Sometime way back at the dawn of the current century, there was a man who had a lack in his life. He wanted to make a single cup of coffee that truly pleased his palate, but no matter how hard he tried, he could not find a way. He could have made a whole pot of coffee, and that would have been fine, but he only wanted one exceptionable cup. There was always something wrong, and that upset him. But Alan Adler did not spend his days moaning and groaning about his problem. Being an inventor, he did what he did best; he figured out how to solve his problem. He invented the AeroPress, and the world became a better place. His creation was elegant, and it was simple. At least, in his own mind, it was simple. Take a plastic tube into which you pour a scoopful of coffee (the scoop comes with it); pour in hot water up to a marked level; insert a second tube, which acts as a plunger, into the first tube and press down, expelling the brew into a cup, a mug, or a carafe of some kind – your choice. (Trust me; this article will make a lot more sense if you look at the video linked above.) As I said, simple. In fact, it couldn’t be simpler. Except for one fatal flaw; there are few thing in life so simplified that they can’t be re-complicated.
There is the idea that I should say something about the recent catastrophe up north, but I have nothing really to add to what has already been opined by others. Therefore, I will continue with my regularly scheduled programming.
(All together now: Tradition…….. tradition) We all have get-togethers with people we know that tend to recur year after year, which we look forward to with some anticipation. We might not think of them as EVENTS, but they certainly are traditions. For quite a while, our friends The Levines, Richard and Barbara, have graced us with their presence over various chol hamoeds, Pesach and Sukkot, and we always look forward to their arrival with a certain amount of joy. This year would be special, both after a year of COVID enforced absence and because we weren’t sure that Richard would be up to making the drive down from their mountain top up in the Galil. The two of them traditionally get low marks for able-bodiness, but recently Richard has fallen, if not on hard times, then certainly on hard pavements. Now both of them use metal canes to get around.
When does it start, and when does it end? That’s the kind of question that makes sense to ask on many different situations, occasions, and opportunities. What I have in mind at this moment is fairly specific, to wit, the timing of the holiday seasons here in The Land. (I specify in The Land, because here all of us at least share the same calendar, and when someone says acharei hahagim, we all agree on which hagim are being discussed, even if we don’t all observe them in the same way.) The fall season begins with Rosh Hashana and lasts through Shemini Adzeret. Easy. Some more mystical types might go back to the day after Tisha B’Av or the first day of Elul for Opening Day, but we’ll let that pass.
Because we planned our relocation to the Holy Land two years in advance, we had all the time in the world to get our financial matters straightened out before we left our Old New Jersey Home. Meaning, we got ourselves Capitol One Credit Cards, perfectly usable while living out of the U.S.A. Meaning, we were sitting in an oak-paneled room considering some additional life insurance, also something we needed to purchase then and there. Our friend Sal can explain what kind of policy this is; he’s tried with me, and it’s in one ear and out well, you know. What we were told (see below) is that at the age of eighty, I would stop paying premiums. And at the age of 100, they would give me the face value of the policy, should I still be alive. I want you to STOP now and take a minute to figure out my response when I was told this bit of information. That’s right: I asked where I would have to go to collect my money. (Wouldn’t you?)
Back then when I was still a spring chicken, the number eighty was an abstract number, having nothing to do with an actual age attainable if I just kept remembering to wake up every morning (that’s the trick!) – which activity I have performed flawlessly to date. And then, one day at a time, I was inching closer and closer to that milestone.
A few months ago, I decided that I might do well to rehearse for the big day. I’m going to be eighty; I’m going to be eighty; I’m going to be eighty. OK, I think I’ve got it down pat; just in time, because on March 15, I was one day away.
A few days before then, Barbara and I went to Natania and Gil’s apartment for a little party, celebrating my birthday and Liel’s. She would turn seven the next day, and even with COVID restrictions, there would be a party for her with a few of her nearest and dearest – outdoors, weather permitting. May I just add something you probably know already: turning seven is a bigger deal in the mind of the beholder than turning eighty.
And yes, my big day came, and what was I going to do to celebrate? I woke up on March 16 (I did it again!), and sure enough, it’s as if the calendar had flipped overnight, and I had reached the milestone. Actually, I didn’t wake up on my own, I was woken up by the insistent, not so dulcet tones of my alarm clock, reminding me that I had been again roped into showing up at the 7:45 minyan. That being over and breakfast having been partaken of, I was ready for my next activity, which was…. what else? making a pot of my justly acclaimed kitchen sink soup, the last one before Pesach. (Doesn’t everyone make a pot of soup on one’s birthday?) That started, a phone call to Artzenu to order another carton of free-range chicken pieces completed, my spaces sufficiently straightened up to allow the young lady who would be coming to clean our apartment to function, it was time to join Barbara on our next exciting project, joining the throngs heading to the supermarket for Pesach shopping – or at least, the pre-mad dash version, to be followed the following week by the actual mad dash version, to be followed several days later by the absolute-last-minute-down-to-the-wire version. Maybe, just maybe, if both Barbara and I make it to the centennial mark, we’ll get our holiday shopping under control. Fifteen cans of tuna fish; is that enough? We have six kinds of jelly in our cart; should we put some of it back? So-and-so is coming over for a meal; last year he insisted that mushrooms are kitniyot. Should we get some anyway? Every year we make an effort to spend less on frivolous items over Pesach, and every year we wind up spending more. At least this year, we received a cash infusion from the nice Americans to defray the cost.
We completed our shopping, returning home with our shopping cart filled to the brim, plus two of the large blue Ikea bags stuffed full of goodies. You’d think we’d have enough sense to take a cab back or even wait for the bus; but no, we shlepped it all up the hill – which has gotten longer every year we’ve been here. Reheat the soup for lunch, take my daily nap, and it was time to call my brother. Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but every year his birthday comes out on the same day as mine. So, Happy Birthday, Frank.
I had to be careful; I didn’t want it to seem as if I was rubbing it in. He was staring out the window in rustic Massachusetts at the foot or so of snow still remaining. Should I have mentioned that on this momentous day it was shirt-sleeve weather where we were? Why not? Let him man up! While I was at it, why not mention the provision over here that if you’re eighty, you can walk up to the front of any line, anywhere, anytime, to get served? Now there’s no way I’m going to do that; nor would my brother. But I look around at some of these poor souls with their canes, their walkers, their wheelchairs and their aides. The thing is, as I remarked to Frank, lots of these folks grew up with barely a morsel to eat and/or running and hiding from some very nasty people (some with guns) – while we were called away our game of hide-and-seek or ringalevio by the dinner bell. No wonder we are both more physically fit – even with Frank’s serious health issues – than a lot of our contemporaries. For us, eighty is the new seventy, maybe even the new sixty, and it’s something to consider and be grateful for, and I hope I’m up to remembering that part as well.
As part of my on-going efforts at tikkun olam, and to celebrate his birthday from afar, I sent my brother a Baratza Encore coffee grinder from Kitchen Outfitters, a small store in Acton, MA. (No, I do not use Amazon.) To up the ante a little, I sent him links to articles about the best specialty coffee roasters in Massachusetts and NYC. It goes without saying that he loves his Baratza, a significant step up from the little blade grinder he was using. As far as where to get his beans, he reminded me (as if I didn’t know) that when they are in The City, he’s walking distance to Zabars and Fairways, so he doesn’t need any other vendors.
Well, yes and no. A question I’ve seen maybe a dozen times on Jerusalem oriented Facebook groups is some variation of Where can I get the best coffee in Jerusalem? I always feel compelled to add my own two cents. There are many cafés and a number of smaller places where you can purchase perfectly respectable coffee, but if you want the best coffee bar none,…. (my long-time readers know the answer). The point being, as I rhapsodized to my fraternal twin, is that, with a little effort and no extra expense, anyone (anyone!) can acquire N.Y.C.’s version of the b.c.b.n. So why not go for it? Why not deal with small business types who love what they’re doing, who are concerned about ethical sourcing of the beans, who are connected to the actual growers of the beans in far-away places? Plus, you may get to meet the most interesting people sitting at the counter of a real coffee hangout in NYC, the way I do at Power Coffeeworks. So there’s that.
I had to cut short the conversation. We were to meet two friends and head down to what I refer to as The Puddle, to Caffit, the same venue where we had the party for Natania and Gil the day after they were married. These friends, because of on-going health concerns, had missed that affair. In fact, they had not been to any restaurant for over a year. So they were really excited by the offer. Should we get dressed up; should we wear our Shabbat clothes? Not really necessary, not on my account.
The meal was fine; we chatted amiably. And then the conversation got a little iffy. They mentioned another couple we know who had just returned from an involuntary COVID-related stay in The States. According to these recent returnees, You can’t imagine what it’s like there these days. You can’t say anything. (anything????) And then, You have to be really careful what you say.
Isn’t that a good thing, I replied, being careful what we say? There’s this whole cottage industry in Judaism about not speaking lashon hara, hurtful speech. (The other cottage industry being the one against sinat hinam, unwarranted hatred of one’s fellow, both of which are often honored in the breach by the religious establishment here in The Land.) Shouldn’t we all put brain in gear before engaging mouth, as the sign says? Does it require so much imagination to understand what upsets the other guy/gal – especially when we insist that they give us the same courtesy? Well, I had them there. We may all violate the injunction against lashon hara, but no one I know is going to go on record in favor of such nasty language. (And yes, I know that political correctness can be taken too far, but that’s another story for another time.)
And so, all was well in Birthday Land. I am now counting down to eighty-one, one day at a time, remembering punctiliously to wake up each morning, with a smile on my face and a Thank You to our Creator, doing my best to having a great day.
Just so you don’t think everything is hunky-dory: Barbara called up the nice folks at Brighthouse Life Insurance, who had taken over the policy from MetLife, the original insurers. What about stopping our premiums now that Fred has turned 80? Oh no, said the young lady on the phone, that’s not what the policy says. (Or as they say in this part of the world, Ein devar k’ze (there’s no such thing); you have to keep paying every month. Hmm, we’re going to have to look at our policy again and maybe bring in the big guns. But that will have to wait until after Pesach. That’s part of the joy of the Chagim here in The Land; you have a built-in excuse to put off doing stuff – until. Several weeks later and guess what? For better or worse, ‘until’ has arrived. Which might be in a lead-in to another article, one which will arrive sooner or later if you are patient and keep a smile on your face.
Those of you who spend time watching TV series know full well that new episodes often begin with snippets from the last one to serve as reminders as to what happened previously – just in case you happened to miss that show, or your real life was so exciting that you couldn’t remember. My last print excursion, It’s Snow Use, ended with Barbara and me about to head into Jerusalem on a Sunday for a much-delayed trip to Frank, our hair person. As a firm believer in praemonitus, praemunitus (in the vernacular, forewarned is forearmed), I was bringing along with me my virtual anti-B.S. shovel, just in case our tonsorialist had been over-dosing on the latest hoo-hah from his favorite invariably unreliable news source.
‘Inordinately fussy.’ I accept that derogatory description with a certain degree of pride. I – in fact we – are concerned enough about how we look to ride the bus into Jerusalem, take the light rail, get on another bus, and walk ten minutes down Rehov Aza to where Frank, our hair handler, lives to get our haircuts. (Maybe it’s because I still have most of the hair on my head, whereas some of you don’t.) As with a lot of other things, our haircutting schedule has been seriously disrupted, thanks to COVID. However, what passes for our government once again blew the all-clear signal, and we were scheduled to make the trip on Wed. Feb. 17, weeks (months?) later than we ordinarily would have. But on Tuesday, I had to call and reschedule. This time, it was the weather. Snow predicted for Jerusalem. A little snow, a major snafu.
A little while ago, I had a reasonably mild disagreement on Facebook with Bruce, an old buddy from Teaneck, who arrived in The Land about a year before we showed up. He had posted the following message: ‘Whenever a child learns critical thinking, somewhere a conspiracy theory dies.’ While I heartily agree with the sentiment, I had to demur. If it were only that simple. I replied that there was also a therapeutic component that needed to be addressed. Lots of people with impressive educational backgrounds have found their way down the rabbit hole. Yes, he answered, but they didn’t learn critical thinking. You know what: I’m right, and he’s right. Let me begin with why I’m right. (It’s my article, after all!)
What I’m about to write should not be seen as anything profound, original, or in any way startling: If you want to start a conversation with someone you know, you need to arrive at a topic that’s of interest to both of you. In our neck of the woods, the topic du jour is how we’re faring with the COVID vaccines. Did you get your first shot; when are you getting the second one; any side effects? That’s on everyone’s mind, at least the people we hang out with. So, yes, we got our second shots on Tues. (Jan. 26), and now we have to deal with the Health Ministry to get our coveted Green Passport, which will free us, we think, from most government-imposed restrictions, including traveling hither and yon – as if there were any places to go more worthwhile than the shuk.
The Maccabi clinic was as mobbed as it was three weeks before when we got our first shots. To service all these peoples, additional staff had been recruited. The young man ‘jabbing’ us was in miluim, reserve duty. (We could tell by his khaki pants.) He told us he had grown up in Maale Adumim, and his parents still live here – probably in the ghetto down the hill. Ariel mentioned that his father was an English teacher. No wonder you speak such good English. Actually, no. His mother was from Argentina, so Hebrew was what he heard at home. So where did you learn English? Watching The Simpsons on TV! Still does; claims to be up to date on their latest episodes. That’s one way to make use of your time.
I wasn’t going to let it happen, end 2020, that is – a year universally acknowledged as the worst in recent memory – on a downer. Not if I could help it. The only thing we had planned for New Years Eve was Barbara attending a Zoom funeral. (You see where I’m coming from.) Arnold, one of her second cousins, a man in his mid eighties, had died of, what else, COVID. Once the funeral is over, I suggested, let’s watch something a little more upbeat together and I’ll make us some White Russians (maybe with a little more vodka than usual).
Would it surprise anyone if I reported that the Zoom feed was over-subscribed, and Barbara couldn’t watch the live version? (She settled for watching a replay several days later.) Remember, we were still in the waning hours of 2020, a year when the only direction was downhill. Definitely go heavy on the vodka, while we watch The Maltese Falcon. Barbara had no recollection of ever having seen it, meaning I had fallen down on the job. I am, after all, supposed to be the family film curator.
It’s not clear to me why they chose to print the article now (unless they considered it a cautionary tale, which it might well be), but last winter, The New York Times had sent a reporter, Andrew Higgins, and a photographer, Emile Ducke, back to Kolyma, ‘the most frigid and deadly outpost of Stalin’s gulag.’ The two men traveled on the Kolyma Highway, an upgraded version of the road originally built by slave labor, called ‘the road of bones,’ which enabled the Soviets to send even more prisoners – over a million in total – to the gold mines and prison camps of Kolyma. But, as the article points, memories of this horror are fading, raising ‘Stalin’s popularity to its highest level in decades.’
Higgins interviewed Antonina Novosad, a ninety-three-year-old survivor who, as a teenager, spent ten years at Kolyma. She remembers a fellow prisoner who wandered off to pick berries and was killed by a guard. The other prisoners buried the body, but the corpse was dragged away by a bear. ‘Yet she bears Stalin no ill will…’ As she put it, ‘Stalin was God. How to say it? Stalin wasn’t at fault at all. It was the party and all those people. Stalin just signed.’ (Right!!! He was just doing his best.) As I said, possibly a cautionary tale.
Wherein I endeavor to piss off a lot of people
Poor Sally (his name is pronounced ‘Solly’); he just can’t catch a break. He spent a good part of this last U.S. election cycle ‘above the fray,’ in his self-appointed role as grand pooh-bah, ostensibly unhappy with both major candidates. He was spending a lot of his valuable time posting stuff of questionable merit on Facebook, only to be shot down by his children and other interested parties – until at some point, I just changed the channel.
There he was, along with his wife Mira, one of his sons, and another family member, joining us for lunch in Ma’ale Adumim the week before the U.S. presidential election. We all sat around the dining room table, enjoying a modest repast and some freshly ground coffee, chatting amiably. It was inevitable that sooner or later there would be some mention of the elections. Sally expressed a negative opinion of Biden’s plans for the U.S. economy, whereupon I leaned across the table and said with great interest that this was something about which we could actually have a rational discussion.
How about that! With a few notable exceptions, most of what I had seen, heard, or read about Trump v. Biden did not meet my minimal standards of discourse. Please understand, I don’t expect everyone or even anyone to agree with me, especially about such a contentious issue as electoral politics. In fact, it’s no fun at all if everyone agrees about everything. But there are minimum standards: 1) Does what you’re saying make any sense at all; 2) How do you know what you’re saying is true; 3) What does it have to do with anything? Failing these benchmarks, don’t waste my time. I don’t ‘do’ stupid; life’s too short. As a result, I’ve reluctantly had to switch the channel on a whole bunch of people I know, friends, acquaintances, and random people posting on Facebook, for the duration of the election season. Trust me, it’s better that way.
The thing about Trump is that everything he’s said and done over the last four years has been recorded, even his idle thoughts at two in the morning, all preserved for posterity. Talking points for his supporters; fair game for his opponents. With Biden it’s not that easy, unless you want to insist he’s Barack Obama or Bernie Sanders. Frank, the British fellow who cuts our hair, asserted with some semblance of certitude that ‘Trump as done more in forty-seven months than Biden has in forty-seven years.’ As our barber was cutting my hair at the time, I refrained from making a sarcastic comment like, Did you think of that all by yourself? Instead, I calmly and gently explained that the conductor of a symphony orchestra has more to do with the quality of the performance than any of the violinists. Also, he alone gets to decide on what they’re going to play. I don’t know if Frank understood what I was driving at, but it was the best I could come up with at the time. However, Biden does have a long record as a legislator; again, talking points for his supporters and fair game for his opponents. However, much of what I was seeing and hearing on social media and from the mouths of many who should have known better was woefully deficient in meeting minimum standards (see above). A lot of what was out there was designed to portray the contender as either a doddering old man awaiting his nightly dose of Ovaltine before being tucked into bed by his nurse or as a rabid revolutionary waiting to turn Minnesota into his version of a gulag. Then there were the conspiracy theories. Barbara’s friend, otherwise a wonderful companion, vehemently insisted that the saintly Dr. Fauci was somehow in league with the Chinese government, in the process, stealing millions of dollars (probably to finance his extravagant lifestyle). Or the anti-maskers, with their complaint that they have the right to infect other People, it says so in the Constitution. The same friend of Barbara sent her the following bit of Aristotelian logic: insofar as the American government has been unable to prevent thousands of people from dying every year from second-hand smoke, it shouldn’t ask people to wear a face mask. Yes, that makes sense……
Therefore, the thought of having a real conversation with my old friend Sally – even though Economics is not one of my strong points, and I have little knowledge and no opinion about the Democrat’s plans – would have been a welcome diversion. Unfortunately, with all the conversation whirling about the table, we never got a chance to delve into the matter.
Sally had to return to The States a few days later, but Mira stayed on. (She could conduct her Zoom classes for her students at the City University just as easily from Efrat as from Passaic.) She graced us with her presence for Shabbat the following week (which was after the elections and it was becoming obvious the challenger was going to win), and we had our chance to have a discussion, mostly about the pre-election polling data, which seemed to be, shall we say, unreliable. Mira, who teaches Political Theory, was concerned about the pollsters’ methodology. You might assume she meant that the sampling of voters was at fault, but, no, she was conjecturing that the pollsters were asking the wrong questions. What do you mean, I responded, questions like, Who are you voting for, or who do you think would do a better job of X or Y?, are pretty straightforward. And what should they be asking instead? Maybe, people weren’t telling the truth when they answered the questions, which casts a rather serious shadow on polling data in general. We batted that one around for a while, with neither side emerging victorious.
There were other questions that I’ve never had a chance to discuss with anyone. When I cast my absentee ballot months ago, was I doing so as an Israeli who was allowed to vote in an American election, or was I an American who happens to be living elsewhere? – which might have affected what I thought was most important. (Where you stand depends on where you sit.) Barbara’s friend (the same one) thought to inquire, Why do you care what’s going on in The States, you’re living in Israel? (Do I have to explain this one?)
One thing about Trump, he keeps his promises. I heard that a lot, and I always let it slide. Some yes, some no. But there’s one promise he made that everyone agrees he has kept. As you know, back in August, he gave his assurance that he would win reelection. And if he didn’t, that would mean there was something wrong with the vote count and he would contest the election. Has any president – short of the country being at war – been more assiduous in carrying out a promise in the face of such adversity? None that I can think of. The upshot, however, is that all the noise about the election continued unabated, even intensified, and I was forced to continue changing the channel on people I know.
A lot of effort has been made to prove voter fraud, although, frankly, if I wanted to mount a legal campaign going all the way to the Supreme Court, I would not choose Rudy Giuliani as my lead lawyer. The arguments made by him et. al., the affidavits, the theories, the statistics offered were, shall we say, unavailing, the courts being uniformly unimpressed. Perhaps the American judicial system has a pro-Occam bias. (Click here for an explanation of ‘Occam’s razor.’) Some other line of argumentation needed to be made. Even Barbara’s friend, usually quick to point out some conspiracy that I would have otherwise missed, was silent on the matter. I would have to go elsewhere to find something that might impress at least one judge. Where would I turn? Facebook! What else? Sure enough, I found something amazing, Biblical in fact, from someone I know who’s a medical practitioner of sorts – although I don’t remember if he thought of this himself or was simply passing it on. Here goes: It was the week before the reading of Chaya Sarah on Shabbat, when the Haftorah is from the beginning of the First Book of Kings (but you knew that…..). It tells of the failed efforts of Adoniya, taking advantage of the age and infirmity of his father, King David, to crown himself king instead of his half-brother Solomon. Now listen to this! According to my source, believe it or not, the gematria of Adoniya is the same as Biden. That demonstrates, without a shadow of a doubt, that Joseph Biden Jr. was trying to steal the election!
Why this irrefutable proof was not brought to the attention of anyone who might have used it in legal argumentation is anybody’s guess. Probably, when it would have mattered, Mr. Giuliani was himself hospitalized with COVID and was otherwise occupied. What goes around, comes around, or something to that effect. The little things that determine history…
It was near the end of Nachum’s Shabbat shiur, somewhat shortened because of Channukah. We were a little ahead of ourselves in terms of the Biblical narrative. The question might be asked, when Joseph was taken from prison, brought before Pharaoh, and asked to interpret the ruler’s dreams, was it then that the young man came to understand that his own earlier dream (about the sun, the moon, and the stars bowing down to him) was prophetic? Perhaps that’s why the upstart began giving advice to this important personage about how to deal with the impending famine – his way of making his dream come true.
I had an idea, which I expressed as follows. Shouldn’t we give some credit to Pharaoh for having the smarts to accept Joseph’s advice? Nachum figured it was a no-brainer (my words, not his). Go with a good plan and appoint an outsider to administer it. You avoid dealing with your inner circle, your advisors, your brothers-in-law. If the plan works, you take the credit. If it doesn’t, you have a built-in scapegoat, with whom you can deal summarily. (As Nachum would put it, take him out and whack him.) But I persisted. What about in today’s world? Aren’t their leaders who are given a perfectly good plan on a silver platter, a no-brainer, but who haven’t the brains to accept it?
We could hear people gathering outside, getting ready to daven maariv. Time to end our discussion and join them. Shabbat was over, but the question remains.