No Sacred Cows

Israelis will make light or fun of pretty much anything, and not just behind closed doors. There’s a radio ad campaign on Israeli Broadcasting Authority stations right now promoting the election coverage on the news station. In the first ad I heard, which was amusing, Michelle Obama is heard trying to get Barack Obama’s attention, but he’s listening to Israeli election coverage on Reshet Bet. Here’s the banner ad version:

Obama Israeli Election ad

Funny, right? Aside from the borderline offensive “black dude with a boombox” imagery (it’s a known issue – a feature, not a bug, if you will – that Israelis are 1) politically incorrect and 2) totally stuck in the 80s when it comes to their vision of the USA).

Later, though, they ran an ad with a guy with a heavy Arab accent. It turned out to be Hassan Nasrallah‘s aide trying to get his boss’s attention, while the head of Hezbollah is listening to Israeli radio to get the latest update on the elections.

I realize this is not nearly as funny in translation, let alone in a bland description, but it is hilarious.

UPDATE: I just heard another one, this time with a guy talking to Ahmadinejad. Told you: NOTHING. SACRED. I’ll try to capture the audio of at least one of these and update if I can.

UPDATE 2 (1/9): Here’s the Ahmadinejad spot. Farsi-speaking friends, is the quick exchange something like “Come on, Reshet Bet again?!” “Quiet! I’m listening to election blah blah!”?
AhmadinejadReshetBet

(This is the first time I’m inserting media into a post using the embedded WordPress option, hope it works)

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Figuring out humor/comedy/what’s funny with my kids

This morning we all enjoyed this bit from Sesame Street, one of the greatest examples of entertainment ever put to media – educational, and with humor that appeals to everyone from preschoolers to centegenerians:
Ricky Gervais sings Elmo a lullaby

Recently, too, on the heels of a sarcastic comment from her mother at the dinner table (“I see you didn’t like that dish at all” after the child inhaled a plateful of food) I explained sarcasm, very basically, to my 6yo. Within seconds, she referenced a bit from another show she’d seen recently (the very amusing Super Hero Squad Show, available on Netflix), showing her perfect grasp of the concept.

I’m a proud and silly papa, I am.

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No equivalence

The loss of innocent lives is truly tragic, while not always avoidable during war. But the fact that Israeli media is discussing, and the IDF is investigating, the tragic deaths of the members of the al Dalou family, brings into sharp relief the stark cultural differences that are making peace in this region so hard to achieve. How many Palestinian/Arab news sources are reporting about the injuries and deaths and damage caused by the rockets coming out of Gaza, let alone with the names of the victims?

The IDF continues to try to avoid civilian casualties, and Hamas continues to make that as difficult as possible by storing and firing their munitions from within civilian areas in Gaza (not to mention using medical and media buildings and insignia on vehicles to try and avoid being targeted or, at best, make Israel look bad when it hits these targets).

Along with many other people, a couple of friends of mine on Facebook (both moms) have mentioned the basic, fundamental pain and universal “wrongness” of hearing about and seeing dead children. But a piece I heard on the radio (I’ll link to it if I can find it) along with years of historical evidence and images like this one from the al Dalou funeral (photo credit: Wissam Nassar/Xinhua Press/Corbis) point to a culture that exalts martyrdom and elevates the struggle to destroy its enemies above even its own children’s lives. Yes, there are people grieving for these children, and for other innocent lives lost, but grief is not apparent on the face of the man carrying the child in the forefront of that shot.

Another thing going around the social networks over the last few days is a Golda Meir line, “We will have peace (with the Arabs) when they love their children more than they hate us.” Golda and other Israeli leaders have said things that are far less enlightened, but this line still rings through and true.

May we see peace in our lifetimes.

Pal-Isr Flags & Dove

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Forty kilometers (25 miles) from the border

To make it easier to imagine yourself in southern Israel over the last several days (not to mention the last 10 years or so), as Palestinian terrorists fire dozens of deadly rockets every day on civilian population centers, here’s a handy little map. If Gaza was Tijuana, this is the area of San Diego county that would be subject to being hit by the rockets. Schools are closed throughout this area (this would include SDSU, USD, and all primary and secondary schools in this range), mass transportation is at a standstill (including our international and regional airports), and most businesses are shuttered. Do you know anyone who lives in this area? They all have to be prepared to run into their bomb shelters with a few seconds’ notice from an air raid siren. Here’s what a small part of the barrage on Ashdod sounded like this morning.

Zoomed in for detail:
Range of Gaza rockets - TJ to San Diego

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Count your blessings

Tonight I get to go to sleep in my own bed, next to my wife, my only concern being how soon one of my children will wake up and need some attention (at worst, we’re talking a couple of times overnight, none of which are likely to kill me).

Meanwhile, at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Grammy Phyllis lays in a hospital bed, her body ravaged by a ruthless disease and bombarded by the medications the world’s greatest medical minds have devised to fight that disease.

I have a long post in my head about how I came to share my lifeblood with Grammy and her family, but I still need to flesh it out. For now, a bit over 24 hours before my stem cells are infused into her body, I’ll ask that you pray for her health (or, if prayers aren’t your thing [I’m looking at you, Jon], send healing thoughts and vibes her way). Take your inspiration from this epic piece of artwork which I commissioned from the oh-so-talented Ethan Nicolle. That’s me on the left, joining forces with Axe Cop (background, Episode 1) to rid humanity of the Big C once and for all. Wish us (and Grammy Phyllis) luck.

Me & Axe Cop ready to kick cancer's ass

Original, 1-of-a-kind commissioned piece of art featuring me and Axe Cop

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Remembering Marla

I didn’t know Marla Bennett personally, but I’ve gotten to know her mother Linda quite well over my years in San Diego. When the Gilad Shalit deal unfolded, and the “mastermind” of the Hebrew U bombing that killed Marla was said to be included in the list of prisoners to be released, I felt a compulsion to talk to Linda. Here is my brief writeup of our conversation:
http://www.sdjewishworld.com/2011/10/18/linda-bennett-mother-of-bombing-victim-marla-bennett-expresses-relief-over-shalit/

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Why I Love Hadag Nahash – למה אני אוהב את הדג נחש

This is not an exhaustive list, but I’m immersing myself in old and new material (מקומי and otherwise) in preparation for tonight’s live show at Porter’s Pub at UCSD (link to Facebook event page; go there or ping me directly for ticket info – $20 for non-students).

1. Crowd-sourced video for BaSalon shel Salomon (In Salomon’s Living Room – בסלון של סלומון):

2. Creative video for Shir Nehama (Consolation Song – שיר נחמה) featuring the beautiful Middle Eastern steel guitar work of Yehuda Keisar:

3. Brutally hard-hitting video for Od Ach Echad (One More Brother – עוד אח אחד). Visually this will really only hit hard if you’re Israeli, but the lyrical sentiment is powerful no matter where you’re from.

4. Great live performance of Halifot (Suits – חליפות) featuring the wonderful backing vocals of the very pregnant Liora Yitzhak, whose child (now a toddler if I have the recording date right) will grow up to either be this band’s biggest fan or will hate them passionately, but may never understand why.

5. Another of their huge social commentary hits with an added layer of irony added visually – Shirat haSticker (The Sticker Song – שירת הסטיקר). The lyrics were written/compiled by David Grossman, a prominent Israeli author and peace activist, from political and social bumper stickers found in Israel:

6. Misparim (Numbers – מספרים) is a now somewhat out-of-date song about some significant statistics in Israeli society (and Sha’anan Street’s personal life) that still beautifully illustrates the band’s style. It’s out of date only in terms of some of the real numbers reported (e.g., unemployment rate and monthly salaries of executives), not in terms of how unjust and significant the gaps still are. This is a fan-made video; I couldn’t find an official one. TRIGGER WARNING (TW): Brief still images of terrorist attacks, including WTC.

7. There is no number 7. Come down and enjoy the show with me tonight!

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Public speaking & published writing

My mom recently found my bar-mitzvah speech, written and delivered by my 13-year-old self, Oct. 17, 1982. I’m transcribing it here exactly the way it appears on the yellowed copy I used on the bimah:

HONORED RABBIS, GUESTS, FAMILY, AND FRIENDS.

In the beginning of the year my mother asked me if I wanted to have a bar-mitzvah. I immediately blabbed out “yes” without even thinking, because at that particular moment as they say, I didn’t know what I was in for. Well, this started some research into what a bar-mitzvah really is, meaning the ceremony and the name we use for a jewish thirteen-year-old having his bar-mitzvah. Initially, most of my information was taken out of books. I say most because for the other part of my knowledge in this case I have to thank my parents. It was through them that I got involved with people that helped me get through the hardships of becoming a bar-mitzvah. One of these problems was-what am I going to write in my drash? Well, yeah, I was gonna thank everybody for coming, etc, etc, but what else should I write? How about this-my bar-mitzvah! okay, now, what does a bar-mitzvah mean to me? For me it means that on that day I get to put on tefillin, go up to the Ark, and read from the Torah in front of many people. It also means that from that day on I will be more responsible for my actions and deeds. Or maybe I’ll write about this: my Torah reading. And since my Torah reading is about animal sacrifices- what kind of animals when- so I said let’s go for it, so here it is. If all this partying was going on in the Biblical era, what a party we would have! You heard me reading it- we’d be sacrificing at least two bulls, one ram, and, get this- seven yearling lambs! Now if you ask me that is total cruelty to animals, right? Right! By the way, since we’re talking about sacrifices here, I was thinking (and I’m not saying this because I want everybody to pity me). Anyway, I was thinking about what I had to do to sacrifice until now to get my bar-mitzvah “chores” done, and what I’ll have to sacrifice from now on. Of course, these things are’nt exactly going to be rams, bulls, or lambs, but things like time. Time with my friends, time of having just plain ol’ fun, time for watching television, and so on and on… Instead of all these activities I’ll be spending my time thinking of how to fit in the community and society.
Which reminds me. I’m about to switch to another language. A language which has been very hard for me to keep alive in our household, I mean for myself. A language that after four-and-a-half years in America it’s also a hard task to keep going when you came here at age eight-and-a-half like I did. By now I’m sure you’ve all realized this language is Latin. No, seriously, it’s obviously Hebrew, so here I go.

[TRANSLATION OF HEBREW]
Like I said in English, these four-and-a-half years in America were hard. Not only in the beginning when we arrived when it was hard for me to get used to the language, to a new school, and to friends who a) were new to me, and b) spoke only English. I got used to those things within a few months- I started speaking English, and I learned all the time. It wasn’t just because of that. It was hard for me also because all this time I also needed to speak Hebrew at home and somehow not lose my mother tongue. I did this by reading, writing (both writing letters to family in Israel and just writing in Hebrew), and of course talking. Like I said, it was hard. For instance, a few times I needed to ask my parents how to write a certain word, or even how to say a word, but with all these things, and the fact that I very quickly began to think in English, I held on to the Hebrew and even this drash is part of that. Now all this maybe sounds like I’m looking for pity from all of you. And you’re right! Please, I don’t want it to sound like that. But I do want it to sound like I did something. Because I really feel like I succeeded in doing something I’m proud of. I also hope that in the future I’ll continue to hold on to important things like my language. To conclude I will of course say thank you to everyone for coming, and I hope you enjoy!
[END TRANSLATION]

Hi, I’m back! I want to thank everybody for coming, and I hope you enjoy yourselves.
***
Couple of comments:

  • I was careful to transcribe this exactly as it appears on the paper I used, so the “are’nt” and the repeated horrible use of dashes and other writing mistakes are preserved. There are a thousand other little things that make me cringe today, but all in all, I don’t think it’s so awful, considering who I was back then.
  • I had apparently not discovered the wonderful invention of paragraphs yet. Ah, the foibles of youth!
  • Way to not mention the name of the Torah portion you’re talking about there. Amateur. It was, in fact, Numbers 28, the reading for Rosh Chodesh. My bar-mitzvah was observed on a Sunday, Rosh Chodesh Cheshvan, because at least one important guest (my bar-mitzvah tutor) was shomer Shabbat and couldn’t have attended the ceremony otherwise.
  • My recollection of this speech includes the memory of getting a big laugh at “Hi, I’m back!” (immediately following the Hebrew interlude), which I don’t think I expected, and which completely sold me on the power of public speaking and my self-perceived talent for it.
  • The original copy is typewritten. Like, from a typewriter.
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Those Were The Days

My beautiful, talented daughter had some time to create original art on Sunday. While I was doing something (monumentally important, I’m sure) she brought me this picture of “Ima’s house when she was little.” Lovely, right? We’ve been to that neighborhood, and this ain’t a bad representation, actually, not that she was trying for realism.

Jenn's childhood home, drawing by HTL

I asked H if she’d draw my house from when I was a kid, and she was only too happy to oblige (this may have been her first commissioned work):

Aba's childhood home, drawing by HTL

I asked about the green figure with the glasses (as if I didn’t know) and got confirmation that it is, indeed, me. Then I asked,
“Did anyone else live with me when I was little?”
H: “Your parents, but they’re inside the house!”

The “Well, duh” remained unspoken, but I’m sure she was thinking it.

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The Sound of Silence

Can you imagine every radio station in the country going silent for 24 hours? It’s hard, huh? But that is exactly what’s going on in Israel right now, on Yom Kippur. Every frequency, every format, every transmitter – silent. I believe TV is off, too. Really lends itself to making it a meaningfully introspective day, with or without the fast.

This is something you CAN try at home: turn all those things off, spend time with your own thoughts, your family, your self.

גמר חתימה טובה May you be sealed in the book of life for a year of health, prosperity, joy, and peace.

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