The Cabinet Puzzle

In our new home I have been looking for space to store things (such as empty suitcases) without taking up valuable space in the living area.  It so happens that there is some “dead” space between our bedroom (which is entered thru a sliding doors) and the new addition.  It seems that in Israel you cannot remove a window in a room that already has one, so there had to be a space left.  But, since the space is quite long and the sliding doors never open on the left that is a space that is never used.  I decided to fill this space with a plastic cabinet with doors.

I carefully measured the space and found that the maximum width of the cupboard could be 89 cm, not a round number.  I went to the Ace hardware store in Beersheva and looked at the plastic cabinets displayed there and there was one, the deepest they had, that was  – 89 cm wide!  If I were a believing person I would have taken this as a sign from God.  I bought the cabinet that came in a large cardboard box, to be assembled. Of course, the box was too big to fit into the back of my car, but I managed to get it in and used a bungee cord to keep the back door down.

When I started to assemble it that’s when the fun started.  There were diagrams in lieu of instructions.  I quickly found that there was only one way of assembling the bottom, the back and the sides.  Then I assembled the doors and they went together, easily, a central strip with top and bottom panels.  But I made the mistake of assuming that there was only one way to assemble the doors.  When I attached them to the cabinet, I discovered that in fact I had attached the door panels on the wrong sides of the central strips.  So I tried to remove the whole right door, but in doing so I managed to partially break a hook on the central strip that attaches to the cabinet.  Disaster!  But, after I had removed the door I fixed the hook with super glue and tape and when it hardened it was fine.  But, having learnt my lesson I instead managed to detach the upper and lower panels on the left door from the central strip that was still attached to the cabinet by the hook and then switched the panels and lo and behold it worked fine.  Then I attached the top and the cupboard was intact.

I still had to install the shelves.  There were some tiny plastic dohickeys, four for each shelf.  But how they attached to the shelf and then to the inside of the cabinet was a mystery.  The instructions showed only a fuzzy diagram.  After puzzling over this for two hours, I gave up.  The following morning I saw immediately how the dohickey fitted on the side of the shelf.  I put only one shelf in for stability.  Then I shlapped the whole cabinet into the bedroom, out through the sliding doors (I had checked that it would indeed go) and into the space intended.  It fit exactly, with barely a millimeter on each side.  Furthermore, all the large suitcases fitted into it without problem.  Now I can store some of my paintings in the place where the suitcases had been, and it’s inside the house so more suitable.  One more victory for order over chaos.


Ethnic Cleansing

The UN Secty. Gen. has labelled the attacks against the Rohingya Muslim minority in Myanmar (Burma) as “ethnic cleansing.”  This is neither a new nor an uncommon phenomenon, and something that ought to be condemned.  Ethnic cleansing is defined as the systematic deliberate removal of ethnic or religious groups from a given territory with the intent of making it ethnically homogeneous.  There are many cases of ethnic cleansing, some that have been conveniently forgotten.  Here are some examples:

  1. Fiji: The Fijians (54%) were afraid of becoming a minority in their own land.  There had been a huge influx of Indians (38%), originally brought there by the British. The Government and the economy were largely controlled by the Indians.  In 2000, there was an uprising led by the Army Chief Bainimarama in which Fijians tried to wrest control.  In 2006 Bainimarama took power, but in 2009 the Supreme Court of Fiji ruled his government illegal and there were subsequently democratic elections in which Indian and Fijian leaders participated.
  2. Latvia: During WWII Latvia had been pro-Nazi. When Latvia became part of the Soviet Union, Josef Stalin shipped a large number of Latvians (estimated at ca. 200,000) to Siberia, where they died.  Latvia also lost a large proportion of its population during WWII, including all of its Jewish inhabitants (ca. 100,000) who were murdered by the Latvians.  In exchange, Stalin settled large numbers of Russians in Latvia.  Today the proportion is Latvians is 62%, to Russians 27%. plus ca. 270,000 stateless persons.  The ethnic Russian minority claims that it is systematically discriminated against.
  3. Ukraine: Has a large Russian minority, which with the military support of the current Russian Government of Pres. Putin, have returned Crimea to Russia and are contesting the area of eastern Ukraine known as the Donbas.  The Russian minority in Ukraine claim they have been mistreated and want to rejoin Russia.
  4. Cyprus: The Turkish minority (ca. 30%) were mistreated (ethnically cleansed) by the Greek majority and so in 1974, the Turkish Army invaded and divided Cyprus, the Turkish one third in the north and the Greek two thirds in the south.  This has been the situation ever since.
  5. Myanmar:  The current situation of the Rohingya is a classic case of ethnic cleansing where the Burmese army is deliberately driving out the Muslim minority in Rakhine State.  However it should be pointed out that these were originally Bengalis who crossed into Burma to escape the wars between India and Pakistan and then between Bangladesh and Pakistan.  The Burmese do not want a large Muslim population to permanently ensconce itself in their territory.

Of course, there are many more examples one could give, such as the Balkans, where Croats, Serbs and Bosnians, massacred each other with abandon.  Perhaps the best examples are the ethnic cleansing of the indigenous Native tribes by the white American population and the US Army.  Also, of course, the deliberate killing of Jews during the Holocaust throughout Europe during WWII by the Nazis and their collaborators.  But, these examples verge into genocide, the deliberate killing of a whole race.

For good or ill the Israeli Jewish population and the IDF can never carry out ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian Arab population.  In fact, the Arab losses over the past 100 years in their attacks against the Jews are minimal in comparison to the examples of ethnic cleansing listed above.

OK, So What’s Beersheva Like?

We’ve only been living here a week and I can already tell you it’s hot.  But, you know that and you also know that it’s a dry heat because it’s in the desert and not humid like in Netanya.  Today was the first day that we didn’t have help from our wonderful daughter Miriam and our equally wonderful (must be equitable) son, Simon, who came all the way from California to help us move.  Miriam did all the organization this end, with her equally wonderful husband Jeff, while Simon worked very hard to pack boxes and unpack boxes and do the heavy lifting and high work.  When he left yesterday he left us in a livable situation, almost normal.  We have paintings on the walls, a fridge filled with food, functioning air conditioners and a smart TV and wifi.  Who could ask for more?

Today I drove to the bank like any normal person and asked for money, and got it. I went to the hardware store (I know the way, been there many times) and bought some knick-knacks.  We are almost completely unpacked, only about 10 boxes left (out of ca. 120). But, these boxes are the intractable ones, the ones that have contents for which there is no known place.  I sit and look at them and sigh, but so far have not been able to unpack them.  I have developed an aversion to cardboard boxes, or cartons as the Israelis call them.  They make me feel insecure and itchy.  I can never face hundreds of them again taking over my living room, reproducing behind my back.

But, back to Beersheva.  It seems a much bigger city than Netanya, even though it probably is not.  And I notice a lot more Arabs around than in Netanya. Many of them, especially the young women, seem so modern and well-dressed.  There are several big malls here and there is absolutely no discrimination.  There are Arab shoppers and Arab servers. In the Ministry of Interior Building where we went to officially change our place of residence, there were Arabs waiting with us being served by a number system and there were Arab clerks.  The whole idea of an Israeli apartheid is rendered ludicrous by just one visit to Beersheva.

I must admit that up to now I have not actually engaged in any social activity in Beersheva.  I know the tourist sites (the Tel, the Negev Brigade Memorial, the Air Force Museum) and so on.  But, actually I am happy to live a quiet, retired life (yeah, how long will that last?) Meanwhile life goes on and we are enjoying it.  Best to all our friends in Netanya and elsewhere.



The Jewish Transformation

Recently there has been a lot of discussion about the divergence of interests between the State of Israel and Diaspora Jews, particularly American Jews. This has crystallized around the dispute about access to the Western Wall, supposedly the holiest shrine in Judaism, the remnants of the Temple in Jerusalem, that was built over 2000 years ago.  The Government of PM Netanyahu has reneged on an agreement to allow non-Orthodox Jews access to pray at this shrine.

But, this dispute goes even deeper, because it is part of the question of what it means to be a Jew.  As I have argued before, much of the problem comes from the ambiguity of the word “Jew.”  It has three meanings, it denotes a national group, an ethnic group, and a religious group.  Failure to come to terms with these distinctions leads to much confusion.

Originally a Jew was someone from the Kingdom of Judea.  They had a distinct national identity, a unique ethnic culture and a characteristic religion, Judaism.   When their nation-state was destroyed by the Romans in 70 ce, they lost their national identity, but were kept together by the other two aspects. But, as we know, the Jews never stopped yearning for a return to their own homeland, which was a desire for a return to nationhood.

When this was accomplished after much persecution and suffering in 1948, the sovereign State of Israel was reborn.  But, Jews in the Diaspora remained an ethnic and religious minority.  The test is that there is a distinction between Jewish and Israeli Americans.  They may share values and a religion in common, but whereas Jewish Americans remain an ethnic-religious minority, Israeli Americans are a national minority, like French, Anglo and Italian Americans.  Jews still remain sui generis, their nationality remains that of their country of citizenship, not that of the sovereign Jewish State.







The Sixteenth Move

According to statistics the average person in the US lives in 11.4 places during their lifetime.  In the UK, I expect this number would be smaller, because people are less mobile than in the US.  Of course, the moves people make are not equally spaced during their lifetime, we tend to move most in the years between ages 18 and 30.   Since I have lived in 16 places that makes me somewhat above average.  Also, I have lived in three countries on different continents for long periods, the UK, where I was born and grew up, the US for thirty years, and Israel for over 20 years.  The move we have just made from Netanya to Beersheva, my sixteenth move, is probably the last move I will make in my lifetime.

Why move from the salubrious climes of Netanya, with its beautiful views of the Mediterranean Sea and its bustling city center, to Beersheva, in the middle of the Negev Desert.  Frankly the major reason was because our daughter Miriam and her family live here and we are getting to an age when we need her help, especially due to my wife’s Alzheimer’s disease.  But, also, we moved to a slightly larger one-story row-house.  This gives us more privacy, easier access (no elevator or stairs) and is a lot quieter being on an alley (mishol in Hebrew).  Miriam has been visiting us in Netanya every Tues, traveling for 5-6 hours.

How did the move go?  On the morning before moving day, the movers were supposed to come at 7.30 am and take all the boxes we packed (my son counted 83).  But, they failed to show up.   When I called, the mover told me that it was because his Arab (Palestinian) crew had told him they could not come due to a Muslim festival.  It turned out to be a valid excuse, but he should have known in advance.  He said he would get an Israeli crew and come later, about 12-1 pm.  They actually turned up at 2.30 pm.  They loaded all my paintings (over 100) from my studio first and then all the boxes from the apartment, then drove to Beersheva (a 2-3 hour drive) where my daughter let them into our new house.  Each box had a number 1-6 on it to indicate which room to put it in.  They did not finish until 10 pm.

On moving day they came just after 8 am, and worked for hours moving things into the truck, but the large items, sofas, bookcases, cupboards, they prepared.  Then the elevator truck came and quickly everything was lowered down to the ground and into the truck. It was a real jigsaw puzzle, and the truck was absolutely filled, but they got it all in.

Now 5 days later it seems impossible.  With my wonderful son Simon ‘s help, who came especially from California to help us move, almost all the boxes (over 90%) have been opened and emptied.  With my son-in-law Jeff and grandson’s help the empty boxes were discarded and furniture was moved into its final position.   We are already settled and now taking care of bureaucratic matters (more of that later) as well as fixing things and making final adjustments.  We are in our new home and returning to life itself.


A Moving Experience

As some of you may know, we are moving to Beersheva next week.  Our apartment is full of boxes waiting to be taken.  Many have asked “why Beersheva?” after all Netanya is a pretty resplendent location.  We will be giving up the Mediterranean sea, the beautiful beach and the magnificent cliff-top for –  the Negev desert.

Could it be that we are moving there to become more complete Zionists, to follow the example of our erstwhile leader and guru, David Ben Gurion, who retreated to the rigors of Sde Boker, a kibbutz just south of Beersheva in the Negev Desert.  That is the ideological premise.  But, alas it is not true, that is not the real reason.

Could it be because we are moving from an apartment to a larger one-story house where we will have a more private and comfortable existence.  Yes and no.  It will certainly be nicer from the point of view of daily living.  But, that is not the real reason either.

The main reason we are moving to Beersheva is our daughter, Miriam.  She is a wonderful daughter and a caring person and she happens to live in Beersheva with her husband, Jeff, and two children (another is married).  Now that we are getting older and have some health problems, it turns out to be far better to live near her.  We will be about 30 seconds away, just down the alley (mishol).  That’s another good reason, we will be living on an alley where there are no cars, and that will be nicer and quieter for us.

But, whatever the reasons, the move will require that I suspend writing my daily blog postings for a while.  My son Simon arrived from California yesterday to help us with the move, so I shall be busy for a while.  Keep thinking positive thoughts until I can come back to disturb your equanimity.


Operation Wedding

Operation Wedding” is the title of a documentary film about the dramatic incident that took place in 1970 when a group of 12 Jews attempted to take a small plane from an airport in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) in the former Soviet Union and fly to freedom. The film was directed by Anat Zalmanson, daughter of two of the primary actors in this incident, Sylva Zalmanson and Edward Kuznetsov, who were married 6 months before the incident.  It was shown at AACI Netanya in the presence of the Director.

The title comes from the fact that the original plan, hatched by a group of Jewish refuseniks in Leningrad, was for them to pretend to be a wedding party of ca. 50 people and then hijack a commercial airliner and fly it out of the Soviet Union.  Looking for supporters they contacted the group in Riga, Latvia, then part of the USSR.  But, realizing that such a hijacking could endanger many lives the plan was aborted.  However Zalmanson and Kuznetsov with other friends decided to go ahead with the plan, but rather taking a small empty plane from the airport, a twelve-seater.  They had the participation of Mark Dymshits who was a qualified pilot.  

On the day selected the group from Riga and Leningrad met and went to the airport.  But, having so many people involved in the plot meant that the KGB knew all about it, and were waiting for them.  They were arrested and tried with hijacking, a capital offense. Although there were 3 other women involved, Sylva Zalmanson was the only woman put on trial, and although the KGB thought she would easily break-down, they were wrong, she was very defiant.  She was found guilty and received 10 years. Kuznetsov had a history of anti-Soviet activities and received a death sentence.  

The Soviets made three major mistakes, 1. They decided to put on a public show trial; 2. They thought that the Jews would easily break-down, but they were defiant, and this gave the Jewish cause a tremendous boost; 3. The death sentence against Kuznetsov was seen to be so extreme (since there was actually no hijacking) that after tremendous international demonstrations they were forced to retract this verdict.  

After a few years Kuznetsov was released in exchange for a Soviet spy held by Israel. Zalmanson served 9 years in the Gulag, almost one year in solitary confinement.  After her release she went to Israel and rejoined Kuznetsov and they had Anat, but then the couple divorced.  After many years Anat persuaded her mother to accompany her back to the former Soviet Union to make the documentary about this famous incident.

As an activist in the Soviet Jewry movement in the US at that time (I was Chairman of the Soviet Jewry Committee of the Jewish Community Council of Greater Washington DC that was affiliated with the National Conference on Soviet Jewry), although we were upset that the Zalmanson-Kuznetsov group were caught and tried by the Soviet authorities. But, nevertheless we were overjoyed because they gave us our heroes who defied the Soviet system at all costs.  And the show-trial and death sentence on Kuznetzov played right into our hands.  This galvanized the Soviet Jewry movement around the world and helped immensely to eventually bring about the release of the Soviet Jews and eventually the collapse of the Soviet Union.