Thursday, May 25, 2006

I'm leaving on a jet plane...

Don’t know when I’ll be back again… Actually, I do, but why ruin a good song?

It’s here. Finally. Tonight we get on a plane and wing ourselves across the world for a much-needed vacation. One whole month in the land of Starbucks (which is certainly not as good as Arcaffe, but will be more than adequate to meet my needs), super-sized meals and infinite wi-fi points, and I couldn’t be happier (though will forego the super-sized meals, aside from the all-you-can-eat Asian buffet that’s just a five-minute walk away). As much as I love my life in Israel, I do need to get away periodically in order to hold onto any remaining shreds of sanity that I have left. I’ve felt this way throughout my fifteen years in this country, this need to decompress, to lower the permanently high stress levels that accompany life here. And of course, I miss family and friends left behind, as well as an atmosphere that is naturally familiar instead of adopted.

One of the things I most look forward to will be watching my parents get to know my son and vice versa. Not yet two years-old (a fact that will change as of this coming Sunday, hence our need to fly before having to pay toddler airline fares) and he already recognizes their voices on the phone and their faces from the pictures on the refrigerator. It’s never the same as actually spending time together face-to-face, and I can’t wait for my parents to be able to share in my delight over the little one, from the smiles that light up his face to his rapidly increasing vocabulary to the way he often sings to himself, completely out of tune and mispronouncing most of the words, but still charming nonetheless.

We’ve got some great plans in the works for this trip. A few days in NYC, dinner out with dear friends for my birthday, trips to zoos and parks… My husband will also have the opportunity to go hiking out West with some friends, and I’m looking forward to attending my 20-year high school reunion, which should be a most interesting event indeed. I’ve been in touch with a number of old friends, many of whom, I haven’t seen for years. Our schedule for the Big Apple is rapidly filling up as all sorts of people are crawling out of the woodwork to come meet us – a relative busing up from Pennsylvania, a friend from California who will be there on business. Our days will be packed, and quite frankly, I can’t wait!

Oh, and did I mention the shopping? I rarely buy clothes in Israel unless I’m desperate, as the lengths and styles don’t suit me (or almost any other woman who doesn’t have the body of a tall, skinny teenage girl), so every trip to the US becomes an ongoing shop-athon, as we run from the outlet malls to the sales, pausing briefly at places like Macy’s to fill in the gaps. We usually return from our trips to the US with double the number of suitcases that we had with us when leaving Israel, all carefully packed to achieve maximum utilization of space. There will be clothes, shoes, books, toys, music, etc., - a virtual mobile shopping mall.

On the downside, I will have to do some actual work while I’m there, but it’s the least I can do since the powers that be are letting me escape for an entire month (and it almost didn’t happen do to a last-minute snafu, but I won out in the end). The upside of the downside (or at least it is for a geek like me) is that I managed to use this trip to persuade them that I should have a wireless card, something I’ve been gunning for since I was given my laptop on day one. I’m an internet junkie, and the very thought of being able to go online almost anywhere definitely makes my socks roll up and down. For various reasons, I didn’t manage to squeeze the card out of them until now, and as I see it, having to do a little work is a small price to pay. Am I pathetic? Never mind, don’t answer. I know I am. But you know what? I don’t care! And do you know why? Because I’ve got wireless! Naah naah na na naaah!

Okay, before I degrade myself any further (and believe me, I can go a lot further!), I’m going to cut this short. I’ve still got a few things to do before skipping out of the office, stopping to buy a book for the trip (though I’m guessing that my attempts to read while my son is conscious will be futile, so maybe just a magazine) and running home to finish packing (making sure there’s enough time set aside to argue with my husband about why I have to bring “so many” pairs of shoes (four, I think – will buy more there) and pants (five or six, I’m not too sure)). I also get jittery before a trip, and today is no different, so if I can reduce the stress by getting home early, so much the better (although I believe that today is Sushi Thursday, so I will at least stay through lunch…). Plans are to keep blogging while I’m away, though I don’t know how frequently, and obviously the posts will probably be less Israel-related than usual (though equally entertaining, I hope).

As the little one would say, “See ya!”

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Commuting for Dummies

During the course of my days, I often find myself asking the same questions over and over again. So befuddled am I by people's habits and actions, that all I can do is ask why? Driven to the point of frustration (usually a short drive for me), I've decided that the time has come to share just a few of my Frequently Asked Questions, in no particular order. Many of them have to do with train/train station behavior, as this is when I tend to do most of my observing.

  1. Why do people feel that it's acceptable to listen to every ringtone on their cell phones while sitting on a packed train? - It's bad enough having to listen to cell phones that are actually ringing all the time because someone is calling, let alone having to put up with the fool who thinks that we all want to hear "Take on Me" in the often-indistinguishable language of "ringtonese". Don't be surprised when someone rips your cell phone from your hand and throws it out the train window into a field somewhere, and don't be surprised if that person is me.

  2. And speaking of cell phones, don't people care that they are sharing personal details with the entire train carriage/bus/service taxi/etc.? - Frankly, I do not want to know about your evening plans. I do not care about what Lilach said to Tomer, nor do I need to know how Tomer responded. I'm not interested in what happened at your workplace, and I can certainly do without knowing that you are having trouble with sewage pipes and that it's causing your house to smell like a cesspool. Oh, and while I don't have a problem to discuss medical issues, I really don't need to hear about yours. Thanks for sharing, but no thanks.
  3. Good for you for choosing to take the stairs instead of the escalator, but is it really necessary for you to walk in the middle of the stairs so that no one can get by, studying your cell phone intently while you creep along, keeping those of us with more important things to do from reaching our destinations? - Think of the stairs and escalators like a highway. Choose one lane and stick to it. If you're gonna go slow, please stay in the right lane, and let those of us who are clearly more aware of the outside world than you are get to the top or bottom before it's time to turn around and head in the other direction.
  4. Those of you who suddenly stop in place while walking in a crowded area – why? – Are you not aware of the fact that people are all around you, all trying to move forward? Do you not realize that not only will people crash into you, but also into each other as they try to move around you. Seriously, what’s it like in your world, where only you exist?
  5. And for those of you who like to stop in place, is it really necessary to do it as soon as you step off the train? - Do you not realize that you’re causing a traffic jam for those of us still trying to get off? Think, people, think!
  6. You’re going through a turnstile – not one of those that you’ve got to pop your train ticket into in order to enter or exit, but those big ones that you go through when entering or leaving the station itself, that usually only turn in one direction and have additional metal slats that keep you from circling all the way around. You know, the ones you’d secretly like to climb up and swing through like a kid if no one was watching. There are people behind you, entering each little cubicle area so that they, too, may enter or exit the station. We’re all walking through at the same pace. Why do grab one of the bars to stop the turnstile so that you can step out? Are you an idiot? – Seriously, do you not realize that by stopping this miracle of efficiency that you are causing three other people to get smacked from top to bottom with metal bars? Oh, and to the ultra-Orthodox guy who actually joined me in that very small space, what the hell was going through your mind, and how did you manage to not break purity laws by not accidentally touching some part of my body? Neat trick!
  7. Those of you waiting to get on the train. Do you really think you’re going to get to your destination more quickly if you push your way on while people are still trying to get off? Do you think you’ll lose your edge if you step aside so that those attempting to step down can actually get off the train? – As long as you don’t let me get off the train, I’m not letting you get on. I’ll go to the next stop if I have to, just to complete that mission and see you suffer, you aggressive little shit. I’ll let you in on a little secret. I’m actually crazier than you are, and I’ll bet my fuse is shorter. Don’t try me, buddy. Inconveniencing myself just to put you in your place would make my day.

And people say train travel is boring…

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Sign the Petition to Free Alaa!

Please sign the petition demanding the release of Egyptian blogger Alaa Abd El-Fatah from an Egyptian prison.

When Blogging isn’t Just a Hobby

Despite what many people in the world think about Israel these days, I am very thankful to be living in a country where free speech is something we take for granted and do not have to think about. We cannot be arrested or prosecuted for voicing opposition to the government or the state, the newspapers are not mouthpieces for the nation’s ruling class, and as bloggers, we can essentially write whatever we want without official repercussions. So we blog, writing whatever comes to mind, whether it be about our personal lives, current events, or our opinions regarding government policies and actions. If we so choose, we do not have to hide behind anonymous identities, nor do we have to fear for our safety when making our opinions known.

We are the lucky ones. In many neighboring countries, the right to free speech that we take for granted here in Israel is a scarce entity indeed, with bloggers being forced to look over their shoulders as they write, often blogging anonymously, knowing that their views will be less than popular with the party in power. Those who choose to blog without cloaking their identities are courageous individuals, brave souls who are prepared to suffer the consequences for the “crime” of supporting democracy and freedom of speech. These bloggers deserve our support, and we cannot remain passive when one of our “brethren” is silenced.

This is the case with Egyptian blogger Alaa Ahmed Seif al-Islam, who was recently arrested by Egyptian police during a peaceful pro-democracy demonstration along with 47 other individuals (including six bloggers), and is being detained for 15 days. A campaign to have him released from an Egyptian prison has been started by a number of bloggers, and is being chronicled on Free Alaa! (the blog). This incredible travesty of justice being carried out by the Egyptian government to specifically target vocal pro-democracy supporters should be a wake-up call to all who value free speech and democratic ideals.

In addition to the Free Alaa! site, many other bloggers have taken it upon themselves to spread the word to their readers worldwide, with one of the more prominent bloggers being the Egyptian Sandmonkey, who explains how you can make your views known to the Egyptian government. This post on Global Voices Online describes the Google Bombing technique being used by bloggers in order to publicize the Free Alaa! site, and is definitely worth a look.

Please take the time to help Free Alaa and all other pro-democracy supporters who are rotting away in Egyptian prisons. Show the Egyptian government that the world will not – indeed, cannot – remain silent in the face of such injustice.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

The A-Z Meme

Oy. Tagged again, this time by Ra'anana Ramblings. Here we go...

Accent: When I speak English, I've got an American accent. When I speak Hebrew, it's mostly an Israeli accent (after a lot of practice!), but I'll never get those "reshes" quite right!

Booze: I like anything that doesn't taste like alcohol! Baccardi Breezers, liquers, wine coolers (remember those?), etc. Favorite drink has always been the Amaretto Sour.

Chore I Hate: I don't even know where to begin with this one! I suppose I could say helping my husband file business and household paperwork. I dread it!

Dogs/Cats: Dogs. Definitely dogs (sorry, Cathy!). Ours is 14 years old!

Essential Electronics: The more the merrier!

Favorite Perfume/Cologne: Don't wear any. Don't like any. Don't know any.

Gold/Silver: Silver.

Hometown: Northeast Bumblefuck, USA.

Insomnia: Sometimes.

Job Title: Mommy and Technical Writer.

Kids: 2 (1 living, 1 deceased)

Living Arrangements: Penthouse apartment.

Most Admired Trait: Errr... I'm not very good at questions like this one, but NRG has demanded thoughtfully suggested the following:

Sense of humor
Undying and unwavering loyalty and support to friends

To which I responded:

See, you could write those things about me, but if I did it, it would sound cheesy.

To which she retorted:

No, not cheesy... honest... you never have been one to toot your own horn, have you? You can fill it in and say that others answered for you!

Which is essentially what I've done...

Number of sexual partners: Hey, none of your business, you nosy people! :-)

Overnight Hospital Stays: Far too many!

Phobia: Heights, public speaking

Quote: Courage is facing the fear and then doing it anyway...

Religion: Jewish atheist.

Siblings: 1

Time I usually wake up: Between 6 and 6:30 during the week, hopefully later on the weekends, depending on the little one.

Unusual Talent: Nothing comes to mind (I'm not terribly talented. Sorry!)

Actually, NRG just pointed out (it's been a rather lengthy exchange...) that I'm a whiz at online medical research. I suppose that's unusual...

Vegetable I refuse to eat: Beets in any shape or form.

Worst Habit: I'm a serious procrastinator!

X-Rays: Many.

Yummy Foods I make: Salmon, Ghormeh Sabzi, Steak and Guinness Pie, Crab Cakes. Not much of a cook, I'm afraid.

Zodiac Sign: Gemini.

Instead of actually tagging specific people this time, I'm just going to throw out a general invite for anyone who feels like answering, whether it be on their own blogs or here in the comments section. Go for it, people!

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Haydad for Culture!

Language and culture are powerful tools that allow us to express who we are and where we come from. It’s important to remember one’s roots, no matter where we find ourselves in the world, for parents to pass traditions and languages down to their children. My father’s first language is Yiddish, and to this day, I am sorry that he didn’t think to pass it on to me. It is the language that he spoke with his parents (and the language that my grandfather would switch to in later years when he was telling a joke that he felt was inappropriate for us kids and my mother to hear), and it was the lingua franca of his youth. Yiddish is a language rich in culture and history, yet in years to come, the only ones who will speak it will be the ultra-Orthodox, many of whom continue to use it on a daily basis, preferring to preserve Hebrew as a language to be used only in prayer.

Despite knowing only a few words of Yiddish (and by a few, I mean that I can probably count them on one hand, two at the most), I am well aware of my family’s history. I’ve heard the stories of how my paternal grandfather ran away from the Russian army and how my grandmother rescued him from a firing squad. I know that they spent time in Argentina on their way to the United States. I know how poor my father was growing up (he always likes to say that he doesn’t have a middle name because his parents couldn’t afford to give him one), yet I know that he still had a mostly happy childhood. My mother, on the other hand, had a typical American childhood – growing up in Brooklyn (with both of her parents having been born in the US as well), going to summer camp with her sister and cousins, vacations, etc. Unlike my father’s family, my mother’s family did not have financial problems due to a number of reasons, a primary one being the familial connection to one of New York City’s preeminent department stores of the mid-20th century.

But I digress. Language and culture. Fast-forward to today, as we raise our son, trying to instill in him knowledge of his family’s past. Thanks to his parents, he is a Persian-American Israeli, and a first-generation sabra to boot. We are speaking to him only in English so that he will feel equally comfortable in both English and Hebrew, and our “work” is paying off for us so far, as even though Hebrew has begun creeping into his growing vocabulary, English is his primary language. On the other end of the spectrum, however, we want him to know that he is also Persian, and to this end, we have taught him (so far) how to count to ten in Farsi (which he does in both English and Hebrew as well). We are slowly introducing a few other words in Farsi as well, for even though his identity as a Jew, an American and an Israeli will most likely deny him the opportunity to ever enter the country where his father was born (yep, Jews born in Arab or some Muslim countries are being denied their right of return – let’s save this subject for another post, shall we?), we feel that it’s important for him to understand and be proud of his Iranian roots. He already loves rice, and I’m hoping that one of these days he will enjoy the only Persian dish I know how to make – Ghormeh Sabzi. We will pass on the stories told to us by Danny’s parents and uncles about life in Iran when things were good, introduce him to Persian food (excellent, and highly recommended!), and hopefully do our best to make him familiar with the language.

In the meantime, we’ll concentrate on the counting. After only a week or so, he’s already quite good. One of us will throw the first number at him – yek. He responds with “doe” (two). Somebody throws in “seh” (three), and we continue this way, alternating up to ten. Ten is “dah”, which the little one always follows up with a rousing, cheerful, “haydad!”, which means “hurray!” in Hebrew. And he can almost say “sabzi”, even though he refuses to eat it, so we are making some progress. If we play our cards right, we’ll have one fabulously multi-cultural kid on our hands. Haydad!

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Holidays in the Land of the Extreme

In just under one hour's time, the state of Israel will come to a standstill for two minutes, and the only sound we will hear will be the melancholy wail of a siren, reminding us that today we mourn. We mourn for our fallen soldiers, and we mourn for those killed in terror attacks. Israeli television programming is dedicated to the fallen, with a continuous run of personal stories of those who have fallen, and those they left behind. Songs on the radio are sad and beautiful, songs of love and loss, of young lives cut short before their time. One can't help but be swept up in this wave of national mourning, especially given that nearly everyone knows someone who has been killed, or someone who knows someone, etc. You get the picture. It is a loss that is tangible and current, and the wounds are very much open, far from healed.

Following Holocaust Remembrance Day, I got into a brief discussion with another blogger, as we wondered whether our native-born counterparts felt as emotional upon hearing the siren as we did, as immigrants who had chosen to make Israel our home. Sadly, we came to the conclusion (following conversations with the native Israelis in our lives) that we, as people who had not grown up with the siren, were more moved emotionally. Now that we've reached Memorial Day for Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terror, I wonder if today's siren is felt differently, if our young Israelis are more moved by the symbolism of an event that touches them personally, as opposed to the siren of Holocaust Remembrance Day, which marks an event that for many Israelis, is a historical event.

One of the most interesting facets of this day, though, is the switch. The switch that we will make this evening, as Israel transitions straight from deep sadness into pure, unadulterated joy. Within moments, Memorial Day turns into Independence Day, and the celebrations for Israel's 58th year as an established state begin. Fireworks, festivities and happy pandemonium take over the country from North to South, as each city and town tries to outdo not only its own previous celebrations, but also those taking place in other towns. Singing and dancing, free concerts and performances, children and teenagers happily running through the streets with their friends… Only in our land of extremes could such a transition of emotions be possible.

And yet, I can't help but wonder about the families of the fallen. Do they make the transition as well? How is it possible to be mourning the loss of a child, a parent, a spouse, a sibling in one moment, and celebrating our independence the next? I can't even imagine being able to do such a thing. I question whether it is wise to mark these events so close together, whether the mourning on one day makes the next day even more unbearable, as you are once again left alone with your pain while everyone around you has moved on. When we mark the day of our first son's passing, whether or not we actively mark the day, I am careful never to schedule a joyful event on that day or the next, whether it be dinner out with friends, a concert or show. I don't do it. I can't. All this for a child who was with us for less than seven months. How do these parents do it, after losing a child who's been with them for so much longer? How do they make the switch? Strong people they must be.

In any event, we will be quietly celebrating this evening, barbecuing on our porch with He (my blogging partner) and family, watching the fireworks with our children as our dog cowers in our shower, shaking uncontrollably as he waits for it all to be over, as tradition dictates (which will inevitably be followed by weeks where he will refuse to go out after dark for his evening walk, afraid that the fireworks and other loud noises will catch him unprepared out in the open). Tomorrow, if all goes according to plan, while every other Israeli will be outside searching for a few blades of grass on which to start their barbecue (I've seen people barbecue here on traffic islands), I will be comfortably ensconced on my couch (sans bird), watching Israeli films from the 60s and 70s and running around the house after the little one, who has no need for such traditions, despite the fact that he's a first-generation native-born Israeli. Whatever happens, yihyeh tov (it will be good).


And here's a little post-siren update. I ended up getting roped into a conference call with some of the folks from work. When the siren started, I could hear the scraping of chairs all around, and then all went quiet as we stayed on the phone, each standing silently in their respective locations (with me silently praying that my dog, who was laying on the floor behind me, would not start to howl, as he sometimes does in these circumstances). Once the siren ended, we went back to our meeting without skipping a beat. Only in Israel, I think.