Sunday, January 29, 2006

Meme of Four

Well, I had been planning to change pace and write an entry about my little one, but the child will have to wait, as it's seems that I've been tagged by Udge to do the meme of four. So, here goes nothin'...

Four Jobs I've Had

  1. Sales person in a gourmet food store (mainly in the Bakery and Cheese departments).
  2. Speech writer for an international Jewish women's organization.
  3. Editor/translator/writer/typist at an Israeli government ministry.
  4. Technical writer.

(A few more than) Four Movies I could Watch Over and Over

  1. The Princess Bride
  2. Like Water for Chocolate
  3. The Wizard of Oz
  4. The Breakfast Club
  5. Notting Hill
  6. Blazing Saddles
  7. The Sound of Music

Four Places I have Lived

  1. Israel
  2. Boston, MA
  3. Upstate NY
  4. Brooklyn, NY

Four TV Shows I Love to Watch

  1. Coupling (the British version!)
  2. Law & Order (any of the L&O series)
  3. What Not to Wear (sue me - I think Trinny and Susanna are brilliant!)
  4. The Vicar of Dibley (or nearly any other BritCom, actually!)

FourFive Places I've Been on Vacation

  1. Maui, Hawaii
  2. Jamaica
  3. London, England
  4. Acapulco, Mexico
  5. Oslo, Norway

(A few more than) Four Blogs I Visit Daily (though I do visit most of the blogs on our blogroll regularly)

  1. Anglosaxy
  2. Tololy's Box
  3. Secular Blasphemy
  4. On the Face
  5. And Far Away
  6. Neither Here Nor There
  7. Step-by-Step: Making Aliyah to Israel

(A few more than) Four Favorite Foods

  1. Sushi
  2. Chocolate
  3. Paella (with seafood)
  4. Ravioli
  5. Salmon
  6. Ghormeh Sabzi
  7. Steak & Guinness Pie

Four Places I'd Rather Be

  1. Maui
  2. Hanging out with nrg (location doesn't matter)
  3. Sarasota, Florida
  4. London

Four Albums I Love

  1. Supernatural, Santana
  2. The Violin Player, Vanessa Mae
  3. Songs About Jane, Maroon 5
  4. Concert in Central Park, Simon and Garfunkel

Four The Only Vehicles I've Owned

  1. Mazda 323

Four others, to pass the chain on...

  1. Ziad Anglosaxy
  2. The Expat Eggheads
  3. Lisa
  4. Rami

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Perceptions

While I haven't been following the run-up to the Palestinian elections as closely as I could have, hearing about the Hamas victory has got me thinking. While the world recognizes Hamas as a terrorist organization, it is also fairly well known that they have a well-established social welfare machine, providing services for the poor and maintaining a series of medical clinics and educational institutions. Given the poverty in the Palestinian territories and the lack of infrastructure, the framework provided for Palestinians by Hamas has filled a serious need. When this factor is combined with the prevalent belief that the government of Prime Minister Abbas and his Fatah party are incredibly corrupt, it should come as no surprise that Hamas came out of the elections as the big winner. Given the terrible situation in Gaza and other Palestinian areas, should it really come as a surprise that people voted for the group that has seemingly given the most back to the Palestinian community, providing desperately needed services and institutions, and generally looking out for Palestinian welfare interests?

While the root of many problems that the Palestinians face is the Israeli occupation, the Palestinian people have come to realize that their previously elected government did nothing to alleviate their day-to-day suffering, squandering monetary donations from around the world on God knows what (this money certainly didn't reach the Palestinian on the street), allowing corruption to run rampant in the various halls of power, and refusing to be held accountable for any of their actions, no matter what the realm. Yesterday's elections were an opportunity to change this course, and change it they did.

Of course, I would be remiss if I neglected to address aspect of Palestinian attitudes towards Israel, and the part these attitudes might have played in the elections as well. The question that comes to mind is how much emphasis Palestinians placed on Hamas' clearly stated objectives vis a vis Israel. In other words, what was the primary factor in deciding how to vote? Were Palestinians voting for Hamas' proven social welfare track record, or were they voting for Hamas' policies regarding Israel? Perhaps they voted based on the social welfare aspect, and see the Israel-related policies as being a bonus, so to speak. It would be interesting to see such a breakdown, to learn what made people vote the way they did, to understand on which issues the greater importance was placed.

I am reminded of the last Israeli elections, when the nation overwhelmingly elected Ariel Sharon and the Likud party to another term in office as the ruling party. It seems to me that when it comes to elections, we are constantly having to compromise on different issues, to establish our priorities and decide what is personally important. I think that many people voted for the Likud out of a sense of need for continuity, and (excuse the military analogy) not wanting to change the general in the middle of the war. People put aside their discomfort with the scandals, the police investigations, the fact that the economy was absolutely devastated, and voted for the man they felt would bring them security (for the record, I didn't vote for Sharon and the Likud). Security became the national priority, and the Israeli voting public overwhelmingly decided that the other contenders were not up to the mission. Social welfare seems to be playing a greater role in the current election campaign, and while the outcome has pretty much been decided in the media and among the various pollsters, it will be interesting to see how much the social welfare platform actually affects the Israeli voters.

Rumor has it that in the last US elections, many people voted for George Bush (don't even want to go down that road...) due to his moral stance. They didn't care that the economy was falling apart, or that the country found itself mired in a war of their own making in Iraq, with no end in sight. They felt that the moral fabric of the United States was on the verge of falling apart, and that George Bush was the one who would be able to hold it together.

I am in no way trying to compare Hamas to Likud or to George Bush. In my mind, one is a terror organization, and the other two entities political (with varying intellectual capacities). In the minds of others, Hamas is the valiant social welfare/political entity, while the Likud (and for many, Sharon, despite the disengagement and the new direction he'd begun to take prior to his current medical situation) and George Bush are seen as the terrorists. It is just interesting to see what factors motivate people to vote the way they do, and it is interesting to see how different leaders are perceived by each group.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Who decides who is a Jew, or, when is a Jew not a Jew?

I recently met up with my friend Helen, who was here visiting family in Israel. Helen currently finds herself in a rather strange – and very stressful – situation. When she is in Israel, she is an accepted member of the Jewish faith. When she is in her native England, she is not.

Quite a number of years ago, Helen converted to Judaism in Israel, a conversion that was accepted without question by the Israeli rabbinate. She married an Israeli and they lived together in Israel with two of their young sons (a third has since been born) for more than six years. Just over three years ago, Helen and her family relocated to England, and have been living there ever since, making annual trips to Israel to see family and friends and helping their sons to stay connected to their Israeli roots.

When Helen and her husband wanted to enroll their eldest son in the prestigious JFS school in London, the problems began. Her son was denied entry to the school because, they claimed, he wasn’t Jewish. Despite Helen’s successful conversion in Israel many years previously, London’s Chief Rabbi decided that Helen’s conversion was not acceptable, therefore rendering her sons gentiles. The family was shocked by the decision, especially as it seems to have been based on Helen’s Jewish practices since the conversion. Apparently, the rabbinate in Britain has decided that it’s simply not enough that the family only celebrates Jewish holidays and festivals, based on the traditions that they brought with them from Israel. Essentially these power-wielding, rabbinical pen-pushers have arbitrarily determined that an individual who chooses to convert to Judaism must be more religious than those who were born into the religion, otherwise, the conversion is deemed unkosher and invalid. How fortunate that those of us “lucky” enough to have been born Jewish are not subjected to the same assessments, as most Israelis would suddenly find themselves stripped of their Jewish identity, in much the same way as the unfortunate Sagal family, who must either continue their public battle to be recognized as Jews, or somehow try to explain to their young sons (one of whom was born during this whole ordeal, whose birth was the impetus for trying to resolve the issue as quickly as possible in order to determine whether or not he would be Jewish and allowing them to perform the brit milah (ritual circumcision).

If Helen had been converted in some vague, third-world country, perhaps I could understand the British Chief Rabbi’s reluctance to accept the conversion. I would even understand if it had been a Reform or Conservative conversion (though this would have angered me greatly, but discrimination against these popular streams of Judaism by the Orthodox is accepted in some circles, especially in Israel). What it comes down to, though, is that Rabbi Sacks has decided that an Orthodox conversion performed in Israel and approved by the Israeli rabbinate is not good enough for the British rabbinate, which is a very dangerous precedent indeed. As Helen responded when the man himself offered to personally oversee and guide her through a new conversion, “what if, following the conversion in England, she were to move to the US? What if the rabbinate in the US decided that the conversion performed by the British rabbinate wasn’t good enough for them? Would she have to convert yet again?” Helen tells me that the chief rabbi became quite indignant, unable to imagine that his conversion would not be acceptable elsewhere.

What makes this case even more disturbing is that approximately twelve years ago, when Helen's oldest son was born in London, this very same rabbinate that has now chosen to deny their Jewishness, authorized his brit milah, essentially accepting him into the Jewish faith, based on the fact that his mother was Jewish. This alarming discrepancy makes me highly suspicious, makes me wonder why they changed their minds nearly twelve years later. It also makes me think of a question with even farther-reaching connotations. Now that the rabbinate has decided that Helen isn't Jewish, does this mean that their marriage, performed by an Orthodox rabbi in Israel, is no longer valid in the eyes of the British rabbinate? As far as I am aware, Orthodox rabbis do not condone "intermarriage", let alone perform such unions, so it would be most interesting to hear the rabbinate's opinion on the status of Helen's marriage, performed in accordance with Orthodox traditions.

It doesn't come as a surprise that some people become so fed up with organized religion. When power plays between different religious bodies become personal, when arbitrary, highly suspect decisions play with the lives of others, when a young boy is suddenly forced to redefine his entire identity based on these events, it is no wonder that we become so disappointed, so disgusted, that the very thought of building a stronger connection is simply anathema.

Oh, and here's one last question, that I believe Helen has asked as well. If she is Jewish in Israel, but not Jewish in England, at what point during the journey does the transformation take place? Does it gradually begin once the plane has entered international air space, meaning that the transformation is not complete until the plane lands at its final destination, or is there one particular spot over which the transformation happens suddenly, sort of like passing over the international dateline or the equator? So, Rabbi Sacks, what's your take on this issue, hmmm?

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Why?

There I was watching Channel 10 news this morning, chomping on some toast accompanied by a nice piping hot cup of tea. It was a bit chilly this morning, I needed an extra cuppa. Anyway, there I was, mouthful of toast and half interested in the news, when they showed the tragic story of the fire in Russia yesterday. Nasty stuff. Even nastier was the showing of women jumping to their deaths to escape the fire. Disturbingly clear images.

How the hell can they justify showing that? Do they not feel the need to perhaps give a little warning that some of the images in the report are "disturbing", as they do on more illustrious networks, such as Sky or CNN. Do they feel we've been numbed by the never-ending display of blood and guts in tragic accidents and suicide bombings that a quick showing of someone jumping to her certain death will slip harmlessly by...? When the news roundup had finished, even the morning show presenters were a little shocked at the images and suggested next time, maybe they shouldn't show them.

I'm stuck with this image going round in my head and I'm asking myself...why?

Sunday, January 15, 2006

And now back to our regularly scheduled programming

It seems that life in Israel is returning to normal, or whatever actually passes for normal in this neck of the desert. The Prime Minister continues to lay in hospital in a coma, in "serious but stable" condition, as they like to say (and, may I also take this opportunity to say how relieved I am that they have stopped giving us status reports regarding his urine output? I'm all for transparency in these cases, but frankly, that's just a little bit more than I need to know!), with no noticeable improvement as of late. As it begins to dawn on us all that it may take some time before we see any significant changes (if indeed, he ever does regain consciousness, cognitive and complex motor skills, etc.), we have begun to turn our attention to other events.

Once again, the political scene does not fail to entertain and keep us in suspense. Recent party elections in both the Likud party and the Shinui party have been most interesting, as veterans in both parties were shunted aside for newbies. Virtual unknowns have suddenly leapt to the tops of their respective party lists, producing notably different responses from party leaders. While Binyamin Netanyahu, is, according to news reports, quite pleased with the outcome of his party's elections, the same cannot be said for Shinui's Tommy Lapid, who is considering a split from the party he founded, following the ouster of Avraham Poraz from his traditional spot at number two on the party list. Recent elections in the Hadash party also produced surprising results, as old guard party member Issam Makhoul was beaten for the number two slot by newcomer Hana Sawid, the director-general of the Alternative Planning Center and former head of the Ilbon municipal council. From the look of things, it seems that Sharon's escape from the Likud party to form Kadima, followed by his subsequent stroke and unclear future have spurred Israeli voters across the board to make a clean break from the politics of yesterday, replacing experienced politicians with newcomers, and infusing us all with the hope that change for good is finally in the air.

Also in politics, it seems that Shimon Peres may be in for some trouble - or at the very least, some very public discomfort - over allegations of receiving improper campaign contributions when campaigning for the chairmanship of the Labor Party, back in 2004. I will be very disappointed if it turns out to be true, as I always thought that Peres, despite his inability to win, was above such shenanigans, one of the few true statesmen in Israeli politics. I guess I'll just have to wait and see how the story unfolds, and hope that everything works out as it should.

Politics aside, the Hebron settlers are up to their old tricks again, attacking members of the security forces and rioting throughout the city. According to the article on Haaretz,

"The settlers have clashed with security forces for several days over a court order to evict eight Jewish families who have occupied Palestinian-owned stores in the Hebron marketplace for years."
These radical hooligans must be stopped and punished, and punished in such a way as to deter similar acts from being committed in the future. Of course, I'm not actually sure that there is such a way to deter these self-serving individuals, who have no qualms about attacking either innocent Palestinians (including women and children) or members of the security forces who have been sent to this city in order to protect the settler enclaves. Their can be no justification for their thuggery or their vandalism, and there should be no compromise with regard to the government response to their actions, especially in light of their callous disregard for authority.

And, with regard to Israel's unofficial favorite winter pastime, the rains that drenched most of the country during the past week have allowed the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) to rise by a whopping two centimeters over the weekend, bringing it up to -211.60. Still more than two meters to go before we reach the upper red line, but every drop counts. Despite the havoc that these rains have wrought, as any Israeli will tell you (and any new immigrant learns during their first winter here), we really need the rain. Don't put your umbrellas and duck boots away just yet - still lots more fun to come throughout this week...

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Sniff, sniff...aaahhh!

I see that Sharon's doctors are attempting to stimulate him with familiar sights and sounds. Good idea, I guess.

They have his sons playing snippets of Mozart quietly, which is obviously a calming, softly softly method of exiting from an enforced coma. I myself wouldn't jump out of a coma for Mozart but never mind. They have also apparently placed a plate of shwarma meat (slices of grilled lamb or chicken) next to him. This looks like a sure bet, what with Sharon's reported fondness for this kind of dish.

Anyway, not sure that this info needed to be released to the public as it seems to belittle his critical state...but it got me thinking. What smell would get me out of my bed? What smell would infiltrate my nasal passages to jerk my brain into awakening from a deep slumber? After some serious thought, I have gone for: fried mushrooms.

What smell would wake you up from a deep sleep?

Monday, January 09, 2006

The polls are open...

The polls are now open for the first round of voting for the Jewish & Israel Blog Awards.

Check out the rules and start voting (for us, obviously!). Don't forget, we're in the Best Politics and Current Affairs category.

We at something something thank you for your support.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Larger than life

While impressed by his success in executing the disengagement from Gaza last summer, and certainly curious regarding his future intentions, I still have trouble accepting the possibility that Ariel Sharon has become a man of peace, a man I could vote for with confidence, who would take the country in the direction that I believe it needs to go in. That being said, I have been seized by apprehension over this latest turn of events, and fear for the life of the man we call the Prime Minister.

I do not trust him as a politician. I don't trust his motives, I don't trust his words. During his term as Prime Minister, I have been repeatedly disappointed by his actions, as he would claim to want peace one moment, then in the next moment collectively punish the people of Gaza, rendering his words meaningless. Can a man whose not so distant past is characterized by punishing tactics, a man whose political life is seemingly riddled with corruption, truly turn over a new leaf? Quite frankly, I'm not sure.

However, it seems that now we will probably never know. Sharon has suffered a second stroke, with complications severe enough to have him rushed back into surgery following a long night spent on the operating table. I'm not a doctor, and my knowledge of such issues is limited to research I did last year following the illness (and subsequent death) of a friend. From what the experts on television have been saying, any recovery that he will be able to make (and even the very concept of recovery is questionable in this case) would take many months, and even then, the chances for a full recovery are virtually nil. Our Prime Minister has become incapacitated.

In times like these, I tend to think of the victim in personal terms. I think of a man who is larger than life, both literally and figuratively, and I think of how he will feel if he manages to survive this episode. Will he retain use of his mental faculties, and if so, will he be able to communicate, to let people know what he is thinking and feeling, or will he be a prisoner, trapped within the confines of his own body, a body that no longer works the way it should, the way he wants it to? Would he prefer to live in this prison, or would he prefer to be set free, his soul released from his body? I think of his family, his friends. I think of the children who love him and call him Grandpa. I think of a man who loves life and lives it to the fullest, slowing down for no one and never backing down in the face of adversity.

It is just after 9:00 in the morning, less than 12 hours since Ariel Sharon was struck and taken to hospital. Along with the people of Israel and the world, I sit and wait, wondering what will be, how we will be affected by the outcome. The mood on the street this morning was somber - I could see it in the faces of the commuters on the train, the people who make my morning coffee, the security guard in our office building. Overhearing scattered exchanges while making my way into work, it was the main topic of conversation. A nation holds its collective breath as we come together to wonder what the days ahead will bring, the only certainties being that nothing is certain and life is precious. And I am sad.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Crystal ball time

It's that time of year again, when everybody and anybody rustles up a list of events that took place during the previous year. More often than not, a small crystal ball is also dusted off and predictions given for the forthcoming year. Well, as Something Something wasn't around for the whole of 2005, you'll just have to put up with my predictions for 2006. Here we go...

January
Another top politician joins Arik Sharon's Kadima party. After crying live on TV.
Yair Lapid wears something that is not in black.
The blogger Jeru Guru is revealed to be a Haredi mother of six.
Something Something is pipped into second place at the Jewish & Israel blog awards.

February
Sharon farts rather noisily during a live TV interview.
A second x-ray reveals that Sharon's suspected tumour is in fact a bagette lodged in his stomach.
Eilat hosts the Winter Olympics after unexpectedly getting snowed in.

March
Kadima win the elections. Sharon is PM.
Labour and Likud pick up the scraps and tie for second place.
Peretz resigns to launch a moustache grooming service.
Netanyahu tries crying live on TV, but it's too late...
Peres returns to lead Labour after Sharon refuses to make him Sports Minister.
Shas is decimated. They vow to appeal to the Ashkenazim next time round.
Tommy Lapid wins one seat. That seat is the co-host seat alongside his son Yair as Tommy returns to television.

April
Out of the blue, Iran's President invites Sharon to his Passover barbeque. An international incident is almost caused when Sharon devours the President's prize flock of sheep.
People flock to see Betar Jerusalem play after they sign Ronaldinho on loan until the end of the season.
The Israeli Air Force sends a squadron of F-16s to Iran. To drop flowers.

May
Pictures of Iran's President and Sharon embracing inject fresh optimism into the region and throughout the world.
A shortage of sunflower seeds threatens to ruin the average Israeli's summer. A cabbage flavoured alternative fails to win over consumers.
Hamas, Hizbullah and the Islamic Jihad decide to trade in their military uniforms for a new powder pink look.

June
Record numbers of Iranian tourists converge upon Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
Palestinian Chairman Abbas calls a tearful press conference to denounce Sharon after a story is leaked that Sharon refused to return Abbas' PSP (PlayStation Portable).
Peretz's English skills (after studying at Anglosaxy's English school) are the deciding factor in Sharon recruiting him as his new Tourism Minister.

July
An "Iran Day" is declared. Israelis are forced to eat Persian delicacies, such as Gondi.
An all out strike by air conditioning workers brings the country to its knees.
The streets of Israel are flush with youth wearing "Rooney 9" England t-shirts and shouting "Fuck Off!", after England's stunning World Cup success.

August
Ehud Olmert temporarily takes control of the country as Sharon takes rather too long in the little boys room.
In an astonishing move, the teachers union decides not to strike and teachers (and children) face having to come in to school on September 1st.
The name Mahmoud becomes Israel's favourite name for newborn baby boys. And girls.

September
Reformed gangster Ze'ev Rosenstein wins an award for services to the community.
The new craze sweeping the country is cursing in Persian. "Borogumshuh!"
Tragedy strikes during secret "make up" talks with the Palestinians. Travelling in the same car, Sharon falls on Nabil Shaath on a hairpin bend.

October
The Rolling Stones cancel their 5 dates in Tel Aviv due to "security concerns". Rumours abound that Mick Jagger couldn't get insurance for his aging lips.
Sharon adopts a goldfish and calls him Nabil out of respect to the departed Palestinian Deputy PM.
Madonna confirms her conversion to Kanabbalism in yet another visit to Tel Aviv. Sorry, that's Kabbalism. She is now known as Esther Goldberg.

November
A successful and historic visit by Iran's President to Jerusalem ends in tearful farewells.
Rumors of a sex tape of the President and Sharon are dismissed by Sharon's aides.
Yair and Tommy Lapid decide to split up their ratings disaster partnership.
Snow once again hits Eilat as Mount Hermon bakes in a 40 degree heatwave.

December
A new one-calorie, low carb sufganya (donut) is created just in time for Hanukkah.
Arik Sharon is Israel's slimmer of the year, now weighing in at a svelte 100kg.
Jesus makes a one-off Christmas appearance at Bethlehem. No "security concerns" for this guy, though he does surprise many with his overweight, balding and tattooed appearance.
Something Something picks up 8 nominations for the upcoming Jewish & Israel blog awards.

Sunday, January 01, 2006