Saturday, April 30, 2005

What I Did for My Birthday

As my half-dozen readers may have gathered from a recent post, I just had a birthday—a rather significant one, in fact. I confess it: I flipped a digit. Yes, I know that’s a pretty serious thing do to, so I promise to wait ten years before doing it again.

So what did I do to celebrate? A few things.

There’s a wonderful all-you-can-eat meat restaurant downtown called Vaqueiro. It’s a combination South American/South African place. For a fixed price, the smiling, friendly waiters bring out samples of ten different kinds of meat (five if you’re there for lunch), and once you’re done sampling, they’ll bring you as much as you want of whichever kind you request. Once you’re on their database, they’ll send you an invitation for a free dinner on your birthday (and a free bottle of wine on your anniversary).

My friend and I went there a few days before Pessah and had a wonderful time. We were pretty full even before the end, though, and at one point we started laughing when the food just never seemed to end. “What—they’re bringing us more?” we asked each other in disbelief. We could hardly move by the time we left. Moderation? Not that evening!

Another friend took me to Mini-Israel. It was terrific—the models of various buildings throughout the country are exquisite and all the miniature plants are real. There’s even a plant nursery near the entrance where you can buy the same kinds of plants used in the park. (At the Mini-Israel website, click on the link in the upper left corner for the English-language version, and click on the icon of the speaker in the upper right corner to turn off the music.)

We continued my birthday romp with a trip to the new exhibit at David’s Citadel, “Train Tracks to Jerusalem.” It’s a history of the train to Jerusalem from Ottoman times to the present, and highly recommended. (Mind the gap!)

By the way, there are model trains all over Mini-Israel—quite literally—so the train-loving part of me was well nourished. I’m still planning a trip to the Railway Museum in Haifa, though.

(Cross-posted at Israelity)

Saturday Night Catblogging

Her Ladyship must have been muscling in on the Dowager Duchess again:

Her Ladyship and the Duchess in mirror image

The Duchess is the kitty on the right, wearing the blue collar.

And here’s Her Ladyship in a less-than-dignified pose—or maybe she’s imitating us humans.

Her Ladyship lying on her back

(By the way, Her Ladyship is not asking for a bellyrub when she does that. Trust me on this.)

Check out the Carnival of the Cats at Running Scared this week.

Friday, April 29, 2005

Houston, We Have a Purr (or: What, Me Envy?)

My poetry-writing buddy from Atlanta, Elisson, went on a pilgrimage to Houston this past week, where he met Lair Simon and his four beautiful, noble and charming cats.

Upon his return, Pilgrim Elisson graciously remembered me as follows:

[Rahel, I know this is gonna make you eat your heart out, but I gave them all extra skritches for you.]

Now why on earth would I be jealous? Just because Elisson got to be in the same city, nay, on the same continent as all four of Lair Simon’s wonderful, gorgeous kittycats? Just because he got to pet the colorful Piper, copper-striped polydactyl Nardo, fluffy Frisky and cavekitty Edloe with his own hands? Just because he got to meet Lair in person?

Jealous? Me? Nah. I’m an adult, you see. Mature. I even have proof: tonight, according to the Hebrew calendar, I flip a significant digit. (According to the Gregorian calendar, I flipped it last week.) So—what, me envy?


Oh, all right, then. Maybe just a little.

Keeping My Hand In

When I woke up this morning, my left hand hurt. A lot.

Well, actually it was the wrist. Specifically, the left side of the wrist. After a day of this, I’ve figured out even more specifically that whatever’s hurting in there is connected to my little finger. I can still do most things without pain, but try to use that little finger and ... well, best cover your ears.

I’ve got to wonder how it happened. My hand was fine when I went to sleep last night, and it’s not like I was out digging ditches while I slept or something. (At least, I don’t think I was. ...)

So typing is not a lot of fun today. Life says: tough luck. I had to go to work this morning, and my job means quite a bit of typing. Ouch.

A dear friend who knows quite a bit about sports injuries told me I must RICE. That’s an acronym that means: rest, ice, compress and elevate above the shoulder as much as possible. (She recommended aspirin too, for its anti-inflammatory effect.) So I’m typing with a bandaged wrist packed in ice. I guess there’s a first for everything.

Like I said: ouch.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Around and About

RIP, Ezer Weizman: The Jerusalem Post remembers former President Ezer Weizman, who passed away last Saturday night at the age of eighty.

Remembering the Rachels: Tom Gross’s answer to the recently produced play in Britain glorifying ISM terror-enabler Rachel Corrie: The Forgotten Rachels.

My Name Is Rachel Thaler is not the title of a play likely to be produced anytime soon in London. Thaler, aged 16, was blown up at a pizzeria in an Israeli shopping mall. She died after an 11-day struggle for life following the February 16, 2002 attack when a suicide bomber approached a crowd of teenagers and blew himself up.
She was a British citizen, born in London, where her grandparents still live. Yet I doubt that anyone at London’s Royal Court Theatre, or most people in the British media, have heard of her. “Not a single British journalist has ever interviewed me or mentioned her death,” her mother, Ginette, told me last week.
Thaler’s parents donated her organs for transplant (helping to save the life of a young Russian man), and grieved quietly. After the accidental killing of Rachel Corrie, by contrast, her parents embarked on a major publicity campaign. They traveled to Ramallah to accept a plaque from Yasser Arafat on behalf of their daughter. They circulated her emails and diary entries to a world media eager to publicize them.
Among those who published extracts from them in 2003 was the influential British leftist daily The Guardian. This in turn inspired a new play, My Name Is Rachel Corrie, which opened this month at the Royal Court Theatre, one of London most prestigious venues. (The New York Times recently described it as “the most important theatre in Europe.”)

A nation unlike all others: Yehuda Avner on the idea of Israel as a nation among other nations:

To begin with, our profoundest oddity is our identity. Many gentiles—and many Jews for that matter—have only the slightest comprehension of what a Jew is. At the salons and receptions where Israeli diplomats move, one might encounter people bemused over why our envoys display as much concern for the welfare of the local Jewish community as they do for their own countrymen. It is not uncommon, for example, to be collared by some vaguely inebriated individual and asked, “Now, tell me, what exactly are you Jews—are you a nation, or a religion, or what?”
The answer—both—is baffling. For, in modern society Jews are unique in personifying a nation-faith personality, a seamless blend of peoplehood and religion born out of the two seminal events that forged our identity: the Exodus from Egypt, when we entered history as a people, and the concomitant giving of the Torah at Sinai, when we entered history as a nation-faith.
Whether one is a believer or a skeptic, this subtle individuality is indivisible. A Jew cannot be one without the other, though many throughout the centuries have tried. A Jew remains forever a synergy of Exodus and Sinai.

Read the whole thing. Hag sameah (happy holiday)!

Friday, April 15, 2005

Stalking the Wild Siamese

This is one of my friend’s two Siamese cats. She is fifteen years old. I call her the Dowager Duchess. (The light is strong in this picture because the Duchess enjoys lying down under an incandescent lamp for warmth.)

The Dowager Duchess

Hold your mouse over the photographs for additional text. (I learned this trick from Meryl.)

This is the Duchess’s housemate, Her Ladyship. She’s about six and very jealous of any attention the Duchess receives.

Put that clickey thing in my face one more time and you’ll regret it.

Here they are together. (I apologize for the smaller photograph; I unwittingly changed the size settings on my cellphone before I took it.) Notice that Her Ladyship is stalking the Duchess, who was in that spot first.

Her Ladyship stalks the Dowager Duchess

The same thing happens at home. “I believe this was my spot,” says Her Ladyship. “Youth hath its privileges, Duchess. Now move.”

Her Ladyship prepares to muscle in on the Duchess

“Didn’t you hear me? I said: Move!”

What part of ‘move’ didn’t you understand?

The Duchess doesn’t have the patience for these power games. She just wants some peace and quiet, and if she has to give a little ground in order to get them, she will.

All right, here’s some of my spot. Now grow up.

Her Ladyship has a weak spot, though. Like all cats, she enjoys getting into a sheltered spot and peeking out at the world from there. In this case, her sheltered spot happens to be underneath my skirt.

Hiding? Who’s hiding?

My legs ache, Your Ladyship. May I stand up now?

Me? Hiding? Ridiculous. I was just sheltering from the sun.

Back inside, the Dowager Duchess is finally free to rest undisturbed.

Finally, some peace and quiet. Thank goodness.

Skritch early and often. Shabbat shalom!

In Every Generation

Jerusalem Post columnist Barbara Sofer on Intifada-denial:

Intifada-denial is a dangerous error. Even for Israelis who enthusiastically supported Oslo and Camp David, four years of violence has forced a reckoning with reality. The pointless murder and savage mutilation of civilians, coupled with the images of celebratory joy by Palestinians as buses were torn to pieces and the Twin Towers crumbled had to be an awakening. Anyone who is concerned about peace in the Middle East would be nuts not to factor in this hatred.
Would that we could turn the clock back to 2000. Let’s imagine what would have happened if the Palestinian people had invested their considerably energy, not in violence but in restructuring the PA by accepting Ehud Barak’s plan at Camp David.
A nascent Palestinian state could have been celebrating its fifth anniversary. Young leadership could have reformed the corrupt mechanisms of government instead of devising plans for recruiting and dispatching teenagers as human bombs. The techies who design tunnels and bomb factories could have been turning out air-conditioners and gas cooking grills, building houses, improving their highway system and designing computer programs.
The billions of euros poured in by the Europeans would have supported these projects, as well as constructing bright new schools, hospitals equipped to treat cancer and prevalent genetic diseases.
But, of course, this is more than a question of wasted opportunities. So many are dead, so many have lifelong disabilities. As a society we have become terror survivors. The term “terror survivor” was actually coined in this “intifada” by a Jerusalem woman named Shoshana Gottleib. She was shot in the spine on the way home from work. Because she’d been bending over to put orange peels in a plastic bag on the floor, she wasn’t killed. The terrorist who shot her for pay later complained that he didn’t get his money because she’d survived.
We’re in the midst of preparing for Pessah, the national holiday in which it’s our obligation to pass on to our children the message of the joyous, divine moment of liberation from slavery. I know it kind of throws a damper on the party, but we’re also obliged to remember that in every generation someone tries to destroy us.
Imagine reading those lines of the Haggada at the Pessah Seder at Shoshana Gottleib’s home. The intifada was, indeed, another of these malevolent but futile attempts to destroy us. Would that it weren’t so.

Read it all.

Trains of Thought

Amos Asa-El writes about the Jerusalem train past and present in today’s on-line edition of the Jerusalem Post.


To us kids, the train’s two-and-a-half hour odyssey to the coastal metropolis at the other end of the railroad seemed all too short. From the picturesque, godforsaken station of Bar Giora to the cement factory outside Ramle through the lovely Nahal Hajora sewage stream, our little noses were glued to the windows, as we did our best to absorb what for us was a cultural experience at least as exhilarating as a combined ticket to the Louvre, the Vatican and the British Museum would have been for our parents.

And now:

Monday morning I entered the newly inaugurated railway station in Malha. Having parked in the spacious lot outside it, and crossed the station’s glistening marble floor almost as awestruck as a worshiper in a cathedral, I bought a roundtrip ticket to the Shalom Center in Tel Aviv, where I had scheduled a meeting.
Carpeted and equipped with little tables, the train cars were nicer than those I remembered from Boston's suburbs. The ride, as smooth and quiet as a sail boat gliding its way across a mirror-flat lake, unveiled the same old vistas, replete with the occasional abandoned British guards’ pillbox, the Bar Giora greenery, and Nahal Hajora’s blackish pourage.
Before long a mobile kiosk manned by a young girl showed up, laden with fresh sandwiches, pastry and beverages. The Boston-New York-Washington trains I frequently took never offered this, I thought, as we swooshed past the Ayalon Freeway’s heavy traffic into Tel Aviv’s newly Manhattanesque skyline.

I rode the train from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv in daylight for the first time last Sunday, and my nose was pressed to the window too, just like the little kids Asa-El describes above. Oh, and here’s that abandoned British pillbox:

Abandoned British pillbox on the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv railroad line

I filled up my cellphone camera’s memory almost completely on that one ride, and I’ll probably be doing it again.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Sad News

Ehud Manor, one of Israel’s most important and beloved lyricists and translators, died last night of heart failure. Here are reports from the Jerusalem Post, Ynet and Haaretz.

Allison Kaplan Sommer of An Unsealed Room writes about her connection with Ehud Manor.

I had a bit of contact with him, too. Shortly after I arrived in Israel, he called the office where I was working as a secretary, and I was delighted that I had actually gotten to speak to the man whose work I admired so much. Years later, he graciously played a track from my CD on his radio program. (I didn’t hear it, but a friend of mine did and told me about it later.) I had hoped to work with him someday, even on one small project or one brief program, but unfortunately it never happened. I came close to it once, though.

In 1995, Ehud Manor and Rivka Michaeli co-hosted a live radio program called “What Did We Have There?” The program, which aired for an hour on weekday mornings, featured a segment where Manor and Michaeli played messages that listeners left on the show’s voice mail. Since Purim was approaching, I called the voice mail and sang my Hebrew translation of a feminist Purim song, and to my surprise they played it on the air the following week. Then, to my utter astonishment, they called me at home several days later to tell me how much they had enjoyed it. Because I was shocked speechless, I barely managed to tell Ehud Manor that I had admired his work since childhood.

They gave me the number of the studio and told me I could call the program whenever it was on the air. Unfortunately, it was cancelled several weeks later. I never got the chance.

Everyone I know who knew Ehud Manor agreed that he was a mensch. He will be sorely missed.

Help Omri Raziel

Imshin gives important information to those of us who live in Israel about tomorrow’s bone-marrow testing drive to help little Omri Raziel, who has been stricken with a particularly virulent form of cancer.

As Imshin points out, Omri’s family needs financial contributions too because the testing is very expensive.

For those who wish to daven, please daven for Omri ben Sigal. (If anyone has additional information regarding the proper names, please e-mail me.)

Monday, April 11, 2005

Of Past Professors and Poetry

The double dactyl, a fun and demanding poetic form, was invented by Anthony Hecht and Paul Pascal. Anthony Hecht later published a book of double dactyls together with fellow poet John Hollander.

Why am I talking about poets and double dactyls all of a sudden? you may ask.

Twenty years ago Anthony Hecht was my writing professor at the University of Rochester. I just found out that he passed away in October 2004 at the age of eighty-one. I never saw him again after his writing course ended, but I thought of him often and I’m sad that he’s gone. Barukh dayyan emet.

I felt a bit intimidated by Professor Hecht (as I still think of him even twenty years later)—he was, after all, one of the “big guns” in contemporary American poetry—but I used to love to hear him read aloud. He had a gorgeous, deep voice, and I can still hear him quoting from an ancient Greek tragedy in the perfect diction that held just a hint of his Brooklyn roots: “The best of all fates is never to have been born. ...” He had a fine wit and enjoyed challenging his students. I was delighted when I responded successfully to one of his challenges and managed to raise my grade a little at the same time. Heaven knows I needed the boost. Prof. Hecht was a tough grader.

His final exam was a bit unusual. At the beginning of the semester, Prof. Hecht gave us a list of poems to memorize, saying that if we wanted to write good poetry, we must have good poetry already in our minds. (With all respect to Prof. Hecht, in hindsight I am not sure this test was fair. I was lucky because memorization is easy for me, but I remember one student who was, and probably still is, very knowledgeable and an excellent writer but had difficulty memorizing text.) Since I memorize more easily by ear than by sight, I prepared for the exam by reading all the poems on the list into a tape recorder and playing the recording in my dorm room at regular intervals. In the end I did reasonably well, though I still felt a bit intimidated by Prof. Hecht, who was at one point the Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress—in other words, the Poet Laureate of the United States.

It’s been a long time since I had much to do with poetry. But today I happened to be browsing Elisson’s blog and found the poetry he has been writing for National Poetry Writing Month. (If you haven’t visited Elisson’s blog yet, go there. He is an excellent writer and his poetry is fantastic. Funny, too.) Feeling a bit nostalgic for my former writing professor and also feeling a bit impish, I suggested that Elisson try a double dactyl. (That was unfair, I admit, since I’ve never written one myself.) Elisson responded by sending me a link to the double dactyls he has already written. I responded by pointing out pedantically that while the poems may be double dactyls in a technical sense, they don’t conform to the specifications set by Hecht, Pascal and Hollander.

So Elisson of the abundant poetic gifts and sparkling intellect promptly blew me away by writing one that did. Especially for me. By his kind permission, I include it here:

Yiddeldy fiddeldy,
Raheleh Jaskow, she
Skritches those kittycats
Each chance she get.
Cats in Jerusalem
Are not enough for her.
Surfing the ’Net!

Wow! I think this is the first time anyone has ever written a poem for me. And me with a birthday coming up, too! (And a pretty significant one at that.) Thanks, Steve!

And thank you, too, Professor Hecht. Rest in peace.

UPDATE: I just wrote my first double dactyl today, inspired by and in honor of Ellison. Here it is:

Kittery cattery,
Steve of Blog d’Elisson
Writes double dactyls with
Sparkle and will.
Humor aforethought, he
Blows us away with his
Consummate skill.

(I even included an indirect allusion to his beautiful cats, Hakuna and Matata, in the first line. Just so they won’t be jealous.)

My first double dactyl. I hope it gives Professor Hecht a chuckle, wherever he is.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Music, Music, Music

Israel has a thriving folk-music community with folk clubs that meet regularly in Karmiel, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Kibbutz Tzora (next door to Beit Shemesh) and, most recently, the south. If you like folk music, you’ll enjoy them all, and even if the folk genre is not your musical cup of tea, you’ll still enjoy the excellent musicianship and wonderful atmosphere.

The largest Israeli folk-music site is probably that of the Kibbutz Tzora Folk Club, which is lovingly maintained by Judy and Lynn Lewis. Their site includes a gallery of past and present performers from all over the world, including Israel. (Not all of us are expats, believe it or not!)

Although some of the various folk clubs have been in existence for close to twenty years, it has only been in the past five or so that members of the Israeli folk community have begun releasing their own CDs. (Names that come to mind right away include Ray Scudero, Sandy Cash and Jill Rogoff.) This is mainly due to two factors: the increased availability of high-quality recording technology together with the enormous distribution potential of the Internet. Most of us expat musicians sell our CDs at CD Baby, a wonderful on-line CD store located in Oregon.

And speaking of the Internet, this week several tracks from “Poor Working Slob,” an excellent CD of original music by my dear friends Joanna and Ray Scudero, are featured on Rich O’Brien’s Songwriters Internet Radio Show. Their segment is about two thirds in, but the entire show is worth hearing. Rich showcases three of my favorite songs by Ray: “Voyager,” a lyrical picture of the wooden gaff-rigged schooner on which his sister and brother-in-law live and travel the world; “Poor Working Slob,” a witty and affectionate look through a native New Yorker’s eyes at the people who live and work in New York City; and “Horizon Dawn,” a song about taking stock of one’s life.

So ... like music? Pull up a chair, lean back, relax and enjoy.

(Cross-posted on Israelity)

Maiden Voyage (or, I Think I Can)

Tonight I took the inaugural train of the new/old line from Beit Shemesh to Jerusalem. Was it exciting? Absolutely! Here’s a pictorial account of my trip.

The train, which started its run in Haifa at 8:50 p.m., arrives at the Beit Shemesh station at 10:07 p.m. (From Haifa to Beit Shemesh in under an hour and twenty minutes—not bad at all.)

The train arrives at the Beit Shemesh station

All aboard! I hug my friend goodbye and head toward the train.

All aboard!

The Beit Shemesh station from just inside the door of the train.

The Beit Shemesh station, taken from inside the train

On a walk through the train, I discovered that the engineer’s compartment was open. Several media correspondents were there, and the security guard let all of us in. The engineer’s name was Moshe, and he said he was very happy to be driving the train on its maiden voyage. (I apologize for the darkness of the photograph. I also hope to get pictures of the train’s breathtakingly beautiful route in daylight.)

The engineer’s cab by night

A view of the tracks from the engineer’s compartment as we approach the Malha station.

The view from the engineer's cab as we approach the Malha station

One of the Malha station signs.

Malha station sign

The train is temporarily parked on the tracks. Moshe, the engineer, is up ahead, about to get back on the train to drive it to Lod, where it will spend the night.

In Malha. Up ahead is Moshe, the engineer

The train leaves the station for the night.

Heading to park for the night

According to the man from Israel Railways with whom I spoke briefly, the train we traveled on was originally Swedish, and Israel Railways bought it used. Some of the cars still contain the original seats. This man was so up on his train models that he was even able to tell me the train’s original Swedish serial number. For train buffs, here is information on the rolling stock that Israel Railways uses. Most of the information is in Hebrew, but there is enough English to figure out quite a bit.

We traveled in an IC-3, one of the few models that can handle the hills leading to Jerusalem. “We could use other models,” the man from Israel Railways told me, “but then we’d need to use two locomotives up in front, what’s called a double-head. Unfortunately, we can’t use the double-decker model at all. It’s too heavy.”

Our train had nine cars. The average number is twelve, and the maximum permitted number for our particular model is fifteen.

The sparkling new Malha station ...

The interior of the Malha station

... and I’m almost home. Here’s the bus!

The bus home

Gotta go—the driver’s waiting. Good night and shavua tov (have a good week)!

(Cross-posted at Israelity)

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Juiced Up

Grape juice is not an ordinary drink among religious Jews. Because of the sacramental significance of wine, all grape products, including vinegar and grape juice, are subject to special religious restrictions in order to be considered kosher. As a further indication of its special status, grape juice is not placed together with the other fruit juices on Israeli supermarket shelves. Instead, it is sold in the wine section.

When it comes to making kiddush on Shabbat and festivals, grape juice (as opposed to wine) is popular among families with young children, though plenty of adults prefer it too. There is quite a large market for the organic variety produced by Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu. There is also a cultural divide. My English-speaking friends drink grape juice gladly on Shabbat, while some older Hebrew-speaking friends of mine with roots in Eastern Europe were a bit surprised and amused when I brought them a bottle for Shabbat lunch. Grape juice? they chuckled. What, do you think we’re little kids?


For years, the Carmel Winery has produced and sold two kinds of grape juice: red and white. Now they’ve expanded their line to include grape juice made from Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, giving a classier dimension to a classic drink.

Fancy grape juice

The bottle on the left, with the red label, is Merlot. The one on the right, with the blue label (it looks purple in the picture), is Cabernet Sauvignon.

Hey, who said grape juice has to be boring? I can’t wait to try ’em.


(Cross-posted on Israelity)