2010-12-31

Intellectual "Savings"

As I get older, the list of areas of knowledge that interest me and the list of books I want to read get longer and longer, and the free time at my disposal gets shorter and shorter. When I was still a graduate student, I felt I did not have enough time for reading, but in retrospect, I had far more free time back then, compared to what I have now.

There is another fundamental difference between these two periods of my academic life. As I did not have to teach back then, my intellectual "savings" account saw only inflow of knowledge but little outflow. But since I started teaching in the university, outflow of knowledge seems to be exceeding its inflow more and more. These days I feel as if I were living largely on the intellectual "savings" I had made as a graduate student. And my "savings" account is not inexhaustible.

Our brain is like our body in that both need constant nutrition just to keep their status quo. But the former never gets "fat" unlike the former. Overeating is harmful to our body, but it is a must for our brain if we are to achieve something intellectually outstanding.

At this age of mine I already know my own intellectual (and other) limitations, but I would like to do whatever I can within these limits. For this purpose I must see to it that inflow of knowledge into my intellectual "savings" account exceeds its outflow. The only possibility for this change of "balance" in my account on the horizon seems to be a sabbatical, in which we are not expected to make any "expenditure". I only hope that there will remain enough "balance" in my "savings" account until I get my first sabbatical, hopefully in the academic year 2012/2013.

2010-12-24

When to Sever Relationship with (Those Who Once Were/Those Who I Thought Were) Friends

We are sometimes forced to make a painful but inevitable decision to sever relationship with those who once were friends or those who we thought were friends. I have done so several times so far. There have been several reasons for this difficult decision.

The first reason is that they could not appreciate the differences between me and themselves in very essential things in life, criticized me according to their one-sided viewpoints and even tried to force what they believed was right. I and they may have made friends earlier in life when we had many essential things in common, but we are liable to change and have changed, with an ever increasing unbridgeable gap between us. We do not have to agree with every one about everything. But we can at least agree not to agree. With people who cannot do so there is no other way but to sever relationship.

Another is that the relationship became too one-sided. They contacted me only when they needed me, often making rather egocentric and insolent requests, but when I contacted them asking for help, they simply ignored me. When I realized that this was not friendship but unilateral exploitation, I simply ignored them.

I also had to sever relationship with those who broke a promise or promises that were very important for me, and worse still, did not even apologize for this. Friendship is and must be based not only on mutual respect but also on mutual trust. Once we lose trust in someone, our relationship with him or her cannot be the same.

No less unbearable were those who simply did not know how to behave not only toward me as a friend of theirs but only toward everyone. It is true that there are cultural differences, but there are things that seem unacceptable anywhere beyond cultural differences. It is not enough that they are intelligent and inspiring, unless they know how to behave as human beings.

Fortunately, I have not had to sever relationship but with only several people for one or more of these reasons, and I do maintain long-time relationship with many people. But once I see that someone who I thought was a friend puts the last straw, I do not hesitate to stop remaining in contact with him or her, ignoring him or her in the future. Inertia and positive memories shared in the past are not enough to maintain relationship.

2010-12-10

Israeli Sense of Hygiene

I have long noticed that my sense of hygiene is fundamentally different from that of so many people in Israel. I would rather not make any value judgement and say which is superior. But the fact is that I am the one who suffers from this difference, and not they, as they constitute the majority in Israeli society.

One of the most disgusting things for me here in terms of sense of hygiene is how people treat (freshly baked) bread. First of all, it is never wrapped here, which I can accept, but what disgusts me is that both sellers and buyers touch it with their bare hands, and some customers even examine it this way and decide not to buy it. In short, they treat bread as if it were a vegetable. This is the main reason why I stopped buying bread excepot for Sabbaths and holidays, but even then I buy wrapped bread, which, generally speaking, is not fresh, as I would prefer bread which may be less fresh but has not been touched by a number of people with their presumably dirty bare hands. Personally, I still fail to understand why they do not care about this custom.

The term "restroom" probably explains the essense of this facility where we spend a substantial amount of time in our live more clearly than any of its synonyms. Unfortunately, many public restrooms in Israel are not where you can have rest but where you feel like escaping from as soon as possible, at least if you share the same sense of hygiene as mine, because of their dirty condition. I still do not understand the strange (and disgusting) custom of discarding the used poilet paper in the waste basket inside a restroom instead of flushing it in the toilet. Anyway, a dirty public restroom is the default condition in Israel, and is also a "show window" of the sense of hygiene of so many people here. In a private house the restrooms tells about its dwellers more eloquently than anything else. And this seems to be the case at the national level.

2010-12-03

Planning the Next Annual Trip to Japan

I have just finished making a rather detailed plan of my next annual three-week trip to Japan in one month and a half during our winter vacation. Planning a trip is no less pleasurable than making a trip itself! Since I started living in Israel and lost my Japanese citizenship, I have come to care less and less about various sociocultural issues in Japan that used to bother me when I still lived there. Instead, I can now enjoy what Japan has to offer to tourists from abroad, and much at that. I had to leave the country and lose its citizenship to start appreciating it, but on the other hand, I am glad that I live in Israel, though I am bothered by more and more sociocultural issues here. Anyway, this trip will be a good opportunity to refresh myself away from a rather monotonous life and reappreciate Israel afterwards.

The official purpose of the trip is to give three lectures in Kyoto and Tokyo. These three invited lectures will also give me a chance to hopefully meet some of those old colleagues of mine I have not seen since I left Japan six years ago. I am also happy that I will be able to share with them some of the academic outputs which Israel, especially Bar-Ilan University, has helped me to make; I may not have been able to make them in Japan.

Other things I am looking forward to during my forthcoming trip are foods there as I suffer from culinary boredom here. Because of kashrut there are not many things I can eat there, but what few vegetarian, mostly traditional Japanese, foods I can eat there are enough. Israel and the United States, for example, pale in comparison with Japan in terms of the quantity and quality of (reasonably priced) restaurants, especially vegetarian ones, where I can eat outside Israel. I also hope to finally take private lessons in Total Immersion Swimming in Kobe and Tokyo. Actually, I was supposed to take one in Jerusalem, but unfortunately, they canceled it.

Anyway, this planned trip gives me something to wait for in my otherwise monotonous life. But there is one thing I am sorry for about this trip, which is that I have to make it alone again. I wonder if there will come a time when I can make it with my life companion-to-be...

2010-11-19

Pros and Cons of Reteaching the Same Courses

There seems to be a fundamental difference between lectures in academic and pedagogic settings. In the former (e.g., in academic conferences) you seldom repeat the same lectures, at least not in the same language, while in the latter repetion is the rule. There are pros and cons in reteaching the same courses every year or at any other interval.

Full-time faculty members at Israeli universities are required to teach four courses a week. My ideal is to "scrap and (re)build" each year each course I am supposed to reteach. But it goes without saying that this ideal is not so realistic. In order to scrap and (re)build all the four courses every year I have to spend an enormous ammount of time. You can find such free time either if you sleep less than three hours a day or if you have at least 30 hours a day.

The biggest advantage of reteaching the same courses is that you can reuse the same written materials which are already prepared. But this is the most problematic part in "recycling" courses. On the one hand, you are familiar with the materials you are supposed to (re)teach. But on the other, you become too familiar with them (and are liable to lose intellectual enthusiasm about them). This is the worst con of this padagogic "recycling".

2010-11-05

Plea for a Stricter Law against Noises

I used to suffer a lot from noises in Japan. Unfortunately, my suffering has not been easened in Israel. There is a fundamental difference between the types of noises in these two countries: the typical noises in Japan are public, while those in Israel are by individuals. But there is something common between the two countries: there is virtually no law against noises, and we victims must continue to suffer, while noise makers remain protected and unpunished.

If I were a legislator, I would enact a stricter law against noises, though it may not be easy to enforce it as they are made mostly by individuals. Of course, a law is the last resort, and I am sorry that it seems required to protect victims of egocentric citizens few of whom are even aware that their egocentric behaviors are causing intolerable pain to those around them.

Egocentric noise makers in Israel include, for example, drivers who honk incessantly and impatiently, bus drivers who play their favorate music loudly in their buses, people who speak on the mobile phone loudly in public transportations, and neighbors who play the music instrument or run around in their apartments. Noisy neighbors are the worst of all, as the suffering they cause us is more constant. Unfortunately, I have been fighting against such egocentric neighbors all the time; I have no luck with neighbors.

One thing I do not understand is that so many people in this country seem so tolerant of noises. I am more and more inclined to think that noise is the default condition for them. Life without noises is a luxury few people can attain in Israel.

2010-10-29

Parental Education

There are two groups of people who are teaching without certificate or often even without any formal training. They are university professors and parents. It is true that professors poor at teaching deter the learning process of their students, but their negative pedagogic effect cannot be compared to that of those parents who do not (know how to) educate their own children.

In my opinion there are two kinds of people who are not supposed to be parents: firstly, those who cannot feed their own children; secondly, those who do not (know how to) educate them. Unfortunately, we see here in Israel quite a few people who beg on the street or by visiting our houses for money to buy foods for themselves and their children. From time to time I give money to those in other situations of distress, but I find it difficult to have mercy on people who have brought new lives to this world without securing first their most fundamental physical needs. The consolation is that these children often learn an important lesson of life from their parents.

The negative effect of the second type of parents is far more pervasive. They need parental education (education to become parents) before parental education (education of their children as parents). In many cases they also need education to become social beings before becoming parents. Their guiding principle of their life is often egoism with no attention to others around them. They are sometimes even unaware that their egocentric behaviors bother others, and when they are complained about, they never apologize. It would not be difficult to imagine what kind of children they have. This is a vicious circle. I am sure that the parents of these egocentric parents were also like them. In my opinion many of the interpersonal problems in society are causes by those "educated" by these unsocial, if not antisocial, parents.

Is there a way to put an end to this vicious circle? Unfortunately, I do not think so. The only possible action we can do I can think of is to explain to them rationally how detrimental the (un)social values they are transferring to their children directly or indirectly, and they are not acceptable in any civilized society. One of the nightmares of life is to have such people as our neighbors. It is not always easy to remain rational with these people, who often seem as if they had escaped from a zoo not long time ago.

2010-10-22

Verbal Intrusion into Privacy in Israel

One of the bothering behaviors of many Israelis to which I have not become used is their verbal intrusion into the privacy of others. By "verbal intrusion into privacy" I mean mainly those questions they ask people they do not know well or at all not so much as for their genuine interest in others as potential friends as for temporarily satisfying their uncontrollable desire to peep into the life of others. Every time I become a victim of such "peepers", I cannot help being amazed how they are not ashamed to ask such private questions even in public, as I would not dare to do so even in private.

What is bothering about this verbal intrusion is that it has no relevance whatsoever to the services we are going to receive or the tasks we are going to perform. For example, why do I have to answer the owner of a photocoping store where I come from and how many years I live in Israel?

What is even more bothering about these verbal intruders is that their questions are reciprocal. Someone who asks someone else something private should answer his or her questions first, but these people never do so even after being asked to by someone they ask.

Of course, I cannot deny anyone the right to ask these questions in his or heart, but to verbalize it is something I would not expect from a civilized adult. I have learned how to cope with these uncivilized people best by simply ignoring them instead of getting angry with them, as they will never understand that they are intruding into my privacy by asking these questions.

2010-10-08

Total Immersion Swimming

Both running and swimming are aerobic exercises, but they have at least one fundamental difference - running is probably an innate activity, while swimming is an acquired skill. Of course, the improvement of running techniques can also improve one's running itself, but it depends more on one's physical fitness and power. In contrast, skills seem more important for good swimming than physical fitness and power, though they are also important.

I am rather ashamed that although I was born and brought up really near the sea, I have never learned swimming systematically, and I can only swim the breaststroke, and that in my own way. For various reasons I started swimming regularly two and a half years ago. I have been frustrated to see people who are much older and in a far less good physical shape than I swim faster than I. Nevertheless, I was even more ashamed to take a swimming lesson. This week I told myself that time had finally come to start learning freestyle (front crawl) swimming systematically.

While looking for a method appealing to me, I stumbled upon a method called Total Immersion Swimming developed by Terry Laughlin in the United States. I did not expect that this method is also taught in Israel, but to my pleasant surprise, it is even in Jerusalem! I will probably start taking a private lesson in this swimming method next month. In the meanwhile I have ordered a DVD teaching how to swim freestyle (front crawl) swimming in this method. I also found a number of YouTube clips demonstrating it (cf. my most favorite clip). I am so impressed by the elegance of this swimming style. I hope that by the end of this private lesson lasting ten weeks I will have learned at least the basics of this elegant swimming skill.

For those who are interested in Total Immersion Swimming, here is a list of its centers outside the United States (disclaimer: I have no commercial interest in this swimming method):

2010-10-01

Epublishing

My interest in Amazon Kindle has kindled my interest in epublishing (in its narrow sense, i.e. ebook publishing) in general. I spent a whole day this week investigating various aspects of epublishing, including, ebook formats, ebook readers, ebook converters, ebook editors, ebook vendors and ebook libraries, and whether Kindle and Kindle format are the best ebook reader and format respectively. The following is a summary of my discoveries and opinions.

There are a number of ebook formats. The most important one is probably EPUB. It is an open format based on XHTML and CSS, and is supported by the majority of major ebook readers. Kindle is one of the few exceptions; it uses its native, proprietary format by default. I even thought of purchasing Kindle, but the more I have discovered, the less enthusiastic I have become about it. It is true that it is one of the cheapest ebook readers available in the market now, and there are probably more books available in Kindle format than in any other format. But this seems a good example of the so-called vendor lock-in; purchasing ebooks in this closed format is to ensure that they may not be readable in the future. For the same reason I evade Apple hardware, Adobe software, Microsoft office suite, to mention just a few.

There are four types of ebook readers: hardware, desktop software, browser addons and online ebook readers. Amazon Kindle is the most popular example of the first type. The greatest advantage of this type of ebook readers is that they use the so-called epaper. Unfortunately, I have never seen how it looks, but it seems better suited for reading than computer screens. I wish there would appear personal computers with epaper. Because of its proprietary format Kindle cannot be my choice. My ideal ebook reader of this type has to support Hebrew and Japanese in EPUB format, though there are not many ebooks like this. PocketBook seems a good choice, but it is still too expensive and its design is not sophisticated enough.

There are also a number of desktop ebook readers for personal computers and handheld devices. Kindle as software is also available for these devices, and I tried Kindle for PC, but I did not like it at all. The ebook reader I like best as of now is FBReader; it is opensource cross-platform software, but it still needs more sophistication in functionality and interface. EPUBReader and Bookworm have impressed me most as a browser (Firefox) addon and an online ebook reader respectively.

EPUB has both pros and cons in comparison with PDF. One of the pros is that documents in this format are fluid. There are a number of online tools for converting documents to EPUB. One of them is ePub Converter. It is easier to convert existing documents to EPUB than to prepare documents directly in EPUB. One of the best ebook editors I have found is Sigil; it can also edit documents in EPUB format.

As I wrote above, I would not purchase ebooks stored in a proprietary format such as Kindle format, however popular it may be at this moment. Vendors that sell ebooks in EPUB format include eBooks.com (in English) and Mendele (in Hebrew). I have not found any vendor that sells Japanese ebooks in EPUB. Japanese ebook industry is plagued by a plethora of proprietary formats never used outside Japan. One of the main reasons for the chaos is that EPUB does not enable epublishing in ways that are common in Japanese print publishing. Having found it necessary to adapt EPUB as the default ebook format, Japan Electronic Publishing Association has issued Minimal Requirements on EPUB for Japanese Text Layout.

In addition to commercial vendors there are a number of digital libraries where one can get ebooks in EPUB for free. Project Gutenberg and Google Books are two of the biggest and most famous digital libraries. If one does not mind taking the trouble of converting electronic documents to EPUB format and reading them as they are in PDF and other formats not meant for ebooks, there are more digital libraries even in Hebrew (e.g., Hebrew Books and Project Ben-Yehuda), Yiddish (e.g., Steven Spielberg Digital Yiddish Library) and Japanese (e.g., Aozora Bunko).

In conclusion I have decided to purchase neither Kindle nor any ebook stored in its proprietary format. I have started to use FBReader to read ebooks downloadable for free from the above-mentioned digital libraries. As for new books, I am looking forward to Google Editions, which is said to open in the near future. I can easily foresee that ebooks will soon outnumber printed books because of their many advantages, but they pose a problem for observant Jews on Sabbath and festivals.

2010-09-24

Two Difficulties on Sabbaths and Festivals

I find it more and more difficult to spend Sabbaths and some Jewish festivals not because of their observance but for two other, non-religious, reasons.

Being a single, I really appreciate those families and synagogue congregants who invite me regularly to meals on Sabbaths and festivals at their places. The foods are all delicious, and the familial atmosphere surely adds special taste to the meals. But I often find my body react negatively several hours after such meals, because what and how much I eat is so different from what and how much many people in Israel, including my hosts, eat. I eat no meat and nothing sweet, including fruits, at home. When I am invited to a meal, I still decline to eat anything sweet, but I do eat meat. I have also noticed that many cooks compete with each other in the quantity of foods they serve. On such occasions I tend to overeat. I am not surprised that so many people are physically unfit because of a large quantity of unhealthy foods they consume regularly. Americans are said to be the fattest nation on earth, but at least in Manhattan I saw far less obese people than in Israel. Actually, I have seen such a large concentration of obese people nowhere else as here, and generally speaking, many immigrants from the Unites States I know are physically more fit than their Israel-born counterparts. In the swimming pool where I swim on weekdays I hear mainly English. I am surprised that the average life expectancy in Israel is quite high in spite of such unhealthy eating habits and lack of physical exercises.

We are meant to rejoice on Sabbaths and certain Jewish festivals, but instead of rejoicing I often become depressed for lack of a significant other with whom I can share my joy (as well as other innermost feelings and thoughts). I feel more and more keenly that we, or at least I, are not meant to spend our life alone. But considering my age, I have also started to think about the possibility that I may remain single all my life. I do not know from where the "salvation" will come, if at all, but I am trying my best not to give up my hope altogether.

2010-09-08

Finding New Meanings in the Routines

It was ten years ago that I started to keep this weekly reflection on the evening of Rosh Hashana. I am celebrating the tenth Roth Hashana since then this evening. It is true that I have experienced a number of unexpected things in life, but on the other hand, it is also inevitable that the older I become, the less unexperienced things I will have. One of my new year's wishes is, therefore, to be able to find new meanings in the daily routines, though this will preclude me from wishing to have my dream come true this new year.

We never get bored with various things we have to repeat every day or even every minute for our physical survival, such as eating, sleeping and breathing. But we are liable to get bored with things we repeat for our spiritual and intellectual nourishment and growth.

Prayers are certainly among the most difficult challenges for me in the spiritual domain. It is difficult to pray every time, even on special occasions such as Rosh Hansha, with kavana, so it is all the more difficult to find new meanings in the same prayers we repeat all the time. Actually, this is the most difficult mitsva for me in Judaism, but I assume that precisely because of its difficulty it is a mitsva, as we would not do it otherwise. I am only starting to find some Jewish wisdom in repeating certain things even blindly in the beginning.

But my greatest struggle with the routines is probably in the intellectual domain. We as researchers are supposed not only to find new phenomena but also to give new explanatins to known phenomena. If one spends decades in certain academic disciplines, one can easily get used to them and even fail to notice something new, as everything becomes self-evident. This is my biggest intellectual fear. I do not know yet what I can or must do so that everything I already know and witness again (and again), whether directly or indirectly, may keep instigating me intellectually.

2010-08-20

How to Avoid Undesired Telephone Calls

As far as I am concerned, telephone is a good example of a modern tool that was meant to make our life convenient but has become an unbearable nuisance instead. I reserve telephone conversations to phatic - mostly intimate - communication, so since I have no steady girlfriend now, almost all the telephone calls I receive are undesired ones. They consist of two types. The first are unsolicited commercial calls for marketing or begging for money. They do bother me, but they are far less intolerable than the second type. What really torture me are those telephone calls on work-related matters from people I know, which in my opinion are better handled by email. These undesired telephone calls have got on my nerves so unbearably that I have devised a way to avoid them.

First of all, I have stopped answering any call when the caller does not disclose his or her telephone number, which is displayed in my telephone. Second, I have prepared a white list of people whose calls I am ready to answer. I have also turned off my answering machine. I do not know how marketing companies and all kinds of organizations begging for money have found my telephone number, but I am afraid that even if I had kept is for myself, they might have found it anyway sooner or later. My biggest mistake was that I gave my telephone number to too many people. Having learned a lesson from this fatal mistake, I have given my mobile phone number to a very small number of my very best friends and limit its use to emergency cases.

My main means of non-face-to-face communication is email. Unfortunately, however, so many people in Israel, unlike in Japan, simply do not know, at least in my opinion, how to use email efficiently so that I cannot make the best use of it here. Nevertheless, email is far more tolerable than telephone as a means of non-intimate communication in relative terms, even in Israel, though it is becoming less and less tolerable in absolute terms.

The problem is that I have no alternative means of non-face-to-face communication. I am forced to continue to use email, but as for telephone, I wish there were some way to restrict the callers to those whose numbers I have approved as in Internet telephony. I believe that communication is one of our basic needs, but we are so inundated with all kinds of "noise" that not to communicate is becoming a luxury in our days.

2010-08-13

Different Advantages and Disadvantages of Being a Researcher in Israel and Japan

As I am about to finish my sixth year as a full-time lecturer at an Israeli university, I am now more aware of what I consider advantages and disadvantages of being a researcher in Israel and Japan, where I taught for about ten years, though only as a part-time lecturer. It is sometimes the case that some advantages in Israel are disadvantages in Japan, and vice versa.

We as researchers have to continue to buy scientific books (whether we actually read them or not), and more and more of the most important ones are published in English, so both in Israel and Japan we have to order them from abroad. The similarity ends here. Japan does not impose tax on books imported from abroad, while Israel started to do so some time ago (I do not know when, but I do remember that when I was a student here in the late eighties and early nineties, there was no such tax). Unfortunately, we earn much less in Israel than in Japan or the United States, but we have to pay far more for such books. I know that the Israeli government has to squeeze money by all possible means, but every time I am forced to pay tax for book I buy from abroad, I cannot help being disgusted with this shameful policy. I wonder what other countries in the world have the same policy.

But apart from this disadvantage, being a researcher in Israel has more advantages than in Japan, at least in my areas of expertise. On the one hand, Israel is a very small country, but on the other hand, it is one of the world centers of Hebrew and Jewish studies. So by being in Israel I have many opportunities to meet leading experts, including Israeli and non-Israelis, and be exposed to the state-of-the-art research, while researchers of Hebrew and Jewish studies in Japan suffer doubly in this respect, and the worst problem of many of them is that they are so inward looking, that is, they neither participate in conferences held outside Japan nor publish in languages other than Japanese. I regret to write this, but Japan as a whole has little or probably no impact on the world map of Hebrew and Jewish studies.

Perhaps the biggest advantage we researchers in Israel have over our Japanese counterparts is the fact that we have more free time at our disposal, mainly during the annual summer vacation. We can spend almost four months every year being disturbed by nothing else and concentrating on our own research, while they barely have one month, even which is often torpedoed by rather stupid tasks, which are handled by non-academic staff in Israeli universities.

I do not know whether this is an advantage or disadvantage, but the biggest difference between these two countries is the system of promotion and tenure. As a person who had to work so hard to be promoted from a lecturer to a senior lecturer and finally receive tenure in Israel, I find the Japanese system quite ridiculous. Japanese universities should also stop giving tenure automatically to their new faculty members. Their system of promotion is full of loopholes. How can someone who has published no book and no refereed article with the total number of publications less than ten become a full professor in Japan?! This is a disgrace to the title "professor". Many of these "professors" in Japan would not be able to become even lecturers in Israeli universities for lack of enough (refereed) publications.

2010-08-06

True Vacation

In the past ten days I have tried to have a vacation, but in vain. I wonder when was the last time I had a true vacation at all. Unfortunately, I do not remember, which probably means that I have never had a true vacation at all in my entire life. I am also afraid that I will never be unable to have one, at least in the foreseeable future, unless I really force myself and seclude myself from the world where I live now.

I am sorry to admit this, but I cannot deny that I am a workaholic (just like my father, though I did not mean to follow him). Whether I am awake or asleep, all the ideas about future presentations, papers and courses never stop haunting me consciously or subconsciously. Although I have come to like my research-shmesearch, I cannot live in such a constant pressure all the time. The only time when I am freed from it in my daily routine is when I run, swim or drink wine. It is no wonder that my daily consumption of wine increases more and more, as I cannot allow myself to spend more time for daily running and swimming.

What would I like to do if I should have a true vacation? My answer is to have silence in every sense of the word (and also to live an absolutely miminalist life away from "civilization"). Our daily life is so inundated with all kinds of noises, whether physical or metaphorical. I am extremely sensitive to physical noise, and unfortunately, I have had no luck with my neighbors anywhere; I constantly suffer from their noises.

My dream is to have my first true vacation at some Ayurveda spa/hotel/hospital/ashram in South India for a month or so. I feel that I need something like that badly. My first candidate is Kalari Kovilakom. I really hope that I will be able to implement this plan of mine in the near future.

2010-07-30

Children

Until I received tenure in the university, it used to be my main worry. But since I received it rather recently, I am tormented more than every before in my life by the fact that I have no one to share my life with, including pleasures and sorrows. Of course, I am to blame for this. Although I had steady girlfriends in the past, I was not ready enough emotionally for marriage for lack of socioeconomic stability. Now I am (hopefully) more or less stable socioeconomically, but I have less and less chances to encounter new women.

I try to remain optimistic, but at the same time I also have to be realistic; I have even started about the possibility of remaining single all my life. Actually, I would prefer remaining unmarried to getting married with someone who is not compatible enough. Recently I have realized that I seem to have a rather serious obstacle to finding a life companion. It is the realization that I am not interested in having my own children, though ironically, I do like children (as long as they are someone else's) and have been very popular among children since I was a child myself.

There are several reasons why I do not want my own children in spite of the fact that this is against the basic tenet of Judaism. The first reason is that I prefer enjoying life with a spouse, and this will be sacrificed by having children. I am aware that I must sound selfish, but having remained single until this age, I feel that I have lost too many years of potential joy of sharing my life with someone else to be spent for other purposes, including having my own children. The second reason is that I cannot be enthusiastic about bringing new lives to this cruel and difficult world, though I believe that life in a physical body is a test for a soul. I know that I have no choice, but I would prefer not be born again on this planet, even for the purpose of training my soul. The third reason is a realistic one - I am too old, if not in body and spirit, to have children.

The problem is that on the one hand, I am interested to know someone who is (intellectually and) physically fit, but on the other hand, such a woman is most likely to be interested to have her own children. But "fortunately", this problem remains theoretical so far.

2010-07-16

Visit to Manhattan

I had a four-day visit to Manhattan last week (and since my return to Jerusalem last Friday afternoon, I had to cope with so many tasks that had awaited me that I had no time to update this blog until one week after this visit). This was one of the most enjoyable trips I have ever made. I also thought that nothing could surprise me in Manhattan any more, but I experienced a couple of unexpected surprises in this visit.

The "official" reason for this visit was to take part in the annual conference of the National Association of Professors of Hebrew, held this time at Stern College in Manhattan, and give a talk here. When I participated in this three-day conference in 1996, we had only a few sessions on the language. Since then the conference as well as the association itself seems to have expanded greatly. The present conference far exceeded my expectation. I also met a number of Israeli researchers of Hebrew I would not see even in Israel. Although I enjoyed this academic gathering conducted almost entirely in Hebrew in the United States and received many positive feedbacks to a talk I gave there, I also felt frustrated as usual because I was forced to realize that the audience saw only my Hebraist part withought knowing that I am also a Yiddishist and Esperantist. This has given me another impetus to start thinking about writing a book that will incorporate all these three aspects of mine.

The main reason why 14 years have passed since I last participated in this conference is that I have waited for it to take place in Manhattan, my most favorite place in the world outside Israel. Seemingly I was not the only participant who thought this way. We had the largest number of participants in this annual conference in the history of the association.

I fully enjoyed this opportunity of being in Manhattan. The most pleasant surprise I had outside the venue of the conference was that a good old friend of mine living in Manhattan took the trouble of taking me to have dinner with him together with his wife and his daughter at a kosher Ashkenazic deli called 2nd Avenue Deli. When he asked me before my trip if the place would be alright with me, I simply did not know what to expect. But frankly speaking, I literally fell in love with the place. While still in Manhattan, I also started looking for other kosher Ashkenazic delis there, and found at least two. I visited one of them, but it was far less good than 2nd Avenue Deli not only in terms of the foods per se but also in terms of the cozy atmosphere, though it seems to have a more stringent kashrut certificate. This was a pleasant surprise because we have no such restaurants in Jerusalem and I found that Ashkenazic foods can also be turned into culinary pleasure at restaurants. Thank you, GJ, CJ, and EJ!

I also visited kosher Japanese and Indian restaurants, but they were quite disappointing, at least compared to their counterparts in Jerusalem. One thing that has surprised me about kashrut business in Manhattan is that quite a few kosher restaurants there are open on Sabbath, too. In Israel no kashrut certificate would be issued to any restaurant open on Sabbath.

I was also surprised to find how polite New Yorkers are. I seem to have encountered more expressions of apology and gratitude in four days in Manhattan that I would hear in a whole year in Jerusalem. Since then I have been wondering what distinguishes Manhattan from Jerusalem. Both cities have many immigrants from the four corners of the world, so people in Jerusalem or in Israel in general could behave themselves a little less rudely. Does this difference derive from the history, hence maturity, of the two countries?

Anyway, this visit to Manhattan has intensified my appetite to visit there again next summer. Then I would also like to visit other kosher Ashkenazic delis I could not visit this time.

2010-07-02

Philology vs. Linguistics

Being a linguist, I have been feeling more and more strongly that there seems to exist an unbridgeable gap between philology and linguistics. Although I am interested in languages, I find philologically oriented talks more and more boring and less and less bearable. True philology may be supposed to be different, but almost all the philologically oriented talks I have heard in academic conferences have two things in common: 1) they have no theoretical framework; 2) they are linear in that they have no internal structure with chapters, sections, subsections, etc. In other words, they sound like collections of linguistic anecdotes.

Philology, as it is studied now, seems to be occupied too much with trivial details that do not lead to a better understanding of language in general and a specific language in question in particular as a system. I am bothered by the fact that these philologists seem to "sanctify" anything written by anyone as long as it is old enough. Even if I left some texts in some foreign language, they might have the potential to become objects of investigation for future philologists. I am also bothered by the fact that few of these philologists take the trouble of adding glosses and translations to their examples as is common among linguistcs working on less known languages, even when they know in advance that the audience is not familiar with their languages. So I end up being choked with anecdotes about trifles with no discovery or insight about the mechanism, whether structural or social, of language or a language.

2010-06-18

To Prepare Written Manuscripts of Lectures or Not

I have been lecturing in five languages: Japanese, Hebrew, English, Yiddish and Esperanto. When I lecture in classroom settings, I only prepare handouts and speak spontaneously in all of them. But when it comes to talks in more formal settings with more rigit time frame such as academic conferences, I almost always prepare written manuscripts in English, Yiddish and Esperanto, usually in Hebrew, but never in Japanese. This difference reflects my different masteries of these languages. Since I have never spent a sufficiently long period of time, speaking English, Yiddish or Esperanto in academic settings, I cannot allow myself to rely on my knowledge of these languages when I have to squeeze what I would like to say into twenty to thirty minutes in academic conferences, so I do not have the luxury of stopping to look for appropriate words and expressions.

It is clear that the ideal would be to prepare written manuscripts in advance, remember them by heart by repeating them alone and lecture without them as if you were speaking spontaneously. Unfortunately, however, I do not have enough time to do this. Then I have two alternatives: either to prepare written manuscripts of lectures or to prepare only handouts and speak spontaneously on the spot. Until quite recently I tended to opt for the first alternative, but I have come to notice more and more disadvantages. For example, when you read a written manuscript, you have less eye contact with the audience, and sound more mechanical and less lively.

So I have decided to make an experiment of giving my two forthcoming talks in Hebrew solely according to handouts without preparing written manuscripts. Since I have taught my courses in Hebrew for the past six years this way, I will hopefully be able to finish this experiment in peace. I may make some stupid mistakes, but it seems to me that I will have more things to gain than what I will lose, especially in view of the fact that the Hebrew-speaking audience expects more interaction and less formality.

2010-05-28

Thinking of a Sabbatical

Having taught for 19 years in the university with no break (except for summer and winter vacations), I recently feel I am worn out intellectually and need a good dose of intellectual input. Since I am finishing my sixth year at the university, where I am teaching now, and I have received tenure there, I am entitled to take my first sabbatical next year. Unfortunately, however, I cannot get it next year for some bureaucratic reason, but I really hope I will be able to take it in the following year. Although there still remains at least one whole year until then, I have started to think of things I would like to do in my first sabbatical.

My fondest dream is to spend a year at some university abroad, preferably in the United States, and especially in New York City, my most favorite city in the world outside Israel. I am sure that such an experience will broaden my intellectual horizon and give insights for new research. But I am afraid that this dream is not so practical. The biggest practical problem that confronts me is what to do with the apartment I rent and all the books I have. I do not want to leave this apartment, but on the other hand it seems rather stupid to pay a rent for an apartment where I will not live for a year. I cannot shlep all my books with me, but on the other hand I need them, or at least a large part of them, for my research; I have spent almost 30 years to build my special private library.

So the most practical alternative seems to be to remain in Jerusalem, freed from the obligation of teaching for one year. Then I would like to take some courses as an informal auditor either at the Hebrew University or at Ohr Somayach Yeshiva, which are my almae matres in Israel, or even at both of them. The mere thought of becoming a student again already excites me. At the Hebrew University I would like to take courses in sociology and improve my Yiddish and Russian; at Ohr Somaych Yeshiva or some other yeshiva in Jerusalem I would like to tackle the biggest intellectual challenge I have ever experienced - acquiring the skill to navigate the Talmud on my own.

Wherever I may be, the most important thing I would like to do in my sabbatical-to-be is to start working on my first book. I have three possible topics: the first is in the area of Modern Hebrew morphology, the second in the area of Hebrew-Yiddish contact linguistics, and the third sociolinguistic comparison of Hebrew, Yiddish and Esperanto. I will spend the next year choosing the exact topic for the book and making a detailed work plan.

2010-05-14

What to Do with Apathetic Students

It is rather discouraging and disappointing to find that having taught for more than 20 years in various universities, I still encounter very fundamental problems in teaching. Since my life surrounds mostly around work with almost no private life these days, even small problems I experience in teaching affect me greatly and destroy my peace of mind. The problem that occupies me these days is what to do with apathetic students.

Fortunately, such students are far smaller in number in Israel than in Japan in relative terms, but unfortunately, there are enough of them in absolute terms even in this country not only in obligatory courses but also in elective courses. I am aware that I have been poor at teaching in general and "marketing" the subjects I teach in particular. But I have been unable to come to terms with the idea that even university teachers have to motivate their students. I still believe that only those who know why they study what they study must be permitted to continue their studies in the university. I may sound elitistic, but seemingly, we are paying a heavy price for the popularization of higher education: even those who are not meant to be in the university are admitted.

I know from my own experience as a student that even in the courses by the worst teachers we can always find some intellectual insights from time to time, if not always. So I find it very hard to understand those apathetic students whose eyes remain dormant and inactive all year round whatever I say. I am curious to see how they fare in other courses by better teachers.

The biggest problem I have with such apathetic students is that gradually but surely they shatter my motivation to continue to teach them. This is a vicious circle with no clear beginning. Generally speaking, its downward spiral can only worsen. Do I have a solution for this problem? Unfortunately, I have come up with no magical solution. My only humble desire is not to have my motivation totally shattered by an epidemic called apathy.

2010-05-07

Feeling like Teaching outside Israel (But Only for a Short Period of Time)

Suddenly I feel like teaching in other countries outside Israel, even including Japan, (but only for a short period of time, as I do not want to live outside Israel for more than a few months at a time). The main reason is to break my routine. I have got so used to teaching Israeli students that I have been deriving less inspirations than before from interacting with them, as I can already foresee many of their possible reactions.

This may sound a crazy idea, but I feel like reexperiencing teaching in Japan. I only remember that it was not easy, to say the least, to teach there because I could not implement what I considered (and still consider) the most important activity in class - verbal interaction between the teacher and the students and between the students themselves - except when I taught Japanese as a foreign language and Hebrew. Luckily, however, I do not remember so clearly various concrete headaches and agonies I had while teaching there. By teaching in Japan every once in a while (but again only for a very short period of time each time), I will surely be able to appreciate what I have as a teacher in Israel. I do not want to make any value judgment, but I just want to express my personal taste: I definitely prefer the Israeli teaching methods to the Japanese ones.

I would also like to relativize my teaching experiences in Israel and Japan by teaching in other countries that have sociocultural backgrounds that are unknown to me and different from those in these two countries. The most "economic" way of experiencing teaching in other countries at the same time would be to teach, in whatever country, even here in Israel, a mixed group of students from various countries with diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds. I still remember experiencing pleasant surprises all the time with such a group when I taught Japanese as a foreign language in Japan. This is the most enjoyable and enriching teaching experience I have ever had so far.

There is at least one big advantage in teaching in a country whose culture you know well, as you can count on the same cultural assumptions with your students, but this can be less challenging and less inspiring, as everything becomes a routine. By putting myself in foreign sociocultural settings I will hopefully be able to see what is nature and what is nurture in us human beings.

2010-04-30

Studying in Foreign Languages

Since Japanese is not so widely understood outside Japan, those who have never lived there may not be aware that you can finish your university study, at least at the undergraduate level, in almost any field without reading but in Japanese. On the other hand, those who were born and educated in Japan may not be aware how rare this linguistic situation is in many parts of the world. Receiving your higher education in your native language is an exception rather than a rule, especially in the developing countries. But even in Japan there are a small number of fields in which no or few learning materials are available in Japanese, thus you have to study them in English or a few other European languages of science.

It was a great shock for me when I realized upon entering the university that I had to study the language I had decided to specialize in from textbooks and dictionaries intended for English speakers, as I had never read any single whole book in English before. I had two options for coping with this totally unexpected shock: 1) to try to ignore it and postpone struggling with it as long as I can; 2) to face it and start struggling with it immediately. Of course, I chose the latter.

In retrospect, I am grateful for this "present" that has turned out to be a highly efficient "shock therapy". It has broken down my psychological barrier to study in foreign languages. It did not take me too long even while I was an undergraduate student to realize that English was not even enough, and it was necessary to study German, French and Russian as well for reading materials available only in them and not in English, to say nothing of Japanese. Then I had no shock; I simply learned these three languages as well as Italian, Spanish and Polish, in addition to Arabic, Hebrew, Aramaic, Yiddish and Esperanto as subjects of study.

Having met and observed many university students here in Israel, I have noticed that many of them have some psychological barrier to study more foreign languages in addition to English for the purpose of their studies, even at the graduate level. This is quite similar to or even worse than what native speakers of English might react. It often seems to me that many Hebrew-speaking students have more trust in English as the omnipotent language of science than their English-speaking counterparts do. It is true that English has become an uncontested language of science, but there still remain sufficient materials, especially in the humanities, that are not available in it. I have an opposite shock here: it is that there seem to be so many PhD students in the humanities who cannot read but in Hebrew and English.

2010-04-23

Day of Feast for Egoists (Followed by Days of Mourning for Me)

Israel's Independence Day, which fell this Tuesday this year, is set to follow the Remembrance Day so that we may switch from sorrow to joy. For me there is a further switch - a switch from joy to mourning.

One of the strange customs that have come to prevail in this country on the Independence Day is to go out with family members and/or friends to parks to have a barbecue all day long. Having witnessed for the past six years what happens after this annual pastime, e.g., in Sacher Park, which is the most popular site for this purpose in Jerusalem (and incidentally, which is where I run every weekday morning), I have to say that the Independence Day has also become a day of feast for egoists with no public morality. It is difficult to find a dirtier place all over Jerusalem than Sacher Park on the morning after this day of feast (or to be more precise, day of shame). Its otherwise beautiful lawn is covered everywhere with litters egoists have left behind after their feast.

Of course, they have every right to celebrate the Independence Day in whatever way they feel like as long as they do not behave like beasts in public. I also wonder whether they ever ponder upon the significance of this special day for themselves as Israelis and for the nation as a whole. I am afraid that they are just using this day as an excuse to satisfy their stomach. How can anyone who cares for Israel not be ashamed to make its land dirty?! And why do we law-abiding citizens who love the Land of Israel have to pay tax for cleaning up their dirt?! I am still angry with them; actually, I mourn for these people who were born as human beings but behave like animals.

I am sure that such people exist in other countries, too. Then Zionism has been very successful in making Israel like all other nations. It has produced (or brought?) so many people who have no public morality whatsoever. What makes me really sad and helpless is the fact that they have not lost public morality gradually or suddenly, but they have never had it in their entire life; they behave in an egoistic manner simply because this is how their parents behaved and they have been taught no other way to behave in public, and they in turn produce a new generation of their likes. I become even helpless when I think of the fact that there seems to be no way to put an end to this vicious circle. If I were the mayor of Jerusalem, I would charge everyone who enters Sacher Park with foods on the Independence Day, and pay back the money to those who come out with their garbage and recharge those who come out empty-handed.

2010-04-16

What to Do with Poor Lectures

Average audiences in Israel, especially those who have never lectured themselves, are quite merciless toward poor lectures both in the university and in conferences. They do not hesitate to disclose their dissatisfaction in various offensive ways, e.g., by leaving the lecture room, by sleeping, by reading books and articles not related to the lectures, by chatting with others, or even by complaining with others about the lectures. The lecturers themselves are of course to blame for their poor lectures, but the audience can be more sensitive to their feelings as they can see everything better from the podium.

Although I have been working on the improvement of my teaching in the university, it still sometimes happens that some of my students find my lectures poor and start offending my feeling with their insensitive behaviors in class. Again, I as a lecturer am to blame for their behaviors, but every time I encounter such behaviors, I wish they could be more sensitive. I may be able to improve my teaching skills, but there is one thing I cannot change - incompatibility between what I want to share with my students and their lack of interest. I am rather poor at "marketing" my "merchandise" in which my "customers" were not interested initially. Luckily, this happens mainly with obligatory courses in which some students do not understand why they are forced to learn the subjects.

Having witnessed such insensitive behaviors toward poor lectures by myself or by other lecturers a number of times in Israel, I have decided not to behave like these merciless people. Nevertheless, it is not always easy to listen attentively to poor lectures. There are several types of poor lectures. When the problem is with the way the lecturers speak, such as stammering or speaking with a heavy foreign accept, I do try my best to listen to them. On the other hand, when the problem is with the content, that is, the lectures convey nothing new, thus are unbearably boring, I often work on my own laptop computer, which I shlep everywhere. Of course, this is not a laudable behavior but is probably the least offensive of all the imaginable reactions to poor lectures, as the lecturers can also think that we are taking notes of their lectures. But the best way to cope with poor lectures as a listener is not to come to them in the first place if you can guess in advance that they may be going to bore you.

2010-04-09

Humility (or Lack Thereof)

I have noticed that quite a few people in Israel, unlike in Japan, show off even in public, whether consciously or unconsciously, as an effort to impress (and attract) others, by daring to say or write how smart and nice-looking they are. Humility has been considered a virtue in traditional Jewish culture, but I am afraid that this may not be the case any more with many people who identify themselves more with modern Israeli culture.

You may really have some exceptional intelligence and appearance, but saying to others that you do seems to taint all the virtues you have. Actually, when I see someone say or write this way about him- or herself, I lose no time in starting to stay away from him or her, as I feel that something fundamental is wrong with him or her. I am even ashamed to find that such people do not seem to be ashamed at all to brag and aware that they can look ugly and miserable to certain people.

There is a subtle but significant difference between bragging and showing self-condifence. Most braggarts may also have to be self-confident, whether with good reason or not. But I believe that the virtues you have must be emitted like auras around you, and those who have good senses cannot fail to miss them. Explaining verbally to others that you have certain virtues probably means that you are not confident at least in one thing - your ability to emit such auras. Your verbal explanations are substitutes for your nonexistent or weak auras.

As is often the case in life, if you chase after someone or something, they will escape you; letting them chase after you seems to be a wiser way to attain whom or what you want.

2010-04-02

Keeping and Rereading One's Own Blog

I started this blog on 29 September 2000 (the very term "blog" was either nonexistent or unknown to the public back then) as "a kind of weekly kheshbon nefesh ('soul-searching')" to "share online my reflections-shmeflections about what happened inside and outside me during the week", that is, as a personal online diary. I thought (and still think) that keeping such a diary is first and foremost a dialog with myself, which helps me understand myself; writing down our own thoughts and feelings is probably one of the best ways to accomplish one of the most difficult tasks in our life - to know ourselves.

I am afraid that I belong to a minority in this respect. Far more blogs seem to be purely or mostly informative. Those that report on restaurants their authors visited and foods they ate there are one example of informative blogs (incidentally, this is a very popular genre in the Japanese blogosphere, but personally I fail to understand what prompt so many people to write in public every day on foods they ate). Even personal diaries, at least those I have encountered, just describe in most cases what their authors did and seldom elaborate on the innermost thought and feeling they had in each experience about which they write.

Most informative blogs seem to have only an ephemeral value, so not only their authors themselves nor others reread them. But what about personal online diaries (and also offline diaries in this respect)? What do their authors do with each entry afterwards? How many of them reread their own diaries after a while or even after a long period of time? What we think and feel today cannot remain the same eternally, as we change constantly from day to day.

When I was a child, I used to keep a diary (offline, of course). But I have never dared to reread it afterwards, at least not systematically from the beginning until the end. Looking at some past entries at random, I felt quite embarrassed as I could not believe what I had thought and felt back then. I have never reread any entry of this blog except for the purpose of checking errors on the same day of writing it. But now I have a very difficult task of rereading, or at least scanning, the whole past entries of this blog of mine. I moved it from my own domain to this free blogging server of Google yesterday. In order to move the whole archive here I need to give each entry a title summarizing its content. I even thought of hiring someone for this emotionally difficult and embarrassing task, but in the end I have decided not to relocate them as this is too time-consuming.