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Sunday, May 24, 2009

Because Baila Asked...

I'm posting pictures of our intreped elevator-prone survivor.

None the worse for wear.

Who, me?!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Palestinian Mendacity

The Israeli government does a bang up job of not explaining anything to anyone, including to Israelis, so to find out what's going on in Jerusalem, I often travel to the Palestinian propaganda pages.

I call them "Palestinian Propaganda Pages" (herinafter PPP) because they are clearly meant for foreign, not domestic, consumption, being written in English -- probably by ghost-writers from English-speaking NGOs.

So in an effort to find out where the park is going to go in Har Homa, I came across a PPP about Har Homa....

The page opens with the heart-rending story of a Palestinian family who lives "in the shadow" of Har Homa and have been living here since 1953, their lives now disrupted by the Jewish population who has moved into the neighborhood.

Stop. 1953? Yes, 1953. Why is that important? Because prior to 1948, land on the hill known as Har Homa (Wall Hill, for the ancient Byzantine wall on the top) was owned by both Arabs and Jews.

After 1948, the Jordanian Army seized the area and used it as a supply depot for Jordan Legion troops stationed across from Kibbutz Ramat Rachel (the adjoining hill) who would periodically mow down kibbutznikim and visiting archeologists whenever the mood took them.

Notably, the Jordanians recognized that this was Jewish land as they placed it into the hands of the Jordanian Custodian of Enemy Property and refused to allow any cultivation or grazing on the hill.

After 1967, when Jordan unwisely followed Egypt's lead into war with Israel, Jews again had access to their properties on Har Homa. Since this was prior to Arafat's order that anyone selling land to the Jews be shot, Arab landowners had no problem with selling more of this arid hilltop to Jews stupid enough to buy a place without any water. By the time building started in Har Homa, roughly 75% of the land on this arid hilltop was owned by Jews.

Both Jews and Arabs shared a beef with the Jerusalem Municipality which had nothing to do with national aspirations of either party -- the government took the land (all the land, not just Arab land) under the doctrine of eminent domain and payed the owners for it.

Why is this a beef? Because Jewish and Arab owners alike hoped they could make waaayyy more money if they sold their land privately to the various builders who wanted to construct housing here. The Municipality squelched that idea, wanting a uniform building plan instead of a hodge-podge of various buildings with no central planning.

So what has this to do with my Palestinian neighbor? (Yes, he lives down the street from me in a sprawling ranch-style house and farms a large swath of an adjacent hillside, and grazes his sheep in the wadi below where Jerusalem's Mar Elyas Monastery has its olive groves.)

It means that he moved into the area after it was confiscated and occupied by Jordan in a war of aggression. In other words -- he's a Settler!

None of this is mentioned by the PPP website, of course. My shepherding neighbor is portrayed as some kind of victim, despite the fact that he basically moved here and staked out his own claim. I'm not even sure he has legal title to his land, but I suspect he might since the neighborhood is building around him and leaving his hillside untouched. Either that or the Municipality just doesn't want to pick a fight.

My neighbor's political victimization is allegedly due to the fact that he and his family "were issued with West Bank identification cards. This means they cannot enter the city without a special permit from the Israeli military."

Reaaallly? And who is going to stop them? The main road runs right by their property, and so does the bus. At any time any family member can go into Jerusalem because there is no barrier between his front door and the city itself. How do I know this? Because I have offered one family member a ride (she graciously refused) when I saw her walking home alone; I have stood beside that same woman at the bank in Talpiot where we both conduct our banking.

And the Israeli military is noticeably absent from Har Homa, so I think we're being fed a line of something that male bovines excrete.

This same PPP goes on to moan about "A complex system of checkpoints and terminals impedes and regulates Palestinian traffic,preventing the free movement of Palestinian goods and people required for successful economic development. The new Bethlehem terminal built by Israel restricts Palestinian Bethlehemites’ access to East Jerusalem."

As if Israel built the terminal out of spite. Prior to the Intifada, there was no terminal--or separation barrier or anything at all to indicate one had traveled from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, apart from a sign. A wave of Palestinian terrorism brought carnage to Jerusalem's streets, and that alone brought the wall, and the terminal.

And its hard to swallow the "restricts the access" argument when I see literally dozens of shuttles running out of Bethlehem every single morning taking Bethlehemites to various points all over Jerusalem. Do they have to pass through the terminal? Yep -- and I had to pass through a similar installation coming back to the US from Mexico, too, so what's the gripe here? Border control? Happens everywhere.

The same page whines "Har Homa is located on the arable lands between Bethlehem and East Jerusalem."

No, it's not. Arable is the key word. This hilltop is so UN-arable that water has to be piped in. The Byzantine settlement, which was the last civilization to live on this hill, dug cisterns under the hill to hold water since we are IN the Judean desert and there is no water.

Down in the wadi below us, the monastery still maintains olive groves, but olives need very little water (too much water will kill an olive tree) and the trees benefit from being on the downslope of the surrounding hillsides so the winter rains pool into the wadi.

The hill of Har Homa itself? It has rocks. Lots of rocks. Some wildflowers in the spring right after the rains. Some pine trees planted by the Jewish National Fund decades ago, who struggle bravely in the dry heat of summer, freezing cold of winter and the wind.

"Arable" is the last word I would use to describe this hillside.

Building here hardly interrupts life between East Jerusalem and Bethlehem--the fleet of minibuses that travel between the two locales daily is probably a huge improvement over the donkey track that runs from Bethlehem down the hillside across the wadi to Umm Tuba. I know -- I've walked that "road." It's still there, unused except by trekkers, the curious, dog-walkers, kids and Palestinians sneaking into Jerusalem to find employment.

Yossi has a Palestinian acquaintance who does things like lay tile, remodel bathrooms, build pergolas--small construction projects. He comes into Jerusalem without papers almost daily. This gentleman lives in Beit Sahur. "How does he get here every morning?" I asked once. "There are ways," Yossi told me. "The border is open if you know where to go."

I never did find out exactly where the park is going, but I did find out that rampant Arab building in Jerusalem (Umm Tuba, Sharafat, Tantur just to name a few) is okay; Palestinian settlers from Jordan in Jerusalem are okay; sprawling expansion of Palestinian townships like Beit Sahour is okay. Omitting mention of the wide open and sparsely populated spaces east of Har Homa that provide an easy link between Bethlehem and Beit Sahour with Ramallah is a lie of ommission, but acceptable because such mendacity serves the cause of Palestinian propaganda. Describing Gilo and Har Homa as settlements serves the Palestinian cause of delegitimizing Jewish neighborhoods while failing to mention that these locales previously served as Arab military outposts rather than Palestinian farmland.

Wait until I tell you what the Palestinians are saying about Sharafat. Next time.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Omri Attia

I remember well back in 2007 the massive bone-marrow drive sponsored by Ezer Mizion, looking for a bone marrow match for Omri Attia.

Omri started getting severe headaches in 7th grade. By the time his classmates started 8th grade, he was undergoing blood tests which revealed he had leukemia. By January 2007, he was hospitalized and fighting for his life. Doctors searched desperately for a bone marrow match and enlisted Ezer Mizion, a nonprofit Israeli health support organization dedicated to getting medical help and social services support to the sick, the elderly, terror victims, special needs children and others.

Ezer Mizion has a bone marrow database. None of the 300,000 people registered were a match for Omri. A donor search at IDF bases and university campuses also failed to find a match.

Ezer Mizion decided to have a bone marrow drive. On a single day, November 21, 2007, 31,000 people turned out to be tested to see if one might be the bone marrow match that would save Omri's life.

Two and a half weeks later, the 31,000 samples had been analyzed and six of them were matches for Omri! As well, five other cancer patients waiting for bone marrow matches found their donors in this same drive.

I remember the sense of relief and gratitude I felt when reading this. I assumed a happy ending. I thought the bone marrow match was the end, the cure. I remember him being an excited and happy child when the bone marrow drive found a match for him. I remember his hope for the future: "Now I can be a regular boy," he said.

I was wrong.

I opened the newspaper yesterday to a News In Brief item which shattered my heart.

Omri's recovery was temporary. Despite six samples which were compatible, and the best efforts of his doctors, Omri suffered a relapse around Purim this year. Doctors ran tests and confirmed that his leukemia was back and had spread.

But what made me cry was Omri's question. His mother said that in the hours before his death, her son had cried, asking why this was happening when he "had done everything right?"

What answer can you give a child whose faith in doctors, in parents, in adults and in G-d made him believe that he would grow up to be a "normal boy"?

My heart goes out to this family.

If you live in Israel, consider doing something to commemorate Omri's life and struggle. Contact Ezer Mizion and offer them a blood sample. Maybe you'll save the life of another child. If you don't like needles, well, offer them a check. If you don't live in Israel, check out your nearest bone-marrow registry and offer them a blood sample--or a check.

And think of Omri, who just wanted to grow up to be a regular boy.....

Friday, May 15, 2009

Star Trek

Go see it.

I've been a Star Trek fan since the beginning. Silly and dated as some of the original episodes seem now, it was far and away the best science fiction on television at the time.

It really wasn't science fiction, although it got that label because it was set in the future among "aliens." Oddly enough, the show was really about the humans -- how they reacted and interacted with concepts and people who were foreign to them. It posited a future where war on Earth and the pursuit of material gain had been replaced by a desire for self-improvement and the acquisition of knowledge, but still struggled with issues of power, control, sex and ego.

The second series, some decades later, was more sophisticated both in acting, writing and "message."

Both were actually interstellar morality plays disguised as futuristic conundrums. Does one do the "right thing" and what is the "right thing?" Does the Prime Directive trump compassion? If you offer "advancement" to a "primitive society" then what should you do when they tell you thanks, go away, we don't want/need it? "Bad guys" and "hot-dogs" and "90-day-wonders" come in both genders in the future, and navigating between human frailties and the pitfalls of intersteller diplomacy in the Great Void made for terrific television.

The two most famous non-humans were Spock, the Vulcan science officer hailing from a planet that deified logic over emotion, and Data, the adroid whose quest to be more human was an on-going odyssey.

Both reflected the human condition back at us, through the prism of non-human observance.

It's been a great ride since 1966. The Next Generation in our house grew up on Star Trek morality. As a child, he decided he wanted to be a starship captain AND a rabbi. I think those ambitions have been tempered a bit by now, but I found it interesting that he pretty much equated those two posts.

Thank you, Gene Roddenberry, for the vision of a future where there is always a win-win solution, and the Kobayashi Maru can be beaten.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

I Never Knew Dogs Had Nine Lives

In the Great Scheme Of The Universe, which includes earthquakes in China and Italy, starvation in Somalia, genocide in Darfur, and chronic warfare on the seams of the Islamic world, saving the life of one dog is hardly worth noting.

Unless she's your dog.

This is her third save.

The first was finding her .

The second was when her leash caught in the elevator door and she bolted out on the third floor while the elevator progressed inexorably to the sixth floor. That time, the leash and her collar broke.

The third time was last night. Having previously experienced her tendancy to bolt in and out of the elevator, I've always held on to her collar when we're entering or exiting the elevator. The Husband neglected to do the same last night as he was bringing her back to the condo. He's got the flu, doesn't feel too hot himself, and frankly, the puppy is far more obedient to him than to me, so he wasn't expecting any problems.

They got on the elevator together. As the door started to close, something caught her attention and she bolted out the elevator door. The door closed despite The Husband's best effort to jam it open. The elevator again proceeded towards the top floor. He dropped the leash, hoping it would break and free the dog.

Had the leash been attached to her normal collar, that might have worked. Unfortunately, I bought a choke chain two weeks ago to try to curb her constant lunging at everything that interests her. Not that I mind her curiosity--I'm just tired of being knocked off my feet when 45 pounds of pure muscle decides to chase a blowing trash bag. I hate to admit it, but I'm starting to feel my age.

Choke chains don't break. They're made of tempered steel, or titanium, or something equally indestructive. The leash broke, but somehow her collar got stuck in the door as the leash pulled her, and the choke collar dragged her up along with the elevator.

The Husband had punched the next floor's button, got off and raced down the stairs in time to see our puppy being hoisted in the air by the elevator mechanism. The dog is screaming. I didn't know dogs could scream, either. He grabs her, punches the button to bring the elevator back to the entry floor, and then hoists the puppy up to his shoulder and holds her up so she isn't choking to death.

In the meantime, the neighbors have come out. One family is also a dog-lover and we've walked their puppy and ours together. The two pups are best friends who jump all over each other at every meeting.

The dog-lover husband runs inside to get some mechanical device to break the chain. I've run down to the entry floor because even from our apartment, over the television, I could hear our dog screaming. I get underneath her also in order to boost her up and free The Husband's hands, then tell both men to squeeze the device as hard as possible to break the chain.

They did it. The broke the chain. No chain collars ever again.

I wasn't too sure who was more petrified--the puppy or my husband. I had serious concerns about both of them collapsing. Dog-lover neighbors insisted we come into their condo, and gave everyone cookies (including the dogs) and gave us time to calm down.

It was the quietest night ever with this usually inexhaustible, overcharged bundle of canine companionship. She curled up on the couch and quivered. We even let her sleep on the bed that night, although she moved back to the couch after we fell asleep.

That's three saves. Three lives.

I'm praying we don't experience a fourth near-death event.

Thursday, May 07, 2009


I'm hardly anyone's idea of Julia Childs. I didn't learn to cook until I went to college where my roommates, quite reasonably, expected me to chip in with all the chores. That entailed cooking.

In time, I learned some basic easy-to-make-on-a-student-budget dishes. Back when chicken was much cheaper, my rommates and I briefly considered writing a cookbook entitled "1001 Ways To Make Chicken" because we were fairly certain we'd made at least 1001 variation of chicken dishes.

Even though two of us were Jewish (and later one was Muslim) we didn't keep strictly kosher. I didn't eat pork, at least most of the time. Massoudah didn't eat pork AT ALL (which sort of shamed me into being stricter). We also stopped braising our stews in wine for her sake. But lasagna was still a household specialty, along with shrimp salad on those rare ocassions when we could afford tiny Bay shrimp.

Going kosher meant a whole lot more than telling The Husband that pork and shellfish were officially OUT. It meant a whole new way of cooking. We adapted. Eggplant lasagna is great. Chicken Kiev can be made with margarine. Chicken Cordon Bleue is a fond memory. One of the great joys of Jerusalem is kosher sushi.

However, I digress....

My grandmother allowed me to cook desserts in her kitchen. I was a whiz at chocolate chip cookies and brownies from scratch. But the fare was otherwise basic Middle America: meat, vegetable, starch (for example, lambchops, peas and baked potato...I could never convince my grandparents, with whom I lived for two years, that peas and corn are just another form of bread and something like artichokes, or zuchini, would be healthier....but since I wasn't either buying the food or cooking the meals, I didn't protest too loudly).

My mother didn't allow me in the kitchen except to empty or fill the dishwasher. My grandmother was a gourmet compared to my mother: overcooked vegetables and undercooked meat, except on the days when we had fish. Fish? Well, frozen fish sticks and frozen Tater Tots.

My real culinary education came in college, law school and after. My roommates taught me to cook; later on my own, I had friends over for dinner once a week once I discovered the joy of trying new things in cookbooks. I DID always warn them I was experimenting, but they came anyway, poor souls.

Kosher cooking was a new adventure, and the rebbetzin married to the Boy's Torah teacher was a veritable mine of recipes, which she gladly shared.

So, now I'm pretty confident about culinary skills in simple recipes. But I've ALWAYS made a mean sandwich. So when it came time to make the Boy's lunch, I was happy to take over from my teenager. It seems he decided to lose weight the old fashioned way -- by not eating. He was walking to and from school and explained that the exercise was causing him to lose weight. He looked great....but as time went on, he was getting thinner, and crabbier, and more tired.

His "lunch" was an energy bar and an apple, I discovered. Not enough calories in that to feed a hungry, growing kid.

Of course, I didn't discover this because I failed to ask the right questions. "Do you want me to make your lunch?" I would ask in the morning. "Naw, it's okay, Ima, I made it already." How mature, I thought. How gullible is what I now think.

Yossi pried it out of him. One day, Yossi picked him up from school for reasons I no longer recall. I seldom see Yossi upset, but when I went down to the cab, sparks were flying out of his eyes.

Apparently my son was more grumbly and sharp than usual, and since Yossi is his favorite person in the world, it was quite unlike the kid to snarl at him. So, Yossi, being an experienced parent in his own right, set about doing some not-so-gentle-guy-to-guy-cross-examination about this Bad Attitude. Bottom line: the kid is hungry. REALLY hungry....which led to more cross-examination about what he eats for lunch and how he shines on his parents.

Yossi put it bluntly: "He's too thin, he's on medication, and he needs to eat. YOU need to make him his lunch every morning, Sarah, because otherwise he won't make a proper lunch."

Agreed. Chagrined at being duped, I insisted on making lunch. And WHAT a lunch!! Sambouki couldn't do better: fruits, nuts, a slice of cake or cookies, and a gourmet sandwich. A sandwich loaded with healthy things like humous, matboucha or zhug, cucumbers and/or tomatoes, with sliced egg and/or tuna and/or pastrami........

He said he liked them. He ate them. He told me how good these elaborate sandwiches were.

Then, one day, toward the end of the month when the cupboard starts getting bare, I looked in the 'fridge to see what I could make a sandwich out of. I had a sandwich role and not much else. There was one left-over hotdog from the night before....okay, I sliced that hotdog into strips, put it into the sandwich role, poured ketchup on it, and hoped for the best. Certainly not up to my usual standard.

I got a phone call later that morning.

"Ima! That was the BEST sandwich EVER!! Thanks!"

Go figure. All I need to do now is start buying Bamba (shudder).

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