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.