Monday, August 29, 2011

Jerusalem street cats

Two Jerusalem cats at 12 Elazar ha-Modai St.
 Because so many people make their way to this blog when they are searching for cats online, I decided to put "Jerusalem street cats" into Google, and discovered that this blog in fact is the first hit. There were some other interesting sites after it - one a Facebook page whose goal is protect the neglected street cats of Jerusalem. Another was an article on the cats of Jerusalem by Basem Raad in the Jerusalem Quarterly, published by the Institute of Jerusalem Studies. While the article makes a number of questionable assertions, it is also an affecting, humane meditation on the street cats and how they are mistreated by people. He writes:
Something similar happens with cats and people in the old streets of Jerusalem. Jerusalem cats stand apart; they are and are not like other cats. What is striking is the absolute non-pet nature of their existence and the feline grace some of them can exhibit, even under conditions of hardship. I am speaking of the many street cats, not the ones owned by west Jerusalem Israelis who have come from the West and imported that pet culture (and sometimes the pets themselves) with them, or the few cats kept by “aristocratic” Palestinian families in east Jerusalem who generally keep their pets locked up inside. That kind of culture comes with luxury. The “non-pets” are the many feral cats on the streets, mostly on the east side of the city or within the confines of the Old City walls.
It is actually not true that feral cats are mostly on the eastern side of the city - there are many street cats in West Jerusalem as well, and they are generally subjected to the same sad fate as the east Jerusalem and Old City street cats that he writes about.

The author argues also that the English name "cat" probably comes from North African and Asiatic roots, which I suppose is possible, but the Oxford English Dictionary's entry on the etymology of the word does not mention such an origin.
Etymology:  The Middle English and modern cat corresponds at once to Old English cat and Old Northern French cat. The name is common European of unknown origin: found in Latin and Greek in 1–4th cent., and in the modern languages generally, as far back as their records go. Byzantine Greek had κάττα (in Cæsarius c350) and later κάττος, as familiar terms = αἴλουρος; modern Greek has γάτα from Italian. Latin had catta in Martial a100, and in the Old Latin Bible version (‘Itala’), where it renders αἴλουρος. Palladius, ? c350, has catus, elsewhere scanned cātus (Lewis and Short), and probably in both cases properly cattus. From cattus, catta, came all the Romanic forms, Italian gatto, Spanish gato, Portuguese gato, Catalan gat, Provencal cat, Old Northern French cat, French chat, with corresponding feminines gatta, gata, cata, cate, chate, chatte. The Germanic forms recorded are Old English cat, catt, Old Norse kött-r ( < kattuz) masculine, genitive kattar (Swedish katt, Danish kat); also Old English catte ? feminine, West Germanic *katta (Middle Low German katte, Middle Dutch katte, kat, Dutch kat, also Swedish katta), Old High German chazzâ (Middle High German, modern German katze) feminine; Old High German had also chataro, Middle High German katero, kater, modern German and Dutch kater, he-cat. The Germanic types of these would be *kattuz (masculine), *kattôn- (feminine), *kat(a)zon- masculine; but as no form of the word is preserved in Gothic, it is not certain that it goes back to the Germanic period. It was at least West Germanic c400–450. It is also in Celtic: Old Irish cat (masculine), Gaelic cat com., Welsh and Cornish cath (feminine), Breton kaz, Vannes kac'h m. Also in Slavonic, with type kot-: Old Slavonic kot'ka (feminine), Bulgarian kotka, Slovene kot (masculine), Russian kot (masculine), kotchka, koshka (feminine), Polish kot (koczur m.), Bohemian kot (masculine), kotka (feminine), Sorbian kotka; also Lithuanian kate; Finnish katti.
On the other hand, the Arabic word for "cat" does seem very similar to the Indo-European. From Wiki Answers:
A male cat = qitt قطّ
A female cat = qitta قطّة
Cats = qitat قطط
The Hebrew word for "cat" is unrelated - it is חתול or חתולה - hatul (masc.) or hatulah (fem.).

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Hurricane Photos

NASA has put up some beautiful photos of Hurricane Irene from space, including one that gives a full disk image of the western hemisphere. Notice how enormous Irene is, to the east and south of North Carolina.

Here's a photo showing how enormous the storm is.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Jews in Whispers - Roger Cohen

Roger Cohen of the New York Times has written a column that I actually mostly agree with, on "Jews in a Whisper," on the contrast between the forthright acknowledgement of Jewish identity in the United States with the half-embarrassed standpoint of (some) Jews in Britain. Nonetheless, he still has one irritating paragraph that strikes me as irrelevant to his argument.

His paragraph:
The lesson is clear: Jews, with their history, cannot become the systematic oppressors of another people. They must be vociferous in their insistence that continued colonization of Palestinians in the West Bank will increase Israel’s isolation and ultimately its vulnerability.

That — not fanning Islamophobia — is the task before diaspora Jews. To speak up in Britain also means confronting the lingering, voice-lowering anti-Semitism.
Cohen seems to saying here that the way to get rid of some forms of antisemitism in western countries is to oppose the settlements, and the Israeli occupation, in the West Bank.  Does Roger really think that opposing the settlements in the West Bank is a way to get rid of antisemitism in western countries? He's ascribing a rationality to antisemitism that simply isn't there. If Israel didn't have settlements in the West Bank, I suspect antisemites would find plenty of other reasons to hate Jews.

I also oppose the settlements (most of them) as an obstacle to peace, but I don't say so with the goal of  opposing antisemitism, or for that matter opposing anti-Muslim prejudice. It's something worth doing for its own sake, rather than worrying about what antisemites think - for the sake of the future of Israel.

In my opinion, the way to oppose antisemitism is simply to speak out against it forthrightly whenever it appears in any of its forms: if it's the supposedly genteel antisemitism that he's writing about in Britain, to call it out and say it's not funny. (And how genteel is it in fact? Such genteel antisemitism existed before WWII - was it a contributing factor in the lack of sufficient welcome to Jewish refugees from Hitler, and the White Paper that cut off Jewish immigration to Palestine?). It seems to me that the anti-Zionist antisemitism that has taken up residence among some of the British intellectuals (see the UCU - University and College Union and its attempts to forward the academic boycott of Israel) needs to be opposed by forthrightly calling it what it is, and refusing to back down in the face of the pathetic attempts to deny that it's antisemitic.

Sinai contested: Outlaws, Islamists, Israel and army

An interesting Egyptian perspective on what is happening in Sinai right now and the role of Israel in the Sinai: Sinai contested: Outlaws, Islamists, Israel and army.

Terrorism, retaliation, and what next for Israel?

What's happening in Israel right now is very scary - not just the terrorist attack that occurred on Thursday, but also the extensive rocket fire and shelling of the southern part of the country. A man has been killed in Beersheba, at least 18 have been injured, and there has been extensive property damage.
One person was killed last night when a Grad rocket struck a home in the southern city of Be’er Sheva. A woman was in critical condition and three others was in serious condition from the rocket strike. Dozens more were treated for shock.

Also last night, three people − a man, a young girl and a female infant − sustained minor injuries after four Grad rockets landed in Ofakim.

Three people were injured, one seriously and two moderately, when several Grad rockets fired from the Gaza Strip Saturday morning hit the southern city of Ashdod.
On Friday morning two Grad rockets fired in close succession hit Ashdod. One landed in a synagogue, causing damage but no injuries. The second, however, exploded inside a Gur Hasidic yeshiva. One person was seriously injured in the explosion, one sustained moderate injuries and four were treated for mild injuries.

Grad missile strike
“There were around 180 pupils who were praying shahrit,” said Avraham Mordechai Zand, who was in the yeshiva when the rocket hit, referring to the morning prayer service. “When we heard the first siren we took cover and then we heard an explosion. When we went outside I heard another explosion, and the rocket exploded about five meters from where I was standing. There was white fog, I couldn’t see anything and then two people who were bleeding came in. We started treating them until the rescue services came. The administration told the children to go home, and we asked them to pray gomel,” referring to the blessing recited when one is saved from injury or death.
Report from Ynet:
Dozens injured over weekend
According to police officials, Saturday was the worst day in terms of the number of rockets fired into Israel since Operation Cast Lead two and a half years ago – almost 60 rockets and mortar shells in 24 hours.

Massive police forces have been deployed in the southern cities and are working to maintain the citizens' safety.

Dozens of people injured from the rocket fire were evacuated to hospitals over the weekend, including three illegal Palestinian residents, who were hurt while hiding in an orchard near Ashdod. Ten people injured from a Grad rocket fired at Ashdod on Friday morning were evacuated to the Kaplan Medical Center in Rehovot. Eight of the injured have already been released, while the other two are still hospitalized in serious and moderate condition.

Three people were evacuated to the same hospital on Saturday, and another woman was rushed to the Rabin Medical Center in Petah Tikva. The Soroka Medical Center in Beersheba is still treating six Israelis who were injured in the terror attack on the Egyptian border. Three people, two of them children, were evacuated to the hospital on Saturday following a rocket attack on Ofakim. The hospital is also treating a woman in critical condition, three people who were seriously wounded and a person lightly hurt in Saturday evening's rocket attack on Beersheba.

More photos of Grad strike
From the reports in Haaretz and Ynet, it appears that Israel will now engage in graduated attacks on Hamas and other terrorist organizations in Gaza, which I imagine will result in the deaths of civilians as well as terrorists. If we believe reports from Gaza, it already has - see the New York Times report from today:
An Islamic Jihad member was killed late Friday in an Israeli airstrike in Gaza City. A boy, 5, and another civilian were killed in that attack, according to Gaza medical officials. Islamic Jihad’s military wing said that it would force Israel “to pay a high price.”

At least 14 Palestinians, four of them civilians, have been killed in Israeli airstrikes on Gaza since Thursday. The Israeli military says it has been striking at Hamas training facilities, weapons manufacturing sites, smugglers’ tunnels, and rocket and mortar teams preparing to attack.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Being gay/lesbian in Israel

Good article by Lillian Faderman on the situation in Israel for GLBT people: If You Take Down Israel, What Else Goes With It?
Americans have every reason to envy Israel's enlightened policies toward its LGBT citizens. So it puzzles me deeply when I hear of LGBT groups lending their sympathy to opponents of Israel.

The rights we have been fighting for and still have not fully achieved in the United States, LGBT Israelis already enjoy. I came out in the middle of the last century and witnessed firsthand the persecution and oppression of LGBT people. It was because of those early experiences that I devoted the last 40 years of my life to writing books and articles about our community’s history and progress.

(Don't read the comments on the article - they're disgusting).

Terrorist Attacks in southern Israel - 7 Israelis killed

Seven killed in series of terrorist attacks in southern Israel

From Ha'aretz:
Seven people were killed and at least 26 people were wounded Thursday in a series of terrorist attacks on Israeli targets approximately 20 kilometers north of the southern city of Eilat, close to the border with Egypt.

The first attack, at around 12 P.M., was a drive-by shooting targeting Egged bus 392 traveling from Be'er Sheva to Eilat, near the Netafim junction.

Shortly afterward, IDF forces rushed to the scene and were faced with several explosive devices that were detonated alongside an IDF vehicle.

At approximately 12:35, a mortar was fired from Egypt to Israel. No casualties were reported.

At 1:10 P.M., a terrorist cell fired an anti-tank missile at a private vehicle, wounding seven.

Minutes later, another cell fired an anti-tank missile at a private vehicle, killing six.

The IDF Spokesman reported that two to four terrorists were killed during the clashes.

According to reports, the terrorists in the car opened fire at the Egged bus, which carried a significant number of soldiers leaving their bases for the weekend.

In the aftermath of the first attack, Israeli security forces launched a search for the vehicle thought to have transported the gunmen, setting up barricades in the area. A firefight erupted once the IDF troops caught up with the vehicle, in which several of the armed men were killed.

Two IDF helicopters were called to the scene in order to evacuate those wounded to Yoseftal hospital in Eilat and to Soroka hospital in Be'er Sheva.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

What do you think are the best novels in English?

I'm supposed to be finishing writing an article on women and the Hekhalot literature, but instead I just read an entertaining article (and comment thread) on Slate about overrated fiction. Much of the comment thread was actually about books that people really liked. I then took a look at the Modern Library list of 100 Best Novels and thought I'd say something about them. (This is the list put together by their literary board, not the Reader's list).

Well, first of all, how many of them have I actually read?

1. Ulysses - I might have tried to read a little of this when I was first year college student, to try to understand some of Joyce's linguistic experimentation, but I didn't get very far through it.

2. The Great Gatsby - I probably read this in high school, but I don't remember it at all.

3. Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man - I read this in Expository Writing during my first semester at college, and loved it. I didn't love having to write a lit crit paper about it, however. I also loved Dubliners.

5. Brave New World - I read it in high school, liked it then because I liked reading dystopias.

7. Catch-22: Also read it in high school, but wonder if I would still like it.

9. Sons and Lovers, by D.H. Lawrence: I went through a D.H. Lawrence phase when I was in my late teens, but then decided I really didn't like how he depicted women.

13. 1984 - also read this in high school, and most of Orwell's other fiction, as well as all of his non-fiction, which I still sometimes reread. He's one of my favorite political writers, although he had some unpleasant lapses. I haven't been able to find anything he wrote about the Holocaust (which of course wasn't called that at the time, but he writes very little about the persecution of the Jews in any of his WWII writings).

17. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, by Carson McCullers. I read this and all of her other books when I was a late teenager also - such a beautiful writer.

18. Slaughterhouse-Five - read this along with lots of Vonnegut's other books in my teens and early 20s. I think I preferred Mother Night.

19. Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison - I think I tried to read this in high school. It was one of those books that I thought I *should* read.

23. USA trilogy by John Dos Passos - I read this on my own in high school and really liked it for its depiction of how American life felt (at the time he wrote it).

29. Studs Lonigan trilogy by Farrell - also read it on my own in high school and also liked it.

39. Go Tell it on the Mountain, by James Baldwin. His writing is heartbreakingly lovely.

52. Portnoy's Complaint. I tried to read it in high school, but just found it disgusting. I'd probably get more out of it now.

64. Catcher in the Rye - also read it when I was a teenager. A lot of the Slate writers and commenters hated it, but I don't remember feeling very strongly about it.

65. A Clockwork Orange - I enjoyed trying to figure out the Russian in the jargon Burgess invented, but there were too many revolting events in the book really to enjoy it.

71. A High Wind in Jamaica - I loved this book.

78. Kim, by Rudyard Kipling. I read this book because I read Laurie King's Sherlock Holmes Pastiche of it, The Game. Kim is really great - better than Laurie King, I have to say. When I was in high school I read a lot of Kipling's shorter fiction and poems.

The Reader's List starts off with some very dubious novels - Ayn Rand's and L. Ron Hubbard's book at the top of the list?! The Scientologists must have spammed the voting. It also includes some books I really like, but I don't know if I'd include them in a list of "best novels" - Lord of the Rings, To Kill a Mockingbird (loved it as a child, although it makes me wince a bit now). There's a lot of science fiction on the list - two by Heinlein, Dune by Frank Herbert. Oops, I didn't go down far enough on the list, because there's more than 2 Heinleins, including The Door into Summer, which I always loved because of the cat character - who was always looking for the door into summer. The Reader's List also includes The Satanic Verses (Salman Rushdie). I bought it when it was first published - I was living in Israel at the time and it wasn't very easy to get hold of. I found a copy by going to the Jerusalem International Book Fair, where you could order it from an anonymous bookseller (no kidding - Rushdie's life and those of his translators and publishers had been threatened by Iran). My copy came in the mail a couple of weeks later and I tried valiantly to read it, but didn't get more than 100 pages in.

Summer rain in Israel

When I was in Israel in June and July, I longed for rain, since it doesn't usually rain at all from late April until sometime in October or November. So this is a nice story: Rain falls in central Israel in surprise summer shower.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Monday, August 08, 2011

Conference on "Origins of Islam."

On the personal level, I'm not feeling so apocalyptic - I just spent the last two days at a wonderful conference at Dartmouth on "The Origins of Islam: Narratives of History and the Historiography of Narratives." It was organized by Susannah Heschel (at Dartmouth) and David Powers (Cornell).

From the description of the conference:
This conference will bring together historians of the field of Islamic Studies with scholars working today on new paradigms for understanding the emergence of Islam. Until perhaps the last quarter of the 20th century, the approach to the formation of Islam emphasized borrowing and dependence. This scholarship was Arabo-centered, treating the key religious doctrines and institutions of Islam as products of the experience of one man living in the Arabia between 610 and 632 CE, and it was unidirectional. During the past twenty-five years, Islamicists have returned to the question of origins, armed with new perspectives, languages, and methodological tools. In place of borrowing and dependence, they focus on the dynamic interaction between early Islam and its cultural environment. Without denying the importance of Arabia, they examine the formation of Islam in the context of the wider Near East in late antiquity, using not only Arabic sources but also sources written in Greek, Syriac, Aramaic, Hebrew, and other languages. In place of borrowing and dependence, the current generation of scholars highlights the complex, back-and-forth processes of transmission, reception, and adaptation that account for the incorporation of biblical and post-biblical materials into Islamic sources. Our conference will investigate continuities and changes in 19th/20th century and contemporary orientalisms, asking about the intellectual politics that both enable and derive from the highly significant shifts in political, economic, and geographic relations, including the partition of India and Palestine, the rise of oil interests in the Middle East, and the transfer of Oriental Studies from Germany to the United States, Britain, and Israel during the 1930s and 40s. By placing the contemporary in the context of the history of Islamic Studies, we would like to provide present-day scholars with critical tools to understand the origins of their own explanatory frameworks.
Some of the talks that I found the most interesting were: Gabriel Said Reynolds, "The Problem with Reading the Qur’an Chronologically"; Lawrence Conrad, University of Hamburg, "'Wonderboy': the Childhood Formation of the Orientalist Ignaz Goldziher"; and Michael Pregill, Elon University, "Remaking the Legacy of Israel: Tafsir and Midrash as Imperial Literatures."

I've recently gotten interested in the question of the origins of Islam and I've been doing some reading about it. I was particularly fascinated by Reynolds' talk in this respect, as he is challenging the traditional Muslim and modern Orientalist chronology of the Qur'an, which tries to figure out which suras are early and late by relating them to incidents in the life of Muhammad.  Conrad told the fascinating story of the early life of Ignaz Goldziher, who was a child prodigy who wrote his first book at age 12, and got into a lot of trouble for it. Pregill challenged the paradigm that goes back to Abraham Geiger's book, "Was hat Mohammed aus dem Judenthume aufgenommen?"which sought to trace the influences of Judaism (or Christianity) upon nascent Islam. He proposes instead a model that sees the Qur'anic texts as responding more directly to the biblical stories (rather than being constructed of later midrashic texts), and as coming out of a common Middle Eastern cultural koine.

I took pretty detailed notes on all of the talks, and will post more detailed comments on them later.

That apocalyptic feeling

It feels like a very strange time we're living in right now. The whole debt limit fiasco that happened last week, ended by what feels like it's mostly Obama's capitulation to the Tea Party Republicans (despite the pep talk that Jon Chait and people like him were giving us last week that the deal was also going to put the Republicans in a bind). I had thought that after that was ended, we could stop worrying about the economy for a little while - but no, the stock market is now taking us all for a wild ride, before and after the debt of the US has been downgraded (so what was that whole debt limit thing about anyway?). Are we headed for Great Recession 2.0, or do we get a Great Depression 2.0 because the Republicans are determined to push our economy further down?

I feel a real sense of hope about Israel, at least for a little while, because of the tent city protests there. At least there's activism, and movement - it's giving my friends in Israel hope. What would it take to create a movement like that in the US? Sometimes in Israel it feels like events can move on a dime - they happen all of a sudden, and there's a new situation. But Israel has a population of only 7 million - and we're so large. What would it take for us to make such a major shift?

And then - riots in London. What is going on there? I'm no expert on England, but it feels like it's coming utterly out of left field.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Massive Israeli protests tonight for social justice

Very exciting - wish I had been there! 250,000-300,000 were at the demonstration in Tel Aviv, and about 30,000 in Jerusalem.

Haaretz report on the Jerusalem demonstration (my translation)
In parallel with the demonstration in Tel Aviv, tonight there were also demonstrations throughout Israel. In Jerusalem the massive demonstration began with a march from the tent city at Horse Park, through the center of the city, and then to the central rally at Paris Square. The demonstrations held up signs that read "Return to the welfare state," "Both right and left: education above everything" (it rhymes in Hebrew), "Pensioner and retired, grandfather who still is the breadwinner - until when?"

In the demonstration the leaders of the protest in Jerusalem spoke, among them the head of the student union in Jerusalem (Hebrew University) Itai Gotler, Rabbi Rafi Feuerstein from the rabbinic organization Tzohar, representatives of the teachers, people evicted from public housing, and Rachael Azariah, a member of the city council, and at the end also the writer Sayed Kashua (a writer for Haaretz).

Photo of the Jerusalem demonstration. The signs read: "Find an eye doctor for a blind government!" "The people want social justice!" "Give me justice!"

Another photo of Jerusalem, from above:
צילום: נועם מושקוביץ
From the Ynet coverage (my translation):
Demonstration of democratic unity: In Netanyahu's government they hoped that the social protest would die out, but last night it rose to a climax reverberating through the land, when at least 300,000 people from all parts of the political spectrum went out to the streets, from Kiryat Shemona to Eilat, with one thundering voice, lucid and clear: "The people have decided - social justice."
Ynet on the Jerusalem protest:
In the center of the rally (in Jerusalem) - a public reading of the (Israeli) Declaration of Independence, under the slogan - "Returning the state to the people." Thousands of people, among them the writer Meir Shalev, marched from Horse Park to Paris Square, close to the Prime Minister's house, carrying signs and calling for justice and equality. "Do business with your neighbor as yourself!" (A play on "Love your neighbor as yourself"). "No right and no left, social responsibility is above everything."

Meir Shalev said to Ynet - "My thinking is positive, optimistic, and passionate. I think that the involvement of the public in Israel with social issues and not with Rachel's Tomb or the Iranian bomb is something positive." In his words, "Enlisting the Israeli community and public in social issues is a positive turn. The Prime Minister must understand that he can't play tricks with us or threaten us. He has to relate to an entire generation of the public. He cannot relate to them in the usual way. It's impossible to sell us anymore the old world of Netanyahu. We need a country that considers its citizens and cares for them," he emphasized.
It's all very inspiring - and may it lead to a real change in the government and policies of Israel!

Monday, August 01, 2011

Jerusalem parents stroll for change

This sounds like a fabulous demonstration!

Jerusalem parents stroll for change

Thousands of children and their young fathers and mothers marched through the capital’s streets on Sunday evening, in a call to reduce living costs and enable them a decent future in the city and the country.

Departing from the Prime Minister’s Residence, where there was a large rally on the same theme the previous night, the families strolled down to King George Avenue’s Gan Hasus (Horse Park), where Jerusalem’s central protest tent city is located. Others have sprung up around the city.

According to police, a thousand adults took part in Sunday’s march....

The children and parents were then treated to storytelling by two of the country’s foremost authors. Meir Shalev read his story about The Tractor and the Sandbox, making minor alterations to change the protagonist tractor into the overworked Israeli middle class. David Grossman then captivated the audience with his story about a boy called Itamar who was afraid of rabbits.

To wrap things up, singer-songwriter-guitarist David Broza provided the thrilled parents and children with a passionate serving of some of the children classics he wrote and performed from his stellar The Sixteenth Sheep album, as well as more of his songs, including a reworked hit he and Yehonatan Geffen wrote 34 years ago, “Yihiye Tov” (Things Will Get Better), with the words updated to suit the spirit of the times and the protest.