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Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Even in Israel, there is the good, the bad and the ugly.....

The Ugly

Road rage exists here, too. The Husband was en route to a softball game with his friends when a tus-tus driver, enraged at the traffic, kicked the side-panels of the cars in line, including ours, as he passed. Tus-tuser apparently lost his balance while kicking ours, and rather than blame his own stupidity for laying his tus-tus in the road, decided to take it out on the Husband. Mr. Road-Rage ripped off his helmet and hit the husband in the face with it. Broken glasses, some scratches and yes, the Husband got the license number as Mr. Road-Rage drove off. That's the ugly.

The good? Every driver around him jumped out of their car and physically restrained Road-Rager. (Remember, we're from the States, where people generally "don't want to get involved," as a rule; a truly bold citizen might use his cellphone to call the police....)

The other good? Unlike in California, the tus-tus driver didn't carry a gun....

The Good

The Boy has been using anti-seizure medications for the past 5 or 6 years. We've gone through 4 neurologists, none of whom could explain why he continued to have seizures. These are experts from UCSF, Oakland's Children's Hospital, and Mt. Zion...the explanation proffered the parents was that "break-through seizures" are common, especially with growing children, and possibly there is a missed dose here and there.....it wasn't convincing, but it was all we had.

We come to Israel. We settle in Jerusalem. We get the name and fortunately an appointment for the best pediatric neurologist in Jerusalem (Itai Berger, if anyone needs him--Hadassah Mt. Scopus). He orders the routine-every-six-months blood tests for the Boy, and 48 hours later has us rushing back to clinic because of the blood test results (which we did twice to make sure there was no error).

The blood test results show that despite massive doses of Trileptin (one of a modern family of anti-seizure medications we have tried) The Boy does NOT have a therapeutic level of the metabolite in his bloodstream.....in plain English, his body doesn't absorb this particular medication. In other words, since 5th grade my child has essentially been un-medicated for his seizure condition. And he had these blood tests in the States, also....so any neurologist there could have seen these results and figured out there was problem....

No wonder he kept having seizures.

And we had to come to Israel to find a neurologist smart enough to figure this out. I love the doctor -- he's funny, he's smart and he loves kids and is able to tell me he knows about this condition because he had another patient many years ago with exactly the same problem. Being young, smart and just out of medical school, he was certain that the child wasn't being medicated properly by the parents--so he hospitalized the child and found out that despite the hospital staff handling the doses, the child still didn't have a therapeutic level of medication in her system. He then did some research (and apologized to the parents for doubting them) and discovered that some rare individuals simply don't fully metabolize this particular family of medications.

We're now on a new family of anti-seizure drugs--which so far, are working. Let's hear it for Israeli doctors!

The Bad

Health care is universal in Israel. How good that health care is depends on a lot of factors.

Yossi, our neighborly life-saver and situation-fixer, was experiencing some muscle cramping in the legs...then the muscles and the pain got worse...and worse....and worse....until he finally went to several specialists who sent him ultimately to an orthopedist. The orthopedist wanted a test to determine exactly what was causing the pain and muscle lock-up in both legs. Yossi called to make an appointment for the test -- and yes, there was an appointment open--at the end of June. In 6 weeks.

This is not the kind of pain one wants to fool around with....after exhausting all possible avenues of traditional health care through the Health Plan, Yossi tossed in the towel and made a "private" appointment with a specialist at Hadassah Ein Kerem. Money talks, even in Israel. He got the appointment for the next day, not for the end of June.....kessef medaber....

That's the bad.....it's great that there is universal health coverage.....the bad is that at times, the speed of delivery isn't sufficient.....

The good? The tests are back and its nothing that can't be fixed......

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

What Is It With The Cigarettes?

We adjourned from the Rabbinute to Cafe Hillel the other day for a much-needed infusion of caffeine. While sipping our coffees, we saw a man at the coffee bar telling someone in both words (polite) and gestures (also polite) that she could not smoke inside the cafe.

The man at the coffee bar then gathered up his newspaper and left.

We looked over in the direction of the smoke, and saw a young woman sitting at a table, smoking a cigarette. Another table was between her and us. My husband asked her nicely not to smoke in the cafe as the smoke bothered him (he is actually allergic to cigarette smoke, and prolonged exposure always brings on a bout of bronchitis).

She shrugged, told him there was an ashtray on the table, so therefore she could smoke and if it bothered him, he could leave.

The young guy sitting at the table between us and her pointed out that there was a "No Smoking" sign on the wall and added that the smoke bothered him as well.

She pointed to the ashtray, shrugged again, and said the sign didn't apply to her.

The Husband, who was now getting steamed a bit, said in overly-patient tones that in fact, the law is that one cannot smoke in a cafe or restaurant unless the smoking section and non-smoking section are separated by a wall -- which was clearly not the case here.

At this point, our waitress comes over and butts in and tells the Husband that the customer can smoke here if she wants, and if he doesn't like it, he should go outside. The Husband points out that (1) everyone outside is smoking and (2) the law states that it is illegal to smoke in the general area, outside of a "smoking section."

The waitress argues with him, casting her disdain over her shoulder as she stomps away. The Husband raises his voice to address her retreating back about her misinterpretation of the law, and the waitress spins around to tell him indignantly that he need not raise his voice at her.

I refrained from asking her why she butted in in the first place.

The smoker has now lit up again and is puffing away. She adds her voice to the chorus, telling our neighboring table and us that its NOT against the law and she'll smoke if she wants to, and what makes us think we know what the law is, anyway?

The Husband shows her his police identification and tells her he is very familiar with the law. She puts out her cigarette.

The neighboring table thanks us for our part in this persuasion, and the young man there tells us that not only does he hate the smell of cigarette smoke, but he doesn't understand why his countrymen are so insistent on inflicting lung damage on themselves and the people surrounding them. It is one of the unfortunate aspects of Israeli life -- lots of people smoke. Our friends tell us that smoking starts in high school here, and certainly if not high school, then in the army.

I saw some evidence of this yesterday afternoon. A squad of young soldiers in uniform had converged on the ATM at our bank. ALL the young women were smoking. I understood from our friends that many girls smoke to kill their appetites and to try to stay thin. This was my mother's rationale in her youth -- smoking makes you thin and glamorous. The unfortunate result is both cancer and looking 20 years older than your real age. I wanted to tell the absolutely gorgeous blonde puffing on her cigarette that smoking would cause wrinkles and ruin her skin (never mind cancer--18 year olds think they'll live forever), but I didn't have enough Hebrew.

Last week, the Jerusalem Post published a "first" here in Jerusalem. A coffee shop was actually FINED for allowing someone to smoke on the premises. The patron asked the smoker to stop. The smoker refused. Then the patron asked the management to stop the smoker. The management refused to intervene. The patron then filed a complaint and the Municipality actually imposed a 2000 shekel fine -- which apparently had absolutely NO impact since we had to argue the point this week with both the smoker and the waitress.

Of course, the waitress had her own reason for defending in-door smoking: as we left, she was lighting up a cigarette.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

...and A Time To Scream

Let me preface this with a bit of insight: everyone says that when you make aliyah, you need "patience." Patience, smatience -- what you really need is a sense of humor.

My husband and his first wife divorced over 20 years ago. He and I have been married for almost 18 years. I've been married to him longer than she was. However, when he went to Misrad Hapnim this time around to get a new teudat zehut (Israeli ID card), they issued him a TZ with his long-forgotten ex-wife's name on it.

"Oh, this isn't correct," he told Officialdom, "My first wife and I are long divorced and I've remarried." Of course, he had all the requisite paperwork: marriage certificate (with apostille), birth certificate of our son, the Get from the Beis Din in the U.S., my Kettubah, etc.

Was Officialdom impressed? No.

"You have to go the Rabbinute," the clerk explained. "The Rabbinute needs to open a tik (file) and register your Get.

The Rabbinute is the body which handles marriage and divorce in Israel. The Rabbinute decides who is Jewish and who is not per Jewish law, and whether or not the marriages and divorces of Israel's citizens are kosher according to Jewish law.

Going to the Rabbinute is the Israeli equivalent of having to visit the IRS.

We left Misrad Hapnim and hiked up Ben Yehuda towards the Rabbinute. The Husband stopped at the bank.

"Why are we going to the bank?" I asked, new and naive in the country.

"Because we're going to the Rabbinute," the Husband explained grimly. He almost got it right: he took out 600 shekels; the cost of opening the tik was 612 shekels.

This started a process of multiple trips to the Rabbinute until the Husband got a hearing before a dayan (religious judge)....a very nice man who handed down a decision stating that the Husband was validly, halachically divorced. Great, we're done, right?

Wrong. We go back to Misrad Hapnim with the paperwork from the Rabbinute. This isn't sufficient, we're told. Now we're told to go back to the Rabbinute because allegedly there is a problem with the Rabbinute's paperwork (in fact, there isn't -- the Rabbinute dates the divorce not from the civil divorce date but the date of the Get, so the two dates aren't the same).

Back we go to the Rabbinute -- fortunately, this time with Yossi in tow, or we'd have had to camp there all week. The first man we speak to runs the Husband's teudat zehut through the computer and tells us there is no problem, he is divorced, the date is correct, why are we bothering him? While we're pondering our answer to this, he runs my teudat zehut through the computer and goes berserk.

"You're not in the computer! You're not here!" he tells us with excited anger.

Even Yossi was taken aback. "Why aren't you here, Sarah? You're not in the computer--you're not married in Israel."

"No, I was married in California--what silliness is this?" I asked. "Since when do I have to open a file to prove I'm married in Israel?"

Well, guess what? I do have to open a file to get myself on my husband's teudat zehut because the last time he was in Israel, he was married to someone else.

This is where having an Israeli friend who seems to know at least one person in every branch of the bureaucracy comes in very handy. He explained first to the clerks, and then to the rabbi in charge of scheduling the hearings that we needed to expedite this because we're buying a house and the paperwork can't be completed unless we're linked on our teudot. Instead of getting a date in three months, Yossi wrangled us a return date for the next day.

The next day we're back, bright and early. The court clerk disallowed one of our witnesses because she is female ("I told you so," I got to say to Yossi and the Husband -- I knew the Rabbinute wasn't going to accept a female witness...) We called another friend, who was good enough to drop EVERYTHING and grab a cab over to the Rabbinute and tell the dayan that he has known us for a year and attested to our Jewishness. Yossi was the other witness, and his cheekiness made the dayan laugh in agreement with him.

"You need this [kind of hearing] for the Russians," Yossi told him. "They're the gentiles who come here, pretend to be Jewish, marry to take taxpayers' money and go back to Russia -- not people like this, Jews who have left America and brought their child here to live."

It was cheeky, it was funny, but it was also a sobering look into how the average working Israeli family looks upon the Israeli-Russian divide in this country. Yossi also explained to the dayan, the same nice man who decreed my husband divorced, and who on this particular morning had a stack of files which nearly covered his entire desk, that we need to finish the paperwork with the bank as immediately as possible, so can we have the decision today, please? Cheeky, but effective. The dayan told him he would try to have the decision ready by tomorrow but couldn't promise anything....but as we and our witnesses left, Yossi lingered long enough to say "Shalom" to the court and staff and overhear the dayan tell his clerk to expedite the paperwork today.

This is the sort of thing that not only requires patience, but also a sense of humor. The patience is a given -- even if you aren't a patient person, the system here forces patience upon you. But at the same time, apart from patience, you need the ability to step outside the immediate stress of the situation and laugh at the absurdity of it all.

Don't scream. Don't rend your clothes. Have a cup of cappucino, look at each other, say "Ma alasot?" ("what can you do?") and grin. It's the Israeli way to do things....

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