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Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Etiquette of Arab-Jewish Relations, or What Emily Post Doesn't Cover

I accompanied an Israeli friend the other day to a very nice hotel where a family simcha was going to take place. I had never been inside this hotel, and I'd heard wonderful things from the family about the plans for the simcha, so when invited to tag along to finalize the arrangements, I was happy to go and check it out.

The hotel is lovely, with a wonderful lobby and various sitting and dining areas on the ground floor. Lots of light.

Lots of Arabs. Service staff, supervisory staff and customers.

So we're sitting at one table and I'm watching the family finalize the menu and plans for their simcha. The event planner, a middle-aged professional with an easy smile and genuine good humor, is waiting for her supervisor to come over and sign off on the arrangements and chosen date. The event planner is Jewish; her supervisor is Arab. While we're waiting, she orders a round of coffee for us "on the house" (and it was excellent coffee), and we just schmoozed. Mostly in Hebrew but she would reply to me in English if I made a comment.

Her supervisor was held up at another table with a young couple. This young couple looked like any Jewish couple in the country except for one thing: the young woman was wearing hijab. Apart from her hair covering, however, she was wearing a contemporary long-sleeved sweater, nice make-up and jeans; her fiance was wearing a nice Henley but was also in jeans.

Looking at their age and happiness, I asked (in Hebrew) : "A wedding?"

Yes, the event planner confirmed that they were booking for a wedding at the hotel.

At that exact moment, her supervisor walked over with the young man in tow and asked the event planner to check the calendar book in her possession to make sure the date for the wedding was clear. The young man was standing closest to me, looking hopeful.

I looked up at him and grinned. "Mazel tov!" I told him. He looked momentarily startled but then grinned back and said "Todah rabah (thank you very much)!"

As the prospective groom returned to his table with the supervisor, the event planner turned to me with a clouded face.

"What do you mean, "mazel tov"? she asked acidly. "They're Arabs."

"It's a wedding," I protested. "It's from G-d."

My friend, a native Jerusalemite, also looked askance at me. "Yes, Sarah, but after the wedding come the children, and after the children comes the indoctrination in hate, and after the hate comes the suicide bomber--so what's with the 'mazel tov'?"

"It's a wedding," I reiterated. "I don't know these people. They're young, they're full of hope for their future. I don't know their politics--they're not dressed like Hamasnikim. I suspect he's just a working guy who wants to get married and she wants to raise her kids."

"Yes, yes," the event planner said impatiently, "It's a wedding and all weddings are blessings from G-d but then they'll have a lot of children which they'll raise with our tax money and teach them to hate us and to kill our children," she ended bitterly.

"Maybe so," I conceded. "But we don't know what's written, and I can only deal with what I see -- a young couple who hopes for happiness in their future."

Then this chiloni woman leaned over and said quietly, "The Arabs have to be here. It's part of G-d's plan for them. They exist to serve us, as Ishmael served Isaac."

Now, I've read this interpretation before, but never thought to hear it from a woman who by all outward appearances is totally secular and modern. For a moment, I was too stunned to say anything.

"You don't agree?" she challenged me.

I hedged. "I personally would be much happier if they stayed on their side of the border, and we stayed on ours, and suicide bombings and terrorism were things of the past. But I don't see that happening any time soon."

And no, I didn't agree with her that G-d made the Arabs to serve the Jews but this didn't seem to be the time to challenge her with our friends' plans in the balance. Such a belief smacks too much of the triumphalism that Islam and Christianity imposed on Jews, and I can't accept that the same G-d who created us all alike would impose servitude on one people vis-a-vis another. I prefer to subscribe to the belief that we are all G-d's servants--and if we all acted as such, then maybe the world would be a better place.

Nonetheless, our friends accepted this (to me) bizarre statement without flinching, and it made me aware of a conceptual gulf between the Sephardi natives of Jerusalem and the Askenazi olim that transcends such details as kitniyot. It wasn't just the concept of servitude but the palpable hostility towards wishing someone happiness on the ocassion of his nuptials--because he is Arab.

I'm told by veterans that this didn't use to be the case. That Arabs and Jews interacted with more courtesy and less hostility. The Arabs blame "the Occupation" and "the Naqba" but fail to acknowledge that mass murder of Jews led to Partition, to multiple wars, hence to Occupation, and after Oslo, more mass murder ("resistance" in the Arab lexicon) by suicide bombings, car bombings and shootings which led to renewed Occupation.....I don't know. I know the history, but I wasn't here before Oslo when Jews allegedly shopped in Tulkarm and got their cars fixed in Bethlehem. I never felt the feelings back then. I only know the feelings now, and they're not positive on either side.

Many on the Left call this 'racism.' It's not racism--Arabs aren't a race any more than Jews are. We are two peoples caught in the crossfire of historical conflict. My personal opinion would never be accepted in the Arab narrative--that all this war, death and pain is due to their own misplaced sense of Arab/Islamic superiority that disallows the equal rights to self-determination to the Jewish people. Bitterness, pain, death--the death of children, the death of friends and relatives, the death of hope, kidnappings and terror--these products of Oslo and other lunatic force-fed "peace plans" have created a well-founded skepticism and bitterness among the Israelis that found expression yesterday in their hostility to one man's marriage.

This isn't Europe. This isn't New York or San Francisco. This is a land whose peoples have a vast history and literary traditions. This is a land where almost all people believe profoundly in G-d and those who don't believe in their own national cause. This is a passionate land where disagreements are not settled by 'talking it over' or 'making concessions' because talking and concessions have led to failure and death.

I don't know what Emily Post would recommend. I suspect that however displeased my associates were with my utterance, H"S would approve of congratulating someone on their wedding. In a land of sudden war and death, of mutual suspicion and distrust, and long-standing bitterness and pain, I suspect a little courtesy and good-will is worthwhile. I have to go with that.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

A Taste of Terror

A couple of days ago, Jerusalem changed. Suddenly, there were soldiers everywhere; the police weren't just watching the road crews digging holes but instead were manning checkpoints which sprang up everywhere. Ambulances were posted in strategic areas with their crews standing by.

"What's going on?" I asked Yossi as he drove to our destination.

"Terror alert," he said shortly. He gave me one of those sideways looks I get sometimes when he is torn between telling me something that would be obvious to any Israeli and which if-I-had-a-brain-in-my-head I would know, and a certain protective instinct in guarding me from Bad News.

"Why? What's happening?" I asked, suddenly thinking that this was NOT the day to ask the Boy to walk home from school for the first time in weeks and weeks.

"What are you thinking?" Yossi asked, concerned about the alarm in my voice.

"I'm thinking about my son--he's walking home." For a just a minute, I could see Yossi seriously contemplate turning the taxi around and going to get the Boy.

"Don't," I said, answering his unspoken thought. The appointment he was taking me to was sufficiently important that it couldn't be missed.

"Does he have fare for a taxi?" Yossi asked.

No, he didn't....something his mother vowed to correct immediately. The Boy will always have taxi fare in his pocket from now on.

Instead, I called him. Calling him during school hours was sufficiently unusual that his teacher allowed him to take the call outside in the hallway. I explained the terror alert, and told him I wanted him to walk home along the back roads rather than the major roads. (He likes them better anyway--prettier and much less traffic and noise). Crossing Emek Refaim was going to be inevitable, but I warned him to exit the area as swiftly as possible and to walk as far as possible from Aroma or Tal Bagels, two attractive targets.

Smart kid. He got it immediately. He assured me that he would do as I asked, use caution in crossing Emek Refaim, avoid crowds, coffee shops and passing buses....and he called me to let me know when he made it home safely.

Whew!

I next called the Husband, a veteran of the IDF's commando hostage recovery team as well as a big city police department SWAT team. He was having coffee with a fellow retired cop from his old department who was here visiting Jerusalem with his wife. They were sitting in Cup O'Joe finishing lunch when I called.

"Okay, we'll keep an eye on the door," he replied nonchalantly, and went back to schmoozing with his buddy. This is the guy who jumped a suspect described as a suicide bomber 18 years ago in California, pinned him to the ground and dragged the suspect's arms out from under them until everyone was sure the suspect didn't have his hands on a detonator. His supervisor, who once loudly proclaimed that he didn't want some "smart-a#$ Jew-boy" on his department, demanded an internal affairs investigation instead of giving him a commendation.

Then I called my step-daughter, who often takes the bus to work, then I called the neighbors (whose son was working and going to school in city center and who always takes the bus). The Israelis all knew already--the information was passing by word-of-mouth faster than I thought possible. All of Jerusalem seemed to be one vast telephone tree.

No one had details. A bomber or two were in Jerusalem. The police and military and security apparatus were pulling out all the stops looking for him/them. The alert was cancelled later that day without explanation. The Husband came home from work at the Jerusalem Police Department that night and told me that someone had told him that one suspect was in custody.

Later we heard it was two guys and a car bomb.

No one was overtly afraid. Everyone was a little more attentive to their surroundings as well as a bit nicer to each other. Nothing like Death stalking the streets to put your lives in perspective.

And Olmert wants to give them half of Jerusalem. Idiot.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Making It

The Husband and I are living here on pensions. Yes, we're really that old.

However, we know people who work in the Police Department, in Bituach Leumi, who teach, who work in high-tech---all people who through whatever fortuitous circumstance, get a paycheck on a regular basis and have benefits.

I've also come to know folks who own their own businesses, whether it is a design showroom, an appliance business, or coffee shop or restaurant.

These folks, either as owner-operators or as civil servants, have the security of a regular paycheck (albeit in the case of teachers, a disgracefully small one) or income.

I've also come to recognize that there is a very large component of Israelis that work hard and live pretty much hand-to-mouth. I know from Yossi that no one gets rich driving a taxi: money varies from day to day depending on the weather, the political situation, the season and other variables. I know from the waitresses at several of my favorite coffee shops, as well as shop clerks, that they all work more than one job, because who can survive on minimum wage plus tips?

There are also a significant number of folks who struggle to get by on "temp" jobs or what we used to think of as 'entry-level' jobs--except that those jobs last forever at the same pitiful salary. I know a woman who had a good job---and then her outfit decided to downsize her hours a bit more every quarter until she finally took an early retirement. At the point where she retired, her retirement paid more than her constantly-decreasing monthly salary did at the end. I know another woman with a good entry-level position---and after three years, she is still working the same 'entry-level' position at minimum wage, and the office manager refuses to train her for a more advanced position on the grounds that she is a "temp." Yep, she was hired from a temp agency at slave wages and came to work with the understanding that the office would train her as a secretary. Never happened. (There is currently legislation pending that would make this wide-spread practice of "temp" slave labor illegal: the legislation proposes that if one takes a job as a "temp" and remains in that job for over nine months, the employer is obliged to hire the worker and provide benefits). She can't leave because she needs the income; she can't leave because her supervisor has told her that she won't get a letter of recommendation if she leaves ("You should be grateful that you have a job"), yet she can't advance or make more money.

Many of the folks struggling to get by on minimum wage are happy to have it--there are positions out there (such as working as a security guard) where oftentimes the minimum wage is merely on paper and in fact the worker makes much less. Those who are less than delighted at the long hours and poor pay recognize the economic reality that a job is better than no job.

How does the Israeli working class 'make it' in this economy?

Connections. Protexia. It's not a dirty word--it's a life-saver.

My dryer suddenly stopped working one day last winter. I called a repair company and was told, hey, we'll get to you in the next couple of weeks--if we remember.

Of course, I told Yossi that I was disappointed that I couldn't convince anyone in my lousy Hebrew that this was important and could you please come today or tomorrow.

"Al tidagi, Sarah," he reassured me. He made a phone call, connected with a former neighbor whose kids were friends with Yossi's kids, chatted a few minutes about the children, then explained that he needed a favor ('tovah' in Hebrew, my lesson of the day--yes, as an adjective it's 'good' but it also means 'favor').

Former neighbor arrived within an hour with a tool kit. He pulled down the drier from its perch, pulled it into the living room, disassembled it in front of me, and found that the drive-band-thingy had broken. He went out to his truck to get a replacement, found he didn't have the correct band, then drove to the hardware store and bought the correct replacement band, then came back and put it on the drum. Then he reassembled the drier, dragged it back through the kitchen and lifted it up to its shelf.

"Try it," he told me. It worked beautifully.

"Thank you so much!" I enthused. "How much?"

"Do you need a receipt?" he asked me.

Huh? What do I need a receipt for? Well, maybe for the landlord, but gee, how much are we talking about here?

"No, not really," I said, still puzzled.

"200 shekels," he replied.

No, I don't need a receipt if its only 200 shekels. I gave him 200 shekels, something to drink, and cleaned and bandaged the small cut he got taking our drier apart. I was simply grateful that Yossi knew someone who would do him 'a favor.'

It took me months to figure this out, but while yes, it was a 'favor,' it was also business. The former neighbor is a repairman who works for one of those big repair companies I called in vain. He goes to the jobs as he is dispatched, and he is paid a salary that is more, but not a lot more, than minimum wage. He's a blue-collar guy with a tool-box. The 'favor' worked both ways---he used his lunch hour to come out and fix my off-the-books drier, and I didn't have to wait weeks for a repairman. And he took the money "black" meaning that what I paid him is off the books as well.

Is it illegal? I'm sure it must be. Does it mean he has groceries this week and his kids get cheese in their sandwiches instead of just hummous? You bet.

I've seen multiple examples of this since then. Someone needs a painter. Joe-the-painter, who is the neighbor's cousin, works extra hours at night after leaving his company to make "black money" on his own time--which means that he can survive his minimum wage job and still feed his kids, pay his rent and buy groceries. Sam-the-carpenter and Avi-the-car-mechanic also work those 'extra' hours for 'black money.'

"Black money" is the secret to the survival of the Israeli working poor. It drives the tax authorities crazy and even more so than in the States, workers' tax returns are examined and audited.

I'm not in favor of tax evasion.......I pay mine and always have, but I've had the security of a paycheck every two weeks in a civil service job that also came with benefits. I didn't have to figure out where I was going to get the money to pay for my kid's root canal (no, dentistry is not in most of the health baskets in Israel) or schoolbooks (something the parents pay for, not the school system).

I could wax all prosecutorial and law-and-orderish about this, I suppose, but in all fairness, I can't get too excited about "black money" survival in Israel. Maybe if bankers and MKs weren't so grossly overpaid; maybe if our politicians and bureaucrats weren't awash in financial corruption; and maybe if the government spent as much time enforcing the labor laws and pegging the minimum wage at a decent level, I would feel differently. Maybe if the government even paid teachers a professional salary.... But as long as the labor laws are ignored, as long as minimum wage is ridiculous, as long as workers have virtually no avenue of appeal (who among the working poor can afford a lawyer? At $150/hour--that's dollars, not shekels--the average Jill and Joe Worker isn't going to hire counsel -- especially if getting a lawyer means not paying the rent this month) then I'm not going to get bent out of shape over "black money" as a survival mechanism for the working class of Israel.

What is just and what is legal are not always synomymous.

Less Kvetching, Please

After several more days of playing games around the Final Check, the Buyers' attorney finally delivered the bank checks to our attorney this morning!

It's a relief to know that now I can pay our own builder, as well as all the materialmen and subcontractors we've paid deposits to.....I will no longer have nightmares at night about buying our apartment on the credit card!

I actually had that nightmare--I dreamed that the credit card bill came in the mail (which is impossible--we have it set up online) and I opened it, and the entire purchase price of the home was on the bill with a notation below it which said Due In 30 Days Net.

I sat straight up in bed at 0130 in the morning! Could NOT get back to sleep after that one. I went and read in the living room until 5:00 am.

Then today, we found out a friend's mother died; another friend's grandmother fell and broke her hip, which at her age is deadly--she's in the hospital; and another friend may need a serious operation.

Every once in a while, as I'm running around going crazy over finances, house-deals, medical stuff, ulpan and life generally, I have a day like today where out of the blue I hear about other people's problems which are far more heartbreaking and important than anything I'm kvetching about.......it's a gentle slap from H"S, reminding me that the world is really NOT about me; that on this beautiful Fall day, maybe I should just shut up and enjoy the scenery and be grateful for where I am and what I have.

Consider it done, Boss.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

How Do You Misplace A Kitchen?

Thursday I am fortuitously hitching a ride with Yossi to the library when my attorney calls him. (No one calls me or The Husband anymore...our factor is Yossi, and everyone has his number, which is understandable as most Israelis would prefer to speak fluent Hebrew to another Israeli and not listen to a couple of olim limp through their language in our grating accents and poor syntax....)

Attorney says to him, "Bring me the keys." She means the keys to the Modi'in house. She and Buyer's attorney have worked out a satisfactory solution: we will deposit the keys with her and she will release them to the Buyer's attorney only upon the presentation of TWO cashier's checks and a written statement that Buyer is taking the home without reservations.

This is good. We get our check Sunday (b'ezrat H"S) , Buyers get their keys Sunday, we don't have to drive to Modi'in and they don't have to drive to Jerusalem.

I'm waiting to see if this goes as planned.......once burned, twice shy. I'll believe it when I have the cashier's checks in hand and not until then.

In the meantime, Yossi and his wife are in the midst of a modest re-do of their own kitchen. Last week, he got a call from "a guy" who called to tell Yossi that his kitchen cabinets are arriving next week, maybe Monday or Tuesday.

"Allo, this is Yossi?" a male voice asks.

"Yes, this is Yossi. Who's this?" Yossi answers.

"Your cabinets are done and will be delivered next week, maybe Monday or Tuesday. I'm just calling to let you know, per the work order." And he HANGS UP.

The caller never identified himself, but clearly he had Yossi's full name and the work order requesting a couple of days notice of the delivery, so Yossi assumed it was one of the salesmen at the kitchen cabinet store. He couldn't call the caller back, because the number was 'withheld.'

Getting workmen to your house to do tear-down and installations is itself an art more than a business, whether in California or in Israel. Yossi got bids months ago and settled on a guy with bathroom/kitchen experience and more work than he can shake a stick at.....so pinning him down to a definite date to install cabinets was going to be tricky. Once Yossi got the word that the cabinets were coming, he called the worker.

"Yeah, yeah, okay, Monday or Tuesday," the workman agrees. "I can fit that in."

Yossi then decided he'd better confirm as far as possible exactly which day and at what time. He telephones the kitchen cabinet store.

"Next Monday or Tuesday?" a harried saleswoman says. "I have no idea. I didn't call you. No, your sales rep isn't here--he's off until next week. You need to call the factory and confirm the date and time of delivery."

Ain bayah. Yossi gets the number from the saleswoman and calls the factory that is making the cabinets.

Kitchen cabinets? What kitchen cabinets? We don't got no stinking kitchen cabinets, the factory supervisor tells him. Yossi asks her to double-check under a number of combinations of names and spellings, thinking its just a mistake.

It's a mistake, all right. There are no kitchen cabinets even made for his kitchen, must less scheduled for delivery next week. Yossi is dumbfounded.

"How can this be, Sarah? Somebody called me! Somebody who has my telephone number! No one would call me and talk to me about taking delivery of my kitchen cabinets unless they had them?" he asked me, baffled. I could see that he was getting stuck on trying to work out who was misleading him and the motive for doing so.

Yossi is a fabulous advocate for his "family" --both the DNA-related and those of us he has adopted over the years. He takes no prisoners. He is ruthless. He won't let anyone he cares about get screwed if he has something to say about it.

But like a lot of folks, when his own stuff falls apart, he is a mess.

"Let's go to the show room," I suggested. "Talk to the owner. There must be some paperwork or a paper trail of some kind showing when the order for the cabinets was placed." I'm trying to be calm because I'm afraid he's going to have a heart attack -- and he's driving.

He tries calling the show room owner first. She's ducking him. We know this because when he calls several times, she's "away from the office" or "gone for the day."

When I call and ask for the owner from my cell phone, I'm told she's there.

Yossi calls the show room again and this time asks for his sales rep, since we now know they're lying to him. The first time he called, he was told the sales rep was "away." This time, he's told the sales rep "doesn't work there any more."

Yossi calls his wife and she finds the sales rep's home phone number in the phone book. Yossi next calls the sales rep at home. Like I said, ruthless.

No, the sales rep tells him, he didn't call Yossi last week to schedule the delivery, but he tells Yossi that he processed the order six weeks ago and the cabinets should be ready soon. WHAT?! No, he's on vacation, he didn't quit or get fired and he's coming back and next week, and what's this garbage the sales staff is telling Yossi?

"Listen, there's a problem there, and I don't know what it is," the sales rep tells Yossi, "but you've GOT to talk to the owner because she's the only one who can fix this."

We stop for coffee. I desperately need a caffeine infusion, and Yossi is so angry he is ready to spit nails.

"Listen, achi (brother)," I said in my most lawyerly lets-reason-together-voice, "You know you're being lied to, but you don't know why--"

"I want to know WHY, Sarah!" he told me. "What happened? And why did it happen? I've had the electrician out to the house already and he's moving the electric outlets; I have a work crew coming Sunday to tear out the old kitchen---what if I hadn't called the factory? What if I hadn't double-checked to be sure of the date?" He is truly anguished at the thought--that because of his potential error, his wife and children could have been without a kitchen and a way to prepare food for weeks.

They wouldn't have gone hungry. All this extended family, both DNA and adopted, can cook. Not one of us would let them go hungry.

"The why doesn't matter," I said, and quickly put up a hand to forestall his protest, "Yes, yes, I know you want to know WHY, but really, it doesn't matter--what matters is fixing it. Listen, Yossi, I can't fix it--but you can."

He looked at me sourly. "If I go there to talk to her in person, I'll shout at her and then it will be really bad. That's why I'm trying to reach her on the telephone. I can talk on the telephone, but I'm afraid I'll lose my temper if I talk to her in person."

"I'll go with you, " I offered. "Maybe if I'm there to kick you in the ankle, you won't lose your temper."

He shook his head. "No, no, Sarah, it doesn't matter who is with me. My mother, my wife, my children -- I'm Moroccan. If I lose my temper, I don't care who is there--I am angry and that's that. It doesn't matter who else is there," he said with an odd tinge of both pride and regret.

Time to get real here. "Listen, Yossi, I've watched you during the past six months navigate our lives in Israel for us with fabulous results. You use your temper when people try to cross us -- but we've also seen you use your charm when you want someone to help us. I've watched you charm incredibly unpleasant and ill-tempered clerks at Bituach Leumi and Misrad Hapnim to get my son's paperwork moved up so we're not waiting until the next Ice Age for a reply; I've watched you charm the showroom planner into giving us a little extra in our kitchen. You can be charming when you want to get something done for us, for our son, for your mother......this kitchen cabinet shop owner is a woman. USE that ability to be charming for yourself! Get her to listen to you, to understand that she's the only person who has the 'pull' to make your cabinets a priority at this factory."

He looked uncertain. Advocating for everyone else was a given. Advocating for himself? He pulls out all the stops for "family" but, like many advocates, isn't quite sure of his footing when it comes to advocating his own cause.

We go to the showroom. I'm all Anglo-olah arrogant expectation. Big smile. "Hi, how are you? I'm Sarah and I'm here to see Aviva (not the owner's real name). I called earlier" (which might imply that I had an appointment, which I didn't). And promptly sat down at the desk with an air of one used to quick and efficient customer service.

It worked. I could get us in the front door, past the sales reps and into Aviva's office. After that, it was up to Yossi.

Aviva was at the end of a very stressful day. She was not happy -- not with the matter she was reviewing with another sales rep and certainly not with our sudden appearance in her office. After a tense start, with some defensiveness on her part and growing anger and impatience on Yossi's part, Yossi rose to the occasion.

"Do you have children?" he asked her, managing to look both a bit shy and sheepish.

She warmed immediately. "Of course."

He explained that his concern was not the phone call last week, regardless of who made it, or when the order was placed, or what the delay was -- those things weren't important; but he had already started to pull apart his kitchen. An electrician was there working at his home at that very moment -- and he was worried that if the kitchen cabinets didn't come, and he had to wait possibly two or even three months for them, his children would suffer. Winter is starting. He needs a completed kitchen so his children can come home from school to a hot meal. He's a taxi driver. No way can he afford to take his family out to restaurants to eat every day.

"You understand my concern, mami?" Yossi asked plaintively, one struggling parent to another.

I watched her heart thaw.

Aviva leaned across the table to grasp his hand, squeeze it, and assure him that she would do everything in her power to make sure those cabinets were finished and delivered to him by the end of next week. She called the factory while we sat there and told the factory supervisor to put Yossi's order at the head of the line. There were smiles, and warmth and good wishes all around.

But Aviva is also an Israeli and a business-woman. She told Yossi she wouldn't put it in writing because she 'couldn't guarantee' that the cabinets would absolutely be delivered next week, although she'd do her best -- and then insisted Yossi sign the delivery contract (an extra expense). Sentiment and charm only go so far in Israel.

But yihiye beseder! At the start of the day, there were NO kitchen cabinets. Now, kitchen cabinets are likely to be in Yossi's kitchen next week. He's happy.

I'm happy for him.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Negotiations, Israeli-Style

Remember that the Buyers don't want to take the "key" from the builder? They were stalling and making excuses?

That ended abruptly. Yossi, wise in the ways of Israeli life, called the site manager and told him, "Close the house." Our half-sold Modi'in home was then locked up with no admittance to anyone.

"But then the Buyer won't be able to put in the new sink and the new countertop he ordered for the kitchen," I pointed out.

Yossi smiled wryly. "Bidyuch! (exactly) You won't see his money until HE needs to get something done. It is YOUR house, Sarah, and he has no right to go into it to put in lights, or put in a shower, or fix the countertops or change the sink. NO right! If he wants to do these things, he can pay you your money! You watch, Sarah--now that it is inconvenient for him, he will pay you."

He was right (as usual). Flurries of phone calls ensued, and the Buyer wanted to give us the final check and take the key.

So today we schlepped (again) to Modi'in to meet him and the builder's representative and site manager. I signed the documents taking possession of the cottage from the builder. Then the Buyer, his wife, the builder's rep and Yossi toured the property and examined it, until the Buyer agreed that the house was acceptable. (He has a quibble with the fact that of 5 electrical sockets, one is maybe a millimeter off in line with the other 4 sockets........but we told him to take that up with the builder because that isn't good cause not to take the home.)

So the Buyer is now signing off on the home. I ask to see the two checks. One, the major check, is made out to us and a smaller but still substantial balance is made out to our lawyer to basically hold 'in escrow' until the Buyer confirms that we've paid the taxes due.

Our understanding in the conference call yesterday was that Buyer would bring two cashier's checks.

The Buyer brought one cashier's check and a personal check.

"What's this nonsense?" Yossi asked.

Buyer explained that there was no need for a second cashier's check because, after all, it was just going to sit in the attorney's office for a month.

"That's not the deal," Yossi said, fire beginning to burn in his eyes. "Our attorney told your attorney yesterday to bring TWO cashier's checks with you today."

Then the Buyer made a fatal error. "Well, the money isn't in the account right now," he started to explain.

Ever see a Moroccan screw himself into the ceiling? Yossi went off like a firecracker.

"You don't have the money?! What are you saying?! My sister and her husband are supposed to take your word that this check will be good some time in the future? I knew it! I knew you didn't have the money!" Yossi exploded.

Buyer tried to explain that well, he sort of had the money -- but it wasn't clear to me in the rapid-fire Hebrew shooting all around me if he didn't have it because its making money for him in an interest-bearing account, or if he is short because the buyer of his house hasn't made the final payment, or if he's just broke.

Yossi didn't care. "It's NOT my problem!" he said, over and over to the Buyer. Black and white print doesn't do justice to the disdain with which this was uttered. "It's not MY problem--it's YOUR problem. You owe my sister and her husband this money and if you don't pay TOMORROW then this contract is broken and you will never see this house!"

He grabbed the paperwork, tossed the two checks on the as-yet-unfinished countertop and said, "Come, Sarah--we go," and strode out of the cottage. The Buyer's wife followed him all the way to the car asking him to reconsider. The Buyer pulled out his cellphone and made a call while she talked to Yossi. Then Yossi's cellphone rang--it was our attorney telling Yossi to take the check, because she had their attorney's word that the check would be good.

Yossi moved away from the crowd to talk to her. "What are you thinking?" he asked her quietly. "And if, in a month, the check bounces, or something happens to these people and their account is closed, are YOU willing to pay this amount of money to Sarah and her family?"

No, she wasn't.

Later Yossi told me that she said the Buyer's attorney gave "his word of honor" that the check would be good. I almost fell out of my seat laughing. "Yossi, I'm an attorney--no attorney in civil practice has a 'word of honor' I would ever rely upon. They're all snakes and its all about money and screwing the other guy."

The Buyer's wife, somewhat calmer than the Buyer and possibly sensing that Yossi was deadly serious about busting the contract, begged Yossi to give her until Friday to come up with another cashier's check. "I have to go to work tomorrow, I can't take another day off, and it will take me some time to arrange this."

In other words, she needs time to arrange a bridge loan to cover this second check because the other money either doesn't exist or is locked up and unavailable.

Yossi agreed to Friday morning--but told them, "This time YOU come to Jerusalem. We've come down here too many times."

"But I want to examine the house again," the Buyer protested. "What if a window has been broken or something stolen since today?"

"Tough," Yossi told him. "You saw it today--that's enough. I'm not driving down here again--you bring your checks to me Friday or the deal is off." (He actually said something quite a bit stronger than 'tough' but I'm trying to keep it clean.)

When I was a child, I used to wonder if Guardian Angels really existed?

Now I have one.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Blood Libel Redux

I've followed the Muhammed Dura Martyrdom Myth for years now.

It's finally paid off.

For the best coverage of the trial and what's going on inside and outside the courtroom, go to http://theaugeanstables.com/ which not only comments pithily on the Pajamas Media coverage, but adds context to the missing 9 minutes of tape. France2 and Enderlin produced the 'original tape' albeit with at least 9 minutes missing.
Nixon's credibility went down the toilet when 18 minutes went missing, but Enderlin and France2 seem to think that their role as "journalists" puts them above the law and the court's order to produce the ENTIRE tape.

The bottom line (but go read it) is that the Dura Myth is just another Pallywood production. France2's Arab stringer is seen holding interviews of Gazans directly in front of the structure from which Israeli guns are allegedly blazing. Of course, no bullets are seen hitting anything, not even the ground, and no smoke from the guns is seen coming from the structure, and not one Arab is seen trying to duck and cover. The only smoke ever seen emanates from the Palestinian guns near by. Fake wounded are falling down, then getting up again; the interviewees show no alarm and take go on being interviewed without even flinching in the face of the alleged barrage of bullets; in part of the missing 9 minutes, AS notes that it has seen tape (and provides pictures at the link above) of the fake wounded painting themselves with fake blood. Best evidence: after Dura falls, and the crowd yells (on cue) "the boy is dead!" the kid moves, looking around.

AS succinctly sets up the MSM, especially the French version, as the World Cup Champion idiots of journalism:

"There’s no blood.

So?

There are no bullets.

So?

The boy moves after he’s been declared dead.

So?

There’s no ambulance evacuation.

So?

All the footage Talal shot before this scene were staged. (Something everyone in the courtroom but Enderlin and France2 appeared to agree upon, as the scenes were so obviously faked)

So?"

NOT journalism's finest hour. Like the photoshopped fake Beirut skyline photos which Reuter's eagerly published, like AP's Green Helmet Guy's repeated pratfalls as searcher, medic and later as pretend-dead-victim, like the Lebanese Arab woman who mourned in front of each of three or four different bombed out buildings for "her" house.....this is the earliest and best example of Arab propaganda at it's most deadly. Deadly because it was pimped to Arab youth as the justification for the massive wave of suicide bombings that characterized the wave of terror unleashed by Arafat.

Turns out Dura's dad, who showed his wounds on international television, has the exact same wounds from a fight with his Arab brethren predating this staged shooting incident, according to his hospital records. Ahh..that explains why he has such horrendous scars but no blood at the time of the Myth-Making. Also turns out that Dura's dad was a suspected 'collaborator' with Israel---something that generally merits a death sentence in Palestinian circles.

See the picture above with the bullet holes in the wall? Those aren't ricochets or shots fired from beyond that barrel directly at the Duras. My husband shot weapons for a living, and we both are familiar with firearms and their forensics. Those bullet holes were made by someone standing in the same position as the cameraman--at a 45 degree angle to the father and son.
The only people standing in that position were NOT Israelis. They were Arabs. Back in September 2000, the idea may have seemed shocking, but since Hamas has recently made a hobby of gunning down and defenestrating its non-Hamas Arab brethren, the idea that the Palestinians would shoot a 12-year-old to death in order to create a blood libel propaganda coup while simultaneously punishing his father for 'collaborating with the Zionist entity' is not as unthinkable as it once was.....after all, these are the same people who put a suicide bomb belt on a 14-year-old developmentally disabled teen boy a few years ago. (Hussam Abdo, March 24, 2004, was intercepted and the belt was removed.)

Mohammed al-Dura may truly be dead, although the current trial casts tremendous doubt on that theory. If he is dead, it is at the hands of his brethren who found it expedient that he should die for the sins of his father.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Strike

The Teacher's Strike seems to have two disparate and very angry sides.

Side One says: teachers only work part-time and they get all those holidays off to boot, and just what's the matter with these people who are holding our kids' education hostage and think they deserve to be paid like MKs?

Side Two says: teachers work long, hard hours in hideous conditions for miniscule pay and deserve to make a living wage and get some recognition and "fix" from the Ministry of Education regarding the more awful conditions in our schools.

Neither is totally correct.

I went to college to be a teacher in California, as did a number of my classmates who ended up doing something else also. Demographics killed teaching in my generation -- too few people married and of those who did, too many didn't have kids. By the time I was a sophomore in college, the university I was attending closed their teacher-training program, told us bluntly that there were no jobs and we should seriously look at doing something else with our lives.

I went to law school instead.

However, many of my friends taught; one of my best friends was a teacher in the Oakland Unified School District, a feat which is comparable only to teaching in Gaza. Another was a substitute teacher while her daughter was small, but eventually went back to Marketing. As she put it, "I love teaching, it's what I went to college to do--but frankly, my husband and I can't afford for me to take an $80,000 pay cut, so I'm back to Smith & Jones next week."

That was it in a nutshell. Teaching paid peanuts. At the time she told me this, teachers in California with MASTER'S degrees made $22,000 per year. You couldn't live in California, even then, on $22,000 per year.

It was widely believed then, and I believe now, that this is largely due to two things: the mistaken belief that most teachers are women and therefore their income is "supplemental income" and not what a family needs to survive, and also that teaching is some rarified calling that is a reward in itself and doesn't need real financial remuneration.

Horse pucky.

Teaching is extremely hard work. GOOD teaching actually teaches children not just the basics of education (reading, writing and arithmetic) but it should also teach them to think for themselves and to work out problems. One should graduate from high school with a firm grasp of world and local history; the basics of sciences; know how to write an essay; know how to debate an issue and especially know when the other side is being misleading; know how to do fractions and balance a checkbook and calculate speed and distance equations.

Teaching should NOT be a bagrut (or SAT) factory.

Teaching, like all important work, deserves recognition and excellent pay. If you're willing to pay an attorney 6,000 NIS to make sure your contract is correct (a one-time only write, review and meet with the opposition) then why aren't you willing to pay a teacher the same way? After all, the teacher is responsible for your child's physical, mental and emotional health and education 6 days a week. Isn't that worth a decent salary?

That said, I need to point out to teachers that there is an expectation out there which the teachers are not meeting.

It has nothing at all to do with the 'they-get-too-much-vacation' argument. I, personally, and many other parents-of-children, know exactly how demanding and exhausting 2 or 3 or 4 of them can be -- so we have no problem imagining how difficult it is to herd 30-40 of the little darlings during the day, as well as try to insert something into their highly agile and easily distractable brains. Hence, many of us completely understand that teachers need vacation days.

And these vacation days are not unreasonable, even though not everyone has the same number. In my law office, in recognition of the complexity of the work and demanding hours we spent as prosecutors, we worked our way up the seniority ladder to the maximum vacation time---8 weeks. This happens to correspond almost exactly to the amount of time teachers take for various chagim.....I only know this because I spent my vacation days on chagim in the US where Yom Kippur is NOT recognized as an official holiday.

Yes, this is more vacation than the average office clerk or secretary gets....but unlike the clerk, who routinely gets coverage at work so she can take a few hours to see Shoshana's school play, or needs a couple hours off to take her elderly mom to the doctor, or takes a 'long lunch' to take Yossi shopping for his sports uniform, teachers don't get this kind of flexibility. They're in the classroom and can't just split for a couple of hours to take care of personal business. So, yes, they get more vacation than the clerk at Bituach Leumi...but on the other hand, the clerk at Bituach Leumi has a less demanding job, more flexibility at work and gets paid more to boot.

I, and a number of my friends, sympathize with the teachers' call for more pay and better working conditions in the classroom. I come from California where parents recently insisted on class sizes of no more than 20 students in grades One through Three--an experiment that was SO successful in raising student score that parents are now calling for all elementary classes to have no more than 20 students per class. It is a given for me that small class size means better learning conditions for students.

No, my problem is the teachers' rejection of Dovrat's call for more teaching hours. I read an interview in the Jerusalem Post in which one teacher insisted that teachers are already teaching four to five hours a day, and its just exhausting and demanding that they teach more "frontal" hours in classrooms is impossible.

Horse pucky.

Teachers all over the world are teaching more hours (and sometimes in just as crowded conditions as Israel) and still producing intelligent, well-informed, thoughtful and literate young citizens.

Why? Well, let's start with something really basic. Most teachers in Israel don't have a college education. Right...even though California requires a BA and a year of practice teaching (ideally done while pursuing a Master's Degree in Education) before being licensed to teach, in Israel, one merely gets out of the army and goes to a two-year teaching college.

Why would I want to pay someone with an AA from a junior college a salary commensarate with someone who has spent five to seven years in university?

Let's look at what are called "professional hours." Most professionals, and that includes doctors, lawyers, accountants, etc. are relatively well paid for their expertise. Teachers aspire to be treated and paid as professionals.

Doctors spend many years in school and complete interships and residencies before being accepted as full-fledged doctors. They work many long, exhausting hours with little pay in order to qualify as MDs.

Lawyers don't have it as badly, but I know from personal experience that lawyers clerk for long, long hours for very bad pay while going to law school, and after passing the Bar Examination, they then qualify to work again for very long, long hours with no guarantee of tenure (unless its a civil service job) in the hopes of finally making it as a junior associate on a 'partnership track.' Finally, after years of brutal hours and low pay, lawyers finally make 'partner' and then get paid the money that folks stereotypically think they've been making all along. Civil service is different--work for the government, and once your year of probation is over, you have tenure....and a relatively low salary compared to the rest of the profession for the rest of your life. You'd better really love being a prosecutor (or public defender) because the money isn't very good. Most folks who don't love it, bail after two, three or five years. In essence, they come to the prosecutor's office to do trial work almost like an apprenticeship program, and then leave to make more money in the private sector.

My father's CPA friends tell the same story of long hours, long, brutal apprencticeships for many years before finally making it into 'the Firm' and getting paid like a professional.

By the way, in all these professions, the 'long, brutal hours' never stop. As a prosecutor, I worked 6 days a week (in a nation where most people got a two-day weekend) and spent the majority of my work days either coming in between 0500 and 0600 to prep the day's calendar or hearings, or staying late (oftentimes until after midnight). A truly bad day was one where I did both...

So when I hear someone with the equivalent of an AA degree demanding more pay and no more than four-to-five hours of teaching a day, I am not going to support that position.

Sorry. If you want professional pay, you have to be a professional. That means that not all teachers are equal. The teachers with a Master's Degree in Special Education is going to be on a higher pay scale than the 1st grade teachers with a certificate showing two years of Teacher's College.

If you want professional pay, you have to work professional hours. That means that like doctors and lawyers and other professionals, you put in a full 8 hour "public day" ( in my case, in the courtroom; in the doctor's case, treating patients; etc.) and you do your prep time outside of those 8 hours. Class preparation, grading papers, parent conferences--these are all outside your teaching hours. Do you think I only met with victims and witnesses between 0800 and 5:00pm? No way!! Most people work for a living, and I often met my witnesses well after 6:00 pm in the evening.

So, I'm ready to join Israeli teachers in demanding better pay, smaller class sizes and better working conditions -- but in return, I want true professionalism:

(1) GET a university degree in Math, History, Science, Hebrew Literature or whatever you're teaching in high school, or in Special Ed if that's your field. If you want to teach with a Teacher's College two year credential, do so--but with the understanding that you're "an apprentice" and will be paid poorly until your education, experience and teaching hours match that of a "professional."

(2) TEACH a full day -- that's right, teach from 0800 in the morning (or 0700, for that matter--all the Advanced Placement classes are taught from 0700-0800 in our high school district in California) until 4:00 pm in the afternoon. Use flexible scheduling if that makes the job easier, rather than 8 identical periods daily. It's more interesting for the students, too. ("Apprentices" can teach fewer hours, if they need the time to go to school and finish their degrees.) Yes, you'll have to do class prep and grading at night, but hey, welcome to the professional world.

Teachers in Japan, in Germany, in California and France all teach longer "frontal hours" than teachers in Israel--and generally these longer hours result in better test score results as well as better educated students.

If I know my child is being taught by a qualified professional who is dedicated to his/her students and, this teacher has worked to get the education and experience to teach my child, I'll stand out there with a placard myself.

But until then, don't whine at me that you aren't paid enough when you have neither the education nor the actual number of working hours to justify a professional wage.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Excuses, Excuses

I'm too sick for excuses. The 'it's just a virus' diagnosis I got two weeks ago put me in bed for a week....then The Husband got it and it turned into bronchitis.

I know he's sick because (1) he missed the championship softball game (they lost); (2) he's eating soup; and (3) he's not watching television.

Now he's on the mend after almost two weeks of sickness--the first week was 'it's just a virus' but the second week our virus evolved into bronchitis for him. Antibiotics, sleep, soup and generally not doing anything for a second week finally helped him turn the corner.

I went to bed tired and congested last night, and then woke up this morning with the unmistakable symptoms of "it's just a virus" again.

I'm still trying to close on the house.

The builder told us 12 days ago that we could 'take the key' meaning the house is finished and we can take ownership. Since we've sold the house to the Buyers, we want them to take the key. Taking the key means going to the house with the builder's rep and signing off on the property.

The Buyers don't want to do this......Buyer Husband came and examined the house and found a dozen very minor things to beef about which are truly the builder's responsibility, but also the normal stuff you would find when you buy a house. One complaint was that "the floor is dirty." Uh, yeah....you've had your own workers in their modifying the kitchen to suit you....there's going to be dirt on the floor. Understand that the builder and the Buyers have a year in which the house in under warranty and the builder has to fix everything about which the Buyer complains (within reason).

So why not take the key?

Because then they would have to pay us the final (very large) payment owed to us on the house.

Why not make this payment?

Because they outsmarted themselves.....last summer when the dollar was shooting up, they pleaded with us to sell the house in shekels. After several go-rounds on this issue, I was fed up over the lawyers' wrangling over exchange rates, Treasury links, how high a ceiling, how low a floor on the exchange rate.

Enough! This is the price--in shekels. Take it or leave it. We have two back-up offers waiting in the wings (and we did, really).

They took it. They beefed about the price because they thought the shekel amount should be lower but I repeated, "Take it or leave it."

They sold a house to buy this house. I'm certain at this point that they gambled, and sold their house last summer in dollars, certain that their shekel purchase of our home coupled with their dollar sale of their old home, would make a profit.

Israelis can put their money in "dollar accounts" which carry a higher interest rate than normal checking accounts. They can "lock" that account for a period of months, and get a higher return. We're certain that's what they did---and since I read the Wall Street Journal and Investor's Daily and other financial pages, I was pretty sure the dollar was going to do its annual autumn dive, only this time belly-flop because of the sub-prime market. So I was happy to sell in shekels.

Good move for us, it turned out. But the Buyers are stalling because (1) their money is "locked" and they can't open it and (2) they're taking a beating in the exchange rate and actually losing money on this deal.

I could handle this very reasonably if they'd call me up, or their lawyer called my lawyer, and said, "Look, we're sort of in a bind here...." and we could work out a payment schedule that allows us to meet our current sub-contractor obligations and gives them a little more leeway in making the BIG payoff. We're not unreasonable.

But we're not getting a reasoned response. We're getting hysteria and lies. Hysteria over the fact that, for instance, the insulation in the shutter frame isn't perfectly straight. (Big deal! Have the contractor straighten it--takes 2 minutes). Hysteria over the crack on a garden wall trim stone. Took the contractor less than an hour to ungrout that stone, and grout in a new one.

Now we're getting lies. Last week we got, "Oh, the granite isn't in in the kitchen."

No S$#@, Sherlock--the granite isn't in because you wanted a different configuration of the sink and countertop, called the granite company, changed the specs and they're just putting it in now!

That's not my problem. The granite folks are subcontractors of the builder, so it's between you and the builder and the delay is due to YOUR changes.

"No, no!" my Buyer Guy insisted. "It's because the kitchen company didn't put the kitchen in until last week!"

Excuse me?! What was that I saw in the kitchen over six weeks ago? I had to drive down, examine all the cabinets, pull out all the drawers, and instruct the installer to call Buyers about how they wanted the handles attached to the drawers and cabinets. That kitchen I examined was a hallucination? If so, Yossi was hallucinating right along with me, because he saw it, too.

Yossi has no patience with this garbage. He launched into a spiel in Hebrew that was rapid and none too complimentary, edged with some Street sarcasm. The Buyer was embarassed and upset to have been caught in an outright lie.

Now he won't talk to me--or to Yossi. So now his lawyer is doing the lying for him. His lawyer met with my lawyer this afternoon and reported that the job-site manager told the Buyer that the "key" wouldn't be ready for another 9 days at the earliest.

I lost my temper.

I told my attorney very clearly that this was bullshit; that I had gone down and spoken in person to the job-site manager. The job-site manager told me that the Buyer was "a maniac" and had given him a laundry list of tiny complaints, all of which would be corrected by 3:00 PM THAT DAY. I could take "the key" if I wished any time after 3:00 PM, 12 days ago!

I told my lawyer I wasn't going to wait another 9 or 10 days--I've waited long enough and I want this deal to close THIS WEEK.

My mission is to get the name and phone number of the job-site manager so my attorney can call him directly herself, confirm that the house is completed and the "key" is ready, so she can have the satisfaction of calling up her opposite number and telling him that the Buyer is lying through his teeth, and insist on closing this week.

I wish I felt better. I don't mind a fight, but I fight better when my head doesn't feel like it's stuffed with glue.....

Saturday, November 10, 2007

What Makes Marriage Work?

Divorce is in the air. Not mine, thank G-d. However, in the last few weeks I've heard from three good friends of mine, all of whom I assumed had rock-solid marriages, who have filed for divorce.

I'm feeling a bit guilty about the whole thing, because these are long-term girlfriends who are back in the States, and as part of the Circle of Friends, I'm not doing my "part" by being there to support them: taking out for coffee, for Sunday brunch, for an afternoon walk around the Civic Center Pond--all the things you do for your girlfriends because you're A Girlfriend yourself, and this is what you would expect or have already received from them.

What makes marriage work? I dunno.....I never expected to get married. An unusual attitude, I know, but I was coming of age in the 70s when divorce rates were sky-high, having a career was a plus, and I had parents who essentially told me I was unmarriageable, so I'd better go get that career.

My marriage was a surprise to me probably more than to everyone else. I married a cop (nonprofessional) who was divorced (gasp!) and had children from his first marriage (oy vey!) and who was blond.

Blond was the big issue for me. In my experience, with very few exceptions, blond guys with muscles from Los Angeles were usually brainless jocks interested in Only One Thing. So when he repeatedly asked me out, I repeatedly made excuses to not go out. I didn't even understand why he was asking me out until I talked to a mutual friend, another cop of Italian extraction.

"Oh, yeah, I told him he should ask you," our friend confided. "He told me his last girlfriend was a self-centered disaster who didn't like kids and wasn't Jewish, so it was a problem. I told him, 'hey, ask her (pointing to me outside the courtroom) -- she's Jewish and she's single.' So he followed my advice, huh? He's a nice guy--you should go out with him."

So we met for lunch. I was expecting an hour of jock-and-cop talk, and instead I got several hours of Jewish history, his experience on kibbutz, what we think G-d wants from us, the role of Israel (people and nation) in history, how the world would be different without WWII.....I found him fascinating. He was funny, too -- not only self-deprecating humor, but more like Jay Leno humor, and he saw a lot of joy in life. He is and was an optimist.

We've had our ups and downs. We came close to divorce once and survived it. I've learned a lot from him, and I also had some fairly conservative, straight un-Sixties values drummed into me from my parents and grandparents that have probably helped us along.

These are the guidelines I've found useful in marriage:

(1) It's NEVER okay to call the other person names; if you don't like his/her behavior, criticize the behavior, not the person.

(2) It's NEVER okay to bad-mouth your partner to others; if you have issues, take it up with your spouse, and don't denigrate your spouse because you think 'victimhood' makes you a martyr. It doesn't. It just makes you look bad.

(3) Adultery is never okay. No excuses, no explanations, no nothing! If you don't have sexual fidelity, you don't have a relationship. If you can't bring sexual fidelity to your marriage, you need to figure out what's wrong with you before you marry anyone.

(4) Never use sex to manipulate.

(5) Never use money to control.

(6) Never be a doormat. If your spouse yells at you, or denigrates you, or ignores you so you feel abandoned, TALK about it. Don't suffer in silence, and complain to your girlfriends/drinking buddies. Talk to the person perpetrating the bad behavior...chances are, he/she isn't aware of it (assuming workaholicism here) or is angry and channeling the anger.

A friend's wife didn't talk to him for 10 days, and he mentioned it to me. "What's she angry about?" I asked. "Oh, she's not angry," he said confidently, "She just isn't talking to me, so I'm ignoring it."

I told him to go talk nicely to his wife. I told him that when women turn on the silent treatment, it is usually because we're trained to be "nice girls" and not make a fuss, and rage just makes us silent.

"You think?" he asked, clearly puzzled by my explanation. I saw him a couple of days later and things were great between them. "You were right!!" he exclaimed, clearly much happier. "She was angry because I wouldn't do something with her family, so we talked about it. I told her I couldn't go but there was no reason she and the kids couldn't go---and that's all she wanted. She didn't feel she could go without me, and thought I was being unreasonable, but now that she knows she can go and take the children, she's happy and everything is fine!"

Men. Sigh......

(7) Make each day a good day. It's hard to stay in sync over long periods of time, but one thing I learned from the Husband is that marriage is like a necklace--it consists of a long string of days. If the good days outnumber the bad days, then the marriage will last. When the bad days outnumber the good days, then one if not both partners will reach the point where he/she concludes that staying married is no longer worthwhile. Work on making each individual day a "good day" for both of you.

(8) Grow together. If he's all about work, and you're all about your career (or kids, or hobbies, or friends, etc), and you don't find things in common to do and share, you will eventually grow apart.

(9) Talk. This is, surprisingly, just as hard for women as it is for men. Men assume we're chatterboxes who can talk at the drop of a pin. Guess what, guys -- it's just as difficult for us to talk to our spouses as it is for you. It's hard to bring up sore points, and even harder if we expect our male counterpart to be (a) angry, (b) dismissive, (c) sarcastic etc......so if your wife brings up a sore point, take the time to sit down with a cup of coffee and listen, really listen. Then talk about solutions. Ditto for when the husband mentions-in-passing something significant to him but he isn't making a big deal of it--listen up, ladies. He's only bringing it up because its a big deal to him--otherwise he'd be talking about the NFL, right?

(10) Never be dependent. Yes, we depend upon each other, but don't be dependent on the other person to meet each and every need of yours. You're an adult. Depend on yourself. Bring your strengths to the relationship, not just your needs and wants.

(11) Cut your losses. If its a minor issue, for example, he is a television addict (speaks the Voice of Experience) don't insist on a losing battle--modify the television hours and have your own escape-from-TV-Land plans. On the other hand, if he's an alcoholic who verbally abuses you and constantly puts you down, LEAVE! There is no excuse for staying in a toxic relationship--and don't talk to me about "the children" -- they don't need an alcoholic abusive parent as a role model.

To one extent or another, my friends have perfectly valid reasons for filing for divorce. All of them have children. None of them take this step lightly. In two cases, I know my friends kept hoping things would change for the better---there was an element of "If-I-just-try-harder-I-can-make-everything-okay" until it became apparent that things were never going to get any better.

The big surprise in regard to two of my friends was that their husbands, who've had a lot of notice of these issues, are completely surprised and devastated by their wives decisions to divorce. These are basically good men who did not take their wives' issues seriously, and in their arrogance, assumed "she will never leave me."

A third friend has a different issue--the man she married changed profoundly over the years and he himself declared that the parameters of their marriage had changed, as far as he was concerned. She talked at length to him about this, and he refused to change--so she left. The parameters he laid out were not acceptable to her, and she saw no point in staying with a man who considered himself free to indulge in things no marriage should tolerate.

I wish I could be there in person to help my friends. I also wish I could say to their husbands, "You should have listened."

Sunday, November 04, 2007

The Undiscovered Country in Heating Solutions

At the risk of public ridicule and frier-dom, I am letting you all know that the Husband and I are going to be guinea pigs in the realm of home heating.

We know what Junkers are. We LOVE Junkers. (Pronounced YOON-kers). We don't love that the bill for the Junkers for a tiny two-bedroom, well-insulated condo runs about 800 NIS per month. We've didn't pay this amount, because our apartment is brand new, and so of course, the Junkers didn't work and the kablan (B. Yair) didn't get a fix-it crew to us until summer....and who needs Junkers in the summer? That's when the air conditioning bill needs to be kept on a tight leash....

But we have friends who have Junkers. Junkers are basically gas heating systems that are clean, quiet and radiate heat from these white radiators attached to the wall. Unlike old-fashioned radiators, these are quiet, clean, don't belch and rattle and the higher-end ones even look sort of nice. On the three days that ours worked, the condo was toasty and comfortable.

However, our friends who have Junkers also have budgets (just like us). They turn on the Junkers once a day, usually in the late afternoon, for two to three hours, allowing the home to warm up. That's it. They don't run all day, even on the coldest of days. On the really cold days, one friend will turn them on for an hour in the morning "to take the chill off" and the other one simply bundles his family up in blankets, jackets, stocking caps and mittens--indoors. 800 NIS is a good month for him--with kids to keep warm, his bill has run as high as 1,000 NIS in a cold month.

It can get REALLY cold in Jerusalem. It IS the Judean Mountains, on the rim of the Judean desert, and it can be a very intense, bitter cold in the depths of winter.

The Husband was reading the Jerusalem Post and came across a radiant heating system on sale. The advertisement claimed it would reduce heating costs by 70%. (70% of what, I wondered, already skeptical). The sale promised 10% off and free installation. The company is located in Shilat, right across Highway One from Modi'in.

"Next time you're in Modi'in," he said (since I seem to spend a lot of time there lately on cottage-sale-business), "why don't you stop by this place and see what the product is like. Maybe it's just BS, but this might be worth looking into."

So there I was last week, strolling through the showroom of Advanced Heating Solutions (the white building next to Home Center, side entrance and upstairs--they need a better sign). What I WANTED was one of the Farber fireplaces but since our goal here is to save money instead of needlessly throw it away, I determinedly ignored the beautiful gas fireplaces that would all look absolutely lovely in the new condo and checked out their heat panels instead.

It's new, the rep told me. We had to use Yossi as the interpreter, because the only thing she could really tell me, humorously, in English, was "My English sucks."

"Gam Ivrit sheli lo tov, " I assured her, but pointed to Yossi and said, "But his Hebrew is perfect."

Poor Yossi. He was fine with the basics of color and price and the claim that each heat panel will heat up 15 square meters of room but when I asked, "How does it work, anyway?" the rep launched into a spiel about the inner workings of the product and Yossi just looked at me helplessly.

"Sarah, I don't think I have the English to explain this," he said, unhappily.

I was flummoxed. How can I purchase, or even think of purchasing, a system whose inner workings I don't understand? How do I explain it to the Husband?

The sales rep lit up suddenly and ran over to a box in the corner. "Here," she said, pleased. She handed me a small brochure IN ENGLISH with a sample of the inner workings of the panel.

You are no doubt familiar with the under-floor heating systems for sale in the States and here? It's basically the same system, only mounted onto panels and covered with a hard material and in our case, then covered with a mirror-like material. It comes (cheaply) with a cord and a switch or (more expensively) wired directly into the wall with a wall switch to turn it on or off. There is also a thermostat option but I didn't want a thermostat....no point in (1) having it turn on when I'm not home and (2) having arguments about what temperature the thermostat should be set at.......been there, done that.

The panels come in only one size--but you can put photos on them so they look like a picture, or mirrors on them so they look like mirrors on the wall, or abstract designs--they even offered to match my bathroom tile.

They come with a two-year guarantee and when I asked "what happens in ten years?" the rep very honestly said she didn't know--it's a new technology and none of them have been installed for that long a period.

But the selling point is the alleged savings in heating costs. The company claims that each panel costs ONE shekel to run for four hours. So if I turn on the three panels in the living room at 0600 and leave them on until 10:00 PM, thats 3 NIS for four hours/ x 5 (for the 5 four-hour groups up to 10PM) for a total of 15 NIS for that entire day??! 15 NIS x 30 days = 450 NIS for the month.......and we NEVER run the heat all day like this!!

This could conceivably be more expensive because we're putting one panel in each bedroom and bathroom as well, but we live in the living room and rarely put on the heat in the other rooms except for perhaps an hour before bed.

This is either the greatest heating discovery to hit Israel since Junkers OR we're the biggest friers in the world.....we're installing them. We'll let you know how it turns out, and if they live up to their claims. You'll be the first to know if they eat more than a shekel/hour of energy and if they really heat up the rooms the way they claim to.....

...but we're also putting in the plumbing for the Junkers, just in case.......
*photo courtesy of Advance Heating Solutions http://www.heat-ahs.co.il

Thursday, November 01, 2007

"What Will You Do With All Your Time?"

"You've been a professional all your life," my friend's friend in California exclaimed. "How can you retire and do NOTHING?! What will you do with all your time? You'll go nuts!" she predicted knowingly.

(Why is it that Jewish women professionals always sound like know-it-alls? Is this some gene handed down from mother to daughter? Maybe its imprinted in childhood from the voice of the all-knowing Ima?)

I told her that I've worked since I was 15. That didn't include baby-sitting jobs I held earlier. My parents firmly believed that too much time on my hands would lead to trouble, so I was working full-time in the summers from 15 years old onward, and part-time during the school year, while doing advanced placement classes in a college-prep high school. I had three jobs at one point while going to college full-time. I worked through law school, and even though work-study only paid for 20 hours a week, it was gospel that to get hired one put in at least 35 hours a week, the difference being unpaid. Then I passed the bar exam and got to work seven days a week!

I've joked with friends that we became observant in order to get a day off.......

What am I going to do with my time? I'm going to LIVE!!

I'm learning Hebrew. I want to go back and brush up on French and German and I want to learn at least the rudimentary politenesses of Arabic.

I'm being a full-time mother. Its wonderful to be home in the afternoon when my son gets home and ask him about his day; its great to be able to take him shopping for clothes at 3 pm in the afternoon; its a treat to be able to go out for dinner with him at the Food Court because although the food is "mall food" I get to see him and stroll around and window shop with him, instead of rushing home to a quick dinner and homework for both of us.

I'm being kind to myself; instead of working full tilt and rushing around from store to store Wednesday, Thursday and Friday hunting for kosher food, and prepping what can be prepped ahead of time, and parsing my work day to get home on-time for Shabbat, we take it easy. We walk down to Bet Lechem Street for coffee at Kalo, and afterwards buy a ready-cooked kosher chicken at Ragu, then some fresh produce on the corner of Ester HaMalca, then pick up sweetrolls and challah at Rafi's in Talpiot, then wander home and meander through the Jerusalem Post....Erev Shabbat here is Israel's equivalent to "Saturday" in California.....

I comparison shop, albeit I need Yossi's and Ronit's and Tilda's help---I have the time to compare prices on floor tile at different shops and to hunt around for bargains on appliances.

I go to the gym. Daily. Being a full-time prosecutor with children who had full-time problems (I had step-children who came with their own baggage in need of sorting), somehow taking care of my own needs (exercise, new clothes, trips with the family) always seemed to come in last. Now I have a schedule which is open enough to accomodate everyone's needs.

I want to take a course in archeology and then I want to see every inch of Israel.

Once we're in the new apartment, I'd like to learn to sew. I love to quilt, but I haven't produced much since I have to do it by hand. A sewing machine and some quilting lessons would be perfect!

I would like to learn. Matan and Nishmat and Pardes are all near by, and I would like to take at least one course per semester from one of them, and become a bit more knowledgable than I am right now.

I want to volunteer somewhere where no one speaks English---I can make myself useful while improving my Hebrew.

The list goes on. However, the question was silly. What will I do with my time? Well, life is given to us to be lived, and I want to live it as fully as possible. Working 60 hours a week (minimum) and chaining myself to a desk until age and infirmity mandate retirement is not my idea of "living."

It's never a good idea to define one's self by one's work. Work is what you do, not who you are. I have here the grace to spend a bit more time on who I am instead of what I did, and I'm grateful for the chance.

Life, here I come!

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