Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Snow in Jerusalem

I walked out of my front door this morning and was confronted with this:

Snow! Everywhere!

I went out to my car.

Is my Mazda under there somewhere? Uh.. what am I supposed to do now?

I've never driven through snow before, and it was quite a challenge. Rule of thumb: never turn your wheel all the way to the right or left, you'll go flying.

The schools were closed, and all bus service (as well as traffic laws, apparently) were suspended.

I usually spend a few minutes at this intersection ever morning.

Looking over at Bayit V'Gan.

People scurrying about in Kiryat Moshe.

The birth of a snowman.

The Jerusalem stone all around was dusted with a coat of frosting.

Sadly, it started raining soon after, and all the snow is now being washed away. But it's supposed to snow again tonight, with an even heavier coat this time.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

What's Happening in Jerusalem?

Life moves along briskly in the holy city, the "Eternal Undivided Capital of the Jewish People," as our politicians like to call it without really meaning it.

On the street corners, activists have been passing out the gold ribbons, relating to the famous 1967 Naomi Shemer song, "Jerusalem of Gold." The ribbons are to protest negotiations over the re-division of Jerusalem's capital by Jerusalem's former mayor, current prime minister Ehud Olmert.

The shirt reads, "Above everything, Jerusalem"

Shemer herself was quite contraversial in her time. While the resolve of the Labor party and the ruling elites crumbled into the empty shell of an ideology in the decades after Israel's near defeat of 1973, Shemer remained true to her beliefs. While she didn't need to take on the religious garb or ideology of the religious right, or the ultra-nationalst chest-beating of the secular right, she stayed true to her beliefs in the simple justice of the Zionism with which she had grown up.

Anyway, the face of Jerusalem is changing, as another level has been added to the massive bridge at the entrance to the city.

It will be an engineering marvel, an architectural classic, and an aesthetic monstrosity. One of the difficulties in living in Israeli society is the tendancy to need to prove that they are "One of the Gang." This is just another attempt to show how high-tech and flashy the city can be. But a city like Jerusalem will always strike feelings of awe at the antiquity and holiness of the place, wouldn't it be more appropriate to perhaps design a bridge which would fit in with a more biblical motif? Or perhaps just with a bit of modesty?

Instead, they've got this massive, curvey, high-tech marvel that sticks like a knife through the skyline. It would go well in Tel Aviv or Ashdod, the modern coastal cities, but for Jerusalem, I'm disappointed that we can't grab hold of our biblical roots. Still, as an engineer, it will certainly be a sight to behold.

Meanwhile, Russian-born billionaire Arcadi Gaydamak is eyeing a bid for for the mayor's office come the next election. He immigrated from Russia to Israel in 1972, and bumped around between Angola and France until a warrant was issued for his arrest on weapons dealing and tax evasion charges, which caused him to flee back to Israel. He's been peppering the country with his billions for social projects, building up support, especially amongst the Russian community, and now his billboards are everywhere

The poster on a passing bus: "Jerusalem, You Deserve More" (Subtitle: "Renewed Center for the Ill," a project he sponsored.)

Meanwhile, Jerusalem's non-billionaire population enjoys some music on Agrippas Street.

And, of course, who could miss the new coin. "Two" is shteim (Or shneim, depending on gender.) So now that we have a two-shekel piece, which would be a "Shnei Shekel," coin, it's been abbreviated to the "Shnekel."

The holy shnekel.

Today, I went jogging up Armon Hanatziv when I was smacked in the face with a wind so powerful I was barely able to even walk against it. Worse, it was loaded with hail which struck my face like a swarm of bees. Now, the wind is whipping, my windows are rattling, and the first flakes have fallen (and melted) outside. A snowstorm is coming. They're expecting several inches in Jerusalem. Stay tuned to Planet Israel for up-to-the-minute coverage!

Monday, January 28, 2008

The Republicans Part I

The Preacher Man

Before all else, I have a personal bond with this guy. He lost God knows how many pounds, something I'm always struggling with, especially in recent weeks.

This guy, who wants a Christian America, probably gets the least Jewish votes of any candidate. The fact is, surprising as it may be for those of us who grew up in public school with all the little Christian kids telling us we were going to hell, there's been a major turnaround in the Evangelical Christian outlook on Israel. I've gone shopping in the states and been approached by Christians who see my kippa and want to offer me blessings. "Why?" I ask.
"Because the bible says that whoever blesses the children of Abraham will be blessed, and whoever curses them will be cursed."
Wow. They know our bible better than most Jews. Of course, there's the sneaking suspicion that the Christians have become so friendly all of the sudden because they believe that we all have to be here in the holy land in order for Jesus to come and send us to hell, but, as they say here, "Yesh v'yesh." There are some who are friendly for altruistic reasons and some for more selfish reasons.

If you want to hear what is esseintially a distilled version of my own feelings on mideast politics, click below.

The guy's got it spot on! Sadly, there is as yet no Israeli leader to mirror his rational evaluation of the last mellinium of regional politics, and likely will not be one for several decades more, until the current batch is swept away by sheer demographics.

The problem with Huckabee lies in some of his other views. He wants to shut down the IRS, push a flat tax, apparently wanted to quarantine AIDS patients, and, well, there's lots more. Who knows how much is true, but he hasn't come out and denied any of it. He also seems to be so loaded with social programs that, were he pro-Abortion, he would have to run on the democratic ticket. Sadly, I just don't think this guy can stand up in a general election, and his chances are fading fast as he sinks beneath the waves. He's already supporting McCain and dissing Romney, a sure sign that he's angling for a Vice Presidency spot after he drops out following super Tuesday. He would have been a good soldier in the culture war, but that's on hold. This year, it's the economy, stupid.

The Mormon Guy

So Mitt Romney is a Mormon. Actually, I had a Mormon roommate once, which was kinda cool, except that every time the "Elders" were having a meeting in my apartment, their eyes would light up on the site of the Yarmulke on my head. I knew they were all thinking, "potential prey." But I suspect I myself am a gilgul (reincarnation) of a Mormon, since I pretty much avoid all caffeine and alchohol, so I know how hard it must be when Romney goes to a business meeting and everyone is pushing schnaps and coca cola on him.

Advantages: He went to Harvard, so he's smart. He's run a business and a state, so he could probably run a country with all the same white-collar accumen he polished in the private sector. Hey, with economic woes abounding, maybe he can make America as rich as America has made him!

Disadvantages: He's a bit stiff, blow-dried, pollsterized, and just plain old uncharismatic. The last seven years have shown us that uncharismatic Presidents who can't convey their thoughts and emotions seldom get very far. He can't deliver a line without looking like he practiced it in front of the mirror until midnight the night before. He's a typical country club republican who appeals to a certain over-$100,000 per year demographic, but doesn't appeal to America. Oh yeah, and he holds the opposite position of most positions he held five years ago.

On Israel: In reasearching his Israel positions, I could only find the usual "strong allies" talk. Most of his focus has been on Iran, which he said he would prevent from attaining nuclear arms, which would be nice, since we all want to live.

Ron Paul, Libertarian

Ron Paul has no chance, and no place in the Republican party. Still, he's been endorsed by some of my friends at Arutz 7 becuase of his proposal to withdraw American military aid to Israel. I also think that Israel needs to get off America's nickel and reduce its dependence on foreign assistance, as Israel's foreign and domestic policy is now molded as needed to suit American pressures. But this is something that will have to come from an internal upwelling of spirit within Israel, not from just yanking the plug on aid in one day. If the eighteen billion in aid that Israel's Arab aversaries receive in American aid were reduced in addition to the two billion that Israel receives, then this could actually put Israel at a major advantage.

Advantages: He is the only Republican who is against the Iraq War, which most Americans were also against. At least, six months ago. Nowadays, the surge seems to be working and the economy is tanking, so other concerns have taken over.

Other than on that particular issue, Ron Paul is a nut. He wants to go back to the gold standard, an issue which was decided a century or so ago, and legalize most drugs. That's not going to fly with most people, and he belongs on the Libertarian "throw your vote away" ticket.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

One month on the "W"

So I've finished a little less than a month on Weight Watchers. So far, this week, I only lost about 1 lb. Of course, my ankle was sprained so I couldn't do my daily jog, so at least it didn't go up. Total loss so far is about 8.5 lbs.
For Shabbat, I went out to Efrat to visit fellow blogger Treppenwitz and fam. For Note that little "leg up" at the very end of the weight graph. That's courtesy of Zahava's chocolate-cinamon-cocaine cake. One bite and you're hooked; first one's free. But I'm glad I tell ya! Still, I managed to run for the first time in a week today, and the ankle's not so bad, so hopefully I'll get back on the downward trend.
Meanwhile, here are some pictures from my trip out to Efrat.

Rays of light over Gush Etzion (the Etzion block of Jewish settlements, south of Jerusalem.)

Ancient terraces. I came out here last March and these hills were covered with snow. It was pretty stunning.

More terraces.

Gilly practices his ping pong serve, and Yonah serves as ball boy.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Wedding of Eli Rous and Shoshi Fishbein

And now for a break from the usual run of the blog to celebrate the wedding of Eli and Shoshi last Wednesday night. You remember Eli? He got engaged last October, and we went to his engagement party in November? Our non-stop Eli-Shoshi coverage continues with the wedding.

The mothers of the chatan (groom) and kallah (bride) break a dish, symbolizing that just as a dish can't be put back together, so too a broken marriage, God forbid, could never be put back together.

I typically work from home until about 10 PM (noon Pacific Standard Time,) so I have to sneak out for weddings, but it's always worth it. In this case, I managed to get there just in time for Maariv (evening prayers.)

I finished up just as Eli left, escorted by his dancing yeshiva buddies, to the bedeikin (checking to make sure he's got the right the bride.)

"Why hello there."

And now, off to the Chuppa.

Eli, his father, and his soon-to-be-father-in-law, reach the chuppah. The sign in the background reads, "Mazal Tov to Eli and Shoshi."
Okay, where's the kallah?
Circling the chatan seven times.
Under the chuppah.

Eli puts on the tallit Shoshi bought for him.
And they're married! Off they go to the yichud (alone) room.
The party really gets started, Eli distributes brachot (blessings.)
Dancing with the chatan.
A. was there.
Yours truly.
Rabbi Segal, who officiated the ceremony, spins in ecstasy like a pilotless airplane.

And they danced the whole night long.

Mazal tov to Eli and Shoshi! Until 120!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Barry'O and Hillary

And now for my review of the top two Democratic candidates....

The Black Kennedy
C'mon, could you picture Regan grinning as he dashes shirtless through the surf?

And he's a dark horse in more ways than one. Fortunately for him, he's got no record to speak of, having spent but three years in the Senate, so he can pretty much promise anything to anyone and nobody can call him on it. In the plus column, he was against the Iraq War, which is both good and bad. Going in and getting Sadaam was good. Trying to transform Iraqi Arabs into Jeffersonian Democrats was pure lunacy. So he got the war, a very complicated situation, half-right, but politics makes no room for positions that can't be compressed into a jingle, and so it's "I was against the war from the start."

Advantages: He thinks before he speaks, and you get the sense in listening to him that he is saying what he thinks.

Disadvantages: He's promising free everything to everyone, and has nothing specific. But they all do that.

On Israel: A reporter from the Islamist publication Electronic Intifada, bemoaning Obama's gradual mainstreaming into an acceptable candidate, "Over the years since I first saw Obama speak I met him about half a dozen times, often at Palestinian and Arab-American community events in Chicago including a May 1998 community fund raiser at which Edward Said was the keynote speaker." That's the same Edward Said who invented the concept of "Palestinian Nationalism," justified all terror against Jewish civilians, and later fabricated his own autobiography to have him born in Jerusalem, not his native Cairo, to latch his invented personal story onto his invented cause.

Barack Obama enjoying dinner with Edward Said

It was just a dinner, and it was so long ago. But since candidates immediately start covering up their positions as soon as they realize that they might run for higher office, it's cause for concern that this may be where his true sympathies lay.

The Hippie Chick
It's the Clintons again! As if eight years weren't enough.

Advantages: She's claiming experience, but all she's really got is six years in the Senate. She is the MASTER of the carefully crafted message, focus-grouped and pollsterized to death.

Disadvantages: Okay, I'll admit it, this lady kinda creeps me out. And it's not because she's a girl, okay. I liked Margaret Thatcher. It's just that, well, there's no chemistry between us. You know, we tried to make it work, but there's something under the surface she's not telling us. The fact is that if you look at her policy initiatives, I think there's still a 60's radical hiding under that pant suit.

On Israel: There was one event in her career forever emblazoned on the minds of middle east news junkies, which you will probably hear more about if she gets the nomination, the "Clinton-Suha Blood Libel." On November 11, 1999, while her husband, then-president Bill Clinton, was on a state visit to Gaza, the First Lady of the United States attended a speech given by the First Lady of the Palestinian Authority, Suha Arafat. The speech then veered into antisemitism, Suha complaining that, "Our people have been subjected to the daily and extensive use of poisonous gas by the Israeli forces, which has led to an increase in cancer cases among women and children." For Suha, it was just a repetition of the Nazi-esque rants broadcast 24-7 on Palestinian National Television, but after the speech, Hillary took of her earphones on which she had been listening to the translation, walked to the podium, and gave Suha a wet kiss on the cheek.

She can be forgiven the kiss to the cheek, as at the time even Israeli officials were publicly kissing Arafat himself on the cheek, but her lack of rebuke or condemnation was alarming. While she later claimed that the translation of that particular section of the speech was not broadcast, and that she disagrees with what Suha had to say, I personally find it very hard to believe that part of a speech at an important state event was simply left untranslated. There is a small chance she agreed with what Suha said. Certainly Hillary, like most of the left, feels a great measure of sympathy for the "Palestinian Plight," and misperceives their war against Jewish independence as a war for Palestinian freedom. But I think, more likely, she just wanted to avoid offending her hosts. In Arab culture, there is very little differentiation between a difference of personal opinion on a matter of politics and an outright personal insult (hence the preponderance of torture facilities throughout Arab countries for political dissidents.) However, a leader of a sovereign nation has to have resolve, principles, and courage, and in a moment when she was tested, she revealed her glaring lack of them.

Up next... the Republicans!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Democrats

One of the advantages of the telecommuting lifestyle is that I can sit here and listen to the radio all day, with no fear that my boss will suddenly walk in and think I'm slacking off. So I listen to interned broadcasts of talk radio from the states, and lately I've been inundated with endless election news and updates. Strangely, I've become more engrossed with American than Israeli politics. Maybe it's because in Israel, no matter who wins the election, Shimon Peres, Bibi Netanyahu, and Ehud Barak just trade seats. Since all of them will do pretty much whatever the American administration tells them to, and America has in the past removed from office a prime minister (Yitzchak Shamir) who wouldn't read their script, the American elections are in many ways have a greater effect on Israeli politics than the local elections.

As usual, the campaign is just a bunch of jingles with buzzwords like "Hope" and "Change," such as "The courage to change," or, "The hope to have courage," or "The hope to change our courage into... uh... hope."

First off, the Dems.

One of the things that turns me off to this party is "identity politics." It no longer matters what you can do but what you were born. A Republican can appoint a black Supreme Court Justice (Clarence Thomas,) a Hispanic attorney general (Alberto Gonzales,) or a black woman for National Security Advisor and Secretary of State (Condi Rice,) and a black Republican can consider running for President (Colin Powell) with no fanfare. As soon as Pelosi gets elected, headlines blare out loud, "The First Woman Speaker of the House!"

It's like the left in Israel which claims to care soooo much about Arab rights, while it was, in fact, the right under Begin that rescinded the "Chuk," the martial law which was in effect in Israeli Arab villages, without all the photo-ops and self-praising speechifying.

So, today we'll start with a primer on each candidate and what I think since, ya know, I'm a pundit and all.

John "No Chance" Edwards

He's whiter than mayonaise but still manages to get angrier than Jesse Jackson. The greivences, the blaming, the whining, it's all there. This is a "change" and "hope" election, and he's just a bit too conventional, and a bit too angry about life in general. Perhaps if he went through a radical "change" it would help his chances:
If he can transform into a black woman, he can get back in the running. Otherwise he's toast.

Advantages: He radiates anger. Lots of Americans are angry about their lives, so he can appeal to them.

Disadvantages: He's claiming to fight for the little guy, but he's got a 28,000 square foot mansion with an attached sports facility, and spent some time as a Hedge Fund manager. Hedge Fund is to the left what gay marriage is to the right; one of those evil words that always elicits a twinge of loathing, like Wal-Mart or Dick Cheyney.

On Israel: The usual boilerplate about being "Close friends" and "strong allies," yadda yadda yadda. Nothing interesting or original. One disturbing quote, "We haven't done enough to work on the peace process in Israel; we didn't sustain the progress that had been made there." Uh... John... what was seven years of Israeli retreat? I seem to recall that leading to war. You've done enough, thanks very much.

The other two Dems coming tomorrow!

Monday, January 21, 2008

Three Weeks on the "W"

I just finished my third week on Weight Watchers. This week, my losses were... well... disappointing. I lost about one pound.

One of the difficulties of dieting in the religious world is Shabbat (sabbath.) It's hardly a complaint, but since I made aliyah a year an a half ago, I have not once made my own Shabbat meal. I've even tried to plan a meal where I'm by myself, but someone always comes up to me at shul (synagogue) and starts pestering me about where I'll be, and then when they find out I'm on my own, insist on bringing me over and won't take no for an answer. At times I've feared violence.

The down side of all this generosity is that Weight Watchers is all about measuring out your food. Of course, measuring is one of the 39 melachot (actions prohibited on Shabbat.) This means that one has to simply eyeball portions of food, rather than use a measuring cup or scale. Another difficulty is the fact that one is eating at other people's houses, and one doesn't want to insult the hosts by not eating something. So I've learned a few tricks. First off, I make a vegetable tuna stir fry about an hour before shabbat and eat the whole thing. I've figured out how to get it down to two or three points (I'm allowed 25-30 per day,) and it really fills me up. Then I go into Shabbat without food on my mind. Secondly, every major meal includes soup, which tends to be very low in points. When the soup is served, before the meal, I try to suck it down as fast as possible, complement the chef, and then go grab some more. "MMM, I REALLY like this soup." That way I have an excuse when the main course comes out. "Oh, that soup was so great, I really filled up on it." It's win-win.

I'm also keeping up my exercise regimen, but I may have problems with that for a week or so. Today I went on a Tanach Tiyul out to Nachal Prat, the Prat River (stream, really) east of Jerusalem in the hills of Binyamin where Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah) the prophet grew up and occasionally retreated to as needed. It was a fantastic tour, but while hiking there, I ended up spraining my ankle. It wasn't as bad as the time I sprained it while jogging, and probably a little worse than the time I fell off a cliff at Beit Hoglah, but it did make some horrible snap, crackle, and pop-like sounds. I figured I could walk it off as usual, but now that I'm home I can barely stand up. Ugh. And the yeshivah has another Tiyul planned tomorrow, this time to the Eastern Shomron region. I hope I'm well enough to hobble along by then because I sure don't want to miss it. The gist of it is, I don't know when I'll be able to run again. Certainly not today!

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Negev Tour 8: Inside Canyon Ada

And now for my final post of Machon Meir's Chanukkah Negev adventure:

Previous posts:
Negev Tour 1: Off to Tel Lachish
Negev Tour 2: From Lachish to Zin
Negev Tour 3: The Wilderness of Zin
Negev Tour 4: Mitzpeh Ramon
Negev Tour 5: Beginning Day 2
Negev Tour 6: Hiking the Ridgeline
Negev Tour 7: Canyon Ada

Later came a ladder.
Strange shapes in the rock. Even going through single file was pretty tough here.
Hmmm... how am I gonna fit my belly through this?

And finally, the canyon opens up to the acacia-studded plains.

Made it back to the busses before sunset for some lunch.
The sun sets behind the mountains of the Negev.
Some guys daven Mincha (afternoon prayers.)
Now for a quick cleanup and back on the busses. It's about three hours' drive to get back to Jerusalem. And that pretty much wraps up the Machon Meir Chanukkah Tiyul to the Negev.