October 27, 2015

Middle East or Middle Ages?

Anyone have a snorkel mask? My street after the storm. 
It’s been one of those days when I am reminded that I live in the Middle East, or perhaps some third-world country. It all starts with wind and rain. In fact, it always starts with wind and rain.

Every winter, there is wind, rain, often followed by a fierce storm. Frozen golf balls drop from the sky, the wind whips off branches and the water level rises. What was minutes ago a soft sunny day soon looks like devastation. Sewers overflow. Streets are flooded. The power goes out. Trees fall onto cars and poles fall onto streets.

And then the chaos begins. Stores sit in darkness. People sit in traffic. Cars sit in the middle of intersections. Drivers sit on their horns.

So if this happens every time there is a fierce rainstorm, why does the power go out for hours and hours everywhere? Why does my cell phone network not work for an entire day? Why must I lose my lifeline to Waze, and be shoved into a traffic nightmare? (If Waze had worked, it may have warned me that it would take three hours to go five kilometers and I would have nestled up with my daughter and some cookie batter.) And, why are there never policemen to guide traffic through gnarled intersections?

So if this happens whenever there is a storm, why then did I get behind the wheel?  Did I really have to drive my daughter to school? She could have stayed home and baked cookies. Unlike thousands of Israelis sitting in the dark, we actually had electricity this time.

But I did get behind the wheel and was inspired when I saw one traffic light working. I carried on, edging on into what soon became an asphalt can of crushed sardines.

I inched my way as four lanes lanes merged into three and trucks merged into cars, and three lanes merged into two and sedans morphed into ATVs, trying to navigate side walks and building sites.

I could not see what was causing this traffic jam but it was too late to turn back. I put the car into park and sat. My philosophical daughter sat and read to me how Siddhartha, later known as the Buddha, found tranquility in chaos. I inched along, and as she read about Siddhartha sitting under the Bodhi tree, drivers sat on their horns.

“Why are they honking if no one can move? What will that solve?” I asked, interrupting her enlightenment.

“Because they cannot contain their frustration,” my daughter said wisely, reading about on about the path to tranquility.

We soon saw that all the traffic lights were out in this part of Kfar Saba, plunging frustrated horn honking Israelis into intersections that soon became parking lots.

I tried to relax, and as I turned off the main road and found myself in yet another p’kuk (traffic jam), I told my daughter that this was enough and we were abandoning ship. I parked the car at the side of the road and decided to walk the rest of the way to her school in the pouring rain. My daughter, now in a blissful state of serenity, happily followed as we tried to navigate past fallen trees that blocked the sidewalk.

Ynet news flashed across my phone: “No electricity since 9am. We have returned to the Dark Ages.”

When we finally arrived at her school, I put on her running shoes and decided to run home. Anything is better than driving, I reasoned. The car could wait for another day.

And so I ran through deep puddles and was sprayed by passing cars. As the rain pummeled my face and I scraped by fallen trees, I felt liberated as I was actually moving faster than everyone else.  I breathed deeply and enjoyed the process of eliminating my pent up frustration and finding my own path to tranquility.

When in the middle of the chaotic Middle East, one must find a their own way to a bodhi tree.

Postscript: I woke up at 5am the next day to retrieve my abandoned car. The streetlights were still out along the roads and the traffic lights stared blankly at me. At least there was no traffic, but soon enough, commuters would be honking and enraged.

Take me to my Bodhi tree...
There are still 50,000 homes and businesses without electricity. Half of our street has been without power for 36 hours so far. Apparently it is mostly due to a dispute between the government and the Israel Electrical Company. No doubts. This is the Middle East.

October 26, 2015

Strength in Compassion

Israelis are resilient. 

The day after the terror attacks, flags were draped on the two sites of the stabbings in Ra’anana. 

The colorful Na Nachs' truck rolled along the main street, its enthusiastic passengers jumping out to sing and twirl.

My son’s school walked over to the nearby beit café where three people were stabbed. 

The boys formed a circle and danced, clapped and sang. 

Many of the schools across the country prayed simultaneously for the healing of the victims of terror.

This is in sharp contrast to our enemies, who scream death and wiled knives from their religious pulpits, run at Israeli children with sharp blades and teach toddlers that heroism means being murderous.

A chuppa at the sea.  Our future continues.
The Jewish people here in Israel are compassionate and strong, determined to live a fulfilled life in the land they love. They act with joy, kindness, hope and prayer and they worship life, not death. They are resilient.

I went for a bike ride to the beach a few days later. Unfortunately, there are still attacks happening; yet Israelis will not hide indoors. 

As words cannot capture the vitality of Israeli life, these two photos express the zest to live each moment fully.

October 14, 2015

Resilience in Ra'anana

Terror hit Ra’anana yesterday. At nine in the morning, a man was stabbed while waiting for a bus on Ahuza, the city’s main street. Within minutes, ambulance sirens were wailing, cell phones ringing, our concerned kids calling to check if we were ok. 

Helicopters hovered just above the palms. We did not yet have the full story but as the day unfolded with another stabbing incident at a Ra’anana café less than two hours later, life became surreal. Scary.

We soon found out that the first incident happened right outside our friend Marina’s clothing store. As soon as it occurred, a regular middle-aged guy, ran out from his office with an umbrella and bashed the assailant down against the curb. Really hard. He did not think twice. He simply reacted with intuition, force and he saved lives.

At the café, the next assailant (a worker from the nearby Beit Levenstein Hospital) stabbed four people sipping coffee and ran. A cab driver saw him fleeing and instinctively veered into him to stop him. The guy somehow got up and kept running. A man on a motorcycle then ditched his bike, took off his helmet, jumped a fence and bashed the terrorist with his helmet. The cab driver caught up to him and together they captured him. Two more heroes who acted calmly, quickly and saved the day.

Meanwhile, in my son’s grade 11 chemistry class, a student who is trained with Magen David Adom (emergency first aid response team) received a text message that there was a stabbing in the café about one hundred yards from the school. He calmly got up, left the class, grabbed his first aid kit that he kept in his locker, asked a friend to hoist him over the school fence (the schools were all on lock down yesterday) and was the first to arrive on the scene, saving a life. Another hero, this one a 16-year-old kid.

The roads of Ra’anana were clogged with drivers, parents picking their kids up from school.  There was talk that another terrorist was running around Ra’anana, right near my friend’s bookstore. She had locked her store door. People came pounding on the door wanting to be let in. One was a woman from Petach Tikvah who had been on Ahuza during the first stabbing and was now completely fearful. One was a young high school girl. 

The third was a young boy who said he was riding his electric bike when a guy threw himself at him with a knife. He sped away from the terrorist and now sat calmly. My friend was so amazed at how composed he was, she asked him if he was sure it was a terrorist. Yes, he said, the guy had a knife and shouted ‘allahu akbar.’

No sooner had the attacks occurred, I received an email about a free krav maga (street defense developed by the IDF) class that would take place in a few hours.  I went with my 14-year-old daughter and hundreds of others. The room was filled with young and old, English, French, Spanish, Italian and Hebrew speakers. 

It's almost impossible to own a gun here, pepper spray was quickly sold out today and we all wanted to know what to do. Word got around fast. The city did not organize anything so the locals took it into their own hands.

Rachel, a spirited, confident, gorgeous young woman took control of the class. Originally from Toronto, she is the daughter of my friend who owns the store where the first attack happened.  Rachel has a black belt in Karate and was recently a krav maga instructor in the IDF.  She knows her stuff. 

She first said we should not stay home afraid. We should go out with total awareness, knowing how to defend ourselves. Within one hour, she taught us basic self-defence tactics in multiple languages, giving us tips on how to fend off an attacker, giving precious time to run away.

One little girl who looked no older than six put up her hand. “What if he is bigger than me?”

“Pretend you are playing soccer,” Rachel answered, giving a strong kick to an imaginary guy in a place that would make him see stars.

People in this country continue to amaze me. They take control. They adapt. They continue to live.

Amir now walks the dog with a huge bicycle chain around his neck. My kids report back as soon as they arrive safely at school. My son took a knife with him this morning. In most countries, weapons are checked in at the door. Not here. And not now.

This is one resilient place filled with the most remarkable people.