Theft of Time

I consider theft of time as the second worst kind of theft after theft of life as both are irreversible. Everyone is aware of theft of life, and presumably every human society has severe penalties against those who have stolen someone else's life or have attempted to do so. But many people seem to be unaware of theft of time, and many societies are even tolerant of those who steal someone else's time.

Japanese society is extremely intolerant of this theft and people who commit this moral sin, while Israeli society is unfortunately quite tolerant of them. Theft of time can take a number of forms, including being late for meetings, not starting parties, lessons, conferences and other social events on time, or even cutting into line (thus stealing the time of those waiting before you).

I used to think naively that honking impatiently at every driver who does not start immediately after the traffic light turns green is a protest against theft of time, but I have seen that the same people who do not want to miss even a single second steal other people's time in other forms, including those mentioned above, so apparently this is not a protest against theft of time but something else I cannot decipher. Israelis tend to complain a lot about many things, whether personal or social - in this respect I have become a "good" Israeli ;-) - but when it comes to theft of time, few of them complain.

Although a single person can neither educate nor change a whole society, I believe that the first step toward a better society starts when each citizen starts to speak up against what he or she thinks is utterly wrong. So I have started to make more conscious efforts to speak up against thieves of time around me even if I am not their victim. On those days when I commute to my workplace, my workday both starts and ends with a lot of frustration at my waiting time stolen by those who cut into line for the bus, including religious and even haredi people. But I refuse to be like one of them. The more of them I see and suffer from, the more determined I become instead to wage a personal war against thieves of time in my adopted country, hoping that it will be more aware and less tolerant of what I consider the second worst kind of theft.


Bad Practices and Better Alternatives to Them in Humanities Computing

Generally speaking, researchers in the humanities tend to be less computer-savvy than their colleagues in the natural and social sciences. There still remain even those who speak of their low level of computer literacy as if they were proud of it. However, not only is there no contradiction between high level of computer literacy and being an excellent scholar but also is high level of computer literacy becoming an important prerequisite for excelling in research. Unfortunately, however, many researchers in the humanities, including linguists, still follow bad practices or are stuck with them, mostly for lack of knowledge of better alternatives to them. Every time I see these scholars, I cannot help feeling sorry that they are waisting their precious time and are often unaware of this very fact. The following is a random list of what I consider most common bad (i.e., inefficient) practices in (humanities) computing and possible better (i.e., more efficient) alternatives to them.

  • Bad practice 1: To use a word processor as it it were a typewriter.
    • What is wrong: The problem must be self-evident. We are already in the 21st century and not in the stone age. ;-)
    • Better alternative: Learn at least how to use "styles", autimatically prepare and update tables of contents and indices. And if you are still stuck with such bloatware as Word, consider migrating to a better open source alternative such as LibreOffice Writer.
  • Bad practice 2: To use a word processor for every possible kind of computing involving text documents.
    • What is wrong: A word processor combines manipulation of texts and their physical rendition, but for processing textual data the latter is not only unnecessary but also slows processing. Read, e.g., Word Processors: Stupid and Inefficient for futher details.
    • Better alternative: Use a text editor for processing textual data when their physical rendition is irrelevant. My recommendations are firstly EditPad Pro (Windows; commercial) and secondly EditPad Lite (Windows; free); both of them support RTL scripts and bidirectional algorithm.
  • Bad practice 3: To use a word processor or a spreadsheet program as a database program.
    • What is wrong: Neither a word processor nor a spreadsheet program is meant to be a database program, and they are limited and unbearing slow in data retrieval.
    • Better alternative 1: Again, use a text editor that supports regular expressions if you are dealing with non-structured textual data. My recommendations are the same as the above. Use also a grep tool. My recommendations are firstly PowerGREP (Windows; commercial) and secondly AstroGrep (Windows; free).
    • Better alternative 2: Use a CSV editor if you are dealing with tabular textual data. My recommendations are CSV Easy (Windows; commercial) and uniCSVed (Windows; free).
    • Better alternative 3: Use a database management system if you are dealing with more complex data. My recommendation for managing linguistic data is Fieldworks Language Explorer.
  • Bad practice 4: To send documents in proprietary formats, most notoriously in Word format, indiscriminately to everyone without his or her prior concent.
    • What is wrong: Not everyone uses (or wants to use) (mostly commercial) tools for proprietary formats.
    • Better alternative: Use one of the open document formats as described in my flowchart.


Basic Universal Etiquette?

I used to believe that there must be some basic universal etiquette common to all human beings regardless of the societies into which they happen to have been born. But this belief has been crumbling down slowly but steadily as I see enough people here in Israel who do not seem to share this etiquette. When I see those behaviors that must be considered uncultured in many other societies I know, I cannot help wondering what kind of education these people here have received from their parents and school teachers and whether this is a norm rather than an exception in native Israeli culture.

There are a number of social settings in which I believe you should not eat foods or chew gum. Unfortunately, I have to repeat the same request to stop doing so every year to the same group of people in a certain social setting that affects me personally. What surprises and bothers me every time anew is their common reaction to my request: they react as if they did not understand what was wrong with their behaviors. This lack of what I consider basic etiquette is found among both secular and religious people here. To be worse, it is not uncommon even among otherwise respectable people. I almost had a heart attack this week when I saw such a person daring to chew gum in a rather formal social setting from the beginning until the end!

Another example is that unfortunately, there seem to be quite a few people who do not know how to distinguish between what is public from what is private, doing what for me is not permissible in public. Lack of this etiquette manifests itself in various forms, including speaking very loudly (or screaming) in public, discarding garbage in public space (not in garbage cans), knitting a yarmulke during lectures, writing personal notes in books in public libraries, not returning books after reading to the original location in public libraries, not erasing your notes on the blackboard after teaching, not flushing water in public toilets after using, etc. These are for me signs of egocentric childishness.

I have given up every hope of understanding these people and explaining to them why these behaviors of theirs are not acceptable. Instead, I am trying to pay no attention to them and their behaviors as long as they do not affect me personally, and make sure to have enough physical distance from them. I would only like to hope that they do not consitute the majority here, though there are many of them in absolute terms.


Communication Problems with People with No or a Totally Different Sense of Humor

Since I am going to give a talk on Jewish humor during my next visit to Japan next February, I have recently given much thought to Jewish humor, which is Ashkenazic humor to all intents and purposes, and to sense of humor in general and its cultural and individual differences. Many factors can constitute communication problems not only between people from different cultures but even between those from the same culture. As far as I am concerned, the fact that my interlocutor(s) have no or a totally different sense of humor is factor No. 1 for communication problems. Of course, I am claiming neither that having no sense of humor is a shortcoming in absolute terms nor that my sense of humor is better than some other sense of humor. But the fact remains that I always find it not only boring and frustrating but even scary to speak with (or to) such people.

I am not sure whether sense of humor is innate or acquired or even both. But I remember that when I first heard or read Ashkenazic jokes, I felt at home, as I am cynical and sarcastic by nature. Since then I have been heavily influenced by Ashkenazic humor through massive and constant exposure to it. For someone like me with a cynical and sarcastic sense of humor, life was not so easy in Japan, where many people are too serious and have no sense of humor. So when I was about to leave Japan for Israel, I thought that I would have something to expect for in this respect. It is true that I really enjoy shmoozing with many people, especially in their fifties or older, who have Yiddish background because of their sense of humor, but on the other hand, I have also found that even in Israel there are enough people who have no or a totally different sense of humor. Lack of sense of humor manifests itself, among others, in that they not only do not smile but also have no facial expression whatsoever. Their faces remain stern as if smiling even a little were a grave sin.

Differences, whether cultural or individual, in the sense of humor as a possible factor for communication problems are more subtle than total lack of sense of humor. Furthermore, individual differences are far more problematic than cultural differences, especially because many of us are liable to see others stereotypically. For example, not every native speaker of Yiddish has the same sense of humor, nor is he or she a born comedian, though many are. ;-)

If I had a choice, I would stay away from people with no or a totally different sense of humor. But for a number of social roles I am supposed to assume this is not always possible. I have given up any hope of pleasing them and making them smile and have reconciled with the fact I have communication problems with them.


Cultural Differences in the Sense of Order

Having been born from and raised by highly ordered parents, I used to consider myself as a highly ordered person. The fact that even in Japan, which is famous for its order, I was considered too ordered intensified this self-conceit. So it came as a great surprise to find for the first time here in Israel that I was "accused" of lack of order in the evaluation of my teaching by my students, and this repeats itself every year.

This has lead me to think, again for the first time in my life, that there must be cultural differences in the sense of order. This may not be decent, but I have to say that I have never met anyone in Israel who shares the same sense of order as mine. Order can be not only purely physical but also logical. I cannot help noticing lack of order, both physical and conceptual, among so many people here in Israel, and I have been suffering from this lack of order here.

But what seems to me as lack of order is presumably the default state of order in Israel, so my sense of order must be interpreted as lack of order. Franly speaking, I am totally at a loss in this respect. On the one hand, I do not understand the Israeli sense of order, but on the other hand, I cannot allow myself to degenerate to the level of what I consider lack of order.


Main Principles of Teaching

The new academic year started this week after the four-month summer vacation. Partly because I participate in some courses by other teachers this year, I have realized that the way I teach is very different from the way they and probably many other teachers in Israel teach. I am still in search of the best teaching method. But the following is the list of the three main principles of teaching I have established for myself after years of trial and error.

  1. Know who and what your students are and interact with them. The very first thing I do in the first lesson of any course is to ask all the students to introduce themselves briefly, and when they do, I also ask them spontaneously about things that seem relevant to the topics of the course in question, such as their knowledge of foreign languages. I also try very hard to memorize the names of all the students as soon as possible. And I interact with them all the time, asking them questions, both literally and rhetorically.
  2. Prepare a handout of each lesson in advance. I always prepare a handout of each lesson and email it to all the students in advance. The main reason for doing this is to enable them to concentrate on the content and have more time to think critically about it without spending too much time just writing down what I say only orally. I also try to make a handout in such a way that will enable them to reconstruct each lesson later. But I have come to realize that with some students I do not share the same sense of order. Even in Japan, which is famous for its order, I was always considered very (or too) ordered, but here in Israel, some students write in their evaluation of my teaching that I am not ordered. So there must be a fundamental cultural (and/or individual) difference between my and their sense of order.
  3. Use humor. I tell my students jokes constantly in class. They can be either spontaneous or ready-made ones, but they are related to the content of what is being studied. My sense of humor is heavily influenced by Yiddish humor, which is characterized, among others, by cynicism and sarcasm. Unfortunately, however, Yiddish humor does not seem to be shared or cherished by everyone in Israel, including some of my students. I may be wrong, but some may even think that teachers should be serious all the time. But as far as I am concerned, I find it very difficult to interact with people with no sense of humor, especially if they are my teachers. Actually, some of my best teachers had a very sophisticated sense of humor. I also believe that the use of humor in class has a pedagogic benefit.

Unfortunately, some of my students seem to be perplexed, for better or for worse, by the way I teach, and in extreme cases seem to dislike it as there do not seem to be many teachers in Israel who follow all these principles.


Personal Polyglossia in Research Output

Both privately and professionally I have been living in five languages (English, Hebrew, Japanese, Yiddish and Esperanto) for quite some time, though I use them in different degrees of frequency, depending on the modes of usage (listening, speaking, reading and writing). Recently I prepared statistics of my research output, both in speech and in writing, using my list of presentations and list of publications, and have confirmed a few things I always felt. One is that my research output is characterized by polyglossia, and another is that the constellation of these five languages in this personal polyglossia of mine has changed over the years.

"Polyglossia" is a sociolinguistic term referring to the phenomenon of using multiple languages complementarily for different functions. Generally speaking, polyglossia presupposes multilinguialism, but not vice versa; someone can use multiple languages equally with no functional differentiation, though such a polyglot must be quite rare.

Among the five languages mentioned above I use English, Hebrew and Japanese far more frequently than Yiddish and Esperanto in my research output, but the use of the first three languages is in complementary distribution. In oral presentations I have been using Hebrew most frequently, not only after I immigrated to Israel about seven years ago but also, to my surprise, even before that, but I have published far less in Hebrew than in English and Japanese. In other words, the general pattern is to give talks first in Hebrew, then transform them to articles and publish them in English. This also matches my overall proficiency in these languages, that is, I speak Hebrew better, but I read and write English better. As for Japanese, after immigrating to Israel I have decided to use it only for the general public in Japan, as few serious researchers in my areas of interest understand it.

The dominance of Hebrew in my oral presentations will probably remain stable as I have more chances to participate in conferences in Israel than abroad, but the share of English may increase in the future as I would like to participate in more conferences that are not specific to Hebrew and Jewish studies but are on aspects of general linguistics and are held abroad. As for articles, I have been making a conscious effort of publishing more and more of them in English for reasons that must be clear to everyone. Here, too, I have decided to restrict the use of Japanese to articles for the general public in Japan. But in Hebrew, Yiddish and Esperanto I hope to publish more in absolute terms, if not in relative terms.


Anglophone Immigrants in Israel

Israel is said to have the highest percentage of immigrants among its citizens in the world. In spite of a growing general tendency of nationwide intercommunal integration, many immigrants still seem to flock together among themselves partly because of their common language and mainly because of their common culture, making a number of micro-societies within a macro-society called Israel. You can spend your lifetime not only without having any contact with any of these micro-societies but even without being aware of their very existence.

When I spent five years here in Jerusalem as a PhD student from 1988 and 1993 for the first time, I was initiated to the micro-society of Russophone immigrants. Since then I have a special sentiment to this community and its members. This time, that is, since I was offered a position here and immigrated here about seven years ago, I have had the privilege of getting acquainted with the micro-society of Anglophone immigrants, mainly from the United States but also from Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Actually, almost all the new friends and acquaintances I have made during these seven years are Anglophones. Most of the Anglophones I socialize with are frum, whether "FFB" (frum from birth) or "BT" (ba'al tshuva), and highly educated. And since I socialize mostly with them to the exclusion of sabras, I find myself speaking more and more English, especially on Sabbaths and holidays.

Although I did not expect this, I am very happy that I have become acquainted with this community and its members in Jerusalem. Some sabras, especially what few sabra friends I remain in touch with regularly, may not like to hear this, but honestly speaking, and if I am allowed to generalize, I feel far more comfortable with Anglophone immigrants than sabras, though I speak Hebrew much more fluently than English. This is because generally speaking, I find more things in common socioculturally with the former than with the latter, including more awareness of the fitness of our own bodies and the environment. I also like their version of Orthodox Judaism as well as the fact that many of them have kept the Ashkenazic traditions far better than their Israeli counterparts such as the pronunciation of Hebrew when davening.

It seems to me that those immigrants from Anglophone countries have had a number of positive effects on the Israeli society beyond their micro-society and have made unproportional contributions to the Israeli academia. We need more of them in Israel, but on condition that they will also take the trouble of learning Hebrew.


Back to the Study of the Talmud at a Yeshiva

In spite of my difficulty in learning unspoken languages, I am starting to learn Jewish Babylonian Aramaic, the language of the Gemara part of the Babylonian Talmud. The truth is that this is as a linguistic preparation for studying the Talmud in a yeshiva in the next academic year (i.e., 2012/2013), though only in the morning. I may sound funny as I am already planning what to do next year though the new Jewish year has just started. But since I am supposed to receive my first sabbatical next year, I already have to start planning how and where to spend it in order to make the best use of this precious gift.

Ideally I would spend my sabbatical in Manhattan, but I had to give up this idea immediately for a number of practical reasons. So I have decided to stay in Jerusalem. Initially I was thinking of spend my entire sabbatical for starting to plan my first book in one of the areas of linguistics that fascinate me now. But partly after starting to take online courses in Judaism on a website I stumbled upon (Jewish Pathways) rather recently, and partly after shmoozing with one of my spiritual mentors, the head of a famous elite yeshiva in Jerusalem, about my traditional Jewish learning (or to be more precise, insufficiency thereof) at one of the recent Sabbath meals at his, what used to be a very vague desire has come to take a more concrete shape, until I have decided to spend my sabbatical at the same yeshiva in Jerusalem where I spent about four months more than ten years ago (Ohr Somayach). Ideally I would spend the whole day five days a week there, but I also have to spare enough time for my own academic work. So the compromise I have found is to study at the yeshiva only in the morning when the Talmud is learned.

I have already spoken to the rabbi who is in charge of the specific program among many they offer and received his approval. I am already quite excited. Now I am reminded of the pleasure I experienced when I studied in the past. It was one of the most enjoyable and unforgettable experiences I have ever had in my entire life so far. But I had one serious problem with one subject there back then - study of the Talmud. Since then I have always sensed some kind of inferiority complex for not having the ability to swim the sea of the book which has shaped the traditional Jewish ways of thinking and living more than any other book in the vast classical Jewish library. I hope that this time I will get over first what used to be the biggest barrier for me, the language of the Talmud (or to be more precise, uncertainty of how to pronounce it), and acquire enough proficiency in it so that I may navigate it more or less independently.


Learning Unspoken Languages

Having started to relearn Russian recently, I feel so strongly that learning languages is my academic "anchor" that I have decided to start learning one unspoken language I have always wanted to learn but have failed in a number of trials. It is Jewish Babylonian Aramaic, the language of the Gemara part of the Babylonian Talmud, which has shaped the traditional Jewish way of thinking more than any other Jewish classical source. I have already made the necessary arrangement to learn it in a formal setting, i.e., to take a course in it at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, my alma mater.

The main reason why I have failed a number of times in learning this important language is that it is unspoken. I seem to have a serious problem in learning unspoken languages as I have to hear the sounds of a language I am learning. For this (and, of course, other) reasons I could not learn Classical Greek and Latin.

In terms of the accessibility of their sounds, unspoken, i.e., "dead", languages can be classified into those with reading traditions and those without. Jewish Babylonian Aramaic, like Biblical Hebrew, belongs to the former group. But the reading traditions of Jewish Babylonian Aramaic, especially Traditional Ashkenazic and Modern Israeli traditions, which are the two most widespread ones in the Jewish world today, are not so well documented as those of Biblical Hebrew. Nor can one reconstruct the phonology of Jewish Babylonian Aramaic so well as that of Biblical Hebrew.

So I had been in limbo, until it suddenly came to me recently to take a course in this language taught by one of its most important researchers in the world. I can rely on his pronunciation. So I hope that lack of certainty about its phonology would not be an issue that have prevented me from continuing to learn the language. I am already quite convinced that this will be a totally different learning experience from learning living languages like Russian.


Individual Multilingualism - A Blessing or a Curse?

I used to think that individual multilingualism was a blessing, at least for me, until I started recently to work on my Russian. Now I feel that it is a double-edged sword and can also be a curse. My original intention of renewing my intensive study of Russian almost after 20 years was to raise the level of my proficiency in this language to the level of proficiency I have in Yiddish and Esperanto, as I have enough occasions to use it here in Israel. But Russian is so difficult that I have already become rather pessimistic about this possibility. Hebrew, English and Japanese are the three languages I have been using longer and more actively than any other language, so I will not forget them, even if I should not use them for a long time. I have been using Yiddish and Esperanto less long and less actively, so I have some lexical lacunae in my knowledge of these languages, but I will not forget them, either.

Keeping five active languages is not so simple, especially if most of them were acquired in a formal setting and not naturally from childhood in the situation of societal multilingualism. And adding another one to this list becomes more difficult, even exponentially. I feel that I have imposed upon myself the "yoke" of remaining enslaved to languages. Keeping in active memory the same terms of daily and academic life in six languages is a huge waste of what few intellectual resources I have. If I could manage to cover all my daily and academic needs in one or even two languages, as certain people in certain countries do, I could make a better use of the time and energy for more productive intellectual activities instead of constantly "ventilating" these six languages so as not to forget them.

Strangely, I find it easier to memorize abstract difficult words than simple terms for daily life and the physical world, including names of animals and plants. And my memory is still in great confusion about equivalents for the same physical objects in these six languages. I am planning to start compiling an online hexalingual thesaurus for myself in the near future so that my self-imposed enslavement to languages will be more of a blessing than a curse.


Communication with a Limited Knowledge of a Foreign Language

I do not like to be spoken to by strangers in their bad Japanese or English. When I encounter these non-native speakers, I cannot help becoming suspicious of them and their intentions. I am ready to speak in one of these languages only with those who know them well enough (I have more tolerance to broken Hebrew, Yiddish and Esperanto). I may belong to a minority in this respect. Many other people seem to like to be spoken to in their respective native language even by non-native speakers who have only a smattering knowledge of it.

I have experienced this with a number of Russian speakers here, especially if they do not know enough Hebrew and English. The moment they find that I understand and speak some Russian, their face starts to shine and they become friendly. When I experienced this again this week, I have also realized that the fact that some non-native speaker has even a limited knowledge of some foreign language signals to its native speakers tacitly that he or she has some interest in their native language and culture and even likes them. This must be the case even with Esperanto, whose speakers have no culture in common except for the fact that they consider this language as a better solution to the problem of international communication than English. On the other hand, broken English as spoken to strangers in those social contexts that require no intelligence does not signal any common culture.

I have studied all the languages I have studied, including German, French, Russian, Italian, Spanish, Polish, etc. but excluding Japanese, English, Hebrew, Yiddish and Esperanto, mainly for academic purposes, that is, as tools for reading research materials and/or primary sources. I feel neither need nor desire to invest a lot of time and energy to improve my knowledge of, let's say, German or French, to a level at which I can make intellectual conversations in it.

Russian is different from all the other languages I have studied for academic purposes. Having been living in Israel, which is one of the largest enclaves of Russian speakers outside Russia, I have had enough occasions to use my Russian, which has not made much progress since I learded it years ago. But after I saw again this week that even my limited knowledge of Russian could open the heart of some of its native speakers, whose culture I like very much and with whom I feel very comfortable, I have decided that I have to brush up my Russian so that it may reach at least the level of my Yiddish and Esperanto.


Not All Cultures in the World Are Equal

Since I came back to Israel from abroad about a month ago, I cannot stop comparing those cultures of the world I know (more or less) firsthand. By "cultures" I mean here mainly national characters. I know that this is not politically correct, but I have come to a firm conclusion that beyond the level of subjective tastes, not all cultures in the world are equal, and at least in certain specific areas some cultures are objectively superior to others. In this respect I oppose the so-called cultural relativism, especially as is often expointed as a convenient excuse to justify certain actions some cultures take but many others consider primitive.

Naturally, these judgments of ours are not free from the influences of the cultures in which we were born and brought up. But nevertheless, there must be more or less objective criteria to compare typical cultural traits of various nations in specific social contexts, though there are always a minority of exceptional members who do not match these generalizations. We may probably use as one of these criteria the kind of results brought about by a typical trait in a certain context that is attached a high value in a given culture.

Let us take learning as an example. Not all cultures in the world attach the same value to it, nor do they produce the equal number of researchers who contribute to the advancement of the humankind. Because of the different values attached to learning some nations who have less people may produce more scientists than others with more people not only in relative terms but even in absolute terms.

As far as I am concerned, the surest sign of the cultural backwardness of a nation is that they have no culture of self-criticism, nor can they find any other way to react to criticisms against certain aspects of their culture by others except by threatening them with physical intimidation.

Of course, there is no single culture that excels in every aspect. I for one have been influenced more by Japanese, Israeli and Ashkenazi cultures than any other. I take from these cultures (as well as perhaps from (Jewish) American and Russian cultures) only those traits that I consider positive selectively and try to compose my own custom-made culture. For example, I have adopted order, precision, diligence and honesty from Japanese culture, informality, spontaneity, flexibility and free exchance of opinions regardless of age, sex and social status from Israeli culture, and hospitality, humor, optimism and love of learning from Ashkenazi culture. After all, I am quite proud that it is they, and not some primitive cultures in which I find few or even no positive traits, that are the three main ingredients of my custom-made culture, though I do kvetch about these three cultures from time to time, and they also have enough primitive people.


What Israel and Israelis Should (but Would Probably Be Unable to) Learn from Denmark and Danes

Two things caught my attention upon my arrival in Copenhagen and still haunt me even two weeks after my return to Israel. They are what we, Israel and Israelis, should (but would probably be unable to) learn from Denmark and Danes (I visited only Copenhagen, but I assume that they must be common to the other cities in Denmark; they may also be common to the other Scandinavian countries).

The first thing is the fact that there is a separate lane for bicycles on every road, even in the city center. There is no wonder, therefore, that bicycles are everywhere! Copenhagen must be a paradise for bicycle riders. Even trains are designed to accommodate them. This tacit encouragement to use the most efficient and ecologically friendly means of transportation must be only part of a bigger ecological policy of the country. As a person who loves bicycling but had to sell his bicycle after several months because of the bad condition of roads (as well as the bad manners of drivers) I can only wish we could build a similar nationwide network of roads that are friendly to bicycles in Israel. But I fear that it would probably take us decades, if at all, to realize this in this country, which has to spend a substantial amount of money Denmark does not seem to have to spend.

The second is the fact that not only do there seem to be few obese Danes but also do many of them look physically fit. I still find it very difficult to accustom my eyes to the sheer number of obese people and the degrees of their obesity in Jerusalem. The above mentioned difference in the condition of roads and the use of bicycles must contribute to this difference in obesity. But other, cultural, factors must be more crucial. I am not familiar with the customs of the average Danes, so I have to enumerate those cultural factors which, in my opinion, make and, alas, keep so many people obese here, not in comparative terms but in absolute terms:

  • Theoretically, there is and should be no contradiction between being frum and physically fit; on the contrary, we should keep our bodies as physically fit as possible as we borrow them temporarily.
  • But in actual fact, the more frum you are, the more obese and physically unfit you are likely to be.
  • Frum Jews tend to have worse eating habits and be engaged in less physical activities.
  • Even among non-religious or totally secular Jews obesity is a rampant phenomenon in Israel, as they follow the unhealthy habits of eating, which are essencially those of the poor; it is ironical that this is the only tradition many secular Jews follow even after they have abandoned Judaism.
  • Many people fail to eat at fixed hours every day; they eat whenever (and even wherever) they feel like, even when (and where) they are studying, working or in the middle of business meeting.
  • For too many people eating is the only physical activity; for some it is not even an activity but a state!

Again I am not familiar with the customs of the average Danes, but considering their physical fitness, I am quite sure that all or at least most of these Jewish habits must be foreign to them. Now the question is how we can put an end to these unhealthy habibs of the poor in Israel. Here again I am rather pessimistic about such a drastic cultral change in a short period of time as old habits die hard...


Why I Feel No Need to Join Social Network Services

In spite of all the invitations I constantly receive from friends and even students of mine to join their favorite social network services such as Facebook and Twitter, and in spite of all the fuss they make in the media, I have never felt any need to join any of them (except for a purely academic and rather static one called Academia.edu - my account), as I consider them (as well as mobile phones) as electronic pacifiers.

I am not against social networks per se, and I even consider them as assets. But I have not been convinced that joining social network services is the best way to maintain my social networks. I do not understand why one has to tell to the whole world even on an hourly basis what one does. This kind of obsession reminds me of a baby who is trying to draw the attention of the whole world around the clock. The focus is always on yourself!

I also believe that written words, unlike spoken words, must be "fermented", as it were, even online, and the process of "fermentation" takes some time. Writing something in real time skips this important period. The result is a massive and ever growing accumulation of "non-fermented" vain words.

Unfortunately, I have only 24 hours a day. Even without such narcissistic social network services I am inundated with so many things to read. So as long as they do not undergo some fundamental change, I will not join any of them and waste my time following hourly updates of the users of electronic pacifiers.

PS: Of course, I do not deny the possibility that this blog is also an online accumulation of my vain words. ;-)


96th World Congress of Esperanto in Copenhagen, Denmark

I spent five days this week (from Sunday to Thursday) in Copenhagen to participate in the 96th World Congress of Esperanto and give three talks there on the "revival" of Hebrew without myths, the genealogical affiliation of the "revived" Hebrew, and the Academy of the Hebrew Language in comparison with other language academies. This was my second time to take part in this unique annual gathering of people from many countries. Like many other experiences in life, it was far less enlightening, enriching and enjoyable than my first experience in Bialystok, Poland two years ago. I am especially sorry that I had absolutely no chance to speak with any local Esperantist.

Before this trip I became quite enthusiastic again with Esperanto as a living language. Unfortunately, however, I returned home with less enthusiasm with the community of its speakers scattered all over the world, if not with the language itself, as I have realized some fundamental extralinguistic problem with the interpersonal communication in Esperanto. It is true that Esperanto is an easy-to-learn and neutral language which is more appropriate than any ethnic language as a means of intercultural communication. But having a common language is only a necessary but not a sufficient condition for meaningful interpersonal communication, if we are to go beyond shallow talks. Sharing a common culture or cultural assumptions is far more important for this purpose, even in purely academic communication.

By its very nature, however, the worldwide community of speakers of Esperanto is not supposed to share a common culture beyond a very superficial level. Actually, many people can have a dangerous illusion that they are speaking the same "language", while in reality they may mean different things by the same words and expressions. Conversational strategies are also significantly different from culture to culture. But few speakers of Esperanto seem to be aware exactly what pragmatic strategies their interlocutors are using.

The way I gave my talks must have been a kind of culture shock for quite a few participants from certain countries which use pragmatic strategies totally different from mine, which must be largely Jewish and barely Japanese; I ask rhetorical questions, make cynical remarks and tell spontaneous jokes all the time both in lectures and in personal conversations. Of course, I am not claiming that these Jewish conversational strategies are better than the others. But the fact remains that for someone like myself who is used to them it is often difficult, unenjoyable and even frustrating to speak with someone else whose strategies are significantly different, for example, a typical native speaker of Japanese; of course, this communicative "dissonance" must be reciprocal.

After this experience I have also started asking a very fundamental (and dangerous) question, i.e., why I have to remain a member of this international speech community, while I am interested mainly in traditional Jewish culture and Jewish Jews. Of course, there are always exceptional people in every culture, with whom I feel I share the same "language", including some patient regular readers of this blog. But generally speaking, I do not feel any pressing need to communicate with members of other cultures, whether in Esperanto or in any other language. In spite of all this, I will definitely continue to participate in the World Congress of Esperanto, if not every year, mainly in order to try to expose as many participants, including Jewish Esperantists, as possible to those aspects of traditional Jewish culture I love through this language, as I have seen that even Esperantists are not free from preconceptions and misunderstandings about the Jewish people, and no other Jewish Esperantist I know seems to be knowledgeable enough about traditional Jewish culture.


Refascinated with Esperanto

A wave of fascination with Esperanto laps against my mind every once in a while like a flowing tide. I experience the first wave of this kind in 1986 when I was still an MA student in linguistics in Kyoto, Japan. Having spent the past few weeks intensively preparing the three talks I am going to give at the forthcoming 96-a Universala Kongreso de Esperanto in Copenhagen and renovating the website of Esperanto-Ligo en Israelo as its new webmaster, I am experiencing this wave again.

I have also reread Zamenhof's monumental essay entitled Esenco kaj estonteco de la ideo de lingvo internacia [Essence and Future of the Idea of an International Language]. He sounds like a modern prophet. Every word of his is so convincing, but unfortunately, his prophesy has not been fully realized. His conclusions, which still remain actual, are as follows (translations are mine):

  1. La enkonduko de lingvo internacia alportus al la homaro grandegan utilon. [Introduction of an international language would bring to the humankind a huge benefit.]
  2. La enkonduko de lingvo internacia estas tute ebla. [Introduction of an international language is entirely possible.]
  3. La enkonduko de lingvo internacia pli aŭ malpli frue nepre kaj sendube efektiviĝos, kiom ajn la rutinistoj batalus kontraŭ tio ĉi. [Introduction of an internatioal language will be realized more or less soon and without doubt, no matter how much the followers of the routine would fight against this.]
  4. Kiel internacia neniam estos elektita ia alia lingvo krom arta. [As an international language any language other than an artificial one will never be chosen.]
  5. Kiel internacia neniam estos elektita ia alia lingvo krom Esperanto; ĝi aŭ estos lasita por ĉiam en ĝia nuna formo, aŭ en ĝi estos poste faritaj iaj ŝanĝoj. [As an international language any language other than Esperanto will never be chosen; it will either be left for ever in its present form, or certain changes will be made later in it.]

Unfortunately, we have not made any substantial progress since the days of Zamenhof. Actually, the situation has even worsened since then with the ever intensifying hegemony of English, especially its US variety. Not being a native speaker of (American) English, I find the present situation totally unfair, as its native speakers are enjoying a kind of linguistic "free ride". I am also fully aware how absurd it is that I am writing this very blog entry in English. I really hope that sometime in the future, if not in my lifetime, the humankind will learn to be wise enough to make Zamenhof's prophesy come true.

PS: If this blog entry happens to have kindled your interest in Esperanto, I would recommend you visit the following two websites as "appetizers":

  • Esperanto.net [basic information about Esperanto in tens of ethnic languages, hopefully including your mother tongue]
  • Lernu! [online course in Esperanto in a number of ethnic languages]


Checklist of the Culturally Colonized

A country does not always have to be colonized politically so that many of its citizens may develop the mentality of the colonized; they can be culturally colonized. Here is a random checklist of these culturally colonized on the basis of many "specimens" I have encountered in a certain country I know rather well:

  • They are neither proud nor confident of the national language of their country, which also happens to be their mother tongue.
  • They cannot imagine that someone who was born abroad can take an interest in and even have a better command of the national language of their country.
  • Their default spoken language is "English", though it is not their mother tongue.
  • Their English is broken and has a heavy local accent.
  • Their knowledge of the national language of their country is also rather poor.
  • They have never read any serious book in authentic English.
  • They believe that the whole world speaks and is willing to hear (broken) English.
  • They believe that their broken English will bring them more money.
  • They have two separate standards of behaviors toward those who they think are locals and non-locals respectively.
  • They treat rudely those who they think are locals.
  • They try to cheat those who they think are non-locals.
  • They are not ashamed of being culturally colonized.
  • They are not even aware of being culturally colonized.

Of all the countries I have visited so far I have met very few or no culturally colonized people in the following (in alphabetical order): France, Italy, Japan, Poland, Russia, United Kingdom, and United States. I can probably add Spain to this list, though I have never been there (but would love to!). Although I experienced some linguistic inconvenience in some of these countries because of my insufficient proficiency in their respective national languages (e.g., Italian and Polish), I would definitely prefer it to coping with so many culturally colonized people as in the country on which the above checklist is based. Such a country may be convenient for tourists as well as immigrants who are not ready to learn the local national language in spite of their long years of residence there (what a chutzpah!), but for someone who is not culturally colonized it must be frustrating, to say the least, to live in such a self-demeaning country.


First Experience with a Genuine Tablet Computer

My first experience with an ereader running on Android kindled my interest in this operating system by Google for mobile devices so much that I decided to buy a genuine Android-based tablet computer this week. The choice, based on the screen size (8") and the price (less than $200), was fairly easy. I purchased Arnova 8 for as little as about $150 at a nearby computer store in Jerusalem. In spite of its price, I was very impressed with this tablet computer - even more than with the ereader I had received several days before.

I spent a few days fiddling with Android and trying a number of applications for it. I think Android is a quite charming operating system, even (or especially) for someone like myself who has never used it before. I am quite convinced that it will increase its popularity and importance more and more as the number of users of tablet computers increases. This tablet computer and Android have already become integral parts of my computing in addition to my laptop computer and Windows. But unlike the easiness of purchasing and/or downloading applications for Windows, I found it extremely frustrating to do the same with Android. Android Market by Google itself, which is the biggest and most popular online store-cum-repository for Android applications, is especially frustrating, mainly because it is tightly connected with Google accounts. In the end I have found far more user-friendly repositories/stores: APKTOP and SlideME.

I have tried tens of applications so far, but as of now I am using only two. One is a free system tool called ZDBox (mainly for locking applications with a password), and the other is a commercial PDF & EPUB reader called Mantano Reader. All the free PDF readers, including Adobe Reader, were quite disappointing; most of them were very slow in rendering PDF documents and very limited in functionality. I also tried two other commercial PDF readers, but they are far less polished. Mantano Reader alone is a sufficient reason for me to continue to use a tablet computer; it is even better than Adobe Reader for Windows! Its UI is very esthetic, its functionality is sophisticated, and most importantly, it is slick unlike the other PDF readers for Android. Its excellent customer support and readiness to listen to customers are also commendable. I highly recommend it to everyone who is using Android and looking for an excellent PDF & EPUB reader. Although it is a commercial application, its price seems to me ridiculously low (about €4 as of this writing), at least in comparison to that of any commercial PDF reader for Windows.

From the next academic year I will read handouts of my courses with this Mantano-powered tablet computer instead of printing them for myself as I used to. I hope that this way I will be able to instigate as many students of mine as possible to finally come to the 21st century. ;-)


First Experience with an Ereader

Yesterday I finally received the ereader I had ordered four weeks before (PocketBook IQ 701). I spent half a day fiddling with it. I chose this specific model mainly because of its multilingual support. To my great joy and satisfaction, it could also read ebooks in Hebrew and Japanese in PDF and EPUB formats. In overall terms I am very satisfied with this purchase, though there are a few things that have rather disappointed me, including a not so eye-friendly TFT display (I am ready to pay extra for a better display) and a not so sophisticated accompanying sleeve (I have already ordered a sleeve from my favorite Built NY). I am planning to use it not only while commuting but also in class; I will read handouts of my courses with this gadget instead of printing them.

This short first experience with this new ereader has already taught me that ebooks in EPUB are far easier to read than in PDF. There are a number of online and offline tools for converting PDF to EPUB, but as far as I have checked, the results are not so satisfactory, so even those in original PDF are easier to read than in converted EPUB. But those PDF documents that were scanned and saved as images must be processed for a comfortable reading with an ereader, including splitting one physical page with two logical pages into two physical pages and cropping margins, especially on the right and left sides (I use Page Cut and PDF Tools for these two tasks respectively).

It was just by chance that the model I purchased uses Android as its OS (this ereader is more like a tablet computer than a simple ereader). Here I have experienced a rather pleasant surprise, though it took me a little while to get used to executing various commands with a touch of a finger. Page scrolling seemed counter-intuitive in the beginning, until I realized that the required movements of a finger mimic the movements of turning over pages with a finger.

This experience of ordering this ereader has also made me realize that it costs more money and takes more time to pursue various intellectual and other activities in Israel than, for example, in the United States and Japan. I had to pay for this ereader twice as much as they pay in the United States, and I had to wait as long as four weeks for its delivery. This is just one example. We earn much less in Israel than, again for example, in the United States and Japan, but we have to pay much more for the same products. This also explains why new technologies penetrate Israel much slowly than those two technological giants. I know few who already use an ereader among my friends, colleagues and students. I do not remember when I was thrilled so much with hardware last time as now. I hope that my use of this ereader in class will instigate my students to think of benefiting from this technological advancement, too, though ereaders pose one intrinsic technical problem for observant Jews, who cannot use them on Sabbaths and Jewish holidays.


Rampant Abuse of Word Processors, Especially Word

There is no doubt that word processors, especially Word, together with browsers, have contributed to the widespread use of personal computers also by people who might not have started using them otherwise. But the positive contribution of word processors ends here. Unfortunately, they have done more harm than good by encouraging their abuse by so many people.

I am always shocked to find that so many people, including friends, colleagues and students of mine, use a word processor, mostly Word, exclusively for any text-oriented task. There is nothing more lamentable and inefficient than this, especially when the physical layout of the text documents they are working on is irrelevant, and only the textual information is relevant. These text documents include (custom-made) corpora, lists of words or other things, etc. Using a word processor for such tasks is likened to the running of an obese person; both carry fat/"fat" that is not only redundant but even detrimental to what they are trying to perform. Seeing someone (ab)using a word processor arouses more pity on him or her.

The abuse of word processors is so rampant that few (ab)users of word processors are even aware of other, far more efficient and light-weight tools for their text-oriented tasks. One has to be in a right time in a right place, i.e., to be surrounded by friends who use these tools, which include text editors, CSV editors, grep tools, etc.

Word processors are also based on a paradigm called "WYSIWYG", which is stupid by design and illusionary. This paradigm makes many of their users forget that word processors deal with three kinds of information: 1) text itself, 2) its logical structure, and 3) its physical layout. Many (ab)users of word processors are so occupied with the third that they cannot concentrate on the first and totally neglect the second. Actually, the so-called "styles" allow users to mark every paragraph logically, and each of these "styles" is connected to customizable physical layout, but almost nobody I know uses them, nor do they seem to be even aware of them.

The widespread (or exclusive for some people) use of Word has led so many people to believe that everyone on this planet must also be using this bloatware with its problematic format(s). So they send Word documents as email attachments indiscriminately to everyone without asking in advance whether he or she also uses Word. I am so bothered by this "cyber-violence", especially when the content of a Word attachment can be written with no data loss in the body of an email message.


"Unique" Country with an Institutionalized Racist Policy in Its National Security System

This is a story about a "unique" country in the world I happen to know. Its "uniqueness" lies, among others, in its institutionalized racist policy in its national security system. This racist policy is not written explicitly in any place the ordinary citizens have an access to, but it is clear to everyone who has experienced its variegated ways of humiliating people, including some of the citizens, solely on the basis of the way their faces look. Of course, I am talking neither about their facial expressions nor about the (subjective) beauty (or ugliness) of their faces but about the (objective) structure and color of their faces, which they cannot basically change.

The "guardians" of this racist policy are vigilant in many places in that "unique" country, but there would be no better place than the international airport of the country, where you will have the highest chance of being humiliated like never before in your entire life, if your face is not "kosher". Unless you are a diplomat, it makes no difference whether you are a university professor, a famous musician or a billionaire. On the other hand, if these "guardians" consider your face "kosher" enough, you are allowed in with no harassment and even with open arms. This is in spite of the fact that that "unique" country has no lack of citizens who have "kosher" faces but have committed crimes. But once at the airport everyone with a "kosher" face becomes a welcome guest instantly, and everyone else with no "kosher" face becomes a potential criminal even if he or she has no criminal record whatsoever but is a good law-abiding citizen. A very "unique" way of guaranteeing national security, isn't it? ;-)

The "uniqueness" of this racist security system lies in its very assumption that there must a high correlation between the face of a person and his or her chance of pausing a security threat to the country, and they have an unconditional trust in certain people because of their "kosher" looking faces. I think that every passenger should be checked equally!

I have been very careful of using the verb "hate" and have reserved its use to very extreme cases, but I have to say that I hate the international airport of that "unique" country more than any other place I have ever visited on this planet. I am afraid that this is even the first time that I have ever used this verb so explicitly in this blog. I am so sorry that I seem to be forced to visit that abominable place in the near future again. The very suspicion they direct to me makes me nurture very negative feelings toward that "unique" country they are trying to serve. I am also afraid that this institutionalized racist policy might even damage the very national security it is meant to guarantee.


Ideal Multilingual/Multiscript Text Editor

Unfortunately, few average users of personal computers use a text editor these days. I am also astonished anew every time I encounter people who use a word processor, most notably bloatware called Microsoft Word, for those tasks that are handled much better with a text editor when only the textual information is relevant. But on the other hand, I agree that starting to use a text editor requires a fundamental change in the mindset of a computer user, and he or she will experience a steep learning curve, especially in the beginning. Few (or probably even none) of my colleagues and students in linguistics seem to use any text editor. I am really sorry for them, as I believe that linguists can benefit a lot from the use of a text editor. Instead, they are wasting a lot of time for those tasks that can be accomplished very easily and quickly if you know how to use a text editor, including the so-called regular expressions.

Life of someone who needs to handle any RTL script, including Hebrew script, is very difficult. There are few sophisticated text editors that also suppor the so-called Unicode bidirectional algorithm. I tried literally hundreds of text editors that claim to be Unicode-compliant. But every time I got disappointed with each new text editor I tried. Most of them turned out to fail to support bidirectional algorithm, and what few text editors that supported it were not sophisticated enough as text editors, including lack of support for regular expressions. I had been in constant search for such a text editor (for Windows) at least for ten years, until I received an announcement this week about the release of version 7 of EditPad Pro. This text editor is simply too good to be true. It has excellent multilingual/multiscript support, while making no compromise with its functionality as a text editor. I recommend this amazing text editor to everyone, not only to those who have to type in RTL script.

My search for an ideal multilingual/multiscript text editor (that also supports regular expressions) has finally come to an end. Now I spend more time with it than with any other software program when my computer is on. I am highly critical of everything, but this time I have nothing but words of praise for this text editor and its manufacturer, who has made my dream come true.


"Very Short Introductions" from Oxford University Press

Someone (Einstein?) once said, "We know more and more about less and less, until we know everything about nothing." Living in Israel, I have a constant fear of becoming one of these people, as I have no opportunity to get exposed to sufficiently variegated intellectual topics through books in bookstores here, especially in Hebrew. This is in sharp contrast to Japan, where are are many series of books known as "shinsho" on various topics by their respective experts in a concise and plain language at an affordable price. Once a month I check the websites of the major Japanese publishers of these series, add those new books that interest me to my wishlist, and buy and read about 20 during my annual visit to Japan. Unfortunately, Japan is rather lagging behind in ebook publishing and its support of EPUB, which is the de facto universal format for ebooks in the rest of the world.

I always wished there were similar books in English, which are far more accessible than Japanese books to someone who lives outside Japan. To my great joy, I stumbled rather recently upon Very Short Introductions from Oxford University Press, a series of shinsho-like books in English on various intellectual disciplines by their respective authorities. I have also found that many of them are available as ebooks. This week I bought several ebooks of this highly successful series. It did not take me a long time to find to my dismay that they use digital rights (some say "restrictions" mockingly) management protection, which means that I can only read them with Adobe Digital Editions. But I soon found a way to remove it; I use this method solely in order to read them with a more comfortable lightweight devise, and not in order to copy and forward them to others. I have already added about 120 out of the available 300 books of this series to my wishlist. I hope I will be able to read a few of them every month, mainly while I am on my way to my work place and back home.

Reading ebooks with a notebook computer is not always so comfortable. This is another reason that has made me buy an ebook reader. Having examined and compared various candidates, I have come to a conclusion to buy PocketBook IQ, as it seems to support more languages, including Hebrew and Japanese, and more ebook formats, including PDF and EPUB, than any other ebook reader that I have found.


How to Manage the Flow and Stock of Information on the Web

We netizens are inundated with an ever increasing flow of information, whether academic or not, on the web. Among about 2,000 websites stored as bookmarks in my browser of choice Firefox I check about 100, most of which are broadcasts, newspapers and magazines, almost on a daily basis. Naturally, I do not visit all of them manually. I am very sorry that there still remain so many netizens and webmasters who have neither heard of web feeds; they are wasting and causing visitors to waste their precious time by manually checking updates. My favorite feed aggregator used to be my favorite mailer Thunderbird, but rather recently I switched to a Firefox extention called Brief and am very satisfied with it, though it is rather slow.

I am also sorry for those netizens who use Internet Explorer as their default browser not because of conscious choice but out of ignorance of better browsers. Firefox has been my favorite browser for many years, partly because it has a number of highly useful extensions that supplement the functionality of Firefox. Another favorite Firefox extension of mine is Read It Later; I use it when I do not want to save certain webpages as bookmarks or externally permanently but want to save them for later reading. When I want to store certain webpages permanently, I used another truly amazing extension called Zotero; it is not only for storing webpages but a versatile bibliography manager.

Unfortunately, the most valuable academic information available on the web, academic journals and articles published there online, costs money. Fortunately, the university where I work subscribe to many of the journals I check regularly. Even more fortunately, I have recently found a way to access these journals from home, using a service called Athens; ours is still one of the few universities that use this amazing service. You can check whether your institution already uses it on its list of users by country. Since it is a service started in the United Kingdom, there are many institutions that use it there; to my surprise, there are no academic institutions in Japan and there are few in the United States that use this service. If you are among the lucky ones whose institutions are Athens-powered, you will appreciate the library of your respective institution for its decision to offer this service.


Print, Online and Electronic Dictionaries

Since I was a child, I have always loved dictionaries and benefited from them than from any other kind of books. Although I have no (senseless) hobby of collecting anything for the sake of collection, including dictionaries, quite a few dictionaries of various languages have been accumulated in my private library. For lack of space and for other professional reasons I keep only those dictionaries that I consider worthy of space here. The following is a list of (print) dictionaries I love and consult most frequently in five languages I use actively:

  • Hebrew
    • Choueka, Y. (ed.). 1997. רב-מילים המילון השלם. Tel Aviv: Center for Educational Technology.
    • Alcalay, R. (ed.). 1990. The Complete Hebrew-English Dictionary. Tel Aviv: Massada.
    • Doniach, N. & Kahane, A. (eds.). 1996. The Oxford English-Hebrew Dictionary. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
    • Rosenthal, R. 2005. מילון הסלנג המקיף. Jerusalem: Keter.
    • Rosenthal, R. 2007. הלקסיקון של החיים: שפות במרחב הישראלי. Jerusalem: Keter.
  • Yiddish
    • Weinreich, U. 1968. Modern English-Yiddish Yiddish-English Dictionary. New York: YIVO Institute for Jewish Research.
    • Niborski, Y. & Vaisbrot, B. (eds.). 2002. Dictionnaire yiddish-français. Paris: Bibliothèque Medem.
    • Niborski, Y. 1999. װערטערבוך פֿון לשון-קודש-שטאַמיקע װערטער אין ייִדיש. Paris: Bibliothèque Medem.
  • Esperanto
    • Duc Goninaz, M. (ed.). 2005. Plena ilustrita vortaro de Esperanto 2005. Paris: Sennacieca Asocio Tutmonda.
    • Konisi, G. (ed.). 2006. Esperanto-Japana Vortaro. Tokyo: Japana Esperanto-Instituto.
    • Miyamoto, M. (ed.). 1998. Vortaro Japana-Esperanta. Tokyo: Japana Esperanto-Instituto.
    • Benson, P. J. 1995. Comprehensive English-Esperanto Dictionary. El Cerrito, CA: Esperanto League for North America.
  • Japanese
    • Matsumura, A. (ed.). 2006. Daijirin. Tokyo: Sanseido.
    • Shinchosha (ed.). 2007. Shincho nihongo kanji jiten. Tokyo: Shinchosha.
  • English
    • Takebayashi, S. et al. (eds.). 2005. Kenkyusha Luminous English-Japanese Dictionary. Tokyo: Kenkyusha.
    • Kojima, Y. et al. (eds.). 2005. Kenkyusha Luminous Japanese-English Dictionary. Tokyo: Kenkyusha.
    • Ichikawa, S. et al. (eds.). 1995. The Kenkyusha Dictionary of English Collocations. Tokyo: Kenkyusha.
    • Soanes, C. & Stevenson, A. (eds.). 2005. Oxford Dictionary of English. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Since there were no online and electronic dictionaries when I started using dictionaries, I still rely heavily on print dictionaries. I have nether even given a serious thought to the possibility of using online and electronic dictionaries until I have decided rather recently to start working at a public library. Perhaps no public library has all the above-mentioned print dictionaries on open shelves. And of course, I cannot shlep all of them every time I go to a public library. So I have made a rather extensive survey of available online dictionaries. Here is a list of online dictionaries I will probably use in these five languages (for Yiddish I have found no good online dictionary). Unfortunately, the best ones requires subscription fees (they are marked with an asterisk):

Online dictionaries have one disadvantage: I cannot use them if I do not have an Internet connection, which is quite ubiquitous these days but is not always available everywhere. So I have searched and tried a number of electronic dictionaries, and have purchased Babylon. Its greatest advantage is that it is multilingual; in the single user interface I can check words in English, Hebrew, Japanese, Russian, German, French, Italian, Spanish, etc. Unfortunately, it does not have sufficiently good modules for Yiddish and Esperanto, but it has become one of the dictionaries I use most frequently now (on weekdays). It is not the cheapest dictionary, but I recommend it to anyone who is a polyglot in major languages.


The National Library of Israel as My New Workroom

Since I stopped being a student, I always preferred working at home both in Japan and here in Israel. I went to university libraries mainly when I needed to copy articles from academic journals I do not subscribe. Otherwise I did not feel any need to go there and worked at home as I have my own private library, which meets most of my needs. But I am starting to realize that many people go to a library and work there not (only) because of books stored there but (mainly) because of its atmosphere.

Among the public libraries that are accessible to me, Bar-Ilan University Library is supposed to be the most natural "habitat" for me theoretically as I work at Bar-Ilan University, but since I commute there from Jerusalem and for some other reasons, it is the least convenient for me. I like Hebrew University Mount Scopus Library, where I spent five years when I was a doctoral student at the Hebrew University, but unfortunately, it is too far from my apartment in Jerusalem.

Recently I started to try to work at the National Library of Israel (formerly known as the Jewish National and University Library). Its biggest advantage is that it is quite close to my apartment (only a ten minutes' bus ride), but I have never liked its system of asking us visitors to leave our bags in the cloakroom, which is very inconvenient. Having compared the pros and cons of these three libraries as well as the option of continuing to work at home, I have decided to start working at the National Library on those days when I do not teach and have even started to enjoying this, especially because I have seen that I can work more productively, seemingly thanks to the atmosphere. I definitely prefer working there when I have to concentrate on writing papers as I am freed from my neighbors upstairs who bother me with their incessant noise. I also see quite a few colleagues of mine and shmooze with them during tea or lunch break, which is nice and refreshing.

No visitor to the National Library can fail to notice the renovation it has been undergoing recently. To my great surprise and joy, I have found recently that this renovation is only a part of a bigger master plan of renewing it with the ultimate purpose of relocating to a new building to be constructed near the Knesset and the Israel Museum, which is even a walking distance from my apartment. According to its renewal master plan the new National Library seems to become an impressive place with the state-of-the-art library information technology. But until then we still have to wait some more years. Unfortunately, its renewal will not be completed before my first sabbatical, when I am planning to stay in Jerusalem and work at this library five days a week.


Silence (= Absence of Noise) vs. Silence (Absence of Speech) in Israel

Paradoxically, I suffer both from silence and from lack thereof in Israel. The word "silence" in English is ambiguous: it can mean either 'absence of noise' (שקט in Hebrew and 静寂 in Japanese) or 'absence of speech' (שתיקה in Hebrew and 沈黙 in Japanese); I will call these two meanings of "silence" "silence (1)" and "silence (2)". What bother me here are silence (2) and lack of silence (1), especially when the same people have these two attributes at the same time.

I have almost given up any hope of escaping from lack of silence (1), that is, noise, whether verbal or not, not only in Israel but also anywhere in the world. Even where there are no noisy people, there will always be other sources of noise, including barking dogs and chirping birds. But I still find it difficult to understand and accept silence (2) of so many people in Israel, unlike in Japan.

The most perplexing and irritating kind of silence (2) here, which is even more rampant than in Japan, is lack of verbal responce of so many people to a sincere question I ask them, even when it is for their own benefit. They can be people from all walks of life, including a number of acquaintances, neighbors, students, colleagues, and even friends of mine. I have encountered this kind of silence (2) so often that I have already come to a conclusion that it is ingrained in the Israeli culture of communication.

There are behaviors I cannot accept but I can understand, e.g., smoking, eating junk food, etc. But I can neither accept nor understand the behavior of ignoring someone else's sincere question, which does not require even a few minutes to answer. Every time someone displays to me this enigmatic behavior that is totally beyond my comprehension, I feel like stopping and even choking them ;-) to ask them to explain it to me.


Irritation at Biased Political Criticisms of Israel

It is true that especially since I received Israeli citizenship, I have come to fulfill the obligation of kvetching as a "good citizen" about Israeli society and its culture. ;-) But on the other hand, I do get really irritated every time I encounter biased political criticisms against Israel, especially in Japan. This is not because I have a blind faith in the country politically, but many of these critics apply a different, often higher, standard to it, distorting facts, thus demonizing it. Israel may not be a perfect country politically (and socioculturally), but it fares far better than many of the countries in the world, even among developed countries, and definitely in the region.

I know some anti-Israeli political groups in Japan; I have just found that recently one of them waged a nationwide campain to boycott Israel (and were even successful in harvesting some "crop"). There seems to be a clear correlation between these critics of Israel and their political propensity - they are ultraleftist "peaceniks". I have also read some online articles by some of the "ideologues" of these groups. They must be scholars, but some of their criticisms are based on distorted or fabricated "facts", which often are utter nonsenses at best. Sometimes they also sound very emotional and full of hatred and malice against Israel, though it cannot be a manifestation of antisemitism.

My sincere questions to them are why they feel no self-contradiction between their political criticisms of and activities against Israel and failure to apply the same standard to those rogue nations they fervently (and blindly) support, if they are really motivated by conscience as they seem to be claiming tacitly, and why they ignore and fail to condemn, whether intentionally or not, those crimes targeted at Israel. I do not know what their real motive is, but I do know that it is not (and cannot be) pure conscience.

PS: My political views about Israel are very close or identical to those of, e.g., Alan Dershowitz and Caroline Glick.


Growing Sense of Sociocultural Alienation in Israel

When I still lived in Japan until I moved to Israel in the summer of 2004, I used to suffer from the sense of sociocultural alienation there. So when I was offered a position at my present workplace and started living here, I thought naively that my agony would finally come to an end. Back then I never imagined that I would have a sense of sociocultural alienation in Israel, but sadly, I have turned out to be wrong; the more time I spend here, the stronger this sense seems to become.

Both in Israel and in Japan I am familiar with what constitute sociocultural problems for me and know how to cope with them. But coping with problems is one thing, and understanding and accepting the rationales for them another thing. Recently I have started to feel so strongly that I simply understand more and more behaviors of more and more sabras, including some of those with whom I come in contact on a regular basis, less and less; I have even given up any hope of understanding them.

Back in Japan I did not feel that I shared more or less the same sociocultural values with many people living there. But gradually and steadily I have come to realize that I do not seem to share with many sabras many of the sociocultural values that are important to me. At least with my sabra colleagues in the academic world I am not only spared this sense of alienation but even feel really comfortable. But everywhere else outside this "ghetto" I find myself asking myself constantly what the average sabra wants me (not) to do. I am not trying to accuse sabras and their culture specifically. I am sure that everywhere I go and settle down, I will encounter the same problem.

But in the meanwhile I am here and have to struggle with this growing sense of sociocultural alienation. Fortunately, I have enough friends I socialize with rather frequently - my fellow "aliens". It does not seem coincidental that almost all of them are foreign born or have spent many years abroad. Of course, I am not trying to alienate myself from the society here, but except when I am with other researchers in the ivory tower I cannot help feeling alienated here.

One of the last straws that broke my back completely is that a certain group of sabras I cannot specify here repeatedly accused me of lack of order. I am sorry for my lack of humbleness, but since childhood I have always been complimented for my order, both physically and figuratively, by my teachers, classmates and students alike in Japan, which is one of the most orderly countries in the world, and order has been one of the highest values in my life. So I have concluded that although I and those (and other) sabras use the same word, we mean two totally different things, and I am afraid that this is only the tip of the iceberg. Since I "discovered" this and other fundamental (and unbridgeable) differences between me and many sabras, I have simply stopped even trying to understand them. Of course, there must also be good exceptions outside the academia, but unfortunately, these sociocultural exceptions seem to be few and far between. In this respect Israel is quite normal like any other society in the world in that many of its members do not deviate (too much) from its sociocultural norms-shnorms, for better or for worse.

I have to conclude this rant by adding that in spite of what I have written above, there is one area of life in which I am very glad to be in Israel in general and at my present workplace in particular - research.


When and How (Not) to Complain à la israelienne ;-)

Complaining is the second most popular "physical activity" among sabras, the most popular being eating, of course. ;-) When I started living here, I thought erroneously that they would complain to everyone about everything all the time. But I have come to realize that there are contexts in which they do not complain, while I would, and in which they do not complain directly, while I might.

Here are some of the "rules of thumb" for new immigrants, tourists and anyone else who is interested in the sabra "culture" about when and how (not) to complain à la israelienne: ;-)

  • You complain not for social justice but mainly for your personal convenience, which often contradicts social justice.
  • You complain about your "rights", while ignoring and failing to fulfill your obligations.
  • You complain back to someone who dares to complain to you about your "pleasure", e.g., when your neighbor dares to complain to you about your "joy of Sabbath" of listening to your favorite "music" at full volume or organizing an "athletic meet" of your small children (and their friends) in your apartment.
  • You do not complain to anyone about any personal or social misconduct you yourself may (or do) make, e.g., when someone is hours late for an appointment or even forgets it completely, cuts into the line for a bus, or contaminates his or her surroundings with crazy impatient honking or lousy loud mobile phone calls in public; this seems to be a "gentlemen's agreement" à la israelienne.
  • You do not complain to anyone about his or her not apologizing to you for his or her apparent misconduct.
  • You do not complain to anyone directly but slander to his or her boss if you sense some potential damage to your pratictical benefit by your direct complaint.

Of course, all of you are more than welcome to complain to me about this list of mine, but à la israelienne. ;-)


How to "Swim" in the Sea of Strangers

Now that I have systematically studied how to swim the crawl and have made fairly substantial progress in it, I have to study how to "swim" in the sea of strangers, too, though I do not know how. By "'swimming' in the sea of strangers" I mean socializing in a context where I do not know anyone personally in advance. Synagogues and health clubs are examples of such a context.

I was born and brought up in a place where everyone knows everyone else. So throughout my elementary and junior high school days I had no opportunity to acquire the skills of "swimming" in the sea of strangers. The crucial step is the first step of greeting someone who has stopped being a total stranger and has become a known stranger. Unfortunately, I have not learned this important skill either as other people generally approached me after I did something good or special in certain areas.

A synagogue can be a problem in this respect, as I cannot excel in any activity there. I visited Ohel Shelomo Synagogue in Kobe for seven years, but it took me a long time to start talking with enough people visiting there. In Chorev Synagogue in Jerusalem, where I have been davening for the past several years, I have made friends with a number of people, but mainly because they started speaking to me first. There are many people there who still remain known strangers because neither I nor they greet the other. Incidentally, on the basis of my experiences in these two synagogues (and other places) I have to say that sabras are generally far more closed than they think they are.

Another problematic place is the park where I have been running on every weekday for the past several years. I can already recognize quite a few people who run at the same time when I run. There is at least one excellent runner I would like to get acquainted with, but even the mere thought of just saying hello makes me quite nervous. I do know that there is nothing to lose if I say hello and receive no answer, but I find it very difficult to do so. It is ridiculous that at this age of mine I still have such a difficulty socializing with strangers.


Relationship Restored by Earthquakes in Japan

It may be indecent to say this now, but ironically, the record earthquakes that struck Japan today, destroying many things and killing presumably many people, helped restore something in my life that had been destroyed - my relationship with my sister.

When I visited Japan in February 2010 and met my sister with her husband, we had a serious and nasty quarrel, fueled partly by alcohol, accusing each other. That incident made us break off our relationship with eath other, and we remained on no speaking terms since then.

Having heard that Tokyo, where she lives, was also affected by the earthquakes, I found myself emailing her, asking about her safety and even apologizing about our quarrel. I received an immediate reply from her, telling me about her safety and also apologizing about the quarrel.

Since that incident I have been trying to convince myself that I was not to blame for it and I would never be the first to apologize, but deep inside myself something has been bothering me. I am sorry that I had to wait for such a national disaster in order to remove this "stone" from my heart, but I needed some special opportunity to initiate speaking to her.

I also need another special opportunity, hopefully a positive one, to initiate speaking to some known stranger who interests me.


Pleasure of Total Immersion Swimming

Since I took private lessons in Total Immersion Swimming about a month ago during my trip in Japan, each of my (week)day comes its peak when I practice it before supper. I have also become a kind of evalgelist of this revolutionary method of swimming (and its method of teaching). I am a living proof for the efficienty of this method as I could not swim the crawl at all until I took these private lessons. Now I seem to be able to swim much faster with far less strokes, making far less waves, than any other who swims the crawl at the same time and place in which I swim.

Little by little I am starting to feel with my body what I have understood with my brain. Efficiency in swimming leads both to beauty and speed in swimming. By effiency in swimming I mean swimming longer with one stroke. A typical misconception many swimmers who have not been exposed to Total Immersion Swimming have is that they move forward in the water using mainly the muscles of their arms and legs. Watching my fellow swimmers in the same swimming pool, I can now see clearly that this is wrong. Instead, we use our core muscles of our body in order to swim efficiently, and we use our arms and legs mainly in order to switch the sides and support our body respectively. Even after swimming one hour, which I do every weekday these days, my arms and legs do not get tired at all as they used to before learning Total Immersion Swimming.

I also liked the way I was taught. They do not teach the complete movement as it is from the beginning. Instead, it is divided into smaller "modules", each of which focuses on one sub-movement of one body part as well as the posture of the whole body then. This way you can always improve a certain sub-movement by drilling the relevant "module". I was taught the main "modules", which I can drill even by myself, though having a teacher by my side is always a big advantage. This modularized learning method helps me feel that I am making a constant progress. Now I think that this method can be applied to other subjects.

In conclusion, I recommend Total Immersion Swimming to everybody. You have to be neither musculous nor even physically fit (right now) in order to learn to swim the crawl efficiently, beautifully and faster than before. I hope that I will be able to learn this method of swimming well enough to share its skill someday in the future with others who are what I used to be before.


Positive Aspects of Living in Israel (vis-à-vis Japan)

It is already two weeks since I returned from Japan to Israel, but I am still living under the "shadow" of Japan, comparing pros and cons of Japanese and Israeli societies. It took me a while to start appreciating Japan, but I would definitely prefer living in Israel because of some of its advantages which are totally lacking in Japan.

During my last visit to Japan I realized how boring life is in Japan in spite of its order and precision, as it is too mechanical and "sterile". Lack of sense of humor and lack of spontaneity really drove me crazy. Upon my return to Israel, I have started enjoying spontaneous humorous talks with owners and workers of grocery stores and supermarkets as well as other stores and companies. Japan used to be like Israel in this respect, at least in the time and place in which I spent my childhood, but in the meanwhile it has become such a boring (and even scaring) place in terms of interpersonal communication. Most of the vernal and nonverbal interactions have become so formulaic, therefore predictable and void of any intellectual stimulus.

Such lack of spontaneity can even be dangerous, as they do not know how to behave verbally and nonverbally in those situations that are not prescribed in their "manuals". Lack of sense of humor is even more scary, as they have no mental defense mechanism coping with unexpected crises.

I think the whole approach to life in Japan is sick and wrong. It makes a list of possible "threats" and other problems that can be predicted in advance and tries to spare people the trouble of coping with them. But we can never predict every possible problem we may encounter in our life. The alternative approach as taken in Israel and probably in many other countries simply train their citizens how to cope with unexpected situations with the help of spontaneity and sense of humor. I am sorry and worried that Japan is becoming more and more "sterile" in this respect, but on the other hand, I am happy that I do not live in that kind of "sterile" society.


Three-Week Trip in Japan

This Thursday I returned to Israel from a three-week trip in Japan. I have to say that this was probably the best trip I have ever made in Japan. I enjoyed almost everything I experienced there this time. The only problem I had was that I lost my purse with a credit card somewhere on my way to my parents' place and was left with no cash and credit card; somehow I managed to solve the problem.

The official reason for this trip was to give three talks in Kyoto and Tokyo. Fortunately, all the talks were accepted favorably. I am used to inserting spontaneous jokes in my talks even in Japanese, which is not so "friendly" to jokes; this time I also told ready-made Jewish jokes during my talks. In spite of my initial fear that the Japanese audience might not understand my jokes, they seemed to have appreciated the jokes even more than the contents of my talks per se. This has made me think of giving a talk on Jewish humor in my next visit to Japan at this time of next year; I would like to analyze what makes Jewish (or to be more precise, Ashkenazic) jokes Jewish.

The pinnacle of this trip was, without doubt, a private lesson in Total Immersion Swimming. I was taught the basics of freestyle swimming according to this method. To my great surprise and joy, I could start swimming freestyle after several hours of learning though I had never tried this swimming style in my life. I am already planning to take another private lesson in this method of swimming during my next visit to Japan in order to have my style checked and corrected. This is one of the most amazing and revealing learning experiences I have ever had in my entire life.

It is ironical (or probably natural?) that I had to lose my Japanese citizenship and live abroad in order to enjoy what Japan has to offer. But I am not ready to live there as a citizen, and I was glad to return to Israel. What impressed me more strongly than before about Japanese society is that no joy of life is felt there. Having spent three weeks there, I felt as if my "battery" of positive energy were about to run out and needed to be recharged. The only place in Japan where I could recharge my "battery" was the synagogue in Kobe, where I spent my first Sabbath there. It is so sad that many people in Japan look so sad in spite of all the material affluence. In a sense this material affluence may be a compensation for lack of joy of life.


What Israeli and Japanese Societies Can learn from Each Other

I could not update this blog of mine as I have been very busy preparing, among others three talks I am invited to give during my forthcoming visit to Japan. I am leaving Israel for Japan tomorrow night after the end of the Sabbath. They are entitled as follows and will be given on the following dates and at the following places:

  • Application of Computing to Jewish Studies [2011-01-25, Kyoto University; in English]
  • False Friends in Modern Hebrew and Modern Yiddish [2011-02-06, University of Tokyo; in Japanese]
  • Comparison of Israeli and Japanese Societies - What They Can Learn from Each Other [2011-02-08, Tokyo Michijuku; in Japanese]

I thought the third talk might also interest (not many) readers of this blog-shmog. Here is its summary:

  • What Japanese society can learn from Israeli society
    • Do not trust the so-called common sense
    • Do not be afraid of making enemies
    • Do not take every criticism personally and emotionally
    • Train your sense of humor
    • Train your ability to ask good questions
    • Get involved in the local community
    • Do not bring public things into private space
    • Do not apologize unnecessarily when you have no fault
    • Do not be too humble
  • What Israel society can learn from Japanese society
    • Move not only your brain, mouth and stomach but also your body
    • Be punctual
    • Keep promises
    • Do not be too selfish
    • Listen more to others
    • Do not bring rivate things into public space
    • Apologize when you apparently have a fault
    • Do not praise yourself too much
  • What both Israeli and Japanese society should learn
    • Be more confident of the culture and language of your country
    • Learn and respect more the traditions that should be passed to the next generation
    • Have more interest in other cultures and languages
    • Do not think you are special except for the specialness that you think that your nation is special