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Sunday, September 30, 2007

The Meaning of "Compromise"

Compromise: –noun 1. a settlement of differences by mutual concessions; an agreement reached by adjustment of conflicting or opposing claims, principles, etc., by reciprocal modification of demands. *

This word apparently doesn't exist in Arabic. Maybe it just doesn't exist in the Palestinian dialect of Arabic.

Yesterday, Mahmoud Abbas, titular head of the Palestinian Authority, announced that "...an offer similar to the 92 percent of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip for a Palestinian state extended at Camp David in 2000 would not be enough."

He insisted on the pre-1967 borders.

"We will be flexible," said Abbas. "But before 1947, we had 95% of Palestine."

Wrong again! Prior to 1947, there was NO Palestine--just a British Mandate over an area using that territorial designation imposed by the Romans that had previously belonged to the Turks.

Prior to 1921, all of "Palestine" included what is now Israel, Jordan, the West Bank and Gaza. THIS is what was promised as the Jewish Homeland. In 1921, the British lopped of the section now called Jordan and gave it to the Hashemites. The Arabs immediately made it a Jew-free ethnic enclave, tossing out any Jews living there and prohibiting Jews from living there.

No way did the "Palestinians" have 95% of Palestine--a huge chunk had already been given to the Arabs and the British plan originally was that Arabs would settle in the Trans-Jordan and Jews would settle west of the Jordan.

Abbas went on to say, "In 1937, the partition plan gave the Israelis only part of Palestine. And they were very happy at that time. [David] Ben-Gurion was very happy with it. It didn't work."

No kidding, Mahmoud. Would you like to elucidate on WHY didn't it work? Because the Arabs opposed ANY partition plan. Ben Gurion was desperate, watching Hitler in action and watching the British close off Jewish emigration, in effect condemning Jews who wanted to escape the Nazis to death.

Duplicitous and disingenious to the core, President Abbas.

Abbas continued, "After that [came] the 1947 partition plan - we rejected this, so we lost... Now, we accept [the pre-'67 borders]."

Which (1) aren't borders but armistice line and which (2) you rejected at the Khartoum Conference in 1967 and continued to reject for decades, during which thousands of Israelis died.

Listen, you $#@% Holocaust-denying, terrorist-enabling, two-faced piece of diplomatic offal -- prior to the Arab riots and murders of the 1920s and 1930s, orchestrated by the great land-owning clans of Jerusalem (the Husseinis, among others), the Balfour Declaration envisioned a Jewish homeland in ALL of Palestine which consisted of Jordan, the West Bank, Israel and Gaza.

The British, with their European sensibilities (anti-Semitic to the core, romanticizing all things Oriental, including Arabs, and greedy for oil) backed incrementally away from their Balfour promise, slammed shut the gates of Palestine to Jews fleeing Hitler's murderous juggernaut, thus forcibly and cold-bloodedly changing the demographics of 1947 Palestine to favor the creation of an Arab majority.

But for this piece of British chicanery, the millions murdered in Hitler's ovens and pits would have found refuge here, and the U.N. would've awarded much more land to the nascent Jewish state, since its partition (which the Arabs have refused to recognize for 60 years anyway) was based solely on population concentration.

Exactly what the British DID NOT WANT. They wanted an Arab colony here, akin to Transjordan (now the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan), pro-British, with a British-public-school-educated king, trained by British officers and armed to the teeth by Britain. British newspapers at the time uncovered secret British assurances to King Abdullah that he should refrain from attacking Syria (France's puppet regime) and concentrate on attacking the new Jewish State because Abdullah's victory would put an end to Jewish independence AND provide Jordan with access to the sea.

Let's NOT skip over this history. If Abbas wants to quote Ben-Gurion and claim the Old Man was perfectly content with the 1948 borders, then let's drag out the rest of the historical record and point out that:

(1) there was no such thing as a "Palestinian Arab" at that time; when the British referred to "Palestinians" they were talking about native Jews;

(2) Syria considered the area as rightfully belonging to Greater Syria and has never really given up on that dream; There's a reason that Syria is the natural ally of Iran -- Iran is empowering Syria to conquer the Fertile Crescent all the way to Egypt. Israel, Jordan and Lebanon are simply obstacles to be wiped out in the establishment imperial Syria.

(3) the Arabs of all neighboring regions repeatedly promised a genocidal massacre of the Jews (which they succeeded in accomplishing at Kfar Etzion after its defenders surrendered to the Jordan Legion). Abbas forgot to mention that the Arabs, with the assistance of Arab police, launched pogroms in Hebron and Tzfat in 1929.

(4) the majority of Arabs have no deep ties to this land and have migrated here from other areas of the Middle East such as Algeria (Lavi), Morocco (Ein Kerem) and even Bosnia (Caesarea). These "Palestinian villages" that the Left and Paliwood whine about all the time haven't been here much longer than most of the kibbutzim and moshavim of the Jews. Amid all the heart-plucking over "Palestinian villages" everyone forgets to mention Peki'in -- a town that had a Jewish population dating back to the pre-Roman times. Those Jews NEVER left until their Arab neighbors threatened to murder them all in 1947-48. Tzfat has a Jewish population that has been there since ancient times, and was replenished with Jews fleeing the Inquisition in the 15th century.

Scratch a "Palestinian" and you'll more often find an Iraqi, a Syrian, an Egyptian, a Jordanian, a Lebanese, a Moroccan or Algerian back a couple of generations. There are Arab families who have lived here for centuries -- but likewise there are Jewish families who have lived here for centuries.

This makes the Arab claim that the Jews are just "European colonists" ridiculous; we are no more "European colonists" than they are "African colonists or "Bosnian colonists."

The whole debate is ridiculous. What matters is Who is Here, Now. In a word, demographics. Again. We'll keep Gush Etzion, and you can have Wadi Ara, okay? We'll keep Maaleh Adumim and you can have Taibe.

Demographics decided the original UN partition that the Arabs never accepted or recognized. The "1967 borders" were never borders--they were a couple of lines drawn in green and red ink by the generals of both sides to mark the cease-fire lines. Since a state of war has existed since then, they continue to be the cease-fire lines of that war. They were mooted by the 1967 War, when Israel beat back Jordan's attacks and seized the West Bank.

Now, despite earlier opposition to a Palestinian state; despite years of terror and incitement; despite the two Intifadas and suicide bombings and random shootings and stabbings; despite on-going attempts to sneak terrorists into Israel proper to perpetrate more murder and mayhem; despite all this, Israelis are ready to "compromise," that is, to work out some kind of mutual concessions that will bring an end to this conflict so both states can go exist in peace.

The Palestinian Authority isn't interested in "mutual concessions." The starting point is that there is a right for the descendents of "Palestinian refugees" to return to Israel proper, move in, get health insurance, schooling, social security and the right to vote Israel out of existence. This ain't happening, folks.

The other "demand" is the "1967 borders" which are those never-meant-to-be-permanent armistice lines. This ain't happening, either. Even Dumbert, our current idiot-in-charge, isn't suicidal enough to go back to those armistice lines which allowed the Jordanian army to fire at will on vehicles travelling to Jerusalem from the heights above the road; even he isn't going to allow the Old City, the Jewish Quarter of which was ethnically cleansed and then dynamited into oblivion by the Jordanians, to be returned to the Palestinians. These are the same Palestinians who desecrated Joseph's Tomb and turned it into a mosque in a fit of Islamic triumphalism.These are the same people who have more recently burned Gaza synagogues as well as Christian schools and churches, and burned their prayer books.

"Compromise" envisions giving up "non-negotiable demands," rather than insisting on such demands as a starting point.

Clearly the Palestinian Authority doesn't want to compromise, which only means one thing: the Palestinians aren't seriously interested in peace with Israel.

Note to President Abbas: you don't get to wage war against us from 1948 to the present, wage terror against our helpless unarmed ones from 1948 to the present; murder and maim thousands of civilians, then announce that you "demand" the "1967 borders" which you and your allies so roundly rejected at the Khartoum Conference.

There is a price to be paid for all these deaths. 92% is pretty good--Clinton, the Saudis and others told you to grab that offer in 2000 because it was better than you'd ever get again.

Having it on the table now is a gift.

You don't want it? Fine with me. I don't think hundreds of Intifada II deaths later that you deserve such an offer. I think, having lost the countless wars you've monged for, you deserve to get exactly what you're sitting on right now and not an inch more. As a matter of fact, I'm not sure you deserve that much.

We'll close the checkpoints, seal the West Bank, and you can call us when you're serious about negotiating a settlement. Don't threaten us with an Intifada -- the last one is still underway and you haven't disarmed one terrorist (except those in Hamas opposed to your grip on power). Your incessant promises that you will "end terror" are worthless--you've been making those empty promises since Oslo, and Israelis continue to die at the hands of your thugs.

Choose life and peace -- or choose otherwise. If you choose life and peace, you'll find we make excellent neighbors and we'd like your state to look like our state in economic and social advancement; if you choose otherwise, remember that we have nowhere else to go and we will NEVER AGAIN go down without a fight.

*courtesy of Dictionary.com

map courtesy of Answers.com

The Yom Tov Guest

We had the mitzvah of a guest over Sukkot and Shabbat this last week. I have known this young woman since she was a little girl, and her parents are wonderful people. I haven't seen her in several years, but she is now in Israel for her post-high-school "yeshiva year" at a seminary here in Jerusalem.

I'm not sure I can describe her without sounding sappy, but she impresses me SO much that it's hard to write something without making it sound terribly exaggerated. It's not. Simply put, she is my ideal of the Jewish daughter: she is extremely intelligent and articulate, has a fabulously wicked sense of humor, is widely read, extraordinarily well-versed in Jewish texts, halachah, mussar, and history; she is slender, attractive and well-groomed but also well-dressed, modest and becoming.

She is not only a credit to her parents. She is a credit to all Am Yisroel.

She is also intuitive and kind-hearted. We have a special needs son who looks deceptively "normal" but is aware of his left-hemiphlegia, his limited vision and his speech issues. Like most teens, he is painfully concerned about his appearance. For example, he refuses to wear glasses (which his surgeon and vision specialist tell us are optional at this point in his development) because he was teased about being a "geek" and called "four-eyes" in first and second grades. He remembers this too clearly because he was teased daily about his glasses, about his limp, about his speech retrieval problems and about his fine motor deficits ("My baby sister could draw better than you, you geek!").

Like most teenage boys, he is less than careful about wearing wrinkle-free clothing, getting the soap out from behind his ears, brushing and flossing and making sure he has bathed thoroughly, which includes all body parts and hair in Ima's estimation. Running quickly under the shower head so you'll have more time on the computer is not a "shower" in this household.

The Boy remembers our guest from their childhood at our Chabad congregation in northern California. What he remembers is a very nice girl, only slightly older, who was kind enough to play ball with him. Just as the memory of being bullied and teased has stayed with him, that memory of her kindness has always stayed with him.

When I told him that she was coming to spend the Yom Tov and Shabbat with us, he was thrilled. NO problem surrendering his bedroom so she would be comfortable--he'd be happy to sleep on the sofa (not that he had a choice, but he didn't know that).

And a miracle ensued...the Boy who could care less about personal appearance suddenly was consulting me on which shirt looked best; were his teeth clean enough? How was the shave and was it close enough? Did his face look clean? He was miraculously under foot in the kitchen, constantly offering to help. (Our kitchen is the size of a postage stamp and his biggest help would have been getting out of the way, but since our guest was in the kitchen helping out, he was unwilling to leave until I ordered him to get out from underfoot.)

The young lady in question is quite serious about her obligations, and when it was time to daven, suddenly my son was emphasizing the "Orthodox" over the "Modern"; I haven't heard this level of kavanah in his prayers since his bar mitzvah! He was singing his way through Mincha one afternoon like a cantor.

Then his father and I noticed something else: he was wearing his glasses! He has a pretty stylish pair of glasses that he has consistently refused to wear over the last several years, claiming he sees better without them. (In fact, he now sees about the same, apparently having outgrown his severe astigmatism, but the glasses help disguise the obvious alterations around his eyes from eye surgeries.) He has never believed us when we told him that he is more attractive WITH the glasses. Suddenly, he asked our guest what SHE thought. She considered him both with and without glasses as he requested, then told him she thought he looked better WITH the glasses--and voila! Now he wears glasses!

But more important than wearing glasses is his approach to Judaism. Yes, he goes to a dati-leumi-torani high school BUT his kavanah in prayer and motivation in Torah study has slacked off a bit in his struggle with Hebrew and adjusting to Israel....but all it took was a short visit from our guest to remind him of what's important in life, and he seems to have found his motivation again.

We accompanied her back to her seminary when Shabbat was over. The Boy wanted to help carry her belongings inside until I reminded him that as a male, he was not permitted inside, thank you. Still, he clearly wanted to help in order to prolong the moment. He is too well-mannered and too shy to do anything but say "It was great to see you,"; she, on the other hand, is well-bred and kindhearted, and refrained from smiling at his awkwardness. She said "thank you" to us for the holiday, and we expressed the hope she would join us again for another Shabbat.

It is I who say "thank you!" to her -- just her presence over 72 hours made our lives better, and her kindness to the Boy and her helpfulness to me reminded us of what a beacon of light a Jewish woman can be to her family, to any household and to the world.

Thank you, dear, for being our friend.

And kol ha k'vod, Ima and Abba, for raising such a daughter!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Random Holiday Thought....

Instead of starting school on September 1 then breaking for two days of New Years (preceeded by a school holiday for Erev Rosh Hashanah) and then Yom Kippur, then breaking again for Sukkot, why can't we just start school either (1) earlier or (2) after the chagim, and take from Erev Rosh Hashanah until Simchat Torah off? Why are adults working and kids in school during the High Holy Days, and just how much work and how much learning does anyone really think is being done with all these on-again-off-again holidays?

So start school on August 20th, and take three weeks off during the holidays.....half of my ulpan class is gone to France, to England, to the US anyway to hook up with family.

Enough. I have no coherent thought left....we have a charming guest for the holiday and Shabbat; I have to clean the bathrooms, change the sheets, do grocery shopping and go to Modi'in to get a price quote on the new-condo kitchen and we're closing next week (b'ezrat H"S)on the Modi'in cottage!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Congruent Holy Days

Okay, I don't know any Arabs here other than my pharmacist and the guy in charge of repairs in our building.Before coming to Israel, the only Arabs or Moslems that I knew were from college. They were all grad students, the creme de la creme of the California University system. They were funny, hospitable, loved their families deeply, and were convinced that Islam was The Answer to everything wrong with their countries. Islam, especially of the jihadi brand, was not seen as a program of world-wide conquest by them, and the only "anti-American" sentiment they expressed was one of disgust for America's support of the Arab dictatorial leaders and Iran's Shah. Apart from that, they liked the United States, especially its freedom of expression which was so notably lacking in their own countries. One of them was my roommate, and from her I learned to love Iranian food, soccer and an appreciation of a deeper piety than what is usually seen in post-Enlightenment America.

The Iranians among them went from modern dress to covering their wives with chadors during my four years on campus, prior to the Return of the Ayatollah. They were sure that an Islamic society would do away with the Shah's secret police and torture/interrogation, dispense with the rule of fear and replace it with the wisdom and justice of the Koran. Everyone would get a fair shake and there would be no corruption, no injustice and no immorality.

They were idealists. They were also wrong about the Ayatollah and an Islamic republic, and I often wonder what they make of the difference between their dreams for the future and the reality that now exists? The men were focused on getting advanced degrees in order to support their families, make a good living and help their younger siblings. The women were traditional enough to believe that a graduate degree was a plus in the job market but that marriage and children were more important.

They were not extremists. There was no overt hate albeit there was a great deal of anger when Moshe Dayan came to campus to speak. There was a lot of (IMHO misplaced and misinformed) anger about Israel among the non-Iranians. The Arabs saw themselves as champions of the underdog Palestinians; the Iranians were simply opposed to anything the Shah favored. Most liked the United States and saw no conflict with being an observant (in a masorti sort of way) believer in our college community.

Needless to say, despite this early acquaintance with friends and roommates of the Moslem persuasion, my liking for these individuals is today somewhat overshadowed by my general distrust of all things Moslem and Arab. Thirty years of airplane hijackings, suicide bombings, videotaped beheadings and other instances of mass murder coupled with increasingly shrill jihadi rhetoric and oppression of women and minorities has made me look askance at anything Islamic.

It's hard to feel well disposed towards a self-professed Islamic regime that states its primary goal is Jewish genocide.

So, living here under the Katyushas of Hezbollah, the Kassams of Hamas, and the Shahabs of Iran and Syria with their accompanying payloads of chemical and biological weapons, it is sometimes difficult to feel well-disposed towards Israeli Arabs in our immediate neighborhood. It is no secret that many Israeli Arabs sympathize with Hamas and wish for the eradication of the State of Israel. They are convinced, despite all evidence to the contrary, that Israeli Jews are simply Europeans who can be convinced to move back to Europe, that continent which has been drenched in Jewish blood for centuries. They are as ignorant of Jewish history, demographics (over half of the Jews in Israel are from Middle Eastern countries) and belief as we are ignorant of theirs.

I'm well-educated and well-trained enough to behave myself in public with appropriate etiquette, and I treat all people with the same level of courtesy -- which I find oddly difficult when I see women in hijab and men wearing keffiyahs.

Don't get me wrong--I like hijab. I cover my hair and I think the hijab is more attractive than the tichel, frankly. It's not the couture--its what it symbolizes that makes me tread cautiously around such fashion statements.

Now and then, there is a stabbing in Jerusalem of a Jew (or in one sad case of mistaken ethnic identity, an Italian peace proponent who came to Jerusalem to help set up children's summer camps for disadvantaged Palestinian children) for nationalist reasons; in the last week, three attempts at suicide bombings were intercepted, one INSIDE the Green Line; Kassams continue to pound Sderot and other southern venues.

Nonetheless, this last week, Rosh Hashanah and Ramadan started at almost the same exact time: our new moon of the month of Tishrei appeared on Wednesday night and Ramadan started the next day. Over the next three weeks, we celebrate the High Holy Days, then Sukkot and finally Simchat Torah. Islam has a month of fasting, religious introspection followed by feasting every night after the day's fast. The lights of East Jerusalem are brighter than I've ever seen them, with every house lit up at night; the sheruts are packed full of people coming to visit relatives.

We have more in common than we have which is different. Religious women cover their hair; we pray five times a day, also, although we describe it as three times per day (I'm counting the Morning Blessings and the Prayer Before Retiring as two separate periods); we keep kosher, they keep halal; we thank the Merciful One for our food and pray that our children will keep the faith, marry well and raise observant children. We turn to G-d in supplication when things go wrong and in thanks for what we do have. A scholar once told me that "Ha El" in Hebrew is the same as "Allah" in Arabic.

We walked home after Shabbat dinner and proceeded via the Tayelet, that beautiful promenade that looks down across the Peace Forest towards the Old City, the Kotel and the Dome of the Rock. Unlike summer, when the Tayelet is packed with families, it was quiet this Friday night. There was a scattering of Jewish families out for a walk and a few Moslem families sitting along the wall, enjoying the view and trying to avoid the stiff breeze.

I looked at one family that had tucked itself into a seating alcove lined with stone benches. I saw two women in hijab sitting next to what appeared to be husbands or brothers and someone's grandfather and a couple of young children.

"Why not?" I wondered. I raised my hand and waved. "Chag Sameach!" (trans: Happy Holiday) I called out to them. The men, startled, said nothing -- after all, I was with my husband and son. The women smiled broadly, waved, and called back, "Shabbat shalom!"

Photo courtesy of Michael Myers at http://www.netaxs.com/~mhmyers/moon.tn.html

A Different Law of Return

No, this has nothing to do with "Who Is A Jew." I am plagiarizing a wonderful phrase from Emma S.. about holidays and weight gain. As she so aptly put it, this is the Law of Kilo Return.

I slacked off in August. I was busy trying to look at other schools for the Boy (who opted to stay at his special ed high school, a decision that so far seems to be a very good one); then summer ulpan was over and I had him and Yossi's kids at loose ends, so we ended up taking the entire tribe to the pool or the zoo or the Dead Sea or someplace where they could be entertained, work off excess energy and yet receive enough supervision that they wouldn't be in danger. We also did serious household tile-and-fixtures shopping.

Needless to say, the gym and pool workouts sort of fell by the way.....yet a certain crisp tang to the air reminded me that the season is changing; that the High Holy Days are approaching, followed by Sukkot. It is a time of reflection, a time of tshuva, a time to be grateful, a time to look forward as well as backward....and of course, being Jewish holidays, a time to eat! (excepting Yom Kippur)

The minute school started, I started back to the gym. The Husband (who never slacks off) and I went daily, tried newer and more advanced workouts and by the first night of Rosh Hashanah, I had shed the August weight creep and got back to what I weighed at the end of July. Whew!!

I wasn't too worried about food--after all, we were doing Rosh Hashanah's two nights and Shabbat ALL at Yossi's mom's house. Moroccan food is meat, not dairy, -based, and tends towards deliciously prepared salads and meats. I figured if I could avoid starches, I'd be fine, especially since it is a longish walk there and back.

To be precise, we figured out later, it is 5 kilometers there and back to our house. In any given 24-hour period, we walked at least 10 kilometers. So we were fairly blase about the food, knowing we'd be walking this distance and half of it was a fairly steep up-hill stretch of the legs.

So how come, despite half-servings and sometimes skipped servings, no starches and long walks, I was five pounds (that's 2.5 kilos) heavier Motzei Shabbat? (The Husband was 3 pounds heavier--No Fair! He ate three times as much as I did, including all the starches!!)

This is where Emma S showed her genius--"ah, yes, the Law of Kilo Return," she explained. Lost a kilo? It will return on any major Jewish holiday or other festive ocassion (bris, wedding, etc.)

So I took drastic action--strict dieting, much exercising and voila! The 2.5 kilos are history! Until Sukkot, anyway.......

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

September 11

"We will never forget" was the bumper-sticker most often seen in the aftermath of bin Ladin's exercise in mass murder in New York City six years ago. Like Kennedy's assasination, no one will forget where they were and what they were doing that morning in America.

I was asleep in early-morning California. My husband had already left the house, picked up his partner, and they had stopped somewhere around Stockton to have a cup of coffee. The news was on, and the two guys were half-listening when the garbled reports of the first attack rolled in. (NB ABB'ers: the news media first broadcast it as an accident).

The Husband and his partner, also an ex-cop, both pegged it immediately as a terror attack. The Husband began calling home, but at that time the only landline in our old house was in the kitchen where I couldn't hear it. The Boy heard it, ran out and picked it up, only to hear his father telling him to "turn on CNN" and "wake up Ima." He did both, and we both sat in front of the television all day watching tragedy unfold in three American locales while Palestinians danced in the streets and handed out candy.

The Palestinians handed out candy in the streets today, again. This time, for the rocket attack on a military base outside Ashkelon. They fire rockets at Israel daily, albeit mostly at schools, farms and houses. But the candy was because of their joy at actually wounding people -- 69 soldiers were wounded, some seriously.

Like their joy was for the many dead Americans on 9/11/2001. They handed out candy, fired their rifles, danced in the streets and chanted "Death to America!" Death to 3,000 mostly civilian Dick and Janes going to work, or already working in their offices or Grandma going to visit her grandchildren out west, or the little boy who "won" a trip to Disneyland as first prize in his inner-city elementary school, or to the mother who brought her little boy to the office to show her coworkers...

I haven't forgotten. Not then, not now.

It's time to turn off the lights in Gaza. They can eat their candy in the dark, and be grateful that Olmert's in charge, and not me....

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

How To Buy Floor Tile In Israel

Most olim, accustomed to western shopping styles, are totally stymied by Israeli bargaining. Think souk, but apply this to everything.

We need floor tiles for the new apartment. The contractor has his own that he's willing to install, but they're cheap and ugly, hence the need for something that (1) looks nice and (2) will last until I'm dead.

In the States, I would ask my contractor or the builder or my friends who have already redecorated where to go for tile. I've done this before, and the guy who redecorated our bathrooms actually gave me a great tile store that gives owner/remodelers a tileman's discount.

Here, I ask Yossi. I'm about ready to rename this blog "Travels With Yossi: A Survival Guide to Successful Aliyah."

First, Yossi takes us to Modi'in. A strange choice for tiles when our new apartment is in Jerusalem, no? No--the guy who owns this big everything-you-ever-needed-for-your-house-store is Yossi's cousin's husband.

Welcome to the Middle East where tribalism is alive and well.

The cousin-by-marriage is thrilled that these stupid, oops rich, Americans (we are, in reality, neither) have trailed in after his relative and he sends one of his best sales reps over to show us anything we want.

I find the perfect tile. I show it to The Husband, who is there under protest because he HATES shopping. However, I refuse to make major decisions like color and style of floor without his input. I simply don't want to hear "I hate this floor" for the rest of my life. He and Yossi went out for breakfast and strong coffee while I visited Emah S. and saw her wonderful new digs for a couple of hours, along with her wonderful, handsome, cute and very intelligent boys, so The Husband was a bit mollified that this trip wasn't ONLY a shopping trip. The guys got to talk sports and girls over breakfast without their wives overhearing them, which almost made up for the next several hours of torture-by-shopping.

We have different shopping styles. The Husband walks in, sees something, says "That looks okay," and he's done. I walk in, see the same something, say "Hey, I really like this, honey--whaddaya think?" I then proceed to look at every other piece of floor tile in the store to compare texture, quality, price and color. And since I'm there, I might as well also figure out what we're going to use in the bathrooms so they won't clash with the floor in hall and bedroom, right?

Yossi is trying to be inconspicuous since the worst place for any friend to be is in the middle of Husband and Wife. At one point I asked Yossi what he thought of the color of a piece of tile. His eyes widened in alarm. "I don't do this, Sarah, not if I am dead! I NEVER pick the color or the tile--this is the wife's decision. What makes my wife happy makes me happy," he told me, then looked over my shoulder for support. "Nachon, Mike?"

"Nachon," the Husband agrees. "Shalom Bayit. Besides, I'm color blind, so I don't care."

Okay, so now we have the perfect tile. It was, of course, the first piece I saw but I had to look at everything and drive both guys nuts.

We look at the price tag. 421 NIS per meter. For which one need not be American but must be either rich or stupid. Chaval--I have been here long enough to know highway robbery when I see it.

So Yossi goes to bargain with his cousin. For us, since we're friends-of-the-family and we're buying tile for the home, the bathrooms and the mirpesset, well, gee, he'll give us a discount and knock it down to 350 NIS per meter.

Yossi and he disappear into a back nook of the showroom. I am now familiar with this routine. Yossi is a taxi driver, and drivers work hard for very little money. So every hotel manager, business owner and contractor tries to get some business thrown their way by offering the taxi driver a cut of the profit--it's usually 10%.

When the taxi driver at the airport tells you that you should stay at the Inbal because it's really much nicer than the King David, he might be offering you his honest opinion--or he might be getting a kick-back from the manager at the Inbal. You can't really know one way or the other, but you should know that there's a lot of "black" money transactions here and it's primarily because its very, very tough for people to make a living in a country where the minimum wage laws and other labor protections are pretty much unenforced.

One reason the Husband and I know that Yossi is more family than merely friend is that we watched while a sales rep offered Yossi 10% of the purchase price of a penthouse to prevail upon us to buy HIS penthouse and not to take us to any other contractors. Yossi played along, and when the sales rep finally reached his lowest price, Yossi asked about "his 10%." The sales rep readily agreed--and Yossi then told him that we were family and that Yossi wanted that 10% also knocked off the price of the apartment. Flummoxed, the sales rep reluctantly agreed, so we got a further reduction in the price.

We ultimately didn't buy that apartment, but that's how it works here.

Sure enough, Yossi's cousin wanted to assure him that if Yossi would recommend his shop and make sure we bought all our household tile from him, then he would give Yossi a cut of 10%.

Yossi then took us to Jerusalem, where he knows the owner of another tile store. This guy was young and very direct. He told me, point-blank, that because we're "family" to Yossi, he would give us the same tile we saw in Modi'in for 210 NIS per meter--but only because we know Yossi. "I'm making this price for HIM, you understand? Not for you."

I understood. I also saw him pull Yossi into an alcove and pretend to talk about the ugly green bath tile on the wall when I knew perfectly well (and Yossi later confirmed) that he was promising Yossi a 10% cut if Yossi would insist that this was the best shop in which to buy the tile.

From there, we went to three other stores in Jerusalem and a very nice, small store that was the best of the lot in Rosh HaAyin--SevenStone. Unlike the competition, it isn't in a big flashy showroom. From the street, it looks like a warehouse in the industrial section of town--but the owner is honest, and the prices can't be beat.

Unfortunately, they don't carry the tile I want.....

Back to Modi'in. Yossi tells the cousin that we need floor tile, and bathroom tile, and toilets and a tub and shower stall, and since we're bringing him all this business, how about a better price?

The cousin comes down to 210 NIS/meter. Yossi argues persuasively with him--c'mon, that's the same price as in Jerusalem, can't you do better than that?

Cousin then gives us 50% off of all the fixtures, and 40% off the bathroom and mirpesset tile. It looks like we have a deal...but Yossi's not done yet.

He takes the cousin aside. "What about my 10%?"

"But I gave you the best price possible!" the cousin protests.

"Yes, but that's for the buyers--what about me?" Yossi persists. "You PROMISED me that I'd get 10% if I brought their business to you."

Despite the airconditioning, the cousin is sweating. He finally agrees, looking slightly ill, to the 10%.

"Good!" Yossi exclaims. "Take it off their bill--these people are family to me!"

We got that tile I couldn't possibly afford for 190 NIS/meter. I'm lousy at math, but I figure that's about 45% of the original asking price.

So how do you buy tile in Israel? Make really good Israeli friends who have to survive on the economy and know the ropes, and then take them shopping with you. DO NOT try to do this alone, without adult Israeli supervision and with your immigrant accent--you'll get eaten alive.

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