Sunday, November 29, 2009

The many facets of spitting

Last Friday, a few hours before Shabbat, I dropped off a home-made challah at my friend's house. She had asked me to make one for her and I was more than happy to have an excuse to make extra. When I arrived at her house to give it to her, I couldn't help but hear one of her children crying -- it was coming from the upstairs window. I also heard her husband's voice disciplining the child who had apparently been ...... spitting.

When my friend came to the door she was slightly uncomfortable with the kiddy bellows coming from upstairs, but as someone with older children than she has, I couldn't help but laugh because I only wish that spitting was the biggest issue on my child-rearing plate.

When I saw the spitting culprit in synagogue the next morning, she looked none the worse for wear so I can only assume she learned her lesson and was now getting on with her spit-free life!

If that had been the end of the spitting issue I wouldn't be sitting here writing about it. However, when I turned on my computer today and started to peruse the JPost, I stumbled across an article by Larry Derfner about religious Jews in the Old City (of Jerusalem) spitting on the leaders of other religious groups.

Last Thursday spitting wasn't even an issue, and here I am on Sunday, and I just can't seem to get away from spitting. Since when did spitting make such a big comeback? I must have been out of town when it happened.

Okay, I am getting to the point.

I thought it was a typical right-of-passage when I heard the four-year-old spitter getting a talking-to from her father about the unacceptability of spitting. It's a typical lesson for kids that age and heaven knows I have given that lecture a couple of dozen times myself. I am willing to bet that almost every parent has. And while it might seem obvious to a generally well-adjusted adult that you can't go around spitting on people, apparently that message never got to the Jewish Quarter of the Old City.

When a senior Armenian Orthodox cleric tells the Jerusalem Post that he has been spit at or on at least 20 times in the last 10 years by Orthodox Jews, I am left speechless. And apparently it isn't directed only at this one cleric. The same fellow reports that it is a common experience for every Christian cleric (of both sexes) who walks around the Old City in traditional cleric garb.

Where the heck were these spitters when they were kids? Didn't their parents discipline them when they spit on someone? I can't help but think that they did not. Spitting has probably been around since the beginning of time, but I am willing to bet that for the past 1000 years it was poor child's play, not adults who should know better.

I am really angry at these spitters. And I am not going to let them off the hook as I did my cute little four-year-old spitter because frankly, their actions are pathetic. These Orthodox fanatics don't spit on Muslims ... oh, no, that might cause an international incident or a Muslim might retaliate. But somehow spitting on Christians is okay, because in Israel they are a small and quiet minority.

I really hate these stories because they show a side of some Jewish people that is so embarassing and so easily an excuse for anti-semitism. I know that these spitters are not my people and not my Jews but the fact that they show so little tolerance to people who are different from them, speaks volumes about what they have forgotten about the collective past of their own people -- my people.

These same people wear the outwardly defining clothing of religious people, so you would think that it would make them think twice before acting so badly. (Like the kid with red hair who has to think twice before participating in a shady activity because he will always be easily identifiable as the kid with the red hair.) But apparently not. I think that the religious fanatics see their clothing as their free-pass. They think that because they wear those clothes that they are better than other people and that they are not measured by the same standards; they are above those standards.

They think that they are the arbiters of who is acceptable and who is not. While a four-year-old spitter is just learning the ropes of life, a religiously-educated and supposedly observant adult spitter is someone whose father never took them aside to explain

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Where do I come from?

A few days ago as I was leaving the grocery store, the guy at the entrance who checks your bill to make sure you didn't steal the entire cart of groceries you are trying to force out the front doors of the supermarket, stamped my bill and said, have a nice day. And when I answered him in my splendido hebrew, he innocently asked me the ultimate existential question: Where did you come from?

I don't think he meant it to be an existential question and my first reaction was to say "Canada." Well, I did come from Canada. However, after I put all my groceries into the car and started to drive away, it struck me that that was a really simplistic answer.

Where did I come from?

Well, for the first 18 years of my so-called life I saw myself strictly as a Cape Bretoner. Not a Nova Scotian -- that would have been too broad a definition and the rest of the province seemed like an unnecessary extension of my island (when in fact, it was the exact opposite). I definitely not see myself as a Canadian -- the concept of Canada was just too big and it had nothing to do with my day-to-day life.

For all intents and purposes I was a 100% born and bred Cape Bretoner -- and that was a great source of pride and identity for me. If I had one regret, it was that my ancestors were neither native Cape Bretoners nor of Scottish descent. And in Sydney, where I grew up, many people referred to us as "your people" ... that meant Jewish in polite Cape Breton terms.

Overall, I had no complaints. Other than a few colourful anti-semitic moments, it was a great childhood and I only have good memories.

When I left home to go to university at 18, I moved to Hamilton, Ontario. I lived there for four years but never once felt like a Hamiltonian. I did, however, like Hamilton, because, like Sydney, it was a steel town and I was comfortable among the steelworking public.

After Hamilton I moved to Syracuse, New York and after a year and a half there I still felt like an alien. Americans and Canadians may share a very long and open border, but trust me when I say that Americans are nothing like Canadians -- and definitely nothing like Cape Bretoners. While I made some wonderful friends there, I could never have imagined my life south of the 49th parallel. Nope. Never. Yeesh. So much so that I ended up back in Hamilton armed with a master's degree and I went to work for one of the steel companies. And while I loved Hamilton, I never saw myself there long term.

Next, I moved to Toronto. I lived there so long that you would think that I eventually connected with the city. Well, it never happened. After 15 years in that city, I still couldn't wait to leave it.

One thing that did occur during all those years out of Cape Breton is that eventually I saw myself more as an Ontarian, with a hint of Canadian stuck in for show. I slowly lost most of my Cape Breton accent (notice that I said "most") and became a big city chick.

Then came the pivotal point in my life -- at 40 -- that my Israel-born, Toronto-raised husband decided that we should pack up and move to Israel. Without repeating all the details, I was less-than-thrilled-but-willing-to-be-cooperative. Fast forward eight years and as you all know, I love living here. So much so that I dislike traveling to Canada for anything ... except perhaps a quick trip to Walmart.

I really do believe that this is the best place in the world to be Jewish. And my Jewish self hates to be anywhere else. The problem is that this has caused a gigantic identity crisis for me. I didn't know that until my most recent trip to Cape Breton for my father's gravestone unveiling. The people who were there are the people I have known all of my life. They knew me from day one and most of them knew my parents years before they knew each other. These people are my roots. There are many things that I do not have to explain to them; we have the same shared experience -- particularly the Jewish ones because it is a tricky balancing act to be a Jew in the non-Jewish wilderness.

All of which brings me to my existential crisis. Where do I come from? Honestly, I don't think I could answer that question even if I wanted to. And I really do want to. All I can come up with is that I come from a little bit of many places and a lot of none.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Talk about being lost in translation

Early this morning I was out walking Pepper. By my standards, the weather was perfect -- warm, but not hot; bright but not glaring; gently breezy but not windy. Just a gorgeous morning. And Pepper was doing her usual routine. She stopped for a quick pee at the corner and then scooted along for another two blocks before I needed my pooper scooper. Next, we proceeded to drop by and visit all of her doggy friends who were still chained to their owner's property awaiting their morning walks. Sounds like a pretty normal, dull day. And it was.

But as I turned the corner for our return trip, some children were already heading off to school. I normally walk the dog before the little critters hit the road which is better for Pepper because she has less people to jump on and there is a better chance that I can keep her focused on the task at hand.

However, today, I couldn't help but notice one little girl walking with her over-sized knapsack to school. While most kids in my neighbourhood wear school "uniform" t-shirts, this little girl was wearing a t-shirt that had "Sexy Lade" written across her little chest.

At first it caught my eye because of the ridiculous spelling of "lady", but then I started to think about what kind of parent buys a t-shirt for a little girl with such a come-hither sort of statement plastered across the front?

I am sure that there are many people who buy those shirts because they think it is funny. And there are a lot more who just buy whatever has the cheapest price tag. There are even more who don't notice one way or the other. But in Israel, there are a significant number of people who buy such items because they can't read the words and they wouldn't know an English typo if it jumped up and bit them on the butt.

I don't say this insultingly because I probably wouldn't know a Hebrew typo if it hit me over the head either. I am simply stating the facts.

Over the years I could have easily bought any one of my children a t-shirt with what looked like a cute hebrew word splattered across it when, in fact, the word could have been "ben-zona" (bastard) or some such comparable slang. If it looked nice and been priced right, yes, I might easily have bought it -- only to find out from my horrified hebrew-reading friends what I had just done. Of course, I would have found out too late because no one would have noticed it until my child was out walking to school early one morning and bumped into one of my friends walking his or her dog.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

I could have brought back a whole cow

Years ago, while was in university, I spent a lot of time meandering back and forth across the 49th parallel.

Going to Buffalo was always a good plan at 1:00 a.m. when all the bars closed in Ontario. And going to Detroit was where we went to flirt with danger. Taking the tunnel from Windsor or driving over the Ambassador Bridge was like the ultimate road trip. We didn't want any part of the danger mind you, but we wanted to be voyeurs on the front lines as much as possible. Greek Town in the middle of Detroit was always a good place to start.

Then there was the year I spent in Syracuse. That was a real turning point in my cross-border career. As a good Canadian who spent my formative shopping years near the US border, I became very adept at moving my purchases from one side to the other. I can't go into the details because I am not sure if the statute of limitations has expired yet. However, you can trust me when I say that my friends and I had a plan A, B, C and D for every border crossing we encountered.

But the thing I remember most is how my good friend in Niagara Falls (on the Canadian side) lived her life going back and forth across the Canadian US border the way some people go back and forth to the corner store. She had family in Buffalo and the gas was much cheaper there, as were the groceries, clothing, school supplies and pretty much everything else. This was particularly true when the Canadian dollar dropped to its all-time low of about 70 cents on the US greenback in the mid 80s.

The funniest part of this memory was her little old European grandfather who was probably only as big as I was, but had the toughness of a Jew who had escaped Europe through his own creativity, "just in time" in the mid 1930s. He went across the Canadian US border probably as frequently as she did, but as a Jew raised in early-Hitler Europe, he was not one to tempt fate or the border authorities.

However, every time he came back to Canada without being questioned -- which was pretty much every time -- he would always say the same thing: "I could have brought back a whole cow". That line always cracked me up.

And early this morning as I arrived in Israel from Greece with only a few little tokens of my trip -- rather than the things I really wanted to buy -- I couldn't help but think the exact same thing. I received only the most cursory security check as I was leaving Greece at 1:00 a.m. this morning and having breezed through security, I couldn't help but think of all the things I almost bought, but didn't because I naively thought that in post the 9-11 world that it was actually going to be problematic to get across a border with extra liquor and things made out of wire. Ha.

Talk about frustration. Talk about all those cool things I left behind in the stores of Athens. Talk about the fact that I could have brought back a whole cow.

Friday, November 20, 2009

A short note from Greece

Hello from the home of Aristotle and Plato ... I think. I am sitting in the partial darkness typing on a keyboard without letters. Pretty damn good if you ask me.

I came to spend a few days with my mother and my sister. After a week with my mother, my sister needs a break so I guess you could call it a bit of a rescue mission. My mother has spent many years traveling with my father and they had their own travel groove. Since he is gone, my sister has graciously picked up the travel gauntlet because she travels so much. Of course, she is the only adult professional schlepping around the world with her mother in tow. My mother is now friends with film people all around the globe. It may not seem like a big deal to you, but when I think about it, it gives me the willies. I think my father is having a good laugh at all of this from his lofty, removed position.

Since it is dark and I am guessing about which key is which, I will just write a few observations about Athens.

- The shopping streets are so much like those in London that I had to do a double-take. While this is very sad on one hand because Greece seems to be losing some of its Greekness, on the other hand, I was able to pick up some Marks and Spencer undies without flying to London.
- There are a lot of overweight Greek women which I find strange considering that the Greek Middle Eastern diet is considered the ultimate in healthy eating. This is the home of feta cheese and tomatoes in olive oil. How many calories can you rack up from that sort of eating? I guess that there is also the baqlava so maybe that is the key to the weight issue. Oh, and then there is the gelato. Okay, the whole picture is coming together for me now.
- While Israel is certainly a living museum, so is Greece. The Acropolis is remarkable and once you learn the history, it is even more so. What I find hardest to adjust to is that there is no religion behind it -- or very little. Just a lot of people in togas who must have spent days on end, pondering. I have come to the realization that it is much more interesting to live in a country with a lot of history rather than Canada and it's New World "Wow, that church was built in 1878".
- The people are very nice and I should know because I got lost trying to find the hotel. I decided to take a bus from the airport since I had no real bags so to speak and I arrived so many hours ahead of my sister and mother. The bus driver was great and so were the 20 other people who had to guide me in the most circuitous route to my hotel. The funny thing was that once I figured out where I was, I could have made it to the hotel in about five minutes after I got off the bus. But I would have missed out on some nice people, including The Man Who Knows Everything (he's a guy that owns a kiosk near the Acropolis, in the Plaka, who runs an ad hoc info centre) and he really does seem to know everything of importance to a lost person.
- The food is out of this world. At least the fish and the veggies are. I could stay here for three weeks just eating my way through the city. Actually the thought is making me hungry so I am off in search of yet another meal.

Good bye from Greece.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Sometimes I even surprise myself

When I was in twelfth grade -- which was a very long time ago -- my friend Cathy's cat died. It was my first experience with pet death and Lucy, her cat, was the meanest cat from Nova Scotia to British Columbia. I'm not joking -- I would have put Lucy up against any cat in Canada for a good cat fight and I would have bet the farm because Lucy was truly a nasty piece of work. (I say that fondly all these years later.)

All my friends agreed, except Cathy who naturally thought Lucy was the best cat ever. Therefore, when Lucy died and Cathy went into a month-long depression, we, her friends, were baffled. I am even willing to bet that neighbourhood dogs who hadn't left their owners homes in years out of sheer fear of Lucy, were out on the street partying.

Last year when my friend Pat's dog died, I had a slightly warmer reaction. Emily, her now deceased doberman pincher had been been part of my working life for a year. She used to bark as I entered our office every morning and then she would sit beside while I ate my breakfast just waiting for my crumbs. I always made sure there were crumbs because she was big and scary and I was afraid that if there were not crumbs that snacking on me was her Plan B.

I am sure you get the picture.

No one has ever accused me of being a pet lover.

You may be baffled because as most of you know, I now own a dog. And a very cute dog at that. I am like those women who love their own children but are not children-lovers in the general sense. That is my feeling about animals.

I am not going into all the reasons we decided to get a dog but I will say that since getting Pepper, I have made several new friends with dogs all around our neighbourhood. Sometimes I only know the dog and the owners are baffled when their dogs approach me in a familiar manner for a little pat and chat.

However, one dog that I have liked as much as I could like any dog, was a beautiful golden pooch who lived on our street. Her name was Mica and my kids loved her from the moment we moved to Israel. So much so, that when her owner's son was doing his compulsory army service, my kids sent him a big food parcel one holiday, addressed to "Mica's Big Brother" at his army base. And when he wrote back to thank the kids for the junk food, he signed his name the same way.

Mica was Pepper's best friend -- primarily because she had the patience of Job and let Pepper, in her puppy-like enthusiasm, jump all over her for several minutes without loosing her patience.

While I was out doing errands today my husband called and said: "Did you hear?" Usually when he says that he is about tell me some crazy story about the goings-on in the synagogue. "No," I said casually, "what happened?" "Mica died," was his unexpected response.

Well, let me tell you. The news has completely ruined my day. I am just devastated. She was only six years old and the story is so mysterious that even her owners who found her mere hours before the end, don't really know what happened. They rushed her to the vet, but to no avail. They have some theories -- and I agree with those theories completely.

I am not going to list them here because there may be people who still want to buy houses on my street and I don't want compromise those deals. No, it's not poltergeists or serial murderers, so just don't go there.

What has surprised me the most is the depth of my personal sadness. It was just last week that Mica and Pepper were out playing together on the street and I was running after Pepper like a nutcase. It was only Mica's maturity (really) that made her go back to her owner when she called and as a result, I was able to catch up with Pepper. She was a beautiful dog and I am going to miss her. I think I am doing a Cathy!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

After 11 months, that's that

Today I said the Jewish prayer for the dead for the last time. In the observant Jewish world, when a parent dies, the son must say kaddish (the prayer theoretically for the dead, although not really for the dead) three times a day for 11 months.

I decided to say it daily (although only once a day) eleven months ago when my father died because I knew my brother wouldn't and couldn't. After some searching for precedents (arguments in Judaism are not unlike arguments in a court of law) and after talking to my two rabbis (I'm Jewish and we are not programmed to settle for one opinion), I decided that it was better to take on the task myself rather than handing it over to my husband.

Giving the task to one's husband is commonly Plan B in my world. There are exceptions but as I have mentioned on several previous occasions, this is not a Judaism class. If you want more information, google it or ask someone who actually knows what they are talking about.

I am not a feminist in anything but the most basic, obvious ways, but passing off my responsibility on to my husband just didn't feel right to me. In all fairness, it is not uncommon to do so and I am sure that many of my friends who didn't have a brother to say the prayer daily, did exactly that or will do exactly that when the time comes.

I decided to do this for my own reasons but in the process I became a poster child for a campaign that I never really wanted to spearhead in the first place. First of all, I would have rather had my father than be making prayers in his memory or for the protection of his soul. Secondly, if people started looking at me as a religious role model then the world has truly gone to hell in a handbasket!

However, before I wrap up the process completely (because I do not intend to continue going to synagogue every day at 2:15 p.m.), I need to get some closure. So here it is.

When I started to "say kaddish" I was very uncomfortable and intimidated by the men in the synagogue. I received more hairy eyeballs and snarly lipped looks than I care to remember. However, the joke was on all of them. They thought they could intimidate me enough that I would stop praying out loud, but I did not. In fact, the longer I did it, the more I learned and the more confident I became. And let me add to all of you (you know who you are): A pox on your house for your downright childish, narrow-minded, parochial behaviour.

I also have a few people who deserve acknowledgment (although I won't give their names):

  • Thank you to my husband (okay, one sort-of name) who fought all the early battles on the men's side of the synagogue when the men tried to ignore me and keep on praying as if I wasn't there.
  • Hahahaha to you ignoramuses who tried to keep praying and pretending I wasn't there. I was there and G-d took note of your lousy behaviour.
  • Thank you to the men in the more tolerant synagogue up the street from my regular synagogue, who not only supported me quietly but also told me when I missed my cue to start my recitation by yelling my name out loud!
  • Thank you to the American men in my synagogue who are just raised more tolerant than men from other societies. I thank God every day that you weren't born Belgian, British, or Canadian.
  • Thank you even more to the one Belgian, two Brits and a spattering of Canadians who supported me despite their cultural backgrounds. You are a credit to independent thinkers everywhere.
  • Thank you to the men who were also saying kaddish and took the time to say it slowly so that I wouldn't be left behind.
  • Thank you to my young neighbour who totally disagreed with what I was doing but managed to keep enough of a sense of humour to take it all in stride.
  • Thank you to my rabbi who basically told the men in our congregation that anyone who had a problem with what I was doing was going to have to go through him.
  • And thank you to all the women who stood around me in synagogue and said Amen at all the right times regardless of what was happening on the men's side of the building.
I would have preferred never to have found myself in this situation to begin with but since we have no choice in these matters, I can truly say that I have learned a lot and grown immensely from the experience. That said, I am no one's poster child so don't look for me in synagogue this week. I'm taking a day off.

Friday, November 13, 2009

I had totally forgotten about moose hunting

The bottom line is that there is no moose hunting in Israel because there are no moose here. Therefore, moose hunting hasn't crossed my mind for at least the last eight years. But a few days ago I got a big reminder that there are people who hunt moose during moose season every year because my friend Holly in Toronto is one of them.

The first time Holly told me she was going moose hunting, I honestly thought that she was pulling my leg. She's about five feet tall and maybe 95 pounds on a fat day. She likes high heels and make-up; I just didn't take her for a nature girl. Boy was I wrong.

This year, she and her husband, and their other moose-hunting cohorts shot a big one. Well, it looked pretty big in the photos she emailed to me the other day. I just luvvvvv photos of dead animals!

At first I almost fell off my chair when I started opening the photos -- and to boot, Holly and/or her husband are smiling as they pose in each photo next to the previously living moose. When I wrote to Holly about her affinity for moose hunting, she wrote back a very comprehensive answer. It is obvious that I am not the first person to ask her why the hell she likes to moose hunt?

Before I continue, let me say that I am not against dead moose (although I like to catch of glimpse of living ones much better) or eating meat. This isn't a vegetarian thing at all. I just can't imagine tromping around in the forest in a molted green jacket or a red plaid one for that matter, with a gun, looking for things to kill.

However, in Holly's defense, I want to reprint her comments to me. They are worth repeating. Please note that I have taken the liberty of editing her for brevity (and only brevity).

"Sometimes I don't think people realize that hunters are advocates for all wildlife and although it's considered a sport, hunters would tend to speak of it as a way of life, a mindset, a commitment to the future of our natural wilderness. From the beginning of time, people have hunted to live - to feed and clothe their families... and today's hunters are no different. There is no more respect for an animal than from that of a hunter in awe of it's gifts. And for the record, my husband and I always give thanks over the animal before we prepare it for transport from the woods.

"... my moose is lean from walking all day every day for miles and miles while a regular cow stands around the barnyard getting fat all day every day. Like I tell those who feel the need to criticize us hunters, at least my moose has a fair chance of getting away whereas the average cow gets corralled into a killing pen and never has a chance. And our purpose is not only to use the meat, but the hide goes to the nearest Native Indian Tribe and we're actually helping to manage the moose population by reporting what we harvest to the Ministry of Natural Resources whether it be moose, deer, turkey, goose, duck, you name it... our license fees also go to research for the same purpose.

"And by the way, any game meat anywhere is absolutely better for you and I than anything that is farmed or processed. Government graded, sealed or not, hunters harvest the safest and most natural meat there is for consumption, hands down. So don't feel sorry for my moose... feel sorry for the poor cow stuck in a dirty stinky barn who gets slaughtered after maybe a years lifespan. My moose was 4 1/2 years old and the biggest one we harvested a few years back was 7 or 8. And they're free! To roam anywhere they want in the wide open wilderness, play, swim, have sex with different partners, sleep where they want. That stinky fat and dirty cow in the barnyard really doesn't have much of a life at all if you ask me... So there you go, that's my speech for the day... Hope I haven't offended you in any way...

So there. I think Holly makes a compelling case. I still don't expect to pick up a gun in the near future and head off in search of animals to kill, but I have to applaud Holly for approaching her activity with such positive convictions.

It also goes to show that you can't judge a book by its cover and some people have a lot more to them once you get to know them. I will never join Holly in the woods, but I am glad I have a friend with a different view on the world than mine.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

I'll tell you why I don't like Tuesdays

There is never enough time. Everyone I know is constantly rushing around with more things to do than there is time to do them. For many years I just assumed that that was part of my big city, commuting, working lifestyle. However, that was an incorrect assumption. Now I live in a very small city and I work from home or close to home and I still don't have enough time to get things done.

And that is why I am particularly peeved that for some inexplicable reason stores in Israel close on Tuesday afternoons. What is it about Tuesdays?

Stores close early on Fridays -- particularly in the winter, when the Jewish Sabbath starts at about 4:30 p.m. because that is when the sun sets. And as far as I can tell (not that I spend so much time traveling all around Israel on Friday afternoons that I could call myself an authority on the subject), even non-observant Jews are in the cultural habit of short Fridays. It is Israel's answer to a two-day weekend. It's not a great answer, but it is still better than a kick in the head. And I can understand it. I grew up with quiet, Christian Sundays although I don't think they exist anymore either.

And then there is Saturday, which in Israel -- a Jewish country so far (I don't like to be naively optimistic) -- the influence of the rabbis cannot be ignored. Even if you don't observe the Sabbath, the country officially does. That doesn't mean that things aren't open, but overall, it is a relatively quiet day. Or, once again, I think it is. I'm not exactly out wherever the action might be on Saturdays so I can't say with absolute confidence. I hear that the beaches are hopping and I know that some malls are open, but I have never participated so it's only hearsay.

Next, there is the 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. siesta. I know that it began in the days before air conditioning and when the country was still run by socialists who couldn't have cared less about the stock markets in New York or Hong Kong. Things have changed but the 2 to 4 rule is written in stone. Even today, when Israel is part of the global economy, just try to make noise outside your home between those hours -- seriously, try it -- and you will find yourself face-to-face with some old-timer who is apoplectic that you are outside making noise while he or she naps.

Which brings me back to this need to close up on Tuesday afternoons. How much bloody time do people need to sleep in this country? And what about my shoes that desperately needed new heels on Tuesday? Yes, I could go back to the damn shoe repair shop on Wednesday but I want to understand why he couldn't just be open on Tuesday? It's the middle of the week for heavens sake. People in New York and London can surely get their shoes repaired on Tuesdays and if we are now part of the bigger world, then I should be able to do the same. I am not asking for shoe repair shops to stay open for mall hours, just a simple 3:00 p.m. would suit me fine.

I am sure there is some Israeli-logic answer out there that I have overlooked. Yes, I googled it just in case it was obvious and I was missing the point. I had lots of time to search the internet for answers on Tuesday afternoon because heaven knows I couldn't get any errands done. I would have checked with people on the main street but there weren't any to be found. Everyone was home having their official Tuesday afternoon nap.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Now this is worth watching

I received this link in an email this morning. It's so rare to see something about Israel that does NOT involve war, oppression, and the poor old PA, that I feel obliged to share it as quickly as possible. It's a CNBC news interview with Dan Senor, Adjunct Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at The Council of Foreign Relations (US) who co-wrote a book about Israel's innovative spirit -- and he isn't even Jewish. Take a few minutes and watch it. It's rare to see Israel shown in a positive light and I would hate for you to miss the opportunity.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The ma-bul for ants has come to an end

When it rains in Israel, it usually rains in biblical proportions. I guess that should be expected. It may not rain for long and it surely doesn't rain enough, but when it rains, the skies just open up and dump every last drop they can find. It's like someone filling a really large balloon to supersaturation ... and then popping it.

This total dump might not be such a big deal (well, yes it would) if there were proper sewers in Israel ... which there aren't. Therefore, most of the rain just runs down the streets with wild abandon, gathering up every loose piece of garbage and sediment it can grab.

It's very dramatic and it's fun to be out in the rain, if you have a good pair of rain boots -- which I do. As a total aside, mine are black irridescent, with a furry rim.

One day, a few years ago, Yael and I were walking in the heavy rain in our rain boots, when Yael said: "The ants must have done something very bad because God is sending them a mabul (a flood of Noahide, biblical proportion). At the time that struck me as very funny but also as remarkably accurate. No ant could have survived that wet, wet day although strangely enough I have seen several million since then, so obviously some did live to crawl another day.

I was thinking about the ma-bul for ants yesterday as, once again, the skies opened up and just poured down rain (not enough to rescue Israel from its drought crisis, but more than enough for me). However, as I stood out there on the corner watching the flooding, all I could think was that this was not a ma-bul for ants, but rather, a ma-bul for cats (with the ants as innocent victims, suffering for whatever the cats must have done).

Technically you are not allowed to say anything bad about rain in Israel. We spend at least half of the year praying for it and most people see it as a miracle when it finally arrives. Some years it doesn't arrive and I know I will go straight to hell for saying this, but last year was almost rain free and I had no personal complaints. Of course, my garden had many complaints. It now resembles a deserted street in an ghost town in the Old West. Tumbleweeds and all. My fruit trees were less than amused as well. My mango and pomela harvest was pathetic this year.

And I have already written about the water abusers in my neighbourhood. This is a particularly sensitive point so I won't go into that again. Suffice it to say that for now, whether I like it or not, what we really need is a ma-bul for cows.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

A few important lessons I have learned from our new dog

We have now had Pepper (previously known as Rocky) for a little more than a month. During that month or so, I have to admit that I have grown more attached to her than I had previously expected. I have even arrived at the point that I look forward to our 6:30 a.m. walks. We now know lots of new people and dogs in the neighbourhood because everyone is out walking their dogs when I am out with Pepper early in the morning. And because Pepper is a relative baby, she just loves to stop and socialize with every dog that crosses our path.

As a result of her social, sunny attitude, I have learned a few life lessons that are equally applicable to my human life as they are to any dog's life.

Dog rule #1: If you want to get to know someone just walk up to them and sniff their bum. Yes, it is a bit direct, but dogs do it and they can tell after one quick sniff if they like you or they don't. I am not completely clear on what it is that they are looking for in this sniff-inquiry, but whatever it is, the results are black and white. If they like the smell of your butt, you are a friend for life. If not, has-ta-la-vista stinky bum.

Dog rule #2 (specifically for female dogs, who are probably called bitches for very good reasons): there is no need to go around pissing all over the place and marking territory for a good kilometer radius. Male dogs (and probably men as well) feel that they need to leave their mark everywhere they go, while female dogs (and women) have way more confidence in knowing that their simple presence is enough.

Dog rule #3: Two meals a day, six walks, several naps and a few minutes of roughhousing with a toy and a friend is pretty much as full a day as anyone should have. However, you may also have to tolerate a little dress-up with crazed nine- and 10-year-old girls now and then. It's a small price to pay for an otherwise stress-free life.

Dog rule #4: Once bitten, twice shy. Now I understand that phrase on a whole new level. It's very simple. If someone or something bites you, do not go back for a second round. They had their chance and they chose to bite.

I am sure that as I get to know Pepper better there will be more life lessons, but considering she has only been around for less than six weeks, she has already taught me a few things that I never figured out on my own after 48 years!