Friday, June 29, 2007

Intimidation Follow Up

Guest Post by Akiva of Mystical Paths

On the recent past post, Intimidation, I presented a true story that happened a week and ago of a confrontation between a Yassamnik (Israeli riot control intimidation police) and a chossid in Jerusalem. Here's a follow up.

You'll remember the story ended with a conversation on G-d and teshuvah, and the Yassamnik being handed some Torah literature and a CD. Naturally, the info had the yeshiva contact information on it.

Two days ago, the Yassamnik showed up at the door of the yeshiva. He was wearing a kippah! (yalmukah) and tzitzit! (fringed ritual garment) and asked to meet with my friend. "Until our confrontation, and you calmly challenging me and calling me brother, I never thought of you people as brothers (unspoken, or even, people). Please rabbi, teach me."

And they learned for a few hours, and spoke for a bit. This young man, trained in intimidation and the judicious application of pain, and a black hatted long bearded chossid. The young man has a girl friend, an apartment, and an aspiring career in controlling the masses. At the end, he said, "Rabbi, I feel I have to quit my job because of what it is, and I want to come and learn here."

The chossid responded, "My brother, no. For now, I will learn with you once a week for a few hours. About your job, after a few weeks if that's still what you want to do, we'll talk to my rav. But for now, we will take small steps, together."

HaKodesh Baruch Hu aligned events to open even a seemingly distant Jewish heart. Even my friend the chossid is shaking his head and simply saying, "wow".

Wherever I am, my blog turns towards Yerushalayim

Advice Needed

Friends, Muqatans and Waffle Lovers: Lend Me Your Ears. I come here on behalf of a fellow blogger who asks for our help. Click on the link and you'll find the rest of the post I pulled the following excerpt from.
...but how to explain things to fellow Jews whom I know don't find much value in living a Jewish life. How do I explain without sounding judgmental or condescending? I am uncomfortable talking about G-d with people whom I know don't believe.

Wherever I am, my blog turns towards Eretz Yisrael

Coffee (to go with the waffles)

This story has Kasamba written all over it. I think this story was supposed to have happened to Kasamba, but there must have been a mix up and I witnessed it myself. Go figure.

So I had to visit a client in New York City this week and took the LIRR (the train) into the city in the morning. As I was walking to the office, I decided to stop at a Starbucks on the way to grab an iced coffee. This particular Starbucks is on the corner of Broadway and 52nd Street (I had to clarify that considering there is a Starbucks on almost every corner of NYC).

For those who don't frequent a Starbucks -- especially a rather large one such as this on in NYC -- let me describe the scene:

There are about 12 tables with people hunched over laptops, reading novels, staring out the windows, talking (loudly) on cell phones, and peering at NYC street maps (aka tourists). The place is noisy. There are an average of 20-25 people in a line waiting to place their order.

Behind the counter is an extremely efficient group of college-goers (attempting to make money to pay for their high tuition and NYC apartments) who work in tandem like a well-oiled machine. Each employee behind the counter wears a headset so they can communicate with each other. They have codewords that they yell out to each other as they take orders from the ever-growing line.

"DOUBLE LAT SKIM!" "GRANDE NO WHIP MOCHA!" Like an elite unit of Navy Seals, orders are barked, cups are marked and passed to each other, machines are humming, milk is frothing, ice is chinking -- it's a sight to be seen.

To be even more efficient, one of the guys behind the counter takes orders from the line so that by the time you get to the register to pay, you order has already been placed. By the time you finish handing over your week's salary for a solitary cup of Joe, someone at the end of the assembly line is shouting out that your beverage is ready for pickup.

The guy taking the orders ask me for my order and I place it. After barking the order into his headset mic, he looks at the guy standing behind me and says "good morning, what would you like?" The man looks a bit lost with everything going on around him. The guy with the headset leans forward, waiting for the order and then it comes...

"Um, I'll... I'll have a coffee"

As those words leave his mouth, the entire store comes to a screeching halt. Silence. The guy with the headset has this look on his face that can't really be described. You can tell that he WANTS to say something like "Hey everyone! This guy want's a COFFEE!" Instead, he is speechless.

I myself wanted to turn to the guy and say "Dude, of COURSE you want a coffee -- that's why you walked into this place in the first place, no?"

Meanwhile, the entire store is watching to see what will transpire next.

Finally, the guy with the headset finds his voice. "Um, what KIND of coffee would you like?" The guy responds that he'd just like a coffee -- a plain one. "OK" the guy in he headset replies. Now he starts to talk slowly, using his hands alot "and what SIZE would you like for your plain coffee?" After a slight pause, the man responds that he'd like a "medium". The headset dude sighs, barks some code into his headset (probably instructing the man behind the Barista machine to spit into the cup) and just as quickly, the hustle and bustle returns throughout the store and all is back to normal.

Someone like Google should really create a translation module for converting regular English into Starbucks ordering lingo, just to help tourists get an expensive cup of coffee in NY...

Wherever I order my coffee, my blog turns towards Eretz Yisrael

A Serious Post

Clearly the inmates are running the asylum here. But in spite of that I did want to point out that there are a number of serious posts interspersed amongst the movie and waffle posts. If you search the June archives you'll find more than a couple that are worth taking a look at.

On a less serious note we're working hard to make sure that the Muqata is among the top search results for any search regarding waffles because Jameel is the Waffle King.

Wherever I am, I hunger for waffles

Summer Blockbuster Hits.

I don't know about you guys, but that last post by Ezzie got me a bit nauseous. I mean, I have never seen Ezzie suck up so much. But if his post diden't make you relive the taste of those early morning waffles, then perhaps these two upcoming summer flicks will do the trick.

or how about this winner:

With your support, half the proceeds of these movies will go to help Ezzie get out of debt.

Wherever I am, Ezzie won't dare call ME nuts anymore.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Jameel - Behind the Scenes

The phone rings. I look down at the caller ID, and a name pops up. Though I'm a little busy at work, I know that this is going to be a phone call worth answering, even if I'm only able to pay attention to half of what he's saying, so I pick up.
Ezzie: "Hey..."
Caller: "Hey Ezzie!"
Ezzie: "Hey Jameel, what's up?"
Jameel: "Not much... just driving home from work. Oh - did you see? ...."
He then proceeds to bring up some fascinating stories or information, most of which I hadn't yet seen or heard about, and keeps me cracking up or gets me fired up about some subject or another. But while all that's nice, it's what is behind what Jameel does - and often, what he does behind the scenes - that amazes me, and should impress you as well.

So now let's tell everyone a little bit about Jameel of the Muqata, when he's not just a hilarious J-blogger.

Jameel is a Big Person at a Big Company in Israel, working on Big Projects and in charge of a lot of people. He goes on Big Trips to Big Clients in Big Cities. Most people like him have very little free time, and use that little bit of free time to unwind, to relax, to chill out a little bit.

Not Jameel. He runs a Big Family, which one would think take up all the remaining time he has - and it does - but he still manages to accomplish other things at the same time. Everything comes first to Jameel - everything but Jameel. In addition to his day job, he works as a paramedic for the MDA; he runs a counter-terrorist unit in his community; he blogs; he makes a ridiculous amount of phone calls; he dishes out advice to people all over the globe; and he makes things happen worldwide. There's a reason his away message on Google Chat says "Can't blog on pain of death" - the great Mrs. @ the Muqata is well aware that her husband would otherwise be spending this week focusing on everyone else, and not what he himself may need to be doing.

I think it's time to hear a couple of stories about the mysterious Jameel. Unfortunately, as Jameel often points out, the best stories are always the ones that can't be told - and that's true. As many people are aware, while a lot of the conversation between people - bloggers, commenters, lurkers - takes place on the blogs themselves, there is often so much more taking place off of the blogs, for various reasons. And because Jameel is so warm and kind, he often gets asked to help out or volunteers to help out in situations where a large bloc of his time and efforts are taken up - and he will get nothing in return.

I've gotten more than my share of phone calls from Jameel, asking if I know anything about this or that, this person or that person, this city or another. None of these requests are for himself... and in most of them, the person didn't even ask Jameel for help. He simply said "Oh, sure, I can find out about that for you" - and he then proceeds to spend hours of his own time doing just that.

A few months ago, someone I'm close to spent a couple of weeks scouting out possible aliyah options. They came back positive but slightly disheartened: While they had a vast amount of information and help from their family and friends in Israel, they realized just how short they were of the amount they needed to make the move, with everything they need to do so. Let's say that amount was about $100,000. In addition, they were very concerned about the job opportunities for main breadwinner in the family, who is slightly pigeon-holed in the field he's in when it comes to openings in Israel. He could easily find a job in other sectors, but that would require an even larger pay cut than he already would be taking. It would make survival in Israel a distant dream for them.

I mentioned the story to Jameel (and actually, another blogger as well). The two of them were beyond helpful. They not only gave alternatives that even native Israelis and people who made aliyah prior hadn't thought of, they mentioned a couple of options in particular that most people would never think of that could save the family about $50,000 in costs... and with almost no difficulty added to the family's lifestyle. Then Jameel went even a step past that, and offered to set up a meeting between the father and a friend of Jameel's in Israel who works in a similar field. He spent hours of his time trying to first get in touch with both sides, then setting up a chance for them to talk for a while.

And his reaction afterwards? Disappointment that there wasn't any more he could really do for now.

A couple of months before that, Jameel made a quick trip to the United States. Despite more important plans and things he had to take care of, he particularly wanted to sit down for a few minutes with myself, Chana (who wrote a beautiful post here at the Muqata just below), SJ, and others and get to know us a little better. Despite his best attempts, it didn't really work out... but then suddenly on motzei Shabbos I get a call asking if it was okay to come over then.

At a little after 1:00 in the morning, on the same night that we lose an hour to Daylight Savings, in walks this almost mythical man - wet from the rain, 3 different passports for his secret travels, exhausted beyond belief, still planning a huge project for work, the same guy who goes out searching for terrorists who have broken into his yishuv and goes up north during a war to help people who have been living through Hezbollah rockets... and he's got this huge, relaxed smile on his face as he introduces himself to us and our friends... and proceeds to tell stories for an hour before finally admitting that he needs to get home before he falls on his face, since he's got a 4-hour drive the next morning.

Oh, and he apologized because he'd forgotten a small piece of technology he'd meant to give me, even though it was him doing me the favor.

A couple of weeks ago, we did receive something in the mail from him. It was nice; it was inviting; it was unnecessary; and he got nothing out of sending it to me. We can't fly to the Muqata at this time, although we wish we could... but we can send this message to the honoree: It is rare for this to be the case, but you are very lucky: Your best examples in life are right there in front of you. Take advantage of those examples, internalize them, and use them to make your own mark on this world.

Jameel is certainly making his.

Wherever Jameel is, while his blog may turn to Eretz Yisroel, he turns to see how he can help others.

The Hours

I recently read a beautiful book called The Hours. It is written by Michael Cunningham. There is a quote there that I would like to share with you, although I warn you that if you intend to read the book, it will spoil it for you.

Yes, Clarissa thinks, it's time for the day to be over. We throw our parties; we abandon our families to live alone in Canada; we struggle to write books that do not change the world, despite our gifts and our unstinting efforts, our most extravagant hopes. We live our lives, do whatever we do, and then we sleep- it's as simple and ordinary as that. A few jump out of windows or drown themselves or take pills; more die by accident; and most of us, the vast majority, are slowly devoured by some disease or, if we're very fortunate, by time itself. There's just this for consolation: an hour here or there when our lives seem, against all odds and expectations, to burst open and give us everything we've imagined, though everyone but children (and perhaps even they) knows these hours will inevitably be followed by others, far darker and more difficult. Still, we cherish the city, the morning; we hope, more than anything, for more.

Heaven only knows why we love it so.

Here, then, is the party, still laid; here are the flowers, still fresh; everything ready for the guests, who have turned out to be only four. Forgive us, Richard. It is, in fact, a party, after all. It is a party for the not-yet-dead; for the relatively undamaged; for those who for mysterious reasons have the fortune to be alive.

It is, in fact, great good fortune.

(pages 225-226)

This quote moved me; I felt that it was true. There is so much in this world that we cannot conquer, so many times where we fail, so much that is bad or simply wrong, so much that is cruel or seems unkind. There are so many times where we question, "Why?" Tell me, God, why did she have to die so young; why did you permit the terrorists to kill that little boy, for what purpose must I suffer like this, why have you chosen me to harass, me to hurt, me to pain?

There are so many times when we are down, feeling saddened. Perhaps it is a great sadness we bear on account of the world at large, the many tragedies that we hear about. Perhaps it is a personal sadness due to our own loss. Perhaps it is a sadness for our people, the illustrious Children of Israel who are at times brought so low. What is definite is that there is a sense of sadness, at times even of hopelessness, of confusion and perhaps of anger.

So how is it that we go on? What allows us to survive? How do we face the day; how do we begin all over again?

This is an especially appropriate question given that this is Jameel's blog. In Israel, of all places, one must consistently ask oneself this question. How to begin again? How to fight again, how to see such young people go off to fight in wars and battles where they may die or be captured, to live with the constant threat of a terror attack; how in all this to retain normalcy and to survive?

And this is his answer, the answer that Michael Cunningham offers us.

There's just this for consolation: an hour here or there when our lives seem, against all odds and expectations, to burst open and give us everything we've imagined, though everyone but children (and perhaps even they) knows these hours will inevitably be followed by others, far darker and more difficult.

These are the times when we have been given everything, the love of a friend, the celebration of a grand occasion, some wonderful and exciting news. These are the times we live for; these are the hours that stir our soul.

When I read this passage, it reminded me of my favorite passage from Ecclesiastes:

    ז וּמָתוֹק, הָאוֹר; וְטוֹב לַעֵינַיִם, לִרְאוֹת אֶת-הַשָּׁמֶשׁ.
    7 And the light is sweet, and a pleasant thing it is for the eyes to behold the sun.

    ח כִּי אִם-שָׁנִים הַרְבֵּה יִחְיֶה הָאָדָם, בְּכֻלָּם יִשְׂמָח; וְיִזְכֹּר אֶת-יְמֵי הַחֹשֶׁךְ, כִּי-הַרְבֵּה יִהְיוּ כָּל-שֶׁבָּא הָבֶל.
    8 For if a man live many years, let him rejoice in them all, and remember the days of darkness, for they shall be many. All that cometh is vanity.

    ט שְׂמַח בָּחוּר בְּיַלְדוּתֶיךָ, וִיטִיבְךָ לִבְּךָ בִּימֵי בְחוּרוֹתֶיךָ, וְהַלֵּךְ בְּדַרְכֵי לִבְּךָ, וּבְמַרְאֵי עֵינֶיךָ; וְדָע, כִּי עַל-כָּל-אֵלֶּה יְבִיאֲךָ הָאֱלֹהִים בַּמִּשְׁפָּט.
    9 Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth; and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth, and walk in the ways of thy heart, and in the sight of thine eyes; but know thou, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment.

    Ecclesiastes 11: 7-9

The days of darkness shall be many. Nevertheless, man should live many years and rejoice in them all, a young man should rejoice in his youth; all should realize that the light is sweet and beautiful.

These are our hours, these moments and flashes of wonder; this is what we truly are. Our lives are illuminated by these brilliant flashes of color; we remember this above the suffering, the tragedy and the pain. We remember what is beautiful and when we die, our lives have sufficed because of that.

As an anonymous person once wrote:

Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.

My friends, I wish you many such moments, many hours of the kind that Michael Cunningham describes. I wish you much rejoicing through all the years of your life.

And for Jameel especially, who is celebrating the Bar Mitzvah of his son-may this be a moment, an hour, a day and an occasion that you will never forget. For this is an hour of the precious variety that Cunningham describes, and so it must be treasured.

Wherever I am, my blog turns towards Eretz Yisrael

The Forgotten

I received the following in the mail with a significant comment that someone attached to it.

At first glance this is very important flyer and protest. But now, take a second and think why this goes beyond insulting.
If you didn’t catch it, then let me explain.

The catch phrase is “Show the world we have not forgotten and will not forget them”

One little problem.

Off hand, I can think of 5 other kidnapped Israeli soldiers that appear to have been forgotten by the organizers.

So what does this mean?

We only won’t forget the last batch? The others are less important? Less interesting? When Hamas or Hizbollah kidnap the next soldiers, do these current guys get forgotten for who ever is newer and more “in”? Do we not care about the rest anymore?

Did we simply forget them?

I'm sure they had good intentions, but it’s a shame when the leadership of such large (I don’t know if they are important) organizations screw up so seriously.

You can voice your displeasure to them at: and

(Oh, and what about Jonathan Pollard?)

Jewish Spelling Issues

A friend once asked me to explain why there is 16 different ways to spell Chanukah/Hanukah/Hanukkah. I offered the old saw about asking two Jews a question and receiving three opinions.

There is some truth to his inquiry. On Shabbos do you eat Cholent or Chulent. Do you have a Magen/Mogen/Mugen David. And don't even get me started on trying to explain the difference between Sephardi and Ashkenazi pronunciation of Hebrew.

If you'll excuse me I am off to see if the FedEx guy is here with the latest batch of waffles from Jameel.

Wherever I am, my blog turns towards Eretz Yisrael

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

A Kasamba Guest Post: Grab and Move

(Coming out of retirement for a special's Kasamba!)

There are many things in the world I just loooove and very few I detest.

Buffets are one of them.

By buffet, I mean what some of you would call smorgasbord. You know, where huge mountains of food are lavishly displayed, inviting one to help themselves.

It is the ‘helping of oneself’ that I take umbrage to.

Put it this way, if I am invited out, I want to be served, thank you very much.

Maybe it’s because I am just not a hunter-gatherer.

I don’t like standing holding a plate in my hand waiting for my turn for some underpaid waiter to dole out some rations my way. It makes me feel too much like Oliver Twist.

(Tiny voice)‘Please sir, may I have some more?’

I watch those women who rush to the buffet table only to bring platters full of every type of food for their family, while their husbands and kids sit like Pashas. I admire them, I truly do. They remind me of little ants scurrying around shlepping fare larger than themselves for the benefit of the generously proportioned, therefore more immobile ants.

My husband, Boruch Hashem doesn’t mind serving himself at these types of shindigs because he loves buffets. This is just another example of how opposites attract. He actually finds food tastes better when eaten while standing up balancing grub on a paper plate. I have essentially tested him on this. What I found was really, truly, well… disturbing to say the least. One Shabbos, I dished out chulent in a plastic bowl with a plastic spoon to husband while he was standing and got all the kids to crowd him into a corner.

He said it was the best chulent I ever made.

I rest my case.

But to me, it doesn’t matter whether it’s a Kiddush, wedding smorgasbord or hotel buffet, I find them equally as frustrating. Nothing is ever really hot and you never know how many eons everything was left out of the fridge for, or who touched what and how. Then there is the etiquette involved. You know, how people are supposed to behave. The problem is the protocol involved seems to be as well known as the Coca-Cola recipe or the whereabouts of Jimmy Hoffas body. But, for Heavens sake how difficult is it for people to understand that as soon as they take their food, they must MOVE AWAY FROM THE TABLE. Unfortunately, most people do not. They stand proprietarily next to the table trying to figure out what the sauce covered lump is or enjoying a discourse with their mates while the rest of us look longingly at food we can never reach.

Oh, just to own my own bullhorn…

And then there are the little ones; the ones dependant on us big people for sustenance. Well, when they are invited to partake of a buffet, they are counted as a number and paid for but they end up eating four slices of red pepper and three slices of cucumber. I felt so happy when my little one goes for seconds. I feel like at least the Baal Simcha is getting thirty cents more value for his money. But then you take them home and the notion kicks in; they are now hungry and start to cry about starvation. Starvation? I still don’t understand why it is that when my kids see plates piled high with a small countries natural produce it puts them off their food. It doesn’t put me off mine. Not even gastroenteritis puts me off my food. I’m made of tough stuff. However, you have to appreciate the wonderful irony; the very same parents that encourage their kids to finish everything on their plates because people are starving in Bangladesh are the same parents who, at a buffet, will encourage those same kids to pile their plates like pagan offerings. All because it’s there.

In my forty years of partaking from these feasts, I have never heard anyone request that the remainder be shipped off as foreign aid.

It’s never really necessary anyhow, because there is always at least one woman who piles loads of the food on offer into her handbag. To have perhaps, ‘for later’.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I hear there is a table laden with fresh waffles at the Muquata compound.

Therefore, I’m telling you all, respectfully and in a most dignified manner, to make way… pronto; when it comes to buffets, I fight dirty.

Mazal Tov Muquata members!

Wherever I am, my blog turns towards Eretz Yisrael

Jameel NOT Kidnapped

I just hope that Jameel's secret operation for the CIA is a little less eventful than his last one. For what it's worth, I was acquitted on all counts thanks to the assistance of RaggedyMom's food and bribing David Linn with sushi. Later, Jameel and I patched things up over waffles and grilled chicken, but this time, he paid. (Phew!)

Wherever I am, I'm not with Holy Hyrax. He's nuts.

The Great Muqata Waffle Festival Part II

The history of The Great Muqata Waffle Festival is a tale full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. At least that is how Shakespeare might have described it. If you don't know who Shakespeare was then your parents need to call your Rosh Yeshiva and ask for their money back, because they were robbed. That however is a different story.

Today we are here to share a little insight into the origin of the legendary Muqata Waffle. I am pleased to say that the recipe was discovered during one of Jameel's famous tiyulim. Here is an interesting piece of trivia, there are plans to open a Muqata Wafflehouse. G-d willing this will be more than a kiosk and more than a little breakfast makolet.

Every guest will be treated to Jameel's famous waffles and a chance to breakfast with Mr. Waffle himself, Jameel. It is an ambitious project, but as they say no pain, no gain. No risk, no reward or as Bob Marley said, No Woman, No Cry.

One of the upcoming activities will be a contest to design the official Muqata Wafflehouse logo and potentially a mascot.

Stay tuned for more information.

Wherever I am, I make Waffles.

June 26 is America’s “National Columnist’s Day”

Poor Jameel must have been dredging the very bottom of the barrel when he asked me to fill in at the Muqata during his extended absence on a secret mission involving the CIA, waffles and a family simchah. I cannot imagine what else he could have been thinking when he passed me the keys to his blog. But, I’m glad he asked me to post on this day, of all days.

Today (June 26*), believe it or not, is National Columnist’s Day.**

הרי אני כבן שבעים שנה (I’m pretty old by now), and I didn’t really understand National Columnist’s Day (NCD) until Jameel began this run of substitute columnists.***

First, I never understood NCD because all good chagim revolve around food, and I don’t see any options for NCD. Unlike Strawberry Parfait Day (June 25) and Frozen Yogurt Day (June 27), NCD offers nothing more tasty than newsprint, and in this virtual age not even that. Strawberry pixels don’t taste any better than regular pixels, and don’t even get me started on the frozen pixels that I all-too-often get from this Windows box.

Second, I never understood NCD because there’s no reason to honor your favorite columnist. I mean, Beautician’s Day is also marked today, and I can see where that might come in handy; no one wants the beautician to feel snubbed, right? So make him/her feel special today… or next time you go to get aesthetized, you might do well to pick a new beautician. But if you don’t give your favorite columnist flowers (or waffles), do you really think he’ll stop writing? (“What do you get for not playing?” Groucho Marx asked the orchestra in Animal Crackers, only to find out it was 20% more than their regular fee.)

And third, I never understood NCD because no particular berachah, tefilah or mitzvah is associateed with it. Look at June 30, Sky Day (which I must admit puts me in a Chicken Little frame of mind). I can see what one does to honor the sky: Recite an עושה מעשה בראשית (blessing recited upon seeing rare natural wonders) if you haven’t seen the sky in 30 days. Or get a string dyed with techeles and study its color, the better to remind you of the sea, the sky and the Divine Throne. But what ceremony is there for National Columnist’s Day?

But now, reading Jameel’s excellent substitutes, I get it, I finally get it. Reading through these guest posts, I understand that NCD is not about having a favorite columnist, or honoring a columnist, or even eating a tasty column. Rather, NCD is for thinking about all of the diverse columnists we enjoy and the perspectives they give us, and the way that those perspectives help us grow.

So long live National Columnist’s Day! And please pass the waffles.

(And for more of June's special days, head on over to my column here.)

* Actually, there is a lot of debate about the date, and origin, of this celebration. See here for more information.

** Of course, this is only true in America, and I'm currently posting from Eretz Yisrael (or facing Eretz Yisrael). And as I write this, it’s currently June 27 in Israel. But indulge me, please.

*** Feel free to substitute Blogger for Columnist throughout this article.

Wherever I am, my blog turns towards Eretz Yisrael

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

How Much Should You Spend on a Wedding?

This post begs the question of how much to spend on a wedding. It is a good question and one that is not always easily answered. Do you have a big affair with a lot of people or do you try to do something small and intimate.

The truth is that even the small affair can be costly, but then again there are ways to make it more affordable. What do you think?

Wherever I am, my blog turns towards Eretz Yisrael

Beating the heat

Jameel seems to have ducked out just as the country is suffering under a heat wave of epic proportions! I'm guessing the whole party-prep excuse was just a smoke screen to allow him to escape to cooler climes while the rest of us suffer and sweat.

Regardless of where our host is at this moment, rest assured that at least I have your best interest (and comfort) at heart. So without further ado, here's a timely tip (actually, two) on how to make the best of the current heat wave:

Finished with your morning beverage of choice? STOP! Don't throw out the leftovers from your morning coffee or tea! Instead, fill up ice cube trays with the remnants of your morning pot. That way, instead of watering down your iced coffee or tea with regular ice cubes, you can use frozen coffee or tea to help retain the potency (or maybe even make it stronger/more flavorful) as it melts in your drink.

The same can be said for iced drinks of an alcoholic nature. The next time you make yourself an icy Kahlua & Cream, just toss in a few of your coffee ice cubes to keep your drink from getting watery.

BTW, if you are concerned that it's hard to find kosher Kahlua... fear not. Your guest host is nothing if not helpful. Here is my recipe for Ersatz Kahlua that tastes exactly like the real thing and can be made for pennies, er, I mean agarot, in less than an hour:

Treppenwitz's Ersatz Kahlua® Recipe

4 cups water
6 teaspoons instant
2 cups white sugar
½ cup brown sugar
1 ½ cup vodka (use the
cheap stuff)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon chocolate syrup (optional) *

1. Bring water to a boil and add instant coffee and both white and brown sugar.
2. Immediately after pouring in sugar turn down the heat and simmer for 20 minutes (stirring occasionally)
3. Remove from heat, add vanilla and chocolate (if used) and allow to cool.
4. Once liquid is cool, add vodka

Once all the steps are completed give the whole mess a good stir and immediately pour into empty bottles (using a funnel) and close tightly. The whole process shouldn't take longer than an hour start to finish!

Note: You can safely double this recipe, but I've had bad results when I've tried to triple or quadruple it. Also, if you want to make ersatz Tia Maria® instead of Kahlua®, just use rum instead of vodka. They are otherwise identical recipes.

* If you want to keep your ersatz Kahlua® Parve (meaning non-dairy), make sure to use non-dairy chocolate syrup or leave out this optional ingredient.

Don't thank me... I'm a giver.

Wherever I am, my blog turns on a dime!

"It's 106 miles to Chicago, we got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it's dark, and we're wearing sunglasses."

J-cop here.

Jameel asked me to blog while he is preparing for the big day. I didn't know what to post about, but came across an article that I felt was right up the Muqata's alley.

Here is an article from Rabbi Zev M. Shandalov, Rabbi of KJBS in Chicago about making Aliyah that I saw on Arutz 7

Why We Chose to Make Aliyah
10 Tammuz 5767, 26 June 07 10:42
by Rabbi Zev M. Shandalov
( About one week ago, we let the rest of the world in on a little secret that our family had known for well over two years. We finally could share with everyone our good news: we were going to make Aliyah.

As the Rabbi of a synagogue in Chicago, and being very involved in the community, I was concerned that the reaction would be a very mixed one. On the one hand, I hoped that people would be happy for us, but on the other hand, I expected some negative feedback. I was pleasantly surprised when the "positive" comments were 99% of the reaction. However, I must say that one comment caught me a little off guard.

One man approached me shortly after the conclusion of the Shabbat on which I "announced" and, after verifying that he had heard correctly, that indeed we were making Aliyah, he posed a one word question: "Why?"

For a moment, I hesitated in my reply. I thought he was asking why we chose to live in Maaleh Adumim. "No," he said, he was curious why we were making Aliyah altogether. I told him that, rather than give him a brief, dismissive answer on the spot, I wanted to put my thoughts into writing and share them with others. That is the genesis of this article.

The reasons are manifold, but I will try to coalesce them down into just a few thoughts that should encapsulate all that I and my family feel is the reason we are making Aliyah.

First, though, I should address the reasons we should not make Aliyah. My wife and I were born and raised in Chicago. Almost all of our family is in Chicago. We have most of our close friends in the city. I am a rabbi in the community, with involvement in many people's lives and in many organizations. We have, thank G-d, a very nice, modest home, and we have been very happy with the education our daughters have received and continue to receive. Our roots are here and our lives are here. So, how do we even think of making Aliyah?

The truth is that there is one major flaw in the preceding paragraph. While our physical roots are in Chicago, our historic and spiritual roots are in the Land of Israel. That being the case, our decision to make Aliyah is, simply put, returning home.

"Home" - it has such a warm and comforting sound. From the historical and spiritual perspectives, it is the land that HaShem promised our forefathers and gave to them as an inheritance for all of their children. As a descendant of the Patriarchs, we are entitled, nay, obligated, to accept this gift from HaShem and to settle in the land that He chose for us.

Imagine for a moment that a human king came to your home and brought you a most beautiful present. The wrapping was magnificent and the box was very heavy. Then, imagine leaving that present in your garage for years and occasionally looking at it. People come over and see the gift of the king and marvel at the beauty from afar and even encourage you to open it. But, alas, you have not been moved to open the gift. Occasionally, you unwrap a little of the outer paper, but quickly, after a few days, re-wrap it, only to leave it covered for a few more years.

In my mind, this is how I see our relationship with the Land of Israel. HaShem gave us this magnificent gift. He told us that, in that land, we can do more mitzvot than anywhere else on Earth. He told us that we will have a special reward for living there, and He told us that He too will "live" there with us.

After many years of "leaving His gift in the garage," and after many years of "unwrapping" this gift only to re-wrap it and leave it behind, we have decided to "open the gift."

Perhaps the best way I can explain why we want to live in Israel is to quote from a piece I wrote a few years ago:

I want to live in a country...

- where the seventh day of the week is Shabbat, and not Saturday;
- where your elected officials live on your block and pray in your synagogue;
- where Torah is taken so seriously;
- where people do not spend a year's salary on an SUV;
- where a person's home is not a measure of his success;
- where my forefathers walked;
- where the street names are from the Bible or names of Torah sages;
- where the guy delivering water can tell me where the closest minyan may be found;
- where the land itself has kedushah;
- where the land itself is a gift from HaShem;
- where the spoken language is the language G-d used to create the world;
- where even secular Jews invoke the name of HaShem;
- that has the mountain upon which the Temple will be built;
- that we pray for three times a day;
- where you don't have to explain to your employer why you need to leave early on Friday;
- where you can eat chametz on the "eighth day" of Passover;
- where the majority of events in Bible took place;
- where many of its soldiers pray;
- where people are passionate about politics;
- where you can feel Shabbat is coming;
- where you can feel that it is Shabbat;
- where it is not "Saturday night," but it is Motzaei Shabbat;
- where Sunday is not "Shabbat Sheni shel Galuyot";
- where Jews have died protecting the land;
- where one can be proud to be a Jew;
- where Shalom is not the name of a cemetery, but it is the fervent hope of every resident.

So, when I am asked, "Why are you making Aliyah," the answer is that these are merely some of the reasons that we have made this decision.

Movie quote is from The Blues Brothers (1980)

Wherever I am, my blog turns towards Eretz Yisrael


[B.O.T.H. Guestposting]

An obituary for a friend and fellow-activist, on the blog of another friend and fellow-activist.

Worth reading. Please do so. The Bay Area pro-Israel gang is one less.
May those who loved him be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

And, in the spirit in which he fought the good fight, may there be a pox upon the other side.

We'll miss his guts, gallantry, and above all, the outrageous things that occasionally came out of his mouth.


Wherever he is now, his spirit turns towards Eretz Yisrael

Monday, June 25, 2007

Where do you call "home"?

I went on my first trip to Israel when I was midway through high school, on a six-week trip for high school girls. I fell in love immediately, to the point where I phoned my mother midway through the summer and informed her very seriously that there was no way I was leaving; she just as seriously replied that I was free to stay in Israel...when I was of age and perhaps married into the bargain. So I grudgingly agreed to come back on the group flight, very much against my will and crying the whole way onto the plane and through takeoff.

For me, it was simple--Israel was home. I had never experienced such a closeness to the Jewish people and to Hashem as I felt when I was there. It was mind-boggling to be living in a country where the mail was not delivered on Shabbos (but was delivered on Sundays!), where all the shops closed early on Friday afternoons (I was in Yerushalayim for most of the trip, b"H), where the public buildings had mezuzot and bus and cab drivers kept sifrei Tehillim on their dashboards. And so much more. I just couldn't comprehend going back to chutz la'aretz and calling it "home".

So imagine my surprise and consternation when I was on the bus with a friend at the end of the summer and overheard her conversation on the phone with someone else. "I had a great time here," she said, "but now I'm ready to go home." What?! I thought. What do you mean, "you're ready to go home"?! This IS home! Of course, thank G-d I had the tact to keep my mouth shut, but it got me thinking. Why was it that I knew that Israel was home, but she just thought of it as a nice place to visit? What differences were there between us that would lead to our disparate lines of thought?

And then it occurred to me. I came from Yehuppitzville, USA. There was very little there in the way of Jewish life. Anyone who wanted to be frum there was fighting an uphill battle, and you had to really want to be frum to stick with it; it was so easy just to slip a little here, a little there, until you weren't really doing much but called yourself "Orthodox" because you went to the one frum shul in town. So for me, it was really like coming home when I experienced a place where Judaism was such a visible, palpable part of everyday life. It was like the world as it was meant to be. My friend, on the other hand, came from a large Jewish metropolitan area; anything and everything she wanted was accessible to her. Israel was just like home + the Kotel (granted, a pretty big plus, but still...). I couldn't blame her for her attitude; she was just comfortable going home because it wouldn't be nearly as different for her to go back to chutz la'aretz as it would for me. She was going back to Jewish schools, shuls on every other corner, Jewish shops, kosher restaurants. I was going back to...nothing. "Real" galut, so to speak.

But which one of us was more in galut? Me...or her?

Wherever I am, my blog turns towards Eretz Yisrael

Gilad Shalit's Voice from Captivity

Click here for Gilad's own voice, reporting on his captivity in Gaza.

Analysts are saying that the tape may have been spliced from multiple sources and based on wording, pronounciations, and intonation he was probably forced to read from prewritten scripts.

Wherever I am, my blog turns towards Eretz Yisrael

The Hidden Dynamics

Guest Post by Akiva at Mystical Paths

Every .. Single .. Time the Arabs attack and the Israelis close things down to defend themselves, the Arabs scream, the UN screams, the world screams, "economic strangulation!!" What is going on here?

Here's the hidden dynamic that no one talks about, the both politicians and the MSM almost always gets wrong...

What is the economy of the Palestinians (that is, in theory, being "strangled"?) Now in the West, in the US or England or France, when we speak of economy you think of a big interconnected engine. Local industry, local food production, imports, exports, service industries. But the "Palestinian" economy?

Exports: Not much, some olives and olive oil, vegetables to Israel and Jordan, and cement or base components for cement to Israel.

Local Industry: Basically, none.

So what is the primary occupation of the "Palestinians"?

Since 1870, it has been: providing service sector employees to the Jews, and later to Israel. Primarily farm labor and construction labor. After a number of terror attacks from farm workers, the Israeli farms dropped Palestinian labor (and imported labor from the far east, Thailand).

Which means the major economic driver of "Palestine" is Israeli construction labor. Further, the local market, ie the 'settlements', are nearby and readily available. Meaning the item stopping starvation in many Palestinian villages is construction and service jobs (landscaping, road work, etc) in the Jewish towns!

NY Times: For Washington and Jerusalem to exert constructive influence in this dangerous situation, they urgently need to adopt a new and wiser approach to Palestinian politics. That means doing more to help Mr. Abbas in the only currency that really counts, easing the lives of ordinary Palestinians.

That should include a total freeze on settlement building and expansion, a prompt easing of the onerous, humiliating and economically strangulating blockades on Palestinian movements within the West Bank, and the swift release to Mr. Abbas’s office of all tax revenues rightfully belonging to the Palestinians but still in Israeli hands.
- (via SoccerDad)

"A total freeze on settlement building and expansion", that is destruction of the "Palestinian" economy. Gaza's economy died with the Jewish departure from Gaza, local jobs disappeared and all the subsequent jobs that those primary workers income generated, as well as the migrate labor force being locked out of Israel.

The hidden unspoken dynamic at work for the Palestinians is, their economy is based on the bracha of the Jews and the flourishing of Israel. Today, their econonmy is almost solely based on world handouts, of which the vast majority are siphoned off. The Palestinian people are completely dependent on the largess of the world channeled and distributed by thugs.

The Holy Land flourishes through the Jews, and withers with their departure. As historical records show, for over a thousand years the population did not exceed 150,000. When the Jews began returning around 1850, the population started to grow, the land started to flourish, and a supporting Arab population came to provide supporting labor.

Wherever I am, my blog turns towards Eretz Yisrael


Guest Post by Akiva of Mystical Paths

I was honored to be asked to guest blog at The Muqata. I mean, after all, how often does one receive an invitation from a pseudo world leader to stop by and inhabit his chair. Thank you Mr. Arafish. Of course, Arab invitations have a strict sense of honor, no concerns over safety while traveling to the famous Muqata or during the stay. Although, declining such an invitation does have certain...umm...unpleasant possibilities. So, here I am... (fortunately since the proprietor isn't home, I didn't actually have to bring an offering of waffles)

Last Wednesday a friend of mine was walking from yeshiva in Jerusalem down the street a bit to a seforim store (Jewish religious book store). Now last Wednesday was the day before the planned Gay Pride parade in Jerusalem, which is the antithesis of everything Jerusalem stands for.

Now my friend lives out near Jameel, though he is 'charedi' (black hat, long black coat, beard, payos, etc.) As he and his chavrusa (learning partner) are walking down the block, 2 Yassamniks (black-uniformed anonymous riot police trained in breaking heads) step in front of them, shouting "where do you think you are going?", and the one in front grabs my friend's arm.

It's worth mentioning my friend is a former US marine, expert marksman and self defense consultant, though he's got quite a bit of grey in his beard since those days.

He slowing looks at the 'policeman', begins slowly adjusting the position of his arm which reverses the pressure angle (in other words, the policeman's grip is turned back on him), and says to him calmly, "achi (my brother), we're just going down the block to the seforim store, no trouble here." The 'policeman' is beginning to lose control of his grip, screams at him "you're not going anywhere!" and reaches over with his other hand to pull his steel billy club.

My friend calmly, with his other hand, pulls back his long black coat. You'll remember I mentioned he lived not to far from Jameel, there's a large firearm on his side (perfectly legal and licensed). He looks at the 'policeman' and says, "achi (my brother), are you ready to meet at the beis din lamala (the heavenly court), are you clean?" The 'policeman', seeing the large firearm, freezes and says, "What?".

Slowly and calmly, he says, "Achi (my brother), are you ready to go together to the heavenly beis din? Are you clean and ready right now, because I am. You're not going to hit me with that club for no reason, if you try I'm going to shoot you in the head (the policeman was wearing a vest). Then your partner is going to shoot me. Achi (my brother), shall we go to the beis din shel shamayim together?"

The 'policeman' lowered his arm, looking at the firearm, and asked, "Do all charedim carry guns?" My friend answered, "not all, but some, yes." You could see the look in the policemen's eyes change as they looked around at the neighborhood they were in... He let go of my friends arm and asked, "what do mean am I clean?", at which point they got into a conversation about Teshuva and connecting with Hashem.

They walked away with a handshake, and the policeman with several Torah brochures and a Torah CD in his hand.

The Yassamnikim are trained for violence and intimidation, but every Jewish heart can be reached.

Wherever I am, my blog turns towards Eretz Yisrael

Sunday, June 24, 2007

And They Want To Boycott Us

While Jameel is off playing superhero we need to be sure that his readers get a dose of stories about Israel and its impact upon all of us. So here is some more information about why a boycott might not be such a smart idea.
One need only glance at the following achievements to understand what Israel's universities have contributed to human progress and peace.

Two of the world's most widely used FDA-approved multiple-sclerosis drugs, Copaxone and Rebif, were developed from research carried out at Weizmann Institute of Science.

A revolutionary drug developed by researchers at Bar-Ilan University holds out hope for tens of millions of people around the world who suffer from schizophrenia. Researchers from Tel Aviv University have also invented a drug candidate which holds out promise in this field.

An award-winning scientist at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev developed a biological control for mosquitoes and black flies that cause malaria and river blindness, saving the sight and lives of millions of people in Africa and China.

Scientists at Hebrew University of Jerusalem have developed the FDA-approved drug Exelon for the treatment of Alzheimer's disease and dementia, and are now working on a new anti-Alzheimer's drug also suitable for treating strokes and traumatic brain injuries.

Velcade, an effective new cancer drug that treats multiple myeloma, is based on research by two Technion-Israel Institute of Technology professors. The pair won the 2004 Nobel Prize for Chemistry for their groundbreaking work.

Scientists at Tel Aviv University developed BioPetroClean, a safe environmentally-friendly technology for cleaning oil spills in seas around the globe.

University of Haifa researchers working as part of an international cooperative team, identified the gene capable of increasing the protein content of wheat - a giant step towards combating world hunger.

Research by a professor at the Weizmann Institute has led to the development of promising new therapies for acute spinal cord injuries. The late actor Christopher Reeve described Israel as the 'world-center' for research on paralysis treatment. Proneuron Biotechnologies, the company founded to commercialize this research is also developing a therapy for Parkinson's with support from the Michael J. Fox Foundation.

A team from the Weizmann Institute has demonstrated for the first time how tissues transplanted from pig embryos might, in the future, be able to induce the human body to produce blood-clotting proteins for hemophilia patients.

An Israeli scientific team from the Technion has succeeded in creating in the laboratory beating heart tissue from human embryonic stem cells.

Researchers at the Hebrew University and the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge have isolated the protein that triggers stress in order to try to treat post-traumatic stress syndrome.

A team of Jewish and Arab Israeli genetic researchers from Ben-Gurion University and Soroka Medical Center has identified a genetic defect that causes a severe neurodegenerative disease in Bedouin children, resulting in premature death.

A researcher at Ben Gurion University has succeeded in creating human monoclonal antibodies which can neutralize the highly contagious small-pox virus without inducing the dangerous side effects of the existing vaccine.

A Hebrew University doctoral student has developed an innovative drug that gives people the feeling of satiety, an important development in treatment of the obese.

The achievements do not stop there. Israel is the 100th smallest country in the world, but many of the world's best technologies were invented here, much of the groundwork laid by whiz-kids from Israel's universities.

The Pentium MMX Chip was designed at Intel in Israel. Both the Pentium 4 microprocessor and the Centrum processor were designed, developed and produced in Israel, as was voice mail.

Most of Windows operating systems were developed by Microsoft-Israel, as was voice mail technology.

Both Microsoft and Cisco built their only R&D facilities outside the US in Israel, attracted by the high quality of engineers.

Much of the world's security in the fields of computers, banking, and homeland security rests on Israeli inventiveness - a necessary by-product of the years spent defending the country from terrorism and war. An Israeli company, for example, is now working on software that would prevent the kind of repeat bombings seen on the London Underground. The company wishes to complete its research in the UK, but will be unable to because of the boycott.
Wherever I am, my blog turns towards Eretz Yisrael

Summer in Israel

As the Psychotoddler clan prepares for its first-ever (and probably last-ever, based on the cost) family trip to Israel this summer, I find myself becoming more and more nostalgic about my prior trips to Israel. I've been to the Holy Land 4 times, the last in 1996.

The first time was in 1980, and it was the second-best summer of my life. I say that only because the best summer of my life was in Israel two years later. Both summers were spent at Camp Sdei Chemed International, and in 1980, it was THE BEST way to get to know the country. I went with my friend Ian, whom I've blogged about in the past. The trip was almost an afterthought for me. Ian was over at my house, and remarked to my dad that he was going to this camp for the summer. My father, ever the Zionist, asked if I'd like to go too.

I was 13. I was just finishing 8th grade. I had never been away from home before. I had never been overseas. I don't know what made me do it, but I said yes right away.

A few weeks later, I was on a plane with about a hundred (seemed like a hundred, anyway) other boys leaving JFK and flying over the Atlantic. The boys came from all over the country, New York, Brooklyn, Queens (just kidding!). California, Chicago, Maryland, and we soon found out, from all over the world. We had kids from Dublin in our bunk.

This was a summer of firsts for me.

First time away from my parents.
First time in a sleepaway camp.
First time overseas.
First time getting to know Chassidim and Black Hatters (the camp was quite diverse).
First time dorming with people from California.
First time joining a choir and singing in front of other people.
First time keeping Shabbos completely.
First time singing zmirot (Shabbos songs).

The camp had an outstanding program. We went EVERYWHERE. Many places that, I'm sorry to say, are no longer accessible by Juden. We spent time in Jericho, and Bethlehem, and Hebron, and Rosh Hanikra, and Masada, and sleeping on the beach and scuba diving at Eilat, and dunking in some ice-cold mikvehs in caves, and wandering through waterfalls at Ein Gedi.

I developed such a connection to the land, and to the people. And to my camp mates. I kept in touch with a few for many years. Sadly, though, most of those connections have failed over the ensuing years. But a lot of what became me developed in that camp. My stage experience with the Sdei Chemed Boys Choir (playing, amongst other places, a military base in Yamit which was surrendered to the Egyptians shortly afterwards) helped propel me into my musical career, and introduced me to some big machers in the Jewish Music world. Virtually everything I know about Shmirat Shabbat I learned in this place.

I don't know what it's like now, but back then it was unbelievably inspiring. Yes, it was the second best summer of my life, but that's because two years later I went back as Staff.

I realize that 27 years have passed and I'll be traveling with some smaller kids, and I can't expect to do everything and go everywhere that I did as a teenager. But it says something about the power of the place that those days are burned so vividly in my memory.

Wherever I am, my blog turns towards Eretz Yisrael

Friday, June 22, 2007

My Life In Israel

Most of my guest posts here are of a more whimsical nature. It is not because I can't be serious, but because I usually save the serious, introspective stuff for my own blog. Sometimes it is worth going the other direction. Sometimes The Muqata brings the deeper thoughts out of me.

I had lunch with a very dear friend today. We have known each other for close to 25 years. That is long enough to watch each other grow up into the men we are today: fathers, husbands, professionals etc. Our conversation went down the natural path about what we are doing, how the families are and all of the standard small talk. And then we bounced around a few what if questions.

His what if question to me was what would have happened if I had made the move to Israel. He wanted to know if I ever thought about it. The answer is simple...Yes. I have considered it a million times. It is the itch that I have never scratched. A question that forever remains unanswered.

Had I gone to Israel as planned I can guess how very different life would be. If my heart rings true I would have gone all the way. I would have made aliyah in my early twenties. I would have shared in the triumph, the glory and the failure from within and not from a distance. Most likely I would have done my time in the army. I might have seen combat or maybe not.

It is hard to say what line of work I'd be in now. Would I be some anglo expat working for a technology company or would it be something else. Maybe I would have opened up a bar or restaurant that would be so very Israeli and at the same time so very American.

Then again, I try not to spend too much time in the fantasy of what if. I truly cannot conceive of a life without my children. Had I gone they wouldn't be who they are. Perhaps I never would have gotten married. Who knows.

Now I still think about making aliyah. I still think about the opportunities and wonder if it is a pipe dream or just a future life experience. It is not just me anymore. There are so many other people and so many variables to consider.

I wonder.

Wherever I am, my blog turns towards Eretz Yisrael


In which The Back of the Hill (that is I!) gets sidetracked upon reading about the Para Adumah

Possook 19:3 “zot chukat ha tora asher tsiva Adonai lemor daber el bnei Yisrael ve yikchu eleicha ‘para aduma’ temima asher ein ba mum, asher lo ala aleiha ol” (This is the statute of the law which the Lord commanded, saying ‘Speak to the children of Israel, that they bring to you a red heifer, complete (perfect), which has no blemish, and which was never yoked.).

Then follow instructions: kill the heifer, flick her blood with a finger seven times towards the front of the tent of meeting, burn the beast (skin, flesh, blood, and faeces) with cedar, hyssop and sheni tolaat. Following which the head-priest takes a bath and is unclean till evening.

So far so good.

But instead of trying to figgure out what any of this means, I got distracted by the sheni tolaat.
[If you've read my blog, this does not surprise you.]

Sheni tolaat is oak bug red, Mediterranean cochineal. The name is descriptive: tolaat is a worm or larva (here actually indicating a product of the creature), sheni is an intense dye stuff. As the animal (Coccus Ilicis) is minute, and was usually traded dried and finely ground, it was not apparent at that time that this was in fact utterly shrotzich.

While the cedar can be easily understood as a precious aromatic (see mention of kedar libnan in the Shir Ha Shirim), that is not the reason why hyssop (eizov) and sheni tolaat are added. Hyssop can be considered purifying, and sheni tolaat precious.

Additionally, the transformation of the red dye stuff to white ashes by the fire is symbolic of the cleansing of sin - which possibly explains the inclusion. Tzarich iyun.

Sheni tolaat is also called kermes, from which the word crimson derives, though originally kermes was the name of type of oak on which it lived. Kermes was traded extensively, and was known by variations of that name throughout the Middle East and Central Asia (crimson is the English spelling of kirmizan = Perso-Arabic for scarlet-like, scarlet-hued).

Note that American cochineal (from a bug native to Mexico, not the same as the Mediterranean oak bug) is still often used as a food colouring (both intense orange and fiery red), rendering tamei mamesh everything of which it is part. Read the label on that refreshing beverage carefully!
Annato (Bixa Orellana) seeds yield a kosher substitute food coloring, which has minor health-giving properties (antioxidants) besides.

A term related to kermes, kermil, gives the word carmine, and the reputed verminous origin of the colouring matter yields the word vermillion, which is actually cinnabar (mercury sulfide and mercury oxide), used by the Chinese as ink for signature seal impressions and as a magical ingredient in potions for longevity (strongly disadvised - several emperors shortened their lives and lost their minds because of such potions).

Mercury oxide was also used topically for chancres and certain lesions. Sometimes the cure is worse than the ailment.

It should be further noted that red, particularly in Chinese culture, is considered the colour of celebration and good fortune, and is in China and VietNam worn on auspicious occasions and at weddings, especially by the bride, who is garbed entirely in red. The groom may wear a big poofy crimson cluster-bow (rather like a huge carnation) in the centre of his chest, or, especially among Chinese Muslims in Yunnan and Shaanxi, a festive red turban.

And of course all of this reminds me of those blue threads made with sea-snail dye.........

A gittn shabbes, y'all.


Wherever I am, my blog turns towards Eretz Yisrael

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Cold Turkey!

Greetings JBlogosphere!

Due to an upcoming family simcha, I am hereby taking a blogging break for a week and a bit. I have way too many personal responsibilities to attend to, such as numerous Divrei Torah and speeches to write, comic material to produce, thought-provoking ideas to ponder and deliver, as well as plan a tiyul around the Shomron for our guests, and a million other things.

Don't dismay, I have contacted an eclectic group of Bloggers from around the Universe to keep you educated and entertained in my absence on this blog.

Currently, I have about 500 readers a day. The big question is, will I still have a readership when I return? Will the guest bloggers write amazing posts as they did a year and a half ago? Will we read about Mars and Venus in the Jewish home? Will they write aliya inspirational stories or Torah posts with wit and humor?

G-d only knows.

Good luck to them...and to us all!


Jameel & Co.

PS: I will still be reading and might pop in from time to time...depends on my progress on my list of things to do. I never was that great at cold turkey, except in the YU dorm at 2:30 AM. Even better than a microwaved bagel-dog.

Wherever I am, my blog turns towards Eretz Yisrael, even if it gets taken over by a bunch of Waffle-crazed bloggers from around the planet

RWAC...Cause and Effect?

RWAC's totally cool new blog banner

One of our favorite Rabbi Bloggers is the "RWAC" -- "Rabbi without a cause." (In fact, we like him so much, we hope he'll be guest blogging here soon) But is the "lack of a cause" really true? Does he really NOT have a cause? Note the following where he writes about Chabad...
Confession Time (and please don’t tell Rabbi Dr. David Berger): I don’t care about the meshichists. I don’t care that there are Lubavitchers running around who think the Rebbe never died, or is going to be resurrected as Mashiach.

Why don’t I care? Because despite all of the vitriol and propaganda, they aren’t going to grow and influence the masses. They will remain a weird fringe, and will ultimately disappear. The circumstances that allow for the birth of a new religion just don’t exist in the Jewish world today.

On the other hand, the Rebbe fascinates me.

I met the Rebbe once, briefly, on a Dollar line on Erev Rosh HaShanah some twenty-five years ago. He fascinated me then, and he does to this day. The man accomplished so much, saw with such sweeping vision and yet paid attention to such minute details, changed so many lives for the better…
OK, did you read what he wrote?

I didn't. When I read the above on his blog, my eyes were glued to the messianic Google ad-sense advertisement on the right-hand side of his blog. (See actual screen-snapshot below)

An ad for WHAT?!

I therefore issue the following important warning to bloggers: If you use Google ad-sense on your blog, you may end up with weird ads on your the unkindest of contexts.

Though I have a feeling that Rabbi Dr. David Berger might say their ad targeting software isn't that far off.

Wherever I am, my blog turns towards Eretz Yisrael

Respect or something else

I’m not writing this to be obnoxious or anything (for that you can go to my blog), but for other reasons this question occurred to me today.

Do your non-religious/non-Jewish friends/coworkers/associates refrain from not eating non-kosher in front of you? If you are hanging out with vegetarian friends in the cafeteria do you not eat that hamburger? Or pizza with the Vegans? If you are fasting on Tisha B’Av, Ta’anit Esther, or the 17th of Tammuz (coming up soon) does everyone else in front of you stop drinking water or eating?

For most people, the answer to all the above questions is “no”.

So why is it that I’ve been hearing a lot lately of people that won’t eat, or even drink in front of Muslims during the month of Ramadan?

It certainly isn’t about respect, because the answer to all the other questions above is usually in the negative.

So is it fear?

What’s it about?

I ask only because it seems to be a growing and inexplicable phenomena.

The Great Muqata Waffle Festival

Friends, relatives and countrymen lend me your ears. I come bearing great news. In a very short time The First Annual Muqata Waffle Festival will take place. There will be games, there will be prizes and of course you will have the opportunity to earn the prestigious WaffleMeister T-Shirt as well as the very popular Friend of the Muqata cardigan.

I am especially interested in hearing Jameel's D'var Torah about Waffles, Whistles and Water which I understand is based on an obscure comment from the Shulchan Aruch.

Please submit all questions in the comments section of this post.

Wherever I am, my blog turns towards Eretz Yisrael


And for those of you who think even Joe Settler is far too radical (which is why again precisely?) there is this blog : written by some very calm and sane individuals.
You will find it... sooooothing. Yes, that's it, sooooooothing. Only problem is, no waffles.


PS. This guest-post is a trial flight. And also a shameless promo for Northern California Zionists - we few, we happy few. Thank you Jameel.

Wherever I am, my blog turns towards Eretz Yisrael

and people say...

And people say that my blog is radical! They obviously haven't read this one.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Ten Blogs

Get a load of the new guy. Ten blogs but not one single waffle breakfast.

Wherever I am, my blog turns towards Eretz Yisrael

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