Archive for March, 2011

Some of you have probably seen the video below in previous years around Pesach time:

In an earlier post, I stressed the importance of not combining spring cleaning with Pesach cleaning, and this illustrates it well, i.e. bathtub rings are NOT chametz.

Having said that, there is enough to keep one busy for up to a month ahead of time.  (My friend Sigal won’t say the word “Pesach” until a week before, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t know it’s coming.)  By stringing out the things that need doing over time, it can save on prep overload in the last week.

After my earlier Pesach post, one reader (who kindly linked to my blog from hers) sounded disappointed at the lack of timeline.  For those who have the drill down from years of practice, the following post will probably not be worth a lot, but for those new to Jewish practice (or morbidly curious non-Jews), it might prove informative as a jumping-off point for your own preparation.

First, though, a few more time-saving tips.

  1. If you eat kitniyot during Pesach, have older kids (7 and up) help with the checking.  I check each item three times (which seems to be the prevailing minhag), and let the older girls do one of the checks.  (They do a good job, too.)
  2. Don’t kasher your own metal if you can help it.  Shuls sometimes have large pots for boiling vessels and experienced blow-torchbearers to do libun on your oven racks.  If you take everything scrubbed and polished, let someone else do it.  It is safer and can save you time, mess, and possible injury.
  3. Friends of ours in Newton had leftover linoleum from covering their floor and cut it to fit their kitchen counters, so all they have to do is take it out and tape it down every year.  If you have countertops that have to be covered or kashered, this can be an easy way to do it, year after year.
  4. If you have porcelain sinks, getting sink inserts (instead of lining with foil) is a quick way to make your sink kosher for Pesach (and use the insert every year).  Personally, I miss being able to kasher my stainless steel sink in Newton, but it’s a lot easier lining my porcelain sinks here with the standard-sized liners sold at the hardware store, so it’s a tradeoff.
  5. On your computer, save documents from year to year for your prep schedule, weekly menus, and a corresponding shopping list so you don’t have to reinvent the Pesach wheel every year.  The more organized you are in advance, the easier it is to get everything done.  When Pesach is over, go back and revise as needed for the following year.  (I also keep a document with an inventory of what I have for pots and pans, utensils, and serving ware so I know if something broke last year or I’m going to need new equipment for the holiday.)

Here is my Pesach prep schedule:

1 month ahead

□ Work on finishing chametz food in pantry and freezer

□  Start sorting kitniyot

1 week ahead

□ Do additional cleaning

  • clean around upholstery
  • clean carseats
  • polish silver (kiddush cups, everyday meat cutlery, candlesticks)

□ Wash/vacuum car

□ Plan meals and shop

  • food (especially non-perishable)
  • aluminum foil
  • paper/plastic ware
  • sandwich and ziplock bags
  • foil pans (lasagna, small rectangular, pie or cake pan)
  • 24- or 48-hour candles
  • regular candles
  • toothbrushes, toothpaste
  • dishwashing liquid
  • sponges
  • Shabbat sponges

□ Arrange to sell chametz

□ Clean temporary space for Pesach stuff in kitchen; line with paper/plastic

  • empty cupboard, wipe out, and line shelf
  • cover chametz or pack and store

□ Laundry (especially aprons, oven mitts, dish towels)

3-5 days ahead

□ Check for chametz

  • coat pockets
  • backpacks, school bags

□ Finish shopping

  • buy produce, milk, eggs
  • last-minute items

□ Fridge and freezer

  • toss most food; bag chametz food
  • transfer chametz food to large basement freezer; reserve kitchen freezer for Pesach food
  • wipe surfaces clean

□ Prepare vessels/utensils for kashering

  • scrub clean
  • let sit 24 hours
  • kasher (kiddush cups, parve utensils, everyday meat cutlery)

□ Counter tops

  • pack up food/utensils
  • scrub clean with caustic cleanser; leave 24 hours
  • kasher

□ Oven/stove

  • clean oven (self-clean cycle)
  • clean stove with caustic cleanser
  • cover stove surface with foil
  • libun oven and burner racks

□ Microwave

  • clean and stow in cupboard

□ Dining room

  • tie cupboard doors closed
  • clean booster seat
  • wipe down chairs, table
  • launder chair pads

□ Laundry

  • change beds
  • launder table linens

□ Unpack Pesach dishes and cookware

  • store in Pesach-cleaned areas

□ Begin cooking

  • finish sorting kitniyot

Day before Erev Pesach

□ Final cleaning (as usual)

□ Finish cooking

Morning of Erev Pesach

□ Bathroom

  • replace toothbrushes and toothpaste, soap

□ Trash

  • take out trash before chametz burning

Above all, don’t go it alone.  Kids in Israel are home for a full week before the seder, and not everyone sends their kids to camps for that week.  Put ’em to work!  If they’re old enough to do laundry, enlist their help to do it.  Some kids like to do wet cleaning better than tidying, so make use of this, especially if you were hoping to sneak in some spring cleaning or if you’re having houseguests for the holiday.  Have them scrub out the tub, clean the bathroom sinks and mirror, or take out bathroom trash.  My ceramic tile floors could use a good scrub on hands and knees, so I plan to station a kid every few meters with a bucket, rag, and brush, and let them Cinderella away.  (They love it, for some reason.)  Kids can help with washing fresh herbs, vegetables, and fruit to prepare for the meal, and make simple salads.  Above all, the Pesach table should be festive, and kids can help by making centerpieces or name cards to mark each participant’s place at the table.  (Check out Creative Jewish Mom for craft ideas for the holiday.)  Such things need not be complicated; you’re trying to prepare, after all.  Just give them construction, scrapbooking, or Bristol paper, glue and beads or sequins, markers, or whatever you have to make something unique for each place setting.

Pesach is a family affair, and the participation of the whole family (including spouses who work outside the home, even if it’s just to put in half an hour a day before or after work) ensures that the work gets done and at the end of it all, on seder night, everyone feels they’ve earned their freedom.


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As a tireless advocate for Israel, I often get bewildered, enraged, and depressed at the insanity, hostility, and sheer stupidity of much of the human race.  A Facebook friend recently posted yet another in the series of pathetic man-on-the-street polls taken about Israel (this one in my former hometown of Portland, Oregon).

To think that these are registered voters in the most powerful country in the world is astonishing.  (That there were only 13 ignoramuses in this small sampling is cold comfort when you realize that they probably represent a good chunk of the American population overall.)

And then, to preserve my sanity, I look for a glimmer of humor (hope is too much to look for here) and remember this priceless scene from Mel Brooks’s “Blazing Saddles” (1974):

Proof of Hashem’s love for the Jews: He inspires Mel Brooks to come up with the antidote before the rest of the world comes up with the disease.

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Facing down Facebook

Those on Facebook may be familiar with a Facebook group which was formed recently calling for a Third Palestinian Intifada.  A translation of the group’s page by Itamar Marcus of Palestinian Media Watch follows:

The countries neighboring Palestine will start to advance on Palestine on May 15, and a while after that all the Islamic countries will advance. Our time is near. Palestine will be liberated, and it will be we who liberated it. Our aim at present is to reach millions of friends with this page before May.
I request that you publicize this page everywhere.
We are coming, Palestine.
Copy the link to your page, add it to your profile, and publicize it with every photograph, video, page, and everywhere:
[Site address]
Palestine, how negligent we have been concerning your rights. Forgive us and forgive your children for this.
You have always been our inspiration for resoluteness, for resistance, and for struggle for you to be free and Arab.

Palestine, as you were, as you still are, and as you will remain,
I love you, queen of lands!

Following the Tunisian Intifada, the Egyptian Intifada and the Libyan Intifada, it is now the turn of the Palestinian Intifada.

The first Intifada was in 1987.
The second Intifada was in 2000.
As to the third Intifada, its date will soon appear on this page.

We have contacted the managers of Arab [Facebook] pages with large numbers of friends, and they have said that they will assist us in publicizing this page. The Palestinian cause is our cause.
Publicize this page on websites, forums, and everywhere, and invite all your friends to join. If everyone invites all his friends ­ by Allah, by today we will have more than 100,000 friends.

This page was created on March 6, 2011.
Allah willing, we will reach a million [friends] this week.
The time for Palestine’s liberation has come.

Everyone who has a Facebook page ­please publicize our page on yours.
Palestine will be liberated and it will be we who liberated it.
We are coming, Palestine.

If Facebook closes this page, all Muslims will boycott it forever!

I’m a fan of free speech.  Where words end and deeds begin is murky at best.  I’m not ignorant of the power of speech to incite to violence, though where hate speech is controlled, hate can still thrive, and where hate speech is free, peace can still reign (if the speech and those making it are seen as the crackpots that they are).

On its face, the text for the Third Intifada Facebook Group does not call for violence, bloodshed, or even hatred.  It expresses love for Arab Palestine, makes no mention of Israel, and says nothing of Arabs converging with arms for a massive letting of Jewish blood.  If you read the text word for word, the biggest threat expressed in the text is that of a boycott of Facebook if the site closes the Third Intifada group page.

It’s rather what the words mean that represents threatening and hateful speech.  To call for a massive convergence (read: invasion) of Palestine (read: Israel) to liberate the Arabs there (read: destroy Israel), whether such a thing is really likely to happen at all, is a barely-veiled threat.  To compare what is being called for here to the First Intifada (i.e. popular uprising), which caused the deaths of between 160-300 Israelis and 1,886 Arabs (1,000 of whom were killed by other Arabs), or the Second Intifada (more accurately known as the Terror War) in which over 1,000 Israelis, tens of foreigners, and thousands of Arabs lost their lives, is nothing less than another call to war.  And to allow a group like this to exist on Facebook violates Facebook’s own terms of service, which stipulates that the user “will not post content that: is hateful, threatening, or pornographic; incites violence; or contains nudity or graphic or gratuitous violence” and “will not use Facebook to do anything unlawful, misleading, malicious, or discriminatory.”

Now, it’s more than likely that this group’s stated goals will never come to pass.  It is more than likely that the internal unrest affecting much of the Arab world will continue through May 15, and that no such convergence on Israel to “liberate” the Arabs here will take place.  It is more than likely that this group will not mobilize any more Jew-haters than any other Facebook page devoted to hating Israel (do a search for the words “hate” and “Israel” and see all the dreck that shows up).  However, to allow a group which so blatantly violates Facebook’s own terms of service to stay up on the site shows that Facebook 1) can’t keep up with all of the hate groups that get created in order to take them down, 2) doesn’t care how many hate groups are created on the site, or 3) is actually afraid Muslims will boycott it forever.  One is a possibility, though one would think they would be more responsive to reports of terms violations rather than refusing to take the group’s page down as they have done.  Two and three are just pathetic.

I reported the group as inciting violence (since that’s exactly what an intifada is) before I read that Facebook has refused to take down the group’s page.  After reading that, I contacted Facebook through their “Suggestions” contact page with the following message:

Bottom line: This group violates your own terms of service by promoting hateful, threatening messages and inciting violence against a specific group.  The Second Intifada resulted in the deaths of over 1100 Israelis, 64 foreigners, and thousands of Arabs.  If Facebook is concerned that it will be subject to worldwide Muslim boycott, it should think again.  Most Muslims ignore such boycotts (they are practical people who enjoy modern technology as much as anyone else) and Facebook’s own cred as a hate-free site is seriously jeopardized by allowing such groups to flourish on its site.  If you believe in unfettered free speech, then remove the anti-hate and incitement terms from your terms of service.  If you say you won’t allow hateful groups to form on your site, then back it up with action.

I invite Facebook to put its money where its mouth is.  If you’re a Facebook user, I invite you to contact them, too.

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It seems that history was made recently at the United Nations.  No, China was not kicked off the Human Rights Council (though, inexplicably, Libya was).  And no, Iranian dictator Mahmoud Ahmedinejad has not been disinvited from his annual anti-Semitic tirade and raspberry-blowing fest.  And no new canapés have been introduced at UN receptions.

The history I refer to is the recent screening of the Julian Schnabel film “Miral” at the United Nations General Assembly.

The UN is not the usual venue for a feature film to debut.  That’s because it’s a policy-making body, and not Sundance, Cannes, or Toronto.  And while it seems that documentaries (i.e. based on fact) are occasionally screened, feature films (i.e. based on fiction, imagination, or anecdote) are not.

And as feature films go, this one would not seem the likeliest to be chosen.  It was panned by English and Italian critics who found it shallow, stilted, and just another hackneyed vehicle for demonizing of Israel.  Focusing as it does on a young Palestinian Arab girl who grows up in an orphanage, becomes a teacher in a refugee camp, and falls in love with a terrorist, it would not seem to be the most dispassionate tale one could imagine.

I’m not taking issue with a Jewish producer making a movie about a book he enjoyed by an Arab woman he’s romantically involved with.  I’m not even taking issue with the fact that it may or may not be bald-faced Palestinian propaganda.  Such a film, whether or not it has merit, should be allowed to be screened in appropriate venues and judged on its own merits.  I also support the rights of people who claim it is Palestinian propaganda to protest its screening, expose any lies in the film, and to call it a dog of a film if that’s what it is.

But what I do take issue with is the UN as an appropriate venue for this kind of film.  Films that are intended to educate, report facts, enlighten, and provide historical background, are all worthy of being screened to a body which should concern itself with reality rather than imagination.  On the other hand, films that are attempts to appeal to emotions, reinforce (dubious) conventional wisdom, or provide catharsis for the viewer, are inappropriate to be shown at the UN.

GA president Joseph Deiss was reported to like the film “and thought it could contribute to a useful and interesting discussion on a topic that has gone on for so long.”  This is revealing on a number of points.  First, the desire to spark discussion on a topic which has been discussed and discussed until the discussants are blue in the mouth seems to me more like beating a dead horse than contributing to any solutions.  And the fact that the issue “has gone on for so long” is also telling.  The UN itself, through the UNRWA, has administered the very refugee camps that are featured in the film, places where in reality, extremism, violence, and hatred of Jews fester and are indoctrinated into generations of young Arabs.  The UN itself has done more than any other body to prolong this conflict by perpetuating the refugee camps instead of doing what they were set up to do, which is to resettle the refugees and enable them to build whole lives for themselves.  Over 800,000 Jewish refugees from Arab lands descended on Israel in the 1940s and 1950s, and sixty years (and no UN aid) later, they are fully integrated in Israeli society.  The UN High Commissioner on Refugees has operated many large-scale refugee resettlement programs, enabling an estimated 50 million refugees to restart their lives.  Yet under the UNRWA (created specially to administer the Palestinian Arab refugees), between 520,000 and 800,000 Arab refugees from the Arab-Israeli conflict have not been resettled in over 60 years, even on an annual operating budget of well over $500 million (source).  If anything, showing a film like this should embarrass the UN, and the discussion it sparks should be one which questions the UN mandate itself.

If the UN wants to make peace in the Middle East, it needs to stop perpetuating the conflict through its own neglect and bloated, protectionist bureaucracy.  If it wants to make peace, it needs to stop fomenting the political divisions that are so entrenched in its own structure (the automatic majority comes to mind).  If it wants to fix this problem and get it off its desk (which seems to be a high priority throughout the West), it would do well to look at what really exists here, and not at the “art” of a scruffy Jewish American who shows up to premieres in his pajamas and hobnobs with celebrity “activists” and self-promoting Hollywood executives.

I read recently that Canadian journalist Robert Fulford is credited with saying that conspiracy theories are “history for stupid people.”  Looking at the behavior of the UN General Assembly these days, it seems that Hollywood feature films are history for international diplomats.

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My parents are visiting the Crunch family in Israel for a rare visit (their second in 4½ years).  Today, I took my dad to the new, improved Israel Museum, where we dodged the raindrops to see the Second Temple model, strolled through the Shrine of the Book, and visited the Jewish Life wing (especially to see the shul interiors brought from Italy, Germany, India, and Suriname) and the ancient artifacts in the Archeology wing.

As we looked at the small figurines, jewelry, and other objets d’art of ancient Egypt, I thought about how some of these precious, astonishingly beautiful things might have been made during the times when Bnei Yisrael were slaves in Egypt.  And that gets me thinking about Pesach.

Pesach is my favorite holiday.  It always gets me thinking about how we Jews came together again after years of slavery and became a nation.  Yes, most stayed behind in Egypt, and yes, life was difficult for decades after the Exodus.  And yes, today it’s a hassle, and yes, a lot of people go ballistic over it.  (I have heard of some who eat treif year round and then won’t eat in anyone else’s house during Pesach because they’re not kosher enough.  Weird.)  But I love cleaning and putting away the stuff I use all year and thinking of ways to simplify, simplify, simplify what I eat for a week.  I spend less time thinking about food in general, and more time sitting around the table talking to my kids who are on vacation.  We sleep a little later, go on family trips (including to the beach, where we can get kosher le’Pesach ice cream), slurp fruit juice pops, and enjoy the spring weather.  Some people think that for all the work that goes into preparing, Pesach should last a month.  (I’m still happy with a week.)  It’s not a celebration of freedom only in name; the Cap’n takes off from work for the week and we actually celebrate our freedom from the grind of the work week, the school week, my cooking/cleaning/child-herding week, and take each day as it comes.

After seeing the magnificent artistry, craftsmanship, and sophisticated technology that went into creating these cast bronze figures, jewelry and such, I look at what has become of the Egyptians and the Jews since they were created thousands of years ago.  The Egyptians and their great (though undoubtedly barbaric) society were eventually overrun by Arab colonizers.  (Egyptian Copts are descended from the pharaohs, but as you can see from this article, they are coming under vicious attack by Muslims and are little better off than the Jews were before they fled Egypt in the 1940s and 1950s.)  They lost their language, their culture, their religion, and their race itself was mostly subsumed by Arab settlers.  Their country went from being wealthy and bounteous to being just another two-bit oppressive Muslim state with some pretty fabulous (if frequently ransacked) ruins from earlier times.  The Jews who left Egypt wandered in the desert for years, eventually built their own society which suffered from internal strife and external conquest, but rebuilt itself twice now (after the return from Babylon and in the creation of the modern State) and has endured.  Our people are (more or less) the same people we were thousands of years ago, with the same language (updated, of course), the same texts, and the same mission.  As Egypt has groaned under the oppressive regimes of dictators, Israel has created a flourishing (if flawed) democracy.  As the Arab world (including Egypt) has contributed little to the betterment of civilization in hundreds of years (unless you count the assassin and the suicide bomber as contributions), Israel’s achievements in science, medicine, and communications technology are more than amply documented in email forwards which circulate the globe constantly.  Egypt gave us papyrus; Israel has published 6,866 books in a year (2006), while Egypt published 2,215 (1995) (source).

Israelis know what it is to be free: free to speak, to assemble, to practice your religion, to disagree with your government.  For Egyptians, as for most Middle Eastern Muslims, freedom is simply the opposite of slavery.

So have Israelis created the legacy of breathtaking art that the Egyptians did those thousands of years ago?  Generally not.  But we did give the world the Torah, the commandments (both the 613 and the Seven Noahide Commandments), the belief in one God, the definition of true justice, and a sense that all humans are created equal (i.e. in the image of God).  When all is said and done, our gift is much more beautiful, and more enduring.

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Pesach made simple(r)

With Purim over and the kitchen and dining room littered with the refuse and junk food from mishloach manot, it is time to think about Pesach.

Every year I look for ways to simplify the process, use less aluminum foil, and pack away fewer items.  Making aliyah has changed much of how I do things (fresher, more appetizing Pesach food available, fewer days of Yom Tov, and less storage space), but I continue to look for ways to increase my efficiency.

Here are a few things I’ve come up with:

1.       Don’t combine spring cleaning with Pesach cleaning.  I know it’s tempting, but unless you start really early, the price in burnout is just too high.  My neighbor says she tidies and cleans gradually over the month or two in advance and just needs to touch up things a bit before Pesach.  I muck out the fridge a week before Pesach while the kids are still in school so I only have to give it a quick wipe before unpacking Pesach food.  If you’re getting a late start on Pesach prep, let go of the things that can wait until after the holiday.  It’s more important to enjoy Pesach than to have a sparkling house.  (Let the dust and dirt remind you of the desert which was Bnei Yisrael’s home for 40 years.)

2.       Minimize what you store for Pesach.  The only Pesach dishes I keep are my formal meat dishes and my grandmother’s glass goblets for the seder.  If I’m not hosting a seder, I don’t unpack them.  (This makes years when we host a seder all the more special).  I keep cutlery for meat and dairy and a box of everyday glasses (a wedding gift), but that’s it.  We use disposable the rest of the time, using the same plate for breakfast and lunch (which usually just accumulates matzah crumbs), and a clean one for dinner.

3.       Keep menus simple.  I’ve been working to reduce the number vessels and utensils I store from year to year.  The more elaborately you cook, the more stuff you have to store, so think of Pesach as a time to eliminate fanciful food and cook with the simplest ingredients (fresh herbs, fruit, vegetables for soups and salads, eggs, simply cooked meat and fish).  I’ve stopped kashering my KitchenAid mixer and only keep a hand mixer, just in case.  Since Purim involves so many sweets and I find Pesach desserts uninspiring (too many eggs, too much beating, too much matzah meal), I have stopped making desserts except my friend Heather’s farfel clusters (recipe below).  Did our ancestors stand there beating egg whites for half an hour for macaroons?  I think not.  Figure out what you REALLY need to eat during the holiday and just keep equipment for that.

4.       Keep Pesach special.  I know no one bakes desserts with matzah meal during the year, but reserve some tasty recipes just for Pesach so it is something to look forward to.  The Cap’n and I love matzah brei, and the kids love having their first fruit juice pops of the season in the special molds I keep for Pesach.

5.       Don’t move.  Stay in the same house.  This makes it much easier to develop a routine with Pesach things stored in the same place and a kashering method that works quickly and efficiently.  (Also, don’t get pregnant, don’t get sick, and don’t be in graduate school.  These all interfere with Pesach preparation and should be avoided.)

As promised, here are Heather’s Farfel Clusters (via her mother-in-law; with two or three ingredients, how can you go wrong?):  Melt 12 ounces (350 grams) of chocolate chips in a microwave-safe bowl, or in a double-boiler.  (I use a pyrex dish inside a saucepan of water on low heat.  Don’t heat it too fast or the chocolate will burn.)  Stir in one cup of farfel (lightly toasted in the oven) and 1 cup of nuts or raisins (optional).  Drop by teaspoonfuls onto foil or wax paper and refrigerate until firm.  Store in a zippered bag in the refrigerator or a cool place.

I am always looking for new ways to eliminate fuss at Pesach.  What do you do to minimize Pesach prep fatigue?

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Dying to oneself

My mind has been on the murder of the Fogel family every day, for much of the day, since it happened.  This has not necessarily been a good thing, but it’s been something I cannot really prevent.  The images of the bloodied bodies in their beds (or on the floor next to their beds) remain burned on my memory, as do the words of the family at the funeral and since.

Eulogizing his younger brother Udi (the slain 36-year-old father), Motti Fogel said, “A man dies to himself, to his children. Udi, you are not a national event. Your horrible death mustn’t make your life into a tool.”

I can imagine that the extended family might have felt conflicting emotions at having 20,000 people (about the same number as attended Beethoven’s funeral) show up for the Fogel family’s funeral in Jerusalem.  On the one hand, they may have been comforted by the show of solidarity, support, and grief shared by so many fellow Israelis.  On the other hand, in their own shock and sadness, they might have preferred a much smaller, quieter funeral without so much press interest and speech-making by politicians.

The fact is that despite Motti Fogel’s statement that this was not a national or a political event, to everyone outside the family, that’s exactly what it was.  It was politics that led these subhuman creatures to commit this murder.  It was politics that created the climate of hatred that thrives throughout Palestinian Arab society.  It was politics that has led to decreased security for settlers and increased tolerance of attacks against Jews throughout Israel (not just against settlers, but against residents of any place targeted by Arab gunmen, terrorists in bulldozers, or Hamas missiles).  It was politics that led Ehud Barak to extend the housing freeze in capitulation to American pressure and naïve foreign policy, giving comfort and encouragement to the rest of the world’s Israel- and settler-bashing, including the Arab world’s.

The Fogels, Ben-Yishais, and the rest of their family have a job to do.  It is to comfort one another, pick up the pieces, and find a way to go on with their lives, adjusting to this painful new reality.  Ruthie’s father says this is a test of his faith; 12-year-old Tamar says she understands the challenge ahead of her, and that she will be strong and be a mother to her surviving younger brothers.  With Hashem’s help, they will find the strength they need to do what they must.

The rest of Israel has a different job to do.  It is to view the murders (with or without the photos) in the greater context of how Israel is conducting itself.  Spiritually, Rav Binny Friedman suggests a nationwide call for teshuva (examination of our lives and resolve to improve our own conduct).  Are we Israelis, as individuals and a society, conducting ourselves at the highest standards we possibly can?  Are we treating one another, in the public and private spheres, as we ought?  Are we making this Jewish State a state for all Jews?  Are we keeping the mitzvot, especially those that command us to care for one another?  Are we working to build a country that can function as a light unto the nations?

Politically, this incident is a wake-up call to the status quo, both in the smaller picture and the bigger picture.  Does Itamar (and the other settlements) have the security system it needs?  (The security guard was alerted that something had breached the perimeter fence, but wrote it off as animals, which frequently penetrate the fence.)  Perhaps it’s time the Israeli government put a little more effort into protecting its citizens (especially one of the current government’s chief voting blocks, the settlements) and a little less in jeopardizing those citizens with foolhardy “confidence-building gestures” like dismantling roadblocks.  And the Israeli government must find the perpetrators of this crime.  If traditional methods don’t work, perhaps Israel should consider less traditional methods.  (Here’s my favorite, courtesy of Treppenwitz.)  And in the larger picture, Israel must ask itself some tough questions.  Do we resume building in the settlements, or do we continue the farce of peace talks with a partner that educates its people to do exactly what was done to the Fogels?  Do we take some action to hold the PA responsible for its blanket policy of incitement throughout the society under its control?  Do we reevaluate the nature of our possession of the West Bank altogether, perhaps considering other alternatives than holding it in escrow for the creation of yet another hostile Arab state on our borders?  (Here’s an interesting take on that.)

There isn’t a soul in Israel who doesn’t wish that the Fogels had lived to a ripe old age, seen their children grow up (or grown up themselves), danced at their weddings, and cuddled their grandchildren.  The fact that they will not now is something which affects every Israeli, both spiritually and politically, in much the same way as the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit in 2006.  The fact that the Shalits have chosen to be public figures and campaign worldwide for their son’s release is understandable (whether or not one agrees with their methods or demands).  But ultimately, Gilad’s capture and confinement (both in violation of international law, which Hamas sees as a joke) is something that greater Israeli society has to deal with in its own way, weighing the cost of having him in captivity, the possible cost of getting him released, and other alternatives to getting him home.  (Let’s watch the situation of the Gazan engineer kidnapped in the Ukraine and jailed in Israel to see if that develops into a hostage exchange situation.)  That is as excruciating, in its way, as the loss of the Fogels, and one of the many painful facts that Israelis, publicly and privately, have to live with.

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With Purim on Sunday and loads to do before then, I wanted to take the opportunity to wish my readers a Purim sameach.

This Purim, as so many in past years, Israel finds itself on the heels of yet another terror attack.  But even in our sadness, we are commanded to rejoice.  While it sometimes feels as though we Jews are hanging by a thread on this planet, Purim is a reminder that attempts—large and small—to destroy us have all failed, and that while humankind may have forsaken us, Hashem never has, even when He chooses to operate behind the scenes. And that, I suppose, is worth celebrating.

The Maccabeats, a singing group from Yeshiva University, has made a wonderful video of their “Purim Song” to tell the story of Esther and celebrate the Jews’ victory with song, play, and merriment.  Enjoy.

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Several months ago, I read Raphael Patai’s book, The Arab Mind, in an attempt to understand better the historical, cultural and sociological underpinnings of Arab behavior, both here in Israel and elsewhere.  I found the book very instructive, if a bit dry and academic.  (My review in the following three posts: I, II, III.)

Then a month or two ago, my mother recommended reading Leon Uris’s The Haj.  I’d read Exodus and QBVII in the past, and found Uris to be a riveting storyteller, if a bad punctuator.  (I found the number of exclamation points in Exodus off-putting.)  Having always assumed The Haj to be about the traditional Muslim journey to Mecca, I was never intrigued enough to read it, but with a personal recommendation from my mother, I decided to give it a try.

To my intense interest, I discovered that the Haj of the title is actually an honorific applied to a Palestinian Arab muktar, or tribal chieftain, and head of a fictional hilltop village in the Ayalon region of Israel (near Latrun).  The story, narrated by the chieftain’s youngest son Ishmael, tells how Haj Ibrahim became muktar of his family, about his leadership of his village and family, his friendship with a Jewish Palestinian man from a nearby kibbutz (which shared its water and electricity with the village), and the chain of events during the course of the Israeli War of Independence that lead Haj Ibrahim’s family to end up in a refugee camp near Jericho.

Not only did I find the story compelling, I found the painstakingly researched novel to be a much richer, more colorful window on Arab life and culture than even The Arab Mind (which, judging from the first 25 pages or so, it was obvious to me that Uris had read).  The many plot lines touch a variety of issues in Arab life, from gender relations, shame culture, relations with non-Arabs, intra-Arab violence and manipulation, and the face the Arabs show one another versus the one they show the world.  Uris’s novel is refreshingly complex, and while it shows both the admirable and less admirable sides of the Arab psyche, it is overall a sympathetic portrait of the Palestinians.  This does not mean it condones the propaganda, violence, and frenzied hatred of the Arabs for Jews; in fact, it shows how these very things stand in the way of Arabs and Jews being able to reach a peaceful solution, and the betterment of Arab quality of life.

Here are some highlights of the novel on a variety of topics:

On choosing leadership

“We must meet.  We must agree to talk about things like fences and pestilence.  Things that concern us both,” Gideon [Haj Ibrahim’s Jewish kibbutznik friend] said.

“How can I meet when you select a woman as your muktar?”

“We choose our leaders.  Our leaders do not choose us,” Gideon said.

On the vacuum of decent Arab leadership

“If the Germans reach Palestine, at least you won’t have to worry about the Jews anymore,” Gideon said.

“I am not for the Germans just because of how they are treating the Jews,” Haj Ibrahim said, “but I am not for the Jews.  There are no Arab leaders left in Palestine and I don’t trust the ones over the border.”

“That covers just about everyone.”

“Why is it that the only men we follow are the ones who hold a knife to our throats?” Ibrahim cried suddenly.  “We learn we must submit.  That is what the Koran tells us.  Submit!  Submit!  But the men we submit to never carry out the Prophet’s will, only their own.”

On the Arab conception of biblical history

Jericho, I have learned, is as old as any city in the world—nearly ten thousand years.  The walled city itself dates back almost nine thousand years.  Jericho was almost always an Arab city.  In those ancient days, we were called Canaanites.  The entire land of Canaan was stolen from us for the first time when Joshua conquered it over three thousand years ago.

I am grateful that Mohammed and the Koran corrected all the early misinformation the Jews gave about Jericho when they wrote their so-called Bible, a proven forgery.  King David, whom the Jews turned on because they did not believe him, wrote his famous “Psalm 23” about the Wadi of Jericho, calling it “the valley of the shadow of death.”  David became a Moslem saint and prophet.  With the gift of prophecy, he must have had visions of Aqbat Jabar and the other camps around Jericho and that’s why he called it by such a name.

On conditions for peace between Jews and Arabs

“If it had been up to you and me, Gideon, we would have made peace, wouldn’t we?”

Gideon shook his head no.  “Only if you didn’t have your hands on our water valve.”

On the life of Arab girls

Nada [Ishmael’s sister] was extremely sure of herself.  “You who weep for yourself, now weep for me.  I have never been allowed to draw a free breath in my entire life.  My mind, my voice, my desires have always been locked inside a prison cell.  I cannot walk into the gathering room of our house and speak.  I can never, in my entire life, eat a meal there.  I cannot walk any farther than the water well alone.  I will never be able to read a real book.  I am not permitted to sing or laugh when a male is near, not even my own brothers.  I cannot touch a boy, even slightly.  I am not permitted to argue.  I cannot disobey, even when I am right.  I must not be allowed to learn.  I can only do and say what other people allow me.

“I remember once in Tabah I saw a little Jewish girl waiting for the bus on the highway with her parents.  She carried a doll and she showed it to me.  It was very pretty, but it could do nothing but open and shut its eyes and cry when it was hit on the back.  I am that doll.”

On Arab-Arab relations

[An Arab archeologist and friend of Haj Ibrahim’s:] “Islam is unable to live at peace with anyone.  We Arabs are the worst.  We can’t live with the world, and even more terrible, we can’t live with each other.  In the end it will not be Arab against Jew but Arab against Arab.  One day our oil will be gone, along with our ability to blackmail.  We have contributed nothing to human betterment in centuries, unless you consider the assassin and the terrorist as human gifts.  The world will tell us to go to hell.  We, who tried to humiliate the Jews, will find ourselves humiliated as the scum of the earth.”

“We do not have leave to love one another and we have long ago lost the ability.  It was so written twelve hundred years earlier.  Hate is our overpowering legacy and we have regenerated ourselves by hatred from decade to decade, generation to generation., century to century.  The return of the Jews had unleashed that hatred, exploding wildly, aimlessly, into a massive force of self-destruction.  In ten, twenty, thirty years the world of Islam will begin to consume itself in madness.  We cannot live with ourselves . . . we never have.  We cannot live with or accommodate the outside world . . . we never have.  We are incapable of change.  The devil who makes us crazy is now devouring us.  We cannot stop ourselves.  And if we are not stopped we will march, with the rest of the world, to the Day of the Burning.  What we are now witnessing, Ishmael, now, is the beginning of Armageddon.”

Uris’s novel was published in 1984, so he had the benefit of hindsight on many of the events that would come to pass years after the events in his story come to a close.  He saw Anwar Sadat cut down after making peace with Israel.  He saw the decades of neglect by the Arab nations of the refugees, and the perpetuation of the refugee camps by a bloated UNRWA.  He witnessed the mounting hostility toward Israel in the UN.  He saw Israel go to war time and time again to defend itself from its hostile Arab neighbors.

Some will no doubt see his examination of the Arab psyche as the work of a rabid, anti-Arab Zionist.  Uris was a Zionist, but the words he puts in the mouths of his Arab characters reflect real confusion, paradox, and occasional self-criticism which a handful of Arabs (much better educated than a muktar) have articulated in writing.  The ability of tribal culture to overpower reason and necessity and keep the Arab down both in the Arab world and in the world at large is something that has been examined by much greater minds than Uris’s.  The envy Arabs have for Israeli society, with its freedom of speech, its rule of law, and the ability of the citizenry to see corrupt leaders subjected to investigation, trial, punishment, and public shame is very real.  The story, a portrait of Arabs who chose to trust their Arab brethren and were betrayed, used as a political stick to beat the Jews with, and whose children and grandchildren have grown up in a society which indoctrinates them in obsessive hatred and vengeance, is the story of the Palestinians.  It’s the portrait anyone who truly cares about them should see, and recognize that their plight is the work of their own leaders, their culture, their religion, and their ignorance.

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Part of getting used to living in Israel is getting used to the feelings of shock, horror, sadness, rage, and helplessness that follow the all-too-frequent terror attacks that happen here.  Since making aliyah, we have met families whose sons were killed in the IDF while fighting terrorists, families who have lost members in terror attacks, as well as families who were saved when terror attacks failed.  How the families of the murdered bury their loved ones and carry on eludes me, and I stand amazed at their strength.  As I watch helplessly, knowing there is nothing I can do to heal their wounds, the stories that comfort me most are those of love, support, and generosity from unlikely quarters.

As I saw on the Efrat chat list, and JoeSettler on the Muqata blog confirms, Israeli supermarket chain mogul Rami Levy (who recently opened a store in Gush Etzion to mixed reviews) has been delivering food to the Fogel shiva, and has promised to continue to provision the family with weekly food and supplies until the youngest orphan (now two) turns 18.

There are more than enough evil people in the world to commit the kinds of atrocities that were visited upon the Fogels, and even more people who are eager to explain them away, make excuses for the killers, blame the victims, and stomp on the memories of the fallen.  It only makes those whose acts of chesed help to wash away a little of the stain of human iniquity all the more blessed.

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When I first learned of the existence of separate women’s and men’s beaches, my next question was, “So does that mean women can wear whatever they want?  Or go topless?  Or go nude?”  Of course upon further education, I learned that modest beachwear is preferable even on separate beaches or during separate swimming hours.  And for the haredi crowd, nothing beats a shvimkleid (swim dress), like the one to the right, for modesty.  That, a terry cloth turban, black shoes that go with everything, and you’re set.

For an account of impromptu hashgacha pratis in Miami and the importance of having a good shvimkleid, watch the video below.  It’ll make you smile.

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Clockwise from upper left: Ruth, Udi, Hadas, Yoav, and Elad Fogel

The massacre of the Fogel family (parents, 11-year-old son, four-year-old son, and four-month-old daughter) in Itamar has utterly preoccupied my thoughts in the last few days.  I have had so many thoughts churning in my head about what happened, how it came about, and where it’s taking us next, that I’ve had difficulty functioning normally.  I suppose that in itself is normal.  Here are some of the things that have been brewing in my mind.

Thought No. 1: Photos of the massacre

The extended family opted to release photos (faces blurred; stab wounds, blood, disarray of bodies visible) of the carnage.  Normally, I can’t bear to look at such things; I usually feel as though the knowledge of the atrocity is enough.  But because the Internet is covered with pictures of dead Arabs (some real, others undoubtedly fake or misrepresented), I believed it was my duty to honor the family’s decision by viewing them myself.  If you are prepared to be hit by an anvil of emotion, I advise you to view them.  This is not voyeurism; it’s what the Fogels’ own surviving children saw, and it acknowledges the reality of what we face as Jews in the form of ecstatic hatred by our Arab neighbors.  No doubt some Arabs are equally horrified by what happened, but they will remain silent and do nothing to hold their own society accountable for it.  The rest of us must witness this crime and call it what it is: a manifestation of the most barbaric form of war.  A Mother in Israel has links to the photos from her post here, and Jameel at the Muqata uploaded a video about the massacre on his blog, which includes the chain of events, family photos, the names and ages of the victims,  and photos of the crime scene.  (These links will take you to the blogs, not directly to the photos; proceed to the links and video at your own discretion, but please do NOT view them with children in the room.)

Thought No. 2: The Israeli government’s response to the massacre

In response to the massacre of the Fogel family, the Israeli government has decided to approve building plans for hundreds of new apartments in major settlement blocs.

Forgive me if I don’t fall all over myself in gratitude.

Why the bilious response to this show of generosity on the part of Netanyahu’s government?  Because building should have been resumed throughout Yehuda and Shomron months ago, as soon as the one-time, 10-month building freeze expired.  Instead, Ehud Barak has refused to issue new building tenders to the main settlement blocs (although Westbankmama informs me that building in the smaller settlements resumed normally), effectively extending the freeze in the stupidest possible way, i.e. so that housing and rental prices in the settlements were driven sky-high artificially, but on the Q.T. so Israel wasn’t getting credit for any “confidence-building” gestures towards the PA.

So now the government shows that only the spilling of Jewish blood can override Barak’s personal Leftie politics in the government.  Why?  Has Netanyahu suddenly lost respect for his former IDF commander?  Is it in response to a new stain on Barak’s character, with the opening of an investigation of Mrs. Ehud Barak for hiring an illegal worker as a housekeeper?  Or is it because the scales suddenly fell from Netanyahu’s eyes and he realized that Israel has no peace partner, and it’s absurd to pretend that he does?

I hope it’s the last of these.  While the press and the Left (Jewish and non-) lie in wait to decry any form of incitement on the part of Israelis, and pounces if a group of rabbis announces

Arabs pass out candy to celebrate the massacre of the Fogel family

that Jews shouldn’t rent or sell homes to Arabs, it has said nothing about the decades-long incitement to murder (not just refusal to rent; murder) spewed forth from mosques and drilled into children’s heads in Arab schools.  Even when it bears its bitter fruit, as it did in Itamar (and has in a past slaughter of an Itamar family; their edginess doesn’t come from nowhere), no one on the Left seems interested in where it came from.  When Palestinians kill (which is frequently), it’s from frustration.  When Jews kill (which is almost never), it’s extremism.  (Just read the comments following online articles about the massacre: when it’s about the family, people are sympathetic; when it’s about the IDF being called out to prevent revenge attacks, the “illegal” settlers are thugs, extremists, animals, and deserve everything they get, including the murders.)

The world’s collective moral compass needs recalibrating.  Settlement in Yehuda and Shomron has been declared legal by many international law experts, and those who repeat ad nauseum that they are illegal (or illegitimate; what IS the difference, Hillary?) stand on shaky, highly selective legal ground, at best.  Because what this delusion leads to is a double-standard which says that Arabs killing Jews is understandable, but Jews killing Arabs is criminal; that Jewish families who are murdered in their beds only got what was coming to them (just as women who are raped while jogging at night only get what’s coming to them); and that Arabs need not obey the law, but Jews always must.

Thought No. 3: Condemnation

I have one further thought on this for today, and that is the condemnations that have been issued from various quarters.  Condemnations are meaningless words, not actions.  Carefully worded condemnations have been issued from PA Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad and President Mahmoud Abbas.  Those are hollow words, considering everything those two have done to nurture bloodlust and Jew-hatred among the people they pretend to represent.  Here is an article that examines just a few of the activities under the aegis of the Palestinian Authority in recent days that encourage and glorify the slaughter of Israelis.  Some highlights:

  • Two months ago, Abbas awarded $2000 to the family of an Arab who attacked and tried to kill Israeli soldiers.
  • The day before the Fogel massacre, an adviser to Abbas delivered a speech saying that weapons must be turned toward the main enemy and that internal differences must be set aside.  He criticized the paltry allowances awarded to families of terrorist “martyrs” and praised the PA’s honoring of female terrorist Dalal Mughrabi by naming a square after her in the town of El-Bireh.
  • A PA newspaper recently announced the creation of a football tournament in Ramallah named in honor of another female terrorist, Wafa Idris, who used her position as a Palestinian Red Crescent volunteer to bypass Israeli security, enter Jerusalem, and blow herself up, killing one and injuring over 150 on January 27, 2002.
  • The PA recently commemorated some of the terrorists who came from the Dahaishe refugee camp (located right next to Efrat) and murdered Israelis in March of 2002 with a march through the camp, ending at the family home of a suicide bomber who killed nine Israelis.
  • At a recent gathering to celebrate 46 years since the founding of Fatah, the group restated its aim to achieve the goals for which it was established, read aloud its call for “self-sacrifice” (i.e. terror attacks against Israel), watched some military and scout demonstrations, and blew up a model of Israeli settlements.

If good people really want to condemn this kind of violence and celebration of murder of innocents, the way to do it is to investigate where your country’s, your church’s, and your own money is going.  Does your country support the Palestinian Authority?  Chances are, it does.  Perhaps you and other concerned citizens should call on your governments to reevaluate whether the PA shares your country’s values in areas such as human rights, women’s rights, gay rights, rule of law, a real justice system, and hate-free education.  Are they funding NGOs that seek to delegitimize the state of Israel, providing fodder for Arab attacks (with words, bombs, and sometimes, knives) against innocent civilians?  Does your church give to organizations that fund youth centers which indoctrinate Arab children in violence, like this one funded by an Australian church?  Are they, directly or indirectly, funding terror and jihad on your own country’s soil?  If you find your money is being funneled into activities (and crimes) you don’t approve of, stop giving, and tell others.

Terror costs money; is it being paid for with yours?

Funeral for Fogel family in Jerusalem

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On Friday night, as Israelis enjoyed a restful Sabbath, Arab terrorists entered a Jewish home and murdered five family members (parents and three children, including a four-month-old baby) in their beds.  (Two other young children sleeping in another part of the house survived, and a 12-year-old daughter came home late from Bnei Akiva and found her family slaughtered.)  As I scanned through a few of the hundreds of thousands of comments following the online articles, I repeatedly came across good people who questioned what kind of person does such a thing.

Sometimes, especially in the cases of lone killers, these questions are nearly impossible to answer.  But not this time.  There is an answer, and it’s been staring everyone in the face for decades, if only people had had their eyes open.

The Arabs have never accepted the legitimacy of Jews in this part of the world.  Since its imperial conquest by Arabs in the years following the invention of Islam, Arabs have considered Palestine (not called that at the time, mind) Arab land, disregarding any prior Jewish claim to the land, or indeed any other power’s control (Ottoman, British) over it.  Jewish immigration in the late 19th and early 20th centuries,  adding to the small but very established Jewish population that was here and had never left, was considered illegal, although by purchasing the land they planned to live and farm on, these Jews were its legal owners.   Arabs alternately courted and threatened British diplomats and military attaches during the Mandatory Period into supporting them and reneging on their promises to support the creation of a Jewish State.  When the British finally retreated with their tails between their legs in 1948, the Arabs combined forces in an attempt to uproot the fledgling Jewish State and (in their own words) complete the Holocaust that Hitler failed to carry out to its genocidal end.  While the Jews remained standing at the end of the war, Egypt and Jordan annexed newly-conquered territory (Gaza and the West Bank), creating the refugee problem that extends into every surrounding Arab country and to this day has not been solved, either by the UN or the Arabs themselves.

Fast forward to 1967.  Arabs tried on several subsequent occasions (cross-border raids and terror attacks, Egypt’s attempt at invasion through the Sinai in 1956) to destroy Israel.  Their joint venture again failed, but this time, they were the territorial losers.  Israel was left at the end of the war with Gaza, Yehuda and Shomron, and the Golan Heights, and all of the refugee camps contained therein.

At this point, Israel had two options, and this is where the recent murder becomes relevant.

1)  Israel could have annexed the new territories.  (It did the Golan, but that’s not relevant to this discussion.)  If it had, it would have had to incorporate hundreds of thousands of new hostile Arab voters into its midst, and courted eventual and highly likely demographic suicide.  The upside would have been that the territories and Israel proper, being all Israel proper, would have lived under one law: Israel’s.  The government’s tolerance for Arab harassment and attacks on Jews would have been dramatically less than it is now.  The struggle for ownership of territory that we witness in Gush Etzion and throughout the West Bank would have been at an end.  Instead of being left to antiquated Jordanian textbooks (which show one Arab state in place of all the land Israel now controls) and clerics and teachers whose job is to incite hatred and violence against Jews, education of Arab children would have been upgraded to include math, science, languages, history—in other words, a real education.  There would have been one generation having grown up in exile instead of three or four, and every refugee camp would have been dismantled and the refugees resettled.  Quality of life for Arabs (many of whom rued the day they left their villages in 1948 with the empty Arab promise of a glorious return) would undoubtedly have improved after such a decision on Israel’s part.  (It should be noted here that deportation of the Arabs living in the West Bank and Gaza was discussed, but given the Jews’ own experience of deportations in Europe 25 years prior, no one had the stomach to carry out such an operation.)

2)  Israel could do what it did, which is to hold on to the territories in the hope of exchanging them for peace.  Despite the fact that the first land for peace attempt in 1948 had failed miserably, the Jews hoped that this time, the Arabs would come around to accepting them, take back the Arab-filled territory, and let bygones be bygones.  That’s not what happened.  The Arabs refused to come out of their refugee camps to live in apartments built for them by Israel.  They refused to end their decades-long program of incitement against the Jewish State.  They refused to create their own economy by means of joint ventures with Israeli industry.  They refused to accept the existence of an Israel in the Middle East or any of Israel’s concrete offers of peace and land for a state of their own.  They have clung to their dreams, illusions, and revenge fantasies rather than move on, find solutions to their problems, and make a new life for themselves.

And the continued feeding of those obsessive delusions leads to the current plight of the Arabs, who keep themselves ignorant and poor, alternately envy and loathe the opportunity and prosperity of the West, blame others for their problems rather than take responsibility and solve them, view terrorism as an honorable way to kill and die, and see every Jewish man, woman, and child as an enemy combatant to be fought and killed.

This is how we got to yet another family of Jewish orphans, and yet more Arabs with blood on their hands.

And the world blames the Jews for the failure of the peace process.


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So a Pali engineer has been kidnapped from the Ukraine, and Hamas is hyperventilating.  Just think—a man, minding his own business, is snatched unawares and whisked off to a hostile country.  His family, concerned about his whereabouts, decries the blatant disregard for a person’s rights on sovereign territory, blames a hostile force for the kidnapping, and demands his immediate release.

Kinda makes you think of Gilad Shalit, doesn’t it?

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The Jerusalem Post gets a lot of flak from readers.  It has more typographical errors than any other periodical of its stature, that’s for sure.  It employs Faye Levy, their main food writer, who lives in California and sometimes concocts recipes that require combinations of fruits where one is in season and the other is out (something she can do in the US where out-of-season fruits are imported, but which is impossible in Israel).  Those leaning left politically complain that it’s too right-wing, and those on the right are sometimes appalled at the stuff its left-wing writers churn out.  The fact that it has the ability to offend people on both ends of the spectrum (while trying to provide a home for both) probably means it’s doing something right.

I often strongly disagree with Jonathan Rosenblum, its haredi apologist, who attempts to justify many of the positions taken by haredim in Israeli society, including their view that IDF-sponsored conversions are invalid, and who adopts across-the-board right-wing views on American politics.  I’ve been disappointed with some of the stuff Daniel Gordis has written, which seems either to echo the contents of his 2009 book Saving Israel, or suggest overall writer’s doldrums.  I was delighted when they got rid of Daoud Kuttab as a regular writer, and don’t miss his whining about the discrimination and deprivation suffered by Arabs at Israel’s hands one bit.  And while I don’t rejoice in the death of Reform Rabbi David Forman, I don’t miss his columns, nor Naomi Chazan’s either.

But lately I’ve been finding myself marveling at how out of touch some of the Post’s regular contributors are, particularly in the February 25 Magazine.  Larry Derfner, who often writes the feature articles for the Magazine, is usually more interested in generating heat than shedding light on a topic.  His cover article for February 25, “Shadow over utopia,” about a Tel Aviv school whose students hail from 48 different countries and is the subject of a recent short documentary film, “Strangers No More,” seemed designed to tug at the heartstrings of people who are alarmed at the possibility that 120 of the children, who are in the country illegally, may be sent back with their parents to their countries of origin.  In reading it, I learned that Derfner thinks these kids are too cute, their families too nice, and the school too much of a triumph of multiculturalism for the children to be sent back with their parents.  I learned much less about the country’s concerns about illegal workers, about the impact on the economy of making them legal versus sending them back, or on the differences between those seeking asylum here versus those hoping to earn money to send home to their families in poorer countries.  It’s an issue that requires some study and thorough investigation to understand, but this was not an article that was going to provide the reader with much of that.

David Breakstone is one of the new crop of Lefties taken on in recent months, and another regular contributor who has me shaking my head most of the time.  In his February 25 column, entitled “Jewish Identity 101,” he sings the praises of the Limmud NY conference in which he recently participated, which brought together Jews across the spectrum of movements, including Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, Renewal, secular, and unaffiliated.  His criticisms of the rabbinical establishment in Israel, its power-hungriness, its narrow definition of Judaism, its woefully poor leadership, and its corruption and illegal shenanigans are well taken.  But the opening to his article where he decries the Knesset’s recent Jewish Identity Day, which included a session on “the need to combat the phenomenon of Jewish women marrying Muslim men,” came close to losing me.  His protest was registered by borrowing the words of Arab MK Taleb a-Sanaa, who said, “I’d like to see what would happen if in France they held a hearing about what happens when Christians marry Jews.”  Now, on the surface, that might seem like real equivalence.  Everyone (including Arabs) knows how sensitive Jews are to discrimination, and particularly the Jews’ experience of it in European countries like France.  (Actually, these days, France is more likely to have hearings about what happens when Christian women marry Muslims, but we’ll leave that for another time.)  But scratch the surface and you can see that there is no equivalence.  The Jews in France were a small minority, lived quietly, contributed to society, and were patriotic French citizens.  The Arabs in Israel are, to some extent, contributors to Israeli society.  They usually live quietly, but not always.  Some are patriotic, but some choose instead to sympathize, in thought, word, and deed, with their more terrorist-inclined brethren across the Green Line.  And when Jewish women marry Muslim men, they marry into a society in which they no longer have a voice, freedom of movement, freedom of religion, rights over their property, their children, or their own bodies.  Some try to flee, and many find it difficult or impossible to escape the life they didn’t necessarily expect or that was promised to them.  Arab men are free to beat their wives as much as they wish; that is not so in Israel.  While Judaism would dictate that the woman’s children are halachically Jewish, Muslim law says that they are Muslim, and since possession is nine-tenths of the law, they will grow up Muslim.  Those who advocate that Jews—particularly women—avoid working in places where they will naturally encounter Arab men are simply recognizing that it is impossible to prevent friendships from forming and romance from blossoming between people who work in close proximity day after day.  It’s not racism; it’s reality.

But the columnist whose relatively recent employment by the Post most baffles me is Alon Ben-Meir, a professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU who teaches international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies.  Like Faye Levy, he doesn’t live here, which is often a telling fact in understanding some of the things he writes.  He consistently tries to plug the Arab Peace Initiative as the solution to Israel’s problems with the Palestinian Arabs.  He seems to have internalized Time Magazine’s absurd claims made last year that Israelis don’t care about peace, and chides Israel for not rushing to make more concessions and give more gifts to the Arabs.  His February 25 column, “Israel, where are you?” is particularly well-titled.  (Right where you left us to go to New York, Mr. Ben-Meir.)  He accuses Israel’s current leadership of being focused more on staying in power than effecting change that will lead to peace and prosperity for all.  (Shocking; simply shocking.)  He bemoans the lack of a vibrant opposition from Kadima (clearly his party of choice) in much softer terms.  He is alarmed that the IDF has become more ideological and religious, obviously unaware that one reason for this is the mass refusal by secular, ideologically bankrupt Israeli youth to serve, in approximately the same numbers as the haredim.  He is upset at Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar’s plans to have schoolchildren visit the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, “in what amounts to an unnecessary and untimely provocation aiming to bolster nationalistic—and right-wing—perspectives among youth,” echoing the language applied to Ariel Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount in 2000, and suggesting perhaps that less contact with sites listed in the Jewish heritage register will make for a better Israeli citizenry tomorrow.  He wonders where the students and academics are, who he thinks should be in the streets protesting Israel’s foreign policy and the status quo.  He chalks it up to complacency; it has apparently never occurred to him that many of these students and academics either support the current democratically elected government, or don’t have any brilliant ideas on how to change the way the Arab world views the repugnant Zionist entity to create a climate in the Middle East more conducive to peace with the State of Israel.

I attempt to read articles by columnists (usually left wing) with whom I don’t agree.  (This way, I can safely criticize Lefties who never read anything they might disagree with.)  I am always hopeful that one day I’ll read one who makes enough sense to me to actually see their points of view as legitimate.  However, the columnists the Post hires never seem to meet that standard.  Their views are always based on a superficial reading of the situation, ignoring crucial facts, and a refusal to learn from history and Israel’s past experience.  The Cap’n says that if the Post is really a right-wing newspaper, then by hiring these totally unconvincing apologists for the Left, they’re actually doing a good job of furthering the right-wing agenda.  Perhaps he’s right.  But old-time Lefties like Abba Eban were able to recognize certain truths, including the fundamental inequity of requiring one side to make material concessions (like giving up land) in exchange for a change in behavior.  And yet that very principle, now dubbed “land for peace,” has become the standard for the Left.

Hoping for some non-political refreshment, I flipped to the back to read about how Ian McEwan, the author of the brilliant Atonement and other novels, won the Jerusalem Prize for the Freedom of Society last week at the 25th Jerusalem International Book Fair.  I enjoyed learning about him, his background, his writing life, his family’s years living in Libya, and the fact that while many pro-Palestinian groups pressured him to decline the prize and refuse to visit Israel, he came anyway.  Of course, he did attend the weekly Friday demonstration outside Sheikh Jarrah, which protests the eviction of three Arab families from Jewish-owned property after failure to pay their rent for several years (in essence, protesting against the freedom of property ownership).  But you can’t win ’em all.  This is, after all, the Jerusalem Post.

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Foods for Purim

Some holidays are necessarily culinary.  Rosh Hashana has its simanim (fish heads, anyone?), Pesach is über-kosher, and lasagna and cheesecake are Shavuot institutions.

The focus on Purim is usually on costumes, Megillat Esther, and mishloach manot.  But this year, I’ve been thinking about the culinary aspect of the holiday, the seudah (festive meal).

Back in the US, my experience of the seudah was usually the one the shul put on, with fried chicken, salad, and a few other things.  It was simple, kid-friendly, not in any way particular to the holiday.  But in doing a little research, I have turned up two themes to Purim food: hidden and vegetarian.

A couple of years ago, I was working with a friend on a Jewish cookbook (alas, never published) and she told me about why Jews eat hamantashen on Purim.  Since God is never mentioned in the book of Esther, the belief is that God directed the events in the story from behind the scenes, as the hester panim, or hidden face.  Since the filling is largely hidden inside the cookie, this is a reference to the hidden face of God in the story.  My friend suggested serving pigs-in-blankets (pastry-wrapped hot dogs) as kid-friendly food for the holiday, and I have read elsewhere that kreplach, meat-filled ravioli (served alone, with sauce, or in chicken soup) is also served at Purim.  (As an aside, hamantashen, Yiddish for Haman pockets, and the Israeli oznei Haman, Haman’s ears, are traditionally triangular in shape in Europe and Israel, though they were not so in other parts of the world, such as Iraq.)

The second theme of Purim food is vegetarian, especially fruit, nuts, and seeds.  Just as Jews remember Esther’s fast before outing herself as a Jew to save her people, we also remember her time spent in the harem of King Ahashverosh, when she endeavored to observe the laws of kashrut by abstaining from eating meat.  Fillings for hamantashen include dates, prunes, and poppy seeds.  Families mindful of this tradition eat special foods made from almonds (mmm, marzipan), sesame seeds (techina and halva), humous, and dates.

Since my family eats mostly vegetarian aside from Shabbat and holidays, this presents me with some cool ideas for menus.  Split pea soup, red lentil soup, or Moroccan chick pea soup are vegetarian options.  Curried lentils is another.  To incorporate the hester panim theme, one can serve stuffed peppers, stuffed acorn squash, or stuffed baked potatoes.  For those like me who lean toward ethnic cuisine, burritos or enchiladas are Tex-Mex possibilities, as are Italian tortellini and calzones, Indian samosas and pakoras, Chinese wontons or steamed dumplings, Thai or Vietnamese spring rolls, or Japanese sushi or tempura.  Sandwich wraps can be a lighter alternative.  And while I am fond of hamantashen, other dessert options include pies, turnovers, and my childhood favorite, surprise cupcakes (made with chocolate cake batter, with a dollop of sweetened cream cheese and chocolate chips baked in the middle).

So many possibilities for a holiday that comes but once a year.


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Smokers’ lounge

Take a gander at this painted ceiling in a smokers’ lounge.  Just goes to show you human beings can ignore absolutely anything.

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Saving time

I can’t count the number of times I’ve been exhausted after a day of working, housekeeping, and child rearing, and just wanted to get into bed to sleep.  But before I would drag my weary self upstairs, I would think, “Oh, I’ll just check my email first.”  And then, before I know it, the owl on my Audubon bird clock in the kitchen is hooting midnight, and I’m still at the computer.

I’ve come to the conclusion that the computer is just another addiction.  I’ve never been into smoking, or alcohol, or drugs, or even caffeine.  I don’t have what I’ve heard called an “addictive personality,” which relies on outside substances to wake me up in the morning, keep me going, or get me to relax.  But the computer has become something entirely different.

Billed as a “time-saver,” it’s true that the computer, with email, word processing, and the Internet, enables me to keep in touch with my family and friends on the other side of the world, look up obscure facts in a trice, work from home, and write posts like this one to be read by anyone else who has time to kill.  Until computers came along, I was content with the occasional phone call or letter, ignorance about all kinds of subjects, and working from home and blogging were virtually unknown to me.  But what I really find is that with the convenience comes a hankering to spend even more time on the computer, taking me away from my kids, my other responsibilities, and my sleep.  In the end, what I have found is that to a large degree, the computer is an even bigger time-waster.  Last Friday, I knew that my work had been buttoned up for the week, there was nothing in the news that I felt a strong urge to follow, and anything else could wait until Sunday.  We were having guests for dinner that night and I had to bake for a neighborhood seudah shlishit, so intent as I was on cooking with no distractions, I left the computer turned off all day.  The result?  Except for one stovetop dish, I was finished cooking by 12:30, filled the hot water urn, dusted the shelves in the dining room where my Shabbat candles and the kids’ artwork is displayed, checked my kids’ heads for lice (zero for four, thank God), took a leisurely bath, and read the paper for a little while.  No rushing at the last minute before candle-lighting, no writing emails until I smell something burning in the oven that I forgot about, no showering in the dark after the Cap’n has gone to shul.  It was luxurious.  The computer may save me time for some things, but on Friday, NOT using it is the real time-saver.

I realize some parents severely limit their children’s daily screen time (TV and computer).  I think this is a great idea—so great, in fact, that I think I should probably exercise it on myself, too.

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Writing whoredom

I’ve done a spot of freelance editing for an agency that has tried to throw all kinds of strange projects my way.  Among the offers I’ve turned down are two to write undergraduate (i.e. college student) papers.  Besides my hesitance to write anything depending only on the Internet as a source (and the fact that, while the Efrat library has a good English fiction section, it probably lacks anything valuable in terms of  research except, perhaps, on the history of Zionism), I object on other grounds.

I remember college almost as though it were yesterday.  I spent a good portion of my time there engrossed in my studies, but certainly not all of it.  I spent time with friends, toured the cities of Boston and Cambridge, sang in the college choir, trayed down the snowy hill on which my dorm was perched, and was a coxswain in intramural crew.  I can only remember a half-dozen facts I may have learned in college, though I’m sure the academic discipline and methods of inquiry instilled in me are so ingrained by now as to be indiscernible from the rest of my education.

Looking back, I could have spent more or less time with friends, more or less time off campus, and choir, traying, and crew were strictly optional.  The one thing that was expected of me was that I produce the work products (a sterile educational term for tests, papers, and other grading instruments) necessary to earn decent grades.  (This became all the more important once a woman on my floor figured out that it cost $50 an hour for us to be there.)  That meant that if I didn’t hand in papers that were mine, then there was very little of my education that I could legitimately call my own, and my purpose for being at an academic institution could be called into serious question.

There was a recent debate on the CIWI chat list (Connecting Independent Writers in Israel) over “a standard per-page rate for upgrading the English of a 100-page MA thesis in Israel.”  The chatters were divided between those who have compassion for non-native speakers of English and people with great ideas but poor writing ability, and those who expressed their disgust with deteriorating skill and professionalism in a world where someone without the English or the writing chops can just hire someone to make them look good.  I could see both sides of the story when it comes to getting help to bring an important document up to high academic standards.

I have more difficulty with the notion of being a pen-for-hire for undergraduates whose only reason for being in college—besides discovering how much beer they can hold without passing out—is to study and to produce something of worth.

I never moralized about this to the agency that sent me the offers.  In fact, I was flattered that they thought I’d be good at it.  (See, kids?  Practice makes perfect.)  But I always politely declined.  I could never live with myself if I thought I’d helped a kid through college by doing his work for him.  The fact that in this competitive writer’s market, someone else is probably willing to turn those tricks without the pricked conscience, only makes it sadder.  (No wonder I can’t get any writing work.)

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Ever since Adar I began, thoughts and plans for Purim have been occupying the Crunches.  The kids are deciding on costumes (and getting corrected constantly for saying, “dress up into”), I’m beginning to think about mishloach manot packages, and my parents will be visiting us, so I plan to enlist my mother’s help in making hamantashen this year, with apricot jam, chocolate, and prune fillings.

The first art project to find its way into my hands last week was a detailed group picture by five-year-old Banana of Mordechai, Esther, and Ahashverosh.  Nothing warms the cockles of a mother’s heart like her kid’s rendering of Mordechai in smiley-face pajamas, a dwarf Ahashverosh with Star-of-David robes (after his probable conversion on learning his bride was Jewish), and Esther towering over them with rainbow and smiley-face gown, fine jewelry, and long, curling tresses.  So print one out, everyone, and get out the crayons.  It’s coloring time!

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