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by Moshe Saperstein


March 9, 2008

One July morning I got into the car at 5:30am and set out for the old terminal at Ben Gurion Airport to greet two new immigrants arriving on the Nefesh b'Nefesh program from North America.

[Why 5:30 when the trip should take an hour and the plane was due to land at 7:30, with ceremony to follow? Because, among the irreconcilable differences La Passionara and I have managed to ignore, is that I was brought up to believe 'better an hour early than five minutes late' while her family crest is emblazoned with 'better an hour late than five minutes early'. Underneath which is 'nothing ever starts on time anyway'. Of course she is almost always right. But though Rachel wanted to go with me, her participation was precluded by a morning appointment in the refugee camp.]

Dodging the trucks and vans that own the roads at that hour of the morning I tried to sort out my own confusion as to why I was going. On one hand, I am very fond of the new arrivals, inordinately so in the case of the Y chromosome possessor whom I first met in Denver three years ago while fundraising for Gush Katif. On the other hand –– absurd in the case of someone who has only one hand –– I thought their coming on aliyah now was as intelligent as buying a home in Chernobyl or booking a cruise on the Titanic.

[Does that last sentence call for an explanation? When I was a kid there was this joke: A guy jumps off the Empire State Building. As he plummets someone on the 50th floor calls out, "How are you doing?" His reply, "So far, just great!" Well, Israel is that guy. There remain only two possibilities: we go with a bang, or a whimper.

It will be a bang if Ahmadinejad has his way. And while you good people are wringing your hands and asking that the survivors be rescued, our neighbors will swarm in and, oblivious to radiation poisoning, will complete the slaughter.

It will be a whimper if the invertebrates now leading us force a return to the 1967 borders –– what Abba Eban called the Auschwitz borders –– and the establishment of a Hamastan state. While the country is being Kassam'd from one end to the other, the Arabs of the Galilee and the Negev will openly revolt [they have been doing it surreptitiously for years]. The wealthy and well-connected will abandon the country which quickly disintegrates.

The abyss looms but few others see it. Most ascribe my opinion to being old/sick/embittered. Even those few who do see it say "God won't let it happen". Hardly the argument to use for someone from Gush Katif. Still, I pray they are right.]

I reached the turnoff for the airport in forty-five minutes, then spent a full half hour lost trying to find the old terminal. In our almost forty years here I have made this trip literally hundreds of times, spending countless boring hours in this terminal. But since the new terminal opened a year ago, with all the road changes, I got lost. Even with my blundering it was very early.

Despite the pleasure of a nearly empty parking lot the air of general neglect depressed me. The wooden benches were splintered and slathered in bird poop. The outdoor kiosks were shuttered, their unwashed windows testimony to permanent closure. The terminal itself, though apparently still in use, looked like a mausoleum. Adding to the aura of abandonment was the lack of people. Every few minutes a different security guard would come by, scrutinize me as if he couldn't decide if I should be roasted, toasted or basted, then move away.

I knew that most of the new immigrants would be Orthodox, and expected that those who came to welcome them would be Orthodox as well. Imagine my surprise when the first group of welcomers [so I made up a word, so don't make a Federal case out of it] were secular, four men and eight women, the latter ranging from overdressed to nearly-dressed. I barely had time to enjoy the sight of ladies outfitted by Sluts'R'Us when a tsunami of buses and private cars deposited a horde of Orthodox greeters [happy now?] ranging from hareidim to those wearing kipot so small that each one is sold with a magnifying glass.

In addition to family/friends/merely curious/journalists were the Official Greeters: a small number of Nefesh b'Nefesh people; a small army of government disfunctionaries; a gaggle of girls from the Bnai Akiva youth movement who, for no apparent reason, would suddenly start screaming and jumping up and down, then stopping, again for no apparent reason; about thirty soldiers and soldierettes, polished and pressed, grins pasted on their faces.

These uniformed automatons filled me with loathing. Once I looked at them with pride. Since the expulsion they only evoke disgust. As the couple I was coming to welcome are planning to live in Samaria, I couldn't help wondering if these same soldiers who would be greeting then with grins would, a few months from now, be greeting them with guns, dragging them from their new home.

Two Nefesh b'Nefesh people ran around the large waiting room thrusting small flags at everyone. One was a sour-faced woman of late middle age who was particularly aggressive. Every time she approached I put my hand in a pocket and waved my empty sleeve, and she would veer away to impale someone else. The other thruster was a rotund middle-aged man with an infectious smile and a kippa. After several abortive bombing runs we stood nose to nose. "Wanna flag?" he said.

"Is it plastic or cloth?" I asked, and before he could reply "...because if its plastic I won't be able to wipe myself if there's no toilet paper." He stared, then veered. And I felt like a louse for taking my misery out on him.

My mood improved considerably when I saw Prof. Paul Eidelberg among the greeters, and learned we were here to meet the same people. I respect him tremendously for his clear-sightedness but had to bite my tongue to keep from screaming when he said he was optimistic about the situation because of the increasing numbers of young people willing to establish settlements in Judea and Samaria. I wanted to say, 'that's like being optimistic because more people are signing up for swimming lessons on the Titanic'. But I stifled it. I have few enough friends left in any case. My mood improved even more when stacks of sandwiches were rolled out. I was wary. So many things here look beautiful at a distance, and you don't realize how much they stink until you get close enough to take a whiff. [For those of you wondering why I used 'stink' instead of 'smell', a recent study by the Bulgarian Institute of Pseudo Science has proven that bad odors travel more swiftly than good odors. I would describe the experiment in detail, but fear the Wrath of Rachel. Let me suggest you stand in an elevator next to a person carrying splendiferously odiferous flowers who has just released a quantity of noxious gases from his nether regions. What does your olfactory organ detect first?] Letting hunger overcome experience, I had a sandwich. Then another. Then another. White cheese, lettuce and tomato, on a roll. Delicious. Clearly they had been freshly prepared by Nefesh b'Nefesh rather than anyone on the government payroll. As I brushed bread and cheese crumbs from my beard I was approached by a young woman reporter carrying a notebook. "Whom are you here to meet?" she asked. I replied, "I'm here for the sandwiches."

At last they arrived. After I hugged the drop-dead-gorgeous holder of the Y chromosome, and shook hands with her husband, I beat a hasty retreat. The noise was horrific and it was impossible to talk. And many others were waiting to greet them. Also, an announcement was made that Foreign Minister Tzippi Livni was about to address the gathering. Proud as I am that the clinically brain dead can rise to the top in Israeli politics, I am not so masochistic as to spend time listening to her deconstruct the English language.

I don't know if my vision of what will happen here will come true. I pray it doesn't, and that this couple will always be as happy as they were on the day of their arrival.

March 9, 2008

[Several of you nitpickers have hastened to inform me that males, rather than females, carry the Y chromosome. So I flunked biology. So sue me. Some have questioned my sexual orientation. Okay. I admit it. I love Chinese girls.]

Some of my neighbors attended a funeral in Jerusalem several days ago for two young men, sons of a prominent rabbi, killed in an auto accident. "We have to count our blessings" one neighbor said to me. "At least no one was killed when we were expelled from Gush Katif."

"Look around you," I said. "Lots of people were killed. They just haven't been buried yet."

There are those who live, and those who breathe. Here in the refugee camp most are simply breathing, I among them. A handful live, like Rachel, with hopes, dreams, plans, and the courage to act on them. But most simply drag from day to day, going through the motions of being alive. Typical is a good friend –– amazingly, he had been a student of mine in the fifth grade in a New York yeshiva back in the Paleolithic Age –– who told me "... the only reason I get up in the morning is to set an example for my kids, who wouldn't get up for school if I stayed in bed."

Of course you are saying that it is true of every place, that there are those who breathe and those who live. But had you known the people of Gush Katif before the expulsion, you would understand how vital and alive most of us were.

The 1937 film LOST HORIZON was about Shangri La, a magical kingdom in the Himalayas whose residents hardly aged physically while they aged chronologically. Shangri La was Paradise. Gush Katif was my Shangri La. Gush Katif was my Paradise. And just as Shangri La's residents suddenly aged and died when removed, so we of Gush Katif have aged and died when torn from our homes.

Some of you are reading this with pitying smiles. 'Poor Moshe has romanticized the place'. But if you recall my letters from there, about the shootings, stabbings, bombings, heat, flies, sand, creepy-crawlies... you'll remember that I was as clear-eyed as I was capable of being. Gush Katif was magical. It gave most who lived there a sense of pride. It gave most who lived there a sense of purpose. It made most of us better than we really are. It ennobled us. And now, torn from our Shangri La, most have reverted to the petty, selfish, loathesome Israeli norm. That is our tragedy.

RACHEL HAS WRITTEN EXTENSIVELY ABOUT OUR REFUGEE CAMP, so I apologize if much of this is repetitious. Nitzan –– more appropriately, Zombie Heaven –– is situated a kilometer off the Mediterranean, eight kilometers south of Ashdod and ten north of Ashkelon. There are some 450 Gush Katif families here. The camp is divided into two sections: the smaller side holds Neve Dekalim families who were forcibly expelled; the larger side holds people from a variety of Gush Katif farming communities who made deals with the government and left before the expulsion, as well as a small number of Neve Dekalim families who made deals and left early. Relations between the sides are correct, even cordial on the surface, though for those few like myself whose sole motivating force is anger and the desire for revenge there is bitter satisfaction knowing that those who cut deals and left early were as badly treated by the government as those who didn't.

[Just down the road, in the direction of the beach, there is a large army training base. The sounds of shooting and explosions are constant. Some here enjoy these 'sounds of home'. Others, like myself, find the sounds –– and the sight of the soldiers walking on the road past our camp –– fill me with disgust. For there can be no doubt that they are training not to defend Jews but to expel them. Soon they will do to Jews in Judea and Samaria what they did to us in Gush Katif.]

Each side has a circular road, with cobble-stoned cul-de-sacs. Cul-de-sacs have from five to nine houses. The houses, plasterboard junk piles shoddily constructed with defective and unsightly materials that couldn't be sold commercially, have a deceptively attractive outward appearance. Visitors are impressed, and clearly, as refugee camps go, this isn't Darfur. This is even better than the temporary accommodations provided to Katrina evacuees. But even if it were the Ritz, the circumstances that forced us here make the place hateful.

It is difficult enough to be evicted by an enemy, or by a cataclysm of nature. To be evicted and betrayed by one's own is unbearable.

Our cul-de-sac has seven houses. The houses flanking us hold a Bnai Menashe family and a couple even older than we are. We are very friendly with both, though the Bnai Menashe have a vehicle with an alarm that goes off unprovoked at all hours of the day and night and small children on roller skates who clackety-clack on the cobblestones.

We are equally friendly with the residents of the houses opposite us, though there are problems.

Opposite right is a family with young adult children who are into rap music. They have turned various family vehicles into boom boxes and sit in their vehicles, doors open, listening to these aural abominations at high volume. Worse, their rap retard friends with similarly disfigured vehicles visit regularly, making the cobblestone rattle. Summer nights the cul-de-sac turns into an outdoor garage/parking lot. With sound effects. I have no doubt that if my sight were microscopic I'd see the ubiquitous ants adorned with hearing aids.

Directly opposite is a fine family with a teenager who has a dune buggy, and is often visited by other similarly equipped mental defectives. Parades of dune buggies, oblivious to children and pedestrians, turn the street into a danger zone as their dipshit drivers do 'wheelies', while misanthropic old farts like myself root for the vehicles to flip over and decapitate their drivers.

Opposite left is a Bnai Menashe family, quiet and friendly –– the father and I are among the first at the synagogue for morning prayers –– who have taken in a daughter and son-in-law whom I suspect were thrown out of their last residence. Though the daughter has a small child, and is clearly very pregnant, the son-in-law's true love is a large motorcycle that he sits on, hour after hour, revving the motor. The smell and the noise are incredible.

You might imagine that, faced with the motorcycle moron/dune-buggy dipshits/rap retards, I'd be frothing at the mouth. Yet the strange thing is that I really like these people. They stood fast in Gush Katif. They are the salt of the earth.

Alas, I need a salt-free diet.

THE LATE ELEANOR ROOSEVELT HAD A NEWSPAPER COLUMN, MY DAY. Of course she concentrated on matters of public interest rather than detailing the hours she spent in a very small room trying to pass her excreta through her age-shriveled kishkes. Those of you who pester me with 'What do you do all day, Moshe?' will not be as fortunate as Mrs. Roosevelt's readers. You have been warned.

Much of my time is spent helping Rachel. She still does the cooking and cleaning, but is devoted to the people she is helping and the various projects in which she is involved. She spends sixteen to eighteen hours a day at it, including endless scheduled and unscheduled meetings. I act as her driver, messenger, secretary/typist, sounding board and shoulder to cry on.

As her driver I take her to various appointments outside of Nitzan. Most interesting to me are her weekly trips to Sderot. While she is busy helping the young people of Sderot Media I park in an open field nearby, sit on a folding chair, listen to my portable radio and smoke my brains out. On various occasions the 'take cover' siren has sounded. While people scurry for shelter I just puff away. Realistically one has fifteen seconds to find a safe spot and it takes fifteen minutes for me to pry myself out of the chair, so why bother. On our last visit one of the locals approached and asked what I'm doing there. I wasn't in the mood to start explaining. "My job" I said "is to guide the Kassams to their targets."

Shopping is another of my duties, not a particularly pleasurable one as I always seem to buy the wrong thing even when working from a list. That my mistakes are often due to Rachel changing her mind is irrelevant. That's her prerogative. Laundry and gardening, however, are less duties than pleasures, because they are solitary and I can smoke and listen to music.

Both my laundry and gardening activities have become spectator sports here. Children stare openly and adults surreptitiously as I arrange the clothespins by size and color, and struggle to hang them properly. I may be slovenly in my own person, but I'm obsessive about laundry.

I owe my gardening activities to Rachel. Like many others who feel themselves prisoners here, I did not want to fix up the garden. But Rachel argued that as long as we are here we will do it properly, on the principle that living well is the best revenge. Of course she is right, and I am obsessive about weeding and clearing off dead leaves and flowers. Not that I'm very good. The faster I weed, the faster they grow back, ever more luxuriant. Again, children and adults watch as I drop to all fours, or threes, or in my case, all two and three-fifths. Clearly I have a black thumb. Unlike my green thumb in Neve Dekalim.

I spend an inordinate amount of time watching movies on cable, preferably old movies. For news I stick with al-Jazeera in English. And I spend far too much time online reading the New York Post, though I have managed to preserve my self-respect by refusing to read anything about Paris Hilton –– Britney Spears –– Lindsay Lohan.

Much time, mid-morning and late afternoon and middle of the night, is spent sitting outside and staring at the sky. I always look south, at the sky over Gush Katif. Some were comforted during the expulsion by the belief that the Almighty was permitting our expulsion to save us from a calamity that would soon strike the area. A tsunami, perhaps. Or a nuclear device exploding prematurely. I am too bitter to permit myself that comfort. Yet, despite myself, I sit... and stare... and wait for the sight of a mushroom cloud.

March 9, 2008

[Yes, I know that 3 comes before 4. But as the mother of any toddler will confirm, you have to deal with whatever comes out first.]

In the last days before the expulsion there were bitter exchanges between the realists, who saw the inevitable, and the fantasists, who continued to believe in a last-second miracle. Rachel, a reluctant realist, argued that we have to start packing. I, diehard fantasist, argued that packing would signal the Almighty that we no longer believed He would save us. Most of the fifteen or so people staying with us sided with Rachel: "You can always unpack after the miracle", one said.

We compromised. Rachel and our guests busied themselves packing. I closed the door of my room and listened, over and over and over, to Brahm's GERMAN REQUIEM, all the while pleading with the Almighty to do the right thing. Every day in our prayers we say –– #11 of Maimonides' 13 Articles of Belief –– "God rewards those who follow his decrees and punishes those who transgress". And as generations of shnorrers always remind us, "Repentance, Prayer and Charity Cancel the Evil Decree." Gush Katif, the closest thing to a 'holy community' that I ever lived in, was unparalleled in repentance, prayer and charity. So, God, I implored, do your stuff.

The afternoon before the expulsion, I broke down. Cardboard boxes were brought into my room and I disassembled the computer and packed my compact discs, weeping all the while, convinced that my weakness would prevent the miracle. Which, however illogical you may think it, I still believe.

With the expulsion came a crisis in faith. I suspect that many underwent the crisis though it is difficult to know as it is hardly a topic one discusses freely except with closest friends. And if one is a loner like myself, it doesn't get discussed at all. Our rabbi, for example, a fantasist I adore, clearly underwent his own crisis and dropped out of sight for a month after the expulsion before re-emerging as one of God's cheerleaders.

For myself the crisis was not actually one of faith. I believed, and still believe, there is a God who created and rules everything. My crisis was one of understanding: He performed so many irrefutable miracles for us, sohow could he have let us down at the last?

What I have come up with –– still a work in progress –– is


"and Moses smote the Egyptian..." Two tragedies here: first, a truly great word, 'smote', is no longer in use; second, Moses had to flee Egypt. Here he had just killed an Egyptian beating a Jew, and he was afraid the Jews would rat on him. Why? Because their desire to ingratiate themselves with their masters was stronger than their desire to protect a co-religionist who had come to their defense.

Fast forward to the exodus from Egypt. After witnessing the plagues God visited on the Egyptians, and being given the opportunity to leave as free men, how many Jews left with Moses and Aaron? According to the Haggada we read on Passover, only one in five left with Moses and Aaron. Mind-boggling! After 220 years of abject slavery only 20% left. Why? Because the desire of 80% to ingratiate themselves with their masters was stronger than any desire to live as free men.

At Mt. Sinai the Jews are given the choice of accepting God's rule, or dying. Not really a choice. The Jews are the Chosen People, but they didn't choose to be. Much of Jewish history, from that day to this, can be explained by Jews rebelling against the burden of being the Chosen People.

Hanukka, the Festival of Lights, describes how Judas Maccabbeus defeated the Syrian-Greeks who ruled the country. We are told that "...the few defeated the many..." Who were the many? Surely not the relatively small number of Syrian-Greeks. The many were the Jews who wanted to throw off the burden of being Chosen, and be like their occupiers. A word was created to describe them: mityavnim, meaning those who would be Greeks.

And throughout our history the greatest number of Jews have been mityavnim, to be Egyptians or Greeks or Romans or Enlightened Europeans or Unenlightened Communists or Americans. Anything other than Jewish, anything other than Chosen. In any society where given the chance to assimilate, a majority of Jews grasp it.

The State of Israel [indeed, much of the so-called Jewish world] is run, from every center of power and influence, by mityavnim desperate to free themselves from the burden of being Chosen and to assimilate into almost anything not Jewish.

Now, why we lost. [This barely scratches the surface.]

There are numerous reasons why we lost, and 'we' refers to the small percentage of those who identify as Religious Zionists.

First, we didn't/don't have the numbers. Those of us ready to walk the walk, as opposed to merely talking the talk, are relatively few. Yes, we have tens of thousands, but not enough considering the overall population.

One of the reasons immigrants from the Former Soviet Union do so well in Israel is that after overcoming the shocks of language and climate, they realize they've never left Russia. Like Russia Israel is corrupt and violent with a patina of culture and a pretense of social concern.

The guiding principle of most Israelis is 'don't be a sucker'. The highest value, 'do unto others before they can do unto you'. There is no shame in being a criminal, only in getting caught. And not much shame in that. Americans in Alaska showed more genuine concern for the Louisiana and Mississippi Katrina hurricane victims than Tel Avivians have for the people of Sderot. I mentioned this to a local who laughed at my naivete. "Rockets on southern Ashkelon wouldn't upset people in northern Ashkelon."

Second, our leaders were incompetent, or cowardly, or had decided that Gush Katif should be sacrificed to save Judea and Samaria. In truth our war was lost before the expulsion, at the rally at Kfar Maimon. Thirty thousand people, mostly middle-class adults, the backbone of society, came to break through police and army lines to Gush Katif. These people recognized the dangers, but felt the cause worth the risks. Unfortunately their leaders weren't up to the task and the result was to confirm the government's view that we would pose and posture, but never fight. The failure of our leadership is worth a book, and will doubtless be done someday. Just let me add that the scenes of these pathetic so-called leaders embracing the soldiers who destroyed our lives were nauseating enough to induce projectile vomiting.

Third, we failed to correctly identify our enemy. The Arabs are our enemy, we thought, but the Jews are brothers who are misguided. If we could only talk with them most differences would disappear. How naïve we were. How blind.

We created a moronic slogan –– 'We have Love and it will Triumph' –– whose sole effect was to cause some of our enemies to wet their pants laughing.

We created a good slogan –– 'A Jew Doesn't Expel a Jew' –– which only underscored how clueless we were.

Our enemies weren't the Jews. Our enemies were the Israelis. No, I'm not bright enough to have thought this up on my own. I learned it from our Nobel Piss Prize winner [shared with Rabin and Arafart] and new President, that paragon of piss, Shimon Peres. In an interview with the Hebrew daily Ha'aretz –– the most anti-Jewish newspaper outside the Arab world –– following his defeat by Netanyahu, he said "The Israelis lost the election." Who won?, he was asked. "The Jews."

Yair Lapid, television personality and cultural icon, was asked before the expulsion, 'Aren't you concerned about a war between brothers?' "They aren't my brothers" he replied. And when asked, by Ha'aretz, if in light of subsequent events he didn't think the expulsion from Gush Katif was a failure, said: "It was a success. We didn't expect it to bring peace. We wanted to destroy the power of Religious Zionism. We wanted to put them in their place."

For an entire year prior to the expulsion we were demonized and dehumanized in the media and every public forum. People are dying of starvation in development towns because of money wasted on Gush Katif, the nation was told. Soldiers risk their lives needlessly defending those Gush Katif parasites, the nation was told. We were the enemies of peace. We were the enemies of the nation of Israel.

They called the expulsion the 'disengagement'. And in my case they certainly succeeded. I came to see that while the Land of Israel is holy, the State of Israel is a cesspool and most of its citizens are happily doing the backstroke in that cesspool. I likely knew it all along, but suppressed it.

So, since the expulsion on 17 August 2005, I am no longer an Israeli. I have 'disengaged' and am simply a Jewish refugee in the Land of Israel.

March 23, 2008

[I rarely bother you with someone else's work. Indeed, I write so seldom I rarely bother you with my work. But this is special. Please google "Daniel Gordis: Dispatches from an anxious state' and read the piece, "The Shame of it all'. This is the piece I would have written, with minor reservations, had I the talent, the intelligence, and the erudition. [[There is no repetition here. I know many intelligent people with little education, and many more erudite people with little intelligence.]] Read it and weep. To read it, Click here.]

La Passionara, fed up with my perpetual doom and gloom, has given me an ultimatum. No, she isn't threatening to kick me out. Who else would do the laundry, driving, shopping, typing? Instead she has informed me that if I don't write something cheerful, or at least less depressing, I will forfeit my spousal rights. Given that spousaling is one of the few things I still do and enjoy –– 'do and enjoy' is not redundancy. There are lots of things I still do but don't particularly enjoy, like snoring –– I am left with no choice but to at least make an attempt.

But there are serious obstacles in the way of a cheery, optimistic letter:

First, there is the situation here. [The Wholly Land]

Second, there is the situation there. [USA]

Third, there is the situation everywhere. [take your pick]

Fourth, on Shabbat Rachel made a spectacular chulent . So spectacular that the effect on me has been the same as the effect on Ukrainians who lived in Chernobyl and whose irradiated particles now glow all the time. Except that instead of particles, the chulent has hyper-activated my farticles. You've heard the saying 'my cup runneth over'. Well, use your imagination. The microscopic amount of good taste I retain precludes me from elaborating.

Fifth, I stupidly had another tooth implant. Stupidly, because I figured since the Ministry of Defense is paying for it, why not. Stupidly, because I ignored the horrors of the first two implants. Stupidly, because the implant is tortuous enough, but the real horror comes afterwards. Being of behemoth size I need a special antibiotic to prevent infection. The antibiotic not only weakens me physically, it puts me into a depression even deeper than my normal gloom and doom state. Tears freely flow, unbidden and embarrassing.

This drippage above/seepage below has led to some absurd situations.

One example –– were it a story it would be titled A Mystery Solved, A Problem Unresolved:

Each weekday morning, when I return from the Sunrise Semester minyan, I feed the cats then do a turn on the lawn surrounding the house. This is The Poop Patrol. Our refugee camp is awash in dogs who roam freely and 'do their thing' wherever it suits them. And just as my body seems to have a magnet that attracts flying explosives, so our lawn has an attraction for peripatetic poopers.

About two weeks ago, while on patrol, I noticed large and small chunks of challah haphazardly strewn on the grass. My first thought, quickly dismissed, was manna from heaven. [Had I found herring as well as challah I might have had to reconsider my religious orientation]

Day after day the amount of challah increased, as did the amount of poop. Several days ago, while watching a tv documentary about Israel called 'Nightmare on Chelm Street', I saw a dog out back with a hamantasch [Purim approaches] in its mouth. I ran out and was greeted by the sight of a neighbor, plastic bag in one hand, hurling challah and hamantaschen over a fence onto my lawn.

If I hadn't been crazy from the antibiotic and the chulent I would probably have talked to him like the good neighbor he generally is. Instead I started yelling. He mumbled something, turned and walked back to his own yard.

I was heartsick. This man is a tzaddik and we go back a long way. And I yelled at him...

[In Gush Katif we attended the same minyan. And every morning he would wander about adjusting the tefillin of each congregant that needed the attention. He never gave any thought to anyone's feelings but ploughed right ahead to make sure the mitzvah was being properly performed. Generally I was bemused, but being in his sights every day wore me down. One morning as he strode towards me I said, to his surprise and that of everyone there, "If the Almighty wanted my tefillin perfectly placed he would have left me with two hands and ten fingers.' He stopped and stared, and as the congregation muttered sympathetically, turned away. If only I had kept my mouth shut at that point my triumph would have been complete. But the devil that always sends me over the top chimed in and I said "...and if He wanted everyone's tefillin to be perfect he would have given each of us a third eye in the middle of the forehead.'

These days he spends all day every weekday wrapped in tallit and tefillin. He sits on his lawn at a table covered with sacred tomes. A radio inside the house blares Yemenite music. [[For those of you who aren't familiar with Yemenite music...The singer's lips are stapled shut and he/she/it projects through the nose.]] This is a real tzaddik.]

Three days later and the bread has reappeared on my lawn. In quantity. The tzaddik appears immersed in holy concentration but I know he watches me as I gather up both the poop and the bread. What am I to do?

[I mentioned feeding the cats. Both Rachel and I had become obsessive about it. Perfectly good food was declared spoiled so it could be given to the mewling monsters. We were snatching food off each other's plates –– "You finished your chicken, right?' –– just to quiet the furry kvetchers. So annoying had it become –– I was actually considering buying milk and cheese and giving it straight to them, thereby cutting out the middlemen [us] –– that a solution had to be found.

Simplicity itself. Cat food. The house brand at the supermarket, EatItRaw, didn't go over too well at first, but they have gotten used to it. They seem especially fond of four flavors: Stinking Sardines, Hideous Halibut, Bakala Barf and Putrescent Perch. Of course old habits are hard to kick and we continue to supplement their diet.

Several of you have inquired as to what names, if any, we have given them. The names are in Yiddish, a language with which you are all conversant, so I won't bother translating:

The aggressive black twin kitten is Shvartze Chaye. [Rachel calls her Buffy]

The cross-eyed black twin kitten is Blinde Bahayme [Rachel calls her Buffy as well]

The leprous adult is Chalerye. [What Rachel calls her is expletive deleted]

My favorite kitten is Ketzele. [Rachel calls her Muffy]

Finally, to those of you who question my preferring cats to dogs, including the one who said my inclination for cats raises doubts as to my masculinity:

Dogs do have their place. And that place is boiled or baked, on a bun. With mustard and sauerkraut. [[True, there are some who prefer ketchup or relish, but that is not in the purview of this learned treatise]]

Saturday night, 22.3.

WE HAD TAMAR, OSHRI AND THE WRECKING CREW with us for Shabbat. Always a pleasure. An exhausting pleasure. One of the epicurean delights Rachel prepared was Nile perch. No one touched it. Not even Rachel. But the Furry Fressers are going wild. It is 11pm and there are fifteen cats on the lawn enjoying a post-Purim pig-out. A truly heartwarming sight.]

I skipped a dental appointment in Ashkelon and when the secretary called to ask why I hadn't appeared, I had the bittersweet pleasure of saying "What? Risk my life going to a place where Grad missiles are falling?'

Apropos, the Grad missiles can reach Ashdod, eight kilometers north of here, so while it is unlikely any will be aimed at us –– we are too insignificant a target –– we will likely get hit as these things are extremely inaccurate.

Missiles were falling on Ashkelon as I stood outside patchkering [ie, phutzing around with] some of the plants. The shockwaves were rattling our plasterboard houses and a neighbor started yelling at me, "Shmita, Moshe, Shmita!. You aren't allowed to do that.' What an amazing people we are. We cannot or will not defend ourselves against those determined to kill us, yet we get overheated about the minutia of Shmita. Many of my fellow religious Zionists seem oblivious to the desperate nature of our situation. Even when they acknowledge the danger to Eretz Yisrael they conclude with an emphatic "The Almighty won't let it happen'. We've learned nothing from our expulsion from Gush Katif.

Before some of you blow a gasket thinking I have dissed an important mitzvah, be aware that I know the laws of shmita and my activities conform to them. I am not acting as a Grim Reaper, pruning, but merely as a Burial Society collecting dead leaves. It is mindless, pointless, stupid work. And I love it because it is mindless, pointless and stupid. It is mild exercise and as I stand in the sun getting my bald pate tanned any benefit to the plants is incidental.

HOWEVER DISAPPOINTED I MAY BE IN MANY OF MY FELLOW religious Zionists, the level of stupidity/gullibility/credulity among the general public never fails to amaze me.

When the Enlightened Ones grew annoyed over the outpouring of sympathy for those murdered in Merkaz HaRav, they acted quickly. First they sent former Peace Now activist and current Mistress of Education Yuli Tamir to the yeshiva to express her crocodile-tear condolences, knowing that it would cause a protest. But just to make sure the credulous cretins of a public are suitably outraged, they also sent their ersatz yeshiva-boy agents provocateurs to make the loudest noises.

Which was duly enlarged upon by our own Pravda and Izvestia, replete with columnists and editorialists denouncing the behavior of the "extreme Right' as "shocking'. [Rather like Claude Rains in CASABLANCA on 'discovering' that there is gambling at Rick's American Bar: "Shocked! I'm shocked!']

The next day Israel television's Channel 1 –– the government controlled station –– announces it has discovered 'a plot' in which Merkaz students, former students and rabbis met to discuss how to kill a Moslem religious leader. The identity of the victim-to-be wasn't revealed, to allow an Imam-a-day for one whole week to announce that he is the intended assassinee and keep the story alive.

Which brings me back to Dr. Baruch Goldstein. Several of you have sent me a recent piece by Barry Chamish to the effect that Goldstein killed no Arabs, but was an innocent victim of a Secret Service plot. I also received a long, thoughtful letter from a dear friend in the States –– a beautiful, intelligent, good-hearted lady –– who argues that Goldstein's action in killing 'innocents' reflected a lack of faith in the Almighty. So let me repeat: whether Goldstein is an innocent, or a Jew who refused to 'turn the other cheek' [yes, this is a Christian concept that Christians have never followed but Jews have always practiced], he was and is and will always be a great hero to me.

And here is the amazing tale involving the now-dead-and-buried Dr. Baruch Goldstein proving that on any list of the World's Greatest Myths #1 is Jewish Intelligence, #2 is Jewish Unity:

Baruch Goldstein is buried in a lone grave at the end of a nondescript path that leads nowhere else. You cannot see the grave from the road. You cannot even see the path from the road as it begins behind a small row of shops. There is no sign indicating the path is there. There is no sign indicating the grave is there. In short, there is no way that anyone can stumble upon the grave accidentally.

Around the simple grave admirers had set up three or four benches and two small wooden bookcases filled with prayer books and books of Psalms. There was also, if I remember correctly, a small water pipe for washing one's hands after visiting the grave. I don't recall anything that could be considered decorative. During several visits to the grave there was seldom anyone about.

Imagine my horror at seeing an Israel television Channel 2 'exclusive' in which an innocent sojourner happens to chance upon the grave just at the same moment that a camera crew from Ch. 2 happens to chance upon the grave [don't let anyone ever tell you that Israel isn't the Land of Miracles!].

The sojourner, overcome by righteous outrage at this "memorial to the murderer Goldstein', takes out a large metal pipe which he apparently had been carrying in a pants pocket [Mae West: "Is that a metal pipe, or are you just glad to see me?'] and begins to smash the stone, the benches and the bookcases, whose contents are scattered to the winds. The cameramen, who claim no knowledge of or connection with the sojourner, film the event. Which is broadcast to great public acclaim.

When an attempt was made to replace the benches and bookcases, the police intervened stating that restoring the site would be "an affront to public order.' And that is how it has remained to this day.

How often have I said that Israel is a dictatorship pretending to be a democracy? Perhaps we would be better off with an open dictatorship, relieving us of the illusion that change can be made by democratic means.

Loud explosions can be heard as I type this. These aren't gifts from our Arab enemy but Purim joy spread by the young morons who live here. Firecrackers for the pre-teeners, booze and beer for the teenagers. Perfectly in the spirit of this most annoying of holidays.

I asked a youth leader, a friend from Neve Dekalim, why something isn't done about wild behavior. "De yoots must hev fon' he replied.

"Okay for the Utes,' I said. "But what about the Cheyenne? The Arapaho? The Nez Perce? Aren't the Mohawks entitled to 'hev fon'?'

He had no idea of what I was talking about. And neither have you. And neither, sadly, have I.

RIGHT ON SCHEDULE, WITH THE ARRIVAL OF PURIM Rachel is showing signs of Pessach Cleaning Madness Syndrome aka Pessach Cleaning Martyrdom Syndrome. We go through this year after year and I have given up pointing out that most of what she exhausts herself [and me] doing is Spring cleaning and not Pessach cleaning. The next month won't be easy. By the time Pessach arrives I may be rooting for the Egyptians.

The air is very heavy and Rachel has been suffering from allergies. She sent me to a former neighbor from Gush Katif who now lives in Ein Tzurim and still sells herbal medicines. He is one of the few refugees who managed to keep his business going.

He wasn't there when I arrived but his wife, Collette, is an old friend. After the purchase she repeatedly asked how Rachel and I are getting on. I realized this wasn't standard politeness when she said "We thought as time went by it would get better. But it just gets worse.' We stared at each other, and wept.

This morning, scrounging for a megilah I found a one that looked unusual. It had a cover picture of a boy, about six, wearing a cowboy hat and holding a cap pistol. Every page had a picture of him in one Purim costume or another. Then a note that the megillah was issued by his family in his memory. He was a soldier killed on active service in Gaza. I could no longer read the text through my tears.

Our religion is unsurpassed at fostering a sense of community, of shared destiny. But it is devastatingly hard on individuals.

I said I would try to make this a positive letter. It hasn't worked out. Every joke is juvenile toilet humor. What I think is clever turns out to be crude. What I think is comic turns out to be coarse.

It wasn't always like this. I reread some of my old letters, many written when I was angry or disappointed, but however gloomy the subject there was always a light, a joie de vivre about them. Now that light has gone out of my letters as it has gone out of most things.

Rachel should have the last word [she usually does]. I was whining about something or other and she said "You were a kid when we got married, and you're still a kid. You grew old, but you never grew up.'


PS: It is 3am Sunday morning and I want to close this on an upbeat note. I am buried in emails detailing feel-good Purim miracle stories. Well, I have not one, not two, not three, but four miracle stories to relate:

1. The firecrackers and cherry bombs have stopped. A miracle! You're skeptical? Maybe the noise stopped because the young morons went to sleep? Or maybe the noise stopped because they have used up all their firecrackers? They sleep all day in school, and their bomb stash usually lasts until Pessach.

2. No sooner did the Wrecking Crew leave, the Cat Collective finish the fish, Rachel clean up and collapse, when I started doing laundry. Three loads of bedclothes and smelly bath towels. No, that's not the miracle. I always do laundry, and prefer working at night so that the curious don't stand around and watch the Phingerless Phenom struggle with hanging wet clothes.

The miracle was that, as in days of old when everyone had room to pray at the Temple in Jerusalem without even bumping into each other, so the lines expanded to take all the clothes.

3. I usually knock off a cigar per load of clothes. But again, as miraculously happened during the time of the Maccabees when a single Tom Cruise of oil lasted for eight days, a single cigar lasted for all three loads.

4. Friday night prayers were so filled with infectious, songfull, genuine joy that even a miserable curmudgeon like my self was moved. It is immaterial if the joy was alcohol-fueled or faith-fueled, or a bit of both. For a while I was happy. For a while I was optimistic. A true miracle!

March 27, 2008

[Are you groaning at the prospect of another letter so soon after the last? Think of it as a product of the Writing Fever, which will soon pass. Then I will sink back into my mummified state and you can return to complaining to La P about why Moshe doesn't write.]

[To those who expressed unbridled joy at my 'return' with assurances that I'm still the same old Moshe...thanks, but no thanks. Can you recall those awful high school biology labs where you had to dissect a frog? The frog was dead, yet when touched with the scalpel the legs would move. Remember that there is a difference between creative and reflexive..]

Were all the reasons for my perpetually foul moods lined up they would reach from the refugee camp all the way back to Gush Katif. Among the more annoying –– but certainly less serious –– reasons is that one of my greatest pleasures has turned into one of my greatest fears.

Driving. I always loved to drive. Whether it was the huge-finned monster that I drove in the States before moving here, or the Volvo station-wagon that seemed as solid and as long as an 18-wheeler, or the square little Fiat 124 that –– much to my delight –– made the loudest excretatory exhaust noises of any vehicle I ever handled...I loved to drive.

I was never a good driver, but I had the reflexes and intelligence [hard to believe, I know...] to get me out of those situations that my snarling competitive machismo got me into. As I aged my reflexes faded, but the calm that comes with advanced years failed to make its hoped-for appearance. I remain a frothing-at-the-mouth take-no-prisoners war-to-the death maniac on the road.

Awareness that I should not be allowed to play in traffic partially explains my predilection for traveling at odd hours and on odd routes. I leave for Jerusalem at 5am even though this means sitting around for two or more hours before anything opens. I explain to the inquisitive that I want to see the sunrise in Jerusalem. And I take the most circuitous back roads returning here rather than face the busy highways, explaining to the inquisitive that I enjoy the scenic route.

About a month ago I had an accident, the first in many years, and it was totally my fault. I don't know if it was momentary distraction or terminal incompetence, but it has left me far more shaken than I let on. Thank G-d no one was hurt, though that is because the vehicle I slammed into was the size, weight and shape of an armored car. All the damage was to our Mazda.

The people in the other car, husband/wife/3 infants, though unhurt were shaken. The wife, a stunned look on her face, said "There are babies in the car.' To which I almost replied "Gee, lady, had I known I'd have hit you harder.' Fortunately Rachel was there, totally cool, totally supportive. Without her I'd have lost it.

Were we living in a city I might be able to give up the keys, or at least cut down dramatically on excursions. But here in Ruritania it isn't even an option.

You can barely imagine the importance of driving to the disabled, and this is without reference to their need for mobility. Driving, particularly to men, is the great equalizer. Behind the wheel, wrapped in the burka-like anonymity of your own vehicle, it hardly matters that you may be misshapen and ugly. You are almost indistinguishable from those you envy.

A psychologist at Tel Hashomer hospital told me that two of the most important means of restoring the self-esteem of the maimed were sex and driving. Amputation, he explained, was like castration. Which wasn't my problem as the magnificent La P and her misshapen mate had resumed spousaling while I was still in hospital and listed as being in serious condition.

Driving was another problem altogether, and the Defense Ministry did yeoman work assuring that those who needed their self-esteem restored got valid licenses and vehicles specially equipped. The downside was that the armless, legless and brainless all hit the highways. A standing joke at the hospital was that when certain people entered their vehicles they were required to inform the authorities as to destination so the police could clear the roads.

Related to the above, even if only in the Byzantine structure of my brain....

Rachel has several music teachers, all former Soviet citizens, all presently living in Ashkelon. They are special people. They came out to Gush Katif to give lessons despite the constant shooting and bombing, and despite the pleas of family and friends to stop going as it was too dangerous.

Several mornings ago Rachel noticed that her flute teacher was acting strangely. After some prodding he admitted that he was terrified. Scheduled after his lesson to Rachel was a lesson in a school near Sderot.

When Rachel reminded him of his visits under fire to Gush Katif, he replied: "You knew why you were there. You had ideology. You had motivation. You were heroes, and we were heroes when we went to you. But the people now, they don't understand what's happening to them. They are frightened all the time. And their fright infects us.'

Another annoyance, though hardly of major import...

Most mornings I go to the earliest minyan, at 6am. Except that I get there at five. I love being in an empty shul. I love struggling into tallit and tefillin without the pitying gaze of onlookers. I love talking to Him at my own pace without the distraction of others muscling in on the conversation. And most of all I love the trains...

You see, I chose to sit in the back row at a window strategically placed so I can see the railroad tracks and the highway beyond. It is not a panoramic view, but an unobstructed view for a stretch large enough to count vehicles going north and south. Much as I enjoy mentally betting [who says the brain dead have no mental activity?] on whether 'approaching Ashkelon' beats 'leaving Ashkelon' [really a no-brainer as who wouldn't want to leave Ashkelon?] the greatest pleasure are the trains. To see the five-car passenger train, lit like a ballroom, race past a background of purple and pink lightening sky is so filled with the romance of escape and adventure...

So what am I complaining about?

In the past half year there has been an explosion of unauthorized shanties built to meet the needs of the refugees. [I could use the term illegal as opposed to legal, but there is nothing legal about our situation.] Most are for the children of expellees who were refused rights to live here for one obscene reason or another. For example, the goblins of the Expulsion Authority, with their hired-gun lawyers and psychiatrists, made it a rule that anyone who hadn't lived in Gush Katif for five consecutive years prior to the expulsion did not qualify for housing. This meant that all the young people, most of whom had been born and grown up in Gush Katif but had been away in the army and/or at university were ineligible for housing.

Parents bought structures –– those who asked permission were turned down –– for their children, both single and newly married, connected them to water and electricity and sewerage.

It does one's heart good to see the refugees take the initiative to keep their families together in defiance of the 'authorities'.

So what am I complaining about?

One of these recently constructed shanties blocks the view from my seat in shul. A young couple with a child live there, and I am pleased for them and their extended families and I wish them long life and happiness, etc etc etc. But one of the few, the pathetically few, pleasures of living here has been lost to me.

THE EATITRAW CAT FOOD COMPANY HAS COME OUT with a new flavor which I bought this morning. Called Piranha Puke, its motto is "Chew it before it Chews you'. Or, as pronounced by the girl at the checkout counter, "Jew it before it Jews you'. Hmmm...

You will, of course, get a full report on whether or not this abomination finds feline favor.

Things have to change in the way I feed them. Not in terms of what I feed them but in terms of the 'ceremony' that surrounds it. I spend an inordinate amount of time on the lawn after putting out the food. I pace back and forth carrying a broom handle whose purpose is to scare away uninvited moocher cats as well as dogs who terrorize everyone. I even lined the window ledges with rocks for throwing at those not intimidated by the broomstick.

Neighbors think the rocks, some the size of a baseball, are decorations. Or fashion statements. Or proof that I, who pollute the atmosphere with cigar smoke, am an environmentalist. Until they actually see me throw them at a dog or cat. Then they exclaim "Oh, Moshe! You're so humane. You purposely missed the cat/dog so as not to hurt them.' And I smile and graciously accept the compliment while seething with shame and anger as I meant to hit them after all. My aim, nothing to brag about in my youth, is even worse today.

So what I started to say is that every day will be like the eve of Passover, when we say "all who are hungry, come and eat'. I will dump the food on the grass and walk away, letting them work things out by themselves. I've had enough of being a monitor in a catfiteria.

later My new policy didn't even last an hour. I stepped outside for a smoke and saw my four felines cowering against a wall while two large bahaymes never before seen here were fressing on the food. I stoned the furry freeloaders.

Now what am I to do? All suggestions grumpily accepted.

Several of you continue to harass me about my 'disrespect' for shmita. Aren't you aware that if things continue to deteriorate here shmita will return to being a theoretical mitzvah from wherever we are –– those few unfortunate enough to survive –– in the Diaspora?

April 3, 2008

[Tummler. Yiddish slang for noisemaker. Usually applied to Social Director and staff at Catskill resorts who were required to keep the guests occupied with some silly activity, lest they have a chance to get bored and decide to leave the hotel.]

Self-delusion is one of my greatest talents. And no delusion is greater than that I am a serious writer with a penchant for humor. The truth, as many of you have made clear from your comments, is that I am a clown with delusions of seriosity.

This was brought home to me a few days ago when, during the ongoing melodrama of Cleaning for Pessach, we came across a DVD of a documentary made as we were being expelled. We hadn't seen "Withdrawal From Gaza' for a long time, and it was as painful to watch now as it was when we first saw it. It wasn't just seeing the home we lost, the community we lost, the paradise we lost. It was seeing my neighbors physically resisting while I, loudmouthed tough guy, simply walked out without a struggle.

I wept for what we had lost. I howled with shame for the self-respect I had lost. I howled with shame for having failed to even remotely live up to the self-image I had created.

Now all that remains for me is to tell jokes to keep you from getting too depressed as we hurtle towards destruction. As useful and important as the tummler on the Titanic.

REMEMBER MY QUOTING A FRIEND who said "The Left doesn't get it till it Gets It'? And my comment that they never get it, no matter what? Confirmation of my view was not long in coming. I was attending the eighth annual memorial service for a dear friend at Jerusalem's Har Hamenuchot cemetery. Also in attendance was an Education Ministry official who asked where Rachel and I are living. "The Nitzan Refugee Camp' I said. "No politics' he replied, lifting his hands in mock horror. Then, after a long pause, "It's a shame the way you people were treated.'

"You mean we shouldn't have been expelled?' I said in amazement, knowing him as a dedicated leftist.

"No, no' he said in annoyance. "The disengagement was right. It's only because of the extremists on both sides that we don't have peace.'

And I think of myself as delusional...

MANY OF YOU WERE AGHAST THAT THE EXPULSION AUTHORITY used army service as an excuse to deny compensation to some of our people for not having been there the last five consecutive years. I know of a couple sent as aliyah emissaries to France for two years who were also denied compensation on the same grounds. You can almost admire the Expulsion Authority for its creative malevolence.

Several of you have asked if, while my car was being repaired, I was given a replacement, or 'loaner'. Yes, alas. And the only automatic loaner available was so small that I needed to be shoe-horned into it. Even worse, the time between pressing the four-numbered code on the left side of the steering wheel and turning the key in the switch on the right side was about a nanosecond. This is fine for a healthy two-handed person. For this one-armed fingerless wonder it was impossible. So I could only start the damned thing if I had a passenger. You can't imagine the number of females who thought I was being fresh when I asked them to lean over and turn the key. It was only when La P pinned a note to my sleeve that things improved. The note said "Don't worry. He's harmless.'

Talk about truth in advertising... About an hour after I served the Piranha Puke –– "Chew It or It Chews you" –– I returned to find several clumps of fur and two small skeletons. As my own four furry fiends could be seen happily gamboling just meters away I was somewhat relieved, but still puzzled as to the identities of the two chewees. At that moment my Olympics-bound neighbor –– he is representing Israel in Beijing at the bread-throwing competition –– sauntered by. After frisking him for hidden challah I allowed him to examine the skeletons. Assuming a professorial mien he declared that these aren't the remains of Piranha-chewed kitties but skeletal infants from a bygone age. "This one,' he said, touching the larger of the two with a well-worn house-slipper, "is a baby Shleptotsauris. And the other is a Kvetchotsauris.

ONE OF THE GREAT RACKETS OF THE MODERN JEWISH ERA –– one that allows our people to feel two supreme joys, spending money and feeling closer to the Creator –– is the proliferation of items marked Kosher-for-Passover on products that need no such authorization. As a young yeshiva student I remember a rancorous argument about which brand of cigarette was K-for-P. Some tzaddik said the glue holding cigarette paper together might contain chametz. Letters were sent to many companies asking details of. the chemical composition of the glue. Only Parliament cigarettes replied, and with much fanfare it was announced that only Parliament is K-for-P. I don't recall a single person switching to Parliament from his regular brand. Which says something else about our people that you can figure out for yourselves.

A friend who lived in Brooklyn's Flasbush [the proper Ashkenazi pronunciation of Flatbush] showed me a K-for-P sticker on a bag of rock salt used for ice- and snow-covered streets and driveways. It was 'explained' to him that if a gentile [ie Italian, this being Flasbush] drops a pizza the rock salt will make it inedible before a Jewish child can pick it up.

I've just come across one of these unnecessary products and, after the Piranha Puke experience, am seriously considering using it. It's a new brand of cat food called ShmuraCat and on the bag is a drawing of a cat with long sidecurls and a large black yarmulke. The text, in Hebrew and English, says "25 VITAMINS AND MINERALS', "NO TRANS-FATS', and in extra large letters, "KOSHER FOR PASSOVER'. A sub-text, English only, reads "You wouldn't put chametz in your mouth. Why put it in your pussy?' Another new company, FrumKat, boasts that its product is mehadrin-min-hamehadrin. Its motto is "Glatt is Hot! Chametz is not.'

March 28th.

The clocks have been moved forward an hour. Summer time. Many religious Jews resent this at it means going to early prayers in darkness. I love it. The dark is filled with wonder and mystery, and even if I can no longer see the trains and traffic I can hear them. Best of all I get to see the at-first almost imperceptible lightening of the sky so filled with promise. That the promise is rarely realized doesn't matter. The anticipation is always better than the realization.

This morning, though the shul clock had been moved forward and read 5am, the electric device that controls the lights still read 4am, meaning it would be an hour before the lights came on. I stumbled to my seat and enjoyed the eerie darkness. After a while others entered, tried the light switches, and either left or sat down waiting in silence like me. Unable to find my Braille prayer book I had little to do except watch ghostly figures move through the dark and speculate on the type of horror films that would be acceptable to very religious audiences.

So far I've come up with "Scary Movie 6: You Shouldn't Know From It', "Erev Shabbos the 13th', "The Thing (in the Holy Ark)', "It Came From Underneath the Shul', "The Incredible Shrinking Rosh HaYeshiva', "Attack of the Killer Kreplach', "Island of Lost Latkes', "The Kishka From Beneath the Sea!' and "I Know What You Did Last Summer, So Wash Your Hands and Stop Already'.

My own personal favorite is "JewJaws: 'At a remote mikveh, where thirty years before a shaitel mysteriously disappeared, women are terrorized by a hairy creature''.

YOU KNOW THAT I SPEND A DISPROPORTIONATE AMOUNT OF TIME fussing with the plants and spraying the ants. I'm endlessly fascinated with why some perfectly shaped blossoms fall to the ground while others, withered and clearly rotting, hang on. Or why leaves, grey and cracked, don't fall while fallen green leaves cluster in clumps.

If I knew something about Zoology I might have an explanation. Unfortunately I went to the Central Park Zoo just once [spending the whole time watching a baboon scratch his red posterior] and got lost on the subway going to the Bronx Zoo.

One plant, however, is an inspiration. It grew in Yamit, and when the Jews were expelled was brought to Gush Katif, where we were given a cutting which flourished in our garden. We brought a cutting here to the refugee camp in Nitzan. It hasn't flourished but it does hang on. My dream is to bring it back to Gush Katif. And watch it flourish again.

BRING BACK THE SPITTOONS! WHEN I WAS A kid the once-ubiquitous spittoon was a rarity. Only in the shteibel, the Old Geezers' Shul, were there spittoons, one of which I managed to kick over with monotonous regularity. Because the genuine old geezers had largely passed on, the spittoons were dry.

We are going through a horrible period. Some have flu, others have the common cold, many are plagued by pollen in the air. The result is a cacophony of coughing, spitting, drooling, retching. Every public gathering sounds like a TB sing-along. Bring back the spittoons!


Moshe is a Jerusalem Diarist, one of the group of Israelis who are recording their experiences living in Israel. He lost an arm while fighting in the 1973 Yom Kippur War. He was again wounded in a February 2002 incident when he drove his car into a terrorist who had just shot and killed a young mother traveling in the car in front of him.

The Sapersteins were among the thousands of Jews kicked out of their homes in Gush Katif, in the Gaza Strip, and forced into temporary quarters so dismal, their still-temporary flimsy trailers in Nitzan, seemed a step up. Contact them at This August, it will be three years that the Israeli government made them into refugees in their own country and their quarters are still temporary.


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