Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Nahal Pratt Part 4: The End

And, continuing with our hike through Nahal Pratt (aka Wadi Kelt.)

The river. That small clump of houses above is one of the hills of Kfar Adumim.

An interesting textured rock.

Fording the river.

Another funky rock. This one was full of holes and crevices.

At the end of the hike, we came to another major spring.

Flo peeking out of the bushes.

The water wells up from inside and spills out over this concrete structure. The water in the river itself is still somewhat contaminated by sewage, but the spring water is clean.

It's an incredible amount of water coming up from inside the mountain, especially considering we're in a desert.

Nahal Pratt continues all the way down to Yericho (Jericho,), but shabbat was coming in fast, so we had to get going.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Nahal Pratt Part 3: The Flora of Nahal Pratt

I got a few nice shots of the flowers in the hills and along the banks of Nahal Pratt. It gave me a chance to play with my macro mode. Unfortunately, I'm not a botanist, so we'll just have to enjoy the photos without really knowing what they are.

Some sort of flowering succulent.

A purple guy.

Some sort of yellow flower.

Another purple one.

A red guy.

The middle doohickie of the red flower thing.

Another yellow flower.

Yet another yellow flower.

Pink flowers.

An orange one.

Still further another yellow flower thing.

Some sort of funky green plant, apparently not a flower of any kind.

This plant is actually pretty interesting. It grows in salty soil where other plants would be poisoned. On the outside of the leaves is caked salt. The guide said it's good when fried up with potatoes. Makes them taste like french fries.

Me, surrounded by some yellow flower things.

Up next... the thrilling conclusion of the Mosaic hike through Nahal Pratt.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Nahal Pratt Part 2: The Fauna of Nahal Pratt

On our hike, we came across some of the Wadi's natives.

We bumped into this tortoise, or turtle, or whatever it is. I can never tell the difference.

He was in the middle of his lunch, and didn't look to happy to be disturbed.

Unfortunately, the limit was 30 hikers, so we couldn't take him along. Our guide was giving the tour in English so the turtle would not have understood anyway.
After so much overstimulation, the turtle/tortoise buries his head in the rocks.

Next, I noticed some sort of beetle going about his business.

We hiked along the old British pipeline until we turned the bend...
... and witnessed the miracle of creation.
A goat is born, and tries to take its first steps. The umbilical cord is still sticking out of the back end of the mother.

Trying to enjoy its first milkshake.

The rest of the herd.

A Bedouin goatherd boy watches his flock.

Up next... the Flora of Nahal Pratt.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Nahal Pratt Part 1: The Beginning

I recently went on a hike with MOSAIC, an Anglophonic Israeli (that would be me) hiking group, through Nahar Prat (the Pratt River,) which the Arabs call Wadi Kelt. Like most desert wadis, it starts out as a small stream which, over the eons of flash flooding, has cut a deep groove through the surface of the earth. Coincidentally enough, the stream starts right in the back yard of my old house in Pisgat Ze'ev.

The winding road leading down to the river.

Fording the perilous rapids of the Nahal Pratt. The river was rushing with runoff from the recent snows.
A small swimming pool near Ein Pratt (the Pratt spring.)
And now we're out of the gorge. The village on the hill behind us is the Jewish settlement of Anatot, the home village of Yirmiyahu HaNavi (Jeremiah the Prophet.)
Rainwater and melt from the recent snows soaks through the porous upper layers of the soil until it reaches a layer of hard bedrock, where it oozes out. Here we see water running down the slope of the harder bedrock.

Time for a coffee break, complete with camping burner. Caffeine addiction is not for amateurs.

Chillin out on a water pipeline. The pipe was actually built by the British during the Mandate era to bring water to Jerusalem. After Israel captured this area in 1967, it was no longer needed, as it was cheaper to bring water up from the coast.

Yours truly, in front of the gorge. The walls are so steel and neat, it looks like something a water engineer like me would have designed.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Editorial Review: Give gays the kosher stamp

I was just wasting some time reading Yediot Acharonot, one of Israel's two largest circulation daily newspapers, when I came across something in the English edition which caught my eye. It was an opinion piece entitled, "Give gays the kosher stamp." (to see the original article, click on the previous link.) The author, Assaf Wohl, has written on various subjects relating to the secular-religious tension in the past, and his view of observant Jews as bigoted simpletons is not uncommon among the self-righteous ruling classes of Israel. Like most of the self-appointed enforcers of political correctness, his views seem to fall apart once subjected to cursory analysis.

I'll go through his piece point by point:

Give gays kosher stamp

Asaf Wohl calls on rabbis to replace horrifying gay-bashing with social acceptance of homosexuals

Gay bashing? You mean like beating up gay people? Well, there have been a few synagogues desecrated by homosexual groups in the past, but I'm unaware of any group of rabbis who took up baseball bats and assaulted homosexuals.

Asaf Wohl

The issue of religious homosexuals is a serious test case for leaders of the so-called God-fearing public. With the exception of very few people, the leaders of this community fail time and again in handling this question. The miserable anti-gay expressions uttered by Orthodox Knesset members are especially concerning, and in fact horrifying.

Interesting that he gives no quotes to back himself up. But this is typical of Israeli journalistic sloppiness. What matters is not what is said or done, but what Afaf Wohl feels.

Had I been God, I would immediately sue those Knesset members for making pretenses to represent me in such a deficient manner.

I suppose Wohl is attempting to be funny.

All we have to go on here is the Torah, which religious Jews believe to be the revealed word of God. The Torah calls homosexuality an abomination. It's a bit difficult to spin that into acceptance.

The argument that “homosexuality contradicts nature” is being heard often. And I ask you, the people who utter such hate-filled words: How do you know that? When were you in touch with nature recently? Can you prove that societies that are also home to homosexuality are naturally inferior to others? And which natural law contradicts homosexual tendencies? The law of thermodynamics? Gravity?

Now he's switched tracks, and is talking about the nature argument. What that has to do with the previous argument on Halachah (the Jewish way of living) is a bit fuzzy, but I'll take him up on it. Homosexuality violates the laws of natural selection. Those who have children pass their genes onto the next generation and survive. Those who don't disappear from the gene pool. Homosexuals unions do not produce offspring. If one looks at European states whose culture approves of such behavior, namely Holland, Denmark, and the light, one notices that these societies are also experiencing rapid demographic decline, and will likely be replaced by Muslim societies within the next three decades.

Or perhaps we should be ruling that the fact a man is only allowed to marry one woman contradicts natural laws?

It contradicts natural urges, not natural laws. Self control, the basis of a successful Jewish life, is not the

After all, the human urge is manifested through attraction to many partners. It is for good reason that more than 50% of men admit to cheating on their wives in all kinds of strange polls.

Which polls? Not to say that this poll is untrue, but sadly, Yediot, like many Israeli media outlets, publishes such mindless, unsupported statements without a second thought.

The true figure is probably higher. So let’s be consistent, and turn the issue of infidelity into a legitimate way of life. After all, we must not go against nature!
Our forefathers also had many wives and concubines, why should we make do with only one partner?

Okay, let's stop for the

So from now on, please say that homosexuality contradicts Jewish law, not the laws of nature.

I thought you just said that

Jewish law permits lesbianism.

No it doesn't. Lesbianism is not mentioned as a capital offence as male homosexuality is, but it is prohibited just the same.

Even the argument that there is no such thing as a “religious homosexual” is baseless. If we have religious slanderers, religious thieves, and thank God, even religious murderers, why can’t we also have religious homosexuals, who don’t hurt anyone?

There are homosexuals who are involved in torah study in orthodox yeshivot to this day. A Christian friend in college once put it to me, "Hate the sin, not the sinner." The author, in his primitive mindset, conflates tolerance with acceptance. A Jew is required to love his fellow Jew regardless of behavior, but that does not imply approval of behaviors the Torah deems detrimental to the person or to society.

After all, those who desecrate the Sabbath in public also deserve to be stoned, so why are you only angry at homosexuals?
This is because the same-sex model threatens the familiar family tradition. And from there it is a short distance to the demonic hatred many among the religious community hold towards the homo-lesbian public.

He makes a good point here, that the hazard of homosexuality to the "familiar family tradition."

And still, I believe that somewhere there is a Jewish law solution. First, as far as I know there is no problem with lesbian women in the Halacha. So we are left with a problem about the males.

Here I expect the rabbis to resolve this issue once and for all, and preferably not in the Iranian way.

I could go on and on about this paragraph. First, there is a reference to halachah as the "Iranian way." The implication is that just as Iranian Muslims took their Koran out of the mosques and into the streets and decided to run society according to their religion, so too observant Jews take Torah out of the synagogue and into their everyday lives. Therefore, because Iran is an belligerent, starving country, an altogether unpleasant place to live, so too Israel will become much like it's miserable and backward neighbors if observance of Judaism were to become more widespread. Of course, the fact he seems to have missed is that Iranians are Muslims and Jews are Jewish, and two different ideologies are under discussion. One could equally argue that since Communism was a secular ideoligy, and representative democracy is also a secular ideology, so therefore representative democracy is as wicked as totalitarian Communism.

I’m not talking about lifting prohibitions, but rather, about social acceptance.
The Jews are a creative people, so I am certain that rabbis will be able to find a patent that would make homosexuals kosher too.

I've occasionally heard the expression, "Where there's a rabinnic will, there's a halachic way," implying that rabbis "write" halachah. This is demonstrably false, and Halachah is a consistent philosophy. While there may be some dispute whether shabbat begins 18 or 40 minutes before sunset, or whether 56 cubic centimeters of wine are required for kiddush on a holiday, or only 30 cubic centimeters, but the basics, and the methods of interpretation, are universally agreed upon. You can't make a pig kosher.

Homosexuality a direct Torah prohibition, but homosexuals themselves are still kosher Jews. The authentic Jewish response is to approach the individual who has such urges with compassion and understanding, but not to condone the violation of Torah.

Ugh. I somewhat regret writing the above, as I feel that I've already dignified his article by dedicating my precious brainpower to what amounts to a slur, and I'd be glad to argue with a more well-thought-0ut argument, but I haven't yet found any.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Volunteering: Soldier CARE Packages

I had a chance to do some volunteer activity, coordinated with Nefesh B'Nefesh, a little over a momnth ago. The holiday of Tu B'Shevat (the New Year for the trees) was fast approaching, but soldiers protecting the country would not be able to spend the holiday at home, as they would in a more perfect world. So, instead, we packed up care packages full of items they might need for the winter.

Step 1: making the boxes.

Step 2: Adding dried fruits, fresh socks, rain ponchos, and whatever else they might need.
Step 3: Add fresh socks, candies, rain ponchos, and whatever else they might need.

Step 4: Seal up the boxes and slap on the address labels.

Step 5: Throw them into mail sacks.

Step 6: Order pizza.

It took great control to avoid violating Weight Watchers. All right, I confess, I had a slice. Not two. If I weren't being careful, I could easily have eaten a whole pizza without a second thought.

There was, of course, a social aspect to the evening. Unfortunately, that's where I kinda fell behind. It's hard for me to be in large rooms full of people speaking at high volume. Usually I just kinda mosy around and look at the pictures on the wall.

It's not that I'm shy, although I am slightly introverted. It's just that I don't like to waste words on unimportant topics. I believe it was Thomas Jefferson who apologized to a friend that he was sorry he had written such a long, verbose letter, and he would have been able to make it far shorter if he had more time to write it. There is a Hassidic concept that the number of words a person is alotted in his lifetime is assigned at birth. Therefore, to prolong one's life, one should minimize one's word useage. I just hope the blog isn't deducted from my overall word quota.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Six Weeks on the "W"

The good news is, my shrinking continues...

I briefly dipped down to below 220 lbs. After a month and a half, I have thus far lost 15 pounds, and am only five pounds away from my goal. THe strange thing is, I've been going to weddings, gorging myself on Shabbat, and going out a lot, so it's not like I've really earned the last few pounds.

In other news, I stepped outside this morning to find this:

Jerusalem got a whole lotta snow dumped on her this morning. It looked like a blizzard out there. Unfortunately, it was immediately followed by rain, which washed away most of the snow, so now we're left with a muddy slush. Still, this California guy is never going to get over the fact that freezing white stuff falls from the sky here.

In relation to my previous post, my book review of "The Accidental Empire," Norman F left a very well-written comment to the post, which I will re-publish below. My own post was more a point by point refutation of author Gorenberg's pseudo-ethical, often myopic, condemnation of Israel's settlement policy. Norman's response sees more of the forest instead of the trees, tying Israel's settlement drive to the ancient desire of the Jewish people to live in their own home, a drive which predates written history and has overcome seemingly impossible barriers. Gorenberg's historical blindness and spiritual numbness to the existance of the Jewish homing instinct leaves a gaping hole in his book which I did not address. Take it away Norman:

I enjoyed your book review. In a sense, Israel's creation was without a plan. The country grew helter skelter, in fits and starts. Everything was just thrown up all over the country and gradually the Yishuv took root and the same process resulted in the development of what might be termed the New Yishuv in the rest of the Land Of Israel after the Six War.

Yet Gershom Gorenberg, I think misses the divine import behind Israel's birth and explosive growth. The land seems to give the Jewish people strength just much as by their deeds they renew and revive it. Its beauty blooms both by human effort and divine blessing.This is a concept quite alien to the Arab Muslim and Western secular mind. In a way as it were, while Israel is a part of history, Israel is also beyond history. The very idea of the Jewish people clinging stubbornly to a small land in a region filled with millions hostile to their very presence, filled with a depth of violent bloodthirsty hatred that leaves one gasping, should be impossible. Yet somehow, they manage to grow and the same time to thrive.

I feel Gershom Gorenberg's book misses this completely. The settlements - or revanants if we want to employ a less loaded term - came about not out of this or that secular policy but because they embody as it were, the naturalness of Jewish life in Israel, that organically grows out of the country's being. More to the point, that naturalness explains why much of the debate about where Jews live - and where they should live - misses the point.

It is rooted in the spirit of the Jewish people and transcends a particular space and claims all of time and the Galut was merely a series of hiccups, not a decisive break in the flow of Jewish history. That is is perhaps the real untold story about the remarkable rebirth of the Jewish people's sovereignty in their own land in our lifetime.