Monday, December 24, 2012

Life, Death and Noah Pozner

Noah Pozner was the youngest of the 20 youngsters who
died at Sandy Hook Elementary School earlier this month.
He turned six in late Novemeber and was in the First Grade.
I was out and about on a recent Sunday morning, walking on a trail that snuggled up closely to the Chattahoochee River just West of Roswell Road in North Atlanta. The sky was a cloudless, achingly beautiful deep blue and a stiff wind had me hunched over, pulling the collar of my jacket up around my neck and ears to stay warm.

My daughter Lauren was at my side. Now that she’s married, working and staying busy with the large and small stuff of life, we don’t have as much time to spend together as we once did.

That’s not to say we don’t see one another. There are family meals and holidays gatherings; day trips and occasional shared vacations; phone calls, e-mails and, when the weather is reasonably nice and our schedules mesh, walks along the river.

It was during our most recent stroll, as we wandered passed joggers and bikers, couples and families, that I started thinking about Noah. The thoughts were troubling and, for a moment or so, the morning grew dark and melancholy.

Noah Pozner, as some of you might recall, was the youngest of the 26 victims killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown, Conn. a few weeks ago. He had just turned six in November and, like all of the other children murdered at the school, was in the first grade.

All these youngsters were precious souls; innocent girls and boys filled with laughter, life and endless potential. But there was something special about Noah, something familiar that had him resting uneasily in my mind. After all, he was Jewish.

As the horror played out endlessly on television, across the web on news sites and in my daily paper, I started spotting video and photos of men with kippot, some wearing tzitzit, black hats and other such garb.

One of the first people on the scene, offering comfort and a few details of the tragedy, was Rabbi Shaul Praver of Temple Adath Israel in Newtown. It would later turn out that the Pozners were members of his congregation.

And, of course, as the funerals began, Noah was one of the first to be buried. Yet again there was a sense of the familiar hovering about the cemetery as stunned family and friends observed the ancient rituals of Judaism and said their goodbyes.

"I told the mother that was grieving that I personally believe in the eternity of the soul, and I believe that she will see her son again," Praver told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA). He added that he isn’t focusing too much on the cosmic and grand these days; that mostly he thinks it important to show compassion, to hold and hug and cry with the bereaved.

The compassion and hugging and crying were all part of the scene as I watched the final moments of the funeral unfold on TV. There seemed to be a collective wail and sigh when the chazzan offered up the anguished words of El Malei Rachamim: O G-d, full of mercy … grant proper rest on the wings of the Divine Presence … for the soul of Noah!

It was the melancholy tune and words of the memorial prayer that seemed to be on an endless loop in my mind as I walked with my own precious daughter the other day. You see, what I was having trouble pushing aside was the painful reality that the Pozner family wouldn’t be spending time with Noah ever again.

There would be no family meals, holiday gatherings, day trips or vacations with the bright and active youngster; no watching him grow and mature; no tomorrows.

As Noah’s small casket was lowered into the ground, the veil we know little about was being slowly pulled aside. One journey was ending. Another was beginning.

Just a few days earlier and a few miles away in a small school house in a little village in Connecticut, there had been 26 gentle souls that now seemed lost and gone. But where? I’ll leave such metaphysical musings to the poets and philosophers among us.

But this much I know is true. At least part of Noah’s soul now rests in the hearts of all those who loved him. The rest, I like to think, is making its way to a place where pain and misery don’t exist, light and love fill the world and innocent children spend their time laughing and chasing butterflies across lush green meadows.
Zikh-ronah liv-rakha … may Noah’s memory be for a blessing. Amen.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Hot and tasty way to begin a memorable meal

Let’s forget about all the wondrous high-tech stuff I came across on my recent visit to Indianapolis and focus on the really important stuff – food! Specifically, I’m thinking about the shrimp dish that burned its way into my life at a well-known and happening eatery, St. Elmo Steak House.

Josh, my son-in-law and high-tech guru extraordinaire, suggested we begin our adventure in Indy by scarfing down as much protein as possible, an energy boost to help us work our way through the high-tech expo that spilled across the city’s convention center last week. He had visited St. Elmo’s a year earlier and had only good things to say about the restaurant. It’s in the heart of the city, conveniently located on the same spot it’s called home for the last century or so.
Timing was the only problem. Turns out lots of folks had the same idea we did and the only available reservations were either in the late afternoon or after 9 p.m., an hour when I’m thinking more about slipping off to bed then digging into a juicy hunk of steak!  But, hey, I’m nothing if not flexible when it comes to food.

And so it was that we pushed our way into the restaurant as the moon hung heavily on the horizon. The place was filled with patrons, good cheer and the savory smell of cooking beef. We had to wait only a few moments before being summoned, seated and watered! The menu was presented and featured, well, beef – New York Strip, Filet Mignon, Porterhouse, Ribeye, Prime Rib; you know, all the usual stuff!
The usual stuff also means a shrimp cocktail, the ubiquitous item at steak houses that, occasionally, sets the tone for the meal and defines the experience. That’s certainly the case at St. Elmo’s! I did mention this was a fiery happening, right? I’ll explain.

The cocktail is a euphonic blend of huge shrimp deeply buried in a creamy sauce that has the texture of rich mustard and the color of a fine rosé. It packs a wallop! Only the uninitiated – that would be me – spear the shrimpy meat, slather it with sauce and bite away. I found out it bites back!
The experience will be lingering in my mind for years, a fiery rush that spilled through my nose and spread across my sinuses. It had me leaning back in my chair; eyes shut tight, beads of sweat popping out over my brow and noggin. Oh, it was also tasty!

It turns out the cocktail’s creamy sauce is a mixture of fresh horseradish, a splash of tomato sauce for flavor and color, more horseradish and, just to provide an added punch, a bit more horseradish. Apparently, the chefs at St. Elmo adhere to the ancient Talmudic belief that you can never be too rich, too thin or use too much hot stuff when preparing sauce for its signature item. Go figure!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

CEDIA Expo: Woofers, tweeters and high-tech racks!

I’ve just returned from a huge AV expo in Indianapolis and can now reveal that I’ve gotten an up close and personal look at the future. I’m not at all certain what I’ve seen, but I think I can report that it’s pretty darn impressive and headed in our direction.

The price of admission was simply being willing to leave my comfy home in the Land of Cotton and travel to Indiana with my son-in-law Josh to something called the CEDIA Expo, a massive trade show featuring 400 exhibitors from around the world focusing on hot and new stuff for the home automation market.
Josh, fortunately, speaks the lingo and helped me understand all the magical new products that will be spilling onto the market in coming months. For instance, a major manufacturer of entertainment systems and other such stuff, and a high-tech outfit that manufactures, ah, high-tech control systems, offered me all the free booze I wanted before announcing they’ve partnered up on a new audio video receiver featuring a complete home automation system. I’m thinking this is a good thing!

At a lavish, pre-expo gathering, honchoes from the two companies explained that the STR-DA5800ES and STR-DA2800ES both contain the full software suite offered up by one group and differ only by their levels of AV performance. I haven’t a clue what any of that means. Meanwhile, I also learned that the 5800, the ultimate home theater, will feature 180 watts per channel, 9.2 channels, wideband amplification, a new circuit board grounding system and new DSP technology. Fortunately, I also learned that there were brownies and lemon squares for dessert and that the open bar would, ah, remain open after the presentation!
After a good night’s rest, Josh and I joined with a few thousand other AV specialists from across the country, and were greeted at the doors of the convention center by a bevy of really tall women in really tight dresses showing off their woofers and tweeters! They, and a bunch of guys in color-coordinated polo shirts, also showed off the latest in flat screen TVs, speakers, control pads, home entertainment systems, remote control units, keypads, touch screens, home control eco-systems, projectors and dimmers. That pretty much got us through the first of a dozen or so showrooms! I did mention there was booze, right?

On the last evening of the show I started to believe that I could understand some of the high-tech talk that was spilling about me. For instance, I learned that Xantech (I’m not making this up) was planning to introduce Xtranet, its next generation of wired and wireless products for integration into commercial and home AV systems. I actually understood the words wireless and commercial in that annoucement. Truth to tell, I was just happy to hang out with the tall babes at the free bars. As I recall, we spent most of our time chatting about their new, easy to mount racks!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

And off in the distance, a frightened pooch ...

The lovely Miss Wendy and I were out and about earlier today, running a few errands and enjoying some, ah, quality time with one another. We zipped onto a major boulevard in our little corner of the world and a block later noticed that cars were screeching to a halt and swerving around what appeared to be an accident.

A moment later we passed a pickup truck that was wobbling atop a nearby curb and a smashed up SUV in the intersection. The entire front of the vehicle was caved in, the window shield shattered and tires flat and spinning. Off to the side, a small crowd was gathering and several people were surrounding a woman who seemed to be conscious but shaken and, perhaps, going into shock.
We maneuvered our way slowly around the scene, but noticed that a bunch of cars in front of us were still crawling along, blocking the intersection. I wanted to get out of the area so emergency vehicles and medics could make their way in and didn’t understand what the holdup was.

Then, as one car zigged while another zagged, I spotted the problem. A tiny dog, trailing a longish leash, was dashing up the highway. It was spooked and seemed totally lost and bewildered! I’m only guessing, but I think it quite possible that the dog – a terrier mix of some sort – had been in the SUV and was tossed from the vehicle when it crashed. A dozen or so cars were trailing the pooch and, finally, one driver managed to get in front of the dog and force it to the curb. She jogged over to the trembling animal, offered a few soothing words before picking it up and getting it out of harm’s way.

I detail this little slice of life to offer up this observation. When I spotted the wreck, my first feeling was annoyance – backed up traffic, rubber-neckers, wasted time. Then when I saw the injured woman, I mostly thought that that’s life in the big city and hoped she wasn’t seriously injured. But seeing the small dog touched my heart and had me feeling sad. It was obviously confused, frightened and, well, completely innocent of all the madness we humans unleash on one another. That said, it was nice to see most everyone slowing down a bit, making an effort to shield the dog before it could dash into traffic.

Five minutes later and a mile down the road, cars were once again whizzing about, most everyone focused on the distant horizon, feeling the urgent pull of life. And so it goes.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Holocaust Memorial both melancholy and uplifting

Hank, Bob and Allan work on memorial at Etz Chaim
When God was handing out the handyman genes, I was still in the line for hair. Glance at my profile mug and you can see how well that worked out for me. I mention this now because I decided to take my bald noggin and defective handyman genes down to my neighborhood shul earlier this week to help pull together a new Holocaust Memorial Garden.

Fortunately, Hank N., master carpenter and handyman extraordinaire, is handling the heavy lifting for Etz Chaim’s Men’s Club, the group that has taken on the project of updating and retooling the memorial. It’s all part of an expansive renovation to expand and beautify the front entrance, foyer and office area of the synagogue.
The original memorial garden included some interesting and memorable items – cobblestones from the Warsaw Ghetto and railroad tracks that had once spilled into one of the death camps in Eastern Europe. These iconic bits will remain a featured part of the new garden, while most everything else has been demolished and whisked away.

Through the creative work of Allan S., Etz Chaim’s own personal landscape architect, I’m thinking the new garden is going to manage to be both melancholy and uplifting – recalling the past while honoring the Jews and others who suffered and died at the hands of the Nazis.
The entire area has been scrubbed clean and warmed up with new landscaping. Concrete flooring has been replaced with pavers and the entire garden is set against a startling new fence, eerily echoing the harsh reality that defined the Holocaust. Nearby, an eternal light will keep watch, offering up a warm glow and reminder that the Six Million will never be forgotten.

With the help of Men’s Club officers and members – Barry, Johnny, Jeff and Joe – and the creative and speedy work of Allan and Hank, the new and updated Holocaust Memorial Garden will be finished by the High Holidays. It will be officially dedicated in November on the Anniversary of Kristallnacht.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Fruit and waffles: One good way to start the day!

On this oh-so rainy morning, I needed a little coaxing to get me out of bed. What finally brought me to my feet was my stomach – and the promise of waffles swirling about my noggin.

As some of you may recall, my doctor has suggested I give up eating anything white – bread, potatoes, rice, cakes, cookies and ice cream; you know, anything tasty! Waffles, at least waffles made with processed flour, falls on this list of foods to be avoided.

In search of alternative ways to feed my stomach and soul, I happened upon the freezer aisle at the local market and after a little searching walked away with a box filled with bits of whole wheat Styrofoam creatively labeled waffles. I’m thinking what I found inside the packaging could easily serve as coasters for cold drinks or a trivet to hold hot plates!
The lovely Miss Wendy reminded me that this culinary challenge could actually be an opportunity. All I need do is gussy the waffles up a bit and I might be surprised what pops out of the toaster once I find the right ingredients to turn this, ah, sows ear into a silk purse.

I’m always up for a good challenge, so I set about pulling together a few items that I thought might be strong enough to hide the cardboardy taste and texture of Eggo waffles. I set the stage with a nice slathering of honey butter, topped with a handful of strawberries and blueberries, all nicely blended together with a spritz of Smucker’s sugar free breakfast syrup.
Voila! I offer you Grebnief’s Fruity Waffle Surprise! Truth to tell, it’s warm, tasty and, the really good news, contains only 250 calories, 20 grams of carbohydrates and, drum roll please, only about 5 grams of sugar.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Runners and swimmers and soccer – oh my!

Every four years I can get excited about beach volleyball, badminton, weight lifting and swimming. Heck, I can even stand up and cheer for the world-class athletes taking part in synchronized swimming, gymnastics, boxing, wrestling, archery and the dozens of track and field events that define speed, endurance and skill!

All I need do to have a really grand time is push aside the politics, egos and nationalism that hover at the heart of the Olympics and focus on the athletes and their hopes, dreams and mighty efforts to win a gold medal. When it all comes together, there aren’t many other sporting events that capture the drama, excitement and sheer spectacle offered up by this quadrennial event.

I spent the last week or so lost in the whirling and swirling efforts of our women gymnasts and synchronized divers; dashing about with our sprinters and long-distance runners; holding my breath with the U.S. swimmers. There was much that was golden, nicely blended with silver, bronze and a sprinkling of tears.

I also journeyed along with Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings as they battled their way through the sand at the House Guards Parade, site of the beach volleyball competition. They dominated the field of world-class competitors, losing only one game (not a match, but a game) before facing the other U.S. team in the gold-medal finals of the event. Did I mention they were all wearing bikinis?
The U.S. - China match leading up to the finals was as dramatic and exciting as any sporting event I’ve ever witnessed. Four competitors, one ball, a few thousands screaming fans surrounding the court and a few million others watching the action on the tube! I did mention the bikini thing, right?

It was all captured on video tape by NBC and offered up in prime time across the U.S., hours after the actual game. NBC has paid a gazillion bucks for the rights to televise the Olympics and it’s their call on how best to handle the logistics. Unfortunately, unless you’re free to spend hours in front of a TV, or hours more surfing the web, what you’ll end up with each evening is a highlights reel of events!
The world these days moves along at warp speed, but all that high-tech power hasn’t yet dramatically changed the way we watch the Olympics. Go figure! Meanwhile, I’ve got a seat reserved in my den for the men’s marathon on Sunday, followed by the closing ceremony.  In honor of our beach volleyball champs, the lovely Miss Wendy and I will be wearing bikinis!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

What it means to reach for gold at the Olympics

Blogger’s note: I came across this essay I wrote for that place with the printing press where I was working when the Olympics played out in the Land of Cotton 16 years ago. I’m thinking what I had to say then remains true today.

Winners and losers. It’s at the heart of the Olympics, the stuff of Olympian dreams and nightmares.
We remember the glow of gold medal winners, arms extended in victory. But just as compelling, just as memorable are the tears of those who valiantly tried, but came up short.

For those who prevail, dreams of a lifetime become reality. Cheers. Headlines. Fame. A golden medal.
But for every winner in the Olympics there are legions of losers, those who have fallen short of their goal.

“There’s evidence people remember, and it can ruin lives,” said Dr. Roy Baumesiter, a psychologist at Case Western Reserve University who specializes in the study of guilt. He noted that Albel Kiviat, who won the silver medal in Stockholm in 1912, was still regretting when he was 91 that he’d come in second, not first.
“I wake up sometimes and say, ‘What the heck happened to me?’ It’s like a nightmare.’’

Dr. Tom Gilovich, a Cornell University psychologist who did a study last year of Olympic athletes in the ’92 Games, found that those who finished second felt worse than men and women who finished third, or lower.
‘’Whatever joy the silver medalist may feel is often tempered by tortuous thoughts of what might have been had she only lengthened her stride, adjusted her breathing, pointed her toes and so on,’’ Gilovich said.

For the also-rans the cheers are hushed, the headlines bitter, fame elusive. For them there’s no golden medal to caress, to help remember a day, a moment, an instant when glory was there for the taking.
And yet … isn’t there also glory in the effort? Isn’t there fame for being one of the best in the world, an Olympian among Olympians?

Won’t the tears of defeat slowly give way to pride, knowing that there was a day, an hour, a moment when the world stood still … and waited?
The Olympic Games represent the noblest characteristics of mankind; but, sadly, also the worst. At the Centennial Games of Atlanta, marred by unspeakable tragedy, the good has nudged out the bad in a photo-finish.

And what of the winners and losers? For most of us, they remain the stuff of dreams, a lovely blend of Olympian beauty, grace and joy.

Monday, August 6, 2012

We interrupt your life for this important message

Last weekend I was merrily banging away on my computer, surfing the web, writing nonsense on my blog, stalking friends and acquaintances on Facebook. Life was good. Then I walked away for a moment and returned to find my screen filled with a message, all played out across a not-so-lovely blue screen!

I’ve since learned that there’s a name for what I was witnessing – the Blue Screen of Death. The message was pleasant enough but oh-so-generic. It was also written in compu-talk, a sort of mashing together of English, computer symbols and phrases that were mostly Greek to me!

The very unfortunate bottom line is that my laptop had bellied up with little fanfare, burying my hopes, dreams, musings, music and photos among its fried micro-chips. The good news is my music and photos were backed up on other disks and my hopes and dreams remain part of that bio-computer that rests easily in my noggin.

I’m delighted to report here at This&That Central that we’ve just received word that our new computer is in the neighborhood and will be arriving soon. I’m happy to add that I’ll now stop referring to myself in the third person. It’s also worth noting at this point that the lovely Miss Wendy is whooping in the background since she’ll no longer need to share her computer with the This&That editorial staff!

Blog posts will resume on a regular occasional basis in the next few days. That, btw, is not a warning, just a statement of fact! And now we return you to your regularly scheduled program.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Cell phones, rice and a little tinkle of water

We’ve all heard about someone spilling a glass of water over their cell phone, then fixing the problem by dropping the phone into a box filled with rice. Turns out it’s a solution that really works; just ask my friend Debbie.

No, don't toss out any unused rice you have
at home. You never know when you might
need a bowl of it to fix your phone.
She got her lovely new smart phone all wet recently and discovered that a little rice is exactly what the doctor ordered. The much more fascinating story, however, is how she managed to find herself with a dripping communication device.

Accidents do happen and there are all sorts of ways a person might manage to damage their phone. For instance, you might be hustling from your car and drop your phone in a rain puddle; perhaps you’re sitting next to a pool, reach for your phone and fumble it a bit and, oops, now it’s soaked. You could leave it out on your patio and a storm passes your way, or in your convertible when some prankster tosses a water balloon in your direction. None of those things happened to Debbie. But they could have, right?

I’m thinking she wishes her little accident was so simple and straight forward. But, no, Debbie was out and about last week when she needed to, ah, find a restroom. Her problem first began when she found a convenient place that, unfortunately, didn’t have any sort of hook about to hold her pocketbook.

It’s what she did next that has me scratching my noggin. Perhaps Debbie was in a hurry – you know, nature will only wait so long. So she, well, smartly decided to rest her pocketbook in a nearby sink while she dashed into the closest stall.

All seemed good, at least for the moment. Then Debbie heard the quiet little tinkle of water. Oh-so unfortunately, the tinkling was coming from outside the stall. When she finished up her, ah, business and made it back to the sink, water was pouring from the faucet and nicely filling up her pocketbook. You can guess where her cell phone was resting!

It turns out that Debbie had managed to stick her pocketbook into one of those high-tech sinks, one with an electronic eye that automatically activates the faucet. Yikes!

As I mentioned earlier, the rice thing really works. Just Ask Debbie. You might also consider giving her a portable hook with one of those rubber suction thingies on it. I’m thinking it’ll cut down all sorts of problems for her in the future.

Monday, July 16, 2012

I’m thinking she’s not worried about muggers

My friend Malka snapped this photo recently of a teenager getting some cash at an ATM in Jerusalem. Truth to tell, the assault weapon is just about as common here as the ubiquitous jeans and camisole she’s wearing, just a little accessory that brings out the highlights in her hair!

Most Americans visiting Israel for the first time are caught a bit off guard by all the weapons carted about by IDF troops, many like this oh-so young woman in civilian clothes. It all seems so alien to the way we live our lives in the land of the free and the home of the brave. In the Jewish homeland it’s part of everyday life!
Soldiers are responsible for their weapons, even when off-duty, and often have nowhere to stash them. So they carry them on errands, when visiting friends or out for a casual drink. It’s not at all uncommon to spot a guy or girl in a bathing suit, strolling along the Mediterranean with friends, an M-14 slung casually over their shoulders.

If you happen to be at one of the central bus stations in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv or Haifa on a Sunday morning – the beginning of the work week in Israel – then you’ll have a chance to see just how much weaponry is actually in circulation in this tiny nation. I wasn’t around in the 1940s, but I’m thinking the coming and going of youngish troops, armed and smartly decked out in an array of colorful uniforms, is a mirror image of what the U.S. probably looked like during the dark days of World War II.
In Israel, troops returning to their duty bases can be spotted with Dror light machine guns, Uzi pistols and submachine guns; Galil assault rifles and the occasional high-powered sniper rifle; a wide range of handguns and, of course, the ubiquitous M-14s.

At first glance it might seem like the wild and wooly west has been reborn in the Middle East. And yet, after a moment or so, the weapons and soldiers seem a natural part of this place, just another interesting ingredient – along with Sabra wit, falafel, serpentine streets and mystical secrets – that makes Israel special.
So snap away at the teens and their assault rifles. You’ll find them most everywhere. They don’t seem to mind the candid camera hijinks of tourists and, truth to tell, all those weapons make Israel one of the safest countries in the world for visitors.

A final note: Here’s hoping that one day soon the weapons will disappear, along with all the reasons that make them necessary!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Staying really busy and doing absolutely nothing

I had dinner with the minyon group last Thursday. Irwin, praying pal extraordinaire and longtime friend, asked me what I’ve been up to lately. It’s a fair question, but one that often leaves me puzzled.

Since leaving that place with the printing press over, gulp, three years ago, I’ve stayed busy doing all manner of stuff – traveling, volunteering, writing, reading, walking, jogging, painting (both of the house and fine arts variety), yard work and drinking; in short, nothing much.
Mostly, I’ve learned that there’s a talent to doing nothing and that just about anyone can do it by doing, ah, nothing. But over time I’ve actually figured out how to do nothing in much more interesting and creative ways.

In the last year or two I’ve done nothing while watching TV, movies and plays; done nothing at film and book festivals, workshops and seminars; also stayed busy doing nothing working in my yard and cleaning the house and done a whopping amount of nothing sitting in front of my computer.
I’ve done nothing on trains, planes and cars; done nothing in Alaska, Washington, California, Arizona, New York, New Jersey, Georgia and Florida. I’ve also managed to do a whole lot of nothing in Israel – twice!

Of course nothing, for some people, is something. I’m thinking this philosophical notion is buried somewhere in that whole half-glass full or empty concept. So, given my mood on any given day, it actually turns out I’ve been awfully busy! Almost makes me want to take a nap!
The really good news is that’s an option, perhaps one of the very best things I’ve learned over the last three years.  Turns out I’m a natural at doing nothing while napping.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

How I spent a lifetime at JFK’s Terminal 3

A trip is often about the journey and not the des- tination, and sometimes the journey is just plain awful. That certainly sums up at least part of my getting from here to there and back during my most recent journey to Israel.

Finding a pigeon resting inside an airport terminal isn't
all that usual; that is of course unless you're travelling
through JFK in New York.
As often as not, the entire traveling experience is an adventure for me. Truth to tell, there’s no question that air travel has become onerous in recent years. But with the proper attitude and the right drugs the lines and delays, security checkpoints and pat downs all become, ah, fun and funny, part of some sort of cosmic joke.

But the joke this time around was pretty much on me after I managed to pull together a travel itinerary that had me spending close to 16 hours – eight hours going and eight hours on my return – at New York’s JFK International, one of the worst airports in the country.

Not that long ago I could have flown directly from my little corner of the world to Israel. For some yet unexplainable reason Delta, my hometown airline that sloganizes it’ll always be ready when I am, canceled its one daily flight from the Land of Cotton to Tel Aviv. Go figure!
So to get from here to way over there I had to travel through at least one other airport. New York seemed the logical choice. Unfortunately, the two flights offered up on Delta’s website when I started finalizing my plans came with challenges.

One flight only allowed me 90 minutes to make my connection. The other fell at the opposite end of the waiting spectrum, offering up a whopping eight hour delay in the Big Apple. Making my way back home came with pretty much the same challenges – dash and pray or cool my heels at JFK; say that just right and it sort of rhymes. That said, there was nothing pretty or poetic about my decision!
I came down on the side of caution, worrying that if there was any kind of delay – bad weather, bald tires, drunken pilots or deranged flight attendants – I’d miss my connecting flight and then have to wait, ahhh, many extra hours in New York. Okay, I know I ended up waiting many extra hours. But at least that was part of my plan!

And it would have been okay if JFK wasn’t a seedy little rat hole, filled with the devil’s spawn who work as ticket agents, baggage handlers, security guards and fast food clerks and cashiers. Apparently I’m not the only passenger in the last year who has taken note of the disaster called Terminal 3.

A little background and context might be helpful. JFK began life in the early 1940s when the city of New York began filling in the marshy tidelands of Idlewild Golf Course. Initial plans were to create a modest airport of about 1,000 acres. But by the time construction was complete, Idlewild Airport had grown to five times the original size.
Commercial flights began in 1948. Today, John F. Kennedy International Airport – it was renamed in memory of the nation’s thirty-fifth president in 1963, a little over a year after JFK was assassinated – is the nation’s leading international gateway, with more than 80 airlines operating from its gates.  

Unfortunately, city and airport officials have paid little attention to the mega-airport in recent years and apparently haven’t noticed that the world is moving at warp speed now that we’ve entered the twenty-first Century. JFK is difficult to fly into; it’s a jarring blend of terminals, pieced together with dismal walkways and miles of sidewalks. Buses, mini-vans and light rail will move you about from place to place; but service is often slow and sporadic.
Most of the terminals are suffering from neglect, real fixer-uppers with holes in the roofs, water stains spilling across the walls, broken tiles, ratty carpeting and birds flying about. The folks at have taken note. They ranked JFK’s Terminal 3 as the worst in the world.

"Terminal 3 is known for endless immigration lines in a dank basement, an utter lack of food and shopping options and three crowded and confusing entry points,” said. "There's also a sense that the cleaning crew gave up in despair a while ago."
I’m thinking Frommers got it right. Oh, did I mention that it was Terminal 3 where I spent 15 of the 16 hours waiting at JFK? In short, a lifetime!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Mickey D’s gets fresh, modern McMakeover

Zipping about recently, doing a few errands and in search of a hot cup of Joe, I spotted what I thought was a new fast food restaurant taking shape in my little corner of the world. After a second glance at the construction site, I realized it was a very old burger joint simply getting a massive face lift!

Once upon a time the place with the golden arches in my neighborhood had sold a billion burgers – give or take a few million. McDonald’s was located on a happening spot, the perfect intersection to draw in families, teens and business types jonesing for two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun! In recent years the joint has started showing its age and its customers have started finding other fast food alternatives.

I’m thinking the burger bosses decided the best fix was simply to go back to square one and start over – again! So in late spring they leveled the existing arches and the building it soared above on Sandy Plains Road and started from scratch. And now, they’re back!

The new site has an oh-so modern vibe about it. It’s a lovely blend of brick, glass and stone; an open and clean design that has the feel of something pulled from the archives of Frank Lloyd Wright. Even the iconic arches have been updated and pulled into the 21st Century, soaring mightily above the new structure.
Now all the corporate toads need to figure out is how best to update and modernize both its menu and its service. In a report released last week by the American Consumer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), McDonald’s found itself at the butt end of the pack, easily bested by Papa John’s, Subway and Taco Bell.

Unfortunately, the ranking isn’t new territory for McDonald’s.  Except for 2009, when the burger giant edged ahead of KFC and Burger King by a percentage point, McDonald’s has consistently placed last in the ranking since 1995.
Despite such dismal ratings, there’s still a bit of magic in the Golden Arches. I’m thinking with its spiffy new look and efforts to cut out much of the fat, oil and sugar from its products that Mickey D’s will yet again have patrons lovin’ its stuff!  

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Dawgs, Gators and quadruple bypass surgery

My brother Larry had quadruple bypass surgery earlier this week. I’m happy to report that he’s up and about; not yet dancing but well on the road to recovery.

Doctors discovered the problem late last week. The really good news is this is the sort of health issue that, despite its seriousness, is very fixable. Once upon a time blocked coronary arteries were difficult, if impossible, for surgeons to repair. In recent years bypass surgery has become a procedure best filed away under the heading of medical miracle.

The truth is that the procedure has been perfected over the last few decades thanks to the intellect, rigorous training and passion of curious medical researchers and skilled surgeons. And let us all say Amen!

The question, of course, remains why Larry’s arteries clogged up in the first place? Some will say it’s the weekly dose of Big Macs and fries, all washed down with chocolate milkshakes. I have another theory. My brother is a loyal and true Dawg fan, who bleeds red and black and worships each fall “between the hedges.” He made the mistake of leaving the Land of Cotton several decades ago, moving south into the land of Gators. Need I say more?
Now he’s really in a pickle! I’m thinking that many of the doctors, surgeons, physician assistants and nurses who have been tinkering around with his innards this week are loyal Gators who bleed blue and orange. Those of you living outside the U.S., and have no clue about the seriousness of college football, simply need to take my word that this is not a good thing!

So I guess on some sort of cosmic playing field he’ll now have mixed loyalties. Gators or not, his physicians did make him whole again. That said, there really isn’t much of a conflict. After all, Physicians and medicine are all about science. And everyone knows that college football is a religious experience.
Here’s hoping that this little episode will be a fading memory in a month or so and that Larry will be suited up and ready to play completely in the game of life very soon. And since I’m just about out of sports clichés, I’ll simply finish with that well known Georgia prayer, “Go you hairy Dawgs!”

Monday, June 11, 2012

Shabbat in Jerusalem with friends, strangers

Sometimes a little creativity works out much better than tossing loads of money at a problem. That’s exactly what the energetic staff at Jerusalem’s Abraham Hostel have done when figuring out how best to pull together Shabbat dinner for their guests each week.

To understand the problem, you probably need to know that Jerusalem, both the capital and spiritual center of Israel, is one of the few places in the world that takes Shabbat seriously. The city essentially shuts down for the Jewish Sabbath, a period that stretches from Friday afternoon until three stars appear in the sky on Saturday evening.

That means if you’re a tourist you’ll have plenty of time to rest and relax; it also means that you’d better plan ahead if you want to eat on Friday night and throughout the day on Saturday. Just about everything in the city closes – retail stores, public transport, museums and theaters; restaurants, cafes, fast-food joints, mega-supermarkets and mom-and-pop groceries.

If you’re staying at one of Jerusalem’s luxury hotels you don’t need to worry. Generally along with the high-cost of your room, you’ll be wined and dined in fine style over the Sabbath. Most 5-star hotels offer up a smorgasbord of delights – soups, salads and fishy appetizers; beef, chicken and fish; veggies and baked goods; vintage wines and dessert! Needless to say, you won’t go hungry.
That’s not the case if you’re staying in a 3-star hotel or hostel. Most of these places provide a hearty – if limited – breakfast. Otherwise, plan ahead or fast; unless you’re booked into the Abraham Hostel. I stumbled across it online when planning my most recent trip to Israel. It looked interesting and the reviews were mostly good.

The price was certainly right – $20 for a bed in a dorm and $60 for a private room and bath. Once I figured out the location was just about perfect – it’s on Jaffa Street in the heart of the city, a block or so from the Jewish Market and the pedestrian mall on Ben Yehudah Street and an easy 10 minute walk from the central bus station – I decided to try it out.
Turns out you get what you pay for! When traveling solo I don’t mind roughing it a bit. I’ve stayed in 3-star hotels and the occasional hostel. The hotels, without exception, have always been fine – clean and neat, safe and affordable. The hostels have also been safe and very affordable; unfortunately, they’re generally a little seedy around the edges.

The Abraham Hostel was light, bright and filled with second-hand everything – furniture and floor coverings; dishes, glasses and plates; beds and bedding; towels and bathroom fixtures. The building was ancient and needed work. My room was tiny and featured a jarring blend of school dorm simplicity and jail-house practicality – two single beds (really cots) pushed together, harsh neon lighting and cheap wooden cabinets nailed to the walls; a small and shaky desk, nightstand and chair. There were two additional smallish rooms, one for the toilet and another for a shower. Functional is about the best I can say about the place.
There was a bright spot. The main gathering area – sort of the hostel’s ballroom – was on the second floor. It was expansive and included colorful sofas, chairs, bean bags and hammocks; a fully stocked bar and huge entertainment system; a dining area and public kitchen. It was here that everyone willing to pay out 35 shekels (about $9) came together for Shabbat dinner.

Lacking the funds to wine and dine their guests, the hostel’s management came up with the novel idea of pulling everyone together like a family. The staff would go out and purchase the food for dinner, but it would be the guests who, with a little help from the staff, would do most of the prep work and cooking.
So it was that a trickle of tourists from around the world began gathering in the kitchen area as Jerusalem started shutting down for Shabbat. We stood around, gazing about, waiting for instructions. Fresh veggies were spread across several tables and a few staffers handed out knives, bowls and other such stuff.

Before you could shout shalom, we were all slicing and dicing, sharing a bit about our background and chatting with one another about our latest adventures. The ice had been broken. The people at my work station were typical of the guests at the hostel – a guy from Canada, traveling through Israel as part of his college course work; a couple from Japan on holiday and a middle-aged woman from California visiting relatives. Well, you get the idea.
The prep work took about 30 minutes; then we had another hour or so to talk and meet up with friends. Did I mention there was drinking? As the sky turned dark and the first stars of Shabbat winked and twinkled across Jerusalem, we settled down for the evening meal. There were about 50 of us spread about the room – friends and strangers, young and not-so-young; Jews and Christians.

A youngish woman took a few minutes to detail the importance of Shabbat, offered some religious background and historical context, then lit the Sabbath candles. Another staffer said Kiddush, a traditional blessing thanking God for the “fruit of the vine,” and finished with a blessing over a loaf of challah.
Our work and the work of the staff had pulled together a feast – fresh veggies and fruit; rice, pasta and potatoes; chips, dips, bread and chicken! I’ve already mentioned there was drinking, right?

It was Shabbat and we were family, at least for the moment, sharing a special meal in a very special city. As I said at the start, sometimes the best way to deal with a problem is to hold onto your money and use a little creativity. The evening worked for me, something I’ll be remembering in coming months. Now I’m thinking the hostel’s bosses might want to capture some of their staff’s creativity and figure out how to use it to freshen up their property.  

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Denise, Earl and living the good life in Zichron

After doing my volunteer thing with Sar-el recently, I wanted to spend a few days checking out another region of Israel where I could rest, relax and pull myself together for yet another 12-hour flight back home. That’s how I ended up in Zichron Yaakov, a small resort community just south of Haifa.

Denise and Earl, friends who once upon a time lived here in the Land of Cotton, moved to Zichron about a year ago. They were gracious enough to put me up for a few days and schlep me around a bit.  Zichron is a lovely community built across and atop a mountain range that gently slips into a valley along the Mediterranean.

It offers up world-class views in all directions – a patchwork of cultivated land in the valley, giving way to a maze of lush and lovely vineyards on nearby hillsides; twist about and the Mediterranean quietly roars to life in the far distance, the perfect spot for each day’s setting sun. This might be heaven!

That’s not to say there aren’t challenges in calling this place home. Denise and Earl – their children Reuben, Levi and Gabi – are mostly living the good life in the Jewish homeland. They’ve been warmly welcomed, are members of the local Masorti synagogue and community, and have friends who are warm, caring and helpful.

But like most olim, there’s a steep learning curve that involves mastering the language, the customs and dealing with the high-cost of just about everything. I’m delighted to report that Denise and Earl are still smiling, even as they go through the cosmic effort of finding and buying a home.
Spending time with them and visiting Zichron was a perfect way to end my trip, a chance to see up close and personal how Israelis go about their daily lives. We took a few small road trips to area sights – a nearby resort community and, later, the ancient ruins at Caesarea. But, frankly, I found it just as enjoyable and enlightening to visit a local mall and several markets with Denise and venture out with Earl to buy a bouquet of flowers for Shabbat.

Sitting out on their deck one evening, sharing a splendid bottle of Syrah from a local vineyard, we chatted about this and that and watched the sun slowly sink into the sea. For a month or so I had been dashing about, revisiting ancient and iconic spots across Israel, in search of that elusive something that would define and stamp this trip as special.
I’m thinking there was much that was special – the spiritual secrets hidden away in the Old City of Jerusalem; the upbeat and cosmopolitan vibe in Tel Aviv; the like-minded and friendly folks I worked with at Tel HaShomer. But the quiet and calm that settled across Zichron as the sky grew dark and my soul grew light is what I’ll be remembering.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Finding my way from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem

Getting around when visiting Israel can be a hassle. It can also be an adventure. The really good news is this tiny country that has all sorts of problems – political, religious, cultural – also has a really good public transport system. Truth to tell, it’s significantly cheaper and easier to get from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem than traveling from Marietta to Atlanta. Go figure!

On my most recent trip to the Jewish homeland, I ventured out and about in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem with little problem; mostly getting around on buses, sheruts – a sort of mini-van that follows a scheduled route – and the occasional cab.
It’s worth noting that much of what you’ll want to visit as a tourist is in the heart of both these cities and is well within walking distance if you’re reasonably healthy and fit. An added bonus of hoofing it when walking is an option is that you’ll get to see parts of the country up close and personal that would be nothing more than a passing blur from a bus or cab.
Most cities in Israel have a central bus station. In Tel Aviv and Jerusalem the stations are mini-cities; expansive developments that include retail shops and banks, cafes, restaurants and fast-food kiosks, ticket offices and information centers. The stations are almost always busy; crowded, noisy and filled with locals and tourists on their way from here to there. It’ll probably take a little effort to orient yourself on your first visit. But it’s an experience that’s worth the effort.

I was lucky earlier this month; I needed only to follow in the wake of Sar-El friends Irwin and Gigi when off to visit Jerusalem. They are experts on getting around the country and helped me find my way through the labyrinth of hallways and passages that fill the central bus station in Tel Aviv.
Buses run between the two cities about every 15 minutes. So the process was made even simpler when we dashed aboard a waiting bus and bought our tickets from the driver instead of stopping at a nearby ticket window.

The trip costs 18 shekels – a little shy of $5 – but I was advised to hand over 9 shekels and simply say “pensioner”! Retirees and seniors in Israel are offered half-price fares on all public transport. And that’s how I ended up making the trip for just a bit over $2. BTW, just for the sake of comparison, a can of cola will cost you 7 shekels in Israel and a really good cup of gelato will set you back 19 shekels.
Trains are another decent option, especially when traveling along the coast. They are quick, efficient and affordable. When heading back to the states after visiting friends in Zichron Yaakov, a small resort community just south of Haifa, I took a train. It whisked me through a half-dozen cities and villages that dot the Mediterranean, then on through Tel Aviv before I reached my final destination, Ben Gurion International Airport. The 50 minute trip was a bargain at 37 shekels. Remember that Israeli retirees would have paid half that price!

Cabs are all together another story. They are relatively expensive and the experience, at least for me, is almost always cosmically irritating. Cabbies fall into that group of Israelis who love tourists for only one reason – our money. They look on us all as suckers and know that, for the most part, we hate to haggle and argue and that we’ll pay whatever we’re told.
The very first cab ride I took in Israel several years ago was a horrible experience that featured a cabbie nagging me about payment from the moment we were off and going. I didn’t understand the system and hadn’t told the cabbie to turn on his meter. Instead, he continually asked me how much I was going to pay him.

Unfortunately, that nasty introduction to cabs and cabbies has proven to be the norm. On my most recent trip, this same scam played out twice. The first time I told the cabbie to turn on his meter; the second time I had a good idea of what the cost should be and handed the cabbie that amount when I reached my destination and made a hasty exit.
Of course there are exceptions. I had a mini-emergency a few trips back and needed to get to a pharmacy in Jerusalem. A helpful cabbie got me to a nearby mall, volunteered to wait, then returned me to my hotel. Another cabbie, dropping me off at the airport, zipped away, then quickly backed up and waved me down. It turns out I had left a small bag on the front seat and he had spotted it after dropping me off – a major crisis averted!

Travel, especially in strange and foreign places, is always an adventure; and getting around is a big part of the experience. If you’re on a group tour with a professional guide, the good news is most of the hassle of getting from place to place comes with your ticket.
Truth to tell, I like the ease and sense of calm that comes when traveling with family and friends. But I also like the adrenalin rush that’s part of the solo experience; the unexpected happening just around the corner and me, yet again, stumbling my way through another grand experience. And so it goes!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Finding a tasty bit of icy inspiration in Israel

Israel is a tiny country packed with history and adventure, all euphonically blended with spiritual connections. It’s that one place in the world for Jews, Christians and Muslims that offers up a ready link to an ancient narrative that continues to inform and direct our lives.

So it’s not surprising that I’m most happy when visiting this tiny nation simply walking around, taking in the sights and sounds that often are foreign and discordant, but always alive and exciting. If forced to make a list of the touristy spots not to be missed, I’d have to include such iconic locations as the Old City of Jerusalem; Herod’s fortress at Masada and the spiritually rich village of Sfat; the always lovely city of Haifa and picturesque community of Zichron Yaakov.

Most recently I’ve discovered another spiritual connection, a spot of cosmic import hidden away on one of Tel Aviv’s majestic boulevards. Tel Aviv, of course, is filled with special delights, a happening city that is regularly listed as one of the most tourist-friendly destinations in the world. So it’s really no surprise that along with its beautiful promenade that nestles up cozily to the Mediterranean; its world-class shuk and nearby artist market; its theaters, museums, first-class restaurant, bars and nightclubs that it also offers some of the best gelato on the planet – and, yes, I’m talking ice cream!

If you’re in need of a real spiritual experience, and a sugary high, I strongly suggest the next time you’re in the area that you search out Siciliana, one of the ubiquitous cafes lining Ben Yehudah Street, just a few blocks south of Ben Gurion Boulevard. You really can’t miss it. On a hot summer afternoon, it will be the place with a long line of locals and tourist hanging about. Inside, heaven waits!
In fact, I’m thinking I heard a heavenly choir shout out the first time I stumbled across Siciliana just a few weeks ago. I was in search of something spiritual – gin with a splash of tonic. But once I saw the assortment of goodies on display at the café, I knew I had stumbled across my own little bit of paradise!

For only 19 shekels you can get a whopping large cup of manna that will tantalize your taste buds. When playing around with gelato, I like to keep things simple. So I went with a heavenly helping of whiskey chocolate, nicely paired with a scoop of creamy vanilla. It was divine, an inspired creamy treat that was smooth and tasty.
Of course, I could have opted for the fudge chocolate or crème brulee; strawberry, espresso, or mango delight; bourbon special, cherries jubilee or cookies and cream. I’m thinking you’ll want to give yourself a little time to make the right decision. After all, in this little corner of heaven, the devils in the details.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

In the Israeli army it's okay to play -- sometimes

Working in a warehouse holding hundreds of boxes of medical supplies for IDF troops in Israel can be a difficult process. The mission, all part of a unique volunteer program, Sar-El, can be painfully slow and tedious. That’s why the young soldiers working with volunteers sorting through the mess of stuff decided to go to war.

Their base, and for the moment mine, is a massive facility near Tel Aviv that houses one of the spiffier Sar-El facilities for volunteers. It spreads out over several acres and includes a weathered but sturdy campus of warehouses, meeting rooms, barracks, dining area and offices. It’s also a perfect place to stage a battle!

For volunteers, the work of carefully examining serial numbers and checking out plastic bags holding a wide-variety of medical equipment can be mindlessly boring. But it’s all for a good cause and the proverbial light at the end of the warehouses’ tunnel – to twist an old phrase – is always just around the bend. For the young soldiers the light is often years away and the tedium can become overwhelming.

To cope, at least during my most recent volunteer encampment in early May this year, Eran, Uri, Itamar, Tova and dozens of their comrades took up arms – well, at least water balloons – and turned the asphalt area in front of the warehouses into both a battlefield and water park! I’d have a tough time detailing the rules of the game. From where I stood, it seemed like the goal was to stay dry while drenching anyone in striking distance.
The real madness and general appeal of the, ah, maneuvers, became clear when I managed to ask one of the young warriors what was happening. In English that was much better than my Hebrew, yet still difficult to decipher, Uri explained that, well, the commander – and her assistant – were off the base. So it would seem that what I was being told was that universal truth, “When the cats away the mice will play!”

Another universal truth, at least in Israel, is universal conscription. Boy and girls, in their late teens, are called into national service. You spot them across the country, dressed in army khakis, an automatic weapon draped across their shoulders. At first blush, it’s all a little daunting, youngsters playing at war who should still be in school or playing at the mall. After a short time, the young soldiers become part of the euphonic blend – the sounds, noises and color – that make up this very special country. Given the aggressive politics of the region, it all makes sense in a sad and melancholy sort of way.
That said, young soldiers are still young people, needing to let off a little steam now and again. It’s nice to know, despite the burden they carry, that they remain playful souls who can laugh and joke and, when their commander is away, toss a few water balloons at their friends.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Singing Hatikvah and finding hope in Israel

There is much still swirling around my noggin as I process the ups and downs of my most recent journey to Israel earlier this month. What lingers about at the moment is a very special happening during the first week of the trip as I transitioned yet again from flabby civilian to IDF volunteer. I’ll explain.

On this particular morning in early May, I joined with a group of volunteers from around the world – Australia and New  Zealand; Israel, France, Germany, Holland, Russia and Poland; the U.S. and Canada – shuffling about on an asphalt parade ground on a massive IDF base near Tel Aviv.

We were all volunteers for Sar-El, an organization that places people on IDF installations in Israel to help out as needed. Mostly the work is cosmically menial; but it’s work that needs to be done and it releases “real” soldiers to handle more important tasks.

Each morning after rolling out of our bunks in our oh-so spartan quarters, getting cleaned up and dressing in uniforms – yes, we wear IDF-issue outfits; how cool is that – dining on a hearty breakfast of hard-boiled eggs, cheeses, yogurt and all the tomatoes and cucumbers we can scarf down in 30 minutes, we join with a company of young solders for morning flag raising.

On this day, our madrichot – that would be Tamara and Eleanor, our guides and commanders – decide to take the morning ritual to a new level. We’ll not just heft the iconic blue and white banner of the Jewish state into the sky over Tel HaShomer, but also sing Hatikvah, the Israeli national anthem.

Hatikvah manages to be both uplifting and melancholy, an anthem that poetically speaks of hope and the Jewish soul, all wrapped up in a musical score of aching beauty. For most Jews, certainly those of us raised on the Zionist dream of a Jewish homeland, the melody rests lightly in our hearts and souls, easily recalled whenever the first mournful notes are played.

The problem is that the words are in Hebrew, a remarkably difficult language to learn – especially for foreign volunteers who are often older than Israel itself. It’s one thing to say hello, shalom, in Hebrew; it’s a bit more rigorous to recall and recite the sophisticated lyrics of the anthem.  

So while a few brave and bilingual volunteers begin singing, the rest of us stumble about, humming the tune and sounding off whenever the word Hatikvah is mentioned. Meanwhile, the company of regular soldiers nearby, young men and women drafted into the IDF and serving out their time as laborers, stare at us in bemused silence, trying to figure out why we’re singing their national anthem.

But like the country itself, there’s something contagious and endearing about Hatikvah, both the words and the melody. The silliness of the effort gradually morphed slowly into a grand effort, the mournful tune giving way to the stirring anthem that has sustained and unified the Jewish people for decades now.

Even some of the young troops are caught up in the moment as together we share the words of the poet Tali Herz Imber, “Our hope is not yet lost, The hope of two thousand years, To be a free people in our land, The land of Zion and Jerusalem.”

I can’t help but think that on this day, if only in a very small way, I’m part of the ancient promise, first whispered to Abraham; a vision that is no longer simply a hope, but today a reality.