Thursday, June 30, 2005

Got the whole world...

This is absolutely amazing. Just leave it to Google. I'm lucky that a) I have a computer at work that can handle it (my home computer doesn't stand a chance) and b) the firewall at work doesn't block it (as it does with most things.)

I was looking all over US and Israel. San Francisco in particular, because then you can see buildings in 3D.

One bummer - the curvy part of Lombard Street isn't really visible...

Monday, June 27, 2005

a few things on my mind...

This past weekend we went away to a hotel for Shabbat. On the way, we stopped off at the kibbutz we used to live on. It was a weird experience, as it usually is for me when I visit places I used to live. I seem to have an obsessive need to return to my "roots". In some cases, as in genealogy, I'm returning to places I've never been. But in others, I go back to cities, schools, homes that I used to live, hoping to find something. Just last night, my friends from my old high school had a big reunion, based on an email alumni list that I created! (Even though I couldn't attend.) I'm constantly trying to keep in touch with people, googling them, trying to maintain a connection.

I'm not sure why. I'm not even entirely sure what I'm looking for. Maybe it's rooted in the fact that my parents divorced when I was young, and I'm always trying to fix distanced relationships. Maybe because I was never terribly popular socially, and by going back, and finding friends, I can improve on the past. Maybe I just figure by going back to my past, I can understand my present and future better.


The hotel was nice. We were in Ashkelon, a town on the Mediteranean sea. The hotel room had a great view of the ocean, which reminded me of my house in San Francisco growing up. We lived about 20 blocks from the ocean, on top of a hill, with a perfect view of the Pacific. In the far distance you could see the Farallon Islands, about 27 miles west of the city. Depending on the gullibity of our guests, I'd tell them it was either Hawaii or Japan.


Last night my oldest daughter had an end of the year party for second grade. It was almost entirely group singing, particularly songs of a number of Israeli song writers who passed away in the past year - Naomi Shemer, Ehud Manor, Uzi Chitman. To get to the party, we passed by the funeral procession of one of the teenagers who was killed near Beit Hagai on Friday night. The tension on the roads - both of the Israelis who were coming to pay their respects and the Arabs who were waiting to get by - was very clear. But when we got into the room of the party, filled with parents and children, the somber atmosphere soon passed. But it never entirely disappeared, nor did the looming disengagement and potentially explosive summer. As we all sat there, singing optimistic, Zionist songs like Haleluya, Kan Noladti, B'Shana HaBa'ah, and others, I couldn't help wondering if at the end of the summer, we (not only the people in the room, but the country as a whole) would be still able to sing those same songs and believe them. It gave me hope, but also great room for concern. Only time will tell.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Mitch Hedberg - Wikiquote

This guy is very funny. The language isn't always clean, but the material is. Too bad I never got to see him perform....

Mitch Hedberg - Wikiquote.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

I'm different...#3

I wasn't originally planning on writing about this yet, but today I realized that one of my "differences" is perhaps more significant than I had earlier thought.

I never finished university; I do not have a degree.

In fact, I barely studied much in university at all.

Now this is different than my first "difference", about not driving. Driving was something that I've always had a difficult time doing, it never seemed to click with me. But as far as learning in general goes, I like it very much and it comes naturally to me. But being a good learner and a good student are two different things.

As a kid, I almost always excelled in my studies. I did well on tests, didn't mind reading, etc. But homework was never my thing. When I put my mind to it I could do it well, but if I didn't pay attention, I could easily end up ignoring or postponing my assignments. I think there were two major issues - my perfectionism and my lack of efficient time management. I would take on big projects, too big, feel like I had to do them perfectly and when it wasn't working out (often due to bad time management - i.e. watching TV instead of doing my homework) I'd give up. The classic example of this for me was my first class of the morning of my first semester of high school - Public Speaking. I did pretty well in the speeches, but when it came to the big final speech, it got to be too much for me, and I started to cut class and go hang out in the park by the school. I failed that course - I'm still embarrassed about it too this day. The rest of my high school academic career went much better - peaking in a nearly 4.0 GPA in my junior year of high school.

But then I found "religion".

When I transferred out of the prestigious academic public school to go to the small Jewish school in my area, I felt like a burden had been taken off of my shoulders. Here was a place where people cared about things other than their transcripts and universities. And when I started yeshiva in Israel the following year, university study was the furthest thing from my mind. I could learn in yeshiva, progress at my own level, and I really enjoyed it. (Although even in yeshiva, I didn't get particularly proficient at skills like gemara learning, but I'll save that for another post.) While my staying in yeshiva for a second year wasn't unusual, by the third year most of my friends went back to the States to learn in Yeshiva University, while I stayed to join the army. (That is definitely material for another post.) I kept thinking - YU - no way! First of all, because I don't like New York, but mostly because if I was going back to the US, I'd give back as much as I could to the movement that got me to Israel - Bnei Akiva.

So after the army, my then fiancé and I moved to Boston. I enrolled at UMass Boston (where both of my parents had attended) and thought that I'd study and work. I signed up for some interesting classes in subjects like politics, history, philosophy. But I couldn't make myself do the work. It was too easy to not go to class, and to focus on the more important issues like my work for Bnei Akiva or whatever TV show happened to be on. At this point, I can't even remember how many courses I actually finished. Certainly not many.

But who cared? We were moving to Israel soon, to realize the dream of every "true" Bnei Akivanik - to move to kibbutz. Kibbutz was perfect in this regard, because they didn't care if you had a college degree, and would likely let me go back to school in the future. And so it went. But in the end the kibbutz didn't work out. And as I realized that, I started to get very scared. What had I done? Why had I wasted my opportunity to get a degree in America?

But again I got lucky. It was the peak (oh so brief) of Israel's hi-tech bubble. And I always had been pretty good at computers, so when we left the kibbutz, I was sent to a computer training course and found a job fairly quickly - without a degree. On my resume I wrote that I studied at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, MA. Which was certainly true. I found out later though that some Israelis had read the MA as a degree, not the state. Certainly no fault of my own. I've always told people about my lack of degree the same way I tell them about not having a license - sheepishly but honestly.

So now I've been working in hi-tech for a few years. But I'm thinking that I really would like to get my degree at some point. Perhaps by studying online, at home. I think I'm more mature now, I think I can handle it. However, it takes money and time, two things I don't have extra of right now.

Mark Twain said: "The first time a student realizes that a little learning is a dangerous thing is when he brings home a poor report card."

I guess I've done a little learning myself....

Monday, June 20, 2005

I seem to be back

I haven't posted for a few days. Kind of a busy week last week. A few things took up a great deal of time:

  • Shavuot. As has often happened in the past, I organized the leil limud in our shul, which obviously mandated me staying up throughout the night. Therefore I made sure I slept the day before, and ended up sleeping a good portion of the following day. I basically ended up giving myself jet lag. I had scheduled for myself to give a siyum on finishing Seder Zraim (which ends with Masechet Bikkurim, particularly appropriate for Shavuot.) It would have been my first siyum ever. Unfortunately there wasn't time, and I didn't get to do it. I don't think I'll have a natural opportunity to do a siyum soon, so maybe I'll try to finish Seder Moed by next Shavuot. In any case, one really nice thing about Shavuot was that we read Megilat Rut at sunrise, and based on the location of our shul, we could see all of Beit Lechem and the hills of Moav. The whole setting of the story, with a beautiful sunrise, right before our eyes.
  • My nephew's brit. It fell on isru chag, but it was actually the second day of chag for my father-in-law, which made the whole thing somewhat complicated. But it was very nice, and after a chalavi Shavuot (which I didn't mind - we had a very good lemon meringue cheescake), having a basari brit, even in the morning, seemed fine.
  • A two day conference in Haifa. This was my first "overnight" trip for, actually with, work. The speeches were fairly boring, but it was nice going away to a hotel. And the food was good. Plus, the hotel was on the beach, and there was a sand sculpture contest. Very cool work. One thing I did realize about myself - I really don't need cable at home. The hotel had something like 50 channels - not a crazy amount, but certainly more than the two I have now. And I kept flipping through the damn thing hoping something good would come on. And of course nothing did. If I had that at home, I'd probably never get to work.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Pay the parking meter by phone

Brilliant idea. Will it ever make it to Israel?

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Phil Plait's Bad Astronomy: SPOILER Review: Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith

An interesting review:

Phil Plait's Bad Astronomy: SPOILER Review: Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Everybody loves a parade

I hadn't planned on it, but after work we took the kids to the Yom Yerushalayim day parade. It was the first time I had been to one since we made aliya almost 9 years ago. In my yeshiva days I would always enjoy it, and I felt the excitement again today. Thousands of people, loud music, dancing, flags all walking toward the Kotel.

Just a couple of notes:

As we walked down Rechov Yafo the crowd got larger and larger. And for some reason I still don't understand, someone (the police?) put up barriers in the middle of the street. The crowd kept progressing eastward, not realizing that they couldn't continue. This started to create very crowded conditions, which the kids did not enjoy. Eventually they opened them up, but the whole thing was very strange.

I did get to tell the kids about a much more crowded situation that I was in once: When I lived in San Francisco in 1987, they held a huge party for the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Golden Gate Bridge. While you can always cross the bridge on the sidewalk, for the event they closed the bridge to cars, and allowed pedestrians to walk in the traffic lanes. Well, I guess they didn't figure that it would attract nearly everyone in the city. Several hundred thousand people showed up - and the bridge is only about a mile long! It was packed. At one point, someone shouted "Lean Left!" and the entire bridge swung to the left. Very scary. The bridge itself actually sagged from the weight:

In any case, the parade today wasn't quite so bad...

The other thing that bugged me today was the protest atmosphere. I know that Yom Yerushalayim is primarily a day for the National Religious public, and there's a lot of opposition to the disengagement plan out there. But I think that Yom Yerushalayim should be a day about thanking God for what we got, and showing recognition to those who helped us get it. Therefore protesting against the government of Israel seems wrong on a day like this.

But despite all that, the focus on the color orange as the main medium of protest. It seems more like color war than serious debate.

I had in my head the following conversation:

Journalist: What do you think about the disengagement plan?

Well, there are a lot of issues here. On the one hand, you have the demographic problem, the need to preserve a democratic state, the importance of the strategic relationship with the US. On the other hand you have the danger of rewarding and encouraging terror, the precedent of relinquishing our legitimate homeland, the risk of tearing the Israeli society apart. So I think that it's too dangerous of a risk.

What do you think, protest guy?

Protest guy:
I think - ORANGE!

Isn't that a bit simplistic?

Protest guy:
Come on, it's not like it's a primary color...

Monday, June 06, 2005

Yerushalayim to me

I don't have any deep thoughts today about the significance of Yom Yerushalayim. I guess because I was born after the Six Day War, so I never viewed Israel without all of Yerushalayim.

Outside of a six week period back in the summer of 1991, I've never lived in Yerushalayim. My yeshiva is not in the city, which was unusual back then, and even more unusual today. And since we made aliya we haven't lived in Yerushalayim either.

But I still feel very connected with the city. I've always visited it often. And for the past 5 years I've worked in the city as well.

One of my favorite things about Yerushalayim is how wonderful it is to walk through it. There are great cities in the world where you can't easily walk from one part to another. But Jerusalem, like San Francisco (where I also used to walk a lot) isn't like that. You can really walk from North to South, East to West in one day. And the differences between the neighborhoods are amazing. Often I get a ride to the center of town in the morning, and walk to my office in the eastern part of the city. I walk from the active (well, not so active at 7:30 AM) city center, through the Russian Compound, by the (former?) Ethiopian consulate, through the charedi neighborhoods into the Arab neighborhood of my work. I feel like my passport should be stamped several times a day! And when I really want to treat myself, I take a long walk - let's say from the city center to Talpiot. So many hidden corners, so much to discover.

The other great thing about Yerushalayim for me is how much things are always changing, always building. I mean my first visit to Israel was only in 1988, but I'm already nostalgic for places I saw then, like the old bus station, that no longer exist! The cranes are always moving, the roads are constantly being torn up, new buildings seem to pop up like mushrooms after a rain. Some people here have become frustrated with all the work being done on the new light rail line, but I'm personally very impressed. Despite the economic condition of the country in the past few years, the work didn't stop. It shows a degree of vision not often found in this country. And I'm sure that in a few more years when it's all done, we won't be able to believe we ever lived with out it.

Kind of like how I feel now about the reunification of the city.

Who knows what we'll feel like about that next?

Friday, June 03, 2005

a far too serious look at two movies

I have a friend that I used to taunt about how he had only seen two movies. The movies would change from time to time, but based on how he would refer to movies in conversation, it seemed like he had never seen more than two.

I've never been a huge movie goer, but I would certainly see a decent number of movies in the theater each year (and of course more on video and TV.) But when we moved to Israel, and started having kids, going to the movies became a rare treat. We go probably a couple times a year. One movie will be the annual Pixar flick. That's also the movie the kids see in the theater during the year.

The other movie will be something we've really wanted to see. Back in the summer of 2002, we were in the States for a few weeks, and we saw both Attack of the Clones and the first Spiderman movie. While AotC had sentimental value (we both loved the original Star Wars trilogy as kids), it was Spiderman that really got us. We really loved that movie*.

When Spiderman 2 came out last year, we went to see it in a special early screening for charity in Jerusalem. And then later that summer we saw it in an IMAX theater in the States. It was even better than the first.

And this week we "finally" made it to see the last installment of the Star Wars saga, Revenge of the Sith. I won't discuss the content of the movie, but I did enjoy it, and think it was certainly one of the best of the series.

But today I started thinking about the similarities of both stories. Both feature a young individual who discovers he has special powers, but cannot use his powers to save the life of a close family member. After this loss, he becomes determined to do everything to save the life of the woman he loves, all the while learning to deal with his super powers.

Obviously, Anakin and Peter deal with this challenge in very different ways, and end up on opposite paths. Peter realizes he needs to take on a secret identity to not put Mary Jane at risk, while Anakin ends up getting more and more arrogant, eventually following the path of evil. The lesson of "With great strength comes great responsibility" applies to both of them.

I've been trying to think about the significance of this parallelism. There seems to be no middle way, no chance that Peter could have become a hero without a secret identity, or that Anakin simply could have been a good Jedi. Partly it was because their extraordinary powers made things more extreme, but it was also because they wanted a romance with a "normal" person as well.

Any moral for the real world? Well, I just finished reading the biography of Chaim Weizmann, and here too is the story of someone who in one field had amazing accomplishments, but on the other hand his family life suffered greatly. I'm sure that there are many other cases like this.

I'm sure it seems like I'm taking this all too seriously - we're only talking about movies. But I think great movies, like other works of fiction, resonate with us because hiding behind an incredible story is a truth we can identify with. If we couldn't identify with the challenges the characters face, we wouldn't be pulled in.

And so I suppose that we all face the same challenge on some level. As humans we are on the one hand animals, but on the other hand created in the divine image. How do we handle this dichotomy? Live two separate lives, with two identities, until no one knows that our "Peter" is really "Spiderman"? Abandon our mission and say "Spiderman No More"? Become so obsessed with our powers that we ignore the reality of the world that exists alongside us?

I guess in the end, we're luckier than these fictional heroes. We have a real guidebook to let us know how to balance between the animal and the divine. We don't need to rely on hazy visions or dreams. However, the tension is constant, and it sometimes makes our own lives even more interesting than the best Hollywood blockbuster.

* One of the things that made the movie fun for us, was that despite the fact that we saw it in a very fancy theater, for some reason during the previews, there was no sound. But instead of people getting angry, they just started making their own sound effects. First there was an action movie with a car chase, where everyone was saying "vroooom!". And then came a preview for Scooby Doo, and of course the entire audience was talking like Scooby. When the sound came back (before the end of the credits), everyone was already a little disappointed. While the feeling of seeing a movie with a crowd adds to the experience, you never feel like you're interacting with the person next to you. (I think Rav Soloveitchik touches on this point in Lonely Man of Faith.) Here we had a chance to all work together. Really special.