Thursday, August 14, 2014

City inspectors don't need a day of rest מפקחי העירייה אינם צריכים יום שבת

It’s reached the absurd: Interior Minister Gideon Saar declares: “The principle of a weekly day of rest is a fundamental one in our country.” What happened, Mr. Saar? City inspectors don’t get to rest on Saturday?  Ah. I see. The day of rest only applies if you’re trying to sell goods. So it’s OK for city employees to work on Saturday, and I’m sure the citizens of Tel Aviv, who pay the inspectors’ salaries, think this situation makes total sense. Especially the 20,000 (if not more) who aren’t even Jewish.

More absurdity: The Forum of Minimarket Owners petitioned the court to prohibit the supermarkets’ opening on Saturday because “it hurts their [small guys’] business.” Well guess what, small guys: I feel for ya, but hitchhiking on religious coercion is nothing less than disingenuous. If your business is hurting because you choose not to open on Saturday, or late at night, or any other time, because you value your private life more, it’s not cricket to turn to the courts to solve your problem.

You want to be with your family on Saturdays? I applaud that, but you can’t have your cake and eat it too at the expense of the rest of us. Many of us give up comfort or convenience in favor of values. I respect modest dress as well, but does that mean I should subsidize air conditioning in all buildings where modestly dressed people live and work? It’s called owning your choices.

Minister Saar claims that businesses opening on Saturday “encourages crime”. Well, yeah, but only if you make Saturday retail a crime. I’m wondering if the measly fines collected on Saturdays even cover the inspectors’ salaries. If they don’t then Tel Aviv-Jaffa residents are being ripped off by City Hall, pure and simple. And if ripping off your constituency isn't a crime, what is?

Koby Bremer, a minimarket owner who represented the Forum’s court petition, warned that the customers pay for stores opening on Saturday in the form of higher prices. Well welcome to the world of retail, Koby. Nice of you to look out for my pocketbook, but as a customer, it’s my choice to pay for convenience. That’s why they’re called “convenience stores”.

An Orthodox minimarket owner lamented, “Next thing you know, we’ll be working on Yom Kippur.” Well, no. You won’t be, but what’s the problem with, say, cashier Suheila Kchile working on Yom Kippur? It’s just another day to her, as it is to the 25% of Israelis who aren’t Jewish, and the 20% of Israeli Jews who don’t observe Yom Kippur.

When will we learn? If observing Judaism has any inherent value, it shouldn’t need to be legislated. Certainly not on my dime.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Bigotry > Racism > Nazism...Just because we can שנאה > גזענות > נציזם...סתם כי ביכולתנו

עברית לאחר האנגלית
A neighbor, Micha Eshchar, wrote the following in our Friday bulletin:

A few decades ago (how time flies!), the Speaker of the Knesset visited a group of reservists at a distant locale. They were chomping at the bit to go home on leave, but were forced to stay two extra hours in order to meet with him. Looking back, I suppose that he simply wanted to look good to the reservists. Perhaps that was the motivation behind his words: “You all know what the Arabs’ll do here if they win. Any blondes [women soldiers] here?” At which the deputy commander stood up and told him, “My father’s a Holocaust survivor, and he says you talk like a Nazi.” You could hear a pin drop.

Suffice it to say that if that deputy commander was planning on an army career (he wasn’t), that was probably a good time to come up with some other line of work. The Holocaust serves many politicians as a blank check to do and say outrageous things, then wipe their soiled hands and mouth with my own family’s history – and that’s a problem for me. In any case, the Holocaust happened, with all its tragic consequences, this we can’t deny. 

Many have hypothesized – and continue to hypothesize – on the reasons it happened, and we can find many worthy explanations therefor. But there’s one explanation that precisely due to its simplicity, we overlook: It happened because it could.

The Jews weren’t first in line at the crematoria; the Gypsies got there ahead of us. Neither people had an army, or its own territory. For millennia, any wretch who felt like it could take out his frustrations on them. Knowing what we know now, it was only a matter of time before anti-Semites with industry and order and standards like that of the Germans could do to the Jews and the Gypsies whatever they pleased.

Teaching the Holocaust must be done from a universal standpoint of educating against racism and violence. But what do we do when violence won’t play by the rules of civil society? How can a pluralistic society respond to those who don’t recognize pluralism as legitimate? That’s our dilemma. I personally would be happy to replace the study trips to Poland with trips to Um Al Fahm or Ein Mahl[1]. In terms of educational results, it would certainly be more cost effective. It would, of course, also be much more challenging, as it would be genuinely educational. Not to mention the fact that numbers-wise, they’d have no trouble hosting us.

But what do we do in other locales, locales wherein dialog is absent? I’m referring, of course, to the Israelis who beat up, tore placards, and cursed an anti-war protest last week – and bragged about it on social networks. Should we just suck it up? Dialog with them? Vacate the town square and go home?

Oh, right: The police were there. Except that as always, they “didn’t see anything.” Rapper haTzèl [The Shadow] Yoav Eliasi later wrote on Facebook, “Good going, my lions. It’s about time we fed you the flesh of some worthless leftist in need of reprogramming…and thanks to our heroic police.” Any volunteers to sit with Eliasi over a cup of coffee and chat? Raise those hands high. Or perhaps we should just try to “understand where he’s coming from”.

This past week, civilian pilots reported laser beams aimed at their cockpits from Jaljulya while landing at Ben-Gurion Airport. Scary stuff. Is it really all about “a differing viewpoint”? Or are there acts that must be halted by force? It’s no longer hypothetical.

[1] Town in the Galilee with whom our kids’ school has an exchange program.

שכננו מיכה אשחר כתב להלן בעלון שלנו, כל אלה בני קטורה:

לפני כמה עשרות שנים (אך שהזמן עובר), בא יושב ראש הכנסת לבקר קבוצה של חיילי מילואים במקום די רחוק מכאן. החיילים רצו ליסוע הביתה, אבל השאירו אותם עוד שעתיים כדי להיפגש עם יושב ראש הכנסת.
היום אני חושב, שהוא בסך הכל רצה למצוא חן בעיני החיילים. אולי בגלל זה הוא אמר את המשפט הבא, בערך: אתם יודעים מה הערבים יעשו פה אם הם ינצחו. יש כאן חיילות בלונדיניות?... ואז קם איזה סמך-מם-פא ואמר לו ככה: אבא שלי ניצול שואה. והוא חושב שאתה מדבר כמו נאצי. (פאוזה. ואחר כך היה עוד רגע של שקט). ואחר כך, טוב, אם הקצין ההוא בנה על קריירה צבאית (הוא לא), זה היה כנראה רגע טוב לתכנן קריירה חדשה.
זיכרון השואה משמש להרבה פוליטיקאים קלף של "צא מהכלא", כמו במונופול. הם יכולים לומר ולעשות דברים מאוד גרועים, ואחר כך לנגב את הפה והידיים המלוכלכים שלהם בהיסטוריה של המשפחה שלי. אני רואה בזה בעיה.

אבל בכל זאת, פעם היתה שואה – עם כל הצער שבדבר, ניאלץ להודות בכך. מדברים הרבה על הסיבות למה שקרה אז, ויש הרבה הסברים טובים ומעניין לקרוא על מה שקרה לאנשים ואיך חשבו אז. אבל יש הסבר שמרוב שהוא פשוט, אנחנו לא מספיק חושבים עליו. הדברים קרו כי זה היה אפשרי.

היהודים לא היו יחידים בתור למשרפות באושוויץ, לפניהם היו צוענים. לשני העמים לא היה צבא, ולא היתה טריטוריה, ובמשך כל הדורות כל מנייאק היה מוציא עליהם את העצבים. במבט לאחור זה היה רק עניין של זמן עד שאנטישמים עם תעשייה וסדר וסטנדרטים כמו של גרמניה, יעשו ליהודים ולצוענים מה שהיטלר עשה.
ללימוד השואה צריך להיות גם היבט אוניברסאלי: חינוך נגד גזענות ונגד אלימות. מה לעשות כאשר האלימות לא מוכנה לשחק לפי כללי המשחק כמו שאנחנו מבינים אותם? איך מערכת פלוראליסטית יכולה להגיב מול אנשים שאינם מכירים בפלוראליזם? דילמה. אישית, הייתי שמח אם המסעות לפולין היו מוחלפים במסע לאום אל פאחם או לעין מאהל. אם רוצים חינוך – זה הרבה יותר קוסט אפקטיב. זה גם הרבה יותר מאתגר וקשה (כי זה חינוך באמת). בנוסף, יש מצב שאחוז האנשים שם שרוצים לארח אותנו, גדול מאחוז התלמידים בבית ספר מעלה שחרות, שמוכנים לארח אותם.

אבל מה עושים במקום אחר, במקום שבו החינוך והדיבורים לא עוזרים?
אני מתכוון כמובן, לפעילי הימין שהרביצו, קרעו שלטים, קיללו בהפגנה של מתנגדי המבצע – ואחר כך גם התגאו במעשים אלה ברשתות חברתיות. האם להכיל מעשים כאלה, לדבר איתם יפה, לסגת באופן חד צדדי מהכיכר, לנהל איתם משא ומתן? אה, אני יודע, היתה שם משטרה. הם כמובן לא ראו כלום. יואב אליאס ("הצל".. איזה שם) כתב בפייסבוק: "טוב עכשיו אריות שלי הגיע הזמן לזרוק לכם עוד בשר של שמאלן אפס שצריך לקבל חינוך מחדש" וגם תודה לשוטרים שיצאו גברים... מישהו מתנדב לשבת איתו על כוס קפה ולדבר? אולי ננסה להבין את המקום שהוא בא ממנו?

בשבוע האחרון, טייסים אזרחיים מתלוננים על קרני לייזר שמכוונות לתא הטייס מכיוון ג'לג'וליה בזמן הנמכה לקראת נחיתה בנתב"ג. זה מצב לא סימפטי. יש סיבה שבגללה אין טייסים עיוורים – הם צריכים לראות את לוח הבקרה ואת השטח, בייחוד לפני נחיתה.

האם כל השאלה היא "השקפה אחרת על הדברים" או שיש מעשים שצריך למנוע גם בכוח? זו לא שאלה רטורית ולא היפותטית.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Our girls' ears: To pierce, or not to pierce? ניקוב אזני בנות

I’ve recently witnessed parents (ordinarily mothers\) struggling with the decision of if and when to pierce their daughters’ ears. Having three daughters myself, and over their growing-up years having heard numerous parents’ points of view on the matter, I have a few observations to share.

Firstly, as regular readers can guess, I’m not wild about piercing in infancy for the purpose of marking girls’ gender. That aside, there are several good arguments in the site linked to above for doing so, and the same arguments apply to piercing boys’ ears, although with one exception, I don’t know any boys whose parents initiated piercing (the boy in question was three when I met him).

First of all, it appears that among a certain demographic, parents are loathe to pierce because they associate it with females adorning themselves in order to make themselves sexually appealing to males. While earrings were originally indisputably part of this adornment, what I’ve come to realize is that in our times, and especially among the five-to-ten set (the ages when girls start asking to pierce), earrings have largely lost this connotation. So while I fully understand parents’ discomfort with it, if this is your problem, own it, i.e., don’t hide behind “I’m making her wait until she’s X years old because then she’ll be able to care for them herself.”

Story: My mom and I got our ears pierced together in 1973. I was 13, she was 50. And guess what? We both needed assistance from others! My dad had to remove Mom’s piercers with pliers; meanwhile I went off to sleepaway camp where the counselor sent me to the camp nurse to get the piercers removed, that’s how impossible it was. I also came home a bloody mess because in 1973 no one was aware of nickel allergy and there were no nickel-free earrings, so you wore any garbage you bought at Kmart or at the mall. This is all to say that being “of age” to care for them didn’t help me; even being 100 years old wouldn’t’ve helped me.

So telling your kid you’ll let her pierce when she’s old enough to care for them is akin to telling your toddler that you won’t take her swimming until s/he’s able to apply sun protection herself. Swimming = non-essential recreation; earrings = non-essential Fun Thing. While it’s true that swimming is also an activity that has intrinsic value in that it is exercise and quality time, parents and kids can bond over earrings, yes, we can.

So, my two zuzim: Just do it as soon as they start asking, with the proviso that they can only wear hypoallergenic / nickel-free until their teens / bat mitzva. * You’re free to hold out, of course, if you like listening to kvetching and begging for months / years on end, until you deem your kid (really you yourself) “ready”. Have fun with that: You have been warned!

PS Anyone know why dads have such a visceral opposition to piercing? I’ve heard several men decry it as “mutiliation”, but never hear women doing so. Is this what they mean by inborn gender differences?

*Unfortunately, these are barely available in Israel. That’s where online shopping comes in. More and more stores ship to Israel, especially from the UK. If anyone knows differently, please let me know!

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Who's speaking at which commencement? Who cares?

Ordinarily, I am dismissive of those who lament technology’s effects on our previously “untainted” lives. My response to those who wax nostalgic about pen-and-ink letters and how e-mail doesn’t reflect tone and nuance (and ink on paper does?) is “Get over it”. However, there’s one phenomenon to which I have a visceral opposition: the media circus surrounding college graduations. Well, not all college graduations, as none but the local press are covering 90% thereof. I’m talking about the top colleges, i.e., the Ivy League and the second tier.

We see here, in fact, that through the 1990s, U. of Michigan’s commencement speakers were either past or present officeholders, educators, or esteemed journalists. But scroll up to 2009 and 2013, and who do we see? The CEOs of Google and Twitter, respectively. We see here that in the 41 years 1972-2013, 19 of Northfield Mount Hermon’s speakers, i.e., nearly half, were alums. Totally appropriate. In this list from Syracuse University, we see that the first TV personality showed up in 1980, and it was the host of a PBS news program. But from 1994 onward, and especially from 2000, we see the glitz becoming more and more prominent. These are just a few lists reflecting the trend.

Pre-Internet, there was college bookstore merch. Sure, you wore your crimson / blue hoodie and your car sported your Harvard / Yale bumper sticker. You were signaling, or perhaps you just liked the hoodie, but it was an individual, unmediated affair. Sure the New York Times reported on commencement keynote speakers, but it wasn’t splashed across the front page and trumpeted for weeks on end.

Now, however, from March through May, you can hardly open your browser without seeing “who’s speaking where”. It’s signaling on steroids, and it gets more frenzied every year. I propose a mass “mental boycott” of the hoopla. You attend a selective school? Good for you. Wear your hoodie with pride. Your school has glitzy alums? Great. Invite ‘em back for commencement and award ‘em an honorary degree. But please, leave the rest of us out of it. We Officially Don’t Care.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

ברוכים הבאים למאה ה21 Welcome to the 21st century

True story: I ate breakfast with someone I don’t ordinarily see, and she was waxing on about an amazing lecture she’d heard on interpersonal relationships by therapist Hedy Schleifer. Intrigued, when I got to work I looked up Shleifer and found her on TED. Because I enjoy follow-through, i.e., telling the rest of you with whom I share this planet that I’m listening to you; and assuming that most of us are flattered and feel validated when what we say is followed up on, I shot my breakfast companion a mail with the Subject line “Hedy Schleifer”. The body: “Found this. Will view later!” Telegraphic, you say? Perhaps. Apparently, the recipient found it curt, even offensive.

Smiling, I asked her at lunch if she’d seen my mail. Here’s how the rest of the conversation went [recall that ironically, Schleifer is now her interpersonal relations guru]:

She: Yeah. What was that?

Me: What do you mean?

She: What was I supposed to do with that?

Me: Uh, click on the link.

She: What was the link?

Me: Her lecture.

She: I don’t need to hear her lecture [walks off, leaving me feeling like I’d committed an unforgivable faux pas].

OK, Schleifer Chasid and all you other Earth-dwellers who haven’t get gotten the memo: You know those words in e-mails (often “this” or “here”) that are in blue and underlined, as above? Those are this 20th-century invention called hyperlinks. What are you supposed to do with them? You left-click them with your mouse and they lead you to a website, in which you presumably have some passing interest. It saves us from having to write mails like the following:

Dear Breakfast Companion,
I was so intrigued by your description of Hedy Schliefer that as soon as I got to a computer, I performed an online search for her. Lo and behold, I found a lecture by her. You can see the lecture by clicking on the following link: Have a nice day!

In the 21st century, that translates to: “Found this. Will view later!” It’s meant to be neither curt nor offensive; it’s meant to save us both time. Got it?

And while we’re on the subject, Here’s a short quiz: I write you a mail containing the text, “…not to go all Hedy Schleifer on you, but…” You have no idea what I’m referring to. You:
                 a) Write me back asking, “Who’s Hedy Schleifer?"
                 b) Look up “Hedy Schleifer” online

The correct answer is (b). You necessarily have Internet access if you’re downloading and reading mail, no? Therefore, you open your browser and search for “Hedy Schleifer”. If you do (a), I’ll reply with “Look here.” Ah, that pesky blue underlined word again. What’s that? All together now: A hyperlink! And what do we do when we see a hyperlink? If you don’t know by now, sign up for remedial reading comprehension.

In case you haven't figured it out, I have less and less patience for anyone under the age of 60 who’s still sheepishly referring to hizzerself as a “technophobe” or who can’t perform a basic online search. And I don’t accept the claim that my work is computer based, so I have a leg up. This is now basic stuff, folks. The wheel is not going to turn back: Master these skills and get on board with the digital world. You can only benefit.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Stupidity on Holocaust Day על הטמטום ביום השואה

להלן כתבה שכתב יורם הופמן, עורך כל אלה בני קטורה לרגל יום השואה 2014: English translation follows Hebrew

דבר העורך: "על הטמטום"
בחלומי ראיתי איך קם מנהיג ערבי, ובפומבי מצהיר: "השואה היא הפשע הנורא ביותר שבוצע כנגד האנושות"
התעוררתי ומצאתי שזה לא היה חלום. זה קרה במציאות, בשנת 2014, והמנהיג הערבי שהעז לקום ולצאת בפומבי כנגד מחוללי השואה היה לא אחר מאשר אבו מאזן – יושב ראש הראשות הפלשתינאית, אויבנו המר.
  יו"ר הרשות הפלסטינית, שבעבר נטען כי הוא מכחיש שואה, פרסם היום הצהרה תקדימית על השואה. "העם הפלסטיני הוא הראשון לדרוש להסיר את העוול והגזענות שעמים אחרים סובלים מהם"
ומה עשו "מנהיגינו"? במקום לברך אותו על אומץ ליבו, במקום ליפול על צווארו ולהכריז "אחינו אתה", במקום להכריז כי על מחווה כזו יש להשיב במחווה, מה הם עשו לדעתכם? הם כמובן דחו אותו בזלזול. "הוא לא התכוון ברצינות" נאמר בתגובתם, "הוא מנסה לעשות שואה שנייה"
איזה טמטום. הרי זו הזדמנות להסכים על משהו, קו התחלה שממנו אפשר להתקדם. ברור לכולם שהפלשתינאים, ובראשם אבו מאזן, לא נהפכו לאוהבי ישראל. ברור שהסכנות רבות וצריך למדוד את הפלשתינאים גם לפי מעשיהם – הטובים והרעים – אבל אנחנו חייבים להקשיב לדבריו של אבו מאזן. אולי זאת מלכודת, אבל אם זה אמיתי – יש לנו בסיס, ובכל מקרה, למה לסרב ולדחות את המסר שהביא?
הממשלה הזו, באטימותה ובעיוורונה הולכת ומזכירה את ממשלת גולדה, והתוצאות של מעשיה ומחדליה עלולות להיות לא פחות קשות, לנו ולכול המזרח התיכון.

On Stupidity
Translated from an article by Yoram Hoffman on Holocaust Remembrance Day

In my dreams, I see an Arab leader rise up and declare publicly, “The Holocaust is the most terrible crime committed against humanity.” I awoke and discovered that it wasn’t a dream; it actually took place, in 2014, and the Arab leader who dared to rise up and come out publicly against the perpetrators of the Holocaust was none other than Abu Mazen, head of the Palestinian Authority, our archenemy.

The chair of the Palestinian Authority, about whom in the past it was claimed that he denies the Holocaust, today declared unprecedentedly in reference to the Holocaust: “The Palestinian people is the first to demand eradicating the grief and bigotry from which other nations suffer.”

And what did our “leaders” do? Instead of congratulating him on his courage, instead of embracing him and declaring, “Thou art our brother”*, instead of announcing that such a gesture deserves a gesture in kind, what do you think our “leaders” did? Naturally, they dismissed his statement outright: “He didn’t mean it,” was their response. “He’s trying to carry out a second Holocaust.”

What stupidity. Here we had the opportunity to agree on something, a starting point from which we could progress. We all know that the Palestinians, led by Abu Mazen, aren’t our biggest fans. We know that the dangers are many and that we need to judge the Palestinians by their actions as well as by their words, both good and bad. But we also have to heed Abu Mazen’s words. Perhaps it’s a trap; but if he’s for real, then we have a foundation. In any case, why reject his message?

Our government, in its blindness and obtuseness, is more and more reminiscent of that of Golda Meir, and the results of our intransigence are liable to be no less grave than were her deeds and omissions — for us and for the entire Middle East.
reference to Genesis 45:14-15

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Hooting at the Huppa תרועות ליד החופה: וֶטוֹ

Overall, I prefer Israeli (Jewish) weddings to American Jewish ones, mainly because of the relaxed informality. However, there’s one practice that crosses the line from casual to inappropriate: the widespread practice of whooping as the groom -- and increasing in volume with the bride -- walk to the chuppa.

In discussing it with my kids, one of them brought up its origins in Middle Eastern cultures where the women ululate, thus according to said daughter, labeling me “racist”. Truthfully, I hadn’t even made this connection; although I believe she’s correct about the origins of the practice, I humbly disagree with her conclusion. She blames my bias on my having grown up in the US, where brides (and grooms, and endless maids and groomsmen) proceed down the aisle in silence except for any music being played; and where to cheer or applaud would be considered wildly out of place.

In that sense I agree. However, while in the wider sense, it’s indeed a cultural bias, disliking it doesn’t make me racist, or even bigoted; it simply means I’m biased in favor of my own cultural (non)practices, which I believe is OK. In my perception, ululating, like strapless bridal gowns, hints at the act that will supposedly be taking place post-nuptials, which to me places it in the realm of prepubescent bathroom humor, or frat boy humor, neither of which has any place surrounding the solemn ritual of kiddushin [holy matrimony].

To me the whooping says: Here we are, dressed in our best, gathered to witness this couple’s union -- and suddenly, voila! It’s a sports bar! Or a soccer stadium! Or a construction site! Woot! No, just no. Call me uptight -- even pearl-clutching -- but I find it objectionable.

But besides my personal bias, which is admittedly subjective, what about the objective fact that at many a wedding, the couple has asked one of the guests to play and / or sing a particular song as they’re led to the chuppa? Your friend(s) or family member(s) have graciously obliged, presumably rehearsing so it sounds lovely, right? They begin their piece, everyone’s in the moment…here comes the groom…and suddenly we’re at a rock concert or a World Cup game.

Certainly not every foreign practice is worth importing. For instance, I dearly hope we never import the arrangement wherein the couple stands with their backs to the guests, so -- yea! -- I got all dressed up to see…the rabbi’s face! Immigrants, feel free to check that practice at the door. But whooping as the bride and groom walk to the chuppa is a practice to wish I’d dearly love to say שלום ולא להתראות good riddance!