Tuesday, December 27, 2016

And now for a weather update

I am cold. It is nine degrees celcius here right now and it has been raining for several days and I am chilled to the bone. And if one more person, upon hearing how cold I feel, says to me "but your Canadian", I am going to punch them in the face. I know I am Canadian, I renewed my passport last week at the Canadian Embassy. That was a dead giveaway.

So consider yourselves warned.

Israel is experiencing below seasonal temperatures. This isn't particularly newsworthy because the entire world seems to be in temperature flux these days. What is interesting are the weather-related observations.

1. As I have mentioned many times on these electronic pages, buildings in Israel are built with cement blocks and there is no insulation added. Why? It seems so obvious to me, the non-builder. When I Googled "sheets of insulation for sale" I got more than three million options. I am sure we could have lots of it shipped here. And if we made a bulk order for the entire country, I am pretty sure we could get a good deal.  (Ken Nichols Insulation in Sullivan, IL, is offering excellent discount prices.

2. Saying you are sick and tired of the rain in Israel is pretty much the same as saying you are sick and tired of your grandmother (as you set her out to sea on an ice floe). Try saying that in Israeli company and let me know if you live to see tomorrow. Israel needs rain; well, the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) in particular needs rain. And since rain is considered a blessing from God in these parts, one has to be out of one's mind to complain publicly about it. Ever. That said, I would like to know why the Almighty can't improve His aim and send the water where it needs to go?

3. One of my friends here is from the Canadian Midwest. He likes to tell me every few years how not cold it is here. He knows cold and this isn't it. He tells me that he doesn't even wear a jacket in the winter when he is in Israel (I don't believe him but I don't have time to stalk him and catch him in the act of jacket wearing).  Of course, he spends a lot of time in the Northeastern United States which means that, relatively speaking, he is right. His body's temperature memory is still operational. Mine is not. I live here more consistently than he does. Nine celcius is the new minus 30 for me.

4. Why does my country of birth have any bearing on how cold I feel? No one questions the people from Detroit. Or Chicago. Or Cleveland. It is definitely as cold or colder in those places as it is in Toronto. And what does the place I come from15 years ago have to do with me being cold today? And does that mean that everyone who survived a week of deep winter skiing should be able to tolerate cold? Don't you think that being away from the real cold for 15 years would allow your body to forget? For Heaven's sake, this isn't riding a bicycle.

5. It is often warmer outside your home than inside. Seriously. Sometimes in the winter, I go outside in search of the noonday sun and even if that means sitting on a curb with my lunch in hand, and playing stupid games on my phone for 20 minutes, I do it. I once took the newspaper and sat in my car while the sun was beating directly onto the front windshield. When my neighbour spotted me and asked me what I was doing, I told him I was having quiet time in my auxiliary den. Unfortunately, in this past week, the sun took a vacation in Ethiopia and my auxiliary living space is unoccupied.

Now it is bedtime and it is time to head to my cryogenic-lab-temperature-approved bedroom. If I survive until the morning I am definitely going to contact Ken Nicols.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

10 things President Trump needs to know about Israel

Despite my inability to prophesize (see November 30, 2015 post "10 reasons why I know Maschiah is coming in 2016"), there was no way Israel was going to really win with either US presidential candidate, so here we are looking down the barrel of one (of two) possible guns. Rather than wait for all of the misinformed or partially informed American Israel experts to guide Trump through the murky waters of Israel, here's a heads up to get the ball rolling.

1. American Israel experts, major US media and American Jews of any and all stripes, do not know what's what here. Do not call Kissinger (a. he's a Democrat and b. he is a self-hating Jew.) Do not call your son-in-law. You have no emotional attachment to Israel. That's okay. You once said you were neutral on the Middle East and do us all of favour and stay that way.

2. Even if you continue to give us money (a sore point for us), we are not going to just go along with whatever you want. We would much prefer if you would just go along with everything we want, but we aren't holding our collective breath. We know that all that money comes with strings attached but we choose to ignore that uncomfortable reality as much as possible.

3. American Jews are not Israeli Jews, even if many of us look and sound like we might be.  American Jews are the ones who think that they are still living the best possible life there in the US and that despite the rise of the alt-right and the crazed left (think BDS campus vigilantes), they know what is best for Israeli Jews. If that wasn't so sad it would be laughable. American Jews are no longer generally with us or watching our backs -- and frankly they should be busy reading the writing on their own walls right now. Plus, we have already alienated lots of liberal American Jews and well, we don't care.

4. The settlements are not a barrier to anything but angry local Arabs. Don't even start with that line of thinking. It originated in the very anti-Semitic  State Department well before Dulles showed up and took it up a notch in the 1940s. If we could find a good place to build a border most Israelis would probably vote for the border. But please keep in mind that a country nine-miles wide, surrounded by people who want to wipe if off the map, is no solution.

5. You know that you don't care that we are the only democracy in the Middle East. Tyrants and sheiks are your thing. We know it too. The whole America loves Israel thing isn't real. Ask Kissinger-- we really appreciated you holding back weapon support until the second week of the Yom Kippur War. And in case our collective memory was fading, Obama brought us back to reality. We are hedging our bets.

6. We are not interested in occupying anyone. Particularly a hateful population like the Pals.

7. You cannot suck and blow at the same time. You cannot say you are with us, then , befriend the KKK, neo-Nazis and the alt-right in general. You probably have not been keeping track but the Second World War only ended in 1945, a mere 71 years ago. We aren't over it yet.

8. You do not know us better than we know ourselves.  Three thousand years  in one location gives a people a lot of time to hone their regional survival skills. Counter-intuitive is our neighbourhood  and Hyper-sensitive is our middle name. Don't try to out-think us.  We are not as Western as we may appear.  Call us when you have 300 years under your belt, if you are still around.

9. You may have a Jewish son-in-law and a load of Jewish grandchildren. Mazal tov. That has nothing to do with anything. No, being an Orthodox Jew does not make your son-in-law in any way, shape or form, an expert on negotiating peace in the Middle East. According to Harvard, he doesn't seem to be an expert on much of anything other than getting into Ivy League schools without the necessary credentials. You say "he knows the region." What region would that be? Rehavia? Mamila?

10. Bibi isn't going to be in charge forever. Love him or hate him, there is no way Israelis will continue to vote him into office. Yes, I know it doesn't seem that way right now but time is not on his side.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Aliyah: 10 things I learned to appreciate about Israelis

I must be getting in the festive mood because I started having warm and fuzzy feelings about the Israeli people today*. It's not that I normally do not have these feelings but making fun of them and the never-ending subject matter that they provide for this blog is usually more entertaining … for me. 

1.       If you are having trouble with your math homework you can probably find a Russian city maintenance worker who can solve the problem in less than two minutes. Do not be deceived by the labourers' clothing and present occupation – they probably have a degree or two in Mathematics from The Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology. Yes, that's a real place.
2.   Israelis do not get worked up over things related to imminent war. Sirens, drills, and the likes are simply part of life, and until there is a missile headed directly for them, they are not going to disrupt whatever they are doing. As the sirens went off last week as part of military practice run, I overheard a panicked elderly woman on the main street of Ra'anana ask in English where the nearest bomb shelter was, and no one seemed to know.  Please note that this does not apply in Sderot and surrounding area. They do not have the luxury of nonchalance.
3.   Israelis are more than happy to interrupt any conversation happening in English (and probably French now) yelling at the top of their lungs that you are talking too loud. You are not. What they really mean is that you are speaking English and they don't want to hear it.
4.       Rolling their eyes and making a "phst" sound can be a positive, negative or incredulous response to whatever you have just said to them. (In my most recent experience I asked a guy in the gym who had draped his towel over a machine I wanted to use if he was still using that machine since it did not appear so. When he gave me the rolly-eye phst thing I had to say in English – for effect – "What the hell is that? Yes? No? Maybe?"
5.       Everything is on the table for discussion. How much money you have; Politics; Salaries; Hemorrhoids. Anything that the rest of the Western World would not discuss in polite company, is front and center for Israelis.
6.       Every soldier is their soldier. They will give them lifts, do their laundry, invite them to their picnics on the beach, send them away with extra food – without ever asking their names because it really doesn't matter – they already "know" them.
7.   Israelis are surprisingly nice. My friend Yehuda insists this is true and he was disappointed that I did not include this is my previous post. He is generally correct, however, he has never met my next-door-neighbours.
8.       Even secular Jews are more religious than many Jews I know outside of Israel who consider themselves religious. Friday night dinner, kissing mezuzot, and only eating kosher food is quite common amongst the majority of secular Jews.
9.   Israelis are the farthest thing from helicopter parents, until it comes to sleepaway camp. Kids here have a degree of physical freedom that hasn’t existed in Canada since the 1960s. I know, I was there. We left the house in the morning on nice summer days and showed up again at dinner time. I used to spend the last half hour of every flight to Canada when my kids were younger explaining to them why they could not leave my side in the grocery store and why, at age 8, they could not go off for hours on their own. They didn't get it.

10.   Of course, for all the freedom kids have here, parents cannot understand why anyone would send their child to sleepaway camp for three weeks. They have a mental barrier at 10 days – I have a mental barrier at two months.
So as we move into the New Year, 5777, and the number of people outside of Israel who don't like Israelis seems to be increasingly daily, remember that everything you read about the Jewish State in the mainstream media isn't true. Some really good people live here.  
(*Note: I am completely aware that I am also an Israeli. I have the passport and voter registration cards to show it. In the following list I am referring to native-born Israelis who still live here – not the sad, deluded fools who left for a better life elsewhere.)

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Helping Israel's poor (or a few easy steps to help get you into the Book of Life)

No, I am not going soft. I am taking a very short hiatus from insulting everyone everywhere to do something positive. So please bear with me and read along. Do not skip any sections; do not skim. I don't want to repeat myself.

In 2014 two of my very good (and I should add, really smart) friends created an extremely worthy Crowd Funding site called Ten Gav. I don't know what that means but it doesn't matter because they do life-changing good work, helping less fortunate Israelis who need a little boost so that they can get on with helping themselves. Since that time they have successfully managed 220 or more mini crowd funding projects from all over Israel.

As they see it, it is crowd funding with a twist (all good stories have a twist).  It emphasizes the donor experience rather than the “raise” itself. (I think that is insider lingo from the crowd funding business.)

The premise of Ten Gav is that Israel’s poor have vast needs that are not being met -- and that many people want to help them in some small, but significant, way as long as it isn't too complicated. 

Here's what they learned during their pre-launch research (I told you they were smart):

1. People want to feel a personal connection to the end receiver of their giving. That's why Ten Gav's platform allows the potential donor to read in short story about a particular family’s situation (pseudonyms are used) and what they need. It's personal!

2. People also want to know that the recipient of their donation really needs it, so each funding project posted on the site is verified by a professional social worker, reviewed by her principal and made on behalf of a person or family with an open file in a municipal social services department in Israel. To add to the donor’s sense of confidence in the giving process, the name of the verifying social worker and the name of his or her agency are posted alongside the story itself. Rather than create an entirely new system of due diligence, Ten Gav relies on the Israeli municipal welfare services system, which has proven to be a good decision.

3. People want to feel like their dollars make a tangible difference to the end receiver so no single need offered for funding on the site exceeds $1500.  This ensures that even a modest gift will have meaningful impact.

4. People who can only afford to give modest amounts, want 100% of their gift to go towards funding the case chosen by the donor. (In case you were wondering, they fundraise separately to cover operating expenses.)

Here’s how Ten Gav works:  You visit www.tengav.org and read the stories about real people meeting real challenges.  Each story requests funding for something specific: It might be a request for a fridge, a stove or a washer; it might be a request for prescription glasses, a laptop computer for a student, an orthopedic bed for an ill person being cared for at home or hearing aids for an elderly client. Or, it might be a request for funding for a cosmeticians course for a young adult, soccer club fees for a grade school boy, or a didactic evaluation for a high school student to enable him or her to receive special dispensations in their matriculation exams.

All of the families you read about cannot afford most capital expenses. You choose the family in need to which you want to make your gift.  The counters are reduced as donations come in until the need has been fully funded.  At that point each of the individuals who donated to a particular need will receive notice and thanks from Ten Gav that the campaign has been closed and that they, together with several other good people, have made a real difference in one family’s life.

Unfortunately, the needs of Israel’s poor are many and their primary advocates in the social services system, namely professional social workers, have few places to turn to for assistance on their behalf.
You can help

At this time of the year when many of us are running around filling our refrigerators and freezers with holiday food, and buying new clothes to wear to synagogue, there are real people out there who would be very appreciative if you could siphon off a little bit to help them. It doesn't take much effort to do so – the Ten Gav site is self-explanatory – and it would make a world of difference.

And let's face it, if there is ever a point in the year where we should all be looking for a few last minute good deeds to help us get into next year's Book of Life, this is it.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Aliyah: Fifteen (plus 2) things I learned in the last 15 years

Last Friday night in synagogue I sat next to someone who just made Aliyah. She told me that she feels like she has been hit by a bus. Despite the fact that she and her family have been spending their vacations here for the past several years and many people in the neighbourhood assumed they already lived here, the transition from visitor to resident had caught her off-guard. It's a big thing and personally, every time I allow myself to think back to my first year, I have to go to bed and calm myself down. Let's just say that those aren't my best memories.

So, with the help of input from some of my friends who have been there and done that, here's what I know today that I did not know 15 years ago when I arrived.

1.       No matter how hard you try, you are not going to turn Israel into whatever place you came from. At some point you are going to have to accept the old adage "when in Israel, do as the Israelis". This includes learning the fine arts of strategic impersonal yelling, holding your place in line without getting in line, being in two lanes at once, parking wherever it suits you, and the willful rejection of the word "no".
2.       This is not wherever you came from. The country is counter-intuitive. Nothing is done the same here as it is "there". This includes: returns in stores, wedding ceremonies, banking, crossing the street, expecting service with a smile. How ever you are used to things working, it's the opposite here.
3.       Aliyah is difficult and even if you are a capable Hebrew speaker, it is going to turn your world upside down for a while. You may think you are mentally, physically and even spiritually prepared for the move but I am willing to bet buttons to beer caps that you are not. All you need is a day dealing with any branch of officialdom (personal favourites: Bituach Leumi, Misrad Ha P'nim, the maccabi4u website) and you will quickly realize that you are no longer in Kansas and no twister on Earth will ever get you back there.
4.       The ideal development of your child involves their ability to hold their own on the playground ("use your words" is not an Israeli concept) and independent learning until – approximately -- 10th grade, when the teachers finally shift into gear and start catching-up on every drop of curriculum they forgot to teach your child for the previous nine years. These are truly the roots of Start Up Nation; not the army.
5.       When people tell you that your child will be a fluent Hebrew speaker by Chanuka do not get it into your head that they mean THIS Chanuka. They mean Chanuka several years from now.
6.   Kids turn out differently here. They know that they are all vital components of a country/a people/ a history. They want to do their part to give back to society. They do not need to make academic and extra-curricular decisions based on how to impress a college admissions advisor – they know who they are and what they must do.  Army service, while nerve-wracking for their parents, is a great source of much pride that turns our children into adults so much better than they would have been without the experience.
7.       Going to the army (and some national service) may be similar to getting an undergraduate degree, except for the shitty dorm rooms, worse food, and Hamas and Hezbollah instead of BDS.  It is a valuable experience that will matter later in life – just like university. However, that life and death element is a bit of a game changer.
8.       If you don't want your children to mingle and possibly marry Israelis, moving to Israel may not have been your best idea because there a lot of Israelis here. And as surprising as it may be, Israelis prefer to speak Hebrew and live Israeli lives. You may also have to accept customs and traditions that you believe are uncomfortable for you or bad for your health. I personally like the Sephardi tradition of green-onion-as-representational-whip at the Pesach Seder but I am no fan of meat for lunch.
9.       Winter is colder inside your house than outside. The lack of insulation results in a situation where wearing a coat or heavy sweater to bed begins to seem obvious. Even my dog prefers to go outside in the winter and she is normally no friend of fresh air.
10.   Dead people go straight into the ground. No coffin, just a tightly wrapped shroud. It is incredibly unnerving the first four hundred times you see it.
11.   Israel has a very robust economy. It almost looks like a first world country. There is a crane overhead almost everywhere you look in the center of the country and roads constantly under construction. However, it is all part of the most elaborate sleight-of-hand ruse you will ever see -- you still have to pay Mercedes prices for a Mazda, and $15 for a decent pair of underwear.
12.   Fruit tastes like whatever it is, and can only be found in season. Tomatoes like tomatoes (not wet cardboard), strawberries like strawberries. And dairy products taste like the cow made them specially for you in your backyard five minutes ago. Once you eat here you will never enjoy food anywhere where mass production rules.
13.   The guys carrying visible guns on the street, on the bus, and on the beach, are the good guys and you are really glad they seem to be everywhere.
14.   No one plans ahead. It may have begun as gallows thinking – why plan ahead when we may be dead by then -- but has over time become part of the fabric of Israeli thinking. And oddly enough it works and is truly addictive. Thinking about getting married? Why not next week? Definitely no later than two months from now! Bar mitzvah party venue burned down the night before the party (this really happened), just move the food, the DJ and the guests up the street to the next available party location and carry on.
15. You do not have to be post-secondary school educated to have an opinion on everything from the American presidential elections, to the pros and cons of the interest rates set by the Bank of Israel, or who is right: Boogie, Boujie or Bibi. Every garbage collector, bus driver, gardener, and delivery person has an opinion about what is going on and how things should be.
16.   Oh, and one last thing. The reason Starbucks failed in Israel is because Israelis do not like the taste of Starbucks coffee. There is no conspiracy.
17. Oh, and another thing, lizards have to live somewhere and apparently their somewhere is Israel's everywhere. 

Friday, August 19, 2016

A tale of two reunions

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.

Now I finally know what Dickens meant when he wrote those words.

I recently returned home from a two-reunion trip to Canada. The first reunion was at my high school with people I have not seen for the past 37 years and the second was at my childhood synagogue, a kilometer down the road from my high school. I only mention the distance because, in retrospect, the two reunions might has well have occurred in two different hemispheres for all the similarities between them. In other words, no similarities.

The only reason we went to Canada this summer was because I wanted to go to my high school reunion. Apparently I was the only one. I saw six old friends (from a graduating class of 374) and had word that at least five others were sighted in town. They must have been at other high school reunions because I definitely did not see them at mine.

At one point my husband convinced me to call my high school boyfriend to see if he was coming. It took some serious detective work to get his phone number and when I finally reached him and asked him if was coming to the reunion (he lives at best 12 kilometers from our high school) he offered the most unintentionally profound statement of the week: "What for?"

Another friend, who lives less than 10 kilometers from the high school didn't bother to show up because she had to lose weight.

I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried.

I travelled half way around the world and they couldn't scoot around for the corner due to futility and weight issues?

Fortunately, the synagogue reunion could not have been more satisfying. A hundred and fifty old faces that were genuinely happy to see me -- and each other. The one exception was my cousin Alan, who apparently is a bigger idiot than I remember. For clarity's sake, he was always an idiot and now he is a much, much, much bigger one!

Everyone in the synagogue wanted to talk, to hear about each other's families, see pictures of each other's kids, take new pictures, and generally catch up on the past 37 years. In other words, all the things a reunion is supposed to be. We reminisced and laughed. It was great. Those people know me in a way that no one -- not even my own family now -- could ever know me. They remember every stupid piece of minutiae from the first 17 years of my life. The time Heidi's father inadvertently drove over her new puppy; the time my mother didn't pick up Sandra when she walked home in the rain and I had to hear about it for years; the time we got caught playing basketball when we should have been participating in Kol Nidre; the time this and the time that!

They also observe a unique form of Judaism that I am confident is not practiced anywhere else in the world. It isn't based on Halacha (Jewish law), but rather on decades and decades of oral, local, Jewish tradition. It makes perfect sense to them and heaven knows it is more genuine than a lot of things I see today.

And yes, there is a simple lesson from all of this:

You can only go home again .... for a visit. You can't stay. It is never the way you have recreated it in your mind. Lots of "old friends" would rather not see you after 37 years if they are carrying a few extra pounds. For others, the past is the past and that is where it should stay. But, for some reason, my original Jewish community, the people who inadvertently played a big role in who I am today, will take you any way you come, whenever you come. 

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Getting what we deserve

Yesterday a bus with 27 people from my neighbourhood headed to Kiryat Arba and Otneil to make shiva calls to the Ariel and Mark families.

There are few things less comfortable than watching people you do not know, but truly feel for, mourn their needless and inexplicable loss. You want to comfort them but since you don't know them there is really very little you can say. Instead, you stand quietly and let them pour out their grief and their pain, while you listen. All the while you are trying to look at your feet because you feel like a voyeur. Your heart is hurting because your greatest fear is experiencing similar loss and if it can happen to them, then it can happen to you.

And as you drive in and out of these small, protected communities you see all the soldiers trying to keep these people safe living on land that was first purchased by our ancestors in biblical times. In my case that makes me even more anxious because one of those soldiers is my son.

"Hallel (Ariel) wasn't just murdered," says her mother in American English, "she was massacred." She unfortunately proceeds to tell us exactly what the 17-year-old terrorist did to her daughter. I surely didn't want to hear it yesterday and now I want to do whatever I can to stop hearing it repeating over and over again in my head.

"Go inside and see the bedroom (where it happened)," she suggests. I don't know why she suggests that but who am I to question how she expresses her grief? I don't go inside.

And despite everything that has happened in the past five days she is talking about hope and the need to keep going. All I can think is that I doubt I could go on under such circumstances.

However, we are met by exactly the same message when we get to the Mark house. This shiva has wall-to-wall people because all of the 10 Mark children have many visitors – not just their own friends and family, but people like the Ra'anana bus crowd.

"We must stay strong; we cannot lose our faith," says the daughter who I watched the day before cry inconsolably on a YouTube video of her father's funeral.

The same message.

This isn't theatrics; They aren't looking for attention. This isn't for the cameras and the media. There are no cameras because, outside of Israel, there is very limited interest in this story. To the greater world there is no story in a 13-year-old girl about to go to her last day of school before Summer break, get mutilated while sleeping in her bed in her house. "Well, look where they live," think the news followers outside of Israel, "she had it coming."

And what about Rabbi Mark off to visit his mother for Shabbat. He must have been looking for trouble as well.

The funny thing is that the people who commit these atrocities don't have a greater purpose in mind either. The 17-year-old who killed Hallel wrote on Facebook that he wanted to die a martyr ….. and go off to his 70 virgins. That's an honourable reason isn't it? He didn't do it to protest his frustration against Israel or Jews. He simply wanted 70 pliant lays.

Of course that's not a story for the media either. It would ruin their international construct that Jews in Israel are getting what they deserve.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

10 reasons for Jews to live in Europe

As always, most of the really interesting feedback from last week's post arrived on the street, via email and WhatsApp and even in my backyard. While it is never really clear to me why my readers crave face-to-face discussion in the midst of society's greatest technological age, so be it. Therefore, I am left to relay the myriad conversations to my less accessible readers through the second Jews In Europe post.

Here are 10 reasons my readers disagree with me and my position that Jews should get the hell out of Europe.

1. Who died and left you in charge of where people can or should live? Fair point.

2. Many of the Jews who are part of this New Enlightenment Period in parts of Europe always lived in Europe. They never left. Not even after the Holocaust. The difference now is that they have re-connected with their Jewish identities and that is a good thing. Well, if the choice is being there and hiding in fear or being there in a more overt sense, obviously I vote for being seen. Of course, try being seen with a kippa or a sefer Torah on the street before we agree on how well that works.

3. If all Jews live in one place it is easier to kill them. Better that there should be Jews spread out around the world. Yes, true, until someone designs a sawed-off nuclear weapon capable of indiscriminate and simultaneous targeting of Jews wherever they are, spreading out may have its benefits. Harder to reach everyone in all the dark, little corners of the world.

4. There's no real threat in (fill in your region, country, neighbourhood or room in your house). Spanish Jews say they aren't feeling it; British Jews keep saying the newspapers are exaggerating the story to make it more newsworthy. I am not there but there seem to be an awful lot of security people positioned (yes, in media photos) around Jewish schools and synagogues for places with artificially inflated threats. Of course, Spain is actively pursuing the return of the descendants of the Jews evicted during the Spanish Inquisition. Probably so that there will be a clear group of people to blame for Spain's growing economic woes. Right now, with so few Jews in the country, they might have to blame poor economic performance on government incompetence.

5. Denial by the authorities. Countries like Denmark pride themselves on their inherent culture of tolerance so they simply cannot fathom that something bad could happen to a group of their citizens -- even the Jews. They think they are above the fray. Of course, if you poke your head above the fray, some not so tolerant Dane will eventually knock it off. Sort of like a not-so-fun game of Whack-A-Mole.

6. Not everyone wants to live in Israel or could make a go of it here. Well that's for damn sure.

7. Israel is way more dangerous. I really don't have the energy to respond to this one. It is not more dangerous to live in Israel as a Jew than it is to live in Europe as a Jew. If we were talking the US or Canada, I might agree, but not Europe. At least in Israel we are on a country-wide alert for crazies. In Belgium, on the other hand, the crazies work in the airport. On one hand, that makes them much easier to find but on the other hand, they are within spitting distance of some seriously combustible capital.

8. There's been anti-Semitism in Europe for more than 1000 years. We simply learn to live around it. Europe wrote the book on Reasons the Jews are to Blame for Everything: From the Death of Jesus to the creation of both Capitalism and Communism. While it makes for a very comprehensive read of the entire history of the modern world, sane people everywhere know that the Jews are the ultimate malevolent force in the world and that everything would be perfect without them.

9. The only violence in Europe against the Jews today is coming from Muslims, not from regular Europeans. So the logical conclusion of that statement is that that it is okay? Let's just say that it is true and that the problem is only disenfranchised Muslim immigrants. I guess that makes it okay because there are only 45 million or so of them (at least there were in 2010), so that really has nothing to do with real indigenous Europeans.

10. Israeli chocolate pudding is far less expensive in Berlin than it is in Israel. Yes, the humble little Milky. In Berlin they are 33% cheaper than what they cost in Israel. And that's why Israelis are flocking to Berlin to live. Berlin has the fastest growing Jewish community in the world today because of the chocolate pudding. Okay, it's a reason; I never said "good" reasons.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

The endless retraining of the Jewish people

Last week we celebrated Yom Ha'atzmaut 68 with our annual Canadian barbecue. One of the other guests was a regular Canadian, no hyphenation. She had just arrived in Israel for her first trip here -- after a week on The March of the Living. Needless to say she was in gung-ho Jewish mode. I can sniff these people out a mile away.

A group of Canadian-Israeli barbecue guests sat down to hear about her trip. Some of my friends here have been to Poland, but I have not. In fact, all high school kids in Israel spend a week in Poland touring Holocaust monuments, camps, ghettos and the likes for a week sometime in their Junior or Senior year. Two of my children have been there and the third is going next year. My in-laws are (or were) Holocaust survivors and my husband has been to his father's home town in Poland with his father. My mother-in-law's father died in Auschwitz and she was a hidden child.

In other words, we are not a family who is oblivious to the events of 1936-1945. Although I thought I was well versed on the subject growing up, much of my education came since I met my husband and his family.

Apologies for the digression but I needed to establish my street cred. Okay, back to the story. Here's a mini re-enactment:

Canadian Israelis: So tell us about The March of the Living? (You know we really asked because we are Canadians and we are polite like that.)

Canadian visitor: It was a wonderful trip. It wasn't an easy or fun trip but I learned a lot. (She continued with many more details and responded to a few questions from the crowd.)

So far so good.

Canadian visitor: But the most amazing thing was that there are these new Jewish communities sprouting up in Poland. It really says something: the Jews are returning to Poland.

That's when I lost it. (I'd like to thank everyone there for the uncomfortable silence. If one of you had spoken up I probably would have sat quietly .... hahaha.)


I am not sure that I stopped to take a breath during my rant but after my exaggerated attack on this poor unsuspecting Canadian woman, she gathered her thoughts enough to say:

Canadian visitor: Well, obviously we don't see things the same way. I think it's great that even Hitler couldn't keep us down and that Jews are returning to Poland.

I also think it is "great" that Hilter's psychotic plans didn't wipe us out. The difference is that for me the turnaround began in 1948. Followed by the successful Six-Day War, the miraculous turnaround in October 1973 and the fact that we are still here today at 68 despite overwhelming odds and many, many setbacks. We have blown Hitler's plans to kingdom come time and time again ..... in Israel.

That's the difference. The Canadian visitor would never live here (her exact words), and I hope I never have to live anywhere else!

The whole conversation left me with a terrible taste in my mouth so I discussed it was several people. Then one wise woman said the words I just couldn't find:

Wise woman: She might know how to read a siddur and when to light the Shabbat candles, but she doesn't have a Jewish soul.

A Jewish Soul. That was it. You don't have to live in Israel to have a Jewish soul but you do have to understand inherently why beginning new Jewish communities in Poland is 180 degrees from sane. I know Jews who live outside of Israel who actually care about the country's well being -- the numbers are dwindling quicker than I would have imagined and a lot less Jews outside of Israel love Israel than at any time in the recent past. I see it in my own life. I am sad on many levels but mostly for the loss of their Jewish souls.

The one thing I know for sure is that the future of the Jewish people is not in Poland, or anywhere in Europe and probably not in North or South America. Sorry soulless Jews.... the future of the Jewish people is in Israel. I'm pretty damn sure the Canadian visitor will not be moving here.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Too much excitement at Nabi Shu'ayb

During Pesach we took a day trip to a Nabi Shu'ayb, which is a Druze Muslim holy site not far from Tiberias. Word has it that Jethro, father-in-law of Moses, know to the Druze as Shu'ayb, is buried there. It also happened to be a Druze holiday so many Druze families were picnicking on the grounds. We spoke to some of the picnickers who were drawn to our English speaking. Unlike people in the center of Israel, I guess they don't hear that much English on a day-to-day basis.

There were about 12 of us altogether and my friend Rina was our tour guide for the day. So far, a nice quiet day at a Druze Holy Site.

We also had a Druze tour guide to take us into the holy sanctuary, but before we could enter we had to remove our shoes, put on bathrobe like covers and cover our heads. We were also given strict instructions not to walk on the stone plank that divided the inside of the sanctuary from the outside.

With all the boxes checked off, we entered the sanctuary where, as far as I could see the only thing in the large, empty room was a waist-high box covered in green material set off to the side. This was Jethro's tomb.

The tour guide welcomed us all to kiss the tomb but after several polite refusals we all stood back and watched her move around the tomb kissing it.

Since there almost nothing else to look at inside the sanctuary we dilly dallied a bit and then left. And that's when everything got very exciting very quickly. (You didn't expect me to say that did you?)

We put on our shoes, hung the bathrobes up where we first found them and then walked a few steps away to hear what the Druze guide had to say about the place.

All of a sudden we heard raised voices and noticed the beginnings of a mob. It was impossible to miss because, being a holy place, up until that moment all communication had been in hushed, holy place tones.

Within 30 seconds a very angry group of men had gathered outside the sanctuary entrance and then the Druze Security arrived, quickly tossed aside their shoes, grabbed bathrobes and headed inside, followed by several angry Druze men. The mayhem was growing by the second.

I was dying to follow the angry men because my first instinct is not to hit the road, but rather to join the party. I have never met a kurfuffle that did not interest me.

By this point there were probably 50 angry men who desperately needed an outlet for their anger. And that outlet turned out to be a young man who had driven on to the holy site property way too fast and almost hit some children playing soccer on the asphalt. Then he apparently left his car and ran into the sanctuary with his shoes still on and without the necessary bathrobe cover. I am sure that there is a lot more to the story but without knowledge of angry, angry Arabic, we were never going to know what really happened.

By the time the Security dragged the guy outside, the angry mob were there and ready to pounce. And pounce they did. And then they pounced again and again and again. Somehow the Security managed to drag the poor deviant into the on-site office and close the door. The angry mob did not disperse. They just stood outside the office, pounding on the door and yelling.

All the while Rina was trying to drag her charges to safer ground and all the while her charges were not cooperating. She kept pointing out that it was her job to keep us safe and I applaud her valiant efforts although almost everyone was trying to inch closer to the mob.

Finally and not without much resistance, we left the most exciting scene that I have ever witnessed during Pesach vacation. But just as I was about to complain, four young Druze men ran by us, away from the sanctuary towards the bad guy's car, which they promptly destroyed with rocks. There was shattered glass everywhere and the car didn't look that drivable under the best of circumstances.

So why am I telling you this story, you're wondering.

Because on a day-to-day basis I live a very quiet Israeli life that most people outside of Israel do not believe exists. With the nightly news as their only tour guide outsiders think that we live in a perpetual war zone. The problem is that in some ways it is easy to for someone living here to forget how little it takes for things to switch from dull and uneventful to all out action. Obviously that can be said about any place but Antwerp and Paris are not known for danger (although maybe they should be), while Israel is. And when something does happen, it is surreal. You can be within spitting distance and find it impossible to comprehend.

In other words, Rina was probably right but I am never going to admit that to her.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

There's a damn good reason it's the road not taken

With all due respect to Robert Frost and his sense of adventure, I had a moment last week where I was cursing the fact that I was on the road not taken ... at least not taken very often.

Let me paint you a picture. After driving for two hours south from Ra'anana to outer Sde Boker, my travel companions and I found ourselves with minutes to sundown and absolutely nowhere near where we were supposed to be.

Outer Sde Boker looks very similar to Sde Boker, but with even less people, cottages, and mountain goats. Miles and miles of desert for as far as the eye can see. It is truly beautiful in a barren, raw, silent, lonely sort of way. Keep in mind it is where Ben Gurion went to get away from all the craziness of fighting Arabs, manipulating world leaders and founding a new country.

"What the hell are you doing at Sde Boker?" barked one of my friend's husbands into the phone.

"Ah, following your very stupid and very cryptic instructions about where we have to meet you," we all yelled back.

We were on our way to meet our husbands who have been hiking the Israel National Trail intermittently for the past two years. Since they knew we had no interest in the hiking part, they thought they could entice us with a night in tents in the desert. Admittedly I thought it might be fun.

However, there we were at 6:40 pm (sundown: 6:58 pm), miles from where we needed to meet them. I won't bother to explain how we managed to get lost. Let's just agree that technology and middle-aged men can be a dangerous combination.

"Turn around and head towards Dimona," said my husband, who in retrospect may have been the only one capable of getting us to our final destination point.

"But that's not the way to the crater," said my friend Orna.

"What the hell is she talking about?" asked my husband who could hear the conversation in our car. "Who said anything about getting to the crater?"

"They said we were sleeping near the crater," which in our minds meant somewhere near Mitzpe Ramon and its famous gigantic crater.

A few more seconds passed. There was a lot of thinking going on in our car.

"No," they both said. "We are going to Bereshit, if we don't die out here." As the most expensive and fancy spa hotel for hundreds of kilometers in any direction, heaven knows it was sounding like a serious option.

"Wait, I see a sign for Yeruham," yelled someone in the car. Hard to say who since everyone was now talking at once.

Have you ever heard of Yeruham? Exactly.

By this point, we had no gas, spotty internet, and testy travellers.

We rolled into THE Yeruham gas station on the last of the gas fumes.

However, once we had gas again it dawned on us that we were truly in the drivers' seat: we now had a full tank of gas, all the food and credit cards; the world was our oyster. Of course our husbands wanted us to arrive quickly; we had the food, the wood for the fire, and much of the camping gear!!!

Suddenly we were feeling so empowered that we agreed to continue to look for the camp ground.

We gathered some vague driving instructions from a Yeruham local (yashar, yashar or yeah, yeah, go straight) and off we went into the darkness, leaving urban Yeruham behind us. The next thing we knew we were surrounded by absolute night on what appeared to be a one-lane, one-way road that wound down the side of a smaller crater.

"Just follow the road slowly; it's one way," I said. Except that it wasn't one way as we quickly discovered when we confronted a car coming directly at us. Keep in mind, if we veered too far right so the other car could get by, we ran the risk of falling off a very steep cliff.

"Oh, I guess it's not one way." Understatement of the trip.

We drove for what seemed like forever but was probably 15 minutes. We met my husband who was sitting at a nearly invisible desert road junction and we lived to eat dinner, build a fire and tell this story.

All I could think on that windy, dark, desert road was why anyone would take the road untravelled. But we took it and it made for an amazing adventure. Apparently Robert Frost knew what he was talking about. I wonder if he ever travelled to Israel!

Monday, March 28, 2016

Parenting during an Intifada

The first assumption is that this is an Intifada but I think it's fair to call the events of the past six months a low level, incredibly consistent uprising, so Intifada it is. Also, I noticed that at least some media are calling it the Knife Intifada, so that's additional support for the term Intifada. Now to the larger issue: how to parent mobile children during such times. This brings us to the second assumption of the post: it's impossible to keep any semblance of control over mobile children.

What are mobile children? For the purposes of today's discussion, they are any dependents who are old enough not to need anything more than tertiary monitoring. Unfortunately this describes all my children.

Son #1 is in the army which means most of the time he has a gun and travels with other soldiers who carry guns. When they are together, I worry less. It's the off time that concerns me the most. He comes home for Shabbat at 10:00 pm Thursday night and decides that it is an excellent time to go to Jerusalem. I know it's partly my age, but at 10:00 pm Thursday night I think it is an excellent time to put on my pyjamas. And what am I supposed to say to someone the army deems old enough to carry a gun on behalf of the country: "No, you can't go?" That's what I want to say, but he is almost 21, so it is ridiculous.

Son #2, upon hearing that Son #1 is going to Jerusalem, decides to go too. And for good measure says that he will drive so that Son #1 can catch up on his sleep en route. Keep in mind that Son #2, who lives in Jerusalem most of the week, knows full well that we will attempt to thwart his plan -- he is only 18 and just arrived home for Purim -- hence his gracious offer to accompany his brother. Of course, he was just praying that his brother would come home so he could justify taking the car back to Jerusalem. Apparently the Fates have looked kindly on him, and off they go.

That leaves us with Daughter #1, who upon noticing that she is home alone yet again, just goes out. None of my warnings to my sons hold any concern for her. At least she is in Ra'anana, although based on events of the past several months, that is no guarantee of safety either.

I tell them not to drive on highway 443 and to stay away from the Old City, but once they leave in the car I have utterly lost control.

I quickly send a WhatsApp telling them to call when they get there, but at 8:00 am the next morning I still haven't heard from them. First I panic and then I realize that, Thank God, there have been no middle of the night visits from the police, so things are probably okay. However, I don't want to be negligent so I send a second WhatsApp in CAPS asking them if they have arrived in Jerusalem yet.

When I finally speak to Son #2 he is at a total loss to understand my concerns. "There's nothing to worry about Ema," he tells me totally exasperated by my list of dos and don'ts. He thinks the media are over-reacting and people who are avoiding Israel are ...... (assume nothing nice is missing from this sentence). He fully intends to keep doing whatever it is he does regularly when he isn't in school.

I don't want him to be fearful but I also wish he had a slightly more cautious nature. So far, for him, it is good to be 18. I pray it stays that way. I also can't believe that I am relieved that my other son has a a big gun. (I just reread that sentence because I can't believe I just wrote it. There's a lot of suspended belief in my life these days.)

After over-dwelling on these thoughts it finally dawns on me -- not for the first time -- that life is truly out of our hands. A power much greater than I can truly imagine is in control. As a parent that doesn't really cheer me up but it does force me to accept that life must go on and we cannot  be bullied into submission. If the past is any indication heeding the threats of bullies and intimidators did not serve us well either.