Friday, February 27, 2009

After Twenty Years, They Still Don’t Get Us

When my friend called to tell me that there was an article about Women of the Wall's Rosh Hodesh service last Wednesday morning on Ynet, she may have been a bit surprised by my reaction. Instead of being excited, I let out a sigh.

In all my years as a member of Women of the Wall—and, these days, its prayer leader much of the time—I have seen only very few articles in the media that seemed to capture who we were, or that were written out of an honest desire to do so. Over the years, most of them, including those that appear in the Israeli media, have done any one or any combination of the following: made wild accusations against us (such as that we are trying to destroy Judaism—by praying, of all things! Go figure); dismissed us as a bunch of crazy foreigners, emphasized the aspect of conflict between ourselves and our detractors, or completely ignored what I see as the core aspect of our identity: a women's prayer group run according to Halakha (Jewish law) that welcomes all Jewish women regardless of affiliation or level of observance.

(Since the 1970s, dozens of such Jewish women’s prayer groups, known informally as women's tefilla groups, or WTGs, have been established throughout the world, some with the active support of the local rabbinic authority. Although they are still controversial in some communities, today, as far as I know, they are much more mainstream.)

As anyone who has been in this country for any length of time knows, the Israeli media is fond of kassah—conflict, the louder the better. Just look at our political talk shows, in which everyone screams at everyone else and no one can get a word in edgewise. It’s not about the justice of one’s cause or the facts that one cites to support it. It's about the number of decibels that one can blast into a studio microphone.

What took place at the Western Wall on the second day of Rosh Hodesh Adar was a prayer service, plain and simple. It was beautiful, heartfelt, vital and harmonious. While there was, unfortunately, some shouting, there was no violence whatsoever. I was honored to lead our guests, a group of approximately one hundred women rabbis of the Reform Movement who have come here for an important conference, in prayer at Judaism’s holiest accessible site. We prayed. End of story.

But to my regret, rather than focusing on our prayer, the article (and other similar ones; see below for links) chose to concentrate on a brief and insignificant incident that was much more sound than substance. I suppose this is because most prayer services don’t make the news, which is as it should be. But kassah makes the news because kassah sells—even when it is exaggerated and embellished.

After twenty years, they still don’t get us. It doesn’t surprise me, but it does make me sad.

A final note: in most of the press articles about us, Rabbi Rabinovitch, the administrative director of the Western Wall (and I stress that he is a government employee who is in charge of the Wall’s administration, not the rabbi of the Wall as some mistakenly believe—there is no such position) was quoted as saying that we usually pray at the archaeological area at Robinson’s Arch. He is only partially correct. On Rosh Hodesh Adar, we began our prayer service—as we do every month, and as we have done every month since our group was established—in the ever-shrinking women’s section of the Western Wall, and moved to the archaeological area only later. The fact that Rabbi Rabinovitch evidently doesn’t know that we pray in the women’s section of the Western Wall every month would seem to be further proof of how quiet and unobtrusive our prayer services are.

(For reference, here are links to the articles in question: Ynet in English, Ynet in Hebrew, Haaretz in English, and the JTA).

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Because I Had To

This was filmed locally by someone whose YouTube handle is “MinisterOfCats.” Gotta love that.

Jerusalem’s Coolest Kitties, with an excellent soundtrack (explanation included on the YouTube page):

(The vocalist is the late folk singer Cisco Houston. Read about him here. Thanks to blues and folk music maven Eli Marcus for the info.)

The Friday Ark. The Carnival of the Cats.

It’s a Translator’s Life

My friend Sharon Neeman tells us what it’s like to be a freelance translator: 5000 Words.

If you are, or have ever been, a freelance translator, you’ll understand exactly what Sharon’s talking about.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Haveil Havalim Is Up

The current edition of Haveil Havalim comes to us all the way from Australia, at Sarah’s View. The miracle of the Internet!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Excuse Me, What Country Is This Again? (Or How Old Is This Globe?)

When I was at the International Book Fair last week, I saw this poster at the entrance:

Ad at the book fair

It looked nice enough... until I got closer and looked for Israel, which is so tiny that its name doesn’t even fit within its borders on the globe.

This is what I found:

Close-up of globe in book fair ad

Palestine? Say what?

Ummm... when exactly is this globe from? Before 1948, surely... but then, it doesn’t look old enough to be a collector’s item. Or was the advertising agency privy to some momentous news from the UN that, for some incredible reason, never reached the rest of the world?

When I called it to the attention of the company’s staff at the book fair, they dismissed my concerns politely, saying that they were not responsible. Of course they weren’t, but that wasn’t the point. Also, here in Israel, I have noticed that Hebrew-speakers sometimes don’t consider accuracy and availability in English all that important. Websites are a case in point: all too often, the Hebrew version is as complete as can be while the English one is barely functional.

But getting back to the matter at hand: I seem to remember a controversy several years ago over a globe-manufacturing company that refused (for completely innocent reasons, I’m sure) to include the name of Israel among the countries it depicted. Too bad that this bookseller’s marketing people didn’t look more closely at the ad before they approved it.

And since the book fair is over, what a shame that it’s too late to follow the excellent example of Treppenwitz and give them a call.

Encyclopedia of Jewish Women about to Go Online

An important resource—and, for the sake of fair disclosure, a project on which I worked for several years—is about to go online:

The Jewish Women’s Archive (JWA) announces the launch of the first comprehensive online source for the history of Jewish women. On March 1, 2009, Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia—which includes over 1,700 biographies, 300 thematic essays, and 1,400 photographs and illustrations—goes live on JWA’s website,
Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia represents a huge advance for the fields of history and women’s studies,” said Gail Reimer, Ph.D., Executive Director of the Jewish Women's Archive. The Encyclopedia was previously available only on CD-ROM. Reimer notes, “In its CD-ROM form, the Encyclopedia was expensive and not widely accessible, so we are delighted to make this important resource available online and usable at no cost. We’ve taken history out of the locked vaults of physical repositories and put it into the hands of Internet users all over the world.”

Those who are interested in previewing and testing the Encyclopedia can do so here.

And as of March 1, the entire Encyclopedia will be available, for free, here.

(Hat-tip to my dear friend, Aliza Berger-Cooper, for drawing my attention to this.)

Friday, February 20, 2009

Black and White in the Light

With thunderstorms in the forecast for tomorrow (thank goodness!), I give you a photo of Missy taking a bath in the sun:

Missy washing in the sun

The Friday Ark. The Carnival of the Cats.

Context Is All

My friend Katie Green, an independent film director, on why Ari Folman’s film should not win an Academy Award: Please, No Oscar for “Waltz With Bashir.”

The film is by any standards a magnificent piece of art. If Ari Folman had climbed into a time machine, gone back 20 years, and taken a professional cameraman with him into the Lebanon war, he could not have come back with more emotive and meaningful material than what he has recalled from memory and projected onto the screen. And his film is a work of great emotional depth and sensitivity. For the purposes of internal national debate, this is a film that every Israeli should see.
However, a glaring omission is immediately apparent at the film's beginning, which intensifies as it progresses: no reason, rhyme or context is given for the war. No enemy is depicted to speak of. Although the faces of Israeli friends, soldiers, therapists and politicians are lovingly illustrated in close-up all the way through the film, the enemy being engaged has no name and no face. Only once in the film is a teenage boy with an RPG on his back, brought into focus, and it is not clear who he belongs to, or what he is fighting for.
The eerie backdrop against which the film plays out is that the enemy hardly exists at all, or that he is a figment of the Israeli imagination. Soldiers are cut to pieces by sniper fire, but who are the snipers? Gunmen shoot down from balconies and roofs, but which army or political faction do they represent? Palestinian terrorists are sought in streets, orchards and refugee camps but why are they relevant to Israel, if they are operating in Lebanon? A viewer who knows nothing of the background to this conflict could be forgiven for believing that thousands of Israeli soldiers simply woke up one morning and decided to go to Lebanon to kill people.

Read the whole thing.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

From the Sublime to the... Oh, You Decide

Seen at the International Book Fair in Jerusalem:

A volume of the Jewish National Fund’s Golden Book. Dating back to the early twentieth century—the era of Theodor Herzl—it is more than a century old. The twenty-six volumes of the Golden Book contain the names of every single person who has ever donated to the JNF. All the names are now stored electronically.

JNF Golden Book

And now for the second photo: a pen that advertises a particular drug (whose name I prefer not to type here so as not to attract a certain type of visitor whom we all prefer to avoid, I’m sure):

Effective advertising

Only here’s the kicker: the pen doesn’t write. How’s that for effective advertising?

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Lots of Pictures

Here are some of the pictures I took recently. First, the sky at sunset over the Malha Technological Park:

The sky at sunset over Malha

A fiery sunset there, just a few moments later:

Fiery sunset

Some tree bark, in what looks like different stages of formation:

Tree bark

In Bitan Aharon, a small rural community in the north, is a lane of banyan trees. Just across the street is a wedding hall that borders on a walking trail that looks out onto the entire Sharon region. Here is the lane of banyan trees with a couple that has come to be photographed there. The photographer who is working with them can also be seen:

Wedding photo

Here is the view of the Sharon region:

A view of Israel's Sharon region

Here is an old wooden railway car, just next to the wedding hall. You can still see the rooms and closets inside. My friend and I saw several couples and two bat-mitzva girls take pictures there:

Moon, train, tree

In Bitan Aharon is a sanctuary for donkeys and horses. Here is a donkey—a burro, perhaps?

Burro at the Bitan Aharon horse and donkey sanctuary

Closer to home, here is a row of tulips interspersed with cyclamens:

Tulips and cyclamens

Finally, the inside of a tulip. Looks a bit like neon to me:

Neon tulip

(This post has been submitted to the JPix carnival, which will be up at Here in HP on March 2.)

Big Cats, Little Cats and a Memorial to a Dear Friend

This past Thursday, we gathered at the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo in order to dedicate the new lab named for my dear friend Bev and see the equipment that had been donated in her name. (Take a look over here for some of the pictures I took at the memorial. Here is one, below:)

Photo montage

After the outdoor ceremony, with its moving speeches by Bev’s friends and colleagues, followed by songs she loved, we went inside the animal hospital building to see the new equipment. On a door facing the large memorial plaque that had been mounted on the wall was the following sign:

Here there be tigers

“Tiger free inside. Open the door carefully!”

Indeed, inside was a ravenous Sumatran tiger by the name of Sylvester. Here is the fearsome creature, chowing down:

Sylvester the tiger cub

I got to pet him. I got to pet a tiger! (It only made me miss Bev all the more, though, since I remembered how she let me pet Roo, the Persian leopard cub that she hand-raised, when he was very little.)

(Check out some information on the Sumatran tiger here.)

When I first met Bev, she had four or five cats whom she cared for with her love and boundless knowledge of animals. All of them lived well into old age. When I was helping to care for the Lady in Red, Bev was one of the people who held my hand and recommended the veterinarian who saved her life, enabling her to live out her last year and a half in comfort and good health. So here, in Bev’s honor, are photos of two cats of the smaller kind. First, Her Ladyship among the tulips:

Cat, tulip, tree

Next, here is the torbie who is being cared for by people in the next building:

Kitty on a car

Quite a few close friends of mine have died over the past several years. Each of those losses has been difficult, but Bev’s death hit me the hardest. Even now, I feel her loss as sharply as I did the moment that I first found out about it, and I know that other friends of hers feel the same. I suppose that is a testimony to just how special Bev was.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Inside the Orange Flower

Inside the orange flower

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

This Week’s Cat Photos

First, a twofer. Her Ladyship and Missy are telling my friend, their human companion, that they are far more worthy of attention than the newspapers that she is sorting:


A local cat lounges on a bed of sorrel:

A cat in sorrel

The Friday Ark. The Carnival of the Cats.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

A Double Rainbow in Jerusalem

While I was at work this morning, I happened to look toward the window... and...

Double rainbow in Jerusalem

Wow. Oh, wow.

By the way: did you know that in Jewish tradition, there is a blessing to be recited upon seeing a rainbow? You can read the text here.