Birthday

My sister and I selected the 28th of July 1957 as our date of birth. We could not have selected a better time. Everything was set to make it a box-office family hit. We were the first of everything. Not only were we our parents first children, we were also the first grandchildren of their parents. This automatically qualified us as first nephews to a few moderately excited uncles who had no aunts to kindle their enthusiasm. We were also the first great grandchildren of the one living great grandmother as well as the first great nephews of our grandparents’ brothers and sisters. Everywhere you looked in the family tree we were the first. It was so groundbreaking we could hardly wait to be born.

To assure a grand entry we chose Sunday, the first day of the week so everyone would be focused on new events rather than yesterday’s news. We even made sure that the passing week had been uneventful. Indeed the only local news-worthy event was Israel being wiped out by Brazil in the Davis Cup Tennis match. Tennis was not much of a sport in Israel at the time and we could very well do without the support of the seven fans that cared. As far as the rest of the world was concerned things were mostly more of the same. The communist party in the Soviet Union continued to play cat and mouse with human rights groups in the west on the Jewish emigration issue. Nikita Khrushchev told a group of United States tourists that Jews in the Soviet Union were permitted passports only when their “trip is useful.” It was so lame we knew it would be forgotten before the day was out. The British government continued its efforts to woo support in the Arab world. They had been trying so hard since their Suez Canal fiasco ten months earlier that you couldn’t help but feeling sorry for them. A little closer to home the Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser charged that the United States was trying to destroy Egypt by intrigues after Britain and France had failed to destroy her by force yet another dose of middle eastern mythology which was interjected as part as the celebrations of the first anniversary of the nationalization of the old Suez Canal Company .The only thing that might have mattered was the global concern regarding nuclear arms. However the Soviet premier Nikolai Bulganin maintained that the Western position on the suspension of nuclear arms tests precluded agreement on the subject at the five-power disarmament talks. It was yet another Soviet procrastination which meant that nothing would happen at least for one more week. Finally, a rather gloomy report on the outlook for economic development of the Kingdom of Jordan was published by a mission of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, which meant that they had enough problems of their own and border in Jerusalem would remain quiet.

All in all it was a great day to be born except for one little detail which would trigger events differently than the way we had planned. We had overlooked the fact that being twins we would be delivered by a cesarean operation. Personally I did not want to go under the knife two Sundays in a row, but I couldn’t let that spoil the occasion for my sister. The knife came through the roof, barely missing us. As we huddled in the back of the womb a pair of enormous hands almost our size came through the opening and started pulling us out. I went first screaming and kicking hoping to distract the monster so that my sister could stay inside when they closed the hole, but they got to her too.

Snuggly wrapped in clean cloth, we prepared for the ceremony which was not to be. It turned out that the ‘Bikur Holim’ hospital where the operation was performed did not have a new-born facility and we had to be transferred by ambulance to the ‘Sha-arei Tzedek’ hospital a five minute drive up Jaffa Street. Unfortunately my father being new to all of this made an understandable yet grievous error; he asked the ambulance driver to take a detour up ‘Strauss Street’ to his father’s and now our newly appointed grandfather’s shop. The ambulance driver agreed ‘as long as you grab your father and hustle back, I cannot drive around the city with newborns’ he told my father.

My father darted from the ambulance shouting ‘Abba (dad) come quick it’s twins!!!’ But the fabled former underground leader[1] did not elude the British for two decades for nothing. You could not pull his leg with a grand display of emotion he needed hard evidence before he acted. ‘Where are they?’ he asked calmly without lifting his head from the fabric cutting machine he was operating. At that point my father destroyed nine months of preparations: ‘They are outside in an ambulance’ came the excited reply. My grandfather did not move. ‘Abba, I’m serious!’ ‘Go yank somebody else’s chain, who drives around the city with babies in an ambulance?’ The ambulance driver did not wait for my father to explain he had nine pounds of precious cargo he had to deliver so off he went. By the time my grandfather decided that the gains outweighed the risks all that awaited him as he stepped outside his shop was an empty street. He gave my father a forgiving ‘you got me’ smile and went back to work, leaving my frustrated father to run down the street to the hospital. The one person in the world who was supposed to spread the word that we had arrived was convinced that we were a hoax.


[1] In their book ‘Oh Jerusalem’ (page 145) Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierrre write: ‘As the weeks of the terrible winter [1948] dragged on, Jewish Jerusalem’s well-being lay in the hands of boys and girls of the Palmach. Called ‘Furmanim’ because their orders were addressed by an imaginary Mr. Furman in room 16 of Jerusalem’s Jewish Agency Building. They were the permanent guards of the convoys.

Mr. Furman was not imaginary. His name was Shimon Furman, father or Amatzia Furman who changed his name to Porat when he married. Shimon Furman was my grandfather.

 

A Thousand Words

In the photograph two very young girls are sitting next to each other on a sofa. One is going on four and the other a toddler less than two years of age. The older one, while sucking on her milk bottle is trying to pull the bottle from the younger one’s mouth. The younger one is turning her head in an attempt to avoid losing her bottle. She is also reaching for it to protect it while pushing the older one away with her other hand. You think you are looking at a harmless bout between two young children. But if that is the case then why would anyone bother to take such a picture? What are the odds of capturing such an abrupt and passing attempt to snatch a possession of one by the other on film?

Take a closer look at the younger girl’s face; it is very calm, its dreamy expression is showing no signs of anxiety. The eye which is visible is wide open, not squinting as one would expect had she been jerking her head away. The older girl’s hand is not grasping the younger one’s bottle. The hand is gently supporting the tip of the bottle with four fingers. The thumb is stabilizing the bottle from one side while three fingers are touching it from the other. Her pinky is hanging free, not what you would expect from a quick snatching movement which would have engaged all five fingers. The toddler’s hand lacks the tension that would have been part of a hasty attempt to save what is hers. In fact it seems like her hand has just let go of the bottle and it is slowly drifting towards her exposed belly button, while the older girl continues to support it.

If you look closely at the ‘bottles’ you see that they are not bottles at all. They are dispensers made of hardened plastic tubes which hold disposable plastic bags. These plastic bags are open on one side. The flaps of the open end are folded over the top of the plastic cylinder and held in place by a plastic ring which is screwed over the top fastening a rubber nipple from which the child can suckle. The nice thing about the ‘milk bag’ is that an experienced child can use vacuum rather than gravity in order to drink its content. When the technique is mastered a child can drink while the bottle hangs from its mouth, drinking as an afterthought with two hands free to entertain other activities.

The picture shows a unique symbiosis between two sisters, a yet-to-be-classified evolutionary adaptation to the socializing-while-feeding possibilities created by the introduction of the ‘milk dispenser’. The two girls have developed a mutually beneficial ‘lend limb’ program. The older one enjoys the comfort of a ‘thumb’ which is not her own while she suckles on her bottle. This is a dependency she developed when she was nursing from her mother. This was a way of clutching on with more than just her mouth; a reminiscent form of clinging which has faded away in humans but is so common farther back in our evolutionary chain. When the time came the bottle substituted the mother, but she was forever destined to forage for a thumb whenever she wanted to make the most of the divinity of the nursing experience.

The younger one, seeing the downside of thumb foraging, did not develop an extra-bodily dependency. Since the dawn of her existence she decided to keep things ‘close to home’ and avoid anything which even remotely resembles foraging and gathering. She has therefore relied on her own belly button for a complementary soothing purpose. This approach made things easier for her given that her belly button was always with her. Anything else she needed she could make happen with a shriek.

When they drink together as they are doing in the picture they have two mouths to feed and four hands to work with. Two hands have to be allocated to satisfy the ‘thumb’ needs of the older one, leaving each with one free hand. Since the younger one needs her hand for her belly button, she has no hands left to adjust her own milk bottle; hence the older one lends her remaining hand for the job, since it is she who needs the younger one’s other hand for its precious thumb. She is old enough to hold on to a bottle with no hands, thus they achieve a perfect harmony. Once the mathematics of adding and subtracting limbs from each other is done, the girls can enjoy their mutual company and interact with their environment as they see fit. In this case they are enjoying a post-bathing-pre-bedtime drink in the living room in front of the television.

The picture shows that the older girl has mastered the technique of holding the milk dispenser with her mouth. The younger one is still learning. The older girl’s mastery is made evident by her body posture. She is seated in a more comfortable position. Her body is turned sideways facing the television, her left side prepped against the back of the sofa and her knees tucked backwards for comfort and support. Her younger sister cannot face the television because such a posture would deprive her older sister of free access to her mouth. She is seated in a sprawled position typical of youngsters who are ‘clinically asleep’[1]with her body facing the camera. Her head is turned as far left as it can go without losing the nipple. Her eyes are looking further to her left towards the television. She can get to see some of the program thanks to the flexibility of her neck, the softness of the rubber nipple and the range of her angular vision. The television program is just a backdrop for their shared experience. They have each other and that’s all that matters.

As you can see – sometimes it is the picture that deserves a thousand words.


[1]The term ‘clinically asleep’ was coined by my friend Koby Hubberman many years ago as we were sharing experiences of young parents.

A Man’s House is his Castle

I have had quite some time to contemplate the empty house these past few days. During this time I have reflected on the obvious, the almost-obvious, the somewhat-obscure and the completely-incomprehensible. As I was sorting through these reflections I came to realize that there are things which we take for granted even though their existence relies on a very delicate balance between forces that could tear them down should the balance be disrupted. I know that this sounds like pseudo-intellectual crap about self awareness, inner meaning and purpose, so let me put your mind at ease. I have come to realize basic, tangible, physical truths which are as sound and concrete as bricks.

Just to give you a taste of what is coming I’ll give one simple example which illustrates how seemingly deep reasoning can be replaced by logic which is simpler than yesterday’s news. Remember the quote ‘A man without a dream is like a fish without a bicycle’ which appeared about thirty years ago in one of the ‘MAD’ publications? Even since I was a young, shy, insecure and inquisitive child I have admired the sophistication of this statement which meant absolutely nothing to me. Most people would have simply waived it aside as a mediocre joke and moved on with their lives not me. It hounded me for years. How could something so deep be put in such simple terms? Mind you, this was not like ‘Life is like a bowl of cherries’ which we all know meant absolutely nothing. This was something about the relationships between man, fish and bicycles.

Well, I finally figured out where what it means. It occurred to me when I was staring at Osmo’s smashed bicycle, which is lying peacefully outside the house waiting for a grandiose replacement. Here’s what it really stands for:

–         A man’s (dream) house is his castle.

–         A man keeps bicycles outside his dream house (just to keep it clean and pretty).

–         A man can put fish in his dream house (to make it pretty).

–         If the man does not have a dream house then he has no where to put the fish.

–         If he has no where to put the fish then the fish cannot have a bicycle.

–         A man without a dream (house) implies that (his) fish don’t have bicycles.

–         Therefore a man without a dream is by definition like a fish without a bicycle.

It’s all so beautifully simple. So what does all this have to do with anything? The connection with reality comes from contemplating the complementary statement: ‘Is a man with a dream like a fish with a bicycle’? There is no definitive answer to this question so I will leave it alone. However it seems somewhat obvious that: ‘A man with a house is like a fish in the sea’ That one is pretty straight forward. Or is it? If you take a fish and drop it in the sea will it feel at home? Somehow we tend to think that this is the case. No fish has ever attested to the contrary. However we know that most of us would only feel comfortable in our home-sweet-homes, which gets you to think about what makes a house unique?

The more I thought about what makes a house unique the more I began to realize that the uniqueness which makes it ours could also cause it to crumble in the hands of others. At first this seemed like a philosophical point which lacks practical implications. After all when would it be that our house would be in the hands of others? The thought seems to go against the very definition of the house being one’s castle. This was true before people realized how much fun it was ‘to trade houses for the summer’ Indeed what a friendly, financially sound, mutually beneficial concept where two parties agree to swap their residences for an agreed upon period of time. An invention of the all-too-fast moving jet age which distributes S.A.R.S. to all and puts one’s very own home in the hands of people from far away lands.

Given all the time and the empty rooms I could possible (not) want I began to contemplate what it would mean to our house to be in the hands of people who were not intimately familiar with it. The more I thought about it the more I came to realize that unless I documented the special attributes of our house-sweet-house, it could very well be that all we would find when we come back are bicycles without fish. After all when you give someone your car it has an owner’s manual in the glove compartment. When you lend a camera you provide the user with oral instruction accompanied with the ‘instructions in the TIK’ So why is it that when you pass your entire HOUSE into the hands of strangers you do so with only as much as a key? Shouldn’t there be a little more to go on? Is it all that obvious how to use, operate, trouble shoot and protect everything which we have build, gathered, bought or received over the years? Not likely. Just like every appliance which has a ‘quick start’ guide and a complete ‘owner manual’, a house should have one as well. At least the ‘quick start’ guide should be passed along with the keys to the castle in all cases where strangers will have sole access to the properly for more than a few minutes.

Once you thing about it, its not that hard to write a short, yet definitive quick start guide which describes how to live in the house you live in when you are not living in it. The quick start guide to every house needs to include those things which have a high probability of drawing attention and could trigger wrong responses from an uneducated tenant. In order to figure out what these things are all one needs to do is list the bare necessities of life in descending order of precedence. For each item on the list one should review whether or not the house provides the item in a manner which is either identical or closely resembles the way it is provided in the majority of other houses. The larger the discrepancy the more there room for concern and a need to provide special instructions in order to avoid disaster.

I came up with the following prioritized list of the life sustaining factors in a house:

1)      Air

2)      Water

3)      Food

4)      Shelter from the elements and place to rest

5)      Clean and dry clothing

6)      Means of communication

7)      Entertainment

I figured if we have these covered there is a very high probability that we would get our house back very much like we left it. As I began to review these items I was quite amazed to realize how unique our house is in these aspects.

Let’s start with the ‘Air’. What could one possible have to say about air? It’s the oxygen that one really cares about and our air is just like everybody else’s it’s got the 20% or so of oxygen and the rest doesn’t matter. You want more air? Open a window. What else is there? It’s what could be hiding in those remaining 80% that you need to worry about. Every few days the smell of the burnt chicken spreads through the house and a light cloud of smoke begins to form along the ceilings. After a while the smoke dissipates, and if there is a lot of it, we open a window. To us, the legal owners this has ceased to be an issue for concern. However to a newcomer this could seem like the attic was on fire. Not knowing where the attic is (how could they, they have no manual), an alarmed co-resident could, go forbid, call the fire department which in turn would be on site within minutes well before the smoke and smells could dissipate. If this happens at night the first thing they would do is disconnect the electricity to avoid a worse hazard as they begin to spray the whole place with water. Now if we are lucky, they would search for a fire with their flash lights, find nothing, and leave after turning the lights back on. Supposedly no harm done, just a bad scare. If they do turn their hoses loose I hope Ilana’s statue gets to go first. But would that be reason enough to lose the piano, and the books? On the bright side, all the frames which were washed from the sea would get another drenching which would only add to their authenticity

Note that this always happens when its dark outside and the lights are on. Why? Because this is when the mosquitoes and the moths land on the halogen lamps and begin to fry, starting gentle plumes of smoke going for a few hours, very much like a Buddhist temple with incest burning. Only thing is that us Jews don’t burn incest in our temples, we burn insects in our house. So the first thing to keep in mind is that when smelling smoke the first thing to do is look at the halogen lamps. There is one in the living room and one in the family room. It really doesn’t matter which is which, they both have halogen lamps in them, exactly for that reason. If the smoke is coming from either all is well. This is the tradition at our house, and for all you know it’s the same thing in yours. There is one more thing to be aware of the fire alarm. If you neglect to open a window the smoke will spread through the dining area toward the hall way leading to the bedrooms. This is where the shit hits the fan because it will wake the smoke alarm. When the smoke alarm goes off it is too late to open a window. What you need to do is grab a pillow and smother the smoke alarm with it. By doing so you will block the smoke and the detector will be at piece with itself again. If you have smothered the smoke detector and the noise has not stopped. not even diminished then you have smothered the CO2 detector which is the rectangular box the smoke detector is round. Once the noise is gone you can send someone to open a window while you stay with the pillow attached to the smoke detector. If you are alone in the house when this happens you have no choice but to remove the battery from the smoke detector and then open the windows. When the smoke clears return the battery to its place.

All of the above is true if the lights are on. If the lights are off and you smell smoke you have a good reason to panic Do what you momma taught you when you were a kid get the hell out of the house first, preferably with a cell phone and call 911. If the smell of smoke is worse on the outside then it’s the neighbor’s house that is burning. Do what your momma taught you make sure your house is safe and then enjoy the show

If the air is fresh and one is breathing freely there is good reason to assume that ever so often the residents would need to quench their thirst, wash their hand or face or use running water for one of the many other important reasons people use water. Normally there would be nothing worth mentioning about this. However in our house there is one faucet which needs to be closed in order to open it, and opened in order to close it. This happens to be one of the most used faucets in the house the cold water faucet in the kids’ bathroom. I call it the ‘kids’ because that’s what it is to us. It could very well be that some other family would choose to use it differently. Be our guests, but the faucet is still reversed. The faucet is reversed because I didn’t ask questions when I purchased the faucet stub (they are all identical right?…) at Orchard Supply. I did not un-reverse the error because that would require that the main water supply to the house be shut down. It would require that the main water supply to the house be shut down because the knob which turns off the water supply to the specific faucet (which is under the sink) is stuck. It’s stuck because it’s old. It’s old because it hasn’t been replaced in ages. It hasn’t been replaced in ages because replacing it would require that the water supply to the house be shut down, and you do not want to shut down the water supply to the house. Ask why. Why? Because the main valve is leaky and the next time you tinker with it could be its last The fact that it leaks is not a big deal as it’s situated right over the flower bed in the front, so a few extra drops of water cause no harm. The fact that it could break is a much bigger concern. It can break when its closed in which case there would be no water in the house, or it could break when its open, in which case the house and the neighborhood would have a lot of water. The latter is a plumber’s wet dream, second only to the overflowing toilet hallucination. Hopefully you can manage with the reversed faucet and we don’t have to get there.

Speaking of flower beds, they too need water and there is a high-tech recoiling hose connected to the faucet right above the main valve. The hose has one of these water gun at one end which means that the water is ALWAYS ON well I guess you found that our already not too bad during the summer. Still you want to be careful, I washed a hanging rose right out of its flower pot with the pressured water spout that comes out of that thing. I guess the fact that I remembered to water the poor rose after three days meant that it had some dry roots to begin with. So while we are at it, remember the poor rose which is hanging just above your head outside the kitchen window. You can actually take it down and place it in the flower beds until we get back. You might question why one would hang roses? Don’t!

There is an automatic sprinkler system which takes care of watering the yard, front and back. The only thing you want to know about the system is that you do not want to mess with it. There are two symptoms which need concern you. One is that the system starts the sprinklers at a bad time say 14:00 when there is nothing but many degrease outside. This is caused by an unsynchronized sprinkler controller clock. The clock became unsynchronized when the firemen which you called earlier disconnected the power. The battery in the sprinkler control box was missing, dead or weak. As a result the clock picked up some random time when the power was restored. Simply replace the battery and reset the system clock. Replacing the battery is easy. Resetting the clock requires that you read the manual which we keep in the control box for these reasons. Once you have reset the clock you can watch out for the first symptom or the second symptom the garden withers and dies Death means that the clock is moving but the system is somehow in manual mode; therefore the garden is not being watered. Since plants cannot open the water for themselves regardless of which way the faucet turns they will die after a few days without water. Chances are that all this will happen after you reset the clock and go away for a week This is one of these examples where a minor disturbance of the balance could ripples through the ecosystem with disastrous results. A simple misinterpretation of the meaning of mosquitoes frying and the garden dies!!!

Moving right along, hoping for the best; if the air is clear and the water is running, nature will follow its course and will make you hungry a few times (two to six on average) a day. Food excluding rice is perishable which means that if you eat something else and ignore it for prolonged periods of time it dies, and then if you eat it you can hurt yourself. To keep food from dying we store it in cold temperatures which can be found in one of two refrigerators. One is in the kitchen and the other is in what can be referred to as the ‘garage’. It’s not a garage anymore, but the term tells you where to look for it. The refrigerator in the kitchen behaves very much like any other refrigerator. There is only one thing you need to know about it: it makes ice, it makes noises while its making ice and it makes ice in the wee hours of the night

The scenario is most likely something like this: just when the house is finally quite. And you and your beloved spouse of many years can have some quality minutes (before the baby wakes up) an ominous rumbling sound disturbs the silence of the house. If you do not have a dog in the family room your first thoughts would most likely be that someone had opened the (heavy) patio glass door. The reason I mention the dog is because a dog would bark in such a case, in absence of the barks you can conclude that the noise is from within and not worry too much. In absence the dog you cannot come to that conclusion. You can if you are a fool. In cases that no one was there its all the same, however let me finish my though here. So, no dog, no bark, sound of door moving what do you do? If you call 911 again (That’s the second time this letter) you stand to make a complete fool of yourself and this time you would probably have to pay their expenses. However you can listen to the sounds of the night. If you hear the opossums rustling through the bushes and chewing happily on the fruits below the trees, chances are that there is no one there. If you cannot hear the opossums, wait to hear the kitchen floor creaking. The floor was made by a contractor who probably worked for a home security company it creaks when a nickel drops on it. If the kitchen floor creeks there is someone there. If not, the rumbling which started all this discussion was the refrigerator making ice.

Assuming that you will somehow resolve the ice making vs. home intrusion dilemma one way or another we can move on the second refrigerator. If you need it you might have to plug it in. You will be able to tell if it’s plugged in or not by looking at its cord. However if it is plugged in you will not be able to tell whether the refrigerator is working simply by checking the light when you open the door. Most people don’t know this but many lights do not work in the second refrigerator. This is because the lamp is often taken to replace the lamp in the first refrigerator when the latter burns out. Following the same logic a burned out lamp in the second refrigerator has a much smaller chance of ever being fixed when it burns out. The second refrigerator is more often than not a reliable work horse. If it’s plugged in it works. You can test it with ice-cream. It’s a cheap and fart test.

With the perishable items in the refrigerators, the power on, the water running water and the air free of smoke, all you still need is clean, dry clothes and a bed to rest your body from the toils of what is sure to be a hectic vacation day. You will find the washer and the drier right by the second refrigerator. The washer is an old buzzard that will drop dead at any moment, however it’s very much like these 200 year old people; they are never very sick but they are not top performers either. All it can do is one wash plan, and you can do it with cold or warm water. It’s really very simple turn the knob and pull it towards you and let the poor machine do its thing. The drier is the exact opposite its one of these state of the art hot air machines which really doesn’t need any sophisticated gadgets, and yet it has an infinite amount of drying options. There are two things you need to know about it. First there is that nickel (which makes the kitchen floor creek) which somehow gets into every drying cycle and creates the repetitive ‘click’, one for each turn of the drum. There is nothing you can do about this, even if you take the nickel out, it always gets back in. The second feature which should concern you is the fog horn. The fog horn goes off whenever the drier is done. Did you ever ask yourself why the drier uses a fog horn when every other device in the house simply finishes its job quietly? Clearly the engineers who put it in asked themselves the same question and added a button which allows you to disable the fog horn. Failing to do so will wake you and the baby with a noise which is second only to the fire engine you called the beginning of this letter. To the drier’s credit I will say that it is very honest. It is indeed done when it sounds the horn and you are welcome to iron your clean clothes or wear them as is.

All life sustaining necessities provided for, you are most likely to begin telling friends how quickly and how well you have settled into your new dwelling and have begun to enjoy its amenities to the fullest. Given that you want to brag I suggest that you at least get the facts straight about the entertainment options open to you before you begin to communicate. This being said I will briefly introduce item 7 before elaborating on 6.

There are four computers in the house and they are all connected to the internet using ‘cable modem’ which is pretty darn fast. There is a TV in every room; however the number of available channels is divided by 4 as you move from room to room. The TV in the family room has 128 channels, the one in our bedroom has 32, the boy’s room has 8 and Tal’s room has 2 There are two DVD players, two pianos, one play station, two CD players and many books (how did books happen?). The art of activating any one of these devices is not trivial however since these are not life sustaining, you can simply call us and ask if you are having problems; which leads us back to the communications issue.

You have all you need and it’s for free but what fun is any of it if you cannot tell your friend how you caught ‘Elohim Babeitzim’? For this you need a telephone. You could use your own, but that would cost you money There are seven phones in the house and an eight attached to a fax machine. The interesting thing about the real phones is that half of them use one number and the others use another. This means that when a phone rings you have no idea which phone is ringing The problem was solved by technology many years ago when they invented the two-line phone; however this was too late for our house each phone is connected to one line. To deal with this primitive setup you will have to create a mental map of the phones in your head. When you hear a ring you will have to go through the following process: you can pick up the phone in any one of the bedrooms if it’s ringing they all have only one (working) phone so you cannot be wrong. If you happen to be in the family room or dining area and the phone is ringing there are only four phones to pick from, three of which share the same number and one (the fax) which does not. You have two options the first is to pick up any one of them there is over a 75% probability that you will pick up the right one. The second is to run into one of the bed rooms and hope that its one where the phone is ringing The main line is connected in two rooms and the fax line in the other two so you have a 50% chance of being wrong However if you are fast you can make it to the right room in time you just need to know which room is right if the room you are in is wrong. The phones are conveniently set up so that the right room is always immediately adjacent to the wrong room if you do not count the boy’s room.

The boys’ room presents additional difficulties. Over the years the boys have accumulated snazzy phones. Each phone appealed to them for a period of time, only to be replaced when the next great looking phone was available to the consumer child. Children do not part with technology, so rather than removing the old to introduce the new, the old phones remained in the room. Right now that room has four phones standing in all kinds of places and only one of them is really connected To this day I don’t know where the phone in that room is. When I need to answer that phone that rings in the boys’ room I run to our bedroom. If you avoid the boys’ room when the phone rings you should be able to answer it after a few attempts

This pretty much wraps up the ‘quick start’ guide except for one last thing which I left out, but it has to be mentioned, because all of the above has been for naught should you not understand the following set of instructions.

When you want to turn on the lights in the house as it begins to get dark in the evening, you will find that for the most part it is very straight forward. Most of the rooms have a switch which turns the light on and off. This is most likely what you have been grown accustomed too having been born in the later half of the twentieth century. �This is true for all the rooms except the dining area. The dining area has four light switches which are found on both ends of its diagonal which stretches from the bathroom corner to the corner next to the door to what used to be the garage. I will first identify the switches for you and then describe how they relate to each other. I will begin with the switches next to the garage door; we will call them G-left for the left one and G-Right for the right one. Applying the same logic to the two switches next to the bathroom we have B-Left and B-right.

G-right is a simple switch with turns on the moth-griller or the halogen light in the family room. G-Left is a bit trickier. It is the inverse of a master switch for B-Left. If it is off and B-Left is on the light in the dining area comes on. This light is comprised of three conical halogen lamps which at the time were very pretty but now then look like hallow bat carcasses (this however its totally beside the point). B-Left in an inverted switch for the dining area if G-Left is off, other wise it does nothing. The best way for beginners to turn on the light in the dining area is to use two people one by G-Left and one by B-Left. Then all they have to do is go through the four possible switch combinations. If they remember that the lights should be off, they will turn them on with their first attempt. However if they choose to defy this logic chances are that they will have to try a little harder.

This leaves only the G-Right switch. On the face of it this switch does absolutely nothing. No mater which position it’s in no light comes on or shuts down. However don’t let this behavior mislead you. G-Right is the most important control apparatus in the house; it is the FENG CHUI switch.

Normally your good fortune is assured by the countless ‘Hamsehs’ hanging by the entrance and the Kosher mezuzot attached to every door sill. However knowing the mood swings of Jehova Gallia took the house another step and had it Feng Chui certified. Between our Jewish god almighty and the Chi there is no reason why any harm should befall you as you share our residence if you can figure out what the ‘on’ position of the Feng Chui switch is. Unfortunately it is not clear and seems to vary from family to family. All I can recommend is that ff too many things go wrong, the moths don’t burn, the garden dies, the washer breaks down or the phones don’t ring, simply reverse the position of B-Right and see if things improve.

Enjoy your stay.

 

Daniel’s Bar Mitzvah Reception דניאל בר מצווה

Sibling’s Words to Daniel
Parent’s Words to Daniel
סיור בירושלים בעקבות הפורמנים ועליה לתורה בכותל

Siblings Words to Daniel

Full media coverage

אוסמו בר-מצווה

ביום זה בו אנו חוגגים לך בר-מצווה

נדבוק במסורת וננצל את ההזדמנות לומר כמה מילות ברכה.

אני חייבת להתוודות, כאשר שמעתי את הבשורות הטובות

נשאלתי אם אני רוצה אח או אחות.

מייד עניתי כי אחות קטנה היא העדיפות הראשונה.

ואז אבא שאל: את בטוחה שאת רוצה אחות?

אחרי מה שקרה לך עם זאת?

ומאותו רגע דעתי השתנתה-החלטתי שצריך לגוון

כולנו קיווינו שיצטרף למשפחתנו עוד בן.

ב-3/2/91 (את תאריך זה חשוב לציין כיוון שאנו חוגגים קצת באיחור)

נולד דניאל- ומפה בעצם מתחיל הסיפור…

פתעום הגיע הביתה ילד בהיר עם עיניים כחולות

שכלל לא הזכיר את אחיותיו הבכורות .

טין טין יכול להוסיף ולומר כי בכל קיטנה שהלכו השניים

אף לא אחד האמין שהם אחים בהבדל של שנתיים.

מייד עלה הנושא של שם החיבה (שיש לכל בן משפחה).

אף אחד לא זוכר מתי ואיך זה קרה

אך למרות כל הניסיונות של המיקים לקרוא לו “דני”-השם אוסמו נקבע.

אפילו השדרוג של אלדד “אוסמו לוי מרדונה” נדחה. סליחה.

אני הייתי צריכה להתרגל לא להיות הקטנה במשפחה

משימה זו הייתה כלל לא פשוטה

עם חוקי ה-shit cycle התמודדת בצורה לא רעה.

בניגוד אליי-הקריזיונרית הידועה

אתה נולדת מלא רגיעה.

להוציא משפט לקח שבוע…

אמא…אבא…חוצה…סומה…

וכמה שניסיתי להציק, לעצבן ולמשוך תשומת לב קצת אליי,

נגד ילד שנראה כמו מלאך הסיכויים היו קלושים מידי.

הלוואי והייתי מקבלת טיפה מהרוגע שלך

בזמנים שכולנו מתוחים כמו קפיץ,

(לקהל) הילד פשוט הוא בלתי לחיץ.

באמצע רסיטל כשידינו רועדות,

תוך כדי נגינה הוא מחפש ציפורים בתיקרות.

בגיל-4 עצרת באמצע משחק כדורגל

ניגשת אל הכוון עם הדגל,

הצבעת על איזו אישה דשנה:

“אמא תראי איזו שמנה!”

אוסמו, אתה ילד רגיש ובוגר

רק תחשוב עוד דקה על מה שאתה אומר.

אוסמו-יש לך כישורי הישרדות טובים משלנו,

כשאמא איננה אתה מציל את כולנו.

גם אם אבא ישנו אין למה לצפות

אתה מבשל, מכבס ויודע לנקות.

אך את הסודות האלו אתה בוחר “להחשיך”,

כשאמא חוזרת הנופש ממשיך.

כשאמא בבית מבשלת דברים

זיכרונכך המופלא יצילם מאודים.

תאי מוחך זוכרים כמו מחשב

מתי להוציא ומתי לערבב.

מתי להמליח, מתי להרתיח,

מתי לכבות שלא יהיה פיח.

אתה זוכר אתרים, חוויות ותמונות,

מסיבות, טיולים ובעיקר הבטחות.

מתי תשחרר את תאי המוחות

שיודעים לקטלג גם מחויבויות אישיות?

אך יש דברים שאתה וודאי לא זוכר אז תרשה לי לספר…

כשאמא סיפרה אותך בפעם הראשונה

ותלתליך היפים נפלו לרצפה,

יצאתי החוצה ובכיתי שעה.

ברגע הפכת מתינוק לילד רגיל,

שנתיים אחרי זה כבר היית מציל.

כשאחיך טייל בקרקעית הבריכה,

שלפת אותו בלי שכר בשבילך.

והכי חשוב שלא תשכח את ההסכם שיש לי איתך

שאתה בוחר לי את החתן ואני צריכה לאשר לך את כלתך.

אני היחיד בעולם שיכול לדבר כאח קטן לאח בכור.

Ani hayachid ba-olam she yachol ledaber ke ach katan le ach bechor

ויש לי פה כמה עניינים לסגור…

Ve yesh po kama inyanim she ani rotse lisgor

לא כל ילד יכול לגדול עם חבר צמוד

Lo kol yeled yachol ligdol im chaver tsamud

שתמיד לכדורגל, כדורסל, או הוקי יש בן-זוג.

She tamid le kaduregel, kadursal, ve hockey yesh ben zoog.

אפילו בלילה אחרי שכולם חושבים שאנחנו ישנים,

Afiloo ba lila acharay she kulam choshvim she anachnu yeshenim,

אנחנו ממשיכים לשוחח ולהחליף סיפורים.

Anachnu mamshichim lesocheach ve lehachlif sipurim

ואת הדברים שאי-אפשר להוציא ממני לא עם ממתקים ולא בדיגדוגים

Ve et ha dvarim she ee-efshar lehotzi mimeni lo im mamtakim ve lo be digdugim

אותך אני משתף בכל העידכונים.

Otcha ani meshatef be chol ha idkunim

אמא אומרת שיש לך “עיני נץ”-אין לי ברירה אני חייב לתקן

Ima omeret she ish lecha “enai netz”- en li brera ani chayav letaken

הראייה שלך טובה-זה כן

Ha re-iya shelcha tova- ze ken

אך למזלי יש דברים שאתה בוחר לא לראות 

Ach lemazali, yesh dvarim she ata bocher lo lir’ot

למשל- מה שהכלבה משאירה על הדשא כשאנחנו צריכים לנקות

lemashal ma she hakalba mashira al ha desheh k’she anachanu tsrichim lenakot

אתה מהווה בשבילי דוגמא.

Ata mehaveh bishvili doogma

בגיטרה התחלתי לנגן בזכותך…תודה!

Be gitara hetchalti lenagen bezchutcha toda!

 

אוסמו אתה ילד של סליחה, תודה, ובבקשה

כל כך נדיר למצוא בעולם ובמיוחד בגילך.

חבריך נוהרים אחריך בעיניים עצומות

בצופים תמיד אתה סידרת את קבוצתך בשלשות.

אתה יודע מה נכון ומה לא צודק,

את הילד החלש תמיד תחזק.

יש לך כישרון ויכולות עד לשמיים

לכן צריך לעבוד ולהשקיע כפליים.

העקשנות היא תכונה מאוד חיובית,

כשהיא משפרת איכות סביבתית.

חבל לבזבז שמיעה אבסולוטית

בהאזנה לנהמות של תרבות הוטנטותית.

תן צ’אנס למוצארט, לבאך ואפילו שופן,

את בטהובן ושומאן גם כדי לנגן.

אוסמו’לה עוד כמה בושות ואנחנו גומרות

סלחנו לך את כל הצרחות

שהשמעת בלול באותם הלילות

שלולך ניצב אצלנו בחדר

כי אמא חשבה שככה בסדר.

אנחנו סולחות אך לעולם לא נשכך

איך את Beverly hills ביעסת כל כך.

בגידות ושנאות אהבות ללא גבול

וכל עניינך בצואה בחיתול.

צרחת, בכית, החרשת אוזניים,

בלי לשים לב שאבא של דילן מת בינתיים.

בחטיבת הביניים בחרת בדרך אישית,

במקום צרפתית התחלת ללמוד ספרדית.

את כבוד המשפחה בכל זאת שמרת

כשלהרכב של ה-jazz המבוקש התקבלת.

ובאחריות שיש רק לאחיות בוגרות

נמשיך לנתק לחברותיך את השיחות.

” “Hi! Is Daniel home?

Click!!!

חברותיך לבטח ימצאו נחמה,

שגם טל עוזבת את החממה.

 אוסמו-אתה אח למופת, שדואג, תומך ואוהב. תמיד נוכל לסמוך עליך ולדעת שתרוץ לעזור אם נצטרך. מזל טוב אוסמו’לה

we love you mucho

 

Flying with American Airlines

You don’t expect much from the airlines these days. All you really want is to get wherever you are going with dignity. At one end of the spectrum you find some airlines which have really ‘sucked it up’ and do just that with Spartan no frills deals: you get a seat and the plane flies. You don’t feel cheated and you walk away with your ego intact. On the other end of the spectrum there are airlines that have chosen to share the process of ‘sucking it up’ with their passengers. While the end result will be the same – you will eventually fly with no food or drink or leg room or head rest or blanket or pillow or head set – you have to go through a prolonged period of seeing all these amenities gradually disappear. I experienced this latter interesting economical phenomenon recently which affected me deeply so much so that I feel compelled to share it. To make my long story short I will confine it to anything that happened either on the plane or very close to it. It all happened on a round trip flight from San Francisco to Boston.

As we approached the end of the jet way on our way to board, I noticed that the jet way’s tarpaulin roof was open allowing for a broadside view of the plane glistening in the early afternoon sun. I took this opportunity to perform a quick scan of the fuselage for cracks. As far as I could make out this particular side of the plane was intact. The fact that American Airlines does not paint their planes makes them easier to inspect. The shining metal also reflected a significant percentage of the solar energy hitting the plane, so they did not have to turn on air conditioning. You could feel the heat wave the minute you stepped on to the plane. It wasn’t the kind of temperature change that makes you fully aware that something is wrong, but it registers never the less. What did concern me was the fact that the pilot left the plane as I was boarding it. ‘Isn’t that the driver who just left?’ I asked the guard-dog stewardess who stood to greet everyone with a smile glued to her face. At first she had trouble understanding that someone had actually acknowledged her existence. When she managed to pull herself together she dismantled the annoying smile and said ‘He’ll be back.’ Wasn’t that someone else’s line? Why would the pilot leave? Still not too concerned, knowing that as long as we were on the ground the worst that could happen is that we would remain there I shuffled along to my seat in the ‘cattle’ class behind the sheep in front of me.

It is interesting how many names they have for the class that everyone flies but nobody wants to be in. They used to call it ‘coach’ but that went out with the railroads. Then it was ‘economy’ which also went down the tubes. Then there was ‘world traveler’ which was awfully confusing to those that only flew domestic. Finally they settled on the ‘rear of the aircraft’ which is kind of open ended, but my experience shows that it included all but the pilot’s row and two or three rows immediately adjacent to the cockpit. Personally I would prefer if they called it for what it is: the ‘mind your own business’ class or the ‘fly with no class’ class.

As you make your way down the isle it strikes you that the plane is full of people in spite of the fact that boarding is done in ‘groups’ these days. This is a new measure which significantly increases our security for reasons which are known only to those in charge of our security. I am sure that I don’t get it. I expect that groups arrange seating according to rows so that the plane is filled from front to back or visa versa. I can only guess that this is what they want you to think. The real meaning of the groups is quite different. Group ‘one’ has the good seats, that’s why they board with the first class so nobody notices that group one is always empty. Group ‘two’ is the one that gets pillows and blankets. Group ‘three’ has working power outlets. Groups ‘four’ is the cutoff group they get nothing. Group ‘five’ exists just to appease the masses of group ‘four.’

Based on my ‘group four’ membership I was assigned my usual ‘wing-side’ seat with the ‘fully-obstructed’ view. I always feel sorry for people flying in these seats for the first time desperately trying to find a body angle that allows them to get a glimpse of the outside world. Don’t you think it’s cynical that they even have a window next to these seats? I guess they left it there for star gazers and for the rare cases when the plane is flying upside down. In those rare cases the wing side seats become the best viewing platforms of the unraveling catastrophe. Not only do you get your view back, you get it with the flaming wing as a visor.

As basic fairness would have it, you would expect to be compensated for the restricted view with some extra leg room: ‘If I can’t see a damn thing I might as well stretch out and doze off”. Hah! Gotcha! You are not flying Jet Blue or South West that put exit rows over the wings. American Airlines has older planes where the exit rows are where the wings are not! ‘This is for your own security; the wing could be on fire when we leave the aircraft.’

Not having a pilot on the plane forced the crew to make routine excuses to keep the cattle from tearing up the pen. They use a recording of a man’s voice in these cases to bestow a technical aura on the problem: ‘we are in the process of wrapping up a routine maintenance procedure.’ ‘Yeah, yeah, just tell me the first baloney time estimate and let’s get on with the wait.’ ‘We should be done in five minutes.’ It didn’t seem likely that they would find another pilot so fast. Indeed, ten minutes later, when they could stall no longer the recording apologized: ‘It seems that the technical difficulty which we were experiencing.’ ‘You did not say technical difficulty in the first recording.’ ‘will require at least fifteen minutes…’ ‘Why don’t you just tell me that it will take at least half an hour to find a sober pilot?’ The recording machine must have heard the sound of opening seatbelts from the cattle pen because it quickly continued: ‘please remain (calm) in your seats’ and then as if we didn’t know that they had no clue how long this would take: ‘we will keep you informed.’ Think positive: ‘our meeting is in forty eight hours take your time’.

When things changed for the better they put on the cheery woman voice recording: ‘Good morning and welcome to our non-stop flight with [non-start] service from San Francisco’ ‘I know where we are.’ ‘to Logan Airport in Boston Massachusetts.’ ‘Lady, we really don’t need the geography lesson’ forgetting that it was a recording. Think positive maybe someone is interested? When we were in the air the new pilot chimed in and gave us all the crucial flight plan information in case he too would have to leave: ‘we will be cruising at thirty four thousand feet, ground speed… expected arrival time…’ Armed with all the necessary information I could sit back and plan the financial transactions I would have to perform during the flight.

You see, American Airlines cannot afford to feed you or entertain you. You need to bring your own change of clothes in your carry on luggage. There is running water in the lavatories ‘located for your convenience (so they only foul up the air) in the rear of the cabin (pen)’ and you are welcome to buy your food from the airline. ‘We have a choice of a ‘wrap’ or a ‘box’. The wrap went for five dollars and the box for three. The airborne financial advisor reminded the passengers that we also needed five dollars for headsets in case we did not keep the ones we purchased the last time we flew American. Confused with all the purchasing options I bought a wrap but forgot about the headset.

The wrap was cold and red which is not the right color for a wrap. I believe the airline knows that the color was problematic, so the wrap is served cut diagonally in half exposing as much of the ingredients as possible without having the wrap fall to pieces. Two red cylindrical containers with turkey and what used to be canned vegetables did not seem too appealing in the early stages of the flight, so I opted to store the goods under the seat until it was both later and darker.

Without a headset I was reduced to ‘observing’ the movie ‘Lake Six’ which is the bottom half of ‘Oceans Twelve’. I could only see the bottom half of the movie because the wing-side seat’s view of the monitors is obstructed by the ‘overhead compartments’ where one’s luggage is stowed ‘with one bag under the seat in front of you.’ As positive as I tried to be about the upside in all of this it did not amount to much. I was cramped with no leg room, and what I had left was hogged by my laptop which I could not use because group four does not have power outlets. The laptop should have been in the overhead bin but that was too small to contain it. However it was big enough to obstruct my view. I would have been able to get a somewhat better view if I could slide further down my seat but for that I needed legroom which was occupied by the laptop which I looked out the window at the wing which was not on fire and felt much better.

After the movie it was dark enough in and out of the plane to eat the chemically treated-to-last wrap. Of all the chemicals that they used I could identify iodine and salt with a high degree of certainty. They probably seed clouds with these wraps once their expiration date is overdue beyond all recognition. I ate it nevertheless knowing that there would be no food on the ground given our guaranteed late arrival.

As we were getting close to the airport the pilot was getting kind of cocky: ‘we will be on the ground in approximately seven or eight minutes.’ What is it with the airlines that they always have to use a redundant term in their sentences? If you approximate then you can just pick one number, we’ll figure it out. What really worried me though was the possibility that the pilot was not approximating he really did not know whether it’s seven or eight minutes. To put this in perspective for a plane that is moving four times faster than a car on a highway a difference of one minute means four miles. If you think you will land in seven minutes when you really need eight it means you will try to land at a height of fifteen hundred feet. I can tell you that you cannot land at that height believe me I tried. The good news is that the plane keeps going down and you get a second chance at landing. If on the other hand you need seven minutes to land but think you have a whole minute to spare then at the end of the seventh minute you will smash gloriously into the runway going one hundred miles faster than you should be. Think positive, we have a minute to spare. History proved me right.

On the flight back the pilot was so anal about time I knew everything would be all right: ‘our flying time to San Francisco’ ‘I know where I am going’ ‘will be approximately five hours and fifty nine minutes’ (I kid you not) ‘What is it with the English of air crews?’ Or was it the uncertainty regarding which one of the sixty seconds of that fifty ninth minute would be the one we touch down at? Maybe it is the one-dollar-and-ninety nine-cents pricing logic as it applies to time. It doesn’t work for pricing, it leaves you with many annoying pennies don’t do it to us with time. We have nothing to do with a minute dangling at the end of an hour we’ll waste it anyway keep it.

I had a whole row to myself so I decided to treat myself to a headset and the ‘box’. The ‘Box’ turned out to be a pack of eight beef-salami dice the size of quarters. They were wrapped in a people-tight plastic polymer used for bullet proof vests, The salami was accompanied by two bags of crackers in plural form thanks to the second cracker in each bag, two pieces of smoked cheese the kind that comes in a circular pack of eight but is then distributed evenly among four passengers, a bag of Oreos which like the crackers form a pair the minimal form of plurality, and a full sized bag of ‘Craizens’ which is a new way to brand cranberries which have seen better days.

I stared at the contents of my food trove contemplating my plan of attack. Clearly I would have to fight my way teeth-and-nails into these bags so it would be best to start the battle with the wrapping that was sure to present me with the most resistance. The wrapping of the salami was definitely the place to start. How else would they dare carry that foul meat around the world probably for months on end if it was not sealed as well as I suspected? Sure enough, the ‘tear here’ indicator tore ‘just there’ not coming anywhere near the context of the package. The next step was to try and pull apart the two sides of the package hoping that it would behave like a friendly bag of potato chips; to no avail. After a few attempts I could feel my fingers weakening and I still had the crackers and cheese to deal with. I found a knife in the ‘box’ but being a post nine-eleven plastic utensil – it disintegrated against the protective plastic sheet. I could feel the salami smiling at me the way a bird in its cage smiles at a cat. ‘I’ll have you yet’ I found myself thinking back at it which in the grand scheme of the humiliations I was going through was quite embarrassing in and of itself.

Unknown to the Salami, I had just left a hotel room which charged me for an Internet connection that did not work. As a way of getting even I took both the ‘thank you for staying with us’ plastic pens they provide you with so you can write paper letters since your Internet connection does not work. Surely I could sacrifice one of these to get at the Salami. The Salami stopped smiling when the pen came at it through the plastic. While the pen will never write again, its ball point smashed backwards into the ink cylinder, it had died an honorable death getting me within finger reach of the dubious fleshy product.

The salami at my mercy I turned my attention to the first bag of crackers. I should have waited a minute or two in order to gain better control of my muscles before attempting to open the wrapping of what turned out to be a very brittle product. The first pair of cracker disappeared in a cloud of dust between my trembling fingers, their final gasps reminding me to put my emotions aside as I went about opening my remaining bag of the only item that could be used to serve up the Salami without touching it. Well almost, you do need to assign a finger or two to make sure the Salami gets on the cracker. Pushing from the bottom end of the salami pack I prodded the eight pieces forward toward the opening the heroic pen had opened. The salami slices moved as one, determined to stay together to the end. Perhaps if they all made it into my mouth together some of them could make it to my throat without being chewed. Knowing that they cannot be digested when whole they would be reborn and live to see another passenger after the sewage recycling process was done a few weeks from now. I managed to split the group in half and with the aid of one cracker per batch did them in with no hope of resurrection.

Thinking positive I orchestrated a true Cinderella finish to my meal. After I was done with the meat cutlets I let them settle and prepared to dine on choice pickings from my platter of ‘fromage’. I nibbled at the one triangle I had selected from the identical twins that they were, pretending that there was more to it than just a piece of gummy milk product residue treated to last with chemicals similar to those used on the wrap. As I swallowed the last of my choicest cheese I waited for the imaginary waiter (myself) to bring me the chocolate dumplings (the bag of two Oreos). Filled with creams (sugar margarine) and topped with cherries (Craisens), .I washed it all down with fine ‘Port’ (Diet Coke diluted by too much ice which had long since melted) served in a crystal glass (the plastic dentures containers dentists use which the airlines serve liquids in). When the dinner was all done my dining hall turned back into the tray-table pumpkin that it was. I collected the remains of the wrappings along with the carcass of the pen and marched everything back to the galley. The stewardess eyed me suspiciously convinced that I was trying to steal a bag of pretzels like everyone else. Little did she know; how could I possibly covet a lowly product as a pretzel after the feast that I had just consumed.

We landed after exactly six hours and thirty minutes. The recording made no mention of the discrepancies between the expected and the actual time of arrival. However I think I heard the recording say ‘We know that you have a choice so why do you fly American?’

Evolution of Educating (or Daniel’s Bar Mitzvah Tales)

Full media coverage

Daniel was born a few weeks after Yeela’s spelling test. Very few families remember a spelling test that took place thirteen years prior. We remember because it was the first and last time that I ‘helped’ Yeela (or any one of the children) prepare for one. It all happened on an ordinary day. No one could have predicted the fallout of what was about to happen. Yeela was sitting in the kitchen, casually scanning the list of words for the next day’s test. She was getting ready to call it a day when I walked in. Being the concerned and responsible father that I asked her what she was doing. ‘Preparing for a spelling test’ she answered not suspecting a thing. ‘Why didn’t you write down the words?’ I asked. ‘I never do,’ she answered. ‘Well you should.’ The next day Yeela made her first and last mistake on a spelling test. It was the first mistake she ever made because I had ‘helped’. It was the last mistake because Imma took me aside, looked me in the eyes with a glare that had all the assertiveness of a mother protecting her offspring she said ‘Your genes are fine but your up-bringing sucked – therefore please do not intervene with the way I rear the children.’ ‘But I am their father,’ I attempted to protest. Imma produced the ‘Ktubah’, ‘Show me where it says that it is your responsibility to educate’.

And so it came to be; Daniel was born and I was to sit on the sidelines and watch him become a fine young man, without his original name, but a fine young man nevertheless. Like all our children Daniel lost his name for a nick name at a very young age. His nickname mutated from his initials. Daniel’s middle name is ‘Simon’ after half of his great grandfathers. Since two of them were named Simon his initials were actually DSSP, but that had no vowels so we nicknamed him ‘Osmo’. With the name behind us life was set to go. Over the years I would make the spelling test mistake over and over again, and Imma would be there to salvage the child time and time again. Imma let me have my way only when it was absolutely clear that no one would get hurt. The battle for the diapers was one of these rare examples.

‘For god’s sake – why do you change his diapers every two hours? Didn’t we go over this with the girls? You change a diaper when it is wet, not before that!’

‘This is a boy; he has a different anatomical structure.’ Ones sense of conviction is strong when it comes from the groin.

Imma was not impressed. ‘I am aware of the anatomical differences, any other ideas?’

‘Cooling is also a factor, that why the male reproductive organs are outside the body.’

‘The organs will do just fine covered with a diaper, its snowing outside!’

I threw out my trump card: ‘what do women know about crutch rot?’

‘That is does not affect baby boys who cannot walk.’

I just could not allow myself to be beaten on the issue. ‘Don’t you want grandchildren?’

Not much of an argument but Imma would let me have my way, a small price to pay to relieve the stress of a father with an overprotective attitude towards his new born son’s reproductive system. To me it was also an ego thing. How could I be a roll model to a child when my ego is in the pits? Knowing that, Imma allowed me to participate. Over the course of the next two years we would become Huggies gold members.

Fortunately nature does most things one step at a time so I could be kept in check without too much effort. With Daniel (and Tal and Amitai) weaning came before walking. In spite of my vested interest in early weaning (those used to be mine you know) I proudly sacrificed for the well being of the child. Learning to walk was an uneventful period. Given that Daniel was a third child, even I knew that you let gravity extract its toll of bruises. Leaning to speak caused a few flares ups over some casual grammatical mistakes that Daniel made, imitating the girls and referring to himself in female form (Hebrew is gender-sensitive).

‘Ima ani lo yehola.’ (I can’t)

‘Lo yahol, Osmo.’

‘Al tetaken oto!’ (don’t correct him)

‘But he is a boy. Remember the diapers? How come you let that pass?’

‘Because I knew this was coming…’

‘His hair is long, he speaks like a girl, and his pants are pink.’ I was genuinely concerned.

Imma switched to academics: ‘Don’t make me walk you through a child’s speech learning process again. The fact that he talks like he thinks he’s a she- doesn’t mean he thinks he’s a she. Our she’s know they are she’s and our he’s know they are he’s, and you have nothing to worry about!’ I was outmatched. I would try to find comfort in the fact that English treated sexes equally, but then so did the people in the Bay Area.

Third child or not, diaper training caught me completely unprepared, while Imma knew exactly what she was doing:

‘כשהו קם יבש בבוקר – זה הזמן להוריד את החיתול’ (the diapers come off when he wakes up dry)

I tried to postpone the inevitable claiming that by changing the diapers every two hours I made it difficult to gauge how ready Daniel was for such a right of passage into the ranks of ‘dry children’. Imma knew who she was dealing with: ‘I save all the diapers you change during the night they are all dry.’ Everyone knows that when diapers come off they stay off!!!

‘So what happens if he soils himself in his pants?’

‘What pants?’

‘We can’t let him walk around butt-naked and crap on the sidewalks.’

‘You can follow him with a plastic bag.’

Imma was right as always. Daniel was completely dry in a few days, he switched to male form and at some point we even cut his hair. It was sad to see those long locks of hair go but we were compensated with a beautiful face that emerged from under them. We had an adorable young boy running around the house, and all my worries had been for naught.

As a child grows one wants to expose him to new challenges. Some of these are driven more by parents’ aspirations than the well being of the child, while others do serve the child’s interests. Swimming falls under the first category. You do not have to teach a two yea r old child how to swim, all you have to do is teach him how to avoid drowning. You teach a two year old child to avoid drowning by teaching them not to swim. You teach them not to swim by letting then fall in the water. At the age of two Daniel learned how to avoid water. At the age of four he could swim and became a lifeguard at five when he pulled Amitai to the shallows from water deeper than his head stating that ‘הוא הלך על הריצפה אז הוצאתי אותו’.

One could sense the tension build up in the house when the time came for the first bicycle lessons. I was still recovering from teaching Yeela and Tal six and four years earlier. Perhaps at the time it was imperative to run after them and support them with all kinds of contraptions tied to the bike. It was too risky to let them ride up and down the hill, from Ramat-Denia to Kiriat-Yovel, by themselves as the traffic whizzed by on one side, and the play ground was at the bottom of a fifty foot plunge on the other. But now we were in the ‘Silicon Valley‘ and things were as flat as could be. Imma watched me with pity as I was readying the broom sticks and belts and whatever else I planned to latch on to the bicycle so I would be able to support it while Daniel tried to ride it at the same time.

‘Why don’t I teach Daniel how to ride?’ Imma offered.

‘Are you up to it? It’s not easy you know.’

‘That’s OK, do you mind?’

The horrors of the hill in Jerusalem flashed before my eyes. ‘I guess you can try, but I’ll be happy to help.’ I said handing Imma the ‘equipment’.

‘I don’t need that.’

’It’ll be a long week. You’ll knock yourself out chasing after him.’

‘Who said anything about chasing?’

‘If you let him ride all by himself, he’ll hurt himself and will not want to ride.’

‘No he won’t, he’ll learn like I did.’ (אל תתערב לי בחינוך).

I reflected on the little scar that almost everyone acquires when learning how to ride a bicycle. How could Daniel not hurt himself? Mine is under my chin. However it did strike me that Imma had never mentioned her scar to me. When I came home from work that evening Daniel was riding a bicycle. Imma greeted me with a regular kiss and a smile and said nothing.

‘How did you teach him so fast?’ I asked, forced to believe my eyes.

‘I didn’t do anything.’

‘But he’s riding!’

‘Isn’t that what you wanted?’ Imma was toying with me.

After leaving me dumbfounded for a few more minutes Imma sat me down with a glass of water, patted me gently on the head and said: ‘I bought him a bicycle that’s small for him’.

‘No problem, we can return it,’ I blurted, eager to be supportive.

‘That bike is like having גלגלי עזר (training wheels)’ Imma continued.

‘But we don’t want !גלגלי עזר’ I protested.

‘And we don’t have them.’ Imma answered in a quiet, soothing voice. My eyeballs were beginning to dilate. Imma took my pulse as she stroked my hand gently. When she spoke she used my nickname to covey affection: ‘Bushy, when the bike is small Daniel can put his feet down on the ground when he starts to lose his balance.’

In an instant my view of the old world collapsed. The child did not need hand holding and over protection. The child needed to be let loose and do what he was made to do, safe and not afraid to try on his own.

That’s a wonderful concept but I could not abide by it when it desecrated the game of soccer. Daniel started playing when he was five. I thought it would be a great idea for the boy to play soccer. Imma thought that it would be a great idea for the boy to play. Daniel’s view of soccer was much closer to Imma’s than to mine. He loved the field because it was big and green, and there were a lot of children running around him, kicking a ball all over the place. Daniel felt so comfortable on the field that from time to time he sat down and watch the game go by.

‘Osmo KUM!!!’ (GET UP)

‘Leave him alone.’

‘But the ball is coming his way.’

‘The ball will pass.’

‘But he can score.’

‘He’ll score another day.’

‘This isn’t soccer.’

‘The child is happy.’

It was all but impossible for me to accept that a child can sit down in the middle of the field during a soccer game.

‘Look at the other kids.’

‘They are from very strict families.’

‘Well they’re playing aren’t they?’

‘Do you know what happens to them at home if they don’t?’

In seventh grade Daniel scored six goals in one game. Academics were no different than sports. Daniel cared about his grades where it mattered and allowed himself some slack when the teacher was a proven idiot. Imma saw to it that a third language was mandatory and reading was a daily routine.

From time to time, in spite of having seen differently so many time s before I stumbled and pointed out that ‘effort’ was not a bad thing, and growing up meant getting used to trying harder to get things done. ‘You know that you have to be strict at something’ I said with all the authority I could put into it. ‘That’s why we have a piano,’ was the answer. Daniel has been playing the piano for six years and practice is part of the daily routine:

‘Osme, lech lenagen.’ (go to play)

‘Niganti.’ (I did)

‘Lo shameti.’ (I didn’t hear it) None of the kids could ever fool Imma.

‘Niganti I’m telling you.’

‘Play again.’

‘How many times?’

‘Do the Chopin three times and the Bach once.’

‘Three? But I already played…’

‘Do both three times! ‘

Ouch, that was harsh but it worked. Imma has made it crystal clear that ‘In my house you play for a living!’ To this day, Daniel is still showing normal resistance, but when the time comes he’ll be very grateful to Imma for not letting him wiggle off the hook. To sweeten the piano pill Imma was less strict with guitar practice and has not yet mentioned that the future held a flute or a Trombone.

The piano studio concludes every year with a dreaded piano recital, where each child has to memorize a piece and play it in front of an audience. Just for the sake of comparison this is at least as difficult as memorizing a text in one language and translating it rather than reciting it without the audience being able to tell that the text was memorized in another language. Sounds hard, ask all our kids how they felt as the day of the recital came closer every year. Yeela and Tal always wanted to run away from home and Amitai lost his will to live. Daniel, on the other hand always remained completely calm – somehow the stress skipped over him when he played. During a recent recital there were audible noises from nesting pigeons somewhere in the rafters above. All the kids played on as though there was no background noise, not daring to take their eyes off the piano – except Daniel. Daniel raised his head towards the ceiling and looked for the source of the noise, while his hands played on – performed like a true master of the arts.

Sitting on the sidelines for thirteen years, my day in the sun came when it was ‘Bar Mitvah’ time. ‘This I know how to do’. Imma was a bit apprehensive. Although she did not say it, her demeanor indicated that she was watching me, ready to step in if I went too far.

‘Osmo, you can memorize your haftara in a week,’ I said.

Imma jumped in immediately: ‘this is not what I meant when I let you le-hitarev bahinuch!’

‘What’s the big deal? It’s only a haftara!’

‘Just remember that Hebrew is his second language.’

‘That why I think he needs a week.’

Seeing that I was out of control Imma talked to Eitan our ‘new age’ Rabbi. I have to admit that Eitan was extremely open minded and knew all aspects of herding whatever was left of Jehovah’s flock.

‘Eitan. do you mind having a word with my run-away husband before he turns the child anti-Semitic?’

So Eitan ‘took me aside’ and very gently made it clear that what I was doing was just another form of ‘Kfiya Datit’ (religious intolerance) with all the adverse implications. ‘Now you don’t want that do you Yiftah?’ I had to admit that I didn’t. Eitan patiently laid out the three month plan which included some Jewish studies as well as learning how to read and sing the text.

‘Remember Yiftah if Daniel only does 95% of what you expect it’s still a great achievement.’

‘You mean that 95% is not a bad grade?’

‘Of course not, how could you think that?’

‘That’s what Yeela got on her spelling test…’

Mazal tov Daniel.

Of course the above could not be read so it was replaced by the following piece. This is the original version which served as a basis for a modified Hebrew translation which was presented during the celebration and remains to be posted some day

In the old days the BM was the ceremony designating the right of passage from being a child to becoming an adult. In the old days life was a lot simpler, much harder but fortunately for most people shorter. One had to do things a lot faster if one was to get anything done in life. In fact if we were in the old days we would go back up to the room after the ceremony and I would ask Daniel not to change his clothes because we would be going back down to his wedding a few minutes later Yes, arranged marriages were part of the deal until not so long ago because things had to be done quickly.

Modern society is much more complicated and there is so much more to learn before becoming independent and going your own way. We obviously live much longer so there really is no need to rush things, (but shouldn’t we reconsider the right to pick our in-laws?…) In our society the BM is more of a ‘checkpoint’ rather than a ‘turning point’.

Being at this checkpoint there are three things I would like to say to Daniel.

Part of growing up entails making more and more independent choices. At first it might seem as a scary proposition how do you know what the right choices are? Daniel, you have the gift of distinguishing right from wrong. If you do what you think is right you will be right most of the time. Every once in a while you will make some mistakes, but you will learn to correct them. I emphasize this because most people your age do not have this ability to the extent that you do. This will put you in situations where you are torn between doing what is right vs. doing what is popular. Look at your sisters; they have passed such tests time and time again, at times paying a price for standing by their principles looking back I don’t think they would have done otherwise in any situation. Follow your heart and mind and you will not fail.

The second thing I want to mention is that standing up for what is right goes hand in hand with being open to accept that other people are entitled to opinions, beliefs and customs which could be different than yours. Living in a foreign society has exposed you to cultural differences and taught you a great degree of tolerance. However, at times, you will be exposed to anger and sometimes hatred no matter where you live. You have to learn where to draw the line; when to stand firm and when to back down. Tolerance and the right to defend yourself, your family and your people go hand in hand. While practicing tolerance one should never forget that the other side is wrong when its opinions, beliefs or customs aim to deprive you of the same rights which you extend to them.

Finally, and perhaps most important of all learning is the key to making the right decisions, understanding people and becoming successful. From this day forward this is your responsibility – it’s all about working hard to learning more and more. Since you are not getting married this afternoon, you should focus much of your energies at making the most out of the many opportunities which you have to learn. Make the best of the opportunities at school; not withstanding that some teachers might not challenge your abilities. Learn as many languages as you can there is no better enabler to get to know people and come to understand them. Learn to play a third instrument you will not regret it. Read, read and read it takes away from Internet time but books are a world of riches like no other.

There is so much more that can be said but we have many years in order to do that. We will stand behind you with love and guidance and support you in everything that you do.

Mazal Tov.

Guiding Love

Showing sentiment towards the opposite sex is a challenge for eleven years old boys. At such an age one is expected to prefer one’s masculine clan and shun girls without remorse. Relations between the sexes at this age is a perpetual game of hide and don’t seek. The girls chase after the boys without shame, and the boys pretend to ignore them completely.

At this age the girls have the initiative. They phone Tintin every day. They start after school and continue into the evening and well into the night. The record is held by a 2:30 AM phone call from a girl whom he swears he can’t stand, claims she is crazy, accuses her of demonic deeds and vows he will have nothing to do with her. In this case he is probably right. Most boys need another year or two before they allow themselves to respond to any such calls.

Knowing Tintin, I suspected he might be having trouble with being an exception to the rule. His sensitivities were getting the best of him. Clearly he cares what the other boys think of him; but is he flattered by the attention he got from (some of) the girls? Regardless, the cultural climate dictates that he remains single until more of his clan matures. Even if he wants to cut loose and stray from the pack, he is not yet equipped to deal with dilemmas on such a scale. This is not a problem of deciding between one TV show over the other. These are not matters of choosing chocolate over peanut butter or deciding what to wear this is about ambiguous emotions with social status hanging in the balance.

If I had my way I would have told Tintin that he should do what he wants. Ima put me in my place, making it clear that I did not understand the potential of being able to guide the love of youngsters. As far as Ima was concerned this was a golden opportunity to pick his wife to be while she still had a say in it.

To help Tintin choose the girl of her liking she started discussing some of the girls she had come to know from the longing voice messages they had left on the answering machine. For Imma this was a simple triaging process. First she helped him eliminate of those that neither he nor she liked. Next to be discarded were those whose mothers she did not like. Then went those that sounded domineering a clear sign that they would hate their mother in law. Finally she was left with a handful of choices, which she would have to screen more thoroughly. As things stand now, Ima is interviewing daughter-in-law prospects.

By the time Imma is done, Tintin will be in love thanks to natural causes…

Memories

Twins: I don’t know why I remember one particular topic which my twin sister and I argued about. We paid our dues to disagreements and head butting on a daily basis. The topics were as simple and as universal as could be: ‘He did it’, ‘she started’, ‘It’s your turn’, ‘and you said that you would if I did’, ‘I was reading that’, ‘No you were not’. There was no end to the pettiness and insignificance of it all. Every now and then we would push an adult over the edge and cause them to lose their composure. This would bring on a forced tie. We did not like forced ties. We would freeze our arguments in time, and thaw them instantly no sooner had the meddling adult left the scene. It was all so perfectly normal. All the bickering and haggling meant nothing and were forgotten as we matured past them. It is therefore strange that one such argument remained etched in memory: ‘Do twins complete their cycle of life together? Do they pass away at the same time?’ Why of all topics would one so obvious and trivial not be forgotten? Perhaps it is because to a twin that the question is not as simple as it seems.

אני לא יודע למה זה אני זוכר עניין מסוים אחד שאחותי התאומה ואני התווכחנו עליו. הלוא במחלוקות ובהתנגחויות עשינו את שלנו יפה יוםיום. נושאי המחלוקת היו פשוטים ואוניברסליים מאין כמוהם: “הוא עשה את זה“, “היא התחילה“, “תורך היום“, אמרת שתעשה אם אני אעשה“, “אני קוראת את זה עכשיו“, “לא את לא קוראת את זה עכשיו” – דברים של מה בכך שאין כמוהם לקטנוניוּת. מפעם לפעם היינו מעמידים בניסיון את עצביו של מבוגר ומניעים אותו לאבד את שלוות רוחו. זה היה גורר תֵיקוּ כפוי. לא אהבנו תֵיקוּיִים כפויים. היינו מקפיאים את הריב במועד ומפשירים אותו מיד עם צאתו של המבוגר החטטן מן הזירה. הכול היה נורמלי לחלוטין. מכל ההתנצחות וההתמקחות הזאת לא נשאר כל רושם, והכול נשכח והלך ככל שגדלנו. לכן מוזר שמחלוקת אחת כזאת נשארה חרוטה בזיכרוני: האם תאומים משלימים את מעגל חייהם יחד? האם הם מתים בעת ובעונה אחת? למה זה דבר ברור וטריביאלי כל כך, דווקא הוא ולא אחר לא נשכח? אולי מפני שבעיניו של תאוֹם השאלה אינה פשוטה כמו שהיא לכאורה.

The Milkman: I don’t know why I remember the milkman. When I was a child he would arrive every Friday morning to collect his fees. I could hear him climbing to the door, stepping heavily on the stone stairs. His knock was as gentle as his footsteps. He was a heavy set man in his forties, with a red face and enormous hands with rough skin. The rest of him was hidden in a bluish-gray overall. His boots seemed as if they were designed to protect his foot should a truck run over it. ‘He could probably make a statue jump in pain if he kicked it with them’ I would think to myself. His facial features were exaggerated somewhat like a gargoyle’s. He lisped heavily and would look at his feet when he spoke, hiding his features, perhaps not to scare me when we stood at the door waiting for my father to pick up the conversation: ‘Vas Hertzach Rebbe Yitzhak’ (Yiddish for ‘how are you Rabbi Yitzhak’) my father would greet him. ‘Baruch Hashem, Hayim’ (Living, my god be praised) he would answer in Hebrew. As he spoke he would pull his accounting booklet from his pocket and proceed to tally what we owed. He used the inner refill of a pen which seemed more like a needle in his huge hand. He was either very good with numbers or my father didn’t mind paying a little extra. He would accept any denomination of bills and had no problems with change. In a little leather briefcase which hung from his neck, he carried a wad of bills as thick as a phone book, and his pockets were laden with coins. After the financial transaction was done, and our debt scratched from the booklet they would switch to world events, history or philosophy. ‘If Yitzhak could talk to my father about anything, why was he a milkman?’ I would wonder as he jingled with his coins back down the stairs. I don’t think anyone knew the answer.

Fly Catching: I don’t know why I remember my highest fly catching score. We would spend our summers at the public pool. We would go there every day, and stay for hours. There really weren’t a whole lot of new things to do in a public pool that you visited every day. You could only swim for so long; the diving board was always crowded, renting tubes cost money, mock fist fights in the shallows tended to taper off after a few minutes and the ping pong tables are occupied by bigger and stronger guys. At the beginning of the season we could allocate more time to tanning ourselves, shedding our pale winter skins and replacing them with hues of brown. The transition from pale to dark went through red. The first few days of tanning would be the worst. It would take years before people started calling red for the burn degree that it was. But at the time it was a degree of tanning, and we bore the pain with honor and stupidity. As we would lay there in the sun, scorching and flipping and scorching some more with nothing better to do, the flies would come to the not quite so ready carcasses. Someone proposed that we catch these flies, partially as a challenge and mostly to pass the time. And so it came to be that we would sit for hours in the sun, searing skins and catching flies. Contests were soon to follow. It is hard to imagine a less productive pass time, but it seems that those who participated remained friends to this day. Perhaps it was worth it after all.

Cigarette Filters: I don’t know why I remember my father’s theories about the effectiveness of his cigarette filter. Back then smoking was not only acceptable, it determined one’s social status. The professionals would inhale two or even three packs a day. People used more cigarettes than matches. There was always a lit cigarette available to light the next one. My father had some self substantiated theories about means to reduce the risk of smoking, from ‘pipes’ through ‘cigars’ to cigarettes with ‘filters’. ‘You see my son; the filter is what makes all the difference’. He would split filters open to layout scientific evidence right in front of my eyes. ‘Notice how much darker the forward side of the filter is?’ The hard scientific evidence fell quite a few inches short of making a convincing argument. Clearly there was a difference in color between the ‘bad’ and ‘good’ sides of the filter. The bad side was colored in shades of brown; however the ‘good’ side was not a picture of health either.

My father was not the kind of man who would mislead me with a false pretence that those two centimeters of porous material effectively guarded his lungs; clearly there was more work to be done at the ‘good’ end of the filter. So my father used another filter. It looked like an ordinary cigarette holder, like the kind a lady would use, only shorter so a man could use it. This filter, according to him was a marvel of physics. It was not just a plastic tube, oh no. It contained specially crafted inner metal tubing which forced the smoke in an out of tiny holes and chambers. ‘It was these forceful changes in the direction of the flow of smoke’ he would tell me radiating with a sense of conviction, ‘that causes the tar particles to be trapped in the filter’. ‘All I need to do is clean it every now and then’. To this day I am sure that the best thing the filter did for my father, was that he did not smoke while he was cleaning it.

Wedding: I don’t know why I remember my uncle’s wedding. We were his only nephews and what a better opportunity for my grandmother to send a message as subtle as the morning sun to her son that she expected nothing less from him. Given that I was only four years old at the time, the odds that I would enjoy the wedding were stacked against me. Being so young also made me too short to ‘mingle’. A crowded hall full of adults to a child my size was a collection of knees and waistlines. A world of absolute anonymity comprised of dark pants and colored dresses rubbing against my face. All I could do in this wasteland of garments was forage for food. Long tables with white table cloths were aligned along the walls of the wedding hall. I knew they were table cloths because no woman could have been that fat. To my dismay I quickly found out that attempting to get something from the tables meant having my nose bashed against a sharp edge by some unaware full sized behemoth, picking on people his own size for the right to clench the goods from the tables. When it was all over, and we were on the way home in the taxi, my grandmother handed me three miniature cakes the size of large candies, coated with icing and filled with cream. Three out of hundreds which I was forced to abandon – It only added insult to injury. Had I known this was not to be my uncle’s last wedding I would not have bothered to come.

 

Growing Up

Kids, we have a few things to tell you about growing up.

Babies are not yet children like you. They are surprisingly resilient, but that’s not for you to prove. Support a baby’s head when you hold it. Let it breathe when you feed it from a bottle. Pink is a healthy color, blue is not. When done feeding, hold the baby up against you with its head over your shoulder; cover the shoulder with a clean cloth. There is no need to tap the baby’s back. The baby will burp without help, but you can tap if makes you feel better. Boys’ diapers have to be changed more often than girls’ your mother doesn’t think so but she isn’t a boy. Always check the bath-water temperature with your hand, the Spanish Inquisition circulated the notion that the elbow is a better thermometer.

Learning to read is easy. You do not have to read a book from start to finish in one day. You can continue where you left off without having to go back to the beginning. You learn to write by reading. ‘Ko okaburra’ is spelled with a double ‘o’ and a double ‘r’, twice the number you find in ‘Aborigine.’ ‘Humpback Whales’ sift water through ‘baleen’ and feed on ‘plankton.’ A teacher that chooses these words for a first grade spelling test is as dumb as bird but it is not wise to tell her that. Until you graduate, bad teachers will be the bane of your existence. Unfortunately they are not as rare as Kookaburras. These teachers do everything in their power to add you to the people who do not understand the subject matter. Therefore if you find long division confusing rest assured that so does the math teacher; ask us.

Do remember that fish have bones, be careful when you eat them, roll each bite in your mouth, let your tongue feel the spikes and remove them gently with your fingers. Breaking an egg with one hand is possible but it can take quite a few eggs to master. Remove the broken eggshells from the bowl before adding the eggs to the batter. Chew with your mouth closed and your ears open. If you can hear your own chewing so can everyone else. Asking them too many questions while they are trying to eat can starve a polite person. Knifes go on the right, forks on the left. Mold is good for antibiotics, not for serving food – check that the silverware is clean before you set it on the table.

Every now and then stop to reflect on who you are, where you came from and where you are headed. Your Bar-Mitvah is such a checkpoint in your lives. At the time it used to be the right of passage from childhood to adolescence nowadays you get an extension of six to twelve years, but listen anyway. As you grow up you have to make more independent choices. How do you know what the right choices are? You all have the gift to be able to distinguish right from wrong so do what you think is right. Every once in a while you will make mistakes, but you will learn to correct them. Many of your teenage friends do not yet have such a keen ability, some will never h a ve. When torn between doing what is right and doing what is popular – follow your conscience even if it scares you. Keep an open mind; accept that other people are entitled to opinions and beliefs that are different than yours. Learn where to draw the line; when to stand firm and when to back down. Tolerance and the right to defend yourself go hand in hand. Be tolerant but know that the other side is wrong when its beliefs aim to deprive you of the same rights that you extend to them. Learning is the key to making the right decisions and becoming successful. Make the best of the opportunities at school; not withstanding that some teachers are complete idiots. Learn as many languages as you can there is no better tool to get to know people and come to understand them. Learn to play a third instrument.

Not everything that shines is a gem. Save your money for things that are better rather than newer. Shakespeare and Plato are forever getting older, as are the works or Rembrandt and M o za rt and Picasso and Bach. ‘Pop-Culture’ is an oxymoron it has presence without essence like the ‘Spice Girls’. A new iPod is the same as your old one with ever more memory that you will never use. If you were born in the nineties you are exempt from knowing what ‘counter-clockwise’ means.

GPSs cannot find lost children. When on night marches, count the children in your Scouts troop frequently. Cover the top of your shoes with your socks when you sleep outside and shake them well before putting them on in the morning. You cannot see stars when you are in the woods. Counseling in a youth movement is the most challenging form of leadership you will ever experience. You have all the responsibilities of an adult with no sanctions to apply. Remember how you won the trust of younger adolescents. It will serve you well later in life. Put your military experiences in perspe ctive: people obey orders but work much better without them. Any monkey with a rank can give commands, but it takes a great leader to nurture creativity and rally people to a cause.

Life is long. Do not rush into marriage it is the biggest commitment you will ever make by choice. One out of twenty or fifty or one hundred people will be right for you – experiment until you find such a person. Take your time, it is better to throw away a few good apples then eat a rotten one. Walk away from cruelty and selfishness these cannot be cured. Intelligence counts – unless you want to be bored stiff for the rest of your life. Opposites can match if they are generous and kind. Disagreements are not always bad. Harmony exists only in fairy tales. A wise man once said: If you see a couple living in harmony like a pair of doves know that one of them is suffering quietly.  Argue but listen. Apologize when wrong but learn from mistrakes. Use contraceptives – expecting a child to be born rich is not sound financial planning.

These are building blocks. How you use these blocks to build your life is up t o you. A parent’s love and selflessness is granted so use it. Do not hesitate to ask for help or advice. Your heart, your common sense, your family, your education and childhood friends are your greatest assets as you face life. Embrace them all and live it to its fullest.

 

Teaching by Example

He was born in Jerusalem and lived in the city all his life. As a teenager he fought in the independence war the city’s life and death struggle with the Jordanian Legion. The legion dealt the Jewish defenders of the city their greatest defeat they lost the Jewish quarter of the old city and the Wailing Wall. For nineteen years the city lay on history’s operating table, the scalpel of no-man’s-land through its heart. For nineteen years they trained and prepared its undoing. Their hour came on Wednesday morning, June 7th 1967.

By that time he was the operations officer of the 163rd infantry battalion of the Jerusalem Regiment, a regiment of reservists thirty to forty years of age, married with children. They had been called up in mid May. As the men gathered there were the usual greetings and back-slapping between the men who had grown close to each other over many years of routine training and mutual tours of duty. Friendships fused together by the specter of the inevitable battle that would some day come, knowing that would depend on each other when it did. The sense of camaraderie eased personal worries each man carried with him; a sick child left at home with a wife who had other kids and a job to attend, financial debt, work stacked up, medical appointments canceled, contracts which needed signatures all these would have to wait until each man returned if he returned. Together they found the strength to bear of the gnawing fear of soldiers assembling for battle.

He felt confident that the battalion was ready. They rehearsed the battle plans over and over again. The weapons were ready, the ammunition distributed, they could spring into action on a five minute notice. This time the legion would be routed, of that he was sure, at what price – no one could tell. But for now they waited. They waited and thought of the city, their families, and their homes, less than a mile away as the crow flies. No matter what the cost, there was a terrible resolve t o protect one’s own kin from the guns surrounding the city. If only it would start so they could get it over with. Such was the mood as they waited for three weeks.

The Jordanian guns opened fire at 11:00 o’clock on Monday June 5th. The tension was more than one could bear. Sitting with weapons at the ready, each man cradling his Uzi, jeeps with recoilless rifles loaded, mortar platoons with shells stacked by the barrels waiting for an order that still did not come. As they waited the city was pounded by thousands of enemy shells. Like everyone else, he heard the explosions and the sirens of the ambulances and emergency vehicles rushing to places they all felt they knew but could not see. He could not help thinking whether or not his children made it back from school before the shelling started. He smiled to himself recalling of an independence war memory, of his youngest brother going out to sell newspapers in the midst of a mortar attack. His brother survived the attack only to wi s h that he hadn’t when their father found out about the suicidal exploits of his eight year old entrepreneurial son.

His battalion crossed the minefield of Abu-Tor late that night using the cover of darkness to shield their movements from Jordanian snipers. The fighting raged door to door. They moved through the streets, their muscles aching from the physical strain of an infantry man who survives by moving faster than the enemy can aim, the skin of their fingers torn from pulling pins of hand grenades, palms, knees and elbows scraped raw from countless dives for shelter disregarding the impact with the rough pavements, crawling, returning fire, rushing forward again, kicking down doors, clearing rooms with grenades and bursts of automatic fire, pressing ever forward, searching for the guns that fired on their city. In thirty-six hours the Jordanian forces threatening western Jerusalem had been routed. The southern route to the old city was open.

Relieved the guns that pounded the city were si l enced, anxious because they did not know how their loved ones faired, the men did their best to regroup; evacuating wounded, redistributing ammunitions and food, officers reviewing the plans for the coming day. Fatigue helped men fall asleep. As the men slept he sat in a makeshift command post, worried. Rather than exalting over the glorious victory that the next day was sure to bring, he was troubled by thoughts of destruction and pillage; acts which would violate the moral code that bound them as Jewish fighters. How then, was he to set the moral high ground in the troops’ minds as they went into battle the next day? As he sat viewing the silhouette of Mount Zion overlooking the walls of the old city he thought of the conquests of David and Solomon, the temples they had built later to be demolished by the Assyrians, rebuilt by Ezra given the blessing by the Babylonians, embellished by Herod to be destroyed forever by the Romans. As the centuries and the Bible he knew by heart raced throu gh his min d h e dismissed messages of conquest he searched for a message of compassion, a message that fighting was a necessary evil after it was done life would have to continue for Jews and Arabs alike. How do you bind Judaism with humanism, religion with nationality, faith with moral values? He thought back to Abraham the patriarch of both peoples. How do you fuse the moralities which burned as coals for three thousand years into a glittering diamond in the few minutes that would preceed the battle?

In the morning he distributed an order of the day to the battalion beginning with Biblical verses: And the king of Sodom said to Abram [Abraham], “Give me the folk, and the substance take for yourself”. And Abram said to the king of Sodom “I raise my hand in oath to the lord THAT I WILL TAKE NOT A SINGLE THREAD OR A SANDAL STRAP OF ALL THAT IS YOURS nothing for me but what the lads have consumed. (Genesis 14:20-23)

On June 7th 1967 units of the 163rd batta lion of the Jer us alem Regiment entered the old city through the Zion and Dung Gates. The 55th Paratroopers’ Regiment, which entered through the Lion’s Gate, reaped the glory, being the first to reach the Temple Mount and the Wailing Wall. Fewer people remember that it was units from the Jerusalem Regiment that liberated the Jewish Quarter and broke through the Muslim quarter to the Jaffa Gate. For the first time in nineteen years they viewed western Jerusalem from the East. The next day the soldiers watched as thousands of civilians from western Jerusalem flocked to the old city. They climbed the slopes of no-man’s land from the Sultan’s Pool to Mount Zion, continued past the church of St. Peter of Gallicantu, through the Zion Gate, down to the Wailing Wall. There had been a lot of rain that spring and the slopes were still covered with grass and wild flowers – Tulips, Anemones, and Cyclamen. Arab shop owner s their bus iness es intact opened up for business. Jews and Arab alike hadn’t seen each other since 1948; there was a sense of reunion. The city was united and alive it was the battalion’s greatest victory.

My father came home the next day. He did not say a word to me about the battle or the days leading to it. A few weeks after the war we celebrated my tenth birthday. I asked him why he did not bring any ‘souvenirs’ with him, perhaps an abandoned rifle or a bayonet or just a helmet. He answered by quoting Biblical verses about sandal straps that I did not understand.

Yeela Fast Forward

My shift with my baby daughter, Ye-ela, started every day at 2:30 PM. Ima (mom) and I had decided that we would raise her without the help of babysitters until she was old enough to talk. The daily passing of the flags was simple: “She just woke up. She nursed an hour ago. I changed her just before you came. I love you”, a goodbye kiss and she would be out the door. I would strap the carry-cot on to my chest. Ye-ela would begin waving her arms and legs vigorously expressing herself with her entire body. I would slide her facing forward into a snug position and set out to walk the streets of Jerusalem. We would walk together for hours. I could feel every twitch of her body; hear every sound she uttered. I would let her teeth on my knuckles a good way to find out about new teeth. Every now and then she would smile at a passerby, which would melt into the sidewalk at the sight of a joyful baby carrying an adult on her back

She was four and independent. We had lost sight of her when we passed a bend in the trail. We headed back to see what she was up to. She was sitting in the middle of the narrow trail, her legs tucked under her like the mermaid of Copenhagen. She smelled the cassias, enjoying the beauty of the dark yellow flowers, just inches away from their prickly thorns. She was so much like these arid-climate plants: taking just what they needed from their surrounding, driving their roots deep but not wide, living off a harsh land while sharing it with others. How deep these roots penetrated we would find out over the course of the years.

A steady stream of marching bands came down Steven’s Creak Road. Cheerleaders were holding up plaques with silver letters “H-O-M-E-S-T-E-A-D”, comfortable in the knowledge that the name would remain correctly spelled as long as they maintained their positions As the band came closer we could see Ye-ela playing her flute, positioned with military precision in her row and column. Her marching perfect like the others, legs moving as one, heads held high, eyes facing forward, the plumes on their hats aligned like pawns before the opening move of chess. “YE-ELA” Ima shouted to her, as always stating that expressing love had nothing to do with proper conduct. People moved uneasily as the barbarian display of emotion threatened to disturb the surgical precision of the march. Ye-ela’s response was just as horrendous; she winked! Such a blatant physical disturbance, surely the judges would penalize the entire cohort. I stood there blessing their expressiveness wondering to myself how many other parents wished they had it in them to do the same.

“Hi Dad, we’re on the bus to Haifa but the traffic has slowed down to a crawl”. This was two months after she had gone back to Israel by herself. “I see smoke and fire up ahead” I knew she was headed towards the site of a suicide bombing on another bus, which was being reported on CNN as we spoke. “The bus is burning, Dad, and there are people in it, there are bodies on the ground around it, ambulances, police, the wounded are”. Who needs CNN when one has an eighteen year old child with a cell phone on the front lines reporting live about death? As her voice trembled, I could see her breaking into tears. I switched to my normal silent-mode “uh-huh-ing” and “go-on-ing”, lest Ima connect the TV and the phone conversation. There will be weeks and months to tell the story a few minutes from now. “The woman sitting next to me is comforting me, Dad I’ll call you back”.

Her living quarters in the Kibbutz were the size of a gloried cubicle. She had brought very few material belongings and a trove of sentiment in the form of Prince Teddy the teddy bear she received from her late grandmother when she was a baby. Over the years Prince Teddy was elevated to the stature of Bedroom Monarch. She and she alone could touch or move him. PT’s treasure chest of memories made any “place” a “home”. “The first eighteen years are the hardest” I smiled to myself. “If PT had made it this far, he was well on his way to becoming a family heirloom”. When it was time for me to go she walked me quietly to the gate. She rested her head on my shoulder. I could feel her sobbing quietly. I rested my cheek on her soft hair cherishing the moment. As I drove south I could see her in the rear view mirror, silhouetted against the mountains where the boarders of Israel, Lebanon and Syria met. She was looking down the Northern border, determined to do her share.