Sunday, December 29, 2013

Wrist and More

My wrist pain is back. I put an elastic bandage around it, not too tight, more to remind myself not to strain it until I find a better solution. People seeing the bandage or hearing about it said it stops the blood flow. So I removed the bandage. Went into Superpharm to look at wrist support bands, but could not decide which one would work. Decided to consult my family doctor when I see him next time.

I come to his office with the results of my annual checkup so he could enter them in the computer (it is as stupid as it sounds). "According to the latest research, people who do periodic checkups don't live longer or better than those who don't", says my doctor, always up-to-date on the latest medical research, and starts entering the results. He prescribes medicine and explains the technological wonders of prescriptions with barcodes. Naturally, I forget to ask him about my wrist. End of wrist story, not the end of pain.

Later I stumble on an article about the advertising budget of my Health Fund, a good few million dollars. I imagine the volume of health services this money can buy and get angry. All I see from this budget is pushing useless shots, aggressive phone sales of  yet another insurance, a stupid newsletter, a retarded website and a cute animated TV commercial with a kid named Chamudi. At close to $ 300 monthly fee, I expect a much better web-based self-service system, medicine to the home, atypical tests when necessary, quality medicine and a doctor who actually checks me instead of typing on a computer.

Now, if I could get rid of the cactus in my throat, I'd feel better and complain less.

Friday, December 13, 2013

I Was Trafficked

No, this is not a mistake. I was sold and bought like a piece of merchandise. For $500. Really. My husband's list price was $3,000. The seller wanted 10,000, the buyer offered 2,000. The negotiations ended at the final price of 3,000.

In a shameful chapter of its history, Romania sold its own citizens. They sold Jews to Israel for petrol pumps, Danish piglets and cash.

Together with a cinema hall full of fellow trafficked compatriots, I watched Radu Garbrea's documentary, Jews for Sale, and saw how our own immigration story (which I may blog about one day) was part of the bigger political and economic picture of the time. 

Neurologist Dr Ashkenazi from Bucharest tells his own story in the movie. When he is finally on the plane to Israel, his brain tricks him into feeling like the plane is flying back. I had a similar moment in 1984 when I boarded a train way before it was supposed to leave the station, and refused to step on the platform again, fearing I would be left behind forever. I'm sure many immigrants had variations of this moment.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Accelerating Technological Change - Impact on Humans

There are many theories and discussions about accelerating technological change. However, one point is clearly under-discussed: the impact of this insane ride on individual health and happiness, and human society.

The need to stay updated and constantly reinvent ourselves to stay ahead is clearly taking its toll and will eventually backlash. People already refuse to be constantly online and reachable, don't check their mails every minute or update their status on social media apps, prefer real over virtual, local over global. Will people compromise on wealth for a better work-life balance? 

Some already do and more will follow. We'll see alternative lifestyles (Amish-style, ecological?), social structures (eradicate social injustice of immensely rich vs. dirt poor) and employment models (balance overworked with unemployed, new forms of cooperatives?). What will happen in countries wealthy enough to offer their citizens a modest living without the need to work and work as we know it today will be optional?

Here is an interesting article I recommend (with thanks to Ilan F).

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Tourism Paradigm Shift

Unbelievable as it sounds, I started this post in 2008(!), under the title "What's Wrong with Tourism?". The few bullet points I wrote laid in the draft copy undeveloped until new technology (websites and applications) came to the rescue.

The main idea I wanted to convey back in 2008 wast hat tourists usually have a shallow experience of countries they visit. They see sites and take pictures, but don't get to know locals, talking only to receptionists, waiters and other service providers. Yes, there are exceptions, but they are not the norm.

Vacation home exchange sites were the first step into a deeper experience, with the movie The Holiday suggesting this is a way of finding romance. soon followed opening up two-way communications. and give useful comments and rankings, making them invaluable for planning and booking vacations. is the latest I heard of, helping you dine in private homes or host travelers for a meal in yours.

So yes, tourism becomes more personal, a positive shift for people who like to know others from around the world. But with all this globalization going on, we are still looking for and value the authentic and uncharted.

Vacation Summary

We summarize. Everything. We discuss likes and dislikes and sometimes grade. Virgos like closures, so here goes.

We recently returned from a 3-week vacation in Slovenia, Croatia, a bit of Italy and a pinch of Austria. Yes, 3 weeks. Not so long ago, it was not unusual to take 3-4-week vacations. Now you tell someone you took off 3 weeks and they look at you like a weirdo or sinner. While everything happens in shorter cycles, our brains need time to disengage, absorb the change of scenery, calm down, relax, and return to work refreshed. This "always-connected" modern slavery will lead to counter-revolution. Not sure we'll see droves of people joining the ranks of the Amish, but many will try alternative, quieter lifestyles.

Our two twenty-something year old boys came with us. Grownup kids joining their parents on vacation is also unusual. But actually we joined them. Tom organized the trip, Dan drove, we sat back and relaxed (when he wasn't driving too fast) and paid the bills. We argued, even about such petty things as the order of visiting sites on a certain day, but all in all it was a pleasant togetherness. Actually, I was the only one not fitting in, as the long uphill walks were difficult for me, while the guys jumped around stones and boulders with the gracefulness of mountain goats.

This was the first time we were repeatedly recognized by locals as Israelis before saying anything. So after four decades we look like Israelis. More precisely, like Israelis traveling across Europe. Actually, one person said I look Scottish. Never met anyone Scottish, so I don't know about that. Israelis abroad tend to recognize each other, but with all the globalization going on, this is becoming more difficult. Instead of the irritating "where are you from in Israel?" you get a long stare when hearing Hebrew.

Going away also helps putting things in perspective. Regardless of the tenseness and frequent news about the Middle East, Europeans have their own lives are worries, they know surprisingly little about what's going on here. We are certainly not at the center of their attention.

Slovenia has Switzerland-like landscapes, with Ljubljana as its small but chic capital, with many landmarks designed by their visionary architect Plecnik. Larger but poorer Croatia's Zagreb looks more like an architectural patchwork. Northern industriousness versus Mediterranean mindset coarsely summarizes the difference between the two countries. Trieste is super-polluted, while old Vienna offers grand palaces, music and pastries.

We enjoyed the mix of outdoors (mountains and valleys, caves and waterfalls, forests and gardens, lakes and rivers), cooler weather, culture, food and wine, being served, and the interaction with different people. Any suggestions for next year?

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Pride and Criticism

A former colleague of mine married years ago a Swedish woman. Her family wanted to know about Israelis, so he gave them Efraim Kishon books. Later attempts at explaining us came from Tomy and then Yair Lapid. Not comparing myself to such giants in the genre, just giving my 2 humble agorot.

We, Israelis have dual feelings for our country: proud on the one hand and critical on the other. On the one hand, we proudly fight the "camels in the desert" image with Start-Up Nation. On the other hand, we criticize the "exit" culture. Start-ups are great, but if we sell all our ideas how can an Israeli Intel or Microsoft be grown?

For all these start-ups, you'd think we have a fantastic schooling system. Wrong. We constantly criticize it, while proudly keeping track of our many Nobel prizes. We are proud that all major global hi-tech firms have R&D facilities here. It makes us feel global, not some tiny "island" in the Middle East you reach by flight. It makes us feel a normal, Western country. Actually, are we more special than normal, and like it that way.

When people are fearsome to visit because of all the "shootings" they see on CNN, we protest vehemently, recommend them watching Fox News and tell them we live completely normal lives. We work, play, rest, shop, eat. We are proud that Tel Aviv is ranked high on the world tourism map, it's liberal and gay-friendly, but we criticize if for being crowded and hedonist, the self-concerned "Tel Aviv Land".

We love to tell everyone we work long hours, for smaller salaries than the OECD average, yet pay higher taxes. (As an aside, our brothers in the Diaspora don't like to hear these facts. They claim they also work hard and also suffer from terror. This reminds me of two elderly Jews competing on who has more illnesses.) While we are proud of our strong, growing economy, we criticize our low Better Life Index, yet we know it's the price we pay to secure this 3000-year history patch of land that gives us such meaningful lives.

Saturday, May 18, 2013


This was a few weekends ago, but I was too busy to blog about it in real time. Better late than never. After a week of bad cold with a cactus-like feeling in my throat, I was well enough to attend my choir's bonding weekend in kibbutz Hanaton. We were told  to expect basic conditions, attend rehearsals and bring our performance costume as we might give a short concert Saturday night.

One thing however, was below my lowest of expectations: the tablecloth. I know this sounds really weird, but let's start from the beginning.

We arrived a bit late as we came from a surprise birthday lunch in Betzet (near Nahariya). When we got there, the choir was already rehearsing in a plastic tent, so I immediately joined the rehearsal. While I was singing, hubby carried our luggage into a spacious room, that included a noisy, 3-legged fridge outperformed by the air-conditioning. Then, he moved the car outside an internal gate, so we can leave before Sabbath is over. The inhabitants at various levels of religiousness (from none to just below ultra-orthodox) promote mutual religious respect.

Later on we learned that Hanaton was an anglo kibbutz that underwent privatization (like many others) and its current legal status is "privatized kibbutz". This may explain the general disrepair, empty pool and piece of dining room ceiling that fell on a luckily empty table, leaving a deadly combination of electrical wires hanging and water dripping from the hole, while we were eating at a nearby table. After the population went down to 5 families, city folks moved in to try and revive the place. Current population is 50 families with prospective ones visiting on weekends to see whether they fit in. The funny thing is that this non-kibbutz has an expansion, with some nice villas overlooking an artificial lake.

On Saturday we were told there will be no performance, as only very few people were interested to attend. So we just rehearsed. During the afternoon rehearsal, people hearing the singing started entering our plastic tent. With the number of visitors gradually increasing, we ended up giving a very nice, ad-hoc performance.

During the afternoon, my cold returned and the initially dispersed bad feeling settled in my left ear. The pain became so acute on the long drive home, that I decided to see a doctor before returning home. My Health Fund's emergency doctor saw me after a 40-minute wait, diagnosed me with otitis and prescribed antibiotics and two types of ear drops. We went straight to the pharmacy, bought the medicine and I started treatment the same evening. Very efficient, but not impressive for that 1000-shekkel/month mandatory health insurance premium.

So there was singing and bonding and a pleasant weekend, despite the sore ending. Oh, and the tablecloth story I promised. After being told to expect basic conditions, people were surprised by the edible food. Only I complained about it. In retrospective the food was actually half decent. What made me think it wasn't, was the depressing tablecloth arrangement. I don't mind eating at a simple, uncovered table, but having a disposable tablecloth covered by a crumpled plastic sheet is way under my aesthetic threshold. Not to mention that the huge plastic sheet was non-ecologically thrown into garbage after every meal.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Most Israeli Day

Memorial Day morning. Peter goes to shop for some lamb chops and other ingredients for tomorrow's BBQ. I just got a recipe for a great marinade and mint pesto from a South African lady teaching cooking in her Hod Hasharon kitchen. After breakfast, we decide to walk to the industrial area to look for some training gear for Peter. The streets are quiet, almost deserted, general sadness in the air. While walking through the park, the siren goes on for 2 minutes. We stand still, enveloped in our individual feelings. I think about lost young lives, I see dying soldiers, sudden deaths, long and painful deaths. Tears crawl from under my sun glasses onto my cheeks. The few people around us with kids and dogs stand still too. Cars stop and the drivers get out and stand by their cars. Loud bird sounds in the air.

We pass along a building site. Lately, tall office building started rising in Holon, with some hi-tech firms moving in shortly. We discuss the advantages of working close to home. On the way, we enter a pet shop to buy anti fur-ball paste for Venus. We wander along the isles, looking at the fish in aquariums. They remind us snorkeling in the Maldives. Finally, the lady at the cashier offers help. Before paying, she tells us how her Facebook page is full of pictures of dogs employed by the IDF's Oketz Unit, she is fascinated and moved by the respect the dogs get and their own cemetery. She gives me a baseball cap with the Israeli flag print, as a present.

We don't find the training gear sought, but discover a new food shop, where we buy seasoned feta cheese cubes in olive oil for tonight's Greek salad, and a cup of fresh lemonade. On the way back, we discover a bike path. After lunch, Peter rests while I read through two newspapers. He decorates the balcony for Independence Day with flags and epileptic blue lights. While on the balcony admiring the decorations, we're debating the hour the fireworks start. "At quarter to nine", says Chezy, our upstairs neighbor, former war prisoner and current bank branch manager. He is in the window overlooking our balcony, and we realize he was listening to our conversation. I ask him if he likes our decorations and he replies politely. He gives us his daily Globes copy, as he gets another one at work.

I do some volunteering for the wannabe party candidate for the upcoming  municipal elections: I make up a slogan, list the major problems we need to solve in the city, write about the improvements we'll bring to the city council. While researching, I learn that our municipal budget is above 950M shekkels. Dan is impressed by the figure.

After consuming the Greek salad for dinner with the ceremonies on TV in the background, Dan and I are headed to see the fireworks. Lots of folks are outside, walking on the closed-for-traffic street. We sit on the traffic island and wait for the fireworks to start. No cellular connection. The antenna opposite us is most probably overloaded by the sudden heavy cellular traffic. The national ceremony is heard via loudspeakers. Before they end, partisan fireworks start in a nearby penthouse. After the mayor speaks shortly, the "official" fireworks begin. They are truly splendid. Tom calls from the army just to let me know he is OK. I manage to barely hear him with the firework booms. We return in the midst of foam spray, oversize inflated plastic hammers, kids, dogs and baby carriages.

Happy 65th Independence Day, Israel. Thank you for being.

Saturday, March 16, 2013


Dan studies towards a double BA in Economics and Political Science. Pol sci is easy for him, he gets high grades, the profs like him. Economics are harder. He says I don't encourage him. He says he doesn't enjoy his economics studies.

I see an equation here: easy=instant gratification=like, hard=dislike. Difficulties should be overcome, not explained. I never believed those students who said, "I got 60, but if I had invested more time, I would have got 100". In my opinion, this is a poor excuse for not actually getting the high grade. Because if you invested all you got and still got 60, what does it say about you? That it's the grade you deserve. If you want me to believe you can do better, do it, don't explain.

For me (and many in my generation), enjoying studies is a completely new concept. Nobody told me I was supposed to enjoy studies. I did, sometimes, but studies were just a means to an end, something you go through, without philosophizing too much over them. Nowadays  people want to also enjoy the way, not just the destination. This attitude makes sense to me, but I wasn't raised that way. My parents always emphasized the importance of studies, preferably in a practical field, transferable across borders and languages. Studies were important because knowledge, unlike material goods, cannot be taken away from you. Learning or doing something for enjoyment was called a hobby. The notion of enjoyment was never mentioned to me, not in relation to studies, not in relation to work, not in relation to life. I was expected to do my duties, studies being one of them. The underlying message was that studies lead to better paid jobs, that lead in some mysterious and unexplained way to a happier life, whatever that meant.

My upbringing emphasized the importance of formal degrees for signaling to potential employers that I am capable of performing a job. It never occurred to me that I could start my own business, as in communism there was no such thing. "Entrepreneurship" was not in my vocabulary. Slowly but surely I realized that formal studies or a high IQ don't necessarily guarantee success in life. Though not formally taught, leadership, resourcefulness, networking, motivation, risk taking, communication skills and courage  (not to mention capital) are important contributing factors to one's success. Bill Gates and  new Finance Minister Yair Lapid demonstrate just that.

But even with this "newly" gained wisdom, I still  teach my sons to work hard for their degrees. Not only will this make them appreciate the achievement, but also give them the confidence they can overcome difficulties. This is my encouragement.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Music 1-2-3


Fourteen weeks ago I enrolled in a series of lectures about the history of Western classical music, the most delightful course I ever took. Even people who know and enjoy classical music can benefit from this great series, presented by Nir Lichtig. Nir presents eloquently and chooses great listening pieces. The venue was superb for the series, the Felicja Blumental Music Center and Library in Tel Aviv. At the course I met fellow music lovers, one of them, Moty Hermann, writes a music blog. Sadly, next Thursday is the last lecture of the series, as all good things must come to an end. Or not. I'll look for a set of DVDs (perhaps published by the BBC?) and try Nir's other series, focused one more specific subjects. I'm addicted. 


The illustration above belongs to artist Teodora Vlaicu (whom I know personally) and is taken from her page on ArtFlakes, a great site to explore and order prints. For US readers: use her page on FineArtAmerica.


My choir will sing at the Passover choral festival in Ein Hod. Come and listen, although our sound will be somewhat unbalanced as two baritone singers will not participate.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

My First Political Volunteering - Interim Summary

Why did I start? A combination of being inspired by a new leader whose agenda makes a lot of sense to me, and curiosity to learn how politics work from the bottom up.

My first activity was distributing "equal service for all" flyers on the hot August asphalt of Holon junction to drivers stopping at the red light, with a huge sign strapped to my back. I distributed different party materials all over Holon, (my walking mileage comparable to a mailman's), made phone calls looking for other volunteers, participated in meetings and carried out laptop-based tasks. The most fun activity by far, was the one on the Friday after the elections. We distributed candy in the local mall to thank the voters, an act that took the crowds by surprise. Israeli voters are used to being ignored right after the elections. To the best of my knowledge, no other party did anything like that.

Very early in the process I realized that my expectation to learn how politics work at the lowest level was quite stupid, as this new party consists of excellent people with an impressive track record, but without any political background, as part of their "new politics" agenda. Everybody learns on the job.

One thing I learned while distributing the party's "small business assistance program" flyer is that Holon residents are very particular about their hair styling, otherwise there is no explanation for the existence of  the 765,923 hair salons I visited during this activity.

What I really learned though, was more about myself, about the way I interact with people who don't populate the little bubble of hi-tech employees and friends I live in. I learned that it's relatively easy for me to connect to people (smiling and being polite helps a lot). However, handing a flyer or convincing someone on the phone to volunteer proved easier for me than interacting with the weird bunch of volunteers in our branch: a sincere, autodidact retail manager, an annoyingly bragging retired bus driver, a former old-school business professor, a vociferous woman wearing excessive quantities of make-up, a mysterious lawyer and his friend, a militarist party official who looks through but never at me, to mention just a few.

Transitioning from the elections-focused, high-tension activity to building a lasting infrastructure is a challenging period for the party. I want to stay on as I believe the new MKs are committed to better our lives. When inquiring about continued volunteering, I was told the part definitely needs people like me, but they haven't yet figured out what for.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Domestic Peace

An article I read a while ago talked about a couple living in separate apartments in the same building and why this works out for them. They met relatively late in life, they were both single with incompatible lifestyles. She has an apartment full of memorabilia and small items, she is neat, she cooks, she keeps pets, and has a deep feeling for her home. He likes simple, clean designs, large, functional items, doesn't cook, doesn't like pets, and is not particularly tidy. They waited for an opportunity to get closer, which presented itself  in the form of an apartment for sale right above hers. And since they don't want children, this arrangement is absolutely perfect for them. They prevented the petite quarrels over toothpaste, clothes on the floor and such. If you are in a similar situation and can afford it, it's absolutely genial.

Young adults living with their parents is a new trend fueled by insane housing prices. Parents of such kids are tempted to continue and educate them and this causes continuous friction. It's hard to let go and not try perfecting them "for their own sake". Here is a small tip I discovered myself and I'm sharing it with the world. I used to be mad at [expensive] clothes thrown on the floor and yell, until one day I got so mad, I decided to do something about it. I can't not care, but I can take one minute and hang the clothes on hangers. Decided and acted on. No more yelling, no friction. I told him it's really easy and preferable for me to do this and not be mad anymore. I was ready to go on with this arrangement, but after a coupe of days, he felt uneasy and started doing it himself. "Let me know if you want me to come and hang your clothes for you". "No need, I'll do it, mom". Shows that if you are serious about something, it works.