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Thursday, October 12, 2017

Tin-can dancing – Sefardi Simchat Torah style

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Some epiphanies come later in life than others, or are only possible in Israel, when you realize that not everybody is Ashkenazi like you are.  One question I heard years ago about Simchas Torah has been echoing in my mind every year, ever since: why is it called “Simchas Torah”? 

(And, yes, in my head it’s still simchas Torah, with a ת/“sav” at the end of the word.  Pronounce it however you like when you read!)

A lot of people lazily refer to the day, when they refer to it in English at all, as “Rejoicing with the Torah,” but you probably suspect this isn’t correct if you know anything about the grammar of possession in HebrewWikipedia translates it as “Rejoicing of/[with the] Torah,” which I like because therein is the answer. 

The name of the holiday is rejoicing not WITH the Torah, but OF the Torah.  Once a year, the Torah rejoices and we, Am Yisrael, are its arms, its legs, its voice in song.

Why have I been thinking about this this year in particular?  Well, if you’re Ashkenazi, like I am, this picture is probably pretty close to what you think of when you think of dancing with a Torah:

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(Skverer Rebbe photo credit Arit126 via Wikipedia)

This kind of Torah is like a baby, easy to dance with.  Just smoosh it flat against your chest and off you go, bobbling lightly and sedately around the shul.

But it turns out that we Ashkenazim are the only ones

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Things that are cool in Israel #11: Milk Bags (& their awesomely smart holders!)

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What???  Four years in Israel and only 10 things are cool?  Impossible!

(And yes, shocking but true; another aliyahversary has passed, marking another year for us living in this amazing Holy Land!)

So here we are with a long-belated #11 – something we’ve been enjoying since our first few days here: milk in bags.

Now, as Canadians, milk bags and their cute rectangular plastic holders were not new to us as they are for many olim from the U.S. and elsewhere.  Coast to coast in Canada, walk into any supermarket and you’ll see a huge display of them:

Image result for canada milk

Photo © Alex Dawson via Wikimedia

So I grew up using milk bags, both loving and hating them.  They’re very handy to keep around, they don’t hog space in your fridge, you can pop them in the freezer if you bought too many.  But on the other hand… when you need to open them, you have to run around looking for a pair of scissors.

(So much so that in 1979, a Toronto inventor created the “Snippit,” a little device that hangs on the freezer and cuts milk bags open.)

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(photo credit © Tangibles, the Snippit company)

But no need for a Snippit in Israel!

Here in Israel, there isn’t

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Starting a small business in Israel? Learn from my mistakes!

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Did you come to Israel – or are you planning to come to Israel – hoping hoping to start a small business?  Good for you!  I really mean it.  Israel is the Startup Nation.  It’s a land of opportunity.  It’s the place where you can make many of your dreams come true in amazing ways you never even dreamed of back where you came from.

As long as you’re careful.

For all the opportunities here in Israel, it’s also… (shh) a very bureaucratic place.  And you have to stay on top of the bureaucracy because, unlike in certain larger and more anonymous countries I could name, where you can owe the tax people money for years with absolutely zero consequences, neglecting some of the bureaucracy here in Israel can have serious repercussions.

How do I know?

Um, let’s just say… I’ve learned this the hard way.   Not the extremely hard way, which probably involves jail time.  But the kind of hard way, which involves having your bank accounts frozen and threatening letters from various government agencies.

Setting yourself up as a small business here is actually super-easy.  There are three basic steps, and I’ve found that Rifka Lebowitz’s guide is terrific in terms of explaining these in detail:

  1. Register your business for Ma’am (Value Added Tax = VAT):  There are two kinds of businesses, which mostly depends on how much income they bring in, and for both types, you need to open a “tik” (file) – tax-exempt (osek patur) and tax-paying (osek murshe) with the VAT office.
  2. Register for income tax:  True, they’re both taxes.  But the VAT people don’t talk to the income tax people and vice versa.  So you have to tell the income tax people you’re a business now.  And then they will hound you forever after (see Tip #1) until you close your business tik, which is very easy to do if you’re no longer running your business.
  3. Register with Bituach Leumi:  This is a socialized country You no longer have an employer paying your national insurance, and most importantly, your health insurance to your kupat cholim (HMO, healthcare provider network) – so this is your responsibility now as an independent business person.

In general, skipping one of these steps is a recipe for disaster – so don’t do it.

Here are three mistakes I made along the way through this simple process that I hope you can learn from instead of having to untangle on the other side.  Any tips here are NOT a substitute for a good accountant.  If you think your needs are at all complex, please consult a real tax advisor (not just a blog, for heaven’s sake!) before you take any steps you may regret.

Mistake #1 – Tax ≠ Tax

Sounds like a no-brainer, right?  Except I was lulled into complacency because when you come here, everybody says

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

When NOT to come on your Israel pilot trip…

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I never thought I’d be saying this.  Keep in mind:  I’m not saying don’t come at all!  A pilot trip is one of the best investments you can make in your own aliyah!  Please come visit before you move here. 

But what I’m saying is… think before you plan.  Be nice to those of us hosting and welcoming you to our communities.  Pretty please?

Why mention this now?

We’re in the middle of the last week of school, and also, I suppose, the start of the aliyah season, because we have several pilot-trip families converging on KShmu over the next couple of weeks.  Which is terrific – I’m always so, so,  happy to show off our community if I can.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Comparing healthcare systems–Israel vs Canada

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I got a great question from a reader today – I love hearing back from you! – and I thought I’d share it once I was done writing back.  The reader asked, based on my experience with healthcare in Canada and Israel, how I’d compare the two.

It’s actually something I haven’t put a lot of thought into.

As Canadians, socialized health care wasn't such a big transition for us.  American friends have had a variety of reactions, from giddiness that they wouldn’t go bankrupt trying to stay healthy to… well, I don’t think I’ve heard of any who really had a hard time adjusting, so I don’t know what the worst-case scenario is.  I suppose for people coming from the U.S., there may be longer waits and more of a “socialized” feel to things here, if that makes any sense.  But most, as I said, are far too delighted that the safety net exists here to worry about the nitpicky details.

Also, full disclosure:  baruch Hashem (ptoo, ptoo, ptoo!), we haven't had to have a lot of contact with the healthcare system.  However, although we’ve had no major health problems, we have all seen a variety of specialists, done the basic urgent care visit for little-kid stitches, non-emergency hospital visit, and routine health things as well.  Mostly, if it has been harder here, it is because of difficulties with the language, not the system.

A few particulars that I’ve found are different here:

  • Israel is more complicated in terms of choosing a kupat cholim (healthcare plan) and package. 

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

How you know I’m still Canadian after all these (almost 4) years…

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How do I know I’m still Canadian, even after almost 4 years in Israel?

Well, for one thing, the big Canadian flag in my front window – genuine, no doubt made in China, purchased last week at Dollarama.  (Full disclosure: I bought the JUMBO size, not SUPER JUMBO, so it’s smaller than the Israeli flag we just took down after Yom Yerushalayim…)

(This is my actual flag pictured above – not some cheesy stock photo.  You can tell it’s my flag because it’s held up with a clothespin – see top-left of photo.)

For another thing, the small Canadian flag in one of the front planters.

For a third thing, we’re flying to Canada at some unspecified point this summer, iy”h.  (Or, as everyone says here, be”h.)

For a fourth thing… well, we just are.  It’s just our culture.

In what way?  Well, here are two examples.

Canadian in the mall

Last summer

Friday, May 26, 2017

To have and to hold: The tricky talk of owning in Hebrew

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Are you having a good day?  Do you have a cold?  Did you have a nice time?

I’ve said a million times that English is a lazy language compared to Hebrew, and here’s yet another way it’s true.  In English we have this awesome verb “to have,” which we use for almost everything.  We even use it to help other verbs:  “Had I known you had it, I would have chosen hot chocolate!”

But guess what?

This word is completely, 100%, missing from the Hebrew language.  In other words:  it has no has.  When I’m teaching, this is one of the most difficult things to get across – why kids need to be able to conjugate “to have” in English when it doesn’t exist at all, as a concept, in their native language…

But instead of “to have,” Hebrew has numerous different forms that you use depending on what, exactly, you want to say about you and the thing you own.  Here are just a few.  Well, okay… six.

Six Awesome Ways to Talk About Having in Hebrew

1. Yesh! – “There is”

This is the classic.  Back in Hebrew school, I learned the way around this:  “yesh.”  Yesh has two meanings:  to possess or to indicate. 

To Indicate:  you can indicate an object by saying, יש עיפרון על השולחן / yesh iparon al ha shulchan and it means “there’s a pencil on the table.”  Basic stuff (and hey, I’m not a grammar guru, so if there’s a better word than “indicate,” just let me know politely!). 

To Possess:  You can also say יש לי עיפרון / , yesh li iparon, which literally means “there is to me a pencil,” but basically means, “I have a pencil.”  Only without saying have.  The pronoun here conjugates nicely, so you can give anyone you like a pencil (thanks very much!):  יש לנו עיפרון / yesh lanu iparon / “there is to us a pencil” = we have a pencil.

So far so good.  For an English speaker, it takes a little thinking, because in English, all you have to do is figure out the simple pronoun (I, you, we, etc.) and then add HAVE, whereas in Hebrew, you need to conjugate (li, lecha, lach, lanu, etc.).

So that’s yesh, and it takes care of having – kind of.

2. Shel + Suffixes – “Of”

But what if you want to say you OWN something?  “We have a car.  The car belongs to us.”

Hebrew school taught me the easy way to do this –  האוטו שלי / ha-oto sheli / “The car is mine”.  But it doesn’t mean belonging.  This form is far more passive.  The car just sits there and “BE”s mine.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

What is Yom Yerushalayim, and why do we need it?

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What are you up to this week???  Here in Israel, we’re still celebrating.  It’s like one non-stop party at this time of year, which was so bland back when we lived in Canada.  And this time, it’s one of the strangest holidays of all: Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day). 

This is it – the Big 5-0, and the city is all geared up with so many different kinds of celebration.  Every school in the country, pretty much, is organizing tiyulim to the Holy City, and the place is mobbed with the usual tourists plus some.

I was there, with my son’s school.  We had a great time, but it was a heartbreaking time as well, and here is why:  Jerusalem is so far from being perfect it’s not funny.  Jerusalem is so far from being perfect that I could cry.

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At the seder each year, we sing, לשנה הבאה בירושלים / leshana haba’ah bi’Yerushalayim – “Next Year in Jerusalem.”  We sing this even if we are lucky enough to be in Jerusalem, because the last word is הבנויה / habnuya – Rebuilt. 

The Jerusalem that we have is a miracle.  It is a beautiful, busy, living, crazy balagan of a city and I love it.   I love the fact that the country just turned 69 years old, and its capital is only 50 – this shows that you can’t take even a capital city for granted here, since we had to do without it for 19 years.

Yes, a miracle indeed. 

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(photo credit: IDF via Wikimedia)

The Jerusalem we have today is truly many things… but it is not yet rebuilt.

This year, we’re celebrating 50 years since the liberation of Jerusalem from Jordanian hands, putting it in Jewish control for the first time in thousands of years.  But walking the streets of Jerusalem, the city does not yet feel free.

Driving past the Damascus Gate (Shaar Shechem), the Palestinian Bus Station, the police standing guard across from Givat Hatachmoshet, the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa, the scars, mostly invisible, that have been inflicted on this city and its people since it was liberated… well, these things are more than heartbreaking.  They are like a slap in the face when everybody’s coming to celebrate.

But this is the reality.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Did you forget to call us on our special day? (Please call!)

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It’s not too late, in case you were thinking of picking up the phone.  You’ve still got a few more days.

What?  You weren’t??  Why not???

If you’d normally call someone on their birthday or anniversary, why not call all your Israeli friends and family on Yom HaAtzmaut and/or Yom Yerushalayim?

Go on, pick up the phone.  It’s easy, cheaper than ever; it only takes a few minutes, and means so, so much.

Usually when I speak to family back home in Canada around these special events, which always fall between Pesach and Shavuos, and I mention a holiday, they usually say something like, “Oh, yeah… it’s, um, is it Lag Baomer?”  (Which, to be fair, it sometimes is and sometimes isn’t.)

And they’re absolutely right to be ignorant about what’s going on here.  You really don’t feel Yom HaAtzmaut or Yom Yerushalayim outside of Israel unless you’re immersed in a tremendously Zionist context where people are going to extremes to deck the halls.  That “Oh, yeah,” reaction – well, I don’t blame them.  If you’re just going about your life, it’s a little much to expect you to remember a minor, modern holiday in a country far away.

And yet… every year, I wake up on March 1st knowing it’s my sister’s birthday.  There’s no sign of it in the weather, in the air, posters on the walls, sales in the malls, or fireworks anywhere I go.  (I picked this sister deliberately, and not my mother, who was born on Bastille Day, the French national holiday, or my other sister, who was born on Valentine’s Day…)

And because it’s my sister’s birthday, I think about her, plan a gift (okay, I don’t always get around to sending one – I’m not the BEST sister!), send her some kind of e-greeting, make a phone call.  I sort of think about her all day, and the amazing things she does that I never could.  It’s her special day.

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(See?  Very special!)

Now, you’ll probably admit that we’re not limited to ONE special day per year per person.  People also phone loved ones on their anniversaries, Mother’s Day, graduations, and other special occasions, so this isn’t limited to birthdays at all.

So why not extend the love to include, oh, an Independence Day (or two)?

Monday, May 1, 2017

Things that are weird in Israel #18:What’s with all the HAMMERS? (Yom HaAtzmaut Edition!)

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If this is a hammer, it must be… Yom HaAtzmaut!  Yes, it’s time for our country’s national Hammer Day celebration, the day when children young and old head out at night to buy huge inflatable HAMMERS.

Great, big, blow-up hammers in all sizes, shapes, and colours… okay, just kidding.  Not ALL colours.  Just blue and white.  Blue and white hammers to proclaim freedom throughout the land.  Everywhere you go, kids are bopping one another with these things.  Am I missing something???

Now, I have never seen giant inflatable hammers for other occasions, but I figured it couldn’t be a unique Israeli thing, so I went and Googled other holidays.

I started with the obvious:  “Fourth July hammer.”  Let’s see how the Americans do it.

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Not with hammers, apparently.  Okay, there IS one inflatable in this batch:

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Getting even more specific, I tried “fourth july hammers inflatable.”  I figured this one couldn’t miss.

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A little more on the money, but really… this is a disappointingly generic lot.  Is “Bang, Bang, Bang, High Striker” the message you want to ring out loud and clear on YOUR Independence Day??

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Being a proud and patriotic Canadian – we’re turning 150 this July 1st! - I figured that if independence and hammers were a natural pairing, Googling ““canada day” hammer” would be sure to find something.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Israel NGOs: Riding tigers down the road to hell

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A stabber got loose in Tel Aviv this week.  An 18-year-old man ran amok and stabbed some people and thank God, nobody died, but please don't think that's the point and the incident is over now because nobody died.  Four people were wounded, which is important to remember, but there's an even bigger lesson to be learned here.

The man - 18 is a man, I guess, technically - was a Palestinian man.  He was brought to Tel Aviv.  He was brought there by an NGO called "Natural Peace Tours," which honestly, I would have sworn was a made up name, it's so hokey.  It was their mission, apparently, to bring Palestinians to Israel for what this article calls "grassroots negotiations."

Grassroots negotiations?

First of all, let's be very clear:  "grassroots negotiations" is nothing, because anyone "grassroots" isn't in a position to either offer anything or give anything in return.  So through this NGO, let's face it, you're not negotiating.  At best, you're having coffee with someone, and that's very nice, I support that, but maybe - just  maybe - they could have thought about whether it was safe to do what they were doing.

Image result for tel aviv stabbing ngo

(“grassroots negotiation” in action)

When I mentioned this incident to a dear friend who lives outside of Israel, complaining about starry-eyed and idiotic NGOs, she said that at least they mean well.  Which I am absolutely sure they do.

But to be honest: I have less patience these days with people who mean well. 

The moral high road to hell

I always used to think the expression "The road to hell is paved with good intentions" meant that people were innocently trying their best and somehow missing the mark.  I thought it meant that nice people who had good intentions were sometimes ineffectual.  But how could you really blame them?  After all, they're NICE people.  And they mean well.

What I believe these days about the expression is different. 

Friday, April 21, 2017

And now for something (a little) different…

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One reasons I haven’t been blogging so much lately is that I went back to school last year to finally start working my way towards a master’s degree.  This winter, I did a course in Creative Nonfiction, and for the final project, I was supposed to write a narrative essay informed by the techniques of creative nonfiction, as a genre, as well as by graduate-level research into a subject of interest.

So I thought: “What could be more interesting than Israel?”  Obviously!

I have been sharing some thoughts here all along about the idea of politics, and what it means to get political when it comes to the situation here on the ground, and I figured I’d pull it all together into a sort of story of a nice Canadian who is reluctant to deal with politics but who has been forced to due to living in Israel.

If you’ve been reading here for a while, you’ll know that politics is not what I do naturally, or best. 

So much so, perhaps, that when I tried to write a serious post on Palestinian identity, one person nastily took it upon him/herself (I’m guessing HIMSELF, for some reason) to comment, “Better to stick with tips on a successful Aliyah than playing the political game.” 

Like I said,

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

5 failproof ways to enjoy chol hamoed in Israel

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If there's a downside to living in a Jewish country, it may be the fact that everybody celebrates the same holidays.  That means everyone is on vacation at the same time.  Which means, in turn, that every attraction, every highway, every bus route and train line, is going to be jam-packed if you're heading to the most popular destinations - and even some unpopular ones.

This Pesach was our (hmm...) eighth chol hamoed living in Israel (Sukkos / Pesach year 5774, Sukkos / Pesach 5775, Sukkos / Pesach 5776, Sukkos / Pesach 5777 - omg, I can't believe it.)

Our very first chol hamoed (Sukkos 5774), we headed to Yerushalayim, little suspecting that everybody else in the country had the exact same idea.  Public transportation in Yerushalayim isn't entirely reliable at the best of times, and this was NOT the best of times.  We spent a large chunk of the day stuck in traffic.  Very frustrating!

I'm not saying Jerusalem is out of the picture.  But based on our experience and some others over the years (!), I've come up with a few rules for planning chol hamoed activities with the least possible stress.

Here are five tips that will help you sail through chol hamoed with the greatest of ease:

1. Book ahead

Lots of attractions here let you pre-book a specific time slot.  We did that for a few activities this chol hamoed, including the Dialogue in the Dark exhibit at the Israel Children’s Museum in Holon, a jumping / bouncy castle attraction (also in Holon, we made a day of it), a local trampoline place, and the movie theatre.   Last year, I also bought tickets to a play at the Haifa Children’s Theatre Festival.  During previous chol hamoeds, we’ve done various circus things.  There are always choices like this, which allow you to plan ahead.

The movie theatre is a great example.  Sure, they charge something trivial like 5 shekels extra to pre-book, but you get to pick not only your movie time but also your seats.  Yet the throngs at the box office bely the fact that this is 2017 and such a thing as the Internet even exists.  People show up and then act surprised that there are so many other people; they get into the theatre and act surprised that the good seats are already taken.  Plan a good surprise – prebook and you can waltz right in anytime.  We had to kick people out of our seats, but I tell myself they could have booked online, too.

2. Show up on time

Monday, April 17, 2017

British media: Covering up murder, as usual

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It’s tragic when anyone dies in a terror attack.  But last week’s murder by a Palestinian attacker of a British student in Jerusalem provides an opportunity to view the “local angle” – the British take on what exactly happened.

We all know the truth isn’t pretty – at least, until the British start telling it.  These three media reports are typical in that they sidestep the truth, leaving huge gaps when talking about who exactly committed the murder.

First, we have The Guardian:

Headline:  “Jerusalem stabbing: British student, 20, killed close to Old City”

Paragraph 1:  “British victim of a fatal stabbing”  (who did it?)

Paragraph 2:  “killed on Friday” (by whom?)

Paragraph 3:  “The attack, which police said involved a Palestinian assailant with a history of mental health issues” (involved?  was there anyone ELSE involved?  who exactly did it???)

Later in the article:  “A wave of unrest that erupted in October 2015 has claimed the lives of 260 Palestinians, 41 Israelis, two Americans, one Jordanian, an Eritrean and a Sudanese...”  (erupted?)

Blah.

Next up is Sky News:

Headline:  “British student Hannah Bladon's family 'devastated' by her killing in Jerusalem”

Saturday, March 25, 2017

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

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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?)

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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.

Why?

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.

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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.

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

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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.

Duh.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

The occupation of the eucalyptus

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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.

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