Monday, November 30, 2015

Wow! First time I missed a month! So I'm cheating and back-dating this one. Here are some Facebook posts from the past month or so you may find interesting:
So Kerry is "cautiously optimistic" (of course; diplomats always are) as he brings Netanyahu's "proposals" to Abbas and Abdullah.

Now, I can't speak for Netanyahu, who I generally like but who can do some very silly things sometimes*, but the rationalist in me wonders what on earth such "proposals" can be. I'm reminded of something I was once told about R' Eliezer Berkovitz. Asked about theological dialogue after the Holocaust, he said, "How's this for dialogue? 'Stop killing our children, thank you very much.'"

*Although if the news means what it implies, it seems as if Netanyahu's "proposals" are basically Berkovitz': "Stop killing us, thank you very much." If that's the case, maybe Kerry shouldn't be so "optimistic."
Hannibal Lecter asked Clarice Starling if the lambs have stopped screaming.

One wonders if the odious John Kerry believes that by suppressing Jewish rights and blaming Jews for their own deaths, he will keep all those murdered Kohn relations- and, even more importantly, the little Kohn inside him- from screaming.

Ah, who'm I kidding- the man has probably never had an introspective moment in his life. Whether that's better or worse than being a self-hating quasi-Jew I don't know.

Is that a bit harsh? Well, too bad, because the newspaper really ticked me off this morning. OK, I'll try to be nicer to the Prime Minister:

Oh, Bibi. Oh, Bibi, Bibi, Bibi. Remember how the other day I said you sometimes do silly things? Well, caving in to anti-Semitic demands and, at the same time, rewarding terror are two such examples of silly things. I can't quite decide whether making John Kerry happy is sillier than those, but it ranks up there.

(Since, of course, Netanyahu has explicitly called for exactly the opposite in the past, we must wonder at what stage he is a liar and/or a craven politician- before he takes office, or during his term.)

(By the way, the definition of "chutzpah" is Kerry's own State Department criticizing Israel for not allowing Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount. You know what? Keep your honey, and keep your gall.)
More imaginary "What if ordinary people got to talk frankly to important people without all the diplomatic niceties" conversations:

"King Abdullah, you like to present yourself to the world as a pleasant, nice kind of Arab monarch. We could almost be fooled into thinking you are civilized. You even appeared on Star Trek once. So let me ask you: For some bizarre reason, Israel has decided to let you, an illegitimate usurper of Palestinian national rights, and on what is legally Israeli territory, in fact, control Judaism's holiest site. With that in mind, why are Jews constantly harassed and forbidden to pray at that site by people literally employed by you?"

"Oh, and before you open your mouth, let me assure you that the only acceptable answers other than, 'I'm terribly sorry, I'll put an end to that,' are 'I have a gun pointed to my head by the majority of my population, who are rabid anti-Semites,' or 'I am a rabid anti-Semite myself.' Thank you."

Here's another one:

"Rabbi Tau, the chardali leaders who hold in your thrall made a lot of hay in the 1990's playing on people's fears of Oslo, claiming- lying, in fact- that they were the only true right-wingers who would oppose such things. So why would you lead this effort- I assume you led it, because whenever you're not front and center on something we can safely assume you're pulling the strings- to cave in to Arab demands about the Har HaBayit?"

"Again, the only acceptable answers are 'I am really a charedi and actually can't stand any of my supposed supporters,' or 'My entire life and movement have been almost solely motivated by animus against R' Stav and everything related to him.' Thank you."

(I think one reason Tzohar, Beit Hillel, et. al. really get their goat is that they stay away from politics and have lots of right-wing members. That keeps them from the fate of, say, Meimad, which we're assured, not very honestly, stood for more than Oslo.)

That's all for now! In nicer news, if you listen closely, you can hear the trees and other plants saying shira.

I always find it a bit jarring that the very last line of the Yom Kippur Avoda- the culmination of all the highest-level tefillot you can imagine- is something as seemingly prosaic as "ועל אנשי השרון היה אומר: יהי רצון מלפניך ה' אלוהינו ואלוהי אבותינו, שלא יעשו בתיהן קבריהן" 

I think I only came to appreciate it today, when (unbeknownst to us in Jerusalem) those risks became- as they seem to have become for thousands of years- all too real. There's the obvious point that at the very moment we're praying for rain and expecting it to start within weeks, we, and the kohen gadol, need to emphasize that they should be גשמי ברכה, without flooding or building collapses.

But more than that, there's a certain poetry in the idea that we can go from the sublime to the (again, seemingly) mundane like that. That our prayers are not only about the "big" things like war and peace, but also have concern for the everyday person, living "far" from the Temple, whose life and livelihood are at risk from the rains. May we all be protected.
Some notes on Israel:

-Yesterday, the mother of a murdered terror victim was making her statement before the Supreme Court regarding house demolitions and said some angry but not really offensive words. She was cut off by the Chief Justice herself (or Herself, I suppose I should say) and told that "Even bereaved mothers should have limits."

Wow. Being thin-skinned certainly seems in vogue among our elites, worldwide, doesn't it? I don't think actual monarchs would actually do something like that.

Notice to Miriam Naor and all her ilk: If you're the type of person who can't take the occasional insult or hear things that make you uncomfortable, well, perhaps you shouldn't have elevated yourself into a position of power over us proles. Welcome to the real world.

-The newspaper reported that the Knesset cafeteria has been moving silverware from public access for fear of stabbings. Considering the level of Knesset security (you can't enter the building unless you have a good reason), that sounds either bizarre or really troubling. But it does remind me that "סכו"ם" is my favorite Hebrew word ever.

-I saw the new Field Intelligence berets for the first time yesterday. As I expected, although they're officially tan, they look a lot more like yellow to me, which makes sense considering that berets and unit flags often match, and their flag is yellow and white. It got me thinking that the IDF has pretty much covered the entire spectrum now, and then some- there are fifteen colors total, including a few shades each of blue and green, black, grey, and even sort of white.
A number of years ago, I attended a shiur of Professor Shnayer Leiman. He read a story that had recently appeared in a number of charedi sources- a newspaper, a book by Ruchama Shain, etc.- always with a few variations. He then read the original, which was a short story by Agnon. (At the end, R' Leiman added a very interesting take on the whole thing. Details can follow if wanted.) At some point, some charedi writer had passed it along and it got mistaken for fact.

As often happens when R' Leiman does something like this, there were protests from the audience. "Well, um, maybe Agnon was reporting something that had actually happened." "No," came the reply. "He wrote fiction."

This came to mind again when I picked up this week's "Ish Le-re'ehu," a charedi-ish parsha sheet produced and distributed locally. Right there on the front page was a story about a tzadik who gave away his etrog to preserve shalom bayit. It was familiar to me, because a translation of the story into English was published on the internet only a few weeks ago. It was, of course, a short story by none other than Agnon. My, he's the gift that keeps on giving. (Just this morning I noted sadly to myself that you don't see the old fifty shekel bill with his face any more.)

(By the way, some of the details of the Hebrew version are a bit "frummer" in a disturbing way. Knowing the text of the original it was lifted from makes that more disturbing.)
Yesterday was R' Meir Kahane's twenty-fifth yahrtzeit. I am sad to report than unlike last year, the signs legally posted around south Jerusalem were torn down.

The only time I heard him speak was at the Young Israel of Hillcrest back in November of 1989. It was the days of the First Intifada, and he delivered some, shall we say, clarifying thoughts. The audience, properly, ate it up. Toward the end, he spoke, as he often did (and wrote) about the importance of aliyah.

Some neighbors gave us and others a ride home. In the car, they were all pumped. "Oh, he tells it like it is!" and the like. One of kids then asked, "What was that at the end about moving to Israel?" and his parent waved it off with, "Oh, that's his usual mishegas."

I was young, but they say the young have better phoniness detectors than others, and I detected it right there.

As I later read his writings, I discovered that this was an acknowledged lack of tact on R' Kahane's part. As he put it, he valued truth more than success, and so pushed issues (notably for his early days, support of the Vietnam War) that he could have left unmentioned or unstressed, even if it turned off potential followers. And my, did he promote aliyah. Wrote a whole book about it, in fact. I imagine he realized what effect it had.

Or did it? Right after his murder, Yoram Hazony, no Kahanist he, wrote a eulogy in the Jerusalem Post in which he pointed out (based on personal experience) that while he might have no attracted huge numbers of actual followers, the influence R' Kahane had was vast, in bringing people- who may not have agreed with his more famous and controversial opinions- to Jewish practice, to caring and working for the Jewish people, and to making aliyah. Maybe that was an influence on me. (Although, being, unlike Hazony, a good fanatic, I long ago learned not to disagree with anything R' Kahane said.)

Knowing R' Kahane, he was probably happier with that fact. It brings to mind the positive attitude of Shlomo Carlebach (yahrtzeit also last week, also an admirer-not-follower of R' Kahane) toward those who he had brought so closer to Judaism that they had stopped speaking to him.
A bit late, but I have a random thought: As much as they may disapprove of the "settlements," and may, in some cases, actually harbor real animosity toward "settlers" and/or religious types and think they are the root of all the violence, I can not recall a left-wing Israeli ever once saying something like "Why are there attacks in Tel Aviv? We're not settlers!" That should tell you a lot about who feels they're part of society and who doesn't.

(The same seems to hold true of the small number of right-wingers who think secularism is the spiritual cause of the violence, or the larger number who think leftism is a direct cause of it. They may think it's the cause, but you never hear "So why are we being attacked?" from them.)

(Michael Moore did say something like this after 9/11, but he's stupid and has no class, and is not an Israeli.)

On a completely different topic, am I the only one who is a bit uncomfortable with the idea of an eight year old whose parents were murdered almost in front of him being made into the star attraction at a mass convention? Can't it wait until he's eighteen, or sixteen, or at least bar mitzvah?
So Moshe Halbertal was heckled and disrupted while giving a speech at the University of Minnesota. Halbertal is about as far from a far right-winger as you can imagine, but, you know, "Zionism" and all, and we can't expect careful thinking from anti-Semites in general, and these A-rabs and their leftist fellow travelers in specific.

Meir Kahane was once heckled (with "Allahu Akbar," imagine the Upper Midwest being a hotbed of Islamism as early as 1990) at a speech at the very same university. He stepped out from behind the podium, waded into the scrum of screamers, and physically pushed them off the stage. Now there was a man. Israeli academics should take a lesson. Rough these coddled millennials up a bit and maybe they'll get shaken out of some delusions.

(Two weeks later, someone brought a gun, and that was that. Chaval.)

You can find the whole speech on Youtube, but here's the relevant part. Alas, the video cuts out for a second at the crucial moment.
I love finding two seemingly unrelated news stories and tying them together.

The EU is moving ahead with their plan to label products from Yesha. It goes without saying that the EU will not do this for Catalonia, the Basque Country, Northern Ireland, the Falklands, Gibraltar, Western Sahara, Ceuta, Tibet, Goa, eastern Ukraine, Crimea, western Poland, Kurdistan, etc. etc., but, you know, Jews.

Ayelet Shaked is pushing forward with her plan for transparency in international funding of NGOs, which is actually a very sensible and internationally accepted idea. The usual suspects (obviously including the Israel-haters at J Street) are howling, and most affected will likely be the EU, which underwrites a whole lot of the anti-Israel crowd, because, you know, Jews.

Depends whose ox is being gored, I guess.
Sometimes I think Bibi appoints people to official positions just to...well, maybe not shut them up, but to keep them quieter.

Bibi: If I promise to stop being such a fanatic on Facebook, will you give me a ministry? Even a small one?
Imagine conversations if statesmen could really speak their minds (or, better, if I had a chance to talk to them), part whatever:

"Secretary Kerry: You're over seventy years old, for God's sake. The President is a bit younger, but still theoretically a middle-aged man. Now, we all know- we have for years- that both of you are prone to acting like little children, especially when you don't get your way. But at least you can try to act like adults. I thought we were taught that bit about 'sticks and stones' in kindergarten. And if you're going to act like a Southerner when it comes to 'honor,' at least go the whole hog, slap someone in the face with a glove, and challenge them to a duel or something. I thought it was the Asians and Arabs who had all those hangups about 'saving face,' and we know we're that's gotten them. Again, grow up.

"Oh, and Israel is a- say it with me- sovereign state. We've never told you who should be Undersecretary of State for General Moneywasting or whatever.

"Bibi: See the last paragraph above and grow a spine. They're never going to like you, and you give them this and you'll find them b****ing about Hotovely or Danon or Bennett next."
Woke up this morning to discover that every mailbox in the building (and, I assume, the neighborhood) had been stuffed with Hebrew-language literature from the local branch of the Seventh Day Adventists. ("Shomrei Shabbat," they call themselves here.) There was quite the variety- some got a shrink-wrapped set of about fifteen booklets, some got different paperback books, and the va'ad bayit box actually got a hardcover. I perused it a bit and will take it to the recycling bin tomorrow, not that the effort isn't appreciated. When I hit the part about how the universe was too created in exactly seven days and only heretics would say otherwise, it got a bit too fundamentalist for me. :-)

Two very different things occurred to me only later:

1. This is probably illegal under Israeli law.

2. Distributing this- or even having it distributed- on Saturday itself is probably not a very good way of advertising how seriously you take the Sabbath.
 I love this line:

'כדי לא למכור את הארץ פעם בשבע שנים לגוי, מכרו אותה לעשר שנים לעם הארץ'
Veteran's Day deserves a World War I story:

"At this point lieutenant Paul Jurgen Vollmer yelled out over the noise asking if [Alvin] York was English. See, in WWI, no one really took the Americans very seriously, and everyone thought of them as the rookies. Vollmer figured this crazy/awesome/ballsy soldier must be some kind of English superman who was showing these sissy Americans how it was done. When York said he was American, Vollmer replied 'Good Lord! If you won't shoot any more I will make them give up.'

"Ten minutes later, 133 men came walking towards the remains of York's battalion. Lieutenant Woods, York's superior, at first thought it was a German counter-attack until he saw York, who saluted and said 'Corporal York reports with prisoners, sir.' When the stunned officer asked how many, York replied 'Honest, Lieutenant, I don't know.'

"...And York's the one who was a pacifist."
Back in the 1980's, Israel issued some coins with a tiny hanukiyyah and the word "Hanukka" on them- I have no idea if this was only done on the holiday, and can't imagine why they did it. I used to see them every now and then, but haven't for a while- I think they discontinued the practice about twenty-five years ago.

Just today, I got change- actually for exchanging bottles, appropriately enough- that included a 10 agora coin from 1990 with the Hanukkah imprint. Isn't that a nice gift for Rosh Chodesh Kislev? Chodesh tov, all.
I imagine you have to do something- go to a certain school, have a certain background, I don't know- in order to pull something like this off. I wish I knew what it was.
I suppose saying "I told you so" is generally in bad taste. But I remember annoying my teammates when, in a series of debates about immigration over twenty years ago, I insisted on beginning by pointing out how legal immigration in the form of refugee requests has put the West at risk for terrorism. (I was basing myself on the first WTC bombing which had just taken place. Their annoyance disappeared when I won the debates.) Ah, plus ca change...

One of those debates, by the way, was against the woman I'd eventually marry. :-)
On Elementary as on all TV mystery shows the guilty party is never the first (or second, or even sometimes the third) suspect. But when said first suspect is Red China, you just know there's no way they'll be guilty. Hollywood will never tick off a market of a billion people. In fact, it's why you see more and more Chinese people in big action movies; it is in fact why you see so many more action movies (no need to translate).

And, of course, one of the official representatives of the PRC will get to throw an unanswered sarcastic remark about the US in there somewhere.
There were two stories in Friday's paper that caught my eye. One made me scream and one made me roll my eyes:

- Nir Barkat is very angry at Moshe Kahlon, who apparently is refusing to meet with him about Jerusalem's budget. (Interestingly, Kahlon's brother until recently sat on the City Council as part of Barkat's party.) So Kahlon responded- get a load of this- that he's met with Zeev Elkin, who's "Minister for Jerusalem Affairs," a pointless position that was supposed to have gone to Barkat anyway. Great.

- Aryeh Deri is very openly trying to bribe Eli Yishai back into Shas, thus far unsuccessfully. Deri's brazenness is amazing: "I'm offering him good money!" he declares. "Why won't he come back to the true path?" I'd laugh if it wasn't so sad.
A couple of points about Paris:

- Rolling Stone Magazine exists, it seems, to stroke the egos of aging 60's rock and roll fans. They were all delighted to report that someone set up a piano outside the venue in Paris and played "Imagine."

I was pleasantly surprised to see how many of the comments made the obvious point that that is a stupid and dangerous song. Perhaps there's hope.

- The exporters of products from the "occupied territories" should seize the opportunity. I imagine the hard-core anti-Israel types who would boycott them (and who probably boycott Israel, period) are not as numerous as the ordinary Europeans who are fed up with all this coddling nonsense. Write "WEST BANK" in big letters and see if it helps, why not.
Around when I first started my blog, a friend (actually the same friend who actually started my blog, long story) told me I was like "Buddha with a sword." I eventually renamed the blog that, but it was only much later that I entered those words into Google and discovered that Buddha-with-a-sword is actually a real thing. Oh, sure, the sword is supposed to symbolize wisdom or something, but it still looks totally bad***. It's called Manjushri, and here's some of many examples you'll find out there. (One is sitting on a lion.)  If anyone ever finds one in a flea market, pick it up for me.

(By the way, "fat Buddha" is actually found only in some cultures. Buddha is generally skinny, as you'd expect of someone who spent a lot of time meditating- "contemplatin' his ever-diminishin' navel," as some British comedian once put it. In some versions, he's practically skeletal.)
 My Mom spent a semester in Israel just under sixty years ago and took a bunch of home movies that we still have. One of them was taken in the courtyard of the then President's Residence, nowadays Yad Ben Tzvi but back then occupied by Yitzhak Ben Tzvi himself. (That's the guy on the hundred-shekel bill, for now.) I especially remember that she focused on the State coat of arms as part of the film.

Yesterday we were taking the lad home and passed that very spot. I turned my head to see that same coat of arms, still mounted on the same wall. I've seen it before, but for some reason it hit me yesterday. It was a moment.
Just noticed that Jimmy McMillan is running for president, in the Republican primaries. All is well.
The aspect of this whole (latest) Hazan contretemps that is most interesting to me is this: The original insult/"accusation" that he lobbed at Elharar was exactly the same thing that got his father thrown out of the Knesset. (In that case, it was really egregious, and of course Elharar was completely innocent.)

I put "accusation" in quotes on the off chance that Hazan is somehow obsessed with clearing his father's name and throws the charge around as a way to show that everyone does it or something. (Again, completely falsely.) But I don't give this boor that much credit. Probably it's just a family stain that he can't get off his mind and it pops out of his mouth every now and then, to the extent that he'll even mock someone's physical disability to say it. Like I said, a boor.

I suppose one more irony is that he probably wouldn't be in the Knesset now if his father hadn't preceded him. You'd think there'd be at least 120 decent, deserving people in a country of eight million...
To all New Yorkers, present or former: Happy Evacuation Day! Yup, that's the great New York City holiday that got nudged aside by Thanksgiving.

(Evacuation Day is also a holiday in Boston, but in March.)

And if you think that a holiday limited to one city is a bit extreme, when I was growing up, we actually had a holiday limited to only two boroughs of that city, Brooklyn-Queens Day. And then the kids in the other boroughs whined that it wasn't fair that they had one more day of school than we did, and so they gave everyone off. (I remember the Anti-Defamation League wasn't too happy about Brooklyn-Queens Day either, but they can't be happy about anything.) Another tradition bit the dust. Well, at least we can read about and celebrate them both as we wish.
So apparently, while I wasn't paying attention, National Geographic went and essentially* sold itself to Fox.

(*Magazines, TV, books, internet, etc.- all their media stuff. But that's a lot.)

It seems there are a bunch of lefties in the expect lather about this. I wonder if they actually read the magazine. I subscribed for twenty-five years and think it might be a great thing.
 Today's paper raises the claim that Israel is offering all sorts of goodies to the PA (the "government," such as it is, and the people) to stop the terror. (Obviously, attacks will "have to" continue for a few more months, because that's the way of the world.) Leaving aside that blackmail is not ever the way to conduct business, not by individuals and not by allegedly strong countries, there are some other troubling implications here:

1. The PA is admitting that it controls all this, in which case they should get diddly squat and be violently shut down.

2. They are lying, in which case ditto ditto.

Returning to the blackmail point, this also indicates that (again, if the PA is not lying) that there is a real cause behind all this, in which a creative mind should be able to figure out some way to address it without caving. There are creative minds in positions of importance, no? Or are they all too busy planning how to get into politics more quickly when their current position ends? (You know who I'm thinking of here.)

(However, in contrast to all of the above, see this. Which negates all the above, but is disturbing in another way, in that there seem to be important people who think this is all reasonable and can be used as a pressure point.
We visited the new exhibitions at the Israel Museum today. I especially like the one on designers of Hebrew fonts in the early days of the State. The Albrecht Durer exhibit was also quite impressive- I hadn't known that the Museum owned the works it does. There was also a very good exhibit of Man Ray's works, which of course put me in mind of this clip, one of the best parts of a great movie. (It took a Youtube comment for me to get the angle that this is Owen Wilson and Adrien Brody- think what they have in common- discussing a rhinoceros.) They had one of Man Ray's chess sets on display, as I was hoping they would.
Israel's attitude toward race-I won't call it "racism," because it really isn't- can be a bit off-putting to an American, and maybe even refreshing in the face of too much tiptoeing on the other side of the ocean. (And maybe not.)

Eliezer Marom is the immediate past commanding officer of the Israeli Navy. He was born in Israel; three of his grandparents were ethnically Jewish but his mother's father was Chinese, and it shows on his face. He's in the news today for unfortunate reasons. Now, I know there's a real thing in Israel about using Army and other nicknames throughout a person's life, which is how we get Bibi and Buzhi and Bogie and Gandhi and Fuad and so on. But I really don't think that an American newspaper would keep using Marom's nickname, which basically translates as "Chinaman," the way the papers do to this day. I mean, the headline on the first page literally begins, "Son of Admiral (reserves) Chinaman..." and you don't get to his real name until deep into the article itself.

(English Wikipedia politely tells us that his nickname is "Eli." Click to the Hebrew version.)
I don't approve of the YMCA posting invitations to kids for a Christmas tree-decorating party around the city. Call me old-fashioned.

I approve even less, though, of people tearing down those paid for, legally-posted ads. That is all.

In other holiday news: Having suffered through another frankly offensive email about "whether or not it's muttar to celebrate Thanksgiving" (the Rav is "J.B.," wouldn't you know), it occurs to me that the same exact agonizing is visible, I assume among the same exact people, every 5th of Iyar. Funny how that works out.

(True story from my father: One Wednesday in November, the Rav announced, "Shiur is early tomorrow, boys. I have to catch a flight back to Boston so we can eat turkey at my sister's house."

As a Purim issue of one of YU's papers put it, "The Rav prefer
red his stuffing and cranberry sauce on the side. Being a Brisker, the Rav did not approve of sweet potatoes."

As both Efrat and R' Rakeffet point out, being a Brahmin, the Rav took Thanksgiving very seriously.)

In non-holiday news: Every year I face the question: Is saying something new in Shemona Esrei a matter of thirty days or thirty days worth? That is, v'tel tal umatar is not said on Shabbat, at Musaf, etc., so its period might be longer than that of, say, mashiv haruach. I asked my rebbe once and was told it's a machloket.

Well, one way or another, that period is over today. (That is, we've said v'tel tal umatar as many times as mashiv haruach is said in thirty days.) And they haven't even started saying it in chutz laaretz, thanks to Pope Gregory of all people!
The Rambam states in a letter that he has made a personal holiday of the anniversary of the day he first went up to the Har HaBayit.

I accordingly marked the anniversary myself, which was the fifteenth of Kislev, 2004. That was last Friday; I hereby mark the anniversary here.

Just in time, a popular Jewish blogger has, once again, as he has numerous times in the last few months, decided to declare that I, and any other Jew who has fulfilled the mitzvah of aliyah l'Har HaBayit, has blood on his hands.

Well, to quote his fellow Upper Midwesterners, the Norwegian farmers of Lake Wobegone, tellwiddem. I hope God assists in giving me the opportunity to go up again soon.
Wow, that's a lot. Happy December!

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