At a loss for words

A woman from my husband's community in America lost her mother last week, so we went to pay her a Shiva call (meaning "seven" in Hebrew, Shiva is a seven-day mourning period observed by Jews) .

I am not sure if there is anyone who actually enjoys paying Shiva visits - you would probably have to be quite a disturbed individual if you derived any pleasure from such a situation - but I particularly find the visits uncomfortable. The laws and customs of Shiva are such that comforting the bereaved is no mean feat.

To begin with, according to Jewish custom, you are not supposed to initiate conversation with the bereaved - you should wait until he/she has spoken to you. It is hard enough as it is to find the right words to express one's condolences - especially when you barely know the bereaved or the person who died - but when you have to wait for the person to speak... it can be extremely awkward.

Visitors are also supposed to recite the traditional words of consolation, HaMakom Yenachem et'chem b'toch she'ar avelei Tzion vi'Yerushlayim, which translates as May the omnipresent comfort you together with the other mourners of Zion and Jerusalem. I have a good memory in general, and am able to memorize telephone numbers, car registration numbers (don't ask - as a kid, remembering car registration numbers was a quirky hobby of mine), and birthdays of people I barely know. My husband is constantly asking me to remind him about his family's birthdays, anniversaries, etc.

Anyway, enough blowing my own trumpet. The point is that in the 28 years of my life, I have NEVER been able to remember, and correctly recite, the eight Hebrew words of consolation written above. I mumble the words quickly and quietly in the hope that the bereaved will just nod and move on to the next person. What makes the situation even more pathetic is the fact that in most Shiva houses, a paper is taped to the wall with the verse written on it, so there is very little excuse - save for illiteracy - for not being able to say the words.

I remember when I first started working for a publishing house in Jerusalem, one of my bosses, who wasn't religious, tragically lost his wife at the age of 33, and my other boss took me to the Shiva house to visit the family. I was a bundle of nerves throughout the visit as I silently tried to repeat the words in my head. The deceased woman's mother, who was very elderly, was hard of hearing, so my tactic of mumbling the words quickly and quietly didn't really work. Upon saying the words, she turned to me and, unsure of what I had said, asked me to repeat myself. It was one of those "I-wish-the-ground-would-swallow-me-up" moments.

Another equally embarrassing incident was when my aunt in London was sitting Shiva for her mother. When the time came at the end of the visit for me to recite the words of comfort, I recited instead the verse you say when you are scared of being attacked by a dog - "Lechol yisroel lo yecheratz kelev leshono" loosely translated as, "No dog's tongue should hurt any member of Israel." Given the fact that I have been petrified since childhood of both dogs and my Moroccan aunt, I guess there is some logic as to why at that particular moment, that verse left my lips. My aunt's expression of horror will stay with me forever. You can imagine how mortified I was.

So when we paid the Shiva visit today, I made my husband repeat the verse again and again in the car, and my eyes barely left the piece of paper in the room with the words on it, but alas I messed up again. Go figure.

Guilt baskets - an ingenious way to feed off armchair Zionists

There are some things in life that are constants. Some of them good, some of them not so good. Almost every chag (Jewish holiday), we are the unlucky recipients of the aforementioned Guilt Basket from a person we know in the States. If you peruse this website, the baskets contain items that can be purchased from our supermarkets for less than 50 shekel, but which costs the naive American over $50. Every chag, Josh and I keep telling ourselves that we should just phone her up and say, "Listen, it's really sweet 'n all, and I know you think that you are supporting the Israeli economy, but you are being ripped off good and proper, and the company is taking you for a ride with your guilt gift basket." But we don't have the heart.

Just a few days ago, this person told us that she wouldn't be sending us the guilt basket, and that she would give us money instead. Hallelujah!! But as we got off the phone, and had a good laugh about it, we realized that these companies who market their gift baskets to Americans are sitting on a goldmine. How many American Jews are there who do not want to make Aliyah and relinquish their creature comforts, but who want to make themselves feel good by supporting the Israeli economy?

In plain English, what these sites are really saying is the following:

For $50, give yourself a pat on the back, and send your loved ones who are sacrificing their lives in Israel on a daily basis some Telma date spread and some stale cookies. They will be eternally grateful.

For $100, you will go down in the books as nothing short of a hero. With some choice Cabernet Sauvignon wine and some Elite chocolates, no one will ever wonder again why you are over 10,000 miles away sitting in front of your plasma TV instead of making sacrifices for the future of the Jewish people.


"Americans Eat Fewer Vegetables" - no kidding, sherlock

We normally get to the States once a year, and although I used to be a self-confessed shopaholic who admittedly spent her entire wages in those glorious single days on buying clothes from Zara, what really gets me excited nowadays when we travel to the US is not the prospect of H&M and Banana Republic, but rather THE FOOD.

I don't buy into the promises that scream out in large bold letters from the packaging - no-fat, no cholesterol, no trans-fatty acids - you only need to look at the obese people wheeling around the even more obese people in wheelchairs in Disney World to realize that there is something essentially flawed about eating zero fat snacks all day long.

That being said, hailing from England where the choice of Kosher products was painfully slim, and ending up in Israel where low-fat snacks are hardly in abundance, I feel like Alice in Wonderland each time we find ourselves in ShopRite. The aisles are so wide that you could bring your entire extended family along for a shopping trip - uncles, aunts, cousins twice removed - and you could still stand side-by-side. The choice of food is just mind-blowing. I really don't know how the average shopping trip in the US can last any less than 3 hours. I don't. When I go food shopping, it is a totally new and alien cultural experience. It feels almost futuristic.

The only thing I really miss about Israel, and find myself hankering for, when I am in the States is decent vegetables. The vegetables are SO tasteless that I am surprised that they are not automatically sold together with salad dressing as a package. It is no surprise, therefore, that according to this article, "fruit consumption amongst Americans is holding steady, but that vegetable consumption is heading down, even if you include French Fries."

Gee, I wonder why.

Divine retribution or murphy's law?

Less than 24 hours after my scathing attack against 93.6 RAM FM on this blog, a crime occurred that will prevent me from bad-mouthing or commenting on this radio station for a long time to come...

We were about to put our kids into their respective car seats this morning when I did a double take. I was groggy and tired after having been up with the kids since 6am, so I wasn't sure if I was seeing things, but soon enough confirmation came through: there were shards of glass covering the ground - our car window had been smashed and our car radio had been stolen. It only occurred to me much later on that in our now radio-less state, I would have little opportunity to ridicule John Berks and his co-hosts. Hey, maybe it was even John himself who made the trip from the West Bank to avenge my attack. Well, John, if you are reading this: it won't work.

Joking aside, it was a pretty nasty thing to wake up to in the morning. The thief didn't share our taste in music - he (or she, you never know) overlooked the CD case filled with close to 50 CDs that was on the passenger seat - it may as well have said on it: TAKE ME. But instead the thief opted for our cheap car radio. Well, no one said that car thieves are the brightest bulbs in the box.

93.6 RAM FM - Whatever is the world coming to?

Several months ago, I was very excited to come across a new independent English radio station which played non-stop music. 93.6 RAM FM started out as a demo radio station, so there was no talking or commentary - just amazing back-to-back hits from all decades, and the best part of this radio station was that you could almost forget that you lived in a country where the pop music is nothing short of appalling.

Israel may be at the cutting edge of medical innovations, and we may have the largest number of start-ups in the world per capita, but our music is AWFUL. Don't-give-up-your-day-job awful. Ayal Golan and Shlomo Artzi are conceivably the worst rock pop singers of all time, so it was a great relief when I finally found some music that could actually be classified as "music."

In fact, the first time I discovered 93.6 RAM FM, I was on my way to somebody's house for a meeting, and I was enjoying the music so much that I drove round the block three times once I arrived at the person's house just so I could listen to "one more song." (Wouldn't that make a great TV commercial? A person is about to get out of their car and head into the office, but enjoys the radio station so much that he just keeps driving.)

Anyway, before you get caught up in the positivity that is exuding from this post, let me tell you that this story does not have a happy ending. Cinderella did not go to the ball. A month ago, the demo period ended, and 93.6 RAM FM was officially launched, with presenters, the news, the works.

They call themselves the "Middle East Peace Radio" - yup, I should have known that trouble was brewing just from the name - and claim to provide objective reporting, avoiding such potentially inflammatory words as "terrorist," "suicide bomb" or "martyr" and instead will say, "A Palestinian blew himself up this morning."

In the words of Andrew Bolton, the station's news editor, "We are committed to telling both sides of the story. We are apolitical and will not toe any political line, other than peace." Riiiiiiiiiight. Is that why I have never heard the word "Israel" leave their mouths? If they ever do have to refer to Israel, they dance around the "I" word and will opt instead for, "the Middle East."

For a radio station that claims to be “objective,” they’re doing a “wonderful job” of hiding their bias. Not. They have yet to present the news from the perspective of the Israelis. In case you think I am bitter, I have no problem with a radio station that is pro-Arab, but do me a favor and don’t pretend to be impartial. It’s just annoying.

As for their South African radio talk show host, John Berks, known as the “Legendary 702 deejay,” I have yet to hear him string together a sentence that makes sense. His jokes are dirty, racist, and totally unfunny, and his tendency to repeat himself o-o-over and o-o-over again - “baby, baby”, “you teasy-tease, you” - makes you question what the nature of his “legendary” status was in South Africa. He has absolutely zero - nada - knowledge of the Middle East, and had to consult with the radio manager to find out what “RAM” stood for in response to a caller’s question.

If only they would have just stuck to the music.

Quite comical really....

This evening, as we sat down as a family to eat dinner, I tried to engage my three-year-old in conversation about Pesach. Purim was such an anti-climactic experience - Eliana was crying most of the day, she didn't quite get the concept of reciprocating when it came to Mishloach Manot - I thought it would be smart to get her in the Pesach spirit ahead of time. I asked her what she had learned in Gan about Pesach - it better be extremely profound for 2000 shekel a month, I thought to myself - and she replied, tilting her head to one side, "I don't know."

Not one to be deterred, I pressed her further. "Did they talk to you, sweetie, about what happened to the Yehudim (Jews) in Mitzrayim (Egypt)?" Bingo. I had used the correct targeted keywords. Her eyes widened and her expression became animated.

"Yes, Mummy, Tzvika [the ganenet's husband - don't ask - it's a really long story - if you really want to know why the ganenet's husband was doing his wife's job, send me an email and I will explain] told us that Haman HaRasha (Haman, the wicked one) was a really naughty man, and all the peoples were so scared!"

Josh responded, "No, honey, that's a different chag (festival)! On Pesach, the Jewish people are scared of Pharaoh!" That basically summed up in a nutshell our experience as the Jewish people. We go from one baddy to another!

One-time offer

OK, so I have been writing this blog now for just under a month, and I am trying not to be too despondent over the fact that barely anyone leaves me comments. In spam terms, I am very popular. I received 30 comments the other day. But sadly that's as far as it goes. Granted, patience has never been a particular virtue of mine, and as my husband always tells me, I seem to enjoy monologues, but still the silence is slightly unnerving.

I am therefore making the following offer to the first five fellow bloggers and readers: Comment on any of my posts and I will edit 100 words of your choice. No poetry or science fiction, though. Read more about my thoughts about poetry here.

Yes, this is a rather sad and desperate measure on my part, but hey, I am up to my neck in work as it is - what's another 500 words?

Let the fun begin.

If I could turn back time...

I would never have bought the Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffeneger. I had high hopes for this book, and actually bought two copies of it before I even began reading it.

I first purchased the book exactly two years ago.  I was in Ben Gurion Airport on my way to London, and overcome by the excitement of travel and the "anything-could-happen-at-any-moment " buzz I always feel when I am in the airport, I fell in love with the title and decided to splash out and treat myself to this book.

Well, to cut a long story short, I can't EVER read on planes due to nausea and the joys of supervising two young children (not necessarily in that order), and didn't have a second to read while I was in London. I ended up leaving the  book at my sister's friend's house, and only realized its absence when my sister called me up and told me that I had left it behind.

Well, I never did get that copy back, and, determined that my luck would change, bought the book again in Ben Gurion a year later on my way to the States. (When you're from England, and your spouse is from the States, vacations only ever happen in these two countries.)

I guess with such drama surrounding the purchase of the book itself, it stands to reason that the actual reading would be anti-climactic. I was not impressed. I had read some really positive reviews about the book - I had, after all, an entire year before purchasing copy # 2 to read up about it - and expected to be really wowed, but it's gotta be said, it was an extremely dull reading experience. There were very few redeeming features. The premise of the book was interesting - the aspect of time travel combined with a love story appealed to my romantic sensibilities - but the book itself put me to sleep. The plot felt contrived, the characters were pretentious, and the dialog was unforgivably tedious. I did make it through to the finishing line, but that was due to my determination not to have wasted $30 on two copies rather than tribute to the book itself. Anything positive to say about the book? Yes, it was a great sleep-inducer.

Something you don't see everyday in Modi'in

Just when we were beginning to say our final goodbyes to winter in Israel, G-d delivered a surprise. It hailed today. Yes, hail. Here's some pics of our backyard and my husband's hand. (You can't beat bumming around working from home - you get to take pics of your garden in the middle of the day.)


Just three days ago, it was 80 degrees outside - now it is snowing. No wonder I'm feeling sick. Oh well. The change in climate at least gives us Brits something to talk about.

Age is something that doesn't matter (unless you are a cheese) - Billie Burke

My sister is turning 40 today. It is so difficult for me to think of my sister who used to braid my hair as a child as being 40 years old. The phrase "over the hill" comes to mind.

In a year and a half from now, I will be turning 30. My in-laws both turned 60 last summer. My dad turned 70 last December.

Obsession with age is central to so many people's lives in Western society that it makes me wonder what kind of world it would be if a person's age was unknown and irrelevant. I can only imagine that it would be a vastly improved world. So much of our opinions about other people, and ourselves, are based on age.

You can be the smartest, most capable, person in the world for a job - but you're over 65? Sorry, we are looking for someone younger (who is more exploitable and doesn't demand such a high salary). Statistics reveal that US firms are 40% more likely to interview a younger job applicant than an older job applicant. It doesn't matter that your intelligence and vast experience makes you a far superior candidate. Age rears its ugly head on your resume, and you're suddenly rendered useless and irrelevant.

Another scenario: You're a beautiful woman, you're vivacious, you're smart and perceptive - you're over 30? No can do. I'm looking for a woman in her twenties. Yes, I know that you and I would make a great couple, but you are older than me, and I really can't date a woman in her thirties.

Superficial judgements such as the ones described above sound so pathetic and lame that it is hard to believe that society attaches such importance to a number. But it does. We all do.

A member of my extended family - who shall remain nameless if I value my life - is convinced that now she has turned 60, she may as well start preparing her last will and testament. She is too old to look after her grandchildren, too old to have fun, too old to have dreams.... And why? Because two digits are controlling her life.

We live out our fears, and as a result, age defines us. I really believe that if we were unaware of our age, we would live longer, we would look better, we would be HAPPIER, and we would be free from the shackles of prejudice and discrimination. The mind is extremely powerful and our deep-seated fears about our age color our perception about our abilities. Age makes us think old, act old, and diminishes our pleasure. How many times have we heard doctors tell older patients, "What can you expect at your age"? I rest my case. Old age becomes a curse rather than a blessing.

Adultism, jeunism, aldutocracy, gerontocracy, chronocentrism, pedophobia, ephebiphobia (try wrapping your tongue around that one on a Monday morning), gerentophobia - these are all terms that have seeped into the English language as a way to describe the many different types of discrimination towards age.

The answer? I'm not sure. But it wouldn't be such a bad thing if we were to revert to the customs of biblical times when not only were the elders tolerated, but revered.