יום רביעי, דצמבר 28, 2005

Khanukah in Khanchanaburi

As I was hiking through the bamboo forests of Sai Yok I thought about last year. And so, now that I'm back at my guesthouse on the banks of the River Kwai, I posting a few thoughts.

When I think back to last year Chanukah and where I was, I'm quite a ways from there. Do you ever do that with yearly events? "Where was I last...?" I do. Had you told me last year that Chanukah 2005 I'd be in Thailand lighting a menorah with a shamash hold made from a pineapple top... Yeah, a ways a way.

Over Shabbos in Bangkok I met three Israeli guys who have been traveling around for a while and are continuing on to a few more countries. What I found extraordinary is that all three are deaf (and mostly mute)! None of them can even write English! The only language they know is Hebrew and even that is only in sign language or in writing. Mucho impressio.

The mosquitoes here are ravenous and I am as well. That means I'm going to sign off, shower, and cook dinner.

Please share your thoughts on this. I'd love to hear other people and how the year turns past them.

יום ראשון, דצמבר 25, 2005

Ko Chang - Island of the Elephants

"Here, you can use my guitar. You're welcome not to tune it." - Excuse me? It seems that on this island, guitar strings are almost impossible to find and the last guy who tuned his guitar broke a string. So Kobi practices on an out of tune guitar.

Coconut palms are everywhere, 150-350B will get you a bungalow on the beach, and the sunsets are beautiful. Depending on the beach you'll hear different languages and varying volumes of music, The place I found on my first night along with two friends was on a partly beach. After one night of Drum and Bass in one ear and Beatles in the other, I moved beaches. For 350B(relatively expensive) I got a quiet bungalow with a clean bathroom, a porch, and a mozzie net with no holes. The most strenuous thing I did for the day was hitch a ride up the road to buy some fish. Net, the fellow running "Bailan Family Huts" offered to teach me how to grill fish Thai style. Dinner!

So far I've met some Irish, a Dutch girl, an Aussie couple, two Germans, plenty of Israelis, a guy from Switzerland and some Brits. That's enough for now.


Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, maybe Friday. That was the plan.
Leaving Ko Chang. Very sad.

The ferry I arrived on stops running at 4pm so it cost me 40B to exchange my ticket for a ride on the car ferry. It's a bit cold (which is why I'm leaving Ko Chang a day early) & I might have to dig out my long sleeved shirt.

The interesting parts of tourist filled areas are the tourists themselves, the guesthouse owners, and the wandering between the different guesthouses in search of a better one. On Ko Chang I was definitely a tourist, but at least I found a place that made me feel like a welcome one.
Farewell Ko Chang! If I could only bake bread I would stay longer.

Next: Khanukah in Khanchanaburi!

יום חמישי, דצמבר 15, 2005

Food, Food everywhere and not a bite to eat.

Day two Bangkok:I woke up early as I planned to catch the 9:30am tour of the National Museum. History, art and all that. After walking a few streets I stopped to check my map. A fellow approached me and explained that not only was I walking in the wrong direction but the museum was closed for its' anniversary. Huh? It seems the prince was visiting the museum and it was closed for him until 2pm.

We interrupt this update for an update. I'm writing this in an out of the way restaurant drinking tea and waiting for the house band to start playing. There are one or two non-Thai faces but they all seem local. It's a pleasure to get away from being a tourist.

So this fellow, a primary school English teacher, suggested that I see a few sites instead. He was helpful and wrote down the place names in Thai. I hopped a motorized tricycle for 20 Bhat (divide by 40 for USD) to see the lot. After site number one my driver tells me he'll take me to a silk factory - "It's on the way." I can see where this is heading but as I'm in no hurry, I agree. When he pulls up in front of a Men's wear store with big letters proclaiming "Diplomats Welcome" and other such stuff in English I convince him I am not even going to step inside. I don't care how cheap the suit might be or how much his family needs the commission, I am not hauling it around the mountains for two months. We moved on to site number two. After site number two, Dong (my Thai driver) asks about my travel arrangements. I look at my watch and figure that it's an experience being taken for a ride in Bangkok.

I received better service in that travel agent's office than... ever. It was that good. I was "wai"-ed in and wai-ed out, a chair was drawn up for me and a glass of water poured. When I left without buying I was escorted out and the lady told Dong that there would be no commission for him. Sad face. Onward!! "Maybe an export store?" By now I'd had enough of riding in the back of a motorcycle-pickup truck crossbred. I dictated the last of my stops, paid when we arrived and said Kawp Kuhn Kahp*. Dong was not pleased.
It's now close to 11pm. I'm off to bed. Next time: P.I.T. - The school of the first engineer!

~~The band is playing Imagine.

*Thank you sir.

יום שני, דצמבר 12, 2005

26 Kilo

I've been to the post office and sent a bag by sea mail back home. I've said goodbye to all my friends. I've closed my bank account with ANZ. I've checked my bags and gotten my seat. I'm standing at the free Samsung internet booth in Sydney Airport.


I'm a bit nervous. A little befuddled. I hope I can find a beach to sit on for a week and collect my thoughts. I hope the wonderful people of Sydney take me up on my offers of food and lodging when they come to my country. I hope I meet local people. I hope I don't come across as the ugly tourist. I hope nothing get stolen. I think I'll have some new stories for when I get home.

That's it for now. I'll be updating this blog as a travel log when I can. If anyone has thoughts/tips/ideas about travel in Thailand/Laos please share them with me.


יום שישי, דצמבר 09, 2005

Jewish Blogs

I'm not sure I like them.

Allow me to elaborate.

Over the last 2 months I've been spending more and more time reading (and writing on) blogs. I've been reading mostly the Jewish ones: RenReb, NJG, BTA, BloginDM, RebelJew, Shlomo... The Usual Suspects. Some write beautifully, some write crap. That's fine. Some write to attack and that's what I need to speak about.

A blog is someone's little world in which they can say whatever they want, however they want to, about any topic under the sun. I'm just bothered by the amount of bashing that goes on. I just read a post on the evils of (Lakewood/Kollel/Chassidus/Kiruv/MO/Israel/Turkey/...). The list goes on and on and on. More than anything else on some blogs, you'll find anger and vitriol coming out of peoples ears. From a Halachic perspective (which I realize is a statement that will just inflame some people) it may be technically ok to write (some of) these things. The problem is still that with every comment and post we just stir up more anger and more hate. I didn't even want to write that this shtuss fuels hate but I'm saddened, 'cause it does.

I'm not saying we need to all respect each others opinions and get along and be best mates (though...). But don't people understand the harm they do their own liver with all the toxins this junk pours into them? Your heart becomes callous and disturbed. Maybe it's true that Rabbi This said that. So What? Why is it your holy mission to expose the world to it? Why? To warn the unsuspecting masses? To make sure that they never repeat their heinous crime of Whatever? Then say it differently. Constructive criticism. The same facts can be told and the same warning issued without the "story". Please.

And I know, I have the option of not reading them and leaving it all alone. But I feel that this request of me is more "Stop telling us what to do! Let us enjoy these rants."

Maybe that's what irks me. The fact that in response to these scandals and accusations laid bare there is a glee.

I'm going to let this post sit for a few days. I need to go pack anyway. By the time you read this I will be nomadic (I hope).

Ok, this is review number two of this post. I still feel this way. I still need to pack.

Ok, review number three. I have my life in a big backpack and a ticket to Bangkok on Monday night. I'll post.

יום רביעי, דצמבר 07, 2005

Bushwalking - Part II

Just came back from two days in the Royal National Park. Wow. Ever see a 3 foot Iguana? In the local patois "A Gooyana". A hike up along the coast. Part rainforest, part open track, some beachiness, and a slightly intoxicated fellow who very kindly showed us where we could find water at night.

On different notes, I think I'm going to pull the personal note I had up a few days ago. Either I should keep this blog completly annoymous, or I should not be posting personal items (at least not those that relate to other people). Any thoughts? I'd love to know how everyone draws their own line.

And to end on a high note, I am now in official backpacker mode. Just like all the tourists I sneered at throughout the semester here. I have my life in a massive bag, I'm begging lodging from friends and eating whatever doesn't move. My post from now on will be a bit spottier and a bit more experiential. A little less thoughtful, a little more fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants. A little less conversation, a little more action.

My case for Israel - Part II

Please feel free to read my introduction to Part I.
{NOTE: This post covers history until the rise of Zionism as a movement in the 1870's}

What is the Jewish historical connection to the land of Israel?

I think we'll have two parts to this section. Who was there, and Who wasn't there. I'm going to try to go as far back as I can and move from there forward until the modern return to Israel. Again, in the name of honesty I will work with recorded fact and try to keep my bias out of this.

Historical sources are Josephus Flavius (Roman-Jewish Historian ~100CE), the Old Testament, and archaeological records. A note on the archaeological records: as far back as 500BCE we have lots of finds. Prior to that, only a small amount of verified antiquities have been found. I think you'll find that for the purposes of our discussion 2500 years of reliable history should suffice.

Who was there?

Approx 1900BCE, a man called Abraham moved from a city called Ur (in present day Iran) to a land called Cana'an. The land was called Cana'an because the people living there were the Canaanite tribe. Abraham establishes himself in the land, buys property, befriends the locals, and settles down. {Presumably he does this because of a promise from God that it would one day all belong to his children. But that's not our focus.} He has two sons, Ishmael and Issac. Abraham chooses Issac as his heir, Ishmael is sent away with the promise that he too will be great. Issac remains in the land (still referred to as Cana'an). He also has two sons, Esau and Jacob. Jacob is chosen as Issac's heir and Esau is sent away. Jacob's family leaves the land because of a famine and descends to Egypt. At the time(1700BCE), Egypt was the world power and had storehouses of food. Jacobs family remains in Egypt for about 300 years and then leave moving back towards the land called Cana'an.

At the time there were many different nations living in this "promised land" as it's geographical location and it's coastal ports made it the crossroads between Asia, Europe, and Africa.

The Hebrews (over 3 million people by then) entered the Land of Israel about 1300BCE, and conquered the land from the kings living there. For a detailed description of these conquest-oriented wars please read the Book of Joshua. They divided the land according to tribes and lived under a tribal confederation until being united under the first monarch, King Saul.

During this tribal period, the Philistines, an Aegean people, in the 12th Century BCE, settled along the Mediterranean coastal plain especially in the south (what is now the Gaza Strip). Records of the wars with the Philistines can be found the books Judges I & II.

The second king, David, completed the conquest of the land, established borders, and established Jerusalem as the capital city around 1000 B.C.E. His palace can be seen today in the Silwan valley, just outside of Jerusalem's Old City.

David's son, Solomon built the Temple on what is today know as the "Temple Mount" and consolidated the military, administrative and religious functions of the kingdom. The nation was divided under Solomon's son, with the northern kingdom (Israel) lasting until 722 B.C.E., when the Assyrians destroyed it, and the southern kingdom (Judah) surviving until the Babylonian conquest in 586 B.C.E. The Jewish people enjoyed brief periods of sovereignty afterward before most Jews were finally driven from their homeland in 135 C.E.

From the initial conquest of the land by Joshua until the Babylonian rule, Jewish independence in the Land of Israel lasted for more than 400 years. This is longer than Americans have enjoyed independence in what has become known as the United States. In fact, if not for foreign conquerors (and unfortunate infighting), Israel would be 3,000 years old today.

Let's keep going with the time-line, I hope you're not bored yet. There is very little that's worse than a history class.

A few more dates. 460BCE - Jews are permitted to return to Israel and gain limited sovereignty. A second Temple is built. The walls that today stand around the temple mount are the walls from the second temple. Jewish life was renewed in the land and today we have alot of archaeological evidence from this time period. As noted, the strip of land that was then known as Judea was a crossroads and a coveted bit of real-estate. In 70CE the Roman empire destroyed the Second Temple in Jerusalem and began exiling the residents of the land. exile was common practice so that people would not revolt against the ruling powers. I think Machiavelli recommends this as well. Coins were minted "Judea Captura" and the famous relief in Rome of the Roman soldiers carrying off vessels of the Jewish Temple. In an attempt to minimize Jewish identification with the land of Israel, after crushing the last Jewish revolt, the Romans applied the name Palaestina to Judea. The name was most likely taken from the Aegean tribe, the Philistines.

A common misconception is that all the Jews were forced into the Diaspora by the Romans after the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem in the year 70 C.E. and then, 1,800 years later, suddenly returned demanding their country back. In reality, the Jewish people have maintained ties to their historic homeland for more than 3,700 years.

Even after the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem and the beginning of the exile, Jewish life in the Land of Israel continued and often flourished. By the 9th century large communities were reestablished in Jerusalem and Tiberius. In the 11th century, Jewish communities grew in Rafah, Gaza, Ashkelon, Jaffa and Caesarea. The Jewish presence in Israel over the last 2000 years is already a matter of historical documentation. There are manuscripts that have been found and buildings with distinct Jewish characteristics. The archaeological record from Masada to mosaics clearly depicts Jewish life in the Land of Israel.

Throughout the years of exile, Jewish people have always held a connection to their land. They have not been absorbed into other countries or cultures. Prayer has always been in the direction of Jerusalem and remembrance of the destroyed land features in almost every religious event. The Jewish community in Israel was not large during these years but it was always there.

The Crusaders massacred many Jews during the 12th century, but the community rebounded in the next two centuries as large numbers of rabbis and Jewish pilgrims immigrated to Jerusalem and the Galilee. Prominent rabbis established communities in Safed, Jerusalem and elsewhere during the next 300 years. By the early 19th century — years before the birth of the modern Zionist movement — more than 10,000 Jews lived throughout what is today Israel.

That is the story of "Who was there?". Now let's ask the question: "Who was not there?"

As much as I hold my own writing in high esteem, a fellow by the name of Yehezkel Bin-Nun answers this question better than I could:

"The general impression given in the media is that Palestinians have lived in the Holy Land for hundreds, if not thousands of years. No wonder, then, that a recent poll of French citizens shows that the majority believe (falsely) that prior to the establishment of the State of Israel an independent Arab Palestinian state existed in its place. Yet curiously, when it comes to giving the history of this "ancient" people most news outlets find it harder to go back more than the early nineteen hundreds. CNN, an agency which has devoted countless hours of airtime to the "plight" of the Palestinians, has a website which features a special section on the Middle East conflict called "Struggle For Peace". It includes a promising sounding section entitled "Lands Through The Ages" which assures us it will detail the history of the region using maps. Strangely, it turns out, the maps displayed start no earlier than the ancient date of 1917. The CBS News website has a background section called "A Struggle For Middle East Peace." Its history timeline starts no earlier than 1897. The NBC News background section called "Searching for Peace" has a timeline which starts in 1916. BBC's timeline starts in 1948.

Yet, the clincher must certainly be the Palestinian National Authority's own website. While it is top heavy on such phrases as "Israeli occupation" and "Israeli human rights violations" the site offers practically nothing on the history of the so-called Palestinian people. The only article on the site with any historical content is called "Palestinian History - 20th Century Milestones" which seems only to confirm that prior to 1900 there was no such concept as the Palestinian People.

While the modern media maybe short on information about the history of the "Palestinian people" the historical record is not. Books, such as Battleground by Samuel Katz and From Time Immemorial by Joan Peters [have] detailed the history of the region. Far from being settled by Palestinians for hundreds, if not thousands of years, the Land of Israel, according to dozens of visitors to the land, was, until the beginning of the last century, practically empty. Alphonse de Lamartine visited the land in 1835. In his book, Recollections of the East, he writes "Outside the gates of Jerusalem we saw no living object, heard no living sound...." None other than the famous American author Mark Twain, who visited the Land of Israel in 1867, confirms this. In his book Innocents Abroad he writes, "A desolation is here that not even imagination can grace with the pomp of life and action. We reached Tabor safely.... We never saw a human being on the whole journey." Even the British Consul in Palestine reported, in 1857, "The country is in a considerable degree empty of inhabitants and therefore its greatest need is that of a body of population..."

In fact, according to official Ottoman Turk census figures of 1882, in the entire Land of Israel, there were only 141,000 Muslims, both Arab and non-Arab. This number was to skyrocket to 650,000 Arabs by 1922, a 450% increase in only 40 years. By 1938 that number would become over 1 million or an 800% increase in only 56 years. Population growth was especially high in areas where Jews lived. Where did all these Arabs come from? According to the Arabs the huge increase in their numbers was due to natural childbirth. In 1944, for example, they alleged that the natural increase (births minus deaths) of Arabs in the Land of Israel was the astounding figure of 334 per 1000. That would make it roughly three times the corresponding rate for the same year of Lebanon and Syria and almost four times that of Egypt, considered amongst the highest in the world. Unlikely, to say the least. If the massive increase was not due to natural births, then were did all these Arabs come from?

All the evidence points to the neighboring Arab states of Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. In 1922 the British Governor of the Sinai noted that "illegal immigration was not only going on from the Sinai, but also from Transjordan and Syria." In 1930, the British Mandate -sponsored Hope-Simpson Report noted that "unemployment lists are being swollen by immigrants from Trans-Jordania" and "illicit immigration through Syria and across the northern frontier of Palestine is material." The Arabs themselves bare witness to this trend. For example, the governor of the Syrian district of Hauran, Tewfik Bey el Hurani, admitted in 1934 that in a single period of only a few months over 30,000 Syrians from Hauran had moved to the Land of Israel. Even British Prime Minister Winston Churchill noted the Arab influx. Churchill, a veteran of the early years of the British mandate in the Land of Israel, noted in 1939 that "far from being persecuted, the Arabs have crowded into the country and multiplied."

Far from displacing the Arabs, as they claimed, the Jews were the very reason the Arabs chose to settle in the Land of Israel. Jobs provided by newly established Zionist industry and agriculture lured them there[...]. Malcolm MacDonald, one of the principal authors of the British White Paper of 1939, which restricted Jewish immigration to the Land of Israel, admitted (conservatively) that were it not for a Jewish presence the Arab population would have been little more than half of what it actually was. Today, when due to the latest "intifada" Arabs from the territories under 35 are no longer allowed into pre-1967 Israel to work, unemployment has skyrocketed to over 40% and most rely on European aid packages to survive.


To maintain the charade of being an indigenous population, Arab propagandists have had to do more than a little rewriting of history. A major part of this rewriting involves the renaming of geography. For two thousand years the central mountainous region of Israel was known as Judea and Samaria, as any medieval map of the area testifies. However, the state of Jordan occupied the area in 1948 and renamed it the West Bank. This is a funny name for a region that actually lies in the eastern portion of the land and can only be called "West" in reference to Jordan. This does not seem to bother the majority of news outlets covering the region, which universally refer to the region by its recent Jordanian name.

The term "Palestinian" is itself a masterful twisting of history. To portray themselves as indigenous, Arab settlers adopted the name of an ancient tribe, the Phillistines, that died out almost 3000 years ago. The connection between this tribe and modern day Arabs is nil. Who is to know the difference? Given the absence of any historical record, one can understand why Yasser Arafat claimed that Jesus Christ, a Jewish carpenter from the Galilee, was a Palestinian. Every year, at Christmas time, Arafat would go to Bethlehem and tell worshipers that Jesus was in fact "the first Palestinian".


It is interesting to note that the Bible makes reference to a fictitious nation confronting Israel. "They have provoked me to jealously by worshiping a non-god, angered me with their vanities. I will provoke them with a non-nation; anger them with a foolish nation (Deuteronomy 32:21).""


In summary: The Arabic word Filastin is derived from Latin. There is no language known as Palestinian. The nations that inhabited the land prior to the Jews are no longer in existence, for they have been absorbed into various other peoples throughout the millennia.

Yes, there were Arabs in the land when when Jews arrived in the 1870's. But please note these were not the "indigenous natives" they would have you believe. Arabs of any nationality only came to the land in 632 with the spread of Islam. {Hmmm.. sounds tasty: "Spread of Islam - a taste of paradise".}

There is no distinct Palestinian culture. There has never been a land known as Palestine governed by Palestinians. Palestinians are Arabs, indistinguishable from Jordanians, Syrians, Lebanese, Iraqis, etc.

When the distinguished Arab-American historian, Princeton University Prof. Philip Hitti, testified against partition before the Anglo-American Committee in 1946, he said: "There is no such thing as 'Palestine' in history, absolutely not."

When the First Congress of Muslim-Christian Associations met in Jerusalem in February 1919 , the following resolution was adopted: "We consider Palestine as part of Arab Syria, as it has never been separated from it at any time. We are connected with it by national, religious, linguistic, natural, economic and geographical bonds."

In 1937, a local Arab leader, Auni Bey Abdul-Hadi, told the Peel Commission, which ultimately suggested the partition of Palestine: "There is no such country [as Palestine]! 'Palestine' is a term the Zionists invented! There is no Palestine in the Bible. Our country was for centuries part of Syria."

In contrast, no serious historian denies the historical connection of the Jewish Nation to the land called Israel.

I think that covers the two questions of who was and who wasn't there.

This concludes part two of our series:
The Pessoptimist Saeed, the Donkey, & the Israeli Big Man.
The Alchemist, the Bar Keep, & the "Dim Sum" Man

יום חמישי, דצמבר 01, 2005

And when they came for me...

I'm not going to bother recounting the story. You can read for youselves. Another Brick in the Wall.

First They Came for the Jews

First they came for the Jews
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the Communists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for me
and there was no one left
to speak out for me.

Pastor Martin Niemöller