Saturday, May 30, 2009

Mark Twain to Barack Obama, on the perils and pleasures of the Holy Land

Barack Obama, the US president, has been given books by Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, among others, and the latest was a present from Israel's prime minister Bibi Netanyahu. I was intrigued by the choice of title. Obama was presented an excerpt from "Innocents Abroad, by Mark Twain, in special bookbinding for the White House Library.

What can be read into all this?

Mark Twain had toured a "backwater of the Ottoman Empire whose inhabitants had no sense of a separate national identity. Though Palestinian nationalism and resistance is a reality that Israel must contend with today, it originated and gained traction as a reaction to the return of large numbers of Jews to Israel.

Twain's classic “Innocents Abroad” is so popular with Zionists that the chapters from his travelogue on the Middle East have been translated into Hebrew and published as a separate book, entitled Pleasure Excursion to the Holy Land.

Click here to see the complete Text:

So here's what Mark Twain had to say about Israel

It is a hopeless, dreary, heart-broken land.

Small shreds and patches of it must be very beautiful in the full flush of spring, however, and all the more beautiful by contrast with the far-reaching desolation that surrounds them on every side. I would like much to see the fringes of the Jordan in spring-time, and Shechem, Esdraelon, Ajalon and the borders of Galilee -- but even then these spots would seem mere toy gardens set at wide intervals in the waste of a limitless desolation...Perched on its eternal hills, white and domed and solid, massed together and hooped with high gray walls, the venerable city gleamed in the sun. So small! Why, it was no larger than an American village of four thousand inhabitants, and no larger than an ordinary Syrian city of thirty thousand. Jerusalem numbers only fourteen thousand people

We dismounted and looked, without speaking a dozen sentences, across the wide intervening valley for an hour or more; and noted those prominent features of the city that pictures make familiar to all men from their school days till their death. We could recognize the Tower of Hippicus, the Mosque of Omar, the Damascus Gate, the Mount of Olives, the Valley of Jehoshaphat, the Tower of David, and the Garden of Gethsemane and dating from these landmarks could tell very nearly the localities of many others we were not able to distinguish.

I record it here as a notable but not discreditable fact that not even our pilgrims wept. I think there was no individual in the party whose brain was not teeming with thoughts and images and memories invoked by the grand history of the venerable city that lay before us, but still among them all was no "voice of them that wept."

There was no call for tears. Tears would have been out of place. The thoughts Jerusalem suggests are full of poetry, sublimity, and more than all, dignity. Such thoughts do not find their appropriate expression in the emotions of the nursery.

Just after noon we entered these narrow, crooked streets, by the ancient and the famed Damascus Gate, and now for several hours I have been trying to comprehend that I am actually in the illustrious old city where Solomon dwelt, where Abraham held converse with the Deity, and where walls still stand that witnessed the spectacle of the crucifixion.

....I need not speak of the wonderful beauty and the exquisite grace and symmetry that have made this Mosque so celebrated -- because I did not see them. One can not see such things at an instant glance -- one frequently only finds out how really beautiful a really beautiful woman is after considerable acquaintance with her; and the rule applies to Niagara Falls, to majestic mountains and to mosques -- especially to mosques.

The great feature of the Mosque of Omar is the prodigious rock in the centre of its rotunda. It was upon this rock that Abraham came so near offering up his son Isaac -- this, at least, is authentic it is very much more to be relied on than most of the traditions, at any rate. On this rock, also, the angel stood and threatened Jerusalem, and David persuaded him to spare the city. Mahomet was well acquainted with this stone. From it he ascended to heaven. The stone tried to follow him, and if the angel Gabriel had not happened by the merest good luck to be there to seize it, it would have done it. Very few people have a grip like Gabriel -- the prints of his monstrous fingers, two inches deep, are to be seen in that rock to-day.

This rock, large as it is, is suspended in the air. It does not touch any thing at all. The guide said so. This is very wonderful. In the place on it where Mahomet stood, he left his foot prints in the solid stone. I should judge that he wore about eighteens. But what I was going to say, when I spoke of the rock being suspended, was, that in the floor of the cavern under it they showed us a slab which they said covered a hole which was a thing of extraordinary interest to all Mohammedans, because that hole leads down to perdition, and every soul that is transferred from thence to Heaven must pass up through this orifice. Mahomet stands there and lifts them out by the hair. All Mohammedans shave their heads, but they are careful to leave a lock of hair for the Prophet to take hold of. Our guide observed that a good Mohammedan would consider himself doomed to stay with the damned forever if he were to lose his scalp lock and die before it grew again.

We ascended the Hill of Evil Counsel, where Judas received his thirty pieces of silver, and we also lingered a moment under the tree a venerable tradition says he hanged himself on.

We descended to the canon again, and then the guide began to give name and history to every bank and boulder we came to: "This was the Field of Blood; these cuttings in the rocks were shrines and temples of Moloch; here they sacrificed children; yonder is the Zion Gate; the Tyropean Valley, the Hill of Ophel; here is the junction of the Valley of Jehoshaphat -- on your right is the Well of Job." We turned up Jehoshaphat. The recital went on. "This is the Mount of Olives; this is the Hill of Offense; the nest of huts is the Village of Siloam; here, yonder, every where, is the King's Garden; under this great tree Zacharias, the high priest, was murdered; yonder is Mount Moriah and the Temple wall; the tomb of Absalom; the tomb of St. James; the tomb of Zacharias; beyond, are the Garden of Gethsemane and the tomb of the mary; here is the Pool of Siloam, and -- "

We said we would dismount, and quench our thirst, and rest. We were burning up with the heat. We were failing under the accumulated fatigue of days and days of ceaseless marching. All were willing."

So that's what's on Barack's reading table.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Arab Lonely Hearts

Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs—for some lovesick Arabs, the name brings to mind affairs of the heart. And their hearts have room for an Israeli mail order bride along the lines of Tzipi Llivni or Bar Rafeli. Most don’t seem too picky. Ace reporter Irris Makkler investigates this phenomenon for the Canadian Broadcasting corporation:

The Israeli Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem has been receiving a steady stream of the most unexpected requests – letters, email and phone calls from men across the Arab world seeking introductions to Israeli women. The Muslim men say they want to meet Jewish women, and they want to marry them!
It’s true the women won’t always be the first wives, but the men hope that the generous payments they are offering in camels will make up for that.

And it’s true that their countries don’t have diplomatic relations – but for these unusual lonely heart, none of that seems to matter

BuJus: the Lotus and the Matza

At a pleasant gathering of left wing BuJus, (Jewish followers of Buddhism) in Jerusalem, Izzy Bee learned why the Promised Land increasingly attracts Buddhist thinkers, even though it is such a bastion of monotheism. Jews, Christians, Muslims do pilgrimages to the old stones.. But what does Jerusalem hold for Buddhists?
"There's no place like Israel," said one Tibetan nun. "Nowhere else can you find three things in such abundance: Ignorance, Hatred, and Attachment."
The BuJu crowd nodded earnestly, but then discussed the political implications of living in a political state of Ignorance, or whether the state we all share might be Suffering. Three Jews, five opinions-minimum. The Buddhist perspective that it's all illusion was conveniently lain aside.
Later, while we all wolfed down cheesecake, there was general bonhomie. Before the evening licked off, I couldn't tell one lapsed Baptist the answer to "What the BeJeesus are BuJus?" Now I know: Blissed out Olim and Sabras, it appears.

Say Om. Not um.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Literary festival opens rough in Jerusalem

In case the pen really is mightier than the sword, Israeli officialdom isn't taking any chances. Dozens of machine gun-toting soldiers tried to shut down the gala opening of PalFest'09, a traveling international literary festival, and shooed the literati and diplomats out of the Palestinian National Theatre in East Jerusalem.

The organizers, who include the British Council and the U.N., quickly attempted to regroup at a French Cultural Centre nearby, but the evening lost its focus.
Though Michael Palin, of Monty Python fame, was one of the 20 featured writers of PalFest'09, he had nothing to do with scripting the ensuing chaos. The government of Israel, which bans Palestinians from holding official events inside "United Jerusalem" rather then in their de facto capital, Ramallah, had erroneously assumed that this festival, now in its second year, was sponsored by the Palestinian Authority. And that was that.

The latest interpretation of the law, which recently had shuttered a press center in East Jerusalem run by Arab Christians during Pope Benedict XVI's pilgrimage, apparently does not tolerate any assertion of Palestinian cultural life in East Jerusalem. This makes the notion of "Al-Quds, Capital of Culture 2009" a non-starter.

Last spring was marked by two rival literary festivals, when the Israeli government flew in Nobel laureate Nadine Gordimer and a handful of other distinguished foreign authors to address audiences in West Jerusalem. They were joined by local writers, as well. Because Palestinian audiences often encounter unpredictable hurdles on the road, the authors, poets and filmmakers who participated in the smaller festival had to be willing to cross checkpoints and travel around the West Bank to hold their series of lectures and workshops. Many later wrote up their experiences and this seems to have "politicized" the event in the minds of the Israeli authorities.

This year's authors are just as game and are pressing ahead with the schedule in Ramallah, Bethlehem, Jenin, and Hebron. Advertising is very low-key, and there has been virtually no coverage of this second annual Palestinian literary festival in the Israeli press, despite the kerfuffle on opening night.

Izzy Bee wonders whether to attend the final event in East Jerusalem, which is set for Thursday evening. It could prove to be rather Orwellian. Or Kafkaesque. Israelity bites.

Monday, May 25, 2009

A Marriage Manual for Jewish grooms

Our friend Anat Hoffman, the indefatigible rights campaigner, brings to our attention the instruction booklet for grooms-to-be from the Jerusalem Religious Council's compulsory marriage class.

The "how-to" manual says that
a "woman is like clay. The husband can shape and mold her as he pleases." It also says the wise husband will avoid his in-laws because "mothers-in-law tend to meddle."

The booklet encourages the liberal application of compliments, presents and flowers to wives.
"Don't let a day go by without complimenting your wife at least five times…say it even if it's a lie. A woman who hasn't been complimented is like a fish out of the water.

But, it warns, a husband must not become "spineless."
If a wife is "disrespectful you must not give in," it says. "You can get angry and stop talking to her until she realizes she was wrong."

UN probe in "Hariri whodunnit" points to Hezbollah, German media say

Despite all the recent alarm bells about the threat posed by the nuclear aspirations of Iran, it's Israel's northern border with Lebanon which is really hotting up right now. Not only did a nest of Israeli spies get exposed in Lebanon over the last couple of weeks, but one leader accused the Israeli intelligence services of plotting a targetted killing of Hassan Nasrallah to ignite a regional war and shuffle the deck.
Meanwhile, in the lead up to Lebanese elections in early June, the German newsweekly Der Spiegel has just published a sobering investigation. They conclude that Hezbollah, not the Syrians, assassinated the Lebanese former premier Rafik al-Hariri and suggest that the United Nations special tribunal probing the murder is purposely keeping its conclusions under wraps.
This German expose threatens to pull the rug out from under Hezbollah in upcoming elections, some analysts say. No wonder the Israel armed forces are planning nationwide war games next week, practicing how to face up to a multi-front attack on eretz Israel.

Read the full two-part account, by Erich Follath, online in English here. A sample excerpt below:

It was an act of virtually Shakespearean dimensions, a family tragedy involving murder and suicide, contrived and real tears -- and a good deal of big-time politics.
accusing German police commissioner Gerhard Lehmann, Mehlis's assistant in the Beirut investigations, of blackmail...

Sayyid claims that Lehmann, a member of Germany's Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) proposed a deal with the Syrian president to the Lebanese man. Under the alleged arrangement, Assad would identify the person responsible for the Hariri killing and convince him to commit suicide, and then the case would be closed. According to Sayyid, the authorities in Beirut made "unethical proposals, as well as threats," and he claims that he has recordings of the incriminating conversations.
Mehlis denies all accusations.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Mad Max, Marathon Man, barred from Gaza

As a desert marathoner, Max Calderan is definitely a hot shot. On the heels of Pope B-16's personal pilgrimage to the Holy Land, this Italian's 540 km run from Ramallah to Mt Sinai has captivated some of the European media. Max's promos hail him for his willingness to run for love, not money, but apparently the athlete was thwarted by skirmishes along the border fence in Gaza, during which two Palestinian militants were killed. The IAF has also been bombing smugglers' tunnels, and three dazed Palestinians were just dug out and arrested after being buried alive.
UNRWA, the United Nations sponsor of his run, lashed out at the Israeli security constraints on Calderan which forced him to reroute (now he's going by car partway, rather than run alongside the fence that surrounds the Gaza Strip.) The UN just released this assessment:

Marathon runners appear to have become the latest item on the list of things banned from the Gaza Strip. Max Calderan, an Italian national and winner of four international marathons, had hoped to run through Gaza as part of his 540 kilometer “Run For Love” from Ramallah, to Jerusalem, through Gaza, into Egypt and then to the pinnacle of Mount Sinai. Having been told by the Israeli authorities initially that he could go into Gaza as part of this five day mega-marathon and having been given assurances from the Israeli Ministry of Sport, he was still barred.

“I am very disappointed because there is no politics, no religion, nothing controversial in my Run For Love”, Max told a news conference in Jerusalem. “I run simply in the name of peace”. When asked whether he was a security risk because of potential problems in Gaza, Max said his “security was guaranteed by the United Nations and that this was just an excuse by the Israeli authorities to keep him out of Gaza”.

The event was co-sponsored in Gaza by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency. UNRWA Spokesperson, Christopher Gunness said: “It seems that marathon runners have now joined that list of banned items. Light bulbs, detergent, building materials and now marathon men. To make matters worse”, said Gunness, “we had young athletes, disabled children waiting to run with Max inside Gaza. They have been deprived of some sportive fun. Parents everywhere will surely find this a bewildering decision.”

Max Calderan will now travel from Jerusalem to Egypt by car where he will resume his run, a further 250 kilometers to the top of Mount Sinai.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

White nights, flagwaving days. Sun and sand

Ain't life a beach these days? In Israel, the spring sunshine is beaming down and the entire armed forces of Israel seem to be up in the sky, practicing for the next pre-emptive strike and ready to take on the new Sejil missiles of Iran. Think loud and proud. And relentless.
No problem, though. A sleepless White Night for urban debauchery is underway in Tel Aviv after the shabbat. White nights are far preferable to white blights: and here in the Big Falafel, there's no sign of Willy Pete- aka white phosphorus- washing up on the rather polluted Mediterranean sands of the shoreline of Zion. (Eretz Israel.) However, cautious Gazans are hesitating to eat locally grown fresh produce in case they ingest any strange chemicals that were dropped as smokescreens back in January. American-manufactured tank shells with depleted uranium (for its armor-piercing properties) also were unleashed, and little of the mildly radioactive rubble has been cleared from Gazas fields and playgrounds. It's an environmental time bomb, and it doesn't glow in the dark.
In seaside Gaza, the rumour mill is buzzing about imminent Israeli attack, as it so often does. But there are some rather broad hints: indeed, Bibi Netanyahu, the new premier, campaigned on strong arm tactics and had even suggested while an international donors' meeting took place earlier this year that expenditures on rebuilding Gaza might be "premature"... the inference being that further lessons might be delivered by Israel to the rocket-launchers in the blighted enclave bordering the Negev. Presumably, the sabras are rattling sabers and will have the decency to wait til after Obama comes back from Egypt.
Jerusalem Day was celebrated yesterday by groups of patriotic Jews roaming around in the sunshine, singing and waving flags, in vista points overlooking "undivided Jerusalem. Meanwhile, Maoz Esther,that outpost which was dismantled before the cameras and international media was quickly re-erected, and the beat goes on. Israelity bites.

Dinga dinga dee....Rafael armsdealers go bollywood!

by popular request....

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Sisterhood is powerful

My friend Gladiola sends me this dispiriting post about sistership and solidarity in the bitterly divided Palestinian world.

The de facto government prevented more than 70 Women’s Union members en route to the West Bank from Gaza for a women’s conference, according to Palestinian Authority (PA)’s civil affairs chief Hussein Ash-Sheikh on Wednesday.

Member of the Women’s Union and one of those barred from exiting the Gaza Strip Nawal Zaqqut, said the group of women headed to the Erez crossing ahead of the fifth Palestinian women’s conference. As they approached the crossing, personnel at a de facto government security checkpoint stopped them, confiscated ID cards, papers to be presented at the conference and bags, and prevented the group from continuing toward the crossing. “We have not got back our things, and we were told to go to Gaza internal security next Sunday,” Zaqqut explained.

She added that police officers told the women that women affiliated to Fatah could not go to Ramallah, but others could. Thus, all participants insisted that they all travel, or go back to Gaza.
filed from Bethlehem – Ma’an

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Is this monstrosity gonna come down? Wall-eyed Shabak chief drops hints

There's no pressing security reason for completing the pricey and famously hideous separation barrier, begun in 2002 in the midst of the 2nd Intifada, at least according to the Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin (quoted by BBC reporters.) Most Israelis however credit it with stopping the rash of suicide bombers. Palestinians have viewed it as a means to grab land , having little to do with public safety.

But be aware that the secret police chief is hardly urging "Mr Netanyahu, tear down this wall!" Uh-uh.
Because 90 per cent of this barrier was built on West Bank property and serves to protect Israeli settlers on occupied land, the Hague ruled it to be against international law. Pope B-16 used it as a backdrop in Bethlehem. And now even the Shin Bet say they have other, better ways to stop potential terrorists. Like Operation Cast Lead, I presume. And being alert for Facebook fiends.

Watch this space. Israelity bites

Monday, May 18, 2009

A Boy, A Wall and A Donkey

Filmmaker Hany Abu-Assad, with support from a slew of NGOs, presents an edgy tale from the West Bank showing Palestinian boys at play. Israelity bites.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Papal Pal: a Potpourri of this week's Popery

Politics already have intruded on the Pope's personal pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Benedict XVI has called for an independent Palestinian homeland and publically condemned the Shoah, the 'Final Solution' devised by the Third Reich which involved the systematic slaughter of six million Jews. (It's a touchy subject for the priest formerly known as Der Rottweiler. Some Israeli commentators did not detect sufficient contriteness nor compassion in a speech delivered by an erstwhile member of der Hitler Jugen. Benedict went on to serve in the German Army during the Second World War before deserting in the final year.) At an interfaith meeting in East Jerusalem, an angry Sheikh Taysir al-Tamimi reportedly launched into a political speech denouncing Israel for atrocities in Gaza and when it was translated from Arabic, rabbis in attendance complained and the pope walked out shortly afterward. Among other things, the sheikh was upset that the pontiff had worn shoes inside a Jordanian mosque. His unscheduled speech lasted for six minutes, urging Christians to unite with Muslims against the Zionists! The pope shook his hand before departing, so he did not exactly leave in a huff.
Further Islamic ire was raised after the pope met the family of the kidnapped Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, in Jerusalem but ignored Palestinian prisoners' families. There is disappointment that the Pope will not be visiting Gaza, where a lively Christian congregation of 3000 worshippers await him in the rubble of Operation Cast Lead. Permits for 100 Catholics to travel from Gaza and greet the Pope were granted by Israeli security, while 150 applicants were turned away.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

How BMI Airlines Wiped Israel off the map

Not everyone tracks the flight path that blinks on those little electronic maps installed on jet tray tables, and many travelers prefer to watch the in-flight movie instead. Yet the omission of Israeli cities on an airline's progress marker infuriated a plane load of charter passengers flying to Tel Aviv recently. Rhetorical threats to "wipe Israel off the map" had been shrugged off by Israelis for many months, but a British-owned airline had the temerity to actually do the deed. What's more, from the map's route, it appeared that they all were being redirected towards Mecca. What about Al Quds? Or Tel Aviv? Grumbles mounted into outrage.
The British company bmi--which stands for British Midlands, not Body Mass Index, by the way--say their map blunder was merely an oversight, and that the maps needed to be recalibrated for new flights into Israel. Two of bmi's lowcost flights now arrive every day at Ben Gurion airport. They asserted that there was no political agenda behind the act, but in a politic-addled Middle East, complaints and conspiracy theories quickly spiralled. After considerable fallout in the press and fury on the airwaves of Army Radio stations inside Israel, the company apologized, appropriately, on May Day.

Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has become the face of evil here in Israel ever since his election, has repeatedly questioned Israel's legitimacy (as in his often-mistranslated statement about Israel "vanishing from the page of time" -- wiping maps apparently is not on his agenda.) Apparently, he's leaving that act to Heathrow's second largest airline, which currently is discussing opening a route into Baghdad. You couldn't make these things up.

Dust-ups frequent as ill winds blow in Jerusalem and environs

Call it ham'seen (in Arabic) or sharav (in formal Hebrew). It's that whining wind that blows desert sands from Saudi Arabia to Israel in the spring. Some Israelis, like author David Grossman, call this dusty breeze a "yellow wind", and it stirs up unsettling emotions. Things do get tenser. It blows detritus against all the barriers and the barbed wire and makes the jackals howl. Fights break out in the stalled traffic and it's hard to see what's coming.Definitions don't really do this warm wind justice

The Sharav or Khamsin, is a scorchingly hot, dry desert wind which blows from the Arabian Desert from May to mid-June and from September to October. It last for two to five days at a time.

Today seems far cooler and clearer after a few bloated raindrops spattered on the stones as the sharav blew itself out, leaving upturned billboards and smouldering forests in its wake. If this is the year's first ill wind, then stand by for another 48 days of dust gusts to endure before the autumn.
In Delhi, whenever the desert winds blew from the Thar, vendors hawk dusters at the traffic lights. Haven't noticed such weather-themed enterprise around Jerusalem, where no body seems to take great pride in the shine on their automobile. But there have been noticeably more sirens than usual since the wind started up. Gusts feel less gritty today, and the sun shafts have a steely edge as if the air itself has been scoured.
Here's a Cairene blogger's view of the phenomenon, and as he seems to be a bit of a cyber-sleuth, it's worth reading the poems and scientific details the Arabist unearthed.

The same wind buffets us all in the Middle East: something to remember when nuclear fallout threatens to blow us all away.

Monday, May 04, 2009

AIPAC of recycled views, J street complains. Bibi, Bambi and the Newt

To thunderous applause last night, Newt Gingrich attacked President Barack Obama's policies in the Middle East, promoted military action against Iran, and assailed diplomatic engagement as weakness at AIPAC's conference. J Street's Isaac Luria has emailed israelity bites his analysis:

Just before he went on stage, Gingrich told The Jerusalem Post that the President's policy with Israel and Iran was a "fantasy" and that Obama was "endangering Israel" by trying to work toward a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Is this some kind of bad horror movie? Just when we thought the 2008 election had finally discredited the disastrous foreign policy of George Bush and Dick Cheney, Gingrich spouts the same old failed ideas in primetime and thinks it's good politics.

Congress may consider supporting Gingrich's recycled Bush-Cheney views, which would be a disaster for Israel and the United States.

We've got to make it crystal clear that the majority of our community stands with President Obama on Israel and Iran - so Congress and the media see how politically toxic and substantively wrong Gingrich's views really are. How out of the mainstream Gingrich and his views are.
On the politics, Newt's got it wrong.

78% of American Jews voted for Barack Obama and over 70% of American Jews support President Obama's policies toward Israel and the Middle East. Gingrich's views represent a small, though politically outspoken, minority of the Jewish community.

On substance, Newt's also dead wrong.

Pursuing a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the single most pro-Israel thing President Obama could do right now. It's the only way to secure Israel as a Jewish, democratic homeland, as well as a building block of regional peace efforts that would normalize relations between all Arab countries and Israel.

On Iran, the President is promoting tough, direct diplomacy to address concerns over their nuclear program, support for Hamas and Hezbollah, and threats against Israel. The President has made clear that the diplomatic road ahead will be tough and that we will not be bound by any illusions. This is the right approach for the time being - and a welcome change after the last President's Axis-of-Evil approach that got us nowhere.
Obama campaigning last year

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Israelis ought to avoid the swine flu cumbia

The menace formerly known as Swine Flu, and now rebranded H1N1 as preferred by the religious parties in Bibi's medicine cabinet, has indeed reached Israel. At least three cases have been confirmed here in travelers returning from Mexico, although they all seem to be recovering. Three more locals are awaiting the results of their lab tests for this worrying new strain of respiratory virus, but the panicked reaction to apocalyptic pestilence with pork origins is starting to subside from last week's fever pitch. Egypt's new law, requiring farmers to cull all 300,000 pigs in the nation before even a single case of flu was confirmed in porcine or human residents, was widely ridiculed as overkill. Ho hum: the pharaoh issuing a baseless edict of death-- it's enough to make one's tail curl.
But some agencies inside Israel still don't quite get it. The Kibbutz Movement is blackballing ten volunteers from Mexico until the pandemic fears are absolutely quashed. When they do arrive, maybe they can sing a few bars from the "Swine Flu Cumbia", a catchy salsa song that's been quickening pulses south of the US border during the much-heralded Aporkalypse and Hamageddon . The song here, circulated on You Tube, is an English translation. The Spanish version is just as corny.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Black Calla in Abu Tor

The neighbors trimmed back the overgrowth and we were stunned to find three Solomon's Lilies growing beside the roses in a Jerusalem yard. They are a real curiosity, like some wicked bloom of charred velvet, with the thick stamens pointingin unison towards the traditional valley of Hinom, Gehanna or Hell. Research shows they are native plants.

Various names include
اللوف الفلسطيني, לוף ארצישראלי, Arum palaestinum,

Anybody know more legends?

hortulus says:

This plant is known by various names - Black Calla, Solomon's Lily, Priest's Hood, Palestine Arum. I've been growing this plant for about 40 years - it was one of the first 'oddities' I acquired when my interest in botany first developed. At that time, it was very rare in California and not known at all in the nursery trade. I appreciated that it was marvelously adapted to my local climate (mediterranean), which I ultimately learned made perfect sense as its coastal Israeli, Syrian, Lebanon homeland is classified similarly.

I love when the flowers first open - this I caught on the very first morning. The interior of the spathe (the leaf-like bract surrounding the floral spike or spadix) is very dark and velvety, almost impossibly so. Already flies and other bugs were swarming at it, attracted by the rich smell of something dead (this lasts only the first day), becoming trapped in the interior just below the hairs which you can just see where the spathe wraps together at the base of the flower. The flower changes very quickly, the spathe fading to a dingy, washed out puce (deep royal red), falling back leaving the spadix standing alone.

The lush, deep green leaves are mere history at this point, already shriveling up, abandoning the flower to carry on alone. Eventually, the club-like fruiting spike will remain, carrying it seeds for germination with the autumnal rains.

Kosher coffee klatsch

At a rare convenience store in West Jerusalem that caters to Saturday shoppers, I stopped to buy some coffee yesterday. Oddly enough, for a 24 hour store, they stocked mostly decaf. The only ground coffee on the shelf which wasn't decaf or instant had been imported from Brazil and was prominently marked "Kosher." When I asked the friendly cashier, a secular Jew, what made this brand Kosher, and whether buying it on the Sabbath would undo its kosher qualities, he was utterly stumped.
Well, maybe none of these coffee beans are Arabica, he joked.
Or possibly, like kosher wine, kosher coffee isn't handled by non-Jews during processing. With a bit more cyber-sleuthing, Izzy Bee found out the particulars.

According to Star K, an online caffeine bean peddler, coffee beans are inherently kosher because the beans come into contact only with water during harvesting, processing, and roasting. Kosher becomes a concern if the coffee is flavored, decaffeinated, or being consumed in a cafe (with verboten milk)

For flavored coffees, flavorings (both natural and sometimes artificial) are added after roasting. Due to the sheer number of types of flavoring, the chances of a non-kosher flavoring or process are higher, so this is an area of close inspection by the rabbis.

Decaffeination is another area of kashrut concern. Two processes are typical: the use of a chemical solvent called which dissolves the caffeine and a natural water-based process which uses activated carbon to filter the caffeine. One chemical solvent used, called ethyl acetate, is created using grain, so it is not kosher for Passover.

Lastly, the manner in which milk and sugar are added, and the location of the purchase of brewed coffee have kashrut implications. To be safe, it’s best to buy kosher certified coffee and brew and drink it at home with your own milk and sugar added to taste. But if you’re out and about, it’s best to order plain black coffee in a paper cup.

Or just wake up and smell the coffee!