Monday, December 28, 2015

Thinking of travelling to the US? 10 reasons why Israelis should stay away

Here's a clip of the December 16th travel warning issued by the US State Department and directed at US citizens planning on travelling to Israel:

The security environment remains complex in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza. US citizens need to be aware of the continuing risks of travel to areas ... where there are heightened tensions and security risks.

Since the United States feels it has to warn its citizens about travelling to Israel, it only seems fair to warn Israelis about travelling to the US. As much as I love a good shopping trip to Target, Walmart and Marshalls as much as the next person, I am not sure I can recommend a trip to the US for any sane Israeli right now because the security environment remains complex and there are heightened tensions lurking around every McDonald's and movie theatre.

However, if you -- Israeli person -- choose to ignore my blanket warning, let me highlight a few of the absolutely non-negotiable no-go areas:
  • For heavens sake stay out of California and Texas. People are dropping like flies in those states, according to the US statistics list of number of murders by state. Better to vacation in Alabama or Hawaii where you may get run over by a card-carrying member of the Klu Klux Klan or knocked off by a wayward tsunami wave, but other than that, you should be fine.
  • Do not go to Chicago, particularly if you are anticipating a domestic disturbance. Otherwise, the Chicago police will show up and (fatally) shoot you. A police spokesperson, responding to the events that led to a tragic Christmas day shooting, said that police "accidentally struck and tragically killed a mother of five and then another officer discharged his weapon when confronted by a combative college student home for Christmas and "accidentally" ensured that his family won't ever have to pay tuition again, if you get my drift.
  • Or Ponoma, California, where a woman was burned to death on Christmas day right outside her house. The suspect had time to chase the victim outside, yell and scream, douse her with gas and set her on fire .... and get away because no one in the neighbourhood heard or a saw a thing.
  • Or Alaska, population 800,000, where there were 41 murders in 2014. For what? Not enough whale blubber to go around? Drinking games gone a muck? Dangerous ratio of men to women? And Virginia, a state with approximately the same population as Israel, had 337 murders. 
  • Then there's that warped interpretation of the Second Amendment which makes every yahoo in the country think that it is his or her God-given obligation to own (and carry) a gun, because that often turns out well. Forget the non-terrorist mass killings of the past few years, thanks to that wildly abused Amendment, a three-year old can shoot you by mistake in Walmart, with the gun he found cocked and ready in his mother's handbag. I guess that doesn't happen in Israel because we don't have Walmart.
  • Do not walk alone in New York City at night. You will probably get mugged; it is not a larger version of Tel Aviv.
  • What happens in Vegas is really none of your business. Stay on the Strip. Apparently the LA gangs like to fill up their war chests in Vegas so the Bloods, the Crips, the Mongols, Hells Angels and the likes can be found at the craps tables on any given Sunday. FYI: they are not big fans of unsolicited eye contact.
  • Don't stop your car at a traffic light in Miami unless you have no further use for your handbag, your car or your fingers.
  • According to the annual Report on Hate Crimes released by the Uniform Crime Reporting Program of the FBI, there were 609 anti-Jewish incidents in the US this past year (compared to 154 anti-Muslim incidents). I am sure there are way more than that in Israel, but at least the majority of the population is on constant alert. The home of the free and the land of the brave is not. Between the president, the State Department and the ghosts of the Dulles Brothers, there isn't a lot of love out there for our peeps.
  • San Bernadino. Where to begin? A cleric named Roshan Abbassi, after denying he knew the San Bernadino murderers, posted a video on the mosque's website claiming that the SB shooting was a US government ploy and that the poor shooters were just patsies framed by the government. Oh, and the FBI recently said that there are active jihadi recruiters working in at least 10 American states.
It's pretty ironic that the US government doesn't think its citizens should travel to Israel because it is too dangerous. Apparently they aren't into self-introspection or looking in mirrors. Too bad. Of course, if they did, half the country would be on planes headed to Israel ASAP so that they could enjoy a safe winter holiday.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Ten reasons I know -- for sure -- mashiach is coming in 2016

Let's not get too nitpicky here but there is every indication that mashiach -- yes, the one and only -- will be here by November 2016. Until recently I was always a little suspect on the whole messiah business. I liked the idea of it but I just couldn't get my mind around the details. Thanks to recent events, I find myself reviewing my concerns and acknowledging that I may have been too quick to dismiss him. Apologies, messiah, in advance of your imminent arrival.

How do I know that I was wrong for all these years? How do I know that the time is nigh? I think the better question is: How could you not know? The damn signs are screaming out in technicolor. Yes, actually, technicolor.

Here, in no particular order, are the 10 biggest giveaways.

  • It is now impossible to be a visible Jew in France. That whole Les Miz let's build a republic thing of the late 1700s has run its course. Political and social upheaval to overthrow the monarchy and bring equality to the people .... passe. And it's not just in Paris; don't try to go unnoticed in Lyon or Marseilles, the anti-Semites will find you anywhere you try to hide. Of course, the upside (that's always part of the messiah conversation) is that the restaurants in the center of Israel have improved from their already high quality to the outer stratosphere of delicious as more French cooks arrive. Merci beaucoup.
  • Israel just got the nod to rent office space in Abu Dhabi. Never thought I would type that sentence. Of course, Abu Dhabi has spent the last week managing its potential public relations disaster by focusing on the message that it's just about renewable energy, which is no biggie. And, I am sure they are telling anyone who will listen that they out-negotiated us on the rental contract like it was nobody's business. Out-negotiating an Israeli should have been a dead giveaway that the messiah was packing.
  • Without a shadow of a doubt, it is dangerous for an outed Jew to go to university safely in the US anymore. CUNY wants its Jews to leave. UC, home of 1960s love and peace movement, is trying to take away Jewish students' elected positions because they are Jews. Dartmouth, Yale, the list goes on and on. I'm just waiting for someone to get their claws into Brandies. I mean why would a university want Jews anyway? Who needs the Nobels and Pulitzers and the likes that seem to follow them? I am sure all those BDSers are going to cure cancer, irrigate the desert, manage the world economy just fine on their own. 
  • Young unaffiliated Jews -- in other words, most of the next generation of Jews -- don't give a rats ass. Some of them are so anti-Semitic themselves that they are leaders in the BDS movement. My personal favourites are the ones who have been to Israel, maybe lived here for a year, have friends and family here, and don't see the damage they are unfairly inflicting on Israel, and funnily enough, themselves. They LOVE Israel, they tell reporters all the time. Really? With lovers like you I will take my chances with ISIS. At least they are clear headed and honest about their murderous intentions.
  • An innocent child oozing in goodness and potential, was murdered by cretins not worth the change in Ezra Schwartz' pocket, and the first words out of the White House are that they are taking steps to restore calm, reduce tension, and end the violence. There was no calm to restore or tension to reduce before that unspeakably unfortunate traffic jam -- Ezra was having a little nap before he headed off to help others. You can see what a shit storm his nap was causing.
  • A picture in a recent newspaper article shows a white kid in a kaffiyeh with a sign that says: Israel = Racism and Genocide. He doesn't look old enough to vote, but let's give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he is 19. On what exactly is he basing his poster philosophy? I've never seen him before so he definitely hasn't been to Ra'anana. He is probably waiting for the messiah too -- free trip perhaps. 
  • Musicians boycotting Israel. Message to musicians, the Muslim fanatics favour you are currying so actively are not listening to your music. The number one song in the UK this week is aptly titled Allah Akbar. I think it was written by Rhianna and produced by Eddy Vedder.
  • JK Rowling is the voice of reason. No disrespect Ms Rowling. I am a huge Harry Potter fan and have been since Book One, but if you are THE voice of reason, the intellectual sensibilities of academia are totally screwed.
  • Hotel reservations in Paris are down 83%. Belgians were stuck at home for three days while the police looked for some missing ammo and a lunatic. At the same time, Israelis went on with their lives, sent their kids to school, and did everything they always do -- just a little more carefully. All the while, the army, the police and every Jewish citizen (and probably most Muslim citizens) kept an eye out for each other. Okay, I also bought a broomstick for the car to which my son said: "And exactly what are you going to do with that?" I did have a plan.
  • The number of voices stating that Israel has no right to exist are growing exponentially at precisely the same time that many Jews in the world are starting to get that Germany 1938 feeling and thinking -- I am sure many for the first time -- that Israel might not be such a bad place to live after all. It's a suck and blow sort of thing. Israel isn't for the Jews but by the way, get out of our schools, cities, businesses, lives.
If you don't see messiah written all over this then you are a tough nut to crack. All that's missing is Hilary "Suha I Love You Let's Hug" Clinton being sworn in as the next US President, and then the deal will be closed. You see, I didn't just pick the date arbitrarily.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

11 things you should never say to the parents of a combat soldier

One winter day about 16 years ago, when we were still living in Toronto and my son was four years old, he came home after a day in his Israeli nursery school and announced to me that when he was an Israeli soldier he would need boots. It seemed like a reasonable request so I immediately promised to get him boots when he became a soldier. He seemed satisfied with his negotiating skills and the promise he had managed to secure from me. He left the kitchen. I was glad that all he wanted was boots and frankly, I wasn't yet convinced there would ever be a need for them.

Fast forward .... to maybe 20 seconds later. My son, probably sensing that he was on a roll with his mother, returned to the kitchen and added: "Oh, and Ema, I am going to need a gun too."

"I am not getting you a gun, so you can forget that," I answered without taking a second to consider my response.

"Well, I am going to need it," he added in a last ditch effort to press his point.

"Over my dead body," said guess who.

Now you can really fast forward. Here we are 16 years later and guess what, my son has both the boots and the gun. Neither provided by me. And 16 years later I am still far less concerned about the boots than the gun. In other words, nothing has changed vis-a-vis the gear, but everything has changed again for the parents of soldiers.

Now, once again, it is all feeling real. Very, very real. And if it didn't seem real before (for me), it definitely does after this past week of How Many Soldiers Can We Attack In An Hour has become the recreational activity of choice of our unfriendly cousins.

Lots of my friends have already been through this -- and much, much more. I am hoping to never know the "much more".

One thing I did notice this past week is that the only people who are willing to discuss it are the usual suspects. Not a word from our co-religionists outside of Israel. Not their problem. Not a decent word from the media. Not their interest. Once again, we are left to our social circles to post and send messages back and forth on social media so that we can all "like" each other's thoughts of the day.

And then of course, I get that one stupid comment from someone who feels safe enough being peripherally Jewish thousands of miles away, that sends me though the roof. So, as the anxiety level of parents of soldiers starts to rise in Israel, here are a few tips for those of you far away who were going to say something stupid, but read this post just in the nick of time. You can thank me later.

  1. Do not group all soldiers together -- some risk their lives regularly, some do not. Soldiers who have guns are very, very different from soldiers who do not carry guns. This is not to suggest that "jobnik" soldiers are not important because some of them are doing very, very important work that I pray, in the long-term, will mean there is much less need for combat soldiers. However, in the meantime, they are inside and rarely run into angry Pals. 
  2. Do not tell us "not to worry." It is patronizing and it shows how disconnected you are from the reality of the Jewish people. If Israel goes, your life won't be worth the paper it is written on. How about, instead, you share the load and do some worrying with us. Better still, pray for the soldiers' safety. It doesn't matter if you know their names; they all count.
  3. Understand that we do not know where our soldiers are at least half the time. And that nothing makes a parent turn green faster than your kid saying: "Oh, they are moving me to Hevron (or The Golan, Gaza or the Lebanese border). We do not have the luxury of being helicopter parents. No one wants to check in with the commander more than we do -- but we can't and they aren't interested in our two-cents worth of military advice.
  4. Going to the army is not the same as sending your child away to university. Well, unless that university is in South Sudan, then maybe. It takes a lot of ignorance or narcissism to think that there is anything comparable in these two situations.
  5. And if sending your child to the army is the ONLY reason you could never live in Israel, then tell that to someone who cares. Let me simplify that for you: either call a Hareidi Jew in Mea Shearim or call someone in Timbuktu. First of all, you are misguided and second, you are lying to yourself. Oh, and third, it will be on your cheshbon with HaShem that your child was too special to protect the only state the Jews can call home. You don't have to explain it to me; work it out next Yom Kippur.
  6. And if you think we are bad parents because you would never let your child be a combat soldier, keep it to yourself. What makes you think that anything we say influences their decisions? Do you have post 18-year-old children? Do they listen to your input?
  7. Don't ask us why they are not home for the High Holidays or Shabbat because your kids always come home for important times of the year. Yes, your children all dutifully show up for all the big Jewish occasions. Ours, on the other hand, are eating crap food and protecting the country. Funny how that works.
  8. Do not ask us during wars or reasonable facsimiles of war whether or not we have heard from our kids. It's not the freakin Maccabiah Games; they are in the middle of war where we hope they are paying extreme attention and protecting themselves and their fellow soldiers. Calling home is way down on their priority lists. Rest assured we will call you when there is something to tell you.
  9. Do not ask us if we are scared. You can reasonably assume that we are scared. Why wouldn't we be scared? You're so scared that you won't even come and live here, yet you feel you have to ask if we are scared. The difference is that we believe in something bigger than ourselves and we trust in God. You, apparently, do not.
  10. Do not tell us what you think the Israeli government and the army should be doing. This isn't Monday Night Football and you are not an armchair soldier.
  11. And finally, if you do not support what Israel is doing to stay alive, then please, please, please, move to Gaza and give them a hand. They really need you there and they will be so happy for your support.
(Thank you to everyone who shared their ridiculous personal experiences so I could write this post.)

Saturday, July 18, 2015

More Dos and Don'ts for Gap Year in Israel Part 2: What to do if you meet Israelis

So, now that we have thoroughly addressed how to be an excellent Shabbat guest, it is definitely time to move on to the next lesson. I can only assume that if someone is here for his or her gap year that they are interested in Torah learning and Israel. I realize that that may be a huge assumption on my part but I am going to stick with that for now. Gap year kids, you owe it to yourself (not to mention your parents who are footing the bill), to make the most of the year. And to do so involves dabbling in some Israeli culture -- preferably with Israelis.

Trust me, it isn't a fluke that "chutzpah" is a Jewish word. It sums up Israelis better than any other word I can think of. That said, your year will have been wasted if you don't get to know some Israelis. (If you are only interested in learning then perhaps you could try Uman, Ukraine. I hear they have a pretty rowdy Torah time there.)

Fortunately for you, Israelis are all over the place in Israel -- yes slightly more than eight million Israelis concentrated in about 7700 square miles. They drive the buses, police the streets, and work at the phone stores. However, Israelis don't have the best reputation abroad. I didn't make that up; you can Google it if you want. This probably explains why so many Jewish gap-year kids do their very best to avoid them at all costs, despite the fact that they have chosen to spend a year in Israel.

Do yourself a favour and don't come with that attitude. Remember that these Israelis are already fulfilling one big mitzvah that you are not -- they live here on the front line. It is of greater magnitude than the 613 commandments -- see, I just gave you your first discussion topic for yeshiva as a bonus!

As you can imagine, it is tricky to have absolutely nothing to do with them, although I have seen some gap-year kids make a very valiant effort to do so.

I am not interested in why gap year kids are so Israeli adverse. That's not my area of expertise. Instead, I have some tips on how to make the most out of your year in Israel. Spoiler alert: It does involve Israelis.

Here are some things you need to know:

  1. Shouting is the official inside voice for Israelis. It often has nothing to do with being angry at you. It is simply the decibel at which they speak. Maybe all those missiles collectively deafened them. So don't be offended when they shout at you -- in their minds they are just taking. Even if they are service providers, expect them to yell and then you won't be surprised when they do.
  2. "No" doesn't mean "no" (this does not include physical aggression); it is simply the starting point for any negotiation. If you accept the first "no" as a "no" then you can expect to get absolutely nothing done all year.
  3. Waiting in line is a relatively new concept here so it doesn't always work. Be prepared to muscle you way though any crowd you encounter. You will know if you have gone too  far because .... yes .... someone will shout at you to get back in your place. Remember, they are not really yelling at you; they just want you to know that there is order in the apparent chaos.
  4. There is very little need to dress up so don't bring your fanciest duds. Israelis are very informal. I have been to more than one wedding where the groom was in an untucked button-down white shirt and chinos for the ceremony. And since it is so hot here from May through October, socks and pantihose in shul are not necessary. Ties are virtually unheard of outside of offices in Tel Aviv that deal with international clients.
  5. People do whatever they want until someone stops them. Israelis are collective believers in the old adage that it is easier to ask for forgiveness than for permission.
  6. Being called the Hebrew version of "sweetie" is not considered condescending, nor it is a problem when women are called "banot". Politically correct language has not come to Israel.
  7. Most Israelis are thrilled to practice their English so if they either hear you speak English or hear your obvious Anglo accent, they will happily switch to English if they are able. If you want to practice your Hebrew -- and you should -- just ignore their English and continue speaking Hebrew while the Hebrew speaker speaks English.
  8. Brush up on your Israeli and world politics. Every Israeli has a political opinion to share and you will miss some really colourful conversations if you cannot participate. In Israel, many eight-year-olds can discuss politics. Oh, and expect more shouting if they don't agree with your position on any issue. But that will not stop them from hugging you before they leave and inviting you for Shabbat.
  9. Do not miss the chance to get to know as many Israelis as you can. There is nowhere else on Earth where you will meet a more diverse group of Jews. Don't avoid them; but rather, seek them out. You are not above them just because they haven't seen a Broadway or West End production.
  10. Get to know the soldiers you encounter. They are approximately your age and while you are here having fun for a year on your parents' dime, they are busy protecting you and every Jew worldwide from the countless enemies we have. Do not minimize what they are doing and never stop being thankful that they are doing it -- because, let's not kid ourselves, you surely wouldn't do it and your parents wouldn't let you. You have the luxury of their protection. They are putting their lives on the line so that you can continue to believe that it's easy to be a Jew.
So there you have it. Ignore me at your own peril. But if you are open to the comments above, then I believe you will have one (or two) of the greatest years of your life. Maybe longer. You may even rue the day you have to leave what is without a doubt the most incredible country on Earth. 

Sunday, July 5, 2015

To know me is to tolerate me

Talk about a brouhaha. There is no better word to describe the events of last week.

The primary topic of discussion for me this past Shabbat and motzei Shabbat revolved around the comments that resulted from last week's blog posts which addressed some things that gap-year kids should know about visiting other people's homes before their yeshivot and seminaries cut them loose on a bi-weekly basis. Honestly, those two posts triggered more conversation than anything I have ever written. Normally I would say that was a great honour but judging by some of the hate mail that made its way to me I am going to hold off on the self-applause.

Instead, I am going to publicly address the issues so that no one can accuse me of be unwilling to open a dialogue.

  1. Unlike a typical blog post, many of the people who read my posts last week have never met me and don't know a thing about me. Don't worry, I am not going to copy my bio into this space, but suffice it to say that when the readers who know me personally read the post, they understood immediately that there was a current of light-hearted humour running through it. As people often say to me: "I read your blog and I can hear your voice in my head as I read it." Bottom line: they know me and they know how generally non-threatening I truly am.
  2. That said, I meant every word of what I wrote; I just did not intend to come off sounding nearly as angry and resentful of gap-year kids as I apparently did. I have no reason to be angry or resentful because other than sometimes hogging my favourite seat in shul, I have very little to do with any of them. As I said previously, this is not my world. I don't shelter or feed them en masse, and I do not do pick ups or drop offs at the bus station (that's why I have children who drive), and I surely don't do their laundry. I even eat those crazy stale bus station cakes JUST TO BE NICE.
  3. I have had some amazing gap-year guests and yes, my favourite was a group of three seminary girls -- two Americans and one Canadians. In fact, I wish they would come back again because they made my Purim fun and easy.
  4. My worst guest ever was a British adult. Enough said.
  5. The overwhelming majority of my Anglo Israeli readers agreed totally with everything I wrote. Sadly one or two told me they could not "like" the post on Facebook for fear of repercussions during their summer vacations in the US.
  6. One of my readers wrote to me privately as I was preparing the second post to tell me that, at that exact moment, she was in the middle of electronic communication with a parent of some foreign summer campers who never planned for the mid-way Shabbat break and wanted my friend to host her kids and four of their friends .... with two days notice and a son on his way to the army.
  7. I could write a book based on the horror stories relayed to me last week.
  8. Ra'anana was, is and will continue to be the home of the most chesed-minded group of people I have ever met. There is no task too big, too small, too soon or too crazy that they will not tackle with complete zeal. I am honoured to find myself living among such people and I am sure I am a better person because I want to be more like them. The thought that they would not host gap-year kids is beyond laughable, no matter how tired they are or how much they deserve more thanks than anyone could possibly give them.
  9. Without the Americans amongst us, a lot less would get done here. Oh don't start writing me hate mail other Anglos because that's the truth. It must be something in their DNA but collectively they are doers on a level I have never previously experienced. As a Canadian, Americans can definitely ruffle my feathers (growing up next door to them was often overwhelming and tiring), but man oh man, when they set their minds to something, it happens. That does not mean that the rest of the Anglos don't get things done -- they do -- but there is just something about the American "can-do" mindset.
  10. As for the "witch" comment I received last week, all things being equal, I would still love to be a witch -- as a few people suggested, besides my own preference for Samantha, Glinda would be a great alternative, as would Lily Potter or Hermoine Granger. I am all for witches. 
  11. For the few people here who told me that I sounded angry and intolerant (and they are the only critics I am willing to listen to because they know me), I hope this clarifies enough matters and puts this issue to bed.
  12. I was surprised by the amount of vitrol that came out of some foreign readers' fingertips. If that is the way you address matters uncomfortable to you, then I am not surprised that some of your kids are ill mannered. Obviously introspection isn't your strong suit.
  13. I am still going to write Part 2 of the Gap Year Tips...........

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

More Dos and Don'ts for Gap Year in Israel Part 1b: still visiting people's homes

As you can see, there wasn't supposed to be anything between Part 1 and Part 2 of this series on how to be an excellent gap year kid in Israel. However, the mail has been overwhelming and I now realize that there are a few more points that I have to make to wrap up Part 1 properly. Well, I don't have to make additional points -- I could let sleeping dogs lie -- but I won't.

Before I continue I would ask all of those people who feel compelled to send hate mail -- directly or indirectly -- to just take an entire bottle of valium before you go off the deep end. Then lick any remaining residue off the inside of the pill bottle and your fingers. I hope that will suffice because although you refuse to see it, I am doing you a great service. And if you continue reading and then think to yourselves: "Hmmmm, my kids already know all that stuff," then guess what? YOU ARE OBVIOUSLY NOT THE PEOPLE TO WHOM THIS MESSAGE IS DIRECTED.

Okay, so here are the final seven tips which many of my friends here, who totally got what I was saying in the previous post, wrote to tell me that I missed:

1. Have a shower before you arrive -- particularly if you are travelling in a pack. What the North American kids don't realize (not sure about the Europeans) is that hot water does not just arrive in the tap by holy decree here. It takes a lot of time to heat up enough water to get our own families clean for Shabbat and sometimes, particularly in the winter, some sacrificial members of our own peeps are sent to the Country Club to shower because we can't make hot water fast enough.

2. Unless the world unexpectedly schemes against you, make your Shabbat plans before the end of Tuesday. You have no idea how much simpler it is to host you when we have the necessary time to prepare. And we are so much happier to see you if we are not running around like chickens with our heads cut off because you called at the last minute. That said, if you have to call us last minute, we will do our best -- but that does not include bringing your five "essential" travelling companions. They are just going to have to manage their own last-minute crises. We are not Mother Theresa clones.

3. Don't get your mothers to call us to organize YOUR Shabbat plans. Once again, if you are old enough to spend a year abroad then you should be old enough to make your own plans. As one of my friends not so gently put it: "Man up." Pick up the phone, use your words, and try out your big-boy/girl legs. We don't bite and it is an emancipating moment for you.

4. If you want to visit for the chaggim -- Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur in particular -- you need to let us know wayyyyyyy in advance. Our shuls are packed to the rafters for the holidays and seats must be reserved and paid for well in advance. Yes, we pay for our High Holiday seats. In all fairness most kids probably don't know that, but their parents do!!!! Offer upfront to pay for your seat -- it's surely a better deal than it is out of Israel. And since your prayers aren't travelling long distance they arrive much quicker at their destination. In other words, it's money well spent.

5. Point 10 in my previous post mentioned bringing a dvar Torah since you are supposedly in Israel for Torah-learning purposes this year. However, someone wrote to me and took it a step further: Be prepared to make conversation at the table with the host family. It makes us feel like we aren't just the riff raff serving you; you might enjoy it. And if you are really chatty, we will enjoy it as well.

6. If you are going to bring a present -- and it's a nice idea -- don't pick up a stale, pre-packaged cake at the bus station on your way. Let's not kid ourselves -- no one is going to eat it and it is going to end up in the garbage while children in Syrian refugee camps continue to starve. You don't have to spend much because we know it adds up over the year, but as a rule of thumb, gifts should be thoughtful (or parents should do the thinking in advance and send some hostess gifts along with their kids). Or ... buy the stale cake and just send it directly to a Syrian refuge.

7. This one is very close to my own heart. If we agree to host you on a Shabbat that our child is home on leave from the army we are basically offering to share a rare and special time with you. Many people simply stop inviting guests during their children's army service. But if you find a host family who is still happy to have you while their soldier is home, do not dismiss what is being offered to you and make the most of the opportunity.

And with that, I am wrapping up Part 1 of the Gap Year Shabbat Visitor's Tip Sheet. For those whom I have further offended, I am sorry. Well, I'm a little sorry. This is, in fact, some very practical advice and you would be wise to accept it in the manner in which it was meant -- as a service to those of you who couldn't possibly understand what it is like to be on our end.

One final word. If any of you non-Israel-based parents out there host as many gap-year kids (or a reasonable facsimile)  as frequently as is the norm here, please let me know. It is possible that I totally misjudged you. According to my calculations (I used a calculator), if you have four gap-kid guests a week, who all eat two meals with you, two weeks a month, 10 months a year, that is a minimum of 160 additional meals a year, excluding the guests you were planning on entertaining for your own selfish reasons! (Could the resident math Phd TL please confirm my logic and calculations.)

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Dos and Don'ts for Gap Year in Israel -- Part 1: Shabbat visiting

Elul is less than two months away. Generally speaking, that is neither here nor there in my life, but I learned today that the beginning of Elul means throngs of overseas students arriving in  Israel for their gap year. In other words, for some people, just hearing the word "Elul" brings on subtle tremors.

Please note that most of the gap year kids are never going to come into contact with real Israelis (beyond our families) -- nor do they want to. They simply want to spend a year in Israel as some sort of right-of-passage before they go back to their real lives elsewhere.  And because places like Ra'anana are the closest thing they can find to their respective homes abroad -- and where their parents most likely have friends, or friends of friends -- at some point during the year, the gap kids will inevitably surface here. This is a complicated thing for us natives: these kids have no interest in life in Israel per se but they want to get out (mostly from Jerusalem) and pretend to experience the country. Plus they take up a lot of seats in synagogue -- inevitably my seat, in particular.

Now because they don't want to really experience Israel, they travel in packs of .... at least five, which means that if you invite one of them for Shabbat, you are going to get five of them. It's virtually non-negotiable and frankly, from what I hear, getting five Shabbat visitors is getting off easy.

I rarely get these kids at my house because I didn't grow up in the religious world, so I am not connected to most of their parents. However, some of my friends literally spend their year, from September until June, as hotel/taxi service/laundromat/drop-in centers for these kids. And it is in their honour that I have prepared the following list of dos and don'ts for Gap Year Visitors to Israel. (This list is based on the extensive experience of some of the nicest, most giving people I know.)

1. Remember that you are no longer at home. Your parents trusted you enough to send you far from home for 12 months, so don't make them sorry they did. While you are away, you are a reflection of your family and your supposed upbringing. Don't shame your family name.

2. The people you are visiting are real Israelis, who live among other real Israelis. Our children may be native English speakers but do not kid yourselvs, they live and breathe in Hebrew. And while Ra'anana may look like an Anglo enclave, doogree (I am leaving you to figure out what that word means; I just learned it recently), it is very much part of Israel. Seventy percent of people in Ra'anana are native Hebrew speakers. Consider yourselves forewarned.

3. The people who host you are not sitting around all day wondering how they can fill their time, so do not assume that they have been waiting for you, your friends, and your laundry to fill a void in their "empty" lives.

4. Take a minute and think about how you would feel if five hungry teenagers showed up at your door expecting you to feed, entertain and generally rejuvenate them for two days? If you can't figure this out on your own, then ask your parents how they would feel. Take notes. Commit them to heart. Walk the talk.

5. And speaking of showing up at our doors -- ha. On top of hosting students by the half dozen and all that that entails, do not expect your hosts to make your travel arrangements or provide taxi service. Once again, if you are old enough to spend the year abroad then you are old enough to use a phone or a computer and figure out how to get to where you need to go. If you do not know how to contact the bus or train services, let me know and I will forward the contact information. And don't try the passive-aggressive call from the bus station saying: "Okay, I am at the bus station, now what do I do?" We weren't born yesterday.

6. Ask yourselves if the four or more people you want to take along for Shabbat really need to come. Couldn't you survive an entire 25 hours with just one or two friends? Would it really be so bad? We all know the answer to that rhetorical question.

7. No, you cannot bring your boyfriend or girlfriend for Shabbat. Do not put us in that uncomfortable position. Do I really need to explain why? If you don't know why then you are definitely not mature enough to be alone abroad and you should take a taxi to the airport immediately and just go home.

8. Make it a point to be the best possible guest EVER. If you don't know what that means, "someone" has forgotten to raise you properly (no names). However, assuming you were born on a raft and no one ever taught you how to behave, you should realize that your hosts are not there to serve you. Did you earn the money for the meals, do the shopping or prepare the food? The least you can do is help clean up after meals, shake out the tablecloth and tidy up after yourself.

9. We are not operating hotels and we do not offer hotel services. Ask the host what you should do with the bedding after you are done with it, hang your towels neatly on a towel rack so that they can dry out properly, don't sleep until noon and then drag yourself to the table just in time for lunch, and don't assume we have rolls for seudah shlishi after you just had two big meals served to you.

10. Tell us when you accept our invitation if you are vegetarian, vegan, legitimately celiac or have other real allergies. We can't guess and telling us when you arrive on Friday afternoon is just plain nasty. However, if you are going to insist on certain kashrut stringencies, stay home. If you don't trust our kashrut you shouldn't be coming.

11. And finally, for heaven's sake (literally and figuratively), bring a dvar Torah. You are in yeshiva or seminary all week so you have no reason not to come prepared to contribute to the spirituality of our Shabbat.

(Note: I would like to thank a very wise and gracious hostess for coming up with this topic and its key points.)

Friday, June 12, 2015

The Jerusalem Festival of Plight

Due to completely unavoidable circumstances, I found myself in the middle of the Jerusalem Festival of Light last night (hmm, that rhymes). My son's swearing-in ceremony for the army was being held near the Kotel and there was no way we were going to miss such an important moment in his life. After a quick conversation with an old friend who lives in the Old City -- the underlying message of which was "haha suckers" -- I knew we needed a well-thought out plan. I just don't' think I fully understood how well thought out that plan needed to be until we were in the thick of things.

For suburban dwellers such as us, getting to the Old City is an event in an of itself. Parking the car in either the most ad hoc, accident prone outdoor parking lots (I use the term "parking lot" casually here since they are more like parking sardine cans) or in the new, more civilized Mamilla underground parking garage next door, is the first mental challenge you will confront. Obviously we chose the Mamilla option because on the surface it just screams "good choice".

Of course, so did everyone else, which means that Mamilla was just one small step above the sardine can parking options outside. And, as I now know, when you have the overwhelming majority of Israeli society trying to exit or enter the parking garage as you are leaving, you can find yourself in a parking grid nightmare as bad as any anywhere. I know you think I am exaggerating but I am not. I actually have many people who can back me up but none of them are speaking to me since I was giving them all the finger as we fought for our rightful place in the underground grid lock. Okay, that part is not true, but it feels truish.

When we first arrived, it seemed like any normal evening in the world's most controversial piece of real-estate. The typical crowds of tourists, residents, students, soldiers and day visitors speaking any number of languages, taking picture, praying, shopping, and generally going about their business in as orderly a fashion as one could expect in an ancient city made of slippery cobblestones and windy laneways that are technically streets.

The one final piece of advice we received from my Old City friend was "get out of here before ten." That might have been the best piece of advice ever but I will never know because we did not take it. Instead, after the beautiful swearing-in ceremony was over, we rushed to spend some time with our soldier son who we don't see that much these days. We took lots of proud family photos of him and his new gun. (That's another story.) Stuck around to mingle with the guys in his unit who we hear so much about and feel like we know. And only then, at approximately 10:40 pm did we decide it as time to head home.

Let me get straight to the point: I have no idea how we managed to walk through the Old City and get back to the parking garage. I have never walked against the current of more people anywhere, ever. Thousands and thousands of people were just arriving -- including babies in strollers and oldsters in wheelchairs. If I hadn't known better I could have sworn that Maschiach (the Messiah) had just arrived at the Kotel and was taking requests.

What is this festival all about/ As far as I can tell all the City officials did was string up a bunch of pretty lights and lanterns all over the place, and then pump in some non-offensive musak. What the heck were these throngs of humanity all coming to see? The Israeli interpretation of Chinese lanterns?

Plus, we already have a Festival of Lights. It's called Chanuka and it runs for eight days every December. And it has an excellent story behind it .... and there are doughnuts. What do we possibly need with a slightly edited Festival of Light? I just googled "Things to do in Jerusalem this week" and there is no lack of activity or the slightest chance of getting bored, even without this absurd festival.

So here's my advice:

  1. If you have a hankering for fancy lights and musak -- and you cannot possibly create this effect at home -- by all means, go.
  2. If you can fly and thus, avoid the sea of humanity, go.
  3. If you have absolutely no laundry to do or meals to cook, go.
  4. If you are feeling lonely and desperate for company, go.
  5. If you are into sadomasochism, go.
  6. If you are an insomniac, go.
  7. If you have no need for personal space, go.
  8. If you are only going to be in Jerusalem once, go.
  9. Otherwise, do yourself a favour, and stay home.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Stray observations about IDF Parents' Day

Let me begin by saying that I could not have more gratitude, respect and general appreciation for the Israel Defence Forces. Without them my life, my family's and friends' lives, and the lives of unappreciative Jews everywhere, would not look as they do today -- which is a far sight better than they looked 75 years ago.

That said, I am not above finding the oddities in their procedures amusing. I have no doubt that many native born Israelis or long-time immigrants don't notice these things. And that's why I am here.

Yesterday we attended our first Parents' Day at our son's base. Our previous experience with children in the army did not include a Parents' Day, so this was all new.

Stray observations:

  • There is a lot of hurry-up-and-wait time. For fear of missing the bus to the base we left home at 1:15 for a 5:30 program start-time. Since I don't want to mention where the base is located you will simply have to trust me when I say that we could have left at 3:30 and been totally fine driving ourselves right to the gates of the base. Instead, we took what seemed like an endless trip by car and bus -- and we were still 1.25 hours early.
  • If you have not met people from every conceivable segment of Israeli society then you have not been to an army Parents' Day. I did not notice any cross-dressers but they may have been there too since everyone else was. And I would probably have overlooked them because they were dressed better than half the other women there .....
  • There are a lot of inappropriately dressed woman in Israel -- from 60-year-olds in short shorts and high heels to 20-year-olds in pants that have more holes than material. 
  • The big military kahuna of the day's events was 25-years-old. And he has a lot of soldiers under his command. I still think I could have taken him or gone down swinging.
  • The next-level-down commander tried his terrifying stare on me when my son introduced us, but it didn't work. I asked him how old he was. He said 22 and I sneered knowingly. He then smirked and made sure I noticed his very large gun. I did -- but I still wasn't scared. All the while my son was looking for a rock to hide behind.
  • There was a noticeable absence of paper towels and the likes; I do not think hand washing is a big priority there -- and apparently Hezbollah and Hamas don't care. As an aside, think twice before shaking a soldier's hand. Better to just wave.
  • The barracks make my son's previous home in a decrepit caravan at a hilltop yeshiva in the Shomron look downright posh. I mean five-star posh.
  • "Ass" and "underneath" are yet another two words in Hebrew that can be mistaken for each other. So are "mattress" and "food". Who knew? My son took to walking behind me explaining my lousy Hebrew, and I just kept talking, knowing he would clean up after me.
  • Grass fires in dry grass -- bad. And enough said.
It just goes to show how deceptive outward appearances can be because truth be told, I would take the 22-year-old glaring commander with the big gun and the even bigger attitude over just about anyone, any day. 

Sunday, April 26, 2015

The search for learning

Yesterday our 10 Shabbat lunch guests included a ninth grade boy who I have known from afar for several years. I was vaguely aware of his age -- I knew he was bar mitzvahed -- but that was about all the background information I had on him. Teenage boys who are neither friends of my sons, family friends, or my English students, are outside of my frame of reference. That said, I am proud to say that does not leave many unaccounted for.

After a few hours of eating, talking and some board game playing in a second room, I finally began asking the boy some questions. I would have asked him sooner but I doubt he could have been more quiet and compared to my own very boisterous sons and almost constantly hormonal daughter I honestly didn't really notice him.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that he was in ninth grade in the same yeshiva that my boys attended. (Notice that I said "attended". I'll get back to that in a second.)

I turned to my son, who as far as my monthly credit card bill states, is still in 12th grade, and I say to him: "Z, did you know that N (the ninth grader) is at Herzog (the school) with you?"

Z: Ema, I know.

Me: Well you never mentioned it when he walked in today.

Z: Yeah, we talked about the ninth grade rabbis for a while.

Me, turning to N: I hope he's being nice when he sees you (he has a bit of a reputation for his intimidation glare) and he isn't giving you his scary look. If he is you can tell me and I'll handle him!

N: (silently nodding and acknowledging the entire conversation)

Z: Ema, what do you think? I barely ever see him. I don't go to school that much!

And therein lies the issue. My 12th-grade son doesn't go to school that much!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

If that comment was meant to soothe me, rest assured, it did not. 

As far as I can tell, school begins in earnest in 10th grade in Israel and as you can see, it wraps up at the end of 11th grade and if you're lucky parents, there might even be some learning in 12th grade. So, at best, you are looking at two to two-and-a-half years of real education.

Most major exams are taken in 11th grade here, with a few remaining in 12th grade. Twelfth grade is also the time to re-do exams that didn't go that well in 11th grade. What it comes down to is that the average 12th grader (as far as I can tell) spends most of 12th grade doing anything but going to school and then puts a final push on in May and June for their few remaining exams. And all the while, at least in my case, parents are paying the schools' monthly tuition.

There are definitely some 12th graders working hard in school here; I've seen them. But according to what I hear it is because their schools divide up the national exams into different groupings. There are also kids who are good students yet seem to spend an inordinate amount of time at the beach .... some with surf boards. 

All I know is that it is nothing like what I expected education to look like in the State of the People of the Book. I worked hard in 12th grade right down to the last exam. But that was a generation and an entire ocean ago. Who knows, maybe I was learning in all the wrong places and I should have just gone to the beach.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

I'd like to try those on ...

You would be hard pressed today to find anyone outside of a Corporate Marketing Department to insist that customer service is not a dying art. In fact, great customer service is already dead and anything but the most basic customer awareness is a thing of the past. But as far as I am concerned there is no place on Earth where customer service is in such a late stage of utter decomposition than in Israel. And I have proof.

Yesterday I walked in to the Shoe department of the Ra'anana branch of Israel's only department store, Hamashbir. I just ran the word hamashbir through Google translate and what a surprise .... it doesn't seem to mean anything. It apparently doesn't do anything either. (Addendum: I asked my friend Sherri who I met in the work-out room today what Hamashbir means and she -- a much more knowledgeable Jew than moi -- said that she thinks it is connected to the grain storage halls in Egypt during the time of Joseph and probably means that it is a place where you can find whatever you need! Ha! The irony just won't quit.)

I had seen a pair of sandals or three the night before when I was there with my son, shopping for his new shoes. Unfortunately shopping with my son does not include time for me to even consider looking at anything that interests me, so I made a mental note to return the next day.

The next day I returned early and went straight to three pairs of shoes that I wanted to try on. After playing a five-minute game of hide-and-seek with the one and only person in the Shoe department, I asked her if she could get me the shoes in my size. She left carrying all three shoes.

After waiting about 15 minutes, I was considering sending out a search party. Another customer wandered innocently in to the area and asked me if there was someone working in the department. I said that I last saw the sales lady 15 minutes ago and that by now she was probably half way to Jordan. Five minutes later she returned with the same three shoes and nothing else.

Here's the conversation that followed. Please keep in mind that I held my end in the world's most ungrammatical Hebrew.

Me: Did you find the shoes?

Sales lady: I can't find them.

Me: What? They're the new Spring shoes.

Sales lady: The shoes are all in shipping boxes in the back, and I don't have time to look for them because I am here alone. (Please note that at least two other sales people were standing around doing absolutely nothing but they would not help out because they didn't work in "Shoes".)

Me: Then why are they on the display shelves if they are not available?

Sales lady: They are available.

Me: Okay, then I want to try these three in size 37.

Sales lady: It's not possible because they are in big shipping boxes and I can't unpack them now.

Me: So they aren't available.

Sales lady: Not now. If you want to come with me I will show you. (Suddenly she had time to leave the sales floor.)

Assuming that she was a lazy oaf, I agreed to follow her and prove her wrong. Off we went to the loading dock of the Ra'anana branch of Hamashbir... where I came face-to-face with about a dozen huge shipping boxes that apparently held most of the new season's shoes.

Sales lady: Go ahead and have a look.

Me: You want me to open these boxes and look for the shoes?

Sales lady: Why not?

Next thing I knew I was unpacking boxes in the loading dock in search of any of the three shoes I wanted. After another seven or eight minutes we had managed to find only one of the three.

When I told her that I still wanted to try on the other two, she told me to come back tomorrow.

It sounded wholly plausible that the shoes would be unpacked by the next day since they were the Spring offering and it is now Spring in Israel. Stupid me.

I arrived there this morning and guess what? None of the new shoes had been further unpacked.

By this point I was starting to lose it and much to the amusement of the skeleton staff working there, I asked to speak to the manager. I really wished I had video taped what happened next because it was more ridiculous than I can possible describe.

Me: Lior (I now knew the manager's name was Lior). If there are shoes on the shelves then doesn't that mean they are available to buy?

Lior: Of course.

Me: Then why can't anyone who works here find the shoes so I can try them on and maybe buy them? Don't stores exist to sell things to customers? If not, what are you all doing here? In America (that really pisses them off) if you ask to try on something that is on the shelves then someone goes and gets it for you. That's how stores work in America. They put things on shelves so customers know they are available.

Lior: That's how it works here too.

Me: I don't think so.

In an effort to show me what a dumb "American" I was, he made a few calls that sounded very impressive. Then we stood and waited. Then we waited some more. And then some more. Then Lior made another call that sounded distinctly more peeved than the previous call.

Me: Do you see the problem now?

Lior: (silent glare, subtle shrug and then finally resignation)

Lior: Okay, give Edna (the original sales lady) your name and phone number and she will call you when we find the shoes.

For those of you sitting on the edge of your seats wondering what happened .... At 6:00 pm tonight my cell phone rang and it was Edna. She had the shoes.

I rushed in and bought them before anything else could happen and when I said good-bye, thank you (never burn a bridge in a Shoe department) and do not expect to see me tomorrow, the sales lady, the cashier and the sales lady in the adjacent department all waved, smiled, called me by my name and wished me a good evening. I guess you could say that I actually got what I came for.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Swimming logic in Israel

Every August 31st pools and beaches throughout Israel are swarming with people who are frolicking in the water. It's not surprising considering how hot it is here at that time of the year.  However, 24 hours later, it is still as hot as it was a day before, but if you go to a pool there will be a noticeable absence of swimmers and pool-side loungers. Why? From what I can gather from asking around, once it is September it is no longer swimming season. The date is just an arbitrary -- yet non-negotiable -- line in the sand (pun intended).

The exact opposite is true of Pesach vacation. Pesach almost always falls in April and more often than not, public pools are clean and full of water .... and families. The weather is not nearly as hot as it is on September 1st, but according to some unwritten but nationally understood rule, people are in bathing suits. Wet bathing suits. Why? Again, from what I can ascertain, April is return-to-the-water time.

My Canadian brain simply cannot accommodate this logic. When it is 35C plus on September 1st, which it has been every year since we arrived, there is nothing you can do to keep me away from a watery respite. And that is saying a lot because there has to be skin-peeling heat to get me to that point. On the other hand, yesterday when the thermostat hit 29C for the first time since last November, everyone was in bathing suits -- myself included. Granted, it was very warm but the water didn't know that yet and it was still uncomfortably cold.

How do I know that? I ventured one toe into the pool and made an executive decision that there would be no second-toe follow-up for a few months. And I trust my toe. I grew up where you had to run the one-toe-test in various bodies of water as late as the first week of August. Even then you had to be prepared for a major cold-water provoked muscle spasm in the arch of your foot. I would like to see all the Israeli April swimmers deal with one of those crushing spasms in the arches of their feet. It is not something that you quickly forget.

In the meantime it just dawned on me that I have a similar set of expectations about winter; hats and gloves in particular. No matter how cold it was in Canada, I would have never considered wearing gloves prior to December. And I would have had to be forced into wearing a hat before January. There was no particular reason for those dates other than a subconscious belief that caving into the cold prior to those dates would have simply seemed weak and wrong.

We also wore shorts in the 20C summer days of Cape Breton Island simply because it was summer and under no circumstances were we going to miss it -- even if it forgot to arrive in the first place. You might need a heavy Fair Isle sweater and Kodiak work boots, but you were going to wear shorts because it was July.

Hmmmm. Maybe Israel swimming logic is clear to me after all.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Thanks for the input; keep it to yourself

I really have to make it a point to stop speaking to people who do not live in Israel about Israel. My world view is apparently offending Jews who do not live here, left, right and center. In truth, I don't think I really care if I offend those people -- the bigger question for me is why I don't care. I thought I was nicer than that. Boy, apparently you can really delude yourself if you so choose.

Today was the most recent example of me offending someone who doesn't live in Israel and thought that I might be interested in their point of view about Israel. When that person said "well, I don't think that Jews outside of Israel should say negative things about Israel in public, but I do think that they are entitled to their opinions and should be able to discuss them with friends."

First let me say that, generally speaking, everyone is entitled to their opinions. However, for me, when it comes to Jews who do not live here giving opinions about how the country should operate, I really do not think that those Jews are entitled to their opinions. Israel should give back land. Israel should placate the US. Israel should share Jerusalem with the Palestinians. Israel should do this or it should do that.

So here is my response -- which I am sure is bound to make me more enemies than friends. Ma nishtana halaila hazeh?

Israel, as a country, is in a unique international position. Most Western countries today are populated by a religious majority and many minority groups who have found ways to co-exist with the majority. The religious majority, being the majority, assumes that most national religious decisions are based on their belief system. So all is well and good. The religious majority is not focused on the politics of other countries with similar belief systems simply because they have a similar belief system. I doubt, for example, that Canadian Christians spend much time worrying about the collective well-being of Christianity in the US or England. The same cannot be said for Israel.

Israel, as a predominantly Jewish country, has the benefit of input from every self-acknowledged Jew in the whole damn world. Ths is due in part to the government telling them that this is their country -- note to government: I think you are over-playing that card, so find a new catch phrase. It is also due to the fact that Jews, being Jews, feel an innate entitlement to comment on Israel's comings and goings.

Therefore, external Jews feel they are entitled to judge how things work here. They are not. I do not believe that most of us here are interested in how you think this country should operate. You think we should share Jerusalem, stop settlement building and give back a piece of our already minuscule slice of land. In turn, you will be able to hold your heads high as tolerant Jews -- a safe distance from the fall-out of your lofty opinions -- as you go one with your daily lives.

That's nice. Thanks for your input. Of course, if we start taking your advice (so that you can feel good about being fair and reasonable Jews) and we are all wiped out because suddenly the people who hate us to the core of their very beings have easy access to us (thanks to your very useful input) it won't change your lives one iota. You will continue living without fear -- going to the grocery store, the mall or even the office without an additional ounce of concern. We, of course, will not. We will be here trying to survive the consequences of your totally unwelcomed and half-baked input.

I could probably give a hundred more examples, but this is a blog, not a book. Instead, let's agree that unless you are willing to throw your lot in with Israel 24/7, then you should just shut-up. You don't want Bibi to speak for you -- then you, under no circumstances, should speak for us. I won't bother mentioning that the doors are always open to you because, dear heavens, I know you don't want to live here and possibly suffer the consequences of the input from other self-entitled Jews living comfortably outside of Israel.

In the event that you are interested in joining us, my best guess is that the next election will be in 2-3 years.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Jewish dog or Lena Dunham?

I wasn't going to read the original New Yorker article but I just couldn't help myself. The last thing I wanted to do was to add another click to the page count, but in the end I just had to know what the hell was so awful about Lena Dunham's quiz. 

I totally agree that comparing Jews of either sex to dogs is very uncool and demonstrates a real disconnect with 50% of who she is. Obviously it is the weaker 50%.

Maybe that's just the point. Dunham thought she had the right to poke fun at Jews because her mother is Jewish, which unfortunately makes her Jewish – at least biologically. She thought that having 50% of the genes gave her an in. While for some people, that might be a fair assumption, for her it was not. Jews are great at making fun of themselves – within the parameters that real Jews understand.

But my guess is that she is anything but Jewish in any way, shape or form beyond a slice of her gene pool. It seems to me that at least half of New York City seems Jewish at any given moment so I am guessing that Dunham had a big hankering for deli or lox and bagel, and she thought that was enough to play the Jewish card.

So, in her honour, I have rewritten the quiz she published in the New Yorker.

Do the following statements refer to (a) my Jewish dog or (b) the full-of-herself, supposed "It" girl who loves to be naked on television much to viewers chagrin?

1. The first thing I noticed about her was her eyes.
2. We love to go on walks together on Shabbat afternoon.
3. She’s crazy for cream cheese.
4. It isn't always easy, but we live together and it’s going O.K.
5. She never remembers our anniversary.
6. If it were up to her, she would spend her day having her belly scratched.
7. But she will settle for an unexpected snack of chicken or meat.
8. She is thrilled about the food I serve her. When I make something from scratch, she is so happy that she rejects her store-bought food.
9. This is because she comes from a world in which mothers apparently do not give their offspring enough attention and the children will go to any lengths to get some.
10. As a result of this dynamic, she wants to be waited on hand and foot by the people in her life, and anything less than that makes her depressed.
11. I wish she were less excited about spending time with my friends.
12. I wish I didn't feel bad every time I leave her behind.
13. I wish she didn't like driving with her head out the window even in the middle of the winter.
14. When we go out of town, she fakes being okay with it but cries when no one is watching.
15. When we get home, she just wants to catch up on all the love and attention she assumes she's missed.

16. My cleaner loves her and says she’s a “good, good girl.”
17. She enjoys nature and I don’t, which would be fine except it’s important to share interests.
18. She hates cats and but insists on chasing them, even when they don't put up much of a fight.
19. Her best friend is named Buddy.
20. In addition, she is openly hostile toward gardeners and motor cyclists, focusing most of her rage on the noise they make.
21. She once vomited at my friend's house and then walked away as if nothing happened.
22. She’s adopted. 

You probably guessed by now that each of the above items pertain to my Jewish dog, who I love. Why on Earth would I waste my time writing about a woman who just wants attention at all costs -- no matter how insulting or degrading it is? I am still trying to figure out how she became the voice of a generation.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Lessons from the Israel 2015 election

There is no point in discussing the ins and outs of yesterday's national elections. Heaven knows it has been analyzed to death and this morning, it is all over but the crying -- for some, tears of joy and for others, plain old tears.

But as with everything in life, there have definitely been some valuable lessons learned.

1.The Israeli media screwed themselves. It is a commonly known fact that most of the media in Israel is left leaning and overwhelmingly anti-Bibi. For the past two weeks, as election day neared, they were falling over themselves to play up the ever-increasing gap between the Zionist Union and Likud, particularly since the polls continued to predict that the Zionist Union was heading to a healthy and inevitable win. What they did not anticipate was, that while that may have seemed to be the case, the tedious message definitely got through to people who were either on the fence or arm-chair rightist who may not have voted, to get their acts together and vote Likud.

2. Israelis need a Sunday. Maybe not actually Sunday because that is kind of Christian-ish but a real day off once a week. People were everywhere yesterday, just enjoying the day. Yes, basic services were open but most people were out with the families or relaxing at home. It was civilized beyond words.

3. Rabbi Ovadia was sms'ing people who did not vote for his old political party, Shas. After being the guest-of-honour at the largest funeral ever held in Jerusalem and bringing traffic in the holy city to a screeching halt for several hours on October 8, 2013, I think it is a little chutzpadik for him to be sending hate mail now. Even from Olam Abah, he can unnerve people and make them rethink their election choices. The lesson here: Never upset a great man -- even after he is dead.

4. When polling and campaigning ends .... your neighbours will step in to fill the gap. I purposely left to go vote at a time of day that I thought would be less popular with most of the voters in my neighbourhood. Wrong. I found myself walking and talking with people who know me superficially or not at all. Of course, they quickly sized me up as a religious "American" (apparently it only takes about five seconds for the experienced eye) and proceeded to tell me why I had to vote for the Zionist Union rather than my original choice. It's important to add that they did not know who my initial candidate of choice was, but they assumed that it couldn't be anyone they would vote for. I learned more about what the average wo/man on the street in Ra'anana thought of the election than I did from weeks of reading the news.

I am sure there are many more lessons that will become apparent over the next few weeks as Bibi tries to put together a coalition (who many of those who voted for him will barely be able to tolerate). I am sure that there will be regrets and hopefully a few pleasant surprises. I also hope that whoever governs this country will have good sense and moral fibre. And in the end, we all know that in Israel coalitions never last and we will probably be back in the midst of a national election within two years.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

I'm so proud I could vomit

Twelve years, eight months and eight days ago we arrived at Ben Gurion Airport, our one way tickets used up. I am not going to tell the whole story again; it's already written somewhere in this blog. Let's just agree that I was sub-happy ... more like hyper traumatized. As you all know, over the years I have grown to love living here more than I ever could have imagined. However, the one loose thread that has always dangled just out of resolution's reach is my sons' compulsory army service.

When you have 13 years to anticipate something, you can wilfully choose to put it on the mental back burner time and time again. You can even convince yourself (after every war) that there won't be another war for a long, long time. Oh can you rationalize: the last war totally destroyed the Hamas tunnels, the Ayatollah will finally succumb to his cancer and the new Ayatollah will be a moderate, Egypt will see the light and publicly support us.... Rationalization is a powerful tool.

Well, yesterday was the day I officially stopped deluding myself. My son began his military service. Oh yay.

Don't worry: My blog isn't going to become a diary of my sons' military service now. There are lots of those blogs out there -- and they write nice things, so suffice it to say that that isn't for me. But I will provide a few observations of what yesterday felt like for a nice Canadian Jewish girl who never considered living in Israel and never, ever liked guns.

It's been 24 hours since I left my son at the Induction Center, and already have learned several things:

  1. Every "kid" going into the army is nervous. And any one that doesn't seem nervous is either in remarkably deep denial or on some excellent psychotic drugs.
  2. Every parent is proud beyond anything words can fairly describe but at the same time capable of tossing their cookies if left alone with their thoughts for more than 11 seconds.
  3. If you haven't mingled with people from every conceivable part of Israeli society, today is the day that changes. And for the next three years you will have more in common with them then you ever could have imagined.
  4. There's a secret club of parents of soldiers that you never knew existed, until you joined them. You always knew the actual members; you just didn't get the secret society part of it. Secret society members will ask you lots of questions -- even though they already know all the answers.
  5. You can separate from your child -- particularly when the infrastructure of the IDF insists upon it. You are no longer the final word in your child's life and your permission is worth bubkas.
  6. You have approximately six months before things get "real". I heard that about 20 times yesterday and I am still not ready to consider what that truly means.
  7. You consider searching the internet for Hassan Nasrallah and Khaled Mashaal's email addresses or phone numbers so you can contact them and try to talk some sense into them. You are almost convinced that you can make a case that would finally have them see the light.
  8. You reconsider every and any left wing position you ever held.
  9. You learn the prayer for IDF soldiers that a rabbi handed you on the street the day before -- and you start to say it.
  10. You start to hold your breath and know that you are going to have to do so for three years.
I am sure I will learn more as time goes on. In the meantime I am off to get my password for the secret society website!!! (for anyone reading this who doesn't know I am joking, I AM JOKING)

Monday, March 2, 2015

Funerals -- Israeli style

A lot of Jews want to be buried in Israel. They don't want to live here -- heaven forbid -- but they want a first-row seat after the fact just in case the Messiah shows up and there is the possibility of resurrection. I am sure that there are some genuine people who had a good reason for not living here but needing to take up a piece of the scarce and valuable burial real-estate while they wait for the big day when they get their just reward.

Yesterday my husband and I drove to Jerusalem to attend the funeral of my friend Lea S. Lea made Aliyah from Montreal two years ago, at 73. I would never have considered missing her funeral, but as soon as I realized that she was being buried in Jerusalem, instead of Ra'anana, I knew we were in for a funeral "event" and I was right. If the average Canadian or American participated in an Israeli funeral they would probably think that they were unsuspecting participants in a Candid Camera episode.

The funeral was scheduled to begin at 11:00 am, which in Israel is really just a suggested start time. True to form, everyone was in the parking lot of the gigantic cemetery on the outskirts of Jerusalem promptly at 11.

That's when the fun began.

The Hareidi-controlled Chevra Kaddisha in their black hats, long black coats and foot-long grey beards, drove up in their blue funeral van with Lea inside. One of them jumped out and started to explain to the crowd how we would have to get back in our cars and drive to where she would ultimately be buried. Yes, it's a huge graveyard. And frankly it more closely resembles a perpetual construction site than a peaceful graveyard. There's not an ounce of greenery to be found; rather what seems like miles and miles of Jerusalem limestone slabs.

So the crowd, who had all just finished finding parking spots, went back to their cars to drive to new parking spots about a kilometer away. Back the way we came and then left up a hill to an area that really wasn't that parking friendly.

We got out of our cars and started to walk.....and walk .... and walk, down a slight incline, turned right and headed even further down another incline. Probably another kilometer. At which point, the blue funeral van pulled up out of nowhere and flung open its back doors.

Then, right on the spot, the funeral began. The body was still in the back of the van and the participants were crowded in -- at least 12 deep -- behind the open back doors of the van. Various family members stood in front of the van's open doors and spoke. For those of us at the back of the crowd, it was almost impossible to hear. In fact, we almost missed the transfer of the body to the actual grave.

It's important to explain that there are virtually no coffins in Israel. Jews here are wrapped in shrouds for burial and placed directly in the ground. It is very disconcerting the first time you see what looks like a mummy in front of you. Your imagination really goes to work on the visuals. For some people, it is always unnerving no matter how many times they have witnessed it.

Yesterday I heard that burial land has become so scant that they are going to start burying couples in plots one on top of the other. In the Jerusalem cemetery they were building sort of an apartment building for corpses. I really don't want to think about that too much because it seems so desperate. Like hoarding gone mad. When my time comes I will be very glad not to know exactly what happens.

Which brings me back to the Jews who didn't want to live here but want a piece of the very meagre burial space that should be reserved for people who actually lived in the country and were active parts of Israeli society before they died. Call me crazy -- I am sure many will. I am sure I will hear about it for the next few weeks and some people will even cut me off their Rosh HaShanah card lists. Yes, there are exceptions, but I think that if you want to reap the benefits of something then first you have to do the work. Plus, Isn't a life well lived more important? It should be.

Monday, February 2, 2015

I knew they weren't studying

There are many many things I do not understand: nuclear fusion, the Higgs Boson particle; capri pants on men, why it is not okay to pull the bone out of the chicken but it is okay to pull the chicken off the bone, to name a few.

But here's where I am getting bogged down today. I just read an article about the Hareidim blocking the flow of traffic on some main thoroughfares in Jerusalem to protest Hareidi enlistment into the IDF. Yes, the article is quite clear and the point is obvious. However, a few weeks ago I read a series of articles on the blog  Rational Judaism that essentially said that poverty is the greatest problem facing the Hareidi community today. One of the articles mentioned that many young Hareidim are angry with their families for raising them in a cloistered environment that did not allow them to learn academic basics, like math. And, as a result, they are totally unequipped with the necessary skills to get a job. Hence, another generation of uneducated, totally dependent, Hareidim are released into Israeli society -- where they can reproduce like rabbits and then sit around waiting for handouts.

My son is going to the army in 38 days. I'm not so happy about it but it is a path that he started on the day we made Aliyah 13 years ago. Of course we told ourselves that by the time he was due to enter the army there would be peace. The truth is that every parent who made Aliyah with boy children told themselves the same thing and looking back I can't decide if I was wilfully naive, eternally optimistic, divinely inspired, or plain old stupid. Either way he is going to the army in a little more than a month and God willing it will be a positive experience that will leave him better equipped for life that he might have been otherwise.

The question is why should the Hareidim be excluded from the expectations imposed on every able bodied young Israeli man? What on Earth makes them think that they are so special? I have been harassed by Hareidim at the Kotel and trust me, the average Hareidi man is anything but special.

Are you telling me that all of the 100 thousand of them are really sitting in yeshivot every day -- day in, day out -- learning Torah with such conviction that they are doing more for the safety and well-being of the country than they could possibly do with a gun in their hands -- or even a potato peeler? Seriously, those potatoes don't clean and peel themselves.

As I mentioned above, I have been harassed at the Kotel for money and heaven knows what else so many times that I find it difficult to believe that there are any men in the yeshivot. They all seem to be standing on the steps leading down the plaza in front of the Western Wall; standing in wait for foreigners or women with loose change, loose bills, loose food, and whatever else they are scrounging for that day.

Plus, if young Hareidim really want to be part of Israeli society, this is the route. Enlist in the army. Do your part. Learn a skill. Use that skill set to feed your family and make this country stronger in the process. Can you imagine how many problems would be solved if Hareidi men just did their army service? The knowledge and experience they would gain! Less people on the dole. Better role models for their future generations. Less anger directed towards them by the rest of Israeli society. More newspaper space for important issues. More tax dollars available for people who really need help.

I will leave Hareidim with a question originally posed by Moses to the tribes of Reuben and Gad (Numbers 23): Shall your brethren go to war while you sit here?
Time to get off the streets and do something productive.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Let's just lay the BBC to rest

As part of this year's International Holocaust Day those ever-astute journalists at the BBC posed the question: "Is it time to lay the Holocaust to rest?" I had to go back and re-read the headline because I was absolutely sure I misread it the first time. Apparently I am a better reader than I originally suspected. So now, also in honour of International Holocaust Day, I have a question that I would like to pose to the BBC's international audience: "Is it time to accept, once and for all, that we will never be able to lay the Holocaust to rest as long as there are blatant anti-Semites like the BBC out there?"

I cannot even begin to imagine how this story made the BBC's editorial line-up. I've been a journalist; I know how the editorial pitch sessions work. Someone must have made a very compelling argument that ran contrary to the facts on the ground. Or, the more obvious choice: Britain is just sick of Jews and their problems. Why waste more ink or air time on that old subject? Been there. Done that.

I am sure they know that anti-Semitism in Europe is running at a 70-year-high. Germany's Angela Merkel and France's Manuel Valls have both said that something must be done to get anti-Semitism under control. Jews are being bullied on the streets of London, murdered in the grocery store in Paris and police escorted to synagogue in Antwerp. Yeah, I can see how the BBC could have come to the conclusion that it was time to draw a line in the human remains of the Holocaust and just shut down all that negative talk. I guess they need more ink and air for their love-affair with radical Islam.

And where is Ed Miliband, the leader of  the Labour Party who happens to be Jewish? I will tell you were he is. According to an article in the New Statesmen in 2012, here's what he had to say about his own Jewish identity: "Like many others from Holocaust families, I have a paradoxical relationship with history. One one level I feel intimately connected with it -- this happened to my parents and grandparents. On another, it feels like a totally different world." Pretty damn sad. He's probably on the BBC's Editorial Board.

For all those fools in British media, politics and society-at-large, let me answer the BBC's question.

No. It is not time to lay the Holocaust to rest. It may never be that time. What is happening to the Jews is a harbinger of what will happen to British society as a whole. Yes, even the monarchy. Do you honestly think that radical Islam will stop once it rids society of the Jews? If you do, you are sadly mistaken and you may well end up being a participant in a Holocaust that leaves the Final Solution of Adolf Hitler in the dust. The Jews are just a convenient excuse for everything wrong with anything anywhere. They are the canary in the mine.

Israelis don't have the luxury of even thinking about forgetting the Holocaust. We don't even get to take a day off. As recently as 12 hours ago we got a little reminder from Hezbollah, that there is always another Holocaust nipping at our feet. Two dead soldiers, seven wounded and Hamas couldn't congratulate them fast enough and warn that there was more to come. There's always more to come and if the world was smart it would take the Jews and Holocaust lesson more seriously. Because when they are finished with us they are coming for you. Now that will be a new story.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Je suis .... fatigue

En l'honneur des meurtres en France il ya deux semaines.

Serenity Prayer
GOD, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,  courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Living one day at a time; Enjoying one moment at a time; Accepting hardship as the pathway to peace. Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it. Trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His will;  

So this is what it has come to. I am citing a non-Jewish prayer written -- probably -- in the 1930s and used by everyone and their dog, including the Federal Council of Churches, the US Armed Forces and yes, Alcoholics Anonymous. Based on what I can see, each one of these groups still has more problems than they can count, so I am not sure it actually works. But frankly, as an Israeli, it is about the most sound piece of advice I can find.

I am tired of jumping out of bed every morning and slowly making my way to my computer and in turn, Google News, just to read that today is worse than yesterday.

I am tired of being of hated by total strangers who -- if they were being honest -- don't even know why they hate "my kind" but do know that whatever the reason, we deserve it.

I am tired of hearing that an international cabal of Jews are running the world and all of the pillars of its foundation. And if so, they are doing a lousy job of protecting their own people.

I am tired of having friends say that maybe they should have stayed in the US because life was better there. Better is such a tricky word. More money? Yes. More culture? Yes. Better shopping? Yes. More of a life with meaning? No way.

I am tired of belonging to a group of people who are apparently responsible for every last thing that is wrong on Earth. Poverty is Africa -- oh that was the Jews. Poor employment opportunities for uneducated immigrants in France -- that was definitely those pesky Jews. Sharks in the Red Sea (I am not kidding here) -- that was the Israelis (read: Jews). Genocide in Dafur -- you guessed it; the Jews. And my personal favourite ... earthquakes in Iran .... Jewish sorcerers! For those who don't know about the Jewish sorcerers, they are the same ones who turned the sea red in the story of Exodus. And despite all the finger pointing, some anti-Semite will then turn around and say that the Jews always want to turn the world narrative back to them. How can you suck and blow at the same time?

I am tired of having to worry about the men in my family wearing their kippot in places where kippot look more like archery targets than religious head coverings. I am sick of having to think about that, particularly in the middle of Canada. I expect it in Europe but Canada???

I am tired of being told by innocent (?) non-Jews that I am actually very nice and "not like other Jews".  I guess they are referring to the Jews who caused unemployment, initiated genocide, and trained sharks to kill Arabs.

I am tired of reading editorials that say Israel is pressuring French Jews to leave France and come to here. How can I say this nicely???? French Jews: stay where you are if you are feeling coerced to leave by Israel. If you cannot see the writing on the walls in your beloved France, asseyez-vous et fermer vos bouches. (How's that for sixth grade French?) But don't call us when the shit hits the fan and expect us to send our beloved soldiers to come and get you. If you didn't learn anything from Hitler, you surely won't learn it from Hyper Cacher.

I am tired of hearing that Jews are not better off in Israel. Granted it is not black and white -- because nothing with Jews is simple -- but it is overwhelming clear: we are.

I am tired of Israel not getting its due acknowledgement for all the decent things it does in this world. From emergency field hospitals in Haiti to under-the-radar life saving surgeries on Syrian casualties of war and family members of Hamas big-wigs.

You know I could go on here for a week, but I won't. Instead I am going to boil some water, make a cup of tea, find a cookie, stream a mindless comedy and recite the Serenity Prayer while I wait for the download to be completed.