Wednesday, December 7, 2016

In praise of Sophomores

First thing, they aren't freshmen. That's a huge plus.

But on another note, a bit of context. I have cold. I feel OK but my throat has been scratchy and in pain and I have pretty much lost my voice. That presents me with certain problems and limitations. I'm a teacher and speaking to classes is sort of the center of my daily activities. That doesn't mean that I don't know how to assign busy work to keep the students at their seats, or that I don't occasionally cancel class when I can't teach, but my stock in trade is conversation -- engaging with the young people and exploring ideas.

Without a voice that is more difficult. Not impossible, but more of a challenge. So I met that challenge for the first half of class and then I was beat. Straining my throat makes me tired so I told my students that they could use the balance of class to work on their group project which has them isolate a problem in the world, research charities which deal with that problem, judge the charities and make a recommendation as to which one should receive their donations.

In case you are wondering, this does 3 things:

1. Shows them the religiously important concept of charity as a driving force in their lives, even in an apparently secular studies class
2. Prepares them for the real world experience of identifying problems, analyzing data and making recommendations
3. Gives them practice in research and data collection and evaluation

It also gets them working in a group, distributing responsibilities and following a process, step-by-step to build ideas, so there's that.

But I let them work. And do you know what happened? They quietly moved to sit and chat with their group members. I didn't cajole or yell. I didn't have to remind them.

Again -- a bunch of 15 year-olds, under no penalty other than that a teacher might get annoyed, start doing work and, as of 10 minutes later, are still working, many quietly, some conferring with other class members. I did not teach them this. I can not claim credit for the fact that they are not yelling, running around, leaving the room or otherwise misbehaving. There is an undercurrent of morality, of conscience and of respect that they have that predates my class.

So I, publicly, thank them, their parents, their families, their communities and all the other influences who handed off to me a bunch of well behaved, hard working, god, good kids. You should all be proud. The next generation is not doomed if it is populated by people like this. I just wanted to tell someone, so I told you. Not enough people point out the good stuff and my class, right now, is the good stuff.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

This is Jew-based post. Skip if we aren't your cup o' tea

I am a Jew.

I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions, doorposts?


Yeah. That's a thing. Jews, traditionally, place a piece of parchment in/on the doorposts of our houses -- the outside door and many of the inside walkways between rooms. The current practice is usually to encase the hand-scribed parchment in a decorative case. We call the whole thing a "mezuzah." When we pass through an opening, we kiss the mezuzah (touch it and kiss the hand, usually, or kiss the hand then touch it). The mezuzah parchment is supposed to be a reminder of God's power and protection -- as he saved us from Egyptian slavery, he protects us from other challenges and difficulties in our lives. Kissing the holy item is a way to reinforce his presence and remember his importance.

The word mezuzah more properly refers to the doorpost, itself. The commandment comes from Deuteronomy 6:9 (and 11:20)
9. And you shall inscribe them upon the doorposts of your house and upon your gates. וּכְתַבְתָּם עַל מְזֻזוֹת בֵּיתֶךָ וּבִשְׁעָרֶיךָ

The interesting thing to me is the strange word "mezuzah." It doesn't seem connected to doors or door posts. So I looked it up.

I happen to have a copy (h/t Dad) of Ernest Klein's "A Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the Hebrew Language" around the house (what? you don't?). He points out the post-biblical use (the "small roll of parchment") but traces the word back to the sense of 'something standing' and the Akkadian (it's always the Akkadian with these people) "nazazu" which means "to stand" and "manzazu," door post. So there you have it -- mezuzah means "doorpost" because the language the word developed from has it mean doorpost.


I don't think that a word that has such an important place in daily religious practice can be dismissed with a simple historical connection. Something still irks me -- there had to be other ways to refer to the doorpost, other words to choose from. So why "mezuzah"? I'm going to put my own interpretation out there. Is it based in anything? No. Does it have scholarship on which to rely? Dunno. Don't care. Is it found in someone else's writing? Maybe -- I haven't checked. As far as I know, it is my idea. Take it for all in all (h/t Shakespeare).

In Hebrew, there is a word for "move" -- zuz (that's the imperative verb form). If you are taking notes, Klein connects it to the Aramaic za/tremble. There will be a test. Interestingly, one of the various derivatives is listed as tezuzah, a New Hebrew construction meaning "moving, motion." (Klein this guy is good)

It seems to me that this mezuzah is then not about standing, but about moving -- when we move from place to place, when we make transitions in our lives, we must remember that our success and safety is due to a higher power. The mezuzah is about being able to go from one room, state or condition to another and invoke and rely on God's power.

As if that is't enough, I see the construction of the word as adding another dimension -- the mem prefix on the "zuz" center. The mem often indicates "the one who" (b-q-sh is "request" -- the one who requests is the mevaqesh; mevaser is the one who gives news (besorot); the teacher/one who teaches is the melamed with l-m-d being a root for learn). So the "mezuzah" seems to hint to "the one who causes to move." We are not the ones in control of our futures -- the higher power is the one who allows our moving from place to place, not just who protects us once we move. The Exodus was through God's power (and is what we are remembering via the mezuzah -- and there were no doors into the desert), not through our decision to leave. We must acknowledge God's presence and participation in even our smallest transitions by remembering via kissing the mezuzah.

Friday, October 21, 2016

My body and me

I often torture myself by wondering about a single hypothetical – would I rather lose my sight or my hearing. It is a thought exercise which helps me appreciate each, get in touch with what I value, and fall asleep.

I thrive on my sight (not specifically my vision, which is only so-so). I am a visual learner and love reading and watching television. To not be able to see my family member’s faces or appreciate the stars at night would be horrible. As a teacher, being able to see my class (and drive to work) is vital. So there you have it – I don’t want to lose my sight.

But wait. I love music! I am a student of sound – acoustics and the sound of voices. I catch subtleties others miss by paying careful attention to what I hear, direction, distance. I am enamored of sound. As a teacher, being able to hear y students and their comments is essential. So that solves it…I don’t want to be unable to hear.

And it goes back and forth.

But as I age, I have come to realize that there is a new player, one more likely to come to pass. It isn’t my surgically fixed ankle with its tarsal tunnel or plantar fasciitis, and it isn’t my constantly-in-pain back which, even after the discectomy still aches and sometimes hurts so much that I can’t move. It isn’t even my knees which creak and click so often that I think they might be haunted by a whale. It is my fingers.

Thank God, I have fingers and I try to put them to good use. But I have found recently that the “default” position for my hands (when I am not consciously using them) is slightly curled. I have to force them to straighten out. Now, they don’t hurt as such but they are starting to force themselves into a semi-circular shape unless I work at flattening them. True, I don’t know if I would rather fingers that don’t bend or don’t straighten, and I don’t intend to play that scenario out, but having my hands seize up in either way would be really bad.

As of now (late 40’s) I have 2 messed up thumbs (one as a result of a football accident and the other as a result of overcompensating after a football accident) and an achy middle finger (I carried a laundry basket, resting on that finger and think I pulled/tore something. Let that be a lesson to you. No laundry baskets). So that’s 3 down, 7 to go. And the others curl up when I’m not paying attention. I fear not being able to type or grab a pen. I worry about not having fine motor skills which would allow me to open a drink, or eat with a fork and knife. I worry that I am making it worse either when I ignore it or when I force my hands flat. I like my hands as much as I like my eyes and ears.

Aging is not just about the particulars of what is not working as well as it used to, but about the awareness as each bit and piece slowly goes on the fritz, and the concomitant worry. So I feel like a teenager in certain ways, but I am feeling like an older man in others.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Thoughts on Ne'ilah

A few words at the close of Yom Kippur.

There is a traditional sense about the final prayer of the Day of Atonement, “Ne’ilah” and I’d like to speak about it right now. I hope I don’t ruffle any feathers when I say this, especially right now, so close to the conclusion of the Holiday.

The traditional approach to this prayer stresses the closing of the gates of repentance. That final prayer marks our last chance to beg God for a year of life and such. The name, Ne’ilah, refers to a closing – a prayer offered at the last possible opportunity, one last push to get us sealed on the good side of things. We pray fervently and inspire tears, and use every last second before the Sefer Hachaim (the book of life, or of the living) is closed.

Bosh and piffle. Well, at least bosh.

Yom Kippur is a day of intense pressure. We feel this need to be done by a certain time. We feel the increasing pressure of improving ourselves and changing our lives. We start the day off as lumps of coal, blackened in our sin and we hope that through the affliction and beating of our chests that this pressure refines us into diamonds, so when Ne’ilah comes, we want to see ourselves clear and bright, a radiant Jew-el, no longer that raw carbon, but now, recognized by God as sparkling and precious. But what if we miss that goal? What happens if I am just not moved and the gates close? What do I have to look forward to? Omigosh, I exclaim, here I am, not a polished gem, but still an incomplete work and Ne’ilah is announcing that I am losing my status as an angel, able to supplicate n God’s very presence. I will be back to being some average shlub and God will see my failure!

But that’s just not so. That isn’t the point of Ne’ilah (I contend). Thus the claim of bosh.

A diamond, after intense pressure, is taken out of the dirt and raised up. But it isn’t beautiful. It doesn’t sparkle. It isn’t done. And we by the end of Yom Kippur, shouldn't view ourselves as done either. The stone taken from the ground is uneven, misshapen and dull. It then takes careful cutting and polishing for the true stone underneath to be revealed.

Yes, there are those people who emerge from the crucible that is Yom Kippur complete and radiant – with a perfect cut and with symmetrical facets. I am jealous of them. I am little more than the coal I began as. If I saw the gates as closed I would give up and the year would be lost.

Many elements of Yom Kippur hold a dual value and have self-contradictory meanings. The name of the day, itself is explained to be a day of atonement (with all the gravity and pressure that goes with that) AND a day “like Purim” with the joy of a festive holiday. Some men where a kittel, a long white robe reminiscent both of the grave clothing put on a corpse and the white clothing of an angel in God’s retinue. . We fast (and deprive ourselves in other ways) to create affliction and suffering and awareness of our humanity, but also ascend to angelic heights and transcend the physical.

Ne’ilah, also, has that dual nature.

Yes, this final communal prayer signals the end of the day and the closing of gates, at least in some sense. But don’t we also learn that the gates aren’t actually closed until Hoshana Rabba or Sh’mini Atzeret? And don’t we have dates called Yom Kippur Katan sprinkled through the year? And isn’t a central aspect of each new month’s prayers atonement? In fact, don’t I ask for forgiveness in each weekday Amidah prayer? Don’t some people recite confession every weekday morning? We take Yom Kippur with us throughout the year! How can the gates be closed?

I think that the secret lies in the name of the service, Ne’ilah. Yes, it means close, but it also refers to shoes (na'alayim). One of the five afflictions of the day is the law prohibiting the wearing of leather shoes (ne’ilat sandal) and I think that each of the five prayer services of the day is to remind us that when we are allowed to re-engage in that forbidden activity, we do it in a different way, befitting our cleansed status. So when we are allowed to put our comfy shoes back on, at the end of Ne’ilah, it isn’t so we can resume the same path that brought us to the threshold of Yom Kippur as a sullied lump of coal.

We speak of our ability to run in other contexts. At the outset of the day, many recite "Tefillah Zakah", by Rabbi Avraham Danzig, which points out how we have used our body for evil over the past year. He points out that God gave us legs, and we use them to run towards evil. When someone completes a sizable portion of learning and holds a siyyum, a celebration to commemorate that learning, he recites the Hadran which has in it the line “we run and they run – we run to life in the next world and they run towards destruction.” We ask for atonement for the sin of “our legs running towards evil.”

We can no longer be like that, like “them” – we have to run to something positive. In fact, we start the evening prayer immediately after Ne’ilah; we want to go right into the performance of a mitzvah to show our new direction. Many people go home and put up their Sukkah to continue the string of Mitzvah-keeping that this new person can pursue. But these acts are not the behavior of the completed diamond. They are acts of polishing. That uncut, unfinished gem must continue on that path and keep improving to cut away the unnecessary parts and reveal, through the trials of the rest of the year, the finished diamond.

We must put on our traveling shoes during Ne’ilah. They are the last item of clothing we don before we walk out the door, not the completion of our getting dressed, but the beginning of our journey. Sure, when we are in heaven, we can be like angels. But what will we be like when we are dressed like humans and have to walk through life? Will we follow the path of Yom Kippur for the next 353 days, or will our shoes have us running to destruction? Life is a slalom -- we dodge the obstacles and have to go through many gates.

So let’s put those shoes on at Ne’ilah and walk away from evil. Let’s use every opportunity to confess, repent and ask forgiveness and atonement that we are given over the next 12 months and actualize the potential, finding the polished and perfect diamond that is within us. We aren’t finished – we have just started. Those gates are closed, but we are ready for a marathon.

Wishing everyone a year of life, health and happiness as we run this race together.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

For Give a Jolly Good Fellow

As the Jewish New Year rolls around, an old man's fancy turns to atonement and repentance. So I have started thinking about life and my connection to other people. I have been lucky. I AM lucky. I am surrounded by people who generally pretty OK and I have lived a life interacting with a class of people which humbles me.

With a couple of exceptions.

And that's the thing. If I can recognize that in my many (many) years, there are a couple of people who still make me seethe (and not a calf in its mother's milk), and I cannot forgive them, then how can I enter the next year with a blank slate?

Rosh Hashana, the new year, is about starting over. It is about cleansing ourselves of the stuff from past years that drags us down. We ask forgiveness and we give it. We move on. But I can't. In these very isolated cases, I cannot find it in my heart to forgive. Maybe that's petty of me, but some hurts are so profound and so formative that I cannot move past them. [At this point, I was considering making occluded comments which described the three or so people on my list -- not enough that anyone would know who, but enough that I would think that maybe someone knew. I have decided not to give any details.] How do I look at myself and my life as recharged and refreshed if I can't let go of past damage?

And to make it worse, Shakespeare gangs up against me and has Portia try to manipulate Shylock, asking "How shalt thou hope for mercy, rendering none?" If I am not willing to extend that branch of peace, then how can I expect God, in his mercy, to have any mercy on me and forgive me for all I have done wrong?

Maybe my out is that they never asked me for forgiveness so I am not bound to forgive, unsolicited. But that doesn't sit well with me. In Hebrew, we ask for (and give) "mechila" and we have prayers in which we say that we give mechila to all those who have sinned against us. So haven't I already given mechila and shouldn't I just move on? Does this mean that my prayers are insincere? This keeps getting worse and worse.

I think that, for me, the answer lies in not equating forgiveness and mechila. The word mechila seems to have to do with erasing something -- blotting it out, and maybe, that much I can do. If I write on a paper with a pencil and make a mistake (it wouldn't happen, but just s'pose) and then erase it, the paper might be clear of that mistake but it is never pristine again. I can erase the action of hurt but not the phantom pain and residual effect of the event. I can give mechila and still not forgive what was done to me and the effect it had on me. Maybe I should be asking to be able to forget and that will obviate any need to forgive -- I won't remember so I won't resent. I will think that who I am is just who I am, not as the result of anything in (painfully)) particular. Maybe I can't forgive because that demands that I view myself as whole again and that's not how I ever expect to see myself.

So as is appropriate for this time of year, I whole-heartedly grant mechila to all those who have done things which have hurt me (take that, Portia), whether or not they ask, and forgiveness to all those whose behaviors I can rise above and feel complete even in the face of such hurt. I sincerely ask for mechila from all and forgiveness from those who feel able to grant it to (and forgetfulness from those who can't).

Maybe after another year of work, I will be more able to make peace with myself and therefore forgive those few who are still on my naughty list. I will do my best.

L'shana tova -- have a happy New Year.


Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Thank the Creator

I want to take a moment to say a sincere thank you to all the creators out there. No joke. I take too much for granted and it isn't right.

I was lying in bed last night, listening to music and a particular song came on. This song happens to really touch me. I don't know if it is the particular sequence of notes, the words in the lyrics or some magical combination of bits and pieces, but this song makes me feel something profound every time I listen to it. I don't just like it. It compels me. I have written about this before but the feelings are still very vivid. The same thing happens, though, when I see certain pieces of art. Some paintings really TALK to me. I don't mean that in a literal and psychopathic way -- I mean that something in the artwork speaks to my being in a way hard to describe. I stare at the painting and do more than appreciate the brush strokes. I fall into the picture. It could be some kinetic art or some hyper realistic one or something else but, man, does that art do a job on me. And poems, movies, TV and even (though rarely) dance -- sometimes, I watch something and I am transfixed.

And I don't know how it happens. Really. I can't figure out what muse has descended to create such perfection. I can't understand the process that a creator goes through when crafting something; does he or she know that this piece of expression is going to reach into my soul and pluck a lost chord? Does the artist understand that while much of his work is "nice" something happened and turned some pieces into the sublime?

So to all the creators, from the sculptor who controls my eyes as I watch the car drive by to the author who gets me to cry over people who never existed to the ultimate Creator who made me and allowed me to be affected by my world, just know: someone says "Thank you" and appreciates your hard work, and is in awe.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Come on and Take my Free Ride

First, the rule is you take on 1 piece of carry-on luggage that you can fit in the overhead bin and 1 piece of personal carryable something, that can be stuck under the seat. This means that you shouldn't have 3 bags, your shopping bag, your hat and ukulele. On the flip side, if you sell someone a seat, you, as an airline, should provide space for one piece of carry on luggage in an overhead bin. If my piece conforms to FAA (or whatever) regulations, I should be able to put it above my seat and not worry about it. The wheeling and dealing on the flight was ridiculous, mostly because people brought 2 or 3 pieces of luggage plus other bags. Bins were opened and closed, feelings were hurt, fingers were crushed and I sat there, comfortable in the knowledge that my bag was stowed and safe. Of course, when we landed I had to look around for it because during the game of musical bins, someone moved mine without telling me.

We took off close to on time and I had a chance to watch both X-Men: Apocalypse and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and I'm better for the experience. This 777-200ER was an older model with no video on demand and a generally junkier in-flight entertainment system. But before I complain too much I have to recall the olden days when an 11 and a half hour flight required that you talk to other people because there was almost no entertainment. So at least this was something.

For breakfast, the choices were "omelet" and "Blinches." Sure, they looked good, but they are not blinches. There. I just needed to call them on that.

I did get some sleep (the flight left at 12:30 AM so I was ready to nod off anyway, but the beer helped). I put the headphones in and tuned to whatever channel seemed inoffensive for the moment, slipped on the eye shades and sat up real straight and napped. I woke often to the sound of screeching children but I just cranked up the music, found another channel and fell back asleep. I anticipated something for this flight -- I knew Maddie wasn't coming back so I expected that I would wallow in my sadness with an empty seat next to me. I bought the ticket and checked her in online, and when I presented myself at the counter to explain, the woman seemed to understand. I sat down and dumped some stuff on what I expected to be an empty seat. Imagine my surprise when a man came over and sat down. Now, I didn't ask to see his ticket and I'm too non-confrontational to say anything, but inside, I was livid. How dare he sit there. My righteous indignation knew now bounds and at least 2 dimensions. One, this was a seat for my kid. It should be treated with reverence. Second, I paid for the seat -- I wanted the meal that came with it, the space in the overhead bin and some room to stretch out! But it seems, El Al resold that seat once I told them that Maddie wasn't coming. Now it would make sense if they, after having resold it, refunded me some money, even if just a percentage. Maybe they could kick a hundred bucks as a compensation for making an empty seat for them to resell at substantially more than that. Maybe they could move me up to first class and give me a pedicure. Maybe. Maybe not.

But did they have to sell the seat to a guy who spreads out onto both armrests? Jerk.

At 1.5 hours before landing, I filled out the Customs Declaration. I thought as a religious powerhouse, writing about my customs would be easy but that was not what the form was about. In truth, I have no idea what the form was about. I'm 47 years old and have no idea what I signed. I wrote my name and address on it and said that I didn't have $10,000 worth of bearer bonds, fruit flies or tractors and tried to read the back. After failing at that, I looked at the spot that asked me to list what I bought and I wrote "doggie poop bags" because I did. I hope they appreciate that honesty. Then I looked around because no one said what I was supposed to do with the paper after that. I needed an adult. Why, along with an air marshal, isn't there an air accountant or air tax advisor? Everyone else seemed totally comfortable filling out the paper work with no help and they were all chatting and laughing at me. If I had gone to high school on an air plane, this would have reminded me of that. There should be a class in school about Customs Declarations.

I skipped breakfast (blinches?) and thought to myself "I could really go for a candy bar right now." Let me explain.

There are many things I love about Israel and I especially love all the food options, but I am allergic to many nuts and this means that I can't eat anything after the main course in Israel. When I go to Israel, I break my no-carb diet so sweets SHOULD play an important role in that. However, everything is made with nuts, especially my arch nemesis, hazelnut (AKA filbert). Regular chocolate there has hazelnuts in it and the cross contamination is rampant. In America, the phrase "may contain nuts" is a legal requirement and usually can be ignored. (I did say usually, not always). In Israel, when they say "may contain nuts" they mean "yeah, you know this has nuts in it." So as much as I love main courses, I crave dessert and as much as I crave dessert, I cannot have any of it. For the longest time, people in America begged Israeli friends to come visit and bring large amounts of candy that is only supervised as kosher in Israel. If I spend time in Israel, I will have to beg American friends to bring in American candy so I can survive. Weird.

Anyway, I got off the plane quickly and ran up the stairs to get to customs. Some guy asked me who I was, stamped some paper and sent me into another line where more silly questions were asked and papers were collected. I was hoping that, much like the hallways on my entrance to the airport, the space between the customs hall and baggage claim would include a candy store or the like. But there was NOTHING to eat so I stood next to the baggage carousel (worst. carousel. ever.) and watched the same 3 pieces of luggage go around for 25 minutes. There was no motivation to get there quickly if the stuff isn't loaded onto the conveyor belt for 30 minutes after arrival. My bag arrived in the midst of the pack and I tried not to knock over too many small children who were crowding next to the machine, but what happens in Newark stays in Newark, so let's leave it at that.

My elder is in an apartment, learning how to turn on a stove, how to keep herself busy and how to do whatever it is is her dream to do. More power to her. Thank you for bearing with me as I vented my way to and from the Holy Land.


Sunday, August 28, 2016

Just a Note before I go

Writing from the airport now and man, this wasn't easy. By "this" I don't mean the security lines. Sure, there were some blips, but on the whole, things have moved rather well. I spent the day hanging out with Maddie. We went to the hardware store and bought a large chain and lock after figuring out how we would secure the chain to her apartment wall to ensure that no one steals her washing machine (which is outside her apartment) - if you see some guy running down the street carrying a washing machine, you will know that we have failed. We also emailed the medical insurance people to process an address change (now that she, for sure, knows her address) and we wandered down Yafo just because. We stopped into a Fox Home store which was beyond both of our financial reaches but it was air conditioned, so there's that. We also looked into a few other stores just for fun. It was nice to be able to make nasty comments to each other. We ran into a friend of Maddie's who has just started in the army (3 weeks ago) and she seemed still excited. Maddie and I also went into the local book store (Steimatzky or something like that) and she bought a couple of books to tide her over. I had a nice chat with her about what she ashould be doing to fill her days until the army stuff kicks in. That's the real concern -- without the structure of work or school, how does she stay busy. We brainstormed and I listed a number of options:
1. Set a daily walk (one suggestion, to the Kotel and back)
2. Set up a daily workout regimen to prepare for the army.
3. Buy a newspaper daily and read it to learn about Israel and Israeli politics.
4. Find people and talk to them to brush up on Hebrew skills (also, hire a teacher to work on Hebrew, but that may be out of budget)
5. Find a website which has relevant Hebrew words and study up
6. Start a list of things she needs for the army and keep track of prices
7. Volunteer at one or ore of the soldier centers (to learn lingo and make connections)
8. Help out family with child care
9. Write me long, daily emails detailing her life (or just start a blog).

There were other suggestions but 9 is a lot to ignore in one sitting so we'll stop there.

We had lunch at Apple Pizza which was surprisingly good (at least thge pizza...we were unimpressed with the fries). Back at the apartment I sprayed for bugs (we had bought the Israeli equivalent of American bug spray called "Raid at Entebee." it wasn't.) And we contemplated moving the refrigerator. We talked some more about how she can be prepared, what the upcoming challenges would be and how she can deal with them. Her neighbors (including the guys upstairs who hung the Confederate flag on their window) are lone soldiers so she is only as alone as she lets herself be. There are plenty of people to connect with. Eventually, I started staring at the clock so it was time to get dinner before I went stir crazy. Note -- we called the sheirut (shared minibus service, 64 shekel to the airport, about 16 dollars) and told them our departure time so it was just a matter of waiting.

We argued about where to eat dinner and eventually I said, "I have never at an actual meal in the shuk, and I'd like fish and chips." So that answered that. We went into the shuk and ate at a fish restaurant. She had a grilled salmon salad and I had cod based fish and fried mashed potato balls. That's a thing, apparently. The food was good and we ran into a teacher I used to work with who, as everyone has done, gave Maddie contact info and sincerely asked her to stop by for a meal or a week. Whatever she needs. There really is a spirit of Middle Eastern hospitality going on. It is lovely to watch even though I'd rather be pampered in a really expensive hotel.

After dinner we went back to the apartment to hang out and wait for my ride. On the way, I was pulled into a mincha minyan. This wasn't some group of a few kids who wanted to dash off davening; this was a hardcore sephardi mini-shul and the mincha was substantially longer than I expected, but I, again, felt like I was part of something important. Afterwards I went to catch up with Maddie in her apartment. This is where it got real, and real tough. She is no longer a child. She is a woman. She is independent, smart, driven, and bottom line, still my little girl. I held her when she was tiny. I comforted her when she skinned her knees. I watched her grow up through high school when I drove her back and forth every day. I have been (I'd like to think) an important and constant presence in her life. That could be good and it could be bad, but whatever it was, it was. So cutting that cord and letting her be on her own was very tough. I want to be just a moment away so I can fix everything, or at least be there when things can't be fixed. I want to be the daddy who is needed by his little girl. I know that she was away for a year already but there, there were surrogate parents who kept her in line and who established structure. Now she is truly (at least until the army kicks her in the pants on a daily basis) on her own, running her own household. She's almost 20 and I'm not old enough for this. Anyway, we went outside to wait for the van and she hugged me and I hugged her back. She was, for one last minute (or 10, as it turns out) my little girl, wearing my coat, grabbing my arm and just wanting to be held. When the van came the scene was just pathetic -- the two of us blubbering like whales, or something like that. Eventually I climbed on and waved goodbye as we pulled away. It hurt. I mean, it really, really hurt, and as much as I am excited and proud, as much as I admire her and know that growing up is a part of life, I wonder if it will ever stop hurting, or if I would ever want it to.

I sniffled my way through the van ride which stopped on top of every hill in the surrounding desert, but only after hitting every bump along the way. I refrained from throwing up because I didn't want to appear any weaker than a crying, fully grown man already looks. I held everything together until, at the airport, I had to explain why I had 2 tickets and was only one traveler. The kindly ticketing lady let me have a tissue which was nice of her. I then made it through a few other levels of security, ran into some other people who didn't want to be seen with me, and am now here, a barbarian at the gate. I will update with what I hope are boring details about a boring flight which I sleep through. But I doubt it.

Hebrew For

I started walking around on Friday (that's Hebrew for Sunday). With Maddie still setting up and planning on a hardware store run to buy more bits and ends (or odds and pieces, I forget) I decided to walk to the Kotel. The Kotel is Hebrew for center of the spiritual universe. When I stand there in silent and very personal meditation, I truly can feel God's presence. The sun beat down but I pressed my head against the stones, closed my eyes and felt like I could place myself very clearly in the continuum of Judaism. As I whispered a quiet prayer in a sincere and spiritual mood, a spiritual bird spiritually pooped on my spiritual arm. True story.

I washed up and returned to the wall, and chose my spot more carefully and reconnected with the divine. On a Friday, one is accosted by more than the normal number of people asking for charity and contributions and I was easy pickings in my spiritual mood. I started giving a little bit of money to each of them t including the guy who just wanted to know what time it was. Now I'm broke but I believe that local etiquette allows me to walk up to strangers with my hand outstretched and they have to give me money.

I was standing at the wall and next to me a morning minyan (that's Hebrew for minion) was wrapping up (note the tefillin joke for the advanced users out there) and I heard one man ask the guy who led the prayer service, "Is this a Sephardic minyan?" The man answered, "This is the Kotel -- it is an everyone minyan!" It was a nice moment.

Next, I went in to the prayer plaza (the little tunnel area on the left side of the Kotel. I have never gone in there and it was great and I'm not just talking about the air conditioner. But that was awesome, too.

As I stood around, I overheard two men arguing. The guy in charge of the parasols was not allowing a man to take a parasol to a woman who was standing in the heat. There was much angry shouting -- very Israeli. Then, suddenly, one of the men apparently crossed a line of propriety. When he saw that the other man was really hurt, he immediately stopped arguing and repeatedly and sincerely, begged forgiveness. He kept saying "We are brothers!" Brothers fight but always have limits and ultimately want to reconcile. Another nice moment.

I walked back to the shuk (that's Hebrew for madhouse) area up Yafo Road, so I could meet up with nephew Rafi as he and his camp hiked through towards the old city. I was to transfer a bag of chocolate biscotti (that's Hebrew for brownie) to him. I ran into a group of college kids from campuses which lack a Jewish community. Some guy organizes these trips to help otherwise unconnected students have a chance to be part of the nation of Israel. Another nice moment.

I walked, dodging people and motorized bicycles. That's a thing here. In Jeruslaem, there are so many hills that it is more feasible to get around with a small motor attached to your bicycle. In Tel Aviv, it is so flat that the same conclusion holds. Motorized bicycles everywhere and drivers (from the 12 year old Arab boy to the elderly Chareidi woman) are fearless, zigging and sometimes zagging, and often, not in that order. In a country where people don't jaywalk, it is interesting to see the disregard for safety exhibited by these bikers. Vespas and motorcycles also abound -- easier to park than cars and they make shopping more convenient.

I handed off the biscotti to Rafi, walked through the shuk on a Friday (think Times Square, but with more cumin). Back to Maddie's apartment and then immediately back out to another store to buy a hot water urn and a microwave (she will save the hot plate for another day). Then back to Nomi and David for some pre-shabbos relaxing and calls to family.

By the way, Maddie was confirmed as disqualified for jury duty based on the bank statements I got printed in English (hapless dad and all that) and, according to phone calls, I will be getting the Ikea money credited and the car rental money returned within 10 business days. More updates on that as events warrant.

Then Shabbat (shabbos, sabbath, Saturday...whatever). We had a great dinner with baTASHevA and Zevi and Emmy, plus Micha and his friend Avrumi. Chicken, quinoa with butternut squash, zucchini, potatoes. Yum. Throw in 2 bottles of wine and you have a party. Afterwards David and I played Scrabble and chatted, then sleep. I davened at Kol Rina in a bomb shelter (it is much nicer inside than you'd think). Then lunch back with Nomi and David (and some great garlic/oregano smothered potatoes, plus more chicken and vegetables). I walked Maddie and friend to another friend's house and, to atone for all the potatoes, walked down to the Kotel. Nomi and David took 3 kids to the Hametz house in the old city (where Eli was eating lunch) and I came along. I went past the house as I was asked by a man from Flatbush if I could escort him to the Kotel. He felt safer walking with me. I don't know why, but he did. I didn't, but whatever. I certainly wasn't going to turn down a chance to go to the Kotel.

Then back up to the Hametz house for an afternoon of conversation about education, Judaism, children and security protocols at the airport. Lolly the kelev (that's Hebrew for bear) demanded I rub her belly so I complied because she is, after all, a bear. Then I walked back to Maddie's to play backgammon (that's Hebrew for shesh besh...look it up) and Chamesh Avanim (Hebrew for Kugelach) until I made havdalah.

For dinner we walked to Cinema City to eat at Moses, a hip and thigh Burger bar. We were joined by the Aarons (take a bow, Aarons). They made aliyah 14 years ago (I think) and are finally comfortable being seen in public with me. The drinks were overpriced, Maddie fell asleep at the table and the fried burger was more of a bit of showmanship than a culinary advantage. But I ate it anyway because it was fried. The onion strings were delicious and then the Aarons drove us home. How about a hand for he Aarons [ ].

This morning I have begun to pack. Maddie has to make a couple of phone calls and I have to go buy chocolate. I expect my next entry will be from New Jersey, summing this all up. I anticipate tears and long hugs, but eventually we will have to let go and Maddie will have to accept that the chocolate is not for her.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Everything's (a) fine

For reference

Thursday...Thursday. First thing was to return the car. Maddie and I drove over to the return place in Romema where there was absolutely no instruction as to what to do once we got there. In Tel Aviv, at a little, local airport, we expected a lack of English. In Jerusalem, we expected English. We found precious little at the rental place. Also, the idea of a line and waiting on it seems foreign to this culture. The guy in the "office" (a makeshift trailer with a sign on the door saying "stay out") said "what do you want" just in Hebrew. Hebrew is a lyrical language in which complex and poetic concepts are reduced to a shrug of the shoulders and the word "Mah?"

After he finished shouting with another customer (Israel is a land in which everyone is always almost angry and almost always angry) we explained that we were returning the car. He had another guy check the car out, telling him that we had had an accident and that there was a dent in the rear of the car. This was not entirely true and by that I mean, this was entirely not true. The other guy took a look, took some pictures, checked some stuff on his computer and said "You are ok. Bye." No paperwork, no nothing. So we left.* We DID ask how to pay the parking ticket I got that morning. I know, I know, why pay a ticket on a rental car? Either because I am hopelessly honest and got the ticket fairly, or because with my luck, I will get pulled off the plane and placed in a Turkish prison which I hear is no delight. I was told that I could pay it in any post office. Makes perfect sense.

We started walking back (we found a shortcut) because Maddie's friend was meeting us back at the apartment. On the way, we passed a post office so I ran in. I wasn't sure what button to push on the machine which spits out the number you wait to be called so when the woman said something to me in an annoyed tone (it sounded like "Parah Aduma" but I doubt she was calling me a red heifer) I played the card that has been so useful recently: the "I'm a happless American tourist" card. I waved the ticket and said "I need to pay this please." This works for when the teller/service provider is a woman because they all then imagine their own hapless husbands and have mercy. So she motioned for me to come up and took the ticket. She was shocked when she looked at it. She asked "You just got this! You want to pay it already?" She didn't know it was a rental car but was shocked that I didn't want to wait until the due date and then 3 weeks more before I paid. I gave her the fine and she smiled, amused at my silly American naivete. I ran out and caught up to Maddie just as she locked the door to her apartment.

We welcomed Maddie's friend and sat and talked for a few minutes. Our plan for the afternoon included meeting Steve who had the cash that his father got changed so that we could open the bank account, and buying all sorts of little things that Maddie still needed. We started off down Ben Yehuda to get some food. Ben Yehuda is a perfect street on which to say "what do you want to eat?" "I dunno...what do you want?" And so on. We ended up at a bagel place. Bagels in Israel are sort of like bagels but not quite and spreads are much more diverse. The friend had cream cheese (esque...) with pesto and something else. Maddie had a LOT of butter and sweet potato. In Hebrew, that's batata. I don't know why, but it is fun to say. Batata. I had a whole wheat "bagel" with cream cheese and tomato slices and cucumber slices. I should have had it toasted (which is really "pannini pressed").

From there we walked a couple of blocks to buy some water and catch a cab. Off to "Cinema City" to meet with Steve and receive an unmarked envelope of cash. Perfectly reasonable. Then we got a Lyft/Gett/Taxi back to the bank to wait like groupies on line for a concert. On Thursdays, the bank opens up again at 4PM, til 6:15. We were advised not to go in the afternoon but we threw caution to the wind and, using Maddie's friend's cachet, we went in and took the number (M111). We were called pretty quickly and worked with Aviva Sharvit (if you are in Bank Leumi, ask for Aviva Sharvit. It won't help but there you go) to open the account. The friend peppered her with questions (do you really need a three hour lunch break? How did your bank win that award? Who was Nisim Behar?) while I played the "hapless American dad" bit and she had the requisite mercy. To open an account, one has to deposit EXACTLY 10,000 shekalim in cash. We tried depositing 13,000 but were told that any transaction over 10,000 would require an additional level of managerial involvement. Any less than 10,000 wouldn't meet the minimum. And you can't have 2 transactions in one day so we couldn't open with 10,000 and then deposit the rest later.

There are fees for everything -- transactions, no transactions, going below the minimum, staying above the minimum holding a debit card, using a credit card, speaking with a teller, breathing the air. Once we signed our lives away (and Maddie settled on a spelling for her Hebrew name) we emerged relatively victorious in that Maddie has a bank account which temporarily had 10,000 shekalim in it. I am sure that because of the fees, she has less now. Also, you have to do the majority of your banking at your home branch. Not your bank, your actual branch. They won't let you open an account at a branch too far from your home address. And changing branches is apparently harder than changing banks.

Then back to go food shopping. We went to Supersol and bought everything. Some things twice. We carried it all back -- in Jerusalem, most everything is walkable if you have anough time and muscles. I had the time and by the middle of the walk, I developed huge pains in my hands as the plastic bags dug into my fingers. But we made it. The evening was spent putting food away, fixing bits around the apartment (I put a lock on Maddie's bedroom door as the lock-set in the door only locks from the OUTSIDE), changing bulbs and putting everything in its place. We ordered pizza and watched the first 45 minutes of Bad Boys before it was bed time. I dealt with a call from work at 11pm and slept.

*This morning I was notified by Julie that the security deposit of $1,000 which was not supposed to be charged if we returned the car was, indeed charged. So that is what I have on tap for this morning, plus maybe a walk to this "Old City" which I keep hearing about.

Good shabbos, all.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

TA then not TA

OK -- I'm just going to write a few short ideas down. I don't have the energy to compose a detailed account of everything, so bear with me.

1. I didn't sleep much so I was a half asleep zombie all day. If more zombies were half asleep, zombie movies wouldn't be as scary.

2. We walked to the central bus station instead of taking a bus there. The central bus station is not like the bus terminals in the US. I mean, both have buses, but there are significant differences beyond that.

3. We took the 480 to Tel Aviv. The highway was nice, the traffic reminded me of home and then I fell asleep. We ended at some bus terminal (not the central bus station) in Tel Aviv and walked around a little. We made our way onto another, local bus (was it the 183? I don't recall) and rode for 2 stops, then walked 10 minutes to the Defense building (on Kaplan street?)Maddie met with some guy and filled out paperwork while I fell asleep on a chair in a hallway. I know, surrounded by soldiers and pictures of famous army type people, I should have been more awed to be in the center of the Israeli defense system, but we half-zombies (or was it half asleep?) need to catch naps when we can.

4. Afterwards, papers safely stowed, we walked around (waiting to hear from Nomi about Ikea). We went to the Sarona market area. There are a series of separate small buildings which house boutiques and restaurants, and an indoor food court/food mall. Very fancy. Almost completely treif. We ended up in a restaurant outside (Biga, I think it was called). Maddie got sweet potato tortellini with chunkss of sweet potato in a sauce.She liked it. She also got a foccacia with dipping sauces. The menu (an iPad) read "Entrees" but it took one to a sub menu called "Starters" and the dishes were as large as main courses.

It was hot so we sat in front of a huge fan.

I got 2 (what I thought were) appetizers -- one a "polenta" (more like creamed corn) with green beans and mushrooms. Fantastic! Also, a sweet potato. (I ordered a carpaccio of vegetables but they didn't have).

While we were there, Nomi texted to report that the Ikea delivery people had not yet secured the order so we just canceled the whole thing. It was more dramatic than that but don't worry about it.

5. Maddie ordered a Gett (like Uber, only not Uber). We waited and then got in to some car. We told the guy to take us to the car rental place "Sixt". He took us to the airport. But not THE airport. There is another airport in Tel Aviv -- a little one where short people fly small planes. Or something like that. We walked around looking for the car rental place (small airport, no signs). A kindly policeman directed us to the appropriate trailer. Inside, the nice gentleman who speaks English explained that he had no cars. This is why we make reservations, children.

We walked in to the next trailer and explained ourselves again. This company (does it really matter which it is? Kal Auto. There, are you happy?) had only big cars (in Israel, this means a sedan as opposed to a subcompact) which was exactly what we needed. We rented one on the spot and drove to Ikea in Rishon Letziyon (Google maps!)

6. Ikea was similar to the American Ikea. We were hoping that they would have a different system for delivery if one orders in the store but when we saw that the delivery office had the name of the company which had failed us already (Dror4U. Do NOT use them. Rent the car.) Maddie insisted that we just hope that the stuff fit into the sedan. So we went shopping. We got most everything we needed, I moved car from the outside lot (really just an open field with cars in it) into the underground loading area, watched a youtube video about how to fold down the rear seats, and loaded up. We got the bed, the mattress, the mirror, the pillows, the dishes and everything else into the car. Next we set up the phone with the address in Jerusalem and started driving back. I tried not to fall asleep. That would have been bad. Nomi and children (kudos Nava) staked out a spot near the apartment (easier said than done)and we moved everything upstairs.

7. Dad's time to shine -- I started assembling Ikea stuff. I like doing that and am pretty good at that. I should have been a lumberjack; I think it is the same idea.

8. Break from Ikea for dinner (burgers, delivered. Nice.)Then more assembling. Back to Nomis and sleep, and I did sleep. And it was good.

Summary -

I'm sure I am missing stuff. I know that there are plenty of emotional notes I have skipped, events and details which have been glossed over and wry comments which I could have made. But the bottom line is that Maddie had a bed with a mattress, sheets, duvet, pillows and such for last night. I rented a car in a foreign land and ate burgers. My daughter signed up for military service. A pretty humdrum day.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

A letter home

We are leaving for Tel Aviv in a few hours. Attempts at sleep have, once again, failed. Nerves, jet lag and coffee have ensured that 4AM is no longer a lonely time. So my late night thoughts get the better of me.

Earlier today, we visited the Lone Soldier Center in Jerusalem. Maddie is known there as she has been spending time there and meeting people over the last year because she knows that volunteering is what she truly wants. She did ask me not to get involved in the parent groups on Facebook so as not to embarrass her. She wants to join the military but the old man is still embarrassment. Awesome.

So I typed up this letter in the hopes that it captures a little of what I am feeling, and isn’t too embarrassing.

Dear Israel,

Hi and I hope all is well with you. I’m visiting you, filling up on falafel and spirituality, then heading back home. I know it is unusual to send a letter while I am already here, but it is even more unusual to write to a country. But once I cross one line, I might as well cross them all. So hi.

Here’s the thing – I bought 2 round trip tickets, but on the way back, one of the seats will be empty. My daughter now has an apartment and is hoping to volunteer for the IDF. After a year and a half of service she will reevaluate if she wants to come back to the US (where she was planning to go to college).

Israel, I’m lending you my elder daughter and I’d like to chat with you about this, so pull of a coastline and let’s talk, why not?

Maddie loves Israel. I guess that that is natural – we brought her up sending her to Zionistic camps and schools. We told stories of Israel and showed her pictures of all of our trips. We imbued in her a respect for her religion which has, at its core, an urge to return from exile to a land of our forefathers. We sent her on a summer trip, we took her ourselves and we encouraged her to study in Israel after high school. We wanted her to love Israel and she does and that’s great.

She’s a special girl. She is passionate, curious, intelligent and independent – all things we tried to instill in her so, again, this is on us. And did I mention she loves Israel? We are incredibly proud – she is living the dream that flickered in me, briefly, in 1983. She is reaching a potential that is admirable and inspiring, so we’re proud. And, we’re scared.

She wants to join the army. This amazes me. The idea of doing anything really early in the morning other than writing blog posts and lying awake wondering how one can actually FORGET how to sleep has always confounded me. Long hikes and other physical exertion never made any sense no matter the hour. And I don’t look good in green – I’m big enough to admit that. But it isn’t just about some generic army. You are facing a constant and existential threat. I was worried enough when she walked through your cities and took buses while there were clampdowns because of stabbings, but now she is donning the uniform and volunteering to be a target because she truly loves you and wants to do her part to protect you. She is strong (more strong than even she realizes) and she wants to be part of something important. As a family member, as a community member, a student, a Jew, she already was, but for her, doing her part as a member of tzahal will make her feel like she is going to be part of something even greater. And I applaud that. But in a country always on the brink of war, how can a parent not worry?

But, and I know this, most of the young people in Israel serve so my worry is not unique. Every parent thinks his or her child is special, so I am not unique. It would be easy to reassure me in this way and tell me to toughen up and deal with my worry because my kid will be fine. But Israel, I need to tell you, that isn’t very reassuring. I know – you can’t give me anything more, but I need you to know where I stand on this. I am proud and I am frightened. I am amazed and yet I expected nothing else. We knew she had to leave the nest and fly but she is flying very high, very far and very quickly, and when I look at her, I still see a baby.

She’s yours for now. Please protect her so she can protect you.


P.S. Sorry if my thoughts are mixed up. Trying to come to terms with this is difficult, but doing so on 2 hours of sleep is even more so.


Customer disservice

This second day was one of contrasts. I learned a lot and not all of it good, but the most important lesson of them all is, "Hey, shut up, that's my cow."

A preface -- I love Jerusalem. I love Israel. Really, deeply and sincerely. That having been said, this place is getting me down and that's not cool.

I was up early (4:30 ish) and when it was a more civilized I laved and donned. I picked Maddie up and we set off on a day of errands. I insisted that we stop off for coffee. This is vacation and I won't be tense without copious amounts of caffeine, dagnabit. We stopped at a coffee place and I, sensing the approaching heat, saw a sign saying "Ice coffee" so I ordered that. What came out was a thick sludge-mix of soft serve coffee ice cream and a milk based coffee slurpy. It was offensive to the tongue. I had to find another store (Aroma Cafe) at which to get a scalding cup of bitter stuff to cleanse my palate of the sickly sweet intrusion that masqueraded as coffee. Do people really drink that stuff?

Maddie bought dried pineapple, attesting to another of my parenting failures.

We started pricing hot plates, standing fans, microwaves, hot water urns and such and then started buying -- not the big things yet, but a curtain rod for the shower, a Sabbath lamp, some cheap plastic storage pieces, towels and like that. We seemed to find each thing in one store. There are 17 different stores which all appear to sell the same thing. The difference was the one product we needed. Even the bigger stores didn't have all the things we needed. The closet rod was found in one housewares store because one woman recognized the bracket I carried with me and happened to have the exact bar made for it. It still had to be cut to size and that had to wait until some guy who worked across the street showed up but it got done. That pointed out 2 real ins for the Israeli stores -- in the small stores, the proprietor knows every piece of product and where it is, no matter how messy or cluttered the store appears, and every worker is more than happy to take time out to help you search, if only to tell you that you are doing the job wrong. Also, people from one store were very comfortable going to ask for help from people from other stores. The idea of cut throat competition is reduced. To get everything back we needed a cart so the guy at one store lent us his and just asked that we return it as soon as we could. We stopped off at a cell phone store to sign Maddie up and get a SIM card for her phone, the metal closet bar, freshly sawed fell and gouged my glasses, and we got back. It was about 1PM.

I started fixing up parts of the apartment with the pieces we bought and Maddie went to go get the address of the bank branch so we could got later in the afternoon and open an account. When she did so, she found that it closed at 2PM! So we jumped back up and, still sweating and tired, we ran to the bank. At 1:45 we looked for help and were directed to get a number from the machine that sets up the queues. We did -at 1:47 - M103. The system which called the "next" customer then jumped over our number repeatedly. So we sat and waited. At :20 a woman asked us why we were still here. When we explained that we were trying to open an account she was amazed. She said that the bank was closed. We reminded her that we got a number when it was still open. She was shocked that we had even been let into the bank and said that one does not simply walk in and start an account. She asked how we got the number M103 and we said, "we pushed the button on the machine." She asked, "What button" and we said, "The one that says 'Open a new account.'" She was flummoxed. It doesn't work that way, she insisted. We had to come back first thing tomorrow. We said we couldn't but asked when the bank closed on Wednesdays. 2PM was again the answer. What about Thursday? 4PM but don't come in the afternoon. So with that annoying piece of advice we are planning on being first in line Thursday morning.


Maddie had emailed the bank last week to confirm that I could write a check from my SU account in order to populate her new account. They said, "sure can." It seems that it was opposite day and no one told me. I asked the same question, just to confirm and the woman insisted that, not only couldn't I pay by check, but I could even have my US bank wire the money over. I have to walk in with the proper amount of cash (minimum 10,000 Israeli Shekels, approximately $2,500. But where am I supposed to get that money? She had no idea but told us that that was the way things worked and goodbye. We hear that bank branches are highly cliquish and if you don't come in with an existing customer who can vouch for you and your coolness, you can't hang out with them. We had no such intermediary so we have to go find the nerd-geek bank.

A note about bankers and other Israeli workers -- they don't dress up the way professionals do in the US. Everyone dresses up like it is the weekend -- some in casual-Friday clothes, some in sabbath garb and some in Sunday at the beach clothes. All just to leave the house. And for the larger institutions, there is no such thing as customer service. Nomi and David explain it as a middle eastern cultural affect but I think that they are all jerks who should be nicer to me. In Israel, everyone is so keen on copying the US: Phone numbers (which have only 1 plus 9 digits) are reformatted to make them look more like American numbers. Stores have names that that take English words (the word "pharm" is found in many drug store names, the Hebrew word "minimarket" is "minimarket" and other words like "cheap" and "best" appear everywhere. English is ubiquitous.) In fact there is a store named "Ricoshet" because they just took the word "ricochet" and vocalized the final letter and transliterated. But for all the copying, they have not tried to include the American sense that the customer is always right. The small stores tried to help but the big ones were horrible.

Speaking of which, my sister called Ikea today. Remember Ikea? There's a blog post about Ikea. The 3rd party company responsible for delivery of orders placed on their website called and they said that they don't and won't deliver. It's a long story but the bottom line is that my sister reminded this company that their entire business model is delivery for online orders. It took a number of calls but eventually one nice woman said that she would do her best to wait until tomorrow to crush Maddie's dreams of sleeping on a bed, with a real pillow.

We walked back to the shuk, returned the cart and met up with the Lauderdales at Beer Bazaar. They sell beer there so Maddie got a lemon ade. And a large pretzel. I got spicy beef jerky and a nice stout and Steve got a pastrami sammich and an ale Now it is like you were there! This was my first meal in the shuk and it was interesting. We spoke with the Lauderdales and worked on some possible solutions. No details here -- someone is always watching. Suffice to say, I am incredibly appreciative even if this doesn't work out. Maddie fell asleep after her food but eventually I woke her up, we said goodbye to Steve and headed back. On the way she bought more dried fruit and we found other little items (crazy glue, a small digital clock, a charity box and a washing cup, suction cup hooks etc.) We made it back to wash up (I worked on furniture for 5 minutes and Maddie unpacked a little, or at least thought about it -- got that, Julie?) and then went to visit Nomi and David. We reviewed the day's craziness and made some plans for tomorrow (if Ikea doesn't come through, we have to rent a van in Tel Aviv and drive to Ikea ourselves and then drive back to Jerusalem. Crazy, right?) I helped Maddie clean up and set up more and then took her garbage out. She was too tired to eat so I said goodnight and walked to Moshiko where I ate everything, and came back.

Tomorrow, my elder child takes her first official step towards her army service. I have much to say about that but wish that while I said it, she at least had a bed.

Monday, August 22, 2016

The big move, day one

Just a preface -- I am planning to write something more sentimental but first I have to catch up on the last 36 hours.

The bottom line is that I am accompanying Maddie as she settles in to her new digs in Israel so this trip is a vacation of sorts but also chock full of errands and bittersweet non-chocolate based moments.

Our flight was Sunday afternoon, at 1:30 so we headed out to Newark. Security was mostly uneventful though Maddie was pulled aside as the TSA agent was concerned about some piece of metal built into her shoe. He interrogated said shoe and let us continue, convinced that neither we, nor the show, was up to no good.

The flight was OK. I recall El Al flights from my youth -- massive planes with 500 people jockeying for overhead space and blocking aisles. There was a lot less of that. Granted, overhead space was at a premium (my seat didn't actually have an overhead bin so I had to find another spot but no one then seemed to be stuck because I took his space) but it all worked out. The 777-2000ER configuration is mostly 9 people per row, 3-3-3 but row 34 is 2-3-2 and the middle seat in the 3 part was supposedly unsold so each of us was hoping for an aisle seat and 1 neighbor. When we boarded, we found that the middle seat did sell to an older woman who was then moved so that a young man in another row didn't have to sit next to a woman. Instead he sat next to me which God said is better. I'm unconvinced. Maddie sat next to an unaccompanied 11 year old Israeli girl who viewed the possibility hat I would sit next to her with fear and disgust. So there's that.

The seats were designed by people who did lengthy study into the positions in which the human body can fall asleep and who made sure that the seats did not lend themselves to any of those positions. The seat goes back but not enough. The arm rests are not quite wide enough for arm resting and the width is too narrow. So sleep didn't much happen despite the benadryl, lack of sleep the night before, sugar and wine. I was tired and loopy, but up. So I ate everything. Everything. In my row, a gentleman had ordered the mega ultra kosher meal (as opposed to my run of the mill kosher meal) but his wife packed him a set of meals so he kindly asked me to eat his food and I complied.

I did a Thursday, 2 Friday, 2 Saturday and a Sunday crossword puzzle, read a short story, watched 5 episodes of Nir V'Gali and looked at the clock 8 billion times. The plane is smaller that others on which I have taken this flight so when the huddled masses assembled to pray there was no breathing room and I feared that someone, in religious fervor, would accidentally open the plane's door and we would all die. Very spiritual moments they were. The movie selection was an interesting combination of newer movies I didn't want to see and older movies I have never wanted to see. There were also episodes of TV shows I don't watch and games I don't play.

The bathroom was right behind our row. This was convenient for approximately 3 minutes out of the flight. The rest of the time, the cycle of "light, flush, light" was less welcome. There was also a large number of the two worst kinds of people to fly with -- kids and adults, so it was a noisy flight full of people who chose not to give me their food.

We landed at 7am local time and deplaned quickly. At the baggage claim, 2 of our bags came out quickly but the bag karma kicked in and the other 2 waited until the last moment to make an appearance. Customs and such were straightforward and within an hour, we emerged into the ridiculous heat. Our options for getting to Jerusalem were a bus (nope...) a cab (over 60 dollars but convenient) and a sheirut, a shared mini bus -- 15 dollars each but less convenient. We did that because it seemed that we would be dropped off first. We weren't. First, they had to find exactly 8 other people to fill the mini bus. Then we had to change seats so that religious woman didn't have to sit next to the big. He sat next to me and the AC wasn't quite on enough to help me in my jet lagged glory deal with that. If one can be said to pass out while still being completely awake, I did that. We toured all around Jerusalem dropping most everyone off while the driver used mock sincerity to deal with his lot in life ("Sure I can drop you of there...I will drop you off ANY WHERE you want...just say so, I live to serve you...ya jerk...whatever you say.")

A note about Jerusalem. It is a city of neighborhoods. Neighborhoods that are no where near each other even as they are contiguous. It is spread out like Philadelphia, but is a series of small mountains so "next neighborhood" means "up and down and all around, just to go 200 feet." Imagine trying to get a sense of Manhattan while driving in a bus in the smallest streets in Greenwich village and then to Chinatown, but put both on separate hills and add in a bunch of speed bumps and heat. I have been in Jerusalem for almost 24 hours and still (no joke) haven't even see the old city from a distance. I have no idea how, but every neighborhood we have been through has taken us in the wrong direction and yet we are still in the same city. The is a city designed by uncivil engineers. Everything is made of blocks of stone configured for maximum "hey, do I look like a wall to you?" If there was a wall, instead of knocking it down, just add another. And why pave that parking lot? You have to learn to drive on rocks sometime, right? The twists and turns make Boston's street alignment look reasonable (and I mean downtown, not the Back Bay).

When we got to Maddie's street we discovered that she doesn't live at #1, but at #3. This means that all the forms we filled out giving her address were wrong. The biggest problem, we assumed, would be with the expected furniture delivery. We spent two weeks ordering things from Ikea and arranging with the out sourced delivery to ensure that the stuff would be here on the day of our arrival so we could spend day one setting up. When we found the address was wrong we felt it meet to call them and make sure they had the right address. Maddie called and found that the voice mailbox was full. She sent an email but we worried. She called Ikea directly and waited on hold for 45 minutes before a surly man insisted that he couldn't help her but would be sure "pass the message along." My sister called back and made more headway. The woman she spoke with said 2 things: 1. They were all backed up and hadn't even bought the furniture yet and 2. Why would anyone think they were going to deliver today? My sister explained that we had spoken with the woman 2 weeks earlier and confirmed this. The woman checked and agreed that, actually, yes, that conversation had happened but so what. Nomi insisted that they make this right and they countered with "we'll get right on that." So, still no furniture, but now they are actively not delivering it to the correct address. Baby steps.

There is another subplot related to phone contact information, but I will save it for some other time when I have properly forgotten about it.

Maddie and I (after she did some light unpacking and we explored the apartment with a cousin or two) walked over to Zol Stock and Max Stock. These are not siblings, but two "everything" stores. Parking in Israel is tough to come by. When the state was founded in 1948, brave men and women took all the good spots and have built cities around their parking jobs. So now there is a bustling metropolis with cars which are not going anywhere, so people have to walk everywhere. The walk (uphill, both ways, in the heat) wasn't horrible but we had to carry everything back -- storage bins, laundry baskets, garbage cans, aluminum foil, shampoo etc. I'm not really physically fit so between the jet lag, the heat and the carrying things, I decided that abandoning lucid thought was my safest course.

Next, a #15 bus to Talpiyot to look at mattress toppers (for a mattress that had not ben delivered) and hardware to fix the clothes cabinet. Note - if you want to save money, don't shop in a store with the word "American" in the name. That's code for "Overpriced, entitled and with no one to vote for." We looked at back packs (90 liters), sleeping bags, towels, a drum kit (I was bored...) and eventually we found a pillow top and a nice guy who under charged us and volunteered to deliver it as soon as it arrived. And we have had such success with orders and delivery, that how could we say "no"? The hardware store was a madhouse. I have enough of a challenge trying to get across "yes, I'd like fries with that" In Hebrew. Trying to say "no, I want the larger diameter curtain rod, the bolt with the expanded threads and a ratchet set" to a moving target pushed me to my limits. So we bought a few of the rong thing (so that we wouldn't look foolish), Maddie got her house key copied (in Israel, they don't use a key copying machine. The guy uses sarcasm to cut the key down to size repeatedly) and we walked through the indoor mall (much louder than an American mall, with more stores with the name "American" in them.)

We searched and searched for the Emanuel store. The address is #6. Two entire, separate buildings are #4 and next to one there is a private residence, #8. We kept circling, looking for the tear in the space-time continuum that would open the portal to the other dimension where the number 6 exists. A man took pity on us and asked (he really did, in Hebrew), "Have you found what you are looking for? I noticed that you have been walking around for 45 minutes." It turns out that in Israel, if you take 3 lefts, that isn't the same as taking a right. Three lefts means "up." Or something like that. The Emanuel store (after all that) had nothing but solid AC. So we hung around there for a few minutes.

On the way to the bus stop, we saw a woman get hit by a car. It was actually a beautiful moment as an Israeli Jew spoke with an Arab Christian in English about not getting the police involved. Truly heartwarming. We hung out at David and Nomi's until Maddie went to go shower. I headed back to her apartment so we could order Pizza Hut (it was delivered soon, but the flip side is that it wasn't very good), argue about garbage disposal, fail at setting up her television, and say our good nights. I returned to pass out and wake up at 4AM local time, complete confused about what day it is.

More updates as events warrant.

Friday, August 19, 2016


The elder child is preparing to start making a life so I have cobbled together some bits of "wisdom".

Madd, I speak to you now. Please read this and know that everything I write comes from a place of deep sincerity and love and is borne of experience. My job is to help you avoid pain and sadness, and know how to deal with them when they can't be avoided.

In terms of life advice, I recommend you start with Polonius’ advice to Laertes and Ophelia. Polonius might have been an annoying buffoon, but he (I know…Shakespeare) gets a lot of things right in his speech to his kids. In fact, some of the bits that I will be writing down stem from Hamlet. Others come from other places – you might recognize them. These are in no particular order, some duplicate others and I might have stolen ideas from any number of sources.

Give charity. Ayn Rand is right about a lot and wrong about a lot. Take your pocket change every day and put it aside for charity.

Resist the urge to impute motives or characterize actions, like “She, because she is ______________, did ________.” Judge and respond to the action, not the actor.

Think geometrically, not linearly. A wrong answer, a negative outcome or other failure can provide a data point for reference, information to guide you or indications for future new questions. Don’t discount it because it is labeled a “failure.”

Religion and faith are important. They might seem silly sometimes but they place you in a community – an important link in a special chain.

Follow some version of the golden rule – treat others and speak to and about others the way you want to be treated, spoken to and spoken about.

You are #2. The person you choose is the person whom you place as #1 and the vulnerability you create is your faith that that person feels the same way and puts you as #1.

Don’t play games. If it does matter to you, say so. Don’t say it doesn’t and expect the other person to figure it out. If it really doesn’t matter to you and it does to someone else, don’t decide that it shouldn’t for anyone else.

Speak to, with and around others the way you want them to speak to, with and around you. Don’t use language you wouldn’t want others to use and try to convey an attitude you want others to reflect.

Step up and get it done – not to make anyone happy, but because that’s the right thing to do.

Don’t tell me why you can’t do it. Just step up and get it done.

Not all things need to be questioned. They can be, but if you question just for the sake of questioning, you should stop to reevaluate.

Not all questions have answers. Sometimes that is a problem, often, it isn’t.

Be hyper-aware of how you are changing and constantly consider how those changes affect the people around you.

Everything you do is important, but everything others do is even more so.

Be ready to laugh at any moment.

Don’t ever carry a balance.

Sometimes speak. Always listen. Sometimes just shut up.

Every penny that goes out had to first be a penny that came in. If you have no plan for how the next one is coming in, don’t let any out.

View responsibility like a uniform but wear it like an evening gown.

Be there early. You can walk around the block to kill time before you make an entrance but you can’t undo a late arrival.

The hardest part of faith is to accept, blindly, that God cares – not just about you, but about everything.

Help before being asked, and help more than is asked for.

It isn’t a favor if you can’t accept it if the person you ask says “no.”

Every moment can be a learning experience but beware, this means that every moment becomes a teaching experience, whether or not you want it to be.

Children hear and see everything.

If there is, anywhere deep down inside, a doubt or a voice that says that it is wrong, it is wrong.

Dress in layers.

Prayer isn’t about the words, but about the connection, but the words are a convenient bridge. Use them.

Awareness is key and information is power – wouldn’t you rather be the one who asked than the one asking?

It is always safer to do without.

Taking a vacation is a luxury not a right. Going on vacation is an extravagance.

Wear a watch.

Make eye contact.

Try not to replace someone else’s judgment with yours because you think you know better. UNLESS you are talking about your children. You don’t need to explain everything to them.

Study Pirkei Avot with your significant other. Don’t just read it. Discuss it. When you are finished, go back and start it again. Take notes in the margins. The advice in it (much reflected here) is even better than Shakespeare.

Read Suzette Haden Elgin’s “The Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense.”

Hugs are free, and priceless.

If you don’t spend when you have it, you will be able to spend when no one has it.

Learn 1 halacha a day. Adopt one new halacha a year.

Take a deep breath and break a challenge down into parts. Make a list of steps. No one step is insurmountable and you aren’t the first to do this and succeed.

Crying has its time and place.

Positive mental attitude. You are above all of this.

If it is worth doing, it is worth doing right.

Apologize often, sincerely and completely. Accept apologies gracefully and quickly.

Walk next to someone and hold hands whenever you can.

Not every situation needs to involve blame. We are imperfect people surrounded by imperfect people and mistakes happen. Don’t think the worst, and move on.

You are a fountain of strength. Find it in yourself, share it with others, and accept it when others want to share theirs with you.

Clean up as you cook – don’t wait until the end.

Keep a calendar and write things down on it.

Stuff online might not be eternal, but it is tough to erase. Don't make stupid decisions, but if you do, don't publicize them.

Be your own person.

Set yourself a deadline for any project 2 days before it is actually due.

Focus on the solution, not the problem.

Early is the new on-time. Late is never fashionable. Time is an incredible resource.

Sunscreen, moisturizer, hydration, bug spray. Not necessarily in that order or all at once.

Read Hamlet many times. Find a different hero each time.

Jewelry and makeup are not you. You are you. Present YOU as beautiful and the other stuff won’t be necessary.

Make someone else laugh, think, ask and listen every day.

Be sad on Tisha B’Av not because of a building but because of an awareness that we, as a people, have suffered. Be happy on Purim not because of a single story, but because we, as a people, have survived.

Sometimes you must act. Sometimes you can be content to react.

Helping means doing what is asked for, not just what you think needs to be done.

Clean your ears.

Make a promise, keep a promise. Make a commitment, keep a commitment. Imply a promise, be aware that someone else is going to make the inference.

Wrong is wrong and right is right even if no one is watching and no one will ever know.

Do more than you say and more than anyone thinks you will do.

Life is in the details. Care about details.

Wash the dishes as you use them so you won’t suddenly be hungry, have no clean dishes, but have a sink full of things to wash.

If you do the right thing for the wrong reason I think it still mostly counts.

Learn to file your important papers – charge slips, receipts, medical documents, tax papers – make a folder and file it.

Keep the packaging for at least 6 months and the packing slips and sales paperwork for longer.

Keep your important documents (birth certificates, passport etc) organized and labeled in a safe place.

Make a pro/con chart and think through the consequences for each important decision, but choose your battles – sometimes being rationally right won’t change someone’s emotional decision. Get on board and be supportive regardless.

Dress properly, behave properly and work your tush off – don’t let the fact that others don’t do these things justify slacking off.

Leave a room cleaner than when you entered it.

Yes, get the fries. Then share the fries. Don’t count how many each person has.

A good conversation has more than 2 sides, talking, listening, considering, and mutual respect.

Don’t give people a hard time because they don’t do what you think they should do.

Recognize effort and process in others and assume the best motives.

Set your clothes out the night before.

Appreciate Shabbat. It is refreshing and an opportunity. It seems like a burden but it is an incredible gift.

Appreciate what you have while you have it. Take 5 minutes every day to remind yourself of the people in your life, your creature comforts and your health. Imagine what life would be like if any of those was absent.

Treat obligations like obligations and voluntary decisions like obligations.

Relish simplicity.

Always say please and thank you.

Avoid conflict.

Listen, don’t just hear (this applies to conversations and music equally).

Police your brass and watch your corners.

Defensive driving requires that you do the thinking for everyone around you and anticipate their worst behavior. Don’t expect them to change, just be ready to react.

Don’t go places alone, or with someone you wouldn’t want to be alone with.

Judge people favorably even when there is little reason to do so.

Realize that everyone has a thing. You may not see it or know about it, but everyone has something in his or her life which makes things tough.

Sometimes, suck it up and figure out how to deal with it. It isn’t as bad and you will have time for a breakdown later. Right now, deep breath, make it work.

Don’t make a claim or an accusation that you can’t substantiate with data or evidence at a moment’s notice and don’t ask a question on cross examination that you don’t already have the answer to.

Never take delight in someone else’s suffering. You will want to. Don’t.

Establish your context and ground rules and don’t argue outside of your boundaries.

Someone who disagrees with you presents you with an opportunity to learn about his point of view and refine yours.

Violence is really only rarely the answer. But when it is, be ready and trained to use it properly.

See how many of these you can connect to ideas from Pirkei Avot.

Lead by example.

Process matters – be transparent.

Empathy is the trait that underscores the golden rule in most every culture. If it is the one thing all people agree on, it is probably worth espousing.

Don’t ask someone to do something that you wouldn’t do.

Never miss an opportunity to do a chessed.

Tradition is incredibly important.

Eyes up when walking around. Don’t be a slave to a device.

Want is very different from need. Be careful which one you use, and when.

Buy when you need and because you need, not because there is a sale.

Admitting you don’t know something is not a weakness. Not learning it when you get the chance is.

Billy Joel – listen to the lyrics. Which song? All of them.

Be there for others.

When you are asked for help remember – you might have done this before but for the other guy, this might be the first time. Give the help a newbie would need, with explanations.

Find what interests and excites you and be better at it than anyone else in the world and then send your time helping everyone else get better at it.

Everything you do, everything you say affects other people. If you stop while walking, the person behind you has to react. If you yawn while discussing something, the other person has to decide if there is meaning. You may not intend it but there is meaning infused in every gesture. When you drive, when you speak, when you sit in a chair -- everything you do and are has ripples. Unless you live as a hermit, your behaviors touch those around you. Be aware, every moment, of the impact your existence has on others.

Even the choices you make that seem to be internal find a way of getting out and having an effect.

If you vent, expect advice. If you want to ignore the advice don't be surprised if the same person doesn't want to hear you vent again about the same thing. As my father used to say, "If you didn't take the medicine, I don't want to hear you keep complaining that it hurts."

Remember how proud we all are of you and pay that forward.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Last Minute Tisha B'Av Thoughts

Most of us are pretty good people. I know a bunch of you and I have to admit – on the whole, you are reasonable, decent and law abiding citizens. So maybe that’s why we have lost our urgency when it comes to t’shuva. Our sense of self and awareness of the fact that we are all doing Ok makes it seem less necessary to list our sins, cry over our misdeeds and make sincere resolutions about improving.

And then, when we do re3cite a litany of transgressions we notice that the text is written in the plural. We get to one and we say “For the sin we committed with food and drink.” “Phew,” we sigh, “That one has to be in the plural so I can pray on behalf of all the people because I certainly didn’t do that one.” Then a few sins later we say, “For the sin we committed with foolish talk.” Well I did do that but it is in the plural because we ALL do it – I’m not the only one at fault here.” Where is the singular? The “I sinned”? That is in the personal confession of the Kohen Gadol, which we read about in the mussaf prayer, not in the ne’ilah. That's not for me -- I'm a pretty decent person.

Eventually, we take the plural language which is supposed to unite us as a people and hide behind it. So when the gates of repentance are closing, we say, “Nu? So, ok, the gates are closing, but as an individual I’m doing fine. I am pretty sure that I’m good with repenting and atonement. I’ll say the words because there are other people who need my help, and because there are sins so endemic to being alive that I should acknowledge that we are all guilty of them. And then ne’ilah is over and we go back to our lives.

How can we balance this out? Those gates don’t inspire the kind of fear that they should. We need another event; one that is personal and singular, to remind us that this isn’t about passing the buck, but about owning up to something significant. Interestingly, what gets to me as a person might have to be the realization that my individual behavior caused a national tragedy and I have to rebuild more than just myself.

Someone asked me today, when I told him about my fasting and mourning, why it makes sense to do this – to mourn over an event which took place about 2000 years ago. My glib reaction was to point out that the impact of the destruction of the temple has lasting effects even today. I am in exile, I do not have the kind of theo-centric life I should have.

But I think I was missing something. The destruction of the temple, that is, the loss of the mechanism through which I can achieve proper atonement, and realize a national identity came not because of a litany of pluralized sins. The sages teach that sin’at chinam, baseless hatred between one person and another caused the destruction of the nation of Israel.

So on Tisha B’Av, I have to take stock of just one sin, and one that is personal – how I deal with other people. This isn’t about some list or technical categories, and isn’t something that “they” did or we all do. The fact is, the temple hasn’t been rebuilt. If we were truly over that negative behavior just between one person and another, if we really atoned for the sin that caused the national stain, it would be wiped away. With fire the temple was destroyed, but with fire it will be rebuilt. The fire was on an interpersonal level, so the redeeming fire must be earned on that same level.

On Yom Kippur, ironically, we achieve a personal and singular atonement by rattling off the pluralized and communal sins. But that is incomplete if we forget about the other half – Tisha B’Av, when we are capable of bringing about a national redemption by focusing on an individual, singular sin.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Wasted Booth

I have said it before and it has never been more true -- I am not a political person. Fact is, politicians are all liars and the political system is corrupt. Even the honest politicians are liars; it isn't always intentional but the exigencies of politics demand it. The only people who can make it in the system are those who have, at some point, compromised, or changed to appeal to one group or another. In other words, lied.

So I generally look towards elections with a sense of distaste and dread. I live my life driven by something someone once told me: no matter who gets elected, the next day I will have to wake up, go to work, do my job well and come home. Sure, some of the details might slowly change, but my day-to-day existence will be pretty much the same. The upcoming presidential election, though, has driven me to take a pretty loud and firm position.

I am strongly considering voting for a third-party candidate.

Honesty moment -- this wouldn't be the first time for me. In certain previous elections, when the outcome was foregone, I felt that I could best use my useless vote by helping pad the numbers of a third party so that it might get a touch more recognition from the major party platforms or might earn a spot on a national stage through federal matching funds. But in this election there is a chance that I will vote for a third party because I have to.

I have told this to people. That's mistake number one. One should never discuss politics with anyone ever. Nothing comes of those conversations in the way of persuasion.

All that results is animus.

That's a fact, look it up here. I usually get people saying that my third party vote is equivalent to 'throwing my vote away.' Often, the statement is made with a tone of exasperation and frustration, like I am some protesting child who doesn't realize that cutting off my nose to spite my face won't make anyone else smell any better, or something like that. The details are unclear, but they don't like it. So I am going to present my argument for voting third party -- not to convince you to do so as you are free to vote whatever your conscience demands, but so that you can see that I come to my potential decision after a reasonable and logical process, not capriciously. [As a side note, in order to keep my personal reasons nice and vague, I will be eschewing particular examples...people seem to think that, when confronted by details, if they can argue the details, they have demonstrated a flaw in the underlying thinking. So I have specifics but I am withholding them.]

Point the first: The claim that I am wasting my vote is flat out wrong. Even were I only voting in order, as stated above, to increase visibility and awareness of a third party, if that party represents who I am and what I believe, how can that be a waste? Why should anyone ever have to apologize for participating in the process honestly? I am not a politician that I should have to lie to make some statement.

Point the second: I truly believe that we, as a nation, are not being best represented by the iterations of the two major parties which exist now. I am not necessarily against a two party system nor do I think that 3, or 4 or more parties would be inevitably better. But the two major parties within the political construct and landscape are failing us. They create binary oppositions which force us, as individuals to compromise on one position in order to endorse another. The two party system pushes a confrontation, and a pendulum's swing which leads to extremes and not compromise -- there is no motivation for finding a middle path which recognizes that a best course might include elements of each side. The most radical position becomes the guiding star because it most clearly establishes the distinction between parties. That's dangerous and problematic. Third parties are sometimes willing to bridge the gap by seeing value in more subtle positions, or are able to drive other parties to see that there is a position other than their own. If the process is broken, my voting for one of the two major parties would be political suicide at best (as I would be endorsing the broken and corrupt system, thus selling out my own beliefs) and obvious criminal behavior as I would be aiding and abetting in the continuation of an electoral structure which is corrupt. I refuse to be part of a system I criticize. I will not walk away from my civic duty to vote but I will use the opportunity to say in as loud a voice as I can muster, "I complain about the system and I'll be damned if, in the same breath, I also helped allow it to continue."

Point the third: People tell me that "if you vote for a third party you are effectively voting for ______" and they insert the name of the devil they don't want to win. That threat is simply silly. I'm not handing my vote over to your opposition but do you know why you don't understand that? Because you actually WANT your devil to win so you see any action not in support of your devil as a threat. My voting third party or even not voting is denying your candidate of my vote and therefore bolstering the other person in your eyes. But you are missing a huge factor in my decision: I actively don't want either of the major party candidates to win! If I vote for your candidate or the other one, I am losing. I don;t ant to hand my vote to either side because both a against my position. Can you see that? There are elements in the platform, policies and positions of each candidate which I see as dangerous to this country and to my personal interests.

Politically minded people become so rabid about their position that they see the opposition as a serious threat to the way of life we all know and love. They can't see threat the supporters of their opposition feel precisely the same way and with (generally) the same degree of validity (even saying this will get me in trouble as supporters of each party will jump up and say "Can't you see that the other candidate believes ________?" And sure, that's true, but each one believes things which make me nauseated -- I haven't drunk either flavor of Kool-Aid). A vote for either major party is a vote against the other guy, but I want to be against BOTH of them! I have actually had people say to me "You can't let _______ into office!" As if I can possibly let either of them in.

Am I a one-issue voter? Sometimes, sure, but sometimes that one issue changes. And I can, when I pick particular positions, see that neither candidate will ensure my happiness in one particular area, and that area is one in which I refuse to compromise. Again, vague, but trust me, both the nominees have actively failed me. Do I pick one issue and vote that one, and hope that the other 95% of the candidate's positions are evils I can live with? How can I live with myself if I give my vote to either of the bad choices we have? I'm not asking this as some spoiled and privileged child. I'm saying this as a thinking voter who, instead of advocating open and violent rebellion wants to buck the system and point out that my opinion matters and neither of the major candidates speaks for me. So, understand: I cannot be party, by voting or not voting, to putting either of the two major party nominees into the White House. A vote for a third party (or a write in) is the statement "Neither of you two is fit to enter that building and be entrusted with the responsibility to act on my behalf as a private individual and as a member of a national entity."

So now, I am stuck. I cannot in good conscience vote for either major candidate. Neither will leave for my children a country in a better position than when we started, and that's what I believe no matter how much you try to tell me that the good will outweigh the bad. Things are going to get worse. Maybe not for you, or everyone, or each person completely, but inevitably, for one or more of my personal areas of import, things are about to go over a cliff. But a vote for a third party candidate will not be efficacious in putting a candidate I believe in into office. It will, no matter my wishes, end up being a protest vote, though at least one that I can believe in. And you might wonder -- if I am so firmly against the two party candidates, why did I lead off with equivocation, saying I might vote for a third party? Well, in the spirit of the political system, I believe it is foolish to have made up one's mind to the exclusion of future events and argument this early in the race. Those who have are blinding themselves to any future potentially persuasive proof or behavior which should, by all reasonable rights, sway them to support the other, or at least neither, candidate are what is destroying the republic. And that's the real pity in our process and why it will not change. We reward the most die-hard believer who can't be bothered to see the failings of his candidate of choice so he will never entertain the possibility that he should change his mind. Might I be persuaded over the next few months that one major party candidate is actually a "good" choice (and not just a lesser of two evils? Who knows? But if things continue in the vein in which the two conventions demonstrated, it isn't going to happen and I'm going to have to hope that we muddle through the next 4 years and learn something about the stupidity of the masses without devolving into civil or nuclear war.