Thursday, April 28, 2005

some fun Passover flash videos

There were some great Passover flash videos out this year: (lyrics here: )

Monday, April 25, 2005

a Maxwell House conspiracy?

Almost every year, we buy at least one new Hagadah. This year we bought the Encylopedia Talmudit Hagadah. It was pretty good for background, but had very little commentary on the meaning of the text itself. Other hagadot that I enjoy are the Safrai's Hagadat Chazal, and Rav Kasher's Hagadah Shleima. A number of years ago I found in a used book store in Detroit another one of Rav Kasher's hagadot - the Israel Hagadah. It has been out of print for years, and is a beautiful book - I felt like I was stealing it by only paying six dollars.)

In any case, this year we had the seder by my brother-in-law and we needed to bring over some English hagadot. We brought some Artscroll ones for the kids, and two others by Elie Wiesel and Rav Riskin. But since we needed more, I also brought an old Maxwell House hagadah. These are very popular - everyone has probably seen one. It was a marketing tactic by Maxwell house going back to the 1930s. (Read about it here.)

Here's one of the earlier ones:

Haggadah: Passover Seder Service, Compliments of Maxwell House Coffee, Good to the Last Drop, Kosher for Passover

And here's a more recent one:

I always wondered why Maxwell House was sponsoring Hagadot. But then I got to thinking: coffee is made from beans. And beans are usually considered kitniyot, which we wouldn't be able to eat on Pesach. So maybe Maxwell House was able to get on the good side of the kitniyot prohibition by distributing thousands of free hadadot?

Something to think about...

Thursday, April 21, 2005

those fast firstborns

Today is Taanit Bechorot, so of course everyone makes sure to eat. Seeing how many people made it to minyan this morning (that I never otherwise see), I figured there must be a way to capitalize on it - offering pretzels every morning, or threatening anyone who doesn't come to minyan with food withdrawal for the rest of the day.

In any case, this day reminds me of a story that happened to us a few years ago:

We were talking to our five year old daughter about the story of Yaakov and Esav, and why it's good to be a "bechor" (firstborn). Our three year old son was listening, and then said "It's dark. But it's quiet." We had no idea what he was talking about, until we realized he thought we said what was it like to be "b'chor" -- in a hole.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

If You Want to Know Why, Just Look in the Mirror

In an earlier post, I mentioned a column from 1995 by Chaim Shacham, an Israeli diplomat. I found it in the back recesses of my computer. I think it's just as relevant today as it was 10 years ago:

If You Want to Know Why, Just Look in the Mirror

By Chaim Shacham, Deputy Consul-General of Israel to the Midwest

Who then has forsaken the Land of Israel? -- You Have! More than any Israeli, you have voted the loudest and strongest for territorial compromise, because you have remained in the United States. No matter how strongly you feel, how loudly you protest and how much you send to groups n Israel who oppose territorial compromise, as long as you remain here, you remain the primary reason that Israel must consider such a drastic step. The numbers are clear, the Jewish-Arab demography in Israel is a reality, and the large Jewish population outside of Israel is a fact. Roughly half of the world's Jews remain outside of Israel by preference. How can they then demand that the other half -- the half that have sacrificed so much already -- sacrifice even more, and in the judgment of their chosen government risk their very existence, in order to hold on to every inch of the Land, all in deference to those who don't even respect the Land enough to live there?! Pardon me, but even Israelis would consider that to be Chutzpah.

Do we have an historic right to all of the Land of Israel? Of course we do. But with all rights, come responsibilities. How can we expect to actualize our rights if we're not willing to shoulder the responsibilities and inconveniences that are a part of them.

Consider this. There are more than enough Jews in Chicago to change the destiny of the city of Hebron, if they would all move there tomorrow. Imagine, Hebron would become a Jewish city with a Palestinian minority overnight, instead of a Palestinian population center, with 500 Jewish residents who require special security arrangements. There could be signs at the entrances to the city - Now entering Hebron - A gift to the State of Israel by the Jews of Chicago. That's quite a bit more impressive than a sign dedicating the wing of a hospital or a school.

I'm not deluding myself into thinking that such a scenario would actually happen. However, I would like to make one point stick. When you sit in mourning this Tisha B'Av over the destruction of Jerusalem and the loss of the Land of Israel in our past, your thoughts may turn to the painful compromise in the Land of Israel that is taking place today. If you feel the urge to look for someone to blame, just make sure you also look in the mirror.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

...Anybody want a peanut?

Most things about Israeli culture I find myself adjusting to comfortably. I've been here for a while, and with my religious approach of "negation of the galut", I try to make myself feel at home.

But there are still a few things that bug me. They're minor things, so I imagine they'll be hard to describe, but described they will be. Here are two:

  1. Rhythmic Clapping. I'm talking about when audiences start clapping with the exact same beat. When it would happen on David Letterman's show he would get a hypnotized look on his face. But there it would either happen coincidently, or at most an intentional "gag" by the audience to get at Dave. But here, they seem to think that it is the proper way to clap. One of Israel's more moronic TV shows - Dudu Topaz - would always start that way. I'm not sure which I hated more...
  2. Rhyming. In America, rhyming is reserved for nursery rhymes, limericks, and some songs. For some reason, in Israel when you want to say something serious in public - you'd better do it in rhyme. You see this at school/kindergarten parties, goodbye parties at work, etc. The main "speech" is always written in rhyme, and has the same dull rhythm. Now what really gets me, is that in English, it takes some skill to rhyme. (If you recognize the title of this post from the Princess Bride movie, then read the book to see just how Fezzik got to his rhyming skills and how difficult it was for him.) But in Hebrew, it takes no effort to rhyme at all! Both nouns and verbs have such standard suffixes, that rhyming happens without intent. After a recent such "rhyming speech" at my son's school party, I had to wonder if Ariel Sharon also gave a rhyming speech at the cabinet meeting when he fired the ministers of Mafdal or Shinui...

Sunday, April 03, 2005

I'm different...#1

I don't drive.

I'm 32 years old and I don't drive.

It's not that I've never tried, however.

When I was 15 I took Driver's Ed in high school like everyone else. I was supposed to take a drivers training course (the practical, not just theoretical course) in the few weeks of the summer before I left for my first trip to Israel in the summer after 10th grade. A good friend of mine was supposed to sign us both up for the course, since I was working. But for some reason - he didn't. So I never took that course, and never got my license like most of my friends did in the beginning of 11th grade.

When I came back from Israel, my dad had bought a new car, and his old one was waiting for me in the driveway to have as soon as I got my license, which I never did. Now my trip to Israel that summer was the main catalyst in my becoming religious. So in a way, it was a good thing that at the time I never got my license. For had I, especially with a car of my own, I don't know if I could have as easily given up driving on Shabbat. As it was, it wasn't so hard to not take the bus or go out in a friend's car.

Somehow I never managed to deal with driving while I was still in high school, and then I spent three years in Israel. When I came back to the States after that and got married, I was "lucky" that my wife was very comfortable driving. But I still knew that learning to drive was the right thing to do. I put it off a little bit at first, but still really wanted to learn because a) it would be easier for everyone, and b) getting my license before moving to Israel would mean it would be easier to transfer the license to an Israeli one.

Well, after a number of lessons, I got my license - just a few days before we made aliya. I drove one time by myself, and frankly, didn't enjoy it very much. But the pattern repeated and once again I was in a new place, where there was no immediate pressure to drive.

On kibbutz, they let one of us go and get our Israeli license right away. Naturally, it made sense for my wife to do so, and she did. It raised some eyebrows, but I let it slide. When I started working in the refet (cow shed) I needed to learn to drive a tractor. I took the lessons with a bunch of 15 year olds. Again, somewhat embarrassing, but after failing one tractor test, I passed. The kibbutz then let me go out for driving lessons. This was important to pass, because if you don't take your regular driving test within three years of making aliya, you need all 28 regular lessons. I took a bunch of lessons, and failed the test.

We then left kibbutz, and again, I needed to readjust before I could start thinking about driving again. When the hi-tech bubble burst, and I was unemployed for six months, I started taking my life back into my hands. I took lessons, and even took the theory test. I continued with my lessons even after I started working, and took a few tests (3 or 4) but failed every one. I don't really know why - I didn't think I did anything terribly wrong. But I guess I appeared nervous, and my lack of comfort just made me look unfit for a license.

On a daily basis - it doesn't bother me much. We have only one car, and my wife does need it. So I take rides or busses and get wherever I need to go. I do hope to take care of this for once and for all one day. But until then, I guess I'm ... different.