Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Israel's history in nine words!

You ready? Here it is:

They tried to kill us.
We won.
Let’s eat!

Chag someach, everyone -- Happy holiday!

Today is Yom Hatzmaut, Israel Independence Day, our 61st birthday. All week long both people and municipalities have been hanging banners from every available outcropping, even from little flagpoles mounted on car windows. Lots of cars sport two Israeli flags, one on each side. In Beersheba, every lamp post holds two flags – that of the State of Israel and that of the City of Beersheba. You can’t possibly miss the significance of this day.

My house in Beersheba’s Old City faces a tiled walkway – you can walk past it, but not drive. So my neighbor across the walkway hung dozens of brightly colorful banners zigzagging between his house and mine, and I’ve been enjoying them all week. He always flies a big Israeli flag, too – he’s a retired Army general – so the view from my house is magnificent. I love looking out at it all.

The ‘Let’s eat!’ part of the history isn’t missed, either. Yom Hatzmaut is our biggest barbeque day. Israelis are great outdoor-grillers anyway, and today it’s almost mandatory. The Israel Manufactures Association reports that today we will barbeque 1,400 tons of meat, worth something like 30 million shekels. Now I know why the lines in the supermarket reached epic proportions yesterday.

We don’t forget what made this day possible. Among my favorite symbolic events took place in 2003, when three Israel Air Force F-15 jets flew over Auschwitz, the most horrific of the Nazi death camps.

Flying as slow as possible, escorted by two Polish air force fighter jets – with few public objections from the Poles – the three Star of David bedecked Israeli jets followed the infamous railroad tracks leading into the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camps, and then peeled away.

Broadcast on the ground was a statement read by formation leader Brig.Gen. Amir Eshel: "We pilots of the Air Force, flying in the skies above the camp of horrors, arose from the ashes of the millions of victims and shoulder their silent cries, salute their courage and promise to be the shield of the Jewish people and its nation Israel."

On board, the aircrews carried the names of all of those recorded murdered on that very day exactly 60 years before. Compulsive German record-keeping made it possible to extract the names from all those listed in records at Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Museum.

Surely nothing tells the story better than that. They tried to kill us – we won!

To join us in celebrating, click here http://stateofisrael.com/anthem/ to listen to the haunting melody of our national anthem – HaTikva, the hope -- which is more appropriate today than ever.

As we enter the most dangerous days that the State of Israel has ever faced, we hope our leaders will have the courage to do the needful, to stand up to our enemies wherever they are and to protect us all.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Memorial Day in Israel

Tonight, Monday, at 8 pm yet another nation-wide siren will sound, so that every Israeli in every part of the country will hear it. This signals the start of Yom HaZikaron, Memorial Day. Tonight’s siren will last only a minute, but tomorrow, at 11 am, another will sound for two minutes. Ceremonies will begin at 43 different military cemeteries all over the country to remember those who fought and died for this embattled little country.

Since 1860, a total of 22,570 men and women have been killed defending the land of Israel. Why count from 1860? Well, you have to start somewhere – counting from Temple days would hardly be possible. And it was in 1860 that the Jews who were living in Jerusalem at the time moved outside the walls of Jerusalem to build new neighborhoods in The Land. Up until then, everyone had lived in the relatively tiny area protected by the high stone walls. In that sense, it was the beginning of the State of Israel.

It’s not only soldiers who have died in defense of the country, but security forces and civilians have paid the ultimate price, too. In just the last year, 13 security force members and 12 civilians have been killed in war or by terrorists. These include ten soldiers and three civilians who were killed during the Chanukah War, three policemen who were murdered by terrorists, three who died as a result of the bizarre bulldozer attack in Jerusalem, and three who were killed by rocket and missiles fired by terrorists from Aza.

The last victim is especially sad. On Thursday, April 1, two young boys, Yair Gamliel and Shlomo Nativ were playing near the local council building in Beit Ayin, a common place for children to gather and play. A terrorist carrying an ax in his hand approached them and managed to strike both with the ax.

Shlomo, age 13, ran to his home which was just across the street. Yair, who is seven years old, also ran, although he had suffered a fractured skull. Yair survived his serious injuries.

At home, one of Shlomo’s brothers – the Nativ family has nine children – tried to staunch the bleeding in Shlomo’s chest, but the wounds were too deep. Shlomo passed away within minutes.

Twenty years ago the Nativ family was among the founder of the idyllic Beit Ayin community which now numbers over a thousand people. It’s a popular community for returnees to Judaism to come to study or live, and thus is home for many Anglo immigrants. Within Israel, it’s respected for organic produce.

Shlomo was the second-youngest of the nine children, a freckle-faced young boy with an infectious grin. The family raises sheep, goats and chickens, and Shlomo worked along with everyone else to care for them, feeding and milking them.

Interesting, too, is that the Fatah party – the party of Mahmaud Abbas, the man with whom Israel is supposed to be making peace – and Islamic Jihad took credit for the murder of Shlomo Nativ. They are, apparently, proud of their actions in murdering children.

When the sun sets and Memorial Day ends, then Yom Hatzmaut – Independence Day – begins. The significance isn’t lost on anyone. Without the sacrifice of those who fought to found and protect this country, there would be no Independence Day.

More about that tomorrow.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Susan Boyle and Israel

Susan Boyle. Three weeks ago, the whole world would have said ‘Who?’

I stopped watching the numbers when the YouTube hits passed 100 million, but now everyone, the world over, knows not only who Susan Boyle is, but even the name of her cat.

Commentary about her overnight stardom isn’t scarce, either. Her choice of music certainly didn’t hurt. By singing “I Dreamed a Dream”, from Les Miserable, she set the stage. If ever a “les miserable” in terms of appearance, Susan Boyle was it.

“I looked like a garage”, she said, and most of us – before she opened her mouth – agreed. Pity came first, followed by vague embarrassment. We just knew she was going to make a fool out of herself out there on that stage. It was gonna be painful.

But boy oh boy, did she blow us away. As that incredibly beautiful and cultured singing voice poured forth from that hairy, ungainly body, the world darn near stopped turning. Both the show hosts and the audience rose for a standing ovation long before she finished. Today, she's a star, loved, praised and appreciated.

Why is that? What is it about Susan Boyle that so captured our attention? Google reports 2567 people have answered that question, but let me try one more. I think it’s because Susan Boyle is us.

No matter how beautiful we are, how talented, how poised, how elegant, all of us feel some degree of personal insecurity. Even at the pinnacle of success, somewhere within ourselves we know we’re not perfect. We have flaws, and spend an inordinate amount of time hoping others won’t notice. The beauty queens among us exaggerate their deficiencies,but even they fret over perceived lack of perfection. Self-doubt is just part of who we are.

So to see a Susan Boyle – an Edith Bunker clone, a woman lacking in every one of the trappings of beauty the glamour magazines promote – being loved and applauded, well, wow. Maybe that means we could be loved and applauded, too, in spite of our numerous imperfections.

In fact, Susan Boyle represents the corollary of Shelby Steele’s plea from so many decades ago. “Judge us not by the color of our skin, but by the content of our character.” Judge us not on our looks – our blotchy complexions, wiry hair or well-padded hips – but rather on what we have to offer. Judge us on our essence, not on our appearance.

Wednesday is Yom Hatzmaut in Israel – Independence Day, our 61st birthday. What does that have to do with Susan Boyle?

Just this: For 61 years running, tiny embattled Israel has lived most of the time in the world’s dog house. We are criticized and pilloried, lectured and punished, shunned and boycotted. Attacked by our neighbors in eight major wars – as of this writing – while enduring daily attacks, from one end of the country to another, by terrorists of many stripes. And all the world can focus on is our imperfections.

We are “disproportionate” in our response to nine years of missile attacks on our towns and villages. We lack sensitivity in dealing with the people who promise to kill every one of us. We don’t take good enough care of our enemies – we don’t supply them with the right kind of food, housing or medical care. Our ‘gestures’ for the ‘peace’ the world longs for are never enough.

Oh, how wonderful it would be if Israel could be judged on the content of our character. On what we have to offer.

Our assets are considerable. There's too many to list here, but you’re healthier and will live longer, thanks to Israeli innovation. Israel developed the first non-radiation diagnostic instruments for breast cancer; a pill-sized ingestible camera to take photos from the inside, to help diagnose cancer and digestive disorders; a blood-pumping device to save the lives of people with heart failure, to name just three.

You eat better, with less impact on the environment. We developed a computer chip to revolutionize drip irrigation and prevent water loss – for that matter, drip irrigation itself was invented here.

You live better. The cell phone was invented here, as was AOL Messenger and voice mail. Most of the Windows NT operating system was developed in Microsoft Israel.

We’re the world leaders in solar technology and in water desalination.

Most important of all, we invented the cherry tomato. For that alone, we should be loved.

Why can’t Israel, too, be judged on who we are? On the content of our character?

By the way, if you want to see something truly embarrassing, take a look at Susan Boyle’s first television appearance in 1996. She appeared on another talent show called, “My Kind of People.”

Oh – it isn’t Miss Boyle who’s embarrassing. She’s wonderful. But the host, Michael Barrymore, is probably looking for a cave to crawl into right about now. How wrong could he possibly be?

Check it out:


Saturday, April 25, 2009

Your back yard belongs to me!

The big talk in Israel at the moment is a dual game of ‘what did he say?’ and ‘when did he say it?’

Over the last several days, both Bibi and Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon have made allegedly controversial statements, and then ‘clarified’ them.

Both, at some point, apparently said something to the effect that the Combined Groups of Arab Terrorists must first recognize Israel as a state – or as a Jewish state – before additional negotiations can “move forward”.

(Geez, I hate that phrase. Anytime anyone wants to “move forward” on some issue, you just know it’s something you wish would disappear entirely.)

Anyway, Israel’s quasi-demand that the Arabs first recognize the State of Israel is giving both the Community Organizer in the White House and Missus Bubba serious indigestion. How dare Israel set such a precondition? It’s almost enough to make the Community Organizer stop grinning like the Cheshire Cat.

I don’t get it. I can’t imagine why it’s an issue at all. Of course they have to recognize Israel – as a State or as a Jewish State. How on earth can any negotiations be carried on if they don’t?

If you don’t recognize the entity you’re negotiating with, how can you negotiate?

Logic aside, how about some common sense? If the Combined Groups of Arab Terrorists won’t recognize Israel as a legitimate state, how can anyone possibly fool themselves into thinking that the CGAT will honor any agreement they make?

We know they won’t honor any agreement, of course. Not only have they not honored any other agreement, but their version of Islam permits, nay, encourages Muslims to lie in order to get what they want from non-Muslims, in the furtherance of Islam. When you get right down to it, there’s hardly any point in hammering out an agreement when only one side is going to be required to honor the terms.

But let me put it another way: Suppose you and your next door neighbor have been battling for years over the ownership of your back yard. He believes he has just as much right to it as you do, in spite of the fact that you hold the deed. It’s not as though he needs more property – he’s turned down acreage on the other side of his house several times. But he doesn’t want THAT property, he wants yours. And – as he repeats endlessly – he’s willing to kill you to get it. In fact, every chance he gets, he tries to kill you.

The problem you see is that if you give him your back yard, he’s just going to want your living room next. And why not? Having succeeded in getting you to give up the back yard, he smells success. And of course once he has the back yard, he can carry on his nefarious plans with much greater ease. From your yard he can fire right into your bedrooms.

So now the question is, if you and your neighbor are going to seriously negotiate over if (and how much) of your back yard he’s going to get, does the neighbor have to recognize that you have a right to your home at all?

If he doesn’t have to recognize your ownership, then what’s the point? If he’s just demanding more and more property because he thinks you have no right to it at all, there’s really no point in negotiating. You may as well cut your losses and move. His demands won’t end with just your back yard. He intends to keep on until the whole thing is his.

And of course, once he has the back yard, he’s close enough to kill you at will. After all, that’s what he SAYS he’s going to do. He’s already killed family members, whenever he can. So why would you not believe him now?

Clearly, no such negotiation should ever begin. But if it must, surely it’s only rational to demand that first, the neighbor must concede that you have a right to exist. Only then can any kind of discussion begin.

So Bibi and Danny Ayalon may have said that the CGAT must first recognize Israel as a state. What’s so controversial about that?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Cashing in on family ties.....


“There’s no evidence of any conflict of interest, or any connection, between….”

"Family ties were not a factor....”

“May indeed suggest a degree of political embarrassment.....”

Who do you think they’re talking about?

Senator Diane Feinstein, and her amazingly lucky husband Richard Blum, who, time and time again, just happens to receive lucrative million/billion dollar government contacts (who’s even counting, anymore?) either without any competitive bidding at all, or in spite of the fact that he was not the lowest bidder?

Or could it be Yasser Abbas, owner of the Falcon Electro Mechanical Contracting Company and the Sky Advertising Company, who also hit a lucky streak? Young Master Abbas – son of Fatah Arab terrorist leader Mahmoud Abbas -- just received contracts worth more than $2 million from the US government.

Of course Young Master Abbas -- named for his father’s political benefactor, master terrorist Yasser Arafat – new $2 million kitty is chump change as compared to the $25 billion Richard Blum just raked off, but hey – Abbas is younger and not as experienced. He’ll no doubt improve his bidding and persuasion techniques with time.

But thank G-d for the mainstream media! Reuters exposed young Mr. Abbas amazing luck, but then noted that joblessness within the “Palestinian Authority” has doubled since the Arabs started the Second Intifada against Israel in 2000. So apparently we are supposed to be pleased that at least one young man won’t be going hungry.

As you might expect, both of the US government agencies who awarded the tidy little contracts insist that everything was fine and dandy, not to mention perfectly legal.

The FDIC, who helped out the Blum-Feinstein family during these trying economic times, pointed out that Senator Feinstein first requested the extra money to stop the rise of home foreclosures several days before the FDIC (Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation) granted $25 billion in contracts to Blum’s company to sell foreclosed homes. She couldn’t have known. So, no problem, they say.

Young Master Abbas newfound wealth came through the USAID, the United States Agency for International Development, the US government’s most reliable funder of Mideast terrorism. The money given to Abbas is intended to pay for road improvement and for public relations campaigns to improve America’s image among the various terrorist groups. Officials from USAID insist that there was no problem, since family members are not barred from seeking US government contracts.

Yup. Well, what can you say? What comes to my mind is that old Woodie Guthrie song about Pretty Boy Floyd.

“Yes, as through this world I've wandered
I've seen lots of funny men;
some will rob you with a six-gun,
and some with a fountain pen.”

And some, apparently, with both.

Remembrance of things past.....

Yesterday was Holocaust Remembrance Day -- a very sad day when we recall the horrors of Hitler's attempt to wipe the Jews off the face of the earth.

I didn't see it myself, but I'm told that even CNN -- can you imagine --ran a little news items about it, showing a street in Jerusalem at 10:00 am. At that hour, a siren sounds -- one long mournful blast -- and for two minutes, all over Israel, all activity ceases.

If you're walking, you stop. If you're driving, you get out of the car and stand. If you're shopping, or in your home, or playing a game, you stop. All activity ceases.

It always amazes me that it still happens, that Israelis of every age, ethic background, degrees of religiosity or sympathy for the Jewish state, still honor this custom, and with such respect. After all, very few of the people who have personal memories of that horrific event are still with us. For the overwhelming majority, this is a sad occasion we’d heard others talk about. We don't remember it personally.

But when the siren sounded yesterday, a funny thing happened in my house. I happened to be at home, working at the computer. As I heard the beginning of the siren blast, I was astonished to see both my dogs -- Molly Goldberg, the mostly-Border Collie, and Rachel, the mostly-poodle -- jump up from their snoozing spots on the sofa and run for the kitchen.

What on earth was going on? But there they sat, the two of them, grinning, tails wagging, right in front of the red chair.

And then I remembered. The siren that calls us to stop and remember the horrors of the Shoah is the same siren that -- just a few weeks ago -- was blasting several times a day, warning us of incoming missiles fired by Arab terrorists.

After the first days last December when we were under attack, I got tired of having to run out into the yard to catch the dogs each time the siren sounded. But I didn’t want them out in the open yard, either. True, being in the house didn't offer any real protection at all -- I don't have a safe room, or anything even minimally reinforced. But still, the kitchen is smaller, it doesn't have many windows, and – irrational as it may be -- it just felt safer.

So for many weeks, at the first sound of the siren, I found a way to get the dogs into the house without my having to chase them.

I put a bowl of dog treats right next to the red chair -- my place to sit and wait out the incoming missile siren. As soon as it was over, I gave the dogs a treat.

It worked. The dogs learned to run into the kitchen when the siren sounded.

So yesterday? They heard the siren, and ran for the red chair. They wanted a treat.

From a dog's perspective, I guess it doesn't matter who's trying to kill us -- it may have been the Germans and their allies back in the 1940's, or it might be our Arab neighbors today.

Come to think of it, there really isn't much difference, is there?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

It's great to be back!

Well, I've finally reached the point where I can move on, blogwise.

When Obamanomics put the last nail in the coffin of the much-beloved Sacramento Union -- the newspaper that gave Mark Twain his start -- I lost not only my regular bi-weekly column, "Letters from Abroad", but I lost my blog, too.

Since then, quite frankly, I've been grieving. The SacUnion team was the best -- we were providing a desperately-needed conservative voice in California's State Capitol, we were giving the McClatchy hegemony a run for their (liberal) money, we were educating anyone with internet access, and maybe best of all, we were having fun.

I'd spent several decades in the Sacramento area, so most of the people associated with the SacUnion were people I knew -- some I'd worked with before, some I'd barely met. But there was a team spirit about the place. We had an objective -- to kick a little liberal butt, and serve up the truth -- and we had fun doing it.

When Jim Dutra, the editor and publisher (not to mention my favorite hero) first asked me to start a blog, I was a little leery. I wasn't sure what I'd write about on a several-times-a-week basis, and I sure as heck doubted anyone would read it. But by the time a year had passed, I'd come to love that blog. What fun! Almost every morning I'd sit down and write something, whatever was on my mind. It was usually about something going on in Israel, spliced with the latest outrage in the US.

When the Obama team removed all hope of a quick recovery from the economic devastation, the SacUnion was forced out of business. With businesses of all kinds suffering, there were few who wanted to buy advertising. With no ads, there was no income. So when that conservative Camelot closed its doors, what I missed most was the blog.

Some of you did, too -- I thank every one of you who wrote to say so. I "met" people all over the world through that blog -- some hated my guts, some respectfully disagreed, lots of people chimed in with additional insights, and a few even admitted they liked what I had to say. Whatever, the interaction was always interesting.

So here we go again -- I'm ready to blog, this time on my own.

One word about names -- surely some of you will wonder. The name of this blog is "Bagelnosher", which is a sort-of Yiddish made-up word. You all know what a bagel is -- and in Yiddish, to "nosh" is to eat, to nibble or munch. Living here in Israel, I fantasize about bagels a lot -- contrary to popular theory, they aren't so much a Jewish food as a New York one. So bagels are hard to find in Israel.

So why not? 'bagelnosher' has been my email address for many years, so now? The Bagelnosher Blog it is.

And as far as MY name is concerned, clarification about that, too. My American name is Karen. My Hebrew name is Yocheved Miriam. In the States, people call me Karen -- when Jim Dutra first proposed the idea of a column in the SacUnion, he suggested I use "Karen" because that's the name most people in California remember me by.

But when you make aliyah -- move to Israel -- it's traditional to change your name to something Hebrew. So here, I'm called Yocheved Miriam.

Whatever you call me is just fine -- I love comments, so call me whatever you like, just do it early and often, by any name.