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Moving On

I have not posted here in almost a year. I think it's time to officially announce that I will not be posting here any more. I'm going to keep my account open so that I can follow my few friends here, but I won't be posting in this journal. If you would like to keep in touch with me, and know what's going on in my life, please friend me on facebook. Search for 'Eitan Levy.' I live in Noqdim, Israel, if the search turns up a bunch of people, and my current profile picture is of my wife and baby son in a 'polar bear' outfit. Please send me a note telling me who you are, because I probably only know your LJ name!
Many blessings,
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Substantive Discussion/Debate (or lack thereof)

This is probably a bit exaggerated. I'm writing out of frustration.

I've noticed a trend about most public 'discussions' which go on these days about pretty much any issue. The trend is to debate meta-issues instead of the real issues. For instance, both sides will claim to be 'democratic' (or some other 3rd thing which everyone agrees, in principle, is good), and then the two sides will argue whether the proposal is democratic or not, but never actually discuss the merits and de-merits of the proposal itself. In other words, the question 'will it work,' or 'is it right,' is rarely asked by either side of the debate, and if it is asked, only time for a facile, sound-byte response is allowed before the other side starts with ad-hominym attacks because they are probably not prepared to engage in a real discussion.

One good way to sideline the real issue, that being why you think the substantive position the other person holds is incorrect, is to claim it to be a 'rights issue.' In my opinion, the abortion debate in the US (whichever side you take), has been hijacked by the question of whether the issue conforms to the constitution's idea of rights or not. The thing is, the answer will depend on the substance of what one believes about the issue. But instead of engaging in discussion about that, both sides dig down in hyperbole and epithets and wave the constitution as a flag to rally around.

In issues surrounding Israel, at least within the Jewish community, 'Zionism' is often used the same way. Forget which position is actually correct. Which one of us can lay claim to being 'Zionist?' I find that this tactic is particularly misused by J-street (and the like) who spend a lot of energy convincing us that they are, in fact, Zionists, but not a lot of time convincing us why their positions are correct. It becomes a rights issue: that they are free to voice their opinion, that they are excluded from the majority club, etc. Then both sides argue about whether they can and/or should be excluded. Nobody even mentions the real, substantive arguments, because the whole thing has devolved into a 'rights' debate, a debate about freedom of speech within a community (which if anything suffers from too much of it!), instead of the messages both sides really want to communicate.

I long for the day when someone will argue with me, not by saying that I'm saying/doing something 'offensive,' or something 'left-wing' or 'right-wing,' or 'un-democratic,' but just tell me I'm doing the 'wrong' thing, and then trying to convince me why with real arguments.
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Hallel, Elul, Vision, Teshuvah

BS”D, Elul 5769

It's Elul, the month of Teshuvah; the month of returning to the light, to the source. And I can't help but think how appropriate it is that in this month my son gets his sight, or gets back literally what he lost metaphorically at birth. We say a baby learns the entire Torah in the womb/heaven with an angel before he is born, and forgets it upon entering the world. Life is then a process of remembering that which we already, on some level, know to be true. Hallel was born with severe cataracts, which blocked out all but the brightest flashes of light from his eyes. Two days ago he had surgery to remove one cataract, and yesterday we 'unveiled' the eye from it's bandages, letting undifferentiated light and color flood in for the first time in his life. Today we will go pick up his glasses, with a +20 prescription, and his world will become differentiated into distinct shapes and patterns. He will truly see his Abba (father) and Ima (mother) for the first time, the hairs of my beard, the texture of his mother's skin. It will be shocking and wonderful, but two dimensional. Next week he will, BE”H, have surgery on the other eye, and the next day be granted the gift of depth perception, a three dimensional world.

I can only hope that the process Hallel is going through reflects what I, and all Am Yisrael is going through on some level. May we all be blessed to have our eyes opened and enlightened, to have Truth made clear, real, seen. May we all be blessed to come back to the knowledge we had before we were created, when we sat with Truth and beauty with nothing hidden, and may we do so with the humility and joy of a child.

Post Script: Last night we got his glasses. :)

This video is when he first opened his eyes after the surgery.

Baby with glasses!
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    Birds chirping outside...
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Fatherhood, health-care, traveling to the US

In response to reader demands (read: Mom), I bring you more musings on fatherhood.

It's fun watching Hallel grow and develop. He's figured out more advanced ways to identify a breast than sucking and waiting to see if milk comes out. He can now identify his mother's voice, smell, and the look of the desired body part. He now knows that Abba (Daddy) does not provide milk, and rejects my finger out of hand when he is truly hungry.

Other than that, we have been having adventures with the medical establishment. Getting vaccines, going to doctors, getting things checked out. Apparently not going to a hospital during or immediately after the birth means you have to make a gazillion separate appointments to get the kid screened for all the things they normally do at the hospital. Well worth it. As far as I'm concerned, hospitals are for sick people and are to be avoided unless you have no choice.

The medical system for babies is strange here. There are essentially two, overlapping but not entirely redundant systems. Before everybody in the state was covered by the national health-care plan, the state had a program called 'Tipat-Chalav' which provided medical care for babies. It was a great system, and made sure that all babies got vaccinated and screened for serious problems, even if they had no insurance and couldn't normally afford health-care. Since the introduction of the sal-ha'briut (national health basket), doctor visits are free for all citizens. But, the individual health-care providers don't want to take the responsibilities of Tipat-Chalav onto their books, so they only provide doctor visits, and make you go to Tipat-Chalav for weighing/measuring, vaccinations, etc. So, we have monthly appointments with Tipat-Chalav to get shots (for the first year), and we have check-up appointments with the doctor through our national insurance at the normal times (1 month, 2 months, 6 months). In theory I don't have a problem with all this medical care, but I don't think they could make it less convenient if they tried...

B"H, so far he's healthy as a little, tiny horse.

Also, we're planning a trip to the states for the first few weeks of August. I am intently looking forward to travelling for a day and a half with an infant... We'll be stopping in NYC, Denver, and Tampa/St. Petersberg (Florida). If you're in any of those places and want to meet up, please let me know!
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Israeli National Consensus

One of the most common questions I'm asked by people abroad (outside Israel) is what the mood is like in Israel. I would say that this article, by Barry Rubin, pretty much captures what most Israelis are thinking and feeling. I think the essence of the mood can be captured in this quotation:

"This new posture is not one of desperately asserting Israel's yearning for peace but rather saying: We're serious, we're ready, we're not suckers but we're not unreasonable either. We want peace on real terms, not just more unilateral concessions and higher risk without reward. Not experimenting with our survival to please others. Not some illusory celebration of a two-state solution for a week and then watching it produce another century of violence."

And in this one:

"A second notion this new paradigm rejects is the argument that either Israel is so strong that it can give without receiving or so weak that it must do so. Equally wrong is the notion that time is against Israel, a strong and vibrant society surrounded by weak and disorganized neighbors. The strategic situation has dramatically improved over the decades. It is a strong, confident society visibly meeting the challenge of the modern economic and technical environment."

To re-phrase into my own language: We're ready to make REAL peace when our neighbors are willing to make reasonable compromises and recognize our right to exist, ending all hostilities. We're not suckers, but we're not unreasonable. If our enemies are not willing to do what it takes, screw 'em. Time is on our side, and we're doing just fine.
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Tariffs for Judea+Samaria Products, Peace Now, etc.

Settlers to be reimbursed for EU tariffs


The government plans to pay settler farmers and business owners NIS 32 million to compensate them for the tariffs they pay to export their goods to the European Union, The Jerusalem Post has learned.

According to Peace Now, which released a detailed report this week on state spending over the pre-1967 Armistice Line, this is just a small fraction of the approximately NIS 2 billion the state intends to spend on settlements over the next two years.

[500 million dollars=2 billion NIS, is not a lot of money to support the infrastructure of a quarter of a million people. Roads have to be maintained, water pipes, garbage collection, payment for bureaucrats who run all those things, etc. The number is reasonable even without any "expansion"]

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    Baby Sounds. :)
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OTHER: So, what's it like to be a parent?
ME: Well, before there was no baby, and now there is one.

That pretty much sums it up. But for those of you who appreciate my long-winded prose despite my best Dickensian attempts to make them boring, I'll go on. My parents are here for a few weeks, my mother for a whole month, which is just the most wonderful thing imaginable. It's truly a win/win. My parents get to shep endless nachas from their grandson, and at the same time help ease the transition to parenthood for me and Daniella. I am so grateful for my wonderful family, more and more as time goes on.

Watching Hallel (the baby) change day by day is astonishing. In his two-plus weeks of life he's substantially filled out into his newborn sized clothes, which used to hang around him with his tiny body floating somewhere in the midst of all that cloth. Every day brings a new ability, a new set of neurons firing, organizing, making sense of the world. A few days ago he started focusing on and following objects with his eyes, a day or two later he had his first interaction with a toy, grabbing it and bringing it to his mouth. His eyes have clarified into a deep blue, and the dark, substantial hair he was born with shows no sign of falling out and giving way to fine, peach-fuzz--as the baby books say it should.

What should happen with a baby is another interesting topic. Everyone who has ever reproduced seems to be an expert on baby-care. But I suggest that more information sharing is needed in the field, as everyone has different advice! My parents and Daniella took Hallel with them to the Shuk (market) in Jerusalem yesterday, and were assailed by conflicting 'advice:' He's too hot. He's too cold. Cover him up. Uncover him. He's too young to be in the sun. etc. I don't know if this happens to the same extent in the US, but it seems that here, the whole country feels like the kids annoying relative who needs to tell the new parents how to do things right. I'm sure they all have the purist of intentions. So I'll try to take everyone's 'advice' as what it is, that is, a somewhat misguided sign of caring for the extended Jewish family.

If there's one thing I've learned through watching this pregnancy, birth, and the growth of Hallel, it's that the received wisdom on all these topics is highly suspect. Here are a few pearls of what I've learned so far. I make no pretense of originality or infallibility:
1. All sorts of random stuff goes on in a pregnant woman's body which doctors have no explanation for, and can't do anything about. (That's not to say you shouldn't make use of the knowledge and expertise they DO have.)
2. Hospitals are for sick people. Avoid them if you can, even--perhaps especially--during pregnancy/birth. We haven't been to one yet and are only better off for it.
3. Due dates are a guestimation (guess+estimation) based on an imaginary number. Best to ignore them.
4. Birth is not necessarily a traumatic experience, for anyone involved.
5. Real world experience always trumps textbook wisdom. Internet forums on actual experiences are often better sources of information than medical or child-rearing books and sites.
6. No matter how much knowledge you gather, you will learn to raise a child by doing, as with any art. The best way to learn is from a master artist, not a text.
7. When it comes to taking care of a baby, there are a gazillion options which are just fine, and a couple which are not. Which is which is mostly common sense.
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Baruch Hasem!!! I'm an abba (father)! Daniella gave birth this morning in a lightning fast labor to a beautiful baby boy! He's a bit small, as he came a couple of weeks early, but he's nice and healthy, and we're home at my in laws' for Shavuot and Shabbat.
Chag Sameach!
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Growing Plants and Planting Babies

My life has been largely concerned with growing things lately. Daniella (my wife) is quickly approaching the due date. In the last week the baby turned it's head down and dropped down into the pelvis, Daniella started experiencing Braxton Hicks contractions ('false' labor), and she suddenly awakened with a burst of energy saying, "Hello world. You need to be cleaned thoroughly!" Though, since she can hardly walk, let alone scrub the floor, it's fallen to me to apply the elbow grease. Not that I'm complaining, of course. In short, fatherhood is suddenly feeling much more imminent.

For the last couple of months I've been doing some gardening for the first time in my life, unless you count helping my mother pick weeds when I was a little boy. I've been planting seeds, watering them meticulously, watching and tracking their growth. Every time I plant a seed, I despair that it will never come up and that I must have done something wrong. Each day that I fail to see a sprout is proof of my failure. So far, as of this morning, every seed I've planted here has sprouted (as opposed to an abortive attempt to plant Kale at our old caravan in Bat Ayin a few months prior, where I plucked most of the sprouting Kale thinking it to be a weed). It's an amazing process to watch a plant, nourished by your hand, develop. This morning a hot pepper plant was just peeking a tiny bit of green above the dirt. I watered it and went back inside. About two hours later I found it had risen about an inch and spread two little leaves!

They say farmers need the most emunah (faith). You plant a seed, you wait, you water, you pray. How anyone could ever plant a seed and watch it grow, then not believe in G-d is beyond me. I guess the same can be said for parenthood. You are entering into the unknown, committing your life to a person who does not even exist yet. You water, you wait, you pray, and you hope everything comes out for the best.

It occurs to me that Western society is largely removed from the process of creating life. Most people don't have a lot of children around. Many in my generation have one or two children, and those relatively late in life, or none at all. At the same time, most live in large urban centers, where their gardening experience never surpasses the occasional potted plant on the window sill. It makes me wonder about some of the societal maladies we see around us, the ideological grandness coupled with ego-centrism and narcissism which I consider characteristic of many in my generation.

The other major content of my life these days is the tour-guiding course I'm taking. The course encompasses an impressive amount and breadth of material. I feel like yediat haaretz (knowledge of the land) is being poured down my open gullet. Every week I get to see another part of the country, learn it's secrets from the ground up (literally), walk it's paths, smell it's flowers, and envision my biblical ancestors roaming the same places. Anyone who would like an unofficial tour please let me know. Of course I can't 'charge' you yet, since I'm not a licensed tour-guide, but I wouldn't refuse payment either.

On another note, tonight starts Jerusalem Day, celebrating the reunification of Jerusalem under Israeli control in 1967. As a Religious-Zionist this is not only a national holiday, but also an important religious holiday. It also happens to be one of my favorites. To think that after 2000 years of Jerusalem being in the hands of gentiles, the Jewish nation rose from the ashes of the Holocaust, won a war against all odds (several, actually), and reunified Jerusalem as the capital of a Jewish state!