Friday, March 28, 2008

Guarding the Garden

Her Ladyship guards her domain.

Her Ladyship guards the garden

The Friday Ark. The Carnival of the Cats.

Driver, Does This Bus Stop At...

Ask that question on a local bus and the driver will give you one of these:

List of bus stops

... a list of every stop on the line.

This list is for the new No. 5 line, which connects the Talpiot Industrial Zone to the Central Bus Station without going through the center of town. Sweet. It’s about time!

By the way, the two words at the bottom in large type are “Not for sale.”

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Some Serious Purim Thoughts

Although Purim is over, the members of one of my e-mail lists are still discussing a few thoughts connected to the day. One of our recent topics was what happened to Vashti after she disobeyed the king.

Various Jewish commentaries assign Vashti a variety of dreadful fates, from banishment to execution by beheading and even by burning. In my opinion, the text of the Megillah shows that her fate was much simpler—and, in some ways, far more devastating.

The Megillah tells us that the women who had their night with the king but were not chosen as queen were not allowed to leave the palace and resume their former lives. Instead, they were kept in the harem as concubines, never seeing the king again unless he summoned them by name.

We know that harems were actually prisons: luxurious prisons, but prisons nevertheless. Even the queen, arguably the most powerful inmate of the harem, had no real power outside it. Once she fell into disfavor—well, imagine a present-day situation in which a prisoner who has been the most powerful and feared inmate in his wing suddenly loses his power, whether through physical incapacitation or for other reasons. To use a current phrase, sucks to be him.

So here is what I think happened to Vashti. The text tells us that the king’s advisers suggested that the king never see her again. They do not tell him to banish or kill her, merely to ignore her for the rest of her life. So she remains in the harem as an ordinary inmate, only with the added burden of the king’s extreme displeasure. Her enemies—and it’s likely that she had plenty if only by virtue of her position—probably made no secret of their schadenfreude, while any friends or sympathizers she may have had dared not show her compassion for fear of being accused of high treason.

Execution seems like a pretty good choice compared to a life like that.

I also don’t believe all the nasty stories about Vashti that we find in our commentaries. The rabbis simply had a problem: although Vashti had done a good, even heroic thing by preserving her dignity, they had no interest in encouraging disobedience among wives. Yet what about all the unfortunate Jewish women throughout our history who endured similar dishonor, or chose death in a desperate attempt to escape it? What about Esther herself, who was still stuck with that turkey of a husband even after she had succeeded in saving her people?

Finally, to the young men I heard joking about Vashti being “liberated, especially when her head was liberated from her body”—it sounds like if you had been there, you would have been as disappointed as the king when Vashti didn’t show. But what would you do if it were your sister or daughter whose husband had ordered her to show herself, even clothed, to a bunch of his drunken pals while he bragged to them about how hot she was?

Sunday, March 23, 2008

As Purim Fades...

I just had to post this.

Via my friend RivkA at Coffee and Chemo (click to enlarge):

A Purim look at a well-known women’s blessing

Hey, Purim may be over but it’s still Adar!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Women’s Megillah Readings in Jerusalem

There are actually dozens, but this year I attended (and read at) three: at Matan in Jerusalem, at a private home, and at the Western Wall.

Here is the Megillah at Matan last night, prepared for reading:

Megillah ready for reading at Matan

There was also a women’s Megillah reading at the Western Wall this morning, and it went beautifully. Here are some pictures:

The lady in the gray suit stopped to listen, as did many women who passed by:

Women’s Megillah reading at Western Wall

One of our readers wows the crowd with her beautiful voice:

Women’s Megillah reading at Western Wall

Ken yirbu—may there be many readings like this one!

Purim Catblogging

One thing I’ve never told my readers: I am a disciple of a Hassidic rebbe.

Which rebbe might he possibly be? I can hear my readers asking. Perhaps the Maid of Ludomir, Hannah Rahel Werbermacher, who took on the function of a rebbe despite the fact that she was a woman and not related to any rabbinic figures of her day?

No. It’s the Ailurolover Rebbe, of course!

The Ailurolover is an obscure figure in Hassidic history. He is best known for his strong belief was that just as the redemption of the Jewish people from Egypt came through cats, our redemption from our present exile will come through cats as well. Therefore, he says, it is incumbent on every Jew, and indeed on every human being, to be as kind as possible to cats—and, by extension, all other animals.

Yes, tza’ar ba’alei hayyim (treating animals kindly) was one of the Ailurolover Rebbe’s favorite mitzvot, and he never tired of talking about it.

Now, you may ask: how did the redemption from Egypt come about through cats?

The following story about Bithia, the daughter of Pharaoh who found Moses as a baby in the Nile River, should explain. According to Jewish tradition, Bithia’s historic bath in the Nile was a symbolic renunciation of her father’s wicked ways, which allowed the slavery and suffering that she saw every day. However, according to a little-known tradition cited by the Ailurolover Rebbe, she decided on this drastic step only when she was already on her way to the river. Her actual reason for going there was slightly more mundane. Here is the story, redacted to one hundred words:

Bithia bent to her task. Like all royal children, she must serve in a temple, and today her job was to empty the litter pans.
Examining their contents, she smiled. Praise Bast, no more worms! Her formula had worked.
Outside, a whip cracked and a man groaned. Bithia’s eyes filled. “Lady Bast—or any god who may be listening—please put an end to that,” she prayed. “If only I could do so myself.”
Her work done, she summoned her maids. “I need a bath,” she said, leading them to the riverbank...
... for a dip that changed history.

But of course we can’t leave this post without some cat pictures. Here is Her Ladyship with a poofy tail after a German shepherd poked his head into the yard:

Her Ladyship with poofy tail

Here is Missy, after the same incident:

Missy with poofy tail

Here are both cats in the same frame:

Two cats in the yard

And since Lady is also part of my life, here she is close up:

Close-up of Lady

The Friday Ark. The Carnival of the Cats.

Happy Purim!

The Great Purim Sideways Caper

Last night I read Chapter 6 of Megillat Esther at Matan, an institution of high-level Jewish learning for women. One of the many services that Matan provides to the community is a Megillah reading by and for women, one of dozens, if not hundreds, of such readings that take place every year in Jerusalem and throughout Israel and the Jewish world.

When Matan invited me to read for them again this year, the woman who called me wanted to know what chapter I would like to choose. I asked for Chapter 6, which is my favorite. Not only is it wonderfully actable (can’t you just see Haman drooling over the prospect of wearing the royal robe and crown and riding the king’s own horse down the main street of the capital?), but it also contains the story’s turning point: just when it seems that things cannot look any worse for the Jews of the Persian Empire, the hidden hand of God intervenes and things suddenly begin to look a good deal better.

Although I have been reading the Megillah at various women’s readings for more than a decade, until last night I had only one recording of my doing so (on the interactive CD-ROM Purim Rock), which does not include visuals. So I asked a young woman, also a reader, to record my reading if it wouldn’t interfere with her concentration, since according to Jewish law, one must hear every word of the Megillah. She agreed, saying that it would be no problem.

I didn’t look at the camera at all while I was being filmed, so it was only when I got home that I discovered that in keeping with the topsy-turvy nature of Purim, I had been filmed sideways. Early on in the chapter, the woman who recorded me rotated the camera ninety degrees, not realizing that this would rotate the picture as well.

I rotated the picture back as best I could using Windows Movie Maker. So while most of the frames are now properly right-side-up, there is still some visual distortion, and everything there (including myself) looks a bit wider than it actually is.

All that said, without further ado, here is the first (and so far the only) visual recording of my Megillah reading. I will try to get more today, since I am reading two different chapters in two different places. If I succeed, you can be sure that I will remind the person holding my camera: “Please, whatever you do, don’t flip it!”

A happy Purim!

(Begin reading the Book of Esther—with the 1917 Jewish Publication Society translation—here.)

(Read about the Book of Esther—the story behind Purim—here.)

Monday, March 17, 2008

I’m on the Radio!

Radio Sefarad, that is.

Those who are interested can listen via modem or ADSL. Click on either option, and when you get to the following page, click on the image of the cover of “Day of Rest.” (My name is also there, so that should make things a bit easier.)

The broadcast is in Spanish, so if any Spanish-speakers out there happen to listen, I’d appreciate a paraphrase.

Radio Sefarad is run by Jorge Rozemblum, a musician and scholar of Madrid, Spain, to whom I offer a hearty ¡Muchas gracias!

(UPDATE: The program will only be up on the site until 11:59 p.m. tonight Spanish local time. But I have it saved, just in case.)

Saturday, March 15, 2008

The Colors of Cats

Some cats of different colors whom I saw downtown yesterday. Gray and white:

Gray and white cat

Gray and white with tux:

Gray and tux

The dreaded Calico Pirate:

Calico pirate cat

Not downtown, a beautiful bewhiskered beastie hunts a hapless shoelace:

The Lady in Red

The Friday Ark. The Carnival of the Cats.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Cat on a Bench

The world is utterly mad. I think I need a cat picture about now. Here is Her Ladyship on the garden bench.

Her Ladyship on the garden bench

The Friday Ark. The Carnival of the Cats.

Some Nature Pictures

When the world goes totally nuts, sometimes the only thing to do is post nature pictures.

Dogs guarding a plant nursery:

Dogs guarding plant nursery

The artichoke field that they are guarding:

Artichoke field

Almond blossoms:

Almond blossoms

More almond blossoms (incidentally, the wild parakeets enjoy eating them):

Almond blossoms

Friday, March 07, 2008

The Roads of Zion Mourn

Mourning notice for eight yeshiva students murdered by terrorists

My translation follows:

The Roads of Zion Mourn
the murder of our holy, precious students, heroic and gentle of spirit, lovers of our holy land, who were slaughtered at their studies, with books of Torah in their hands, holy martyrs in whose place no one can stand:
Doron Mehereta [aged 26], who will be buried in Ashdod
Yonadav Hirschfeld [19], who will be buried in Kokhav ha-Shahar
Roey Roth [18], who will be buried in Elkanah
Segev Peniel Avihail [15], who will be buried in Kefar Etzion
Yonatan Eldar [16], who will be buried in Shilo
Neria Cohen [15], who will be buried on the Mount of Olives
Avraham David Moses [16], who will be buried in Efrat
Yohai Lipschitz [18], who will be buried on the Mount of Olives
Earth, cover not their blood, and all the House of Israel shall bewail the burning that the Lord has wrought.

(More specific information about the funeral follows.)

I just read that US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in her condemnation of the attack: “This barbarous act has no place among civilized peoples and shocks the conscience of all peace-loving nations.”

I beg to differ, Madam Secretary. The perpetrators of this barbarous act have no place among civilized peoples. Nor do those who handed out candy and fired weapons into the air to celebrate it.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Attack at the Mercaz ha-Rav Yeshiva

Terrible news. The Mercaz ha-Rav Yeshiva at the entrance to Jerusalem was attacked by terrorists tonight. The television news says eight killed, dozens wounded.

More here.

Students. In a school. On a Thursday night, when yeshiva students study in the main hall all night long. (The creeps must have known that.)

Tell me again how our so-called partners want peace. Tell me again how our do-nothing government is protecting us.

On second thought, don’t.