Happy birthday, Louis Theroux!

louis face

It is Louis Theroux’s 37th birthday today! For those of you who have no idea who Louis Theroux is, you can read about him here, and then I advise you to watch his documentaries. He is a first-class presenter and broadcaster.

When I was 39 weeks pregnant with my oldest child, the furthest I could get to was the couch, so we rented a gazillion DVD’s from our local DVD store on Emek Refaim in Jerusalem (how I miss Jerusalem!), and among them were some Louis Theroux documentaries. After that, I was hooked. He covers off-beat cultural subjects, and his style is extremely dry and witty.

He describes his objective as being:

Setting out to discover the genuinely odd in the most ordinary setting. To me, it’s almost a privilege to be welcomed into these communities and to shine a light on them and, maybe, through my enthusiasm, to get people to reveal more of themselves than they may have intended. The show is laughing at me, adrift in their world, as much as at them. I don’t have to play up that stuff. I’m not a matinee idol disguised as a nerd.

But my feeling is that he is being too modest. We just now finished watching his documentary on Nazi skinheads, and I was blown away by the way that he handled himself and the thugs who surrounded him. He spent a week living amongst a group of white supremacists, and followed the movements of the leader of the White Aryan Resistance. Although it is clear that the people whom he exposes are on the fringe of society, and will never have any power or influence in the States, it is still scary that they exist.

The leader of the White Aryan Resistance, Tom Metzger, aired his views to Louis about “Niggers,” and when asked by Louis why he called them that, and why he hated them so much, his response was: “Because they are ugly.” Tom, who is a balding, overweight man with no redeeming physical features said in all seriousness that he believed himself to be better looking than Denzel Washington, and that he could easily get more women than him. At that point, Louis suggested that Tom was delusional, a comment which didn’t endear him to the Nazi.

At one point, he went to see some skinheads in their home, and after sitting and talking with them for a few minutes, one of them asked him if he was Jewish. The skinhead claimed that Louis looked Jewish. Louis refused to answer the question, and said that if he were to tell him whether he was Jewish or not, he would be sending out a message that his religion makes a difference, and he wasn’t prepared to do that. You really have to watch the documentary to get the full effect. Louis was surrounded by four or five heavyweight Neo-Nazis who started taunting him, and calling him “Jewboy.” When Louis asked them what they would do if he told them he was Jewish, one skinhead replied, “I would throw you out of here, and beat you up, and leave you to die.” But Louis still wouldn’t tell them. I really admired him for that. He could have told them that he was non-Jewish – which he is – but instead he took a stand against these pigs.

I am in a giving mood – I just found the video on Youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Me9f66yEKuk. It is worth watching. Then go read the 8 pages of comments from people on Youtube who watched the video, and supported the Nazi stance, and it will reinforce the feeling that this world is truly messed up.

Non sequitur, Louis bears a striking resemblance to a friend of mine, Raphael Freeman. Don’t you agree?

You can NEVER be too careful

My first instinct after reading this article is to go pick up my two girls this second, and take them out of their respective day cares.

A two-year-old boy died in Oklahoma after being bound and taped for refusing to be quiet during nap time.  I know that evil acts are committed every second of every day, and this isn’t the first or unfortunately last example of barbaric behavior, but as a parent, as a mother, stories like these make you want to wrap your children up in cotton wool till they are 18. No, make that 21.

Closer to home, I read almost every week in the free local Modiin newspaper sickening stories of child abuse occurring in private day care centers. An acquaintance of mine put her six-month-old son in a private day care center, only to wake up one night, after picking up her son from day care, to hear him screaming in agony. After taking him to the emergency room, the doctors told the parents that the baby had broken his elbow, and dislocated his arm. The day care lady claimed to know nothing about it.

I remember last year reading a story in the Modiin newspaper about a one-year-old boy who was found walking in an underground car park during the middle of the day. Apparently, he had climbed through the bushes of the garden, and walked down the street. When the police finally went to the day care center, the two women in charge hadn’t even noticed the boy was missing. Chilling stories. And all from private day care centers, where you are supposed to be paying extra money for peace of mind.

Since my husband and I both work full time, we have become very familiar over the last three and a half years with the process of searching out day care centers for our little ones. Over a year ago, my husband and I were looking for a day care center for my then-seven month old. We eliminated half of the day care centers on our list by simply standing outside their doors before knocking, so that we could listen to what was going on inside. In quite a few places, we heard the women yell at the children, and talk to them in a way that made ME frightened. We just walked away.

We finally found a place for Tzofia with what seemed to be a warm, Sephardi, grandmother-type, figure in her early fifties. She had five children of her own, who were all older and in school, and she was taking care of just two other babies. She had a large house with a huge garden. Sounded good. We told her everything she needed to know about Tzofia – her likes, dislikes, sleeping patterns, and arranged to leave her there the next day.  It was pretty straightforward – at that time, we had just started Tzofi on solids, so all she really ate was a bottle, fruit, and oatmeal.

The following day, I came to pick Tzofi up, and found that her face was covered in chocolate. Bewildered, I asked the woman why her face was covered in chocolate. Her response? “My son had a birthday party, and Tzofi really enjoyed the cake.” Well, that was the last time I ever stepped foot inside that house. Not surprisingly, on the way home, Tzofi threw up in her car seat.

Until your child reaches the age where s/he can communicate, and report to you what happens during the day, you need to take all the necessary measures to ensure that your child is in a safe and loving environment. A couple of weeks ago, I was standing on line in the supermarket, and struck up a conversation with the lady in front of me. She talked about her new job, and she said that she had just found a day care center for her six-month old baby, which was conveniently located next door to her apartment. I asked her if she had received good references, and she looked genuinely surprised at the question. She said that she hadn’t asked for references, but the location was so convenient that she couldn’t pass up the opportunity.

Before registering your child for any day care center, private or otherwise, make sure you do the following:

1. Before you even go to check out a place, make sure that you have at least 4 references from parents of children who attend the day care. Obviously you have to use your judgment, and discriminate between those complaints that are silly and those that are critical. If a parent tells you that she doesn’t like the day care woman, because she is anal about parents coming to pick up their children on time, that is not an issue that is going to affect your child’s well being. If, however, a parent tells you that his/her kid comes home unhappy every day, and is not eating, sleeping well, it should make you think twice. The important thing is to have enough references to feel that you have received an accurate overall impression. 

Our two girls are both in gans that are simply amazing. While both of my daughters’ gans do things that annoy Josh and I, like insisting that we turn up to their events, etc., we can handle it because we know that they love our girls, and that they are extremely happy there. You have to be able to differentiate between annoyances that bother and affect YOU, and issues that bother your children. Your children have to take precedence every time.     

2. Go and check out the place at a time when they are not expecting you. It is easy for them to put on a smile, and be all sweetness and light when they know that you are coming. If you catch them off guard, you will get a truer picture. Stand outside the door for a few minutes, and listen to the way they talk to the children.

3. Go see the place at a time when the children are up, so that you can see their mood. While it is easy for adults to put on an act, children don’t lie. Do they seem content? Are they being supervised? Are they wandering around aimlessly, or are they engaged in activity?

4. Once you have decided on the day care center, make sure that for the first few weeks, you pop in every now and again, in the middle of the day, to see how your child is doing. It is better to come in unannounced. I know that many day care centers discourage that, but you can always make out that you forgot to bring them something.

5. Watch your children’s behavior. Even if they are unable to verbalize how they are feeling, do they seem happy to be going there in the morning? Do they run into the woman’s arms, or make motions to give them hugs or kisses? Our little girl was in a day care center for six months, and while I couldn’t pinpoint what was wrong, she never looked the woman in the eye, never said goodbye to her, and never reached out to give her a hug and kiss. That was very uncharacteristic of our little girl, because she is very extroverted and affectionate. Once we took her out of that day care center, and moved her to her present one, her behavior changed almost instantly. She hugs and kisses the women, and while I constantly have to grit my teeth at the women’s idiosyncratic demands, there is no doubt in my mind that my daughter is ecstatic there. Once she is their arms, she doesn’t even notice that I am around. 

6. Finally, GO WITH YOUR INSTINCT. If you have any niggling doubts about a place, don’t bury them. Parenting is not an exact science, but a parent’s instincts, especially a mother’s, are extremely strong, and I only wished in the past that I had gone with my instinct. You can’t take chances with your children. Believe in yourself. It is better to be excessively cautious than be sorry after the fact.

There should be a law passed that each day care center installs a webcam, so that parents can monitor what is going on during the day. I know that certain day care centers in America do this, but it is unpopular among the majority of day care centers. They claim that if they are being watched, they can’t be natural with the children, and that parents will complain over the most trivial things. While this is a legitimate complaint, I think parents would sleep better at night if webcams were installed. I know I would.

Under-age Bible readers?

I can just picture it now. A seven-year-old boy pores over a book under his covers, in the hope that his latest habit will go unnoticed by his mother.  His mother who notices everything, spots her son reading late at night, and lifts up the covers. Her worst nightmare has just happened. Her son, her sweet innocent son, is reading…. THE BIBLE.

If Hong Kong residents have their way, you won’t be able to  purchase a copy of the best-selling Bible without showing your ID card at your local bookstore to prove that you are over eighteen. The Bible will be sealed in a wrapper with a statutory warning notice, in the spirit of cigarette warnings: WARNING – THE BIBLE CONTAINS INDECENT CONTENT THAT WILL JEOPARDIZE YOUR SPIRITUAL HEALTH.  EACH PAGE THAT YOU READ WILL NIBBLE AWAY AT YOUR HEART AND SOUL.

Maybe, as there are for cigarettes, they will even come out with a “Lite” version of the Bible. An abridged or amended version.

Alright, I will put you out of your misery. Seventeen lines into this post, and you still have no clue what I am talking about. Sooo, according to an article I just read, over 800 Hong Kong residents have called on their authorities to reclassify the Bible as “indecent” due to its “sexual and violent content,” including rape and incest. Apparently, Hong Kong’s Television and Entertainment Licensing authority (TELA) received 838 complaints about the Bible. TELA said it was still undecided on whether the Bible had violated Hong Kong’s obscene and indecent articles laws.

Are you thinking what I’m thinking? How dull must life be in Hong Kong if people are complaining that the BIBLE, of all works, is indecent?

A Hong Kong local protestant minister was asked to comment. His response was:

“If there is rape mentioned in the Bible, it doesn’t mean it encourages those activities,” said Reverend Wu Chi-wai. “It’s just common sense …”

 Profound words from our minister. And you wonder why church attendance is so low. If the Bible is classified as x-rated material, it’s an ingenious way of attracting people to religion. You can’t beat reverse psychology – forbidden fruits are sweeter, and all that…

A WORD OF WARNING: A Mushy Mother’s Day Post

It is Mother’s Day in the US today, and since Friday, we have been exchanging free E-cards, telephone calls, and emails, wishing our female family members in America a happy Mother’s Day. Yes, Hallmark really lucked out with this holiday.

When my mother-in-law and sisters-in-law asked Josh and I what we would be doing together to celebrate Mother’s Day, I was like, “Uh, I’m going to work?” As far as I know, there is no such thing as Mother’s Day in Israel. Women are SO appreciated and valued in Israel by their families and society at large, that they do not need to be pampered and spoiled on one day of the year in order to know their worth. They are treated like queens every day of the year. Besides, as my husband likes to point out about Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day, it is non-Jewish.

Josh was quick to tell his family that Mother’s Day is not celebrated here, and that was the end of that. Since women have a tendency to be illogical creatures, I was slightly peeved. I mean, I don’t care about “Mother’s Day,” I really don’t, but since everyone else makes such a song and dance about it, it wouldn’t have hurt for him to at least say this morning before I left for work, “Happy Mother’s Day.”

My husband has another annoying tendency – whenever I want to be upset with him, he goes ahead and does something very sweet, which throws me for a loop. Under the pretense of going shopping for errands, he came back half an hour later with a massive bouquet of red roses and some Max Brenner chocolates.
my roses
We’ve been married for almost five years, and he still surprises me:-)

For all you men out there…

If you are looking for a word that will give voice to your frustration at your wives’ incessant nagging – and let’s face it, there isn’t a woman among us who can honestly say that she doesn’t derive some deep satisfaction from nagging her husband –  look no further. Double Take’s word of the day is “Termagant,” meaning A scolding, nagging, bad-tempered woman; a shrew.

NOTE TO READERS: I apologize for the brevity of this post, and my infrequent posting in general. I am actually working, I know it’s hard to believe. I hope to return to my former lazy and procrastinating blog-addicted self shortly.

Nobody to blame but ourselves

150000 at rally in tel aviv
Over 150,000 people gathered yesterday in Kikar Rabin in Tel Aviv to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. The Winograd interim report, which revealed that Olmert, Defense Minister Amir Peretz, and former chief of General Staff Dan Halutz, were to blame for last year’s Lebanon War, provoked deep anger amongst Israelis. Truth be told, I was not surprised at all by the report – what surprised me more that there was any reaction at all from a nation who have become increasingly apathetic and self-destructive over recent decades.

When we voted for Kadima, could we put our hands to our hearts, and honestly say that we weren’t aware of the type of man that Olmert was? We all knew that he was a liar, cheat, and fraud, who cared not one whit for this country, and for the Zionistic ideals upon which it was founded. Did we honestly expect Olmert to lead us nobly and courageously through war, and protect our country? I think not. So why the outrage now? Too little, too late. We had our chance. Anyone with half a brain could have predicted this outcome. But we as a collective nation let it happen, and the result is blood on our hands from lives that have been tragically wasted.

Why did the Israelis let this happen? Because they are tired, fed up, and self-centered. And just like the case in a drowning marriage, they forgot what it was that they were fighting for. I don’t know if I can say with any certainty that most Israelis dream of leaving this country, and feel little or no connection with the land of Israel and the notion of a homeland for the Jews, but in the majority of encounters that I have had with Israelis since I made Aliyah in 1998, they express deep surprise that I choose to live in this country. “Why are you here? If only I had a passport and the option, I would leave.” The sad reality is that Zionism has become a dirty word that barely leaves the mouths of our politicians, let alone youth. We have forgotten who we are, and what we stand for. And like the abused wife syndrome, we feel that if we only keep quiet, and stay in the background, and don’t antagonize the Arabs or the international world, people will leave us alone. Well, it hasn’t worked.  

In recent years, studies have indicated an increase in obesity in Israel, but we are not just suffering from excess physical weight. We have become flabby as a nation and have lost our resolve, our backbone, that enabled us to triumph in other wars in the past. The fact that hundreds of thousands of people showed up yesterday for the demonstration does give me a glimmer of hope. Even if the demonstration will be largely ineffective in accomplishing its primary goal – to oust Olmert from the government – it indicates that people are starting to wake up, and come out of their coma of indifference. Pain, anger, outrage, those are emotions that indicate humanity and life, and ultimately hope. I really don’t know how we are going to be able to extricate ourselves from this almighty mess, but I do know that the first step is to actually feel, to react, to shout out, to say no more. Indifference and selfishness are the destructive traits that threaten to kill us as a nation.  

A dark day for Pandora lovers

Save Internet Radio!If, like me, you live outside the US, and rely on pulsating Pandora music to get you through the long work days and nights, you will understand my disappointment. The future of Internet radio is in grave danger. You can read about what is going on here. We in Israel are not able to do much (Israelis? Helpless? Never.), but if you are in the US, click on the image on the left, and find out how you can fight the battle to preserve Internet radio.

I and probably thousands of others outside the US received an email from the Pandora founder yesterday saying that they are no longer able to provide access to Pandora’s streaming service for most countries outside of America. Wunderbar. Yet another way we are screwed by living in Israel.

I was telling Josh about it over breakfast this morning, and he was quick to point out that the beauty of the Internet is that as soon as one service stops, another springs up it in place. He suggested that I do a Google search for “Pandora replacement.” Actually, he was wrong. I did a search for “Pandora replacement,” and nothing came up. Just reviews of “joint replacement surgery.” I guess it’s back to listening to my mp3 player.

Adulthood is overrated

Life right now is a little on the stressful side. We are trying to sell our apartment, and I can tell you that I now understand why it is they say that selling a property/moving homes is up there on the list of the three major causes of stress in one’s life, followed by death and divorce. Some of the real-estate agents that we have chosen are not exactly…well, let’s just say that I sometimes wonder how they fell into this career.

Instead of drawing attention to the positive qualities of our apartment, they use extremely negative language to describe what we have done to our place, and will make such ridiculous statements as: “Yes, the owners have STOLEN from the living room area in order to create a larger kitchen.” I think most people will agree that perhaps a more positive word could have been used instead of “stolen.” Off the top of my head, how about “MAXIMIZED THE SPACE,” “MADE USE OF THE SPACE.”  

And if the person who is looking at our apartment comments on a negative feature, the agent nods meekly, and quietly mumbles, “You are right.” I stare at the agent, willing him to rebut the comment, and use the opportunity to show the client the plusses of such a feature, but no. Stone-faced silence. It gets to the point where Josh and I intervene and let the agent do what he wanted to do from the beginning – stand on the sidelines and watch us do his work for him.

As a result of our experience in trying to sell our apartment, I have discovered a new hobby amongst Israelis. Let’s Go Looking at Apartments For the Fun of It Even If We Have No Intention of Buying. A ridiculous amount of people come traipsing through our apartment, entire families with cousins, friends, neighbors, you name it. (It very much reminds me of when I gave birth in Shaarei Tzedek hospital with my little girl, Tzofia. I shared a room in the post-natal ward with another woman, who ten minutes after being carted into the room after having given birth to twins, was visited by at least fifteen of her family members. Take note that this was midnight, and the woman had given birth to twins. A whole procession of Israelis marched into the ward, and just when I thought there possibly couldn’t be any more family members, yet another, and another, would walk in. Only in Israel.) They make it abundantly clear both through their body language and their comments that they have about as much interest in buying our apartment as they do a museum.  

It is truly an emotional rollercoaster, but hey, at least our apartment is always clean. Josh and I have it down – when an agent calls up to say s/he is arriving in twenty minutes, we go into fast-forward mode. I take one part of the apartment, Josh takes another, and we go into automatic pilot and zoom through the apartment. (If you are English, imagine Supermarket Sweep, but not in a supermarket. If you are not English, don’t worry about it. It was a stupid comparison.) When all this is over, perhaps Josh and I can hire ourselves out to people who are selling their properties, and need that quick finishing touch.  

It is times like these that I think back to my childhood days when my biggest problem was deciding which friend to invite over to play (which invited the larger problem of which board game to select – would Scrabble or Monopoly win the day?), or which sibling to torment in my quest for treats.

I wish I could convey in four-year-old terms to Eliana that adulthood is not all it is cracked out to be, but in her mind there is nothing she wants more than “to be big”. On the way to gan this morning, she declared that she “wants to eat lots of chips so my tummy will get bigger and then I can have a baby in my tummy and the baby’s name will be Daniella but not the Daniella from shul a different Daniella.” (When Eliana speaks, there are no punctuation marks; she blurts out her sentences without any pauses or hesitations.) I told her that she will indeed get a larger stomach from eating chips, but that there is no direct connection between eating chips and getting pregnant. I guess that’s a subject we will have to put on hold for another ten years.

I’m on a high – want to know why?

Well, I can tell you that it has nothing to do with my caffeine intake today, or the fact that I watched 24 last night with my husband, or the fact that today is Friday, which is just one day away from Shabbat, and the air is pregnant with promise for possibly getting some sleep. Those are all good things, but the real reason why I am on cloud nine is because… I ordered five books today from Amazon! (Hope that wasn’t a letdown for you.)

I ordered the following books. If you have read these books, and LOVED them, feel free to tell me what a wonderful decision I made. If the books sucked, well, I’d rather not know at this point. Without further ado, here are the books I purchased:

1. Salem Falls by Jodi Picoult

I admit to knowing very little about Picoult, but I went on a recommendation of a friend, who normally doesn’t steer me wrong. We shall have to wait and see.

2. Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

I went ahead and did what everyone tells you not to do: judge a book by its cover. I liked the title, loved the cover, and the premise of the book seems interesting enough, so I decided to buy a novel about the circus.

3. Midwives by Chris Bohjalian

As well as the benefit of having Oprah’s seal of approval, I bought this book because I just finished reading another book of his, Before You Know Kindness. To give you an indication of how amazing a book it is, it took me less than a week to finish reading it. If you have kids, and work full time, you know what an accomplishment that is.

4.  Straight Man, by Richard Russo

Russo is an extremely talented writer; the type of writer who leaves such a lasting impact on you that every few months you search the Internet in hope that he has since published a new book. So far, I have read two other books of his, Empire Falls and The Risk Pool, and I am very excited to read his third, which is supposed to be a comedy.

5. Finally… I surprised myself by ordering this book.

Couldn’t Keep It to Myself: Wally Lamb and the Women of York Correctional Institution (Testimonies from our Imprisoned Sisters)

About ten years ago, I read Wally Lamb’s I Know This Much Is True, which I can honestly say is one of the best books I have ever read. I devoured its 912 pages at record-breaking speed – over one Shabbat. Plus I have just finished watching the second season of Prison Break, so the subject is fresh in my mind.

Now I just have to find the time to read them….

Amazon, here I come

I have been given an Amazon gift voucher for my upcoming b-day, and rather than fritter away the gift on cosmetics or jewelry that are guaranteed, knowing my luck, to break or dissolve within the week, I have decided to remedy the problem discussed in this post. Yes indeedy. I am going to set my sights higher than Dani’s second-hand bookstore in Jerusalem, and order some books from Amazon, and spend a ridiculous amount of money for the privilege of having them sent directly to Israel.

Sooooo, if you have just read an amazing work of fiction (I edit non-fiction for a living, so reading non-fiction for fun is tantamount to cooking at home when you’re a chef…. or something like that), do share your thoughts.