Monday, January 11, 2010


I wrote my first entry on this blog 365 days ago. I had just arrived home from my father's very unexpected funeral and I was wondering who I was going to share all my weird stories with if he wasn't alive to hear them. He was always my best audience because -- I presume -- we had the same sense of humour and saw the world in a similar way.

My solution to losing my story-telling audience was to blog. I can't take credit, it was my sister's idea. However, you have all become my replacement audience and you have done a damn good job. Nothing personal to any one of you, but it really took the whole lot of you to replace one father.

For those who followed regularly, you may have noticed that there were many instances where I brushed over a subject quickly or mentioned that telling the story would probably land me in jail somewhere. It's not that I didn't think you could all hack it, but I knew my dad would have cringed at the details so I chose to leave them out in his honour. And the truth is that some details are really best left buried wherever they occured. The people who were involved know the details already and don't need to be reminded. Well, maybe they do.

Beth and Libby, do you remember how we used to eat lunch in the same grungy bar several days in a row just so we could watch MTV, which was in its second year on the air when we were in grad school? Do you remember Pat Benetar's music video with everyone dancing in the bar? I think it was called "Love is a Battlefield"? And what about when we decided to slum it on the wrong side of town to drink beer? It's amazing we survived that. We're talking Syracuse here. And there were some pretty nasty types in that bar.

Terry, do you remember when you rode my new bike through our office (with a cigarette hanging out of your mouth)?

Rosemary, do you remember when we got those gigantic raises (that were long overdue) and we didn't know if we would shit or go blind? And do you remember the day that I called you in a panic because I thought I saw Irene on the street (after I had left my job) and I took off into the subway to avoid her? Oh, and what about the day we found out -- once and for all -- about B & J? Thanks Ron for inadvertently spilling the beans. In those days before cell phones, that would have been precisely the moment I would have died for telepathic ability.

And the day that we lost the car keys and we were stuck in the mall for two hours retracing our steps ... very slowly.

And Ron, what about the time we had to make 2000 paying fans look like 10,000? And then, moments later, when the little kid holding the ceremonial flag at the soccer stadium almost knocked off the CEO and the Prime Minister's representative while they stood on the field for the opening ceremonies.

And Barb, I was never so professionally stressed out as I was the day the Greenpeace people showed up at our press conference for the forest industry.

And Tammy, what about the day we stumbled across our hated colleague's fake resume? Or the day that the Queen was photographed holding our card -- logo side out?

And all of this was before I even made it to Israel. Before I saw a guy get out of his car at a stop sign and walk to the car in front of his, just so he could spit on the first car's windshield. And before I knew that you had to know how to handle yourself in a rugby scrum if you wanted to keep your place in line at the cell phone repair shop. And before I knew that the best way to shut down an argument was to leave your car parked in the middle of the street so that no one else could pass -- and then, top it off by going home -- without the car. And before I knew that kids expect their main meal at 3:00 p.m. when they come home from school -- so that they would be refreshed enough to go out and play at 6:00 p.m. when normal people (me) were having their dinner. And before I realized that it is always better to curse in English because YOU F--KING A--HOLE conveniently works in every language. And before I knew that if a wedding is called for 6:30 p.m. you can easily show up at 8:30 p.m. and know you have not missed the ceremony. And before I realized that there are no occassions so special that they really warrant pantihose.

I know I could add to this list forever, but I think that those are probably the best of the items that I forgot to tell my father.

Thank you all for listening in his place.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Well, how many 70 year olds do you know with purple hair?

As usual the bulk of the feedback to my blog comes in synagogue. Considering that it is 2010 and all of my friends own any number of high-tech communications devices, you would think that they could find a way to comment ON MY BLOG. But, no. Despite my best efforts to get them to do that, all conversations concerning my blog begin something like this: "I was going to post my comments, but..." or "I tried to post my comments, but..."

Whatever the reason, almost without fail, I get those comments in the middle of the rabbi's Friday night speech. Since it is in Hebrew I usually lose the thread somewhere in his third or fourth sentence, so as it turns out, I have time to talk anyway. However, I do worry that some Friday night, he is actually going to stop his speech mid-sentence to ask me what is so important that I cannot sit quietly and just let him do his thing. And then, it is going to be even more embarassing when I have to admit that we are discussing my blog.

Which brings me to last night -- Friday night -- when the comments portion of the blog conversation took place during the rabbi's speech. Fortunately it wasn't our rabbi speaking so I managed to stay under the radar.

After reading my penultimate (I promised one of my other friends that I would use that word in my blog this week) post, my friend was indignant that Jews living outside of Israel could convince themselves that living in Ra'anana was not living in Israel. Of course, when I wrote that piece I knew that all my friends in Israel would react the same way. I was preaching to the converted.

So we sat in synagogue listing all the ways that Ra'anana was not like chool (the hebrew slang for the diaspora derived from the words chootz l'aretz which means outside The Land). Needless to say, we were in complete agreement.

I thought we had created a very comprehensive list until this morning.

When I arrived in synagogue there was a bar mitzvah underway. It was a bar mitzvah for a local boy who was secular and not a member of our synagogue. I had met the family before and they are very nice people -- real Israelis, for lack of a better term. However, they stuck out like a giant sore thumb because none of the women in their little group covered their heads in synagogue and they were all wearing pants. (I mean the women. Of course, the men were wearing pants. This isn't Saudi Arabia.)

In and of itself, this is no big deal. Although religious Jewish women both cover their heads in synagogue and do not wear pants there, I think most people in our community would say that it is better people should come to synagogue in pants rather than not come at all. In some communities they would be apoplectic, but not in Ra'anana.

But the pants weren't the issue. If anyone noticed it, no one mentioned it. But what was noticeable -- and is something that you would never see in chool -- was the 70 year old woman who was a guest of the bar mitzvah boy's family, sitting there in her black pantsuit with her uncovered purple hair.

Now, I don't mean, gray hair tinted purplish. I mean dark purple haze, purple rain, royal purple. (And for my Toronto PR friends out there -- I mean Pantone 266C purple.) It was the most purple, spiked hair I have ever seen -- particularly on a 70+ year old woman who was anything but fashionable. It made my daughter Yael look fashion-laid-back.

As an aside, strange colours like this are not infrequent on the streets of Israel. I have never seen more women's heads dyed unnatural colours in one place in my life. Israeli women seem to have a hankering for bright red hair colour, and various shades of maroon that are not found in nature outside of flowers. Frankly, I would have sworn that they were colours created by Crayola or Pantone for commercial use only. I am no longer caught off guard when I meet a "mature" woman with a shaggy head of unnatural orange. Those women are everywhere here.

I turned to my friend with whom I had been making the list last night, and I said to her: "Purple hair like that. THAT is a very good way to know that you are living in Israel."

She had no choice but to burst into laughter and agree.

Who the hell says we don't live in Israel?

Monday, January 4, 2010

My friends

I have a lot of friends here. No more than anyone else, but a full plate and then some, nonetheless. Most of us didn't know each other eight years ago, yet I cannot imagine myself without them anymore.

One thing that happens when you move far away from family and your life history is that the new friends you make become your family. In many cases they are better family than blood family.

The same thing happened to me in university and then when I went to work in cities far from where I grew up.

Over time I have collected quite an impressive group of people I feel honoured to call my friends. I have had more crazy experiences with almost every one of them. That was particularly true of the friends I found in university -- both in undergrad and grad school. I could write volumes on our escapades but I won't because I don't want to go to jail or get sent to a penal colony (do they still have those things?).

I really didn't think that life could get any better than my university years with respect to having great people in my life. And that was true for many years. I did make some great friends during my years in Toronto but most of the time we were all busy working and building careers and that didn't leave much time for bonding on a higher level. There were definitely moments -- like the Great Muffin Caper of 1987 and the Are Any Media Going To Show At My Press Conference crisis of 1990 -- but they didn't come as fast and furious as they had previously.

However, that all changed when I moved to Israel. I often sit in synagogue on Friday nights and look across the room at a huge selection of my new friends. I sit in the same section every week and it gives me a great vantage point from which to review my life in people.

When I first arrived, going to synagogue was a dreaded event because I felt so alone. Now, it takes all the focus I can muster just to get home in time for dinner after the Friday night service. My children and husband have totally given up on me. They just leave when they are ready and I guess they assume I will surface in the kitchen sooner or later. They probably figure that at some point I will get hungry enough to come home and feed us all.

The other night a group of my friends and I were all at a jewelry show in another friend's penthouse apartment. As two of us left the show, a few others yelled out to wait for them. As we all entered the elevator, everyone was talking at once. We probably continued this way for about a minute or two before someone noticed that the elevator wasn't moving.

We had been so busy talking en mass that no one had bothered to push the button to the ground floor. When we realized it, everyone burst into laughter. And it was at that moment that I was struck by the realization that I can't believe how lucky I am to live among such good people.

We have schlepped to Haifa via train and bus to see the Bahai Gardens. We have held surprise parties on the beach. We sit down at bar mitzvahs and weddings never worried about who will be at our table because it just doesn't matter. We eat communal holiday meals. Our kids all manage to play together regardless of their age differences. We have celebrated each others birthdays. We have cried together at the funerals of friends who died too soon. We have cooked for people we don't even know. We have raised money for all sorts of causes. And we have done all these things together.

In fact, we have become a family. And in true family fashion, we have dumped our kids on each others' door steps without notice. We haven't worried about babysitters because we know that if worse comes to worse, our kids can always sleep over at the home of someone who wasn't going out for the evening. We have borrowed eggs, flour, sugar, wine, and divvied up a salad when one person didn't have one and another had more than enough for lunch.

One year, we unintentionally all went on Chanuka vacation together. Nothing like getting to the foyer of the Royal Beach Hotel in Eilat in time to light the Chanuka candles just to find that everyone else you know is there doing the same thing.

I know that my last few posts have been rather moribund but I am having a melancholy phase and now you all have to experience it with me. That is the price of readership. But the truth is, in true friend fashion, I know that most of you are reading along and nodding your heads. You remember the same things that I do and you also know how lucky we are to have such good friends.

Bubble girl

(I'm back from my Christmas break. I figured that if more than half of the world can have a 12-days of Christmas break, the fact that I am Jewish and live in Israel shouldn't keep me from celebrating in a secular Christmas sense as well. If my friend Barb can celebrate the parts of Yom Kippur that she likes, there is no reason I can't pick and choose what I like about Christmas.)

And so, I am back with a thought about living in Ra'anana. After we moved here, many Israelis -- and many North American Jewish know-it-alls -- were quick to tell us that living in Ra'anana was not really living in Israel. My hebrew ulpan teacher said that Ra'anana was a bubble. I didn't really know what she meant because for the first few years, I rarely drove outside the Ra'anana-Kfar Saba-Herzlyia area (for those of you who do not know Israeli geography, I didn't wander very far from home). However, I completely trusted my teacher, who was a born and bred Israeli.

We didn't visit Toronto for almost two years after our move. But before we left, one of my friends told me to be prepared for the Jewish types who wanted to dismiss the magnitude of our move. She told me that they would inevitably say things like: "living in Ra'anana is just like living here (Toronto, New York, Chicago, etc..)."

On our first trip back to Toronto (I specifically mention Toronto, rather than Canada, because there aren't enough Jews anywhere else in Canada to create a collective opinion on anything Jewish), no one said anything of the sort. I automatically assumed that my friend, being an ex-New Yorker, had simply assumed that Torontonians were the same as New Yorkers.

However, two years later, on our next trip to Toronto, I was standing in my old grocery store -- the one with the largest kosher section in all of Canada -- talking to some old friends. We were talking about life in Israel. All of a sudden, some woman I didn't know just joined in our conversation. I guess that if you are standing in the kosher section, other kosher section customers assume you are Jewish and by default, they can just join your conversation.

She said: "I overheard you say that you live in Israel." "Yes," I answered. "Where do you live?" she asked. "Ra'anana," I innocently answered. And then there it was.... plain as the nose on my face. She looked at me and said: "I would just love to live in Israel, but Ra'anana isn't really Israel."

I almost keeled over on the spot. I could see my ex-New York friend's cheshire cat smile in my mind's eye.

As my regular readers know, I am not one to let sleeping dogs lie. It's just not my style. So, I turned to her and said: "Oh really. That's funny. The Israeli government seems to think it is. They gave me an Israeli passport." And now I was on a roll, so I continued: "Don't try to find excuses why you don't have the guts to make the move. Ra'anana is in the center of Israel and even though there are a lot of English speakers there, at least I had the guts to go. Don't justify your pathetic excuses for not moving by insulting me."

That will teach her to join strangers' conversations.

Everyone in my little social circle just stood there.

I love uncomfortable silences -- especially when I initiate them.

I said good-bye to my friends and I went back to my shopping.

Well, that opinion has served me very well for several years now. However, the news of the past few weeks has made me wonder if perhaps I do live in a bubble -- albeit, a bubble in Israel. (Don't even try to start that debate with me again.)

After the rape of a teenage boy in an Israeli Juvenile Detention Center a few weeks ago, another friend walked up to me and said: "Well, what crazy North American olim (immigrants) move to places like Carmiel? It's a dangerous place. Everyone knows that."

I didn't.

I just assumed that moving to Israel was pretty much the same everywhere you went. I know that moving to Tel Aviv or Jerusalem is NOT like moving to a smaller place, but it never dawned on me that there are simply some places that North American, Australian, South African or Western European immigrants simply don't move. Unfortunately, Carmiel is one of those places.

After a little more thought I realized that most North Americans (and probably members of the other three westernized groups) move into areas that have reputations for being more Anglicized. And I guess we do it for a reason. We are more than willing to move to Israel and be active contributors to the future of the Jewish people. However, the more streetwise among us understand that we are never going to be truly Israeli. We are just too westernized. I have an Israeli passport and I speak passable hebrew. Many of my Anglo friends speak excellent hebrew. But it's not about those things.

We think like westerners. We can't help it. Our children wear helmets when they ride their bikes. We insist on using seat belts. We take turns at intersections. We do not honk our horns at the drivers in front of us the split second the light turns green. We take our places in lines. We are not afraid of someone getting in front of us. If we get out of line, we understand that we have lost our place in the line. We say please and thank you. We tip service people who help us. We do not interrupt other people's turns with bank tellers because we just need them for a second. We do not nap between 2 and 4 and we definitely don't get angry if children play outside between those hours.

I could keep adding to the list, but you get the point. Most of us are westerners living in Israel.

I will never agree with that dismissive woman in my Toronto grocery store. It is very easy to be an armchair observer. I can come up with hundreds of excuses for any number of things I simply don't want to do. However, I am willing to accept that Ra'anana is a bubble -- an Israeli bubble.