Monday, November 18, 2013
I realized that Rob Ford had hit it big when an Israeli radio station led into the hourly news with a hot item about a crack smoking, inebriated Mayor, known for his racial slurs and demeaning remarks about women. And who was this mayor? Rob Ford, the Mayor of Toronto, a city in the United States of America!
Now, on a normal day, I would be on the phone bombarding the radio station for their gross error.
"Do you call yourselves news reporters? How can you put a major Canadian city in the United States, of all places? You do realize that Canada and the United States aren't the same country? Or were you out for lunch that day?!"
(Some of you out there, especially those of you married to Canadians, know how sensitive we Canadians can be.)
But no, I didn't say anything - not even to Adva who was in the car with me listening to the news. Some things you just don't want to take credit for.
"You know, there really is a Toronto in the States," Adva said, convinced that the news reporter had got it right, for everyone knows that Canadians aren't like that. "When we were in California (on a business trip) two people who were to join us couldn't land at LA airport because it was shut down because of the shooting there. They phoned us to tell us that they landed in Toronto, instead, and were renting a car and should be there later in the day. We thought - how are they going to get from Toronto to California by car in one day? But then we discovered there is a Toronto in California."
For Adva, believing that Rob Ford was the Mayor of a Toronto in the United States was the only way of having it make sense. I might have been tricked into this also had I not been following the Ford saga daily in the Canadian online media. And being Canadian, or at least still part Canadian, I had to own up and accept a part of the collective guilt.
"Yes, but in this case he really is the Mayor of Toronto. Toronto, Canada."
"Your Toronto!" Adva exclaimed, aghast.
"How did that happen?"
The thing is, over the years I have often told people that one big difference between Canadian politics and Israeli politics is the issue of accountability. The Canadian parliamentary system ensures that Canadian politicians must answer to the people who directly voted them in, while the Israeli system only requires Israeli politicians to answer to their party. One would expect, then, that a Canadian politician would be under much more scrutiny and public censure, and as such - be much more accountable for his/her actions.
But that was before a long line of police investigations into the actions of Israeli politicians. Not only have mayors of Israeli cities been investigated and prosecuted, but so also have Israeli government ministers, an Israeli Prime Minister, and an Israeli President (who is presently serving jail time). Many people even think that the police have become overzealous in their investigations. It would be difficult, then, to still maintain that there is no accountability for Israeli politicians (although unfortunately stupidity is not a criminal offense, punishable by law).
And then along came Rob Ford, who not only appears to have crossed almost every red line possible, but is still in office. Not only is he accused of smoking crack, being constantly inebriated, committing racial slurs and being involved in conflicts of interest, but some of his vices have even been captured on camera - such as smoking crack and urinating in public. In spite of all this, other than stripping away some of his powers (a decision which might not hold up in court), the system states that he can't be rid of, no matter how many people want to see him go.
But there might be another option. Perhaps Rob Ford could be shipped out to the Toronto in California. If an Israeli reporter got this wrong when sober, think how long it might take Rob Ford to realize that he is in the wrong Toronto when totally inebriated. And who knows, California Torontonians might even really like him.
So, how did Rob Ford get elected in the first place? That appears to be the story behind the story. It involves a Toronto much different from the Toronto where I grew up. People no longer speak proudly of the Toronto melting pot, where people from over 50 different countries and nationalities come together to create a rich multi-colored ethnic culture. Instead, people talk more and more about the divisions, the discrepancies, and the large social and economic gap. It appears that Rob Ford has tapped into the frustration of those who not only feel that their needs are not being met, but that the gap between the haves and the have nots is constantly widening. Ford has managed to convince people that he has their interests at heart, in spite of the fact that he comes from a wealthy family. Some political analysts even believe that Ford will be reelected in the next election, despite everything we are witnessing right now.
"Where is the accountability, then?" you might ask.
I think we will have to wait and see.
Thursday, November 14, 2013
28 degrees Celsius. Isn't that a little ridiculous for this time of year? Not that I am complaining... well, maybe just a little.
You see, there comes a point when sunshine may be just a tad too much.
"Too much?! My dear, you can never have too much," my Canadian friend tells me, her teeth chattering as she tightens the scarf around her neck and pulls the hood of her jacket down around her ears. "When was the last time you had to commute through snow, sleet and black ice?" she asks.
"Well, you know, I live in a desert."
"Then think about doing this seven months of the year," she adds, stamping on the ground in the attempt to feel her feet again.
"Yes, I understand," I answer, distracted for a moment as I ponder the plastic tie which is holding my sandals together. "But look at it another way. Think about seeing sunshine, only sunshine, day after day after day, seven months in a row."
It was then, in a desperate impulse to do me harm, that she picked up a lethal looking icicle, but luckily it snapped between her fingers.
The problem with Canadians is that they have trouble seeing the whole picture. Or seeing any more than five meters through the blizzard. Of course, Americans are no better. And even on a clear day, they have a problem seeing much further than the end of their nose. Imagine how John Denver would have made it through seven months of straight sunshine. What would he be singing about then?
As for Israelis, if sunshine comes bundled with happiness, why are Israelis such an irritated, loud, paranoid, aggressive and motley lot? Israelis get much more sunshine than Canadians and the whole Northern Hemisphere. You'd expect them to be filled with glee, with all that sunshine on their shoulder. Not only Israelis. Take a look at the whole Middle East. Where is the humour? Where are people sitting back, enjoying a good laugh over a bottle of Arak?
"Your problem is that you have never had much of a sunny disposition."
"Where did you come from?" I ask, looking up into the darkness.
"Just passing by. I didn't want to be rude and enter your thoughts, but..."
"When has that ever stopped you?"
"True, but where would you be without me?"
I decided to let this pass in silence.
"Have you ever considered that this may only be you?"
"This aversion to things of a sunny nature."
"It's not a question of aversion. It is a question of what really inspires me."
"Well, yes. You are my muse, aren't you? Isn't that what muses are supposed to do?
"So, you want me to do the weather now?"
"I don't do weather."
I am conflicted. I enjoy wearing only shorts, short-sleeves and sandals. And I couldn't comfortably do this if the sun hid itself away. But I would give this up to see the heavens open: the rain pounding down on the roof as the sound of thunder fills the skies. Maybe I should start a facebook group for people searching for the clouds behind the sunshine.
Living in constant sunshine reminds me of the movie Groundhog Day, where our hero wakes up each and every morning to the same day and must relive it again and again. But then, that had a happy ending.
"How long do you think you could weather such gloom?"
"I thought you went for an afternoon nap."
"Couldn't fall asleep. The sun is shining through the window."
"Are you making fun of me?"
"No, that would be too easy.
Sunday, November 3, 2013
Adva would claim that my poor dress habits even go beyond fashion.
"You're not wearing that!" she exclaims. "It is full of holes!"
"There are only two... three," I respond. "And I am just wearing it around the house and for working in the garden," I lie.
Usually I get away with wearing what I want, but sometimes I hit a snag.
"I hope you haven't been wearing that to work!" Adva says, surprising me on one of the rare occasions that she arrives home from work before me.
"Well... I had to move some computers and stuff."
She doesn't seem quite convinced. A few days later, the shirt mysteriously disappears.
I have been struggling with clothes since the early years. My mother would dress me up in a suit and tie for Sunday school and I would enter with what some people might call my penguin imitation: my arms curved up and out like a penguin as I waddle into the room. But it was no imitation. It was all me. I just couldn't stand certain things rubbing up against my skin. This struggle between comfort and fashion continued for a long time after that and may be one of the reasons why I ended up on an Israeli kibbutz. Israelis, in the early 70s, weren't concerned much with fashion - whether they lived on a kibbutz or not. Even in the 1980s and early 1990's, when I went to international computer business conferences in Israel, it was rare to see an Israeli in shirt and tie. Almost all of the suits were visitors from abroad. No wonder why I felt more comfortable here than in Canada. All this suited me fine.
But in the last decade, suits and ties have started popping up in many places where they hadn't been seen before on the Israeli scene. Fortunately for me, by the time this happened, I was already turning into a grumpy old man with little patience for anything, let alone primitive trivial social norms. Wearing a noose around my neck and dressing like everybody else to fit seamlessly into some social norm had no longer any meaning for me, if it ever had. You are what you wear, they say. And as I have already been deemed a social outcast - I guess it is time that I dress the part.
Some of you might think that I am an ideal candidate for a nudist colony. You can't get much freer than that when it comes to dress, they say. But there are two flaws to that assertion.
1. You are once again conforming to what you can and can't wear.
2. This conflicts with my incessant need for privacy - I just have to keep some things to myself.
The desert serves me well, in this regard. During the long Israeli summer - which lasts close to seven months - all that I basically need are two pairs of shorts, three short-sleeve shirts, a pair of sandals, and enough underwear to last me the week. Oh yes - and running shoes for the gym.
Adva, like most women, has a much more extensive wardrobe. Most women won't wear the same thing two days in a row. I am not sure how many days must pass before they can wear the same outfit again. Then there is the makeup, perfume, and the trick of showing just enough cleavage. While I make do with a short shower, a dab of deodorant, brushing my teeth and my hair (what's left of it) - Adva disappears for a thirty minute ritual and comes back all made up.
"It's important to dress up for work."Adva says, noticing that I am wearing the same outfit for the third day in a row. "Don't you want people to respect you?"
Which translates into: "What, don't you have anybody to flirt with at work?"
It's a matter of priority, I suppose. What really is important. Which, for some of us, cannot come without comfort.
Friday, October 18, 2013
"Get out of there, fast!" my wife SMSed back.
I had visions of striking workers approaching with chains and burning tires.
"Close the windows, lock the doors from the inside and turn off the lights," I shouted to the other workers holed up in the building. "If there is smoke, lie down with your nose to the ground."
Soon the sounds of voices and singing were heard outside of the building, accompanied by pounding pots and pans. I sniffed the air, but there was no smell of smoke. I peeked through the blinds. The striking workers seemed to be having a merry old time. What unnerved me most was the laughter and dancing - especially the belly dancing.
Up until that point, I had envisaged a situation somewhat similar to when the Canadian consulate offered sanctuary to American Embassy workers in Tehran when the embassy was overrun by Iranian protesters. Two key field school personnel had fled the field school moments earlier when striking workers had closed it down, and asked if we could offer them sanctuary in the Interdisciplinary Centre and a place to work. But however compelling the similarity seemed to be at first, it lost its edge in the merry song and dancing. I imagine that Ben Affleck would have continued unperturbed and have made the most of the situation, turning it into a movie opportunity - the Canadian becoming a burned out American CIA agent trying to save his marriage to an Israeli, while helping America regain its stature in the Middle East. As for the pots and pans and merry singing - that would turn into semi-automatic gun fire and the threatening screams of a wild mob seeking blood. You've got to love Hollywood.
"I think it will be okay," I wrote my wife.
"Are you sure?" she wrote back.
"Yes, I am the last one they'd shoot. They know that they need me."
Striker 2: "Yes. He was working and you told me to shoot anyone who is working."
Striker 1: "Yes, but not David. You can't shoot David. We need him."
Striker 2: "Yes, but..."
Striker 3: "What happened?"
Striker 2: "He shot David."
Striker 3: "David! You can't shoot David! He's Canadian!"
Striker 2: "I thought he was Israeli."
Striker 3: "Yes, but he is also Canadian."
Striker 2: "When did he come from Canada?"
Striker 3: "I don't know. Sometime... but that's not the point. You can't shoot a Canadian. When was the last time you heard about somebody shooting a Canadian. No one even shoots UN Canadian peace keepers.
Striker 2: "They might if they mistake them for American."
Striker 4: "What happened?"
Striker 3: "They shot the Canadian."
Striker 1: "And our computer guy."
Striker 4: "They shot two people!"
Striker 2: "They... he was working! And he said... "
Striker 1: "We have to do something. Maybe if we apologize."
Striker 3: "I don't know. He looked to be in pretty bad shape."
I work in a government trust - Midreshet Sde Boker - situated in a small desert community. The Trust was established at the request of Israel's first prime minister and visionary: David Ben Gurion. He wanted to create a seat of learning in the middle of the Negev desert which would inspire people to come from far and wide and settle in the Negev. The Trust consists of a unique High School for Environmental studies (a boarding school with students from all over Israel), a Field School, Interdisciplinary Centre and other relevant offices. It shares space in the community (Midreshet Ben Gurion) with institutions affiliated with Ben Gurion University: The Desert Research Institute, the Ben Gurion Archives and the Solar Energy Institute. In its golden years, it could have been considered as a "light unto nations". But in the last ten years, things have changed somewhat.
It all began with severe budget cuts by the government. And now, instead of investing most of its time in creating new exciting and valuable initiatives in the field of education - primarily environmental education - the Trust spends almost all of its time in surviving financially. At the same time, the workers are worried about continuing to receive a decent wage in light of the increased cost of living. In 2007 their collective workers' agreement with Midreshet Sde Boker ended, and since then - despite intensive negotiations at times - no new collective agreement has been signed. And for the last four years, the local workers union has threatened to strike if an agreement is not reached.
And last week, it finally happened. The workers went out on strike and have been out on strike since. And now, the Trust is in danger of shutting down altogether. The high school students have been sent home, and the field school cannot accept new groups (for lodging, instruction, etc.) Parents of the high school students are up in arms and are threatening to stop tuition payments and the field school, which is one of the Trust's main sources of income, will soon have no income coming in, at all.
Since I am on personal contract and am in charge of keeping the whole computer infrastructure working, I (and other managers) are still working. With mixed feelings. On the one hand, the workers deserve to have a fair collective agreement. On the other hand, if the Trust will be permanently shut down because of this strike, no one will have any work at all. Am I optimistic? Not really. Apparently the Minister of Education tried to intervene - approaching the head of the national workers union (Histadrut), to no avail. You'd think that if the Democrats and Republicans could finally reach an agreement to avert a continued, crippling government shutdown, then an agreement could be reached between some 80 workers and a government trust. You'd think.
I have been entertaining the idea of opening a pub for some time. Whitehorse, in the Canadian north, has been a major contender - or anywhere else in the Yukon region. Or I could even settle for Uxbridge or Bracebridge, beautiful spots in Ontario. And if opening a pub appears in the end to be too aspiring, then working in a pub is also an option - spending most of my free time writing. Until now, this has remained a lazy fantasy. It appears that if they don't hit me over the head and send me packing, I will stay a desert rat. But the way things are going, this might happen quite soon.
This reminds me of the last episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, where Mary turns off the light and closes the door for the last time. Is this where we are heading now?
Friday, September 20, 2013
The first day in Italy, after our flight arrived late in the evening in Rome and we had picked up our rental car, we didn't have time to set up the GPS and depended on our wits alone upon getting to the hotel we had booked for the night. This was one of the few times we reached our destination with no problem whatsoever.
The next day we powered up the GPS, set our destination coordinates and set out.
Now, I haven't had much experience with a GPS, but Adva has. And except for the time that it tried to drive her off of the Jaffa port into the Mediterranean, she has had little to complain about. So, being quite trustworthy, we left the main highway (A12 / E80) at Ladispoli for the scenic route (SS1), as we headed north.
"The GPS will pick up the change," Adva said, in total innocence.
At the time, we didn't know that a GPS will do everything to keep you on the quickest route to your destination. It treated the concept of a scenic route or preferred side road with much disdain.
So we got off the highway headed west for the SS1. Our suspicions should have been first aroused when the GPS instructed us to take the fourth exit from the roundabout, sending us back in the opposite direction on the same road we had been on. A mistake, we thought. So we turned back around, ignored its repeated command to take the fourth exit at the roundabout and headed on. This definitely irked our GPS Hebrew speaker.
"In 100 metres, turn left!" she exclaimed.
Still trustworthy, we obediently did so and ended up following a garbage truck down what could only be called a cow trail.
"I will get out the Waze," Adva said.
The Waze is an Israeli invention which offers the best way to get from one point to another, taking into account traffic congestion, police traffic checkpoints, etc. As I continued down the cow trail and was instructed to turn onto another dirt road, the Waze became alive and another voice joined the melee.
"In another 100 metres, turn left," the Waze voice announced.
"In another 100 metres, turn right," the lady on the Israeli GPS countered.
"What am I supposed to do?" I shouted in desperation.
"I don't know!" Adva exclaimed. "Go straight!"
In short, we gave up on the scenic route and allowed ourselves to be taken back onto the highway. The GPS had clearly thought that it had won, but it didn't realize that we were putting together a counter strategy.
About an hour later, we bravely left the highway again and set out onto the side roads. Adva quickly fell in love with the squiggly lines on the map, representing roads with a maze of bends in the road and hills where you were constantly shifting in and out of gear. The GPS, in its rather sinister sense of humour, appeared to also enjoy the squiggly roads and was content in letting me struggle with them as long as I wanted. By mid afternoon, the GPS was doing quite well, getting things right about 70% of the time - and only sending us in circles the other 30%. In the end, we closed in on our B&B destination on the outskirts of Certaldo, but somehow both the GPS and the Waze couldn't get us directly to our target. Finally, stranded on a narrow road, an Italian woman on a bicycle graciously led us to our destination - despite the protest of both the woman on the GPS and the woman on the Waze.
"We just have to learn how to properly put in our destination," Adva said later over a glass of wine.
I merely nodded, knowing quite well that the GPS and I would be constantly at odds with each other with Adva in the middle. But the next day, as we stopped at different places in Tuscany for wine tastings, I gradually became much more forgiving of the GPS as well. As for the Waze, it was safely tucked away as we couldn't stand their bickering anymore.
But there came a point when even Adva could no longer award the GPS the benefit of the doubt. We had reached our second abode of accommodation - a farmhouse beautifully set out in the middle of a large vineyard about a ten minute drive from the town of Valiano. To get to the farmhouse from the main road, we had to drive up a long dirt path. The next morning, Adva set up our destination for the day on the GPS and we started driving down the dirt path towards the main road.
"In another 200 metres, make a u-turn," the woman on the GPS stated politely.
"What!" Adva said.
"In another 100 metres, make a u-turn," the voice said with increased authority.
"You've got to be kidding," I said.
"Make a u-turn now!" the woman exclaimed, as we reached the main road.
"Yeah, right," I said and turned right in the direction of Valiano.
After a couple of minutes, the woman conceded.
"In another eight kilometres, turn right," she said.
"She probably just got mixed up," Adva said, in a her last attempt to forgive the GPS the errors of its way.
But the next morning, as we started down the dirt path towards the main road, we heard -
"In another 200 metres, make a u-turn."
And so this continued each day, for the four days that we stayed there.
But towards the end of our trip, we realized that the GPS was simply a part of the whole adventure.
"They say that the best thing is to get lost in Tuscany," Adva said.
And we did that quite well with the help of our GPS friend. So maybe we should thank her.
Friday, September 6, 2013
stood proudly before our front door
its shade protected us from the summer sun
its leaves and branches calmed winter winds
Birds fed off its berries
entertaining us with their early song
in spring its buds turned into beautiful flowers
where people gathered to share their awe
A black cat which long ago adopted us
climbed its branches in search of prey
but usually settled into a comfortable perch
casting a sleepy eye over the world below
From behind its branches we could hear laughter
of children from across the way
playing on the grass below
just as our own children played so many years before
And then early one day
the morning of the Eve of Rosh Hashana
we heard a loud crack
and then silence, no birds chirping more
Looking out the front
the world had changed before our eyes
our proud mighty friend
had collapsed and died
Stretched out on the lawn before us
in a great heap of broken roots and branches
the birds had flown away
and the cat was nowhere to be found
Tipping our hats
and paying our last respect
the saw began to hum
as we slowly cut the limbs away
Working all morning
through a maze of twisted branches
and solid trunk
we carried the last remains to a new resting ground
But people still stop in awe
to gaze at where the majestic tree once stood
for in its absence
its space it still fills
Monday, August 26, 2013
- Yom Rishon ("First Day") [Sunday]
- Yom Sheni ("Second Day") [Monday]
- Yom Shlishi ("Third Day") [Tuesday]
- Yom Revy-ee ("Fourth Day") [Wednesday]
- Yom Chamishi ("Fifth Day") [Thursday]
- Yom Shishi ("Sixth Day") [Friday]
- Shabbat (the "Sabbath"- day of rest) [Saturday]
As you can see, the names are quite practical and straightforward. No messing around with borrowing from the gods, celestial bodies, or whatever. The formula is quite simple - name the day by its number in the week. Except for the seventh day. It had to be different:
And God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, because it was the day when he rested from all his work of creation.
And so the seventh day was given the name Shabbat (the day of rest).
But things didn't stop here. Not only was Sunday the first work day of the week, Israelis also seemed to have never heard of a two day weekend. They should be given credit, though, for coming up with the whole concept of a day of rest, far before others. The Romans didn't come up with the idea until the year 321, when the Roman Emperor Constantine declared the dies solis (Day of the Sun) [Sunday] an official Roman day of rest. And another twenty centuries would pass until the Western world came up with the idea of the two day weekend. Apparently this was first instituted by a New England cotton mill which wanted to allow its Jewish workers to adhere to their own religious Sabbath. Ironically, it was Henry Ford (who was considered by many to be an ardent Anti-Semite) who, in 1926, was among the first to standardize the two day weekend, shutting down his automotive factories for all of Saturday and Sunday, while still paying his workers the same wages. As for Israelis - "If the one day of rest was good enough for our forefathers..." - well, you get the message.
I may have adapted better to this one day weekend in Israel had it not been for the fact that there were no buses on Saturdays (you couldn't go anywhere unless you had your own car), no stores were open (no opportunity to plan shopping for the end of the week when you actually had the time), and no television (no afternoon ball games on the tube). If you were an observant Jew, this worked out just find. But if you were secular, you really did want to have the right of choice.
And if all this weren't enough, I was rudely introduced to the seven day work week. Yes, you heard me right. And no, this isn't something that came straight out of a Charles Dickens novel, although it might have.
I should clarify here that the seven day work week was not something common to all Israeli society. Rather, it was an essential part of the kibbutz way of life: the dreaded toranut. Back in the days when most of the kibbutzim were still communal in nature, kibbutz members took turns in working in essential services on the Sabbath - services such as the communal dining room, children houses, milking and feeding the cows. Which meant that every three or four weeks, you didn't have a weekend.
Now, I don't think I have to tell you how important the weekend is to maintaining our sanity. Already by midweek, the promise of the approaching weekend keeps us going. And when the weekend arrives, we heave a huge sigh of relief and lapse into denial for two days. No matter how bad the week has been, things suddenly get better. But when the weekend is taken from you - even the one day with such limited opportunities as the Israeli weekend - one is prone to enter into the pits of despair. There is nothing to hold onto to keep you going during the week. I kept telling myself that this was my choice, that this was an integral part of maintaining a communal way of life, but I could never get used to it.
Things have changed since then. The cows have been sold, the children now live at home with their parents, kibbutz members no longer go to eat in the dining room... and somewhere along the line we decided to leave the kibbutz. Sometime after that the kibbutz was privatized. Meanwhile, Israelis unofficially got a two day weekend. I say unofficially as the schools are still open six days a week, as are many businesses. But most people are now taking the Friday off, as well (which has always been a half-day workday in any case, as people are given time to welcome in the Sabbath which begins at sunset on Fridays).
But voices are beginning to be heard that are calling for more. Silvan Shalom, an Israeli government minister, has suggested making the two day weekend an official one - with people having Saturday and Sunday off. And Friday would be a work day until noon. This would enable schools to move to a five day week and it would also be easier for the Israeli business community to coordinate things with business communities around the world whose weekend is Saturday and Sunday.
And most of all, as Silvan has been reported as saying:
"It is time Israelis got a real weekend."