Monday, July 27, 2009

Sometimes the lack of a system really works

My Mexicali neighbours have moved out of the house next door to us. I don't think I had anything to do with it. At least I hope not. I think it had more to do with their innate desire to live in a house that would most likely not implode at any arbitrary moment of the day or night.

They moved around the corner into a brand new place where one can reasonably expect everything to be in working order. One reason that I don't think they left because of me is the fact that they told me where they were going -- in other words, they weren't afraid that I might have that information.

And the one other nice thing that they did for me -- although not intentionally and really not of their own doing -- was leaving behind their daily delivery of the Jerusalem Post!

I am too cheap to buy it daily (11 nis for 8 pages) and after my bad experience with subscribing, I am definitely not doing that again any time soon. However, as further proof of the Jerusalem Post's inability to deliver newspapers to people who actually pay for them (and by default, not deliver newspapers to people who don't pay for them), the old Mexicali house is still getting its daily paper. And now that I have figured that out, I scoot over there every morning and pick it up. My morning coffee tastes much better with a newspaper.

David and Batia, I would just like to thank you for leaving me such a fun free gift -- six pages of stories previously posted on the internet and a few editiorials that I have not yet read on any given day. Also, I now have a growing collection of rubber bands which can be used for a wide assortment of things.

My greatest concern is that the Jerusalem Post is eventually going to figure out its error. I am pretty sure that the Mexicali's called the Post's Admin Office to tell them that they wanted their paper redirected to their new address. I am also willing to bet that even if they are now getting the paper at their new address, that the Post will still send a daily copy to the old address for at least the next six months.

So, with a little luck, I have about five months and three more weeks of free reading before my newspaper gravy train runs out. Technically the Post owes me several free issues for all the unwanted issues they sent me and charged me for, for months after I canceled my own subscription three years ago.

I just hope that my new neighbours, when and if they arrive, decide to get a subscription to Ha'aretz. Then, I hope they also leave after a year. But with my luck, Ha'aretz has a more efficient Administration Department.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

So much for my kind words about Israel

I think it must have been the hand of God reminding me not to let things go to my head. And what a reminder it was. A few days ago, I was extolling the virtues of Israel, and then today -- bang -- I am reminded of the things that bug me most about this country.

I just called Bank HaPoalim to get some help with my internet banking access codes. I have no idea why I am having problems with them but it doesn't matter. What matters is that I cannot access my bank account on the internet so I did what any normal person would do at that moment.... I called the bank's helpline.

I guess I should have been suspicious from the very beginning because the whole concept of customer service was neither created in Israel nor has it truly arrived here. Israelis don't believe in customer service. They are more tachlis (English translation: bottom line) than that. I think they view customer service as a support tool for woosies.

Here's what happened: I called the helpline to get ... help. The fellow who answered asked me a few questions in hebrew and I answered them. But when we got to the discussion about my issue, I asked him in hebrew if we could please switch to English. (side note: I learned the hard way the first year we lived here -- after I transfered 20,000 nis to someone else's account) that I should not bank in hebrew. In fact, according to Chaim I should not do anything with serious or official implications in hebrew because I make too many mistakes.)

This is the part that just kills me. The Customer Service guy on the other end of the phone says to me -- in very clean English: "We do not work in English and I can only do this with you in Hebrew." Then he proceeds to ask me a few more hebrew questions. I continue to say in hebrew: "it's not important and I don't want to continue," but he doesn't listen. I tell him again -- in Hebrew -- that I don't want to continue in Hebrew and when he ignores me I just say thanks (because I am still a Canadian and I can't help myself) and hang up.

Now dont' bother writing to me to tell me that I live in Israel and I should speak Hebrew. I do speak Hebrew in a variety of situations every day. I do not speak it with any finesse whatsoever, but I do speak the official language of the country on a matter of principal. I am sure that the father of modern Hebrew, Eliezer Ben Yehuda, just rolls over in his grave every time I spout out a brutally structured sentence, but at least I try.

However, when it comes to things like money, insurance, health and the likes, I need to understand each and every little detail and therefore, I have to switch to English. Sue me.

Also, there are thousands upon thousands of Bank HaPoalim customers who don't live in Israel and need to bank in English. I know this for a fact because I often hear my banker talking to people about their accounts on the phone. They call from South Africa, England, the States, Canada and anywhere else you can find English-speaking Jews. Is the bank trying to tell me that they don't want those people's money if the only way they can get it is by speaking English? Ha, I seriously doubt that. Banking is business and a damn good business at that. I doubt they reject any infusion of cash that arrives legally. (I am giving them the benefit of the doubt here vis-a-vis the origins of that cash.)

So now I have no choice but to go to the bank -- the exact action that I was trying to avoid by having internet banking in the first place -- to tell them what I think of them. Of course, they probably won't take me very seriously because I have told them what I think of them before and I haven't seen them change their ways even one iota as a result of my complaints.

With my luck, they will probably tell me to call Customer Service.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Nine Days

Judaism is always gearing up for some event or another. This may be true in other religions but the only gearing up I have ever noticed for Christmas, let's say, is commercial. If the Christians are doing any religious preparation -- which they may well be doing -- it has totally missed me. I won't even begin to comment on Islam or any other religion because I don't know enough about them.

In Judaism we always seem to be entering a phase: getting ready for Passover, praying for forgiveness in the weeks leading up to the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), and my personal least favorite -- the three weeks and then the nine days leading to Tisha B'Av.

Tisha B'Av is a fast day that commemorates the destruction of the first and second temples in Jerusalem, which apparently happened on the same day, 656 years apart. Every other bad thing that happened to the Jews of antiquity is also mourned on this date. As a result, TB is considered the "saddest day in Jewish history".

Never people to let a sad day go by without making it sadder, there are several prohibitions surrounding the day. Some are observed for the three-weeks leading up to TB; and others for just nine days. Besides fasting for 25 hours on the actual day, observant Jews are prohibited against washing or bathing, applying creams or oils, wearing leather shoes, or having sexual relations during the days leading up to it.

Now here is the twist. Tisha B'Av falls in July or August. And whether it is true or not, it seems to me, that it most often falls very, very, very close to my birthday. And over the years, it has been the ultimate party pooper. I have missed more birthday cakes on account of TB than I care to count. Now that I am beyond celebrating my birthday anyway, it is less of an issue -- although fasting isn't my idea for even a quietly festive birthday.

Last year, was one of those years when my birthday fell on Tisha B'av. So, where do you go with that? Obviously, not out for lunch, for starters. You can't even get up and have a happy birthday cup of coffee. That is truly cruel. And then, late afternoon when you think you couldn't get any hungrier or crankier, it is always possible that the other adult in the family will say: "Hey, let's go to Jerusalem for the last few hours of the Fast." Talk about festive. You get to go to the Western Wall and sing with all the other starving people. Actually, as a woman, you get to stand outside the singing circles, which are comprised of more than 100 boys and men, all arm-in-arm rocking back and forth like a bunch of crazed Girl Scouts.

Okay, so then the Fast ends and everyone runs for the nearest restaurant. We break the Fast with Bonkers Bagels connected with a gallon of cream cheese. Some of the tougher fasters break the Fast with juicy hamburgers. It might be my age and accompanying digestive system, but the last thing I want to eat after a hot July day of fasting is a bloody hamburger.

This year, lucky me, my birthday only fell during the Nine Days so I celebrated by not bathing. Okay, I am joking. I bathed because I figured that my birthday was cause enough to get clean -- I think you can fairly call that creative celebrating. But since I took that liberty I have used up my Get Out of Jail Free card and now I have no choice but to sit around trying to be sad until Thursday night, when I can get back to thinking about the commercialization of Christmas.

Addendum to yesterday's post

My friend Karen, who also came from Toronto, made an interesting comment -- but despite her many years of education, she still can't seem to work my Comments box, so I am posting a piece of her response here. (okay, I know that for whatever technological reason beyond my comprehension, the Comments box is inconsistent at best.) Here's what Karen (now from Modiin) added:

But I do think you are wrong in one way. I DO think there are still Jews there, who do not realize how much better they would be here (us for all those years BEFORE we came). I don't know about you... but we have imaginary lists every time we go back of a) people who should NEVER move here b) people who could get along here, but we understand what is keeping them there... even if it is only a flimsy excuse and c) people who don't realize how well suited they are for this country and how ill suited they are for that one and should really just get on the next plane.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

So do you prefer living in Israel?

I bumped into one of my Canadian friends on the street today. He looked totally exasperated so, as I approached, I said: "what's up?"

He told me that he had just returned from Canada and that while he was there he hadn't had even one little problem. But now that he was back in Israel ... he didn't finish the sentence. He just threw his arms up in the air, shook his head and rolled his eyes. That was the three-pronged expression of total frustration of life in the State of Israel.

We talked for a few minutes about the pros and cons of living in Israel versus Toronto in a way that we never could if either one of us still lived in Canada (Or more specifically, Toronto). It's an unwritten rule but Jews living outside of Israel are not looked upon kindly when they assess the benefits of one location over the other. We may smile while they discuss it, but inside we are giving them the major finger gag motion.

And then the non-Israeli Jews ultimately say something stupid that just makes us want to barf even more. My personal favorite: "living in Ra'anana isn't really living in Israel." Oh thanks for that stupid, unsupportable factoid. Funny how my Israeli passport suggests otherwise. And by the way, if Ra'anana isn't in Israel, where precisely is it then? I think what those people are really trying to say -- and doing a lousy job of it -- is that the quality of life in Ra'anana and other cities and towns in Israel with a significant Anglo populations, is very very good. Inexplicably good for Israel.

I also think that people who say things like that are just trying to make themselves feel better about the fact that they don't live here in "fake" Israel. Self justification is an old trick in the Neurotic Jews Handbook.

Here's another favorite: "Oh, I would never live in Israel because you become less observant when you do." And another one: "I guess you couldn't afford day school in Canada so you decided to move."

I am not going to rebut these stupid comments here because I do not feel that they deserve my time and attention. However, I will simply say to those people: Yeah, sure, whatever.

So back to the question of whether or not moving to Israel, and leaving our cozy Canadian lives, was worth its while. The truth is that it is not a simple yes or no.

The weather in Israel is definitely better for at least nine months of the year, but that's not a reason to pack up one's life and schlep to the Middle East.

The more complete answer goes something like this. If you can avoid dealing with officialdom in any way, shape or form, and if you can either speak a decent hebrew or manage in your crappy hebrew, and if you prefer to live a more full and active life, and if you want to give your children a sense of freedom that does not exist in Toronto, and if you want to be part of something bigger than yourself, and if you only want to eat fruit and vegetables that are in season, and if you like to go to the beach in January, then Israel is the place to be.

However, if you love talking to government officials on the phone, and if you like filling out forms, and if you like shoveling snow, and if you like to understand the precise answers to questions you asked and the reasons for those answers, and if you aren't picky about the authenticity of the taste of your fruits and vegetables, and if you want a quiet, low-key life, and if you need to go to Walmart every week, and if you like driving your kids here and there, and if you need to be somewhere where people line-up properly and take turns nicely, then Toronto is much better for you.

In other words, this is a very full and purposeful life -- for me. I used to think that every Jewish person should be here. I don't think that anymore. I think that things are exactly as they should be -- the people who belong here are here. And those who don't belong here, are not here -- and shouldn't be here. They would not benefit from what the country has to offer and the country would not benefit from having them here. Israel does not need any more lukewarm Jews within its tiny borders. Israel needs people who want to live here whether they can explain their reasons or not.

In other words, shake your hands in the air and roll your eyes. Rationalize any which way you want. There's no one final answer.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Hello. This is the 21st century

I've been avoiding this topic, but I cannot contain myself any longer. All you people who don't like my political rants should just log off now. You will be missing a good rant, but it's up to you.

Last week, in Jerusalem, the media reported that an ultra-orthodox woman had been caught on video tape in her son's hospital room; she was disconnecting his feeding tube. As it turns out, this three-year old boy weighed seven kilos (15.4 lbs) and was severely malnourished. Apparently, he had been in and out of hospital several times during his short life. His "community" -- or as I like to call them, a bunch of grown men who voluntarily got stuck in 19th century Poland -- argued that the boy was a victim of a cancer misdiagnosis by Hadassah Hospital. The reason, they said, that he was so small and malnourished was because of chemotherapy.

I am not -- even for one second -- going to suggest that a misdiagnosis wasn't possible. Doctors are human and subject to human error. But here's where things go off the rails for me:

First, the woman was caught on film disconnecting the feeding tubes.

Second, her bizarre behaviour in court -- lying on the table like an inanimate lump rather than vigorously defending herself -- didn't buy her any public support. It would have been comic -- if it hadn't been so pathetic.

Third, those furry hatted, bathrobe wearing men that constitute her community resorted to all sorts of bad behaviour that does not reflect the things that their garb suggests they believe in. In other words, they are hypocrites. Just because you wear the clothing of an ultra-orthodox, holy person doesn't make you one. You can wear torn jeans and a dirty t-shirt and be a good and holy person. Clothes are simply the costume you choose to define yourself. We have no control over who denies the truth about themselves through their fashion choices.

The court -- not that they asked, but against my better judgment -- let the woman go free on the condition that she went to therapy the following day. (She didn't show up.) It has been suggested that she is suffering from Munchausen-by-proxy syndrome. I don't know how anyone arrived at this diagnosis since no one has been able to get a word out of the woman, but somehow this is the public perception.

I think the courts caved to the demands of the demented religious pajama wearers with the unnatural attachment to fur because when they didn't get their way, they went beserk on the streets of Jerusalem. Now that's mature. They were throwing stones at city workers and lighting garbage cans on fire. It was causing havoc on the tiny, winding streets I referred to a few weeks ago.

The problem is that the woman belongs to a sect of ultra-religious Jews, the Nuturei Karta, who do not even believe in the modern State of Israel. And to make that point as obvious as possible to the baffled world, they travel to places like Iran so they can have their photos taken with the likes of the death-eater Ahmadinejad. I mean, really, do the Israelis have a bigger single enemy on earth at this moment than Ahmadinejad? Well, maybe, but you get my point. (Look at them in the photo above -- a picture is worth 1000 words.)

In the meantime, there is a little boy who could have died. And there is a group of people who are supposed to be his community and by default, his protectors, and the bottom line is that they couldn't give a rat's ass about him. Instead, this so-called community is hell-bent on taking out all of its anger at the State on their fellow Jews.

I just read in the Jerusalem Post that the ultra-orthodox are reacting as they are because they feel put upon by the more secular segments of Israeli society. Oh, well, that explains everything and excuses all their violent behaviour. What a load of baloney. As far as I can tell, their instincts to address their problems with violence doesn't take much to trigger. Wear the wrong clothes in their neighbourhood and they will give you a good whack. And don't even try to sit next to one of these guys on the bus -- he will most likely toss you right off your seat if he doesn't like your outfit.

As far as I can tell, they are bullies who cannot tolerate anyone who isn't like them. And once again, I am left pondering an old theme: who, in Israel, even has time to worry about the Arabs? We have such nuts inside our borders and supposedly in our own community-at-large.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Brady Bunch with a much needed twist

A few days ago our old friend Ilan from Toronto came to visit us with his new wife and their collective seven children (well, only six of the kids were actually part of the traveling menagerie), and two grandparents -- one from each side of the marriage.

His new wife is now officially my choice for Heroine of the Year. It's that or Deluded Nutcase of the Year, so I am giving her the benefit of the doubt. She's a dentist so that presumes she has functioning brain cells! Dental school does required effective synapses (you don't get to use words like synapse very much in social blogging).

Before I continue, let me clearly state that there isn't a mode of transportation big enough to convince to me to do such a thing. No, not even the RMS Queen Elizabeth II. Chaim, on the other hand, would probably just shove everyone into a Winnebago, turn on some Deep Purple and happily drive off into the sunset with the whole motley crew in the back. I, of course, would jump out and run away at the first stop sign.

I know that the Brady Bunch is the benchmark for successfully combining families -- but we all know what a sham that turned out to be. Mike died of AIDS. Greg had an affair with his TV mother Carol and his TV sister Marcia. And Marcia/Maureen was abused by her father, and then turned to drugs to numb her pain. There's more but I think you get the point.

It would be easy to say that Ilan and new bride are newlyweds and still consumed by marital bliss, but that would be a load of crap. They aren't 20 somethings. And they are starting out with seven kids. Talk about hitting a wall going 100 miles an hour.

My now deceased friend Diane z"l who was also the mother of seven children once put it to me this way: "It's not for everyone. You have to be able to roll with a lot of things, like kids going to school without their shoes." She and her husband raised seven great kids so she obviously knew what she was talking about. That said, the no shoes to school thing would drive me around the bend which is at least one reason that I am not the mother of seven.

Another reason that I know I could never manage seven children is because today I don't seem to be able to manage three. Zeve left for camp but then had to be rescued by his father from the public pool in Kfar Saba. I could tell you the whole story, but you probably wouldn't be able to follow it -- most of Zeve's stories are like that. Ari is missing-in-action somewhere between our house and the other side of Ra'anana which is about five kilometers away. I am sure you don't want to hear that story either but suffice it to say, there several good reasons to give teenagers cell phones but Ari is the post-child for "Oh, I forgot my phone ... and my money ... and water ... and a hat." Hard to believe, but he is an excellent student. Yael seems to be exactly where I think she is, but it's still before noon so what do I know? By now she may have abducted her favorite bunny "Marshmellow" from her camp "zoo" and be on the lam. At least she never leaves without a cell phone.

I'm sorry, I seem to have digressed from the point of my post. I wish the new combined family much luck -- and all I can say is that if you get them all fed, clothed and if possible, educated without losing any of them along the way, then we will all consider this a match made in heaven.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

30 eggs a day ... keeps you busy

We didn't spend our entire trip to Metulla in the Canada Center. We ended up in a bed and breakfast (well, it was just a bed, there was no breakfast exactly) next to a chicken coop in the small village of Margoliyot, ten minutes south of Metulla, in the mountains on the Lebanese border.

For some people, sleeping next to a chicken coop would not have been good news and I thought I was one of those people. As it turns out, I am not. The first morning were were there, at the suggestion of the woman would owned the cabins, I took the kids when she went to collect eggs in the chicken coop.

Oh my goodness. What an epiphany I had when we arrived in the coop. Who knew I liked chickens? Not me. Who knew I liked collecting eggs on little cardboard egg platters? Not me. Who knew that I could collect those eggs for an easy hour without even noticing the time flying by? Not me. But I did.

What the hell is happening to me? I am not a farm girl. I don't like animals particularly. I don't like the rodents who like to live near animals one iota. I do not like to get up early and I am no fan of physical labour. That said, for some inexplicable reason, I love collecting eggs. And not just one or two platters worth, but 20 or 30 platters worth.

I also like mingling with the poor little chickens who are housed four per cage. And I got very adept at collecting the newly deposite, still-warm eggs from between the clawed feet of the cramped chickens without getting scratched.

I have never eaten such fresh eggs before and as my teacher and innkeeper, Shoshana, told me, most eggs in the grocery store are already a few weeks old by the time they get to the shelves. The eggs we had for breakfast that morning -- compliments of Shoshana for our hard work -- were still warm and only an hour past delivery. It reminded me of when I used to make my kids sit on the grass next to my vegetable garden in Toronto so I could feed them vegetables straight from the vine with all their nutrients still intact.

So now I have decided where I am going to retire in case you are looking for me. Of course, I am still going to need a beautiful condo on the beach in Herzliya (I haven't totally lost my mind). But in addition, I am going to summer in the mountains near Metulla where the air is less humid. And where the wind blows more frequently. And also where the enemy Hizbollah soldiers and their surveillance equipment are a mere few hundred meters away -- and apparently watching everything going on on the Israeli side, so you can never get lonely.

And if they are watching me and they think my life looks to good to be true, they might decide to infiltrate Israel's borders to get to my coop. And then, I will just have to sic my chickens on them.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

NHLers in Israel

Okay, while it is against my general nature, I have something nice to say. No, I am not going to make this a habit so don't get too comfortable with my short-term generosity of spirit. It is strictly temporary.

Do you know who Jeff Beukaboom is? What about Steve Thomas?

I didn't either until three days ago. That's when I met them both.

As it turns out, Beukaboom is a retired defenseman from the Edmonton Oilers, and later the New York Rangers. And Thomas is a retired Maple Leaf, Blackhawk, Islander, Devil, Mighty Duck and Red Wing right winger. Who knew? Oh, I am sure some of you did know, but I definitely did not.

Actually, I think I remember the name Steve Thomas from my days and his days in Toronto. Our days never crossed paths but as an ever-hopeful Toronto Maple Leafs fan I listened to the sports reports daily on the radio. I guess I picked up his name there.

Beukaboom is one of the biggest people I have ever met. I spent most of the time he was speaking to the young hockey players he voluntarily escorted to Israel, wondering how big his wife is. I know he has one because he was wearing a wedding ring. Thomas, on the other hand, is more of a normal-sized person and that seems to have been a gene he passed on to his beautiful teenage daughter who was with him in Israel. So was his mom. You gotta like a guy who travels with his mom. Of course, if I was traveling with a daughter who looked like that I would bring my mom along too. Particularly if she had a black belt in karate.

I bet they aren't Wilt Chamberlain types (oh I can just hear the quiet cries of "you are so bloody naive" from my jaded readers), but even if they were, they weren't about to mention it to the kids to whom they were giving a pep talk. Instead they talked about all the good messages that successful adults are supposed to give to kids: work hard; never give up; hard work takes you further than talent and luck; Eat properly; Gets lots of sleep.

Truthfully, it was a parent's dream listening to them.

Also, the most important message they gave was the only one they didn't come out and say, but it was loud and clear to me. These two non-Jewish professional athletes with no previous interest or involvement in Israel, volunteered to coach the two Canadian Jewish junior hockey teams that are in Israel for the International Jewish Hockey Tournament. And even though they got free plane tickets to come here, what they did was a big thing. At least in my books.

Who knew that puck bunnies were an international species

Let me go back 30 or 35 years to when I spent a significant portion of my life in one rink or another. I grew up in a small city where skating and its variations were the center of almost everyone's social and athletic life. We all skated -- and quite well -- by the time we entered school. And being a hockey player was a natural step in most boys (and some girls) development.

By extension, cheerleaders were important but I always poo poo'ed them as pathetic and only one step above the garden-variety puck bunny. What can I say, I was a feminist in those heady days.

Unfortunately, I was, by default, a bit of a hypocrite because my teenage boyfriend was a hockey player -- and a good one at that. Therefore, in the years before I could drive, I just got dropped off at the rink regularly to watch games and the odd practice. And then, when I got my license, my boyfriend's parents withdrew themselves from the child-imposed obligation of picking up and dropping off of their offspring hockey players figuring that if I had a car and I was going to be there anyway, I might as well do all the driving. (That was years before I started to hate the carpooling obligations that came with being a parent.)

What I did learn at a very young age is that wherever there are young male athletes, there are admiring young babes. And when those young athletes are hockey players then the babes are called puck bunnies. Let me state here, once and for all: I was never a puck bunny. I was just too cool and I had no interest in hockey players in general. For me, my association with hockey players was a very specific thing.

When we entered the Canada Center in Metulla two days ago, I wasn't sure if there would be any puck bunnies. I wasn't really sure if puck bunnies were a Canadian phenomenon. Now I know for sure: wherever a hockey player can skate, a puck bunny can hop.

It makes perfect sense but I guess I was trying to convince myself that in Israel things are different. They aren't, but it was worth a try.

I did follow the whole Wilt Chamberlain "I-had-20,000-sex-partners" story about 18 years back and I have watched enough movies about professional athletes to get the picture about the meeting and mating of groupies and athletes. However, I was very taken by the Israeli puck bunnies. They were a new phenomenon for me.

First of all they don't wear boots or winter jackets. Technically that should compromise the title "bunnies" because bunnies should be warm and fluffy. These girls, on the other hand, were in the arena wearing tank tops and shorts. Yes, we were in a rink but this is Israel and even the rink wasn't cold. So what does this make them I wondered? Puck iguanas? Puck chameleons? Puck lizards? None of those terms really works because the whole point is to appear soft and cuddly.

Second, Israeli puck bunnies don't know a thing about hockey. This may be an unreasonable expectation but I expect my puck bunnies to know a thing or two about the game. It just seems fair. Otherwise, they should stalk athletes from a sport they understand. How can you define yourself with the word "puck" if you don't know what a puck is? In Israel this would suggest that there is a wealth of football (North Americans read soccer here) bunnies.

And finally, from the little I saw in Metulla, these Middle Eastern Puck Hedgehogs (I checked and Israel has hedgehogs and they are cute), can at best muster about 20 English words. I wasn't born yesterday and I realize that they speak the international language of hot and sweaty, but I think a few words in a common language should be essential. They do have that coy "sweet little innocent me" thing happening, but as a voyeur, it was just making me nauseous.

The truth is the MEPHs have the most necessary ingredients for sports groupies everywhere. They wear way too much make-up. They flirt with wild abandon that no self-respecting woman could ever muster. They are completely inappropriately dressed. They come across like ditzoids. And most important, they know that coquitish sells.

In other words, puck bunny or puck honey, I am going to have to fight this battle alone.

You can go home again -- for a little while

We just got back from the International Jewish Hockey Tournament at the Canada Center in Metulla. Most of you know that I was really looking forward to it, but it wasn't until I walked into the arena that I knew exactly why I was so excited to be there.

In the two seconds it took to cross the threshold from the northern Israeli town of Metulla into the arena, I essentially entered a time warp that took me back 30 years.

The smells and the sounds of the rink are so deeply ingrained into my inner childhood being that if I had seen one of my old high school friends walking towards me in her Kodiak work boots and Ski Cruiser winter jacket, it wouldn't have surprised me in the least. I probably would have had a harder time explaining who my children were to my old friend because I am pretty sure I could have completely dismissed the past three decades effortlessly at that moment.

I have to admit that I felt more alive than I have felt in a long time. And it was easy to ignore the hebrew advertisements along the boards. I'm short -- I see what I want to see.

And then there was the audience. Mostly Canadians as I suspected. My cousin Sheila was there just as she might well have been in Sydney, Nova Scotia or Toronto. We have been watching hockey together for a very long time.

My other cousin Phil sat with us through the first two games. Now that was unusual because in the old days he would have been suited up and unable to sit down. Goalies can barely walk in their gear -- let alone sit in the stands. And he was a great goalie.

Since he is my cousin I have bragging rights. He was first goalie in one of the first Junior Canada Cup Tournaments years ago -- and the best part of the story is that Patrick Roi (who went on to become an NHL super-goalie) was second goalie. In case you are wondering why Phil didn't make it to the NHL, I will venture the guess that at least in those days Jewish boys did not become professional hockey players -- they became the players' lawyers and doctors. Their mothers didn't allow them to do things that could get them hurt.

I would say that nothing has changed, but I live in Israel and my sons are going to be Israeli soldiers before I know it. I don't want to think about that right now, so back to hockey.

I would be remiss to overlook the Russian colour-commentator -- who said about twenty words in English per game. In all fairness I couldn't manage 20 words in Russian on any topic but next year I think they should give the job to me. I would give them colour with a capital C.

The first game we watched was between the Canadian and US seniors' teams. Seniors here means 20 plus. Even the NHL hockey only had one real "senior" ever in its ranks and Gordie Howe as a very special hockey player. Obviously hockey has its own vocabulary.

The seniors played a great game. Or at least I thought they did. I haven't seen a real game in three years so I may have lost my critical observation edge. Canada was all over the US (as it should have been) for most of the game, but then they lost their will to win and those Americans took it by one goal in sudden death overtime. Oh the pain. I stood for the American national anthem out of Canadian politeness.

The second game was amazing. It was played by what was billed as the weaker Canadian Junior team and the US Junior team. Without going through the whole game play-by-play, I will simply say that one should never underestimate the will to win. The game went into sudden death overtime and then into penalty shots. The best part (besides winning the game) was that all the Canadians in the audience -- players from other teams and the rest of the fans -- worked together to harass the American players while they were trying to take their penalty shots. Everyone else in the rink just looked on in amazement -- because they had never seen the well-oiled Canadian hockey machine at work before. We didn't even know each other but that had nothing to do with us collectively working towards the same goal.

For the records, I didn't sing the Canadian national anthem because for some reason the Canadian government keeps changing the words and I don't even know the most up-to-date version. Who the heck changes the words in their national anthem? At least the Americans are consistent! I'll give them that.

The third game was a bit disappointing, but that was inevitable after the highs and lows of the second game. Also, the third game was played between the make-believe Israeli team (which consisted of a few Russian-born or raised Israelis and a lot of Canadian kids with Israeli-born parents) and the stronger Canadian Junior team. Not the best set-up for a group that had to work and think together. A team needs a collective psyche -- and a collective psyche takes time to create and requires everyone to speak the same language! Also, word has it that not all those Russian players were Jewish -- you can learn a lot when you get into the shower with another guy. So, maybe it was God's wrath. Oh don't roll your eyes; this is the Holy Land and things like that can happen here!

Finally, after three games, I reluctantly left the rink -- and my past -- behind. I had to get back to my real life and feed my starving children. Interestingly enough, I have been rather melancholy all day today but I wouldn't have missed it for anything. I just wish I still had my Kodiak boots.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

And now for something new

My friend Robert is a business communications consultant. And we were talking the other night about what to do with teenage children who don't go to sleep-away camp. Sleep-away camp, I now realize, is a very North American thing and definitely not a big Israeli thing. I always went to camp so I guess I just figured that every other Jewish kid went as well. My non-Jewish friends all went to the cottage to while away the summer swimming and canoeing. But not my Jewish friends -- even though many of them had cottages. I am willing to bet that they didn't even own canoes. Too earthy. They were more motor-boat types.

The problem for those of us with non-camp going teenagers in Israel is that most of us don't have good enough connections here to help our kids get summer jobs and very few succeed in the more traditional approach -- hitting the pavement and getting their own jobs. I think it is because we are still culturally compromised -- not savvy enough in the job seeking skills of native-born Israeli kids.

Anyway, here is my first guest blogger. And let me say, I am so excited to have a guest blogger!!!!

The following comes from guest blogger Robert Lakin. He writes on communications in the business world at

There was once a time when we worked in offices, for companies large and small, and, inevitably, there was a summer job that would save your teenager from weeks of boredom. The summer job provided the first whiff of independent income. It introduced them to the banality of the workplace. And it taught them skills – faxing, coffee-making, and unjamming the copier – that would follow them for many years.

But aliyah has changed all that. Too many of the husbands (and some wives) have enigmatic work situations. Some commute – that is, they get on a plane and rack up points in pursuit of a parnasah. While others hole up in their home office, where work and family blend into an amorphous grey. Yes, some of us actually have the traditional work setting – office building, water cooler, gossip – but they are few and far between.

Which leads me back to the summer job question: How are our children going to first experience the work world?

In my five years here, I've pursued my contacts within the Israeli business community with two purposes. The first, and obvious, is for financial gain. Less obvious, though, is to network for the future; our children will be better off if more of us were doing this.

My approach is to help younger olim – with their newly minted Israeli university diplomas – think about the work world. It's nothing formal. Coaching and advising the children of friends from 'chul. A connection made here or there. Encouraging participation in business social networks like LinkedIn. My strategy is that in a few years, these kids will be in the business world and likely to be a good contact for my kids. Pay it forward, aliyah style.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

My city is your toilet

People often ask me how I get the ideas for what I write here. The truth is that for the most part things just happen and I am just left to report them. I rarely have to sweat it out thinking of what to say because life continually presents moments that leave me speechless.

And today proved to be one of the best speechless moments I have experienced in a very long time. Early this morning a pregnant woman with a small boy presented my next story right out of the blue.

I was walking to my 8:15 doctor's appointment on a downtown street in Ra'anana. There weren't a lot of people on the streets yet, however I noticed a woman and a small boy who was probably two-years old. Normally that wouldn't be such a big deal but in this case it was because the boy wasn't wearing anything other than a T-shirt.

The woman, who I can only assume was his mother, looked normal enough. She was nicely dressed which led me to believe that she could afford pants for her child. She didn't look spaced out so it's not as if she forgot to put some sort of bottoms on him. But here it was, not even 8:30 and this little kid was just out on the sidewalk having a nice stroll without pants, diaper, or underwear.

I am sure if feels great to be out walking around without pants -- if you are two. A nice cool morning breeze to air out your privates. Who could ask for more than that? And I am not a prude. Naked little kids are fine -- in places where nudity seems within the boundaries of propriety. The backyard. Maybe the beach -- although you could get one heck of a sunburn on your nether regions.

See what I mean? I could never have come up with this line of thought on my own. I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried for a week. It never would dawn on me to write about a kid without his pants. However, that is exactly what happened.

I knew almost immediately that I wasn't going to be able to simply let this go and walk by as if there wasn't a pantless kid a few feet from me. So .... as I passed the woman, I asked her in hebrew where her son's pants were. I would have asked why he wasn't wearing pants but I wasn't sure I could say that properly in hebrew so I opted for the simpler question.

I am sure she was surprised but she told me that she was toilet training him, so rather than run the risk of wetting his pants (like he would be the first child on earth to do THAT), she simply didn't put any pants on him.

On the face of it, it almost sounded reasonable for a brief moment. But speaking on no one's behalf but my own, that is the most warped logic I have heard in a very long time. I can understand taking that approach in one's own backyard, but on the city streets????

Essentially, she had decided that it was better for her child to walk around pooping and peeing anywhere he wanted -- just so long as it wasn't in his pants. She was using my city as her son's toilet. Can you imagine if every toilet-training child in town was allowed to do this? We'd be living in the middle of the sewer in about three days. You would have to wear Wellies all year round -- and a nose plug. The rats would think they had died and gone to rat hell -- all smack dab in the middle of God's country.

Frankly I had no idea what to say next, so I just nodded half sympathetically and half incredulously -- and then I walked away. I hope she didn't mistake my disbelieving smile for complicity. I was simply trying to keep my face suitably neutral so she wouldn't know how mortified I was.

I am still not really sure what to make of the whole matter but since it is now 12 hours later I guess I am just going to have to let it go. And I am going to avoid the sidestreets of downtown Ra'anana until enough time has passed that I figure this kid has been toilet trained.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Shabbat on the Dark Side

Yesterday, mid afternoon, Chaim and I arrived in Jerusalem for a Shabbat bar mitzvah. We had the name of the hotel and the address -- which was not on a street that sounded familiar. However, we knew it was near the Damascus Gate of the Old City. (For me, that was good enough.)

Chaim is always looking for a short-cut from point A to point B. Whatever the directions provided, he firmly believes that he can do it better. Therefore, instead of doing the obvious thing which was to drive the normal route into Jerusalem, follow the signs to the Old City and then drive around the perimeter until we reached the area of the Damascus Gate, he decided to take a shortcut through the ultra-orthodox area of Mea Sharim.

This is not a place that a car can scoot through on the best of days. The streets are extremely narrow and frequently filled with ultra-orthodox pedestrians who are not that happy to see you if you don't look like them. We do not look like them.

So, when we finally made our way through the ancient, windy streets, Chaim the navigator-who-knows-best, was already in a bad mood. This mood was not helped by the fact that the little map provided on the hotel website was so vague that it was impossible to follow.

I am always prepared to just wing it. I knew we were close and I had the hotel phone number. I also have no problem hanging my head out the window and asking for directions. Chaim, on the other hand, has to chart out the exact course completely before we leave our driveway.

I am sure he thought he knew what he was doing, but this is Jerusalem -- it's an ancient city built well before the idea of city planners was born. Streets wind and weave, and change name arbitrarily.

But the best part is that the Damascus Gate is in East Jerusalem -- a place not known for its road logic or its friendly locals.

For those of you who don't know what I mean, the Damascus Gate is in what is best known to the world as the Arab-dominated part of Jerusalem. The border into East Jerusalem is invisible on one level and screamingly obvious on another level. It is not difficult to tell when you "enter" East Jerusalem -- the scenery changes pretty dramatically and very quickly.

At that moment we both realized that we were spending Shabbat in the Arab part of the city. While this apparently didn't concern our hosts, it didn't leave me with a warm and fuzzy feeling. And it definitely curbed any interest I had in hanging my head out the window in search of directions. My survival instincts had kicked into gear.

All this time the cranky navigator was getting more and more agitated. Finally, after he ignored my last set of correct instructions and got stuck in a traffic jam outside the Gate, I called the hotel for help. And then, within five minutes we had actually arrived at our destination.

You would think that that would be the end of that. But for me, it wasn't. As nice as the hotel was, I couldn't get comfortable with the idea of spending Shabbat in what I consider enemy territory. Oh skip the politics and the rhetoric -- it's not the friendliest place in Israel. Of course, it's not the least friendly place either.

I am not going to replay the entire weekend for you, but obvioulsy if I am writing this, I am still here. The Arab staff in the hotel was very nice. The Arab bus driver who took us the Western Wall was also very nice. The people on the streets when we went for a walk this afternoon were less so, but I still didn't feel that my life was in danger. I don't want to minimize the seriousness of the tensions that exist in Jerusalem and I wouldn't push the envelop to test any theories here. But I do have to dust off my old theory that most people just want to get out of bed, do an honest day's work, feed their families and enjoy their friends.

And maybe all of East Jerusalem isn't a journey to the Dark Side.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

My baby went to Tel Aviv

When my son Ari was small, about three or four years old, and we still lived in Toronto, there was a park a block from our house that he used to enjoy. By the time he was four, he also liked to walk to the park but we lived on a small street with no sidewalks which meant he had to walk on the curb or the edge of the street to get there and there was no way I was going to agree to that.

I always wanted to carry him around the corner but Chaim insisted that he should walk. As a result, I refused to take him to the park. And when Chaim took him, they set off together on the street, with me sitting almost apoplectic on the front step of our house just waiting for the worst.

Chaim has always contended that if I was a single parent that none of our children would be able to walk because I would have simply carried them everywhere. And of course, by extension, because my children are fortunate enough to have a father, they can run, walk, swim, play basketball, etc...

Let me just say that I do not accept this family view.

Unfortunately, yesterday, I was put to the test.

Ari, who is just about 14 now, came rushing in to the house taking his clothes off and speaking into his cell phone at warp speed. Ten years ago that behaviour from him wouldn't have surprised me but now that he is a teenager, he only moves in reluctant slow-mo as if every step requires all the energy that he can possibly muster.

Not so yesterday. Because yesterday his friends came up with a plan that required immediate implementation. They decided to get on a bus and go to Tel Aviv.

I was offered two minutes to give my input, although I noticed that he never stopped getting ready all the "while" I was thinking about it. I really didn't want to let him go but all I could think of what Chaim saying: "If it was up to you, you would still be carrying him around."

So, in a moment of what could have either been considered temporary parental insanity or the realization that he is growing up, I let him go.

Once I realized who he was going with, I have to admit that I felt much better. I can't speak for the boys, but the girls were actually girls that I suspect have more than an ounce of common sense each.

I didn't call him once all day. I just trusted that everything would be fine. However, at 7:00 p.m. I finally decided that I had had enough and dialed his cell, which of course, was off. Why do we give them cell phones if they only plan to answer at their leisure?

I'm actually quite proud of myself because even when I couldn't get him on the phone I didn't think that something bad had happened. I just thought that he wasn't answering his phone. And lo and behold, I was right. He arrived home a few minutes later -- having blown 120 shekels in the HaCarmel market on the most ridiculous hat, cotton Hawaiian drawstring pants and cheap sun glasses.

And more important, he got there and back by himself, and had fun with only the involvement of his equally naive friends. I guess they all stayed suitably close to the curb.