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Archive for December, 2009

A magical mystery tour

Yesterday the Cap’n and I teamed up with friends and took our collective brood on a magical mystery tour.  Stops included a Dead Sea factory tour, a picnic at Ein Bokek (on the Dead Sea itself), a trip to Arad’s outskirts to see the view of the desert and to visit the cemetery, culminating in a cup of tea and a soufganiyah (doughnut) in Arad’s mercaz (pedestrian market/commercial/hangout center).

We began the day by tooling down Route 60 past Kiryat Arba, Pnei Hever, Susiya, and Tel Arad, then turned east on the Arad-Beer Sheva highway.  We made our first stop in Arad’s industrial area at a factory which processes Dead Sea minerals for the booming Dead Sea cosmetics industry.  Our guide showed us the various salts they work with, described their chemical make up, and showed us how they are harvested in the divided pools of the business end of the Dead Sea.  We were all treated to various muds, scrubs, and creams to test on our hands, and looking at my angrily dermatitic right hand, our guide promised to mix together a therapeutic cocktail for it which he promised should clear it up in short order.

With lunchtime upon us, we descended to the Dead Sea, and planted ourselves and our picnic on a beach near the hotels, spas, and treif Burger King.  (The great advantage to getting out of places like Efrat and Beit Shemesh and going to a place like the Dead Sea is that people are not as obsessed with modest dress.  The disadvantage is that not all the food’s kosher.)  We enjoyed our sandwiches, chips, vegetables, and assortment of homemade baked goods which my foodie friend and I analyzed in delightful detail.  The kids got their feet thoroughly salty and watched with amusement the bloated adults floating out in the water, whose size only augmented the ballust provided by the salt content of the water.  The temperature was in the mild 70s, perfect considering the day had begun chill and blustery.

The sky was nearly the same dun color as the desert sand as we drove back up to Arad to take in the view at The Point (the easternmost tip of the city).  The Crunch family scrambled onto the bizarre sculpture placed there for a photo-op, and the Cap’n and I mused at how many dozens of walks we and other friends took from the WUJS program out to The Point of an afternoon, an erev Shabbat, or a Shabbat afternoon.  The Cap’n brought me there in July 1997 to propose, and we visited it last on our honeymoon in 2001.  One of our friends watched our girls scampering down the gravel path and said, “To what ends these proposals lead, eh?”

After a brief stop at the Arad cemetery for our friend to say tehillim over her grandparents’ graves, we returned to the center of Arad and headed for the bakery the Cap’n and I remember from our WUJS days.  They had sufganiyot in the window, both jelly and ribat chalav (dulce de leche), and once every man, woman, and child had the doughnut of his or her choice, we sprawled at the tables for a few minutes of rest and reflection before journeying home.  The doughnuts were as we remembered–plump, not too sweet, and not at all greasy.  Heavenly.  When I mentioned to the young men who worked there how the sufganiyot were just as good as they were 13 years ago, they looked at me like I had two heads.  (I realized then that they were probably in gan 13 years ago.)

The Cap’n and I decided that this Chanukah would be less about gifts and more about doing things together as a family.  We’ve taken short trips and walks, spent time outdoors, eaten food from our favorite restaurants, done crafts, baked, and made gift-giving a minimal part of the holiday.  (Our friends from yesterday’s tiyul have the custom of gifts on the first and last nights, a very reasonable one in my opinion.)  While many of the school vacations have the Cap’n and me scrambling for ways to keep the kids busy (including finding camps for them to attend to get them out of the house), this vacation has been mellow and fun.  There has been no Pesach to kasher for, no dozens of meals to prepare as during the High Holidays, just lots of good stuff in the freezer left over from a huge kiddush I threw a couple of weeks ago, and great stuff to make and do together.

That proposal 12 years ago has led to some pretty good things, I would say, and this week’s vacation–especially yesterday’s tiyul–has been one of them.

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The Giving Tree

First of all, if you have not read this book, you can read the text here.

This book by Shel Silverstein is a favorite of many adults who remember it fondly as children and, I suppose, of people who are children now.

Not us.  The Cap’n and I have many things in common, and one is a SERIOUS uneasiness with this book.  Well, make that a strong dislike.  When we were discussing it the other day, we wondered if people are supposed to like it.  Are we supposed to view the tree as a metaphor for motherhood or fatherhood, whose sole purpose is to make a child happy, even to the extent of donating limbs for the purpose?  Is it a cry for help by an environmentalist who sees the boy as the representative of a rampantly consumerist society?  Or is it just a portrayal of a really unhealthy, dysfunctional relationship?

I have no answers to those questions, and at this point in my career, as parent rather than text-consuming child, those questions are irrelevant.  What I concern myself with now is what my kids think of those books.  I have no problem reading that kind of stuff to them, just as I don’t mind if they play with Barbies.  But I never read them a book or give them toys to play with that don’t involve a conversation of some sort.  If they play with Barbies, I discuss Barbie’s dimensions with them, her high-glam makeup and hair, and the difference between what Barbie looks like, and a resident of Planet Earth.

Similarly, if we still had a copy of The Giving Tree (which we don’t; we donated our English and Hebrew copies to a good cause some years back), I would ask my children what they think of the boy and the tree, what sort of relationship they had, and whether my kids think that is healthy.  I wouldn’t expect the same answer from them as I would give, since their relationship with me and the Cap’n is not dissimilar to that of the boy and the tree.  But we might discuss why the tree is happy when it’s fast disappearing, and why the boy keeps coming back to the tree instead of getting a job.  (I suppose if the tree had a basement, he’d still be living in it.)

What are the thoughts of discerning readers, parents, and consumers of children’s books out there?  Am I missing something?  What makes this such a great book in the eyes of some?  And what, if anything, freaks you out about it?

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My limited childhood memories of latkes at Chanukah are of cold, greasy hockey pucks brought on a plate to the basement rec. room of the neighbors’ house, where their annual Chanukah party included socializing upstairs for the adults and the kids sitting in the dimly lit, chilly basement watching “The Charlie Brown Christmas” on television.

Fast forward to when I was in Israel in 1996.  Chanukah came to the Negev, the skies turned cloudy, the rain fell, the heaters in our apartments were barely sufficient to keep the chill out of our bones, and the Cap’n and I decided it was time for some comfort food.  We went to the Co-op next to the absorption center where we were housed at the WUJS Arad program, bought up a bunch of produce and a few kilos of apples, and headed back to our apartments.  I got grating, and he went up to his kitchen to brew up a fresh batch of homemade applesauce.  We invited friends to help us eat our levivot (latkes) and were told by the Cap’n’s roommate, “Don’t make too many; I’ll only eat one or two.”  He ended up eating five or six.

The following recipe, my friends, is NOT for cold, greasy hockey pucks.  It’s also beyond the traditional recipe in its use of a blend of vegetables.  And it’s tasty, colorful, and delicious.  Warm applesauce and sour cream strictly optional.  I just love them with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Chag Chanukah sameach!

4 med potatoes, grated

1 lg sweet potato, grated

2 lg carrots, grated

2 lg zucchini, grated

1 lg onion, finely chopped

4 cloves garlic, finely chopped

3 eggs

Salt and pepper, to taste

Vegetable oil

Press grated potatoes into colander to eliminate excess moisture.  Mix ingredients together in a bowl.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Heat oil in lg heavy skillet.  When very hot (not smoking) squeeze moisture from small fistfuls of mixture and flatten in palms, dropping into hot oil.  Smaller latkes cook faster, so make them small to cut down on cooking time.  Lift to test after a few minutes; when brown, turn over and cook on other side until done.  Drain on cookie sheets lined with paper towels.

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I wrote previously about Bibi’s building freeze in the settlements, from an Israeli’s point of view.  But perhaps, in honor of yesterday’s large demonstration outside Bibi’s office, a settler’s point of view would be in order.

While a settlement freeze lacks the obvious risk to life and limb of a land giveaway or a unilateral withdrawal from territory, it also comes with some risk attached.  What makes anyone think that it will only last for 10 months?  Who’s to say it won’t be extended?  Foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman says that when the 10 months is up, bulldozers will be back to work, and working overtime.  But experience has shown that those high hopes are easily dashed.

What are the facts?  Israel has a serious housing shortage.  The lands won in the Six Day War of 1967 legally belong to no one else but Israel.  Ten thousand Arabs rely on building in the settlements for their livelihood.  Settlements are not now, nor have ever been, at all related to the peace process.

And frankly, settlers are sick of being blamed for the stalled negotiations.  Our homes, our presence here, and our right to this land have nothing to do with why there has not been a peaceful settlement to the conflict here.  The stalemate has much more to do with culture, politics, culture, history, culture, rhetoric, and culture.  Several work-arounds have been suggested by Israel to give the Arabs the amount of territory they want, and the Arabs have refused.

Settlers are viewed by everyone (but ourselves, it seems) as fanatically religious, racist, land-grabbing megalomaniacs.  Anyone who thinks so should come out here and talk to some of us.  Many of the people who live here are not at all religious.  (And few are fanatical.)  Most could not be called racist, and there are settlements here because a Labor government told Israelis they could build here, and encouraged them to do so!  Housing out here is less expensive , and a buyer can get much more for his money here than in the overcrowded, insanely overpriced cities in the center of the country.  The air is cleaner.  The streets are safer.  The community is smaller.  We are surrounded by nature including vineyards, orchards, a Roman-era aqueduct, the Path of the Patriarchs, and the site of one of the great battlefields in the Chanukah story.  This land was Jewish before 1948, when the Jordanians massacred the handful of fighters who stayed out here on the kibbutzim to protect the southern entrance to Jerusalem.  There is an expression about Hebron which describes this land too—“me’az u’l’tamid”—“always and forever.”

And now the government has changed its tune.  Now, despite the fact that Bibi and most of his cronies know that the settlements are not the problem, or even part of the problem, he is playing along with the international community’s anti-Israel (and especially anti-settler) attitude, and kow-towing to a naïve, dippy American president’s embrace of that same attitude.  It makes no sense.  There is no truth or justice in it.  It is as though our prime minister, whom we helped put into office, who we believed understood us and would stick up for us, has gotten up on the table and, cheered on by the world, dropped his pants and is doing the can-can.

I have sometimes wondered what it would feel like to live in a world where, Cassandra-like, only a handful of people either knew or could face up to the truth.  Now I know.  In a world where most people hold that whatever the majority believes is the truth (even if it’s arrant rubbish), it is very painful to see how little effect hasbara (public relations), first-person accounts, expert knowledge and analysis, history, and the facts have on people.

There was one way to avoid this whole mess.  Had Israel made up its mind after the Khartoum Conference to annex this land, there would have been no argument over ownership.  Israel, of course, hoped (even when there was no hope) to trade it for peace with its neighbors, but the neighbors didn’t want it.  It hoped to unload the burden of governing Arabs in the conquered territories, but didn’t have the stomach to transfer them.  And as time passed, and the PLO made the Palestinian population about as welcome to Israel’s neighbors in the Middle East as the bubonic plague (by orchestrating coup attempt after coup attempt—think Jordan, Lebanon, and Kuwait) any chance of relocating Arabs in neighboring Arab countries was dashed.  (I have thought that if all this was part of Arafat’s plan to cement the PLO’s claim to the West Bank and Gaza strip, it was nothing short of ingenious—and more effective than any public relations campaign.)

And to this day, Israel still hasn’t decided that this land is ours.  Arabs who live out here, whether they’re technically in PA-governed villages or not, live more or less by their own rules.  (Some settlers refuse to employ Arabs to work in or around their homes, since if something untoward happens, a Jew can be tracked down and held accountable, but an Arab cannot.)  Lefties hold this land in escrow until the Palestinian leadership can be induced to say “yes” to an offer of peace, whatever that involves.  And no one else seems determined to make it ours.  The settler movement would like to pursue this settlement freeze through the legal system, but since we live under military rather than civil law, we have fewer venues for legal action relating to our homes.

The world has dumped on the Jews for generations, since they have traditionally been some of the most powerless members of society.  The family of nations enjoys dumping on Israel, since we have few friends (and fewer every day, it seems) and are a ready target for anyone wanting to bleat about “oppression” and “injustice.”  And the world, including much of Israeli society, reserves the settlers, some of the least powerful people in Israeli society, for much of its wrath and scorn.

My dear mother always says, “Shit rolls downhill.”  Ain’t it the truth.

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A Happy & Healthy Chanukah?

I dreamt last night I’d acquired an appallingly large belly after consuming (with reckless abandon) the dozens of cookies left over from a large kiddush last Shabbat.  I woke up this morning feeling great virtual remorse.

Then I checked my email and found…this.

Thank you, Yehoshua Halevi, for perhaps the most paradoxical holiday greetings this Chanukah.

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I am always getting questions from my kids about what they did as babies and toddlers.  Their memory of what they did seems to kick in at around 3 or 4 years old, so for them what happened before is the stuff of legend and hearsay.

With this in mind, when Beans was born I not only kept an up-to-date photo album for her, I did as my mother did for me and purchased a baby book with places to record firsts, store locks of hair, and note details of the first couple of years.  But something my mother did for me in addition was to sit down at the typewriter on several occasions and type up notes about some of the things I was doing and saying in my first year or two.  Growing up, I relished taking that book off the shelf and looking at the copy of my birth announcement, my hospital anklet, and the onionskin sheets tucked into the pages of the book.

Beans, being the first child, got a small novel written about her (in the neighborhood of 50 pages or so).  Peach, as the second, has about 25 pages, Banana about 5, and I haven’t written a word about Bill yet.  (But I will.)  There is something satisfying about collecting all that information for the kids to read about themselves later, as though when I print them out and tuck them into their baby books, I am finishing a chapter I helped write about their lives.  This, plus the fact that no matter what happens to me, they’ll know they were early walkers, late teethers, and as sweet and hilariously funny as can be.

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Tootsie Rolls are kosher!

I received a mass email from my American rabbi today.  In a press release dated December 2, the Orthodox Union announced that it is now certifying as kosher Tootsie Rolls.

To those who did not grow up with the chewy, gooey confection, I pity you.  They were a favorite Halloween treat, and one which could keep one chewing delightedly for a good ten minutes.  They were put in the centers of Tootsie Pops, so one could enjoy a tangy lollipop, with a chocolatey chew chaser.  For a while they sold kits so kids could soften the Tootsie Rolls and put them into fun molds for an almost candy-making experience.  And when they came out with Giant Tootsie Rolls, it was just gilding the lily.  (One big one instead of a couple of handfuls of little ones, I guess.)

It was big news when Oreos became kosher.  (Though I admit I always preferred Hydrox to Oreos; guess the lard didn’t do as much to the taste as the kosher crowd imagined it did.)  But in my opinion, since there has never (to my knowledge) been anything to serve as a kosher substitute for Tootsie Rolls, this is possibly even bigger news.  What remains to be seen is if they will import them to Israel as an alternative to the horrid goos, gums, chews, and other sugary rubbish they sell here.

*Sigh.*  One small step for the OU, but one giant step for the kosher Yid.

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