Posts Tagged ‘prepping’

The Volcano


Two and one-half years ago, at the end of our guests’ stay, they generously gifted us via UPS with a Volcano.  I had never heard of this unique type of grill until then.  I was unaware of its cult following amongst preppers and survivalists who swear by its wonders.  Its design works via a different type of heat distribution to cook evenly and thoroughly with less expenditure of fuel, and in smaller quantities, than other grills.  It can use propane, charcoal briquettes or wood as fuel, making it a great survival and emergency cooking tool, and it collapses and folds down for portability.

But you can’t use a Volcano without reading its very specific directions, which sounded a bit complex and daunting.  It came with a cookbook filled with warnings and cautionary notes about cooking techniques, the various combinations of setting the grilling shelf at different levels, the exact number of charcoal briquettes to use and amount of ventilation holes to open or close if using a Dutch oven or frying pan or just doing straight barbecuing.  While assembly was easy, every time I read that instruction book I sighed and gave up.  Since the grill arrived the day before our guests left, there hadn’t been time to use it.  Truthfully I felt no true compulsion to give the Volcano a try after they left, although I’d take it out of the box every so often, read the instructions and stare it down with hard, doubting eyes.  Every time we’d see our guests back in our home town, they never failed to ask if we’d tried the Volcano yet.  Embarrassed, I’d answer honestly and say that no, we were waiting for them to visit again so we could explore the wonders of the Volcano together.

Well, our generous guests arrived this past summer, and I knew I was going to have to make a cookout with the Volcano.  This time I was determined to make it work.  I don’t know why the language of that cookbook overwhelmed me so, although generally I do tend to get flustered from multi-step processes.  So I broke the instructions into little pieces that I could better handle, and sure enough, the whole thing started to make some sense.  I placed “NO MORE THAN 25 BRIQUETTES!” (as the instruction book warned in caps) into the base, lit them, and waited for it them to get hot and turn white.

I will tell you this:  like the cookbook bragged, it produced the juiciest, most evenly cooked hot dogs and hamburgers I’ve ever tasted, even from grills that cost many hundreds or thousands of dollars more.  My guests were equally delighted.  The Volcano is a definite keeper, and I highly recommend it for preppers, car campers, park visitors, and home grillers.  It’s actually easy to use and easy to clean – – hooray!



My next project will be deciphering the cookbook’s instructions for cooking a stew with my Lodge Logic cast-iron Dutch oven.

I’ll let you know how that goes . . . in about two years.

Apocalypse, Prepping, and the U.S. versus Israel

A reader from Israel wrote to ask my opinion about America’s obsession with apocalypse – – that an external force (famine, natural disaster, disease etc) “will wipe out most of the population and only a few pockets of individuals will be left.”  Why, she wanted to know, are Americans “so concerned?  Do you suppose it’s from the time of the Cuban missile crisis, or did it start before?”

This question came at a funny time.  Jerusalem is supposed to get 3″ – 9″ of snow and the city is in a total panic.  This snowstorm is not going to last days or weeks, just a matter of hours, and then it will be done.  But the mayor has ordered all roads leading into or out of the city closed as soon as the first flakes hit.  The supermarket shelves have been wiped clean of all food (bottled water, disposable diapers, and meat were the first items to sell out).  Because snow hits Israel’s capitol about 3x every 10 years, the city lacks the machinery for effective snow removal.  Most people do not own snow boots, and you’d be hard pressed to even find snow shovels for sale in the stores – – most people use brooms and dustpans to clean off their cars and a bit of sidewalk.

I thought the whole apocalypse-prepper phenomena would make for an interesting essay, since we live in rural Maine.  We are somewhat isolated – – and insulated – – from potential apocalypse-related disasters.  We are not anticipating an apocalypse anytime soon but we are “preppers” out of necessity since the nearest supermarket is 45 minutes away and weather conditions and poor roads often make winter travel challenging.   We are pretty self-sufficient here and live mostly off the grid. Our closest neighbor is 1/4 mile away and the next one is 3 miles down the road.

I find my Israeli reader’s question about the American obsession with apocalypse especially significant, since unlike America, modern Israel has been actively living with conflict, terrorism and war(s) since its declaration of Statehood in 1948 (and well before).  Yet there is no concept of general apocalypse other than a prophetic, somewhat esoteric religious one that will lead to Israel’s Final Redemption, and even more significantly, there is no active “prepper” movement on an individual or community level – – yes, there are residential bomb shelters but typically they are not stockpiled with food or medicines and at best may contain a lone mattress and folding chair.

My observations and opinions are strictly anecdotal, and may be an over-simplification, but this is what I know:

I was in first grade in the 1960s when our teacher put us through the “duck ‘n cover” drills against what was then a grave concern of nuclear disaster (the US-Soviet “Cuban Missile Crisis”).  We were told to lower the venetian blinds, shut the windows, and crawl under our desks in a kneeling-to-the-floor fetal bracing position, with our hands grasping our necks, and our elbows tightly tucked and held close to our bodies.

duckandcover Somehow, even then, I knew this was utter bullshit, realizing at the tender age of 6 that it might protect us against shrapnel but we would in any case fry from the radiation.  I remember laying awake at night in bed, completely unable to fall asleep.  I was not worried about the monsters under my bed but rather, terrified and certain I was going to die from the upcoming Soviet invasion onto US soil and an atom bomb that would surely be aimed right over my head in Encino, California.

At the same time, in Hollywood, California where my future husband lived with his family, his father, a Holocaust survivor and partisan who lost his entire family during WWII,  ran out and bought a gun as soon as he became a US citizen because he was never, ever going to be defenseless again, and invested thousands of dollars he couldn’t spare into the excavation of his backyard to accommodate a pre-fab fall-out shelter.  (Sadly I never had the opportunity to know my father-in-law; he died of a sudden heart attack years before I met my husband.)  This thing had all the bells and whistles, with only a flat door running parallel to the ground giving hint to its existence.  It had thick metal sides to absorb radiation; the door had an internal latch and steep ladder leading several feet beneath the earth to the internal space, with an air filtration system, stockpiles of food and water, and a rifle.

This 1960s  bomb shelter door is in Wisconsin, but is similar to the one at my husband's childhood home in Hollywood.

This 1960s bomb shelter door is in Wisconsin, but is similar to the one at my husband’s childhood home in Hollywood.


But life in Southern California, at least until the 1971 earthquake, was idyllic and safe and once the Bay of Pigs crisis resolved, there were no more thoughts about impending doom.  The ’71 and subsequent earthquakes did serve as a wake-up call to Angelenos that having several days’ supply of food and water, batteries, flashlight and first aid was a good idea, but it did not, in my opinion, breed the current fear of apocalypse.

I think the current American preoccupation with apocalypse is the result of five factors:

  • The Y2K panic/hype
  • Hurricane Katrina, and the resultant Superdome chaos
  • The Internet
  • Right-wing Christian religious belief regarding Apocalypse, End of Days, and Rapture
  • Apocalypse as a genre in popular culture via books and movies


There was genuine fear bordering on panic starting a couple of years before Y2K, much of it promulgated by the media.  The fear, which seems unbelievably silly now, was that by referring to year dates by the last two digits instead of all four, “00,” 1900 was indistinguishable from 2000.  In embedded systems, this date mix-up would cause havoc with telecommunications and utilities infrastructures, resulting in chaos that would spread not only to the grid, but to food and fuel delivery systems, transportation, the pharmaceutical industry, and anything programmed and run by computer, et al. This might result in riots, martial law, etc.  Weapons were stockpiled by many who thought this would be their only possibility for defense against marauders that would scavenge for a failing food supply in total blackout conditions.  A new industry was created:  living off the grid.  Catalogs circulated that were full of products that enabled people to live comfortably and safely without electricity.  (My husband and I were delighted, a year after the Y2K panic had passed, to buy a $200 unused kerosene space heater for $25 from one such suckered consumer.)

While any immediate sense of urgency passed with the coming of January 2, 2000 and no apparent crisis at hand, only five years later Hurricane Katrina would create a different kind of havoc in New Orleans and the country at large.  It was the costliest natural disaster in the history of the United States, with over 1800 people dead (135 people remain missing to this day), causing damage in 7 states in an area 90,000 sq miles (almost the size of the United Kingdom); severe flooding left hundreds of thousands of people homeless; over a million people were left without power; and environmental damage including oil spills and toxic waste.   But the damage was not only physical and financial.  With the total breakdown of available services from disaster relief organizations and government, mayhem ensued.  The New Orleans Superdome, which sustained some hurricane damage, became a giant refugee center for the city’s poor, but roving gangs there inflicted robbery, rape and murder on those who sheltered there.  Elsewhere in New Orleans, nursing home patients died of dehydration and starvation when assistance was unavailable for days, and even weeks, after the hurricane hit.  The stores not hit by looters survived only because the store owners were heavily armed with personal weapons, standing guard on the roofs of their shops 24/7.  National Guardsmen from all 50 states were called in to restore order, but they were spread thin and it was too little, too late.

Rather than being united in this time of crisis – and there were several “good Samaritan” stories of course – – the images the media captured of the New Orleans’ free-for-all greatly demoralized the country.  For the first time, Americans felt vulnerable and distrustful of their fellow citizens, as things had deteriorated into a “it’s me or them” state of mind, instead of “we’re in this together.”  In the social order of American culture, this paradigm shift was epic!

This is when the Internet came into play.  Suddenly the Web was filled with “survivalist” forums and websites.  And, reactive to Katrina’s massive failure, it was not only about being prepared with emergency supplies during disaster.  The American public was being asked, for the first time on a national scale, to imagine frightening “what ifs” and contingency plans for the survival of immediate family with things like “bug-out locations,” the most effective firearms for self-defense of one’s home and supplies, how to lose one’s identity to avoid government surveillance or accountability, and how to live a self-sufficient lifestyle in terms of food, shelter, clothing, heat, etc. without the necessity to rely on others for subsistence.

In a time when the American public is increasingly suspicious of the toxins resulting in the industrialization of basic necessities, such highly processed food, a bad-tasting water supply, chemical pollutants, disease cluster populations, etc., the concept of a healthier lifestyle; of going “back to the land” and becoming more self-sufficient; and in recognizing a general wimpyness that has overtaken the American population – –  the survivalist mentality of getting back to our roots and becoming more independent could not have been more timely.  With political divisions becoming more extreme within the United States, increased religious fervor and both conservative and liberal political ideologies are often reactive and emotion-led rather the result of thoughtful intellectual reasoning.  It’s a world that seems to make less and less sense, where once concrete notions of Good and Evil are now subjects for debate and moral relativism and political correctness aren’t just about semantics, but a sea change for how we evaluate everyday ethics.  People want answers, and when those answers are less than satisfying, they will look to a Higher Power at one end of the spectrum, or disavow everything at the other end.  And forgive my cynical American self, but in our land of opportunity, where there is money to be made, anything goes.  Hence, not only do we have a media frenzy about the latest sexy whatever ad nauseam, we also have movies, books, and TV shows about zombies and Nights of the Living Dead, aliens of the extraterrestrial variety,  and end-of-the-world scenarios.  Which would be laughable, except the very realistic images on the screen have many Americans convinced that zombies are not the product of a screenwriter’s imagination; they are real.

My own evolution into the world of prepping has a lot to do with my decision to live, for now, in Maine, but it’s not the result of dogma.   Among die-hard survivalists I’d be considered naive and misguided.

As long-time followers of my blog know, my original heave-ho to urban living was the result of a personal and emotional crisis, not a sense that the End of the World was near.  Both my mother and mother-in-law lived with us near the end of their lives (at the same time!).  One parent was battling Alzheimer’s and cancer; the other’s problems were emotional and financial, in addition to congestive heart failure.  The stresses were enormous, and unlike the saintly people you read about in motivational books and magazines and newscasts, I was psychologically and spiritually  ill-equipped to deal with it.  As a caretaker of my loved ones, I constantly strove to make myself into a better person, but the trials and tribulations, and the harsh judgement and disowning of others close to me for my failures, perceived and real, brought me to the edge of a nervous breakdown.  I started questioning everything:  relationships, responsibility, love, faith, religion, sense of place, my city, my environment; but I was so confused and angry and sad that clarity was lacking.  I needed a change, and it had to be a drastic one.  I admit it – – I was running away – – but I was also running towards something.  I wanted to see if by reducing life to its most basic form, I could somehow manage to exist in a way that was more than going through the motions of daily living.  By living in a very isolated, rural environment, I would be challenging myself anew on many levels.  And by sheer need of the circumstances – – I live 30+ miles from the usual conveniences – – I would need to be prepared for many types of emergencies in a practical, girl-scout sort of way.  Over the years in Maine, my competence level for practical knowledge in day-to-day living has increased.  I’m content here.  My husband and I are alone, but not lonely.

And then, in the summer of 2014, Operation Protective Edge – – the war in Gaza and Israel – – happened, preceded by some terrorist-caused tragedies that led to the declaration of that war.  Via the Internet where I voraciously consumed news of Israel and following a personal visit there, I realized that “surviving” according to the American apocalyptic version, versus the Israeli version, are two very different concepts and are realized in nearly oppositional ways.

As a country and out of necessity, Israel is highly prepared for conflict.  Even young children know not to pick up tempting objects from the ground, such as a doll or a grapefruit – – both have been used by terrorists to hide explosives.  If someone leaves a backpack or lunch box or stray package behind on the bus and someone notices it – – and someone always does – – the bus is evacuated and a bomb squad is called in.  Usually a robot is used to inspect and “disable” the object.  This constant, heightened state of alert is imprinted in every single Israeli man, woman and child.  And yes, it means the mind and body can never really relax.

Perhaps that is why Israelis are so brash.  They have big hearts, but also big mouths.  They are quick to forgive.  They will lend their opinion about everything, unasked.  And while this can be annoying as heck, one realizes that the reason a complete stranger isn’t afraid to tell you how to run your life, is because they don’t consider themselves strangers – – all Israelis consider themselves part of one (often dysfunctional) family.  They really care because ultimately they realize that they are part of one cohesive family unit, despite individual differences.  This bond goes even beyond statehood; it is a bond of nationhood, and is perhaps the key to understanding why, despite all odds against it, Israel continues to thrive.  An Aramaic phrase from Talmudic times sums this up:  “kol Yisrael arevim zeh l’zeh” — all Israel is responsible for one another.  This concept of communal responsibility is far-reaching.  If one Jew sees another acting sinfully or irresponsibly, he has the imperative to intervene.  It also obligates Jews to ensure that basic needs of his Jewish brethren, such as food, shelter and clothing, are taken care of.

Already you can see why, especially in times of conflict, the survivalist vision of a discreet, heavily armed and stockpiled compound in West Virginia that is completely self-sufficient and built to keep out others is in complete opposition to the Israeli model.

There are countless examples from Operation Protective Edge that turn classic American-style “survivalism” on its edge.  Here are but a few:

  • I called some friends living in the Galilee to ask how they were doing.  They couldn’t talk because they were in the process of welcoming a woman and her 5 children to their home – – people who were complete strangers to them.  The woman’s husband was called up to fight, and meanwhile the family, who were from Israel’s south and were under constant bombardment – – were mentally and physically exhausted.  Every time a siren indicated a possible attack, they had only 15 seconds to get to a shelter.  Sleep, meals, bus rides, school, going to buy food – – all activities were constantly disrupted, and they were under tremendous stress.  My friends would say they did nothing exceptional by welcoming these strangers into their home for a period of several weeks, completely without expectation of payment for their trouble.  In fact, thousands of Israelis in the North welcomed families from the South – – just as families in the South had done to families from the Northern regions when villages and cities had come under hundreds of missile attacks from Syria and Lebanon in 2006.
  • When it was difficult for businesses in the South to remain open due to the constant bombardment, competing businesses in the North gave up sales they might have had and invited their competitors in the South to set up merchandise fairs in the North in town halls and schools, as well as inviting them to send their stock to the North so these businesses could help sell things on their behalf.  This included merchandise such as school supplies, giftware, clothing, books and jewelry.
  • When it was known that a platoon would be passing through a town, residents rushed to make care packages for the soldiers consisting of socks, phone rechargers, toiletries, and home-cooked meals, sodas, baked goods, candy, and notes of encouragement.  The response by residents was so overwhelming that the soldiers actually had to tell them to stop.
  • Many towns didn’t wait for soldiers to pass through.  Instead, they organized “care packages” and had truckloads driven by residents who personally delivered the items to the combat zone border.
  • One civilian man rigged a solar shower contraption and drove from field base to field base so that soldiers could take hot showers.  He also supplied toiletries and clean towels free of charge.

Israel, on a national scale, is prepared for war.  Haifa’s Rambam Hospital recently opened the largest (2,000 bed) underground hospital in the world.  It is designed to protect staff and patients safe in the event of chemical or biological warfare, as well as from missiles and rocket attacks.  Newly constructed apartment buildings and private homes now have “sealed room” bomb shelters within the living space.  And yet, the overwhelming majority of Israelis do not stockpile food or water or emergency supplies in their homes and residential shelters in times of war! How ironic, then, that when a snowstorm of a few inches threatens every few years, the entire country goes into a crazy panic!  Entire supermarket shelves are completely emptied before impending snow.  And yet this store-storming buyers’ panic does not occur on the eve of a war.

While I personally believe keeping extra water and a small supply of food and medicine is a good idea for the sealed rooms, perhaps Israeli  reticence is based on the idea that no man is an island:  that to win in adversity, one must cooperate and share resources and help one another get through whatever trials life brings.  Because ultimately, despite the craziness, Israelis have each others’ backs.

Seeing how Israel behaved during last summer’s conflict forced me to ask myself this question:  in a survivalist’s bug-out location, one can survive Apocalypse — but does one want to be a survivor in such a world, where people unknown to you are the enemy, and one must live only for oneself and one’s immediate family at the expense of another?

I love my life here in Maine, but I think a large part of my heart is tied to Israel.  Living in Israel is about being part of something greater than myself, about being a part of history, and a part of destiny – – a perhaps-irrational desire that emanates without logic from my Jewish soul.

Aliyah (living in Israel some day) is a dream that I hope will become my new reality in the near future.


It is the day after 9/11.  I have been thinking how one best commemorates and memorializes such a day of devastation.

To be frank, lately I’ve been feeling rather demoralized.  Thanks to social networking and the news, I often feel bombarded by depressing information and trends.  One can say, “Well, just don’t read/look at that stuff!” but to do otherwise is to bury one’s head in the sand.

Our world is becoming increasingly evil, and we simply can no longer sit back in our recliners and watch the world go by.

I think many people are unaffected by world current events for a variety of reasons.

One reason is location.  Many times things are geographically far removed from where one lives.  This is especially true in Maine, where people feel somewhat immune not only to the world’s problems, but to problems in American cities.  That is one of the reasons people choose to live in Maine and raise families here, after all – – one can separate oneself from many of the problems, politics, racial and religious intolerance, rude behavior, materialism and crime that typically plague cities!

Another reason is denial.  “It won’t happen here/to me.”

Next comes helplessness.  “Even if it’s in my own backyard, there is nothing I can do about it anyway.”  Or, “We can’t solve the world’s problems.  I am just one person against the multitudes.”

And there is apathy.  “They deserve what they get.”  Or “That’s their problem, not mine.”

The worst is hopelessness.  “The world is such a terrible place, there is little point in living/having children/thinking of a future. Why would I want to live in a world like this anyway?”

Especially in America, where life is relatively easy, people take the pursuit of happiness very seriously.  We have incredible personal freedom.  It is difficult to fathom true evil and what our lives would be like if it came knocking on our doorsteps due to a lack of actual experience (thank G-d!).

One reaction is “prepping.”  I have studied “prepping” to some degree and confess to a somewhat morbid fascination with it (click here for a prepper’s vocabulary tutorial).  There are many, many aspects to prepping that are extremely commendable.  It is certainly worthwhile for EVERY household to have emergency supplies on hand, from first aid to water to a non-perishable food supply.  Anyone who has been without power for a week or more due to a natural disaster can attest to how quickly things deteriorate, and how important being prepared can be.

But there is an aspect of prepping that simply goes against my personal code, and that is, “Every man for himself (and his family).”

Now if things get dire, believe me, you are going to be looking out for your family first.  But die-hard preppers take this to an extreme, at the expense of community and community spirit.

More than anything else, even the incredible outright miracles that people experienced, what I gained from reports from Israel during the recent Gaza war, was this very intense community support and team spirit that  not only did not lessen the quality of their community and individuals’ lives; the people were empowered and sustained by it.  There were countless stories of acts of selfless giving and sacrifice, for the good of community.  Despite constant danger and threats against them, people were not demoralized; they actually became stronger, knowing that everyone was working on behalf of the other, together.  People under constant bombardment in the South of Israel were welcomed into the homes of total strangers in the North of Israel.  They were given meals, beds, rest, and sympathy at no charge, and were invited to stay at these strangers’ homes for as long as they needed.  People from all over Israel baked, cooked, and bought meals for soldiers, which the civilians brought to the front; they sent socks and personal hygiene items and even bullet-proof vests along with personal notes of encouragement.  There was an unprecedented amount of unity and love; and that, even more than fighting an enemy, was what gave people strength and a feeling of hope.

I am going to say something harsh:  we don’t have a monopoly on chesed (lovingkindness).  I am addressing this specifically to Jews and Catholics, since both groups are renowned for their amazing charity work.  When charity work is done in the name of religion, especially when done through organizations, it’s easy to be proud of one’s accomplishments.  It’s ironic, isn’t it, that charity work, which should be the most humbling of work, instead fills us with a sense of pride?

The truth is, the concept of charity is something of an enigma.  Our motivation is to help someone less fortunate than ourselves.  But when we do donate time or money to someone in difficult circumstances, it makes us feel good (and rightfully so).  So the question is, who benefits more?  The giver or the recipient?  And if we didn’t benefit so much as givers, would we still give?  (I’ve often wondered if some of the world’s big benefactors would be so generous if their names didn’t appear on buildings or plaques.)

But even more important than giving money to worthy causes:  how many of us would give ourselves.  I don’t care how wonderful a person you may think you are, until we are faced with a life-or-death situation, NONE of us knows how we will respond.  We can only hope and pray that we have the courage to take action; to step up to the plate; even if it comes at the cost of our own lives.

Many Jews (and Catholics, too) are schooled with the idea of self-sacrifice for a higher purpose.  Catholics have their martyred saints and Jews are told inspiring stories about people who made heroic choices during the Holocaust, for example.  This is all good. But we need to step outside of our religion, I believe, and devote some time to stories of heroic deeds that are done by average people, people who don’t necessarily share our culture or our religion or are super-beings or saintly giants.  Because when evil is at our doorstep, we need reassurance and encouragement that there are still good, everyday people in the world, even if they are not like us.  When times get rough,we are going to be dependent on one another, not just people who are our c0-religionists or from the same culture.

Which brings me back to 9/11. There are lots of public memorial ceremonies all around the country.  It is also natural that children will not be as affected by 9/11 as are adults, since they didn’t experience first-hand what took place in America that day and for them, these memorial services will have less of an impact.   I therefore think that every school in America – – especially parochial schools – –  should devote the first 2 hours of the school day on 9/11 to videos about that day.  But not only videos showing the tragedies – – videos showing the triumph of human spirit, so children can see not only that even one person can make a difference, but that when people join together, they can make an even bigger difference and make life worth living.  That people are good, and that yes, they can combat evil.  There is hope for mankind.

Here are two examples of videos I find appropriate to memorialize 9/11, especially for children in school as well as those of us adults who need a little moral fortitude now and then.  The people in these short documentaries are true heroes, but really they are “simple” people with very profound messages.

The first is called Boatlift, An Untold Tale of 9/11 Resilience.  Narrated  by Tom Hanks, it is about the largest evacuation by sea in history: the rescue of civilians from Manhattan by boat during 9/11. To put this in perspective: the 2nd largest evacuation by sea in history was during WWII in Dunkirk, when 339,000 British and French soldiers were rescued over 9 days. On 9/11, nearly 500,000 civilians were rescued by boats in an unplanned mission in just 9 hours.

Here is what some of those boat captains said:

“I have one theory in life: I never want to the say the word, ‘I should have.’ If I do it and I fail . . . I tried. If I do it and succeed . . . better for me. And I told my children the same thing. Never go through life saying ‘I should have.'”

“Average people: they stepped up when they needed to. They showed me when American people need to come together and pull together, they will do it. ”

“The thing that was the best: everyone helped everyone.”

“It was the greatest thing I ever did in my life. ”

“I was honored to be part of it.”

The second video is called The Man in the Red Bandana.  It is about a young man who sacrificed his own life to save others during the evacuation of the South Tower, and how his red bandana brought his family, friends and community closure and meaning.  This video forces us to confront ourselves and ask, what would we do? And then we can only pray that we live up to G-d’s expectations that we have the proper strength of character; that we reach into some hidden deep pocket of our soul and emerge triumphant in spirit.

There is something to live for; and it is greater than all of us as individuals.