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Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Why I Hate The Breast Stroke

I hate exercise. Riding a bike to catch the scenary is fun; playing Marco Polo in the pool or a friendly game of tennis with a friend--this isn't exercise. It's being actively social.

Exercise is a regime where one puts oneself through a standard set of movements designed to build muscle mass, lose fat and reshape one's body inside and out. Members of this family do LONG bike rides at high speed, or work out hard in a gym with heavy weights, or row on a rowing machine for 30 minutes or more, or run on a treadmill or an equillateral for 30-45 minutes, etc.

My favorite alternative to all this sweaty stuff is swimming. Exercise swimming is not "fun" per se....it involves moving at racing speeds through the water from wall to wall nonstop until the requisite number of laps have been swum. Racing speed can be done in any format: crawl, backstroke, butterfly, breast stroke. At speed, these will all burn calories and really wring out your body.

Unfortunately, it's summer time. The pool at which I swim (while the Husband heads for the gym) is lovely but also increasing crowded with people who are clueless about lap-swim protocol.

There are three lanes. The lanes are clearly marked in Hebrew and English as "Slow Lane," "Medium Lane," and "Fast Lane." This anticipates that the slowest swimmers will swim in the slow lane, the fastest swimmers in the fast lane and the rest of us in the middle.

But this is Israel, where lane lines on the highways are merely suggestions. You don't seriously think anyone pays any attention to the designated lane signs? Good, because they don't. Those of us who swim in this pool year round and consider swimming a serious form of exercise which needs to be done correctly find ourselves stymied by the mind-set of the summer swimmer who wants to do the breast stroke in the fast lane -- except that she swims at a pace so slow that any toddler could walk to the end of the lane before she reaches the wall.

WHY is she in the fast lane? Maybe because the other lanes were "crowded" and only one other person was in the fast lane. Maybe because the fast lane is next to the kiddie area so she's close to her children. Maybe because she's TOTALLY MENTAL and really thinks this semi-wading-in-molasses breastroke is really Olympic material. Maybe she's illiterate and can't read the signs. Who knows?

I don't care. I just know she's ruining my workout, which requires 25 laps at racing speed without stopping.

But I have to put on the brakes for Mrs. Wading-In-The-Fast-Lane because as I make my turn, pushing off the wall, and streaking for the far wall, I bounce off her foot mid-lap, where she is doing -- the breast stroke!!

The breast stroke in the Olympics is a wonderful race to behold. The breast stroke as done by native and tourist women of indeterminate age and very slow speed at this pool appears to be a device whereby one "swims" after a fashion, but the idea seems to be to get wet without really getting one's hair wet or breaking a sweat. Heaven forbid one should disturb one's "do" or breathe heavily!

Protocol kicks in here. Like driving, when one is swimming laps and a faster swimmer comes up behind you, it is polite to allow that person to pass. Since the lane lines are divided by a black line, any passing usually involves the faster swimmer passing ON the black line in order to minimize the risk of collision with a swimmer coming down-lane from the opposite direction.

People who do lap swimming for exercise all the time are aware of these protocols, including the politeness that requires that a slower swimmer at the wall give way to the faster swimmer who was on your toes all the way down the lane.

This is usually No Big Deal.

Until we run into Mrs. Wading-The-Breaststroke-In-The-Fast-Lane. (Or the Middle Lane--I'm generally a "medium" swimmer and my gripe is aimed largely at people who are SLOW swimmers but don't want to use the Slow Lane because it already has 4 other slow people wading in it....)

When we have two or three medium swimmers doing their laps in the Medium Lane, Mr/Mrs. Slowpoke screws up the laps. It's very difficult to pass when the lanes are crowded, as one does not want to collide head on with an on-coming swimmer while passing -- but it's almost impossible to pass these Slowpokes doing the breaststroke--because they not only swim incredibly slowly, they also swim incredibly badly. The breaststroke is a quick, collected burst of energy -- unless Mrs. Slowpoke is doing it. Then its a slow, ungainly waving of the arms and legs in a fashion which takes up the ENTIRE lane AND the black line. Picture a Giant Sea Turtle in motion and you'll know what I mean. Not only does this make passing breaststroking slowpokes almost impossible, it also means that even when one is swimming downlane on the opposite side of them, one gets a kick in the rib or a hand hitting one's head or a finger in the eye---because these folks can't keep their appendages in their own lane.

For the first few months of the summer swim, I tried to be patient and tolerant. No more. You swim slow in the Fast or Medium Lane, you better swim well because I'm going to run right over you.

Three of us were swimming hard last week in the fast lane and I was coming off the wall on a turn when suddenly a large blue whale jumped into the water directly in front of me. She missed landing on me by inches. (Another protocol--you don't get into the lane until its clear at the entry point.) I stopped and backpedaled to the wall, where I met the two other lap swimmers in my lane, staring in outrage and amazement at this tubby woman who had jumped into our lane as we were all turning or coming up on the turn -- so she could do a dog-paddle-speed breaststroke up the lane. The other two swimmers were men. They didn't know what to do--after all, the newcomer was a woman. The look on the closest guy's face was "What chutzpah!!" I signalled "Watch this!" and took off at full speed. I bumped into her toes, grazed her legs and passed her so closely that she was unable to spread out her arms and legs in the usual hog-the-entire-lane-and-half-the-other-lane breaststroke done by portly summer waders.

Recall that the whole point of the breaststroke is to preserve the hair-do. One does NOT want to put one's head into the water for fear of ruining the do.

As I crawled past at warp nine, I also geared up my kick to make sure she got LOTS of water in the face and on the hair do. My compatriots got the idea immediately and both had splashed into high gear right behind me. In short order, Mrs. Hog-The-Lane was passed by three very irate, very fast and very strenuous swimmers who made sure she got a face full of water from all of us. Her "do" got drenched.

She moved to the Slow Lane.

Every day is like this. Rarely am I fortunate enough to share a lane only with other lap swimmers who know what they're doing. Inevitably, someone decides to do a lazy breaststroke, hogging a lane-and-a-half, and throwing everyone else off their stride. (I need to add that there is not only a slow lane, but a free area where one can wade, breaststroke, dog-paddle, float or do whatever without being in a lap lane. Of course, the Breaststroke Wading Contingent never goes there--it's full of slow people!)

I can hardly wait until September....

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Forgetting Farenheit

We've been here for slightly more than a year. While I still feel very much the New Immigrant, in looking back I realize that certain changes seem to point to my extremely gradual evolution into an Israeli.

The most telling example is watching the news. Especially watching the weather. Last year when the news station posted the daily temperature, as well as the expected highs and lows of the week, I was lost. "Thirty degrees tomorrow in Jerusalem" the graphics showed, and I would ask the Husband, "What's that in English?" I remember learning something about Centigrade in science class, but since I had no mathematical aptitude whatsoever, learning Centigrade seemed like an enormous waste of time.

Now I can pick up the Jerusalem Post (no, I have not yet graduated to Hebrew newspapers), turn to the weather page and see "36" next to Jerusalem, and groan. Likewise, when we tune into the European news and see the weather reports, we're not surprised people are dying of heatstroke in Greece because we know that "42" is really, really, unbearably hot.

On the subject of Hot....before I lived here, I knew the word chamsin. From very bad English and American movies, I thought it meant a hot sandstorm. In ulpan, I learned that it literally means "50," leaving me with the impression that the 50 hottest days of summer were so described.

Not so -- it only SEEMS like 50 days, but in reality, chamsin means "heatwave" in colloquial English, and it can last one day, three days or a week.

Right now, the temperature has been rising steadily and doesn't look to drop until Sunday.....

Which isn't Sunday. It's Yom Rishon. Israelis are endlessly confused about the days of the week outside of Hebrew, and since each western language has its own day names, I can understand their confusion. But this is another benchmark of acculturation: when you start to think of days of the week by their Hebrew names, and Yom Rishon no longer feels like part of the weekend, but is instead thought of as the first day of the work week, you have transitioned through one more step.

The Husband was the first to reach this level. He took the dog for a walk one morning, and returned home, puzzled. "It was very, very quiet this morning, except I kept hearing bells ring. They must be coming from the Old City, but why would they be ringing bells?" he wondered aloud to me.

I thought about it for a minute. "What day of the week is it, motek?" I asked him with a grin.

"It's Yom Rishon," he answered, still on Israeli time.

"Yep. Sunday morning. That's when churches...."

"...ring their bells," he finished with a laugh.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Future Visions: Islamist and Israeli

Last week, we started studying future tense in Hebrew. The vehicle the teachers used was to ask the class how we would like to see the future. The first word offered was "shalom" or peace.

We built on that, talking about turning the desert of the Middle East back into the breadbasket it once was; about being able to take the train to Beirut, to Istanbul or to Alexandria; others wondered if they would someday see the great cities of Persia, or the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, the sites of Babylon and Ninevah. So much of Jewish history took place in this neighborhood, not merely in Israel but in the surrounding lands, and perhaps too optimistically, the mostly-young college aged group in my class hoped that peace would become a reality, and that normal intercourse with our Arab, Persian and Turkish neighbors will develop.

Several of our teachers are studying Arabic themselves and are involved in human rights activities here in Jerusalem.

Contrast this with the future visions of Islamism, which has coined the Newspeak word "martyrdom" as a substitute for what it really is: mass murder of civilians. The poison on the airwaves of Hamastan, of Hezbollah, of Iran and their allies is genocidal, and the horror of it is the way they indoctrinate young children to believe that mass murder is a religious duty and that Jews deserve death. Annihilating The Jews .

This month, Mickey Mouse (aka Farfur) on Palestinian children's programming called for jihad and martyrdom, before being murdered by an anonymous evil Israeli. Just the stuff you want your three-to-five age group watching. The unending calls for small children to be heroic by blowing themselves up in acts of mass murder doesn't seem to attract the attention of the UN Human Rights Commission or any other NGO ostensibly interested in child welfare or human rights.

The United Nations website actually sets forth its position on indoctrinating children to mass murder and genocide in its commentary on the Convention on the Rights of the Child:

...[T]he Convention is a universally agreed set of non-negotiable standards and obligations. These basic standards—also called human rights—set minimum entitlements and freedoms that should be respected by governments. They are founded on respect for the dignity and worth of each individual, regardless of race, colour, gender, language, religion, opinions, origins, wealth, birth status or ability and therefore apply to every human being everywhere. With these rights comes the obligation on both governments and individuals not to infringe on the parallel rights of others. These standards are both interdependent and indivisible; we cannot ensure some rights without—or at the expense of—other rights.

Here is a small sample of what the Convention on the Rights of the Child says:

(a){C}hildren, should be afforded the necessary protection and assistance so that {they} can fully assume {their} responsibilities within the community;
Recognizing that the child, for the full and harmonious development of his or her personality, should grow up in a family environment, in an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding,
Considering that the child should be fully prepared to live an individual life in society, and {be} brought up in the spirit of the ideals proclaimed in the Charter of the United Nations, and in particular in the spirit of peace, dignity, tolerance, freedom, equality and solidarity,

Article 6

States Parties recognize that every child has the inherent right to life.
States Parties shall ensure to the maximum extent possible the survival and development of the child.


Right. The Palestinians want a state but promote mass murder to toddlers and preschoolers in contravention of UN policy and basic human dignity. And the UN Commission on Human Rights focuses on Israel?

Article 14
1. States Parties shall respect the right of the child to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.
2. States Parties shall respect the rights and duties of the parents and, when applicable, legal guardians, to provide direction to the child in the exercise of his or her right in a manner consistent with the evolving capacities of the child.
3. Freedom to manifest one's religion or beliefs may be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health or morals, or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.


Presumably this means that the UN frowns on calling for the genocide of others, including Jews. Is there an NGO or UN body out there willing to point out that freedom of religious expression does NOT include calls for mass murder of, among others, other children?

The Jihadi Mouse Farfur and his cousin the Jihadi Bee who has replaced the "martyred" Mouse are instruments of outrageous child abuse according to the UN's own stated protocols :

[The Convention] spells out the basic human rights that children everywhere have: the right to survival; to develop to the fullest; to protection from harmful influences, abuse and exploitation...

So where is the outcry from Human Rights organizations? Where is B'tselem? Or Human Rights Watch? Or Amnesty International?

So there you have it. According to the United Nations, Israel is "disproportionate" in responding to Hamas's and Hezbollah's indiscriminate rocket attacks on civilians but NOT ONE WORD is breathed about the distinction between Israeli education and Arab education: Israel raises children who express a desire for peace, a desire to "green" otherwise barren and abused lands, who are fiercely protective of human rights and often turn out to protest against any perceived violation of those rights, and who wish to live as equals in the Middle East among their Arab peers.

On the other side of the blue and green lines, Arab education harps on mass slaughter of Jews and other non-Moslems in the name of Holy War in order to establish a Caliphate where only heterosexual Moslem males will have rights, where women and children are chattel, and gays and lesbians deserving of painful death.

Maybe the UN (along with AP, BBC, Amnesty, and the rest of the Arab Amen Chorus) should focus less on the amount of ordnance used and more on the stated goals and educational methodology of the Israelis and the Arabs. Maybe it will dawn on them that the state of war in this neighborhood is ocassioned more by Arab Hate Education than by a reluctant Israeli occupation of terror centers.

Back Again

Uh, yes, I've been away too long.....sorry.

But I have good reason(s).

The Boy got his draft notice. We took it to the doctor, filled it out with doctor's help (she's wonderful) and mailed it back. We then get a letter that says, in essence, don't show up for induction but send us medical records which corroborate what your doctor has told us. Hundreds of pages of medical records are duly copied and mailed to the IDF......after which we receive another letter saying, in effect, "Hey! Where were you? You didn't show for induction so we're giving you another induction date and you'd darn well better show up this time!"

So much for following instructions. It simply proves to me that military hierarchies are the same all over the world---the department that sent us the Send Medical History But Don't Come never talked to the Induction Center. So Plan B is that we will troop down to the induction center next month with another batch of medical records because I can almost guarantee that the records we sent last month are either (1) lost (2) misfiled or (3) in someone's in-box awaiting processing, but they will NOT be in the file at the induction center.

Then we made another major lifestyle change. If there is an easy way to do something and a difficult way to do something, we seem to find the difficult way.

We bought a cottage in Modi'in last year. It's lovely. It's three stories, very spacious with garden and garage. Unfortunately, in the year we've been here, it has become clear that the Boy's schooling will remain in Jerusalem; his medical support will remain in Jerusalem; OUR medical support as we get older will be in Jerusalem; that the things we like to do are in Jerusalem; that all my friends (except for Wenche and Susie who are moving to Modi'in) are in Jerusalem; that I will have to commute to do the things I want to do, bring the Boy to the doctors and to school and to see the friends we have here. The Husband works for the Jerusalem Police, so even he will have to commute.

I loathe commuting. I hate it so much that I have, throughout my professional life, paid more to live near work rather than drive for 45 minutes to an hour. What were we thinking?

We were thinking like Californians, where people routinely commute for an hour to get to work, and think nothing of driving 30 minutes to have lunch with friends.

This isn't California. And I appear to have acclimated to Israel much more rapidly than even the Husband thought possible. Driving up Road One daily is not for me....

So....the house in Modi'in is on the market. (Anyone want a new cottage? We're including the kitchen and the double-pane windows...)The cottage was supposed to be ready by July 7th, which we all knew was a totally fictional date. However, the builder has now notified us that it will not be completed by September, the drop-dead date in the contract (the builder now has to start paying part of my rent) and has told our real estate agent that it will not be finished until December.

And in the meantime, we bought a condo here in Jerusalem. IT won't be finished until next summer. But I'll wait. It's worth waiting for--1400 square feet, and we're making the living room and master bedroom a bit bigger by taking out a bedroom we don't need. The house will be just perfect for a retired couple with one teenager, AND its all on one floor and I don't have to navigate the stairs. Now, I'm not so feeble that I can't navigate stairs at this point in my life, but we're taking the long view: when I'm 80 (should I live so long) I certainly don't want to navigate stairs. Besides, the Husband hates stairs--he has never done well on stairs, even in his youth. He's the only man I've ever met who trips going UP stairs.

So, back to the point.....I haven't been able to blog because I seem to spend all my time copying medical records, copying financial records, organizing real estate paperwork and delivering it to various agencies: the IDF (courtesy of Ronit, because I would never have figured out how to get the paperwork there); the bank; the lawyers; the Jerusalem contractor. And, like a fool, I decided to accompany the Boy through ulpan this summer.

He needs to upgrade his Hebrew for school. I don't. But I thought it would be nice to keep using it, and we could commute together.

He's doing fine.

I'm drowning. It's an intensive Hebrew ulpan at Milah, and for intensive Hebrew one must be present every day. Unlike Aleph, where no one knows anything, Bet is full of people of various ulpan backgrounds. Two people in our class have serious yeshiva backgrounds; one is married to a Hebrew teacher and speaks Hebrew at home; one is from South America and carries on fluent conversations with the teachers at speeds that leave me baffled.

Humility is struggling over one section of homework for an hour and a half and when you ask your son, "Have you done your homework?" he says, puzzled, "Yeah, I knocked it off while we were in Cafe Hillel waiting for the taxi."

I'm in Big Trouble. I'm trying to cultivate the attitude I ventured towards Elizabeth, my classmate from Mitchell, last week over coffee at Caffit: it's not a contest; I should just take what I can get from the class; I should try my best to keep up and not go crazy; it's all about learning the language and if I have to take Bet over again, so be it.

Elizabeth was very supportive and agreed it is all about learning the language. Of course, Elizabeth is also very smart, went to Ulpan Akiva for two weeks, worked hard, mastered Bet and is probably starting Gimmel this Fall....

I remember that when I first went to law school, we did something our freshman year called "Shepardizing." It's now done by computer program, but back in the Dark Ages when I was schooled, we did it by hand. It is a method of checking on the reliability of a particular citation. It involves looking up the citation you wish to rely upon in a large red tome with miniscule print wherein is listed your desired citation and every case that ever mentions your case thereafter. But what you see on the page is a series of numbers and letters (such as 4Fed2nd876) which is the citation of the case you wish to quote, and a long list of similar citations, each of which has an almost invisible little number (the headnote) and letter next to it. This obscure code tells the researcher WHAT issue is being quoted in the subsequent cases and whether or not subsequent courts approved this holding, overturned the case, or modified it in a way fatal to your argument.

I thought it was one of the hardest things I ever had to do (you young lawyers today with the computer programs have it SOOOO easy) but I mastered it and by the end of the third year of law school, as Senior Law Clerk, I could check citations at warp speed. Even when I was getting ready to retire, I often found it was quicker to pull down the big red Shepard's volumn in the library than to walk the football-field-distance to my computer to check a citation.

The point? That I hope that in five years I look back on my struggles with Bet the same way I look back up Shepardizing -- with a kind of astonished "What made me think that was so hard?"

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