Thursday, December 29, 2005

Kindness of Strangers

I wasn't really going to write about the latest, little health bump that cropped up because giving the impression of frailty and ill health is not attractive,now is it? But relaying this teensy anecdote necessitates divulging the continuing saga of "I Returned to the Mother Land to Fall to Pieces".

The long and short of it: Went to the eye doctor to upgrade my glasses. Knew that I've needed it for some time - tiredness in one eye and feeling like it gets red and irritated after writing - but was putting it off for my return to "socialized medicine haven"...

Well it ain't such a haven after all because after being taken off the medical treatment waitlist in November, I've been magically returned to non-gratis, treatment status meaning I don't pass GO or collect $200.

And that's a bummer because the eye doctor found glaucoma in the eye that had been bugging me. He also found, when he ran my medical card, that I'm not entitled to discounted treatment. And, of course, glaucoma ain't cheap to treat what with retail prices running at $50 per wee vial of eye drops (I need two kinds), doctor's visits at around $100 (saw him three times this week) and vision field tests at $100. With coverage, the visits, meds and tests would ALL run for probably $30-40 MAX.

So you know what my doc did? We're pals now, by the way, Dr. Deutsch and I - he said he'll see me free of charge until my socialized plan kicks back in around March because "as a doctor, I have to see you"...

And Doc D. isn't exactly the second string: he's a SPECIALIST with a cushy office in a swanky part of Tel Aviv with a forever packed waiting room. Of course, seeing me a la carte for a month or two versus now having a guaranteed patient for the next 4-5 decades - because this little eye nuisance won't be disappearing - is a clever calculation. But that's my cynicism rearing its head again.

I don't ever remember having a swank/posh/specialist let alone a routine doc (my father doesn't count) offer anything similar in the past...Pretty cool, huh?

And about the eye thing: It's hereditary and creeps up silently so check to see if it runs in your family and if so, get your eyes tested. And, as my brother joked, try not to fall down the stairs and break a hip in the process.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Pub Treats

Several days ago while walking Atticus the Wonder Dog on a brisk, pre-dawn Saturday, I noticed a sign on the window of one of our popular, neighborhood pub/cafe's:

From Sunday to Sunday, starting at 9 p.m. each night, Hannuka Menorah lighting and donuts here at the Pub!

Being of paranoid persuasion, my first thought was: Where's the catch? Do I have to buy something?

But then, reflecting on the type of place this pub/cafe' is - neighborhood hang out, young and cool yet laid back crowd, warm and friendly, cozy, tea lights adorning each table - I decided there was no catch. The intent of pulling people together for the holiday was probably genuine.

So in order to check it out firsthand without feeling like the weirdo, neighborhood lady showing up for free entertainment with a limping dog, I used my small child as decoy. After all, an adult with 4-year-old in tow wanting to partake of Hannuka festivity and get a complimentary donut for his/her kid is oh so legit, no?

The ploy worked. The minute the attractive, dark haired bartender, and chic-esqua server with bleached out, clipped hair and midriff baring, hip hugger jeans saw Monsieur Raphael in his Spiderman costume, they gushed.

How would Spiderman like to light candles tonight? they asked. Pyromania runs in the family. Yes, please. Then, with a wee bit of prompting from mommy, my little angel batted his eyelashes and shamelessly asked: "Can I have a donut too?" Such finesse.

Because the idea of a 4-year-old sidled up to the beer tap for candelabra lighting doesn't send people here shrieking over the invariability of a later-in-life alcoholic tendency, we were permitted to gather 'round Rapha on his bar stool, sing songs, light the lights and partake of confections.

There was no catch to the evening and no one even asked to see Rapha's ID (everyone knows Spiderman costumes don't have pockets). The 2nd night of Hannuka presented one of the simple but very nice perks of living here: Pop downstairs to the corner pub to enjoy the holiday with the neighbors..

Saturday, December 24, 2005

HLC Christmas

So here we are in Tel Aviv, Holy Land Central (HLC) and it's Christmas. Ya wouldn't know it from the windows, homes and shops barren of the hype and hoopla so commonly connected with this time of year...But fear not! We here at Stefanella's Drive Thru created a holiday all our own in our little enclave (nope, not a manger)

No, I haven't been reading up on joining the Abbey and I haven't embarked upon a Seven Sacrament Mission... As it happens, Tonny is not a member "of the tribe" so wouldn't it be sad and unfair to ignore his holiday needs?

Yes indeed. So Christmas Eve (yesterday) at our house looked like this:

Steph slaving away over the stove all day to prepare traditional, Danish menu items (hint: Tonny hails from a Scandinavian country):

- Apricot/honey glazed Roasted Duck
- Boiled Potatoes with Bechamel Sauce
- Mixed greens with balsamic vinaigrette
- Dessert of Rice Pudding topped with cherry sauce
- Red wine - the cheap stuff not from Vintner Steph's Reserve Collection
- Sorry, no Acquavit schnapps

I jest - the preparation was surprisingly easy. But here's a tip, my culinary pals: you think latkes are greasy? Try duck on for size. Once a year is quite sufficient for this INCREDIBLY fatty bird.

So our day was a lazy one what with the wind and pouring rain outside. We cranked up the heat, piped in Internet, radio Christmas tunes and connected the fairy lights left up since Rapha's November birthday and VOILA! It was like being in Christian-dome if you looked at the room through squeezed eyelids and ignored the menorah on the shelf and the Hannuka decorations on the walls.

After eating our fill, we rested, anointed ourselves in bathtub ritual and then headed up to Jaffa where all the churches in these parts live, for a "Christmas Choral Event"...

Allow me to interject: The only point in 11+ years of living in HLC that I've come close to attending any type of religious ceremony was way back in '95. Scene: Bethlehem Manger Square. Background: The first year of non-Israeli occupation in decades. Mission: I was a journalist covering a story that was pure bedlam and masses of jubilant participants. Recurring thought the entire evening: How in the heck will the taxi get me out of here with all these people in the streets? It didn't count as quiet, observational time.

Last night did. Immanuel Church is small and extremely modest - About 140 Germans, Israelis, Ghanains, Scandinavians and other assorteds showed up despite the downpour to sing organ accompanied Silent Night, Oh Little Town of Bethlehem and so on and partake of cake and coffee in the anteroom after the collection plate made its rounds. The pastor - Jan Mortensen, hailing from the same Scandinavian country as Tonny - was warm and looked kinda cute in his white, pastor's housedress with hood.

I admit that I was taken aback by parishioners reading snippets of Old Testament in HEBREW at the dais, by New Testament, messianic scripture on the pulpit wall in HEBREW and mostly by Pastor Mortensen delivering his sermon in HEBREW (cryptic, difficult to follow and a tenuous thread relating to Jesus as the messiah).

What's with all the Hebrew? Aren't these Lutherans from Europe with bleach, blonde children running between the pews? How did Hebrew get into the mix? You're associating the language with the religion, my father later commented when we discussed the issue. Perhaps. But it was most bizarre for me to hear Hebrew used while explaining Jesus as a savior...

But I had my fun. I would have to, no? I sang "Frankenstein" instead of "Frankincense" and did the off-key on purpose during hymnals...See, ma? I don't just do that stuff to embarrass you in front of Mrs. Goldfarb and Rabbi Greenfield.

To my friends, family and everyone everywhere: Whatever you celebrate, Do it Up!

I'm going downstairs to get a donut for Hannuka!

Friday, December 23, 2005

Lights Festival

Today I was pleased to realize part of the reason for moving back to Holy Land Central (HLC): Celebrating the holidays on my terms rather than forever being in the minority, smiling through gritted teeth as my child hums Christmas tunes and gushes over his preschool, Easter egg hunt. Yes, I'm all for diversity and learning about different cultures but we were definitely in danger of being "swallowed up" 'oer yonder in America what with my non-synagogue-going tendencies and a lacking involvement in the Jewish community.

So what a joy it was this morning to join 30 other sets of parents at Raphael's school in smashing our decidedly non-3-year-old toochases into minuscule, kiddie chairs to view an hour of song, dance and festivity featuring our little 'uns.

Very impressive was the put-on by teacher Orli. She blocked out all the windows with black construction paper, decorated walls with neon paint, erected black lights and handed the kids day-glo, party sticks. When the lights went out, I nearly broke into a San Francisco, Warehouse-Rave-flashback-sweat. The visuals were awesome, dude.

However, some of it was simply Not How I Learned It. Back in the U.S. of A., we were taught the phrase: "A Great Miracle Happened There" referring to the miracle of Hannuka; it's imprinted on the dreydls (spinning tops) we played with each season. Here in HLC, however, the saying goes: A Great Miracle Happened Here. Makes sense. After all, the Grecco-Syrians weren't over in Miami conquering Sheldon Cohen's condo.

But the first time I saw store display dreydls with the Hebrew stamps "here" rather than "there" I thought: Oh! Misprints! No wonder they're so cheap. The store owner was kind enough to set me straight.

As I attempted to follow along with today's program, I thought: Can Someone Teach Me the Tunes, please? The tykes were belting out songs about light, darkness, warriors and candleabras. I knew exactly 1.5 of the melodies despite a rather generous, Jewish upbringing. That's because we clearly got the watered-down version back in America. Dreydl, dreydl, dreydl, I made it out of clay... Okay, cut! Hand over a fiver, Dad, or I'm going over to Timmy Jones' house for spiked egg nogg and ham sandwiches

The finale ritual, however, more than made up for lacking, lyrics: jelly-filled, powdered donuts handed out to one and all. So sorry but the U.S. hallmark of this holiday - greasy, fried potato pancakes garnished with applesauce or sour cream - is such a turnoff! Do I really need the entire household, my clothing and hair to wreak of oil and onion? So the HLC way of celebrating - donuts filled with jelly, chocolate, dulce la leche or rum - is welcomed wholeheartedly, sisters and brothers.

I'm not going to lie: In a very tiny place I wouldn't mind going to an office party, hearing some "Let It Snow" elevator Muzak or watching commercials bearing images of glowing hearths and blinking trees. I lived it too long to ignore the culture altogether. But MAN is it nice to have donuts and menorahs and parties and celebrations marking MY holiday for a change!

Good Cheer To All!

Thursday, December 22, 2005

The Hand of the Law

So now that my son's friend Bumble-Age is rotting away in solitary confinement in imagi-jail-land, he has decided to turn his attentions towards my behavior.

Last night as I tapped away at the keyboard minding my own business, Raphael suddenly became enraged with (who knows?) what I was doing.

Eema ("Mom") this is just enough. It's time for you to go. I'm calling "them"

And off marches an indignant, 3-foot tall, herr dictatore to retrieve the telephone.

Police? Yes. Uhum. My Eema. (laugh, laugh) Oh really? Yeah. Okay.

What a nice repor my 4-year-old has developed with local law enforcement. I must remember to invite the squad for lunch sometime.

They're coming to get you, Eema. That's it.

What did I do? I ask sheepishly, already well aware of the answer.

I'd been sitting at the computer for an hour. At this point, his painting project had run dry, the terrorized kitten was hiding safely out of reach underneath the clothing cabinet, the super hero action figures had gone out back for a smoke break and I was breaching the pact: Boredom had crept in and I was NOT fulfilling my duty of doubling as Entertainment Center Extraodinaire.

Wanna sword fight? I suggested.

Magic. He called off the heat.

I was just kidding. The police aren't coming he grinned.

Great. Nice kid. Let's hope I never REALLY make him angry or Bumble-Age and I will be filing down spoons for weapons and bribing guards for prison blueprints

Monday, December 19, 2005

Imaginary Pals

I'm in the kitchen preparing Steph's Special Mac N'Cheese - "special" because it's my attempt at upgrading a 4-year-old palate to the culinary delights of fettucine tossed with sauteed garlic, broccoli, cream and gorgonzola - when said child enters the kitchen and announces:

Bumble-Age (pronounced "ahhh-jjj") is tied up under the sink. He's not nice. He does mean things. Where's the phone?

Not missing a beat but suspisciously eyeing the cabinet I tell him where to find the telephone and listen as he rings up "the police" from the living room. Finishing the conversation, he re-enters the gourmet room to inform:

The police are coming to get Bumble-Age.

And true to parallel universe form, the police arrive within a minute. Rapha opens the door, has a quick chat with the officers and thanks them before saying good-bye.

He's gone. Whew! Good thing because Belle-Age (also pronounced with the long, French "ahhh" and soft "g") is coming over to play and Bumble-Age is mean to her

The fact that my child has an imagination is fantastic. The fact that he gives his friends sophisticated, French sounding names is tres cool. The fact that there's more than one explains why he's in our bed every night - his must get crowded.

But the next bit sent me sailing to the computer to run Google, psycho-analytic searches:

You know, Belle-Age is really nice to me. She used to bring me bottles to my bed when I was a baby in San Francisco.

Like, Oh My God!!! How long have these two been around? Chills running down my spine, I'm thinking: Is this like the movies? Does Rapha see dead people?

I don't want to go there, really, because I've read my fair share of Jung's delvings into the supernatural and let's just say there have been sleepless nights with the lights on.

But no worries. According to this is a healthy and normal thing for a kid his age and points towards a propensity for creativity.

So I'm not worried. I ask occasionally about his two friends and as far as I know, they haven't been joined by a whole gaggle having parties or dipping into the liquor cabinet every night after lights out.

I especially don't have to worry, I guess, because as of last night Bumble-Age is still in the clinker and Belle-Age met with the terrible fate of falling off the Golden Gate Bridge and being consumed by sharks. She couldn't swim, Rapha reported with a shrug. Like the sharks would care.

To Be Continued....

Friday, December 16, 2005

About Drugs

FINALLY after a month of lying around wasting away (now how's THAT for drama queen, eh?) I'm feeling better from these pneumonia cooties. And I owe it all to the beauty of DRUGS... Lee Hsien Loong ain't got a clue.

Okay, I don't mean the illicit kind. Just straight up antibiotics. I'm not one to generally indulge in medication or drugs - don't like medicine and the latter..I've experimented plenty, thanks. Sort of past it. But with this protracted lung thing going on? Bring it on. Increase the amount of pills to six per day? Sure. Get me a glass of juice to swallow my cocktail with, please.

So now it's back to the world...s-l-o-w-l-y...Still get winded but at least I'll be out there. It feels good!

Which reminds me: Drugs aren't always ideal. Yesterday, walking down the street with Raphael, we both startle to see a man lying face down in the middle of traffic, vehicles merely maneuvering around him. After living in San Fran, I'm savvy to this stuff. He's wasted and passed out. But THIS is new. Walking past passed-out homeless people on the sidewalk, mid-downtown, Financial District, constantly. But in the middle of traffic?

When I loudly gasped: "Oh my God!" someone explained "He fell over"...Thanks for the rocket science. That I can see. But is anyone going to help him?

A brave soul stopped his car, got out and propped Mr. Wasted on his feet on the curb (for a few seconds until he dropped down to the sidewalk). Brave if only because street dwellers are generally covered in vomit, feces, disease, body lice and filth. And I admit: I could have helped this man just like I could have helped any number of struggling homeless people throughout the years. But I am lacking in this department. I can't get over my personal aversion to the smell of a urine soaked human being. I helped someone once but throughout the years have obviously become hardened. I dislike myself for it and I can't help it.

Much has changed in Israel, and within myself, indeed. This is despair of a different sort.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Closed For Christmas

Coming from an uber-commercial, industrialized mostly Christian nation, it's always a bit bizarre being in Holy Land Central around this time of year. Here we are a mere week and a half away from Christmas and at least from where I sit, there isn't a clue.

No shopping, no adverts, no lights, no trees, no ornaments, no caroling, no office parties, no egg nogg, no peppermint sticks, no shopping mall mob scenes, no Santas to be photographed with.

I, personally, don't mind seeing as I didn't grow up celebrating the holiday. I sort of vicariously, half partook one year while visiting the in-laws in Denmark but mostly it was peering from the side while they joined hands to dance around the tree and then ripping open my presents and pouncing on the ginger cookies.

Tonny, my husband, gets up to Jerusalem on a regular basis and says he hasn't seen anything up there either but then he isn't traipsing over to Manger Square to pet the barn animals, either.

It's a bit odd, when you think about it, especially considering that J.C. was a regular around these parts...I'm told that in Bethlehem and other Christian enclaves like Ramallah and Nazareth, there are fairy lights to be seen. What with my current pneumonia bout, however, I won't be traveling to either of those places to check out the scene.

All these years, I was certain relief would follow the escape from Christmas madness. But perhaps rote habit has created this feeling of, not exactly longing, just a sense of finding the missing glim and glam...odd.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005


Health is a pretty funny thing. We take it for granted when we have it and when we don't, boy do we pine for it. I know because for about a month now I've been struggling - and I REALLY do mean struggling - with pneumonia.

And while I cough spasmodically and treat the on-again-off-again fever, I think about the saying: "As long as you have your health..." Heck, I've thrown that one out over the years. "Was anyone hurt? Thank god. Your health is all that matters."
Uttered by rote. But never quite believing because if everyone truly is un-scathed in the disaster, then a certain smugness sets in and the wrecked vehicle, burnt photographs, stolen valuables, etc. take on meaning.

But for myself in the present, stopping during walks to gasp for air, a broken rib compliments of violent coughing, elusive sleep and painful movement of any kind bring to the fore the whole matter of health.

I find myself stealing peeks at elderly people using canes or walkers. Sharing a knowing glance and nod with my parkbench partner, both of us panting for breath. I watch people in wheelchairs for signs or clues of...I don't know what. I dramatically query my aging parents: "Is this what getting older is going to be like? Then kill me now!" (To which my father replies: "Cut the drama, Stephanie")

And sometimes I cry because I want to feel better. I want to ride my bike, I want to walk fast, to properly sword-fight with my son - not the current, pathetic markers for weapons with me seated in a chair duel. I want to sleep the night through without waking on the hour to cough...I WANT TO FEEL GOOD!!!

So grant me this moment of drama, if you will. My blog hasn't been funny or lively lately because I'm not feeling all that funny or lively and I apologize.

In the most Zen way possible, this must be teaching me about cherishing good health and appreciating it for as long as it graces my life and about appreciating that I'm lucky because for the most part, I have it and have had it...Now, I want it back.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Things I've Noticed

After being away from anything for ten, fifteen or more years - a person, hobby, vacation destination or home - the changes "the other" has undergone leap out preliminarily because the frozen image within the mind is simply outdated.

Accordingly, the first months and years upon re-entry are "fresh" ones. Impressions and mental images are sharp, crisp and clear but it's a limited time deal: Blurring sets in rapidly and once a daily routine develops, the images can dull and fade away altogether.

So before mine starts going fuzzy, how's about a few snapshots from the Steph Collection?

1) Everyone's Aged and Gained Weight!!. You run into old friends or meet them on purpose. You're feeling a bit anxious because over the years you've had a kid, put on a few pounds and that 20-something svelte is long gone. But criminy how the friend or acquaintance looks! You couldn't possibly have greyed that much or be protruding so prominently in the pooch, could you?....hmmmm.

2) Kudos to the Service Industry (sic). Okay so that's an anomaly here in Holy Land Central (HLC) but doing business with the young, with-it sales reps of Cellcom or talking to 012 tech support or Help lines? No different than being back in the U.S. of A. No lengthy waits in hold-hell listening to Musak, no indifferent clerks who discuss evening plans over the phone with boyfriends while you wait impatiently. It's efficiency without the mindless automaton, U.S. customer service voice. (Not everywhere, of course. For nostalgia's sake, stop by any government office)

3) Ha'Yarkon Park Promenade is Gorgeous. The entire upgrade from the promenade to the rowing club across the river, to the arching, wooden bridges adorned with fairy lights is simply lush. I feel like a character out of Zhang Yimou's Raise the Red Lantern whenever I walk or ride my bike alongside the willow graced, river banks.

4) I Still Have an Aversion to Jerusalem. Call me godless. But man is that city frenetic and full of zealot energy and I don't mean the Roman era kind (Oh am I gonna get it for that one, I can feel it already). Yes it is beautiful and for living, fascinating history can't be beat. But it has always been too intense for me so why would ten years within a few millenia make a difference? Silly me for being so self centered.

5) Israeli Women are Still Hot. I didn't make that up. The guys concur too. Ask Tonny (my husband). They dress to accent, show it off and certainly not to cover it up. And good on 'em is what I say. Why else have it, huh? That being said, however, there are higher numbers of heavy people around than in days past. Computers, sedentary lifestyles, comforts, high stress...Same stuff the world is grappling with.

6) Less Aggro. You just don't see the screaming and yelling that used to be sooooo commonplace. Sure it's around but somehow, it's more shocking nowadays. People turn around and stare. And when I've tried it on a few times, instead of a screaming match, I've been quickly leveled with a simple: "Don't talk to me that way if you want me to help you". Makes for quiet in the room very quickly.

7) Still Provincial. Sorry but...(I'm going to get it for that one too)

8) Men Have Come Out. Not only in the gay pride, boyfriends holding hands in public sense but also in the beauty bits. Strolling past Tel Aviv day spas, I've been pleasantly surprised at the sight of men getting manicures. Metro-Sexual is where it's at, gents!

9) Where are All the Palestinians? Funny what a decade of stalled talks, ill faith and bombings can do. They are not to be seen anywhere It's a little bit bizarre...On the other hand:

10) Marked Upsurge in the Asian Population They originally came to work and now they're settling down. This thrills me to no end having just transplanted from a near-50% Asian city. I'm fascinated with various cultures and cuisines so it's nice to know that the influence isn't far away.

11) Raised Animal Awareness Last time I was here, it was to work a stint on a goat farm. The owners actually instructed us to "throw rocks at them to get them to do what you want"..and as added insult, they would "teach the dogs a lesson" for stealing food from the kitchen by tying them to a fence in the blazing sun. THAT gig didn't last. How refreshing nowadays to see all of the men and women adopting animals and feeding the street cats.

12) She Still Got it Goin' On. Despite all this country goes through year after year, there's still a vibrant buzz. Sort of akin to my friend Karina saying she lives in Manhatten because It lights a fire underneath her ass. There's a spark of life and energy that's almost electric. Good thing because it's a positive element transplants to HLC site most often.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Where There's Smoke...

A few chapters back, I wrote about my sick child and my sick self battling over health rights at the local clinic.

As noted in my entry, the powers that be mysteriously waived my health insurance waiting period and lo and behold, I was granted coverage 6 months earlier than was my due. Hallelujah!

Since, the wee one has returned to near normal health following a VERY LOOOOONG week at home replete with the thrills and pleasures of fever, cough, copious nasal emissions and painful fever blisters.

While the young'un shed his illness, however, mine lingered. Pleasantries have included a hacking cough so violent that during one fit, I was forced to exit the toy store for several minutes until the coughing subsided. I thought my eyes would pop out. Phone talk (read: work, for a journalist) has been nearly impossible because the next coughing fit has been lying in wait to go full hack just as I'm mid-stream, phone conversation with, say, the Chinese Embassy press attache.

When the fever returned this week, I went to the doctor. "Congratulations," he said. "It's the same virus half the country has. Can't really treat it but you can take aspirin for the fever." He listened to my lungs, checked my throat and mentioned that this could last the entire season.

The entire season? Was he wasted? I'm barely talking to anyone because breathing is a chore, I've got chills and I'm treating a fever four times a day. If this goes "all season" point me towards the welfare office, please.

I knew something wasn't right. Particularly when, two days later, the hacking was so violent my eyes felt like popping again, my left side felt as if I'd mysteriously broken a rib, and I was on the phone at 3 a.m. to my physician parents in Cincy to get their input and also to stay awake because lying down produced coughing spasms and more pain.

Off to a different doctor. X-rays, blood work, EKG. Diagnosis? Pneumonia.

Hello and welcome antibiotics. I do not wish pneumonia on anyone. This is my second rendezvous and it's painful, relentless and miserable.

Here's the deal: If you think you're sick and you don't believe what the doc doled out first time around? By God take yourself back for round two. This stuff can kill!

Which, on a different subject: Very horrible news from the U.S. this week. Makes my little cough appear trite: My cousin Dolores who's in her 70's died in such a freak accident it's crazy. She apparently drove her car into the garage adjoining her condo, left it running and died of asphyxiation. As my mother said, her children must be absolutely heartsick.

A wish of Good Health to all!

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Light at the Tunnel's End

For months now I've twisted my proverbial handkerchief in angst watching as my small monster - otherwise known as Raphael, my 4-year-old - suffers our move. From not knowing how to relate to the kids, to not having friends to disliking school to feeling left out because of lacking language skills, it has not been smooth sailing for him.

This week, however, Raph did a few things I haven't seen him do for some time: He sang to himself contentedly while dancing his way down the street and he ventured inside a cafe to ask for what he wanted rather than hiding behind my skirt folds.

I'm not saying we're clear and free - he still doesn't have a special friend just yet - but these small signs provide at least some respite.

Monday, December 05, 2005

On The Move

Whilst making plans to return to Holy Land Central (HLC), I googled, searched Foreign Ministry websites, queried Israelis on e-mail lists and generally put out feelers to glean as much information as possible about what to expect on the other end and how to best prepare for getting there. I wanted details on shipping, packing, school registration, apartments, health laws, costs of living, the job market and on and on and of course, a single entity couldn't address all of that.

Underlying the search lay the core, elusive question: Will I be happy & is this the right decision? - that, unfortunately, no one can answer; you'll ONLY find out after taking the leap. Isn't life fun that way?

I am, however, a great believer in the gut. If it feels right you know it. Believe and follow suit, brother. Hallelujah. If you're feeling depressed, agitated and angst-ridden, that ain't for nothing. Heed the call and retreat. Or at least duck and cover. Do what it takes.

That said, preparation for the big move is possible and advisable...So on the continued theme of "Stefanella Preach Week", once again, fresh off the pulpit, some of the most useful tips I can conjure for crossing the divide:

1) Plan in advance. Take a year, two years, whatever you think you need, unless you're 18 or a Tibetan Monk and all your worldly possessions fit compactly into a rucksack. Major moves require major planning

2) Save $$. There's no rule about how quickly work will be found but accrue enough to live half a year without just in case. How to estimate the budget? Tap into housing websites for rent figures and ask around on e-mail lists for monthly bill figures for your choice destination then get out the calculator

3) Avoid Relatives. Not literally, just the live-in part. Try to get a temporary or vacation flat, ESPECIALLY if you're a family, while you settle in. As it is, the pressure's going to be on. Do you really need to add to it by squeezing into the in-laws' place?

4) Get Rid of It!. Unless you're a diplomat moving on company budget to a sprawling villa which can accommodate bulky, U.S.-standard(assuming this is your jumping-off point) furniture, ditch as much and you can and start anew. My 4-poster, wrought iron, curtained Out of Africa-era bed back in the Edwardian, San Fran bedroom? Wouldn't have fit, literally, here. Use the cash from your garage sale over there to get what you need on this end. There are Web lists for used goods, friends or family for hand-me-downs and IKEA and wholesale to upscale shopping zones for all your needs

5) Send Sentiment. That said, don't get rid of the bits and pieces you hold dear and that goes for books too. It's super reasonable to ship via USPS and it's loads of fun to open up and look at your stuff when you've been here two months, reminiscing about your former, HUGE place that all of these chachkes used to fit into. One word of advice: Be CERTAIN to get an in-person explanation of measuring or you will be sent home to re-pack - in our case 18 boxes - to adhere to U.S./Israel size regulations.

6) Do It There. Anything that can be taken care of on that end, from Interior Ministry to Absorption Ministry paperwork to registration of a child born outside Israel, etc. DO IT THERE! Get in contact with your nearest Israeli consulate and schedule an appointment. Don't forget to get an Apostille seal for official documents like Birth and Marriage Certificates and to bring about 5-10 extra passport photos. You'll be delighted you took care of it in advance

7) Get On Lists. Tap into e-mail lists (see below) in your intended area and watch what people talk about and how things are couched. You'll learn a tremendous amount via observation. Ask questions, too. Don't be shy. Remember: Almost everyone here is a transplant so they've been in your shoes. And think about it: Who doesn't like offering advice?

8) Brace for Post-Honeymoon. It WILL happen so be ready for it: The taxi driver who seemed so adorable when he unabashedly asked your salary two months ago, now seems a cheeky, meddler. The elderly woman at the supermarket, so endearing when she last advanced in the cue because I only have two things is now that pushy, line jumper riding the coattails of seniority. The honeymoon will fade and life will become normal just like it is anywhere. Bills to pay, work to do, illness to attend to, meals to cook...Try not to sink. Take walks, keep it fresh and remember what brought you in the first place. If it still applies, ride out the wave

A few resources to consider:

AACI Americans and Canadians in Israel. Great resource for info and jobs

Nefesh B'Nefesh Leave politics aside; The website is an excellent resource

Taanglo, Jaanglo or Raanana List: e-mail discussion groups in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Raanana among Anglos in English covering everything from hiking to book clubs to garage sales to jobs. Get on by signing up at

Homeless If you read Hebrew, this is a MUST resource for temporary apartments, used furniture and appliances, apartment rentals, etc. Covers the entire country

Good Luck and See you When you Get Here!

Friday, December 02, 2005

Dying for Drugs

First thing in the morning, I click on the computer and my homepage gives me this lead story.

Okay, I'm sorry but WTF?!?!?

I'm not advocating drug dealing, smuggling or use. But to hang a 25-year-old kid for trafficking? I've been to Singapore and I've seen the signs warning against spitting in the street. Yeah it's rich and beautiful and the poor people are hidden away on the city's fringes but the undertone is harsh.

"Singapore is a small, affluent society next door to one of the world's biggest suppliers of drugs, the golden triangle. I think Singapore would have been a very different place if it was not tough on it," said political analyst Seah Chiang Nee.

Thanks, Seah. If this is the way you all keep a'hold of that wealth, let's hope your kid doesn't develop a taste for ecstasy.

The blow to the gut of the whole thing is Singapore government's so-called relenting to Nguyen Tuong Van's mother by allowing her to hold his hand and stroke his hair before putting the noose around his neck. Originally, they weren't going to let them see each other at all. My, how considerate.

And shame on Australian PM John Howard. You hope the strongest message that comes out of this is Don't do Drugs? Sure, this kid was of Vietnamese origin but he's still an Australian national. The lesson for you, Mr. Howard, should be to re-think relations with those neighbors across the pond.

Yes, there are problems a-plenty here in Holy Land Central and perhaps I'm out of my league and yes, the Great Country I hail just executed inmate #1000 but this morning, I join the thousands in mourning Nguyen's untimely, cruel death.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Sisters & Their Cash

Months before returning to Tel Aviv, I checked myself onto numerous e-mail discussion lists to get a vibe up on the scene here in HLC (Holy Land Central)..You know: see what people talk about, what the tone is, what types of jobs are up for grabs and what stuff is sold at garage sales.

Earlier this week, moderators of one of the higher brow lists catering to upper tier, professional women, organized a dinner and lecture in Herzeliya's high tech zone. Set upon meeting and greeting women I've known virtually for nearly a year and primed for gleaning financial tips from the high profile, investment broker speaking on Women and Finances, I eagerly attended.

The evening was a complete mix of jelly bean flavors, not necessarily gourmet. Starting with the inane: The Italian restaurant was oh-so-tepid. While the prix fixe menu was ridiculously low budget - fruit juice, salad or soup appetizer, pasta entree and coffee or tea for under $15 - and the food was decent, the service was crapola.."Can I please, please, please get that coffee I paid for now if I'm nice, remind you six times and pass another fiver into your palm when nobody's looking?"

Onto the second level: The Attendees. Young, pension age, middle age, Israeli, South African, American, English, CEO's, independent contractors, consultants, computer industry salarieds...An impressive lot with ambition, smarts and clearly the know-how to have attained positions of status within their realms.

Top floor, please: The Lecture. I couldn't help but conjure Steve Jobs as a wiry female while watching our turtleneck-clad investment speaker work the crowd. Alas, the dry ice and flashy effects were missing. Not missing, unfortunately, was a pandering to gender stereotypes: If you inherited $50 thousand, let's admit it ladies: Most of you would stick it in the bank and forget about it Or: Budget, does not mean the car rental company.

I looked around the dinner table thinking: So I'm a teeny bit savvy. A few investments here and there (but still awaiting Puff Diddy's invite to next season's St. Tropez bash onboard the Christina O). Are women in Israel completely out of the investment-smarts loop, hanging onto their man's trouser inseam for support, as our speaker was suggesting?

Can't be. Next to me is the CEO of a Japanese language/business consultancy who formed her company after living in Tokyo for 6 years. She's smart, sexy and tri-lingual. Next to her is the owner/operator of a top, graphics design firm currently working a major name, credit card account. And on and on and on.

So I send out feelers 'round the table and boy, do the sistahs come out from behind their linguine: Oh my god this lecture is off the mark. She's completely stereotyping and her statistics are outdated....Whew! What a relief.

Not to completely paint our financial guru as an antique heap -she actually was sharp and on the ball but using scare tactics that didn't work. When she finally dismissed the drama and got down to the bottom line of tips, she hit payola with highly relevant points for BOTH genders. I share a few:

1) Women generally outlive men. Start stashing it and definitely know what policies the other holds and how to get hold of the investment contact.
2)Women are outliving their pensions these days. SCARY!!! Talk to a financial planner about this one
3) Diversify...Think: bonds, stocks, property, hedge funds and cash
4) Cash is King. 10% of your worth should be in cash flow, high interest accounts
5) 25% of income should go into a savings or investment plan
6) If you don't know what you're spending and what's coming in each month, consider it a danger signal

Feeling enlightened? Good. Go and invest, brothers and sisters...

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Us and Them

A danger most transplants lie prey to is the "we" versus "they" syndrome. "Back in Podunk, WE did it this way. Over here in Holy Land Central (HLC) THEY do it that way...How very ridiculously wrong of THEM"

I, personally, never fall into this trap. Above it all, I weigh each situation carefully, giving others the benefit of the doubt because, after all, we are each and every one of us citizens of this Glorious Universe. Not, mere separate beings emerging from our respective corners to mete out criticism and retreat but a mass of living, breathing energy meant to love and support one another eternally.

Ptooey, Kaka. I am the very FIRST to jump into the ring for my daily, 10-round bash. Why this way? Why not that way? What's wrong with them? Could it be any worse? Why did I come here? annessi e connessi, und so weiter.. It fills up time.

Today, however I caught a whiff of that universal groove, hippy goo love stuff, wrapped so delicately in nuance that it almost drifted on past.

My kid has been sick with the flu for a week now. Fever, stuffy nose, coughing, more fever, no school, birthday party cancelled, all three of us sick now , coughing, fevers, lovely, enough said.

The beauty of living in HLC, however, is generous health coverage benefits. For $1.50 you visit the doc and get treated, throw down another $3-4 at the pharmacy en route home and voila! Good to go.

When you're a returning resident, HOWEVER, you have to wait a tad for the bennies to kick in. New law. Has to do with people moving abroad to find fortunes, contracting terminal illnesses and coming back to the mother land for government subsidized treatment. Awwwwwww. Hell Nahhhh...said the Israeli government and slapped on a waiting period to make sure you're not back for the cheapie MRI.

ANYHEEEW, Turns out that even though a kid is entitled to healthcare no matter what, he can't be signed up if his mom's on hold meaning he can't be seen by a doctor meaning he can't be treated. You know where this is going and no, it wasn't pretty. Why couldn't his new-to-the-country dad sign him up, you ask? Because dad plays for the "other team" so he passes GO and collects bupkes.

So during round two in three days of sitting across from health clinic receptionists, I'm asserting myself between coughing spasms and chills, explaining that the child must be treated, his fever isn't dissipating and haven't they heard of the bloody Hippocratic oath? And then I laid in the final touch: When it's time for army service, National Insurance won't have any trouble finding him...But NOW when he needs treatment... Relevance? None. Effect? Sounds good but didn't help.

After my bold declaration, I needed a lemon drop to calm the cough. Noticing that the woman seated opposite was sipping tea with lemon and having a rough time herself, I held out a drop which she gratefully accepted.

Innocent as it was, I'm convinced the lemon drop was what got my son signed up, myself mysteriously taken off the waiting list and both of us seen by a doctor the same day.

Maybe there is something after all to all that San Fran touchy feely stuff....Feechs!

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Me Here...You There...

Living far, far away from parents, brothers and sisters, nephews, nieces and grandparents is not an easy thing.

Even living a few, meager hours' distance from loved ones - assuming relations are positive - at times creates longings for kitchen table gossip, a shared meal, hugs, arguments, biting humor shared between siblings alone and familiarity that lies solely within the circle of family.

Yes, long distance rates make calling convenient and affordable and e-mail and IM'ing allows for instant gratification. But living several layovers away is still...Well, a few layovers away.

HOWEVER, I am here to inform that viewing only the glum side of this situation would be a most unfortunate vantage point, indeed. For there are benefits, however few, to a continental divide.

How could that be, you muse? I'll tell you:

I've bicycled past the families sitting together in Tel Aviv restaurants on Saturdays stuffing in cholent (a stick-to-the-ribs, brisket, barley and potato dish), chicken soup with matzoh balls and fried schnitzel in cream sauce. I've seen the miserable and longing looks on some of those family members' faces as they see me free-wheel on past. Not meaning to gloat but: Ha Ha! This was one of the benefits written into my contract.

Friday night dinners with family is okay...Occasionally. After all, schlepping to the in-laws' when it's been a long day and an even longer week is....a schlep! Especially if they live a distance away. Isn't it great that I can go to a movie on a Friday evening instead and not worry about offending anyone? Another contracted benefit down there in the fine print.

Holidays are optional. You can go for the fun ones like Hannuka and Purim and skip out on the heavier ones like Passover. Don 't feel like sitting through a four-hour Seder? No problem. No one to answer to. Not meaning to sound like a heretic but if there's no one to offend and they won't be checking up on me...

No stodgy, obligatory Saturday visits. The day's all yours for bicycling, windsurfing, mountain climbing, hiking, sailing or sleeping.

Less grapevine evil amongst family members. This isn't to say that it doesn't happen because who are we kidding, eh? But you're less prone to rubbishing your brother to your sister down the phone when you only speak once a week and you already feel guilty over the distance thing. Makes us all a bit more God-like.

No fighting. How can you fight with someone you don't see? And we all know that this is a tremendous benefit; the sear of family feuding burns hottest of all because the hurts resonate deeply. Give it up? Don't mind if I do, thanks.

Did I convince you? Good. Now don't pick up and move on my account or anything silly like that. But if you find yourself missing your family, be sure to look over the benefits section of your contract. It helps.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

It's A Lie

For all those out there with children contemplating a cross-state, cross-country, cross-Atlantic, cross-continent move, I've got news for you:

When They tell you "kids are flexible" "kids adjust" "it'll be easier for them than you" "they bounce back quickly" ....and any other adage casually tossed about while you're so busy packing, searching for new digs, closing up accounts, gathering information and saying goodbyes that you need to hear something comforting, Don't Believe Them!

Because as we sidle up to month 3 of Tel Aviv occupation, I continue to feel pained while peeking through the window of our 4-year-old's kindergarden as he sits inside sucking his thumb and twisting his hair during end-of-day circle time, oblivious to the story being read or song being sung. Walking home each morning, I cry harder than he has moments prior during dramatic, good-byes at the school gate. I pain for him as he pines for a first, special friend or a whole slew of friends and daily I long to cave when he begs to stay home from "that school I don't like where they all talk in Hebrew."

I know that a lot of this is normal but I don't give a toss. Lurking on an ultra-conscious level is the sense that I may have wronged my son. Despite motives of coming here in order to provide him with the utmost possible within my means, a nagging sense lingers that I've uprooted him from popularity, from a fawning kindergarden teacher who fanned his ego, from a preschool where indulging in water play and nakedness (down to underwear) on a whim was acceptable and from an overall softer approach to living life and relating to others. And yes, I know that any life decision has its up and downside, but when I stand outside that window watching him twist his hair? ...See line one of this paragraph for my take.

I can't help but ask myself: Have I done to him what our parents did to my three siblings and myself by relocating from a mixed race, liberal, intellectual enclave during key, pre-teenage years to a Wonder Bread suburban setting where kids tipped cows for fun? To this day my sister and I still concur about how very wrong the move was for our inherent natures...

Will Rapha's nature which incorporates a love of painting and art, a desire for brightly colored items like the pink bicycle he requested for his birthday (NO San Francisco jokes, please!), extreme sensitivity and an ability to intuit beyond his years get smashed here?

I can only hope not; I stop dwelling now as a small, Birthday Child begging to be photographed has awakened. A Happy Fourth to my Dearest Dear!...I wish I could shield you from the worst while knowing exactly how to give you the very best. While I'm figuring it out, however, You are MOST welcome for the Ooh They're Beautiful, Thank You Mommy!! fairy lights.

Vive Le Turkey!!!

...Happy Thanksgiving Day to all of my Americana-Fantocious Friends!!

(only 30 more shopping days left)

Monday, November 21, 2005

...livening it up a bit...

For the five of us here in Israel divested of political immersion, the business of daily life at times necessitates a wee, waft of diversion. Or, as "Dr. Janet" of San Francisco's Alamo Square dog park puts it: In our family, the rule is that once a week each person has to go somewhere or do something outside of the routine to keep life interesting and fresh

For some, it never gets boring. Buddha says: This is Good.

For others, a list of suggested things to try for little to no $$ if you live in or visit Tel Aviv:

1) Walk along the Yarkon River at sunset. The sight is truly to be cherished
2) Rent a bicycle at OhFun! (corner Nordau/Ben Yehuda), ride up to Jaffa and back down to the Reading Power Plant area. Sit for coffee at one of the seaside cafes
3) Go to a movie at 7:30 p.m. on a Friday evening ...You'll find peace, tranquility and row upon row of empty seats
4) Visit the Rabin Memorial at the municipality. It is chilling and humbling
5) Climb the stairs adjacent to the Rabin memorial, go inside the building and check out the local, photographer's display on the ground floor. Good stuff
6) Stop for a coffee at either of the Rothschild Boulevard java stands just south of Sheinkin. You'll feel oh-so-hip
7) Check out the Interior Ministry's gorgeous, young security guards at the entrance and upstairs. Modeling candidates, every last one. While inside, view the acrylic and oil paintings on the ground floor and the photo-essay exhibit on the 2nd. Are we feeling cultured after our moment of lechery?
8) Get up at 5:30 a.m. on a Saturday and go outside. Hear the birdies singing and smell that fresh, morning air? (this one also works outside Tel Aviv). Buddha likes this too
9) Go for Jahnoun at the stone restaurant overlooking Metzitzeem (Old Sheraton) Beach. Cheap, tasty eats inside an open fortress with a view
10) Spend 50 shekels for an introductory wind-surfing, kayaking or surf lesson at the club on Hilton Beach. They provide the wet suit and instruction, you get invigorating fun
11) Stroll the Opera House grounds and gardens. You'll feel sophisticated
12) Go for gelato at Vaniglia on Ashtori Ha'Parhi 24 in the Basel compound. G'head already. You deserve it and it's worth it

Just Like San Francisco...

...Only a lot less rampant

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Jaffa Cool and Not....

To break away from our North Tel Aviv neighborhood and pick up a rosary for devoutly Catholic, ex-neighbors back in San Fran, the family ventured out to Jaffa last night.

Each time I take the time to go there, I'm impressed anew by the architecture and history within the stone structures. Jaffa shares cousin Jerusalem's historical and aesthetic beauty, but the port city lacks the holy city's heavy sense of foreboding despite similar religious and political intensity.

Judaism cites Jaffa as a shipping gateway and fortress, mentioned in The Book of Joshua and ruled by Kings David and Solomon during the 1st Temple era and The New Testament stakes this as the place where St. Peter resurrected Jesus' disciple Tabitha, the tomb site still intact.

More recently, King Richard the Lionheart took control of the city after Salah El Din's, 5-year reign in the late 12th century and in the Here and Now, it's a mixed Arab/Israeli, Tel Aviv outer limit which is way, way cool.

Yes, there's Mafia-style killing, drug dealing and theft but there are also primo, abandoned, warehouse spaces partially occupied by live-in loft artists, world class eats and the lively, flea market. Read: Very, very hip.

The old men playing backgammon and swilling beer in the back alley bingo-hall-joint off Yefet Street have been there for at least 25 years (75, according to vendor 'Moti') as have some of the tired restaurants serving up Middle Eastern, kabob fare at huge prices to unsuspecting tourists opposite Moti's chatchke shop where we bought Holy crosses, Holy dirt and Holy vials of water, all blessed by a Holy father. Amen.

I don't fancy myself an unsuspecting tourist, at least not in these parts anymore, so how did it come to pass that my family and I sat for a meal in one of these truly awful, dives??

We were hungry, Tonny was carrying 40 pounds of sleeping, dead weight, aka Raphael, a wee voice inside whispered to give the place a chance despite appearances and we felt sorry for the restaurateurs: their place was barren.

For future reference: Toss pity out the window and press 'mute' on the inner voice. Now, vegetarian and vegan friends, why don't you hop on out to the kitchen and fix yourselves a tofurkey sandwich with sprouts while we go over this next part, hmmmm?

Lesson #1: In years past, I truly savored grilled, goose liver. Loved the soft, fatty texture and gamey flavor. Sue me. Ethically, it's a travesty, I know. So isn't it wonderful to have put that craving to rest? I gagged after one bite.

Lesson #2: If the grilled turkey tastes like traces of ammonia are running through it, STOP EATING AT ONCE! Which is what I did. No matter how you cut it, ammonia is meant for cleaning toilets, not for recycling through one's digestive tract.

Lesson #3: If the chips (french fries) are so heavily weighed down by the vat of oil they've been soaking in overnight as to droop forward when you pick them up, Put Them Back On the Plate. Your complexion and arteries will thank you in the morning.

Silly me, I asked these guys why business was so slow.

Next time, we'll hit the galleries and then eat at Cordelia. My ridiculous pride of not seeing owner Nir Tzuk (Nikko, to me) for 4 years, assuming we're on the outs and so having too large an ego to step into his divine place, kept me from enjoying what would definitely have been a sumptuous meal. Next time.

Vive Le Jaffa!!

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Monday, November 14, 2005

"Foreign" Workers

Disclaimer: I'm a Stranger Here Myself

I'm at Supersol's deli counter waiting for the Russian lady to finish slicing my Tal Ha'Emek cheese - very tasty stuff: Swiss-esque flavor with a rubbery texture - when an aged gentleman clearly not getting enough circulation what with his tweed overcoat and cashmere glove ensemble on a 75-degree day, pulls up beside me in a wheelchair. Pushing him is a slight, mid-40's woman with dark hair and dark eyes.

She: What do you want?
He: Nothing. I don't want anything
She: But you said you wanted herring
He: Why are you bothering me? When did I say I want herring?
She: Nu? Ach! We get all the way over here and now you change your mind! I'm going to go crazy!

..and so on and so forth. Listening to these two go at I'm chuckling inside. Not because the exchange is unusual in these parts; This one was tame. More like: Since when did George Costanza's parents move to the Middle East, learn to bicker in Hebrew and infiltrate the bodies of a crotchety, ex-European and a petite Filipina?

Ten years of not being here, the gradual influx of Asians has eluded me. These are people coming from Thailand and the Philippines via government or privately sponsored programs they pay to hook into. They stay, work and send earnings to family back home or settle in search of an improved standard of living.

They're working in agriculture replacing kibbutznikim and moshavniks who have opted out for private sector jobs and they attend to the country's elderly population, frequently as private home care aides. On any given day at the Work Visa Department of Israel's Interior Ministry, a handful of Southeast Asians can be found in line beside employers clutching paperwork on their behalf, quietly listening to procedure and protocol explained in English.

Based on the VERY LITTLE I've read, they have been cheated and exploited throughout the years but Watchdog organization intervention and standardization of work permit procedures has led to some stabilization.

I am NOT going into depth on this one because the issues are vast: equal rights, equal pay, displaced, Palestinian laborers, sub-standard living conditions, absent health insurance and benefits, etc.

Mine is the perch of observation: On a tachles (bottom line) basis, the Asian population here has clearly integrated into and influenced society. Thai teenagers animatedly chat in Hebrew on the bus, Filipine men and women occupying park benches read books to their elderly charges or prop them up as they stroll the park, Thai and Chinese children are enrolled in nursery schools and kindergardens, couples converse in Tagalog over espresso at trendy cafes and numerous shops selling such items as galangal and lemon grass make preparation of an authentic, Tom Kha Gai a practical endeavor.

I'm pleased and tickled each time I hear someone of Pacific Rim origin utter a Hebrew phrase. It's sort of a "does not compute" moment akin to first hearing the rumored name of NBC's Egypt-based producer: Abdullah Schleifer....I wonder if he's still around.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Rabin Memorial, November 2005

A few words about tonight's 10-year memorial ceremony for Yitzhak Rabin at Rabin Square:

- Attendance - several hundred thousand - was tremendous. Literally, a sea of people

- Security was massive and logistically, quite impressive. Several days prior, police barricades were erected outside the city hall, memorial site. This morning, police patrolled the podium area, square and memorial. By afternoon, roughly 5 hours pre-ceremony, dozens of police were on the square with armed, military back-up. By nightfall, security was at full volume. Barricaded streets, detours, X-ray machines for bags and backpacks, blocked entrances...I've never seen anything like it at an open-air, public gathering.

- The evening highlight was not, as anticipated, Bill Clinton's speech with wife Hillary and daughter Chelsea at his side. It was folk singer David Broza's stirring rendition of "Yeheeyeh Tov" (It'll Be Alright), tailored to foster a message of peace and suggesting withdrawal from the territories.

- Clinton's quiet speech, however (was his microphone turned off or is he suffering a bout of laryngitis?), was in its own way poignant. Pointing out that had Rabin been there this evening, he'd have told everyone: Enough mourning already. Get on with it - was 100%. Do I believe that he thinks about Rabin on a weekly basis, as claimed in his speech? Actually, yes. I think there was a tremendous connection there.

There were other highlights: speeches, performances, ballads... But the peak really was the turnout. Surrounded by thousands upon thousands who were there to mark the date, there was a feeling of hope that has been missing in these parts for a very long time. Time will tell.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Where's the Money?!?

A note about getting paid in Holy Land Central: Avoid it if possible.

Let's backtrack here. I'm not advocating a "work for free" policy - Are you kidding? "Capitalist" is printed in bold below the e-mail address on my letterhead. But what I am saying is that from a Yankee perspective, the payment thing over here is slightly nuts.

Having only worked as a salaried employee for reputable, Anglo corporations during my previous, Israel domiciliation may account for a gap in understanding freelancer provisions. But this much I know is true: The cushy days of monthly paychecks deposited directly into a dwindling, overdrawn account are long gone. Welcome to "Let's Make a Deal": It's your money on our terms!

Said terms are confusing, binding for the contractor, non-binding for the revenue source and go something like this: Payment 45 days after receipt of invoice due by the 7th of each month after which time the 45-day-period begins the following month and payment is forthcoming 45 days thereafter.

Translation: You do a job in September and invoice October 1. Cold cash will not be forthcoming until at least December 15 - roughly three months after project completion - because that's how the system works. And don't forget: minor delays invariably crop up: paperwork gone missing, an accounts payable person on 3-month leave or an absent doctor's note from your great, great grandmother's internist in Kiev, circa 1600, proving your surname really is Rodrachevsky-Jones.

The laughingest part of it all is that those of us twiddling our thumbs, buying groceries on credit at Itzik's Discount Bargain Mart with social lives restricted to grazing Supersol aisles on Free Sample Thursdays are deemed lucky. Apparently, the whole payment issue is optional.

The good thing about us is that you WILL get paid
an editor confided encouragingly when THE MONEY TALK arose. As if actually compensating for work is an unusual, honorable practice.

Oh Damn! And I had hoped it would be another of those Zen, volunteer gigs where love is all we need. Silly me. They're going to give me $$...

My advice? If you're contemplating working here as a free agent, stockpile your reserves. Otherwise, the Winter is liable to be long and cold.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Missed Rabin x2

While semi-mindlessly skipping down Blog lane over the weekend, I came upon Lisa’s latest entry and was horrified.  I had missed Rabin.  Lisa’s stirring piece marking the 10-year anniversary of Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination evoked personal shame of having just published my own piece on the rather profound subject of restaurant menus.

How could the date have escaped me?  True, I had just visited the memorial where he was gunned down two days prior and true, I can beg off being somewhat in the dark due to not owning a television (by choice) and yeah, I’m busy.  

But, Ach, I’m making excuses.  Surrounded by glaring newspaper headlines and my own, supposed conscience, I failed to remember on the actual day of.  So preoccupied with attempting to tread water and make my mark in this world was I, that even despite my daily, Internet surfing habit, the juncture went missing in my world. (personal note: Change homepage news preferences).

It isn’t SUCH a big deal, after all; I can attend Bill Clinton’s tribute memorial at the square down the street this weekend and breathe my sigh of redemptive relief.  But not really, because this is old guilt: I’ve been absent twice, the first time being the actual day of his assassination.

Visiting my parents in Ohio at the time, the first, CNN breaking news reports were surreal.  But as anchors droned on with pieced-together bits of information about the assassin, speculation over motive and updates from the hospital, my father’s comment broke through the din.  A practiced physician, he observed: “This isn’t good.  It reminds me of Kennedy. They keep downgrading his condition.  I have a feeling he may already be gone.”   And sure enough, seconds later the final proclamation was announced.  

I broke into choking, loud sobs for long moments, hiding in my parents’ formal dining room in the dark.  The crying was to come and go intermittently for the coming week but when it finally subsided that late afternoon, I ran to the phone.  A producer/correspondent for Reuters Jerusalem at the time, I hoped against hope that somehow they would need me to come back.  That somehow I could DO SOMETHING, be involved, make a difference and lose myself in work rather than continue experiencing the utter frustration of being abroad and watching events unfold without me.  

But they didn’t.  Alone I watched the funeral and news reports, read the papers and spoke with Israeli friends via telephone comprehending the frustration my pal Steve described years prior, attending to his ill father in London while watching scuds sail into Tel Aviv over the tube.

Back in Tel Aviv a mere two weeks later, things were different.  Collectively, the country had been shocked into maturity, numbness and cold speculation over an atrocity committed by “one of their own”.  Exhausted professionally and not wanting to experience an impending Netanyahu government, I packed it in for San Francisco months later.

And now, a decade on, I’m back.  And if I’m honest with myself, it’s okay about forgetting the other day. Because, duh, it's not about me.   

And it's okay because on the occasion that I stop by the memorial site and climb the stairs to the dais area from which Rabin addressed rally-goers that fatal night, I imagine the crowd, the feedback from the microphone, the cheers and the singing.  And then I imagine what it must have felt like to look out over hundreds of thousands of happy supporters.

And if he felt the way it feels for me when I imagine all that, then there is some solace and knowledge that the path he cleared for us all was not in vain.   And to be callously frank?   What a hell of a send-off.  

Friday, November 04, 2005

Can We Run A Spellcheck, Please???

Since my first visit to Holy Land Central as a teenager, the general mangling of the English language on menus, printed billboards, shop signs, press releases, you name it, has provided plentiful occasion for comic relief. Clearly not a private joke, other Anglos have devoted blog space and entire website pages to the subject.

Follow me, won't you?

I stopped into my restaurateur friend Dita's place today after a hiatus of several years. When we first met in the 90's via my social-butterfly, ex-husband Shlomo (great guy, by the way), Dita co-owned the oppressively dark, Beivar pub/restaurant on Ben Yehuda with her single, over-forty, bitter sister Edna. Back then, Dita spent hours in the hot kitchen, cigarette dangling, hovering over ovens and burners emerging with heaping plates of tasty bits prepared with love and sweat for the branja (gang). She always had time to sit, smoke another cigarette, chastise Shlomo, listen to gossip and yell at a server or bartender for some minor infraction.

Since, she has changed locale half a dozen times, upgraded gradually and shed the scowling Edna. Regardless of her up-the-ladder ascent, however, Dita has maintained a down-to-earth, rebelliousness which is part fiery woman from hell, part Jewish mother with ample bosom and bulging waistline scrutinizing every bite lest a morsel be left on the plate un-eaten.

Her current place is gorgeous. Taking up prime, real-estate turf next to Max Brenner's Chocolatier on Rothschild Boulevard, Dita has definitely moved on up to the East Side - she's listed in Fodor's for Criminy's sake!

The decor is still dark but tasteful. The menu retains her signature entrees of Entrecote in creamed pepper sauce, plum basted spare ribs, schnitzel in creamy Dijon and Roquefort hamburger despite today's global trend towards macro-biotics and sashimi. Dita still hangs out in the kitchen with a cigarette hanging from her mouth, the staff still quakes when she barks and she's still saucy as ever: Give her the coffee AFTER you bring my grapefruit juice; I'm first she curtly demands of the server attending to our table.

The notable differences lie in a sizeable, Bistro style kitchen commandeered by milling-about chefs in whites and toques, a 120-capacity dining room, a kind doorman who bids good day upon departure and an expanded menu.

Can I look at a menu?
I ask the server upon Dita's retreat to the kitchen. And here's where I have to ask all of entrepreneurs here and the world-over the same question:

You invested hundreds of thousands into your place. Crystal chandeliers, culinary school trained chefs, re-upholstered antiques, exclusive wines, stained glass windows, marble sconces. Why not go that extra mile and pay someone $50 MAXIMUM to proofread the ferkakte menu/marquee/billboard so that diners don't have to puzzle over Sole with torture sauce, Digeustifves (is this a Czech delicacy?) or Intreecote?

And could someone please get Jesus on the phone? The Gentile Shoe Shop in Tel Aviv is holding a 1/2 price, sandal sale.

Dita, I love you. Next time hire a copee-edeetore

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Notes from Tel Aviv

Bicycling down the congested, Ibn Gvirol Street in Tel Aviv this evening, it occurred to me as I loudly yelled: Jerk! What are you doing? to the taxi driver cutting me off: Hey, I can actually say that and not worry about getting beaten with a lead pipe or shot..!!

Further along the journey, I'm searching for a specific address which happens to be on "Pines" Street - pronounced like the male anatomical part, wink wink. At one point, after asking two rather handsome young men for the street's location, I have to laugh aloud: This is surreal! I am asking people for a street called... (you know)