Monday, December 28, 2009

Brother can you spare a dollar?

If you think a dollar doesn't make a difference, if you hesitate to make a donation to someone or some group because you can only give a dollar or two and you think that's too little to help, you need to read this.

Love146 is one of those organizations that scares the heck out of me. Mainly, because it hurts so much to think that there is a need for an organization like this. Even scarier is to think, what if Love146 didn't exist? Who would care?

Cake Wrecks
is a silly little website that brilliantly makes fun of bad cakes. If I have time, sometimes I like to visit the site to see what monstrosities have been posted. Inconsequential in the grand scheme of things.

But a few weeks ago, the owner of Cake Wrecks, Jen, and her husband, John, threw out a challenge. Donate a dollar a day to selected charities. That works out to $14 a person, if you give $1 every day. Most people can afford that. Brilliant idea. But what kind of impact could this possibly have?

Over the course of the two weeks, Cake Wrecks was responsible for about $70,000 in donations to various charities. That's 70 thousand, people. During the worst recession in years.

And for Love146*, that meant over $10,000.

So, yes. One dollar can make a hell of a difference. Go donate one now.


If you'd like to participate in Cake Wrecks dollar-a-day, the event itself is over, but the list of charities can be found here. There's never a bad time to donate. Or, research your own organizations - Google a cause that's important to you plus the word "donate". I guarantee you'll find something.

*If you think the sex/slave trade doesn't happen in your backyard, you'd be very wrong.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Okay. Okay? Okay!

Another important lesson learned in the grand education of living in a country where the national language is not your native tongue.

When scheduling recording sessions with your client and the studio engineer, and the dialogue goes something like this:
SE: Sunday at 11am
Me: I'm available
Client: No, I have a problem.
SE: (Something in Hebrew.)
Client: Wait, let me call my office.

(SE & Me discuss other schedule possibilities for the following week while waiting)

Client (hanging up phone): Ze b'seder ("it's okay").
SE: B'seder?
Client: Ken, ken ("yes, yes").
make sure that the "b'seder" that has just been spoken refers to the appointment, and not to the "something in Hebrew" so that you don't shlep all the way to Tel Aviv for nothing.

Well, not for nothing. I gave tzedekah (charity) and bought an iced coffee, and got to watch half the IDF try to cram themselves onto a train for Be'er Sheva. Lama? Ein li musag.*

*Why? I have no idea.

This is a but a very small portion of the number of soldiers jamming the platform.
It looked like Black Friday at the IDF WalMart.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

You shuk me all night long

Why is my Blogger page in Hebrew? Ugh, so annoying. But I'm davka leaving it like that so I will get used to "hee-ca-ness" instead of "enter site"

Anyhoo - I was supposed to go for coffee this week with my friend Kate. At the last minute (okay, two days before) she suggested we go to the shuk* in Ramle. Now, I've heard of the shuk in Ramle, but I thought, how on earth could it compare to the shuk, Mahane Yehuda, in Jerusalem? Other than being 15 minutes closer with free parking, that is. So, I'd never bothered to go. Here's a ready-made opportunity to check out this so-called shuk, and, because we'd be bringing Kate's 5-year-old daughter who needs a car seat, have someone else do the driving!

I'm not a foodie, the Health Inspector would generally prefer that I not cook, and it's well known that I'm not a fan of shopping. However, I love going to the shuk. There's something about the stalls, the colours, the vendors yelling out their specials, the nutty things you can find (literally and figuratively - from yapping stuffed dogs [why would anyone want one?] to walnuts, pistachios, almonds and hazels) that I just enjoy. There's also some comfort in knowing, having sensory issues, I'm not the only one overloaded.


Can you believe the size of that squash?


I managed to buy cucumbers and a bottle of creme liquer (yes, cukes for someone else and booze, while Kate bought practically her entire Shabbat meal), and Kate's daughter, the Divine Miss M, did a wonderful job of keeping me distracted in the meat store so I didn't have to look at the chicken carcasses with the feet still attached. *shudder*

We found a beautiful veggie stall with an English speaker, and I made a nice new Arab friend, Eyab, when I bought the liquer. I didn't get any coffee, but I got some delicious chickpea concoction that was like an inside out falafel ball, and a honey-dipped, fried thing just for Chanukah. And had a great morning with some friends. Oh yeah - and I got a lovely, but questionable salad recipe from Miss M, who is apparently obsessed with red peppers. And knows what lemon zest is! What 5-year-old knows that?!

I now know where the Ramle shuk is and where to park, and you can be sure I'm going there again. Thank you, Kate!



*shuk = market. Lots of stalls crammed together in a small space with great prices, great food products, lots of colour and lots of noise

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

It's a capital idea!

In light of the EU's recent announcement, I hereby recognize Warsaw as the capital of Poland and Austria, and Madrid as the capital of Spain and the Basques.

Or, you can do what Morey did and write a thoughtful, thorough piece giving historic background to the eternal connection between the Jews and Jerusalem. Read it. It's worth it.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Interested in getting a little dirty?

אַתָּה תָקוּם, תְּרַחֵם צִיּוֹן: כִּי-עֵת לְחֶנְנָהּ, כִּי-בָא מוֹעֵד: כִּי-רָצוּ עֲבָדֶיךָ, אֶת-אֲבָנֶיהָ; וְאֶת-עֲפָרָה יְחֹנֵנו.
תהלים קב, יד-טו

Thou wilt arise, and have compassion upon Zion; for it is time to be gracious unto her, for the appointed time is come: For Thy servants take pleasure in her stones, and love her dust. (Psalms 102: 14-15)

If you're into getting your hands dirty, learning about archaeology and potentially making an enormous contribution to Jewish knowledge, here's your chance. The Temple Mount Sifting Project desperately needs your help.

The Project of Sifting the Debris from the Temple Mount
18/11/09

When we began the Temple Mount Sifting Project five years ago, we had no idea what was ahead of us. We did not understand the enormous amount of work that would be necessary to extract archaeological information from the tons of haphazardly dumped material, and we were also completely unaware of the great interest that the public would take in the project and the scores of people who would be willing to volunteer. We also did not even begin to comprehend the educational impact of our work, and that we had embarked on a lifetime project with great national significance. We initially thought that after a couple of months of sifting the project will be over.

After eight months of work the project nearly closed down, but the Ir David Foundation adopted the project with the intention of funding it until all the debris had been sifted. We have continued to operate under their auspices for nearly five years.

Unfortunately, because of the current economic situation, we are once again faced with the potential of having to end our important work. Though the Ir David Foundation found emergency funding which enabled us to keep the project going, we have been forced to reduce our staff to a minimum, and we have not been able to implement our plans for the analysis and publication of the finds. Our plans were to establish an archaeological lab with a permanent staff that will work for two to three years on this task, hire various experts for special types of finds, and sample various sites around the slopes of Jerusalem in order to create statistical control groups to compare to the prevalent finds from the Temple Mount.

It should be emphasized that the major contribution and effect of our research will come only after proper scientific analysis of the artifacts and publication of our findings. After this process our finds will enter academic discussions and will be accordingly referenced by other scholars. Eventually this effect will also permeate into the historical scientific study, popular archaeology and history books, and tourist guides.

In the case of this particular project, where the artifacts are out of stratified context, the main archaeological innovations and understanding of the phenomena of the prevalent finds will come only after an extensive quantitative study that includes the comparison of our finds with control group samples (see more details here).


The Temple Mount Sifting Project is not an operation for an elite group of archaeologists. It is now the property of the entire Jewish people, including the tens of thousands of volunteers from around the world, Jews and non-Jews alike, who have helped us sift through the rubble over the years. Many times throughout history, important projects are adopted by private donors who have the privilege of making a significant difference well before the State steps in to help. The Temple Mount Sifting Project is just such an opportunity.

Please take part in this effort to save the Temple Mount antiquities and help us to continue the educational programming which is having an immeasurable impact on thousands of visitors from all walks of life.

Sincerely,
Gabriel Barkay, PhD
Zachi Zweig


Basic information on the Project and how to volunteer (including a map to the site) can be found here.

HT: BiblePlacesBlog
Photograph of students at work provided by Todd Bolen.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Forget him, what about the victims?

If I see one more smiling photograph of the man who went on a murderous rampage in Fort Hood, killing 13 people and wounding 30 more, I may throw up. Article after article talks about this man, interviews his family, talks about his background, his profession, his religion, how the FBI was deciding whether he was a person of interest.

He is irrelevant. He is nothing. He is dust. May his name be blotted out.

However, may the following names be remembered for a blessing. These are the victims, the ones killed by the murderous man. The ones we are not hearing about. The ones the media chooses not to focus on. I am focusing on them. May their families find strength in their memories.

Pfc Michael Pearson, 22. A musician, he wanted to study musical theory. The military was to be his way into college. Pearson was scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan or Iraq in january.



Pfc Aaron Thomas Nemelka, 19. Nemelka was the youngest of 4 children from Utah, and was set to deploy to Afghanistan in January. He enlisted after he graduated from high school.




Spc Jason Dean Hunt, 22. Hunt spent his 21st birthday in Iraq, and re-inlisted. He was scheduled to be deployed to Iraq. Hunt was recently married.







Sgt Amy Krueger, 29. A high school athlete, Krueger joined the military after the September 11 attacks.





Michael Grant Cahill, 62. Previously a registered nurse, Cahill served in the Army Reserve. He was assisting with deployment physicals when he was murdered.




Pfc Khm Xiong, 23. Xiong enlisted last year, and was preparing for his first deployment to Afghanistan.






Capt John Gaffaney, 56. A psychiatric nurse in California, Gaffaney assisted elderly victims of abuse and neglect. He had traveled to Fort Hood for an overseas deployment.





Staff Sgt Justin DeCrow, 32. Husband, and father to a 13-year-old daughter, DeCrow was in Fort Hood preparing for his deployment to Iraq. He had recently returned from a tour in South Korea.





Lt Col Juanita L. Warman, 55. A physician's assistant, Warman had spent most of her career in the military. Warman was mother to two daughters, and had six grandchildren.




Maj Libardo Eduardo Caraveo, 52. An immigrant from Mexico as a teenager, he was the first in his family to attend college, earning a PhD in psychology. Serving in the Army National Guard, Caraveo was preparing to deploy to Afghanistan with a combat-stress-control unit.



Capt Russell Seager, 51. Seager was a nurse with the VA Medical Center in Milwaukee, and had signed up for the Army Reserve. He was preparing to deploy to Iraq, and would have been working with troops to help prevent mental health problems.



spc Frederick Greene, 29. Greene, from Tennessee, had been married two years, and was raised by his twin sister after his mother's death. Greene was set to to deploy to Afghanistan.




Pvt Francheska Velez, 21. Velez enlisted three years ago. She had recently returned from Iraq, and had been transferred to Ft Hood. She was three months pregnant.






The other person we've hardly heard anything about is civilian officer Kimberly Munley. She ended the murder spree by shooting the killer. She sustained 3 gunshot wounds in the process, but never lost her nerve or her cool. Her herioc actions prevented more deaths and more wounded. Let's remember her name.

We wish a speedy and complete recovery to all the innocent wounded.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Eating Jerusalem


If you're headed to Jerusalem soon and planning on visiting the Mahane Yehuda shuk, you might want to pick up this month's issue of Saveur Magazine. It features a pretty good review of some of the better known restaurants (and a few holes-in-the wall), some recipes (of course) and a short piece on some popular Israeli condiments.

You can also read the article entitled 'Jerusalem Mix' here, but then you'll miss the pretty pictures.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A little light book-keeping

For years, I have been doing bookkeeping. I took a course a bajillion years ago, and it has served me well. I've been "financial operations" (fancy title for "bookkeeper"), accounts manager, accounts payable clerk, accounts receivable clerk, a/p AND a/r clerk, payroll manager, operations manager and office manager. When I moved from New Jersey to New York, I looked up NY State tax law and employment laws to learn what the differences were between the states. When I moved to Canada, I looked up and learned the Provincial tax laws, Federal tax laws, and employment laws (by the way, when I say "look up", I mean I called the government offices to send me the appropriate pamphlets and books, because we did not have Encyclopedia Googlica in those days).

Because I did a lot of freelance work, I looked up and learned what I needed to put on invoices, how to charge tax, how to pay the government the taxes I charged, how to pay employees, when I needed to file, how often - all the fun stuff that goes along with charging fees and paying the people involved in accumulating those fees.

Here in Israel, I am freelancing. I have no idea how taxes work here or how to keep books. I found out I need to have certain business identifications when people I did work for told me they needed to have a receipt from me. Okay, so I'll write a receipt.

Oh, nooooo. You can't just write a receipt here in Israel. What do you have to do? I have no idea. I've seen an accountant, who just confused me even more than I was when I started out. He said I should be an Osek Mursheh (a business category), and was talking to me about how to collect VAT (Value Added Tax), record it and report it to the government. He mentioned ledger books. The accountant spent a fair amount of time going over this information. He filed for us with the government, and when we finally received our certificates, I discovered they said Osek Patur (the other category).

But, but...?

We called the accountant and he, of course, said that he told us we should be Osek Patur, we don't make enough money yet to be Mursheh (nuh-uh, I have NOTES, mister!), we don't have to worry about collecting VAT. I should point out, this is the same man whose staff sends us emails in Hebrew that we can't understand, and when we call for an explanation, he tells us it was a mistake and not to worry about it. What?

ARGH!

During out meeting he told us we need to get pre-printed invoices and receipts. Then we were told we can print our own invoices, but need pre-printed receipts. Then the accountant told us we can do our own invoices, but he strongly recommends against it (according to him, the government is paranoid and thinks everyone who is freelance is out to cheat the government, and if you print your own invoices, you must be doing something sneaky). When we went to the printer, they were confused as hell, because apparently NOBODY who is an Osek Patur gets invoices printed.

AARRRRGGGHHHH!!!

For someone who has made a pretty good livelihood doing bookkeeping and related services, my frustration level with not being able to get a grip on all this is so high, I've developed a nervous tick that involves loud yelling just at hearing the words "invoice" or "receipt." It's just not acceptable that something so simple should be so confusing and convoluted. I know, I'm in Israel and that is just a ridiculous thing to say here. If something is simple, the Israeli government will find 15 ways to Tuesday to make it as difficult and complicated as possible. To be fair, though, the government is very good at taking already complicated things and making them pretty understandable. Everything in Israel is 'Afuch (upside down).

So meanwhile, my billing is piling up, and the government information is in Hebrew, so I can't teach myself the laws here - never mind the fact that many of the laws are still outdated. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if there are still laws on the books regarding income reporting to the British Mandate Authority!
"When citizens are reporting field profits in the region of Shomron, His Supreme Majesty Sultan Mehmed VI requires one sheep for every ..."
It's not that salaries are lower in Israel, it's just that no one can figure out how the hell to get paid! Tomorrow - a visit to accountant #2. Wish us luck.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Carnival time!

This week's Haveil Havalim, or weekly blog carnival, or more simply a wrap-up of goings-on in the Jewish blogosphere, is up. And we're on it! Click on over to Esser Agaroth to see this week's goodies.

Just note that Morey's blog is "Rock Solid Writing" and I'm not sure why EA put a blog about aliyah under the category of "outside Israel" but hey, we're happy to be included :)

Thursday, October 1, 2009

I'm gonna git you Succah!*

* props to good friend Larry Getzler


Everything's better in Israel. Okay, 99% of everything is better in Israel. Right now, our succah was better in the Old Country (ie, Vancouver).

Let me explain. In Israel, we have a mirpeset (balcony). Based on Jewish law, our mirpeset is a kosher succah (hut-like thing) as soon as we put kosher schach (branch-like covering thing) on top. We bought a bamboo mat that we just roll out on top of our mirpeset. Well, Morey rolls it out, after he climbs up on the roof of the building.



Chick-chock, snip-snap, Bob's yer uncle, we have a kosher succah.

Except. It just looks like our mirpeset, just with a bamboo mat on top.

So we went out and bought cloth walls to hang from the roof of our mirpeset. The cloth walls definitely make it look and feel like a succah, but it's still weird. And it looks a little wonky.

I never thought to take pictures of our succah in Vancouver, although now I wish I had. In Vancouver, we had a backyard, so every year, I'd borrow our neighbour's awesome ladder (g'day Brett!), grab my trusty drill, screws, hammer, nails and 2x4s and build our 8-foot by 8-foot succah. Made out of plywood and lattice, it took me two days to finish.

Then Brett and I would chop down loads of the bamboo that grew wild in our backyards, and Morey and I would carefully lay them across the top of the succah, making our roof. Then I would decorate the inside, starting with the amazing Moroccan lamp that our friend and neighbour Bear (a"h) loaned us.

It was easy to decorate because the walls were wood and lattice, so I could easily get hooks into the walls. Now, we have two stone walls, and two precariously hung cloth walls. It's not so easy to hang things. And the roof of the mirpeset is too high to reach easily without a ladder (and we're without a ladder), so we can't easily hang things from the roof.

I miss our big ol' backyard succah. Tent poles and twine just isn't the same. I miss the leaves and branches hanging down (not too far) through the roof slats. Bamboo mats just don't hang. We're hopeful that someday we'll have a place here in Israel with a yard and we'll be able to truly build a succah once again.

Mind you, it may sound like I'm complaining, but I'm not. I miss our Vancouver succah, but what we gain for the holiday of Succot in Israel far outweighs the deficiencies in our strange little mirpeset succah. Like, for starters, it very rarely rains on Succot here, so we can actually use the darn thing. And we can sit in the succah without a space heater or 5 layers.

And hey, the weird little thing's kinda growing on me.


Wednesday, September 30, 2009

In the Pink

Several years ago, a number of international organizations and companies spearheaded an initiative to raise awareness of breast cancer and generate donations, by selling pink products. One of those companies was KitchenAid. They introduced a line of pink products including a food processor, giving a portion of sales of each item to the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation.

Sadly, my mother's family has been repeatedly afflicted by breast cancer. I've lost two beloved aunts, Sybil and Thelma, and other women in the family have undergone treatment. Alissa's family has also experienced breast cancer firsthand.

It seemed perfectly appropriate then to support this initiative, and so we bought the pink KitchenAid. This began an initiative of our own that we call Pink for Pareve. Having a kosher kitchen meant we already had separate dishes and utensils for meat and dairy, but we didn't have any dedicated pareve (neutral) dishes or appliances. Thus, the KitchenAid became the first of our pink pareve items. Since then we've added a pink frypan, a pink pot, pink plastic bowls, pink cutting boards and even pink towels. It's an easy way to remember which items are pareve; more importantly, they are daily reminders of the scourge of breast cancer and its affect on our family.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. As part of an effort of Estee Lauder Cosmetics, buildings around the world will be lit up in pink light beginning Wednesday at 8:00pm, including Tel Aviv's Sderot Rothschild, and others. Other international buildings to be coloured include the Japan's Tokyo Tower, New Zealand's Sky Tower, the Millennium Memorial in China, the municipality building in Paris and the LA International Airport.

The Israel Cancer Association (ICA), which is organizing the campaign in Israel, reminds all women aged 50 to 70 that they should get a mammogram every two years; high-risk women should begin undergoing screenings earlier. A number of recent genetic studies have found that Ashkenazi Jewish women have a much higher than average probability of carrying a breast cancer-causing genetic defect.

While all women should be aware of the facts of breast cancer, there are several organizations that address the specific needs of Jewish women.

In Israel, for more information, call 1-800-599-995 or see the ICA Web site at www.cancer.org.il.

Jewish women in the United States should contact Sharsheret for information and support.

Canadian Jewish women should contact the L’Chaim Cancer Support Group for Jewish Women in Canada. They have a DVD entitled, “What Every Jewish Woman Should Know About Cancer.” Topics include breast cancer genetics, finding support from Jewish sources, and helping a friend undergoing cancer treatment. For information about L’Chaim or to order the DVD, please call (416) 630-0203.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Thursday, September 17, 2009

A brake for the holidays

Reflecting upon Rosh Hashanah reminded me of an incident that happened many years ago. I was driving my parents to work while their car was in the shop. At the time, they owned a knitting store in a strip mall on Carling Avenue in Ottawa. Carling is a fairly flat street but there was a steep decline before the mall. At the top of the hill, we came to an intersection, and I felt something odd about the brakes as we stopped. Spongy. As we started down the hill I thought to myself, if there's something wrong with the brakes I need to know now and not at the bottom of the hill after we've picked up speed. I slowly started to depress the brakes. My foot went, down, down, down until the brakes were completely depressed to the floor without any affect.

All this time my parents were chatting away, and so without interrupting them, I casually dropped my hand to the emergency brake and started to pull up. I geared down to engine brake, and continued using the handbrake all the way down, into the mall, and up to their store where I finally pulled the brake up all the way and stopped the car. As my mother got out of the backseat, she remarked, "You were going a little fast, I think" but my father, who had been sitting in the passenger seat, leaned toward me and whispered, "Your brakes were completely out, weren't they? Then he smiled and patted me on the back.

Rosh Hashanah feels a little like that trip down the hill to me. I would normally have braked automatically, without even thinking about it. The brake situation forced me to heighten my control of the car and be completely aware of my actions. Likewise, on Rosh Hashanah we are required to truly take responsibility for our actions. We consider our behaviour and repent; we consider our relationships with each other and with God, and commit to improve.

And while many (especially those who don't regularly attend synagogue) are overwhelmed by the quantity of prayer-giving during the High Holidays, this is really a time, in my opinion, when the goal is quality not quantity. Not amplitude but attitude. Not immensity but intensity.

I would go so far as saying that although there are a number of prayers which are considered essential, if you feel that a small dose of high-powered prayer is the best you can do, then go for it. If you're not someone who usually attends services, I sincerely hope you will consider 'stopping by' for a little quality time. Don't worry about ritual or tradition; just make the most of a few moments there, in whatever form that may take (I don't recommend 'speaking in tongues' but you know what I mean.)

I must also say, it's always struck me that both my Father, (z"l) and Grandmother (z"l) were born on Rosh Hashanah, and my Grandfather (z"l) died on Yom Kippur. It is impossible for me to think of the imagery of a book of life being opened and closed during this season without taking it a little personally. I'm sincerely a little uneasy during the High Holidays. Well, maybe that's the point.

Alissa and I wish our family and friends, those we already cherish and those we look forward to meeting, a sweet and healthy New Year. May this be a year of simchas and blessings for everyone.

L'Shana Tova, Ktima v'Chatima Tova!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Tora! Tora! Tora!

One of the many beautiful things about learning at seminary is the opportunity to partake in amazing events. Going to the Kotel (Western Wall) and singing in the darkened holiness. Spending Shabbat with an amazing group of women in Efrat. Not to mention, just learning Torah with amazing teachers and amazing women.

And once in awhile, you merit being a part of a great simcha (celebration) - a Hachnasat Torah, or introduction of a new Torah to a community.

Yesterday afternoon, Nishmat, the seminary where I learn, was blessed to receive not one, but two new Sifrei Torah (kosher Torah scrolls). One came all the way from New York, facilitated by the teacher of our Rabbanit (who has completed the circle by becoming the teacher of the teacher), the other from the neighbourhood synagogue located next to Nishmat.


Nishmat has a policy of including the neighbourhood in everything. Even the Chesed, or volunteer work, that the girls do, takes place in the local area. So of course, the neighbours were invited to the party!


The celebrating took place on the streets of the Pat neighbourhood in Jerusalem, with the mitzvah mobile (in North America, you rent an ice cream truck for a street party, in Israel, you rent a truck that plays simcha music!), balloons, candy, dancing and lots of singing.




Every time a community - synagogue, school, hospitals, whoever - receives a Sefer Torah, it's as if we were at Sinai, receiving the Torah from God all over again (look it up - Moses, mountain, golden calf, 15- no, 10 commandments). We can almost - almost - imagine the joy of our ancestors. We have it better though. We know what we're receiving; our ancestors had no idea yet what a beautiful, powerful gift they had been given.

Lest you think this is something that only the religious people care about, there were so many people in the neighbourhood who came running out of their buildings to kiss the Torahs as they went past, who joined in the festivities, who were excited about dancing with the Torah.


We blocked off streets, preventing the local bus from moving for maybe 5-10 minutes. It was the first time I'd experienced a blocked bus driver not leaning on his horn. The passengers didn't seem to mind; they were all on their feet in the bus, clapping right along.


I had to leave before the girls got their chance to dance with the Torahs once they were safely delivered to the Bet Midrash ("house of learning" or our study hall) of Nishmat. But this is such an important, joyous event, as I was making my way out, tables were quickly being pushed out of the way, instruments were being set up and the room was practically sparking with the urge to celebrate this beautiful event.

I'm sure I missed a heck of a whirl, but what a blessing to be a part of such an amazing experience.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Baruch Dayan Emet

Blessed is the true Judge. This is what traditional Jews say when we hear of the death of someone not related to us.

We say this for a number of reasons. We have no idea why God calls someone back. We can have no way of knowing why one family suffers many losses, while another suffers none.

Baruch Dayan Emet
is what we said when we heard of the death of IAF pilot Assaf Ramon, 20, whose father Illan Ramon died aboard Space Shuttle Columbia six years ago. Yesterday, Ramon's F-16 crashed into the Hebron Hills during dogfight training, some 70 kilometres south of where we live.

Why this promising young pilot, who vowed to follow in his father's footsteps, was killed is known only to God. Why this mother has to face the loss of a son, after facing such a public, tragic loss of her husband is a mystery to us.

But the whole country feels it. This tiny country with its tiny population cried yesterday at the news. It was impossible to completely blink back the tears while listening to the morning news report today. When we lose one, the whole country mourns. When we lose one so tragically, the whole country cries. When we lose a national son, our hearts break for his mother.

When things happen here, it's never too far away. In the same way, there is an immediacy to Israel's history that is impossible to escape. Within minutes of where we live, for example, there are a number of memorials for fallen soldiers from the 1948 War of Independence; including one by the highway which sits next to a wing from an Israeli Spitfire. Along the highway to Jerusalem, the rusted remains of makeshift armoured cars, destroyed as food convoys were trying to reach isolated Jewish neighbourhoods in the city, are gathered together like a congregation of corpses. There are countless battered ruins of Arab villages, stone walls now overgrown with prickly pears and wildflowers. In the larger cities, it's still possible to see bullet and mortar pockmarks in buildings. In places like Sderot, these scars are fresh. This is a wall in Sderot that has just been struck by a Kassam rocket. Don't be fooled by the lack of a destroyed wall. Shrapnel has torn holes in these steel girders. My wife was one block away when it landed.



For these reasons, in this part of the world wars are perceived not as something that happens 'over there' but as something that happens right here. What's interesting is how this reality affects people differently. But for the most part, that sense that the next war will be fought in our own backyards (my apartment has a metal reinforced bomb shelter, and we do regular air raid siren drills) has actually reinforced in people the importance of living life to the fullest. Israelis don't do anything halfway; you do want you want, and you say what you feel. It took us a while to realize that people weren't being rude; they just had much better things to do than engage in idle chatter (please note, discussing politics is not idle chatter). The beaches and parks are always filled with ball-playing teens and picnicking families, enjoying every free moment.

Generally, that sense of immediacy also makes most people hesitant to fight another war. Everyone we know has lost a friend, a son, a father, a brother. I know Israel was criticized after the Gaza mission, but it's also forgotten that the country endured years of rockets before responding - not out of any particular worry about the international reaction, but out of fear of losing any more sons. That hesitation proved costly in 1973, when Syrian and Egyptian forces were able to strike first because the Israeli government didn't act preemptively as it did in 1967.

It also prolonged the war in Lebanon, which should have been fought with massive numbers of ground troops, as it was in 1982. Instead, the war was fought mainly from the air, which saved Israeli lives but gave enemy forces the opportunity to hide in bunkers while civilians, forced to accept rocket launchers next to their homes and schools, were injured and killed. While the military success or failure of the war is still being debated, Israelis recognized the moral failure of this tactic; Israeli lives should have been risked to prevent civilian losses. And so in Gaza, the war was fought almost entirely by ground forces, who coordinated air attacks using laser pointers and other sophisticated devices to prevent civilian losses (which weren't even remotely as high as some claim and paled next to other similar campaigns in places like Sri Lanka, where a reported 6,500 civilians were killed by government forces.)

What is clear is that today's wars aren't fought like those of yesteryear; we no longer send thousands of soldiers to remote places to battle in open fields away from the local population. Since the First World War, we understand that every city street is a potential battlefield. It's unlikely that Canadian or American cities will experience this kind of war, and we can't expect them to understand how it feels to live between battlefields, but the Europeans remember this feeling well, and they're justifiably reluctant to fight more wars in their own cities. No one wants to live with the shadow of war hanging over them. Sadly, we don't always have that option.

Capt. Assaf Ramon, 1989-2009
May his memory be for a blessing.


written by both Morey & Alissa

Friday, September 11, 2009

Stupid, meaningful or just plain old ass-hats?

TIFF. It means spat, or argument. TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) is the subject of a tiff. With filmmakers. Over what?

Films.

TIFF started a new program called City to City, with the intent of featuring films from filmmakers from a chosen city. To kick off this event, they have chosen Tel Aviv. A brave choice, to be sure. But if any city is a great choice to represent different voices, it is Tel Aviv. Secular, religious, gay, straight, eclectic artist, grey-suited businessman, sad slums, beautiful beaches, towering skyscrapers, pretty cottages, Jew, Arab, Tel Aviv has it all. And everyone has an opinion, and everyone voices their opinion. Freely.

John Greyson, Jane Fonda, Danny Glover, David Byrne, Julie Christie, Viggo Mortenson, Harry Belafonte, Naomi Klein, Min Sook Lee, and many others - some recognizable, some not - believe that these opinions should not be heard. They believe the voices of these people should be stifled. In other words, these artists believe that filmmakers in Tel Aviv should be censored, blacklisted. They attest to this in a letter of protest that was sent to TIFF. John Greyson, a respected filmmaker, withdrew his film from TIFF.

Oh, the irony of artists censoring artists.

To its credit, TIFF is standing strong. Cameron Bailey, co-director of TIFF wrote an open letter in response to this protest.
"I was attracted to Tel Aviv as our inaugural city because the films being made there explore and critique the city from many different perspectives....We encourage everyone to see the films, engage in debate and draw their own conclusions."
The artists mentioned above apparently believe that we shouldn't engage in debate. We should just criticise Israel and be done with it. No one should draw any conclusions because obviously, the only conclusion is Israel is bad. Israel oppresses. Yet, if these artists had their way, the only place you'd be able to see the films featured in City to City would be Israel.

Who are the real oppressors here?



If you wish to know who supports City to City, here are some of the names and statements I've been able to find:

Minnie Driver - "Empowered groups of people, deciding whose stories can, and cannot be told, does nothing but remind us of oppression that has no place in filmmaking"
Jon Voight
Saul Rubinek
David Cronenberg - "attempts to stop TIFF's City to City spotlight on Tel Aviv amount to political censorship"
Ivan Reitman - "Any attempt to silence that conversation, to hijack the festival for any political agenda in the end, only serves to silence artistic voices."
Norman Jewison
Robert Lantos - "Their brand of political censorship is at odds with the most cherished values of Canadian society: freedom of expression and freedom of choice...Bigotry like theirs has no place at the Toronto International Film Festival."
edited to add:
Simcha Jacobovici - "(TIFF) has been hijacked by a group of so-called activists bent on furthering their agenda – to demonize Jews and to marginalize Israel, in order to bring about the destruction of the Jewish State. Clearly, they do not support a two state solution. By objecting to a “spotlight” on Tel Aviv they are saying that no place in Israel is legitimate. From their twisted perspective, everything that Israel does is – by definition – illegitimate and everything that the enemies of Israel do is – by definition – legitimate. This is anti-Semitism in its crudest form. Furthermore, they have chosen to align themselves with Gaza’s Hamas regime that stands for terrorism, fundamentalism and totalitarianism. It is a Holocaust denying organization that is against Jews, Christians, gays and women. There is no worse regime in the world and yet Naomi Klein, John Greyson and company have chosen to identify themselves with it. You can tell a person by their friends."

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Tiff - noun: a slight fit of annoyance, bad mood, or the like.

I've updated my blog with a post on this week's controversy over the Toronto International Film Festival. I have no problem with a filmmaker, in this case, John Greyson, pulling his film from TIFF over its decision to salute Tel Aviv. That's his right. But, when artists organize and hold letter-writing campaigns over a festival's artistic decision, I take it personally. As someone who ran a film festival for eight years, I can tell you these decisions are not made lightly, and I commend TIFF and co-director Cameron Bailey for recognizing Tel Aviv as an important cultural centre.

That's not to dismiss the city's political history. But name me a great city that doesn't have baggage. We might as well boycott the Berlin Film Festival over East Germany's treatment of political prisoners during the cold war. That Israel and the Palestinian issue is contentious ground is a given. But the festival should be a catalyst and forum for debate on the subject. Stifling that debate is an act of cowardice by a gang of thugs who cannot argue rationally and must therefore act irrationally. How else would one describe artists promoting artistic censorship? It boggles my mind; it hurts my heart.

More importantly, to accuse TIFF - a festival which has a history of supporting Palestinian filmmakers and screening films highly critical of Israel - of now acting as a propagandist for the Jewish state is just daft. Or deliberately malicious. Either way, I'm sure the irony of promoting the Palestinian cause by accusing a festival of promoting the Israeli case isn't lost on these people.

My blog post is here.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Faraway, So Close!

"Do you want to spend Shabbat with some seminary girls?" she asked.

I should explain. Last week, Alissa began a month of learning for Elul at Nishmat, a women's seminary in Jerusalem. As part of the programme, Nishmat had organized a Shabbaton in Efrat with Rabbi Menachem Schrader and his family. Husbands were invited.

Let me think: Jewish learning. Free food. A tour of Efrat. Seminary girls. I could imagine quite a few yeshiva boys have dreams about weekends like this. Ok, I'm in.

On Friday afternoon, we met up with the group at the school . Of course, as things turned out, I was the only husband other than that of the group leader, and his English is about as good as my Hebrew. But, this would give me a chance to practice conversational Hebrew. The girls seemed friendly and bright, even if I felt a little like a one of the parental chaparones on an overnight High-School excurison.

After loading up our things, we set off by bus to Efrat. After crossing the checkpoint, it was a short drive to Efrat, located in the heart of an area south of Jerusalem called Gush Etzion, situated between Beth Lechem and Hevron. Efrat is relatively small, around 8,000 mainly religious Zionists, and was established in 1980.

It's impossible to visit the region without recognizing the political situation. The West Bank is complicated, to say the least. There had been a perpetual Jewish presence since Biblical times until the illegal Jordanian occupation in 1948 when Jews were expelled - many were killed or injured when the Jordanian army destroyed the Etzion Block - and prohibited from visiting religious sites.

Sadly forgotten by many is the fact that Jews are called "Jews" because they come from Judea, the historic name for this area. This unassailable historical fact was the basis for the Balfour Declaration (1917), endorsed by the San Remo Convention (1920) and the League of Nations (1922), confirming the Jewish people's right to live in the Holy Land, on both sides of the Jordan River. So, according to International law, Jews have every right to buy land and settle in this region.

And so, entering Efrat we feel like we are coming home. There is a visceral familarity to the landscape and the expansive sky, and I dwell upon the words of Moshe to the people Israel, "For the Lord your God is bringing you to a good land: a land with streams of water, of springs and underground water coming forth in valley and mountain; a land of wheat, barley, grape, fig and pomegranate, a land of oil-olive and date-honey; a land where you eat bread without poverty--you will lack nothing there."

We arrive at the home of the Rabbi and immediately the process of assigning billets begins. The Rebbetzin and Rabbi have decided to send the girls to homes based on dietary restrictions: vegans to this home, vegetarians who eat fish to these people, omnivores who can't eat nuts...you get the idea. I turn to the Rabbi and say, "I eat EVERYTHING!" (In truth, Alissa prefers not to eat meat but she's far more accomodating than me). He says, "Well, there's the Bogners."

"Huh? David and Zahava Bogner?"

"Oh, do you know them?"

"We know of them. And we've commented on each other's blogs."

"Well, they're just down the street." And once we had the address, we were off to the home of Bogners, known by many as 'Chez Treppenwitz.'

If you want to know what happened next, you can read here.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

While we're writing letters

Dear World:

Your compassion for the Arabs in assisting them to obtain one more state is noted. While you're protesting, writing slanderous articles promoting blood-libels, boycotting our professors (but not our useful products), calling us murderers and Nazis, would you mind taking a few minutes to help a young man?

He was kidnapped over 3 years ago, at the age of 19. He is being held hostage by a group identified by the US as being a terrorist organization. His family has been allowed no contact. This terrorist organization has refused to allow the Red Cross to visit the hostage, in full contravention of the Geneva Convention. The terrorists have offered no terms to release this hostage. His family has no idea if he is even still alive.

His name is Gilad Shalit. His birthday is on Friday. He was kidnapped when the terrorists snuck into Israel through a tunnel. He is a hostage because he is a Jew.


Dear World, please spare a minute of your indignation for this young man. Demand that the Red Cross be allowed to visit him. Demand that his family be allowed to visit him. Demand that he be released. Today.

Bring Gilad Shalit home.

Tweet4Shalit
#giladshalit

Monday, August 24, 2009

Here's how it's gonna go down


Dear US State Department:

We have Uncle Sam. We will not release him until you change your policy towards Israel and realize we are not the bad guys. We are good guys who have our slip-ups, just like everyone else.

We will snip off one star at a time until you accede to our demands.

Sincerely,
The People of Israel

Monday, August 10, 2009

Climbing the language barrier

Living in Israel as a non-fluent Hebrew speaker has really made me appreciate how difficult it must have been for all the non-English speaking immigrants to America. I'm being specific about the US, because I think Canada is far more tolerant of ESL immigrants than the US is.

At least in Israel, there is such a large English speaking population, that you can easily find someone who speaks English to help you find an address, a post office, explain your water bill (if you can find ANYBODY who could explain the water bill), etc. We constantly "complain" that when we do try to speak Hebrew, the person we are talking to - bank teller, supermarket cashier, cellphone service - usually says, "it's okay, you can speak English." We have to argue with them, saying we need to practice our Hebrew. Eventually, we compromise: we speak Hebrew, they speak English.

In one community I lived in back in the US, there was a significant number of immigrants from Guatemala. Hardly anyone in my town spoke Spanish, and these people didn't speak English. Typically, they found construction jobs, or housekeeping work. But a few were able to get jobs in other areas, including our local Burger King. I remember our receptionist stomping into the office one morning, because when she went to the drive-thru at the Burger King to get coffee (they had very good coffee), the Guatemalan girl working the drive-thru didn't understand "milk" and "cream" and our receptionist had to settle for the wrong thing. She was ranting about people "coming to our country and not knowing the language."

I felt for the drive-thru girl. I thought how scary it must be to be in a new country and not know the language, and to most likely, be far away from her family and friends. But I also thought, why doesn't she learn English? So many people speak it, it must be easy enough to learn.

I have a different respect for her now. Yes, enough people here speak English that I can get by for now, but this past Friday, the Health Ministry found E.Coli in our water. They issued a boil-water alert, and the City posted a notice to boil all water used for eating, drinking, and brushing teeth. Now, first of all, they issued the warning on Shabbat and came up with some lame excuse that they didn't want to disturb Shabbat, so they posted flyers outside of synagogues and called "some people." We didn't go to services that day, so we missed the flyer.

But the main issue is, the flyers were only in Hebrew. The notice on the City's website was only in Hebrew. The article on the news website was only in Hebrew. If it weren't for our English language email list, I never would have known about the water situation, and Morey, Maimo and I would have been merrily drinking tainted water. Fortunately, on Shabbat, we drink a lot of coffee and tea, which was from water boiled in our urn. But anyway...

I was reassured however, that in the event of war, the government issues all warnings and alerts in English as well as Hebrew.

Good to know/טוב לדעת

Thursday, August 6, 2009

ac/dc

No, we're not talking Angus here. We're talking air. Cold, cold air.

When I lived in New York, and we had hot, sticky, humid summers where you felt like you walked into a wall of water and were about to suffocate when you stepped outside, I hated air conditioning. Air conditioning was dry and stuffy. And smelled funny. And usually either didn't work well enough, or worked so well, you needed 3 sweaters just to stave off the chills.

I much preferred open windows. Even on very hot days. Open the windows and let the breeze blow. I would acquiesce on very hot nights and put the a/c on, but it had to be really really hot. And I rarely ran the a/c in my car. In fact, one of my cars didn't even have a/c, much to the shock and horror of my family.

In Vancouver, of course, it was only ever hot enough to think about air conditioning two weeks out of the year. Except apparently, this year. Vancouver was hit with a heat wave that made it hotter than Tel Aviv. Felt for them, we did.

Here in Israel? It's a completely different story. I heart my a/c. We couldn't live without it. People plan their synagogue community around which synagogue has a/c. We'd have our a/c on 24/7 if we could afford it. As it is, we have it timed to come on for an hour, every two hours, during the night or we'd never be able to sleep. The a/c is on in the car nearly every time we're in the car. People go to the mall or grocery stores just for the air conditioning. We love our a/c.

Except. Israelis love a/c a little too much. We keep our temp set at 27*. Yes, I know, most of you are scratching your heads saying, "27? That's not cold." It is when it's normally 35 outside. (And yes, we appreciate the irony of thinking that 23 was warm when we lived in Vancouver.) However, most stores and offices keep their temperatures set at a balmy "meat locker" setting. When I had pneumonia last month and had to keep going to the doctor, I was literally shivering from chills - unrelated to my fever - when I got into his office.

This makes it just that much harder to go back outside. Because 35 is bloody hot. 35 feels pretty darn hellish when you're coming out of an air conditioned building. But 35 feels like you've stepped into the middle of a raging inferno when you come out of an iceberg.

We know nothing of moderation here. We're an all or nothing kind of people.


*27 celsius = 80 fahrenheit
35 celsius = 95 fahrenheit
Yes, we do frequently get temps higher than 35.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Safety in numbers

From the moment we announced we were making aliyah, we have been asked, "aren't you scared? Isn't it dangerous?" Morey likes to point out that in a period of 4 months, there were 14 murders in Vancouver as a result of gang activity. Drive-by shootings, shootings in restaurants, etc., and the majority of the victims were innocent bystanders who just happened to have picked the wrong place to eat that night.

Israel has a ridiculously low homicide rate. But I know what they're referring to, of course - the "situation" over here. Even with the "situation", it's still safer to be in Israel than most other places. Thank God, things are relatively quiet right now, but even during the Gaza war, we felt safe.

However it has occurred to me that while being in Israel is safe, Israel is dangerous to me. Since I have lived here, I have
  • torn my achilles' tendon
  • fallen and sprained my wrist and ribs and banged up my knee
  • strained my knee (fun is realizing you can't put weight on your knee going downhill and you're at the Acropolis.)
  • broken my toe
  • had more colds than I can count
  • had the flu
  • had pneumonia (which I am, thank God, finally starting to get over)
I've been here a year.

This is definitely taking the cholim hadashim* tradition a little too far. But I can certainly attest to the efficiency of Israel's medical system.

Please God, next year Israel should be a little safer for me.



* New immigrants are called olim (immigrants) chadashim (new). Sick people are called cholim. Since exposure to new germs and stresses causes most olim to get sick quite frequently during the few year or two, new immigrants are jokingly referred to as cholim chadashim

Friday, July 10, 2009

Happy anniversary

Dear Israel,
One year ago today, you promised to take me in your arms and keep me safe. You promised to give me a home like no other. You promised me the freedom to be myself.

I promised to love you, and be on your side, and defend you. I promised to do my part to contribute to our relationship, and provide strength and sustenance.

You've lived up to your promises. You've given me a beautiful home, shared your wonderful friends with me, given me great opportunities, let me explore your beautiful nature. Yes, I know you're not perfect - you can blow very hot sometimes, and that's no fun for either of us. But that's okay, I promised to take the good with the bad, knowing there really isn't that much bad.

You never promised me that it would be easy with you, but you've made it much easier than I expected. You've supported me so much this first year, helping me adjust to our new life together.

Your family has welcomed me with open arms, not seeing me as someone from somewhere else, but as new family - just another person to love and embrace. Which leaves me so inspired to embrace family members even newer than I.

You've taken me to the beach, to the snow-capped mountain, to the desert and to your beautiful, ancient hills. You keep sharing your tremendous treasures with me - every day is a new discovery.

There are so many sides to you, even after decades, I could never discover them all. You can be stubborn and stiff-necked. You can sometimes make bad judgements. You can sometimes succumb to temptation and give in to corruption and hate. But this is a small part of you; your capacity to hold and love everyone is amazing.

Thank you for being there for me. Thank you for living up to your promises. I hope I can live up to mine.

Happy one year anniversary. I do love you.

Monday, July 6, 2009

And we thought Israel was quirky

Having just purchased a new (to us), 12 year old car (I can smell the freedom already), I was naturally curious when I received an email with "Autos" in the subject line. This email was in Spanish, so I knew it didn't really pertain to me, and against my better spam judgement, I opened it.*

My grade-8 Spanish wasn't up to the task, so I plugged the email into Google translate and got the basic information. "We would like to give you a quote on your insurance, so please tell what year, brand and version of your car, if you have air conditioning, if it is standard or automatic..."

All pretty standard stuff. Then I got to the last line, which I double-checked myself to be sure: "if you have burned coconuts"

I assumed they used gas in Mexico, just like us. Apparently you have the option to burn coconuts. It's probably much cheaper.


*I actually wasn't too worried, because for some reason, my email address is pretty commonly mistyped in Spanish. I frequently get real emails addressed to various people. I've tried contacting the sender to fix the problem, but language is an issue, and usually, they insist they have the right email. See? There really is a "lost in cyber-space."

Thursday, June 4, 2009

But I WANT to give you money!

I'm an honest person. I download tv shows to watch online, but if there is a movie I want to keep, or an album I want, I buy them. Especially so if the album is by an independent artist. I even downloaded an album from a website, that didn't require payment in advance. I listened to the album, really enjoyed it, decided to keep it, and went back and paid for it. I never received an acknowledgement from the not-known-outside-his-local-bar-scene artist, but that's a different rant altogether.

Today I came across an album that I wanted to download. I went through the whole payment procedure, came to "billing address" and started filling in my Israeli information. I selected "Israel" from the drop-down menu for country. Everytime I hit enter, up came an error message stating that my zip code didn't match my state.

Fine. I finally sent an email to Amazon and got this response:
At this time music downloads are only available to customers using a credit or debit card issued by a U.S. bank with a U.S. billing address...You also must be physically located in the U.S. at the time of purchase.
Well, okey dokey then. I understand distribution rights and whatnot, so I'm not too surprised by that. But please explain to me why they would have a drop-down menu with numerous countries listed if you can only be in one country?

A global world demands global accessability, but no one will let me buy this CD. If it were an independent artist, I would download it from a torrent, and send the artist a cheque. In this case, it's not, there's nowhere to send a cheque to. So sadly, the simple fact of living b'aretz, in the Land, means I shall have to find another *cough* means of *cough* accessing this CD.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Bang head here

When I was in the process of immigrating to Canada, I followed quite a few online forums about Canadian immigration. There were frequently jokes made about how if you called the immigration office multiple times with the same question, you would get a different answer every time. Except we weren't really laughing, because it was true. A number of us tested the information line, and never got the same information twice.

I'm thankful for that preparation, because despite having a fairly easy time with the bureaucracy here, we still occasionally experience some serious head-banging frustrations. Case in point:

We are leaving the country (we're not going far, just to Greece. Ha! Greece is "not far"!!) prior to having been in Israel for one year. That means we have to get a special travel document, a Teudat Ma'avar. Fortunately, a T"M is easily obtained at our local Misrad HaPnim office.

Um. "easily"

We went to the office, and were told we need a picture of each of us. Okay, that we already have from our original aliyah process. We go home, but have to come back another time with the pictures, because, like most government offices, banks and post offices here in Israel, they close for the afternoon.

So we come back another time with our pictures. While we're trying to figure out from which category to take our number, an employee comes out to help (for you Canadians, think of the Air Canada employee who wanders the terminals looking to direct passengers to the self-service machines). She informs us we need TWO pictures each. Now I'm really frustrated, because we have two pictures each, but I only brought one of each, because we were told we only needed one, but why didn't I just bring the others just in case and it's not like they're heavy or anything, they're only photos for cryin' out loud.

Anyhooooo.

Because the office is only open two afternoons a week, and I have ulpan (Hebrew school) in the morning, we are limited as to when we can go. So we went today, not realizing that today is not one of the two afternoons a week that the office is open, only to be told by the very helpful (different) lady there that because it's now less than 3 weeks until our trip, we have to go to the city of Ramle to get our Teudat Ma'avar. It seems the office in Modi'in is just a satellite office that sends everything to Ramle to be processed. This apparently adds over a week to the actual processing time, so we wouldn't get our T"M back in time for the trip.

So now we have to figure out how to get to Ramle, where the office is in Ramle, when they're open, and I get to miss another day of ulpan.

Funny: after I explained to the woman why I was about to collapse in a puddle of tears, I listed off all the things we need for the T"M and asked, "that's definitely IT, right? We don't need anything else?" She said, "ומחייך*." Smiles.

Guess she's dealt with olim before.

* I have been corrected; apparently I misheard. Smiles is חיוכים (chiyuchim). Thanks C!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Reframing perspective

Israel is a strange place.

For the last, well, since nearly forever, in the Middle East there have been some Arabs who have used various means to kill Israelis. Really Jews, but since these particular people don't seem to care who dies along with the Jews, I'll say Israelis.

They have used suicide bombers to blow up buses, pizza joints and coffee shops. We put up checkpoints to inspect cars and people to keep explosives from getting into the country. They found ways to sneak in around the checkpoints. So we put up a security fence to force them through the checkpoints. They enter schools and private homes to shoot and kill children and women. We put security guards at kindergardens. Everything they try, we find a way to block them; they just come up with another method.

The last few years have seen the weapon of choice change from one of preparation to one of convenience. And what's more convenient than a bulldozer when you're working on one of the many construction sites throughout Jerusalem? The first bulldozer attack killed a number of people, and would have killed more if not for so many Israelis being, unfortunately, prepared for anything. There have been two more attacks that were defined as terror attacks, and one, in Modi'in, that was shrugged off as a disgruntled worker.

So today, I was travelling on a bus in Jerusalem. We were stopped at the traffic light on Jaffa Street at Mahane Yehuda, the shuk, or marketplace. There is construction running the length of Jaffa, due to the new rail line being built, so there are fences and cement barricades and traffic jams all over the place. While we were stopped at the light, a breaker bulldozer started up next to us, and next to the large crowd entering Mahane Yehuda. As the bulldozer started moving, there was a collective intake of breath on the bus and a tangible tension in the air. The majority of people who were watching were all thinking the same thing: will the driver use his machine for construction, or destruction?

We watched as he swung the arm around, into the crowd of people gathered around the entrance to the shuk. Next to me, I heard my older seatmate start murmuring, "oy" and sucking in her breath. The arm came down - so close to the people - and, like a mother's hand directing her child out of the way, gently moved a cement barrier further into the work zone to widen the pathway for the pedestrians.

The light changed, and the collective release of deeply held breath nearly got lost in the bus sounds. The nervous chuckles had turned into regular bus chatter by the time we neared the hospital, where we got stuck behind an ambulance being searched for explosives before the crew could transport their patient to emergency. This, no one on the bus paid attention to.

"Normal" takes on a whole new meaning in Israel.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Date Night in Israel

Morey wrote a blogpost about our first movie date in Israel. Okay, so it's actually about the new Star Trek movie, but there's a little bit in there about our first Israeli movie-going experience.
Before I say a few words about the new Star Trek film, and you know I must, I need to describe going to the screening, our first 'movie date' in Israel. Israel is a modern country, and that applies to its movie cinemas. The experience was all very familiar, but just different enough to be memorable.

Boldly go... and read.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Roll with it

One of the many quirks of Israeli advertising - aside from the eye blistering overuse of colour, blinking graphics, STARS! EVERYWHERE! and ensuring not a smidge of white space remains to give the brain a second's rest - is the door delivery.

By that I mean, every day we come home to find something new on a door. Usually it's an advertising magnet. Israelis love magnets. Most newer Israeli apartments have metal doors, which, as a result of Israelis' love of magnets, are usually decorated with said magnets. Forget seeing the actual colour of your 'fridge. We have magnets for everything, including the health care branches. Repair guys, pizza, taxis, even the kid down the street who dogwalks.

Occasionally we come home to knob hangers. Flyers hanging off our doorknobs, advertising everything and anything (in eye blistering colours, STARS!, boxes, and every font that comes with Word).

But today, today, we had a really useful advertisement outside our door. A lovely little box with a picture of a puppy on it. Inside the box? A brand new roll of toilet paper. How handy!

Except... I can't figure how it's supposed to stick to the fridge.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Day of Cows invasion*

* or, "they tried to kill us, they failed, let's eat."

In the United States there is Memorial Day. Ostensibly to honour our fallen soldiers, it has turned into the "official start of summer", the day to barbecue, the day the pools open, etc. Somewhere along the line, the "memorial" part of the day has been forgotten.

In Israel, we have Memorial Day (Yom HaZikaron), immediately followed by Independence Day (Yom HaAzma'ut). Yom HaZikaron, as I mentioned in my previous post, is a somber day. Even the boys' school where we have Ulpan, there was a ceremony honouring the fallen soldiers. Some of the boys had lost brothers and fathers; it was hard to see these normally boisterious, obnoxious, inconsiderate boys sobbing in the arms of their teachers and classmates. It was even harder to look around the room and wonder which of these boys was going to become a picture on the screen someday.

We mourn, we cry, we remember. Then we say "enough." Enough crying, enough pity, enough sadness.

במותם ציווי לנו את החיים
(basically, "By their deaths, they order us to live")

At the end of the day of Yom HaZikaron, we hand over the sadness to celebration, to Yom HaAtzma'ut. Benji Lovett of What War Zone says Yom HaAtzma'ut means, "go to a park and eat a cow." He's not far off. But before you barbecue, you party! In Modi'in, one of the parks was taken over by a stage, kiosks, popcorn stands, inflatable hammers (it's a thing), glowing necklaces, noisemakers - I felt like I was at a mini-Lallapalooza! We went to our friends' Dena and Moishe, whose mirpeset overlooks the park, giving us a bird's eye view of the whole event. The featured acts of the evening were Rita, one of Israel's most famous singers, and of course, meat.

The thing to understand about Yom HaAtzma'ut: it's all about the barbecue. Whatever can go on the BarB, does. Wherever you can fit a BarB, you do. The day of YhA (I'm tired of writing all that out), we went to my sister's in Jerusalem. Her husband stood behind the grill nearly the entire time cooking:

Goose breast
Chicken (both regular and tandoori)
Steak
Veal sausage
Chourizo sausage
hotdogs
hamburger

I've never seen so much meat in one place at one time.

To get to their house, we had to drive down Ben Tzvi, which is a major thoroughfare running alongside a large park, Gan Sacher. At one point, while marvelling at all the cars parked hither and yon - anywhere there was space - I thought there was a fire. A huge cloud of black smoke was billowing across the road. As we got closer, I realized the smoke was the result of about thirty bajillion barbecues all fired up at once. Seriously, Yom HaAzma'ut is the barbecue holiday. It sucks to be a vegetarian on YhA (although I was extremely impressed at the veggies a vegetarian friend of Pamela's brought to the barbecue! Impressed, and grateful).

After all that meat - and not being a big meat-eater, I limited myself - words cannot express how relieved I was that when we went to friends in Rana'ana for dinner on Thursday, they served fish!

What a way to experience our first Yom HaZikaron and Yom HaAzma'ut in Israel. It was momentous. And I just can't think of a better way to honour and celebrate our fallen soldiers than by first, remembering them and thanking them, and then full-on enjoying the lives they protect and the land they defend to the absolute maximum.

Monday, April 27, 2009

One minute for a lifetime

Here in Israel, Yom HaZikaron - Memorial Day - takes on special meaning. When nearly everyone has served in the Israel Defence Force (IDF), when nearly everyone knows someone who has died defending this Land, when nearly everyone knows, or is related to, someone who has died as a result of attacks on our country, observing a minute of silence in the evening, and two during the day is a small offering nearly everyone is willing to give.

Tonight I experienced my first Yom HaZikaron for Israel's fallen soldiers. I've watched the videos on YouTube many times of how people rise to their feet and stop what they are doing. How cars come to a stop on the roads, and drivers get out and stand by their open doors. Tonight, as I stood in my window, listening for the siren, I watched as car after car pulled over, anticipating. As I stood listening to the sirens in my town, in the next town, in the town after that, it occurred to me that I wasn't watching the cars on a video, I was standing with them, honouring my soldiers, my fallen, my country.

As compared to Memorial Day in the US, the music on the radio is somber, the restaurants are closed, there are speeches and songs and events commemorating the fallen. It's a sober event, not a celebratory one. But in true Jewish fashion, after remembering and honouring, we then celebrate on Yom HaAzma'ut. But we'll discuss that later.

Right now - may their memory be for a blessing.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Hello, hello birdie!

Two of these were in our backyard on Shabbat.


*picture from Wikipedia

"Backyard" being the field across from our house. And of course, since it was Shabbat, we couldn't take pictures. Instead, we stood mesmerised at the window for nearly an hour, watching the two enormous White Storks strut around the field. One took off and started circling the field, moving further away with each circle. We could not get over the wingspan of this bird. Seriously, it was huge.

Then Morey took Maimo for a walk and went down to the field. He didn't get close to the remaining bird, but from that vantage, he could definitely confirm the size of it. Huge! We watched the circling bird until we couldn't see it anymore, which because it was so large, was a long time. Then we watched the other one meandering around until we couldn't put off kiddush any longer.

Click on the link above to read about them. Their migration is interesting, and we were lucky enough to be in their path. Not knowing anything about birds, we Googled some images and thought maybe we had seen an albatross. After emailing Israbirding.com, we were corrected. The Albatross is an exclusive water bird. Neither of us has ever really been interested in bird watching, but we have so many beautiful birds here, that may have to change!

Friday, April 17, 2009

There's just no English word for it

Tiyul. It can mean a hike, but more often it means a particular type of trip that involves visiting a place or places. Usually a day trip, sometimes an overnighter. Always within Israel. The closest equivalent I can think of is if you live in New Jersey, and your cousin from Scottsdale, Arizona is visiting and you can take him or her on a trip to New York City to see the Statue of Liberty. That's a tiyul. Or, you live in New York and you and a bunch of friends drive to Central Jersey to go to Six Flags Great Adventure. That's also a tiyul.

For our most recent tiyul, we went to the desert. First stop, Sde Boker (home to David Ben Gurion, first Prime Minister of Israel) and Ein Ovdat National Park (home to Ben Gurion's grave) and walked to the waterfall. We had a wonderful guide, but wound up doing a lot of standing around to listen to him speak. I don't enjoy standing around, but the information was interesting. The area is beautiful. We only had time to do one route, though.

Then we went to Chan HaShayarot where we listened to a real Bedouin (that's what he said) give a very short speech about the Bedouin way of life. It's a tourist site, so it's not a real Bedouin tent, and he gives the same shpiel a few hundred times a day, but he was funny and it was interesting. I think I would like to visit a Bedouin family in their home to get the real story. The cool part was when he described the coffee routine and how it relates to hospitality. Making coffee for a visitor is very important, right down to how you pour the cup. Apparently, the polite way is to fill the cup about a third. If you want to send the message that the guest is not welcome, you fill the cup all the way. The Bedouin would send a call out to alert travellers that there was hospitality by grinding coffee.



Click here to see a particularly fancy coffee grinder. The drumming sound is made by knocking the pestle on the bottom and sides of the container.

This was followed by a camel "ride." The ride itself was a bit silly; we went from where we got on to a half kilometre away (if that) and back. It wasn't a trail, we didn't go anywhere, and the field that we walked to was literally covered with broken glass - bottle remains with bottoms facing up - and rusted tin cans. I jokingly said it looked like the remains of target practice, and then I noticed the holes in the tin cans. I know camels have hard feet, but still, it can't be comfortable trekking over shards of glass with 300 or more pounds on your back.

It also wasn't very comfortable for me, because my saddle was cracked through the middle and dug into my thighs. I also didn't like seeing the camel in the corral who hadn't been trained yet. Because camels are pack animals and what one does, they all do, a camel who hasn't been trained yet will take off after the convoy, so they keep it shackled by the front ankles. It can only take little shuffling steps. And to eat or drink, it has to get down on its knees. This is probably more humane than some trainers who hit their camels, but still, it doesn't look pleasant. I'm probably totally projecting, but the camel actually looked (and acted) lonely.

If I ever go on another camel ride, it will be to go somewhere.

On the other hand, the jeep ride through the desert was a blast! I truly love the desert and seeing it from trails was amazing. It's still a national park, and the trails are controlled (and well used), but it's nothing you'd enjoy from just driving the highways.

I would love to rent a 4-wheel drive (oh, the irony of having had a 4wd in Vancouver. Trust me, it got used on the logging roads, but still...) and cruise through the desert by myself, without the constraints of a tour (by "by myself" I mean with Morey, of course, but he's afraid of scorpions) and camp overnight. There are tons of ruins in the desert, some set up for tourists, some just there, that I would love to explore.

This wasn't the best organized tour I've been on, or one that made the best use of the time available, but I am so grateful that Nefesh b'Nefesh, the city of Modi'in, AACI and so many other organizations make these trips available to new olim. We've gone to places I just wouldn't think to go to, or gone to places we normally couldn't afford. I can't wait for the next trip.