When I was growing up, my parents had a number of remarkable strengths and talents.  One was a seeming encyclopedic knowledge of card games, which they taught and played with us.  Another was a love of unusual food preservation techniques, like drying food (either with the food dryer my father built himself or on the roof of the carport in midsummer, producing genuine sun-dried tomatoes, leftover Thanksgiving turkey jerky, and fruit leather), smoking fish (in the smoker my dad converted from an old refrigerator, in which we smoked fish we’d caught ourselves), and making apple cider in the fall with a cider press my dad built from a kit.  And then there was the spring we went to Florida and discovered my father know how to sail, which meant hours of fun on the Gulf of Mexico in the sailboat we’d borrowed from friends.  A fourth was telling us nonsensical stories.  Here’s a sampling:

Ladies and Jellyspoons, I come before you to stand behind you to tell you of a subject I know nothing about.  Next Thursday, which is Good Friday, there will be a ladies’ meeting for fathers only.  Admission is free; pay at the door.  Take a seat and sit on the floor.

One fine morning in the middle of the night, two dead boys got up to fight.  Back to back , they faced each other, drew their swords and shot each other.  A deaf policeman heard the noise and came and shot the two dead boys.

If it takes a chicken and a half a day and a half to lay an egg and a half, how long does it take a monkey with a wooden leg to kick all the seeds out of a dill pickle?

Somehow, I merited to marry a man who is also a sailor, and rather than being a whiz with food drying (my friend Sigal does that), I am the cake decorating enthusiast.  (I won’t go so far as to say maven; one of my efforts at a castle looked like Toad with two melting ice cream cones on his head, dubbed forever after as the Frog and Toad cake.)  But I’m passing on the nonsense to the kids.

Anyone got any others for me to share?

Flotilla flake-out

I read last week that the “humanitarian” IHH has pulled out of this year’s Gaza flotilla fracas.  Ynet reports that fewer than 300 nutjobs activists will be setting sail — far fewer than anticipated, with more dropouts expected.  If this trend continues (and please God, it will), this year’s flotilla will end up looking something like this:

Sandy Cash is back with another song, this one hailing the upcoming Free Gaza Flotilla II.

In case Allen Krasna’s masterful video editing makes you miss some of the lyrics, here they are:

HEY JEWS (parody lyrics based on the song Hey Jude by Lennon & McCartney)

Hey Jews, we’re setting sail
Bound for that big jail that’s known as Gaza.
“Flotilla” was once a word no one knew;
Here comes number two, we’re back to Gaza.

Hey Jews, don’t be afraid,
You know your blockade can’t last forever.
The Egyptians tried too, but let down their guard.
Deterrence is hard; surrender’s better.

And if we hide Iranian bombs, hey Jews, come on!
We’re all just humanitarian sailors
With ammo belts and bars of steel.
Hey Jews, get real!
Code Pink buys the same at Lord and Taylor.

Hey Jews, don’t lose your cool,
The revolution is all around you
From the Golan to Sinai’s lines in the sand.
We’ll cross overland ’til we surround you.

No matter what we smuggle in, hey Jews, give in.
We’re riding the wave of world opinion
‘Cause don’t you know when we attack and you fight back,
It tightens the noose we hold your head in.

Hey, Jews, can’t you excuse 10,000 rockets on civilians.
You’ve spent all that dough on reinforced rooms,
The whole world presumes you want to use them.

I read this article a couple of months ago on Ynet news. There are a number of reasons why the claim that Israel is an apartheid state is absurd, and this is one of them. The story of Avi Be’eri, a Guinean former slave whose journey brought him to Israel, Judaism, the IDF, and the completion of the army’s officers’ course, is almost stranger than fiction, and further proof of what PM Netanyahu said to Congress last month: Israel is what’s right with the Middle East.

It’s been a while since my last English rant (nine months).  In that time, I’ve been gestating a post about a particularly irritating word whose increasing frequency of use has been attended by a corresponding decrease in meaning: respect.

There’s been plenty said (and sung) about this word.  Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” calls for her man to give her her “propers” when he gets home, i.e. the decency, kindness, and loving treatment due her (especially in exchange for her financial support).  Not too much for a woman to ask of the man who lives off her largesse, is it?

Respect is defined by the late social psychologist Erich Fromm as one of three components which make up love (the others being care and responsibility).  Fromm was the child of Orthodox Jewish parents, and as such, probably knew a thing or two about the command to love one’s fellow as oneself, how to honor parents, and to listen to one’s wife (even if she is soft-spoken).

Chazal (the Jewish sages) define respect for parents (kibud av v’em) as encompassing honor and reverence.  Respect by children for their father includes a sense of awe, demonstrated by not sitting in his chair or calling him by his name, and honoring both parents entails a commitment to care for both parents in illness, need, or old age, either personally or through an agent.  Respect here is not actually love; to command the children of cruel parents to love them is unrealistic and unfair.  (Besides, the only being Jews are commanded to love is God, and even that is defined in ways that go well beyond emotion.)  But to command a certain standard of behavior is deemed reasonable, and if your mother has taken a contract out on your life?  You must still see to her care and maintenance, but you are not required to live near her.

Respect has traditionally been the main concern of young women when considering whether to have sex with an amorous suitor.  “Will he respect me in the morning?” she asks herself.  One of my favorite sketches by Nichols and May is of a pair of high school students parking their car in a secluded place.  While Nichols’s hormones are clearly raging, May tries rationally to sort out her feelings and the possible consequences of giving in to her companion.  When she asks how he might perceive her afterward, he assures her, “I would respect you LIKE CRAZY.”

Respect nowadays seems to be used all the time, for parents, government officials, clergy, the police, people with special needs, people of other cultural affiliations.  In graduate school, I had a class full of aspiring schoolteachers who, in discussions led by a short-tempered education professor with a finely-tuned BS detector, would often use respect to describe how they would treat all of their students, regardless of background or ability.  The teacher would become irritated any time he heard this word, would demand that the student rephrase her sentiment without using it, and soon forbade the word’s use in his class altogether.  I remember wondering at his ire at the time, but I have since come to understand it better.

What is respect?  Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary provides the relevant definition as “high or special regard: esteem” or “deference.”  One must naturally accord one’s own parents this esteem and deference, at least in specific circumstances.  But high or special regard seems a bit strong in relation to one’s students, especially if a student is indifferent towards his teachers, lazy, unkind to peers, or highly disruptive.  Clearly, one’s attitude toward such a student should be put in other terms reflecting one’s recognition of the student’s humanity and uniqueness, while also expressing concern for the student’s problems, challenges, and behavior.

My sense, though, is that when most people nowadays use the word respect to talk about people different from themselves, what they are doing is describing an elevated form of tolerance or acceptance.  To respect all cultures is not really to bestow esteem or high regard indiscriminately, especially if those cultures promote genocide, torture, conquest, war-mongering, or xenophobia.  When I taught in a high school history department, a colleague told me about a conversation he’d had with the department chair in which she’d said she wanted those of us in the department to promote an attitude of “celebrating” all cultures and peoples.  When he asked if that included celebrating Nazi Germany, she was brought up short.  An attitude of blanket respect for all nations, cultures, peoples, or individuals else seems grossly overstated.

I’ve almost completely stopped using the term.  If I say I respect something, I see some validity or value in it, while not necessarily agreeing with it or espousing it myself.  If I don’t respect something, I think it is dishonest, myopic, delusional, or in some way invalid.  Respect is used so willy-nilly nowadays, I feel a need to use more precise language to convey what I want to say.  When I saw a Whitney Houston movie years ago in which her character yelled at her mother, then later apologized in another scene, I was stunned.  “Mama, I’m sorry I disrespected you,” she said.  Disrespect?  I realize that’s Black speech, and probably means something quite specific in that community, but what I thought was what a gross understatement that was.  Her behavior toward her mother had been coarse, rude, hurtful, and completely out of order, not “disrespectful.”

The worrying trend of overusing words until they lose all their meaning has, alas, infected this word also.  I therefore hereby bury it with full honors, and a high regard for what it once meant.

Ima’s pity party

I hate the phone.  I’m fine talking to people in person, and I love writing emails and letters.  But keep me away from the phone unless it’s absolutely necessary.  I don’t love it in English, and like most people struggling with a language that is not their own, I HATE it in Hebrew.  When the Cap’n worked at home, I had him do most of the phone calls, but now that he’s sitting all day in an office in Jerusalem, I have to call the matnas (community center) about enrolling the kids in swim lessons, the mothers of my kids’ friends about playdates and who’s going to bake the cake for the upcoming class birthday party (usually me), and the health clinic to make medical appointments, all in Hebrew.  Since those phone calls are often the only time I speak Hebrew all day, I suffer from arrested development in the language, and while I sometimes get out my thoughts just fine in fairly fluid Hebrew, if someone calls me out of the blue or wants to discuss something for which I have no context, I freeze up.

That’s what happened yesterday when Peach handed me the phone to give driving directions to the mother of a girl playing with Beans this afternoon.  I hadn’t given anyone directions in a while, and with a sleeping Bill in the crook of my arm, and half asleep myself, I couldn’t even remember the word “intersection” in Hebrew.  I stammered, made long pauses, but finally got out the information.  (She found us just fine a few minutes later.)  When I got off the phone, though, Peach looked up from her homework and said, “Wow, your Hebrew was really bad just now.”

Normally I don’t make much of those comments.  I try to be good-natured about them, laugh them off, and not take it too personally when my children make fun of my admittedly pathetic Hebrew.  But I had just finished correcting Beans on a question she missed on a Hebrew language test (telling her that luchot, despite the feminine plural ending, is an irregular masculine noun), I’d been caught unawares by this phone call, and I have days here and there when I’m feeling more vulnerable than usual.  I began thinking about all the things I gave up to come here: my family (which has already had to do without me every Christmas for the past 16 years since my decision to convert), my friends, my community, my quirky, charming Victorian house on a tree-lined street, my career as an English teacher (teaching it as a second language or to students who aren’t going to school in English is not the same), my shul community, and not least, understanding everything that is going on around me.  The vast majority of the time, I can focus on what is wonderful about living here, but every now and then, I think about what I don’t have anymore, and it gets to me.

Peach stepped on a landmine when she make that disrespectful crack (even more so since she’s working on a contract where she needs to demonstrate kibbud av v’em every day to earn a dinner out with me, one-on-one).  I kept my cool at first, but when I went up to her room to debrief her, I realized that my nerves were more raw than I’d thought and I lost it, listing for her all the things I’ve mentioned that I gave up so she could grow up here, speak the language, and feel at home.  Because while I don’t doubt for a minute that this is my homeland as much as a tenth-generation Yerushalmi‘s, it doesn’t feel like it every minute of every day.

Maybe this is good.  After all, while I sometimes miss the US, I don’t regret coming here, and can’t imagine going back.  But I think it’s also okay sometimes to let myself acknowledge that there are times when I feel like a fish out of water.  For Peach, too, I think it might have been good to hear that while we wanted badly to come here, doing so has not always been a joy ride for the Cap’n and me.  It will never be as easy for us as it will be for the kids.  Despite the fact that the girls, too, are immigrants, their Hebrew is very good, they’re going to school here from a young age, and will have all the formative experiences Israeli kids have that shape who they are, who their friends are, and their lives as Israelis.  As badly as I wanted my conversion (and as agonizing as it was), when I held Beans, my firstborn, in my arms in the hospital, I looked down at her and whispered, “I did it for you.”  Similarly, while the Cap’n and I knew we wanted to come here to live someday, we really let the children decide for us, and chose to come when Beans was beginning kindergarten so they would not be too far behind in first grade.

I’m not going to tell the kids I spent my childhood walking to school everyday through the snow, uphill both ways.  On the other hand, perhaps for them to know what I gave up to be here will make the experience of living here mean more to them, help them understand what it’s like for adult immigrants, and in some way tell them how much we love them in giving them this life.  It’s not like buying them a present and showing them the price tag; I think it’s more like giving them a rare gift and telling them it’s the only one like it.

Living the dream

Westbankmama has a post up with several bloggers’ aliyah stories (including mine) in honor of her family’s twentieth aliyah anniversary.  Read the different stories about where these women came from, how they ended up here, and the greatest common denominator: how we’re all home.  Mazal tov, Westbankmama.

And when you’re done with that, check out the latest video from Nefesh B’Nefesh.  It doesn’t bring tears to my eyes like the photos of the three jets that landed August 16th 2006, but it is sweet.  Watch, and smile.