Tonight is Lag Ba-Omer, which, according to Jewish tradition, commemorates the cessation of a divine plague that afflicted the students of Rabbi Akiva because they failed to show each proper respect. Now wouldn't it be nice to have a holiday that celebrates respecting the other? But in fact, as observed today in Israel, Lag Ba-Omer is the holiday of air pollution, since children are encouraged to burn wood in bonfires, a nightmare for the fire department and the environment (especially when non biodegradables are thrown on the bonfire). I am breathing said pollution as I write this from Jerusalem.
Another Lag Ba-Omer custom, but this time less harmful to the environment, is observed in the Israeli town of Meron, where three-year old boys are given their first hair cut. I am not burning any bonfires tonight, but I have been cranking out posts for three years, and it is indeed time for the blog to get a "haircut."
So I am announcing that I plan to improve the look and feel of this website by replacing the old and boring Blogger template with something new. More on that in the weeks to come.
I also want to take this opportunity to thank all the people who have encouraged me over the past three years to continue cranking out a blog that cannot hope to compete with the big guys – I have a day job that is very time-consuming -- but can hope to earn their approval (and occasionally even to scoop them.)
Through the Magnes Zionist blog I have been able to connect to a coterie of like-minded individuals, bloggers, journalists, students, rabbis, human rights activists, progressives -- men and women, Jew and Arab, Israeli, Palestinian, and, indeed, folks of all nationalities and religions. The letters I most enjoy receiving are from people who express gratitude that the blog exists. But I also enjoy the critics, especially those who have the loyalty to keep reading the blog and commenting.
To celebrate the blog's third birthday, I revealed my alter-ego's identity on the profile for a week. But this was misconstrued by some readers as tantamount to suicide (i.e., Jerry Haber killing himself), and so I have taken the name off the profile again (It now appears elsewhere on the blog, giving the lie to those who accuse me of "hiding" behind a pseudonym.)
A word about the name "Jerry Haber": It began as the name of a character in a fictional dialogue on Israel-Palestine that awaits to be written. But it quickly became a pen name, and – much to my surprise – a bona fide person. As Jerry Haber, I have been invited to conferences, interviewed by the media, even received press credentials. Like John Le Carre, Ahad ha-Am, and (ahem!) Cary Grant, I am properly addressed by the professional name in those situations where my professional persona is relevant. I find it jarring to be called by the Other Guy's name in such situations. And I (both of me) find it rude to have that preference not respected.
Now that I have explicitly told folks how I like to be addressed, I hope that my preferences will be respected on this blog and other blogs.
After all, it is Lag Ba-Omer, the holiday that celebrates respecting the other.