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Archive for August, 2010

Talboshet achida

Amid the filling out of forms, organizing notebooks, sharpening pencils, and other such school prep trivia, I have also been buying Beans and Peach uniform shirts (talboshet achida).  It seems Education Minister Gideon Saar has issued a proclamation that all kids in elementary and middle schools must wear uniform shirts: solid color t-shirts with the school insignia silkscreened on the upper left of the chest.  (Pants and skirts seem not to be an issue with the Education Ministry at this time.)

Having worked in schools for many years, I am aware of the many issues around children’s clothing.  There are the economic differences between wealthier and poorer students.  There are the fashions and fads that come and go.  And there are the clothes of questionable taste (slutwear, shirts sporting innuendoes, etc.).   Uniforms offer a low-tech solution to many of these problems.

As it happens, I am not thrilled at having to buy special shirts for my girls for school.  In the past few years, I have bought them beautiful long-sleeved cotton dresses to wear in the cooler weather that are more comfortable worn with pants and leggings than skirts are (with their two waistbands bunched together).  And the style of these uniform shirts is very little different from the shirts I normally buy for them, so now they have a closet brimming with two wardrobes worth of short-, ¾-length, and long-sleeved t-shirts, some with and some without insignia.

But even I can see an advantage in these uniform shirts.  I’ve never bought the argument that children (i.e. anyone under university level) MUST express themselves through their clothing.  (On the contrary, I think it leads to stereotyping and cliques much more than everyone wearing the same clothing but being viewed much more as individuals.)  And good riddance now to the phone calls from the rav at Peach’s school about the length of Peach’s sleeves.  Beans’s school, with characteristic ditziness, waited until I’d already bought short-sleeved shirts for the warm weather and long-sleeved shirts for the winter to email the parents and request that we buy only long-sleeved shirts for the girls.  At least the shirts are inexpensive, and I bought both girls at least a size or two bigger than what they really wear to avoid buying new ones every year.  They’re not of the highest quality, though, so we’ll see how long they last.  I heard one parent lament that the silkscreening is poor quality and that the insignia will wear off quickly.  Who cares? I answered.  They’re still the uniform shirts.  If they want me to bring them in and have the insignia reapplied, I’ll do it (as long as it’s free).  If not, I won’t, and they’ll wear them as they are.

So while I don’t necessarily share the Education Minister’s concerns about inappropriate clothing (at least where my own children are concerned), in principle I am supportive of uniforms.  In my last two years of high school, I attended a girls’ school where we wore uniforms.  We looked like 1960s hospital nurses during the warmer months and—with our red-and-green Dewar plaid kilts—like Christmas trees in winter.  But still, I loved not wondering what I would wear every morning.  I loved that while the rich girls may have had cashmere or lambswool sweaters compared to the other girls’ cotton or acrylic, at least from a reasonable distance we weren’t really distinguishable.  Geeks looked like the drama queens, who looked like the debutantes, who looked like the field hockey jocks, who looked like everyone else.  And I like the notion that kids should not judge others or be judged themselves by what they wear, and should express their individuality through their middot (positive character), talents, strengths, interests, and promise.

After all, uniforms don’t impose any roles or expectations on kids, do they?

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Granola

It’s been a while since I’ve posted a recipe.  With the kids home, though, I’ve been thinking of things they can make with me that involve simple chopping, measuring, and mixing.  I’ve also been teaching them that many of the things we tend to buy in stores ready-made can be made more wholesomely, deliciously, and cheaply at home.  I’ve also been thinking of sweet, comforting food in the midst of dealing with some of my more stodgy, anti-kid neighbors who arranged for large boulders to be placed in the middle of the neighborhood park to prevent children from playing there.  My spirit and my soul have needed a good nourishing, and the food that popped into my mind this time was not chocolate, homemade toffee, or ice cream (though those are three great tastes that taste great together).  It was simple, homely granola.

Here’s a recipe my mother gave me ages ago in the first version of her homemade cookbook that has since gone through many editions in my hands.  It’s called “New Granola,” but it’s a golden oldie with me.

5 cups oats

1 cup chopped apple (I chop ¾ cup dried apple)

1 cup coarsely chopped pecans (sweet caramelized pecans work nicely here)

1 cup raisins

¾ cup melted butter

½ cup packed brown sugar

1½ teaspoon cinnamon

While I usually skip this step, you can toast the oats first on a cookie sheet at 350ºF (180ºC) for 10-12 minutes.  Combine the oats with the rest of the ingredients and mix well.  Spread on a cookie sheet and bake at 350ºF (180ºC) for 30-40 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Store in a tightly covered container in the refrigerator.  Serve with milk or yogurt.  Or just eat it straight out of the container.

Peace, love, and granola, man.


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My presence in the blogosphere has been pretty sparse lately.  Some of it is due to the near-blackout I’ve had since Bezeq (the phone company and our internet provider) “upgraded” the service in my area.  It’s also been because I have been weighing my options returning to the world of work.  But more than anything it’s been due to the fact that for the last few weeks, I’ve had at least one child at home, and beginning this week, all of them for the rest of the summer.

This hasn’t scared me as much as it might have in the past.  With getting older has come an increased ability to do things for themselves.  It has also made them more helpful around the house, so that any complaints of boredom are met with a possible list of tasks around the house in my service.  During the school year, the girls have school or gan every day but Shabbat.  This, plus whatever after-school activities they have going on, give them very little time to pull out their many craft supplies and spend a chunk of time producing something.  We have little time to read to one another, or to sit and watch videos on YouTube and talk about them.  This summer has given us plenty of time around the table while sucking on ice pops, talking about friendships, birthday plans, school uniforms (a new requirement for Beans), and the capture and trial of Adolf Eichmann by the Mossad.  The girls have made some headway making sukkah decorations to replace those destroyed by a rainstorm last year.  They continue to practice what they learned in gymnastics on their new mats.  Banana has learned the alphabet.  They’re all teaching Bill to talk.  Beans and Peach are learning to sew and have each completed a couple of cute projects.  I gave Banana her first couple of swimming lessons.  I have finished reading them the Laura Ingalls Wilder books, read Roald Dahl’s Boy, James and the Giant Peach, and Danny, the Champion of the World, recently completed Alice In Wonderland, and am now in the middle of Through the Looking Glass.

My summers growing up almost never included any camp attendance.  (The one exception was a two-week girl scout day camp experience when I was 11.)  I loved waking up at leisure, puttering around, reading, sewing, playing with friends, running through the sprinklers, and going to bed while the sun had not yet set.  (I didn’t like the dark.)  I helped my mother grow a vegetable garden, and would go pick a lettuce as she was making dinner at night, and make a salad of it and the tender little carrots I would pull out of the ground.  There were raspberries and grapes growing in our yard, and we children would occasionally be impressed into blueberry or blackberry picking service, being turned loose in the blistering heat with coffee cans hanging from our necks with twine.  (Okay, those weren’t my best summer memories, since my mother would make pies from the berries and my piece always seemed to be the one with an earwig or a wasp in it.)  Oregon was a wonderland for me in every season, and summers were sunny and dry with only the occasional day or stretch of days over 90 degrees Fahrenheit.  Our house was comfortable in every kind of weather, and our yard shady, grassy, full of flowers, an apple tree, and a filbert (hazelnut) bush, with a swing hanging from a bough of the large maple (which I would as soon climb as swing from).

I try not to be a parent who over-schedules her children’s time.  They are free to choose whom they play with, and are encouraged to make their own phone calls to arrange dates.  But their schooldays by nature are filled with lessons, homework, and the few chugim (activities) that they themselves choose and I encourage.  Beans and Peach attend gymnastics classes twice a week, which have done wonders for building their strength, coordination, and flexibility.  Banana has had a great introduction to tae kwon do through a kiddie class, and wishes to continue.  Aside from those, I am resolved this year only to add swimming lessons to their schedule to enable us to skip camps altogether next summer and get a membership at a kibbutz pool a short drive away instead.  With the kids ages 5, 7 and 9 (turning 6, 8 and 10 next summer) I will only have to watch 2-year-old Bill closely at the pool.  Packing a picnic and towels, we can while away the hours with friends who also have a membership there, playing, swimming, and spending time outdoors—exactly what summers are for.

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My mother recently forwarded an email she’d received from a friend of hers.  It reviews some of the incidents that led to the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution granting women the right to vote.  Since this year is the 90th anniversary of women’s suffrage in America, I think it’s worth looking at that momentous occasion again (with my text rather than the rather sparse explanations that accompanied the photos in the email forward).

The United States was founded on the principle expressed in the Declaration of Independence that “Governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed.”  Yet despite this, women were not seen as “the governed,” and therefore their consent was not required.  Many western territories, upon becoming states, included women’s suffrage in their constitutions (including Wyoming, Utah, and Colorado).  But in the rest of the country, women’s suffrage was virtually nonexistent.

In 1850 was convened the first National Women’s Rights Convention.  Attendees were faced with the task of finding answers to the following questions: Should the movement include or exclude men? Who was to blame for women’s inequality? What remedies should they seek? How could women best convince others of their need for equality?

Many of the women who worked for women’s suffrage were also active in the anti-slavery movement.  After the Civil War, the desire for black men to vote both joined and competed with the movement for women’s suffrage.  Frederick Douglass believed that black male suffrage should be fought for first and supported the Fifteenth Amendment granting all men the right to vote regardless of race.  Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony opposed the Fifteenth Amendment unless it were revised to include women.

There were also differences of opinion within the women’s suffrage movement on how to push for the granting of the right to vote.  One organization, the National American Woman Suffrage Association (headed by Stanton and Anthony), lobbied individual states to grant women suffrage.  Another, the National Woman’s Party (led by Alice Paul and Lucy Burns), pushed for a constitutional amendment to grant women the right to vote on a national basis.

When President Woodrow Wilson declared that World War I was a war for democracy, women challenged him to make America a true democracy by enfranchising women.  He eventually made pro-suffrage speeches, and his support for the cause was followed shortly by passage of the Nineteenth Amendment which granted women through America the right to vote.  But not without a fight.

The photos below illustrate some of the scenes and people involved in the struggle for women’s suffrage.  The year 1917 saw some of the darkest hours of the women’s struggle.  According to Snopes (which asserts that the email circulating the Web is true), the NWP’s picketing demonstrations in front of the White House were met with increasingly severe measures by the government.  Beginning with arrests and fines of $25 for obstructing traffic, the police began rounding up the women and imprisoning them overnight, and later for up to three days.  When the women refused to pay the fines and were obviously undeterred by the night in jail, the government resorted to stiffer punishments.  On July 14, six women were arrested and sentenced to 60 days in Occoquan Workhouse in Virginia, where “conditions were abysmal.  Prison cells were small and dark, with fetid air, and the food was infested [with mealworms].  Moreover, [the cells] were infested with a variety of animal life.  Alice Paul recalled that among the women imprisoned with her ‘was one whose shrieks nightly filled the jail as the rats entered her cell.’”

November 14, known as the “Night of Terror,” saw the arrival of a new crop of arrested suffragists at Occoquan.  While the women waited in a holding room for processing, the superintendent burst in with a posse of guards and proceeded to order the women to their cells.  Here is the account given on Snopes of the treatment of the women by the guards:

The scene was one of bedlam, intentionally disorienting.  Suffragists feared for their lives and the lives of their compatriots.  May Nolan, a seventy-three-year-old Floridian with a lame leg that she had to take pains to treat gingerly, was literally dragged off between burly guards, each of whom held an arm, despite her assurances that she would go willingly and despite the pleas of other suffragists to refrain from injuring her leg.  Dorothy Day had her arm twisted behind her back and was purposefully slammed down twice over the back of an iron bench.  Dora Lewis was thrown into a cell with such force that she was knocked unconscious.  For several frantic minutes her companions believed that she was dead.  Alice M. Cosu of New Orleans was also thrown forcefully into her cell.  Cosu suffered a heart attack and repeated and persistent requests for medical attention for the obviously stricken woman went unanswered by the authorities throughout the long night.  Lucy Burns, who had been arrested once again on November 10, shortly after completing her previous sixty-day sentence, was identified by [Superintendent] Whittaker as the ringleader for the group.  She was manacled to her cell bars, hands above her head, and remained that way until morning.  Later, her clothing was removed and she was left with only a blanket.

The purpose of the email is to remind women of the efforts and sacrifices made for us by our grandmothers and great-grandmothers.  Without their courage and conviction, it’s unlikely that American men would have thought of granting women’s suffrage on their own initiative.  A review of history—including the “rule of thumb” law, women’s legal status as chattel, droit du seigneur, and the notion even today that women have smaller brains and are less intelligent than men—should persuade even the most apathetic woman that the gift of suffrage is not one to be squandered.

There is a facetious (or not-so-facetious) expression: “I don’t vote for politicians; it only encourages them.”  On the other hand, what does NOT voting do?  In the 2005 Iranian elections, a large proportion of the Iranian population stayed home.  They were fed up with the current system and decided to protest by not participating in the election.  Now look who they got.

I encourage everyone to view the photos below and take inspiration from these brave souls.  And VOTE!  (Early and often…)

Dora Lewis, knocked unconscious when a prison guard flung her into her cell


Lucy Burns, manacled to her cell bars on the “Night of Terror”

Alice Paul.  When she embarked on a hunger strike, they tied her to a chair and force fed her until she vomited. This went on for weeks until word of her treatment was smuggled out to the press.  Prison officials transferred Paul to a sanitarium in the hope of having her declared insane (and thus removing her from the helm of the suffrage movement).

Pauline Adams, sporting the prison garb she wore while serving a 60 day sentence.

Edith Ainge, of Jamestown, New York

Berthe Arnold, CSU graduate

Helena Hill Weed, Norwalk , Conn., serving 3 day sentence in D.C. prison for carrying banner, ‘Governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed.’

Conferring over ratification of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution at National Woman’s Party headquarters, Jackson Place, Washington, D.C.  Left to right: Mrs. Lawrence Lewis, Mrs. Abby Scott Baker, Anita Pollitzer,  Alice Paul, Florence Boeckel,  Mabel Vernon (standing, right).

Those interested in videos on the subject might be interested in the documentary “Not For Ourselves Alone” about the partnership of Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.  The 2004 HBO movie “Iron Jawed Angels” about the NWP’s battle for suffrage, starring Hilary Swank and Frances O’Connor, also looks good.  I love what the sanitarium doctor evaluating Alice Paul for insanity tells the prison officials who have brought her there:

“Courage in women is often mistaken for insanity.”

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Facebook freakout

A friend of mine on Facebook linked to an article in HaAretz about how the Israeli government has decided to remove some of the concrete barriers that protected the south Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo (somehow always erroneously dubbed “East Jerusalem”) from gunfire coming from the Bethlehem suburb of Beit Jala.  During the Palestinian Terror War (incorrectly termed “the Second Intifada”) in the early part of this decade, Gilo residents were subjected to bullets through their apartment windows and along streets and sidewalks facing the wadi between Gilo and Beit Jala.  They lived in terror, and to protect them, the government replaced vulnerable windows with bullet-proof glass and put up the concrete barriers between the terrorists and Jewish residents, motorists and pedestrians.

Now that I’ve got that little memory-jog out of the way, I have to admit that the brief comment exchange between my friend and an Arab friend of his raised my blood pressure.  His Arab friend, like so many others, believes that the long-suffering Palestinians have been oppressed by this barrier (which is not, as he mistakenly believes, the Security Fence), and that it’s time not only this concrete buffer, but the whole Security Fence, came down.

I wish I could agree.  But I even have my doubts about whether removing these admittedly unsightly concrete barricades in Gilo is wise.  At the same time this protective measure is being dismantled, I can see when I drive into Jerusalem that the Security Fence is being completed along the section of Route 60 between the Gilo and Beit Jala tunnels (called, predictably, “the tunnel road”).  A new concrete-and-stone wall and patrol road (part of the standard structure of the Security Fence) is going up next to this section of road, a treacherous area which was a veritable shooting gallery in the early 2000s and where many Jews lost their lives for committing the great crime of driving home from work.  (Cynically, the Arabs limited their shooting at motorists from the hours of 8 PM and 11 PM—in order to make the 11 o’clock news.)  If Israel is completing the Security Fence in this area (in sight of both Beit Jala and the apartments in Gilo that were shot at not so long ago), as well is in the nearby Bethlehem suburb of Wallaja, why are the concrete barriers in Gilo coming down?  Obviously, while one area may be considered to be out of danger (credit being given to IDF infiltration of terrorist cells in Bethlehem), someone still thinks Route 60 is unsafe.  And with all the dallying Abbas has been doing over direct talks, consulting with Egypt and Jordan, the Arab League, trying to create new conditions, and generally dragging his feet, I get the distinct impression living here that while the Netanyahu government may look poised and ready for direct talks with the Arabs, they’re not expecting much to come out of them.

I know my friend and this Arab guy don’t hate Jews categorically.  My friend himself is Jewish, and his Arab friend is his friend.  But while I nearly always exercise restraint when reading their naive exchanges about the Israeli news, I am nearly always struck by the fact that neither one of them has any idea what the backstory is on most of the news items they read.  The Arab sees everything through the goggles of oppression and occupation, and my friend is a true humanitarian (not one of these flotilla tourists we read about) who loves and supports Israel, but doesn’t know enough to be an informed advocate.  Their exchanges typically involve a news story about Israel or Israelis, my friend makes a comment in support of Israel, the Arab comes on and leaves a comment to the effect that “Too bad the Israelis aren’t that nice to the Palestinians,” or “The Israelis wouldn’t be in this mess if it weren’t for the occupation.”  And my friend, ever sensitive to his friend’s feelings and not informed enough to respond, writes some weak comment agreeing, admitting to Jewish or Israeli guilt, or pointing to some other half-baked news story as progress toward peace.  Neither knows what kind of place Israel was to live in in the 1990s or the early 2000s.  Neither has the slightest suspicion that the pressure being placed on Abbas to enter into direct negotiations with Netanyahu might not bear the fruit they hope to see.

Remember the last time a serious offer of peace was made by Israel to the Arabs (in 2000)?  The one that was supposed to end the conflict once and for all?  That would offer the Arabs everything they asked for short of the certain destruction of Israel?  The one that Nobel Peace Prize winner Yasser Arafat could have actually earned his prize by accepting?

So do I.

BLAM!


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Summer news

When I think of summer movies, I think of things with negligible plots, little substance, but plenty of action.  I’m no expert, but I think whoever invents the news has been taking a page out of Hollywood’s book.  Just look at the kinds of things that have been going on:

500 Israeli Academics Demand Right to Boycott Selves,” published July 7.  That’s right; despite the notion that professors encouraging boycotts of Israeli universities amounts to shooting themselves in the foot, they claim that their freedom of expression is impinged upon by the Ministry of Education’s attempt to stop them from encouraging such boycotts.  It reminds me of the Eric Idle (of Monty Python fame) mockumentary film, “The Rutles,” which poked fun at all the lawsuits filed by the faux Beatles against one another, where each was suing the other three, and one of them (Stig, the Quiet One) sued himself accidentally.

Then there is the story about how “Palestinians Oppose Ending the Occupation.”  That’s right.  ARE YOU LISTENING, LEFTIES?  Here’s the first paragraph of the piece:

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s plan to assist the Gaza Strip in becoming an independent entity has encountered wall-to-wall Palestinian opposition. The dual-headed Palestinian regime in Ramallah (Fatah) and in the Gaza Strip (Hamas) totally rejects Lieberman’s proposal to recruit the European Union to build power stations to supply electricity, desalination stations and a sewage treatment plant. This was to be part of a plan that would totally sever all connections with Israel, which would forgo its naval supervision over merchandise entering the port of Gaza and would totally seal the border with the Gaza Strip.

There it is in black and white.  For years the Arabs have been posturing as freedom-fighters, crying for a state of their own, and grousing about how Israel won’t let go its stranglehold on Gaza with its control of basic human services.  So now, after trucking in thousands of tons of food, toys, and medical equipment every week, after the Turkish flotilla fracas, and all the mean things people said about Israel and the “siege” and “humanitarian crisis” in Gaza, Lieberman has called their bluff and offered to gather the resources necessary to dump them out of their wheelchair of self-pity and make them walk again.  And they don’t want it.  Their response?  That Gaza will still be under Israeli occupation (though how, they decline to elaborate), that it is in direct conflict with the Palestinians’ “desire for unity, liberty, and independence” (would they know any of these things if they bit them on the nose?), and that Gaza and the West Bank would still not be united (though that seems to me more because Hamas and Fatah can’t get along than anything to do with Israel).  It’s just too laughable.

And after the Internet blackout I experienced in the last few days, I discovered that the Lebanese Army fired on Israeli soldiers who were removing brush inside the Israeli-Lebanese border.  Of course, my buddies over at Reuters (NOT!) reported that UNIFIL knew nothing about the IDF’s plans to be at the border, and the Lebanese Army claims that Israeli soldiers crossed the international border and were fired on after repeated warnings.  I have chosen to get my information from a more reliable source: the Muqata blog, which includes videos of the attack and maps of where it took place.  Why is this happening?  To commemorate the fourth anniversary of the Second Lebanon War?  Probably not.  To distract the world from the trail of the Rafik Hariri murder investigation (which is ineluctably leading to Hizbullah)?  Much more likely.  Especially since Nasrallah has now accused Israel of murdering Hariri.  The irony of that accusation is delicious, since it is Arab tradition, rather than Israeli, to commit dramatic, violent acts completely against one’s own interests.

And finally, though it hasn’t yet shown up on my Yahoo page, there was supposedly an assassination attempt on Ahmedinejad in the last few hours.  According to Lurker, who posted the scoop on the Muqata, a pro-government Iranian website reports that one person was arrested at the scene, but the actual assailant fled.  Stauffenberg lives!

I tell you, people.  You can’t make up this kind of drama.  And people were predicting this would be a dull summer.

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Years ago, I watched a television documentary about the comedy duo Mike Nichols and Elaine May.  Both are better known nowadays for their directing and acting work, but in the 1950s, they were an ingenious improv comedy team who had met in the late 1940s at Chicago’s Second City, and later began appearing in nightclubs.  They performed live in New York clubs, on television, and debuted in 1960 on Broadway with the show, “An Evening with Mike Nichols and Elaine May.”

They poked fun at youth, parents and children, the ultra-conformist, Pollyanna society they saw around them, celebrities, interference by commercial sponsors in television shows, and anything else that crossed their paths.  Their brand of comedy was wickedly barbed, intelligent, and achingly funny.  Their chemistry was perfect and their humor completely in sync.  The following are two examples of their particularly clever work together:


Although I was able to purchase “In Retrospect: Mike Nichols and Elaine May,” a CD of some of their audio sketches, alas, I’ve been unable to find that television documentary on DVD ANYWHERE.  So enjoy these, and any of the other sketches you can find of them on YouTube.

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