Wednesday, April 29, 2009

My next door neighbours are half Mexican

Bad news.

Unfortunately due to the pending swine flu pandemic, I am going to have to cut off all relations and contacts with my next door neighbours. I really like them but I am not prepared to sacrifice my life and that of my family just because Batia is Mexican and her parents have been visiting from Mexico. Worse still, David's mother is arriving soon from California. Heaven only knows what viruses she may unsuspectingly be carrying with her. Typhoid? Cholera? Small pox? Leprosy???

David and Batia, it's nothing personal, but I have to cancel our dinner plans for next week unless the entire pandemic issue turns out to be a hoax. If instead you would be happy to order in at your house, and I will order in at my house, we could converse via web camera and pretend we are eating together. I'm sorry, but that's the best I can offer right now.

So far every Israeli who has had contact with Mexico has contracted swine flu. Granted, they are all in isolation units in various Israeli hospitals and doctors handling the cases are telling the public not to worry because they have enough Tamiflu to help anyone who needs it.

That should be good news, but since I am not easily duped, I checked the Toronto papers today. And a nurse there told two reporters who were heading to Mexico to cover the potential pandemic story that Tamiflu was only marginally useful against this new aggressive strain of the flu.

Okay, so who is yanking my chain?

Why is it that there is always research to be done? And why is that I am the one always doing it?

So I did some checking. The manufacturer, Roche, says that TAmiflu is totally effective but what did you expect them to say? "Yikes, we made a mistake." I am going to have to do some more independent research tomorrow. It's my cross to bear.

In the meantime, I am going to shut all my windows and doors, and pray that Batia doesn't need any eggs or milk. I should probably email all the other neighbours that I like and tell them to watch out! I am not going to mention it to my creepy neighbours because this might be a great way to get rid of them without premeditated intervention -- which could easily land me in jail.

Wow, now that I think of it, this whole Swine Flu -- or whatever the WHO and the Israeli Ministry of Health are calling it today -- might just turn out to be a very serendipitous event. I think I will call my creepy neighbours and leave them an urgent message from Batia. Then I will just sit back and see what happens next.

The Mexican Flu? You've got to be kidding

I love Israel. I love living in Israel. I love what Israel stands for in the history of the Jewish people. However, sometimes Israel does things that remind me why we really bug the world.

A few days ago Yakov Litzman, the ultra-relgious, deputy health minister, announced that because swine isn't kosher, Israel should call the new flu racing around the world: "the Mexican Flu". The fact that it originates with swine among other living things -- whether you eat them or not -- and the fact that it was a totally unnecessary insult to our Mexican friends, apparently had nothing to do with Litzman's reasoning.

And this is one of the reasons that ultra relgious people scare me. The world is not -- and I repeat NOT -- about you. You are welcome to your view of the world as far as I am concerned, but really, are you so narrow minded that you are not aware that it is not a view shared by very many people? Not even among your own people?

No one was talking about eating swine or pork or pig! And the word offends you so much that you cannot even have it in your lexicon? Give me a break.

And while I am on that break may I suggest that you turn your attention to the myriad other words that have the letters P-I-G in them. (I didn't even bother to research "swine" or "pork".) While you are sitting in your office apparently doing nothing useful, here are some words that will need replacements: pigtails (how about Mexi-tails?); pigmentation; pigeon; piggyback; pigmies; pigout; pigpen; and the one I have reserved specially for you: PIGHEADED.

Apparently you are unaware how few friends we have south of the Mexican border. Or perhaps you fear using the word "pig", "swine" and "pork" more than you fear the alliance between Iran and Venezeula. Why worry about Iran when you can spend your time on a stupid word that doesn't mean anything to the bulk of the hebrew-speaking Israeli public.

I realize that Litzman backed down yesterday from this idiotic plan but that's not good enough. The damage is done. In a country with so many issues that they are too many to count, the deputy minister of health found nothing better to do that stir the pointless-pot.

Monday, April 27, 2009

My advice for the visiting pope

So the pope is coming to Israel. I wish I was more excited about it, but I just can't muster any enthusiasm for his guy. And before you get the idea that I am anti-pope, think again. I liked the last pope – as far as popes go in my life.

What's bugging me is that somehow the pope coming to Israel is supposed to placate the Jews who don't want to see the controversial World War II pope, Pius XII, canonized and then ultimately beatified. I don't get the connection between one visit and dismissing a very painful chapter is Jewish-Catholic history.

If the existing pope wants to visit The Holy Land, then he should come. If he wants to bless his peeps in Israel, I really don't have a problem with that. But if he thinks, for one moment, that just because he comes here Jews who care one way or the other are going to do an 180 degree about-face and be soooo happy that they won't have a problem with that creepy, awful, Hilter-loving anti-semitic Pius XII being canonized, then I think there is a major disconnect here. Someone is going to have to tell Rome that they are missing the point.

(I was going to ask for volunteers but strangely enough I have an old acquaintance/friend whose brother is a Franciscan monk and works in the Vatican. I think his thing is Canon Law. I guess I will just have to call myself!!! -- no, I am NOT really going to call the Vatican!)

Silent culpability is still culpability. And I am willing to bet that good old innocent (by Catholic Church standards) Pope Pius XII wasn't so silent, but rather, clever enough to know who to speak with and when to speak.

So Pope Benedict XVI a.k.a. Joseph Ratzinger of Barvaria, Germany (with credentials like that, we aren't exactly off to a stellar beginning), I hope you have a wonderful visit to Israel. I hope you get to visit all the places that are important to you and I hope you spend some quality time with your followers. I hope you bring your very cool Popemobile. And I hope that you take a few minutes to go to the location that Canadian/Israeli, Emmy-award winning, documentary film maker, Simcha Jacobovici says Jesus was really buried.

But don't pretend that your church does not have an abominable history with the Jews and stop denying that that history involved the likes of Pius XII who unfortunately was far from the worst. Leave the past in the past if you must but it would be much more productive to come to Israel and help your people here who really need that help now. You have bigger problems than the Jews -- just go to Nazareth or Bethlehem and see for yourself.

Welcome to Israel.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

My friend, babysitter, neighbour and officer-in-training Shlomi

Almost seven years ago we pulled up in front of our new rental house on a quiet street on the east side of Ra'anana. It was a typical hot August day but I didn't notice because I was numb with shock at the magnitude of the move we had just completed.

I took one look at the house and realized in my haze that this was my new home. I'd be lying if I said I was thrilled.

Moments later a woman approached us and spoke English. "Oh hi," my new neighbour Carol said, "you must be the the so and so's." Well we aren't the so and so's but for some reason I was so excited to be talking to an English speaker that I just nodded my head in agreement. Based on that nod, she proceeded to talk to us with a tone of familiarity that I didn't understand.

It was only weeks later when the fog cleared that I had the nerve to tell her that I had no idea what she was talking about that first day. And all these years later I can truly say that she has been a great friend despite how weird I must have seemed that first day.

But, during those first few hazy days, the thing I liked best about her was her 14-year-old son Shlomi. He hadn't had his growth spurt yet and he was very much like a very smiley Mexican jumping bean. And he quickly made a suggestion that saved my life during the following week as we tried to move into our new home: He offered to run a day-camp for my kids. At the time it was like being hit by a bolt of brilliant lightning. No strength for a reference check. I quickly accepted the offer.

For the next three or four days he kept my children amused for several hours. I have no idea where they were or what they were doing, but since they are all fine today, I can only assume that it went well.

Years later, when I became aware of Shlomi's desire to build things that either fly or blow-up, I wonder if I perhaps should not have been a little more worried at the time.

That said, over the years Shlomi has done many things that have saved me from one issue or another. In the early years he used to order my pizzas on the telephone because I was never sure what I was ordering in Hebrew. I am pretty sure that he also arranged for the original cable and internet connections in our house. He has downloaded movies for me, rescued my computer from its inner workings and repaired our neighbour Daniel's iPod (which Daniel destroyed within days of receiving it from a group of us for his bar mitzvah).

While he did manage to build and fly some model planes, I am not aware of anything that he actually blew up.

A few years ago Shlomi finally went into the Israeli Army. I would like to tell you what unit he is in but then I would have to kill you! Actually, I have no idea. Despite my best efforts to get him to spill the beans on his secret work, I have never managed to get more than a shifty smile out of him when I have asked for the scoop. Word has it that if you want to know what he is up to, then you have to speak to his friends. Apparently they are much more trustworthy than his neighbours!!!!

What I do know is that he was recently offered a place in the officer training program and he took it. It means an extra six months in the army on top of his already four and a half year commitment. But perhaps he needs the extra time to finally find something that he can blow up.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Hello? Wood Collectors' Hotline, can I help you?

One of the things that I forgot to mention about wood collecting for the upcoming holiday is that unfortunately we live smack dab in the middle of the best wood burning sites on the east side of the city. As a result, my house is the depot for wood. It is also the first place the parents call when they can't find their children -- which is most of the time. And it is where all the kids show up when they are finished collecting wood and just want to play. This usually occurs in the middle of dinner time.

(Not that anyone here is actually eating dinner except me.)

As a result, I spend a lot of time operating my ad hoc missing children's inquiry hotline. If I had a dollar for every call I received .... I would have made about $6 today alone.

When I was growing up in Nova Scotia, kids wandered. It was the late 1960s and early '70s in a city with 30,000 people max. Despite our best efforts, there just wasn't a lot of trouble to find. Ra'anana is like that today. I suspect that most of Israel is the same. Kids wander and no one worries. Well, the immigrant parents worry because we all come from places like Toronto, New York, Chicago and Miami where absolutely no one lets their children out of their sight until they are 18 and leave for university. (In Toronto, kids never leave home for university -- I guess their parents are just too scared.)

My boys have been wanderers for several years now, but letting my daughter and her friends out together but alone is an entirely new experience. As it turns out, I am a lot more sexist that I thought. That said, she is still out there somewhere with at least a few other third grade girls. I fully expect her to show up in the next half hour. (Late Breaking News Flash: She's home.)

One night last Spring Chaim came out of his office and he asked me where Zeve was. Zeve was 10 at the time and it was 9:00 p.m. It was fortunate that he asked because no one had noticed but Zeve was not home. As an aside let me add that Zeve is truly a kid who needs a computer chip homing device inserted under his skin. Chaim, in true Chaim form, panicked. I just grabbed my shoes and started to retrace what I figured was Zeve's possible route. I found him on the third try.

The biggest problem that this wandering business causes is that I realize I can never take my kids back to Toronto to live. They have no concept of how to live as caged animals, which is exactly how we would have raised them there. I usually spend the last half hour of our flights to Canada telling them that upon arrival in Canada they cannot leave my side under any circumstance because they could get killed or kidnapped just like that.

It's funny how the tables have turned. People all over the world are afraid to come to Israel because it is sooooo dangerous. Me, on the other hand, I am afraid to take my kids out of Israel and into the big, nasty world which in my mind is the truly scary place. And in that big bad world, there is no Wood Collectors' Hotline.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Lag B'Omer: The Holiday I Will Never Understand

About nine months into our first year in Israel I was introduced to a phenomenon that I still can't get my mind around -- and probably never will.

As soon as school resumes after the Passover holiday, the streets are filled every afternoon with children dragging wood scraps around in a variety of mobile units -- stolen grocery store carts, family strollers, empty garbage cans on wheels, and wagons. And it isn't just the big kids -- kids of pretty much all ages from six to 16 are involved in the collection of scrap wood.

If you wonder what they are doing with all the old, used wood, let me tell you. They are collecting it for their class bonfires which will be held on the night of Lag B'Omer.

Lag B'Omer is a holiday celebrated 33 days after the first day of Passover. It commemorates all sorts of things depending on who you ask but the most well-known is the commemoration of the end of a plague that killed Rabbi Akiva's 24,000 rabbinical students. Once again, if you need to know more, you are going to have to google it yourself. My history lesson is over.

Let's get back to the commemorating with bonfires. This, to me, is the crux of the issue.

School children of all ages, all over Israel, get out of school early on Lag B'Omer and light gigantic bonfires around which they dance and sing -- and try to roast hot dogs and marshmallows. In fact, it is almost impossible to roast anything but one's self at these bonfires from hell. You just try to stand next to a 10-foot-high circle of fire. Seriously, try it. I am confident that you can't get within several feet of said fires unless you have no body thermostat and are oblivious to pain.

The first year we lived here my son Ari was in second grade and he and his friends had so much fun collecting wood that I was actually looking forward to the bonfires.

That enthusiasm disappeared about three seconds into the bonfire experience. Let me describe the scene. A bunch of crazed second grade boys arbitrarily throwing every movable piece of wood that they had collected and dragged to the designated bonfire sites (with the help of their stupid mothers) onto the ever-growing-out-of-control bonfire.

I can't speak for anyone else here, but I couldn't help but wonder if perhaps just handing all the kids a needle, a rubber rope and a hit of heroin might have been more fun and less dangerous.Or better yet, we could have all handed over our car keys and told the kids to have fun joyriding. I know that I would have felt safer with that option.

The native-born Israeli parents don't even bother to show up for these bonfires. They send the kids off alone. You can rest assured that every parent present and yelling hysterically at the kids to stay back, is an immigrant who is trying to figure out who came up with such an inexplicable way to have fun. Fun for who? Definitely not the parents and I suspect only kind of fun for half the kids (the sensible ones).

I have heard from friends that if you are flying in or out of Israel on the night of Lag B'Omer the entire country looks like it is ablaze. I am sure that is quite a sight from 30,000 feet but it's a whole different story at 3 feet!

The entire country participates in this pyromania. It has nothing to do with your religious persuasion or your age. And in preparation you have to virtually seal your house as if someone inside was suffering from the most contagious of all diseases. Otherwise you are left to smell day-old smoke on everything you own for weeks to come.

The reason that I am thinking about this now is because today, for the first time, my daughter who is now in third grade, got together with friends to collect wood. At one of her friend's mother's insistence I volunteered to escort the girls on their wood-collecting mission. I haven't done so in a few years since my boys are more than capable of wood hunting without me.

I admit that it was fun and the girls were so cute sneaking into construction sites and dumpsters in search of wood. I have to admit that it brings me back to my truant teen years. That said, the bubble of fun will probably burst just in time for one of the third-grade fathers to have to go out and light the fire. As soon as it that first match is struck, reality comes charging back at you and you start to pray that someone will show up with the heroin or the car keys.

Monday, April 20, 2009

My Foodie Road Trip

Last night I had a new life experience. And like all new experiences, I didn't know what I was previously missing, but now I think I am hooked. I went on what can only be called a Foodie Road Trip.

A foodie, in case you don't know, is an aficionado of food and drink. I didn't make up this word. Two people named Paul Levy and Ann Barr did in 1984 and then they wrote a book about it.

And here's a little trivia about foodies versus gourmets that you probably didn't know. Gourmets, according to my favorite source of information, Wikipedia, are "epicures of refined taste who may or may not be professionals in the food industry, whereas foodies are amateurs who simply love food for consumption, study, preparation, and news. Gourmets simply want to eat the best food, whereas foodies want to learn everything about food, both the best and the ordinary, and about the science, industry, and personalities surrounding food.

So as of about ten hours ago, I am a foodie. And from I can surmise from the literature, it is much cooler to be a foodie than a gourmet.

One of my husband's friends, let's call him Seth because that's his name, took us to the winery that he recently invested in. We drove south into the Northern Negev's wine country. I didn't really know until last night that the Negev was wine country.

After several twists and turns in the road we ended up near a series of modern barns. It definitely didn't look like much on the outside.

We entered through a door on the side of one of the barns into a sort of terrarium and then into the restaurant itself. I am using the word restaurant very liberally here. It was an ocre, burnt orange and sand red room with a bar and one large table. I am not sure if that constitutes are restaurant or rather a really large eating area.

Fortunately Seth's partners who make the wine and the food -- Sandro and Irit -- were expecting us. I say "fortunately" because it was an hour drive from Ra'anana and I was hungry.

After a few brief introductions we sat down and the first course arrived. The first item to be placed on the table was a wild tangle of fried humus strips. They were quickly followed by several small dishes including a carrot and ginger mixture, a smoked eggplant dish, and the best offering of beets that I have ever tasted. There were also lemon wedges that had been soaked in what I think was a garlic mixture. Seth told me to eat one, so I did. It wasn't my favorite item on the menu but the taste was interesting.

The next course was a bowl of lentil and coconut soup that was delicious. The coconut was very subtle and muted compared to the lentils. On the side was a serving of fresh pasta and herbs. All I can say is: how can anyone ever eat another box of manufactured pasta again after a meal of real, freshly made noodles? Every thing that co-owner Irit brought to the table was better than the item before it.

The third course was comprised of five very thinly sliced pieces of beef. At first it looked like prosciutto to me but I guess that was wishful thinking on my part. In fact it was brasciola. Beside the brasciola was a small chicken and mint salad.

Is your mouth watering yet? If it isn't then you aren't reading this properly and should go back to the top and start again.

The funniest part of all of this was that I didn't even know I liked this kind of food. Which just goes to show that any food made with love and care -- and really well -- inevitably tastes delicious.

The final course was a raspberry and passion fruit sorbet. I think I noticed someone bring a salad to the table towards the end of the meal, but I was too busy with all the new food to even reach for it.

Irit is from an Indian family and the subtle flavours of southern India (not to be confused with the stronger flavours of norther India)were evident in almost everything we ate. Her husband, Sandro, is the Italian component of the couple and he comes from a well-known Italian wine family, The Pelligrinis.

All through the meal we drank the wine made on the premises. I never really considered how important it was to choose the correct wine for any given food. Last night, I noticed for the first time, how much the flavour of the wine enhanced the flavour of the food and vice versa.

I could keep talking about the food and the wine, but I think my best suggestion is that you go and try it yourself. La Terra Promessa is moving to a newer, larger location very soon. I guess that means they will have three tables, or even, maybe four. It's worth the drive if you love good and unique food. And particularly if you are foodie like me!!!

LaTerra Promsessa Winery
Moshav Shahar
Oh, and of course it's kosher -- what would I have been doing there otherwise???

Saturday, April 18, 2009

What are we feeding this kid?

Last week, if memory serves me correctly, my son Ari was shorter than me. And sometime over the past week of eating matzah three meals a day, he grew about two or three inches and now he is indisputably taller than me. How did that happen? Who grows three inches on a diet of matzah and almost no sleep? And more important, why has that never happened to me? I am the queen of sleep-avoidance and I have a lousy diet. That should be good for a few vertical inches here and there.

Boys in puberty are not my area of expertise. And after a quick check of a website addressing this matter , I realize that I will never be privy to most of the changes that may have already occurred or will soon occur. In fact, I am not sure really want to know any more about them than is absolutely necessary. However, as to the matter of height, the website says:

"This is the most obvious physical change and is typically about two years after the onset of the very first signs of puberty. The 'growth spurt' lasts about two to three years. A boy achieves about 25% of his final adult height during the growth spurt, and he will gain an average of 3.5 inches a year during this time. This compares to 2.3 inches per year in the prepubertal male."

All I have to say is "ewwww". What happened to my baby? He was such a cute little guy. He was so funny that his nursery school teacher told me she often couldn't finish reading an entire story to the class because his innocent comments were so hysterically funny that she couldn't stop laughing long enough to continue reading. He is also the kid who went ballistic and cried for more than an hour when I couldn't figure out what he wanted when he asked for a "chillazon" -- which turns out to be the hebrew word for "snail". He was also the guy who almost went into cardiac arrest at age almost two when he met his hero Barney face-to-face on a snowy street corner in Toronto.

And now he is in puberty??????

I know in my heart that it is all down hill from here. His voice will change; he will get smellier and harrier. He will eat everything that I made for dinner for the entire family. And then one day he will meet a nice girl (who I am sure I will not like; yes, I can tell already) and that will be that. No matter how hard I look I can't find a light at the end of this tunnel.

When we realized that he had had this little growth spurt, it was quite a topic of conversation in our house for a few hours. Then the reality of the situation dawned on me. He is becoming a man. And then reality number two: Overall, I am not that fond of men. I mean "men" in the broad sense of the word. You know, the ones who start wars, enslave women, and get into deadly pissing matches over who has the biggest or fastest or most powerful whatever.

I know that's a lot to read into one growth spurt, but John Glenn said it first: "one small step for man, one big step for mankind."

It could only get better after the Burma Road

The rest of the Passover holiday was better. After the Burma Road fiasco, it really couldn't get a lot worse. Next year we are going to have to totally rethink this Passover vacation thing. As I mentioned previously I don't like to go away period and I definitely don't like to go away when everyone else goes away. However, yet again, I may have to eat crow.

My friends who went away spent hours sitting poolside at various hotel pools while their husbands entertained their children on various hikes and mini-mountain climbing expeditions. I don't think there is much work in figuring out who was smarter: me or them.

Once again my friend Beth reported that the hotel pools were a little over the top, but of course, she could say that because she didn't spend the day on the Burma Road and she didn't pay the stupid traffic fine (of course, neither have we at this point).

Day two we went to Zichron Yacov, which is a very trendy and happening place to spend a day. Unfortunately a lot of people thought the exact same thing and decided to join us there. The main street was shut off to traffic and there was a street festival. The good news is that I bought a table runner (yes, this is what my life has come to) for my dining room buffet. It's great and I love it. The bad news was that we were traveling with a handful of other people who had their own ideas about what to do -- and my husband elected me trip monitor without ever telling me that until I lost the first straggler.

Of course it's my fault when his 76-year-old mother wanders off to look at something, accompanied by his 50-odd-year-old cousin who is smart enough to be a doctor at Bellinson Hospital. I mean, really, what could have happened to them? They both speak hebrew and at least one of them had a credit card. I dream about moments like that when I lose everyone and they all go home without me but I don't care because I have a credit card and I know how to use it.

We also went to the First Aliyah Museum in Zichron because the town was one of pre-modern state Israel's original settlements. The museum is excellent and it was doubly excellent that day because it was free! The museum tells the story of one family that leaves Russia as a result of the pogroms there and moves to pre-state Israel in the late 1880s.

For anyone who thinks I have suffered from my move to Israel, this is a museum worth seeing. Those people came to nothing but trouble -- angry neighbours, disease, inability to make a living, etc... On the other hand I moved to a town in Israel with a big enough mall, satellite television, sugar-free fresh yogurt and tennis courts. We still have the angry neighbours both on our street and beyond our borders, but other than that, my move to Israel was a breeze in comparison.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Burma Road for kids

We are now in the midst of the non-holy days of Passover. And of course, the kids are not in school and they need to be entertained. Notice that I said "need". I would prefer not to entertain them and they would prefer not to be entertained, but without some strictly imposed entertainment there is a very good chance that someone here would kill someone else here.

The majority of our friends leave town at the first sign of any holiday. I think that that is primarily because we don't have non-working, non-school day Sundays in Israel and people are desperate to do anything but go to work, school or synagogue -- which pretty much wraps up how we spend most of our time. And Passover in Ra'anana is commemorated annually with a mass exodus to rival the departure from Egypt. The only difference is that everyone has hotel reservations and activity schedules.

Last year we went away during Passover and were reminded why we don't do so regularly. First of all there is my cheap gene; I hate paying three times the standard price simply because it is Passover. The food is worse and everyone and their dog is crowding all the places I would otherwise like to go. Second, I do not like packing, unpacking, repacking and inevitably finding out that I don't have something I want or need. The bottom line is that older I get, the less I like to leave home. Chaim thinks it's an illness; I think that, on the contrary, it demonstrates my satisfaction with the simple pleasures in life, such as all my shoes and clothes in one place, a choice of books to read, and a backyard patio that I like.

However, even though we stayed home that doesn't mean that we "stayed home". Otherwise my kids would have watched television and played computer games even more than they already did. Yael is now in the middle of her seventh viewing in four days of West Side Story. If I hear "I Want To Live In America" one more time I am going to scream or just pack and move there.

This brings me to how we ended up on The Burma Road earlier today. It seemed like such a good idea. So much of Israel's ancient and modern history occurred near or along this road that I felt we should take a little jaunt there.

For those of you who don't know, The Burma Road, which is named after the road that the was built between Burma and China in the 1930s and played a big role during World War II, played one of the most vital roles in Israel's War of Independence in 1948. It was also the site of the battle between David and Goliath, Joshua and the Amorites, and the ever-friendly Christian Crusaders and the even-less-friendly Moslem locals.

Now if that is not a slice of history, I don't know what is. That said, when we arrived where the newspaper suggested that we start our hike, we were struck by the fact that it is just a dirt road. Chaim was muttering that the entire way there because he has biked that route so many times. Not to be deterred from force-entertaining my children, I insisted that we go there regardless of the dullness factor.

Okay, before this drags on, let's just say I was wrong. The road is dull and while it is easy to walk, no one wants to walk it because it is dull. And even if someone wants to walk it, that someone's mother-in-law might not be able to walk it even though it is listed as a family-friendly walk. And then if someone decides to move to another point on the road and start again, there is a very good chance that someone's husband will make an illegal U-Turn and get a 500 shekel ticket. And at that point, everyone will agree that they should have stayed home, watched television and played computer games all day.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

I forgot how small minded they were

A few days ago I wrote a letter to the editor of the Cape Breton Post. That is the newspaper in the town where I grew up. They had published an article about that British MK Galloway who was denied entry into Canada because he was so anti-Israel and so very pro-Hamas. Blindy so, I would say.

Okay, so someone sent me the article and I felt compelled to write what I thought was a very reasonable letter to the editor. Well, as it turns out, I couldn't have been more wrong.

I first found out that my letter was published when I received an email from my cousin Mark this morning. He was proud of me. Later, I spoke to my mother who in her subtly sarcastic way told me that her friends from Cape Breton had called to report that I was published. They were also pleased.

So far so good.

Oh don't worry, the good news ends there. I will tell you who wasn't pleased. The myopic, backwater people of Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia.

People wrote in and accused me of the craziest things. I think I may be arrested when I return there for my father's grave stone installation ceremony later this year. If my blog entries stop abruptly in October you will be able to find me sitting in the city jail in Sydney, Nova Scotia.

At first I just wanted to rebut everything each one of them said. And then, as I started to write, it dawned on me that I wasting my energy. These people are so small minded that they can't even consider another point-of-view. I even suggested that they not take my word for what I said, but rather, get on a plane and come see for themselves (Actually, I am trying to single-handedly boost the tourism numbers in Israel this year. I get a cut, of course.).

How reasonable can you get? Don't bother answering that. The answer is that when you support Israel, you can never be reasonable enough.

The strangest thing is that as I read their utterly ridiculous come-backs, I was overwhelmed with memories of what it was like to grow up as a Jewish kid in a backwater town. Most of those people had never left the province, let alone the country. I am sure not one of them has ever seen the inside of a museum. Yet, they know it all and what they know is that Jews are bad and nothing we say in support of Israel could possibly be true.

The one good thing that came out of it is that someone took the time to google me and that was good for my blog ranking and my Ezine readership. Wait until they find out that they were supporting the Worldwide Zionist Cabal when they did that! Oh that's going to be a great laugh.

When did we depart from the facts of Passover?

Why is it that the Isralites had less than an hour's notice and they were able to pack up their lives and leave Egypt, but it takes me three weeks to get ready to superficially re-enact the Passover holiday every year?

Granted, they did not live as well as I do. They did not have bedrooms haunted by messy children with way too much stuff. They did not have stoves and refrigerators that had to be moved and cleaned behind (a truly thankless job). They did not host car washes in their driveways in the days leading up to the holiday. And they probably weren't pack rats because they were poor slaves and didn't own very much. I know all of that, but how did the ratio end up at 504:1?

I don't think that's a reasonable exponential of time.

So what am I doing wrong?

I'll tell you what I am doing wrong. I am obsessing over every stupid crumb that may or may not have been bread or one of its derivatives in a previous life. If you can't tell for sure, then you obviously wouldn't eat it by mistake and therefore, it doesn't count.

I also think that I let a lot of things go over the span of the year knowing full well that when Passover arrives it will be my moment of reckoning and I will have no choice but to address the build-up of miscellaneous junk that I have inexplicably acquired during the previous 360 odd days.

That may not have been too difficult to figure out but there are other Passover mysteries.

My neighbour David brought another ridiculous pre-Passover task to my attention this afternoon. A few days prior to the beginning of the holiday, it is each Jew's obligation to "sell" his or her bread and derivatives to a non-Jew. I used quotation marks because although the bread is technically sold, it remains in our houses and -- unless someone comes to get it -- it remains there until we "buy" it back after the holiday.

According to David – and he's a lawyer from Los Angeles so I TRUST him (well, he seems like a nice lawyer and I used to like LA Law) – there is one non-Jew in Israel who buys all the bread products from every Jew selling them. By my calculations, this guy won't need bread for several decades, but in the same breath, I hope he has a warehouse of freezer space. After buying millions of shekels of bread, I would think you'd hate to waste it or let someone else waste it for you.

Since this is all done through rabbis using contracts, technically this one non-Jew should be able to knock on your door and pick up anything bread-like that he wants from your house at any time during the Passover holiday. Technically he owns it all. However, I would like to tell you that that has never happened to me. I suspect it hasn't happened to anyone. I don't even know who this bread-buying non-Jew is. Do you?

All of this leads me to believe that the kernel of truth concerning Passover has long since been lost or mutated beyond recognition. It must have taken rabbis generations to develop such an intricate set of loopholes. No wonder it take us longer today to get ready for Passover than it originally took the slaves. We have altered the holiday beyond their recognition and once you involve lawyers....

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Working at the Pre-Passover Carwash

My 11-year-old son Zeve and his two friends are running their annual pre-Passover car wash this year. As a result my house is a mess and while they are all making money, I am pretty sure that I am in the hole for about 100 shekels so far.

The reason for the car wash's success is because bread and all of its offspring are forbidden during this holiday. When Moses told the Israelites that he was taking them out of Egypt and out of slavery, they had about 20 minutes notice. In other words, they didn't have time to pack much food and they left before their bread had time to rise. Hence, a week of eating matzah. Technically it is unleavened bread but I think that is putting it kindly. Bread is tasty. Matzah is not.

The one good thing to come out of the preparation for the holiday is my son's entrepreneurial spirit. At a rate of approximately four or five cars a day, for six days, they each make enough spending money to splurge for the following few weeks.

Last year the car wash was operated out the garage of one of his friends. In other words, I didn't see the inner machinations of the car wash in action. This year, I was not so lucky because the car wash was moved to its new location – my driveway.

Rather than go on and on about my son's acumen, let me give you a few brief examples of how 11-year-olds run a business:

• When one of my friends pointed out that the boys had missed a patch of sticky gunk in her car, my son told her "we don't do sticky stuff. You'll have to clean that yourself."
• When another friend delivered his car early, instead of his pre-assigned appointment time, my son simply didn't clean his car. When the client returned, my son said: "We told you to bring it at 12:30 and you brought it at 8:00. What did you expect us to do?" After a brief renegotiation, they cleaned the car.
• And yet another friend paid an extra 2 shekels to have her car sprayed with a nice smelling scent. Clean is one thing, but two spritz' of lemon scent costs extra.

I keep telling myself that this is good for them. And I really believe it is. The more accurate question is whether or not it is good for me. Unfortunately I don’t have any time to ponder that right now because I just noticed that they have slacked off and the car that is sitting half done in my driveway (with the radio blaring) is mine.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

The day I became aware of pesci vegetarians

For as long as I can remember, I have been a curious -- okay, call it nosy if you wish -- person. I think that is why I wanted to be a writer. It's a natural fit. People interest me. And so do words. Now, there are a lot of people who know a lot more words than I do -- my sister for example. However, I am no slouch in the word department -- at least not amongst regular people in the midst of regular conversation.

Well, today I was reminded just how little I know.

In the middle of a speech for his daughter at her bat mitzvah party in Jerusalem, my friend Marc said the word: pesci-vegetarian. I was so surprised by the word that I said out loud: "What is that?" And even funnier, I was standing next to my Italian friend Marina and she said: "I don't know."

We may have been the only two English speakers there who didn't know the word. (And technically, Marina is an Italian speaker who should have immediately recognized the Italian word for fish -- pesci.) Even though "pesci" is an Italian word, everyone else for a few tables over seemed to know what Marc was talking about. Fortunately, my friend, Beth, turned around and gave me a quickie explanation: "Vegetarians who eat fish," she whispered because my rude interruption had not deterred Marc one iota from his speech.

So now, there I was, stuck with the word "pesci-vegetarian" in my head. No matter what Marc said about vegetarians in his speech -- and it was a key part of his message strangely enough -- I couldn't control my urge to keep asking not-so-quietly every time he mentioned vegetarianism, "Yes, but does that include the pesci-vegetarians?"

Suffice it to say that I was getting a little obnoxious. So, in an effort to curb my quips, I made a mental note to check out pesci-vegetarians when I got home.

Wow, who knew ...there are 22,000 references for pv's on Google. And did you know that there are semi-vegetarians, lacto-vegetarians, ovo-vegetarians, and my personal favorite, lacto-ovo vegetarians?

Now I know several vegetarian facts that I didn't know yesterday and one of them , Marc, is that according to Wikipedia you are not a real vegetarian. Actually, you are a semi-vegetarian and according to the real vegetarians, you don't make the grade. You have improperly categorized yourself as a vegetarian!!!!!!

Yesterday I didn't even know this word and today I am calling out the fakers. How quickly things can change.

Which brings me to the reasons that people choose vegetarianism in the first place. The most popular reason, it seems, is economics. If you can't afford meat, then cut it out of your diet. Millions of people in the world do it, so can you. But I don't think for even one second that Marc's decision was economic. He and his wife Sheryl hosted a lovely, elaborate and elegant party this morning.

Others choose to be vegetarian for various reasons including morality, religion, culture, ethics, aesthetics, environment, society, politics, taste, or health. Rather than analyze each one, I am going to categorize Marc as a moral, religious vegetarian, which we will now call "mo-rel" vegetarian. And now, I have a new word that you did not know until you heard it here from me -- first.