Monday, May 17, 2021

Metal Age

In the current round (lately we don’t have wars, “just” rounds like in boxing matches), the central area of Israel where I live was targeted several times by Hamas missiles. So why do I feel lucky? Because areas closer to the border with Gaza are pummeled by Hamas rockets for years, whereas the central area is targeted much less. Also, Southern residents have only 15 seconds to run to a shelter after the air raid alarm goes off, whereas we have 45, which makes a big difference. Literally, life and death. Our apartment has a safe room made of concrete, with an iron window and steel door to protect us, but older buildings have either a common underground shelter (which you need to reach in seconds!) or just a staircase or inner room that can be used as a shelter. Plus, Israel’s miraculous Iron Dome system intercepts rockets and destroys them in mid-air with a 90% accuracy. But all these facts are pretty much known by now by my family and friends abroad.

I will now try to describe how it feels to live through these rounds from my own perspective. First of all, work goes on as usual. Through all the recent wars and rounds, Israel has continued to supply products to customers abroad. Production must go on and deadlines must be met. Employees of essential facilities go to work, or work from home (thanks to Covid, this is now much easier than before). Most facilities have shelters. When the air raid alarm goes off, employees take shelter, wait 10 minutes for the last piece of shrapnel and debris to fall and then continue working, if not directly hit. Kind of reminds you of the London Blitz, right?

The sound of the air raid alarm is a weeping-blood rushing-frightening one. During a round, my ears are constantly and actively listening to background noises. Sounds such as an accelerating car or motorcycle are always suspicious, not to mention police, ambulance or fire truck sirens, which can be confusing for the first second until my mind categorizes them as unharmful. In the background, we hear distant missiles as far as Ashdod, which is about half an hour drive to the South. In the secure room, we clearly hear the falling missiles, as well as the screeching sound of the anti-missiles being launched. Lately, I also observed my body language in the secure room: I sit hunched up with my head down, as if waiting for a missile to fall on my head.

If you are in the car during the alarm, you should stop the car, get out and run to a nearby shelter. If there is no shelter nearby, lay on the ground with your hands protecting your head. Same goes for buses. It happened to most of us, myself included, when I walked in a park. Not fun, but at least I could watch the missiles “kissing”.

Since the alarm can go off at any time of day or night, I take short showers, don’t take unnecessary trips, and I’m always mindful of essential items (like my mobile phone) to take with me to the safe room. Last time, I was in the middle of lunch, so I took a bowl of cabbage salad with me, although I’m pretty sure it wasn’t essential J. In the safe room, we check our phones to find out where the rockets hit and make sure all family members are safe. After waking up, we also check the news apps to keep up to date with developments we might have missed while sleeping.

I have a recurring video looping in my head about opening the safe room door and not being able to step out, because there is nothing to step on, the entire apartment being blown up by a missile. Could you imagine losing your home? Hard, isn’t it? Yet it did happen to some Israelis and I could be next. Even though I insisted on adding an anti-missile coverage to our home insurance (yes, there is such a thing) years ago, and the authorities are quite efficient with assessing the damage and providing you a place to sleep, it could take months till your home is repaired or rebuilt and you have no belongings. Again, not fun.

On top of the above “not fun”, this round brought us a new development, potentially even more worrisome than the round itself. In mixed cities (where Arabs and Jews live together), you can be attacked or your business or home or car set on fire or vandalized by a mob (usually young, unemployed or low social-economic situation extremists) just because you are a Jew or an Arab. Or your car can be hit by a deadly rock while on the road. Police claim they help only in life-threatening situations, not vandalism (which makes me and everybody else very angry). As none of the parties is going anywhere and we will have to live together after the round is over, I am not sure how this will work out.

Some people claim we should destroy Gaza completely, revoke the citizenship of the rioters and exile them. Well, about the destruction, you need to know that Israel has the military power to complete this in about 12 hours, but we act as a civilized country (as opposed to a terrorist organization), with all the ramifications, so I wouldn’t hold my breath. Same goes for revoking citizenship (ramifications, remember?). Rioters will probably be prosecuted and jailed.

And there are also the normal, compassionate human beings (whatever their religion) who help and comfort the other side no matter what and now more than ever, but of course they don’t always make it to the headlines, unless they march together and give out flowers to passersby (this happened a couple of days ago). So there is hope. Maybe.

Friends invited us to stay over at their place in the North, but for the time being the situation is bearable. Not even the southerners left their homes, so we really cannot complain. Not like in the old communist joke, at least.

So when is this round going to end, I was asked. Although our prime minister announced right at the beginning that this round will take a long time, Israelis are a pretty impatient bunch. Wars longer than 6 days J morph into a boring routine and we are already anxious to move on the next news item. By now, I think both parties are ready to stop, but being in the Middle East, they are waiting for the other party to blink first and then announce their own victory.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Apps for life

Most apps claim to take the stress out of [fill in the blanks], while they introduce the stress of conducting your life based on best practices and expert app advice. Apps tell you what to eat based on your gut bacteria, how many steps to walk, how to manage your finances, and how to navigate to your destination. And this is just the beginning.

Slowly but surely, we become dependent on apps and unable to make decisions or take actions without them. A person losing their smart phones feels lost until replacing it with a new one and installing their favorite apps and contacts, all backed up in the cloud.

Future archaeologists will form an understanding of how we lived our lives based on data mining, piecing our digital trails together to understand our daily routines (places and events we attended, questions we googled, websites we visited, posts we read and wrote, music we listened to, goods we ordered, pictures and videos we took, etc). From all these they will deduct our worries, dreams, creativity and mindset.

If you are not yet deep into the app world, start tracking your life. You can even track your happiness and view all your data at a glance on a dashboard. Just don't forget to live your life while you are busy tracking it and making the life a future archaeologist easier.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

What happened to modesty?

If you expect this post to be about modest clothing, you can stop reading right here. Religious women are expected to wear elbow and knee covering garments and cover their hair. Personally, I don't care what other people wear, as long as I can do my own thing, and I happily missed the head scarf "scandal" during Independence Day. I find some of the tall head scarfs worn these days quite ridiculous, but I'm not a fashionista, so that's that. Back to the original subject of modesty, as in personal conduct.

Modesty used to be a core value of Israeli society, especially in its first years. Showing off your wealth was perceived as tasteless. The country was poor, socialist, and people were expected to be aligned with the ruling party values. 

In its 71 of existence, Israel absorbed millions of immigrants, won wars, overcame boycotts, opened up, developed and became the start-up nation we almost take for granted today. Values changed as well, and trash culture reached our shores. We don't despise the rich, we like to make sure their money is kosher, and most of all we like to ridicule their immodest behavior (Hebrew).

But what about our leaders? We prefer them competent and possibly modest as well. Competency is a big factor, as leading this small but complex country leaves no room for errors. Leaders' mistakes can be fatal or at least very costly. In lives. We still live in fear of decimation, the Holocaust instilled that fear so deep, that it will stay with us for generations to come. We must stay strong and keep the gates open for any Jew who decides to come, no matter the reason.

So while many of us can't stomach Mr. Netanyahu's personal conduct, he was voted for his perceived competency. And that is my 2-cent explanation of the outcome of the last elections.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Time for a New Tagline

I wrote the tagline Constancy is the illusion created by the granularity of observing continuous change." 10 years ago when I started this blog.  It means that everything changes continuously, and what you see is a function of how often you look at it. For example, when you look at yourself in the mirror every day, you see pretty much the same thing, but when you look at a photo of yourself taken 10 years ago and compare it to what you see in the mirror, you notice the change.

So I have this new tagline on my mind, but before changing it, I came across Carol Tice's recent post about writing a good tagline for an income-generating blog. So I learned that my planned tagline is not good enough for that genre, but since my blog is therapeutic I decided to stick to it: "Different is neither positive nor negative". It attempts to combat prejudice.

When you say "these people are different than us", you subconsciously mean they are different in a negative way, that we should be careful when socializing with them, or avoid them. We have a natural tendency to be around people like us. It's easier, but then we miss the advantages of diversity. Think of diversity in terms like bio-diversity, large gene pool, different ideas, solutions, tastes, cultures. Don't go to the controversial diversity [mis]used by educational and business establishments to prefer people from certain backgrounds rather than merits. But 'different' doesn't apply only to people, but to things in general. 

Next time when you come across 'different', test yourself. Was your first thought negative, positive or neutral? 

Friday, July 20, 2018

When I Have a Cold

Since the humidity is high, we sleep with the A/C on all night. I felt my throat being cold and 2 days later, I woke up with a cactus in it. I barely finished the work day at the office with all the symptoms of a head cold: aching throat, ears, head and general weakness, and decided to listen to my body and stay home the next day to recuperate. Before going to bed, took two Acamol pills and shared the picture of the Acamol package with all my friends on Facebook, to let them know how miserable I feel.

After a mostly sleepless night, got up and got thinking. Since only my head is sick, I can do something useful with the rest of my body and not let this day be a complete waste. Decided to undertake a small project: cleaning our bedroom and on-suite bathroom. If you follow me on Facebook, you know my cleaning person went back to his country and we are now cleaning the house on our own, me being totally useless with such activities. I was lucky enough to have it done for me all my life and nobody ever taught me how to clean efficiently. I can do basic stuff, quite awkwardly though.

I remember my mom always complaining about me not helping around the house, but she didn't actually teach me, she expected me to take initiative and copy her, or maybe she tried teaching me and I wasn't interested, I really can't remember, it was very long ago. At least I'm a good cook, and even my mom said my cakes are tastier than hers. But that's because I use mixers, real ingredients and an electrical stove, none of which she ever had.

Cleaning is not one of my many talents, but how difficult can it be, right? Let's just say that a video shoot of me cleaning, would win the "clumsiest cleaner" comedy award. I started by taking out the vacuum cleaner and by the life of me, I couldn't piece it together, to use its attached tools. I was too embarrassed to admit I need to read the manual or watch a youtube video. Me? A manual? I just write them, who says I should also read them? Like in the old joke "why do cops always patrol in pairs? - because one of them can read and the other write" - I'm the one who writes.

I managed to connect the pieces in contrast to their idiot-proof design, I forgot to select the cleaning mode with the knob (I applied my "logic", without reading the small print next to the icons), but figured out (after a while!) where the on-off button was (it's foot operated!). I wondered at the many types of cleaning products we own, some with heavy, unpleasant smells. The glass shower refused to become  transparent even after many attempts, so I just gave up on that one, but the rest I was pretty happy with. With the utensils already out, I also cleaned the other toilet, vacuumed the big rug in the living room and mopped around.

By the time I finished and put everything back in place with a throbbing head, I concluded that in contrast with how effortless it looks in TV ads, cleaning is mostly an unpleasant, tiresome task and I need more practice to work out an efficient methodology. In our next episode: figuring out how to empty the vac's dust bin. Oh, and since you asked, yes, I have a robot, but it's useless for anything that is not a large area of floor or carpet.

Back to the kitchen.

Friday, July 13, 2018


Following the recent Barkan Winery Kosher certificate affair, some of my friends proposed to boycott the Badatz or the winery.

When individuals or organizations abroad boycott Israel, we are all up in arms, as we should be, trying to explain the underlying injustice, stupidity and antisemitism. So let me remind those quick to boycott friends the principle of treating others as one would wish to be treated.

Also, when you boycott someone, there are always innocent "bystanders" who get hurt. If you boycott a manufacturer (by refraining to buy their produce) because of business practices that are against your principles, to teach them a lesson and show that you stand up for your values, the manufacturer will eventually go bankrupt and a lot of good people will join the ranks of the unemployed. Demanding the CEO to resign is IMHO a much better move as it will only punish the policy maker, not the hard working, decent people. "Business is business" is unacceptable, so do your business (pun intended) elsewhere, Mr. CEO.

When boycotting the Badatz (by not buying produce with their kosher certificate), a lot of manufacturers may get hurt. I understand the intention to make businesses refrain from applying for this certificate as it would hurt their business (Badatz consumers are only a small group of Israeli society). If no such certificate will exist, the ultra-orthodox will either find a way to eat food with regular certificates or manufacture their own food (not such a bad idea, as it would make them contribute to the Israeli economy). However, this can be a very long process. Until then, manufacturers will lose business, lay off people and we are back to the previous scenario, but on a larger scale.

The regular milk carton we bought today in the supermarket has no less than 4 certificates. And who do you think pays all these kashrut supervisors? The consumer. And in my case, the consumer doesn't need even one, but is willing to pay for one only as a tax for living in a Jewish country.
Boycotts are like war and hatred, they have a beginning, but often no end. You can reach a stage of everybody boycotting everybody else for one reason or another until standstill. Society will look like a busy Tel Aviv junction 2 minutes after the traffic light goes off.

Let's drink some wine to fighting for our universal values in the parliament, the courts, the streets, but not in the supermarkets. And if I may chose the wine, I'd go for Golan's 2T - my new favorite. Cheers!

Friday, April 6, 2018

Food Microstories

Last week, Tom came to my office and we lunched at a Japanese restaurant. During my childhood, I had no idea what Japanese food is, or any other food that was not cooked at home. I don't remember ever going to a restaurant with my parents. Different times, different place.

We used salt, pepper and paprika as condiments. Sometimes bay leaves. I remotely heard about allspice and ginger. In Israel, a culinary heaven with so many different cuisines and endless fusion possibilities, I have and use a few dozen spices, sauces and herbs. The weirdest is Moroccan pickled lemons. At first I didn't understand the concept. Pickling is actually souring, but why sour something that is already sour? I learned that this flavorful mixture is the key ingredient in many excellent dishes.

I love to experiment in the kitchen and try out new foods, even when having guests for meals. In fact, I cook new dishes every single week. I plan the menu by reading my favorite food blogs and deciding on dishes that fit well together. Then I send the shopping list with ingredients to hubby. Friday morning, 3 boxes with groceries greet me in the kitchen. We have breakfast, and let the magic (actually hard work) begin. The variety is great, but I end up with leftovers of exotic ingredients that have a minimal chance to be used before their expiration date.

I hate wasting food. In restaurants, you pay for the waste (and even then I hate it), but in home cooking, every edible leftover is used. All the famous chefs preach using those flavor-packed juices at the bottom of a pot. They are great for making couscous or rice, for example. I am always sorry to throw out food left on plates. Many years ago, in a guesthouse, I took a serving of something that looked delicious, but it turned out to be something else and totally not tasty. I left it on the plate. The host told me off in front of all the other guests for my wasteful behavior. I felt like a reprimanded child.

One of the traditional Passover foods of my childhood was beetroot soup. Because of its color, I mistakenly took my first bowl of beetroot soup for cherry soup. It tasted awful. Did not touch beetroot soup for years, until it occurred to me that the reason for the bad experience was my expectation for something else. Once I understood that, I started enjoying beetroot soup.

Expectation for taste or texture can also come from a dish's name. People with dietary restrictions or culinary preferences sometimes replace unhealthy ingredients with others, but keep calling the dish by the same name. The taste is usually disappointing. Why not call the dish by a different name or even better, why not create new dishes containing only healthy ingredients? Oh, did I mention I drink my coffee with almond "milk"? If "milk is a white liquid produced by the mammary glands of mammals", then what mammal produces soy milk or rice milk?

Unnatural food colors put me off. I would not eat blue food, for example. But oddly enough, I also dislike the idea of cute looking or too beautiful food. It's time consuming and wasteful, in short decadent.