Thursday, April 25, 2013

Lag B'Omer

Started out this week planning for my niece and nephew, who are studying in Jerusalem this year, to come for Lag B'Omer. None of my kids were going to be here so I invited my cousins for Friday night and a few friends for Saturday lunch.

So far, so good.

Then my nephew asked if he could bring a friend. After confirming with my son that he wouldn't be coming home, I said "sure." Then the friend that he brought up last time asked if he could come. I found someone with an extra mattress and said "sure."

then a local outreach organization called and asked if I could have guests Friday night. Four guests -- they have a big group coming. I said "sure."

Then my son decided that he would be coming home for Shabbat. Now there's four boys (young men, actually) in one small room. I need another mattress.

I need to have my head examined. 

I simplified my life by making a one-pot Friday night meal (chili) and will bake some burekkas and that, plus mashed potatoes and some challah and salads should satisfy everyone. Eating is no problem, but I'm darned if I know where everyone is going to sleep (because my room downstairs is rented out -- if I had 10 rooms for this weekend I could have rented them all out!)

Monday, April 22, 2013

Lag B'Omer in Tzfat

It's that time again -- Lag B'Omer in Tzfat. Lag B'Omer is kind of a requirements, no obligations, just good old fun. Most of Israel celebrates with bonfires that commemorate the students of Rabbi Akiva who were saved from a plague that was killing them off (I never quite figured out why the celebration since tens of thousands of them had, evidently, already died) while the Hassidic and religious public dedicate the date to Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai who is believed to have written the Zohar which outlines Kabbalah study.

R' Bar Yochai's gravesite is on Mt. Meron, across the valley from Tzfat, and in the 16th century the ARI, Rabbi Isaac Luria, a great Kabbalist, initiated the custom of visiting R' Bar Yochai's grave on Lag B'Omer. In recent years it has become a major pilgrimage site with hundreds of thousands of people, largely Hassidim and Sepharadim but others who come to see the party as well.

Tzfat, the largest town in the area (and also connected to the tradition) gets the spillover and if I had 10 guestrooms to rent out this Shabbat, I could have filled them all easily.  My niece and nephew, who are both studying here for the year, are coming up and since I did rent out my guestroom, we'll all be cozy upstairs on mattresses and couches.

A more thorough explanation is given by my rapper friend in the video above.

The weather has been bizarre....rain, rain, rain for the last week, and super cold (for israel that is, though I'm not comparing to Detroit-cold) but as of today it's supposed to start getting warmer and by Shabbat should be fairly balmy. I can use a little warmth in my bones.

I had an interesting meeting yesterday -- the online education company that I'm working for is looking to increase their marketing efforts and they wanted to know what I could suggest. I'm not a marketer, though if I ever went back to study, I think that I'd like to study marketing because it's so interesting...trying to predict consumer behavior and match the marketing campaign to those predictions.

Today marketing is a science involving search engines, optimizations, keywords, metatags, etc., but thanks to a few small business courses that I've attended and a lot of YouTube videos and marketing blog reading (and a great tutorial on SEO by a local tzaddik who sat with me for 2 1/2 hours and wouldn't take a penny for his efforts) I can offer some ideas without sounding like a complete fool. Anyway, most of the efforts involve good old-fashioned work (identifying blogs and other sites that will link to our site, rebuilding the website to really reflect what the company is doing) and that's not rocket science, just work. I find that I enjoy the work and like the challenge so I'm having a ball! 

Of course, I also get to experiment on my own site (the tzaddik gave me some pointers there too) but I'd  better keep reading the blogs to stay one step ahead.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Yom HaAtzmaut and....Rain

Ah yes, the one "Sunday" that Israelis have every religious obligations, no work obligations, just a day of fun and relaxation.

But...what do you do if it rains?

We have a great yard and I've never been wild about packing up to take a barbque "out" somewhere -- why bother if you have a nice comfortable spot right near the fridge?  But it's expected and for years we packed up our grill, charcoal, food and other necessities and set off to do the expected "al ha-aish" -- on the fire.

This year however the weather report seems to have been spot on....woke up to a cold and windy morning with drops already starting to fall. So I was relieved that I had simply told a bunch of neighbors and friends to bring something to grill and come on over.

My New Orleans neighbor was in charge of the grill and she made it into an artform, quickly igniting and running three grills so efficiently that I had to call some of the people and ask that they hurry up and bring over their food.

As usual, there was plenty of everything including several bottles of wine and 2 "Breezers" that I had bought to treat myself.

When it came time for Dvar Torahs and other words of wisdom, I mentioned my cousin, a young man who died in 1946 fighting with the Palmach. He was an only child and from what little I was able to read of his and his parents' and aunt's life (his mother and aunt were my great-grandfather's sisters...when my ggrandfather came to America in 1914, they came to Palestine), it was a hardscrabble life full of illness and difficulties.

I don't know much about this cousin and none of the rest of the family seems to know much either, but this young man, Nechemia Schein, and his parents and aunt and uncle were part of the generation that built our country. They lived and died with no one to perpetuate their memory and I often think of how I might accomplish that.  I doubt that there will be any little Nechemias but if I had known about him when my sons were born, I would have liked to have added his name to one of their names.

At any rate, our celebration of our country's 65th year of existence is due, in part, to the men and women who struggled to create a homeland for the Jewish people. Nechemia's name will be remembered in the history of the Palmach -- he was the commander of a unit that undertook a well-known mission, the Night of the Bridges. But his parents and aunt and uncle? Maybe, one day, we'll be able to think of a suitable memorial to these relatives.

In the meantime, my Yom HaAtzmaut Independence Day Celebration is dedicated to Nechemia, Batya and Eliezer Schein, Yehudit Koritsky and Yehudit's husband (whose name I don't know).

Friday, April 12, 2013

Trimming Costs

After yesterday's experience with the police I'm on a bit of a warpath against authorities.

I don't want to get put in jail so I'm taking my orneriness (is that a word?) out on my phone service, specifically, on my service for overseas calls.

For you young 'uns, I will mention that the difference between today's phone service and what it was like when I came to Israel in 1983 is like night and day. Back in those early days, making phone calls was a costly and time-consuming process. Getting a phone installed, first of all, was a major procedure -- my cousins, who made aliyah in 1978 and who lived in a rather nice apartment in the center of the country, managed for years without a phone. It wasn't their choice and they weren't trying to save money -- the phone company was simply not installing phones in their area. If I wanted to call them, I would call their neighbor who would run to summon one of the family members to the phone. (A local story from the same time recalls a Tzfat doctor who would be beeped -- he'd go out to the pay phone on the street to call the hospital to find out what was happening. His neighbors remember him huddling in next to the phone in torrential rainstorms, trying to reach the hospital which wasn't always easy either).

Phone calls to "chul" (outside of Israel) were another story -- very expensive and difficult to find an open line. Most calls were made before the holidays or if there was some type of emergency (I remember trying to access a phone line to the States during the 1991 Gulf War....forget it, took hours) when everyone else was trying to make their calls at the same time. For awhile, the rates were marginally lower on Sundays and even though that petered out quickly, for years afterwards, everyone had it in their minds that they had to call on Sunday, if at all.

Today, of course, there's a new world out there. It takes me awhile to make changes but one of the newest changes involves signing up for my cell phone company's 99 shekel ($30)/month plan which gives me unlimited cell phone calls, both within Israel and to Chul. (texting too). Meaning, that for 99 shekels/month I can dump my 59 shekels month overseas phone service (to which I had to add a price-per-minute for talking) and take care of all of my phone needs.

My cousin was the one who put me onto this....he has actually hooked it up as his Internet service and doesn't have any additional phone or Internet costs.

So today I made the call to the phone service and voila, saved some more money. It doesn't address the police's incompetence, but there is a small feeling of satisfaction there.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Deep Breaths

About a week before Pesach, my neighbor called me to tell me that a car had slid into my daughter's parked car near our house. The car was traveling fast and slipped on the wet street, plowing into the car's bumper and cracking it.  To no one's great surprise, the car continued to drive down the street.

Someone got the license plate of the car and I immediately made a police report. And then I waited for the police to do their work.

Three weeks later, I tried to call the police and it took several days until I finally got a hold of the officer who is in charge of the investigation. He had JUST RECEIVED the report and hadn't even begun to look into it.

Turns out that there's a mistake in the license plate number that I reported (although I checked, and it's exactly the number that was reported to me).

The neighbor who had originally called me told me that another neighbor has a camera aimed at that area and that maybe there would be footage of the incident. So I asked her and she told me that footage is erased every THREE WEEKS -- just a few days ago!

So, if the police had related in any way to my report in any kind of timely manner, I could have retrieved the information. Now, I'm stuck.

When I contacted the police office who took my report he promised me that he'd see what he could do. But, he GAVE ME BACK my report when I was at the station this morning. So how can he do anything -- he doesn't have the license plate number that I reported any more.

Does it make sense to make a complete ass of myself and make a formal complaint? Is it worthwhile? Do I just pay several thousand shekels (which I don't really have anyway) to fix the damage and chalk it up to....what? Experience? Frustration?

Yes, I know that, compared to other people's struggles, this is peanuts. But I'm still fuming.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Google Adwords for Dummies (me)

Several years ago, when I was working for a non-profit, I was put in charge of running a Google Adwords campaign.

A donor connected me with a tutor who gave me several personal tutorials to enable me to be able to run the campaign. Google adwords is quite complicated and, amazingly, I was able to understand, more or less, what I was doing, but the campaign was not successful -- I humbly submit that, perhaps, we weren't offering what people wanted.

Two years later, I've been asked to run another Google Adwords campaign for another client and I discovered that it's like riding a bicycle....don't do it for awhile and you'll forget everything. Which I have, in fact, done. Forgotten everything.

Luckily, my work load this morning was pretty light and I've spent my time watching YouTube videos about how to run a Google Adwords campaign. My eyes are starting to cross. The knowledge from 2 years is starting to come back, slowly. No one will ever confuse me with a real expert, but I believe that I can put up a reasonable facsimile of a workable campaign.

I do enjoy the challenge.

I also made an appointment with a SEO mavan for a personal tutorial. Again, I don't think that General Motors is going to be knocking at my door anytime soon, but it's interesting material and it's kind of fun to delve into some of these new spheres. Makes me feel not quite so...55ish.

Sunday, April 07, 2013

20 Photos that Change the Holocaust Narrative -- Not

Today is Holocaust Day 2013. 70 years since the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.

Social media (re: Facebook) is full of people sharing photos, stories, memories and memorials of people, both of those that they know and those that they don't know. It's important to see how many Jews (and non-Jews) throughout the world connect to the horrors that our world experienced a very short while ago and, in the process, to each other.

One of the "shares" that I saw this year is a collection of photos, entitled "20 Photos that Change the Holocaust Narrative."  Basically, the person who compiled these photos wanted to show something inspirational, some photos to show Jews fighting back, Jewish spirit, Jewish resistance.

So why am I so disturbed by this collection? Because the vast, vast majority of the Jews who were caught up in the Nazi onslaught were not survivors. They did not survive. They did not have the opportunity to head out to the forests and fight or even wait it out until liberation day.  They were overwhelmed by the immensity of the organization and precision of the Nazi's determined efforts to eradicate them and didn't know what to do. And died.

The majority of the Jews were, quite simply, crushed by the immensity of the campaign against them. There was nowhere for them to go. They had parents, children, grandparents to take care of. How do you join the partisians if you have a 3-year-old who needs you? How do you go into hiding when you're trying to comfort your parents, find a little food for your nieces and nephews? How do you "disappear" when the occupiers are so prepared that they have created lists of all the Jews of the countries that they plan to occupy before they even conquer the country?

Researchers have noted that the Nazis were the first to use computers to amass this kind of data. Killing Jews was such a strong objective of the Nazi ideology that they were prepared to divert resources from their war effort to accomplish the goal. Over six million innocent civilians were, in no way, prepared for what was coming. Today in America, there's a great debate over gun control, whether people can own a gun to protect themselves. And that's protecting themselves against individual nutcases. Here, the Jews didn't have a clue as to how to protect themselves because there was no possible protection. No guns, no hiding, nothing.

A large proportion of the Jews who went into "hiding" ended up returning to their families and communities to live out their fate together. The psychological pressures of living in hiding were so devastating that they preferred to die rather than stay "safe."

I have a lot more to say, but I guess that in short, if I were to create a "Holocaust Narrative" it would stress that the "heroes" are no less those individuals who tried to calm their children as they were led to the slaughter, tried to grab a few extra potato peels for their bunkmates, or even continued to get up day after day until the bitter end, with no hope of salvation, than the guys who were able to greet the liberating armies at the end of the war.  I don't mean to take anything away from the survivors, or the people who were able to resist, in whatever way possible.

I simply want to point out that, for almost all of the victims, this was simply not possible, and that a true Holocaust Narrative should not delegitimize their experiences because they don't make us feel as good as looking at pictures of survivors holding champagne.

And that, while the 20 Photos that Change the Holocaust Narrative might make everyone feel better, feeling better shouldn't be the goal of Holocaust remembrance.

Monday, April 01, 2013


When I was growing up, my father would generally refer to any relative, no matter now vague, as "mishpocha" -- family. We could be talking about 7th cousins 5 times removed....for him, the possibility that somewhere back there, we had mutual ancestors was enough reason to establish an intimate relationship.

Since meeting some cousins on my maternal grandfather's side 4 years ago, I've had the opportunity to explore a side of my family about which I knew very little. My grandfather, who died before I was born, came to Canada, and then America, from England during WWI. We've always been in contact with his sister and her sons, but other than that, didn't have very much connection to the family at all.

Through my new New Zealand cousins, we've "met" additional cousins in England and one of them is quite involved in genealogical research.

He identified a great-great-great-grandfather, Joseph, who "pinched" a shirt and some sheets in London in the 1850s and was shipped off to the penal colonies in Australia. I (and the New Zealand cousins who we met 4 years ago, and who now live in Israel!) are descended from Joseph's 1st wife, but there was a second wife and there are some relatives out there somewhere from that relationship.

Anyway, Joseph's sister, Rebecca, went off to visit Joseph in Tasmania and married a nice Jewish boy and the family made its way to New Zealand.

Down a few generations, two of THOSE NZ descendents of Rebecca have made aliyah and over Pesach, I and "our" NZ cousins went to the Golan to visit one of them. Nice friendly family and we enjoyed meeting them.

Now, I need to reiterate, our common ancestor were Simon and Sarah, Rebecca and Joseph's father and mother, born in the late 1700s. 

Puts a new twist on my father's view of "Mishpocha".