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.

Ray Bradbury

We need not to be let alone. We need to be really bothered once in a while. How long is it since you were really bothered? About something important, about something real?

I came across this quote today from Ray Bradbury on my Google homepage, and it reminded me how much I enjoyed reading Fahrenheit 451 in high school.  In general, I don’t enjoy reading science fiction – although I have to confess that Josh has introduced to me the joys of Robert Heinlein – but I remember being very moved by this book in a similar way that I was moved by his quote above. It forces you to think out of the box, to confront the reality of our world, and to take a long, hard look at oneself in the mirror.

In Fahrenheit 451, a book-burning fireman goes through a crisis of conscience. In the world he occupies, the appearance of happiness is more important than the actual pursuit of it. His wife pressures him to work harder burning books so she can buy yet another TV for their home. Independent thought is discouraged in this world, and real emotion is to be avoided at all cost. (Sound familiar?) The fireman begins to see the error of his ways when his sixteen-year-old neighbor, who is enthralled by books and is curious about the world, mysteriously disappears. He begins to hide books in his home so as to avoid burning them, but he is discovered, and ends up joining an outlaw band of scholars who commit the contents of their books to memory, waiting for the time society will once again welcome the wisdom of literature.

He writes:

Give the people contests they win by remembering the words to more popular songs…. Don’t give them slippery stuff like philosophy or sociology to tie things up with. That way lies melancholy.

In the day-to-day grind of our existence, we get so caught up in the here- and-now that we often lose sight of ourselves and the world around us. When we ask an acquaintance on the street a casual and breezy, “How are you?”, how many of us really want to stick around to hear the answer? Our financial situation, our social status, our appearance – these are often the concerns that dominate our thoughts and hearts; not reading between the lines, looking behind our friend’s plastered smile to see what is really going on beneath the surface.

We are so busy all the time that there is no time left in our chaotic lives to just “be.” I don’t think that people even know anymore what it is that makes them happy – they may provide a stock answer – like a good career or a comfortable lifestyle – but if you unravel the many layers, are we really happy?

 Do we have a duty to the world to care what is going on, or should we leave that burden to people who are actually paid to care? I recall last summer during the Lebanon war walking the streets of Modi’in, and thinking to myself, “You would never know, to look at people’s faces, that there was a war going on.” I remember one day feeling extremely depressed about the war, and someone I know came over to me, and seeing that I was visibly upset, asked me if everything was okay. I told her that I just couldn’t get what was going on out of my head. She responded, “It can’t be that bad, right? I mean, you’ll be able to move into your new place soon, won’t you?” She automatically presumed I was referring to the fact that we were waiting at that time to move into our new apartment, not the fact that people up north were being ousted from their homes, forced to uproot themselves, because of the horrors of war. I was in shock.

On a less somber note, it is my Hebrew birthday coming up in a few days – woohoo – and I have to think of a fun and exciting activity to celebrate with my hubby the last year of my twenties. If anyone has any suggestions for a fun night out – preferably either in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv – that doesn’t involve eating out or bowling, let me know. My husband loves to eat out, so his suggestions always involve restaurants. We want to do something a bit different this year. Thanks!

How the mighty have fallen

It’s a very sad day when your husband has to be the one to nominate you for the JIB (Jewish and Israeli blogs) Awards, but nominate me he has  – so, roll up your sleeves and start voting for me here! The nomination is for the category “Best Slice of Life in Israel Blog.” To those of you who I made fun of in recent years for allowing yourself to get involved in these awards, I apologize. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.

Good reads

If you are curious what other people are reading, or want to find some good reading material for yourself, Goodreads is the place for you. Enjoy.

One aspect of living in Israel which really infuriates me – yup, it’s Friday the 13th, and I am in the mood for a rant – is the fact that, to the best of my knowledge, there are no English-language libraries that allow you to take out books FREE OF CHARGE. (If anyone does know of such a library within the Israeli borders, let me know, and I will happily make the trek over there.)

You won’t often hear me say very positive things on this blog about my hometown of Manchester, England, but it has to be said – the public libraries ROCKED. As a child, I would hand in the coveted library card that entitled me to take out as many books as I had plastic bags in which to carry them, and I used to leave the library about twenty pounds heavier, with a pile of books that were taller than me. And it was free. I mean, I suppose it stands to reason that they would provide such a service – what else is a girl to do in her free time in Manchester? Indoor activities were definitely the way to go in our cold, gray, and dismal climate.

In the English-language library in Modi’in, you have to pay a ridiculous 250 shekel (which is over $50) just for the privilege of becoming a member, and 50 shekel for the first book you take out, and 10 shekel for each subsequent book, and to add insult to injury, you can only take out 4 books.

For that money, I may as well head over to the local Steimatsky, Israel’s best-known book chain, and BUY brand new books that are not discolored with coffee and ketchup stains. Okay, I might not actually leave the store with the book I want, but at least it would be MINE, all MINE. Steimatsky may be Israel’s largest book chain, but do not mistakenly make any mental comparisons between this bookstore and Barnes & Noble. Unless you are interested in overpriced travel books, coffee table books about the history of Israel, and the odd Steven King novel, you’ll be lucky to leave the store with a book you can sink your teeth into. They don’t even have their own website. Sigh. I mean, even I have my own website. What is that all about?

What I find myself doing nowadays is heading over to a second-hand bookstore on Rechov Yaffo in Jerusalem, Dani’s. I hold onto the books that I like, and those that are in the reject pile I return, and receive thirty or forty percent of the original price I paid. Pretty sweet deal. It just means, though, that I have to head over to Jerusalem whenever I have the reading itch.

Anyway, if anyone has any inventive (and legal) ideas how I can get my hands on some good English-language books in Israel, don’t be backward in coming forward.

Bribery – works like a charm

It’s amazing what we endure to keep both our parents and children happy. My mother-in-law sent the girls sailor dresses for Pesach, and while on the phone to her just a couple of weeks ago, I made her an offer which as soon as it left my mouth I instantly wished I could retract. “You know what, mom? “I’ll get the girls to put on their dresses before chag [festival] begins, and will take a picture of them to send it to you.” (Note to self: never make offers that involve cameras and children under the age of four. [I’m an optimist by nature. Who knows, maybe the kids will be more cooperative when they get older?])

Well, Pesach in Israel is a seven-day affair, and I told myself that there would be plenty of opportunities for me to fulfill my promise to my mother-in-law. As the final day of Pesach approached, I realized that time was not on our side. Just half an hour before we welcomed in the second days of the chag, I forced the girls into their dresses with promises of a Ferrari for Eliana when she turns sixteen (her dream is “to get bigger, drive a car, wear my earrings, and have babies” – all in that order) and a bottle of milk for Tzofia (my little one loves to hit the bottle – on average, we buy at least 10 bags of milk a week).

Well, folks, Eliana may have been temporarily lulled by the promises of a car, but by the time Josh got her into the garden, as you can see, she was not a happy bunny. Can you blame her? I would cry if someone put me in that outfit (Eliana is the crying child on the right).

Before

At that point, it was time to bring out the big guns. There’s only one thing Eliana loves more than the idea of driving a car – and that is candy. So even though she has consumed far more treats in this last week of Passover than is probably recommended for an entire year, we acquiesced, and promised her yet another “treat.” I know, shoddy parenting.

After

Well, you can’t argue with the results!