Thursday, May 25, 2006

Flowers and Kittycat

I was photographing these beautiful red flowers when a lovely cream-colored cat happened by and wanted to be in the picture:

Flowers and kittycat

Sure, darlin’. Come here and I’ll make you a star.

(Check out this week’s Friday Ark at The Modulator. The Carnival of the Cats will be at Niobium on Sunday.)

Yom Yerushalayim

Today is Yom Yerushalayim, the thirty-ninth anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem, Israel’s capital.

I was going to post about it, but gave up after I saw Treppenwitz’s post. Go, read and listen—and don’t forget the tissues.

He makes an excellent point:

We should never forget or take for granted the sacrifices that were made so that we could have our city back under Jewish Control after 2000 years! It makes me sad to think about how many people would re-divide Jerusalem again in a second on the off chance that it might buy us a few weeks of a shaky “truce.”
How soon they forget.

I and the Bird #24

I and the Bird #24 is up at Rigor Vitae: Life Unyielding, and all I can say is: Wow. Now that is an amazing carnival.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Name-Brand Underwear Bites

One of the really cool things about living in Israel is that we can buy name-brand underwear for cheap. This is because the underwear is made for export by Israeli companies. Yet there is always surplus, so people can buy all the name-brand underwear they want if they know where to look. The underwear is usually arranged in neat piles on shelves or stored loose in large bins that the customers must look through in order to choose what they want.

Yesterday I was off doing my errands when I spotted a store with a sign that read “Export Surplus.” When I popped in, the shop assistant directed me to a bin with sparkling new name-brand underwear in lovely colors, 100 percent cotton. Yay! Just what I like! My shopping bag got a bit heavier, and my bank account got a bit lighter.

Shortly afterwards, my right hand and forearm began to itch. When I looked down, I saw what looked like a row of mosquito bites dotting my skin. Makes me wonder: could I have paid for all that pretty new name-brand underwear not only with money but also with some blood?

True, I can’t be absolutely certain that I got those bites in the export surplus shop. The critter—whatever it was—could have bitten me in any one of half a dozen places that I went to yesterday. But the bites are only on my right hand, and it was my right hand that I put into the underwear bin at the surplus store. At one point I put my arm inside all the way to the elbow in order to fish out any other colors I might not have seen—and the bites reach to just beneath my elbow.

I’m thinking that the bug in the underwear bin could be a devilishly simple anti-theft device that the owner puts in just before he closes the store. Since I popped in just before closing time, he must have just put it in, and he didn’t have time to whisk it back out before I started going through the bin.

Well, it’s as good an explanation as any.

Or maybe it’s a warning from the Universe not to put my trust in name brands.

Man, those bites really itch. Anybody got some calamine lotion?

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Obligatory Friday Cat Photos

Here’s a tuxxie on a wall:

Tuxedo kittycat on a wall

A friendly neighbor cat whom I just met shows off his tummy:

Red tabby kittycat shows off his tummy

(Check out this week’s Friday Ark at The Modulator. The Carnival of the Cats will be at IMAO on Sunday.)

More Sunbird Pics

(Click on any image to see a larger version.)

Takeoff ...

Sunbird takes off

Daddy Sunbird on the nest:

Daddy Sunbird on the nest

Mama Sunbird feeds her chicks:

Mama Sunbird feeds her chicks

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Hearing Tommy Sands in Jerusalem

Slightly more than twenty years ago, I was in my bedroom listening to Fiona Ritchie’s program of Celtic music, “The Thistle and Shamrock,” on National Public Radio. One song she played that day has never left my memory. In fact, the impact it made on me was so profound that the moment froze for me like a snapshot: I remember exactly where I was standing when I heard the song, what I was looking at and from what angle.

The song was “There Were Roses” by Tommy Sands, about two young men from northern Ireland, one Catholic and one Protestant, who did not let the troubles around them interfere with their close friendship. When one of the friends was killed by the enemy side, a revenge gang from the victim’s side seized and killed another young man at random in order to avenge their co-religionist’s death. That by itself was dreadful enough, but to add sorrow to sorrow, the young man they killed turned out to have been the first victim’s best friend.

Although I never forgot the song, I didn’t remember the name of the man who wrote it. So when I went to Tommy Sands’s concert in downtown Jerusalem this evening, I was prepared for a concert of wonderful and meaningful music, which the performance certainly was. But nothing prepared me for the jolt I got when Tommy Sands began to introduce “There Were Roses.” I couldn’t believe that more than twenty years and several thousand miles from the place where I first heard the song, I was hearing it performed live by the man who wrote it and who, unfortunately, lived the tragic reality it describes for much of his life.

I guess that explains why Tommy Sands’s music emphasizes healing as much as it does. He wrote a fantastic song together with Pete Seeger about that very subject. He also has some hilarious songs, particularly one that describes how he tries to make breakfast for his two-and-a-half-year-old daughter, who turns out to have a few ideas of her own about what breakfast should be.

Wherever you are, if you get the chance to hear Tommy Sands, grab it and go. (He tours in the United States.) The evening was absolutely delightful. I can’t wait till Tommy Sands comes back to Israel so that I can hear him again.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Modesty or Territoriality?

So the Gerrer rebbe asked for, and received, a woman-free flight on El Al. This was supposedly done for reasons of modesty. But I find myself wondering: Since when has the word “modesty” come to mean “woman-free”?

According to the American Heritage Dictionary definition (via, modesty is defined as 1) the state or quality of being modest; 2) Reserve or propriety in speech, dress or behavior; 3) lack of pretentiousness; simplicity.

No mention of “woman-free” there.

A few weeks ago, I was returning from Bet Shemesh to Jerusalem on a sherut—a taxi van that seats ten passengers. I was the only passenger in the van at that point, and I was sitting in a front-row aisle seat when a young man wearing clothing that identified him as belonging to a particularly strict Jewish group got on. He stopped on the steps leading to the aisle and said, without looking directly at me: “Aht yekhola la’alot le-mala?” (Hebrew: Can you go farther up?)

Since I was following my custom of falling asleep within minutes of boarding a sherut, I didn't realize that he was speaking to me. (The fact that he did not look at me while he spoke didn’t help either.) When I finally realized that he was speaking to me, I looked at him, confused. What on earth did he mean by “farther up”? Where was I supposed to go?

Seeing my confused expression, the young man gestured toward the back of the van.

I looked straight at him and said: “Seliha—ani nisheret po” (Excuse me, I'm staying here).

He got onto the van and sat down in a row of seats behind me. Apparently my refusal to move to the back of the van wasn’t such a serious issue for him after all, since if it had been, he would have found himself another means of transportation. Which leads me to wonder: if the issue wasn’t so important for him that he would not have gotten into the van unless I moved, then why did he ask me to move in the first place?

If he had asked me to move so that he could sit next to a member of his family or so that he would not have to sit between two women (which, actually, is not so much a traditional safeguard against immodesty as it is against sorcery, but that’s another story), I would have understood. But I was the only other passenger in the van. So what was the problem?

Among groups of very strict Jews in Israel, there is a small but persistent movement to shift women to the back of the bus. I have seen stickers made to look as though they were printed by the Egged bus company telling women to sit in the rear portion of articulated buses, and I have seen signs printed up with the seal of a respected rabbinical court stating that certain Egged bus lines are sex-segregated. Of course, the stickers never came from Egged, nor did the signs come from the rabbinical court. So what’s going on here?

Certainly not modesty. Modest people do not demand that others inconvenience themselves for their sake. Nor do modest people demand that an entire sex demean itself so that the other may enjoy what it perceives as an elevated level of holiness. That is not modesty; that is arrogance. True holiness is never achieved at the expense of others.

No, this isn’t about modesty or holiness at all. It’s about territoriality, power and control.

And I don’t like where this is heading. Not at all.

(See my previous posts on this issue here and here.)

Friday, May 12, 2006

Some Pictures from My Latest Excursion

(Click on any image to enlarge it.)

A field and orchard just outside Ra’anannah:

Field and orchard outside Ra’anannah

A few potatoes left in a harvested potato field:

Potatoes left in field

An orange tree in the wild:

Wild oranges

Sumac seed pods:

Sumac seed pods

Sumac flowers, berries and seeds:

Sumac flowers, berries and seeds

A harvested field:

Harvested field near Ra’anannah

A bee covered in sabra blossom pollen:

Bee covered in sabra blossom pollen

A bee checks out a sabra blossom and finds that it is already occupied:

Two bees, one blossom

A flowering bush. I am not sure what kind it is, but the leaves smell minty. It is usually a cultivated plant, so I’m not sure what it’s doing out there:

Flowering bush

Drama in the Garden

Mazal tov—the sunbirds in our garden are parents! Today I found the nest, with the chicks inside. (Click on the images to see a larger version.)

Sunbird nest with young

But being sunbird parents can be rather difficult, especially when you share your living quarters with two cats. I can always tell when the cats are in the garden now because the sunbirds shriek their Predator! Predator! warning and fly about frantically, trying to frighten the cats away. Here are two photos of Daddy Sunbird guarding the chicks. In the second, he is actually on the nest.

Daddy sunbird

Daddy sunbird on nest

Here’s Mama:

Mama sunbird guards her young

And here are the reasons that Mom and Dad Sunbird are so upset:

Her Ladyship in the sunlight

Missy on the alert

Everything’s fine so far, but I don’t envy the sunbirds one bit. They’ve been shrieking their warning and flying about for hours on end. They must be exhausted, poor things.

To the cats’ credit, they haven’t touched the nest, at least as far as I know.

(Check out this week’s Friday Ark at The Modulator. This week’s Carnival of the Cats will be at Watermark on Sunday.)

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Friday, May 05, 2006

Let Dozing Cats Lie

So runs the (slightly reworked) proverb. But Missy doesn’t listen very well.

Her Ladyship snoozes

Missy investigates the drowsy one

Wake up and play with me already!

Yes, Missy woke Her Ladyship up in the end, and Her Ladyship flounced off to find another place to snooze.

(Check out today's Friday Ark at The Modulator. This week’s Carnival of the Cats will be up at Pages Turned this coming Sunday.)

Monday, May 01, 2006

Memorial Day

Helichrysum sanguineum

The deep crimson flower above has many names: red everlasting, cudweed, Helichrysum sanguineum. In Hebrew it is called dam ha-maccabim—blood of the Maccabees.

This is the flower that symbolizes the memorial day for Israel’s fallen soldiers and victims of terror attacks. On this day, which started just a few hours ago and which will end tomorrow night—ushering in the festivities of Independence Day—many people wear special stickers bearing an image of this flower and the Hebrew word nizkor—“We will remember.”

Last week we remembered the millions of Jews who were murdered before they could reach these shores. Today we remember those who paid the ultimate price for our ability to live here as free human beings and as Jews.

Actually, we always remember. Not a day goes by that we do not. But most of the time it is a private remembrance. Today it is a shared, public one.

Here are two of the people I remember:

Rafi, a young man from the Netherlands who was in the midst of his conversion process when I met him in the Sar-El volunteer program in 1991. He was killed in a terrorist drive-by shooting the day after Shavuot in 1994, only three months after he had been married, on his way back from a vacation with his wife at a Gush Katif hotel. One of the medics who tried to resuscitate Rafi recalled that the marks of his tefillin were still visible on his arm when he died. I was listening to the radio when the news broke, but because Rafi had changed his surname since we had last met, I didn’t realize he was the one who had been murdered until I saw his photograph on the front page of the newspaper the next morning. One of the last times I saw Rafi was at the annual Yom ha-Shoah memorial service at Yad Vashem. I was there with my ulpan class; he was there in IDF uniform as a Sar-El volunteer.

Sara, a member of my women’s tefilla group and the first of us to take a stand on wearing a tallit during our services. At her urging we held an evening of learning and debate about the issue. Well into the evening, Sara told us that she had to leave a little early because she was going on a trip to Petra with her fiancé early the following morning. We said goodbye and wished her a good trip. The next morning, the No. 18 bus on which Sara and her fiancé were traveling was blown up by a terrorist. It was February 1996. They had planned to go to Petra; they never even made it to the Central Bus Station.

Some years ago I learned that the essential oil of the helichrysum plant heals hurts and bruises. Since then I have wondered whether that might, on some level, however unconscious, have anything at all to do with the fact that this flower was chosen as the symbol of one of the most painful days in our calendar.

We go on ... but we always remember.