My Word: Clued in

On puzzles, labels, cats and terrorism.

Cat at the Western Wall, Jerusalem (photo credit: REUTERS)
Cat at the Western Wall, Jerusalem
(photo credit: REUTERS)
I lost the plot for an hour this week. More to the point, I was so immersed in solving a puzzle, I completely forgot the parallel life going on in the outside world. And that is quite an accomplishment for a professional news junkie like me.
I took the time (60 minutes ticking down on a large clock) to participate with a group of Jerusalem Post staffers in a new “Escape room” adventure.
Our team of eight, comprising another editor and a crew of graphic designers, was treated to a visit to Jerusalem Puzzle Quest, in the Talpiot industrial zone. It was a cryptic experience – being locked in a basement- like room full of hidden codes, trying to avoid a character called the Nazir who was essential to the storyline (and our ultimate salvation).
It’s hard to explain how it works, but it took the meaning of the word “escapism” to a whole new level for me.
The story line of the particular game we played, “Escape the Nazir,” was silly, but it wasn’t the point. The same way as you go to an opera for the music and experience, not for the plot, the pretext for the clue-seeking in an escape room is incidental.
Unfortunately, stepping outside back into the real world, I realized that while my colleagues and I had been so absorbed in finding keys and cracking the codes for combination locks, the world wasn’t so much turning as spinning.
Maybe that’s why I so frequently wonder where time went: The world is spinning, at least metaphorically, at such speed, that all the children I see are growing up more quickly than I would have thought.
That’s another reason to take time off to play games with friends now and again.
What I was escaping from became more apparent as the day wore on.
The ongoing wave of Palestinian terrorist attacks is taking a toll.
Since October 1, 11 people have lost their lives and more than 130 have been wounded. Businesses are being strained as Israelis stay home more (particularly now that it gets dark early).
I worry for our children not so much at the physical level but the psychological.
The week was marked by events commemorating the 20th anniversary of the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. Those born in the past two decades, since the signing of the Oslo Accords, have grown up with war and terrorism as a steady unwanted companion; an evil presence, sometimes casting a shadow from behind, at other times darkening the horizon.
We have witnessed incredible savagery since the start of October – the Henkins being killed in front of their four children; Nehemia Lavi and Aharon Banita being stabbed to death as Palestinians jeered Banita’s injured wife struggling to get help while her toddler was being shot; people first run over and then attacked with a meat cleaver as they waited at a bus stop; and passengers stabbed and shot as they sat on a bus, including lifelong peace activist Richard Lakin.
Given this level of brutality, it’s hard to be shocked, but the sight of a terrorist running up to an 80-yearold woman and slashing her from behind in Rishon Lezion on Monday was another low, as was the similar attack on a 71-year-old man in Netanya later the same day.
If these are the heroes of the Palestinian liberation movement, you don’t need to be a particularly skilled riddle solver to detect the ugly face behind the masks (or more usually a strategically wrapped keffiyeh).
This type of barbarity is the hallmark of Islamic State. That the Palestinians, who used it in the first intifada in 1987, are reviving it in 2015 says a lot about the type of state they are aiming for.
And it has nothing to do with peaceful coexistence alongside the Jewish homeland.
It doesn’t have to be like that. This week, a Royal Jordanian airplane en route from Dubai to Amman made an emergency landing at Ben-Gurion Airport, unable to continue to the Hashemite Kingdom due to the weather conditions there.
While the passengers waited on the tarmac, no doubt wondering about their possible fate, Israeli airport staff made a special delivery of a sticky sweet message of peace: Krembo.
The chocolate marshmallow delight appears every year ahead of Hanukka. (Apparently it is the most successful Israeli food product that has never been marketed in an advertising campaign. Its popularity stems entirely from word of mouth and the taste in the mouth.) It is such a feature of Israeli life this time of year that a teenage terrorist disguised as a Krembo vendor was arrested at a checkpoint last month.
I tell you: There’s nothing sacred in this new-style holy war.
The production of many Israeli food products could be on the firing line. The European Union seems set to publish rules about labeling of products made by Jewish-owned industries located beyond the 1949 armistice line, the so-called Green Line. Proponents of labeling say it is a technicality and will offer consumers the means of making an informed choice about the products they are buying. But, as I’ve noted before, that choice exists already. Nobody is forced to buy a product labeled “Made in Israel” just as no one need buy produce marked “Made in Spain” if they feel uncomfortable about Spanish disputed territories such as the Basque region, Barcelona, or even Gibraltar for that matter.
Singling out “the settlers” identifies them as “beyond the pale” and sets them up as “acceptable” targets of terrorism. Distinguishing between Israel and any other country with a territorial dispute doesn’t put us on a path to peace, it puts us on a slope made slippery with spilled blood.
Why would the Palestinians risk going back to the negotiating table when they can let others reduce Israel for them? The chief victims of a boycott of Jewish businesses beyond the Green Line (for you don’t need to be a genius at cracking codes to see that this is a form of boycott) is likely to be the Palestinians who work in them.
Way to go, EU: Next you can tell us that the violence is the result of economic suffering and the lack of jobs.
AGRICULTURE MINISTER Uri Ariel provided an unpleasant diversion this week offering “paws for thought.” In a move that has been both ridiculed and slammed by animal welfare groups, Ariel got the fur flying with publication of his proposal (now thankfully rejected) that Israel should “deport” its stray cats to a foreign country willing to receive them. (Would we have to brand those born over the Green Line “Made in the territories,” I wonder.) Yediot Aharonot exposed the idea under the “cat-chy” headline: “Trans-furrr.”
It’s not clear what “humane” method Ariel would choose to deal with the inevitable plague of rats and mice that would follow the feline void.
Incidentally, long before Israel was considered the Start-up Nation, the Hebrew University was a pioneer in developing oral contraceptives for cats, although the current spaying and neutering program for strays is more effective as a long-term means of controlling the “street cats.”
If Ariel really wants to relieve animal suffering (as he claims), he could start with tightening the enforcement of existing animal cruelty laws, particularly in factory farms and abattoirs, and by banning the import of sheep and calves, forced to endure weeks of travel at sea in distressing conditions, from Australia to Israel, before being slaughtered for food.
OVER THE last month many people have asked my advice on dealing with the current “Situation.”
Several friends have joined the “Eatifada,” eating out whenever possible to support businesses badly hit by the drop in customers since the start of the wave of terrorism.
My tips are: Learn self-defense (in case, God forbid, you are attacked); learn first aid (to help someone else who has been attacked – or just had a heart attack or “ordinary” medical emergency. Far more people are killed on the roads than in terror attacks); and learn Arabic (so that you don’t feel threatened by every Arabic-speaking passerby and can understand that most conversations are about the same things you worry about: money, health, jobs and the kids).
My mother’s advice (and you should listen to my mother) is adopt a dog, for companionship and security.
I’ll add to that a new suggestion: Adopt a cat (or preferably two) to add the “purr-fect” touch to your lives. It beats Ariel’s idea of getting the cats off the streets.
“You’re not going to write a whole long allegory on the escape room, are you?” asked a friend familiar with the way my mind (and column) works.
The answer is no. You can puzzle things out for yourselves. But I will point out that even if you feel “locked in,” you can look for the clues for escape in unusual places.
They’re there. They just take some deciphering. Having friends around to help is a definite bonus.