Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Jewish Grandmothers Without Borders

My mother is visiting from Canada. I could digress on this topic for an hour but instead something my mother said yesterday reminded me of the first time my parents came to visit after we made Aliyah.

Let me begin by saying that when I told my parents we were moving to Israel 13 years ago -- and taking their grandchildren with us -- they smiled -- in that sickly green sort of way -- and then went to a quiet corner to fall apart. They were trying to be supportive but they weren't anywhere near the vicinity of happy. In all fairness, they eventually put on their best happy faces and got on board with our plans.

Approximately five months after we arrived in August 2002, my mother must have sent word to Saddam Hussein that she needed his help with her plan to get us home. Apparently he received her message because he publicly threatened to annihilate Israel in the lead-up to the 2003 Iraq War. I am sure that my mother thought that would scare us enough to send us packing back to Canada.

Long story short: it did not.

Unfortunately once Saddam had publicly announced his intentions, he was hell bent on proceeding with or without my mother. That's when my parents announced that if there was going to be a war in Israel and we weren't going to leave, then they were going to come here. "If my grandchildren are going to be in Israel for a war, then so are we."

If you think for one minute that those were soothing words to me, you are totally deluded. The last thing I needed in the midst of getting gas masks for our family, teaching a three-year-old to put that gas mask on, preparing our shelter and getting ourselves mentally ready for what might be Armageddon, was my parents.

Back to yesterday. In the midst of a brief exchange about people my mother has not seen on this visit, she mentioned how my cousin, whose married daughter lives here, jumped on a plane this summer when the war started; she came to help.

"Lots of grandmothers came," she told me.

I wasn't quite sure if she was peeved that we hadn't ask her to come (keep in mind that the lack of an official invitation didn't stop her the first time we faced a war here) or if she was just reporting the news. I'm still not sure. I simply chose to ignore the comment ... except that obviously it is still on my mind.

Granted this past summer's skirmish -- I don't think that it earned the official title of "war" for some reason -- was more intrusive than 2003. Although we all carried gas masks wherever we went for several months in 2003, we didn't hear one siren. The same cannot be said for this past summer.

And yes, my cousin was probably thinking more about her two-year-old granddaughter than anyone else (sorry guys). In fact, she might have actually been helpful in that capacity. Who knows; I wasn't with them.

There's also the possibility that she is cooler under pressure than my mother. Who knows, she might even have some useful first-aid skills.

Or .... my most assured suspicion ..... she might simply belong to the offshoot of Doctors Without Borders -- Jewish Grandmothers Without Borders. Here's their Charter:

Jewish Grandmothers Without Borders is a private, international Jewish association. The association is made up mainly of Jewish grandmothers and a few coerced grandfathers, as well as any Jewish professionals that the grandmothers deem worthy. All of its members agree to honour the following principles:

  • JGWB provides assistance to grandchildren in distress, particularly to victims of natural or man-made disasters, and to victims of armed conflict. They do so irrespective of how displeased they are that their children made Aliyah.
  • JGWB are neither neutral or impartial, and don't give a hoot what anyone says to the contrary when it comes to the well being of their grandchildren. 
  • Members only respect the Jewish grandparent code of ethics and maintain complete independence from all political, economic, or religious powers.
  • As volunteers, members understand the risks and dangers of the missions they carry out and make no claim for themselves or their assigns for any form of compensation -- being there is compensation enough.
If you are a Jewish grandparent who wants to join JGWB, call my mother.  No, she didn't start the group but heaven knows she is a charter member.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

So you want to be friends

An article in the Jerusalem Post yesterday quotes a representative of the EU saying that "if you want to stay friends with us, make peace." So there you have it; simple as that. The European Union will be friends with Israel if we just come to some sort of working arrangement with the so-called Palestinians (SCP).

Before I dismiss this ridiculous carrot without further consideration, maybe it is worth investigating a little further. With that in mind, can a representative of the EU please answer a few questions:

  • What precisely would this potential new friendship look like?
  • Would it include all citizens of the EU or just the ones who are already quasi-tolerant of Jews?
  • Would it end thousands of years of systemic anti-Semitism dating back to at least 400 CE?
  • Would you stop doing business with the Arab theocracies and monarchies that threaten our existence every week?
  • Would your member states continue to sell weapons and military expertise to our enemies?
  • Would you make a bold diplomatic statement that bombings of synagogues and people in the midst of prayer is unacceptable -- whether it happens in Europe or Israel?
  • Would Jews be able to walk to synagogue without fear of being stabbed to death?
  • Would Jewish children get to school in one piece without subtle, state-approved bullying?
  • Would you make tough decisions about your rabidly anti-Semitic Islamic militant citizens?
  • Would you finally get rid of the rest of those Islamic militants who live in your midst illegally or as perpetual social takers (and not givers)?
  • Would Israel get points from you for trying to live peacefully regardless of the bullies surrounding its borders?
  • Would you like us better if we were slimmer; you know, the pre-1967 lines when we were younger?
  • Would we only stay friends if we did things your way?
  • Would we be able to boycott your goods and services if you do something we don't like or is this just a one-way friendship?
  • Would it be a real friendship where we have each other's backs or would you just continue being the two-faced political union you have always been?
  • Could we speak honestly to each other?
If you answer "no" to two or more of these questions, then I think the best thing to do is go to a dictionary -- Oxford, if you prefer -- and check the meaning of friendship. Here, let me save you some time. Friendship -- in terms of nation states -- is: 

Oh right, it's all coming back to you now. You don't want to be friends; you want to be a player like the big boys in Washington. Guess what, they aren't such smart big shots there and your intentions are totally transparent. I think the more appropriate word that you are looking for is "frenemies" and thanks but we have more than enough of those right now. We also have bigger problems than false friends like you. You may have heard but roving Muslims who live in our country are on a murderous rampage and no one within the borders of our legal nation state is safe right now. You probably hadn't noticed or you would have surely voiced a little concern for innocent citizens, going about their business in their own country, being in such haphazard danger.

Oh, I guess that would ruffle the feathers of your other friends.

In case I have totally misread the situation European Union and in fact your intentions are genuine, I have a final question for you: with friends like you, who needs enemies?

Sunday, November 9, 2014

The Ministry of the Interior: A Great Miracle Happened Here

It's not Chanuka yet but I noticed last week that the stores are beginning to sell dreidels. In other words, it is almost one of those times in the Jewish calendar when miracles are in the air. Most of you already know the miracle on which the dreidel is based. Quick update for those who don't: After a war with Antiochus and the Greeks (160 BCE), the leaders of the Jewish rebel army, the Hasmoneans, only found enough pure oil to keep the menorah in the Temple burning for one day but there was a miracle and the oil lasted for eight days until more could be made. In a country with a history chock full of miracles, this was impressive.

In case anyone thinks that the era of miracles in Israel is long since over (excluding the big whopper in 1948), last week I experienced a modern day Israeli miracle.

For the past two weeks I have gone to the Misrad HaPnim (The Ministry of the Interior) an embarrassing number of times in an effort to renew my daughter's expiring Israeli passport .

  • Visit number one: I arrived at a time that, according to their website, the office would be open, but it was not.
  • Visit number two: Later the same day when the guard who told me that they were opening later said the office would be open. However, upon arrival I noticed a hand written sign that had not been posted there earlier in the day, that stated that they would in fact, not be opening that afternoon. When I asked the guard why, he told me in Hebrew: "there was a change." A change of what? I still don't know.
  • Visit number three: I arrived to find about 50 other frustrated people who had been trying to get in to the office for the past few days, all rushing the door when it opened. Although the scrum at the entrance looked daunting, I managed to manoeuvre through the crowd and get to the information desk. The woman there told me that if I had all the paper work and the necessary photos I could just take them to the Passport window. WRONG. I made my way to the special Passport window only to find out that it was all a waste of time if my daughter wasn't there with me. "Why do you need my daughter?" I asked. "She's in school and I have all the signed forms, her photos and her old passport -- and the credit card. What's she going to add to all of this?" I still don't know the answer to that question.
  • Visit number four: With my daughter in tow at 7:30 am, we arrived at the Ministry. Have any of you been stupid enough to take a 15-year-old anywhere at 7:30 am? They may be moving but they are surely not awake.
That's when the miracle began although I didn't immediately recognize it.

There was a small group of people waiting for the office to open. No one was talking and no one was pushing. They were all just milling around. Then someone pointed to an ad-hoc sign-up sheet tacked to a bulletin board on the outer wall of the building. I realized that all that calm was because those who had arrived prior to me and my daughter had signed their names on the list and were confident that there was no need for anxiety. For a minute I could have sworn I wasn't in Israel. All that civility was unfamiliar to me.

My daughter signed her name and then leaned on the wall listening to her iPod.  I, on the other hand, started making mental notes of the faces of everyone in front of us. I did not have the slightest confidence that the list would be worth the paper it was written on once the doors opened. And I was already shifting into combat mode. 

My daughter looked at me and said: "You know you have a crazed look in your eyes like you are going to attack someone?" I didn't know that, but the news didn't surprise me or concern me.

At promptly 8:00 am the doors opened and the guard came outside to begin checking bags before people entered. Without a word from the crowd, he noticed the list, yanked it from the bulletin board and began calling out names according to their numerical order. You could have knocked me over with a feather.

No one tried to jump the line. No one pushed. No one complained. No one pleaded for special consideration. Everyone just lined up according to the list and took their turn.

If you live in your average western civilized country you are probably wondering when the miracle in this story is going to begin. And that's the great thing about miracles; you don't always fully appreciate them in the moment unless you are there.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Weddings: A Uniquely Israeli Problem

Most Jews assume that if they move to Israel they have increased the likelihood that their children will marry other Jews exponentially. That's true. And personally I think that is a good thing. But there's problem with Jewish Israeli weddings that Jews outside of Israel have never considered --probably because they are too busy worrying about keeping their children Jewish (or maybe they aren't worried enough but that will not move my story forward so forget it.).

The problem is geographical. Yes, you read that correctly. It's all about the location.

If you are a Jew living outside of Israel, this is not even on your worry radar. But after several years of multi-wedding weeks, it is on mine -- and I know I am not alone.

Here's the issue:

Since there are lots of Jews in Israel, we can let our marriage-age children wander hither and yon, never really worrying about the religion of the people with whom they come in contact. Chances are pretty damn good that any interesting/desirable person your child meets will also be a Jew. So far, so good.

But what happens when your child comes home with his or her potential mate and that person's family lives in The Golan, Metula, Jerusalem, Efrat or Beersheva -- and you live in the center of the country? They announce that they are going to get married and that is pretty much when the first white elephant enters the room; and it's name is Wedding Location.

Here are a few possible scenarios for what happens next. Keep in mind that everyone is trying to be on their best behaviour with the "new people":

  1. The person from Central Israel caves like a deck of cards at the first mention of this issue and agrees to get married in some almost-God-forsaken corner of the country. (It can't be a totally God-forsaken place because this is Israel and there are no God-forsaken places.)
  2. One or both of the parties are hell bent on getting married in the holiest city on Earth (hint: not Ra'anana)
  3. One family has more effective negotiating skills, and it is never the family from Central Israel  -- those urbanites are way too soft to negotiate with the hearty types who live on the periphery, possibly with goats.
  4. Everyone wants to make nice and be fair so the couple agree to get married half way between their parents' homes. Unfortunately one half of the couple is from Mitzpe Ramon.
  5. Somebody plays the "my extended family of 5000 kibbutznicks won't come if it is in a big urban center" card. (Guilt is a very powerful Jewish tool.)
  6. The couple want to get married in some place that no one they know has ever considered getting married, making it a very unique/hip venue that has not been selected for its proximity to central-Israel civilization or its sanity.
Next thing you  know, a location not-of-your-choosing has been selected and you have to send invitations to the peanut gallery of people who were previously your friends. They are only too happy to give you their input.
  • "You want us to drive where? I have never even heard of that place."
  • "Who the hell came up with THAT idea?"
  • "Didn't you consider saying no to that brilliant plan?"
  • "I really like you all but I am not driving two hours for your (son/daughter's) wedding."
  • "Are you offering a hotel room with that invitation?"
  • "If we have to drive two hours to get there, we are going to have to leave by 10 to get home."
In the end, almost everyone shows up and has a good time. There I said it -- but please note that that will not stop me from complaining for at least two weeks leading up to any such event. And because a greater power loves destroying any ridiculous plans I concoct, I am willing to bet that now that I have put this on electronic paper and told my children that they can only marry people who grew up within a 30 km radius of our house, they are all going to go out and do the exact opposite. 

In other words ... See you at my kids weddings in Beersheva?