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Saturday, November 29, 2008

Mumbai

I have a difficult time with a certain blessing. I understand well the reason behind "Blessed be the True Judge."

I just can't always say it.

This week was one of those times when the words choked in my throat. Like many in the world, we watched Islamic terrorism butcher innocents in Mumbai, but in our case, beyond hoping and praying for all the innocents murdered for simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time, we prayed especially for Rabbi Gavriel and Rivkah Holtzberg. Not that we knew them personally, but in a sense, we did.

Everything my husband and I know about Judaism we learned from Chabad. Other people I'm sure have found other equally comforting sources of knowledge and inspiration, but Chabad was a perfect match for us. We know people like the Holtzbergs: our two rabbis and their wives in California, young Jewish couples who have left the comforts of their homes, their families, giving up the security and conveniences of living in a chassidische community, so that they can help reconnect Jews to their faith. They're not missionaries -- it's more like a Jewish smorgasbord: here's how to keep a kosher kitchen, if you want to; here's a course on Ramban, if you're interested; we can show you how to lay tefillin if you'd like to learn....never any pressure to conform, never any pressure to adhere to Jewish orthodoxy -- halacha was there for the taking, along with warmth, friendliness, and good (kosher) meals on Shabbat.

So it broke our hearts to hear that Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg died horribly in a terror attack by Islamic terrorists who targeted their Chabad House. They were young, idealistic kids who were prepared to devote their lives to giving Jewish locals and tourists a place to study, to eat, to find friendship and welcome in a distant land. They've left two small children behind who will never grow up with their parents' love and warmth to guide them.

Chabad House isn't a military institution. It isn't anything other than the rabbi's home that he opens to those who want to learn, or to pray, or to visit or to simply eat kosher food while backpacking through India. A man, a wife, two small children --this is a military target for armed Islamists bent on jihad?!

So why were they killed? Why was their home attacked?

Because they're Jews. Like the Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires, Chabad House was attacked because it is emblematic of a Jewish presence in Mumbai. It's a very small Jewish presence, granted, but there is a Jewish community in Mumbai dating back to antiquity. It's a Jewish community that pre-dates the rise of Islam, survived it, and survived the Portuguese Inquisition, and still thrived.

This week's Islamic terror attack wasn't an attack on Jews alone. This was an attack on everything jihadist terror wants to destroy: Jews, modernity, "westerners" (allegedly Brits and Americans, but many others died in these attacks), but mostly Indians.

Why? Their demand was to return "Moslem land" to Moslems....presumably meaning India, which was once subject to Moslem conquerors.

One terror team opened fire on a train station platform, randomly shooting into the crowd of commuters waiting for trains to take them home from work to their families, mowing them down indiscriminantly. This is not "resistance" or "jihad" -- this is simply mass murder.

A team of terrorists hijacked a police van, then used it to approach a crowd gathered outside of a hospital searching for relatives -- and then opened fire on the crowd.

Following the seizure of the Chabad House, two locals were killed by the terrorists who shot them from the upper stories of Chabad -- and these two victims were neighborhood Moslems who happened to be passing by. The killers made no effort to distinguish between Moslems and non-Moslems in their killing rampage.

A Japanese father of two in India on business was gunned down as he checked in at the hotel.

A 13-year-old Virginia girl, in India with her father as part of a meditation group, was murdered while eating dinner with Dad in the Oberai Hotel.

Two Australian men, in India as part of a trade delegation, were gunned down.

Two Canadians were murdered.

Singaporean Lo Hoei Yen, was held hostage and then killed. (He's not a "westerner" -- proof that like virtually all bullies and gangsters, under this facade of "resistance" and "liberation" beats the true heart of "Islamic resistance" which is more properly called Terrorism -- sheer, bloody, unadulterated murderousness.)

Old people: Antonio di Lorenzo, age 63, of Livorno, Tuscany, Italy; Cypriot Andreas Dionysiou Liveras, 73. Yeah, those old, unarmed tourists visiting India are a real threat to the Islam....

The founder of a French clothing company, Loumia Hiridjee, and her French husband, Mourad Amarsay were murdered. Hiridjee, founder of the Princess Tam Tam lingerie and clothing line, was born in Madagascar to Indian traders and moved to France in 1972 to attend boarding school.

German television producer Ralph Burkei, age 51, was murdered at the Taj Mahal Hotel.

I wonder if jihadists' suicidal ideology is going to be their undoing? It's one thing to kill Jews--we've always been a small group, and vulnerable, even in a state of our own. But in the last decade, they've attacked the United States and brought American troops to the Middle East in numbers unimagined prior to 9/11....and now they are apparently determined to open a front in India, home of over 1 billion infidels who have never been really pleased with Pakistan's "theft" of their land.

Maybe I should open my heart to this blessing. Maybe The True Judge will pass true judgement on the murderers, and on their puppet-masters, and those who support them.

Monday, November 24, 2008

My Favorite Palestinian

I remember my husband waking me the morning Princess Diana died. I remember the sense of personal loss, which was frankly ridiculous because I never personally knew the Princess of Wales. Nonetheless, despite the ups and downs of her life, I admired her spirit, her empathy with those who had severe challenges in their lives, her willingness to literally walk into minefields in order to lead world opinion against landmine operations, and her concern for people of all ages, nations and races.

I thought then, and still think, the world lost a wonderful woman.

Recently, I have become acquainted through U-Tube with another wonderful woman. A neighbor. A mother -- and a working mother, at that, although I suspect she has more household help than I do. And she's a queen.

Her Royal Highness, Queen Rania of Jordan, wife of H.R.H King Abdullan, is the mother of 4 children and a smash hit on U-Tube -- and with good reason. If you haven't seen the "Top Ten" video, go see it now: http://www.youtube.com/user/QueenRania

She is an attractive, articulate woman with a wicked sense of humor who uses her intelligence and wit to counter stereotypes about Arabs. Her official web-page is elsewhere on the internet: http://www.queenrania.jo/

We all know about antiSemitism -- but some of the videos on Queen Rania's U-Tube site offer interviews with Arab-Americans explaining some of the wierd, and often downright nasty comments made by Average Joes and Janes to them upon discovering that they are Arabs.

I've witnessed this myself. I come from a relatively intelligent, well-educated family which is also widely traveled. In college, I thought nothing of bringing friends home for dinner one evening, two of whom were Libyan exchange students working on their Master's degrees in chemical engineering. Dinner went smoothly, my parents as gracious hosts asking about studies, future plans, how often they were able to be in touch with their families back in Libya.

My sister, a high school student who had traveled to both Europe and the Far East herself, sat goggle-eyed through this meal. Finally, during a pause in the conversation, she steeled herself to ask the question that had obviously been burning in her mind all evening. "Just how many camels do you own?" she blurted out.

I wanted to die.

"I only have five," Nuri replied without missing a beat, "but he," indicating his fellow student with a nod, "is rich and has a whole stable of 12 or 15 camels."

To their eternal credit, both of these young men took my sister's abysmal ignorance in stride, and if there was an annoyance, anger or chagrin at being confronted with such a stereotype at the dinner table, both guys hid it well. Impeccable adab.

Judging from the videos on Queen Rania's site, the world is full of people who know about as much as my sister did about the Arab world and Arabs.

I think one reason I like her is for much the same reason many people like, and voted for, Obama -- her sense of optimism, and her insistence that the world can be different, and can be better. She has focused her energies on improving the lives of her people, something very few Arab leaders bother with these days. She has been in the forefront of education, culture and women's issues in Jordan.

She's no slouch, intellectually, either. After graduating from American University in Cairo with a Bachelor's degree in Business Administration, she worked for both Citibank and Apple Computer. Upon her graduation from university, Queen Rania returned to Jordan and pursued a career in banking, followed by a brief career in the field of Information Technology. *

As queen she has been an advocate for Jordan's children and especially for its women, saying "The best advertisement for empowering women is an empowered woman."

Queen Rania has no official role or duties as queen according to Jordan's constitution but she has chosen to use her position to promote a number of social issues and important charities. King Abdullah has been supportive of Rania's work, and named her to head his Royal Commission on Human Rights. In that capacity, the new queen added her voice to those of several progressive Jordanian activists campaigning for change in the country's divorce law. In 2002, Jordan's parliament passed a temporary set of laws that granted women the right to initiate divorce proceedings, but they were rescinded two years later.

Rania has also joined other Jordanian women and human - rights activists in calling for an end to the so - called "honor killings" in the nation of five million. In some cases, when a woman in Jordan is the victim of sexual assault, or is suspected of engaging in premarital sex, she is murdered by her male relatives. Under Jordanian law, these murders are subject to less stringent penalties than other capital crimes. She is also a tireless advocate for children, and even before becoming queen made child - abuse prevention a priority. In Jordan, child abuse cases are thought to be vastly underreported, and the matter was almost never discussed publicly. Rania launched the Child Safety Program in 1998, and also established Dar Al Aman ("Home of Safety") for young victims of abuse. The shelter is the first of its kind in the Arab world. She also she sits on the board of directors of the Vaccine Fund, established the Jordan River Foundation to provide small - business loans for folk artisans living in some of the country's poorest villages, and has worked with education authorities to ensure that every schoolchild in Jordan has access to a computer. *

So why would I entitle this piece "My Favorite Palestinian"? Because Jordan's queen was born to a prominent Palestinian family from the West Bank -- different sources list Tulkarm or Nablus. Her father, a medical doctor, relocated to Kuwait in the early 1960s where the future queen was born, raised and educated. Her advice regarding the conflict: women in the Arab world need to get involved and to take a more active role in the peace process. She distanced herself from the extremist measures adopted by suicide bombers. "Palestinians have to have the moral courage to say killing civilians isn't right," she asserted to Times of London journalist Daniel McGrory. "Both sides see themselves as victims, and when you feel victimised it justifies anything you do, no matter how crazy or out of control it is, so you think it's OK to bomb innocent civilians and it's OK to invade towns and cities."

In a world where every morning I pick up the paper and read about famine, brush-wars, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (and how many missiles fell yesterday, and where they hit), Iran's incremental creep towards the Bomb, unimpeded by world leaders afraid of rising oil prices, crumbling education system, a faltering social network, and a world crisis of financial and moral dimensions, she gives me hope for a better tomorrow. Jordan's queen's attitude is "Yes, she can!"

You go, girl!



* courtesy Answers.com (http://www.answers.com/topic/queen-rania-of-jordan). Netglimpse (http://www.netglimse.com/celebs/pages/queen_rania_of_jordan/index.shtml) and Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Queen_Rania)

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Juxtapositions

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said that Israel's response to the incessant firing of rockets from the Gaza Strip, in which crossings to the area were closed, was "unacceptable."

Excuse me, you idiots, but they're BOMBING us!! We're supposed to supply anything to people trying to kill us? This rocket barrage has been going on since last week, and these aren't the little oft-derided-by-the-Left "little homemade rockets" but rather the more advanced Katyushas.(See the Hezbollah Katyusha in the picture).

The European Union also called on Israel to reopen its border crossings with the Gaza Strip. EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said she was worried that "fuel and basic humanitarian assistance" is not reaching the Palestinians.

Reeaaallly? Well, guess what, Benita? Gaza has absolutely no trouble supplying itself with drugs, prostitutes, weapons, lions, perfumes, cheaper gasoline, cigarettes, milk, flour, sugar or anything else the market demands.

"Underground smuggling has become one of the most profitable and sought-after professions in Gaza. Hundreds of unemployed laborers have joined the digging business, where monthly salaries range from NIS 2,500 to NIS 5,000. Most of the laborers used to work in Israel but lost their jobs because of the closure of the border crossings." (Jerusalem Post November 14, 2008)According to sources close to Hamas, the number of underground tunnels has risen in the past two years to nearly 1,000, according to journalist Khaled Abu Toameh.

These aren't little home-made tunnels dug with shovels, either: "Today, engineers and well-trained excavators supervise the digging of most of the tunnels, some of which are equipped with electricity and phone lines. " Hell, they've even run a gas pipeline down one of these tunnels.

The latest information is that Hamas is now licensing the tunnels and issuing building guidelines, and regulating the flow of trade goods.

Of course,the myopic European view is best expressed by the BBC:

"Last Tuesday, more than four months into a ceasefire, Israeli troops entered the Gaza Strip."

Right, like this happened in a vacuum. The IDF just woke up one morning and said, hey, everyone, let's go stir up Gaza, since we haven't got anything better to do.....NO mention whatsoever of the reason for the IDF's entry: to shut down another kidnapping tunnel Hamas was routing under the fence into Israeli territory. Whatever was Hamas building a tunnerl for?

The IDF went into Gaza to take out this tunnel because "numerous intelligence reports have indicated that Hamas is planning to carry out a mass-casualty attack as well as hoping to abduct another Iisraeli soldier, either through a tunnel similar to the one used in the kidnapping of IDF soldier Gilad Shalit almost two and a half years ago, or by a terrorist cell infiltrating into pre-1967 Israel."

Got that? Hamas wants a lots of Jews murdered in a 'mass casualty attack' -- a nice phrase for a suicide bombing or car bombing. Think downtown Baghdad. Or downtown Jerusalem before the Anti-Suicide-Bomber-Barrier was built. This piece of information got absolutely NO play in the MSM, including al-Beeb.

"Since then, seven Hamas militants have been killed in clashes and airstrikes," al Beeb intones.

No mention of why: Israel Air Force fighter pilots struck a terror cell of rocket launchers in northern Gaza Friday morning after they launched a barrage of rockets at the western Negev.

"Palestinian militants said they regarded it as an "Israeli aggression" and responded by firing dozens of rockets and mortar shells towards Israeli border towns."

Palestinian New-Think: we tunnel into YOUR country in order to kill YOUR people and kidnap YOUR people and when you stop us by destroying our tunnel (instead of carpet-bombing Gaza, for instance)then YOU are the aggressors.

George Orwell would love these folks.

Note also that ASHKELON is NOT a border town. It is a major port city in Israel proper, and it got thumped by Hamas Katyushas on Friday, one rocket sending shrapnel into the body of a 70 year old woman and causing a cardiac incident.

This, also, got no mention by al-Beeb or other MSM outlets.

"No Israelis have been injured, but the Ministry of Defence took the decision to close most of Gaza's crossings in response," says BBC.

Got that? The 70-year-old victim isn't really injured, and Jews have to die before al-Beeb considers it an 'injury' I guess. Typical European anti-Semites.....Jewish lives have never counted to those people.

The juxtaposition of these new items in the local papers gave me pause--the one sob-story enunciated by the UN and EU Palestine-pimps, and the other local story wherein an Arab journalist interviews the proud and boastful Hamasnikim about their many tunnels, their ability to supply themselves with nearly anything they wish, and their declarations that they do just fine without Israeli-supplied items.

Of course, the only story getting any play in the Euroleftic press was the former---until this morning! Today, al Beeb belatedly picked up on the tunnels story, nevertheless berating Israel for its "blockade"; note that when Britain or the EU engage in identical behavior, it is called an "embargo" and that the practitioners who so vociferously protest Israel's embargo of Gaza have enthusiastically practiced embargoes of their own over the last few decades to push their own political agendas.

The real juxtaposition isn't the Beeb versus local news; it is the deliberate, selective British blindness to Hamas's bloody-minded intentions versus the reality of Israel's struggle to stay alive in the face of unrelenting, genocidal extremism.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Milestones

We passed some mile markers in our journey through life last week.

The first and best was that we finally moved into our new home (pictures in about a month to six weeks--let me get the boxes out of the hallway and salon first, okay?). It's on a cul-de-sac; it's got a beautiful view; it's next to a park and the tayelet around the hill starts in this park (under construction, like my life).

I have a job, as I mentioned last post. I like the people and I like the work. It is law-related but not practicing law. I can't get too detailed because there is a confidentiality agreement with the company, but I can say that the company is what is known as a "KPO" or knowledge-process-outsourcing firm. It deals largely with editing/writing/publishing matters, and one division is concerned with law-related materials.

The work is mind-numbing sometimes; as a prosecutor, there was trial work, which was intensive, and research, which was solo, but there was also a great deal of comraderie, visiting each other's offices, chats in the office and court hallways about cases.

This job is different. Almost everyone works from home. We communicate by IM and email. Some of us (moi aussi) work in the office for a variety of reasons -- mine being that I don't have a router yet for the home computer. Once the router is set up, I have plans: dog walking at 0530, work at 0600, coffee break with Yossi at 0800, work from 0900-1500, then off to the gym, then home again for the Boy.

This is The Plan. You know what they say: Man plans and G-d laughs. We'll see. I find that working in a Virtual Office is a bit daunting--I'm used to talking to folks face-to-face, not via computer. If I can't stand the solitude, I may alter this and go into the office in the mornings, then work from home in the afternoons. One of the reasons I like to start earlier is that the job is intense---and by late afternoon my brain is pretty much fried.

The other big milestone was the Jerusalem mayoral and city council elections. For me, it was a first to vote in Israel. For the Boy, it was a first simply to vote! He turned 18 this summer and is now a fully enfranchised citizen. We both voted for Nir Barkat but oddly enough, he definitely had his own opinion as to who should get the city council vote, and based on that opinion, cast a divergent vote from ours (we voted Barkat's list, the theory being that he'll be more effective as mayor if he doesn't have to constantly battle the city council, AND I admire the SPNI element on his list). Why "oddly enough"? Sometimes as parents, we think our children will agree with us. I don't know why we think that, since I clearly remember not agreeing with my parents at age 18 -- but the Boy is such a nice, quiet kid, that we sometimes forget that he definitely has a mind of his own. CP, special ed, vision impairments don't make a hoot of difference -- he's grown up in a household where we have debated (sometimes quite loudly) our various points of view of All Things Political, and I'm gratified to see that at this first opportunity to vote, he chose a party for the city council based on his own opinion and never-mind-what-the-parents think!

This was an election that electrified south Jerusalem. We went to vote in the evening, after work, and the polling place was packed. Just finding parking was a challenge (okay, so finding parking in Jerusalem is usually a challenge, but tonight there wasn't a spot within blocks of our polling place).

It isn't that we dislike Porush. Well, okay, I'm not fond of anyone who makes a dance troupe of young girls cover their hair -- c'mon, even in haredi households, young girls don't cover their hair. What's next? Burkhas?

So, apart from the Talibanesque dress code and the recent city-sponsored-and-paid-for 'free' musical event which was opened for MEN ONLY, most folks are simply tired of the haredim running Jerusalem as their private fiefdom. Dati leumi parents in Katamon would like a school in their neighborhood. The haredim, who don't live in Katamon, have taken over a school there, but the resident citizens have to bus their children to another part of town since the haredim won't allow the local kids into their haredi school. Har Homa residents would like a community center that has a swimming pool and other after-school options for their children. What are we getting instead? Two yeshivot. Whoopie. More schools, more (haredi) synagogues, more (haredi) cultural events kept happening under the haredi city council/mayoral rule of the last few years, while the rest of us were made to feel like dhimmis in our own city.

I could do (and other have done) thousands of words on the Arab sector---Lupolianski et al have the funds to build new haredi schools and neighborhoods in Givat Ze'ev, for example, but not enough money to build classrooms in East Jerusalem?! Yes, I'm sure that any new classrooms, new municipal buildings, new infrastructure of any kind will immediately be decried as Zionist colonization, but in the meantime, we all need working sewers, waste-water-treatment plants, well-graded roads, proper drainage, filled potholes, enough classrooms for our kids, and cultural activities for everyone.

This never happened under the parochial rule of the haredim. Hopefully, it will happen under Barkat who has pledged to make the city a city for all its residents.

Those were the milestones of last week that gave us joy. Of course, for every joy there is sorrow, and another sadder event cast its pall as Shabbat approached. We lost a friend. Steve Waldman was older than the Husband, but he was funny, generous and a pretty smart guy. We knew he had been sick but figured he would get well again, as he wasn't all that old. He was one of the pillars of our little Chabad congregation in San Rafael, always there for minyan when he wasn't traveling; always ready to help anyone who needed help of any kind. He was the kind of guy who, if you arrived at the airport at 0300, would tell you that he'd be there to pick you up, don't worry, and he would do it. He was a guy who knew the real meaning of the word mitzvah but at the same time, he was a down-to-earth, unassuming, joke-cracking, worldly friend.

Beyond all these things, however, I loved Steve because he loved my son. Steve's own son died tragically when he was young, and Steve seemed to have a soft spot for the kids in our congregation. He was patient with our boy, and took pains to help him with his davening, his understanding of Judaism, and helped him with the small challenges of getting along with other kids (not all so tolerant of a special needs child) in our small congregation.

We were looking forward to seeing Steve on his next visit to Israel. Now, that visit will never happen, and our lives are diminished because of it. Shalom, chaver shelanu.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

MOVING DAY

Tomorrow is moving day. We made the final payment on the new home on Friday morning, got the keys, and exhaled.

It's not totally done: the ovens are coming tomorrow, HOT is coming tomorrow, the refrigerator won't arrive until Monday, some minor details here and there are still pending...but we're almost finished.

The Husband has been packing for over a week. The kitchen was finished in no time -- it's the little knick-knack stuff that has sat around in bowls or on shelves or on top of the cabinet and little-acquisitions-without-a-true-home junk that is hardest to pack. We finally decided to toss it all in a "sort-later" box.

And since nothing is ever simple, we had another TGFY (Thank G-d For Yossi) moment: we made changes to the basic standard condo plan. We periodically checked with the builder's office on the price of these changes and towards the end of the project we were given an approximation of what the changes would cost. We were prepared for this, having set aside the final payment, and estimate the of taxes owing, and about 20% over what the estimated final change costs would be.

The Builder gave us a final figure on the changes that was twice what his secretary told us it would be.

Yossi went through the roof. He has known the builder for almost a decade, and while this man is his father's age, the Builder has a strong liking for Yossi and for Yossi's integrity. Yossi drove to the construction site Friday morning and the two men went back and forth over these costs in voices raised so loudly that I'm sure they were heard in Bethlehem.

Yossi is a sabra, born and bred in Jerusalem. The kablan is a refugee from Iran, and takes no nonsense off of anyone. He does, however, return Yossi's respect for him and after nearly an hour of argument, they reached a compromise: we would pay an additional 6,000 shekels for the changes over what the secretary had estimated.

This is a gift, folks. The error lay with the (now-discharged) former job site supervisor, who apparently agreed to, and then made, many of the changes but failed to note them in the paperwork he submitted to the office. The secretary's estimate was based on only partial information. We truly owe more than we thought we owed.

But for Yossi's personal relationship with this particular builder, and their mutual respect and liking for each other, we would be considerably poorer today.

Tomorrow, the movers come. Almost everything is packed, and those small things which are not can follow later. Our landlord has kindly agreed to allow us to stay another few days to clean out and clean up the apartment, albeit at a pro-rated rent. (Before you conclude he's hard-hearted, remember that our lease is officially over and he could have insisted on another full month's rent).

Mike and Yossi are in charge of the brunt of the move because I'm not going to be around.

I'm working.

As of last week, I am officially an honest woman again, gainfully employed. Through the good graces of our friends, and fellow-olim, Jill and David, I was alerted to the possibility of an employment opportunity near our new home. The pay is good; the work is good; the hours are flexible. I couldn't pass up this opportunity to repair the ravages of sadly depleted savings and retirement portfolios.

But, the bottom line is that we are off line for a short time. I expect to be on-line again shortly, but I suspect that the new job, less free time, and unpacking demands may make blogging something that happens (as it has the last couple of weeks) sporadic for a while. Bear with me, please.

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