Thursday, December 26, 2013

Waiting for Noel

I have just had an epiphany that doesn't really please me. Apparently, you can take the girl out of Christmas but you can't take Christmas out of the girl. Trust me, I am not very happy about it.

Let me say right up front: I have no problem with Christmas in general. I just don't think that it should be part of my life as an observant Jew living in Israel. So, while it might not be good for me, it might be great for you.

After 12 years living in Israel I really thought Christmas was off my radar. There have been many of the past 12 Christmas Days that almost slipped by unnoticed. But this year, I seem to have been acutely aware of its encroachment and finally, it's inevitable arrival.

I am not sure what I expected to happen. I did not leave cookies out for Santa. I did not buy or wrap any presents (oops, I did, but those were late bar mitzvah presents). I did not feel a sudden urge for turkey with stuffing. And I did not burst into Christmas carols which I am actually capable of doing since I grew up singing them in public school every year and for some strange reason, still remember every word off by heart.

I did take a few minutes to go on FB and wish my Christian friends a Merry Christmas. I am not apologizing for that because most of my oldest friends are Christians. That doesn't mean I want to be one of them. I had ample opportunities to join their tribe years ago and if I didn't do it then, I am surely not going to jump ship now.

So, what was I waiting for?

Apparently for something that wasn't going to arrive. It was never really clear to me. It was just an expectant feeling.

Nor was there any reason to expect the arrival of whatever I was half-expecting. Outside of my head, December 25th proceeded exactly as one would expect in Israel -- as long as they didn't live in Bethlehem (and maybe Nazareth). I dragged my kids out of bed, ignoring their morning expletives. I went to the gym, which was chock full of other people not celebrating an almost non-existent Israeli holiday. Got my hair cut, did a few errands, went to a meeting ..... which leads me to the realization that Christmas was not coming and it never would.

It also forced me to realize that 40 years of observing Christmas up close, yet tangentially, had made it part of me.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Adolf and Himmler/Hess, the furry Nazis next door

I live next door to a dog who looks like a Gestapo agent.

You know how there are theories circulating that people choose dogs who look like them? Yes, well, had he not shot himself in the head in a gutless act of failure in the dying days of World War II, then Hitler would have owned this dog. And the dog, who I have nicknamed "Adolf", has what I suspect is a similar nasty personality to his namesake.

Until a few months ago, Adolf had a partner in crime, who I named ..... "Eva". Seemed appropriate. And even though I am pretty sure Eva was a male, he cried a lot, and just followed Adolf around the yard. I mean, would you argue with anyone as nasty and vengeful as Hitler? Particularly if you were stuck on 100 square meters of yard together day in, day out?

Personally I liked Eva. Primarily because he let me scratch his head -- much to the constant chagrin of Adolf and his owners. As many of you know, I will do just about anything passive aggressive to piss off my anti-olim neighbours who would go to their own dizzying lengths to make me regret buying the house next to theirs.

One day not long ago I arrived at my front gate and instead of hearing the mourning sighs of Eva, I heard an unfamiliar and very deep growl. So, instead of going through my gate, I backtracked and walked the two feet to my neighbours' gate. I took a quick look around and was suddenly hit by the new reality -- Eva was gone and in his place, not surprisingly, was a new dog, who I originally called "Himmler" but later switched to calling "Hess".

I hate to admit it but I went home and googled Himmler and Hess and decided that a) the new dog looked more like Hess and b) Hess was the more logical choice since he was Hitler's second-in-command. So, Hess it would be!

Eva probably died and the neighbours probably tossed him out with the garbage. Had I known to look at the time, I would have checked the garbage cans for signs of his remains. Oh, don't oooooo me, I already told you that I will go to great lengths to catch these people doing something they shouldn't be doing.

Pepper, my dog, who I don't think looks anything like me, did everything in her power to make friends with Hess. She had long since established that Adolf was never going to give her break, but in her ever optimistic outlook, I think she had hoped for better from Hess. She naively thought that Hess was the new Eva. It was not to be.

My husband told me to stop calling the dogs next door Adolf and Hess because it is disrespectful to the memories of the six million Jews who died in the Holocaust. I, on the other hand, think that this is exactly the approach to take -- removing all the mystique of the originals and nicknaming two creepy mutts after them. That, in my mind, is exactly how they should be remembered.

Friday, December 20, 2013

The cement igloo

The great thing about being constantly cold is that you are happy to find a warm spot and just stay there.... indefinitely. That is what I am doing these days. Hot water bottle on my lap, fluffy blanket on my shoulders, and a mismatched conglomeration of sweats (that I am threatening to stay in until the weather comes around to my liking).

When I do get up the energy to move from my happy place, it is usually to get a cup of tea. I don't drink the tea; I just cup it in my hands and let the warmth run through me. And when I am really desperate, I hold the cup between my legs, just above the crease in my knees, for optimum warming power.

Israel (maybe excluding Jerusalem) was not built for the cold. Yes, winter is not new here, but this year I feel like I might as well have made Aliyah to the Arctic.

Winter came early in 2013. December, on the plains of Israel, is supposed to feel Fall like. A little rain, a little damp, and many cool crisp days that are sunny. My double-paned windows should have been enough to keep December weather away. Most people don't even have double-paned windows here because the perceived need for them is non-existent. (This year, I keep hearing Eminem in my head "that's why they call it window pain"). We have double-paned windows are a residual preference from our old lives.

Also, houses are not insulated in Israel. The whole idea of insulation never arrived here -- it is not part of the building process. You know the kind of insulation I mean, the pink toxic stuff that they build into your walls in North America? Between the outer layer of house and the drywall? Which brings us to the Ah-ha moment: drywall here is used for creating niches and little design effects like hiding the huge tubing that your AC goes through. They are better equipped to cover the guts of the AC than to keep people warm.

Here, houses are built of cement blocks. Period.

I can't help wonder how all the ancient Israelites stayed warm. At least I have the benefit on my cement igloo. They had tents. Did everyone move to Eilat or the Dead Sea come winter? Heaven knows they were much more portable in those days -- load up the donkeys and pull down the tents and off they went to the shores of the Red or the Dead seas.

And you can't say "they died much younger then" because .... they didn't. Methusaleh went through 969 winters and according to the records, died six days before the Great Flood. Probably couldn't handle the thought of yet more torrential rain, so rather than continue towards his goal of living to 1000, he just threw in the towel and called it a life.

If he had a proper raincoat and some boots, he might have reconsidered. So, in his honour, I am now going to put on my new Canadian Mountain Co-op winter jacket and go outside and catch a few winter rays in the Middle East. Did I mention that it is warmer outside than inside?

Friday, December 13, 2013

5756 miles and 11.7* south

The weather at this moment in Ra'anana, Israel (according to my car) is 4 °C. I can list on one hand the number of times I have experienced weather this cold in the past 12 years -- and none of those moments occurred in Israel.

So here's how I see it: I moved 5756 miles away and 11.7° south of my house in Toronto (that had heating 24/7 for eight months of the year) to live in very, very, very wet and very, very, very cold Israel. I can't help but wonder: Is the foul weather following me? Did someone somewhere think I was living too pleasantly? Was someone pissed that I experiencing too much sunshine? Was the fact that I did not need to scrape snow off my car windshield in finger-freezing weather offensive? Was I gloating about it? Well ..... maybe.

It is so wet and cold today that even my dog refuses to go outside. She has been holding nature at bay for more than 15 hours now -- and there is no way in hell that that can end well.

My son's ceiling is leaking -- roofs here are not built with the serious consideration of four days of pounding rain, wind and hail.

My daughter just informed me that if the ten layers of clothes she was wearing are not enough, then she has to go shopping because she simply does not own enough clothes for this weather.

My husband is leaving for Canada -- he says it's for business, but I think he is either going to get his real winter coat which is in a closet at his mother's house or he suspects it is warmer there.

And me, I am going to start surfing the net for a warm place -- hostile African and Arabian countries included -- to take a little vacation. I need to be somewhere hot so that I can go back to my normal complaint that I am too hot.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Four toddlers and two ganenot

I don't want to hear a word of complaint from anyone this Shabbat about how difficult their week was. My boiler plate response will be swift and emotionless: Boo hoo for you. I just spent the week filling in for my friend Bracha at her English-speaking gan (nursery school) under the watchful eye of her partner Judy.

Bracha and her family just sashayed off to New York and Disneyland two weeks ago. Every time I checked up on her on Facebook, I found another picture of her and her family having fun with yet another group of old friends living somewhere along the Eastern Seaboard -- people who kept writing things like "she is having so much fun I don't think she is ever going home." Yeah, over my dead body.

My new friends Dundun, Rafi, Shruli, and Zundel, (yes, they all have real names but no one in gan uses them) are so cute you could just scream. You really have to be two-ish to break into song, dance or tears with a split second's notice. And you have to be that age to think that a missing puzzle piece is worthy of a truly heartfelt "oy, oy, oy".

Of course spending your days with such a crew requires various skills I do not use on a day-to-day basis:

  • the ability to smell l'eau du poo poo from seven feet away
  • the ability to remember the words to songs you haven't sung since your own childhood -- in my case, that included Alouette, Gentille Alouette and Frere Jacques, because while it is an English speaking nursery school, two of the children are native French speakers
  • the ability to interpret garbled English (ie: "Doodi" is not No. 2, but rather "Judy" as spoken by a toddler) and baby Hebrew (that was actually quite easy since it sounds like my Hebrew)

And it isn't just a matter of digging into your ancient skills' bag, it's also about having the requisite energy to keep up with the clientele. There's not a lot of sitting around in this sort of job. And asking for a quiet moment is completely out of the question.

Here's a run down on my week's activities:

  • I built enough giant Lego towers (which were promptly torn down) to fill an entire new city
  • I read the Wiggles "Red Car", "Sesame Street at the Zoo", Susan Boyton's "Dogs" so many times that I lost count somewhere after 1000 readings
  • I know what happened to Grover's marbles and Zoe's ball
  • I wiped at least 100 noses
  • I set up for snack and cleaned up afterwards five times
  • And did the same for lunch
  • I answered the question "ma zeh" (what's that) when the little guy really meant "mi  at" (who are you) at least 100 times
  • I said "bye, bye, see you later" to pretend exiters 100s of times
  • I searched for the same missing "eggies"  and cupcakes at least 10 times
  • I found the missing eggies and cupcakes (and a missing red plastic telephone) each time they went missing
You know I could keep going but I will spare you the rest of the list.

So what did I learn? You know there had to be a lesson in all of this.

I learned that you have to be one wrung on the ladder higher than a saint to spend your days with little kids. This is not a job for the feint of heart. 

Friday, December 6, 2013

Temporarily Closed For Business

I have been meaning to resume writing here for some time now but I hadn't found a suitable (read: worthy) story for  my Welcome To My New Life In Israel blog .... until today.

First of all, I am not so new to Israel anymore which means that a lot of things that used to strike me as odd, no longer do. Second, I am lazy. There is no way around that one so just accept it. I did.

This morning, I was out walking my dog -- because as many of you know, NO ONE else in my family will do it without yelling and screaming about how unfair I am. Since I was walking in a quiet laneway I automatically turned around when I heard a voice behind me say in English: "Did you get my SMS this morning?"

There was my friend Alisa, also walking her dog (presumably for the same reason I mentioned above).

"No. I haven't turned my phone on yet."

"Oh then you don't know what happened."

Had I already listened to the radio I would have assumed she was -- for some reason-- talking about the death of Nelson Mandela. But, at that point, I didn't know that Mr. Mandela had died, she was smiling, and it was not the logical time or place for a political discussion. So, no, I didn't know what had happened.

"They closed my office until further notice," she said.

Her "office", as a point of reference, comprises two chairs and a sad little table outside the neighbourhood bakery. If you are ever looking for Alisa and she isn't home, your best bet is to check there. Everyone knows her hours of business and it is a hopping spot where much of the social activity in our neighbourhood happens. Stop any time the office is open and there will be someone to talk to! I would say that Alisa has the ultimate Open Door Policy, primarily because she has no doors, or walls for that matter.

Late many afternoons you will find her there with her two youngest children and her dog, while the kids do their homework. (She doesn't encourage visitors at that time because THE KIDS ARE DOING THEIR HOMEWORK OUTSIDE THE BAKERY.)

It surely sounds strange to anyone who hails from a northern climate less inclined to cafe life. But not here. There are probably lots of Alisa types all over Israel.

As it turns out, upon arriving at the office yesterday Alisa was informed that the bakery had been visited by the City because they received complaints that the area was too noisy -- so they removed the chairs and table. Yes, they just shut down her office without notice. Not even the decency of a call.

Now let me translate what really happened for you: "You and your friends are speaking English out here and it is offending Hebrew-speaking ears in the area."

I know this sounds a little paranoid but I can't help but think there is some truth to it for the following reasons:

  1. Taking away the office furniture will not stop the ongoing traffic/noise in front of the most tread part of the neighbourhood.
  2. It will also not stop everyone from standing and talking on the sidewalk.
  3. It will not reduce the amount of time people mingle there -- it is the bloody hub of the neighbourhood for heavens sake.
  4. They specifically removed the items that directly impact one specific English speaker and in turn, everyone she knows.
If you live in the neighbourhood I encourage you to join the peaceful demonstration for the return of Alisa's office ASAP. Every time you go to the bakery, ask them what happened to the table and chairs, and when they tell you, shake you head in disappointment. 

You might also want to suggest that it is going to harm their coffee business. That will get them where it hurts most -- in their office.