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Sunday, December 31, 2006

Sick Daze

I hab a bed code so I'm not blugging these days....but for your viewing pleasure, I bring youCox and Forkum's latest pertinent comment on Israeli policy and leadership.

Enjoy. Or more accurately, read it and weep.....

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Snow Shots

Yesterday afternoon 27/12/06

Snow flurries arrive in the backyard

Josh standing in his first snowfall. The cars are just for measure--see how much snow fell.

Our little ginah and mirpesset after the snowfall.

This morning 28/12/06

The snow-covered walkway in our local park.

This is the park in front of our apartment building with the snow lightly scattered on everything.

The dog was the most puzzled of all of us. WHAT was this white stuff? Where did all the great smells in the park go? You want me to squat WHERE?!

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

How Fast Can You Run In 10 Seconds?

From the news media:

Item One: Two Israeli schoolchildren , both aged 14, were seriously injured on their way home from a study session by Kassam rockets launched (again) into Sderot from the Gaza Strip. This follows 56 other rocket attacks launched by Gazans since the "cease-fire" went into effect near the end of November.

One writer on the scene described this latest attack and it's aftermath. The two children were running for cover as soon as the sirens sounded. They didn't make it to cover. The siren gives about 10 seconds warning before the rockets hit.

Afik Zahavi, aged 4, killed June 28, 2004 by a Kassam rocket near his nursery school. The boy's mother, Ruth, was taking him to the Lilach nursery school when the rocket hit, critically wounding her. Ten other Sderot residents were lightly hurt.

Item Two: Palestinians warned Wednesday that Israel's decision to target Kassam cells in the Gaza Strip will lead to the total collapse of the current cease-fire.

WHAT "cease-fire"? The American Heritage Dictionary provides the following definitions of the word "cease-fire":

(1) An order to stop firing.
(2) Suspension of active hostilities; a truce.

When over 60 rockets are launched at a civilian town within the borders of Israel, it's hard to fathom the diplo-speak that calls this a "cease-fire." For the Palestinians to then go on record and warn that any retaliation by the IDF will lead to the "total collapse" of this putative cease-fire is laughable. Let's get this right -- we withdraw from Gaza, you respond by shooting rockets at our towns, routinely maiming and killing civilians, among them children; you kill several soldiers and kidnap one wounded soldier from within Israel; we send in our military to hunt for our soldier and take out your rocket launchers and the men who fire those rockets; you propose a cease-fire about 24 hours before the IDF is going to launch a full invasion of Gaza, which our idiot prime minister agrees to; you use that cease-fire to flood Gaza with more sophisticated weapons and continue firing at our towns.

This is NOT anyone's idea of a "cease-fire" and Olmert should be run out of town on a rail for pretending it is one.

Yuval Abebeh, aged 4, killed in Sderot by a Kassam rocket on September 29, 2004, as he and his cousin Dori played beneath an olive tree during a visit to their grandmother's home.

And the Palestinians have the absolute chutzpah to tell us off for announcing that in the future we will retaliate?

Item Three: Islamic Jihad, in the same story, announced that it will continue its rocket attacks on Israeli towns as it doesn't recognize the cease-fire. Al Aksa Brigades chimed in with "me, too" stating that they will resume their attacks if Israel tries to use military force to stop the Kassam launches.

In other words, if Israel takes any military action to defend itself in the face of ceaseless rocket attacks against its civilian population, then the Palestinians claim WE are in breach of the cease-fire-that-isn't. Go figure.

Dorit Benisian was killed in the same Kassam attack that killed her cousin, Yuval. She was only two years old. Her family described her as the youngest of six children, always happy, always smiling. She liked to dance and sing, and to play ball. Her family said she was mature for her age, and shared her toys and candies with her older brothers and sisters.

Peace plans don't work with people who don't want peace. Dismantling settlements has done nothing for peace and only brought the rocket launchers closer to the borders. The Palestinians have cried for years that they suffer from "collective punishment" because of house demolitions and checkpoints and road closures.

The world has paid so much attention to this calumny that it has failed to notice that Israel has suffered from collective punishment for 58 years; Israelis have been killed by snipers on their own roads; their buses have been shot up; their children have burned to death on bombed buses and in bombed pizza parlors; Israelis stand in the same security lines and go through the same searches as Palestinians because anyone entering a building must be checked for a bomb or weapon. Palestinians complain about the security fence, crying that it keeps them from finding work in Israel. (It also keeps suicide bombers out and the auto theft rate has plummeted).Well, Israelis can't travel across the border in the other direction either--when was the last time an Israeli had a job offer in Ramallah or Amman?

Note to the Palestinians: quit trying to kill us, conquer us, terrorize us, invade us; quit massacring our children and old people; quit launching rockets and suicide bombers at us. We're here to stay. The United Nations created two lands, and we're entitled to ours and intend to keep it. The Arab world's 58-year-old collective temper tantrum over the creation of a Jewish democracy in its midst is itself state-funded "collective punishment" -- Israel is to be punished with unceasing terror for simply existing.

Photos and notations courtesy of Gamla

Snow Days!

Its snowing! I'm sure the excitement will wear off shortly, but right now it's like magic. Big, fluffy flakes are tumbling out of the sky and changing the shape, texture and colors of our familiar world. The grass in the ginah is now under a layer of white. There is something almost hypnotic about watching it fall out of the sky.

My son, raised in California and having never seen snow (except on one trip to Donner Lake, where the snow sat tamely on the ground) is enjoying this tremendously. We put on several layers of clothes and walked gingerly outside to the park in front of our apartment building. The snowfall, which had quieted for a moment, then picked up with enthusiasm and big flakes soon covered us, the grass, the plants, the benches and anything that didn't move. Taxis and moving cars seem to have enough forward momentum to brush off the clinging white stuff. The cars parked in our lot, though, are accumulating small drifts on their frames. The snowflakes that hit the asphalt don't seem to stick--both the parking lot and sidewalks are wet but clear. Maybe this means it will all have disappeared by tomorrow.

And I'm sure that's everyone's question--will there be school tomorrow? Native Jerusalemites tell us that the city grinds to a halt when there is snow....my ulpan teacher told us the key is to see if the busses are running. If the buses run, then school is in session; if not, stay home.

Ah, for a fireplace and hot chocolate right now!

Photo courtesy of Daniel E. Baron after the 2004 snowfall-photo of the moat at David's Citadel published by the Jerusalem Post

Monday, December 25, 2006

Czechoslovakia Deja Vu--the REAL reason Israel isn't responding to Sderot kassam attacks

Old news but certainly not getting the attention it deserves from the Israeli media or government---the United States is going to host a "Middle East Peace Conference" and guess who's NOT coming to dinner?

Yep. Israel.


The White House has been examining a proposal by James Baker to launch a Middle East peace effort without Israel.

The peace effort would begin with a U.S.-organized conference, dubbed Madrid-2, and contain such U.S. adversaries as Iran and Syria. Officials said Madrid-2 would be promoted as a forum to discuss Iraq's future, but actually focus on Arab demands for Israel to withdraw from territories captured in the 1967 war. They said Israel would not be invited to the conference.

Yes, Israel got so much out of Madrid-1: years of war, civilian deaths, the strengthening of Yassir Arafat, the spawning of multiple well-armed militias dedicated to Jewish deaths and Israel's eradication...yes, yes, let's do it again!

“As Baker sees this, the conference would provide a unique opportunity for the United States to strike a deal without Jewish pressure,” an official said. “This has become the most hottest proposal examined by the foreign policy people over the last month.”

Officials said Mr. Baker's proposal, reflected in the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group, has been supported by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns and National Intelligence Director John Negroponte. The most controversial element in the proposal, they said, was Mr. Baker's recommendation for the United States to woo Iran and Syria.

“Here is Syria, which is clearly putting pressure on the Lebanese democracy, is a supporter of terror, is both provisioning and supporting Hezbollah and facilitating Iran in its efforts to support Hezbollah, is supporting the activities of Hamas," National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley told a briefing last week. "This is not a Syria that is on an agenda to bring peace and stability to the region."

By all means! Let's reward 40+ years of sponsoring terror, mass murder of Arabs as well as Jews, suppression of dissent, torture, censorship, denial of basic human rights, enmity to the United States during the Cold War, sponsorship of terror attacks against U.S. targets, arming and training any group hostile to U.S. interests, open warfare against the nascent democracies of Lebanon and Iraq, with total and complete surrender of U.S. ideals and democratic goals in an effort to make sure that the oil keeps flowing....in other words, let's lose the war for democracy and turn the Middle East over to those abhorent dictatorships that have run the place for centuries. So what if they wipe out Israel? "F**k the Jews, they don't vote for us anyway," was Baker's famous quote.

And just what will President Bush say to the families of the 3,000 dead who died to secure Iraq's freedom and democracy? "Sorry," somehow doesn't cut it.

Officials said the Baker proposal to exclude Israel from a Middle East peace conference garnered support in the wake of Vice President Dick Cheney's visit to Saudi Arabia on Nov. 25. They said Mr. Cheney spent most of his meetings listening to Saudi warnings that Israel, rather than Iran, is the leading cause of instability in the Middle East.

He expected to hear something else from the leading purveyor of anti-Israel and anti-Jewish Wahabiism? They've been saying this since 1948---why is the U.S. paying any attention to this old whine? Oh, yeah, oil! Duh!

“He [Cheney] didn't even get the opportunity to seriously discuss the purpose of his visit—that the Saudis help the Iraqi government and persuade the Sunnis to stop their attacks,” another official familiar with Mr. Cheney’s visit said. “Instead, the Saudis kept saying that they wanted a U.S. initiative to stop the Israelis’ attack in Gaza and Cheney just agreed.”

Under the Baker proposal, the Bush administration would arrange a Middle East conference that would discuss the future of Iraq and other Middle East issues. Officials said the conference would seek to win Arab support on Iraq in exchange for a U.S. pledge to renew efforts to press Israel to withdraw from the West Bank and Golan Heights.

And unfortunately for Israel, we have Tweedle-dee and Tweedle-dumb running the country and neither has the intestinal fortitude of a bunny rabbit, so I simply don't see them acting like Menachem Begin or Ariel Sharon and telling Washington that we're NOT Czechoslovakia.

“Baker sees his plan as containing something for everybody, except perhaps the Israelis,” the official said. “The Syrians would get back the Golan, the Iranians would get U.S. recognition and the Saudis would regain their influence, particularly with the Palestinians.”

Officials said Mr. Baker's influence within the administration and the Republican Party’s leadership stems from support by the president's father as well as former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Throughout the current Bush administration, such senior officials as Mr. Hadley and Ms. Rice were said to have been consulting with Brent Scowcroft, the former president's national security advisor, regarded as close to Mr. Baker.

“Everybody has fallen in line,” the official said. “Bush is not in the daily loop. He is shocked by the elections and he's hoping for a miracle on Iraq.”

For his part, Mr. Bush has expressed unease in negotiating with Iran. At a Nov. 30 news conference in Amman, Jordan, the president cited Iran's interference in the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki.

“We respect their heritage, we respect their history, we respect their traditions,” Mr. Bush said. “I just have a problem with a government that is isolating its people, denying its people benefits that could be had from engagement with the world.”

Mr. Baker's recommendation to woo Iran and Syria has also received support from some in the conservative wing of the GOP. Over the last week, former and current Republican leaders in Congress—convinced of the need for a U.S. withdrawal before the 2008 presidential elections—have called for Iranian and Syrian participation in an effort to stabilize Iraq.

“I would look at an entirely new strategy,” former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said. “We have clearly failed in the last three years to achieve the kind of outcome we want.”

In contrast, Defense Department officials have warned against granting a role to Iran and Syria at Israel's expense. They said such a strategy would also end up undermining Arab allies of the United States such as Egypt, Jordan and Morocco.

“The regional strategy is a euphemism for throwing Free Iraq to the wolves in its neighborhood: Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia,” said the Center for Security Policy, regarded as being close to the Pentagon. “If the Baker regional strategy is adopted, we will prove to all the world that it is better to be America's enemy than its friend. Jim Baker's hostility towards the Jews is a matter of record and has endeared him to Israel's foes in the region.”

But Defense Secretary-designate Robert Gates, a former colleague of Mr. Baker on the Iraq Study Group, has expressed support for U.S. negotiations with Iran and Syria. In response to questions from the Senate Armed Services Committee, which begins confirmation hearings this week, Mr. Gates compared the two U.S. adversaries to the Soviet Union.

“Even in the worst days of the Cold War, the U.S. maintained a dialogue with the Soviet Union and China, and I believe those channels of communication helped us manage many potentially difficult situations,” Mr. Gates said. “Our engagement with Syria need not be unilateral. It could, for instance, take the form of Syrian participation in a regional conference.”

Yes, but we didn't GIVE Taiwan to China or Turkey to the USSR! There's quite a difference between "keeping channels open" and pimping for Arab dictatorships.

Bush II had the guts to take down Saddam Hussein and Mullah Omar. I hope he's got the guts to stand up to Baker and Gates. Otherwise, Heaven help us in Israel.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Oil, The Trump Card of Morality

I am reluctant to pass on anything that has no corroboration, so I share this column with some trepidation, having as yet found no other corroboration in print or on the 'net.

However, since James Baker is the new oracle of Washington D.C., presenting himself as the new Dealmaker of the Middle East, today's investigative piece by Aaron Klein deserves a good look (hit the link in the title above). Looks like Kofi Annan et fils aren't the only crooks in politics to make money violating the Iraq oil embargo. The story goes on to outline Baker's connection with regional Arab dictatorships and oil money:

In 2003, President Bush appointed Baker as special envoy to aid in the recovery of debt from Iraq. He was specifically tasked with trying to persuade the international community to forgive large sums of debt.

A number of media reports pointed out Baker simultaneously was working with commercial companies trying to recover money from Iraq and that the former secretary of state might have conflicts of interest with his role as envoy.

Baker's firm represents the government of Saudi Arabia, the country claiming the largest amount of debt from Iraq. Also according to London's Guardian newspaper and the Nation magazine in New York, the Carlyle Group is involved in efforts to recover nearly $27 billion on behalf of the Kuwaiti government. Baker was a partner at Carlyle until last year.

If this is, in fact, true, then the man who appears slated to be Washington's new head of middle eastern policy in Iraq and neighboring areas (including Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Israel) is wholly corrupt, violating international sanctions in order to enrich himself and ignoring blatant conflicts of interest in violation of professional ethics and personal morality. Although....he probably doesn't have a personal morality, judging from what's on the record so far....

The new US Mideast Policy Czar is bought and paid for by the Arabs who control the oil industry. In fairness, there appears to be some mutual financial advantage at work in this regard. Although I have never in my life agreed with Tom Hayden about anything, his depressing interpretation of events gives one pause in light of Baker's connections. It seems that the ideal of replacing a murderous, despotic dictatorship with a vibrant democracy is dead: the end-game now is securing western oil while enriching the elite few who control that oil, and to hell with Iraqi people.

I'd like to hope this is just some serendipitous conjunction of oil interests and Realpolitik which will shortly be discarded. After all, if the US can so cavaliery cast off its Iraqi ideals, and cast Iraq's fate to the winds, then what makes any of us think that the US will back Israel when US oil supplies are threatened? Given a choice between cheap and steady oil with Iranian nukes aimed at Tel Aviv, or standing staunchly against nuclear Islamofascism, I'm afraid that with the likes of Baker running the show, Israel's nuclear annihilation is entirely too possible.

photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Carter and Other Flat Earth Types

Jimmy Carter, once upon a time President of the United States, hostage to Iranian terror and now self-appointed human rights activist, recently bemoaned the fact that despite his book, no one is really discussing the contents.

Hello? No one is discussing why the earth is flat either, and for much the same reason. Mr. Carter lives in a bubble of his own making, ignoring fact and peddling inflamatory fiction in the guise of a work of history.

It fails. Abysmally. As Everett Dirkson once famously said, "Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. But you're NOT entitled to your own facts."

One excellent blog entry on the subject is NearEastPundit.

Welcome to the real world Mr. Carter...

In the real world Mr. Carter, if college students are turning down your free lectures, and "prominent Jewish Citizens" and members of Congress are privately telling you how great your attempt at non-fiction is you might want to reconsider the merits of your book. But then again, this all from the guy who said he had so much respect in the Middle East that if he were President right now, there'd be peace.

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter defended his position on Israel in the L.A. Times Opinion section. My response is as follows...

Just because you're a former President doesn't give you the right to invent falsehoods, perpetuate lies and plagiarize maps without somebody calling you to account for such discrepencies. You still need to present accurate information, especially on a highly charged topic like the Israeli/Palestinian conflict where you can affect hundreds of thousands of lives because of your former stature as President.

First, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee is NOT the American-Israel Political Action Committee. AIPAC is NOT a Political Action Committee or a PAC. Getting such an obvious fact wrong leads the casual observer to question your attention to detail, something critical in this debate.

Second, a Carter Center fellow did not merely "take issue" with your book, he resigned his position over it. Ken Stein, the Carter Center fellow you refer to wasn't simply a fellow. Stein was the first Executive Director of the Carter Center and your primary adviser on Middle Eastern affairs from 1983 to 1996, something he now publicly says he no longer functions as.

"President Carter's book on the Middle East, a title too inflammatory to even print, is not based on unvarnished analyses; it is replete with factual errors, copied materials not cited, superficialities, glaring omissions, and simply invented segments," said Stein.

Stein also disavows any ties to "the research, preparation, writing, or review of President Carter's recent book."

In his resignation letter, Stein says

"My continued association with the Center leaves the impression that I am sanctioning a series of egregious errors and polemical conclusions which appeared in President Carter's book. I can not allow that impression to stand."

Nor can you present a blatant lie referring to Israel as worse than apartheid Africa. Israel is the only Democracy in the Middle East, has elected Arab officials in the Israeli government, a free press, has Arabic and Hebrew as the official state languages, and more rights and privileges afforded to Arabs than any other Arab country in the Middle East.

Carter says "It would be almost politically suicidal for members of Congress to espouse a balanced position between Israel and Palestine, to suggest that Israel comply with international law..." Last I checked, Israel withdrew from Southern Lebanon and received continuous rocket attacks as a result, whereas Hezbollah is still there, a clear violation of International Law.

Israel accepted the UN partion plan to create two independent states living in peace, whereas the Palestinians outrightly rejected it. Even though they were painful concessions, Israel was willing to make peace with the Palestinians in 2000, but the Palestinians again rejected it.

Carter criticizes Israel for requiring Palestinians to carry passes, the segregation of Israelis and Palestinians in the disputed territories and the security barrier (what Carter refers to as an imprisonment wall), all without a reason why. As if the events happening in Israel are in a vacuum and Israel is simply exercising its will upon the Palestinians for no apparent good reason.

Out in the real world, however, many violent Palestinians are trying to murder as many Israelis as possible, hence the passes, the segregation and the security barrier.

Out in the real world Mr. Carter, you cannot make peace with someone who does not want to make peace with you no matter how hard you try.

The AntiDefamation League. also has a quick summation of factual inaccuracies in Carter's spinmeistering.

Alan Dershowitz, hardly a neo-con given his left wing defense credentials, also provides a scathing analysis of Carter's most obvious obfuscations and outright lies of omission.

Carter at one time was closely wrapped up with the Hamas PR campaign to make the Hamasniks all warm and cuddly despite their genocidal calls for mass murder of Jews (The Guardian, Hamas Spends 100K On Image Makeover)....I wonder....is Carter really a romantic who sees Hamas through rose-colored glasses, or did he get paid under the table as part of the PR effort? Certainly its documented that Carter acted as PR advisor and speechwriter for Arafat, as well as all-round gopher on occasion.

Jay Nordlinger used Carter's own words to best explain the ex-president's embrace of all things Palestinian and his hatred for Israel: "While Carter has many warm words for Arafat and for dictators around the world (as we will see shortly), he has nothing but contempt and scorn for the democratic leader in Israel, Ariel Sharon. In Carter's eyes, the Arab-Israeli conflict is not unlike the pre-civil-rights South, with the Israelis as the oppressive whites and the Palestinians as the innocent blacks. As he told his chronicler, Douglas Brinkley, "The intifada exposed the injustice Palestinians suffered, just like Bull Connor's mad dogs in Birmingham."

In other words, Carter has, wittingly or unwittingly, bought into the Palestinian mythology. I'd like to invite Mr. Carter to come live in Sderot for a couple of weeks, and ride the Israeli bus system for a bit. There are no "white people" here--there are people of all shades and backgrounds, including black (many Ethiopian Jews live in Sderot, and two of the child fatalities of that town were Ethiopian), and most of us have heard the word "Jew" used in its pejorative sense at least once in our lives. The majority of the Jews in my building are the sons and daughters of Iraqi and Moroccan and Libyan Jews, who look remarkably like Arabs, and who live here now because their parents were pogromed into fleeing their country. My immediate neighbors are the Sephardi descendants of other white people's racism, both from the Inquisition in ages past and more immediately from the Shoah in Salonika.

Israel is a refuge for Jews, not a colony of white people. Mr. Carter has confused Israel with Georgia, as well as fact with myth and right with wrong.

Whose Land For What Peace?

In the international circle of chattering classes, whose discussions run the gamut from the disestablishment of Israel to the mere demonization of Israel as an "apartheid state" involved in stealing Palestinian land, it is never mentioned that, in fact, a lot of the "land grab" is an Arab land grab.

Ha'aretz addressed this in part recently:

Jewish-owned Land, Homes Left Outside Jerusalem Fence

By Nadav Shragai

About 5,000 dunam (1,250 acres) of private land owned by Jews were left outside the separation barrier in the Jerusalem area. The route of the barrier was completed earlier this week. In the Atarot-Neveh Ya'akov area, some of this land is already being used by Palestinians. In other areas, such as Har Gilo and Anatot, the land is currently not being used.

Military officials say that deciding on the route of the fence sometimes required making difficult decisions that take into consideration High Court decisions as well as the demographic map created by the barrier. They emphasize that the barrier harms Arabs as well as Jews, and that most of the difficulties are the result of decisions based on security factors.

Much of the Jewish land at issue was purchased before the establishment of the state. In his book "Zahav beyerushalayim" ("Gold in Jerusalem"), author Eliezer Smali related how, in the 1930s, educator Yehoshua Avizohar went to Meah She'arim to persuade residents of the neighborhood to purchase land in Abu Dis. Hundreds of Meah She'arim residents followed Avizohar to Abu Dis - then considered "the end of the world" - in hopes of exchanging their dark, crowded homes for a better place. About 1,000 dunam of the land purchased there will be beyond the separation fence.

In north Jerusalem, about 1,000 dunam of Jewish National Fund land next to the Atarot airfield will suffer a similar fate. If the landowners' appeal to the Appeals Committee of the Tel Aviv District Court is rejected, this land will not serve the "Jewish people," as the JNF's convention specifies. Here, too, much of the land is already in Palestinian use and hundreds of homes - the majority without permits - have already been built.(noto bene: Arab settlement of disputed land, which is endemic, is totally ignored by the media, NGOs and "peace activists."--ed.)

Military, police and Border Police officials have repeatedly told the landowners, or their heirs, that if they can remove the squatters from their land, there is a good chance that the property will be included within the route of the barrier and remain within Jerusalem. The political echelons, however, thought differently. Even in places where trespassers were driven from the lands, the ground remained outside of the fence.

This article only addresses land in Jerusalem. It doesn't go into greater detail, and most people under the age of 60 are not aware that many farms and villages of Gush Etzion, a "settlement bloc" south of Jerusalem, were built on lands purchased by pre-State Jews seeking to establish farms and villages there. Those who stayed and defended their homes against the Arab invasion were massacred by the Jordan Legion and its irregulars in 1948, and Jordan annexed the land.

In 1948, Atarot was a long-established Jewish dairy farm north of Jerusalem which supplied fresh dairy products to the city; today, Arab propagandists call it a "settlement" because it is beyond the 1948 cease-fire line. Neve Ya'acov likewise was a Jewish farming settlement on legitimately purchased land which was overrun by the Jordanian forces in 1948. Jews returning to that Jewish-owned land after 1967 have been demonized as "settlers."

Sometimes, Jewish purchasers paid for the same land more than once in order to satisfy first, the original absentee landowner, then again, the British Mandatory authorites who were overly sympathetic to complaints of Arab villagers who hadn't shared in the landowner's windfall profit.

One of the best works on this subject can be found in Avneri's The Claim of Dispossession

I am quoting from a review of The Claim of Dispossesion (which I've read but I'm lazy--the quote summarizes the book quite well):

[T]he book shows that Palestine's population barely grew for 250 years--rising from 205,000 Moslems, Christians and Jews in 1554 to only 275,000 in 1800. In the second, records from 1830, 1863, 1878 and 1893 and 1917, among others, demonstrate that when the heaviest Jewish immigration began in 1880, a large proportion of the 425,000 to 440,000 Arabs in Palestine were themselves recent immigrants.

The book also carefully documents the origins of those immigrants. Many came from Egypt: The 1831 invasion by the Egyptian Khedive, Ibrahim Pasha, forced Palestine fellaheen, urban dwellers and Bedouin to permanently flee Ottoman military drafts and taxes. The 1837 Great Earthquake and epidemics that followed further cut their numbers. In their wake came Ibrahim Pasha's Egyptian Arabs, who settled the empty land. In 1831 alone, 6,000 Egyptian Arabs settled in Akko. The Egyptian Arab-Hinadi, Ghawarna tribes settled in the Beit Shean and Hula Valleys and in the Jordan Valley towns of Ubeidiya, Delhamiya and Kafer-Miser. In the Hula Valley, the Egyptian ez-Zubeids later sold their land to Jewish settlers from Yessud-Hama'ala. According to an 1893 British Palestine Exploration Fund report, Egyptians made up most of the population in Jaffa.

Additionally, Avneri shows, Arab and Muslim immigrants also came from Algeria, Damascus, Yemen, Afghanistan, Persia, India, Tripoli, Morocco, Turkey and Iraq. The French conquest of Algeria, for example, led to the eventual rebellion and imprisonment of Abd el-Kadar el-Hassani, whose followers in 1856 fled to Syria and the Lower Galilee towns of Shara, Ulam, Ma'ader, Kafer-Sabet, Usha (near present-day Ramat-Yohanan), the Mount Atlas village of Qedesh and villages on Lake Hula and in the Upper Galilee, where they spoke Berber. In Ramle, immigrants spoke Qebili, a Mugrabi dialect. Circassian refugees from the Caucasus settled in Trans-Jordan and as far east as Caesarea.

Arab immigration continued to rise through World War I, as Avneri documents, despite locusts, the Ottoman draft and more epidemics. Egyptian laborers, contractors and businessmen flooded the country. By 1922, the Moslem population had more than doubled to 566,311, including 62,500 Bedouins. The 1931 Mandatory government census counted 693,147 permanent Moslem residents, including 66,553 Bedouins. It also gave the natural increase of the population as 132,211--57,125 less than the absolute increase. Only illegal Arab immigration explains this contradiction, Avneri shows.

The next census in 1948, as Avneri recounts, followed unprecedented economic growth, during which illegal Arab immigration continued. From April 1934 to November 1935, for example, 20,000 Haurani Arabs came to Palestine. These and thousands of other Arab immigrants worked on farms, construction projects (building roads, railroads and the Haifa port), and government and municipal jobs. Syrians and Lebanese Arabs were free to come with nothing but border passes, and they came along with immigrants from Somalia, Trans-Jordan, Persia, India, Ethiopia and the Hejaz. Mandatory government rules required the supervision of immigration, but Palestine's borders remained porous to all but Jews. In all, Avneri shows that 35,000 to 40,000 illegal Arab immigrants came from 1931 to 1947--on top of up to 20,000 other Arab immigrants who arrived from 1935 to 1945.

All of this history and ethnic demography is routinely ignored in the discussions of Israel and what to do about the Middle East. The EU and UN, for their own purposes, have adopted the Arab mythology of a 'displaced Palestinian people' when in fact, today's Arabs of the West Bank and Gaza are no more "Palestinian" than the Jews are---both Arab and Jewish populations have indigenous people in their ranks, and both have experienced an influx of Arabs and Jews from other quarters during the 19th and 20th centuries.

So let's get off this "poor Palestinian" spin that the Arabs promote and the chattering classes have adopted and recognize that in the interests of peaceful coexistance, Jews have been giving up land for almost a century: what is today Jordan was originally part of the Palestinian Mandate which the Balfour Declaration promised as a Jewish state, yet Britain gave it to the Arabs to quell complaints about British promises of Jewish statehood in the region; in 1939 the Jews agreed to the proposed partition of the rump of land left after Jordan's creation, but the Arabs objected to any Jewish state; in 1947, the UN voted for a two-state solution, and the Arabs again objected, and sent their armies to invade, occupy and kill.

After 1948, there was a significant silence about the "Palestinian" issue--because there were no "Palestinians." There were Jordanians and Egyptians in the (Jordanian occupied) West Bank and (Egyptian occupied) Gaza respectively.

After the 1967 War, the Labor Government of Israel offered a land-for-peace formula that was officially and resoundingly refused by the Arab League and it's allies at the Khartoum Conference (the infamous Three Noes -- no peace with, no recognition of, and no negotiation with Israel).

Yasser Arafat refused Clinton's two-state solution and Hamas has carried that refusal even farther, stating it will never recognize the State of Israel.

The Gaza Disengagement was designed to showcase Israel's peace talk with action. It resulted in the disruption of thousands of Israeli lives and an increase in missile attacks on Israel, many of them fatal. (Hamas has recently announced that the town of Sderot, which has taken the brunt of the missile attacks, should be evacuated by the Jews because they are "occupying Palestinian land." Great sound bite for the MSM, which eats this stuff up--someone should point out to the media that Hamas considers Tel Aviv "occupied Palestinian land" despite the fact that nothing but sand dunes was there when the Jews established the city.)

The Arab mindset since the last century has been that of a two-year-old: "what's mine is mine and what's yours is mine, too." Both religious and nationalist justifications for this psychotically self-absorbed world view have been invoked over the decades.

Unfortunately, close attention to and critical examination of the history of the Middle East is lost in the Western fixation with "quick-fix" solutions and Arab sloganeering. The Arabs have no more a vested right to this land than the Jews, historically speaking. Any religious claim to the land is certainly equalled if not trumped by 5000 years of continuous Jewish life here, albeit sometimes held by a thread.

The continuous myth of victimization spun by the Arab propaganda machine is a disservice to the Arabs themselves, who should have been permitted to build their own state alongside of Israel in 1948, in 1967 and after Oslo. But Arab leadership, ever despotic and avaricious, has kept the Palestinians in thrall to this jihadist rhetoric for generations in the narrow interests of enriching that leadership and preventing revolt by the nationalist focus on killing Jews. Unfortunately, it has kept the Israelis enticed by that elusive promise of a peace that never materializes.

It's time for Israel to realize that there is no peace at hand. There is no formula that will satisfy neighbors who feel that Jews are less than human, and certainly less than Arabs. It's time for Israel to recognize that while the Arabs want peace as much as the Jews do, our definitions of peace are very different--our peace is that of neighbors. The Arab idea of peace is Dar es-Salaam -- the world, starting with Israel, under Moslem conquest.

Monday, December 18, 2006

The Christmas Glitz

Honest, it's not my title. I took it from a story in the Jerusalem Post on December 17, written by Wendy Mogel. "Why can't David and Rachel enjoy the Christmas glitz?"

Sigh. Why can't I live in the Jewish State of Israel and not be subjected to this kind of garbage in my newspaper?

Dr. Mogel recounts an incident in an American second-grade classroom she recently visited, stating that while the children were comparing how many presents they were going to receive for Christmas, "Sarah" announced, "I don't celebrate Christmas, I celebrate Hanukka. We get eight presents for every night for eight nights."

Dr. Mogel goes on empathetically identifying with poor little Sarah, who clearly is deprived in America because she can't celebrate Christmas. Poor little Sarah's statement was meant to compete with Christmas, but the eponymous Sarah couldn't fool Dr. Mogel because, as our author put it, "I've been there myself, plus I'm a therapist."

I'm not sure what those two statements have to do with each other. Being a therapist isn't a license to impute motives and feelings to others on a short acquaintance, and there is nothing else in this account that shows "Sarah" feels a secret desire to celebrate Christmas or feels like a second-class has-been for not celebrating the same holiday as her gentile peers.

I think the key is the first statement: "I've been there myself."

A little web research reveals that Dr. Mogel didn't have a religious upbrining:

Clinical psychologist Dr. Wendy Mogel was not raised in a religious home. Her grandfather was president of his shul in Brighton Beach, but he told his son (Wendy's father) on his deathbed, "This tradition will die with me." He was nearly right. Mogel knew very little of Judaism as a child. She was not bat mitzvahed, her family did not belong to a congregation. Her father went to shul once a year for the High Holidays. San Diego Jewish Journal, The Path To Peaceful Parenting .

Dr. Mogel goes on to denigrate Hanukkah as "a story considerably less romantic than the one about three wandering kings following a star to a baby in a manger." She describes the lighting of the chanukiot as follows: "On the first few nights of Hanukkah your family puts pale wax candles in a cold, metal, fork-like object as a tribute to a military victory and something called the miracle of the oil." She goes on to add that "there is always some confusion about the proper prayers, the right combination of words and melody....and some nights your family might even forget to light the candles." Dr. Mogel laments that there are "only two songs for your holiday" and it "lacks the majesty of one huge blowout of unwrapping, swooning and delirium" that Christmas morning brings.

Dr. Mogel then waxes rapturous about Christmas and the decorations. Not only do Christian children get that "huge blowout" of presents on Christmas morning, but they get that wonderful piney-smelling fir tree that they decorate with bulbs and ornaments and tinsel. Oh, and then there's that cute story about Santa and his magic sleigh which brings presents to good children everywhere....

Clearly, Dr. Mogel doesn't have a clue. I would feel sorry for her except for her infuriating smugness in claiming that her credentials give her the right to preach this rubbish to the rest of us.

Let's start with some basics:

Christmas isn't a Jewish holiday. It celebrates the birth of the man the Christians worship as God and Messiah. That lovely Christmas tree is a holdover from pagan German customs wherein offerings to pagan gods were hung on the sacred tree of the tribal area; after the spread of Christianity to those areas, the tree came to symbolize two things: the cross on which their Messiah was executed, as well as the promise of everlasting life through belief in Jesus as God (symbolized by the evergreen nature of the fir branches).

Christians take this very seriously. I know many Christians who are highly offended by the use of the Christmas tree as a Chanuka bush or just a secular holiday symbol. How many of you would like to see Auschwitz reduced to an ad campaign?

Neither holiday is about presents or decorations. In the Christian world, this is one of the most solemn holidays on the calendar. Certain fundamentalist groups of Christians actually forbid the use of trees, lights, ornaments and the exchange of presents, and see this solely as a day of worship and prayer. Christians of all denominations in the United States bemoan the "commercializtion" of Christmas, where it has become not a day imbued with holiness but instead, a month and a half of obscene over-consumption of food and goods.

Nor is this a competition.

The Miracle of Chanuka is a universal story, but also one of particular importance to an embattled minority often struggling to keep their identity in the face of tyranny and oppression. The miracle isn't simply the oil lasting for eight days---the miracle is that the human desire to live as free men in their own country and worship as they pleased led to the defeat of one of the greatest military dictatorships of the time by a band of relentless freedom fighters. Not only is this event something to be proud of in Jewish history, but it has inspired generations of Christians in Europe and the United States who find in their own struggle against religious persecution at the hands of the Crown a sense of identity with the Maccabees. Somehow Dr. Mogel missed this in her off-hand denigration of Chanuka as merely a (no doubt politically incorrect) "tribute to a military victory."

No, Dr. Mogel, it is a tribute to the human desire to live as free men and women, something that to me and my family is worth commemorating and somehow resonates more than the fable of a fat man in a red suit magically flying around to deliver presents to greedy consumers (which most children find out is a lie their parents tell them by first or second grade...so tell me, O Therapist, how being lied to by your parents and how being humiliated when your nasty little classmates tell you how "stupid" you are because you're the last one in your class to know the truth, helps the child psychologically?)

I'm not acquainted with anyone who doesn't know the prayers and the melodies, and for those who might be uncertain, there are books, tapes and CDs as well as a Chabad somewhere nearby to help out; we have several albums of Chanuka music, so I'm not sure why Dr. Mogel thinks there are only two songs. Our children looked forward every year to Chanuka, decorated the house and the front windows with stick-on dreidles, blue-and-silver tinsel strands, eagerly lit each of their own chanukiot and never had the slightest desire to emulate Christmas.

It's all in the raising....at the risk of repeating too much from the last post, raising your children to love Chanukah and not much care about that other holiday is really in how the parents teach their children. Hailing from ecology-minded-to-the-point-of-fanaticism northern California, we pointed out early that it was a shame that all those poor trees had to die each year simply so they could be used for a couple of weeks as a decoration ("tree-killers," my youngest would mutter darkly as we were passed by another Volvo with a fir strapped to the ski-rack); we noted as the kids got older just how much energy the municipalities and individuals consumed to have artificial lights everywhere....unlike our dignified and conservation-conscious use of much more romantic candlelight to celebrate the miracle AND to search for presents. Every night, our kids turned off the electric lights, and by the glow of the chanukiot, searched the darkened house for their presents. This, to them, was much more enjoyable than one morning blow-out of present opening that was over in 15 minutes.

We deliberately didn't do huge piles of presents every night. The kids got mostly modest presents, and one "big" present; one night was reserved for tzedakah--there was one night no one got presents and instead each family member had shopped for a new gift for a child who had nothing. Because, the holiday isn't about presents, and it isn't about competing with Christmas.

We would then turn the electric lights back on and play dreidle for M&Ms while listening to Chanuka CDs and singing along. The competition for M&Ms could get quite fierce, despite having latkes and sufganiyot on the menu most nights.

My son recently amazed his teacher because, despite being an olah chadash with limited Hebrew, he could recount in enthusiastic detail the Story of Chanukah.....because our tradition, besides candlelighting, prayers, presents and M&Ms, was to have the children tell us the story each night before the lighting and the hunt for presents. In this way, we made sure that they understood that this holiday commemorated the human spirit and Judaism's fierce desire to live free throughout the generations.

I'm sorry for Dr. Mogel but I'm also sorry the Jerusalem Post thought this pathetic article merited our attention. Dr. Mogel correctly states "I've been there myself," and it speaks volumes about her unfortunate lack of a Jewish upbringing, her ambivalence towards her own heritage and her pathetic longing to assimilate and be "accepted" by the American Christian culture around her. It's too bad, because Dr. Mogel is a nationally recognized clinical psychologist who apparently feels qualified to tell Jewish parents everywhere that they are depriving their children by not involving them in "the Christmas glitz."

On the other hand, Dr. Mogel makes a great case for aliyah....

Thursday, December 14, 2006

A Different Chanukah Party

Chanukah is a holiday in the US which tends to compete with Christmas: it comes in December, involves family feasting, parties and the giving of presents. It tends to be a holiday which is deeply loved by Jewish children in the States who like to boast that it's "better than Christmas because it lasts eight days, not one!" Nothing like comparative pot-latching to underscore theological oneupsmanship.

I've always liked Chanukah but both my husband and I enjoyed it mostly for the children's sake. We eat latkes (which Mike loathes) and sufganiyot (jelly donuts, which are always better when Yona makes them than when we buy them). After lighting the chanukiot, the youngest child has to tell the rest of us "the meaning of Chanukah" before we initiate the present-hunt. This guarantees that the youngest child really learns the lesson of Chanukah because when he falters in his recitation, his older sisters urge him on with the details they remember so we can get on to the REALLY important stuff-- presents! As each child has gotten older, the details of the meaning of Chanukah have become more profound and passed on to the younger siblings in turn. (Sidebar: as a result, Josh was the one child in his Torah study class this week who wow'd the rabbi because he could give a fairly detailed account of the meaning of Chanukah. We let him bask in the rabbi's praise rather than deflate his accomplishment by pointing out that the competition with Christmas for presents was at the root of all this knowledge...)

After the recitation, the lights are doused so only the lights of the chanukiot are glowing, and the hunt begins. Each night, the kids search the house for hidden presents. The older ones are wise to the fact that the present lying practically in plain view is for the vision-impaired youngest,and they skirt that and search for their own, better-hidden presents. Once everyone has unearthed their presents, the lights are turned back on and the presents finally get opened!

The class demographic of my non-intensive ulpan is quite different from the summer intensive ulpan I attended. In the summer, the average age was probably about 25. In our class, the average age is probably twice that.

Most of us have other extended family here. Many have come to Israel to join their adult children and grandchildren. The French, for the most part, do not fall into this category as they have uprooted themselves and come en famille to escape the rising tide of anti-Semitism in France. Likewise, the Ethiopians have fled the long-lasting hatred of Ethiopian neighbors some time ago, but some are still arriving in Israel and attending ulpan.

Today we gathered for an ulpan-wide Chanukah party. There were no presents, no loud partying, no decorations, no recitations. However, it was an oddly moving moment when these mostly middle-aged-to-old people stood, one by one, lit a candle and announced "Happy Chanukah" to the class, and said who they were and where each hailed from. Students of all ages have moved here with new hope, with new dreams, from all walks of life, and from more countries than I had imagined. New immigrants came from France and the US and South Africa, of course; others came from Japan, Ethiopia, Argentina, Cuba, Malaysia, the Ukraine, Moldavia, Germany, Norway, Switzerland, Spain, Australia, and Venezuela. Some were shy; some were openly glad to be here. Several thanked G-d aloud for the opportunity to live in Israel. Some were young; most were middle-aged or a bit older; some were octogenarians. The latter made me feel that it is never too late to make aliyah and make your life anew.

We ate sufganiyot, joked, wished each other well, and sang our Chanukah songs from the heart because the songs we had sung in years past, translated into French or English, we now sang in the original Hebrew. We closed with Am Yisroel Chai (the People of Israel Live!), a song appropriate for Chanukah and other times to remember that we are Jews, we are alive, we are here, and we have survived and are determined to continue to live and build and love and laugh, even in the face of the world's oldest hate and the promises of annihilation.

Chanukah Sameach!

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Holocaust Denial and Arab History

Thanks to Good Neighbor's Blog . I found an article that is strikingly timely this week. "Among the Righteous: Lost Stories from the Holocaust's Long Reach into Arab Lands" is a piece written by Robert Satloff following his research into the Nazi Judenrein policies of Occupied North Africa.

The author makes the point that hidden history is a disservice to us all, and that the Arabs, like the Europeans, were capable of indifference or cruelty, but more remarkably given the present state of affairs between the Arab world and Israel, they were also heroic rescuers.

Iran denies the Holocaust, as does Saudi Arabia, Egypt and others. In denying the Holocaust, these nations deny the heroism of Arab rescuers who helped Jews escape the Nazi death traps.

from the article:

The Holocaust was an Arab story, too. From the beginning of World War II, Nazi plans to persecute and eventually exterminate Jews extended throughout the area that Germany and its allies hoped to conquer. That included a great Arab expanse, from Casablanca to Tripoli and on to Cairo, home to more than half a million Jews. Though Germany and its allies controlled this region only briefly, they made substantial headway toward their goal. From June 1940 to May 1943, the Nazis, their Vichy French collaborators and their Italian fascist allies applied in Arab lands many of the precursors to the Final Solution. These included not only laws depriving Jews of property, education, livelihood, residence and free movement, but also torture, slave labor, deportation and execution.

There were no death camps, but many thousands of Jews were consigned to more than 100 brutal labor camps, many solely for Jews....Indeed, the Arab lands of Algeria and Morocco were the site of the first concentration camps ever liberated by Allied troops.

About 1 percent of Jews in North Africa (4,000 to 5,000) perished under Axis control in Arab lands, compared with more than half of European Jews...The Arabs in these lands were not too different from Europeans: With war waging around them, most stood by and did nothing; many participated fully and willingly in the persecution of Jews; and a brave few even helped save Jews.

Arab collaborators were everywhere. These included Arab officials conniving against Jews at royal courts, Arab overseers of Jewish work gangs, sadistic Arab guards at Jewish labor camps and Arab interpreters who went house to house with SS officers pointing out where Jews lived. Without the help of local Arabs, the persecution of Jews would have been virtually impossible.

But not all Arabs joined with the European-spawned campaign against the Jews. The few who risked their lives to save Jews provide inspiration beyond their numbers.

Arabs welcomed Jews into their homes, guarded Jews' valuables so Germans could not confiscate them, shared with Jews their meager rations and warned Jewish leaders of coming SS raids.

The sultan of Morocco and the bey of Tunis provided moral support and, at times, practical help to Jewish subjects.

In Vichy-controlled Algiers, mosque preachers gave Friday sermons forbidding believers from serving as conservators of confiscated Jewish property. In the words of Yaacov Zrivy, from a small town near Sfax, Tunisia, "The Arabs watched over the Jews."

I found remarkable stories of rescue, too. In the rolling hills west of Tunis, 60 Jewish internees escaped from an Axis labor camp and banged on the farm door of a man named Si Ali Sakkat, who courageously hid them until liberation by the Allies. In the Tunisian coastal town of Mahdia, a dashing local notable named Khaled Abdelwahhab scooped up several families in the middle of the night and whisked them to his countryside estate to protect one of the women from the predations of a German officer bent on rape.

And there is strong evidence that the most influential Arab in Europe -- Si Kaddour Benghabrit, the rector of the Great Mosque of Paris -- saved as many as 100 Jews by having the mosque's administrative personnel give them certificates of Muslim identity, with which they could evade arrest and deportation. These men, and others, were true heroes.

According to the Koran: "Whoever saves one life, saves the entire world." This passage echoes the Talmud's injunction, "If you save one life, it is as if you have saved the world."

Arabs (ed.-- and Jews) need to hear these stories -- both of heroes and of villains. They especially need to hear them from their own teachers, preachers and leaders. If they do, they may respond as did that one Arab prince who visited the Holocaust museum. "What we saw today," he commented after his tour, "must help us change evil into good and hate into love and war into peace."

Thanks, Free Cedar , for putting it out there for all of us.

Photo of David's Tower and Jerusalem walls courtesy of Jerusalemshots

Monday, December 11, 2006

Wheverever There's Coca Cola.....

The saying goes, "Wherever there is Coca Cola, there is Chabad," which is really a commentary on the ubiquitous nature of Chabad.

I have nothing bad to say about Chabad and only good: through Chabad, my family found a deeper and more satisfying understanding of Judaism in thought, prayer and practice. Chabad gave us a Judaism as a way of life, instead of compartmentalized suburban American Judaism-as-Hebrew-school-attendance, or Judaism as go-to-the-synagogue-on-holidays, or Judaism as an ethnic/cultural identity. Judaism has historical, halachic, traditional, emotional, spiritual depths that are all too often missing from the suburban Judaism-as-a-drive-in-drive-out experience for one's kids.

I recall doing 'parent-duty' in a local Hebrew school classroom when one of my stepdaughters was attending, and I recall all too vividly the anger and resentment of kids who felt they were 'dropped off' on Sunday mornings so Mom could go have coffee with her friends while Dad played a pick-up game of basketball in the gym. The learning was shallow, since there wasn't much Judaic foundation at home, and one parent even told me that, "Of course he (his son) hates Hebrew school--everybody does but this is what you do to get to your bar mitzvah. We (meaning the parents) all had to do it."

Hebrew school was treated as something to be endured to get a bar-or-bat-mitzvah, at which point the children dropped out of Hebrew school, cut their ties to the Jewish community, and don't show up again, if at all, until they're married and sending their own children to Hebrew school. That's assuming they married a Jewish spouse, which often isn't the case. The parents were complicit with this as well, often dropping their synagogue memberships as soon as their youngest was bar-mitzvah'd, and mom and dad could then have Sunday mornings to themselves again, returning to the comfortable routine of twice-a-year synagogue and sleeping in on weekends.

We ended up at Chabad 'by accident.' (Hah!) We were long-standing members of another suburban synagogue (NOT the one my stepdaughter attended--she insisted on going to the OTHER suburban synagogue because "all my friends are there.") Our synagogue had a Hebrew school program which we enrolled Josh in when he was in Kindergarten. Our son has certain physical limitations which were more severe in grade school, and his first grade Hebrew school teacher at our synagogue was the Talmud-Torah version of the 'soup Nazi.' It was "her way or the highway", and our requests for accomodations fell on deaf ears. Hebrew school, which my son had loved the year before, was now something he dreaded; he was criticized, held up to ridicule, isolated and ordered to take home anything he didn't finish in class to finish at home, which was often hours of work.

I pulled him out of that class rather than watch him come to hate Hebrew school and the Judaism it embodied. I figured I was stuck for a year, until I could get to a new class in second grade. Then a friend of mine reminded me that Chabad had a Hebrew school which met on Tuesdays and Thursdays after school.

"But we're not Orthodox," I protested in one of the biggest misapprehensions I had at that time.

"They don't care," my friend told me. "They're there for Jews--all Jews."

So I went to meet the rebbitzin, Gittel Rice, who is one of the most remarkable, wonderful women I've ever been privileged to meet in my life. She let me see her class, watch how she taught and invited me to bring my son for a trial session. This, for me, is always the awkward part because I then need to explain to teachers Josh's issues with impaired vision and fine-motor skills. I braced myself for the usual quick flash of consternation and the dimming of enthusiasm with which most teachers respond to this news.....Gittel shrugged and said, with remarkable cheer, "No problem--we'll just work around it."

That's what Chabad does -- it opens doors for Jews. In our case, it made Hebrew school fun and accessible for my vision-impaired child and he learned more in one year at Chabad's Hebrew school than his cohorts did at the synagogue we left....because we DID leave.

We didn't have any sudden epiphany about becoming frum....we attended Chabad's services once when we were invited for dinner, and my son loved it. "Can we come back here again, Ima? This is great!" enthused the child who previously always said, "Are we done yet? Can we leave now?" while at other synagogues. He loved the liveliness of it, the friendliness, the fact that he wasn't chained to a pew or seat for hours....the music, the enthusiasm, the way he was accepted by the community (for a child with disabilities, acceptance is a rare thing).

I looked at him in surprise. "You like it here, we'll come again." And we did. While my son was finding companionship, learning, Yiddishkeit, Hebrew, menschlich behavior and acceptance, my husband, chiloni to the core, announced, "This is fine for Josh, but we're not doing this 'eating-with-the-rabbi-every-Shabbat' stuff that the dati do, okay?"

Okay. So I would take Josh to Chabad and Mike would go to the gym......until one day, Josh came to me and said plaintively, "Ima, why doesn't Abba come to shul with us? I don't have anyone to duchen with if he's not there." The little children would traditionally gather with their fathers under their fathers' tallits during the Priestly Blessing....and Josh felt included due to the good graces of our wonderful gabbai, Nachman, who took Josh under his tallit, but Josh also felt the absence of his father.

I said, "You need to ask your father that question." So Josh did. Much to my surprise, my fervently Zionist but only-religious-in-a-masorti-sort-of-way husband said to Josh, "Go on ahead with your mother -- I'll be there in a little while." And he was....

Shortly after that, Mike was diagnosed with cancer. This small Chabad community rallied around us newcomers, and mothers took turns taking Josh after summer camp so I could be at the hospital; men assembled minyans to pray for a refuah shlemah; women made food so my husband could eat kosher food in the hospital, and Josh and I were invited to a different home each night for dinner so I didn't have to cook.

The cancer surgery was successful. My husband was impressed with the closeness and caring of this community. My son loved it at Chabad. The community was warm, caring and accepting. The rabbi and rebbitzin were helpful and nonjudgemental, offering Judaism but not cramming it down anyone's throat. You took what you needed or wanted, and if you wanted to take more, it was there for the asking.

Mike changed his mind about "that dati stuff." THIS was the kind of community in which he wanted his son bar-mitzvah'd, and THIS was the kind of community he wanted to belong with and pray with every week. THIS was real Judaism.

Around the time we were having our discussion about moving to the Chabad shul and becoming shomer Shabbos we were treated to a tirade about the Evil Orthodox and their cultish practices and how they 'snared' unsuspecting Jews into their synagogue and made them feel less than adequate because they weren't authentically Jewish enough, etc, etc......

I was stunned. I felt as if I was in a 15th century Catholic Church listening to a scion of Torquemada preaching against the Jews. This speech had that kind of fire and fervor and anti-Jewishness that to me was the very antithesis of Ahavat Yisrael. And I wasn't hearing this from some crank at the Hebrew school coffee-clatch -- I was hearing this from the rabbi!

It was also dead wrong. What he thundered against in his talk was nothing like Chabad, so I don't know what facts he based his talk on. I suspect he based it on hearsay, because no one in our area who ever attended Chabad's classes (which were full of non-affiliated Jews as well as Jews from other synagogues searching for Jewish learning) or services would describe it in the strident and hateful way this rabbi described "the Orthodox." (Since Chabad was the only Orthodox shul in the county, there wasn't much doubt who the rabbi was talking about....)

The contrast between the defensive, angry and hateful spiel against "The Orthodox" by a supposedly learned man in a position of influence in the Jewish community and Chabad's clear Ahavat Yisrael no matter who you were as you walked in the door, could not have been more stark. It made our decision to leave suburban Judaism and adopt a shomer mitzvot life with Chabad an easy choice.

We didn't make aliyah when Josh was two because our shliach gave us honest advice: wait until your son's multiple operations are over and you both have a pension and your stepdaughters are grown. You won't have the financial worries, the job retraining and the medical and legal problems you'd have if you come now. There were just too many barriers to a successful aliyah, he told us. It was practical advice but I hated it -- I didn't want to wait.

I now know that the reason I had to wait was because I wasn't done yet with what I needed to learn in California. The door to Yiddishkeit had yet to open for us, and it was a journey we were meant to make together. Once we'd reached the place we were meant to be in our spiritual journey, we applied to make aliyah again, and doors opened everywhere, barriers fell, and now we're where we're supposed to be, doing what we're supposed to be doing. And we were able to do that because of Chabad and the many friends in our shul who helped us along the way.

Thanks, everybody at Chabad of Marin and Chabad of Mill Valley.

Dedicated to Gittel Rice & Chana Scop in honor of Kislev 19

Monday, December 04, 2006

Things I've Done

Technically, this has nothing to do with life in Israel, but its too much fun to pass up--thank you, Susie at Moving On Up . If it's in BOLD I've done it....

Things I've Done

01. Bought everyone in the bar a drink
02. Swam with wild dolphins
03. Climbed a mountain
04. Taken a Ferrari for a test drive
05. Been inside the Great Pyramid
06. Held a tarantula
07. Taken a candlelit bath with someone
08. Said “I love you” and meant it
09. Hugged a tree
10. Bungee jumped
11. Visited Paris
12. Watched a lightning storm at sea
13. Stayed up all night long and saw the sun rise
14. Seen the Northern Lights
15. Gone to a huge sports game
16. Walked the stairs to the top of the leaning Tower of Pisa
17. Grown and eaten your own vegetables
18. Touched an iceberg
19. Slept under the stars
20. Changed a baby’s diaper
21. Taken a trip in a hot air balloon
22. Watched a meteor shower
23. Gotten drunk on champagne
24. Given more than you can afford to charity
25. Looked up at the night sky through a telescope
26. Had an uncontrollable giggling fit at the worst possible moment
27. Had a food fight
28. Bet on a winning horse
29. Asked out a stranger
30. Had a snowball fight
31. Screamed as loudly as you possibly can
32. Held a lamb
33. Seen a total eclipse of the moon.
34. Ridden a roller coaster
35. Hit a home run (only in my dreams...)
36. Danced like a fool and not cared who was looking
37. Adopted an accent for an entire day
38. Actually felt happy about your life, even for just a moment
39. Had two hard drives for your computer
40. Visited all 50 states
41. Taken care of someone who was drunk
42. Had amazing friends (and still do...)
43. Danced with a stranger in a foreign country
44. Watched wild whales
45. Stolen a sign
46. Backpacked in Europe
47. Taken a road-trip
48. Gone rock climbing
49. Midnight walk on the beach
50. Gone sky diving
51. Visited Ireland
52. Been heartbroken longer than you were actually in love
53. In a restaurant, sat at a stranger’s table and had a meal with them
54. Visited Japan
55. Milked a cow
56. Alphabetized your CDs
57. Pretended to be a superhero
58. Sung karaoke
59. Lounged around in bed all day
60. Played touch football
61. Gone scuba diving
62. Kissed in the rain
63. Played in the mud
64. Played in the rain
65. Gone to a drive-in theater (I'm dating myself here...)
66. Visited the Great Wall of China
67. Started a business
68. Fallen in love and not had your heart broken
69. Toured ancient sites
70. Taken a martial arts class
71. Played D&D for more than 6 hours straight
72. Gotten married
73. Been in a movie
74. Crashed a party
75. Gotten divorced
76. Gone without food for 5 days
77. Made cookies from scratch
78. Won first prize in a costume contest
79. Ridden a gondola in Venice
80. Gotten a tattoo
81. Rafted the Snake River (no, but I did raft the Tuolomne...)
82. Been on television news programs as an “expert”
83. Got flowers for no reason
84. Performed on stage
85. Been to Las Vegas
86. Recorded music
87. Eaten shark
88. Kissed on the first date
89. Gone to Thailand
90. Bought a house
91. Been in a combat zone
92. Buried one/both of your parents
93. Been on a cruise ship
94. Spoken more than one language fluently
95. Performed in Rocky Horror
96. Raised children
97. Followed your favorite band/singer on tour
99. Taken an exotic bicycle tour in a foreign country
100. Picked up and moved to another city to just start over
101. Walked the Golden Gate Bridge (doesn't really count--I lived there)
102. Sang loudly in the car, and didn’t stop when you knew someone was looking
103. Had plastic surgery
104. Survived an accident that you shouldn’t have survived
105. Wrote articles for a large publication
106. Lost over 100 pounds
107. Held someone while they were having a flashback
108. Piloted an airplane
109. Touched a stingray
110. Broken someone’s heart (with regrets, still)
111. Helped an animal give birth
112. Won money on a T.V. game show
113. Broken a bone
114. Gone on an African photo safari
115. Had a facial part pierced other than your ears
116. Fired a rifle, shotgun, or pistol
117. Eaten mushrooms that were gathered in the wild
118. Ridden a horse
119. Had major surgery
120. Had a snake as a pet
121. Hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon
122. Slept for more than 30 hours over the course of 48 hours
123. Visited more foreign countries than U.S. states
124. Visited all 7 continents
125. Taken a canoe trip that lasted more than 2 days
126. Eaten kangaroo meat
127. Eaten sushi
128. Had your picture in the newspaper
129. Changed someone’s mind about something you care deeply about
130. Gone back to school
131. Parasailed
132. Touched a cockroach
133. Eaten fried green tomatoes
134. Read The Iliad - and the Odyssey
135. Selected one “important” author who you missed in school, and read
136. Killed and prepared an animal for eating
137. Skipped all your school reunions
138. Communicated with someone without sharing a common spoken language 139. Been elected to public office
140. Written your own computer language
141. Thought to yourself that you’re living your dream
142. Had to put someone you love into hospice care
143. Built your own PC from parts
144. Sold your own artwork to someone who didn’t know you
145. Had a booth at a street fair
146. Dyed your hair
147. Been a DJ
148. Shaved your head
149. Caused a car accident
150. Saved someone’s life

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Alternate Transportation

This is called the tus-tus in Hebrew. We would call it a scooter, a Vespa, a motorbike, etc. Here it's the well-known, cheaper and ubiquitous alternative to a car. Cars are ridiculously expensive in Israel, with killer VAT (value-added tax) so your basic $19,000 Toyota in California is $40,000 here. Clearly the tustus is cheaper, uses less gas, costs less to maintain, and is waaaayyyy easier to park.

I don't know why it's called a tustus. Speculation in my ulpan is that it is related to latoos, to fly, which pretty much describes how they move in traffic.

Judging from the way they maneuver through traffic, the tustus is also a quicker mode of transportation in rush hour, as well, although that speed and maneuverability come at what I deem too high a risk -- the risk of other drivers hitting you. Tustus vs. car or bus.....the tustus loses every time due to the laws of physics: bigger smashes smaller.

Tustus ownership isn't limited to young folks, although they seem to be the majority of riders. In one of those why-didn't-I-bring-my-camera moments, we watched a stout middle-aged chasid fly down Derech Beit Lechem on his tustus one morning, peyot and tzitzit and jacket streaming behind him. The FexEx couriers and the pizza delivery guys all arrive by tustus with their cargo lashed in carry-boxes behind them. Like all other Israeli motorists, the tustus driver can also talk on the cellphone: it's a simple matter of jamming the cellphone between the ear and the helmet and talking while riding--trust me, we saw that one also.

Their very maneuverability, though, makes them dangerous in the hands of the caution-impaired. I crossed Emek Refaim in the cross-walk one fine day, secure in the knowledge that the first vehicle to my left was a bus, stopped for the pedestrian traffic in the cross-walk. As I reached the middle of the road, I caught something in the periphery of my left eye, and instinctively took a step back, thus saving myself from becoming tustus road-kill. The tustus driver hadn't wanted to wait for the bus to proceed, so she swerved into the on-coming traffic lane and accelerated---almost killing the first pedestrian in the crosswalk, me. (I know it was 'she' because I very clearly heard her say, "Shit!" in English as we nearly collided.)

Cheap, maneuverable, cute, dependable -- but you'll never get me on one. I'd spend the entire trip worrying about cutting off an Egged bus and ending up a messy smear on the roadway.

I've received more emails from friends concerned about terrorism here. I tell them repeatedly that on a day-to-day basis, we're in more danger from the traffic than from anything else. This is something I'm thankful for--traffic problems can be fixed. I'm not so sure I can say the same thing about the neighbors who've been so thoroughly indoctrinated to hate us.

Photo courtesy of http://www.gsmotorworks.com

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