Saturday, April 19, 2008

Musings About Living in Israel

This evening begins the Jewish festival of Pessach. We call this Passover in the US. It commemorates the 10 plagues unleashed on Egypt by the god of the Hebrews at the request of Moses (played most famously by Charlton Heston, who might have been better served by playing Jesus as he has recently had his rifle pried from his cold, dead hands), and the subsequent release of the Hebrews from Egyptian bondage.

Pessach is a time for cleaning, which, technically, should be done before Shabbat begins every Friday night, but, I have discovered, is most definitely NOT. I've wondered whether or not their god commanded them to clean up before Shabbat and definitely before Pessach because without some godly threats, they would never clean up at all. As it is, and I use my neighbor as my example, but the anecdote is confirmed to be common among Israelis by many of our Israeli friends, cleaning up seems to mean gathering up all the rotted food and trash from inside the house and putting it outside the house for local stray dogs and cats to scatter all over everyone's sidewalks and courtyards. For a group obsessed with ritual cleanliness (some, not all, of course), observant Israelis seem decidedly uncaring about basic sanitation and prevention of disease.

I suppose that as a people, the Israelis have a difficult time thinking about how irresponsible and generally disgusting their trash scattering, lack of support for recycling, and general unawareness of how sad it is to walk into an otherwise pristine park or forest area, only to see empty food cans, rotted leftover sandwiches, and plastic bottles strewn all over, appears to outsiders, even fellow Jews who've made aliya. Jews who've grown up here have always had enough possibilities of destruction hanging over their heads that living for today with no thought at all for tomorrow seems to be the norm.

One of Nigel's co-workers has opined that she is embarrassed that the Israeli people just will not think about how much could be done to make Israel a more beautiful place by actually taking care of things and keeping things clean and looking nice. When Nigel informed another of his coworkers that I am having to go out every morning with rubber gloves on to clean up the rotting vegetables and dirty diapers that have been dragged all over our steps and in our back area where we walk our dog, she said, "Welcome to Israel."

One of the most important aspects of Pessach is that leavened products, such as bread, beer, and, I found out today in the newspaper, cigars and cigarettes may not be consumed or even kept in the houses of observant Jews. There are burning ceremonies all over, in which crumbs and leftover bread products are burned in a ritualistic way. Also, to make fun for the children, before the beginning of Pessach, house lights are turned off and candles are taken around each corner and crack of the house to find any leavened bread crumbs left within. The children have feathers with which they sweep up anything that looks suspicious.

This sounds cute and fun, and probably is. However, a recent story in the local news points to another episode of deadly carelessness tied specifically to this religious festival. I can't link to it because it's not free, but several kindergarten children were burned, a couple of them quite badly, during a lesson about burning hametz. Why anyone would think it an appropriate lesson for kindergarteners, I don't know. It's not as though they would have no adults to do the burning for them, and it's not as though just a description of the burning without the, apparently literal, hands-on demonstration would have been quite suitable.

There is much controversy within Israel, especially between the observant and the secular Jews, as to whether or not it should be permitted to buy bread and other hametz (leavened) products during Pessach week. Recently, the courts ruled that the law prohibiting public display of hametz did not preclude its sale as long as it was not out in the open where observant Jews could see it. A huge uproar came from the harid and orthodox communities claiming that it would be the end of Judaism. Today, an article in the Jerusalem Post stated that orthodox rabbis, who have been trying unsuccessfully for years to convince their observant flocks to stop smoking, have declared cigars and cigarettes hametz. Interesting that it hasn't been declared so before now.

All this being said, I still love it here. It is very pretty from our balcony, I'm learning my way around quite well, and we have enough secular friends that we don't generally have to directly deal with threats from the more extreme members of Israeli society.

That's all for today! More ranting at another time. I will discuss the newspaper's article about the possibility of "hametz violence" during Pessach.

The Pope Sux

Well, I've already stopped laughing.
From the BBC:
Pope Benedict XVI has criticised US bishops for their handling of child sex scandals, saying their response to the crisis had sometimes been very poor.

He laid part of the blame for the crisis, of which he feels "deeply ashamed", on a breakdown in US values.
Bold is mine.

WTF? Then he went on to say this:
What does it mean to speak of child protection when pornography and violence can be viewed in so many homes through media widely available today?

It is rare that I shake with anger, but this just takes the cake. The problem of pedophile priests is caused by the availability of porn and violence? It has nothing at all to do with:
1) pedophile priests themselves;
2) a church which, instead of defrocking them,sent them to other parishes unaware of their previous misdeeds;
3) a church which, instead of turning them over to law enforcement, protected them by hiding their illegal acts;
4) a man who specifically told bishops of his church to keep the accusations inside the church and not to cooperate with law enforcement.

I agree with Ed Brayton who says:
[F]uck you, you lying piece of shit...Fuck you, Benedict. It's your barbaric values that caused thousands of children to be molested, not ours.

And for your viewing pleasure, I present this:

Brit psychics may have to prove their claims!

Saw THIS in the news this morning and have been laughing ever since!

It seems the British are going to shift the burden of proof from prosecutors to psychics, "healers," and mediums, so that instead of having to prove they can't do what they claim, prosecutors can watch as these charlatans try to prove they can tell the future/speak to the dead/heal.

Long overdue, I say, and I wish the US would follow suit. Since Randi's Million Dollar Challenge will be defunct as of 2010, and nobody has even gotten past the preliminaries, perhaps these frightened and saddened woo-masters should get crackin' and apply. If they win, a million dollars will surely take care of any future loss of income.

1) "Psychics" and "mediums" like Sylvia Browne and John Edward prey on grieving loved ones who want so badly to see or speak to the deceased. This is despicable. For more information about Sylvia Browne, specifically, go to Robert Lancaster's excellent site, Stop Sylvia Brown.
2) "Healers" at best, do no harm. At worst, they cause increased illness and death by encouraging the sick to see them instead of seeing a doctor. For a very good personal tale of illness and evaluation of "alternative medicine" woo, see Greta Christina's excellent blog entry.

Go U.K.! I hope this one gets through. It is unfortunate, however, that Brits still seem to embrace other such woo as homeopathy (endorsed by both Queen and Prince), but that's a whole other post.