Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Buddy Double

I grew up in a small city where people not only knew their neighbours, but also spoke to them on a daily basis. We weren't necessarily best friends but we all knew the basic details of each other's lives. And if you needed to borrow an egg, you didn't have to introduce yourself at a stranger's door first.

Toronto couldn't have been more different. We lived on a one block street and at best, we knew about 30 per cent of our neighbours. If you needed an egg, well, good luck to you. There were probably two families on our street that I would have even considered asking for one.

Then we moved to Israel. As I have said many times in the past, it is partly the Anglo thing and partly that in Israel your business is your neighbour's business. Without going into a long song and dance, I have so many egg-friendly neighbours that I could collect a dozen without effort.

Several of my neighbours' numbers are in my cell phone and I speak to them daily. That's why when my new American neighbour across the street called the other day and said: "Oh my God, can you please come over here now ...", I walked out the door and across the street while I was still talking to her on my cell phone.

She opened the door holding her adorable miniature poodle, Buddy. And since we are both dog owners I began the conversation by addressing Buddy. Except, it wasn't Buddy. It was the same size as Buddy and the same colour as Buddy, but she assured me that it wasn't Buddy. In fact, she said calling to her seven-year-old daughter, here's Buddy now. And with that, her daughter entered the room the the real Buddy in her arms. I just stood there amazed. And with that, my quiet Sunday afternoon came to an abrupt end.

As it turns out, one of the daughter's friends left school earlier that day and saw a dog that she was sure was Buddy in the middle of the street in front of the school. Thinking she was doing a great deed, she scooped up the little dog and headed to my neighbour's house four blocks away to return Buddy.

However, when my neighbour opened the door with Buddy in her arms, she got the shock of her life to see Buddy's Double in the child's arms. A complicating factor to say the least.

Buddy Double had no collar and no apparent identification. That's when she called me to help her figure out what she should do next. In retrospect it's funny because according to my husband, thinking things through isn't my strong suit.

After consulting with our friend the City Veteranarian, we headed off to the nearest Veteranary Clinic to have the dog's computer chip read. All the way there the little girl who found Buddy Double was planning her life with her new dog.

If it had been a mixed breed without identification, that might have been fine, but in a small country the size of Israel, a new purebred in town can only have come from one or two places and presented with the challenge of finding the owner, the vet we went to see turned into a private dectective on the spot.

The dog didn't have an identification chip because he was too young. To me, that pretty much settled the matter. No ID meant that we couldn't find the owner and therefore, the little girl was the proud owner of an adorable miniature poodle puppy.

The vet/detective didn't see it that way. He started making calls to his contacts in search of the rightful owner. Fortunately for the almost-new-dog-owning-child, the vet was batting zero and I was starting to apply pressure. "It's ownerless," I said, "and she wants to keep it. So we're leaving."

And just then, while the vet was stalling and trying to convince us that we had to put up posters to try to find the real owner, the door of the clinic opened and a teenage boy walked in, took one look at Buddy Double, and said: "Sonny!"

And with that, the day took another 90 degree turn.

"Hey, not so fast," we all yelled. "How do we know it is your dog?" (Of course, we knew in our hearts it was his dog, but we had already made plans for Buddy Double, and we weren't in a hurry to adjust our thinking.) "How did you find us?"

So here's the story as it can only happen in a small place.

The kid gets home and realizes his dog has escaped due to human carelessness. He goes out into the street near his house (which was a few feet from the public school) and starts asking if someone has seen his dog. He has a picture of the dog with him. Some kid sees the photograph and says: "I saw a girl pick the dog up and take it home. I think her name is ....."

Next, the teenager and his father go into the public school and ask where this kid lives. THE SCHOOL ACTUALLY GIVES OUT THE INFORMATION. (Mindboggling to North Americans) and then they go to the girl's house to get their dog.

Of course, the mother knows the whole story and tells them that their dog isn't there because it is at the vet. She tells them which vet and next thing you know they are at the door to the vet's clinic.

And with that, our little neighbourhood adventure comes to an abrupt end.

However, the next day I was in the corner store getting milk and in walks the teenager with Sonny. "Sonny," I sort of yelled out and the dog lurches for me to give me a few licks. Now we are neighbourhood friends.

Friday, March 18, 2011

What goes around eventually comes around

In the midst of a mini torrential rain blast last Friday morning, I found myself driving to the Moked to have my son's hand "seen to". The Moked is the Israeli answer to people who need more medical help than they can get in a doctor's office but less than they could get at a full-fledged hospital. In theory it is a great concept. And in practice I like it too -- I just wish the closest branch wasn't located half way to Tel Aviv.

By the time we got in the door of the Moked we were soaked and I was expecting a very long wait. I have been to the Moked in the past and spent hours sitting there waiting my turn. It might be more cost effective than wasting a hospital's time, but customer turnaround time is rarely better than any hospital environment where you don't arrive on death's doorstep.

We went to the first check-in counter and the woman there explained all the steps we would have to go through. First you see the nurse, then you get an x-ray and finally, you see the orthopedist who gives you your final diagnosis. In other words, I was mentally hunkering down for the duration.

And that was when I noticed the signs that said "Wi-Fi". Within seconds my entire day was starting to look better. I pulled out my iTouch and started to review my unanswered emails. At some point during my email review they must have called my son's number. Fortunately he was listening and once I realized that he was headed somewhere I quickly gathered up our things and followed him.

The nurse at Stop One checked his hand and asked a few questions. But since his hebrew is so much better than mine, I left him to deal with her and continued to scan my emails.

Back to the waiting area.

A few minutes later, my son was called in to get an x-ray. Since visitors are not allowed into an x-ray area, I waited outside. As I said, he is almost 14 and his hebrew is far superior to mine.

He returned from the x-ray and took up the seat next to me while we waited for Stop Three -- the orthopedist.

When our number was called, my son -- the same son who is connected to an electronic device almost every waking hour that he is not in school (at least I hope that's the case) -- stood up and almost yelled at me: "Ema, take those earphones out of your ears and pay attention. You cannot listen to your iPod and know what's going on." And with that he walked into the doctor's office.

I just stood there and realized that we had reached a watershed moment in our relationship.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Perception and Reality

I have experienced the following incident more than once now and I am sure that I am not the only North American-Israeli out there to have found themselves in this position.

It goes like this ....You arrive at the airport to meet someone who has never been to Israel before. They enter the arrivals area of Terminal 3 at Ben Gurion Airport with their eyes darting from side to side. No matter how nonchalant they are trying to look, the fact is that they are anticipating trouble. I honestly believe that at least one of my first-time-in-Israel guests was actually expecting shooting to break out in the airport at any second.

They see me and the smile as bravely as they can (but their eyes are yelling PANIC).

Skip ahead to the end of their trip. We are back in the airport and they can hardly believe that they arrived here with only the vaguest hope of ever leaving alive.

You think I am joking, but I'm not. I have calmed more than one anxious arrival promising them that they would eat their words by the end of their trip. Thank G-d, so far, I am batting 1000.

What I never really considered, however, was just how common that sentiment was. To me, it seems fairly obvious that I wouldn't uproot my family from dull, quiet, reliable Toronto to move them into a war zone. I have beliefs and principles but I do not have a death wish. And after all the work I did bringing those children into this world, I have no plans to offer them an early exit.

Earlier this evening I had the good fortune to see some video snippets from a series of US focus groups sponsored by a pro-Israel organization. Although the real objective was not really clear to the focus group participants, their answers to questions pertaining to their perceptions of Israel left me speechless.

For the records, I haven't been speechless since 1967 -- and even then, I was just trying to freak out my mother.

The focus group participants were not Jewish and none had been to Israel. They were, however, educated beyond high school. These focus groups were carried out across the US -- 62 in all -- in 2004. Remarkably the answers for all the focus groups were very consistent.

Here is how the average, post high school, non-Jew living in the United States, views Israel. They think that there is nothing here but cement and barbed wire -- oh, and a little rubble thrown in for good measure. They think that everyone is an orthodox Jewish man who would not be open to having any kind of foreigner visiting Israel. They also believe that women stay indoors and that men carry on all outdoor activity on behalf of the family. They think that Israel is overwhelmingly dangerous and that there is no life so to speak on the streets. They do believe that there are tanks everywhere.

For anyone who lives here you know how laughable that is -- well, laughable, when you aren't crying about it. And for those of you who have never been here, please bear with me while I refute a few points.

- Israel is suprisingly green. There are tons of trees. The boulevards are lined with huge palm trees that resemble the boulevards in Florida. In fact Israel is so green in the winter that I often forget that I live in the desert. Yes, there is barbed wire, but you have to drive out to the borders of the country to see it and it is there for damn good reason: to keep out the kind of scum who enter the country illegally and murder sleeping babies and their parents while they sleep. Yes, this happened last week in a small community called Itamar.

- Eighty percent of the Jewish Israeli population is secular. And of the 20% who are religious, only 25% are overtly religous looking. Israel is full of non-kosher restaurants (I don't say that happily but it is true.) You can buy pork and sea food. Israelis come from countries all around the globe and as a result, they have different skin colours and different mother tongues. The fact is that Israelis don't care all that much about ethnicity or colour -- they care if you are a Jew.

- Oh, and they love tourists. It is a mainstay of our economy and last year there were more tourists in Israel than any year in its history. We all encourage you to come and see the country for yourself.

- Now to my favorite misperception. It will be a cold day in hell before I leave my husband responsible for taking care of all of our family's out-of-the-house business. If he had to go grocery shopping we would have to subsist on beets, apples and ice cream. The irony is that he probably spends less time outside the house than I do. The economy would be in ruins if only men went outside -- they are lousy shoppers for the most part and they aren't the best coffee shop customers.

- Soldiers carry guns. True. And I thank G-d that they do. I am always happy to see a young soldier on the street -- although I rarely do -- carrying a gun. I am also happy when I see them on public transit and in public places. It is precisely because of them that there isn't normally shooting on the streets. (Unfortunately this does not include the crazy vengeful mobsters who insist on occassionally fighting their personal battles on the streets of Lod and Netanya.) Without those brave young men who unfortunately do have to carry guns, this place would be overrun with Muslim fanatics in no time.

- There is so much night life in Israel that I often wonder how people get up and go to work in the morning. And not just adults. Come summer, it is not unusual to see small children sitting in cafes late at night with their parents. When my kids were little they were home in bed, but they were probably the only ones.

- And there is no room on the streets for tanks because there are too many cars in perpetual traffic jams because everyone -- men and women alike -- are going out to work or en route to doing something fun.

The point is: if you don't know what you are talking about then you have two choices. 1) shut up or 2) make it your business to find out. Oh, and then there is the third option -- my favorite. Get on a plane and come see for yourself. That's the only way to align perception and reality.

I will meet you at the airport.

Monday, March 7, 2011

I think my dog is an anti-semite

My dog, Pepper, has a pattern of behaviour that leads me to believe that she is either an anti-semite or at best, a covert member of Meretz (Israel's most obvious anti-relgious political party).

That may sound a little dramatic but I have proof.

When you first meet her, Pepper is the cutest little Cairn terrier. She is the visual reincarnate of Dorothy's Toto in the Wizard of Oz. But that's where the similarities stop. Toto was dedicated to his friend Dorothy. They ran away together and later survived a tornado together.

Pepper, on the other hand, is a rebel.

You can call her name for an hour and she will stand there -- 10 feet away -- looking at you like you grew another head. If there is ever a tornado I will not stand around expecting cooperation from her.

This leads me to her anti-semitic inclinations.

Every Friday afternoon, and dusk sets in and the Jewish Sabbath begins, Pepper gets antsy. By this time the male segment of my family has all left for synagogue and I am home, trying to get ready myself, with yappy Pepper getting apopletic over something or other.

Last week, for the fourth time in the 16 months since we got her, Pepper was having a pre-Shabbat tizzy fit. There was something outside our door and it was sending her into spasms of angst.

My first mistake was to respond to my dog's needs. I opened the front door to see that all the fuss was about, and there on my front step was a big white dog with a red collar. I barely had time to collect my thoughts about how this dog got into my gated yard, when Pepper went bolting out the door to state her territorial claim.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on how you view things, I was ready for synagogue, so I tried to recapture my crazed territorial dictator of a dog. Let's just say that she has better moves that I do, particularly when I was in high heels and she was not. Within minutes the two dogs had run through a hole in the wall in my backyard and were off.

Normally Pepper squeezes through the hole into my neighbour's yard and mozies around until I come and get her. But since it was Friday evening, and I was supposed to be in synagogue, she decided to run for it.

This is not her first Friday evening escape. And each time she pulls this stunt I foolishly try to find her and put her back in the house before I got to synagogue.

I did chase her for a few minutes because if the dog catchers find her first I am looking at an 800 shekel fine.

But then it dawned on me, Pepper's prefered escape time is often Friday evenings. I am usually dressed in nice clothes -- and more importantly, nice shoes. I am supposed to be somewhere doing something much more important than running around like an idiot trying to coax my no-coaxable dog to come to me. And that is when I decided that she was on her own. Yes, I cut her loose so to speak and went to synagogue.

I sent my reluctant daughter in to the men's section of the synagogue to tell my husband that the damn dog had, yet again, run away but that I was here and not going to track her down. He couldn't have cared less.

It was about half way into the Friday night service that I noticed my husband signalling me that Pepper was outside the synagogue. Needless to say, he had no intention of leaving to go deal with her. I think he would say that separate sex seating has its advantages -- and this was one of them. I couldn't get to him so I had no choice but to leave the service and get my dog.

And that is why I think Pepper is anti-semetic or anti-religous. She had all week to make her standard escape, but she choose to wait until the least appropriate minute of the week to do so. It's obvious -- she is no friend to the Jews. I think I'll call the Weisenthal Center.