Archive for March, 2009

Kitniyot unchained

Pesach has always been my favorite holiday.  I love the stories, the songs, and the leisurely meal.  Cleaning doesn’t bother me, and it’s a great excuse to muck out the freezer and dark corners in the back of the cupboards once a year.  And I enjoy many of the foods that are special to Pesach.

One thing I do NOT like about Pesach, however, is the absurd attitude of Ashkenazim to kitniyot.  Those little beans, grains of rice, and seeds are NOT the enemy.  Chametz IS.

And yet the ban on kitniyot, of murky origin and astonishing durability, is allowed to endure and even to expand.  American corn (maize), peanuts, edamame, string beans, and even quinoa are prohibited by some (if not most) Ashkenazi authorities, despite being New World foods never imagined by Europeans when kitniyot-phobia took hold.

We traditional Jews are picky about our food; the Torah tells us to be.  But picky and deranged are two different things, and when it comes to Pesach and what we’re supposedly not allowed to eat, deranged is a better description of our behavior.  The ban was called “foolish” and “mistaken” by rabbis at the time the French community first took it on in the 13th century, but no one listened to them.  Rav Moshe Feinstein did not advocate abandoning the ban, but urged against expanding it to new foods.  In both cases, the will of the people to be barking mad was stronger than the authority of their own sages.

We Crunches went along with the kitniyot nuttiness back in the States.  It was the custom of our community (minhag hamakom), and while we were getting our frum feet under us, we didn’t ask too many questions.

So what finally tipped me over the edge?  Let me count the things:
1)  We made aliyah, and the tight sense we used to have of our surrounding community has loosened since we’ve been here.  People around us keep so many different minhagim, and there is not the centrally recognized authority that our American community had with its rabbinic guidance.  People here go by their family’s customs, psak from their rav from yeshiva, or from some other rabbi with whom they’ve forged a relationship.  As for family minhagim, our families customarily ate pasta and bacon cheeseburgers during Pesach, and we don’t really have a relationship with any rabbis here yet, so we are on our own either to hold on to our American customs or to adopt new Israeli ones.
2)  Two years ago, I began to ask more questions about the practice, including where it had originated, why it’s still clung to, and practical questions such as, “Does serving kitniyot make your Pesach dishes treif?”  The custom, as explained by my teacher (whom I consulted on this and most other issues), was initiated by French Jews whose community had been badly hit during the Crusades, who hoped by adopting a chumra (stringency) to demonstrate their faith to Hashem and thereby escape further persecution by their Christian neighbors.  I understand the cloud of fear under which those Jews must have lived, and if their response to it was to take on chumrot, that was for them to decide.  I cannot say, however, that I agree that their very local and timely custom should bind all of us for eternity.  And kitniyot reside in Limbo in the Passover food world: not eaten by most Ashkenazim, but not chametz, either, and certainly not treif.
3)  Last year, a rabbi in our community gave a shiur on quinoa.  We didn’t go, because the year before he had announced that it was acceptable and besides, quinoa is a vegetable (from the beet family, to be specific), not a grain.  Afterwards we found out from a friend who had gone to the shiur that the rav had explained again that quinoa is not a grain and is halachically permissible, but the rav had actually reversed his ruling because of the concern of ma’arit ayin (fear of appearing to be eating kitniyot).   In other words, he said we cannot eat chametz, or kitniyot, or (adding a third layer of prohibition) even appear to be eating kitniyot.  One of the things I have admired over the years about traditional food laws has been the sophisticated knowledge of food science (and other sciences) required of rabbinical authorities when making rulings about certain foods or practices.  When this rabbi reversed a responsible, scientifically sound, halachically-informed opinion because of ma’arit ayin, he caved in to the forces of ignorance, gossip, and judgmental behavior—an attitude from which I try to keep my distance in the Jewish world.
4)  I remember years ago some friends telling us about how one Pesach they had made and served a salad during Pesach, and the wife had accidentally put snow peas in the salad.  Their guests gawked and the balabusta nearly fainted from embarrassment, but I was left after hearing this story wondering, “Who the hell makes bread out of snow peas?  And will a few snow peas lead to mixed dancing?  Or the end of civilization as we know it?”
5)  Rav David Bar-Hayyim, shlit”a, a Jerusalem rabbi known affectionately by some (and derisively by others) as “the kitniyot rabbi,” has finally liberated both kitniyot and Ashkenazi Jews living in Israel from their chains of stupidity, allowing for their happy reunion.  Ruling that there is no minhag in Israel to avoid kitniyot, and that Ashkenazim who come here to live should adopt the local minhag, he has ruled in favor of a community of Israeli Jews who can eat in one another’s homes for Pesach and throw off some of the fears, bad memories, and chumrot that continue to drive Jewish practice in other parts of the world.  (Rav Bar-Hayyim also posits that the pascal sacrifice does not require the Temple in order to be performed—there was no Temple in Egypt, after all—and that families should be getting together to slaughter and eat lamb as in days of yore.  He also doesn’t agree with the kula of selling chametz before the holiday.  We’re on a lower madrega spiritually than those two things, but are working our way up year by year.)

So no, by putting kitniyot back on the menu we’re not converting to Sefardi Judaism, or throwing off the mantle of frumkeit, or advocating mixed dancing.  We’re just adopting a local minhag.

For more information on kitniyot, Wikipedia has an entry, there is a blog called The Kitniyot Liberation Front, and our late beloved friend and teacher, Rabbi Richard J. Israel z”l, wrote an informative and amusing d’var Torah back in 1997 which explains the practice and origins of the kitniyot ban, and gives the reasons for the Conservative movement’s call for an end to the ban.

Tune in again tomorrow when I share two quinoa recipes, one of which includes—gulp!—KITNIYOT!


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I love movies, and some of the lines from them have stuck with me for decades.  Here are a few of my favorite movie lines (in no particular order).  See if you can guess which movies they come from:

1. All right, everyone out of the room!  Not you, Scott.  Not you, Number Two.  Not you, Random Henchman with a wrench…
2. Can we have your liver, then?
3. She’s a drag, a well-known drag.  We turn the sound down on her and say rude things.
4. Look in the mirror—see what a bad girl looks like?
5. Laz im geyn!
6. Margaret Thatcher naked on a cold day!  Margaret Thatcher naked on a cold day!
7. I’ll have what she’s having.
8. I know everyone on island is complete and total crazy.  But you Whitaker Walt—you are crazy too?
9. On second thought, let’s not go to Camelot.  ’Tis a silly place.
10. Excuse me, stewardess.  I speak jive.
11. Don’t tell me about the English!  Because while the Greeks were building roads and cities and temples, what were the English doing?  I’ll tell you what the English were doing: they were running about in loincloths plowing up the earth with the assbone of a giraffe!
12. We thought you was a toad.
13. I never had it off with no Black man, dawling…
14. No capes!
15. What’s taters, Precious?

What are the lines that stick in your head long after you’ve seen the movie?

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The name’s Bond…

Who gets schooled in tactics, hand-to-hand combat, defensive driving and shooting?  All by a team organized by a guy named Yehuda?  If you guessed agents from the U.K.’s MI5 you’d be wrong.  The correct answer is “West Bank settlers.”

The Cap’n and I were never “survivalists” in the U.S., and our idea of roughing it has always been Motel 6.  We had the police to take care of us, and terrorist incidents in the greater Boston area were pretty rare.  But life in the West Bank is different, and while we have every desire to live here, we know that there are certain safety issues one must be aware of besides just looking both ways before crossing a street.

To prepare ourselves a little better for life in this part of the world, we’ve been partaking in a course offered by the security services here in Efrat.  It is aimed at people like us (new to the area, clueless, English-speaking, whose idea of a wild night is a post-election costume party at the neighbors’ house), and the other people in the class with us are middle-aged parents of kids who want to learn more about safety in our homes, around the yishuv (settlement), and on the roads.

Ehud, our primary instructor, is Israeli with experience in the army and post-army with anti-terrorism.  He spent the first class outlining some of the issues we should be aware of in our unfenced settlement.  He gave us a list of things we should keep in our cars, encouraged us to have informal drills with our families to get everyone into the mamad (secure room) safely, and what to do if we hear shooting in the streets.  He told us the rules governing the Arab workers in our settlement, and gave us the security hotline number to call if there is any suspicious activity to report.  He also told us about the first response team we have in the yishuv, and how they work in cases of emergency.

The second class was practical self-defense.  I missed this one because it was the day after Bill was born and I was still not quite in fighting shape yet.  The Cap’n went, though, and returned black and blue from drilling with another man in the class with 20 years of martial arts experience.  I’m pretty well prepared for unarmed fighting, but the Cap’n passed on some practical suggestions related to knife fighting (i.e. keep the knife back rather than holding it out like a fireplace poker, and slash rather than stab).

The third class was defensive driving.  We were encouraged to know our cars well: their braking distance, what sorts of obstacles we can drive over, and which we need to drive around.  Ehud set up a roadblock of tires and cones for us to drive toward at high speed, and only slam on the brakes when he gave the signal, about 3 meters in front of the block; we then put the car in reverse and hit the gas again, since such roadblocks are often set up for ambushes.  We drilled how to drive the car from the passenger seat if the driver is shot and wounded (grab the wheel with eyes on the road, push the incapacitated driver back in his seat, steer until a safe distance away from the gunman, then when ready to slow down, lift the driver’s leg and foot from the gas pedal and slowly pull up on the hand brake).  We learned how to pull an incapacitated adult from the car (without throwing our middle-aged backs out), and practiced climbing from the front seat to the back seat to exit out the rear passenger doors (no mean feat in a straight skirt with a rear-facing carseat in the middle of the back).  We drove over burning wooden boards, and through another block set up with road obstacles and rioting classmates armed with water balloons–a kinder, gentler version of stones.  (Ehud tried to limit people to three water balloons per car, but we got a little carried away.  When we were finished, the road was littered with the detritus of our “rioting” and looked like a toddler’s birthday party the morning after.)

There is one more class, which will take place at the range.  A few people already have sidearms, and some of the rest of us will be acquiring them in the next few months.  (The Cap’n and I will get a trainer and sidearms when Bill’s a little older and the madness of the spring holidays is over.)

My friend Rachel thinks we should go on Fear Factor after this class.  (She particularly liked the driving through fire part, though it was basically a non-experience for us since we were instructed to drive normally and felt none of the thrill one might expect.)  But like most self-defense courses, this is not meant to make us fearful, but to make us less so.  The more safety-conscious we are, and the better prepared we are to deal with unusual situations, the safer we can feel living here.

Would I rather not have to take these classes?  Of course.  God willing, we’ll never have to use any of what we learn.  But I think more and more that we live in a world (certainly a country) where this stuff is all relevant, and that we’re much better off knowing as much as we can how to keep ourselves and our children safe.

So until the Mashiach comes and Redemption begins, the name’s Bond…Jane Bond.

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Nosy questions

A woman once wrote to Miss Manners (aka Haragamam) with a story about a man she had sat next to on a plane trip.  In the story, the man had asked her, “Are you a career girl?”  What should she have answered? asked the woman.  Miss Manners answered that she was perfectly within her rights to answer in the affirmative (since she was indeed a “career girl”) and, in the spirit of friendliness and reciprocity, ask the man if he was a “career boy.”

I’m all for turning the tables on people who ask jarring questions.  And one of the silliest questions I and other converts to Judaism are asked is, “Why would you convert to such a nutty religion?”  If the asker wants to discuss the ways in which Judaism is nutty, well and good; I can partake.  But if the question is really just a thinly-veiled insult (another way of saying, “How could you have been so stupid?”), a snappy answer may be called for.  Here are a few responses to consider for those who want to answer the question in the same spirit:
1) because the Jews have all the money;
2) because the Moonies rejected me;
3) because Jews control the world.  Just read the papers;
4) because the Scientologists are too nutty, and the Unitarians aren’t nutty enough;
5) because I heard Jews aren’t supposed to ask nosy questions.

One can also ask the asker, “Why would you ask such a question?”  After all, why a convert did what she or he did is not anyone else’s business.  (This retort also works for people who ask if your triplets are “real,” how much money you make, and why you don’t cover your hair.  Thanks to Heather for the tip on this one.  Another Miss Manners response, I believe.)

Of course, one is always welcome to plumb the depths of one’s soul and come up with a real answer if the asker is someone with any right at all to know.

But I have a fourth way to deal with this situation.  Converts or potential converts should try asking born-Jews why they stayed Jewish.  If they think it’s so nutty, why don’t they convert to something else?  Bet they haven’t thought about that one.  (If you get the opportunity to ask this question of a born-Jew who has opened the subject, please come back and write about what happened.)

How do you think one should answer a question like this?

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Go, Dames!

Yesterday I took the Crunch girls to a children’s matinee performance of “Dames of the Dance 2: The Pesach Story.”  The Dames are made up of Gush Etzion’s women’s dance teachers and their students, and following their highly praised show of last year, they were back this year with a series of 17 dances around the theme of the Exodus and the Pesach seder.  Among the many dance styles were tap, hip-hop, Israeli, jazz, and modern dance, the Charleston, and belly dancing (with lots of jingling but no visible jiggling).

Peach and Banana love shows, but Beans often loses interest after the first ten minutes.  Yesterday, though, the cockles of my heart were warmed by the sight of all three of them completely enraptured by the dancing.  Children, teens, moms, and grannies partook in the performance, telling the story with beauty, grace, wit and humor.  Here were a few highlights:

  • A video of little girls dressed as slaves dancing to Lenny Solomon’s “Into the Sea” (a parody of “Under the Sea” from The Little Mermaid; lyrics here);
  • A graceful modern dance by a group from Tekoa called “Desert Voices” which showcased the importance of water in the Hebrews’ sojourn in the desert;
  • A small tap ensemble dressed in Egyptian garb (lots of gold lamé) to demonstrate the Egyptian credo that everyone should dress and act like them (performed to the Bangles’ song, “Walk Like an Egyptian,” of course); and
  • A processional dance by women wearing “Dames of the Dance” aprons, providing percussion with metal bowls and colanders, spoons and whisks, forks, knives, and plates, enacting the cooking and table-setting part of seder preparation.  The kids were mildly interested here; the mothers and grandmothers in the audience were busting their guts laughing.

Despite the fact that the Gush is much smaller than Beit Shemesh (around 25,000 as opposed to 75,000), and we have far fewer Russian musicians and no conservatory, there is a wealth of culture here, especially for women.  There are the Dames, of course, and Raise Your Spirits, a group of women who do musical theater, writing and performing shows on Jewish themes.  (Raise Your Spirits began during the early part of this decade to provide entertainment for people in the Gush when there was nightly shooting by Arabs on the road to Jerusalem.)

What I love and admire best about these groups is not only their guts and their talent, but their initiative in making these wonderful events happen.  Some of that comes from this being a community with a very high percentage of immigrants (and children of immigrants) who are accustomed, when they don’t see something they want or need, to making it themselves.  With Raise Your Spirits, it came out of necessity, and with both, it provides a venue for women to perform who do not feel comfortable (because of the laws of modesty) performing for men.  But above all, it showcases local amateur talent, raises money for charity (half the price of each 40 NIS ticket goes to help the needy), provides entertainment for women of all ages, and shows that all women, regardless of shape and size, can build strength and flexibility, move gracefully, and create something beautiful.

Go Dames!

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Like everyone else, I have down days.  The baby has me up at an ungodly hour (though this is blessedly rare), the news has me deeply depressed, I miss my family and friends in the U.S., I lie awake thinking about how much I have to do the next day, or an interaction with one of the girls that didn’t go well, or how I can get Banana to stop tantrumming every afternoon after gan.

But even on my worst days, I find myself thinking how lucky I am to live in this particular time in history.  Yes, the economy looks rather bleak, Iran is plotting my nuclear demise as we speak, and the whole world seems to have it in for the Jews.  But consider these things:
1) Immunizations.  Despite how hard it is to see pain inflicted on my children, I am grateful that there are vaccines for the worst illnesses that plagued prior generations.  I can have a baby nowadays in the almost certain knowledge that it will live to age 5, where a few generations ago the odds might have been 50/50.
2) Birth control.  For parents to be able to plan their families removes much of the dread that I imagine came from married life.  Psychologically, economically, and biologically, people have more power to choose for themselves the family make-up they want.
3) Feminism.  This has become “the other f-word” to some, but I think that’s unfair.  Rather than putting pressure on women to achieve and set aside their personal lives (which is how many people interpret feminism), I think it’s about choices.  Women should be able to choose career, motherhood, and personal relationships at the time they deem appropriate in their lives.  They should be free to move about in society without fear of censure, discrimination, or rape.  While the work of the women’s movement may not be finished, it’s come a long way, baby.
4) Suffrage.  In the biography I’m reading about John Marshall, I learned that voting in the U.S. was originally not done by secret ballot.  Tables would be set up on the village green, candidates and election officials would sit behind the tables, and white, male property owners of age would line up, step forward, and say out loud who had their vote.  It would be recorded, the lucky candidate would stand up and shake the man’s hand and say, “I appreciate your vote.”  On a small scale, this made for tense social situations in small communities, and on a large scale, didn’t take into account the will of the majority of people in the country.  A few centuries later, there is universal suffrage in the U.S. and most of the rest of the Western world (including Israel, but not including its neighbors).  People may fret about election fraud and a politicized Supreme Court deciding the winner of an election, but it is still better than what was.  Those who stay home on their keysters and refuse to vote on principle (Joseph Heller was one) are letting everyone else make their choices for them.  Not me.
5) Careers and education.  We no longer live in a time when what our father did for a living determines what we do.  Universal education is a battleground for people who want to thrash out the details of how it should be done, where the money should come from, and what the curriculum should include, but still it exists.  When made accessible to all, education and the openness of the working world to those with talent and interest rather than those born into a profession makes for a society of freedom, innovation and mobility.
6)  Technology.  Just the thought of hand-washing cloth diapers for Bill gives me the screaming mimis.  The Cap’n and I hand-washed dishes for two years before buying a dishwasher here in Israel.  (Now when we turn it on we close our eyes, smile, and say, “I love this dishwasher.”)  And the Internet.  People used to have to go to the library, own encyclopedias, and simply go without information.  Now we research vaccines for the kids, download dosages for medications (Israeli pharmaceutical companies don’t print them on the package, but enclose them in the box which invariably gets thrown out), listen to songs we’ve long forgotten about, buy stuff, and look up an actor who appears on West Wing whose face we recognize but can’t remember where we’ve seen him.  All with a few clicks of the mouse.  Absolutely amazing.

We have all this stuff now, which allows us to choose.  The Amish can still ride around in their horse-drawn buggies, people can do without dishwashers, and some parents choose not to have their children vaccinated.  Having choices doesn’t eliminate risk, but it does increase personal freedom.  I ask myself nearly every day, How did people manage without this stuff?  I don’t know, but we’re blessed not to have to.

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The other night when getting ready for bed, 5-year-old Peach started to take off her turtleneck, but left the neck stretched around her crown, the shirt dangling inside-out down her back.  “Ima,” she said to me, “you have a Bat Par’o” (Pharaoh’s daughter).  I chuckled along with her, and we proceeded with her bedtime routines.

When she climbed into bed, however, I asked if she wanted to take off the shirt.  “No,” she answered.  I asked why not.  “Because I want to be tznu’ah,” she answered, looking at me a little reproachfully.

I’ve been dreading this sort of confrontation for a while now.  How do I explain to a 5-year-old kid that it is possible to be modest without covering one’s hair?  And that hair-covering is not the only measure of modesty?

It is true, I don’t cover my hair. I did for a few years after my wedding, then stopped.  It wasn’t the community standard where I lived, and after Beans was born, I was less interested in broadcasting my status as a married Jewish woman.  I had become much more comfortable with who I was as a convert, a Newtonian, a wife and mother, a modern person, and just me.  Covering my hair no longer felt comfortable with how I saw myself.

When we made aliyah, however, I knew that hair-covering was a community standard and while I still planned to wear trousers occasionally, I decided to start covering my hair again while I assessed the lay of the land in Israel.  We moved into a community that was modern, but not as modern as Newton.  While most women cover their hair in that community, I was noticing that a good number of the women who became my friends, to whom I related particularly easily, were non-hair-coverers.  Despite hair-covering being so prevalent, I began to feel uncomfortable again, and after six months stopped covering my hair for good.

Before making aliyah, I did some research on hair covering.  I had studied the sota story in the Torah, the basis (so I’ve been told) for the practice of women covering their hair, but I wanted to know more.  A fellow congregant directed me toward the book Hide and Seek: Jewish Women and Hair Covering by Lynne Schreiber, a collection of stories by women about their own experience of hair-covering (or not).  As I read the book, I took careful note of why women were covering their hair.  The answers ranged from the dubious to the preposterous:
1) because it’s halachic (perhaps, though I’m not entirely convinced);
2) so people know I’m married (I have a ring that says that);
3) because I want to save it as something special only for my husband to see (I think we all have more special things set aside for our husbands than that);
4) because I don’t want men to have indecent thoughts about me from seeing my hair (then why is your sheitl so much prettier than your actual hair?);
5) because Hashem wants me to (nowhere does it say that in the Tanakh).
Upon finishing the book, I was convinced that covering my hair was not the right thing for me to do.

Certain things I have agreed to do in Judaism “because Hashem says so.”  I keep kosher, not because it had any health ramifications in the ancient world (it didn’t), but because the Torah says to, because it is meaningful, and because it’s a basic community standard to be met in the world I inhabit.  It’s challenging, especially when one lives in the Diaspora, but it is a challenge I’m up to, that I think is worthwhile.  I go to the mikvah too, not because I need to make sure I get a bath in once a month (though sometimes that can be a challenge with a newborn around), but because it is a Torah imperative.  But I’m not willing to cover my hair because it means nothing to me, it doesn’t do what women think it does, and while it’s supposedly based on a very circumstantial story in the Torah, I suspect the real reason is that for hundreds of years women in Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East covered their hair because that was a cultural norm, and while women in many of those regions no longer cover their hair in the modern era, Judaism has chosen to make continued hair covering a halachic imperative.  (And it would not be the first popular custom to be made halachic in that way.)

So Peach is right when she says accusingly, “You hardly ever cover your hair.”  But it’s also true that I am a modest person.  Modesty is not just how one looks; it’s how one behaves.  I don’t flirt with men, do things to call attention to myself, or wear alluring (i.e. trendy) clothing.  I am shomeret nigiah, and while I sometimes bristle at the lengths some religious Jews go to avoid the sexes being in the same vicinity (on buses or in lectures), I don’t make a scene.

I guess my challenge with my daughters will be to show them that hair-covering is not a deal-breaker in the realm of modesty.  In Israel, where people are quick on the draw with labels (realtors often ask women how they cover their hair when deciding which neighborhoods to show them), this won’t be easy.  Wish me luck—I’m going to need it.

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English rant #14: Try and…

Try to remember the kind of September
When life was slow and oh, so mellow.

It has become so common for people to say they’re going to try and do something, I’m not sure anyone who reads this is even going to know what I’m talking about.

But it’s weird.  If I’m going to try and make it to work despite a debilitating case of hangnails, what am I saying?  The and in the sentence suggests a parallel structure of the two verbs so that the person is carrying out two separate actions: trying it to work, and making it to work.  Make sense?  Of course not.  Am I trying to make it to work?  Yes indeed.  Professional English pedants can help me out here, but when used correctly, try here becomes a sort of qualifier, a bli neder statement for the Hebrew speakers out there.  I’ll try, but I may not succeed.

Try is not a helping verb.  (These are: am is are was were be being been has have had do does did may might must can could shall should will would.)  But it still reminds me of the other verbs that are followed by infinitives.  “I have to trim my hangnails before I can go to work today.”  I wouldn’t say, “I have and trim my hangnails.”  Have to, try to, like to, toTOTO!

So let’s everyone try and to remember.

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Whenever I talk to a non-Orthodox woman, the first thing out of her mouth is almost always how much the mechitza bothers her in Orthodox synagogues.

I’m not much of an apologist for Orthodoxy.  I have studied many of the intricacies of things that bother me and still don’t agree that they’re sound practices.  But occasionally when I see a practice that is strange, sexist, or just plain weird, I just sit back and watch it for a while to see what else happens around it.  Often when I do this, a glimmer of silver lining shows itself behind the practice.

The reason generally given for why women are divided from the men (in a balcony, behind a wall or curtain or smoked glass) is to enable men to concentrate on prayer, and not on sex.  I’m not going to deny this; I think it’s true.  I have talked to a number of men about this issue, and they generally agree that being denied the sight of women is a good thing when they’re trying to pray.  (I still think this is pretty lame, but we also live in a world where women cannot go out at night without worrying about their safety because men are not given a strictly enforced curfew.)

I’m sure this will come as a big surprise to many, but I actually think Orthodoxy understands the psychology of the sexes better than most religions, and mechitza is an example of this.  Why?  Because while it looks to most women like women are being penned up away from where the action is, I think there is more to it than that.  When women and men are separated in prayer, a few things happen:
1) Both are better able to concentrate on prayer.  Single people are not always wondering how they look or who might be looking at them, or looking at other single people.  Married people are separated from their spouses, free to shuckle, sway, or mumble without their spouses shooting glances at them or hissing at them to tone it down.
2) The difference between what men and women are allowed to do is ironically LESS rubbed-in than it would be if men were continually tripping over women’s legs and feet in order to go up to the bimah for an aliyah.
3) It is much easier to get to know the other people in the congregation if one is not always with one’s spouse.  Men get to know other men and women get to know other women, and sometimes couples are able to match up spouses at kiddush afterwards.
4) For women who are conscious of the considerations of kol isha, being on the women’s side of the mechitza means they can sing in a normal voice (instead of whispering, mouthing, or not singing at all) and not worry about their voices being heard individually.  They can also hear other women’s voices better.
5) If the boys aren’t in charge, they don’t show up.  This was an opinion voiced by a sociology professor I know, and I agree with her.  Whenever women are able to break into a field, be it clerical, teaching, or medical (especially gynecology or pediatrics), the pay and prestige plummet.  Men leave for more lucrative fields and leave women to carry on the hard work.  When women make in-roads in religion, too, men generally begin to opt out.  (I have heard that Protestantism has experienced this too.)  I don’t care how many men would deny this on their own behalf, I’ll bet a pound to a penny that when most men see a woman on the bimah with better Hebrew and Torah skills than they have, they feel inferior and will ultimately lose interest in attending shul.  Judaism holds the view that women are naturally more spiritual than men, and while this may not be true for every single Jewish individual, women are known to show up to things voluntarily, where men need an incentive.  Men’s chiyuv (obligation) is what makes them lay tefillin and show up for minyan, and women don’t need that.  That’s why most modern Orthodox shuls I’ve been to have both sides of the mechitza well filled.
6) This is my favorite: the difference between married and unmarried congregants is less pronounced.  Judaism is a family-oriented religion, and while this is usually a good thing, for single people going to shul, it can be painfully isolating.  Having begun going to shul regularly in a Reform temple when I was single, I was always conscious of sitting alone while families sat together.  I had no one to talk to, no one I knew to sit with, and always felt lonely in the huge congregation even though I was surrounded by other people.  I immediately felt more comfortable in an Orthodox shul where families were separated and the women sat together.  In this environment, I was just another woman, and was on much more equal footing socially.  My head was uncovered during services, so it was obvious I was unmarried, but this actually attracted other people’s attention to me, and I was never without a place to eat Shabbat dinner or lunch.

Mechitza is one of a few customs I’ve made my peace with, and actually (gulp!) like after several years of scrutiny.  It doesn’t hurt, either, that in some communities women run their own prayer services to which men aren’t allowed AT ALL, giving women even more of their own space to pray, develop their Torah skills, and run their own show.

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Many years ago, my brother developed a pithy answer to the question, “Mind if I smoke?”  He would respond, “Not at all.  Mind if I fart?”

This raises my main issue with smoking in public.  I respect the right of smokers to engage in a habit that is bad for their own health.  I respect the right of smokers to turn their teeth and fingernails yellow, make their voices gravely, and carry around with them the stale reek of an overflowing ashtray.  I respect the right of smokers to challenge the research leading to warnings about second-hand smoke.  And I respect the right of smokers to patronize establishments alongside non-smokers.  I just don’t respect their right to smoke there.

Why not?  Because sitting in a smoke-filled room feels no different from sitting in a closed garage with the car motor running.  Because when an unwashed person enters a room and then leaves, you can open a window and air it out.  Because when you fry your dinner in grease and set off the smoke detector, you can open a window and by the next day, the smell is gone.  But let smokers do their thing in a room day after day and you’re ripping up carpet, replacing curtains, and scrubbing tar off the walls to get the smell out.  In short, it’s offensive and disgusting.

While apartment-hunting in Jerusalem, I once saw a furnished place that stank of cigarette smoke.  The landlady asked what I thought, and I told her someone had been smoking there.  “But the smoker is gone,” she said.  I told her it still smelled like cigarettes.  “But the smoker is gone,” she persisted.  Not entirely, I thought.

It’s not easy having a canine sense of smell.  I smell things other people don’t, and not just when I’m pregnant and that sense has gone haywire.  If M. Night Shyamalan had written the Shimshonit version of “The Sixth Sense,” the memorable line would have been, “I smell dead people.”

I don’t want to sit in a restaurant with people who sit at their tables and sing opera or recite “Howl” at the top of their voices.  I also don’t want people slamming into me as they pass by my chair, or wearing unsightly clothing or makeup.  Why should the sense of smell be treated with so little compassion compared to the other senses?

I support smokers having designated areas and special restaurants, bars, and places of entertainment where their habit is permitted.  But I consider it a basic necessity to be able to breathe air free of noxious odors, so let smokers, wearers of Giorgio, and people with uncontrollable flatulence have their own place to eat, drink, and listen to music.

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if Israel decided to honor as Jewish non-Orthodox conversions?

I’ve been wondering this for over a decade and still haven’t come to any conclusions.

I began this post last week, planning to support the state-wide recognition of such conversions and the general practice of non-halachic Judaism.  I wasn’t interested in trying to imagine the thumbscrews that would have to be put to the haredi-dominated rabbinate, or the political acrobatics and backroom deals, or anything else that would happen before it could come to pass.  Just suppose we got as far as the Israeli government saying to a Reform couple visiting Israel that they could marry in a Reform ceremony here and have a Jewish designation on their “permanent record,” whatever that looks like here.  (It should be noted that while at one time Israeli Jews had a designation of “Jewish” on their identity cards, this is no longer the case.)

My general argument was to be that once the dust had settled, I imagined (perhaps naively) that things would sort themselves out socially, meaning that halachically-defined Jews in Israel would still care about marrying other halachic Jews as they do in the Diaspora, and on a person-to-person basis would negotiate these details with other Israelis.  I was going to argue that Reform, Conservative, and other brands of liberal Jews would feel more welcome in Israel if allowed to celebrate life cycle events here (like marriage) and might actually consider aliyah in greater numbers than they do now.  And, I would assert, non-Jewish immigrants (like those from the Russian-speaking world) might be encouraged to convert to Judaism if there were more choices available than conversion through a haredi-dominated rabbinate.

I wasn’t going to argue these things as a liberal Jew; I’m not a liberal Jew.  But many years ago, I was a happily identified Reform Jew, and I still remember the anger I felt at the absurdity of having a Jewish State that was only fully available to some of the Jews in the world.

So I was about to argue decisively, in the spirit of universal Judaism, in favor of full recognition for Reform, Conservative, and other liberal movements.  And then I thought again.

In the March 6  Jerusalem Post Letters section were three letters addressing the issue of non-halachic Judaism and its status in Israel.  They appeared to have been written in response to a column by a Reform rabbi arguing that Reform Judaism should declare itself a separate religion in order to gain religious recognition in Israel.  Two of the letter writers argue that Reform Judaism is already a separate religion, and one actually believes that Christianity “is closer to Judaism than Reform in its basic tenets,” based on its views of the existence of God, divine creation, God’s gift of the Torah to the Jewish people, prophesy, a messiah, and a World to Come.  If, as the writers suggest, the Reform movement does not subscribe as doctrine to the existence of God, it would seem to be the case that Jews in that camp do not embrace most of the doctrine of traditional Judaism.

One argument I recall hearing against recognizing non-halachic movements in Israel was where to draw the line between who gets recognized and who doesn’t.  How Jewish is Jewish?  How much reverence for Jewish law would have to characterize a movement?  Or recognition of the collective Jewish story?  Or adherence to Jewish practice?  There are doubts about messianic Chabadniks.  Would Jews for Jesus count?  Would non-theistic, humanistic Jews count?  Who else might come along to strain the definition of Judaism as a monotheistic religion and nation?  I don’t have the answer to all of those things, and don’t kid myself that any group of Jews—elected, appointed, or otherwise—could agree upon a definition.

I don’t personally agree with much of liberal Judaism’s chosen practice.  (Perhaps I’ll get into that another time.)  But that is not my main concern with having them recognized in Israel.

The current state of halachic conversions in Israel is a sorry one.  Corruption, mediocrity, abuse of power, and a refusal to apply the leniencies permitted in halacha for conversion mark the majority of the rabbinate that handles conversions within Israel.  There is a decided tendency to adopt the strictest interpretations in order to reject or delay as many conversions as possible, representing one of the great failures of the Israeli rabbinate.

I would love to see this situation change, and for conversions to become more accessible within the halachic framework.  While it’s tempting to think that by allowing the liberal movements to operate more freely in Israel, the rabbinate would be forced to ease its demands, but I think the opposite is as likely: that the rabbinate might dig in their heels and keep conversion out of the reach of all but a few, arguing that those who aren’t serious (in the minds of the rabbis) can go elsewhere.  That would be a huge chillul Hashem, and something I would not like to see come to pass.

So I find in the end that while I have a greater appreciation for the complexity of the problem, I’m no nearer a solution.

Welcome to Judaism.

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An atheist joke

I have great compassion for atheists.  It ain’t easy being a frum Jew, and religion certainly isn’t for everyone.  But while I am steadfast in my belief in the rights of people not to believe in Hashem—or to swear by Him or pray to Him in civic or other public settings—I still like a good joke.  So here’s one on the atheists:

An atheist was walking through the woods.

“What majestic trees!  What powerful rivers!  What beautiful animals!” he said to himself.

As he was walking alongside the river, he heard a rustling in the bushes behind him.  He turned to look.  He saw a 7-foot grizzly bear charge towards him.


He ran as fast as he could up the path.  He looked over his shoulder and saw that the bear was closing in on him.  He continued to run, then looked over his shoulder again.  The bear was even closer.  The atheist tripped and fell onto the ground.  He rolled over to pick himself up but saw that the bear was right on top of him, reaching for him with his left paw and raising his right paw to strike him.


At that instant the atheist cried out, “Oh my God!”

Time stopped.  The bear froze.  The forest was silent.

As a bright light shone upon the man, a Voice came out of the sky.  “You deny My existence for all these years, teach others I don’t exist and even credit creation to cosmic accident.  Do you expect Me to help you out of this predicament?  Am I to count you as a believer?”

The atheist looked directly into the light.  “It would be hypocritical of me to suddenly ask you to treat me as a believer now, but perhaps you could make the BEAR a believer?”

“Very well,” said the Voice.

The light went out.  The sounds of the forest resumed.  And the bear dropped his right paw, closed his eyes, and spoke:


Baruch Atah Hashem Elokeinu melech ha’olam shehakol nih’yeh bi’dvaro.”

(Thanks to Bayla for forwarding the joke and photos.  If anyone knows the original author, I would appreciate the opportunity to credit him or her.)

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In studying philosophy or theology, I have sometimes heard teachers and others describes the tenants of a particular system.  Does this make philosophy a landlord?

There is widespread confusion about the correct word to use in this context.  People who use tenant in this fashion have probably heard (but perhaps never seen written) a word meaning “any principle, dogma, belief or doctrine, held as true, especially by an organization.”  That word, as stored in their memory, begins and ends with the letter t, but there the word’s specifications end.  Since most people have at one time or another been renters of an apartment or house, and the word for renter begins and ends with t (and sounds almost identical; see rant #2), they latch on to that word in this new context.

But alas, they are wrong.  A tenant is not a belief or principle according to anyone’s definition.  The correct word in this case is tenet.  The root of both words lies in the Latin word “to hold,” as in “property holding” or “to hold a belief.”  (Spanish students may remember the verb tener; for French students it is tenir.)  But to be precise, tikkun olam (repairing the world) is a tenet of Judaism, but pays no rent for the privilege.  And former CIA director George Tenet, who may be a very responsible renter, is probably not an integral part of anyone’s dogma or belief system.

Still confused?  An -ant lives somewhere.  An -et doesn’t.

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All smiles

It’s finally happened.  At six weeks old, Bill has begun smiling while awake.  Erev Purim he smiled at me after I changed his diaper.  The next morning he smiled at Banana when she came into my room and began dangling a rattle for him.  He smiled at his other sisters all the rest of the day.

The “sneak preview” sleep smiles on newborns are a treat, especially in the early days and weeks.  But those smiles (and sometimes laughs), while amusing, are when baby’s eyes are closed; baby’s smiling, but not at you.  (Laughing too, but maybe it’s okay that it’s not at you.  There’ll be time enough for that later.)

The waking smiles are thoroughly rewarding since baby’s actually communicating, looking at you and expressing amusement, contentment, or love.  It’s one of the greatest rewards of newborn parenting, and in turn encourages parents and siblings to engage baby more in an effort to elicit more smiles.

There’s no substitute for the animated eyes, tiny lips and gummy grins on a baby.  What a great Purim gift.

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Some Purim thoughts

I’m back from hearing the women’s reading (by women, for women) of Megillat Esther, and a few things leapt out at me.  Here they are:

– Ordinarily, the audience at a megilla reading rasp their graggers, toot their horns, and moo (not boo, moo) when Haman’s name is read and in addition, hiss upon hearing the name of Haman’s wife, Zeresh.  Tonight at the women’s reading there was no catcalling or hissing when Zeresh’s name was read.  I wondered why, though there might have been some sort of understanding by the group of women involved in this reading that perhaps Zeresh had a story too that we never hear.  Either that, or women are generally more decorous than men or mixed groups, and don’t make more noise than is traditionally expected of them.  I’ve been to megilla readings where the reactions to Haman and Zeresh’s names bring to mind those of an enthusiastic and participatory audience to Brad (assh*le!) and Janet (slut!) in The Rocky Horror Picture Show: loud, crude, and infantile.  Definitely not the stuff of a roomful of religious Jewish women reading a holiday text.

– In the year I spent living, working, and studying in Jerusalem prior to undergoing my conversion in the United States, I attended a weekly women’s beit midrash.  The week before Purim that year, I studied the connection between the Purim story and the giving of the Torah.  While Mt. Sinai is generally believed to be where the Torah was offered to the Jewish people, there is a midrash that suggests that it was not actually willingly received there.  (The midrash tells a story of how God turned the mountain upside down and held it over the Jewish people, in essence making the Torah an offer they couldn’t refuse.)  This was the first year I actually caught the words “Kimu v’kiblu,” the words in the megilla that inspire the belief that after God saved the Jews from destruction at the hands of the Persians, the Jews were able to take the step of reaffirming their commitment to the Torah and accepting it along with the adoption of the holiday of Purim for themselves and their future generations.  The reason catching those words is meaningful to me is that this issue of giving and accepting the Torah came up during a particularly intense grilling session with the Beit Din during my conversion process.  I got the story right, but didn’t know the two magic words.  Now I do, and I’m reminded of that session every year when I hear the megilla read.

– Holding the cheap plastic noisemaker Banana chose for me tonight, I remembered my sister’s frustration the year she finally discovered that a noisemaker is called (in Yiddish) a gragger.  Up until that year, she’d been pronouncing it as does my mother, with her thick New England accent: grogga.  (Stick to the Hebrew for this one, Sis: ra’ashan.)

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Child’s play

Purim madness has come to Israel.

This morning, all three of our children dressed in their costumes to go to school and gan. There was a fair in the commercial center with music blaring. I headed home after dropping off Peach at her gan to start baking (hamantashen and chocolate peanut butter cups for mishloach manot) and planning our Purim seudah for Tuesday afternoon. The kids get out of school and gan early today, and are off from school for the next three days (Fast of Esther, Purim, and Shushan Purim).

One of the songs for Purim goes, “Chag Purim, chag Purim, chag le’kol hayeladim” (Purim, Purim, holiday for all the children). I often feel uneasy at this time of year, as though this is only a children’s holiday with the costumes, sweets, noise, shpeels, drunkenness, and general tomfoolery.

And yet I believe it’s not. I once had a conversation with a friend in Beit Shemesh who told me that she had learned that Purim, with all of its silliness, masks an act of God little less miraculous than the Exodus itself. As if to shield our eyes from blindness at the brilliance of God’s orchestration of events, we cover our faces with masks and face paint, don costumes, and dull our senses with sugar and booze to keep from being overwhelmed by the importance of that act of salvation of the Jewish people. Even the hamantashen, another Beit Shemesh friend told me, contain hidden filling, symbolizing the hidden hand of God in the Purim story.

Living in the United States, I related a little better to the holiday since I, too, lived in the Diaspora, and Jews in the Diaspora tend to be more aware of how they are perceived by the non-Jews around them. I often find myself tempted to see the holiday as irrelevant to Jewish living in Israel, and only a story about the Jews living in the Diaspora.

And yet. Here in Israel, I know exactly how we’re perceived by the non-Jews around us, and prefer not to be reminded of it by a holiday or anything else (including the latest bulldozer rampage in Jerusalem). To read the Megillat Esther is as much to read about the contemporary Arab world’s plotting against the Jews and the State of Israel as about the ancient Persians’. Amalek hasn’t gone anywhere; it just takes on different forms in each generation. The fair in the center of town was surrounded by police and security personnel since historically, Purim time has been a time of particularly vicious attacks by Palestinian terrorists.

So perhaps Purim isn’t child’s play after all. But what is remarkable to me is that while adults are keenly aware—either in the fore or the back of their minds—about how little has changed since Esther and Mordechai’s day, the turning of our children’s ganim into palaces, our children into kings and queens (and viziers and clowns and Spidermen), and us adults into fools, perhaps provides us with a temporary escape from the seriousness of our lives, and forces us to revel in each other’s company by giving to the poor, exchanging gifts of food, and sharing a meal with friends.

Chag Purim sameach!

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The Friday Jerusalem Post carries a Q & A-style advice column entitled “Psychologically Speaking” by a clinical psychologist named Dr. Batya L. Ludman.  I rarely make it all the way through the paper from week to week, and rarely make it to Dr. Batya’s column.

However, the February 13 edition had a Dr. Batya column that caught my attention. I seemed to remember a popular book called Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus by one John Gray, which examined the differences between male and female behavior and thought, as well as a much better-written volume called You Just Don’t Understand by Deborah Tannen, a linguistic look at men’s and women’s communication styles.  Dr. Batya’s column was much shorter than either of those two books, so out of curiosity I thought I’d give it a read.

A woman had written to complain that her husband sits around and doesn’t lift a finger to help her with the household chores.  According to the woman, the man complains that she is a nag.

For the most part, I thought Dr. Batya’s advice was eerily sound.  She writes that men and women think and communicate differently, and these differences must be recognized and understood in order for spouses to communicate effectively.  She acknowledged that the woman probably loves her husband, and doesn’t want to “complain, nag or even kill him,” but suggested some of the ways in which the woman could understand her husband better and hence communicate her needs more efficiently.

Dr. Batya’s suggestions to the woman included talking to her husband at a time when he is not focused on other things, and being specific about her needs and expectations.

The reason I said “for the most part” in the above paragraph is that Dr. Batya’s advice should not be limited to women’s communication with men.  Here are some ways women can apply Dr. Batya’s advice to individuals other than their spouses:

Be very specific.  …[S]ay what you mean and mean what you say.  …The fewer words the better.  Be very concrete and clear in terms of the behavior you are requesting or the tasks you need help with.  If you simply ask for more help but are vague, it won’t happen.  Spell it out.
This is also good advice for anyone trying to get a small child to clean her room.  If I tell 3-year-old Banana to pick up the playroom, she’ll stand in the playroom and look around her, at a total loss for where to begin.  Five-year-old Peach will as often as not choose to play with the toys where they are rather than put them away.  The only thing missing from this very sage piece of advice is the admonishment to use small words, or include crisp, illustrative gestures if addressing a pet.

Keep it simple and be clear.  Women tend to give lengthy explanations and then become offended when men aren’t interested or don’t listen.
I do this all the time with my kids, giving longer, more detailed instructions or reasons for things.  They just can’t process all that stuff and get lost in the extraneous information.  Even if they try to look interested, I can see in their eyes that they’re really just waiting for me to finish my monologue so they can change the subject or get down from the table.

Women multitask and men don’t.  While it may be painful for you that he can focus on only one thing at a time, you’ll lose him if you give him more than one task to do.  When he finishes one job, he will then be ready to go on to another.  …He may finish his job and never think to ask you what else needs to be done.
Truer words were never spoke.  When supervising chores with my kids, it is very important to keep the task simple and clear, and follow up with each child to see that the task was completed before assigning another one, or I end up with a dozen tasks half-done around the house.

Accept that he may not feel the same way or even feel anything when you are feeling upset over an issue.  He may not even know how he is feeling, certainly can’t describe it and may not have a clue how you feel.
I think as women we are often taught to hide or mislabel our feelings, especially anger.  I once heard a female physician say that being an adult means one should outgrow anger.  This absurd attitude highlights how important it is to find ways to express emotions clearly, but non-threateningly.  Adults, especially women, are still entitled to feel their emotions, but should have more verbal (and less physical) ways of communicating their feelings to others, both adults and children.  The only creature I’ve ever met who understood my feelings without having to be told was my late, dearly beloved Irish setter.

So ladies, there you have it.  Communication 101 for dealing with men, children, and the less sensitive species of pet.

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Making aliyah has presented the Cap’n and me with some interesting challenges where our children are concerned.  We were delighted at the thought of coming to Israel where our children would learn to speak fluent Hebrew, understand holy texts and the prayer book, and generally master a language their parents only began to tackle seriously in their mid-twenties.

Oy, but what it’s done to their English!  Our kids learn and play during the day in Hebrew, then come home.  The only decent English speakers they hear in their off-hours are the Cap’n and me, and the rest of the English speakers they encounter—their peers, most of whom have been here longer than we—usually speak atrocious English.  And we are finding that no amount of correction seems to have the effect of improving their speech—a first sign of the value of peers over parents in some aspects of a child’s life.

Below are a few examples of the simply awful constructions they use:

If…so. This is Hebonics for if…then.  Example: “If you’re cold, so go put on a sweater.”
Or…or instead of either…or.  “I want or a cookie or a brownie.”
What instead of something, as in, “You’re from Newton too?  We have what to talk about!”
To let sans object.  Example: “Gee, walking that close to the edge of the cliff looks dangerous.  Does your Ima let?”
Take, also sans object.  “You want one of these oranges?  So take!” (So is optional here.)
Make, as in void.  This bothers me less (it’s pretty cute when Banana says it), though it’s clearly Hebrew/Eastern-Seaboard-Jewish and not what the Cap’n and I grew up with.
The verb to be sans object.  Peach has been doing this a lot lately: “I wanted to show this to Chaya yesterday, but she wasn’t.”  This doesn’t mean Chaya ceased to exist, but that she wasn’t there.

Much of what I encounter in the name of Hebonics is actually perfect Hebrew just translated into English.  (In fact, I can sometimes learn a good deal about Hebrew grammar and how to say things correctly in that language by listening to the mistakes Israelis make in English.)  But like jokes in a foreign language, Hebrew grammar should be reserved for Hebrew speech, and English grammar used when speaking English.

It should also be noted that I have heard many adults speak using some of these awful-isms, both here and in the Jewish world in the U.S.  Either these adults didn’t learn grammar, the grammar they did learn they just forgot, or living in Israel so long made them just surrender to the assaults on English here.

Whatever it is, I’ve found a new nails-on-the-chalkboard to add to my collection.  Whoopee.

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I’m a generally gloom-and-doom prognosticator when it comes to Israel.  I don’t believe there will be peace here any time soon.  I don’t think there is anyone to talk peace with in the “democratically” elected Palestinian world.  And while I think Israel should be doing much more to combat the calls for war crimes tribunals in the wake of Operation Cast Lead (like executing such a firehose PR campaign against Hamas that anyone would be embarrassed to suggest such a moronic abuse of justice), I don’t think there is anything Israel can do to make the rest of the world like us.

But I recently brewed up another bitter cup for the rest of the world in my head, and it goes like this:

You know how one of the few sacred areas left in warfare seems to be innocent civilians?  As in, those who are not supposed to be targeted by an enemy because they’re civilians?  As in, we are all supposed to remain safe somewhere while our military establishments go out, dirty their hands, and risk their lives to save us?

I don’t think that’s part of the rules anymore.  The Geneva Conventions lay that out as a basic reality for warfare, but it’s only a reality these days for the parties who actually signed them.  And I don’t recall Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hizbullah, or any of the other blood-guzzling Orcs out there signing anything at all limiting their scope of warfare.  In other words, the only civilians protected by the Geneva Conventions are the ones Islamic terrorists use as shields.

This means that the rest of us are fair game.  In the eyes of terrorists, everyone they don’t like is an enemy combatant.  As civilian/enemy combatants, we can be killed while going to work, playing in the school yard, or shuffling along pushing a walker.  To them, we are making war on them just by existing.  If we die, then in their eyes we’ve died in the line of duty.

I don’t like playing by the enemy’s rules.  I would prefer the West make the rules, and such rules as would make terrorism the disgusting crime it is, with punishments fit for the crimes committed.  Western rules should be making fanatics terrified to go out and kill innocents, incite hatred and violence, or spread their misanthropic ideas throughout the world.

But the West has chosen to fight a purely defensive war, and until the West decides it has the moral and legal justification to go on the offensive, we civilians are stuck with our lot as combatants.

Given this state of affairs, I think it is time we prepared ourselves for the long war ahead.  Here are a few suggestions:
1) Banish fear.  We should go about our lives as normally as possible.  We should go to work, school, and out to enjoy ourselves as much as we would if we lived in a peaceful world.  This is OUR world, OUR lives, and we should appreciate what we have.  Living in fear is part of the victory for terrorists.
2) Remember for what and whom we’re fighting.  The West spent hundreds of years fighting off feudalism, oppressive government, and backward religion.  Those are the things the terrorists are trying to re-introduce into the world.  We in the West have made a world of light, knowledge, innovation, and freedom.  Which would you rather have, and bequeath to the next generation?
3) Learn as much as possible about self defense.  Besides teaching physical skills, good self defense also teaches focus, vigilance, and how to turn fear into strength.

I’m not saying to ignore our own safety in the face of whatever threats may face us daily.  We should still make sure we and our families have emergency plans, educate our children about safety, and use sense in keeping ourselves safe.

But I am saying that we should see ourselves as part of the force needed to bring down terrorism.  One useful exercise is to do all of one’s thinking about one’s biggest fears in advance.  Taking the events of United Flight 93 as an example, what would we do in a similar situation?  While our first thoughts naturally dart to what we can do to preserve our own lives, we should also do some thinking about the bigger picture: What can we do to bring down the attacker and end the attack?  According to some sources, Yuval Aviv, an Israeli who speaks widely about security issues, believes that following the passenger foiling of the White House-bound plane/bomb by its passengers, terrorists will no longer risk being overpowered when carrying out an attack of that kind.  If that’s true, then civilian soldiers should consider the merit of overpowering as many attackers as possible.  It is terrorists who should be afraid to enter a crowded area, not us.

One of the reasons the West has adopted a defensive attitude toward the war on terror has been that the rules are ever-changing and it has been nearly impossible to stay one step ahead of the fiends who mastermind this insanity.  My suggestions won’t bring an end to terrorism.  However, by finding ways of putting the attackers on the defensive, both when attacking and when going about their terrorist business, perhaps we might help change the rules of engagement ourselves.

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Another rainy day

I mentioned in an earlier post on the endangered Kinneret that this year has been the driest on record in Israel.  The winter has been marked by mild temperatures, lots of sunshine, and very little rain. Great for walking and playing outdoors, not great for Israel’s water supply.  I’d have to look into it, but it seems Jewish practice in the Holy Land is to call for a national fast day when a certain amount of time passes without rain (during the period when the prayer for rain is said daily).

Last week we had a stormy (windy, rainy) few days, but when it was over, the word was that we would need six such storms in order to be able to water our gardens next summer.

Then, this past Friday, the sky opened up again.  Friday dawned sunny without a cloud in the sky, but about an hour after the kids were safely installed in their ganim and school, it clouded over, became quite dark, and began hailing.  All through Shabbat and into today, the storm has continued with almost constant strong wind, rain, hail, and this morning, wet snow.  Banana was hopeful she could stay home and build a snowman, but the ground is far too wet, and the snow quickly turned to rain again.  The sight of our sodden garden is delightful, with the kids’ wading pool (about 10 inches deep) nearly full of water.

(We took a winter holiday south to Eilat this year, but have promised the kids we’ll take them north another year to the Harmon, Israel’s snowy mountain resort in the Golan, for skiing and sledding.)

Banana has gone to gan and the other three kids are all home with colds.  I’m going back to bed after a night of 2 hours of sleep and 5 hours of being kicked, punched, and fussed at by a stuffy-nosed Bill.  But before I go, I’ve just got to say, “Baruch atah Hashem, mashiv haruach u’morid hageshem” (Blessed are you Hashem, blower of wind and feller of rain).

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