Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Introducing Max

When the cat died, we said that would be the last of our pets. Forty years of cats, and now it was time to start living. No responsibilities, no worries when out of the house, when traveling. Yet my heart called out for more. A dog.

In the past few months, my children sent me WhatsApp notices of puppies up for adoption. My granddaughters nudged me over and over – "When are you getting a dog? "Soon," I promised them. "Soon," I promised myself.

"We'll get a dog when the house renovations are finished," Jodie said to me. Three months behind schedule, but at last the majority of the work has been completed. It's time for a dog.

It's time for a dog

I joined a number of Facebook groups. Dogs for Adoption. Dog Lovers – For Adoption Only! Adopting Dogs Limited. Posts of available dogs were frequent, but, none of them were suitable. Jodie and I had made a few decisions. No puppies—we wouldn't be able to handle the training. We wouldn't pay for a dog. No pedigreed dogs. No dogs from shelter that could be suffering from traumas in their past. And, possibly most importantly for Jodie, the dog should not be a barker. In short, we wanted to adopt a dog from a family.

The first dog we interviewed for the position was a big, black, beautiful dog with white spots—Panda—who belonged to the brother of the person in charge of Neve Ilan's youth activities. Panda lived nearby. Panda was very friendly, jumping to lick your face when you first met him. But Panda was strong. Very strong. When we took him on a quick introductory walk, Jodie immediately realized she wouldn't be able to handle him.

How is Max with children?

I found a listing for Max on Yad2, the popular site where people sell, buy, give away, and search for everything from apartments for sale or rent, cars, furniture, and apparently, animals.

I called the phone listed with Max and a young male voice answered the phone. I asked a number of questions. "Does the dog bark?" "How is the dog with strangers?" "How is the dog with other dogs?" "With cats?" "How is the dog with children?"

"He's very good with children," the person said. "I'm a child."

"How old are you?" I asked.


That wasn't what I meant when I asked about children. Would the dog get along with my granddaughters? Would he be a good match for my four-year-old granddaughter?

Max was born and spent his puppyhood in Karnei Shomron. From there, two teenage boys traveled on a bus for 90 minutes with Max to their yeshiva in Jerusalem. The yeshiva informed the boys that they had 2 days to get rid of the dog. The boys were rushed to give Max away.

We planned to go to Jerusalem to meet Max on Friday morning at 11:00, with no commitment to take him. But then, the meeting with Panda was set up, so I informed the boys that we were considering other options, that we wouldn't be coming into Jerusalem after all. A few minutes later I received an SMS. "So, are you coming to Jerusalem?"

When the possibility of adopting Panda didn't work out, I sent another message to the boys asking them if we could still come. They happily agreed.

We immediately feel in love with him

We met Max in one of the boy's homes in the Bayit Vegan neighborhood. It was a religious household—their table was already set for Shabbat dinner at ten in the morning. Max was a little hesitant about approaching us, but he seemed like a friendly, healthy dog. We took him for an introductory walk and Jodie confirmed that she was strong enough to handle Max's strength. So, we took Max home with us.

To say that our family, especially our granddaughters, were excited about meeting Max, was the understatement of the year. They immediately fell in love with him, as did I. As did Jodie.

Max is beautiful. Friendly. He gets along with children. He likes other dogs (but not all male dogs like him). He has a healthy appetite. He is healthy, vaccinated, and has an identifying microchip embedded under his skin. He likes to take walks. He will soon be neutered. And, he also has a mind of his own.

"Max!" we call out. He races on.

Friday night dinner. Our entire family is enjoying our meal in Merav's new apartment above ours. Max stands to the side, sniffing at the good smells coming from the table. "No table scraps for you! Sit, Max!" And he obeys. Mostly.

The front door is left open a few seconds more than it should, and Max dashes out. He bounds down the steep steps and into the street. He runs into unknown territory. Maybe he's heading for his Jerusalem yeshiva? Or for his previous home in Karnei Shomron?

We all race after him. Reut and Gali run in one direction and then Erez and I spot Max up the street. He's fast! And, it's starting to rain. Max dashes into a garden. And the rain picks up. It's dark and we don't see Max. It's suddenly a downpour, and we are soaked to the core. We reach the street and follow Max into a four-inch-deep puddle. "Max!" we call out. He races on.

At last, Max turns into a fenced garden and I am able to slip on his leash. We head back to the house, where the entire family is waiting.

Max is back. Max is with his new family. Max is wonderful. Max is now part of our lives. And, we'll make sure to keep the front door closed for now.

(Two days after this story was written, Max escaped again. We really need to keep the door closed!)


# # #

Friday, January 26, 2024

Review of 'Bulgaria, the Jews, and the Holocaust' by Dr. Nadège Ragaru

The facts appear to be clear-cut. Despite Bulgaria's alliance with Germany during World War Two, its 48,000 Jewish citizens were not deported to the Nazi death camps. That said, 11,343 Jews from the Bulgarian-controlled territories of Macedonia, Serbia, and Thrace were 'cruelly loaded on trains bound for Treblinka, where they were murdered.' In the aftermath of these two parallel Holocaust storylines, many questions have been raised. Who rescued the Jews of Bulgaria? And, who is responsible for the deaths of the Jews from Bulgarian territories? The answers are not as simple as they may seem, and in fact, can be quite controversial.

These questions and more are raised in Bulgaria, the Jews, and the Holocaust: On the Origins of a Heroic Narrative by Nadège Ragaru, translated by Victoria Baena and David A. Rich (University of Rochester Press, October 2023). Originally published in French in 2020, this book is an exhaustive archival investigation into how the survival of Bulgarian Jewry emerged as the primary narrative of Bulgaria's Holocaust years, while the deportations and deaths of Macedonian, Serbian, and Greek Jews were blamed solely on Nazi Germany.

As recently as January 2023, 80 years after those deportations and murders, the Bulgarian Ministry of Culture issued a statement praising 'the significant role of the Bulgarian state, its institutions, the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, and the Bulgarian people for this unprecedented act in Europe in one of the darkest years of our continent, when the Bulgarian people and state demonstrated tolerance, empathy, but also will and courage to save their Jewish fellow citizens.'

Yes, the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, many brave politicians, and the Bulgarian people in general can claim credit for saving Bulgarian Jews, but, as the author points out, the Bulgarian state and its institutions were directly responsible for policing the occupied territories, for rounding up the Jews living there, and for sending them to their deaths in the concentration camps.

To prove this argument, the author presents an eclectic mix of rarely considered evidence. She first explores the Bulgarian People's Courts, set up following the war's end to prosecute representatives of the pro-Nazi governing elite responsible for anti-Jewish persecutions. Then the author turns to the Cold War partnership of Bulgaria and East Germany within the framework of a film coproduction.

The author next considers just 'a few minutes of documentary footage that contains the only recorded images of Jewish deportation from the occupied territories.' These images play into the story promoted by the Bulgarian socialist regime in the 1960s and 1970s, which glorified the rescue of the Bulgarian Jews. The following chapter focuses on the 1990s and the changing memory of the Holocaust in the post-Communist period. In a chapter devoted to the years between 2000 and 2010, the author explores the 'Jews' engagement in memory politics, and their contribution to greater awareness of how timely a discussion of Bulgaria's co-responsibility in Jewish persecution in the 'new' and 'old' kingdoms may be.'

This is not easy reading, and to be clear, this is not a history of Bulgaria during World War Two. Bulgaria, the Jews, and the Holocaust uniquely presents the Jewish wartime experience with a consideration of the political, legal, historical, artistic and memorial aspects from the changing decades of post-war Bulgaria. Ultimately, as noted by the publisher, the author 'restores Jewish voices to the story of their own wartime suffering'.

The book, exhaustive in depth and scope, annotated with sources in multiple languages showing the meticulousness of the author's research, will appeal primarily to historians interested in the varied archival materials presented on its pages.

Dr. Nadège Ragaru is a Research Professor at the Centres d'études internationales (CERI), in Paris, France.

Bulgaria, the Jews, and the Holocaust: On the Origins of a Heroic Narrative is available in Open access.

Originally posted on The Times of Israel.

Wednesday, January 17, 2024

"Pomelos" - short story

The war had been raging for 40 days when Eli reported to the orchards. Seven in the morning and he was the first one. The only one. Was he in the right place? Was he in his right mind to have driven an hour and a half from his relatively safe home in Tel Aviv to this remote orchard in the relatively unsafe south? All was quiet at this hour—no rockets, artillery, or jets overhead—but everything could change without a moment’s notice, and he was a bit nervous.

“It’s completely safe there,” he had reassured Batya the previous night when he announced his intention to volunteer at the kibbutz. “There have been no rocket alerts or incidents in that area.”

“Still, you’ll be very close to Gaza,” she replied, a worried look on her face. “You should go to some farm near Netanya instead.”

“I’m going where I’m most needed,” he insisted.

And that was that. He woke up before his alarm rang, put on the hiking boots he hadn’t worn since his hiking trip in the Bulgarian mountains ten years earlier. He took two pitot out of the freezer and made cheese sandwiches for his lunch. After packing a bottle of mineral water in his bag, he was ready to go.

“I should be back in the early afternoon,” he whispered to Batya as he kissed her on the forehead.

“As long as you come back in one piece,” she replied without opening her eyes.

They needed him; he told himself repeatedly as he drove south. Thai and Nepalese workers had fled from the country in the aftermath of that horrific Saturday the previous month. Who would work in the fields? Who would pick the crops? Volunteers, that’s who! And he had stepped up to the plate. He was sixty-five years old, but damn if he couldn’t help save Israeli agriculture.

Monday, January 8, 2024

Review of 'Malign Intent' by Robert Craven

Garda Inspector P.J. Crowe returns in Malign Intent by Robert Craven (December 2023), a sequel to the crime thriller A Kind of Drowning. As in the previous book, Crowe's career is in tatters, his position in the force uncertain. At the beginning of one shift, he is called to investigate when a body, dressed in outdoor gear, is found swaying from a tree at the edge of a forest.

"You are to close it off as a suicide," his boss, Chief Superintendent O'Suilleabháin, instructs him. "Official, like."

"Suicide, not proven," Crowe replies. For him, 'not proven meant doubt. Doubt implied a crime… He didn't like it, but Crowe had a murder on his hands.' Of this, only he is convinced, so he sets out himself to solve the crime.

Is Crowe up for the mission? His superiors believe he is 'still recovering from an adjustment reaction linked to the circumstances in which he finds himself.' His violent assault and battery escapades in a previous case are well known, leading him to avoid social media and its toxic trolling, but Crowe insists he is "calmer now… less extreme."

"I did what any good cop would do," Crowe reassures a fellow inspector. Solving this murder case is, for him, 'a solid piece of real police work… For the first time in nearly two years, Crowe felt the surge of intent. A reminder to him as to why he became a policeman. To protect the public.'

Malign Intent will appeal to readers who appreciate police procedural crime fiction. Capturing one's attention is the thriller's setting in rural Ireland. Ireland, with its rutted moonscapes and coastal fogs, and the vanilla and black thunderheads rolling inwards from the sea.

For Crowe, 'every crime has a window of opportunity; a golden few minutes, hours, and days before threads of evidence start to wither and go cold or disperse as life continues on without the dead.'. The long days of Ireland's Atlantic autumnal rains are coming, and the clock is ticking for Crowe to solve the crime. We are partner to his investigation, assured that no matter what its result, we anticipate meeting Crowe again in his future cases.

Robert Craven is an award-winning Irish author of thrilling fiction. His novel, Eagles Hunt Wolves was the winner of the 2021 Firebird Book Award for best Action/Adventure. His other novels include the Eva series (Get Lenin, Zinnman, A Finger of Night, Hollow Point, and Eagles Hunt Wolves); the Steampunk novel The Mandarin Cipher; and the crime thriller A Kind of Drowning. His short stories have been published in three anthologies and he is also a regular reviewer of CDs for the Independent Irish Review Ireland.

Monday, January 1, 2024

War Diary: Living the Normal Life

It's a warm, sunny Saturday in December, a perfect day for hiking. I've never previously explored the forests and cliffs of the Mount Carmel Nature Reserve and National Park, but when I join a group of ten other avid hikers, I realize how much I've missed. Venturing downwards from a parking lot above Beit Oren, we make our way through the rugged woodland of the Alon Valley to where it meets the Oren Stream, with a stop at the En Alon spring.

Fifty kilometers to the north, Hezbollah shells Israeli kibbutzim and rockets are falling in Kiryat Shmona. Unidentified drones infiltrate into Israeli airspace and IDF forces respond with widespread strikes in southern Lebanon.

Sunday morning promises the same fair weather as the day before and I take the train into Tel Aviv to begin another ordinary work day at my high-tech Internet company.

Seventy kilometers to the south, Israeli forces push deeper into the central and southern regions of the Gaza Strip, backed by heavy air and artillery fire. Every morning, the media begins its news reports with "It has been cleared for publication that the following soldiers fell in battle." Luckily, my colleagues who were called up for emergency army duty are safe and I'm relieved to see them when they come to work for the first time since October 7th.

At home, renovations are three months behind schedule. Our contractor's regular workers live in the West Bank and Palestinians are not allowed to enter Israel these days. The contractor has been employing East Jerusalem residents on a day-by-day basis, and progress is never guaranteed.

But who am I to complain that there is still scaffolding outside my bedroom or that our new kitchen has no walls or floors or electricity? About 200,000 Israelis have been evacuated from their communities near the Gaza Strip and from the northern border with Lebanon. They lost their homes nearly three months ago, and it's not clear when they will be allowed to go back.

My family gets together every Friday night for a joyous, and quite lively Shabbat dinner.

Some 130 Israelis are still being held hostage in Gaza. We don't know how many of them are actually alive.

I continue to live my normal life, while in reality, nothing in Israel is normal these days.

Hamas still threatens to destroy Israel and we continue to fight back. We will fight back until there is no more Hamas, until our hostages come home, until our citizens can live safe and secure lives.

Life goes on, and if nothing else, this is Israel's biggest victory in the war so far.

Related articles:

Israel at War. Again.

War Diary: Day 5

War Diary: What Terrifies Me More Than Anything Else

War Diary - How Do You Cope?