Four Episodes


(The spatula and the screwdriver)

A long time ago (at least by Israeli standards) the cranes came and deposited pre-fab concrete slabs (called ‘tromi’), which, when assembled, formed all the buildings in Klei Shir, our neighborhood in Ma’ale Adumim. Each block of buildings was given over to a different contractor, and each block has a somewhat different look to it. Whoever designed the buildings we live in had the whimsical idea of putting large picture window in each apartment, measuring about 80” by 20,” with an arched window on top of that.

The window gives us a rather wide view, just not the hills to the east of Jerusalem, which you would see from the other side of our apartment. Looking out from our dairy kitchen, we get a great view of the parking lot. There’s the decrepit block of buildings on the other side (slated to be torn down and rebuilt any moment now for the last several years), the parking lot itself with the delivery trucks supplying the few local stores, the mail boxes, and the recycling area. On a more positive note, we can see the tops of the trees outside our building, with all the birds that come and go. Down below are the dozen or so street cats that hang around our building because Lidia on the ground floor feeds them (I provide a bowl of water every morning). We are also able to people-watch, keeping tabs on everyone who comes in and out of our building or just passes by. Continue reading


Death By Garbage

Barbara and I have been to India and had the chance to see with our own eyes the misery and squalor that this article from The New York Times describes, but even so, it is almost impossible to imagine how a young man, living near New Delhi, can suffer a death swallowed up by garbage. I often try to make a comparison between their country, with its enormous land mass and population (well over a billion people), and tiny Israel (the size of New Jersey or Greater London, smaller than the Kruger National Park in South Africa), with our eight million people. What do the two countries have in common? For one thing, both were freed from British occupation at about the same time, with a lot of bloodshed, each given the chance to go its own way. Would it be wrong of me to brag a little and suggest that we’ve made a little more of our opportunity than the behemoth northeast of us? Perhaps a polite way to delicately describe some of the differences would be write about a trip we were on recently, (May 7-10, 2018) to be precise. Continue reading

The Folks Who Live on the Hill

Here’s what was written on the flyer, meant to attract the attention of anyone who might be remotely interested: “Come, join us in what promises to be yet another, very worthwhile, enjoyable & meaningful experience in this whole vitally strategic, gorgeous area in a full-day tiyul during Pesach. By our very visit, we bring chizuk and encouragement to the wonderful people who are holding on to our Precious Land, at the same time as seeing some of the “off-the-beaten-track” parts of our Beloved Land with which we would otherwise be unacquainted.” I should probably mention that the “whole, vitally strategic, gorgeous area” under consideration was the Shomron a/k/a Samaria, the West Bank, the “Occupied Territories,” depending on whose narrative you’re tuned into. Continue reading

The Remains in a Day

Another post that was aging gracefully – unpublished – in my computer.

In a number of conversations with random friends during the week before we went, the topic of our next tiyul was raised, as in: “Where are you going this time?” The answer I repeated was, more or less, “We’re going to the archaeological site in Beit Shean and then to some kibbutz whose name I don’t remember where they do something interesting with agriculture.

Beit Shean: that was supposed to be the hook, the reason we were attracted in the first place. Not the modern-day Beit Shean, a development town with little going for it, one of the out-of-the-way places where Ben Gurion dumped many of the refugees from North Africa who fled to Israel in the early 1950’s. The one you hurriedly pass through on your way north or south through the Jordan Valley. The tiyul was to the other Beit Shean, the Beit Shean within Beit Shean, the national park that contains what remains of several thousand years of civilization, most importantly, the excavations of the Roman city named Scythopolis. That Beit Shean! Continue reading

There’s No Akko-unting…

Would anyone mind if I posted an older article, one that I began over the summer, but, for reasons I won’t bore you with, never was able to complete? If not, here goes:

The late Alice Trillin, the wife of the (still-living) humorist Calvin Trillin, has never gotten the recognition she deserves for formulating and codifying an economic principle we all more or less understand intuitively. It goes something like this: Let us suppose that she had considered purchasing a new living room set, one that cost $10,000, money they didn’t have. And then she changed her mind for whatever reason. The $10,000 that she had saved by keeping her old furniture for another year was now available as actual cash, so she reasoned, for the vacation get-away that they previously could never have afforded.  What an amazing discovery! How the Nobel committee has overlooked her contribution to economic theory is a mystery to me.

What does this any of this have to do with affairs in the Casden household? Please read on and all will be revealed. Continue reading

The Funnest Day of All

Let’s say we had to pick one single day as “The Funnest Day in the Jewish Calendar.” The obvious choice would be Purim or maybe Simchat Torah, followed by, in no particular order, the days of Hanukkah, Tu B’Av, and the like. But how about the day after Yom Kippur. That’s a biggie – at least in certain circles.

Many of us have gone through a period of, for wont of a better term, reflection or introspection, starting from the beginning of Elul and going through Yom Kippur. But think for a moment how all that plays out in Hareidi circles, where they take VERY SERIOUSLY the feeling that their actions during this period will determine their destiny for the next year, whether, in fact, they make it through the next year in one piece. So they spend, not a lot of time in shul as most of us do, but essentially all day in prayer on Yom Kippur. Imagine being in a room, which may or may not be air-conditioned, with a bunch of over-dressed and often under-washed men, and you’ve been there since the break of dawn and it’s now 5PM, and they will soon commence Neilah.

And then it’s over. Yom Kippur has come and gone. On to the next holiday! In Hareidi circles, it’s like being let out on the last day of school. The day after Yom Kippur is when the sukkahs go up lickety-split and it’s time to spend quality time with your buddies purchasing a lulav and etrog and whatever else you need. And that’s when every year I head out with my camera to photograph the goings-on. Continue reading

The Taliban Lady and the Coffee Machine

There is a widely held belief – probably true – that, in general, women are more interested in people and men are more interested in objects: gadgets, toys, and the like. The two incidents I’m writing about give credence to that notion. What they have in common is that they both stem from an inability to talk on the phone.

Barbara had just come back from The States, a visit timed to coincide with the birth and brit milah of Tina and David’s second son (whose moniker is Milo, if you’re interested). Barbara is not much of a shopper (an understatement!), but she was given the responsibility of returning with two Android devices: one to replace her aging Galaxy and one to replace Natania’s unspeakable Chinese knock-off. She also had a number of items to bring back for an assortment of friends.

It was a Thursday morning, and she had finished her volunteer work, helping to pack food parcels for an outfit known in English as Victims of Terror. Her plan was to bring over one of the items she brought back to her friend Arlene, who lives nearby. Normally, she would have called first to make sure it was a good time. However, in moving the SIM card from her old phone to her new one, she somehow lost almost all of her contact information. (Don’t ask me what this is all about, I’m an Apple guy.) Unable to call, Barbara walked over to her friend’s apartment unannounced.  Continue reading