Sunday, September 25, 2005

dead sea vacation

My company went on vacation this week to a nice hotel at the Dead Sea. The whole family was invited. Last year during the company vacation, the other employees stayed at a non-kosher hotel so we stayed with the other religious family at a religious hotel. This year the hotel was kosher, and the other religious family opted to go to a hotel in Jerusalem instead because they felt there would not be a religious environment at this hotel. I decided to stay at the hotel with everyone.
It was a nice place, everything included, food, drink, alcoholic and regular, popsicles... My wife's massage cost extra, but that was the only thing I paid for. The free bar was open 24 hours a day and there was a night club as well.

Shabbos may have been a bit much for the children. It was hot outside so they didn't want towalk around. Everyone else in the hotel was out at the pool, and we wouldn't go out to sit there because it was a non-shabbos and non-tznius environment. We got around a lot of the non-tznius issues on Friday. We got up early and floated in the dead sea when no one else was there and we swam in the pool before most people woke up. I don't wear my glasses and my wife wears a long teeshirt that covers her knees. But in the afternoon when it was hot as hell (it is the closest place to hell on earth) the kids were dying to go in the pool and I wouldn't let them because it was too full of people. So we finally agreed on a compromise and we went into the kiddie pool, which was empty and the kids had fun spashing around in that.

On one level I understand my religious colleague's view that it was better to go to a religious hotel. On the other hand, that is basically saying that we must completely seperate ourselves from non-religious people. My decision was that in the name of Jewish unitywe could handle a little bit of discomfort and show the rest of the company that we are willing to mingle as long as it doesn't break any of our red lines. Using the same reasoning, I go out for lunch with the guys every Tuesday because they go to a kosher place. Don't think that is a no-brainer in Israel. In Haifa there aren't that many kosher places. Thursday they go out for treif. So Tuesday is the day that I set aside to be one of the guys. The message is basically, if you do something that I can do, then I will be happy to join in. I think that does cause some influence, because they think about us when planning certain activities and just assume the other family won't come.

It's very hard on the kids though to try and explain the beauty of shabbos while everyone else is having a seemingly good time. It's like a lung cancer doctor watching a crowd of people smoking and having a great time and then trying to convince his son that smopking is bad, even if it looks cool. When you are so certain that what they are doing is harmful to themselves as well as to others, even if it is not apparant, it is just like smoking and secondhand smoke, where the damage is not apparant, but it is very real and they say the secondhand is worse.
So my daughter wanted to yell shabbos at them, and my wife wouldn't let her. So I told her to throw rocks when my wife wasn't looking.

It was an interesting and fun weekend.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

stories from school

My 2nd grader came home yesterday very upset because she didn't eat lunch. We pay for school lunches, so my wife was furious. I checked into the story a little more so I could find out exactly what happened. My daughter said there wasn't enough food so the teacher sent her to the Janitor. The Janitor told her she didn't get food because she didn't pay. When she went back to her classroom, her teacher said "מה לעשות" or "Oh Well." There was a school meeting last night, so my wife thought that I should discuss the problem with the teacher. I went and asked the teacher if I could talk to her before the meeting and asked her what happened at lunch today. She looked surprised and said, why, what happened at lunch? I told her that my daughter said she didn't get any lunch today. She thought that was surprising because she thought she remembered my daughter eating. I told her the rest of the story and she thought it was especially strange because she remembers there was definitely extra food that day because one of the children didn't come. She also pointed out that there was kuskus remnants at her seat, which is generally indicative of having eaten. She told me she would discuss it with my daughter the next today (today) and hopefully we'll figure out what exactly happened.
This morning my daughter again insisted that she didn't get any food, and my wife (in her wisdom) decided to drop it.
My assumption is that my daughter either made up the story completely or was so hungry by the end of the day that she forgot she ate.
I told someone else the story and he assumed, based on his experience with the school (though not specifically with that teacher), that her story was pretty much accurate.


Monday, September 19, 2005

socialistic capitalists

I wrote an Employee Furthering Technology Plan the other day for my company.
Maybe I should start at the beginning.
I am considering buying a new computer. Income tax in Israel is outrageously high and aside from that you have to pay a 16.5% surcharge on anything you buy (VAT). I decided that I would buy the computer in Israel if I could do it pretax and without VAT. So I asked a friend who's an accountant how I can get around the tax laws and made a number of suggestions which he promptly shot down and said there is no way to do what I want. So I ignored him and found a way. I came up with the idea that if employees would voluntarily cut a portion of their income and be allowed home-use R&D equipment of an equal value then it would work.
The example I gave was as follows (The numbers are all made up):

John earns 20,000 shekels a month and is at a 20% tax rate. He decides to drop that to 19,000 shekels a month, and is allowed 1000 shekels per month for home use R&D purchases. After 4 months John opts to get a computer for 4000 shekels.

Without the plan:
80,000 (4 months salary) * .80 (after taxes) = 64,000 shekel net salary
4000 * 1.165 (VAT) = 4660
Total left after computer purchase: 64,000 – 4,660 = 59,340

With the plan:
76,000 (4 months salary) * .80 (after taxes)= 60,800
Computer is paid for by company with money reduced from salary.
Total after computer purchase = 60,800

Savings for employee: 1460
Cost to company : 0
Savings To company: Pension plan and tax share on the salary reduction.

The company does get a benefit when I buy technological equipment because I use the knowledge I gain on my own time when I am at work. So it is perfectly logical that the company should help me with the purchase, especially as it doesn't cost them anything.
I decided that it would look petty to just come up with this purchase plan out of the blue so I wrote a furthering technology plan including various ways that the company can help the employees advance, including an introduction about why it was good for the company for the employees to advance. I included in this plan: books and magazines, education, buying emerging technologies and seminars and workshops. I sent the document to my boss and within 15 minutes he was in my office to discuss my new plan. He liked the fact that I took the initiative to write it and said one of the reasons he doesn't like turning down ideas like this are because if he does then I might not write out the next idea that I had. I told him not to worry. So we went through each item listed in the plan. Some of them we are already doing, others he liked the idea of publicizing it to the other employees and then we got to the employee purchase plan.
He said it wasn't going to work. Because it is a benefit for the rich. The less affluent employees can't afford to take advantage of the program. They will want to go on the program when they want to buy things and then go immediately off and they will want to buy things that we do not currently order. So he turned it down. I can accept that, he had a somewhat valid point that a company benefit shouldn't cause hard feelings among those who can't afford to use it.
But on the other hand, here is a company that has the ability to help some of its employees in a no-cost program and won't do it because it won't benefit everybody. WTF? I came up with a perfectly legal way of saving a ton of money on components and I can't take advantage of it because there are other people who don't have the ability to.

Something to think about.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

ashes to ashes...

ashes to ashes, dust to dust the lord giveth the lord taketh, blessed is the true judge.
mom sent out an email that grandpa isy died. That sounds like a strange way to get a death notice. My bubba (jewish grandmothers in West Virginia are called bubba) married isy about 15 years ago, when I was going into 9th grade. It was hard to think of him as a grandfather because I still had strong memories of my papa who died a year or so before. But we welcomed him into the family, because he made my bubba so happy. Bubba died 2 years ago, just before we made aliyah and Isy was moved to NY to be with his son and family. He had bad case of Alzheimers and couldn't remember anything, but he had a great sense of humor about it. Our family has many Isyisms now, sayings that will stay with us forever.
It's strange how he was both a family insider and an outsider at the same time, kind of like an in-law who you don't really know. He was warmly welcomed at all family events but we related to him as my bubba's husband, not any real relation to us.

I was sad to hear that he passed away, but not emotionally so. I think they themselves considered the marriage more of an enjoyable convenience then a real marital bond. In their house, he had a room full of his memories of his first wife and history, and bubba her memory room. They each observed the yahrzeit of their first spouse. Neither of them tried or wanted to take away the history from the other.

They are burying him today next to his first wife. My bubba is buried next to my papa. The families grew up together and remained good friends till the end. I'm sure that papa kept isy's first wife company in heaven and isy has now completed the foursome for a game of poker and some wild turkey.

Monday, September 12, 2005

the shul is burning

Would it have been better to take down the shuls in the former Gaza Strip or to allow the Palestinians to destory them as we knew they were going to.

From a realistic perspective, we were not going to have soldiers crying as they carefully dismantled the buildings. The Israeli army was going to blow them up. It would have been more controlled then letting the arabs loose on them, but the result would have been the same. There is nobody who realistically thought that putting up signs in Arabic listing these as holy places would amount to anything besides laughter. From an Israeli polical perspective, completely ignoring the religious reasons, if someone had to destroy the shuls in a cold, uncaring matter, let the world see the kind of animals that we just gave the strip to.

One of the reasons brought forth not to destroy the shuls was because the world would see that Israel destroy shuls so they can too. They lost this moral high ground when they discussed destroying them. Their moral claim was completely decimated when the Supreme Court ruled that there is no problem with destroying shuls. When Krakow decides that it's 7 synagogues can be better served as housing units, using the decision of the Israeli Supreme Court that there is no problem destroying them. Individuals may complain, Organizations may complain, but there can be no poltical pressure brought on by Israel. She will have to remain silent.

Israel, the country, would like to represent the Jewish interests in the world, yet they have once again proven that the country is ruled by narrow political interests and is not concerned with the Jewish world.

Sunday, September 11, 2005


I have been thinking about idolatry recently, not practicing rather conceptually. Mostly this is because of a James Michener book that I am reading right now, The Source, where he goes into great detail his opinion on the sources of idol worship.

Jewish tradition has it that God removed the urge within us to worship idols around the time of Ezra (I believe). There is a story about a rabbi in the gemara who spoke degradingly about one of the Jewish kings who worshipped idols. The king came to him in a dream and said if you had been there, you would have lifted your robes and ran to worship, that's how powerful the urge was.

In a society without idolatry, excepting the Hindus who are a minority in parts of the world that I have been, it is very hard to understand the concept especially for people who have a very powerful tradition and scoped out way of life.

After thinking about it for a while, I have rejected Michener's theory, or rather what I suppose his theory is based on reading his book. I think we have to understand what the draw was and see what God removed from the world in order gain a deeper understanding of what went on back then. I also feel that removing the urge for idolatry also gave way to the birth of the atheist who believes there is no God at all.

From the beginning, there was 1 God who created the world, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. How exactly God created the world, was there evolution, a big bang, some sort of mixture or whatever is completely irrelevant to this discussion. God created various forces in nature, such that when God wants it to rain he doesn't turn on the faucet but rather he sends one of his angels, the minister of rain as it might be, and he turns on the faucet. These angels, while they don't exactly have freedom of choice, do have some level of freedom as the midrash brings down that some angels decided to come to earth because they couldn't understand how men could sin and they sinned as well. All that without the freedom of choice.
The way that I am understanding this is that the forces that controlled nature were more visible to the people living at that time. They saw that there was a different force controlling the rain then controlling the wind. When they saw or felt that there was a force controlling the needed resource they felt the need to show gratitude. The big mistake here was that God, hidden from view because he had assigned all the tasks to his "servants" was really running the show. Thanking a slave for doing something his master had ordered him to and ignoring the master is insulting to the master. The angels couldn't do anything without it fitting the plan that God had created. People were created with a need to show gratitude when something good happens, they have a need to pray when something bad happens or they want something. This is a builtin feature of humans that allows us to serve God. The people when they realized that there was something else besides them and God assumed that there were other Gods who controlled their own territories. Being that God, himself, was hidden from view, the people assumed that he was unreachable. Maybe they could pray and offer gifts to the lesser Gods who in turn would have a relationship with the Ultimate God.

When God removed the urge for idol worship, I believe he took away the ability to see the powers that control the forces of nature. When you can't see that there are differeing forces then it is much easier to step back and see that everything is run in concert by a single God who is in charge of everything. On the negative side, there is no visible spirituality in the world anymore because of that. That gives people the ability to say, this is natural, there is nothing spiritual about the world. It gives the world a "run-by-itself" kind of look and people started feeling that God has left us, or that there is no God.

This is the situation that we find ourselves in now. When spirituality was visible, people worshipped what they could see, when it became invisible, people started thinking there was nothing there.

God had a reason for creating the world in this way and we may not understand it at all. That, however, does not change the fact that it was.

Thursday, September 08, 2005


I have never written about JP, and I have been thinking about him recently. I figure his efforts on behalf of the Jewish nation deserves at least one article on the Rock. JP, for tholse fo you who are uninformed has been in jail for quite some time now because he told Israel that the Iraqis were building an atom bomb. Maybe it was a bit more then that maybe he was also a spy for Israel for some time period. In any case, he had a deal with the prosecution for a couple years in jail if he pled guilty. He pled guilty and they hit him with the book. Lifetime imprisonment.
There are those who said that he was also a spy for the russians and got a bunch of US spies killed, but that has been proven false by the Aldrich Ames story, the real spy who got US CIA agents killed.
Why is JP in jail and why isn't the Israeli government doing anything about it? How is it that a spy for a friendly country gets a life imprisonment with no chance for parole while spies for foreign countries routinely get out in a couple years? Is it anti-semitism, anti-Israel, just plain stupidity?
Is there more to the story then people know?
I think that it is none of the above. I think the Israeli government is mad at Pollard for getting caught, or something like that, so they are letting him rot in prison. The US government has no reason to let him out if they don't get a real request.

I feel that the Israeli government is to be blamed 100% for the JP situation. If I was a bracelet wearer, I would add blue to my collection.

At the final reckoning, I hope God asks each Israeli prime minister why he didn't help his buddy Pollard and when they can't answer they will find out what the God of Vengeance really means.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

religion at the Israeli workplace

At work there are certain rules about behaving religious and interacting with the other employees. In Israel this is compounded by the fact that secular Israelis are also non-practicing religious Jews.
I was the second religious person to start working here so a number of the religious rules were already established. For example, the other religious person doesn't use any of the kitchen utensils, so they get plastic for us. This includes the glass cups, which I wouldn't have any problem using. I don't know if she doesn't use them because she thinks it is wrong or because she didn't want to differentiate between using glasses and using forks. Also when we have birthday parties, she'll only eat cake if it was cut with a plastic knife - even though the cake is cold and the metal knife is clean.

In any case, I accepted her restrictions on that without any comments. One of the challenges of being religious ion a non-religious workforce is to try and seem somewhat normal while not compromising on traditional values. At the same time, you don't want to marginalize the other person by implying that they are stricter then they need to be or that their stringencies have no basis. We need to have a strong united front so that people see that religious people do similar things and don't assume that everyone can decide what they want to do.

The other co-worker eats only food with a mehadrin certification, while we are strict only on meat with a mehadrin certification. Dairy, we eat with regular certification if they don't have it with. Chicken is a middle ground, because there is no glatt by chicken. Also, most of the chicken in this country seems to be mehadrin.

Our company is going on vacation down to the Dead Sea for a Thurs,Fri,Shabbos outing. Last year we stayed at a religious hotel and all the other employees stayed at a non-religious hotel and had activities on shabbos. This year we are all staying in the same hotel. I told them that we could participate in anything that did not involve chilul shabbos. For example, they are having a juggler. I said we would come if there was no fire, music and such. The other religious family isn't coming for shabbos because they feel it is not a shabbosdic environment. I agreed with them and said we were going to go anyways and make our own shabbos environment. The hotel is an all-inclusive place so you don't pay for anything. I think it will be educational to explain to the kids why we are allowed to play mini golf on shabbos in this hotel.

I think the other employees have pretty much accepted that I am a more liberal religious Jew then my co-worker, though I haven't compromised on anything that I feel I shouldn't do. One time I was with a bunch of co-workers who were going to a nonkosher restaurant. They asked me to sit with them and not eat and I refused, explaining that it is maarit ayin (morris ayin in english). One of the guys looks at me and says, "Is that written i the shulchan aruch?" I explained that it was and then he was fine with me not sitting there. Only in Israel do you have a guy eating at a notkosher restaurant who feels the need to question if the stringencies of someone else are based on something that he doesn't feel means anything anyway,

the house

Set on a dunam of land in the middle of the northern paradise, surrounded by a natural bush fence, is the new Zacks estate. Standing 3 stories tall, build on a mountainside, she has 250 square meters of living space. 4 Bedrooms, 2 on the top floor for the children, the master bedroom on the main floor and an apartment with bathroom, shower and kitchentte on the bottom floor. A woodburning stove is in the center of the salon (read living room), to keep the house warn and cozy in the winter. There is also central heat supplied by radiators for extra warmth. A/C is located in the Salon to help make the summers a breeze. There are 4 bathrooms in the house, including a very large master bathroom.
The Jacuzzi on the upstairs porch has not been used in many years, but we plan to give it a little exercise within the first couple days of moving in.

Pictures will follow when we get back our digital camera.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005



thought i would share

Instructions on upgrading firmware for new 3Com router (just so you kow restting the device to factory settings erases the configuration)

- After upgrading the software on the Router, 3Com recommends
resetting the device to its factory settings. This will ensure that
the Router will operate normally.

- Back up your existing configuration. The upgrade will not erase
your configuration, but 3Com recommends backing it up, in case
there is a problem with the upgrade process.

- Resetting the device back to its factory default settings is required
for proper operations.

- Do not reuse configuration backup's from a previous version after
an software upgrade.

Monday, September 05, 2005

the numbers don't lie

I didn't want to write this post. I have been pushing it off for days. Now I feel that I have no choice. It will make my wife and mother very happy to see the statistics, in any case.
Approximately 9000 people lost their homes in the great Gush Katif escapade.
There are approximately 6 million people in Israel.
The percentage of people who lost their homes due to the disengagement is 0.15%

Let's move over to the Tsunami. It hit 7 countries (populations found on CIA World Handbook)
Indonesia, population 241,973,879
Sri Lanka, population 20,064,776
Maldives, population 349,106
Myanmar, population unknown, but not that high
Somalia, population 8,591,629
Thailand, population 65,444,371
Yemen, population 20,727,063

Total population: 357,150,824
Total killed in tsunami: 144,970
Total refugees (people needing assistance from UN): 473600
People very affected: .17%

The destruction in the US was much worse per capita, as more then 1,000,000 homes were evacuated or 0.3% of the population. I was looking for some number in the US of 450,000 which would have been proportianate to te people in Israel who lost their homes, but unfortunately, it seems that even more have lost their homes in the US.

Nowhere in Jewish writings does it say that God is the God of Love, but it does call him the God of Vengeance in a number of places.

I am not going to say that these tragedies happened because of the disengagement, in fact another way to look at it would be that a small percentage of a number of countries are getting smacked. Or you can say that it was because of the disengagement, and since people decided to throw Jews out of their homes, God decided to throw goyim out of their homes.

Or we may be experiencing the supernatural fight of Gog and Magog.
Or this could be because Bush didn't sign the Kyoto treaty. Or maybe God is on the side of cindy and camp Casey.

My Final Assessment of the situation is that God is angry. They say that hell hath seen no wrath like a woman scorned. Step aside women and watch out hell, God has been scorned.