Sunday, March 28, 2010

Tonight, the first night of Pesach, the Community Organizer will be hosting a Pesach Seder at the White House again.

I wish he wouldn’t do that.

For someone who has set his sights on handing over Jerusalem, our eternal and holiest city, into the hands of terrorists, his patronizing decision to host a Seder is nothing short of disgusting.

It can’t even be described as a gesture of friendliness toward Israel – as Haaretz, Israel’s largest (and left-leaning) Hebrew language newspaper comments, “But although the Seder this year will be held in the context of one of the most fraught months in the history of U.S.-Israel relations, it is not a conciliatory gesture to Israel. As he proved over the past 18 months, President Obama knows how to separate between the Jewish community in the United States, along with the many Jews who are his personal friends, and the policies of the government of Israel.”

So the plan of the Community Organizer is not to celebrate the Jews’ freedom from Egyptian slavery – that, he’s working day and night to reinstitute, as a matter of fact. Instead, he’s using the Seder to divide us – to peel off those liberal Jews who might be questioning their support of him, trying to show them that he’s a really nice guy, after all. “He means well” – that’s what they’ll say, inadvertently damning him with faint praise.

This is actually the Community Organizer’s third Seder – the first was held during the campaign, back in the days when he was running hard against Missus Bubba. With two months to go in the campaign for the nomination, Obama was desperately working to overcome criticism of his pastor and mentor, the highly anti-Semitic Rev. Wright, Pastor of Holy Trinity Church in Chicago. So no doubt hosting a Seder seemed like a good political move. He invited a bunch of campaign staffers, among them Arun Chaudhary, the videographer who documented Obama's campaign, who’s half-Jewish and half-Indian (which half, I don’t know). Eric Lesser was another guest – Lesser was a former baggage handler on the campaign trail who became senior adviser David Axelrod's aide. Most of the people at that Seder weren’t Jewish – it famously ended with Obama paraphrasing the traditional, “Next year in Jerusalem!” by saying instead, “Next year in the White House”.

Indeed, the Community Organizer’s next Seder was in the White House, held on the second night of the holiday. (In the Diaspora, Jews celebrate Pesach with two Seders, on both the first and second nights. In Israel, we celebrate on the first night only.) Who knows which Haggadah they used – or if they used one at all – but during the evening, the Community Organizer referred to the Haggadah "among the most powerful stories of suffering and redemption in human history."

It wasn’t a private family night – it was an all-out political event, even though the guest list was not announced. We did learn that Rahm Emanuel, certainly the Community Organizer’s most prominent Jewish staffer, did not attend. We also know that Malia and Sasha engaged in the traditional search for the afikoman – but we don’t know who hid it.

This year’s Presidential Seder is the most offensive of all. With Dear Leader’s 18 month-long assault on Israel, it seems massively hypocritical to host such an event, but then this President has proven his Master of Hypocrisy credentials time and time again, so that’s hardly worth noting. No guest list has been released yet, but we have been told that once again, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel will not attend. David Axelrod will be there, along with Valerie Jarrett and one of the younger aides, Herbie Ziskend. There’s been speculation that this year, the Community Organizer will end the Seder by saying, "Next year in divided Jerusalem."

Ira Sharkansky adds an additional thought: “It has become conventional in liberal Jewish circles to use texts for the ceremony (Haggadot) that do not include one passage in the traditional ritual,” he writes. “It comes toward the end of the Seder along with the fourth cup of wine. For multiculturists, it is not politically correct.

“Pour out Your wrath upon the nations that do not acknowledge You, and upon the kingdoms that do not call upon Your Name. For they have devoured Jacob and laid waste his habitation. Pour out Your indignation upon them, and let the wrath of Your anger overtake them. Pursue them with anger, and destroy them from beneath the heavens of the Lord.”

Let’s see now. Do you think the Community Organizer will include that particularly apt plea for Divine action against his own administration?

I do know this: many of us in Israel will repeat that paragraph with particular gusto this year.

Have a happy and kosher Pesach, everyone!

You know you’re living in a screwy world when you see a headline that reads, “Peace talks failed” and your first thought is, “Thank Gd!”

The MSM continues to have a field day with the news of Bibi’s “humiliation” at the hands of the Community Organizer. We all know what happened: The Community Organizer walked out of his planned “talk” – read that ‘dress-down session’ – with Bibi Netanyahu. Leaving Bibi and his advisors in the room, the Community Organizer walked out, ate dinner with his family, then spent time telephoning Great Britain and France, hoping to get them to sign on to his planned “humiliation” of our Prime Minister.

But here’s the funny thing: as many headlines all over the world that touted Bibi's “humiliation” --

“Netanyahu humiliated as US talks go awry”, Huffington Post
“Barack Obama’s humiliation of Israel is a disgrace”, Blog, in UK’s Telegraph
“Obama 'humiliated' Netanyahu at meeting”. Sydney Morning Herald
“Benjamin Netanyahu humiliated by Obama”, Jerusalem Post

That’s not what really happened at all. The truth is, it was exactly the opposite.

Just like Bubba, we need to parse the sentence. What does ‘humiliate’ really mean? Merriam-Webster says, “Cause to feel shame; hurt the pride of” or “To lower the pride, dignity, or self-respect of.”

Is that what happened? Absolutely not. The truth is, the Community Organizer tried to “humiliate” Bibi – but he wasn’t successful. True, Bibi flat out refused to do what The One was ordering him to do – but there’s no evidence whatever that in refusing, Bibi “felt shame” or that his pride was hurt. Did he lose self-respect? Certainly not – if anything, standing tall against Dear Leader, refusing his dictates was a cause for pride.

So who was humiliated here? If he were capable of feeling such emotions, then it would have been Barack Hussein Obama who was “humiliated”. He tried to force a former ally into taking self destructive acts. His demands were rebuffed. If anyone should have felt humiliated, it was the Community Organizer.

To say the talks failed is one way of putting it. A better way is to say that Israel won, hands down.

You can tell that true by the fact that there was no press conference. Why? Because there was nothing for the Community Organizer to brag about. He’d issued orders. He was rebuffed.

Worse than that, Bibi’s comments to the press made the point perfectly: “If the Americans support the unreasonable demands by the Palestinians regarding a freeze on settlements … the peace process risks being blocked for a year”.

When the big bad schoolyard bully tries to beat up a little guy – and instead, the little guy walks away unscathed, it’s not the little guy who’s humiliated.

The bully who tried and failed to wreck his vengeance is the one whose pride takes a hit.

Monday, March 22, 2010

How did the Kabbalists know what they knew?

That's the question a reader posed in response to my previous blog on “The Two Jerusalems”.

Specifically, the comment was, “Is it really eighteen miles above the 'earthly city'? In fact, the height of Earth's atmosphere is approximately 18 miles above Earth's surface. How did the Kabbalists know?”

I haven't the vaguest idea, other than the obvious.

What's obvious? Read this:

Apart from that, though, the reader raising a number of interesting issues. Pictured above is the cave in Pik'in, Israel, to which, in 160 CE or so, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, escaping the fury of the Bar Kochba Revolt in Jerusalem, fled He and his sons hid in this cave for a dozen years, where by tradition, they composed the Zohar, the Kabbalah.

I once thought I knew something about that period in Shimon Bar Yochai's life. Back in Seattle, the highly esteemed Rabbi Kornfeld was giving a class on the subject of the Zohar. He described in great detail how it was that Bar Yochai and his sons managed to survive in that tiny cave -- and now that I've seen it myself, it IS tiny. In any event, he said they existed on the "fruit of the carob tree and water from a nearby spring."

Except that's not what I heard -- what I heard Rabbi Kornfeld say was that they existed on the fruit of the CARROT tree -- obviously my ears needed cleaning that day. So I went around for years, picturing these holy men existing on carrots -- carrots that they plucked from a tree, yet. (Well, why not? For HaKadosh Baruch Hu, making a carrot grow on a tree is no less a miracle than making one grow in the ground. It seemed perfectly reasonable to me. If He wanted to make a carrot tree, certainly He could do so. Chop-chop.)

So I was pretty surprised when years later, I tried to pass that bit of information on to someone else, that part about the carrot tree. "You mean CAROB tree," the person said. Huh! Really? Well, I rather liked my vision of carrots dangling from the branches of a tree.

In any event, above is a picture of the carob tree that's right outside the cave. (It's probably the descendant of the one Bar Yochai harvested, but indeed, there are any number of thriving carob trees right outside the cave. And yes, there's still a natural spring right there, too.)

But there's still another question comes to mind now that I think about it. The translation of the Zohar that I quoted on that March 17 blog does indeed say that the heavenly Jerusalem exists "18 MILES" above the earth.

Miles? Really? When did the unit of measurment known as a "mile" come into being? I didn't think of that until this reader brought it to my attention. Surely a "mile" didn't exist during the days of Bar Yochai!

But maybe it did.

Thanks to Google, here's what I found:

"The Greeks and Romans inherited the foot from the Egyptians. The Roman foot (~296 mm) was divided into both 12 unciae (inches) (~24.7 mm) and 16 digits (~18.5 mm). The Romans also introduced the mille passus (1000 paces) or double steps, the pace being equal to five Roman feet (~1480 mm). The Roman mile of 5000 feet (1480 m) was introduced into England during the occupation. Queen Elizabeth I (reigned from 1558 to 1603) changed, by statute, the mile to 5280 feet (~1609 m) or 8 furlongs, a furlong being 40 rod (unit)s (~201 m) of 5.5 yards (~5.03 m)each."

The "mile" referred to in the Zohar may have been 5000 feet, not 5,280. But maybe, indeed, the Kabbalists could have used that measurement.

Amazing world we live in. Now I'm wondering if there maybe isn't a carrot tree out there somewhere, too.

Friday, March 19, 2010

What an insult!

Last week a mid-level bureaucrat in the Jerusalem city administration issued a routine announcement that the fourth in a series of six building projects had been approved to start. As it happened, Joe Biden came to visit Israel on the same day.

Whoo-ey! What a balagan! Plagiarist Joe didn’t need an Irishman to write his words for him this time – he took after Israel with words of his own choosing. "I condemn the decision by the government of Israel to advance planning for new housing units," he snarled, adding that the building of homes on State-owned land that had never, in all of history, been claimed by Arabs, served to "undermine the trust" and "ran counter to the constructive discussions" that he’d hoped to have in Israel.

Once Plagiarist Joe was safely back on US soil, Missus Bubba got on the horn and ripped into Bibi for a 43 minute harangue, which -- among other things – probably give you a good idea why Missus Bubba and Bubba himself are living separately these days.

(Could someone please stick a bottle of shampoo into Missus Bubba's travel case, by the way? Since she's flying on Air Force One, she won't even have to give it up to the security checkers like the rest of us.)

Anyway, among other choice epithets, Missus Bubba insisted that the announcement – given as it was while Plagiarist Joe was on Israeli soil – was “insulting” to the US and would harm future relations.

The Community Organizer then sent his Worshipful Proselyte, David Axelrod, to several morning television shows where Axelrod repeated everything that Joe and Missus Bubba had already said, although most likely with fewer cuss words, although he did add the word “affront”.

The World Community jumped into the fray. "The secretary-general condemns the approval of plans for the buildings” U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said in a statement. "Ban Ki-Moon reiterates that settlements are illegal under international law. He underscored that settlement activity is contrary to Israel's obligations under the Roadmap, and undermines any movement towards a viable peace process," he said.

What a fuss! Amazing.

So here’s what I don’t understand. Another toots came calling in this part of the world on Thursday. Baroness Catherine Ashton, European Union Foreign Policy Chief, came to visit the Iran-backed terrorists in Aza. It’s always nice when Europeans come to call on terrorists – it illustrates that three-little monkey thing, ‘See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil’ so perfectly. Baroness Ashton first placed a wreath on the grave of her hero, Yasser Arafat, then made her way into Aza, where she was met by the Hamas terrorists.

And lo! What happened then, right in front of her eyes? As her convoy of white SUV’s entered Aza, a group of terrorists -- who call themselves ‘Ansar al-Sunah, and are affiliated with al Qaeda -- fired off a rocket that killed a 30 year old Thai foreign worker who was unlucky enough to be working in a greenhouse in Netiv Ha’asarah, a farming community within Israel. The rocket slammed into the greenhouse, scattering potted tomato plants in all directions. The worker was still alive when he was found, but passed away on the way to the hospital.

Was the European Union insulted? Certainly not! Did they suffer an “affront”? No. Was this murder likely to harm any future “peace agreement”? Of course not.
Instead, Baroness Ashton made it clear that it would take more than witnessing a terrorist murder to “affront” her sensitivities. She voiced her anger at Israel.

Okay, okay, she first voiced a ‘balanced’ condemnation of violence, saying, “I condemn any kind of violence, we need to move forward to get the peace process moving toward a successful resolution."

"What we have been saying to the Israelis for a long time is that we need to allow aid into this region, to be able to support the economy to grow for people."

Amazing, isn’t it? Killing a civilian greenhouse worker -- which is also a violation of law, in case Ban Ki-Moon would like to comment on that – doesn’t ruffle anyone’s feathers. But issuing a routine approval of housing unit construction is a major affront, worthy of condemnation by every leader who could find his way to a microphone.

By the way, in case you missed it, that poor greenhouse worker isn’t the only one to have been murdered by a terrorist rocket attack by the peace-loving Arabs in Aza.

On July 14, 2005, 22-year-old Dana Galkowicz was killed by a Kassam rocket when it exploded next to her as she was sitting on her porch. She was a communications student at Sapir College in Sderot.

And the second by-the-way: The rockets are falling with regularity again. One, just a few minutes ago, near Kibbutz Sha'ar Hanegev. The ‘Color Red’ alarms sounded.

Before that?

On March 17: A Kassam from Aza struck just outside Sderot, and a second one hit just north of the city. Four people were treated for shock.

On March 13: A Kassam hit the Eshkol area, this one fired from Aza by another terrorist group affiliated with al Qaeda that calls itself “The Supporters of the Sunah on the Wings of Jerusalem.”

On March 11: A Kassam hits a kibbutz storage room in the Eshkol area. Ansar al-Sunah Brigades rejoiced in their hit.

None of this causes anyone, in any government – other than Israel – any heartburn.

These attacks do not harm the “peace process”, they don’t insult anyone, they offer no affront. When senior Hamas leader and former “Palestinian” Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh says, “This movement [Hamas] liberated the Gaza Strip with the help of the militant factions...Brothers and sisters, we will not be satisfied with Gaza...Hamas looks toward the whole of Palestine”, that causes no upsets anywhere at all.

When the Hamas Charter notes that its goal is to “kill the Jews” -- or any Thai worker who gets in the way – no one pays any attention. None of that is relevant.

The only thing that drives anyone nuts is when Jews build homes in Jerusalem.

Shabbat shalom, everyone!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Two Jerusalems?

Yes, in fact there are. In insisting that there are ‘two Jerusalems’ – one for the Arabs and one for the Jews – outsiders like the Community Organizer and his Merry Men are technically right but factually wrong.

There are two Jerusalems -- not the ‘east’ and ‘west’ Jerusalem the media is crowing about these days -- ‘East’ Jerusalem for the Arabs, ‘West Jerusalem’ of the Jews.
That part is a myth. There is no ‘east’ and ‘west’ distinction in the City.

Jerusalem is not now and has never been an Arab city. Since 1870, there’s been a Jewish majority in this city.

Eli Hertz furnishes some statistics:
In 1880, Jews constituted 52 percent of the Old City population in East Jerusalem and were still inhabiting 42 percent of the Old City in 1914.
In 1948, there were 100,000 Jews in Jerusalem, with 65,000 Arabs.
By 1961, a joint Jordanian-Israeli census reported that 67.7 percent of the city's population was Jewish.
A 1967 aerial photo reveals the truth about the area called 'East Jerusalem': it was no more than an overcrowded walled city with a few scattered neighborhoods surrounded by villages.

When the Arabs attacked in 1967 and Israel beat them back, Israel then annexed the territory – including all of Jerusalem – to make sure those attacks wouldn’t happen again, and so that we could retake our holiest sites, the City of David and the Kotel, the Western Wall, all that remains of Solomon’s Temple.

Of course, what we should have done, back then, was to annex Judea and Samaria, too. Our mistake. In any event, after that annexation, Jerusalem them became the largest city in Israel. A Jewish city.

Today, when Arabs demand “east” Jerusalem, what they really want are Jewish holy sites -- including the Jewish Quarter in the Old City and the Kotel, because they know (even if much of the world seems to have forgotten) that if they can cut the Jews off from the Western Wall, and from the eternal source of strength which flows from that site, they will find us an easier target.

The Arabs now claim all the rocky land (pictured in the previous blog) that lies around the city, too, land that’s been open and in the public domain for the past 42 years. What nonsense.

The truth is, Jerusalem – now with a population of 750,000 -- will never again be divided. There will be no separation of “east” and “west”. Not now, not ever.

All that said, there are TWO Jerusalems.

First of all, consider the name: Yerushalaim – the ending “aim” in Hebrew indicates a plural, two, a pair of things.

That’s because, according to the Kabbalah, a heavenly Jerusalem exists 18 miles above the earthly city. The city below is the earthly, modern city. The one above is the city of purity, goodness, holiness and splendor. In the mystical commentary on Berakhot, it says, “There is a Jerusalem above aligned with the Jerusalem below. Out of His love for the one below, He has fashioned another above…. He has sworn that His Presence shall not enter the heavenly Jerusalem until the earthly Jerusalem has been rebuilt.”

Both Jerusalems already exist. And just as it says in Psalms 122:3: “Jerusalem, built as a city that is compact together” -- that is, the two are forever bound together. One day -- may it be soon and in our time – the heavenly Jerusalem will descend unto the earthly Jerusalem.

That being the case, the earthly Jerusalem will never be divided.

All this nonsense about “east” and “west” Jerusalem is just silly. It’s Arab dreaming, bolstered by pandering from the Community Organizer.

The two Jerusalems that already exist – the earthly city and the heavenly city, 18 miles above – will never again be separated.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

So you had a monstrous day at work. Everybody’s yelled at you, nothing went the way you wanted, and when you walked into your boss’s office, you found him plowing through a stack of resumes from people applying for your job. When you get right down to it, the whole situation looks absolutely hopeless. So what do you do? You go home and kick the dog.

A euphemism, of course. I’m all in favor of ritual seppuku for anyone who would actually kick a dog. But you get the general idea: when times are tough, you take your frustration out on some critter who’s loyal, who will put up with it, who will forgive you, and most importantly, who won’t kick you back. The dog bore no responsibility for your predicament, of course, but he just happens to be the most convenient way for you to work out your own misery.

That’s what the Community Organizer did, when he decided to sic Missus Bubba on Bibi on Shabbat.

The Community Organizer is having a series of bad days that probably outweighs anything you or I ever experienced. No one on the face of the earth – except for The One himself, probably – thinks that his administration has accomplished anything positive so far. A year-plus into his term, and for months already, objective commentators have pronounced this is a failed presidency, maybe even the worst America ever endured. All his preaching of hope and change turned into doom and gloom instead – and not in spite of everything The One did, but rather because of what he did.

Now that’s depressing – not only finding out that everything you believed in was wrong, but more than that: now you learn that 72% of the voters hate your guts.

So what did the Community Organizer do? He sent his bitch… ah, Secretary of State, Missus Bubba – to deliver a vicious kick to Israel. Why not? As the whole world loves to repeat, ad nauseum, the US is Israel’s only ally. We don’t have anywhere else to turn for friends – other than Ha Kadosh Baruch Hu, that is – so we tend to cut the US some slack when they do and say spiteful things to us. Lonely planet that Israel is, we generally tolerate rhetorical excess from the United States.

But really, this latest incident is so silly it’s probably enough to make the four Presidents on Mt. Rushmore blush. The 43- minute harangue that Missus Bubba delivered -- on Shabbat, yet! an insult all by itself -- was over the top by about 20,000 leagues.

Serves you right for answering the phone on Shabbat, Bibi! How many times have we told you not to do that? No good comes from messing with the phone on Shabbat. We’ve been telling you that. Now do you understand?)

Bibi aside, I don’t know how Missus Bubba manages to live with herself – or indeed, any of that crowd of lying, scheming pit bulls manage, but even by their standards, this was extreme. (No offense intended toward pit bulls, the worst of which is kind and compassionate as compared to Missus Bubba.)

What’s at issue: the recent approval of 112 new homes in Jerusalem, in the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood. Bottom line: The Community Organizer doesn’t want them built. Israel -- with our burgeoning population, lack of housing, and home prices going sky-high due to pressures of supply and demand -- does.

Here's the property in Ramat Shlomo.

The funny thing about this is – something the MSM isn’t bothering to point out – is that Ramat Shlomo is not now and never has been an “Arab” neighborhood. It’s in NORTHEAST Jerusalem, not in the fabled “east” Jerusalem that’s previously been a hot topic. (Not legitimately, but the US previously tried to stop construction in east Jerusalem, to which ex officio directive Bibi, wisely, just said no.)

But that didn’t stop Obama’s Merry Men from kicking the Israeli dog over Ramat Shlomo. When plagiarist-supreme Joe Biden arrived in Israel last Thursday, he kicked off his visit in a most ungracious way, considering that he’s our guest. "I condemn the decision by the government of Israel to advance planning for new housing units in East Jerusalem,” Biden said. "The substance and timing of the announcement, particularly with the launching of proximity talks, is precisely the kind of step that undermines the trust we need right now and runs counter to the constructive discussions that I've had here in Israel.”

Biden condemns? Good grief. We quake at the mere thought….

Especially when there are no “proximity talks” on the horizon. Not because Israel isn’t willing – day by day in Israel, local news blares out yet another statement by Bibi: “We’re willing to talk anytime the ‘Palestinians’ are willing.” Drives most of us nuts, of course – we shouldn’t be willing to talk. But that’s the truth: Israeli is now and has forever been willing to talk.

Not so the Arabs – for two reasons: first of all, there is no Arab leader who could enter into any kind of a negotiated settlement with Israel. The terrorist Abu Mazen, who when he’s cleaned up calls himself Mahmoud Abbas, has no control over Aza at all. Worse than that, he has very little control over the area he claims to represent, Judea and Samaria. He’s as toothless as a newborn puppy. Any agreement he entered into would instantly result in his own assassination and be entirely unenforceable.

But second – and I keep wondering if the world will ever come to understand this. Remember: the Arabs do not want a state of their own. They want our state. They want us gone. They will settle for nothing less. And do you really expect any Israeli leader to enter into negotiations that will result in putting Israel to sleep? Do you think any other nation’s leader would do such a thing – agree to the demise of his own country?

Obviously not. So -- Plagiarist Joe to the contrary, there are no new talks looming. Biden must be confusing Israel with the Welsh Labor Party again, a bad habit of his.

But let’s talk about Ramat Shlomo for a minute – an interesting place. The land was already owned by the State, part of the territory that was annexed following the 1967 War. Originally it was called Reches Shuafat (Shuafat Ridge), but was renamed for Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, a highly respected rosh yeshiva who passed away in 1995 when Ramat Shlomo itself was founded. Before that, no one lived there, certainly not Arabs. By 2000, it had grown to encompass 18,000 people, most of them Haredi Jews. Lots of them fathers who participate fully in the raising of their children, by the way.

Several years ago, Jerusalem city officials had another plan for the area – they wanted to build Teddy Stadium, an enormous sports complex, there, but that fell through. Local residents protested – they didn’t want such a thing (which might be used on Shabbat) in their neighborhood. So Teddy Stadium was built instead in the southern Malha neighborhood.

But take a look at this – another photo of Ramat Shlomo:

See that unusual looking building in the center? Here’s a closer look:

If you think that building looks a little odd, you’re right. It looks like a piece of Brooklyn -- Crown Heights to be exact, right smack in the middle of Ramat Shlomo.

The building is a replica of Chabad Lubavitch headquarters, the residence of the Rebbe, 770 Eastern Parkway, in Brooklyn. Chabad has built thirteen or fourteen of these replicas all over the world, and one of them happens to be in Ramat Shlomo.

So now you know something that neither Missus Bubba nor Plagiarist Joe bothered to find out: Ramat Shlomo is home to a replica of the Rebbe’s residence, which is to say, the neighborhood is important to Chabad Lubavitch. If you think that’s kind of property is something that will be negotiated away to Arab terrorists, guess again.

It's really funny: The Community Organizer sent out his lackeys to kick the Israeli dog – but this time, it’s the Community Organizer who’s barking up the wrong tree.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Israel is IKEA-obsessed.

Israel’s second IKEA store opened today, and hundreds of people lined up. The new store is in Rishon Lezion, near Tel Aviv, and cost NIS 400 million ($105 million). Next year, a third store will open near Haifa – by that time, IKEA officials expect that sales in the Israeli chains will reach will reach NIS 100 billion a year – by far the most profitable in the chain’s 36-country outreach.

When the first store opened – pictured above, it’s in Netanya and opened in 2001 -- 30,000 people tried to crowd in, resulting in traffic jams that tied up the whole center of the country for hours. Something approaching 2 million people have visited that first store – on 'sale' days, long lines of people stand outside, waiting their turn to get in.

Why is IKEA so popular here? Several reasons, but first of all, in Israel, IKEA isn't just a store, it's an event. Families pack up for the day – kids, diaper bags, strollers – and head out just as they would if they were going to a park. Local communities organize tour buses that leave in the morning and return in the afternoon. Several communities organized regular bus service to the store.

Both Israeli Ikeas are located in the far north of the country, as will be the third, in Haifa. Certainly those of us in the south are wondering why we don’t merit a branch down here, but even at that, getting to the Netanya store wasn’t difficult. Take the train to Beit Yehoshua – the store is in Netanya, but the train station in Beit Yehoshua is almost visible from the IKEA – then step right into a waiting sheruit – taxi-van. You’re whisked right off to the store itself. Within five minutes, you're trying to remember if you need more napkins or votive lights.

In Israel, the very idea of IKEA is unique. It’s not cheap by Israeli standards, but it does offer two Western amenities that are virtually unknown anywhere else around here: efficiency and customer service.

Imagine – if you can – a country without a single Wal Mart, Costco, Target, Kmart or Sam's Club, and then watch what happens when IKEA opens. True, in the US, IKEA is a furniture store, not in direct competition with Costco and Kmart. But in Israel, IKEA represents the spirit of shopping, which isn't necessarily about buying anything. The spirit of shopping involves looking, dreaming, planning, considering and seeing what's new. And IKEA – with its fixed prices – makes that possible.

Fixed prices – one set price for everyone, no negotiating – aren’t all that common in Israel, most certainly not for high-end items like furniture. In other local furniture outlets, acquiring something new is not only exhausting but may take several weeks or months. For almost any high-ticket item you want to buy in Israel, you first have to negotiate the price.

Suppose you want a new sofa. In Israel, that means visiting several different small, individual furniture purveyors where – if you're lucky – you'll find someone willing to put down his cell phone long enough to show you what they can order for you. There’ll be some floor sampleS and a catalogue with pictures. You pick a style and fabric, but each is a different price. It'll take several visits to several different vendors before you actually buy a sofa – which will ultimately happen only when either you or the vendor wears out, gives in, and agrees to the price. Then, you order your sofa. If everything goes well, you'll have it in several weeks. You'll just have to hope it will be the sytle and fabric you actually picked.

At Ikea, you simply walk in and buy a sofa. I’ve bought a lot of stuff at IKEA, and since I don't have a car to take it with me, I have it delivered. For a very reasonable sum, every time it’s been delivered, right inside the house, the very next day – which is really saying something, considering that Beersheba and the store in Netanya are at opposite ends of the country.

That part of IKEA is becoming intensely attractive to Israelis: Everyone pays the same price, and since you know how much it costs, you can compare. True, you'll have to assemble it yourself, but even so, IKEA makes shopping breathtakingly simple and egalitarian.

Maybe in the old days, families had the time to shop for furniture the Israeli way – endless comparisons and price negotiations. Or maybe, in that smaller more familial society, everyone had an ‘Uncle Moshe’ who they were sure was giving them a "wholesale" price. That’s not so true anymore – as Israel has grown and diversified, having ‘protexia’ – someone on the inside to get you a special deal – isn’t universal, by any means.

One difference between Israeli IKEA stores and those elsewhere in the world is that the Israeli stores also have synagogues. That's not unusual here – malls, grocery stores and even the shuk have on-site synagogues. I haven’t seen the one in Rishon Lezion yet, but the one in Netanya is lovely – the "The Great Synagogue of Ikea", another blogger called it. It's luxurious, has its own rabbi and prayer books stamped, "Property of IKEA". The velvet curtain on the ark holding the Torah is embroidered with the words, "For out of Zion shall go forth the Torah and the word of Hashem from Jerusalem. Donated by Yehiel Moshe (Edgar) and Matityahu Bronfman."

The Bronfman family, New York Jewish business moguls, owns the store. They've also insisted that the store’s food service be high-level kosher. Which means that the Ikea store in Israel is probably the only place in the world were you can order certified-kosher Swedish gravlaks. That's reason enough to take a trip to IKEA all by itself. Most Israelis go for the Swedish meatballs, but for me, the gravlaks are almost worth the trip, all by itself.

This new branch of IKEA almost didn’t open – the rabid environmentalists almost succeeded in keeping it out. Six years ago, when this second branch was first proposed, IKEA began going through all the land purchases, city clearances, permissions, etc, and actually began building. The walls were up, 500 people had been hired – and then sequential lawsuits by environmentalists finally hit pay dirt.

It wasn’t snail-darters or burrowing owls that stopped it – Israeli environmentalists attacked the city's labyrinthine permitting process instead, and insisted IKEA hadn’t followed it. Ultimately, IKEA lost and had to start all over.

Of course a part of me hates to patronize – not to mention, hand over my shekels – to a Swedish store. For reasons far too complicated to go into here – not that I really grasp it anyway – Sweden consistently opposes anything Israel does. Nothing we do pleases them – without question, Sweden is rooting for an end to Israel and an Arab take-over of the Middle East.

Then we’ll see: how many Billy bookcases do you think the Arabs will buy?

Monday, March 8, 2010

It’s not news anymore, but Ajami – allegedly the Israeli film that was nominated for an Academy Award – didn’t win.

Fine with me. I haven’t seen it – and don’t plan to – for one simple reason: I vote with my shekels (or dollars). Heaven forbid that I reward Scandar Copti, the film’s director and one of its stars, by paying to see it, in any form.

And anyway, it’s not an Israeli film. How do I know? Because Scandar Copti said so.

By this time, most of you have seen the trailer, many of you the film itself. You know more about it than I do. But – for those of you in Rio Linda (or Beersheba, for that matter) who haven’t seen it, the plot is simple: it’s made up of five stories of “everyday life in ‘Ajami’, the “religiously mixed” community of Muslims and Christians in Tel Aviv.” No kidding – that’s what they claim.

I don’t know of anyone living these kinds of “everyday lives” in Tel Aviv or anywhere else. I don’t know any young “Palestinian” who has to work at an illegal job in order to pay for life saving surgery – he’d qualify for medical coverage just like the rest of us. I don’t know of a single “young Jew” who’s fighting a “criminal vendetta” against his own family – oh, sure, who doesn’t have family issues? But a criminal vendetta? Hey – this is Israel, not Sicily.

And outside of the really good detective fiction books the late Batya Gur wrote, I don’t know any police detectives who are obsessed about finding a missing brother – okay, well, maybe there was that theme in one of the Robert Rosenberg novels, too. But again, pure fiction. Nor do I know of any “wealthy Palestinian” longing to marry his Jewish girlfriend.

If anyone around the world thinks that these are the real tales of the “mean streets” common to Israel, guess again.

But aside from the fact that the film apparently gives a highly inaccurate view of life in these parts – which is, trust me, much less angst-filled than this conglomeration of tales would have you believe – I’d suggest you save your money, too.

Of course Oscar madness prevailed among many hopefuls, but none were as crass as Scandar Copti, Ajami’s director. He not only sought out financial support from the State of Israel to make his film, but he accepted it, once his project was approved.

What did he do then? He denied that the State of Israel played any role in his success. “I do not represent a State that does not represent me,” he harrumphed as he dazzled reporters with his total rejection of the State that nurtured him.

Copti, in case it’s relevant, is a Christian Arab who lives the good life in Tel Aviv. Not only did he get taxpayer cash to make, distribute and promote his hateful film, but he also lives just like any other Israeli. He’s protected by the IDF, educated in State schools, kept healthy by State-funded health programs, able to drive to and from his award ceremonies on streets and roads paid for by the taxpayers of Israel…. etc etc. You get the idea. He’s an ingrate, incarnate. He demands support, takes it with gusto, then spits in the face of the taxpayers who made it possible.

This time, there’s talk: MK Michael Ben-Ari (National Union) said Sunday is about to introduce a bill that would require movie producers who get funding from the state to declare their loyalty to the state. In other words, all those involved in state-funded film - producers, directors, actors, etc. - would have to declare loyalty to Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.

That seems fair: make any film you wish, say anything about Israel you please. But if you want the taxpayers of Israel to spend their hard-earned money to help you, then it’s not unreasonable that you be asked to verify your support for the State.

Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat made the point very clearly. “Without state support, Copti would not be stepping on the 'red carpet' in Hollywood,” she said. “In the name of populism and artistic freedom, the film was given some NIS 2 million. It's sad that an artist who was funded by the state distances himself from those who gave him the opportunity to create and express himself. Fortunately, the other members of the team that made the movie do see themselves as part of the state, and are proud to represent it as ambassadors of a free culture,” she added.

I’m not at all sure who MK Livnat is talking about when she says that – seems to me the whole crew resembled a basket of asps.

Start with Scandar Copti's two brothers, one of whom was production manager and played in the film as well. Last week, the two brothers were arrested for assaulting police officers in Jaffa.

Not only that, but last October, one of the other actors in the film Eran Naim, was fired from the police department for excessive brutality against demonstrators during the infamous ‘Disengagement’. Although Naim had removed his identity badge thinking he could escape identification as he set about brutally beating peaceful demonstrators, someone identified him from a video as he was violently assaulting a young demonstrator named Akiva Vitkin.

So as a result of Eran Naim’s last starring role – in that video made by Israel National News photographer Tuvia Lerner – he lost his job as a policeman.

This time? A pox on all their houses. I think both Naim and the Copti brothers should lose their roles as makers of Israeli state-sponsored films.

Let them go get their funding from Syria or Saudi Arabia instead. Let’s see if their films will be appreciated over there.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

None dare call it genocide.

An easy play on words, recalling John Stormer’s stalwart book of the 1960’s ‘None Dare Call it Treason’.

Today, all kinds of people are prepared to call many acts ‘treason’ – not always the right things, of course -- but society is much more willing to identify something as ‘treason’ than they were, back in 1964.

Today the word we can’t use is ‘genocide’ – or at least some of us can’t.

Not that we need any more examples to prove that the Community Organizer is a crass hypocrite, but one ongoing issue sticks in my craw more than most – I walk by that memorial pictured above very frequently, and every time I pass it, I cringe.

Really. That monstrous phallic symbol shouldn’t be there at all. What does it honor? Genocide. It’s there because of some high-handed political sophistry carried out several years ago, then installed with music, flags, speechifying, dancing girls and marching bands – I remember it well. I was there.

The problem is, tributes to Turkish soldiers shouldn’t be tolerated anywhere, much less in the State of Israel, a country born out of the ashes of the Shoah.

Let’s start at the beginning.

The monument pictured above is here in Beersheba and was erected to honor Turkish soldiers, the warriors of the Ottoman Empire. It’s located in a residential neighborhood, near the old Turkish Railroad Station where supply trains ran during the latter years of Turkish rule in these parts, until the Ottoman Empire bit the dust in 1918. It’s not the train station I object to – in fact, that’s an interesting building now under restoration, one which will be an asset as a tourist attraction.

It’s the monument I find offensive. My issue with honoring any Turkish soldiers – with monuments or anything else – is rooted in the fact that up to today, Turkey continues to refuse to admit, let alone apologize for, the Armenian Holocaust carried out by those Turkish soldiers.

The Armenian Holocaust, lesser known than the Nazi atrocities carried out against the Jews shortly thereafter, was the systematic attempt by the Turks to slaughter an ethnic minority, the Armenians of the Ottoman Empire during the years 1915-1923. It was the first of the modern attempts at ethnic cleansing: Armenians were rounded up, deported, massacred and/or forced into death marches with the intent that they would die in the process. The Turks systematically executed somewhere between a million and 1.5 million Armenians for no other reason than that they were Armenians.

The Turks also applied their extermination efforts against the Assyrians and Greeks, but the intensity of their attacks on the Armenians had no parallel until Hitler came along. In fact, Germany and the Turks were allies in WWI, and today, scholars see what the Turks and Germans did to the Armenians in 1915-1918 as a warm-up for the Germans and what they would shortly begin doing to the Jews of Europe.

It all started on April 24, 1915 when Ottoman authorities arrested about 250 Armenian intellectuals and other community leaders in Constantinople. The action spread, until ‘ordinary’ Armenians – men, women, children, none of them military combatants – were forced from their homes and made to march, at sword and gunpoint, for hundreds of miles until they perished in the desert of what’s now Syria. Rape, sexual abuse and torture were the order of the day.

The Armenians died of hunger, thirst and heat prostration. No food, water or shelter from the desert sun was provided. Some were herded into about 25 established concentration camps, where burning the hapless civilians alive became the preferred means of execution. Eitan Belkind -- a member of Nili, one of the early Jewish military organizations – had been assigned to infiltrate the Ottoman Army and was stationed at the headquarters of Camal Pasha. In his reports, Belkind wrote in detail about seeing 5,000 Armenians burned alive – forced into wooden buildings which were then set on fire. Entire villages were destroyed in that manner. One Russian official, sickened at the sight, reported that the stench of burning human flesh lasted for days.

Understand, there is no question that these events occurred -- hundreds of eyewitnesses, including the neutral United States and the Ottoman Empire's own allies, Germany and Austria-Hungary, recorded and documented numerous acts of state-sponsored massacres.

So what’s the problem? To this day, the government of Turkey has never admitted these acts, much less apologized. The Republic of Turkey – successor to the Ottoman Empire – insists, in almost the same words as those used by Jewish Holocaust deniers, something along the lines of, ‘deaths may have occurred, but those were turbulent times.’

It is Turkey’s abject refusal to recognize the premeditated, systematic and organized killing of Armenians, because they were Armenians, that should be required to take place before any ‘memorials’ to the Turkish soldiers who carried out these inhuman deeds should be erected. That being the case – that Turkey has never admitted the acts, never apologized, never admitted wrongdoing – why should the other nations of the world honor the ‘fallen Turkish soldiers’ who carried out those merciless deeds?

The existence of that monument is especially offensive for us here in Beersheba, in Israel. Would we erect a monument to the ‘valiant Nazi soldiers’ who fell during their attempts to eliminate the Jewish race? Of course not – and in quasi-mitigation of Germany, they at least have had the decency to admit their guilt and apologize, for whatever that’s worth. Not so, the Turks.

For going on a hundred years, now, the Turks have steadfastly refused to allow the word ‘genocide’ to be applied to what they did. That’s really funny – in the sense of gallows humor – because the very word ‘genocide’ was coined to describe their acts. It was in 1943 that a Polish-Jewish legal scholar named Raphael Lemkin coined the word to describe what the Turks did to the Armenians. He took the Greek word γένος (génos, “race, kind”) and combined it with the Latin gēns (“tribe, clan”), +‎ -cide to make our modern word, ‘genocide’.

It’s not that recognition of the atrocities hasn’t been demanded of the Turks. The international community has demanded it on a regular basis. In spite of Turkey’s absolute resistance, some 20 countries have officially recognized the Turkish acts as ‘genocide’.

But not the United States. The twenty countries that should be recognized for their courage – at least on this issue -- are: Argentina, Armenia, Belgium, Canada, Chile, Cyprus, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Lithuania, Lebanon, Netherlands, Poland, Russia, Slovakia, Sweden, Uruguay Vatican City and Venezuela.

Once again, it’s the pure hypocrisy of the Community Organizer and his Merry Men that’s most infuriating – not that saying one thing and doing another is uncommon, certainly not among these yahoos in the White House. But during the campaign, Barack Hussein Obama specifically promised, time and time again, that he would support a Congressional resolution to apply the world “genocide” to the Armenian Holocaust.

Now that he’s elected? He’s doing precisely the opposite – working hard against such a resolution.

On Thursday, the House Foreign Affairs committee passed the bill that recognizes the mass murders as “genocide.” The Community Organizer opposed it, saying that the bill “could damage ties between the US and Turkey.” In fact, the Community Organizer went so far as to personally telephone Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, offering reassurances that the legislation would not pass.

On Friday, Missus Bubba -- ole’ chipmunk cheeks herself -- told reporters that the Community Organizer’s administration would “work very hard to make sure it (the resolution) does not go to the House floor.”

So there you go – not only is The One breaking another campaign promise, a matter that’s hardly worthy of note anymore. But now in this matter – as in others -- he’s working to see that the elected representatives of ‘we, the people’ never get a chance to vote on the matter.

I guess he’s thinking that with him there, in the White House, making decisions, the opinion of the Congress and/or the American people isn’t really needed. After all, he knows best.

Well, one thing about that unfortunate Beersheba memorial to the Turkish soldiers – every time I see it, it has the desired effect: I remember the Turkish soldiers – but what I remember is what they did to the Armenians.

And now I’ll remember this, too: how hard the Community Organizer is working to deny historical reality.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Yesterday was Shushan Purim, and what a day it was!

Purim is one thing – Shushan Purim is quite another, and the City of Beersheba did itself proud.

I walked up to the pedestrian mall in the Old City – or rather tried to. At noon, it was almost impossible to wade through the sea of fancy-costumed munchkins of all ages who spilled all over the Old City from Kikar Rabin. A costumed band was playing some great music and it was either a spaceman or a deep-sea diver (hard to tell which) sang some bouncy song, along with a freckle-faced yellow-haired moppet who looked to me like an Israeli version of Heidi.

The music was great -- the enormous banner “Purim in the Midrahov” -- was bright, colorful and almost covered with helium balloons. There were thousands of balloons, so many, so huge and in so many places it’s amazing the whole big architectural arches didn’t just float upward.

And the costumes! There were hundreds of princesses, surely some of them little ‘Esther’s’, a thousand brides, fairies with wings and wands, ballet dancers, poodles, kittens and at least one salsa dancer. And that was just the girls – the boys were a little more sedate, except for several Mordechai’s and a miniature Kohen Gadol wondering around. There were a couple of dragons, “soldiers” in camouflage, a pirate and at least one robot. A tiny newborn – he or she couldn’t have been more than a few weeks old – in a carriage was dressed up in a leopard suit, whiskers and all.

Maybe my favorite was a little Ethiopian girl, about five years old, with braided hair piled on top of her head, secured with a tiara. She was wearing a ruffled pink dress that would have stunned an Oscar audience, so unconsciously beautiful she just took your breath away.

Me? What did I wear? I went as a witch. That way I didn’t have to change clothes.

Some adults dressed up, too – I’d already seen an emailed photo of my professor friend Prof. Steve Plaut in Haifa, who not only dressed up as Naomi Chazan but even went to shul that way. Here’s a picture he sent:

(If you want to see the rest of Steve’s costume – woo-hoo!! – go to at this being a family blog and all…. But that’s the spirit of Purim. We all do things we’d never do any other day.)

Naomi Chazan? For you in Rio Linda, Naomi Chazan is a disgusting self-hating Jew who heads the infamous New Israel Fund dedicated to the support of Arab terror organizations. Geveret Chazan was recently fired by the Jerusalem Post, where she’d written a truly disgusting opinion column for years. Finally, even for the Post – which prides itself on a diversity of opinion – she went too far.

So that’s Steve, as Naomi Chazan, with a ‘horn’ on his head. The horn is a play on words (another typical Purim activity) -- in Hebrew, the word ‘keren’ means both ‘horn’ and ‘fund’.

All that said, I doubt anyone recognized Steve as Naomi because as anyone can tell, Steve is so much better looking than she is.

It wasn’t just thousands of kids in costume and music, either. There were activity booths all over the place – I saw a pottery painting area, another place were silhouettes were being made, artists of all kinds helping really little kids create plaster molds. There was ice cream, cotton candy and every other kind of sweet you could think of, but what captured my attention the longest was a bubble-blowing stand – I think these ‘wands’ were for sale, as compared to an activity. The soap-water bubbles the lady was making in the wind were enormous, coming from a wand that must have been two feet long, opening into a diamond shape. The huge glistening bubbles floated over the whole chaotic scene.

I have to admit those amazing bubbles attracted me. Incipient grandma that I am, I almost bought one – but then I started to wonder how I’d ever get a thing like that through airport security, not to mention the fact that it will be years before the not-yet-born granddaughter will be old enough to enjoy it.

So I walked along and couldn’t help think of the references I’d just seen in the American press about Purim being the “Jewish Halloween”.

That couldn’t possibly be more wrong.

“Halloween” -- “All Hallows Eve”, October 31 – is the night before “All Saints Day”, November 1, and El Dio de los Muertos, November 2. I remember being in Mexico when the ‘Day of the Dead’ was celebrated – families pack picnic lunches and go to spend the entire day in the cemeteries, playing, eating and being companionable with the dead. I remember the parades with skeletons and representations of ghosts, not to mention relics of the real dead, some saints, some probably not. Halloween is a celebration of death – and now, secular or not -- the focus is still dead things, evil, magic and the occult.

Purim is precisely the opposite. True, we do dress up in costumes and exchange gifts of food – but hardly the organized blackmail of ‘trick or treat’ that characterizes Halloween. Purim is the celebration of life – literally, the celebration of the Jewish people’s surviving yet another plot to kill us all, circa 356 BCE. It’s the ultimate in the “They tried to kill us. We won. Let’s eat” holidays.

If you want to understand Purim, read the Book of Esther – which we do, at least twice during that 24-hour period. It’s the story of how Haman, the evil henchman to the king of Persia, cast lots – (‘purim’ in Hebrew means ‘lots’) to decide which day he should kill the Jews. Haman plotted to wipe out the entire Jewish nation, which, at that point in history, he had the ability to do. But the valiant Queen Esther – a hidden Jew – and her uncle (or cousin) Mordechai, foiled the plot, and instead of Mordechai being executed on the high gallows Haman built for him, Haman himself was put to death there. The Jewish nation was saved – so the celebration of Purim is one of joy. Once again – we survived!

So why the costumes? Because in the Book of Esther – significant parts of which are historically verifiable – the name of G-d doesn’t appear. Even though the book records only the names of the humans who took part in the events, we know that G-d was behind it, making it possible. His actions, in this case, were just hidden. So by dressing in costumes, we “hide”, too – disguise ourselves as something else. We even eat cookies with the filling on the inside – hidden inside, as it were, disguised.

But that’s Purim. What’s Shushan Purim? It’s the day after Purim, the day when the Jews of Shushan, capital of Persia, finally rested after having defeated their enemies.

Here’s what the book of Esther says:

PURIM: In the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar, on its thirteenth day ... on the day that the enemies of the Jews were expected to prevail over them, it was turned about: the Jews prevailed over their adversaries. - Esther 9:1

SHUSHAN PURIM: And they gained relief on the fourteenth, making it a day of feasting and gladness. - Esther 9:17

THE CELEBRATION: [Mordecai instructed them] to observe them as days of feasting and gladness, and sending delicacies to one another, and gifts to the poor. - Esther 9:22

‘Shushan’, a “walled city”, celebrated on the fourteenth day of Adar, as did the other “walled city”, Jerusalem, which also celebrates on that day. Now pretty much all of Israel observes Shushan Purim, too. In Beersheba, especially, with our largely immigrant population, Shushan Purim is a big deal.

But here’s an interesting thought: Where was Shushan? Located about 150 miles east of the Tigris River in Khuzestan. Which is to say, the city of Shushan now lies in – IRAN.

Amazing. Today in Iran, we have a modern-day Haman who’s threatening to do the very same thing Haman did, albeit with a more modern weapon. Ahmadinejad – just like Haman -- brags to the entire world he will destroy Israel and kill off all the Jews.

So who knows? Maybe with the hidden help of G-d Israel will rise up and destroy Ahmadinejad with the same kind of weapons he intends to us on us.

You just never know…..