Monday, February 29, 2016

Happy Birthday, Frederick!

About six and a half years ago, my brand-new roommate asked if I'd like to come to a rehearsal for "The Pirates of Penzance"with him. That happens to be my favorite Gilbert and Sullivan operetta, so of course I went. I was blown away by the company, and that led to new friends, a new chevra, jobs, and ultimately marriage. Not bad for a whim. Happy birthday, Frederick!

Of course, exactly *which* birthday it is seems to be the subject of some scholarly debate. (It centers on the fact that there was no February 29 in 1900.) Isaac Asimov, a favorite of this blog, wrote a whole short story on the subject:

A collection of posts from Facebook:

The city billboards were redone recently and remained empty for a while. This morning, one of them is covered with eight posters- four (on the bottom) from the Chief Rabbinate of the State itself, and four (on the top, in red) from some ad-hoc "Emergency Committee for the Kotel" or something.

(Note very well: When you see multiples of the poster, you know that they're not legal. Kind of shocking that the Rabbinate would brazenly violate the law. [Contrary to popular belief and Charedi practice, you can't just put up posters on municipal boards, and you can't put them anywhere else either.] And when you see a 4/4 neat split like that, you know that one is a front for the other.)

Anyway, the posters scream on and on about "Reformim" at the "Kotel". Taking no opinion on the matter here (the posters contain so many howlers and such a lack of nuance that that would take more time than I have), I will just point out that they are really, really over the top, which is enough to make me dismiss them.

OK, I'll take one opinion: If only the Rabbinate could muster a similar amount of passion about the much bigger problem of Muslims on the Har HaBayit. But it's all about fiefdoms.
 Wow, this piece is depressing. I have no doubt it's true, which is *why* it's depressing.

Because a Facebook friend is a member of the academic elite, I was recently treated to the sad/funny spectacle of a bunch of professors reassuring each other that Hillary will triumph over Sanders. (The DNC doesn't need no stinking voter rights.) Of course, they like Sanders, but like winning better, but I was amused at least for the moment to consider that some of them may constitute the only people in the country who actually *like* Hillary.

Of course, it's all fun and games until a country implodes. Although maybe that's what's needed. That and some perfectly logical and legal steps Congress should have taken long ago but never will.
A great video:

Here's a funny one:
I've written about the old sefer torah in my shul's building before. It was taken down again last Thursday, and they posted photos from the last time:

A number of years back, my family spent a Pesach in Israel, staying at a place across the street from the Erlau yeshiva in Kataman (or the Greek Colony, whatever it is). My father would daven there; at one point a cousin joined us and he did as well.

Erlau is a somewhat unique group- although named after a city in Hungary, they were essentially created in Jerusalem in the 1950's. While they look and act somewhat like chassidim, they are headed by a descendant of the decidedly non-chassidic Chatam Sofer. They are officially a part of the Agudah but tend to avoid political entanglements. (When Sharon came to the rebbe to get his support for the Disengagement, I'm sure with some, ahem, arguments metallic or otherwise, as Sherlock Holmes would put it, the rebbe refused to see him.)

My father, like pretty much every Jew in Israel (and myself, of course), including the Erlau, does not put on tefillin on Chol HaMoed. The aforesaid cousin, who comes from my mother's side of the family, follows the somewhat more halakhically grounded but very rare practice of wearing tefillin then. When he came into the yeshiva, they politely asked him to daven in the (otherwise empty) women's section if he was going to wear tefillin. This is, by the way, specifically mandated in the classical sources as a way of preventing open divisions in a beit knesset. It might be a bit less pressing in these days, but some still insist on it.

My father came in and noticed that the rebbe was not there. He asked some of the chassidim where he was. "Oh, the rebbe," they answered, "He puts on tefillin and so we make him daven in the women's section." Now *that's* a rebbe.

The rebbe passed away last week, at the age of 93. תנצב"ה.
 Wow, this is harsh, but hard to argue with.

(Of course, one could challenge Powers'- and Smith's- ideas and ideals, but by her own standards...yuck.)
"I am Boutros Boutrous-Ghali. Put down your gun, and listen to Bob Marley."

I'm on the email list of one of Israel's leading, ahem, "human rights" organizations. It comes with the territory and I comfort myself by thinking that my inbox is probably one of the very few that gets both their posts as well as the Kahanists'. Often job postings for their ideological kin are sent out by them.

Alliance 90/The Greens is a far-left (and major) party in Germany. Its very name indicates that fabled "red/green alliance" that makes us conservatives so wary of both, but that's another story.

Today the aforesaid Israeli organization sent out a job posting on behalf of an "independent foundation affiliated" with that party. They're looking to hire a nearly full time, paid Office Manager, who will work with the (presumably full time, also paid) Director and supervise their interns out of their "Tel Aviv Office."

The question that came to my mind, of course (after confirming that, as I am not fluent in German, I shouldn't bother applying), was, "What is a German political party doing maintaining an office with a paid staff in Israel?" I know that both the American Republicans and Democrats have branches here, but they are run by volunteers out of their own offices and homes and exist mostly to raise political activity and garner support for candidates among American Israelis, while appealing to the occasional visiting politician and issuing occasional statements. I'm pretty sure they get little to no funding from the American parties, certainly nothing on this scale. And there are very, very few Israelis who vote in German elections, certainly not enough to interest the fourth-largest party in Germany.

Oh, and why are they in bed with a local Israeli organization?

I know the answers. But it's good to remind people of these things.
 All of us were walking back from gan together today when a chassidish man coming from the opposite direction stopped us- he'd just noticed a man lying on the ground, his head under a car. There was a lot of blood. I told him to call 101; apparently not from this area, he asked me where we were and then called:

"I'm at the corner of...Ben Maimon and Arlozorov. There's a man on the ground; his head is under a car. He's, I don't know him...about fifty or sixty?...yes, I think he's conscious...Sir, please don't move!...Ben Maimon, on the corner of Arlozorov."


"Yerushalayim Ir HaKoydesh!"

It's a scary way to find this out, but I hope you'll be generally reassured to learn that about ten first responders, on scooters, on foot, and in private cars, were on the scene within a few minutes. Sure that he was in good hands- far better than ours, for sure- we headed home. Refuah shelema.
[February 12] Happy birthday to Abraham Lincoln, one of the greatest humans who ever lived. Here is Leo Tolstoy's beautiful story about the fame and character of Lincoln.
[February 11] Happy birthday, George Washington!
Yes, the sources will tell you his birthday was February 22. But he was so cool, he was born eleven days old. :-)
Just deleted Apple programs (iTunes etc.) from my computer. It occurs to me that I may never use my iPod or camera again. The world changes...
I realize that I am basing this observation on a public opinion poll, which are always, everywhere, very bare-bones, and in any event I don't always count on any masses (qua masses, I stress) to be sophisticated of thought. But I live in Israel, so I apply my observations to it, and in any event I do believe the issue is more acute here:
There seems to be a serious lack of nuance in the opinions of both the public (again, qua public) and officialdom in the State of Israel. Today's paper reports the following poll results:

57% of (Jewish) respondents think the Balad Knesset members should be tossed out.

35% think they should be charged with a crime.

8% think they were acting within their rights and jobs.

(For the record, there is that magic under-ten-percent of actual leftists in Israel, and the lovely over 90% who at least aren't completely bonkers.)

Well, to me, that's kind of a black of white poll. I suppose if asked, and given *only* those possibilities, I'd answer "yes" to the first option, especially bearing in mind that I know how it'd be reported.

But do you want to know my honest opinion? Let them stay. Let them do any blamed thing they want. Let Zoabi keep on being Zoabi. (And let her cousin, God bless him, keeping on being himself.) Here's why:

1. As I've said here before, I don't approve of any "crimes" that are not actual, well, crimes, the type that are easy to define and result in actual harm. This includes "hate," "racism," "incitement," "terror," or anything but very well-defined (i.e., as in the United States Constitution) "treason." That's my philosophy, and they're all too easy to abuse anyway.

2. As the supporter of a group not allowed to run for Knesset, I know all too well how this redounds on your own head. I'd get rid of the whole stupid and contradictory clause in the election law about "Jewish and Democratic State." We all know who, and only who, they had in mind anyway. And immunity laws exist for a reason. Democracy is messy. Deal with it.

3. Ban Balad, and we can all fool ourselves into fantasies about "good Arabs." Hadash, Ra'am, Ta'al, I suppose, or some "moderate" faction that will arise in their place. I don't want fantasies. If the Arabs of Israel want to be haters (and want to shoot themselves in the foot to boot) and want to elect Zoabi, well, that just clarifies matters. I like clarity. Deal with it.

You want nuance? This is all coming from someone who doesn't approve of the idea of Arabs sitting in, or voting for, the Knesset, period. Anyone who can remember 1994 should know exactly why. And yet here I am saying that lovelies like Zahalka and Ghattas should remain. I am large, I contain multitudes. Opinion polls, and many people, sadly, do not.
Sometimes you look up a bio on Wikipedia and feel dirty just reading it. This is even, perhaps especially, true of those clearly written either by obsessed fans and/or PR people that say absolutely nothing negative, as many of the worst are. I looked up Max Blumenthal's bio after reading this piece and got that sensation again.

Then again, the name is *perfect*, although he was born a bit early for that self-conscious Brooklyn hipster Yiddish culture thing.

(Not mentioned in this piece is that the "mitzvah" reference came in response to Blumenthal Jr. blaming Benghazi on the Jooooooz.)

Mind you, I don't think Hillary Clinton is a Jew-hater, not as such. I think she's a robot.
Today I went to the Knesset to take a civil service exam. I don't think I've ever written that much Hebrew in one shot in my life. Dear Knesset people: Please bear in mind not only that one's IQ drops by about thirty points when speaking a foreign language and even more when writing one, but that my penmanship is godawful when in English, and even worse in Hebrew.

Anyway: The Knesset looks deceptively small from the outside, but it is *huge* inside. (Lots of sub-level wings and so on. It's like a building-sized TARDIS.) And complicated. And they make it even more complicated. (This has happened to me before: For some reason, Knesset guides never tell you to take one short flight of stairs right next to you, but for some reason think it's better for you to go all the way across the building, take an elevator one flight down, and walk all the way back. Bizarre. Maybe it's a security thing.) So I entered with another guy who was taking an exam (another one) as well, we ask directions, and before you know it, we're lost. Then we pick up a third guy lost on his way to *his* exam and ask directions again, only to get even more lost. We all look at each other and, on cue, all say the same exact words at the same exact moment: "This *has* to be part of the test." And then we all crack up.

Fortunately, I found my room on time. I hope they did as well, but for all I know the two of them are still wandering through the bowels of Israel's parliament building.

I like taking advantage of the Knesset's cafeteria whenever I visit. It's good food, mucho subsidized, and besides you never know which famous politician you'll find yourself at the salad bar with. But after this test (three and half hours of writing, no break), I chanced on the exit, figured I didn't want to push my luck, and got out of there. Happy 50th birthday, Knesset building!
Sure, people defriend people they disagree with all the time. (I just unfollow them.) But you'd think university professors would be able to handle a little criticism.

Actually, if you've been following trends in academia, you'd realize they're probably those least able to.
Phun Phact: The Iowa Caucuses are, ultimately, the reason why American Coca-Cola (except on Passover) is inferior to the variety found in Israel and most other places. This fact is related to the ethanol subsidies so jealously guarded by Iowa politicians, which are essentially corn subsidies, which are connected to the United States' ridiculous sugar tariffs, which...

Now that Cruz has shown these sacred cows to be paper tigers, perhaps their ill effects- which are hardly limited to the taste of Coke, but have vast health and economic repercussions- will begin to subside. One can hope.
I just hope it doesn't affect aliyah. :-)
So both the front page and a full column of today's Yisrael HaYom inform us that the "real winner" in Iowa was...Marco Rubio. (Hint: Whenever the phrase "real winner" is used, you know the subject wasn't.) Well, at least we now know who Sheldon Adelson prefers, not that it's any surprise considering his number-one priority. (Hint: Adelson owns casinos.)

It goes without saying, of course, that the Adelsons have donated the legal limit to Cruz as well, because, you know, rich people. It does put me in mind of the final strip in Doonesbury's "Ambassadorial Auction" sequence from 1989 ("No bid! Rwanda goes to a *career* diplomat!"), to which I link below.

I imagine they would have given the limit to Trump, too, had he needed it. But he doesn't, which only proves the silliness of Sanders' supporters saying that "He can't be bought!" blah blah blah. Well, neither can Trump. So? Sometimes that's good (as in Jerusalem), sometimes not. Fortunately, Trump's money is proving not to be the only factor in the race.
 Well, the city is plastered with signs from the Hartman Institute advertising their upcoming conference on their (and, separately, their late founder's) vision of Arabs and Jews living peacefully in Israel.

I have a single great idea that I'd to share with them at their conference- it's based on something someone once told me in the name of Eliezer Berkovits. My idea is simple: They stop trying to kill us. Voila, peace. But I doubt the attendees of such a conference would be willing to hear such a radical, out-of-the-box, and ultimately moral idea. Ah well.

I'm reminded of the time Meir Kahane once attended such a conference. One Arab speaker got up and started going on and on about peaceful coexistence. Finally, Kahane had enough. He stood up and said, "Look, we don't want you here, and you don't want us here. Now that we've gotten that out of the way, can we have an honest discussion?"

The Arab gave him a hug.

Speaking of which, the billboards have also been plastered (a little less legally) with signs calling for the release of Kahane's grandson from his, ahem, detention. "A law-abiding state doesn't hold people without charges," the signs say. Well, that makes one big assumption right there.
This is all the more true on a day when all of Great and Good of the State- including many who belong to a party whose name was once literally "Freedom", and at least one who comes from a country *with* a First Amendment- see nothing wrong in condemning the free speech of private citizens. "Incitement," doncha know. My goodness, the First Congress knew what it was doing.
"Tell Mike it was only business. I always liked him."

"He understands that."

"Tom, can you get me off the hook? For old times' sake?"

"Can't do it, Sally."

It only now occurs to me now that Vigoda was only ten years older than I am now when he filmed this. Duvall was exactly my age.


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