September 19, 2017

Starting Up Nation

Start Up Nation. Is that what we’re called? When it comes to ingenious inventions in medicine and high tech, yes. When it comes to basic services, we are, well, just starting up and have a long way to go.

I’ve written about the post office services (Doar) many times. Some of my most frustrating moments as on olah have originated here. In fact, they continue. One day I will write about Ra’anana’s newly improved Doar. The newest place to pick up parcels is a gas station but the address is hidden on the post office card. To add insult to injury, we receive notification before the package arrives just so we have to come back (fill up with the tank with gas while you’re there if you can find the place).
So now it’s time to report on Bezek, Israel’s national phone company.  Over the years, we have been so frustrated with the phone company, we no longer have a land line and just use our cell phone. 

But, the internet is still entwined with Bezek and, as I just found out, our broken alarm line is a Bezek line.

Here are some rules when dealing with Bezek:

When you first call, you’ll hear a reassuring recorded song that says you have reached Bezek, Ahi Tov BaBayit – they are telling you that Bezek is the ‘best in the house’ and that you’ll be looked after like you’re family. Don’t buy into this.

You’ll then be asked to select a language. 1. Hebrew 2. Arabic 3. Russian 4. English. Do not press 4.

The English system takes you deep into selecting various services and when you feel like you’re actually getting somewhere, it stops working and disconnects you. 

If you do get to the end of the complex web of selecting services and then wait half an hour for a real live person, a Hebrew speaker will come on the phone. As soon as you say something in English they tell you they’ll connect you to an English speaker but never ever do.  It would take less time to learn a few words of Arabic or Russian if you want to get service.

They don’t want to talk to you. It’s so complicated to get to a live person, you would rather retreat to a phoneless cave dwelling than deal with this service.  They try to convince you that you should try their self-automated service where the computer will check your line and you can correct the problem on your own. Really? I made the mistake of getting gnarled in this once. Useless.

They then try to convince you that you don’t really want to spend your valuable time waiting for a live person and listening to the Ahi Tov BaBayit song a hundred times over. You would rather be on the beach, right? 

They convince you to leave your number and then someone will get back to you. It may take 12 hours for this to happen or it may not happen. Ever. Or, you may be at the beach and miss the Bezek call. G-d forbid.

Do not call Bezek from your car on a hot day. Sitting in the car waiting for my daughter, I decided to call Bezek. I took a deep breath and did the number acrobatics, pressing 1 and 2  and 3 and 1 and 2 and 2 and 2 and then waiting and waiting. A live person came on the phone and actually spoke a few words of English. I was getting somewhere! 

When I was about to order a technician, my iphone went dead and sent me this message: ‘iphone needs to cool down before you can use it.’ I needed to cool down before I started all over again. Did Bezek call me back to finish the order? Still waiting.

Do not call Bezek when your cell phone charge is low. It takes so long to get Bezek service, I saw my phone drain from 53% to 1%. I was at the point where the woman on the line was verifying my address and giving me a service date. I warned her I was at 1%.  She had my cell number. Click. My phone died.  Did Bezek call me back to finish the order? Still waiting.

When the technician comes, get his name and number. Why, might you ask? Our first technician who came said the line was working fine and this was not a Bezek problem but a smart house problem. He left. Smart house guy said it was not his problem and the alarm guy said it was not his problem and that I need an additional Bezek phone line. In reality, the technician must have been dozing in my electrical cupboard - read on to see why.

Bezek loves to sell you new phone lines. Do not buy them! The woman on the phone said to me, “Come home to Bezek. We treat you right.” She actually said that (she was the one with whom I lost connection when my phone died). Guess she did not want me home so badly.

So the new Bezek guy comes to install the second line and asks where the first phone line is.  I shrug my shoulders. I see a number on a bill that I pay for monthly. I explain that it must be somewhere in the house, probably in the cupboard where the first guy went, the one who said the line was working.

“Which technician was here? What’s his name?” the technician drills me.

“Well you work for Bezek. Can’t you find out?”

He looks at me as if I’m crazy. “No.”

With all the high tech recording of phone calls and computers, you think one Bezek arm would know what the other arm is doing. Nope.

Don’t trust that the technician knows what he is doing. Turns out the original technician futzed around in an electrical cupboard where there was no phone line and then left saying all was ok. The second technician discovered that the real problem was a Bezek internet router that was upstairs. Could he fix it? No. I need an electrician for that!

Watch out – you may get a technician even if you don’t order one – and never at the times specified.

My broken phone line saga has been going on for over a month. Just last night I received a text message from Bezek saying a technician was coming today between 2pm and 4pm. This time I did not order a technician.  The message also said that if I was not home at the time of service, there would be a penalty. 

Begrudgingly  I was back on the phone with Bezek entering a nightmarish web of pressing 1s and 2s and 1 and 3s and then waiting for a live person. What happened to the good ole days of pressing 0 and getting an operator? 

The woman on the phone did not apologize but admitted it was a mistake. But one Bezek arm does not talk to the other. What was I thinking? And guess what?

My cell phone just rang. Guess who? The Bezek technician who I did not order is at my house right now (and I am 200 kms away) and he is mad that I’m not home. He is also there three hours early. It’s a mistake, I explain. I told him I notified the office but he insists that he should be there and that I ordered the service. 

Would you trust a  technician who looked like this?
Can’t wait for the next Bezek bill. The technician who said it was an electrical issue assured me he would cancel the new phone line and the installation charge.  Doubt that ever happened. Bezek will be charging me for one line that does not work and cannot be fixed and one new line that was never installed.

Bezek.  Ahi Tov BaBayit!

May we have a year of not sweating the small stuff, of laughing when life gets ridiculous and of knowing we can head to the beach, a cave or a forest when the going gets tough. If none of the above work, take up Russian.

Shana Tova from the starting up nation

August 23, 2017

How beautiful are your tents

How beautiful are your tents,  Jacob, 

your dwelling places, Israel!

Numbers 24:5

In the Torah, as the Jews encamped in the desert, the prophet Bilaam looked at them from a mountaintop and bestowed this praise.

This very line from the Torah is also said in combination with a verse from the Psalms to form the prayer ‘Ma Tovu,’ which is said every day upon arising:

How great are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel!
As for me, through Your abundant grace, I enter your house to worship with awe in Your sacred place.

A more recent rendition of these words was used by the Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai in his ironic, disturbing poem, “How beautiful are thy tents, Jacob"

Even now, when there are neither tents nor Jacob’s
tribes, I say, how beautiful.

Oh, may there come something of redemption,
an old song, a white letter,
a face in the crowd, a door opening
for the eye, multicolored
ice cream for the throat…

Amichai hopes for redemption but cannot find it himself as he sees just a trite physical reality. As his poem continues, the lofty biblical image becomes mundane and uninspired.

Old pontoon bridge.
Yet, as I rode my bike along a riverbank in northern Israel this week, redemptive words of the bible rang in my ears.  We rode along a river where eucalyptus branches swoop over cool water. Beyond, the Golan Heights rise, ancient volcanoes forming perfect turrets on the horizon. As I pedalled, I saw hundreds of tents arranged along the shore. 

Israelis in the know flock here each summer via a dusty road. They set up camp like a home, much like their biblical ancestors did. They sit with friends and family, simply enjoying being in nature. It is a beautiful refuge from steaming urban life and burning concrete. The river flows, bends and turns. Otters swim downstream while herons swoop into the water.

Some campsites were simple;  just a single tent. Others were decked out. We passed one impressive site that had multiple sleeping tents, a generator that pumps cool air from an air conditioner into a ‘cold’ tent, a dining tent and even a kiddie swimming pool.  Tents are set along the water, often beside a tire swing. 

Camping with an air conditioner.
Of course, everyone brings a portable BBQ and as we rode into the sunset, the 'mangalim' were asmokin'. 

The campers bring kayaks and inflatable rafts and spend most of the day in the cool water.

A few tracteronim sped past, ATV vehicles out for a dust-filled 'nature' drive. Inside, all the passengers wore goggles, white shirts and black pants, ideal clothing for roughing it! From one ATV, a Chabad Mashiach flag flew proudly atop. 

Only in Israel. 

Onward we rode until we saw six large busses parked beside the river. Chairs were set up in an outdoor dining room. Nearby, young Orthodox boys, wearing black pants and white shirts, were getting ready to daven the afternoon prayers.

They were a group of 600 boys from Jerusalem who were taken away for a vacation. As we saw them gathering, just a few meters away hidden between rushes and river, stood a solo davener. He 
swayed, standing in a bathing suit, talking praises to G-d.

After cycling onward, we stopped to try out a tire swing. A  car flew past, the occupants shouting “Mincha,” saying they needed two more men to complete a minyan. I am sure the next camp site provided this. 

Only in Israel.

As the sun set behind the mountains, these tent dwellers settled in for the night. Yes, there are tents and there are tribes even today. Our nation comes in all shapes and colors and sizes and they gather in their own ways to respect G-d and the land. They have turned their tents into dwelling places, connecting with each other and living in harmony with the land.

I cycled on, feeling great respect for these salt of the earth people who camp by the waters seeking reconnection. I felt some kind of strength and redemption happening right here in this beautiful simplicity. I wonder what Yehuda Amichai would think if he were here today to see this.

July 31, 2017

A Love Story

One day, seventeen years ago, a young couple fell in love and married. At first, they lived busy city lives in crowded central Israel.

They dreamed of having a family where there was open space and vistas and envisioned living in in the Binyamin region.  In Biblical times, Binyamin is where the prophets Samuel, Jeremiah, Elijah and Elisha wandered, prophesying to the people.

This is also close to Shiloh, where the mishkan (the tabernacle) was housed and near the ancient capital that stood during the time of King Saul, Israel’s first monarch.

As in days gone by, this place is nestled amongst craggy mountains dotted with ancient olive groves. Sheep graze the hills. Goats and donkeys amble along as they did millennia ago. This is a profound land where days are hot, dry and parched while nights are lit by stars twinkling in a jet-black sky.

They soon came across Amona, a hilltop where a few families were starting to set up home. They loved the views, the fresh air, the sense of a being part of a new beginning. Abandoned terraces and ancient wine presses dating back to the times of the Byzantines dotted the area.

Their feet felt mysteriously pulled to this spot; their hearts expanded and they decided they had to be here and nowhere else.

They moved and soon became a dynamic force in this fledgling yishuv. As their family grew, their love of the land expanded. They loved their community; its kindness, simplicity and beauty. Their kids ran free, playing outdoors all day.

Years went by until, one day, they were told their house was illegal. A bulldozer came and tore down part of their newly built home. They then moved into three caravans that they joined. And this place soon became a comfortable new home.

There were struggles and protests. Despite the hardships and legal conflicts, the couple stayed on.
Remains of the synagogue in Amona, Feb, 2017. Ofra in the distance.

Just last December, the Israeli court community gave orders to have Amona evacuated. Heartbroken, they stayed on until February 1, the day they were forcibly pulled out of their home. Their trailers were towed away and their belongings placed in storage. 

Today they are waiting in nearby Ofra for the government to offer them a new place to call home. They are family with six children living in a makeshift home that is a field school. They have no kitchen and no laundry facilities. They sleep in a small room of floor to ceiling bunks and have only the clothing they brought with them when they were evacuated six months ago.

Just last month, the wife decided to drive to Amona to recite her prayers for the new month. She left her car and walked to the empty place that was once her home. Mysteriously, she fell, shattering her foot and leg. In intense pain, she managed to crawl back to her car and call for help.

Adding more challenge and frustration to their already hard life, she went through surgery and is healing but immobile.

Her husband decided it was time for light and love. Their 17th anniversary was coming up and he wanted to formally propose to his wife. He regretted that years ago he was too shy to pop the question this way. Now, more than ever, he wanted to show her his love.

He also wanted to arrange for her favorite band to perform a private concert but felt it was a frivolous expense given their situation. His friends advised him to go ahead as this was an investment in love and the strength it would give to his wife was limitless. And so he ordered the band and organized a small gathering.

First he took his wife to a beautiful look out.  She hobbled out of the car on crutches and they sat down together in the late afternoon sun, looking out across the rocky terraced mountains they both grew to love to so much.

New ring in hand, he popped the question but this time it was, “Will you build a home with me?” He handed her a ring designed like the Beit Hamikdash, the Holy Temple and the Jews’ spiritual home. 

After 17 years, their bond is stronger than ever, their love chiseled and sculpted from the many joys and sorrows they experienced together.

They then arrived at a friend’s home to a table laden with food, in a room surrounded by her best friends. There she listened to her the band she loved best sitting beside the most special person she knew in the world.

These are the moments that heal and bond. And these are the secret ingredients of happiness and connectedness.  One can have almost everything taken away, yet still feel full and content.

This couple is my son-in-law’s sister and brother-in-law. They are role models of love, endurance and hope.

As Lao Tzu said,  “Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.”

It is almost Tisha B’Av, a time when Jews mourn the destruction of the two Temples in Jerusalem. It is also six months since this family lost their home and community.  And Israel has experienced heart-breaking tragedies in the past few weeks along with increased tension over the holiest site.

Yet it is also close to Tu B’Av, the mysterious holiday when the daughters would dance in the vineyards under a full moon. These days, it is celebrated as a time of love, promise and redemption and an auspicious time for weddings.

Loss and love. Like the image on the new wedding ring of a Temple that was lost and rebuilt and lost again, yet waits to be rebuilt once more, this is the shared story of both our nation and this beautiful couple.

May they continue to have courage and strength from their love and to be always inspired by this land.