Sunday, November 16, 2008

Moving Blogs

If you have enjoyed my now-pretty-much-defunct personal blog, you might be interested in this page:
where you'll see some blogs by me and by others as part of a new sub-site of


Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Thoughts on flying back to Israel after another brief visit to the US

Flight 90 from Newark, NJ to Tel Aviv must be the punishment that Continental Airlines metes out to flight crew who commit heinous professional crimes. Accidentally open the exit door in mid-flight, resulting in fifteen passengers getting sucked out into the atmosphere?  Under-cook the first class coq au vin, resulting in a salmonella outbreak on board?  Join the "mile-high club"... with a passenger... in the cockpit?  It's the Tel Aviv route for you, mate.  And then you can imagine the screams of protest: "No, no, anything but that!  Don't make me go back there!  Please forgive me!  Dock my pay, demote me, put me in baggage reclaim... Anything but the Tel Aviv route!!"

Yes, the Tel Aviv route must be the short straw in flight crew world.  It is a bizarre world on board.  It's different from El Al: the moment you get on board an El Al plane, you have the feeling that you have entered Israeli sovereign territory.  So you expect all the nonsense and craziness, and it's familiar and reassuring.  On Continental, everything still operates under a non-Jewish framework, but it's weird, it's like the Jews are breaking out of the ghetto and trying to take over the Czar's castle, and there ain't a damn thing that the Czar can do about it.  On my flight back to Israel this past Sunday, one of the stewards was an African-American guy with dreadlocks.  He was used to dealing with quiet, normal Americans.  I don't know what he did wrong but he ended up on the Tel Aviv route.  This poor guy spent the entire flight saying "Ladies and gentlemen, please take your seats.  Please, we can't move the plane until you take your seats.  Ladies and gentlemen, the fasten seat belts sign is on.  Please clear the aisles so that we can start the food service.  Please, I beg of you, take your seats.  We are about to crash, ladies and gentlemen, I suggest you take your seats.  You bloody Jews, why won't you sit down?!!!"

I don't know why Jews won't sit down on planes, but they won't.  Worst offenders are the charedim and their hat boxes.  What is so complicated about a hat box?  They act like it's some piece of delicate technical material that must be kept at a precise angle with no sudden movements.  It takes your average charedi about 17 minutes to get the bloody hat box into the overhead compartment before take off ["please, ladies and gentlemen, we cannot push back from the gate until everyone is seated"].  And then once it's in, they're jumping up and down every five minutes like jack-in-the-boxes to check that the hat box is still ok.  They're all speaking Yiddish, which I don't understand, but my bet is that it would translate as:

"Did you check your hat box?'
"Oh, right, good idea, I checked it 4 minutes ago but I should have another look."
"Yup, it's still there, the angle looks good."
"Hey, nice hat box, where did you get it, can I have a look?"
"Yes, but make sure you take it down carefully."
"What is that schvartzer with the dreadlocks saying?  He keeps waving his finger at me."
"He is probably reminding you to check your hat box."
"He's right, I should check it."

I could go on.

On this last flight, there was one point when they were trying to serve dinner, and they'd been pleading for half an hour to get everyone to sit down, and suddenly, as if by a miracle, we hit this really heavy turbulence and everyone sort of scattered back to their seats in fright.  But I know what really happened.  I saw dreadlocks guy on the internal phone first: "Captain, we can't get the damn Jews to sit down.  Any chance you can give things a bit of a shake up there?"

In other news, Melilah is one tomorrow, and is the cutest thing ever.  Her first word was "bruvver" - thank God not "Eshy" or "Vivi" but "bruvver" - already the little diplomat.  She can now also say mayim [water], ball, and "puh" for "kippah".  My mum will be especially proud of that last one.  Eshy slammed his little finger in a door hinge, ripped the nail half off, but he's fine.  Aviv has started speaking Hebrew beautifully; his first word was "zuzi" which means "move!" - interestingly enough, said to a female object, not a male.  The joys of kindergarten.

And other than that we are all doing quite wonderfully in general.

Happy Thanksgiving if you celebrate that particular festival!

Tuesday, November 6, 2007


(That's the sound of me blowing my own horn). Click the link!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Back in Caldwell, NJ

I have been back in the US since Thursday, going back to Israel tomorrow.

Had a lovely shabbat back in Caldwell.  Basically this is how it went:

X [where X is a friend, acquaintance or random person who knows Peri but who I don't recognize]: Hi!  How are you?  So great to have you back!
Me: Yes, it's great to be back.
X [smiling]: Wow, how is everything going, it's so great to see you, so great to have you back - are Peri and the kids here too?
Me: No, just me.
X [smile fades]: Oh.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Family updates

We are coming up to exactly three months since our arrival back in Israel, and we've just finished all the chagim, and I haven't posted for a while, so here is an update that is less "pithy observations about Israeli society" and more "what breakfast cereal the kids are eating these days".

Eshy: Quaker Cinnamon Squares without milk.
Aviv: Cheerios and Quaker Cinnamon Squares with milk.
Melilah: baby mush and Cheerios.

We have had a really good festival season, and we really feel as if we are settling into Modiin, and slowly finding friends and community.  The synagogue thing is kind of annoying: there are two Masorti/Conservative congregations in Modiin, which were originally one congregation but split apart a couple of years ago.  Now they both struggle to survive, but won't speak with each other.  You couldn't make it up.  Anyway, we have been bouncing back and forth between these two minyanim, and actually seem to be finding our place in one of them.  Simchat Torah was really great.  We used a Sefer Torah that we brought to Modiin from Jerusalem, and at some point I will post a blog about our experience carrying the Sefer Torah through downtown Jerusalem, which was quite something.

The kids are back at school tomorrow.  Eshy is doing wonderfully: his Hebrew is improving the whole time, he is making friends, happy, enjoying school, etc.  We had a belated birthday party for him on Friday morning, which was nice for him.  Peri, ever the madrichah, did a whole "science-themed" party with different stations doing different experiments and stuff.  Aviv is also doing really well, although he is finding gan a little hard.  As luck would have it he is the only English-speaker in his gan, and he started out not speaking any Hebrew at all, so he has found it tough.  He is beginning to come out with Hebrew words and even sentences, though, and hopefully within another month or so he will be able to communicate more effectively.  For now we are trying to get him together in the afternoons with other English speaking kids.  Anyway, he still has his Avivi spark and twinkle and grin, and as long as those are still there, we are not concerned.  By "we", I of course mean Peri; I am neurotic and worried sick that he will be scarred for life.  Thank God I married someone sane though.  Melilah is babbling (in English) and beginning to cruise and is just the cutest thing on earth.

We have been spending our free time looking for houses/flats in Modiin, which has so far been a little frustrating, but we are continuing.  Other than that, the past month has been pretty busy with all the chagim.

I am going to be in the US next week for a week, doing some work for JTS.  I will be in Caldwell for shabbat parashat Noach, and at JTS on Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday.  So if you are reading this from one of those places, I look forward to seeing you soon!!

Saturday, September 8, 2007

A new idea for breathing life into the peace process

As soon as shabbat went out today I turned on my TV to watch the England vs Israel European Championship qualifier. [note to Americans: this is an important football match for both teams.  Football is a sport that the rest of the world understands and thinks is really good.  You, who believe that American Football is actually a sport, as opposed to a series of TV adverts occasionally interspersed with some big men bumping into other big men, are totally misguided.]

Anyway, this was the first time that I have really seen Israel play football, and they were really, really bad.  You can take the Jews out of the ghetto and you can have them grow oranges in the desert, but let's face it, Jews are not good at sports.  Even "new Jews".

So this gave me a great idea.  The Arabs kicked Israel out of the Middle East qualifying groups when it came into existence.  I think the original reason was because there was no room for the phrase "The Evil Zionist Entity" on the scoreboards in those days.  But this was a big mistake.  If the Arabs played the Jews at football, things would be a lot better in the Middle East.  Egypt and Iran are pretty good teams.  Make no mistake, they would wipe the floor with us.  And this would make the Arabs feel a lot better.  They would be able to say: "Well, the Evil Zionist Entity may have destroyed our armies, bombed our cities, stolen our territory, and ripped out our olive trees, but we beat them 3-0 last week!  Hah!"

They say that pride is an important thing in the Middle East.  If the Arabs would re-admit Israel into their football league, they would get a lot of it back, fast.  Why has Tony Blair not thought of this?

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Back to School

It has been a very busy couple of weeks, all leading up to today, when all three boys in the family (Eshy, Aviv, and yours truly) had their first day of school in Israel.

Eshy started kitah aleph (first grade), Aviv started Gan (nursery school), and at the Hartman Institute we had the first orientation day for the new cohort of students.

Eshy's and Aviv's stories are the most interesting of the three.  Eshy is going to a school called Yachad, and it's (so we understand) a genuinely pluralist school, with religious, secular, and in-betweens, all in the same school.  This is extremely rare in Israel.  One of the only other similar models is a school called Keshet, in Jerusalem, but that isn't really pluralist, it's what I call dualist: you have to choose to be either "dati" (religious) or "chiloni" (secular).  For those of us who are in the middle somewhere, or who are religious-but-open, or religious-egalitarian, there's no place in a school like Keshet.  We hope that at Yachad, there will be.

Yachad has a gan program but we couldn't get Aviv in (it was only by a minor miracle that Eshy got in to kitah aleph, and that was only at the last moment).  So Aviv is going to a local religious gan.  We went to a parents' evening there last week to meet the ganenet (gan teacher) and other parents.  Well, I thought that American parents were uptight, but I've never seen anything like this.  These people were crazy!  Imagine a vociferous and raucous debate in the Knesset about the peace process, with left-wingers and right-wingers screaming blue murder at each other for destroying the Jewish people and suchlike.  Now imagine that kind of screaming blue murder transposed into a group of parents sitting on little kindergarten chairs around little kindergarten tables so that your knees are in your cheeks, with pictures of toy trains on the walls and wooden building blocks in the corner, and all these parents with their knees in their cheeks are screaming about snack time being at 10.30 whereas last year it was at 10.00.

Maybe there is a large segment of the population here with congenital hearing defects, and that is why everyone shouts the whole time.  Has this been investigated?