The Sunken Synagogue
pa vezer o vageal e kreiz e klever a-wechoù un trouz iskis:
kleier ur sinagogenn a zo o seniñ dindan ar mor...

Thursday, February 22, 2007
When right is left and left is right

It's Adar again.

Last year around this time I wrote a few satirical pieces in the spirit of Purim. But I feel like doing so now would be almost redundant, because reality in Israel these days is basically a satire already. What else can you call it when the Justice Minister is unjust, the police turn out to be criminals, the head of the Disengagement Authority finds himself Disengaged from his own kibbutz, &tc &tc? Laughter is more fitting than words in such a situation.

And what do people want now to ameliorate our troubles? New elections!

Never mind that new elections are exactly what got us where we are now, and to where we were before that! Hasn't anyone noticed that with every new election things just get worse? What's the use of another round of political musical chairs? Running around in circles will not move us forward; it will just make us more tired. It's not new elections we need, it's new ... brains. Right? Otherwise we'll just choose more bad leaders. I mean, just look at the support for Netanyahu - folks, we already tried that one! Why should Likud, Labor, or Kadima be getting even one seat in any poll? And then there's Gaydamak and his new party. Can someone tell me why exactly we're supposed to vote for him? Is it because material wealth implies good political leadership, or because having no platform is better than having a bad platform?

Anyway ... so this Purim is coming at a strange time. If the world were turned upside down right now, it just might come out right side up.

But I guess that's all the more reason to celebrate.

So stay tuned....

Monday, January 08, 2007
If you didn't like Yonatan Bassi before...

I've been shaken from my blog-neglecting stupor by an amazing story from YNet.

Yonatan Bassi, who was the head of the Disengagement Authority that coordinated the complete removal of thousands Jews from the Gaza Strip a little over a year ago, has decided to move off of his kibbutz, Sde Eliyahu, for a couple of years. He and his family have been experiencing harrassment from a vocal minority of fellow kibbutzniks who haven't gotten over what he did while in that post.

Many will surely see this as divine punishment, מידה כנגד מידה. He expelled others, and so he has to leave his own home. Fine ... though it doesn't seem to be be exactly measure for measure, since he's only going temporarily, he's not being hoisted out by soldiers, he doesn't have to watch his home being bulldozed and the ruins given to Arabs, and he's not going to be lied to and mistreated by the government. But anyway, he's getting some of the medicine he doled out ... close enough.

We can all look at this and smile and smirk at this pitiful man. But it doesn't really move me. I mean, it's predictable. Of course he was going to get his, later on if not now. What's positively shocking though is what he and his wife wrote in a letter to the director of their kibbutz:

"We love this place, and we love those living in it. We were both born here. The sunrise above the Gilad mountains every morning has accompanied us since the dawn of our childhood. Our entire adult lives have been invested in Sde Eliyahu. And now, on the brink of old age, how can we move to another place?" they wrote.
"A year and a half ago, we bounced back from a difficult period," wrote the Bassis. "It is very difficult. It is difficult for the people of Israel, difficult for Sde Eliyahu, and difficult for us, too. This period has created a crisis in the our relationships with some of our friends...."

That's chutzpah! How can they whine about experiencing the same thing they afflicted others with? Bassi kicked people out of the homes they loved and grew up in, with no respect for age or sentimentality, or the social and economic crises that would result. Does he think the former residents of Gush Katif don't get misty-eyed over their old homes and neighborhoods, the sun and the sand and surf, the gardens? Does he think they — not "the people of Israel," not he and his kibbutz up in the the Galilee, but the people in Gaza he smacked around — haven't been through a difficult period, that the parents among them aren't now going through divorces and the children turning to drugs?

I'm at a loss. This is worse than chutzpah. This is cruel, blind insensitivity. Stupidity. Callousness. He sets the next house on fire and then complains when the flames come back at him? People from Gush Katif are expendable and their well-being can be sacrificed, but if the blade grazes his fingertip all of the sudden there's a problem?

It's too bad, Yonatan Bassi! Eat it! Be thankful you're not moving to a caravilla!


I spoke too soon.

Anonymous informs me in the comments that Bassi is in fact moving to a caravilla. I don't know if this has been reported in English, but here's the story in Hebrew. It's also claimed there that although the Bassis only requested a two-year leave of absence, they're not likely to return.

Spooky, eh? If it didn't look like middah k'neged middah before, it sure does now. What I'd like to know is: what is Yonatan Bassi thinking now? I suspect that even if he hasn't yet a mind for repentence over his role in the Disengagement, he must have one heck of a grimace on his face.

Thanks, Anonymous.

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Thursday, November 02, 2006
Who Really Won the Holocaust Cartoon Contest?

Finally, the news we've all been waiting for! The Toronto Star reports:

TEHRAN, Iran — Ignoring widespread condemnation, Iran awarded the top prize in a Holocaust cartoon contest to a Moroccan artist for his depiction of Israel's security wall with a picture of the Auschwitz concentration camp on it.

The organizers of the exhibit — meant as a response to the Danish cartoons of Islam's Prophet Muhammad that enraged many Muslims — awarded Abdollah Derkaoui $12,000 (U.S.) Wednesday for his work depicting an Israeli crane piling large cement blocks on Israel's security wall and gradually obscuring Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. A picture of Auschwitz appears on the wall.

I would have written this article a bit differently. That the judges fancied Mr. Derkaoui's cartoonistry above all others' is interesting, but it misses the point. According to one of the contest's co-sponsors, the real goal of the contest was to "to test the West's tolerance for drawings about the Holocaust."

Considering that there has not been one riot, murder, boycott, or retaliatory contest in the wake of this offensive spectacle, I'd say the West has passed the test. Can Muslims say as much for their reaction to the Danish cartoons of Muhammad? Who should really be getting that $12,000?

Of course, Western tolerance is no suprise to anyone. The more instructive part of the article comes later on:

The contest generated little coverage in the Iranian press and many ordinary Iranians expressed little interest, or criticized the exhibit as unnecessarily provocative.


The exhibit drew few crowds, apart from students in state-run schools who were brought by their teachers.

Iranian media didn't comment on the competition Thursday apart from reporting its outcome. None reproduced the winning cartoons.

"The exhibition had no remarkable impact on public opinion,'' said Gohar Dashti, a professor at the Soureh Art University in Tehran. "It was neither a concern of students nor of the media.''

Some people on the streets of Tehran voiced skepticism about the contest.

"Drawing cartoons ... isn't a good way to solve real and old problems," said Ahmad Nasiri, a 23-year-old student. "Denying the Holocaust through cartoons doesn't contribute to humanity.''

This goes to show how top-down the anti-Semitism in Iran is. The coverage of reactions may not be exhaustive, but I don't think it's insignificant that the only enthusiastic people quoted in the article are Iran's Minister Of Culture and the cartoon exhibit's own curator. They may not realize it, but those who launched this competition and those who've supported it have achieved nothing more than to show their own intolerance, insensitivity, and desperation for a cause. And in doing so, they've lost their own contest.

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Tuesday, October 31, 2006
Jesus Christ Superstar and Israel's Existential Crisis

When I look at Israel today, it appears nothing less than vibrant: green trees; flowers; new homes going up; busy, talkative people. I may complain about the lousy architecture and poor urban planning, lack of manners, etc., but I know that's just the result of this country and its culture being put together too fast to attend to all the details. It's easy to overlook the negatives, and just appreciate the beauty, the movement, and the sheer excitement of being in a land reborn.

But it's not my purpose today to write about how great Israel is. I'm writing today about the 1973 film Jesus Christ Superstar.

I recognize that I may be at odds, on the one hand, with most other Jews in the world who have no interest in watching it, and on the other, with the Christians who love it and are moved by it to greater faith; but even as a religious Jew, this film is as near and dear to me as Fiddler On the Roof.

Why? Let me first disclaim that I find no Christian message in the film; on the contrary, it demonstrates just how unqualified Jesus was to be the messiah, and the irrational, vacillating devotion of his followers. At its core, J. C. Superstar is a story about Jews living and dying in Judea in the confused and troubled early decades of the first millenium CE, and about one messianic movement in particular that got out of hand. It's set and filmed in the same Jewish land where I now live, and save for a few Romans, the characters are all Jews, as are many of the actors. And the musical numbers are great.

This is not your average religious film—it's flamboyant, experimental, humorous, and shocking. Despite the time and the place, the cast is White, Black, Asian, and Hawaiian. Gun-toting Roman soldiers wear metal helmets and royal purple tank tops. The Jewish masses are groovin' hippies. Timeless shepherds guide their flocks as modern planes fly overhead.

But, in my view, the most significant cinematic departure is the settings. The characters walk, talk and dance through ruins, surrounded by the awesome Negev desert. [I've tried to upload pictures, but Blogger seems to be malfunctioning. Maybe later.] They inhabit real-world structures that 2000 years ago may have been whole and functional buildings, but we see them as they are today. The characters don't seem to notice that the columns have no heads and support no ceiling, or that the walls, with their upper halves missing, offer little protection. The scenes are deficient from a human standpoint as well. There are nowhere near as many extras as there should be. Simon the Zealot gleefully intones to Jesus, "There must be over fifty thousand!" but there are plainly no more than fifty in the crowd. We watch all this, and wonder, can't they see?

They cannot, for the simple reason that the ruination of their world has not yet occurred. It's still decades before the revolt(s) against Rome and the destruction of the Temple, and all the accompanying violence, starvation, exile, and slavery. Only we, living in the future, can know what misery lies ahead for our hapless, pathetic ancestors, who undulate and scream as if the messiah were on their very doorstep. And only we, with our precious hindsight, can see that the seeds of tragedy are already planted. The population is fragmented, squabbling, desperate and restless under a foreign yoke. How long can such a situation go on before it explodes?

In Fiddler too, the theme of Jewish religious and societal breakdown that shakes the characters later in the film, and reaches devastating proportions only after the film closes, in real-life Europe, America, and Israel, is portended already in Tevye's opening lines. Here's a man who can cover his head and put on a tallis and rail about "tradition," but if you ask him, "How did this tradition get started?" his answer is "I don't know." A society of Tevyes can survive only as long as it remains insulated from other societies, and from questioning. Even when the townsfolk are all smiles and song, there's a great hollowness only waiting to be exposed.

Our problems in modern-day Israel are similar to those in Superstar and Fiddler. Like the Jews in Roman times, we are divided and squabbling, and like Tevye, we no longer know how to justify our enterprise. Our values have been turned upside down and inside out, and those charged with leading us are in a deeper dark than anyone else (cf. MK Yuli Tamir's recent outrageous statement that Rabin Memorial Day is as important as Holocaust Day, and the presumptions that must have informed it). We're surrounded by enemies gearing up for an assault, and we're complacent at best; at worst we actively aid them by gifting them weapons, or bringing in international forces to give them cover from ourselves (UNIFIL in Lebanon). Caroline Glick has a good summary of the current goings-on here.

In such circumstances, how long can Israel last? We didn't win our last war with Lebanon, but we didn't exactly lose completely either. Things may be different next time. For now, our buildings are intact, town squares are filled with noisy crowds, and the countrysides are still mostly full of color. Is it all an elaborate house of cards though? Muslims seem to think so. If my power of vision were more accurate, I wonder, would the buildings be crumbling? Would the crowds be decimated? Would the Galilee be bleak and barren as the Negev?

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Thursday, October 26, 2006
Rav Ovadia Yosef Opines on the Presidency

Israel is looking for a new president. A number of possibilities have been put forward, including the enigmatic Shimon Peres, the esteemed Elie Wiesel (who, like Albert Einstein when he was suggested for the role, doesn't actually live in Israel), former Knesset speaker Reuven Rivlin, and former Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau.

The latter hasn't been enthusiastic about running to begin with, and the following news isn't going to help any:

Arutz 7 reports:

Rabbi Yosef Opposes Having a Hareidi President

Former Sephardic Chief Rabbi Ovadia Yosef is quoted in the weekly hareidi-Orthodox Mishpacha magazine expressing his opposition to a member of the hareidi community serving as president.

The statement in directed at the candidacy of Tel Aviv Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, a popular presidential candidate.

Rabbi Yosef, the Shas Party spiritual leader, stated that the presidency is no place for a hareidi Jew, explaining that while “we try to influence the Jewish character of the state,” there is no place at the secular ceremonies and the like.

The statement will make it difficult for any of the hareidi parties to support Rabbi Lau’s bid, including UTJ and Shas.

The political world is a sort of Twilight Zone, where people say the opposite of what they mean, logic is suspended, and the best of men become corrupted. As the Rav says, there are plenty of presidential functions that fall outside the scope of religion, and may even be hostile to it, that a Haredi conscience would feel better avoiding. And imagine the fallout were a Haredi to advance so far, only to become the envy of Putin, like poor Moshe Katsav.

Haredim—and everyone, really—would be wise to be engage in politics as little as possible.

Given the Rav's reasoning, then, I wonder what he thinks of Jerusalem's Mayor Lupolianski, who attends not only secular ceremonies, but Muslim ones as well. My guess is that the offenses here are excusable because the office in question actually offers a fair amount of power, unlike the purely ceremonial presidency. Some might call this hypocrisy, but I think it's a rational calculation of the type that people make all the time. For the mayorship, the pros outweigh the cons; for the presidency they don't. What do you think?


Cosmic X has a different kasha on this report: Rav Ovadia Yosef himself served as Chief Rabbi, and must have also had to attend secular ceremonies. I can only speculate as to why this was acceptable to him:

Maybe the secular events obligating a chief rabbi are fewer and of a different nature than those a president has to attend.

Maybe a chief rabbi has more leeway in choosing what to attend and what not to.

Maybe he felt that the benefits of the position outweighed the costs. Unlike the presidency, the chief rabbinate actually has some power to affect issues that Haredim care about. He wouldn't want non-Haredim making decisions on conversions and kashrut if he could help it.

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Wednesday, October 25, 2006
American, British, and Israeli Cultures In a Nutshell

You don't need to know Hebrew to understand this.

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Monday, October 23, 2006
There are some things money can't buy. For everything else, there are high Israeli taxes.

Compensation to be paid for confiscated land:

$22 million

New roads, passageways, and tunnels to ease the life of affected Arabs:

$540 million

400+ miles of concrete and barbed wire snaking down the Green Line:

$2.1 billion

Knowing that all that money was worth it:


Palestinian worshippers climb over a section of Israel's separation barrier from the West Bank village of A-Ram to Jerusalem on their way to pray at the Al Aqsa Mosque, Friday, Oct. 20, 2006. Palestinians trying to enter Jerusalem to attend prayers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound and Israeli troops scuffled on Friday at several checkpoints between Jerusalem and the West Bank. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

Statistics from here and here.

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Sunday, October 22, 2006
Double, double, toil and trouble

Water boils at 100 °C.

Olive oil boils at 300 °C.

Iron boils at a whopping 2750 °C.

Muslim wrath boils somewhere around the mention of the word "Israel."

A member of Iran's Revolutionary Guards burns an Israeli flag during a demonstration in Tehran. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has predicted Israel would collapse and warned that its allies face the "boiling wrath" of the people if they continue to support the Jewish state.(AFP/Behrouz Mehri)

If they're concerned about oppression of their fellow Muslims, why don't they let off some steam over the atrocities going on in their own country?

What is it that gets the Persian people, who have historically have been as well-disposed to the Jews as anyone else, as agitated as water molecules in a teapot, frantic, hysterical, ready to explode? Could it be the Revolutionary Guards, Guarding the Revolution by spreading lies about Israel, turning the people's attention away from the problems at home (ethnic cleansing, repression, bad economy, high rate of traffic accidents, high air pollution), and towards imaginary injustices in far-away lands that have little to do with them? In a way, the current regime may have an interest in Israel's survival despite its daily death threats: if they ever actually destroyed it, they'd have that much less to distract their citizens with.

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Thursday, October 19, 2006
Much Ado In Iran

Iran, like Israel, is never a dull place (להבדיל). In our survey of the latest news to hit the Persian Republic, we begin with:

The Return Of Prophecy

Though we Jews have been eagerly awaiting prophecy's return ever since Malachi uttered his last thousands of years ago, "surprise" rather than "joy" is probably the word that best characterizes my initial emotions upon hearing that the first of our age to be graced with a divine transmission is a mean Iranian despot. But if that's what Ahmadinejad says....

YNet News reports:

While the West is preparing to impose sanctions on Iran, due to the country's failure to suspend its nuclear activities, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is still optimistic. "We shall win," he was quoted in the Iranian media as saying Monday, and added: "One day I will be asked whether I have been in touch with someone who told me we would win, and I will respond: 'Yes, I have been in touch with God'."

Do reflect on the extraordinary self-composure and modesty that must have been necessary to reveal such a circumstance in such an off-handed way! Perhaps all the op-eds have been wrong. What can one do now, but admire this man who, by his good deeds and saintly disposition, has clearly earned the favor of the Almighty?

In unrelated news:

Iranian President Ahmadinejad Found Under Desk Sniffing Glue

Oh ... whoops. That one has not been reported just yet.

But more importantly, while Mr. A.'s relationship with the Divine may be deepening, the rest of his citizenry is on another course:

Persia Reemergent

According to (again!) YNet:

In Israel and the west Iran is seen as a religious extremist country controlled by Ayatollahs but it seems reality is different.
Many young Iranians lead secular lives. A young Tehran-based computer technician and DJ told Ynet of parties he organizes in the capital, where young Iranians are drawn to the tunes of western music, drugs and alcohol.


The head of Iranian Studies at the Tel Aviv University Prof. David Menashri sketched the changing trends in Iran: "There is life behind the veil. The Iranian youth is more secular than any Muslim country in the Middle East. The regime of the religious led to a rebellion in the direction of secularity and distance from religion. Young people dance at parties, leave for trips outside the capital and climb mountains at the weekend – they ski."

"Teenagers have a very critical attitude. This young generation was born after the Islamic Revolution of 1979 which expected them to be the most observant, but the education imposed by the regime doesn't necessarily yield loyalty. There is a process whereby people who grew up under an oppressive regime learned to live with it and the more the regime oppresses, the will to look on the other side is stronger. I believe that the Iranian people will start asking questions and the public will be the one to do things itself," he adds.

Iranian blogger Mar Bahi, a 28-year-old computer expert from Tehran, wrote about his president: "I am going crazy over what he is doing, from his blog where he wrote only once, passing by denying the Holocaust, his offer to hold a televised debate with Bush, claims that unseen forces are protecting him, to the lies he tells people about the inflation rate, freedom of speech and the people's rights. He is an outcast who likes to show off without thinking whether it is for the better or worse, he doesn't car. How small can people be?"
A poll conducted by the state-run broadcasting authority in Iran showed that 65 percent of Iranians are dissatisfied with their president. A similar poll conducted last year showed that 60 percent of correspondents were satisfied with their president's economic and social policies.
Another blogger, an Iranian youth on exile in Canada, says Ahmadinejad's nickname among Iranian youths is 'I am mad negad'.
Prof. Menashri explains: "Among Iranian teenagers, Ahmadinejad is not very popular. He and Hizbullah are more popular among teenagers in other Middle Eastern countries."
Menashri says Ahmadinejad's rising unpopularity at home is due to his anti-western stance. "He rode a wave of anti-western and anti-Israel attitude, building his career. A populist from the land of the populists. Two years ago no one knew him. For regime leaders he delivers the goods. He turned Iran's nukes into an Iranian national issue."

The moderate stance of much of Iran's population, as opposed to that of its leaders, is not really news. But it does need to be pointed out from time to time, because many people are unaware of it.

Reporter/author Robert D. Kaplan devotes several chapters to Iran in his book The Ends Of the Earth. As he attempts to reconcile the sterility and coldness of the Iranian holy city of Qom with the colorful, sensuous silk carpets woven there for export, he muses, "An austere Islamic exterior concealed a pleasure-loving Persian core—consistent with Islam as an Arab import from the hot deserts of southern Arabia...." These words could apply to the country as a whole. Or, as a young Iranian man explains to him, "Deep down we are a nation of flowers, nightingales, fire, butterflies, and wine—that is the pure essence of Persia."

That instead of merely returning to their native idyllic weltanschauung, the populace has shuttled past it and begun to adopt the most abhorrent of Western vices, including drugs, gold chains, sports jerseys, and even skiing, is cause for concern. In Iran we see how easily one extreme can lead to the other, and I hope the situation can stabilize before things get any worse.

When Kaplan published his book in 1996, he predicted that the Persia's ill-fitting Iranian exterior would soon come undone. Ten years later, it still hasn't, but in a recent interview he affirms that it's only a matter of time. The problem, he says, is that fighting the Iranian power structure is "like fighting a pillow," because it is so extensive, and diffuse, with multiple power centers. The desire exists, but not the means.

The regime can feel the ants in its pants, though, and it's scratching away:

Iran's Internet Slowdown

From CNet News:

Iran's Internet service providers have started reducing the speed of Internet access to homes and cafes based on new government-imposed limits, a move critics said appeared to be part of a clampdown on the media.

An official said last week that ISPs were now "forbidden" by the Telecommunications Ministry from providing Internet connections faster than 128 kilobytes per second (KBps), the Islamic Republic New Agency, Iran's official news outlet, reported. No reason was given for the restriction.

Internet technicians say speeds of 256KBps, 512KBps or higher are increasingly common internationally. Iranian surfers will now find it takes much longer to download music or anything else from the Web. Businesses have not been affected by the move.

Critics said the restriction would hinder the work of students and researchers but said it appeared in line with what they see as a squeeze on the media by the government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who rails against the West.

"Once more, one of the most important tools for providing information is faced with new government red lines and restrictions," the reform-minded daily Etemad-e Melli declared in an article on the new speed limitation....

Hijinks like this can only anger people more, but the regime is really damned either way. Which is why the rest of the world should worry. Oppressive regimes like Iran and North Korea know that time is against them, and any big offensive plans they might harbor cannot be put on hold indefinitely.

<ominous music>

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Tuesday, October 17, 2006
Sderot Gets Desperate

Woe is Israel! Look at what our political process has been reduced to:

Arutz Sheva reports: "Red Color" Warning Alarm Direct to MKs' Cell Phones

Following the firing of a Kassam rocket towards Sderot this morning - no casualties, no damage - the residents sent a recording of the Red Color early warning alarm to the MKs' cell phones.

The residents of Sderot have been treated not only to a nearly-daily fare of Kassam rockets, but also to what they see as official disregard of their plight. They therefore plan to "remind" the Knesset Members every time a rocket is fired.

This morning, after a Kassam rocket was fired from northern Gaza towards Sderot - less than two kilometers away as the crow flies - the members of the local grassroots anti-Kassam campaign sent a personal message to the cell phones of most of the Knesset Members. The announcement begins with a wailing Red Color siren, followed by a personal plea to the MKs to act to restore safety and security to the citizens of Sderot.

Alon Davidi, head of the task force, said, "We want the MKs to experience first-hand the intolerable fear and panic that the residents feel day in and day out when the rockets fall, sowing destruction and fear. We will continue to send the messages after every Kassam that lands in the city."


If the Knesset were capable of taking an interest, a strategy like this might do the trick. But the problem is not just that the MKs are too detached from events in the wild border regions. They, like the electorate that installed them, just don't know what to do, and have gone numb. To really resolve Israel's problems would take efforts on a grander scale than anyone has the stomach for, and would alienate America besides.

So we hold talks and make threats and generally try to maintain the status quo, and as the status quote slides, so do our expectations. Sderot will just have to suffer.

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Monday, October 16, 2006
The Sukkot Aftermath

Another Sukkot has come and gone. Now's not the time, I think, to finish the Sukkos Fairy Tale I was writing (Parts I and II). It's twelve months away, but I'd rather save the ending for next Sukkot, and instead reflect a little more seriously now on my experiences in the previous days and where we're left now.

I'm happy to have experienced Sukkot in Israel this year.

We saw this past week the first sprinklings of the rainy season, but overall the skies and the air here are much more hospitable to outdoor dwelling than in New York this time of year. Here the weather was a little inconvenient; when I built a sukkah in New York, the storms drenched the schach, melted the decorations, and then squashed it like an insect. There the weather defeated my efforts; here it was just enough to remind me that I was, after all, outside.

The concentration of Jews here doesn't hurt either. In leaving the solid, impersonal walls of our houses and apartments for seven days, we became physically, socially, and spiritually closer to the people that make up our community. My neighbor and I bridged the gap between our porches with a halachic discussion of my sukkah's walls as I was putting them up. Sitting inside, we exchanged greetings with passers-by through cut-out windows. Zemiros-singing and instrument playing that would have been hidden any other week were now exposed for all to hear and appreciate.

Simchat Torah here was special as well. All I needed to do to daven at the Kotel was to take a half hour walk and step through a metal detector. I prayed and danced with a microcosm of our entire people, meters away from the site of the temple—that place where our connection with G-d, and perhaps each other, is strongest.

When the chag came to a close, we davened maariv, and then took a couple of hours to unwind. The relief was necessary but temporary: before long hakafot shniyot had erupted everywhere, as groups large and small took Torahs in their arms and went for another whirl, this time with live music, and the intensity that that brings. It was the loud and colorful culmination of a season of holy days, and the last burst before the post-Tishrei calm would set in.

I had the privilege of attending hakafot shniyot led by one of the few religious singers whose music I find pleasant. I'd heard him over the internet from the States, and now that I was in Israel, it just so happened that he was performing not five minutes from my apartment. This is a small country, I was reminded, and that's how things work here.

The celebration here was of a different order than what I'd seen at the Kotel during the actual holiday. More than at the Kotel, or any other synagogue I've been to, this was a gathering of different kinds of Jews, in roughly equal proportions. The participants were younger and more energetic, and the musicians interacted with them. It seemed to me that this was less a religious event than a popular one: the constituency was not according to sect, but neighborhood, and the energy and purpose seemed to come from the bottom up rather than from the top down. (Would that all popular events would revolve around such elevated themes.) It wasn't hard to get into it. I danced and span till I felt like a Sufi, and went home exhausted halfway through. Two days later, I can still feel some of the ecstasy, and my legs are still sore.

And so the frenzies and physicalities of Tishrei fade and we're left with memories, and hopefully, some growth. My sukkah is coming down, slowly, and the porch underneath looks disturbingly bare, like a winter tree bereft of its leaves. There's some temptation to simply leave the sukkah up for the rest of the year, but then it would lose much of its significance and pull, wouldn't it? Meaning and beauty need limitations to exist; otherwise it's just chaos. And it's quite fitting that the holiday which seeks to impart the message of our own fragility and impermanence in this world should itself be brief. Just as the days of a sukkah are circumscribed, so are our own. For that matter, just as a storm can fell a sukkah before its time, so can we fall, even in the prime of life. Both sukkah and man will rise again though, when the time is right. And even as Sukkot and the Days of Awe come to an end, the cycle of Torah reading begins again, with renewed strength and dedication. Until next Tishrei comes around, we have plenty to keep our sprits occupied.

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Thursday, October 12, 2006
One of these things is not like the other....

Whereas some news sources, as well as some blogs, try to make their headlines catchy and enticing, Arutz 7 often uses its headlines to make a point.

Take this one: Synagogue Planned For Temple Mount, Hashemites to Add Minaret.

This casual juxtaposition is a valiant attempt at equating two spectacularly different ideas. Everyone knows that one of these two plans will come to fruition, while the other will not. One will hardly cause a stir, while the other would spark riots. One is put forward by a unified front, while the other is a subject of serious internal dispute. But they shouldn't be so different, A7 is telling us, and we have to strive to make the former as acceptable as the latter.

MK Ariel, the man behind the synagogue proposal, probably knows he's pissing in the wind, but he's trying to make a statement too, and sometimes one has to be willing to engage futility for a while in order to raise awareness. I can't say I support him here though, because even so much as walking onto the temple mount is far from universally sanctioned halachically, let alone building a synagogue there. He can talk about consult leading torah scholars on every step of the process, but this line is also a rhetorical trick, because by pursuing the idea at all, he's already ignoring the large segment of rabbis who oppose it.

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The Three Little Yids: An Instructive Sukkos Fairy Tale
Part II

Continued from Part I

The next eldest brother'd erected his booth
Out of old metal car parts he'd slowly amassed.
The walls, too, were made in a manner uncouth,
Out of used plastic sheeting from Shabboses past.

He was smoking and drinking reduced apple juice
When his brother arrived, looking fretful and woe'd.
They brooded, and paced, and did hisbodedus,
Till they thought of a way to maintain their abode.

The two clever Yidden picked up their small hut
And shlepped the thing into an alley post-haste.
In order that every approach should be shut,
In the fore, and behind, flaming dumpsters were placed.

But their sukkah was not to remain undisturbed:
Before long came a klop on their tenuous walls,
And through these authoritous soundwaves reverbed:
"Little Yids, hearken unto my voice as it calls."

"But how did you cross through the fiery waste?"
Gravely questioned the Yids to the posek they faced.
"There's no need now to quaver like dainty young dames;
I simply but carefully walked twixt the flames!

The posek went on, with the grace of the pious,
"So, now, with reshus of the kind baal habayis
I'd much like to enter, and avoid any sins."
Said they, "Not by the hair of our chinny-chin-chins!"

Said the posek, "Don't think that by that you are safe;
For I hereby declare that your sukkah is treif!
There's no barrier can protect insecure walls,*
And your tumadik schach-support truly apalls!**

"Never was worse a heap pitched by a churl,
Horrific enough to make peyos unfurl!
So I'll huff and I'll puff till your sukkah comes down."
And thusly he did, and the brothers fled town.

To be continued....

*Even if the windflow is blocked due to the sukkah's location, its walls still must be able to withstand the normal pressures they would face in the barriers' absence.
**Because metal can become tamei, it should not be used to support the schach.

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Tuesday, October 10, 2006
The Three Little Yids: An Instructive Sukkos Fairy Tale
Part I

There once was an upright but poor mother Yid,
With fourteen or nineteen dependent young Yidden.
When Sukkos-time came to their town, quite unbid,
She scavenged the gemachim and, too, the town midden.

She threw up a sukkah, but realized, too late,
That her fam'ly would not even fit past the gate.
With a tear in her eye she sent three of her clan,
Saying, "Raise your own sukkos, as fast as you can!'

The three brothers Yidden worked daytime and night
Till they each had a sukkah mehudar and right.
When they'd stood up the walls, and they'd laid down the schach,
They danced in the dark and they sang out "Na Nach..."

The antepenultimate in learning and age
Bought some discounted cloth from a King George boutique.
On red strings he hung up his polka-dot cage,
For a sukkah that was tasteless as well as unique.

His unhappy dwelling caught the eye of a posek
Who knocked and said, "Yid, would you let a guest in?
The poor hapless Yid, now un-anosognosic
Said, "Not by the hair of my chinny-chin-chin!"

Said the posek, "Your sukkah is ugly and mimsy
But far worst of all's that your walls are too flimsy!*
I'm afraid I must act; and though it make me frown,
I'll huff and I'll puff and I'll blow your sukkah down!"

So he opened his mouth and he huffed a great puff,
And the sukkah fell down like a leaf in the winter.**
The panicking Yid grabbed his hat and his snuff,
And ran off to join his next kin in the hinter.

Continued in Part II....

* A sukkah's walls must be sturdy enough that a common wind will not move them.
** Though the sukkah was toppled by a man and not a wind, if a man's breath could knock the walls down, all the more so would a wind be able to move them, and the sukkah was thus posul from the beginning.

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Friday, September 29, 2006
Insane in the Mediterraine*

So I've been on a bit of a hiatus since I last posted three months ago. No, I didn't get sucked into a blackhole or fall into a time warp; I've only moved to Israel and been stranded for a while without many a modern convenience, virtually unable to communicate with the outside world.

Anyway, it's great to be here. When not strolling through Jerusalem's empty lots wondering why there are no available apartments, or getting smoke blown in my face by beggars trying to win my sponsorship, I've basked in the glow of Hizbullah's "thank-you-for-giving-us-some-space" sound and light show, and experienced the singular pleasure of being reprimanded at the shuk for looking at the merchandise.

Seriously, people here are crazy. Call it Jerusalem Syndrome or Levantine Lunacy, there's something in the air, or the water, or the genes (and if so it's dominant), that makes a lot of my fellow Israelis act in ways diametrically opposed to their goals.

Luckily for the level-headed among us, many of the worst cases have been plucked from society and gathered into one place, the National Insane Asylum. But unfortunately, the need is far greater than has ever been accommodated.

So, you can understand my delight when I read on Arutz Sheva that efforts are underway to increase the number of patients at this vital and historic institution, known in Hebrew as the Knesset, from 120 to 180:

Kadima MK Prof. Menachem Ben-Sasson, who chairs the Knesset Law Committee, supports increasing the Knesset from its current 120 MKs to 180.

Ben-Sasson explains that in previous governments, about one-third of the MKs have served as cabinet ministers or deputy ministers, leaving regular parliamentary work in the hands of only 80 lawmakers. On an average, an MK serves on six different committees, Ben-Sasson explains, making their effectiveness on any one committee somewhat limited.

Adding 60 MKs, Ben-Sasson feels, would result in MKs serving on an average of two committees, permitting them to focus their energies on those committees. Ben-Sasson believes expanding the number of MKs would be a positive step towards revamping the political system.


Among the outspoken opponents of the plan is Prof. Shevach Weiss, a former Knesset Speaker. Weiss stated that at present, the Knesset is not overwhelmingly popular and a call to increase its size by 1/3 would be met with angry public accusations of wasting additional taxpayer funds. Weiss stated that if the Knesset enjoyed widespread public support, such a move might be feasible....

It'll cost money, but if it'll keep these guys off the streets, I'm for it!

*No, unfortunately, there's no good way to spell that.

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Monday, June 12, 2006
The Aliyah Blues* **

♫ Got the aliyah blues, yeah, got the aliyah blues
Up all night and wailin' from those blues
Oh I'm leaving in a week and I don't even have a pair o' shoes

Well I saw my passport leavin' on a Monday
Well I saw my passport leave me, yes it's true
Oh I put her in the mailbox, but will my visa make it through?

My suitcase' still unpacked, my bags is empty
Said my suitcase is unpacked, exceptin' sugar cane and brew
Oh my hard drive's crashed again and I'm sweeping pieces with a broom

The place that I'll be sleepin', I don't know it
Oh that place I'll be sleeping', I don't know it from a field o' rye
The one thing that I know, I've got a free cab ride to the sky

They tell me ulpan's open for some learnin'
Oh they tell me ulpan's open but it's closed in July
If I'm learnin' any words you know it's Romanian or Thai

In the morning, check the banks and all the health funds
In the evening, checkin' banks and health funds too
Don't you know they all just make me blue

Oh my guìtar's off a sailin' the Atlantic
Said she's sailin' on the ocean, where the water's blue, blue, blue, blue
And if my guitar's still ridin' high, I'll just have to play on this here oud ♫

* All true except for the shoes, sugar cane, brew, and broom. Oh, and my shipment isn't in the Atlantic yet, it's still in storage

** Written while listening alternately to the Beatles' "For You Blue" and "Yer Blues," the words generally fit better the melody and phrasing of the former, but I prefer the angst and metrical irregularity of the latter.

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Wednesday, May 31, 2006
Beneath the Planet of the Iranians

Dancers perform as they hold capsules of uranium hexaflouride, or UF6 gas during a ceremony in Mashhad, Iran’s holiest city.

In many respects, Iran is a great place. Really. It has beautiful landscapes, incredible architecture, ancient monuments and desert cities built with ingenious cooling systems and water carriers, a refined cuisine that's simultaneously earthy and ethereal, languages that are aesthetically pleasing and linguistically intriguing.

And then there are things like the nuclear bomb cult, evidenced in the photograph above from the Jerusalem Post. Iran is not the first country to pursue The Bomb, nor will it be the last. But the glorification, feverish dictatorial rhetoric, religious associations, and utter confusion of good and evil (note the backdrop of doves) surely put this nation in a class by itself. Or maybe not?

This picture is from the visionary film Beneath the Planet of the Apes, the first and the worst of four bad sequels to Planet of the Apes. In it, a man on a rescue mission arrives on the earth two thousand years in the future, and finds a mutant race of deformed humans, survivors of a nuclear war, living underground where New York City once lay. And what do these people do when not abusing our protagonists and warring with talking apes? They sing to and worship ... a nuclear bomb. You can guess what happens by the end of the movie. Now look at the picture up top again.

I don't see much difference. Do you?

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Monday, May 22, 2006
Dressing Iran up and down

The supposed new Iranian dress code was a good story while it lasted. Yellow stripes for Jews, red ones for Christians, and blue for Zoroastrians, all with the noble goal of helping Muslims to avoid touching the Other and thereby getting cooties becoming unclean. While the obvious intellectual question of how distinguishing between different types of infidels was relevant for that end was raised by no one, anyone with a moral filling in their bottom-left bicuspid had a golden chance to show it off, and so a wave of furious denunciations swept across the net, complete with ominous images of pre-Holocaust "Jude" badges for comparison.

Anyone who's reading this has probably heard by now that the truth was not quite so spectacular (unless we're being played with again, of course). With hat tips to Mystical Paths and Kamangir, here's a translation from Zharf of what the legislation is really about:

1) Encouraging fabric designers and producers in using Iranian and Islamic patterns and styles in producing fabric and dress.
2) Respecting the traditional patterns and lively symbols of Iranian ethnic groups and paying attention to proper body coverage based on Islamic Sharia.
3) Taking advantage of research in obtaining original(to Iran) fabric patterns.
4) Encouraging the public in using the Iranian styles.
5) Supporting local producers of traditional clothes with loans and providing them exposure in clothes fairs and festivals.
6) Helping the public access to traditional clothes by establishing permanent dress fairs on local and regional bases.
7) Organizing regional (international) dress fair for exchanging experiences with other Muslim countries.
8) Inspecting and Controlling the imports of fabric and clothes to prevent the import of clothes incompatible with cultural, Islamic and national values.
9) This draft is written with coordination with the managing body in charge of clothing and dress.
10) Financial support for NGOs, unions, and non-governmental institutions in providing national clothing.
11) Media, in special the national TV, must help in establishing the usage of national clothing and they have to avoid advertising styles inconsistent with our culture.

Funny thing is, if it were a little less totalitarian, I'd say it was almost admirable. Sticking to one's own traditions instead of blindly emulating the practices of other societies is a value that Judaism espouses too ... sort of ... I mean ... except when it comes to clothes, music, food, language ... and I'd better stop before this list gets too long. Well, there are a few people at Beged Ivri who have tried to (re-)create some real Jewish clothing, but if someone caught you wearing one of their tunics or tallithoth you'd probably be arrested it hasn't quite caught on yet. We still see haredim dressing like antiquated Europeans, modern orthodox like respectable Americans, and settlers like unrespectable Americans hippies. Looking on the bright side though, we have succeeded at implementing our own minority dress codes, even without government intervention! If the Iranians could hold off from scorching us, perhaps we could teach them a thing or two.

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Olmert? We don't want any....

That's it. I'm just taking advantage of the fact that I'm still in America and I can still say this. Take your slimy ethnic cleansing plans and multi-billion-dollar grant requests and get out of my country!

Arutz Sheva posted the following:

Olmert Lands in Washington on His First Visit
05:43 May 22, '06 / 24 Iyar 5766

( Prime Minister Ehud Olmert during the night landed in Washington, D.C. for his first official visit to the United States since entering office.

During the visit, Olmert is expected to meet with President George W. Bush, Secretary of State Dr. Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld. He is also expected to address both Houses of Congress.

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Friday, May 05, 2006
The blog must go on ... but not really

Wow! I haven't posted in more than a week and I'm still getting hits! I even got more today than the day before. I guess that means I've made it. Thanks to everyone who's linked or visited this site, even those who got here on google searches for "straightjacket and gagged" and the like. I hope you found something stimulating here even if it wasn't quite what you were looking for.

Why haven't I posted? I just wasn't in the mood I guess. When I started this thing I had no idea if it would last more than a day or two. I'm really not a writer, and I didn't think I'd have much to write about. There are enough other people who are more creative, observant (in the non-religious sense of the word), perceptive, insightful, witty, expressive, intelligent, and informed than I to render me beyond redundant (in the American sense of the word). But I went ahead and created this blog anyway, because I found that sometimes I did have things to say that I didn't see anyone else saying, and because I figured that if I'm a decent human being, I really should have at least one interesting thought (even if not original) every day or few worth sharing - no?!

Things went better than I thought they would. Once I had the forum, the material came more easily, and I found my writing was a little better than it had been back when I'd be throwing together papers weeks late under the schoolmaster's switch. But still, I'm a very moody person. My writing and my opinions can be very uneven, and what interests me one day bores me the next. I'm very indecisive, and critical of myself (and others), and I usually write slowly. A lot has happened in these last days, but nothing moved me enough or in quite the right way to put anything up here.

There was Holocaust Day. I thought of writing a post called "Hypocrisy Day" in response, because it's particularly on this day of pompous speech and ceremony that the chasm between what people say and what they do seems to widen so much that it looks like they're actually going to drop down into it and never be seen again. You have Ehud Olmert mouthing off like nobody's uncle about the perils of appeasement——even as he lays the groundwork for a massive withdrawal that can only whet his enemy's appetite. You have Tomy Lapid sneering at the nations like a rebellious teenager, saying that Israel will rely on no one except itself——even as it begs them for love and acceptance, even as it bows to foreign-imposed "peace" plans like the "Road Map" with its backing "quartet" (a name at which musicians everywhere should take offense), even as it takes gazillions of dollars in aid from America (which can't come free), and even as it concedes its security to wild Arabian marauders. I may have had legitimate complaints, but it didn't seem appropriate to voice them on a day that's been set aside for remembrance of the dead. Maybe Olmert and Lapid couldn't keep their mouths shut, but that didn't mean I had to start spouting off.

Yom Hazikaron doesn't register with me too much, but there's always Yom Ha'atzma'ut. I used to get fairly jolly when this time of year came around, but now I've been overcome by cynicism. I've come to see the State of Israel as a worthwhile enterprise only insofar as it helps Jews, i.e., enhances their religious observance or offers them protection from enemies. My support is thus conditional; the State is not an end in itself. I know that the religious Zionist opinion is that the State is actually an end in itself, but since spending time at a haredi yeshiva I've learned that there are other opinions, and in the end we just don't know who's right and what the role of the State really is. So we're left discussing particular merits and drawbacks. Overall, I think it still does more good than bad: as far as I can tell, more Jews have survived because of the State than perished because of it, it's enabled much of the ingathering that we've been waiting for for millennia, and though it led to a decrease in the religious observance of many, it has also facilitated preservation and outreach among others. It's really a mixed bag, and my feelings towards it are likewise mixed. If I never knew any soldiers to mourn on Yom Hazikaron, I do have something to mourn on Israeli "Independence" Day: the deterioration of the State and People of Israel, and the shattering of my youthful illusions about it.

The meaning of aliyah is also not what it once was. G-d willing, a month and a half from now, I'll be getting on a plane and leaving for Eretz Yisrael. I'm thrilled about being in the land, and among so many other Jews, but as for becoming an Israeli and getting a T'udat z'hut, I sort of feel like I'm hiring a really good bodyguard who happens to beat up my sister from time to time.

Add to all this the stress of worrying about how to ship the greatest amount of my belongings for the least money, whether I'll ever find a job that can keep me afloat, and where I'll be sleeping, and maybe you can see why I've been a little subdued.

By titling this post as I did, I mean to say that the blog is still here and I don't intend to close up shop, but I recognize that what I'm doing here is trivial. I do it because I want to inform and I want to be heard, but ... sometimes I don't. This blog will rear its head and dip back into the water as I do, and I can't guarantee that it won't ever go under for good. That said, part of the reason why I'm bothering to post is because I felt bad that some people were visiting here multiple times only to find the site neglected. I don't have very many readers, certainly not enough to justify the ads I have at the top of the page (but they make the site look professional, don't they, and the title of the blog appropriately sinks beneath them), but I feel a surprising level of camaraderie and responsibility. So, this one's for you, and maybe next time I'll have a better post.

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מי הוא זה ואי זה הוא

Name: Sabzi Aash
Location: Jerusalem, Israel

View my complete profile

ראה זה חדש

When right is left and left is right

If you didn't like Yonatan Bassi before...

Who Really Won the Holocaust Cartoon Contest?

Jesus Christ Superstar and Israel's Existential Crisis

Rav Ovadia Yosef Opines on the Presidency

American, British, and Israeli Cultures In a Nutshell

There are some things money can't buy. For everything else, there are high Israeli taxes.

Double, double, toil and trouble

Much Ado In Iran

Sderot Gets Desperate

The Sukkot Aftermath

One of these things is not like the other....

The Three Little Yids: An Instructive Sukkos Fairy Tale
Part II

The Three Little Yids: An Instructive Sukkos Fairy Tale
Part I

Insane in the Mediterraine*

The Aliyah Blues* **

Beneath the Planet of the Iranians

Dressing Iran up and down

Olmert? We don't want any....

The blog must go on ... but not really

בין הבלוגים

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The Hall of the Goblin King
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If you will it...
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Jewish Nation

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Perspectives of a Nomad
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