Friday, April 30, 2004

Yasser X
French launch investigation against unnamed chairman of Palestinian Authority.

Teehee.

The Facts Of Life
An excellent article by Melanie Phillips explaining THE FACTS OF LIFE. Do you think that emphasis was strong enough? How about - The Facts Of Life!

For one thing


The first major error is the idea that Israel is torpedoing a political settlement. There is in fact no political settlement on the horizon. For all Tony Blair's insistence otherwise, the road map is dead in the water because the Palestinian Authority refuses even to attempt the map's first and most basic requirement, that it dismantle the infrastructure of terror.

Not only has it refused on the grounds that to confront Hamas would mean civil war, but Yasser Arafat's own militias — and even the PA's own policemen— are repeatedly involved in the human bomb attacks which are being regularly attempted (and mainly thwarted). You can't negotiate a settlement if there is no-one committed to peace with whom to negotiate.

And more importantly

And here lies perhaps the biggest — and most bitterly ironic — error by Israel's critics. For to its Arab enemies, far from representing strength Israel actually embodies a terrible weakness.

[…]

The danger lies in not recognising that terrorism is encouraged by weakness, not strength. Al Qaeda attacked America because it perceived the west was decadent and so assumed it was not prepared to fight. It made a big mistake over America, but it got Europe (with the exception of Tony Blair over Afghanistan and Iraq) dead right.

The history of modern terrorism is a history of appeasement. From the first Palestinian plane hijacking in 1968, the response of the west was to assume there were legitimate grievances that had to be addressed. From that point, terrorists had every incentive to continue.

In a roundabout way, Melanie Phillips is one of the people who brought about the creation of this blog, back in the dark, desperate days of the spring of 2002, when simple, everyday events, like sending the girls to school in the morning, were traumatic.

Activism
I had a brief chance encounter with an English peace activist. At first she was uncomfortable to tell me she was a peace activist. What did she think I would do to her?

She told me that West Bank settlements were growing like mad.

Once upon a time, nearly every young couple I knew, secular and religious alike, was considering moving to this West Bank settlement or the other, lured by the promise of affordable, palatial dwellings. “Five minutes from Kfar Saba” was the catchphrase. Ancient history.

I no longer know anyone even contemplating leaving the relative safety of pre-1967 Israel for a hazardous existence in a posh villa in the territories, however cheap, and however near the Green Line it may be. Bish doesn’t know anyone either and he knows a lot more people than I do.

Back in the days when everyone was moving there, the newspapers were full of attractive advertisements and the construction contractors were having the time of their lives. Not any more.

It doesn’t add up, what she said about this uninhibited settlement growth.

I admit that I haven’t been anywhere near any West bank settlements in years. I haven’t seen any bulldozers. I haven’t encountered, first hand, the alleged droves of vehicles taking alleged hoards of fervent, ideological youngsters, their families, and all their worldly goods, to allegedly inhabit their shiny new homes on remote hills. This doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. Allegedly.

It just means I don’t think it makes any sense.

Maybe she was talking about Jerusalem neighborhoods.

I asked her how she would feel if Sharon went ahead with disengagement from Gaza. She said she’d never been there but from what she had heard Gaza was just a big prison and disengagement wouldn’t change that, but only make it worse. I didn’t get it. What she was saying was: Building settlements = bad; dismantling settlements = even worse. At this point, I could clearly feel my old pal fuzzy brain setting in. This type of reasoning is way beyond my humble mental abilities.

I am concerned about her hesitance to reveal her being here as a peace activist to an Israeli, concerned and suspicious. What does that say about how she sees us as a people? I am left with the feeling that she would be happiest if we just ceased to exist, you know, by magic or something.

I’m sorry we can’t make her happy, but that’s just the way it is.

The other day I said that “Justice is always about justice for one side. Someone always loses.” Maybe I should call the people who come over here to help the Palestinians, not peace activists, because they don’t really seem very interested in peace for both sides, but Justice (for one side) Activists. Justice Activists has a certain sanctimonious ring to it. Much more appropriate.

Shabbat Shalom.

The vet’s waiting room is something straight out of a Roald Dahl children’s book. It’s the coolest place I’ve ever been in. Honest to God. I can’t explain it. It’s full of…sort of… things, cool things. It looks just like you imagined a vet’s waiting room would be like, in the land of your dreams, back when you were innocent enough to still daydream about what the world would look like, if it were perfect.

I hadn’t noticed it when I first went to pick up Shoosha. I just rushed through into the surgery. You see it was the vet’s assistant who called us, ten days ago, to see if we would be interested in having Shoosha adopt us. So they were very happy to see her again, when we brought her back to be inoculated this morning.

Shoosha got a little inoculation booklet, like the girls have, but much nicer. And the best thing is that now we know what type of cat she is. It’s written there, right underneath her name.


Cat’s name: Shoosha.
Type: Israeli cat.

Israeli cat.

While we were waiting for our turn in the coolest of waiting rooms, Bish noticed the vet’s name. Isn’t that Efraim Kishon’s son? He said. What was it someone Meryl quoted said about people here being unassuming?

Actually, the cat lover directly responsible for the vet’s assistant calling us, and our getting Shoosha, was also the offspring of a famous Israeli figure, but enough name-dropping.

False perceptions.
The funny thing was that I was certain they had lost. Round about the middle of the game there was a lot of noisy excitement, but towards the end, there was this tense quiet. Well, quiet-ish. It sounded to me, from where I was, like they were taking a beating.

I had been interested to see if Maccabi Tel Aviv would win the game, but not enough to actually watch it. I was tired, so I had gone to bed. I can hear about the game tomorrow, I thought.

But going to bed on the night of a big game does not necessarily mean sleep. I think I could have slept better had I snuggled up next to a reluctant Bish, in front of the TV. The commotion coming in through the bedroom window from apartments all around was something that could have wakened the dead. Men become very vocal when watching sports.

The whole country has been obsessing about the Euroleague Basketball Final Four, for weeks now. Bish has been very excited about it. He’s been an avid supporter of Maccabi Tel Aviv since childhood, as was his father before him. I even mentioned the Final Four myself here when the pressure was on to have it moved away from Tel Aviv, during the general silliness that followed the Ahmed Yassin killing.

So while I was in this not-quite-awake-but-definitely-not-asleep/not-watching-the-game-but-not-managing-to-avoid-it state, secure in my belief that the game was lost, I started having those worrying late night thoughts that make it even more difficult to get to sleep. If they lost, I hallucinated, there would be few spectators at the final, because of people being bad losers, and because the foreign supporters (A.K.A. “The Chickens”) hadn’t dared come to ever so dangerous Tel Aviv. I was afraid of international embarrassment.

But what do you know? They won. Saturday night’s the final. I’ll be ready with the earplugs.

A new blogger emerges
Vvvvvvvvvvvv11111111111111111111111111
ddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddd vvvvv
vvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvgooooooooo
oooooooooooooo jjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjv
vvvvllllllvvvvv 00000000000000000000000000000-,
m((((((((((((((((((((((((???????????????

Posted by Shoosha

Thursday, April 29, 2004

Goodness gracious me!
I haven’t had this many hits since before the world lost interest in Israel, a year ago, when it became apparent that Saddam wasn't going to launch any chemical missiles at us.

Thank you, Roger.

Wednesday, April 28, 2004


A season is set for everything, a time for every experience under heaven:
A time for being born and a time for dying,
A time for planting and a time for uprooting the planted;
A time for slaying and a time for healing,
A time for tearing down and a time for building up;
A time for weeping and a time for laughing,
A time for wailing and a time for dancing;
A time for throwing stones and a time for gathering stones,
A time for embracing and a time for shunning embraces;
A time for seeking and a time for losing,
A time for keeping and a time for discarding;
A time for ripping and a time for sewing,
A time for silence and a time for speaking;
A time for loving and a time for hating,
A time for war and a time for peace.

Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) 3, 8 (From the new translation of the Holy Scriptures according to the traditional Hebrew text).

For Barbara,
with whom I was silent
and with whom I spoke
of loving and hating,
of war and peace.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Dear Amanda,
Thank you for taking the time to read my blog. I know it is very difficult to read opinions that differ greatly to your own. To do so requires remarkable openness.

Last summer, my mother-in-law traveled to France for a wedding. She stayed at a remote farm in Brittany. Staying with her there, among others, was a close friend of the bride and groom, a young Palestinian man. He had been born in Lebanon and had spent most of his life in France. He knew my mother-in-law was Israeli and he avoided her.

Wishing to contribute to the preparations for the wedding, my mother-in-law made ma’amouls (you can read about her ma’amouls here) to be served at the wedding reception as appetizers. The young Palestinian tasted them, not knowing who had made them. He was probably the only one who could really appreciate them. They must have brought forth dear memories, because he made the effort of finding out where they came from.

Then he came up to my mother-in-law, an act that must have required a lot of courage, and complemented her, telling her that they were better than his mother’s ma’amouls, praise indeed from an Arab man.

And they talked. And while they talked he realized that he had more in common with this elderly Israeli woman, his sworn enemy, than with all the other people at the wedding. He asked her about his homeland, which he had never seen and knew little about. And she told him. She described the sights and the smells and the sounds.

And she said something else to him. She said to him that she was more of a Palestinian than he was. She was born in 1932 in a land that, at the time, was called Palestine. And so was her father.

She told him of her childhood in Tel Aviv, and of her father who had worked in the port of Jaffa, and of the Arab children she had played with as a child.

She had lived all her life in the land he called Palestine. She had given birth to her children in Jaffa. She had walked with the groceries from Tel Aviv's Carmel Market, through Jaffa, to her little apartment in Bat Yam, to prepare food for her family. In 1967, she had put black paper on the windows of that little apartment, in the days of waiting, to prevent enemy planes from seeing it, should they come in the night. And she had sat there, hugging her two small sons, her husband away at war, fearing that the end was near.

But still, in his eyes, he was a Palestinian, he who had never set foot on the land, had never smelt its smells and had never felt its sun on his back. And she was a foreign occupier.

She invited him to come and visit. She promised to show him the country he called home, to give him an opportunity to smell the smells and hear the sounds. I have no quarrel with you, she told him. We love the same country.

On both sides of this conflict there are people, Amanda, real people. No one asked the Native Americans how they felt about the establishment of the United States of America; no one asked the people of Andalusia in Spain how they felt about the Muslim invaders in the Middle Ages, and no one asked them how they felt about the Christians who came after, with their cruel Inquisition.

No one asked the Jews of Poland if they would prefer to die of starvation in Warsaw Ghetto or in the gas chambers of Auschwitz.

The UN commission that checked the situation in Palestine and came up with the 1947 Partition Plan probably did confer with leaders of both sides. And it made an effort to come up with a solution that would solve the problem relatively fairly for both sides.

The Jews of Palestine, at the time, saw the Partition Plan as horrendous. It gave them a tiny country, cut up in the middle, most of it arid desert. Beloved Jerusalem was to remain international, and difficult to reach. Hebron, holy burial place of the Fathers, was on the other side of the border.

But still they rejoiced, because they were ready for compromise and because they knew there were hundreds of thousands of shells of human beings, waiting in Europe, remnants of the death camps, that were desperate for somewhere to go, somewhere safe, somewhere that they could, at last, call home.

Justice is always about justice for one side. Someone always loses. Life is not about justice. Life is about muddling through and trying to get along with one another. And surviving.

Nu
Israel is 56 years old today. Fifty six, that’s ‘nun vav’ in Hebrew alphabetical numbers. Nu.

So I know that on this festive day you are all dying to ask, ”Nu, so how’s the cat?”

Well, there’s something wrong with the focus on our camera. Also, Shoosha really wasn’t interested in posing on the flag. These are the best I could do.




The arms are Eldest’s, by the way. This is a very tiny kitten, although she's grown quite a bit during the week she's been here.

The fireworks in Tel Aviv were really good last night, better than usual. They had a new kind that were amazing. Just in case you were wondering.

Terrorism is cancer
If we are gentle to cancer, if we say, ‘We should give our cancer love and compassion, and then it will change its mind and go away’, then our cancer will laugh in our faces. This victim is an easy one, it will scorn.

To survive cancer we must be very strong and determined. To survive cancer we must inflict unspeakable agony on ourselves. Sometimes, we have to cut out parts of our bodies. Other times, we have to pour poison inside us, again and again. Often, we must destroy parts of our body that are not cancerous, just because they happen to be adjacent to parts of us that are. We have no choice but to be very cruel.

The alternative is to endure slow torture, a hell on earth, followed by annihilation.

Thursday, April 22, 2004

World Hero
A lot of ordinary people here are mainly worried how a dingbat like him came to be working in Dimona in the first place, even if it only was as a technician.

Did you catch him on the TV yesterday? Pompous. Pathetic. It was embarrassing. What a disappointing figure for world hero!

And you’d think in eighteen years of prison, he’d have found a few minutes to learn some decent English, especially as that’s the only language he claims he means to speak from now on. Mind you, from the few words he said in Hebrew, he doesn’t speak that very well, either. And does it in a very weird accent.

I’d love to stay and chat a while about…well, what can I call him, the village idiot? But I’m going away for a few days.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

At last I’m a real blogger.
Yesterday we invited a tiny little homeless kitten to come and live with us. She said, surprisingly, meow meow, which we took for a yes. She’s black, extremely adorable, and her name is Shoosha. I wanted Matilda, of course, but no one else did.

It’s amazing how fast we found her, or she found us, after we put the word out on the street that we were available to be adopted by a cat. In a few days we had discovered lots of lovely catty people, two nice young vets, and a very friendly pet shop, just round the corner, all of whom were happy to meet new cat people, and extremely grateful that we were taking in a little waif.

This isn’t our first cat. Once upon a time, there was Tallulah, named after Tallulah Bankhead. As a teenager, I once tried to read the actress’s autobiography for some reason, having picked it up in a secondhand book store, but couldn’t make it past page 2 of unbearable, self-centered drivel. Tallulah was a lovely cat though.

We found her a new home after we returned from our famous 'desertion' of Tel Aviv during the 1991 Gulf War (This is what the mayor called it at the time. Not surprisingly, he didn't remain mayor for very long after that). Well, semi-desertion, we came in to work every day. While we were gone Bish came home every day to keep her company and make sure she was alright, but we couldn’t bring her into the overcrowded air-raid shelter in Herzliya, in which we were living along with three and a half other families.

We had been surprised that Bish hadn’t had one asthma attack all through the war, even though the air-raid shelter was damp and dusty. It had to be the cat. And I was pregnant. We decided it was best to give her away. We find for her a young Russian immigrant who missed the pet he had had to leave in Russia.

So why are we taking a chance again? Well, years of Eldest's yearning, for one thing, along with our inherent cat-peopleness. Oh, and I suppose Our Sis’s transformation had something to do with it. Our Sis used to be one of those annoying people who fall to pieces whenever a cat is anywhere near: sneezing uncontrollably, runny bloodshot eyes - a real pain. While we had Tallulah she never came near us.

And then one day, as if by magic, her allergy disappeared. No more sneezing, no more runny eyes, etc. Now she shares her home with two cats, along with all her other animals (and a few humans). So we reckoned we could give it a try too. So far so good.

Monday, April 19, 2004

I really think you should read Omri's Holocaust Day post.

And this presentation, brought to my attention via Naomi Ragen's mailing list.

Thank you, Dave, for sharing your family's story.

From Anthony of Black Triangle - Primo Levi: If This Is A Man.

What to say
Eldest was upset and offended that some of the boys had laughed during the film. I asked her not to judge them too harshly. The fact that they had laughed didn’t necessarily mean that they didn’t care. It probably meant that they couldn’t cope with the emotions the film aroused in them, or that they couldn’t risk the embarrassment of being caught with the hint of moisture in the corners of their eyes, when the lights came back on.

Eldest is so sensitive and delicate. It’s not easy for me, as her mother, to see her sadness and pain, as she struggles to grasp the horror. I instinctively want to protect her.

We discussed responsibility and Europe, and the Germany and Germans of today. I asked her if she felt it would be fair for us to cast blame, even if it is only in our minds, on a German girl of her own age, for instance. After all, even such a girl’s grandmother was probably only a child during World War II.

I suggested she tried to feel what it must be like to be a German girl, and how difficult it must be for her to come to terms with the past. She understood, but I could see that she was still torn, needing an identifiable target for her anger. But there is none, and I think that is the truth we all have to deal with. This is hard enough for most adults.

How can thirteen year olds possibly cope with it all?

Sorry about the language before. I've changed it.

Both girls came home yesterday visibly shaken by films they'd been shown at school. I was very upset by this. I'm going to have to work it out before I can talk about it. Maybe later today, if I have time.

I read over my "humor" piece. It's a disaster.

For Israelis: Don't forget the siren at ten. It can be a bit of a shock for the first split second, if you're not waiting for it.

Sunday, April 18, 2004


Tonight is the beginning of Holocaust Memorial Day. This is a time to remember, learn and teach. It’s not as if we don’t remember, learn and teach all the year round, how can we not? But this is a day set aside specially for that.

I’m doing this online writing course, and just my luck I had to write a humorous piece this week. It’s due in tomorrow. I have had it in mind all week, worrying about how I could possibly write anything remotely funny, when I’m feeling heavy inside. I managed to jot something down yesterday, planning to read it again today before sending it off. But today I found I couldn’t bear to read it, so I just sent it. I hope I haven’t made too many spelling mistakes.

Bish says that there is nothing you can’t joke about. He jokes about dying all the time.

Some day I would like to visit Poland and see where my family came from. From what I’ve seen on TV, Poland isn’t too hot, especially the villages. The Sephardis here laugh at the Polish Jews that, with all their airs and graces and snobbery, where they came from wasn’t much to boast about either. But I want to see anyway. And I want to see where they most likely ended up, the ones that didn’t get out on time. I want to smell the air, and feel the gravel under my feet. I know I’m only on this earth by chance.

My mother once said that after the war, family members that had survived started arriving. And they sat in the living room and told their stories. At first the grown ups thought that maybe it would not be suitable for the child to hear, but the relatives told their stories in Yiddish, so the grown ups reckoned she wouldn’t be able to understand anyway.

What they didn’t realize was that she had grown up during the war in the same house as her grandparents and she had learnt to understand their language.

So she sat undisturbed, and she heard it all.

I couldn’t care less about Rantissi. Good riddance.

Maybe you would like to visit the Yad Vashem site.

Saturday, April 17, 2004

No, I mean it. THANK YOU, MR. BUSH. It is an uplifting and rare experience, to be supported in this manner.

You know, the Palestinians said something about it being like the 1917 Balfour Declaration. Made me aware of two things: A. How unpleasant the Balfour Declaration must have been for local Arabs (Can’t call them Palestinians, because they weren’t at the time, just as the local Jews weren’t Israelis). B. How exciting the Balfour Declaration must have been for Zionist Jews. It was the first time they had received any sort of serious international recognition for their aspirations, and from the leading world power of the day, no less.

I am highly amused by some of the op-eds regarding this development. Apparently By blatantly backing Israel's Ariel Sharon, President Bush has given Arabs another target”. Huh? Oh yes. You see, luckily for the West, ”The people of the Arab countries have been remarkably patient as they watched their living standards decline under corrupt and oppressive governments backed by the West. They have been patient as Israel sat on the conquered Palestinian territories for 37 years, pushing Arabs off the land and planting their own settlements on it. They have been patient about a lot of things - but that dry, snapping sound you heard a moment ago may have been the camel's back breaking.” Beautifully put, so dramatic and moving.

How about this little gem? ”Many Palestinians saw Sheik Yassin's murder as a deliberate attempt by the Israeli government to stimulate terrorist attacks that would distract international attention from Sharon's land grab in the West Bank. The attacks have not yet come.”

This sounds like the Palestinians have been so sweet and decided to refrain from retaliating, unlike those evil Israelis who would have been completely responsible for anything that they would have brought on themselves. Hey, they were practically begging for it. Strange to hear about Sharon's land grab when he is actually planning a one-sided exit. The truth, of course, is that the Palestinians just can’t pull any attacks off, and not because they haven’t been trying. It’s the apartheid wall, it’s the evil checkpoints, it’s the illegal targeted killings (among them that of Ahmed Yassin himself) that are keeping the streets of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem safe, and not the goodwill of Palestinians.

”What did come was a statement by Abdel Aziz Rantisi, Hamas' new leader in the Gaza Strip, that "America has declared war on Allah. Allah has declared war on America and Bush."”

What is this woman’s idea? To create panic on the streets of New York (Is she, perhaps, working as a PR agent for our pals the Pals)? See what that awful Bush has gone and done now? You’re all doomed. The all-powerful Arabs will come and get you, now that you foolishly dare not to dance to their tune. You should all start shaking in your beds. You’re their new target. And it’s all Israel’s fault, as usual.

Don’t bother with the rest of it. It makes just as much sense.

* * *

Do you know what I would really like? What would be such a welcome breath of fresh air, something that would go SO WELL with Bush’s supportive statement? To read some original thinking from the Media! They are so bloody repetitive, so tiresome in their inability to read the picture intelligently. Why are they so completely incapable of seeing things outside of their usual, habitually limited scope of vision (what do you call those things they put on horses so they can’t see either sides, but only straight forward?), of seeing things in anything other than the same old two-dimensional way ? Is there any wonder I hardly read them anymore? (I can hear some people murmuring under their breath that that was a clear description of ME. Hmmm.)

It’s like this evening course I’m doing. It’s a sort of creative art class one night a week. I absolutely love it. We are all the same sort of women, North Tel Aviv middle class working mothers in our late thirties, early forties, with artistic tendencies that most of us have little opportunity to develop or enjoy. We spend the evening in this cool, musky air-raid shelter, experimenting with shape and color, (in my case) splashing paint and ink all over the place. I wait for it all day and when I get there, I’m in bliss.

But something that I’ve noticed about the other women in our exclusive little gathering, and I say this at the risk of generalizing horribly and unfairly (and of being ostracized should any of them read this), is the rigid groupthink they are subject to with regard to all things political. It’s not that politics are discussed there very much, but when they are, I get the feeling we are living on parallel planets.

From the safety of their middle-class bourgeois lives, they feign an advanced strain of anti-establishmentarianism. They’re the hip ones who see things as they should be, and their way is the solution to plenty of society’s ills (okay, so I’m exaggerating just a little to make my point), while in actual fact they seem to me to be living in a world in which thought is far more regimented. While the rest of us are free to switch viewpoints five times a day, and often do, and, in accordance with our limited mental capacities, to see wisdom in all sides (and shortsighted stupidity too) - for them there seems to be a correct way of thinking and everyone aught to be thinking as they do. Any other way equals total wickedness, immorality and decadence. Any other way leads inevitably to destruction and devastation.

* * *

Hey all you open-minded self-professed supporters of Diversity and Free Will out there! Loosen up! You’ve been smelling the WRONG ROSES!

Happy Birthday, Youngest!

Actually it was yesterday, but seeing as she doesn't read this anyway, I didn't think of posting an anouncement.

Friday, April 16, 2004

Thank you, Mr. Bush

Shabbat Shalom.

Monday, April 12, 2004

Why was this Pesach different from all other Pesach’s?
Because this year I finally mastered that most elusive of skills – making decent Matza Brie!

Yes, it must be about ten years since my mother (Aleiyha Hashalom) gave me my Matza Brie initiation, an important milestone in the life of every young Jewish mother. She certainly didn’t neglect this most important task of passing on the tradition. I was fortunate to be taught by the best: a lesson from the true expert. The shortcoming was all mine. Maybe it was because I couldn’t fry an egg to save my life, not to mention egg with matza.

This year I dared to try again, and guess what? A happy family clamoring for more! And it gets better – they want it after Pesach is over as well.

I am fulfilled.

[I have been asked for mother-in-law's recipe for agristada and haroset. Haven't forgotten.]

Saturday, April 10, 2004


Whatever joy there is in this world
All comes from desiring others to be happy,
And whatever suffering there is in this world
All comes from desiring myself to be happy.

Shantideva, as quoted by Sogyal Rinpoche in The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, Rider Books, 1992, pg. 94.

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

The best thing about having the Seder at your place, if you don’t have to do any serious cooking, and Bish does most of the washing up (isn’t he the greatest?), is that you get to keep the Haroset (fake edible mortar, usually extremely yummy, symbolizing the mortar the Israelites used for construction in Ancient Egypt, while slaves). This is a special treat if the Haroset happens to be your mother-in-law’s Haroset with dates.

Another best thing about having the Seder at your place is getting to keep quite a lot of the rest of the food, especially if this includes your mother-in-law’s agristada. By now, you’ll have realized that I quite like my mother-in-law’s cooking. Agristada is a yellow sauce made mainly of lemon juice, eggs, and crushed matza, I think. Now my mother-in-law’s agristada is the best agristada in the world. Well, at least, it’s far superior to the agristada her sisters make (please don’t tell them I said this). I haven’t tasted any other so it’s maybe not fair for me to say this. But it really is so good. I can’t believe anyone could possibly make it any better.

When I met Bish, she used to make it with brain, fried like shnitzel. I can hear you saying yuck, but you must believe me, even seven and a half years into vegetarianism, I have to admit that my mother-in-law’s fried brain is probably the most heavenly thing that this planet has to offer in way of food. That is, unless you believe the graffiti on my running route, which claims, quite clearly, that animals are not food (I do believe this actually, as far as I’m concerned at least, but I also believe that graffiti is an unacceptable way of promoting such a belief and I also believe that I could be wrong, so I don’t go around trying to change other people’s minds).

I have had this thing about brain, you see, ever since physiology lessons in Tel Aviv University’s Psychology Department. You see the textbook had this delightful photograph of a human brain. There was just something about it. I couldn’t keep my eyes off it, and eventually I realized it was making my mouth water. I thought it looked good enough to eat, really - sort of cauliflowery, but better. I could never understand why I got such funny looks from my classmates when I shared this feeling with them. This was meant to be psychology - open-mindedness and all that.

Anyway, when I met Bish, and his mother actually served real brain at the dinner table, I was elated. It was like a fantasy come true. I used to take hours eating it because I just had to make have a good look at the insides of it, having taken the first little bite to free it from agristada and matza meal crumbs, before popping it into my mouth, to be savored slowly. Oh, don’t look at me like that, it wasn’t human brain, what do you take us for? Thought you’d got me there, didn’t you? “We knew there was something in those Passover blood libels after all! No smoke without a fire!”

I guess you’ll be wanting the phone number of the regional head psychiatrist to have me committed.

Sunday, April 04, 2004

Where are you for the Seder?
I always thought this was the strangest question, but in the week or so running up to Passover, everyone asks everyone else, even people we hardly know, even when we couldn’t really care less. Today, a possible reason for this tradition suddenly dawned on me: This is an excellent way to suss out those who have not been invited anywhere, those who have no one to do the Seder with. A faltering answer, an evasive flicker of the eyelid, and the perceptive inquirer can immediately take the initiative, “Listen, Moyshe's Great Aunt Shoshanna decided to go to her nephew on the other side at the last minute. So inconsiderate of her, since we've already made all this food. You'd be doing us a big favor by coming to us.” How simple.

The Seder is the one tradition nearly everyone partakes in, even the most painfully secular (I don’t personally know anyone who doesn’t). There are nice humanistic, PC, versions of the Haggada, for those who dislike the traditional version. The kibbutzim have been using them for decades (Hebrew link). We tried it one year, but missed the more paranoid everyone's-out-to-get-us version. Hey, they really are (this year it’s official), so why can’t we enjoy it once a year, and sing familiar old songs about it?

According to a poll in the newspaper, even most of the newish Russian immigrants hold a Seder, although most of them didn’t know what it was when they arrived, having had most of their Jewishness beaten out of them by the Commies. Another poll in the newspaper claims that an astounding 75% of Israelis refrain from eating non-kosher-for-Passover foods, during the seven-day holiday. Well, you don’t get much more secular than me, and even I cleared out the Chametz from my office today. And I’ve stocked up on Matza. Passover just isn’t the same with Pita from Jaffa.

So where am I for the Seder? Right here, along with fifteen family members. Somehow I refuse to be flustered. Am I in denial? Well, maybe a little, but mainly, brilliant hostess that I am, I have managed to delegate out most of the cooking. I’m left with the hard boiled eggs, the potatoes, some clear vegetable soup for Bish and me, because we don’t drink chicken soup, and we don’t want to be done out of R.T.’s delicious kneidelach, oh, and setting the table (no simple feat on Passover).

This year is a red-letter Seder. Bish is going to be running things. His first time as the head guy at the top of the table; the one who holds up the Matza (unleavened bread) and the Marror (bitter herbs) and says the brochas (blessings). I’m kvelling. Really. I never thought I’d live to see the day.

Afterthought: I know what you're thinking. You're thinking: She forgot washing the dishes and tidying up afterwards. Yes, I did. I am definitely in denial.

Saturday, April 03, 2004

Ha Lachma Aniya


“This is the poor bread, which our forefathers ate in the land of Egypt. Any hungry stranger can come and eat. Anyone needy can come and have Passover with us. This year we are here, next year - in the land of Israel. This year we are slaves, next year - free people.”

From the Passover Haggada.

(My humble translation. Please forgive any inaccuracies, my Aramaic isn't so good. This is the only part of the Haggada that is in Aramaic and not in Hebrew, besides some of the songs at the end, if I am not mistaken)

My last post must have given the impression that everyone is hungry in Israel. This is not the case at all. It’s a big mitzvah to give to the poor in Passover, and it could be that a lot of the ultra-religious charities are going overboard.

I truly fear that the long queues are more a result of a breakdown of values than of real economic difficulties. Some people have no shame to stand in queue for a free box of matza and disposable nappies. I know a few people like that. They don’t care where it came from, as long as they get a piece of the action.

I get the feeling that an alert photographer would probably be able to snap a photo of the same little old Yemenite lady with the flowery headscarf in every queue he visits. One newsreel actually showed someone coming out of one of these food places with a parcel and loading it into the baggage compartment of his shiny new car, which was parked round the corner.

Yes, things are bad and people have to cut their expenses, as in any recession, but the malls and the markets are full, and everyone seems to have a cell phone, surely a luxury item. And as I said yesterday, hi-tech is reportedly picking up, and the foreign investors are coming back.

So are the tourists, apparently. A friend just came back from a few days in one of Eilat’s more expensive hotels, and said it was packed full of English and French speaking people. I asked him if they were Jewish. He said the French were, but that the English speaking seemed to be mainly, surprisingly enough, non-Jewish Brits.

Friday, April 02, 2004

I’m becoming increasingly nervous about the Passover food queues. They’re still showing them on the news and in the papers. Yediot Aharonot (Hebrew link) said that the people running these places say that thousands are continuing to show up and they are finding it difficult to keep order, not to mention that they were running out of stocks.

The paper says that some of the people in the queues were municipal workers who hadn’t been paid for months because of disagreements between their municipalities and the treasury (The treasury claims that these municipalities have squandered their funds and that they must become more efficient. I ask myself if the mayors of these municipalities, and their overpaid deputies in their fancy cars, have been doing without their salaries, these last few months).

The lady I know that runs a food project doesn’t have her people queue up like that in public. She certainly doesn’t have the press come and take pictures of the people she feeds. She prepares them parcels and brings them to their homes, with the help of a little army of volunteers. She gets the names from Welfare. I think that’s so much more humane. Dad also does “Meals on Wheels”, twice a week, bringing food to people right to their homes.

But a lot of people don’t like to go to Welfare, because you have the authorities sniffing around you all the time, trying to take your kids away or force you into a nasty home for poor old people, or something.

I rang up the food project lady to ask her what she thinks about the food queues. She was resting after working so hard all week, preparing parcels and bringing them to the families. She was tired, but happy to have been able to help so many. She said people had been so kind, donating money, and volunteering to help.

She said she thought the food queues were shameful. She said that besides them being extremely embarrassing for the people who had to stand in them, she thought them a very inefficient way to give out food. She said the likelihood of the food not reaching those who really need it was very high.

There are a lot of people who have no problem to stand in a food line and get something for free, even if they don’t really need it, and even if it means taking food out of the mouths of the really hungry. On the other hand, the really destitute probably find it difficult to get to the distribution centers, and even more difficult to schlep the food home once they have it. She added that the really needy are often the ones who are the most embarrassed to be seen in public receiving charity, the ones most struggling to keep up appearances.

She went on to say that a lot of ordinary people from the neighborhood in which she operates her project approached her and her fellow volunteers at their little warehouse place, this week, to try and get some free food. They could see them preparing the parcels and they wanted some too. Not because they were hungry, but because it was there and for free. She sent them all round to the local municipal welfare office. She said that when you have only so much to go round, you prefer giving it to people who have been vetted.

She said that the local municipality gave out more modest parcels to people who usually manage to get by, but were finding the holiday difficult to fund.

She described the parcels they gave out this year, all carefully measured and planned so as to last the families through the holidays. A family on her list is very lucky indeed! It took two men to lift many of the parcels, and each family got a crate of fruit and vegetables, as well. That’s so heartwarming.

Much as I am sorry for the people in the food queues they're showing on the news, I can't help feeling I am being emotionally manipulated. I know there are people in real difficulties, more than ever, but I don't know if they are the people in those queues. They always manage to stick some sly remark about Treasury Minister Bibi Netanyahu and his economic program into the article, or on to a corner of the same page of the newspaper. This is suspect in my mind.

There is good news, and that is that Israeli hi-tech is picking up at last. It had it on the news (can’t find an English link), and R.T., who works in hi-tech, also mentioned it. Maybe next year in Jerusalem, there will be less food queues and not more.

Shabbat Shalom