Tuesday, December 27, 2016

And now for a weather update

I am cold. It is nine degrees celcius here right now and it has been raining for several days and I am chilled to the bone. And if one more person, upon hearing how cold I feel, says to me "but your Canadian", I am going to punch them in the face. I know I am Canadian, I renewed my passport last week at the Canadian Embassy. That was a dead giveaway.

So consider yourselves warned.

Israel is experiencing below seasonal temperatures. This isn't particularly newsworthy because the entire world seems to be in temperature flux these days. What is interesting are the weather-related observations.

1. As I have mentioned many times on these electronic pages, buildings in Israel are built with cement blocks and there is no insulation added. Why? It seems so obvious to me, the non-builder. When I Googled "sheets of insulation for sale" I got more than three million options. I am sure we could have lots of it shipped here. And if we made a bulk order for the entire country, I am pretty sure we could get a good deal.  (Ken Nichols Insulation in Sullivan, IL, is offering excellent discount prices.

2. Saying you are sick and tired of the rain in Israel is pretty much the same as saying you are sick and tired of your grandmother (as you set her out to sea on an ice floe). Try saying that in Israeli company and let me know if you live to see tomorrow. Israel needs rain; well, the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) in particular needs rain. And since rain is considered a blessing from God in these parts, one has to be out of one's mind to complain publicly about it. Ever. That said, I would like to know why the Almighty can't improve His aim and send the water where it needs to go?

3. One of my friends here is from the Canadian Midwest. He likes to tell me every few years how not cold it is here. He knows cold and this isn't it. He tells me that he doesn't even wear a jacket in the winter when he is in Israel (I don't believe him but I don't have time to stalk him and catch him in the act of jacket wearing).  Of course, he spends a lot of time in the Northeastern United States which means that, relatively speaking, he is right. His body's temperature memory is still operational. Mine is not. I live here more consistently than he does. Nine celcius is the new minus 30 for me.

4. Why does my country of birth have any bearing on how cold I feel? No one questions the people from Detroit. Or Chicago. Or Cleveland. It is definitely as cold or colder in those places as it is in Toronto. And what does the place I come from15 years ago have to do with me being cold today? And does that mean that everyone who survived a week of deep winter skiing should be able to tolerate cold? Don't you think that being away from the real cold for 15 years would allow your body to forget? For Heaven's sake, this isn't riding a bicycle.

5. It is often warmer outside your home than inside. Seriously. Sometimes in the winter, I go outside in search of the noonday sun and even if that means sitting on a curb with my lunch in hand, and playing stupid games on my phone for 20 minutes, I do it. I once took the newspaper and sat in my car while the sun was beating directly onto the front windshield. When my neighbour spotted me and asked me what I was doing, I told him I was having quiet time in my auxiliary den. Unfortunately, in this past week, the sun took a vacation in Ethiopia and my auxiliary living space is unoccupied.

Now it is bedtime and it is time to head to my cryogenic-lab-temperature-approved bedroom. If I survive until the morning I am definitely going to contact Ken Nicols.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

10 things President Trump needs to know about Israel

Despite my inability to prophesize (see November 30, 2015 post "10 reasons why I know Maschiah is coming in 2016"), there was no way Israel was going to really win with either US presidential candidate, so here we are looking down the barrel of one (of two) possible guns. Rather than wait for all of the misinformed or partially informed American Israel experts to guide Trump through the murky waters of Israel, here's a heads up to get the ball rolling.

1. American Israel experts, major US media and American Jews of any and all stripes, do not know what's what here. Do not call Kissinger (a. he's a Democrat and b. he is a self-hating Jew.) Do not call your son-in-law. You have no emotional attachment to Israel. That's okay. You once said you were neutral on the Middle East and do us all of favour and stay that way.

2. Even if you continue to give us money (a sore point for us), we are not going to just go along with whatever you want. We would much prefer if you would just go along with everything we want, but we aren't holding our collective breath. We know that all that money comes with strings attached but we choose to ignore that uncomfortable reality as much as possible.

3. American Jews are not Israeli Jews, even if many of us look and sound like we might be.  American Jews are the ones who think that they are still living the best possible life there in the US and that despite the rise of the alt-right and the crazed left (think BDS campus vigilantes), they know what is best for Israeli Jews. If that wasn't so sad it would be laughable. American Jews are no longer generally with us or watching our backs -- and frankly they should be busy reading the writing on their own walls right now. Plus, we have already alienated lots of liberal American Jews and well, we don't care.

4. The settlements are not a barrier to anything but angry local Arabs. Don't even start with that line of thinking. It originated in the very anti-Semitic  State Department well before Dulles showed up and took it up a notch in the 1940s. If we could find a good place to build a border most Israelis would probably vote for the border. But please keep in mind that a country nine-miles wide, surrounded by people who want to wipe if off the map, is no solution.

5. You know that you don't care that we are the only democracy in the Middle East. Tyrants and sheiks are your thing. We know it too. The whole America loves Israel thing isn't real. Ask Kissinger-- we really appreciated you holding back weapon support until the second week of the Yom Kippur War. And in case our collective memory was fading, Obama brought us back to reality. We are hedging our bets.

6. We are not interested in occupying anyone. Particularly a hateful population like the Pals.

7. You cannot suck and blow at the same time. You cannot say you are with us, then , befriend the KKK, neo-Nazis and the alt-right in general. You probably have not been keeping track but the Second World War only ended in 1945, a mere 71 years ago. We aren't over it yet.

8. You do not know us better than we know ourselves.  Three thousand years  in one location gives a people a lot of time to hone their regional survival skills. Counter-intuitive is our neighbourhood  and Hyper-sensitive is our middle name. Don't try to out-think us.  We are not as Western as we may appear.  Call us when you have 300 years under your belt, if you are still around.

9. You may have a Jewish son-in-law and a load of Jewish grandchildren. Mazal tov. That has nothing to do with anything. No, being an Orthodox Jew does not make your son-in-law in any way, shape or form, an expert on negotiating peace in the Middle East. According to Harvard, he doesn't seem to be an expert on much of anything other than getting into Ivy League schools without the necessary credentials. You say "he knows the region." What region would that be? Rehavia? Mamila?

10. Bibi isn't going to be in charge forever. Love him or hate him, there is no way Israelis will continue to vote him into office. Yes, I know it doesn't seem that way right now but time is not on his side.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Aliyah: 10 things I learned to appreciate about Israelis

I must be getting in the festive mood because I started having warm and fuzzy feelings about the Israeli people today*. It's not that I normally do not have these feelings but making fun of them and the never-ending subject matter that they provide for this blog is usually more entertaining … for me. 

1.       If you are having trouble with your math homework you can probably find a Russian city maintenance worker who can solve the problem in less than two minutes. Do not be deceived by the labourers' clothing and present occupation – they probably have a degree or two in Mathematics from The Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology. Yes, that's a real place.
2.   Israelis do not get worked up over things related to imminent war. Sirens, drills, and the likes are simply part of life, and until there is a missile headed directly for them, they are not going to disrupt whatever they are doing. As the sirens went off last week as part of military practice run, I overheard a panicked elderly woman on the main street of Ra'anana ask in English where the nearest bomb shelter was, and no one seemed to know.  Please note that this does not apply in Sderot and surrounding area. They do not have the luxury of nonchalance.
3.   Israelis are more than happy to interrupt any conversation happening in English (and probably French now) yelling at the top of their lungs that you are talking too loud. You are not. What they really mean is that you are speaking English and they don't want to hear it.
4.       Rolling their eyes and making a "phst" sound can be a positive, negative or incredulous response to whatever you have just said to them. (In my most recent experience I asked a guy in the gym who had draped his towel over a machine I wanted to use if he was still using that machine since it did not appear so. When he gave me the rolly-eye phst thing I had to say in English – for effect – "What the hell is that? Yes? No? Maybe?"
5.       Everything is on the table for discussion. How much money you have; Politics; Salaries; Hemorrhoids. Anything that the rest of the Western World would not discuss in polite company, is front and center for Israelis.
6.       Every soldier is their soldier. They will give them lifts, do their laundry, invite them to their picnics on the beach, send them away with extra food – without ever asking their names because it really doesn't matter – they already "know" them.
7.   Israelis are surprisingly nice. My friend Yehuda insists this is true and he was disappointed that I did not include this is my previous post. He is generally correct, however, he has never met my next-door-neighbours.
8.       Even secular Jews are more religious than many Jews I know outside of Israel who consider themselves religious. Friday night dinner, kissing mezuzot, and only eating kosher food is quite common amongst the majority of secular Jews.
9.   Israelis are the farthest thing from helicopter parents, until it comes to sleepaway camp. Kids here have a degree of physical freedom that hasn’t existed in Canada since the 1960s. I know, I was there. We left the house in the morning on nice summer days and showed up again at dinner time. I used to spend the last half hour of every flight to Canada when my kids were younger explaining to them why they could not leave my side in the grocery store and why, at age 8, they could not go off for hours on their own. They didn't get it.

10.   Of course, for all the freedom kids have here, parents cannot understand why anyone would send their child to sleepaway camp for three weeks. They have a mental barrier at 10 days – I have a mental barrier at two months.
So as we move into the New Year, 5777, and the number of people outside of Israel who don't like Israelis seems to be increasingly daily, remember that everything you read about the Jewish State in the mainstream media isn't true. Some really good people live here.  
(*Note: I am completely aware that I am also an Israeli. I have the passport and voter registration cards to show it. In the following list I am referring to native-born Israelis who still live here – not the sad, deluded fools who left for a better life elsewhere.)

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Helping Israel's poor (or a few easy steps to help get you into the Book of Life)

No, I am not going soft. I am taking a very short hiatus from insulting everyone everywhere to do something positive. So please bear with me and read along. Do not skip any sections; do not skim. I don't want to repeat myself.

In 2014 two of my very good (and I should add, really smart) friends created an extremely worthy Crowd Funding site called Ten Gav. I don't know what that means but it doesn't matter because they do life-changing good work, helping less fortunate Israelis who need a little boost so that they can get on with helping themselves. Since that time they have successfully managed 220 or more mini crowd funding projects from all over Israel.

As they see it, it is crowd funding with a twist (all good stories have a twist).  It emphasizes the donor experience rather than the “raise” itself. (I think that is insider lingo from the crowd funding business.)

The premise of Ten Gav is that Israel’s poor have vast needs that are not being met -- and that many people want to help them in some small, but significant, way as long as it isn't too complicated. 

Here's what they learned during their pre-launch research (I told you they were smart):

1. People want to feel a personal connection to the end receiver of their giving. That's why Ten Gav's platform allows the potential donor to read in short story about a particular family’s situation (pseudonyms are used) and what they need. It's personal!

2. People also want to know that the recipient of their donation really needs it, so each funding project posted on the site is verified by a professional social worker, reviewed by her principal and made on behalf of a person or family with an open file in a municipal social services department in Israel. To add to the donor’s sense of confidence in the giving process, the name of the verifying social worker and the name of his or her agency are posted alongside the story itself. Rather than create an entirely new system of due diligence, Ten Gav relies on the Israeli municipal welfare services system, which has proven to be a good decision.

3. People want to feel like their dollars make a tangible difference to the end receiver so no single need offered for funding on the site exceeds $1500.  This ensures that even a modest gift will have meaningful impact.

4. People who can only afford to give modest amounts, want 100% of their gift to go towards funding the case chosen by the donor. (In case you were wondering, they fundraise separately to cover operating expenses.)

Here’s how Ten Gav works:  You visit www.tengav.org and read the stories about real people meeting real challenges.  Each story requests funding for something specific: It might be a request for a fridge, a stove or a washer; it might be a request for prescription glasses, a laptop computer for a student, an orthopedic bed for an ill person being cared for at home or hearing aids for an elderly client. Or, it might be a request for funding for a cosmeticians course for a young adult, soccer club fees for a grade school boy, or a didactic evaluation for a high school student to enable him or her to receive special dispensations in their matriculation exams.

All of the families you read about cannot afford most capital expenses. You choose the family in need to which you want to make your gift.  The counters are reduced as donations come in until the need has been fully funded.  At that point each of the individuals who donated to a particular need will receive notice and thanks from Ten Gav that the campaign has been closed and that they, together with several other good people, have made a real difference in one family’s life.

Unfortunately, the needs of Israel’s poor are many and their primary advocates in the social services system, namely professional social workers, have few places to turn to for assistance on their behalf.
You can help

At this time of the year when many of us are running around filling our refrigerators and freezers with holiday food, and buying new clothes to wear to synagogue, there are real people out there who would be very appreciative if you could siphon off a little bit to help them. It doesn't take much effort to do so – the Ten Gav site is self-explanatory – and it would make a world of difference.

And let's face it, if there is ever a point in the year where we should all be looking for a few last minute good deeds to help us get into next year's Book of Life, this is it.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Aliyah: Fifteen (plus 2) things I learned in the last 15 years

Last Friday night in synagogue I sat next to someone who just made Aliyah. She told me that she feels like she has been hit by a bus. Despite the fact that she and her family have been spending their vacations here for the past several years and many people in the neighbourhood assumed they already lived here, the transition from visitor to resident had caught her off-guard. It's a big thing and personally, every time I allow myself to think back to my first year, I have to go to bed and calm myself down. Let's just say that those aren't my best memories.

So, with the help of input from some of my friends who have been there and done that, here's what I know today that I did not know 15 years ago when I arrived.

1.       No matter how hard you try, you are not going to turn Israel into whatever place you came from. At some point you are going to have to accept the old adage "when in Israel, do as the Israelis". This includes learning the fine arts of strategic impersonal yelling, holding your place in line without getting in line, being in two lanes at once, parking wherever it suits you, and the willful rejection of the word "no".
2.       This is not wherever you came from. The country is counter-intuitive. Nothing is done the same here as it is "there". This includes: returns in stores, wedding ceremonies, banking, crossing the street, expecting service with a smile. How ever you are used to things working, it's the opposite here.
3.       Aliyah is difficult and even if you are a capable Hebrew speaker, it is going to turn your world upside down for a while. You may think you are mentally, physically and even spiritually prepared for the move but I am willing to bet buttons to beer caps that you are not. All you need is a day dealing with any branch of officialdom (personal favourites: Bituach Leumi, Misrad Ha P'nim, the maccabi4u website) and you will quickly realize that you are no longer in Kansas and no twister on Earth will ever get you back there.
4.       The ideal development of your child involves their ability to hold their own on the playground ("use your words" is not an Israeli concept) and independent learning until – approximately -- 10th grade, when the teachers finally shift into gear and start catching-up on every drop of curriculum they forgot to teach your child for the previous nine years. These are truly the roots of Start Up Nation; not the army.
5.       When people tell you that your child will be a fluent Hebrew speaker by Chanuka do not get it into your head that they mean THIS Chanuka. They mean Chanuka several years from now.
6.   Kids turn out differently here. They know that they are all vital components of a country/a people/ a history. They want to do their part to give back to society. They do not need to make academic and extra-curricular decisions based on how to impress a college admissions advisor – they know who they are and what they must do.  Army service, while nerve-wracking for their parents, is a great source of much pride that turns our children into adults so much better than they would have been without the experience.
7.       Going to the army (and some national service) may be similar to getting an undergraduate degree, except for the shitty dorm rooms, worse food, and Hamas and Hezbollah instead of BDS.  It is a valuable experience that will matter later in life – just like university. However, that life and death element is a bit of a game changer.
8.       If you don't want your children to mingle and possibly marry Israelis, moving to Israel may not have been your best idea because there a lot of Israelis here. And as surprising as it may be, Israelis prefer to speak Hebrew and live Israeli lives. You may also have to accept customs and traditions that you believe are uncomfortable for you or bad for your health. I personally like the Sephardi tradition of green-onion-as-representational-whip at the Pesach Seder but I am no fan of meat for lunch.
9.       Winter is colder inside your house than outside. The lack of insulation results in a situation where wearing a coat or heavy sweater to bed begins to seem obvious. Even my dog prefers to go outside in the winter and she is normally no friend of fresh air.
10.   Dead people go straight into the ground. No coffin, just a tightly wrapped shroud. It is incredibly unnerving the first four hundred times you see it.
11.   Israel has a very robust economy. It almost looks like a first world country. There is a crane overhead almost everywhere you look in the center of the country and roads constantly under construction. However, it is all part of the most elaborate sleight-of-hand ruse you will ever see -- you still have to pay Mercedes prices for a Mazda, and $15 for a decent pair of underwear.
12.   Fruit tastes like whatever it is, and can only be found in season. Tomatoes like tomatoes (not wet cardboard), strawberries like strawberries. And dairy products taste like the cow made them specially for you in your backyard five minutes ago. Once you eat here you will never enjoy food anywhere where mass production rules.
13.   The guys carrying visible guns on the street, on the bus, and on the beach, are the good guys and you are really glad they seem to be everywhere.
14.   No one plans ahead. It may have begun as gallows thinking – why plan ahead when we may be dead by then -- but has over time become part of the fabric of Israeli thinking. And oddly enough it works and is truly addictive. Thinking about getting married? Why not next week? Definitely no later than two months from now! Bar mitzvah party venue burned down the night before the party (this really happened), just move the food, the DJ and the guests up the street to the next available party location and carry on.
15. You do not have to be post-secondary school educated to have an opinion on everything from the American presidential elections, to the pros and cons of the interest rates set by the Bank of Israel, or who is right: Boogie, Boujie or Bibi. Every garbage collector, bus driver, gardener, and delivery person has an opinion about what is going on and how things should be.
16.   Oh, and one last thing. The reason Starbucks failed in Israel is because Israelis do not like the taste of Starbucks coffee. There is no conspiracy.
17. Oh, and another thing, lizards have to live somewhere and apparently their somewhere is Israel's everywhere.