"If it's not fun, why do it?"

Open Letter to NPR

I listen to NPR programming throughout the day and am struck how there has been little mention, if any, of the fires consuming Israel for the past week. Certainly this maelstrom has not been mentioned at the top of the hour news briefs. News about Syria, however, has been reported in that brief time. On the Middle East section of your website, as of this writing on 29 November, the latest story is dated 24 November: “Tens Of Thousands Evacuate As Wildfires Rage In Haifa, Israel” presented on All Things Considered, elapsed time 2 minutes 59 seconds.

The “Fire Intifada” wrecked thousands of lives. A warped, desperate culture of violence spawned this destructive and terrifying activity. NPR apparently chooses to report on Israel only when it can point a critical finger at Israelis. NPR serves as the battlefield for this image war, but NPR chooses the rules.

beit-meir-fires-credit-jerusalem-post-courtesy-israel-police

Beit Meir fires. Photo credit: Jerusalem Post, courtesy of Israel Police.

There have been many more fires since that time. Residents from the small town of Beit Meir, 9 miles from Jerusalem off the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway, were evacuated in the middle of the night. To be fair, apparently a flare fired by Israeli border guard troops set off the fire during while they chased suspicious individuals. But what were those people doing there? Fire engorged the sole entrance of the town.  Over 100 families, and dozens of boys residing at the yeshiva, fled in the pre-dawn hours.

Footage of arson, West Bank. Credit- Israel Nature and Parks Authority.jpg

(Video) Footage of arson, West Bank. Photo credit: Jerusalem Post, Courtesy of Israel Nature and Parks Authority

Indeed, arson is the cause of some of Israel’s fires, the so-called “Arson Intifada.” At least 35 suspects have been arrested on suspicion of arson this past week, and there is video evidence of an arsonist setting fire in the northwestern Etzion region. To date, over 100,000 people have been displaced—innocent civilians—and thousands of homes damaged or destroyed.

Certainly this maelstrom was not mentioned in the top of the hour news briefs. News about Syria was reported in that short time, so it can’t be an issue of NPR not reporting international news. Furthermore, on 27 November, 4 minutes 40 seconds were dedicated to “Abused Animals Find Refuge In A New Sanctuary In Jordan” on All Things Considered. Sheesh!

Indeed today, Israeli troops at a West Bank checkpoint stopped 3 Palestinians who were trying to start a blaze near Ariel in Central Israel. I consider that to be relevant news.

NPR reported on 3 deaths caused by wildfires near Gatlinburg today. I do not mean to diminish the devastation experienced by those people in the least, nor minimize the suffering and loss of the residents, but that tragedy pales in scope compared to what is happening in Israel—except it is US news.

NPR’s Middle East reporting is so unbalanced. NPR seems to only publish news about alleged Israeli aggression against the Palestinians. With this recent rash of fires, NPR had the opportunity to congratulate the many countries that assisted Israel in fighting the fires—including Russia, Turkey, Greece, France, Spain, and the US. That was a true gap in coverage.

NPR get your act together. Report news about Israel fairly, because in the end, you shape public opinion.

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No Second Thoughts

As happy as a cat being toweled dry after a bath.

This is how I feel. “Towel Dry” by Christina Welsh, used under CC BY-ND 2.0

How would I describe this presidential election season?

I choose from a whole slew of adjectives at hand to choose from—endless, tiring, shameful, contentious, disgusting, embarrassing, slimy, frightful, and jading to name a few—but irritating fits the bill as well as any. It’s bland enough to go about with your daily business but strong enough to worry at like a hangnail. For in the end, I am convinced that there is not much I can do to avoid the choice between awful and terrible.

I feel twitchy, restless, and apprehensive. Really irritated. So much so that this morning, Election Day, I dare not turn on the radio. I don’t want to hear the pundits. This has been going on too long. The process is broken. The trial balloons started rising in 2014, fer gosh sakes. That’s two years ago! I wish they had popped and never left the ground. I cast them in lead and drown their first-born. I salt their earth and inveigh the wrath of the Heaven against the universe that spawned them.

Figuratively, that is.

Meditation may help soothe me. I will gaze outside my windows, admire the gaily colored leaves adorning the trees, and breathe in (noting the position of my shoulders and rib cage), then breathe out (modulating the velocity of my breath). I will remember my Lamaze training—which I usually conjure during dental work—and go somewhere far away, a pleasant place, where calm and tranquility reign, and the only thing to mar the surface of the lake is the occasional ripple from a gentle breeze. I will cast my mind to far above the clouds, to the Moon perhaps, where eons make a difference, and a footstep on its surface will be evident for centuries to come. Breathe in, blow out, huff puff blow—this baby better be worth it!

I will vote today. My vote won’t count as I’m not in a “swing state” but indeed, I will vote; we’re choosing a mayor here, did you hear? No? Me neither. I listen to public radio and talk shows but there’s not much political news about anyone except the top guy and gal. How do I make an informed decision then?

I hope I won’t have second thoughts about my choices in the election booth years down the road. I hope my country will survive this battle, growing closer together rather than stockpiling worse epithets and stronger artillery for the next bout in 2020 [for which the blasted trial balloons will start to rise even earlier, I suspect].

The future as I see it, stormy weather ahead. © Batya7, Just Having Fun

The future as I see it, stormy weather ahead. © Batya7, Just Having Fun

I’m planning to avoid the news until tomorrow morning. I will wake up like any other day, switch on  my computer and walk away to prepare a cup of coffee. After taking my vitamins, I will return to my desk with a cup of hot solace and breathe in the aroma. Breathe in, hold it, then gently let it out.

Pain free

Time Heals Most

I don’t think more reps can help this one.

I want a pain free day. No itches, no strains, no numbness, no aches, no headaches, no bumps, no tingles nor twinges. What an original thought!

I slept funny a few weeks ago and got a “crink” in my neck. It really put a crink in my life; it hurt to move, sit, stand, lie, and worse-type! I felt like such a whiner, but I couldn’t help it.The pain distracted me from my normal enjoyment of simple things like the breezes coming through the open windows and seeing the leaves change color. Pain tossed a thick veil over my sunny disposition and left a miserable, soggy grouch.

Other people get banged up and carry on normally it seems. Me, I get a paper cut and I’m in agony. For days. My boo boos grow boo boos and I’m the only one who can kiss them better. Poor me-bring out the sappy violin music.

I’m sure it’s a test from Above. I grew the discipline to say “rats” instead of something stronger. That alone is a gift.

Thankfully miracles do happen and angels in the form of physical therapists guide me to relief. Only compassionate people can be PTs. Yeah it hurts, they affirm, but we’re going to get you moving. Time – and doing plenty of reps – heals all… or most.

Hanging On

bee-in-garden

Last Summer’s Bee Hanging On One of the Last Blossoms

The mood of the day is neutral. A gray sky presses on my brow and the mist of rain glimmers my cheeks. In the garden, sharply contrasting with the home’s red brick facade, brightly hued flowers sway with the weight of accrued raindrops.

All summer long fat bees swarmed and danced around this patch of flowers.They filled the air above the walkway, a slalom to negotiate, their important assignment a mission to avoid disturbing. Yet I found the combination pleasing; the contrast of the pleasant porch, the garden, the suburban lawn around it, and the sunny flowers greeting me pressed my happy button. It spoke to me of an illusory freedom, youthful celebration, and the desire to stretch my limbs in exuberant ways that would (sadly) leave me sore the next morning.  Summer Abundance.jpg

Last summer’s bee clung motionless, a mere shell trapped on the blossom. I could examine it fearlessly because it was defenseless, unable to hurt me with its sting. I didn’t delay its mission, nor did I block its path. Its only purpose was that of an item I could photograph.

Many of us wear facades to show to the public: a smile when feeling gloomy; a chipper attitude; cosmetics to brighten the lips or conceal blemishes; uniforms and masks. Sometimes they are proper, as one should never take out bad feelings on others. We enjoy “good customer service” voices. We are schooled when young to “be nice.” But sometimes, like when the facade comes out and we are trying to bond with our friends and fellow travellers, the false fronts we construct and gay, amusing stories we repeat only serve to distance.

Gray days like today require perseverance. Hanging on like that dead bee requires no effort. Unlike that creature, I’m hanging on by doing small tasks in 5 minutes apiece. I’m accumulating minor activities, like grains of pollen, to abate the clutter of my surroundings and cobwebs in my thoughts. Though the mist outside dews my face, I’m hanging on, hanging on.

Grouchy but Passionate

I’m having a grouchy couple of days.

To divert my attention from the ouchies and aches that distract me from my usual attitude of focusing on happiness, I’m thinking about things that I’m passionate about.

The Boys of Summer, 2007 (c) JustHavingFun

The Boys of Summer, 2007 (c) JustHavingFun

First answer that popped into my head: My kids.  Then, … the sound of crickets.

Oh, I have my yarn to knit and crochet, watercolors to smear into new paintings, and my fabric stash to quilt and sew. I have my blog to write, and the entire World Wide Web to feed my curiosity about anything I want to learn. And of course, I have my library card. Maybe I’m not too passionate these days. I expect passion to evoke some wild, urgent feelings, and frankly, my ouchies are the only ones that feel urgent. Sneer. Grumble. Hand me a pain- killer, or find a way to let me sleep through the night.

Paul Hudson wrote in Elite Daily  10 Things That Truly Passionate People Do Differently“:

1. Start their days early.
2. Always have their passions on their mind.
3. Get excited more than the average person.
4. Get pissed off and emotional more than the average person.
5. Willing to risk more and put more on the line.
6. Devote their lives to their dreams.
7. Surround themselves with their work.
8. Can’t help but talk about their projects.
9. Tend to either be pushing ahead full throttle or are completely still.
10. Always think positively about the future.

So I’m reading the list and mentally checking off the Yes/No boxes. It seems to me they’re mostly “no”:

1. Rarely. Night owl. Always was.
2. Nope.
3. Not me. I’m pretty calm.
4. Pissed off? Me? Slow to anger…
5. Not a risk taker. Anymore. Would like to get a motorcycle, however.
6. Last night I dreamed about buying yarn in Iceland.
7. I’m surrounded by … clutter.
8. Got nothing [interesting] to say.
9. Completely still. That’s one I can get into.
10. Think positively about the future. Well, yeah, duh!

I guess my passion is the future. Then I can indulge in all of my interests. Things will be good. My sons are growing into wonderful, caring men and I look forward to seeing how they turn out. In the future there will be freedom from this pain; all the ouchies will go away.  Like Manhattan’s Second Avenue Subway line, it is anxiously and happily awaited.

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Happiness is My Choice, 12

Expanded, ballooned, swelled—that’s how my heart behaved when I heard the announcement. Increased, surged, rose—that’s how my joy reacted upon learning the news.

One of my oldest friend’s oldest daughter just got married! I held this child when she was four hours old and now she and her beloved stood under the chuppah/marriage canopy as her parents did before her. I danced and hugged. My heart was full.

Other friends just became grandparents! The first grandchild, a girl, was born to their firstborn whose wedding I was privileged to attend last year. I delighted in the family’s joy at the wedding and blessed the new couple for a long, happy married life. Their well-being became my heart’s desire, their future as precious as that of my own children. Now the joy continues.

So why am I so happy some might wonder. Others might be jealous, blasé, or worse, bitter. I am grateful to have a heart that sings when others encounter happy tidings. Why not be happy for my friends? Their fortune, their gains, the fruition of their dreams does not detract from anything that is due to me. I am not losing anything or threatened.

Quite the contrary. The Creator wants us to be happy so He gives us opportunities to be happy. We need to recognize these opportunities and grab them with gusto! When we are happy with our own lot, the world looks brighter and everyone else’s good fortune rains upon us as well.

Ben Zoma says:
Who is rich?
The one who is appreciates what he has…
(Talmud—Avot 4:1)

Don’t I deserve happiness? Of course I do! That is the way Man is meant to live. Hashem gives me all I need; my needs will always be met. I know that everything coming to me will be provided… but sometimes it doesn’t feel that way. My wants are not always in concordance with my needs. I need shelter, clothing, nourishment, health. I have all that. Maybe I also want that vacation trip, a newer car,  relief from bills, and the ability to eat anything I want when I want without consequences. (The former three are within the realm of the possible and the latter is a pipe dream for sure!)

So how do I stand it—no, bask in it—when others around me “get” something and I don’t? Reframe the situation.

Others receive no gifts that are being withheld from me. Others get what they deserve. For whatever reason, I am not destined at this moment to receive that same gift. That doesn’t mean I will never have the new car or the means to go on vacation. I understand that if I do what I need to do in this world to be a kind, moral, and righteous person, I will be showered from Above with all that is coming to me.

Sharing joy in the blessings my friends experience enlivens me and wraps me in the surety that there is a Presence for Good in the universe. It binds me to my people. It creates good will. Sharing someone else’s happiness grows and grows. When we can view the world with eyes focused on the bounty available to us, we can only increase our own happiness and satisfaction with our lives.

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Appreciating Babble

The grass bends due to  the unseen wind-a natural force we live with but give no thought to

The grass bends due to the unseen wind-a natural force we live with but give no thought to.

The din of background voices here at the Motor Vehicles Administration competes with tinny, piped-in music. Elton John vies with impatient motorists waiting for licenses, exams or registrations, bored children, and a cacophony of mixed languages. Ironically, the crowd would likely relate more to hip hop or urban music, not the current Billy Joel selection from the 1970s. 

I entered the building and confronted a snaking line to the gatekeepers. Having been at MVA before, I knew to bring a well-charged device or reading material. After 30 minutes in line, I reached the counter. The screener, assured I brought the right documents, handed me a slip of paper with a letter and number: G-109. 

Half of the people stare at wall-mounted TV screens which displays which window will serve you when your number is called. The other half gaze at devices in their palms. No one reads. The murmurs swell, a wash of sound. People talk to each other while looking at screens.

 G-93 appeared on the screen, followed by V-521 and J-48.  I have no one to talk to. I feel the sound pooling around me, a palpable presence. An announcement at 4:28 warns people about closing time.  If someone goes outside and his number is called, he will not be allowed back in the building.  Only two minutes of warning, I think?

G-98. J-51. B-765. Is the place emptying any? It seems just as loud, just as full.

Background noise floods us constantly but we don’t notice. We plug in with ear buds to music, podcasts, and radio, but we tune out as much as we tune in. Noise is a force like the wind, unseen but having an effect. 

G-104 has me seated on edge of my seat, jiggling my foot. It’s nearing 5 pm and there’s still an appreciable crowd. Maybe it is quieter; that child who was nattering left. The man behind me holds G-114 I confirmed. We mutter mutual assurances. J-53 approaches window 30. 

Broken Elections

Don't vote for a clown.

Don’t vote for a clown. – (cc) by-nc-nd 2.0

 

I’m sick and tired of the Presidential elections… and it’s only June!  Election fever gripped the nation over a year ago as candidates tested the waters—way too early from my perspective—and it won’t be over until January, when the king or queen will be crowned. Enough? I think so.

From the earliest caucuses held in February 2016 through the latest ones this past Tuesday, candidates have been on the road and dropping out as their chances for nominations dwindle. The end result? The presumptive nominees were declared before the people of California, the most highly populated state in the nation, cast their votes.  If I lived there I’d be livid.

According to the Associated Press, Donald J. Trump and Hillary Clinton have each won enough delegates to claim their party’s nomination for president. Delegate totals include unpledged delegates, also known as superdelegates, who are free to support any candidate at the party conventions.*

Representative government? I say not! First of all, we are voting for delegates to a party convention, not the candidates themselves. The efficacy and relevance of the electoral college has been discussed by minds greater than my own… but to the uninitiated (namely me), this seems to be an odd way to elect a president. Does my vote count? Apparently if I lived in Iowa or New Hampshire it would. How sad for the voters in California, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota and South Dakota who voted dead last—even after Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico which are not states!

And the waste! Who is minding the store when candidates who are already elected officials to other offices travel and campaign? Self-congratulatory conventions… maybe bread and circuses? What about all the money spent on balloons and confetti? Spend it on the policies you guys champion: funding the poor, beef up education. Not to disparage the party planners and balloon companies, but I don’t see a reason for the hullabaloo.

Why do the Congress and Senate races merit direct representation but the nation’s leader does not? It is not the leader who does the daily business of the country. It is the bureaucrats, grudges, and interns working in the offices of the smaller elected officials who smooth our way to running the country. The president is a figurehead. He (or she) is someone you can point your finger at when something goes wrong. He/she is the person who keep the (conservative) Rush Limbaughs employed and barking about their nemeses’ evils. (Sorry, I can’t think of a liberal talk radio personality to balance Rush who has the same market penetration and impact.)

I wish November were here already. I’ll  have to turn off my radio and stay away from all media until then… or I can think of many things more interesting and pertinent than politics regardless of who runs the race.

Close the zoo. Sweep up the glitter. Bring the clowns home. Silence the gasbags. Enough is enough. We need election reform, a single primary day, a shorter season, and less foofaraw. Return the airwaves to reality television and leave me alone!

 

Mikvah Mysteries

Mikvah Entrance in Djerba Tunisia-Avi AlpertMikvah Entrance in Djerba Tunisia
(by Avi Alpert, used under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

I recently read a blog post by Lieba Rudolph, “What Makes the Mikvah So Mysterious?” She discusses misconceptions and perceptions of the ritual immersion that married Jewish women perform after their monthly menstruation cycle has finished.

My take on what makes the mikvah so mysterious is just that: mystery. Our secular culture infantilizes sexuality and our holy Jewish culture keeps it hidden and refined. Modern Americans do not sit easily with mystery and the sublime. We want facts, entertainment and unfortunately, enjoy titillation. Jewish children are not educated about mikvah until they are ready for marriage… or in the playground, if at all.

How can something associated with the duties of the High Priest be associated with family life? After all, in school they learn about mikvah in the context of the services of the Holy Temple. Readings in the Torah mention immersion numerous times. Any connection with marriage does not compute. I’m not an educator or a Rabbi so I do not have suggestions how–or if–to introduce the topic to our young adults with the needed sensitivity and seriousness. But I think there is a place for that type of education so we raise a community of people committed to marriage and not, G-d forbid, opting to choose divorce or promiscuity.

The real issue relies upon inculcating our children and immersing them in authentic Jewish culture (not low humor, nor bagels and lox jokes of the Borscht Belt). TV Jews are secular ones who can’t differentiate between customs and merchandising. Any Torah-observant (i.e., Orthodox) Jews in the media seem to be strange-minded, oddball characters, with quaint customs, or criminals with misconduct unbecoming anyone let alone a G-d-fearing Jew. The home atmosphere is important because we cannot shield them from outside influences. The more aware they become of how irreverently and ridiculed authentic Jewish practice is presented in modern secular media, the more they will value our way of life.

The mystery is part of us, and part of our connection with G-d.

 

 

Baltimore Burns

image

chametz, that is. Thousands of Jews raced to the famed Pimlico Race Track today, the eve of Passover, to burn bread, bagels, cereal, crackers, and pizza, boxes and all. City police wearing fluorescent green vests guided the cars into the parking lot and toward available spaces. City Fire Marshals stood by ready to prevent accidents. They even parked a fire truck for children to explore.

Entire families, young and old carry all sorts of containers laden with leavened products, or chametz, which Jews are forbidden to own or have benefit from during the eight-day festival.

People living in neighbouring houses watch the spectacle. Some people avoided the parking lot and parked on the side streets. Imagine the sight of three white-shirted young men sporting black fedoras emerging from a car. They are carrying garbage bags into the parking lot, joining the throng there. Following them is a young pregnant woman pushing a stroller trailing her husband and a few other children. They nod to and thank the officer guiding them in the crosswalk.

Still, the main event is in the parking lot by the 20-or-so barrels blazing behind safety rails. I feel the mad heat as I toss in a Trader Joe’s bag with my leftover chametz. My bag hits the target and plops into a raging turmoil.

image

Other people aren’t as neat about it. All sorts of bread products litter the base of the cans. Since care is taken to not burn plastics, people try to pour cereal into the fires but found the heat too hot to keep their hands there. So the cereal, or bread, pouring out of the plastic bags landed on the ground. I saw one enterprising man spear a bagel through its center hole and toss it back into the fire.

Before I leave I pause to say the formulaic nullification of chametz in Aramaic. These words connect me with millions of Jews throughout history who have said this very same declaration. I am here and now in Baltimore, and I am there and then in Babylon. The year is not a circle. Rather, it is a spiral through time. We celebrate our Redemption from slavery in Egypt on this night. And this day we remove our are puffed up egos burning leavened products. Next year in Jerusalem!

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