Sunday, July 25, 2010


It's getting toward the end of summer in Queens ...

... and that means Shabbos dinner is a picnic at Passport Fridays.

This past Shabbos we saw "Quest for Pasta"*, er, Castaway on the Moon. It's a very good movie: I give it two thumbs up.

* c.f. (aka "Quest for the Missionary Position") ... about half-way through the movie, you'll get the joke.

Thursday, July 15, 2010


I'm Feeling Well Enough ...

... so I tried my new tobaccy -- McClelland's "Royal Cajun Ebony". Instead of being an "everything but the kitchen sink" tobacco like I usually smoke, it has tobacco processed in such a way as to combine the effects of being a Latakia and a Perique (with the oxidation/aromatic nature of a Cavendish as well). The result is, so far, excellent, although the tobacco was a bit dry for my tastes (so I humidified it a bit)

I just hope it will be as good the next time I smoke it, as I worry that maybe I humidified it too much?

Monday, July 12, 2010


A 9-Days Post: I.e., Just to Expand a Little Bit ...

... on my "Narrative #2" downstairs and Rev. RMJ's insightful comment regarding it, there is a tendency among some on the left to wonder "the Jews have been so oppressed, why do they not realize how Zionism oppresses Palestinians?". To some extent, this is a fair question, but there is much less irony here than lefties like to think.

The thing is when many of us Jews here about the Nabka, the fact is that, far from helping us to identify with the meaning of such a "catastrophe", our history of oppression makes us completely blind to how such an occurrence would be such a catastrophe. And this goes beyond the "I am more oppressed than you are"(*) issue. In Jewish history, there have been so many 'Nabka's, that they are rather meaningless as individual events.

Yes, it is tragic to be kicked off land you and your family have farmed for generations by armed thugs. But to us Jews, that's no big whoop. Throughout our history, even in locations where Jews have finally settled down and lived, eventually thugs would come and kick us off our land (yes, we Jews are very well integrated into many societies in the diaspora and there is little actual anti-Semitism today, but history shows that such idylls often end violently). The idea that we would have an armed struggle to obtain a "right of return" to every place that kicked us out would be ridiculous.

Another way to put this is to imagine the following conversation --

Palestinian: How can you Jews, who have experienced so much oppression be so insensitive to the catastrophe Israel's very existence has caused us. Why when I was a kid, armed thugs kicked us off land my family has lived on for centuries just so a bunch of Jews, many of whom are, by all appearances 100% European, could have a state

Jew: I don't get what's the big deal here: armed thugs kicked my grandfather off his land, and his grandfather off his land before that ... and then, when I was a kid, armed thugs kicked me out of my home and put me in a death camp

This isn't just a game of Oppression Olympics here (again *) but a whole difference in perspective: if your family had lived on the same plot of land for hundreds of years, being kicked off that land is a catastrophe; if your family were kicked around from place to place every few generations (even being kicked out of a place where you thought you were "safe"), you might not see being kicked off your land as such a catastrophe because it is all too "normal" for your expectations. Of course, the very existence of Zionism certainly testifies to the idea that this constant state of expecting a Nabka for diaspora Jews is wrong and damaging ...

... in fact, that is the whole point of Israel -- we Jews no longer have to live in constant fear of being kicked out of our homes and wondering where we would go next: we would go to Israel. Whether that makes sense or not, is a whole other question. But it seems rather odd to purposefully ignore that aspect of our narrative and to ignore that, for many Jews, the idea -- that being kicked out of the place where your family has lived for generations is the greatest catastrophe ever -- is meaningless as this has happened on a regular basis to us.


Meanwhile, there has been a little bit of bad press about extremist settlers blocking access of Palestinians to their farms and about some land use issues in Jerusalem. I know the attitude in Israel is "why should we bother to stop these sorts of problems when the world will consider us to be racists anyway". But perhaps if Israel would actually try to make sure these sorts of things don't happen, enough people might think enough differently about Israel to make a difference? Does anybody within the Zionist community understand the concept of a self-fulfilling prophecy?

* to be fair, the lowering of a standard for genocide is somewhat disturbing: while we need to stop mass population transfers that cause so much death and suffering, they are not "genocide". There is a big difference between transferring even millions of people in order to establish nation-states which, no matter what you think of them as a concept, where considered an ideal in much of the 20th century, and actually trying to kill a whole group of people.

Sunday, July 04, 2010


Another Sparkling Wine to my Taste

Freixenet Carta Nevada (Brut). It's a little bit sweeter than a typical brut but doesn't quite taste as candied-fruit like as Cristalino. It is actually a kind of Vueve Clicquot or even Alsatian-style sparkly ... well, actually considering how much it knocks you off your feet, it's perhaps even a Bulgarian-style sparkly!

I don't know what possessed my lovely wife to buy it, but I am glad she did. Since Vueve Clicquot is getting so expensive and since they seem to have decreased the dosage or something in Abarbanel Cremant D'Alsace (and it's hard to find any other good cremants or similar sparklies), I'm glad we discovered this wine.

Now to find another cigar to my tastes since it's so hard to find Onyx Reserve nowadays and Black Pearl Roja was never really findable ...

Saturday, July 03, 2010


Balak-Pinchas Blogging

Why did Pinchas act? According to Midrash Moses "forget the laws", Aaron was a man of peace and Eliezar, as the High Priest couldn't come into contact with dead bodies.

And what was Pinchas' "reward"? To become the high priest ... which means that he could no longer do what he did. So did God really approve of Pinchas' zealotry? Or would it have been better for Pinchas to "forget" the law in the interests of peace? Is discretion not only the better part of valor but also morality? And is sometimes violently promoting moral purity something that makes one impure? Do the pure really need to enforce purity?

I ask these questions in light of the Midrashic explanation that Balaam and/or Balak instigated the events at Peor because Israel could not be undermined from without but only via taking Israel off the straight and narrow path of Halacha. Today there is a lot of concern, and justifiably so, about how the State of Israel will survive in the face of formidable enemies.

But our history tells us that in the face of even horrid persecution we survive. When we face real peril is when we betray our own moral principles. Is the real threat to Israel her external foes or her reaction to those foes -- to retreat into a state of siege in which Israel forgets her moral purpose?

And my reason for bringing up Pinchas here is that too often we think of morality in Pinchas' terms. But maybe Pinchas is part of the problem here? Today Israel's so called guardians of morality actively sow seeds of disunity amongst the Jewish people as they would even attack Rashi's daughters for wearing T'Fillin and declare Ruth to not even be Jewish. They discredit Judaism and drive people away from Torah by making Torah into an impossible burdon.

Is it any coincidence that we read parshas Pinchas right around the time of the Fast of Tammuz -- the first breach? And that the next Haftarah is often one in which Jeremiah points out that our so-called guardians of morality fail when they don't ask "where is God?" Not that they fail by not considering God in their actions -- but by thinking they know where God is when they do not.

The Temple fell last time, according to Talmud, not because of Rome per se but due to senseless hatred. And also, it must be said, due to a too stringent insistence on ritual exactness (otherwise Vespasian's sacrifice would have been accepted even after the animal was subtly mutilated).

So if Israel does, Hashem forbid, "fall" -- what really must have gone wrong? Was it Israel's enemies? Was it those of us on the left who are accused of giving aid and comfort to said enemies? Or would it have been Israel's so-called supporters and the so-called guardians of morality who, for all their talk of Halacha, don't really care if Israel goes down a particularly dark and un-holy path in its pursuit of an always elusive security. Who does our tradition say is most dangerous: the external threat or those who have a misplaced zealotry?

Remember that the Hasmonians' (who began as a zealous group) actions eventually bit the whole Jewish people in the ass.

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