Come to Think of It

The country takes the disengagement easy. On the disengagement week the TV showed almost nothing but the eviction pictures, which, of course, weren’t comforting and occasionally my eyes got wet, but all-in-all it was not that interesting. Was Yair Lapid just right when he said that “… most of all, this Disengagement is just not very important”? It’s history, of course. But the aftermath is eerily quiet. There was a suicide bombing on Sunday; the terrorist died, two security guards were severely injured. It was reported that the terrorist came from Hebron. A few Kassams were shot at Sderot since the disengagement ended. Of course, Arik promised a harsh response to any bombings after the disengagement, but no-one believes him. Nothing of it is very new. Just the same. In the meantime nothing got worse, i hope it will stay at least there. A bothering question remains – if nothing changed, why did the government demolish twenty five wonderful villages?

There are two columnists in MaarivEr’el Segal and Avishai Ben-Haim, who used to write various things once but in the last few months suddenly became ardent disengagement opponents. Their writing is surprisingly fluid and coherent. Ben-Haim’s writing is almost devoid of “religious” language (Bible and Talmud citations, Aramaisms etc.); in a totally secular language he explains why destroying settlements is senseless, immoral and just plain wrong. Segal is more ornate – he does use some religious citations, but not too consistently, even amateurishly; he styles his writing as a rant, but the patient reader gets a clear message. But even without the language it is surprisingly hard to read something like that and to believe that the person who wrote it doesn’t wear a kipa.

I just couldn’t believe. It’s all too right – secular journalists writing like that. It couldn’t be right and it wasn’t.

I emailed them both and asked whether in their past they had any religious education. I hope they forgive me for posting their replies here in public. I think they are really important for anyone who cares about history and culture.

Ben-Haim’s reply was not too clear:

“When you find someone who received secular education and in whom Jewish nationality burns and he is not a datlash [formerly religious], tell me.”

From this i understand that he is a datlash, but i might be wrong. Segal was rather less ambiguous:

“Shalom Amir, my brother,
You got me, I am a yeshiva-tichonit graduate, I keep the Sabbath, but don’t wear a kipa for a purpose. Unfortunately it was proven that in practice there is no secular right, and maybe it is for the better, after all a question arises: can the security value of a land without an essence be a fetishist replacement for [moral] values.”

The beginning of Segal’s reply is simple and unequivocal, unlike Ben-Haim’s. But the ending made me think. I had to read a few times to understand it properly. Then i finally got it. Time will tell whether this conclusion is positive or depressing.

Security value – yes, of course these lands have an enormous security value. When the supporters of the disengagement say that it is good, because the soldiers who defend the settlers won’t be in danger anymore, the settlers’ supporters reply that the soldiers don’t defend the settlers, but rather the settlements defend the rest of Israel. And i believe that it is true – in Gaza and even more so in Samaria. But a good fence, it is said, is better than putting soldiers’ lives in danger. I don’t buy it, but who am i to have an opinion at all. These arguments can go on forever, and, as with many things here in Middle East, only time will tell if the land is properly secured. The thing is, that this “Security Value” is nothing but a good excuse for those who support the settlements and don’t want to sound fascist and “messianic”. It’s totally circumstantial, however – it would be even more secure to leave this crazy peace of soil and move to Canada. So that is the real fetishism without any essence – security is at best a science and it is not very exact. Essence can be only ideology; the essence is Torah. It is the Torah that says – this country belongs to the people of Israel. I understand it today more than ever.

And then again – who am i to speak about Torah either?


With All That’s Going Down

I often think that my English is pretty good. Compared to many Russians and Israelis i know it really is. But the more i think about it, the more i understand how far it is from being perfect. Ever so often i find myself tied up in syntax with my head spinning. Many people wouldn’t even care about problems that bother me. I suppose it’s a virtue by itself. I don’t even dare to claim that i understand the differences between British and American usage properly – in dictionaries i certainly prefer Merriam-Webster which is American, but my writing doesn’t necessarily stick to it.

Oh, my writing. In this blog i allow myself to be postmodern, silly and irresponsible. And with my perfectionism i can correct the entries years after posting. But on my workplace? On my previous job the email was written in Hebrew, but this company requires that all communications be English. Apparently writing professional work related email, which wouldn’t be too heavyhanded and would still include occasional smalltalk is a skill i haven’t acquired yet.

Made Me Cry – Indriķis XIII

Robots Indriķis XIII
Robots Indriķis XIII

I found this amazing website with a huge (well over 100GB) collection of multiki – Soviet era cartoons. To those readers who don’t know: Soviet Union had a wonderful and unique animated movies industry. Some movies produced by it, such as “Twelve Months” and “The Snow Queen” are considered very influential; Hayao Miyazaki, the creator of the much-loved “Spirited Away”, cites it as an important source of inspiration, for example. Many styles are represented: Russian fairy tales, adaptations of foreign children and adult literature, Greek mythology, science fiction, nature, etc.

I’m downloading like there’s no tomorrow. As i’m watching them now, i understand how clever many of them were, much deeper than i would understand as a child.

Indriķis XIII sailing through space on solar wind
Indriķis XIII sailing through space on solar wind. Get it?

The one that made me cry is a Latvian science-fiction short film Fantadrom (see below if the download fails). I remember watching it as a kid and not understanding the plot so much, although i liked the pretty pictures and the main character, a cat-shaped robot called Indriķis XIII (which could be translated as Henry the 13th, but Indriķis sounds much more cyberpunk). So, as i am watching it now, i get it – the plot really is not so deep, it’s mostly about the style, the fantasy (hence the title), and the music, which is just great. Progressive rock lovers might love it, especially those who are into synth gurus such as Neu! or Tony Banks. Of course, i also appreciated the usage of Latvian and Russian; it is ridiculous that astronauts of the future will use these two as their main languages, but that’s what makes the movie charming.

It made me cry, because towards the end, the cat robot dies and is buried on an asteroid where he died, with a simple tombstone:



and the translation:


Indriķis XIII's tombstone
A tombstone of a cute robot cat in the middle of a cartoon for children. Those Soviets were just something.

A pretty heavy message for a children’s cartoon, don’t you think? Especially considering that cat robot is so cute.

Download instructions: If you are outside of Russia, try downloading between 4am and 10am Moscow time. Also, turn off advanced download manager features, such as “multipart”, “segmented”, “download acceleration” etc. If you’ve got trouble and don’t know Russian, don’t hesitate to ask me.

Oh (edit): Spoiler follows. After 22 years i finally understood why does the Indriķis XIII die and how he comes back to life. He sees that a human is going to die because he’s running out of oxygen, so he takes a ball that gives him life out of himself and converts it to trees that created oxygen. Makes sense, right? And then another cat alien comes and gives Indriķis XIII another ball that makes him alive again. Lovely.

Didn’t Make Me Cry – The Hooligans on the Roof of Kfar-Darom Synagogue

A popular slogan in Israel lately says: Where is the shame? That’s what i thought when i saw on the TV a bunch of kids standing on the roof of the Kfar-Darom synagogue and throwing wet paint and oil on the policemen that came to expel them. The cops were strong, and ignored the disgrace, which is perfectly fine, because doing what those kids did in a synagogue is a much bigger disgrace. I love the Israeli religious community and i will keep loving them forever, this one big family that loves everyone, but every family has its trouble kids.

And of course, “the settler leaders” are condemning their behaviour, but whom are they trying to fool? They called them to come to Gush-Katif in every legal and illegal way, so they should have expected that. I admit that if i didn’t have a job, i’d go to the Gush myself, but i wouldn’t spill paint on anyone.

So who are the good guys? Who are the bad guys? The Arabs, the secular Israelis, the religious Israelis, the IDF, the Police, the Rabbis, the settlers’ leaders, the orange people, the blue people? The endlessly faithful and beautiful girls in black skirts and orange tees that cry their heart out reading Psalms while being dragged away by female soldiers, the naïve 15 year old boys who think that fighting with cops would make them the school heroes? No-one and everyone and no-one and everyone. A strange feeling creeps into me – a notion that maybe even Arik Sharon isn’t so bad afterall. Sometimes, there’s a man, well, he’s the man for his time and place.


… הוי מתלמידיו של אהרון –
אוהב שלום ורודף שלום
אוהב את הבריות
ומקרבן לתורה
(אבות א י”ב)

… Be of the disciples of Aaron –
a lover of peace and a pursuer of peace,
one who loves the creatures
and draws them close to the Law.

ומפרש ר’ עובדיה מברטנורא:

כיצד היה אהרון אוהב שלום? כשהיה רואה שני בני אדם מתקוטטים היה הולך לכל אחד מהם שלא מדעת חברו ואומר לו: “ראה חברך איך הוא מתחרט ומכה את עצמו על שחטא לך והוא אמר לי שאבוא אליך שתמחול לו” … וכיצד היה מקרב את הבריות לתורה? כשהיה יודע באדם שעבר עבירה היה מתחבר עמו ומראה לו פנים צהובות והיה אותו אדם מתבייש ואומר, “אילו היה יודע צדיק זה מעשיי הרעים כמה היה מתרחק ממני” – ומתוך כך חוזר למוטב.

And Rabbi Obadiah from Bertinoro (Bartenura) explains:

In what way was Aharon a lover of peace? When he would see two people fighting, he would go to each of them without his neighbour’s knowing and tell him: “see your friend, how he regrets it and beats himself for commiting a sin upon you and he told me that I shall come to you so you forgive him” … And in what way would he draw them closer to the Law? When he would know about a person that he commited a transgression, he would befriend him and show him a happy face and that person would be ashamed and say, “if this righteous man would know my bad deeds, he would distance himself from me” – and thus would go back to goodness.

(Apparently, “yellow face” means in Hebrew “happy, joyous face”.)

Having Aharon’s name embedded in my last name is a bigger honour than i thought. I should live up to it.

I Talk to The Wind

“I’ve been here and I’ve been there and I’ve been in between” – I am not dictated by blind fanatism for “sacred land”. I am dictated by human love which does discriminate between the suffering of my people and the suffering of my enemy’s people. I can and i do sympathize with the people from the enemy’s side as long as they really are innocent victims of the stupid war made by politicians, but i can’t help sympathizing with my people more. It may be not humane, but it is human. The settlers are a part of my people and i love them and care about them.

“I’m on the outside looking inside, what do I see …” – I could be inside. I could be there in Neve-Dekalim, protesting against the expulsions together with the best young (and old) people in this country. I’m not asking now this hypothetical question – “would it make a difference?”, no; i’m answering – yes, it would make some difference, but i’m a wussy. Even a lot of people from my work went there and i stayed in the air conditioning.

“Much confusion, disillusion all around me” – there’s a war going on, not between enemies, but between brothers. The real enemy waits, surprisingly quiet, to take his prize. And go figure, maybe time will tell that this was a historical war that showed the world how a pragmatic government that knew how to deal with its problems from the inside stopped a bloody war efficiently and without much damage, or a historically stupid surrender without a reason to a clever and bloodthirsty enemy who exposed our every weakness and beat us to pulp without a lot of effort.

“The wind does not hear” – My blog will probably not be read by historians who will decide about it.

5765-11-09, 10, 11…

It’s too symbolic, how the eviction begins a day after Tish’a-Beav. Some Israelis say that commemorating Rabin’s assasination on the Hebrew date of his death is silly, because everyone remembers that he was murdered on the 4th of November. The eviction was planned to start on the 15th of August, but there’s a good chance that it will be commemorated, if at all, on the 9th of Av.

I fasted this year too, although i began a few hours late and my last meal before the fast wasn’t exactly modest (Farfalle with Peppers and Ricota).

I am a crappy protester. I am blablablabbing about participating in a democratic protest, but yesterday instead of going to a picket at the Prime Minister office in Jerusalem, i went to see Batman Begins (good one, except Katie Holmes who looks like a televangelist version of Angelina Jolie).

So, this morning the eviction begins. I am unhappy about it and i can blame only myself for not preventing it. I hope i’m wrong with my grim prognoses about its consequences. God help us all.

So Much to Write, So Hard to Formulate

The more i think and deliberate about life, the more interesting it gets and the more boring it sounds. Yea, even to me. So in a way Noga is right when she complains that my blog is boring. Although on this particular matter i think that she’s more disappointed about my political persuasion rather than bored, but it’s not very important.

Something is wrong with my life. I’m totally humanist and irreligous, and i’m quite sure about staying that way, but i love religious people, support their political cause and even learn some Torah. I love my University studies, but i flunked most of the courses in the last semester. I have a good job and i don’t have anything bad to say about it, which feels too weird any way you look at it. I have a wonderful girlfriend and our relationship is unbelievable, but still i fear that it might disappear one day out of the blue. I’m endlessly optimistic and i invest my hard-earned money in the stock exchange and even see profits, but i think that my country, including its economy, is on the expressway to hell. I think philosophically about the world, and understand more and more that living proper life is really very easy – it’s just a matter of power of will. Which just happens to be the most dear and expensive commodity in the universe.

I could be a (probably lousy) philosopher, writer and linguist, but i’m just a lousy engineer.

Me Me Me. What about some other people? What do i know.


I decided to study the Torah. It was in me for a long time, and now i finally began setting times for learning Torah (Shabbat 31a). It’s hard and illogical: I want to study the Torah without actually doing a complete teshuva.

The trigger to finally start it was an assignment in Jewish-Italian course i took last semester. The assignment is to analyze a translation of Ethics of the Fathers to Jewish-Italian. Very soon understood that to perform a good analysis i need to understand the Hebrew pshat (basic literal meaning) well. I asked Michael, a friend at work and the closest to a Talmid Hacham (Torah scholar) of all the people i know for some help, but he said – “Get yourself a Kehati. Preferably with Bartanura. Will cost you just a little over 300 NIS.” I can be somewhat proud that i know what Kehati is – it is an orthodox commentary of the Mishna written by Rabbi Pinhas Kehati in modern Israeli Hebrew and it is wildly popular among all Torah learners in today’s Israel, children and adults. Eventually i went and bought a complete hardcover set of Mishna with both Kehati and Bartanura1 commentaries (360 NIS in a bookstore near Meah Shearim). It is totally gorgeous – 13 volumes, clearly printed with modern fonts. And it is easy to understand. Not completely academic – Kehati says about many passages that “some explain it as x and some explain it as y” without citing the source2. But it doesn’t bother me too much right now. It’s more Torah for me that there ever was. And i even enjoy it.

There are passages which are great by any measure, such as “Love work, loath mastery over others, and avoid intimacy with the government” (Avot 1, 5). And there are some that seem horrible such as “One who excessively converses with a woman causes evil to himself, neglects the study of Torah, and, in the end, inherits purgatory” (Avot 1, 10), but it makes a little more sense with the commentary. Of course, one who studies the Torah with true seriousness cannot compare different verses like i just did, because “Moses received the Torah from Sinai” (Avot 1, 1) and so it is supposed to be complete and absolute and perfect. But my study is lacking. At least i acknowledge it. What will happen when i reach the Shabbat tractate, one which i violate every week? I will be filled with more and more shame with every page i learn, but probably still won’t do a teshuva. God only knows, as they say.

I’m sorry if this entry was boring again.

1 Written by Rabbi Obadiah from Bertinoro, which is a town in Italy. Because of the way it is written in Hebrew letters, it is often pronounced “Bartanura”.

2 A few cross-references and apparati critici for Mishna already exist, it is just a matter until they are published with Kehati.