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Monday, December 25, 2006

Happy Chanukah, Merry Christmas, Happy Eid ul-Adha, and Happy Kwanzaa

UPDATE: This was the last post of this blog. Army craziness got the better of me and left me with no time to write. This blog will remain up, but many pictures for the template are no longer being hosted where they were originally, nor will this blog be updated again. Thanks for reading. -Ben

Now that I've gotten all those politically correct seasonal greetings out of the way, it's time for an update.

Unfortunately due to a busy schedule and a broken PC my sea of blogging posts have mostly dried up. It's been over a month since I've posted, although earlier I retro-blogged some old posts that I had started but not finished.

Last week I was in Eilat on vacation and I hope to share some anecdotes about my tip in the next couple of days. For now though I'm going to keep this post simple and just share some holiday feelings I've had.

This year's holiday season had almost zero Christmas in it. Unlike past years, I didn't here the word Santa Clause at all while I was in Eilat. Even when I was watching Fox News, I only got a Happy Chanukah and a Happy holidays, no Merry Christmas. Really the only Christmas I saw or heard was the sale of some decorations in Jafa (where my base is) and the Christmas greetings my (Religious Jewish) friends and I seem to share every December 25th. Next year in New York my experience will no doubt be a much different one.

This holiday season I learned some interesting things. Among them, that not everyone celebrates Christmas on December 25- many Eastern Orthodox churches celebrate Christmas on it's Julian Calendar Date, January 7th (Check out who's listed first in the "Births" section).

Another holiday related thing I stumbled on is the following video:

I thought this video was quite inspirational. It is the PS22 Chorus singing Esa Einai (Psalm 121) to a Reb Shlomo Carlebach tune. The PS22 Chorus is made up of about 60 Staten Island public school 5th graders. I thought this video was a truly great display of multiculturalism and diversity. I believe Reb Shlomo would have been proud to see his work sung in this way. I wish my Hebrew was as good as their's when I was in 5th grade!

Oh, and check out 'Lil Eminem's mad Toprock skillz!

Happy Holidays!

Friday, November 10, 2006

A Victory For Lunatic Fringe

Lunatic Fringe recently won a landmark battle in "The Great Genetic Disease and Gene Nomenclature War".

Lunatic Fringe, and other inappropriately named genes gained some recognition when an article [Original Link] showcasing the issue of gene nomenclature was published in Nature magazine this past week. The article discusses the problems inappropriately named genes cause, and the changes that the "Human Genome Organisation (HUGO) Gene Nomenclature Committee" plan to make to these controversially named genes. The committee plans to change the names of many genes; The shortlist contains Lunatic Fringe, Radical Fringe, and "The Hedgehog Genes" which include both the "Indian" , and "Sonic The" varieties.

The article gave my father (Dr. Mark Ludman) 15 minutes of fame when it quoted him several times. It also credits him and several coleagues as the ones who "appealed to the HUGO committee to launch the consultation that led to the drawing up of the short-list".

Congrats on the victory LF, and way to go Dad!

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The Dean Has Left The Building...And The School

Well, it's official: Dean Zvi Galil, the current dean of Columbia University's school of engineering and applied science (SEAS) is leaving at the end of the year. Prof. Galil is leaving my future alma mater to become the President of Tel Aviv University here in Israel.

I first met Prof. Galil this summer. I was invited to a cocktail party in Tel Aviv over the summer to hear Columbia President Lee Bolinger speak and to hopefully meet both President Bolinger and Dean Galil. Unfortunately, Dean Galil couldn't make it and I only met President Bolinger. I ended up meeting Dean Galil a few weeks later, at a cafe in Tel Aviv. I got the call to come meet him when I was already on the beach, in a tank top and bathing suit, which made for an interesting first meeting. He was only in town for 48 hours (in hindsight, probably interviewing for a job at TAU) so we took advantage of the only chance we would get.

I will be meeting Dean Galil again in a few weeks as I am invited to a reception in his honor in Tel Aviv.

Since the announcement that the Dean will be moving to TAU a number of sites have pooped up on the net. Among them is, a site where people can tell Dean Galil they want him to stay.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

First Rains

Alas, winter is here, and with it comes the cold, crummy weather that forces me to wake up on the wrong side of the bed. With that said, I was in a surprisingly good mood all day today. I like the rain but hate having to travel in it.

Unfortunately, I seem to have fallen back into the rut of posting once every three weeks, which needless to say is not good.

I saw three movies last week: World Trade Center, Silent Hill and The Breakup.

WTC was interesting. I quite liked it. It wasn't action packed but I would hardly call it boring like so many reviews did.

Silent Hill was about what you would expect from a movie based on a video game, (Resident Evil not included- that movie rocked!). Having seen the trailer at WTC my friends and I decided it would make a good "bad horror movie" to watch and make fun of. The plot wasn't the most coherent and there were so many things in it that seemed completely random. I guess you have to be a fan of the game. I did like the creepy-deformed-melting-baby-things (I think they are called Grey Children) though- they were kinda cute in a sick I-have-been-eating-nuclear-fallout way.

The Breakup is a chick flick, but Vince Vaughn makes it bearable cause let's face it, he's pretty damn funny.

I was guarding over the weekend so that makes two weekends in a row that I didn't go out- last week I was sick. I think I am suffering from alcohol withdrawal.

And now, a little something new. I call it "Things I like and things I don't". I am open to name suggestions though.

I like getting under heavy covers and falling asleep to the sound of the rain on my skylight.
I don't like having to run to the bus in the pouring rain without an umbrella or a jacket.
I like working in my office when it's the perfect temperature out.
I don't like guarding for 4 hours straight in the freezing cold rain.
I like movies that make me go "Whoa! What the hell just happened!?"-in a good way.
I don't like movies that make me go "Whoa! What the hell just happened and who do I see about getting two hours of my life back?"
I like chocolate milk.
I don't like rotten milk.
Milk straight from the cow is bearable.

If this amused you please send my one dollar. If you would like two minutes of your life back, send me two dollars and I'll see what I can do.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Whoa! Major Update!

So, it's been a really long time since I've blogged. I blame the Jewish holidays. Rather than do the whole retroactive blog thing, I think I will just write one large-ish post with the major things that have happened to me lately. I really had a few good post I could have posted but they are already several weeks ago so I'll just give some brief summaries.

September 27th: Life came full circle again as I found myself at the same shooting ranges I first shot an M-16. A little refresher training in some of the basics (Com, First Aid, NBC warfare, and shooting) where I spent my first month in the army- Nitzanim Basic Training Base.

October 1st: Went to a club in Tel Aviv called Vox. Got worried when I found it listed as a gay club on the website with it's address. Turns out that that's only on Friday nights, this was Saturday night. Was treated to an entertaining, if not completely weird, out of place, what-the-hell-is-going-on, strip show on the stage at the club.

October 6th: My cousin and her friend come to stay for the weekend.

October 8th: Hit the beach in Herzelia with my cousin and her friend. Ah, sun! Dinner at Burger Ranch. Nothing like a bad burger, once in a while.

October 9th: Day in Tel Aviv with friends from South Africa leaving that night. Burger at Burger King in Azrieli mall- Second bad burger in 24 hrs. Afternoon at the beach in Tel Aviv- Second beach trip in 24 hrs. (I was on vacation for those two days by the way.) Cocktails on the beach at sunset.

October 12th: Hookah in the Sukkah. Only there was no Sukkah...and the hookah ended up being MIA. So actually, it was just a drunken house party. No complaints here.

October 14th: Mike's Place. Been a while.

October 17th: Finally another post. Me and Mo do Israel still badly out of date.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Popeye Would Be Ashamed

I'm looking through the headlines the other day when I come across the following headline on CNN:

Toddler may have eaten bad spinach before he died

This is no laughing matter. It's hard to get kids to eat spinach at the best of time, now who's gonna touch their vegetables?

Billy: Hey Suzy, did you hear about Timmy? His mom made him eat spinach and it killed him!
Now that I've sealed my place in hell for making light of the death of a child, I want to share with you a paragraph from the same website, essentially buying me a VIP ticket on the first elevator down.

Of those infected in the outbreak, 88 have been hospitalized, including a Wisconsin woman who died. Two other deaths have been reported in suspected cases -- a child in Idaho and an elderly woman in Maryland -- but those cases are still being investigated.(Watch grieving parents search for answers -- :32)
Notice the blue link. Watch grieving parents search for answers?!? What, it's not bad enough that this poor couple's child was killed by spinach, CNN now goes and makes a reality show where we can watch the grieving parents search for answers? What has the media in America come to? People are suffering and anyone can just tune in to the net and watch them. And it's all brought to you by our moral friends over at Time Warner.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Happy (Jewish) New Year

Well it's that time again. The time of year when us Jews celebrate the new year. Looking back at last year's post, I find that I still feel very much the same way. That doesn't mean I haven't grown a lot, simply that I still don't have the answers to the questions I was, and still am, asking.

This is the time of year when I get bummed because I usually feel like I haven't accomplished anything big or important in the past year. This year I'm not going to bother with looking back at things I haven't accomplished. Life is too short to live in the past and it's time to start living for the moment and enjoying everyone one of them.

Shana Tova and Happy New Year to everyone!

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Pentagonal Powwow

Monday I was invited to the Israeli equivalent of the American Pentagon for a meeting. It's a really nice base. They actually have grass! I had been there once already, about a half a year ago, to use their laser shooting range (see post) but was never inside the main building. I was excited to see signs in the elevator directing you the Ramatcal's (Chief of General Staff) office. This was a very important meeting, but it was hardly about national security, and Danny didn't attend. My meeting shared its topic with many of my posts- Birthright.

Being an alumnus (technically twice over) of Birthright, I along with about ten other soldiers, was invited to meet with the woman in charge of the Mifgash for all of birthright. She asked us many questions about our experience, what we learned, ways to improve the program, and things we particularly liked about the program. I was very vocal (read: didn't shut up) as I feel very strongly about this program.

Sidenote: If you don't know what birthright is, head on over to their website and read about it. If you do know what it is, registration for this winter's trip is already open so head over to the registration page and get registered if you are eligible. I highly recommend Shorashim [official site] as the world's best trip organizer, but I am biased.
Anyway, the meeting was interesting and it was good to reminisce about my trip(s). An added bonus was that one of the guys from my second trips was also at the meeting so I got to sit and chill in his office with him for a while, afterwards.

After the meeting, in true jobnik spirit, I went with Ilan H. across the street to Azrieli Mall and got lunch. Mmmm, fried cheese sandwich.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Vengeance Stings

I saw this headline and proved that I may be a heartless person, as my first reaction was to burst into uncontrollable laughter.

Headline: Stingray mutilations prompt Irwin vengeance fears.

Common, that's a little funny. Aussies are taking vengeance on all stingrays because one killed the only famous Australian. Actually there are a few famous Australians (some friends and I came up with a few the other day). Kylie Minogue is Australian. So is the guy who played Crocodile Dundee. I think we came up with some more famous people but they seem to be forgettable.

I'm not going to lie, I don't think I had heard of this guy before he died, and now his death is getting avenged. Up to 11 innocent stingrays have been murdered in cold blood and mutilated. I'm surprised the UN isn't trying to pin some "crimes against ray-manity" charges on the Aussies. This is a hate crime, after all. If we don't do something, we could be telling our children about "The Great Stingray Genocide of '06". I feel very strongly about this. I think I'm going to protest. Maybe I'll go on a hunger strike. No, I like to eat; I'm going to boycott surfing and shell necklaces.

Damn, what will I wear to and do at the beach now.

Cruise By The Beach

Well I'm on sick leave again. Since I joined the army over 2 years ago, I seem to be sick much more often, usually with a throat or eye infection. I happen to have both now.


I ended up guarding on Monday (Sep 11th) because a friend called me up at 6:30am horribly sick. When I woke up on Tuesday after guarding the previous night my eyes were horribly sore so I decided to go to infirmary to get some eye drops. The doc not only found an eye infection but when I told her about my sore throat and ear, I landed myself on a week of antibiotics.

This had the potential to be such a perfect leave. If I didn't have to work this weekend and I had seen the doc in the morning, I would have been home from Tuesday morning until Sunday morning- a hell of a vacation. Unfortunately I only got home late Tuesday afternoon and had to go in this afternoon for a few hours for an important meeting with the district head (a little nerve racking). At least I didn't have to guard today because my friend who's place I took on Monday, is covering for me until tomorrow.


I drove to base today for the first time. I had the car at home and wasn't about to spend three hours on a bus for a one hour meeting. It worked out really well. It only took me about half an hour each way and that was with the scenic route. On the way there I decided to drive along the Tel Aviv beach front instead of taking the highway the whole way there. I don't often drive along the beach during the day, it's usually night time when I pass on the way to a bar. It was really nice to see the waves crashing on the beach. I forget how close I live to such a gorgeous beach. It's something I'm going to miss in NYC.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

United 93

Last night I went to see United 93 with Katz and Gross and I thought it was a great movie. In the past few weeks I've seen ads for the movie on bus stops and when I asked people what it was they told me it was a movie about one of the September 11th flights. A little more inquiring a learned it was about the fourth plane, the one that didn't hit its target because the passengers fought back against the terrorists. I decided it was a movie I would like to see and with September 11th tomorrow, I decided it was a fitting time to see it.

Before leaving the house I read the review and was a little wary when it described the movie as a Docu-Drama. I didn't really want to pay money to go see a documentary, but decided I wanted to see the movie anyway.

Upon leaving the movie, I wasn't disappointed. While some people I have spoken with thought it was very documentary-ish. I think it had just the right amount of documentary-ness in it. The movie kept you glued to your seat in anticipation, even though you knew what was going to happen. I thought the film was shot very well and you really got the feeling you were there, whether there was on the plane or in the tower on the ground.

One thing I thought was interesting is that you don't get any back story. The story starts with the terrorist preparing to leave for the airport and end with the plane crash. You don't learn who the terrorists are or who the heroic passengers are. You don't get into anyone's head. Most of the characters in the movie remain nameless. The star of the movie is the situation, no one person stands out.

I left the movie in a rather somber mood, declining to go to the pool hall for some late night billiards. While I went into the movie knowing the story was true, it wasn't till after I left the movie that it finally hit me- THAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED. Those people really died. They actually took a stand and saved countless lives. The thought was depressing and thought provoking. What would I do in that situation? When will someone next be put in that situation?

On the eve of this historic date, I solute the brave souls that lost their lives five years ago.

Saturday, September 09, 2006


Well, I haven't had a chance to write in the past few weeks cause life has been busy.


As of three weeks ago I've taken on a position with more responsibilities and overall work, which includes dealing with certain systems and programs I haven't really dealt with in the past and delegating jobs to other soldiers on the team.

The other thing, other than laziness, is that Katz, Nadiv and I have spent this past week planning a crazy birthday party for Gross. It's been a while (over two years) since the three of us planned a party but Thursday night at the beach we finally got back in the game. The music was rocking and the bubbly was flowing. Actually the only bubbly we had was coke and sprite but the punch I made was killer and it went quickly. Pouring it straight down people's throats didn't exactly do much for conserving the it, but it was worth it. We got about 50 people which was about twice the the low side of what I was expecting. There were a few hitches along the way but in the end, everything came together and there was one hell of a party.

We still have quite a few drinks as we planned to have upwards of 100 people so with a little luck we'll be planning another party in a few weeks time.


Friday, August 25, 2006

Home From The North

I'm home from the north, a little thinner and a little tired but in good spirits. Things were different than I expected but overall the trip was good.

We arrived Tuesday at about noon time to a town called Ma'alot. Our group had bonded on the way as we were about 15 people squashed into a van along with all of our big bags. To our disappointment, when we arrived we were told that due to logistical issues (only one room for sleeping in) the girls would be staying in Ma'alot and instead five guys would be joining us at our final destination of Ma'aleh Yosef, a few kilometers form the border.

I spent most of the time (about 20 hours a day) underground, as we were sleeping and working in bomb shelters and underground bunkers. Our sleeping quarters were a 5m X 5m bomb shelter. All twelve of us managed to some how squish into it and sleep almost comfortably on the floor lined wall to wall with foam mattresses. It wasn't much fun though when on the last night our (single) toilet got clogged and began overflowing everywhere. Our showers were in a near by base as was our food. It was no Ritz but we made things work. I've been in worse.

Our days were spent driving along the border and in various Moshavim (like a Kibbutz) going from bomb shelter to bomb shelter clearing out garbage, sweeping and mopping- basically making them habitable. The inhabitants of the various towns we went to couldn't have been nicer. We were given drinks and snacks throughout the day in addition to fruit picked fresh from the tree. When kids passed us on the street we were always waved to and smiled at.

The first night we got a few free hours to go ice skating in Ma'alot (I didn't know there was a rink there). I wish as the resident Canadian I could have at least been the best skater but let's just say there is a reason I had to flee Canada. We all had a lot of fun though, even if we weren't very good. The second night we were supposed to go to see a comedy show but a few girls were lightly injured in a car accident so it was canceled. We made the best of it by going to a local pizza shop (pretty much the only think in the town that we were staying in) and just hanging around talking in the shelter.

We left Thursday afternoon, a little tired, a little sore but with a sense of accomplishment. I'm really glad I got to do this. We are supposed to be heading back on Sunday for another week but it looks like someone will be replacing me as I have a lot to do back on base. Below are some pictures I snapped while up north.

Crater Caused by Mortar Shell in Ye'arah
Crater caused by a mortar shell in the northern town of Ye'arah.

Shrapnel Damage From a Mortar Shell in Ye'arah
Shrapnel damage caused by a mortar shell in the northern town of Ye'arah.

My Team in the Bomb Shelter
My Team takes a break from cleaning in the bomb shelter.

Sunday, August 20, 2006


This past Thursday I got the call. I was home on sick leave for a day due to an injury I sustained to my back while returning to "normal post war preparedness". Nothing big, just a pulled muscle but I was in a lot of pain and pretty much bed ridden for the weekend. My CO was calling to tell me that Sunday I would be heading to "The North" to participate in a humanitarian mission headed up by my unit. I was a little foggy on the details but basically we would be helping the citizens of the north get back to everyday life. We would be helping rebuild, clean and paint schools, bomb shelters etc. It wasn't a hundred percent whether the mission was a go or not, I would only find out on Saturday night, but I was to pack a bag for a week and expect to leave on Sunday morning for my 6 day stint up north.

Saturday night arrived and the mission was pushed of by a day. Sunday we would be getting our briefing and leaving on Monday morning. At the briefing I learned I will be going to a place by the name of "Ma'aleh Yosef". My groups is made up of 5 guys, 6 girls and two officers. We only leave on Tuesday morning, returning Friday AM but I'm hoping to return on Thursday night. We will be cleaning out bomb shelters and there will be no painting or building. This came as a relief to me as with by back still bothering me, I'm a little worried about having to carry heavy things.

I'm really excited to go as I think this gives me a great opportunity to help give back to the citizens of the north. During the war I had told my COs that if they needed to send anyone up north, I would be the first to volunteer. This is letting me do that albeit a little late. I also excited to see what the state of things is up there. I hope not to find to much destruction but I don't know what to expect.

The trip should be an interesting experience and they tell us that there will be "fun trips" in the evening i.e. shows or hikes so I think this should prove to be both a rewarding and a fun week. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

A Welcomed Cease Fire

The past two weeks have been crazy for me. Upon my return from Canada where I spent two weeks visiting family, I was thrown headfirst into the war efforts. While not fighting on the front lines in Lebanon, you can rest assured that there is plenty for my unit to do. A simple Google search for "Home Front Command" can give you some ideas of what we have been up to, but for security reasons I will not go into detail.

The recently signed cease-fire comes as a relief to me. Not because it means that my workload will go down significantly, if anything it has gotten heavier. Not because I will finally get to go home after a long month of battle, I have not seen battle and I have been home almost as much as before this all started. The recently signed cease fire comes as a relief to me, because I am sick of waking up in the morning to see more of my comrades faces appearing on the front pages of the news papers with the abbreviation z"l (blessed memory) next to their names. I am tired of having to hear the names of recently fallen soldiers broadcast on the radio. It sickens me when I am relieved to not recognize any names because while I may not have known the fallen hero, he was someone's son, someone's brother or someone's husband.

Does this mean we can finally breath easy? No. Until Hezbollah is completely disarmed, our northern border is not safe. And that's not to say that their disarmament will lead to safety. With Syria funneling arms to the terrorists and Iran's race towards nuclear weapons combined with its leader's clear and open hate for Israel, Israel's border is far from safe. But I will take this opportunity to catch my breath, if only for a moment. A moment to not leave 20 unreturned messages for my friends in Lebanon, hoping that they are safe and that the only reasons I have not heard from them is that their batteries are dead. A moment where the only names I hear on the radio are those of the artist whose song I just heard, and the only faces in the paper are those of the brave heroes returning to their families.

It is hard to claim victory after such a war. Our soldiers remain captured, and the terrorists that captured them remain armed and strong despite the strong blow we dealt them. Our border is still in danger as are all the civilians of the north as long as Hezbollah remains armed. I don't know what the solution is. I don't know how long this cease-fire will last and I don't know if pulling out at this stage was the right thing to do. What I do know is that I am happy the death, on both sides, has stopped. I'm happy residents of the north are returning to their homes. But most of all I am happy that my friends are coming home safe. Because dying in defense of your country is the ultimate heroic sacrifice; one I know they would do without hesitation. But one I would not want them to have to do.