Wednesday, October 28, 2009

I'm thinking of getting my own extradition treaty

Lately it seems like we spend a lot of time waiting for countries to make extradition treaties so that they can sort out whose criminals are where and get them moved to where they should be.

As I write this I am waiting for that scumbag "Rabbi" Chen to arrive on the tarmac at Ben Gurion Airport from Brazil and be taken into custody by the Israel Police. I will be very glad when the moment arrives but it won't save the children who have already suffered terribly at his hands or because of his evil advice to stupid women who took it so willingly.

I am also waiting for France and the U.S. to sort out their extradition agreement so that Roman Polanski will go back to the U.S. and face his music. Contrary to most people in Hollywood, I do not think it is okay for an adult male to have sex with a 13-year-old girl; particularly a non-consenting 13-year-old girl. I don't care what he paid her as compensation. This is simply not okay. I don't care who you are. So, while the U.S. authorities try to figure out if they agree with my thinking, I will just sit here and hope for the day that Polanski sets foot in the U.S.

In the meantime I noticed that this all takes a lot of negotiating and a lot of time. Therefore, in an effort to be ready to be helpful next time some country needs to extradite someone from a country with which it does not have an extradition treaty, I am going to set to work preparing a worldwide extradition treaty. Then, whenever some country needs it, they can give me a call and I will fax it to them. Then, all involved parties will just sign on the dotted line and criminals will be sent home to face the music.

As it stands, according to international law, a country doesn't have to surrender an alleged criminal to another country. Why the hell not? Don't most countries have enough of their own criminals that they don't need other countries' criminals as well? I am willing to concede that in the case of political crimes it may be a matter of opinion because not all countries have the same degrees of openness and tolerance. But low life, child-abusers should be criminals everywhere.

I know that isn't the case, but it should be. This got me thinking that perhaps the problem was all the paperwork. Heaven knows I go to great lengths to ignore paperwork -- even to the point of being forced to pay some ridiculous fines because I ignored the warning letters so effectively. That is why I have decided to retain counsel -- maybe my AdHoc Legal Committee will rise to the occasion -- to help me prepare an ecumenical international extradition treaty that can be filled out by anyone, anywhere who wants to get a criminal out of his or her neighbourhood or country and send them back to where they came from.

It will probably take a few weeks to get all the "i's" dotted and the "t's" crossed but I will let you know when it is ready and then anyone who needs a copy can just send me an email and I will send it out -- in pdf format of course -- free of charge. Simple as that.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Finally: tangible blog results

One question that I am frequently asked is: "Why do you have a blog?" Another is: "What do you use it for?" I think most people are probably thinking: "What makes you so great that we would want to read what you write about your life?" The other thing they are thinking is: "Hmmm, maybe she is making money from it and that's why she does it."

Today, I am going to answer those questions.

Let me begin by saying that, much to my husband's dismay, I don't make a cent doing this. He would be much more accepting of my blogging time if I was getting rich. Unfortunately, that is not the case.

Second, I blog because I have a lot of things to get off my chest, otherwise I cannot sleep at night. This is sort of my preventative measure to ensure that I have created the best possible conditions for a good night's sleep. It doesn't always work but I can only imagine how many more sleepless hours I would have without it.

Third, I do not think that my life is so special that it warrants documenting. However, when I started to write this blog I was trying to explain -- primarily to my friends and aquaintences outside of Israel -- that my life hadn't changed very much since I left Canada. There are so many mis-perceptions out there about what life in Israel is like that I felt compelled to correct the inaccuracies. Of course, once in a while, something just bugs me and I want to rant. Of course, you are always free to click off if my ranting drives you crazy. Rest assured, it has happened and it will happen again.

But in the meantime, I just want to say that I am delighted to finally have a tangible result of my blogging.

In case you think it is a monetary reward, let me correct your thinking. The reward was better than money: I made a friend. She wrote to me on Facebook -- yes, she actually tracked me down. And since her Facebook message stated that she agreed with everything I have written to date, I have decided to officially move her to the position of My New Best Friend.

Call me fickle, but people who agree with you on a consistent basis are hard to come by and I am not going to casually toss aside anyone who sees the world my way. As my mail indicates, many of you do not agree with me -- and that's fine too, but that is why I need a BFF to balance your contrary positions.

You think such people are easy to come by? Let me tell you. They are NOT.

Second, she took the time to track me down and write to me. Most of you like to stop me on the street (usually on Shabbat when I can't write down what you are suggesting) and give me your thoughts. Some of you do write, but never to my blog. And the rest of you just ignore me. But the bottom line is that she wrote to me and that moves her to the top end of the best friends' list.

Third, she is probably half my age and very cute (I saw her photo on Facebook). Everyone wants a few young and cute friends ... makes us older chicks feel better about ourselves. Of course, if someone mistakes her for my grown daughter, I may have to reconsider this point.

As I write this, I am awaiting her next email (because she is now visiting Israel and planning on moving here) so that I can meet her and take her out for coffee. See, if you were my BFF and agreed with everything I said, then I would take you for coffee too.

Chutzpah in theory and practice

If chutzpah wasn't originally a Yiddish word then the Jews would have had to abscond with it and take it as their own. It's a match made in heaven: Jews and chutzpah. Never have two things been so well suited to each other.

And while it is a Yiddish word which by default means it belongs to Jews of Eastern European descent and not those of Middle Eastern or other geographical descent, it seems that the entire concept has been adopted by Jews of all backgrounds instinctively. I bet that if you checked a world Jewish genome project (no, there isn't such a thing) you would find a genetic marker for chutzpah.

I would be less than honest if I didn't admit that I received a fair share of that gene myself. Many times I say things in public and people just stand there looking astonished. I am pretty sure the ones who received less of the chutzpah gene are quietly thinking to themselves: "I can't believe she just said that." The ones with more chutzpah in their own genes just say the same thing out loud.

However, for all my chutzpadic (the adjective) moments, today I stumbled across one of the living masters of the concept. I didn't immediately recognize her as such, but within moments of our paths crossing, she did the most obnoxious thing.

I was changing back in to my street clothes in the gym changing room. The change room was about 50 percent full -- in other words, there were lots of places for her to deposit her bag. Unfortunately for me, the only spot that seemed to interest her was precisely where I had placed my things.

Being a chutzpah master, however, she just ignored my things. She simply tossed them on to the floor and put her own bag down.

Now here is where things got complicated for me. My innate politeness habits resulting from my 40 years of being a Canadian automatically directly conflicted with my chutzpah gene. I am glad to say that after a moment of politely standing by and watching my belongings head south, my chutzpah gene rose to the surface.

Here's what happened: (Remember, I had to have this conversation in Hebrew, so this is what I think I said.)

Me: "Oh, I didn't know that this was your spot. I thought that it was my place."

Chutzpah master: "It's near my locker."

Me: "Well that explains why you put my things on the floor. This place is only for you. You must be very special."

CM: "I want to be close to my locker."

Me: "So it's okay to put my things on the floor?"

CM: "I want to be close to my locker."

Me: (I switched to English and used some of my best choice four-letter words. Of course, she couldn't have cared less.)

As you will note from CM's dialogue pattern, I could have told her I was with the KGB and she was going to the gulag for her crime, but I doubt that would have fazed her. For someone like her, chutzpah gives her divine rights which she uses to the fullest.

After spending a summer in the UK and a recent week in Canada, I know full well that that sort of moment wouldn't have happened in either of those countries. Neither people (this is a bit of a generalization) seem to have the need to dismiss all others as unworthy. Brits and Canadians may both have their own faults, but chutzpah just isn't one of them. But if you want to see real chutzpah in action, meet me at the doors of my gym's change room on Sunday. We have many chutzpah masters here.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Stop the English now

My daughter Yael just got off the phone and whoever she was speaking to was speaking English. (I feel like there should be some calamitous-sounding music here but if I can't import video, you can rest assured that I can't import music effects.)

That might not sound like such a big deal to most of you, but for me, it's a big deal.

Yael was about two and half years old when we moved to Israel. She spoke Hebrew and English almost equally at home in Toronto. And if I had to choose the language that played a greater role in her early years, it was definitely Hebrew. Her father spoke to her in Hebrew, so did the nanny, so did my in-laws and so did her nursery school teacher. In theory, the babysitters spoke Hebrew to her as well, but I am pretty sure that they all switched to English the minute we walked out the door.

That said, she is a capable Hebrew speaker. Or, she was, until we moved to Israel and made friends primarily with English-speaking kids. Many of these kids also speak Hebrew but as a result of "the bubble-effect" that exists in our neighbourhood, the kids all know who speaks English and it is completely natural for them to speak to each other in the accused language.

At this point in Yael's life, more than half her classmates are native-English speakers -- and they all know it. While the teacher demands that the girls speak Hebrew in class, she has very little control over what happens at recess. The result, at least for the past several years, is that approximately half the class can't play with the other half of the class -- because the rules to many games and the social interaction of play all occurs in English. Needless to say this has caused a lot of friction with the Hebrew-speaking parents. And I have to agree with their concerns one hundred per cent (or "maya-huz" in this case).

Which brings me to today. As it turns out, the little girl Yael was speaking to was, in fact, a native Hebrew speaker who just wants to be like the majority of the class and speak English. This same little girl just happens to be incredibly bright and has learned English out of sheer desire and determination. (And you should hear her read.)

I like this girl regardless of what language she speaks but I would be lying if I didn't acknowledge that I was thrilled that Yael had such a good friend who was a Hebrew speaker.

We came all this way to live in a country that we believe is our home and to speak the language of our ancestors (sort of). As I have mentioned previously in other posts, my Hebrew leaves a lot to be desired. And as I have also mentioned, as a matter of principle, I still go out there and speak it every day. It's worth it just to see the perplexed looks on people's faces as they try to follow along.

However, if I had to choose one language for my children, it would have to be Hebrew. We live in Israel and they go to school all day in Ra'anana.

Fortunately, I don't have to choose. My kids seem to be able to handle both languages without too much effort. But let me leave you with a truly pathetic story.

The year we arrived in Israel there were 35 children in my son's nursery school. Twenty-eight were native English speakers. One native-born Israeli family, recently relocated from Tel Aviv, had placed their child in this nursery school. Within weeks they had to remove their daughter from the nursery school and place her elsewhere. Why? According to her mother: she didn't speak English and she didn't feel like she fit in.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Did someone put something in the drinking water?

I don't know what's going on today or if this is just a case of a copycat "crime", but all of a sudden some of Israel's most vocal and supposedly unbiased opponents are jumping on the "Israel-is-not-so-bad" bandwagon. I don't know what's going on and frankly I am suspicious but I guess I might as well enjoy it for as long as it lasts -- or until the end of the world, which is what newly positive press coverage like this suggests.

Here is the text of a soft-pedalled mea cupla from the Jew-hating Jew who used to run Human Rights Watch. It was first published in the New York Times on October 20th (today) and then re-reported by the NGO Monitor.

HRW's Founder Condemns Moral Failure

Robert L. Bernstein, the founder of Human Rights Watch, published a very important critique of the organization in the New York Times (October 20, 2009). In declaring his decision to “publicly join the group’s critics,” Bernstein endorses the conclusion that HRW has lost all credibility over the Middle East.

Bernstein’s op-ed follows publication of NGO Monitor’s systematic report demonstrating HRW’s blatant bias and lack of credibility on the Middle East. These findings have been amplified by the recent call from leading experts including Elie Wiesel, Prof Alan Dershowitz and former CIA Director R. James Woolsey for HRW’s board members to “institute a full independent review and reform in the organization.”

HRW’s moral failures, as denounced by Bernstein, were highlighted by the effort to solicit funds in Saudi Arabia, and exposure of the organization’s Middle East division, dominated by anti-Israel activists Sarah Leah Whitson and Joe Stork. Meanwhile ‘senior military analyst’ Marc Garlasco, responsible for many claims used to condemn Israel, was revealed to be an obsessive collector of Nazi memorabilia.

During this time, HRW has played a leading role in lobbying intensively on behalf of the discredited Goldstone report. Richard Goldstone himself was an HRW board member until forced to resign when NGO Monitor noted the conflict of interest.

Rights Watchdog, Lost in the Mideast
Robert L. Bernstein
October 20, 2009

As the founder of Human Rights Watch, its active chairman for 20 years and now founding chairman emeritus, I must do something that I never anticipated: I must publicly join the group’s critics. Human Rights Watch had as its original mission to pry open closed societies, advocate basic freedoms and support dissenters. But recently it has been issuing reports on the Israeli-Arab conflict that are helping those who wish to turn Israel into a pariah state.

At Human Rights Watch, we always recognized that open, democratic societies have faults and commit abuses. But we saw that they have the ability to correct them — through vigorous public debate, an adversarial press and many other mechanisms that encourage reform.

That is why we sought to draw a sharp line between the democratic and nondemocratic worlds, in an effort to create clarity in human rights. We wanted to prevent the Soviet Union and its followers from playing a moral equivalence game with the West and to encourage liberalization by drawing attention to dissidents like Andrei Sakharov, Natan Sharansky and those in the Soviet gulag — and the millions in China’s laogai, or labor camps.

When I stepped aside in 1998, Human Rights Watch was active in 70 countries, most of them closed societies. Now the organization, with increasing frequency, casts aside its important distinction between open and closed societies.

Nowhere is this more evident than in its work in the Middle East. The region is populated by authoritarian regimes with appalling human rights records. Yet in recent years Human Rights Watch has written far more condemnations of Israel for violations of international law than of any other country in the region.

Israel, with a population of 7.4 million, is home to at least 80 human rights organizations, a vibrant free press, a democratically elected government, a judiciary that frequently rules against the government, a politically active academia, multiple political parties and, judging by the amount of news coverage, probably more journalists per capita than any other country in the world — many of whom are there expressly to cover the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Meanwhile, the Arab and Iranian regimes rule over some 350 million people, and most remain brutal, closed and autocratic, permitting little or no internal dissent. The plight of their citizens who would most benefit from the kind of attention a large and well-financed international human rights organization can provide is being ignored as Human Rights Watch’s Middle East division prepares report after report on Israel.

Human Rights Watch has lost critical perspective on a conflict in which Israel has been repeatedly attacked by Hamas and Hezbollah, organizations that go after Israeli citizens and use their own people as human shields. These groups are supported by the government of Iran, which has openly declared its intention not just to destroy Israel but to murder Jews everywhere. This incitement to genocide is a violation of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

Leaders of Human Rights Watch know that Hamas and Hezbollah chose to wage war from densely populated areas, deliberately transforming neighborhoods into battlefields. They know that more and better arms are flowing into both Gaza and Lebanon and are poised to strike again. And they know that this militancy continues to deprive Palestinians of any chance for the peaceful and productive life they deserve. Yet Israel, the repeated victim of aggression, faces the brunt of Human Rights Watch’s criticism.

The organization is expressly concerned mainly with how wars are fought, not with motivations. To be sure, even victims of aggression are bound by the laws of war and must do their utmost to minimize civilian casualties. Nevertheless, there is a difference between wrongs committed in self-defense and those perpetrated intentionally.

But how does Human Rights Watch know that these laws have been violated? In Gaza and elsewhere where there is no access to the battlefield or to the military and political leaders who make strategic decisions, it is extremely difficult to make definitive judgments about war crimes. Reporting often relies on witnesses whose stories cannot be verified and who may testify for political advantage or because they fear retaliation from their own rulers.. Significantly, Col. Richard Kemp, the former commander of British forces in Afghanistan and an expert on warfare, has said that the Israel Defense Forces in Gaza “did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare.”

Only by returning to its founding mission and the spirit of humility that animated it can Human Rights Watch resurrect itself as a moral force in the Middle East and throughout the world. If it fails to do that, its credibility will be seriously undermined and its important role in the world significantly diminished.

Robert L. Bernstein, the former president and chief executive of Random House, was the chairman of Human Rights Watch from 1978 to 1998.

Bite me, World!

Since I am not technologically skilled enough to download the YouTube video directly, I am sending a link to a speech given by Col. Richard Kemp, previously the British forces' commander in Afganistan. He was speaking at the Human Rights Council Special Session on the Goldstone Report. Anyone who follows world politics with any degree of consistency knows how frighteningly bias the UN Human Rights Council is. The fact that Col. Kemp said what he said is worth acknowledging. He isn't a Jew and sticking his neck out for Israel in such an unfriendly environment deserves mention.

Here's the link:

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Is a seat upgrade worth two kosher meals?

I am willing to bet that you have never asked yourself this question. And frankly, neither did I until last week when I thought I was faced with precisely that dilemma.

On the first leg of our return trip to Israel midway through last week, Ari and I realized too late that for some inexplicable reason we were not on the list of people who requested kosher food. Mid-air there isn't a lot one can do about this and despite the flight crew's first instinct to blame it on me, they then tried to make amends by offering us non-kosher food!

When I declined their offer I suspect that they simply mentally filed me as an uncooperative passenger whom they had tried to appease and then, they washed their hands of me.

Obviously they didn't know me very well. In such situations I would compare myself to grease -- not so easy to scrub off. And that's when I went on my second plane-related rampage of the trip. Fortunately Ari is well versed in his mother's scene-making skills so it didn't phase him when, upon entering the plane for the second leg of our return trip, I told him to go ahead and sit down because I wanted to speak to the stewardess.

He knew enough to hightail it out of there no questions asked. (You have to train kids to do this; it's not their natural instinct.)

I then proceeded to question the poor unsuspecting stewardess about my kosher food for this segment of the journey. Naturally she checked her list and naturally, we weren't on it. First she tried to blame it on me saying that I must have been very late buying my tickets, but when I presented my ticket receipt dated July 26 and with "kosher food" listed in bold letters, she was hard pressed to continue with that tact. And that's when I went in for the kill.

I will spare you all the details because yes, they are gorry. Suffice it to say that two other kosher passengers were so taken with my performance that they offered me their meals. I declined. That would have let the airline of the hook way too easily. Plus, taking other people's kosher meals just transferred the problem from my "plate" to theirs. That didn't seem fair.

Now while the stewardess was busy trying to solve what I had pretty much positioned as a minor hate crime on the part of the airline, Ari was walking through the economy section of the plane. As I neared him he turned around and said: "Ema, turn around, our seats aren't here. I went too far."

With a quick glance I realized that seats 11a and 11c were not in Economy. We quickly turned around and found our fabulous seats in what BMI calls Premium Economy or something like that. Without going into details once again, it was simply too good to be true.

The problem was that I couldn't figure out if the airline had made a mistake or not. And considering that I had just made a bit of scene at entrance of the plane, I didn't feel like I was in any position to inquire. So I sat there for the rest of the flight trying to figure out what must have happened and what it could possibly mean. Was it a cruel joke from a higher power or just a fluke? And if it was a fluke, had I lost my ability to complain about my kosher food issue from such a fancy seat? Or was I simply going to be perceived as an overindulged complainer? Was I going to be found out and sent to the back of the plane or would the airline totally overlook its error? All this thinking was exhausting (although I had a great seat for an exhausted person).

I have no idea what the answers to these questions are, but I have to tell you that getting the big, fancy, cushy seat changed everything and left me perplexed for the rest of the trip home. Oh yes, and in the end, we also got kosher food. Speculate away. I sure am.

Friday, October 16, 2009

How far do we have to walk to find a cure?

When I got up today I was looking forward to the first annual Breast Cancer Awareness Walk that was held in Ra'anana in honour of two wonderful local women who succumbed to the awful disease in the past few years. Now that the walk is over, all I can remember is how sad I am.

The first woman honoured today was Mindy Greenberg who died at 43, four years ago. I didn't know her very well but everyone who did liked her a lot. The first time I met Mindy she called me to ask me to please have my son Zeve stop trying to drown her son Noam when they played together in the local pool. At the time I was mortified because we all know how much everyone loves getting calls from strangers telling them that their five-year olds are potential murderers! The biggest irony of that call was that pretty much ever since then, the boys have been very good friends. Such good friends in fact that Mindy commented on it to me about a week before she died.

The second woman was my very good friend Diane Taragin. Diane died almost a year ago and not a day goes by that I don't think about her. She was a special woman -- she was very serious about her Judaism but you could always count on her to say such outrageous things that you thought you would choke with laughter. Of course, all those outrageous things were probably things that the rest of us were thinking -- she just had the guts to put her thoughts into words and throw them out there for public consumption.

There's so much I miss about her that I couldn't make a list even if I wanted to, but the one thing I want to mention is that not long after her funeral I was back in the Ra'anana graveyard again for another funeral. On the way out I stopped by her grave to leave a stone and on the way into her row I noticed that very near by was the grave of one of Israel's most notorious mobsters who had, just prior to Diane's death, died when his car inexplicably (?) blew up on the streets of Tel Aviv.

I burst into laughter because all I could think was that if Diane knew that such a dubious character was in her hallowed row she would have started a campaign to have him moved elsewhere. And if she had come across him in the Netherworld (which I guess would have been unlikely since she is with the good guys and he definitely is NOT), she would have given him a piece of her mind about his behaviour and its impact the country.

And that's why I came home today much sadder than when I left. I don't want to talk about these women in the past tense. I don't understand why, despite their access to excellent medical care and their families' willingness to do anything to help them, there was nothing that could be done. I don't understand why bad things happen to good people. I don't understand why good things happen to bad people. There's a lot of things that I just don't get.

However, since there probably are no satisfactory answers to these questions, those of us left behind will keep telling stories, laughing at the memories, and walking to find a cure.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Now I know why we should let sleeping dogs lie

Apparently I have watched way too many Disney movies in my day because I really thought that dogs talked to each other -- in English. I was acutely aware of this preconceived notion yesterday as we left the dog kennel section of the local dog pound with our new puppy.

After our friend and pound veterinarian Sarah (the same Sarah from the Half Ironman Weekend) had let our new puppy out of her cage, all the other dogs started barking as our new puppy strutted down the pound corridor for the last time. I am sure beyond a shadow of a doubt that all the other dogs were barking: "good luck pal, and come back for us if things are good on the outside." And I am pretty sure that my new puppy barked back: "I'm off to brighter pastures boys!"

I refuse to retract my speaking dog theory but since I was forced back into reality once we got home I now see that real-life dogs are nothing like those fake movie dogs. Beethoven was very independent and so were Lady and the Tramp. They went out for a spaghetti dinner as I recall. And what about all those clever dogs in Cats & Dogs? Humans seemed almost inconsequential in their lives beyond providing some food and shelter. This does not appear to be the case in real life.

Oh, and I must seguay for a second to THANK (not) everyone I bumped into yesterday who said: "Are you crazy?" or just burst into laughter when they saw us walking our new dog. If I hear the phrase: "you're in for a month of hell" again I am going to knock someone off. You all know who you are and I strongly advise that you keep an eye open when you see me and my dog coming. If not, he is going to pee on you once I teach him how to pee-on-demand. I would like to say that he will bite you if you aren't nice but he weighs all of three kilos and he has a sweet temperament so I am not counting on much in the tough-dog department.

Regardless of what I thought dogs were like, I am happy to say that we have survived the first 24 hours without a major incident. Of course, peeing on my beautiful Italian ceramics wasn't exactly the best thing that happened yesterday. And I am sure that the dog would be happier if Yael would stop trying to dress her up in doll clothes and carry her around.

Either way, I feel like our transition to Israel is nearing completion. The dog is really the icing on the cake.

(A few side notes... first, you will notice that I didn't mention the dog's name and that's because it has changed twice since we brought her home. Poor dog is going to end up with multiple personalities. I wanted to name her Tellulah but no one else would agree to that. Then we moved to Rocky but that was perplexing to some people because it's a she-dog (for now). We think we have finally arrived at the name Pepper, but you will have to wait until my next post for confirmation.

(Second of all, I would have posted a photograph of the dog IF WE HAD A CAMERA! But thanks to some thoughtless person on the 16 bus that stops in Picadilly Circus, we no longer own one.)