Thursday, December 24, 2009

The more things change, the more they stay the same

A few years ago I would have insisted that this picture was directed at North American Jews but now, after a few years in Israel, I realize that all Jewish parents are the same. The only difference here is the focus of Jewish parents' attention. Instead of it being their children's education and careers, it is their senior army officers. Word has it that every parent who has a child in the army has the number of that child's commanding officer on his or her speed dial.

Normally this photograph would make me laugh, but I also have one of those parents.

Thanks for sending me the photo Karen.

It never feels like Christmas here

After spending 40 years celebrating Christmas -- even if it was only tangentially -- it was surprising how quickly I forgot all about it the first year we lived in Israel. I remember the day very clearly. We were sitting in the kitchen having dinner and I had to check the calendar for some other reason. As I scanned December looking for the date I needed, I noticed that it was Christmas Day.

At that moment I just couldn't believe that Christmas had crept up on me completely unnoticed. Considering that in Canada everyone shifts into Christmas mode right after Halloween, I was amazed that it was dinner time on Christmas Day before I even realized it. And considering I live a hop, skip and a jump from both Bethlehem and Nazareth, it was rather ironic.

So here I am, eight years later, on the verge of my eighth Christmas in the Holy Land, and all I can think about it what is going on in my Holy Land (yes, as I said ... within a 90 minute drive to either of the two key locations in the Christmas story.)

First is the complex matter of Gilad Shalit. For those of you who don't know his name, he is an Israeli tank solider who was ambushed and captured by our good friends Hamas 1278 days ago. Normally Hamas and their likes prefer to leave us squirming in our lack of knowledge as to whether our captured soldiers are still alive or not. Usually, after we have released several hundred of their killers back into the world, they like to send us back our ONE or maybe TWO soldiers in pine boxes. So far, it hasn't happened like that this time, but I am not going into the details of why I think that is.

What I will address is the fact that, once again, on this regular December day, Israel is torn apart by what the best course of action is in the Shalit situation. What is best for all of Israel? Not an easy question to answer.

We have a chance to get Gilad back alive -- which is what every Israeli parent with an army-aged child wants. But the price of his release is so very high -- it requires Israel to free hundreds and hundreds of terrorists with blood on their hands. And we know full well that, with very few exceptions, these prisoners were not rehabilitated in Israeli jails and that, once they are back on the streets, they will inevitably kill more Israelis. Needless to say, all of those families who have lost members at the hands of terrorists are against the deal. They are already victims of previous attempts to get some of our soldiers back.

Each side has a legitimate argument and I do not envy the people who will have to make the final decision. Our enemies are not men of integrity. They do not value life. They are scumbags. (This does not include all the innocent people living under their rule.)

However, my second story for the day involves the Israeli scumbags. Yes, we have them too. Unfortunately.

In the midst of the holiday season I hate to discuss upsetting things but today, after reading the newspaper, I feel like I have no choice.

Yesterday's Jerusalem Post reported the most upsetting story I have read in a long time. A Florida family that recently came to live in Israel has just been through one of those ordeals that keep parents up at night worrying.

Their teenage son was arrested for some minor mischief and ended up in Youth Detention. While there he was physically and sexually abused by both the staff and other teenage inmates. When his father came to visit him he had just been through a beating and he begged his father to get him help.

The father tried everything that any normal panic-stricken parent would try to do to protect his or her child. He was ignored by the authorities and dismissed out-of-hand. He hired a lawyer who was so shaken and upset upon meeting the teenager that he could barely discuss it on record.

Together they have worked around the clock trying to get this kid out of juvvie. Needless to say, the family says they are leaving Israel as soon as they possibly can.

At the heart of problem is the fact that the parents are new immigrants and totally out of their element trying to maneuver through the Israeli Justice System. The details of the case appear tenuous although it is difficult to say for sure because the source of all my information is the Post. And heaven help anyone who relies on newspapers for accurate information.

I am an immigrant and although I have not had such a nightmarish experience (thank God) I do understand the helplessness an immigrant feels. A new system (that in some ways is inferior to the system you left behind). A different language. A different mentality. A different culture.

Israel is a wonderful country on many levels, however, at the end of the day, the one thing that North Americans naively expect is that it is a democracy similar to the one they come from. It is not. As I have said before on the odd occasion, Israel is a third-world country dressed up to look a first-world country.

So, as the Christian world enters a special time of their year, it is very easy to see why Christmas doesn't cross my mind anymore.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

And now for cold yoga (not to be confused with hot yoga)

Shwami Shimon's father died this past week and he is sitting shiva for seven days, which is how I found myself at a cold yoga class last night. It's not that I couldn't live without yoga for a week -- because I could surely live without exercise forever -- but in true teenage fashion, everyone else was going so I went too. Actually, I wanted to find out if one could actually do yoga in a room that wasn't 105 degrees.

The short answer is yes, you can do yoga without feeling like you are stranded in the Sinai desert in the noon sun in summer. The longer answer is that it just doesn't feel like you have worked hard enough if the sweat isn't streaming off your body by the bucket load. Cold yoga is very civilized and everyone leaves the class looking pretty much as they did when they entered. After hot yoga you look like you just spent an hour and a half in the oven at 350 degrees.

As an aside, one of my friends asked me after the class why I did yoga at all. "You look like you were really struggling," she said. I wanted to punch her in the face but I did the mature thing and simply agreed that I wasn't the most flexible person on earth. I also added that Swami Shimon said that if I kept it up, I would eventually become more flexible.

If I gave up on everything I tried but didn't do well, then I might as well just sit on the edge of my bed and stare off into space all day. I am very good at that. Actually, I think you could fairly call me an expert in this category.

Back to yoga. Based on the remarks above you can reasonably assume that hot or cold, I didn't execute the moves with any finesse. Apparently temperature has nothing to do with my lack of balance or general yoga ability. I actually thought I was holding my own quite nicely in cold yoga until the editorial input from my "friend" after the class. The teacher didn't have to run to my rescue on a minute-by-minute basis the way Swami Shimon does, so I took that as a sign of improvement on my part.

When I asked the other hot yoga chicks if they preferred cold yoga over hot yoga I received a very enthusiastic and consistent "no way". That doesn't mean that they didn't have fun because who wouldn't have a good time doing pretty much anything with 13 friends? Plus, if you aren't comfortable bending over to grab your ankles and in the process sticking your rear-end in someone's face, then they really weren't your friends to begin with were they?

Also, one thing that cold yoga had that hot yoga never has was an apres-work-out meal of real Nepalese food. Compliments of the cold-yoga initiator, we had the most delicious vegetarian meal I can remember. I would tell you what I ate if I could, but I can't. All I could easily identify were the peas and the basmati rice. There was something mushy in a brown sauce and something else more mushy in a red sauce. Both tasted amazing. And all the dishes were spicy which gave me the added advantage of going home almost as hot as if I had gone to a hot yoga class.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The ultimate convenant

This morning, the first day after the end of my year of mourning for my father and my religion-imposed exile, I attended a brit milah for my friends' grandson. After a year of avoiding all social activity, it was a little bit odd to be out in the greater party world again.

As we all stood inside the main sanctuary of our synagogue chit chatting and loosely participating in the goings on in the center of the room, it dawned on me that the guest of honour was not having nearly as much fun as the rest of us.

First of all, a brit -- or religious circumcision -- is normally held eight days after the birth of a little Jewish baby boy. In the event of medical concerns it may be postponed, as it was in this case because the baby had jaundice. The upside is that it gave me a week to refer to him as the little yellow fellow, but the downside (for him) is that his little nerve endings are a week more developed. In the case of circumcision, this can't possibly be a good thing.

And as if having your foreskin non-surgically removed isn't enough fun for one day, can you imagine the fact that it is obligatory for those in attendance to sit down and have a meal afterward. Frankly, knowing that some poor helpless little guy just lost a piece of skin on such a delicate part of his little body does not put me in the mood to eat -- I don't care if it is obligatory or not.

In addition, all the people who have come to help you celebrate the circumcision are just having a grand old time. I finally realized why that is -- they love tradition and historical continuity that goes on for more than 4000 years -- but more than that, they are just glad that it isn't their child on the chopping block. Okay, it isn't actually a chopping block. Apparently there is a little device that the mohel (the person doing the circumcision) places on the penis that separates the foreskin from the remainder of the member. And then, apparently, it is only a quick snip.

Word has it that circumcision improves sexual sensitivity, but I cannot say that with any degree of confidence. And since the little victims won't be using said members for such purposes for years to come, I don't really see why that should be a rationalization. I am willing to go with the health and cleanliness angle more than the sexual sensitivity angle.

The one thing that I do understand is that it does signify the continuity of the Jewish people. Every Jewish man has been there and done that -- and the uncircumcised penises of their offspring are visually odd to them and signify a (temporary) break in the chain.

What I would like to know is why circumcision? What kind of just and tolerant God comes up with such a covenant between Himself and His flock? There must have been some other symbol that would have worked. A tattoo at 18 perhaps? A pinky-pull? A secret handshake? A secret language? Something. Anything. As long as it was less intrusive.

Oh yes, and preferably something that did not include food.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

You Dawg

Oh my heavens. I am 48 years old and I just realized what the term "dawg" really means. And worse than that, it took the visual aid of my friend's dog to bring the concept into full focus earlier today.

I can't name the dog because it would comprise innocent bystanders.

At around 5:00 p.m. I realized that I had some packages to pick up from my friend's house. And since she only lives a few blocks away I decided to take Pepper along for the walk. I knew she had a dog so I also knew she wouldn't be upset if I brought along my own furry companion.

We arrived at her house and her son let us in. Yes, both of us. You can do that when the homeowners are dog people. Once we were in the house it seemed like a perfectly good idea to let the two dogs play and after a bit of sniffing, off they want to run around her yard.

In a moment of naivety, I started talking to my friend and stopped watching what I thought was the innocent dog play. Well, next thing you know her dog was humping the bejeebers out of my sweet little virgin puppy. At first I couldn't help but laugh. It was just so ... doggy-in-nature like.

We pulled them apart and went back to talking. But this is where the dawg side comes into the picture. I remember guys in university who were totally single minded about girls. I doubt that any of them finished university because that would have required them to focus on their studies now and then, and not solely their little brains. I doubt they could do that. These guys were called dawgs. And they lived to get laid. There was really no other dimension to their personalities. Getting laid wasn't a hobby or sideline -- it was their reason for getting up in the morning.

(I know someone is going to write me to explain that all guys are like that but I just don't believe it, so don't waste your typing. I knew lots of guys who managed to collect a few degrees so they obviously could compartmentalize better than the dawgs.)

Which brings me to my friend's dog -- let's call him The Boffer for simplicity's sake. God love that dog, he's from such a nice family, but I have to tell you that he loses his mind completely when he sees a female dog butt. He spent the next 15 minutes just following Pepper around ready to give her a good 1-2 if she would just comply. And since she is my dog -- she was totally uncooperative. I really don't think she knew what hit her so to speak.

In a fit of chick-like revenge she ate all his dinner, but that did not deter The Boffer -- he just jumped up on her butt and started at her again while she ate his chow. That is the true sign of a sex-obsessed male: he wasn't even upset that she ate his food; he just wanted her to stay still eating it long enough for him to mount her.

Needless to say, my friend was mortified. I thought it was hysterical but just in case Puppy Aid (the dog version of Children's Aid) doesn't agree with my sense of humour, I did the honourable thing and I picked up my dog to get her out of the way of The Boffer's boffer.

As I was leaving, my friend looked at me sort of resigned to the reality that was dawning on her: "You're going to put this on your blog aren't you," she asked. I was going to say no, but then I realized that it was the best story of the day and I just couldn't lie. "Yeah," I said, "but I'll change the names to protect the innocent."

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Sauna yoga for the uninitiated

You know the saying: curiosity killed the cat? Well, it didn't materialize out of nowhere. Somewhere out there, there are a lot of dead cats. And after my yoga experience last week, I could easily be the next one.

As I have stated here many times during the past year, I am no friend of exercise. Not even a passing aquaintence. It is kind of a shame considering my husband just can't get enough of the stuff.

When friends of ours from Florida suggested we join them for yoga one night last week, I thought it was a good compromise. I like yoga -- at least the four lessons I had previously attended didn't seem too bad, even for non-flexi me. Also, I figured my husband and I could go together so it would be a family exercise event and that might satisfy his need to do something active with me for a few weeks. As I saw it, it was a win-win situation. And .... I was curious about this SPECIAL yoga that had all my Floridian friends in a tizzy.

You may notice that I specifically said that the people who kept encouraging me to try this out were all previously residents of the State of Florida. In other words, they are people who were born in colder climates and sought out the warmth of the American South. They are people who thrive in the heat and do not flinch when the humidity reaches 97 per cent. While I don't miss the snow for even one second, suffice it to say that after all is said and done: I AM CANADIAN.

So off we go to this yoga class. My first clue should have been that it was being held in a location that one could not find without the assistance of someone who had been there previously. It was a very Matrix-like moment just getting there.

After our mini journey to the middle of nowhere, we arrived in this very nice little yoga studio and we were met by a very hippie-ish looking guy in shorts. Nothing else. Just shorts. At first glance he didn't look like he was in such great shape himself, although I did survive long enough to eat those words.

We had been forewarned to show up in the least amount of clothing necessary. I was wearing my very obvious green and pink bike shorts (a present from my husband when he was still deluded enough to think I had athletic potential)and a mismatched t-shirt. Please note that all the real yogettes are dressed in yoga outfits.

We all got our bottles of water out and then we headed into a room that looked, from the outside, like a normal work-out room, but when we entered, it was a sauna dressed up to look like a work-out room. I had been tricked but it was tooooo late.

I went to my mat and the class started. I am not going to go through all the details because reliving them is just too painful. So let me summarize: I have no balance. Everyone else had great balance. I have the flexibility of a metal rod. Everyone had the flexibility of a willow branch. I looked like an idiot. Everyone else looked very yoga like -- including my husband who has never done yoga before. I disrupted the class in regular 2 minute intervals. Everyone else participated nicely and quietly. I crashed into my husband more times than I care to count. Everyone else was crash-free. I received special motivational comments from Swami Shimon. Everyone else just received positive nods from him.


An hour into sauna yoga, which in fact is called Bikram Yoga, I thought I was going to sweat out (similar to bleeding out, but with sweat). I just did a quick Wikipedia search and look what it says: "Bikram Yoga is ideally practiced in a room heated to 105°F (40.5°C) with a humidity of 40%." Who the hell does anything physical in 105 degrees. If that isn't a good temperature for reading a book, I don't know what is.

Fast forward to the end: I am still alive. I am even thinking of going back again because having survived I feel empowered. The strangest part of it all is that when I mentioned it to the women sitting near me in synagogue last night, everyone started to rave about Bikram yoga. And the ravers were from Cleveland and Toronto respectively so I can't even accuse them of being heat seekers. I think that everyone of you should try it as well. Those of you in Ra'anana can come with me.

Apparently I am missing the point -- therefore, I've decided to take another kick at the cat.

Friday, December 4, 2009

This is one of those Only In Israel moments

There are many things that happen in each of our lives that make us stop and think: "This could have only happened here (wherever your "here" happens to be). Well, the following story happened to my friend Pam yesterday and frankly, I doubt it would have happened anywhere else.

First of all, this is a country of immigrants. Most of the people who are citizens of the State of Israel were not born here and if perchance they were, then it is very likely that their parents came from some other part of the world. (I am always amazed when I meet a 7th generation Israeli. They are not exactly a dime a dozen.)

Second, because many of the immigrants who came here did so in search of a better life -- or to save their lives -- it is not unusual to stumble across high-achievers who are doing menial work simply because that is all they can do here. Whether it is because of their language limitations, or because they arrived too late in their lives to re-accredit for all of their previous designations, or some variation on that theme ... there are men with PhDs in maths and sciences sweeping the streets.

I know that this phenomena exists elsewhere, but I am willing to bet that it does not exist to the same degree as it does here.

That said, here is Pam's story, told by Pam, but retyped by me. It's really hilarious because even though I wasn't there when it happened, I can completely visualize it in my mind's eye.

"I walked into my bedroom this morning, (Pam lives on the 10th floor of an apartment building), and there was a bird -- a pigeon -- sitting on my bed. Obviously I panicked and started screaming as if there was a lion perched on my bed. I got a broom and started banging it and flailing it in the hopes of scaring the bird into flying back out the open window. That plan didn't work. The bird went under the bed and around the room, every time it moved I shrieked but in the end the bird was still there. I didn't know what to do, I had just come home from the gym, I needed to shower and move on with my day and that bird needed to get out of my room.

"Then I remembered, there is a man who comes a few times a week to clean the hallways and the lobby of my building. If he was here today, maybe he could get rid of the bird. I don't know the man's name. He seems nice enough, as we smile and nod to each other when I see him working. I refer to him as Raskolnikov, like the main character in Crime and Punishment.

"I don't know what Raskolnikov looked like, truthfully I don't think I finished the book. I should admit right here that I don't speak Hebrew. Yes, I have lived in Israel for 5 1/2 years and I do not speak the language. Believe me, I understand that it is at my own peril.

I found "Raskolnikov", in the lobby and said, "Can you help me? hadar sheli tsippor bifneem". (Translation by me: My room has a story inside -- what she was trying to say was that there was a bird in her room. The words for bird and story are quite similar. And you all thought my hebrew stunk!) He looked quite puzzled, possibly because none of the words in that sentence made any sense. He must have understood that I needed some kind of help. I repeated my ridiculous sentence. He asked me in Hebrew what floor I lived on and then he followed me into the elevator and into my apartment. I can't even imagine what he thought was going to happen.

"I went into my bedroom and the bird was still waiting patiently at the foot of my bed. "Raskolnikov", came in and saw the bird, he smiled as now the situation became perfectly clear. I handed him a towel and the broom, while I hid behind the door. After a few minutes he was able to grab the bird, (something I never even thought of doing), and tossed it out the window.

"I thanked him profusley and I even offered him money as thanks, which he absolutley refused.

"Then he looked around my living room and saw our piano. Ah, psanter (another translation: piano), he said. I gestured to him to please try it out. He sat down at the piano and after a moment he started to play the most amazing music. Out came a whole medley of classical music and some standards - beautiful. Now, of course as you are reading this, you are thinking, well of course, he is Russian, naturally he plays the piano. Quite possibly back in the old country he was a pianist. The musical interlude ended and we thanked each other and Rasklnikov left and went back to work.

"I immediatly got on the phone and started telling this story. My husband was laughing his head of while standing at a tube station in London. One of my girlfriends reminded me as she often does, that something like this would never have happened in Cleveland Ohio, where I come from. My daughter at Hebrew University, also got a good laugh. She then pointed out that I had used all the wrong words and including tzippor- song instead of tzipporah- bird. When my 11 year old son came home from school, I told him all about my funny adventure. All he said was, "Mom, you really need to go to an Ulpan".

"My son, of course, is right I should learn the language. There are lots of reasons I should learn to speak Hebrew; asking someone to help me get a bird out of my bedroom is only one of them, not embarrassing my son is another. I don't really feel like it though. In Ra'anana, and lots of other places, for better or worse, I am able to stumble along in my mixture of mostly English and a little bit of bad Hebrew. Even this morning I was able to get my problem solved and get to hear a few minutes of beautiful music.

Isn't that a great story? I loved it and that's why I wanted to share it with you. Plus the fact that Pam's hebrew makes my hebrew sound like I speak at university level. I hope you enjoyed it too!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Dazed and confused in Ra'anana

I keep losing my car. I continually park it one of the feeder streets that connect Ra'anana's main drag to the residential areas of the city, and then I go and do my errands. It usually takes me about 45 minutes to an hour to complete all the items on my list and then, inevitably, it is time to go home.

That's when the trouble begins. It never fails. I find myself on Ahuza Street, Ra'anana's main street, wondering where the hell I parked the car. I try to remember something distinctive about my parking space but the truth is that most of those side streets look the exact same so there are no easily identifiable landmarks to guide me. (If there was a shoe store on one corner and a chocolate store on the next, I would probably do much better at remembering where I was.)

So I stand in my spot for the next minute or so forcing myself to retrace my steps. Did I come from the left or the right of the bank (my usual destination at least once a week)? Did I walk north or south to the main street that runs east west?

If I am lucky, I have a little epiphany after a minute or two and I walk towards the spot that I think I parked. More than once I have been wrong. And more than once I have realized that I am parked one street over from where I thought I parked. And one time I stood outside a car that looked exactly like mine for about five minutes trying to figure out why my key code didn't work. Well, for starters it wasn't my car. It's not my fault that there are at least 20 cars exactly like mine driving around Ra'anana.

One of the reasons I continually misplace the car is that I am losing my mind. But the other, more subtle reason, is because I drive up and down these same streets a million times a week. The individual trips all blur into one another after a while. Was I on a banking mission? Or was I off to get loot bags for Yael's birthday party? Or was it pants for the boys? Or the post office? After a while all I remember is that each each trip begins at my house and ends on Ahuza Street. Everything else becomes an insignificant detail.

In an effort to avoid this problem in the future, I now park my car and stop to make note of exactly what street I am parked on. I repeat the street name out loud a few times in hopes that it will seer itself into my memory. I'd like to tell you that it's going well, but it's not. Today I returned to the spot that I thought had left my car and what a surprise ... it wasn't there.

I had a mini panic attack but then pulled myself together and noticed that I was on the right street, but the wrong block. I think things are looking up.