Thursday, December 24, 2009

The more things change, the more they stay the same

A few years ago I would have insisted that this picture was directed at North American Jews but now, after a few years in Israel, I realize that all Jewish parents are the same. The only difference here is the focus of Jewish parents' attention. Instead of it being their children's education and careers, it is their senior army officers. Word has it that every parent who has a child in the army has the number of that child's commanding officer on his or her speed dial.

Normally this photograph would make me laugh, but I also have one of those parents.

Thanks for sending me the photo Karen.

It never feels like Christmas here

After spending 40 years celebrating Christmas -- even if it was only tangentially -- it was surprising how quickly I forgot all about it the first year we lived in Israel. I remember the day very clearly. We were sitting in the kitchen having dinner and I had to check the calendar for some other reason. As I scanned December looking for the date I needed, I noticed that it was Christmas Day.

At that moment I just couldn't believe that Christmas had crept up on me completely unnoticed. Considering that in Canada everyone shifts into Christmas mode right after Halloween, I was amazed that it was dinner time on Christmas Day before I even realized it. And considering I live a hop, skip and a jump from both Bethlehem and Nazareth, it was rather ironic.

So here I am, eight years later, on the verge of my eighth Christmas in the Holy Land, and all I can think about it what is going on in my Holy Land (yes, as I said ... within a 90 minute drive to either of the two key locations in the Christmas story.)

First is the complex matter of Gilad Shalit. For those of you who don't know his name, he is an Israeli tank solider who was ambushed and captured by our good friends Hamas 1278 days ago. Normally Hamas and their likes prefer to leave us squirming in our lack of knowledge as to whether our captured soldiers are still alive or not. Usually, after we have released several hundred of their killers back into the world, they like to send us back our ONE or maybe TWO soldiers in pine boxes. So far, it hasn't happened like that this time, but I am not going into the details of why I think that is.

What I will address is the fact that, once again, on this regular December day, Israel is torn apart by what the best course of action is in the Shalit situation. What is best for all of Israel? Not an easy question to answer.

We have a chance to get Gilad back alive -- which is what every Israeli parent with an army-aged child wants. But the price of his release is so very high -- it requires Israel to free hundreds and hundreds of terrorists with blood on their hands. And we know full well that, with very few exceptions, these prisoners were not rehabilitated in Israeli jails and that, once they are back on the streets, they will inevitably kill more Israelis. Needless to say, all of those families who have lost members at the hands of terrorists are against the deal. They are already victims of previous attempts to get some of our soldiers back.

Each side has a legitimate argument and I do not envy the people who will have to make the final decision. Our enemies are not men of integrity. They do not value life. They are scumbags. (This does not include all the innocent people living under their rule.)

However, my second story for the day involves the Israeli scumbags. Yes, we have them too. Unfortunately.

In the midst of the holiday season I hate to discuss upsetting things but today, after reading the newspaper, I feel like I have no choice.

Yesterday's Jerusalem Post reported the most upsetting story I have read in a long time. A Florida family that recently came to live in Israel has just been through one of those ordeals that keep parents up at night worrying.

Their teenage son was arrested for some minor mischief and ended up in Youth Detention. While there he was physically and sexually abused by both the staff and other teenage inmates. When his father came to visit him he had just been through a beating and he begged his father to get him help.

The father tried everything that any normal panic-stricken parent would try to do to protect his or her child. He was ignored by the authorities and dismissed out-of-hand. He hired a lawyer who was so shaken and upset upon meeting the teenager that he could barely discuss it on record.

Together they have worked around the clock trying to get this kid out of juvvie. Needless to say, the family says they are leaving Israel as soon as they possibly can.

At the heart of problem is the fact that the parents are new immigrants and totally out of their element trying to maneuver through the Israeli Justice System. The details of the case appear tenuous although it is difficult to say for sure because the source of all my information is the Post. And heaven help anyone who relies on newspapers for accurate information.

I am an immigrant and although I have not had such a nightmarish experience (thank God) I do understand the helplessness an immigrant feels. A new system (that in some ways is inferior to the system you left behind). A different language. A different mentality. A different culture.

Israel is a wonderful country on many levels, however, at the end of the day, the one thing that North Americans naively expect is that it is a democracy similar to the one they come from. It is not. As I have said before on the odd occasion, Israel is a third-world country dressed up to look a first-world country.

So, as the Christian world enters a special time of their year, it is very easy to see why Christmas doesn't cross my mind anymore.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

And now for cold yoga (not to be confused with hot yoga)

Shwami Shimon's father died this past week and he is sitting shiva for seven days, which is how I found myself at a cold yoga class last night. It's not that I couldn't live without yoga for a week -- because I could surely live without exercise forever -- but in true teenage fashion, everyone else was going so I went too. Actually, I wanted to find out if one could actually do yoga in a room that wasn't 105 degrees.

The short answer is yes, you can do yoga without feeling like you are stranded in the Sinai desert in the noon sun in summer. The longer answer is that it just doesn't feel like you have worked hard enough if the sweat isn't streaming off your body by the bucket load. Cold yoga is very civilized and everyone leaves the class looking pretty much as they did when they entered. After hot yoga you look like you just spent an hour and a half in the oven at 350 degrees.

As an aside, one of my friends asked me after the class why I did yoga at all. "You look like you were really struggling," she said. I wanted to punch her in the face but I did the mature thing and simply agreed that I wasn't the most flexible person on earth. I also added that Swami Shimon said that if I kept it up, I would eventually become more flexible.

If I gave up on everything I tried but didn't do well, then I might as well just sit on the edge of my bed and stare off into space all day. I am very good at that. Actually, I think you could fairly call me an expert in this category.

Back to yoga. Based on the remarks above you can reasonably assume that hot or cold, I didn't execute the moves with any finesse. Apparently temperature has nothing to do with my lack of balance or general yoga ability. I actually thought I was holding my own quite nicely in cold yoga until the editorial input from my "friend" after the class. The teacher didn't have to run to my rescue on a minute-by-minute basis the way Swami Shimon does, so I took that as a sign of improvement on my part.

When I asked the other hot yoga chicks if they preferred cold yoga over hot yoga I received a very enthusiastic and consistent "no way". That doesn't mean that they didn't have fun because who wouldn't have a good time doing pretty much anything with 13 friends? Plus, if you aren't comfortable bending over to grab your ankles and in the process sticking your rear-end in someone's face, then they really weren't your friends to begin with were they?

Also, one thing that cold yoga had that hot yoga never has was an apres-work-out meal of real Nepalese food. Compliments of the cold-yoga initiator, we had the most delicious vegetarian meal I can remember. I would tell you what I ate if I could, but I can't. All I could easily identify were the peas and the basmati rice. There was something mushy in a brown sauce and something else more mushy in a red sauce. Both tasted amazing. And all the dishes were spicy which gave me the added advantage of going home almost as hot as if I had gone to a hot yoga class.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The ultimate convenant

This morning, the first day after the end of my year of mourning for my father and my religion-imposed exile, I attended a brit milah for my friends' grandson. After a year of avoiding all social activity, it was a little bit odd to be out in the greater party world again.

As we all stood inside the main sanctuary of our synagogue chit chatting and loosely participating in the goings on in the center of the room, it dawned on me that the guest of honour was not having nearly as much fun as the rest of us.

First of all, a brit -- or religious circumcision -- is normally held eight days after the birth of a little Jewish baby boy. In the event of medical concerns it may be postponed, as it was in this case because the baby had jaundice. The upside is that it gave me a week to refer to him as the little yellow fellow, but the downside (for him) is that his little nerve endings are a week more developed. In the case of circumcision, this can't possibly be a good thing.

And as if having your foreskin non-surgically removed isn't enough fun for one day, can you imagine the fact that it is obligatory for those in attendance to sit down and have a meal afterward. Frankly, knowing that some poor helpless little guy just lost a piece of skin on such a delicate part of his little body does not put me in the mood to eat -- I don't care if it is obligatory or not.

In addition, all the people who have come to help you celebrate the circumcision are just having a grand old time. I finally realized why that is -- they love tradition and historical continuity that goes on for more than 4000 years -- but more than that, they are just glad that it isn't their child on the chopping block. Okay, it isn't actually a chopping block. Apparently there is a little device that the mohel (the person doing the circumcision) places on the penis that separates the foreskin from the remainder of the member. And then, apparently, it is only a quick snip.

Word has it that circumcision improves sexual sensitivity, but I cannot say that with any degree of confidence. And since the little victims won't be using said members for such purposes for years to come, I don't really see why that should be a rationalization. I am willing to go with the health and cleanliness angle more than the sexual sensitivity angle.

The one thing that I do understand is that it does signify the continuity of the Jewish people. Every Jewish man has been there and done that -- and the uncircumcised penises of their offspring are visually odd to them and signify a (temporary) break in the chain.

What I would like to know is why circumcision? What kind of just and tolerant God comes up with such a covenant between Himself and His flock? There must have been some other symbol that would have worked. A tattoo at 18 perhaps? A pinky-pull? A secret handshake? A secret language? Something. Anything. As long as it was less intrusive.

Oh yes, and preferably something that did not include food.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

You Dawg

Oh my heavens. I am 48 years old and I just realized what the term "dawg" really means. And worse than that, it took the visual aid of my friend's dog to bring the concept into full focus earlier today.

I can't name the dog because it would comprise innocent bystanders.

At around 5:00 p.m. I realized that I had some packages to pick up from my friend's house. And since she only lives a few blocks away I decided to take Pepper along for the walk. I knew she had a dog so I also knew she wouldn't be upset if I brought along my own furry companion.

We arrived at her house and her son let us in. Yes, both of us. You can do that when the homeowners are dog people. Once we were in the house it seemed like a perfectly good idea to let the two dogs play and after a bit of sniffing, off they want to run around her yard.

In a moment of naivety, I started talking to my friend and stopped watching what I thought was the innocent dog play. Well, next thing you know her dog was humping the bejeebers out of my sweet little virgin puppy. At first I couldn't help but laugh. It was just so ... doggy-in-nature like.

We pulled them apart and went back to talking. But this is where the dawg side comes into the picture. I remember guys in university who were totally single minded about girls. I doubt that any of them finished university because that would have required them to focus on their studies now and then, and not solely their little brains. I doubt they could do that. These guys were called dawgs. And they lived to get laid. There was really no other dimension to their personalities. Getting laid wasn't a hobby or sideline -- it was their reason for getting up in the morning.

(I know someone is going to write me to explain that all guys are like that but I just don't believe it, so don't waste your typing. I knew lots of guys who managed to collect a few degrees so they obviously could compartmentalize better than the dawgs.)

Which brings me to my friend's dog -- let's call him The Boffer for simplicity's sake. God love that dog, he's from such a nice family, but I have to tell you that he loses his mind completely when he sees a female dog butt. He spent the next 15 minutes just following Pepper around ready to give her a good 1-2 if she would just comply. And since she is my dog -- she was totally uncooperative. I really don't think she knew what hit her so to speak.

In a fit of chick-like revenge she ate all his dinner, but that did not deter The Boffer -- he just jumped up on her butt and started at her again while she ate his chow. That is the true sign of a sex-obsessed male: he wasn't even upset that she ate his food; he just wanted her to stay still eating it long enough for him to mount her.

Needless to say, my friend was mortified. I thought it was hysterical but just in case Puppy Aid (the dog version of Children's Aid) doesn't agree with my sense of humour, I did the honourable thing and I picked up my dog to get her out of the way of The Boffer's boffer.

As I was leaving, my friend looked at me sort of resigned to the reality that was dawning on her: "You're going to put this on your blog aren't you," she asked. I was going to say no, but then I realized that it was the best story of the day and I just couldn't lie. "Yeah," I said, "but I'll change the names to protect the innocent."

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Sauna yoga for the uninitiated

You know the saying: curiosity killed the cat? Well, it didn't materialize out of nowhere. Somewhere out there, there are a lot of dead cats. And after my yoga experience last week, I could easily be the next one.

As I have stated here many times during the past year, I am no friend of exercise. Not even a passing aquaintence. It is kind of a shame considering my husband just can't get enough of the stuff.

When friends of ours from Florida suggested we join them for yoga one night last week, I thought it was a good compromise. I like yoga -- at least the four lessons I had previously attended didn't seem too bad, even for non-flexi me. Also, I figured my husband and I could go together so it would be a family exercise event and that might satisfy his need to do something active with me for a few weeks. As I saw it, it was a win-win situation. And .... I was curious about this SPECIAL yoga that had all my Floridian friends in a tizzy.

You may notice that I specifically said that the people who kept encouraging me to try this out were all previously residents of the State of Florida. In other words, they are people who were born in colder climates and sought out the warmth of the American South. They are people who thrive in the heat and do not flinch when the humidity reaches 97 per cent. While I don't miss the snow for even one second, suffice it to say that after all is said and done: I AM CANADIAN.

So off we go to this yoga class. My first clue should have been that it was being held in a location that one could not find without the assistance of someone who had been there previously. It was a very Matrix-like moment just getting there.

After our mini journey to the middle of nowhere, we arrived in this very nice little yoga studio and we were met by a very hippie-ish looking guy in shorts. Nothing else. Just shorts. At first glance he didn't look like he was in such great shape himself, although I did survive long enough to eat those words.

We had been forewarned to show up in the least amount of clothing necessary. I was wearing my very obvious green and pink bike shorts (a present from my husband when he was still deluded enough to think I had athletic potential)and a mismatched t-shirt. Please note that all the real yogettes are dressed in yoga outfits.

We all got our bottles of water out and then we headed into a room that looked, from the outside, like a normal work-out room, but when we entered, it was a sauna dressed up to look like a work-out room. I had been tricked but it was tooooo late.

I went to my mat and the class started. I am not going to go through all the details because reliving them is just too painful. So let me summarize: I have no balance. Everyone else had great balance. I have the flexibility of a metal rod. Everyone had the flexibility of a willow branch. I looked like an idiot. Everyone else looked very yoga like -- including my husband who has never done yoga before. I disrupted the class in regular 2 minute intervals. Everyone else participated nicely and quietly. I crashed into my husband more times than I care to count. Everyone else was crash-free. I received special motivational comments from Swami Shimon. Everyone else just received positive nods from him.


An hour into sauna yoga, which in fact is called Bikram Yoga, I thought I was going to sweat out (similar to bleeding out, but with sweat). I just did a quick Wikipedia search and look what it says: "Bikram Yoga is ideally practiced in a room heated to 105°F (40.5°C) with a humidity of 40%." Who the hell does anything physical in 105 degrees. If that isn't a good temperature for reading a book, I don't know what is.

Fast forward to the end: I am still alive. I am even thinking of going back again because having survived I feel empowered. The strangest part of it all is that when I mentioned it to the women sitting near me in synagogue last night, everyone started to rave about Bikram yoga. And the ravers were from Cleveland and Toronto respectively so I can't even accuse them of being heat seekers. I think that everyone of you should try it as well. Those of you in Ra'anana can come with me.

Apparently I am missing the point -- therefore, I've decided to take another kick at the cat.

Friday, December 4, 2009

This is one of those Only In Israel moments

There are many things that happen in each of our lives that make us stop and think: "This could have only happened here (wherever your "here" happens to be). Well, the following story happened to my friend Pam yesterday and frankly, I doubt it would have happened anywhere else.

First of all, this is a country of immigrants. Most of the people who are citizens of the State of Israel were not born here and if perchance they were, then it is very likely that their parents came from some other part of the world. (I am always amazed when I meet a 7th generation Israeli. They are not exactly a dime a dozen.)

Second, because many of the immigrants who came here did so in search of a better life -- or to save their lives -- it is not unusual to stumble across high-achievers who are doing menial work simply because that is all they can do here. Whether it is because of their language limitations, or because they arrived too late in their lives to re-accredit for all of their previous designations, or some variation on that theme ... there are men with PhDs in maths and sciences sweeping the streets.

I know that this phenomena exists elsewhere, but I am willing to bet that it does not exist to the same degree as it does here.

That said, here is Pam's story, told by Pam, but retyped by me. It's really hilarious because even though I wasn't there when it happened, I can completely visualize it in my mind's eye.

"I walked into my bedroom this morning, (Pam lives on the 10th floor of an apartment building), and there was a bird -- a pigeon -- sitting on my bed. Obviously I panicked and started screaming as if there was a lion perched on my bed. I got a broom and started banging it and flailing it in the hopes of scaring the bird into flying back out the open window. That plan didn't work. The bird went under the bed and around the room, every time it moved I shrieked but in the end the bird was still there. I didn't know what to do, I had just come home from the gym, I needed to shower and move on with my day and that bird needed to get out of my room.

"Then I remembered, there is a man who comes a few times a week to clean the hallways and the lobby of my building. If he was here today, maybe he could get rid of the bird. I don't know the man's name. He seems nice enough, as we smile and nod to each other when I see him working. I refer to him as Raskolnikov, like the main character in Crime and Punishment.

"I don't know what Raskolnikov looked like, truthfully I don't think I finished the book. I should admit right here that I don't speak Hebrew. Yes, I have lived in Israel for 5 1/2 years and I do not speak the language. Believe me, I understand that it is at my own peril.

I found "Raskolnikov", in the lobby and said, "Can you help me? hadar sheli tsippor bifneem". (Translation by me: My room has a story inside -- what she was trying to say was that there was a bird in her room. The words for bird and story are quite similar. And you all thought my hebrew stunk!) He looked quite puzzled, possibly because none of the words in that sentence made any sense. He must have understood that I needed some kind of help. I repeated my ridiculous sentence. He asked me in Hebrew what floor I lived on and then he followed me into the elevator and into my apartment. I can't even imagine what he thought was going to happen.

"I went into my bedroom and the bird was still waiting patiently at the foot of my bed. "Raskolnikov", came in and saw the bird, he smiled as now the situation became perfectly clear. I handed him a towel and the broom, while I hid behind the door. After a few minutes he was able to grab the bird, (something I never even thought of doing), and tossed it out the window.

"I thanked him profusley and I even offered him money as thanks, which he absolutley refused.

"Then he looked around my living room and saw our piano. Ah, psanter (another translation: piano), he said. I gestured to him to please try it out. He sat down at the piano and after a moment he started to play the most amazing music. Out came a whole medley of classical music and some standards - beautiful. Now, of course as you are reading this, you are thinking, well of course, he is Russian, naturally he plays the piano. Quite possibly back in the old country he was a pianist. The musical interlude ended and we thanked each other and Rasklnikov left and went back to work.

"I immediatly got on the phone and started telling this story. My husband was laughing his head of while standing at a tube station in London. One of my girlfriends reminded me as she often does, that something like this would never have happened in Cleveland Ohio, where I come from. My daughter at Hebrew University, also got a good laugh. She then pointed out that I had used all the wrong words and including tzippor- song instead of tzipporah- bird. When my 11 year old son came home from school, I told him all about my funny adventure. All he said was, "Mom, you really need to go to an Ulpan".

"My son, of course, is right I should learn the language. There are lots of reasons I should learn to speak Hebrew; asking someone to help me get a bird out of my bedroom is only one of them, not embarrassing my son is another. I don't really feel like it though. In Ra'anana, and lots of other places, for better or worse, I am able to stumble along in my mixture of mostly English and a little bit of bad Hebrew. Even this morning I was able to get my problem solved and get to hear a few minutes of beautiful music.

Isn't that a great story? I loved it and that's why I wanted to share it with you. Plus the fact that Pam's hebrew makes my hebrew sound like I speak at university level. I hope you enjoyed it too!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Dazed and confused in Ra'anana

I keep losing my car. I continually park it one of the feeder streets that connect Ra'anana's main drag to the residential areas of the city, and then I go and do my errands. It usually takes me about 45 minutes to an hour to complete all the items on my list and then, inevitably, it is time to go home.

That's when the trouble begins. It never fails. I find myself on Ahuza Street, Ra'anana's main street, wondering where the hell I parked the car. I try to remember something distinctive about my parking space but the truth is that most of those side streets look the exact same so there are no easily identifiable landmarks to guide me. (If there was a shoe store on one corner and a chocolate store on the next, I would probably do much better at remembering where I was.)

So I stand in my spot for the next minute or so forcing myself to retrace my steps. Did I come from the left or the right of the bank (my usual destination at least once a week)? Did I walk north or south to the main street that runs east west?

If I am lucky, I have a little epiphany after a minute or two and I walk towards the spot that I think I parked. More than once I have been wrong. And more than once I have realized that I am parked one street over from where I thought I parked. And one time I stood outside a car that looked exactly like mine for about five minutes trying to figure out why my key code didn't work. Well, for starters it wasn't my car. It's not my fault that there are at least 20 cars exactly like mine driving around Ra'anana.

One of the reasons I continually misplace the car is that I am losing my mind. But the other, more subtle reason, is because I drive up and down these same streets a million times a week. The individual trips all blur into one another after a while. Was I on a banking mission? Or was I off to get loot bags for Yael's birthday party? Or was it pants for the boys? Or the post office? After a while all I remember is that each each trip begins at my house and ends on Ahuza Street. Everything else becomes an insignificant detail.

In an effort to avoid this problem in the future, I now park my car and stop to make note of exactly what street I am parked on. I repeat the street name out loud a few times in hopes that it will seer itself into my memory. I'd like to tell you that it's going well, but it's not. Today I returned to the spot that I thought had left my car and what a surprise ... it wasn't there.

I had a mini panic attack but then pulled myself together and noticed that I was on the right street, but the wrong block. I think things are looking up.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The many facets of spitting

Last Friday, a few hours before Shabbat, I dropped off a home-made challah at my friend's house. She had asked me to make one for her and I was more than happy to have an excuse to make extra. When I arrived at her house to give it to her, I couldn't help but hear one of her children crying -- it was coming from the upstairs window. I also heard her husband's voice disciplining the child who had apparently been ...... spitting.

When my friend came to the door she was slightly uncomfortable with the kiddy bellows coming from upstairs, but as someone with older children than she has, I couldn't help but laugh because I only wish that spitting was the biggest issue on my child-rearing plate.

When I saw the spitting culprit in synagogue the next morning, she looked none the worse for wear so I can only assume she learned her lesson and was now getting on with her spit-free life!

If that had been the end of the spitting issue I wouldn't be sitting here writing about it. However, when I turned on my computer today and started to peruse the JPost, I stumbled across an article by Larry Derfner about religious Jews in the Old City (of Jerusalem) spitting on the leaders of other religious groups.

Last Thursday spitting wasn't even an issue, and here I am on Sunday, and I just can't seem to get away from spitting. Since when did spitting make such a big comeback? I must have been out of town when it happened.

Okay, I am getting to the point.

I thought it was a typical right-of-passage when I heard the four-year-old spitter getting a talking-to from her father about the unacceptability of spitting. It's a typical lesson for kids that age and heaven knows I have given that lecture a couple of dozen times myself. I am willing to bet that almost every parent has. And while it might seem obvious to a generally well-adjusted adult that you can't go around spitting on people, apparently that message never got to the Jewish Quarter of the Old City.

When a senior Armenian Orthodox cleric tells the Jerusalem Post that he has been spit at or on at least 20 times in the last 10 years by Orthodox Jews, I am left speechless. And apparently it isn't directed only at this one cleric. The same fellow reports that it is a common experience for every Christian cleric (of both sexes) who walks around the Old City in traditional cleric garb.

Where the heck were these spitters when they were kids? Didn't their parents discipline them when they spit on someone? I can't help but think that they did not. Spitting has probably been around since the beginning of time, but I am willing to bet that for the past 1000 years it was poor child's play, not adults who should know better.

I am really angry at these spitters. And I am not going to let them off the hook as I did my cute little four-year-old spitter because frankly, their actions are pathetic. These Orthodox fanatics don't spit on Muslims ... oh, no, that might cause an international incident or a Muslim might retaliate. But somehow spitting on Christians is okay, because in Israel they are a small and quiet minority.

I really hate these stories because they show a side of some Jewish people that is so embarassing and so easily an excuse for anti-semitism. I know that these spitters are not my people and not my Jews but the fact that they show so little tolerance to people who are different from them, speaks volumes about what they have forgotten about the collective past of their own people -- my people.

These same people wear the outwardly defining clothing of religious people, so you would think that it would make them think twice before acting so badly. (Like the kid with red hair who has to think twice before participating in a shady activity because he will always be easily identifiable as the kid with the red hair.) But apparently not. I think that the religious fanatics see their clothing as their free-pass. They think that because they wear those clothes that they are better than other people and that they are not measured by the same standards; they are above those standards.

They think that they are the arbiters of who is acceptable and who is not. While a four-year-old spitter is just learning the ropes of life, a religiously-educated and supposedly observant adult spitter is someone whose father never took them aside to explain

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Where do I come from?

A few days ago as I was leaving the grocery store, the guy at the entrance who checks your bill to make sure you didn't steal the entire cart of groceries you are trying to force out the front doors of the supermarket, stamped my bill and said, have a nice day. And when I answered him in my splendido hebrew, he innocently asked me the ultimate existential question: Where did you come from?

I don't think he meant it to be an existential question and my first reaction was to say "Canada." Well, I did come from Canada. However, after I put all my groceries into the car and started to drive away, it struck me that that was a really simplistic answer.

Where did I come from?

Well, for the first 18 years of my so-called life I saw myself strictly as a Cape Bretoner. Not a Nova Scotian -- that would have been too broad a definition and the rest of the province seemed like an unnecessary extension of my island (when in fact, it was the exact opposite). I definitely not see myself as a Canadian -- the concept of Canada was just too big and it had nothing to do with my day-to-day life.

For all intents and purposes I was a 100% born and bred Cape Bretoner -- and that was a great source of pride and identity for me. If I had one regret, it was that my ancestors were neither native Cape Bretoners nor of Scottish descent. And in Sydney, where I grew up, many people referred to us as "your people" ... that meant Jewish in polite Cape Breton terms.

Overall, I had no complaints. Other than a few colourful anti-semitic moments, it was a great childhood and I only have good memories.

When I left home to go to university at 18, I moved to Hamilton, Ontario. I lived there for four years but never once felt like a Hamiltonian. I did, however, like Hamilton, because, like Sydney, it was a steel town and I was comfortable among the steelworking public.

After Hamilton I moved to Syracuse, New York and after a year and a half there I still felt like an alien. Americans and Canadians may share a very long and open border, but trust me when I say that Americans are nothing like Canadians -- and definitely nothing like Cape Bretoners. While I made some wonderful friends there, I could never have imagined my life south of the 49th parallel. Nope. Never. Yeesh. So much so that I ended up back in Hamilton armed with a master's degree and I went to work for one of the steel companies. And while I loved Hamilton, I never saw myself there long term.

Next, I moved to Toronto. I lived there so long that you would think that I eventually connected with the city. Well, it never happened. After 15 years in that city, I still couldn't wait to leave it.

One thing that did occur during all those years out of Cape Breton is that eventually I saw myself more as an Ontarian, with a hint of Canadian stuck in for show. I slowly lost most of my Cape Breton accent (notice that I said "most") and became a big city chick.

Then came the pivotal point in my life -- at 40 -- that my Israel-born, Toronto-raised husband decided that we should pack up and move to Israel. Without repeating all the details, I was less-than-thrilled-but-willing-to-be-cooperative. Fast forward eight years and as you all know, I love living here. So much so that I dislike traveling to Canada for anything ... except perhaps a quick trip to Walmart.

I really do believe that this is the best place in the world to be Jewish. And my Jewish self hates to be anywhere else. The problem is that this has caused a gigantic identity crisis for me. I didn't know that until my most recent trip to Cape Breton for my father's gravestone unveiling. The people who were there are the people I have known all of my life. They knew me from day one and most of them knew my parents years before they knew each other. These people are my roots. There are many things that I do not have to explain to them; we have the same shared experience -- particularly the Jewish ones because it is a tricky balancing act to be a Jew in the non-Jewish wilderness.

All of which brings me to my existential crisis. Where do I come from? Honestly, I don't think I could answer that question even if I wanted to. And I really do want to. All I can come up with is that I come from a little bit of many places and a lot of none.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Talk about being lost in translation

Early this morning I was out walking Pepper. By my standards, the weather was perfect -- warm, but not hot; bright but not glaring; gently breezy but not windy. Just a gorgeous morning. And Pepper was doing her usual routine. She stopped for a quick pee at the corner and then scooted along for another two blocks before I needed my pooper scooper. Next, we proceeded to drop by and visit all of her doggy friends who were still chained to their owner's property awaiting their morning walks. Sounds like a pretty normal, dull day. And it was.

But as I turned the corner for our return trip, some children were already heading off to school. I normally walk the dog before the little critters hit the road which is better for Pepper because she has less people to jump on and there is a better chance that I can keep her focused on the task at hand.

However, today, I couldn't help but notice one little girl walking with her over-sized knapsack to school. While most kids in my neighbourhood wear school "uniform" t-shirts, this little girl was wearing a t-shirt that had "Sexy Lade" written across her little chest.

At first it caught my eye because of the ridiculous spelling of "lady", but then I started to think about what kind of parent buys a t-shirt for a little girl with such a come-hither sort of statement plastered across the front?

I am sure that there are many people who buy those shirts because they think it is funny. And there are a lot more who just buy whatever has the cheapest price tag. There are even more who don't notice one way or the other. But in Israel, there are a significant number of people who buy such items because they can't read the words and they wouldn't know an English typo if it jumped up and bit them on the butt.

I don't say this insultingly because I probably wouldn't know a Hebrew typo if it hit me over the head either. I am simply stating the facts.

Over the years I could have easily bought any one of my children a t-shirt with what looked like a cute hebrew word splattered across it when, in fact, the word could have been "ben-zona" (bastard) or some such comparable slang. If it looked nice and been priced right, yes, I might easily have bought it -- only to find out from my horrified hebrew-reading friends what I had just done. Of course, I would have found out too late because no one would have noticed it until my child was out walking to school early one morning and bumped into one of my friends walking his or her dog.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

I could have brought back a whole cow

Years ago, while was in university, I spent a lot of time meandering back and forth across the 49th parallel.

Going to Buffalo was always a good plan at 1:00 a.m. when all the bars closed in Ontario. And going to Detroit was where we went to flirt with danger. Taking the tunnel from Windsor or driving over the Ambassador Bridge was like the ultimate road trip. We didn't want any part of the danger mind you, but we wanted to be voyeurs on the front lines as much as possible. Greek Town in the middle of Detroit was always a good place to start.

Then there was the year I spent in Syracuse. That was a real turning point in my cross-border career. As a good Canadian who spent my formative shopping years near the US border, I became very adept at moving my purchases from one side to the other. I can't go into the details because I am not sure if the statute of limitations has expired yet. However, you can trust me when I say that my friends and I had a plan A, B, C and D for every border crossing we encountered.

But the thing I remember most is how my good friend in Niagara Falls (on the Canadian side) lived her life going back and forth across the Canadian US border the way some people go back and forth to the corner store. She had family in Buffalo and the gas was much cheaper there, as were the groceries, clothing, school supplies and pretty much everything else. This was particularly true when the Canadian dollar dropped to its all-time low of about 70 cents on the US greenback in the mid 80s.

The funniest part of this memory was her little old European grandfather who was probably only as big as I was, but had the toughness of a Jew who had escaped Europe through his own creativity, "just in time" in the mid 1930s. He went across the Canadian US border probably as frequently as she did, but as a Jew raised in early-Hitler Europe, he was not one to tempt fate or the border authorities.

However, every time he came back to Canada without being questioned -- which was pretty much every time -- he would always say the same thing: "I could have brought back a whole cow". That line always cracked me up.

And early this morning as I arrived in Israel from Greece with only a few little tokens of my trip -- rather than the things I really wanted to buy -- I couldn't help but think the exact same thing. I received only the most cursory security check as I was leaving Greece at 1:00 a.m. this morning and having breezed through security, I couldn't help but think of all the things I almost bought, but didn't because I naively thought that in post the 9-11 world that it was actually going to be problematic to get across a border with extra liquor and things made out of wire. Ha.

Talk about frustration. Talk about all those cool things I left behind in the stores of Athens. Talk about the fact that I could have brought back a whole cow.

Friday, November 20, 2009

A short note from Greece

Hello from the home of Aristotle and Plato ... I think. I am sitting in the partial darkness typing on a keyboard without letters. Pretty damn good if you ask me.

I came to spend a few days with my mother and my sister. After a week with my mother, my sister needs a break so I guess you could call it a bit of a rescue mission. My mother has spent many years traveling with my father and they had their own travel groove. Since he is gone, my sister has graciously picked up the travel gauntlet because she travels so much. Of course, she is the only adult professional schlepping around the world with her mother in tow. My mother is now friends with film people all around the globe. It may not seem like a big deal to you, but when I think about it, it gives me the willies. I think my father is having a good laugh at all of this from his lofty, removed position.

Since it is dark and I am guessing about which key is which, I will just write a few observations about Athens.

- The shopping streets are so much like those in London that I had to do a double-take. While this is very sad on one hand because Greece seems to be losing some of its Greekness, on the other hand, I was able to pick up some Marks and Spencer undies without flying to London.
- There are a lot of overweight Greek women which I find strange considering that the Greek Middle Eastern diet is considered the ultimate in healthy eating. This is the home of feta cheese and tomatoes in olive oil. How many calories can you rack up from that sort of eating? I guess that there is also the baqlava so maybe that is the key to the weight issue. Oh, and then there is the gelato. Okay, the whole picture is coming together for me now.
- While Israel is certainly a living museum, so is Greece. The Acropolis is remarkable and once you learn the history, it is even more so. What I find hardest to adjust to is that there is no religion behind it -- or very little. Just a lot of people in togas who must have spent days on end, pondering. I have come to the realization that it is much more interesting to live in a country with a lot of history rather than Canada and it's New World "Wow, that church was built in 1878".
- The people are very nice and I should know because I got lost trying to find the hotel. I decided to take a bus from the airport since I had no real bags so to speak and I arrived so many hours ahead of my sister and mother. The bus driver was great and so were the 20 other people who had to guide me in the most circuitous route to my hotel. The funny thing was that once I figured out where I was, I could have made it to the hotel in about five minutes after I got off the bus. But I would have missed out on some nice people, including The Man Who Knows Everything (he's a guy that owns a kiosk near the Acropolis, in the Plaka, who runs an ad hoc info centre) and he really does seem to know everything of importance to a lost person.
- The food is out of this world. At least the fish and the veggies are. I could stay here for three weeks just eating my way through the city. Actually the thought is making me hungry so I am off in search of yet another meal.

Good bye from Greece.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Sometimes I even surprise myself

When I was in twelfth grade -- which was a very long time ago -- my friend Cathy's cat died. It was my first experience with pet death and Lucy, her cat, was the meanest cat from Nova Scotia to British Columbia. I'm not joking -- I would have put Lucy up against any cat in Canada for a good cat fight and I would have bet the farm because Lucy was truly a nasty piece of work. (I say that fondly all these years later.)

All my friends agreed, except Cathy who naturally thought Lucy was the best cat ever. Therefore, when Lucy died and Cathy went into a month-long depression, we, her friends, were baffled. I am even willing to bet that neighbourhood dogs who hadn't left their owners homes in years out of sheer fear of Lucy, were out on the street partying.

Last year when my friend Pat's dog died, I had a slightly warmer reaction. Emily, her now deceased doberman pincher had been been part of my working life for a year. She used to bark as I entered our office every morning and then she would sit beside while I ate my breakfast just waiting for my crumbs. I always made sure there were crumbs because she was big and scary and I was afraid that if there were not crumbs that snacking on me was her Plan B.

I am sure you get the picture.

No one has ever accused me of being a pet lover.

You may be baffled because as most of you know, I now own a dog. And a very cute dog at that. I am like those women who love their own children but are not children-lovers in the general sense. That is my feeling about animals.

I am not going into all the reasons we decided to get a dog but I will say that since getting Pepper, I have made several new friends with dogs all around our neighbourhood. Sometimes I only know the dog and the owners are baffled when their dogs approach me in a familiar manner for a little pat and chat.

However, one dog that I have liked as much as I could like any dog, was a beautiful golden pooch who lived on our street. Her name was Mica and my kids loved her from the moment we moved to Israel. So much so, that when her owner's son was doing his compulsory army service, my kids sent him a big food parcel one holiday, addressed to "Mica's Big Brother" at his army base. And when he wrote back to thank the kids for the junk food, he signed his name the same way.

Mica was Pepper's best friend -- primarily because she had the patience of Job and let Pepper, in her puppy-like enthusiasm, jump all over her for several minutes without loosing her patience.

While I was out doing errands today my husband called and said: "Did you hear?" Usually when he says that he is about tell me some crazy story about the goings-on in the synagogue. "No," I said casually, "what happened?" "Mica died," was his unexpected response.

Well, let me tell you. The news has completely ruined my day. I am just devastated. She was only six years old and the story is so mysterious that even her owners who found her mere hours before the end, don't really know what happened. They rushed her to the vet, but to no avail. They have some theories -- and I agree with those theories completely.

I am not going to list them here because there may be people who still want to buy houses on my street and I don't want compromise those deals. No, it's not poltergeists or serial murderers, so just don't go there.

What has surprised me the most is the depth of my personal sadness. It was just last week that Mica and Pepper were out playing together on the street and I was running after Pepper like a nutcase. It was only Mica's maturity (really) that made her go back to her owner when she called and as a result, I was able to catch up with Pepper. She was a beautiful dog and I am going to miss her. I think I am doing a Cathy!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

After 11 months, that's that

Today I said the Jewish prayer for the dead for the last time. In the observant Jewish world, when a parent dies, the son must say kaddish (the prayer theoretically for the dead, although not really for the dead) three times a day for 11 months.

I decided to say it daily (although only once a day) eleven months ago when my father died because I knew my brother wouldn't and couldn't. After some searching for precedents (arguments in Judaism are not unlike arguments in a court of law) and after talking to my two rabbis (I'm Jewish and we are not programmed to settle for one opinion), I decided that it was better to take on the task myself rather than handing it over to my husband.

Giving the task to one's husband is commonly Plan B in my world. There are exceptions but as I have mentioned on several previous occasions, this is not a Judaism class. If you want more information, google it or ask someone who actually knows what they are talking about.

I am not a feminist in anything but the most basic, obvious ways, but passing off my responsibility on to my husband just didn't feel right to me. In all fairness, it is not uncommon to do so and I am sure that many of my friends who didn't have a brother to say the prayer daily, did exactly that or will do exactly that when the time comes.

I decided to do this for my own reasons but in the process I became a poster child for a campaign that I never really wanted to spearhead in the first place. First of all, I would have rather had my father than be making prayers in his memory or for the protection of his soul. Secondly, if people started looking at me as a religious role model then the world has truly gone to hell in a handbasket!

However, before I wrap up the process completely (because I do not intend to continue going to synagogue every day at 2:15 p.m.), I need to get some closure. So here it is.

When I started to "say kaddish" I was very uncomfortable and intimidated by the men in the synagogue. I received more hairy eyeballs and snarly lipped looks than I care to remember. However, the joke was on all of them. They thought they could intimidate me enough that I would stop praying out loud, but I did not. In fact, the longer I did it, the more I learned and the more confident I became. And let me add to all of you (you know who you are): A pox on your house for your downright childish, narrow-minded, parochial behaviour.

I also have a few people who deserve acknowledgment (although I won't give their names):

  • Thank you to my husband (okay, one sort-of name) who fought all the early battles on the men's side of the synagogue when the men tried to ignore me and keep on praying as if I wasn't there.
  • Hahahaha to you ignoramuses who tried to keep praying and pretending I wasn't there. I was there and G-d took note of your lousy behaviour.
  • Thank you to the men in the more tolerant synagogue up the street from my regular synagogue, who not only supported me quietly but also told me when I missed my cue to start my recitation by yelling my name out loud!
  • Thank you to the American men in my synagogue who are just raised more tolerant than men from other societies. I thank God every day that you weren't born Belgian, British, or Canadian.
  • Thank you even more to the one Belgian, two Brits and a spattering of Canadians who supported me despite their cultural backgrounds. You are a credit to independent thinkers everywhere.
  • Thank you to the men who were also saying kaddish and took the time to say it slowly so that I wouldn't be left behind.
  • Thank you to my young neighbour who totally disagreed with what I was doing but managed to keep enough of a sense of humour to take it all in stride.
  • Thank you to my rabbi who basically told the men in our congregation that anyone who had a problem with what I was doing was going to have to go through him.
  • And thank you to all the women who stood around me in synagogue and said Amen at all the right times regardless of what was happening on the men's side of the building.
I would have preferred never to have found myself in this situation to begin with but since we have no choice in these matters, I can truly say that I have learned a lot and grown immensely from the experience. That said, I am no one's poster child so don't look for me in synagogue this week. I'm taking a day off.

Friday, November 13, 2009

I had totally forgotten about moose hunting

The bottom line is that there is no moose hunting in Israel because there are no moose here. Therefore, moose hunting hasn't crossed my mind for at least the last eight years. But a few days ago I got a big reminder that there are people who hunt moose during moose season every year because my friend Holly in Toronto is one of them.

The first time Holly told me she was going moose hunting, I honestly thought that she was pulling my leg. She's about five feet tall and maybe 95 pounds on a fat day. She likes high heels and make-up; I just didn't take her for a nature girl. Boy was I wrong.

This year, she and her husband, and their other moose-hunting cohorts shot a big one. Well, it looked pretty big in the photos she emailed to me the other day. I just luvvvvv photos of dead animals!

At first I almost fell off my chair when I started opening the photos -- and to boot, Holly and/or her husband are smiling as they pose in each photo next to the previously living moose. When I wrote to Holly about her affinity for moose hunting, she wrote back a very comprehensive answer. It is obvious that I am not the first person to ask her why the hell she likes to moose hunt?

Before I continue, let me say that I am not against dead moose (although I like to catch of glimpse of living ones much better) or eating meat. This isn't a vegetarian thing at all. I just can't imagine tromping around in the forest in a molted green jacket or a red plaid one for that matter, with a gun, looking for things to kill.

However, in Holly's defense, I want to reprint her comments to me. They are worth repeating. Please note that I have taken the liberty of editing her for brevity (and only brevity).

"Sometimes I don't think people realize that hunters are advocates for all wildlife and although it's considered a sport, hunters would tend to speak of it as a way of life, a mindset, a commitment to the future of our natural wilderness. From the beginning of time, people have hunted to live - to feed and clothe their families... and today's hunters are no different. There is no more respect for an animal than from that of a hunter in awe of it's gifts. And for the record, my husband and I always give thanks over the animal before we prepare it for transport from the woods.

"... my moose is lean from walking all day every day for miles and miles while a regular cow stands around the barnyard getting fat all day every day. Like I tell those who feel the need to criticize us hunters, at least my moose has a fair chance of getting away whereas the average cow gets corralled into a killing pen and never has a chance. And our purpose is not only to use the meat, but the hide goes to the nearest Native Indian Tribe and we're actually helping to manage the moose population by reporting what we harvest to the Ministry of Natural Resources whether it be moose, deer, turkey, goose, duck, you name it... our license fees also go to research for the same purpose.

"And by the way, any game meat anywhere is absolutely better for you and I than anything that is farmed or processed. Government graded, sealed or not, hunters harvest the safest and most natural meat there is for consumption, hands down. So don't feel sorry for my moose... feel sorry for the poor cow stuck in a dirty stinky barn who gets slaughtered after maybe a years lifespan. My moose was 4 1/2 years old and the biggest one we harvested a few years back was 7 or 8. And they're free! To roam anywhere they want in the wide open wilderness, play, swim, have sex with different partners, sleep where they want. That stinky fat and dirty cow in the barnyard really doesn't have much of a life at all if you ask me... So there you go, that's my speech for the day... Hope I haven't offended you in any way...

So there. I think Holly makes a compelling case. I still don't expect to pick up a gun in the near future and head off in search of animals to kill, but I have to applaud Holly for approaching her activity with such positive convictions.

It also goes to show that you can't judge a book by its cover and some people have a lot more to them once you get to know them. I will never join Holly in the woods, but I am glad I have a friend with a different view on the world than mine.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

I'll tell you why I don't like Tuesdays

There is never enough time. Everyone I know is constantly rushing around with more things to do than there is time to do them. For many years I just assumed that that was part of my big city, commuting, working lifestyle. However, that was an incorrect assumption. Now I live in a very small city and I work from home or close to home and I still don't have enough time to get things done.

And that is why I am particularly peeved that for some inexplicable reason stores in Israel close on Tuesday afternoons. What is it about Tuesdays?

Stores close early on Fridays -- particularly in the winter, when the Jewish Sabbath starts at about 4:30 p.m. because that is when the sun sets. And as far as I can tell (not that I spend so much time traveling all around Israel on Friday afternoons that I could call myself an authority on the subject), even non-observant Jews are in the cultural habit of short Fridays. It is Israel's answer to a two-day weekend. It's not a great answer, but it is still better than a kick in the head. And I can understand it. I grew up with quiet, Christian Sundays although I don't think they exist anymore either.

And then there is Saturday, which in Israel -- a Jewish country so far (I don't like to be naively optimistic) -- the influence of the rabbis cannot be ignored. Even if you don't observe the Sabbath, the country officially does. That doesn't mean that things aren't open, but overall, it is a relatively quiet day. Or, once again, I think it is. I'm not exactly out wherever the action might be on Saturdays so I can't say with absolute confidence. I hear that the beaches are hopping and I know that some malls are open, but I have never participated so it's only hearsay.

Next, there is the 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. siesta. I know that it began in the days before air conditioning and when the country was still run by socialists who couldn't have cared less about the stock markets in New York or Hong Kong. Things have changed but the 2 to 4 rule is written in stone. Even today, when Israel is part of the global economy, just try to make noise outside your home between those hours -- seriously, try it -- and you will find yourself face-to-face with some old-timer who is apoplectic that you are outside making noise while he or she naps.

Which brings me back to this need to close up on Tuesday afternoons. How much bloody time do people need to sleep in this country? And what about my shoes that desperately needed new heels on Tuesday? Yes, I could go back to the damn shoe repair shop on Wednesday but I want to understand why he couldn't just be open on Tuesday? It's the middle of the week for heavens sake. People in New York and London can surely get their shoes repaired on Tuesdays and if we are now part of the bigger world, then I should be able to do the same. I am not asking for shoe repair shops to stay open for mall hours, just a simple 3:00 p.m. would suit me fine.

I am sure there is some Israeli-logic answer out there that I have overlooked. Yes, I googled it just in case it was obvious and I was missing the point. I had lots of time to search the internet for answers on Tuesday afternoon because heaven knows I couldn't get any errands done. I would have checked with people on the main street but there weren't any to be found. Everyone was home having their official Tuesday afternoon nap.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Now this is worth watching

I received this link in an email this morning. It's so rare to see something about Israel that does NOT involve war, oppression, and the poor old PA, that I feel obliged to share it as quickly as possible. It's a CNBC news interview with Dan Senor, Adjunct Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at The Council of Foreign Relations (US) who co-wrote a book about Israel's innovative spirit -- and he isn't even Jewish. Take a few minutes and watch it. It's rare to see Israel shown in a positive light and I would hate for you to miss the opportunity.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The ma-bul for ants has come to an end

When it rains in Israel, it usually rains in biblical proportions. I guess that should be expected. It may not rain for long and it surely doesn't rain enough, but when it rains, the skies just open up and dump every last drop they can find. It's like someone filling a really large balloon to supersaturation ... and then popping it.

This total dump might not be such a big deal (well, yes it would) if there were proper sewers in Israel ... which there aren't. Therefore, most of the rain just runs down the streets with wild abandon, gathering up every loose piece of garbage and sediment it can grab.

It's very dramatic and it's fun to be out in the rain, if you have a good pair of rain boots -- which I do. As a total aside, mine are black irridescent, with a furry rim.

One day, a few years ago, Yael and I were walking in the heavy rain in our rain boots, when Yael said: "The ants must have done something very bad because God is sending them a mabul (a flood of Noahide, biblical proportion). At the time that struck me as very funny but also as remarkably accurate. No ant could have survived that wet, wet day although strangely enough I have seen several million since then, so obviously some did live to crawl another day.

I was thinking about the ma-bul for ants yesterday as, once again, the skies opened up and just poured down rain (not enough to rescue Israel from its drought crisis, but more than enough for me). However, as I stood out there on the corner watching the flooding, all I could think was that this was not a ma-bul for ants, but rather, a ma-bul for cats (with the ants as innocent victims, suffering for whatever the cats must have done).

Technically you are not allowed to say anything bad about rain in Israel. We spend at least half of the year praying for it and most people see it as a miracle when it finally arrives. Some years it doesn't arrive and I know I will go straight to hell for saying this, but last year was almost rain free and I had no personal complaints. Of course, my garden had many complaints. It now resembles a deserted street in an ghost town in the Old West. Tumbleweeds and all. My fruit trees were less than amused as well. My mango and pomela harvest was pathetic this year.

And I have already written about the water abusers in my neighbourhood. This is a particularly sensitive point so I won't go into that again. Suffice it to say that for now, whether I like it or not, what we really need is a ma-bul for cows.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

A few important lessons I have learned from our new dog

We have now had Pepper (previously known as Rocky) for a little more than a month. During that month or so, I have to admit that I have grown more attached to her than I had previously expected. I have even arrived at the point that I look forward to our 6:30 a.m. walks. We now know lots of new people and dogs in the neighbourhood because everyone is out walking their dogs when I am out with Pepper early in the morning. And because Pepper is a relative baby, she just loves to stop and socialize with every dog that crosses our path.

As a result of her social, sunny attitude, I have learned a few life lessons that are equally applicable to my human life as they are to any dog's life.

Dog rule #1: If you want to get to know someone just walk up to them and sniff their bum. Yes, it is a bit direct, but dogs do it and they can tell after one quick sniff if they like you or they don't. I am not completely clear on what it is that they are looking for in this sniff-inquiry, but whatever it is, the results are black and white. If they like the smell of your butt, you are a friend for life. If not, has-ta-la-vista stinky bum.

Dog rule #2 (specifically for female dogs, who are probably called bitches for very good reasons): there is no need to go around pissing all over the place and marking territory for a good kilometer radius. Male dogs (and probably men as well) feel that they need to leave their mark everywhere they go, while female dogs (and women) have way more confidence in knowing that their simple presence is enough.

Dog rule #3: Two meals a day, six walks, several naps and a few minutes of roughhousing with a toy and a friend is pretty much as full a day as anyone should have. However, you may also have to tolerate a little dress-up with crazed nine- and 10-year-old girls now and then. It's a small price to pay for an otherwise stress-free life.

Dog rule #4: Once bitten, twice shy. Now I understand that phrase on a whole new level. It's very simple. If someone or something bites you, do not go back for a second round. They had their chance and they chose to bite.

I am sure that as I get to know Pepper better there will be more life lessons, but considering she has only been around for less than six weeks, she has already taught me a few things that I never figured out on my own after 48 years!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

I'm thinking of getting my own extradition treaty

Lately it seems like we spend a lot of time waiting for countries to make extradition treaties so that they can sort out whose criminals are where and get them moved to where they should be.

As I write this I am waiting for that scumbag "Rabbi" Chen to arrive on the tarmac at Ben Gurion Airport from Brazil and be taken into custody by the Israel Police. I will be very glad when the moment arrives but it won't save the children who have already suffered terribly at his hands or because of his evil advice to stupid women who took it so willingly.

I am also waiting for France and the U.S. to sort out their extradition agreement so that Roman Polanski will go back to the U.S. and face his music. Contrary to most people in Hollywood, I do not think it is okay for an adult male to have sex with a 13-year-old girl; particularly a non-consenting 13-year-old girl. I don't care what he paid her as compensation. This is simply not okay. I don't care who you are. So, while the U.S. authorities try to figure out if they agree with my thinking, I will just sit here and hope for the day that Polanski sets foot in the U.S.

In the meantime I noticed that this all takes a lot of negotiating and a lot of time. Therefore, in an effort to be ready to be helpful next time some country needs to extradite someone from a country with which it does not have an extradition treaty, I am going to set to work preparing a worldwide extradition treaty. Then, whenever some country needs it, they can give me a call and I will fax it to them. Then, all involved parties will just sign on the dotted line and criminals will be sent home to face the music.

As it stands, according to international law, a country doesn't have to surrender an alleged criminal to another country. Why the hell not? Don't most countries have enough of their own criminals that they don't need other countries' criminals as well? I am willing to concede that in the case of political crimes it may be a matter of opinion because not all countries have the same degrees of openness and tolerance. But low life, child-abusers should be criminals everywhere.

I know that isn't the case, but it should be. This got me thinking that perhaps the problem was all the paperwork. Heaven knows I go to great lengths to ignore paperwork -- even to the point of being forced to pay some ridiculous fines because I ignored the warning letters so effectively. That is why I have decided to retain counsel -- maybe my AdHoc Legal Committee will rise to the occasion -- to help me prepare an ecumenical international extradition treaty that can be filled out by anyone, anywhere who wants to get a criminal out of his or her neighbourhood or country and send them back to where they came from.

It will probably take a few weeks to get all the "i's" dotted and the "t's" crossed but I will let you know when it is ready and then anyone who needs a copy can just send me an email and I will send it out -- in pdf format of course -- free of charge. Simple as that.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Finally: tangible blog results

One question that I am frequently asked is: "Why do you have a blog?" Another is: "What do you use it for?" I think most people are probably thinking: "What makes you so great that we would want to read what you write about your life?" The other thing they are thinking is: "Hmmm, maybe she is making money from it and that's why she does it."

Today, I am going to answer those questions.

Let me begin by saying that, much to my husband's dismay, I don't make a cent doing this. He would be much more accepting of my blogging time if I was getting rich. Unfortunately, that is not the case.

Second, I blog because I have a lot of things to get off my chest, otherwise I cannot sleep at night. This is sort of my preventative measure to ensure that I have created the best possible conditions for a good night's sleep. It doesn't always work but I can only imagine how many more sleepless hours I would have without it.

Third, I do not think that my life is so special that it warrants documenting. However, when I started to write this blog I was trying to explain -- primarily to my friends and aquaintences outside of Israel -- that my life hadn't changed very much since I left Canada. There are so many mis-perceptions out there about what life in Israel is like that I felt compelled to correct the inaccuracies. Of course, once in a while, something just bugs me and I want to rant. Of course, you are always free to click off if my ranting drives you crazy. Rest assured, it has happened and it will happen again.

But in the meantime, I just want to say that I am delighted to finally have a tangible result of my blogging.

In case you think it is a monetary reward, let me correct your thinking. The reward was better than money: I made a friend. She wrote to me on Facebook -- yes, she actually tracked me down. And since her Facebook message stated that she agreed with everything I have written to date, I have decided to officially move her to the position of My New Best Friend.

Call me fickle, but people who agree with you on a consistent basis are hard to come by and I am not going to casually toss aside anyone who sees the world my way. As my mail indicates, many of you do not agree with me -- and that's fine too, but that is why I need a BFF to balance your contrary positions.

You think such people are easy to come by? Let me tell you. They are NOT.

Second, she took the time to track me down and write to me. Most of you like to stop me on the street (usually on Shabbat when I can't write down what you are suggesting) and give me your thoughts. Some of you do write, but never to my blog. And the rest of you just ignore me. But the bottom line is that she wrote to me and that moves her to the top end of the best friends' list.

Third, she is probably half my age and very cute (I saw her photo on Facebook). Everyone wants a few young and cute friends ... makes us older chicks feel better about ourselves. Of course, if someone mistakes her for my grown daughter, I may have to reconsider this point.

As I write this, I am awaiting her next email (because she is now visiting Israel and planning on moving here) so that I can meet her and take her out for coffee. See, if you were my BFF and agreed with everything I said, then I would take you for coffee too.

Chutzpah in theory and practice

If chutzpah wasn't originally a Yiddish word then the Jews would have had to abscond with it and take it as their own. It's a match made in heaven: Jews and chutzpah. Never have two things been so well suited to each other.

And while it is a Yiddish word which by default means it belongs to Jews of Eastern European descent and not those of Middle Eastern or other geographical descent, it seems that the entire concept has been adopted by Jews of all backgrounds instinctively. I bet that if you checked a world Jewish genome project (no, there isn't such a thing) you would find a genetic marker for chutzpah.

I would be less than honest if I didn't admit that I received a fair share of that gene myself. Many times I say things in public and people just stand there looking astonished. I am pretty sure the ones who received less of the chutzpah gene are quietly thinking to themselves: "I can't believe she just said that." The ones with more chutzpah in their own genes just say the same thing out loud.

However, for all my chutzpadic (the adjective) moments, today I stumbled across one of the living masters of the concept. I didn't immediately recognize her as such, but within moments of our paths crossing, she did the most obnoxious thing.

I was changing back in to my street clothes in the gym changing room. The change room was about 50 percent full -- in other words, there were lots of places for her to deposit her bag. Unfortunately for me, the only spot that seemed to interest her was precisely where I had placed my things.

Being a chutzpah master, however, she just ignored my things. She simply tossed them on to the floor and put her own bag down.

Now here is where things got complicated for me. My innate politeness habits resulting from my 40 years of being a Canadian automatically directly conflicted with my chutzpah gene. I am glad to say that after a moment of politely standing by and watching my belongings head south, my chutzpah gene rose to the surface.

Here's what happened: (Remember, I had to have this conversation in Hebrew, so this is what I think I said.)

Me: "Oh, I didn't know that this was your spot. I thought that it was my place."

Chutzpah master: "It's near my locker."

Me: "Well that explains why you put my things on the floor. This place is only for you. You must be very special."

CM: "I want to be close to my locker."

Me: "So it's okay to put my things on the floor?"

CM: "I want to be close to my locker."

Me: (I switched to English and used some of my best choice four-letter words. Of course, she couldn't have cared less.)

As you will note from CM's dialogue pattern, I could have told her I was with the KGB and she was going to the gulag for her crime, but I doubt that would have fazed her. For someone like her, chutzpah gives her divine rights which she uses to the fullest.

After spending a summer in the UK and a recent week in Canada, I know full well that that sort of moment wouldn't have happened in either of those countries. Neither people (this is a bit of a generalization) seem to have the need to dismiss all others as unworthy. Brits and Canadians may both have their own faults, but chutzpah just isn't one of them. But if you want to see real chutzpah in action, meet me at the doors of my gym's change room on Sunday. We have many chutzpah masters here.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Stop the English now

My daughter Yael just got off the phone and whoever she was speaking to was speaking English. (I feel like there should be some calamitous-sounding music here but if I can't import video, you can rest assured that I can't import music effects.)

That might not sound like such a big deal to most of you, but for me, it's a big deal.

Yael was about two and half years old when we moved to Israel. She spoke Hebrew and English almost equally at home in Toronto. And if I had to choose the language that played a greater role in her early years, it was definitely Hebrew. Her father spoke to her in Hebrew, so did the nanny, so did my in-laws and so did her nursery school teacher. In theory, the babysitters spoke Hebrew to her as well, but I am pretty sure that they all switched to English the minute we walked out the door.

That said, she is a capable Hebrew speaker. Or, she was, until we moved to Israel and made friends primarily with English-speaking kids. Many of these kids also speak Hebrew but as a result of "the bubble-effect" that exists in our neighbourhood, the kids all know who speaks English and it is completely natural for them to speak to each other in the accused language.

At this point in Yael's life, more than half her classmates are native-English speakers -- and they all know it. While the teacher demands that the girls speak Hebrew in class, she has very little control over what happens at recess. The result, at least for the past several years, is that approximately half the class can't play with the other half of the class -- because the rules to many games and the social interaction of play all occurs in English. Needless to say this has caused a lot of friction with the Hebrew-speaking parents. And I have to agree with their concerns one hundred per cent (or "maya-huz" in this case).

Which brings me to today. As it turns out, the little girl Yael was speaking to was, in fact, a native Hebrew speaker who just wants to be like the majority of the class and speak English. This same little girl just happens to be incredibly bright and has learned English out of sheer desire and determination. (And you should hear her read.)

I like this girl regardless of what language she speaks but I would be lying if I didn't acknowledge that I was thrilled that Yael had such a good friend who was a Hebrew speaker.

We came all this way to live in a country that we believe is our home and to speak the language of our ancestors (sort of). As I have mentioned previously in other posts, my Hebrew leaves a lot to be desired. And as I have also mentioned, as a matter of principle, I still go out there and speak it every day. It's worth it just to see the perplexed looks on people's faces as they try to follow along.

However, if I had to choose one language for my children, it would have to be Hebrew. We live in Israel and they go to school all day in Ra'anana.

Fortunately, I don't have to choose. My kids seem to be able to handle both languages without too much effort. But let me leave you with a truly pathetic story.

The year we arrived in Israel there were 35 children in my son's nursery school. Twenty-eight were native English speakers. One native-born Israeli family, recently relocated from Tel Aviv, had placed their child in this nursery school. Within weeks they had to remove their daughter from the nursery school and place her elsewhere. Why? According to her mother: she didn't speak English and she didn't feel like she fit in.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Did someone put something in the drinking water?

I don't know what's going on today or if this is just a case of a copycat "crime", but all of a sudden some of Israel's most vocal and supposedly unbiased opponents are jumping on the "Israel-is-not-so-bad" bandwagon. I don't know what's going on and frankly I am suspicious but I guess I might as well enjoy it for as long as it lasts -- or until the end of the world, which is what newly positive press coverage like this suggests.

Here is the text of a soft-pedalled mea cupla from the Jew-hating Jew who used to run Human Rights Watch. It was first published in the New York Times on October 20th (today) and then re-reported by the NGO Monitor.

HRW's Founder Condemns Moral Failure

Robert L. Bernstein, the founder of Human Rights Watch, published a very important critique of the organization in the New York Times (October 20, 2009). In declaring his decision to “publicly join the group’s critics,” Bernstein endorses the conclusion that HRW has lost all credibility over the Middle East.

Bernstein’s op-ed follows publication of NGO Monitor’s systematic report demonstrating HRW’s blatant bias and lack of credibility on the Middle East. These findings have been amplified by the recent call from leading experts including Elie Wiesel, Prof Alan Dershowitz and former CIA Director R. James Woolsey for HRW’s board members to “institute a full independent review and reform in the organization.”

HRW’s moral failures, as denounced by Bernstein, were highlighted by the effort to solicit funds in Saudi Arabia, and exposure of the organization’s Middle East division, dominated by anti-Israel activists Sarah Leah Whitson and Joe Stork. Meanwhile ‘senior military analyst’ Marc Garlasco, responsible for many claims used to condemn Israel, was revealed to be an obsessive collector of Nazi memorabilia.

During this time, HRW has played a leading role in lobbying intensively on behalf of the discredited Goldstone report. Richard Goldstone himself was an HRW board member until forced to resign when NGO Monitor noted the conflict of interest.

Rights Watchdog, Lost in the Mideast
Robert L. Bernstein
October 20, 2009

As the founder of Human Rights Watch, its active chairman for 20 years and now founding chairman emeritus, I must do something that I never anticipated: I must publicly join the group’s critics. Human Rights Watch had as its original mission to pry open closed societies, advocate basic freedoms and support dissenters. But recently it has been issuing reports on the Israeli-Arab conflict that are helping those who wish to turn Israel into a pariah state.

At Human Rights Watch, we always recognized that open, democratic societies have faults and commit abuses. But we saw that they have the ability to correct them — through vigorous public debate, an adversarial press and many other mechanisms that encourage reform.

That is why we sought to draw a sharp line between the democratic and nondemocratic worlds, in an effort to create clarity in human rights. We wanted to prevent the Soviet Union and its followers from playing a moral equivalence game with the West and to encourage liberalization by drawing attention to dissidents like Andrei Sakharov, Natan Sharansky and those in the Soviet gulag — and the millions in China’s laogai, or labor camps.

When I stepped aside in 1998, Human Rights Watch was active in 70 countries, most of them closed societies. Now the organization, with increasing frequency, casts aside its important distinction between open and closed societies.

Nowhere is this more evident than in its work in the Middle East. The region is populated by authoritarian regimes with appalling human rights records. Yet in recent years Human Rights Watch has written far more condemnations of Israel for violations of international law than of any other country in the region.

Israel, with a population of 7.4 million, is home to at least 80 human rights organizations, a vibrant free press, a democratically elected government, a judiciary that frequently rules against the government, a politically active academia, multiple political parties and, judging by the amount of news coverage, probably more journalists per capita than any other country in the world — many of whom are there expressly to cover the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Meanwhile, the Arab and Iranian regimes rule over some 350 million people, and most remain brutal, closed and autocratic, permitting little or no internal dissent. The plight of their citizens who would most benefit from the kind of attention a large and well-financed international human rights organization can provide is being ignored as Human Rights Watch’s Middle East division prepares report after report on Israel.

Human Rights Watch has lost critical perspective on a conflict in which Israel has been repeatedly attacked by Hamas and Hezbollah, organizations that go after Israeli citizens and use their own people as human shields. These groups are supported by the government of Iran, which has openly declared its intention not just to destroy Israel but to murder Jews everywhere. This incitement to genocide is a violation of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

Leaders of Human Rights Watch know that Hamas and Hezbollah chose to wage war from densely populated areas, deliberately transforming neighborhoods into battlefields. They know that more and better arms are flowing into both Gaza and Lebanon and are poised to strike again. And they know that this militancy continues to deprive Palestinians of any chance for the peaceful and productive life they deserve. Yet Israel, the repeated victim of aggression, faces the brunt of Human Rights Watch’s criticism.

The organization is expressly concerned mainly with how wars are fought, not with motivations. To be sure, even victims of aggression are bound by the laws of war and must do their utmost to minimize civilian casualties. Nevertheless, there is a difference between wrongs committed in self-defense and those perpetrated intentionally.

But how does Human Rights Watch know that these laws have been violated? In Gaza and elsewhere where there is no access to the battlefield or to the military and political leaders who make strategic decisions, it is extremely difficult to make definitive judgments about war crimes. Reporting often relies on witnesses whose stories cannot be verified and who may testify for political advantage or because they fear retaliation from their own rulers.. Significantly, Col. Richard Kemp, the former commander of British forces in Afghanistan and an expert on warfare, has said that the Israel Defense Forces in Gaza “did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare.”

Only by returning to its founding mission and the spirit of humility that animated it can Human Rights Watch resurrect itself as a moral force in the Middle East and throughout the world. If it fails to do that, its credibility will be seriously undermined and its important role in the world significantly diminished.

Robert L. Bernstein, the former president and chief executive of Random House, was the chairman of Human Rights Watch from 1978 to 1998.

Bite me, World!

Since I am not technologically skilled enough to download the YouTube video directly, I am sending a link to a speech given by Col. Richard Kemp, previously the British forces' commander in Afganistan. He was speaking at the Human Rights Council Special Session on the Goldstone Report. Anyone who follows world politics with any degree of consistency knows how frighteningly bias the UN Human Rights Council is. The fact that Col. Kemp said what he said is worth acknowledging. He isn't a Jew and sticking his neck out for Israel in such an unfriendly environment deserves mention.

Here's the link:

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Is a seat upgrade worth two kosher meals?

I am willing to bet that you have never asked yourself this question. And frankly, neither did I until last week when I thought I was faced with precisely that dilemma.

On the first leg of our return trip to Israel midway through last week, Ari and I realized too late that for some inexplicable reason we were not on the list of people who requested kosher food. Mid-air there isn't a lot one can do about this and despite the flight crew's first instinct to blame it on me, they then tried to make amends by offering us non-kosher food!

When I declined their offer I suspect that they simply mentally filed me as an uncooperative passenger whom they had tried to appease and then, they washed their hands of me.

Obviously they didn't know me very well. In such situations I would compare myself to grease -- not so easy to scrub off. And that's when I went on my second plane-related rampage of the trip. Fortunately Ari is well versed in his mother's scene-making skills so it didn't phase him when, upon entering the plane for the second leg of our return trip, I told him to go ahead and sit down because I wanted to speak to the stewardess.

He knew enough to hightail it out of there no questions asked. (You have to train kids to do this; it's not their natural instinct.)

I then proceeded to question the poor unsuspecting stewardess about my kosher food for this segment of the journey. Naturally she checked her list and naturally, we weren't on it. First she tried to blame it on me saying that I must have been very late buying my tickets, but when I presented my ticket receipt dated July 26 and with "kosher food" listed in bold letters, she was hard pressed to continue with that tact. And that's when I went in for the kill.

I will spare you all the details because yes, they are gorry. Suffice it to say that two other kosher passengers were so taken with my performance that they offered me their meals. I declined. That would have let the airline of the hook way too easily. Plus, taking other people's kosher meals just transferred the problem from my "plate" to theirs. That didn't seem fair.

Now while the stewardess was busy trying to solve what I had pretty much positioned as a minor hate crime on the part of the airline, Ari was walking through the economy section of the plane. As I neared him he turned around and said: "Ema, turn around, our seats aren't here. I went too far."

With a quick glance I realized that seats 11a and 11c were not in Economy. We quickly turned around and found our fabulous seats in what BMI calls Premium Economy or something like that. Without going into details once again, it was simply too good to be true.

The problem was that I couldn't figure out if the airline had made a mistake or not. And considering that I had just made a bit of scene at entrance of the plane, I didn't feel like I was in any position to inquire. So I sat there for the rest of the flight trying to figure out what must have happened and what it could possibly mean. Was it a cruel joke from a higher power or just a fluke? And if it was a fluke, had I lost my ability to complain about my kosher food issue from such a fancy seat? Or was I simply going to be perceived as an overindulged complainer? Was I going to be found out and sent to the back of the plane or would the airline totally overlook its error? All this thinking was exhausting (although I had a great seat for an exhausted person).

I have no idea what the answers to these questions are, but I have to tell you that getting the big, fancy, cushy seat changed everything and left me perplexed for the rest of the trip home. Oh yes, and in the end, we also got kosher food. Speculate away. I sure am.