Sunday, September 26, 2010
How to tell if you are raising an Israeli
This morning over breakfast in the sukkah I casually mentioned to the kids that since their mom had some work to do today in her studio, maybe we could go into Jerusalem and do something that she wouldn't mind missing out on (code for something she despises).
The two kids knew immediately what I was talking about, but waited expectantly for me to say the word.
Yonah, on the other hand, is less schooled in his mother's likes and dislikes, so he asked, "What?... what are we doing today?!"
To which I answered, "We're going bowling!".
Ariella and Gilad both gave out a cheer (being lovers of The Big Lebowski and the occasional 'caucasian'). But Yonah didn't understand the word, and asked, "what's bowling?".
I was shocked that he didn't know what it was, but gave him the benefit of the doubt and performed an elaborate pantomime of picking up the heavy ball and rolling it towards some imaginary pins.
Suddenly a little light went on over his head and he shouted, "oh, you mean BOW-ling!" (with the first syllable pronounced like the formal act of bending at the waist).
Zahava and I just looked at one another and laughed. Try as we may to see that he grows up speaking English like an American, we have resigned ourselves to the fact that a few Israeli-isms will find their way through. BOW-ling apparently snuck in under the radar.
BTW, Yonah BOWled an excellent game.
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
Please stop it
Am I the only one who is completely tired of receiving email notifications saying that [insert name of someone you kinda/sorta know] has tagged a picture/video of you on Facebook, only to click over and find out that they simply tagged everyone of their 'friends' in order to drive traffic to their Facebook page?
I know it is a clear indication of my own vanity that I am unable to resist finding out who is posting/tagging/commenting on pictures and videos of me on the intertubes. But by the same token, it isn't very nice to take advantage of people's vanity in order to satisfy your own.
So please stop it.
Monday, September 20, 2010
Just in case
There are so many impulse purchases littering the history of my so-called adult life that I would be hard pressed to categorize them, much less list them!
Most of these countless impulse purchases were like the flare of a match... burning bright for a moment, and then an instant later (in relative terms) I was left holding an item whose attraction, purpose and usefulness I couldn't even begin to fathom.
But of all the impulse purchases I've made throughout the many years that I've had access to disposable income, just one has stood the test of time. That's right. One.
Specifically, a little ripstop nylon pocket para-foil kite that I purchased during my post-university single days.
I bought it on a lark while browsing a 'Nature Company' store in a mall somewhere (I think it was either Atlanta or Houston... but don't hold me to that). At the time it seemed like such an obvious thing... I mean, who doesn't love a kite? 'And it fits in my pocket?! Here's my five bucks... no thanks, I don't need a bag'.
Because this kite rolls up small enough to fit in a pocket, I've been able to keep it with me at [almost] all times... ready for instant use whenever life presents just the right combination of topographical and meteorological conditions.
From that day on, rare was the outing that didn't find that kite nestled at the bottom of my trusty Fjall Raven Kanken. And the kite has been flown on beaches from La Jolla shores to Martha's Vineyard... and many windy locales in between (and elsewhere in the world).
At some point during our early years of marriage I became convinced that I'd lost my beloved kite, and promptly went out and bought another one. As is often the case with such things, no sooner had I gotten the new kite home, the old one turned up.
No biggie... my family was growing, so why not keep two kites around?
We have priceless photos of Ariella and Gilad flying those kites, and not too long ago, Zahava and I took Yonah to the local park to check out his kite flying skills (impressive). The pictures are not of the kites, mind you, but of their shining faces... caught up in the excitement of the moment, and oblivious to anything but the wind, the string and that distant speck of fabric.
The first thing I throw into my suitcase when packing for a business trip is a kite... and it goes without saying that for family vacations no less than two will do. After all, few things are better at lending perspective than a distant kite at the end of a string.
But don't take this to mean that we fly kites at every opportunity. Years occasionally sneak by where the little kites don't get to taste the wind even once. But there is something about having the kites with me/us... about the possibility of flying a kite at a moment's notice should the wind and the landscape present themselves to the possibility... that makes any outing just a little more promising.
Without exception, every time I have taken one of my kites out of its stuff sack and tossed it into the wind, the world has become a simpler, more wonderful place. Flying a kite engenders a fantastic sort of tunnel vision that robs problems and worries of their immediacy and power over you.
I decided to share this today because I was day-dreaming about where we might take the kids during the coming days off for the Sukkot holiday. We'll probably play it by ear and take it day-by-day.
But one thing is certain: Somewhere in at least one of our knapsacks... tossed in there along with the first aid kit, pocket knife, granola bars and water... will be at least one kite. Y'know... just in case.
[BTW, I have no connection to the kite seller I linked to above. If you do a search for pocket parafoil kite, I'm sure you'll find dozens, if not hundreds, of options. Enjoy!]
Sunday, September 19, 2010
Back in the saddle again...
I used to get at least half a dozen calls every week from soldiers and students looking to catch a ride Sunday morning to Beer Sheva (where I work). Back in the day I used to drive our family station wagon to work, and was more than happy to have company (and to do a good deed).
But then I bought a scooter, which has saved me a metric butt-load of cash on fuel... but has seriously cut down on the available seating for hitchhikers:
Oh sure, once in a while I'll pick up someone I know for a quick trip within our town... or even to Kiryat Arba (about a 15 minute ride). But so far nobody has made the hour ride with me to Beer Sheva.
That is, until today.
Last night I got an SMS from a friend (hi Doreet!) asking if I had room in my car for a soldier (her daughter's boyfriend) who needed to get to the Beer Sheva bus station early on Sunday morning to catch the shuttle to his army base.
I called her back and explained about my new mode of commuting, and suggested that she contact someone with a car who still made the hour commute in that direction. I told her that if he couldn't find a ride he was welcome to come along with me. She thanked me and we said goodbye.
A couple of hours later she called me back saying that the only ride she'd been able to find in that direction was with someone who was leaving too late. It seems her daughter's boyfriend needed to be back on his base fairly early, so was my offer still open?
I said sure and told her to have him at my house at the time I usually depart.
When I went out this morning, standing next to my scooter I found a tall, lanky soldier wearing the uniform and insignia of an IDF Paratrooper. He had a backpack and M-16 slung over his shoulder and was eyeing my scooter dubiously.
I noticed the look (as well as the lack of jacket), and asked him if he'd ever ridden on the back of one of these things. He admitted that, except for a bicycle, it would be his first time on two wheels.
I shouldn't have been too surprised about the lack of a jacket. Several years ago I remember chastising a soldier hitchhiker for not wearing a coat when I found him half frozen at a bus stop in the middle of the winter. He explained with perfectly deadpan delivery that his platoon commander had forbidden the soldiers in his unit from wearing jackets, telling them that, "Paratroopers don't get cold".
So I knew it was pointless to ask about a jacket, but I was worried about his eyes and offered him a pair of sunglasses (which he gratefully accepted in French-accented Hebrew).
As I helped him get my spare helmet adjusted, I told him that all he had to remember was to do whatever I did; If I leaned right... he had to lean right. If I leaned left... he had to lean left. He nodded his understanding and got on.
As we pulled out I realized there was something else I'd neglected to tell him.
Chicks ride pillion with their arms around the waist of the driver. Bros hold onto the seat handles and avoid physical contact at all costs... unless a chick is driving, and then hey, the more contact the better!. ;-)
I momentarily debated pulling over and telling him about this small-but-important codicil of the bro-code, but decided that the Paratrooper uniform and machine gun probably added enough macho-points to the equation to balance out the uncomfortably intimate embrace. Heck, the guy jumps out of planes for a living... it would take more than a hug to knock the shine off that!
Anyway, about 15 minutes into the ride I could feel him starting to loosen up... and by the half-way point his hands rested only occasionally on my hips... which according to the bro-code is somewhat acceptable.
When we finally pulled up at the Beer Sheva Central Bus Station, he got off slowly and thanked me for the ride. But I could see he was having some trouble, and asked him if everything was ok. He simply smiled and nodded as he handed me back my spare helmet and sunglasses.
As I sat at the light waiting to leave the station, I looked back over my shoulder and saw him take a few tentative steps... followed by a few deep knee bends and a couple of more baby steps. This was repeated a few times before he settled into a bow-legged gait that would have made Clint Eastwood proud.
Ah yes, saddle sore. I'd forgotten that an hour on such a small seat might leave its mark... especially on someone too terrified to adjust himself into a more comfortable position.
Oh well, I'm sure he'll have plenty of time to work out the kinks on the shuttle ride to his base.
Thursday, September 16, 2010
Funny how prayers get fast-tracked this time of year
The past few days have been brutal. The only saving grace to the ordeal was the fact that no matter where I was (in bed, in the bathroom... in the bathroom) I had my new iPad and a good WiFi signal.
A short while ago a friend clued me in to a snarky comic strip called XKCD that is a nice mix of tech, sarcasm, math and hip. I immediately bookmarked it and resolved to plow through the archives the next time I had some time on my hands.
Heh, heh... funny how prayers get fast-tracked this time of year.
So, a big chunk of that downtime I logged this week in the smallest room of the house was spent reading through the archives of this strip. I should begin by saying that everyone's sense of humor is different, so this may not be for everyone. But if you like to be challenged and occasionally hit over the head by the obscurely obvious... then this strip is for you.
Here are a few samples that made me laugh out loud (a decidedly creepy thing to hear from the other side of the bathroom door, I'm sure):
[click to embiggen]
I don't wish on anyone the kind of free time I've had over the past few days. But trust me when I say that XKCD is worth bookmarking and making a part of your online routine.
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
Horses, not zebras... please!
One of the nuggets of advice drilled into medical students as they wade into the potentially treacherous waters of becoming diagnosticians, is that when you hear hoofbeats and winnying, think horses... not zebras. The point being that if a simple answer will fit the symptoms, don't be tempted by a more exotic answer.
Too bad friends don't get this advice as part of their social training.
I've been home for two days with what my family physician feels confident is probably a stomach virus. At first I was leaning more towards food poisoning, but it turns out I didn't go to medical school... so after the second day I was inclined to agree with the pro's diagnosis.
I love my friends, but a few of them are prone to a bit of alarmism which can spill over into 'zebra hunting'.
One of my friends heard that I was home sick with nausea and a few other symptoms which I'll spare you (don't thank me...), and decided it would be a good idea to tell me that this might also point to a parasite.
After spending much of the past 48 hours in the smallest room in my house (thank G-d for the iPad and wifi), I really didn't need to hear that.
So here's a little advice for all you home diagnosticians who have been watching too many medical dramas on TV for your own good: I know you mean well, but please let your friends spend a few days in the stable with their horses before you try taking them zebra hunting on the Serengeti.
Sunday, September 12, 2010
Talking to the ladies
Nearly every year during the Rosh Hashanah holiday I see or hear something that becomes the memorable thing that stays with me for the rest of the year.
This year it happened as I was passing my friend Shmuel's seat on my way out of services. As I passed, I noticed that, rather than using one of the many popular Israeli machzorim (holiday prayer books), or a prayerbook from one of the many modern American Jewish publishing houses, he had a tattered copy of the old Birnbaum machzor sitting in front of him.
It caught my eye because during my early years of becoming observant, the Birnbaum weekday, Shabbat and holiday prayer books were all I had known. I had been given a well used set by the navy chaplain in my home port of Pearl Harbor, and they had sailed with me around the Pacific and Indian oceans for many years before going into semi-retirement amid my growing collection of Jewish books.
There was absolutely nothing wrong with the venerable Birnbaum prayer books. They were workmanlike, clear, and contained everything one needed to get from beginning to end of any service of the year.
But they lacked the faux leather binding and preachy philosophy of the Artscroll books that would come along later, and at some point, orthodox congregations became too sophisticated for the old cloth-covered stand-by.
When I asked Shmuel why he was still using the Birnbaum when there were so many other choices out there, he just smiled and began flipping through the threadbare volume in front of him. Every few pages he stopped and showed me a page with a faint lipstick smudge near the top.
I didn't understand what he was trying to show me and watched as he thumbed past several more pages similarly marked with crimson smudges.
After a few moments of enjoying the obvious puzzlement on my face, he explained that this was a machzor from the synagogue in New Jersey where he had grown up. He told me that as a kid in that shul, he had watched the old ladies - many of them survivors of Hitler's Europe - praying with their own brand of devotion... and occasionally giving the pages a kiss before setting them down in their ample laps.
He explained that he still used the tattered old Birnbaum machzor instead of one of the many modern choices available in the Jewish bookstores, because it allowed him to spend a few moments of each Rosh Hashanah talking with the long-departed old ladies of his childhood memories.
How could he not gain strength from this machzor, he asked me, when any page turn might reveal some smudged token of old-world reverence for this threadbare volume and the words it contained?
Of all the things I saw and heard this year during Rosh Hashanah, this is the one that will stay with me this year.
Wednesday, September 08, 2010
I love my neighborhood
Yonah and I went out this morning delivering honey from our hives to our friends up and down the street where we live.
As we made the rounds, Yonah went from door to door with the freshly filled jars... and in many cases came back bearing gifts that these wonderful people wanted to share with us.
In addition to our rich, golden honey, our Rosh Hashanah table will be graced with freshly picked apples, figs and pomegranates (from trees that my bees probably helped pollinate), as well as wine and port from a local winery.
This feels like home.
Tuesday, September 07, 2010
Shmattes and Splendor
Some clothing is more equal than others
Anyone who has been in the child-rearing game for any length of time is familiar with the merciless natural selection that takes place in our kid's wardrobes. Not only are we aware of it, but we actively plan for it.
For the most part, there are two basic classes of clothing:
Shmattes or Splendor
Unless a family is incredibly wealthy, clothes that are destined for the
battlefield playground are bought in bulk from purveyors of cheap Asian shmattes (Yiddish for rags). These play clothes tend to be brightly colored, and are invariably emblazoned with improbably spelled words & slogans that are meant to conjure Ivy League sports associations... but which more often than not suggest mental illness
These shmattes we so readily put on our children are probably assembled/sewn by child labor, made of toxic waste and last, at most, a few months before disintegrating.
We don't care.
The alternative is to send our kids out into the world naked... or dressed in their 'good' clothes on weekdays. We can't very well send them to join the daily battle wearing expensive name-brand clothes (G-d forbid) now can we? We'd have to kill them when they came home (as you know they would) covered in ketchup, ice cream and blood, and with scraped knees and elbows showing proudly through large, ragged holes.
Which brings us to Splendor... variously known as 'yontiff outfits', 'your good clothes' and 'that nice dress grandma and grandpa sent you'. This refers to clothing designed so nicely and made so well that, with care... and proper threats, it can be handed down to a multitude of siblings, nieces and nephews.
I remember when Ari and Gili were young, my parents did a house swap with a Parisian couple. They went to live for a few weeks in Paris (my parents, not Ari & Gili) while this other couple got to live in my parent's beach house in Westport. I think both couples came away thinking they got the better end of that deal.
I'm telling you this story because when my mom and dad came back from Europe, they brought with them gifts for our kids of the most beautifully made clothing. It wasn't just that it looked nice. It was made well... rich material.... nicely lined and finished... adorned with fine buttons and snaps. The real deal.
When Ari and Gili outgrew those Parisian clothes, they were still in such good shape that we were able to hand them down to the children of family and friends. To this day Yonah is still wearing some of the Paris togs. And they still look new.
Now, you can't chalk up the durability of these clothes entirely to the threats and pleading of the parents. After all, kids will be kids. Even on Shabbat and holidays they are rough on their things, and Yonah is rougher than most. No, threats play a role... but the quality of the material and fabrication play the biggest part in how long they last.
So why don't we all send our kids out in well made clothing every day? For the simple reason that most of us can't afford to.
Oh sure, once the kids hit Jr. High School and have some sense of what they're wearing, we can't get away with buying them the off-brand stuff. But elementary school? Here you go sweetie... go try on this matching sweatshirt and sweatpants with clashing appliques that say "Princetin Varcity Krew".
A couple of weeks ago I got an email from a gentlemen who was doing online marketing via social media (blogs, twitter, etc.), for a new line of clothing stores called EPK. He wanted to know if I'd like to come down to one of their stores and give them a write-up on my blog.
[Full disclosure on my policy regarding doing book reviews and product/service write-ups: I frequently get emails from people asking if they can send me a review copies of a book or a sample of some product in hopes that I will give them a positive plug on my blog. I always inform them up front that I do not like to do negative reviews or hatchet jobs. Unless a product personally offends me or physically hurts me, chances are if I don't like it I'll simply toss it out and move on. So from that respect they are pretty safe. And if I happen to actually like the book or product, I'll do a write-up. That's the deal... take it or leave it. Yes, I know this makes me a whore.]
Anyway, back to the clothing store. Their market niche is that their lines are designed in France and made from European fabrics and materials... but assembled in the far east under the supervision of a their own Quality assurance team. The idea being that they can offer children's clothing whose quality is fairly high... but with competitive pricing.
I was dubious, but he offered to show us around the store personally and sweetened the deal with an offer of some samples. Did I mention I'm a whore (albeit a principled one)? Just checking.
So on a sunny Friday morning, Zahava and I took Yonah for a ride down to the Herzliya Marina Mall where we were welcomed by Moises Cohen.
The Store itself is nicely set up to show off the current lines. This is an important point. Many stores try to maximize every square meter by putting out so much product that you can't see the trees for the forest (or is the other way around... I forget). EPK has their current lines on display. That's it. And there is enough room to walk around so that you can see the clothing without having to take it off the rack.
Because there is only the current season's lines on display in the store, it's going to be hit or miss as far as taste goes. But their lines include sporty and more dressy directions, so there should be something for most tastes.
Zahava pointed out that their clothes were extremely well made (she's a seamstress and knows about such things)... so while the price tags are well above the crazy, randomly-spell-checked shmatte range, the quality is better than comparably priced GAP stuff. Simply put, this stuff is made to last.
One of the things we had wanted to buy for Yonah while we were in the US recently were some 100% cotton Pajamas... but we never quite got around to it. The reason we were looking there (rather than here)was that most of the PJs you find here in Israel are a blend (at best) or pure synthetic (at worst). So we were delighted to find that EPK had some 100% cotton ones in stock. The question was, would Yonah like them:
With a hat thrown in for good measure, Yonah was finally Persuaded to put his clothes back on, and we thanked Moises for the tour... and for the nifty (glow-in-the-dark) PJs.
Would I shop at EPK for day-to-day play clothes for Yonah? Probably not. These are not shmattes by any stretch of the imagination. But looking purely at value for money, I would certainly shop EPK (they have stores in most of the big city alls here in Israel) for his shabbat, holiday or special occasion-wear.
Just before we left, Moises dropped mentioned something that got Zahava's attention: EPK's Natanya branch (Poleg) is their close-out outlet where they blow out all of last-season's lines from the other Israeli stores. So if you have a Yonah at home who is rough on his/her clothing or (like Zahava) you are reluctant to pay full bust-out retail... that might be a good solution.
So as I said at the outset... some clothing is indeed more equal than others. In my book, EPK is way down at the 'Splendor' end of the spectrum... and is an excellent alternative to having friends and relatives mule back European and American goods. In fact, here's a free marketing idea for Moises:
Set up an e-commerce website where grandparents, aunts and uncles in Europe and the US can buy their Israeli relatives gift certificates that can be redeemed in any of the Israeli outlets.
Hod HaSharon: Sharonim (just opened)
Natanya: Poleg (this is their outlet store)
Herzliya: Marina Mall
Ashdod: Star Center
Haifa: Opening in October
Don't thank me... I'm a giver!):
Thursday, September 02, 2010
Instant proof... no waiting!
Usually when commenters and I disagree over matters of opinion (e.g. over how the Israeli or international public might react under some set of hypothetical circumstances), we are left to agree to disagree.
After all, opinion is just that, and arguments surrounding hypothetical scenarios are maddeningly difficult to prove or disprove.
So when several of the commenters on yesterday's post hypothesized about what the public reaction might have been if the terror victims had been from an Israeli community inside the green line, we all knew that the discussion would likely remain purely academic.
However, the Palis are nothing if not helpful. Just a day after the original terror attack, our 'partners in peace' were nice enough to move the discussion out of the hypothetical realm and into that of reality.
Yesterday a car carrying a husband and wife - Jewish residents of a Jordan Valley community insidethe green line - came under fire from a passing car between Rimonim and Kochav HaShachar in the Binyamin region (located outsidethe green line).
The husband (who was driving) was wounded by the gunfire and lost control of the car. His wife was injured in the subsequent roll-over/crash caused by attack.
As if made to order as a test case to advance our little academic discussion, we now have a real-life case of car travelling outside the green line (i.e. where it had no business being, according to some opinions), but the injured parties are residents of a community inside (i.e. on the 'good/kosher' side of) the green line.
So far I can't see any real difference in the reaction from the Israeli left or from media outlets abroad (effectively disproving my hypothesis that attacking settlers was the best formula for avoiding widespread condemnation). The reaction seems to be almost universal ennui.
Of course it may be that the location of the attack (outside the green line in 'occupied territory'... boo hiss!) is the key to staying under the world's revulsion threshold (which actually supports at least part of my thesis) rather than where the victims are from.
Isn't it nice that we live in such accommodating times that we seldom have long to wait for our theories to be tested in real life (or death)?
Wednesday, September 01, 2010
This may sound cynical, but...
Obviously I am upset about yesterday's terror attack. But I'm having trouble putting my finger on what is troubling me most.
There's the senseless loss of life. Four innocent people's lives were snuffed out as casually as you or I might swat a few flies. If not for the happy accident that I left a bit early from work yesterday to be able to bring Yonah his new school knapsack (he starts 1st grade today) before he went to bed, I could easily have been arriving at the site of the attack just as the bullets began to fly.
Then there's the lack of outrage from abroad. I know it's silly. I really shouldn't care what the rest of the world has to say. But talking heads and government spokespeople who ran out of synonyms for 'massacre' when protesting Israel's handling of the well planned flotilla ambush, have suddenly fallen silent... or worse, are offering faint protest of the "we condemn all acts of violence and aggression'"sort that slyly draws moral equivalency between deliberate terror against civilians and Israel's often feckless attempts to defend herself.
But strange as it may sound, what seems to be troubling me most right now is that the Palis seem to have figured out that if they simply confine their terror activities to 'settlers', they can neatly divide the Israeli public's sympathies along political lines, and give the far left and the rest of the world the term 'occupation' with which to qualify their luke-warm condemnations.
As if to prove my point, The New York Times helpfully explains to its readers today that the victims of yesterday's attack were not people... not mothers, fathers... husbands or wives. They were settlers.... attacked near their settlement in the 'west bank'.
By comparison, those who carried out the attack were described in a somewhat more established form as belonging to 'an Islamic group' (not, G-d forbid, a terror organization). The article then takes a hard turn (bordering on non sequitur) to point out the real villains for anyone who might still be on the fence:
"Even before the attack, settlements were looming as a potential deal-breaker in the peace process. Mr. Netanyahu has steadfastly refused to commit to extending a partial moratorium on construction in the West Bank, which expires Sept. 26, while Mr. Abbas has said it will be very hard to keep talking if construction resumes."
If we're really such monsters (or insignificant insects) that the world can do no better than to passively blame us for bringing about our own demise, perhaps we have nothing to lose (and plenty to gain) by simply ignoring them and doing only what's best for us (for a change).