Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Long Time No Write. Time to Catch Up

Long time no write. Two weeks is an eternity for a blogger. But I have an excuse. Having Gilda at home because of her broken wrist disrupted my normal routine. However, too much of a good thing, like too much candy or cake, can be detrimental to one’s senses, though I have learned some new skills, such as how to affix earrings to her ears, how to hook up a bra (so counterintuitive to most men’s experiences). 

Gilda went back to work Monday. We resumed our chauffeur-client status, meaning I get up at 6 am to drive her to work, return home and then go back to pick her up at the end of her shift at Mount Sinai Hospital. Today we’re hoping it’s “coming off day,” as in, the cast finally will be removed from her left, dominant hand, wrist. I will still have to drive her around until she regains full use of her extremity, but we hope to see light at the end of the tunnel later this afternoon. 

Meanwhile, some updates on previous blogs and some new tidbits to chew over:

Inspired Celebration: Though she admitted she prefers harder than her mother’s matzo balls, Ellie’s Rosh Hashana batch mostly melted in one’s mouth. Even more savory were the two types of ruggelach she baked. The hit of the evening, even topping my brisket (prepared under Gilda’s watchful eye).  Ellie also reminded me she made kreplach, one of my favorite foods, for my birthday.

Rosh Hashana is the earth’s birthday, number 5775, according to the Jewish religion. For only the second time in 19 years Ellie did not sing with our cantor during our congregation’s New Year’s services. For many worshippers it seemed the holiday was a little less whole. She had good reason to demur. She didn’t want to feel queasy in front of them. For those who didn’t get my drift, Ellie and husband Donny are expecting their first child, our third grandchild, in late March-early April.

While the congregation didn’t get to enjoy Ellie’s singing, our family did during a back-to-nature communion on the second day of Rosh Hashana. Instead of going to temple, we celebrated Rosh Hashana at Croton Gorge Park and Croton Point Park. We recited prayers, read children’s books to Finley, Dagny and their cousin Elliot, took a hike to the top of the dam, Ellie sang and we blew the shofar. Gilda had bought toy rams’ horns for the kids. I trumpeted our elongated shofar. It was one of the more inspirational Rosh Hashana commemorations I have experienced.

Giant Turnaround? Perhaps I was too hasty in my criticism of the NY Giants. They’ve played much better in winning their last two games. I even picked them in one of my football pools. A good test will come Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons.

Farewell to the Captain: I’ve previously expressed my admiration for Derek Jeter, the now retired captain of the New York Yankees. His grace under pressure and ability to conquer the moment separated him from other players, many who were more talented and skilled than he. But as I wrote back on September 12, 2009,  

“Watching Jeter year-in, year-out brings joy to any true baseball fan. Sure he’s had a full reel of highlights. But it’s the everyday work ethic and performance that impresses me.

“During the early Joe Torre years it seemed whenever we needed a late score, if Jeter led off an inning he ignited a rally. Because he was not a home run hitter, or exceptionally fast, or had the best arm or range at shortstop, Jeter made you feel comfortable, made you feel that you too could do his job if only you had dedicated your life to his career choice, to baseball. But then he’d corral a pop up into short left field with an over the shoulder, back to the infield catch and you’d say, ‘I couldn’t do that.’ or he’d glide into the hole and do one of his now patented jump throws to first, and you’d say, ‘I couldn’t do that.’ or he’d hit a home run when you least expected it, as he did to become Mr. November in the Series against Arizona in 2001, and you’d say, ‘I couldn’t do that, not under the pressure, the constant pressure, he’s under.’”

I won’t recount his exploits during his last game at Yankee Stadium or the last game of his career at Fenway Park in Boston. Suffice to say, I doubt there will be another player who will make as many favorable memories as Derek Jeter did during his 19-year career.

Shoah. Showa: Reading an Op-Ed piece in Tuesday’s New York Times (“Hirohito: String Puller, Not Puppet”), I was struck by the similar sounding names Shoah and Showa. Showa, the author wrote, is how Emperor Hirohito is known in Japan. During his reign from 1926 to 1989, Japan modernized and militarized. During the Showa period, wrote Herbert P. Bix, Japanese aggression “took the lives of at least 20 million Asians (including more than three million Japanese) and more than 100,000 citizens of Western Allied nations, primarily the United States and Britain.”

Shoah is the Hebrew word for the Holocaust when six million European Jews were killed by the Nazis and their collaborators. 

Ready When You Are, C.B., (as in DeMille): My acting career has hit a scheduling bump. Show Me a Hero, an HBO mini-series filming in Yonkers, alerted me my services as an extra were wanted. But the date they offered conflicted with another appointment, so I must now wait for them to find a mutually convenient time slot. At least I’m not waiting tables until my big break comes, unless, of course, you consider all the cooking and cleaning I’m doing during Gilda’s convalescence from her broken wrist. 

Monday, September 15, 2014

From Nail-biting Addict to Football Enabler

Last week I confessed I was an addict, someone who bit his fingernails. Well, I think I’m over that nasty habit, at least for now. Thanks to some paper medical tape I found in our first aid kit I managed to cover my left pinkie long enough for the nail to grow back without awakening my desire to chew it off.

Today I’m admitting to an even more serious shortcoming—I’m an enabler. Like hundreds of millions of other Americans, and an increasing number of foreigners, I enjoy watching football. In other words, I condone and enable violence that I know will destroy an athlete’s health and the lives of his family because of repetitive brain trauma.

I’m like so many of the wives and girlfriends of football players keeping my mouth shut so I can enjoy Sunday afternoons, and now Sunday nights, and Monday nights, and Thursday nights. It’s a good thing I’m not into high school or college football or else I’d have no respite from sanctioned violence and have almost unlimited tutelage in how to behave badly toward women.

Did anyone else notice that during the halftime report of the New York Giants-Arizona Cardinals game on the Fox Network, the segue from each segment was a simulated stiff arm blasted into one’s face? How inappropriate given Ray Rice’s left hook to his then fiancĂ©e’s, now wife’s, face in that New Jersey casino elevator.

It’s our real-life version of The Hunger Games, or maybe a recreation of Roman gladiators, though the deaths of the participants are not as immediate.

Perhaps you’re thinking I’m being a bit too melodramatic, that football players voluntarily assume the risk. Of course, it wasn’t until last week, according to The New York Times, “that the National Football League, which for years disputed evidence that its players had a high rate of severe brain damage, has stated in federal court documents that it expects nearly a third of retired players to develop long-term cognitive problems and that the conditions are likely to emerge at ‘notably younger ages’ than in the general population.”

In The Daily News, Steve Almond, the author of “Against Football,” wrote, “Yes, of course these players are grown men (in most cases). And of course they choose to incur the risk of playing a violent game; the pros get paid a lot of money to do so. They also wear helmets and uniforms that help insulate them from damage, and that insulate us, the viewers, from the bone-rattling reality of collisions.

“That’s why we don’t view these acts as crimes. They are what sociologists call “sanctioned violence.” Fans consume these collisions without feeling that they are watching something barbaric. Indeed, they are regarded as necessary and even heroic in the context of the game, which is why television networks place parabolic microphones on the sidelines, and why they replay the most violent hits over and over again.

“But to the human brain—which is what’s at issue for football players—the context is irrelevant. At the neurological level, violence is violence. Trauma is trauma.

“Whether or not Roger Goodell can weather the storm and cling to his tenure as commissioner—and he has at least 44 million reasons to try (a reference to his $44 million paycheck last year)—the larger moral question that looms over him and the NFL and us fans is whether we should be consuming as a form of entertainment a sport whose end result is, in too many cases, permanent brain damage.”

Sadly, even though I question the morality of parents who invest their children in football programs given our current knowledge of the consequences, I still devote time to watching football, mostly my favorite team, the Giants, but other games as well when I have nothing better to watch. So, the bottom line is, I’m an enabler. 

Giant Bust: Am I a disloyal fan or just a realistic one? At this point in the season, two games in, it is obvious the Giants are not a good football team. The offensive line can’t open holes for the running backs. They don’t pass protect well, either. The quarterback is too prone to forcing his throws and incurring interceptions. The receivers are mediocre. The defense is okay on the run and pass but gives up too many big plays, especially on third down. Special teams are a liability. In short, rooting for the Giants is an exercise in hope and futility.

Last year I stayed loyal to the Giants and it cost me in my football pools. This year I am listening to my head, not my heart. Last week, for example, I picked Arizona to beat the Giants even with a backup quarterback starting for the Cardinals. The Giants didn’t disappoint: They fumbled twice in critical situations, once on a kick return near their goal line and another time near the Cardinal goal on what could have been a game-tying scoring drive; The defense gave up at least five first downs on penalties, resulting in at least seven points for Arizona. The special teams allowed a touchdown on a punt return. Receivers, including the normally sure-handed Victor Cruz, dropped numerous passes.

The only joy I had from watching the game was knowing I didn’t lose any money on the Giants. Though as a fan I would have preferred that outcome to seeing them go bust again.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Matzo Ball Wars and a Thrill Ride from Summer Camp

Time will tell, but I suspect we might have a Benedict Arnold in our family. The proof will be in the pudding, er, matzo balls, we eat on the eve of Rosh Hashana.

Let me explain. Gilda makes soft, fluffy matzo balls. Dear friends who celebrate with us on the first night of the holiday, with whom we visit on the second night, like hard matzo balls, the type you need to knife through because if you use your spoon to carve out a chunk you’re just as likely to douse your seat-mate with chicken soup as you are to catapult the “cannon” ball across the table. Over the years it has been a source of amusement between our respective families as to which type of matzo ball is tastier. 

With Gilda’s broken wrist this year (she had corrective surgery early Wednesday morning and is recuperating at home), Ellie jumped into the breach last weekend to make matzo balls under Gilda’s tutelage. Gilda advised the secret to fluffy matzo balls was to not squish too many into the soup pot as they cook, thus giving them room to expand. Despite Gilda’s protestations, Ellie kept adding one, two or three more matzo balls to the soup. She even hinted she prefers hard matzo balls. 

Proof of her potentially sacrilegious treason, or filial devotion, will have to await our communal dinner for 38 in two weeks. The suspense is gnawing at me.

By the way, as much as I enjoy Gilda’s matzo balls, which are the equal of my mother’s, I really miss my mother’s kreplach (Jewish wontons). Gilda has made kreplach in the past as a treat for me but it is truly intensive work. 

Red Sports Car: Last week I wrote about my disagreement on Arab-Israeli matters with Rabbi Barry Konovitch. Today’s blog will harken back to a special day I shared with two of my bunkmates at Camp Columbia courtesy of Barry who, at the time, was head of the waterfront (and, who I mentioned, lifted me out of the deep water when I went under a year earlier).

Larry Jacobs, Stu Garay and I were waiters enjoying a day off from serving our fellow campers. As 15-year-olds, however, we were not permitted to leave camp grounds. Our day off coincided with one of Barry’s who chose to hang around camp that day. In the late afternoon we implored him to take us off campus in his car. 

Though at first reluctant, Barry agreed if we could secure the permission of the head counselor, Hal Gastwirt. Hal wasn’t available, so we asked his second in command, Tully Dershowitz. He consented.

We were all set. But what I haven’t told you yet is that Barry’s car was a TR4, a red convertible Triumph sports car with a back seat not intended to support two near-six foot tall teenagers (Larry and me; Stu had not yet hit his growth spurt, which he never really did as I discovered some 30 years later when I became a short-term patient of his medical practice). The back seat was no more than 12 inches deep. Leg room? There wasn’t any.

Stu won the rights to ride shotgun on our way out of camp. Barry did not hold back on the throttle. He whizzed down the two-lane country roads of Elizaville, NY. Wind whipped through our hair. Larry and I felt as if we were riding in an old-fashioned rumble seat. We felt every bump, fearful we would be tossed out. 

We drove to an ice cream stand on the outskirts of Red Hook, some 10 miles away. Barry parked the car, he and Stu got out and waited, and waited, and waited for Larry and me to unfurl our cramped legs. It seemed like a full five minutes before we could support ourselves on our legs. 

Larry and I were relegated to the back seat again on our return ride. When we untangled ourselves back in camp we asked Barry why the TR4 even had a back seat. He explained it was for insurance purposes. Without a back seat the TR4 would be classified as a sports car with high insurance rates. But with a back seat, even one clearly not intended for use by anyone older than six, lower family car rates prevailed.

I suspect Barry does not recall the thrilling ride he provided three impressionable teenagers that summer afternoon (heck, he doesn’t remember saving me in the pool). But he still drives a red sports car, albeit not the TR4. For the last 46 years he has been motoring around in a 1968 C3 Corvette! (http://www.corvetteblogger.com/2014/01/31/florida-rabbi-has-been-driving-the-same-1968-corvette-since-new/)

Friday, September 5, 2014

A Dialogue on Freedom and Peace

(Editor’s Note: This is a realllllly long entry as I have chosen to reproduce two blogs from Rabbi Barry Konovitch who I knew as head of the waterfront in Camp Columbia back in the early 1960s. Barry is the rabbi of Temple Anshei Shalom, a Conservative synagogue in Delray Beach, FL. For more background on him, click on this link: http://www.templeansheishalom.org/abouttherabbi.html. His blogs are reproduced in italics. My thoughts follow his.)

President Obama’s Legacy

The world is in crisis because the United States has relinquished its traditional leadership position as the most powerful democratic nation on earth. Free people everywhere have always looked to America for inspiration, guidance, and when needed, military intervention to support and protect basic human freedoms and rights. It has been a heavy and sobering responsibility but we have risen to the task each time we were called. We supported our friends unequivocally and unhesitatingly; and we punished the enemies of freedom decisively and unsparingly. For the better part of the 20th century we imposed a Pax Americana that encouraged the spread of democracy and improved the daily lives of all people under our umbrella.

Now our leadership role is being relinquished as we retreat from global challenges instead of facing them head-on. The enemies of democracy are emboldened by our indecisiveness and wavering in the face of serious challenges. The murder of our ambassador in Benghazi and his compatriots produced “what difference does it make” from the Secretary of State. The Russian invasion of the Crimea and Ukraine and the concomitant, threats to the Eastern European NATO countries resulted from the ‘reset of our relationship” with the Russian government. The Iranian program to produce a nuclear warhead with which to threaten the Middle East and the Western world with the avowed promise to “wipe Israel off the face of the map” has produced a sham agreement that will allow the Ayatollahs to move with alacrity toward their nuclear goal. Our red lines threat to attack Syria’s Assad regime if they used gas weapons, evaporated as the gas floated over Aleppo. Our friends are appalled by the American paper tiger and our enemies are emboldened. Islamic terrorists arise in every corner of the globe where we have retreated. Nature abhors a vacuum and so does geopolitics. Everywhere American troops are “drawn down” (a euphemism for ignominious retreat) Islamic terrorists arrive to take their place. They terrorize the local populations into fearful submission and they dare to challenge the might of the American military. When the Boko Haram Islamic terrorists murder men women and children in Nigeria, and they blatantly kidnap several hundred young girls from their villages, we are led in a protest to “bring our girls home” by none other than Mrs. Obama. The protests and the interest from the public lasted no more than a week before it no longer captured our interest, much less our concern, or heaven forfend, any real attempt both politically and militarily to “help our girls”.

To understand what has happened to us, American citizens, we need to be reminded of the presidential agenda clearly set forth for us right at the beginning of the political campaign and underscored, reinforced and elaborated upon in such “democratic” venues as Cairo and Riyadh. We would do well to remember Pres. Obama’s words and, yea his promise to bring the troops home, to disengage ourselves from all wars and conflicts and leave a much smaller American footprint on the world. We will contract into ourselves and concentrate on improving our internal economic and political lives. Conveniently forgotten is the basic lesson of the 21st century; the world is connected, for better or worse, and no nation lives in an isolated vacuum, and no ocean or mountain chain will protect us from our enemies.

“Yes, Virginia,” we have enemies around the world who seek to destroy us, and are just waiting for the chance to take advantage of any perceived American weakness or hesitation. Pres. Obama has projected American weakness and indecisiveness to the world and our enemies are on the move.

No one should be surprised. We elected a president who by virtue of being the first black man to attain our highest office, was immediately granted the Nobel peace prize, for doing absolutely nothing to advance world peace. The award was a sham and an embarrassment to all responsible citizens. This was the president who spent 20 years sitting in a church pew listening to the right Rev. Wright spewing anti-American and anti-Semitic hatred to his parishioners. And the future president sat quietly and without protest and absorbed the lessons of black revolutionary theology. This is the President who apologizes to the Muslim world for the American anti-Islamic transgressions and bows low to despotic Arab potentates. This is a president who promised the president of France that he will “deal” with the Prime Minister of Israel who dares to disagree with his utopian plan for the Middle East. After all, this is the president who was raised in the largest Muslim country in the world, Indonesia, and was sent to school to absorb the lessons of Islam at a young age. A man who accepts the name “Hussein” is clearly trying to tell us something about his mindset.

Our friends around the world feel abandoned and our enemies are emboldened. And we sit quietly waiting for the next 9/11, which is certain to come.

The Ongoing War on Islamic Terrorism

 The latest war against the Hamas terrorists in Gaza has come to an end, but by no means to a satisfactory conclusion. The Negev communities are still susceptible to mortar fire and the major Israeli cities are still within rocket range. The Army has not packed up the Iron Dome and the reserves remain on alert. The ominous quiet is merely a precursor to the next round of attacks and the Israeli public remains uneasy if not downright angry and disgusted. People tread lightly in the streets of Ashdod and Tel Aviv, anticipating the next air raid sirens announcing the start of yet another terrifying round of terrorist attacks. The question is asked in the streets: Why hasn’t the Army finished the job? Why does the government hesitate to give the orders: destroy the Hamas terrorist once and for all? Why should the deaths of the Gaza so-called “civilians” concern us or at least prevent us from doing the job which is protecting Israeli citizens?  The world clearly sees, but as yet refuses to understand, that Hamas terrorists use their neighbors as human shields in the hope that they will be martyred and sacrificed on the altar of public relations. There is absolutely no interest in and condemnation of the tens of thousands of people massacred by Islamic terrorists in Syria, Iraq, Libya, Nigeria, Lebanon, Mali, and a host of other countries. Only Israel is singled out for vilification which clearly is the 21st century is manifestation of anti-Semitism.

The civilian population of World War II Germany and Italy and Japan were “enemy populations”, subjected to indiscriminate carpet bombing by the US and British air forces until these enemy governments surrendered unconditionally. There was no hand wringing and mea culpas in the White House or in Whitehall. Clear eyed Western leaders understood that destroying the Nazis and fascists and militarists was the moral thing to do.

The Islamic Jihadists are the 21st century version of the Nazis; they have the same brutal intentions. These barbarians are at the gates of Western civilization, all across Europe and even in our United States. How many warnings do we need before we truly awake and take action? What we have witnessed on 9/11 and at the Boston Marathon is only the beginning of a spreading cancer that will destroy our civilization if we don’t act decisively and unhesitatingly. I fail to understand how known Islamic radicals, or even suspected terrorists are not stopped at our borders, removed from our airplanes and deprived of their visas and passports. How do we tolerate Muslim preachers who exploit their thousands of followers and hundreds of mosques across America, to murder all infidels in the name of Allah?  Infidels, of course, mean all of us; Jews, Christians, Mormons alike and anyone who doesn’t accept Islam.

This is not the time to hide behind political correctness or cultural liberal ideas of personal freedoms. Our first order of business must be self preservation and the preservation of our Western democratic way of life, and if it means giving up some of our personal freedoms to accomplish it, then I for one say so be it.

How refreshing to hear the British Prime Minister layout a detailed and thoughtful program for immediately taking up the challenge of worldwide Islamic terrorism. Would that are own president would follow suit instead of “leading from behind”. The people of Israel are on the front lines of the war against Islamic terrorism. The  names may change across the world but make no mistake about it, they are all the same with the same tactics and the same goals: kill the infidels, destroy western corrupt civilization, impose Islam on the World. Isis, Nusra, Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, Hamas, Fatah, Muslim Brotherhood, Al-Aqsa Brigade, these are all manifestations of the same barbarians, who wish to erase  thousand of years of Western enlightened civilization and return us to the savage evil caliphate fulfilling the call of the Koran “convert or die by the sword”. How many beheadings do we have to watch, how many exploded bodies do we have to see, how many genocidal massacres do we have to witness before we are galvanized into self-defensive action? The Israeli public continues to feel vulnerable. The Hamas terrorists have not been eradicated; they will resupply, rearm and continue to attack. The Israeli government can surely finish the job, but at what expense? 100 more young soldiers would die in the alleyways of Gaza before every Hamas terrorist would be dead. Israeli parents would be up in arms; it is too costly a proposition. So the terrorists nurse their wounds and make their plans. And Israel waits and prepares for the next round. And so should we, because it is coming to a “theater near you”.

Sorry, Rabbi, I Respectfully Disagree

As head of the waterfront of Camp Columbia, Barry Konovitch saved my life when I, a non swimmer, slipped under the deep water during an ill-fated intermediate swimming course training exercise. But, as a respected rabbi and blogger, Barry Konovitch is misguided in his analysis of America’s place in the world and what should be our response to the increasing rise of Islamic fundamentalism and the terror it has engendered.

Foremost among his missteps is his willingness to give up some of our cherished liberties if it meant more protection from terrorism, as if we would be able to control this downward slope on our freedoms. It is the same compact with the devil Jews, intellectuals and businessmen made with Hitler in the hope he would restore order to Germany and they would be able to control him. Once liberties are ceded to government officials they rarely, if ever, are reinstated. Scapegoats throughout history, Jews should never, ever, be on the side of restrictions.

Yes, we are appalled at the evil that Islam has fostered. But as a country we cannot hope to be the police force to 1.6 billion world-wide adherents to the Koran. We cannot go back in history and become a colonial power.

The world is suffering because of decisions made 100 years ago by the then colonial powers to create countries with borders that made little sense to the indigenous peoples they contained. This divide-and-conquer strategy has come back to bite western civilization. After World War II, America’s corporate and military industrial complex layered on another form of oppression on people who wanted nothing more than we had—a life of freedom to pursue happiness in peace and prosperity. But we supported dictators who strong-armed their subjects while they enriched themselves. 

Militant Islam is found throughout Europe. In France. In Great Britain. In Germany. In Holland. In Denmark. Is America to blame? I think not. 

Barry Konovitch laments the United States no longer is the beacon it once was to the rest of the world, that it “has relinquished its traditional leadership position as the most powerful democratic nation on earth. Free people everywhere have always looked to America for inspiration, guidance, and when needed, military intervention to support and protect basic human freedoms and right.”

Last I checked the United States was still the country most people aspired to enter, both legally and illegally. The U.S. still was the country people called out to for military relief.

Barry is wrong to say we encouraged democracies. Truth is, we repeatedly overthrew or undermined governments when we disapproved of the leaders voted in by their respective electorates. We supported feudal leaders throughout Arabia. Under four Republican presidents we negated the success of the Suez War of 1956 (Eisenhower), abandoned Lebanon after 241 Marines were killed in Beirut (Reagan), illegally sold arms to Iran and illegally supported the Contras in Nicaragua (Reagan), let Assad I gas thousands in Hama (Reagan again), let Saddam Hussein wreak revenge on Shiites after the first Gulf War (Bush I) and started a war in Iraq under false pretenses while ignoring the real enemy in Afghanistan (Bush II). 

Yes, Barack Obama did not deserve the Nobel Peace prize. But it is a canard to accuse him of bowing to Arab despots. Did Barry criticize Bush II for walking hand in hand with the Saudi king, the same king who has supported and funded the extreme Wahhabi form of Islam that is the root for much of the fundamentalism now spreading throughout the Muslim world?

I, too, would have liked Israel to wipe out Hamas. But it would have required a re-occupation of Gaza, with no end in sight for a withdrawal, not to mention the numerous casualties, civilian and military, both sides would have incurred. 

It is most unfortunate that technology has overtaken diplomacy. The means of inflicting destruction and death have outpaced any sincere effort in finding a solution to the Arab-Israeli question. Perhaps, if Israeli leaders had been more imaginative and accommodating (yes, accommodating) in decades past, they would have achieved a solution that would have lifted Palestinians out of the poverty so easily exploited by Islamic jihadists. When your family has few or no jobs, little to eat, no dignity, insufficient housing, sanitation, medical care and education, there is too little to keep youth from committing to the tantalizing dream of the jihadist. 

Palestinian and Arab leaders have repeatedly rejected Israel’s presence. They are more culpable because they rejected offers of peace. And the Arab Street was silent in asking for peace. The latest war in Gaza, however, has demonstrably shown that creativity must be employed to secure a lasting peace because, surely, destructive minds are hard at work creating new means of terror, above and below ground.