Monday, July 28, 2008

Too Many False Heroes

Go ahead.

Turn on "MTV Cribs." (Do they really need 300 pairs of sneakers and 6 cars?)

Read all about dozens of home runs in the MLB. (We all know how they get them)

And now watch a true hero:

(Too preachy? Too bad.)

Pardon Me, Madam, Your Neurosis is Showing

With Air out of town, I am feeling very strong and able to handle any problem. Whenever faced with a challenge, I have always been able to overcome it, or to at least try my best. The kitchen has never been cleaner, the laundry is taken care of, the children are relaxing. I am a spoiled, spoiled lady, and I'll be the first to admit it. Air has been taking care of a lot of the housework since we've been married. In fact, my first thought when he left was, "Jeez, now I have to do the dishes and laundry."

Except that I can't (or maybe won't) sleep at night.

It's not like I'm afraid of intruders; with bars on every window and a super-duper front door double lock, it's Fort Knox in here.

It goes back a ways, too. When I was a little kid, I suffered from acute insomnia - I slept about 6 hours a night - from 10-2 and from 5-7. Those three hours in the middle were just exruciating. I hated being the only one awake in the house because I thought it was my responsibilty to "take care of things." I would sometimes wake up my older sister/roommate and ask her to stay up with me. She was very sweet and tried, but couldn't make it after about 30 seconds.

I'm pretty much over the insomnia now, except in certain nerve-wracking times like when I watch the news or when Air is out of town.

Sunday, July 27, 2008


My Grandma spent the first couple of minutes of our phone conversation today thinking I was my sister. It's a common mistake. People have always had trouble distinguishing us on the phone. I think only Air and one of his brothers can tell the difference in our voices. Even our own mother needs to be informed of our identities at the beginning of each conversation. We have had guests who are former students of my sister's who have asked me not to talk because "it's too weird. You sound like Aliza."

The difference is that my Grandpa repeatedly told her it was me and she just didn't get it.

The difference is that my Grandma's Alzheimer's is taking a nose-dive.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Serving Israel

I arrived in Israel too late to join the army. Not that I tried or could have afforded to join the army, but there is not much need in the army for a 32 year old father of three with no experience.

Still, when you live in Israel, and everyone around you serves in Millium, you want to do something for your country.

Since arriving in Israel I have contributed to my community by volunteer coaching my oldest's baseball team. The past two seasons have been fun, and I enjoyed watching the kids improve on the diamond.

A few months ago, I was asked to be on the National Juvenile team's coaching staff. It wasn't an easy committment. Weekly midweek practices required that I left work early, and when we played multiple games in a week, I really wrecked my work schedule. But deciding to be a coach was easy. Some people in Israel serve in the army; I coach baseball. It's not much in comparison, but it is what I can do.

Last night we had our final practice in Israel. We playe a scrimmage, starters vs the bench, and as expected, our starting nine beat the bench rather easily. My oldest, who is playing for the National team for his second season, had a nice hit and pitched an inning for the starting team. As I was coaching the bench team, I coached against him for the first time, and even though I was pulling for our pitcher to get him out, i was glad when he reached base in both of his at bats.

Late Saturday night, or early Sunday morning, we are going to airport to fly to Italy for two tournaments. Veev is understandably jealous. Last summer she accompanied our oldest on the trip, but went to the Czech Republic. It was a good trip for her, but it wasn't Italy.

Depending on how well we play, we have up to 11 games over the ten days we will be there. We will also have a day touring the Tuscany region, and a day in Rome. The trip should be physically exhausting, but fun, and it is something that I have looked forward to for the past few weeks.

It is really amazing to think that two summers ago we made this move to a place we didn't really know, and now, I have the opportunity to represent Israel and Judaism in an International baseball tournament. It is an opportunity I could not have envisioned before coming, and something that I never would have had the chance to do living in Michigan.

And this is my committment to my adopted country. I will represent them well. I will wear the name of Israel across my chest, in my blue and white uniform, with all the pride I can muster for my new and ancient homeland. I don't know how many games we will win or how well we will play, but I know that when we leave Italy, their impression of Israel will be altered from the pictures they see on the 11 o'clock news. They will see kids and adults fully ensconced in the joy of a game. They will see people who act with kindness toward others, a team dedicated not only to playing the game, but playing with sportsmanship. And hopefully, if all goes well, they will see a team with gold medals draped from our necks.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Scary Moment

I am part of the coaching staff for the Israel Juvenile National Baseball team. We are going to Italy on Sunday morning for a ten-day, eleven-game road trip, where we will play two tournaments in the Tuscany region.

We had a scary moment at practice today. We had the kids running suicides after practice, and one of the kids suddenly started wheezing and couldn't catch his breath. We pulled the kid to the side, and one of the other coaches stayed with him and helped him relax and catch his breath.

After a minute or two his breathing returned to normal, and his dad is going to have him checked out by a doctor tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Baseball at gym

I am in the gym this morning. It is 7:20, and the Extreme Spotrs channel is on TV. The guy on the elliptical next to me has the remote, and I ask him if he is watching this. He isn't, and passes me the remote.

I flip on ESPN, hoping to catch the last few minutes of the All Star game, and am treated to the National League batting in the top of the twelth, with the bases loaded and two outs.

The guy next to me tells me he doesn't like baseball, but doesn't mind if I keep it on. I am relieved; the thought of another twenty minutes on the machine watching crap when I could be watching baseball is abhorent. Maybe not abhorent. Maybe just a deep level of suck.

The feed comes back to begin the bottom of the twelth, and opens with a shot of Yankee Stadium from the blimp. I know why the guy next to me isn't interested. He doesn't know that he is looking at the very mound where Don Larsen pitched a perfect game from in the 1956 World Series, that this is where the Babe changed the game of baseball by hitting homerun after homerun, and the site of the first great home run chase back in 1961.

The Tiger's lone representative leads off the bottom of the twelth with a drive off the wall in left, and goes in for a stand up double. Grady Sizemore grounds out to second, moving Guillen to third with only one out. I want to see Guillen score; I like watching Tigers in my highlights, but on this night it is not to be.

The game continues on to the 13th, and as I am staring dead ahead on the screen, a woman who is now on our set of machines asks if I am watching. Yes, I tell her, and continue to watch the game. I have the remote, which means I am in charge of what happens on TV for as long as I am on the machine.

My friend Mike walks into the gym. After watching the opening ceremony, he went back to sleep, and had no idea that the game was still on. He takes the machine next to me and we watch together through the bottom of the thirteenth. My thirty minutes are up, and I need to get to the office, so I leave the remote in ihs capable hands. Mike's enthusiasm for the game has diminished all hope the woman had of changing the channel, and she leaves the machine shortly after I do.

I shower and return to my office, and catch the end of the game on radio. I had hoped they would show the game for free, as they occasionally do in the last inning of a no hitter, but they do not. I am listening as the AL wins on a sacrifice fly off Brad Lidge.

At the same time as this is going on, Israel is in the middle of a prisoner swap. Two of ours, possibly alive but probably long dead, in exchange for five really bad guys. The trade reminds me of some old Tiger trades, where we gave up prospects in exchange for nothing, but I understand the need for closure with Goldwasser and Rechev, and hope that Gilad Shalit will be coming home soon.

I choose not to try to find a video feed online. It is partly the hebrew, but more because it is a game I don't understand. Like the guy standing next to me at gym, this is a game which has been played long before I got here, and will continue to be played for a long time, and one where I don't have the sense of history that most Israelis get after serving in the IDF.

Monday, July 14, 2008

"Directness Is Not My Most Attractive Asset"

My brother used to play hockey on Sundays at the Y in elementary school. His games ended right before dinner. "Sweaty and smelly" would be two descriptive words for him during those times. He would arrive at the table and pile hamburgers and mashed potatoes on his plate, every week. And every week I would tell him to go take a shower first. He would so much as toss a glance at our mother, and she would say to me, "Leave him alone. He's hungry."

That would be followed by my very loud remarks about how it's unappetising to sit at a table and be expected to eat under such conditions. (I think that's why I don't like hamburgers today.) My diatribes usually continued over the entire course of dinner. My mother would repeatedly tell me to stop, and my brother would eventually stomp away in anger or turn it into a joke, wrestling me to the floor and shoving his armpit in my face. Either way, he never showered before dinner, no matter my protests.

My beautiful son goes to baseball camp to prepare for the trip to Italy with the Israel Little League National Team. In 90 degree weather. Every day. He could be described as "sweaty and smelly" at this point in his life as well.

But this time I'm the Mom. And he doesn't come to the table without showering or changing his clothes.

Ahhhhh, finally. Tikun Olam.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Mercaz Mystery - Solved

It is July, 2008. I rarely think about Mercaz HaTorah anymore, even though I am a mere 30 minute drive away from 17 Ein Tzurim. It is the past. A few weeks earlier a seminary girl visited us for Shabbat, and without knowing I was a Mercaz Alum, told us her boyfriend of four years attends Mercaz. When she learns that I am a Mercaz alum who ditched his hat the day he left Mercaz, she breathes a sigh of relief, and hopes her boyfriend does the same. I don't tell her that he is much likelier to drop her, as the hat is something he picked up this year. But other than that, Mercaz is the past.

Or so I think.

I check my email and get a comment from Deenz on an old Mercaz post. She loves the blog she says, but I am wrong when I wrote that Boomer never got anyone kicked out of Mercaz. She claims that her friend, "L," was very close to a Mercaz boy, who she calls "K." At some point, she says, "K" was busted by boomer and kicked out of Mercaz. The only other clue she leaves is that "K" had a funny last name.

I wrack my brains but can't think of "K." There is only one "K" I vaguely remember, a guy named Kestenbaum. We were in different circles, but I doubt he is the one.

There are not many Mercaz people I am still in touch with, but there is Lippy. He loves traveling down memory lane, and I send him an email. Did you ever hear this story, I ask. No, he answers, and asks if I am sure it is from our year. I leave a comment for Deenz, wondering if she will come back and answer. She does, and confirms that it is 1991-92. She adds a bit more information. The boy is from New York, she says, and was a total Mercaz Cutie.

I expand the circle to include David and Yitzi. David expands it one step further, adding Stretch and Yehudah. Between the six of us, we have never heard the story, and cannot think of who the mystery “K” is.

We contact our Mercaz Alumni rep, asking for a roster of our year under the premise that someone is trying to get in touch with someone. The emails start flying back and forth. Many of us have fallen out of touch, but the rhythm between us returns. Smart ass answers, and then a guess. Donny King, says Yehudah.

In the meantime, I have opened an email chat with Deenz. She has confirmed that it is Donny King. But she does not tell us the story of how he got kicked out. Only that she thinks that he was the victim of geography, and used to hang out with a Machon Gold girl in her seminary named Lisa.

Emails continue to fly between me and my old Mercaz buddies. No one has been in touch with King since our Mercaz days, and no one knows how to reach him. Oddly enough, Yehudah sends out my original email to Dudi, a friend who did not attend Mercaz.

Dudi, it turns out, has been friends with King, and sends the email to him. King replies to Dudi, who forwards it to me, and soon, Donny King and I have opened up an email conversation. Yes, he confirms, Boomer caught him and another guy, Edward Z at the mall in Talpiot.

The day began in Netanya, where two girls needed to be pulled out from the undercurrent by lifeguards. I was not there, but arrived in Netanya after the girls had been rescued. My friends and I spend the night in Netanya. We are not friends with King, and did not know he was there. He returns back to Talpiot, and goes with Edward to the mall to shoot some pool.

They were alone in the pool hall, during Bein HaZmanim. It is the very beginning of the spies in Mercaz. When they are approached by Boomer, they ask, beg, plead with Boomer not to turn them in> He seems to waver about what he is going to do, but then reports them anyway. As they leave, they bump into two other Mercaz guys. They warn them about Boomer, and the other boys flee.

They are summoned to the Chief’s house, and wait in a small room, cell-like in nature, and wait. The first student, Edward Z is called into the dining room and chewed out by the chief. Then the chief calls Donny in to his office. He is more resigned with Donny, and tells him that Donny is like a son to him, and he is kicking him out. There is no yelling. The chief says that they can stay in the dorm for now, but he will help the boys find an alternative yeshiva.

Succos Bein Hazmanim ends, and the chief calls Edward and Donny into his office. He has reconsidered, and will allow them to stay in the yeshiva under the following conditions. They must sleep at a kollel man’s house, Bodkins, and must pay him $100.

They accept the terms and move in with Bodkins. They have avoided ouster. Time passes. One Saturday night they King arrives at Bodkins house. Bodkins is getting ready to go spy in town. Where were you, he casually asks. King tells him the truth. Ben Yehudah street. They both laugh. Bodkins does not believe him.

King continues on in Yeshiva, and strikes up a friendship with Machon Gold girls. Sixteen years later I am impressed with his sac. After nearly being thrown out, and certainly put on probation, he had every reason to hide in the Beit Medrash and ride out the year. But he does not. He manages to get involved with a Machon Gold girl, and while he and Deenz dispute the nature of his relationship with Lisa, there is no doubt that he put himself out there.

Sixteen years have passed, and there is still much bitterness toward Boomer and Bodkins. But I notice something interesting as these various conversations unfold. Donny tells me that the night Bodkins turned on Yonaton, he told Bodkins that he ruined someone’s life. I am still in touch with Yonaton, not as often as I would like to be, but enough to know that in no way was his life ruined by getting kicked out of Mercaz. I wonder if any of the drama we create for ourselves in Yeshiva really matters at all.

We had fun, and expanded the boundaries that Mercaz laid out for us. But after all this time I have come to realize that the mistake Mercaz made happened long before the spies and the threats and the drama. It happened when they let too many of us in who didn’t belong there. On paper, we may have fit the Mercaz mold, but when it came down to reality, most of us were not Mercaz material, and both us and the Yeshiva would have been better served if we went elsewhere.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Don't Mess with a "Donkey on Edge"

I've been a little stressed since yesterday, and spent the whole day in my PJ's. After sitting around watching TV all day, I took two of the kids to buy their school books this afternoon. More than 700 Shek later... And I didn't even get all of them, and I haven't even started with Oldest yet. But, hey, at least there's no tuition.

They were so well-behaved in comparison to the other kids waiting for their parents in the check-out line. I saw two kids hitting and kicking each other. Their mother repeatedly told them to stop, which they did each time for 30 seconds. Once, she actually told her son to sit down next to her, and he said, "No". And then she appealed to the older sister, to which she got a one-shoulder shrug which (loosely) means, "Screw you, I don't care what you say, and I don't have to listen."

I hugged each of my children when we left and told them I love how they behave. Especially in public. No kid is perfect, and I wouldn't want my kids to be, but I'd rather they saved their fighting and attitudes for the living room, which miraculously, they manage to do. (My parents and siblings will remember a similar reaction when we left someone's house one Friday night when we were kids. Their kids were bouncing off the walls the whole time, and we were sitting politely. Right when we left, both my parents grabbed my little brother - not the best-behaved in our house but an angel compared to those kids - and hugged him.)

As we were driving away, I decided to take them to the new local mall that opened up here to walk around a bit. They always love to go into toy stores, and always ask for a toy, but are just as happy to play in there anyway, even if I don't buy them anything. And they both have a thing for malls. (Where'd they get that from?)

We drove down to the underground parking lot and were stopped by two very young, good looking Ethiopian-Israeli boys. (My mother says Ethiopians are the most beautiful Jews on the planet. I know they are by Western standards, but how does that translate in Africa?) One checked my trunk and the other handed me a flyer that I assumed was for sales in the mall. Without so much as a glance at the flyer, I turned my attention to the boy who had handed it to me. He said, "Don't forget, it's 50 Shek for the first 3 hours, and then 10 Skekels each additional hour." Breaking out my new-found Israeli attitude, I said, "No it's not. It's free for two hours of parking."

He said, "No, they changed the fee schedule. It's 50 Shekels."

I said, "Then I'm backing out. I haven't taken the ticket yet."

He said, "I can't let you do that."

I got my angry look to which he replied with a huge smile, "STAAAAAAAM!" I had to laugh. It's nice to see people enjoy their work.

As I drove into the lot, I looked down at the flyer... "Two hours free parking."

Sunday, July 06, 2008

The Mad Burper

Over the years, Air Time has played host to a number of characters. Some of these characters grew to be beloved by my readership, like Boruch the Yeshiva Guy. Others, grew to be hated, Shloim, the New York Correspondent. Some of the people you have met in Air Time were real, like Micha, who finally closed the deal with #164 and then led us all to a dairy wedding in Louisville one fine Labor Day weekend, while others were just figments of my imagination.

In January 1999 I introduced the Mad Burper. It was Air Time #22, and on that Friday in January I wrote "I don't know why he tells me these things, but the Mad Burpers claims his mother suffers from clinical depression insane and his son is ADD. I keep waiting for him to get help for his burping, awful singing during shul, and semi-violent outbursts during kedusha."

A week later, in Air Time 24 (There was no Air Time #23. Air Time did not recognize the existence of #23, and to this day believes that Michael Jordan was just a gambling adict who got his father killed, and after being suspended from the NBA for a season due to his gambling came back to take advantage of a league weakened by expansion and still reeling from the AIDS crisis of Magic, but I digress) I wrote "Pesach, the Mad Burper is the guy who sits next to me in shul."

Clearly, someone named Pesach had emailed me to find out who the Mad Burper was, and I responded in Air Time.

Four weeks later, I updated the Air Time community again, claiming that "The mad burper may be moving his seat in shul. Last week he sat four seats away."

The Mad Burper disappeared from Airtime for a few months, and didn't reappear until November, in Air Time 62
The mad burper started coming to our shuir at the rabbis house, and can't seem to control himself. Wednesday night he averaged over 23 bpm (burps per minute) during the hour long shuir. He is not pleasant to sit near.

Four weeks later, in Air Time 66, I discussed the Mad Burper one more time.
"After a few months of leaving me alone, the Mad Burper is back. Usually he sits somewhere else in shul, but the last week or two he started sitting near me again, filling the air with burps, and coming over to talk. For some reason he likes talking to me and Mark, who sits next to me. I think it is because we don’t shoo him away when he walks over."

Going through some other archives, I found more one more Mad Burper reference, in November of 1999. It seems we were putting together either a fake newscast or newsletter of some kind for the shul, and the article said that the board wanted to ban the Mad Burper from shul for life, but the constitution committee ruled it unconstitutional.

Six references in Air Time, although I am open to the possibility that he also appeared in issues of the Shuckler, my fake YIOP newsletter.

The Mad Burper was a character from shul. He got his nickname due to his constant burping, and while I did not know him well, we did talk occasionally in shul. I don't think he ever wanted to come to our shul; but the merger forced his hand, along with many others, and they found themselves at the Young Israel of Oak Park.

At one point he started attending a shuir I went to, and the burping was distracting to everyone at the table. But no one would say anything, I'd write a snarky comment behind his back, and then move on.

He would get angry in shul a lot, and tried to out-sing the Chazzan with a voice that was not chazzan-grade. But I give him credit, he did put himself out there.

I don't know what happened to the Mad Burper over the past eight years. He would occasionally find his way into shul, and I would see him every now and again at a community function, but it seems like he dropped out of the community, or at least, out of my view of the community for a while.

I hadn't heard his name for many years, until today.

The Mad Burper died yesterday. May his family find comfort amongst the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem, and his soul find comfort that seemed to elude him in his time here on earth.

Two Years Ago Today...

I couldn't stop crying.
My mother was the easiest to say "Goodbye" to because she was joining us soon.
We got off the plane to greet the rest of our lives.

We all said the Bracha "Shehechiyanu" to honor the Mitzvah of Yishuv Eretz Yisrael.

We were greeted by smiling, crying family and friends.

We bunked in at our family's place for a while, making a HUGE mess.

We had no idea a war was about to start.

We had no idea we were already in the middle of a completely different kind of war.

Our apartment was hard to find and filthy and lavishly decorated by friends.

Our lift was delayed by one week and two days.

We never imagined living here would be so fulfilling.