Archive for January, 2009

Thanks a lot, Belgium

I had decided to take yesterday off as a Baby Day, and don’t normally post on Fridays.  But after reading Treppenwitz’s Thursday post about the recent comments by Belgian Foreign Minister Karel De Gucht in “support” of Israel’s existence, I couldn’t resist.

Trep’s post says it all about the absurdity and bizarre nature (not to mention insult) of the continuing discourse over Israel’s “right to exist.”  What other nation in the history of the world–whether conceived in peace or war, of open or closed society, of primitive or modern outlook–has been expected to explain or justify its existence 60 years after its founding?  Who has the right to decide on such a matter?  To whose benefit is the continued questioning of Israel’s right to exist?  And is that a group of people to whom the world should be giving a free bully pulpit?

Psachya, a commenter to Trep’s post, summarized beautifully the appropriate response a rational person should have to such an irrational public statement:

…And the next day, the Belgian minister voiced his unwavering support for the existence of peanut butter, molecules, the letter “F”, pot roast, and Tulsa, Oklahoma. “And we will not be budged from our position,” he said bravely…


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English rant #8: It’s

In the course of writing my rant on apostrophe abuse, I came across another Bob the Angry Flower cartoon regarding the word it’s. Here it is:

Note that while possession is often indicated by the addition of ’s (e.g. Shimshonit’s pet peeve) the word it is an exception to this rule. One makes it possessive simply by adding s, as in “The dog lost its collar.”

There you have it: Shimshonit’s shortest rant yet.

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I’m a boy, I’m a boy*

With thanks to Hashem Shimshonit, the Cap’n, and the Crunch girls take great joy in announcing the birth of Bill, the newest addition to our family. He is healthy, the spitting image of his mother as a newborn, and will be named (officially), please God, at his brit next Monday morning. Mazal tov!

*The title of this post and the name Bill are inspired by a song by The Who about a boy with three elder sisters (complete lyrics here). While it’s not part of anyone’s plan to make the boy’s life difficult, his parents are having trouble refraining from using feminine pronouns and the name of his third elder sister in referring to him. We hope these technical difficulties will iron out with time.

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This edition of Haveil Havalim is dedicated to the soldiers of the IDF and their outstanding service, professionalism, and humanity in the recent Gaza war. It is full of links to posts from the J-Blogosphere on Israel and Gaza, Israeli life and politics, Judaism, Jewish life, anti-Semitism, personal, art and photography, and humor.

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Presidential quiz

Years ago, when I was teaching American history, I put together a folder of lesson plans for substitute teachers to use in case of my absence. Remembering what a (fun) challenge it was for me as a history student to learn the names of the U.S. presidents, I put together the following exercise. To those of you who already know the presidents in order, perhaps you’ll enjoy some of the little trivia I picked up about them. For those of you with gaps (large and small), lotsa luck.

1. “Couldn’t tell a lie” (1789-1797)
2. Nicknamed “the Duke of Braintree” by his detractors in Congress (1797-1801)
3. Author of Declaration of Independence (1801-1809)
4. Chief author of the Constitution (1809-1817)
5. Called for a western hemisphere free of European colonization (“the ____ Doctrine”) (1817-1825)
6. Son of a former president (1825-1829)
7. First frontier-born president, nicknamed “the Indian Fighter” (1829-1837)
8. First president born under the US flag (1837-1841)
9. Died of pneumonia first month in office (1841)
10. First VP elevated to office after the death of the president (1841-1845)
11. Extended the US’s boundaries to the Pacific Ocean (1845-1849)
12. Died of milk and cherries (1849-1850)
13. He signed bills of the Compromise of 1850, which among other things, ended the slave trade in Washington DC and enacted the Fugitive Slave Act (1850-1853)
14. Only president from New Hampshire (1853-1857)
15. Only president never to have married (1857-1861)
16. Led the country through the Civil War, shot in Ford’s Theatre (1861-1865)
17. First president to be impeached (1865-1869)
18. Former Union general, to whom Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered (1869-1877)
19. Won by one electoral vote (1877-1881)
20. Shot (1881)
21. Approved a measure in 1882 excluding immigration of paupers, criminals, and lunatics (1881-1885)
22. Only president married in the White House (1885-1889)
23. Grandson of a president (1889-1893)
24. This president had served before (1893-1897)
25. Shot in Buffalo (1897-1901)
26. Namesake of the Teddy Bear, founded the country’s national park system (1901-1909)
27. Weighed over 300 pounds, had special “jumbo” bathtub installed in White House (1909-1913)
28. Led country through WWI, founded League of Nations (1913-1921)
29. Died of heart attack (1921-1923)
30. From Vermont, nicknamed “Silent Cal” (1923-1929)
31. Namesake of Depression-era shanty-towns (1929-1933)
32. Only president elected to fourth term; died of cerebral hemorrhage (1933-1945)
33. Ordered the dropping of the A-bomb on Japan (1945-1953)
34. Preferred to be remembered as a general than a president (1953-1961)
35. Sent “advisors” to Vietnam; shot in Dallas (1961-1963)
36. Sent soldiers to Vietnam (1963-1969)
37. Only president to resign from office (1969-1974)
38. The first person appointed to the vice presidency under the terms of the 25th amendment; i.e., first president never to win a national election (1974-1977)
39. Former peanut farmer (1977-1981)
40. Former B-movie actor, nicknamed “the Gipper” (1981-1989)
41. Served in WWII as the youngest naval aviator in U.S. history (1989-1993)
42. Second president to be impeached (1993-2001)
43. Lost the popular vote; elected by a Supreme Court decision (2001-2009)
44. First man of African descent to win a national election (2009- )

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Check out Ilana-Davita’s blog for the latest Kosher Cooking Carnival.  This is the Green Edition, with stories, traditional and less traditional recipes, and (in this edition) mostly meatless recipes.  Bon appetit!

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The Cap’n and I used to go to movies. Sunday night was usually date night, and with babysitters in Israel charging in shekels what the off-duty nannies we could get in the U.S. were charging in dollars, movie-going is not the wallet-stripping experience here that it once was.

And then it hit: the Great Movie Slump. I don’t know if the studios are turning out only garbage these days, or if the good stuff just isn’t coming to Israel. But in the last six months, we have seen “Mamma Mia!” twice (liked it the first time, were desperate for anything watchable the second time), “Quantum of Solace” (we love Daniel Craig’s Bond, though this wasn’t the best plot we’ve seen), “Tropic Thunder” (amusing, but seen more from desperation than from any other motives) and “Stepbrothers” (ditto). “Duchess” had two weeks of showing at prime time at the art film house, and then was bumped to Shabbat showings and Tuesdays at 5 PM. “Doubt” looks interesting, but I’m not in the mood for Catholic school angst right now.

Then I remembered when I was teaching years ago how hooked the other members of the history department were on the TV show, “The West Wing.” (That year, the Cap’n and I were hooked on the last year of “Star Trek: Voyager” at the time. Remember that post I did a few weeks ago on nerds?) At the time I didn’t take it too seriously because for me the experience of watching TV in the U.S. was a punishing one; I found the advertisements annoying, and the programming even worse. And yet over the years I’ve remained curious about that series and how it managed to hook the brainy history faculty.

So with the movie scene moribund and no television or cable in our house in Israel, I decided to try to get my hands on the series. After sending out a query on the Efrat chat list, I managed to acquire the complete series (and the series “Get Smart” as a bonus gift).

So now the Cap’n and I are hooked on “The West Wing.” Any time we have 43 minutes to spare, we postpone all other activity, plunk ourselves down in front of the computer, and take in another episode. The fascinating characters, witty dialog, blend of the personal with the political, and treatment of a wide variety of contemporary social and political issues are amazingly entertaining. (We’re even able to stomach the ultra-liberal views adopted by most of the administration, since some of the time they get corrected by experience or Republicans or both.)

My only question is, Since when did television get so high-brow? The Cap’n suggested that the market share interested in programming like “The West Wing” may be a relatively small one, but it’s also probably more affluent, and expected to make a reasonable return on the advertising. Beyond the bottom line, though, the notion of an American president with a Nobel Prize in economics who hires people who disagree with him and who is comfortable in his skin as the leader of the free world but doesn’t let it go to his head is understandably seductive for American viewers. I imagine it was a delicious escape for those disgusted with Clinton’s shenanigans and lapses in professionalism, as well as Bush’s tunnel vision and known dislike of contrary opinions. (What would viewers be escaping from the Obama White House? I wonder.)

I dread the day when we get through all seven seasons of the show. I suppose we’ll have to ask the same question President Bartlet is always asking: What’s next?

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English rant #7: Apostrophes

Back when I first hatched the idea of featuring English rants on the blog, the rant I looked forward to writing the most—and the one I think the English-speaking world needs the most—is this one. It’s about apostrophes, and while I don’t remember seeing many apostrophe errors as a kid, I can’t look in any direction nowadays without seeing them. They’re on storefront signs, restaurant menus, web pages… ANYWHERE unvetted English is used, apostrophes are sprinkled as liberally as sequins on a ballroom dancer’s gown. (Alas, the image is too wide to feature in its full legibility on this blog. Click on the cartoon to get a full image of it.)

For those guilty of misusing apostrophes on a regular basis, feel free to buy a poster of this cartoon to hang in a place convenient to your writing station. They are available for order here. Get some for your friends, pass them out on the street, and help clean up all the apostrophe litter you see.

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What do I pay you for again?

A couple of weeks ago, I was sitting around the Shabbat lunch table with friends when someone mentioned that Israel was being condemned for its assault on the Palestinians in Gaza by none other than Annie Lennox and Bianca Jagger. I couldn’t help but laugh.

No, seriously. They were joining a protest with the likes of former London mayor Ken Livingstone (who has no love for Israel during relative peacetime) and a host of other luminaries, and they got first billing in the press. If that isn’t absurd, I don’t know what is.

I feel about this the same way I feel about professional athletes and politicians being expected to be role models for children. It’s parents who should be those role models for their own children; when those athletes and politicians screw up, let it be their own kids who pay the price. I pay athletes to play ball, politicians to run the country, singers to sing, and actors to act. (I don’t recall paying Bianca Jagger to do anything.)

If they want to use their money and visibility to do some good in the world, a la Bono from U2, let them. But when they step outside their area of expertise, I see them as just another (usually ignorant) citizen, and tune them out. Vanessa Redgrave’s views on Jews, Derek Jacobi’s beliefs about the authorship of Shakespeare’s works (he’s a Shakespeare denier), and Viggo Mortensen’s feelings about Israel’s involvement in the Second Lebanon War are the opinions of actors, not experts. I see no need when such people release hot air to get angry or boycott their art or anything else. I might sigh or suppress a snort, but by remembering to keep them snugly in the pigeonhole of their craft, I can continue to enjoy what they do well, and ignore what they do not.

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The Cap’n and I are notorious junkies for J.K. Rowling’s books. We were hooked on the Harry Potter series for its language, character development, and subtly unfolding plots (sometimes over several volumes). While we haven’t donned robes on Purim and walked around waving branches pulled from trees, the Cap’n did take a day and a half off from work last year so we could curl up on the couch while the kids were in gan and read the entire seventh book aloud to each other.

Although Harry Potter’s story is finished and the great battle of Good v. Evil is over, Rowling decided to publish another book late last year entitled The Tales of Beedle the Bard, a collection of stories from the wizarding world used by Hermione to piece together part of the mystery in the seventh book. Rowling includes an introduction explaining the stories and their context in the wizarding world, including how they contrast with Muggle (non-magical) fairy tales. Imagine my surprise and delight when reading Rowling’s introduction when I saw the following:

Another notable difference between these fables and their Muggle counterparts is that Beedle’s witches are much more active in seeking their fortunes than our fairy-tale heroines. Asha, Altheda, Amata and Babbitty Rabbitty are all witches who take their fate into their own hands, rather than taking a prolonged nap or waiting for someone to return a lost shoe.

As a parent of three daughters, I take seriously the role of teaching my girls about their many choices in life, their great potential for accomplishment, and laying a firm foundation for their good self esteem. I endeavor to teach them proper hygiene and grooming without overemphasizing beauty; I want them to believe in the importance of knowledge and wisdom, without neglecting the virtue of kindness; and I want them to understand that their ability to make good choices is the greatest determiner of their fates, not the choices of others.

As most parents know, the best-laid plans can sometimes be thwarted by outside forces. My great efforts notwithstanding, my girls have fallen for the lure of the Disney sluts princesses. I have made sure they have all of the fairy tales in lavish color and (very nearly) the original text, which is much more complicated and raw in its portrayal of emotion and intrigue than the syrupy, seductive Disney-fied versions. But given a choice, the girls will often lean toward wanting to hear the Hollywood versions which present the female protagonists as empty-headed, warbling, biologically accommodating dolls and the antagonists as warty, senselessly scheming stepmothers. My only option as the reader/mother/teacher/feminist in these situations is to consent occasionally to read the Disney versions, stopping to ask pointed questions, critique, or gloss my own personal commentary into the reading of the stories. For example, is there any evidence that Princess Jasmine is a nice person when the first thing the reader sees her do is sic her pet tiger on a potential suitor? What can the Little Mermaid have been thinking to give up her life as a princess under the sea and become a mute mannekin in love with a fickle prince who doesn’t even know who she is? And if Snow White is really in her late teens (as Disney portrays her), why does she defy the dwarfs’ warnings and keep answering to the door when the Wicked Queen comes selling poisoned Amway?

The thing that needles me the most about these stories is the way evil in the world is never explained except by some people just being that way. Villains are nearly always women motivated by vanity or envy. Victims are nearly always girls whose beauty arouses the ire of the villains (who themselves are former beauties past their prime.) Men are either enchanted, weak-willed, or dead, or else show up in the last scene to steal away the princess. Even in the original tales, which are much more complex and layered, the girl protagonist is still a pawn of other people’s actions, and in most cases must await rescue by a male.

I have never been very comfortable with the idea of rewriting traditional fairy tales. It feels phony to me to switch male for female and vice versa to give the weak strength (which can only be found in testosterone), give characters powers they never had in the original stories, or make villains repent when they were really left for dead.

To write new stories, though, is refreshing. Robert N. Munsch and Michael Martchenko did this when they published The Paper Bag Princess, where a dragon lays waste to the princess’s castle and carries off her intended, leading her on a quest for justice which requires wit, pluck, and a familiarity with dragons and their weaknesses. Another picture book with amusing, competent female characters is Three Strong Women: A Tall Tale of Japan by Claus Stamm and Sandra Tseng. A few years ago, I discovered a book of fairy tales entitled Clever Gretchen and Other Forgotten Folktales which features girls and young women who go out into the world and make things happen rather than staying home and waiting for other people to do mean things to them. And perhaps the most surprising discovery I made was through my collecting of Arthurian tales, during which I picked up a copy of John Steinbeck’s (yes, THE John Steinbeck’s) The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights, containing an astonishing account of a young knight named Ewain whose search for adventure begins in the usual way (meeting up with a woman at a well in a forest, of course), but ends quite unexpectedly. Instead of leading him to save a maiden or kill an ogre, the old woman leads him off to train him in the arts of knighthood. Here is part of their conversation upon meeting:

“Have you known a young and untried knight to ride away and in a year return as tempered as a sword, as sure and deadly as an ashen spear?”

“Why yes, I have. Last year Sir Eglan, whom even I could best, returned to win the prize at a tournament.”

She laughed with pleasure. “Did he now? A good boy. One of the best I have handled.”

“He never mentioned you.”

“Well, how could he? What man in this man’s world would admit he got his manners from a woman? I did not need an oath from any of my knights.”

And now Rowling has done a similar job with several of the stories in Beedle the Bard, where friendship and compassion heal, deception and foolishness are punished, and women are not the stupid Playboy bunnies of the film industry and its commercial franchises.

I know it will be years before I can escape having to read the horrid, syrupy versions of fairy tales that have captivated my children. But at least now I have something with which to cleanse my palate (and theirs).

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It is a rare thing to hear Israelis praise the Diaspora, and yet in the past few days, I’ve read several pieces in the Jerusalem Post that have done just that.

A week ago last Friday, the Post had an editorial thanking the Jewish communities throughout the world for their public demonstrations in support of Israel’s war in Gaza; last Friday a letter to the UpFront section of the paper suggested that one of Israel’s strengths may lie in having an outspoken Diaspora community to advocate for it in the rest of the world; and the same section printed a piece by Daniel Gordis in which he advocates for every synagogue in the U.S. to own an apartment in Israel (not just in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv, but smaller cities such as Kfar Saba, Kiryat Gat, and Pardes Channah) for its members to use on a timeshare basis, enabling Diaspora Jews to connect in a personal way with the country.

I have said in the past that while I think that Israel is the BEST place in the world for Jews to live (religious and secular), I disagree with the notion that it’s the ONLY place in the world for Jews to live. My opinion is based on reasons of family ties, professions, and the fact that while much of the rest of the world does not care particularly for Jews, there are still places where, if they wish, Jews can live in relative freedom and comfort alongside their non-Jewish compatriots.

But perhaps a distinction should be made between a Diaspora which continues to nourish its Jewish identity and support its fellow Jews worldwide (including in Israel), and a Diaspora of Jews who remain there because they imagine they are safe from the threats that Israel faces on a daily basis. The fact that the leader of Lebanon’s Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah (yimach shemo), has made the statement, “If they (Jews) all gather in Israel, it will save us the trouble of going after them worldwide,” suggests that Jews anywhere and everywhere are considered a legitimate target of terrorism. (Witness Mumbai, where the center of the tiny Jewish community was pinpointed and struck hardest in the citywide massacre.)

I can see the advantages both to a kibbutz galuyot (ingathering of the exiles) and the status quo. While some may agree with Nasrallah that having all of the Jews in the world living in Israel would jeopardize the safety of world Jewry, the advantages would include a strengthened morale, improved Jewish unity, and greater leadership alternatives here. Advantages to having a Jewish Diaspora that actively supports the Jewish State include having a strong Jewish voice on ethical and social issues affecting Jews and non-Jews alike, financial support for institutions in Israel which benefit the Diaspora, and advocates (formal and informal) for the only democracy in the Middle East.

Without a kibbutz galuyot, Judaism will continue to fracture and fragment in the world, especially in the United States. Jews will continue to be seduced away from their faith and traditions by the non-Jewish world, in effect creating what Efraim Zuroff referred to in last Friday’s Post as “the largest graveyard in Jewish history, far larger than Auschwitz, with the only difference being that the Jews lost there went to their Jewish demise voluntarily.”

And yet, without a supportive Diaspora community, who will advocate for Israel in the rest of the world? Who will speak out with the accumulated wisdom of thousands of years of Torah and scholarship? Who will pressure governments, media, and the UN to apply a single, reasonable standard to the conflicts here? Who will call for justice for those wronged by hatred and religious extremism with the compassion of a people at various times enslaved, expelled, and exterminated by the rest of the world? Who’s doing all this now?

One can discuss the pros and cons of worldwide aliyah until one is blue in the face, but the fact remains that the day when every Jew in the world will pull up stakes and make his or her way to the land of our fathers is simply not forthcoming. And given that state of affairs, what remains is to find ways to strengthen the worldwide Jewish community, both in its Judaism and in its ties to one another. To that end, Daniel Gordis’s suggestion is a small but sound one.

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To honor the righteous

The clutter in the Crunch household has gotten completely out of hand and must be eradicated. To that end, I am taking the day off from writing and instead will share a d’var Torah suited to the times and this week’s parashah, Shemot. It is from Rabbi Jack Riemer and is in praise of the righteous people of the world who have saved Jewish lives and are remembered for doing so.

Shabbat shalom.

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I almost can’t believe I’m writing on this topic, but I just can’t stand it any longer. I have twice read people’s descriptions of their hobbies as pasttimes (and that was before Googling “past times” in a search for images for this post). I looked this one up just to make sure I am not missing something obvious. If there was any lapse on my part, it was shared by the AH, the NI2, and no, I didn’t even bother with the OED.

Then I remembered having browsed in a charming store by the name of Past Times in Cambridge, England (it’s a chain; the shop pictured right is the shop on Fife Road, Kingston-upon-Thames). They offer a range of wares on themes from Celtic (distant past) to the 1960s (more recent past). If I still celebrated Christmas, this would be one-stop shopping for me. It’s gorgeous stuff, definitely in the category of eye candy, but not a hobby.

In an effort to be helpful, the Cap’n suggested that the meaning of pasttime should be “late” as in, “The flight will be arriving pasttime.” Makes sense to me. But it’s still not a hobby, and definitely not a compound word.

The correct English word for a hobby is a pastime. This is a compound word combining the words pass and time, i.e. something one does in order to pass the time. By this token, if someone wants to misspell the word, he or she should do so by doubling the s, not the t.

When in doubt about how to spell a word like this, think a moment about its origins; this can often help one arrive at the correct spelling. Occasionally, the English language strays (unintentionally, I’m sure) into the realm of logic. Enjoy it when it does.

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Living in a state of normalcy

Our dear friends, X and Y, recently concluded a visit with us here in Israel. They spent entire days out pounding the pavement, seeing the sights, and enjoying free-flowing kosher cuisine. At night, Y blogged assiduously about their adventures to keep friends and family up to date.

One friend commented on one of Y’s posts about how it must feel to live as a Jew in the Jewish State. She wrote, “I’d love to read an analysis of the differences between modern Diaspora and Israeli Judaism, and what it means to people to not have to think of themselves as different, what effect that has. …I just keep thinking how nice it would be and yet how different to be normative like that.” Truer words were never spoke. I’d like to take a stab at addressing this comment, if I may.

Modern Diaspora v. Israeli Judaism
Judaism is Judaism wherever you go, but of course that’s not entirely true. In America (the only Diaspora Jewish community of which I have direct experience) the choices are more limited in terms of kashrut, eating out, schooling, and basic Jewish services. Jewish communities are islands plunked down in a sea of non-Jews, and Jews in America in some sense lead double lives, living and working among non-Jews during the work week, and on Shabbat being transformed into Yidn. Jews undergo the same pressure as their non-Jewish neighbors of trying to make ends meet, save for college for their kids and retirement for themselves, except Jews have the added expenses of day school education, pricey kosher food, and real estate within an eruv (usually in an urban area and always valued higher than when there is no eruv). America is a Jewish democracy, with communities governing themselves on a national and local level and not possessing the power to delegitimize one another. American Jews have always been fiercely independent and suspicious of attempts to rein them in to any particular standard, which is one reason why America has refused to appoint a chief rabbi as many other Diaspora communities have done.

Living in Israel is in many ways a complete departure from Diaspora life. The non-Jews (for the most part) have vanished when one gets off the plane at Ben-Gurion, and the challenge of living together as Jews really begins. The presence of the Rabbanut in the government here is a mixed blessing: Nearly all of inhabited Israel is within an eruv, and there is no need to check every Friday afternoon to see if it’s up; mikvaot are more numerous here, dotted throughout cities rather than in one central location; all hotels and major supermarkets have kosher supervision; and kosher food is sold everywhere, though the maze of hechshers on food and restaurants and the politics and greed that go into the process (which also exist in the Diaspora) can be mind-boggling. But the Rabbanut’s governmental power also gives it the authority to determine the definition of a Jew for the purposes of basic status and life cycle events in the country, and to control the courts which determine the outcomes of divorce and conversion cases (not always to the benefit of those involved).

My favorite aspects of Jewish life in Israel as opposed to that in the Diaspora are these:
1) Jewish education is everywhere, and there are many more choices in terms of special needs education, single sex v. co-ed, and religious outlook.
2) Psak halachah in some ways is more lenient here, for example relaxing kashrut restrictions for Ashkenazim during Pesach, or permitting freer use of dishwashers for meat and dairy dishes.
3) While salaries are notoriously low in Israel, the expenses that exist for Jews in the Diaspora are usually reduced here for things like schooling, university, and communal Jewish services (eruv, mikvah, shul membership).
4) Most of the people who hate Jews live OUTSIDE our borders rather than next door to us. When Israel has to go to war with such people, there is usually not too much doubt about why.
5) By necessity, Jews in the Diaspora must care what their non-Jewish neighbors think of them. (This is part of the raison d’etre for the Jewish Community Relations Council.) Here, what other people think of us may hurt our feelings, or deny us membership in some organizations, or restrict travel for a few high-profile military or government figures, but in general we are more insulated here from some of the negative feelings others have toward Jews and Israelis.

Being “normative”
I grew up hearing about Israel, but few of my relatives had been here, and I never really heard stories about it. One of our rabbis when I was growing up had fought in Israel’s War of Independence before moving to the U.S., and his wife, my Sunday school teacher, spoke frequently about Israel as a miracle. But both miracles and the abstractness of a Jewish State meant little to me at the time.

So I think back to my first days and weeks in Israel in 1996. I wasn’t Jewish according to Jewish law, but I had made up my mind to identify with the Jewish half of my family and was here for some remedial education, so in essence I was beginning to see things through Jewish eyes. The first thing to strike me about being here was the fact that there really was a Jewish State, with its own money, language, and government. That in itself was amazing.

And as I spent more time here, the pace of life and the fact that Jewish holidays were THE holidays the country celebrated was another revelation. In my mind, I had imagined that Jewish holidays would be celebrated, but that the Christian ones would be acknowledged in some way (the way things operate, in reverse, in the U.S.). But as Christmas approached, the shop windows carried no sign of the impending Feast of the Nativity (I was never in Jaffa, for example, where many of the Arabs are Christians), work and play proceeded as normal, and on Christmas Day, I had a job interview in Jerusalem, then called to wish my family a Merry Christmas from the central bus station in Beer Sheva on my way home. (The only Christmas decorations to be found in Israel, I was informed, were available before Sukkot, as sukkah decorations.)

Not only does life here boogie to a Jewish rhythm, but it is totally unapologetic about doing so. If people come here from Christian countries to live, they know what goes on elsewhere in late December; the rest just don’t care. Israel has its own customs for its (many more) holidays. The High Holidays are observed by nearly everyone, though while some are in shul davening on Yom Kippur, others are making a bee-line for the DVD rental store and buying their kids new bikes to ride on the deserted streets during the quietest day of the year. During Sukkot, there are sukkahs on every religious family’s balcony, in addition to those built in public parks, public squares and on sidewalks to accommodate religious restaurant patrons. From Sukkot to Chanukah, the malls and streets are lined with stands selling jelly doughnuts (a Sephardi/Israeli Chanukah tradition) and chanukiot (9-branched menorahs). When the almond trees begin to blossom in February, kids sing about Tu B’Shvat (Jewish Arbor Day), people plant trees, and the malls once again are lined with stalls selling the fruit of (last year’s) trees—dried fruits and nuts. Purim sees people of all ages dressing up, having parties, and in some cases, traveling from a Purim celebration in one city to another on Shushan Purim (the day after Purim, when the holiday is celebrated in cities that were walled during the time the events in Persia took place) to enjoy two days of madness. Before Pesach, homeowners and storekeepers alike clear out their hametz (leavened products). Most restaurants close down for the holiday, but hotels and some enterprising restauranteurs kasher their establishments and cater to the KFP crowd. In spring, the national holidays roll around, with schools and schoolchildren providing programming for Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) which people take time off from work and ulpan to attend; the nation freezes for two minutes (including all road and street traffic) on Yom HaZikaron (Memorial Day) to remember the fallen in Israel’s wars and terror attacks; and disposable barbecue grills are sold everywhere in advance of Yom HaAtzma’ut (Independence Day) when everyone drives out to a park, forest, field, or (I’ve heard) even the highway medians and enjoys an outdoor cookout. Shavuot sees a supplement in the newspapers (Hebrew in the Hebrew press, English in the Jerusalem Post) with dairy recipes, sponsored by the Tnuva dairy company. (Of course, since this is the Jewish State, there is a higher-than-normal incidence of lactose intolerance in the population, so recipes for parve cheesecake flutter over online community chat lists. God bless Tofutti!) The summer slows down (except for a couple of fasts), and whereas the South (particularly Eilat) is a popular holiday destination in the winter, the North and its forests and streams become a popular camping vacation spot during the hottest months.

It must have been a heady experience for Jews to come here in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and get to carve out what a modern Jewish State would look like. Living in America, when I would occasionally vent my frustration to my mother about what short shrift Jewish holidays were given to Jewish kids growing up in middle America, she would always reply matter-of-factly, “The Christians were here first.” Leaving aside the Native Americans and Thomas Jefferson’s views on religion in a democracy, that observation never left me as I grew from childhood to adulthood. I had the feeling that my only choice in Christian America was to like it or leave it, and once I had experienced life in Israel, was left no alternative but to leave it. Because here, it was the Jews who were first. When the Jews came here, there was no Christianity, no Islam. (And no UN or United States, either.) This is the one place in the world that was created and exists by, about, and for the Jews. Yes, the world still likes to bully us on a national level, as they did on a personal and societal level when we lived in their lands; but here, we stand together against them, no longer dispersed, no longer helpless, no longer alone.

There’s no place like home.

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What on earth is “MOOSHY”?

(Please excuse the insanely large picture. It was too pretty to resist.)

My husband recently picked up a free copy of a magazine in one of the stores in Efrat. Its title is IsraTimes, and it aims to appeal to English-speaking immigrants and tourists, both observant and non-observant with short articles and features on health, the holidays, Israeli society, food, and a variety of other subjects of interest.

One of December’s articles that appealed to me was by Aaron Potek entitled, “Consumption Reduction: When Less Is More.” In an issue focused on kashrut, including a kosher meat industry recently wracked by scandal and widespread ill-treatment of animals before slaughter, this seemed an appropriate topic to address. Potek confesses a lack of interest in becoming a vegetarian, though the guilt of not doing so is always present. (“Put simply,” he writes, “matzah ball soup just isn’t the same with a tomato base.”)

So as an alternative to eliminating meat, he has opted to reduce his consumption, creating an organization entitled MOOSHY, or “Meat on Only Shabbat, Happy Occasions, and Yom Tov [holidays].” He explains that its purpose “is to advocate for Jews reducing our meat consumption while elevating it when we do eat it.”

I grew up in a household where meat was served daily and was the centerpiece of every meal. But as I grew older and became responsible for my own cooking, my interest in such heavy, sometimes elaborate meals waned. (Having numerous vegetarian friends, and then dairy kosher kitchens, also contributed to this.) When the first Crunch child reached the age of eating solid foods, I decided to do a little more research on nutrition, and read William and Martha Sears’ Family Nutrition Book from cover to cover. (Okay, it scared me a little and it was a few years before I would eat a doughnut again, but I got over it.) Its thorough discussion of the foods needed to nourish people of all ages, as well as tips for reducing and avoiding foods that can cause disease, were the first real education in nutrition I had received. The Searses strongly advocate a meatless diet, but their enthusiasm for a diet rich in vegetables and fruits, nuts and healthy oils, was what really took hold with me.

The Crunch family is unlikely to give up meat entirely in the short term. We have growing children for whom the bio-available protein in meat is very important and the fats not yet harmful. We live in a Jewish community where lactose intolerance and dairy allergies are high, and where meat (usually chicken) is a standard basis for Shabbat and holiday meals. And meat is usually easier to serve on Shabbat morning than many of the wonderful meatless ethnic foods that can be prepared—Chinese, Japanese, and authentic Mexican, particularly. (Most Indian food can be rewarmed gracefully, but I have met few people in the Jewish world who like the curries, ginger, chiles and coriander that flavor Indian food.)

So without ever hearing of an organization called MOOSHY, we have adopted its principles. I prepare meat for one or both meals of Shabbat, and the rest of the week we enjoy vegetarian cuisine. We get our protein from fish, soy, cheese, and beans and rice, and eat fresh fruits and vegetables every day. On Shabbat, I serve one meat dish and the rest of the dishes are meatless including vegetables, salads, and whole grains. I never run out of steam with meatless cooking, and find inspiration by following the food columns in newspapers, food magazines, friends’ blogs, and my favorite vegetarian cookbook, Linda McCartney’s Linda’s Kitchen (a beautifully written and photographed compendium of meatless recipes).

Potek posits that some of the reason for the manifold problems affecting the meat industry is high demand. By reducing that demand, he hopes consumers will be able to influence the industry to improve the conditions for animals and workers alike, while in the process improving their own health. Since one of the goals of Judaism is to elevate the mundane to a level of sacredness and significance, this seems very much in keeping with the spirit of Torah.

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Banana chocolate chip muffins

First, a note: Rereading my post from last Thursday, I realize I did a pretty poor job of representing McCarthy’s article. I have gone back and edited the post, including a summary of the important points McCarthy makes.

Now, to today’s post.

While I am absorbed in the events unfolding in Gaza, I also need to get my mind off it sometimes to preserve my sanity. My escapes these days include knitting (I just finished an elaborate Irish fisherman’s sweater for Beans), reading (a biography of John Marshall, fourth Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court), writing, and occasionally, baking. This Shabbat we took a family favorite, banana chocolate chip muffins, to our lunch hosts. The recipe follows:

I found this recipe online. It originates from the Linden Tree in Rockport, Massachusetts.

Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins

½ C. margarine
½ C. brown sugar
¼ C. sugar
½ t. vanilla
2 C. flour
½ t. baking powder
1 t. soda
½ C. chopped nuts
3 ripe bananas, mashed (this week’s, pulled out of the freezer, were black and greasy on the outside and poured out of the peels–ideal for this recipe)
2/3 C. chocolate chips
2 eggs

Cream together margarine and sugars. Beat in eggs, vanilla, and banana. Add flour and soda. Stir in chips and nuts. (The Cap’n won’t eat nuts, so I just add extra chips.) Line about 18 muffin cups with paper liners, distribute batter evenly (filling cups about 2/3 full) and bake about 15 minutes on turbo/convection (20 to 25 minutes on regular bake) in 350°F (180°C) oven. (Watch for browning on the tops, and test with a toothpick.)


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An article worth reading

My fellow blogger, Treppenwitz, has posted a link to an article which addresses the significance of the current war in Gaza on a number of levels. There are three points that McCarthy makes in this article that are worth noting. One is one regarding the prospects for peace right now; a second is about the frequent references of Israel’s critics to her violation of “international law”; and a third is in reference to “proportional response,” another favorite stick with which to try to beat Israel. Here are a few excerpts to whet your appetite:

On “peace in our time”
Before the Israelis finally acted, Palestinian forces had launched over six thousand missiles at Israel from Gaza since 2005 — when Israel bowed to international pressure and ceded control of Gaza to the Palestinian Authority. And that onslaught must be considered in context, both with Hamas’s provocations that led to the 2006 war and with the two intifadas orchestrated by Arafat’s Fatah — including one commenced after a breathtaking settlement offer which would have awarded the Palestinians about 90 percent of their land demands.

Those are not the actions of a people who will be ready to function as a legitimate state anytime soon.

Let’s be blunt: we are looking at a generation or more before the Palestinians might be prepared to assume the obligations of sovereignty. So we should stop talking about it. Doing so only indicates to the Palestinians that we are more interested in the simulacrum of a settlement than in cultivating a mature statehood that is stable, hopefully democratic, and respectful of its peers — such that it is capable of negotiating with them absent the notion of annihilating them. “Roadmaps” and “peace processes” which hold out the possibility (indeed, the likelihood) of near-term statehood tell the Palestinians that terrorism succeeds and that they can reap enormous benefits while continuing to work toward Israel’s demise.

In short, we can help Israel enormously in the here and now — while simultaneously setting the Palestinians on their only realistic path toward long-term prosperity — by making clear that statehood is absolutely off the table until the Palestinians convincingly abandon terrorism, acknowledge Israel’s right to exist, rescind or amend all covenants to the contrary, and demonstrably overhaul their institutions (especially their media and education systems) in a manner that conveys their commitment to this new state of affairs.

On “international law”
…[T]here is no consensus international law of armed conflict. … For far too long, we have abided — even encouraged — the fiction that there is a community of nations all playing by the same rules. There is not. For present purposes, the most significant demonstration of this is that many nations, including our European allies, have joined the 1977 Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions. The United States has not. Israel has not. Since this is about national life and death, we can no longer afford to keep papering over that difference.

… Israel is being accused of war crimes based on standards to which it has never consented. For people who care about their international obligations — and the Israelis deeply do, just as we do — such allegations have a devastating effect on the national cohesion needed to see through a difficult war. They are also slanderous.

These Protocol I standards were designed for the benefit of terrorist organizations, national-liberation movements, and third-world tyrannies. We don’t accept them, nor do the Israelis, and nor would the Europeans had they not abdicated responsibility for their own security. As construed by human-rights activists, Protocol I makes the conduct of warfare illegal — certainly if the combatant nation has any notion of achieving its objectives, which is the point of going to war in the first place.

On “disproportionate response”
The ethos we are dealing with here is best demonstrated by the ludicrous contention that Israel’s operations are “disproportionate” because so many more Palestinians than Israelis have been killed or wounded at this point in the fighting. The concept of “proportionality,” which has long been a guideline in the conduct of war, has nothing to do with comparative casualties. It refers to a weighing of the military advantage to be derived from an operation versus the risk of inordinate collateral damage (i.e., excessive harm to civilian lives and infrastructure).

Of Protocol I’s many failings, among the worst is its attempt to impose legal exactitude on proportionality and its companion concept, the “distinction” between military and civilian targets. In the original contemplation, these standards were left to the best judgment of commanders, mindful of the facts that the primary objective in war is victory and that some civilian casualties are unavoidable.

Yet, as military law experts David B. Rivkin Jr. and Lee A. Casey explain…, Protocol I demands that military forces contemplating operations ceaselessly consider alternatives with a view toward causing the least conceivable danger to civilians. Indeed, military forces must “take all feasible precautions” and otherwise “do everything feasible” to avoid incidental loss of civilian life. Consequently, the principal objective of warfare becomes preserving the lives of the enemy’s civilians. Military success is subordinated despite the fact that this could endanger one’s own civilians (over whose security war is often fought in the first place) and extend the war (thus placing enemy civilians in further danger anyway).

In layperson’s terms, if Israel heeded the calls for a ceasefire, it would be to Hamas’s sole advantage, allowing it to regroup and rearm (via Egypt, one of the countries crafting the ceasefire agreement; thanks a lot, “peace partners”). If Israel bends over backwards to avoid civilian casualties when fighting an enemy that deliberately stores weapons, fires rockets, and takes refuge in schools, mosques, hospitals, and apartment buildings, it will be unable to stop the continued manufacture and firing of weapons against its own civilian population (about whom the world seems to care much less than it does about Arab civilians). If we were fighting an enemy with our same war ethics (i.e. keep military operations far from civilian areas), they would sustain fewer civilian losses. But we cannot, as McCarthy points out, spend the entire war trying to preserve the enemy’s’ civilians at a cost to our own (which is the whole reason for the war in the first place).

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Today’s rant is dedicated to the wanton overuse of the word passionate in the United States.

Growing up with my nose in books, I usually only encountered the word passionate in connection with infatuation, love-making (in the mostly verbal, Jane Austen sort of way) or, in J.K. Rowling’s terms, “a cauldron full of hot, strong love.” Its meaning as I took it was along the lines of overwhelming, powerful, or keenly felt admiration or attachment.

In college, I came to understand that the root of passionate, i.e. passion, is connected to the word pain. (In this context, the John Cougar Mellencamp song about love entitled “Hurts So Good” makes sense.) This explains its use in describing the lengthy, blow-by-blow account of the unhappy demise of a Jewish boy in Greek Scripture, as well as J.S. Bach’s musical dramatizations (according to Matthew and John) of same.

Love and death. These are stirring, existential issues for the human race. So imagine my revulsion when hearing the word passionate applied to college students for their major subjects, people endeavoring to start businesses, and basements. Yes, I said basements. A company whose line of business was finishing and prettifying basements advertised frequently on one of the Boston radio stations, and in their ads, a man with a broad New England accent plugged his company saying, “We’re passionate about basements, and we luv helpin’ people.”

Perhaps they are experts at finishing basements. Perhaps they will take on the challenge of making habitable even the dankest, moldiest basement. And I have no doubt that they take pleasure in improving the quality of life of their clients. But to say that they are passionate about basements suggests to me that they not only clean up, enclose, carpet, and tastefully finish basements, but that they whisper sweet nothings, read Byron, or sing Neopolitan love songs as they are doing so. Or worse, that having completed a particularly nasty job, they crucify themselves on the beadboard wainscoting.

The NI2 defines passionate as follows:
1. Capable or susceptible of passion, or of different passions; easily moved, excited, or agitated: specif., easily moved to anger; irascible; quick-tempered; characterized by anger; angry.
2. Affected with, or characterized by, passion, or strong or intense emotion; expressing passion; ardent in feeling or desire; enthusiastic; impassioned; vehement.
3. Specif., affected with, or under the influence or control of, the passion of love.

The following is the AH’s definition:
1. Capable of or having intense feelings; excitable.
2. Wrathful by temperament; choleric.
3. Amorous; lustful.
4. Showing or expressing strong emotion; ardent.
5. Arising from or marked by passion.

One can picture enthusiasm (part of the NI2’s definition) driving someone to start a business, or an English major having an ardent admiration for Wordsworth’s poetry. But no, fellow anglophiles, one may not claim to be passionate about fixing up basements. A statement of that nature ventures into gross hyperbole. Let us save passionate for Cathy and Heathcliff, Tristan and Isolde, and Heloise and Abelard. And, perhaps, that nice but wayward Jewish boy who should have stayed in yeshiva.

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Someone from my shul in America recently sent a link to the shul’s chat list for a “10-minute multi-media presentation on the history and background of the Arab-Israeli conflict.” I have watched it and give it a high approval rating. It sticks to the facts, many of which are energetically ignored, denied, or obfuscated by enemies and harsh critics of Israel. Such individuals will probably find the presentation not to their taste, but since their own arguments rely heavily on lies subjective viewpoints, this will not come as a surprise. (I.e., if the presentation seems slanted in favor of the Jews in this region, it’s because the facts are slanted in that direction.)

For those whose knowledge and understanding of the history of this region (ancient and modern) is spotty or non-existent, and even for those who know most of the facts but don’t know how to use them to be effective advocates for Israel, this presentation is strongly recommended.

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Pardon for Pollard

President George W. Bush has hardly enjoyed a term of office free of gaffes. He has engaged the U.S. in two wars, neither of which had clear goals or have reached successful conclusions. The economy is in a shambles, the U.S. is as dependent as ever on fossil fuels, the environment has been shoved to a dark, dusty corner of the national agenda, and the list goes on.

His attempts in the past year to try to cobble together a “peace agreement” and shove it down Israel’s throat in exchange for unrequited concessions from the Jewish State has been a colossal failure. So far, the only decent thing I have observed him do in the eight years since his circus-like election to office has been to keep to his chair with his mouth shut during Israel’s recent foray into Gaza.

But Bush’s presidency need not be a total loss. Twenty-four years ago, a gross miscarriage of justice occurred in the United States, and in the ensuing decades it has accumulated layers upon layers of intrigue, perfidy, and deception. I refer here to the incarceration of Jonathan Pollard.

Those unfamiliar with the case can inform themselves by visiting the “Justice for Jonathan Pollard” website. (The facts page is a good place to start to get the backstory.) Here are a few of the details included in the facts page to acquaint the uninformed:

Jonathan Pollard was a civilian American Naval intelligence analyst. In the mid 1980’s (circa 1983-1984), Pollard discovered that information vital to Israel’s security was being deliberately withheld by certain elements within the U.S. national security establishment. Israel was legally entitled to this vital security information according to a 1983 Memorandum of Understanding between the two countries. The information being withheld from Israel included Syrian, Iraqi, Libyan and Iranian nuclear, chemical, and biological warfare capabilities – being developed for use against Israel. It also included information on ballistic missile development by these countries and information on planned terrorist attacks against Israeli civilian targets.

Concerned about the risk to innocent lives of withholding this information from Israel, Pollard sought legal means to transfer this information to Israel. His appeals to his superiors and attempts to change the policy of withholding this information met with no success. When all other means had been exhausted, Pollard transferred this information personally

Pollard was not a mercenary, but an ideologue, a fact borne out after nine months of polygraphing by the FBI. He cooperated fully with the plea agreement which was proposed in lieu of a lengthy trial. Yet despite the fact that he was never indicted for harming the United States, never indicted for compromising codes, agents, or war plans, never charged with treason (legally, treason is a charge that is only applicable when one spies for an enemy state in time of war), and was indicted on only one count of passing classified information to an ally, without intent to harm the United States, Pollard was given a life sentence with the recommendation that he never be paroled.

Since Pollard’s sentencing, the United States has in every way imaginable violated the plea agreement and every promise of good faith. They have misrepresented Pollard as a traitor (see definition of treason in previous paragraph), refused to let Pollard’s legal team review all of the documentation against him (despite the fact that Pollard’s lawyers have been given Top Secret security clearance to enable them to review all documents relevant to his case), and made Pollard’s case a political football (a la Charlie Brown and Lucy) in the U.S.’s relations with Israel, including the peace process with the Palestinians. Every promise of his release has been broken, and the unjust extremity of his sentence (life for a crime which, when perpetrated for the benefit of an enemy state, carries a sentence of 2-4 years) has been denied by the American justice community.

I’ve done some reading of Pollard’s critics online. The New Yorker and PBS’s NOVA both have stinging critiques of him as a person and as a professional. Whether what they say is true or not, I don’t know. I also don’t know how accurately he is represented by the Israeli or American religious Jewish community which are the main advocates for his release. What I do know is that according to the facts of the case, he agreed to a plea bargain and cooperated fully with it, and the U.S. did not. It promised him justice, and it did not deliver. No flaws on Pollard’s part, either character or professional, can excuse his treatment at the hands of the American justice community. An American spying for Iran, one of the greatest nuclear threats to world right now, was recently sentenced to 15 months. Pollard just passed the 24th anniversary of his imprisonment.

If you care about the administration of justice in the United States, if you believe that passing information to allies is a less severe crime than spying for an enemy state, and if you believe that wrongs perpetrated by governments should be righted, consider doing what you can to correct this one. Perhaps a widespread appeal at this time can sway a president concerned for his legacy.

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