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Friday, March 31, 2006

Swing Votes And Soldiers- Elections- The 17th Knesset

This past week I was surprised to find an e-mail from BBC waiting for me when I returned home from guarding. They wanted to interview me for a program they were doing on the elections. It never happened in the end but it made me give some thought to the elections, specifically swing votes and the soldier vote.

I was again on base the night before elections and this gave me the opportunity to discuss the candidates with many people, playing devil’s advocate and trying to gain some insight into what people were thinking so close to elections.

It would seem the night before voting; most people weren’t sure who they were going to vote for, many not having the faintest idea. Why was this phenomenon so common on the eve of elections? I believe the reason people couldn’t find the party that was right for them was that it wasn’t there at all. It wasn’t that you loved two or three parties so much that you couldn’t decide which you liked more. The situation became: “Which party do I hate less? Which is going to do less of what I don’t want? Which party has even one person on their list who isn’t corrupt?!” Our vote was being decided by who was the least of many evils. With all the parties running for this 17th Knesset, one would think there would be something for everyone, but most people didn’t feel a real connection or loyalty to any party.

I think this undecided swing vote played a large part in Tuesday’s election. With voter apathy at an all time high, of the few people actually voting, many were walking into the booth still undecided. People were making their decisions at the absolute last possible second because no party was particularly convincing that they were in fact the best choice. I even heard a story of one guy who used eenie-meenie-miny-moe to decide which party to vote for.

To say we need a reform in the government is an understatement. It is also a statement that shouldn’t need to be said. Politicians should be doing what they say they would, if they get elected. Politicians shouldn’t be corrupt. Accountability is key. Lying shouldn’t be tolerated or accepted. The only way this will change, is if we, the people speak up.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Irish Chocolate Anyone?

This past weekend I checked out two new places. The first was Molly Bloom's in Tel Aviv and the second was Max Brenner's in Herzelia Pituach.

Thursday night, five of us decided to go out and try a new place. Ilan H, suggested a place called Leo Bloom's in Ramat HaHayal. Leo Bloom's is an Irish Pub but it looked kind of like a cafe from the outside. It was crowded and some of the group wasn't crazy about the place so we headed on over to Molly Bloom's in Tel Aviv, right around the corner form my usual bar, Mike's Place. Molly's, unlike her brother, has more of an Irish Pub feeling. The music wasn't quite as authentic as I would have expected (Well I guess U2 is Irish) but the place had the look and feel of an Irish Pub (not that I've ever been to Ireland). Naturally, I had an Irish beer, a Guinness, and we relaxed and talked till the early hours of the morning.

Saturday night I went to Aroma with some friends where I got my usual, a Halumi sandwich. It's a sandwich made on thick white bread with fried cheese, pickles, tomatoes and cream cheese inside. Sounds gross, eh? Don't knock it till you try it! Highly recommended! Later that night, Katz, Nadiv and I weren't yet tired and we ended up in Herzelia Pituach. We decided to go to Max Brenner's as I had never been there and it wasn't too crowded on a Saturday night at 12:30am. Max Brenner's is a cafe where everything is based on chocolate. From hot chocolate to chocolate milkshakes, chocolate soups and fondues to Belgian waffles with chocolate, everything there looks delicious. I got an orange hot chocolate which was delicious if you like the bitter taste of dark chocolate and orange peel (which I did by the way). Katz got an Oreo milkshake (also good) but the prize for oddest drink goes to Nadiv with the Mexican hot chocolate, which had also caught my eye. When the waitress didn't suggest it as for Max Brenner virgins, I fell back on the orange. Nadiv, however, was strong and brave and went through with el Mexicano. The Mexican hot chocolate combines the sweet taste of chocolate with the spicy, savory tastes of chili, pepper and cinnamon. Definitely and interesting flavor and my choice next time.

So if you're ever in the area, why not check out one of my new favorite places? Molly and Max are always very welcoming.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Living The Good Life

This past Monday I had quite an interesting experience. I went to a private screening of the movie "The Producers". My friend Or's dad owns a business that advertises in the Yellow Pages (actually Dapei Zahav means golden pages). To show their gratitude (and advertise a bit) the Yellow Pages people gave their best customers two tickets to come see a private screening of the movie, completely free.

The evening started at 8pm, so naturally we got there at 8:15. Thinking we were late we ran quickly into Cinema City wanting to miss as little of the movie as possible. Almost the entire cinema was closed off to the public. There were ushers directing you to the reception area, set up with tables, benches, flowers and candles. There were several buffets set up with hors d'oeuvres and pastries. I particularly liked the croissants. There was also a coffee bar with espresso and several tables with tea, coffee and juices.

We seemed to be the only people there under 30. Most people there seemed to be CEOs of companies talking business, networking and showing of their wives. We pretended to own a startup company. Nobody bought it.

At nine we were all directed to the theatre, where we could sit anywhere we wanted. A couple of important executives from my new buddies, the Yellow Pages, talked about some of their new services and showed some commercials. Their new SMS phone book is quite useful. Then we watched the movie.

There were a lot of really funny scenes. The first half an hour of the movie was the funniest. The scene where the two producers meet had me crying, as did the scene when they meet the Nazi playwright. The second half of the movie wasn't as funny and had too much singing, but overall a pretty funny movie. I enjoyed it more than I remember enjoying the original, but in all fairness I saw the original many years ago.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Purim Party On Base

Purim Party On Base
Originally uploaded by Benjamin Ludman.
This past Wednesday was our Purim party on base. One of the medics convinced me to dress up with her- me as Mickey Mouse and she as Minnie Mouse. We came in 2nd place in the costume contest (first prize went to a giant pacman and red-ghosty-thing). Our prize- electronic Sudoku! Can you hear the excitement!?

Tuesday, March 14, 2006


Originally uploaded by Benjamin Ludman.

Purim time means Hamentashen! So I helped make some...

Sunday, March 12, 2006

What A Wakeup

"What is that damn noise! Let met get some sleep!" I glance at my phone. 10:30 am. Who could be up at this un-Godly hour on a Friday. And why haven't they turned off their alarm. The phone rings. I roll over and ignore it- something I am very good at. A few minutes pass. That alarm is still going! It suddenly dawns on me- that could be our alarm! I kick into combat mode. Being the super-soldier that I am, I am immediately wide awake, gun in hand ready to face any interloper that has intruded. No one messes with my family or my territory, especially after waking me up! I promptly neutralize the threat and am declared a national hero. And I return to the comfort of my bed for a few more hours of precious zs.

Well, that's sort of what happened Friday morning- without all the drama and action of course. What actually happened can be summed up in a few sentences. My mom forgot I was home and turned on the alarm when she went out. I then rolled over, two hours later, and set it off. I ignored the alarm company's phone call, not realizing that that was what it was, and therefore was required to actually get up to make sure that no overzealous rent-a-cops were going to play hero and break into my house to come rescue me and my blanky. That may have actually been nice because I don't think anyone actually came to check on us. Doesn't give me that much faith in our security company.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Election 2006--The Candidates Speak

The room was crowded but not packed. The atmosphere was laid-back and relaxed. Most of the speakers had smiles on their faces. There was quite a bit of whispering in the audience. Such was the sanctuary at Shivtei Yisrael Synagogue, here in Ra’anana Sunday evening where I attended a panel showcasing the various political parties running in the upcoming election. A representative of each party (with the exception of a few) came to speak about their party’s policies.

The main subject of the evening seemed to be security, with most parties’ plans seeming to have been taken from one of two molds. The issue of accountability also came up quite a bit towards the end. The panel was casual, with many of the speakers making jokes throughout the evening. Likud representative Uzi Landau apologized for showing up half an hour late by joking that the last time he came to this panel he was half an hour early so they were even.

One speaker mentioned that in Israeli politics there was too much arrogance and not enough pride. This was proven to be true by several candidates who refused to take the hints of the moderator on time limits, and would continually speak much longer then they should have. Other than this the night ran relatively smoothly- the moderator had to stop in the middle to announce that a car outside was blocking a driveway. An announcement to which Landau rose and announced that it was his car- partially joking but I think partially serious; perhaps he just needed a minute to breathe. When the moderator clarified five minutes later that it was a silver Peugeot, it was the Shinui representative who rose embarrassed saying that it was in fact his car- this time completely serious. What kind of example does this set? When political candidates can’t even arrive on time and when they do, can’t obey parking laws and block driveways, what are they saying to us? What other laws will they break?

There were several other things mentioned that worried me. Kadima, a large party and the current front-runner, couldn’t even bother to send someone from their list, instead sending a representative who lives here in Ra’anana. Someone who seemed to have angered many a person in the audience with his comments and less than diplomatic replies and mud slinging. It was as if the Anglo vote was not important enough to free up a few hours in someone’s busy schedule. To his credit, Yossi Beilin himself showed up and spoke quite well for Meretz, even if I don’t agree with his stance.

The amount of mud-slinging surprised me. Although Tavnit leader Uzi Dayan was promoting pluralism and respect for others, he seemed to be doing much of the slinging. He did however bring up a good point when he referred to Kadima as “a national blind date”. With what would seem to be constant changes and additions to policy, and many people on their list with no political background, Kadima gives us plenty to be dubious of. Landau, continuing Dayan’s metaphor spoke about Kadima’s “Singles Party”, referring to a get-together the party had this past week, where many of the candidates met for the first time.

While quite worrisome one has to remember that these are politicians, and therefore not be too surprised by the speakers’ conduct. No party really convinced me of the merits of their party. This should be an interesting election, so make sure to cast your vote (if you can) in three weeks time.

Friday, March 03, 2006

The TRAINing That Wasn’t

Train at Exercise in Tel Aviv
Originally uploaded by Benjamin Ludman.
Yesterday wasn’t a regular day for me. I was involved in a training exercise, mostly for the police, but also the army, MDA, and the fire department. [LINK] My role in the exercise was to play an injured person on a train. I won’t go into too many details for security reasons, but it was an interesting exercise [LINK]. They brought a train and planted small explosives on it. We were all given scenario cards describing whom we were playing (I was a 15 year old boy with two broken legs), and then people came on board and rescued us.

At least that’s what would have happened. Just as it was all about to officially start, we were all on the train ready for action; we were all called off the train. A large accident [LINK] had occurred in Tel Aviv (actually Jaffa, very close to my base). At a construction site, a crane collapsed killing two. All of the forces that were supposed to be taking part in the exercise simulating a large-scale situation with many injuries were now being called in for real. The exercise was called off but considered a success- the planning of such a large-scale exercise is not a small feat, especially with all the different organizations involved. And so I returned home early after an interesting day. A great way to finish of the week.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Cartoon Craziness- Where Do We Draw The Line When It Comes To Freedom Of Speech

Jyllands-Posten, the Danish newspaper that published cartoons of Muslim
Prophet Muhammad, has appeared in the media quite a bit in the past few
weeks. The whole caricature fiasco has dominated the headlines. Whether
it was more embassy attacks, people dying in riots or calls to boycott
Danish products, it has been hard to open the newspaper and not see
something related to the "Danish Disaster". But what has lead to
such anger in the Arab/Islamic world? Is it justified? Should we be just
as outraged?

What lead to this outrage and violence? Is it the fact that Muhammad is
portrayed in an image? Is it that he is portrayed in a negative image?
These specific images were published back in September, but images of
Muhammad have been around for centuries. From Asian and Islamic
manuscripts and paintings to Dante's Inferno, this is hardly the first
depiction of Muhammad. [Link]

Is this anger justified? As a Jew I am offended when cartoons are
published portraying Jews as Nazis, bloodthirsty killers or comparing us
to Hitler. Generalizations based on stereotypes generally offend
someone. The difference is in what the offended party does about it.

Attacking embassies is not what you do. Rioting is not what you do.
When a cartoon portrays Muhammad with a bomb in his turban, implying
Muslims' tendency to violence, diplomatic means of protesting would
probably be a better idea.

I am a strong believer in freedom of speech. I think what the Danish
newspaper did was completely legit and they don't owe anyone an
apology. If the table were turned and the cartoons were anti-Jewish I
would write a letter to the editor, but I wouldn't say become violent.
Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion, just because I don't agree
with it doesn't mean it shouldn't be published. With that said I
believe people should show discretion when it comes to subject matter
such as this. Were some of these cartoons in bad taste? Maybe. Would I
be more outraged if the reaction to these cartoons was a peaceful one
and not the incitement of more violence? For sure.

If the people in power in the Islamic/Arab world spoke out more against
the violence these cartoonists were drawing their material from, maybe I
would feel more sympathy. If they spoke out more against the depictions
of Jews as child killers, maybe I would be just a little more outraged.
But until that happens, long live freedom of speech.