Saturday, December 31, 2005

Hanukkah 5766, Seventh Night

Seventh night of Hanukkah, 5766

(I’m using a slightly different system tonight. See?)

Friday, December 30, 2005

Hanukkah 5766: Sixth Night (lit early for Shabbat)

Sixth night of Hanukkah, 5766

On Friday night the hanukkiyyah is lit early, with enough oil (or candles large enough) to burn half an hour past nightfall.

Shabbat shalom and happy Hanukkah!

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Hanukkah 5766, Fourth Night

Hanukkah 5766, Fourth Night

Hanukkah 5766: Third Night

Taken at Kibbutz Tzora, at the gathering to mark a month since Ray’s passing.

Third light of Hanukkah 5766, taken at Kibbutz Tzora

Monday, December 26, 2005

Hanukkah 5766: Second Night

(I can’t really say “second candle,” can I?)

Hanukkiyyah lit for second night of Hanukkah

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Hanukkah 5766: First Night

First night of Hanukkah 5766

Happy Hanukkah!

Here’s what Hanukkah is about, and why we celebrate.

If Irving Berlin Were Alive and Writing in Jerusalem Today ...

Jerusalem Egged bus makes a splash

... he’d be dreaming of a wet Christmas, not a white one. There was snow in the forecast for Jerusalem, but alas, in the end it never came. The Hermon and the north got plenty, though not enough to close schools on the Golan Heights, so the radio news said—my sympathies, kids.

But we got rain. Lots and lots of rain, a bit of sleet, thunder and lightning—the whole works. The radio news noted this morning that the Kinneret rose seven centimeters over the weekend. Now that’s a lovely gift for the first night of Hanukkah.

But I’m still waiting for snow.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Holiday Wishes

Merry Christmas to all my Christian readers.

And a Happy New Year, too!

Here’s a site dedicated to The Yule Log for those who are interested (and who remember the New York television program).

Tomorrow I have to be at work at 6 a.m. But don’t worry about me—have fun! (Heh. How’s that for a bit of Jewish guilt mixed in?)

Cool Downtown Cats

A Jerusalem torbie ...

A Jerusalem torbie

... and a tux.

A Jerusalem tuxedo cat

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

Happy Anniversary, Haveil Havalim

The first anniversary edition of Haveil Havalim is up (and I’m still catching up).

Friday, December 23, 2005

On Again, Off Again (Mostly Off)

So I bring my computer into the shop for some necessary work. I get it back, hook it up, boot it ...

... and my monitor crashes.

Turns out that my computer had configured itself to the monitor in the shop, and my monitor at home couldn’t handle the new settings. It crashed so quickly that I didn’t even get a chance to reconfigure it. So I’ve been off-line at home for the past several days.

Now I have a temporary monitor, thanks to a good-hearted person I know. It should be just fine until my own monitor is repaired early next week (I hope).

Isn’t technology wonderful?

I’ve made some good changes, though. I now have Open Office and am using Thunderbird for e-mail (thanks to Laurence Simon, who gave me the idea).

Monday, December 19, 2005

Refuge and Solace

The ninety-first Carnival of the Cats is up at Music and Cats, whose name is based on an saying by Albert Schweitzer: “There are two means of refuge from the miseries of life: music and cats.”

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Remembering Ray Scudero

Barry Davis of the Jerusalem Post remembers Ray.

Ray Scudero was a rare breed of man and artist. In a world where, like it or not, marketing and image-promotion is all part and parcel of a musician’s life and livelihood Scudero just got on with the business of performing, and recording himself and others quietly, professionally and with great sensitivity.
I first met Scudero, who died earlier this month at the age of 59, on a rainy day five or six years ago in his Kiryat Yovel apartment in Jerusalem before he relocated to Karkur. I spent several hours in his company and was enthralled by his stories and, more so, by the way he retold them. But, then, Scudero was a storyteller par excellence.
Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York Scudero started his performing career in Greenwich Village in 1962. This was the heyday of the folk scene when the likes of Bob Dylan and Joan Baez were springing thought-provoking lyrics on an unsuspecting but thirsty public, and the spirit of those artistically formative years was to leave a telling imprint on Scudero’s life and work.
I was also struck by Scudero’s inquisitive mind. He had put together a home studio with his own bare hands and, besides writing and performing his own material, had devoted much of his time investigating, and mastering, the mysteries of electronics, physics, acoustics, fluid dynamics and sound engineering. He very much gave the image of a free-spirited man who pursued his own truth in his own way.

I feel I should add just one thing. A bit later in the article, Barry Davis refers to me as a singer-songwriter. With all due respect to him, I feel I must correct the error: at this point, I’m not.

But he is right about everything else. Ray was extraordinary.

I’ll start posting some of my recollections of him in a few more weeks, I think.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

A Great Place to Go When You Have the Flu (and Even When You Don’t)

The Modulator’s Friday Ark.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Western Wall Renovations II

Last September I posted here about The Incredible Shrinking Women’s Section at the Western Wall. Twelve days later, I received a comment from Yaakov Reichert of the Western Wall Foundation addressing my concerns. (Haloscan gets a raspberry here. They’re supposed to e-mail me all the comments I receive, and since they don’t always do that, I didn’t see Mr. Reichert’s response until today. And I’m paying for Haloscan’s services. Feh.)

Without further ado, here is most of Mr. Reichert’s response, copied from the comments section of that post:

As you described in your blog, quite well, the women’s section seems to have shrunk as a result of the work being done on the Mughrabi Ascent. Since the earth quake, which you have mentioned, it is no longer safe to be used as an ascent to the Mughrabi Gate. Currently we are working to excavate it to see what we will find underneath. As I’m sure you are aware the entire area is rich with historical treasures hidden and buried. Since we do not know what we will find it is hard to tell how long the excavations will take. We truly are sorry for the inconvenience.
Since we were concerned with the women losing space from the already crowded prayer area before we started with the excavations we expanded the section backwards. While it is hardly an alternative to having an expansive area next to the Western Wall itself it is a temporary measure while we are excavating. When we are finished we plan to return the women’s to it’s [sic] original width and depending on what we find we might be able to expand it as well.
In response to Balabusta in Blue Jeans inquiry: “Do you know if there’s a webcam that focuses on the women’s side?” The camera is not directed towards the women’s section so as not to offend the ultra religious community since they would see it as a violation of the laws of modesty.
Please feel free to write to me with any other inquiries.

All right. Where do I start?

“... the women’s section seems to have shrunk ...”

Seems to have shrunk, Mr. Reichert? No. It has shrunk. Maybe you should take a closer look at the before-and-after pictures, and speak to some of the women who go there. I have, and they’re not any happier about it than I am.

“As I’m sure you are aware the entire area is rich with historical treasures hidden and buried. Since we do not know what we will find it is hard to tell how long the excavations will take. We truly are sorry for the inconvenience.”

Well, I suppose it’s nice that you regret the inconvenience. And truly, I do understand how important it is to excavate the area. Nevertheless, why must the women be the only ones to bear the burden of the changes at the site? Why can’t the men shoulder some of it so that the women’s area won’t be so terribly cramped? And by the way, whatever happened to the temporary mehitza that was placed in the men’s section in order to give the women more room? Who had it removed, and why?

“Since we were concerned with the women losing space from the already crowded prayer area before we started with the excavations we expanded the section backwards.”

Yes, and that was a pretty backward move. See above.

“When we are finished we plan to return the women’s to it’s [sic] original width and depending on what we find we might be able to expand it as well.”

So when all this is done, the women who come to pray at the Western Wall will have the same amount of space they had before—still substantially less than the men’s area—along with a vague assurance of more space, if possible. Come on, Mr. Reichert. Talk is cheap. If you are really interested in making room for women at the Western Wall, move the mehitza.

Last, but not least: “In response to Balabusta in Blue Jeans inquiry: ‘Do you know if there’s a webcam that focuses on the women’s side?’ The camera is not directed towards the women’s section so as not to offend the ultra religious community since they would see it as a violation of the laws of modesty.”

Mr. Reichert, members of the ultra-religious community are by far not the only ones who visit the site. In fact, many of them are not even permitted Internet access according to their own religious principles. So surely you can accommodate those of us for whom the sight of a woman is harmless and inoffensive. How can you allow one sector of the Jewish community to control what the rest of us see? By the way, I just saw the pitch for donations on the camera page. Why should I donate to your effort if it crowds women out both visually and spatially?

Here’s an idea: how about putting in another camera just for the women’s section, with its own separate link? I can’t think that would offend even the strictest sensibilities, since those who wish to avoid it may do so. In any case, it’s a pretty safe bet that people of whatever stripe who have Internet access and want to see racy images of women will not be using the Western Wall cameras for that purpose.

Also, since when does the Jewish concept of modesty dictate that no image of a woman, however modestly dressed, must ever be shown or seen? Such a narrow and restrictive interpretation of modesty is more characteristic of Saudi Arabia or Iran than of Jewish religious law. I’m thinking of those awful capes again. True, they’re not quite burkas, but the direction in which things are going at the Western Wall is depressing. And disappointing. And scary.

Isn’t the Western Wall supposed to belong to all Jews?

The contact address for the Western Wall Heritage Foundation is (contact_english [at] thekotel [dot] org). (Omit all spaces, brackets and parentheses, and use a real “at” sign and dot.)

Western Wall Renovations I

There’s a new plan in the works for renovations at the Western Wall Plaza. For Hebrew speakers, here’s the article about it from Ma’ariv, and here’s the one from Yediot Aharonot. For those readers who don’t speak Hebrew, here is my translation of the article from Ma’ariv.

An Upgrade for the Western Wall
The Western Wall—the most popular place in Israel, with five million visitors per year—wants an upgrade. As part of efforts by the Western Wall administration to increase the number of visitors even more and appeal to new target populations, today the cabinet will approve a plan that will make it interactive. Video cameras broadcast from the Western Wall Plaza 24 hours a day and the holy site is a hit on the Internet.
This morning, cabinet ministers will approve a budget of NIS 68 million over five years to renovate the Western Wall Plaza. The money will be invested in placing signs in the plaza, renovating the bridge that ascends to the Temple Mount and installing air conditioning in the Western Wall Tunnels. Alongside the renovations, Western Wall officials are trying to strengthen Diaspora Jewry’s connection to the holy site. “We have placed a video camera that broadcasts from the Western Wall Plaza 24 hours a day, and we have built an interactive website that tells of the history of the area,” said Aryeh Bauner, who is responsible for the educational program at the Western Wall. The site has become extremely popular, with two million visitors just in the past year. In addition, a new visitors’ area will be opened at the Western Wall in approximately a month. The area, which will be called The Chain of Generations, will have visitors’ walk that tells the story of the Jewish people via glass pillars, light and sound. The administrator of the Western Wall, Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch, said yesterday, “A generation has grown up here that has not visited the Western Wall, and we are asking ourselves what happened and are trying to turn the Western Wall into an area that will speak to everyone. I believe that we should not make Judaism into a business, and therefore anyone who wants to have an aliya to the Torah is invited to do so without payment, rich and poor alike,” Rabinovitch said.
The Western Wall administration has been working together with the director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office, Ilan Cohen, and with Tourism Minister Avraham Herschson in recent months on a plan whose goal is to bring the secular population to the Western Wall as well. Among other things, the plan is to encourage children in Israel and throughout the world to celebrate their bar mitzvah at the Western Wall. “We intend to place one of our employees with every family who will help them plan a ceremony appropriate to the relevant ethnic group and its customs,” Bauner said. In order to bring the public to the Western Wall, a large campaign which will call on the general public to come and visit the Western Wall is being planned. Within its framework, attempts are being made to create various attractions which will draw visitors. “We are working on a system that will help everyone find their roots. People can type in the country of origin of their grandfather or grandmother and get the whole path that their families traveled over the past two thousand years,” Bauner said.

So, Rabbi Rabinovitch, you’re wondering why people don’t visit the Western Wall anymore? You’re wondering what happened? Here’s one possible reason: in recent years, the Western Wall has been transformed gradually into an ultra-religious synagogue instead of the inclusive national site it was meant to be. This has turned off a lot of people, including many who are religiously observant. So, in my opinion, here is a way to increase the number of visitors to the Western Wall: include them. Everybody. Men, women, those who are religiously observant and those who are not. Include them as they are, without telling them in all sorts of subtle and non-subtle ways that the Western Wall is now a strictly-run ultra-religious synagogue and if they want to be welcome there, they must behave accordingly. Call off your aggressive female ushers who throw those awful capes over the shoulders of girls and women whom they feel are not covered well enough. (If you are trying to educate them to respect our holy sites, that is not the way to do it.) Move the mehitza to give women more room outdoors, and give them more space indoors as well. Be more welcoming toward those of us whose religious outlook differs from the current ultra-religious party line. The Western Wall belongs to all Jews, not just to those of a certain stripe.

Stop with the glitzy packaging and work on the real problem. Without true and sincere inclusion, no glass pillars or sound-and-light shows will do the least bit of good.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Linking to the South

It’s about time: this coming Saturday night, the Dimona railway station will be re-opened for the first time since the 1970s.

Passenger trains will travel to Dimona for the first time since the 1970s beginning Saturday night, Israel Railways director-general Ofer Linczewski said Tuesday. The revived train service was a sign of the importance of bringing the periphery closer to the center of the country, he said. Upgrading the line and the station had cost NIS 18 million, and several unguarded crossings had been eliminated, he said, adding that he hoped 150,000 passengers would use the line in 2006 and 900,000 annually by 2015.
Completion of the double track between Ashdod and Ashkelon, and to Ben-Gurion Airport, will enable more frequent trains.

Buds and Chain

These buds were attracting a lot of bees. I tried to get a bee photo but they were going too fast for me this time. On close inspection, it looks like these buds put out really tiny flowers, which could be the reason that the bees were going so quickly—there were such small quantities of nectar to be had that they didn’t need to stay long.

Buds and chain

Some guy walking by gave me trouble as I was taking the picture. Seems he thought I was photographing a nearby car. When I told him I was after the plant and the bees, he left me alone.

A Study in Contradictions

Here’s some graffiti I saw at the bus stop several days ago:

Graffiti at the bus stop

For those who read sites with voice synthesizer programs, here’s the text:

Femdom forever! Female rule now!
Every girl is a goddess. Make him worship you on his knees!
Girls, the Goddess made you sexy so that the boys will be your willing slaves!

And right next to that: a poster advertising an appearance by well-known religious revivalist Amnon Yitzhak.

(Okay. What-ever.)

Under the Influence

I shall seek and find you.
I shall take you to bed and have my way with you. I shall make you ache, shake and sweat until you moan and groan.
I will make you beg for mercy ... beg for me to stop.
I will exhaust you to the point where you will be relieved when I’m finished with you.
And you will be weak for days.
The Flu
(Now get your mind out of the gutter ... and get your flu shot!)

The above is taped to the wall of my doctor’s waiting room. I didn’t listen this year, and now it’s got me.

Not fun at all.

Adventures with the Lady in Red

Did ever I mention that for all her excellent qualities, the Lady in Red is extremely territorial?

I met her this morning as I was walking back from the doctor’s office. Although she let me skritch her and offer her water, boy, was she ever in a territorial mood. Here she is challenging a cat in the bushes, right after she engaged in a shouting match with the young tom lying on the ground on her right:

The Lady in Red defends her territory

This is the interloper from the bushes:

Cat in bushes

Heading for the relative safety of the path, the interloper was joined by another, similar cat, possibly a littermate:

Long-haired tabbies in the park

Finally, the Lady in Red took a snooze. Defending one’s territory is hard work, you know.

The Lady in Red dozes

It appears that the Lady is territorial regarding her human admirers, too. When I petted the juvenile red-and-white tom where she could see me, she got huffy and tried to swat me when I went to pet her a little while later.

We’ll make up. We always do.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

The Ultimate Elephant Joke

Meryl, this one’s for you:

What’s gray and was just born in Jerusalem?

The baby elephant at the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo.

A two-year pregnancy and a 10-hour birth process made Israeli history on Saturday when a baby elephant was born at the Jerusalem Tisch Family Zoological Gardens after being conceived through artificial insemination.
The male baby—who has yet to be named—was born to Tamar a Thai elephant brought to Israel ten years ago as a gift from the Thai government to then-prime minister Yitzhak Rabin. Saturday’s birth was one of 10 births around the world of an elephant conceived through artificial insemination.
Director General of the zoo Shai Doron called the birth: “A breakthrough in the efforts to conserve the endangered species of Asian elephants.”

You can see the little one live here (sorry, but you’ll need Internet Explorer in order to see the streaming video). Be warned: viewing is addictive.

Her Ladyship and Missy

Her Ladyship forsakes her dignity for a moment: Look, Ma! I’m on TV!

Her Ladyship on TV

From another angle:

Her Ladyship on TV, from the front

Here’s Missy. What a sweet jumble of paws. (She has a lovely, loud purr, too.)

Missy: a sweet jumble of paws

(I missed this week’s Friday Ark, but the Carnival of the Cats will be up later today at Quite Early One Morning.)

Sign of the Times

Seen in the window of a gift shop on the pedestrian mall downtown:

Sign in gift store on the pedestrian mall downtown: “Big discount for brave tourist”

What, just one tourist? We’ve got loads of ’em these days, thank goodness.

(And what about us residents? What are we, chopped liver?)

Friday, December 09, 2005

Remembering Ray

Charlotte Hallé of the English-language edition of Haaretz has written a lovely article about Ray: No guitar in Israel he didn’t touch.

Singer-songwriter Ray Scudero, who died on Saturday, would take his carefully packed “gig bag” with him to each performance. It contained not only his own things, his widow Joanna Katzen recalled this week, but also items that might come in useful for other musicians, such as superglue, pliers and strings for mandolins and banjos—two instruments he did not play. “That way, if someone’s string broke or guitar cracked, he’d always have the parts to repair it,” she said.
It was this appealing combination of musical talent, technical expertise and kindness that members of Israel's folk music community recalled this week when paying tribute to Scudero.
Considered a leading figure in the close-knit and largely Anglo folkie community, Scudero was a regular performer at festivals and clubs across Israel, where he sang his own compositions and played his guitar and his “Stanley,” a 12-string instrument that he created himself. He ran his own recording studio from his home in Karkur, where he also built and repaired fretted instruments. “Within the folk community here, there’s almost no guitar that hasn’t been touched by him,” said Katzen. “You can see his custom-made pick-ups, his filed-down bridges and his tuning machines all over the country.”

There’s more.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Ray Scudero, 1946–2005

Ray Scudero plays Stanley, the instrument he created

Ray playing Stanley, the instrument he created. (Source: the Tzora Folk Club website. Photo credit: Carol Fuchs)

The answers quick and keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love,—
They are gone. They are gone to feed the roses. Elegant and curled
Is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know. But I do not approve.
More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.
Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.
(from “Dirge Without Music” by Edna St. Vincent Millay)

Ray Scudero, a beloved member and shining light of Israel’s folk-music scene, passed away yesterday morning after a two-and-a-half-year battle with cancer.

I will post more about Ray sometime soon. For now, here are some links:

Ray’s website (including an archive of his song lyrics), lovingly crafted by his wife, Joanna

Ray’s page at the Tzora Folk Club website

Upon Us, from the Broken Sky,” an article about Ray by the late Jerusalem Post columnist, Sam Orbaum

Here are links to Ray’s music:

The CD Baby page of Ray’s first CD, “With the Help of Angels

The CD Baby page of Ray’s second CD, created together with Joanna, “Poor Working Slob

May Ray’s memory be for a blessing. He is much missed.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Sub Rosa

Lady dozes under the rosebush.

Lady dozes under the rosebush

Shabbat shalom.

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

Thursday, December 01, 2005


I was going to call this post “Breasts,” but decided that I didn’t want to give anyone the wrong idea. This is a family site.

Those who have gone through it will know what the title means, though. Today I experienced a rite of passage in which I left the last wisps of my youth behind and officially entered middle age: I had my first mammogram.

(I’m tempted to add: Today I am a pancake.)

I went to a comprehensive clinic that performs a mammography, a manual exam and an ultrasound. The clinic, which is located in a new building, is beautifully kept and especially sensitive to the need for privacy; for example, even though the waiting room and the area where clients pay their bills and discuss administrative matters occupy the same physical space, an effective divider separates them. The medical and administrative staff were, for the most part, friendly and supportive, and overall it was a positive experience. (The ultrasound was fascinating. The image on the screen looked like waves on the ocean, and the doctor said that many patients were reminded of the same image.)

Now to the question that some of you must be asking: What about the mammogram? Did it hurt? I won’t try to sugar-coat the facts: yes, it did. Having my breasts put into a machine that slowly squashed them horizontally and vertically by turns was no fun at all, and actually, for a time it put me in mind of certain unpleasant facets of life during the Middle Ages. Also, the woman who performed my mammogram wasn’t exactly sympathetic (even if I was being a bit of a wimp, I still think she could have been a bit more compassionate). It was also a bit disillusioning: Good grief, was it for this that I read all those Judy Blume books when I was twelve? They never told me about this when I went shopping for my first training bra. But seriously, it wasn’t so bad after all. The squeezing part was actually very brief, and the doctor pointed out that it’s very important. “Not squeezing doesn’t do you any favors,” he said, and I see his point.

So now that I know what a mammogram is like, will I be doing it again? Absolutely. The clinic I went to has a waiting list of approximately six months, so half a year from now I’ll be calling for my next appointment, and I’ll be seeing them—or, more accurately, they’ll be seeing me—next year.

I left with good news: all the results were negative. But a friend of mine, herself a survivor of breast cancer, asked me to add that although it’s important to get a mammogram at the proper time, women shouldn’t consider it a substitute for proper breast self-examination. She should know; that’s how she discovered her own illness. (Thank God, she is fine today.)

By the way, there is such a thing as male breast cancer. The American Cancer Society has more information about it.

Also, daily clicks at The Breast Cancer Site help provide mammograms to women who can’t afford them.

Now I think I’ll rest for a bit ... and decompress from the experience.

Around and About

Here are some pictures I took today.

Despite the fact that today’s Gregorian date is December 1, it felt like summer here. Yet we have plenty of wild greenery in Jerusalem even during cold weather, provided that there is enough rain. Here is some kind of small grain plant that I’ve been seeing around for years but have never been able to identify:

Small grain plant

This is spiny burnet, a plant that grows throughout the Jerusalem hills. Every tour guide who has told me about this plant says that the army uses it to stuff mattresses. Spiny burnet plants have tiny red berries later in the season. Here are the leaves:

Spiney burnet

Moving indoors, this is a trend that seems to be catching on at local restaurants: a bowl-shaped sink that rests on top of the counter rather than being set into it:

Newfangled old-fashioned sink

I took this picture at a local health-food store. Want some grains? Pull up a bag, lift the plastic door and let the abundance flow:

The grain-rain machine

Finally, back outdoors where I found this lovely little plant—which is a garden or hedge plant here—growing in a crack in the sidewalk. I don’t know what this plant is, but I think it’s a member of the mint family. The leaves are a bit sticky to the touch and have a strong minty scent, and the flowers give way to rich, dark berries:

Plant growing in sidewalk crack

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

In Memoriam: Larry (Arie) Gamliel, 1950–2003

(“Arie” is pronounced “Aryeh.”)

Today is the second anniversary of the death of one of my dearest friends, Larry Gamliel.

I first met Larry toward the end of 1996 at an English-language song contest sponsored by the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel. He was providing musical accompaniment for one contestant; I was singing for another. We met in the green room at the music conservatory in Be’er Sheva and hit it off right away. Soon afterwards, we began performing together at local folk events, and even discovered that we had friends in common.

But Larry was much more to me than a music partner. He was my big brother and one of the wisest people I ever met. He was the one I called when I needed a reality check, or just to vent. And sometimes he called me to vent, too. But he didn’t do that too often. Larry loved people and had a wonderful, if slightly warped, sense of humor, and laughter followed him wherever he went.

His knowledge of pop music was nothing less than encyclopedic. Sometimes I would quote a line, or even half a line, from a song I had once heard on the radio, and it turned out that he knew the song from beginning to end as well as its composer, year of release, original performer and subsequent covers. He could recite entire comedy routines from start to finish with all the appropriate inflections, intonations and accents. He was a pillar of Israel’s folk-music community, organizing events and appearing in most of them, usually behind his keyboard but sometimes with guitar. And the audience loved him.

Larry was modest. His twin brother had been an ambassador during the Clinton administration, but he never mentioned it. I only found it out after his death.

Larry was a good friend. When my late teacher, Yonina, was housebound for several weeks with a broken ankle some years ago, he got a group of musicians together to visit her one evening and play the folk music she loved.

Larry felt deeply. For several years he held an annual memorial concert for his late older brother, during which he could get pretty serious. But he also quoted his brother’s irreverent jokes and retorts, sometimes using them to snap me out of an occasional too-serious attitude.

Larry saw more than most people I know. That was pretty remarkable, since he was, for all practical purposes, blind from birth. But then, he was a pretty special guy who did extraordinary things.

Like the time he took me to Haifa to ride the subway for the first time. We rode a bus and a train, went on foot through part of Haifa and took the Carmelit subway, and through it all his guiding would have done an Israeli tour guide proud. He knew every landmark and every street, and he even knew the model of the train on which we were riding.

(Yes. In Haifa. Did I mention that Larry lived in Jerusalem?)

And he gave directions, too. I could swear that the man had maps in his head. Sometimes, when we walked outside together, people would stop us to ask for directions (as Larry pointed out, they always asked me because I am sighted; they automatically did not believe that a blind person would know how to reach a destination independently). I remained silent and let Larry do the talking, and later on regaled him with descriptions of how far the questioners’ jaws had dropped when he gave them flawless directions.

He traveled abroad with family and friends with full confidence that he could find his way anywhere. And he did. Here he describes one of his adventures:

Don’t talk to me about moving sidewalks! Part of my Heathrow adventure which I mentioned in a previous post was to use the moving sidewalk which went through a long tunnel to the underground station. The moving sidewalk was supposed to be bi-directional, which is to say two moving lanes running parallel to each other. Except that I could only find one of them. So I went against my better instincts and got on it. It was, of course, going in the wrong direction. Let me tell you, I got off of it quite quickly. <grin> In fact I did a dance step that would have done Chubby Checker proud. Fortunately, the tunnel was totally deserted and there was no one around to witness my mortification. I then did what I should have done in the first place, explore until I found the sidewalk going in the correct direction. As a post script, when I actually got to the train, I scared the wits out of an otherwise nice policeman who was sure that if I went down the escalator by myself a nuclear war would ensue. I went down it anyway, being very grateful that he hadn’t been at the start of the slidewalk.

Larry was a Bible scholar who could quote whole sections of the Bible by heart and debate their meaning like a seasoned clergyman. I loved it when he quoted the first half of Proverbs 27:2 in Hebrew: “Let the mouth of another praise you, not yours,” together with a clever lesson for life, arrived at by changing one vowel: “Let the mouth of another praise you, and if not—then yours!” (It sounds much better in Hebrew.)

There were parts of Larry’s life that I never knew about until after he died. For example, he was deeply involved in the National Federation of the Blind and was a staunch champion of accessibility, and also of independence. He believed that blind people could do anything that sighted people could do (with very few exceptions, such as driving), and he set out to show that by personal example. He could go anywhere by himself, was adept at using computers and often helped his sighted friends, including myself, when we were plagued with computer glitches. (I always thought it was a bit uncanny how he knew exactly what was supposed to pop up on the screen at a given time during an installation. “Does your screen say this, or this?” he would ask, and then follow up with perfect instructions on what to do next.) At the time he died, he was learning SQL in preparation for finding a new job after his retirement. I also remember how he coached my friends on how to make their websites accessible to people like himself who use voice programs in order to read Internet sites because they cannot see the screen.

I could go on for terabytes about Larry and how rare and special he was. But I will end with a bit of his writing that I found in the archives of an NFB mailing list shortly after he died. He had written it slightly more than a month before his death. To me it encapsulates his unfailingly positive and optimistic attitude toward life.

I must confess that I have mixed feelings about the question of what I “miss,” even though I am for all practical purposes blind from birth. I think each of us would rather be able to do various things without the need to rely on alternative techniques. I’d love to play baseball. I’d love to use a computer the way everyone with sight does.
On the other hand, if I were monetarily more well off than I am, I could do lots of things I cannot do. If I were as handsome as [name deleted] I could have been a movie star. <smirk> There are many things which my being who and what I am limits me. What can I do about this? Shall I live my life forever bemoaning what I am not and can never be? Shall I curse my parents for bringing me into the world? My cousin is the mother of a child with cerebral palsy who is now an embittered adult. His mother once cried on my shoulder, relating how his favorite remonstration is that he would rather haven’t been born, but since she was responsible for his life she was responsible for his care and upkeep also.
I am blind, and there are things I will not be able to do as well as sighted people, perhaps not at all. But I will never, ever, adopt his approach. Never!!!

I miss Larry.

Tiger Tzitzit

Tzitzit, the ritual fringes attached to the corners of a four-cornered garment, are worn by religious Jews beginning at three years of age. (The sources of the commandment to wear tzitzit are Numbers 15:38 and Deuteronomy 22:12.) In the past, tzitzit were worn mostly by men, though we know of a number of women who wore them at various times during Jewish history. These women were usually the relatives of recognized religious leaders and sometimes functioned as religious leaders themselves. (One exception to this general rule was Hannah Rachel Werbermacher, the Maiden of Ludomir [c. 1815–1892], who wore tzitzit and tefillin [phylacteries] and functioned as a hassidic rebbe even though she was not related to a prominent religious leader.)

A major reason that so few Jewish women wore tzitzit until recently is that Jewish law exempts women from observing most commandments that must be performed at a specific time. Since the commandment to wear tzitzit falls into this category—they must be worn during the day—women are considered exempt from the duty to wear them. However, women may wear tzitzit if they wish, and now that high-level Jewish learning is open to women as it never was before, more and more religiously observant women are deciding to wear them as an expression of their commitment, and more and more young girls have begun to do so as well.

(I think it is fair to mention here that some streams within Orthodox Judaism still maintain that exemption equals prohibition where women are concerned, and oppose the idea of women wearing tzitzit or performing religious acts that for many generations were considered the exclusive province of men.)

Women who want to wear tzitzit have something else to consider. According to Jewish law, men may not wear clothing intended for women and vice versa (Deuteronomy 22:5). Therefore, some contemporary religious authorities state that if a woman or girl wishes to wear tzitzit, the garment to which they are attached should not resemble the style currently being used by men. (This, incidentally, was the suggestion made by Rabbi Yehuda Herzl Henkin to my women’s prayer group, Shirat Sara: that a woman who wishes to wear a tallit [prayer shawl] during our services should wear one that appears “distinct from the current style of men’s tallitot.”)

So where is all this background information leading? To this: when a friend of mine asked me to sew tzitzit for her small daughter some time ago, I happily obliged. Her daughter chose some material from a fabric store, I got out the sewing machine, and this is what resulted:

Tiger tzitzit

Tiger tzitzit. I like the sound of that.

(And yes, the fact that the fabric featured felines made the job all that much more fun.)

UPDATE: If you have come here from another site, please see this post.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Shas’s Campaign Slogan (or, Whose Side Are You On?)

Seen on a bus several days ago: the Shas political party’s campaign slogan for the approaching elections.

The slogan, which is taken from Exodus 32:26, translates to: “Whoever is for the Lord, come here!” This was Moses’s rallying cry to the Levites after the sin of the Golden Calf, after which the Levites swept through the Israelite camp, summarily executing all those who had worshipped the idol.

I’m sure that the party’s intentions are harmless and that their use of the Biblical verse is no more than an authoritative, resonant restating of “Whoever is on God’s side, vote Shas.” Just the same, I have to admit that I find their use of this particular phrase a bit jarring. Their constituents know Hebrew and I assume they know their Bible. Didn’t they consider the context?

And that’s without even mentioning how I feel about political parties claiming that they have a direct line to God.

(By the way, here is an excellent roundup of Israel’s major political parties and their respective platforms.)

Monday, November 28, 2005

A Clean Post

Yup, very clean indeed. I just finished a course in soapmaking.

The course, which was absolutely fascinating, consisted of three two-hour sessions. The first was devoted to proper safety procedures, since a main ingredient of soap, sodium (or potassium) hydroxide, is an extremely corrosive and dangerous chemical and it’s vital that we learn how to work with it correctly. Each of the second two meetings was devoted to a different method of making soap.

Our teacher was a chemist originally from Yugoslavia whose grandmother made her own soap. She told us that since there was little to be had in post-war Yugoslavia, if people wanted anything, they had to learn to make it themselves.

One of the things we learned is that homemade soap is better for the skin than most storebought soap. One reason for this is that glycerin, a moisturizer that occurs naturally during the soapmaking process, is extracted from factory-made soaps (and then added to creams and lotions). Another reason is perfectly logical: when you make your own soap, you know exactly what you’re getting, and you can also personalize your recipe to make the soap that is best for your skin.

Here are some pictures from our last session, when we made soap using the hot-process method. In this first picture, the lye water has just been added to the oil mixture, and tiny bits of soap have begun to form. (The orange color comes from food coloring that was added shortly after the ingredients were combined.)

Soapmaking: the beginning of the process

Nearly two hours later, the saponification process is almost complete:

Soapmaking: toward the end of the process

Just before taking the soap out of the bowl and putting it into plastic containers to cool:

Soapmaking: nearly done

If you’re a local and would like to learn how to make your own soap, have I got a teacher for you!

Jerusalem’s Urban Nature Reserve

Last Friday morning I went on a hike of Jerusalem’s Gazelle Valley, a beleaguered bit of green in the midst of the city. Our guide, Tzahi, was excellent. Here is how the American Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel describes it:

Gazelle Valley—Gazelles trapped by roads from all sides have made a home in a 25-acre valley in Southern Jerusalem. SPNI Jerusalem and nearby residents are working to preserve the site for the animals and build a nature and education center for all city residents to enjoy. Development plans for this tract have been defeated in recent years, but continued pressure to build on this unique habitat exists.

Looking across the valley to the busy street on the other side:

This is an enlargement of the image above. See the gazelle? (Look just to the right of center.) We had to use a telescope in order to see the herd properly, and I barely managed to capture them with my camera.

Evidence of their presence: tracks! (I saw plenty of another kind of evidence but in the interests of public decency, I didn’t photograph it.)

Deer tracks in the Gazelle Valley in Jerusalem

Finally, the residents of this community were busily preparing for the winter:

Ants bringing seeds into their nest for the winter

Autumn Flower

Here is a sitvanit (autumn crocus) that I saw during a hike in the Gazelle Valley, an urban nature preserve in Jerusalem.

Autumn crocus in Jerusalem

Third Time’s the Charm (Not)

I tried three times this evening to upload some kitty movies to YouTube for this week’s Carnival of the Cats, but for some reason didn’t succeed. So in honor of my three attempts, I’m posting three cat pictures for the Carnival, which is at IMAO this week and is hosted by the King of Catbloggers himself, Laurence Simon.

First, here’s Teeny, my friend’s new kitten, a rescue from downtown Jerusalem, getting the upper hand over her much larger and more powerful housemate, Abby. Despite her superior size and strength, Abby is extremely careful when she plays with Teeny. My friend says that when she comes home at night, she finds that all the furniture has been moved around during their all-day play sessions. Abby and Teeny love each other very much.

Teeny and Abby play together

Next, here’s Missy in a brief lull between attacks on my coat.

Missy rests between attacks on my coat

Finally, here is the Eye of Mitzi, looking out from the plants in the garden near the taxi stand at the Binyamina Railway Station. All the taxi drivers love Mitzi. She’s their cat.

Mitzi’s eye among the garden plants

Friday, November 18, 2005


Well, actually, the book was debunked a long time ago, but I just found out about it yesterday.

Turns out that The Education of Little Tree is not autobiographical—it’s a hoax. It was written by Asa Earl Carter, who later reinvented himself as Bedford Forrest Carter and published the book—an excellent work of fiction, by the way—as the story of his childhood. Carter was actually a racist and is one of two speechwriters believed to have written the notorious “Segregation forever” speech for Alabama governor George Wallace.

Another myth shattered.


Thursday, November 17, 2005

Justice for a Jewish Woman

Reporter Michele Chabin of The Jewish Week has written about author Naomi Ragen’s efforts to help Rachel S., a religiously-observant mother from Jerusalem, who for the past ten years has been denied the right to see her children.

Ragen said she has championed Rachel’s battle “because I felt that as a woman living in the Land of Israel, I didn't want to live in a society where something like this can happen. In a country where a philandering husband and a wife abuser and a sexual pervert could manage to steal [number suppressed by court order] children away from their mother because she dared to leave him.”

Naomi Ragen comments in a message to her mailing list:

The husband’s lawyer, Mr. Schechter, always likes to say that the children are all grown up now. That the mother abandoned them. He forgets to mention the three-month-old and the three-year-old twins that haven’t seen their mother in ten years because of the brutality of the father and his “holy” allies who physically threatened the mother each time she attempted to contact her kids. That the children all claim no interest now in being together with their mother shouldn’t surprise anyone.

Rachel’s health has been deteriorating over the past several years due to stress and to her unhealthy living conditions. Naomi Ragen is raising money to help Rachel find a decent place to live and get on with her life. On-line donations can be made at All4Israel’s secure donations page. (Please be sure to write “For Rachel S. of Me’ah She’arim” in the comment box.)

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

The Blessed Railway Line

Neat news for local railway buffs: two historians have found a rare section of Ottoman-era railroad tracks engraved with the Sultan’s blessing.

For the past two years, historians Yehuda Levanoni and Yaakov Shorer have been researching the Valley Railway. During the course of their work, they have witnessed how thieves have steadily depleted what is left of the antique tracks.
Levanoni and Shorer dreamed of finding an example of decorative railroad tracks, with the Ottoman Sultan's blessing molded onto them—very few of which were ever made.
Several months ago, while in the Negev, Levanoni came across railway tracks close to Kibbutz Mishmar ha-Negev, onto which a concrete structure had been erected. A closer inspection revealed that he had finally found what he had been looking for. [...]
While the exact reason for the decorative tracks is not known, Levanoni and other researchers believe that they were laid to mark the end of a section of the track, ahead of the inauguration ceremony. The blessing is in the name of Sultan Abdul Hamid II, who initiated the ambitious Hijaz Railway project. The blessing reads, “Be strong with the blessing of our master, the Amir of faithful, Sultan Abdul Hamid II! And (Allah will) support him!” The inscription was translated by Yitzhak Abadi.

And In This Corner ...

Her Ladyship, peeved and aggrieved over the incursion into her territory ...

Her Ladyship defends her territory

The imperturbable Mr. Neighborcat ...

Mr. Neighborcat

Here they are together (well, not exactly):

Her Ladyship glowers and howls at Mr. Neighborcat

It reminds me of the parody version of the folk classic, “This Land Is Your Land.” Only Her Ladyship’s outraged howls don’t sound nearly as good.

Check out the Friday Ark at The Modulator and, on Sunday, the Carnival of the Cats, which will be at Scribblings.

Sunday, November 13, 2005


Here are two signs I saw downtown recently.

I photographed this one from the bus, praying all the while that the light would stay red for just a few seconds more. Luckily for me, it did.

Sign protesting taxes

Translation: “The sign for Harat [the name of the establishment] used to be here. The municipality, out of the goodness of its heart, imposed a ‘modest’ tax on the sign, so we simply took it down.”

Now for this one, which I saw on a sidestreet near the open-air market:

Retro sign

Translation: “British out! Down with the White Paper!”

(Pretty retro, I’d say. This is the same type of sign as the ones that tell us that on Passover we should buy elephants, and that in February we should carve soap. Well, it did make an ordinary shopping trip more interesting.)

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Introducing: Missy

This is my neighbor’s new kitten, Her Ladyship’s housemate. On this blog, I’ll call her Missy.

Here she is making my acquaintance. I wonder whether she thinks I’m tasty enough.

Missy makes my acquaintance

“Hey! Who are you looking at?”

Missy looks at the camera

Meanwhile, Her Ladyship studiously ignores us and takes a snooze on my coat.

May I have my coat back, please, Your Ladyship?

Her Ladyship asleep on my coat

When I’m good and ready. Maybe.

I took some movies of Missy tonight. All of them have her strong purr as the soundtrack. Here they are:

Missy and Me I

Missy and Me II

Missy and Me III

Missy and Me IV

(Check out this week’s Friday Ark at The Modulator, and the upcoming Carnival of the Cats at Curiouser and Curiouser.)

Monday, November 07, 2005

Art from Another Time

These painted windows are located in downtown Jerusalem on Jaffa Street, across from Zion Square. Does anyone out there know who painted them, when and why?

(I apologize for the shadow cutting off the top of the pictures.)