The Crossroads of the West Gun Show

About a month ago I attended the Crossroads of the West Gun Show at the Arizona state fairgrounds in Phoenix as a guest of Bob Mattingly, Bob the Knife Guy, who is located in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Bob has been a knife sharpener as a sideline for many years. He is a cousin of the mother of my daughter-in-law.* We met at the Thanksgiving table of her parents four years ago.

He gave me his card and told me to look him up when I moved to Phoenix, so I did.

Bob set up a booth at the gun show. It’s not unusual for men with guns (almost always men) to also carry a knife. Some attending also know in advance that there are knife sharpeners at such events. There was actually a competing knife sharpener besides Bob at the event.

I’ve never held a gun in my hand, and I didn’t start at the gun show. I’m not a pacifist. Just that I feel safe enough as it is. If a robber entered my apartment, I would let him take what he wants. This is safer for me than brandishing a weapon.

I have no jewelry unless you count two vintage watches that are being offered on eBay for $500 each. We’ll see how long it is before they get sold and at what final price. I’m sure that a pawn broker wouldn’t give nearly eBay’s asking price if someone brought them in.

One watch I received at 16 for my confirmation (1967). I wore it until I started carrying a cell phone. As you know, the first display on a phone is the time and date. Very convenient. The second watch was my father’s which he got about a decade after I got mine. I don’t know what he wore before that. I just remember a metal link wristband.

What do I think about gun control? I don’t think that governments are going to be more successful at controlling the ownership and use of guns than they already are.

I advocate a public policy of gun safety. Let owners of guns carry mandatory liability insurance just like car drivers do. Only private insurance companies will know who owns guns. Not the government. Insurers then issue proof of insurance cards, just like they do for drivers, which gun toters have to produce to law enforcement officers and agencies. You own a gun, you insure it.

Insurance companies are likely to require that owners get safety lessons at authorized shooting ranges. Boy Scouts get safety lessons. See their information about safety lessons for shooting sports — which include archery and even BB gun shooting.

Just as failure to insure one’s car is a misdemeanor, so failure to insure a gun will be. This may remove some guns from crime ridden neighborhoods if officers can confiscate guns that are not insured, to be returned with proof of insurance.

But gun criminals don’t buy insurance.

Insurance is a state-by-state regulation, not federal. The insurance market controls premium rates based on actuarial tables of risk. Owners choose to pay up or relinquish their guns. How many gun owners will comply? Aye, there’s the rub.

  • the mother of my daughter-in-law — In Yiddish we have a single word for this relation, one for father and one for mother: m’ KHOO ten and m’ khoo TEN iss teh, respectively. They mean something like “marrieder.”

‘I got my licks on Route 66’

In 2009, I was driving back to Kansas City from Chicago by way of Interstate 55 between Chicago and St. Louis. This route had once been designated as “US 66.” It stretched from Chicago to Santa Monica, California.

The actual highway number 66 was decommissioned in 1985, though, since the federal interstate highway system had supplanted all the earlier national roads like Route 66. A movement to venerate the highway and what it stood for swelled. Some states renumbered the remaining sections of the “Mother Highway” as state route 66. By now, remaining segments that are used for traffic have been designated across the country as Historic Route US 66, with states adding their name to the signage as you see.

My trip was leisurely. My curiosity prevailed, and I made two stops to visit the old highway. This above sign is from Lincoln, Illinois, where 66 had passed through the town on city streets as it had before it was rebuilt on the outskirts as a 4-lane divided highway that bypassed Lincoln. This rebuilding process in Illinois began after World War II. Segments were taken over for Interstate 55.

This next picture depicts Historic 66 as it passes toward the downtown of Lincoln, Illinois, on an ordinary street. National highways ran point to point from the center of one town or city to the next center.

These two pictures show the old highway’s original pavement as it proceeds out of Odell, Illinois, and wanders through the vast corn fields. The car is my old 2004 Dodge Neon that I acquired used in 2006 and relinquished in 2020 for a new 2018 Kia Rio. The Rio was my first car that didn’t have a previous owner.

Notice the Illinois license plate, if you can. I had been living in Kansas for a year already and hadn’t yet registered it in Kansas. There is a story here but not now.

I took a picture of this display in Interstate 55’s Funks Grove rest area. As you see, it commemorates Illinois’s section of Route 66. You also see the slogan that’s the title of this post “Get Your Licks on Route 66.” However, I’ve always heard the slogan as “Get Your Kicks on Route 66.” I was getting my kicks on my side-trips. I don’t know what ‘licks’ means or refers to.

Get Your Kicks on Route 66” is a 1946 song recorded by Nat King Cole.

My 9 kiddush cups

This could be used as an oversized cup for sanctifying the Jewish Sabbath on Friday night and Saturday midday. Although wine is preferable for kiddush, the sanctification ceremony, grape juice may be used or a mixture. A majority of the cup must be drunk.

It’s actually a silver water goblet that I bought in Smiths Grove, Kentucky, at Boone’s Antiques. I bought it in 2005 or so on a return road trip from visiting my sister in Atlanta.

I put this goblet aside for Passover use as the Cup of Elijah the prophet at the Seder (SAY der). Why it’s dedicated to Elijah is a long story for some other time.

These are seven of the nine kiddush cups. I inherited three. I inherited the one on the right in the second row from my Grandfather Fischer, my mother’s father. It is dated 1891 and is 84% silver. I inherited the two kiddush cups in the back row from my parents. The pedestal of the one on the right reads in Hebrew “who creates the fruit of the vine,” which is the Almighty of course. The one on the left is Israeli-styled copper with a patina.

I bought the cup in the front right in Jerusalem’s Old City in 2007. It’s a vintage silver cup from Russia dated 1863, also 84% silver. As usual, I have failed to polish it. It’s larger than the other cups.

I don’t know how the other two kiddush cups on the left came into my possession. The smaller one is sterling silver. The larger of the two is 25% silver.

This sterling silver cup is at the center of the seven cups. It was a present from my fiancee. It’s engraved in Hebrew with my name — Nesanel HaLevi, Nesanel the Levite. I’m descended from the Patriarch Jacob of the Bible’s son Levi. Jewish priests are also descended from Levi. They are accorded honor in the synagogue as am I. The priests’ responsibility is to bless the congregation. My responsibility is to wash their hands before the blessing.

The ninth kiddush cup is the one I use on Passover. There is nothing special about it. My son left it for me when he moved to Miami. It’s packed away with the other Passover items. Perhaps I’ll remember to take a picture of it next Passover.

Do I need this many kiddush cups? I’ve only had one guest at one time. He could have heard me make kiddush with one cup and answered “amen” and it would have been fine. However, it’s better for everyone to recite kiddush on their own. Perhaps, now that I’ve inventoried what I have, I’ll send these two kiddush cups of unknown origin to my grandsons since they have no sentimental value. Better that they use them now rather than inherit them way off in the future.

The others have sentimental value so I’ll hold on to them.

What do you put in your oatmeal?

Do you put something in oatmeal? Do you eat it with milk, soy or otherwise? Do you even eat oatmeal?

I have oatmeal every morning, summer notwithstanding. No milk for me. I let it cool a bit so I won’t burn my tongue.

No sugar for me, either. I’m diabetic, adult onset. When I do use use sugar — lightly in my tea — I have to trade it for another carbohydrate.

I cook my oatmeal with some oat bran to increase the fiber count. Otherwise, I add flax meal. The flax meal gives it some taste as well as more fiber.

To add real taste I add cocoa powder before I cook it. Otherwise, I add carob powder, which is slightly sweet. I get my carob powder from

I’ve been known to add honey (which is like sugar for a diabetic) and cinnamon. I’ve been meaning to add some cinnamon before I cook it instead of cocoa or carob powder.

For some reason, I don’t have a cup of hot tea with sugar with my oatmeal.

Are American Jews assimilated?

Perhaps you’ve heard of Jewish assimilation in the United States. Jews are supposedly becoming indistinguishable from their non-Jewish neighbors. Supposedly, many Jews have lost their Jewish identity and others have reduced their Jewishness to a receding ethnic background.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

A large number of Jews celebrate Passover in some way. Perhaps only by eating some matzah. When we were young, we loved matza slathered with butter. Then there’s matzah brei (BRIE). Matzah is softened by being soaked in water. Then the water is drained and the matzah soaked in egg. The mixture is fried in oil.

Jews I know buy matzah only for Passover and finish the box and don’t have matzah in the house the rest of the year.

This may sound trivial — what some call “gastronomic Judaism.” But Jewishness in primarily in the home and only secondarily in the synagogue. Pollsters don’t investigate what the home is like.

The big observance of Passover is the Seder (SAY der) on Passover night. This is a recital of the Exodus from Egypt of our long-ago ancestors. It’s accompanied by eating matzah with bitter herbs and drinking four cups of wine besides eating a holiday meal. A large number of Jews participate in a Seder. Many make one themselves. Others are invited to the homes of those who make Seder. With electronics the way they are, there are even virtual Seders. There are also community Seders that are well publicized in advance.

Once again, observance is at home. Any number of these Jews don’t show up in a synagogue except for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, if even then.

There’s one more home-based expression of Jewishness. It’s the winter holiday of Chanukah (KHAH noo ka). The eight-day holiday commemorates regaining the Holy Temple in Jerusalem from the hands of the Syrian-Greeks who defiled it. The first touch of normality was to light the seven-branch Menorah candelabrum with pure, untainted olive oil. The Greeks had gone out of their way to defile all of the oil. The priests in the Temple did find one cruse of oil that escaped the attention of the Greeks. It was enough to last one day. G-d made a miracle that it burned for eight days until new, pure oil could be procured. So we light candles for eight days in our homes.

An untold number of Jews light Chanukah candles. Standard-sized candles are sold wherever there’s a Jewish market, even a small one. In the town where my synagogue is, there are 25,000 souls. An insignificant number of Jews live in town. Yet the local supermarket carries candles and holiday related paraphernalia.

You can believe that there’s a gastronomic dimension to the holiday. We try to eat latkes (LOT keez), potato pancakes fried in oil, not fat. The key here is the oil element. Since the miracle came about through oil, we are recalling the miracle when we latkes. People who are friendly with the kitchen grate their own potatoes — and maybe onions too — and fry them. And what better oil to use than olive oil?

Back to the supermarket. There are frozen, ready-made potato pancakes, which I bought this year and shared with my sister. Neither of us needed the empty calories of the eight latkes that make up the package. Then there are also mixes on the store shelves especially for Chanukah.

One dimension of Chanukah that is not in the home is the public menorah lightings across the country, even the world, wherever there might be a few Jews. A rabbi friend of mine in Cochise county, Arizona, sponsored celebrations around public lightings around the county and in, of all places, Tombstone, Arizona.

The Chabad synagogue where I said that I go lit a 12 foot menorah with lamp oil in the garden parkway across from the newish synagogue. The congregation moved into a vacant storefront across from where the menorah had been lit for a number of years before! Consequentially, the lighting was only yards away from the synagogue with its prominent signage that it belongs to the Chabad movement.

I would estimate that about 100 people — I wouldn’t know how many were Jewish — turned out around sundown. Hot latkes were served after the short prayers and menorah lighting — why not — and you had a choice of doughnuts, something else fried in oil.

So now we have moved into the realm of public, countable Jewishness.

Many American Jews do not enter a synagogue all year long. They say that they’re not religious, maybe even agnostics, so worship does nothing for them. They’re Jewish in their hearts. (You hear this a lot.) They aren’t asked by pollsters whether they’re Jewish at home sometime during the year.

Along come the Jewish high holy days (Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur), and Jews flock to synagogues. These folks are often derided as “twice-a-year Jews.” As I’ve shown, nothing could be further from the truth. They’re “twice-a-year” worshipers.

Please note that Judaism is more than a religion, more than worship attendance. It’s a way of life. American Jews punctuate their lives with Jewish ways.

Which brings up the cases when I am greeted with the expression shalom when as I pass by another person on my walks — sometimes a walker him/herself, sometimes a cyclist. I’m visibly Jewish, wearing a kipah (yarmulke) all the time, and that prompts their Jewish awareness to come out. Sometimes such a greeting comes from a non-Jew, though. But, what doesn’t come from a non-Jew is the greeting Shabbat shalom — literally “Sabbath peace.” This is a traditional greeting on the Jewish Sabbath, from Friday evening until dark on Saturday night. One does not say “good morning” (and so on) on the Sabbath. For those with a Sabbath awareness, it’s always Shabbat shalom.

Then there is Israel. Most American Jews are sympathetic to the welfare of the Jewish State. Many have gone or will go to Israel to see how a Jewish majority lives and to visit historical sites.

Parents send their children to Israel on programs specially geared to the interests of young people. Admittedly, some Jewish young people go to Britain, France, or Italy on programs, but how many? In what numbers? And going on these programs does not preclude going to Israel.

Some Jews on the left are obsessed with the Palestinians and how Israel treats them. This is still a Jewish identity. I’m sure that they’re indifferent to the way Russia has colonized South Ossetia, if they even know about it.

Still there is more public Jewishness than public menorahs. Some Jews make it a point of commemorating the Holocaust in public ways. This is a part of a distinct Jewish identity.

Some large universities have departments of Jewish Studies. There’s no telling how much of a Jewish consciousness students in these departments have (or if they’re even Jewish). When I returned to college — University of Missouri – Kansas City (UMKC) — I took a course entitled Medieval Jewish History. While the professor had a Jewish identity, I’m not sure whether any of the students were even Jewish. The university also offered a course entitled Modern Jewish History. UMKC didn’t have a Jewish Studies department as of 2011.

Then there’s a tony high school in Chicago’s northern suburbs that offers Hebrew as a foreign language. I can’t say whether this is the only Jewish awareness for any students, but for Jews in the class, it is a public expression of not being assimilated.

Where there are concentrations of Jews, there are Jewish Community Centers. Funded by donations and membership dues, they serve the surrounding community, not just Jews. The JCC near Kansas City is equipped with a gym and a theater. Not so many JCCs are not so elaborate. But the JCC is primarily a venue for Jewish events. It also houses a Holocaust remembrance center.

What American Jews are is acculturated. This is a sociological description of describing a feature of immigrants to the U.S. and their children and grandchildren. The first generation has to learn English and navigate how to earn a living. The second generation goes to public schools and speaks and reads and writes fluently in English. The third generation of other immigrants to the U.S. assimilates, in this case to American ways and mores. But third generation Jews have rarely assimilated. They didn’t enter the melting pot.

Some sociologists liken the product of the American assimilation of immigrants as a cooking pot where all the ingredients come apart and meld and eventually become a puree. But, for the most part, Jews didn’t come apart and “melt” into American society.

Jews are acculturated. They know their way around American society. They’ve opened doors for themselves that were closed. The U.S. Supreme Court issued decisions that broke up residential segregation. Along came the civil rights acts and more barriers crumbled. But even though the doors to assimilation are wide open, most Jews have retained a measure of Jewishness that may only come out at home.

Indeed there are assimilated Jews. Many of these have married non-Jews. Still there are cases where the non-Jewish spouse agrees to raise their children as Jews. No one knows how frequent this is. People only hear about alarming statistics of how many intermarriages there are. I do find it alarming, but it’s anyone’s guess how much Jewish identity these families really have, especially the Jewish partner. In one case that I know of, the Jewish husband of a non-Jewish wife told me, “She made me Jewish.” If he was assimilated before, he now had a Jewish awareness when he lit the Chanukah menorah. He was acculturated.

Jewish assimilation and intermarriage are Jewish tragedies. No doubt. But my point is that there is less assimilation than the pundits say. And poll takers don’t do in depth interviews. Such interviews are the realm of sociologists. How many have received grants to undertake such research about the extent of Jewish assimilation? How many want to undertake such research? It’s not politically correct to diminish the magnitude of Jewish assimilation.

I don’t want to fail to mention of small groups of Jews in the United States, Israel, and around the world who shun acculturation. They embrace parts of contemporary technology but not any American culture. They are determined to live lives that duplicate the ways of their forebears in Europe. There is no compromise on their part. They also don’t reach out to their fellow Jews who are unlike them, whom they deem as non-Jews, to increase their Jewish awareness. Is this also a Jewish tragedy? I’m not sure.

I admit that there is nothing scientific about what I have written. Notice how many times I write “many,” “often,” and the vague “sometimes.”

What I have done is introduce the sociological concept of “acculturation” to describe what I believe to be the majority of American Jews. I want to change the discourse.

My four menorahs

Besides the menorah that I showed in the previous post, I have three others. I inherited this one from my parents. It dates back to the late 1950s. It takes candles as you see:

The camera’s close-up focus makes it seem lopsided.

It’s ready to be lit on the fifth night of Hanukkah which is December 22nd this year. The five Hebrew letters for the name Israel are crafted into the arms of the menorah. See if you can spot the angled, descending yud, sin, reish, alef, and lamed from right to left.

I bought this next menorah in Buenos Aires when I visited over Hanukkah 2000-1. This was Argentina’s summer, so it was short-sleeve weather.

This menorah is modeled after the one in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem of old. The Temple’s menorah had only seven lamps — on three arms jutting up from the stem on both sides and the seventh lamp on top of the stem. This seventh lamp was only as high as the other six. It was not a shamesh servant. The lamps were lit by a priest on the ground much like gas streetlights were lit many years ago.

The taller cup of this menorah is for the shamash — the servant light from which the other lights are lit. A fixed oil cup doesn’t work for a shamash, though. Only a candle holder that releases the candle.

The silver needs polishing, which I’m not motivated to do.

My third menorah (in no particular order) is electric:

This is not a substitute for candles or oil. The Rabbis of old enacted the rules, and the electric age changes nothing. It has to resemble the Temple’s menorah as much as possible.

I lit this menorah in a window that faces passersby — neighbors in the complex that I live in and their visitors and guests. Let them be reminded that a little bit of light banishes much darkness.

The menorah that I use every year is below. I posted a picture of it in yesterday’s post.

All eight lights are burning on the eighth night of Hanukkah three years ago.

There’s nothing better than sipping a cup of hot tea with sugar while studying the Hanukkah lights. What are they telling me?

Happy Hanukkah

I’m posting this during the Jewish holiday Hanukkah, eight days of festivities centered on the candles that we light. On the first night we light one single candle for the holiday. On the second night we light two candles, and so on, until all the eight candles are lit.

Some of us light small olive oil lamps with cotton wicks in place of candles. This reminds us of the candelabra — Menorah — in the Holy Temple that stood in Jerusalem at the time of two miracles.

The miracle that took back the Temple from the hand of the Syrian Greeks was a military victory, about 2,160 years ago. An uprising of a small Jewish army defeated a world power that had taken the Holy Land as a colony. The interloper’s occupation was too costly, so they left. We can see that this is a miracle.

The other miracle was private, in the sanctuary of the Temple, known only to the priests, descendants of the Bible’s Aaron, of the holy compound — an area where no one but priests entered.

In order to light the Menorah, seven arms holding lamps connected to one stem and its base, the priests used pure olive oil of the highest sanctity. They found only one cruse that would last one night and the following day. G-d made a miracle, and the oil didn’t burn down but lasted for eight nights and days until new oil could be procured.

We see that the military victory which spilled blood has been downplayed, and the miracle of the oil has been designated by the Rabbis as the miracle to celebrate.

In our homes, we also call our candelabras menorahs, but all have receptacles for eight lights rather than the seven of the Holy Temple. Menorahs come in all sizes and designs.

My menorah — as you will see — is simple and utilitarian. I’ve had it since my early or mid-twenties when I was first out on my own. (I’m now 71.)

This picture was taken on the eighth night of Hanukkah on December 29, 2019, my first Hanukkah in Arizona.

The prominent mezuzah is fixed to the right doorpost of this room as you enter. The Hanukkah lights are placed to the left opposite the mezuzah.

The beeswax candle is call a shamash — a servant with which to light the lamps or candles.

Many Jews place their menorahs in a window seen from the street. This publicizes the miracle to passersby beside to members of the family.

Many organizations place kerosene or electric menorahs to be seen in public places in cities and towns across the world. Think of a menorah that is about 20 feet or 7 meters tall.

The White House has such a menorah on its lawn. There’s been a menorah lighting ceremony inside the White House every year since the term of President Ronald Reagan, if I’m not mistaken.

The victory in the Holy Land of a small number of determined men and women against a world power should have been a lesson to the Soviet Empire and today’s Russia. You can’t occupy a foreign country and prevail. The Soviets should have known this before they tried to occupy Afghanistan during the 1980s. The people of Afghanistan made it too costly for the Soviets to remain.

It may be unreasonable for the Soviets to learn from the ancient Jews, but they should have learned from weak Afghanistan the lesson that today’s war and occupation of Ukraine would be costly and futile.

Let’s hope and pray that no more Ukrainians die and that they prevail against aggressive Russia. Victory may not seem like a miracle, but it is certain. History has told the Russians so.

May the light of Hanukkah spread and penetrate even the darkest corners of the world. Let all celebrate freedom from tyranny, ignorance, and hunger — for spirituality as well as for relief from poverty.

Desert Milkweed in bloom

Mid-December| Phoenix, Arizona

This Desert Milkweed is blooming. I would have thought that this is too early in the season. It is visited by Monarch butterflies and bees who are cold blooded and need a warm temperature. Around here, the hottest it’s getting during the day is in the 50s and low 60s. On the other hand, the sun is quite powerful and warm. After swimming the other day (in a heated outdoor pool), I sunbathed (and no one else at that time) as I was drying up.

A couple of years ago at this time, I visited the Desert Botanical Garden and saw a flock of Monarch butterflies visiting a patch of Desert Milkweed. Will a few find this lone plant?

There’s another, single plant that I’m aware of about a mile away. Interested people planted a row of native plants with identifying signs along a sidewalk in a public park to help green the Town Center.

Nature at my footsteps

August 2021| Surfside, Florida

When I visited my son in Miami during the summer of 2021, I visited my son’s barbecue restaurant in nearby Surfside.

Walking back to where my car was parked, I came across a good size lizard on the sidewalk. It didn’t seem scared of me at all. The lizards — much smaller — that we have near my Phoenix home are very skittish. As I approach them to take a picture, they’re gone. Some have appeared at my front doorstep. Again, “Nature at my doorstep.”

Incidentally, my son’s restaurant is not too far from the collapse of the Champlain Towers in June of 2021. My son gave out free sandwiches to first responders.