Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Fate of the Wandering Chandelier

Our story begins before WWII, with the wealthy Grunstein family in Oradea, Romania, the owners of a flourishing logging business in the Transylvanian forests. They helped their less wealthy relatives, either by employing them or in more original ways, like sending a few wagons of timber to the reputed French Notre Dame school to cover the tuition fee of my mother in law, a poor villager relative, who dreamed of attending this school, but could not afford it.

The Grunsteins lived in a beautiful home and this chandelier was hanging in their living room.  Then came the war with the Holocaust, where the Grunsteins perished with so many others. Gross Feri, one of their relatives and Holocaust survivor, returned (without his first wife and daughter) and collected some of the Grunstein belongings. He met Rose, another Holocaust survivor and married her. The chandelier was now in their living room, in the house where their daughter Marion was born. In the sixties, the family emigrated to the USA and the chandelier, one of Marion's childhood memories, was collected by my mother in law, the Grunstein relative who studied at the French school on their expense. At the end of the seventies, the family moved to Israel, but this time, the chandelier was not left behind. My husband disassembled it and meticulously numbered and packed each part. The chandelier, together with some other furniture and household items, was transported by ship to the port of Haifa and from there, by truck, to the nearby Jewish Agency storage in Tzur Shalom.

About a year later, my husband released the luggage, assembled the chandelier, and hanged it in the living room of their first rented apartment in Holon. Then in the second one. Then in the last one, where my mother in law lived till 2002. For five additional years, all her belongings remained untouched, until the apartment was sold and we had to empty it. My husband disassembled and packed the chandelier yet again, and the box waited patiently in our storage for its next journey.

Last month we repacked it, photographed the parts in their order of assembly and sent the box overseas by plane, to Marion in New York. The photos, arranged in a PowerPoint presentation, were sent by mail.

I don't know if and where it will be hanged again, but considering all the mileage and wandering, I can safely call it a Jewish chandelier.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

In the Crusaders' Footsteps

Two weeks ago, the weatherman announced it was the last chance to go on a trip before rains start. We took his advice, which proved to be both wise and true as this Saturday it's raining all day, and went on a trip with Dan (who else?) as our guide. At 5:30 AM we were on our way. The weather, and sunrise about an hour later, were no less than glorious.

It all started in ~1070 when Byzantine emperor Alexios I appealed to Pope Urban II for mercenaries to help him resist Muslim advances into the territory of the Byzantine Empire. The "Reply" email button was not yet invented at the time, but this did not bother Urban at all, as he had more important business to attend to, like figuring out what's in it for him. This took him a mere 25 years. In 1095, in one of the most influential speeches ever made, Pope Urban II launches the Crusades at the Council of Clermont.

Why did he do that? To restore Christian access to the holy places in and near Jerusalem. Why did he really do that? To improve his own status vis a vis his fellow Patriarchs (him being one of five equals before the East–West Schism) and vis a vis Europe's secular leaders (showing them his strong influence over their people), and to clear Europe from the many knights challenging the feudal landlords and fighting each other, by channeling their energy towards a 'just cause'. To ensure a high number of participants, he granted them plenary indulgence and promised feudal fiefdoms, land ownership, wealth, power, and prestige. These ingredients yielded the 200-year, fascinating historical chapter of the Crusaders in the Holy Land, where as a conquering minority, Crusaders were confined mainly to fortified cities and castles, such as Monfort and Belvoir (Kochav Hayarden), the two main sites of our trip.

As you can guess from this photo, the way between the parking lot and the fortress remnants is quite rocky and goes down- and then uphill. Once up, we visited the dungeon, refectorium and fortifications, and  indulged in the pretty sight of Kziv creek.

From there, we took scenic route 89 to the ancient synagogue in Korazinm National Park. The site is quite small, but the geometric, floral and faunal patterns carved in basalt are exquisite. During the short walk, we spotted lizards sunning themselves on the rocks and hyrax climbing the impressive Christ-thorn jujube trees.

Next, we cooled ourselves by taking the wet route in the Majrase, which means walking in the Daliot stream, amidst lush greenery and small school of fish swimming away from our footsteps. On the way out, we picked blackberries as the appetizer of our fish lunch with a view at Bet Gavriel.

Our last site was the concentric Belvoir fortress in the Belvoir National Park, the best-preserved Crusader fortress in the country. Our visit included the moat, glacis, double gates, water cistern, Jordan valley view, external barbican, warehouses, watchtowers, refectorium, church, and the neat secret passage called poterna, which for some reason appears here 90 degrees rotated counterclockwise.

From Belvoir, we continued south, following the Jordan valley and because it turned too late to visit Qasr el Yahud, we turned west and crossed the Samarian hills on the way home, with the sun setting in front of us.

What a great trip!
Check out the rest of the photos here.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Birthright Triggers Traffic Jam Preference

Dan accompanied two Hungarian Birthright (Taglit) tours and he just applied for a third one. It's a great idea to bring young Jews to visit Israel and meet Israelis. This is how he met P, his new Hungarian speaking Serb friend, who just stayed with us for a week, after a second tour to Israel, accompanying Holocaust survivors. Dan took him on trips to the North, South and [twice to] Jerusalem. They went to the beach, art exhibitions, Bauhaus architecture walk in Tel Aviv and Dan's favorite ice cream place. When Dan was at school, I showed P around the hi-tech area where I work, the promenade along the Yarkon, and then we walked around the Tel Aviv port, where he witnessed the season's first real rain and a wedding ceremony led by Rabbi Lau. After finishing his BA in Communications, P plans to make aliyah, learn Hebrew, enroll in the IDF and study for his MA at the Tel Aviv University. Zionism in motion. Israel needs young individuals like P, and P needs a place where he can build a happy, meaningful life.

What's the thing with traffic jams? Well, Dan needed my car for the trips and so I took the bus to work and to return home. I hated the bus rides. They were long, noisy and shaky, and brought back my old motion sickness. I sat near the same aging, religious woman, whom I saw on the same bus a couple of months ago, when I took the bus to work for a different reason. She reads the same prayer from the same overused book, for who knows how many years. But hey, at least I had a seat.

The next day I got my car back. On the way home, while crawling, as usual, in the heavy traffic on the Ayalon highway, I realized I much prefer the traffic jam in my car than the bus ride. A young Serb Jew decides to participate in a Birthright tour and I realize my preference for traffic jams. Butterfly effect.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Phantom of the Choir

In a previous post, I mentioned singing in the choir of the Jewish Community in Oradea. In fact, this period is worth more than a mention, as I sang there ever since I remember myself as a little girl until I left Romania in 1981. This choir attracted many young (and old) singers along the years, while its sheer existence was and still is a miracle, after most Jews left Oradea after WWII and  gradually till the revolution in 1989.

I loved being part of the community, singing songs on festivals and holidays for the community members, and touring on Hanukka and meeting Jewish youngsters from other Transylvanian cities. One of my strongest memories is the Kol Nidrey tunes we sang with the cantor and pipe organ on Yom Kippur. As if I knew how much I'll miss this, I recorded the entire evening on a casette, but with my moving to Israel, the casette was unfortunately lost.

During the last 30 years, I sang some tunes for my children, until I myself questioned the existence of these different tunes in the gloomy past. It felt like I was the only one on Earth still singing them. Last week, a choir member whom I haven't met for 30 years, came to visit and brought me a CD recorded by the choir. What an intravenous shot of pure nostalgia!

Thanks to my recent choir experience and learning, I am now a critical listener. I can hear the imperfections in the singing, breathing, attacks, scooping and the cover-ups by the accordion accompaniment, but that is not the point of this music. It brought back one of my best childhood memories and for that I am thankful.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

A New Type of Present

The time between end of August and end of the year is full with family events and Jewish holidays. It starts with our anniversary, then our birthdays, the high holidays in September-October, the children's birthdays, and finally Hanuka and New Year. Naturally, on some of these events I either get or give presents. For my birthday this year, I got lots of wishes on Facebook, I held a modest celebration at the office, dined in a French restaurant with my family, and got flowers and a "present" from hubby.

In case you are wondering what the quotation marks stand for, here is the story. For some time now, my gym sneakers were falling apart and I needed a new pair. Since I hate sports (yes, all sorts of it), I don't invest a lot of thought in sport apparel, I usually buy the first item I see and get over with the boring task of shopping for it. This time, hubby convinced me to buy myself a better brand than I originally planned. So I went to the Saucony shop, tried some models on the treadmill and finally bought a lightweight pair. The actual present was convincing me that I don't need to be sporty to allow myself and enjoy quality shoes. Not very romantic, but clever.

Why do I frequent the gym even though I hate sports? Self-discipline and the knowledge it's healthy. And BTW, the dinner at the French restaurant was not up to our expectations.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

A Walk for a Blog

Happy that another work week came to its ending, I skipped my planned gym training and drove to the railway station to pick up Miriam. Inspired by a blogpost of hers, we have arranged to walk in Tel Aviv and compare the resulting blogposts. You can read Miriam's here.

Since we were on "my territory", it was my task to decide where to walk. After consulting with the "natives", I followed their advice and drove us to a parking lot next to the Opera Tower. No, not the opera, the Opera Tower, where the opera once used to be.

We walked on the beach promenade towards Yaffa, where I was told there is an emerging 'scene' in the Flea Market area, especially on Thursday nights. What I wasn't told was the fact that this particular Thursday was the last day of Ramadan, a huge Muslim celebration. It seemed like the entire Muslim population of Israel was barbequing and picnicking in the beach park, in extended family formations, among considerable amounts of trash, scattered throughout the place.

The walk was quite unpleasant, not only because of the crowds, but also because of the proximity to the crawling traffic with all its side effects. We passed the Jaffa Clock Tower and turned east (left) towards the Flea Market. We indeed saw quite a few restaurants and bars (aka the 'scene'), but when we arrived, the shops were about to close and the restaurants still relatively empty. Israelis tend to hang out much later. We browsed some real flee market stuff and visited a posh two-story design shop with pricey furniture and household items. Carpet and rug stores abounded.

After surveying the eateries, we (or was it just me?) decided to have a light dinner in an unpretentious, kiosk-like beer garden (that's what they call themselves). We waited a long time for our orders. The shredded-ice lemonade was way too sweet and had an artificial minty taste. My frankfurter was OK, but Miriam complained about excessive amounts of salt in her unevenly tossed salad.

Since Miriam is the more serious blogger among us, she came well prepared with a small notebook and a pen. While waiting for our food, Miriam wrote something in her notebook and I was curious to know what, but was too shy to ask. When done, I persuaded Miriam to buy some kürtős kalács to take home and I took an unsweetened decaf cappuccino to balance the excessive sweetness of the aforementioned lemonade.

While sipping my cappuccino on the way back (this time we walked closer to the water, but it was still unpleasant), I was wondering whether this scene is the same in neighboring Arab countries in terms of crowds and fashion-many Muslim women were wearing pants and long sleeve pullovers and sarafans and head scarfs-in this humid heat. I also thought how ignorant we are (or at least myself) of Muslim holidays, although we have a large Muslim minority in the country.

A topic that came out during our conversation with Miriam, was the music we listen to. IMO, one can know a person better by knowing what genres he or she likes to listen to. In the car, on the way back to the station, I made Miriam listen to Hungarian operettas-the genre of my childhood.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Priests in the Temple of Solomon

After a certain age, when you either possess or can easily buy any normal household or personal object, new experiences are the best presents. What I mean by experience is a trip, a good meal in a restaurant, a visit to a museum, a theater play, sunset with a glass of wine, and so on, (you got the idea by now), in short, an activity you usually do with your loved ones. With the years passing by, material presents become smaller and more symbolic, or consumable (like a box of fine chocolate or a bottle of drink) making room for the experience-type presents.

With the occasion of our 31st anniversary, we got one of these great presents from our son, Dan. As you may already know, he is studying towards a tour guide certificate, an almost 2-year program, and is already offering monthly trips to the GLBT community. He loves history and archaeology and is one of those guides with Bible in one hand, pointing to the subject matter with his other hand, while reading the relevant passage from the Bible and enlivening the ancient text with [sometimes humorous] contemporary comments. He prepares extensively for each trip and always has a binder full of relevant illustrations, time lines, facts, diagrams and other self-made educational materials. I joined a few of his trips and enjoyed immensely. But of course, I'm biased.

Just before 10 o'clock in the morning, we purchased our tickets and were the first to enter the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, "the largest cultural institution in the State of Israel, [...] ranked among the world’s leading art and archaeology museums". In the Archaeology Wing, we got a thorough stone age to Ottoman period retrospection, while browsing the exhibits found in the other locations of Dan's yearly trip program. We saw the Dead Sea scrolls in the Shrine of the Book and finally, after a well-deserved coffee break, the impressive Model of Jerusalem in the late Second Temple period, which completes the story that starts at the City of David, up to 66 AD.

"Yes, I am a Jew and when the ancestors of the right honorable gentleman were brutal savages in an unknown island, mine were priests in the temple of Solomon." (Benjamin Disraeli)

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Quran and Me

Car radios are now built in (which is a good thing), but are much more complicated than they used to be (not necessarily a good thing). After getting my new car, my husband set for me the radio stations I use to listen to on my way to/from work. But the stations did no stay put. Every few minutes a TP Search was initiated and the Quran station popped in. After fighting it for a couple of days, I decided to listen to some CDs. Same happened and something even weirder, the Quran station would start at an increased volume.

Told hubby exasperatedly what was going on. "Maybe you should convert to Islam and enjoy it", came the intended-to-be-funny reply. The leasing company rep said there is a setting somewhere in the menus to disable this annoying feature. The way he dealt with my previous questions was reading the manual in front of me and then explaining to me what he read - perhaps suitable for an illiterate customer, but I can read by myself, thank you very much. So by now, we knew there is a setting and it took my husband some more time to set all the stations again in two different configurations and disable the TP Search.

So long Quran station, hope not to meet/hear again.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Mobile Help Needed

"It's difficult to get used to a new phone after a certain age", "You can't afford not having a smartphone, you work in hi-tech for God's sake, it ruins your image", "Stop using gadgets from the 70s, they make you look old" are just a few comments shot at me since I told people I need a new mobile phone.

I am a proud owner of a Nokia 6310. For 9 years. In mobile technology years, that means an eon. It has a monochrome display, but synchronizes with Outlook, where I keep my contacts and calendar. I would have used it for longer, but its sync application doesn't run on Windows 7, the operating system of my new PC at work. Plus, I'm getting a new leased car and I don't think it's worthwhile installing the old hands-free in it. On the other hand, the phone doesn't have Bluetooth to communicate with a headset. Since I can't synchronize the phone or use it in the car, and it's 9 years old, I decided it's time to replace it.

But with what? The possibilities seem endless. Some swear by Apple's iPhone, some by Android-based smartphones. But do I need a smartphone at all? I made a list of useful features, but haven't found any unbiased site or person to tell me what phone I need based on that list. Here goes: large screen and buttons (no qwerty keyboard), thin, updated design, sync by cable (for contacts and calendar), Bluetooth with headset and hands-free, decent camera, WiFi, GPS with local maps.

To complicate things even further, in September-October, my employer will sign a new agreement with one of the mobile operators that will possibly include some good models and plans for employees. And the iPhone 5 will be released, should I decide to go in that direction, and the iPhone 4 will get cheaper. So maybe I should buy a cheap model now and go for a more serious one in a couple of months?

I'm drowning in options. Help!

The Real Paris

I am a big fan of Woody Allen. So is S, my former New Yorker friend. Natural progression: last week we went to the cinema to watch 'Midnight in Paris'. The reviews described the movie pretty accurately. It is a very aesthetically pleasing concoction of romance, comedy and fantasy with an underlying message.

Watching the movie urges your soul to board the first plane to Paris to experience all this beauty in person. And then comes the mind and asks whether you will see the same beauty as in the movie or rather this?

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Upbringing vs.Personal Responsibility

A new singer candidate for my choir: "I regret stopping piano, but my parents didn't make me practice". Hey, that's my line, but I don't buy it anymore. It's so much easier to blame someone else or find excuses than acting upon something we consider important.

I hear adults in their 50 and 60s blaming or praising their parents/teachers/siblings for the way their lives turned out and I can't stop wondering where is that elusive boundary between upbringing and the choices we make. Unlike canned food, upbringing doesn't come with an expiry date. Its impact diminishes with time, making room for personal responsibility. Or does it?

Thursday, June 9, 2011


For some time now, I was looking to replace my 30-years old Kenwood Chef. It was a great mixer (still is) but it got old and noisy and there was no food processor matching this old model. I looked into the separate mixer (like KitchenAid) and food processor configuration, but since I keep the mixer on the counter-top, the all-in-one idea makes a lot more sense to me. So naturally, when I saw the new Kenwood Chef models in the importer's glitzy showroom, they felt familiar and reliable, just like my battle-proven model and I decided to buy one. Got a good price and took a unit from the importer (same place I bought the previous one 30 years ago) the same day.

When chefs use food processors on cooking shows, it seems so easy and convenient. You place the food in the bowl, close the lid and rotate a dial to turn on the machine and set its operating speed. It looked as even a person with two left hands like me can use a food processor with no difficulty. Although  I'm a novice user of the new machine, I assumed that all Kenwood products are easy to use like my old mixer, so I made a brave move and planned the Shavuoth meal for 8 (invited some friends over) around the new food processor attachment. This decision is actually in line with my risk-taking cooking policy of using my friends as guinea pigs for new dishes I prepare.

So I over-chopped some onions (common beginners' mistake), as I don't yet have the right correlation between processing time and food granularity. I also used the food processor for mixing and learned it would have been better to just chop the onions and use the K-beater for mixing. But these are minor issues. Apart from being too small, the major problem of this attachment is that it can be mounted on the mixer body only in a certain hard-to-achieve position. Also, it is over-engineered for safety: the lid cannot be open while the attachment is installed on the mixer, even when the power is off and there is no risk it'll chop your fingers. If you need to taste what's inside and add ingredients accordingly, you have to remove and install the attachment for each tasting. Obviously, the Kenwood engineers haven't heard of usability tests.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Timisoara Reunion 2011

When I lived in Oradea (sometimes I wonder if I ever did),  youngsters from Transylvania studied either in Cluj, or in Timisoara, as only these nearby cities had universities (a few studied in Bucharest or Iasi). Timisoara also had a rabbi: Dr. Ernest Neumann. Being a larger city and having affiliate citizens (as they now call these past students), Jews from Timisoara are a large, organized  group, thanks to Getta, the late rabbi's daughter, who maintains a site and publishes a monthly newsletter, featuring Jewish cultural events and related  activities.

She was one of the main organizers of the Timisoara reunion, held last week in Haifa. My husband studied in Timisoara, so we decided to participate, although I knew I wouldn't meet many acquaintances there. Since I had a plan to organize a reunion of Oradean Jews (but on a much larger scale), I decided to make this a learning experience.

The organizers invested a lot of time and effort in this meeting, but they lack practical experience in logistics, or so it seemed from the many organizational glitches. With more than 200 attendees, the site was in a busy Haifa location with no parking facilities. After a sweaty 15-minute walk, we arrived, got our name tags, a booklet and CD (was not clear what is being given out and where), and found ourselves in this crowded restaurant garden, with no mingling area and appetizers. There were no seating arrangements, so it took a very long time and some nerve-wrecking moments until everybody was seated. The speeches went on for too long, while the crowd was already impatient and hungry. The food was buffet-style, a difficult arrangement for the older participants (there were plenty in their 80s). Finding it unpleasant to stand in line for food, I never made it to the buffet. My husband brought me a plate with some salad, meat and petrous rice. Getta made a very nice movie for the occasion, but the screen was small and not visible from all tables.

Seeing old friends beats technicalities, so people really seemed to enjoy the reunion. I met some fellow Oradeans, Daniel Klein, Getta's son, and the reps of two Romanian organizations in Israel I didn't know about: former Labour minister Micha Harish of AMIR and Dan Krizbai of ICR, and even the rep of Radio Romania in Tel Aviv, Dragos Ciocirlan.

The cost per participant was a mere NIS 170 and the remaining budget (!) was donated to the Jewish cemetery in Timisoara. The well-meaning organizers are maybe not the best logistics experts, but for sure they are financial wizards.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Social Skills

There were two interesting ideas in the Friday newspaper. Columnist Yair Lapid righfully said we (Israelis) are much better in making others listen to our ideas than listening to others. Columnist Dana Spector said if we don't learn from our mistakes the first time, we should at least realize there is a pattern when the same situation happens again, and use the opportunity for soul searching on why we act the way we do.

How is this related to me?
Recurring pattern 1: too much information
I suppose I'm not a great listener myself, but with a twist. Instead of being judgmental and pushing my own agenda, I am first to admit that different things are not necessarily good or bad, they are simply different, but I feel an urge to offer advice or help. It's hard for me to get the idea of people telling me their problems or difficulties just to vent and get my empathy, I always jump in with some [uncalled for] advice. Even with the best of my intentions, people are not interested to hear my advice.

Recurring pattern 2: barriers
I know I am also distant, don't open up easily to new people in my life, unless I trust they will stay and our relationship will become meaningful with time. But how can it become more meaningful if I can't overcome my barriers and give them a chance?

To put it succinctly, I am simply unable of saying the right thing at the right time. I wonder when did I lose my social skills or is this a sign of aging? Do I need professional help?

Saturday, May 14, 2011

I Am My Own Best Doctor

Turns out I was right when I asked my GP for the blood tests mentioned in a previous post. Some test results were way outside the norm, so I made an appointment to hear my GP's opinion on changing a drug dosage to address the problem.

He is usually overbooked and spends less than 10 minutes per patient, but had enough time (out of my 10 alloted minutes) to discuss the rightfulness of the doctors' strike and show me his wife's payslip (she is also a doctor) to prove his point (As an aside, last time he ran for city council). My lab test results were less important, how I feel was completely unimportant, his only advice being to keep a stricter diet. I asked for a second opinion (luckily I have a doctor friend) and got completely different advice. Then I set my own dosage and started to feel better within a week.

Coming to think of it, in more than 10 years I am this GP's patient, he examined me maybe a handful of times, out of which twice he took my blood pressure (always perfect BTW) to comply with a health fund regulation. He either looks at papers I bring or at the monitor. He is very helpful with paperwork, though, unless it costs the fund an extra buck.

Monday, May 9, 2011

'Perfect Balcony' Project

The house of my childhood had a fairly large garden, dominated by a majestic nut tree and populated by lots of flowers, peaches, gooseberries, grapes, strawberries, table with benches, resting chairs, cats, dog and occasional chicken.

I never had a balcony before, so planning our perfect balcony was one of my challenges after moving into the new apartment 2 years ago. My wishlist inventory included an Armenian coffee table (lower that eyebrow, I'll explain) with 2 wooden resting chairs complete with footstools and matching cushions, a small herb 'garden', a griller, a climber, a mini-citrus and wind chimes. I started with much enthusiasm, decided to report successful completion in a blogpost, and even took pictures along the way.

A colleague of mine and proud owner of an ample collection of Armenian ceramics, introduced me to this world. You'd think Armenian ceramics are to be found in Armenia. Wrong. Turns out there are none there (I can attest the weirdness), and the best place to buy them is ... Jerusalem. If you still don't believe me, just google it up! The few rival Armenian ceramic artist families in Jerusalem claim their pieces are hand made, while the others' are mass produced. I just trusted my colleague's judgement and went to visit Arman Darian's shop on 12 Shlomtzion Hamalka st., Jerusalem. The shop was crammed with lots of pieces, one more beautiful than the other. I couldn't decide which way to look, it felt like being in Hansel and Gretel of Armenian ceramics.

There was progress and there was regression. The herb garden was nice, then some herbs died. The wooden resting chairs and matching cushions are in place, but without footstools. The Armenian table by Arman featuring the seven biblical kinds [of crops in the land of Israel] was beautiful, then the varnish popped and 2 tiles cracked. The griller is there and works well and much. Never got to the climber, mini-citrus and wind chimes, but have a small olive tree in a pot.

After more than a year later, I realized I won't achieve perfection (how stupid of me to even assume I would), as the balcony project is more an ongoing process than a task with a distinct endpoint. Today it's time to decorate the balcony with flags for Independence Day. Happy birthday, Israel!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Market Dilemmas

For months we are complaining about the rising vegetable and fruit prices in the supermarket. Unfortunately, there is no market in Holon, the closest being the Carmel in Tel Aviv. As a new emigrant, this long and crowded noisy-smelly strip of oriental mess appealed to me, but I haven't been there for many, many years.

A friend who buys there often and knows the worthy stands, offered me a guided shopping tour. Armed with a short shopping list and 2 empty bags for the catch, I met him there early in the morning, to avoid the Friday crowds.

(1) Turns out that early was not early enough to find a parking spot along the sidewalk, but too early for fresh merchandise, that just started to be unpacked.

(2) The prices are better than the supermarket, but the difference is 'eaten up' by the parking fee, especially if the quantities you buy are for less than a regiment of hungry soldiers.

(3) On one hand the place is an anti-hygienic forest of tin huts, on the other hand the mess of underwear, carrots, baked goods, fish and beads living in charming proximity makes is authentic. Your shopping experience depends on they way you decide to perceive it.

(4) You can shop efficiently, visiting your regular stands owned by the merchants you befriended during the years, or wander aimlessly and experience sights, sounds, smells and tastes. Or combine the two. Whatever you chose to do, my friendly advice is stop checking the prices of items you bought, for sure the nectarines are being sold for 2 shekkels less per kilo 3 stands away. Well, actually the ones you bought seem slightly larger now...

And my bonus for today's market visit was watching the surprise flyover rehearsal for Independence Day.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Last Night - The Movie

Friday night Dan invited friends over and told us in advance we are personae non grata in our own house. So I picked up the phone and invited friends for a night out. I thought about dinner and a movie. I never considered going to the cinema as spending quality time with someone, watching a movie is basically an individual experience, even though physically you are not alone (hence the dinner). Being a very busy woman (=she doesn't work), our friend S just told me what she doesn't want (restaurant), so I ended up picking the place, suggesting 3 movies and ultimately ordering the tickets. The name of the movie (Last Night) made the ordering process kind of comic, as the name kept appearing on the web form and confusing me - what do you mean last night? I want tickets for tonight.

To combine the no-restaurant request with a movie, it was finally decided to go to a VIP movie. This means the price (aka a small fortune) includes unlimited refreshments and drinks for 30-40 minutes, a huge screen and only a few rows of chairs, super-comfy armchairs with electrically adjustable backs and legrests, lots of place for your stuff, and even blankets.

The movie itself was aesthetically pleasing, but that's about the only positive thing I can say about it. In my view, a non-comedy should have a message to convey, something new to teach you about life, or yourself, provide food for thought. Yet, the only thought I had after watching this movie was 'boring'. I learned nothing about infidelity - definition, regrets and impact on relationships are not only individual to a person or couple, but also a matter of geography (I bet the French perceive it differently), so basically no rules apply.

Is it necessary to make a full length movie to tell me that?

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Chametz of the Soul

Sometimes in a shop or restaurant, the salesman/waiter addresses Israeli clients (me included) as 'chevreh' (pals, comrades, mates, buddies, amigos). My sons detest my reaction to this. They claim I'm not cool, unfriendly and I should just let go. The poor guy is just trying to be friendly. Sorry for my old fashionness, but the person is supposed to serve, not befriend me. I just want a normal service provider-customer relationship.

This goes on on a national level as well. In the last few days, there is an annoying commercial on the radio about Elijah (the one we open the door for on Passover eve) waiting for the children at Mini Israel, together with Moses, Pharaoh and all the other 'chevreh'. Respect!

Another pet peeve of mine is also related to the media. From time to time they cover criminal activities, crime is sensation, and sensation apparently sells. But the way they do it, the local Mafia families are presented as celebrities. We know their names, when they go to jail, when they are set free or arrested and interrogated by the police. Every such mention in the media makes them even more popular and fearsome in the underworld. Please, save us the details. We have the right to know, not the obligation.

Just some Passover soul cleaning.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Falling Apart

We switched to daylight saving time, but my body is still lagging behind. For a few weeks now I feel in a rut and have this heavy, yet-another-workday feeling in the morning. My greatest wish was having breakfast with a human being before leaving for work, instead of just rushing out the door into the eternal traffic jams. Unfortunately I am the last one to leave the house in the morning, except for Venus the cat, who apart from being cute but not human, doesn't feel like socializing in the morning.

Then, out of the blue, I chipped a tooth and was on painkillers until my dentist could see me. She explained that the 'crater' is so deep that the nerves were almost uncovered (hence the painkillers). I can either have a root canal treatment and crown (or cap), or and extraction and implant. I chose the first option and asked her why this happened. "Fatigue of material", came the laconic answer. With everything feeling difficult and slow, I decided it's time for hypothyroidism blood tests.

For years, we are having a widowed relative and his family for the Seder (Passover ceremony and dinner, usually celebrated in large family gatherings). I always felt this is something I have to do, so they are not on their own for the holiday. Onto this steady platform, I used to invite more friends and relatives, so they are not on their own either. This year, the widow's daughter and my son cannot leave their base and he decided there is no point in celebrating without them. They are not coming. My other son threatening to celebrate with friends, I'm certainly not going to bother for just the two of us. Turns out without these relatives, the usual holiday celebration is falling apart. I realized THEY did us a favor all these years and not the other way around. Leaving my Polishness behind, I had my cousin invite us for the meal. They were invited themselves, but didn't want us to be on our own (sounds familiar, doesn't it?).

Time for some spring buzz taking over the falling-apart days.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

First Arab Democracy?

A Tunisian vegetable seller sets himself on fire, and next thing you know, the Arab world is trying to shake off its tyrants. Some left, some are more stubborn.

As always, we are posing the eternal question: is this good or bad for the Jews? According to Thomas Friedman, democracy is supposed to be good for peace, that's why the West wants to see democratic Arab states (while more realistic Israelis praise stability), but is this going to happen?

At the beginning of the revolution, we saw and heard middle class Egyptians claiming that anti-Israeli propaganda is an insult to their intelligence, they are not going to attack us, they have enough problems of their own. So why are we not convinced? The well organized Muslim Brotherhood (and others) called for a reassessment of the peace treaty with Israel. Mubarak was denounced as a friend of Israel, gas export has stopped and the Egyptian embassy in Tel Aviv stopped issuing visas for Israelis. The military of this 84 million neighboring nation (we are barely 7) has top notch American gear and is constantly training against the IDF. Each year, one million new Egyptians join the ranks of the unemployed and corruption is wide spread. Turning Egypt into a democracy is a long and painful process, with a fair chance for the masses to loose patience and faith in a better system along the way. When that happens, self-preserving power can conveniently point at an external enemy (Israel) to divert attention from real problems (as countless examples in the history of nations teach us), while extremists and fundamentalists are ready to offer a better 'solution' to the impatient mases.

In the mean time, gas supply has resumed and the Egyptians intercepted truckloads of weapons from Sudan meant for Hamas in Gaza.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

First Girlfriend

For some time now, I hoped Tom (20) will have a girlfriend. I thought how wonderful it would be for him that in addition to being mom's cuddly baby and the most loving son in the whole wide world, there would be a girl to love him for being this honest, intelligent, loving, compassionate and humorous young man he is. I would ask him from time to time what's going on, knowing how shy he is. The answers were evasive, usually around 'there aren't any nice enough or smart enough girls where I hang around', until one day, while spending quality time together, he told me about O, his first girlfriend. He was afraid I'll ask many questions. I didn't. I was happy for him. But the change was so sudden that I didn't have a chance to get used to my new status as woman number 2 in his life. He spent more time with her than with us, which, coming to think of it, is actually quite logical, but neither my nor his logic were fully functioning at the time. I guess I made some inappropriate comments until his 'you are not in competition' made me realize my mistake.

Judging by the short time I saw her (a few minutes one morning and evening and once for lunch),  O really seems a nice young woman. She must be if Tom likes her. I know there will probably be other girlfriends, so there's no point getting too involved. As always, I try to support him as much as I can (with phone calls, lots of home made cookies, stuffed eggs and errands), I drive him and change my schedule around his, whenever possible.

Tom got  a 2-day vacation starting tonight. He is going to see O first, then come home tomorrow morning. I'm cool with it. I know this makes him happy. Isn't this what we really want for our kids?

Friday, February 4, 2011


Some people taste a dish and can identify its ingredients. Some listen to music and can identify the composer, the performer and the conductor. Some look at a product and can reverse engineer it.

We are having a late Friday lunch in our kitchen. Strange squealing-like noise is coming from the walls. "Our downstairs neighbor is trying to drill a hole in a concrete wall, with a screwing machine attached to an electric drill with weak batteries", says my husband, Peter. He despises using the wrong tool for the job and almost considers offering the neighbor his hammer drill. When he needs to do a job, he first makes sure he has the right tool for it. If not, he makes or improvises one.

Peter is a tool collector. He has tools for every possible profession (even defunct ones) and task. He respects his tools, including those that belonged to his late grandfather. With his amazingly good hands, he can fix everything around the house. He enjoys it too. We enjoy the results.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Duty to Enjoy

A colleague of mine was talking for a long time about joining the Pilates class at the gym. After she finally made it (to the one class I missed), I asked her how it was. "I'm not going again", she said. "I didn't enjoy". What a novel idea, I thought, enjoying an activity right from the beginning, before you get to a certain level.

In a TV interview about private high schools, a middle-class father explains: "my daughter didn't enjoy going to the [public] school, so I moved her here". I never thought about high school as an enjoyable experience. You go because you need education and because your parents expect it from you.

Our jobs are not merely a means to survive, we enjoy our challenging tasks and status at work. Life is short and we want to enjoy as much as we can right now, not later, after we finish our duties.

With this inflation in enjoyment, sometimes I wonder what happened to good(?) old sense of duty.

The ascetic blogger.

Monday, January 17, 2011

You Are Not Guilty

With all the Katsav festival going on in the media, there was one short sentence in a Yedioth article that grabbed my attention. It was an anonymous letter sent to the newspaper by a 45-year old religious woman about a rape attempt that happened to her when she was 18, while volunteering in a Tel Aviv hospital. She had a small injury and was treated by a doctor there. After the treatment, the doctor (40+) offered her a lift home. On the way, he made up some story about a female patient he had to visit in a hotel for treatment, to trick her into going into the hotel. While she was waiting in the hall, he asked her to bring his case and once in there, he assaulted her and tried to rape her. She fought him and managed to escape and run home, where her mother told her to keep the episode to herself as nobody would believe a teenager, but rather the well-known hospital doctor. This is the story in a nutshell, without many other details published in the article.

'Why didn't I see the signs?' was the woman's sentence that intrigued me. Because you couldn't. No unexperienced 18-year old has a chance against a 40+ criminal, who planned the rape in advance. What is it with us women that makes us feel guilty when we are sexually harassed? Why do we always ask ourselves whether we did something to provoke it or maybe didn't do enough to prevent it? Can a man understand this "logic"? How many such incidents (some 'successful') happen without anyone knowing about them or being punished? Why are we ashamed? (Actually I have a good guess for this one.)

In his own distorted view, Katsav doesn't understand what's wrong with showing affection (that's what he believes he did) to women, even though they say they are not interested. He belongs to a different place (Iran?) and time, not to our democratic reality, where women don't have to put up with this kind of behavior.

As for his sentence - I believe it should be more severe than that of an average person who has committed the same crimes. He not only hurt those women, but also, as a symbol of the state, embarrassed all the citizens (I feel personally ashamed) and caused Israel to get negative publicity. The punishment should be proportional to the damage he caused.

Global Food Crisis

Experts are threatening once again with Malthusian catastrophe. Malthus was wrong when he first predicted that population growth will outpace agricultural production meaning there won't be enough food for everybody, because he did not consider new agricultural technology. In many places agriculture is still rudimentary, so there is more room for improvement there and with genetically modified food, so he might be proven wrong once again.

The reasons for the global food crisis are well known, and so are some measures governments can take. China realized this potential problem many years ago and ruled the controversial one-child policy to save the nation from starvation. Population growth in Western world is declining naturally, while developing and poor countries are adding 100 million people every year to the world population. And these are the people to suffer the most from increased food prices.

Westerners could eat less meat and use grains for food rather than fuel, but why are people giving birth to children whom they cannot feed in the first place? Because of religion and because they want to outnumber the others at any cost. They figure that by expanding their problem, it will become everybody's problem.

There, I've said what many are afraid to admit.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


When I was younger, I used to drink either hot chocolate or coffee with milk. I thought tea is for old or sick people. Lately, I find myself drinking more and more tea, and since I'm not sick, it means I'm getting old. Logical, right?

We now posses a collection of all sorts of tea, some in their original package, some in tin boxes with improvised labels, crammed and stacked in the kitchen cupboard. No wonder it's hard to see what's on offer.

Although I'm a lousy shopper and never actually long to buy stuff, I decided we need a tea box, but not an ordinary one. I want a special, arty box. Actually, I saw some very nice wooden boxes with mother-of-pearl marquetry in the Old City bazaar of Jerusalem and I'm wondering whether these are suitable for tea and decently priced.

If I decided to buy something already, why not do it with style?

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Satellite Woes

In a previous post I mentioned we bought a new TV. Last week we added to it a home entertainment system (also known as home cinema) and today we completed the unholy trinity with a new satellite set-top box that allows us to view HD channels, record and order VOD. For oldies like us, this is a big leap forward, as we still own (and sometimes use) an analog stereo system, including a tape recorder and a vinyl record player. Yes, we have audio cassettes and vinyl records, as unbelievable as it sounds.

The new TV is really smart, can even connect to a LAN, and the HD channels look superb. If everything is good, then why am I mad? Because this is not what I wanted.

I asked the satellite company to replace our 3 set-top boxes with simple HD ones (no recording, no VOD). The rep 'translated' this to one newest-model box and scheduled a technician for a couple of weeks later. The technician came today and that's when we realized the gap. This plan is more expensive than what I thought, we get features we'll probably never use (even with video tapes we never watched what we recorded, and we usually don't order VOD), the set-top box took up the last port on our wireless router we planned to connect the TV to, and HD is available on one TV only. I hate paying for stuff I don't need. 'There is lots of free stuff in the VOD library, and episodes of series that you might have missed when they were broadcast - all for free', the technician tried to convince us. 'I have one plain HD box in my car for ages as no customer wants these anymore', he continued. So we decided to try it for a month, and change the plan if we won't use the extras.

In the evening, I remembered I missed the last episode of a popular satirical show, so I decided to put the technician's words into practice and watch it. I plodded through the new menus with the new remote just to find out the episode was not free.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Alpha Trips

Unlike Jacob, the Israeli tour guide in the Simpsons' episode about Israel, licensed Israeli tour guides are highly professional. They study for almost 2 years and have to renew their license yearly after more compulsory vocational training. There is a lot of ground to cover, after all this country is packed with history, archeology, religion and culture.

Before 'real' university studies toward his ultimate goal of becoming an ambassador, Dan is studying to be a tour guide and enjoying every second. Since he is approaching a stage when he can get a temporary license, I advised him to practice on a group of friends, taking them on trips for gaining experience, and publicize these beta trips on Facebook. After several reminders and months, he finally decided to take my advice.(Look up the FB group he built).

Before each such trip, he organizes an alpha trip for a limited number of friends to rehearse the beta trip. I had the pleasure of joining several alpha trips and enjoyed immensely. The last one was in the City of David, in Jerusalem. The shape of the ancient Jebusite city reminded me of Manhattan, with the Kidron as the East River and the Central Valley as the Hudson. Although the landscape is different now than in Biblical times as valleys have filled up with remnants of past civilizations, The Valley street  (rechov ha-guy) in the Old City follows the trail of the ancient Central Valley. The 500m waterway we walked through is a 2700-year old engineering masterpiece, with water flowing through it today as it did then. In general, the site consists of 17 discreet excavations, with important archeological findings buried under private houses and gardens. Passing from site to site, visitors actually touch the Arab-Israeli conflict.

During his tours, Dan loves reading from the Bible and then pointing to the place where the Biblical story happened, enlivening it. His vivid explanations transform, in my [poor] imagination, any pile of rocks into the lively places they once were. And of course, I'm not biased.

Lately, a journalist approached him for an interview about his trips for the national GLBT website. 'Don't forget to tell him the trips were my idea', I remind him before the interview.  'Were they? I don't remember'.