Thursday, July 29, 2010
What an odd book! I didn’t even know I had it, to be perfectly honest, but it’s probably a good thing no one claimed it at last Friday’s Free-Sale.
I don’t blame anyone for not being attracted to it – it’s a hardback, dates from 1993, but has a very uninspiring cover, just bland. Mostly white, blue lettering, nothing to attract anyone’s attention. It’s by Irma Kurtz – previously unknown author, to me anyway – and the title is, “The Great American Bus Ride”, subtitled, ‘An intrepid woman’s cross country adventure.’
I can’t imagine where I would have acquired such a book, although I suspect it might have come from one of Hebrew University’s Friends of the Library book sales, when I have been known to pick up almost anything in English, seeing as how on the last day, everything sells for about a shekel.
Unclaimed as it was at the Free-Sale, it should have been tossed out. That’s what I promised myself. But when it came to actually throwing this nice clean book away, I couldn’t do it. Instead, I put it aside, one of those “I’ll think about this later” moments. But then a few nights ago, I idly picked it up and started reading.
It’s a ‘road’ book. Kurtz, pictured above, is an American-born ex-pat living in London, who decided to return to the US to ride Greyhound buses all over the US, essentially marking a “Z” for Zorro slash across the map. She offers casual commentary about what she sees, the people she meets and the oddities her travels offer – a nice blend of things that are truly odd (like “Vera”, who attaches herself to Kurtz at the beginning of the journey, and has to be almost literally pried loose) as well as things that are just snapshots of Americana, old and familiar, fun to be realize someone else remembered the same thing.
This isn’t a ‘Travels with Charlie’ book by any means, but still, it’s seriously addicting. Several times I’ve kicked myself, ‘I should stop reading this thing – what’s the point?’, only to follow that up with a second thought, ‘I will quit reading it, but not quite yet. Just a few more chapters….’
There’s no index, no preface of chapter headings, so you can’t pick and choose which of the hundreds of destinations she passes through, but I did get a few giggles out of the several pages she wrote about Fargo, North Dakota, a city (probably about 70,000 people when she was there) I know very well. While still plotting her journey back in London, Kurtz chose it as one of her destinations, because, she says, “I thought it was one of the least likely places in which I would ever have found myself.” In fact, Fargo ranked as such an oddity in her mind that before she left, she actually promised her son, still in London, that she’d send him a postcard from there.
“And what makes you think there are any postcards in Fargo?” the son asked.
“Listen to your mother and learn,” she replied. “There is no place on earth with a view, a church or even just a population of 25 that does not consider itself worthy of a postcard.”
Except Fargo, as she eventually found out. She ended up mailing a postcard from Fargo that featured a picture of London Bridge.
Not that she didn’t like Fargo – quite the opposite. “From the moment I arrived in Fargo, I felt happy and at home,” she wrote. “I love Fargo, North Dakota. Who can explain it?”
One of the things she loved was Duane Johnson’s used book store – she seems to have sought out used book shops in each location she visited, which might well account for my newfound affection for her book. Johnson, who passed away just last year, was an iconoclastic local hero -- one wonders the Coen Brothers didn’t hunt him down and make a film. With his long white beard and philosophical outlook -- “I am a skeptic, a pacifist, and a liberal in the Great Western tradition. I regard myself as a sane man,” she quotes him as saying. Johnson became known as North Dakota’s “bookseller emeritus” even though his shop was repeatedly threatened with closure by the fire marshals because of the fire hazard. Books and magazines were stacked and piled haphazardly everywhere, spilling into the already narrow pathways among shelves, something Kurtz loved. “At first it seemed like chaos,” she wrote of his shop. “But then gradually order emerged, shaggy, as a garden gone a bit to seed.”
One of Kurtz’s funniest stories involves the village of Elwood, Indiana, where her mother, Minnie Kessler, grew up, and of which her mother had few fond memories. Still, Kurtz wanted to see it for herself, to check out the actual locale where some of her mother’s stories took place, to see if the scenes she’d imagined were anything close to the real thing. Kurtz even went so far as to brave the cemetery in a monsoon-like rainstorm to hunt down the grave of one of her mother’s teachers, Miss Small.
She recalled her mother’s tale of what took place during a 4th grade school day. “To be a good American,” Miss Small announced to her class, “a person must be Protestant, white, and born here.” Whereupon the teacher whirled around and pointed her finger at Kurtz’ then nine-year old mother. “And Minnie Kessler, you wipe that grin off your face!”
Kurtz braved the rainstorm and found Miss Small’s grave. “Seventy-odd years later, I stood at the foot of the former teacher’s grave, and with the mud sucking at my heels, I pointed to her gravestone and said aloud, “Miss Mary Small, Minnie’s girl has come all the way to Elwood, Indiana, to tell you: Wipe that grin off your face!”
Back in her motel room, doing her best to dry off and warm up, Kurtz decided to call her mother – who was then living in Southern California – and tell her of Miss Small’s posthumous comeuppance. “Remember the story you used to tell me about Miss Small, in your 4th grade civics class?” she asked her mother. “So you know what I did? I went to the cemetery and found her grave. I told her from you that she should wipe that grin off her face!”
Kurtz’ mother paused, then said, “Well, that was a very nice thought, Irm. And I don’t suppose it makes any difference, seeing as it’s all in a good cause. But that teacher I used to tell you about? Her name was Miss Little.’
There now – aren’t you all sorry you passed up this book? You just never know what wonders lie a book might hold, even if the cover art doesn't look very interesting.
Saturday, July 24, 2010
I probably inherited my love for garage sales from my mother, who surely ranked as the queen of the art during her younger days. “Let’s just go see what they have,” she’d say, the gleam of cheap acquisition in her eyes. “I’m not going to buy anything – goodness knows, there isn’t anything I need. I just want to look.”
With that, we’d set out, only to return hours later with all sorts of things we certainly didn’t need but couldn’t resist anyway – it was such a deal!
She -- and my father, too, who eventually got into the spirit of the thing – later refined the art to a science when they were snowbirds in Palm Springs. Nothing is more fun than going to the yard sales of the rich and famous -- and if you think rich people don’t love to make a few bucks as much as anyone else you can think again. I used to laugh that their four-month sojourns to sunny Southern California were really nothing more than buying trips – they’d hit the Palm Springs garage sales, haul the loot back to their native North Dakota home and then sell off the treasures at garage sales. After all, who could resist a flower vase that Red Skelton had once owned? A velvet hat with feathers that had been worn to the Oscars? A brooch Doris Day once owned? Whether any of it was true was another question, of course – we’re talking Southern California, where imagination reigns supreme. It might have been true, and that was close enough for everyone involved.
I had my own first garage sale when I was in college, selling off stuff in front of the Alpha Phi house. A few of my sorority sisters thought I was nuts – until they saw how nice it was to get rid of that skirt that never fit or the shoes that pinched, and pick up a few quarters in exchange. Little by little, several of them decided to join me and then the sales became a social event as much as anything else.
Of course calling these things “garage sales” is usually a euphemism, since I haven’t always had a garage. Although one time in Sacramento, I literally did sell the garage, not to mention the house. I’d bought a new home and was getting rid of stuff prior to the move. My old house was for sale, and the people who eventually bought it saw it first the day of the garage sale.
Much of the fun is the social aspect. Selling stuff in the front yard is unbeatable in terms of meeting the neighbors, but even more fun when a bunch of friends do it together. Maybe the best sales I ever had were in Monterey, when my friends Theresa and Mary Alice and I would band together and have what we called “Pack Rat” sales – they lasted all day, and we made hundreds of dollars each. We all had our dogs there, and one year, my garden was really overproducing, and I sold fresh zucchini, carrots and cabbage right along with the old books. When one lady lamented that she’d buy my zucchini if only she knew how to make it into bread, I went to my freezer, took out a loaf of my own zucchini bread, and sold her that, too, then gave her the recipe. There’s no limit to what you can sell.
My first Israeli garage sale was last Friday morning, and it was a blast. This time “garage sale” was pure fiction, since not only was there no garage, but also about 80% of the stuff wasn’t for sale at all, it was free. I have to move in a couple of weeks, and there were a lot of things I won’t have room for – or don’t need -- so I decided that since the primary objective was to simply get rid of stuff, I had two choices: I could haul it all out to the dumpster, and it would disappear in a heartbeat. Or I could make a social event out of it, put it all out, and invite my friends on the local email list, Anglobeersheba, to come and help themselves. That’s what I decided to do – one last hurrah at this house.
I did have a few bigger things for sale, but most of it was just freebies – which made it so much easier. Every other time I’ve hosted a garage sale, I’ve insisted that every item have a price on it, which takes an awful lot of time. With most everything free, I didn't have to do that.
The first people to come arrived just before the scheduled starting time of 8 am – they set the standard for the day. One of the things I was selling was my beloved Cocker Spaniel Guinness’ aliyah dog cage, the airline-approved crate where he spent the long hours in the belly of the airplane on the way to Israel. Since I have no plans whatever for making a return trip – at least with my dogs – there was no need to keep the big cage anymore.
It made my day that Guinness’ cage went to a new puppy -- “Tia” -- recently adopted from the “Beersheba Loves Animals” folks. “Tia’s” new human mom is in a wheelchair, and Tia is being trained as a service dog. Sometimes the puppy needs a safe place of her own to get some rest, and the airline crate was perfect. I was so delighted that the cage went for such a fine purpose and to such wonderful people. They also claimed some extra dog toys, eating bowls and other doggie accessories. Made my day!
My old bike – which I won’t have a safe place to keep – went to a second-year medical student at BGU, who recently had her bike stolen. Good deal! We were both happy with that exchange.
Other odds and ends: a whole bunch of extra cups and mugs (what do they do? Reproduce, when they get shoved into the back of the cupboard?) were claimed by a family where I’m frequently a Shabbat lunch guest. What could be more perfect than that?
That friend also claimed a black “Princess” telephone that had a great history: Many years before I made aliyah, I bought the phone from a ‘Dollar Store’ in California – that’s right. I paid $1.00 for it. I used it for several years, then, in a ‘Why not?’ moment, decided to take it with me on aliyah – and it worked perfectly here. But when my daughter bought a new phone system for her house, she shipped me her old cordless phone system, so I replaced the venerable black handset with her castoff cordless ones, which I’m still using. But the old black phone still worked perfectly – now someone else can use it for a few years.
A young man I hadn’t known before walked off with two bags full of ‘maybe it works, maybe it doesn’t’ cameras, electronic odds and ends and photographic equipment. I only need one working camera at a time – who has room to store more? He was giggling with delight.
The people who found books and tapes they wanted were the best – what fun to pass on good reading material to someone else.
And then of course there were the friends who came to help me – one family arrived, found a few things they could use, but then also carted off some of my plants I won’t be able to take. That was the ultimate mitzvah – throwing away growing plants is much more painful than throwing away other things. Their act of kindness meant a lot. And then there was the really good buddy who just came to help and keep me company all day – wow! A gift of time like that -- What great friends!
Nor can we forget the man who arrived with information – not that he intended to educate, probably, but as we were talking, I complained that as much as I like watermelon (watermelon in Israel is unbelievable, for you guys still in galut) I never have room in the fridge for it. So I rarely buy it, even though vendors drive around the neighborhoods with trucks, their loudspeakers barking, ‘Amatia! Amatia!’ selling the just-picked luscious things, two for NIS 10. “Why don’t you cube it and then put it in the fridge,” this genius suggested – DUH. How could I have not thought of that?
Then he went on to say that he’d seen an amazing way to cube watermelon: cut a slice off the top and bottom, stand it on end, then slice the rind off in strips, top to bottom, until you have a barrel-like piece of pure watermelon left. Then just make a few crosswise cuts to cube it perfectly. Wow! This afternoon I’m buying watermelon!
Nor was that all – he also told how he’d seen someone buttering hot corn on the cob: what you do is butter a piece of bread, then rub the hot corn on the bread, buttering it in the process – plus you can eat the bread! (Needless to say, corn is also on my shopping list.)
Amazing the things one learns at garage sales.
So for everyone who came, for everyone who helped me unload, thank you so much. It was fun – and you can be sure I’ll be doing it again.
Sunday, July 18, 2010
It used to be that people were ashamed to be caught in an act of hypocrisy – not anymore. Now, in some circles – like Jordan and BGU – it’s held out as a virtue.
Let’s be very clear about that word, hypocrisy: The practice of professing beliefs, feelings, or virtues that one does not hold or possess.
Because she’s so much prettier than anybody at BGU, let’s start with Jordan’s Queen Rania – there she is, above, in all her royal glory.
What did she do? Taking a page out of the Protocols for American First Ladies, Queen Rania decided to write a book for children. She -- or rather Kelly DiPucchio, who’s listed as co-author -- wrote a warm, cuddly feel-good little book called, “The Sandwich Shop”, which someone described as “the kind of book that gives you goose bumps and motivates you go outside in the rain to kiss your neighbor then sing Kumbaya.” To one-up that, in the US, the book is published by Hyperion, part of the Walt Disney Company.
Even the idea is innovative: comparing a lunch sandwich of peanut butter and jelly – as contrasted to one of pita bread and hummus – the Queen uses the sandwiches to talk about the differences between two very different cultures. It’s all about how to get along with people who are different. It’s about multiculturalism. Tolerance.
Prime virtues to those of the liberal mind-set. Or to quote the US’s wife beater supreme, Rodney King, ‘Can’t we all just get along?’
Israel’s left-wing rag, Ha’aretz, just published a story about the Queen’s real level of tolerance: Despite many offers to have the book translated into Hebrew for distribution in Israel, she’s rejected all offers.
There is, after all, a limit to tolerance – and having her golden words (or those of Ms. DiPucchio) translated into the infidel language of Hebrew, where it might delight Jewish children, too? Well, that’s beyond the pale. Tolerance, certainly. But not toward the Zionist Entity.
The funny thing about this is – well, we may as well laugh, because it beats crying –BGU, the famed Beersheba University named after the Zionist Supreme, David Ben Gurion, is doing pretty much the same thing. There’s no tolerance for Zionists there, either.
We’re back to Neve Gordon again, that bad penny that keeps popping up. Neve Gordon is the anti-Semitic, anti-Israel Jewish professor at BGU who keeps doing and saying dastardly things against Israel – and getting promoted by BGU every time.
Neve Gordon has made a career out of calling for the destruction of the Jewish state, the very state whose protection he enjoys and whose bounty pays his salary. Yet every time Gordon’s antics hit the front pages of newspapers around the world, BGU officials find a way to promote him.
After Gordon joined hands in solidarity with Yasser Arafat (as Arafat’s minions were blowing up Israeli cafes and buses) BGU granted him tenure.
After the Holocaust-denying Gordon denounced Israel as fascist, terrorist regime, one that “resembles Nazi Germany”, BGU President Rivka Carmi promoted him to chair the University’s Department of Politics and Government.
After Gordon called for a world-wide boycott of Israel -- a call on “foreign governments, regional authorities, international social movements, faith-based organizations, unions and citizens to suspend cooperation with Israel”, BGU promoted from ‘lecturer’ to ‘professor’.
In defense of all this, Prof. Carmi and her press agent, Faye Bitker, repeatedly resorted to heated press releases in which they insist they had no choice. It’s all about ‘academic freedom’, they declare. The standard line from BGU is: “Ben-Gurion University of the Negev supports freedom of expression, opinion and thought.” The consensus among BGU powerbrokers was best expressed by Isaac Nevo, a senior lecturer in philosophy at BGU who organized support for Gordon: “Dr. Gordon has the right to publish his views on any matter, has done nothing wrong and should not be censored or sanctioned.”
So from that, you’d figure that any professor would have the right to express his views, wouldn’t you? Whatever they are? Academic freedom must operate as a prospective cure-all. Say -- or teach – any darn thing you like, because BGU faculty members obviously enjoy absolute freedom of expression.
Well, if you thought that, you would be wrong. At BGU, academic freedom extends only to the haters of Israel. Not to anyone else.
Case in point: BGU just fired another professor for expressing his opinion on a completely different topic. Dr. Yerucham Leavitt, teaching a class in medical ethics, responded to a student’s question and in the process, expressed skepticism as to whether it was healthy for children to be raised by homosexuals. Certainly there are those who disagree with Dr. Leavitt on that point, but understand, too, there is credible scientific research that supports what he said – it wasn’t just a personal opinion.
Not that it should matter, according to BGU’s standards of ‘academic freedom’. Many professors found Neve Gordon’s remarks reprehensible – including President Carmi, who called his views “destructive”. But, in Neve Gordon’s case, even “destructive” views must be tolerated in the name of academic freedom.
But when it’s an opinion favored by a non-leftist? Ah, well. That’s different. Then the rules change.
It’s perfectly fine to call for a boycott of Israel, to denounce Israel as a ‘fascist apartheid entity’ and to call for its elimination. That’s all protected speech.
But heaven forbid you question whether it’s healthy for children to be raised by homosexual couples. That gets you fired.
So there you have it: the Queen of Jordan waxes eloquent about tolerance, multiculturalism, of loving one another – except when it comes to Jewish kids. That’s different.
At BGU, the faculty enjoys complete and absolute academic freedom to say anything at all – so long as they’re leftists and anti-Israel radicals. But it you’re not an Israel-hater, then forget it.
Hypocrisy thy name is Queen Rania -- and BGU.
Thursday, July 15, 2010
Moving gives me way much too much time to think.
A lot of the preparation is mind-numbing. How much concentration does it take to tape the bottoms of a box and fill it with books? So as an attitude adjustment maneuver, I’ve tried seeing moving as an opportunity to indulge, darn near non-stop, in listening to audio books, downloaded from Audible.com.
I figure this will be about a seven-book move -- I’ve already gone through two.
But even at that rate, there’s extra time around the edges where one’s mind tends to wander. The last book I was listening to was one of the culinary mysteries – there’s an amateur detective, a caterer in this series, who finds a not-terribly-bloody murdered body somewhere in her work space, and then the game’s afoot.
These are nice tame little mysteries – usually more interesting because of the continuing saga of the characters than for the quality of the detecting involved, although admittedly some are better than others. Plus, of course, you get the recipes, some of which are pretty good.
Listening to this book, I first noticed that when the protagonist was preparing a luncheon salad, she’d referred to “the luscious nutty flavor of the creamy avocados.” That struck me as a little odd – nutty flavor? Avocados? I’m not a big fan of nuts – given a chance to take ‘em or leave ‘em, I’ll usually pass. But I really like avocados – it just never occurred to me they tasted “nutty”. Huh. How about that?!
The book continued. I kept listening. Another 20 boxes or so later and then there we were again, back to nuts. This time the protagonist was waxing eloquent about how delightfully the “nutty flavor” of the Kona coffee she was drinking blended with the chocolate cookie she was eating. Nutty flavor? Coffee tastes like nuts, too?
But then I started really thinking about it – lots of people say rice has a “nutty flavor”. I started to wonder how many other things people think taste like nuts.
I put down the boxes, wiped my hands and went to the computer. I googled “nutty flavor” and came up with the standard 3.6 million hits in roughly 2.03 seconds. In the first two pages of hits, here are some of the foods people have described as having a “nutty flavor”:
Hemp seed – ho ho!
Whole cumin seeds
--- Not to mention actual nuts, of course – which presumably taste like nuts, too.
How can that be? How can foodstuffs as distinct as asparagus, Burgundy wine and Gouda cheese all taste like nuts?
Or maybe the better question is, what does a nut taste like? Well, let’s see: it takes like cheddar cheese, avocados, white beans, Kona coffee, dal…..
This was getting a little silly. What? Does everything taste like nuts?
Then it started to remind me of the days when my daughter JJ was little and obsessed with peanut butter – honestly, I think she existed mostly on a diet of peanut butter for the better part of one whole year.
But we were trying – so when we’d put a plate of something else in front of her and encourage her to take at least one bite, she’d always ask, “But what does it taste like?” To which there was only one unified parental response: “Peanut butter. It tastes like peanut butter.”
Listen to us, and you’d hear us insist that everything from poached salmon to broccoli to sliced apples tasted like peanut butter.
Maybe that’s what it is with nuts, too. It’s assumed, for whatever reason, that people like the flavor of nuts. So when asked what something tastes like – a question that’s clearly impossible to answer anyway – it’s easy to say, “Like nuts. It has a nutty flavor.”
Could that be it?
Okay, okay – obviously I’ve spent too much time on this issue. But oh – by the way – the caterer figured out that it was the boss’s secretary who bumped him off, right before he was going to expose her embezzlement to the world at the lunch the caterer was preparing.
I hope the caterer got paid for the lunch, that’s all I can say.
Thursday, July 8, 2010
I don’t want ANY of what she’s having!
Word is out that the day after Israel defended itself against seafaring terrorists, Meg Ryan cancelled her appearance at the upcoming two-week long Jerusalem Film Festival.
So did Dustin Hoffman – he’d better stick to ‘plastics’ from now on.
Beyond that – not that anyone will notice – even though this year’s film festival was designed to honor American actress Grace Kelley, Prince Albert of Monaco, Kelley’s son, also cancelled.
Two thoughts occur. First, who cares? Second, when will we Israelis stop lusting after attention from these vacuous Hollywood ee-jits? If they can’t tolerate Israel’s right to self-defense, let them go sit on the Mahatma Gandhi bench of shame.
During WWII Gandhi published an open letter to the British people, urging them to surrender to the Nazis. After the War, when the true extent of the Shoah became known, Gandhi criticized Jews who’d tried to escape or fight for their lives. “The Jews should have offered themselves to the butcher’s knife,” he said. “They should have thrown themselves into the sea from cliffs.”
Later, Louis Fisher, Gandhi’s biographer, wanted to make absolutely sure this is what Gandhi really said.
“You mean that the Jews should have committed collective suicide?” Fisher asked.
Gandhi responded, “Yes, that would have been heroism.”
There’s an old saying that had the Brits been Nazi’s, Gandhi would’ve been a lampshade.
The defection from the Jerusalem Film Festival – which, by itself, matters to me not one single agorot – underscores what’s happening in the world today. Once again, we’re entering into an era where world opinion swings in the direction of Mahatma Gandhi.
Even countries who verbally insist they are our steadfast allies seem to prefer that Israel should roll over and die – willingly “throw ourselves from the cliffs”. In their view, that’s the only way we’ll ever have the moral high ground.
The only lesson we should take from all this is that we need to stop bidding for the world’s approval, starting with these cowardly, empty-headed numb nuts like Meg Ryan and Dustin Hoffman.
We need to do the needful -- whatever it is -- to protect ourselves against all enemies. Unfortunately, in the not-too-distant future, it looks like Jews and Israel will have many more armed enemies intent on doing us in -- not just our Arab neighbors who are hunkered down on our borders at the moment.
On that cheery thought, Shabbat shalom, everyone!
Sunday, July 4, 2010
In a country known for its ‘never a dull moment’ status, try this: the best movie in town is now playing at Beersheba’s City Arnona offices.
Even if you don’t need to render unto Beersheba’s Caesar at the moment, it’s worth your while to go see the films. There’s no popcorn, but you can sit in reasonably air conditioned comfort and watch three amazing film shorts that truly are – no kidding – among the best I’ve ever seen.
Since the last time I darkened the doors of the Arnona office, the City has installed big LED screens on every wall. They’re playing films of Beersheba – three of them, I think. It might be just two, but I think there’s a third that’s part of one, then concludes with a different ending.
What’s so special? There’s been a lot of debate over what our energetic young Mayor has planned for the City of Abraham. Several of us have written about the plans, commented on them, or seen still photos or drawings of what the Mayor has in mind. But none of that brings the new City to life as do these films.
I’m not competent to comment on the technology beyond saying that it’s magnificent. Some of the shots show Beersheba’s attractions as they are now – the photography is incredible, especially some of the aerial shots that zoom into apartments and balconies. The streets, the buildings, the rest areas along city streets, the new apartments are absolutely gorgeous. The picture above is what the new city bus station will look like.
Which is the most fascinating part: the films show what Beersheba WILL look like, once the Mayor’s plan is completed. You wonder how ‘River Park’ – boats in Beersheba! -- will fit into the current topography? There it is, in all its glory. You can see it for yourself.
One of the more fascinating images is hard to describe, but imagine you’re flying in an airplane. Looking out, ahead of you, you see Beersheba as it is now. Then, as though the shadow of the airplane passes over the ground, you see Beersheba as it will be – a green, watery oasis filled with parks, recreational opportunities, the Sporteck, the new stadium, the amphitheater, all as they will look when completed. It doesn’t look like drawings – it looks real. The way it’s fitted into, around and among existing landmarks makes it appear to already exist.
Another favorite part was of the Promenade, that 3 kilometer walking, biking path that’s part of River Park. Today we see the sand and the rocks. Then we see it when the vegetation is grown and all the street furniture is in place – incredible.
I have no idea where else these little film masterpieces are playing – each is maybe three to four minutes long and they run on a continuous loop, with some other public announcements during the breaks. But how smart to start showing them in that dismal city dungeon, where I’ve always imagined that the sign that hung over Dante’s inferno would not be out of place: ‘Abandon hope, all ye who enter here’.
The problem is, of course, that no matter what day or time of day you go to do business with the City, you still end up spending the requisite three hours waiting to talk to a clerk. But what better captive audience could there be? All eyes are focused on those big screens. Everyone is watching.
When I lived in the US, every time I had to write a quarterly check to pay my taxes, I made myself picture the several magnificent Smithsonian Museums in Washington, DC, some of my favorite places in the entire world. “That’s what I’m paying for,” I’d tell myself – not that it’s true, of course. But by convincing myself my hard earned tax dollars were going to the Museum of American History, I could get through the check-writing without fury.
So now I’m in Beersheba, regularly forced to write out a check to the City government. What better vision could there be, that this magnificent view of the Beersheba of the future?
Of course it would be nice if someone could do something about that three-hour wait, which has been absolutely consistent for the eight years I’ve been here. If they’d just keep the offices open for a full workday, the problem could be solved with no added facilities. Instead – on Tuesdays, for example – the office doesn’t open at all until 4:00 pm. That’s really nuts.
Even so – to tell you how good these films were – when I’d finally finished doing bureaucracy, I went back, sat down, and watched the films again.
It’s that good.
As everyone knows, today, the 4th of July is celebrated as “Independence Day” in the US -- even though it really isn’t.
The actual legal separation of the American colonies from Great Britain took place on July 2, 1776. That’s when the Second Continental Congress voted to approve a ‘resolution of independence’ a document written by Richard Henry Lee of Virginia.
In the two days that followed the vote, Congress drafted and revised and finally adopted a document that explained their previous decision, one that begins with those famous words, “When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another….”
That secondary explanatory document, known as the Declaration of Independence, was ultimately approved two days later, on July 4, 1776.
The fact that the 4th is observed as the holiday would have surprised just about everyone back in those days. On July 3, John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail:
The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.
In Israel, July 4th is also a date many of us in Israel remember – and in our case, the event actually took place on July 4 – in the year 1976, precisely two hundred years after the American event.
It was our Operation Entebbe, one of Israel’s most astonishingly successful military operations, one which proved the greatness of the Israeli military establishment – not to mention the courage of its political leadership and the unbreakable will of the Israeli people. On July 4, 1976, the IDF carried out an almost impossible hostage rescue operation to free 105 Jewish passengers who had been taken hostage by Arab terrorists and flown to Entebbe in Idi Amin’s Uganda.
The drama started seven days earlier when on June 27, Air France flight 139, originating in Tel Aviv on its way to Paris, was hijacked by two Arab terrorists from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the 1967 parent group that today includes Fatah, the political party of Abu Mazen, also called Mahmoud Abbas, our alleged “peace partner”. The two Arabs terrorists were joined by two German nationals, Wilfried Bose and Brigitte Kuhlman.
At the direction of the hijackers, Flight 139 was diverted to Benghazi, in Libya, where it spent seven hours on the ground being refueled. One passenger who pretended to be having a miscarriage was released.
The flight then continued, taking off for Idi Amin’s anti-Israeli stronghold, Uganda, where it landed at Entebbe Airport at 3:15 pm. Here's what the terminal looked like.
The Arab terrorists were joined by four of Idi Amin’s hand-picked henchmen. One of their first acts was to separate the passengers into two groups, Jewish and non-Jewish. An elderly Holocaust survivor held up his arm to showed Wilfried Bose, one of the German terrorists, his tattooed concentration camp number. Bose roughly pushed the elderly man aside, saying “I am not a Nazi! I am an idealist!”
Good to know.
Shortly after, all the non-Jewish passengers were told that they would be released and that another Air France plane would fly them back home. But some refused to leave. The flight captain, a non-Jew named Michel Bacos refused. Insisting that the passengers on his airplane were his responsibility, he insisted on remaining with the Jews. He was joined by his entire flight crew who also insisted on staying, as did a French nun, who said she would remain, but that a Jew must be released in her place. The Arabs were having none of that, so the nun was forced into the Air France flight.
Overall, 85 Israeli and non-Israeli Jewish hostages remained, in addition to 20 others, mostly the flight crew.
The Arab terrorists made clear their demands: The release of 40 Arab terrorists held in Israeli prisons, plus an additional 13 other detainees imprisoned in Kenya, France, Switzerland, and West Germany. If these demands were not met, they would begin to kill hostages on July 1.
Yitzhak Rabin was Prime Minister then, and the Mossad was in charge. There was no question but that the hostages would be rescued. The question was how. Amin had already sent troops to bolster the hijackers, and the situation seemed almost impervious to attack – the airport terminal building was surrounded by armed forces, and even if the hostages were liberated from the building, how would they be flown out of Uganda?
Books have been written about all the nuances of what was called “Operation Thunderbolt” at the time, but later came to be called “Operation Yonatan”, in honor of the single Israeli soldier who fell, Yoni Netanyahu, younger brother of today’s Prime Minister.
The rescue operation was among Israel’s finest moments. It was a combination of meticulous planning, elaborate subterfuge and audacious daring – the kind of thing Israelis used to do every day of the week. Today, our political leaders seem too weak-kneed to allow our military to carry out such politically incorrect missions as rescuing captive Jews – witness Gilad Shalit, who has now languished for four years just a few kilometers from Israel.
It's a little hard, after all, to mount a hostage rescue operation to take back a captured Jew when he's being held by what the world insists is our 'peace partner'. Of course no one thinks to ask why a 'peace partner' would be holding another 'peace partner's soldier captive, much less while denying him legally mandated Red Cross visits or any other verification of his well being, but of course that's another matter.
But back in 1976, things were different. We were in a battle for our survival, and we knew it.
In any event, on July 4, just before midnight, Israeli transport planes carried 100 elite commandos 2,500 miles to Uganda where, in a 58 minute raid, they rescued 103 hostages.
Five Israeli commandos were wounded and only one, Bibi’s brother Yoni, fell. All the hijackers, three hostages and 45 Ugandan soldiers were killed. Eleven Russian-built MiG fighters of Uganda's air force were destroyed. One other hostage, Dora Bloch, a British-Israeli grandmother, had been released for medical treatment and was left behind. She was later murdered by Amin’s soldiers – as were 200 members of Amin’s own army, who by their failure to defeat the Israeli invaders had brought such shame on his mighty forces.
Among the anecdotal stories: Israeli forces were greatly helped because the airport terminal had been built by an Israeli company – and the company still had the blueprints. Another invaluable source of information was a French-Jewish passenger, traveling on a French passport, who’d been released. The man had military training plus what Israeli officials termed "a phenomenal memory". He was able to give important details about the number of arms and hostage takers.
The ruse was spectacular: Israeli forces landed at Entebbe with their cargo doors open. A black Mercedes and several Land Rovers drove out, giving the impression that the vehicles were some sort of escort for Amin himself, or some other officials. Two Ugandan sentries -- who knew Amin favored white Mercedes, not black –tried to stop the convoy and were shot.
Arriving at the terminal, the Israelis jumped out of the vehicles, shouting through megaphones, “Stay down! Stay down! We are Israeli soldiers." in both Hebrew and English. A 19-year-old Frenchman named Jean-Jacques Maimoni—who chose to identify himself as an Israeli Jew to the hijackers even though he had a French passport—stood up and was killed by the Israelis who mistook him for a hijacker. Another hostage, Pasco Cohen, 52, the manager of an Israeli medical insurance fund, was fatally wounded by gunfire – whether it was Israeli gunfire or Ugandan was never determined. A third hostage, 56-year-old Ida Borochovitch was also killed in the crossfire.
The hostages were loaded into the Israeli aircraft under fire from the Ugandan soldiers. During these last few seconds, the Ugandans fired from the airport control tower and managed to strike Yoni Netanyahu. His body was loaded onto the aircraft and flown out of Entebbe with 103 hostages whose lives he had been instrumental in saving.
Among Yoni’s most memorable words, these written in a letter to his brother Bibi: "I would rather opt for living here in continual battle than for becoming part of the wandering Jewish people. Any compromise will simply hasten the end."
For those of you who are Americans, by all means celebrate Independence Day – and look for a new ‘independence day’ on November 2.
But if you have just a minute, help us in Israel remember a hero who gave his life to make sure that Israel remained independent, too.
You can join Yoni’s Facebook page, “Remembering Yoni Netanyahu”