Friday, April 14, 2017

Kosher thoughts

Pesach leads to much conversation about kashrut. How many calories are expended in considering which calories to intake?  It borders on an infinite number.  Yet, many non Jews (and some Jews) are not completely aware how complex kosher can get and how much it affects food choices.

On the surface level, kashrut involves the manner of slaughtering animals, the prohibition of certain foods (pork and shellfish, notably) and prohibition of mixing diary and meat. Yet, it also takes into account the preparation or storage of the foods.  For example, traditional wooden wine kegs use a mixture of flour and water as glue, making the wine stored in them unsuitable for Pesach. Likewise, gelatin is commercially made from animal fat, pig or otherwise, affecting its use with dairy products or use in general.  Since a restaurant that is open on Friday night cannot by definition be kosher, an observant Jew must not eat there even during the week. At Pesach, more prohibitions come into play, including most if not all grains (rice is a matter of contention). This is not even the tip of the iceberg.  Kashrut rules make inheritance laws look like child’s play.

The truly controversial issue is the raison d’être of this corpus of religious laws.  Some justify the logic in terms of health or ancient methods of preservation (or lack thereof). Yet, even if kashrut were unhealthy or completely irrelevant in terms of food safety, hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Jews would continue to keep it. Fundamentally, the observant perceive kashrut as a basis of Jewish life (not necessarily identity). To openly reject it is to betray the religion, no more, no less. (Maimodides named it as one of the pillars of Judaism) In other words, to embrace God, you have to embrace his rules and limitations. 

Of course, many Jews in Israel and abroad do not keep kosher to one degree or another. The expressions of rejection include eating pork and cheeseburgers to only eating “traff” (non-kosher food) in restaurants while keeping the house kosher, to name just a few.  To a large degree, this refusal is an ideological choice in the same way compliance is a matter of faith.

In the meantime, many Jews are putting up with matzo and its companying stomach effects until Tuesday while quite a few others found the ceremonial matzo on the night of the Seder more than enough for their religious conscience. In my case, I have no problem living without bread and beer for a week. I give up those foods not as a matter of principle but as a practical means to keep my wife happy.

In terms of the importance of keeping kosher, two bits of philosophy come in mind. Sartre said that a Jew is a Jew because the world views his/her to be such while Bob Marley said “don’t worry, be happy.” In other words, to the outside world, keeping kosher is of little importance but, if it makes you feel truly Jewish, enjoy.  In the meantime, I’ll have some gefilte fish with homemade khreyn (horseradish). It helps clean the sinuses. Oh, the joy of Pesach!

Saturday, April 8, 2017


Being an independent business person requires you to deal with the ebbs and flows of business since the only constant about business is that it is not constant. Curiously, these various business currents are often described using other water-related words.

On the bright side, every entrepreneur likes a steady stream of customers, not too many, not too few. Some businesses, due to their seasonal nature, require their owners to ride the wave of orders until they can relax in the dead season. In any case, nothing brings a bigger smile to a factory owner than having orders pouring in, allowing them to generate full production capacity. However, it is possible to have too much of a good thing. While a torrent of work may sound like a good thing, the poor freelancer may find him/herself flooded with work, bogged down in various tasks, so swamped that s/he can do nothing else but work or so mired that orders must be refused.  The tidal wave can be simply too much for one person.

The other extreme is not any better. While a bit worrying, if work is trickling in or coming in dribbles, there is at least some cash flow.  A long  flat spell may be sign of changes in the market. The worst feeling is when orders start to dry up and the business is facing a drought. In such a case, it is hard to decide what to do, to have sunny thoughts and wait for a change in the economic forecast or to look for greener pastures elsewhere with less dark clouds.

As we can see, entrepreneurs and sailors must be optimistic about the weather but realistic about its chances.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Deceiving appearances

English is a mélange of roots and forms from various languages.  This creates a rich language but unfortunately quite a lot of confusion. It can make guessing the meaning of word a bit of a crap shoot.
Here are some examples in the form of a short quiz.
1   “Appositive” is
a.      A type of blood
b.      Another name for something
c.       Negative
2 “Tortuous” is
a.      Curvy
b.      Painful
c.       Tasty like a cake
3  An infamous person is 
a.      Unknown
b.      Well known in limited circles
c.       Known for doing awful things
     An “inflammable” substance is
a.      Gasoline
b.      Water
c.       A gasoline can
To “ululate” is
a.      To constantly be tardy
b.      To sing Swiss mountain songs
c.       To imitate the calls of wolves
     A bimonthly magazine appears
a.      Twice a month
b.      Every two months
c.       Both a and b
A positive charge in electronics has
a.      Lost electrons
b.      Gained electronics
c.       Sometimes a and sometime b
A parkway is a place
a.      To park
b.      To drive
c.       To play football

In all honesty, if you didn’t know any of the answers, you probably still can express yourself perfectly well.  Still, English scholars, i.e., those who enjoy using the language to its best, actually enjoy the peculiarity of the language. As for the answers, to be really nasty, I won’t give the answers.  That way, you will remember what the word means! However, if you are unsure about any, write me.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Legal De-Scribing

Simple and complicated are a matter of perspective. What is child’s play for one person is a challenge for another. Likewise, a straightforward sentence in one language can be tricky for a translator in another language.

Take for example this short legal clause in Hebrew:
המסמך מחייב אישור מהמנהל.                        
Word for word, it says:

(   a)  The document requires approval from the manager.

That doesn’t work in English because documents are rather self-sufficient creatures and in themselves don’t require anything. So, let’s play with the grammar:

(   b)  The document must be approved by the manager.
(   c)   The manager must approve the document.

Sentence (c) is the active version of (b), generally a preferable form.  However, both sentences suffer from the same ambiguity. They could be interpreted to mean that the manager has no choice but to approve it, which is not true. The next example suffers from the same potential problem:

(   d)  Approval of the document by the manager is required.

The option that I chose in order to be perfectly clear is as follows:

(   e)  The document is subject to approval by the manager.

It may be that even better options exist. If so, I would like to hear. The search for perfection is the passion behind good translation. Like all so ambitions, it is very from simple.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Clothed masculinity

I am a product of a 1970’s Los Angeles. It was neither the most radical nor conservative of places but just slightly left of main stream American culture. When I observe males in their 20’s in Israel today, again not the most avant-garde of groups in the world, I am amazed at the change in male culture in almost two generations.

It has become acceptable for straight males to enhance their appearance using techniques limited to women (and gays) when I was growing up. For example, elite combat soldiers now often have one or multiple earrings. I see male students wearing short socks that don’t extend pass the shoe, once only used by women. I notice young males dyeing their hair and not because it has turned grey. Based on television and products available in the department store, some straight men apply makeup before dates. Their wardrobe may include pink and violet shirts, colors that American straight men would avoid when I was growing up.  
Coming from the extreme culture of the military and criminal world, tattoos have now become commonplace, with the only issues being how big, how many and where.  All in all, the culture of masculinity has significantly, as least as far as externals are concerned.

Of course, culture is subjective, i.e., conditioned by its time and society. As Mel Brooks so humorously reminded us, men once wore tights. Some would claim that society has advanced while other would argue that society has regressed. I merely say it this has become different in a certain sense. In my opinion, the reality, natural or imposed, fortunate or unfortunate, is the masculine culture is truly defined by its inherent belief that males control the destiny of themselves and consequently society, regardless of any external trappings.

Monday, March 6, 2017


The purpose of a label is to provide essential information at a glance. Proper labeling is not only required by law but is also an essential marketing strategy. Yet, a walk through the supermarket shows that some companies somehow fail in this task.

In some cases, the grammar confuses the matter. For example, in the United States, you can buy “free range chicken broth.” Somehow, Garry Larson’s cartoon showing a boneless chicken ranch ( comes into mind. Can you imagine gathering a flock of chicken broth from the courtyard?  What tool should you use? Likewise, in Hebrew, one of Israel’s national department stores has a tag that literally says “clothes for men on sale.” The question of why these men are less desirable naturally pops into mind. Spelling also counts.  I wonder who the intended customers of “black painty liners” are.

Other labels are correct but somehow illogical. For instance, in Israel, you can buy kosher air freshener. Now, koshrut laws deal with foods and are quite a complicated business, both in terms of rules and the body issuing the seal. The latter ranges from the official government supervision to numerous private and more demanding bodies. I can see how paper towels might make contact with food, making it important for observant Jews to check the kosher label. However, as far as I know, air freshener is generally in the bathroom, at the other end of the story, so to speak. I guess that you can never be too careful. For that matter, why would anybody advertise not to mention buy “no fat, no sugar yoghurt?” I suppose it is making virtue out of necessity, i.e., this yoghurt may have no taste but it is not unhealthy. Similarly, I was caught by some Girl Scouts (who can resist?) and bought some thin mints, chocolate and mint being one of my favorite combination only outranked by chocolate and orange. I thus managed to ignore the fact that the label read “vegan cookies.”

The most annoying phenomenon is legally correct labeling hiding unpleasant truths. Cars “made in America” must have “all or virtually all” of their parts produced in the USA. I would like to know what this virtual reality is. The term “100% juice” on a label does not preclude other ingredients ( I am not sure ignorance is bliss in this case.

So, a rose is a rose is a rose but will only sell if properly labeled. Enjoy your next shopping trip.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Authoritative Comments

The 2017 Israeli Translators Association Conference has come and gone. It has left me a strong feeling of camaraderie, especially with my fellow legal translators.  There was a strange sense of a bar in the sense of a group of law people, not the watering spot. The lectures regarding legal translations, those of Emanuel Weisgras and Sue Leschen, became free, fascinating discussions of various issues that left, as they say in Hebrew, of a taste of "ode", the regret that there wasn't more time. Contrary to the old adage about lawyers according to which you can only have one lawyer change a light bulb because no room is big enough for the egos of two lawyers, legal translators disagree but are not 110% certain of their opinion.  All in all, they were productive and entertaining sessions.

Still, my highlights were the two plenary lectures by the invited writers, Yannets Levi and Amos. The first is the author of the Dod Arie (Uncle Leo in English) children stories. He spoke about the birth of his successful series of books. Like J.K. Rowling, he originally made up the tales as stories for his nieces and nephews. They were so successful that he wrote them down. He then discussed the various directions the translation took.  In particular, he mentioned that in Korea, the book was taken various seriously as a tool for installing Israeli creativity in Korean children. On a similar vein, Japanese children apparently require more visual images to follow the stories, possibly because of the complexity of and time required to learn Japanese. By the way, I also began as a translator, albeit unknowing, by translating impromptu the four first Harry Potter books into Hebrew to my young daughter.

The lecture by Amos Oz was also of note. He discussed his creative process, elaborating on his early morning walks and café observing as he tried to imagine the thoughts and history of all those around him, a bit like Sherlock Holmes. He then discussed several terms that he and his English translator struggled with. It emphasized that creativity is no less than important than language knowledge in translation.

In summary, the program was rich and satisfying. I return to work tired but filled with esteem for translators and writers alike. As Walter Konkrite used to say, "and that is way it is."

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Singing nostalgic

Last Saturday, my wife and I went to a concert of French chansons in Karmiel arranged by the local French society. The singer, Brigitte Haviv, accompanied skillfully by an accordion, guitar and bass, sang songs from the Golden era of French songs, including golden oldies (as they say) by Jacques Brel, Edith Piaf, Charles Asnavour and Yves Montand. The small auditorium was packed. My wife and I, in our fifties, lowered the average age of the audience. However, what was lacking in youth was more than made up for in enthusiasm. People even dressed up elegantly, a rare sight in this part of the woods. The concert, more than an hour and a half, was a great success both for the singer and the audience. A good time was had by all.

That said, I had a very sad thought. If a non-French outside of France were asked to name a current French singer, band, or even song, I strongly doubt that even the most cosmopolitan would succeed. I am not saying that current French music is poor. Since it is not exported, it simply doesn't exist outside France. It may be due to the policy of foreign radio stations to play music in English and local languages but no more. It may be because that the French music has lost its identity. It even may be a result of the poor quality of music in France today.  I cannot say. What I do fear is that in some 40 years nobody is going to gather in an auditorium in a provincial town far way and listen nostalgically to the great French  songs of the early 21st century. As a proud half-Frenchman, that makes me sad. I suppose the best thing I could do is to listen to some more Brel or Piaf. It would make me feel better but not change the reality. Isn't that the definition of nostalgia?

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Bare necessities - uncovering the meaning

A baby is born naked, that is say without clothes or saying it chooses to be that way, but merely a statement of fact. By contrast, if someone is nude, there is underlying purpose, whether sexual or artistic, to this state of affairs. Going one step farther, exposing yourself in public in most parts of the world can lead to an interview with a police officer, at minimum. The term unclad emphasizes the lack of clothing, not the result.

How a person reaches this state is also a matter of vocabulary. Being stripped is generally by another person, often by force. By contrast, many people sleep undressed, especially in the summer, removing their own garments.

Euphemisms have various nuances. Going au naturel sounds adventurous, as in going to a nude beach, while being in your birthday suit is quite innocent, without any intention before or afterwards. If you are walking around in the house in the buff, you have no neighbors or don't care what they see. By contrast, being caught without a stitch can occur while you are changing clothes and the doorbell rings, i.e., without any intention at all.

I hope this helps you uncover the implications of these threadbare terms

Friday, January 27, 2017

Dyslexic enablement

This week, a cousin of mine, David Rifkind, died at the early age of 51. He was a very successful real estate promoter in Los Angeles. During our last conversation in the summer at his house, we discussed dyslexia and its effects on our lives.  It turns out that we also had that "disability" in common. His comments expressed my feelings exactly and hopefully can serve as an inspiration to those who have it and those who work with them.

He enthusiastically stated that dyslexia was the key to his success.  Specifically, he noted that his ability to think differently allowed him to find solutions that "normal" people could not imagine. Instead of handicapping him, it gave him a leg up. If a task needed more analytical and less intuitional skills, he hired the appropriate person. So, dyslexia is not a curse but a blessing in many situations.

Naturally, depending on the type of dyslexia, other tasks can become difficult or even almost impossible. Dyslexics require great concentration to execute specific routine tasks. On the other hand, everybody finds certain simple jobs quite complicated. Most dyslexics find a way, granted unconventional, to attain reasonable success in these deficiencies. These strategies include proper scheduling, extra time, and no multitasking, to name just a few. Ultimately, dyslexics can achieve their goals no less successfully than others, sometimes on their own and sometimes with the help of others. The road is not always smooth or conventional but does lead to Rome.

Depending on the level and type of dyslexia, working with dyslexics may involve showing some flexibility and understanding. The price is well worth it. In a rapidly changing world, every company needs people that grasp the situation quickly and think outside the box.

So, to all those feeling frustrated by dyslexia or using it as an excuse for failure, I suggest that you embrace it and appreciate your unique approach to the world. Accentuate the positive, overcome the negative and find the niche in which your special talents will shine.

In memory of David Rifkind

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Ultimate justice

I am a great believer in ultimate justice. It is sometimes the only ray of light in a depressing situation. I insist on being sure that those who consciously do ill to others will eventually pay the price in some manner. In my case, it is not any belief in the justice of some god but instead much closer to the concept of karma, i.e.  what goes around comes around.

This ultimate justice can be in both the personal and political spheres. I had a relative, who shall remain anonymous out of respect to his offspring, who created by acts of omission and commission great pain to the closest people in his family. I agree with my mother that it is right that he had a long, painful life if only on the basis of his choice to run away from responsibility. I have seen nasty bosses been unfairly treated by their bosses, showing that two unfairs make one fair. In politics, Stalin, Hitler and Mao are remembered by most people as murderous tyrants, not as the visionary leaders they supposedly strove to be.

I recognized that ultimate justice has a fundamental fault. Like all justice systems, it is notoriously slow, taking years or even decades to happen. In the meantime, hundreds, thousands or even millions suffer. Also, there is an intrinsic dichotomy between the suffering caused to others and that experienced by the evildoer. Still, the faith that some kind of justice will eventually be given is a candle in the dark. Today, as I see too many similarities between the Tolkien landscape in the middle of the third book and the current international policies situation dominated by Putin, Trump and Erdogan, to name just a few, I strongly hold on to my main hope: they too shall pay.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Israeli Training

I have chosen to live in the quiet north of Israel, affectionately called the "periphery" by official sources, for many reasons. One of them is the fact that the roads here are generally (still) open most of the day, rendering driving and breathing much healthier. Yet, I am occasionally obliged to descend to the center of the country for a day. To avoid the pleasure and fatigue of crawling in traffic jams, I take the train, which shall become even more convenient in a year when the train line to Karmiel is completed.

As any baseball statistician can tell you, nothing is perfect.  Even taking the train has its negative sides. Common with many systems, parking is often in shortage at the stations while the trains are often late. In other words, you know you are not in Northern Europe. An even more striking difference is the behavior of the passengers. As a measure of comparison, I remember taking a TGV from Paris to Quimper (Brittany), a trip of some four hours. The carriage was comfortable and quiet. In fact, I only noticed that there were quite a few children near me after almost three hours when I looked around. I recall thinking that the parents must have slipped their children some tranquilizer to get them to sit so quietly and for so long. Of course, the children's behavior followed societal expectations, which require even adults to avoid loud conversations and disturbing their fellow travelers.

Back to the Acco-Tel Aviv line, we have quite a different story. To be direct, children would be more tranquil than your average Israeli adult. Not that it is all negative. Upon a returning from a long flight abroad on a train from the airport, our train was stuck in the train station for almost an hour due to a suicide on the tracks (for which the train management was not responsible, clearly). The reaction of our fellow travelers was quite genial. Everybody took out some snacks and shared travel stories. If we could have lit a campfire, we would have done that. It was a rather happy delay.

Unfortunately, this openness is frequently not so positive. It is hard to identify which behavior is the most annoying. The candidates are long personal conversations about breakups or surgery conducted in the "privacy" of the carriage; personal attacks on train representatives with the poor luck of being in the carriage during a train delay; soldiers and students that create obstacle courses in the aisle by placing their cumbersome bags in strategic locations; parents that don't care if their children play noisy games on telephones or portable computers as long as they leave them in peace; and groups of youth that profit from the lack of parental supervision to sow their oats.

Don't get me wrong. With the correct attitude, any of the above actions can be entertaining and help the time go wrong. Also, many trips are quite unremarkable. To be fair, this behavior is not unique to Israel. Still, for me, the best solution is to limit my trips to Tel Aviv to the minimum and enjoy my quiet life in the north.