Saturday, January 7, 2006

Pilpul Part III

7 January 2006
Tel Aviv

Contemporary Art and Cholent

Shabbos in Tel Aviv is a combination of contemporary art (the Tel Aviv Museum is open and has a really good Menashe Kadishman exhibit – some of you have seen Kadishman at places like MOMA or Storm King Mountain) and cholent. Kadishman has a thing for goats’ heads but really stands out with his outdoor sculptures of things like negative trees, torn washing hanging from lines, the binding of Isaac and, at Storm King, a huge rectangle, standing on end in the middle of what would be a good-sized fairway if Storm King were a golf course. The rectangle is broken about a third of the way up and the broken piece dangles at an angle and a weight distribution that is simply impossible within Earth's gravity.

Cholent is what you eat when you want hot food on Shabbos but cannot start an oven or stove or cut new vegetables. Cholent (which varies in content depending upon where your great grandmother was born but consists largely of beans, potatoes, mystery meat and whatever else did not make it into the Friday night soup) stays on a stove or in an oven until Saturday afternoon when it has congealed into a uniform mass that instantly expands upon ingestion. There are those who think this stuff is delicious. Batya, a restaurant near our apartment, makes an excellent cholent served with a chunk of kishke. Kishke is lamb or cow intestine (depending on what you had around to kill before the weekend) stuffed with bread, grease and G-d only knows what else. Those of you from in between the coasts who have had a knish or a kosher hot dog and think you have had Jewish food have been spared the real stuff. And, by the way, if your great grandmother was not from central or Eastern Europe you don’t get off easy. There’s jachnun and shakshukah. Jachnun is solid starch and grease mitigated with a hard-boiled egg or two. Shakshukah is egg and cheese in a tomato sauce. Now that I think of it, cholent does sort of go with Kadishman.

You’re In The Army Now

Last night, Friday 6 January, we had Shabbos dinner with the DeCastros (Maurizio, Nurit and Keren, our Yemenite daughter, the officer). Also with us are Deborah and Marissa, two of Becky’s Hatikvah roommates who are taking a break from their current locations. This middle part of YC is, for Becky’s group, the Israel Experience. Deborah is working north of Acco at a shelter/school for troubled and abused teenagers. Marissa is working near Modiin at an environmental/organic farm that runs education programs for schools in the surrounding area. We are also joined by Michal Zur. So we are having a grand old time eating this incredible Yemenite vegetable and chicken soup, ktzitzot (a sort of chicken latke – don’t even try to pronounce this unless you speak Hebrew or you will hurt yourself) and plenty of wine to wash this down. The Kiddush is familiar though done in a Sephardic melody.

My highlight of the evening was the call from Becky. Becky just finished her first week of Marva, a sampling of Army training. She her day (which began at 4:15 and, at 10:30 was not over) has been spent on guard duty, on kitchen duty, cleaning herself, cleaning her weapon, getting into trouble with her commander, cleaning her living area, standing at attention with her weapon while being lectured at and, at 01:00, going back on guard duty. I will directly quote the only quotable portion of the phone call:

Becky: So they get me up at f-----g 4:f------g15 in the morning and we have to run for an hour before they let us eat food that really s---s big time and then we have to clean the f------g tents and the f-----g area around the tents and then, from 10 until 2 for four f-----g hours I have to wash f-----g dishes and then, finally, they let me take a shower but then I have to clean up the f-----g area and stand at f-----g attention with my rifle while they give me a f-----g lecture until they finally let me eat more food that isn’t worth eating and at f-----g 01:00 to 01:30 I have more f------g guard duty.

At this moment I really missed my Father who would have loved the rant and started telling some of his “fond” memories of army life. After I stopped laughing hysterically, I assured her that she will survive this and she should just suck it up and stick it out. She wasn’t asking to come home. She just wanted to complain, like a real soldier. She did ask how I could have let her volunteer for this. I reminded her that I don’t let her do anything.

Seven Jews Are Talking

On 25 and 26 January Liz and Becky and I toured the Supreme Court in Jerusalem. The building alone is worth the trip. It is architecturally a masterpiece of symbolic and functional design. But the fun part, for us retired attorneys, is sitting in on a case.

The Israeli Supreme Court is the highest court in the land. It has a panel of 15 judges, all appointed by a panel of government ministers. They court usually sits in panels of three though the Chief Judge may appoint (on his own volition or on petition) a larger, odd-numbered panel. In Israel there are no juries. Judges determine the facts and apply the law. There is also no written Constitution, just a series of Basic Laws that get amended from time to time by the Knesset and get interpreted by the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court has two basic jurisdictions. One is that any case from a lower court can be appealed, creating a serious backlog. The other is direct jurisdiction over certain cases including Human Rights cases. A Human Rights case has a very broad definition here. Remember, there is no Article III and no Judiciary Act for Congress to fool with. The Supreme Court can pretty much take whatever cases it decides to take. For example, a case involving the provision of appropriate education to a learning disabled child or a case involving the separation of a farmer from his farmland by the security fence can both go straight to the Supreme Court. The Judges will listen to testimony, look at exhibits, take briefs on the law and hear argument. The fun part is that this can be an almost simultaneous event. For you New York lawyers, its much more like a wild morning in the Appellate Division than the formality of the Court of Appeals.

We sat in on two cases. One was a criminal appeal. We know because Becky caught the words vodka and hashish (and wouldn’t tell me why these two words just sort of jumped out at her). Liz heard kilograms, which is a heck of a lot of hashish. The other case had Army officers and several lawyers gesturing and talking about a map that was spread out on the Judges’ bench. Possibly a fence case or at least some dispute about whether the Army can take over someone’s land or put up a roadblock that stops someone from commuting to his or her business. In any event, every time a Judge asked a question or just paused to take a breath, one of the lawyers would launch into another long speech. This particular panel was being very patient with all this. Sylvia Ornstein recalls sitting in on a case when the Judge had had enough with a long-winded attorney and verbally whacked him upside the head. Ah, that's the courtroom I know and love. Anyway, for you lawyer types, the Supreme Court tour is a good busman’s holiday.

And speaking of a unique legal system. Has anyone been wondering just how Marwan Barghouti, a man serving five consecutive life terms for murdering Jews, is able to lead a faction within Fatah that has now gained control of the final Parliamentary list, with Marwan in the number one spot? And how he is able to release statements to the Palestinians apologizing for Fatah and the PA to date and asking for another chance? Or saying something diplomatic about Sharon’s condition? Isn’t this guy in prison? Well, yes, but prison here, like the Army here, does not work quite the way it works in the US. Here, prison officials, who ultimately answer to the political leaders of their agency, have certain amounts of discretion with respect to prisoners receiving visitors or making phone calls. Barghouti only speaks with those people who have been approved by the Warden and only communicates in designated rooms or on designated phones. Marwan has been allowed to participate in conference calls originating from the Warden’s office. Clearly, someone up the foodchain has decided that its better to allow Barghouti to become the next Prime Minister of the PA than just sit back and allow Hamas to grab it all. Besides, wouldn’t you like to be able to tape every key conversation between one of your most powerful enemies and his closest advisors (to say nothing of his wife)? Can you see Rumsfeld allowing Osama’s number 2 to call in from Guantanamo? And why wouldn’t that be a good idea?

Take The Aleph Train

What is new since my 1992 trip is that many of the major population centers and the main airport are now linked by Israel Railways. The trains are clean, modern, comfortable and run on time. Once again Israel destroys old stereotypes and replaces them with irony. The Army works, the trains run on time, it’s the education system and the government that are a mess.

But with the trains comes something that I never thought I’d see here. Israelis commuting to work from suburbs by train. You can see the cars parked in the station lots as you whiz by on an express. Try looking at that sight and humming Zum Gali Gali* to yourself.

YC Retreats from Hatikvah

The YC kids are not happy about this. They know that a major part of the experience was actually living in the neighborhood. But Hadassah is not going to put any kids at risk. So, after a series of break-ins, including the fellow who was just standing in the living room when one young woman came out of the shower, Hadassah has moved the current Hatikvah group to a hotel near our apartment. The kids get double rooms and two meals a day plus 20 shekels spending money and a bus pass. They commute to their volunteer jobs. The reaction from Becky’s crew was generally to say that this makes everyone look like wimps and takes away the real benefit of the program. By and large, the kids were part of the neighborhood, looked after by neighbors and merchants and generally made to feel at home. They were not treated like a bunch of prissy do-gooders from the outside. I’m certain most parents are happy with this arrangement. But I think the kids have got this right.

Last Word On Hanukkah

Its now way past Hanukah and I never did get around to my annual rant about Hasmoneans and the right wingers. My version of the Hanukah story was delivered just once at the Kiddie Service. Treasure and Cynthia have since carefully organized the services so that I am never left alone with the children. I take no offense at this. I have, however, decided to spare you my Hanukah story. At least for this year. Maybe you’ll get unlucky next year.


* Zum Gali Gali is a sing-a-long whose only words are “Pioneers are for work. Work is for the Pioneers.” Its an early Kibbutz/youth group song that mostly lives on at US summer camps. I doubt anyone sings it while getting coffee on their way to their job for a nanotechnology firm.

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