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Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Canadian doctor Tarek Loubani shot near Gaza: A Canadian in Israel responds

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You know what this blog post was going to be about?  Volunteers.  And about how Israel doesn't appreciate volunteers who come here from places like United States and Canada. 

It’s an important topic, right?  Too bad that’s not what I ended up writing about.

Volunteers are people of all faiths and all ages who don't have to come here, and who work for organizations like Sar-El (which places volunteers on military bases), on farms, in schools, all over the country.  They must contribute millions of dollars to the Israeli economy, which is absolutely fabulous.

I was talking someone a couple of weeks ago who had been here volunteering on farms for two months, and she started telling me about how she and the others were forced to work half a day on Yom HaAtzmaut, while the farm's owner slept in, then lounged around the house with friends and family (later, the volunteers were invited to join the BBQ -- once they were done work).  She noted that the paid migrant workers weren't in the fields... probably because it's illegal to make them work on a national holiday.

Volunteers can work whenever they want, I guess.

That made me mad, and I also, somewhat guiltily, realized that my daughter has had a volunteer from the U.S. teaching English in her school this entire year and I hadn't even met her, let alone thanked her (she's been working one-on-one with some of the native English speakers), until someone invited her to our Lag Ba'omer BBQ.  So I felt bad that she's been in the country so long and probably barely acknowledged by the community, and finally, belatedly, invited her over.

Like I said, that's what this blog post was going to be about. 

Because seriously, with the feeling towards Israel in North America these days, it's not at all obvious that someone would come here to volunteer, paying their own airfare and often also paying to volunteer, just so they can show up and be ignored at best and their goodwill abused at worst.  Israelis probably see volunteers as "freyers," suckers who are easily conned and therefore aren't worth very much.

File:Flickr - Israel Defense Forces - Sar-El Volunteers at Lebanon Border (4).jpgFile:Austrian Volunteers in Ein Hashofet July 19731.JPGimageimage

(All freyers????  L-R: Sar-El volunteers 2012 photo © IDF via Wikimedia; Austrian Kibbutz volunteers 1978 photo © Robert Schediwy via Wikimedia; American volunteers at Masada meeting George W. Bush 2008 © White House via U.S. National Archives; Farm volunteer © WWOOF Israel)

I wanted to write about that because I was mad.  But then…

Then I saw something that made me even madder, and also -- I found out about people who abuse their volunteers even more than Israel does:  Gaza.  Or rather, Hamas, its quasi-elected dictatorship.

Gaza has had a humanitarian crisis over the last few years due to its leadership's terrorist policies.  Hamas is a government that's in power on a one-plank platform: eliminate Israel.  Once elected in 2006, they dismantled electoral operations so nobody could un-elect them and proceeded to take money out of children's and families' pockets and dedicate it to building terror tunnels and rockets with which to bombard nearby Israelis.

Hamas may be many things, but they're not stupid.  So in addition to these operations, they have poured a ton of work into the PR battle for the hearts and minds of the world.  It's a humanitarian crisis, they weep to the world, which is absolutely, 100% true.  And then, they point to Israel.  That's the whole PR thing: point to the crisis, point to Israel.  Repeat until hearts bleed and journalists cry.  It doesn't take much to make journalists cry, especially if there are pictures of children.

But courting NGOs and liberal media outlets is easy, hardly a challenge anymore.  Like I said, they cry easily.

So if I was in charge of the Hamas PR machine, then the thing that I would want most of all, more than anything else in the world, is a Canadian. 

The world loves nobody more than a Canadian.

To the world, Canadians are innocent, naive, the ultimate freyers, really.

Yup, that’s what would head up my wish list: A nice Canadian frayer, a volunteer who could

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Nine (9) things I wouldn't have to tell a Canadian neighbour

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I get alarmed sometimes, living in Israel.  There truly are moments when I just look around and realize we’re living somewhere utterly foreign, and I ask myself what we think we’re doing here, when it is so, so painfully clear that we don’t belong… such as when we have less-than-pleasant encounters with various neighbours in our building.  Sheesh.

This is a neighbourhood full of “characters,” and sometimes it’s fun and you can laugh it off.  But sometimes, you just want to cry and wish everybody could be Canadian, so you wouldn’t have to fill them in on the basics, such as…

1. Turn off your music -- it's 2 a.m. and I'm trying to sleep.

Israelis are sometimes strange about noise.  I have a personal theory that because it's such a small country, and you really can't get away from other people, they don't even bother trying.  There are no boundaries.  "If I feel like listening to music, then you feel like listening to music," is pretty much how many Israelis feel about their tunes. 

Also, this particular neighbour is a weird, too-thin skittish little guy who you just figure has got to be on a pile of something addictive, though obviously, we have no proof.  His behaviour has been pathological in the past. 

The fun part is him trying to convince us that this is what Israel is like, and if we don't like it, we should go back to Canada, where people are quiet and polite.  Which brings back memories of calling the police on inconsiderate neighbours in a few different situations... and, yes, of having them called on a party I held at one point.

But I think one difference is that this guy doesn't care, he'll just turn it right back on after the cops leave, just to show me he can.

2. That's not music, it's cats yowling.

I may not be the best candidate to move to the Middle East.  Some people really enjoy "Mizrachi" music, the swirling, wailing sound of notes that go up and down seemingly at random.  Then again, some people like chummus, which tastes like dirt paste.  Okay, to be honest, everybody here likes chummus—with a passion.  Except me.

I want to show up outside this neighbour’s door at 7 a.m. with

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Do you know how to protect yourself on Jerusalem’s sidewalks?

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This is actually more of a public service announcement than a blog post.  Know what the biggest threat is to pedestrians in Jerusalem?  From what I’ve learned this week it definitely isn’t terrorism… it’s slippery sidewalks.

Yup, those fabulous shining stone walkways that make Jerusalem look so lovely for so much of the year… are apparently (almost literally) deadly.

If you’ve ever walked through the Old City at night in the rain, you probably figured that already.  But maybe, like me, you thought you were the only one.  Nope, nope, nope.  If you’ve ever stopped yourself from running for a bus in our nation’s capital because you were scared you’d slip and fall and break your neck… it turns out you’re not alone.

Except some people aren’t just afraid of falling.  They’ve actually fallen, and maybe not suffered

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Weird, wacky, wonderful (Hebrew) words: לְהִתגַעגֵעַ / To Miss

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When you move to Israel, there’s inevitably going to be stuff you miss: people, places, things. So it’s important to be able to talk about missing stuff in Hebrew. On the oral part of the ulpan exam, that was one of the things they asked us about: how we’re getting used to life in Israel.

In English, we talk about missing stuff all the time. When I say “missing,” I mean the feeling of longing when you’re not around.

What do we mean when we talk about MISSING?

We do have other types of “miss” in English, more than one, in fact, like...

  • Missing a train, which is לְפַסְפֵּס / le’faspeis in Hebrew, lo aleinu (we should never know such sorrow).
  • Or missing out, לְהַחמִיץ / le’hachmitz, as in the FOMO (fear of missing out) when all your family back in Toronto is going to see The Book of Mormon while I’m stuck here in Israel going to see some two-bit circus (you may recognize the root of this word from the word chametz at the seder... it also means when something ferments, or goes sour, meaning you’ve missed the best-before date).
  • Or missing the mark, לְהַחטִיא / le’hachtiy, as in a blog post which promises to talk about one thing and then goes on and on about all kinds of irrelevant homonyms.
  • There’s even the kind of missing where you’re just about to make challah late, late, late on a Thursday night and discover that you’re missing flour – לַחסוֹר / la’chsor, meaning “to lack.” (You can also use it as in: חסר לי הקמח / chaser li hakemach / “I’m missing the flour”.) This is the kind of missing that is sometimes translated as “want,” as in, “for want of a point, this blog post was lost.”

Ahem.

But none of those is what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about missing your mother, your sisters, your son in Toronto—they don’t call, they don’t write (except when they do, but I’m practicing to be a bubby someday), and some weeks we are reduced to merely clicking Like on each others’ things to remember that we are all out in the world somewhere.

In English, the word “to miss” is nicely transitive, meaning you can’t just miss, in the same way you can’t say, “I love” or “I admire.” You have to miss something; you miss somebody.

Hebrew has that word too, fortunately. Unfortunately, it’s a silly word. A word you might not be able to say without giggling, and which in fact sounds a heck of a lot LIKE giggling when you say it. Here it is: לְהִתגַעגֵעַ / le’hitgageya.

(What? I put it in the headline so the surprise was ruined? Drat, drat, drat... my

Monday, January 29, 2018

Seasons Change: Dreaming of Spring in Israel

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Moving to Israel, everybody told us, I’d have to give up on spring – there are no seasons here. I wish I didn’t love spring so much – it’s such a cliché – but how could I not? The smell of rain clinging to everything in sight, the soft bounce of the dirt underfoot. Mud everywhere, but also life.

I only learned to love the seasons when I started gardening in our last home, a tiny Toronto bungalow with an equally tiny lot.

The backyard was a mix of sand and shade – a gardener’s nightmare where only ants could play. Grass refused to grow, though many attempts had been made over the years.

But over the eight years we lived there, with the help of two compost piles and countless experiments with hardy native species (and countless hours weeding out perennial sunflowers), things improved, slowly.

I knew it was getting better when I spotted snails. Though many gardeners are horrified at the thought of snails, chomping up pretty hosta leaves and oozing slime trails, I took them as a compliment. Where there are snails, there is moisture and decay. And where there is moisture and decay, there is life.

My backyard had come to life.

When we moved to Israel in August of 2013, it was more of a nightmare than a season. Back in Toronto, it was also the full heat of the summer, but there was hope of fall, and the ripening of tomatoes to console us from the heat, or what we called heat.

In Toronto, the heat isn’t an enemy. It doesn’t leap on your chest and keep you down for two months, three months, four. It doesn’t make you stop, panting, for water, every block on the way to the grocery store. It doesn’t make you duck into banks just to enjoy the air conditioning. It doesn’t make the kids cry as you weave drunkenly down the sidewalk, in and out of every patch of shade. It goes away at night and lets you sleep, or at least sit on the porch with a glass of wine.

Here, it was hot. And it wasn’t summer as I knew it. Nothing was growing – well, nasty-looking succulent plants with bulbous, waxy leaves, or spikes, or unattractive protuberances. Lizards skittered in the dappled light beneath trees. When lizards are happy to play in the shade, it’s truly a hot day.

But one day, well into what I used to think of as fall, it rained. Just a little – the random specks they call teef-toof. But then it happened again, and another evening, I had to buy the kids umbrellas. The rain had stopped by the time we got out of the store, but everyone around us knew – winter was on its way.

And suddenly, suddenly, the world came alive.

Another day, a sandy front yard I passed every day on our way to my son’s kindergarten was full of green stubble – grass! The next, all the bushes, it seemed, had new, pale-green leaves; a few, here and there. The ground was awakening at last.

Now, months later, we’re nearing the end of winter. We haven’t had enough rain, everybody agrees, but all is green and lovely. Cool breezes blow through the window, citrus trees exuberantly flaunt their colourful baubles: lemons, oranges, kumquats.

It turns out there are seasons in Israel, just not the ones I’m used to. Every Israeli knows them intimately.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

New Book Trailer: I is for Israel - An ABC of Peace

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I wrote a new book about Israel!  It’s a little different from some of what I’ve written before – it’s a rhyming book about peace and coexistence called I is for Israel, which I wrote in response to a book that just came to my attention recently called P is for Palestine.  Rest assured – my book is better. :-)

I invite you to watch (and maybe even like!) this trailer:

I kind of vowed that this trailer would be one of the first things I’d get around to doing once the wedding was over and done with.  To find out more about the amazing process of creating this book, please see this post on my other blog.

Or – just check out the book itself!




Tzivia / צִיבְיָה


Sunday, November 5, 2017

Unseens: How NOT TO learn English in Israel

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If you're a native English speaker, you've probably never heard of unseens.  I sure hadn't.  But if you are coming here with school-aged kids, you’d better find out quickly, because sooner or later, you’re going to have unseens in your life, too.

The first year I was volunteering to teach English in our local public library, my first kid sat across from me and said we needed to practice unseens.

Now, at this point, I barely understood Hebrew, so I had absolutely no idea what word he was saying.

"What?" I asked.
"Ansinz."  Like it was obvious.
"What?" Me again, in full idiot mode with this fifteen-year-old boy.
"Ensigns."  Now that sounded like an English word... but nothing at all that I could connect with learning the language.

I seem to recall that he had a book with him and at some point, he decided it was easier just to SHOW me what he meant by pulling out the book.

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(See?  Unseens! What’s so hard to understand about that???)

Thus, I was introduced to the word of unseens, otherwise known as, "the way most Israelis learn English."
Otherwise known as, "the reason most Israelis don't speak or understand English."

It's true: I believe that unseens MAY be the single biggest obstacle between Israeli schoolchildren, who generally spend ten years learning English, and the mastery of the English language.  The only reason I say MAY is because the biggest might be English teachers who are afraid to speak English because they don’t know it well enough.

I mention this here – I actually wasn’t sure which blog to post this to because my other blog, Adventures in Mamaland has far more education-related posts – because a lot of English speaking olim wonder how it is that kids here spend ten years ostensibly learning English, and in many parts of the country, STILL come away knowing virtually nothing and unable to carry on even a basic conversation in English.

The Israeli Ministry of Education has recently called for something like 6,000 new English teachers.  Some friends of mine, native English speakers, are actually doing a free upgrading program this year that lets olim turn almost any Bachelor’s degree into a teaching certificate.  The Ministry is emphasizing fluency in spoken English as a goal for grads, which is fantastic.

In the meantime, what they have is unseens.

So what are unseens?

In the early grades, kids learn English the way

Google