Friday, December 29, 2006

Cats at Rest

Big Sister and Little Brother from the colony at work:

Cats at rest

(Check out the 119th edition of the Friday Ark at The Modulator. The next Carnival of the Cats will be at Watermark on Sunday.)

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

How Tiny We Are

This is absolutely mindblowing.

Here is an animated version. (It includes the Death Star from Star Wars. Nice touch!)


It’s snowing—and the snow is sticking!

Snow in Jerusalem

Snow in Jerusalem

Snow in Jerusalem

Snow in Jerusalem

Friday, December 22, 2006

Eighth Night

Outside, the light begins its return, and inside, the light is at full strength.

Eighth night of Hanukkah, 5767

Bullies on the Bus

I have been reading responses throughout the Jewish blogosphere to the vile and cowardly attack that Miriam Shear suffered on the No. 2 bus line in Jerusalem several weeks ago, and I find some of the responses almost as horrifying as the report of the attack itself.

I strongly object to the use of modesty as the reason why four bullies ganged up on Ms. Shear and beat, kicked and spat on her when she refused an inappropriate demand to move to the back of the bus. I also object to the appalling tendency I have noticed in several blogs’ comment sections to blame the victim by saying such things as: Well, she was looking for a fight and she got one, or: She only sat where she did in order to make a statement, or: She should have moved to the back of the bus in order to avoid conflict, because that is how truly modest people behave.

In other words, they say, Ms. Shear deserved what she got because she didn’t know her place. She should have given in to the bullies.

To those who truly believe that, I have the following challenge. Ask yourselves honestly: What would you do if someone were to beat up your mother, sister, wife or daughter on a public bus?

You would punch their lights out and ask questions later.

Modesty does not mean being a doormat. Nor does it mean ganging up on other people and beating and kicking them in order to make a point. Modest people mind their own business and do not bully others. So let’s not fool ourselves. The attack on Ms. Shear had nothing at all to do with modesty and everything to do with power, control and defending turf.

The Hebrew word mehader comes from the word hadar, which means “beauty” or “splendor.” The literal meaning of the word “mehader” is “one who beautifies.” It is also related to the phrase hiddur mitzvah—the act of putting special effort into the fulfillment of a particular commandment. Similarly, the word “mehader” refers to a person who is meticulous in observing the commandments. Its plural form, mehadrin, is often used to describe any product or service, such as the supervision of kosher food or the quality of a ritual object, that conforms to the highest standards of Jewish law. I understand that the proper word is actually “la-mehadrin”—“for the mehadrin”—meaning that the product or service is specifically meant for meticulously observant people. Over the past several years, the prefix has been dropped, and the word “mehadrin” now describes the product or service itself rather than its intended consumers.

When applied to public transportation, the word “mehadrin” refers to sex-segregated buses. To my mind, that is a misnomer. I see nothing beautiful or splendid about seeking to impose an unnecessary and invasive restriction upon an unwilling population. Jewish law does not require separate seating on public transportation. Even if it did, there is no excuse for the ugly, arrogant and brutal behavior of the bullies who attacked Ms. Shear.

A campaign to segregate Egged's 1 and 2 bus lines in Jerusalem has been going on for years, and it is obvious that the supposed advocates of modesty are not above using deception in order to get what they want. I remember seeing, approximately eight years ago, photocopied signs taped to bus stops at the beginning of the route just outside the Old City stating that the 1 and 2 lines now required separate seating. The sign-makers had photocopied the seal of a well-known Haredi rabbinical court—a familiar image that can be lifted easily from most products available in local supermarkets, from canned fruit to laundry detergent—onto the signs in an attempt to give them legitimacy and authority. (Fortunately the 38 line, the minibus that travels between the Old City and the main part of downtown, appears to have escaped this nonsense so far.)

At that same time, stickers began to appear on articulated buses, stating that these vehicles should be sex-segregated, with men in the front and women in the back, citing a phrase from Tractate Berakhot 61a of the Babylonian Talmud: “Aharei ari ve-lo aharei isha” (“It is better to walk behind a lion than behind a woman”). The stickers were red and white, like other official Egged stickers, though of course Egged had nothing to do with their production or distribution. The campaign also includes outright lies. Only several weeks ago I saw large posters in the Geula neighborhood exulting that lines 1 and 2 are “now mehadrin,” when in fact they do not require separate seating.

Does anyone remember Naomi Ragen's story about what happened to her several years ago on a bus to Jerusalem’s Ramot neighborhood? A man demanded that she move to the back of the bus, and when she refused, he abused her verbally until he reached his stop. The driver did nothing.

It appears that things have only gotten worse since then.

I would feel more comfortable if the bus bullies and their sympathizers simply told the truth. They couldn’t care less about modesty. What they care about is power, and their actions—bullying, lies and deception—show that they don’t care very much about how they get it. In order to get the control they crave, they violate the very ethics that they claim to value, and they desecrate the very name of the God Whose law they claim to uphold.

Mehadrin, indeed.

Beauty? Splendor? Show me where.

(Interested readers can read about my own encounters with bus bullying here, here and here.)

Gold Dipped in Amber

Or should that be “amber dipped in gold”?

Some pictures of the breathtakingly beautiful Cheeto:

Cheeto from above

Cheeto and his golden eye

Cheeto the Clean Kittycat

(Catch the 118th edition of the Friday Ark at The Modulator. This week’s Carnival of the Cats will be at IMAO on Sunday.)

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Seventh Night

On the longest night of the year, the light is at almost full strength.

Seventh night of Hanukkah, 5767

Tummy Thursday

Oh, all right, so I’m late. But here is an entire tummy study to make up for it.

Resting state. The cat is about to begin a stretch:

Tabby cat stretches: 1

An excellent start ...

Tabby cat stretches: 2

What form! What grace! What elegance! What fuzz!

Tabby cat stretches: 3

Returning to resting state:

Tabby cat stretches: 4

Yeah, I think I’ll give that a perfect 10.

Check out Lisaviolet’s site for lots of lovely kitty tummies.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Monday, December 18, 2006

Menorah of Courage

This post originally ran on May 4, 2005.

Menorah in window opposite town hall of Kiel, Germany, 1933

There is a famous photograph of a Hanukkah menorah in a window opposite the town hall of Kiel in Germany. The year is 1933, and the building that the menorah faces is decorated with a Nazi flag. The photograph always makes me think of David and Goliath, except that here, David did not dispatch the enemy with one blow. Instead, it was Goliath who attacked—with unparalleled cruelty and viciousness—and David who survived, after bleeding almost to death.

I saw the photograph for the first time in A Different Light, a book about Hanukkah. Soon after I got it, I read it from beginning to end and discovered the photograph, which made a strong impression on me.

Several months after I received the book, I spent Shabbat with friends of mine in a town near Jerusalem. At lunch, a woman at the table asked: “Has anyone ever seen the menorah at the home of the M. family? It appears in a famous photograph”—and she proceeded to describe the very same picture I had seen in the book. I couldn’t believe my ears. The M. family lived on the same street where I was staying, only a few houses away from my friends’ home.

After Shabbat I went to the M. family’s home and asked to see the menorah. The family graciously allowed me to look at it, touch it and hold it, and they told me its story.

The menorah had belonged to the town rabbi, a direct ancestor of the M. family. At approximately the time the photograph was taken, the rabbi denounced the Nazis from his pulpit. Understanding the danger he was in, his congregants begged him to get out of Germany, and although he resisted at first, in the end they persuaded him. He immigrated to pre-state Palestine together with his family, who brought the menorah with them.

When I got home later that night, I e-mailed the author of the book. “You’ll never believe what I just saw and held,” I wrote. The author put me in touch with an archivist at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC, and in turn I put her in touch with the M. family. The story of the menorah and the rabbi who defied the Nazis from his windowsill and from his pulpit is now properly archived in the museum.

Recently the M. family was blessed with a grandchild. As he grows up, he will learn the story of his courageous ancestor and the menorah he brought from darkness to light.

Fourth Night

Tonight, the light balances the darkness:

Fourth night of Hanukkah, 5767

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Third Night

Happy third night of Hanukkah!

Third night of Hanukkah

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Second Night

Shavua tov and hag sameah (happy holiday)!

Second night of Hanukkah, 5767

And thanks to Meryl for starting the custom of the Virtual Menorah (or, as we say here, hanukkiyyah).

One Man’s Reply to Haman and His “Conference”

Eugene, a blogger from New York, tells how his granddad invented the Holocaust.

Sandy Cash quotes Eugene’s post in its entirety in her excellent Israel Diary. I excerpt it here:

My grandfather and his sister had many relatives. The exact count is not known. My grandfather used to know, but, as time went by and his mind weakened, his estimates started to vary. Somewhere around 20 seems to be about the right number. You can count 16 in the group photo from 1940, or is it 1941, that I have seen. You only get 8, I think, if you count the names mentioned in the yellowed letter. Yes, I think it’s 8 names that the neighbor lists as my grandfather’s relatives who were lined up outside the village and shot by Germans and Ukrainians in 1941. It’s 8 if you just count the names, but then the letter does refer to “and everyone else.” I don’t remember the names. I haven’t seen the letter for a while. My grandmother had it, but she has given it to a museum. I live on a different continent now. This doesn’t mean these people never were. First, they lived, and then they were dead. It is a fact. I had relatives, before I was born. It is a fact. I have seen the letter.
That is not all, though. My grandfather said that when he had returned from the war, he went home. Home to his Mama. He said that when he had got there, a Ukrainian woman neighbor opened the door. To be clear, that’s not the same neighbor as the one who wrote the letter. He had remembered the neighbor well. The neighbor was wearing his mother’s pendant, and had opened his mother’s door. His mother wasn’t there because she was dead. So was his sister, and the rest of his relatives. Whether there were 8 or 16 of them, or, may be, more, because some had not made it into the group photo, they were all no longer. First, they were, and then they were not. It is a fact. I have heard my grandfather tell the story and cry. 40 years on, and he still cried. It made me sad that they were dead... Silly, I have never met these people.
Apparently, when my grandfather returned home and saw the neighbor with the pendant and all, he understood. He said she had told him, but she needn’t have. He was gray when he woke up the next morning. I suppose it is possible that he went gray gradually, over the years, but he said it had happened overnight. I don’t know if it’s true, because I wasn’t there, and my grandmother didn’t know my grandfather then, so she can’t say, and he didn’t have any relatives who were alive, so they would not have been able to confirm it, and he didn’t have any friends left in the village, because they were all in the same ravine as his relatives, but I believe him. I don’t think he would have lied about that. 1945 – 1941 + 17 = 21.
My father knows where the ravine is. He has seen it. He never lived in that village, but he went there to see it, just this year. He says he saw a collective headstone. I know he did, because I have seen the photo of the headstone that he took. He says he spoke to an old Ukrainian woman who told him how it had happened. She was a child at the time, and she was there. I have seen her photo. I wasn’t there, but I believe him. He would not have made it up.
My father went to the archives when he was there, and he got the names. I don’t have the photocopy of the list of the dead, but he does. A long list of names with my, very rare, last name. They don’t mean much to me, but these names once were. It is a fact.
I have no cousins. I have no second cousins. I have no third cousins on my father’s side. I have no fourth cousins on my father’s side. How long is the list of natural numbers? If you get to the end of the list, which is not a mathematical possibility, I don’t have those cousins on my father’s side. I have never been to a large gathering of my family – there is not much of it to gather. My father’s father was lucky – he played the trumpet far away from home that year. My father’s father begot my father. My father begot me. That is it on that side. It is a fact.
Now, the President of Iran and a group of assorted nut-jobs that the Associated (with Terrorists) Press has dignified by referring to as “scholars” are holding a “Holocaust Conference.” They would have me believe that my family never was. My grandfather, apparently, made up his story about having a family of 16, or whatever that number was, and then not having it. Part of a grandiose conspiracy spanning the continents and dozens of languages, deep inside the Soviet Union, which a mouse could not have entered unnoticed, not knowing a word of Hebrew or English or whatever other language my people had conspired to dupe the world about their suffering in, my grandfather joined the millions of those who invented their loss. I have not seen the letter. If I have, it was a fake. The edges must have been held up to the lamp to make them look yellow and old. The smudges of the ink were not those from tears, but from tap water. My father cannot speak Ukrainian, and if he does, he made it all up. The group photo that I have not seen is of paid extras. Their similarity to me is striking, but that is just a ruse. I have not seen my grandfather cry, and if I did, he was faking it. There was never a neighbor. There was never a house. There was never a pendant. There was never a mother. There was never a sister. Everyone goes gray at some point. The photo my grandfather never clutched was a cut-out of a model from a house and garden magazine. There were never “and everyone else.” There was never a child who saw. My father lied about it. And if he didn’t, he was duped – the old woman invented the story. The photocopy is just that, a poor quality copy of a piece of paper. The ground beneath the stone is empty.
There is a method to this madness. If you prove that one invented one’s past suffering, one’s future suffering does not seem as atrocious. No reason to feel bad about exterminating a people who have pretended to have been part-exterminated before – they are just getting what they have been faking all along. If my grandfather’s family did not exist, when I go, who is to say I ever was here?
My family was. I am. I will be. It is a fact. I will beget children. My children will beget their children. My children’s children will beget their children. Till the end of time. It is a fact. Screw you, Ahmadinejad.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Why I Love Living in Israel: Reason No. 5,238.2

Just look at these fruits and veggies.

Fruits and vegetables for sale

And those artichokes. Especially the artichokes.

In Israel, many fruit and vegetable vendors give away their produce at the end of the day. So does at least one bakery. Treppenwitz tells us more in a post that is several weeks old, but always timely. (By the way, go vote for him.)

Tuxxie Model

Hi there, lovely tuxxie! May I take your picture, please?

Tux leaning on pipe

Thank you very much!

(Catch the 117th edition of the Friday Ark at The Modulator. The next Carnival of the Cats will be up on Sunday at House of Chaos.)

A Tough Decision

It’s important to me to finish what I start. But today, I had to make the most difficult decision that I’ve had to make in a long time: the decision to bow out.

I won’t go into detail here, but I will say this: the project was, and is, something very special. I wanted very much to be a part of it, and even though I’m no longer involved in it, I still support it.

Sometimes, things don’t work out the way we think they will. And sometimes, when that happens, we can’t stick around, no matter how much we would like to.

The decision wasn’t easy by any stretch. I agonized over it for days. But today I did what I felt I had to do in order to preserve my own health and sanity.

It’s a disappointment, but that’s the way life is sometimes. I’m fine, and I’ll get over it.



Sunday, December 10, 2006

Another Reason I Love the Internet

“Allah be praised! I’ve invented the zero!”
“What’s that?”
“Nothing, nothing.”

The above quote is from a segment of the wonderful short film, Why Man Creates, which I saw first in elementary school and then again in high school. Although I never knew much about the film and can’t even claim to have understood it all that well, I never forgot it.

Recently I found a review of Why Man Creates during a spur-of-the-moment Internet search. And as I read quotes such as the following, I wanted to shout: “Oh, yes, I remember that!”

In “A Parable” a ping pong ball is created in a ping pong ball factory, proves too high a jumper to fit in with all the other ping pong balls, is disposed of on the street, despairs, recovers, joyously bounces into traffic and across a busy intersection, finds a park where other discarded ping pong balls live, then bounces into the sky, never to seen again. The sequence concludes:
There are some who say he’s coming back and we have to wait ...
There are some who say he burst up there because ball was not meant to fly ...
And there are some who maintain he landed safely in a place where balls bounce high ...

But what stood out for me the most was the following quote:

Why Man Creates was frequently screened in elementary and high school classrooms across the United States throughout the late 1960s and much of the 1970s. Many adults who were schoolchildren during this time have extremely fond memories of Bass’s film.

Oh, yes.

Until I read that article I had no idea who Saul Bass was or that he designed titles for films such as the Hitchcock classics Psycho, North by Northwest and Vertigo. Thanks to the Internet, now I know. I also know something else: I am going to buy myself a DVD of Why Man Creates for my next birthday. I’ve missed that fantastic film and wanted to see it again for ages.

Heck, why wait all the way till spring? Maybe I’ll get it for Hanukkah.

UPDATE: Watch the famous segment of the film, “The Edifice,” here. It is a brief animated history of the world, very cleverly and delightfully done.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

A Small Challenge

There’s a lion in this picture.

Jaffa Street scene

(Click to embiggen.)

See it?

Rest in Peace, Piper

Sad news: Piper, one of Laurence Simon’s three cats, passed away suddenly yesterday.

Seeing Piper on Laurence’s catcams always gave my day a lift. Although I never got to meet her, I felt like I knew her, and I will miss her, along with her many other Internet fans.

My deepest condolences to Laurence and Gina, and to Nardo and Frisky too.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

First Shepherd’s Purse of the Season

Or at least the first that I’ve seen since the rains began.

(Click to embiggen.)

Friday Cats

Yesterday I was out the door before sunup and got back only a few minutes before Shabbat. Hence, no posting.

But now there’s time to post some pictures of the lovely tux I met yesterday. Here he is:




Check out the 115th edition of the Friday Ark up at The Modulator. This week’s Carnival of the Cats will be up at Catymology.