Sunday, July 27, 2014

I Do Not Understand...

Top of the evening to all...

I have refrained from writing about the current conflagration in Gaza.  The primary reason is that I find myself remarkably hawkish on this whole thing.  That is not a normal position for me.

It has taken until today to figure out what I wanted to write.

I do not understand why even the bien-pensants of the world do not see what the peace-loving neighbours wanted to do with the tunnels.

I do not understand how people do not see that as causis belli.

I do not understand why shooting down a rocket seems to lessen the severity of the crime in its launch.

I do not understand who those who would deny the Shoah (Holocaust) would use its imagery to slam Israel.

I do not understand why the Secretary of State by all accounts angered both Israel and the PA in trying to bring about a cease-fire.

I do not understand why the world will condemn the death of innocent civilians, but will not utter a peep about those who place their weapons in schools.

I do not understand why the slugfest between Israel and the peace-loving neighbours to the south generates so much press, but the death of thousands of people in Syria does not even make it to the back page.

I do not understand how the gleaming vision of the founders of the UN developed into an organization of murderous dictatorships with international legitimacy.

It is bedtime.  Let's hope this gets better soon.


Tuesday, July 15, 2014


Top of the evening to all...

A few years back, I took a several weeks worth of training in public speaking.  I learned a great deal.  As I was getting started, the teacher and I discussed goals.  One of the questions she asked was whether I wanted to work on diction in such a way that I spoke with a Canadian accent.

My answer was no.  I said to her that I am an educated American.  It is better to sound like what I am than to attempt to learn an accent of something I am not.  It would feel fake.

Over the years, people have had increasing difficulty pinpointing my accent.  Then, very recently, people started guessing American, and clearly from the Northeast.  While I grew up in Virginia, being the child of two parents from Brooklyn has never entirely left me.

While we were in Israel, we were walking around the military cemetery on Mount Herzl.  I like the layout and serenity of it far more than Arlington, by the way.  Anyway, we were ambling through, chattering away in English.  Someone walked up to us and asked us where we lived in Canada.

(Trade secret - rabbis sometimes have to go several minutes into a conversation before we realize how we know someone.  We are very good at continuing a conversation while we figure that out.)

I assumed that I had met the man who asked us that over the course of my rabbinate.  I had not.  He said he is very good at picking out accents.

All of that leaves me wondering: what language do I speak?  What dialect of that language do I speak?

Have a good evening.


Different Mindsets...

Top of the morning everyone...

Certain phrases are permanently a part of my vocabulary due to my military training.  Every Marine will tell you that you must 'maintain positive control of your weapon.'  That means that at all times when one is holding any sort of rifle, a hand must be on it.  It shortens response time if there is a need to shoot.  As well, it makes it more difficult for a weapon to be removed from the owner's hand.

When we were walking around the streets of Jerusalem, I noticed that both the soldiers and the police did not adhere to this policy.  They wore their weapons on their backs.  It made me a little uncomfortable.

I asked a couple of policemen.  They were very clear that this was how they carried their weapons, and that there was no logic to always having a hand thereupon.

Since then, I have given it some thought.  In the US, it is illegal for a government-issued weapon to leave government control.  When Marines are in garrison, they do not carry.  When they are out in the field, they check out a weapon before leaving.  They return the weapon immediately upon return.  The same holds for deployment.

For Israelis, the weapon is with them all the time.  They take it home.  They walk the streets with it.  It becomes natural to have it, and keeping a hand on it would be cumbersome and annoying.

I did not get entirely used to it.


Monday, July 14, 2014

A Tale of Two Delis...

It was the borscht of times.  It was the wurst of times.


Sunday, July 13, 2014

Eating My Way through Israel...

Top of the afternoon to all...

I had two worries when we left for Israel.  One was that I would happily eat my way through the country.  The other worry was that I would not.  I think I chose the former, but I am not certain.

When Jennifer and I lived here 20 years ago, we had our favourite spot at Mahane Yehuda for hummus, tehina, pickles, and olives.  The place is still there.  The owner is still the same guy, although he did not remember us.  We should have brought the picture we took.

Anyway, we stopped there for olives and pickles prior to our first Shabbat in Israel.  The olives were simply delightful, and possibly the best I have ever had.  I wonder if it is all in my head - they taste better because I was in Israel, because I bought them at my favourite spot, and so on.  On the other hand, people who drink wine and whisky know that air, soil, and altitude will all have an effect on the taste.

We also bought hummus and tehina there for lunch last week.  Jennifer makes those at home.  It takes her a few minutes, and it is always tasty.  She was trying to figure out why this was so much better.

One of the Israeli customs that I like was starting Shabbat dinner with all of these odds and ends - the pickles, the olives, the hummus.  I could get used to that.

Another Israeli custom (I think) - when we came home at the end of every day, Jennifer's cousin had sliced up some watermelon.  Wow was that a nice way to end the day.

One of the nice things about being on the Kefar for Shabbat was that people ate their way through the neighbourhood as well.  The houses are trafficked all day.  People drop by.  You feed them cake.  You drop by.  They feed you melon.  Keren and I were taking a Shabbat walk.  A man walked up to us and asked if we wanted a cup of water.  We went to his home.  He gave us water, and then invited us to stay for Seudah Shelishit (third Shabbat meal).  We declined, but it was clearly another statement about how much a part of the culture it is to eat one's way through the country.

We are back in Toronto now.  I will miss those olives.


Friday, July 11, 2014

Thoughts from Jerusalem...

Top of the afternoon to all.

Several people have contacted us to express concern about our proximity to the lunacy that is going on in the south. 

Jen and I have been into Jerusalem every day this week.  The city is teeming with people.  Many are tourists, going from this place to that place, on foot or by bus.  Still others are locals.  They get up in the morning and go to work, much like anyone else.  We went to Machane Yehudah yesterday.  It was bustling, loud, and the usual semi-contained chaos that one sees there every day.  In these regards, Jerusalem is no different from Akko, from Ashkelon, from Be’er Sheva, from Tel Aviv, or from anywhere else in the country.  People are aware of what is going on.  It is THE topic of conversation.  Still, they go about their lives with full confidence in those who provide for their common defense. 

The Israeli government is an elected body.  That means that it has responsibilities to the civilian population.  I can assure you that every bit of military planning has been with those responsibilities clearly in mind.

Jen and I are eyewitnesses to all of this.  Our younger two children are not remotely concerned, even though we all went to the miklat (shelter) in the basement of our cousin’s home yesterday.  Jesse is now with a USY group.  When we see the pictures of him enjoying himself with his brand new best friends, and when we remember the wonder and excitement of our own teen tours to Israel, Jen and I cannot think of anywhere we would rather Jesse be.

I suppose I should be a little more concerned.  I am not.  Israel knows exactly what she is doing.  The peace-loving neighbours to the south cannot hit the broad side of a barn from the inside.

Shabbat Shalom, and continue to pray for the peace of Jerusalem.

R/SCG, writing from Kefar Adumim in the Judaean desert

Thursday, July 10, 2014

שיר שהוא כבן אלפיים ובכל יום חדש

"Sing that it is 2000 years old, and renewed every day..."  These are lyrics from the last verse of a Naomi Shemer song.

Those lyrics occurred to me as we sat is Teddy Park today.  Teddy Park is a new park in Jerusalem built in memory of the long time mayor of the city, Teddy Kollek.  In accordance with municipality laws, the park is done in Jerusalem stone.  The facade of all buildings in the city also must be done that way.

In the park, there is a big, beautiful sundial.  Around the circumference of the sundial is a quote from the book of Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) that talks about the rising and setting of the sun.  That sundial captures the city for me.

When we were getting ready to go, people would ask how long it has been since I have been to Israel.  Without giving numbers, it had been way too long.  Instantly, people would say "it has changed so much."  I figured as much, but truly did not know what to expect.

We have not done splendidly in getting out of Jerusalem.  This is fine.  Jerusalem has changed.  The plaza outside Jaffa Gate is now safe and delightful.  The LRT is wonderfully functional and a delight to take around town.  The area around Damascus Gate is bustling at all times of the day and night.  The list goes on.

A trip to Jerusalem requires going to the outdoor market, Machane Yehuda.  It too has changed.  The fruit and vegetable stands are still there.  Now there are small cafes and restaurants as well.  It is a wonderfully bustling, loud place.  The flavours, the smells, and the crowds are exactly as I remember them.  The restaurants and cafes add a wonderful touch.

Some things also remain exactly as I remember.  The basic layout of the city remains the same.  The wide variety of shops sell merchandise that I remember.  There are stores everywhere for jewelry and for religious material.

That new sundial with the scriptural quote encapsulates both the old and the new.  Both are still quite evident in this city.  It is still a city I love, for many of the same reasons, and for many new reasons.  It is as old as time, and it is brand new every day.

Have a great day.


Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Neat Stuff We Have Done...

Hi all...

We have been staying on Kefar Adumim.  It is a small town off of the much larger town, Ma'aleh Adumim.  If you have at any point thought that these 'settlements' are sleepy backwaters filled with religious zealots and no indoor plumbing, think again.  First of all, there is too much sand to call it a backwater.  Much more importantly, Ma'aleh Adumim has a population of about 37,000, as of 2010.  This is not a small town by any stretch of the imagination.  I would love to live there.  Kefar Adumim is not even close to as big.  At present, it has about 500 families.

This is a roundabout way of getting to a neat little industry right here at the kefar.  Many of you are aware of the commandment of tzitzit (ritual fringes, see the end of Numbers, 15).  The commandment requires a fringe of blue.  It is not a blue that one can just make with a Rit dye from Walmart.  It is a secretion from a specific sea snail.  For about 1500 years, the recipe was lost.  About 120 years ago, someone figured out how to make it.  The factory here at Kfar Adumim makes the vast majority of the the blue dye available in the world.  They do tours.  We heard a fascinating introduction to how the blue is made.

We also went to the Armoured Corps Museum at Latrun.  It is the world's largest armoured vehicle museum, with over 130 vehicles.  We learned about the history of Israel's armoured corps, with a personal tour from a soldier.

I asked someone else a question, and we ended up meeting in the office of one of the directors learning about the question I had asked, as well as the geography of the whole area.

Tomorrow, we are going to Yad LaKashish and to Yemin Moshe.  Perhaps we will also hit Machane Yehudah one more time.  It is not entirely clear.

Have a good night.


In Israel with Gavi....

Shalom to all...

One of the things we have tried to do during our time of Israel is to speak a fair amount of Hebrew.  Keren is not totally thrilled.  Jesse is, but Gavi is hereby declared to be off the wall.  He has decided that he is not going to speak any English from now until our return flight is over the UK.

We tried initially last week.  The kids went in different directions at the Jerusalem zoo.  I followed Gavi. We spent a wonderful afternoon together at a very nice zoo.  He spoke only in Hebrew (needs work, but he is getting better).  He is really making an effort.

We went last night to a felafel stand.  I spoke with the man behind the counter and told him to speak to the kids only in simple Hebrew.  He was great.  As he was building their sandwiches, he would hold the tongs over an ingredient, and just say the word in Hebrew, giving the kids a visual and aural lesson.  

We will continue this effort.

Jesse is now with his brand new best friends.  We turned him over to USY last night.  He is now someone else's problem.  He was with one group for about 45 minutes before bedtime, and three hours before being shifted to another group.  The one group totally embraced him.  I so like youth groups.

Have a good night.


Monday, July 7, 2014


Top of the evening all...

With the murders that have taken place, I want to point out some of the differences between Israeli and Palestinian society.

All of Israeli society reacted with absolute horror.  No one said 'it is not our doing, but we cheer those who did it.'

The Knesset voted unanimously to condemn the murders.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with Israeli politics, it is not clear that the Knesset would vote unanimously that the sky is blue.

The alleged murderers will receive a fair trial.  If convicted, their bodies will not be dragged through the streets.

Abbas was praised for having the courage to condemn the murders.  PM Netanyahu did not need that type of courage to call the family.  He spoke for a nation.

No effort will be made to shield the alleged perpetrators from the law.

No streets will be named after the murderers.

No murderer will receive a salary while in prison.

No candy will be given to children in celebration.

Folks, I am not trying to play games of moral relativism.  The crimes committed here were an absolute travesty.  No murderer is better than any other.  I am also not trying to say 'we are better than they are.'  It does not matter.  I am trying to point out though that the challenges of living next door to people with such a radically different view of the world are often difficult to overcome.

Have a good evening.


Those People Are Not My People...

Top of the evening everyone...

You are all aware by now of the goings-on here in Israel.  Three young boys were murdered by Palestinian terrorists.  In response, six Jews burned an Arab teenager to death.

Whatever is happening between Israel and the Palestinians will happen.  Kids should not be involved.

The six Jews who were arrested are appalling people (and I use the term loosely).  I would sooner spend my religious life with pagans then count these men as part of my minyan.

One of the rabbis in Judea or Shomron wrote that these six should be executed.  Israel has a death penalty.  It is only for crimes against humanity, and it has only been used once.  I hesitate to compare the crimes here to those of Eichman.

That being said, I understand the sentiment.  They killed a child in cold blood.  They did it in a way that was uncomfortably resonant of Eichman's crimes.  They placed a nation at risk.  They placed its population at risk (we are staying with Jennifer's cousin.  Their car was stoned the other night).   They set Israeli diplomatic efforts on all fronts back quite a bit.  I am annoyed also.

The young boy's name is Muhammed Abu Kheidr.  May his memory be a blessing for all who knew him.