Monthly Archives: June 2009

The rabbi, the goats and the mall in Jenin

A traditional Jewish folktale tells the story of a poor man lived with his wife and six children, parents and parents-in-law in a one-roomed house in the shtetl. He couldn’t bear it anymore and sought advice from his rabbi. “Oy, Rebbe,” he said, “my life is hell, my home is chaotic, I can’t get a moment’s peace. I’m going crazy. What should I do?”

The rabbi answered: “You must go home and do exactly what I say. Take your goats and your chickens and your cow, and move them into your house to live with you.”

Puzzled, the man agreed, because this was, the Rebbe after all. He went home and moved his livestock into his tiny, overcrowded house.

The next week, the man was back at rabbi, whining even more ferociously about how much worse off he was, and how he was suffering. “What have you done to me?” he cried. “I’m losing my mind.”

So the rabbi calmly said, “Go home and take the animals out of your house.”

The next day the man came back to the rabbi and excitedly said, “Rebbe, you are truly wise. My house is so quiet now without the animals – it’s a pleasure.”

What brought this old favorite to mind was an article in Ha’aretz this week about the opening of the luxury Hirbawi Home Center shopping mall in Jenin last month. I’ll get to the goats and chickens in a second, but first, I must express my joy at this development and hope that there’s a trickle-down effect that spreads some optimism. I know this is a lot to ask of a shopping mall, but great social changes come from modest beginnings. I also have to wonder whether there are guards at the entrances checking bags…

So back to the goats: The article continued with an analysis by Jenin Area Commander Abu Tarek of how Jenin has transformed from a capital of terrorism to “the quietest, safest city in the West Bank.” One of the factors he said has brought on this change is that the IDF has become a lot less violent. Then, the article concluded, “…one of the Palestinians present, who witnessed his brothers’ arrest recently, chuckles: ‘They’re [the IDF] very gentle nowadays. They come quietly, knock on the door and say politely: Army, please open up.’” And that, dear readers, is the story of the Rabbi and the Goats, Jenin-style.

I couldn’t help but ponder this analogy and think that everything in life is relative. I don’t want to begin to think where this attitude could take us, and I wouldn’t want to presume to justify excess violence in the name of rendering the status quo tenable, but on the other hand, maybe there is something to be said for seeing how bad things could be in order to appreciate certain realities. No, I don’t condone unnecessary military force of any kind, and no, I don’t think that occupation is a solution in our region. But that doesn’t mean I can’t allow myself a good-hearted “chuckle” at this unfortunate Palestinian gentleman assessing his situation with the delightful optimism of the shtetl dweller who learned to embrace his over-crowded house following an excessive onslaught of resident livestock.

Maybe all sides should have a quick re-read of this tale, and think again.

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Take me out to the (Israeli) ball game

If you had told me three years ago, that I, a born and bred in South African, was soon to metamorphose into a die-hard baseball fan living in Israel, I would have laughed. But three seasons after my 10-year-old son started playing baseball in our small town in the Sharon region, I’m a huge fan. Not of the New York Yankees, the Boston Red Sox, or the LA Dodgers (and I actually had to Google that!), but of the Tel Mond Nationals.

Nationals? Yes, you read right. An enterprising father/coach organized sponsorship from the “mother” team in Washington and the local boys are making their big brothers on the other side of the ocean proud. On Friday June 19 they play the Ra’anana Jumbo Pretzels (actual name) in the championship game of the regional juvenile league playoffs.

I love it that this true-blue American sport is being played all over Israel with huge enthusiasm. In their classic baseball pants, helmets, batting gloves, baseball mitts and Nationals team shirts, the boys play on our weedy, sandy, uneven field, where horses, donkeys and goats frequently roam free, bringing cricket in the times of the Raj to mind.

My son on third base

My son on third base

We’re a stalwart group of parents – Israelis, English, South Africans, and even Americans – who support the team, home or away, often arguing about baseball’s tenuous connection to the British pastime of rounders and constantly complaining about the intense heat (Raj again?). We heckle and cheer and enjoy every minute of watching the kids playing their hearts out every Friday afternoon.

I have to give credit to The Israel Association of Baseball (IAB), which has been active since 1986 in promoting and developing baseball in Israel and ensuring that the rule book is adhered to in good Anglo-Saxon fashion.

Now, not only is my half-South African son on his way to becoming a pitcher, and can actually hit that little, painfully hard ball with that narrow sliver of ash, but I am also proud that I have learned about RBIs, line drives, pop-ups, foul balls and strike zones so as not to embarrass my American-born husband too much.

Go Nationals and go Israeli baseball.

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Uploaded any good books lately?

My sister-in-law just sent me a link to one of those social media book sites (I won’t mention URLs). I opened it and read the following brief justification of its existence: “Keep track of what your friends and family are reading without ever having to ask…”

Why!? Is it the aim of Web 2.0 to destroy every last vestige of audible, face-to-face conversation? Why would anyone want to eliminate the need to talk to friends and family about the books they are reading? One of my great pleasures is my monthly book club meeting. OK, so we don’t only talk about books, but the pretext exists – we meet to choose books, buy books, talk about books, and of course, get out of the house for a good laugh, coffee and cake. I cannot imagine an existence in which a website replaced my beloved book club.

Let’s face it, the main reason that people put their book lists up on social media websites is, well, to show off. Who really adds their Danielle Steele or John Grisham reads? No, they want to flash the world their highbrow reading resume.

Still, I’m not entirely opposed, and these sites have their uses. I am happy to summarily tell those people who ask me to recommend them “a book” like they would ask me to recommend them a plumber, to refer to my list on an certain unnamed social media site. But I’m insulted that the premise of these sites is virtually saying: “You’ll never have to indulge in those distasteful chats with your nearest and dearest about books. Nay! This site will save you from the anguish of talking about books, I mean how twentieth century. Join today!!”

They seek to eliminate that old faithful conversation opener read-any-good-books-lately? rendering a whole generation of nervous yet well-read daters devoid of a decent pick-up line and depriving those stranded in a conversation that’s ground to a stand-still with a life-line. Don’t talk about the books you read, they say, rather upload little chunks of text about them.

Dear readers, I’m a  social media fan (I am blogging, aren’t I?), but please, don’t let Web 2.0 kill the art of the real, live, flesh and blood book chat.

(This blog is dedicated to the wonderful women of the Tel Mond Book Club)

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An unexpected error has occured

I had pressed the “send” button on an email to many of my Outlook contacts announcing that I am now a fully-fledged member of the blogosphere. Only, I received a prompt saying: “An unexpected error has occured” and I couldn’t send the email.

This made me laugh because as I was adding names to my Bcc list, I started getting intimidated. While I am having a generous helping of fun writing my blog (I am a writer by profession, but I write in the business world, which tends to hamper my creativity on occasion), I am also a little nervous as I realize that I have a lot of very smart and very talented friends, many who can write me under the table. Not that I am trying to profession drop, but in the mix are a few academics with PhDs plumping up their resumes, others who also make their living out of writing and do a great job of it, doctors, a few lawyers (but that’s a whole other story), etc.

So I am taking a deep breath, and relying on the fact that in addition to their high IQs and over abundant achievements they are also wonderful people and hopefully they’ll just chuckle along with me as I roll out my personal take on life in the Israeli medium-speed lane. Bear with me as I find my feet among my fellow bloggers.

And hopefully MS Outlook isn’t sending me a “LA Story”-esque message from the universe telling me to stop this folly.

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Template Politics of the Middle East

After living in Israel for the past 20 years, I have come to realize that the political ebb and flow of the region is essentially template-based.

Last night, we all huddled (well actually not really huddled considering the summer heat of the Levant) in front of our TVs to hear the rumbling tones of Bibi Netanyahu giving his long-awaited Bar Ilan address. After he rolled out his usual ramble about the amazing opportunities that await our Palestinian neighbors in the areas of desalinization and tourism and other fantasies, he finally did move on to what everyone was waiting for.

He “shocked” the Israeli right wing with his forced declaration of support for a demilitarized Palestinian state; “annoyed” the left by supporting the rights of the settlers to continue their sojourns in the West bank; and insisted on Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, probably not shocking anyone. Then the political analysts started earning their retainers on TV stations around the world.

Why bother? It’s been the same for years, as the events of Middle East peace follow the same template year after year:

US President X demands that Israel step up and make more concessions. He flies around the Middle East gaining support and kisses from Arab leaders X, X and X.

Israeli Prime Minister X protests too much internally, incurring the wrath of, well, everyone outside the Israeli right.

Then Israeli PM X finally makes “the speech” that everyone was waiting for, and falls short of the what US President X wanted, but departs from a hard-line Israel policy.

Palestinian Leader X responds to said speech saying that clearly Israel doesn’t want peace, and so it goes on and on.

I suppose some of us have the naive optimism to believe that at some point, someone will burst out of the template and (forgive the overused cliché), will think out of the box on this Middle East mess. Maybe one, or hopefully even two, of the Xs will look back and see the same mistakes being made over and over and put an end to it.

Next step: US Secretary of State X does a whistle stop tour of the Middle East to draw the sides closer together and arranges a meeting of Xs at a leafy hideaway somewhere on the east coast of the US.

For now, it’s still all X-rated to me.

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My first blog

This is really a case of “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.” I have never thought that blogs are anything more than a lot of people with a lot of spare time on their hands sending out content into a huge world where no-one really cares, unless your name is Obama or Kutcher. So against my own advice, I am just doing it.

A friend started a blog when she decided that there wasn’t enough space on Facebook for her to talk about herself. That’s not why I am doing this. Really, it’s more about the rant factor. I am a ranter, and I think that if blogs have any value in this world, then being a rant platform is it. So I will update when I have something to rant about (which is when I assume most people update). Right now, I have to go back to what I get paid for, and stop wasting time.

Later!

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