Monday, September 24, 2007

With Friends Like These

The Boston Globe Columnist, James Carroll suggested in his editorial that it would be a warm and fuzzy moment for Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to stand in unity - while he dances a little victory jig in his head - with Americans and international leaders at Ground Zero, and Carroll questioned the decision to forbid Ahmadinejad's visit there. "This new insult reinforces him at home...What if, instead of shunting Ahmadinejad aside as one unworthy to enter the sanctuary of our national trauma, we Americans had said, 'Yes, stand here with us.' " Carroll concludes by laying blame squarely at George Bush's feet, for turning Americans into a nation of victims and for desecrating holy ground.

Given the opportunity to speak at Columbia University, Ahmadinejad played the "Israel card," blaming this small country for all tension between his country and Israel, all tension in the Middle East and its resulting Tsunami on the rest of the planet. Apparently, he is merely misunderstood in his motives, for example, when he is accused of being a Holocaust denier; what he meant to say was that historical accounts should be questioned, that truth is only as good as the people who survive to tell the story. As Shmuel Rosner pointed out in Haaretz today, "For months, Israel worked to block what happened on the podium yesterday. For the duration of his speech, Ahmadinejad produced a televised illusion: It is not Iran versus the world, but Iran versus Israel...If he manages to convince enough people of this, the mirage would be come reality and Israel would be isolated." That is exactly what Ahmadinejad and his Arab cronies want.

Let us not neglect the Neturei Karta, a Holocaust denier Ultra Orthodox Jewish sect, who gave a warm welcome when the Iranian President arrived in New York. They also came out in active defense of the anti Semitic Ahmadinejad, saying that he is a "deeply religious man, who is committed to world peace based upon mutual respect, decency and dialogue." (AP) Right...

How is the Israeli Prime Minister responding to these outlandish and aggressive attacks on Israel and the Jews? In fact, he is not, because he is once again embroiled in the police attempt to investigate Olmert's shady real estate dealings and the corruption within his office. Other Members of Knesset have called for Olmert's immediate resignation, given the extent of the criminal charges. Surely getting caught and convicted is more important than the very existence of the State of Israel.

To complete the cliche, with friends like these, who needs enemies. They can stand by and watch us devour each other from within.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Checking In on the Old Country

Money is the hot topic in the paper today, the slide of the dollar, how it affects the European Union, how it affects the billionaires on the 2007 Forbes List.

According to the International Herald Tribune, the euro traded above $1.40 for the first time, and the Canadian dollar climbed back to parity with the US dollar for the first time in 30 years. The dollar is worth less than ever before in this age of flexible exchange rates, and it has declined faster under George W. than under any president since the end of the gold standard in 1971.

And show some sympathy for the 82 US billionaires, who did not make the cut on the Forbes roundup of the 400 richest Americans: the price for inclusion (because of the weakening of the dollar) rose from One billion to $1.3 billion dollars, and most of the newbies on the list made their fortunes from the Internet, or Wall Street.

My parents, like many other Americans, started living the inflated lifestyle - along with its many expenses - in the 1980's, during the Reagan boom. Lots of PI (personal injury) cases, and lots of generous insurance policies that paid for Chiropractic patients to come as often as they wanted. Today, my parents work three times as hard as they used to, have to fill out three times as many forms as they used to, and get paid a third of what they used to receive. Yet the accumulated debt and commitments remain, like the repairs and expansion done to the kitchen in the last year, like the expansion of one of their Chiropractic offices, and like my youngest brother's private college tuition.

Speaking of college, Columbia University (my Alma mater, class of 1991) has resisted pressure to cancel a speaking engagement on campus by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a surprising move given CU President Lee Bollinger's recent initiative to confront the British boycott of Israeli academic institutions and its esteemed professors. In my time at Columbia, there were certainly several controversial visitors - most notably Louis Farrakhan - but a basic respect of all communities (Jewish, black, Islamic, etc) within the community existed. A Holocaust denier (Ahmadinejad) who has publicly and internationally declared open war upon the Zionist entity and Jews everywhere, a President who boasts of the development of a nuclear program and his intentions to use it, a Muslim who plans on visiting Ground Zero for the purpose of rejoicing in the death of the ugly Americans and spitting on the graves of those who died; he should not be allowed on the campus, never mind into the country.

The last time I visited the US, I felt a certain cloud of paranoia and fatigue; people working too hard and earning less, not spending enough time with their families and without the assurance of safety and dominance that the Americans once enjoyed. Since the start of George Bush's presidency, the United States has lost its respect and footing not only within its borders but with its former international allies. No one wants to align themselves with a currency that pulls the rest of the markets down into a spiral, or with an administration that sends soldiers to die in not one but two losing arenas (Afghanistan and Iraq). Just because we believe Democracy is a model worth adapting and striving toward, does not mean that the template works in the Middle East. I don't recall the Iraqi people applying to become one of the "enlightened."

All that remains is rich fodder that Bush continually provides for the late night talk show hosts, and for the Democrats to whomp anyone the Republicans put up for candidacy in the next American Presidential election.

Yes, in some ways Israel behaves like a Third World Country, Lord knows I would like to be paying less taxes and I would like to see some direct representation and accountability of the Prime Minister and the members of the Knesset toward its citizens. But I enjoy a good quality of life, I am able to see my patients without the bureaucracy of insurance filing and I set my own hours.

I have automatic health coverage, and some day when I have children, their education will be heavily subsidized from nursery through university. As for the long lists of shopping I used to do in the States, most of what I need I can find here in Israel, and for about the same price as I would pay if I had gone to CVS. Finally, there is a sense here of one extended family that I have not felt anywhere else in the world.

For now, America may be a nice place to visit, but I would not want to live there.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Daily Routines

When I run out of new books to read, which happens frequently in my house, I return to several favorites, and have recently re-read The Little Prince by Antione De Saint-Expupery (known as Saint - Ex to his friends). Every time I read this book, I notice another line, another description that speaks to me in a way that I had not noticed the last 100 times I read the book. This particular version of the book is special to me as well, it was once part of my grandmother's library and she had marked off various passages that spoke to her; when I read this and come across her notation, I feel that she is with me in the room.

Around page 39, Saint-Ex describes the Little Prince's daily routine on his small planet:

"He carefully swept his active volcanoes. He possessed two active volcanoes and they were very convenient for heating his breakfast in the morning. He also had a volcano which was extinct. But as he pointed out: 'You never know!' So he also cleaned out the extinct volcano...The little prince tore up...the last little baobab shoots...and watered the flower, and then prepared to place her under her glass dome."

The book itself presents a parable of love and attachments, and the importance of appreciating what and who you have in your life. If I were to document my standard morning, it would go something like this:

"She woke up before her alarm, because there was a 14 pound cat sitting and purring on her chest. All attempts to read the morning paper were in vain. She gave her cats T-U-N-A and then fed the street cats outside, who waited not so patiently for their breakfast. Then the water in the bowls needed to be changed, and the excess water was given to the little plant on the porch. The computer, turned on, was checked for email and spam, and then she set up the files for her office that day, before taking a superficial shower. The more substantial shower was to be taken after the one kilometer swim."

We humans revel in our routine, the safety of knowing that certain things must be done, that certain actions recur consistently day after day. I experience a certain peace in waking up in my own bed and running through my morning without thought; and yet, there should be days where responsibility can be chucked out the window, where the world does not collapse into chaos if you switch things around a little, ignore a few items on the list.

It seems I must acquire that skill set, although at the end of The Little Prince, he abandons his quest in the desert and returns to his flower, to his planet and to his beloved chores.

Perhaps he took his cue from TS Eliot, who wrote:

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started,
And know the place for the first time.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Rosh HaShanah Thoughts

In my head, I imagine the following encounter, and no, this is not the wind-up for a joke:

A Muslim, a Christian and a Jew all die around the same time, and are brought into the room with the Big Kahuna, to review the accomplishments of their lives.

They all immediately start clamoring, asking "Was I right?"

G-d asks them in return, "What do you mean? What do you think it means to be 'right?'"

And the Muslim justifies his actions of jihad by citing the Koran, and the Christian justifies his actions based upon the New Testament, and the Jew justifies his actions based upon the Torah. After all, in order for each to be right, the others must be wrong.

G-d laughs, and explains, when all three fail to understand, their faces fallen and confused.

Each of us is born into a specific set of conditions, a particular color of the skin, a particular race and religion; a two parent home, a single parent home, an orphan; wealthy or poor, educated or uneducated; healthy or sickly and weak. In each lifetime we live, every reincarnation, our temporary existence on planet Earth is meant to teach us something, to refine our soul. If we don't learn the necessary lessons this time around, and live a life of regret and waste, we come back, again and again. Our Karma will most certainly bite us on the Gluteus Maximus. And once we have almost achieved the pinnacle of our understanding, we choose to return to Earth not as punishment, but as a facilitator, to help along others who might need some nudging.

The Universal Power created all human souls, and all the intelligence in the world of Nature, and all the phenomenon that we cannot see nor possibly understand fully. We are all equally loved and all equally expected to (quote Spike Lee), "Do the Right Thing."

Here lies the essential question, after your current term in this collection of life experience, did you leave the world a slightly better place than when you entered? Did you treat all people and all living beings on the planet - most importantly, yourself - with honor and respect? When you woke up in the morning, could you look yourself in the mirror, or were you ashamed of your activities and behaviours of the previous day? Did you take full advantage of the gifts and strengths that you were granted, and did you actively work on your weaknesses?

Did you lead a life balanced between service and joy?

I wish everyone a sweet, happy and healthy New Year.

Peace out, and Stay Super.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Mixed Signals, Epilogue

This morning, when driving home from the pool, the road without a name had some new subtle additions: a bright traffic yellow line painted at both the entrance and the exit to the street. No hi-tech invisible field stopping cars from actually driving on the road, just two bright yellow lines at its beginning and end. And in case the driver could not figure out the meaning, there were two smallish signs posted at either side of the the entrance, saying "No passage."

What surprises me most is the seeming ignorance of the Jerusalem Municipality, as regards the standard operating behaviour of most Israelis; mainly, they must build a tall physical barrier at both ends, and they must post a police officer there to give out tickets to every single driver who violates the law of the yellow line.

Despite the sign, despite the theoretical knowledge that the road should be closed off, we Israeli drivers - and I include myself in this category - will continue to use this road. This route has been a part of our daily commute for so long, that we follow the path without thinking. No one wants to add an extra ten minutes to their daily routine, I personally want to get home the most efficient way possible, and unless someone stops us, the status quo remains.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Positive Parenting

I was sitting on my porch today, when one of my cats (Sarel "Runs Like Rabbit") jumped down into the garden. A few minutes later, I saw him eating something, along with a little girl and her mother standing by and watching quietly. Assuming that not everyone understands a cat's nutritional needs, I asked the little girl what she had fed him, and she answered, "Leftover chicken." Proteins are fine for cats, though they prefer it raw and I can't vouch for the recipe her mother had used; I thanked her on behalf of my cat, who was busy scarfing down the unexpected treat.

The little girl, a confident and friendly five or six year old, seeing that I was officially owned by Sarel, explained that she had seen him touring the neighborhood, and was wondering why he didn't have a tail like other cats. I told her the story of how I found him (run over), how he had surgery and not only lived through it, but has thrived significantly since. She then said that she liked feeding cats on the street, she liked sharing their family's food. The whole time, her mother stood by, observing our conversation, and I can only assume that it was her mother who packed the bag of leftovers for her daughter to distribute.

I have witnessed other occasions, most specifically the children of the Ultra Orthodox set, shouting, throwing rocks and kicking street cats, or dogs whose owners have let them out for some fresh air. Apparently the theory states that cats and other common household pets are not "Kosher" (Edible for religious Jews) and therefore cannot be owned, and nor should they be treated with any respect as a living being. Because G-d created all beings, but those that do not stand on two legs and can understand the Torah, and are worthy of being consumed, deserve less.

When I go out to feed the street cats in my area, I often pass an older Israeli man, who thanks me for showing these animals kindness, and will bless me and say, "A person who treats animals with love has love in their heart for all beings." Those who abuse animals most probably don't treat their human counterparts much better.

I can only hope that when I have children, they turn out like this sweet, loving girl I met today, in the way that she treats both human and feline; her parents have obviously given her a proper education, and I commend them for it.