Archive for April, 2010

Lag B’Omer, which begins tomorrow night, is a huge event in Israel.  While the air is filled with barbecue smoke during the day on Yom HaAtzma’ut, the smoke that lingers in the air from bonfires the night of Lag B’Omer lasts a few days.  (Be sure to bring in your laundry if it’s hanging outside.)

Americans like to roast weenies around a fire; Israelis roast potatoes wrapped in foil.  But EVERYONE loves marshmallows.  Kosher marshmallows in America aren’t easy to come by.  They’re ubiquitous in Israel, but taste disgusting.  It’s almost impossible to find plain, white, vanilla-flavored marshmallows here.  For some reason, whoever makes them thinks that sicky pink wannabe-strawberry-flavored ones are better.  For those who think marshmallows taste awful to begin with, this is no great loss.  But for those of us who like to spear a fluffy, white sugar-gelatin-corn syrupy puff on the end of a stick and toast it, pull off the outer skin, eat it, and repeat, it is a crime.

Last winter, my friend Ilana Epstein decided to make her own marshmallows (to accompany her rockin’ spiced hot chocolate).  She assured me it was easy, so I gave it a whirl myself.  Besides the ingredients and a pot, the only fancy things one needs are a stand mixer and a candy thermometer.  (I did it the first time without the candy thermometer, testing often to see at what stage the sugar syrup was, but don’t recommend it.)  The following is Fine Cooking‘s recipe for marshmallows (with glosses by Ilana and me).  Prep time takes about half an hour, the marshmallows stand for 2 hours, then turning out and cutting takes about 10 minutes.  Pretty easy, and the results are so good, you may never go back to store-bought again.

3 (¼ oz) envelopes granulated, unflavored gelatin (1.5 packages of the bovine gelatin we get in Israel; I used 2 packages of fish gelatin yesterday with success)

2 cups sugar

1 cup corn syrup

¼ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup + 2 tablespoons confectioner’s sugar (plus lots more for coating and cutting)

Pour ¾ cup cold water in the mixer bowl with the gelatin and fit with the whisk attachment.

Clip a candy thermometer in a saucepan.  Boil the sugar, corn syrup, salt, and ¾ cup water until it reaches the firm ball stage, about 15 minutes.  (On a candy thermometer, this is 250 degrees Fahrenheit or 120 degrees Celsius.  If you don’t have a candy thermometer, test by dipping a finger or spoon handle in ice water, then syrup, then ice water again; it should form a ball of chewy syrup.)

On low speed, pour the syrup into the gelatin in a slow, thin stream.  Add the vanilla, then increase speed to high and beat 5 minutes, until the mixture is thick and the bottom of the bowl is just warm to the touch.

Lay a heavy coat of icing sugar on the bottom of a glass 9 x 13” pan.  Pour the marshmallow mixture into the pan, then sift more sugar on top.  Let sit until firm, about 2 hours.

Loosen edges with a knife dipped in icing sugar, then turn out onto a cutting board.  Cut with a knife or a roller pizza cutter dipped in icing sugar, then roll each individual marshmallow in icing sugar.  Keeps a month in a ziplock bag.

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Years ago, a high school classmate of mine forwarded me an email from a friend of hers listing some principles of women’s self defense.  I had learned and taught in the self-defense world for several years at the time, and summoned some wisdom from my experience to write her a response.  In the interest of disseminating more accurate information about assaults against women, and what women can do in response, I am posting my letter to my classmate below.  On the one hand, I hope it is helpful to women (and men).  On the other hand, I hope you find no use for it at all.

I was interested to receive your email about self defense strategies for women. I took a self defense class in 1993 in Boston at Impact/Model Mugging, which has chapters throughout the U.S. and in several other countries besides (Canada, Switzerland, Germany, and Israel).  After 25 hours of learning verbal and physical techniques, and using them with full-impact on a padded male “assailant” (instructor), I decided to become an instructor myself.  I trained for a year and a half, and taught women to fight to a knock-out against unarmed assailants, multiple assailants, and assailants with edged weapons and guns.

I agree with some of the information in your email, particularly that most attackers do not use weapons, look for someone who won’t fight back, and are deterred by a woman who puts up her hands and uses her voice to set limits (doesn’t scream; YELLS, like at a dog tearing up her flowerbeds).  Some of the other stuff I found problematic.  Most women do (and should) choose a hairstyle based on comfort and what suits them and their appearance, not whether they present a likely target or not.  Same thing with clothing.  And who can avoid going through her purse, using public restrooms, or being out in the early morning?  The basic point that comes through, though—that women should be as alert and attentive as possible while out in public—is most crucial; these other details should be less important to women.

A year or so ago, a friend of mine asked me for ten key points of women’s self defense.  The following is what I wrote:

The Ten Commandments of Women’s Self Defense

(in chronological order)

1.  Believe that you are worth fighting for. Some women will fight for others: their spouse or their children.  What happens when we’re alone?  We are all worth fighting for—even when we are sick, tired, or feel bad about ourselves.

2.  Decide in advance whom you’re going to fight. Sometimes situations come up which you might not expect: having to fight someone you trust, someone who is supposed to take care of you, someone you love. Decide in advance whether there are situations in which you would choose NOT to fight.  An urgent situation is not the time to stand and think.  Try to envision as many scenarios as you can, such as fighting against your boss, your clergyman, your male relatives, other women, or even children.

3.  Have a plan. Leave yourself room for escape from every situation possible.  Where are the exits?  Whom can you call in an emergency?  Where can you find safety?

4.  You are responsible for your own feelings, not anyone else’s. Women often believe (or are told) that if they fight, they will only make the attacker mad.  Think about this: What kind of person goes around attacking people?  The attacker is already angry!  You are not responsible for the attacker’s feelings—just your own.

5.  Breathe. For women, this is often the first thing to go in an assault.  The way to prevent it is to start yelling.  One need not scream like in the movies; yelling works better.  Yell at the attacker to stop.  Yell at him to go away.  Yell out a description of him if he is harassing you in a public area.  If he’s a stranger, yell out that you don’t know him (especially if he is trying to make it look like a domestic dispute).  Or simply yell NO!  And don’t stop yelling until the fight is over.

6.  Set clear boundaries. Some people do not realize when their behavior poses a threat.  Others are deliberately testing us to see how far we will let them go.  Even with those we love, whom we allow to get close to us, we have the right (indeed, the obligation) to set boundaries that are comfortable for us.  Tell the person to stop.  Tell him to go away.  If he is too close, tell him to take a step back. Tell him you are uncomfortable with what he is doing.  Start in your normal speaking voice.  If he raises the intensity or volume of his voice in response, respond to him, matching the intensity of his voice.  This is not a shouting match; you are simply standing by your boundaries.  If he does not respect your request, repeat one or two phrases (e.g. “Back off!”  “Go away!”) until you sound like a broken record.  Eighty percent of potential assaults end with the women setting a clear verbal boundary.

7.  Sound authoritative, rather than questioning. Many women talk in such a way that the pitch of their voice goes up at the end of a sentence.  In a verbal confrontation, this makes you sound uncertain of what you are saying.  Practice speaking in a voice that goes down at the end of the sentence.  (Pretend you’re giving commands to a dog; this helps.)  Then practice doing it as your voice gets louder.  Your voice should communicate unflinching firmness.

8.  Fight through the fear. Sometimes setting boundaries does not have the desired effect; sometimes a confrontation leads to a fight.  Women who successfully win fights against assailants are not superheroes.  They are ordinary women who feel just as afraid during the attack as we would.  The key to coping with fear that can sometimes paralyze us is to use it in the fight.  Turning that powerful emotion into fighting fuel rather than letting it shut us down can empower our fights. Use this in tandem with breathing (#5).

9.  Target sensitive areas. Beating your fists on his chest like they did in the movies is a waste of time.  Pinch together all five fingertips of one hand and go straight for the eyes. If he’s behind you, jab your elbow in his face or solar plexus.  Ram your knee up between his legs, as if to lift him by the testicles.  If he is on his knees, plant your knee in his head.  If you are both on the ground, get on your side as if you are doing leg-lifts, stabilize yourself with your arms, and use your top leg to kick target areas (head and groin).  In the fight, do not look at his eyes or pay any attention to what he says; just look for whatever target is easiest to hit.

10.  Don’t stop fighting until the end. When is a fight over?  When he flees or when he’s unconscious.  (This is why the head target is so important).  If he begs for mercy, yell at him to leave. After all, you were the one attacked.  If he does not leave, keep fighting.

One last thing to remember is that 80% of attacks are by lone, unarmed assailants.  These statistics fly in the face of many of the media’s representations of attacks.  Even an assailant who uses a weapon is usually just trying to make the assault go more smoothly; he does not always plan to use it.

If I were to add an 11th point to this list, it would be the following: don’t let yourself get tied up, and don’t let yourself be transported.  This is in response to the fact that some men do, indeed, try to transport a woman to a location that is safer or more convenient for the man, and invariably more dangerous for the woman.  Start fighting BEFORE he gets either of these advantages.

Of course I support the idea of women taking defense courses, and the more hands-on, the better.  But even from the course I taught, I know that a woman who just came to a graduation/demonstration was able to walk away with enough knowledge and determination to knock out a man who attacked her in a public park weeks later.

I could go on ad nauseum about this because it’s one of my favorite things. I just wanted to acknowledge your service to friends in forwarding your friend’s email, and add my two cents to it.  It’s important, and not enough can be done to protect oneself and other women.

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I read with interest Viva Hammer’s article in the April 16 Jerusalem Post entitled “Every hour a kiss” in which she addresses issues of physical touch according to Jewish law.

In the course of the article, she describes an incident in which a manager at work, to illustrate a point, rubbed her shoulder, put an arm around her, and squeezed her hand.  She found herself at a loss for what to do.  “If I make a fuss, I risk my job.  If I do nothing, I am being violated and demeaned.”  She chose the latter.

I occasionally found myself in a similar situation when teaching in a Catholic high school.  I have attended many church services, both Catholic and Protestant, and have always been irritated by an inexplicable part of the service where, like Jesus’s disciples, the congregation is enjoined to exchange the “sign of peace.”  This usually results in bedlam as the congregation breaks frame in the service and turns to one another, hugging, shaking hands, chattering, and—gulp!—kissing.  (Hey, wait!  Wasn’t it a kiss that Judas supposedly gave Jesus as part of the Romans’ sting operation?  How can that be the sign of “peace”?  Oh, never mind.)  On one particularly memorable occasion, the vice principal, a middle-aged man who visibly enjoyed working in a nearly all-female environment (what old-fashioned types might call a “hen-house”), turned from his seat in the pew in front of me to give me the “sign of peace.”  I drew back immediately, shooting him a look that clearly warned him off trying to hug or kiss me.  Clueless about what an Orthodox Jewish woman permits and is permitted for physical touch, and undaunted by my long sleeves, skirt, and snood (THOSE were the days!), he asked, “May I?” and without waiting for a response, reached forward, grabbed my shoulders, and planted a wet smacker firmly on my cheek.

I burned with rage, and felt utterly disgusted.  Had I not made it clear that I didn’t want to be touched?  Shouldn’t a respectful co-worker honor my refusal to be kissed?  But this man was either so randy, or so stupid, he just didn’t get it.  (Or didn’t WANT to get it.)  The part that stung the most was that I’m a self-defense instructor; if I’d wanted to, I could have hopped over the pew and, with an elbow to the face, a knee to the groin, and a knee to the head, knocked him out cold in about 3 seconds.  But that would have been an even greater disruption to the already chaotic service than the love fest sign of peace already was.

Viva Hammer outlines the strict interpretation of shmirat negiah, with which she is most comfortable.  I am not always so consistent.  There are men for whom I make exceptions to the rules.  I kiss my uncle and close friends in my parents’ generation on the cheek.  I hug my best friend’s husband, who is also a dear friend.  I do not as a rule touch unmarried men or teenage boys.  The one guiding principle for all of these situations is a sense of comfort and clear permission on both sides.

I once read a wonderful article on touch by Yael Resnick, creator of Natural Jewish Parenting (once a print magazine, now available online).  In sum, her rules for touch among children are the following: Is the touch 1) modest? 2) gentle? and 3) wanted?  If all three conditions are met, then the touch is permissible.  If the answer to any of those questions is “no” then the touch should be forbidden. For those of us a little less strict about negiah, I think these rules apply very nicely.

Living in Israel where most people I know are familiar with the rules of touch makes it much easier to avoid unwanted contact.  (It also doesn’t hurt that I’m a middle-aged married woman surrounded by shrieking children.  There are more appealing objects to touch, to be sure.)  No more church services, no more kissy-poo “signs of peace”, and no more overbearing administrators.  And in my ornery old age, I think I have fewer inhibitions about doling out the old one-two to someone who doesn’t understand that killer looks mean business.

Not modest?  Not gentle?  Not wanted?  POW!  POW!  POW!

Ahhh.  Much better.

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Settlements 101

I recently renewed contact with a secular friend from Tel Aviv on Facebook.  He asked if we’re ever in Tel Aviv so our families can meet each other.  I said we’re not there often, and at the moment don’t all fit into our 5-seater sedan to drive there (despite Banana’s helpful suggestion that we strap Bill’s carseat to the roof of the car).  I asked him, in turn, whether he and his family would come to see us in Efrat, and he responded that they couldn’t, that it’s Palestine, and that he would have to bring a passport.  He followed it up with a little lopsided smiley-face (colon-close parenthesis).

But still.

I know the settlements are a popular whipping-boy these days.  There are those who like to say that they are the chief object that stands between humanity and Middle East peace.  They like to say that settlements are a shameless land grab on the part of the Israelis in an effort to deny the Palestinians their rightful land for their rightful (and as yet imaginary) state.  There is even a European who works with the Arabs in “Palestine” who encourages Israel to continue building the settlements so they’ll have something substantial to give up on the day when the Arabs finally pull their finger out and decide to concede Israel’s right to exist.

But I’d like to point out a few things about settlements for those who may not have thought the issue through very carefully.

First of all, settlements didn’t exist in British Mandatory Palestine.  There were Jews and Arabs dotted all over the landscape.  There were times and places where they got along and even went into business together, and there were times when they did not, when the Arabs became violent and slaughtered Jews under the unconcerned nose of the British.

Settlements were also a non-issue in 1948 and 1967 when surrounding Arab nations decided to gang up on Israel in the hope of taking the rest of the land, something they (except for Egypt and Jordan, in popularly unsupported peace treaties with Israel) never gave up on to this day.

Settlements only became an issue when the Jews had control of land lost by Arabs in their desperate bid to destroy the Jewish State.  This was a “humiliation” for the Arabs, a major loss of face, and their further attempts to topple Israel from the outside (the Yom Kippur War) and the inside (two terror wars, popularly known as “intifadas”) show their insistence on getting what they imagine is theirs back.

But it’s not theirs.  Not anymore.  The Bible says it’s ours.  The archeological evidence of Jewish life everywhere say it’s ours.  The British Mandate said it’s ours.  Our presence here for thousands of years says it’s ours.  And our win—and their loss—say it’s ours.

This is not to say that there aren’t some Israelis interested in a two-state solution.  But this does not involve restoring a sovereign nation to its land; it’s giving a gift of land to a people to whom it doesn’t currently belong.  It’s not the right of aggressors who lose to have land held for them in escrow indefinitely.  If anything, the settlements should be seen as an incentive for the Arabs to come to the peace table.  The longer they wait, the more we’ll build in the settlements.  They are not a bargaining chip; they are a ticking clock.  And if the Arabs choose to dally instead of make peace with us, eventually there should be no land left for them, and they should consider going elsewhere to establish their national home.

Contrary to the way the West chooses to view Arabs, they are grown-ups, they are smart, and they are capable of seeing that their choices come with consequences.  To behave toward them as though they are tantrumming toddlers, possessed of limited faculties, is patronizing.  They are like anyone else; they respond to incentives.  If you make clear to them that they stand to gain if they act in their own interests now, you may be more successful than if you coddle and do their bargaining for them, scold and humiliate the Israelis, and do everything else possible to maintain political and diplomatic instability in the region.

Settlements are not the issue, and never have been.  As  Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe “Bogie” Ya’alon said in a recent interview, “In Judea and Samaria, if you are talking about peace, there is enough place for Jews and Arabs. If you are talking about war, it is more complicated. How much open space do you have in Judea and Samaria? Quite a bit. What percentage of the territory do the Jews control? Five percent. That is what everything hinges on?”  In Ya’alon’s view, even in the eventuality of a land gift to the Arabs, not one settlement should be uprooted: “I don’t even want to talk about territorial withdrawals in an age in which the withdrawal from Lebanon strengthened Hizbullah, and the withdrawal from Gaza strengthened Hamas to the point where we have the second Islamic republic in the Middle East – the first in Iran, and the second in Gaza: Hamastan. That is opposed to our strategic interest, and to the strategic interests of the west.”

It’s time to stop perseverating on settlements and start perseverating on what is REALLY the issue: peace.

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After a 19-hour taxi ride, a 6 hour wait in the Madrid airport, and a flight home on El Al, the Cap’n came home Monday night.  He took the kids to the local Yom HaAtzma’ut ceremony (and saw Beans dance), gave me a cool t-shirt from the official Beatles store on Baker Street, and we celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary last night by going to see “Kick Ass.”  He’s home this Shabbat for the first time in 2 weeks.  To celebrate, I’m making challah and curried chicken and vegetables for tonight, and cod a la spetse, pasta with pesto, and homemade ice cream for lunch tomorrow.  It’s good to have him home.

I’ve been thinking about what this volcano (and, potentially, two volcanoes) will do to travel in the near future.  I read about the Estonian president’s state visit to Turkey this week by bus, and getting coffee and sandwiches at convenience stores along the way.  Here’s the link to that story.  I know for the people stranded this volcano and the fallout from it are terribly frustrating, but once people get home there’s a sort of romance to the thought of people rediscovering travel by land and sea.  Perhaps it will help people slow down a bit, see the countryside instead of flying over it, and feel more connected to how people traveled in a bygone age.  I’m sure to people used nowadays to high-speed travel on airplanes, the crimp in their style is too much to take.  But I’m reminded of a passage Peach and I just read in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s The Long Winter (which is all about making do with almost nothing while the elements rage) where Ma and Pa discuss their meager resources and dependence on the mod cons (such as they were in the 1880s):

“If only I had some grease I could fix some kind of a light,” Ma considered.  “We didn’t lack for light when I was a girl, before this newfangled kerosene was ever heard of.”

“That’s so,” said Pa.  “These times are too progressive.  Everything has changed too fast.  Railroads and telegraph and kerosene and coal stoves—they’re good things to have but the trouble is, folks get to depend on ’em.”

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I’ve long been a card-carrying religious Zionist—one of the few labels I’ll allow myself.  As such, my tent is firmly pitched in the camp of those who believe that the foundation of the State of Israel in 1948 was not just a happy event, but the work of Hashem and—dare one hope—the beginning of the geula, our redemption.

In today’s Jerusalem Post, I read a letter to the “In Jerusalem” section addressing the issues haredim have with Yom HaAtzma’ut (Independence Day), including the fact that religious Zionists refrain from saying Tahanun on that day.  According to the letter’s author, Shira Twersky-Cassel,

In Midrash Shlomo, Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Rivlin, part of a large contingent of Vilna Gaon students that settled in Jerusalem in 1812, wrote that during the Omer they did not say the Tahanun on two special days.  ‘These are ruled by compassion…and therefore untouched by the klipa [the unclean spirits that damage the soul].’  These two days were the 20th of the Omer 5 Iyar and the 42nd day of the Omer 27 Iyar.  A century later, on 5 Iyar 1948, the State of Israel was declared.  On 27 Iyar 1967, Israeli paratroopers broke into the Old City of Jerusalem, freeing the city from the 19-year Jordanian occupation.

There are times when Judaism, Jewish history and practice take my breath away.  This is one of those times.

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Why Israel should exist

I often read articles, email forwards, and blog posts which seek to defend Israel’s right to exist by evoking the history of the Jewish people, its high moral and ethical standards, its choice to fight only in self defense, or its many remarkable contributions to the betterment of the world.  While I agree that Israel has accomplished great things in its 62 years of existence, and still can accomplish many more (MANY more), I think these attempts to justify Israel’s existence by extolling its virtues miss the mark.

Here are some reasons often given for why people should love Israel, be proud of Israel, leave Israel alone, or otherwise come to grips with the fact that Israel exists (in no particular order):

1. The Jews are a small minority in the world and yet furthered the progress of civilization by introducing monotheism, the Marx Brothers, and the Pentium to the world.

2. Jews have suffered discrimination, ghettoization, imprisonment, and murder at the hands of non-Jews for thousands of years.

3. Israelis have invented lots of cool, fun, life-saving stuff that the world enjoys.

4. Jews in general and Israelis in particular have garnered more Nobels (given their tiny representation in the world’s population) than the goyim.

5. Israelis help other countries after natural disasters, sending planes with tent hospitals, specialists, equipment, machines, and medical supplies, regardless of how the affected country treats us at the UN.

6. Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East.

7. Jews returned to the land of their forefathers, purchased land legally, were discriminated against by the British colonial government here which gave the Arabs a free hand to murder Jews whenever they felt like it, and in the end had to fight not only to make good the promises the British had made them and broken, but for their very lives.

8. Jews were killed by the millions in the Shoah while the world watched and (for the most part) did bupkes to stop the killing.

9. Israel has many shared political, cultural, and economic interests with the US and the West.

10. Israel has the most moral army in the world, a free press, and an activist liberal court system which collectively are completely unabashed about investigating and trying real war criminals.

These are NOT reasons why Israel should be loved or respected in the world, or why the world should recognize Israel’s existence.  These are reasons Israelis and Diaspora Jews have to be proud of Israel, but they are not necessarily shared by anyone outside that small population group.  Nor should they be.

So why should other countries stop spending all their condemnation sessions at the UN beating up on Israel?  Why are the standards by which Israel is judged by the rest of the world completely whacked?  And why does Israel deserve to exist at all?

Because Israel IS.  That’s it.  Nations are not made by consensus, and if a nation does things that other nations don’t like, there is no discussion of abolishing the offending nation.  There is criticism, there is disapproval, there is sometimes even war (when there is no other option).  But a nation is not made by LL Bean, and cannot be returned via parcel post for any reason, or no reason at all.  South Africa with its apartheid policies was criticized, boycotted, and divested from, but in the end it solved its own problems without outside intervention, without being wiped off the map.  Pakistan, with its surreptitious nuclear tests, saber-rattling against India, and now concerns of involvement with worldwide Islamic fundamentalist terrorism, has not received any threats to its existence.  And China, with an appalling human rights record on multiple levels (Tiananmen Square massacre, trafficking in organs harvested from prisoners, annexation of Tibet) has not only not been liquidated; the nations of the world are either tiptoeing around it politically, or falling all over themselves to trade with it.

The mayor of Efrat, Oded Ravivi (one of the few politicians for whom my vote has not been the Kiss of Death), made a short speech at a demonstration in Gush Etzion a few weeks ago against Obama’s harsh treatment of Israel, and the resulting encouragement it has given local Arabs to begin stoning Jews again.  Oded spoke briefly and to the point.  He said that all nations act in their interests.  Obama believes his policies, so counterproductive for peace and dangerous for Israelis, are in America’s interests.  Israel, too, is a nation with its own interests.  And like all nations, it is Israel’s obligation to act in its own interests, whatever they may be.

But America and Israel are such great friends, many would argue.  There’s”no light between” as some have said.  But perhaps Charles DeGaulle had it right when he said, “No nation has friends; only interests.”

And no nation should be threatened with extinction for acting like a nation.

(Happy 62nd Birthday, Medinat Yisrael!)

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