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Saturday, March 25, 2017

Is there such a thing as “Palestinians”? (um, yes?)


I already know people are going to get mad when they see a headline like this.

Hard-line Israel supporters might say I’m questioning things that should not be questioned.
Meanwhile, liberal non-Israelis will say it’s an idiotic question – so long as someone defines himself or herself as “Palestinian,” that’s what they are.

(The liberal world is very into self-definition these days.  I always have been, too.  My philosophy has generally been that for the tricky stuff, we can let Hashem decide.  Baruch Hashem, I don’t have to be in charge of the universe.)

The problem with this is that a big piece of the argument for the State of Israel these days seems to be “there’s no such thing as Palestinians.  They just made it up.”

There are so many good memes I could raid to demonstrate this attitude.  Here are just a few:

Image result for no such thing as palestine

Image result for no such thing as palestine

(okay, same quote, two different memes)

Image result for no such thing as palestine

Even the Arabs agree (or at least a couple of Arabs):

Image result for no such thing as palestine

Image result for no such thing as palestine

Image result for no such thing as palestine

Image result for no such thing as palestine

Some of these memes rely on the idea that not only are there no Palestinians, but that Arabs are some kind of Johnny-come-latelies to the region…

Image result for no such thing as palestine

Be that as it may.

(Here comes the part lots of folks don’t want to hear.)

Be that as it may.

Because I’m not touching any of these memes.  For all I know, they may be right.  In fact, I believe some are right.

The power of illusion

That doesn’t change the fact that today, for all intents and purposes, Palestinians do EXIST.

Why?  Because of the power of illusions. 

Friday, March 24, 2017

Quit apologizing–you’re Israeli now! (Or are you?)


If you’re a person who apologizes, you may find yourself in a distinct minority here in Israel.

Now, me, I’m Canadian.  Apologizing is one of the things we do best.

Here’s proof:

Two days before we left Canada, I was in the grocery store getting some last-minute things to bring with us, and I was pushing my cart down the HUGE, wide aisle, and another woman was coming the other way down the HUGE, wide aisle.  I passed her with my cart and she passed me with her cart, and there was lots of room to spare on both sides.  And as we passed each other, I apologized AND she apologized, at exactly the same moment.


For being close to each other's spaces.  It's hilarious, but it's also true.  We feel very uncomfortable when we are anywhere near other human beings.  In Canada, there's about 1/4 of a square km for every person, while in Israel (I just checked!) - there's 0.0026982436083974 of a square km.

We also don't want to cause anyone a moment's discomfort. 

On our aliyah flight we switched seats in the middle of the night and the flight attendant was confused in the morning, so I apologized - and she said, "You're Israeli now.  Stop apologizing!"

In Israel it's very warm and very close, which is sometimes good and sometimes bad.  Nobody apologizes for anything.

It is a good thing sometimes, to not be too apologetic.  As a nation, Israel sometimes needs to stand up for what it believes in and not let anybody convince us otherwise.  I noticed this bumper sticker on the wall of the bus station in Jerusalem this morning.


It says:  “Israel:  Trust in Hashem, and not in America.”  Sometimes, Israel is so busy apologizing to America, or at least, trying to look nice for the Americans, that it loses sight of its own values.

The only problem with trusting in Hashem is that none of us have a direct hotline to Hashem, which means that sometimes Israelis make mistakes and don’t apologize.  Either way, I guess, is a problem – too much apologizing, or not enough.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Things that are weird in Israel #17: Bread, bread, everywhere.


This picture is sadly pretty typical for our neighbourhood.   There is bread on the ground, on sewer covers, almost literally everywhere.


Luckily, I knew about this before I came to Israel.  According to halacha, you’re not supposed to throw away useable bread – which is defined as anything bigger than a kezayis (olive-sized piece) worth.  (This may apply to other food as well.)

What this means, in practice, is that all over Israel, instead of throwing away bread, people leave it out (as seen here), or leave it in plastic bags, hanging from recycle bins, dumpsters, and other public spots while the contents get moldy, slimy, and disgusting.

Ostensibly, if it’s laid out like this, then people are feeding animals (presumably birds?) with it, rather than wasting it.  But the birds here are kind of picky, and judging from the mold on these rolls, not all that interested in everybody’s cast-off crusts.

I believe it’s a very good thing to think of bread as something special, as something holy, even.  We should put in time and effort to make it.  We should make it as healthy and delicious as possible, and savour it while we’re eating it.  Bread is absolutely one of the holy things.  Mahatma Gandhi said “There are people in the world so hungry that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.”

But you know what’s holier than bread?  Israel.


Sunday, March 5, 2017

The occupation of the eucalyptus


What’s with all these trees?

One of the first things you’ll see when you come to Israel is that there are trees everywhere. Gradually, it may dawn on you that many seem to be the same kind of tree – the shaggy dog of Israeli horticulture, the eucalyptus tree. And like the iconic sabra cactus, these trees, too, are originally strangers here: imported foreigners, imposters making themselves at home on the desert landscape.

Their Hebrew name is אקליפטוס/ekalyptus. I think in Latin they’re eucalyptus camaldulensis, or Red River Gum, but I could be wrong, because there are something like 800 kinds of eucalyptus out there. These are not the round-leaved, fragrant trees of Australian legend, although they were originally an Australian import, planted by JNF a century ago for a country which desperately needed trees.

Our eucalyptus have long, pointy leaves. The trees hang out everywhere in scraggly bunches, gangly and overgrown: outside of train stations, in parks, gardens, neglected lots. Their bark is scruffy, sloughy, slipping off here and there in patches that make the trees look nothing if not mangy. And they’ll thrive just about anywhere, which is why they are here in the first place.

Over the last century or so since it first arrived, the eucalyptus has become an iconic foreigner here - so much so that one of the best-known Israeli folksongs, written by the First Lady of Israeli song Naomi Shemer, is called "The Eucalyptus Grove" (clip here).

For Israelis, the eucalyptus has come to represent permanence and homecoming after millennia of exile. As the folksong’s chorus goes,

Yet the Banks beside the Jordan,
it’s like nothing has changed,
You’ll find the same old silence:
the scenery’s still the same:
The grove of Eucalyptus,
the bridge and the old barge,
And scent of salty air upon the water. (lyrics link

For those who are inclined to political correctness, there is probably much to be read into this thriving occupation of an invasive non-native species, as represented by the eucalyptus.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Explaining Israel: What the heck is going on here???


Do you know how to explain “the situation” in Israel if you had to?

If so, good for you.  I mean it.  I couldn’t – up until very recently.

Maybe you’re a keen Israel advocate, but I never have been.  I mean, I liked Israel, I thought in some vague and Biblically-informed way that we had a right and indeed a halachic obligation to be here.  But if you’d asked me about specifics, I would have been mighty short on details.

Which was why I was surprised when a friend sent me a link the other day to a typical article, at the BBC website, with the headline, “Israel postpones vote on new Jerusalem settlement homes.”  And she asked for my “take” on the situation.

The surprising part – to me, at least – is that I actually DO have a “take” now.  That’s strange because I’m not a “politics” person.  Never have been.  I avoid news if I can help it at all, and perhaps articles like this, shallow and lazy, are one reason why.  But when I sat down to share my views, I realized I needed to share a whole lot more by way of background. 

So I started to type, and this is what I got…

The Truth About Israel and the Middle East

I actually thought the situation in the Middle East would all become a whole lot clearer “on the ground,” you know; once we lived in Israel it would all make sense. I laugh now at how naïve that belief was.

Still, at least I do know some things, and I do have a “take,” for what it’s worth.


First of all…

Nobody wants to build where anyone lives, but it's a small country and we're all very close together. As Harper said when he was here, it is surprising (and probably feels very wrong) that Ramallah, capital of the Palestinian Authority (PA) region, is less than half an hour from Jerusalem. So things get a little squishy sometimes.


Second of all…

None of this has anything to do with Arabs who live in the non-disputed borders of Israel, squishy as it is. They are full Israeli citizens and enjoy – on paper and in many cases in reality, though I will admit that the reality isn’t 100% where our dreams are – full rights and privileges of citizenship, including health care and the right to celebrate the end of Ramadan in front of me in line at McDonald’s in our local mall so we have to wander around looking for seats and muttering, “what kind of Jewish country is this…” only because we are so obviously in the minority here in the North.

That’s not what the media mean when they say “Palestinians.” What they mean are the cousins of those Arab Israelis who live under the authority of the PA, formerly known as the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), the terrorist organization.

For a while, they were considered “peace partners”

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Top 5 non-touristy things to do with your mother in Israel


My mother left last week after a too-short 2-week visit before which she insisted that all she really wanted to do was “take the grandchildren to school.”  Fair enough.  It can’t have been easy coming back to Israel after the vacation of a lifetime she spent here with my father 9 years ago.  Basically, she didn’t want to do anything touristy… so we didn’t.

Instead, here are five of the activities I enjoyed most during her visit:

1. Haifa – why not?

I think this was the first full day my mother was here, and it was basically a “Why not?” inspiration.

My mother had spent about a week in Haifa on her trip with my father, so she was already familiar with the city, unlike 95% of tourists, and actually liked it… unlike me.  Okay, yes, I technically live in Haifa, but I’m kind of ambivalent about the city.  But we were sitting home one morning, it was a sunny day, and the shuk is literally one bus ride away.

So there was practically nothing to lose.

Oh, the other reason was that I’m crocheting a blanket and I needed a ball of yarn to match one I already had because otherwise I would have run out mid-project.  And there’s a yarn store I go to quite close to the shuk. So off we went, hopping on the bus and paying our 10 shekels or so for the pleasure.

The yarn store was actually a minor hit – nothing like the fancy stuff my mother buys, but it was mundanely familiar and she bought a little stitch-counter accessory for another 10 shekels.  Down the street was a store selling socks that actually go over the knee, which I desperately needed, and we each picked up a couple of pairs. 

(Though I confused my mother by asking the shop lady for “tights,” and she said they didn’t have “tights,” and my mother kept insisting they had tights right over there, until eventually I had to explain that “tights” in Hebrew isn’t the same as tights in English.  In Hebrew, it means leggings or bicycle shorts, depending on the length.)

While downtown, I also introduced her to Cofix and the pleasure of 5-shekel coffee, which we took with us to the shuk. 

And the shuk, as it turned out, was more charming than I’d remembered. 

I hadn’t been in over a year because I avoided it during shemittah – most of the vendors are Arab and I wasn’t sure about the produce there.  Also, all the citrus stuff was in season and every single vendor was offering samples.  I think my mother managed to eat the equivalent of about 5 oranges, just from samples.  I bought some small stuff, including local garlic, because more and more stores are just carrying the stuff in nets that comes from China, for no good reason that I can tell.

The best part was that with a short walk out of the shuk, we were back on the same bus, headed home, and inside of 25 minutes, we were here lounging on the sofa.

Or, perhaps the best part for you reading this, is that there are NO pictures.  I brought my phone, but it remained a phone for the entire time.  In Haifa, I guess, I’m not really a tourist at all.

2. Get your mother lost in Akko


This one was another “why not?”

Definitely not for everybody, but it’s super-close to here, so I figured it would be nice for a sunny-day wander through the Old City.  Unlike Jerusalem’s Old City, it’s easy to get to and on a weekday morning, there was plenty of parking (don’t try that on Shabbat, as I understand that Israelis from all over the country travel up there for hummus and more). 

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Does terror in Europe mean the world has gone mad?


Does terror in Europe mean the world has gone mad?

Not unless you’re blaming the victims.  And you’re not doing that… or are you?

OK, sorry; probably you are.

Others have said this more eloquently than I, but I can’t sit silently snoozing through what I’m seeing. Here is just one of many memes going around Facebook last week.


Source: Twitter

The commentary seems to be of the opinion – and yes, people have actually said this – “The world has gone mad.”

Here’s just a random sampling – these all came up when I searched Google for “Aleppo, Zurich, Berlin,” and I don’t know any of these people personally.


That’s a whole lot of solidarity.  So why does everybody seem to think the world has gone mad?

Because terror has left its nice cozy boundaries.

Where are those boundaries?  Well, you know, the dangerous places, where presumably, it belongs.

I think we all do this to some extent.

Since 9/11 the world has experienced the same thing, to varying degrees, in just about every country I can think of. The Hype cachere incident in France was just one of a number of attacks around the world that stood out. For me and those I know, the 2014 incident in the parliament buildings in Ottawa struck home since the person who did it was a convert to Islam and could have been anybody’s neighbour. Then there was the attack in Nice earlier this year.

(Okay, I have to share the following tasteless meme…)