A not so chance encounter

I had a wonderful discussion with a man from Rwanda that I met in the parking lot at the FDA where I am serving as a senior business systems analyst. While my French is atrocious, I could see that the book he was carrying was a history book dealing with the struggles between blacks and whites in Rwanda from 1990 to 1994. I asked him if he had seen the movie Hotel Rwanda and if it was accurate. He told me that he had and unfortunately, it wasn’t. We started talking about the Hutus and the Tutsis and racism. He asked about the origins of racism. I talked to him about Dutch and British colonialism, the caste system in India and the Untouchables in particular, and also the treatment of the aboriginal people of Australia by the British settlers and even more contemporary Australians. Then he asked me a very poignant question, “what do we do to get rid of racism in this country?” I told him that the best things that we can do are to dispel falsehoods by teaching the truth and to show ourselves as friendly and respectful toward those of different people groups. We have to dispel the falsehood that there is a unified hatred of one group by another by proving that at least one person of that group doesn’t hate them.
We discussed what sort of teachings might change people’s minds. I spoke to him about the common ancestry of humanity as described in the Hebrew Scriptures. I told him stories of Moses and how his own brother and sister were upset with him because he married an Ethiopian woman. I told him of the Jewish people from Ethiopia that stood as a testimony to the fact that we are truly one race of people, a message he echoed to me earlier in our conversation. I told him of the origin of humanity being from North Africa and drawing the conclusion that if all people came from one place, then the essence of all humanity is identical and we simply have different appearances.
I asked him if he was familiar with the Gospel story and how when the edict went out to kill the male children two years and younger that Mary and Joseph fled to North Africa. He knew the story well. Being a Jew in my heritage and my pedagogy, I asked him a question versus presenting my conclusion. I asked him, “would parents of a blonde-haired, blue-eyed boy hide in a place where everyone had brown skin and black hair?” He smiled and said, “no.” Then he surprised me. He pulled out a book and asked me if I though it was legitimate because he had a friend that only spoke French who needed this book in French. The title was, “Nouveau Testament.” He knew there were versions floating around that had slight changes to promote the doctrines of certain cults. I opened the book to Jean 1:1, recited John 1:1 in English and asked him if that’s what it said. He confirmed that. I asked him to look at the phrase, “and the Word was God” and make sure that there was no indefinite article there, a trick of the Jehovah’s Witnesses to substantiate their Arian (not to be confused with Aryan) doctrine of Christ. He said there was none. We did a similar drill with Jean/John 3:16. He confirmed that what it says was what I recited. He was very happy because now he could give his friend what he was asking for.
We both ended our work days with a wonderful encounter. I have been telecommuting for five years. While I dislike making the drive, I love meeting people face to face.

Clothes don’t make the blog

I was on a Web site devoted to providing instruction in a gamut of subjects (instructables.com).  I was looking for instructions on how to properly wear the keffiyeh I bought earlier in the year (http://www.instructables.com/id/How-to-wrap-a-Keffiyeh/).   

A keffiyeh is a garment of Middle Eastern origins.  My reason for wanting to know how to wear one follows.  The sad thing I discovered in looking at the comments that followed the simple keffiyeh wrapping instructions was some people trying to politicize the simple presence of a page instructing people how to wear a garment that some people associate with terrorism.  Instructables.com is an apolitical site.  It is there to show people that don’t know things how to do them, period.  This was my response to the post:

Thanks for the instructions.  The keffiyeh is an extremely practical garment.  I am going hunting tomorrow and it is supposed to be unseasonably warm.  I have a cold weather hunting balaclava, but it will be a bit too warm to wear.  I have a bright orange and black keffiyeh to go with my blaze orange and black hunting camouflage.  The first time I used the keffiyeh was at an outdoor garage sale where I was manning a booth in the sun for three+ hours.  It kept my very Caucasian skin from getting very burnt.  Its gauzy structure kept it from getting to be too warm.

For those who are trying to make this political because of its Semitic origins, please don’t go there.  I am a Jew, an American patriot, and a Zionist.  As much as the world tends to forget, Arabs and Jews have a common parentage and a common region.  The keffiyeh is not a religious garment, it is a garment of the desert nomad.  At one time, most of us Semitic folks were nomads in desert areas.  I was in the US Army and was stationed in the desert for three years.  I wish I knew how to wear one of these back then. We wore gauze cravats like keffiyehs but they didn’t stay in place as well and were not so easily converted back and forth to face covers.  My wearing of a keffiyeh does not make me any more of a Palestinian sympathizer than my wearing of an ushanka (the Russian ear-flap hat) makes me a fan of Vladimir Putin.  As a person of Ukrainian heritage, I despise Putin because he embodies the egotistical oligarchical leader who seems to think he is better and smarter than everyone else.  That doesn’t make me want to trade in my ushanka for a ski cap or ear muffs.

When I was a soldier, the Army implemented the PASGT, styled after the German Bundeswehr’s Gefechtshelm (helmet with ear covering that is favored by bikers).  That didn’t me a Nazi.  We wore ponchos too.  They have their origins in South and Central America.  

The bottom line is this, in America, we have a creole culture.  We see it in our arts, cuisine, language, and clothing.  Our nation has been fortunate enough to be able to borrow from the hundreds (if not thousands) of cultures of our citizens.  Let’s not be so ignorant and naive to think that we Americans should avoid cultural garb because it has its origins in cultures some of us might not agree with.

Washington is officially snubbing Catholics in additon to Jews

The placement of a U.S. embassy in a nation is an important action.  In 1995, Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act.  The Act dictated that the U.S. would have to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to the recognized capital of Israel, Jerusalem by 1999.  It is still in Tel Aviv thanks to executive orders from presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama.

To provide equal opportunity insults, the Obama administration has ordered the U.S. mission to the Holy See (a/k/a Vatican City) be moved to the campus of the U.S. embassy in Rome.  The Holy See is effectively the world capital of Roman Catholicism.  The Holy See has made it clear that embassies should be set up in Vatican City.  The justification of the move is security and cost savings.  The State Department does not identify any unusual security problems in Italy, the Holy See, and San Marino (travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_1146.html).  The cost savings is projected to be $1.4 million.  That is a whopping 1.4% of what taxpayers shelled out for the Obamas to travel to Africa in June and July of this year.

To my Catholic friends, welcome to the fold, you now get to experience some of the slights my people, the Jews, have experienced for millennia.

A kosher Elvis sandwich

Elvis Presley was known for many things including a peanut butter, bacon, and banana sandwich. I just made a kosher version of it. Take two slices of challah, a healthy schmear of peanut butter, three strips of bacon, cut off the tip of the banana, and feel guilty for eating it.

What is more dangerous?

I was corresponding with pinkishey, a fellow citizen of the blogosphere, about the incessant bombings in her soon to be home in Israel.  She writes beautiful prose of her adventures there.  It takes me back to my younger years in Teaneck, NJ where I and many of my Jewish friends dreamt of living in the Holy Land.  I remember giving serious thought to moving there and joining the IDF (Israeli Defense Force) when President Carter re-instituted the draft.  She wrote of the impact of missiles in her soon to be home-town of Netivot (http://kvetshing.wordpress.com/2012/09/09/grad-missiles-from-gaza-hits-home-in-netivot/) and how that related to her feelings of relative safety.  I wrote the following to her.

What is more dangerous, living in a country where your government seeks to protect you from your enemies or living in a country that gives aid to your enemies? I used to be proud of how our (U.S.) government treated our (Jewish) people. Now I have a president that hasn’t set foot in the Holy Land while in office and would rather appear on Late Night with David Letterman than meet with Israel’s PM. Here is one of my favorite Israeli’s view of this, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0YK7UGytvs8.

I hope she is able to stay there.

A tale of Sukkos past

 

If you are a Jew, you can skip to the second paragraph.  For the goyim (gentiles) reading this, Sukkos (or Sukkot) is a Jewish Holy Festival where we build and then take our meals in a temporary sukka (or booth) in obedience to the command of G-d in Leviticus 23.  We do this to remember how our ancestors lived in temporary booths in the years following the Egyptian captivity.  You’ll find it mentioned in the Christian scriptures in John 7 as the “Feast of Tabernacles.”  On 15 Tishrei (late September/early October) we start the seven-day festival.  With your introduction to Judaism freshly learned, you may be able to appreciate the brief tale that follows.

I have a funny, if not somewhat sad tale of my first Sukkos away from home. I was a freshman at Rutgers University. I went to the Newark campus which was for commuters only.  Newark, NJ, like many big cities, is mostly paved. A few Jewish students and I tried to erect a sukka in the Rutgers quadrangle without the benefit of soil to stake it in or trees to tie it to. As fate would have it, Sukkos started on a very windy day so our sukka did not survive. I have to wonder if G-d looked down and said, “what schmucks, they don’t even plan to build a proper sukka,” or if He said, “such faith and commitment these kids have, believing that an untethered sukka could stand on a windy day.”

I am looking forward to finding out which of these He said.

What they didn’t teach you in Hebrew School

If you are Jewish, you’ll understand this post.  I don’t know who the author is but my nice Jewish mother sent it to me.

1. The High Holidays have absolutely nothing to do with marijuana.

2. Where there’s smoke, there may be salmon.

3. No meal is complete without leftovers.

4. According to Jewish dietary law, pork and shellfish may be eaten only in Chinese restaurants.

5. A shmata is a dress that your husband’s ex is wearing.

6. You need ten men for a minyan, but only four in polyester pants and white shoes for pinochle.

7. One mitzvah can change the world; two will just make you tired.

8. After the destruction of the Second temple , God created Nordstrom’s.

9. Anything worth saying is worth repeating a thousand times.

10. Never take a front row seat at a Bris.

11. Next year in Jerusalem . The year after that, how about a nice cruise?

12. Never leave a restaurant empty handed.

13. Spring ahead; fall back – winters in Boca.

14. WASPs leave and never say good-bye; Jews say good-bye and never leave.

15. Always whisper the names of diseases.

16. If it tastes good, it’s probably not kosher.

17. The important Jewish holidays are the ones on which alternate side of the street parking is suspended

18. Without Jewish mothers, who would need therapy?

19. If you have to ask the price, you can’t afford it. But if you can afford it, make sure to tell everybody what you paid.

20. Laugh now, but one day you’ll be driving a Lexus and eating dinner at 4:00 PM in Florida .