Saturday, June 27, 2009

A day at the beach is not necessarily a good thing

Israel has some of the best beaches in the world. I know what I am talking about here. I grew up next to the ocean.

Here, the sand is white and soft. The waves are suitably wavy for the average swimmer. The water is a divine blue green. And it is warm. Nothing like the north Atlantic beaches of my childhood where, even in mid August, you risked major muscle spasms in the arches of your feet if you entered the water too quickly. That searing pain reminded you that it was best to play on the pebbly sand and swim in a lake somewhere else.

Not so here.

Beach season is at least six months long and there are people on the beach even in the middle of the Israeli winter.

Some of those people on the beach are life guards. In typical lifeguard fashion -- or in Bay Watch lifeguard fashion -- the mostly male lifeguard contingent are bronzed and muscular. They sit up in their huts on stilts, flexing their muscles and doing what I guess lifeguards everywhere do -- flirting from up high with the bikini contingent on the ground. Up until this point they are exactly like lifeguards on other beaches I've visited.

But that's where the similarities end. Israeli lifeguards, maybe out of fear of being ignored or not suitably swooned over, like to yell at the swimmers through large megaphones. And not just the odd command -- more like a running dialogue of insults.

"Hey, you, lady in the flowered bathing suit, get away from the flag."

Some women in flowered bathing suits look around to see if it is them that the lifeguard is speaking to.

"No, not you on the left. I'm talking to the short one over there with the fat kid in the red bathing suit. Are you listening to me?"

And while most pay the lifeguards no heed, swimmers do so at their own risk. Not the obvious risk but more of a risk of being harassed via megaphone until you cave to their demands.

"Okay, you don't want to listen to me. That's fine. But don't blame me if you drown." (Sometimes it sounds frighteningly familiar to your grandmother.)

We would listen but after an hour at the beach it starts to wear you down and you automatically start ignoring the insulting blasts. Sometimes when you ignore them for too long they switch to heavily accented English assuming that if you aren't listening then you must be a foreign visitor. It's important to add that they don't get any nicer when they figure you are a visitor.

Of course, I have never noticed them yelling at the people who most deserve it. One time my friend Glenn took his daughters out about 15 meters into the sea on a day that had a lot of red and black flags. His pregnant wife was on the beach trying not to hyperventilate. Where exactly was the lifeguard that day? Probably too busy yelling at some lady in a flowered bathing suit who was standing next to one of his precious flags.

And if you swim out too far, they will yell to you -- one really good blast. But as they have already warned you, if you don't listen, then you are on your own. You want to swim with the sharks, well, then, it's up to you. Heaven knows they have witnesses that they yelled to you -- not one of whom could testify with a clear conscience.

I have no doubt that if you were really in trouble that they would do everything they could to save you, during the hours of 8:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m., from May through the end of October. But once you were safe, they would run for the megaphone and give you a piece of their mind.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Driving the porcelain bus to mom

Why do most kids wake their mothers when they aren't feeling well? And why, when they can't sleep, do they feel obliged to wake their mothers and tell them -- and then ask them to push over so that they can get it? Why don't kids, in general, wake their fathers?

Last night at around 2:30 a.m. I heard someone walking around. Within seconds the night crawler speed walked into our bedroom, totally surpassing Chaim and made a quick right around the bed to my side. By then I was already awake, but I was trying to fake being asleep.

Tap, tap, tap.

"What's wrong Yael?" (I spend a lot of time asking that question.)

"My stomach hurts and I have to throw up now."

I have tried to train her to throw up first -- preferably in the toilet or at least a waste paper basket -- and then come and get me. So far, I have a success rate of zero. For some reason it is more logical to waste the few remaining moments of pre-barfdom to come and announce your intentions so that there is an audience for the big event.

From my perspective, who the hell wants an audience at such an uncool moment? However, Yael does not subscribe to this school of thought. And as a result, most vomit explodes onto my bed or my bedroom floor. Of course, the vomiter is too busy feeling lousy after the event to do anything but sit or lie down in a catatonic state. Therefore, the spectator -- usually me -- gets the priviledge of cleaning up.

Oh yes, the vomiter feels bad about it. But, hey, what can you expect post strenuous lurch?

I wouldn't mind so much if only, now and then, when the urge to drive the porcelain bus became unavoidable, that the child in question should wake up his or her father and let him get involved in all the fun.

In my house, Chaim just sleeps through all the highlights of the program while I spend the remainder of the night keeping the patient company either in the washroom or his or her bedrooom. Chaim wakes up bright eyed and bushy tailed the next morning and I spend the day walking around like a zombie.

The truth is that when I was a kid I did the same thing. I never once considered waking my father who was only going to wake up so startled (because no one ever woke him up) that his shocked reaction would have superseded the real issue: that I felt sick or I couldn't sleep. My mother, on the other hand, woke up silently and effortlessly as if she had been lying there expecting me for hours.

Therefore, I've decided that the next time I feel sick, I am going to go from room to room and wake everyone up. Of course, I am going to leave them all sitting there in a semi-conscious state because nothing will change the fact that I prefer privacy at such moments. But at least then they can all be mom for a moment.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

There's no hope for Hope

Last week I noticed a series of lingerie posters along the main thoroughfares of Ra'anana and most of them looked like they had been the victims of a religious fanatic graffiti artist. At first I couldn't figure out why someone would do that, but when I mentioned it to my husband and then showed him the ads as we drove along the main street, he noticed that the graffiti was very uniform.

He is much more observant than I am -- and I don't mean from a religious perspective. However, after he mentioned it, I started looking more carefully. Lo and behold, I had to agree. This was definitely not the work of an overzealous religious person.

Of course, at the time, I couldn't figure out exactly what the goal of the marketing plan was, and over the next few days I forgot all about it. Only later did it become known that it was a marketing ploy by the lingerie company.

One of my favorite things about Ra'anana is that I find the religious community -- at least in my neighbourhood -- to be very tolerant and the collective approach to observance is "live and let live". I surely did not experience that in Toronto and I am not sure if it exists in other parts of Israel, but religious tolerance (by religious people) seems to be alive and well on the east side of Ra'anana. And that is why I was originally baffled by the graffiti.

Fortunately I have friends who are also detail observant And one of them took it upon herself to call the corporate offices of the company and ask about the posters. Here's what one of the two co-owners of the company, Yafit, told her:

"We had to do this because we knew the posters would be ruined anyway by the religious community in Ra'anana." And if that wasn't presumptuous and insulting enough, she added that if, in turn, secular people thought that religious Ra'anana-ites did this, and it bothered us, then we (religious people) obviously felt guilty.

What the heck is she talking about?

What exactly was I supposed to feel guilty about?

I can't even follow her warped logic. If I didn't damage the posters then I wouldn't feel one iota of guilt.

And more important, why would someone willingly start a smear campaign in Ra'anana -- a city where secular and religious citizens seem to co-exist peacefully most of the time. If I was going to incite a smear campaign against a group of people in the community, then I would probably be more careful to cover my steps. And if perchance I was confronted about my tactics, I would probably think twice before verbally attacking the inquirer.

Co-owner Yafit also showed her complete lack of understanding of most religious people living in Ra'anana. This isn't Mea Shearim or Betar Illit. Apparently she hasn't been to one of the city pools on a Friday afternoon and heaven knows she hasn't actually spoken to any of us or she would have know exactly how ill-informed her campaign logic was.

Speaking on behalf of many of the religious people in Ra'anana: We are modern orthodox Jews. And what that means, in the most general of terms, is that while we observe Shabbat and keep the mitzvot to the best of our ability, we are educated and worldly. We travel. We work. We read.

My synagogue alone is populated with lawyers, doctors, PhD's, professors, business people, and ivy-league college graduates. My friends are ex-partners in big city law firms, math professors, architects, high-tech wizards, bankers and the likes. We are as comfortable in meetings in New York and London as we are in our synagogue. No one that I know is going to go out and buy a can of spray paint to cover up some babe in her underwear on a poster.

And as immigrants from Western countries, we are proponents of free speech. Just because we don't walk around in our bathing suits and underwear doesn't mean that we can't hack it when other people do. If we wanted to live in a closed society, we never would have chosen Ra'anana to begin with.

And finally, any Jew who thinks that inciting anger and hatred between Jews is a good thing is, in my mind, the lowest of low. Well, maybe not the lowest. I put child abusers on that level, but I am willing to allow Jews who encourage hate between Jews to have the next rung up on my decency ladder.

I am not the first to say this and I won't be the last. The worst enemy of the Jews is other Jews. And Yafit, my friend, you have just proved the point better than I ever could. Willfully concocting a plan that could be misconstrued by secular Jews to make them dislike religious Jews more than some of them already do, is truly pathetic. I wish your new lingerie store everything that it deserves.

(late addition note: someone contacted me this morning to say that while we are mostly modern orthodox, some of us have children who have surpassed their parents' observance and as a result, are uncomfortable with such ads. I don't think that means that they would go out and spray paint them but these people deserve acknowledgment as well. Ra'anana is a diverse community that should celebrate its diversity rather than working to harm it.)

And I worried when my banker retired

For some reason, I have a banker. I never really had such a person that I could contact in Canada, but I do now. I am sure there is some explanation for it but I really don't care. Truth is, I like it.

Until a few months ago, we had another woman who took care of our banking needs. She had been helping us since we moved here and I was very upset when she decided to retire. She wasn't that old -- probably sixty -- and I was not ready for her to make a life change. She didn't consult with me, but all of a sudden, one day I walked into her cubicle and another woman was sitting there beside her. In true Israeli fashion, she didn't say a word about this woman and the woman made no effort to leave when I arrived. She stayed for the entire discussion. Finally, I had to ask who she was.

According to Dvorah, her husband was retiring and she had decided to retire too. That might sound very reasonable but I was not happy that there was going to be a disruption in my banking life.

In Canada I was a capable bank client. I understood the process and the logic of banking. And if there was something I didn't understand I could always ask for additional information in English. I never figured that the transition to being the family bank activity executor would be much different in Israel. Well, yet again, I could not have been more wrong.

Banking logic in Israel is definitely not derived from the Canadian banking system. For example, you cannot carry over a credit card balance from one month to the next. At the end of the month, the credit card company -- in conjunction with the bank -- swoops in and take the amount that it is owed out of your bank account. And heaven help you if you do not have the funds on hand to pay. I think they send someone to your home to take your children!!! (oh, I am joking, but it's not a bad plan.)

Another example, even when there was monthly interest in Canadian bank accounts, there was no such animal in my day-to-day shekel account here.

And rather than list everything weird that goes on in hebrew when I do the banking here, let me just add that I have to go to a different teller for almost every conceivable action. One deals in cash; another deals in transactions that don't involve physically touching cash; and yet another deals in foreign currencies, while the next one only deals in shekels. Suffice it to say that if you have an iPod, always take it with you to the bank -- along with a snack -- because you are going to be there for a while.

Now with all this banking confusion it would seem to me that anyone who retired would stay far away from the bank afterwards. But no, that is not the case. Today, when I got to the bank to have all my banking correspondence translated and explained to me in English, there was Dvorah hanging out in her old cubicle along with Sari, the woman who took her place. And that's not the best of it..... there was a customer in there discussing his account. Dvorah had just dropped by with her husband I later found out, but it never dawned on her to not be involved with Sari and the customer.

No one seemed to mind that there was a non-bank employee smack dab in the middle of the discussion. I just sat there watching the whole thing. It was better than tv although some subtitles would have been nice.

When the discussion finally ended, I said to Dvorah: "haven't you had enough of this place?" That was my polite way of saying: "What the hell are you doing in the middle of a private banking conversation between a banker and her client?" Dvorah just laughed. She loves dropping by for a few hours now and then just to be part of things again, she explained. So now I see that old bankers never go away, they just cash in and out now and then.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Restaurants in the age of cell phones

Last night Chaim and I went out for dinner as part of an interesting local fund raiser. All you had to do was go out and eat, and the restaurant was supposed to give ten percent of its profits for the night to charity. It was a great plan. Easy to participate. And for a good cause.

So, off we went to do the easiest good deed possible.

We chose a sushi restaurant that we like. It's a busy lunch spot but pretty quiet at night, which is just the way we like it.

We had no sooner arrived in the restaurant and sat down at our table when my cell phone rang. I immediately noticed that the phone number displayed on the screen was our home number, so I answered it. All I heard was hysterical crying and here is the essence of the first conversation:


Me: Yael, what is wrong?


Me: Yael, will you please calm down and tell me what's going on and why you are crying.


Me: (I hung up)

Okay, so compassion isn't my strong suit. I think that parents should be able to go out to a restaurant without fear of mass destruction at home. I don't think that's a lot to ... ring, ring...

Second phone call:

Yael: Ari called me fat.

Chaim: Well, if he called you a monkey would that bother you?

Yael: No, but he called me fat.

Chaim: Well, you're not fat. Good-bye.

At that point, we started to order, naively figuring that we now had the fat issue out of the way and it was safe to enjoy the evening. ring.... ring...

Zeve: You know the cell phone recharging in your office?

Me: Yes.

Zeve: Can I have it?

Me: No.

Zeve: Why not? I need a new cell phone and you told me I could use this one today.

Me: I told you you could use it today and I don't want to discuss this now.

Zeve: Why not?

Me: Bye Zeve.

By this point, I could barely remember what I was going to order or why I was going to order it. So I tried to collect my thoughts, focus on the menu and initiate a conversation with Chaim. ring... ring...

Me: Whoever you are, you better have a limb hanging by a thread because otherwise I am hanging up.

Yael: You told me I could have that phone.

Me: No, I told you that you could use that phone when you needed it.

Yael: But Zeve says it's his.

Me: It's not.

Yael: Fine.

Me: Good-bye.

That was the last call we received during our hour and a quarter in the restaurant. The food was probably good. I know I ate it. But who can relax and have a good time when they have their cell phone with them? Other than doing a good deed, I am not really sure why I bothered to leave home. Next time the good deed people want something from me they better have a plan for my cell phone.

One man's cold is another man's hot

I just want to say good-bye to anyone who is used to seeing me out and about.

It's that time of the year again when I know my summer hibernation is about to begin. In central to northern North America people head indoors somewhere around late October, only to surface again the following spring. In Toronto that can arrive anywhere from mid April to late June.

However, in Israel, I find myself doing the exact opposite. It's around this time of the year that I start finding it a task to even have skin. It's just too hot to wear anything and if I could peel off my skin, I probably would.

I was looking in my closet yesterday and I realized that I no longer own any real winter clothes. I have a few sweaters, but they don't really constitute winter sweaters by Canadian standards. They are all lightweight, early fall wear if you ask a Canadian. Also, I have a ridiculous number of flip flops and sandals. Please don't repeat this to Chaim because it would just reinforce his thinking, but the truth is that if you wear summer shoes six months of the year, you need lots of them. And I wear summer shoes six months of the year.

I am indignant when that inevitable point comes, sometime in late December, when I realize that I am going to have to find my tights and put them on. I complain all winter that I am freezing, when in fact, I am only wearing a light sweater and a jean jacket -- and those stupid tights. People inevitably say: "You're Canadian, this must be a breeze for you." Well, let me tell you something. I haven't experienced a Canadian winter in seven years and I have long since forgotten what they are like. Nor do I care to remember. And I am definitely not one of those people who scoot off to Jerusalem if they have any snowfall. It's a thrill I can easily live without.

Somewhere around February I start wishing for summer. You think I would learn. But I don't.

Come June, summer is back in full force and I can't remember why I wanted it to return so badly. There is nothing worse than getting dressed in the morning and then -- within taking 10 steps outside -- being so hot that your clothes are sticking to you and you start to smell less than rose like.

You hop into your car in search of a reprieve but the car is so hot that you could fry an egg on it. Ten minutes later the air conditioning kicks in and then you are so cold that you can pretty much expect to be sick within a few days of this routine.

Finally there is summer vacation and the kids want to go somewhere -- anywhere. You want to stay indoors until November but they have other ideas. I refuse to go the beach until the sun is setting -- and since we live 15 minutes from the beach I can impose that rule. However, my kids are not deterred. They want to climb a mountain or go on a three-hour hike. I fight. I complain. I divert. And then I get in the hot car and go. But as soon as I can, I come home and go back to the basement, where I will happily stay until the Israeli winter sets in and it is safe to come out again.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Hockey Week in Israel

Finally, this past Friday night, the NHL playoffs ended. Now I know what most of you are thinking: "the NHL playoffs? What the heck is that? And why is she writing about them?"

Most of you only know me as my Israeli self but the truth is that I have a long and illustrious history as a Canadian and Canadians and hockey are inextricably linked. In fact, I still sigh with relief on the odd day that the Country Club changes its sports channel away from the latest soccer game and plays a hockey game. On those rare days, as I walk uphill on the stationary bike, I am filled with a sense of the familiar.

Now if you noticed above, today is June 14th which means the last professional hockey game played in North American took place on June 12th. Technically, yes, hockey is a winter sport, but that's before advertisers and other business people got their hands on it and realized that it was a money maker.

There's barely a spot in the Western Hemisphere where ice occurs naturally at this time of the year, but that has nothing to do with the hockey playoffs. I remember when the hockey season used to end in April, and then May. And with a little more planning, they will probably soon drag it out until August. Soon the players will have to play in swim trunks and shoulder pads -- it will be too hot for those polyester jerseys.

Which is why, in consistent hockey logic, there is a big junior hockey tournament about to begin in Metullah in a few weeks. Now, I am not complaining. In fact I am looking forward to it. But I am having a hard time getting my mind around hockey and the sweltering heat of the Israeli summer. Note to the Canadians: you think you know heat! ha! You know nothing of the real heat of the Middle Eastern summer which begins well, now.

This is not to suggest that we will not get in the car and drive to Metullah, which is on Israel's northern border just a mere hop, skip and jump from our good friend Nasrallah & co. in southern Lebanon. Oh there's nothing to worry about, I've just been waiting for an opportunity to use Nasrallah's name in my blog and the hockey tournament gave me that chance.

There are many great things about this tournament. Not the least of which is that my cousin's husband, who is a well-known sports writer for Canada's most respected sports section of a newspaper, will be here and my cousin is coming with him. He used to have his face plastered all over the sides of buses in Toronto which is a real indicator of his prestige in Canadian sportsville.

Second, another one of my cousins is coaching one of the teams. I could go into his story but since most of my readers know nothing about hockey, I would be wasting space and you just wouldn't appreciate the story.

Third, we are going to watch some half decent hockey up close. While junior hockey isn't exactly the NHL, it's as close as we are ever going to get three hours from home in the center of Israel.

Fourth, it is an opportunity to wear a sweater in Israel in July. You don't start off cold but if you sit in the Canada Center rink for a few hours, trust me, you will eventually start to feel cold.

Fifth, there are always seats because most Israelis don't understand hockey. For the most part, the rink will be filled with Russians, Canadians and a few miscellaneous others. Of course, I am sure there will be some of those slimy white-trash chicks who always come out of the woodwork when athletes come to town. They don't know hockey, but they know a hot young bod when they see one.

And finally, if the last tournament was any indication of what was to come, there will be some old time NHL'ers there coaching some of the teams. And because they are in Israel and just dying to speak to a native-English speaker we will all inevitably end up in the Canada Center foyer talking together in a way that would probably never happen in Toronto. In fact, last time we attended one fellow showed up with one of the oldtime NHLer's hockey card and had him sign it. It was a great moment for the rest of us.

But all this greatness isn't without its irony. My Canadian-born children, who have been raised in Israel on a healthy dose of soccer and basketball, will sit there complaining that they need another hot chocolate to keep them going once the excitement of the ice-cleaning Zamboni is over. The entire hockey experience will be lost on them, and Chaim and I will be left to go it alone.

Friday, June 12, 2009

It's not easy being gay

I was reading one of the Israeli newspapers yesterday and I noticed an advertisement offering to help men get over their homosexuality. Needless to say, it caught my attention and I just had to click on the ad and see precisely how they were going to do that. I am a firm believer that being gay is not a choice but rather a genetic predisposition. I am even willing to consider that some people have traumatic life experiences that result in them rejecting the "other" sex.

That said, I do not for one minute think that people get out of bed one day and decide to be gay. With all the stigmas against it in our society, why would anyone make that choice? The fact that I can't easily answer that question suggests to me, that I am on to something.

Now Jewish religious scholars discuss homosexuality in terms of free choice. That man was given free choice is what sets him apart from other life forms. And from that, these scholars take the leap that people choose to be gay -- it's a choice that they make. That's where they lose me. Do they also choose to be alcoholics and psychopaths? Somehow I doubt it.

But since it states in the Torah that homosexuality is wrong, then there is inevitably going to be someone out there who is going to try to help those who cannot help themselves. Jonah, Jews Offering New Alternatives to Homosexuality, is such an organization.

Here's what they are offering: "to educate the world-wide Jewish community about the prevention, intervention, and healing of the underlying issues causing same-sex attraction." Is anyone else suspicious about this? Frankly I would think that going to one of their group therapy sessions was just an opportunity to meet other like-minded people.

According to Jonah, everyone has the ability to change ..... their sexual orientation.

If that was the case why have so many men chosen suicide or depression, or to live "in the closet" rather than going through a therapy treatment to '"change"? Do you think that most of them would choose this lifestyle? Who, of their own free will, chooses something contrary to the doings of the general public?

It's also interesting to note that while academics studying the roots of homosexuality are not clear on what makes one person a homosexual and not his or her sibling, Jonah has the whole thing figured out. There may be biologicial roots, say the academics, and there may be social roots, but at the end of the day, still very little is known about what causes some people to be attracted to the same sex. With all due respect to the Torah, I am sticking with the scientists and researchers on this.

I remember hearing a rabbi in Toronto who once spoke on this matter and said that overcoming sexual persuasion was the same as deciding to lose weight. It was simply mind over matter. And then I remembered another story that took place in Israel sometime in the last ten plus years.

A nice religious girl was set up to marry a nice religious boy who was studying with her father, who was a religious bigwig in Jerusalem. There is no sexual tension leading up to the wedding because the boy dutifully keeps his distance and studied a lot with the other guys in his yeshiva. They got married but the nice boy never gets around to consummating the marriage because -- as it soon becomes apparent -- he is gay!

The entire religious community of Jerusalem is shocked. The question is if all of this is just a matter of social re-engineering, why didn't someone take this young gay fellow aside and straighten him out? Heaven knows, as the result of marrying such a well-connected young woman, he had every such opportunity available to him. Maybe the answer is that it's ridiculous and it just doesn't work. And maybe Torah scholars should stick to Torah and let scientists and science researchers do their jobs.

Monday, June 8, 2009

House for sale: Maybe

As I drove home from my final carpool of the day yesterday, I drove past a house that was on the market last year for US$1.5 million. It is a nice house in a nice location but it pretty much needs to be demolished and rebuilt. When potential buyers come to see it, the sellers tell them that it is in "move-in" condition. It's not. Not even close. And no surprise, no one's bought it yet.

I then passed another house around the corner from my house that is now on the market for approximately US$2.5 million. Someone built this very modern, large house on spec, a European family bought it, then the new owners decided to get a divorce rather than move to Israel so the house is back on the market. Oh, did I mention that it is on a relatively busy corner, directly across the street from my new synagogue. If you are on the second floor of our new building you can look directly into the backyard of the house and watch whoever might be swimming in the pool -- if and when someone actually lives there.

The people who live kitty corner to this very modern, brand new house, also want to sell their house .... for US$1.2 million. It is a very old, and very small house on a small piece of land, and on the same busy corner. The seller's reasoning for such an exorbitant asking price is that if the new house diagonally across the street which is twice as big and on a lot twice as big, is asking for more than US$2 million -- this old, run-down, house should be worth half of the brand new fancy smancy house's asking price. It's basic Israeli real estate math.

Why am I telling you all these stories? Because there is no logic to house selling in Israel. Or more specifically, there is no logic to the Ra'anana real estate market.

Many of the homes in our neighbourhood were built about 25 years ago and are in desperate need of repair. Home building in Israel 25 years ago was not what it is today -- which is still only average. For example, there is no such thing as a house that does not leak during rainy season. If you can show me one then I will eat my hat.

However, Israelis don't see that as a factor. Here's the average Israeli homeowner's logic on selling his or her house. I'm paraphrasing: "I have nothing to do today so I think I will put my house up for sale at a totally ridiculous price and see if any foreigners will be stupid enough to buy it at my asking price. And if they do offer me my asking price too quickly then I will reject the offer and increase the asking price because obviously I didn't ask for enough money in the first place."

Unfortunately, this logic frequently works.

This next little story illustrates Israeli real estate logic at its best.

A few years ago we were looking for a house to buy and we heard about a house available on a very desirable street in our neighbourhood. It wasn't a big lot -- 250 meters -- but the house had a basement (which is just now becoming de rigeur in Ra'anana) and an attic loft, as well as two other floors. When I first heard about the house, the owners -- who were selling privately -- were asking for US$650,000. I thought that the price was absurd so I didn't even bother to go see the house.

A few months later, I bumped into a friend who happened to live next door to the still-available house. She knew I was looking around and she said: "you should go see this house. They're asking US$690,000."

I did go and see it, and it was very nice, but it had a very small lot and I knew that Chaim would never agree to pay such a ridiculous price for a house with a lawn the size of two postage stamps.

Several months later I saw the seller exercising at the club. She walked over to me and said: "If you are still interested in buying my house, it is still available and we are asking US$720,000."

In case you are wondering why the price continued to rise, lucky I am here to explain it to you. The way Israelis view the market is that if no one buys what you are selling then obviously you aren't asking for enough money for it and in turn, you are damaging its prestige. And the longer no one buys it, the more they will raise the price in search of the correct selling point. I am not joking.

I realize that this is completely impossible for the average North American mind to comprehend. I live here and I don't get it, but to old time Israelis it's as clear as the nose on your face.

Which brings me to the one bright light in the middle of Ra'anana real estate madness. Recently people we know decided to move back to the US. They put their house up for sale and sold it within weeks to another local American family. I suspect it was the fastest real estate deal ever completed in the State of Israel. Of course, I still don't know if the house leaks.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Babysitters having babies

I just received an email that got me thinking about one of the biggest differences between my life in Israel and my life in Canada.

I have a friend, we went to camp together in Canada and she lives nearby in Israel. We are the same age. She is a grandmother and I am the mother of a 13.5 year old. She is too, but her oldest is 21 and she has four more after that -- not to mention a very cute little granddaughter. She got married at 21 and I got married at 32. She was almost finished having babies before I even considered the idea.

While there is a trend now in Israel to not marry so young, it definitely has not caught on in religious circles. More secular young people are starting to focus on the same things that I was focused on when I was their age. First I went to university, twice. Then I got a job. Then I wanted a better job that paid more and was more challenging, so I sought out and found that. And that pretty much became my pattern for about six years. Move out to move up.

All my friends were living similar lives. My first friend to get married did so at 27. My friend Libby and I went to New York for her wedding. We were really fish out of water in the wedding world. In fact, we were so spaced out about weddings that we went to an afternoon reception that we thought was for our friend, the bride -- but turned out to be some stranger's party!

We didn't know that until we spied a non-white, non-Jewish looking guest and immediately jumped to the same conclusion independently: "Since when does Beth have any black friends?" That was the give away. Of course, we had already been there long enough to eat some food and mingle a bit.

My next two friends to get married did so about two years later, when we were about 29 -- and they both got married on the same weekend but in different countries. I drove to New York State for the first wedding on a Saturday morning -- yes, I was late -- and then unexpectedly stayed overnight and headed back to Toronto for the next wedding, which was Sunday at noon.

In those days that did not seem like a bad plan. I had a car. I had a credit card. I had gas. Life was simple. Plus driving through Welch's grape growing country in the early Summer morning is a life experience everyone should have. The smell in the air is like being in a bottle of Welch's grape jelly.

It was another few years before anyone I knew got married again. Oh, I guess that does not include my three friends who ended up in a lesbian love triangle. Who even knew they were lesbians? I entirely missed all the cues for that!!! That little twist in the story all worked itself out but not easily and not quickly. I know you would like to hear the details of this story, but this is not a gossipy blog, so sorry. Not today.

And then, one day I woke up and I was 30. I thought about trying to peel back the lamination on my birth certificate so that I could change the year I was born. It took me days to come to grips with the fact that I was 30 -- and hadn't done all the things I thought society expected of me. My bank account was in good shape and so was my shoe closet, but my uncle kept telling me: "Enough with this career business. You need a husband." It was starting to wear on me, but I wasn't sure that he was wrong.

Okay, enough of my details. Everything worked out fine. But here I am all these years later, living a much more traditional life than I lived in my single years in Toronto. And frankly, some days I think I should have married sooner. I want a grandchild now too. They are the best kinds of babies -- you love them; you want them around; and then when you have had enough you give them back to their parents and go do something adult-like where babies are not included. You don't need a babysitter. It's great.

Of course, then there are my Israeli friends in Jerusalem. They are also my age. Last week their daughter finally had a baby at 28. And where was that baby born and going to live???? Los Angeles. Babies of Israeli parents, in my friend's mind, are supposed to live in Israel. My friend, who is very secular, also married young because that's what Israelis of our generation did. Today, it is only the religious kids. (To me, they are kids with reproductive capabilities.)

Whatever unwritten rules existed when I was young, don't seem to exist anymore -- here or in North America.

And there is also the pendulum affect. I want my children to get married younger than I did because I want to be a participating grandparent and I need my kids to correct the errors of my dilly-dallying ways.

However, I do want them to be too old to be babysitters. It still unnerves me that my friend's married daughter was my kids' babysitter until weeks before she gave birth. There has to be some balance out there between my old life and my new one.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Tactical change

One of my duly-imposed upon readers wrote me today to tell me that I am bothering people by sending out emails when I write something new. Funnily enough I do that because that is how I receive most of my notices about the blogs that I follow. Until today, I thought it was standard protocol. As he put it, if he wanted to read my stuff, then he would. I guess that means he doesn't! (That's nothing new. He has an insult or a complaint about everything I do that he is aware of. I guess it could be worse.... I could be married to him! Thank God for small mercies!!!!!!)

That said, first I want to apologize for imposing my blog on all of you. I sent many of you emails because you asked for them, but perhaps I either took you seriously when you were just being polite or perhaps you thought you might want to read my blog, but changed your mind. Or maybe there was another reason that I cannot even imagine at this point.

So, starting here and now, I am not going to email anyone any more. I know that sounds like a bit of an over-reaction but there is no way for me to tell who I am bothering and who I am not bothering, so it is better to err on the side of caution.

The blog has been an experiment from the beginning. I like writing it, but heaven knows I didn't mean to shove it down anyone's throat. I used to write some of the lighter fare in the blog for the Jerusalem Post but many of you know why I don't do that anymore. I guess I needed an outlet for my thoughts and the blog seemed to be as good an outlet as any.

I am curious to see how the non-emailing approach works. It will be the next step in my learning curve.

Jimmy, do you need a lift from the airport?

I just read that Jimmy Carter is coming to Israel for a "private" visit and I am trying to figure out what that means.

Is he here for vacation? Understandable. We have some of the best sightseeing and ancient ruins in the world. The beaches are great in Israel and so are the restaurants. And in June, the weather is still tolerable to those uninitiated in Middle Eastern summers.

Or is he here to visit friends? Now if that is the case, I find it baffling. Who, in the State of Israel, could possibly be a friend of the anti-Israel, ex-president of the United States? I am sure there are a few groupies who simply enjoy the company of anyone now or previously famous, but JIMMY CARTER??? Ewwwwwwwwwwww.

And here is another question: If Jimmy Carter is coming on a private visit, who is picking him up at the airport? I am thinking about driving out to Ben Gurion Airport on the off chance that he exits the plane and no one is there to meet him. Sometimes you just have to create your own opportunities.

If that happens, then I am going to walk over to him and tell him in my clean Canadian English, that I would be happy to drive him wherever he wants to go. And, I will tell him, don't worry, I'm Canadian. There is nothing more innocuous to an American than the word "Canadian." And then I am going to help him get his bags to my car.

That's when the fun will begin. Once we are happily settled in the car, with the doors locked, speeding down the highway, I am going to start to tell him what I think of him and his anti-Israel views -- which isn't much. I am going to give him a brief history lesson starting prior to the original Testament. I am then going to explain to him that I understand his anti-semitism. It's part of his culture and heritage, and that he would have had to have been a very strong-willed individual to have departed from that misguided thinking and use his own head and eyes to see the facts on the ground.

I am going to mention how nothing of peace-related value has happened since his Camp David Accords. Granted, we are not at war with Egypt, but it is a very cooooool peace. And I would particularly like to thank him for that book he wrote in 2006 to explain the facts-on-the-ground in the Middle East to Americans. Here's a particularly nice little snippet from the book:

"Israel's continued control and colonization of Palestinian land have been the primary obstacles to a comprehensive peace agreement in the Holy Land."

Well, thanks for setting the record straight for 325 million Americans. Apparently you forgot to write the chapter about the Arab's war of attrition; terrorist bombings as one approach to peacemaking; and the Arabs hateful indoctrination of innocent Arab children against Israel. I could go on but I don't want to get bogged down on any one point, when I only have a limited amount of time.

Finally, I will thank him for calling Israel an apartheid state. I am so sorry that he missed all the important modern history that led to the need for a Jewish state. Jimmy, I am pretty sure you would have loved Treblinka. I hear it was a great vacation spot as well. Particularly for serious dieters.

And by the way, Jews do dominate Israel. It's true. On a piece of land that takes up less than .0001 % of the available earth's surface. And on top of that, Arabs in Israel have more freedom than Arabs living in other Middle Eastern countries. Just ask the Bruqa-clad Arab woman who almost reversed her car into me at the mall last week. At least in Israel she can drive, she can vote and she has many other rights that you so conveniently ignored in your educational, tell-all book. Show me an example of that anywhere else in the Middle East and I will show you a pig that flies!

Unfortunately, then, my time will be up and I will have to drop him off at the home of his old and good friend, Israel's president Shimon Peres. I would have dropped him off at Judas Iscariot's house, but I don't know where he lives. However, Peres, Iscariot. Pretty much the same thing.

I hope Shimon doesn't invite me in because I will have to decline -- I have to get going if I want to get to the big Obama-Mubarak love-in party in Egypt on time.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Would you like some breast with your fish?

I have no delusions. Most men would say "absolutely".

However, ask a woman the same question and she would say "no thank you, I brought my own."

Tonight, unfortunately, there was no choice. I had dinner with Chaim and my mother at Aresto in Caesaria. It's the only kosher restaurant there, so if you want to eat in the ancient ruins of Caesaria and you are kosher, then Aresto has you by the ding-a-lings -- and they know it. It's an excellent example of trying to achieve the lowest common denominator.

We didn't have a reservation so we understandably didn't get the best table in the house. That said, we did get a teeny, weeny, little table on the edge of the restaurant. That was okay. If that was the only problem with the restaurant, I could have lived with that.

What wasn't okay were the two mothers at the next table who were there with three small children. Two of those children were of breast-feeding age and neither mother had an ounce of humility. As soon as the children cried, out came the breasts in full force.

Now I am a big fan of breasts. Everyone should be fortunate enough to have two. That said, I do not ever feel the need to expose them in restaurants. Actually, I can't think of a time that I ever felt the need to expose them in public. I am also a big fan of breast-feeding. It's just that I prefer breast-feeders to have a little discretion. For me, chewing and looking at milk-laden, sagging breasts is an unappetizing combination.

I should also talk about how these two women thought it was perfectly okay to change their children's diapers on the table. Not only did it ruin my already lousy meal, but correct me if I am wrong -- it can't possibly be sanitary. All those little bacteria waiting for a nice warm plate to attach themselves to! I feel bad for whoever sat at that table next!

What I didn't realize right away was that these women were wives or girlfriends of some of the restaurant staff. Once I figured that out I understood why they didn't feel the need to behave like human beings in the restaurant. For them, eating there was their G-d given right and dammit, they were going to exercise that right! They weren't paying for it and under the circumstances free food is free food. Screw the paying customers.

Now to the food. Hmmmm. What can I say about the food?

It sucked.

It was truly awful.

I can't believe we paid for such trash.

That's what happens when you have a kosher clientele who have no choice but to select your restaurant because they are already there, they are hungry, and there are no other kosher options. It's a great scam. In all fairness, the eggplant and goat cheese appetizer was delicious, but that was the last delicious item of the evening. The salmon was terrible and the St. Peter's fish, as they call it, was simply horrendous.

If there had been any other kosher restaurant in the vicinity, I would have bolted. I did tell the manager that the food was awful and that the women at the next table were flashing more flesh than I could handle, but naturally, he didn't care on iota. He just looked at me with that Israeli "yeah, and your point is?" look. He doesn't have to care -- I've already explained Aresto's very successful marketing strategy.

So, if you decide to go to Caesaria to eat, do yourself a favour and stop at the sushi restaurant at the gas station on the entrance road to the town. The sushi there is kosher and excellent. And if you end up at Aresto, make sure you don't get the diaper-changing table. It's the one, second closest to the sea with all the little invisible poop bacteria crawling all over it.

And if your food is awful don't come crying to me. Just flash your breasts and see where it takes you.

I feel so vindicated

Ever since that fateful moment a few years back when then First-Lady Hillary Clinton leaned over and air-kissed Suha Arafat, I haven't been able to think of a decent thing to say about Clinton. Suha had just slammed Israel for killing Arab children, and then as a reward for that outrageous comment she got a little wet one from Hillary. It drove me crazy but many of my American Jewish friends poo-poo'ed me and so did my husband who told me "enough already with that story."

Today, let me just bask in the glory of not being out there all alone. At least one media branch has taken up my cause and I would like to thank them for doing so. It has been lonely out in the wilderness waiting for the moment that I could say: "I TOLD YOU SO." Hillary is no friend of the Jews.

With all due apologies to my favorite Jewish Democrat ex-Congressman, the Democrats are bad for the Jews!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Are you threatening us?

So the wolf is finally starting to slip out of its sheep clothing. Oh goody.

For the past few months I have been receiving emails saying that I should stop complaining about all the things I complain about, and start focusing on what really matters. And what is that you ask? Well, I think the answer is plain and clear in today's Jerusalem Post. The new Democratic government in the US, according to The New York Times, is telling Israel: "you either start doing things our way or we are going to withhold support for you in the United Nations."

First of all, that is simply not nice. It seems to me that the US is being childish. "You either do it our way or we are going to get you back," is in essence what Obama and his Jewish chief-of-staff, Rahm Emanuelle, are saying. I think that's what happens when you put people in positions of huge power when they don't have the credentials for the job. This isn't an Affirmative Action program. This is the real deal and unfortunately, the lives of many innocent people in many places around the globe are depending on the president to actually understand foreign policy and real politik. (I haven't used that phrase since fourth year undergrad. Never thought I would use it again.) Obama might be a good guy if you meet him on the street and he might have done some wonderful things in Chicago, but Barak Hussein Obama: WE AREN'T IN KANSAS ANY MORE!

Second of all, are you Americans going to stand by while your newbie president threatens the only real democracy in the Middle East? I suspect that after all the media get their two cents in, the answer would be a big fat YES. I don't blame you because I am sure it is difficult to tell who the good guys are and who the bad guys are at this point in this convoluted mess of a story we call the Middle East Peace process. I, for one, am waiting for Armageddon -- it's playing out in Meggido you know and that isn't too far from my house. About a two hour drive and voila, you can be there when it all happens.

Third, I know that this is just a technicality for the Americans, but you are bullying an independent country. You can't ride shipshod over another nation-state because you don't like what they are doing. I realize that all the power is on your side -- you can withdraw your financial support and heaven knows that would be painful; you can reverse your rhetoric and within days the entire Islamic world would be knocking at your door inviting you to a sleepover; and if all that doesn't work you can implement trade sanctions and encourage political and market isolation. Agreed. You can do that. And if all else fails, you can drive down to New Mexico and fire up one of your nuclear war-heads. We're a small country, you wouldn't need many to wipe us off the map entirely.

And then my friend, Mr. Obama, you will have played into the hands of the exact people you are supposedly trying to bring around to your way of thinking. You will be the next Saddam Hussein (you already carry that name) or Ahmadinejad. And you think you have your foreign policy ducks lined up nicely now. Just wait until Israel isn't there to save you!