Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christmas in my Israel

Last Thursday I sent a business letter to someone I work with in Canada. Hours passed and I didn't hear back from him despite his normally prompt responses. I commented to someone in a second email that I was surprised by the first guy's silence but that person didn't write back either! Okay, I was now perplexed.

A few hours later, I received an email from the first guy telling me that he was in British Columbia (and not Toronto) with his family and he gave me another contact for my URGENT request.

First of all, it wasn't an urgent request but after I read between the lines (and yes, it took a minute or two) I realized what he was really saying: It's two days before Christmas, don't you have anything better to do with your time than bug me for work information?

In retrospect I couldn't agree more but at that moment I got my annual Christmas shock. Had Christmas snuck up on me again? Who the hell knew it was Christmas anyway?

The answer to the last question is approximately two or three billion people in the world. However, the truth was that I wasn't one of them.

Yes, I was embarassed. I wrote a profuse apology letter acknowledging that while I live within an hour's drive of both Bethlehem and Nazareth, I just had not realized that it was almost Christmas -- and yes, I would talk to him in January. For the records, he didn't write back. However, I started to think about Christmas ... for about five seconds. Maybe 10. And then I went back to my day.

Friday I went to the club to exercise. Not something I like to do at the best of times, but every now and then I run out of good excuses so off I go. Christmas didn't surface again until I was standing in the shower, tangentially listening to the music being pumped into the shower area over the loudspeakers. And then, there it was again. A Christmas tune. Not a Christmas hymn, but a well-known Christmas song.

By this point I was starting to feel overwhelmed with Christmas. I was up to two Christmas incidents in two days! In fact, I was so inundated with Christmas that when I finished getting dressed and left the change room at the club, I went to the office and said: "What's with the Christmas music? This is a Jewish country!"

The receptionist in the office just looked at me like I had come in ranting about the Messiah being at the front door of the Country Club. It was one of those 'what-exactly-is-your-crazed-religious-problem' looks? She told me that whatever it was about the music that was bothering me, I should take up with the radio station that was playing it. And the truth was, she was totally oblivious to my Christmas music concern. Living one's entire life in a Jewish country makes one totally desensitized to such things. All she heard was "music".

I soon realized that this was only a problem for me -- the ex-Canadian who was highly sensitive to Christmas in Israel. For the receptionist, it was simply Friday, December 24th.

Saturday I sat in synagogue as I do every Sabbath. No Christmas moment there. But when the Sabbath ended and I turned on my computer, there it was, in the Jerusalem Post and Ha'aretz. Fortunately, it was all good. After years of war and the resulting destruction of the Bethlehem economy, the tourists are flocking back for Christmas and the city is happy. So happy, in fact, that the people quoted in the Jerusalem Post article, wished hopefully for on-going peace.

Now THAT would be a Christmas miracle in Israel worth experiencing.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Parallel universes

Last Shabbat we were in Jerusalem staying at nice hotel and celebrating the bar mitzvah of friends of ours. The bar mitzvah boy's father was originally from Montreal and since he recently did a post-doc in his professional field in Toronto, the family has many ties with the Toronto Jewish Community.And as a result, there were a significant number of Torontonians at the bar mitzvah.

As with any good celebratory event, the speeches began not long after the main course of the first meal on Friday night. And that was when I first noticed that although we were all sitting in the same room, eating at the same tables, and talking to each other, we were apparently doing so from the vantage point of parallel universes. So close, yet so far away.

When the first non-Israeli speaker referred to what a sacrifice the family had made by choosing to live in Israel, it caught my attention. He went on to talk about the fact that the bar mitzvah boy got up so early every morning to get to his yeshiva-of-choice in far-off Bnei Brak. (I am sure that if snow were a common element in Israel, we would have heard about how the poor bar mitzvah boy had to trudge to school in the snow without proper boots -- all because of the gigantic sarcrifice his parents had made by choosing to live in Israel.)

I looked around the room and none of the other Israeli residents seemed to notice, so I thought I was being hyper-sensitive, and dismissed the comments.

Then the second Toronto speaker got up and lo and behold, the entire routine started all over again. This time, with a little more drama. Let me paraphrase here: 'the family had made the ultimate sacrifice by choosing to live in Israel when they could have stayed in Toronto, quickly become millionaires, been part of an amazing Jewish community, yada yada'. And then: 'kudos to the bar mitzvah boy who must get out of bed in the wee hours of the morning, earlier than all of his friends at lesser schools, so that he can travel to his yeshiva in Bnei Brak and study until much later in the evening than said friends'.

Okay, that was it for me. My sons are at the same yeshiva and as far as I can tell, no one does much work until 10th grade -- well past the age of the bar mitzvah boy. And as for their hours -- there are many days that I turn around and there they are. I say: "what are you doing here?" (fair question at noon) to which they often respond one of the following: "I didn't want to go to gym so I came home", "the class was cancelled", "I didn't feel well", "I wasn't in the mood for school", "the rav had to leave" ......

Although this well-intentioned man didn't know it, there are lots of kids in this neighbourhood who go to school earlier and get home later than our kids. I know because I see them sitting on the curb waiting for their rides at 6:30 a.m. They are dressed for school, but mentally they are still in bed -- or hospital since many of them look comatose.

At this point in the evening, I no longer cared if anyone else noticed the first two speakers' comments. I couldn't stop snickering to myself about how well-educated, Israel-committed Jews living outside of Israel have absolutely NO idea what it is like to live here. And they have filled that void with the most ridiculous stories. I mean, it is nice to be perceived as heroic but I think it is best to actually have done something to earn the title.

So now, let me set the record straight.

We live in a small city of approximately 70,000 people, 25 minutes from Tel Aviv. The city has two movie theatres that show approximately 10 recently-released movies between them on any given night. There are more restaurants in Ra'anana than I can visit in a given month. All the large Israeli banks are here. There are at least 30 traffic lights, 10 religious schools, as well as the only (secular) school in the country to produce four pilots for the IDF last year. You can get a manicure, pedicure, doctor's appointment, new bra, new Italian shoes, new hair dryer, new computer, new GPS and on and on and on. I think you get the point. And don't even get me started on Tel Aviv ... where, yesterday, a Southeby's auction sold a painting by a living Israeli artist for almost US$700,000. If that isn't civilized I don't know what is.

Obviously, neither of the speechmakers intended to insult Israel, but the sad truth is that they have no idea what our lives here are like. After a visit one year from one of my old Canadian friends, she looked at me and said: "Basically, you live the same life as you lived in Toronto but without the snow and with the greater potential for danger." I am not even sure I agree with her assessment, but heaven knows, it was closer to my reality than what I heard the other night.

That's the tricky thing about parallel universes. They seem so close together when, in fact, they are so very far apart.

Monday, December 6, 2010

What? Do I have a guilty looking face?

Have you ever heard of Halifax, Nova Scotia? I only ask that because most of the people I know have never been there and many of them only know of it because of the little digital map that they show on airplanes so passengers can see where they are at that moment. The little airplane icon flies over Halifax on planes en route to Toronto and New York. And I am confident that until many of my friends here met me, they had never given that insignificant spot on the map a second thought.

The key word here is "insignificant."

Well, after I travelled back to Israel from Halifax, via New York, last week, I realized that regardless of how world travellers may perceive it, Halifax definitely sees itself as the front line of combating terror in the region.

Because I was flying directly to a US destination I had to go through US customs in Halifax. Remember ... Halifax: Fighting Terror on The Front Line.

I got in line to get my boarding pass and then entered the baggage xray line. They sent my two suitcases through the xray machine twice. When I asked if there was a problem they said "no". If that had been the end of it, I probably would have believed them. But it wasn't.

Next, I had my hands tested for explosives residue. Yes, some over zealous customs agent ran a little machine with a square of white cloth on the end over my hands. I asked her if it also detected pot or cocaine -- not that I was doing either but at least that seemed like something I might do, at least in comparison to bomb building or schlepping. I don't have shifty eyes and I surely wasn't behaving nervously, so I couldn't understand why I was checked.

Next, I was sent to the customs check line that ended with yes ..... the body scanner. I have been through many major world airports and not once -- not once -- have I been scanned. I like to think that that is because nothing about me says DANGER.

After what seemed like a half hour wait, it was my turn to be body scanned. Of course they offer you the choice of getting that scan the old fashioned way -- some stranger in rubber gloves runs his or her hands all over you in search of something dangerous -- and something that the previous three tests have demonstrated I have nothing to do with.

I opted for the bloody body scan. At that point, I would have happily undressed and just stood there naked if they would just let me go.

I passed the body scan -- big surprise (not).

So, you would think that that would be enough. Well, not in Halifax, the Front Line in the fight against terror. No siree.

Next, they went through all my hand luggage. Why? Because, according to them, I forgot to put a half used tube of face cream in a little plastic bag.

When I finally said to them: "You know, I live in Israel and I travel regularly. I have never been through anything remotely like this."

Here's what the nasty customs chick said to me: "My husband is from Israel and it is definitely a lot worse (getting checked) there."

So, I profiled her and decided that given her inherent worldliness she had never been outside of Nova Scotia. Then I asked her: "Oh, have you been to Israel?" I thought that was a fair question under the circumstances.

She -- oblivious to my set-up inquiry and coming sarcasm -- said: "No". And since I never like to miss an opportunity to hit one out of the park I responded: "Well then, I can see how you would know that." One point for me.

She tried for a come back but I cut her off and said, I just came through JFK and they didn't look twice at me. I also haven't been through anything like this in Heathrow. Why, pray tell, does Halifax have to check me like I was already guilty?

No answer.

This is an excellent example of why I should never leave Israel.

Friday, November 19, 2010

You're Canadian? Well that explains everything

This is my 200th post and I can't think of a more appropriate moment to share at such a milestone. (just imagine the balloons, confetti and trumpets here)

Last week I realized that our car wasn't running smoothly -- actually my husband noticed it but I am not supposed to mention him in my blog, so I am taking full credit for the astute observations about the car.

I took my old car to my new garage where, naturally, there are no English speakers. I could go back to my old garage and speak English -- but at an additional 100% mark-up on all the work. Therefore going to a hebrew-only garage at half the price is, in my mind, worth the extra effort on my part. Trust me, I can make myself understood and the guy who owns the garage simply proceeds as if I understand everything he says. He knows that I don't but acknowledging that would unnecessarily complicate his day.

After I explained my problem in remarkably clear hebrew, we agreed that I would bring the car back the next morning. Satisfied with my successful hebrew conversation, I headed off to the grocery store. For those of you who know me well, the grocery store first thing Wednesday morning is my religion. It would take World War III to move me from this routine.

To make a long story short. At the entrance to the grocery store parking lot, I had a crash with a driver who unfortunately had the right of way despite the fact that he was driving too fast, talking on the phone and definitely not paying attention. I saw him coming, stopped in panic -- in the middle of the intersection. Oh spare me the "you should have" comments.

He yelled. I yelled. We both moved our cars out of the way. We exchanged insurance information and left. My car spent the next two days getting a beautiful new front bumper -- but in the back of my head I knew I had missed my original mechanic's appointment.

After I picked up my newly bumpered car this morning, I drove directly to the mechanic because despite the new bumper, the car was still idling roughly.

When I walked in to the garage, my mechanic looked at me with what I can only call mild Israeli indifference. I jump over a few grease spots and some cables to get to him and I said (in hebrew): "I'm sorry I missed my appointment but after I left you the other day I had a big crash and my car had to get a new bumper. But I still have the other problem and I want to bring my car on Sunday. I am really sorry about the other day."

Simple enough. Genuine. Full of regret. Blah, Blah, Blah.

Well, here's the response I got. Keep in mind that my mechanic was ranting, not yelling:

"You live in Israel now! Stop saying you're sorry. In Israel, people keep appointments. People don't keep appointments. People come late. People come on the wrong day. They don't call. That is what Israelis do. And you have to stop being an American!"

And with that, his little "Welcome to Israel" speech was over. More important, I should have just left it at that, but I never do. So, I said to him: "But I am not an American. I'm a Canadian."

"Oh," he said with a slight knowing smile. "That explains why you are so nice."

And I still have an appointment for Sunday!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Three Jews and A Christian: The Journey Continues

When we last saw our stress-filled, anxious travellers (and their oblivious friend), they were headed to the Via Dolorosa, which I now know means The Road of Suffering.

Entering the Muslim Quarter after leaving the Temple Mount is like jumping from the fire into the frying pan. And yes, in case you are wondering, it is different from the Jewish Quarter -- COMPLETELY DIFFERENT!

Walking through the Arab market means enduring constant pleas to spend your money or at least drop by for a cup of coffee (which probably offers another route to the slave chicks in Gaza thing that I mentioned in the previous post.) It is dark and claustrophobic. Not an ounce of sunshine or an open space to be found. And not one Muslim woman to be seen. You feel like a potential human sacrifice walking through the ancient windy streets....

... which explains how I ended up paying an opportunistic 10-year-old Muslim boy four shekels to direct us to the Via Dolorosa. I know it was ridiculous, but since he wanted 100 shekels for his two minute effort, I think I did okay.

We arrived at the VD at the sixth Station of the Cross, which amounts to an ancient stone brick on the streetside facade of a church (or at least it looked like a church) where Jesus, who was carrying his own crucifixion cross and wearing a crown of thorns, stopped to rest for a second -- and he apparently leaned on the wall RIGHT THERE. Since then, about a trillion people have touched the same spot to the point that there is a noticeable indentation in the rock facade. (And for those of you who do not know what the Stations of Cross are, then if you are interested you can google it. I managed to get all the way to 49 without knowing so you can probably have dinner before you start getting anxious that you don't know what they are either.)

With the Via Dolorosa now checked off our To Do List, we found our way to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre which is in the Armenian Quarter and is much airier than the Muslem Quarter. Still not open and welcoming like the Jewish Quarter, but a far cry better than where we had come from.

It took me about 100 attempts to say the word "Sepulchre" properly. Try it, you'll see what I mean. You can hurt your tongue doing so.

When we entered the church courtyard, we knew we were in the right place because there were at least 300 tourists ahead of us. All in little groups with matching hats, listening to explanations in various languages from their tour guides. Suffice it to say that Jesus is a big draw and can really pull in the crowds.

When we entered the church the first thing we saw was a marble slab on the ground and many people lying down to kiss it or rub their belongings on it. I didn't understand what they were doing at first until my Catholic friend pointed out to me that they were rubbing their souvenirs on Jesus' grave so that they could give their friends a touch of his essence. From her persepctive it was no different from us touching the Western Wall as we prayed there. I don't really agree but I do see how she got to her position.

Since Jesus' grave was right in the entrance I didn't feel any need to look around further, but since we were there we decided to be good tourists. Of course, having survived the Temple Mount and the Arab Quarter my Jewish friends were invigorated and feeling a little invincible. So .... in we went.

When we entered the second room we were met by a monsterous black structure that looked to me like a giant incense burner. It was surrounded by a lot of people -- a lot of people. People were lighting candles everywhere. We couldn't figure out what it was but the line up to enter was very long. We finally agreed that it must be some sort of weird altar.

Well, it is good that we are naturally chatty types. We stopped in front of the giant incense burner/altar to talk to a Greek woman who turned out to be a tour guide. After five minutes of superficial Christianity chit chat I asked her what that thing was.

Talk about a watershed moment. It turned out to be the "real" grave of Jesus!

How did she know that for sure I asked her. And of course, I got the usual answer for all tough questions of faith .... it's in the ancient writings. I'm sure she noticed my cynical smile, but she wasn't deterred.

The Greek tour guide was really pushing us to get in line so that we could enter the tomb -- even after I told her that we were Jewish (I was a lot braver after I left the Muslim Quarter). She insisted that it was for all religions, so we nodded and said good-bye ... exiting in the opposite direction. Yeah, like we were really going in there.

(For those of you wondering what the first slab was, it turned out to be a facsimilie of the slab that Jesus' body was placed on after he was removed from the cross and before he was buried. Notice that I said "fascimilie". It wasn't even the real slab so who knows why all those people were going nuts kissing it and rubbing things on it. Didn't they read the guide book? It's all there!)

I think that's enough information for readers today. I promise to wrap up the story in the next installation.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Three Jews and A Catholic

Every once in a while you have to step out of your comfort zone just to make sure you still can. In actuality, the trick isn't stepping out -- it's getting back in. Frankly, I am quite happy to live in my comfort zone. If left to my own resources I would never push the envelope. I guess that's why you have to have other people in your life to shove you out of the proverbial plane.

My friend from Canada was in Israel this week. It was her first visit which sounds strange to my average Jewish friend. But that was the catch -- she isn't Jewish and therefore, Israel wasn't at the top of her travel priority list.

I had five days to show her my country. For anyone who lives here or has visited you know that seeing Israel in five days is an absolute impossibility. And by the time all my friends chirped in with their suggestions, I would have needed a month to cover all the sights. Fortunately, my friend had some priorities and that is what landed two of my Canadian/Israeli friends and I in the Muslim and Armenian quarters of the Old City this past week.

Trust me. These are not places we frequent.And after our visit on Wednesday I think I can fairly say that we are pretty much topped up for the next 20 years.

We eased our way into the Old City with a cup of coffee from Aroma. From there we went straight to the Jewish Quarter and the Western Wall. While this might not have been my friend's priority, it was certainly ours! We are all comfortable in the Jewish Quarter although I doubt any of us could have identified that feeling at that point. No one actually said that out loud or probably realized the difference until we left our comfort zone and headed up the ramp to have a closer look at The Dome of the Rock.

When we got to the top of the ramp we were met by the Muslim's all-male Welcoming Committee. Suffice it to say that they aren't that welcoming. The first thing they said was: "Welcome to Palestine." My friend was so excited that she responded in kind and got out her camera. The rest of us just cringed inwardly -- too afraid to show our disagreement and spend the rest of our lives as slave chicks in Gaza.

Our next confrontation only took about three more seconds. One of my Canadian/Israeli travel companions was not-so-gently approached by the Welcoming Committee because they deemed her skirt not long enough. Okay, so it wasn't down to her ankles, but it was perfectly fine for a day in synagogue so we figured it would be fine with them.

Oh, but that would have been to simple. We kept retying her sweater around her waist so that it would hang just so and cover more of her legs. With each modification we would ask: "How's that?" The WC guy would just look glance at her legs (and probably her butt) and say: "No". Finally after our third attempt, she passed the PA modesty test. She could barely walk with her sweater in such knots around her knees but hey, "Palestine" was happy.

By that point the three of us already have a bad feeling and we are ready to leave. My Canadian friend has scooted out of sight snapping pictures merrily -- oblivious to the political undertones of the past five minutes.

We encountered many hucksters in the first 20 meters. Everyone wants to make a buck from the tourists -- which is what they assumed we were (and we didn't correct them). We didn't buy into any of that. However, as our anxiety was growing and we just wanted to find the exit, we bumped into a very smartly dressed young man. We stopped to ask him if he knew where the exit was.

He did, but he also couldn't wait to tell us that he had received special travel papers to come to "Palestine" from Jenin for the day. Oh yay. I thought Jenin was a destitute pile of rubble but if this young fellow was any indication, it is more likely the Paris of Israel. I was dying to ask him how he survived the Great Jenin massacre but I knew better than to stir the pot in the middle of "Palestine".

All the while my Canadian friend is scooting around taking pictures. She wanted to take a picture of the three of us in front of The Dome of the Rock but we had to nix that. When I am dead and gone I don't want a picture of me posing happily in front of that place left behind as a record of my life. When they rebuild the Temple there, she can snap away.

Throughout her picture frenzy we were all edging toward the exit -- and we finally reached the relative calmness of the Muslim Quarter.

When we saw the Israeli soldiers nearby I was overwhelmed with relief -- and so were my two Jewish companions. Of course, that relief was short-lived as we headed out through the Muslim Quarter in search of the Via Dolorosa and the Church of the Holy Sepluchre.

That's enough for now. Next installment tomorrow.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Well, I sincerely hope it means good luck

The day I got married it rained like I have never seen it rain before. I mean sheets of rain so thick that you couldn't see through them and flooding in main thoroughfares of north Toronto. Ironically, the only thing the groom had requested vis-a-vis the wedding was to get married outside. Well, that surely didn't happen.

Many of the people who were there that day felt compelled to tell us that rain was a sign of good luck in a Jewish marriage.

Now I am not a superstitious person and I don't buy into that sort of thing, but there was definitely a little piece of me hoping that the Jewish folklore was true. I mean, who doesn't want all the help they can get to have a good marriage? And if rain is a good sign, then bring on the signs.

Tonight we were at another wedding (although this time it was within the internationally although unreasonably approved borders for the State). The weather was beautiful and everyone was in the mood for fun.

The young couple seemed to be having the time of their lives standing under the huppa and in typical wedding fashion in Israel, some of the guests were actually listening to the ceremony.In Israel it is not uncommon for people to get married outside because the weather is conducive to it. And many facilities simply don't have an indoor alternative in case of rainy weather, because rainy weather is rare.

Unfortunately rainy weather in Israel is often much too rare. You may notice that I did not say "bad" weather because in Israel no one considers rain a bad thing. And many consider it a gift from God -- a gift that He sometimes gives reluctantly. The past few years have officially been drought years because the rainfall has been so low.

I have to remind myself that I am not writing about rain specifically tonight but rather rain as it tangentially affects life events.

Let's fastforward a bit. The young couple get married. Everyone is happy. We dance. And then, because we are Jews and no party is complete without a lot of food, we sit down outside at lovely tables to eat!!!

And that's when the rain started.

Now at first no one wanted to look like a wuss so we all continued to eat, talk and get rained on. It was a light rain and remember, rain in Israel is a real blessing. Then the rain got a little heavier. Some women, in an effort to protect their hair and dresses, started to cover themselves up with the fancy napkins on the table and began yanking at the tablecloths in a effort to increase their protective coverage.

One table for 10 people collectively got up and moved their table to a more sheltered spot out of the rain.

But for the most part, everyone just kept eating, dancing and socializing. Looking around, there were people putting up umbrellas and covering their heads with linen napkins but overall, no real movement towards shelter. It was remarkable and I couldn't help wonder what would happen if the rain had started to fall during an outdoor wedding outside of Israel?

Do other people in other countries value rain the way Israelis do?

I have said it before and I will now say it again: if you complain about rain in Israel, someone drives by in an unmarked car, kidnaps you and drives you directly to the airport to deport you. In other words, you simply do not complain about rain in a drought-inclined country. No, not ever. Not even during a wedding.

Of course, you don't have to. It's good luck.

(note to regular readers: If my life is starting to look like one big party I want to set the records straight .... as soon as I stop laughing at that assumption.)

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Lost in Translation

I couldn't decide if I should title this posting Lost in Translation or When Hysterically Funny Things Happen to Immigrants. Trust me, it was a toss up.

Last night I got a call from the mother of one of my daughter's classmates. According to her there was a parent teacher meeting tonight. It made perfect sense because when all the other parents and teachers were meeting a month ago, our daughters' teacher was home in bed with the flu.

When I asked my daughter about the meeting, she didn't know what I was talking about. I assumed (remembered that word) that my daughter could not have been paying attention and missed the last minute meeting announcement. Okay, I thought, not the first time or the last that we missed the message to parents.

Fast forward to today. Word of the meeting spread quickly. My daughter's class has been together for five years now. The girls function more like sisters and frankly, so do the mothers. Or let me correct that statement .... the English-speaking mothers interact with sisterly familiarity. We all consult on pretty much everything that happens in our daughters' class.

We have to. We are immigrants and it takes the entire lot of us (22 mothers out of a class of 30) to navigate the school system. We didn't grow up here and we were never educated in the subtleties of Israeli education. And, on top of that, we all don't speak hebrew well. Some speak well but don't read or write well. Some don't speak hebrew at all. We're a real mixed bag and as a result, we depend on one another a lot. In many ways we are also getting an Israeli education.

And tonight was definitely an education.

I arrived at the school late because I truly dislike these bi-annual meetings and I was being a little passive aggressive. We have been having the same conversation at the meetings for the past five years. We discuss acceptable snacks, the hypothetical cirriculum (because they never do actually teach what they say they will teach) and the interaction between hebrew and english speakers. The agenda hasn't changed one iota since first grade and therefore, I attend reluctantly. I said everything I had to say when the girls were in first grade.

So despite my annual threat not to attend the following year's meeting, I always show up .... late. And that is exactly what I did this year. Except, when I arrived, the entire school was pitch black and there wasn't one car in the parking lot.

It was suspicious but I wasn't deterred. However, when I got to the school gates and they were locked I decided to call the original mother to ask her to come let me in. Here's how the conversation went:

Other Mother: I hope you are calling because you got my message.

Me: No, I noticed that you called but I couldn't answer at the time so I didn't.

Other Mother: I am so sorry. I did try to call you at home and on your cell... There's no meeting tonight.

Me: (curious silence)

Other Mother: I misread the note. It was on school letterhead and I read some of the important words and assumed that it was a parent teacher meeting since the last meeting was cancelled. I am so sorry. I started the whole thing.

By this point, I couldn't respond because I was laughing too hard. She was so upset that she had given misinformation to everyone but all I could think was "this is a real immigrant moment!" She reads and speaks hebrew much better than me and when she said there was a meeting, everyone was more than happy to believe her. Even the better hebrew readers who took her word for it and never read the note.

Welcome to our world. It is truly amazing that these things don't happen more often. Functioning in hebrew is a big change for many of us and there are many words that easily get confused. Also, we rarely understand all the words in any given message. We just hope we understand enough to figure out the rest. And that is exactly what happened tonight. The original mother had a very high credibility rating .... okay, it's a little shaky right now, but I am sure she will redeem herself.

More "Things That Never Happen In Canada"

Last night we had to attend a wedding in Beit El. Beit El, for those of you who do not know Israeli geography, shares a border with Ramallah and Ramallah is not a friendly location for any trip at the best of times. Oh, and for those of you who really know zippo, Ramallah is the ex-home of Israel's "good" friend Yassar Arafat and is now the "capital" for the Palestian Authority.

Okay, so now everyone should understand that Jews do not casually drive out there.

Beit El is a Jewish town smack dab in the middle of the Arab-dominated West Bank and even if peace negotiations ever succeed, you can rest assured that Beit El is not well situated to find itself in a future version of Israel. (Warning: do not send me hate mail if you disagree with this point-of-view. It is my firm, unwavering belief. Period.)

As I mentioned above, we "had" to attend the wedding. It was a family event and we don't miss family events regardless of their less-than-ideal locations. The family members in question live in Beit El. However, no one who does not make that trip regularly jumps into their car, with their children, and pops off to Beit El without considering the potential for .... well, death. I was trying to think of a way to say that nicely but there just isn't one.

Jews driving in the West Bank -- particularly at night -- have been known to be shot at, maimed, and killed, so you really do have to consider your mode of transportation and your route before you leave. One wrong turn and you could end up somewhere even less friendly that Ramallah -- like Nablus.

In these situations, I prefer to travel by bullet-proof bus from Jerusalem but frankly, that is a major schlep and you are at the mercy of the bus. If you want to leave and the bus isn't ready then tough tiddle-y-winks for you. It's not like you can call a cab, hitch hike or walk.

However, last night the bullet-proof bus option really didn't work for us and getting to the wedding was essential. Therefore, I said: "Screw it. We're driving."

Sometimes my husband looks at me as if he has somehow created a politically defiant monster but the truth is that after some thought it comes down to this: I live Israel. The West Bank is still part of Israel. A member of our family was getting married in her hometown. I needed to get somewhere that other people were trying to scare me into avoiding. However, there are Jews who live in the West Bank and travel these roads everyday. I don't go looking for trouble, but I am not going to be unduly intimidated to the point that I am fearful of living my life. Why do I have to run away from people who should be smart enough to see that their lives in Israel are far better than they would ever be under PA rule?

Agree with my thinking or don't, but either way you have to admit this never happens in Canada.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Orange cell phones and red customers

Orange combines the energy of red and the happiness of yellow. It is associated with joy, sunshine, and the tropics. Orange represents enthusiasm, fascination, happiness, creativity, determination, attraction, success, encouragement, and stimulation.

Who the hell wrote that? I mean, I copied it from some design site on the internet, but who the hell made up those stupid words? Whoever it was has never been to Orange, the cell phone communications provider.

I know that I am not in the best position to judge cell phone providers of the world, but after my experience yesterday I am pretty sure that they can't get a lot worse than they are in Israel.

First, it is important to know that Israel has one of the highest cell phone user rates in the world. I think it has something to do with living under the constant threat from Hamas, Hezbollah, Fatah, Al-Quaida and Ahmadinejad to name but a few of our regular, yet lethal, enemies. Even young children carry cell phones so that their parents can always find them -- in case of, you know, a terrorist attack or nuclear war.

Second, and somewhat contradictorily, Israeli kids have a degree of freedom of movement that no normal, responsible parent in the US, Canada or the UK would ever give their child.

In other words, for all sorts of non-related reasons, Israelis are cell phone obsessed down to their technology competent four-year-olds. And considering that, cell phone companies play an unduly important role in our lives, which means that they have you by the ding-a-lings.

This brings me to my early morning trip to our cell phone provider Orange yesterday morning. First of all, just to demonstrate how little they actually care about their customers, they don't open until 10:00 a.m. even though Israelis are out the door most weekday mornings by 7:30 OR 8:00 a.m. second, it may have been the build-up from a month of holidays, but there were about 20 people scrumming at the door of their store waiting for it to open. Let me just add here that Israelis are not known for their instinctive need to line-up like Canadians or Brits. No, even an anticipated door opening is cause to fight to the death for your place in line. And if someone can out-manouever you even though you arrived first, then bully for them.

When we finally got inside (no, they did not open on time because that would have been too predictable a move), got our number and finally had our number called, I was already in a bad mood.

The irony is that I was only there keeping my husband company. Why? I don't know. And it is too late to think about it now, a day later.

As soon as they hear that you are interested in one of their high-end phones, they bring out their heavy-hitters. Originally we were sitting with a nice young woman trying to convince her to give us the same offer as another cell phone provider was apparently offering. She must have sensed that her adversaries (us) we going to take a bit of work so all of a sudden, out of nowhere, comes this tall, muscular, shaved head guy to take over. We still have no idea who he was or why he surfaced.

From that point on it was a battle of wills. Let me again quote the design website here: To the human eye, orange is a very hot color, so it gives the sensation of heat.

Nevertheless, orange is not as aggressive as red. Well, thank heavens for that!

And one last line: In heraldry, orange is symbolic of strength and endurance.
Never have truer words been written because that is exactly what happened.

My husband wouldn't budge from what he wanted and this mystery heavy hitter kept offering us things saying: "Okay, this is the last offer." And when each last offer didn't move my husband, then he started with the subtle insults and cajoling. "What's the difference: we don't offer an 18 month contract so just take the 36 months." Or: "0.49 nis that the other guys offer for each extra minute is pretty much the same as the 0.69 nis we offer, so just sign already." Or: "Even though you already have GPS separate from your phone, the GPS on the phone is free so it's a good deal."

Well, the one thing Orange did not anticipate is that my husband could best be defined in such situations as RED. And RED is stronger than Orange. After 90 minutes we left without the phone but we felt so good that I think you could fairly call us light blue or green.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Is it really time to eat again?

I am apparently a glutton for punishment because after a month of Jewish holidays, I felt compelled to sit down and figure out how many meals I ate during the festive season. The results were not pretty.

According to my best recollections, I have participated in 18 holiday meals in a one month period. I have made more than 30 challot (according to a Google search a challah is a traditional Jewish, yeasted, braided bread), not to mention eight kilos of fresh salmon, chicken in every conceivable variation, and enough side dishes, soups and desserts to satisfy an ultra-orthodox wedding party of 600.

And then, as if that wasn't enough, we attended two bar mitzvah parties the night that the holidays finally ended. I can't help but wonder if the hosts of those two parties made a mistake when they set their dates? Or perhaps they are oblivious to the limits of the human capacity for food.

I don't think it would be out of place to mention here that there are people starving in Biafra. I don't actually know where Biafra is but my mother has been reminding me about the poor starving people there since I was six.

Time for my segway... a little education never hurt anyone. Wikipedia says that the Republic of Biafra was a secessionist state in south-eastern Nigeria. It existed from 30 May 1967 to 15 January 1970. In other words, my mother milked that temporary situation for all that it was worth! And even if Biafrans are no longer starving or no longer exist, there are lots of other starving people much closer to home.

At the end of the holidays I swore that I would not enter my kitchen again. That didn't last long -- well, it didn't even last 24 hours actually. Despite my threats, my children were hungry again the very next day. In an effort to stay true to my original threat I suggested that everyone eat the leftovers, but apparently my children were also sick of holiday food. The difference was that, in their case, they expected fresh new food prepared by me. I would have settled for a fat-free yogurt.

I know that feeding your children is one of the top five obligations of mothers noted in the Official Mothers Handbook, and I know that there is a very disfunctional relationship between Jews and food, but for me, I am drawing a line in matza meal -- I am on hiatus due to an extreme reaction to a month's worth of gluttony.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Why not turn the clocks back in July next year?

It is 5:43 a.m. and I am sitting at my computer. Is the problem apparent yet?

For those of you who don't "get it", let me spell it out. It is now 5:44 and I am awake. Normal people who are not night watchmen or nightclub staff are in bed at this hour. I am not a night watchmen or nightclub staff. Now do you get it?

I am awake because despite my best efforts to ignore the light pouring in through my bedroom blinds, it is pelting me in the face and screaming MORNING. RISE AND SHINE. And my body can't help but oblige.

So, needless to say, I am not amused. (you can tell it is the week of Yom Kippur because I have toned down my language. I have enough things to repent for this Saturday without squeezing a few extra items in as I try to slide into home.)

This is the point in my standard little rants where I usually say "Back to the point" but today THIS seguay is precisely the point.

Approximately five years ago, 5700 odd years into the history of the Jewish people, the egomanics in the religious political party Shas decided to tamper with Jewish tradition which apparently wasn't working for them. Apparently it took more than 5000 years to see this whopping flaw and great thinkers of many generations (such as Maimonades, Rashi, Nachmonides, Feinstein and more) simply missed it.

Some of you are already smiling and nodding -- and yes the rest of you are still in the dark (lucky you).

Here's the problem: Five years ago, it became the law to turn back the clocks away from Daylight Savings in the days preceeding Yom Kippur. The thinking of the short-sighted ultra-relgious Shas Party was that it would be easier to fast the exact same 25 hours if you could sleep for one more of those hours. The plan actually worked just fine until Yom Kippur found itself in mid-September.

In this day and age when any eight-year-old can with the aid of a basic computer and an internet connection can tell you when Yom Kippur is going to fall until the end of time, the excuse of short-sightedness does not hold any water.

Despite anger from all corners in the State, Shas has held it's ground (and hijacked the country) on the basis that changing this law would damage the Jewish character of Israel.

Do I have to say this again?

5770 years of survival from every conceivable enemy the world could throw at us.

OR.........A five-year-old law imposed by a minority player in the mishmash of Israeli politics.

What has this got to do with protecting the Jewish character of Israel? And do you really think that a mental trick like this is going to be a determining factor in our future Jewishness?

All I know is that I can't sleep and I am going to be awake for as much of the fast this weekend as I would have been without the clocks turned back. AND, in the meantime turning the clocks back harms our pocketbooks. by causing people who live in the Jewish country to spend more on electricity. It also means that the same Jews in Israel must now drive home from work in the dark. Israelis are lousy drivers in daylight so this should really improve the situation. And no more little extra time for lots of people to come home from work and play with their kids outside in the last few minutes of daylight before it is time for bed. Nope.

Family time isn't important either. Nor is highway safety. All that matters is a 25-hour fast that is STILL 25 hours.

And of course, did I mention that I can't sleep.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The people of the school book

Well, I am thrilled to say that the People of the Book (I prefer that to the Chosen People because I am not sure what we were chosen for) have now sent the Children of the Book back to school. And not a minute too soon.

If I had to clean up my kitchen one more time 20 minutes after I had just completed a proper and thorough clean-up of my own doing, I was going to murder someone. Death for Crumbs might not sound like reasonable cause for you, but it does for me.

Which brings me back to the Children of the Book. When I was a kid I loved school. All my friends were there and how much black and white tv could you possibly watch on two channels? School was were the action was -- nevermind those ancient teachers with the wobbly underarm fat that entranced me for minutes on end or the incompetent teachers who I quickly realized were older than me but definitely not smarter, which wasn't saying much for them. School was fun.

And when I later figured out ways to have my parents think I was in school and my stupid teachers to think I was home ill, I was set. Without school, I would have been sunk. So why do my kids think that going to school is such a punishment?

I have told them at least a trillion times that if they are home they better be in bed with a temperature of at least 102 -- and preferably vomiting. I have also said that I am not going to hang around all day keeping them company or taking them places. NO, I am sorry. Children need to go to school to hang around with other like minded cranky people who think they would be having more fun at home and I need to be able to go to the bathroom without someone looking for me.

I took care of them when they were babies. We went to more stupid playgroups than I care to remember. Gymboree. Baby Ballet. Baby Karate. Baby Swim. Oh, and my personal favorite, Baby Sing-a-Long, where my son would promptly leave me in the circle of mothers and agreeable babies while he went outside to play alone. I have paid my dues and now I want to send off happy children for a wonderful day of learning.

I do not want to be SMS'd from class. I do not want to receive calls from the bathroom where someone is on the toilet and constipated. I do not want to make social plans for three weeks from today when you should be in class. I do not want to know what bitchy thing the teacher did to you today. I do not want your teachers to call me or send me notes -- particularly in hebrew. I do not want your teachers to know my name.

I want you to sit in class. Learn a little something and be the Children of the Book that you were chosen to be.

How heat waves can alter history

After experiencing a month of what I consider intollerable heat, I have come to the realization that many things that have or have not happened throughout history were probably influenced in someway or another by the weather.

Israel, like much of the northern hemisphere, has experienced its hottest August in recorded history. While I love to say that I was there for superlative events, I prefer the good ones and "hottest summer in recorded history" is not one of those. That said, the last time I complained about the weather on my blog, my old high school friend who now lives in Cyrus wrote to say: "38 degrees? That's it? It's 44 in Cyprus." That took the steam out of my rant and also provoked me to make a mental note to stay away from Cyprus in the summer.

The heat also proved to be the deciding factor in the cancellation of our end-of-summer family trip because how can you go on a day-long water hike when all the hiking routes that had water, have dried up because of the heat?

Which brings me one of those historical moment thoughts. It dawns on me that if someone like Vivaldi had lived in Israel during a heat-wave, he might never have written the Four Seasons. Actually, skip the heat wave, if he had lived in Israel he, at best, would have written, the Two and a Half Seasons: Hot, Hotter, and Damp. Not the most inspirational environment.

And the hotel chain? I think it would be hard to market the Two and a Half Seasons Hotel.

And all that Ansel Adams photography?All that would have survived were his mountain views. Lovely, but without the depth of his existing porfolio.

Now, on the upside, maybe many of the world's wars and other such skirmishes (I don't know why they call them that in the media, but I like that word) might never have happened.

If the Crusaders had arrived in Jerusalem wearing all that iron-clad gear in the middle of a heat wave they would have been smart to have just turned around and left Jerusalem alone or even better, they would have died of heat exposure and saved the Jews a lot of subsequent grief. Without the Crusaders initiating a couple of hundred years of murdering Jews for no good reason (of course it took until 1990 something for a pope to admit that), we Jews could have been much better positioned to beat the pulp out of that little evil part-Jewish pyscho dictator Hitler and now we would be at least twice as many people as we are. This in turn, would have possibly (I said "possibly") made the modern-day fanatic anti-semites reconsider their plans to annihate us. Oh, they would still want to but we would be a much bigger and stronger group and since they are all essentially rhetoric heavy, action lite, we might have been in a better position than we find ourselves.

Notice that all the good heat waves come when you don't need them.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

You can never go home again

Someone sent this link (see bottom of post) to me yesterday and when I read it I had the strongest sense of melancholy I have experienced in a long time. I grew up 12 miles from Glace Bay, in the bustling city of Sydney, Nova Scotia. (Take that description with a grain of salt please.)

And exactly as the story reports, we were all raised to get an education and leave. I did and so did almost every Jewish kid I knew.

After I finished graduate school I went to work for Stelco in Hamilton, Ontario, which at the time was Canada's largest steel manufacturer. As the junior writer I was excited when I was invited to join the Communications team at a steel tradeshow in Toronto. While I was on a break from my duties during the show I decided to have a look around. I came across the booth for the Sydney steel plant, Sysco, and I, being a 100% Cape Bretoner in my heart (in not my physicality) stopped to say hello.

The CEO of Sysco just happened to be there at the same time. He asked me my name which I enthusiastically offered up because I was a proud Cape Bretoner. Of course he knew my father which was not surprising firstly because Cape Breton has a small professional community and my father was one of the more senior members at that point. And secondly because I came from a large family that was known far and wide in those parts.

Then he asked me where I went to university and what I had done there. I proudly gave him the abbreviated story of my BA and my MA, and how I was now working for Stelco in Hamilton. To me, that made us sort of kindred spirits. Ha.

Mr. CEO just stood there looking at me and then he pretty much exploded: "This is precisely the problem with your people," he said. 'You are encouraged to get a good education but you never bring your skills and knowledge back to Cape Breton where it is so sorely needed.' (I am paraphrasing because this happened in 1985.)

I tried to explain that Jewish young people have to go where there are other Jewish young people if we are going to perpetuate our people. And Cape Breton was definitely not that place. But frankly, he didn't want to hear anymore. He just sort of walked away. And I was left standing there feeling like dirt -- and on some small level, rightfully so. He wasn't Jewish and he didn't get the Jewish thing.

Anyway, after reading this article in the National Post, I can't help but think back on that moment. I love my life in Israel and I have no regrets, but there is a tiny piece of me that will always feel 100% Cape Breton.’s-oldest-synagogue-marks-end-of-era/

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Things that never ever happen in Canada

It takes about six months to plan a bar mitzvah -- at least the way my friends do it here. Yes, you could do it in less time but I live in a hyper-drive sort of neighbourhood so no one "throws" a celebration together at the last minute -- even if they said they did.

Which brings me to my friends who are celebrating their son's bar mitzvah this coming weekend. After months of planning the location, the food, the music, the events, the order of the synagogue activities, and a thousand other small details that would take too much space to explain, it is finally time.

They decided to hold the event at a fancy hotel in the north of Israel rather than celebrating in our synagogue, which is located one block from my house (but that's an aside).

Back to the hotel.The only thing that is important about it for my story-telling purposes, is that we are staying there for two nights this weekend and it is located near Kiryat Shmona. Kiryat Shmona is located in northern Israel on the western slopes of the Hula Valley on the Lebanese border. The Lebanese border is the key phrase here. (See map above)

Anywhooooooooooooooooooooo. The anticipation of a weekend in a nice hotel has been building among those of us who are attending. It's been a big topic of conversation for the past few weeks. And then it all came to a screaching halt around 3:00 p.m. yesterday afternoon when for some irrational reason the Lebanese Army decided that Israeli soldiers pruning trees on Israeli soil was pissing them off so they decided to start shooting over the border.

Obviously it was a ruse by the Lebanese -- because even CNN thinks that they over-reacted to the UN approved activity on the Israeli side and CNN is not know for taking Israel's side on anything. But that is not the point.

The point is that since the news broke yesterday afternoon my friends and I have been on the phone going through the kind of soul searching that never occurs in Canada. Do we still go to the bar mitzvah? Are we unnecessarily risking our lives and those of our children who are coming with us? And for those of us who are not taking our children, are we risking making them orphans all for the sake of a bar mitzvah? Are we over-reacting? Are we under-reacting? Are we reacting on principal or fear? Are the reports in the Hebrew press the same as those in the English-Israeli press? Are we reading between the lines or are we too naive to do so properly? Are we willing to jump in our cars on the Sabbath and drive away from there if things get worse -- even though we are observant Jews who don't drive on the Sabbath?

And those are only a few of the questions that we have addressed in the past 21 hours.

Of course there are no cut and dry answers. All we really want to do is go away for the weekend and let someone else do all the work while we hang out enjoying the celebration. In Canada it would actually be that simple. In Israel it rarely is simple because the situation can change on a dime -- as opposed to Canada where there is no change analogy because "the situation" never changes.

Man plans and God laughs. I don't know who said that first, but this is an excellent example of that idea in action.

For the records, as of this moment, we are all going. Someone we know called someone he knows in the Israel Defense Forces and the word, for now, is: all clear. The problem is that no one called the Lebanese Army or Hizbollah to see if they are in agreement. They probably are not. Stay tuned.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Call me in November

Fact: I am 49 years old.

Fact: Today, for the second day in a row, it was 38 degrees Celcius outside -- with 90 odd percent humidity and virtually no wind.

Fact: I am no longer capable of standing still and not sweating profusely.

Fact: I am too old for this hell.

Observation: If I could find a way to avoid the outdoors, I would stay inside 100% of the time until November.

Fact: I am not joking.

Reality check: My husband doesn't understand my problem and is planning a big hike for a week from now.

Wishful thinking: I am trying to figure out how to catch a communicable disease before next week's hike from hell.

Unfortunate realization: the wishful thinking isn't going that well.

Even more unfortunate realization: a plane ticket to the South Pole would solve my problem .... but might create a new problem.

Bottom line: Wake me up when November comes (apologies to Green Day)

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

I don't know who is scarier

I really don't know what to make of this situation. A Jewish woman meets a man on the street in Jerusalem and some how ends up having consensual sex with him in a nearby building. (That happens all the time. Well, maybe it does, but not to me.) After they are finished and redressed, she finds out that he isn't a Jew as he originally told her but is, in fact, an Arab. She freaks out and has him charged with rape.

But hold on. That's not all. The courts agreed with her that he raped her.

I have several questions, but first and foremost in my mind is: WHAT KIND OF DRUGS ARE THESE PEOPLE TAKING?

In a general sense, I am not the world's biggest fan of Middle Eastern Arabs, but I am not stupid enough to believe that every last Arab is to blame for every problem in the Middle East. Now obviously this guy isn't the nicest guy around but that is not the point. This babe is just as bad. Actually, she is worse because there are enough problems in this part of the world without some slimy slut raising the bar.

What kind of decent person meets a guy on the street and has sex with him "in a nearby building"? Let me answer that. They are called prostitutes. And while I have no problem with them servicing a need in society, by doing what they do, they have denied themselves the right to complain about guys who lie about their identities.

You think this guy was the first guy ever to lie about who he was to get laid? Maybe, if you are only referring to the last five minutes. In my younger years I heard all sorts of stories from creepy guys: they had a Porsche parked around the corner, their father was someone important, they had a yacht in the Toronto harbour, they had just invented the Walkman (well, it was years ago), but I surely didn't run to the nearest building to consumate a relationship with them.

As if there aren't enough problems between Jews and Arabs in this part of the world. How nice of the "ho" to bring this into the political sphere.

And what's with the courts? How can any self-respecting legal professional find the guy guilty -- unless they found the woman equally guilty? According to the court, the "ho" wouldn't have cooperated if the man really wasnt' Jewish.

Oh, so if he was Jewish then it would have been perfectly acceptable to screw a guy you met on the street. Whatever happened to getting to know each other and meeting the other person's friends and family. I find that to be a good way to figure out someone's religious beliefs and personality traits. True, it takes a little longer, but I find it to be a much more reliable method than a quick sizing up outside a building.

Or what about JDate? Faster. More efficient. Less time required before running off for sex.

I'm sure there are lots of options. And right now I am ashamed to be associated with a court system who got caught up in the trees and never saw the forest -- or the building.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Sometimes good stuff just falls into your lap

Someone sent this to me in an email today. It shows two people who attended the recent rally at Ground Zero in New York City (just in case you don't know what Ground Zero is) opposing the construction of a large mosque there. Seems obvious enough to me why that is a really bad idea but apparently it isn't so obvious to the powers to be (I don't expect anything more from Obama but I definitely expect more from Mayor Bloomberg.)

According to the email, no major media covered this protest by approximately 10,000 Americans which means that bloggers have to get out there and do the job that should have been done by the big guys. So be it. I'm doing my little part.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

My empty nest syndrome

Spoiler alert: this article is going to upset people who still have children at home for the entire summer, so if you can't hack it, exit this site immediately. It's not my fault you forgot to plan for your own sanity.

On a pleasant sunny Monday morning last week, we put our children in the van -- along with a three week supply of clothes and other necessities -- and ceremoniously dropped them off at a rendesvous point with all sorts of their friends. Minutes later, a big cushy bus pulled up and all the kids got on it, followed my several neurotic parents (not me, but yes, my husband). Those of us who sanely stood on the shady sidewalk waved to our contained children.

And we waved some more. And some more. And some more.

Finally, 45 minutes later, the neurotic parents were off the bus and the damn bus finally pulled away. Swiss-precision timing never made it to Israel. Forty-five minutes late is considered ON-TIME.

Within seconds of that bus moving on to the street, the entire gaggle of parents burst into cheers. I am not going to name anyone because it could prompt a lawsuit or two. I cheered particularly loud because all of my three children were on that bus and that bus was headed north for three weeks.

When I told people over the course of the next few days that all my kids were in camp, I was met with the dewey-eyed look of barely hidden envy. And I must admit, I was feeling pretty darn superior. Forget money. Forget weight. Forget brains. Forget the size of your house. Forget style. If you want to feel the glare of envy from everyone you meet, all you have to do is stick your kids on a bus that doesn't return for three weeks.

For the first few days I was so busy putting our lives back in order after the craziness of our landscaping-from-hell project and my son's bar mitzvah that I really didn't have the time to miss the kids. I was so glad that they weren't underfoot while I was preoccupied.

However, some where around Friday, I started to notice a few things that made me stop and reconsider:

1) my dog is depressed because no one has roughed her up in five days. No one has played "go catch" with her and no one has lain on the floor speaking in tongues to her for days. Her life is so empty.

2) my house is so clean that I barely recognize the place. The sinks are empty. The counters are food and crumb free. There are three items in the dirty-laundry basket. The kids bedrooms are exactly how they normally look for five minutes after the cleaning lady leaves. I am a little concerned about what my cleaning lady is going to do next week.

3) no one has told me I am ruining their lives for five days. Therefore, I am feeling like I haven't had a very productive week. Ruining someone's life takes careful, precision-thinking and weeks of planning. Of course, my kids think I do it as a hobby, but at least for now, my hobby is on hold.

4) my phone never rings. Normally I would consider that a blessing since I have developed phone issues over my adult life but right now I am starting to miss being interrupted by a barrage of stupid kid calls that come in three-minute intervals during most of the hours that my kids are home.

5) I only spent 300 nis in the grocery store as opposed to my usual 1200-1300 nis. I didn't recognize my grocery cart when I pulled up at the cashier's station. I don't think my cashier recognized it either. There was barely any food in the cart. After replentishing my cleaning supplies and disposable dishes, all that was there were some tubs of yogurt and cottage cheese, vegetables, fruit, one tub of expensive ice cream and water. What a sad little cart that was.

While these five considerations never arose until after the kids were gone, I just have one thing to add: I AM ENJOYING THESE THREE WEEKS WITH WILD ABANDON. I'll even explain why in a few weeks when the fun is over and I have had time to reflect on my slice of heaven.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

I'm growing my shoulders

I was going to grow my hair but difficult times call for difficult choices and I have decided that I should focus instead on my shoulders.

I have spent the last several days reading not only the news reports from Canada, the US and England, concerning last weeks Freedom (hahahahahah) Flotilla. But more informatively, I have been reading the readers comments section that follows every article.

Let me summarize a week's worth of comments for you: Generally speaking, and with very few exceptions, the world hates Jews. Even a lot of Jews hate Jews -- and they hate themselves for being Jews. And given the opportunity on a silver platter, that hatred is no longer brewing quietly just beneath the surface of human civility but rather it is bursting through and becoming de riguer conversation. "You hate Jews? Me too. It's so good to say that out loud!"

That's why I have decided to grow my shoulders. I think most Jews who still support Israel (the number is dwindling) are going to have to do the same. I have no intention of going back to Poland or Germany because I never came from there and I am willing to bet my last dollar that whatever my grandparents called home in Poland and Lithuania was quickly trampled by cossacks long before I was born. I am also not going back to Canada where I was born because a) I don't like the cold or the snow and b) after living in Israel, I can't even begin to imagine life there. For me, it wouldn't hold a candle to life here.

I am sad that the world sees us as they do. For the most part we are not much different from any other people in Western Society. We wake up every day. Go to school or work. Do laundry. Drive carpool. Try to raise our children to become decent adults. Eat. Play. But for whatever reasons (and there are many ... have you read "Constantine's Sword"?) the world has collectively decided that we are the root of all evil and deserve whatever we get.

Of course, it hasn't helped that the president of the United States has jumped on the "I Hate Jews" bandwagon.

And that is why, going forward, I am going to need very broad shoulders. It is totally naive to think that this wave of Jew hatred will subside any time soon -- I'm talking generations, not weeks. I just feel bad for the Jews who hate themselves -- hard to grow broad shoulders without the necessary convictions of your people.

Last week my mother told me about a sign that supposedly someone had painted on the side of the Israeli Embassy in Manilla on the occassion of Israel's 62nd birthday in May. It said (and this is hearsay because I have done some googling and I can't find it): 62 years old and everyone still wants to fuck her. Happy Birthday Israel!

Friday, June 4, 2010

A typical day at the Kotel

Earlier this week, before the world went to hell in a handbasket over the Flotilla incident, we went to Jerusalem for the Zeve Incident.

A month before a religious Jewish boy turns 13 and has his bar mitzvah, he puts on tfillin for the first time. I say "religious" boys because I have no idea what other Jewish people do. Tfillin, for those who don't know, are phylacteries -- taken from the Greek word phylacteron which means to guard or to protect -- compromised of two small leather cases containing texts from the Hebrew Scriptures (known collectively as tefillin); traditionally worn (on the forehead and the left arm) by Jewish men during morning prayer).

In the world of religious kids, this is a big deal. It is the first overt gesture that identifies them as one of the big kids and removes them once and for all, from the little kid camp. You could probably argue that a circumcision is a bigger deal but no one walks around showing off his modified penis so I am not counting that.

Enough theorizing. Back to the point. Last Monday we got in the car at the ungodly hour of 6:30 a.m. so that we could get to Jerusalem early enough to catch a group for morning prayers -- and before the sun started pelting down on the visitors at the Wall.

Many people who come from outside of Israel hold their bar mitzvahs at the Kotel, the Western Wall, as do some Israelis. Frankly I think it is crazy. First, it is so noisy and full of pandemonium in the morning that as far as I can tell there is no way to have any meaningful prayer there. Yes, the guys who get right up to the Wall and have the incredible ability to shut out any external noise, might not agree with me, but as someone who is easily distracted (as is Zeve) I wouldn't recommned it.

And second, as the mother of the bar mitzvah boy, you might as well stay home. You aren't going to be anywhere near the important activity. You are lucky if the kid agrees to keep his tfillin on long enough to leave the men's section after morning prayers to get his picture taken with you. That way, years later, you can look at the photographs and pretend that you actually played a role in what went down. You didn't, but you can always lie to yourself.

For the mother, the extension of this problem is that by putting on tfillin your son has left you for the world of men. He will no longer be able to pop over for a quick hello to the women's side of any religious prayer environment. And by default, you can never get to him either.

Which brings me to my beef. I almost always have a beef.

There we were at the Kotel -- the Holiest Place in Judiaism -- and the frantic activity of the women's side is comparable to having front row seats at Mardi Gras. Of course, don't try to leave your seat -- you have to drag it around with you -- because someone will take it as fast as you can get your butt off it.

On the one hand we have the serious pray-ers. Some sit along the far fence totally emersed in their prayer. Some are right up at the wall, crying, wailing and hitting it. Why they do this is beyond me -- but prayer isn't my strong suit so what do I know.

Next we have the visiting-from-outside-of-Israel Jews who are celebrating bar mitzvahs. The women sit right up against the dividing wall so that they can pretend to be participating in the bar mitzvah taking place on the other side of the divider. Of course, who knows for sure since it is too noisy to tell. These people yell back and forth over the wall to their men on the other side.

Then, there are the non-religious Israelis also holding bar mitzvahs. The women in these families don't even try to fake humility at the Wall. It often looks more like a Prostitutes Convention than a holy coming-of-age ceremony. Oh, and they bring a smorgasboard along to munch on while they wait for the boy to do his part. I don't think they even try to hear what's going on on the other side.

After that we have the religious tourists who march right up to the wall and start crossing themselves so that we all know there are Serious Christians in the area. Okay, call me oversensitive, but I don't think I would go to another religion's place of worship and start praying in hebrew. Even when I went to holy Moslem sites that Jews firmly believe belong to them, I didn't start up with any Jewish antics. First of all, it might get you imprisoned or maybe killed and secondly, it isn't nice.

So after the hyper-enthusiastic Christian Crossing Fanatics, there are the totally insensitive non-religious, curious tourists who are just looking for a good photograph. These chicks will stop at nothing to hang over onto the men's side of the wall with their cameras in tow. Now, while I do understand that this is a visual curiousity during the week, it never ceases to amaze me that these same insensitive types will continue photographing during the Sabbath prayers. And the fact that the Israeli authorities don't stop it bugs me even more. This isn't a freak show -- well, sometimes it is, but still, you shouldn't photograph it on the Sabbath.

The one good thing that came out of all this people watching was that Yael and I had lots to do for the almost hour that we sat on the women's side waiting for my men to finish. I tried to pray but frankly there was just too much going on.

I just had to wait until it was my turn for a picture with Zeve.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

"Israel stands alone"

Never go to bed. Because if you do, you will eventually have a day where you wake up, turn on your computer and get hit in the face with an onslaught of media reminders of Israel's reality. Today is such a day.

Rather than comment any further -- it's not that sort of posting -- I am going to publish what I believe are the FACTS of the story. All I can add is that after 20 odd years as a PR professional, this is an excellent example of where perception becomes reality. The truth is based on one's perspective and the expectations on Israel are different from those on the rest of the world.

Here is what I think is a worthwhile summary of the story:

* Israeli sailors, attempting to board one of the six ships of the protest flotilla en route to Gaza, were attacked by dozens of activists armed with knives, metal bars, and handguns. Fearing for their lives, the Israeli soldiers had no choice but to respond. At least four Israeli personnel were wounded by various means, including by gunfire from activists.

* Israel made every effort to provide the flotilla organizers with an opportunity to avoid a confrontation. Israel offered to bring the flotilla into the port of Ashdod, and to transfer their aid to Gaza following appropriate security checks. The organizers rejected this offer, stating clearly that "this mission is not about delivering humanitarian supplies, it's about breaking Israel's siege."

* Israel gave repeated warning of the maritime blockade in effect off the coast of Gaza and that the flotilla would be turned away and brought to an Israeli port to offload their cargo.

* The organizers of the protest deliberately invited a confrontation with Israeli sailors. This was not an aid mission, but a PR stunt designed to undermine Israel and bolster Hamas, internationally recognized as a terrorist organization. Among the protestors were a group of highly-trained extremists with links to the Muslim Brotherhood and jihadist groups in Afghanistan.

* There is no blockade on humanitarian aid to Gaza. In fact, Israel delivers 15,000 tons of humanitarian aid – including medical supplies, food, and water – to Gaza every week. The blockade exists to prevent unauthorized individuals and unknown cargo from entering Gaza and falling into the hands of its ruling Hamas regime.

* Hamas is presently smuggling in massive amounts of military supplies into Gaza to fortify its positions and continue its attacks. Under international law Israel has the right to intercept vehicles that are "believed on reasonable grounds to be carrying contraband or breaching a blockade, and after prior warning they intentionally and clearly refuse to stop, or intentionally and clearly resist visit, search or capture." (Section 67A of the San Remo Manual on International Law Applicable to Armed Conflicts at Sea).

I just read a great idea on another blog ( and I like it. I am looking for a spot on the flotilla. Here it is:

"In the meantime, I am thinking of organizing a flotilla of my own. It will sail for Turkey. Its purpose will be to publicize the plight of the Kurds under the Turkish Government and speak for their immediate independence. And while we are there, we will hold some public discussions about the unquestioned Turkish genocide of the Armenians after World War I. But leave the clubs, knives, etc. at home - it will be a peaceful event. Let's see how the Turks handle this."

Oh, I just read this article and you should too:

Monday, May 24, 2010

You cannot suck and blow at the same time

Oh, the hypocrisy of it all. Yesterday I read in the newspaper that Rahm Emanuel, yes, Obama's Chief of Staff who is Jewish but anti-Israel, is in Israel for his son's bar mitzvah. I'm sorry, but for the life of me I can't figure out what his game is.

Let me get this straight. The guy spends his days in Washington finding new and increasingly sly ways to screw the Jewish State yet when it comes time to bar mitzvah his son, he hops on a plane and comes to the exact place that he is trying to shut down for Jews. All I can say is: Why bother? Are you in or are you out? Where, exactly do you stand?

We aren't here for your sporadic pleasure you know. Why don't you bar mitzvah your son in the holy land of Washington?

Rahm Emanuel is an excellent example of why Jews shouldn't hold high-profile offices in other countries. I do not believe that those Jews who do are "good for the Jews". In fact, I think it is the exact opposite: those high-powered Jews in other countries spend most of their time trying to demonstrate that they do NOT have divided loyalties when in fact, they probably do -- or should. Or if they don't, their families do and they are expected to tow the line. It's a no win situation.

When a Jew reaches a position of influence such as chief of staff for the president of the United States, we Jews have expectations that he (or she) will remember where they came from. And of course, that is never the case. If such a person did show any loyalty to their roots the rest of the public would probably go ballastic accusing the high-office achiever of being predictably (fill in the blank here with your favorite ethnic or other diversity group).

Which brings us to Rahm Emanuel. He is living proof of my theory. No matter how hard I try, I just can't think of anything nice to say about him. I would like to say some really bad things about him but my Ad Hoc Legal Committee gets anxious everytime I look like I am headed in that direction. After all, regardless of what a lowlife I think he is, he IS the president of the United States' chief of staff.

And as a result he is proving to be as anti-Israel as his boss -- yet another guy in high office insisting to be supportive of little democratic Israel, but in reality being anything but that.

I read somewhere that Rahm Emanuel volunteered during one of Israel's many recent wars. Clap, clap, clap, clap. Applause. Applause. What does he want? A parade? Well, I am not giving him one because while he may have done the right thing once, when he was finally in a position to do the greatest good, he chose not to.

That's not much of a role model for a bar mitzvah boy.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Is that three weeks in dog years?

Immediately following Passover 2010, which ended on April 6th, we began work on the landscaping and deck-building in our backyard. We hired all the contractors before the holiday began in full belief that they would finish the work in three to four weeks.

Now, in the off chance that you doubt me, let me tell you that the time frame was theirs -- not mine. When I initially said to the deck guy: "I have a bar mitzvah in June" he just laughed and said: "it only takes a week and a half to two weeks to build a deck and a pergola." And considering his snarky tone when he responded, I couldn't help but doubt my own self-made anxieties.

Well, excuse me for being smarter than I look -- at least on the odd occasion. It is now May 20th and my yard looks like an industrial waste facility. I have an almost completed deck, a partially built pergola, a partially built stream that leaks, and that's about it. Oh, I forgot, I also have tons of partially used wood, electrical wire scraps, leftover coffee cups and lunch wrappers, rubber tubing and old branches lying amidst a pile of very expensive -- yet unused -- wood.

No trees, no beautiful stepping stones, no fancy lights. Zippo.

And on top of all that, my son's bar mitzvah is now is five weeks. Am I in a panic? Oui. Oui grande.

I think that besides the obvious concerns what gets me most is that I am at a loss to explain how people make money in this country. I don't mean the Israeli Wall Street types who go to work in big offices in Tel Aviv, Ramat Gan and Jerusalem every day. But rather the tradesmen who start at 9:00 a.m. (even though they said they would be there at 8:00 a.m), and who take a 10:00 a.m. snack break, have a siesta from 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. and then work a little until 6:30 p.m. Yes, them.

Maybe it is my Calvanist work ethic -- well, my old Calvanist work ethic -- that is unrealistic in the Middle East. Now I work on the internet at times that suit me but at least when I say I am going to get a job done by a certain date, I actually stick to the plan.

Maybe it's the heat. I couldn't work outside in this kind of weather either but of course, as native born Israelis who are not menopausal, they don't seem to notice the relentless sun.

Maybe they don't need the money. Although they always arrive on time on the days they want money. THEN, they are immediately available and diligent. THEN they have a sense of urgency.

Maybe this is not just an Israeli problem even if I seem to think it is.

Maybe I should just move to a new house and not tell them. Of course, I have to be moved in to my new pad in five weeks.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

So much for picking your nose on the street

I just read in the paper that Ra'anana has installed more than 100 surveillance cameras throughout the city to help reduce crime. While I understand that there is good reasons for taking such actions, I couldn't help but think that that is going hinder people's personal freedoms.

A few weeks ago a 13-year-old friend of mine was confronted on a Ra'anana street by a guy who felt the need to expose himself to her. Needless to say, she was upset and unnerved by the expose. I would like to think that I would handle such an incident much better because I am so much older but the truth is, nudity has its place -- but that place in not on the street with strangers. I like to think that if that happened to me, I would laugh in the flasher's face and tell him or her to get lost. Of course, it's easy to have such bravado when it isn't happening to you.

Back to the point. Have the police caught this guy? No. Have they really looked for this guy? I am willing to bet that they have not. Which leads me back to the cameras. Are the police actually going to a) use the information to hunt down criminals and deviants or b) are they simply expecting the cameras to act as a deterrent in their own right? My fear is that the answer is B.

A few years ago another sexual deviant physically attacked a 12-year-old boy in the foyer of his Ra'anana apartment building. Public outrage was high -- at least from the Anglo community. It may have been the same with the Hebrew-speaking community but since I do not follow the hebrew media that carefully, I cannot say with any confidence.

A few weeks later, as I drove by the police station, I noticed a hullaballoo happening outside so I yelled to one of the police officers (this is not unusual behaviour in Israel) to ask whether or not this was the guy who had assaulted the kid. The police officer looked at me as if I was nuts. In an attempt to save face, I then asked him if they were looking for that guy. After another equally vacant stare I realized that I was simply wasting my breath.

Now, on the other hand, if you are a potential terrorist on the run in Israel, the police will get actively involved (along with the army and the Border Police) to hunt you down -- and they will find you. Don't get me wrong ... this is a good thing. A very good thing. But it does not require municipal security cameras. From what I can tell, it does require excellent groundwork and good contacts with a constituency that I am not familiar with. And if it is a potential terrorist on the lose, there is no one I would trust more that the three groups listed above.

However, if some slimeball breaks into your house and steals your valuables, or if someone feels the need to share his or her private parts with you on a city street, you are probably out of luck. And therefore, I think the cameras should go in favour of people having the right to privately pick their noses in public!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Cleaning for Passover

It's that time of the year again when participating Jews worldwide start the re-enactment of the exodus from Egypt approximately 3460 years ago. (Note: Do not even think about arguing the math with me. I know that there is more than one theory on the exact date but I don't want to discuss that right now. If you are uncomfortable with my calculation, submit your comments to Wikipedia. They will appreciate them -- I do not.)

We've thrown away lots of old and broken junk that was piling up since last year at this time. My kids have cleaned out their closets -- to their satisfaction, not to mine. We are now entering the below-the-surface, deep cleaning segment of the preparation process.

And once again, in the middle of all this over-the-top preparation, I start wondering the same thing that I wondered last year: What the heck does this have to do with the Exodus?

Let me spare you the few seconds you might have pondered the question. The answer is: nothing; zippo; nada.

While I am not a biblical scholar (Ha. Even the thought of that amuses me.)I do know the basics of the Exodus story. Here's the nutshell version: God speaks to Moses. God tells Moses that he has to free the Israelites who are enslaved in Egypt. Moses is reluctant at best. God doesn't care. Moses agrees to try. Aaron, his brother, agrees to assist him. They ask Pharaoh to free the Israelites. Pharaoh says no. Moses demonstrates the power of his backer (God) with a few plagues. Pharaoh is not impressed. Moses tries a few more plagues. Pharaoh is a little more impressed and looks like he is going to agree. However, he does not. Moses goes bigger and gets Pharaoh's attention. Pharaoh agrees under duress.

And here is where things come back to the preparation issue: Knowing that the last of the plagues are really going to upset Pharaoh, Moses tells the Israelites to get ready quickly because they are going to have to make a fast exit. This turns out to be a very accurate statement.

So, my question is, if you are leaving your hovel in a hurry and you don't have much time to prepare, how thorough a cleaning job can you do or would you do? And why would you clean at all? The whole point was that this was supposed to be a one-way journey. The Israelites were not going on vacation for a few weeks. They were leaving Egypt because life for them there was hell. What would be the point of leaving the place neat and tidy (and free of crumbs)? Were they trying to leave it nice for the next set of slaves who were going to inhabit the ghetto?

It doesn't make any sense. And therefore, neither does the overstated cleaning that many of us undertake in the weeks leading up to Passover/Pesach.

Every year I say "next year I am not going to clean like this." And every following year, I do it again ... and issue the same threat for the upcoming year. The irony is that over the course of many years, I too have become an Israelite slave to the cleaning and preparation for the holiday that celebrates Jewish emancipation.

So next year, I am going to free myself! (Well, every slave has a dream.)

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Does anyone else see the ridiculousness of this anti-Israel position?

This well-know graphic was just used as part of an Israel Apartheid Week campaign -- by the Anti-Israel supporters. Correct me if I'm wrong, but this graphic makes precisely the opposite point as far as I can tell. Could someone please tell me if I am going crazy or if it is the world that's losing its mind.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Hockey Night in Israel

I wish this blog had sound because there is no way to get the true effect of this posting without the immediately recognizable (to Canadians) Hockey Night In Canada music playing in the background. Okay, for those of you who know the tune, just hum it in your head while you read. For those of you who don't know the tune, I am sure you can google it. (As I was looking for the link information on the internet, I noticed that it is referred to as Canada's Second National Anthem.)

Okay, back to the point.

This past week Canada found itself -- once again -- facing off against its greatest hockey enemy: Team USA. (While Canadians can tolerate a lot of things American, hockey competence is not one of them.) Now, you may have noticed that for a minute there I was sounding like the old me. The Canadian me. The one who took hockey seriously -- at least during such historical moments as a confrontation for Olympic gold. However, as I have spent the last year and a few months telling you all, I am no longer that Canadian person. Well, not completely.

And my husband -- yes, the same one who so desperately wanted to move to Israel -- is, in this one particular instance, torn between his Canadian past and his Israeli present. Strangely enough, he isn't the only one. This past week, with a little digging, you could easily have found pockets of Canadian hockey fans sitting around televisions throughout Israel totally oblivious to the fact that hockey is no longer part of their lives. Israel is soccer country. And maybe even basketball. But trust me, the only time hockey rises to the surface in the State of Israel is when someone schleps a bunch of retired NHLers to Metullah for a goodwill, fund raising series at the Canada Center in Metullah. (Metullah, for those of you who don't know, is so far north that its next door neighbours are Lebanese nationals.)

If that isn't clear enough, let me put it this way. There are three rinks in Israel and only one of them has skateable ice. Don't challenge me here -- I have been skating since I was two or three. I know my ice.

But what I apparently didn't know was the strength of the pull of hockey and the lifelong commitment that its fans carry.

I have to admit that I was very happy to hear that Canada, despite its sloppy start, was going to play the Americans for the gold medal. It must be innate; the thought of the Americans winning hockey gold is still enough to give me nightmares. It is simply intolerable. That said, I am no more likely to stay up into the wee hours of the morning to watch a hockey game then I am to mosey over to Kalkilya for a cock fight.

This apparently put me in the minority. And it raises the question of divided loyalties. I know governments raise this feeble argument now and again that all Jews have divided loyalties between their countries of citizenship and Israel. I doubt there is an ounce of truth to that theory (someone out there has totally overestimated most Jews), but I suspect the results would be different if anyone took the time to test Canadian-Israeli Jews' hockey loyalty. That would be a different story.

A little story before I wrap up. A few weeks ago Darryl Sitler and Paul Henderson were in Israel for some hockey reason. (I refuse to explain who these men are because if you don't know, you don't deserve to know.) I desperately wanted to meet Paul Henderson first, because he was the hero/saviour in a very important moment of my childhood (sort of like "where were you when Kennedy was shot"? but happier), second, he was only 25 minutes from my house, and third, because unfortunately he has leukemia and this may have been my last chance to meet him. That said, we couldn't go to Tel Aviv to meet them because we had a previous commitment that really was more important. That said, on nights like the one last week WHEN CANADA CONFIRMED ONCE AGAIN ITS HOCKEY GREATNESS AGAINST THOSE STUPID AMERICAN WANNABEES, I was truly sad that there is no Hockey Night in Israel.