Herb Keinon http://www.herbkeinon.com Journalist and Lecturer Thu, 19 Jan 2017 15:59:28 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.2.13 ‘We have met the machtunim (son’s future in-laws), and they are us’ http://www.herbkeinon.com/2017/01/19/we-have-met-the-machtunim-sons-future-in-laws-and-they-are-us/ http://www.herbkeinon.com/2017/01/19/we-have-met-the-machtunim-sons-future-in-laws-and-they-are-us/#comments Thu, 19 Jan 2017 15:59:28 +0000 http://www.herbkeinon.com/?p=1083 OUT THERE
December 30, 2016

EACH FAMILY has its own patterns for the holidays.

For instance, my kids know exactly how we will sing Had Gadya and those other final songs at the end of the Passover Seder.

They know with whom we are going to do a barbecue on Independence Day, and they know exactly what decorations will appear in our small balcony succa on Succot.

Predictability is one of the comforting elements about holidays: knowing that regardless of what is going on in the world, and despite what may be going on in one’s personal life, the holidays will be celebrated the same way in the home as they always have been.

Predictability is anchoring; reliability is reassuring.

That, of course, is great if you like the way the holidays are celebrated in your home.

If you don’t, well, at least knowing what’s in store can make coping with it a bit easier. For example, if you can’t stand Cousin Joey, but he comes over in his obnoxious splendor each Purim, at least you know what to expect, and perhaps can brace yourself better to cope with his antics.

Hanukka, too, has its own pattern. How the family lights the hanukkia; where the hanukkia is lit; who lights; who cleans up the spilled oil and melted wax; on which night presents are given; how many stanzas of Ma’oz Tzur are sung; whom do you invite over to celebrate.

Each family has its own distinct holiday routine, and in our home it is the same drill we have been running since we first had children. Even when there are no kids at home on any particular night of Hanukka, The Wife and I go through our same holiday routine as always – light the candles in the same place, sing the songs in the same way, make the same predictable comments – wistfully thinking back to how it used to be when the kids were small, cuddly and all living at home.

EXCEPT THIS YEAR. This year – with our son Skippy engaged – familiar patterns are already bending.

Every year for the last two decades we have invited a good friend and his family over on one of the nights of Hanukka for pumpkin soup, latkes and sour cream.

As sure as the hanukkia is going to be lit, and a jelly doughnut is going to be eaten, “Uncle” Elli is coming over for Hanukka.

This year, however, sucked into the excitement of Skippy’s engagement, The Wife decided she wanted to shake things up a bit. Sure, we would have Uncle Elli, but she thought it would also be a good to have my son’s future in-laws as well. Since they live 90 minutes to the north, Hanukka – one of those few holidays when driving is permitted – would be a perfect time for them to come on down and bond.

But that opened up a brand-new set of issues, forcing me to come to grips with a reality I’ve been avoiding: the son’s future in-laws, known in Yiddish as the machatunim.

FOR YEARS I have heard much about other people’s machatunim, and most of it negative. Friends with good machatunim don’t generally speak about them, because – like so much else – when things run smoothly, there is little to report. But unlucky friends with difficult machatunim? Well, they have what to talk about, and that is generally all that I’ve heard over the years.

As a result, the concept in my mind was scary. The reality, at least in our immediate case, is – thankfully – much less so.

We had met the son’s future in-laws twice and got along swimmingly. They seem like wonderful people: easy to get along with, their concepts of the wedding similar to ours and – like us – they want what is best for their child.

But still, I asked The Wife, do we already have to invite them over for Hanukka? Don’t we have to think about this a bit? How close will we be? How close should we be? How close do we want to be? How close do they want to be to us? What obligations do we now have toward them?

And what about Elli? What about our obligations to him? After 20 years of breaking latkes together, now he has to play second fiddle to a couple we’ve only met twice?

These are big issues that I need time to absorb and digest.

Jumping in so soon seemed a bit much.

But not for The Wife. No, she wanted to dive right in.

“It’ll be nice to get together away from the pressure of the wedding,” she said. “Just to get to know them. You always wanted family here, now we have family. Rejoice.”

Noble sentiments, indeed – but not everyone shares them.

I, for sure, do not. Uncle Elli was hoping that they wouldn’t come on his night. And the machatunim themselves apparently were having similar deliberations in their home. For after first maintaining they would love to join us, they later deferred, saying we would meet soon at the wedding hall for a pre-wedding “tasting” of the food to be served.

That was an eye-opener. For as anxious as we are about our future grandkids’ future grandparents, they – obviously – are anxious about us. They, too, have heard machatunim horror stories. They, too, have their anxieties about the family their child is marrying into.

Or, to paraphrase Pogo: “We have met the machatunim, and they are us.”

http://www.herbkeinon.com/2017/01/19/we-have-met-the-machtunim-sons-future-in-laws-and-they-are-us/feed/ 0
When the kids get hitched http://www.herbkeinon.com/2016/12/04/1078/ http://www.herbkeinon.com/2016/12/04/1078/#comments Sun, 04 Dec 2016 12:14:31 +0000 http://www.herbkeinon.com/?p=1078 OUT THERE

November 25, 2016

THE ENGAGEMENT of one’s child is a day most parents yearn for.

Indeed, on the eighth day of a Jewish boy’s life, just seconds after the lad’s circumcision, it is customary for the congregation attending the ceremony to shout out, “Just as he has entered into the covenant, so may he enter into [a life of] Torah, the marriage canopy, and [a life of] good deeds.”

Eight days old, and the sights are already set on a wedding.

But, like so much else that parents long for and desire for their children, there is a flip side.

For instance, what parent doesn’t hanker for their children’s first words, for that moment when their kids will finally talk and express what is going through their little minds. And then, once they start talking, you wish they would shut up for a little while and give you some rest.

Which parent isn’t thrilled when their kids take that first step, only to rue that day soon after because it means the toddlers can now roam beyond the throw rug and – essentially – endanger themselves while destroying the entire house.

And who doesn’t want their children to go to college and acquire knowledge, only to complain afterward about the heavy monetary price of all that knowledge acquisition.

The flip side of your children getting engaged is simple. Not only is your kid gaining a spouse, not only are you – to a certain degree – gaining another child, but you are also being forced to let go of that son or daughter getting married. Granted, you are not losing your child, but you will now have to share that offspring with someone else.

This separation is both natural and necessary for the healthy development of the individual and the species. It is good. It is wonderful. It is joyous. But it also stings a bit.

MY NO. 3 child, the son known as Skippy, got engaged last week to a wonderful, effervescent young woman.

The Wife and I are thrilled that our boy has found a soul mate, and we understand – as it says in the Torah – that the time has come for him to leave his father and mother and cling to his wife. Still, it pinches the heart a bit because once he is married, the family dynamic will never be the same. Never.

And I like the family dynamic. It has grown on me over the last few decades.

As the saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Except sometimes – as the kids grow up and you grow older – you have to make adjustments to things that really don’t need fixing.

After hearing the news of Skippy’s engagement, my other three children made some interesting observations.

One of them, as if reading my mind, said I must be really excited now that Skippy will have to move all his junk out of the house, freeing up precious and premium closet and desk space.

Another made the following more appropriate comment: “Mazel tov, now you have a new daughter.” This was followed by a less appropriate comment, “Start getting used to paying for seven when we go on vacations.”

It’s not the paying for an extra room in a hotel from time to time that worries me but, rather, the realization that now we will be competing for my son’s time and attention with his future wife – I’ll resist the temptation of referring to her as The Interloper – and her family.

And the boy’s time is currently at a premium because – bless his heart – he still has a significant chunk of time left in the army. If over the last 17 months I have been on the losing end of a competition for his time with the IDF and his officers, now a fiancée will be added to the mix.

Until now, if he just had a few minutes a night for his signature three-sentence phone call, The Wife and I were at the top of his list. Until now, when he got off for Shabbat, it was clear he would come home.

But now none of that is a given. His first call will go to his girl, as it should (hopefully those conversations will be a bit longer than his calls to us), and his Shabbatot will be split between his home and that of the family of his future wife.

While this will take some getting used to, the engagement – as noted earlier – truly is a blessing. Still, that doesn’t mean there can’t be a conflict between what you want for your kids, what you know is best for your children, and the feelings of longing and loss created by actually getting what for so long you have wished for.

But that dissonance is a small price to pay for something that – even just thinking about it – actually puts a smile on my face.

http://www.herbkeinon.com/2016/12/04/1078/feed/ 0
Not shouting less, just less to shout about http://www.herbkeinon.com/2016/10/28/not-shouting-less-just-less-to-shout-about/ http://www.herbkeinon.com/2016/10/28/not-shouting-less-just-less-to-shout-about/#comments Fri, 28 Oct 2016 06:30:29 +0000 http://www.herbkeinon.com/?p=1074 Out There

October 28, 2016

IT’S A FAMILY tradition that dates back some 30 years, when The Wife and I first got married.

Every year on the eve of Yom Kippur, we sit down and apologize to one another for any offense caused, intentional or unintentional.

I like to serve up my apologies quickly and in a perfunctory manner: “Honey, I’m sorry if I did anything to hurt you. I didn’t mean to.”

And then I’ll steer the conversation quickly to discussing something else, like what we still need to prepare for the pre-Yom Kippur meal.

But not The Wife. She’s a fan of details: she’ll ask me what exactly I am apologizing for; which particular wrong I am most sorry for having committed; and how I hope to make sure this doesn’t happen again in the future.

If I vow to be a better husband and father next year, she’ll ask what exactly it is that I’ll do differently, and how precisely I plan on improving. My apology is the equivalent of a satellite shot of the earth; she wants a city road map.

But this year during our pre-Yom Kippur ritual, something interesting surfaced. The Wife mentioned that I’ve become calmer with age, bothered less by those little annoyances – those tantrum triggers – around the house.

The way she put it reminded me of how my kids talk. Whenever they insult me, they always add at the end that they mean it in a good way (b’keta tov).

“I get all my craziness from you,” one of my boys said the other day. “But I mean that b’keta tov.”

“You’re cheap,” another of the offspring said recently. “But I mean that b’keta tov.

The Wife said she has noticed that I was handling with greater equanimity the rough-and-tumble Friday afternoons – those bewitching hours for the religiously observant, when everything has to be finished before the onset of Shabbat: the shopping, the cooking, the cleaning.

Paradoxically, those hours are among the most tense of the week, a time of great domestic commotion when the nerves get strained and frayed. And then, as the Shabbat candles are lit, all the turbulence is just magically supposed to disappear.

Except that sometimes it doesn’t.

It’s almost impossible to be aggravated at everyone in the house for not doing what they’re supposed to have done as the Shabbat deadline nears, and then – just as the sun sets – turn it all off and become a vehicle of Shabbat peace and harmony.

Once, in a worked-up state, I slammed the door and yelled at my household “Shabbat Shalom, dammit,” as I headed to synagogue for Friday evening prayers. Not exactly the optimal state of mind when going out to meet the Sabbath bride.

But those instances have – of late – become fewer and further apart. The Wife charitably credits my efforts at greater forbearance and patience for this change. But she’s wrong.

I HAVEN’T improved or gotten better, it’s just that with the kids all now in their 20s, things have become easier.

I’m no calmer, there are just fewer things around the house to knock me for a loop.

For instance, rather than yelling at the kids on Friday afternoon to help out, or nagging them to put away their things, those children who happen to be home will help out on their own volition.

Rather than mess up the floor, they will clean it. Rather than slug each other and jump on the couch, they will sit on the couch and catch up with one another.

I’m shouting less at the family not because I have more control of my anger, but rather because there is just objectively less to shout about.

And it’s not only around the house. The Wife and I and three of our children went up north during Succot for a couple of nights. In the past, these trips were as physically exhausting as they were emotionally tense.

Physically they were trying because we had to run after four kids for 18 hours, and keep them entertained. And emotionally these trips were draining because we had to keep them from killing each other in the car and in the close quarters of a hotel room.

Now that they are grown, none of that is necessary. I actually get a perverse pleasure watching other young couples chase after their small, screaming kids on vacation, wondering if my kids were ever like that. Selective memory is a wonderful thing.

Twenty years ago I had to juggle a pressure-filled job with car-pooling the kids, making their lunches, doing their homework, feeding, disciplining and bathing them.

Now I still have the pressure-filled job, but I don’t have small or adolescent children to raise. Life’s overall burdens, therefore, have been cut in half, meaning there is half the aggravation, half the exhaustion, and half the things to get mad and worked up about.

Also, there are only half the things to argue about with The Wife, as the source of so many of those arguments – whose turn it is to pick up the kids, make their lunches, get them to do their homework, shower, feed and discipline them – have simply evaporated.

And with fewer arguments, there are fewer things to apologize for on the eve of Yom Kippur. But when I do apologize, The Wife still wants specifics. Some things will never change.

http://www.herbkeinon.com/2016/10/28/not-shouting-less-just-less-to-shout-about/feed/ 0
High Holy Day Dissonance http://www.herbkeinon.com/2016/10/28/high-holy-day-dissonance/ http://www.herbkeinon.com/2016/10/28/high-holy-day-dissonance/#comments Fri, 28 Oct 2016 06:22:18 +0000 http://www.herbkeinon.com/?p=1072 OUT THERE

September 29, 2016

IT’S A Rosh Hashana liturgical moment seared into my memory.

There I was as an early teen, sitting during the long day’s prayers with my father in our Denver synagogue.

As Jews customarily do, I was swaying back and forth in prayer.

All of a sudden a man leaned over to my dad and whispered in his ear: “Can you please get your kid to stop swaying, he’s making me seasick.”

Talk about a mood killer.

In a flash my thoughts went from renewal, repentance and how much longer till we eat, to “what the heck is that guy’s problem?” My dad was aghast, and said something sharp in response. I pretended not to hear, and just swayed on with greater fervor.

It’s a wonderful holiday, Rosh Hashana. A time of spiritual rejuvenation, introspection and personal growth – for those who grasp it.

It’s also a challenging time, as synagogue- goers are faced with the dissonance between what they should be feeling, and what they actually are feeling. A dissonance between vowing to be better, and being placed – even as we are making mental vows of self-improvement – in situations that immediately challenge those vows: like being in the synagogue for five hours at a time on two consecutive days of often-difficult- to-understand liturgy.

Every people has its New Year’s resolutions.

In the West it typically happens sometimes between Christmas and January 1. In China, on the Chinese New Year. And for us, it’s Rosh Hashana.

But what makes our situation unique is that even as we are in the midst of prayer and thinking about those resolutions, we are placed in a situation that immediately challenges them. And it all happens concurrently.

It’s as if God said to the Jewish people: “Okay, you’re making all these wonderful resolutions vowing to improve. Very nice. Now let’s check out your sincerity.

I’ll place you for hours upon hours in a crowded, stuffy synagogue with a guy sitting next to you constantly blowing his nose, and another guy in back of you banging his leg against your seat. Now let’s see your pledge about having more forbearance.”

One of the many ways the sages divided up the Torah’s commandments were those between man and man, and those between man and God. Paradoxically, it’s the man-to-man relationship that gets so tested during Rosh Hashana davening (prayers), even as you’re supposed to be talking to God.

If a guy nearby is holding a loud conversation, do you tell him to hush? If so, how about all those vows to be more tolerant? If the cantor is going on way too long, singing essentially for himself and apparently confusing the sanctuary for an opera hall, do you expel a loud, restive sigh because you just can’t take it any more? If so, how about those vows about being more patient? And if you fall asleep during the rabbi’s talk, what about those pledges to be more diligent during Torah study? The challenges do not stop at the shul’s doorstep. The entire Rosh Hashana holiday – of all times – is packed with situations that test your character.

For instance, you come home from the synagogue, the house is cleaned, the food is made, the table is set, the guests arrive bearing gifts.

“Oh please, oh please,” I think to myself, harboring the same thoughts I have had since I was about seven, “let it be chocolate, even honey. Anything but dry wine. No more dry wine. I hate dry wine. Why do people always bring dry wine?” So on a day when I have contemplated over and over during synagogue services the need to be more grateful and appreciative for everything I have, my first post-synagogue thoughts – as The Wife reminds me – are jarringly ungrateful ones.

Then there is the Rosh Hashana lunchtime conversation. With lots of people around the table, the conversation gravitates naturally from what is happening in the world to what just happened in shul.

Since many of those around the table certainly pledged to try to speak less ill of others during the upcoming year, one would imagine that the conversation should go something like this: “Boy, didn’t the rabbi speak wonderfully. I could have heard him talk for another 30 minutes.”

Or, “I could have listened to the cantor sing for the entire afternoon.” Or, “Isn’t it nice that the same man has been blowing the shofar for the last 40 years, I guess nobody else wants a try.”

Instead, what inevitably comes out on a day when multitudes of Jews the world over are pledging to cut back on the gossip, is some juicy shul tattle.

The shofar-blower who really shouldn’t be blowing any more, because he doesn’t have it; the father who really should have taken his toddlers out when they started to whine; and the neighbor’s son whose hair is just way too long.

And say, just for argument’s sake, you make it through the two-day holiday without succumbing to your baser angels, and your self-improvement resolutions emerge still intact. Well, don’t get too self-satisfied. Next week you’ll face the same challenges, only this time when you’re hungry, thirsty and nursing a pounding headache.

Welcome to Yom Kippur.

http://www.herbkeinon.com/2016/10/28/high-holy-day-dissonance/feed/ 0
The secret to a harmonious life: A just, fair distribution of chores http://www.herbkeinon.com/2016/09/02/the-secret-to-a-harmonious-life-a-just-fair-distribution-of-chores/ http://www.herbkeinon.com/2016/09/02/the-secret-to-a-harmonious-life-a-just-fair-distribution-of-chores/#comments Fri, 02 Sep 2016 12:45:17 +0000 http://www.herbkeinon.com/?p=1064 Out There Column
September 2, 2016

CHORES ARE an integral, inescapable part of daily living.

Beds gotta get made, clothes gotta get cleaned, food’s gotta get bought, vegetables gotta get cut up, floors gotta get swept, cars gotta be maintained.

And even in this futuristic age of computers, robots and really nifty apps, somebody – some flesh-and-blood person – still has to do all that stuff.

If I go back to the very beginning and add up all the arguments I have had over all my years with the most important people in my life – my parents, my sister, The Wife and my kids – I would estimate that about 95 percent of them revolved around the distribution of chores. Another 4% dealt with when to come home at night, and 1% with everything else.

“How come I have to mow the lawn?”

“How come I have to clean up after the dog?”

“How come I have to take out the Passover dishes?”

“How come I have to fold the laundry?”

“How come I have to peel the potatoes?”

It’s the same basic argument, only the person I have been arguing with – and the weight given to what I say – has changed over the years.

My success rate in winning those arguments has increased over time, not because my reasoning has become more persuasive, but, rather, because my standing in the family hierarchy has changed over the years: Just as I had to listen to my folks, my kids – to a certain degree – have to listen to me.

“Happy wife, happy life” goes a saying some readers may take umbrage to because it reeks of a certain 1950s sexist odor. I have problems with that saying for another reason: because it places responsibility for one’s happiness on someone else. Either way, I would alter it thus: “Fair, equitable and just distribution of domestic chores, happy life.”

But what exactly is a fair, equitable and just distribution of domestic chores? Therein lies the magic formula to home-life tranquility.

THIS ISSUE came to the fore recently in our household when my youngest son went into the army. Until now the family’s policy was that the children get a blanket exemption from household chores while doing national service. That means that when they come home for Shabbat, after a weary week or two in the field, someone else will cut the salad, set the table and clear the dishes.

It’s one of the hidden benefits my sons get out of their IDF service. Sure, they crawl through thorns, get pummeled in Krav Maga sessions and generally risk life and limb to protect the Jewish state, but at least when they come home they don’t have to take out the garbage.

The mobilization of The Youngest, however, placed us in a quandary for two reasons.

First, we already have a son in the army, and taking another child off chore duty leaves us shorthanded (one would think we live on a vast dairy farm, not in a four-and-a-halfroom suburban apartment).

Second, because The Youngest is a great chore doer. He kvetches about it less than anyone else in the household, myself included, and also does the chores really well. When he washes dishes, you can actually use them afterward; he fries a great schnitzel; and the barefoot feet rejoice after walking on a floor that he has mopped.

BUT STILL, a household rule is a household rule. Which means that The Wife and I, and the two older kids not actively serving their country, must come to a new modus vivendi.

Who does what? Who picks up the chores previously carried out by the two younger lads? And that has led to some deep philosophical discussions about the very nature of chores.

What is a chore? What can fairly be defined as a chore? If you actually like doing a chore, can your time spent engaged in that activity be deducted from your overall chore obligations? For instance, I’ve got a little garden out on the back balcony. Not much: a couple of petunias, a few pansies, a small bougainvillea, some roses and nana. To give you an idea of the scope of the garden, when Succot comes around, I move all the flowers to a downstairs neighbor’s lawn so I can build a succa on the porch (yet another chore).

But still, even a few petunias need tending to, and in this heat they need tending to a lot. So I do it. Every day I schlep buckets of water out to the balcony to water the garden by hand, the old-fashioned way.

“No, you sit, I got it,” I’ll say to whichever kid is sitting on the couch in the living room at the time, watching their aging father plod by carrying heavy buckets of water, and showing no inclination whatsoever to lend a hand.

And, though I kind of hate to admit it, I actually enjoy it. I enjoy making them feel guilty sitting there, and I enjoy taking care of the garden.

But, as a result, does this count as a chore? Should my time in the garden be deducted on Friday afternoon from time everyone owes for household work? I, of course, argue that it should. I’m outnumbered. But, as I said earlier, my arguments now carry more weight than they once did.

And when the kids complain that this is neither just nor fair, I remind them that their day will come. One day they, too, will have children. One day they, too, will earn certain chore prerogatives. And one day – over that vast expanse of Keinon family history – everything will even out in the end.

One day. But not yet.

A collection of the writer’s “Out There” columns, French Fries in Pita, is available at www.herbkeinon.com and www.amazon.com

http://www.herbkeinon.com/2016/09/02/the-secret-to-a-harmonious-life-a-just-fair-distribution-of-chores/feed/ 0
One son out of the IDF, two now in: Still Sweating After All These Years http://www.herbkeinon.com/2016/08/05/one-son-out-of-the-idf-two-now-in-still-sweating-after-all-these-years/ http://www.herbkeinon.com/2016/08/05/one-son-out-of-the-idf-two-now-in-still-sweating-after-all-these-years/#comments Fri, 05 Aug 2016 15:22:31 +0000 http://www.herbkeinon.com/?p=1060 OUT THERE

August 5, 2016

One of the benefits of having a relatively large family is that you have a pretty good idea of what’s coming down the chute. With four kids some eight years apart, I know what to expect.

The first kid’s first day in preschool might throw you for a loop, but by the time the fourth kid walks past that pistol-bearing security guard and into the welcoming room with the alef-bet drawings on the walls, you know what’s in store. You have a sense of what the preschool teachers are like in this country, and what to do when your kid clings with white knuckles to your pants leg.

And that first August when the kid is not in any kind of set framework – neither in school nor in day camp – is extremely difficult. How do you cope? How much television is healthy for one kid to watch? Who takes off work to be with the kid? But by the fourth child you’ve got the drill figured out – you’ve learned, more or less, how to manage.

This is especially true for immigrants who never went to school here, never took their kids to a doctor here, never booked a hall here for a bar mitzva celebration. Over time, and with each additional child, it becomes less foreign and much easier to cope.

That’s the general rule. The army is the exception.

MY THIRD son, The Youngest, went into the army last week. We took him early Thursday morning to Jerusalem’s Ammunition Hill where, very unceremoniously, we gave him a hug, he gave us a wave, and then he disappeared into a hall from which he boarded a bus and – as The Wife starkly put it – became the property of the IDF.

That’s a tough phrase, “became the property of the IDF.” But it’s one The Youngest himself used when he returned for Shabbat after getting his uniform, his army ID number, his shots and a winter jacket. “I’m now IDF property, just like a chair on the base,” he said.

To a large degree, that’s true, and it’s not necessarily a comforting thought for parents. Now the army has more control over him than we do. Now the army dictates when he comes and goes, what he does, when he sleeps, what he eats, what he wears, what healthcare he gets. Our locus of control has been greatly diminished; it is now in the hands of Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot and his subordinates.

The Wife and I have been there, done all this before with our two other boys – The Lad, who has since finished his army service, and Skippy, who is still very much in the midst of his (our daughter did National Service, a different experience altogether).

But – and this is what sets the army apart from all the other milestones our kids have passed – having experienced this before as a parent does not make it easier. It prepares you, but doesn’t make it easier.

Sure, we knew this time that there was no reason to get to Ammunition Hill punctually at 7:30 a.m. We also knew where to park.

And we knew precisely what scene would meet us there: the young faces; the friends seeing off their buddies with a hug and a slap on the back; the red-eyed mothers; the grandmother trying to shove a sandwich into the hands of her embarrassed grandson; the fathers taking their sons aside, placing their hands on their heads and whispering the Priestly Blessing: “May the Lord bless you and protect you; May the Lord shine His countenance upon you and be gracious to you; May the Lord favor you and grant you peace.”

BUT ACCURATELY knowing what would meet us there and what to expect did not lessen the emotional strain. Nor did our pride in our son lessen that strain.

The loss of your ability to protect your child, to coddle or cocoon him, has been snatched away. That is no easier to take, whether it’s your first child or your fourth, whether you’re full of pride or you’re not.

Also, it’s not as if you worry about things less because you know what’s in store. Indeed, sometimes you worry even more because you know what’s in store. Or you worry differently, with the worries more focused, more localized, more real.

THE WORRY, at least in the beginning of army service, is less of danger and more of whether the boy will adapt, slip into the army mind-set, feel comfortable, find friends, figure out how to cope, get a decent officer.

The worry about danger comes much later, after the training period, when the boys are taking part in missions. I always encourage my sons to take as many training courses as possible: basic training; advanced training; advanced, advanced training; the medics course; the commanders course – just stay on a base and train away.

Skippy – who went in last August – is still training. As such, I was actually worried less about him than my other three kids last October during the mini-wave of terrorism that hit our cities. I knew where he was: on a base, crawling in the mud. It was my other kids who were walking the streets, riding the buses, that I worried about.

But now two of my sons are in the army at the same time. Inevitably, the training will end, and the missions begin. It’s a moment I have thought about for years. When they were small, I did mental computations over and over about how much time I would have between when the first one went in the army, and the second. And how old I would be when the two youngest were in together.

I fantasized that by then, there would be peace. I romanticized that by that time, I would have the emotional tools and life experience to just let it wash over me, be unfazed by the whole ordeal.

I was wrong – on both counts. But there’s always the grandchildren.

A collection of the writer’s “Out There” columns, French Fries in Pita, is available at www.herbkeinon.com and www.amazon.com

http://www.herbkeinon.com/2016/08/05/one-son-out-of-the-idf-two-now-in-still-sweating-after-all-these-years/feed/ 0
My kid goes with the flow; in his eye’s, The Wife and I just clog the drain http://www.herbkeinon.com/2016/07/03/my-kid-goes-with-the-flow-in-his-eyes-the-wife-and-i-just-clog-the-drain/ http://www.herbkeinon.com/2016/07/03/my-kid-goes-with-the-flow-in-his-eyes-the-wife-and-i-just-clog-the-drain/#comments Sun, 03 Jul 2016 07:30:27 +0000 http://www.herbkeinon.com/?p=1056 GOING WITH THE FLOW


July 1, 2016

I WATCHED With jaw agape two weeks ago as my youngest son, due to start his army service soon, planned a last-minute trip to Greece with a couple of friends.

From his complete lack of planning, to a failure to do any research, to no concern about how he was going to get to and from the airport, the whole episode was a cruel reminder of the vicissitudes of time.

Once, perhaps, I could have been so spontaneous. No more. Spontaneity is a characteristic of youth. And, as my son constantly reminds me, I’m getting old.

Indeed, for me “last-minute trip” is an oxymoron – a concept that simply does not exist in my lexicon.

Last-minute payment of electric bills, yes. Last-minute RSVPs to weddings, sure. Last-minute filing of taxes, I can do that. But last minute trips? No way.

When The Wife and I travel, we research plane fares for hours, hotels for days, and things to do for weeks. By the time we actually get to our vacation destination, we’re already sick of it because of all the time we’ve spent in pre-trip research.

“OK, let’s just get this over with,” I quipped before a recent trip we took to Washington state to mark our 30th wedding anniversary, not wanting to read any more about must-see sites in Olympic National Park, or hotel deals in Port Angeles, or rental-car bargains in Seattle.

But not The Youngest. On Thursday he decides to go abroad, by early Sunday that boy is sitting on a jet plane.

“Where are you going?” I inquired.

“Some island in Greece?” he replied.

“Which one?” “I dunno.”

“Where are you going to stay?” “Some place.”

“What are you going to do?” “Some things. Nizrom [we’ll go with the flow].”

Ah, nizrom. There it is, that catchall word my son constantly throws in my direction. It’s his answer to anything I ask about his plans, dreams and preparations.

Nizrom. Thank you very much, son. I feel so much better and more confident already.

If there is one thing that annoys this particular child about his parents, it’s our absolute inability to go with the flow, lizrom. If he’s that little leaf merrily meandering down that clear mountain stream, we’re the clod of hair clogging up the bathroom drain.

“You know what drives me nuts about you guys?” he offered recently, unsolicited.

“Everything is a big deal. If you want to go into Jerusalem, you worry about where you’re going to park. Just go, it’s not that big a deal. Trust me, you’ll find a place to park.”

He’s right, in theory.

In theory just go with it, be the free spirit, figure it out in motion. But in practice, if you know that you can’t find a place to park in the center of town, why go there in the first place and get all aggravated? Now when I explain to him this logic born of life experience, he just dismisses it with a wave of a hand and a mumbled “you’re getting real old.”

Right, you get old and start worrying about stuff like where to park, what the traffic will be like, and whether it’s too hot to go out at all.

YOU ALSO worry about little things like how to get to the airport.

Not my son. It is midnight on the night before an 8 a.m. flight, and this child has no clue about who is taking him at 4:30 a.m. to Ben-Gurion. Not going to be me, I informed him already, I have an early meeting that morning.

“Nizrom,” he uttered, as I pointed out the irresponsibility of his total lack of preparedness. “We’ll call a cab if we need to.”

I shake my head in disbelief and suggest uselessly that he should have figured this all out just a little a bit earlier.

My son is lucky his grandfather didn’t hear the conversation. For if I just shook my head and offered a sarcastic suggestion, my father would have shuddered in absolute horror.

IN EVERY family there are those with different ideas about how much time you need to catch a plane.

Some cut it close, not wanting to spend an inordinate amount of time browsing magazines in the airport gift shop. Others want to leave for the airport plenty of time in advance, to allow for any unexpected occurrences – either on the road or in the security line at the airport – that could lead to a missed flight.

My dad is from the latter school, big time.

If my son started thinking about how to get to the airport only eight hours before a flight, my father would have already been on his way.

“Got to leave early, son,” he always reminds me when I visit him in the San Francisco area where he lives. “There might be traffic on the bridge.”

“At 3 a.m. for an early-morning flight?” I’ll protest.

“You never know,” he’ll insist. “Got to leave early.”

And we do. My father takes into account every possible eventuality: traffic on the bridge, an earthquake shaking the bridge, protesters blocking entry to the bridge.

And if we don’t drive but go by the local train, he considers possible delays there as well, such as not being able to find a place to park at the station.

“C’mon, Dad, we’ll find a place to park,” I remember telling him once.

“Just go with it.”

“You’ll understand one day,” he replied.

Yup, that day has arrived.

A collection of the writer’s “Out There” columns, French Fries in Pita, is available at www.herbkeinon.com and www.amazon.com

http://www.herbkeinon.com/2016/07/03/my-kid-goes-with-the-flow-in-his-eyes-the-wife-and-i-just-clog-the-drain/feed/ 1
The Good Doctor http://www.herbkeinon.com/2016/06/03/the-good-doctor/ http://www.herbkeinon.com/2016/06/03/the-good-doctor/#comments Fri, 03 Jun 2016 10:56:29 +0000 http://www.herbkeinon.com/?p=1051 OUT THERE

June 3, 2016

IT TOOK me a while, but I’ve found my dream doctor.

Wonderful guy, my doctor. Truly. And of his many fine qualities there are two in particular that specially endear him to me. First, he manages traffic in his office. Second, he dispenses the kind of medical advice I want to hear.

Regarding the traffic cop trait, I come from a land of the medical receptionist, that nice lady in the doctor’s office – generally named Betsy or Bonnie – who greets you with a smile when you walk in, and who speaks in hushed tones when you approach her desk to say which doctor you’re there to visit.

“Have a seat,” she says, softly. “I will call you when the doctor is ready to see you.”

You might have to wait five minutes, or an hour and five minutes. During this time you might be bothered by a sore throat, or concerned about those sharp pains in your stomach. But one thing you don’t have to worry about is who is next in line, because that is all taken care of by the receptionist: she will inform you when it is your turn.

This gives you pre-doctor peace of mind. No need to be on the lookout to make sure someone does not sneak in before you, no need to wait on the edge of your seat and pounce once you hear the click of the doorknob opening to the doctor’s inner sanctum.

THEN I moved to Israel, and the thing I dread most about going to the doctor is not that this means I am not well, nor that there might be tests or poking and probing that will leave me uncomfortable.

The thing I dread the most is the anxiety of trying to figure out who is next in line, and the prospect of arguing with fellow patients about whose turn it is to see the doctor next.

In short, I came from the land of the medical receptionist to the land of the list thumbtacked to the door of the doctor’s office with the times of the appointments: 10:00 – Yossi H.; 10:10 – Yossi I.;10:20– Yossi J.;10:30– Herb K.;10:40– Yossi L.;10:50– Yossi M.

But what happens if Yossi I. misses his 10:10 appointment, but comes just before my 10:30 one? Or what if someone comes who is not on the list at all, but insists that he made an appointment? And what if that person says he is frightfully ill but looks just fine to the naked eye?

Without someone directing the traffic, this turns into quite the stressful experience. I fret more about people stealing my appointed hour to see the doctor than I do about what the doctor will actually say. For years I refused to let the doctor take my blood pressure during a routine appointment, because I knew this would give a false result, as I felt – actually felt – my blood pressure rise while sitting in the waiting room.

Which is why I really like my doctor. He comes out from behind his desk after each appointment and makes order. He says who is next and handles the protests from people who say they would have come on time but their dog ran away, or their kid’s favorite turtle died.

I don’t know what my doctor learned in medical school, but one of the most valuable skills he has in my eyes is the ability to direct traffic into his office. That puts the patient at ease and makes this one feel better already.

AND ONCE in there, the man gives good advice.

“Go ahead and eat steaks and eggs and cheese and hamburgers ,” he told me the other day, as my jaw dropped. “All that stuff about low-fat diets is nonsense. Low fat diets are full of sugar. Put lots of cream in your coffee.”

He explained that this type of diet – coupled with not eating a lot of carbohydrates – could have the dual effect both of lowering blood pressure and reducing blood sugar levels. “Eat red meat, lots of it,” he encouraged.

This was the greatest medical appointment I had since I went to the dentist some 25 years ago and he told me I didn’t need to floss.
“I know you’re not going to do it, you know you are not going to do it, so why make you stressed out about something you won’t do anyhow,” the dentist counseled. “Just brush well.”

Amen, I said to that, and stopped feeling guilty about not flossing.

And now I have a doctor encouraging me to eat eggs, meat and high-fat cheese. I just rubbed my lucky ears and promised to do what he ordered.

No medical genius, I didn’t quite understand how this all worked; how things that I’ve been told for years were bad for me are in fact actually good for me. But I didn’t ask too many questions, internalizing a lesson I always taught my children: “Never ask questions you don’t want to hear the answers to.”

And now I’m just hoping the doctor knows what he is talking about. But I’m confident. A medical practitioner who knows how important it is to personally direct the flow of traffic into his office instills in me great confidence that he really does know what is best for his patients.

A collection of the writer’s “Out There” columns, French Fries in Pita, is available at www.herbkeinon.com and www.amazon.com

http://www.herbkeinon.com/2016/06/03/the-good-doctor/feed/ 0
Appreciating the wonderful utility of blame http://www.herbkeinon.com/2016/04/28/appreciating-the-wonderful-utility-of-blame/ http://www.herbkeinon.com/2016/04/28/appreciating-the-wonderful-utility-of-blame/#comments Thu, 28 Apr 2016 13:14:37 +0000 http://www.herbkeinon.com/?p=1045 BLAMING THE BEES


April 28, 2016

IT WAS AS if I had stumbled onto a set of an Alfred Hitchcock movie, only this one starred bees, not birds.

It was early on a peaceful Saturday morning. Nary the roar of a single car could be heard on the street below. Birds chirped from trees outside the window. A pigeon cooed from my balcony. It was a classic, still, Shabbat morning.

I tripped out of bed and headed to the kitchen, on my way to shul, happy not to be working this day. In the hall my still-bleary eyes spotted what looked like a dead bee on the floor.

“Hmm,” I thought. “Now how did that get there?” But my mind didn’t linger too long with that thought, for it was not that unusual. This is springtime in Israel, the season when assorted creepy crawlers and flying insects infiltrate the home.

And then I saw it.

Taking another step into the kitchen, I was met not by tiles shining from the obligatory Friday afternoon sponja, but by what must have been at least 100 bees lying dead and dying on the floor.

“Holy moly,” I uttered, falling back on the exclamations of my youth, something that happens whenever I’m startled. And I was definitely startled.

This was a creepy sight: a sea of expired, or rapidly expiring, bees.

MY FIRST thought was what the heck to do. Some of the bees were dead, others in their death throes, their little wings flapping their last flap. Since it was Shabbat and I was halachically proscribed from killing them (killing anything is prohibited on Shabbat, except in life-threatening situations), I simply swept them up in a dust pan and took them down to the street below.

I took them down quickly, somewhat furtively, almost guiltily, not wanting to answer any questions from neighbors.

“Why are you running down the steps in your slippers with a dustpan full of bees, Herb?” Or, “New hobby?” Or, “Bee hunting on Shabbat?” My second thought was, what the heck is going on? It turns out that a swarm of bees had found a new home on the window ledge of our upstairs neighbor. On Shabbat we keep the fluorescent light in the kitchen on all night, and apparently the bees were attracted to the light, and figured a way into my apartment – attaching themselves to the bulb.

The heat of the light is what did the bees in, and – with a muffled plop – they fell by the scores to my kitchen floor (some were still falling as I was sweeping the others up). I made a mental note, filed it away as a “teaching moment,” and vowed to use it someday when I wanted to warn the kids about being attracted to something, or somebody, that could eventually do them harm.

MY THIRD thought, and indeed the dominant one, was who the heck to blame? I mean, bees don’t just normally swarm into your kitchen like a biblical plague and flock to the light fixture. Who’s responsible for the bees’ nest in the first place? Who left the window open a crack for the bees to fly in? Who didn’t fix the bee-sized hole in the screen? But I was stuck, because the only one home with me that Shabbat – The Wife was away at a work retreat – was Skippy, my son in the army.

And even if I wanted to blame Skippy, I couldn’t do so in good conscience. I have a hard-and-fast rule: when one of the kids is in the army, don’t ride him or blame him or overwork him. He’s surely getting enough of that already in his day and night job; that’s what sergeants are for.

That policy works fine when only one son is in the army, because that still gives me another three kids whom I can ride and blame and overwork. The real test will come at the end of this summer, when my youngest is scheduled to join up, and then I will have two sons in uniform.

I can lay off one kid for three years, but two at once may prove a bit much.

Ordinarily I would have found a way to blame the other three kids for the bee fiasco, but they, too, were not home, and even by my liberal standards it would have been a stretch to accuse them of leaving the kitchen window open a crack when they were last home two weeks ago.

THAT THE Wife was not home that particular Shabbat was most inopportune, for she is always the most convenient person to wag a finger at.

After first discovering the bees, I could have blamed her for causing the problem because she likes honey; or because she donated once to a charity trying to save the world’s dwindling bee population; or because she didn’t go upstairs and tell the neighbor to get the damn bees’ nest removed once and for all.

“Why do you always have to blame somebody?” she responded after she returned home from her retreat, and I bombarded her with the tale. “Maybe it just happened.”

Naw, I thought, silently blaming her for not being around that morning to deal with the situation. Things like this just don’t happen. Someone is responsible; someone needs to be yelled at; someone needs to be blamed. After more than three decades in this land, I had internalized this country’s penchant for always looking to find someone responsible for everything, a tendency that plays itself out in our constant demands for committees of inquiry.

The urge to blame is deeply ingrained in the human psyche, not only the Israeli one, explained The Wife, who understands from these psychological phenomena.

As humans, we are wired to blame others: it has to do with maintaining our status, protecting our self-image, evading and avoiding personal responsibility.

Husbands blame wives, parents blame kids, employers blame employees, countries blame each other, and – paraphrasing Tom Lehrer’s classic 1965 song “National Brotherhood Week” – everyone blames Israel.

“And it all starts,” The Wife continued, now on a roll, “with you wanting to blame somebody else for dead bees in the apartment.”

“But it’s not my fault,” I respond, placed on the defensive. “I get this trait from my dad. Go blame him.”

A collection of the writer’s ‘Out There’ columns, French Fries in Pita, is available at www.herbkeinon.com and www.amazon.com

http://www.herbkeinon.com/2016/04/28/appreciating-the-wonderful-utility-of-blame/feed/ 0
The NY Democratic primary and Israel http://www.herbkeinon.com/2016/04/20/the-ny-democratic-primary-and-israel/ http://www.herbkeinon.com/2016/04/20/the-ny-democratic-primary-and-israel/#comments Wed, 20 Apr 2016 16:43:01 +0000 http://www.herbkeinon.com/?p=1043 Relief that NY did not ‘feel the Bern’


April 20, 2016 – 7:45 P.M.

No one will admit it, but there was probably a huge sigh of relief in the Prime Minister’s Office Wednesday morning when it became clear that Hillary Clinton handily beat Bernie Sanders in Tuesday’s New York Democratic party primary.

No one will say that, because Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — criticized in the past for allegedly heavy handed intervention in the American political process – is now being extremely careful about doing or saying anything that could be construed as trying to impact the results of the US elections.

(Compare that with Vice President Joe Biden’s remark Monday to Zionist Union MK Stav Shaffir at a J Street event that he wished her views would “begin to once again become the majority opinion in the Knesset.”)

But think about Netanyahu’s very, very likely preference for Clinton over Sanders for a moment.

This is Hillary Clinton, whose husband he famously did not get along with during his first prime ministerial term from 1996-1999; Clinton, with whom he had an imperfect relationship while she was secretary of state from 2009-2013; and Clinton, who is running against the first serious Jewish US presidential candidate ever.

And still it is safe to assume that Netanyahu prefers her to Sanders, which just goes to show how much concern there is about Sanders.

One does not need to be an overly acute political observer to assume that Netanyahu was not pulling for the candidate who earlier this month claimed that Israel killed 10,000 people in Gaza, continues to maintain Israel used “disproportionate force” to defend its citizens, and hired – and then only suspended – a staffer who wrote an expletive-laden diatribe against the democratically elected leader of the Jewish state.

Much has been said and written over the years about the absolute necessity of keeping Israel a bipartisan issue. Time and time again both Israeli officials and American politicians have said that while Democrats and Republicans can’t agree on much in Washington, the one thing they do see eye-to-eye on is support for Israel.

“Don’t turn Israel into a partisan wedge issue,” is the warning that was thrown at Netanyahu when he insisted last March on going to Congress at the invitation of then Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner and addressing Congress against the Iran deal.

While Israel may not be a wedge issue between the parties, what Sanders has done – and what should concern Israel even if Sanders is not eventually the Democratic nominee – is turn Israel into a wedge issue inside the Democratic Party.

When Sanders went to Brooklyn last week for a debate against Clinton and slammed Israeli policies, when he continues to say that “you can’t always nod at everything Netanyahu says” (as if that is what the Obama administration has done for the last seven years), he was not just articulating his thoughts, but was clearly appealing – nay, pandering – to the progressive flank of his party.

(Notice that whenever a politician goes to AIPAC and articulates pro-Israel positions, they are characterized by some in the media as pandering to Jewish voters; but when other politicians go to J Street and articulate anti-Netanyahu positions, they are never accused of pandering to Jewish liberals.)

Sanders was giving his core constituency – which includes all those millenials that Peter Beinart insists, just insists, are completely fed up with Israel – what he thought they wanted to hear. He was turning Israel into a divisive campaign issue. And for that he received loud applause.

Israeli officials have noted this applause, just as they noted during the last Democratic convention in 2012 that a clause on asserting Jerusalem as Israel’s capital was loudly booed, and that Sanders earned a loud ovation at a speech in Harlem last week when he expressed support for the Palestinians.

This applause was also picked up by some pundits who see it as a sign that a major candidate can be critical of Israeli policies and still win, indeed still win among Jews.

Sanders was critical of Israel in New York, precisely in New York, because he apparently thought it would help him with his millennial base, and he lost. He also lost the Jewish vote by , apparently, an almost 2-1 margin.

To be clear, the New York primary was not about Israel, and Sanders did not lose because of his comments about Israel. But his comments did not help him to the degree he apparently thought they would.

The progressive millennials – in fact, Jewish liberal millennials very critical of Israel – do exist. The polls bear this out. But they remain a minority of American public opinion, and a minority of American Jewish opinion. A loud minority, whose opinions are magnified by a media – both the Jewish media and general media – that gravitates to stories showing dissent over Israel in the American Jewish community,

But poll numbers continue to show strong US support for Israel. True, support is stronger among Republicans than among Democrats, stronger among middle age and older voters, than among the youth.

A February Pew poll showed that 62 percent of the American public sympathize more with Israel, as opposed to 15% who sympathize more with the Palestinians. Among Democrats and those in the 18-29 demographic, the pro-Palestinian sympathies rise to 23%.

This is the audience to which Sanders was directing his very critical comments about Israel. Twenty-three percent is 23%, and something not to be dismissed. But it is still only 23%. It is still far from the dominant trend in the party, and — judging by the pro-Israel rhetoric of the Clinton campaign — she, too, does not think it will gain the upper hand anytime soon.

http://www.herbkeinon.com/2016/04/20/the-ny-democratic-primary-and-israel/feed/ 0