Thursday, November 19, 2015

I'm At It Again

I’m at it again. I’ve begun a new series of articles, this time using WordPress, which, once I get the hang of it, will allow me a little more formatting flexibility than I had with Blogspot. If you are interested in my new musings about life in The Land,  just go to, which will bring you to my home page. On the right side of the page, under “Recent Posts,” you will find my introductory article, entitled “Grizzlify, grizzlify.”  Also on the right hand side of the screen you will find “Follow Blog via E-mail,” which will absolutely, positively assure your getting anything I post with all the speed the Internet allows. Happy reading – I hope.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

A Lot of Wine, A Little Whisky


I dare say that  almost no one getting this post has seen most of my most recent articles.  That’s because they were written for and shared only with a few of my friends here in The Land who share my enthusiasm for Israeli wine, one of our most glorious products. My articles were mostly about my gallivanting around Jerusalem, looking for choice selections to  fill my brand new twenty-eight bottle wine fridge, in the process, checking out the most important wine shops in Jerusalem. I started to take notes  as to which shops carried which wines. I wound up creating a spreadsheet that listed over eighty different Israeli kosher wineries and where their wines were available in Jerusalem. Some of the companies, like Golan and and Carmel, are available everywhere, but there are some terrific wines that you have to hunt to find – hence the reason for the spreadsheet.

As I wrote recently – in the articles you didn’t see – back in the Exile, wine was not a major item of interest in the circles I traveled in.  Some of us didn’t have the extra cash available to indulge in anything more than the most modest of the kosher wines available to us. Barbara and I did have friends who appreciated a decent glass  at a Shabbat meal. But I can’t think of anybody who was truly excited by it. In some circles, there seemed to be more enthusiasm over Single Malt Scotch (not a bad thing!) or, heretically, some good bourbon (also a good thing!). Kosher wine may have been a requirement, but it certainly wasn’t a passion.

Twice a year, there would be a wine tasting and sale at our shul in Teaneck, when they would give you some samples – in little plastic cups.  Not the best way to size up a good vintage.  (As a matter of fact, the guy who knew the most on the subject was Kevin, the gentile who owned the store that ran the wine tasting.) Of course, all of the wine we sampled  was from far away: California, South America, Italy, Australia, some from Israel. (Don’t get the stuff from France. If it’s any good, it’s much more than you can afford.) There was no way we could learn very much about the grapes, the soil, or how the wines were made. All we could do for a Shabbat meal was to drink it and decide if we liked it or not.

No doubt about it, things are different here in The Land – where the Hagim are not extended and the wine is not boiled. As I wrote recently:

Here, wine is local. You can visit the wineries; you can even see the grapes growing in the fields. Here, wine is ubiquitous. You can find respectable entry level kosher wine at any supermarket in the country. Here, wine is plentiful. Every year finds new wineries getting started and more wine that is either excellent or close to it. Wine here is for sharing: not only the tasting, but also the knowledge and enthusiasm.

Now if we are talking about sharing and tasting wine, then there’s every chance in the world that our friends Barbara and Richard Levine are involved in it somehow. Either they are spending a Shabbat with us or we are heading up to visit them at their headquarters all the way up north in Har Halutz. Which was exactly what we were doing a few weeks ago.

One bit of advice: don’t start out a journey the way we did. We got off the bus from Ma’ale Adumim across from the Central Bus Station in Jerusalem, and as we were walking towards the station, I let out a cry, “Our suitcase!” We had left it on the bus. Fortunately for us, the CBS is the last stop, and the terminal for the Egged buses is just down the hill. So we skedaddled down there and waited for our bus to wend its way through traffic to the terminal. What a wonderful sight: our driver walking to the office, carrying one large, rose colored suitcase with all our stuff in it!

Back to the CBS, onto the #480 to Tel Aviv, just in the nick of time to get on the train that Richard was on, heading north to Acco, where his car is parked.  Up to Har Halutz to pick up Barbara; then back to Karmiel for a burger and fries before heading off to the once a month Karmiel folk music club. By the time the three guys from Tel Aviv finished with their Irish fiddle music, it was way past our usual bedtimes.

Richard and I got up bright and early Fri. morning – much too early, in my opinion. But he needed to do the weekly shopping, and the few times I’m around, I volunteer to be his assistant and chief cheerleader. A lot has changed in Israel over the years, and one of the biggies is what’s available to buy and where you can go to get it. Check out the Supersol Deal in Karmiel; it’s as least as big as your typical Shoprite in New Jersey, plus it’s stocked from top to bottom, aisle after aisle, with kosher food. A far cry from your local makolet! But something even more special is a few minutes away: TAKEAWAY. Not only do the folks in this part of The Land have enough to eat these days (more than enough!), they don’t even have to cook their own Shabbat meals. Every Friday, a catering outfit takes over the premises of a local restaurant, and a platoon of chefs spends Thursday night preparing over thirty different dishes (not counting the salads), a bewildering array of fish, chicken, meat, rice, potatoes, and vegetables – a menu that changes week to week. As an added bonus, the proprietor, because he knows Richard, handed him two scrumptious North African-style flat challas – piping hot, right out of the oven. We left Karmiel, laden with a week’s worth of groceries, plus a staggering number of aluminum foil and plastic containers, enough food for Friday night dinner with enough left over for Richard and Barbara to have an evening meal the rest of the week. We were not going to spend this beautiful fall day in the kitchen cooking for Shabbat. No sirree!  The four of us were going to get into their car and head over to Kishorit to sample some wine. Oh joy!

Once upon a time, there was a kibbutz in the western Galilee called Kishor. It apparently never really got going and was essentially out of business. To save the day, a few wise people took over much of the property and created something special, Kishorit, self-described as “a home for life in the Western Galilee for adults with special needs.”  Some 150 of the members live and work there, in the organic garden, the dairy, the bakery, the toy factory, the stable, or the communication center. Richard and Barbara could probably find their way blindfolded to the kennels there. That’s where they got their miniature Schnauzer, DonnaDog (who along with MobyDog and SheezaDog are no longer with us), and where they boarded these respective canines when they went on vacation.

But that day we were not going to stop at the kennels. You don’t let Richard, a man who, for the first time in twenty-five years is without a dog, near a kennel. Not unless you’re planning to return home with an extra passenger or two. Nor were we intending to inspect the livestock or visit the toy factory. When we were stopped by the guard at the entrance to the yishuv, we all shouted in unison, “yekev.” We were headed to the winery – or to be precise, the winery’s new visitors’ center.
It’s true that our friends haven’t been to the visitors’ center as often as they’ve been to the kennel, but they’ve been there often enough to get a royal welcome when they do show up.  The drill is simple: you sit down on some benches and watch Kishorit’s video, showing some of the residents and how happy and proud they are to have a meaningful job to perform, the kind of video designed to cause copious quantities of American money to flow in their direction. That’s how the attractive visitors’ center got built; that’s how the grapes got planted in the first place. I should mention that the vineyards are on the other side of the road directly opposite the visitors’ center. Definitely local. You can stand there and watch the grapes ripening on the vine -- if you have enough patience.

Next, we were invited to sit down at a table for a light mid-day meal. The simple menu, I’m sure, never changes: several kinds of their best bread, several kinds of their best goat cheese, several kinds of their best vegetables, and as many kinds of their wine as we wished to sample.  That’s easy: whatever you got! We started with a white wine and proceeded to sample both of their reds, each of which has been awarded a medal at the most recent Eshkol Hazahav Israeli wine competition.  What a wonderful way to spend a late autumn Friday in The Land, on a hilltop in the Galil, with the sunlight streaming through the picture windows and a glass of wine in hand– topped off with a very nice cup of coffee. No worries; plenty of time before Shabbat.

An hour or so went by, and the “plenty of time” was starting to look less plentiful. We left the visitors’ center with our purchases of wine (in a sturdy cardboard packing case), bread, and cheese – oh, and some of their freshly baked cookies – and returned to Har Halutz.  Enough time to start a cholent and get ready for Shabbat.

There is, unfortunately, no minyan in Har Halutz, so Shabbat in this small yishuv is fairly low-key: relax, chill out, take a walk around the new neighborhood to look at the rather opulent homes under construction, have non-binding debates on questions of halachah, solve the problems of the world, and repair to the dining area for our required number of meals – washed down with copious quantities of wine from Kishor and Netufa, another local winery – both of which are hard to find in our neck of the woods – topped off with a generous selection of desert wines.

As it always seems to, this Shabbat came to an end. There’s not much we were going to do that evening. We would have to get to bed real early because we needed to be up before 4:30 (ouch!) Sunday morning. We would have to leave Har Halutz before 5AM, in order to catch the 5:50 train at Acco – allowing Richard to get to work on time in Tel Aviv. The trains Sunday morning are particularly crowded with soldiers returning to their base, schlepping all their gear. Before long, there would be no more seats and precious little room to stand in the aisles. Usually I put on my tallit and tefillin where I’m sitting on the train (people do that here), but that morning I was just too tired. Wait until I get back to Ma’ale Adumim. Instead, I drifted in and out of sleep, occasionally waking enough to look out at the rows of small houses  right by the railroad tracks, the high rise buildings nearer the shore, the industrial complexes scattered here and there, and, occasionally, a glimpse of the Mediterranean itself.  We finally arrived in Tel Aviv, got on the #480 bus going back to Jerusalem, and then the #174 to Ma’ale Adumim. Cookie and Moby were delighted to see us; we unpacked our suitcases and put our two bottles of Kishor wines into the wine fridge. The start of another week in The Land……


Several months ago, Mordechai, who sits across the aisle from me at Musar Avicha, hosted a Scotch tasting evening on a motzei Shabbat at his apartment. Because we had made a commitment to be out of town that Shabbat, I could not attend.  But when I received an e-mail invitation for another such event, I was determined to be there. This one was to mark the completion of a section of gemarrah by his regular Sat. night group AND his son Daniel’s bar mitzvah the previous week.

I think it’s fair to say that Mordechai knows his Scotch whisky; he is certainly willing to share both his best bottles and his extensive knowledge. Over the next hour and a half, in addition to some salads and crackers, we got to sample 1) a Tomintoul 14 year old, 2) a Glengyle Kilkerran Work in Progress 6, 3) a Caol Ila Cask Strength, 4) a Lagavulin 12 year old Cask Strength. All of the above were served, very sparingly, in matching Glencairn tasting glasses.

The whiskies we were offered that evening have two distinctions in common: neither is chilled filtered and neither has any added coloring, both of which are what you find with almost all Scotches on the market. Until I walked in the door, I had no idea about any of this; certainly not what difference it would make – but, trust me, it does BIG TIME, as I discovered with my taste buds. So we finished the evening, all of much wiser and definitely happier. There will be more events like this, and, meanwhile,  I’ll be nosing around the various spirits emporiums – the same ones that sell the wines – with a increased attention to the whiskies on hand.

And yet…. In a way, it reminded me of being back in New Jersey, sampling wines from faraway places. The Scotch whiskies, especially the best one, are truly wonderful, but that by itself doesn’t give me a warm, fuzzy feeling about the place of origin, nor any sense of pride about what its people have accomplished.  Speyside? It could be Guantanamo Bay or the Gobi Desert, for all I care.

Just like with the fine whiskies from Scotland, what is special about wine in The Land is the care with which the best of it is produced. But here I have a stake in the outcome. Slowly, very slowly, at times barely perceptibly, we can see the old Israeli mentality of “It’s good enough” being replaced by a determination to create the world’s finest products: hi-tech, medical innovations, environmental solutions, and, bless my soul, the fruit of the vine. Yes, I feel truly blessed to be able to witness it all in my lifetime – right in front of my eyes. May it continue, and may you all be so blessed.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

You Would Think


During the last several weeks, I have listened patiently to Natania’s daily rants about her on-going battles to register for school, deal with the government bureaucracy so that she will ultimately get the tuition refund she’s entitled to, and, last but not least, get her rav kav (transit card) validated with the student discount. You would think it wouldn’t be so difficult; after all, it’s all computerized; most of it you can do on-line. You would think. (Before you go any further, it would behoove you to get her account – all four parts – first hand by clicking here.)

I understood all too well. Forty-five years ago, I too was trying to register for college courses, not at Hebrew U., but City College (C.C.N.Y.), which in our time had as high a percentage of Jewish students as an Israeli institution does today. Of course, nothing back then was computerized, so the process was a bit complicated and somewhat harrowing.

It’s sometime in Sept.1958, and the freshman class will finally get its turn to register for classes – after the seniors, the juniors, and the sophomores have had their turns. We will have spent a considerable amount of time poring over the catalogue of classes (an item readily discarded after the fact, but I’d love to take a gander at one right now just to see). We know what we’ve got to take: freshman classes that are either mandatory for everyone or pre-requisites for the courses in what you suppose will be your major. My courses would include English, a foreign language (French), math for morons, European history (I think I also started Latin – then a required course for English majors – that year, but I’m not absolutely certain). Every student probably has it all worked out in theory so that the earliest class starts at 10AM and the last one at 3PM, with an hour for lunch. Nothing to it.

And then………….  To understand the heartache, you have to understand the process. In the middle of Shepard, the main building in the north campus (we’re talking about the uptown campus on 141st St.) is the Great Hall, a place where even the strongest of us could be reduced to tears – perhaps in keeping with its Gothic architecture. We enter and take a place at the back of a large throng of our fellow freshmen and other stragglers who haven’t yet finished registering. In the front of the hall are seated the registrars, noting on paper who has registered for what. There are also a series of movable blackboards with all the courses listed on it. If a student is able to register for a class (say History 101 with Prof. Goldstein, MWF at 10AM), someone will so note that on the board. When that session is filled, that someone will draw a line through it, telling everyone else that they are out of luck.

Of course, standing at the back of the line, you can’t begin to see the imminent danger lurking up front. It would be like sitting in the bleachers and trying to detect the pitcher putting some forbidden substance on the baseball. You might ask someone to save your spot so you can go up and get a peek at the blackboards, but you might not realize the depth of your dilemma until it’s too late.  Every class you planned to take is filled. Every attempt to revise your schedule is thwarted. You could be two feet away from the registration table, and that last place in English 101 gets taken and you have to start reconfiguring all over again. So much for your well thought out schedule; now what are you going to do? There are in theory enough spots in Freshman English for everyone, as there are in theory enough spots in math for morons.  But what happens when the only sessions remaining are at the same time? To make matters worse, some very frustrated young lady twenty feet ahead of you, who has been trying for three hours to come up with a workable schedule, is having a complete meltdown.

I would wind up with Mr. Nesselrode’s 8 AM French class (where he closes the door at exactly 8AM; so if you’re a minute late, you can’t get in – after you spent an hour getting there).  Math for morons was at 4PM, with everything else somewhere in the middle – leaving me much too much time to hang out on the south campus lawn.  Still, I was happy, no, ecstatic, because at least I got through, I got something, unlike Miss Meltdown, who could have gone to school seven days a week and still not be able to fit in her classes.

It would get better.  It did get easier the closer you were to graduating and your classes became more specialized.  You were pretty much assured a spot in third term Ancient Greek or first term Anglo-Saxon (I can show you my battered copy of “Beowulf and Judith, done in a normalized orthography and edited by Francis P. Magoun, Jr, Department of English, Harvard University, 1959, to prove I was there).  And there was always this hope. There has to be a better way and someday, somebody will figure it out. There’s no reason for students to have to go through all this torture just to register for classes. Had we known about computers back then, we would have understood how easy everything could be. You would think.

Monday, July 28, 2014


Those who know me as I am now, a gracefully aging curmudgeon with certain ideas and strong opinions about the state of the world, would have had trouble recognizing me in my former life.  There I was, part of the decidedly secular, left-liberal culture that was The City College of New York some fifty years ago.  If you looked closely, you could see me, one of the hundreds (maybe more, but I never counted) of idealistic youths demonstrating at the U.N. in October 1962. What was on our collective minds, you ask?  A little history about the Cuban Missile Crisis for those (most!) of you who weren’t around at the time.

The year before (1961), the U.S. government, in an attempt to topple Fidel Castro’s decidedly left-wing government, had sponsored the ill-fated invasion of Cuban émigrés at the Bay of Pigs.  The net effect of this debacle was a rapid heating up of the Cold War, with nuclear missiles popping up around the globe like mushrooms after the rain on a suburban lawn.  The Americans put them in Italy and Turkey, aimed at the heart of the U.S.S.R, the Russians had snuck them into Cuba  – aimed directly at the coast of Florida – which, as we all know, is only ninety miles away – and all points north and west.  Oh, the uproar.  James Monroe was undoubtedly turning over in his grave.

To remove these rather unsettling weapons, the Kennedy administration considered an all-out air and sea invasion of the island, but settled for a naval blockade instead.  That’ll larn ‘em!  Unfortunately, Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet leader, was at best an indifferent student.  He must have been playing hooky or shooting spitballs when the teacher was discussing the Monroe Doctrine.  As far as he was concerned, if the Americans could place nuclear missiles where they wanted, he could do the same – even in the Western hemisphere.  What’s the big deal?

And if the Americans were going to try to prevent shipping to his good pal Fidel, well, the least he could do would be to send some of his own warships to run the blockade.  So now you had this armada of Soviet ships heading west, determined to sail unimpeded into Cuban waters, and an appropriate number of American ships in international waters off the Cuban coast, determined to intercept them.  Each side was armed to the teeth; each side had enough nuclear weapons to blow up at least a section of the solar system. Each day, the distance between the two fleets was getting smaller and smaller, and the “winds of war” were blowing stronger and stronger.

And there we were, this rag-tag collection of Stalinists, Trotskyists, anarchists, Fidelistas, “Progressives,” pacifists and other anti-war types, plus friends of the above and hangers-on – this type of event being a great way to meet the right somebody – demonstrating at the U.N.  Or, to be more accurate, having two simultaneous demonstrations, one to join and one not to be caught dead at, because what’s more important than an ideological dispute when the world might have been blown up?

Fortunately for all of mankind, the future of the world was not to be left to the collective wisdom (?) of the students on the picket lines.  A number of other people had assessed the situation and understood that if nothing were done to the contrary, the world would be in trouble, big time.   A deal was brokered under the aegis of the United Nations (one of the few times that agency actually did something useful).  The Soviet fleet turned around and went home.  The nuclear missiles were removed from Cuban soil.  The U.S. committed itself never to invade Cuba.  It also removed its nuclear weapons from Italy and Turkey.

Whew!  We wouldn’t all be blown to smithereens after all.  We were free to return to the safety of the South Campus lawn, where we could continue our search for truth, justice, and the opposite sex.

I can certainly understand why someone of a younger generation might have difficulty understanding what all the ruckus was about.  No missiles were ever fired from Cuba.  No one – neither the Cubans nor the Russians – was threatening to fire them.  No one was planning to use them.  It was all “just in case.” Simply put, “You got missiles; we got missiles.”  The hope was that if you flaunted your enormous stash of firepower, it would remind the other side not to consider using its enormous stash of firepower.  Each side was then free to subvert and undermine the other in less dramatic ways.  That’s why it was called “The Cold War.”

It was just that pesky Monroe Doctrine (actually written, I understand, by John Q. Adams), which stated in part: We owe it, therefore, to candor and to the amicable relations existing between the United States and those powers to declare that we should consider any attempt on their part to extend their system to any portion of this hemisphere as dangerous to our peace and safety.” In the less formal language of today’s world, it would be something like, “You’re in our turf now.  Better keep walkin.’”

When the Monroe Doctrine was first announced, the fledgling U.S.A. was in no position to enforce it, relying, ironically enough, on the Brits, who had their own reasons for keeping the Spanish, the French, and other interested parties out of the Western hemisphere.  (The Doctrine respected the British claim to Canada.) But the point was made, and it stuck.  And there came a time when the Americans were more than able to enforce it, by land, by air, and by sea.  That’s what Khrushchev didn’t understand. (Dear Mrs. Khrushchev, your son Niki is too busy making spitballs to pay attention when we study the history of the Imperialist West….)

Perhaps what we need here in The Land is a Monronovitz Doctrine.  That’s right, a Monronovitz Doctrine, making it clear in diplomatic language that, We will consider any attempt on anyone’s part to extend their system or subvert our own in any part of The Land as dangerous to our peace and safety.  “This is our neighborhood, and don’t mess with us here.  The minute you even THINK of starting something, we’ll give it to you good.  So better keep walkin’.”  Maybe we can’t yet make that stick, but it would be a start, something to express how we feel about things.  It might cut through a whole lot of useless palaver with the John Kerry’s of the world. Yeah, that’s it, short and sweet: Better keep walkin’.