Sunday, May 29, 2005

Nardo’s Israeli Cousin

Since I found Gracie’s Israeli cousin a little while ago, I’ve been on the lookout for more relatives. Last Shabbat I found Nardo’s Israeli cousin. Here he is, saying hello.

Nardo’s Israeli cousin

We warmed up to each other right away.

Getting skritched

He even gave me a bellyrub.


(The Carnival of the Cats is up at Ripe Bananas this week.)

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Rough Day

Laurence Simon of IFOC had a rough day yesterday. Fortunately all ended well and the principal damage was to Lair’s shirt collar, but the question remains: will Lair ever be able to eat Chinese food again?

Quite a bit of overkill, if you ask me. These days it’s easy enough for law-enforcement agencies to check a person’s identity before knocking him to the ground, handcuffing him and hauling him into the back seat of a police car. So here’s another question from this neck of the woods: will the ATF personnel apologize and replace the shirt they damaged as they threatened and detained an innocent man?

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Wednesday Cat Blogging

Here are some of the neighborhood cats frolicking in and around the trees nearby. The kitties are not stuck; they use these trees as bridges and playgrounds.

Heh! How’s the weather down there, human?

Nyah, nyah! You can’t get me!

Of course, my catblogging wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Her Ladyship. Note the suspicious look as she deigns to accept a skritch.

You’re just bribing me so that I’ll hold still for the Annoying Clicky Thing.

The Day in Pictures

Even though Independence Day has come and gone, homes and cars are still sporting Israeli flags. I admit to a pet peeve: today the available flags are all made from synthetic fabric, while I’d prefer a natural-fabric flag with the Star of David stitched on. It’s rare to find such flags these days, but today I found a beautiful, well-crafted one decorating an entrance gate right in my neighborhood. It’s made of good-quality, heavy cotton with Stars of David stitched on either side. With workmanship like that, I wouldn’t be surprised if it were an heirloom with a fascinating history.

Detail of cotton Israeli flag with stitched-on Stars of David

I guess they don’t make them like that anymore, so if I want one, I’ll just have to make it myself one day. Another project for the list, right up there with learning how to quilt so that I can replace the cover of my old lambswool comforter.

Here’s another thing I love about Jerusalem. There are fruit trees everywhere. In some neighborhoods I’ve even seen them growing out of the walls of houses. Once I gazed (all right, I admit it: stared) at a bunch of fruit trees near an apartment building for so long that one of the residents opened a window above and called down to me, asking if I wanted some of the fruit. I didn’t. I just wanted to look at it on the tree. I grew up in a cold climate where one rarely saw fruit on trees except for apples in autumn, and even now the sight of fruit on trees can still stop me in my tracks, open-mouthed.

Here are grapes, just starting out. Awesome, no?

Grapes just starting

Israel Cat Outrage

I just received the following e-mail from the Cat Welfare Society of Israel, and it made me want to cry. My first thought was: Such things should never happen here. Of course, such things should never happen anywhere, but I guess we expect more of our own countries. Jewish law expressly prohibits cruelty to animals. Is this how we are supposed to be a light to the world?!

A Nightmarish Hell at the Cat Welfare Society of Israel’s Cat Sanctuary in Hadera
May 19, 2005—A continuous wave of break-ins and vandalism reached new heights last night with the lighting of a deadly fire in the orchards surrounding the sanctuary.
This grim event is in addition to the thefts of food and equipment we have been experiencing over the past week.
A couple of nights ago, burglars set free residing dogs to roam the areas designated only to cats (and cat-friendly dogs). This resulted in some serious injuries to a number of cats and in some cases, in their deaths.
Last night, following the extinguishing of the fire, the gruesome sight of scorched bodies of cats and piles of dog bones (the cause of their deaths is still unclear) was revealed. At this time, a great number of cats are still missing, their fate unknown.
So, how can you help?
Even though the Hadera police have begun an investigation into this crime, there is a serious and immediate dread of the real possibility of more harm coming to the poor, frightened creatures who survived this horrible ordeal.
We are turning to you in desperation! Please help us protect them! We really do need all the assistance we can get.
We are in desperate need of dependable volunteers to help patrol the area of the sanctuary and help us find the cats who have disappeared or are hiding and frozen with fear.
We are in desperate need of money to assist in the rehabilitation of the sanctuary.
We are in desperate need of donations of hidden cameras/surveillance equipment, etc.
Above all, we need your help in distributing this letter to the greatest number of people possible who, in turn, may be able to help us make this nightmare go away!

Contact the Cat Welfare Society of Israel at the link above (or the one at the sidebar) to find out more about how to help.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Sunday Night Kittyolatry

The steady, blue gaze of Her Ladyship from the garden fence.

Her Ladyship at the garden fence

This week’s Carnival of the Cats is at IFOC. Check in for loads of wholesome kitty goodness!

Friday, May 20, 2005

Ice Cream? No, Thanks

One recent summer I had a conversation with a devout woman who made it clear from the outset that she felt strongly that I must adopt her faith, the sooner the better, for the good of my immortal soul.

What bothered me the most about our little chat was not her attempt to convert me. I’ve been dealing with that sort of thing for years, and if anything, I’m stronger in my faith than I was back when the first attempts were made. It was that even as she explained to me why her religion is the only true one and I must join it, right away if possible, she was careful to tell me that she wasn’t trying to convert me.

But that’s exactly what you’re trying to do, I told her.

Oh, no, she said. Not at all. I’m just trying to tell you that I found something wonderful and that it would be lovely if you tried it. Just like if I had some ice cream that was absolutely delicious. I’d be selfish if I kept it to myself, right? If I have this wonderful ice cream, shouldn’t I share it?

That analogy doesn’t work so well for me, I told her, because we’re not dealing with ice cream. Ice cream is something we can take or leave. We’re dealing with the most deeply-rooted beliefs of the soul. And all the pretty, seemingly open-minded things you are telling me now cannot hide or contradict the fact that your faith teaches, and you believe, that no matter what kind of person I am, no matter what good deeds I may do in my life, as long as I do not accept your faith, God will send me to Hell when I die.

She had no answer to that.

Then there was the young man in the Arab market who tried to get me to join his religion. I wanted to buy a silk scarf, but he was concerned with the salvation of my soul.

But where do you think you will go when you die? he asked me worriedly when I told him that I had no intention of changing my religion.

Wherever God sends me, I told him. He was pretty quiet after that, and I was able to buy my silk scarf.

That’s why I found this article in the Jerusalem Post so refreshing:

I have lived in Israel for 20 years. No one has suggested I need to convert to Judaism. No one has implied I don’t belong, never mind that I look like a caricature of a goya, bland as Velveeta cheese in coloring and features. Now and then, though, I “pass”—and I have to say it pleases me. I'm not here to teach. I'm here to learn.
I can’t speak for other denominations, but the essence of my own is humility, tolerance and the constant, almost impossible striving to save our own souls. We are taught to listen, learn and shut up, until such time arrives that we are so perfect we can be examples and help others. I'm so distant from that goal, I should be mute for at least another couple of millennia.
Keeping my mouth shut and listening, I have learned so much here. Besides, who the hell am I to preach to you? Your ancestors were devotedly following your spiritually and intellectually rich religion while mine were having hoedowns around trees, sacrificing infants, slavering over stones and whatever else pagans in Europe and North America were into.
I love Israel. Not just for its past, because Jesus walked here and so many places are sacred to me. Not for the future, because the ingathering of the Jews is supposed to herald His return. I love this country for what it is, here and now. In all its exasperating, in-your-face, multicolored and deafening pageantry. Even when it drives me bonkers, it makes me grin. It’s a 24/7 circus, a delight to the mind and senses.
So never fear. You won't find me on your doorstep, peddling papers, inquiring about your acquaintance with that first-century superstar, or bouncing around bellowing “Hallelujah!” on street corners.
It isn’t a matter of just not being my style. It isn’t my religion, any more than it is yours.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Spring Has Arrived

Persephone emerges from the underworld, heralding the arrival of spring ...

Emerging from the cave at Ein Kobe

Well, all right, it’s not Persephone, and it’s not the underworld. It’s the Ein Kobe spring at Begin Park on Independence Day, with me coming out of the underground cave where the water is.

Here I am!

It’s still spring, though.

(Photo credits: my dear friend ABC.)

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Sunday Evening Catblogging

The Duchess deciding whether to go out

The Duchess weighs her options: Should I stay or should I go?

The Duchess’s nemesis, Her Ladyship, was out in the garden, so in the end the Duchess decided to stay indoors.

(This week’s Carnival of the Cats is up, a bit early, at Aptenobytes. That’ll teach me to leave my catblogging for the last minute!)

Saturday, May 14, 2005

A Question of Priorities

Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar will not be indicted for the kidnapping and abuse of a young man who became involved with his daughter over the Internet.

Last Friday’s edition of the Hebrew-language tabloid Ma’ariv carried an article in which the Chief Rabbi vehemently denied that his home has a connection to the Internet. He was also careful to say that his daughter has never had her own cellphone and that he did not allow his children to watch even those movies that are permitted in haredi society. Some people may even say I exaggerate a bit regarding that, he said.

(I would supply a link, but I can’t find the article in the online edition of Ma’ariv. In any case, the article was in Hebrew; Ma’ariv no longer has an online English edition.)

How strange, and how sad. The Chief Rabbi of Israel is accused of complicity in an incident of shocking abuse, and he feels he must assert that his home is “pure” and that his daughter is kept under strict (and, for that society, appropriate) restrictions.

I guess it’s a question of priorities.

According to Ma’ariv, members of the haredi community say that since both of these young people are spoiled for shiddukhim (arranged matches) now that they have been talked about in public—even though they did nothing wrong—the best solution would be for them to marry.

That would be nice, but I’m not holding my breath. I wonder how long it will be before we hear that either member of the couple has been sent out of the country, or married off.

UPDATE: Here’s what Naomi Ragen has to say. Good stuff, as usual.

A House Divided (or, What Would Henrietta Say?)

I have no problem with the concept of a mehitzah (plural: mehitzot), the divider between men and women in Orthodox Jewish synagogues. I enjoy davening among women and I like the privacy the mehitza gives me. Many women dislike the very concept of the mehitza and refuse to worship in any synagogue that contains one, but that attitude is too general for me. Like I often say, it’s not the what, it’s the how. In this case, I prefer to distinguish between the concept of the mehitza in general and the structure and placement of individual mehitzot in particular.

Mehitzot carry messages, intentional or not. (Actually, I believe that most of the messages are intentional.) A mehitza that runs down the center aisle of a synagogue calls out an unqualified welcome to everybody, men and women alike, while still maintaining the required separation during prayer. It shows that the people in charge took the women’s feelings into account from the beginning and regard women as part of the worship community. A mehitza that places women at the back of a synagogue may still be friendly, but in my opinion its welcome is a bit less enthusiastic. Balconies? I suppose that’s a matter of the building’s age. At one time balconies were common, but they are too physically cut off from the main worship space for my comfort. Also, such distance seems inappropriate and anachronistic today, when high-level Jewish education for women is blossoming. For me, a balcony built in a contemporary synagogue tells me that I am not a member of the family but rather a guest who is expected to keep her distance and know her place.

Long ago I was in a synagogue that had a balcony with floor-to-ceiling white sheets at the front. Since I was unable to see or hear anything in the main section, I quietly left. On the way out it occurred to me that a sign reading “Women Need Not Attend” would have been much less expensive and a good deal more honest.

What made me decide to write a post about mehitzot? A few weeks ago I went to Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital for a checkup. On the way out, I decided to check out the synagogue. It was a simple affair as such things go: one large room with chairs and an Ark containing the Torah scrolls at the front. The women’s section was the last row of chairs, separated from the rest of the room by a heavy wooden screen.

In the spirit of teacher and rabbinical pleader Rivka Lubitch’s project of photographing synagogues from their respective women’s sections in order to give viewers an idea of what women see (or, more often, don’t see) from there, I took several photographs of the synagogue from various angles. Here is what most of the synagogue looks like.

The synagogue at Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital

This is what the women’s section (or, more accurately, the women’s row) looks like from the outside.

Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital Synagogue: View of the women’s row from outside

The photograph below was taken from inside the women’s row, facing the synagogue entrance. (The young man in the photograph stood there for quite some time while I waited for him to move so I could take the picture. In the end I gave up waiting and took it anyway.)

Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital Synagogue: The synagogue entrance as seen from the women's section

Finally, here is the view of the synagogue from inside the women’s row, at eye level, standing.

Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital Synagogue: The view from inside the women’s row

I suppose I should be grateful that at least there is space for women to pray here. The synagogue in the Jerusalem Central Bus Station has no women’s section at all, and the bus station’s rabbi sees no problem with that. Still, I can’t help wondering what Henrietta Szold, the founder of Hadassah, would say if she were to see this arrangement. (When Szold’s mother died, she insisted on reciting the kaddish for her, refusing the offer of a male friend of the family to perform the mitzvah instead.)

I also wonder what some of the women donors of Hadassah would say if they knew.

A final note: when my women’s prayer group, Shirat Sara, celebrates a bat mitzvah, the bat mitzvah girl’s male relatives sit behind a mehitzah in order to watch her read Torah and give a talk on the particular week’s Torah portion. It often happens that the men approach us afterward to say: Now we know what being behind the mehitzah feels like for you.

There’s no teacher like experience.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Remembrance Day

Today Israel commemorates the fallen of its wars.

Israeli television is broadcasting programs in the spirit of the day, and all Israeli radio stations are playing songs appropriate to the day.

For me, one song stands out in particular: “Ballad of a Medic” (lyrics: Dan Almagor; music: Effi Netzer). Recorded here by Yehoram Gaon, this song was written for a song festival (and was thus controversial at the time). I still get chills whenever I hear it. The song tells the story of a medic who rescues a wounded soldier in the heat of battle but does not survive to be rescued himself.

Here are the lyrics in Hebrew. And here is a moving English translation.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Take This, PETA

I have a confession to make. About twenty years ago, I used to like PETA. Although I did not agree with all their premises, I thought they were doing good work, and I particularly liked their list of cosmetics companies that do and do not test their products on animals.

Then I found out about PETA’s despicable “Holocaust on Your Plate” campaign, and about their lies regarding shehitah (kosher slaughter). Meryl thought up a perfect rejoinder which caught on throughout the blogosphere: International Eat an Animal for PETA Day. Well, IEAPD has come and gone, but now it seems that PETA has issued an “apology” for its campaign. Israel Insider has the text.

It doesn’t look too promising. I’m looking forward to Meryl’s analysis. In the meantime, the following is for PETA.

This is one of my favorite shops in town. It is owned by a hard-working woman who probably does more good deeds than anyone will ever know about.

This picture was taken on a Friday, when the shop owner sets out her array of meat pastries in honor of Shabbat.

Shabbat meat pastries

Here is the shop’s grill, filled with chickens ...

Chickens on the grill

... and here is the finished product.

Cooked chickens for sale

Finally, here is a photograph of a fearsome carnivore. To make matters worse, she’s a hunter. In fact, in this very photograph she is probably dreaming of her next kill.

Her Ladyship, hunter and carnivore

Sweet dreams, Your Ladyship.

Take that, PETA.

UPDATE: David over at Treppenwitz has a more in-depth look at the issue. (By the way, I may not talk much about it, but I’m also very fond of dogs. I grew up with one and loved him very much, and I owe the fact that I’m not terrified of dogs today to his love and patience with me over many years. Check out David’s pooch pics here, along with an exquisite pic of Yonah, his youngest. The expression on his face is absolutely priceless.)

Gracie’s Israeli Cousin

Why, Gracie! I never knew that you had a relative living in Israel! I met him a few days ago as I was leaving work. What a hunk! Good looks sure do run in your family.

Gracie’s Israeli cousin

Shalom, gorgeous. Wanna make friends?

The kittycat sees me

Is that a question mark in your tail or are you still deciding whether I’m friend or foe?

Kittycat with a question mark in his tail

Wise kitty. It’s always good to look both ways when you’re smaller than the other pedestrians.

Wise kittycat looks both ways before crossing the sidewalk

Have I got skritches for you! Maybe you’ll take some to Gracie and Tig the next time you visit?

C’mere and get skritched, kittycat.

Oh, do you have to go? You’re right, it is getting late. Le-hitra’ot, motek.

’Bye for now, gorgeous!

(That’s Hebrew for “See you later, sweetie.”)

(The May 8th edition of the Carnival of the Cats will be hosted by Ferdinand of The Conservative Cat.)

Friday, May 06, 2005

Yom ha-Shoah Links

Meryl links to survivor stories. And Brian Blum writes about Korczak’s Jerusalem.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Menorah of Courage: A Post for Yom ha-Shoah (Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day)

This [God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 15:13] is what has stood by our ancestors and ourselves. For not just one alone has risen against us to destroy us, but in every generation they rise against us to destroy us; and the Holy One, blessed be He, saves us from their hand.
(from the Passover Haggadah)

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 received the book from one of the authors in exchange for a copy of my CD, 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.

* * * * *

P.S. Here’s an appropriate site for today: the Reunion page at the Yiddish Radio Project. Siegbert Freiberg was separated from his father during the Holocaust. Both father and son miraculously survived and were reunited on the radio program Reunion on July 6, 1947.

Make sure to click on the link at the bottom of the page, “Other Radio Broadcasts about the Holocaust.” And be warned: some of the material makes for difficult listening.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Natan Sharansky: Why I Am Quitting Your Government

Natan Sharansky resigned from the cabinet yesterday. The Jerusalem Post has printed his resignation letter.

As you know, I have opposed the disengagement plan from the beginning on the grounds that I believe any concessions in the peace process must be linked to democratic reforms within Palestinian society. Not only does the disengagement plan ignore such reforms, it will in fact weaken the prospects for building a free Palestinian society and at the same time strengthen the forces of terror.
Will our departure from Gaza encourage building a society where freedom of speech is protected, where independent courts protect individual rights, and where free markets enable Palestinians to build an independent economic life beyond government control? Will our departure from Gaza end incitement in the Palestinian media or hate-filled indoctrination in Palestinian schools? Will our departure from Gaza result in the dismantling of terror groups or the dismantling of the refugee camps in which four generations of Palestinians have lived in miserable conditions?
Clearly, the answer to all these questions is no.
The guiding principle behind the disengagement plan is based on the illusion that by leaving Gaza we will leave the problems of Gaza behind us. As the mantra goes, “We will be here, and they will be there.” Once again, we are repeating the mistakes of the past by not understanding that the key to building a stable and lasting peace with our Palestinian neighbors lies in encouraging and supporting their efforts to build a democratic society. Obviously, these changes will surely take time, but Israel is not even linking its departure from Gaza to the initiation of the first steps in this direction.
In my view, the disengagement plan is a tragic mistake that will exacerbate the conflict with the Palestinians, increase terrorism and dim the prospects of forging a genuine peace. Yet what turns this tragic mistake into a missed opportunity of historic proportions is the fact that as a result of changes in the Palestinian leadership and the firm conviction of the leader of the free world that democracy is essential to stability and peace—a conviction that is guiding America’s actions in other places around the world—an unprecedented window of opportunity has opened.

The news of Sharansky’s resignation has saddened many people, myself included. I also can’t help thinking how much better off the country would be if only all our Knesset members had this much integrity.

When Along Came a Camera ...

While I was out walking yesterday evening, I passed by something that looked like a clump of nondescript vegetation hanging from a tree branch. Something about it caught my attention, and on closer inspection it turned out to be the nest of a Palestine Sunbird, with the female bird perched just outside the entrance. I tried to photograph it but the bird flew away, and in any case there wasn’t enough light.

This morning I passed by the nest again. The female was inside this time. Only her head was visible as she scanned the area, alert for intruders.

My camera is a simple one that’s part of a cellphone. It has no flash or zoom. But I really wanted this picture, so I approached as quietly as I could, my hand raised to take the picture. Unfortunately, the female noticed me and took off, chirping in distress as she went.

Here’s a picture of the nest, sans bird.

Palestine Sunbird nest

Meanwhile, the female perched on a nearby branch, chirping and calling. Feeling a bit like Miss Muffet’s spider, I took her picture quickly and left so that she could get back to her nest.

Female Palestine Sunbird, frightened from her nest

Oh, well. Better luck next time.

All Right, Who Turned Back the Clock?

It’s overcast and raining outside, which is not the usual weather pattern for Israel in May. By now we’re supposed to be starting the long, hot, dry season, but outside it looks like someone turned the clock back to March.

Not that I’m complaining, mind you. The thing I miss most about the US is rain in summertime.

But this is just strange.