Monday, December 21, 2009

Down...and out

22nd Kislev (7th night of Chanukah) / 17th December

Breaking News. My roof top “garden” ( at least in aspiration, really a collection of pots and tins) has been ordered to come down, because the managing agents have said it is in violation of the insurance. In rule-bound Australia these things matter infinitely more than a few straggly and symbolic vegetables, so they must be brought down. But depite the temporary setback all is not lost because the veggies are going to go...out. A temporary home will be by the washing lines down stairs (until someone complain about that.) Thereafter we’ll see.

Let human ingenuity triumph over human pettiness, and individual “choice” over the nanny state. The images below, from a bathroom in the municipal information centre in Paramatta, are further (very mild) evidence of nannystatehood-dom in whose thrall dear Australia lies.

Yishtabach Shemah - may Her Nameless Name be Praised

I've always been a sucker for miracle stories, for tzaddikim and gurus, be they Nisarghadattha Maharaj or Kabir or Ramana or the Baal Shem Tov or Rav Kook or Reb Aryeh Levine or Amaji (had to get a female one in there) so here's a beautiful miracle story:


It's been almost a year since St.-Sgt. Dvir Emanuelof became the first casualty of Operation Cast Lead, losing his life to Hamas mortar fire just as he entered Gaza early in the offensive. But sitting with his mother, Dalia, in her living room last week, I was struck not by loss, but by life. And not by grief, but by fervent belief. And by a more recent story about Dvir that simply needs to be told, especially now at Chanukah, our season of miracles.

This past summer, Dalia and some friends planned to go to Chutzot Hayotzer, the artists' colony constructed each summer outside Jerusalem's Old City walls. But Dalia's young daughter objected; she wanted to go a week later, so she could hear Meir Banai (an Israeli musician) in concert.

Dalia consented. And so, a week later, she found herself in the bleachers, waiting with her daughter for the performance to begin. Suddenly, Dalia felt someone touch her shoulder. When she turned around, she saw a little boy, handsome, with blond hair and blue eyes. A kindergarten teacher by profession, Dalia was immediately drawn to the boy, and as they began to speak, she asked him if he'd like to sit next to her.

By now, though, the boy's father had seen what was unfolding, and called over to him, "Eshel, why don't you come back and sit next to me and Dvir?" Stunned, Dalia turned around and saw the father holding a baby. "What did you say his name is?" she asked the father.

"Dvir," responded Benny.

"How old is he?" Dalia asked.

"Six months," was the reply.

"Forgive my asking," she continued, "was he born after Cast Lead, or before?"


Whereupon Dalia continued, "Please forgive my pressing, but can I ask why you named him Dvir?"

"Because," Benny explained to her, "the first soldier killed in Cast Lead was named Dvir. His story touched us, and we decided to name our son after him."

Almost unable to speak, Dalia paused, and said, "I'm that Dvir's mother."

Shiri, the baby's mother, had overheard the conversation, and wasn't certain that she believed her ears. "That can't be."

"It's true."

"What's your last name?"


"Where do you live?"

"Givat Ze'ev."

"It is you," Shiri said. "We meant to invite you to the brit, but we couldn't."

"It doesn't matter," Dalia assured her - "You see, I came anyway."

And then, Dalia told me, Shiri said something to her that she'll never forget - "Dvir is sending you a hug, through us."

At that point in our conversation, Shiri told me her story. She'd been pregnant, she said, in her 33rd or 34th week, and during an ultrasound test, a potentially serious problem with the baby was discovered. After consultations with medical experts, she was told that there was nothing to do. The baby would have to be born, and then the doctors would see what they could do. A day or two later, she was at home, alone, anxious and worried. She lit Hanukka candles, and turned on the news. The story was about Dvir Emanuelof, the first soldier killed in the operation. She saw, she said, the extraordinarily handsome young man, with his now famous smile, and she felt as though she were looking at an angel.

A short while later, Benny came home, and Shiri said to him, "Come sit next to me." When he'd seated himself down next to her, Shiri said to Benny, "A soldier was killed today."

"I heard," he said. "What do you say we name our baby after him?" Shiri asked.

"Okay," was Benny's reply.

They told no one about the name, and had planned to call Dalia once the baby was born, to invite her to the brit. But when Dvir was born, Shiri and Benny were busy with medical appointments, and it wasn't even clear when they would be able to have the brit. By the time the doctor gave them the okay to have the brit, it was no longer respectful to invite Dalia on such short notice, Shiri told me. So they didn't call her. Not then, and not the day after. Life took its course and they told no one about the origin of Dvir's name, for they hadn't yet asked Dalia's permission.

So no one knew, until that moment when a little blond-haired, blue-eyed boy - whom Dalia now calls "the messenger" - decided to tap Dalia on the shoulder. "Someone's looking out for us up there," Shiri said quietly, wiping a tear from her eye, "and this no doubt brings Him joy."

IT WAS now quiet in Dalia's living room, the three of us pondering this extraordinary sequence of events, wondering what to make of it. I was struck by the extraordinary bond between these two women, one religious and one traditional but not religious in the classic sense, one who's now lost a husband and a son and one who's busy raising two sons.

Unconnected in any way just a year ago, their lives are now inextricably interwoven. And I said to them both, almost whispering, "This is an Israeli story, par excellence."

As if they'd rehearsed the response, they responded in virtual unison, "No, it's a Jewish story."

They're right, of course. It is the quintessential Jewish story. It is a story of unspoken and inexplicable bonds. It is a story of shared destinies.

And as is true of this little country we call home, it's often impossible to know which part of the story is the real miracle, and which is the doing of extraordinary people. In the end, though, that doesn't really matter. When I light Chanukah candles this year, I'm going to be thinking of Dalia. Of Shiri. Of Dvir. And of Dvir.

I'm going to think of their sacrifice. Of their persistent belief. Of their extraordinary decency and goodness.

And as I move that shamash from one candle to the next, I will know that Shiri was right. These are not easy times. These are days when we really could use a miracle or two. So perhaps it really is no accident that now, when we need it most, Dvir is sending us all a hug from heaven above.

The writer is senior vice president of the Shalem Center in Jerusalem. He is the author, most recently, of Saving Israel: How the Jewish People Can Win a War That May Never End (Wiley, 2009). He blogs at

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Being the Other

How about an inter faith, inter group, inter difference programme where instead of just exchanging platitudes - as happens at many of these well meaning groups - about each other's perspectives, people spend an intense week in an unfamiliar environment actually practising being the other? George Soros, get your teeth into this one please. Here's how it might work. let's say we had a Jewish Moslem camp. Each child is assigned a trained child-facilitator of the other faith. The job of the faciltator is to guide a Moslem child through a week of being Jewish. Activities are structured so that the Moslem child does Jewish ceremonies, experiences anti-Semitism, etc. The Jewish Children spend a week being Moslem. They pray or eat as Moslems do, expereince the streotyping Moslems encounter, and literally walk a mile in the shoes of the other.

This sensitization process could also b used across other divides, such as abled/disabled, although there it would be challenging to make it a two-way, mutual process, as how does a legless person walk a mile as an able bodoed persaon? And how can a blind person experience the inability to see of the seeing?

Saturday, December 19, 2009

How many chickens does it take to have a child?

To every birth its blood
wrote Mongane Wally Serote
and he didn't mean it in this way
but during his or her life
every child who is not raised a vegetarian
will be the direct or indirect cause of the unnatural life, and possibly untimely death
of tens of thousand of chickens, and thousands of sheep, cattle and possibly pigs.
Is it a good exchange?

Check out: eating animals/

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Australian National Pastime No 7.

This game is very popular in Northern NSW and rural Queensland. Teams of three compete against each other. One person in the team is the spotter, the second is the shooter, and the third is the catcher. The shooter is given a small bow and a set or arrows. A big elastic band with a hook is attached to the rear of the arrow, close to the notch. The front of the arrows has a soft miniature boxing glove attached to it. The game is played at night. The team goes out into the bush and uses torches to locate possums hiding in the treetops. If a possum is shouted the spotter shouts “mark” and then the shooter hooks the elastic band onto the bowstring, ready to shoot. The spotter now offers the possum a pair of protective eye goggles ( Bungaroo bylaws, 1897) which the possum is free to accept or reject. The shooter then shoots the arrow with the aim of the boxing glove knocking the possum out of the tree. The catcher must catch the possum before it hits the ground. If the possum is caught it is considered “local”...if the possum smashes into the ground the team loses five points.


I dreamt (he said) of a little girl who lived – more or less – alone in a big house with many rooms. Outside, in the garden, was a pond with at least a 1000 fish, and the little girl knew every fish by name and when she would call to a particular fish it would swim to her hand and eat the breadcrumbs that nestled there. If she got very bored she sewed liitle winter coats for the small fish, and big winter coats for the large fish. And if she was feeling particularly lonely she would scoop out one of the bigger fishes, put it in a little push cart, and go for a walk around the block with it. Afterwards she would give it mouth to mouth resuscitation, her little red lips on its sandpapery brown clown lips, and then put it back in the pond, where it usually revived. And this is all I remember of my dream, he said.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Sof Onat Hatapuzim - End of the Orange Season II

Today was the last day of my two year stint as a teacher, and the question I was most urgently trying to answer throught the various leave takings, gift givings, tidying ups was (and is) "did I make a difference?" In other words I was trying to assuage / silence / distance the belief that I must have had running for millenia: "I'm completely irrelevant, at best slightly annoying, at worst excess baggage."

So I eagerly looked for thank you cards, gifts from students etc. any evidence which would indicate I was anything other than a completely forgettable impersonator, a hollow man (and even the man epithet may be too substantial), a boring nonenity who had passed his sell by date and to whom the kids were mildly indifferent as long as I did not bother them. Such evidence was - of course? - sparse...I won't publicly humiliate myself by reducing it to numbers, but lets say that from students these internal court exhibits for the defence did not exceed the digits on a lemur's fore -paw. And there we must let the matter rest, with a sigh of pseudo resignation and a certain heavyness but also with a wonderful sense of liberation: perhaps other contexts will play to my strengths more, although at age 45 I have not yet found out what those contexts might be.

On the other hand there is ample evidence that I did make some kind of impact on a few students and a few staff members ( that word, gotta be careful with it...) And what does it mean in my inner language to make an impact? Translated it means there were moments of authenticity, moments where "they" (the bestowers of relevance/irrelevance, as I have set it up) got to see that I too can flow, or be a conduit to the flow, that I too burn with an energy and passion here and there, and a certainty and a purpose and a freedom....

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Cruellest Season

For many Australians now is the Cruel season, when the disassociation, projection and splitting which underlies secular Christendom is amplified. Now is the season for the increased industrialised slaughter of factory farmed animals, the manic consumption of material goods that will be discarded soon in the "new year", the loneliness that comes along with the pretend togetherness of family and friends where people play out their respective roles instead of really encountering each other simply as being, the imbibing of vast quantities of alcohol, and the consequent increased road accidents, domestic violence and general despair

Now is the time of endless vacuous adverts, of sickening platitudes, of forced and false gaiety, of do it by numbers joy, of made to order seasonal films full of fake cheer and maudlin synthetic emotion pumped out by film makers. Now is the season of omnipresent piped Christmas carols in shopping centres which seem to begin earlier and earlier each year ( can we organise a guerrilla raid so that centre management plays some Hanukah songs, or some songs connected to Diwali?). Now is the indignity of Bangladeshi and Sri Lankan cashiers at Coles (who are presumably mostly Moslem and Hindu) being forced to wear ridiculous Merry Christmas tshirts and wish all their customers “Merry Christmas”, irrespective of their or the customer’s cultural orientation.

Now is the time of pseudo altruism, where people give things and money because its a way of avoiding giving of themselves. Now is a time of overwhelming cultural coercion, where no matter what faith or creed or culture you belong to, it is assumed that you are in some way a willing participant in the general madness and mayhem - which indeed you are ( a participant, if not willing), as it inescapably in your face unless you stay indoors, and do not turn on the radio or tv or glance out of your window.

A cruel season indeed.

See also australia-christmas-time

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The best sex I never had

I attended this workshop (I'm the married man...that bit was picked up, although my South Africaness was not) and its a nuanced and honest refelction of why tantra is a useful adjunct to liberation...if Hamas and Gush Emunim leaders and conspiracy theorists and Christian and Hindu and Islamic and Jewish fundamentalists and addicts of every sort (workaholics, alcoholics, gamblers, hunters, websurfers, porn consumers, shopaholics) were all exposed to tantra when they were tadpoles, perhaps things might look very different..anyway it was very sweet.

See also (if you can find it) watching-my-self.html

This makes a lot of sense to me

Katie's take on the Moslem/Jewish Israeli/Palestinian conflict makes a great deal of sense to me.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The golden lottery ticket

Onece there was a boy who dreamed big. He decided he would win a million dollars! So he saved all his pocket money and after 6 months he had enough to buy a big lottery ticket which had fifty numbers on it. The ticket was printed on special cream coloured paper, with swirling gold letters and a gold border. He put it up on the wall and stared at it every day. He wrote down exactly what he would do with the million dollars - buy himself roller blades and a new gaming console and (because he was a caring boy) he'd buy his mom a new car, to replace her broken old car, and he'd give 5% to an animal charity, and another 5% to a charity in Israel, that helped new immigrants from Ethiopia and Russia to settle in, and some would go for a holiday for his mom and his grandpa and his sister - their dad didn't live with them anymore. TO BE CONTINUED...
When he eventually wins the lottery he's so in love with the ticket he can't let go of it, and chooses to keep the ticket rather than the 100 000 dollars it wins him.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Yerakot Hafakot - the Tantra of earthworms

Yerakot hafakot = vegetable productions, the name of my new fictitious organisation. However, I did receive my real worm farm this morning, courtesy of the Compost Evolution, of which I am now officially part of. See if you too wish to be part of this simple way of creating a more pleasant, more balanced, more well environment.

Above are some pictures of the worm farm which is compact, made from recycled plastic, and odourles. Below are some pics of the veggies I am growing in tin cans on my balcony and on the formerly sterile roof of the apartment block we rent a flat in.