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Archive for July, 2010

The Cap’n and I have a very cooperative attitude towards watching TV and movies: he watches my 18th and 19th century British costume things, and I agree to sit through his swashbuckling slashers like “Kill Bill” and “Memento.”  Our interests converge with fantasy (LOTR, Harry Potter), absurdity (the “Pirates of the Caribbean” series), anti-nonsense (Penn and Teller’s “BULLSH*T”), and sci-fi (Star Trek and the new Dr. Who).

I didn’t care much for the original “Star Trek” show.  I thought Spock was cool, but Kirk was a rather pathetic ladies’ man, and Bones just a big kvetch.  (Chekov’s accent was cute, though—“nuclear wessels” has replaced “nuclear weapons” in my personal lexicon.)  I missed most of the “Next Generation,” being out of the country, in graduate school, or otherwise occupied.  The Cap’n and I watched the last season of “Voyager” in our first year of marriage, catching up with episodes we’d missed via re-runs.  I found a woman captain and a male first officer much more interesting than the crews up to that point, and enjoyed the rest of the cast and themes as well.

Fast forward eight years.  After Bill was born, we watched seven seasons of “The West Wing” in a few months, and began casting about for something else to engross us longterm.  Someone here in Efrat had “Star Trek: Deep Space 9,” which I had missed completely but had heard good things about.  I have enjoyed meeting a new cast and more interesting characters.  Odo, the shape-shifting chief of security, is a delightful curmudgeon; Dax, this show’s jiggle factor, has an interesting back-story (seven lifetimes stored in a pod to which her body plays host as a Trill); but perhaps my favorite is Quark, the Ferengi bar-owner.

It soon became clear to me that with their unlovely appearance, ruthless pursuit of profit, and good heads (literally) for business, they were, if not gross caricatures of Jews, at least inspired by unfavorable historical representations of them.  (The Cap’n corroborated this, as does the Wiki page on Ferengi, and indeed, the four Ferengi characters most often seen on the show are played by Jews: Armin Shimerman, Max Grodénchik, Aron Eisenberg, and Wallace Shawn.)

This probably bothers some Jews whose sensibilities are fine-tuned to cultural slights.  It does not bother me.  First of all, a bar owner could just as easily belong to the Italian mob or be a Irishman selling Guiness in Southie to homesick ex-pats.  (The bartender on “The Love Boat” was Black.)  And secondly, the Ferengi are (in my opinion) some of the cleverest and most amusing characters in the series.  Where Avery Brooks (Commander Sisko) took until the third season to smile, Major Kira is a battle-scarred Bajoran ex-freedom fighter who never seems to relax, and Doctor Bashir’s medical genius is matched only by his ego, Quark and his ilk provide much of the comedy (and garner most of the audience’s affection) in the show.

According to the Wiki page (written by someone who knows his Trek trivia, though I made a few edits to the page myself), here are some of the qualities of Ferengi:

  • They live by 285 Rules of Acquisition, which govern the main goal of their existence: turning a profit.  “The Ferengi also recognize the five Stages of Acquisition: infatuation, justification, appropriation, obsession, and resale.”  When a Ferengi plays host, he greets his guest with the following formula: “Welcome to our home.  Please place your thumbprint on the legal waivers and deposit your admission fee in the slot by the door.  Remember, my house is my house.”  The guest is expected to reply, “As are its contents.”
  • The Ferengi religion holds that the afterlife reflects a person’s pursuit of profit in life.  Upon death, a Ferengi’s financial statements are reviewed by the deity, the Blessed Exchequer, and if the departed earned a profit, he is admitted to Ferengi heaven where he is given the opportunity to bid on a new life.  Those who failed to amass wealth in life are damned to the Vault of Eternal Destitution.
  • While nothing that interferes with profit is valued or practiced by Ferengi (e.g. racism, war, labor unions, sick leave, vacation), cheating or selling family members is considered acceptable if it results in profit.  Women in particular are treated poorly in Ferengi society, being prohibited to wear clothes, profit, talk to strangers, or travel without permission from the paterfamilias.  They are also expected to soften their family members’ food by chewing it for them.  (Really, with the sexism this over the top, who can’t laugh at it?)
  • In a conversation with Commander Sisko, Quark identifies the root of the mistrust and apparent dislike humans (pronounced by Ferengi as “hew-mons”) feel for his people:  The way I see it, humans used to be a lot like Ferengi: greedy, acquisitive, interested only in profit.  We’re a constant reminder of a part of your past you’d like to forget. … Humans used to be a lot worse than Ferengi.  Slavery, concentration camps, interstellar war; we have nothing in our past that approaches that kind of barbarism.  You see?  We’re nothing like you.  We’re better.

All of the above describes the qualities of Ferengi as a general society.  But of course, the Ferengi one meets aboard DS9 (that great IUD in the sky) are individuals, and buck Ferengi tradition in all sorts of ways.  While he adheres to the traditional male attitudes towards Ferengi females, Quark actually has a few steamy romances with females of other species, as well as having a high regard for Dax (not least because she’s a whiz at the Ferengi game of Tongo).  Rom, Quark’s brother, is actually a technical genius who rarely gets to show his true quality, instead living day to day being bullied and bossed by Quark in the bar.  Nog, Rom’s teenage son, sees his father beaten down by the monolithic Ferengi culture of greed and profit and rejects that life, choosing instead to apply to Starfleet Academy.  And Ishka, Quark and Rom’s mother, defies Ferengi law by wearing clothes around the house and amassing a vast fortune of her own, which she schemes with Rom to hide both from Quark and from the Ferengi Commerce Authority (the Ferengi IRS).

The Cap’n and I were discussing the recurring themes of “Voyager” (the great value and desirability of being human) and “DS9” (leaving one’s own people and their flawed and/or evil ways to embrace the universalist, kumbaya-singing world of Starfleet).  We noted that Odo has refused to join the other Shape-Shifters in running the Dominion, one of the chief adversaries in the series; Worf has at last made a clean break with the Klingons; and Nog has applied to Starfleet Academy as the first-ever Ferengi to abandon profit for altruism.  While it’s a good enough foundation for these series, the idea of interstellar cooperation, making and enforcement of treaties, negotiating peace between warring races, and ethical free trade can get a little saccharine after a while.  (Quark reflects this in his occasional complaints about the taste of root beer, which he replicates in his bar and describes as “so bubbly and cloying and happy.  Just like the Federation.”

A dose of unbridled libertarianism, shockingly unethical behavior, and political incorrectness is just what the show needs.  Without it, I would die of boredom and Type II diabetes.

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A bad business

As a former schoolmarm, I have a retirement account managed by TIAA-CREF.  The Cap’n recently called out from the laptop in his office in our basement to tell me that there is a divest-from-Israel campaign afoot, and perhaps I would like to write a letter?

He sent me a link to a report about a recent TIAA-CREF shareholders’ meeting in which they garnered 15,300 signatures from teachers and professors demanding that TIAA-CREF divest from companies that do business with Israel, benefiting from “repression,” “land theft,” “death,” and “The Occupation.”  It’s always sad to me to see purportedly intelligent Jews making asses of themselves on camera, parading their heartfelt ignorance before the world, and enlisting as Useful Fools in the cause of Israel’s destruction.  Watch and weep.

I simply cannot see that sort of thing without running to the computer (or, since I’m already here, opening up Word) and writing a letter.  The letter to other shareholders about the “breakthrough” meeting in which “[n]ot a single person spoke to defend Israel’s occupation” continues,  “But we all know that will change, which is why we need you now to join our call and help us grow the 15,300 to 25,000 and then 50,000.”  Not THIS shareholder.

Here’s my letter to TIAA-CREF:

Dear Madam or Sir:

It has come to my attention that an organization calling itself Jewish Voice For Peace has been collecting signatures for a petition calling TIAA-CREF to divest from companies that do business with Israel.

As a TIAA-CREF shareholder, I would like to offer a different perspective.

I actually live in Israel.  Furthermore, I live in the West Bank.  And unlike the American Jewish Voice For Peace, I see every day the civility, courtesy, and cooperation that exist between Israelis and Arabs.  We share the roads, and we share an economy.  And while there are frequent demonstrations calling for an end to Israeli “occupation” of this area, they are nearly always planned and attended by non-Israeli, non-Arab activists (political tourists, if you like).

The people who spoke on behalf of Jewish Voice For Peace on the video posted online seem like intelligent people.  But unfortunately, even intelligent people can sometimes have a poor understanding of history and current events.  The West Bank and Gaza were left in Israel’s hands after Israel successfully fought off an unprovoked attack by Jordan and Egypt in 1967, who hoped for the second time to destroy Israel and divide its land.  Israel has tried numerous times to trade these lands for peace, first to Jordan and Egypt (who refused after the Khartoum Conference) and many times to PLO Chairman Yasir Arafat and PA President Mahmoud Abbas (who refused to accept them and end the conflict once and for all).  The settlements are legal according to international law, there is nothing approaching apartheid either in Israel or in the disputed territories, and Israel gave Gaza to the Arabs in 2005, painfully uprooting its own citizens, in order to give the Arabs a head start on building a state.  In return, not only has Hamas refused to engage in any of the necessary tasks of state-building, it has continued its war against the Jewish State, firing thousands of rockets and mortars across the border into Israel, terrorizing the Israeli population, killing and maiming people, and causing millions of dollars of damage to property, meanwhile taking refuge behind its own civilian population for whose safety and well-being it feels no responsibility.

The individuals who call themselves Jewish Voice For Peace appear well-meaning, but in calling for boycotts and divestment in order to weaken Israel’s economy (which also serves Israeli Arabs, Beduins, and Druze), they are no friends of peace.  Were they really interested in peace, they would be encouraging TIAA-CREF to help strengthen the Palestinian Arabs by supporting through investments Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s efforts to build a viable Palestinian economy as one of the necessary steps toward a lasting regional peace.

I too would like to see peace come to the Middle East.  But I also recognize that activism against Israel, without an understanding of the complex relationship between Israel’s economy and the peace process, is ignorant, short-sighted, and bad for business.

I urge you at TIAA-CREF not to give in to pressure by ill-informed political activists who want to weaken Israel.  We have a thriving democracy, a liberal justice system which serves the needs of all of its citizens, and a population of people of all colors from all over the world who have come together to create not only a haven and home for all Jews, but who also act as custodians for some of the world’s holiest sites, where everyone—Jewish and Gentile—is welcome.  To attempt to hurt Israel will not help anyone—Jew, Arab, or American—and will not bring peace.

Thank you for your time and attention.

Yours truly,

Shimshonit Schnitzengruben

And on a slightly different note: Review, please, the wording regarding the overwhelming support for divestment at the meeting.  Aaron Levitt writes, “Not a single person spoke to defend Israel’s occupation. Not one. …  So many inspiring and courageous JVP activists stood up to say how TIAA-CREF was fueling death and destruction by literally investing in it. To implore TIAA-CREF to find a new way.”  Let’s overlook the sentence fragment for now and focus on the rest, particularly the glee expressed by Levitt at the unanimity in the room and admiration for those “courageous” souls who, unassailed by conflicting opinions, stood up one after another and repeatedly hammered home the same message to the CFO and other officers of TIAA-CREF who, he writes, “listened attentively, respectfully.”  If this is what academia has come to, i.e. ecstasy at conformity and trepidation at debate, then these are sad times, indeed.

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Summer is here, which means birthdays in the Crunch household: Banana’s at the start of Tammuz, Beans’s, Peach’s, and the Cap’n’s in Av.  Of course, summer birthdays often mean cramming classroom birthday parties into the last few weeks of school or gan.  Beans and Banana had theirs with cake, musical chairs, and brachot (birthday wishes) from their peers.  Peach has chosen a party at home in lieu of a school party, so I am preparing for 7 friends to descend for a party tomorrow morning at Beit Crunch.  But Hashem has bestowed upon me the blessing of a bat mitzvah girl in the neighborhood who hires herself out as a party planner and executrix, so all I have to do is provide the food, and she’ll provide the fun.

Then, of course, there are the gifts.  Back at the New Year, the Cap’n’s North American company ran out of cash, turning a posse of incredibly highly-skilled hi-tech workers out into the streets.  The Cap’n has since found a job at a reputable company in Jerusalem, where the benefits are not to be beat, but where the salary… well, let’s just say the Crunches are not big spenders, but we are nonetheless discovering for ourselves how it is that Israelis survive high prices, steep tariffs, and low salaries: by going into debt.  (So in between planning birthdays, running the house, ripping up smelly, dusty old carpet we inherited when we bought the house two years ago, assisting the Cap’n to buy a car that fits the whole family, making Shabbos every week, and shlepping Beans to get her ears pierced, I’m supposed to be looking for work.  La!)  So my solution this year?  Each girl gets a party (at school, gan, or home), a gift (not large, but something the child will enjoy), and an experience.  Banana had her party at gan, I bought her our favorite book (that I read her at gan at least once a week), and she and her siblings were taken to a kids’ fun place at a nearby kibbutz.  Beans had her party at school, I’m outfitting the sewing box my mother gave me for Christmas when I was 12, which is still in excellent condition, and although getting her ears pierced was actually the pay-off for a behavior contract we had, I think that is going to suffice for an experience.  (She’s so over the moon about it that I may not have to get her anything else until she enlists in the army.)  And Peach wants her party at home; I haven’t thought of a gift yet for her (fingers drumming); and perhaps a family trip to the beach in our new/used Mitsubishi Grandis will do for an experience.

The sad part, of course, is that by the time the Cap’n’s birthday rolls around near the end of Av, I am so wiped out from the hurricane of girls’ birthdays, I don’t know what to do for him.  For the past four years, we have been packing for SOMETHING (aliyah, moving, or trips to the US), and the Cap’n’s birthday has been swept aside by the flurry of boxes, suitcases, carry-ons, travel-size shampoos, and the like.  (Last year we had the inestimable joy of being with close friends in Boston, with the traditional JP Lick’s ice cream cake, but that is far from the norm.)  By his birthday, I am usually sick of the taste of cake, and one more chorus of “Happy Birthday” or “Hayom Yom Huledet” will send me over the edge.  And while he is a wizard at choosing gifts, he is the hardest person I know to buy something for.  So what shall I do this year?  Try my hand at a homemade ice cream cake?  The family-size gelato cakes at the divine Sorrento gelato stop in Beit Shemesh are a whopping 85 shekels, and I already have an ice cream maker.  A party?  We haven’t yet made friends close enough to consider what we used to call “the Usual Suspects” with whom we always did birthdays, but we’re getting there slowly.  An experience?  We could both use an overnight getaway somewhere (the Dead Sea, perhaps) with good food, massages, and no sound of giggling or fighting at 6 AM, and there are plenty of competent sitters around.  How to pay for it, though, short of selling Bill for scientific experimentation, is a mystery.

But hey–there’s always Gaza.  Aussie Dave has a write-up of Gaza’s Aldeira Hotel.  For $185 (the price of a mediocre room at the Sheraton Tara over the Mass. Pike in Newton) you can get this bedroom,

this bathroom,

and this fine dining experience.

Hey honey!  Where’s my burka?

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When I posted about the proposed $100 million mosque and Islamic “cultural” center to be built near Ground Zero in New York, I expressed my concerns about the tastefulness (or lack thereof) of the project, as well as about the political outlook of the Muslims lobbying for it.

Since then, I have done some more thinking, reading, and watching on the subject.  Here are some things I’ve found out.

Who is behind the funding of the center, and whose teachings will be disseminated there?  The following video features Brigitte Gabriel, president of American Congress for Truth, and a Lebanese Christian who fled the massacres of Christians by Muslims in her homeland and learned that the hatred of and lies about Israel she had been taught as a child in Lebanon were untrue.  She masterfully dominates the “discussion,” effectively overpowering a Saruman-like spokesman for the Arab side (“Do not let him speak; he will put a spell on us”) and repeating her message of the dangers of allowing extremist Muslims to build a monument to Islam next to Ground Zero.  (She may come across as rude in the interview, but when the few words that come out of the pro-mosque Arab’s mouth are clearly buzzwords chosen to shame Americans into extending “freedom” and “tolerance” to those who would destroy that same freedom and tolerance for others, I think it’s justified.)

Why that site in particular for a mosque?  What is the bigger picture?  These questions are addressed by a speaker for Acts 17, a Christian group which seeks to expose and confront anti-American Islam.  He discusses the responses he observed of “normative” Muslims to the atrocities of 9/11 and the wider view they have of New York.  A mere coincidence, the property to be converted to the Islamic center?  The big picture may not be so benign.

Is America making a mistake by extending freedom and tolerance in this context?  Pat Condell seems to think so.  (He thinks a whole lot of other things on the subject too.)

And where in all this insanity are the true Muslim moderates?  An interesting piece of uncertain authorship (but readable on this blog), comparing moderates to extremists in political movements throughout the 20th century, claims that while political correctness and tolerance requires us to write off acts of violence and hatred as the work of “extremists,” the truth is that when all the activities of a particular group are undertaken by the venom-spewing, club-wielding extremists, then the “moderates” who choose to sit quietly at home become irrelevant.  It was the Communists in Russia and China who were the Angels of Death in their societies, not the average peace-loving Russian or Chinese.  Same with the Japanese and the Germans in World War II.  And so it is now in the Islamic world where acts of terror and butchery are carried out by some, and those who oppose them are silent.  Where Jews are laughed at (and laugh at themselves) for having three opinions for every two Jews, there is merit to that.  If some Jews are settlers, other Jews are out protesting the settlements.  If some Jews advocate for unilateral withdrawal from land, other Jews are out there protesting and getting arrested.  If one Jew shoots dozens of innocent people at a historic shrine, thousands of Jews condemn the act.

So where are the Muslims with moderate, democratic sensibilities?  What are their views on the proposed mosque near Ground Zero?  What are their views on Gilad Schalit, and the fact that he was kidnapped in a cross-border raid (against international law) and has spent four years in an undisclosed location with no access to visits from the Red Cross (also against international law)?  What do they think about the preaching in mosques and teaching in schools that label Jews as descendants of pigs and monkeys, and the world as divided between the House of Islam and the House of War?  What do they think of West-bashing in the Arab world?  Of Iran’s race for nuclear weapons and its promise to wipe Israel off the map with them?  Of the oppression of Christians in the Palestinian Authority and elsewhere?  Of the increasing climate of hatred that is poisoning and further isolating the Arab/Muslim world?  A few Arab critics have abandoned Islam altogether, including Nonie Darwish and Walid Shoebat, and others who continue to point fingers at the violence and collective insanity in Islam have sizable retinues for their personal security (or run the risk of a sticky end like that of Theo Van Gogh).

There are plenty of things in this world that I’ve never seen (the Congo, Salman Rushdie, blancmange) which I’m still prepared to believe exist.  And so with moderate Muslims.  But if they want to stand up and be counted, then they should do so.  If not, they don’t count at all.

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Good fences?

Sunday night, the Cap’n and I had one of our rare nights out.  Instead of our usual trek to a movie theatre, however, we grabbed a falafel and went instead to the new digs of the AACI (Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel) in Talpiot to hear a lecture by Col. (res.) Dany Tirza, the main architect of Israel’s security fence.

Many are familiar with the barrier built to separate Israelis from Palestinians in the early to mid-2000s.  Its construction and implementation have been compared to Hadrian’s Wall and the Berlin Wall, and dubbed a lifesaver and an “apartheid” fence.  Those in the middle of the political spectrum were generally in favor of its construction, while people to the further Left and Right of the Israeli political scene opposed it: the Left for its hampering of the freedom of movement of non-Israeli Arabs, and the Right for the de facto political border they feared it would create, were a Palestinian state to be declared.

(For those who require some background on the fence, its causes, goals, and design, see the website for Israel’s Security Fence, watch the video which addresses many of the questions asked about the fence, or look at the many resources about the fence on the Israeli Diplomatic Network’s Security Fence page.)

Col. Tirza explained that his role in the security field in Israel began when he was sent to Oslo at the beginning of the clandestine talks that led to the Oslo Accords.  He had been sent to hear the discussions and negotiations, and report back to Minister of Defense Ehud Barak about any concerns the Israeli government and the IDF should have about the security of Israeli citizens.  In a nutshell, while Tirza did the intelligence-gathering requested by him, and as the casualties and death toll mounted following the “peace process” in the 1990s, security was not always the government’s top priority.  Tirza was present again at the 2000 Camp David talks between Arafat and Barak, when Barak offered Arafat nearly everything he demanded, but only on the condition that this would mark the end, forever, of the conflict.  Arafat’s answer, that he could act on behalf of the Palestinian people but not of the entire Arab world, ended what would have been a historic conclusion to the conflict and began a hideous terror war planned and executed by his own Fatah forces.

As shootings and explosions erupted across the country, the Israeli government was extremely reluctant to build a physical barrier between Israelis and the bases of terror.

A few things should be mentioned about the fence.  One is that it is meant as a security fence, not a political structure.  It zigzags in and out of the Green Line, attempting to include Israeli citizens (Jews and Arabs) and only exclude those under the Palestinian Authority, particularly in areas known to be points of origin of terrorists.

Another is that every effort was made to avoid trampling on the rights of landowners and farmers.  Gates were installed at frequent intervals to allow farmers to access their land on the other side of the fence, not one house was torn down to build the fence, and Arab landowners were compensated for any expropriated lands (though, since most refused to take the compensation for fear of appearing to be collaborators with Israel, Israel has set aside those funds so that that compensation can be claimed any time in the future by the farmers or their descendants).

A third is that while the media like to call it a “separation wall” or just a “wall,” only 3% of it is solid wall.  (The rest is a combination of cameras, barbed wire, ditch, soft sand, and roadway to reveal any attempts to infiltrate Israel and slow down the infiltrator until he can be apprehended.)  The solid wall, built along stretches of Highway 6 (the north-south Trans-Israel Highway) and the length of Route 60 that bypasses Bethlehem (which I take into Jerusalem), is built in order to stop bullets in places where motorists were shot and killed during the Palestinian Terror War (2000-2005).

And finally, the fence is meant as a temporary measure to ensure the safety of Israeli citizens.  Rather than a means to separate Arabs from Jews (which it does not), it is meant to separate terrorists and murderers from their would-be victims.  In the event that a peace agreement is reached, and the end of the conflict finally comes, Tirza says he hopes and expects to see the fence dismantled and torn down.

In the process of building it, Tirza’s door was open to anyone with grievances or requests.  The Supreme Court also heard hundreds of complaints and challenges to the building of the fence.  Christian groups (Anglicans, Lutherans, Greek Orthodox, etc.) who until then had refused to speak to one another, had no choice but to sit down together and discuss its impact together.  Arab workers who worked in Israel are still permitted to do so, with the crossings attempting to process workers in no more than 20 minutes.  Despite most of the international community opposing the fence as “illegal” and “inhumane,” Israel has executed its construction with every attention paid to due process and humanitarian concern.  (Interestingly, the bombings, shootings, stonings, and other murders of Jews during the Terror War were never called “illegal” or “inhumane.”)

Perhaps the thing missing from most discussions of Israel and the Arabs here is a look at the stories motivating the two peoples.  The Israeli story sees the return of the Jews to this land as a return to the land of our forefathers, to land promised us by God, in which we were once sovereign and independent, and which we prayed to return to for 1900 years.  The Arab story sees the Biblical account of the gift of this land to Abraham and the Children of Israel as irrelevant, the Jews as foreigners and colonists, and the Arabs as the only rightful heirs to this land.  The Jews say they are here to stay, and the Arabs say they will not stop until they’ve driven the Jews out for good.  Bleak as these conflicting stories sound for someone who lives to see peace established here, they are necessary to understand both the Arab refusal to make peace with the Jews, and the source of the Jews’ overriding concern with their own safety here.

Personally, I’m sick of the sound of the word “security.”  It gets raised by the Israeli side whenever there is talk of making concessions to “build confidence” with the Arabs, or of finding more things to give them in exchange for… what, I’m not sure.  I have little doubt that the rest of the world is so inured to the thought of violent Arabs and dead Jews that the constant reminder of the need of Israelis for security is like listening to a scratched old LP that keeps hopping the needle back to the same few bars of Ravel’s “Bolero.”

And yet, as the Cap’n reminded me, even with the hate, the terror, the rockets, the constant hammering away by the press and the UN, and the disintegration of Israel’s few alliances, the Jews are probably still better off now than they were during the Exile, where the only thing that stood between them and the hysterical mob on Easter or during the Plague was a fat archbishop or lord mayor who may have declared the Jews a protected minority, but who could (or would) do little more in a pogrom than call out “Cease!” from their balcony over the roar of the crowd.  Back then, there was no Israel, no IDF, and certainly no security fence to stop the carnage.

Natan Sharansky, Minister of Housing and Construction at the time the fence was planned and its execution begun, said

When Israel’s free society was defending itself against an unprecedented campaign of terror, most of the international community was calling for an end of the “cycle of violence” and a return to the negotiating table. When the Palestinian terrorists struck… Israel was condemned for imposing “collective punishment” on the Palestinian population. When Israel chose to target individual terrorists with precision air strikes, its actions were condemned as illegal extrajudicial assassinations. It seemed that in eyes of many, the Jews had a right to defend themselves in theory but could not exercise that right in practice… our government understood that there were three options to maintain an acceptable level of security for our citizens. The first was to wage a total war against Palestinian terror using weapons that would claim many innocent Palestinian lives. The second was to keep our reserves constantly mobilized to defend the country. The third option was to build the security fence. Had the Palestinian Authority become a partner in fighting terror, as it was obliged to do under all the agreements that it signed, none of these options would have become necessary.

Do good fences make good neighbors?  Insofar as they are prevented from being murderous neighbors, I suppose so.

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Never look back

I was talking with friends the other day—two women in their 40s, a few years older than I.  One has four children, the other six or seven (I forget; the youngest is still nursing, and the eldest is in the army, or beyond).  The one with four has been feeling down lately, seeing and feeling the signs of aging in herself.  As she sighed and admitted she’s finding it difficult to “put that foot in the grave” (her expression), I laughed.

But I don’t agree, and I don’t feel that at all.  Yes, statistically speaking, I am probably at about the half-way point in my life.  In other words, it may have taken me THIS LONG to figure out who I am and what I want (though in some ways I’m still finding out both of those things), but I have another 40-something years to enjoy the fruits of my labors.  At 42, I’m having more fun than I’ve ever had (on a day-to-day basis).  My stress level is blessedly low, I can stop wondering what sort of person I would marry (I know now), and I have the best kids I could ask for, and the number I want.  I don’t let people step on me anymore, I don’t take offense as easily as I used to, I have a religion and way of living that I think has truth and holiness to it and enriches my life, I live in the only country in the world I want to live in, and while paying our bills every month is much harder on the Cap’n’s new Israeli salary, he and I are very much a team in finding ways to economize.  My intelligence has slowly combined with experience to turn into wisdom, I recognize subtlety, irony, and nuance better than I did when I was young, and I’m not afraid to look foolish in front of others.  I like myself much better as I am now than I ever did when I was younger.  I feel more formed, more complete.  Some insist that a youthful face and body are a lifelong ideal; I don’t agree.  I think one gets those things when one is a harsher judge; later on, when the face wrinkles and the body goes soft, one doesn’t care as much (or at least, one shouldn’t).  After having a baby, a friend of mine said she discovered for the first time that form should really follow function in importance.  I agree; I’d rather drive a car with some dents and scratches that purrs like a kitten than a hot rod with no power steering, the muffler gone, and an engine that cuts out.

I’m still too young to be ornery.  (I hope I never get to the stage where I’m as cranky and bitchy as Barbara Bush or Helen Thomas.)  But I am through caring about things that don’t matter.  In graduate school, in a seventeenth century English literature class, I read the most wonderful poem by Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilsea (1661-1720), one of a generation of largely forgotten women who in their own time enjoyed fame, fortune, and admiration for their poetry.  A sufferer of depression (“spleen,” it was called in her day) and childless, Finch was nonetheless happily married.  The following poem describes her lack of concern at the onset of aging.  (Finch calls herself by another name in the poem—“Clarinda”—, a common seventeenth century poetic conceit.)

Clarinda’s Indifference at Parting with Her Beauty

Now, age came on, and all the dismal train

That fright the vicious and afflict the vain.

Departing beauty, now Clarinda spies

Pale in her cheeks, and dying in her eyes;

That youthful air that wanders o’er the face,

That undescribed, that unresisted grace,

Those morning beams, that strongly warm, and shine,

Which men that feel and see, can ne’er define,

Now, on the wings of restless time, were fled,

And evening shades began to rise, and spread,

When thus resolved and ready soon to part,

Slighting the short reprieves of proffered art

She spake—

And what, vain beauty, didst thou e’er achieve

When at thy height, that I thy fall should grieve,

When did’st thou e’er successfully pursue?

When did’st thou e’er th’ appointed foe subdue?

’Tis vain of numbers or of strength to boast,

In an undisciplined, unguided host,

And love, that did thy mighty hopes deride,

Would pay no sacrifice, but to thy pride.

When did’st thou e’er a pleasing rule obtain,

A glorious empire’s but a glorious pain.

Thou art indeed but vanity’s chief source,

But foil to wit, to want of wit a curse,

For often, by the gaudy signs descried,

A fool, which unobserved, had been untried;

And when thou dost such empty things adorn,

’Tis but to make them more the public scorn,

I know thee well, but weak thy reign would be

Did none adore or prize thee more than me.

I see indeed, thy certain ruin near,

But can’t afford one parting sigh or tear,

Nor rail at time, nor quarrel with my glass,

But unconcerned, can let thy glories pass.

A friend in high school, after a particularly bad day, wailed, “But these are supposed to be the best days of our lives!”  I said, quietly, “No, that’s college.”  Her eyes widened.  “Oh,” she said, her hope restored.

But I was wrong.  Perhaps for some college days are the best of their lives.  But what does that say about the rest of your life?  All downhill?  No, there has to be life after college.  And after 30.  And after 40.  What’s the alternative?

One of the most inspiring things I’ve read is about prima ballerina Wendy Whelan, born in the same year as I was (1967).  While nearly all other dancers her age are retired, or (if they’re lucky enough to be still in the dancing world) choreographing and teaching, Whelan is considered to be in her prime now.  Her strength and stamina, for which she is renowned, are matched by maturity and artistry lacking in many younger dancers.  In other words, she was good when she was younger; now she’s great.

And so, I say, with the rest of us.  No, ladies, let us vow to bid the frippery and folly of youth adieu, without regret. Bring on the second (and, I hope, better) half of life!

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Too skinny to model?

When I was a junior in high school, there was a girl in my class who was obsessed with modeling magazines.  She would walk around the dorm showing the other girls the latest photos in Vogue and Elle, admiring the models and clearly feeling dissatisfied with her own girlish figure.  After the summer, she came back to school – or at least someone said that scarecrow walking around was she.  I didn’t recognize her at all, and she wasn’t at school 24 hours before the nuns called her parents and told them to come collect her.

I never saw her again.  (I hope she recovered.)  But when I was getting my teaching degree, one of my professors, a middle school math teacher, told us his 8th grade girls threw their lunches in the trash.  “Don’t their moms pack stuff they like?” we clueless 20- and 30-somethings asked him.

I don’t always understand the obsession with weight that accompanies beauty.  Health, it seems to me, should be more important: a glow in the face, good grooming, attractive hair style, and clothes that flatter the unique figure of the wearer.  I’ve only seen a handful of girls thin enough to model, and they are rarely pretty enough to pull it off.  On the other hand, the girls I’ve known who I found the most appealing (and were never hurting for male company) had pleasing features (even if they weren’t beautiful), good color, and normal figures (within a wide range).

So imagine my delight at discovering that a modeling agency executive is leading a crusade to require Israeli models to pass a health exam which requires a minimum body mass index (BMI).  Adi Barkan, in tandem with an MK, successfully submitted legislation to the Knesset requiring modeling agencies to use BMI as a condition for employment.  Following the recent death of an Israeli supermodel (who succumbed to anorexia with a weight of under 60 pounds), over 30 Israeli CEOs have agreed to comply with this legislation, and will require models to be screened for health every three months.  France and Italy also support this new model employment policy.

While in reality, this policy may result in models the size of Q-tips rather than toothpicks (the exact BMI figure is 18.5, the low end of “normal range”), and airbrushing and other photo tinkering may continue to make models look thinner as well as more even-featured and “perfect” (the ban is on photo editing models “to extremes”), if models begin to look a little more like human beings and less like what the Allies discovered when they liberated Auschwitz, that will be a good thing for everyone.

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