Archive for November, 2010

Sweaterbabe to the rescue

I’ve been an addicted knitter for some years now, and have steadily developed my skills in that area.  I spent hundreds of dollars on yarn for various projects I had in mind several years ago, but have been stalled on most of them because I’ve lost interest in the projects themselves.  One of the hardest things I’m discovering about knitting is matching up a gorgeous, favorite yarn with a project worthy of the stuff.

For example, I have some heather green 100% wool yarn for which I haven’t found a good sweater pattern.  I thought I would use it to knit Kate Gilbert’s “Arwen” sweater,

but after knitting up a few inches of it, I got bored. I loved the hood, but for me there was not enough texture or interest, and I hated the hem and sleeves.  But what else could I knit that would look good with my genuine Lothlorien leaf brooch?  Nothing in my Jo Sharp books appealed (too boxy and conventional).  My Viking knitting pattern book had some cool stuff, as did my Alice Starmore fisherman’s sweater books, but I can’t knit a really warm sweater and expect to be able to wear it much in Israel, even in Efrat.  I thought about creating an original Shimshonit-designed sweater using the techniques I learned from Priscilla Gibson-Roberts and Deborah Robson’s Knitting In the Old Way, but I couldn’t think of anything original.

I had despaired of finding anything before the moths find the wool, until I was looking today for a knitting pattern to use some pink mohair I’d  bought for my daughters for a poncho or cape or shawl or something.  I didn’t come across anything interesting for the mohair, but I did come across the Sweaterbabe website which has so many beautiful, creative, interesting knitting patterns, I found at least three or four projects that would work beautifully for my heather green, plus some for my lovely nut brown color wool DK and a dozen other yarns hanging around with nothing to do.  Not only are the sweaters, hats, scarves, cowls, and vests wonderful looking, but customers who have knitted her patterns say they are extremely well-written and easy to do, even as first-ever knitting projects.  I also liked the finished projects gallery where she posts photos from happy customers proudly wearing their beautifully-knit projects.  (I’m especially impressed with how neat and well-knit they look, even on the novice knitters.  Photoshop jobs?  I hope not.)  The site is intended both for knitters and crocheters, and includes advice and tips for both types of crafts.  There is also a blog, an email list with monthly free patterns, and an “Ask Sweaterbabe” page to post your specific questions to Sweaterbabe Herself.

I have traditionally been a cable fan, knitting standard-shaped sweaters and avoiding openwork.  But I’m getting more interested in lacework in my middle age, and Sweaterbabe’s many sweaters with lace combined with cables and unusual shapes have me intrigued.  In the end, I have decided to knit either this lacy drape-front cardigan (which I can close with either my Lothlorien pin or the lovely silver scarf pin my friend Heather gave me) :

or this dramatic wrap cardigan:

And with all of Sweaterbabe’s dozens of other projects, I think I’ll be busy throughout the winter.

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I’ve laid off politics for a while because frankly, it’s exhausting enough to live in a place where politics is served with your cornflakes at breakfast without writing about it all the time.

But I really can’t be silent about the recent dust raised over Israel’s naming of national heritage sites in the country for the purposes of preservation and renovation.

It started with Joseph’s Tomb in Shechem (Nablus), where Arabs accused the Jews of “fabricating” their connection to the site (you can thank Hanan Ashrawi for that little nugget) and after Arabs rioted there in 2000, then-PM Ehud Barak ordered the IDF to abandon it.  It was subsequently handed over to Palestinian police who, despite their commitment to protect the site, stood by and watched while it was ransacked and burned by an Arab mob.  After thousands of years of being venerated as Joseph’s burial place (including by Arab geographers), the PA suddenly claimed that the tomb is not that of Joseph the Jew, but of some Muslim named Joseph, serving as their excuse for making it into a mosque.  I don’t believe such ridiculous claims and I suspect, given the fact that these Arabs had no difficulty reducing the place to rubble, they don’t either.

Next we move on to the Cave of the Patriarchs.  Located in Hevron, this site is the burial place of Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebecca, Jacob, and Leah (none of whom Muslims can claim any connection with except possibly Abraham, according to tradition).  As a result of the Wye River Accords, the site has been divided, giving the Muslim Waqf control over 80% of the site and limiting the access of Jews to the tombs of Isaac and Rebecca to ten days a year.  To acknowledge the Cave of the Patriarchs as the second holiest site in Judaism, PM Binyamin Netanyahu officially added it to the list of national heritage sites.  This declaration has met with outrage from the UN, Arab governments, and the United States (which I have noticed are becoming increasingly indistinguishable from one another in their policies and attitudes), and UNESCO has called for this site to be removed from Israel’s list of national holy sites.

If the world wants to deny the Jews any connection to the Tomb of the Patriarchs, what of Rachel’s Tomb?  Well, a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, so the little minds have been hard at work cooking up a cock-and-bull story about Rachel’s Tomb.  Here it is: As of 1996, the tomb, which has always has been acknowledged as Rachel’s burial place by everyone who has been here (British, Turks, Arabs, Jews), was renamed by Palestinian Arab spin doctors the Mosque of Bilal Ibn Rabah, after an Ethiopian slave in Mohammed’s household who was killed in the wars in Syria and is buried in Damascus.  Not only are Arabs reduced to making up stories to try to lay claim to Jewish holy sites in the Jewish State, they’re declaring a “holy war” to back up those new claims.

But wait—there’s more!  According to a recent statement by a PA official, the Western Wall is not Jewish!  That’s right.  A PA-backed “study” shows that the Western Wall is NOT part of the Temple Mount, but an integral part of the Al-Aqsa Mosque (which is not contiguous with the wall, but never mind the facts).  This study claims that “the Temple Mount never stood in the area,” that the Western Wall is Waqf property and belongs to an Algerian-Moroccan Muslim family, that none of the stones in the current Temple Mount wall date from the time of King Solomon, and that the path next to the Wall was never a public road, but was established for Muslim use to access the mosques on the Mount.  The author of the “study” states, “No one has the right to claim ownership over it or change its features or original character. Also, no one has the right to agree with the occupation state’s racist and oppressive measures against history and holy sites.”  Which measures are those?  The ones that comply with the version of history accepted by educated, sane, objective, politically disinterested historians?  Or the ones that seek to explore through archeology the area’s use and workings in ancient times?  Or perhaps the ones that say that Jews have a right to live freely in their own land rather than be voted out of existence by a bunch of ragtag Muslim zealots bent on grabbing this land for themselves any way they can get it?  Anyone who makes the absurdly false claims these PA nutjobs are making, or believes them (as it’s only a matter of time before the UN and America will) is buying a story that says that the Dome of the Rock (dating from 691 CE) and the Al-Aqsa Mosque (the most recent building dating from 1035) have always been there, were built on bare ground (presumably under the personal direction of Mohammed), and on land the Jews never occupied.  Riiiiiiigggghhhhht.

I believe in freedom of speech.  I believe that people have the right to believe whatever they wish, and to speak about it freely.  If, despite Columbus’s successful voyage, satellite pictures, and man’s visit to the moon, someone wants to claim that the earth is flat, that’s their right.  If someone thinks the moon is made of cheese, let them.  (And don’t forget to bring me back some next time you go.)  If someone wants to cook up conspiracy theories about JFK’s assassination, about UFOs, or about Hitler’s brain being kept alive in Paraguay, be my guest.  But just as people have the right to claim anything they like, it is the right of the rest of us to ridicule them, refute them, or simply ignore them.  In fact, it is the obligation of every responsible citizen (and more so those in positions of influence and decision-making) to examine the facts and ask questions rather than simply believe a tall tale because he or she doesn’t know any better.  To allow ignorance, conventional wisdom, and politics to play a role in policy-making at an international level is to delegitimize the very policy-making body to which they belong.  Given how the UN has behaved for the past several decades, how its conduct and voting record has gotten less and less rational, and now how UNESCO is rewriting history in the Jewish State, it is actually the UN that is being delegitimized.  (How long, after all, will it be before the UN building in New York itself gets voted an ancient Muslim holy site, is given an phony Arabic name and converted into a mosque?)  As far as I can see, the UN is the greatest purveyor of incitement, disinformation, political intrigue, and outright lies in the world, and as such, the greatest threat to world peace.

What are the takeaway messages to be gleaned from all this insanity?

  • The only people worse at history than Arabs are lazy Westerners.
  • Ignorant Christians are as dangerous as zealous Muslims.
  • If a Muslim says it, it must be true (contrary facts notwithstanding).
  • Israel has no holy sites.  Anything that has been claimed by them for thousands of years and is supported by texts (holy and secular), archeology, and tradition, becomes instantly invalid once Arabs come up with a story claiming that those sites are sacred to Muslims.
  • If we want to return places to their “original” names, then Nablus should be universally known as Shechem, London should be Londinium, New York should be New Amsterdam, Iraq should be Babylon, and Mecca should be Terok Nor.
  • Arab vandalism of Jewish planting on state lands has led to several clashes in the Gush.  Four settlers were shot dead by an Arab at point-blank range last August.  There have been several stonings of Jewish cars by Arabs on the road near the northern entrance to Efrat.  An Arab attempted to stab hitchhikers near the Gush Junction the other day.  Arabs have launched a full campaign to delegitimize the spiritual connection of Jews to this land.   And the West is buying it all, hook, line and sinker.

It’s time to push back, people.

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The other night, the Cap’n and I watched the “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” episode where Dax and Worf finally wed.  There were plenty of ups and downs in the story with the wedding on and off every few minutes.  Unwavering adherence to Klingon tradition, a difficult mother-in-law, and sudden time pressure to include Worf’s son at the wedding all seemed to create resentment and conflict between the bride and groom.

As we were watching it, I realized that while I felt sympathy for Dax wanting to throw Klingon tradition aside (and with it her requirement to pass muster with Sirella Martok), and instead get married in Captain Sisko’s office in a civil ceremony, I didn’t really want her to do that.  Why?  Because the Cap’n and I have seen so many movies where a religious/traditional person falls in love with an unaffiliated person and to make the match work gives up his or her beliefs and practices.  (We really liked “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” because it didn’t involve the Greek falling off her derech; instead the white bread guy converts to Greek Orthodoxy.)

For Worf and Dax to be married in a parve ceremony felt wrong.  Worf is thoroughly dedicated to Klingon tradition, and Dax herself (throughout at least two of her seven lifetimes as a Trill) has been fascinated by Klingon culture.  As we watched the events unfold, it became increasingly clear to us that this situation is very much like any other intermarriage and as dedicated Jews, we were rooting for the unaffiliated partner to convert.

I spent a post some time ago comparing Klingons to Arabs.   One commenter to that post claimed that Klingons are modeled on Vikings.  Perhaps in some sense they are, but I suspect that Vikings did not share the Klingons’ reservations about intermarriage, since intermarriage is an effective means to conquer and fully assimilate another society.  In this episode (“You Are Cordially Invited”) Klingons began to look to us like Jews too with their adherence to ancient tradition, their reservations about intermarriage, and their belief in a relationship as a joint spiritual journey where both partners must be in sync for it to be a successful marriage.  When the episode ended on a happy note, we were satisfied that all had turned out to everyone’s satisfaction.  Worf married in a Klingon ceremony, his son was present, the Martoks did their bit, Dax grew up a little, and I’m sure Quark made a tidy profit on blood wine at the reception.

Who could ask for anything more?

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Banana came home the other day and announced that her rav at mechina (preparatory kindergarten) had told the girls that in the home, the husband makes the decisions and the wife obeys the husband.

I’ll give you a minute.

Okay?  Good.

Once the Cap’n and I had picked our jaws up off the floor, I remembered that Banana’s rav is Sephardi.  (He also tells the girls it’s assur to eat fish with dairy and who knows what all else.)  I don’t mean to impugn Sephardim, but many—especially those who came to Israel from Arabic-speaking countries—have not encountered anything like a women’s movement in their communities.  So after a giggle and a snort, I pointed out to my five-year-old that in the Crunch household, Ima and Abba are partners and work together as a team.  There are things that Abba does better and takes responsibility for, and things that Ima does better and sees to.  But our strength comes from acting as equals, not from having one person in charge and another subservient (though by assuming the traditional stay-at-home mom role and doing most of the chores, it probably looks that way).

A friend of mine once told me that her four-year-old son told her that “Mans [sic] work and mommies stay home.”  My friend had a Ph.D. but had chosen (for the time being) to be at home with her young children, as I did.  It’s galling sometimes to feel like we have to give up our image as educated, intelligent beings in order to provide our children with parental care in their early years.  But perhaps at the same time it affords the opportunity to explain the complexities of feminism and modern life to tell them about our choices, and point out the choices other mothers make to go out and work, or fathers to stay home, or parents to have their children cared for by others while both parents work.

I sometimes think we’re going down a weird road by sending our kids to the frummier schools in Efrat.  But then again, we have plenty of  interesting conversations at home as a result, and our kids don’t take for granted what we do in our house when they know that other people do things differently.  We explain to them in neutral ways why other families do what they do, and why we do what we do.

Given that some Jewish families—both those who do a lot and those who do almost nothing—often don’t discuss why, perhaps in the end my kids are getting a better education after all.

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Bill is turning out to be a charming boy.  At 21 months he is smallish and skinny, but with hazel eyes, a winning smile, and an irresistible giggle, he has also begun cultivating the social graces the Cap’n and I hold so dear.  (Read about ’em here, here, and here.)  When I sneeze, he says, “Ah-too, Mama.”  When he asks for more of something and I prompt him, he says, “Peez, Mama.”  And he regularly says “da-da” (infantese for todah, or “thank you” in Hebrew) when given something, with no prompting.

So for those out there who think teaching children manners can wait until they’re in school, or in the army, or never, I would like to point out that not only can babies be taught manners at an early age, but that even boys are educable.  (That last was the Cap’n’s observation.)

So parents of eligible daughters, begin placing your bids for my boy now.

And enrollment in Auntie Shim’s Etiquette Boot Camp begins this summer.

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Jewish American radio host Dennis Prager has a video in his series “Prager University” which seeks to describe “The Middle East Problem” in brief.  Here it is, the Middle East conflict, in six minutes:

Prager aptly describes it as an easy problem to describe, but a difficult problem to solve.  One side wants to exist in peace; the other side wants to destroy it.  The rest is commentary.  Now come to Israel and see for yourselves.

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I drive to the Yellow Hill near Alon Shvut in Gush Etzion a few times a week, taking the kids to swim lessons or gymnastics.  Our route there frequently passes Arab shepherds herding goats or sheep, speeding Arab taxis ferrying passengers between Hebron and Bethlehem, Arabs on horseback or driving donkey-drawn carts.

Somehow, these sights often inspire commentary from Peach (the only political animal among my children so far).  The other day, while driving with my kids in the car, Peach announced, “I hate Arabs.”

It’s difficult sometimes to temper my young children’s reactions to the things they hear around them.  A family we know lost their son, murdered at the Mercaz HaRav yeshiva a few years ago.  The murderer?  An Arab.  The four people killed in a car just south of here in August were killed by an Arab.  The security fence (some sections of which appear as a wall around here) was built to keep out Arab terrorists.  The people who demand that we stop building in our yishuv so they can fritter away more time not making peace with us?  Arabs.

Nevertheless, I don’t like the word “hate.”  It’s very strong, and there is nothing essentially hateful in an Arab.  They are human beings, like we are.  They eat, sleep, learn, work, love and live much as we do.  They are as much God’s creation as we are, and I don’t think it’s right to hate them.

What I do sanction is anger at their leadership, those who would harm us or poison others against us, and suspicion of them in general.  While there may be some who don’t deny the right of Jews to live in their ancestral homeland, this study done by the Israel Project indicates that most Arabs in Gaza and the West Bank would like to see Israel disappear and be replaced by a Palestinian state.  This isn’t shocking to me, or even surprising.  I don’t blame them, because honestly, I feel the same about them.  I was honest with Peach when I told her that if I were to wake up tomorrow morning and this land would be magically empty of Arabs, I would breathe a sigh of relief, much of my low-grade but ever-present anxiety would melt away, and I would feel utterly joyous.  I don’t want them dead, or harmed in any way.  I want them safely, comfortably settled with dignity—somewhere else.

This, I would point out, is more than can be said for most Arabs.  Violence against Jews is common currency in Arab society and shedding Jewish blood scores major brownie points.  (Consider the fact that this Arab man, released from prison and accused by others in his community of being a collaborator, sought to restore his own reputation by stabbing a Jewish woman.)  In addition, while I’m honest about the facts of what happens in Israel with Peach, I try to discourage her from hating even those who wish us dead and  I certainly don’t teach her hateful, nasty, biologically absurd ideas about our enemies being descended from pigs and monkeys the way Arabs teach their children about Jews.

Perhaps because I deliberately keep my views about Arabs complex and murky, I can tell that Beans is sometimes confused.  She has at least one Arab man working at her school, and she speaks of him as a friendly person.  She is also eager to learn to speak Arabic.  When I asked her why, she wasn’t sure, only that she seemed to think that it makes sense living where we live to understand each other.  Yet at the same time, knowing what some Arabs have done (such as tried to blow up our little supermarket in Efrat years ago), she feels nervous around Arabs she doesn’t know.  When I take her to the Rami Levi supermarket at the Gush Etzion Junction where Jews and Arabs work and shop alongside one another, she often asks softly if a group of Arab men entering the store in front of us are Arabs.  The answer is usually yes, but I also point out to her that the security guard has a metal detector wand which he waves around every Arab man’s waistline, front and back, to prevent anyone with an explosive belt from entering the building.  I don’t know if that makes her feel better (or me, for that matter), but I try to show her that while Arabs are allowed to shop in Jewish-owned stores, given the past behavior of some Arabs THEY are the ones who get the wand treatment, and I (a woman with fair hair and skin, young children in tow, and only a small pack around my waist outside my shirt) do not.

There are times when I think that playing the game by Arab rules is appropriate.  Meeting violence with harsh reprisals (targeted killings, air strikes in response to missiles fired at Israel, life imprisonment with no chance of parole or exchange for those with blood on their hands) is the very least Israel can do to maintain its self-respect when dealing with people who see mercy as weakness, justice as laughable, restraint as capitulation, and targeting civilians as legitimate.  But when it comes to hatred, glorification of murder and suicide, and dehumanization, I think Israel is wise not to join them.  Our God commands us to love life and do all we can to preserve it—theirs as well as ours.  This is an area where I think Israel really gets it right.

Does it make life any easier, or my lessons to my children any clearer?  Definitely not.  But life is rarely that easy.  It’s part of the epiphany I had the other day where I realized that there is nothing more fulfilling than being Jewish, and at the same time nothing as burdensome.

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