Saturday, January 30, 2010

There’s a disconnect in what Bibi’s doing – it doesn’t make any sense at all. The only thing I can think of is that he’s adopted Jerry Brown’s ‘Canoe’ theory of politics: “Paddle on the right, paddle on the left, you keep going straight down the middle.”

On Friday, Bibi went to Ariel -- it’s in Samaria, what the Community Organizer likes to call the “West Bank” when he’s feeling generous, and “the future state of Palestine” when he’s not. Anyway, Bibi went to plant trees in Ariel in honor of Tu B’Shavat, the Jewish New Year for Trees.

So Bibi planted the tree in Samaria and referred to Ariel as “The capital of Samaria” adding that it was “an indisputable part of Israel”. "Everyone who sees the geography here understands how important" Ariel and the surrounding areas are, he said – which is certainly a truism. Here’s a map – of course Ariel is an indisputable part of Israel.

Moreover, Bibi said he wasn’t just planting a tree, but instead setting forth three principles: “Growing strength, Jewish settlement and culture in the heart of our land of our forefathers and where we will remain and build."


Hey – great to have the Prime Minister recognize that indeed Samaria – and Judea, and Jerusalem – are the heart of our land, and that we will remain and build there. Good to know he agrees with that – because when he paddles on the left, he appears not to understand that concept.

But this is the same Prime Minister who knuckled under to the Community Organizer’s demented and illogical demand for a building freeze in..... you guessed it, Samaria. (And Judea and Jerusalem, of course). When Bibi finally gave in to Washington’s pressure machine and agreed to a ten month freeze on all “building” and “settlement activity” he was admitting, tacitly or otherwise, that Samaria, Judea and parts of Jerusalem would, at some point, be handed over to the terrorists who surround us, so that they could create yet another terrorist state from which to attack. That was the alleged point of the building freeze: Jews would no longer build in those areas, because they were about to become part of the “Palestinian” terror state.

So now, the Prime Minister plants trees in Ariel, pictured below, “the capital of Samaria”, averring that “this is the land of our forefathers... where we will remain and build.”

As I said, Huh?

Ariel was an interesting place for Bibi to make his quizzical comments – Ariel University, founded in 1982, and today, home to some 11,000 students, including Jews, Arabs, Druze and Circassian Israelis. As it happens, it’s the fastest growing university in Israel.

For what it’s worth, Bibi also planted trees in Gush Etzion and Ma'ale Adumim, two other Israeli communities that also happen to lie over the infamous “green line” and hence are subject to US, UN and Arab demands for inclusion in some future terrorist state.

There must be some logic to what the Prime Minister is doing and saying, but it’s not obvious – unless it really is as simple as Jerry Brown suggested: paddle on the right, paddle on the left….

The problem with Brown’s kind of political pragmatism is that it rarely wins you any friends. Much more common is for the canoe to spring a leak, and leave you alone in the lake, gasping for breath.

As Matt Drudge says, “developing…”

Thursday, January 28, 2010

I made a mistake. I knew better, and I went ahead and did it anyway. Now I’m suffering the consequences.

The story starts long ago, and if you want the whole real story, go read Eli Evans’ magnificent book, “The Lonely Days were Sundays”, because that was indeed the origin of the underlying problem.

Evans writes about the problem of Sundays where he grew up in North Carolina, but the issues he identified – boredom, loneliness, feeling of isolation -- were oddly similar to those I experience in North Dakota. Sunday as a day by itself was deadly – and worse yet, it was coupled with the threat of school the next day. I developed a system for distracting myself from Sundays. In North Dakota, it involved stacks of books I’d purposely save for that day. I'd spend the day holed up in my room, reading.

When I got to San Francisco, Sundays had become quite tolerable. I’d walk out by the Bay, talk to some of the Italian fishermen angling off the coastline. Or I’d go shopping at Cost Plus, the original store, where stuff from all over the world was simply offered, still in the packing boxes and shipping crates, at ridiculously low prices even a starving student could afford. Or I’d go walking in one of the City’s neighborhoods I wasn’t familiar with. I found a lot of delights – especially in the Mission District. I love that part of the City.

Then came Sacramento. When the kids were little, the days -- all of them -- were too busy to have time to fret about Sundays. But once they had become more or less independent, with friends and activities of their own, I was back to my original problem: what to do on long and frequently dismal Sundays.

Because San Francisco offered so many diversions, I took to driving the two hours back to Baghdad by the Bay and enjoying the day there, just as I had when I lived there. Sometimes the kids came along, sometimes they didn’t. The dogs always did, but with the kids or without, the dogs and I had a fine old time in San Francisco again, Sunday or not. We’d do pretty much the same things I used to do when I lived there – Cost Plus had turned into a regular store with regular prices, so that wasn’t much fun anymore. But sometimes we’d go to the beaches, watch the kite flyers in the Marina, go shopping downtown looking for bargains, or head out to the Friends of the San Francisco Library book sale places. There were always lots of interesting places to go in San Francisco.

No matter what we chose to do with the day, driving-home time came right at about 5:00 pm. And because Sunday was Sunday, there wasn’t much of interest on the radio, either, to fill up the two hour trip home. This was well before the advent of books on tape, although it was right about then that I started to lie, telling the ‘books for the blind’ people that I was blind so I could get books on tape – read (sometimes massacred) by amateurs. That’s where my addiction to audio books started, actually. Those long drives home from San Francisco on Sundays.

Before that, though, I was limited to whatever was on the radio for diversion. Then, as now, I suspect, the radio programs on Sundays exemplified Newton Minnow’s “vast wasteland” every bit as perfectly as TV. There were no political talk radio shows, the kind of thing I loved. All that existed were a handful of ‘self-help’ programming thick enough to make you gag.

The one tolerable show that came on late on Sunday afternoon was a real estate program hosted by Bruce Williams. People would call in with their housing and real estate questions, and he’d give advice – most of it relatively interesting.

Insofar as housing was concerned, Bruce Williams had a mantra that he drilled into the heads of his listeners: “Never fall in love with something that can’t love you back.” In other words, keep in mind that a house is just a house. It’s a place to live. Don’t invest too much emotional energy in it – it can’t love you back.

Good advice. I should have been paying attention and remembering that during the last 18 months, because I did the dirty: I committed the cardinal violation of the Bruce Williams Law. I fell in love with the house I was renting, hoping to buy.

So last Friday morning, one week ago, I was stunned to get a call from someone I didn’t know: “Hi”, the man began. “We’re the new owners of your house. We’re wondering if we could come over and take some measurements – and by the way, when do you think you’ll be able to move?”

Good grief.

My problem was two-fold: first was the obvious problem of finding a new place to live, in a city where the real estate market is so hot an awful lot of other renters are also out pounding the pavement, trying to find a new place – any place – to live, their homes having been sold out from under them, too.

But second -- and far worse -- was that I’d fallen in love with this house.

It’s stupid, I know that. The house is small, old, and nothing at all to look at. It’s just that for me, as a single person with dogs and birds, it’s perfect. It’s the right size, in the perfect location, with neighbors I both enjoy and appreciate. Right after moving in, I started to realize how much I loved this place. I know now I should have acted sooner to do what I could to buy it myself – but who knew?

Anyway. I’ve spent the last week going through the Kubler-Ross stages of grief – which applies just as well to emotional devastation as it does to physical death, by the way.

At first, I denied it: Surely there was a mistake. They didn’t really sell the place, did they?

Second, I was angry – unreasonably so, with no actual grounds. The truth is, I have a valid lease until June. The owner – or owners, because they are five adults, in their 40’s and 50’s who inherited the place -- understandably want to sell now while the market is so hot. Rationally, I don’t blame them at all, and they’re being very generous about my actual moving time – but, I was angry. No question about it.

Third, I tried bargaining: Surely we could work this out. Could I outbid the new owners? It didn’t take long for that stage to pass – the new owners loved the place as much as I did, and had considerably more money. That wasn’t going to work.

Then depression set in. Woe is me. How can I ever leave this wonderful place? Depression, by the way, includes panic attacks, especially those that bloom best sometime after midnight. What will become of me?

Now, a week later, I’ve moved into acceptance – or almost, anyway. I’ve turned the corner from ‘what a disaster’ to thinking of this as an adventure. The possibility exists that I will find something I like even better – why not? That’s perfectly possible. (And this time – trust me! I will buy something if I like it. This moving business is no longer fun.)

So here I am: I violated a rule I knew to be true: I fell in love with a house that couldn’t love me back. Dumb, dumb, dumb, but I did it anyway. Now I’m looking for some other place to live – and this time, I will be far more philosophical.

A house is, after all, just a place to live. Whatever I find will be just fine – it’s just going to take some time.

Shabbat shalom, everyone! (And on Sunday? I’m going to Jerusalem! Now there’s a sure cure for the blues!)

Monday, January 25, 2010

Yossi Katz, Philadelphia native, a former Israeli boxing champion and 30-year veteran teacher at Alexander Muss High School in Hod HaSharon, has written a fascinating book, “A Voice Called: Stories of Jewish Heroism”.

Published by the venerable Gefen Publishing House, it’s a fascinating little book, mostly because for each of the 32 Jewish heroes Katz chose, he includes a little personal story about how, why or where this person or his story came to touch his heart.

The chapters include the frequently-listed “great” Jewish heroes – Herzl, Hannah Senesh, Natan Sharansky – but even more interestingly, some lesser-known heroes are also presented, people like Roi Klein, Tal Brody, Naomi Shemer. Even a couple of notable Jewish boxers who were heroic for something in addition to boxing have their stories told.

I had a chance to interview Katz yesterday, and without scooping a formal book review that will be published next month in UpFront Magazine, something Katz said about heroes in general came to mind this morning as I was reading the Internet news.

First off, I was following links, moving from one thing to another, and came across a video of some numbnuts rapper named “T I” who was sharing his expertise on the sad state of the US economy. Try as I might, I can’t get the video itself to upload, but you can see it here:

The rapper “T I” – who almost but not quite manages to pronounce the word “prevalent” -- tells us that President Obama’s plan to raise taxes on people who earn over $250,000 a year is the best way to create jobs. With what’s apparently intended to be a deep-thinking, nay wise, scowl on his face, he pontificates as to how that will work: raising taxes will mean that the government has more money, he says, so then it can hire more people. Therefore raising taxes will create jobs.

Uh huh.

Shaking my head, I moved along to another website, where I see that Mel Gibson is coming out with yet another anti-Semitic movie, this one to open in March. Gibson, of course, is famous for supporting his father’s belief that the Holocaust never happened. All major studios passed on this newest film, called “The Edge of Darkness” which was co-written, directed and co-produced by Gibson, but one smaller studio has agreed to distribute the $25 million film for a fee.

According to one review, “The movie has probably created more controversy than any other movie in recent years. Some commentators have charged that the movie is anti-Semitic because it blames the Jews for the death of Christ. The film portrays Jews who adhere to their Jewish faith as enemies of G-d and the locus of evil... “

Well, that sounds enlightening. I can hardly wait.

All of this sends my mind reeling into the past, when the likes of Barbra Streisand, Jane Fonda, Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins -- the list is endless – also ‘shared’ their political wisdom with us, speaking from their vast wisdom and knowledge about economics and public policy. Worst of all, they reveled in all the positive attention their adoring publics lavished on them, all courtesy of the equally slavish media.

During the interview, I asked Yossi Katz why he’d decided to write a book about Jewish heroes. “Heroes and heroines are the people who inspire us, who shape us into what we are. They’re our role models, people we look up to,” he said. “I’m worried because kids today – both American and Israeli – look up to people like Kim Kardashian or Bar Rafaeli (Israeli model and IDF-service dodger, best known for her relationship with Leonardo DiCaprio) as their heroes. It’s fine to watch a TV show, but when these performers become a national obsession and focus of hero worship, then there’s something wrong with society. When I was a kid we looked up to astronauts and national leaders, but there’s less and less of that today. So I wanted to put together a book that would give both adults and young people worthy role models, people who would inspire them.”

Boy, he’s right about that. For a little insight into some real heroes, people worthy of learning from, go buy “A Voice Called” by Yossi Katz.

Read just one story a day – they’re short, 3-4 pages each. Keep the Kleenex handy.

On Amazon:

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Tsk tsk, those Democrats in Congress are getting touchy.

A very interesting exchange occurred on the Dom Giordano Show, a Pittsburgh radio station, 1210 AM, between Pennsylvania Republican-turned-Democrat Sen. Arlen Spector and Minnesota Rep. Michelle Bachmann. It was a worthy matchup, almost guaranteed to spark fireworks: Spector is old-line-liberal regardless of which party he calls home, while Bachmann is a feisty young Republican upstart.

For me, it brings up memories of Madeline Albright, President Bubba’s Secretary of State, known primarily for her amusingly revealing mini-skirts that made many an Arab head of State gasp, not to mention the fact that she claimed she never knew she was Jewish.

But first, here’s what happened on the talk radio show (you can hear the exchange itself at Real Clear Politics)

Michelle Bachmann spoke first when Spector interrupted her. Then she interrupted him, so Spector told Bachmann to “Stop interrupting”, adding, “I didn’t interrupt you.”

"Now, wait a minute, I'll stop and you can talk," Spector said. "I'll treat you like a lady. Now act like one."

"Well, I am a lady," Bachmann responded, sounding almost amused.

They go at it again, talking over each other. Then Spector repeats the “lady” thing again, telling Bachmann she should "act like a lady."

Specter responds, "I think you are too, that's why I'm treating you like one. But just don't interrupt me."

The program continues for a moment, then erupts again. Specter complains that Bachmann, who insisted she voted for "prosperity" when Specter asked her about a specific vote, is "talking from talking points.” Spector again repeats his line, “"Now, wait a minute, I'll stop and you can talk. I'll treat you like a lady. Now act like one."

So. Is anyone out there offended? That Sen. Spector pulled the “act like a lady” thing on a female member of the US House of Representatives? A woman elected to her office just as he is elected to his?

Personally, I’m virtually impossible to offend – if someone is crude or insulting, I tend not to take offense so much as I question the sanity of the person who said it. So for me, I can’t read “offended” into this, but in that I seem to be alone. Most of the commentary – especially from women – is that Spector was profoundly “offensive”.

As for the politics of interrupting, that’s a different story. This is where Madeline Albright comes into the picture.

Back in the days when I was a CSPAN junkie, I very clearly remember an interview with Mrs. Albright when she was Secretary of State. The interviewer asked her what her advice would be to young women who wanted to get into politics. “I would advise them to interrupt,” Albright said. “Women should not wait to ask permission to speak.”

That struck me as interesting – like most children of my generation, girls and boys both – I was taught not to interrupt. Breaking into someone else’s speech was rude, we were told – not to mention counterproductive. You only get respect when respect is given, was the line of thought.

This was mindboggling. Here was the United States Secretary of State telling women that it was their obligation to interrupt! That they needed to be aggressive in making their presence known if they want to get ahead.

Recently, Mrs. Albright repeated that advice on a Women’s Media forum:

“I tell women to act in a more confident manner. You need to learn to interrupt. Ask questions when they occur to you and don’t wait to ask. Also, you don’t need to ask permission to ask a question. Be a risk taker; business appreciates risk takers. This trait is desirable in prospective leaders.”

Today two elected officials battled it out. Each interrupted the other, not once but several times. Then the male of the pair, the much-embattled Sen. Spector – who in his own race for reelection is trailing Republican Pat Toomey 49 percent to 40 percent – played the gender card: “Act like a lady.”

So here’s the question: if a woman interrupts, is she not a “lady”?

Maybe this is just a variation on an old joke. Madeline Albright counsels women to interrupt. Sen. Spector says that when they do, they aren’t “ladies”.

Maybe Madeline Albright isn’t a lady -- “That ain’t no lady. That’s the Secretary of State”

Maybe the Congresswoman from Minnesota isn’t a lady either. Maybe she doesn’t need to be.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Quoth the raven: Nevermore.

Ahhhh. Is it all over? The tradition lost for good?

Since 1949, every year on January 19, Edgar Allen Poe’s birthday, a mysterious secret visitor, sometime between the hours of midnight and 5:30 am, would leave a bottle of Cognac and three roses at the monument marking Poe’s gravesite. Last night he failed to appear.

That makes me very sad. I wonder what happened.

As a serious lover of Edgar Allen Poe, one of my most memorable “tourist” excursions was a “back east” Washington DC trip with my good buddies, Theresa and Mary Alice, sometime during the mid-1990s. All three of us are big time readers, lovers of everything Poe, so we made a special trip to Baltimore to pay tribute to Poe, visiting several of the sites that honor him.

In our rented car and armed with a decorative but seriously unspecific tourist map, we finally located the church where Poe is buried – which is to say, Poe is buried in the church yard, but not where the big grave marker is. It was late afternoon when we arrived and a wedding was just about to begin. There we were – in sloppy tourist duds -- while elegantly-clad people were filing into the church. Several people looked askance at us, apparently wondering what we were doing -- I guess local residents take their most famous author for granted.

It was raining – misting, might be more like it. Nicely gloomy for a graveside visit. Because of the wedding festivities, we didn’t go into the back of the churchyard where Poe’s remains actually rest, but when we’d looked, touched, and had our fill of that site, we decided we had time to try for one more.

We set out in search of 203 Amity Street, the old Baltimore house where Poe lived from 1833 – 1935, where he wrote “The Raven”, “Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary….” You know the rest. Here’s what it looks like.

The map was terrible. Time and time again we were lost, several times we came close to giving up. What complicated the situation was that by now it was very dark, street signs were either non-existent or obscured, and clearly this was not a popular tourist spot, at least not at that hour. Another issue was that this was most definitely NOT a good neighborhood – a terrible place, in fact, for three dedicated but somewhat clueless lady tourists to lurk and prowl by themselves. Finally, finally, we found Amity Street, and kept following what house number we could see until there it was – an undistinguished red brick row house.

At that exact moment, a fleet of police cars, sirens wailing, passed us, slammed on their brakes a few feet ahead of us. Leaving their light bars flaring, the officers jumped from their cars and proceeded to arrest, or at least pursue someone. Now we really knew we had to get out of there. The possibility of gunfire seemed very real. We’d been told there was a memorial plaque on the house’s door, but there was no way we’d get close enough to see it. None of us wanted to leave the safety of the car to go up to the house itself.

Instead, I opened the car door, barely stepped outside, and with my silly little tourist camera, turned and -- without focusing – snapped a picture of the house.

By virtue of pure luck, that photo was probably the best I’ve ever taken. Because of the misty weather, together with the lights flashing from the police vehicles, the photo of the house turned out to be the very incarnation of spookiness – slightly blurred from the mist, strangely lighted from the cars. I don’t have that photo here in Israel – this was long before digital -- but it’s somewhere, I know that. Once in a while you get lucky, and that was my day.

Once I’d snapped the picture, we left immediately, even as more police cars arrived on the scene. We never did know what was going down – a drug bust most likely.

So for decades, now, every year on January 20, I’d check the Baltimore news, to see if Poe’s most dedicated fan had showed up with his toast of Cognac and bouquet of roses the night before. Every year, he -- or she – did. The Poe “toast” was even better than the swallows coming back to Capistrano – another of my favorite traditions. This one had a human benefactor. Someone, some actual person, was doing this, year after year.

My eternal question was, how can this visitor be so mysterious? With all the hoopla, why isn’t he – or she – identified? The simple answer was, because no one wanted to. It was a lovely mystery. Why ruin it?

All that said, in 2007, the Baltimore Sun reported that 92-year old Sam Porpora claimed he’d started the tradition, calling himself the “Poe Toaster”. Maybe he was, maybe he wasn’t, but this year, the 35 or so people who gathered outside the church yard’s iron gates, hoping to see the ‘Toaster’, were disappointed. He never showed up.

"I'm very disappointed, to the point where I want to cry," said Cynthia Pelayo, 29, who’d stood at the gate for over six hours, hoping to see him. "I flew in from Chicago to see him. I'm just really sad. I hope that he's OK."

Others in the pack of fans, all of whom huddled in blankets during the long cold night outside the churchyard, above, came from as far away as Texas, California and Massachusetts. Everyone speculated about why the mysterious visitor failed to appear. "You've got so many possibilities," said Jeff Jerome, the local curator, who has attended the ritual every year since 1977. "The guy had the flu, accident, too many people." He says he’ll continue the vigil for at least the next two or three years in case the visits resume. "So for me it's not over with," he said.

It’s not over for me, either. I hope someone will pick up the tradition. Lest our longing for the lost Lenore turn into a lament for the lost Poe, himself.

Monday, January 18, 2010

What would you think a headline in USA Today read, “Federal Reserve Board to visit Lourdes”?

You’d think ‘Uh-oh. Things must be tougher than I thought’, right? The people who control the nation’s economic situation, looking for a miracle from Lourdes? Good grief.

See, that’s where Israel is different. Today, a local headline reads, “Bank of Israel Workers Visit Babi Sali's Grave”. Few of us are surprised to hear it, and most of us think, “Isn’t that great?”

Indeed, today – January 19, or more correctly the 4th day of the Hebrew month of Shevat – is the 26th year since the passing of the great Moroccan Kabbalist known universally is “Baba Sali” (‘praying father’) Rabbi Yisrael Abuchatzeira. And indeed, a group of Bank of Israel employees – not to mention thousands of others – will travel today to Netivot to visit his gravesite.

An arranged communal visit to Netivot by high-flying financial gurus is nothing to sneeze at, all by itself. Netivot is just down the road apiece from Beersheba, and is one of the little villages, along with Sderot, that our Arab cousins enjoy pelting with their rockets and mortars.

Baba Sali is a familiar presence in Beersheba. Look in most of the little shops in the Old City, and there you’ll see his picture. In most of these small businesses, Baba Sali’s face looks down on shoppers even more often than does that of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, although his smiling face is almost universal, too. Baba Sali enjoys universal respect from almost everyone, heads of state down to man on the street, even among those who regard themselves as secular.

As a wonder-worker, Babi Sali, in modern times, is unequalled. Accounts of healing, both physical and spiritual, abound. Here’s one recounted by Rabbi Lazer Brody on his blog, Lazerbeams

"A young man who was injured in the Yom Kippur War of 1973. He underwent a series of operations, but was rendered a cripple. One of his legs was so bad that the doctors want to amputate it. A friend suggested that he visit the Baba Sali, who was known to work wonders with his prayers. At first, the soldier (a secular Jew) refused. But in despair, he decided to give it a try.

He was ushered into the Baba Sali's study.

"Do you put on tefillin every day?" Baba Sali asked.
"Do you keep Shabbat?"
"If that's the case, " Baba Sali replied, "you should be thankful that only one leg is in such a serious condition. We believe that Hashem gives us healthy limbs so that we may serve Him. Those who don't keep the mitzvot should regard their healthy limbs as gifts."

At that, the young man burst into tears.

Baba Sali looked him the eye and asked, "If I bless you that you will be able to stand, will you begin to observe the mitzvot?"

"I promise," the young man eagerly replied.

"Then give me your hand, and may you have a complete recovery, with Hashem's help."

After the young man kissed Baba Sali's hand, Rebbetzin Abuchatzeira told him to try and stand up. To his surprise, he was able to stand up immediately, and even take a number of steps without assistance.

Startled by the remarkable change in his situation, the young man ran out of the house in search of a telephone. The nearest telephone was in Yeshivas Hanegev, a few feet away from Rav Yisroel's home.

The young man raced over to the yeshiva, and called his family to tell them about the miracle. The yeshiva students, who overheard the conversation, were stunned. Taking him by the hand, they broke out into a fervent dance.

A short while later, the young man returned to Rav Yisroel's house with many of the yeshiva students, and a special festive meal was held in honor of the miracle. The young man's story spread like wildfire throughout the country, and caused many to adopt a Torah lifestyle.

May Baba Sali's holy and beloved memory invoke Divine compassion on all of us, amen.”

"Mashiv haruach umorid hagashem" –
"Who causes the wind to blow and the rain to fall"

Not until you’ve been through a winter rain storm in Israel can you really comprehend the meaning of those words – which is something I don’t say lightly.

I grew up in North Dakota -- a land of extreme weather if there ever was one. Yes, there’s wind there, and of course rain -- not to mention snow. But never rain with the intensity of what you see in the Negev, when it really gets going.

In the early evening last night a very gentle rain started. It was lovely – we need rain so much, and it had been so hot for January, that I loved sitting in my outside room and just listening to it. After a while, it was too cold. so I came inside – and not a moment too soon, either. The storm – make that STORM – started. Wind, pounding rain, an amazing display of lightning and thunder. By counting seconds between the thunder and the flash of lightening, I could tell the actual storm was still quite far away, but even on that front edge, it was impressive.

What’s interesting about rain in the Negev is how it pounds straight down, with an amazing intensity. The rain squalls don’t usually last very long – minutes, maybe, of serious intensity – but the noise on the roof is incredible. I finally decided to go to bed – mostly because there’s a big window in the bedroom, and I knew I’d be able to look out and watch the storm – hey, in Beersheba, the sun shines 360 days a year. When we get something as interesting as a storm with thunder and lightning, I don’t want to miss a minute of it. I want to enjoy it, save it up, to remember it sometime next July, when we’ve had nothing but unmitigated sunshine for about five months already, and the idea of a rainstorm sounds seriously attractive.

As intense as this storm was, it wasn’t quite as strong as the first winter storm I experienced here. That winter -- like December of 2002 -- the thunder was so loud it set off everyone’s car alarms. So not only did you have the tremendous clap of the thunder, but the wailing of about a dozen car alarms, too. It was very strange.

Last night’s storm went on all night long – something else that’s unusual. Thunder, lightning and rain continued on into the morning, then abated – but never really cleared – all day. Now, in the late afternoon, the thunder and lightning started again, and the winds picked up from a different direction. I had to go take down all my flower pots from the railing around the outside room – the wind was blowing them over, so it’s better to just set them on the ground than have them blow off.

As rare as these events are, my roommates never have a chance to get used to it. Molly Goldberg, the mostly Border Collie, suffers the most. If I had some doggy Valium, I’d probably give him some. Poor thing – Molly is a pretty big critter, and spends most of the time trying to crawl into some teeny space – like behind the toilet – trying to get away. He’s definitely not a happy camper right now.

Rachel, the mostly Poodle, is definitely a dog’s dog. She didn’t care much for the thunder last night either, but decided that the best way to handle something she didn’t understand was to bark at it, and maybe it would go away. So the thunder roared, and Rachel barked. None of us got very much sleep.

As lovely and interesting as I find the storm, of course it’s caused damage – not to mention loss of life. A hiker was killed in the flooding further south, in the Arava. His companion was brought here to Soroka Hospital and as of this moment, a third companion is still missing. Four other hikers were trapped in their car and rescued by helicopter.

It’s funny – all the hiking experts around the country caution people to never go hiking when rain is predicted. But there’s always a few who do it anyway. The thing is, because the rain is so intense, the ground can’t begin to absorb it, so flash floods occur, and once you’re in the path of one, it’s exceedingly dangerous.

In another incident, two people were rescued from a truck that got stuck in flood waters near Eilat, in Israel’s far South. In the same area, two IDF officers were also caught in the floods, and were rescued.

In property damage, roads have been closed down here, a bridge has collapsed, and streams all over are overflowing. Schools are closed in some areas, and the rain is expected to continue for the rest of the week – although perhaps more in the north than down here.

Israel needs the rain – no question about that. But for Beersheba, the rain that falls here – at this moment – is basically wasted. None of the rainfall here ends up in the Kinneret, which is Israel’s major source of fresh water. Some may replenish Beersheba’s numerous aquifers, but none of them are currently in use for water supply anyway.

What’s interesting is that by this time next year, it could be that this kind of abundant rainwater would be very useful. The new -- upcoming, work in progress – Beersheba River Park will include a 100 dunam lake. Not only that, but recycled water will be used to fill the ancient Nahal Beersheba that runs on the south edge of the Old City. By next year, all of this rainfall would be adding to the scenery in the Old City, making Beersheba

This year, we just get to enjoy it.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

It hasn’t happened often – in fact, only three times in my life has a politician managed to completely capture my imagination.

The first time was on October 27, 1964, when Ronald Reagan delivered “The Speech” in support of Presidential candidate Barry Goldwater. It was magnificent -- Reagan articulated the American Dream, nothing more, nothing less. He reminded us what America was all about, how we had strayed, and what we needed to regain it. Here’s just one line: “The Founding Fathers knew a government can't control the economy without controlling people. And they knew when a government sets out to do that, it must use force and coercion to achieve its purpose. So we have come to a time for choosing."

Reagan convinced me -- I chose.

At the time, I was in my second year of law school at the University of North Dakota, but I was so taken by The Speech that I decided to move to California to support Ronald Reagan and his dream. I arranged a transfer to the University of San Francisco, fine Jesuit institution that it is. When I graduated, my first job out of law school in the office of Governor Ronald Reagan in Sacramento. You don’t get much luckier than that.

Governor – then President –Ronald Reagan never lost his touch. He was right in 1964, he was right all the way through his presidency, he's still right today. His dream – and mine – was timeless. He just articulated it better than anyone else ever had.

The second time a politician won my heart was in 1982. By that time, I was a Reagan appointee to USDA – that’s the United States Department of Agriculture, for you folks in Rio Linda. I was appointed to run USDA’s offices and programs within the State of California. Along with my counterparts from the other 49 states, we were brought to Washington for a three-day policy conference. On the second day, the freshman congressman from Georgia was scheduled to speak, no one I’d ever heard of before. His name was Newt Gingrich.

Now I can admit it, but at the time, I tried to hide it. I wept during Newt Gingrich’s speech. Like Ronald Reagan before him, Gingrich articulated the dream – he set forth what we all believed in, what we all wanted to bring about. America as a bastion of freedom for opportunity, a world in which a rising tide would float all boats. A world in which achievement and hard work would be rewarded, in which everyone who wanted a share of America – and was willing to work for it – would have that opportunity.

Newt still has my admiration. Yes, personally he goofed up, but the good he did – has done, is doing – outweighs that silliness by an incalculable factor. Gingrich was responsible for the Contract with America, he brought about – almost singlehandedly – a Republican revolution in Congress, he ended the Democrat surge in Congress that was the threat at the time. Newt engineered a pro-business, pro-American revolution. I stand by Newt Gingrich as one of my generation’s most gifted leaders.

The third time a politician blew me away was last Monday.

One of the best things about writing for a living is that I get to meet a lot of interesting people. So when my Jerusalem Post editor asked if I would interview the new mayor of Beersheba, Rubik Danilovich, I was pleased. That sounded like fun. I’d heard that he was young, energetic and articulate. What I was not prepared for was greatness.

There is that illusive quality we call ‘charisma’ – it’s very hard to define, more of an “I know it when I see it” thing. It’s some combination of passion and intensity coupled with personal warmth – not to mention an enhanced ability to communicate their ideas – that marks a gifted person. Ronald Reagan had it. Newt Gingrich does. So does Rubik Danilovich -- in spades. In terms of passion and commitment, ideals and energy, vision and commitment, the new mayor of Beersheba matches Ronald Reagan or Newt Gingrich in their early days.

I won’t scoop my own interview with the mayor here – it will be published in the Jerusalem Post within a couple of weeks. I’ll link it here.

But just let me say this: In the going-on eight years I’ve lived in Beersheba, I’ve come to love this city – and you have to understand, once you get out into Greater Israel, that’s comparable to saying you love Bakersfield. Beersheba doesn’t earn much respect in the context of the State of Israel as a whole – how can you compete with Jerusalem, after all?

But that’s about to change – and I want you to remember you heard it here, first.

The vision Mayor Danilovich articulated for Beersheba – a green, watery oasis in the Negev, a high-tech marvel, Israel’s own ‘silicon valley’, a center for culture and art, emphasizing the one asset Beersheba has that no other city in the world has -- well, the list is long.

But here’s the thing – it’s not just a “list”. Most of the projects the mayor talked about are already funded. Several are under construction. His vision of Beersheba is not a dream so much as a work in progress.

Our new young mayor articulates the dream, but beyond that, he’s a feet-on-the-ground planner. He’s already laid out the steps needed to make it happen.

All of this makes me laugh – when I was planning on making aliyah, people asked, of course, where in Israel I was going. “Beersheba”, I’d say, and then watch the horror in their eyes. “WHAT?? You’re going to Beersheba? Why on earth would you go there?”

I had my reasons for coming here – I’ve laid them out before. But only now am I beginning to realize how smart a decision that really was.

You just watch – it’s not going to be very long at all until Beersheba becomes the place to come – not just as a lovely place to live, but as a major tourist center in its own right.

To understand how that will happen, you’ll have to read the upcoming interview with Mayor Danilovich. Coming soon…

Shabbat shalom, everyone!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

"When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less."

"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."

"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master— that's all."

Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass, Chapter 6

The problem of what words mean plagues us yet today – especially since some, like the Arab the Community Organizer appointed as US Middle East envoy, George Mitchell -- insist on redefining words.

The burning topic of the moment hit the news outlets when a quartet of visiting senators from the US -- John McCain, Joe Lieberman, John Barrasso (Wyoming) and John Thune, (South Dakota) -- reacted to what they called a “threat” made by the Arab Mitchell.

Mitchell hotly denies he made any threat at all – and is incensed that anyone would suggest that he did.

What’s at issue? Loan guarantees. In the past the US has guaranteed international loans for Israel to give Israel access to credit for the purposes of buying military hardware. Without the US guarantees, foreign lenders might be reluctant to advance credit to Israel.

(An antiquated concept, no question about that. At the moment, any lender with any sense would be more likely to trust Israel’s thriving economy and ability to repay loans far more than they would trust the bankrupt US. As you might assume, however, facts and rationality have nothing to do with it.)

Why would the US decide to refuse guaranteeing any more loans to Israel? To force the Jewish State to capitulate to “Palestinian” demands, of course. What the Community Organizer can’t achieve by his golden words alone, he will take by force. Ask General Motors about that.

Yesterday the Big Four Senators – strong supporters of Israel, all – held a press conference, noting that whatever the Community Organizer and his Merry Men might want to do to force Israeli concessions to the Arabs, the Congress of the United States, the “We the People” legislative body, would never permit such a thing. The Congress will stand firmly behind Israel. Any punitive actions the Community Organizer might try to implement will be nipped in the bud by vigilant US Congressmen and Senators.

So now you decide. Did the Arab Mitchell make a threat – or didn’t he?

Here’s what Mitchell said during an interview with TV journalist Charlie Rose:

“Under American law, the United States can withhold support on loan guarantees to Israel. President George W. Bush did so...on one occasion... That’s one mechanism that’s been publicly discussed.”

So when is a threat not a threat?

When you’re Humpty Dumpty, and can make words mean anything you want them to mean.

The question is, which is to be master – that’s all.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Now there they go again…

On Thursday, our Arab cousins in Aza started firing rockets at us again – in mass. Three hit near an oft-targeted kibbutz in the Shaar HaNegev Regional Council area, others landed near the Kerem Shalom crossing – the very portal through which we (stupidly) continue to ship “humanitarian” supplies to the people who are hell-bent on killing us.

Later in the day, these same peace loving Arabs also fired an anti-tank missile on an IDF tank, then fired off another mortar that landed near Ashkelon. In a speech on Wednesday, OC Southern Command Maj.-Gen. Yoav Galant warned that more is on the way, Trouble is coming, he said, although he stressed that the IDF was training and preparing to face the trouble ahead. “Civilians,” he added, “should prepare themselves for another round of fighting."

So okay, the Arabs do what they do – that hasn’t changed. When a people operate under the banner of “my god says I have to kill you”, it’s not rational to assume they’d quit and go home.

But what really drives me nuts is the media – even those who should know better. Every time one of these rockets or mortars is fired, lands somewhere without killing anyone or demolishing a home, the media report that the missile “caused no damage.”

WHAT? What on earth do they mean, “No damage”??? They should try living in the path of these things for awhile – then they’d understand that “damage” isn’t limited to dead children and destroyed homes. “Damage” occurs with every one -- to our peace of mind, to our sense of well being, to our sense of inner balance. Once again, we’re on edge, waiting for the other shoe to drop.

To be sure, the possibility of rocket attacks every moment of every day isn’t the main thing we’re concentrating on right now, that’s true. But for every one of these alleged “no damage” attacks, we’re primed to subconsciously wait for the next one -- when we may not be so lucky as to escape death or destruction.

For years, every time one of the hapless local media lapsed into this “no damage” nonsense, I’d bombard them with emails, “There’s no such thing as a ‘no damage’ rocket hit”. Most of them responded at least once – in fact, most even admitted I was right. Indeed, they should be saying, “No property damage” if that’s what they mean.

But journalists are lazy – they don’t bother, they lapse into the old jargon. It’s easier to just say, “No damage” – on the theory that (as one reporter told me) “you know what we mean.”

Do I “know what you mean” when you mischaracterize the event? Sure – I know what you mean. The problem is, most of the rest of the world doesn’t.

That’s why Israel finds itself up a tree over allegations of “disproportionate response” over last winter’s Operation Cast Lead. Because Israel’s own media – including everybody’s favorite right-wing internet news outlet, by the say – every time there’s a non-lethal rocket hit, repeats that mantra over and over and over: “no damage.”

What happens? That gives the rest of the world the notion that we’re dealing with the equivalent of pea shooters over here, that all these rockets and missiles that are fired off at us are nothing more than minor annoyances that only the hyper-sensitive would complain about. After all, they cause “no damage”.

That not true – it’s a bold faced lie. Every one of those rockets or missiles causes “damage” even if no one is killed.

If some of these yahoo-reporters actually lived in the path of these things for awhile, maybe they’d start getting it right.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Community Organizer’s “top counterterrorism advisor” John Brennan made a funny today – not what he intended, maybe, but pretty good, considering.

During a press conference yesterday, Brennan, with a straight face, said: "There is no smoking gun" in the Christmas Day attempt to blow up an airliner.

True. But guns -- smoking or otherwise -- weren’t the issue in this terror attack. This was The Case of the Smoking Underpants. That was the problem.

You see, contrary to liberal thought, it’s not only guns that kill people, underpants do too – boxers or briefs, doesn’t matter. Both can be wielded to lethal effect if you’re a terrorist.

How about this: instead of full-body scans that show all passengers starkers to leering security officials, why not have everyone just remove their underpants and hand them over, along with their shoes?

But the Merry Men’s Mr. Malaprop didn’t quit: he went on to reiterate his point. There is no smoking gun," he said. "There was no single piece of intelligence that said, 'this guy is going to get on a plane.'"

What does he want, a boarding pass? Does the TSA need to see a terrorist with a boarding pass, before they will take action to keep the terrorist from getting on the plane?

I tell ya, these folks are too much.

So now skip to New Jersey, where authorities are still searching for a man who simply walked through a screening checkpoint. What do the culturally sensitive US security forces do? Ground all flights in the entire airport until all passengers -- going anywhere at all -- can be rescreened.

Ah, there they go again. To avoid inconveniencing a potential terrorist who just walks through security lines, they inconvenience everyone equally. In terms of social sins, profiling is right up there with pederasty. Probably worse, come to think of it.

Rather than dealing with a guy wearing a turban and muttering to himself, they rescreen everyone, paying special attention to grandmas in wheelchairs, just to make sure everyone sees how culturally-neutral the whole thing is.

But that incident gets even funnier. Because of it, the TSA announced that starting today, “passengers flying into the United States from nations regarded as state sponsors of terrorism … are subject to enhanced screening techniques, such as body scans and pat-downs.”

That conveniently ignores the fact that the US itself is one of the world’s largest ‘state sponsors of terrorism”.

So now “smoking guns” are what the Community Organizer’s terror experts like Mr. Brennan demand, before they take action?

Then why are they ignoring the gun that on December 24 was used to murder Rabbi Meir Avshalom Chai, father of seven, as he was driving home from work? That gun was wielded by the Fatah “police force” that’s been paid for, trained by, and remains under, the supervision of US Gen. Keith Dayton.

Fatah – including their US sponsored “police force” -- proudly took credit for the “successful” terror slaying.

Here’s a riddle: What do the Community Organizer and his Merry Men do, when confronted with a real “smoking gun”?

Answer: Help the terrorists reload.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

You can see why the liberals are trying so hard to indict this guy – they’ve been trying, with one accusation or another, for decades. That’s how the left works, of course. Unable to compete in the world of ideas, they’re left to defame the person instead. Whether or not the charges are true or not is totally irrelevant. The important thing is to shut up anyone they disagree with.

So once again I say. ‘Thank G-d for loose cannons” – “loose cannon” being one of the left’s more minor characterizations of Israel Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.
What does Lieberman say today? “The era of groveling is over.”

Good deal – glad to hear it. I hope he reminds Bibi of that – or, as long as I’m wishing anyway, I might as well wish that Lieberman would take over. Bibi has once again reverted to form, lapsed into his “won’t you please just love me?” stance, selling Israel down the drain to earn brownie points in Washington – which won’t work, anyway. There isn’t anything Israel can do – short of committing ritual seppuku – that would appease the Community Organizer and his Merry Men.

Lieberman made his remarks at an ambassador conference held in the Foreign Ministry –i.e., speaking to his own employees, the men and women sent to represent Israel in foreign countries.

"I have seen several ambassadors whose identification with the countries where they are posted is so great they constantly trying to justify [to Israel] the other side's point of view," Lieberman said. "This stance is wrong. There should not be an attitude of groveling and self-effacement."

"We will not look for friction and confrontation but we will also not turn the other cheek. For every action there will be a reaction and this is the policy I demand from the ambassadors," he added.

It’s said that Gaby Levy, Israel’s ambassador to Turkey, was who the Foreign Minister had in mind. Levy has gone native, and instead of representing Israel to Turkey is directing his efforts to criticizing Israel to Turkey.

Oh, sure, the liberals jumped all over Lieberman – ‘How dare he stifle freedom of speech among his employees?’ ‘How dare he not allow the foreign ambassadors to say what they wish?’ -- but that’s to be expected. The only thing these weak-kneed Jews want to hear is how awful Israel is.

But Lieberman’s not putting up with it – not among his employees. Good for him!
Lieberman also fired a shot against the bow of terrorist chief Abu Mazen, saying that Israel is done making concessions to the PA. Israel “does not need to give any more in order to speak to (Abbas). We have paid enough. We have done many gestures and received nothing in return. On the contrary; there is a limit to hypocrisy. You can't speak of a new era and at the same time sentence to death those who sell land to Jews, a sentence signed by Abbas."

Now watch for another volley of calls to indict Lieberman over something – anything.

In the world of liberals, truth is an unwanted guest.

Friday, January 1, 2010

This was taken December 27.

It's just amazing how this plant, called a "Christmas Cactus" in the US, (I have no idea what it's called here) managed to do that, bloom exactly on the right day.

I bought it as a tiny thing last May -- then did everything wrong, I later found out. I repotted it when I shouldn't have, I alternately watered it too much and let it get too dry, so dry that a few branches broke off during the summer.

But still -- right on time -- it bloomed.

Lovely. Wish I had more of them.