uncomfortable admission, but it gave me a creepy feeling to see that. Before my readers accuse me of holding a childish and stubborn grudge against a little kid who did a stupid thing thirty years ago, let me say that I don’t hold a grudge against E. To be fair, he developed into a gifted and intelligent young man and I don’t remember hearing him utter another antisemitic remark.

But I never heard him disavow it, either, and he never apologized for what he did that morning.

It would be reasonable to assume that E. has matured and that since he chose this particular branch of medicine, he must be above that sort of thing by now. Yet even though medicine is called a caring profession, we all know from recent history that one can be a compassionate physician to one’s own group and still cherish enough hatred toward others—in the most genteel and cultured manner—to commit mass murder.

As I consider what E. does for a living today, I can only hope that the antisemitism he expressed as a child was indeed only a mindless parroting of what he heard around him—or, if not, that he has done the personal inner work necessary to overcome it.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

No Ordinary Niggun

(The Hebrew word niggun means, simply, a melody. But those familiar with Jewish music know that it means so much more: a song, in most cases without words, that expresses the deepest longings and highest aspirations of the human spirit.)

“Meditations of the Heart” is back, and to paraphrase the old commercial, you don’t even have to be Jewish to enjoy it.

“Meditations of the Heart” is an extraordinary double CD set of mostly Breslav hasidic melodies recorded by tenor Alon Michael and pianist Israel Edelson. Sound clips for Volume 1 and Volume 2 are available for listening at CD Baby. You can find the Hebrew lyrics of the songs together with English translations at the Meditations of the Heart website.

“Meditations of the Heart” partly inspired my own CD, Day of Rest, so I have a special reason for being glad that it’s available once more. Most important, now there is a little more beauty in the world, and I’m glad to be able to point my readers to it here.