Tuesday, September 29, 2009

When is the last time you thought about dickies?

There are some unexpected advantages to hanging around outside the synagogue on a sunny Saturday morning. One of them is the idle social chit chat with people who you like but never get the change to talk to. Another is the strange directions that conversations with those people can take that gets you thinking about things that haven't crossed your mind in years -- maybe even decades.

Last Saturday morning that happened to me. There was no need to hurry home for lunch at 10:30 in the morning and it was just the kind of day that begged for mingling. I was chatting with two friends after the services and somehow we got on to the subject of buying suitably modest clothes for our daughters. I could retell the entire conversation from the beginning but it probably wouldn't make any sense after the fact. Suffice it to say that we ended up talking about how religious teenage girls in Ra'anana who prefer to cover their arms past their elbows all year round had stumbled upon an interesting technique. They take very colourful knee-socks and they cut off the feet. Then, they wear regular t-shirts and cover their arms with these knitted tubes. It's very cute in a teenage-funky way.

We all agreed that that was both funny and clever.

Now you would think that after that non-specific vote on humour and brilliance that that topic would have run its course ... but it didn't. Because at that very moment, my friend Miriam brought up a product that I hadn't thought about in years. She said: "It's kind of like dickies."

When she said the word "dickies" it took me about 20 seconds to go back through my mental rolodex and recapture that long lost memory. Then, all of a sudden, I just cracked up. Dickies. Haven't thought about them in a million years? Have you? Or more important ... do you even know what dickies are?

In case you have no idea what I am talking about (maybe it was a Canadian thing, who knows), dickies were those fake turtlenecks that you wore under a collared shirt so that it would look like you were wearing a whole turtleneck when in fact you were just wearing the neck part and a little piece of the front and back of the shirt.

I had a few dickies and knowing me at the time I probably thought I was the coolest kid on two legs. (I just did a quick google search and dickies are so un-cool now that they are not listed until the final item on page one of my search.)

On one hand I know that dickies are an inconsequential wardrobe item at this stage of my life. I rarely need a sweater, let alone a fake turtleneck. But I have to tell you, I just can't get this dickie thing out of my head. Every time I think about it, I just crack up all over again.

However, now that I have put it on electronic paper I am hoping to just let go of it and move on. I am thinking about thinking about saddle shoes instead!!!

(Note to any fashion historians out there: the whole dickey story can be found in wikipedia.)

Saturday, September 26, 2009

My friend Barb, the Protestant Yom Kippur wannabee

I received an email earlier this week from my friend Barb in Toronto. She isn't Jewish and much to my surprise, after knowing her for years, I just found out that she is a Protestant. But in typical multicultural Toronto urban sophisticate form, she is open to taking the best of all religions and incorporating them into her life.

That's why she wrote to me this week to ask me what she could do to participate in Yom Kippur. Of course, she didn't want to fast. Anything but the fasting seemed doable to her. It's funny to see how the fasting seems so daunting to anyone who didn't grow up with it. Anyway, I made her a list of things to do so that she could have an annual repentance program.

Rather than tell you what I suggested, I am going to add her blog link here and let you read what she chose to do to celebrate Yom Kippur Protestant style. I know that sounds kind of weird but I am willing to applaud anyone who wants to improve themselves in any way. And I like to think of Barb's new program as a little touch of Tikun Olam -- me, her Jewish friend, helping her to leave the world a little better than she found it.

Good luck Barb!

And now it's time to fast and repent

Earlier in the week I was busy digesting and celebrating the Jewish New Year, which, I might add, is nothing like the Christian New Year. We pray, we eat and we are supposed to be thinking about how we are going to improve ourselves and live better lives in the coming year. And for the next 10 days that is pretty much what everyone I know is thinking about to greater or lesser degrees. Some of us have to do it while we cook of course.

We try to make sure we haven't left anyone with hurt feelings. (And on that note, let me say that I am sorry to anyone whom I may have unintentionally offended or harmed in any way during the past year. And if you think I hurt you intentionally, well, then, you are probably my children and you should get over it! And if you aren't my children then I probably feel bad about what I did -- at least a little bit and I will try my best to avoid doing a similar thing to you this year. If you would like to file an official complaint, please leave it on my front door step. I will get back to you.)

Now we are less than 24 hours from when God will close His Plan Book for the coming year. In it, is a list of who will have what experiences (good, bad and indifferent) for the year to come. I am a little shaky on this point because I happen to think that my good friend Diane z"l and my father z"l both had lived pretty admirably during their last year, yet God didn't see it that way and unfortunately they are both gone now.

But I am not going to dwell on that right now. Not because I don't want to but because I am realistic enough to know that I will never understand God and even if I did, that isn't going to change the outcome. Instead, I am simply going to try to focus on eating normally before the Fast, fasting with as much grace as I can muster, and planning to be a better person for at least a week or two after the Fast.

When I was a teenager, I never completed the Fast. Somewhere around hour 22 inevitably I would just completely fall apart and have to take to my bed with an apple. In those days God saw fit to give me another year despite my obvious shortcomings. This is partly why I don't really get what God is doing. And I pretty sure that He allows many people to continue to live and they have done some really bad things in the past year. (I am thinking about my previous post on "Rabbi Chen" as I write this but I don't want to get into the incitement thing again mere hours before Yom Kippur.)

Today in synagogue our rabbi said that during the Fast we are like angels because angels don't need food. I don't know how he knows that for sure, and he isn't the first person to say that, but let's assume that's true. The trick is to maintain your angel status (but with food) for as long as you can. In truth we all know that making major changes in our lives is anything but easy.

That said, tomorrow Jews around the world will actually attend synagogue in huge numbers. More than you will see in synagogues until this time next year.

In Israel, it is against the law to drive on Yom Kippur unless you are driving an emergency vehicle. Therefore, the streets will be empty of cars and people will be everywhere. It's an amazing experience. It's the only day of the year where all Jews in Israel seem kind of alike.

I guess everyone wants to be an angel even if it is only for a few hours. And by the time it ends 25 hours later, and we all rush home to put that first bite of food into our mouths, it's not hard to see what a holy experience it all was. Have an easy and meaningful Fast.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Oh Lord, Is it time to eat again?

I haven't intentionally been avoiding my blog but frankly, I have been so busy digesting the smorgasboard I ate during Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, that I just haven't had the energy for anything else.

There's an old Jewish joke that goes something like this: "All of Jewish holiday history can be summed up with the follow statement -- They tried to kill us. We survived. Let's eat."

If you are not Jewish and you are reading this, then you might not find that so funny. However, to any involved Jews, it is a really hilarious observation because it is so true. Even if we pray first, or fast first or participate in some other ceremonial activity first, in the end we always eat. And we don't just eat a ceremonial snack. WE EAT. We eat like we might never see food again.

It never ceases to amaze me how I can put another bite in my mouth when I have vague recollections of being super-satiated from at least an hour prior to the moment that I am eating yet again.

And to up the ante even further, every holiday has its special foods in addition to all the traditional fare. Shavuot means dairy everything. Chanuka means fried doughnuts and potato pancakes. Passover means no wheat products, but as many eggs as you can humanly consume in eight days.

If you think about it, we are a tribal cardiac arrest in the making. Chopped liver, fried onions, doughnuts. It's true that the Jews are a living miracle. Forget about our enemies spending the entirety of history trying to kill us. If they were smart, they would just leave us alone and let us eat ourselves into intensive care units worldwide.

But the piece du resistance of the Jewish food issue is that just prior to or after we eat to the point of internal combustion and we are on the brink of physical destruction, we collectively find our innate survival instincts and have a fast day. Most people think that Jews fast once a year on Yom Kippur -- wrong, wrong, wrong.

Most holiday feeding frenzies are accompanied by a fast day -- either immediately before or after the "pig" fest. (No, not a real pig. We don't do that.)

As my friend Ilan said last week on the fast day immediately following Rosh Hashana: "if this fast didn't exist then someone would have had to create it."

It's true.

If we didn't have an external force imposing fast days on us we, as a people, would have probably died out long ago. Or we would have been more like my possibly misconstrued view of Christians. No food in the house, but enough alcohol to fuel the entire American army. Scotch for breakfast. Gin for lunch and wine for dinner.

I guess that every culture picks its own poison. I'm just glad that mine includes kishka, chopped liver, roasted potatos with oil dripping off them, bagels with 30% cream cheese, ....

Okay, all this typing has burned off some calories. I think I am ready for the pre-Yom Kippur meal.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

That's it! I'm starting my own blacklist

(Spoiler notice: This is political in tone. For anyone who doesn't like when I am political, turn back now or forever hold your tongue and rolling eyeballs.)

I have been following the Anti-Israel thing happening at the Toronto International Film Fest with great interest. For one reason, I came from Toronto and I love to keep up with what is going on there -- particularly when it is pathetic and parochial because then I feel even better about not living there. I also like to think quietly (well, sort of) in my head: "Ah ha! I told you so!" That's for all the Jews in Toronto who like to tell me how tolerant Toronto -- and Canada by extension -- is.

But when I read the Toronto Star today I just decided that I had had enough of this stupid Israel bashing.

I always thought that film was about expressing one's self. I always thought it was an art form. (Don't start me on the "then what the heck are all those cheesy Hollywood movies doing?" I don't know.)

My sister (oh, she is going to luvvv this) has an MA in film from NYU. During the years that she studied film I watched some pretty bizarre little, super-8 film vignettes on my parents' living room walls. When they were over, my parents would just sit there so impressed with my sister's brilliance and I just sat there wondering what the heck I had just seen. How long can you watch a sad looked woman smoke a cigarette in her rundown kitchenette? (Answer: a long time)

Apparently I was not nearly as deep or broadminded as the rest of them. Either way, over the years, I have learned to see film more through my sister's eyes and as a result I have expectations of film and film people.

However, has-beens like Jane Fonda and Danny Glover (well documented friend of super anti-semite Mel Gibson) do not see it this way. Neither does Naomi Klein but we excommunicated her from the tribe years ago and she is just one of those all-around angry-intellectual types who thinks that her mental calisthenics make her better than other people.

I have no comment on film-makers John Greyson and Elle Flanders because I know their type -- lefties with little or no real information who simply "think" the world should be a certain way and without an ounce of on-the-ground facts to back up their thoughts, simply take a position. And of course it's an anti-Israel position -- those are the most popular positions to take. EVERYONE is taking that position. It's de rigeur.

Today Flanders commented in the Star that she wasn't opposed to the film makers but rather to what the Israeli government is doing. That's nice Elle you stupid shit. What has the government got to do with Israeli film makers? That's the most pathetic excuse I have heard to date.

She went on to say that in focusing on Israel, the film festival was ignoring the Palestinians. Okay Elle ... I guess it has to be spelled out for you. Either the spotlight was on Israel or it wasn't. And if it was, then the Palestinian Authority is not Israel -- unless you are in bed with Abu Mazen et al. Your comments would be much more palatable if you actually knew what you were talking about. You can't suck and blow at the same time!!!!

So much for film as expression or art. All bets are off if it comes to Tel Aviv or Israel. The film festival could show films made my Idi Amin, Hitler, Mugabe and the likes for days on end and there would be no outpouring of anger. But show a film made by an Israeli and it must be bad. The biggest joke is that most of the Israeli film makers are more left leaning than the average Israeli. They are more like the people blacklisting them than they are like me!

Therefore, I have decided to make a blacklist of my own. Unfortunately I cannot publish it here because it includes pretty much all the people on earth -- excluding the citizens of Micronesia and the Marshall Islands. Brits are on my list. Frenchies are on my list up the ying yang. Mexicans and Venezuelans galore. The so-called neutral Swiss are there. So are all the ever-so-regretful Germans. The Morrocans, the Greeks, the list goes on and on and on. Oh, and of course, the Canucks. Thought I forgot them, didn't you? I didn't. They are the people who started this whole little pointless mess to begin with.

Ah ha! I told you so.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

When bad things happen to good people

This is a very small country. So small, if fact, that it is listed as the 151st largest country in the world. You can drive from its northern most tip to its southern most point in 10 hours and you can drive from the eastern borders to the sea on the western borders in less that two hours.

This country is so small that every Jew living here is connected to every other Jew living here by less than six degrees of separation. And that is why, tonight, the entire State of Israel is distraught beyond consolation. Assaf Ramon z"l, the oldest child of Ilan Ramon z"l, Israel's only astronaut and a great hero himself, died in a so-far inexplicable crash of his F16 while on a training mission earlier today.

It's been six years since his hero father died when the Columbia space shuttle exploded unexpectedly during re-entry into the earth's atmosphere. It happened while many of us were observing Shabbat. When Shabbat ended, we did what we always do -- we all went to turn on our computers and see what news the weekend had brought. When we immediately saw the big black bold headlines, the collective Jewish population of Israel could have been knocked over by a feather. It was beyond comprehension.

Obviously we all didn't know Ilan Ramon personally, but in typical Israeli fashion, we all "knew" him. He was one of us and we were all so proud of him. He was a wonderful ambassador for our little piece of the world. The kind of Israeli we want to represent us to the unwelcoming world.

And then tonight, as two of my friends and I walked to our car in Jerusalem, one of the women received a call from her devastated teenage daughter telling her the awful news. And just like that it was six years ago again.

That's not entirely fair. Every Israeli soldier that dies in the line of duty affects a national outpouring of grief. Assaf is no different in that sense.

He is different in that after the devastating loss of his father, Israelis all celebrated his recent completion of the arduous 6-year, pilot training course as if he was our own son. His success assuaged our grief over the loss of his father and brought a sense of hope that his father's greatness would live on through him.

It was not to be.

So tonight, as many groups of young soldiers huddled around car radios listening to the repetitions of the news, we just walked to our car in stoic silence, an extended family trying to make sense of its grief.

May all our soldiers stay safe.

Oh goodie, a class trip to the West Bank

It's the middle of the night and I can't sleep. I'm not sure what woke me up in the first place but once I woke up I remembered that my son Ari is on a class trip Hevron and I couldn't go back to sleep.

This is definitely the kind of thing that couldn't happen in Canada. Where in all of Canada, from sea to sea, could you go on a class trip that would freak a parent out enough that they couldn't sleep?

For those of you who don't know, Hevron, besides being the largest city in the West Bank, is one of Judasims holy cities (along with Jerusalem, Sfat, and Tiberias). It was the place, according to the Old Testament, where Abraham bought the land (actually a cave) in which to bury his dead wife Sarah. Ironically, this is actually the root of the problem because Islam and Christianity also see Abraham as their original forefather.

Today, Hevron has a much more colourful place in Jewish history -- it is the home of approximately 166,000 Arabs and about 700 very determined and committed Jews. To say that it is not the most welcoming place for Jews is one of the country's ultimate understatements. Not only is it unfriendly, it is often downright dangerous.

So, now you are probably wondering what my son is doing there. (Well, for my Israeli readers, you aren't wondering at all. You know why he is there because many if not all of your children have been there as well.)

There are a few times during the Jewish year that Hevron factors into Jewish life in a more high profile way than otherwise. One of those times is the week that the Torah parshat (chapter) discusses when Abraham bought the cave. It's the only land transaction specifically mentioned in the Old Testament and for thousands of years, it has reinforced Jews' belief in their ownership of that land. (Needless to say, the Arabs don't see it that way.)

Tonight is also one of "those times" as Askenazi Jews (Jews of European descent) start to say special prayers in the week leading up to Rosh HaShanah, the Jewish New Year. Other Jews say the same prayers, but their time frames are a little different.

And that is why my 14-year-old son is with his class and his rabbis in Hevron. It is an important, religious time and this is an important religious statement.

Of course, that's the simple part of the equation.

The more complex side is how I feel as a parent to let my son go to a less-than-welcoming place for Jews in the middle of the night with his school. Many of you are probably laughing now because you have long since put this internal debate to rest. I am new to this and I have not.

On the one hand are the questions: Why should a Jew NOT go to such an important place in his or her own country? Why should a Jew be fearful in a place of such historical importance that was bought outright by Abraham and therefore, the property of the Jews? And on the other hand there are the concerns for safety (despite the large IDF presence there) in an area that has, since 1997, been designated as part of the Palestinian Authority. Not all of Hevron is part of the PA, but a big piece of it is. In 2008, all of the remaining Jews were evicted. They didn't go, but that's another story.

There are supporters and detractors for each side of the debate -- inside Israel as well as outside. Hevron is definitely one of the most contentious and emotionally charged parts of Israel. One of the IDF soldiers killed there is the past six years was Hevron Brigade Commander, Colonel Dror Weinberg, who was home having dinner with his wife and six children when he got a call that there was an Arab ambush of Jewish settlers there. He left his dinner and headed to Hevron to do his job. He never came home. I didn't know him but he was my good friend's brother-in-law. His death was devastating on many levels for many people.

All this aside, Jews live in Hevron and many Jews visit the city regularly, albeit, frequently under heavy IDF protection. I am not going to tell my son that he cannot go to such an important place. And I am definitely not going to tell him that he should be afraid.

Instead, I am going to sit up for the rest of the night worrying and praying that he will be okay. And knowing full well that this is his first trip there without his parents, but definitely not his last.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

What happened to my 0% milk?

One thing that constantly happens when one lives in a small country -- and when one was used to life in a much larger country -- is that one has to get used to certain consumer compromises.

For example, all existing Magnum ice cream flavours are not available in Israel -- which is a shame because the chocolate mint is really good. Another example was the time Israeli food manufacturer Strauss went so far as to remove the coffee flavoured yogurt from its repetoire.

If flavour compromises aren't that upsetting to you, then here is a consumer compromise that will hit many of you where you live: it is very difficult to find shoes in Israel in half sizes and I wear size 6.5. Yes, I know, tragic. And it forces me to shop on the internet more frequently than I would like.

And let's not even start on what happened to Rice Krispies.

However, over time, I have adjusted to all these life inconveniences.

That was, until today.

Today I found out that, Tnuva, another of the Israeli food manufacturing giants, has stopped manufacturing 0% milk. Now someone has finally crossed the line with me. I can manage on white chocolate Magnums, and I can survive with cappacino yogurt and without Rice Krispies. And I can always shop on Ebay or Amazon. But what the heck am I going to do without 0% milk?

We drink approximately 10 litres of milk a week in my house. Approximately half of those are 0%; the rest are 1% and I only buy that because I read somewhere that kids need some fat in their milk and that milk with a bit of fat improves nutrient absorption. But the bottom line is that as the chief grocery store shopper in my family, I actively seek out 0% dairy products because I believe they are healthier.

As far as I know, the no-longer existent 0% milk was also fortified with vitamin D. Now vitamin D is worthy of an entire dissertation in its own right. It seems that this vitamin, above all other vitamins, has been officially chosen by scientists as The Most Important Vitamin. Well, if it is, then I want it in my milk.

I know we live in a sunny climate where theoretically vitamin D is available everywhere you turn because it is perpetually sunny here and vitamin D comes from the sun, but it's not that simple. First of all, you actually have to go outside where the sun is shining. As I have previously mentioned, I don't do much of that between June and the end of October.

And children need vitamin D to grow up strong and healthy. Call me crazy, but that's what I am aiming for. Healthy, strong children.

Okay, so now I have all that ranting out of the way. And rather than just sitting around and complaining, I actually called Tnuva and asked to speak to someone who knew why the 0% milk discontinuation decision was made. As it turns out, there is no one to speak to, unless you have some schlep and can get to someone in the milk production factory.

Normally, my Plan B would be to go higher in search of answers but after I checked around, I found out that 55% of Tnuva is owned by a London-based investment firm called Apax Partners and the next largest shareholder is an Israeli investment firm. No real people involved -- definitely no parents. In other words, Plan B was off the rails before I even got started.

The upside is that the very nice, probably very young, customer service rep that I spoke to told me that: "Tnuva appreciates my call and my opinion." Needless to say, I am very confident that my call will make a difference.

So, here I am, once again, forced to adjust to consumer limitations beyond my control. Yes, I will survive with 1% milk and life will go on. But I am concerned that it is a slippery slope. I am just waiting for the day that "they" announce that toilet paper production has been terminated in the State of Israel. Then the sh_t is really going to hit the fan.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The school accessory that no one likes to talk about

I spend a lot of time on my blog trying to describe my day-to-day life in Israel, primarily as a means of demonstrating to those who live outside Israel that my life is really only slightly different than it was when I lived in Toronto.

There is so much bad press coverage about Israel and Jews that it scares the bejeebers out of me. If I didn't know better, I would be scared of us too. However, I want those who live outside of Israel to see how regular we are. Don't bother writing me about the differences. I am talking about the daily life of regular people.

Now that I have said that, I am going to talk about a very small -- minuscule actually -- thing that does make life very different from my North American existence. What, what, what is she talking about you may ask?

I am talking about head lice.

Before you all run for your chemical/poison shampoo and a super strength lice comb, let me tell you that living with lice was one of the most difficult adjustments I had to make to life in Israel. In Toronto if your child gets lice, you get a call from the school and that child is sent home ASAP until his or her head is so clean that you could eat off of it ... sort of.

Here, society has a very different view of lice. I have heard many Israelis say that if your child has lice then that child must be popular. In other words, if your head is constantly close to others' heads, then lice is the inevitable conclusion. And not a bad thing.

In the schools, it is simply a non-issue. Yael once asked her teacher if she could move her seat because the girl sitting next to her was scratching her head (the international sign of lice). The teacher said no and told her to go sit down. End of story.

Needless to say, we North American parents are not so laid back about this lice business. We have been socialized to see lice as totally gross -- and I am not suggesting otherwise.

However, what has changed for us is that combing for lice has become a normal routine in our homes, similar to brushing one's teeth. It's part of the getting ready for bed procedures. And when we do find a little critter, all we think is: "Okay, change your pillow case and check more just in case." And that's about it.

The first time one of my kids got lice here, I called every parent in my child's class to inform them. Now I realize why my kids got lice a second time, and a third time and a fourth time, etc... Most of those parents took my call, said thanks for the information and then got off the phone and went back to what they were doing. They didn't even waste any energy laughing at my naivete.

Of course there were a few parents who took me seriously. Yes, all of them North American immigrants like myself who were socialized in an anti-lice environment.

The worst part of this itchy tale is that every once in a while guess who else gets lice? Moi. You can't spend your days battling an invisible enemy without the odd war wound. It never ceases to amaze me that I got through my entire childhood without even one bout of critterhead and here I am at almost 50 years of age, combing my own bloody head for lice.

And the microscopic battle rages on...

... pretty much as successfully as the macroscopic battle that defines life in Israel.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Watercizing and socializing

I am no friend of physical activity. I am not even a mild acquaintance of exercise. I exercise strictly out of guilt because I don't want another woman to raise my children when I keel over from lack of attentiveness to my health and well-being. I also feel the silent (and sometimes not-so-silent) pressure of being married to a Half Ironman sort of guy. Mr. Let's Go Ride Our Bikes for Three or Four Hours and Then Let's Swim a Mile. Talk about opposites.

Last Spring one of my more peppy young friends who has a masters degree in something physically spunky and demanding decided to start a watercize class for women in the neighbourhood. Fortunately we also have a friend who was willing to volunteer her pool. Many of my friends joined up and next thing I knew I was one of the few non-watercizers in synagogue. I am only partly joking here -- there are now three or four watercize classes a week. It's a real local phenomenon.

And while I do not like physical effort, I am not one to miss a trend -- although I did pass on hipsters and six-inch spiked heels, and I have never taken to martinis of any kind. In other words, today I joined the watercizers.

Despite my overwhelming desire to say that the class stunk, it did not. Not even a little bit. Bottom line: it was so much fun. I managed to get a few of my kids carpools and after-school programs arranged; planned a few things for the upcoming Jewish holidays; commented on the rock music offering; and still stretched a few muscles. Now if that isn't a productive hour I don't know what is.

And best of all, it all happened outside. This isn't a big deal to anyone who lives in Florida, but coming from Toronto where September signifies the slow, inevitable onset of winter, it is a remarkable thing to be doing jumping jacks and leg plunges in any outdoor pool at this time of the year. It's going to be even more exciting in October when everyone in Toronto is digging out their winter jackets.

So despite my exercise aversion, I will be back in the pool next week. Plunging. Lunging. Flexing. Kicking and generally having a good time. Look, it could be worse, I could be doing a Half Ironman.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

What was I thinking?

My son Ari is an academically smart kid who, to put it gently, is socially challenged. And I say that kindly because frankly, I don't understand it. How can he be my child?

Every time we tell him to call some friends and go do something, he gets catatonic. How complicated can it be to get one's cell phone, and punch in one of the many phone numbers it contains? Yet, every time his father or I suggest that he make some calls, he gets that glazed-over petrified tree look. My other kids are nothing like this. Suggest that they call a friend and you will undoubtedly have 30 kids at the door within 15 minutes.

That's why last week we decided to take matters into our own parental hands. When things get tough, parents have to get going. We sent out an email the parents of some of his friends and via the parents invited the kids to a surprise birthday party for Mr. Anti-Social. We also told the kids to invite anyone we overlooked. I know, I know. That was really stupid, but I have to tell you, at the time it just didn't seem like a bad idea.

Tonight, after the Sabbath ended, there were about eight kids at my house waiting for me to wander home from synagogue. They had already let themselves in, but that triggered the alarm so they were all standing coyly off to the side of our house looking guilty. They all came in with me and everyone settled in nicely snacking on junk food and drinking soda (and enthusiastically eyeing the whisky collection in the corner) waiting for Ari to come home so they could surprise him. Ari was suprised when he walked it. I think he was mostly surprised because for the life of him, he could never have managed to pull off such a complex (not) social task.

But, in the end, it was me who got the biggest surprise.

With things off to such a civilized start I decided that I was no longer needed and I headed back to my computer cave. Eight or nine kids all hanging around my kitchen having fun in a well-behaved manner. It was so "Happy Days" with Ritchie Cunningham and Fonzie and the others in their saddle shoes.

Then, all of a sudden there was a very definite and insistent knocking at the front door. The appropriate response would have been for me to run upstairs and tell all my existing guests to be quiet and whoever that was would go away. But I didn't do that. I just sat in my office ignoring the noise.

I don't know who opened the front door but I am not speaking to them again because when the door opened there were another 25 or so teenagers standing on my front step waiting to get in. It sounded like fast-traveling bursts of thunder.

At that point I decided that I was never going upstairs again. I called for pizza -- many pizzas in fact -- from a hidden location and just waited. In the end it was Zeve who took a stand. Neither he nor Yael was invited to the party but that didn't stop either of them from being right in the middle of everything. So it was Zeve who finally had enough of the pandemonium in the kitchen and living room -- and he sent everyone into the family room.

Once there, all the kids turned around and said: "Oh THIS is fun. What should we do?" Dumber than a pile of sticks I tell you. At which point I said: "Look, I invited you here. Now you figure out what to do." And then, lo and behold, they did. The moved all the musical equipment from its resting place in another room and started to play. Lots of the kids took turns.

And guess what? They had fun. All 30+ of them. And THEN guess what? They all went home -- after tidying up. No, I didn't ask them to do that. They just did it. They were so good, in fact, that I have decided to invite them all back for Yael's next birthday party because her friends are collectively maniacal. They are sort of like a pack of wild, traveling hyenas. They might be younger than 10 but they can total an entire house in 15 minutes flat.

Ari's friends, on the other hand, were so good that, actually, I think I will invite them to every party I have from now on.

Cutting with scissors

A few days ago I was out with my son Zeve looking for a very specific version of a religious text that he needed for school. During the summer his school had been selling them but, as you know, we were off in the highlands of Scotland having a wonderful time and by the time we returned to Israel, all of the copies of the book were gone.

It's not like we couldn't get a copy of the book. Religious texts are available everywhere you turn -- this IS Israel, not suburban Alaska. The issue was that we wanted the same one that all the other kids in the class would be using. As a result, Zeve and I went out in search of the book.

As usual, the moment I left the house my cell phone started to ring. And as usual, it was Yael. I think she does it to drive me crazy. According to her, every time she calls it's an emergency.

Either way, she has created sort of a Crying Wolf situation which has resulted in me frequently ignoring her calls.

So this past week while Zeve and I were out scouring the city for a very specific version of a book he needed for school the next day, my cell phone kept ringing and ringing and ringing. And I kept ignoring it and ignoring it and ignoring it. I was busy on a mission of biblical proportion.

Okay, so we look everywhere for the book and we can't find it. We decide to go home and start calling around to older kids who might have had the book and don't need it anymore. And that's when things got interesting.

We walked into the house and there is Yael with her newly cut hair. Her bangs were now approximately a centimeter in length. They were sort of like the girl in the movie "Amelie" but scarier and definitely not as neatly done. She looked like Spikezilla and it was most upsetting because she is a cute little thing.

I almost fell off my feet when I saw her. I wasn't sure if I was going to cry or to scream. Worst of all I had to stay composed and act like it wasn't the catastrophe I thought it was. I mean, it could have been worse ... she was breathing and she had all of her important body parts (she was only short of hair).

This isn't the first time she has pulled this stunt. I had forgotten about the first time until one of my friends reminded me about it today after she noticed Yael's new do. The first time she decided to cut her hair herself, she had started on the sides but stopped at the back because she couldn't see what she was doing. I really thought she had learned her lesson after that scissor adventure but apparently not.

Therefore, to prevent anymore hair scares I have made a mental note to collect all the scissors in the house and hide them somewhere until she is old enough -- and vain enough -- to choose professional help when she needs it.