Monday, January 28, 2008

Never too late to say sorry - to the Beatles

I still haven't finished writing all the thank you cards for wedding presents (we just celebrated our 15th anniversary). I feel that by now it is too late - especially as some of those who sent gifts are no longer in the land of the living. (If I'm being honest, I think I probably still owe a couple of thank you cards from Bar Mitzvah presents as well - but that was 25 years ago, and I don't think the pens still work any more).

So it is refreshing to see that the State of Israel has finally taken the time to catch up on some correspondence that was put aside at the time. The foreign ministry had some time on its hands, so they decided to check on 'matters outstanding'. And they discovered that they owe an apology to none other than the Fab Four! Yes, the Beatles are finally having the record set straight (no pun intended). 43 years after they were banned from performing in Israel for having long hair and being a bad influence on the youth, the Foreign Ministry will make amends and send them a letter of apology (of course poor old John and George will receive theirs via fax, since they are no longer able to read letters).

You see, it is true what they say, it is never too late.

(This reminds me of that Simpsons episode when Ringo Starr finally got around to replying to Marge Simpson for the picture she painted of him. That was also half a lifetime too late, so I suppose this is poetic justice)

Here is the article from YNet
Israel apologizes to The Beatles

Foreign Ministry decides to rectify historic injustice, extend apology to British band over cancellation of its performance in Jewish state 43 years ago

Itamar Eichner
Published: 01.28.08, 09:48 / Israel Culture

After accomplishing the mission of rehabilitating Israel's problematic image in the world, the Foreign Ministry has now found the time to deal with the real important issue: Extending an official apology to The Beatles, 43 years after the British band was banned from performing in the Jewish state.

Israeli Ambassador to Britain Ron Prosor was expected to meet Monday morning with John Lennon's sister, Julia Baird, at The Beatles museum in Liverpool and to present her with an official letter of apology from the State of Israel for banning the band's members from performing in the country in 1965.

The Israeli Embassy in London was also expected to send similar letters to the two remaining Beatles, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, and to the relatives of George Harrison.

"We would like to take this opportunity," the letter says, "to rectify a historic missed opportunity which unfortunately took place in 1965 when you were invited to Israel. Unfortunately, the State of Israel cancelled your performance in the country due to lack of budget and because several politicians in the Knesset had believed at the time that your performance might corrupt the minds of the Israeli youth.

"There is no doubt that it was a great missed opportunity to prevent people like you, who shaped the minds of the generation, to come to Israel and perform before the young generation in Israel who admired you and continues to admire you."

Prosor was expected to take advantage of this opportunity and invite the two remaining band members to take part in Israel's 60th anniversary celebrations.

"We would like to see them sing at the State of Israel," the letter concludes.

So what really happened in 1965?
Opinions differ as to the actual events which took place 43 years ago. The band members were invited to perform in Israel, but the concert did not take place eventually due to the firm objection of politicians who believed that The Beatles were corrupting the Israeli youth.

Criticism over the cancellation was directed at former Education Ministry Director-General Yaakov Schneider, whose ministry was required to approve the performance of foreign bands in Israel.

"There is some kind of fable that my father prevented The Beatles from entering Israel," Schneider's son, former Knesset Member Yossi Sarid, said Sunday. "I tried to look into it and didn't find any evidence to support this. I decided, however, that it's a nice legend, so who am I to destroy it?

"I assume that they told my father, who wasn't a great Beatles expert, that the band members have long hair and take drugs, and will surely corrupt the Israeli youth."

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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Anthrax Guitarist becomes frum?

You all seemed interested in reading about the Lubavitcher Rebbe's past. On a similar, but completely different theme, I wanted to look today at someone else's present (i.e. future from back when).

Last month my good friend Rabbi Burton spent a week trying to figure out whether Kevin DuBrow was Jewish or not.

Someone had mentioned to me that one of the guitarists from Anthrax had become frum. I decided it was time to investigate.

Meet Anthrax and their two most famous guitarists: Scott Ian and Dan Spitz (both born Jewish - Ian's real surname is Rosenfeld)

Scott Ian is still just plain old Scott Ian. I had high hopes for Dan Spitz though. He gave up playing guitar and went to Switzerland to become a watch maker. Perhaps he became Ba'al Teshuva at the same time? Imagine the payos he would have!

But alas, I haven't seen him (or his tatoos) at my local mikva, for a very simple reason. He did get a haircut and become religious, just not our religion. He became a 'Messianic Jew' (i.e. Christian). Whoops! Not going to be seeing him in yeshiva in the near future then.

However, there is someone who used to play with Scott Ian and some of the other members of Anthrax before they became famous (and before they were Anthrax). His name is Yitzchak HaLevi, and you can read about him on his website.

He writes that:

In Bayside, music played a major role in a little school called Bayside High School. My music class was filled with many great musician, including the founding fathers of heavy thrash metal, Scott Ian, Danny Lilka, & Greg Wall of Anthrax. Together we made a lot of noise and gave our music teacher our own version of "School of Rock".

Not exactly the 'guitarist from Anthrax' then. Oh well.

In case you are interested, here is some info on Dan Spitz and his 'heavy metal watches' (which someone suggested is about as sensible as 'heavy metal traffic lights' but still...)

This is an article from BeliefNet

Daniel Spitz turned his back on music after more than a decade of success with one of the world's fiercest rock bands. But now the former lead guitarist with Anthrax, one of the pioneers of "thrash metal," is back witha new song-as a Messianic Jew.

After a hiatus of more than four years, he is recording an album that marries his familiar sound with a new-found faith. He plans to go back on the road to reach young people who connect with the raw power of his style of music but find little to appeal to them in the typical church.

"The new stuff is a testimony to coming from where I was to where I am now,"says the 36-year-old musician who helped Anthrax sell more than 12 million albums as they hit the charts and toured the world.

Founded in 1982, the group led the new "thrash metal" scene-which mixes heavy metal and punk in fast, high-energy music-along with the likes of Metallica, Slayer and Megadeth. Anthrax's recordings included "Spreading the Disease" and "Sound of White Noise," with songs like "Deathrider," "Belly of the Beast," "Discharge" and "Parasite." One leading music magazine acclaimed their "remorseless metallic drive without peer."

"We were known for the energy, how fast and furious it was," Spitz says."When we saw what was coming out of the kids who would be slam dancing at a show we would say, 'Thank God. If we didn't give them this outlet I would hate to see what this planet would be like, because they are [so] pent-up.'"

But success went stale, and he left the band in 1995. "Something wasn't right in my spirit," he recalls. "I just lost the love of playing that typeof music. I can't even explain it. I didn't even want to touch my guitar-when I did it was like a burning sensation. Wacky stuff. I didn'tplay for almost four years."

Spitz turned to the quieter world of watchmaking, studying in Switzerland and opening stores in New York and Florida. Having continued to observe his Jewish faith while in the band, he began to discuss Christianity with someof his Christian relatives and friends. He attended a Bible study and eventually came to accept Jesus as the Messiah. "From then on the Holy Spirit began to work on me, and it has just been more and more," he says.

There is actually very little information about Dan Spitz on the internet (compared to Scott Ian, for example, his co-guitarist in Anthrax).

This is all that Wikipedia has to say on him:

Dan Spitz (born January 28, 1963) was the lead guitarist of the thrash metal band Anthrax from 1983-1995 and 2005 to 2007. He is the brother of former Black Sabbath bassist Dave Spitz.

In 1995, Spitz was fired from Anthrax, due to a severe disinterest in playing guitar. In the meantime he opened his own watch repair shop and converted to Messianic Judaism[1] (which is seen as a form of Christianity to both Jewish and Christian groups). He and his wife Candi have four children, two daughters (Adrianna and Julia, born circa early 1990's) and two newly born twin boys named Brendan Alan Spitz and Jaden Michael Spitz.

On April 1, 2005, Anthrax announced an Among the Living reunion, and Spitz was reunited with the band. They embarked on a world tour and released a DVD with footage from those performances. Following the end of the reunion tour, Spitz left Anthrax once again. He has since been replaced by Rob Caggiano, who was Anthrax's lead guitarist immediately prior to the 2005 reunion.

Spitz was originally known for his use of Jackson Guitars (he was famous for his custom Jackson Randy Rhoads guitar with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles painted on them). But most recently during the Anthrax Reunion tour he has been an endorser of Paul Reed Smith Guitars. Paul Reed Smith has created a special "Spitz" head stock (a first for PRS) and a new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles rendering was painted on this new guitar by tattoo artist and painter Linton Ginther (aka JR) of SlushBox

Before playing in Anthrax, Spitz was a lead guitarist for another local thrash metal band Overkill and also Thrasher, at which time he shared the stage with bass virtuoso Billy Sheehan.

Spitz stands at a very short 5 feet 1 inch. He does not appear to be offended by "short jokes", as his bandmates joke about his small size commonly (his nickname within the band is "Mini-Tower").

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Sunday, January 20, 2008

Lubavitcher Rebbe as a real person

I spent a large part of Shabbos reading a very interesting book. I know I'm several years behind the times with this one (because the controversy has already been and gone, and the book is now selling on Amazon for $650!), but if you can get hold of it, I highly recommend "Larger than Life: The Life and Times of the Lubavicher Rebbe Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, Vol. 2." by Rabbi Shaul Shimon Deutsch.

If nothing else, it is worth it for this priceless picture of the Rebbe from his days in Berlin:

Doesn't look quite so much like the Messiah in this one does he!

(since my scanner isn't working at the moment I actually took this scan from mentalblog. I also found an interesting site with pictures of Gedolim when they were younger)

The book is a biography of the Rebbe from his days in Riga through his years in Berlin. It describes his wedding in great detail - including the thefts that took place while the chuppa was taking place. I must also remember not to make any comments about long engagements in the future - the Rebbe and his wife were engaged for over four years before the previous Rebbe could afford to make the wedding!

Deutsch has investigated the courses that the Rebbe took while in Berlin, and describes the professors, and which ones he was close to. (He also puts paid to the claim that the Rebbe was very friendly with Einstein - who in fact was not actually in Berlin at the time the Rebbe was there)

He describes the relationship between the Rebbe and two other future leaders of klal yisrael who were with him in Berlin - Rav Soloveitchik and R' Yitzchak Hutner (and has pictures of both from their Berlin days, which I can't find on the web).

Rabbi Deutsch was clearly a committed Lubavitcher Chasid (though now the Rebbe of Anshei-Liozna), and his ability to judge favorably is much greater than mine. His goal is to present the truth, and cut through the historical revisionism of some biographies and stories. For example, the myth that the Rebbe would walk down the corridors of Berlin University wearing his hat, only replacing it with a kippa as he walked into the lecture room, is disproved by the above picture, which shows him without a kippa. (According to his brother in law the Rebbe would wear a beret in the streets of Berlin). Of course, anyone who knows anything about Berlin of the 1920s and 30s knows that nobody wore a hat inside, and there is a famous teshuva of R' Dovid Tzvi Hoffman (removed from one version of Melamed Le-ho'il) that R' Shimshon Raphael Hirsch told him to remove his kippa and hat when he wasn't davening or saying brachos.

Obviously this book has rattled the cages of some chabadskers who believe everything they are told. They are more interested in myth than in facts. But for someone who is interested in finding out some of the truth (without the cynicism or negativity of some other books on the subject), and if you can find it in your local library (or can afford the asking price) I highly recommend this book.

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Thursday, January 17, 2008

10th Shevat - Yarzheit of the Rashash

Today is the Yarzheit of the Rashash, R' Sar Shalom Sharabi. According to many he is to the writings of the Arizal what Rashi is to the Gemara. In other words, it is impossible to fully understand the kabbalah of the Ari without the Rashash.

There are many stories of his brilliance and his novel approaches to kabbalah which solved problems which had the best of the generations stumped. According to one well known kabbalist in Jerusalem, he understands the Etz Chaim better than R' Chaim Vital (who actually wrote it, and heard the shiurim from the Ari himself).

There is also a tradition that any prayer said at the graveside of the Rashash will not go unanswered. He is buried on Har HaZeitim, so I imagine it will be packed there today.

May His Soul be Bound in the Bonds of Eternal Life

This is part of the entry of what wikipedia has to say about him:

Sar Shalom Sharabi (Hebrew: שר שלום מזרחי דידיע שרעבי), also known as the Rashash, the Shemesh or Ribbi Shalom Mizraḥi deyedi`a Sharabi (Jewish Sharab, Yemen 1720 - Jerusalem 1777/ (10 shevat 5537)), was a Yemenite Jewish Rabbi and Kabbalist. In later life he became the Rosh Yeshiva of Bet El Yeshiva. He was one of the Jewish world's foremost masters of Kabbalah, Torah, Talmud and Halacha in the 18th Century, and one of the first Yemenite Jews to have a major influence on the wider Jewish world. He is now considered to rank among the Acharonim and to be one of the most important Mizrahi Rabbis in history.

He is primarily known as a Kabbalist, but his rulings on Halakha (Jewish law) were and still are considered to have high authority, particularly among Yemenite Jews, but to some extent among Jews world wide. He was also a pioneer of Talmud Torah schools in Israel and Yemen, Warrior on behalf of the Old Yishuv and a leading Merchant in the Middle East. He was also a Jewish Sexton for many properties in Jerusalem, Israel.

Sharabi's son Yitzhak Mizraḥi Sharabi (d. at Jerusalem in 1803) bore the same high reputation for piety as his father, whom he succeeded as Rosh Yeshiva of the Bet El Yeshiva.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008


If you have a spare few hundred thousand pounds to spare you may want to consider one of these two cars to add to your collection (it would look nice sitting next to the Roller in the garage).

They say that it is a German engine, Dutch billionaire and Italian name, but they forget to mention that these cars have a New Zealand mechanic - my brother in law. Go Don!

Not only that, but as usual, Top Gear is fun. They have a way of making cars interesting! (comparing the Diahatsu with the Ascari is priceless).

So even if you are not in the market for a new car that can't actually fit you and the groceries inside, and you don't feel the need to be able to drive at over 200 mph (since the speed limit is 50 mph), you may still enjoy these clips.

Oh, and if you don't like videos, here is the wikipedia entry for Ascari:

Ascari Cars is a sports car manufacturer based in Banbury, United Kingdom. The company was named after Alberto Ascari (1918 - 1955) who was the first double world Formula 1 champion. Besides manufacturing cars, Ascari also manages a racetrack, Race Resort Ascari.


Ascari Cars was established in Dorset, England in 1995. Its first limited-edition car, the Ascari Ecosse, was launched in 1998. After the release of the Ecosse, Dutch businessman Klaas Zwart purchased the company.

In 2000 Ascari built a new facility in Banbury. Ascari's second car, the Ascari KZ1, was developed at Banbury, which also housed Team Ascari's racing assets.

Also in 2000, Ascari also began developing a racetrack near Ronda, in southern Spain. The track was accompanied by a resort, with several road and racing cars available to visitors to test, including former Formula One machinery.

Road cars
An Ascari KZ1 (foreground) and Ecosse on display.
An Ascari KZ1 (foreground) and Ecosse on display.

* Ascari FGT (1995) - Initial concept car
* Ascari Ecosse (1998) - Production version of the FGT
* Ascari KZ1 (2003)
* Ascari A10 (2006) - Uprated version of the KZ1

Race cars

* Ascari FGT (1995) - Racing version of the FGT concept, run in the British GT Championship
* Ascari A410 (2000) - Le Mans Prototype
* Ascari KZR-1 (2003) - Upgraded version of the A410
* Ascari KZ1R GT3 (2005) - Racing version of the KZ1, running in the FIA GT3 class

Ascari KZ1

You can see the Ascari A10 by clicking here:

Getting Osama

I don't know your views on the Republican candidates, especially after the latest primary. Since I am only a New Zealander I am not entitled to an opinion.

On the other hand, as a Kiwi I rightfully take pride in this op ed piece from stuff (the best site for New Zealand news). Enjoy:

I'll get Osama bin Laden, said John McCain, candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, "if I have to go to the gates of hell". The crowd roared with delight.

Now, I'm as moved by biblical imagery and wild promises as the next man, but I couldn't help feeling a little sorry for McCain. He may get the Republican nomination, but I'm afraid he won't get Osama.

You see, I've already got him. I probably should have mentioned it before, but a few months ago, I got so fed up with the whole bin Laden carry-on that I simply went and killed the devil incarnate myself. It was fairly straightforward.

I packed the essentials – a Bible, the crucifix fashioned for me by blind Fabricius of Smyrna, my trusty stilettos, a couple of T-bone steaks, some garlic and a sachet of strychnine – flew Air New Zealand to Karachi then headed into the hills on a local bus with seats made from what felt like yak bone. But you have to suffer to assassinate.

I wasn't sure whether the settlement I reached was in Pakistan or Afghanistan, but then neither were the locals. It doesn't seem to matter much up there, what with them not getting newspapers or following the cricket.

To break the ice, I organised a pick-up game of rugby using a goat bladder. They loved it. When they were all relaxing afterwards, I casually asked after Osama. They turned and stared at one of the locks. He had a bit of a limp but he was tall and he gave a decent shove in the scrum.

"Osama?" I exclaimed, "the devil incarnate at the gates of hell?"

"The same," he said and he gave a little bow, then invited me to his place. It was a basic yurt, but in one corner was the hub of his sophisticated communications system so often mentioned in the press.

"Nice cellphone," I said.

"You've got to be joking," said Osama, "the coverage up here is dreadful."

He took down a video and slid it into his machine. It was dated four years from now and starred himself sitting cross- legged with a Kalashnikov and spouting the usual stuff about death to the infidel. He sat down cross-legged in front of it.

"Fancy a bite to eat?" I said pulling a steak from my bag. The way his eyes lit up was a treat to watch. I doubt he'd had a good feed in months.

"Coming right up," I said. I seared the steaks to retain the juices, before frying them with the garlic. Then I smeared one of them liberally with strychnine and handed it to old Osama. He ate without taking his eyes from the screen.

I waited for the familiar symptoms, the muscle spasms, the convulsions, the rictus. Nothing.

"How's the steak?"

"Fine," he said, "I appreciate the garlic. But at the risk of seeming rude, I think you've been a little heavy- handed with the strychnine."

The moment he spoke, he reared to his feet. And he had 10 horns and seven heads with seven diadems upon his head and on his forehead was tattooed the number of the beast and it was 666.

"Steady on," I said, but there was no placating him. His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven, exactly as predicted in the Book of Revelation, chapter 12, verse 4, and cast them to the earth.

I reached instinctively for my stiletto with its blade of Toledo steel. Many a fatal rib thrust has that little beauty delivered. But it was flung from my hand by some superhuman force before I'd even managed to get it off my foot.

"Who is like the beast and who can fight against it?" roared Osama, quoting with impressive accuracy for a Muslim from Revelation 13 verse four. I felt theologically out of my depth.

My hand went to my heart and met the old iron cross that Fabricius of Smyrna fashioned for me so many moons ago. I thrust it out in front of me, along with the Bible and a clove of garlic left over from the cooking.

The beast, Osama, the dragon, whatever it was, recoiled and seemed momentarily blinded. Sensing that it was now or never, I grabbed my untouched steak and plunged it through his heart, driving it home with the heel of my other stiletto.

He squirmed, screamed in a manner that I cannot reproduce in words, passed through a thousand shapes and patterns, each more ghastly than the last, then shuddered and shrivelled and fell dead on the floor of the yurt, shrunk once more to mortal dimensions.

I tossed him straightway into the lake of fire and brimstone where, according to Revelation 20, verse nine, he will be tormented day and night for ever and ever, then I collected my stuff, turned off the video, toddled down the hill and caught the bus back to Karachi. Sorry, John. I should have said.

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Thursday, January 03, 2008

NZ Grandmother jumps further

I just love these stories of people who live long and active lives and make the most of every moment. It is even better when they are New Zealanders - yet again NZ holds the record!

I know that when a person gets to their final day of reckoning the first question they will be asked won't be 'do you hold any athletics records'. But when I feel tired or achy it helps me to remember that someone more than twice my age can still get up on a cold morning and go for a run, jump, hurdle and some "pop-ups in the pit" (whatever they may be).

Proud to be a kiwi!


Shirley Peterson, 79, did not set out to break a world athletics record - it just happened.

Two weeks ago today, the Christchurch grandmother of three set out from Halswell by bus for an inter-club athletics meeting at Queen Elizabeth II Park.

More than an hour later, she arrived at the park, where it was "blowing a gale", feeling "sore in the back and stiff in the legs".

At just her second meeting of the year, Peterson was feeling nervous about even reaching the sandpit on her jumps, but as always was determined to give it a go.

She soon surprised herself and onlookers with a 6.3m triple jump, slashing the world record for her age by almost 1m.

Peterson broke the record four times on consecutive jumps. She had the field referee running back after each attempt, starting with 5.63m and taking the record to 6.3m on her fourth jump.

"I was amazed. I couldn't believe it," she said.

"You never know when you are going to do it (break a world record) - it just happens."

A member of the Christchurch Technical Athletics Club for more than 40 years, Peterson cannot remember every record she holds. She broke the world long-jump record last season, holds a hurdles record from when she was 65 and has several others from earlier years waiting to be broken.

"They are there to be broken. You get a lot of fun and enjoyment out of it," she said.

"It's always nice to break a record, but you never say you are going out to do that. I think we are lucky to be able to do it at all as you get older every year."

Her training regime involved regular runs and sprints at a Halswell park and "pop-ups in the pit" once a week at QE II.

At the New Zealand Masters Games in Dunedin next month, she has entered the long jump, triple jump, 100m, 200m and the hurdles.

"I haven't done hurdles since breaking the record because my family doesn't want me doing it. I really still want to do a race just for the satisfaction."

With 87-year-olds competing alongside her at events, Peterson said she had no plans to give up.

Since taking up athletics in 1946, Peterson has represented New Zealand in the Empire Games in Auckland (as Shirley Hardman) and the World Masters Series. Her daughter is a former New Zealand sprint champion; her son a former national triple-jump champion.