April 25, 2013

Fax Is Not A Friendly Word

It’s been one of those weeks; lots of long working hours speckled with frustration Israeli style. In this country, the simpler the task, the more complex it is to complete. (Maybe since reading and writing are backwards here, everything else follows suit.)

Take, for example, the bank. Banks do not keep regular hours here. Not only are they irregular, they are different each day. I wanted to open an account for my son. Simple, right? Well, when I compare his free hours to the bank’s opening hours, I am left with about fifteen minutes. 

One afternoon, he sauntered in from school early. I barked at him before he could even open the fridge. “The bank is open. Let’s run for it.”

We simply wanted to give the bank our money and sat down with the teller. She asked me for I.D. I gave her my bank card, the same card I have been using at this bank for eight years.

Teuda zeut?” she asked. I handed it to her.

“Where’s the picture?” she asked, smirking at my crumpled identity card.

Feeling like a child who forgot to do her homework, I confessed. “I lost it,” I said, rifling through all the cards in my wallet, hoping it would magically appear. “Here. Take my driver’s license. It has a photo.”

She frowned. This card was not good enough for the Israeli bank, even though it was acceptable to the electoral system when recently I cast a ballot using my driver’s license.

“You cannot open an account for your son without your teudah zeut. Go to the Misrad HaPanim, get a new card and then come back.”

I gulped. The words Misrad HaPanim were akin to purgatory. One could spend an entire day in that office without seeing a clerk. (My husband has been so frustrated waiting there, he has even offered people cash to snatch their place in line.)

I will not go to the Misrad HaPanim…so I guess my son may just have to wait until he is an adult before he gets a bank account.

One day later I found out that I had to make an appointment at the hospital for an out patient procedure. Simple, right?  I was given a form by a doctor and then called the  hospital only to be told that one cannot make an appointment over the phone. I have to fax in the referral form.

Fax? That is not a friendly word around here; our fax machine doesn’t work.
Freshly picked.

So we call the computer guy. He comes over, fixes it and finally, I fax the form. One day goes by, then two and then three. No appointment. I call back. No answer. I call another number only to be told that there is a special number to call to see if the fax has been received. If and when I do get this appointment, I am told that I must go to the health provider’s office with my form and get another form to take to the hospital.

Baaa. Sheep grazing in Herzliya Pituach.
Looks like I may not get to that hospital until my son opens a bank account. Looks like neither of these will happen until,  as my grandfather used to say, “Shabbos the fortnight.”

Which brings me to the point of this rambling tale. Whenever I feel frustrated, I head to the beach. Just a ten-minute drive or a twenty-minute bike ride away, the beach provides pure, simple bliss.

No photo IDs required. No faxes to fix. No clerks to cluck. Just bare feet, warm sand and sparkling surf; the perfect antidote to a long week.

April 19, 2013

Happy 65th Israel!

Yom HaShoa.  Holocaust Remembrance Day
Yom Ha Zikaron l’Chayalim.  Memorial Day for the Soldiers
Yom Ha’Atzma’ut. Israel Independence Day

These three occasions fall within nine days, creating a time of solemnity, tears and wailing sirens that freeze an entire nation in its footsteps.

But what captured my heart was how people here deal with tragedy. They mourn deeply and always will. However, they take their loss and transform it into something large. They reach deep down and instead of being imprisoned in darkness and despair, they reach out and give, making the world a better place.

On Yom Hazikaron, I heard speeches, watched special TV programming and YouTube videos about heroic soldiers who fell in battle.  Many of these young soldiers gave their lives to save their peers. All were sons, and many brothers, boyfriends and husbands.

Close family members felt deep, dark gashes of loss, yet they somehow managed to create light from their darkness. Although something dear was taken from them, they gave back. One father made a community fitness park in memory of his son who loved to exercise; another built Habayit shelBenji, a large home that today houses 48 lone soldiers. Others built beautiful public gardens. A family who lost a young son to terror formed the Koby MandellFoundation in his name so children whose lives have been wrenched by terror can feel happiness and support at a fun summer camp.

We attended special Yom Ha’atzmau’ut services at our synagogue, hearing valiant words from a former soldier who fought in the Yom Kippur War in 1973. And as the sun set, the day transformed from sadness to festivity.

We sang Hallel, prayers of praise that are usually heard on the joyous holidays of during Sukkot, Pesach and Rosh Chodesh.

And then we heard a shofar.

Everyone was silent as it pierced the air, vibrating our very core. It is because of our brave soldiers that we are here, so we celebrate in their merit.  The shofar that was trumpeted when we lived in this land over 2,000 years ago is alive again. Its sound is loud, pure, triumphant. The shofar urges us to step inside and connect with our souls so that we can experience joy on a deep level. 

This is not the New Year of abroad with its feasting and drinking and personal resolutions; this is a communal gratitude that we are here again, strong and united. We sang Ha Tikvah, Israel’s national anthem and wished each other ‘chag sameach.’
Ever the local Burgers Bar gets festive!

Within minutes, our introspection was transformed into effusive joy. Young and old headed to the parks to sing and dance; fireworks boomed, concerts blasted and all-night parties (if you are young enough to stay up), well, they went all night.  

If this is our version of December 31 (which is not really celebrated here at all), may our national resolution be that we continue to be strong. No matter what.

Happy 65th birthday Israel (and a happy 18th birthday to my daughter!)

Here is a video that celebrates sixty-five years

April 11, 2013

A Table, A Chair, A Bowl Of Fruit

Table: 'a piece of furniture that has a flat top and one or more legs.' (Merriam-Webster) Sounds like a straightforward innovation that requires basic tools.

Israel is the new Silicon Valley of the east. Israeli researchers have developed USB flash drives, drip irrigation systems and nanowires. Want some fun? Israelis invented Rummikub. Thirsty? Israel’s original summer staple is Limonana (lemon juice with mint). Time for a snack? Crunch on Bamba, our original best-selling snack food.

If Israel is a leading innovator in medicine, economics, physics, optics, chemistry, biotechnology, theoretical computer science, computer hardware, computer software, agriculture and energy, then why can’t we have a table with a flat surface?

Case in point. We ordered a table for our living room. Since we could not find one that matched our furniture, we ordered a custom piece from a store in Tel Aviv. Since we wanted to have it for our daughter’s bat mitzvah party, we ordered it two months in advance.

“No problem,” we were told. “It should take two weeks.”

We gave the store our specific measurements. We brought in a sample floorboard so they could match the table top’s color.  We left them a deposit and our phone number. They sketched the design on a piece of paper and we left the store.

Two weeks went by. Nothing. I called the store.

“I am so happy you called. I wanted to get in touch with you but I don’t have your number. Your table is almost ready.”

That’s strange, I thought; my phone number was on the design sheet. If they don’t have my number, what are they working from?

I called again a week later.

“I am so happy you called. The table is ready, but they placed the shelf too low. I am sending it back and it will be ready soon.”

I called two weeks later.

“I am so happy you called. The table is ready. It will be delivered Monday.

I called on Monday.

“It will be delivered on Thursday.”

I called on Thursday.

“There is a problem with the color of the glass. We want you to have a perfect table. It will be ready next Thursday.”

I called back in a week, biting my nails. (The bat mitzvah party was a mere four days away.)

“So glad you called. The delivery man is coming to you tomorrow.”

Morning. No table. Afternoon. No table. Delivery guy AWOL. We parked our furniture anxieties aside as many out of town relatives arrived to celebrate with us and they were all coming to dinner. Just as we were ready to sit down, the delivery guy knocked on the door. The table was here!

Everyone ‘oohed’ and ‘aahed’ as we unwrapped our custom table and placed it in its proud position in the living room. And then there was silence.

My husband ran to his toolbox and came back brandishing a level. He placed it on the glass top and everyone, all twenty of us, including the delivery guy, watched the little bubble floating in the level, finally settling to the far right of center.

“This table is not level,” my husband pronounced. 

The delivery guy, still astonished by the level, muttered under his breath, “In my life, I have never seen such a thing.” That is, until the proverbial table leg hit the fan.

“I am not paying for this,” my husband yelled, repositioning the level. “Take it back.”

The delivery guy scrambled and called his boss. There was an exchange of words and numbers. The food was getting cold and the conversation was getting hot.

Vexed, my husband proclaimed, “The owner wants me to pay in full and says he will pick up the table later and then fix it. Am I a fryer?”

Before we knew it, the owner jumped in his car and was making a beeline to our house. Dinner was on the table and was cold. The driver was sitting on our stairs nervously looking at the level and then at the crowd. I was looking at the driver and wondering if I should set a place for him at the table. The table sat in its corner looking despondent and crooked.

We ate and drank. The delivery guy refused our offers to join us, preferring to sit on the stairs and becoming more despondent than the table…until there was an abrasive knock on the door.

Two brothers descended on our merry party and then all twenty-three of us watched the bubble on the level as it pondered, then positioned itself off-center.

The brothers conferred. We added our two bits and then they asked for our tools. Our tools? Were they not master furniture makers?  Was this not a custom piece? Are tables supposed to be sloped?

By the time we finished dessert, they invited us for a demonstration. It was a refurbished table that was, lo and behold, straight. The brothers beamed. The delivery guy caressed the table. We all nodded in assent as if this were the most innovative table that ever was. As Einstein once said, "A table, a chair, a bowl of fruit and a violin; what else does a man need to be happy?” 

The brothers carefully counted every hundred shekel bill, paid the poor, starving, depraved delivery guy and left.

Amidst the chaos, I did not mention that the color was wrong. Completely. I had given them a brown floorboard to match the wooden shelf. They had told me over the phone that the color was perfect, then returned the brown floorboard with a black table. Details. Perhaps Israel should invest some research into color blindness.

Although this country seems to have its head soaring high in the academic clouds, its shoes are often worn on the wrong feet.

April 5, 2013

Two New Heroes

Sometimes life arrives in ‘themes.’ These are events or circumstances that may seem random but are indeed related as they deliver a distinct message. This week, ‘courage’ was the operating word.

On Tuesday morning, I opened my email and read the most amazing story written by a friend who delivers organic fruits, vegetables and farm fresh eggs. She drives once a week to the Shomron to pick up produce from various farmers and has become quite close to the families who live there. Many of them are Israel’s frontier people. They live very simple, rural lives. Many families live in caravans and many of them are farmers. Their spirit reminds me of the pioneers who settled North America’s ‘New World’ some 200 hundred years ago.

This is not the pastoral, peaceful life that many farmers in other countries enjoy. These people dream of the day when they will live without fear, but until that day arrives, they till the rocky, unforgiving terrain while being surrounded by many hostile neighbors.

Last Monday night, when all of us were comfortably sitting at our Seder tables, leaning to the left while munching on matzah, ladling steaming chicken soup and singing ‘Mah Nishtanah,’ a woman went into labor. This was not her first child and as a seasoned doula, birth was not a fearful process. So she put down her spoon, left her husband and children singing at the table and went to her room in her caravan. She delivered a baby boy herself, cut the umbilical cord and returned to the table to finish the Seder. Now that’s courageous on a level that most of us will never experience.

My friend went to the bris this week and shared these photos with me.

On Wednesday night, courage was back and this time I witnessed it first-hand. My husband and I had heard of a lonely man who was lying in a hospital bed nearby our town. We had never met him and decided to pay a ‘bikur cholim’ visit. When we arrived at his hospital room door, we were greeted by a smiling man with bright blue eyes. He lay in bed with a blue hospital gown and with a gentle voice, he told us a story that made my heart and soul sink.

He said he had been admitted to the hospital in November to have a large kidney stone removed. He came from Tsfat in the north and since this was a regular procedure, he expected to be away for a few days. He entered the hospital vibrant and walking. He will be returning home in a wheel chair. Something with the epidural went terribly wrong and we woke up from the surgery paralyzed from the waist down.

We were shocked. Incensed. And then he told us the story became worse. He was then moved to a rehabilitative hospital to learn how to live as a paraplegic. Fairly new to Israel, he had recently moved to Tsfat and knew few people. He was far away from his home in the US and so he spent most of his time in his hospital bed alone with his thoughts.

He then started having intense stomach pain. The doctors dismissed his complaints, saying it was normal for people in his condition. The pain became so intense, her told the doctors he was going to call the police if no one helped him. And so he was transferred by ambulance to another hospital where the shocked doctors discovered gangrene in his intestine. They did not think he would survive and was rushed into surgery.

He made it and is miraculously recovering from this surgery. We felt such sadness. And then he told us of more misfortune. He had been robbed. Helpless, alone, an invalid, he was robbed while asleep. Someone stole his cell phone, his only connection with the outside world. Lying in a hospital bed with no ability to connect with the outside world, he could not get a new phone or SIM card. And he knew no one in the area who could help. So he sat alone; alone with his thoughts, cut off from the world, side tracked from his dreams. He thought and he wrote and he adjusted to this new reality. And he worked on healing his inner pain.

We were speechless. And then he said he was robbed again. This time, while he was in the shower, someone snuck into his room, making off with his wallet. His identification, credit cards, health card and the last of his cash (bus money he had been keeping to go home) were gone. And the crook even took his Nike running shoes.

He told us this tale without tears. His tone was not bitter, but very matter-of-fact. He has accepted what has happened and simply wants the energy to go on with this new chapter in his life. He will develop upper body strength and will learn how to navigate in a wheel chair. He said he has worked on himself, journalled and drawn strength from deep places. He has spent many days and nights completely alone in this world. He simply wants to go home and be in his garden.

They told him he could go home in August and he held onto this date in his mind. Until yesterday.

When he was transferred back to the rehabilitative hospital, they discovered he had blackened bedsores that the nurses had not tended to. He could not learn to use his wheelchair yet. He would have to wait and heal yet again. Maybe September. Maybe then he can return to his home in Tsfat and sit in his garden. Here is the epitome of hope, positive thinking and courage.

Today, a woman cradles her newborn son in a caravan somewhere in the Shomron; and a man lies in a hospital bed and forges new dreams. I have two new heroes.