Monday, September 29, 2008

Rosh HaShanah 5769

Ah, a new year. It will indeed be good. I wish all a great New Year! At the festive meal for Rosh HaShanah (seder), many people hold the custom of eating a pomegranate in order to say a special blessing thanking Gd for "bringing us to this season," which essentially means thank you for the chance to be where we are. I hope we all can truly say thank you for being here, alive, with the chance to do so much good. A new year should not be for personal commitments. Rather, it should be dedicated to improving the lives of others. That's the message of Judaism. That's the lesson I am going to take from Rosh HaShanah.

The pomegranate, the seeds of which you see above, is a special fruit to Judaism. The Bible lauds the Land of Israel for its pomegranates. The seeds of this delicious and spiritual fruit symbolize to Jews the abundance of good deeds with which we aspire to. In fact, the Talmud says that "even the wicked among Israel are filled with good deeds like pomegranates are filled with seeds." Hassidism teaches many mystically beautiful lessons from that concept.

I wonder, however, how they would explain why grenade in modern Hebrew is the same word for pomegranate...

Click here for my post on Rosh HaShanah last year, the first month I was a citizen in Israel! It has two good stories in it, one of which is an awesome story from an Israeli soldier who became interested in religion from the Lebanon War - you can probably guess why. There are no atheists in foxholes, right?

!!!!שנה טובה

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Classic BBC Bias

Not to belabor a point, but I wanted to give yet another example to refute various commenters to this site who claim that instead of Western media generally being anti-Israeli, that it is anti-Arab/Muslim. Here is a beauty of a BBC article. Besides the obvious underlying problem that BBC gives credence to anti-Israel viewpoints by choosing to publish such slanted articles, the title itself reveals their opinion.

"Jerusalem crash 'not deliberate'; Relatives of a Palestinian who was shot dead after his car ploughed into a group of Israelis at a bus stop have denied it was a deliberate attack."

In case you don't feel like reading the article, let me just say that they validated as indisputable fact one side of a highly volatile disagreement, whether or not East Jerusalem is "occupied" or not - and did so twice. Guess which side they sided with. And that's just the most obvious bias.

I promise this is the last time I'll talk about media bias against Israel for a long time. Oh, before you leave, look at that picture again and just internalize the unbalanced implication of making that the lead picture for the piece: young boy holding a picture of the attacker, presumably a younger brother, with women crying in the background. I'm shaking my head.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Funny Israeli Name

Many people comment on the Hebrew names that sound silly in English, most notably Dudu, which is pronounced exactly the way you are hoping it is (if you're 23 and dumb like me). Well, I'd like to officially add one to the list, though I think it may be Amharic (Ethiopian) and not Israeli or from Hebrew.

I have a friend who was in Sherut Leumi, the volunteer program that religious girls do as an alternative to army service at 18 years old. Her job was up north near Tiberias where she lived at a school for delinquent youths. Many of these young men (and girls too, I think) had horrible stories: orphaned, abusive parents, young criminals, expelled from other schools. So, as you can imagine, she had a tough crew.

Thank goodness one of them was called Nacho... his legal name. Proof? Here you go (the name in the middle):

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Attack Update

The 19-year-old East Jerusalem Arab who rammed his BMW into a crowded cross-walk of soldiers and civilians last night has been identified as Kasem Mugrabi.  An update on the Jerusalem Post website says that the BMW was a present from his parents and "was to be his when he got his driver's license."  So, the guy didn't even have a license but already was living the high life.

But what takes the cake is that he settled on the terrorist attack because he "wanted to marry his cousin, and when she refused his offer, he decided to carry out a terror attack."

Arrested Development, anyone? (They are cousins...)

Another Attack - More Stupidity

In honor of the holy Muslim month of Ramadan, an East Jerusalem Arab rammed his BMW (they turn to terror because they're poor, right?) into a group of soldiers today on a tour outside of the Old City.  The soldiers were standing at Kikar Zahal (IDF Square) when the East Jerusalemite veered off the heavy traffic road into the crowd.  I can tell you from my knowledge of that area, which is rather in depth, that the road was probably very busy and that square was populated with many tourists.

Ramadan, the month in which Muslims fast during daylight hours and engage in intense study of the Koran,  is the month that the Koran was revealed to Mohammed.  According to the Muslim Student Association at Colorado State, "a measure of ascendancy is given to one's spiritual nature, which becomes a means of coming closer to God. Ramadan is also a time of intensive worship, reading of the Qur'an, giving charity, purifying one's behavior, and doing good deeds."

What does the Koran say?  "Peace!  Until the appearance of dawn."

Really?  So, a proper Muslim is to practice peace, "purify one's behavior," and do good deeds for his fellow man - until the appearance of dawn?  As in, and correct me if I'm wrong, do not commit violence during the night?  Peace during the day not necessary, peace at night Koranically prescribed.  So, a proper Muslim would not commit attempted murder during the night, but...

"An Arab resident of east Jerusalem rammed his vehicle into a group of soldiers at a central Jerusalem thoroughfare late Monday night..."*

Final word: let's take a look at the various headlines on this attack today here in Jerusalem.

Jerusalem Post (pro-Israel): 15 Wounded In Terror Attack At Busy Jerusalem Intersection
BBC (historically anti-Israel): Jerusalem Terror 'Attack' Hurts 10
CNN (eh..): Jerusalem Driver Plows Into Crowd, Injures At Least 15
MSNBC (uber-liberal): Car Plows Into Soldiers In Jerusalem; 13 Hurt
Reuters (hilariously anti-Israel): Jerusalem Driver Wounds 19 In "Attack": Police

And the always trustworthy Fox "News"...

13 Israeli Soldiers Hurt In Palestinian Vehicle Attack

It's just funny how most of the headlines fail to mention who committed such a terrible crime, and how all of them besides JPost and Fox even go so far as to put qualifying quotations around the word attack! I mean, yes, if you want to put a quotation around "terror," fine, I understand your hesitation. But "attack"? Was this not an attack? Did a man not purposefully drive his vehicle into his enemy? Yes, it was an attack!  And moreover, CNN and MSNBC fail to mention that it was even an attack of any sort at all.

Fox "News" is good for one thing: keeping us pro-Israel people happy.  And oh yeah, I'm OK.  I was at home.  But I planned on going out to that area tomorrow for some food...

*Jerusalem Post

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Sexy Tzippi Livni - Next Prime Minister?

The literally hundreds of visitors to my blog each month who searched for Tzippi (or Tsippi or Tzipi or Tsipi) Livni Sexy, or some combination thereof, will be happy to hear that Tzipi has won the leadership role of the ruling political party in Israel, Kadima (Forward).  This means that our favorite international sex icon has a chance of becoming the next prime minister of Israel.  You think I can use my charms to get in as a cabinet member?  Women do have a hard time resisting my devilishly good looks.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Muslim Call To Prayer - Adhan

Islam requires its adherents to pray five specific times a day. In order to signal the times of the prayer, the muezzin performs the adhan. The muezzin in modern times and areas uses a loudspeaker that is broadcast from the top of a mosque's minaret, calling out in Arabic the adhan's words:

Allahu Akbar! (God is the greatest)
Ash-hadu an la ilaha illallah (I bear witness that there is no deity except Gd)
Ash-hadu anna Muhammadan rasulullah (I bear witness that Muhammad is the messenger of Gd)
Hayya 'alas-salah (Make haste towards prayer)
Hayya 'alal-falah (Make haste towards welfare)
As-salatu khayru min an-naum (Prayer is better than sleep)
Allahu akbar (Gd is the greatest)
La ilaha illallah (There is no deity except Allah)

Living in Jerusalem, with its high population of Muslims, I have become acclimated to hearing the adhan at all hours of the day and night. I've lived in the Old City for about five months, as well, and anyone who lives in that area is especially treated to this Islamic call to prayer. The Old City has its own Muslim Quarter, so you get the loudspeakers booming from there, as well as the Arab town Wadi Al-Joz across the Kidron Valley on Mount Olives.

Muslim call to prayer. I took this from Ir David, the City of David.
Sorry about the obnoxious Americans talking.  There are like five
different mosques all broadcasting at the same time, so it's pretty
overwhelming to be hear it in person.

Some of these calls to prayer are during crazy hours of the day. Consequently, many people get woken up by the ringing Arabic echoing off Jerusalem's valley walls. I often found myself woken in the middle of the night by the adhan, at least for the first months I lived here. Let me just provide an analogy. I come from a little rural town in Virginia, a place of 1,200 residents called Elkton. The railroad runs through Elkton, making it really a central part of downtown. So, in 6th grade I dated a girl who moved into town, and in fact she ended up living right across from the train tracks. The first few months she lived in Elkton she complained nearly every day of being so tired - the whistling train woke her in the middle of the night, every night. The first night she slept in her new home she thought there was an earthquake.

I and the rest of us veteran Elktonians rarely hear the train. We have gotten used to it. Likewise, I am rarely woken now by the adhan. One of the prayer times just happens to be at dawn (fajr), which can obviously be very early. I used to be woken all the time by this prayer, and just like her thinking there was an earthquake, my fantastical imagination had me believing that a new jihad was breaking out. Now that I'm acclimated to the strange hours, I can truly enjoy the ancient call when I do hear it.

Oftentimes I find myself too familiar with my life here, something which I never expected so easily. I go to the grocery store and I walk past ancient walls, I take shortcuts around medieval monasteries, the skyline is littered with Ottoman Empire mosques and minarets. No matter where you live, life can become quite normal.  Old hand.  I know a guy living in Kabul, Afghanistan, right now for a research group. I wonder if he has become regularized to that world?

The resonating Islamic call to prayer still brings me into another dimension, and yet also helps re-sharpen my focus on exactly where I live. Whenever I happen to hear it late at night, or on a walk home, or from my bedroom, my eyes are forced open and I remember just how amazing this place is. The wailing call pierces my routinized heart, flooding me with a bittersweet epiphany of how far I am from Elkton.  

I love Elkton, but Jerusalem is like walking on the moon - this place is otherworldly.

"Schalit is Living in a Paradise"

In case you missed yesterday's Jerusalem Post article about Gilad Schalit, let me give you a little briefing.  In case you don't remember, Schalit is an Israeli Army soldier who was captured in 2006 along the border of Gaza, an act orchestrated and executed by Hamas.  We have been negotiating with Hamas to secure his release, but each time it falls through Hamas blames Israel. Hamas wants thousands of soldiers in return for our one man.

According to Abu Katab Doghmush, an Army of Islam affiliate with ties to al-Qaida, Gilad Schalit is alive and well, and is even having annual birthday parties.  Here's his words quoted by the Jerusalem Post:

"He's not being kept in a closed room all the time - this would not be healthy. He can go out and take fresh air. Every year, a party is held to celebrate his birthday. Yes, there is a cake and candles, music, everything."

How kind of them! According to Doghmush, who has a ridiculous name, Schalit is being treated like a king:

"I can tell you that Schalit is living in a paradise. Our religion of Islam demands that we look after prisoners even more than we do our own people."

You gotta love those terrorists. And finally, the quote that really takes the cake for me:

"We won't let Israel blackmail us, and force us to lower the number of prisoners to be released."

I struggled with that one for a few minutes. I wondered if maybe I didn't know what blackmail actually meant. I decided to really be careful and look up the definition. Here's how Oxford American defines blackmail: "Demand money from (a person) in return for not revealing compromising or injurious information about that person." OK, now, if you switch "money" for "goods, services, or other valuable stuff," and "person" to "terrorist organization threatening the free world," then maybe we are trying to blackmail Hamas into giving us back Schalit.

OK, yeah, I'm still confused how us returning 450 terrorists in exchange for 1 soldier is blackmail. They want 1,000 to 1,500 terrorists instead of the 450 we're offering...

Yes, that must be the definition of blackmail. Moreover, is Doghmush (note his idiot name) saying that Israel has compromising or injurious information about Hamas or his Doghmush clan or the Army of Islam or al-Qaida? Maybe they're afraid we'll inform the people of Gaza how Hamas is ruining their lives by forcing Israel to blockade the Strip?


Thursday, September 11, 2008

Classic Israeli Moment

I was sitting at my table tonight, dilligently working on twenty pages of transcripts for my job, when there was a knock at the door.  Unfortunately, our landlord hasn't installed the gate to our entrance that he said he would get around to, oh I don't know... ten months ago!  So, the guy comes to our door, knocks, and I answer it.  I have no idea who he is, and I figured that maybe he was here to see the apartment.  I'm not renewing my lease, so there have been viewers once already, and considering that my landlord gave me ten minutes before the last viewers came, I thought he just failed to tell me at all.

I opened the door, thinking he was here to see the apartment.  "Hi," I said.  I waited for him to say something.  He looked past me, around the place...

"ש שןו קכח לנסבצמ נןשקו םןשח גהח בדנה נןשיק םכיםןמה תצבסנהע םןחעפםק כחלךהמב תצמהםמןכ מעקרומהב המכםן ורמהם מחהל מבלחעםוירןועןד מגד"

"Um," I stammered, quickly realizing with embarrassment that I actually understood zero words that he said.  "Sorry, but my Hebrew is pretty terrible.  What are you saying," I choked out in Hebrew.

Switching to English, "Oh..."  He looked just as uncomfortable as me.

"Yes?," I asked.

"So you don't read the newspaper in Hebrew?"

The look of confusion on his face before he asked the most obvious question of his life was priceless.  Absolutely priceless.  It more than made up for my lack of understanding, which I don't even feel bad about because he threw some insanely fast 'Brew in my direction.

Honestly, if I can't even understand your introduction to selling me a newspaper, how am I supposed to read the paper in Hebrew?!  Classic Israeli Moment brought to you by Stupid Immigrants Don't Know Nothin'.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

One Year Anniversary

September 4th, today as of this writing, is the one year anniversary of my move to Israel.  It seems like yesterday that I moved here, and strangely enough the past six months went faster than the first six months.  What's even stranger is that I came to Israel when I was 22, and very soon I will be 24.  So, it feels like two years have passed!

One whole year has passed, so where do I stand?  Let's see...  Not much money in the bank (read none).  I don't have a girlfriend.  My Hebrew is mediocre at best.  I'm kinda in shape, but unfortunately I can't afford a gym membership.  I'm going into the army in less than two months and I haven't even finished the paperwork.  My diet sucks.  One of my running shoes has a hole in the air pocket.  And... yeah, that's probably enough kvetching.

BUT!  But, to balance out the less than perfect elements of "real life," there are tons of great aspects to my life.  I have many interesting friends from all over the world.  I live in the most spiritually enriched city in the world.  I'm a citizen of the two greatest countries and nations of the world.  When I do splurge for something other than pasta and rice, I absolutely love the food in Israel - Middle Eastern fare.  Whenever I have free time I go on the coolest little trips around ancient, ancient sites.  And, most importantly, I'm exceeding in a long held ideology.

I'm doing okay!  Besides, I look the same, right?

A year ago

A week ago

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Don LaFontaine Died

Yes, this is totally unrelated to Israel, but it is very much related to a part of a culture that I have been raised in.  Don LaFontaine, the guy that does the voiceovers for all those movies, died a couple days ago at the age of 68.  They aren't saying what he died from.  I was always under the impression that he was a smoker, because honestly, how could you have that voice without smoking?  But, in the video below, he says that he got the voice overnight as a teenager.

I'm putting this up here because this man and his voice were overarching cultural givens for me in my life.  LaFontaine provided the voice for over 5,000 movies, TV promos, and advertisements, and so inevitably his prolificacy created an indelible mark on what we consider the "standard" for vocal accompaniment to visual entertainment.  And, at least for me, my attention has always been easily grasped by his natural emotivity.  

What really blows my mind is to think that a voice that provided so much emotion and tone for the greatest entertainment device ever, the movie, will be a guaranteed unknown for the next generation.  How long does a movie preview last?  When was the last time you watched the preview for Die Hard 1?  It stands to reason that my children will never know this element of my life.

I was always very aware of big studio movies that didn't use Don LaFontaine as their voiceover, and I invariably thought, "Why wouldn't they have him?  That's like not wearing a suit to an interview."  It just makes me sad to know that all the awesome movies to come will have a little bet less than perfect previews.  Well, in a world without the best voiceover actor known to man, we must strive to find the next best thing...