Friday, October 17, 2014

Returning to Israel

I've recently returned from a 10-day trip to Portugal. I learned a lot about this country and had a good time. However, I'm not going to describe the trip here, rather discuss insights I got by just being away. It's good to go away sometimes and get new perspectives.

One thing I realized is how much our lives here are abnormal in some ways. Normally, I would be the last person to admit this, but what seems natural when living here, feels different when you return. Our days are full with [bad] news, grief, politics, self-proclaimed importance of our agenda, cost of living and so on. These topics envelop us invisibly and we are either unaware of them or have canned excuses, like "we deal with important issues, rather than trivial ones of plastic". I admit being guilty of both coping techniques. Anticipating that in a couple of days the abnormal will become normal again, I'm capturing the feeling of the moment.

I have said many times that "our important issues" give additional meaning to our lives, a sense of purposefulness, for a price I am ready to pay to keep Israel up for Jews to "come home" in case of need. I never thought I deserve a prize for this or regretted the better life I could have had elsewhere. This is my choice, this is right for me. However, a Tel Aviv University professor has different ideas. He claims that we provide free insurance to Jews in the diaspora. They live their good lives, knowing that when need arises, they will just hop on a plane to Ben Gurion airport and be welcomed here, no questions asked. So basically we go through all the difficulties to act as shelter for them and not for ourselves. He is proposing to put a time limit on the Law of Return, say 5 years from now. Whoever wants to come after that date, should be subjected to immigration policy, like in other countries. He knows that such a change in the law would never be voted for, but it makes sense to him.

This reminds me when we went through some old photos and documents of a relative of mine, who lives in the diaspora. One of the documents was her parents' ktubah (marriage contract). "Please don't touch this, this is my proof for being Jewish" she said and quickly slipped the insurance policy back into the drawer.

It's complicated. Israel and the diaspora need each other. The wealthy will always have more options to go elsewhere and the poor should perhaps have that free insurance. For now, there is no differentiation and chances are it will continue to be so.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Flying Low Cost and other Annoyances

I keep hearing about low cost flights for a while, but only recently I decided to try them. I booked a flight to Budapest with UP and one back with Wizzair.

Printed my own boarding pass and headed for the airport with hand luggage only. Passing security and passport control was a breeze (with the bio-metric machines), so I had plenty of time for shopping at the James Richardson duty free shop. Or so I thought. Hubby asked me to buy two bottles and since I don't know know much about alcohol, I had to get instructions on the phone. By the time I was done, I was left with just enough time to sip a cup of coffee at the Dan lounge where I bumped into a colleague. Haven't looked at the display to double-check my flight details, after all it's all the boarding pass, right? In theory. Filled my empty bottle (has to be empty to pass security) and headed to the gate at the boarding time just to find it empty and deserted. Didn't understand what's going on, but soon enough the loudspeaker invited the passengers for Budapest to another gate. Gate deserted. A man runs after me with my mobile phone in his hand - it fell off my bag while I was rushing to the gate. A second loudspeaker announcement guides me to the third and actual gate to my flight. With some help, I manage to find a spot for my luggage in the overhead compartment, but the passengers boarding after me were less lucky and their luggage was taken away. My neighbor in the window seat: a woman with a white poodle peeking out of a bag. It has pink ribbons in its ears. No problem with legroom, the seat is reclinable, but "features" a hole instead of lower back support. Time is crawling. The flight attendants serve mineral water. Twice. My other neighbor eats dinner he brought on board. I feel hungry. Had no time to eat at the lounge. After landing and passport control, the bench mate from a previous post and her husband greet me and drive me to their country home on a Danube bend island. Here begins the good part of my short vacation, which deserves a blogpost of its own.

On the day of departure, we arrive early to the airport to meet my niece there. She arrives, we talk, then I check in (I have to, even though I have my self-printed boarding pass). They measure my bag, the size is good, but they ask me to pack my purse in the bag, otherwise it counts as an additional piece of luggage that needs to be paid for (70 Euro). My niece waits for me to pass security as I was concerned they will make me throw away my perfume. They don't. The gate number is not yet displayed. The shopping area is nice, but I have no patience looking around, trying to meet a friend who works for EL AL there. He is busy, but promises to come and meet me soon. WiFi is free but weak and only covers the shopping area. I fill my empty bottle with warm (!) water and head for the gate, which turns out to be the exit to a remote building, a concrete warehouse with no seating. They measure my luggage again and ask me to really pack my purse in the bag. I do so. A minute later nobody cares how many pieces of luggage I carry, but I don't know that yet. We are standing in line. I spot my friend who came looking for me. We talk briefly through the high fence. I feel like a caged animal in a zoo. The queue starts moving. We exit the warehouse and walk to the plane. The seats are not reserved. I find a seat between a guy playing football on his tablet and an old person with a bad breath. The seats are so horrible, they could easily win the first prize in the "most uncomfortable chair" contest. No water is served, but my water cooled down in the mean time and I brought sandwiches too! The flight back is shorter, two hours and fifty minutes compared to three and half hours the other way. The guy on my right constantly plays his football game. Finally, the lights of Tel Aviv! We land and I pass formalities in seconds. I am so pleased I forget to collect the bottles from the duty free. This is one of those "only in Israel" patents, that you buy duty free items before take-off, but instead of taking them with you, you collect them at arrival. When hubby asks me for the bottles I realize my mistake, but there is no way back. I try everything possible, in vain. Have to sort it out with customer support the next day. The best option is to ask someone to collect the items on my behalf after sorting out some paperwork.

So, my insights based on the above two low-cost flights are as follows:
1. Use a low-cost option only for flights no longer than four hours, or if you fly frequently and can't afford something better.
2. UP is definitely better than Wizzair and the prices are very similar.
3. Luggage requirements are strict, pay in advance for any extras.
4. Bring food and drink on board.
5. Lower your expectations.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Is Anti-Semitism Your Egypt?

Passover is the time to ask what's our contemporary Egypt and how to get out of it.

Maybe you are a not a pyramid construction worker, but live in an anti-Semitic environment? Anti-Semitism is strong in week countries. They have to blame someone for their economic problems. Why not the Jews? After all, it worked for centuries.

If you live in Hungary or followed the latest elections, you are probably aware that the neo-Nazi party, Jobbik, got 20% of the votes. This means that every fifth Hungarian is willing to actively harm Jews, while the majority of the population feels the same but prefers the extremists to do the dirty job for them.

It looks worse on TV than in reality. Really? Nothing major happened, someone just spat on you, called you names, made anti-Semitic remarks next to you. You don't tell anyone you are Jewish, you wear a David's Star under your shirt or blouse. 

What happened 70 years ago can't repeat itself. These are more modern, civilized times. Wrong! War crimes happened more recently in the Yugoslav war.

I am Hungarian of Jewish religion, just like Hungarians of Catholic religion. No such animal! Judaism is not just a religion, Jews are a separate nation. Even if you assimilate, you still remain a Jew. The anti-Semites will find you and uncover your identity, just like they did with Szegedi Csanad.

The world has learned from the Holocaust. Not at all. Armies and militias slaughter citizens and nobody cares. The only people who learned from the Holocaust are the victims. The state they created and its military are the only modern Moses around. 

Time to take your matzo and cross the sea. It won't be easy, but freedom is worth the sacrifice. 

Saturday, January 11, 2014

When the Penny Drops

When the penny drops and you suddenly understand why something happened, the pieces fall into place so perfectly that you don't need any proof. You catalog the matter in your system and get on with your life. But what if one day the proof falls in your lap without you looking for it? You write a therapeutic blogpost about the resurfaced injustice to bury it for good.

I was 16, fatherless for two years, raised as a princess, clueless about the surrounding world. Studying at one of the most prestigious schools in the county and ranked among the top students in my class, I was mostly preoccupied with dating this father figure, preparing loosely for the upcoming "level exam" to get into 11th grade. Knowing that even if I don't make it into my favorite class, there are plenty of others and although less prestigious, they are still in the same high school, I didn't worry too much.

To my surprise, I was not only told  I've failed the exam, but that there is no place for me at that school and at any school in town. I will have to learn in a village - the ultimate downgrading and humiliation"You should not be allowed to learn at our school, you will soon leave for Israel, anyway, we better give your place to someone who stays", said my former class master. After lots of bureaucracy, I was able to get into a school with a really bad reputation, in town, in the Hungarian section. Although I spoke Hungarian, my writing was self-taught and basic, and my vocabulary limited to domestic conversation. My classmates were a bunch of low achievers, expelled from their former schools. After a few nightmarish weeks, I managed to get into an industrial  school, pretty much the same level, but at least the tuition was in Romanian. To my surprise, a former [Jewish] colleague learned in the same class. I never asked her how she got there. Shortly afterwards she emigrated with her family to the USA.

My industrial school classmates were mostly village girls who came to  town to become textile workers. I befriended my bench mate, a dexterous Hungarian girl and helped her with her studies. We exchanged presents: I made her an embroidered tablecloth, she knit me a blouse. A year later I married the father figure and started my odyssey to Israel, repressing the sour memory of these last two pre-matriculation years. 

For years I believed I actually failed that exam, until one day the penny dropped and I realized that what happened was a blunt antisemitic act. Whether a policy from "above" or local initiative, not less sickening than the Jew trafficking Romania was engaged in.  

Thirty something years later, a woman in Hungary opened her closet and found a tablecloth embroidered for her as a present. After some nostalgia tears, she found me online and sent me a nice mail. We started corresponding, including the inevitable subject of that school we both hated and whether we kept in touch with other girls from there. I remembered the Jewish girl (who is among my Facebook friends) and asked her how she got to that school. "It's an interesting story. Allegedly, my level grade wasn't high enough to stay at the [prestigious] school. The interesting part is that my colleague got to stay with a lower grade than mine (the grades were published on the board) and so until my father fought for my reinstatement, I was sent to the industrial school. That is when my dad decided there is no future for us there and we better leave."