Monday, March 30, 2009

Jewish Reality Check: Durban 2

Before I started writing this post, I did a quick Google search for "Durban 2" and got the reality check of the week. Every posting on the first page and a half of Google referring to Durban 2, was posted by a Jewish organization or individual. In other words: While it might be a big issue for Israelis ..... No one else really cares.

I'm sorry if that hurts your feelings but sometimes you just have to call a spade a spade.

As you probably know, Durban 2 is supposed to address the fight against racism and discrimination in the world, but just like Durban 1, it has been hijacked to become anti-Israel forum.

Okay, the world was off to a bad start when it appointed Libya the chair of the conference, and Iran and Pakistan (those bastions of democracy, liberty and fair play) vice-chairs of the biggest racism scam on earth. Oh, Cuba is special rapporteur, but I have no idea what that means. With such an unholy trinity in charge there was really nowhere to go but down.

Apparently Canada recognized this abuse of the anti-racist cause -- and obviously so did Israel -- and decided to boycott the conference. Even the not-so-worldly and probably anti-semetic President Obama, who first tried to influence the conference in order to put it back on the right path, ultimately decided to boycott when he realized that he was whistling into the wind.

As someone pointed out to me: the fact that the first black U.S. president in history decided to boycott the conference shows that this conference has little to do with combating racism.

So, so far, all the expected players have backed out. What improved my day somewhat was Italy's announcement that it would not participate in the conference. But before you start cheering, the ever-careful-no-to-upset-their-massive-Arab-population-states Britain and France, and Germany who just can't seem to really move away from its modern historical role as the King of Anti-Semetism Executed, have voiced a protest. Wow, I'm sure that really scared the bejeebers out of the Durban 2 planners!(?)

Australia and many other Western countries have expressed their protest and their intention to withdraw if certain "red lines" were to be crossed. The European Union has made the same announcement on behalf of all its members. Frankly, that is pretty wussy too, but that brings me back to my point. It isn't their fight. They really don't care. What's wrong with a world without Jews/Israelis?

The joke is that they should care. They should all have enough smarts to realize that once the Arabs are finished with Israel, they should be content for about .... nine minutes. Just enough time to go to the bathroom, have a cup of tea and some halva, and get back to focusing on their next target. Roll your eyes if you wish, but they have been advance planning -- they have many angry people in place all over Europe (ready to burn your car to smithereens if you look at them sideways) and they are well-entrenched in North America as well.

So forget the countries, important individuals, intellectuals and journalists who support the boycott. Use your common sense. How can the starting point of any conference on human rights begin with the defamation of religions? How can you take seriously a conference where the only country in the entire world under the microscope is the democratic Israel? Doesn't that, in and of itself, contradict a fight against racism? Singling out one entity for being different?

Don't take my word for any of this. Use your brain and use your computer. And then, do a quick reality check.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Great Passover Rice Dilemma

At the most fundamental level, there are mainly two types of Jews -- ethnically speaking. I had to say "ethnically" otherwise all the smart asses out there might start with comments like: "yeah, good and bad", "religious and secular" or "what, only two groups!!!???"

"Ethnic" is the key word here. I mean that Jews either have North African roots or Eastern European roots. But before I get to the point of my posting, I have to add the caveat that now there appear to be Jews from India, Ethiopia, Greece and maybe even China. I don't know if they fit into either of these categories. BUT THAT IS NEITHER HERE NOR THERE -- I JUST DIDN'T WANT ANY NASTY EMAILS SAYING THAT I LEFT THEM ALL OUT.

The point is that the Sephardic Jews of North African descent are very different in some fundamental ways to the Ashkenazi Jews from Eastern Europe. They pray differently. They have different customs. And most important, the only difference that matters to me right now, they eat differently. The Sephardic Jews can eat rice and legumes during Passover and the Askenazi Jews cannot. It sounds so simple when you state it like that, but in fact, it is anything but simple.

When we lived in Canada this was pretty much a non-issue because most of the Passover food products were tailor-made to the needs of the Askenazi Jewish majority and Sephardic Jews just added to that list on their own.

However, I don't live in Canada. In Israel the majority of Jews are Sephardic and therefore, the food manufacturers focus on their needs. I don't blame them, I would also. In other words, while the Sephardic Jews barely alter their eating habits during Passover, we, the Askenazi minority, might as well be re-enacting the Exodus from Egypt.

On one hand you could argue that its only for eight days so really what is the issue? On the other hand, and this is the hand I subscribe to, there is really only one ethnic origin of all Jews!!!!!! All it takes is a quick read of the Torah, The Five Books of Moses. And if you are too lazy to do that, you can google it on Wikipedia and get the answer in about two minutes.

All Jews come from the Land of Israel -- excluding the converts who joined late. That is the whole point of the Torah. God was looking for a group of people to accept His laws. He meets Abraham and that starts the ball rolling. Then, Moses clenches the deal when he takes the willing Israelites out of Egypt (see the Prince of Egypt from Disney if you don't like reading). Of course, only 20% were actually willing so right there the Israelites suffered their first and very large mass assimilation. The 80% were out of the picture.

The remaining 20% included about 600,000 men (they were not counting women and children at the dawn of recorded history). And when Moses went to the top of Mt. Sinai and received the Ten Commandments, the deal was done. Trust me, there were no other Jews getting separate instructions elsewhere!

It wasn't our fault that life got difficult again after Sinai. The Jews had lots of ups and downs which resulted in them ultimately being thrown out of the Land of Israel for more than a thousand years.

So my theory is that since we all have the same origins, and we were forced out of our land by our enemies, as opposed to by our own free will, then there is only one ethnic origin of the Jews and we should all have the same laws for what we can eat during Passover.

I am not alone in thinking this. But there isn't a rabbi for miles around in any direction who is willing to take up the fight. It would be career suicide. But at this time of year, when we should all be focusing on how great it was that we were freed and we became a people, we Askenazi in Israel are just too busy being upset with our pending food situation.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Never underestimate the top of your head

Excuse my vanity, but I just finished getting a hair cut that I actually like. I usually leave the hairdresser's thinking: "there's not a hope in hell that I am ever going to be able to recreate this on my own." And trust me, I don't not have the temperment to sit at the hair salon every week to have my "look" recreated.

My hairdresser is used to me now. He once tried to colour my hair, give me highlights and cut my hair all in one appointment. He won't make that mistake again soon. He spent at least half of that time telling me we were almost done as I was climbing the walls and leaving the salon for mini-breaks. Now he knows better than to schedule more than two actions at one sitting.

In Israel it is not unusual (unfortunately) to see women sitting around OUTSIDE their hair salon's with their heads covered in foil and hair colour dripping down the sides of their faces. Most of them are also smoking or talking on their cell phones. At first you think to yourself: "How embarrassing. Way too much personal information here." But, next thing you know, you become so used to it that you are doing the same thing and it seems perfectly normal.

It's interesting to note that my hairdresser, Yossi, has no hair. In typical Israeli male style, he shaved his head at the first sign of male-hair parking lots. He actually looks good that way and I guess that saves him time from working on his own hair when he should be working on mine.

Yossi also has another story. He was one of the real participants in the story behind "Waltz with Bashir", an Israeli animated movie that was recently up for an Academy Award. He doesn't like to talk about his army experience much. Lebanon in the early 1980s does not bring back good memories for the soldiers who were there. Let's just say that Yossi's scars are definitely deeper than what you see on his arms.

That might make one wonder if it is a good idea to give a guy like Yossi scissors. The only testimonial I can offer for him is that I have known him for almost seven years. The percentage of good -- if not better -- haircuts I have received from him well outweigh the bad ones. On the other hand, my mother doesn't like him but that could be for any of 1000 obscure reasons.

But the bottom line is this.He cut and coloured my hair today in record time and I left really happy.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The past always returns

Every once in a while something really weird happens to make you wonder about the inner workings of the world. Not the physical world, but the metaphysical world. Yesterday, I had one of those experiences.

It began with a knock on the door. I opened the door to a man about my age, who had come to see my husband. I said hello and called to Chaim that his guest was here. Then I left and got on with my day.

A few hours later, I was back in the house as this fellow was leaving. Chaim introduced him to me as kind of a proper protocol afterthought. "Oh, and this is my wife..." That's when things moved into the weird realm.

This guy started repeating my name over and over again. Yes, I have a fairly unusual name. I checked it out yesterday and it is the 130th most common name for a girl in the US, which means it probably isn't that common. All the while I just stood there waiting for him to stop. I am used to this sort of reaction to my name.

Then he said to me: "What was your maiden name?" When I answered him, he suddenly smiled: "I know you." I looked at him again and no, no lightbulb went on in my head.
"I'm Michael" he said, and then he offered his surname and the city where he grew up.

AGHHH. I did know him! Or at least I met him and I knew of him. Our mothers had been been friends since they were little girls and once, when we were on a family trip traveling across Canada, we went to visit his family. I was turning 13 at the time. He and his older brother were so smart that I didn't even know what to say to them. I was well entrenched in my 13-year-old angst at that point and I wasn't speaking to anyone who wasn't as cool as I perceived myself to be. They were definitely not cool, but boy were they smart. I even suggested to my mother at the time that we invite them over to our hotel and offer them a television set to disassemble and reassemble for fun.

So here he was, standing in my kitchen in Israel, 34 years later, and seeming normal. And at that moment all I could think was: "and this is why you never burn a bridge ... everyone comes back sooner or later." I am so glad now that I never made the TV-as-toy offer all those years ago. Of course, in all fairness, it wasn't me who nixed the plan; it was my more far-sighted mother.

Apparently his mother had given him my contact information before he came to Israel and naturally, he had no intention of ever using it. I wouldn't have used it either. You have to be a remarkable extrovert or desperate for conversation to call someone you met once, 34 years ago.

But this is where fate or karma or whatever you want to call it, had stepped into the picture. He ended up in my kitchen. He didn't seek me out. I didn't even know he was in Israel and I surely wasn't holding my breath waiting for him to arrive. Yet, here we were.

It makes you wonder about the invisible forces at work in the world. Was it sheer coincidence or was it something more intentionally interventionist? I don't know but I do know that it is going to keep me wondering for a few weeks about what his purpose in my life could be. The fact that he is a doctor is not exactly comforting considering my natural inclination to ponder down unpleasant roads.

Of course, it could be absolutely nothing, but it is a reminder of an important component of my life philosophy: never burn a bridge; everyone shows up again.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Don't get your own bus

Okay, I just read the paper again. You would think I had learned my lesson several years ago, but apparently I am a glutton for punishment. And today, I must have requested the Chinese Water Torture on maximum drip.

This is one of those days when I am just not happy to be a member of the tribe (that's an insider's way of saying Jewish --- shhhh).

So, what is my problem you ask? Thank you for inquiring and I'll tell you what's bugging me today. There are terrible things happening all over the world. You don't need a list, just read a few newspapers. And what is today's issue in Israel?

The ultra-religious Jews want their own buses because otherwise they cannot dictate whether a woman sits next to a man on the way from one religious neighbourhood in Jerusalem to the Western Wall. Now I don't mean a naked woman and a naked man. I mean two people of the opposite sex, fully clothed but coincidentally going in the same direction. The ultra-religious Jewish men want a segregated bus. They want to undo all the good that poor Rosa Parks did way back in December of 1955.

Rosa only wanted to sit at the front of the bus -- maybe the back of the bus made her naseous. Today, her defiance sounds so minor. Today, no one would care if the people on the bus were purple... well, almost no one. The ultra-orthodox men would notice and care ... if you were a woman.

I have wracked my brains (that may not be saying much) and I really and truly cannot figure out what could possibly happen if a woman sat next to a man on the bus. Are men really that weak and pathetic that they cannot focus on the bus ride if a woman is sitting next to them? These guys wear heavy coats even in the heat of the summer so they are sweaty and smelly. I am sure everyone just can't wait to sit next to one of them.

I take the bus a considerable amount. I love the bus. I just hop on, pay my fare, put my earphones in my ears and turn on my iPod -- and then I can go anywhere. No parking, no worrying about missing the turn-off. For me, the bus is travel nirvana.

Funny thing is that I spend most of my time on the bus easing away from whatever creepy person takes the seat next to me -- and just as often as not, those creepy people are other women. To me, creepiness is not gender specific. It's a universal, colour-blind, gender and age oblivious thing.

Maybe if all those misguided zealots would actually get jobs, they could afford cars or at least taxi service and then they could choose to travel with whomever they wanted. But as long as they don't, then I think they just have to accept that the bus represents the lowest common denominator of travel. And on top of that, this country has issues -- really issues. The government doesn't have time to be arguing about who can sit on what bus where.

So now, not for the first time, the ultra-orthodox are holding the Ministry of Transportation hostage (they did this to El Al a few years ago and guess who won? Not El Al.).

I really hate to rail against my own peeps, but it dawns on me that these are not my peeps. My peeps are all sane and relatively reasonable, moderate thinkers -- of various colours, genders, ages, sizes, and shapes. Some lean a little left or right at any given moment, but not so much so that they could tip the bus.

Rosa Parks's act of defiance became an important symbol of the modern Civil Rights Movement and she went on to do many great things in the name of civil rights. Now if someone could just tell me what greater good the zealots are doing or plan to do, then I promise to eat one of their black hats.

Friday, March 20, 2009

And now it's time for the real Israeli elections to begin

I hate to say I told you, but I did. Way back in February. The day after the sort-of-democratic Israeli national elections.

Finally, after thousands of miles of ink and electronic coverage, the real Israeli elections are taking place. And they have absolutely nothing to do with the voting public.

Let's review for a minute. The Phase 1 elections took place on a rainy day in February. The results were neck-in-neck between Tzipi Livni and Bibi Netanyahu. Tzipi had the slightest bit of a majority, but she did not have enough votes to get her a majority government. Not even close.

That's when Phase 2 of the election began. Livni and Netanyahu both tried to convince the leaders of the other parties to join them in a variety of coalition arrangements. Livni, having not planned well for that eventuality, was left out in the cold and essentially politically out-manouevered by the more experienced Netanyahu. He already had commitments form several of the small right-wing parties that they would join a Likud (Netanyahu's party) coalition in the event that there was a need for such a coalition.

Now Netanyahu could have been satisfied with that. He had enough mandates to achieve the necessary 65 required to form a majority-sort of government. But.... Netanyahu being Netanyahu, this apparently wasn't to be. That's when he set out to woo pretty much anyone of any political stripe -- he wants to create a really representative government. Isn't that what elections are supposed to do? Government for the people, by the people?

I am not going to comment on his actual choices because I am not in the mood to sit here for a week typing all the possible machinations. Let's just say that at this point pretty much everyone is angry at him.

The most remarkable part of the process for me is that he didn't receive enough mandates to even win the first round of the elections, yet he appears to be the new prime minister elect. Don't get me wrong, I am not particularly unhappy with that, but I don't get it. Don't the numbers actually mean something? (hahaha... soon as I wrote that I realized how funny it was.)

So here we are more than a month after what could have been a real election and Netanyhu has gone to the figure-head president, Shimon Peres, to ask for more time to form a coalition government. Of course he is going to get that time because the alternative is to go back to the polls and that is not going to make tax-payers very happy and it is going to even further destroy Israel's credibility in the democratic western world. This makes the US's dangling chad issue look like child's play.

I can't help but wonder what will happen if heaven-forbid there is some sort of catastrophe (it can happen here; this isn't Canada) in Israel and no one is truly in charge. We really need someone to mind the store now. Even I am ready to give up on democracy if it means we can have closure.

My new best friend: Rupert Murdoch

First of all I would like to apologize to all my non-Jewish friends. You have been my friends for many more years than most of my Jewish friends. And frankly, you have been remarkably supportive. First, you tried your best to understand why on earth we were moving to Israel and second, you stayed in touch with me all the years that I have lived here. You have been much more concerned every time a bomb exploded somewhere in Israel and you have never hesitated to comment on "the situation" here.

However, all that said, I must inform you all that I now have a new non-Jewish best friend: Rupert Murdoch.

No, I have never met him and I don't really expect to (unless after reading this he feels compelled to invite me to spend a week on his yacht). Of course I am completely aware that I have let him displace all of you because he owns a major media empire and he is not afraid to use it to do his bidding. If any of you ends up owning a comparable media empire, then I will be happy to reconsidering your position on my friends' list.

In the meantime I have to applaud Rupert (I'm his friend so I can call him that) for a speech that he made at a recent American Jewish Committee event where he was being honoured with its National Human Relations Award. You can read the speech on JPost

The truth is it is precisely because he isn't Jewish that he can say the things he said. If a Jew anywhere said those things, he or she would immediately be dismissed as well, a Jew and heaven forbid, a Zionist. But if you read the actual speech I don't see how anyone could possibly come away thinking anything other than how sensible his words were. The challenges facing Israel are precisely what he says they are. And for all its faults and deficiencies, Israel is forever caught in an irreconcilable existential quandary.

I have said it before and I will say it again: Being a Jew and a Zionist requires one to have very broad shoulders. But with friends like Rupert Murdoch, maybe someone who isn't naturally predisposed to supporting Israel will take another look and consider Murdoch's words. The great thing about the words being Murdoch's is that he can publish them all over his empire so sooner or later someone is going to actually read them.

As for me, I am going to add Rupert Murdoch to my Rosh HaShanah email list -- and while I'm at it, maybe my Christmas list as well.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Hey, that's my sweater

I encountered a problem in the past few days that I did not expect to confront for another four or five years. My nine-year-old daughter Yael came down for breakfast wearing one of my sweaters.

When I looked at her with that you-better-not-have-taken-that-out-of-my-drawer look, she fake-innocently replied: "I found it in my drawer so I figured it was mine." Yeah, right. I don't doubt that she found it in her drawer -- my cleaning lady isn't on a Solomon-like wisdom level, but the "so I thought it was mine" part just got me going.

I know she covets some of my clothes. Even though her closets are busting at the seams full of tons of fun stuff to wear, somehow my clothes seem more interesting to her. And while she is not that large and I am not that small, I know she is already thinking ahead to the days when my cashmere sweaters will be hers. One of her favorite lines while "helping" me get dressed for synagogue on Saturday morning is: "when you're dead, I want that (fill in the blank with an item of clothing)."

In actuality, she has pretty much laid claim to every last female item in the house in anticipation of my pending death. The crystal, my jewelry (Oh don't get excited, there isn't that much of it), my clothes, my shoes, and anything else that she has rationalized will one day be hers. I'm thinking of hiring body guards just to keep her at bay until I have time to grow old gracefully.

And just in case you are thinking that she is an unnaturally covetous child, I want to set the record straight with a funny story.

Two years ago, I was standing in synagogue after the festivities on one of the fun Jewish holidays (not to be confused with the solemn Jewish Holidays). I was talking to one of my friends, when I noticed her look over my shoulder and her jaw fell slack. "Those are my new shoes!" she said. Since she was talking about shoes I turned around to have a look as well. And there were her new shoes -- shoes she had not yet worn -- walking into the synagogue on the feet of her teenage daughter!!!!! And the best part was that her daughter wasn't even being coy about her footwear. She just thought it was natural. And I am afraid that that is the normal course of life. When your daughter turns a certain age you have to run for cover with every material thing you love.

No more hanging clothes on hangars. No more folding things nicely and putting them in the drawer. If you have an ounce of self preservation then you better be prepared to sleep with your favorite items under your mattress. Or, there is always Plan B -- 1-800-NOT-OUCH Bodyguards.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

What if you don't want to be barefoot, pregnant ... and in the kitchen?

I was having a perfectly lovely week until I read Ruth Eglash's article in the Jerusalem Post today: "Requests to fire pregnant women on the rise." It just jumped off the page at me.

As I have mentioned previously, I am not a militant feminist.I was going to say I am not a feminist at all, but I thought I better check the definition of that word before I spouted off at the mouth and as it turns out ... I am a feminist. But a rational feminist. Feminism, it seems is the belief that women should have equal political, social, sexual, intellectual and economic rights to men. On the other hand, I have no intention of burning my bras -- they cost too much.

The fact that men want pregnant women out of the workforce just reinforces once again how many men want it both ways. They collectively suffer from a mutant variation of the Madonna-Whore Syndrome. They want children and they want their wives to help support the family, but they don't want to be anywhere near pregnant woman in the workplace. Would you rather your wife down on her hands and knees scrubbing someone's floor? At least she wouldn't be in your office.

For you men out there who don't know this or don't remember it, let me remind you that pregnancy is not contagious. You can't catch it by sharing a cup or sitting on the same toilet seat.

Israel's Women's Labor Law, written 1954, says any employer who wants to dismiss a pregnant woman must seek permission from the Administration of Labor Law Enforcement. Interestingly enough, the article does not mention how many requests are approved. obviously a number that the government wants to keep under wraps.

And to add insult to injury, it's also okay to fire a woman undergoing fertility treatment -- with permission, of course.

Don't you think that just maybe that woman in fertility treatment is already going through enough hell without intervention from the Stupid Men's Collective? I am sure fertility treatment is tons of fun. Sure sounds like it. And I am sure the bills are fun too. That might even be why these women are working in the first place. Not all babies grow on trees.

What I found most interesting in the article was that employers are insisting that these women are being fired for under-performing. If my recollections serve me well, most women have to be 10 times as good as a man just to keep their jobs under normal circumstances. Now I must admit that I was a bit of a nutcase during my pregnancies. Many of my co-workers used to shudder in fear when I offered to drive when we went out for group lunches. I did drive my car over a few curbs and shoot a few red lights in those hormone-filled days. But overall, I felt like an Amazon (without the sparkly costume of course).

The truth is that pregnant women aren't taken very seriously by the real men in the workplace. How can they possibly be committed to their careers or jobs if they are off reproducing?

Fair question, with an equally fair answer. I say punish all the pregnant and potentially pregnant woman -- and with some luck, you can reduce the number of women having babies, so that when the time comes to replenish the workforce in 20 odd years, there won't be anyone to do the jobs. And there won't be anyone to protect the country. And there won't be anyone to walk your dog. And if you plan it well enough, Israel will move into negative population growth numbers while our Arab cousins just keep procreating at a ridiculous pace. Wow, what a plan!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The delicious pomelo

If you don't live in South East Asia like me, then you may have very likely missed one of the most delicious fruits available on trees. It's called the pomela and the first time I saw one in Israel, I thought it was a slightly greenish grapefruit on steriods; a genetically engineering fruit gone amok. Of course, never one to be deterred by chemicals in food, I bought one and took it home.

Once I got it home I left it on the counter for about two weeks and I just looked at it. It seemed like such a freak of nature that I was fixated. It might as well have been a piece of art rather than food.

Finally a friend of my dropped by for some unrelated reason and I asked her what I should do with my pomela. "Well, you could eat it," she said. Yes, yes, I knew that, but the real question was "how".

I think she was surprised by my lack of fruit expertise, but she asked for a knife and made one big cut through the circumference of the pomela. The she turned it about 90 degrees and cut the circumference from that direction as well. Now I had this big grapefruit thing with a north-east slice and an east-west slice.

When she peeled back the skin it was thick and foamy. I mean about an inch and a half thick, maybe two inches.

Now I know that you have to get all the layers of skin off before you can proceed to eat the pomela. It's sort of like removing the epidermis, the dermis and the sub-dermis, and it takes about as long.

When you reach the sub-dermis filmy membrane you have to slowly peel it away from each and every wedge. When I was a kid, we used to call the wedges of oranges, "boats". NO, I don't remember why, but we did.Of course, with an orange, you eat that filmy membrane layer covering the actual citrus flesh. With a pomela, you do not.

The trick is to remove the entire boat wedge in tact. I rarely succeed at this but I don't care because either way, I just want to get to the fruit inside. It tastes like a happy grapefruit; it doesn't have that little edge of bitterness commonly associated with grapefruits which explains my need to eat grapefruit with honey.

A few years ago there was some medical breakthrough news that mentioned the cancer-fighting attributes of pomelas. But when I googled it just now, I couldn't find it so who knows if it is true or not. It doesn't really matter to me. It would just be an added benefit.

What does matter to me is that according to Wikipedia it is the largest type of citrus fruit available and somewhere out there, someone has managed to grow one the size of a basketball. Now that is something I want to see.

If it is you and you are reading this now, send me a photo with something else in it for comparison's sake and I will post it on my blog.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The inevitable weather story

It is March 15th -- the Ides of March for anyone who is paying attention -- and I am freezing. I am sitting here in my little corner, in my house, in my Canadian-strength down jacket typing about how cold I am.

According to my husband I have two temperatures -- freezing to death and sweating to death. As you can tell by their names, neither is particularly comfortable. I have done a quick calculation and I have to admit that there are approximately nine days a year where I am completely satisfied with the weather in Israel.

The winter before we left Toronto I spent every snowy day counting down; knowing full well that they were the last snowy days of my life. Yes, that is a bit dramatic but when you walk out the door in the morning and it is -25 degrees celsius you need to use all your mental powers to stave off frostbite. What are you going to do? Stay in all winter? It's a great thought but totally impractical.

I thought winter in Israel would be better and in terms of minus anything celsius it is better. But there are a few holes in the story. For one, houses in Israel are made out of cement blocks and the concept of insulation just never made it here. Houses are intentionally designed to stay cool -- which they don't do that well to begin with.

In my first house in Israel I can honestly say that I got in bed more than one night dressed in a down jacket, sweat pants and socks. The first time Chaim asked me where I was going and I said: "To bed". "How are you going to sleep dressed like that?" he asked. But the answer was simple: very well and toasty warm thank you.

I never thought I would see the day that as a sober adult I would have to resort to sleeping in what was previously used for outerwear.

But before you start thinking that winter doesn't last long in Israel, think again. It really doesn't start getting cold until sometime in late December and then there are always a few "chamsins" (heat waves) where it is suddenly 30 degrees celsius in February.

I particularly love the tourists who think it will be warm by April. They arrive here with their bathing suits and shorts, ready to lounge poolside in Jerusalem. All I can figure is that it is a PR scam perpetrated by the Israeli government to boost April travel.

And I don't want to neglect summer which arrives about 20 minutes after winter leaves. Okay, that's not really true. November is often a beautiful month and May can be nice as well. But even if May is comfortable, June sneaks up on you and before you know it you are praying for a good night's sleep in your down-filled jacket. And by August you are looking for ways to peel off your skin -- anything to cool down. Then comes the cruelest of all Israeli weather tricks.... It doesn't cool down in September or October. It often gets hotter. You try to hike up a mountain during the school break for Sukkot when it is 34 degrees celsius. No, I am not making this up. I have photos.

The bottom line is that I am a born and bred Canadian and for me, it is a natural law that the weather turns cool in September. Period. It's non-negotiable. New school year. New school supplies. Jewish holidays and ... corduroy. I simply cannot accept any other version of September. I am still getting over the shock of going to synagogue for Yom Kippur in a summer weight dress and bare legs.

So now I will wrap up with the forecast for the remainder of the week. Cold tomorrow (that's about 17 degrees celsius for me). Cold the next day (similar temperature) and then inching up to 22 celsius by Thursday. I am almost starting to wish for summer.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Beachcombing for Apollonia Glass

Today was the last day of Purim and all the festivities and eating are behind us. The weather was nice, the house was as much in order as anyone could hope for, so ... that meant that there was time for one of our family's favorite off-season activities.


I am a beachcomber from way back and my kids have been beachcombers since the first time we took them all to Florida and they realized that there were shells and sharks' teeth on the beach. At one point I had so many jars of sharks' teeth that I was thinking of opening a tacky jewelry shop.

But those years are behind us know and as a result of a social fluke, we have a new passion. Searching the Herzlia beach for Apollonia glass.

Apollonia was a Crusader fortress and city located just north of what is now Herzlia. The area was first populated in or around the fifth century BCE by the Phonecians. And there was a big battle there which the Crusaders won. Since then, the Romans have been there, the Muslims have been there and I am sure others that I don't know about secured the area at one point or another. However, the ONLY important fact to me is that at one point during it's long history there was a glass factory there -- about 2500 years ago.

Needless to say it is gone, but one day as I was walking along the beach by myself an older gentleman caught up to me and asked what I was looking for. I was just looking for black or white stones for my black and white stone collection, but he thought I must be looking for the ever more interesting Phonecian/Apollonia glass so he asked me if that was the case.

I told him that I had never heard of this glass and he responded by saying: "there are little pieces of it all over the place." We kept walking and talking and within about five minutes he stooped down and picked up a small piece of pale aquarmarine sea glass. "Here's a piece," he said.

I took one look and I knew instantly I was on a mission to find more. I loved the colour and I loved the fact that it was something really old and part of Israel's history.

That was about four years ago and I have now trained my kids to keep their eyes open for it. Zeve is particularly good at finding it. He has the personality and curiosity to wander the beach looking for it. The other two do not.

A few years ago I very graciously gave a few pieces to my brother, who also collects sea glass because he lives near the ocean in Nova Scotia. Of course his sea glass is not nearly as interesting as mine. We all can't live in the basket of civilization, can we? I hope he realized how magnanimous I was being by giving him a few pieces. Trust me, it wasn't easy to part with even the smallest piece.

In fact, all the pieces I have are small. What do you expect after 2500 years? Perfectly maintained slabs of the stuff? Do you have any idea how many different peoples conquered that piece of land since the years BCE? You can check my source of all knowledge, Wikipedia or you can trust me that the answer is: LOTS.

I don't go to that part of the beach often. Who has time to wander looking for miniscule scraps of glass? Not me. But when I get the chance, I am so there. I have yet to come home empty handed from a day of searching and as a result I have a very nice little collection. To me, it is more valuable than diamonds. Everyone has one of those it seems.

The Day After: Coming down from the sugar high

I never thought I would hear myself say these words, let alone type them for posterity, however, here they are:

"I am going to cry if I see another piece of junk food."

Just the sight of all those bags of chips and candies sitting on my dining room table is enough to set my stomach on a private roller-coaster ride.

I am actually a little disappointed in myself because I love candy. I even have a well-known list of favorites. Cotton candy and black jelly beans top my sweet list and sour cream and onion chips top my salty list. I actually have longer lists but I don't think you need the comprehensive overview right now.

And do not confuse these items with properly made desserts. I also have a list of favorites there as well but we aren't talking about desserts today; we are talking about junk food.

Every week it takes all the self-control I can muster to walk past the jelly beans and the chips in the grocery store. The funny thing is that a junk-food item that is not on my highly-desirable list, doesn't even temp me. Not even a little bit. I like what I like and I am not interested in trying new things.

In grad school there was a little store that used to sell potato chips individually coated in chocolate. I used to go there once a week. Most days I only had time for my mushroom pizza and diet coke because the year I began grad school was the same year that MTV went on the air and my friends and I spent most lunch hours sitting in local bars watching MTV. I know I have just dated myself but I know that at least a few of you remember that same period of time. I cannot help but say: "those we the days."

They were also the days when I actually could eat junk food and not suffer any repercussions such as weight gain or the general feelings of malaise that now follow that sort of eating. I used to feel bad about that but after a day like yesterday I feel strangely repelled by all my old favorites.

I see my kids eating all that candy that their friends and mine delivered yesterday as part of the Purim obligation to give sweets. (I sent donation cards instead. You can't eat them but you feel physically better and someone less fortunate ate better as well as a result.) They can't get enough of it. I am just calculating the dental bills and waiting for the midnight "I have a stomach-ache" visits to begin.

I made my kids all agree to give away half their candy today. They were not amused but why should we get all the cavities? We should share that fun with others.

I guess Purim and candy are a right of passage but I have already made notes in my Microsoft Outlook for next Purim. I wanted to do it while I was feeling that ridiculously crappy, bloated feeling because the truth is, in a few days, I should be good to go again.

Bring on the Jelly Bellies!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Oh, you have a blog?

I have a master's degree in public communications, which as far as I can tell is pretty much the same as mass communications. I got it a long, long time ago and now I can't remember if what I know about public communications has anything to do with my twenty odd years of experience or what I learned in school all those years ago.

I can just see my old classmates Libby and Beth reading this and rolling they eyes. They have way too much unnecessary peripheral information to answer that question fairly.

This is one of those moments where I am almost glad that my father isn't here to read this. The last thing he would have wanted to consider after spending all that money to educate me, was that I might not have actually learned anything. Dad, wherever you are, don't worry. See, I have a blog. (yes, I know from your perspective it is about a $100,000 blog, but let's not get into the numbers.)

When people hear that I have a blog they immediately start imagining that I have a flock of followers in the 50,000 bodies range. Ha, I wish. But I am starting to think that maybe I should tell them that, in fact, I do ... and then I am going to charge them each $10,000 for a one-time mention on my blog. $20,000 if they want me to recommend them. At that rate I could re-coup my father's money in no time!

However, before I change my operating procedures, I am going to give away one freebie!!! My friend Dr. Jeffrey Brooks is a gastroenterologist. He recently opened a private practice in the Herzlia Medical Center. I like the Medical Center. It is a very civilized sort of place to be sick as opposed to the hospitals for the masses. That said, thanks to Israel's socialized medical system, I spend most of my hospital time (which fortunately isn't much) in public hospitals.

But we are talking about Dr. Brooks here. I have never needed a gastroenterologist but if I did, then I would go immediately to him. He has a nice smile, he responds "amen" when I say my mourner's prayer in synagogue every day (not all men will do that, so I am appreciative) and he took his wife to Paris for her 50th birthday. What's not to like?

Most Jews need a gastroenterologist. At least the Jews of Eastern European descent do. Pretty much every one of us has some gastro problem or another. For example, Askenazi (Eastern European) Jews are the poster children for Irritable Bowel Syndrome. And that is just the beginning of our stomach issues. But if you want to know more about this from a medical perspective, then you will have to call Dr. Brooks at the HMC. It's worth it just to drop by and visit him so you can go to the beach when you are finished your appointment because it is directly across the street. And what a beach it is. Better than Sarasota or Cuba.

So that is it for my free referrals. And if you read this please ask as many of your own 50,000 odd friends to please read it as well. And then ask them if they could please become my loyal followers. I can't make the big bucks without them.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

It's Jewish Halloween once again

Oh yay! (In case it isn't clear, I am typing that sarcastically.)

Today marked the official beginning of what I used to call Jewish Halloween. Not because I thought it was anything like Halloween, but it was much easier to explain it that way to my non-Jewish friends in Canada then expend the effort being accurate. Who has the time to tell them the story of Esther and Mordechai? If I had had a blog when I lived in Canada, then perhaps I would have done so, but now... now, it's too late. They can google it if they feel so inclined.

The truth is that today, Purim, like all other holidays (not Holy Days) has been bastardized for the masses. Purim is the holiday in Israel where teenagers wander the streets all day en masse -- dressed in costumes or, as I see it, living out their fantasies in public. Many of them are barely dressed at all. I doubt that there were any cowgirls in the 1800s who rode around on horses in mini, mini jean skirts and tank tops, with bright red lipstick. I think they are confusing themselves with the saloon girls, who had the brains to make their customers pay for the viewing rather than giving it all away for free! I have watched many an episode of Bonanza AND Little House on the Prairies so I know what I am talking about!

I really dread going to the main street of Ra'anana with my sons this time of the year. I see those girls. And I think they see those girls. But we all act like no one sees anything.

But there is a really sweet aspect of the holiday which is based on Jewish Queen Esther marrying the foreigner King Achashveyrosh (I am sure that is not the correct spelling, but my transliteration from Persian to English isn't so good.) and in turn, thwarting the plans of the evil Haman to kill all the Jews... with the help of her remarkable uncle Mordechai. (How's that for compact?)

The little kids are really cute and very creative to boot. They love walking around in their costumes all day and they aren't jaded yet, so the costumes are legitimate costumes.

The whole Purim festival thing is so ingrained and comfortable here that it isn't even remotely strange to walk down the street and see a man-sized leprechaun with a gun in his green belt walking towards you. I think the leprechaun thing is the odd part, but for people outside of Israel, the gun probably seems like the clincher. I actually saw a guy dressed like that today as I was walking to synagogue at 5:30 this afternoon. Unfortunately I didn't have my camera and now I just know I am going to spend several minutes confirming that I am not making this up.

Tomorrow is the beginning of the real Purim. That's when we get down to business with a little fasting, a little praying, and then a lot of eating. It is also the part I actually do look forward to ... gun-toting leprechauns and all.

Friday, March 6, 2009

I feel like the principal making school announcements

Yesterday turned into One Of Those Days.

It started with a visit to my friend Stan who is in the hospital with a broken hip. How did he break his hip you may ask. Well, Stan was riding his bike on the main street of Ra'anana and trying to manouever through a traffic jam, when someone hit him. He told me that when he first fell off his bike he was just angry that he found him self in such a ridiculous position that he didn't really pay attention to his pain. He then proceeded to walk his bike home .... to the senior's residence where he lives with his wife. Stan is going to be 85 next week.

I am a very vocal opponent of his bike riding. The problem is that both Stan and his family just don't see it the way I do. And since I am not part of that inner circle, I have no choice but you allow myself to be ignored. Although I did make a last-ditch effort to plead my case while I was visiting him in the hospital yesterday.

I have suggested to him and his family that perhaps he needs a Wii virtual bike riding program. That way he can stay safely off the roads and "ride" to his heart's content. His daughter is researching adult three-wheelers which both Stan and I are lukewarm about, so why not consider the Wii approach?

However, before I wrap up this point I am willing to bet bottles to beer caps that Stan actually gets back on his bike after he recuperates. And Stan, you just try it.... I will be waiting for you.

The next event of the day was a ceremony to move the sifrei Torah (The Five Books of Moses, The Jewish Torah, The Pentateuch) into our new synagogue, which finally opened its doors yesterday. Suffice it to say that the grand opening was two years later than scheduled, but hey, at least it opened. For a while I was starting to think that it was just going to sit there as a constant reminder of dumb-things-you-can-do-with-your-money.

The ceremony itself involved carrying the Torah scrolls up the street from their old home in the "temporary" synagogue -- the local school gym! For most of us, it was just a great chat fest. Unless you are in the hub of the excitement (which women rarely are in these situations), it is just a great excuse to talk to people you haven't had a chance to talk to in a while. Therefore, from my perspective, the whole event was a great success.

And finally, the last event of the day, was my neighbour David's 51st birthday party. David, and his wife Batia, moved in next door to us about seven months ago. They came from California for a year (oh, that's what they all say!) For Batia's birthday a few months ago, I bought her fluffy socks to help her survive the Israeli winter. That may sound like a contradiction of terms, but in fact, the Israeli winter is very real -- particularly inside one's home. Houses here are not insulated and over the past seven years I have had many days where I had to go outside to warm up in the middle of winter. (The trick is to position you car in the sunlight and then sit in it and read the paper. The sun will shine through the windshield and warm you up.)

Anyway, back to socks... David explicitly noted that he did NOT want socks for his birthday. So I set out to find him a man present. At first I was going to buy him a wrench because it seemed so manly, but then I thought, well, if he doesn't know what to do with it, I might hurt his feelings. Then I thought I should get him a flashlight, but it just didn't seem manly enough. I considered condoms for a moment (because I walked past the drugstore) but since he is very married I thought I might be sending the wrong message. So.... I bought him a bungie cord sort of thing and chewing gum that explicitly said "Professional" on it.

I am not sure what the bungie cord is good for, but I am not a man and besides there are pictures on the package to give you some hints if you can't figure out what to do with it either. And as for the gum... well, David is a lawyer; a professional. So, professional gum seemed very appropriate. What precisely makes it professional is beyond me, but it said professional and I was willing to accept that marketing strategy so that I could end my present search and go home.

For the records, David didn't seem to know what professional gum was either. I'll have to check in with him later today to see if he had an epiphany.

The party was only for their few friends. Sounds so sad doesn't it? Well, it wasn't. They have lots of friends and everyone came. And everyone ate because Batia is a good cook -- and an excellent purchaser of good cheese and yummy brown bread.

The bread was so good, in fact, that I am going now to buy some. Someone else will have to finish the announcements.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

So I am not crazy after all

I was reading the Jerusalem Post yet again this morning and I noticed a small article on the front screen about Israel Apartheid Week in North American universities. For those of you who have read my previous posts, you may remember that I was tough on the Jewish students at Toronto's York University for running for cover rather than standing up for themselves and Israel.

And man oh man, did I take heat for that. And that's fair. If you publish your thoughts then you leave yourself open to comment and criticism. Fine.

But when I read today's article in the Post, which quotes Orna Hollander, the executive director for the Canadian Center for Israel Activism, I had a wonderful surprise. I don't know her although I have old friends with the same last name, so her comments and mine are totally independent.

Let me set this up before I quote her. The Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesperson, when asked if the FM was going to get involved, said no because it is a small thing and we would only exacerbate the problem. (I am paraphrasing) And then, came the line that made my day. Over to Orna.

She said (and I quote first from the newspaper and then from Orna):

According to Hollander, responding to these attacks on Israel is the job of the students.

"Israel's got enough on its plate," she said. "The students should be on the front lines against intolerance."

Ah ha! I am dying to say "I told you so", but I know I have to be more gracious than that. So, instead I am going to give you the link to the article and you can decide for yourself if I am vindicated or not. Here it is:

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The astonishing rise of El Glen

I checked with Wikipedia and as it turns out one of Pablo Picasso's first words was "piz" which was a short form of the Spanish word "lapiz" which means pencil. His father was an established artist and by seven, Picasso was receiving formal art training.

After years of formal training he began to make a name for himself in the early 1900s. Basically, it was a long and arduous road to success and fame. The cubist, classicist, surrealist, who had a blue period, a rose period and an african-influenced period, spent several decades mastering his art.

You don't have to take my word for it, just google Picasso and Wikipedia and you can see for yourself.

Fastforward to Ra'anana, Israel, in 2009 where one day 49-year-old Glen Shear woke up and decided to be a painter. He went out and bought some art supplies, moved all the furniture out of the way in his living room and announced to his wife and four daughters that he was now a painter. And not just a painter.... a post-modern, quasi-cubist, sometimes abstract artist with a leaning towards Mondrian-style colours and balance.

Within two months he had finalized arrangements for his first public showing and painted well over 20 paintings. I am the proud owner of a Glen Shear original. Well, it isn't actually mine; it was a birthday gift to my husband. (Yes, but when both of them are long gone, it will be mine and I am going to auction it off for a small fortune with Southeby's.)

Did I mention that during that same time period he had launched a website of his art (that was created by our website designing friend Lea Cohen) and arranged for a very clever, mutually advantageous charitable exchange deal with a successful Israeli charity, Table-to-Table, which was the brain child of another friend, Joseph Gitler.

Last night was Glen's gallery opening. Everyone was there. Everyone. Even some hebrew speakers and a few paying patrons-of-the-arts. Overall, I would have to call the evening a rousing success -- particularly for someone who has been a professional artist for three months tops.

Now that I see how easy it is to become an artist, I wonder what took Picasso so long to get going? And I also wonder why Van Gogh was so distraught that he cut off his own ear and when that didn't cause his angst to subside, he committed suicide? What was wrong with these guys? They couldn't hack it for a few months until they became highly sought after? And I won't even start on what a wuss Jackson Pollock turned out to be. They all should have taken a few life lessons from Glen.

Make a career decision. Buy supplies. Find a place to work. Ignore all naysayers. Promote yourself like all get out. Demand respect and get some. Glen's e-book should be available on-line in another few weeks, when he finds a little free time to become a professional writer.

My hat is off to you Glen!

P.S. If you choose to become a world-class brain surgeon instead, please allow 3-6 months preparation time.

Monday, March 2, 2009

I can't believe this only made page 8

I was reading the Jerusalem Post yesterday and I stumbled across an article on page 8 of the second section that left me in a state of suspended animation. My feet were on the ground but my mind was arguing with itself about whether or not I had understood what I had just read.

It seems that Michael O'Leary, the president of Ryanair, an Irish no-frills airline, is toying with the idea of charging passengers to use the washrooms in-flight. According to his logic, it would help keep ticket prices down. He's also of the mind that "everyone" getting on to one of his planes has a pound coin in his or her pocket.

As someone who once flew home from Mexico with a friend who was suffering from Montezuma's Revenge, I was trying to imagine that scene if my friend had needed a coin each and every time she wanted to relieve herself. And trust me, she spent a good part of the five-hour flight between Acapulco and Toronto driving the porcelain bus. Apparently Mr. O'Leary has never been to Mexico and inadvertently eaten a bacterial ice cube. That's about all it takes. One stupid ice cube from a non-approved source and you could easily find yourself with heaven knows what coming out of any number of bodily orifices. That vacation, under Ryanair's new plan, could have bankrupted her.

I also remember the time that I got a very distinct and excruciating pain in my side while flying home from a business trip in Cleveland, to Toronto. Once again, the washroom on the plane saved me. As it turned out, I had kidney stones, but at the time I just thought my insides were exploding and it was impossible to sit in my seat. Locking myself in that little cramped washroom gave me the privacy I needed to fall apart quietly and alone.

And every time I thought it was safe to go back to my seat, by the time I was halfway there, I had turned around and was headed back to the toilette! Based on Mr. O'Leary's plan I probably would have had to charge another $10 to my travel expenses. I wonder what I would have called that line item? Bathroom access charge? Unavoidable barfing and pooping? Or would I have listed it as $10 for private agony time. Oh, I can just imagine Accounts Payable pondering that expense account statement. I have charged some weird things to my corporate expense accounts over the years, but that would have been the ultimate expense doozer. (Up until then, the best I could have offered was my weekly bribery charge to the airport bus driver so that he would go to my terminal first regardless of the route.)

O'Leary's PR people were apparently as shocked as I was by his announcement. And in a very quick one-two step they passed it off as his off-beat humour. Since I used to be one of those PR people who was often caught off guard by crazy CEOs speaking without thinking, I just want to take a moment to tip my hat to them. Bloody good, fast thinking.

And to Mr. O'Leary, I just want to say that it will be a friendly day for Israelis in Iran before I ever travel on one of your planes. I am not sure I could afford it. The older I get, the more I frequent washrooms. Oh, but wait, maybe he will have a seniors' discount. I will have to send him a letter and find out.

Enough suspense.... The Isramen, Part 2

Please tell me what is wrong with lawn bowling?

Don't bother pondering this question because there is nothing wrong with lawn bowling at all. Nothing. Zippo. It's fun. It's physical activity. It's painless.

I think a better question is what makes a person want to push themselves past their natural limits? What makes those same people seek out pain? Are they vain? Are they nuts? Are they sado-masochistic? Are they finished using their bodies and want to send them off with a bang?

When the Isramen started arriving at the finishing line I just couldn't help but ask myself those questions. It wasn't like they all came across the line smiling and waving to the fans. (Well, Glenn did but that was because he inadvertently rode his bike an extra 20 km and he was privately mocking himself.)

These people came across that finish line like they had been wanting to have a bowel movement for the past four or five hours and just couldn't find a suitable place to have one.

Oh, and besides the truly pained expressions on their faces, there was all the lovely sweat and salt stains. Add to that the Vaseline stains and you could basically wave good-bye to those sports clothes.

The first of our friends to cross the finish line was Mark. Mark, in my estimation, is not human. I suspect that he is more machine than man. He finished the Half Israman in just less than seven hours. Stopped for quick drink of water, found his bike and his bag of clothes, gave them to us, and then headed to the airport so that he could fly home in time for the Sabbath. Simple as that. Word has it that he didn't feel any pain the next day.

Now back to reality. Josh came in next, about 20 minutes later. He looked like the perfect subject for a Tide commercial. Trust me, those stains will never come out. Just toss that stuff and get new equipment.

Chaim was next, another 30 some minutes later, and he really looked like he was being propelled by an external force beyond his control. The external force was so strong that he did not even stop at the finish line; he just kept going for another few minutes with his kids running after him.

Glenn, as I mentioned, ran in like the Cheshire Cat. He had that look of someone who had a secret. And I guess making a wrong turn and riding your bike too far was a worthwhile secret.

Carl arrived after Glenn and he was scowling in equal proportion to Glenn's embarrassed smile.

And this set the tone for the next 24 hours. Apparently there were simply so many ways to detail the events of the past eight or so hours that they just kept rejigging the details.

It reminds me of all those company annual reports I worked on years ago. I always thought that 2+2= 4, but the truth is that numbers can be reworked as much as words. And Josh was busy reworking those numbers into more machinations that I could imagine. Who was first in his age category? Who was first in each segment of the race? Who was first based on factoring in the weather? Who was first, if you didn't count their bike weight? My head was spinning, but Josh (soon helped along by Chaim) just continued to rework the math.

And then came the justifications. "I would have cut 20 minutes off my time if there was no wind;" "I would have cut an hour off my time if I had a $6000 bike and A $500 helmut." "I would have cut 17 minutes off my time if I didn't have to work at my job all day." You get the idea.

I think the real justifications should have been: "I would have cut time off my race if I was waaaayyyy younger and 30 pounds lighter." Well, to all of you, C'est la vie.

Rather than going into all the details of the event, here are the highlights from what I can surmize:

1. The wind was hell; particularly the side winds at 90 km a hour.
2. The ride wasn't as scary as it looked – except for the wind.
3. The run was difficult – again because of the wind.
4. The ladies who helped us "transition" from biking to running were wonderful.
5. There is not enough Vaseline on earth at times like this. Always use it liberally.
6. Ow ow I ache all over.
7. I am never doing this again.
8. I am never doing this again in Eilat.
9. Where shall we go to compete next?

Congratulations to all and one final note. The best display of the day was Sarah running back over the bridge to find some information we forgot to check. She returned to our meeting point running at a nice gait and with a big smile on her face.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

There is always a dawn after the dark

Before I can write about the Half Ironman (actually called The Israman in this case) in Eilat this past Friday, I feel compelled to state what seems to me to be the obvious: Most men over the age of 40 should not wear wetsuits or Speedo bathing suits. Yes, they may be in great shape inside but you have to be sensitive to those of us who only see the outside.

Let's just agree that that is a given and then we can proceed.

Friday morning started for the Isramen at about 4:30 a.m. Although I wasn't in the competition, I apparently was intended to "feel" the spirit of it, so I was up at 5:00 a.m. It wasn't even weird when my phone rang at 5:25 a.m.and it was my friend Sarah sitting in the hotel lobby with her four half-comatose children waiting for me and my comatose crew to join them so that we could go cheer for a bunch of fathers who opted to jump into the Red Sea at promptly 6;00 a.m. Basically, we were the co-opted and it wasn't pretty.

We dragged the kids down the streets of Eilat at 5:35 a.m. According to what I know about night-life in Eilat, many tourists had probably just gone to bed. The streets were quiet but when we arrived at the launch point, there were other crazy people just like us.

And then came the moment of truth. Out of nowhere materialized our motley team. We took all sorts of obligatory photos and then this un-Godly horn blew and they all ran for the water.

Imagine it. All these people in wetsuits and colour-coded swim caps running towards the water at 6:00 a.m. in the dark and under the cover of a light rain. It was really a fashion parade of swimwear do's and do not's. I would like to add that the eight women competing all looked great in their wetsuits, but I really had doubts about some of the men. A few looked more like buoys than ironmen. And I also have to mention that it would be a cold day in hell before you convinced me to don a wetsuit and run towards the water and then blindly jump in.

(I grew up where the water never warmed up. You could rest assured that you would get muscle spasms in the arches of your feet if you innocently walked into the ocean even in early August. To me, bodies of water are a nice thing to play beside. Also a great place to fill your sand bucket.)

Once all the competitors were out in the water, it was impossible to tell who was who. However, my friend Sarah who is also a veterinarian has a theory. She thinks that kids are like little baby penguins and the likes. They can identify their parents instinctively even when they are clumped together with a group of other similar looking members of the species.

I would love to poo poo her but Zeve immediately proved her point. We were on the outlook for Chaim to return to shore and at one point I thought I saw him. Zeve checked the spot where I was looking which was about 200 meters away and he said to me matter-of-factly: "That's not Abba. Those aren't his goggles."

He was right but how the hell did he know that? Who can see someone's goggles when they are 200 meters away and their head is bobbing up and down AND it is a hazy early morning? By that point it was about 6:30 a.m. and there was some early morning light but I would have sworn that was Chaim and I would have been wrong. Hence, Sarah's point was made.

Josh, Sarah's husband, was the first out of the water. He was followed by our friends Mark, Glenn and Carl. (keep in mind that there are several law and MBA degrees between them and as far as I can tell, the sanity quotient of chopped liver.)

Now the trick to this part of the program is to get out of your wetsuit (not so easy) and get undressed and redressed in public, before jumping on your bike and riding away (leaving all the spectators with the scary visual imprints of naked, wet athletes).

I didn't see Josh or the others do whatever it was that they had to do because I was waiting for Chaim. That was a small gift from God. We really don't need to know our friends THAT well. Yes, you can have too much information -- particularly when it involves Vaseline in unspoken places.

Here's a little something I learned. Some competitors work as teams. One person unzips the first and then the first unzips the other. Also, I now know that there is something to be said for taking off your wetsuit in the water. Apparently it is easier. I can't say for sure, because I don't own a wetsuit nor do I ever wish to.

Chaim surfaced after about 35 minutes in the sea and he did his zipping thing and ran off to change his clothes on his designated chair next to his pre-positioned bike. (It is really quite a smooth operation.)

He had been debating riding in wet clothes versus changing into dry duds leading up to the event. I guess he had made a decision on that because by the time we got to him, he was already partly changed into dry clothes. It's funny to see all the people standing around watching people undress, dry off and put on dry clothes. I think that there are a lot of armchair athletes out there who need to get a life of their own. This is nothing worth looking at.

I think that is enough for now. Suffice it to say that they all rode off for a pretty brutal, almost entirely up-mountain 90 km bike ride and then a 21 km run.

I know I am leaving you hanging. Yes, the suspense is killing you. I will write about their triumphant return later today.