Monday, January 3, 2011

Offensive Slang

Sometimes everything works out great in Israel. Other times, no so much so. I recently had a run in with the dark side of Israelis, the park ranger with a bad attitude. No, I don’t mean Clint Eastwood style, rather a small Israeli park ranger. She was probably doing her national service, and had the misfortune to get stuck in the middle of nowhere under the blazing sun humoring the likes of me.

Normally, Israelis find it endearing when you say things like the Hebrew equivalent of "what's up dude", the untranslatable "kaparah alayich, einiem sheli, nishama." This literally means something like "an offering on you, my eyes, soul". Its one of those things you just have to say a million times to smirking Israelis before it makes sense. Anyway, trying to be cute and outgoing, I naturally slipped into some slang while looking for my park ticket. Big mistake, the diminutive ranger went ballistic. Not just the usual ranting, but psycho screaming. Apologizing profusely, I slunk back to the car and did not enter the park. I don’t think the Canadian in me could stand to make someone so mad I could literally see the steam pouring out of her ears. I was later told she was just having a bad day, but it really made me think.

I guess the moral of the story is to use slang cautiously, you never know who you might inadvertently offend. Wait, a real Israeli wouldn’t care who they offend… Well, its back to the drawing board…

Friday, December 26, 2008

Rabbinate without borders

I found this article very interesting, another attack by Amos Harel of the rabanut. I would talk to the average secular soldier about the amazing shabbat in Jerusalem experience and what they take away from their service having learned more about their culture and faith, making them better civilians. Read the article and judge for yourself.

Rabbinate without borders
By Amos Harel - Haaretz

Capt. David Shapira, the paratroop officer who stopped a killing spree in Jerusalem's Mercaz Harav Yeshiva last March by killing the terrorist, recalled his experience on Monday in an interview with Army Radio. Divine grace, he told interviewer Ilana Dayan, was with him that night. He did not assault the terrorist with his M-16 rifle alone; he was guided by the divine power of faith.

Shapira is not exceptional. At an Israel Defense Forces conference a few weeks ago a battalion commander protested what he viewed as the critical tone of guest lecturers from outside the army. "I have soldiers who were killed for the sanctity of the land in Gaza," he said. The lecturers were upset: since when do IDF soldiers talk like that? But the officer refused to concede. Upon leaving the conference, he encountered a brigadier general who encouraged him. Don't let them confuse you, the brigadier general advised the lieutenant colonel. You're right. Incidentally, both officers are secular.

The IDF is changing before our eyes. It speaks a different language than it did a decade ago. This change has not been imposed from above; it came from below, from the platoon and company commanders. There is no point or justification for fighting this development when some 40 percent of recent officer course graduates wear skullcaps. The left's response - that it must send more kibbutz members to officers' school in order to "stop the religious takeover" - sounds arrogant and empty. Whether due to education, ideology or achievement orientation, the fact is that the religious Zionist community sends its sons to front-line units and officers' courses in greater numbers than any other segment of society. The army will have to learn to meet them halfway on noncritical issues. A religious combat soldier should not be forced to listen to a female singer or be taught by female sports instructors wearing shorts.

But there are times when the army gets confused. A good example is the behavior of the IDF's chief rabbi, Brig. Gen. Avichai Ronski. Two months ago, Haaretz published an investigative report on how the rabbinate has taken over the IDF's educational programs and injected extremist content into the explanatory talks it gives to soldiers. Since then, new evidence has accumulated. Ronski gives Torah classes in jails, including to convicted Jewish terrorists; the rabbinate conducted a tour of Hebron for soldiers in Military Intelligence in which they met with Rabbi Dov Lior (who compared the dismantling of the Federman Farm outpost to his family's expulsion by the Gestapo); a settler accused of assaulting and wounding Palestinians is currently spending his house arrest in Ronski's home.

In response to the Haaretz report, Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi instructed the head of the IDF's Personnel Directorate to reexamine the boundaries between the Education Corps and the rabbinate. Since then, however, not much has changed. In a recent letter to his staff, Ronski informed them that it was business as usual.

A green folder in Ronski's office contains printouts of the emails he received following the Haaretz report. The commander of the Golani Brigade's reconnaissance unit, the commander of the Shavta Base and the chief medical officer's aide in charge of dentistry all expressed shock at Haaretz's "tendentious and baseless" reports and encouraged him to continue his important work. Ronski is convinced that the troops are with him.

In his view, the Torah is not Judaica; it is not a museum exhibit. Its essence is its national aspect, the connection to the Land of Israel. He is not the chief rabbi for religious soldiers only, nor is he the army's chief kashrut supervisor. That is not why he returned to full-time service after 30 years in the reserves. If his activities are restricted, he would prefer to return to his 200 students at the yeshiva in the settlement of Itamar, most of whom are combat soldiers.

Next October, his term of office expires. Ronski is afraid that his successor will be more in the "Zionist ultra-Orthodox" mode - a group that causes less consternation among the influential leftist media, which he himself refuses to read.

In Ronski's view, his staff has merely filled the vacuum left by the Education Corps. A Shabbat in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem's Old City, under the rabbinate's auspices, is preferable to a vacation weekend in Ashkelon. On one side of the scale is values-based education, to bolster the recruits' morale by finally showing them what they are fighting for. On the other is the "Sunday culture" of stand-up comics and American movies.

Ronski consistently preaches against draft dodging - a view that requires a non-negligible amount of fortitude given his ideological milieu. He has greatly strengthened the rabbinate's connection with combat units and introduced more reserve combat officers into the rabbinate's ranks. But overall, the impression is that no one is supervising or counterbalancing the messages his rabbis are giving combat soldiers - least of all the IDF chief rabbi himself, who has said in private conversations that in his view, "overall, a religious soldier fights better than a secular one."

That is a narrow-minded, arrogant view that reflects contempt not only for the Education Corps, but for the army's (still) secular majority. Its rationale is also dubious: If the IDF failed in Lebanon two years ago because of its "combat values," as Ronski claims, how does that fit with the fact that so many of the junior officers were religious, and thus presumably brimming with values?

Ashkenazi did not appoint Ronski as the IDF's chief rabbi; he inherited him from his predecessor as chief of staff, Dan Halutz. But it seems that he would be wise to summon Ronski and make it clear, once and for all, where the boundaries of an IDF chief rabbi's activity and speech properly lie.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Cooking Loof

The proverb “revenge is a dish best served cold” obviously applies to loof. It would seem that not only does loof get its gastronomic revenge on your eventually, its effects can be exacerbated by heating it up. While on a camping trip recently, I figured it would be brilliant to stick an open can on a camp stove and heat up a nice can of chicken loof. I never understood why it was always eaten cold in the army, I found that with enough mustard, it was even palatable. It was also the one thing no one ever wanted, so whenever we had a meal in the field, it was great to be the only one of a hundred people who would actually eat the stuff.

I quickly found out that heating loof is perhaps not the best idea, as huge black clouds started billowing from the small stove and a horrible smell emerged. I would equate the smell of cooking/burning loof with the smell of cooking an entire cat, but since I have never had cat, I can’t say for sure. Regardless, I would recommend eating it out of the can cold, slicing it and cooking with it, dicing it, etc. I have heard quite a few stories of cutting it up, sticking it into a small pan, and cooking it on the engine of a tank, I am sure this is a better smelling and tasting was to cook loof.

Enjoy, and don’t forget to send me your favourite loof recipes!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Ode to a Phigeon

A Phigeon and I sat for a cup of tea,
I looked at him, he looked at me.

How did he taste, I thought,
He wondered the same,
The taste of chicken coursing through my brain.
He tempted me and taunted,
Rubbed me with sauce,
But in the end it was futile, simply his loss.

While we both lived to die another day,
I somehow feel the Phigeon wont come back to play.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Ode to a sandwich

I always knew you were the one for me,
Open face and hot,
You are the greatest bun,
I really like you a lot.

Do you like toppings,
Lots of tasty treats,
I like everything,
Including piles of meat.

Load my sandwich up for me,
This is what Ill have,
Give me everything you got,
Just don’t make me mad.

Rye is nice,
Pastrami too,
How about some kugel,
And a pickle or two?

Chicken salad,
Mashed potatoes,
Rice and gravy,
Pickled tomatoes.

Burgers with meat,
Platters of deli,
I want it all,
In my belly.

You’re the best sandwich I ever did see,
That’s how I knew you were the one for me.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Food, a Road Trip and Friends

I was thinking about writing something, but I cant remember what I was thinking of writing. I was positive it had something to do with food, a road trip and friends, so here goes.

I woke up, confused, not sure where I was. Staggering out of the car into the freezing cold, I noticed we were in a gas station. I looked at my watch and realized I had been sleeping for at least the past eight hours, and really needed to pee. Once I had answered the call of nature, I headed back to the car and slept until I was awoken by the smell of fresh deep fried chicken. That was a very strange trip to Washington DC and Silverspring, Maryland. It was made stranger still by the many police stops while driving back to Canada, it seems that I was in the back sleeping each time and my friend was driving, apparently just a bit too fast. But this story was not about any of those things, in fact, it’s the story of a completely different road trip.

In this completely different story, I was with a bunch of friends in New York on a road trip. One of my friends, being very into food and teenage hi-jinx, stopped into a popular restaurant and ordered us all food. While we were waiting, he dumped the toppings and condiments intended for several hundred into his cooler and we spent the next four days eating relish and pickled onions.

It does not seem like that’s what I was thinking of either. I guess I can try one last time to jog my old tired memory into the right story.

There was this one time I was fishing with a friend in the boat a couple of kilometers downriver from the small Northern town my family was living in at the time. After an hour or so of trolling for bites, the engine suddenly spluttered and stopped. We tried pumping the gas, kicking the engine, praying for a miracle, but nothing worked and we were stuck, floating in the middle of a small lake. My friend suddenly went into panic mode and started talking about living of the land, Tom Hanks in Castaway, cannibalism, and would anyone ever rescue us. I pointed out we could row back, or for that matter, get out and walk along the shore for twenty minutes to get home. I think that just made him panic more. I gave the engine one last kick and tried to start it, and shockingly it sprang to life and we were saved. Heading back to the town we were just on time for dinner and I was not even a bit hungry.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

From New York to Tzfat

While in Tzfat last week I was walking though the artist’s colony, basically a narrow alleyway of galleries, shops and weary Israelis selling the tourists bracelets. As I was walking, I passed the store of a guy dressed in traditional Yemenite clothing and making lachoch, a type of pancake with tomatoes, peppers and hot sauce sprinkled on top. It was not the sight of food which made me hungry, but the incredible aroma wafting down the street. It smelled like a bit of heaven fallen into a pan. Even though I had eaten twenty minutes before, I had to stop in for some of what he was selling. The man was cheerfully greeting passing customers and offering them some traditional Yemenite food. I ordered a pancake with all the trimmings (easy on the hot sauce) and a delicious cup of iced lemon-mint drink.

While I was sitting in the store relaxing on the low sofas, I started to find out a bit more about the proprietor. He did not always live in Tzfat, or for that matter dress like he just walked out of Yemen. He grew up in Rishon L’Tzion and had a very normal and traditional Israeli life. Following the army, he got married and together with his wife decided to seek out the Israeli dream, life in America. He lived in New York for nearly a decade selling art and being moderately successful, living a comfortable lifestyle. I could not understand how someone who leaves Israel for the States and makes things work could ever possibly end up selling pancakes while wearing a robe and a funny hat in Tzfat. He told me that he has a friend who was tired of the lifestyle in Israel. He was sick of driving a beat up old car, having second hand things and yearned for the good life in the States. He set off to make his fortune in the US and for a while, things worked out great. He had a pretty good job, bought a relatively nice car, and he was satisfied with what he had. Over time, the guy began to notice that even though his car and home were a lot nicer than what he had in Israel, it still didn’t compare to what other people had in the States. While he had achieved a level of material success, he missed his friends and family back home in Israel, and eventually made the move back. When he returned, he saw that his friends beat up cars were now second hand as opposed to third or fourth, their houses were a bit bigger and overall people were happier with what they have. The guy then bought a fourth hand car and rented a small apartment and started over again. I guess the moral of the story is you can make money anywhere, and live anywhere, but the most important thing is to be happy with what you have. My Yemenite host continued to tell me that everyone in Israel might not be able to afford steaks, but pretty much everyone can afford a piece of chicken. In the States you might be able to afford more steak, but will probably have less friends dropping by for the BBQ.

I was struck by how happy this guy was. Its refreshing to see him, just doing his thing, living his life, and having the right goals. It was really nice to meet someone who finally found the thing they really wanted to be doing, and for the right reasons. He was not living in Tzfat for the money or the prestige, but found a place he is happy in, and doing a job which would seem crazy to most, but makes him, and his customers, happy. He told me he was not really sure about moving to Tzfat and selling pancakes when he was living in New York, but decided to humor his wife and try it for a year. That was ten years ago, and he is still doing what makes him happy today.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

How to invite a chayal boded (lone soldier) for Passover

If you want to invite a chayal boded (a lone soldier who is doing his or her service in Israel without any family) for Passover, contact me for the army contact to get the process started. They will send you a form to fill out and upon approval you have guests for the seder. Its a really big mitzva and very interesting to meet soldiers who left home to serve in the army. You can request soldiers who speak English, French, Russian, Spanish and Hebrew.