Archive for February, 2011

Spreading the Word

My mother sent me the following joke the other day:

There was a knock on the door this morning.  I opened it to find a young man standing there who said, “I’m a Jehovah’s Witness.”  I said, “Come in and sit down.  What do you want to talk about?”  He said, “Beats the hell out of me; I’ve never made it this far before.”

I’ve heard jokes and stories about door-to-door missionaries for years, some of them real, some apocryphal.  A woman I once knew would allow missionaries to come in on one condition: they could talk about their religion for 10 minutes, and she would talk about hers for 10 minutes.  A former religion teacher of mine in Catholic school was a former monk, and missionaries used to leave his house utterly disillusioned after a cup of tea and a serious theological dressing-down.  My brother once claimed to have opened the door to missionaries wearing nothing but a Frankenstein mask.  But my favorite story is of a friend who got a knock at his college dorm room door while he was studying.  Did he want to participate in a Bible study in the lounge?  Never one to miss an opportunity to learn some Torah, he grabbed his chumash and joined the group.  When they began reading from their English translations, he looked up in mock horror.  “You study the Bible in ENGLISH?!”  And with that, he snapped his book shut and went back to his room and his books.

I sometimes wonder why people are attracted to cults that peddle God as others peddled vacuum cleaners and encyclopedias in the old days.  I suppose they start out as lonely people, and the kinds of people who find them sitting alone on park benches or smoking dope in alleys offer them some sense of belonging, of friendship, of security.  I have compassion for such people as far as that goes.  I have a little less for the kind of people who go to churches where they claim Catholics aren’t Christians, or anyone who doesn’t go to that particular church is going to burn in hell for all eternity.

Over the years, I have found Christianity disturbing on a number of levels, and one is its general departure from the lessons contained in the Hebrew Bible.  Once, when I was learning with my rabbi before my conversion, he asked me why the Torah begins with the story of Adam and Eve instead of with the Exodus.  It’s a question that has come up periodically throughout my years of hearing sermons.  The answer is that the story of the Jews is the story of all people.  We are all created in God’s image, and we all share a portion of life on earth, as well as a share in the world to come.  God cares about all people, not just the Jews (though the Torah indicates that God has a greater stake in the Jews than in other people, for good and ill).  We are not to rejoice at others’ misfortune, either by rejoicing at the drowning of the Egyptians or by keeping plunder upon conquering cities in Canaan (unless expressly told to do so).  By the same token, how others treat the Jews is supposed to determine in some part their own fortune.

Perhaps this is why, when I was approached by a couple of starry-eyed evangelical Christian undergraduates in the middle of my conversion (and a dual master’s degree) and invited to a Super Bowl-pizza-Bible study party, my blood pressure rose.  What the Bible has to do with American football and pizza utterly escapes me, and when I politely declined, despite promises that it would be “fun,” they asked, “Well, aren’t you a Christian?”  I answered, no, as it happens, I am not.  And they got that look such Christians always get, like they’re talking to someone who deals drugs, eats cockroaches, or murdered someone (which, as a Jew, they probably thought I had).  But didn’t I want to be a Christian?  And this is where my patience gets seriously tried, because I can’t help thinking to myself, you’d all be better off spiritually as Jews, and you could enjoy your Super Bowl and kosher pizza without having to canvass weary graduate students to join you.  But I don’t say that.  I firmly but politely decline, and refrain from telling them that their religion is a lie, a farce, and a bill of goods, and that the path to salvation, redemption, God, and the world to come is a lot simpler for them as non-Jews than they could ever imagine.


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I’ve been enthralled by the volume of snow dumped on the US (and New England, in particular) this winter, and have posted several times on the subject.  But Wednesday, my inbox had an unexpected treat for spring, a photo taken by Yehoshua Halevi of poppies in the Ela Valley (taken 2007), near Beit Shemesh where I used to live.  I always loved spring in Oregon and New England, where first the snowdrops would appear (in February, yet), then the crocuses and daffodils, followed by the tulips and irises, and finally the lilacs would give one splashes of color and sometimes heady scents carried on the breezes.  But early spring in Israel has its own charm, with almond trees blossoming, cyclamen bursting forth from the rocky soil, and anemones and poppies dotting the fields and roadsides.  This lush photo of poppies is Israel at its greenest and most luxuriant; take it in while you can, because once the hot winds hit in late March and April, things begin to dry out again and the green is gone for the next seven or eight months.  (A word about the Ela Valley: The winery there puts out the most magnificent chardonnay I’ve ever tasted.  Most chardonnay doesn’t appeal to me because of its sharpness, but the Ela Valley chardonnay is smooth, fragrant, and mellow.  I highly recommend it.)

Thanks to Yehoshua for letting me post the photo here.  You may notice I have added his weekly photo blog to my blogroll; I encourage you to click on it periodically to see what gorgeous images of Israel, the holidays, and the people here he has on view.

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Rethinking peace with Syria

It’s easy, given the leitmotif of Middle East peace rhetoric, to look at the possibility of peace between Israel and Syria as being inextricably tied to a hand-over of the Golan Heights to our Arab neighbors in exchange for a deal.  That’s the way it’s been ever since 1967, it’s all the Assad dynasty has been able to think about (in the hope of restoring the face they lost in the war they also lost), and it’s what the Americans, Europeans, and Israeli Left think is involved.

I’ve also been stuck in that rut for some time, thinking that if that’s the price of peace with Syria, then we’d better learn to do without.  The strategic value of the Golan to Israel, the water rights that come with it, and the fact that, while the Druze on the Heights say they’re spiritually citizens of Syria, they’ve easily done their share as valuable citizens of Israel, and will probably continue thus, are part and parcel of Israel’s possession of that patch of land.

And then I read JoeSettler’s post on the Muqata blog, where he shakes the foundations of that line of thinking.  Starting from the position that peace-making with dictatorships is risky, he goes on to take a close look at the benefits that Arab nations have received in exchange for peace with Israel (including American aid for Egypt and water for Jordan).  Egypt got back the Sinai, but Jordan did not request (or, likely, even want) Yehudah and Shomron back under its umbrella.  Land is not an essential element in peace-making, after all.

JoeSettler writes, “Israel will not give up the Golan, that is the price Syria must pay for peace with Israel and for the benefits that peace with Israel will bring them.”  In addition, he writes, “Israel must demand that regime change takes place and democracy is introduced so we can make sure that any treaty we sign is (relatively) stable.”

I often find myself resistant to the land-for-peace mantra, and this post clarified why that is so: “Israel needs to stop thinking that only Israel gains from peace.”

And that goes for the rest of the world, too.

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The other day, Carl posted a short rant on his blog, IsraelMatzav, on the lack of widespread support among US Jewry of America’s veto of the “settlements are illegal” resolution vote at the UN.

One of Carl’s readers, a self-avowed Renewal Jew, commented that the Renewal movement’s spiritual leader, Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, is not expected to state an opinion on the subject.  This person asserted that it is alienating to shul-goers (especially those not politically active) to hear about politics from the bima, and it got me thinking.

On the one hand, I like to feel like Israel is really the People United we like to think it is.  And it’s nice to feel like there is support for Israel and its interests expressed by Jews abroad, especially on issues which challenge Israel’s very existence, as those at the UN seem increasingly to do these days.

But then I think some more.  Not all American Jews feel connected to the State of Israel.  For many, just being Jewish is challenge enough when faced with the pull of non-Jewish culture and the ease of assimilation.  And about a third of younger American Jews said in a poll in the last couple of years that the loss of Israel (presumably through a second Holocaust) would not be a particularly emotional event for them.  It’s a lot to ask Jews who don’t feel connected to Israel at all to take an interest in the protection of the settlement enterprise, something that not all Israelis support, and which most people outside Israel don’t understand, much less give their backing.

And Carl’s Renewal reader also said something that resonated with me: there is nothing more irritating than hearing a rabbi rail from the bima about politics.  It took me back to my mid-teens, when we lived in a small town in California that had one Reform synagogue and a rabbi with an abrasive personality.  We rarely went to synagogue, and when we did, the rabbi would greet my family at the door with the comment, “Well, hello, strangers!”  If that wasn’t bad enough, he spent every Friday night ranting about the PLO (this was 1982 and he had a lot to say), to the point that I began to wonder if Hashem hadn’t made a covenant with the PLO rather than the Jews, and whether the rabbi actually knew any Torah at all.  At a time when I was desperate to learn something about Judaism and trying to figure out who I was as a Jew, my rabbi (the only Jewish authority I’d clapped eyes on in years) was no help.  He taught me no Torah at shul, and he taught me no Torah at the teen class he taught on Wednesday nights that my parents forced me to attend.  When I finally found out that only the Reform movement accepted me as Jewish, I was not encouraged.  (By the way, I have met more learned Reform rabbis since then, but this was a poor start to my acquaintance with Reform Judaism.)

So while I understand Carl’s discouragement at a lack of American support (which Israelis feel increasingly these days as the peace process seems to disappear over the horizon and is replaced by initiatives to invalidate Israel’s existence), I also understand why American Jews weren’t queuing up to protest the latest vote on the threadbare theme of “settlements are the Antichrist.”

Besides, a source of consolation for me in all this was that, unlike the current Secretary of State (who calls the settlements “illegitimate” and expansion of the settlements “illegal”), America’s Yidn didn’t take to the streets to support the Arab-backed resolution.

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Cannibalistic cake

Since beginning my illustrious career as a transcriber and editor, I haven’t had much time to keep up with other blogs (including my own).  Instead, I take advantage of occasional snatches of time between finishing a file and picking up Bill, while the kids are coloring in the playroom after school, or late at night, to go on blog-reading binges.  We were in this Shabbat and I had a light cooking day on Friday, so I thought I’d catch up on Cake Wrecks.

Like me, those who agree with Jen that cake says it all (including things that would be better left unsaid) will be fascinated to hear her speculative history behind the evolution of baby butt cakes into pregnant torso cakes, and then into, well…read for yourself.  It’s rare that I find myself yelling at the computer screen (because I’ve found from experience that it doesn’t really help), but this was one of those occasions.  Enjoy.  (And then, to cleanse your palate, check out one or more of her Sunday Sweets pages.)

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A couple of days ago, I posted a few comments about the recent Egyptian revolution and a video of a song by Sandy Cash on the topic.

One of my commenters, Rivki @ Life in the Married Lane…, made the following observations: “While listening to the media coverage, it was pretty frustrating how certain news sources (mainly NPR) continually downplayed the M[uslim] B[rotherhood]’s opinions on terrorism, martyrdom, connection to Hamas, etc. It was a big love-fest for revolution with few references to a potentially bleak future.  I hope that the Egyptian people get a democracy which will serve them (and us) well.”

Rivki’s comment about NPR could go for many other Western media outlets (and Facebook) as well.  I have shared many people’s hope for the country and for a smooth transition to a more representative government dedicated to elevating the status and economic situation of the country’s population.  But the attitude of many Americans, and several media sources, has been much less moderate and guarded, and I’m forced to conclude that the emotional needs of the West drive its media coverage of the world’s events.  It helps explain the absurd distortions and total certainty Westerners feel (even when there is no legitimate certainty to be felt) about the outcome of tumultuous events like those in Egypt.  Americans love nothing more than watching the huddled masses struggling to be free, and want to see everyone end up with the same outcome America got.  Their ignorance of Arab culture makes it hard for them to accept the guarded optimism or outright pessimism people feel who actually live among Arabs and are directly affected by what happens in the Arab world.  Thomas Friedman’s harsh criticism of Israel‘s muted response to the revolution and concern about the toppling of a government that maintained the 30-year peace between Egypt and Israel shows Friedman (usually a fairly responsible journalist) to be out of touch with the realities of the region (both for Israel and for Egypt) and just as guilty as NPR of being swept along by the tsunami of revolution euphoria. (Here are two utterly rational responses to Friedman’s detour into Israel-bashing madness from Ynet, by Eddie Yair Fraiman and Martin Sherman.)

The downplaying of the Muslim Brotherhood’s designs on the government is probably due to the MB’s astuteness in keeping to the sidelines (for now) and the West’s inability to accept the very real possibility that Egypt will fall to anti-Israel, anti-Western Islamist forces.  The fact that Iran’s revolution resulted in a “balanced” cabinet between Islamists and moderates, but after 8 months (when the world was no longer so focused on Iran) Khomeini forced out the moderates and replaced them with like-minded Islamists, is a historical tidbit most people don’t know about or can’t bear to face happening again.

Countries have the right to govern themselves, and while Israel may have its peace with Egypt in its best interests, it does not mean that we would dream of interfering in another country’s politics.  The last country that should accuse others of meddling in other countries’ politics is the United States, and the twentieth century in southeast Asia and Latin America is all the support I need to say that.  It seems unwise to me to abandon reason for unchecked emotion, to ignore history in favor of wild hope, to adopt an attitude of absolute certainty at the expense of a cautious, wait-and-see attitude, and to lash out viciously against people who harbor legitimate fears that the outcome may not be as rosy and wonderful as you are convinced it will be.

Just a thought.

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No-frills Judaism?

On Friday, February 4, 2001, the Jerusalem Post carried an article in the “In Jerusalem” section entitled “No-frills Judaism.”  In it, Peggy Cidor (the Post’s maven on all things yerushalmi) described how a small movement of Israelis who call themselves “secular humanistic Jews” are building communities of like-minded secular Israelis, rewriting Jewish life cycle events to eliminate reference to God, and ordaining rabbis.  (I apologize in advance for not providing a link to the article; the Post requires a paid subscription to access this article online.  I’ll quote from it to provide necessary highlights.)

Now, I used to be a secular person.  I was never an atheist, but ignorance of Judaism for me also meant ignorance of the nature of God’s relationship with humankind.  The frummer the observance, the more based in tradition, the more connected to God, and the less comfortable I was with it.  And I understand that there are people in the world who cannot bring themselves to believe in a thing if they haven’t seen it with their own two eyes.  (I’m related to many such people.)

So I can’t say I am surprised to see such a movement afoot in Israel.  Inspired by one Israeli woman’s experience of a Yom Kippur service in Chicago in 1980 which made no mention of God throughout the entire service, and in which there was “no ark, but instead a kind of pedestal with the inscription ‘Adam’ [man] engraved on it,” it’s been slowly built up and marketed to Jews in Israel who don’t affiliate with their religion other than living on the Jewish calendar and living among other Jews.  According to Cidor’s research, the people ordained as rabbis for this new movement “learn and experience various aspects of typical Jewish life from a cultural perspective: Jewish history, education, ethics and philosophy, and culture.  They also receive special training in spiritual counseling.”  Rabbinical training also “includes community work and public leadership in education, and also training in promoting change in public opinion about the need for a Jewish secular alternative.”

This is not the first effort by secular Jews to reclaim their cultural and intellectual heritage.  Other groups of secular Israeli Jews have gathered together to study the Talmud and other Jewish texts, while others have chosen to pair themselves with a religious chevruta (study partner) in order to share their opposing perspectives with one another and enrich the other’s learning.

I find a number of factors interesting about this particular group of humanistic Jews.  One is their core belief that man is the center of spiritual life.  From my perspective, this is exactly what avodah zara is defined as, i.e. removing God from the center of theology and worshipping something else: money, ambition, or in the case of humanistic Jews, man.  To remove the foundation of Judaism, which is mankind’s relationship with the Divine, is to leave the trappings of Judaism (law, commandments, peoplehood, connection to the Land of Israel, the whole basis of the Torah) loose and ungrounded.  As a letter-writer to the Post observed, it’s like boiling water and never adding the eggs.  They may study what they call Jewish wisdom, but they must be  highly selective, since I’m sure that Maimonides’s Thirteen Principles (which includes belief in God) is not among the things they study.

Another interesting thing is the labeling of their leaders as rabbis.  I’m not quibbling so much with the title, which has stricter definitions, such as wordiQ’s definition,  “a religious Jewish scholar who is an expert in Jewish law”, and looser ones, like “a Jew trained and ordained for professional religious leadership” (Merriam-Webster online).  The former obviously does not describe a secular humanist rabbi, while the latter very well could.  But in a larger sense, from my experience, people who facilitate communities, do community work, and counseling, are social workers, not rabbis.

Everyone is not cut out for Orthodoxy.  It demands broad knowledge of ritual and practice that most people do not care to master or implement.  It is also pointless without a belief in God, so I have never maintained that Orthodoxy is for everyone.  But what I would miss, if someday Orthodoxy were to disappear and I was left with secular humanistic Judaism (or nothing), is a feeling of foundation for my practices.  Those who choose to see Judaism as a culture and not a religion make a conscious choice to embrace that culture.  But without God as its foundation, it becomes no different from any other culture.  And if Jewish culture is comprised of Jewish food, Jewish dancing, Hebrew, Jewish history, and Jewish ethics, then those things can be preserved or not by people with no loss to their identity.  Personally, I prefer Italian food, ballroom dancing, Spanish, and English history (it’s less depressing), and civil law works fine most of the time.  So why be Jewish?  These are all just options anyway, to be rewritten and observed (or not) as people wish.

Liberal Judaism has tried for hundreds of years to make Judaism more palatable to people who want to play an active role in the secular world.  In that sense, Judaism has been full of experimentation, from the Reform movement’s abrogation of kashrut and Sabbath observance, to the Conservative movement’s attempts to re-install some of the rituals dispensed with by the Reform movement (which, for the most part, were only embraced by their rabbis and a handful of congregants), to Modern Orthodoxy which attempts to straddle the gap between traditional Jewish living and full participation in the world of science and modernity.  (Haredi Judaism, too, is an experiment to see if Jews can live in the modern world while pretending that there is no such thing.)  And now secular humanistic Judaism seeks to find a way to live as Jews in the modern world, disavowing the Torah, ritual, God, and all but a select group of superficial elements.  Time will tell if this will really provide the alternative to the Orthodox hegemony in Israel that has alienated so many non-religious Jews.  My guess is that for many secular Jews here, who may eat cheeseburgers and drive on Shabbat, but still believe that a child born of a non-Jewish mother is not Jewish (even if the father is), it will appear too superficial, and not take root.  It’s like pulling a handful of petals off a living rose bush and gluing them onto paper, saying that that’s a rose.  Those petals may live and give off their fragrance for a few hours, but in the course of time will brown, wither, and die.

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Egyptian revolution blues

There’s been plenty of chatter about the protests and regime-toppling going on in the Middle East and North Africa lately.  Much of that (probably too much) has been coming from the US government, which seems to abhor a verbal vacuum of any kind, even if it doesn’t really know what to say.  One friend on Facebook, an Islamophile, is delighted to see Mubarak overthrown, and bristles at the suggestion that the Muslim Brotherhood (which glorifies jihad and martyrdom as much as Hamas or Hizbullah) might highjack the revolution and create a new fundamentalist Islamic state.

While we all wish the Egyptian people well, and hope that this revolution succeeds in laying the foundation for the democracy, freedom, and increased standard of living that they want, it’s legitimate to have concerns about the possibility of a less desirable outcome.  The peace with Israel has been a cold one, but maintained to a passable degree over the past 30 years.  What happens to that peace under a new, as yet undetermined, regime is anyone’s guess.

A couple of weeks ago, our friend and teacher, Rav Binny Freedman, was about to give the weekly English language shiur at our shul.  Before he began, he asked who sponsored the kiddush, and in honor or memory of whom.  Our neighbor said it was in honor of two friends of hers, and she added, “And so that the events in Egypt should turn out well for the Jews.”  Rav Binny chuckled, and observed that there is a tradition adhered to by the more chauvinistic Jews among us that everything that happens in the world is for the Jews.  So even though we don’t know whether the outcome will be good or bad for the Egyptians, we are obliged to see it as good for us—it just depends on how.  Will it be an easing of our lives by creating a stronger, friendlier, more cooperative neighbor who can perhaps help facilitate peace and stability across the region?  Or will it restore a former enemy to our borders, giving us a kick in the pants?  We watch and wait.

Sandy Cash, a Beit Shemesh friend and folk singer with a sharp wit, delightful sense of humor, and a knack for turn of phrase, churned out a song (from which the title of this post is taken) and video on this topic that she posted on YouTube, and that has gone viral in the last week.  (She even got written up in last Friday’s Jerusalem Post.)  For a little perspective, and a rueful (but much-needed) chuckle, here’s the song:

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Winter at Darlington Hall

We haven’t had much of a winter in Israel (do we ever?), and for some reason, my thoughts have been turning to the real winter in the Northeast where most of my family and friends live.  I’ve been singing “Let It Snow” to the kids at bedtime, and hearing with mingled amusement and envy about friends whose kids are home for snow days (though that envy has dissipated by the fifth straight snow day).  There have been a couple of vaguely forecasted snow days for Efrat, but none have actually produced anything white.

While I have a few content-oriented posts percolating in my wee little brain, I am a bit mired down in transcribing and editing (my new stab at work).  So in lieu of a real post, I’ll share with you some photos of my parents’ home and environs taken by my father in the last few days.  Those of you in New England will roll your eyes in recognition, but for those of you on the West Coast, in Israel, or in the southern hemisphere, they may inspire a nostalgia for the winters of old (or never, as the case may be).

Note: Those who are familiar with Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day will recognize the name of the country home where it’s set, Darlington Hall, which is also my pet name for my parents’ house on 10 acres in southern Vermont.

Road to Darlington Hall

Darlington Hall from the road

The farm "next door"

Seeing these images makes me wonder if it wouldn’t be worth a trip back to the US in the winter sometime so the kids can see real snow, experience a cup of cocoa by a fireplace, and sled down the hill with their cousins.  School, travel-adverse weather, and other things come in conflict with such a trip, but still, I wonder…

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“Open winter”

I’m in possession of my great-aunt’s copy of the Bible, published in 1868.  This King James translation, gently used and lovingly re-covered by my mother (a skilled bookmender), has color pictures throughout of the life of Jesus, a few tattered ribbons marking pages, one ball-point pen marking (arcing the verse from Micah which says, “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?”), and a very interesting clipping from an unknown Vermont newspaper (perhaps the Orleans Chronicle), of unknown date.  Here is how it reads:

“This an open winter?”

This office is in receipt of a letter from Dwight H. Squires of Ogdensburg, N. Y., formerly of Derby [Vt.], in which he enclosed a clipping from “The Advance News” of Ogdensburg, N. Y., which classed the weather in Vermont the past three months as an open winter as compared with that of 1862.

“This winter we think that we have been getting a lot of snow but after reading the following paragraph taken from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, published at New York on April 26, 1862, it appears that this could be called an ‘open’ winter:

‘SNOW—The snowfall during the past winter has been very heavy throughout Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and Northern New York.  In Peacham, Vt. the people for a long time used their chamber windows for doors, and the orchards were so buried that the tops of the trees appeared like bushes, the uppermost twigs only, rising above the snow.  One drift in Troy was tunneled for a distance of over 50 rods [825 feet, or 251 meters], and loads of hay, wood, etc., passed through.  In Newport a large drift was excavated so as to make a room 60 feet by 40 feet [18 meters by 12 meters], and 18 feet [5.5 meters] high in the center.  In this room a festival was held, 180 ladies and gentlemen being present.  Two large tables were spread and the snow palace was illuminated by twelve hanging lamps.’”

When I wrote my mother to tell her about the clipping, she responded, “And if you have a newsclipping about a snowstorm from Aunt Reet, that couldn’t come close to matching the snowstorm in the 1880s when Grandma McDanolds wrote about it [in New Hampshire].  THAT was a snowstorm!!  Socked everyone in for a week or so, couldn’t even get to the barn to milk the cows for a couple of days, and when it finally stopped snowing, Grandma and Uncle Harry climbed up it to mark on the tree where the top of the snow was.  Later, when it had all melted (I think it took until May), it was 35 ft high.  Incredible.  Even this winter has been bad everywhere, but especially New England.  CT usually gets about 41″ of snow, this year so far they have something like 89″.  (Or maybe it’s 49 and 81, but whatever.)”

I stay in touch with my shul community from Newton, Mass., by following the shul’s chat list.  The big theme in the past few weeks has been snow: borrowing roof rakes to get the heavy snow off before the next blizzard comes and dumps another load on it, trying to keep the gutters from clogging with ice, and how and when to file insurance claims for ice-damage to gutters.  (The insurance companies say not to bother to file a claim now, since more snow is probably on the way, but to wait until the spring when all the damage is done, then file one claim.)  And with all the snow days, friends on Facebook are having to entertain homebound children with cabin fever, getting behind in their own work, and generally pining for a thaw.

I miss snow, sometimes.  But not that much snow.

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Nasty commute

This is a photo sent my mother by a friend from her hometown in northern Vermont.  On the one hand, I envy that amount of precipitation.  On the other hand, I am grateful not to have to shovel the little precip. we do get here.

Ah, the wonder of nature.  Just wait until spring comes.  Now where did I put my canoe?

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More help wanted

I’m back after another gander at Israemploy’s offerings.  Included in the job listings for February 2, 2011, are the following:

Android Developer, Android Expert needed in Kfar Saba.  Wow, I’m back in the 1970s again.  Does such a person get to build Artoo Deetoo?  Seethreepio?  I’ve seen the movies, but I wouldn’t call myself an expert.  Guess I’ll have to pass.
Tel Aviv needs an Ant and Maven Expert.  If they want an ant expert, I can give them Yossi’s phone number—he takes care of my ant problem.  But a maven expert?  Isn’t that redundant?
They need Child Minders in the North.  I’ve always had difficulty with this British expression.  Does it mean the child is supposed to mind (i.e. obey) me, or I’m supposed to mind the child?  And isn’t that a brand of canned soup in the UK?
Someone in Jerusalem needs a Female Coach for Housework.  Wouldn’t a housekeeper do just as well?  Or is there a need to have a whistle around my neck and a loud voice to shout out orders?  “Dishes, step lively!  Grease, got off that stove right now!  Bathtub ring, move out!”
Rehovot needs a Fishmonger.  Whenever I used to yell as a child, my mother told me I sounded like a fishwife.  I never knew what she was talking about (did I look like I was married to a fish?), but I still have a loud voice.  (Fishmonger must be the politically correct term for a fishwife.)  Of course, if I want to work on the production end of things, I can apply to be a General Worker for a Fish Farm up in Beit She’an.  Probably less yelling involved in that.
And then there’s this one from the Center: “gestionnaire de compte motive de langue maternelle française”; in other words, if you can’t read this, this job is not for you.
Someone in Givat Shaul needs a Lady’s Companion.  This sounds delightfully old-fashioned, left over from the days when wealthy women hired less wealthy women to be their friends (because sometimes you have to pay for quality).  They would read, converse, do needlepoint together, keep one another company.  I decided to see what this would entail in the 21st century.  It says, “Seeking woman to walk with lady on Shabbos by night and motzei Shabbos.”  Take walks two nights a week?  That’s it?  What, no novel reading?  No needlepoint?  This description also carries with it the standard statement that “This position is considered suitable for members of the Haredi/Ultra-orthodox community.”  I’m never sure what to think when I see that.  Does it mean that I won’t be forced to mix with men, non-haredi Jews, or other unsavory characters?  Does it mean I’ll make enough money two nights a week to support a husband who sits in yeshiva all day, plus eight to ten children?  Or does it mean I won’t be expected to know about evolution, how to use the Internet, or who the prime minister is?
Jerusalem is also looking for Matchmakers.  Oy, don’t ask me.  The one time I set up two friends whose only thing in common was that they were secular, it was a disaster.  (I guess for a relationship to work, you have to have more in common than being willing to eat out at a seafood restaurant on Shabbat.)
Python Expert needed in Tel Aviv.  Say, I didn’t know there was a reptile house there.  And I invested all that money in a lion-tamer hat!  Well, it turns out these must be pretty smart snakes, because the qualifications for this job are “3 years experience designing and implementing web UI; programming experience in Java Script, HTML and XML; 4-5 years experience in Python development; knowledge of relational database back-end such as MySQL or PostgreSQL; and knowledge of C/C++, SVN and Linux.”  Forget me for this job.
Sales and Channel Manager Rest of the World (Israel & Latin America).  Note to self: the rest of the world is Latin America.  Brush up on Spanish and learn Portuguese now.
And finally, someone in Jerusalem is looking for a Yiddish Speaking Nanny for childcare and light housework.  You’ve got to be kidding!  If you find someone who speaks Yiddish, it’s going to be an adopt-a-bubbe, and housework will have to be limited to making chicken soup, tending a carp in a bathtub, and teaching the kid the elements of matchmaking (so she can grow up and take a job like that in number 8).

Another day, another giggle; another day, and no work.

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After a long, dry spell of movies the Cap’n and I had no desire to see in the theatre (interrupted only by the seventh “Harry Potter” film), we splurged the last couple of weeks and shlepped to the cinema not once, but twice.

Last week saw us at the Rav Chen in Talpiot for “Black Swan.”  The review in the Jerusalem Post made it look intriguing, artful, if a little twisted.  After seeing it, I think that was very generous.  Yes, the dancing (done by Natalie Portman herself) was very good, and the story (in which she, as Nina the prima ballerina, is required to dance both the black swan and the white swan parts in a new production) potentially interesting.  But this is not an ordinary woman being asked to stretch herself to dance a challenging part; it’s a neurotic, lonely, repressed dancer thrust suddenly into the limelight (in a world that is exceedingly pressurized and competitive already) being asked to do the nearly-impossible.  None of the enticements (sex, drugs) and pressures (from her mother and the competition from other dancers) to perform the part successfully work, and she very nearly muffs it.  The catalyst that gets her over the top and enables her to perform both innocently and seductively is shocking and bizarre, and is emblematic of the confusion throughout the film between Nina’s bizarre fantasies and the bleak reality that is her life in reality.  When I studied short fiction writing years ago, we discussed in each story what happens to the main character.  What does she learn?  How does he change?  At the end of “Black Swan,” I’m not sure what Nina has learned, or whether she’s any better off for what has happened to her.  There is nothing to suggest that the demons that haunt her can be vanquished, and in fact, the viewer has reason to believe that her career and neuroses may well follow those of the previous principal ballerina’s.  I can’t remember leaving a movie theatre feeling as physically ill as after seeing this movie.  I can take a good amount of violence and psychological trauma from the movies, but I had to put down the window to breathe the fresh air (and exhaust) to calm my nerves on the drive home.

(I should note that the Cap’n, who has the toasties for Natalie Portman, commented that the movie was “very well done.”  He was not nearly as grossed out as I was, perhaps because he’s not a woman and has never experienced the ridiculous pressure to please others, be perfect, admired, the best, and beautiful all at the same time.)

A few nights of “Deep Space 9” and “The Tudors” helped slowly to draw out the poison in my soul.  But the true palate-cleanser came Sunday night when we attended “The King’s Speech.”  The Smadar theatre, located in the charming, gentrified Jerusalem neighborhood of Emek Refaim (aka the German Colony) is a small art-film house cum restaurant and bar.  It’s clearly an intellectual crowd, and the films shown there are the sleepier, more thoughtful, usually foreign films that make it to this part of the world.  “The King’s Speech” is one of the few English films that are shown there.  (They also screen French, Spanish, Danish, and others, with Hebrew subtitles.)  When I read about “The King’s Speech” on a blog, and watched the trailer online, I knew this was the tonic I would need after last week’s freak-out.  The combination of Colin Firth (whom I like) and Geoffrey Rush (whom I love) seemed too good to be true.  Even Helena Bonham Carter, whom I have grown tired of in all of Tim Burton’s films of the past few years, looked excellent.  For those unfamiliar with the story, Bertie, the Duke of York (and father of the current Queen) has a stammer which makes public speaking nearly impossible.  As a prince, he is expected to make the occasional speech, but as it becomes increasingly clear that his older brother, David (Edward VIII), is likely to abdicate to marry two-time American divorcée, Wallis Simpson, the fact that he is about to be thrust onto the throne, into a war, and in front of microphones with ever-increasing frequency, makes public speaking a necessity.  Firth plays Bertie, who (with the encouragement of his wife, Elizabeth, played by Bonham Carter) seeks help from speech therapist Lionel Logue (Rush).  Their relationship develops slowly, in fits and starts, as Bertie’s father’s health declines (George V, played with bombast by Michael Gambon) and his relationship with his brother David (ingeniously-cast Guy Pearce) deteriorates.  Helena Bonham Carter’s performance was called “tart, in Merchant-Ivory fashion” in the review in the Post, but I thought it was more nuanced than that.  She was formal and clipped in her public role, but a warm and compassionate wife—as one would expect a royal figure to be.  The screenplay has an excellent balance of seriousness (Bertie’s humiliating first speech at Wembley Stadium, and his confession to Logue about some of the darker periods of his childhood) and humor, as when Bertie insists his stammer couldn’t be cured by any of the doctors in Harley Street.  “They’re all idiots,” Logue responds, to which Bertie retorts, “They all have knighthoods.”  “That makes it official,” says Logue.  Or when Logue encourages Bertie to use every filthy word he’s ever heard (which he does without stammering).  The music is also excellent, with an extremely powerful use of the slow movement of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony.

I realize, writing this, that there are similarities between these two movies.  Both Nina and Bertie have to overcome difficult obstacles in order to perform their roles (as ballerina and king, le’havdil).  It was much pleasanter, though, to see Bertie succeed with the love and support of his wife and the able help of Logue, than to watch Nina flounder helplessly with a domineering mother, a slick ballet director on the make, and no friends.  And where we’re unsure whether Nina’s success will endure or fizzle after this one triumph, at least we know that Bertie is able to function capably in the future.

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