Expatriate Owl

A politically-incorrect perspective that does not necessarily tow the party line, on various matters including but not limited to taxation, academia, government and religion.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Blue (Helmet) Litmus Test

There has been much to catch up on since my wife and I returned from Israel almost two weeks ago, so I haven't been posting.   I have already done two out-of-town excursions since then (home in time for late dinner), and a few more are planned for me in the coming weeks, and my wife is out of town today for the day.

For reasons not yet appropriate for discussion, the litigation I am conducting has taken a subtle but interesting twist, even as I work on writing the legal memo for the Judge.

And today is my first day back to teach for the semester, with its usual attendant first-day-of-the-semester dysfunctions (which, thankfully, have been quite minor thus far).

Though I have some very strong opinions on the events now transpiring in Israel and in the world, most of those views have been more than adequately expressed by others elsewhere, and will not now be given the "me, too," other than to give a perfunctory "me, too."

And the one matter I do, at this moment, feel a strong compulsion to comment upon, does not warrant much in the way of comment because it speaks for itself:

The detention/kidnapping of 48 U.N. "peacekeeper" troops in the Golan by Muslim terrorists.

If the UN does nothing, then it (A) shows the futility of depending upon UN "peacekeepers," and if the UN uses force then that  leaves a wide opening for Israel to do likewise, in spades – if Netanyahu has the baytzim to act.

And it really cannot be said that the UN is a "neutral" in this conflict because a UN agency, UNRWA, is allowing its schools in Gaza to be used as safekeeping facilities for Hamas rockets.

So if the blue helmet does not guarantee the safety of the peacekeeper soldier, it is because the UN is not the neutral party it is touted to be.

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Sunday, August 10, 2014

Distributing to the Deserving

One great ancient and ingrained Jewish tradition is tzedaka.  While the word is commonly rendered as "charity" in English translations, the word actually means "justice."  Everyone is obligated to help someone less fortunate then himself/herself. 

Jews are frequently accused of being clannish; this is in no small measure a spin by our enemies upon our tendencies to help our own who are in need.  During the great immigration waves to America of the early 1900's, newly-arrived Jewish immigrants were given extensive aid by various organizations and individuals within the American Jewish community.  One such recipient of this tzedaka was my great-grandmother, who arrived here a widow with three young daughters (my grandmother being one of them).  One hundred years later, my great-grandmother's descendants have returned this tzedaka many times over (even when adjusted to current dollars), not only to the Jewish community but to America as a whole.  And this does not count a multi-millionaire cousin of mine who is active in some well-known charitable organizations.

And so, before I left for my current excursion to Israel, many members of my congregation gave me tzedaka money to distribute to Israel's needy.

Problem:  I have a dollar of tzedaka to distribute (there are many money changer businesses in the city, some within a few meters of one another, all thriving in the tourist trade; changing that dollar bill into shekels would be no problem whatsoever for the recipient).  To which of these supplicants should I give that dollar:

A)  Woman on street, single mom with 5 kids, says she needs money to feed her kids for the Sabbath (Shabbat).

B)  Woman, divorced within past month, 2 young children at home and one teenager learning in yeshiva, ex-husband has severely limited wherewithal to provide support, woman got house as a result of the divorce, but is struggling to keep it.  House has 4 bedrooms, plus a basement apartment that can be rented out.  Sufficient food in kitchen to feed woman, her three children, plus 3 guests.  House has air conditioning.

Ceteris paribus, that tzedaka dollar would go to Woman A.  And that is to whom I gave a $10 bill.

Except … 

Except that Woman A has an attitude.  She was berating me for not giving her more, she wants me to buy here entire Shabbat meals (the street upon which she asks alms has a significant amount of foot traffic), and she wants me to buy her all kinds of other things.

What to do?

When I got back to the car, my son (who is now living in the city) told me that he is familiar with that woman, and she has a reputation; she really is needy but that does not stop her from having the attitude.

But Woman B happens to be my son's ex-landlady.  And before we came, he realized that his erstwhile apartment, in the basement of Woman B's house, was vacant, so he convinced his former landlady to rent it out to me and my wife for a week.

Well, it turns out that the rate Woman B was charging us was quoted to us in error.  Her ex-husband had theretofore handled the rental of the apartment, but now the house is all hers.  She had somehow gotten the wrong figure for the rent from the records left by her ex, and had charged us approximately 700 shekels less than the true rental value of the apartment.

Our son was (and has remained) on good terms with his former landlady; his reasons for relocating to his current quarters 2 blocks away had nothing to do with her or her now former husband.  Ms. B accordingly was able to approach my son and inform her of the situation.  When our son apprised us of it, we decided to give Ms. B an additional 700 shekel for the apartment.

This act of tzedaka went beyond the 700 shekels, however, because when the next tenant comes in (she seems to be on the verge of consummating a deal with someone), Ms. B will receive an appropriate amount of rent.

As for Ms. A, with her welfare entitlement mentality, she may well continue to take advantage of the kindness of tzedaka-minded visitors.  But I will not be one of them.

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Saturday, August 09, 2014


In America, it is not uncommon for an American to display the American flag on his or her residence.  Flags flying from porches, windows, or even flagpoles on the front lawn send the message that "I am an American and I love my country."  Each flag owner/displayer has his or her personal reasons to motivate the display of the American flag.

In Israel, an even greater percentage of Israelis fly the Israeli flag from their balconies, rooftops, front windows, and everywhere else.  One such Israeli family is the one we visited the other day.

Their home is in an area considered to be disputed territory by the U.S. State Department.  In flying the blue and white Israeli flag from their rear terrace, they are making an affirmative political/religious statement that carries implications far, far beyond those of the American who displays Old Glory from his or her home.

Indeed, when we drove up from the Holy City of Jerusalem to the north, we went through the Shomron area (otherwise known as the "West Bank"), and passed several Jewish settlements where the blue and white Israeli flag was copiously displayed.

If only more Americans appreciated the value of our flag as much as the Israelis value theirs.

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