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Thursday, July 31, 2008

More Things I Didn't Know About Home Construction

So today I check out the progress on the floor tiles at the new condo. Looks good, albeit only one room is done so far. Then we get a phone call from the builder. They can't proceed beyond this one room until the 'trim' is cut -- that's the tile that is essentially the baseboard of the room.

Okay, I think, so trim it.

Oh, no -- the builder doesn't do this. First, he doesn't have the machinery and second, it's not his job.

Guess who's job it is? Right. Ours.

Sooooo....Sunday morning we're trekking with floor tile over to a shop in Tantur where the owner DOES own the requisite machinery and will chop floor tile pieces into the proper size of trim. Of course, we're taking Yossi because my Arabic is even worse than my Hebrew, and the idea of two non-native speakers of bad Hebrew trying to work out the proper dimensions of the floor trim is giving me ulcers.

As Jameel put it so well recently, the answer to survival in Israel is "attitude" -- of the positive kind. Okay, I didn't know we had to trim our own tiles for edging the floor, but you know what? It's a surprise, not a disaster.

Ze lo bayah.....

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

People Watching--What Women Wear

The Husband and I have a long-time sport derived partly from natural inclination and partly from law enforcement training. We are avid "people-watchers."

Since coming to Israel, I sometimes wish I could turn off my eyes.

Before landing, I was told that there are two styles of clothing in Israel--frum and slut. Well, it's not quite that bad, but there are certainly enough women wearing things I'd be embarassed to see on Bar Rafaeli running around in public without a second thought.

This week's winner: the 14 or 15 year old at Canyon Malcha wearing hooker heels, black hotpants, a black, clingy blouse with cleavage down to her diaphragm in which everyone in the mall could have a good look at her teenage breasts which were being pushed out of the cleavage by her black push-up bra. She was a pedophile's dream. She would fit in without question on the 'hooker stroll' on E. 14th and MacArthur in Oakland. And the icing on the cake--she was at the mall with her mother!

What kind of mother lets her teen go out in public looking like a $20 whore?

This week's nominee for arrest by the fashion police: the 50+ woman of some 250 pounds wearing black pants and a black spaghetti-strap top with a bare midriff.

Runner-up for arrest by the fashion police: the 45+ woman in skin-tight stretch pants and bared-belly top who, but for the stretch-marked saggy tummy bulging nakedly over the edge of the pants, looked otherwise okay.

Not to be outdone in the religious sector, there was Ms. Letter-But-Not-Spirit-of-Modesty: hair trendily covered by a snazzy scarf whipped into a Jerusalem knot, skin-tight hip-and-thigh-hugging skirt (but no slits!) topped by an equally skin-tight (but long-sleeved!) top of some stretchable material which showed off her 36Cs to advantage. Ladies, when I can make out the pattern of your bra through your top, the top is too tight.

Maybe its a certain provincialism that derives from growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area before the Hippie Invasion: one was expected to dress with good taste. That isn't to say, old-fashioned or stodgy. As a teen, I wore jeans and tie-dyed T-shirts, and later graduated to Liz Claiborne, DKNY and other adult tastes. But tasteful was the watchword.

There are girls and women who look good in the Sultan's Concubine Look (otherwise known as the bare midriff). But very few. Most women who have borne children should not try this at home and especially not in public. Most girls who don't have flat, muscular stomachs from gymnatics, ballet or swim team should also abjure this fashion---there is nothing sexy about seeing your fat. Even a little of it.

And while I'm on the subject....Women of Israel, forhevvinsakes, dress your age! It is both pathetic and ridiculously funny to see some woman in her 40s toodling around the mall in a clothing style which looks like she raided her daughter's closet. Have some dignity. You do NOT look younger because you (barely) fit into your teenager's jeans--you just look desperate.

Do you know who are consistently the best-dressed women at the mall? The Arab women, who somehow manage to wear their limited options of public clothing (hijab, jilbab, tunics and skirts or slacks) with grace, dignity and a great flare for color and style. I am not advocating Islamic or Hareidi garb for women, by any means -- but some of the awfully stomach-churning and/or must-smother-laughter styles worn by my Israeli sisters truly cry out for a modicum of restraint and good taste.

*Photo credit to Jerusalem Shots

You Are What You Read

Treppenwitz just did a witty number on missing the New York Times, which seems to be an addiction for some folks, judging by the responses to his post.

Fortuitously timed, my cousin sent me the following today, which about sums up the majority view (outside of New York and the Beltway, which don't really count) of various newspapers. I particularly liked the piece on the SF Chronicle, a 'newspaper' famously lambasted in All The President's Men, where the editor told his staff that a certain article was total garbage, so go sell it to the Chronicle, because "it's not even a real newspaper." Even in the Bay Area, this remark drews howls of laughter.

1. The Wall Street Journal is read by the people who run the country

2. The Washington Post is read by people who think they run the country.

3. The New York Times is read by people who think they should run the country and who are very good at crossword puzzles.

4. USA Today is read by people who think they ought to run the country but don't really understand The New York Times. They do, however, like their statistics shown in pie charts.

5. The Los Angeles Times is read by people who wouldn't mind running the country -- if they could find the time -- and if they didn't have to leave Southern California to do it.

6. The Boston Globe is read by people whose parents used to run the country and did a poor job of it, thank you very much.

7. The New York Daily News is read by people who aren't too sure who's running the country and don't really care as long as they can get a seat on the train.

8. The New York Post is read by people who don't care who are running the country as long as they do something really scandalous, preferably while intoxicated.

9. The Miami Herald is read by people who are running another country but need the baseball scores.

10. The San Francisco Chronicle is read by people who aren't sure if there is a country or that anyone is running it; but if so, they oppose all that they stand for. There are occasional exceptions if the leaders are handicapped minority feminist atheist dwarfs who also happen to be illegal aliens from any other country or galaxy, provided of course, that they are not Republicans.

11. The National Enquirer is read by people trapped in line at the grocery store.

12. The Seattle Times is read by people who have recently caught a fish and need something in which to wrap it.

Anyone care to venture what Haaretz, The Jerusalem Post, Ma'ariv, Yehidiot Aharonot, et al, readership means here? I have my own theories but, maybe later......I'm not in the mood for a flame war today.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Absolutely NO More Pets!

That's what I said. After 20 years together, raising the Boy and his step-sisters along with one dog and over the course of time, seven (7!!) cats, I laid down the law--absolutely NO more pets. They shed. Even when trimmed down to a summertime coat, the dog sheds. The cats shed. The Husband vacuums daily in a vain effort to keep furballs from multiplying in the corners. Friends and family have allergies and some can't eat at our house.

It's difficult to travel. Travel means finding a reliable person to pet-sit, and the only time we did that, having cats who were fairly self-suffucient (i.e. they wouldn't miss us one bit as long as Someone filled up the food and water bowls), supplies were delivered a bit irregularly by the pet-sitter.

The Dog we could always deliver to the Oldest Daughter for short-term care--it's really her dog, anyway. But now she's moving to Tel Aviv, and not in town and readily available. There are boarding facilities, but the idea breaks my heart--cats are better off at home, and I'm afraid The Dog would think we've abandoned her.

So, this is it! We're down to two aging cats and one aging dog. No more!

Famous last words.

I was tripped coming out of Meuhedet last Friday by a small, fluffy, wide-eyed and imploring kitten. Of course, he was tripping everyone because he was hungry and thirsty. He purred and went out of his way to be affectionate and endearing. It probably worked with momma-cat but he's just at the age where momma-cat has put him up a tree and told him to go catch his own lizards.

The two men exiting with me and The Boy both walked on, oblivious to the pitiful meows. I couldn't help myself.....I picked him up and carried him to the car.

Ever have one of those internal dialogues with yourself where, while you're doing one thing, your brain is saying, "WHAT are you doing? Are you nuts?"

It was one of those moments. The heart won out over the brain, unfortunately or fortunately -- we have a new cat.

When I brought him home, I fed him. He gobbled almost a whole bowl of catfood by himself. Since cats normally nibble, this was significant hunger. Then I gave him a bowl of water, which he lapped down. Then another bowl of water. Then another bowl of water. Methinks he was a tad thirsty. The I dosed him with kitten-anti-flea stuff, since I was sure he was infested.

Then he curled up next to me on the couch and purred, and fell asleep. He proceeded to sleep for the next 48 hours, arising only to eat, drink and use the litter box. At first, we thought it was simply exhaustion. Now, we think he may have an underactive thyroid because he's hardly moved since he arrived. He's also figured out very quickly that the Dog won't bother him and responds well to our telling her to leave the kitten alone; he's also figured out quickly that the aging female cat hates his guts but will go sulk in the back room, and that the aging male cat doesn't much care. In short, there are no threats to really be concerned about, so why not sleep?

He had his claws clipped and a trip to the vet, where he got his first shot and some serious washing of the flea-mite-infested ears. He hated that, so he's stopped purring to me. I'm not worried--the way to get his medicine down him is to pour the powdered stuff all over some tuna, so I'm working my way back into his good graces.

The only thing he doesn't have right now is a name. We've been considering "Frisky" because he's definitely NOT or maybe "Rocky" because he moves about as much as a rock does......

Monday, July 28, 2008

Dialogue With An Indian Muslim

Last week, I succumbed to tempation and actually posted something on the Talkback section of an article in the Jerusalem Post. I usually avoid Talkback or any other "comments" section of the media since they largely reflect the extremes of any issue, and frankly, the rancor of the comments drives me away.

However, one poster who identified him/herself as an Muslim from India asked about anti-Semitism and why Jews always feel victimized. He/she got a number of shameful responses, including one that labeled the questioner as "antiSemitic." (Honestly, people!)

But the questioner persisted, and I felt he/she was entitled to an intelligent answer. I tried to formulate one, referencing the second-class status of Jews in both Moslem and Christian cultures for centuries, the denial of civil rights to Jews in both the aforesaid cultures, the migration of such entrenched anti-Jewish hatred from religious prejudice to nationalist hatred (disguised as 'race') culminating in the Holocaust.

The response I received back from the questioner agreed with my position that the Jews therefore felt entitled to a homeland of our own, but why are we now the 'oppressors' against Arabs in our 'apartheid' society.

I always wonder, at moments like this, if we're all living on the same planet.

I started by stating that like all democracies, Israel (like India) is imperfect but strives for the goal of being a state that, while Jewish in character and designed for refuge, still allows full civil rights and responsibilities for all of its communities. I added that while there is prejudice between communities (such as Arab v Jewish, religious v secular, Ashkenazim v Sepharadim v Ethiopian v Russian) the school system, the courts and other instruments of a democratic society strive to bring these segments together as a cohesive society without prejudice.

Granted, its an uphill task. There isn't enough money, there isn't enough goodwill yet, and sadly, there isn't enough (yet) understanding between these communities. As long as the Arabs feel the Jews don't belong here, and the Jews feel that all Arabs are fifth column terrorists, and the ultrareligious feel they have the only hotline-to-HaShem and the rest of us aren't even Jewish, and the secular feel they have the One Universal Truth and the religious of all stripes are primitives worthy only of their disdain......well, it's going to take time.

However, I pointed out, we have Arab police and army officers (some of command rank); we have Arab judges and lawyers; some neighborhoods and townships have accidentally integrated due to housing pressures; my family has been treated by Arab doctors and nurses and Arab patients are treated by Jewish doctors and nurses; Arabs can volunteer for the military although the law says they cannot be drafted against their will; we all ride the same buses and eat in the same restaurants.

So what's this "apartheid" nonsense? South Africa was never this integrated. Come to think of it, neither was the pre-Civil Rights American South. I know--I lived there.

My Muslim correspondent accepted my representations but went on to tell me that the Jews engage in false idolatry, holding that the Land itself is worshipped as THE place for the settlement of the Chosen People. Unlike Islam, which is open to anyone, anywhere, in the world, Judaism is obsessed with maternal bloodlines and a narrow, clannish misinterpretation of the Torah which confines it to a small cabal of people.

My correspondent has clearly been reading the Jerusalem Post and the Rabbinute's disgusting retrograde interpretation of what makes a valid conversion.

I wrote yet another reply discussing Torah, the concept of "Chosen People" and the availability of conversion (at least in theory and past pre-Rabbinute practice) as well as the idea of being "a light unto the nations." I did point out that, again, Christian and Moslem societies traditionally frowned on conversion out of their own religions to Judaism -- and in both societies, the traditional punishment for apostasy was death.

I bit my 'tongue' and refrained from pointing out that no non-Moslem is allowed into Mecca so who are you to complain about our attachment to Israel?

But I did pose a question to my questioner: in what Moslem society today is a human being allowed to convert from Islam to Judaism? How can we be open to the world if the Moslem world punishes such conversion with death

I never heard the answer, if there was one, as the newspaper closed the discussion at that point. Of course, the question is largely rhetorical and asked simply to demonstrate my earlier point: Judaism could never flourish in Christian and Moslem societies because it was deliberately repressed and its followers consigned to poverty, discrimination and statelessness.

It was an interesting exercise in communication from our respective positions. For me, it was frustrating to have a civilized exchange of ideas with someone whose concept of Jews, Israel and Judaism were so clearly out of touch with my reality. However, it does make me ponder just how many Muslims living in Pakistan, Malaysia, Indonesia, etc. who have never met a Jew or discussed religion, share these same misapprehensions due soley to ignorance about who and what we are?

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Car Accident

I have an Israeli driver's license, but because it was issued in part on the strength of my California license, I am, in effect, on probation. Too many points between issuance and the renewal, and I have to take the 24 lessons and pass a written test. I do NOT want to do this.

So I have been following my own advice in this regard: never hurry and always yield. So far, it's been foolproof.

Then, two weeks ago, I saw a parking spot on the opposite side of Yehuda. Those of you familiar with Yehuda know it is a major thoroughfare once designed for donkeys and not really appropriate for modern travel in automobiles. Along most of Yehuda, cars are parked, or wedged badly into driveways, or between other cars, or half on the sidewalk, etc. Parking is tough. Since it is, theoretically, a two-way street, with parked/wedged/entrenched cars on both sides of it in places, driving is somewhat like threading a needle--with a ton and a half of steel thread. This is further complicated by the presence of a gan or two, an elementary school, a one-way exit-only road from Baka's interior, and Pelech School.

Needless to say, most of the parents of these children can't find parking (who can?) and so they simply stop in the middle of the traffic lane to let their offspring out. Sometimes there is an attempt to pull over, although there is no real room to pull over, and this creates the illusion that the person in the car behind should be able to continue forward in the traffic lane. However, the Person Behind quickly finds that he is progressing only by straddling the middle of the road and has the oncoming traffic to deal with. The oncoming traffic is already dodging and weaving in order to avoid schoolchildren, pedestrians, traffic from side streets, and traffic from the other direction. Hence, travel up and down Yehuda is never hurried, often frustrating, but in my case, done with great care.

Imagine my surprise when after circumnavigating the pharmacy on Beth Lechem several times, I saw a parking space on Yehuda less than 300 meters from the pharmacy. The drawback? The parking space was on the other side of the street. Hey, no problem -- after 18 months of driving in Israel, I have mastered the Three Point Turn, a maneuver used seemingly by everyone in Israel and one which would get you shot if you tried to use it in California.

The Three Point Turn involves turning into the opposite curb so your car is blocking the entire roadway. Believe it or not, in a population with NO patience, no one seems to get upset about this. They stop and wait. Then you back your car up (usually to the curb now at your rear since streets are so narrow) enough to turn your vehicle so it is going in to direction opposite of that from which you came.

I looked around -- no traffic in either direction. I did my Three Point Turn, then pulled up behind the SUV into the empty parking space. What I didn't notice was that the SUV itself was parked half on the sidewalk (of course). In paralleling the SUV, my passenger side wheel went up on the sidewalk. Ooops -- can't have that. So I steered the vehicle off the sidewalk -- and it promptly went into overdrive and hit the SUV.

The SUV was fine. My front end was a total wreck.

The Husband later explained something obscure about speed differentials when one tire is in the air (coming off the sidewalk) and the other is still on the ground and how this makes the air-borne tire accelerate madly and thrust the vehicle forward when if finally touches down. I have no idea if this explanation is correct or not. I just know that I sat there in shock, wondering what the hell happened?

The neighbor came out and saw me there. I didn't move. I wasn't ready to move. My brain was still trying to assimilate a seemingly cause-less accident. He asked me what happened, and I said I didn't know. In bad Hebrew, I pointed to the engine and said something went wrong. He called the owner of the SUV, who was a real sweetie. She looked at my car (ouch!) and looked at her seemingly dentless and undamaged car (a Honda CRV, for those of you looking for indestructible SUVs) and told me "Ain bayah!" (no problem) and asked if I was all right. We switched to English since her English was better than my Hebrew. I said I could give her my ID, my insurance company, and all the things one gives to the person whose car you've just hit.

"But there's nothing wrong," she told me. "Maybe the plastic bumper is a bit loose, but it might have been that way before."

I couldn't believe I had hit her car with the force I did and there was no damage. I had a sneaking suspicion that my car, being very low in front, went under her very high SUV and at the least, she might have to get a new tail pipe.

"Let me give you my phone number," I persisted.

"No, no, look: your car has all the damage. Mine is fine. It's okay," she told me.

"Please take the phone number--just in case," I said again. Mostly to humor me, she took the number. I had visions of being reported for being a hit-and-run if I didn't leave her SOME information.

Good call. While I'm sitting at the dealership, she calls me, apologetically, and says that she just drove the car and there is a lot of exhaust coming out of the tailpipe, so she took it to the garage and they told her there is damage to the exhaust system.

Can I call them, or can I call them?

Before this, I arrive at the dealership (the car is still under warranty) and they assist me in calling the Insurance Company. Insurance Company is happy to take the information, tell me its all my fault, and that my premiums will go up by 30% next year. Insurance Company is happy that the owner of the SUV said there is no damage and by the way, I can't get the car fixed at the dealership.

"Why not? I asked.

Insurance Company tells me that they have a contract to use specific garages and a specific estimator. They give me the name of the estimator they want me to use, and the address and phone number of the garage they want me to use.

"But the car is under warranty. I have to repair it here," I protested.

Too bad. If I use the dealership, then my deductible will be 1600 NIS instead of 1100 NIS for using their Other Garage -- AND I have to pay the entire damage up front and wait for Insurance Company to reimburse me.

I do not need this financial headache.

Head mechanic, who was wonderful to me throughout this ordeal, came over to ask me what happened. I explained that Insurance Company wouldn't pay for the repairs done by the dealership, and wanted a specific estimator named "David Abraham" (names have been changed to protect the Good Samaritans here).

"But that's him!!" head mechanic exclaims, pointing to a guy I've seen running all over the place for the last 45 minutes. "He does all our estimates."

The estimator came over, heard my spiel about the Insurance Company, and said, "They're idiots. Don't worry about this. I will fix it for you -- you won't pay anything except the 1100 NIS deductible, and you won't have to pay anything more."

The car was fixed in 3 working days (delay due to ordering a part that didn't come in) and when I showed up, the bill was exactly 1100 NIS -- the estimator did exactly what he promised: he fixed it with the Insurance Company so that my charges would be no different from those at the "contract garage," which saved me money, got me genuine new parts instead of knock-offs and didn't undermine either my warranty or my bank balance.

I wonder if he has an "in" with the DMV?

Friday, July 25, 2008

It's About Time

I needed a break from the computer. Not only does blogging every day take time out of the day, but reading every news item on every news link and every blogger I like and even bloggers I think are out-and-out wrong about life in Israel, all take an enormous chunk out of the day.

How the @%#$ does Treppenwitz do it so easily?

I think it hit me when I left the office one night and my husband said, "Who are you?"

Tommy Smothers once famously said, "Life is what happens while you're making other plans."

In my case, life was passing me by while I glued myself to a keyboard and computer screen. It was like work, but without the coffee break.

My son needed medical attention; my son also needed a mom who wasn't always in the back room glued to the computer. Turns out my husband wanted more of my company as well. It's nice to be wanted, but somehow I need to find a balance between time with family and time to keep up with Susie, David, et al in the blogosphere.

What finally kicked me into gear was the upcoming JBlogger Convention (http://www.nbn.org.il/bloggers/)here in Israel---how can I possibly hold my head up with no recent posted copy? Going without writing is like going under false pretenses.

Time to hit the keyboard again.

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