Sunday, 20 April 2008

Postscript to Pesach (Part Two)

I omitted to explain my escape.

I'm in London this week, for work and other things, mainly involving the reckless consumption of leavened product (I booked the flight before the court hearing that I talked about here)

So no Seder, no Afikomen, but plenty of Weetabix and shopping for the Small Noisy One and Mrs Goy.

(Incidentally, if anyone knows where I can locate Weetabix, at an affordable price, in Israel, please let me know. The Small Noisy One has developed a taste for the stuff...)

Saturday, 19 April 2008

Pesach (Part Two)

I escaped. But more about that later.

My first Pesach was a curious experience. Mrs Goy had buggered off on a junket to New Zealand, but a couple of Israeli expat friends had taken over our London flat for the Passover Seder. Naturally, I was invited.

"Keep yourself hungry," one of them cautioned. "There will be plenty of food."

I like instructions like that. So I starved myself all day long.

Unfortunately, they omitted to tell me that there is an obligation to drink four glasses of wine during the Seder:

Each cup is connected to a different part of the Seder. The first is for Kiddush (קידוש), the second is for 'Magid' (מגיד), the third is for Birkat Hamazon (ברכת המזון) and the fourth is for Hallel (הלל).

The Four Cups represent the four expressions of deliverance promised by God Exodus 6:6-7: "I will bring out," "I will deliver," "I will redeem," and "I will take."

I'm sure this means something significant and meaningful. However, what I cannot say.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, by the time we finally got round to the important matter of eating, having extolled the verisimilitude and fortitude of the ancient Hebrews for more than an hour, I was as pissed as a newt, having imbibed on an empty stomach, and spent the rest of the evening under the table.

Anyway, this year, I won't be celebrating the Seder, because I am away from the Holy Land, in London with my resolutely non-Jewish family.

Not being Jewish confers a significant advantage upon me and Mrs Goy at this time of year: we avoid the Israeli national spring pastime, the need to figure out with which set of parents in law we will celebrate Passover.

Let me explain. As a family occasion - the family occasion - of the Jewish calender, the expectation is that families share the meal together. Simple, no?

As if.

Look at it this way. You have family A, with three adult married children, X, Y and Z. Spouses of X Y and Z are all Jewish, and have families celebrating the Seder as well.

Matriarch and Patriarch of Family A expect their children to share the meal with them. Which is fair enough. But this does not take into account the desire of the spouse's parents to have their children with them for the evening. And so on.

Generally, a degree in Stochastic processes is necessary to figure out the ensuing mess.

Negotiations can often stretch out for months before the meal, with resort to precedent, past habit and custom, and future expectations ("We spent the Seder with your parents two years years ago, but we can't this year because your brother is spending it with his wife's family, so that means that we are next due with your parents round about 2013...)

Essentially, it's a mess. And this is before taking into account the modern trend for divorced families...

Anyway, being a Goy helps - my in laws get me, each and every year, ad infinitum...

Chag Sameach!

Monday, 7 April 2008

Snakes on a Plane?

A few years ago, I flew El Al from Tel Aviv to London. I don't usually pick the Israeli national carrier, because they are hopelessly uncompetitive price wise, but this time I had no choice.

The in-flight movie was some disaster epic - I think The Day After Tomorrow - but it didn't start until after two thirds of the flight. I didn't particularly mind, as I was reading something or the other, but I did think to myself that there was going to be a bit of a problem if the film was longer than an hour and a bit.

After an hour, a stewardess reached into the control panel and started to fast forward the film. Mrs Goy, who was watching, asked her why.

'Oh, it's just talking,' she replied. 'You won't miss anything.'

Five minutes later, she was at it again. Mrs Goy rose to the challenge.

'Nu, so there's some action. A couple of people die. You're not missing anything.'

She switched off the movie altogether five minutes later. No one complained.

Saw this in today's Ha'aretz. Contrary to popular belief, I'm actually not an Atheist or anti-Religion. I believe in a healthy respect for each other's point of view, so far as it doesn't interfere with the legitimate lifestyle choices of another person or group of people. Sadly, this isn't really the case nowadays, in Israel and elsewhere.

I do wonder what the film was, though. My money is on Snakes on a Plane. Or Airport. Just the sort of thing El Al would do to piss everyone off.

OK. Off to work. Have a good day.

Sunday, 6 April 2008

The Economist on Israel

Economist journalist Gideon Lichfield has prepared an interesting series of reports to coincide with Israel's forthcoming 60th birthday. I don't agree with all his conclusions, but it is first rate journalism and well worth reading.

The link is here

Pesach (Part One)

I doubt there's a phrase in Hebrew guaranteed to depress me more than Kasher Le Pesach - Kosher for Passover.

If, like me, you had random bits of the Bible shoved into your head at irregular intervals in childhood, you probably know the story already - the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt to the promised land, the parting of the Red Sea, and so on and so forth. If you don't know the story, the Book of Exodus is most instructive in this respect.

Anyway, He-Who-Expects-To-Be-Obeyed punished the Egyptians for their intransigence towards the chosen people with a series of plagues, the last being that passover of the Angel of Death and the slaughter of all the first born of the perfidious Egyptians. Appreciating that this would probably make the Jews extremely unpopular, he advised the Chosen Ones to (and I summarise somewhat) gird their loins and prepare to flee when given the word. To make their impromptu exit all the more convincing, he instructed them to keep their bread unleavened, or unfermented.

This release from bondage is commemorated by the feast of Pesach, Passover in English. Much of which passes over me, as you can imagine. Except the pesky Kosher for Passover bit.

Because the Jews of Egypt were forbidden from taking leavened bread with them on their departure, the modern day commemoration forbids the possession of anything either already leavened - Bread, Pasta, or even Cake, dammit! - or capable of causing fermentation, like yeast. Round about now, observant Jews begin the systematic and comprehensive housecleaning to eliminate all traces of the contraband in advance of the holiday.

Now, what's this got to do with me?

Simple. Until this year, state legislation made it illegal to sell leavened products, known in Hebrew as Chametz, or even to display them for sale during the 7 days of the Holiday, Chol HaMoed.

Seven days: no bread, no crisps, no pita and no pasta. This is serious business indeed. And that's not even considering the absence of Beer and Spirits. Effectively, the State of Israel expects me to starve for a week.

Of course, there are ways around it. One can stock up in advance, something which my aggressively secular family in law are happy to do every year. "Just for you, our dear non-Jewish guest," they claim, some less convincingly than others (no names, but they know who they are...)

Or look for the shops and restaurants, mainly in Tel Aviv, that ignore the legislation and serve away, anyway.

It's a complicated business, more so because the State do seek out and prosecute transgressors.

But then, out of the blue, this happened last week.

It's a complicated, nuanced ruling, but essentially, what the judge seems to be suggesting is that the legislation was more symbolic - and so, merely concerned with the display of Chametz - than substantive - which would prohibit the possession and sale of same, as the law has been interpreted since time immemorial.

I dunno, It all seems a little too complicated. But it does mean that I might, just might, be able to get a decent meal during Pesach (My mother in law's no holds barred, eat until the last man is standing barbecues excluded, obviously - and more about those another time).

OK, the working week is about to begin. Interesting things happening this week. More on that later.

Thursday, 3 April 2008

Reading, Writing (but, thank God, no Arithmetic!)

The Arab Israeli (I hope I got it right) author and columnist, Sayed Kashua was shortlisted this morning for the ultra-prestigious IMPAC Book Prize - more on the shortlist here and here.

Kashua writes a weekly column for ISraeli newspaper Ha'aretz, which is in turn caustic, sarcastic, satirical and often very self-deprecating. I discovered it a year or so before I moved here, and it quickly became required reading. I can honestly say that I learnt more about the country from it than from any other single source.

His books are very good, too - Let It Be Morning - the one nominated for the prize - is a surreal Kafkaesque narrative about an Arab Israeli journalist falling between the two societies - Jewish and Arab - and not fitting into either. His first book, Dancing Arabs incorporates a father whose fervent hope is that his son will become the first Arab to build an Atom Bomb. I recommend both - so long as you possess a sense of humour and an open mind...

Also on the shortlist is Yasmina Khadra's The Attack. Written by an Algerian military officer writing under a female pseudonym to evade censorship, it's about a professionally successful and socially connected Israeli Arab whose life is turned upside down when he discovers that his wife participated in a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv. A gripping read, I was even more impressed when I found out that the author had never actually visited Israel, but was able to write about Tel Aviv and the country very convincingly.

Congratulations and good luck to them both.

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

and the other shoe drops...

Not sure if you remember MK (Member of Knesset) Shlomo Benizri - I blogged about him and his antediluvian ways here - but it seems that he's been a very naughty boy

This bit tickled me particularly:

"Rabbi Reuven Elbaz, his political and spiritual patron, was convicted of mediating in bribery and conspiracy to commit a crime. "

I've often wondered about this spiritual patron business, and its overlap with the sordid world of partisan politics. What do they do? Pray for votes? Seek divine inspiration for the direction of the party? Coerce the faithful into casting their votes for a preferred candidate, under threat of eternal damnation?

And how does one get a spiritual guide, anyway - advertise for one in the classified columns? I can see the advert now: "Up and coming politician seeks compatible spiritual mentor to add gravitas. Prior experience in *mediation* necessary. Bushy beard to stroke and look thoughtful with essential. Good working conditions, Sabbath observant premises. Reform Rabbis need not apply."

Maybe I'm a little unfair - and Lord knows, all religions attempt to interfere with affairs of State nowadays - but I do firmly believe in the principle of separation between Church/Mosque/Synagogue and State.

Anyway, Mr Benizri intends to appeal. Who knows, the situation may yet change...