Archive for April, 2011

Exodus story

A number of years ago, my in-laws came to us for Pesach seder.  It was our first seder in our own home (we’d been generously invited out for years), and juggling an infant (Beans was 9 months old), kashering, cooking, and hosting two seders (we had friends over the second night) was beyond anything I’d ever experienced.  After a couple of weeks of cleaning, cooking, and generally feeling like a slave, I was exhausted by the time we all finally sat down to the first night’s seder.  My father-in-law’s opening comment was, “Did you know that there is no historical evidence that the Exodus from Egypt ever happened?”

Let’s set aside for a moment how a comment like this begs the question of why the asker is sitting at a seder in the first place, or how the role of the seder as educational tool for children is compromised, or how that particular attitude misses the entire point of the evening.

Let’s focus instead on the pshat (surface meaning) of the comment: lack of historical evidence of the Exodus.  Yes, Jewish tradition holds that people in lands surrounding ancient Egypt heard of the plagues and wonders wrought by Hashem prior to and including the flight from Egypt of the Israelites.  It also says that because of these stories coming out of Egypt, most of these nations held the Israelites in awe as they made their way through the desert for 40 years.  But historical or archeological evidence?  Very likely not.  Why?  Because even if there were such evidence (and I’m not counting the steering wheels lying at the bottom of the Red Sea that fervent believers claim are the remains of Egyptian chariots), the Arabs who have since conquered and settled Egypt would have no motivation to publish such findings.  If they were ever to make public any sign that the forbears of Israel had been enslaved for 210 years in Egypt, they might be forced by public opinion to consider reparations, or at least back wages for that long-ago unpaid labor.  Never mind that the Jews who fled the Arab world in the 1940s and 1950s, many of whom had been wealthy and successful before Israel’s foundation, were forced to leave with nothing but the clothes on their backs and deserve reparations much more than Palestinians whose fortunes were dashed by the greed and bloodlust of their fellow Arabs.  The Arab-sponsored theme of Jews having no history at all in the Middle East has been promoted by the current wave of PA proclamations, such as those claiming that Rachel’s Tomb is really a Muslim monument to one of Mohammed’s slaves, that the Temple Mount never served as a place of Jewish worship or sacrifice, and the Arab rage over the excavation of the City of David and in the Western Wall plaza, which has uncovered archeological treasures showing Jewish presence and sovereignty over Jerusalem going back 3000 years.

No, the lack of evidence of the Exodus from Egyptian historians does not disturb me in the least.  In fact, I expect nothing more since these are the same “scholars” who write school textbooks which teach children about Egypt’s crushing military victory over Israel in 1973, and the same society that publishes (and presumably believes in) the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

If the haggadah is a Jewish fantasy story, it’s one of the forging of slaves into a people which went on to become one of the key forces which moved civilization away from child sacrifice, debauched worship of multiple gods, and tyrannical government to personal and communal prayer, worship of one God, and the rule of law which favors neither the rich nor the poor.  I’ll pick that fantasy over the falsehoods and absurdities put about by our enemies any day.

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Four kids home for 2½ weeks.  ‘Nuff said.

Here’s a cute thing Aish.com put up for Pesach.  Enjoy.

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Passover Lemon Pie

I stated in an earlier post that I have officially retired from making fancy desserts for Pesach, but I recognize that that doesn’t mean everyone else has.  To this day, I can still remember our friends in Newton who made salmon crunch pie and salads for lunch, followed by cheesecake baked in a coconut macaroon crust.  I gain pounds just thinking about that lunch.

In glancing through my homegrown cookbook, I found this recipe for Passover Lemon Pie that I tinkered with a few years ago and nearly perfected.  (Somehow my lemon curd never seemed to want to set.)  For those who still make fancy desserts at Pesach, here’s a beauty.  (Makes one 9” pie.)

Lemon Curd and Meringue

6 egg yolks, beaten

1½ teaspoon grated lemon peel

½ cup lemon juice

⅓ cup water

¾ cup sugar

5 egg whites

10 tablespoons sugar

Almond Crust

1 cup ground almonds

2 tablespoons sugar

⅓ teaspoon salt

¼ cup oil

1 egg white

To make the Almond Crust, mix together almonds, sugar and salt.  Beat together oil and egg white; stir into almond mixture.  Press mixture firmly and evenly against sides and bottom of a 9” pie plate.  Bake at 375°F for 15-20 minutes or until lightly browned.  Cool thoroughly.

To make Lemon Curd, combine egg yolks, lemon peel, lemon juice, water and ¾ cup sugar in top of double boiler.  Cook over gently boiling water, stirring frequently until thickened, about 15 minutes.  Remove from heat.  (This stayed gooey instead of thickening; if you have a reliable lemon curd recipe, use it here.)

Make Meringue by beating egg whites until frothy.  Gradually add remaining 10 tablespoons sugar, beating until soft peaks form.  Fold ⅓ of beaten egg whites into warm lemon mixture.  Pour into cooled crust.  Top with remaining meringue, sealing to crust.  Bake at 400°F for 15 minutes, or until meringue is lightly browned.  Cool before serving.

Chag kasher v’sameach.

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My mother forwarded this via email with the subject line, “They finally got it right.”

Well, sort of.  Jesus is still holding a bagel.  And anyone who would eat gefilte fish from a jar would probably also have Mogen David on the table (though that may be what’s in the ewer on the floor in the foreground).  I wonder why the painter (this is not Leonardo’s version; help me out if you know who painted this) didn’t have them bother to iron the tablecloth, or cover their heads.  Or be home with their families (“You’re having seder with WHO instead of us?!”).  In fact, even without the Manischewitz stuff, this is the most bizarre (supposed) seder I’ve ever seen.

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The online New York Times of 3 April 2011 includes a “diplomatic memo” entitled “In Israel, Time For Peace Offer May Run Out,” by Ethan Bronner.

My father forwarded me the link, which had been forwarded to him by a cousin.  (This is what the virtual watercooler conversation has turned into, between St. Louis, Shaftsbury [Vt.], and Efrat.)  The substance of the article is what most of my readers are probably aware of, a bid by Palestinian Arabs to have a state declared and recognized unilaterally by the UN General Assembly in September.

I have a number of observations about this scenario, none of which constitute certain prognostications.  They’re just possible ways it could play out.

1) Israel rushes to cobble together a package of giveaways that are seductive enough to tempt the Arabs, including dividing Jerusalem (unthinkable for most Israelis, but play along with me here), freezing settlements (despite Bibi pledging 500 new housing units in the wake of the Fogel murders, but which I’m sure aren’t even on paper yet), and withdrawing to the 4 June 1967 lines (something which UNSC Resolution 242 doesn’t even require).  Arabs accept graciously, end incitement, and live in peace and harmony until the End of Days.  (Okay, that last sentence was my belated April Fool’s joke.)

2) Israel chooses to ignore the threat, finds the Automatic Majority in full swing in September, and loses de facto control over the West Bank and East Jerusalem.  (I don’t mention Gaza here, because most Palestinian Arabs don’t even seem to be in control there either, unless they’re card-carrying members of Hamas.)  The IDF is expected to withdraw immediately from its posts, roadblocks are dismantled, Arabs pass out candy, and call for open season on any settlers who haven’t packed their bags and decamped.  Arabs give thanks for decades of settlement construction, since there are thousands of homes now available (or will be, once the settlers have been forced out or slaughtered in cold blood).

3) Israel annexes the West Bank and East Jerusalem, making the Arabs there citizens of Israel.  Accepting the opinions of demographers who do not think this would be disastrous for Israel, and setting aside the outcry that might ensue from the rest of the world (though not, likely, from the Palis themselves, who would be guaranteed a higher standard of living in a few years, as well as better educational and job opportunities), this would end the conflict with the Palestinian Arabs (though not, likely, with the rest of the Arab world, who depend on this situation to divert anger and dissatisfaction from their own despotic regimes), make them subject to the same laws as Israelis, and end the legal limbo in which feuding Jews and Arabs find themselves out in Yehuda and Shomron.  (I.e., state land would be state land, not up for dispute by Arabs thinking they can earmark it for a state of their own.)

4) Israel lets the whole thing unfold at the UN, repeats the disaster of the Gaza expulsion, and recognizes a Palestinian entity on its borders on Palestinian terms.  This eliminates the hassle of governing hostile Arabs (or absorbing them into a single Israeli state) and holds the Palestinian entity responsible as any other state for acts of violence or aggression against another sovereign state, entitling Israel to go to war, if necessary, without the response of the rest of the world being, “Bullies!  Pick on someone your own size!”  (Okay, that last is a bit of a stretch, since generations of accepting Arab “victimization” won’t disappear overnight, even with statehood.)

None of these possibilities is particularly palatable, since none of them comes with anything like a peaceful resolution of the conflict.  Drastic, one-sided, uncomplicated, utilitarian, perhaps, but never peaceful.  But this, of course, is the whole point.  Even if Israel could come up with a set of further concessions, why should the Arabs negotiate for what they can get for free at the UN?  I can understand the appeal of a unilateral declaration at the UN: the ease of the Automatic Majority, the overall hostility to Israel which reigns there, the willingness by the major powers to recognize another terrorist state (since it’s not on any of THEIR borders), and a lack of concern that it still doesn’t solve the Palestinian problem, since Hamas has been abusing reporters who attempt to report on the demonstrations in Gaza calling for a rapprochement between Hamas and Fatah.

I think the UN got out of the peace business a long time ago, and this talk of creating another terrorist state on Israel’s borders (sealing it in between Hamas, Fatah, and Hizbullah) only makes it official.  That is, unless peace is seen as coming at a very affordable price: the Jewish state.

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One of the highlights of having relations visiting us in Israel is having the excuse to go out and be tourists.  We live here, we know how blessed we are to live so close to so many amazing historical and archeological sites, yet as it does for most people, life usually gets in the way.

When my parents were here for a couple of weeks, I emailed work to say I was unavailable, and took my parents to the Sorek Caves, the Herodion, the Israel Museum, Mahanei Yehuda (the Jerusalem outdoor market) and the City of David.

The City of David had a particularly glaring moment in the sun a few months ago, when Lesley Stahl brought her  “60 Minutes” crew to do a spot on it for the show.  My blog post of that event highlights some of the more absurd things she said, being much more interested in the sensational political angle (real or imagined) of the site than what it had uncovered.  So after lots of hoopla, none of it substantial (except in the minds of those making it), I was glad at last to tour the site.

Back in 1997, when the Cap’n and I were in our salad days, we used to get shopped and cooked for Shabbat by Thursday night so we could go out Friday morning and see something new.  One Friday morning, we took a walking tour with Ziontours in the Old City of Mount Zion and Silwan, which took us as far as the stairs leading down to the gate which opens to Hezekiah’s Tunnel, a man-made tunnel dug to allow water to flow to the ancient, First Temple-era city of Jerusalem to enable it to hold out against siege.  Our guide at that time told us that it was believed that King David’s palace lay in ruins under the hill we passed on our right when descending to the gate, but that excavation had barely begun at the time.

Fast forward 14 years, and it’s a major archeological park with excavated ruins of what is believed to be either the Palace of Zion (the Jebusite palace where David probably initially took up residence while building his own palace farther up the hill) or David’s palace itself; a structurally intact private home located near the palace owned by one Achiel which represents the design of hillside homes of the day; seals which belonged to officials in the court of David who are mentioned in the Bible; excavated tunnels used first by Jebusites and later expanded by Israelites as part of their water collection and retrieval system; part of the Siloam Pool which was used as a communal mikvah; and part of an excavated road which is believed to lead from the Siloam Pool up to the Temple Mount.  The excavation site is across the Kidron Valley from an area that is currently crowded with Arab homes, but at one time was a Jewish burial ground (being part of the Mount of Olives, which is still the oldest Jewish cemetery in the world), and at one time housed Yemenite Jews who were driven out during the Arab riots of the 1930s.  (Check out the City of David’s website here.)  A 3-D film precedes the guided walking tour through the site, signage is fair (though one gets much more from the experience with a human tour guide), and on a sunny day, the lovely landscaping of the site is breathtaking.  Pottery shards date the site to well within David’s time, and among the odds and ends of implements uncovered in the dig was a lice comb.  (Some things never change.)

In other words, what Lesley Stahl and her crew missed by focusing on politics is the most intensively excavated archeological site in Israel (and perhaps the world), as well as the most important archeological find in Israeli history.  What has been uncovered there confirms that much of what is recorded in the Bible is based on historical fact (with new things being uncovered as the dig progresses), and that Jews have had a continuous presence in Jerusalem for over 3000 years, including sovereignty over it predating that of any other claimants.  These findings are accepted by all major, mainstream archeologists and undercut efforts by Arabs to dismiss claims of Jewish sovereignty over Jerusalem, so perhaps it’s no wonder that Lesley Stahl glossed over them in favor of listening to whinging Arabs instead.  (She also glossed over the fact that she and her camera crew were attacked by Arabs the minute they stepped out of their cars to film at the site and had to call City of David security to assist them.)  The fact that neighborhood leaders of both Jewish and Arab residents have complained in recent months about the rabble-rousers from outside the neighborhood entering it to cause problems and try to make it into a flashpoint is testament to the fact that the City of David is a barely-noticed example of peaceful coexistence between Jews and Arabs in Jerusalem.  Had she wanted to, Stahl could have made her piece about the fact that Jews and Arabs live together in harmony near this remarkable archeological site.  She could even have focused on the site itself, and what it has uncovered.  Instead, she chose to air, alongside her interviews with Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, the site’s excavation head, and an angry Arab, the Pallywood video that hit YouTube a few months ago of a Jewish man and his son being stoned in their car in a meticulously choreographed and filmed incident which was intended to show how ruthless and evil Jews are when beset by innocent Arab children frustrated by the Occupation.  Her choice of angle, in other words, abandoned intellectual curiosity, science, history, human ingenuity, the thrill of discovery, and journalistic integrity, in favor of joining the ranks of the angry rabble.

But no amount of fact-fudging or petty politicking could change the fact that as I walked through both the wondrous ruins and the small, but stunningly beautiful street of Jewish homes and lovingly tended gardens, much of the sadness, anger, and angst I had been feeling for the previous few weeks melted away, and I was able for a morning to reconnect with our indisputably ancient Jewish roots in this land.  Regardless of what Lesley Stahl, the Western press, envious Arabs, or international “peace activists” may say, we have been here for countless generations, and will be here for countless more.

Ruins of private dwellings, City of David

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