Tuesday, February 24, 2009

If you are half iron man, what is the other half?

My husband Chaim's ego decided that he should compete in the upcoming Half Ironman competition in Eilat. And apparently the rest of his mind and body just went along for the bike ride, swim and run.

I mean, let's face it, he wasn't born yesterday. Not even close to yesterday. I can't tell you how old he is because I am under strict instructions to answer all inquiries of that nature with the following statement: (Yes, I have been married to him for almost two decades but...) "I don't know". I know that sounds ridiculous but that is the official stance and I just tell people it never came up in conversation!

So, back to the Half Ironman. This competition involves an almost two kilometer swim in the sea, a 90 km bike ride up and down some apparently pretty nasty mountains, and a 21 km run. In total this should take the average non-professional athlete about seven hours.

My first question is why would anyone want to do such a horrific thing to themselves? Truth is I am totally adverse to exercise so I am probably not the best person to take a stab at answering that question. I think the answer is sort of the Himalayin standard: "Because it is there." Well so are crocodiles and I never feel the urge to swim with them.

And my second question is if you are only striving to be half an Ironman, what do you want for your other half? I am not even going to try to answer that. I would probably pick a second half of cotton candy or something light and easy like that. I think your other half must be 100% crazy, but as I mentioned, I consider carrying the groceries from the car to the house as weight lifting.

So we are off to Eilat first thing Thursday morning. We have to get there with enough time for Chaim to completely psyche himself out. Apparently he isn't freaked out quite enough yet. I thought today's test swim in the Mediterranean Sea might be enough to deter him. The water was rough and well, it is February, so even though we live in the Middle East, it isn't exactly balmy here. But no, despite the truly unpleasant experience he reported, he has decided to go ahead with his crazy plan. And we, his family, are all being dragged along to watch him.

At least we have matching bright yellow "Go Daddy" T-shirts.

That should make it easier for the ambulance to pick us out of the crowd when it comes time to take him to the hospital and the attendants need family consent.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

God's Country

I was born and raised in Sydney, Nova Scotia. And I spent the better part of my seventeen years there believing that I lived in a special place. Actually, I was told that in no uncertain terms by pretty much every adult I knew; Nova Scotia and more specifically, Cape Breton Island, was God’s Country. Everyone in Cape Breton called it God’s Country and I never doubted it.

If you have ever driven over Smoky Mountain on the way to the Cabot Trail, you have seen its natural beauty for yourself. And if you made it as far as Cape North on a sunny day, you may have actually seen a piece of heaven.

Or so I thought.

Then seven years ago I moved to Israel, which is considered by millions of people worldwide to be God's Country.

Hence the dilemma. Where precisely is God's Country?

Yes, Israel is part of the cradle of civilization. Cape Breton surely is not because the people who live there are generally adverse to civilized living. When they desire moments of civility.... they get on a plane and go somewhere else to find it. Then they go home.

Cape Bretoners are not particularly interested in progress and modernization. They like things just as they are (and as they have always been). Not like Israel, which is considered by many to be the next largest concentration of high-tech brain power outside of Silicon Valley in California.

Is it possible that God has two homes -- His winter abode in Israel and when the weather gets too hot here, He shifts to his northern summer home in Cape Breton? If I were Him, I would pick that option. Why upset the Cape Bretoners who think they have a piece of Him when He can just as easily shift location in the summer?

There is one advantage to Cape Breton that I think Israelis would actually like. Cape Breton is all but completely ignored by the outside world. No one there is in a hurry to go anywhere or do anything. And no superpowers are giving them instructions on how to live their lives. There are no katusha missiles aimed at its population. Cape Bretoners never worry about their kindergartens being blown up or getting on a bus (yes, there are buses in Cape Breton).

Something about all that peacefulness makes you really wonder if it might actually be God's Country.

I don't think that the snow or the everlasting cold are working in Cape Breton's favour, but what do I know? Maybe tobogganing and skiing are holy experiences. Of course, maybe sitting on the beach in Netanya or overlooking the Negev as the sun is coming up are as well.

The people who choose to live on the edges of Cape Breton -- literally in the middle of nowhere -- do so to be alone. (They must; I can't for the life of me think of another reason why they would move to a cold, perpetually damp, rocky cliff on the edge of the sea. They could fall in.)

People who move to the outer parts of Israel do so to inhabit those places and secure them as Jewish land. These Israelis are securing the frontiers of this tiny state – not militarily, but emotionally. The exact opposite of the Cape Breton logic.
The people who live at the outer reaches of Israel are not trying to get away from civilization. Many of them made conscious decisions to play an active role in populating the outer reaches of the country. I see them as Israel’s remaining pioneers.

Both places have lots of beautiful mountains and vistas. But just over Israel's mountains live some of the least friendly neighbours anyone could ask for. If you look too far over the edge of a mountain in Cape Breton you will be swimming with the whales -- Cape Breton doesn't really have any neighbours and even if it did... how could you not love a Cape Bretoner?

So you can see the dilemma. Where exactly is God’s country?

I am rather nervous to vote for one place over the other. Both are holy in their own ways to me.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Is this guy on drugs or does he buy his own bull?

Apparently a few days ago my husband Chaim wrote a letter to the president of the York University concerning the overly aggressive protest against York's Jewish students a little over a week ago. From my perspective, writing a protest letter to this guy is like whistling into the wind, but Chaim is not one to take things lying down -- and that is something I really love about him.

I don't know what Chaim's letter said, but I have the response letter from the president of York. I can't figure out if he is a) totally deluded; b) totally in denial; c) has an evil body double; d) has multiple personality disorder or e) is an outright liar. You decide for yourself.

I have included his email address and am not protecting his privacy because I think he deserves whatever is coming at him.

Here's the letter he sent to Chaim via email:

FROM: Mamdouh Shoukri
TO: Chaim Wigoda
DATE: Fri, 20 Feb 2009 12:51:31 -0500

RE: Re: MOTION 2009-01-21: 03

Dear Chaim,

Thank you for taking the time to write me with your concerns about the
York Federation of Students’ recent motion condemning Israel.

The York Federation of Students is an independent corporation, and the
decisions they make are their own. The YFS does not represent in any way
the views of York University. We continue to remind them of their
responsibility as a student government to all of the students here at
York. It is also the role of the broader student population to make
their views known to their student government.

I believe a university campus is the most appropriate place for an
exchange of ideas and opinions, a place where discussions on highly
charged political issues can occur at an academic level, and in a civil
manner, so that they are meaningful and productive. These principles are
the basis of University policies and regulations, and individuals have a
responsibility to uphold them for the sake of the entire York community.

The Joint Statement on Community Values from the University Leadership
clearly delineates the position of senior University officials: “We call
upon every member of the York community to live up to our historic
commitment to social responsibility, equity and fairness in our dealings
with each other. It is imperative not to let our own opinion – however
sincerely held – be the tool with which we attempt to oppress, alienate
or silence others.”

Thank you again for getting in touch.

Mamdouh Shoukri

Please remember that this is the president of a large (previously respected) Toronto university. He isn't a gang leader from the back streets of one of Toronto's less desirable neighbourhoods.

This is my favourite part:

I believe a university campus is the most appropriate place for an
exchange of ideas and opinions, a place where discussions on highly
charged political issues can occur at an academic level, and in a civil
manner, so that they are meaningful and productive.

Hell, I believe that too. It's just that if I wrote that I would expect to be held accountable to that behaviour. This guy seems to have a disconnect between his words and his actions.

I just want to know who died and left him in charge? Originally, I mistook the president of the university for the president of the Student Federation. Now that I realize that this is the senior guy in the university, I can't understand his hands-off approach. This incident is destroying the reputation of HIS university. He is in charge. Why isn't he doing his job? All he is doing is trying to distance himself from something that he is inextricably linked to.

I would be interested in your comments and thoughts.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

No, I do not know everyone

I have been told that I talk a lot and I am willing to concede that at times it is true.

I talk a lot after synagogue on Saturday mornings because it is the only time during the week that almost everyone I know is standing around in one place. Plus, most Saturday mornings, we leave the synagogue and it is beautiful and sunny outside. It's normally about 10:45 a.m. so what else should I do? Run home and hide?

I also talk a lot as I walk to and from the infamous mini-market. That is because almost everyone I know lives in my neighbourhood and lots of them are out doing things at the same time I am … so we stop and talk for a few minutes. The sidewalk in front of the mini-market is the unofficial neighbourhood meeting spot. There is some one you know standing there at pretty much every hour of the day.

I talk to the cashiers in the grocery store because that is where I practice my Hebrew. I should probably talk more in the grocery store under the circumstances.

And finally, I talk to the service people who help me with a myriad of things every day and every week. If you see people enough, they become familiar to you – and you to them. Names are inconsequential.

Which brings me to the point of my ranting. One day a few months back, I was sitting having coffee with a friend at my alternative mini-market. It has a few chairs and tables set up at a very busy corner. Great for people watching. She was discussing how I am so busy waving to people that it is difficult to have a conversation with me.

"You know everyone," she said. "No, I don't," I answered with a that's-ridiculous-look on my face. And then came the moment when apparently God or one of his minions was trying to make a point. I hate when that happens – particularly when the point is not to my advantage.

At that moment one of the street cleaners who often sweeps the streets near my house just happened to walk by with his broom and his bucket-on-wheels. These guys sweep all day and Ra'anana is remarkably clean as a result. Word has it that some of them are retired PhD's in maths and sciences from Russia who couldn't find work when they moved here. I have never checked that out. But I love the idea of it.

Anyway, as he walked by with his tools of the trade, he looked up and saw me and yelled in Hebrew "Good morning". I very familiarly waved back and said "the same to you."

"Okay, that's it!," said my friend. "You know the street sweeper?"

"He sweeps my street," I answered. "What I am I supposed to do? Ignore him everyday?"

I guess she thought so. And I also think she thinks I lost that argument.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

A quickie tip: A sure fire way to find your children

Let me start by saying that this only works with pre-teen children -- or at least I sincerely hope so.

I can stand in my kitchen for an hour calling people's names. I can walk up the stairs and continue to call out to my kids. No one ever answers me. I can threaten. I can offer rewards. I have tried all of these tactics. None of them work. We don't live in such a big house that the kids can insist that they didn't hear me.

But I have found one thing that never fails. It is the foolproof way to round up your children when they are in the house but completely inaccessible. All you need is one bathroom. One toilet. And for your own sake, one clouded-glass shower.

Here's what you do. GO INTO the bathroom. Get undressed to take a shower or sit on the toilet. Either approach will work. I can promise you that within 30 seconds of you being completely unavailable your kids will find you.

And if your kids are anything like my kids, they are not deterred by a closed door or silence from my end. No siree. When they want me, they will move heaven and earth to find me. There is no door strong enough to keep them out.

So now, I have turned this knowledge to my advantage. I always start by simply calling their names, but when that doesn't work, I just say to myself: "Hey, I could really use a shower." And by the time I am undressed and in the shower (hence the need for clouded glass), at least one of them will come barging into the bathroom with his or her most recent catastrophe.

Try it. I guarantee success. It has never failed me yet.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Okay, I am taking some heat here, but I have a plan

A few days ago I wrote a post about my general disappointment in how the Jewish students at York University reacted to the bullying by the anti-Israel/pro-Palestinian hoards who were taunting them earlier in the week.

The following day at lunch, a good friend of mine who is a university professor said that he thought the students did the right thing by calling the police. "They could have been hurt," he said. Okay, I am willing to give him that much ... they could have been hurt. Well so could the Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto.

My professor friend grew up safely-ensconced in a large Jewish community. I grew up in a place where there were a handful of Jewish families. Everyone knew who we were. The Jewish families were all generally successful. Most of the Jewish kids were good students. Bottom line: I don't think a lot of people liked us much. Of course, at the time I didn't know that. I lived safely sheltered from a lot of nastiness thanks to my parents.

But, eventually you are out there on your own. And that's when you come face-to-face with the hard cold realities. I have heard all the doozers: "Jew Girl", "don't be such a Jew", "all Jews are rich", "your people run the world".

Let me add here that I only wish "my people" ran the world because if they did, I would send them a list of all the idiots who said all those stupid things to me over the years and request someone to exterminate them -- quietly of course. And it wasn't just other kids who said them. It was adults too ... even teachers in front of the entire class.

But the difference for me was that I always took a stand. I have told more than one teacher to F-off. (Yes, I know I have a tendency to resort to that word in times of stress.) I have walked out of classes, and I have confronted every last one of the people who ever said any such anti-semetic thing to me. Oh, and years later, when I bumped into one of the cool guys in high school who had called me Jew Girl, I reminded him of his pathetic-ness and told him that I would go on reminding him and everyone he knew for as long as I lived. That is a promise I intend to keep. It will be my pleasure.

So that is why I don't get these kids at York. Well actually I DO get them. They don't know in their own hearts and minds if Israel is the good guy or the bad guy, so they assume the worst. They are worried that the anti-Israel/pro-Palestinian tormentors might be right. They don't know themselves as Jews. So what do you expect?

So that's enough rhetoric for one day. At the end of all my ranting, my friend and I agreed that we needed a plan.

Actually it was my professor friend who came up with the idea. He said that we should create a little wallet-sized card for every Canadian Jewish university student (I say Canadian, because I don't know what's going on concerning this matter in the U.S.) that gives them 10 important facts about Israel's position. That way, they could check their little cards and get their facts straight. They would have some protective ammunition.

So, what do you think? I like the idea. It's small but it's doable. And it would be a step in the right direction. Let me know if you agree or not.

(For anyone who wants to read the latest installment in the York University incident, you can check JPOst at http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1233304788139&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull)

I really wish Ari could drive

The other day I had more things to do than I had time to do them. I am sure you all have lots of moments like that. The worst part was that my 13-year-old son, Ari, was home, wandering around, whistling Dixie without a care in the world.

In all fairness, he asked me if he could help out. I said: "sure, go get your drivers' license and then I have a zillion things you could do for me." With that, I stomped out the door to go pick up one of my other kids from yet another after school program. If I thought for one second that the kids learned anything of value in school, I would drop at least half the after school programs. But alas, they are still in way too many programs.

Later, when I was calmer, I was thinking about how normal parents probably want to keep their kids out from behind the wheel of a death-enabling machine for as long as possible. What, then, was wrong with me????

Now I have had time to think it through and I have come to the realization that parents want it both ways. We want our kids to stay young, safe and at home where we can control most situations. On the other hand, we want them to be independent and go out and conquer the world -- which cancels out all the things on the previous list.

This whole contradiction is further exacerbated in Israel. We all know when we move here that eventually the army will come calling. The day your child turns 16 they mail you their first "welcome, we know who you are and where you live" letter. From what I have heard from my friends, it is a pivotal moment in every parent's life. I'm not sure what the kids think but the parents recognize it for what it is ... the inevitable approach of the end of childhood.

And then, as if you didn't get the point, they send you regular reminders over the next few years to tell you that they haven't forgotten about your child. Very Orwellian if you ask me.

Which brings me back to driving. Now that I have thought it through more completely I have decided to continue complaining and doing carpool. I intend to keep my son as close to home as I possibly can over the next few years -- knowing full well that he will be pulling away as much as he can. However, I have also decided that he should learn to drive before he learns to shoot an M-16. And then I am going to pray that he drives well and never has to shoot that gun.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Remember, it can't happen in Canada ... or can it?

I was reading the Canadian newspapers today, as I do most days. And as I have mentioned in previous posts, there is rarely any news in them. Yes, there is information -- things I didn't know before I read the papers -- but real news.... rarely.

Today was different for me. Something actually caught my eye. I wouldn't call it news, but it was attention-grabbing.

I read two articles which reminded me why I live in Israel and why most Canadian Jews have selective vision. I am sorry to say but it reminds me of what I think Germany must have been like in the early days after Hitler's election.

One article in The Globe and Mail. It was about two really nice young guys in Montreal who admitted to (www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20090212.wBulphred0212/EmailBNStory/National/home) firebombing Jewish buildings. These guys were so nice, in fact, that it was reported that one of them even had a Jewish fiancee at one point. And as if that wasn't enough, his family was quoted as saying that they have Jewish friends.

Well, thank you for that.

I love those lines and I have heard them all: "Some of my best friends are Jewish" or "You aren't like the other Jews I know." I have no idea what THAT second comment means but if I had a tub of strawberry Haagen Dazs for everyone who has said that to me over the years, I would weigh a ton.

The second article was an opinion piece in The National Post. It was a recount of an on-campus quasi-non-violent attack on the Hillel offices on the campus of York University yesterday. (network.nationalpost.com/np/blogs/fullcomment/archive/2009/02/12/an-eyewitness-account-of-this-week-s-aggressive-intimidation-of-jewish-students-at-york-university.aspx)

I will spare you the details. If you want to read them, you have the link noted above. Suffice it to say, it wasn't pretty.

But what struck me the most was how afraid the Jewish students in the Hillel on-campus office were. They were afraid because they didn't have enough information to fight back with words. There are very good counter-arguments to every ridiculous thing the anti-Israel/pro-Palestinian supporters were spouting. Very good arguments. Legitimate arguments that are supported by the Canadian government in fact.

In the end the Jewish students called the police who came and escorted them out of the building while a large group of anti-Israel/pro-Palestinian protesters taunted them. If I was one of the taunters I would have considered that a victory. The Jewish students went home (protected by the police) without a (verbal) fight. They never once made their positions known or took a proactive stance. Talk about an easy win for the other side. Hamas would just love it if the Israelis would do the same -- just pack up and leave. Then they could all get back to important business -- fighting amongst themselves.

There are at least ten times the number of Muslims in Canada as there are Jews. And amongst those Jews, most don't care or care to find out what is really going on. The writing is on the wall. It's not the first time. It's not going to be the last. Jews have never won a popularity contest and they never will. I'm just glad those York students don't live here.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Did the girl win?

Yesterday was national Election Day in Israel. If you think you have seen democracy at its best, that's great. Because you surely won't see that here. Instead, what you will see is democracy in its most contorted format.

For those of you who do not understand the Israeli political system (I am guessing that that includes pretty much everyone on earth), let me give you a very brief and superficial overview.

Members of each party rank their potential Knesset members. Needless to say, that involves a lot of backroom negotiations and I am sure it isn't pretty. It is essentially a private, members only sort of affair, so there is definitely no democracy in the candidate selection process.

Then, when an election is called, each party puts up posters and makes speeches. Some of the parties have platforms, and frankly, some do not. For some, the only platform they need is that they are "left" or "right" of another party. For some other parties, the fact that all the candidates wear a certain colour yarmulke, is platform enough. Essentially, the colour of the yarmulke defines their belief system and hence, their political beliefs.

To win a seat in the Knesset, a party must get enough popular votes to win a mandate. I think a mandate is 1000 votes, but I am not sure. Yes, you can have part of a mandate .. and if you get a part of a mandate, that gives you negotiation power that you will definitely AFTER the public election (when the real election process begins).

Now, since there are so many political parties, it is impossible for one party to form the government alone. This is where part three of the never ending political process takes place. The party with the most mandates after the public election, must go out and negotiate with other smaller parties to join the government. Rest assured, this comes at a price and it means that if you voted for the party that got the most mandates, it doesn't matter.... you may not see the things that you consider important ever implemented because that party had to negotiate with other parties to ensure they became the government -- and heaven only knows what they gave up in the process.

Believe it or not, most Israeli elections (and in Israel there are lots of them) run relatively smoothly like this. However, last night's election did not. The Kadimah Party won the popular vote by one mandate and .... The Likud Party, which lost by one mandate, is part of the larger philosophical block of Right Wingers.

What does that mean you may ask?

It means that while one party won more seats, another party and its accompanying political philosophy won more seats through the combined efforts of more political parties with the same shared political philosophy -- sort of.

And now, today, the real election process begins. It will take place in the backrooms, away from the public who theoretically voted all of these people into power. There will be backstabbing, deals made, deals broken, and deals renegotiated. And in the end, some group of political parties will surface as the winner. That will probably take until the end of next week.

If you ever studied political science you will immediately recognize that the ideas of democracy developed over many centuries by the likes of Aristotle, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, and so on, simply don't exist here. Instead it is what I like to call, The Democracy of Necessity. It's a bastardized democracy that could only thrive in the Middle East, and more specifically, Israel.

However, with all that said, in my house, it came down to one thing. When my nine-year-old daughter Yael got out of bed today and heard us discussing the election in the kitchen, she yelled down to us: "Did the girl (Tzipi Livni) win?"

Monday, February 9, 2009

My friends Akala and Farid

Something unexpected happened when we renovated our house last year. The contractor hired Arab laborers and over the course of the eight month renovation, we became "friendly" with each other. It was sort of inevitable considering I saw them almost everyday, excluding Jewish and Muslim holidays.

At first I found the whole thing very creepy. I refused to let Chaim leave me alone in the house with them. I am convinced that one guy was always looking up my skirt when I climbed the stairs to the second floor to have a look at the work going on up there. And I still think that some of them viewed me as a pathetic little female who should really go back to the kitchen. But since I had already escaped the kitchen (you know, to go to university for six years), what could they do?

And those same creepy guys liked the times when tensions were running so high that Chaim was yelling like a banshee at me. I think that when Chaim yelled he gained a lot of credibility in their eyes. You know, a Jewish man who could control his wench, just like they did.

(Before I continue I feel compelled to say that some of these Arab men were highly skilled artisans. One of them spoke English as well as I do and he did great work. However, the majority of the guys doing this sort of work were not well educated or sophisticated.)

But over time, things began to change. I got to know many of them by name -- Akala, or Abed as the younger workers called him, was the guy in charge. And Farid was a young guy who did all sorts of the messy jobs. And once you know someone's name, all the rules change.

The moment of truth came when, after the renovation was completed for a few months, I was walking to a friend's house one night and I heard someone call my name. I stopped and looked around, only to see Akala and Farid standing on the corner waiting for me!!! When I caught up to them they both hugged me. (I can only imagine what any passers-by from my neighbourhood would have thought!) And off we all walked down the street until I came to the point where I went one way and they went another. Which, if you think about it, pretty much sums up the whole relationship.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

My failing hebrew grade

My hebrew is pathetic. I have lived in Israel for six and a half years and I speak the native language with the finesse of a five-year-old. Don't bother trying to placate me with you niceties. I have proof.

Here are a few examples of things I have said (unintentionally, of course):
• To the kids in my carpool: "if rain is falling after school, rise up under the roof because I am on the way"
• To strangers asking for directions: "I don't know but ask the guard at the church" (remember, this is Israel, there is no abundance of churches, and the word for "church" and the word for "entrance" are almost the same – at least to me)
• To the butcher: "I fell from my bike and I hurt my wing"

I have no qualms about changing tenses mid-sentence. I am also the queen of transliteration. In other words, I think the sentence through in English and then translate it directly into Hebrew. Let me save you some thinking time: IT DOESN'T WORK LIKE THAT.

When native born Israelis ask me how long I have lived here and I say six and a half years, their inevitable next comment is: "Why can't you speak (decent) Hebrew? The Russians speak excellent hebrew." (Like I want to be compared to the Russians. Forget that; I have already elaborated on my theories about them in previous posts.)

So, why don't I speak a better hebrew? This is a fair question, but it also happens to have a fair and reasonable answer. I live in what is commonly called in Israel an "Anglo" area. I speak almost no Hebrew on any given day. The only people I speak Hebrew to with any regularity are the cashiers at the grocery store and some Arab laborers I know (that's a story for another day). Suffice it to say, that in each of these instances, the Hebrew on both sides is pretty pathetic.

And if all of that isn't enough, my fluently Hebrew-speaking husband will no longer bail me out of tricky Hebrew situations. He figures that after six and a half years I am on my own. Since I know it is impossible to change his mind once he has given his edict, I just go forth and babble away in bizarre Hebrew. I figure that it is up to the capable Hebrew speakers to interpret what I am saying.

When that fails, I wait for one of my kids to come home from school and deal with my Hebrew situation of the moment. Zeve makes a lot of calls on my behalf. Generally this is a good thing until he starts to ad-lib and add his own comments to my dictated conversations. It's the price I pay when I hand over control to an 11-year-old with opinions.

One of my fondest (not) memories of my first year in Israel involved driving a gaggle of 7-year-old boys to a birthday party. As they all entered the car, my then 7-year-old son Ari said to me: "Mom, please don't talk to anyone. Just drive the car."

I did, but in the future I am going to hang my university degrees on the sun visor so that his friends know I am capable of something – just not in Hebrew.

Friday, February 6, 2009

How I got here -- Part 4

Nothing much of interest happened for the rest of the summer. Ra'anana was a normal place with normal people.

I loved Ra'anana immediately because it had shopping malls, movie theatres, a main street with real stores, a pool, and all the other obvious signs of civilization. Yes, it proably had crime too but I wasn't looking for trouble so trouble wasn't looking for me.

There is really only one incident that sticks out in my mind about the rest of the summer. One night, I decided to go to the grocery store alone -- because I could. It was very emancipating. I was in Israel. I was driving the car. And I was going somewhere to do something that had to be done.

I arrived at the grocery store and it was the most remarkable grocery store I had ever seen. It was big; it was clean; and everything, as far as the eye could see, was kosher. The one thing it wasn't, was organized.

Israelis have a different concept of organization compared to the average Canadian. For example, Canadians line up -- in the line. They wait their turn. At least, long-time Canadians do that. The Russian immigrants to Canada do not. I am sure they all brought many good qualities to their new country -- but waiting their turn was not one of them. I think it is hard to wait for your turn when a) you are in very tight pants and high heeled boots, b) someone is outside pointing a gun at your head through the window of the grocery store.... or c) you are also carrying a very large suitcase of cash.

Okay, back to the point. The grocery store in Ra'anana. I got in line, waited my turn and started to put all my groceries on the conveyor belt. The cashier started to ring up my purchases ... and then literally tossed them aside. Where was the Charge and Bag one-step that I was used to?

Who the hell knows. It surely didn't exist in Ra'anana at that time.

All of a sudden I realize that my already-paid-for groceries were piling up o'er yonder and I was still placing items from my cart on the conveyor belt. So, as soon as I finished dumping everything on the conveyor belt I ran to start bagging the other stuff. Except..... I couldn't get the damn cheapo plastic bags to open.

So my groceries were piling up and up and up, and I was still trying to open the fist bag. Needless to say, I panicked. I panic easily so that isn't saying much. And then, I made the biggest mistake of all. (A mistake I will NEVER make again.) I PAID THE CASHIER.

Why was this such a problem? Because, once I had paid her she felt totally okay to start processing the next person's order. And then their groceries were piling up on top of mine in the Post-Payment Tossing Area.

That's when I cracked. Just lost it. Right there on the spot. I did the same thing I did when I was delivering my second child. I yelled the F-word as loud as I could. It was remarkably cathartic, although it didn't get the groceries into the bag.

It did, however, get the cashier to stop in her tracks for a second. Whether or not you speak English, the F-word seems to have immediate international recognition. And once I had the cashier's attention and I realized that this was the only way to hold that attention, I just let an entire string of four-letter words go. It felt good. Sue me.

A few good things came out of the tirade, but the most important was that the cashier was so shocked that she stopped what she was doing for just enough time and I was able to get my groceries into bags, back into the cart and out the store door.

That was my first real introduction to life in Israel.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Back to How I Got Here -- Part 3

The week in Netanya was a real eye opener. Dave, Chaim's friend, came home from his business trip. That actually cramped our style a bit because, after all, it was his house and I felt more self-conscious with him there.

But I had no idea how self-conscious I had yet to feel. A day after Dave arrived, so did his Russian girlfriend who, for these purposes, I will call Bratslava (in English that translates to Bitchella). She was a hot blonde babe -- with a four-year old son. She had left her abusive Russian husband (or so she and/or Dave reported) and had moved in with nice (much wealthier, Canadian) Dave.

She couldn't have made less effort to befriend us if she was in a deep coma. Actually, I think that people in deep comas are capable of responding to some stimuli -- she was not. At least not to anyone who wasn't male, available, drooling at her feet, and heavy walletted.

Let's suffice it to say, we* did not hit it off. The only time she even acknowledged my presence was the day she crawled out of bed around noon and noticed that I had fed her son breakfast and lunch. You would think that that would have broken the ice. It didn't. And then, later that evening when she and Dave asked us if we wanted to go out with them, we naively asked who could we get to stay with the kids. Yet again, she looked at me like I was a really offensive, irritating alien. You will luuuuuv the answer.

David (rather sheepishly) told us that they don't get babysitters; they just left the 4-year-old at home alone when they went out.

I don't think I have to tell you how that ended. They went out. We stayed home.

The next few days were more of the same, and I was counting down the days until we could leave outer Netanya and go to some place with people I could "get".

Finally, after a week of "fun" we packed up our new rental car and drove down the highway about 20 minutes to Ra'anana, where we spent the next three weeks.

NOTE: (*WE, in this case was me and Bratslava... Chaim probably thought she was a hot babe too. It's a man thing. Of course, recreation and procreation bring out different feelings even in men.... I think.)

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Can't Anti-Semites find a better way to spend their days?

Sometimes I get up earlier than the rest of my family so that I can spend a few minutes at my computer before the pandemonium of the morning begins. I need a few minutes to see what emails dribbled in during the night – usually from overseas – and I like to read some news papers and see what's going on in the world.

Today, I am sorry I bothered. Yesterday, it seems, was the seventh anniversary of the unspeakable beheading of Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal South East Asia Bureau Chief who was posted in India. Unfortunately for Daniel, he was born Jewish. I don't think he lived a very Jewish life, but for his killers that was besides the point.

Normally he is not someone who crosses my mind. But when I read the article written by his father in yesterday's Wall Street Journal (www.wsj.com – it's titled "the Normalization of Evil" and it's printed in the Opinion section and definitely worth reading), it hit me like a ton of bricks. Probably because I had just finished reading the front page of the Jerusalem Post only to see that despite everything that happened in Gaza a few weeks ago appears to have been for naught. The world runs to say how bad the Israelis are for bombing Gaza, then we stop and lo and behold, what happens? The Gazans start bombing Israel again. Of course, that is okay with the world... it's only the Jews/Israelis.

It is so mentally exhausting to wake up every morning and realize within moments of reading pretty much any paper anywhere that the world just can't come up with enough ways to hate the Jews/Israel. Don't people have anything better to do with their days? Wouldn't they all be better off focusing on feeding their families, and finding personal fulfillment in some positive way?

I am at a loss to figure out how such a small country, with such a small population, can possibly be causing such worldwide havoc. And spare me the controlling the world theories – they are pathetic and downright not true. It's always easier to blame someone else rather than looking at one's own shortcomings. Why work on getting a job when you can blame black people for taking all the jobs via Affirmative Action programs?

Why is it always okay that people can aim their bombs at our children but when we fight back, we are bad? It's not a rhetorical question. I am actually going to answer it.

The answer is that Jew/Israel hating is so ingrained in societies and cultures that most people don't even know they are doing it. It is just part of who they are. Let me also say that I know lots of people who aren't Jew/Israel haters, so I know, as a fact, that is it possible to get through the day without it. And I am willing to bet that those people have lives full of many other things (hopefully positive things).

I am really sick and tired of worrying about justifying the existential right of Israel (and Jews) to exist every bloody day.

Therefore, I would like to suggest to all haters of any kind (why stop at Jews and Israel?), that you find something better to do with your day. Stop blaming entire groups of people because they are different from you. And remember, people in glass houses shouldn't throw stones … or bear arms.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

My 15 Seconds Of Fame

My nine-year-old daughter Yael thinks I am famous because she saw a video clip of me and my friend Nina, and our YouTube pregnancy show (www.thepregnancyshow.com).

You are probably wondering why I had a pregnancy show. It's not like I am a real Go-To person for pregnancy advice. In a neighbourhood where people figure you must have had conception issues if you have less than five children, there are much more expert mothers available.

The truth is that Nina and I have a mutual friend who owns a pregnancy website and we made the series of videos in his backyard about two years ago. They were all ad-libbed (which I think is pretty obvious). His theory was that if you have had a few babies here and there, and if they are still alive as a result of your attentive care, then you can discuss this topic. In all fairness, Nina has six kids, so she was more of a shoe-in. I just have a big mouth and an opinion on everything – that's what got me the gig.

We had a lot of fun making the videos – as it turns out, some people who follow the pregnancy website have had wild experiences. Truly the kinds of things that would never cross my mind. Here's one beaute: a guy and his girlfriend have sex. He uses a condom. After sex he goes to the washroom. When he comes back he finds the girlfriend trying to insert the contents of the used condom into places that would potentially result in her getting pregnant (how's that for wording diplomacy?). So now the guy's question is: Can she get pregnant?

My question is why on earth would you have sex with a woman who only wants you for your discarded condom? And what IF she DID get pregnant? Are you financially and emotionally committed to someone who scrounges for condom refuse?

I don't think that questions like that need answers beyond: Run for your life bucko.

When the videos first aired all my friends watched them. My parents even showed them to their friends at a party they were hosting. We were a big success among the people who know us and love us. And that was probably the bulk of our viewing audience. Of course, there were a few innocent stragglers who stumbled across our path -- thank you whoever you were.

Back to my daughter. She wants to know if I am famous. Yes, Yael, I was famous for about 15 seconds among the 2000 or so people who watched the videos for whatever reasons a few years ago. I hope that the truth doesn't burst her balloon too badly.

I think I will go write out some autographs in case I need them later.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Who cares if it rains in Spain?

It's 20 degrees Celsius today – and sunny. And heaven forbid that you mention that in positive tones on the streets of Israel. I love this weather; to me it is nirvana. But the truth is that Israel is in the middle of a drought. A really big drought -- a drought of biblical proportions!! And this is very bad.

This never happens in Canada because even in years when there isn't a lot of rain, the snow is very reliable. It falls, and falls, and then falls some more. Ratchet the temperature up a few degrees and inevitably that snow turns first to dirty, messy slush, and then to good old general wet stuff. Drought is not a word on the average Canadian's tongue. (I better check the situation in Saskatchewan before I speak on behalf of all of Canada.)

But in Israel, drought spells trouble. First it means that we might have to buy more fresh water from Turkey and right now that is the last thing we want to do. When Turkey was a decent, half-friendly neighbour it didn't hurt so much. But now, in the midst of Turkey's national We-Hate-Israel campaign, who the heck wants to do business with them?

Of course lots of Israelis aren't helping the situation either. Take my next door neighbours. I think they must be getting a kick-back from Turkey because they are single-handedly wasting as much water as they can. Drives my husband nuts. They water their walkway (because G-d forbid they should have a dirty walkway) and then as far as I can tell, they just turn their hose on for the fun of it – or perhaps because they know it makes us crazy.

I want the Israeli government to implement a Use and Abuse Law. If you use less than your allocation (which will be determined by some lazy bureaucrat in the Ministry of Something or Other), you get money back on your monthly water bill. And if you surpass your quota, then you pay a big penalty.

Of course, none of this will fill the Kinneret (and for your Christians out there, that's the Sea of Galilee -- and now I am developing a theory on how Jesus actually walked on that water) with much needed water, but until the Heavens see fit to cooperate, it will make me feel like we are doing something.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Election Guide for the Really Perplexed

If you come from an organized, law-abiding country like Canada, Israeli elections are like spending a month at the circus. Lots to do; lots to see; highly entertaining; and something for pretty much everyone. There's the clowns, the acrobats, the animal acts and a range of other performers.

Generally, the main performance takes place in an area called "The Ring" but in the case of Israeli elections, we call it "The Media". Often, a large circus will provide up to three performing areas that are dedicated to different types of acts. The idea of the "three ring circus" was to build up excitement for the citizens. The Israelis have perfected the concept.

Voila! Welcome to the Israeli elections. It's a mind-boggling cornucopia of information overload, intrigue, double binds, and the likes.

But the truth is that for all of its circus atmosphere, this is really serious business. Leading this country is no piece of cake. My husband used to wish that one of our sons would some day become the Prime Minister of Israel. To which I could only respond: "Are you crazy???? I wouldn't subject my worst enemy to such a thankless job; why would I want that for my beloved child?" Yes, it must be nice to have your picture on the cover of Time and Newsweek, but other than that…. All I see is downside. For example, having your face plastered on such magazines just makes it easier for assassins to find you while you are on vacation.

Another interesting thing about Israeli political parties is that it is very difficult to determine what they stand for – you know, their political platforms!!! Why have one of those???? Beyond being Left, Right, Religious, Secular, slightly Left and slightly secular, slightly extremely Right and moderately religious, etc… I cannot figure out what they all stand for.

In all fairness, there are a few clearly stated positions on a few items, but it's slim pickings in the clarity market.

That's why I was so happy when the Jerusalem Post reported on a website that took all the guesswork out of determining where you and your beliefs fit into the political spectrum. I went to this site immediately (israel.kieskompas.nl) and answered all the questions truthfully. Afterwards a little chart popped up and told me which parties I shared the most common ground with.

The only problem was that I am apparently most closely aligned with a party that some (obviously bleeding heart lefty) journalists are calling 'racist' and that does not sit well with my view of myself. Talk about having freezing cold water thrown in you face. Now, granted, a lot of people are not calling this party racist, but I hate the fact that that word is out there in connection to my political views. Therefore, I am back to square one and reconsidering my views. And now I am still not sure who to vote for, so there is no way I can leave the circus quite yet.

Back to How I Got Here

And so began our odyssey.

The following summer we spent five weeks in Israel. The first week we stayed in the home of one of Chaim's old friends from Canada, Dave. Naturally, we arrived in the middle of a heatwave. I seem to have a knack for that.

When we arrived on the outskirts of northern Netanya – in what can only be called "Cool Bachelor Beach Territory" – our bachelor friend Dave was out of the country.

And he hadn't been there in a few weeks so the house was food-free. Not that bachelors have that much food to begin with. I think they eat out a lot. So there wasn't a stitch of food – or water for that matter.All there was was the Russian cleaning lady doing heavens knows what. There was nothing to clean. No one had been there for weeks!!!

Chaim went to get some basics at the local mini-market (notice that mini-markets play a recurring theme in my experience here). After he left, I realized that I had made the wrong choice. I should have gone to the mini-market and left him home with three exhausted, dehydrated children. Chaim was gone for what seemed like hours – I'm sure it wasn't but it felt that way.

I am also sure that there was a little part of him that was debating the benefits of abandoning us versus returning with food and drink. But how far can a guy really get with no car and no money? It’s not like we were in the middle of some civilized place. We were in romanticized beach country where cool young professionals from Tel Aviv spend their weekends and older beachcomber and hippie types retire.

I guess Chaim did return eventually and I can only guess that we inhaled whatever food he bought. Blanking out the painful details has become a hallmark of my Israel experiences leading up to moving here. It's an excellent tactic and I highly recommend it.