Friday, June 17, 2016

Here and There

Monday, June 13, 2016
I am fascinated by the depth of the feelings aroused by the death of Muhammad Ali. I well remember his rise as the highly-skilled, braggadocious Cassius Clay, then his conscious distancing from the role of All American sports hero by converting to Islam and opposing the draft. I was no more understanding of his position than most (white) Americans. It took time for Ali to be vindicated, while we sent tens of thousands of young Americans to totally unnecessary deaths in Vietnam. Our racists, hawks, and chickenhawks ultimately abandoned their public scorn of Ali, as he proved more prescient than they. Now, Barack Obama is constantly pilloried by many of these same voices. It's not just because he is black, although I don't underestimate that, but they will not forgive that he has been invariably right when they were wrong.

The bandwagon of gun violence has temporarily parked in Orlando. All I seem to have heard in the last 24 hours is the need for love, the power of love, the value of love, in response to the acts of a crazed man. I choose to call him crazed, because it fits conduct motivated either by wretchedly excessive ideological or psychological fervor. In any case, don't give me love. This isn't a time for pop music platitudes. Give me laws. Get military weaponry out of civilian hands. Maybe Orlando or San Bernardino or Sandy Hook could not have been entirely insulated from violence, but AR-15s were used at each location, as well as inevitably at other scenes of civilian slaughter.

The Washington Post describes the AR-15 as "the preferred weapon used to kill the enemies of the United States." Obviously, the enemy seems to be in the eyes of the beholder.

The New York Times has a feast for you political junkies out there, a detailed breakdown of group voting patterns. They don't just limit themselves to the broad demographic categories of race, religion, age and wealth, but they slice and dice the numbers to a remarkable degree. Want to know the turnout and support of black women in Nevada, ages 30-44 with postgraduate degrees in 2012? 74% voted and 96% of them voted Democratic. How about white men in Georgia with high school degrees? 61% turnout, 14% voted Democratic. Eat it up.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016
I'm sitting in the departure lounge at JFK reading Balkan Ghosts, by Robert D. Kaplan, an excellent history of that tortured region, written in the early 1990s. Kaplan points out that while the Balkans have a history of violence for centuries and were the flashpoint to start WWI, the West (Americans particularly) know and care little about the area. We visited Greece, Bulgaria and Macedonia exactly three years ago. What impressed me then and Kaplan confirms is the almost biologic link between identity and the soil, the homeland that may have been lost hundreds of years ago, every precious inch to be recovered now at any cost. Archbishop Stepinac, the leader of the Roman Catholic church in Yugoslavia and a Croatian nationalist, said in 1941, when Croatian fascists proclaimed independence on the heels of the invasion of Yugoslavia by Germany and Italy, "it is no longer the tongue which speaks but the blood with its mysterious links with the country, in which we have seen the light of God."

Kaplan notes the unfortunate parallels with the Arab-Israeli situation, each side able to point to a moment, long or short in the past, when it controlled that square centimeter of arid soil and claims it as of right forever more. On to Israel.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016
We landed at 5:36 A.M. in Tel Aviv, one minute later than scheduled even though we took off one hour late. The El Al 747-400, the Papa Bear of commercial aircraft, was full with about as many Jews as I have ever seen at one place. Of course, many of my Jewish fellow travelers would not be caught dead in the vicinity of West End Synagogue, where men and women sit together, women read from the Torah, women wear pants, women allow their hair to be seen by anybody and everybody, and some of us, men and women alike, hunt Chinese food with almost archeological fervor.

With a late morning nap, I was able to enjoy part of the first day here. We had dinner at "Benny the Fisherman" a/k/a Benny HaDayag, Port of Tel Aviv, Hangar 8, a very popular restaurant on the waterfront. My young bride and I had been there on our last visit, exactly four years ago. This time, we were 5 adults, Mila the other grandmother joined us, and three children, three generations eating together. I had yellow snapper fillet baked in olive oil with herbs, quite delicious (89 NIS, $23). It came with paprika-coated French fries, or maybe they should be called Hungarian fries. But, what made the meal an extra special deal is the group of 12 "salads" that come out first, a typical Israeli/Arabic presentation. That included hummus, babaganoush, sautéed carrots, yogurt with herbs, beets, tomato puree, and fried cauliflower in a sweet and sour sauce, a major triumph. You can have the salads alone, with bread, for 45 NIS; add beer for a lovely evening.

Last weekend, the New York Times published an investigative report on DT's wealth.

I quickly sent a letter to the editor, which, until now (I read the paper on-line), remains unpublished. "Had bankers done their job, Donald Trump today would probably be parking cars at one of the properties that once bore his name. Instead, as your article amply demonstrates, succumbing to bluster and bluff, they supported enterprises that brought financial harm, even ruin, to investors, vendors and employees, with the exception of Mr. Trump."

Thursday, June 16, 2016
Our clan went to a museum dedicated to the radical underground of the Israeli independence movement, led by Vladimir (Ze'ev) Jabotinsky (the Etzel Museum, 38 King George Street). More than 75 years after his death, he remains a divisive figure in Israeli history and politics. The current regime, with its unrelenting nationalism, inherited his philosophy. In the museum, as in many enterprises of this type, its heroes did no wrong.

For dinner, the Upper West Side's Power Couple went off to Nini Hachi, 228 Ben Yehuda Street, a Kosher Japanese/Chinese restaurant. It's a busy operation, two levels indoors and about 9 tables on the sidewalk outside. The very mild temperatures made eating outdoors more pleasant than I usually find. We shared the Classic Sushi Combination (72 NIS), 3 rolls cut into 22 pieces. There was a tuna avocado roll, salmon avocado roll and a vegetable roll. By avoiding a few items, shrimp, eel and sea urchin notably, it's easy to have Kosher sushi, something we have encountered at weddings, b'nai mitzvahs and other by the book celebrations. On the Chinese side, we shared Sichuan noodles (44 NIS), lo mein cooked with yellow, red and green peppers, bean sprouts, carrot slivers, yellow and green onions, and mushrooms in a mild sauce, not the sweet and spicy identified on the menu. B all around.

Friday, June 17, 2016
How delighted we are to be celebrating America's Favorite Epidemiologist's birth day in Israel, with our second and third generations. Additionally, we were all invited to the Nachts', longtime family friends, to spend the day with their children and grandchildren.

I woke up this morning and started the day with a cup of coffee made with our newly-purchased French press, our otherwise fully-furnished apartment lacking a coffee maker. The Israelis like to sit around and drink coffee for extended periods, but they appear to prefer to do it outside the home, relying upon instant in case of emergencies. Not ready to face the world physically, I started reading the New York Times on-line and I came across the following article by that excellent journalist and CCNY graduate Joseph Berger, echoing my comments on Kosher sushi written last night.

I admit to being an admirer of the quality of the Jewish gene pool and proud of the many accomplishments of my beleaguered antecedents. However, we have just ceded first place in a very unpleasant ranking: Victims of hate crimes in the US.

According to FBI statistics compiled well before Orlando, L.B.G.T. people have replaced Jews as the most frequent target of hate crimes. We haven't left the charmed circle, only moving down one slot. Muslims and blacks take third and fourth, reversing their positions from 10 years back. The good news, the very good news seems to be the overall reduction in these crimes from 2005 to 2014. However, the white guys are pushed to the bottom again, drawing only small dollops of violence and abuse. I can understand their frustration.

The Nachts live on a moshav, Tal Shahar, a cooperative agricultural community equidistant between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem that combines shared resources with private property. It's been their home for about 40 years, where they raised three sons, Matan the oldest having spent enough time in New York to have gone to Mets and Rangers games with me, a firm bond across continents and ages.

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